Do I Have to Paint You a Picture?

By Kristen Bealer

The suave, dark-haired man parked his Jeep on the street, hopped out, and quickly headed inside the nondescript brick building. Striding confidently through one set of security doors after another, he finally reached the phone booth at the end of the hallway and entered it. He pressed a short sequence of numbers and prepared himself, as he always did, for the sudden drop that followed.

It was just another day at work for Kevin Thompson, CONTROL agent number 86.

"Hey, Chief!" Kevin greeted his boss as he strode into the office. "What's new?"

"Bad news, 86," CONTROL Chief DeMartino replied. "It looks like those miscreants at KAOS are at it again."

"No problem," Kevin assured him. "Just give me the details and before you know it, everything will be under control. Get it? Because--"

"Here's the situation, 86," DeMartino interrupted. He'd given up reminding Kevin that he made that exact same joke every day, and had learned it was better both for time management and his own blood pressure if he simply ignored it. "Artwork from all over the world has been disappearing, and we're positive it's the work of KAOS. Name an artist, and I guarantee they've stolen at least one of their works."

Kevin stared at the Chief. "Do I have to name one?"

"No. But I need you to start investigating before any more artwork goes missing. Now, I--"

"Michelangelo!" he suddenly exclaimed.


"He was an artist, right? I remember because he was one of those turtle guys."

The Chief sighed. "That's fantastic, 86. I'm sure your keen artistic knowledge will be an asset on this case. But just on the slight chance you need some assistance, I've assigned you a new partner."

"Don't I have a partner already?"

"Your previous partner quit after your most recent case," explained the Chief. He silently added, In frustration. Just like the partner before that. And the partner before that. And every other partner you've ever had. Leaning over his desk, he pressed an intercom button and said, "Agent 99, please come in."

Kevin protested, "You know, Chief, I don't think I really need a partner. I mean, all my other partners just got in the way, anyhow." He leaned against the edge of the desk. "They were always, like, 'Don't stick bullets in your nose,' or 'Stop telling hot chicks you're a secret agent,' or 'Oh my God you maniac you're going to get us both killed!'" He shrugged and grinned. "I think I'd be better off like one of those lone wolfman types, you know?"

The office door opened and a woman walked in. One hand twirled a lock of long blond hair around her finger while the other rested on her hip. Kevin's eyes couldn't help wandering as he took in the stiletto boots, skin-tight leather pants, and silk blouse unbuttoned to reveal a significant amount of cleavage.

He nearly fell off the Chief's desk. "Awroooo," he whispered, unable to move.

The Chief rolled his eyes. "I'd like to introduce Agent 99."

Kevin broke out of his trance and chuckled. "Aw, I wish I'd met you thirty agents ago," he said with a raised eyebrow. "'Cause then we--"

With two lightning-fast steps, Agent 99 was standing directly in front of him. Leaning in close, she fixed him with a glare that froze him in place once more. "You were saying?" she asked in a voice that could have sliced diamonds.


"Great!" she squeaked in a suddenly perky voice. "Now, let's go kick some KAOS butt!"

The Chief decided to pretend he hadn't seen anything, but filed away the image of his most irritating agent cowering in terror to enjoy later. "I would suggest you begin by checking out the Art in the Park event going on this weekend. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity, but be careful. KAOS will be expecting us to investigate, so I'm sure they'll be waiting to attack. You'll be putting your very lives on the line."

Kevin looked at his partner with a mixture of awe and fear. "And...loving it."

At the park, Kevin and 99 wandered past many booths displaying amateur artwork as they searched for clues.

"Oh, look at those clamshell mice!" Agent 99 exclaimed.

He turned quickly. "What did you find?" he asked. "Are they stolen? Is someone hiding drugs in them? Are they weapons in disguise?"

"No, silly." She held up a clamshell doctor. "I think they're cute!"

"Yo." An artist at a nearby booth waved them over.

"Agent 11?" Kevin asked. "Chief didn't tell us you were working undercover here."

The agent, Jane Lane, shrugged. "I volunteered for the mission, since I'm also selling my artwork. Turns out I can make more money doing this than I do working at CONTROL. If it wasn't for the opportunity to wield deadly weapons, I'd probably quit."

"Anything to report?" he asked.

"Just the latest missing work," she said, handing them a photograph of a painting. "Apparently KAOS got their hands on a Georgia O'Keefe."

"They've started kidnapping people?" 99 exclaimed, horrified.

"No, they--" Jane stopped and looked at 99, then at Kevin. "Do either of you actually know anything about art?"

"Duh. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raffle, and Don't Tell-o ," he recited proudly. "I remembered all four!"

Shaking her head, Jane replied, "You might want to find someone who knows more about art than you." She added under her breath, "Like a preschooler. Or a brick wall."

"Oh, I know!" 99 said. "My dad collects lots of art. I bet he can help us!"

Before Kevin could respond, the agents were startled by the sound of gunfire. The art show dissolved into bedlam as people fled, screaming. Kevin suddenly cried out in pain, then staggered and dropped to his knees. Jane and 99 looked down in horror at the red stain spreading across his chest.

"Kevin!" 99 cried, catching him as he dropped to the ground.

"I'm hit," he gasped. "KAOS finally got me."

"Don't say that," 99 cautioned, examining his chest for the wound.

He feebly shook his head as his breaths grew ragged. "Tell Chief...I'm sorry I feed his goldfish...while he was on vacation..."

Agent 99 frowned as she ran her hand along Kevin's shirt in search of bullet holes.

"And tell him...I'm sorry I never...walked his dog...when he was away...on that business trip..."

After a moment, 99 sniffed suspiciously at the red liquid on her hands and her eyes widened in surprise.

"And I'm sorry...I accidentally locked his the closet...while he was visiting...his parents in Florida..."

"You're not wounded, 86," 99 informed him as she stood up. "It's just red paint."

"What?" he said, sitting upright. "Cool! I've bested KAOS once again!"

Jane murmured, "Who says it was KAOS? Maybe the ASPCA is getting aggressive."

As she helped Kevin to his feet, 99 said, "Looks like whoever it was is long gone now. This must have been a warning, but next time we may not be so lucky."

"Lucky?!" cried Jane. "Look at what they've done to my paintings!"

Kevin and 99 looked sympathetically at the agent's booth, where the paintball guns had left canvases coated in splattered primary colors. "Still," argued Kevin, "at least we're still alive, right?"

"I'd rather be dead," she groaned. "All that careful work, ruined! And I was really proud of that jungle landscape, too. Do you have any idea how long it took me to get the poacher's entrails to look just right?"

As Jane grieved the loss of her "children," the other two agents moved on in search of 99's father and whatever help he could offer.

Agent 99 opened the door and walked into her father's house, motioning for Kevin to follow. "So, you're bringing me home to meet the folks already, huh?" he asked suggestively.

She ignored him. "Come on, let's see if my dad is here."

They entered the living room and saw it was empty. As 99 turned to look in another room, she glanced over at one of the walls and gasped. "Oh, no!"

"What is it?" he asked. "I mean, okay, the wallpaper is kind of ugly, but--"

"The painting," 99 interrupted, holding up the photograph Jane had given them. "The one that was just stolen--my dad has it!"

"Oh, that's good," he replied, relieved. "Then it wasn't really missing, after all. Chief'll be happy to hear it!"

Agent 99 looked at him with tear-filled eyes and shook her head. "I can't believe the thief is my own father!" she squeaked miserably. "I never would have suspected--oh!"

Kevin turned to see what had startled her and saw a middle-aged man enter the room. "Hi there, sweetheart," the man said to 99. "I didn't hear you come in."

Quickly blinking away her tears and putting on a smile, 99 said, "We just came by for a visit. Um, when did you get this painting? I haven't seen it here before."

"Oh, that? I just picked it up the other day from a place called Gary's Gallery. It's all right, although I thought the sunflowers looked a little--"

"You bought it from a gallery?" 99 asked, relieved. "Oh, that's nice. We should probably get going. Talk to you later!"

As she began pulling him toward the door, Kevin turned back to 99's father. "This is a really nice house. Listen, if you ever need a house-sitter..."

"He's fine!" 99 snapped. She continued to guide him toward the exit, muttering, "He doesn't have any pets for you to neglect, anyway."

As the two got into Kevin's Jeep and pulled away from the house, 99 said, "I'm sure Gary's Gallery is the key to all of this. We'll have to check it out, but by now they're probably onto us. We can't just walk in and search the place, you know?"

Kevin grinned. "No problem! We'll just go in disguise. I'm an expert at undercover missions."

Gary looked up from his paperwork to see a young couple in extravagant clothing enter his gallery. The woman was wearing oversized sunglasses with a scarf over her hair while the man sported a ridiculously large mustache and a floppy hat.

"Can I help you?" he asked, slightly puzzled.

"Hello!" the man said in a stiff, formal voice. "We are a newlywed couple who are decorating their new house and would like to buy some artwork from your fine establishment!"

"No questions asked," the woman added, smiling brightly.

"Yes!" agreed the man. "Even if the artwork was obtained through criminal activity, we will be happy to purchase it because we are decorating our new house as newlyweds!"

Gary stared at the couple for a moment before shrugging. "Why don't we step into the back room and I can show you some of our more...special items," he said, unlocking a door and opening it.

All three entered, and the young couple gazed in wonder at all of the paintings hanging on the walls.

"This is our more exclusive gallery," Gary explained. "It's reserved for private collectors who desire unique pieces that they may not be able to obtain publicly."

"Oh," the man said knowingly. "You mean like porno, right?"

"I--What? No!" Gary sputtered. "I'm talking about priceless masterpieces. Original works painted by the greats, which aren't usually available for sale. If there's a particular work of art that you've longed to own, I'm sure we can help you get it. Go ahead, name any artist you like."

The man opened his mouth to speak, but the woman elbowed him and he closed it again. "No turtles!" she hissed. Gary chose to view their odd behavior as charmingly eccentric.

Looking around the room, the man suddenly laughed. "Hey, man, it's okay. There's nothing wrong with selling porno stuff, so you don't have to lie about it." He picked up a large package wrapped in brown paper. "I mean, everyone knows porno always comes wrapped in stuff like this!"

"Wait, don't--" Before Gary could stop him, the man had torn away the brown paper to reveal several canvases.

The woman looked at them and said, "That's the sunflower painting we saw at my dad's house!"

"Yeah, and so is this one," said the man, looking at the next canvas. He looked at the rest of the stack. "And this one, too! All of them are the sunflower picture!"

Now sweating, Gary stammered as he tried to come up with a plausible explanation. "Of course...ah, that is...well, some of..."

"It's all right, Gary," said a tall woman who stepped out of the shadows. "Don't bother trying to explain the copies. These people won't be leaving this place alive, anyway." She raised her hand to reveal a pistol, now pointed at the couple. "Isn't that right, Mr. Thompson?"

"Claire Defoe?" exclaimed Agent 99 as Gary searched the agents and relieved them of their guns. "But aren't you a high school teacher?"

Defoe snorted. "Only as a cover. In private I'm a KAOS agent, art thief, and mastermind of the greatest counterfeiting ring in history. Do you really think it's possible to earn a living on a teacher's salary?"

Kevin slapped a hand to his forehead. "Of course!" he cried. "It's so simple! You stole all of those famous paintings, but you stole them several times each so you could sell more than one!"

Gun still pointed at the agents, Defoe frowned at him. "What part of 'counterfeiting' didn't you get?" she asked.

"Um...the part where you said 'counterfeiting?'" he asked in reply.

She sighed. "I stole the paintings, then painted copies of them. Now I can pass the fakes off as real and sell as many of them as I want on the black market. No one who buys them will dare take them to be inspected, and even if they figure it out, they can't tell the authorities without implicating themselves."

Kevin's brow was furrowed. "So...why did you steal the paintings if you were just going to sell fakes anyway?"

Defoe rolled her eyes. "Who's going to buy the Mona Lisa from Gary's Gallery if the original is still in Paris?"

"Someone who hates to travel?"

She spoke slowly. "I stole the paintings so that everyone who buys a fake will think they've paid for the real thing. In theory, I could make billions off a single Rembrandt."

"Wait, so you're going to sell toothpaste?"

Gary snickered as Defoe stared incredulously. "You...really don't know anything about art, do you?"

Kevin crossed his arms. "I'll have you know I studied all of the major artists for many years before I became a CONTROL agent."

Defoe sneered. "I find that very hard to believe."

"Would you believe I have several books on the subject?"

She shook her head, bemused.

"What if I said I watched a lot of relevant Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid?"

Before she could respond, Defoe was tackled by 99, who had taken advantage of the distraction to sneak behind her. Defoe was knocked to the floor, but she kept hold of her gun as 99 grabbed her wrist with both hands and tried to force her to drop it.

Reacting quickly, Kevin grabbed an open paint can and swung it toward Gary, coating the other man in bright orange paint. Temporarily blind, Gary was left vulnerable as Kevin picked up a nearby easel and brought it down on his head.

Meanwhile, both women had staggered to their feet. Standing behind the KAOS agent, 99 managed to point the gun toward the ceiling with one hand as she tried to get Defoe into a choke hold with her other arm. Defoe head-butted her with a grunt, knocking the two women apart and allowing her to turn the gun back on 99.

Dazed but still conscious, Gary groped for a weapon and finally came across a piece of discarded canvas. Leaping forward, he threw it over Kevin's head from behind and wrapped his arms around the agent to prevent him from being able to either see or move.

Just as Defoe pulled her trigger, 99 dropped down out of the way to dodge and then swung her leg around to trip the KAOS agent. The gun flew from Defoe's hand and both women scrambled to retrieve it. Defoe reached it first, whirling to face 99 and hold her at bay.

Kevin, still trapped by the canvas, threw himself backward to slam Gary against a nearby wall. Freeing himself from the fabric, Kevin quickly pulled the confiscated guns from the other man's pockets before he could recover.

Holding both guns on the KAOS agents, he called out, "Hold it!" As Defoe surrendered, 99 snatched the gun and kept it trained on her.

"Great job, 86!" 99 commended her partner. "If you hadn't kept them distracted by pretending to be stupid, I would never have been able to get the drop on Defoe. How did you come up with so many ridiculous questions?"

To his credit, Kevin only hesitated for a moment. "Just one of my many skills as a highly trained secret agent."

Back at CONTROL headquarters, 99 leaned against a corner of the Chief's desk while Kevin paced the room and explained the details of the KAOS plot to the Chief.

" when the fight was over, 99 and I looked at the canvas Gary had pinned me with and saw he'd gotten orange paint all over it. It actually looked kind of cool--like one of those subtract paintings. I'm thinking of framing it and hanging it in my apartment."

The Chief nodded his approval. "Excellent work," he congratulated the pair. "I never fail to be amazed when an agent of your quality manages to solve case after case."

"It was truly astonishing to see it happen," 99 agreed with a slight smirk at the Chief.

"Well," Kevin said. "The paintings are all on their way back to their rightful places, and two more KAOS agents are behind bars where they belong. It's yet another triumph for CONTROL!"

"Thanks to both of you," replied the Chief. "So, does this mean you are willing to work together as partners?"

The question was directed mostly at 99, but Kevin answered first. "No doubt about it, Chief. We make an awesome team!"

Agent 99 laughed and nodded. "I have to say, he makes missions...interesting. I'm in!"

"Great!" said the Chief, relieved. "Now, I'll be out of town attending a conference in Chicago next week. Agent 86, do you think--"

"You don't even have to ask," Kevin interrupted. "No problem!"

As Kevin left the office, Agent 99 leaned over toward the Chief. "Why on Earth would you still ask him to house-sit after everything he's done?"

The Chief's eyes widened. "He's been house-sitting for me?!"

Thanks to RLobinske for beta reading.