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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 11
AKA The Not-so-Safe House
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 10 - AKA The Prince of Weapons)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 12 - AKA Crème Brûlée)
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As we make our way up the escalator to the T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. Hangar, I stop.
“Wait,” I say.
Eric closes his eyes. “What now?”
“What about communications? How will we talk to each other? What if we get split up?” I ask, reality creeping up my spine, ruining my fanny pack revere.
Eric pulls out a cell phone with an unimpressed look.
“Oh,” I say, somewhat disappointed. I was expecting we’d use an earpiece with a secret microphone, or perhaps a phone-pen.
“We use the cell phone to communicate with Simon. We use these to communicate with each other,” Eric pulls out two tiny earpieces. Ha! I go to grab one, but he snatches it away. “Not yet, I’m right next to you.” He shakes his head.
We step off the escalator onto an open concrete floor, packed with all sorts of aviation machines, leading out to a single runway. We pass by a row of helicopters (black, silver, red, white, all decked out with weaponry), an entire section of jets (passenger planes, stealth bombers, propeller planes with those banana feet fit for water landings), and drones varying from the size of a cell phone to the size of a two-story building. Eventually, we reach a handful of identical sleek white small cabin planes.
“Ooh, pretty.” I reach out to touch the wing and Eric slaps my hand away.
He presses his hand to the side of the plane’s body, and a green handprint is left in his wake.
“Eric Shaw,” a buttery female voice says. “Welcome aboard.” The outline of a door forms next to the handprint. It folds out, revealing a staircase leading into the jet.
Eric smirks at my shocked expression. “Let’s go,” he says, walking up the steps.
Getting into the plane proves more difficult than I’d imagined. How hard is it to walk up a short flight of steps, anyway? I take my first step and start twitching at the very recent memory of my last experience on an airplane. It’s not something I’d like to relive. I grit my teeth and take two steps at a time.
The interior of the small plane is sleek and sophisticated. Lightly colored curtains frame each window, two sets of four large bucket seats face each other across glossy mahogany tables, and toward the back of the plane, limousine-style booths hug the wall, leaving room for the snack and liquor bar in the center. The shiny dark centerpiece is flanked on each side by two bathrooms.
The warm, welcoming aura does nothing to calm my nerves. I plop into one of the big, comfy leather seats, shakily searching for a seatbelt. When I can’t find one, my heart stops. Eric throws his duffel bag on one of the seats across the aisle from me and plops his feet up on the table.
“Nice, isn’t she?” He runs his fingers across the dark wood trim on the wall.
“Where’s the seatbelt?” I ask, my voice cracking.
“There aren’t any seatbelts on this plane.” He watches, amused, as a look of fear grows on my face. “Just dig for it in the crease,” he adds, pointing to my side.
I shove my hand in between the seat cushions, but I can’t find any seatbelts. I let out a whimper. Eric groans and takes his feet off the table. Before I know it, he’s leaning over me, one hand propped up against the seat by my head and the other gently placing my searching hand aside. His touch is electric. I silently curse my hormonal responses, chalking it up to The McGuffin’s eclectic assortment of effects on me.
Eric pulls a seatbelt from nowhere and clasps it shut on my lap with an audible click. He smirks, and his minty scent fills my head as he stops just inches from my face as he murmurs, “Better?”
I roll my eyes. He shrugs, then swaggers over to the liquor bar as the plane engine starts. I don’t remember seeing a pilot enter the cockpit.
“Uh, who’s flying the plane?” I whip my head around to the front of the plane. The sliding mahogany door is open, revealing a beautifully polished cockpit with two seats and a whole lot of buttons, but no pilots. The engine starts, and we roll onto the tarmac. I gasp.
“No one’s flying the plane!” I cry. Eric silently pours himself a scotch. I watch, bewildered, as the plane smoothly gains speed down the runway. I’m pretty sure my mouth is still hanging open as we gently lift into the atmosphere. We must be somewhere in Colorado or Utah, with all the beautiful mountains below us. Did Eric drag me here from the middle of the California desert? If he did, how long did it take? And what day is it? Shit. I didn’t even think about that. Has anyone noticed I’m gone? I try not to hyperventilate and stupidly glance out the window.
The mountains are replaced with fluffy white clouds, and it makes me think about my parents. I wonder what my mom would think if she were on a plane piloted by no one. She’d probably have a heart attack on the spot, I realize with an amused smile. Good ol’ Mom. I wonder if my parents have thought about me once while on their vacation. Probably not.
I stare out the window in thought, remembering my childhood bedroom back in Beechmont, Florida. Will I ever see those childish mermaid decorations again? Or the cuckoo clock Grandma gave us in the kitchen? A tear threatens to run down my cheek. I wipe it away before it gets the chance, and decide to say something before Eric notices.
“Is it on autopilot or something?” I ask, prepared for a smart-ass response from Eric. Instead, he drops an ice cube in his maple-colored alcoholic beverage and casually sits across from me, an amused smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“It’s the P.I.L.O.T.,” he says. Then he clarifies, “Pretty Intuitive Lift-Off Technology.” I nod my head, not relieved in the slightest. He takes a small sip of his drink, letting out a satisfied sigh.
It’s quiet for a moment.
“Wait, what do you mean by ‘pretty’ intuitive?” I ask. “Is that pretty as in ‘not so accurate’ or as in… you know, pretty?”
He eyes me and swishes his drink, enjoying how much his silence irks me. My eyes do a somersault of their own volition.
“Are you sure it’s smart to be drinking before a mission?” I nod at his beverage.
“I’m gonna need all the booze I can get if I’m going to make it out alive with you.” He swirls the ice in his glass and raises it to his lips. All I heard in that sentence was “make out with you” and now I’m blushing.
“Need a sip?” He smirks. I cross my arms.
“No, thank you.” I search the side of my seat with my fingers until I find a small metal button protruding from the leather. I press it back, and my seat slowly reclines into a flat position. I let out a sigh, suddenly very tired.
“You’re not going to sleep now, are you?” Eric feigns displeasure. “Who am I going to talk to for the next ten hours?”
“Talk to the P.I.L.O.T,” I say. Something occurs to me. “Hey, what does T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. stand for, anyway?”
“Topmost Operatives Performing Secretive Espionage Charades Remedying Evildoer Tactics,” he says with another sip. “T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.”
The life-threatening events of the last however-many hours catch up to me all at once, and I’m out in a wink.
* * *
Before I know it, an obnoxious horn wakes me up. I jump a foot in the air, hitting my head on the ceiling of a low sports car. My heart pounds erratically while I take in my completely different surroundings. Where am I? What happened to the plane? I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini, hugged by sporty leather seats emitting the smell of new leather. To my left, Eric watches amused as I groggily wake up. “Where are we?” I ask.
“The Safe House,” he answers. He pushes his door open (or, rather, up, as this car apparently works like the Batmobile).
We’re greeted by an onslaught of car horns. Eric ignores them, grabbing his duffel bag from the trunk of the car. I wipe the drool off my chin and follow his lead. As soon as my feet hit the pavement, the fresh, humid air of the night tingles my ankles, sending a wave of pleasant goosebumps up my legs. I stand, taking a deep breath of the delicious air. Is that… freshly baked bread? I turn around, following my nose, and realize we’re parked on the curb of a bustling French street. Cars speed past in a flurry of lights and high-pitched horns. I take it all in with my jaw hanging open.
We’re in Paris, France! Who would have guessed that Julie Richardson, the germophobe hermit crab of a nerd, would find herself on the streets of Paris at just twenty-two years old? Definitely not me.
I search the skies for the Eiffel tower, but all I see is the beautiful night above me, stars twinkling down as if to say, “Welcome, Julie.” It’s quite a magical moment.
Until a moped flies past, splashing muddy water all over me from head to toe. An attractive young couple walks past, entertained by my misfortune. I wave at them, accidentally splattering some of the gross water on the girl. She lets out a disgusted cry, and they hurry on.
From across the street, Eric waves me over. He’s standing in a glow of golden light coming from a sparkling hotel lobby behind him. Beautiful pillars rise high above the ground, telling all passersby that this here is one fancy fine establishment. French flags wave in the slight breeze beneath an astronomical clock and a marble-carved sign that says, “Le Maison Sûr.” In English— “The Safe House.”
It’s definitely not what I expected a safe house to look like. Then again, what do I know?
I grab my bag from the trunk. After a few moments, the traffic opens up, and I dart across the street, fueled by a sudden surge of hope.
Maybe this mission won’t be so bad, after all.