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Arthur "Artie" Nielsen ([personal profile] doyousmellfudge_archive) wrote2010-10-10 05:48 pm
Entry tags:

The Regents (Breakdown, part 4)

Ted's Restaurant
Unnamed Unincorporated Settlement
South Dakota

"She would like a word." That was all Mrs. Frederick's bodyguard had said. Artie can't recall the man ever speaking directly to him before, and it doesn't look likely to happen again any time soon. He'd said that, handed Artie a note with a time and address, and left.

The address turns out to be a shabby little diner of the sort that accumulate on the edges of small towns in the hopes of drawing tourists. The moment Artie walks in, he is accosted by a middle-aged woman with graying blond hair and an overly enthusiastic smile. "Hi there!" she chirps. "Welcome to Ted's, I'm Theodora, but everybody calls me 'Ted.' Party of one?"

"Uh, no, no, I'm meeting--" He spots Mrs. Frederick seated at a low-walled booth in the middle of the restaurant-- "that woman, right over there. And it's rarely a party." He shuffles over to her table. "Hello."

"Ah, Arthur. Have a seat."

He doesn't, just yet. "Why are we meeting here?"

"We need to have a chat."

And Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted is back again, wielding a waitress's notepad. "Pie of the Day is banana cream. I highly recommend it, I made it myself."

"Just steak," replies Mrs. Frederick. "Bloody. Black coffee. Two pieces of the pie."

Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted looks expectantly at Artie. He settles in across from Mrs. Frederick and shrugs. "Um, just a house salad. Leena's got me on a diet. --Maybe just one piece of the pie," he adds as Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted is walking away.

Mrs. Frederick smiles warmly, which does nothing to calm Artie's nerves. Somehow her warm smiles are scarier than her death glares. "How are things at the Warehouse?" she asks casually.

"Uh, they're good, they're fine," says Artie. "A little chaotic, but it's a good kind of chaos."

"And the missions?"

"No one's been killed, you can't ask for more than that. And we have an excellent retrieval rate."

She nods. "What about the incidents in Paris or Las Vegas? Or Colorado?"

"Mrs. Frederick, you know all about those. Why are you asking me about them?"

"I'm forgetful. Refresh my memory," she says flatly. "You were saying about Paris..."

...Artie doesn't know what Mrs. Frederick's angle is, but he can already tell this is going to be a long day.

"And you trust Pete and Myka."

"With my life. They're consummate professionals." Why is their food taking so long? Artie's getting dangerously hungry, and the questions he's being asked don't make any sense. "Mrs. Frederick, I have to ask you, why specifically--"

A movement out of the corner of his eye makes him stop. Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted is standing right next to their table, scribbling something down on her notepad. "Excuse me," says Artie sharply. "We're having a private--d'you mind?"

"Oh, no, that's alright," the woman chirps. She nods to another diner--a chubby, balding Asian man, who stands up and follows a couple of exiting patrons to the door.

"What is he...?"

Artie watches in bewilderment as the Asian man switches the sign on the door from 'OPEN' to 'CLOSED' just in time to keep another would-be patron from entering. "Very sorry, private party!" the Asian man calls through the plate glass.

"Wait. W-what is going on?" says Artie. He's not quite sure who he's asking. Everyone in the room seems to be looking directly at him.

No, not 'seems to.' Everyone is looking directly at him.

And that's not the only strange thing. The township isn't a very big one; Artie doesn't exactly know everyone that lives there, but he recognizes their faces without even thinking about it. But aside from Mrs. Frederick, and Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted, everyone in the restaurant is a complete stranger to him. Sure, you get out-of-towners stopping for a bite while they pass through, but this... whatever's going on, it's not normal.

"I thought they would never leave." Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted strides over to the kitchen and returns with two platefuls of food, which she sets down on Artie and Mrs. Frederick's table. "Okay, here we go, you be careful now, this is a hot plate... I think we can begin. Mr. Valda?"

This last is addressed to a small man in a smart-looking business suit in a nearby booth, who turns in his seat to face Mrs. Frederick. "Hello, Irene," he says, in a rough, quiet voice with a hint of a London accent (what on Earth is someone from London doing here??).

"Mr. Valda. Nice to see you again," says Mrs. Frederick with another warm smile. "This is Agent Nielsen--"

"Just-just-just--just a minute!" sputters Artie. "What is this?"

"It's a house salad," Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted pipes up. She shows her notepad to Valda (She was taking notes on their conversation! What the hell?!).

"Thank you, Theodora," says Mr. Valda before addressing Artie directly. "So. As you stated in the past, Agents Bering and Lattimer's mission was--"

Artie cuts him off. "You--d'you mind telling me exactly what is happening here?" he asks Mrs. Frederick.

"Arthur, Mr. Valda's asking the questions," replies Mrs. Frederick. "Please don't interrupt him."

"Y-yeah, well, I don't think I'm gonna be answering any questions until you tell me what this is about."

Mrs. Frederick responds, not to Artie, but to Mr. Valda. "Sometimes he forgets we answer to a higher authority."

"What higher authori...ty..." Artie trails off. He looks around the room. Dozens of eyes stare impassively back at him.

He swallows, his throat suddenly dry as a bone. "The Regents. These are the Regents? The Regents meet here??"

Mrs. Frederick quirks an eyebrow. "They do today."

Artie lets out a huff of nervous, incredulous laughter. "You really expect me to believe--"

"What exactly were you expecting, Agent Nielsen?" asks Mr. Valda dryly. "Hooded, cloaked figures standing in half-light around a perpetually burning flame?"

"He's seen too many movies," mutters an elderly man with a Bronx accent in a far corner of the restaurant.

"I... y'know, I just would've thought that..." Artie glances sidelong at Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted. "this waitress is a Regent??"

Mr. Valda looks Artie straight in the eye. "John Adams was a farmer. Abraham Lincoln was a small-town lawyer. Plato and Socrates were teachers. Jesus was a carpenter. To equate judgment and wisdom with occupation is, at best, insulting."

"I--that's not what I meant--"

"I know what you meant," says Mr. Valda. "Who would you have control the Warehouse? Kings? Popes? Politicians?" He huffs a faint laugh. "There'd be nothing left of it."

Artie's still boggling, but he's got his head together enough to know that he has just made a very bad first impression. "Yeah, no. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. It's just--I didn't think--"

"Yes," says Mr. Valda. "It's one of the reasons we needed to speak with you. Your reluctance to think."

This is too much for Artie to take in at once. He glances back at his dining companion. "'Irene'??"

"'Mrs. Frederick.'" Mrs. Frederick's tone could freeze molten lava solid in an instant. Artie reflexively scoots back in his chair a little.

Meanwhile, Mr. Valda has finished checking Theodora-but-everybody-calls-me-Ted's notes. "Thank you, Theodora. So, as I was saying: you stated, in the past, that Agents Bering and Lattimer's mission was to 'snag it, bag it, and tag it,' correct?"

"Yeah, well, y'know, I said that, I didn't mean to denigrate the job description--"

"Yet," Valda continues as though Artie hadn't spoken, "in their brief tenure as field agents, they managed to destroy James Braid's chair..."

"If you'll just let me explain--"

"Lewis Carrol's mirror?"

"That wasn't destroyed!" (Though it probably should have been--he still needs to talk to Mrs. Frederick about that--but now is not the time to bring that up by any stretch of the imagination.)

"Your agents released a malevolent entity into the Warehouse, allowing it access to dangerous Artifacts."

"It was an accident!" Artie protests. "It was a total accident. It is not uncommon for Artifacts to be occasionally destroyed for the greater good, and Agents Lattimer and Bering, I mean, they've repeatedly shown bravery, they've shown quick thinking, they're an excellent team, and they're probably the best agents that the Warehouse has ever--"

"Arthur." Mrs. Frederick doesn't need to raise her voice to get Artie's instant and full attention. "Their abilities are not in question here."

"Oh." Artie blinks. If they're not assessing Pete and Myka, then why ask all the questions about...


"This is about me?"

"Not only you." Mrs. Frederick glances at Mr. Valda, whose eyes haven't left Artie.

"Your former partner," says the small man.

"MacPherson?" It's not exactly a question. Or, if it is, Artie already knows the answer.

It's almost enough to make Artie wish he was back in Secret Service custody. The list of questions is endless, and Valda keeps reciting them in the same quiet monotone, pacing back and forth like he's a reincarnation of Perry Mason. "And in attempting to save Joshua Donovan, you placed his sister, yet another civilian, in danger."

"Sorry, excuse me, please--" Artie waves him off, or tries to, and addresses Mrs. Frederick. "If this is about MacPherson, then why am I being asked about cases that have absolutely nothing to do with--"

"Agent Nielsen." Valda hasn't quite mastered Mrs. Frederick's shut-up-now-if-you-value-your-life tone, but he's trying. "I will ask the questions."

"It might be wise to let this run its course for now," Mrs. Frederick murmurs.

"Alright. Fine. Fine." Artie rubs his temples. "Ye--yes. Yes. In saving Joshua, I maybe put Claudia in da--a little danger, but I promised her that I--"

"You promised? You 'promised.'" Valda's eyebrows raise. "Sounds as if personal feelings became involved in professional judgment. This has been an issue in the past, has it not?"

This last is addressed to Mrs. Frederick. "It may have come up," she replies. "But his Artifact retrieval rate is excellent. It's the highest in years."

"Thank you," says Artie, pleasantly surprised.

"Simply the facts," says Mrs. Frederick.

"Very well, then. The facts. Thank you, Theodora," says Valda, taking an eight-by-ten photograph from the woman's hands. "Did you or did you not, on two separate occasions, involve--" the photograph is dropped on the table in front of Artie-- "Daniel Dickinson, a high-ranking Secret Service officer, in Warehouse 13 matters? All of which were classified at the highest level?"

Artie's about to protest, but thinks better of it. Simply the facts. "Yes."

"We have a unique relationship with the United States government," says Valda, "a relationship that your actions have now complicated."

"I contacted a fellow government official in the normal course of performing my job. A job to which I have dedicated the last forty years of my life," says Artie pointedly.

"No one's questioning your dedication, Arthur," says Mrs. Frederick gently.

"What we are questioning, Agent Nielsen," says Valda, considerably less gently, "is your future." He settles onto the seat across from Artie, next to Mrs. Frederick. "I have a few more questions..."

Artie's head snaps up. "Do you? Really? I-I-I have a few. Of my own."

"Arthur, don't do anything foolish," Mrs. Frederick warns.

Artie barely hears her. He has been interrogated by a little man in a suit for the past forty-five minutes, and he has well and truly had enough. He rises from his seat "This exercise is a pointless and insulting waste of time."

"I asked you not to do this," Mrs. Frederick murmurs--not to Artie, but to Valda.

"If MacPherson is out there--" Valda murmurs back.

"What, 'if'? 'If'? 'If'??" Artie leans over to look Valda straight in the eye. "'If'?! I have a wound, right here, right here in my shoulder, that should prove it. He's out there. Oh, he's out there, and he's planning something far worse than any of you can imagine. What are you doing about it? What are you doing? You're tying my hands!"

"You leave us no choice." Valda all but growls out the words. "You say MacPherson is a threat, and you use that to justify violating Warehouse protocol time and time again!" He's shouting now, raising his voice for the first time since he entered the room. "Pretty soon, you're gonna be making up your own rules, just to sanction your actions. Does this sound familiar, Agent Nielsen? Hm? Sound like someone we both knew?"

Artie doesn't even blink. "Mister Valda, he knows the rules. He knows that I'm forced to follow them, don't you see that? And if I'm gonna take MacPherson, and I am, then rules have to be broken. That's the only thing that'll work. You know what's not gonna work? Reining in the one person who can stop him before it's too late." He straightens up to address the entire room. "Look at all of you, you know, you're not out in the field! You're here, hiding in plain sight! What are you doing, you're judging me, you're judging my methods, because--"

He stops short. Looks around the room. Everyone's still staring at him... except Valda, who suddenly seems to find the Formica tabletop utterly fascinating. "You're afraid of him," Artie breathes. "Tell me I'm wrong."

"Arthur..." Mrs. Frederick's tone is warning again.

"Nonononono." He takes a step toward Valda. "Mister Valda, look at me. You tell me, right to my face. Tell me I'm wrong."

The look Valda gives Artie is absolutely filthy, but he says nothing.

"Yeah. Well, either fire me or kill me. Or let me do my job." Artie grabs his black bag from the booth seat and strides toward the door. "You'd better make a decision," he calls over his shoulder, "and you'd better make it fast, before he makes it for you."

In any case, Artie's not waiting around to see what that decision is. He hates salads anyway.

For seventeen minutes, Artie sits on the stoop of Ted's Restaurant, staring across the potholed road and occasionally shivering. It's remarkably warm for a South Dakota winter, but still too damn cold for the clothes he's wearing today.

At minute eighteen, he glances slightly to his left and almost jumps out of his loafers when he sees Mrs. Frederick standing next to him. "God, how do you do that??"

Mrs. Frederick doesn't bother to answer that. She never does. "That was quite a performance."

"Sounded better in my head," Artie admits with a nervous chuckle. "So am I fired?"

"Worse. They want you to stay." A small smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. "Bering and Lattimer are not the best agents we've ever had. You are."

Artie blinks in astonishment. "They said that?"

"It was said," she replies. "And they were smart enough to believe me."

"...oh. Thanks."

Mrs. Frederick's smile is a little bigger, now, and much more reassuring than the one she gave him when he first arrived. "Simply the facts." She walks calmly forward to where her chauffeur is waiting with the car.

"What about MacPherson?"

"Good hunting," says Mrs. Frederick without turning around. "Try not to get yourself killed." And she's in the car and gone.

It's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but he'll take it.

[Dialogue from Warehouse 13 episode 1x11, "Breakdown."]

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