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July 24, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Agent K at the Sock Summit

Agent K stood solemnly as the delegates filed into the hall. Their brightly colored robes swirled out behind them as they made their way up the rows of seats and tables. Each delegate to the Sock Summit wore a flowing robe in the colors of their flag, with a knitted accessory of some sort to represent their country. (The delegate from Estonia had a beautiful lace shawl that was the envy of the Summit.) Agent K’s heart swelled with pride at the sight of all the delegates from the far corner of the globe, congregated here in one place to discuss issues relating to socks and sock knitting.

This was the second semi-annual Sock Summit. The first had been a wild success, and this year’s Summit had so far proved to be even more successful. The many warring factions of top-down versus toe-up, double-pointed needles versus circulars, and wool versus cotton had managed to assemble in one room in a peaceful discussion. (Agent K preferred to forget the incident two years ago that had degenerated into thrown trays of petit fours when the two circulars camp had insulted the magic loop devotees. One minor incident of high feelings shouldn’t mar the entire Summit, and though there had been threats of garroting via 60 inch size 0 circular, the incident had been resolved without deadly force.)

The Agency had done its best to secure the site against attack. The Department of Knitting Secrecy had managed to keep the word quiet last time about when and where the Summit would be held. Few people outside the Agency and the knitting community had known about it before the banners went up at the conference center, and many of the general public had expressed surprise and puzzlement over a Summit about socks when they had heard of it. This time, however, the Agency couldn’t hope to keep it a secret. The repetition of the Summit in the same location at about the same time of year was attracting attention. (The Agency had done its best to have the Summit relocated to Timbuktu, but the lack of conference facilities and difficulty in transporting sock yarn to the interior of Africa had made that impractical.)

Agent K was leading the security team that was responsible for the delegates’ safety. Her team had swept the conference center multiple times in the last few days, making sure that all was in order for this moment. She wasn’t quite ready to breathe a sigh of relief yet – that would come when the conference was over and the last delegate had boarded the plane or train that would take him or her home. She scanned the crowd, watching for potential trouble. From across the room, Agent J flashed her a thumbs up as his border collies herded the last of the delegates into the hall.

The room stilled as the Sock Summit banner was raised above the dais, and the official Sock Summit anthem played. As the last note faded, the Chair of the Summit stepped up to the microphone, and repeated the Summit pledge on behalf of all the delegates.

I swear to uphold the ancient art of sock knitting. I promise to embrace sock knitting in all its glorious variety, and to freely exchange my knowledge with my sock knitting brothers and sisters. I promise to educate the public of the glory of a well-made sock. I promise to teach the young the way of the sock, and listen to the wisdom of the elders of the sock.

Let the Sock Summit begin!

A cheer rose from the delegates and the audience as the Chair cast on the Peace Socks, then passed them to the delegate to her right. These socks would be passed around the hall, each delegate putting a few stitches into the socks, until they were ready to be bound off at the Closing Ceremonies at the end of the Summit.

But something was amiss. There was an empty seat! Agent K whipped out her opera glasses and trained them on the placard on the table in front of the empty seat. The place for the delegate from Burundi was vacant.

Agent K immediately touched her earpiece and requested the Agent on duty in the command center to check the Burundi delegate’s room. Agent K pulled up the delegate’s information on her tablet, flicking her fingers hurriedly across the screen until she got to the right page. A young man in glasses with a shy smile looked up from his official portrait. She checked his stats – he had been appointed to the Summit by the Burundi National Sock Knitters Alliance just days before the start of the conference. His passport had been rushed through with Agency assistance. He had flown from Burundi to the US only the night before, connecting through Atlanta. (The notes in the file said that he had nearly missed his connection to Portland, owing to his fascination with the Chick-Fil-A stand on Concourse E.) A very late night check-in at his hotel, and the delegate packet had been picked up by one of his entourage first thing this morning.

The earpiece crackled, breaking Agent K’s attention away from the file. There was no one in the room assigned to the Burundi delegation. However, the room was in shambles. The Agent on the scene activated the webcam in his tablet, and panned around the room so that Agent K could see. Tables and chairs were overturned, drawers were pulled out, and the closet door hung askew on its hinges. There was yarn everywhere – whole skeins were unwound and wrapped around the lamps, over the bed, and over the tv. A couple of metal dpns had been stabbed into the very center of the bed, holding down a piece of paper. At Agent K’s request, the Agent on the scene held the webcam directly over the paper.

Give us the Fleecey Feet, and the Burundi delegate will be released unharmed. Hold out on us, and he will be “frogged.”Display the Fleecey Feet in the Marketplace, and you will be contacted with more instructions.

Agent K’s breath hissed through her teeth. How dare anyone try to disrupt the Summit with this vile attack? She hoped against hope that it was some sort of joke, but she couldn’t afford to assume that it was a joke. She keyed her earpiece again, and began giving instructions rapidly to the other Agents on duty. Every delegation was to be checked to make sure that no one else had gone missing, and the delegates in the hall checked to make sure their pictures lined up with the person present to ensure no imposters had slipped in. She took one last look around the hall, where the delegates were arguing the relative merits of Judy’s Magic Cast On and a figure 8 cast on for toe-up socks, and then headed for the command center set up in the conference center’s security office.

Reports were already coming in from the Agents assigned to check on the other delegates. So far, no reports of anyone else being harassed or kidnapped. The tech team was working in overdrive, matching the hall delegates to their official portraits and a second source, just in case the official portraits had been tampered with.

“What I want to know,” said Agent K to Agent J, “is what is this Fleecey Feet that the kidnappers are demanding? I’ve never heard of it, and I know pretty much all the brands of yarn.”

“I wondered that myself,” replied Agent J. “So I did some digging while you were on your way over here. It turns out that Fleecey Feet is not an actual brand of yarn. It’s a legendary pair of socks, knitted by a famous sorcerer in the twelfth century in what is now modern day Burundi.” He showed Agent K a woodcut of the supposed socks, which had an astonishingly intricate pattern depicting tiny sheep gamboling in a meadow, with tassels at the top.

“These socks are supposed to grant the wearer the ability to spin and knit an unending supply of sock yarn and socks in an incredibly short amount of time,” Agent J continued. “These socks would give their wearer unbelievable powers. There’s a price, though. If the socks are simply stolen, then the wearer would not be able to successfully complete a pair of socks. He or she would endlessly turn the heels, only to find that the stitches were undone when he or she tried to continue. The Fleecey Feet have to be handed over from their owner for them to work.”

“Wow, so whoever has these socks would be able to win the Fleece to Foot challenge?” asked Agent K, referring to the highlight of the Sock Summit. Groups of spinners and knitters were gathering in the main arena in a few days’ time to take a newly shorn fleece and compete to spin and knit the fleece into a wearable pair of socks within a few hours. A magical pair of socks that allowed the wearer to churn out hand-spun and -knit socks in a very short time would be a huge advantage. It would also be a huge money maker, because the winner of the challenge would likely be signed by one of the big yarn companies as their spokesknitter. Not to mention the number of bets swirling around the challenge. Bookmakers had been giving out odds ever since the teams had been announced.

“Okay, so where were these Fleecey Feet last seen?” Agent K asked J. “We need to make sure that they’re secure, and find out where these kidnappers have taken the Burundi delegate.”

“They have been lost for two hundred years,” answered Agent J. “No one knows where they are.”

“But how exactly are we supposed to turn them over to the kidnappers if they’re lost?” asked Agent K in exasperation. “Okay, is anyone from the Burundi delegation available? Maybe they’ll have some answers.”

Ten minutes later, Agents K and J were seated across the table from a very nervous young Burundi Summit attendee. He had been pulled out of a class on fair isle socks and still clutched his sample sock, which was patterned in the Burundi flag colors of red, green, and white.

“So you’ve been told by now that the Burundi delegate has been kidnapped?” inquired Agent K. The man nodded. “Do you know anything about the Fleecey Feet?”

He started and stared at Agent K in surprise. “Of course I know of the Fleecey Feet!” he answered in a thick accent. “They are very, very famous where I come from. Every knitter in my country longs to have the Fleecey Feet, especially at Christmas time when we are rushing to finish presents. My grandmother told me tales of the Fleecey Feet, how the sorcerer who made them was the fastest knitter in the world, and how he was killed by an angry flock of sheep, who could not keep up with the sorcerer’s insatiable demand for wool. The socks have been passed from hand to hand through the generations, but they are lost now. How I wish I could find them!”

“So you have no idea who might have them now?” asked Agent K, shuddering at the thought of an angry flock of sheep out for blood.

He shook his head sadly. “They were last reported to be owned by the richest family in Burundi. This family runs the Sock Cartel. No handknitter may sell his or her socks except through this cartel. The story says that they used the Fleecey Feet to flood the market with their socks, driving slower knitters out. Now they control the whole market, and most handknitters only knit for themselves and their families.”

“But doesn’t the government stop them?” asked Agent K, horrified.

“No, the government cares only that they are provided with handknit socks at regular intervals,” the man said, shaking his head. “Corruption is a terrible thing.”

Agent K thanked the man and sent him back to his fair isle lesson. Her next step was to place a call to the Agency’s sister division in Burundi. A few minutes later, the intelligence she was looking for was in her email inbox. There was a member of the Sock Cartel at Sock Summit. Her photograph (a grainy, black-and-white surveillance photo) matched up with an attendee at the Summit, and Agent K set off to lead the search of her hotel room.

The room was on the third floor of the hotel connected to the conference center. It was a typical hotel room, except that it was filled with knitting and spinning paraphernalia. A swift and ball winder were attached to the desk with a half-wound ball of aquamarine merino on them. A spinning wheel was placed in the center of the floor, in front of a chair and facing the tv. There were two beds in the room, one of which was covered in skeins of sock yarn, plastic bags of needles, and a large ring of assorted stitch markers.

“Right, search everything,” instructed Agent K, and the team of rubber-gloved Agents she had brought with her began to go over the room with a fine-toothed comb. Agent K herself began to sort through the miscellany on the bed.

They worked in silence for a few minutes, then one of the Agents crowed with triumph and held something up for the room to see.

It was a pair of socks, with an astonishingly intricate pattern depicting tiny sheep gamboling in a meadow, with tassels at the top. It was the Fleecey Feet.

A gasp from the doorway made Agent K drag her eyes off the Fleecey Feet. The Sock Cartel member stood in the open door, a bag from the Summit’s Marketplace dangling from one hand and an expression of shock and anger on her face. Agent K started towards her, shouting at her to stop, but she threw the bag in K’s face and ran for the stairs.

Agent K activated her earpiece and rapidly issued orders to secure all the hotel exits, then took off after her.

Agent K banged through the metal door that gave into the staircase, and looked down to see her target hurrying down the stairs. Agent K threw her legs over the railing and fell heavily on the landing below, just in time to see the door on the second floor landing closing. She grabbed the handle, but through the glass in the door she saw her quarry secure the door with a length of worsted weight wool. She grinned at Agent K insolently, then ran down the hallway.

“What do you mean, she escaped?” Agent K cried in frustration a few minutes later. Apparently, she had managed to enter the conference center hall before the Agents could secure that door, and had melted away into the crowd. They would have a hard time tracking one knitter in the sea of Summiteers. Her picture was being circulated to the security guards and vendors, but the chances were slim. At least now they had the Fleecey Feet.

Agent K waited anxiously a short distance from the Fleecey Feet display in a place of prominence in the Sock Museum. The conference center had been most helpful in arranging a glass case and a guard. The poor conference center director by this point had learned to accept whatever madness the knitters came up with. She had just sighed and made the arrangements when Agent K had told her they needed to display a magical pair of socks in a secure manner. (Poor thing, thought Agent K, catching sight of a pair of Walmart specials on her feet.)

Her earpiece crackled. The kidnappers had made contact! They demanded that the key to the display case that the Fleecey Feet were locked in be attached to a skein of Malabrigo Sock in the Ravelry Red colorway and left in the bottom of the dragon boat at the entrance to the Marketplace. They would get the Burundi delegate’s location in a note left in place of the yarn and key.

Agent K made the arrangements, grinding her teeth at the audacity of the kidnappers. She looked up at the dragon boat, suspended over the door to the conference center. How would the kidnappers get the key without anyone seeing? She was sure they had a plan, since the kidnappers would not be so stupid as to think the Agency wouldn’t have it under surveillance. She attached the key to the yarn, borrowed a ladder from the long-suffering conference center director, and placed the key and yarn as instructed. She then nonchalantly strolled off and headed to the command center.

The next couple of hours were nerve-wracking. Agent K drank cup after cup of awful coffee, then regretted it when she was desperate to go to the restroom but dared not leave her post for a minute. She finally made a dash for the restroom, and returned just in time for the alarm to go off. The kidnappers had retrieved the key and yarn at last, and the sensors Agent K had carefully and discretely placed in the dragon boat went off in the command center. Agent K took one look at the screen that showed the camera trained on the dragon boat, then raced out of the room toward the conference center director’s office.

Agent K burst into the director’s office, just in time to see the director try to hide the key and yarn in a desk drawer.

“It was you!” Agent K cried, pointing an accusatory finger at the director.

“Yes, it was me!” the director replied scornfully. “Of course it was me! I’ve been planning this for months! Ever since that Fleece to Foot contest was announced! I could never win on my own. Do you know how long it takes me to knit one sock, never mind a pair? I knew the Sock Summit would be the perfect opportunity to steal the Fleecey Feet. I’m going to win the Fleece to Foot, and my name will be in lights, and every knitting magazine in the world will have me on its cover.”

“Now, let’s just calm down and talk about this,” said Agent K. “You don’t have to be the fastest knitter in the world. You just have to make socks that make you happy. Every knitter here is here because they love knitting socks. The Fleece to Foot, and the inevitable multi-million dollar endorsements that will follow, is just a friendly competition. Yes, there’s lots of money at stake, but kidnapping is not the way to be a faster knitter.”

“You don’t understand,” said the director. “My family was once one of the fastest and best sock knitting families in Burundi. Until that lousy Sock Cartel took over and drove us into poverty! Now that I’ve got the Fleecey Feet, I’m not going to have to wear these awful Walmart socks anymore. I’m going to restore my family name, and drive the Sock Cartel out of business. And you are not going to stop me!” At this, she drew a gun out of a drawer and pointed it at Agent K.

She motioned with the gun towards the closet door. Agent K opened the door and was not terribly surprised to see the unfortunate Burundi delegate bound and gagged in the closet. The director shoved Agent K towards the open closet, but she hadn’t counted on Agent K’s years of personal combat training. Agent K ducked under the director’s arm and kicked out, knocking the gun out of her hand. A swift punch in the director’s solar plexus convinced her that the fight was lost, and she crumpled to the floor.

Agent K quickly secured her hands and feet with lengths of yarn, then released the relieved Burundi delegate from the closet. A radio call later, and a whole pack of Agents swarmed into the director’s office. One of the Agents had thought to bring the Burundi delegate’s robes, and Agent K led him down in triumph to the hall where the delegates were still meeting. A rousing cheer met him when he entered the door, and Agent K headed back to the command center to await the next crisis.

She thoughtfully added the key to the Fleecey Feet’s display case to her key ring, securing it in an inner pocket. It wouldn’t do to let the Fleecey Feet fall into the wrong hands. They were just too powerful.


One Comment

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  1. Eleanor / Aug 5 2011 4:09 pm

    Seriously wonderful 🙂

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