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May 23, 2011 / whirlingneedles

The Wool Gatherers’ Ball


Agent K adjusted her newly-finished golden lace stole about her shoulders. The annual Wool Gatherers Ball swirled around her in a kaleidoscope of lights, colors, and music. Tonight was the biggest get-together of sheep farmers, wool mill owners, and fiber artists of the year, and the Agency was working overtime to ensure the safety of the celebrants.

Across the ballroom from Agent K, Agent J signaled that he had finished his perimeter sweep and all was well. Agent K scratched her ear in response – signal acknowledged. She put down her glass (containing only water, as per Agency mandate for Agents on duty) and slid off her bar stool. She made her way to the ladies’ room, threading her way through laughing and chatting revelers.

Once in the ladies’ room, she checked all the stalls to make sure that she was alone, then locked the door. Touching her earpiece, she made her call to Agent J.

“Agent J, come in, this is Agent K, repeat, Agent J come in.”

“Agent J reporting, all quiet,” crackled the radio.

“Agent J, do we have a go?” asked Agent K.

“We have a go, Agent K,” replied Agent J.

“Roger, Project Qiviut commencing. Agent K out.” Agent K touched her earpiece again to turn it off, unlocked the ladies’ room door, and stepped out into the buzzing noise and heat of the ballroom.

To her left, a curving staircase led to a balcony and an upper level of offices. Agent K swept up the staircase, striding purposely as if she owned the place, but inwardly quaking. This was a tricky situation.

The Agency had intel that the owners of the establishment had anti-wool leanings. A bit of research had uncovered a sordid story – the owner of the building, Angus MacFraser, used to spend summers on his uncle’s sheep farm, and was given the none-too-pleasant task of cleaning the wool once it had been sheared. Apparently, he had been unable to completely remove the smell of sheep poop for weeks afterward despite numerous baths, and had been teased mercilessly by the other children in his school. Ever since, he had been distinctly unfriendly towards sheep and wool. When he agreed to host tonight’s event, suspicions at the Agency had been aroused. A full sweep of the ballroom and grounds had turned up nothing, but it was decided that a search of MacFraser’s office might bear fruit.  Project Qiviut had been put into place – Agent K’s instructions were to discover whether Angus had been approached by the aliens and whether he might be in cahoots with them.

Agent K reached the top of the staircase and stepped into the shadowy hallway. The noise of the ball was muffled up here, and the light from downstairs cast eerie shadows. Agent K slipped off her fancy ballroom shoes and took a pair of handknit socks out of the clutch that matched her dress. She slid these on her bare feet and tip-toed to the door of MacFraser’s office. She knelt in front of the door and peeped into the keyhole – no one was in the office. Agent K rummaged in the clutch and found her lock-picking double pointed needles. A moment later, the door swung open and Agent K slipped inside, softly closing the door behind her.

The inside of the office was unremarkable – a large desk, a high-backed office chair, a computer, some artwork on the wall. Agent K tapped her clutch against her leg for a moment, undecided. Where would a man like MacFraser be likely to hide his secret and nefarious plans, assuming he had any? A safe, maybe? Perhaps behind one of the paintings?

The first painting that Agent K looked behind was a real work of art. Dogs playing poker. On velvet. With Elvis in the background. Agent K didn’t think much of MacFraser’s taste. Sliding a double pointed needle between the painting and the wall, she eased the heavy frame out and peered behind the painting. Nothing. Next, she repeated the procedure with a poorly executed copy of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Maybe “copy” wasn’t the right word, but “homage” gave it too much credit. Still, there was nothing behind that one. The last bit of “art” was a horrifyingly realistic sad clown. With a shudder, Agent K checked behind it. Still nothing.

Although … wait a minute … Agent K turned slowly in the center of the room. There was something … off … about this room. The artwork was horrendous, but that wasn’t it. In fact, Agent K began to suspect that the horrendousness of the artwork might just mean something. She looked more closely at the dogs playing poker. Five dogs. One Elvis. Two of hearts. A glance at the Scream that made her want to scream – one finger visible on the central figure. A closer look at the terrifying clown revealed that one of the reasons it was terrifying was that it had three eyes.

Five. One. Two. One. Three. Those numbers meant nothing separately, but together, they wriggled at the back of Agent K’s brain. Agent K frowned, bit her lower lip, and concentrated. She knew that meant something, but couldn’t get it to come forward. Sighing, she gave it up for the moment and ransacked MacFraser’s desk as carefully as it was possible to ransack.

Ten minutes later, she was no closer to finding MacFraser’s secrets. Time was getting away from her, but she knew that the solution was just out of reach. One. One. Two. Three. Five. She jumbled them up, changing the order in every possible way. Shaking her head, she decided to give up. She turned towards the door, and put her hand on the knob just as it hit her.

One. One. Two. Three. Five. Add a zero before the first one, and you had a Fibonacci sequence, where each number was the sum of the two before it. Agent K could have kicked herself. Of course! She swung around and looked harder at the room. Eight pens in the pen cup on the desk. Thirteen peppermints in the dish.

“Twenty-one guns in the salute at your funeral,” snarled a gravelly voice behind Agent K. She jumped and whirled around to find herself looking down the barrel of a wicked looking pistol. She doubted that this gun shot yarn.

“So you figured out the Agency’s coding system, did you?” Agent K said defiantly.

“Yes, yes we did. I keep this office to remind myself of the sequence, so I can decode Agency messages and send them on to my alien masters,” said MacFraser. “I was never good at math as a child – it was bad enough smelling like sheep, I didn’t want to be a nerd on top of that.”

“Too bad!” said Agent K. “I would never have figured it out if you didn’t keep the room this way.” Agent K was thinking rapidly. She’d managed to flick the earpiece without MacFraser noticing when she swung around the face him. She hoped that Agent J would be warned, and that backup was on its way. If not, she’d have to take care of MacFraser herself.

“Enough small talk!” sneered MacFraser. “My mathematical shortcomings are none of your business. Sit down in that chair – my alien friends will be along shortly. They will have to take care of all the Wool Gatherers downstairs first, of course, but eventually I promise they’ll get around to you!”

Agent K sat down, her heart sinking into her wooly socks. An alien strike against this ball would take out most of the wool leadership in the country in one fell swoop. MacFraser took a roll of duct tape out of the desk drawer and taped Agent K’s wrists and ankles to the chair.

“Now you be a good little knitter and wait here until we’re ready for you.” MacFraser leered at Agent K unpleasantly, then left the office, locking the door behind him.

“Agent J, this is Agent K, can you hear me?” Agent K said urgently. “Agent J, come in!”

“Agent K, this is Agent J, reading you loud and clear. I heard the whole thing!” Agent K sighed with relief.

“Agent J, evacuate the ballroom. Code Chartreuse! Repeat, Code Chartreuse!”

“Evacuations already begun,” Agent J replied. “The border collies are herding the Wool Gatherers out of danger. Are you in need of assistance?”

Agent K yanked at the tape. “Priority One is evacuating the ballroom, Agent J. I’ll be fine.”

“Right, we’ll be back for you as soon as the ballroom is cleared. Agent J out.”

Agent K hopped the chair closer to the desk, where a letter opener lay just out of her reach. Rocking the chair back and forth, she managed to grab it with her lips. She thanked her lucky stars that she’d stuck with the contortionist course at the local adult education center as she used the blade of the letter opener to cut through her bindings. They fell away just as her neck began to cramp up.

Agent K started for the door, but had a thought just as her hand came to rest on the doorknob. She went back to the desk, popped a peppermint in her mouth, stuffed two pens into her clutch, and used a third pen to draw another eye on the clown before going to join Agent J and the border collie round-up. THAT ought to mess up MacFraser’s Fibonacci sequence!

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Rebecca WS / May 23 2011 7:36 pm

    Wait, you KNOW I hate cliffhangers!!! Does Agent K escape? ARRGGHHHH!!

    • whirlingneedles / May 23 2011 7:38 pm

      Of course she does! Just as soon as she messes with MacFraser’s numbers. That was the “going out to join Agent J and the border collies” bit.

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