“Yes, Pickle,” Mature Cheddar said, voice level, a faint smile curving his lips. “The Ambassador must have known you were coming. Now that he’s won your favour, he’ll never LEGO®.”
“You’re so cheesy,” Pickle groaned, scanning the room. Endless dignitaries in endless formalwear, a black-and-white cummerbund sea. “But where is the Ambassador’s daughter?” He picked up a LEGO construction—a miniature replica of the new embassy—and absentmindedly began dismantling it.
“Charmaine? I don’t think she has made her entrance just yet. Why do you ask?”
“Is that her name? Oh, no real reason,” Pickle lied badly. He had entirely reduced the centrepiece to its component bricks. Hands left with nothing left to destroy, he looked down at the scattering of plastic pieces, surprised. “Oh!” He started to put the blocks together.
“Pickle,” Mature Cheddar said with warning in his voice, “what are you planning . . . ?”
Pickle feigned absorption in his LEGO creation, frantically jamming bricks together. Suddenly Mature Cheddar snapped to attention and scanned the room, alarmed.
“EVERYONE DOWN!” a gruff voice ordered from the foyer. A flurry of startled squawks and gasps as four armed thugs hustled into the room, dressed all in black save for outlandish carnival masks.
“Cheddar!” Pickle hissed, hitting the deck. “Get low! CHEDDAR!”
But Cheddar stayed cool as an unpickled pickle. “What’s all this then?” he demanded as the gang of intruders rapidly approached him. “Where is the embassy security?”
“Oh for brine’s sake,” Pickle muttered under his breath, crawling under a table, snatching fallen LEGO pieces as he went.
“Unhand me!” Cheddar exclaimed as two thugs grabbed him under the arms, one per side. Cheddar planted his feet to the ground and made himself practically immobile—an old trick he had learned during his years amongst the Cat People. “This is unprecedented!”
Pickle was furiously building LEGO under the table. Here was his chance. As the thugs finally wrested control of Cheddar, Pickle reached an arm out from under the tablecloth and slipped a small creation into Cheddar’s trouser pocket.
The four masked villains left as swiftly as they had arrived, Cheddar in tow, leaving the Ambassador’s reception in a state of confusion and chaos. Pickle picked himself up from the floor, dusted off his only good suit of clothes, and scanned the room. Things were not going to plan.
Even as Pickle was disgruntled inside the embassy, Cheddar was pleased as parmesan immediately outside of it. “I’d say that went exactly to plan, wouldn’t you, fellows?”
* * *
“Augh! I trod on LEGO®!” Cheddar howled, hopping about the disused room. “The pain is electric!”
“You said your partner would be here by now,” the masked man said, ignoring Cheddar’s distress.
Cheddar grimaced as he stooped to pick up the LEGO. “He should be. The obvious thing for Pickle to do, if I have been kidnapped, is to attempt a rescue. It has happened before.” He frowned at the LEGO in his palm, realizing immediately where it must have come from—or rather, whom.
“If he doesn’t arrive soon, then the entire plan will be ruined.”
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just . . . ask him to come? Or to bring him here without explaining?” a second masked man asked.
“You clearly have never dealt with Pickle before,” Cheddar said. “He is very predictable in his way, but he never does things the easy or the usual way.” He turned the LEGO over in both his hand and his mind.
“Dammit, Mature Cheddar,” the first masked man said, losing his patience. “I’m tired of waiting.” He ripped his mask off, revealing—
. . . the Ambassador!
* * *
“You said your partner would be here tonight,” Charmaine said testily, leaning against the piano, taking liberties with the embassy furniture that no guest would dare.
“He WAS here, but you were late,” Pickle grumbled. “I could hardly have factored in an armed kidnapping.”
“It’s good to be prepared for any eventuality,” Charmaine said. “Now how will I pass on my dossier of state secrets?”
“Charmaine!” Pickle said, aghast, “the room could be bugged!”
Charmaine gave Pickle a withering look. “Why do you think I’m practically talking into this piano?” she said, gesturing lazily with her cocktail. “I had it restrung. The strings inside are plated with hydrotacitum. When played, they give off resonant frequencies which create a dampening field. A wave of silence that extends a few feet in every direction.”
“Ingenious,” Pickle said. “But what about Cheddar?”
“Yes,” Charmaine said, “Mature Cheddar. No doubt our enemies have snatched him. Perhaps they were somehow tipped off, and thought he already possessed the documents I was to have handed to him.” She gave Pickle a suspicious look; Pickle, momentarily distracted by the kaleidoscopic glint of light in the nearest chandelier, did not catch her look. No, Pickle was . . . not the type to be a double agent.
Pickle shook his head, regaining control of his mind. “But we must rescue him!”
Charmaine sighed, stood, straightened her shoulders. Her smart formal gown naturally fell into place. “I suppose we must. Give me a moment to change into something more suitable.” She strode away, elegant.
Pickle furrowed his brow and sat at the piano. He began to play Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1.” The special anti-espionage strings had a peculiar tone to them, adding a slight soggy quality to the typical limpid piano tone, but it suited the piece. Hold tight, Cheddar! Pickle thought as he played. Don’t be tortured!
. . . TO BE CONTINUED!