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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 14
AKA Total ReCALL
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 13 - AKA What’s HapPENning?!)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 15 - AKA Not Your Grandma’s Panties)
We drop to the ground just around the corner from the hotel entrance as a group of emergency responders skid to a stop in the street, blocking traffic from both directions.
The French sirens sound distinctly different from American ones, a higher-pitched, faster-paced “eee-aaaa” that somehow matches the throaty accent of the nation rather than the slow and daunting “weeee-wooooo” of American police sirens. I mentally add that to my ongoing internal list of useless interesting facts.
Eric claps his hands in front of my face. “Julie! Focus.” He retracts the thick wire back into the pen rappel before throwing it into an old drain near us on the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” I ask. “That’s a perfectly good pen rappel! What if we need to use it again?”
“Spies never use the same tool twice, remember?” He flashes a quick glance over his shoulder at the frantic onslaught of paramedics and firefighters rushing into the building. Above us, flames lick the edges of the windowpane, threatening to spread to the outside of the building. All the commotion draws a crowd of onlookers across the street. Their numbers are growing by the second.
“We need to get out of here,” he says, his voice low and urgent. He’s really good at stating the most obvious things at the most obvious times. I idly wonder if that’s something all spies have to be good at. “Let’s go.” He grabs my arm and tugs me down the sidewalk.
“Wait!” I pull my arm out of his grasp, and the sleeve of my robe falls down my shoulder, revealing bare skin. My arm pebbles up as soon as it’s exposed to the fresh night air. I tug the sleeve back on with a shiver.
“Julie, we don’t have time for one of your temper tantrums.” He notices an armed guard around the corner of the building and quickly presses himself against me, flattening us against the wall. The guard doesn’t see us, too focused on the flames now trailing up to the roof. The guard says something into his walkie talkie and bursts through the side entrance to the building.
Eric lets out a sigh, his breath somehow still as fresh as a mint leaf, and I’m acutely aware of his rock-hard body pressed against mine. Thank god I’m not a guy or he’d know exactly how I feel, considering we’re so close. I hold my breath, just in case it smells like empty stomach. He looks me in the eyes, and, for the briefest of moments, I feel lightheaded. Perhaps it’s because the scrape above his eye is starting to ooze. Or maybe because I’m starving. Definitely not because Eric’s warm body is still pressed against mine.
“That was a close call,” he says, still inches from my face. I nod, agreeing with him, but currently unable to speak for fear that my voice might come out sounding like a squeaky toy.
“BBBBRRRRIIIINNNGGGGG!” The cell phone vibrates in my fanny pack, sending a shock-wave through my entire body. I fumble through the fanny pack pockets to find it.
“It’s Simon!” I urgently whisper. Eric pulls me into the nearest shadow as I answer the call, putting it on speakerphone. I hastily turn the volume down low. “Simon,” I whisper. “Is that you?” Eric rolls his eyes at me and points to the screen, which clearly states, “Simon Zedler.”
“Yes! You sound alive,” he says, sounding immensely relieved. “How did my test go? Do you have anything measurable to report?” I hear the distinct clicking of his trusty note-taking pen in the background.
Eric and I look to each other with furrowed brows. “What are you talking about? What test?” he asks. I think back into the past hour. Then it dawns on me.
“Oh my GOD!” I shout. Eric clasps his hand over my mouth, shoving me further behind the building into its cloak of shadows.
“Did it work?” Simon’s excited voice rings out from the phone speakers. “I tried tapping into your central nervous system to manipulate your convulsive reflexes. I thought perhaps it might help you stay calm in case of another message from,” he pauses for effect, or perhaps respect, “The McGuffin.” I slap Eric’s arm. He reluctantly lets me go, giving me a wide-eyed, pursed-lip warning face.
“Simon! You almost got me KILLED,” I stage-whisper angrily.
“What do you mean? According to my readings—”
“You paralyzed me in the absolute worst possible moment, and I almost died because of it,” I state, barely controlling my voice.
“Ooh, very interesting.” His pen meets paper in the very audible sounds of scribbling. Before I can scold him some more, another line is added to the call, and a familiar voice enters the conversation.
“Simon, what have I told you about communicating this way?” The Director says.
“You said cell phones were okay,” Simon says, his voice rising in defense.
“I mean regarding Julie’s testing.” She sounds just as exasperated as she did when we were back at headquarters. I wonder if she’s managed to get her blood pressure down. God knows I haven’t.
Eric paces back and forth in the tiny shadowed area in front of me, checking around the corner every few seconds. “We don’t have time for this,” he says. His eyes flash in all directions, looking for an escape route. His gaze catches on a small alleyway a few blocks down the street. “You’ll have to walk and talk.” He grabs my arm again, this time extra firmly, and looks me in the eye as he says, “Think you can handle that?” I give him a pointed look, but he waits for an official confirmation. I nod, and he tugs me down a thin path down the backside of the hotel.
“Give us an update, Eric. What’s your status?” The Director says.
“We’re currently… on the move,” Eric says.
“As in tracking a target, I hope?” The Director asks.
“Not exactly,” Eric says, giving me some sass over his shoulder as we continue onto a nearby street, sticking close to the shadows. Sirens fill the air, but the wailing slowly grows distant as we head away from the crime scene.
“Are those sirens?” The Director’s voice raises an octave. “I said low profile, Eric!”
We’re still barefoot and wearing pajamas. Well, in my case, just a robe. Low profile for sure. I shake my head at the situation. “Greyson attacked us when we ordered room service, and I saw something—”
“Room service? Where were you?”
Eric interrupts me before I can speak.
“You’re ignoring the larger picture, Penelope. Greyson attacked Julie. But don’t worry, I handled it,” he says.
“That’s what you said about Greyson the first time, but apparently he’s still not taken care of.”
Eric sets his jaw. “Well, he looks like hell.”
“How so?” Simon asks. A couple rushes past us, pointing toward the burning hotel. We slow down, turning our faces away until they’re a safe distance from us, then pick up the pace again.
“He was bruised all over, and he had this really nasty looking eyepatch.” I grimace at the mental sight of it, imagining how he might have applied the clunky contraption to himself. Eek. “But he still managed to kick our asses,” I add.
Eric turns to me, attitude twisting his features. “About that— were you trying to help the bad guy?” I give him a questioning look. “You nearly got me killed and managed to set The Safe House on fire,” he emphasizes, with a hint of remorse for his favorite five-star hangout.
“The Safe House?” The Director takes a deep breath. “Don’t tell me you managed to set fire to a five-star hotel.” Another round of sirens fills the air, as if on cue. I can practically hear her mentally face-palming herself. “Dear God, what is going on?”
“What’s going on is that I should be doing this alone,” Eric says toward the phone. The Director sighs. “Remind me why you thought it was a good idea to bring an uninformed, inexperienced college kid on this mission?” The sass is strong with this one.
“Because I had another vision!” I shout, but the cobblestone walls deaden the echo halfway down the alleyway. It’s like Simon and The Director are here with us, and I can feel them turn to me as Simon claps his hands with a gasp.
“What was it? What did you see?” He’s practically a panting puppy.
“I wrote it all down,” I say, tugging at the sleeve beneath Eric’s grip. He lets go, and I pull up my sleeve, revealing a jumbled mess of ink. “Nice work, iron-grip!” I shoot him a glare.
“What did The McGuffin tell you, Julie?” The Director asks.
“Hang on a sec.” I squint my eyes closed, ignoring the stressful pounding of my heart as I tell my brain to pull up the images from before like a mental filing system. I’m surprised to find they come back to me like white on rice. Thank God for my photographic memory. No need for taking notes, as it turns out. Looks like the first couple of times shock got the better of me.
I tell them all about the candle-lit chambers, the secret tunnel, and the tiny USB drive in great detail.
“Simon, did you get all that?” The Director asks. The sounds of him scribbling confirm it.
“Yes, Director. All of it,” he says.
“Let’s cross-reference past missions, see if we can’t find anything useful for their hunt for The Backup. And Julie,” she pauses. I lean closer to the phone.
I feel a smile forming on my lips, and the familiar feeling of achievement tingles my spine.
“Thanks, Director,” I say. Eric narrows his eyes. Jealousy, perhaps?
The Director’s pager pings. “I have to go,” she says with another sigh. “Just, find The Backup and get back to headquarters without blowing up another building, please?” she whines. “And Simon—no more remote testing.”
“No promises,” Eric says.
“What’s that? You’re breaking up—” Simon fumbles with the phone and then his line goes dead.
The Director groans. “Over and out.” Click.
Eric and I appraise each other, standing there in the alleyway in our pajamas, barefoot, wild-eyed.
“Eyes up here, babe,” Eric says. I realize I’m staring at his chiseled chest. The corner of his frown turns upwards into a smug smile. Ugh.
Eric marches forward, his feet splashing in a puddle.
“Ack,” he grumbles, kicking the water off and trudging on. I follow behind him.
We approach the end of the alleyway to see the sun rising above the city, casting a beautiful orange glow over everything, making the moment feel like a dream. The two of us stop walking to take in the rare peaceful moment. Are we really standing here in Paris? Did we really just catch a five-star hotel on fire? Is the world seriously resting on our shoulders?
My stomach grumbles loud enough for both of us to hear it, breaking the moment and proving, with a surprisingly intense sharp pain, that this is, indeed, reality.
“I’m hungry too,” he says.
“Where should we go now?” He looks me up and down, not even trying to hide his grimace.
“We can’t go anywhere looking like this,” he says. I nod.
“Right. New clothes first. Food later.” Something occurs to me. “Wait, how are we going to get new clothes? Everything besides my fanny pack, a few pens, and my Lactaid is still back in the room.” Burnt to a crisp by now.
“Not everything.” He gives me a knowing smirk, then whips something from out of nowhere, holding his hand out to me as if presenting a golden ticket. In fact, that’s exactly what it looks like. A small, plastic golden rectangle.
“A credit card?” I ask.
“The T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. company credit card. A spy’s most valuable weapon,” he says with a smirk.
The Director’s going to kill us.