A newly minted spy gets to apply her tradecraft in the real world. Over-preparation helps contain her anxiety for the mission but telling friend from foe is something that needs more instinct than skill.

 

The gum tastes stale in my mouth. But I keep chewing. Slowly, like a cow chowing on some grass. I’m hoping it will make me seem relaxed, confident. The opposite of how I feel.

It’s a trick I learnt in Tradecraft 101. How to appear cool under pressure. Cooler anyway than the real Sarah Dunne, 26, perfectionist, a tad neurotic, prone to anxiety about my own imperfections.

Today’s my first real assignment, after spy school. I have to go to the Strand Arcade – a shopping mall with old-world charm – and retrieve a discarded pill bottle with a password to our enemy’s files. A password which expires in 15 minutes.

But there’s a catch. An agent, from BUSBE (Business Before Environment) may be here too, hoping to stop me completing my mission for POE (Protectors of the Environment).

I stroll past the shops, pretending to admire the displays as I scan the reflections in the windows for anyone following. I study the eyes of those I pass, for gazes that linger too long or glissade away, as they meet mine.

The agency said they might send back-up. I have a paired-password for identification.

I pass one bin, two. At the third, I spy a bottle with a single capsule on top of the garbage. Collecting it, I struggle not to smile. That was easier than expected. While still twinkling, my gazes brushes that of a man leaning against a wall opposite. Green eyes like a fantasy lake, nice face. Good teeth.  Spies usually have good dentition. Is he my contact? My enemy? Or something else?

I walk on and try to open the bottle.  But – errrgh –it has a childproof lid. It. Won’t. Budge. I’m panting like a bull set to charge, considering crushing it under my foot when …”Can I help you?” Handsome has an Irish accent and a disarming gaze.

“I’m okay.”

“You don’t look okay.”

“The bins are full today,” I say. He’s meant to reply. They’ll collect them on Monday.

He looks confused. “If you say so.”

Embarrassing.

“Give me the bottle,” he says. “It’s childproof. You’re meant to squeeze and turn.”

“I know,” I say, “I can read! It just isn’t working.”

“Maybe you don’t have the right touch.” He gives me a wink, then tries his  ‘touch’. Without success.

I can’t help smiling – even as the time ticks by to use the password.

He lets go with a grunt. “I must be a child at heart.” Then he tries again, inhaling slowly, and, gently, squeezing and turning the lid. “Ta-dah!”

“Thanks,” I smile and start walking away.

As I fish the pill out of the bottle, I realise he’s still beside me.

“Do you have water?” he asks. “For the pill.”

“I don’t need it.”

He looks dubious.

I pop the capsule in my mouth, pretend to dry swallow and stretch my cheeks into a smile. “Happy now””

“I couldn’t do that.” He looks grossed out.

“Thanks again.”

I move swiftly towards the Ladies restroom, spitting the pill back into my hand. Just my luck! The restrooms are Closed for Cleaning.

There’s five minutes till the password changes. I’ll have to do this in public view. I find a quiet bench and screw the capsule open. Inside, is a piece of paper with numbers and letters on it. I’m halfway through texting them when I sense someone hurrying my way. “Sorry, I’m late. Thought I’d missed you.”

It’s a tall man, with a mop of dark hair. And decorative gun cufflinks. “I’m Alec de Montfort!”

“The bins are full today,” I intone.

“That’s because it’s a weekend. They’ll empty them on Monday.”

Near enough.

One hand touches his ear, as if listening to someone. “We can’t stay here,” he says. “Someone’s coming!” Alec snatches the phone off me and grabs my arm, pulling me towards the EXIT. We turn into a small hallway to the street.

“We need to finishing keying in the code,” I urge. He’s still holding my phone.

“Thought you might need this!” Mr Handsome, who’s followed us in here, holds up a bottle of water, loosening the lid. “For the pill. I knew you were pretending before. You’re not a very good liar.”

But his eyes aren’t on me, they’re on Alec, who’s eyeballing him back. For a moment, I’m not sure who’s on whose side.

Then Good-Looking flings the water into Alec’s face and tackles him to the ground. They struggle for a while. Even as Alec presses a knife to the man’s throat, I think he might be on our side.

“Pass me the phone,” I say. He presses the knife into the man’s neck till a drop of blood oozes out..

“No-one has to get hurt,” says Alec. “We’ll all just wait until…” – glancing at his watch – “the password’s changed.”

Shoving his hostage at me, Alec takes off along the street. Handsome pursues briefly, then returns, shaking his head.

“You were my contact?” I said. “Why didn’t you say?”

“I knew someone would try to stop you. I thought I’d hang back and see what happened.”

When he smiles, his eyes fill with liquid light. “I was actually worried you might have swallowed that pill, for real.”

“We wouldn’t have got the password in time then.”

We both laugh.

“My name’s Liam. It was a good try for your first outing.”

“Try? I sent the password off in time.”

“But he had the phone?”

I pull out a second phone. “Always take a back up. Spying 101.”

While Liam fought Alec, I texted the number, which I’d memorised, into a second phone. “Hopefully, he’ll think we didn’t get the password to our people in time. And they won’t trash the files and we can take what we want.”

“Well done, Ms Dunne!” he laughed. As if I’d never heard that before. “Can I buy you a coffee to celebrate your first success?”

“I’d like that.”

More missions and coffees with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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