Chapter ZERO: Troubled Beginnings
Amelia stumbled just a tad as she walked down the hall with Thomas.
“Are you alright?” he asked as she paused for a moment and bent her leg back.
“Of course,” she strained, lifting her ankle to adjust her crooked high heel, “Probably still recovering from that wild night we had in Brazil last week.”
Returning her foot to the ground, they continued.
“It was a fine night indeed,” Thomas recalled, glancing down at her.
“I can hardly even remember what happened,” Amelia laughed.
“Neither can I, but I know it was a good time,” Thomas smirked.
“I barely ever allow myself to…cut loose…in that way,” she groaned.
“Exactly,” Thomas nodded as he brushed a strand of her soft, dark brown hair behind her ear, “The last time we partied hard like that was our honeymoon night.”
Amelia giggled softly, then abruptly stopped to rub her temples.
“And I have the headache to show for it,” she sighed,
“But, it was certainly worth it, darling, don’t you agree?” Thomas smiled, putting his arm around her shoulder.
“I suppose you’re right,” Amelia peeped, leaning her head against him, “After all, June 1st did mark the most important date of our lives.”
“Considering it was the night we took down the kingpin, busted an age-old drug ring, foiled the terrorist’s plans of mass destruction, and -by a thin chance- escaped with our lives,” Thomas nodded, raising his eyebrows, “you could definitely say that it was the most important.”
“I meant it was our anniversary, twit!” Amelia frowned, lifting away and slapping him in the shoulder.
“That too,” he exhaled, rolling his eyes.
The couple then arrived at the frosted glass doors of Commander Fidsk’s office.
“Well, hello there, you two!” the stocky man exclaimed, putting down his newspaper and tugging at his suspenders as they entered, “Three days late coming back from your mission -and a VERY SUCCESSFUL MISSION AT THAT- so I won’t stress about it. Not to mention it was your anniversary weekend, so…”
“See?” Amelia whispered harshly, elbowing her husband in the forearm, “Even he remembered!”
“That was very gallant of you two, serving instead of taking a holiday,” Commander Fidsk smiled, raising his graying brow, “I was extremely surprised that neither of you requested the day off.”
“I was waiting for HIM to take the initiative,” Amelia murmured, cutting her gaze up at Thomas.
“It simply wasn’t necessary,” Thomas grinned, fingering his silky black hair to the side, “When you work with your wife, every day is wedded bliss.”
“Translation? He forgot,” Amelia said through clenched teeth in annoyance.
“I did NOT,” Thomas protested.
“Well,” Commander Fidsk interrupted, clearing his throat, “regardless of what happened- and what didn’t- you two are back now, so you must be ready for your next assignment.”
“Yes sir,” they both nodded, British accents echoing in harmony.
“Alrighty then,” Commander blinked, handing each of them their mission brief folders, “The Museum of Unusual Arts in Detroit. It’s home to a diverse assortment of intricate pieces. The specific painting under watch is an eight by eleven early nineteen hundreds piece by lesser-known French-American artist Pierre Jacques Louis called ‘Petite Fille Aux Yeux Argentes’, or ‘Little Girl with Silver Eyes’. Despite its ‘petite’ size, it has quite a bit of weight on it.”
Amelia stared at her folder woozily.
“Upon a recent investigation performed by historians and appraisers, it’s been discovered to hold more than just silver eyes. Turns out that miniature portrait was painted against a canvas crafted by layers upon layers of the rarest silver notes. I mean ones dating back to 1878. Those are the oldest silver notes out there.”
“I thought that they’d all been destroyed,” Thomas said with one eyebrow up.
Amelia inhaled deeply.
“So did everyone else until these findings turned up,” Commander Fidsk continued, “Apparently, Louis was a collector and he hid it well. REALLY well. But, now that the Journal of Arts and Artifacts has published its findings, the infamous crime lord Rodrigo Mercio has his eyes on the silver eyes too. He wants to steal it, dissect it, and sell the notes on the black market. Of course, a guy like this isn’t going to plan some ordinary heist. He’s gonna make it epic with explosions and everything. He intends for everyone to assume that the whole thing was a terrorist attack or something and that the painting was destroyed by the flames.”
“Always blaming the terrorists…” Thomas shook his head.
Amelia’s amber eyes wearily gazed into the ceiling as she began to waver.
“Amelia, are you okay?” Commander Fidsk asked, causing Thomas to direct his attention from the folder to his wife.
“No-- yeah. I’m. I’m fine,” she quickly breathed, shaking her head out of the trance, ”So, where do we come in?”
“...Oh yes,” Commander Fidsk resumed with a twitch of his mustache, “According to sources, he’s planning the theft tonight--”
“And you want us to stop him?” Thomas guessed.
“Yes and no,” Commander Fidsk answered, “You see, the problem is, somehow, he’s already been able to rig the entire room where the painting is displayed with an elite system of explosives. On various occasions over the past week, he’s sent his goons into the museum during normal business hours to assemble the puzzle piece by piece. By the time security found it yesterday, it had already been fully constructed.”
“Okay,” Thomas smirked, “Get in, defuse the bomb--”
“Not just that,” Commander Fidsk interrupted, “You’ll bring this replica along, swap it out with the original, then, disable the bomb and get the heck out of there before Mercio shows up. Leave no trace of yourself and he’ll think he’s got the real thing.”
Amelia stared at the duplicate that Commander Fidsk had drawn from his drawer. The reflections of the silver eyes on the painting became dizzying, making the blues from the sky appear to merge with yellows from little girl’s blonde locks.
“So, we just let him get away?” Thomas asked in dismay.
“Yes,” Commander Fidsk nodded, “But remember: he’ll have a false sense of confidence that the bomb will erase his tracks, so I figure he’ll absentmindedly leave lots of evidence behind, making it easier for us to locate him later on.”
“I understand where you’re coming from, Commander,” Thomas said, “but with all due respect, it just doesn’t feel right.”
“We’ll have to for now,” Commander Fidsk insisted, “Starting a fight in the museum isn’t the best thing to do. The worst damage we’ll face if this plan blows over smoothly is just a couple of bashed-in windows, few shattered display cases, and maybe a busted lock or two. By the time you two get done kicking butt and shooting up a storm, you’ll have the whole third floor destroyed. Heck. You may even burn down the entire place!”
Thomas shrugged in agreement.
Suddenly, Amelia wobbled off balance but quickly planted her hands upon Commander Fidsk’s desk to keep herself from falling.
“Darling, are you sure you’re alright?” Thomas asked, quickly taking his wife by the shoulders.
“Yes, yes… I just… I need some air,” she pushed away from him and ran out of the room.
Thomas shot a look at Commander Fidsk. “I don’t think she’s at all well,” he frowned, “She’s been acting sort of strange lately.”
“Should I assign the task to somebody else?” Commander Fidsk asked.
“NO! NO! I CAN DO IT!” Amelia shouted, bursting back into the room, “I feel much better now.”
“You were only gone for two seconds!” her husband noted.
“And what a difference it’s made,” Amelia said assuredly, “Now, we shall be off. The plane to Detroit won’t wait, will it?” Thomas and Commander Fidsk locked gazes once more.
The Museum of Unusual Arts stood magnificently against the pitch-black sky. Two thin, cat-suited figures scaled the aged beige walls. With the quick work of a laser, they were in through the glass window. Sealing it back precisely, they descended onto the cold marble floor.
“I’ll freeze the surveillance systems, just in case our man decides to hack into the cameras,” Thomas whispered as he began pressing buttons on his watch.
Amelia nodded as she retracted her grappling hook.
“All systems paused,” he winked, then threw four tiny shurikens at either side of the doorway and the window, “These sensors will alert us when we’ve got company.”
“Splendid,” Amelia smiled with a flick of her ponytail, “Let’s get to work.”
The couple glided along the lofty halls where eerie paintings loomed and strange statues cast haunting shadows. Carefully prancing up several sets of twisty stairs, they finally arrived at the password-protected room.
“It’s blocked off,” Amelia gasped.
“Naturally,” Thomas hummed, drawing out a laser blaster.
“We can’t do that!” Amelia huffed, pushing his arms back down.
“Better idea?” he asked sarcastically.
Amelia glanced up above the entrance to see a gate-covered vent duct. With a boost from her fairly tall partner, she was in.
“I’ll stand watch out here. Make it snappy, now!” Thomas warned, touching his earpiece.
Dropping into the room from the overhead vent, Amelia nodded and headed over to the illuminated glass case perched upon the podium at the room’s center. The soft golden light was just enough for her to see the tools she’d unzipped from her pouch. Most meticulously, she began picking and prodding at the display. Her brown eyes tried hard to focus, but her gaze wouldn’t hold. Suddenly, she fumbled and dropped her entire tool bag on the floor.
“Amelia, any progress?” Thomas asked over the communicator.
“Almost done,” she breathed, collecting as many picks as she could from the green industrial carpet.
“They’ll be here any minute, I’m sure,” Thomas worried, “We mustn’t tarry.”
“I’m trying, Thomas,” she exhaled, finally freeing the painting from the glass.
She sat the case on the floor and removed the plastic-sealed replica from her sack. Staring at them both in the golden light, she could hardly tell the difference. She quickly took the fake out of the plastic and placed it on the stand, then sealed the original into its bag and tucked it away. At the slight turn of her neck, Amelia’s head began to pound. Trying to ignore the pain, she hastily attempted to pick up the glass casing but it slipped out of her hand. She successfully caught it with a gasp, before it fell to smithereens, and placed it over the duplicate painting. Exhaling deeply in relief, she rushed to seal it back to the pedestal.
“Phase one complete,” she breathed.
“Excellent,” Thomas whispered, “Next, locate the bomb, defuse it, and we can make our clean getaway.”
Amelia nodded. At the tap of her watch, a red laser graph flooded the room then settled on a section of the ceiling.
“Bingo,” she smirked.
All of a sudden, Thomas heard a light whizzing sound in his ear.
“The sensors have gone off,” he sang, “Amelia, the guests are here…”
Flooded with panic, Amelia’s heart rate increased. She drowsily glanced around the room to make sure she’d done all that she was supposed to, then hoisted herself back up into the vent ducts. After crawling a few inches, she came face to face with a flashing green light and a digital LED display.
“They’re making their way over here!” Thomas whispered, “You must get out of there at once!”
“Not before I deactivate the bomb,” Amelia murmured.
Upon hearing footsteps, Thomas grappled a beam in the ceiling and hastily ascended to a perch in the rafters.
“Amelia, they’re at the door,” he whispered, observing the four masked men from above, “Amelia?”
She wanted to answer, but she felt too weak. Her eyes were locked on the countdown clock set for T-Minus one hour and thirty minutes. Her thoughts were scattered. Her head began to pound even harder.
“Amelia?!” Thomas whispered with concern.
“I’m--- I’m in the vents,” she managed to mumble, “The bomb is right before me.”
“Okay. Just stay put, ” Thomas suggested, “They’re going in, but if you keep quiet, they’ll probably take the painting and leave.”
Mercio, the leader of the fiends, stared at the secured door. With a snap of his fingers, one of his men pressed a microchip onto the keypad. The screen immediately lit green, opening the doors with a ping. As the crew stepped into the room, lights came on to reveal the pedestals of strangely shaped vases and grotesque porcelain masks.
From a grated hatch in the ducts, Amelia could see the four enter. As they approached the podium, she noticed one of her pick tools was still on the floor by it.
“Oh no,” she mouthed.
Mercio noticed it at the same time.
“What’s this?” he asked, picking it up and bringing it to his angry hazel eyes. Then, he glanced at the podium, pressing his tan hands and face against it like a kid to a fish tank. “It’s a fake!” he growled in anger, shattering the glass with his elbow, “They’ve already replaced it!”
At the sudden sound of this, Amelia flinched with a gasp; which in turn caused the men to freeze in paranoia.
“Did you hear that?” one asked, “I think they’re still in here.”
The rest of the crew nodded and began searching the room.
Mercio stood still, but then glanced up at the ceiling.
“Never mind them,” he slurred, drawing a tiny remote controller from his pocket, “Grab the most expensive things you see and we’ll expedite the detonation.”
His crew nodded in acknowledgement and instantly carried out his orders.
Meanwhile, Thomas was getting worried about Amelia. He heard the men breaking glass and discussing the new plan. “Sorry commander, but I believe this is warranted,” he said to himself as he flipped down from his perch. Pressing his back against the wall, his deep green eyes peered into the room and spotted the backs of two men hunching over as they filled their duffle bags. Drawing a small silenced pistol, he aimed and shot.
“Eyy, be careful over there,” Mercio shouted at the sound of the thud and clanking glass, “If you break the stuff we won’t be able to sell--” As he turned, he saw that two of his men were down. He and his remaining accomplice both quickly looked to the entrance where Thomas stood leaning against the door frame.
“Hello, fellows,” He smirked, casually aiming his gun at the two.
The last man tried to draw his gun, but Thomas quickly shot him.
“Hold it,” Mercio commanded, lifting his hand that held tight to the detonator, “If you pull that trigger, I’ll press this button and we’ll all be blown to smithereens.”
Thomas held the gun steady but his mind was racing.
Up in the vent ducts, Amelia’s mind was also racing. Her breathing became heavier as sweat dripped from her pale brow. Clutching needle-nose pliers in one hand and wire-cutting shears in the other, her brain was instantly flooded with memories of bomb disposal training. Despite her head spinning, she tried hard to concentrate on the wires. As she slowly reached her shaky tools into the wiring, a sharp pain cut through her stomach driving her to cry out and snip the wrong wire.
“EXPEDITED BOMB SEQUENCE ACTIVATED,” a robotic voice rang out from the vents, “ONE HOUR AND THIRTY MINUTES SUCCESSFULLY CONVERTED INTO T MINUS THIRTEEN MINUTES.”
“What have you done?” Thomas shouted, ”I didn’t even fire at you!”
Mercio’s eyes got big and looked at the controller in his hand with much confusion. “I didn’t press anything! I swear!” he yelled.
“Quit your games and make it stop!” Thomas yelled, tightening his grip on the gun.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Mercio barked, “Once the sequence is activated, nothing more can be done.” Throwing the remote to the ground, he grabbed one of the partially filled duffle bags and pushed past bewildered Thomas.
Thomas didn’t even try to stop him. Sliding to his knees, he grasped the remote and stared at the buttons. One was red and one was green. Thomas closed his eyes and pressed the red button.
“SUPER EXPEDITED BOMB SEQUENCE INITIATED,” the robotic voice called again, “THIRTEEN MINUTES SUCCESSFULLY CONVERTED INTO T MINUS ONE MINUTE AND THIRTY SECONDS.”
“EGADS!” Thomas screamed, throwing down the device, “Amelia! Where are you? We have to get out of here!” He looked around the room and then up at the vents. Flipping out his grappling gun, he hooked the grate and yanked it down.
“T MINUS TWENTY-TWO SECONDS,” the voice chimed.
“Amelia!” Thomas leapt and pulled himself up into the vent. He saw her feet and pulled her by her ankles back out of the duct. He hoisted her limp body over his shoulder and darted out of the room.
“T MINUS NINE SECONDS,” the loud voice continued.
Thomas glanced down the hall to see a large picture window overlooking the Detroit River. Drawing his laser blaster, he repeatedly fired at the glass while running towards it. Just as he came within feet of the window, it finally shattered. Holding tight to Amelia, he leapt out-- just ahead of the flames that lit the sky as they plummeted into the water.
Commander Fidsk held the Petite Fille Aux Yeux Argentes in his hands and stared into the young blonde girl’s silver eyes. “Well, you did the least expected of you,” he said to Thomas and Amelia who solemnly stood before him, “There were three point five billion dollars worth of damages-- only a couple of billion more than we expected.”
Thomas exhaled as he gripped Amelia’s hand tightly.
“After some deep, deep thought…” Commander Fidsk continued, scratching the back of his graying head of hair, “I’ve decided that you two should take a couple of months off.”
“MONTHS?” Thomas blurted in surprise.
“Yes, months,” Commander nodded.
“It was all my fault,” Amelia sighed in shame, “Punish me, not Thomas. If it wasn’t for him saving my life, I wouldn’t be on the team any longer anyways.”
“It’s not quite a punishment, Amelia,” Commander said, “Think of it as a break. A LONG break. I can tell you aren’t well, and you both clearly need some time to rest. You haven’t taken a day off in ages.”
“This is our life, Commander,” Amelia protested, “We don’t need a day off.”
“Yes, you most certainly do,” Commander insisted, “It’s only seven months. A mini sabbatical.”
“SEVEN MONTHS???” Thomas gasped in dismay, “I could see days, or maybe even weeks, but MONTHS???”
“Listen. I like you two. You’re practically the best agents on the force,” Commander stated, “That being said, I’d rather you be out of action for a few months than out of the game for life.”
“I see where you’re coming from, but, that’s absurd!” Thomas frowned, “What on earth are we supposed to do for seven months?”
“Don’t you guys have a mansion or something?” Commander Fidsk laughed, “Have some parties. Swim in your gargantuan swimming pool. It’s not like you’re getting fired so just accept what you can while you can and be happy with it.”
“I have an idea,” Amelia thought aloud, “Since I was the cause of the problem, I can go home and Thomas can stay and work.”
“Are you sure about that?” Commander asked.
“Positive,” Amelia nodded, pursing her ruddy lips.
“What if you need help or something?” Commander Fidsk shrugged.
“We have a butler and a maid,” she reminded him, “I should be perfectly fine.”
Commander Fidsk took a deep breath and looked to Thomas.
“If you two are fine with it, so am I,” Thomas smiled.
Thomas’ and Amelia’s mansion was one of the grandest homes in London. A prized estate with 10,000 square feet of luxury (not to mention the large backyard enclosed by a towering cherry wood fence). The couple bought the mansion in their newlywed phase. They’d sometimes host large parties or just spend lazy days in their pajamas. But, as they increased in skill as elite secret agents, they visited it less and less. As to not seem too suspicious, they kept the butler and the maid on staff to maintain the property and make sure that people knew somebody still lived there.
For the next few weeks, Amelia stayed there at the mansion under the loving care of Beatrice the maid, and Ferdinand the butler. She felt fine for the first couple of days but soon started to get worse. She woke up with nausea and later began vomiting incessantly. After a while, she completely lost her appetite and refused to eat anything. Nevertheless, she continued to throw up until there was nothing left in her stomach. Pretty soon she was completely bedridden, deeming herself too weak to stand. She spent a full week in bed and didn’t even arise to go to the bathroom. After all, she didn’t need to. She’d stopped eating and drinking long ago.
Beatrice and Ferdinand could see that her health was deteriorating. They were trying their best to do all they could, but Amelia’s heath would not improve. Within these few weeks, she’d aged terribly. Her already thin frame had become unnervingly skeletal, and her fair skin had become a ghastly pale. She was severely malnourished and dehydrated yet still refused any intake. Most days she’d stay asleep for hours. One day, when she finally awakened, she asked to see Thomas once more before she died. This disturbed Beatrice and Ferdinand. They felt the sincerity in her voice. Seeing her current condition, they quickly summoned Thomas home to his wife.
Thomas was fighting a ring of criminals in an abandoned warehouse when he got the call.
“What is it, Ferdinand?” he asked as he tapped his earpiece, “I’m kind of in the middle of something,”
“Sorry, sir, but I’m afraid it’s very urgent,” the butler said over the phone.
“Better be,” Thomas winced, struggling to free himself from a chokehold.
“Mr. Thomas, sir, your wife is severely ill,” Ferdinand informed him, “I suggest you come home at once. She longs to see you.”
“This mission ends in three days,” Thomas grunted as he kicked his attacker in the groin. “I’ll just finish this up and--”
“She may not last,” Ferdinand interrupted.
“How bad is it?” Thomas asked as he took hold of the man’s arm and hurled him into a stack of crates.
“She’s pining away, sir,” Ferdinand sighed with concern, “She asked to see you before she dies.”
“She said that?” Thomas asked as he punched two men in the face and chopped another over the shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” Ferdinand nodded solemnly.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there as quickly as I can,” Thomas strained as he dropped to the ground and fired his gun several times.
“Unbelievable,” Commander Fidsk smiled and shook his head as Thomas stood before him, “You came back three days late from Brazil, and now you return three days early from Bengali. Boy, are you making up for lost time!”
“I made quick work of them because I was determined to go home and see my wife,” Thomas said sadly.
“Oh?” Commander laughed, “Getting a little lonely now? You miss your smokin’ hot sidekick, I see. How’s she enjoying her vacation?”
“I hear she isn’t doing well at all,” Thomas breathed, “Ferdinand said that she asked to see me before… before she dies.”
“Oh no,” Commander gasped as his grayish-blue eyes got big, “I had no idea It was that bad.”
“Neither did I,” Thomas murmured.
“I’m sorry to hear this, Thomas,” Commander frowned, “Go and see her right away. Take as much time as you need. My prayers are with you, and please do send her my love.”
Thomas nodded and turned away.
Commander sighed in sorrow at the thought of losing Amelia. He figured also that Thomas just wouldn’t be the same without her. He put his head down on his desk and wished for the best.
Thomas rushed home and was highly disturbed at the sight of Amelia. She was thin, frail, and very pale.
“Oh, Thomas,” she sighed, touching his face with a shaky, withered hand, “Kiss me once more so that I may die in peace.”
“Don’t say that, Amelia!” Thomas whined, staring into her dulling eyes.
“We’ll all die one day, Thomas,” she droned, “I believe it is my time.”
“No, it’s not!” Thomas protested, “When you die, we’ll die together. We will have seen the world.”
“We have seen the world, Thomas,” she giggled faintly, fingering his silky black hair.
“Amelia, listen. You’ll be alright. I promise,” Thomas said firmly as he took her hand into his own, “I’m going to hire the best doctors in town to fix you up.”
Looking to Ferdinand with a snap, the butler turned away to fetch the phone book.
Ferdinand called doctor after doctor. Each physician visited the house one by one and took a good look over Amelia. All of them shook their heads and said they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.
As the clock neared 6 pm, the last doctor sat by Amelia’s bedside.
“Dr. Grant, just heal my wife and name the price so that I can write the check,” Thomas begged him.
“Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works,” Dr. Grant sighed, “I don’t know what is wrong with her, so I couldn’t possibly heal her yet. We must take tests to prognosticate an illness and foresee a reasonable plan of treatment.”
“Okay! Yes! Then do it!” Thomas cheered.
“Which tests would you like us to perform?” Dr. Grant asked.
“All of them!” Thomas exclaimed, “Take all of the tests. Leave no stone unturned.”
“All of them?” the Doctor gasped, scratching his balding head, “That requires samples to be sent to multiple labs and, due to the various apparatus utilized, and the manpower this will take, this would be quite a lengthy and costly feat.”
“With all due respect, Doctor, it’s 1995,” Thomas scolded, “We’re at the cusp of a new millennium. You’re the most expensive physician in town, with the highest accolades, and you mean to tell me that you aren’t that technologically advanced?”
“...We… we are more advanced than most, but your requests are improbable,” the Doctor sulked, stroking his broad chin, “Cutting-edge technology isn’t cheap, you know.”
“How much?” Thomas asked as he drew out his checkbook, “I have all the money in the world, just name the price.”
“Even still, we’ll need scientists monitoring the results,” the Doctor shook his head, “and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the few doctors in my tiny little team.”
“Then hire more,” Thomas suggested, writing out another check, “Get me the results by tomorrow morning so that we can start treatment right away.”
“Tomorrow morning!!??” the Doctor laughed, placing a hand on his plump tummy, “This extensive amount of testing will require at least a month to process!”
“Expedite it,” Thomas said as he scribbled out yet another check.
“I guess we could try to weasel it down to two weeks,” the Doctor sung.
“She may not have two weeks,” Thomas began writing another check, “Three days.”
“That’s preposterous!” the Doctor chortled, “Scientifically impossible!”
“One week?” Thomas pleaded, voice cracking in despair.
“...Okay,” the Doctor reluctantly agreed. “But that’s pushing it.”
Thomas smiled and shook the Doctor’s hand.
After gathering all the samples he needed, the short little Doctor hurried off.
For the next few days, Thomas did not leave Amelia’s side. He stayed with her day and night, talking to her and praying for her. He called the Doctor thrice every day to check in and see how the tests were going. Very annoyed at this, Doctor Grant continued to tell him to wait the full week.
On the fifth day of waiting, Amelia awakened just as the sun arose.
“Thomas, I’m hungry,” she breathed.
Thomas woke up and could hardly believe his ears.
“What did you say, darling?” he asked, arising from the bedside chair and wiping his eyes.
“I’m hungry, Thomas,” she repeated.
“You’re hungry!” Thomas smiled.
Thomas called in the butler and the maid. He asked them to take her order and make it quickly. Amelia suggested so many varied foods from cakes to pies to bacon and eggs to spaghetti and meatballs, to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Beatrice and Ferdinand felt this all was so ridiculous and they figured that she wouldn’t even be able to scarf it all down. And, even if she did, she would most likely just vomit it all up again. Nevertheless, they followed Thomas’s orders and got to work straight away, preparing the mishmash meal for Amelia.
When they presented it to her, she devoured it all with glee as they watched in awe. Thomas was delighted.
“Dr. Grant! Oh, thank you, Dr. Grant!” Thomas cried on his daily call.
“Whatever for?” the Doctor asked, “So far, all of the tests have come back negative. I still have no idea of what could be causing--”
“No! Listen, Doctor,” Thomas interrupted, “Whatever you’ve done, it’s finally working!”
“What do you mean?” the Doctor asked.
“Amelia’s eating very well and she isn’t throwing up a bit,” Thomas informed him.
“Really?” the Doctor gasped in disbelief.
“Yes! She’s requesting everything on the menu and more, but she’s scarfing it all down without hesitation. Isn’t it strange?” Thomas laughed, “But it’s a good strange! Thank you for all you’ve done, Doctor.”
“But, Mr. Thomas,” the Doctor shook his head, “Please do understand that I have performed no treatments as of yet. We are only still testing for a possible cause of the problem.”
“Well, continue the testing, and when you’ve finished, please do let me know what you all have found,” Thomas smiled.
“Will do, sir,” the Doctor nodded and hung up the phone.
Thomas was so happy and preoccupied with Amelia’s progress that he didn’t speak to the Doctor again until he came back to the mansion when the week was up.
“Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Amelia,” the Doctor began, “When I was wrapping up the testing, all of the samples were coming back negative. That’s when you called me and reported her new and surprising symptoms.”
Hand in hand, the couple stared hopefully into Dr. Grant’s brown eyes as Beatrice and Ferdinand stood close by.
“That’s when I took it upon myself to test her for one more thing that didn’t occur to me before,” the Doctor continued, “Turns out, you two are expecting.”
The couple blinked and kept their gaze fixed upon the Doctor who had suddenly fallen silent.
“Yes?” Thomas shrugged, “We’re expecting the diagnosis…”
“You’re expecting IS the diagnosis,” the Doctor smiled, “Congratulations. Your wife is pregnant.”
Thomas’ and Amelia’s eyes got big.
“I’m sorry, what?” Amelia gasped, lifting up from the bed and holding her chest.
“You are with child,” the Doctor nodded, “You have been for three months.”
“But… but how?” Amelia asked, lifting the covers away from her flat tummy.
“You’re carrying really small for the moment, but soon it will grow, especially with your newfound appetite,” the Doctor chuckled.
Thomas and Amelia stared into blank space as they pondered the news.
“Well, I believe my work here is done,” the Doctor arose and gathered his briefcase, “Thank you for the generous pay. Good day.”
With that, Ferdinand showed him to the door.
The room was full of quiet until Ferdinand reentered it.
“Pregnant?” Amelia scoffed, “Whatever shall we do?”
“We can’t settle down to raise a child!” Thomas exclaimed, “That will ruin our entire career!”
“Not necessarily, sir,” Ferdinand started, “One of you could stay home whilst the other works and vice versa.”
“No, no,” Thomas shook his head, “That would be too suspicious. No one shall know that we have a child.”
“Why not?” Beatrice asked.
“Because, if they know, they could use it against us,” Thomas warned, “They may bring harm to it. They may take it for ransom. Anything can happen when you’re a spy.”
“Darling, you’re right,” Amelia sighed, taking hold of her husband’s arm, “We can’t tell anyone of this. Not even Commander Fidsk.”
Beatrice and Ferdinand nodded in agreement.
“But, what will explain your absence from the force?” Ferdinand asked, stroking his waxed mustache.
“We won’t have to be absent!” Thomas smiled as an idea entered his brain, “We have this giant mansion that we hardly ever live in, and we have you two. Why don’t you two care for the child for us?”
“What a grand idea!” Amelia grinned.
“Illogical!” Beatrice gasped, clutching her blue hair bonnet in disbelief, “We surely don’t get paid enough for that!”
“You two hardly have anything to do around here as it is,” Thomas huffed, “Adding a little child to the mix will not make anything harder for you, will it?”
“We do have lots to do,” Beatrice frowned, puffing out her chest and brushing off her laced apron, “I beg your pardon, but, sir, it seems you know nothing about our jobs and even less about children.”
“I agree with Beatrice, sir,” Ferdinand spoke up, tugging at his black tuxedo, “With all due respect, we have many tasks from maintaining this indubitably large estate, dusting, cleaning, mowing the 5,000 square foot yard, washing the windows, running errands, scheduling appointments, making excuses for why you two aren’t here, and not to mention remotely assisting you on missions.”
“Among other tasks too numerous to count,” Beatrice added with a tilt of her head.
“Forgive my blunder,” Thomas exhaled, “I will give you both a raise for your hard work and dedication.”
The butler and the maid smiled.
“And, with this, you agree to take care of the child?” Amelia asked.
Beatrice and Ferdinand looked at each other skeptically and then nodded with a shrug.
“Splendid,” Thomas clapped, “I’ll hire the best midwife in town and we’ll have the baby right here in secret. Pay her off to keep mum, let Amelia rest for a few weeks, and then the child will be all yours.”
The next morning, Catherine the midwife arrived and stayed at the estate daily until one gloomy morning, February 29, 1996, when Amelia finally gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby boy. They all gathered around to gaze upon the lad.
“We’ve never had a child before,” she gasped, stroking his soft, fair cheek as he slept, “What shall children do all the day long?”
“When I was a child, I loved toys,” Thomas recalled, “Ferdinand, get to work ordering lots of toys for the lad.”
“...what kinds of toys, sir?” the butler asked doubtfully.
“All kinds. Anything a young lad would like,” Thomas grinned, “Toy tools, toy cars, toy boats, toy trains, toy planes, toy robots, action figures, pop guns…”
“Sir, he’s but an infant!” Catherine laughed, tossing her frizzy brown hair back.
“What do infants like?” Thomas thought, “Buy him the most expensive pacifiers and nursing bottles. Get him a comfy little bassinet, and a rocking horse, and the softest clothing a baby could wear.”
“He’s not big enough for a rocking horse,” the midwife slurred, placing her hand on her hip.
“I don’t care,” Thomas smirked, “It’s great to have it for when he will need it.”
“He’s so beautiful,” Amelia sighed, paying attention to the babe and nothing else, “He has your eyes, Thomas.”
“And he’ll probably have my stomach, too,” Thomas laughed, “Kids like snacks, right? Beatrice, whenever you go to the market again, please do pick up a bunch of snacks.”
“I beg your pardon,” Beatrice grimaced, tucking a strand of red hair back into her bonnet.
“Sir, he’s too young for snacks,” Catherine rolled her dark brown eyes, “He doesn’t even have teeth yet.”
“He has your jawline, Thomas,” Amelia swooned, still staring at the sleeping child, “What shall we name him? Thomas Jr.?”
“No no no that’s a horrible idea,” Thomas cringed, “Something else.”
After staring at the baby all day, they finally came up with a name. They thought it to be the most precious name imaginable for the most precious child they ever beheld.
Catherine stayed at the mansion for two weeks after the baby was born. These two weeks, she worked to help Amelia’s body return to normal with a nutritious diet and gentle exercises. She also provided new-mom advice to Beatrice who would become the primary caregiver of the lad. Amelia refused to breastfeed. She even took pills to help her dry up as quickly as possible. She wanted no evidence of anything for anyone to be able to figure out what had occurred.
“Wow, look who it is!” Commander Fidsk beamed as Thomas and Amelia walked into his office, “Welcome back! Long time no see!”
“We’ve returned refreshed and ready to go,” Thomas smirked.
“That’s wonderful!” Commander grinned, “Funny to think that I haven’t seen you two since last year. You guys look great. How are you feeling, Amelia?”
“I feel better than ever,” she exhaled proudly.
“Last I heard of you, I was preparing for the worst,” Commander sighed, “I’m so thankful you recovered!”
“I went through a rough patch but I’m all good now,” Amelia nodded.
“What was the illness?” Commander asked.
“Well…” Amelia hesitated, glancing over at Thomas, “…at first, no one knew what it was. We asked every doctor in town and not one of them could figure out what was wrong with me. Then, the last doctor ran every test in the book and finally discovered that I… I had an abnormal growth in my abdominal cavity. Thank God they were able to remove it safely. Then, I had to stay and rest for a while to make sure I didn’t revert back.”
“What a miracle you are,” Commander gaped, “It’s not contagious, is it?”
“Of course not!” Amelia laughed.
“I know,” Commander smiled, “But, are you sure you’re ready to get back into action?”
“Positive,” the couple chimed in unison.
“Then, boy, do I have a mission for you…” Commander grinned slyly as he handed them their briefing folders.
A Sudden Change
We progressed slowly up the walk and Beatrice held on tightly to my hand. As the lead caretaker answered the door, she spilled her ruse and I stared into blank space.
“I found him on the side of the road. I asked if he was lost, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. I’ve never seen him around town before,” Beatrice carried on in such a convincing way that I would have believed her if it hadn’t been myself she was talking about. I simply fixed my eyes upon the floor and zipped my lips. My mind was racing… were my parents involved in some illegal business? Why did everyone have to lie and act so suspicious all of a sudden? Why had I really been hidden away in that mansion all my life? Perhaps I was thinking too hard about it all. Surely, I’d read too many fables and fairytales… but, some were biographies and Bible stories…
“Come, child! Tell us your name,” the older woman said, yanking me out of my thoughts and back to the present. I looked at Beatrice. The expression on her face let me know it was alright to say it because no one on the outside had ever heard my name before. I didn’t exist.
“If you won’t tell me your name, at least tell Ms. Gertrude,” she smiled.
I glanced back at the old woman. My name wouldn’t sound right coming out of anyone else’s mouth, I surmised. I’d heard only six people say it before, and I would never hear them say it again. It just wouldn’t be the same. My name was a memory. Hearing my name called aloud would only serve to remind me of everything that was once connected to it. My heart began to beat faster. My eyebrows furrowed. I looked Ms. Gertrude straight in the eye and said, “I don’t have one.”
“What, young man?” she asked, quite taken aback.
“I don’t have a name,” I repeated.
“Why certainly, that can’t be true,” she said kindly, kneeling down. “Where are your parents?”
“I don’t have any parents,” I said nonchalantly.
“I’m sorry to hear that…” she said in a low voice. “Might I ask what happened to them?”
“I don’t have any,” I said again.
“How did you get here in London?” she asked with a look of concern. “Did you grow up here?”
I shrugged and looked to the ground again.
She pursed her lips and shook her head. Then, she stood up and said a few more words to Beatrice.
“Don’t worry, lad. We will take care of you here,” she smiled, looking at me again,
“You’ll open up soon, and then we’ll find you a nice, loving family.”
I did not make eye contact.
“I pray the best for you, young man,” Beatrice said, taking my hands and gazing into my eyes one last time. She pulled me into a hug and whispered, “Ms. Gertrude will take great care of you.”
The Broken Child
He didn’t want to remember anything from his past.
He told them that he would laugh and move on.
He had only cried once before, and that was when his dog-- his best friend-- ran away.
He didn’t cry when he got the news that his parents’ plane went down.
He didn’t really know them, anyway.
He cried when he was dropped off at the orphanage, though.
Twelve years under the care of a butler and maid who he would never see again in his life.
So, he took the knapsack.
He broke the trinkets.
He watched them burn.
As The Two Observed Someone in His Office Through Glass Wall...
“Seventeen years at W.I.L.L.O.W.I.S.P. SEVENTEEN, Gary. And, then WHAT? NOW this new dude saunters in and everybody’s absolutely in love?”
“Pitiful, Mike. Just pitiful.”
“There’s nothing special about him! …I mean… I take that back… He’s a special breed, alright. Definitely got a couple of screws loose.”
“Look at him sitting at his desk with-- Is that glitter and pink construction paper?! What the heck is he even doing?”
“Who even cares?”
“How on earth did he get assigned to the Veradis Operation?! That was my case. That was OUR case, Gary. We trained for it, working tirelessly for seventeen years, sticking by the rules, following instructions, taking no funny business. Now, we see this whacko being the craziest, most reckless agent on the force, and they call him the best?”
“I’m sure he’s crashed more company vehicles than every agent here combined, and he’s surely let some bombs go off just for the heck of it when he darn well coulda defused them.”
“Probably wanted to walk away from the explosion like some cliche action movie hero.”
“You know what, Gary? Seventeen years and I have never walked away from an explosion. Have you?”
“That’s right. We pride ourselves on the fact that a bomb has never ever detonated on our watch. That’s an accomplishment, Gary. That should let people know something about us.”
“But NO. Dumb people and their dumb priorities. RIDICULOUS. And he doesn’t even have a partner. Out here, reckless as he is, like some unattended, spoiled, bratty child.”
“…Did he just wave at us? Laughing…? The audacity. You know what? Let’s go, Gary. He’s not worth our time. Just you wait. We’ll get our big break one day.”
“We will, Mike. We will.”
One Last Stop
“Why are we slowing down?” Bruce asked impatiently from the passenger seat.
“Because I have to run one last little errand,” smiled the young man with the malachite eyes.
“I like to do all my grocery shopping BEFORE I hit the road,” Bruce scoffed, “But I guess that’s just something you’ll have to learn.”
The driver simply shrugged and continued navigating up the side road.
“Come on, dude. You weren’t serious, were you?” Bruce whined, “For real, if you make one more stop, I swear we are gonna be so totally late and that is NOT cool.”
“Don’t worry. I will,“ the driver laughed, evoking a groan from Bruce, “I’m hungry, aren’t you?”
“…I guess,” Bruce hesitated, “But I’m sure they’ll have snacks at the–”
“In life, you can never be sure of anything,” the driver smiled as he parked, “But I guess that’s just something you’ll have to learn.”
“I can be sure that YOU, my friend, are super cuckoo,” Bruce said with a smirk.
“Well, maybe that’s the one thing you CAN be sure of,” the driver winked, taking the keys from the ignition, patting Bruce on the shoulder, and exiting the vehicle, “Wait here. I won’t be too long.”
Bruce only shook his head and reclined his seat. The car was pretty nice and the cabin was really quiet. It had to be soundproof because all the noises of the busy city had faded into oblivion. The interior was SPOTLESS. It was neat, it was clean, and it smelled like a new car. No. It smelled BETTER than a new car. Something about it reminded him of the ocean. It smelled sweet… peaceful… calming…
Before Bruce knew it, the combination of boredom, relaxation, curiosity, and deep thinking had sent him off swiftly and soundly into a peaceful sleep.
Someone sat in his office quite disgruntled. It wasn't really his fault that the helicopter had crashed and Veradis had almost died...
Well, perhaps it was his fault, but at least he'd gotten them out of the situation as he always had.
He spun around slowly in his wheely chair, tapping a click-pen against his knee, exploring the depths of his mind. He was the most talented Raven WILLOWISP had ever seen, drafted at only eighteen, graduating to Elite Espionage status in less than a year. Why did they suppose he suddenly needed a partner now? Of course, his methods were unconventional, but that never mattered before. He'd been called crazy from the first day he stepped foot into Headquarters, but he hadn't failed a mission yet. Someone never needed anyone or anything. The last thing he wanted was another agent to be at his side 24/7; a person to become attached to; a being to care about---
A partner would simply get in his way. He didn't need one.
Someone exhaled and propelled himself away from the desk. The last time he thought he would enjoy company, his companion was abruptly yanked away from him. That was nearly ten years ago now. He'd burned that memory to ash. Never again. Never again. No matter how much Commander McCox pressured him, or how much General Rigotto restricted him- trapping the best agent at WILLOWISP in a glass cubicle at the end of the hall. Preposterous, Someone thought. He should be out there kicking butt and taking names. He should be out there doing what he did best. BUT, if reentering the force meant taking a partner with him, he would be happy sitting around the boring office passing the time.
There was still lots to do, many ways to make himself useful. He'd conduct research, monitor surveillance footage, review audio files, and decode in mere minutes cryptic messages that Base Op teams had been working on for months. He was celebrated by many wherever he went, but he still longed to get back out there...
...away from the hubbub and into trouble...
Call me Someone.
“He claims he doesn’t want a partner, but, never mind that. He’ll get used to you... eventually...” Commander McCox said, causing a weary smile to creep over Constance’s face.
“He...?” Constance half whined. She had her share of male partners before Sarah. Many of them seemed to have unreciprocated romantic feelings towards her, and that always made things quite awkward.
“Yes. He,” McCox nodded, “But, don’t worry. He’s not like the rest. Nothing like anybody I’ve ever known. For sure.”
Constance looked around and then back at McCox as if waiting for more, but the commander only raised his eyebrows in an ambiguous way that didn’t indicate whether his comment meant her new partner was good different, or bad different.
“What’s his name?” Constance asked skeptically, narrowing her eyes.
The commander emitted an unsettling laugh.
“He’s tall, slick black hair, fair skin, and dark green eyes,” McCox said after his fit, “Oh yeah, and he has one of those British accents.”
″....Not a name, but, okay...” Constance blinked in confusion, “Where is he?”
Suddenly, Commander McCox’s eyes shifted up to his office entrance causing the young woman to pivot in her seat. There was a gentleman standing there, but he quickly stepped back and continued walking down the hallway. Constance presumed it was because he saw that McCox had company.
“That was him,” McCox said, “You’d better go catch him.”
Very confused, Constance rose from her seat, smoothed out her black skirt, adjusted her blouse, and ran after the mysterious man. From behind, she observed his fine black suit and how it fit his tall stature. Her eyes wandered up to his medium-length, silky, black hair. She took a moment to stop, shut her eyes, and take a breath, before sprinting after him again. Even with her heels clicking against the floor as she gained on him, his strides were consistent. He didn’t speed up, pause, or even look back.
“Hi!” she called out cheerily as she nearly caught up to the man, “Hello. Hi!”
Constance aligned herself at his side and attempted to keep in step with him as she struggled to even out her breaths. The man did not look her way at all but proceeded forward at his normal pace.
“Excuse me. Hi,” she huffed, leaping in front of his path. At this action, he finally decided to stop. His deep, malachite eyes stared down into her bright browns, then traveled down and up again. He did not seem amused.
“Hello. My name is Constance Harbor,” she said, extending her hand, “I’m going to be your new partner.”
The man looked down at her caramel fingers and back into her eyes.
“Obligatory associate,” he scoffed, ignoring her hand to turn aside and continue his trek towards who knows where.
Constance’s brows furrowed as she turned to follow him.
“I am aware they are forcing me to bring you along to the Ambassador’s Summit,” he said, still not making eye contact.
“I suppose....” she replied, not knowing what else to say.
She followed him out of the building and into a sleek, black, luxury car. As he started the ignition and pulled off, she glanced around curiously at the cleanliness of the vehicle’s interior.
″...So....” she droned, awkwardly breaking the silence, “My name is Constance.”
“Already noted,” he answered.
Constance sat in silence for a moment expecting him to provide his own.
“And your name...?” she asked when he didn’t.
The man’s lips were drawn into a tight line as he concentrated on his driving.
“It isn’t important,” he said finally.
“Not important?” Constance breathed a laugh, “We’re partners!”
“OBLIGATORY ASSOCIATES,” he corrected, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Obligatory associates,” she repeated, “But, still. What am I supposed to call you?”
“Don’t,” he smirked, shooting a quick, sly look at her.
“Don’t call you...” Constance shook her head, “Well then, mister, what am I supposed to refer to you as?”
The man stayed silent for the rest of the ride. Constance reluctantly followed suit, fidgeting with her fingers on the dashboard until they arrived at the airport.
“Someone,” he finally said as he opened his door, “Call me Someone.”
Constance stared forward for a minute, analyzing the absurdity of what she had just been told before quickly exiting the vehicle herself and running to catch up with him.
Fun is Unimportant
Constance was fed up. She was going to break the ice whether Someone liked it or not. He had tried to book two separate rooms but she quickly scolded him for how suspicious that would look.
“ONE ROOM,” he mumbled under his breath, trudging down the hallway with a frown.
“Two separate rooms…” she murmured back, “And how do you figure we would have communicated with each other that way? These hotel phone lines aren’t exactly secure.”
“Communication is unnecessary,” he said routinely.
“Everything is unnecessary!” she whispered harshly.
They arrived at the door and Someone swiped the key. He pulled his luggage in and instantly began surveying the premises. Constance dragged her suitcase into the room and heaved it onto the bed, quickly plopping down beside it.
“Shotgun!” she shouted playfully. Someone said nothing in response. He only continued to inspect the room, putting his ear to the wall, looking behind the curtains, and staring intensely at the little green light on the television’s cable box.
“Come on! You’re not even going to fight for the bed?” Constance asked jokingly, “Say, ‘You take the couch ‘cause you’re the one who wanted to get one room. If we had gotten two rooms, we would each have our own bed.’ or something,” she mock-voiced him in her best comical British accent. Someone paid her absolutely no mind.
“You’re no fun. No fun at all,” she exhaled, lying back on the bed.
“I suppose you don’t understand,” Someone started, unplugging the phone from its jack, “Fun is–”
“UNIMPORTANT,” Constance said loudly, completing his sentence, “I get it. I get it.” With an exaggerated sigh, she rolled over to face him. He was peering under the lampshade in deep concentration. There was no doubt this guy was all business… but why had she heard so many crazy stories about him? What could she do to bring out that fun side?
The First Mission
The big, bright, harvest moon hung low over the abandoned warehouse, casting a shadow over the lifeless street as Constance and Someone observed from a nearby rooftop.
“What a place to meet,” the former whispered, trying to lighten the mood, but the latter did not respond. This was their very first mission together as partners and Someone’s countenance towards Constance seemed to scream ‘absolutely annoyed’ from the very start. The plane ride over was quite awkward-- the hotel even more so. He was definitely a book shut tight, locked up with a key. To Constance, that meant a puzzle unsolved and she was determined to uncover every last secret he was hiding.
“So… are we going in?” she asked, but he only shushed her and kept his eyes tightly focused on the building in question.
“Thrill of the hunt, am I right?” she laughed pathetically, glancing over at him in sheer boredom.
Just then, the soft glow of candlelight illuminated one of the basement windows.
“The meeting has officially begun,” Someone said quietly, leaping up from his crouched position and heading over to the edge of the building they were perched upon. Constance hastily followed suit when Someone suddenly turned on his heels.
“Where are you going?” he huffed.
“With you? Duh,” she whispered back, rolling her eyes.
“I don’t need anybody babysitting me,” he said, turning back to the edge.
“I’m not babysitting you,” Constance said, “I’m your partner and I’m here to help you.”
“I told you. I don’t do partners,” Someone said dismissively, attaching his harness to begin descent.
“Like it or not, that’s exactly what I am,” Constance said, lowering down beside him, “You’re stuck with me. No more solo missions for you, bud.”
“You are NOT my partner,” Someone protested, coming to a halt, “As I’ve said multiple times, you are only an obligatory associate.”
“Whatever you call me, I’m going with you,” Constance said sternly.
“Okay. Look,” Someone exhaled in frustration, “If you really want to ‘help’, I suggest you stay back and keep watch from up there.”
“Keep watch for what, exactly? Clouds passing over the moon?” Constance scoffed, “I’m not some dummy you can just stick on ‘watcher duty’ no questions asked.”
“I didn’t say that,” Someone explained calmly, “It’s just… I know exactly what I’m doing here, but, if you make one mistake, it could ruin everything and put us both in grave danger.”
“So, you think I’m going to mess you up,” Constance said, quite offended.
“....perhaps...” Someone hesitated.
“For your information, hotshot, I’m no newbie,” Constance said defensively, “I’ve been part of this program longer than you have. I’m not going to get in your way, okay? As long as we communicate with each other, I’m sure it will all blow over smoothly.”
Someone only grunted and resumed scaling down the wall.
Concealed by the cloak of night, the two swiftly tiptoed over to the warehouse and identified a busted first-floor window to climb through. Someone immediately hoisted himself up, but Constance yanked him back abruptly before spraying a light mist into the opening.
“And what exactly was that supposed to be?” Someone asked in annoyance.
“Making sure there aren’t any hidden lasers?!” Constance whispered back harshly, “You can’t always jump into every situation headfirst, you know.”
“Says who?” Someone retorted, “It’s been working for me my entire life.”
“Sure it has,” Constance mumbled under her breath.
“And you didn’t even find any lasers, did you?” Someone continued grudgingly, pulling himself in through the broken window as Constance followed in silence, “That was a complete and utter waste of precious time.”
Together, they landed in a small room covered in graffiti. Someone began walking around, skimming his hand against the vandalized walls as if inspecting ancient runes. Constance ignored his strange behavior and decided to follow her ears instead, which lead her to a slotted vent cover in the floor.
“Hey!” she called quietly, drawing a recording device from her pocket, “If you listen closely, you can hear them plotting.”
“Perfect,” Someone smiled, gently pushing her aside and kneeling before the grate, “Our way in.”
“Way in?!” Constance gasped as he unscrewed and removed the cover, “What the heck are you doing?!”
“Our mission,” he replied casually, “Stopping them.”
“Stopping them?! What do you mean, stopping them?! We were only assigned to get deets on their scheme, which can clearly be done entirely from this room,” she murmured, “We don’t need a ‘way in’ anywhere. Let’s just record them and get the info back to HQ.”
“And let the next guys have a blast taking them down after we’ve done all the work?” Someone laughed, “Where’s the fun in that?”
“Fun?” she asked in disbelief.
“You don’t have to come along,” he winked, “Just stay here and keep watch.”
“Someone!” she whispered harshly as he disappeared into the hollow duct. With a deep sigh, she reluctantly crawled in after him.
The old, dark tunnels were filled with cobwebs, dust, mold spores, and bone-chilling drafts that made the sheet metal cold as ice. Constance fought hard not to cough, sneeze, or shiver. She could hardly see anything, but she heard the whispers growing louder and the subtle creaking of the panels as Someone crawled forward.
Suddenly, the working gave way, and the section of tunnel that held Someone bent downwards causing him to slide out onto the floor below. Constance quickly spread out her hands and feet to stop herself from tumbling out after him. From here, she watched wide-eyed as he popped up with his hands in surrender at the sound of cocking guns. She surmised he had fallen into a room full of guards. As she pondered what to do, Someone and the four guards had begun fighting each other in a wild dance. Someone was quick and clever, knocking the firearms away, delivering swift blows, and dodging forceful attacks.
Soon, one of the men managed to recover his weapon which prompted Someone to pause and throw up his hands again. The agent backed up so that his captor stood directly under the angled duct, a perfect chance for Constance to slide in. Drawing her blade, she swiftly accelerated down the hatch and landed upon the unexpecting fiend’s back. The gunman yelled in surprise, sending a round of bullets through rotting drywall and rusted pipes before falling to the cement floor. Constance lept up and brushed herself off with a cough as the newly ruptured lines filled the room with steam and the scent of gas.
“Thanks for the assist,” Someone smirked, heading towards the door at the end of the hall.
“Where are you going?” she asked, sheathing her knife, “They’re onto us and we’ve got to get out of here!”
“We can’t leave now,” Someone smiled, bracing himself to kick in the door, “We haven’t even crashed the party yet.”
“The party is over. The gunfire must have alerted them that something was wrong because I don’t hear them anymore,” Constance warned, “They’re probably making a clean getaway as we speak.”
“Or, they could be playing a little game of hide and go seek,” Someone jested, drawing his leg back, “I suppose there’s only one way to find out.”
“Wait! Someone, NO!” Constance gasped too late.
As soon as the door flung inward, the two beheld the empty room and the candle that sat upon the table at the center of it. Within seconds, the open flame caught onto the lingering gas and combusted.
As Constance came to, her chest heaved, her heart pounded in her ears, and a sharp pain panged through her body. Straining, she craned her neck to find herself pinned down with cinderblock and heavy slabs of stone. It felt as if a ghastly pair of fangs had pierced her side, spilling crimson blood onto the black fabric of her tactical suit.
“Someone?!” she cried in a hoarse, shaky voice as she attempted to claw her way out of the rubble, “SOMEONE...!?”
Three smug-looking cops are accosting a tall, rather handsome young man with slick medium length black hair, a slim face, and dark malachite eyes. He’s quite dapper in a black suit and dresscoat with tails that reach down to the back of his knees. His wrists are tied together with raggedy ropes and pressed against his chest. The expression on his face reflects indifference as he gazes into the sky, ignoring his captors. The sun sits in the sky at about 3 pm. Glancing at the street, he notices that traffic in this part of town is scarce as usual. The cops shuffle their feet as they nudge him along towards their squad car. He remains quiet and does not resist.
Suddenly, the officers’ eyes are directed towards the road as a loud engine approaches. A rusty brown station wagon swerves into view and skids to a stop just before the right front wheel is fully on the sidewalk. The three police’s mouths gape in surprise as the young man’s lips curl into a faint smirk. Out of the jalopy jumps a beautiful young woman with caramel skin wearing a black blazer dress. Her dark brown hair is pulled back into a ponytail with a few loose strands hanging about. The policemen let go of their hostage and reach for their guns. Unfortunately for them, they are not fast enough. The woman kicks one in the groin with her platform high heel and chops the other over the shoulder with a swift hand. The third manages to pull out his weapon, but she quickly jabs him in the neck with her elbow and cracks his arm over her bare knee. As the men groan on the ground, she looks to the young man.
“Some ‘slick sick whip’ you’ve got there, Constance.” he huffs in his British accent.
Constance’s eyebrows raise in slight annoyance. She may have told her partner over the communicator to ‘look out for the slickest, sickest whip you’ve ever seen,’ or something of that nature, but did it really even matter anymore at this point?
“Get in,” she breathes, flicking her head towards the car as the injured officers begin regaining their composure.
Her partner gestures down at his tied wrists and shrugs.
Rolling her eyes, she yanks open the front passenger door, causing the handle to break slightly. Before he can fully scoff at the embarrassing mishap, she kicks him in the rear, sending him flying into the car. Slamming the door, she slides across the hood, jumps into her seat, starts up the sputtering engine, and pulls off; creating a cloud of dark gray smoke and a long trail of skid marks. The fake cops scramble to their feet and into their vehicles, coughing at the smoke and smell of burnt rubber.
“What took you so long?” he asks, tilting his cheek slightly to the left but not directly looking at her.
“You’re welcome,” she spits in irony, staring steadfastly at the road ahead.
He looks around in the cabin and then up at the ceiling.
“At least it has a sunroof…” he murmurs. Then he looks down at the console which is so filled to the brim with weaponry that the lid cannot properly close. “Oh, goody. Toys,” he smiles. He glances at the phony squad cars in the rearview mirror which have multiplied due to the original three calling for backup. Then, he looks to Constance and gasps.
“Hey,” he whispers, leaning in towards her with a simper, “Untie me.”
She sees his demented look in her peripheral vision and figures she shouldn’t appease him.
“What?” she responds, still looking straight ahead.
“Please untie me,” he repeats.
“Just untie me.”
“Please, I beg of thee.”
“Come on. You can still do it. Just unloose my hands.”
“I know you have your blade… Please untie me.”
“Look. I’m NOT going to untie you, so stop asking.”
“Well, I’M NOT going to stop asking until you untie me.”
She adjusts her head and tries harder to focus on the road, swerving around the occasional vehicle with one hand on the wheel.
“Pleaseuntieme pleaseuntieme pleaseuntieme pleaseuntieme...”
She inhales and turns her head, finally making direct eye contact with him.
“Please?” he begs, giving her the puppy dog eyes.
“FINE,” she grunts, drawing a knife from her pocket and flipping out the blade.
He grins as she leans the sharp object towards him, returning her attention to the road.
“Don’t make me regret this…” she breathes in annoyance as he happily places his tied wrists over the sharp blade. With a swift pull, the ropes fall off.
“Don’t worry,” he sings, flexing his wrists and cracking his knuckles, “I will.”
She shakes her head as she clicks her knife back to its folded position and tucks it away. Wriggling his fingers, he immediately lays hold on the two high-tech guns sticking out of the console. Looking them over with immense joy, he admires their delicate beauty like an appraiser. Constance glances over at him in suspicion as he turns on his knees in his seat. He slides open the sunroof and stands out of it, slamming shut the now near-empty console with his shiny black monk straps. Constance’s eyes widen as she hears his maniacal laughter and the consequent chaos ensuing behind their vehicle, but she maintains her concentration on the road.
“Whoohoo! What fun. Again, again!” he laughs and claps like a baby as he lowers himself back into his seat. He digs through the glove compartment and finds more ammo for the blasters.
“Listen, buddy,” Constance starts, “I just saved your life, so don’t you go and get yourself killed, okay?”
“Not that anyone would care,” he shrugs, as he turns and begins to lift himself back out of the sunroof.
“Of course I would care--” Constance blurts, grasping his shoulder.
He looks down at her hand and into her eyes.
“I mean, people would care. Lots of different people would care, you know? People everywhere would care...” she stutters.
“I know,” he smirks, “Everyone loves me. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
She rolls her eyes and looks back to the road as he pops back up through the sunroof and continues his blasting and crazed laughter. She glances in her rearview mirror at the shattered windshields, blown-out tires, and multiple explosions. Suddenly, she hears a honk and looks up at the road. She sees that she is approaching an intersection with a red light. Going too fast to stop, she clears straight through it and swerves around as not to hit an oncoming semi-truck. This causes her partner to yank to the side and lose his blasters.
“Look, Constance! No hands!” she hears his muffled voice say. Looking to her left, she sees him grinning with jazz hands hanging just outside of her window. She gasps and swerves to the other side, causing him to yank back up and slide back into the sunroof.
“Get your butt in here and stay,” she says through gritted teeth.
He smiles, closes his eyes, and reclines his seat all the way back, resting his hands under his head.
Zipping down the wrong way down a one-way street, she swerves around oncoming cars until the fake officers are nowhere in sight. She then continues onto the highway until they are at a desolate area; the checkpoint. There, she pulls over to the right shoulder and retracts a special module from the console.
“Wake up, sleepyhead, this lemon’s ’bout to blow,” she says, punching in a few numbers on the keypad.
“This vehicle will self-destruct in thirty-- twenty-nine--- twenty-eight...” the automated countdown starts. Constance gets out of the car and walks around to the passenger side She tries to pull the door open, but the handle completely yanks off. Cringing, she throws it to the ground and knocks on the window.
“Nineteen-- eighteen-- seventeen-- sixteen...” the computerized voice continues as her partner sleeps soundly with a smile still on his face.
“Hey!!! Someone!!!” she screams through the window, “...never mind.” she goes around to her side again, jumps into the car, straddles him, and pulls the lever that causes the chair to return to its original position.
“Woah, woah! What do you think you’re doing?” he asks suddenly, opening his eyes as they stare at each other nose to nose.
“Saving your life,” she says snarkily, yanking the door handle from the inside and tilting out of the car. Like this, they roll out and down the hill.
“Three-- two-- one-- BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.”
Safely at the bottom of the hill, they stop rolling. Constance is still squatted over him with her hands on his chest, and they are both breathing hard for a moment of awkward silence.
“You…” he starts, “...are wrinkling my suit.”
She brushes her hair back and swiftly flips off of him, clearing her throat and dusting herself off. He stands to his feet, picks a few grass blades out of his hair, and adjusts his sleeves and pant legs. Suddenly, the wind picks up.
“Right on time!” Constance breathes as she looks to the sky with a grin. A helicopter hovers overhead and a rope ladder descends.
“After you,” he says, offering his hand out towards the ladder. She nods her head in appreciation and takes hold of the ladder. “Weaker ones first, of course,“ he mumbles quickly.
Constance rolls her eyes but continues climbing.