The Weed of Crime Bears Glitter Fruit

by Kristen Bealer

Kevin Thompson, CONTROL Agent 86, sauntered into the Chief's office and leaned against the desk. "I came here as soon as I got your message. What's the emergency?"

The Chief held up a hand, expression even grimmer than usual. "Wait until your partner arrives," he replied. "This is very important, and you'll both need to hear it."

"Aww, but now I'm curious! Can't I at least have a hint?"

The Chief stared at him incredulously. "This isn't a game, 86!"

"Okay," Kevin said with a nod. "It's not about a game. Is it related to some other kind of activity? Like a concert or a party?"

"Enough of your foolishness! This matter is deadly serious!"

"So it probably doesn't have anything to do with a picnic, either," Kevin mused. "Hmmm, deadly...oh! What about vegetable stands? One time my cousin got really bad food poisoning from an iffy cucumber he bought from this guy selling vegetables by the highway, and he spent about three days in the bathroom. He didn't die, but you should have smelled the--"

The door opened and Kevin's partner, Agent 99, walked in. "Thank God!" cried the Chief.

Agent 99 blinked in surprise at the intensity of his words. "Wow! Things must be even worse than I expected!"

"You have no idea," muttered the Chief. Louder, he continued, "I'm glad you're both here. Earlier today, we discovered that various people all over the country are exhibiting irrational behavior. We've figured out that the phenomenon is caused by some kind of hallucinogenic fruit, but we have yet to determine how or why this is happening. The one thing we do know is that KAOS must be behind it!"

"Fruit!" Kevin exclaimed. He held his thumb and index finger slightly apart. "Missed it by that much!"

Ignoring him, 99 said, "We're on it, Chief. We won't let you down!"

"I hope not," the Chief replied. "But you'll need to be discreet--the last thing we want is for KAOS to know we're onto them. Now, just in case you need help, I've got something that might be useful." He opened his office door and gestured for them to follow.

The Chief continued to explain the case as he led them to a laboratory within CONTROL headquarters, in which stood a short Asian woman with glasses. "Agents 86 and 99," he said, "allow me to introduce you to Dr. Li."

"Welcome," trilled the doctor pleasantly. "I've only been assisting this aaadmirable institution for a short time, but I have already begun putting together several devices that I think you'll find invaluable in your work!"

"Invaluable?" asked the Chief. "Judging by the charges in your expense account, I'd say you've had no trouble putting a value on them."

Dr. Li sniffed. "You can't put a price on national security."

"Can't you? That's funny, because according to your latest invoice--"

"Why don't I show you my most recent invention?" Li interrupted, focusing on Kevin and 99 while pointedly ignoring the Chief. She picked up what appeared to be a chipmunk made out of metal. "This may be helpful in your current investigation, in case you need to check for traces of the hallucinogen. You simply place a piece of fruit in this compartment," she explained while opening the chipmunk's mouth and inserting a small banana slice, "then press this button," she continued, pressing the chipmunk's nose, "and it will scan the fruit. If the chipmunk's eyes display a green light, the fruit is safe. If they display a red light, then the chemical you're searching for is present." After a few quiet clicks, the eyes glowed green.

The Chief was still grumbling about money, but 99 looked appreciatively at the device as Li handed it to her. "Um," said Kevin, "why does it look like a chipmunk? Can't it just look like a fruit-scanning-thing?"

Letting out a short bark of laughter, Dr. Li scornfully replied, "I wasn't named fourth runner-up for Inventor of the Year by the tri-county chapter of the Asian-American Women in Technology Caucus by making things look like what they actually are!"

"Oh," Kevin said. "Well, I guess that makes sense." He walked over to a nearby table and picked up a fountain pen. "So, what does this do?" he asked.

"It's a pen," Li answered with a frown. "It writes."

Kevin continued to examine the pen, tugging at it in places and twisting the cap around. "No, I mean what does it really do?" After a few more moments of experimental prodding, the pen abruptly shattered in his hands. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "It's, like, a low-level bomb or something, right?"

Dr. Li's face was completely slack as she stared at the pieces with dismay. "No! was a pen."

"But you said you don't make stuff that looks like what it is!"

"I didn't make that! It was a gift from my grandfather upon my graduation from the Inventing College for Inventive Inventors! It once belonged to Thomas Edison!"

Kevin gathered the remains of the pen and handed them to the doctor. "Saw-ree."

Seeing the look on Li's face, 99 quickly moved to lead him away. "We really should get started on our investigation. Thanks for the scanner!" she called over her shoulder as she shoved him out of the laboratory.

The duo walked out of CONTROL headquarters and began heading toward Kevin's Jeep. "The most recent report of hallucinogenic fruit came from Governor's Park," 99 said, "so I think we should start there."

"Good thinking," Kevin said as they got into the car. "And if you see any suspicious fruit stands along the way, we'd better stop and investigate." As he drove off, he asked, "Did I ever tell you about my cousin and the cucumber?"

Soon after, the Jeep pulled up outside Governor's Park. Kevin and a queasy-looking 99 walked inside and approached the hostess podium. Before either could say anything, the hostess walked unsteadily toward them. "Welcome to, uh..." She glanced around in search of some visual cue to remind her of the restaurant's name, then noticed a nearby menu. Snatching it, she peered glassily at it before finally finishing, " An 18% Gratuity Will Be Automatically Added to Parties of Eight or More!" Grinning at a job well done, she continued, "Would you prefer to sit at a tooth or a bable?" She frowned, realizing something wasn't right. "I mean, a tooble or a bath?" Giving up at last, she dissolved into giggles as she leaned against the podium for support.

Kevin gasped in horror. "She's been affected by the KAOS fruit!" he shouted.

"Um, Kevin...?" 99 murmured, trying to stay casual.

He turned to address the restaurant patrons. "Everyone, stop eating immediately! I am a government agent and I have reason to suspect that your food has been drugged!"

"Kevin!" 99 said, more loudly this time.

Silverware clattered and voices clamored as the entire restaurant began to panic. Agent 99 tugged urgently on Kevin's arm to get his attention. "What is it, 99?" he finally asked.

"She hasn't had any hallucinogenic fruit," she said, reaching behind the hostess stand and pulling out a coffee mug. She sniffed it and winced. "Only enough vodka to take down a hippo."

"Ah," said Kevin. "So the hostess is...?"


"And the food?"


"And our cover?"


"Ah," he said again. Then he looked again at the restaurant, now in a complete uproar. Patrons were running out the doors, the manager was hollering into a phone, and distant sirens were growing louder. His eyes widened and he turned to 99. "But now KAOS is sure to find out we're investigating, and they'll be on their guard! Why didn't you try to stop me?"

Rolling her eyes slightly, 99 only said, "We don't have much time, Kevin. We'd better head back to CONTROL to regroup."

Leaving the still-giggling hostess behind, they hurried back to the Jeep and braced themselves to deliver the bad news to the Chief.

"What were you thinking?!" the Chief roared. "Announcing you're a government agent in a crowded room? Why not just call KAOS and tell them we're onto them?" He put a preemptive hand over the phone on his desk, just in case Kevin still hadn't figured out sarcasm. His other hand reached into a nearby paper bag to grab another handful of trail mix. He devoured it with a vengeance that made both agents wince.

"I'm sorry, Chief," Kevin said. "I could have sworn she was hallucinating. I mean, you probably would have thought the same thing if you were there!" Despite getting only a glare for his efforts, he bravely soldiered on. "When someone begins to act weird, anyone with half a brain would get suspicious."

The Chief's expression relaxed and he gazed at Kevin in awe. "That's brilliant, 86!"

Kevin stood a little straighter and grinned. "Thanks, Chief! It's all a matter of observation. If you just pay a little attention to the people around you, those subtle changes are totally obvious."

"You're one of the--no! You're the best agent we've got, 86! I don't know what we'd do without you."

"Aww, that's nice of you. As I was saying, the moment anyone does or says anything unusual, you can bet I'll be right on top of it!"

"I hope this isn't too forward, but are you doing anything later tonight? I know this charming little Italian bistro..."

Kevin frowned at the Chief. "Hey, 99, I think there might be something wrong with--"

"On it," replied 99, peering at the scanner in her hands.

"Oh, so you had the same thought I did," Kevin said with a nod. "Chief has to be hallucinating, because he hates Italian food!"

Shaking her head, 99 said, "Actually, I started scanning a sample of his trail mix the moment he called you bril--um, yes. Italian food."

The chipmunk's eyes glowed red and 99 gasped. "It's tainted!" She picked up the paper bag on the desk. "Look! This trail mix contains dried cranberries!"

Kevin pointed to the logo on the bag. "It's a Nutty, Nutty, Nutty World," he read out loud. "The store at the mall! Let's go, 99."

They ran out of the office, leaving the Chief to stare dreamily into space.

"Welcome to It's a Nutty, Nutty, Nutty World. We're just nuts about nuts. Crunch nuts with your lunch. Buy them by the bunch. Send them to friends far away to munch," recited the teenager behind the counter. His bored tone of voice contrasted sharply with the fake smile plastered on his face.

"We want to speak to the person in charge," Kevin demanded. "Is there a manager or whatever here?"

The teenager's smile immediately vanished as he gestured toward the back room behind the counter. "In there."

Kevin and 99 burst through the door to see a thin man with blond hair and an earnest expression, holding a clipboard as he inventoried the nuts. "Hey! No unauthorized personnel behind the counter!" As the agents pulled guns from their holsters, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. "Please!" he begged. "Take what you want, but please leave the pistachios; we're down to our last bag!"

"Drop the act," Kevin ordered. "We know this place is a KAOS front, and we're here to shut it down!"

"You mean this isn't a robbery?"

"No, we're placing you under arrest!"

"Great," the manager said, relieved.

"Then you'll cooperate?" 99 asked with hope in her voice.

He chuckled. "Oh, of course not. You're too late to stop KAOS, anyway. The test phase is a complete success, so Phase Two of the plan is about to begin. In exactly one hour, our base of operations will start sending shipments of hallucinogenic fruit all over the world!"

"You're bluffing," Kevin challenged. "If KAOS was at such a crucial moment, then why are you just standing around here, doing inventory?"

The manager snorted. "This is the busy season for nut sales! If I don't take care of this now, it could throw our entire order system out of whack!"

Kevin and 99 exchanged a bewildered look. "Never mind that," she said. "What does KAOS hope to gain from all of this?"

"We will target the leaders and other high-ranking officials of every country with the fruit. Then, once they're all incoherent and erratic, the entire world will be thrown into turmoil. In the meantime, KAOS will be poised to take control!"

"Interesting plan," Kevin remarked. "There's just one tiny flaw in it."

"You mean you think it's got too many convoluted steps, depends entirely on every single world leader eating the fruit at roughly the same time, and fails to take into consideration the fact that most governments could easily withstand having their leaders temporarily incapacitated?"

"No, the problem is that you assume drugs will have a negative impact on them. For all we know, it may just make them more productive and honest!"

Agent 99 added under her breath, "God knows it couldn't possibly make them any less so." Louder, she urged, "We're wasting time!" She turned to the manager. "You told us your base of operations would start sending out fruit in less than an hour. Where is the base?"

The manager laughed. "I may have been willing to tell you the majority of the plot for world domination, but you can bet I'm going to withhold the one detail that you'd actually find useful!"

Both agents cocked their guns. "Now!" demanded Kevin.

He shook his head. "Do your worst! I would gladly sacrifice my life in order to ensure that KAOS triumphs!"

The agents exchanged a worried glance before turning to look at a nearby wall clock as it ticked away what little time remained before the world was consumed by both chaos and KAOS.

Agent 99 pulled Kevin aside. "We can't shoot him," she whispered. "If we do, we'll never find out where the base is."

He nodded. "And he's our only lead. We don't have time for a long interrogation, 99. Our time is almost up!"

"What are we going to do?"

"Don't panic," Kevin reassured her. "We just have to think of a way to force him to tell us what he knows. Death threats?"

"Won't work. He's not afraid to die for his cause. Torture?"

"No good. We don't have anything that could inflict that kind of agony."

"You could try telling him that cucumber story," she muttered. "Wait! I've got it!" She pulled the scanner from her purse and stepped in front of the manager, holding it out to show him. "You see this? This is a robotic chipmunk."

Both Kevin and the manager looked at 99 incredulously.

"If you don't cooperate, I'm going to activate it, and then it's going to devour your nuts."

"No!" screamed the manager, diving forward and clinging to her ankles in supplication. "Please don't!"

She looked down in surprise. "I meant the nuts in the bins."

"I know!" he howled, now in tears.

Kevin stepped forward to stand next to 99. "Then you'd better tell us where the base is. Quickly!"

"But if KAOS finds out I betrayed them--"

Agent 99 snatched a handful of trail mix out of a bin and put it in the chipmunk's mouth. Pressing the button on the nose, she waited until the eyes glowed red and held it over the bins. "I've activated the robot. Talk fast, or we'll start with the pistachios!"

"It's inside the Giant Strawberry!" the manager cried out, throwing himself protectively over the bins.

The agents looked at each other. "Jackpot," 99 said, tucking the scanner back into her purse and reaching for a roll of packing tape.

Kevin helped her bind the manager. "It's a good thing Dr. Li included that nut-eating feature on the scanner. I didn't even know about it!"

"She didn't. That was just a ploy to force him to talk," 99 replied as they left the kiosk.

"Ah," said Kevin. "The old 'pretending the fruit scanner is really a robot chipmunk' trick. Works every time."

They arrived at the Giant Strawberry with less than fifteen minutes left. As they drew near, 99 put a hand on Kevin's arm. "This must be the base," she whispered. "There's a KAOS agent standing guard outside!"

Kevin stopped the Jeep well back from the Giant Strawberry to avoid being seen by the guard. The duo got out and began working their way surreptitiously toward him, hands on guns. As they approached, Kevin was whispering his plan to 99.

"We'll split up and come around from either side behind the Strawberry. You'll pass by first, pretending to be a tourist, and keep his attention on you by asking him a lot of questions. While you've got him talking, I'll slip in behind him and then create a diversion so you can sneak in while he's distracted."

As he spoke, 99 only nodded. Once they reached the Strawberry, she jumped at the guard and slammed the back of her gun into the top of his head. The guard slumped to the ground and she turned to look back at Kevin. "I'm sorry; I didn't catch all of that. Could you repeat it?"

"That...that was pretty much the gist of it," Kevin replied before opening the door to the Strawberry and waving her through.

Inside, they crept down a flight of stairs to an enormous secret underground bunker, where KAOS agents were loading the last of the fruit into trucks for distribution around the world.

"Look!" 99 whispered as they slipped in, unnoticed, and crouched behind one of the trucks. She pointed to a large tank truck full of gasoline, being used to fuel the shipping trucks. "We could destroy the entire shipment if we find a way to ignite that truck!" Seeing Kevin pulling his gun, she quickly added, "Safely!"

Kevin put away his gun and nodded. "Good thinking, 99." They scanned the grounds before he pointed out that gasoline covered a lot of the floor. "I bet we could set some of those larger pools on fire, which would spread to the truck. That would give us just enough time to escape back outside before it explodes. All we have to do is make our way to the truck without getting caught."

A sudden movement drew 99's attention to something behind Kevin. "Oh no."

"Don't tell me they've already spotted us."

"They've already spotted us."

"I asked you not to tell me that!"

"Drop your weapons!" shouted a KAOS guard.

As they stood, they set their guns on the floor and kicked them over to the armed agents now surrounding them. "You made a big mistake coming here," said the KAOS agent in charge of the operation.

"No," countered Kevin, "you made the mistake when you decided to take on CONTROL! You may have our weapons, but we've got a robotic chipmunk that will eat every last bit of fruit in this base. Set it loose, 99!"

Less confident, 99 pulled the chipmunk from her purse. The KAOS agent laughed. "That? That is obviously a fruit scanner. Guards, secure them while we complete our task!"

"Screw it," 99 muttered, knocking out the nearest guard with a whack on the head from the chipmunk. Taking advantage of the momentary confusion, she dove for the guns. Kevin was right behind her as she grabbed them and raced behind a fruit truck amid gunfire.

"Are you all right?" Kevin asked.

"Fine," she replied. "Cover me; I'll try to get to the tank truck."

Kevin fired at the KAOS agents, distracting them while 99 dashed from one fruit truck to the next. A few guards spotted her and started to fire in her direction, but stopped when they realized how close she was getting to the tank truck. Dodging Kevin's shots, several of them began making their way toward her.

Keeping her back to the tank truck, 99 held the guards off with her gun as she reached into a pocket for some matches. She made eye contact with Kevin, nodded toward the exit, then struck a match. It flared and she dropped it into a puddle of gasoline near the tank truck. Next, she yanked the hose from the truck, allowing gas to splash out onto the floor.

The newly spilled gas began to flow toward the flames, and 99 and Kevin ran for the exit. The KAOS agents sized up the situation and followed immediately behind. Everyone poured outside just in time for the explosion, which knocked the Strawberry off its foundation and sent it flying into the sky.

Seeing the KAOS agents beginning to edge away, Kevin leveled his gun at them. "Stop right there! If even one of you rotten apples moves, then I'm going to spoil the whole barrel." He looked over at his partner. "Get it? Rotten apples? Fruit?" She stared blankly at him, and he sighed. "Just confiscate their weapons, 99."

She did so, and Kevin removed one of his shoes. "I'm going to call in CONTROL," he said.

"Good idea, but why did you take off your shoe?"

"I keep my cell phone in there." He pulled a tiny phone out of the toe and punched in a couple of numbers. "Chief? It's 86. We've got everything taken care of, but we'll need you to send some people along to pick up the agents we've arrested." He paused to listen. "No, Chief. I had no idea my eyes were so beautiful...Well, I suppose I do have a charming voice, thanks...Look, I really think it would be best if we kept things professional...All right, fine, we can talk about it over drinks tonight...Your place, I guess...Chief, is there someone else there that I can talk to?"

After finally ensuring they'd get the backup they needed, he disconnected the call. "Boy, Chief is sure going to feel silly when that fruit finally wears off." A smoking orange slice fell from the sky, landing on Kevin's shoulder. He absentmindedly peeled it off his shirt and popped it into his mouth. "I'd hate to be in his shoes!"

Shaking her head in disbelief, 99 only sighed. "Oh, Kevin."

Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.