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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 16
AKA Tout le Monde
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 15 - AKA Not Your Grandma’s Panties)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 17 - AKA A Buttery Betrayal)
As I step closer to “Tout le Monde,” sounds of silverware clinking and casual chatter fill the immediate atmosphere.
I’m stepping into a tourist’s French dream, a bubble of pink napkins, swirling metallic chairs with matching tables—the classic “French” look in every “French” restaurant in America. Multiple older couples wearing clunky white shoes and too much sunblock sit across from each other, clinking glasses and taking in the general splendor of the Seine. The smell of frying oils, baked goods, and the unmistakable smell of butter intoxicate my olfactory senses, tricking my stomach into thinking I might have ingested something I shouldn’t have.
I shake it off and search the place for Eric. He’s already sitting at a table in the corner with a view of the Seine. Little tour boats slowly make their way down the river. I observe the beautiful scenery as I take my seat opposite him, placing my cheap, pink, paper napkin on my lap. Besides the cheesy decor, this place would be the perfect spot to relax and take a breather, to plan what museum to check out next or what bakery to try for a taste of Paris’s famous French macarons. That’s no doubt what all the other tourists are up to, with their giant maps all spread out and their digital cameras flashing every now and then.
But not us. Not the only two people here on business.
I ignore the urge to join the tourists and take a million photos. Instead, I get right back to work.
“Did you find anything?” My voice is low, secretive. I’m hunched over the table in a conspiratorial stance. If my voice doesn’t give away that we’re hiding something, my posture surely does. Eric stifles a laugh.
“Not a thing,” he says, low enough so only I can hear. “I inspected the bathroom and the kitchen and did background checks on all the waiters.” He smirks at my look of astonishment.
“That was a quick sweep.”
“Besides the hokey decor, this place is clean.” He nods at the general ambiance of the restaurant.
I look around once more, noticing the dirt swept into the corners of the restaurant, all the grime caked between the cracking tiles on the floor. I wouldn’t exactly call this place “clean.” The entire restaurant looks like it could use a good once-over with some Clorox wipes. I grimace.
“Are you sure The Backup wasn’t, like, hiding in a pot or something back there?” I ask.
Eric raises an unimpressed eyebrow at me. “You’re kidding, right?”
I slump my shoulders because I honestly wasn’t. A part of me really did think it’d be as easy as walking in, grabbing The Backup, and getting the heck out of Dodge. Maybe Eric would have to punch the small, evil bald man on the way out, but I was hoping that’d be it.
How naive of me to think things would really be that simple.
“We need to trigger The McGuffin again.” Eric flips to the back page of his menu and whips it in front of my face, so the restaurant logo (the globe with all the little world relics standing around it) is staring right at me. I remember it from the vision, but the sight of it does nothing to my mind.
I slowly push the menu down with my hand, revealing my eyes staring right into Eric’s. He looks expectantly back at me.
“It didn’t work,” I say.
“Damn it. How about this?” He grabs at the pink napkin on the table and holds it up for me.
“This?” He grabs the saltshaker.
I shake my head.
He continues to shove every table item in my face. When I fail to convulse uncontrollably at the sight of any of them, Eric resorts to pointing out all the tourists, employees, and eventually even the individual tiles on the floor.
“Nothing’s working, okay! Stop pressing me like a button.” I lean back in my chair with a heavy sigh.
He jiggles his leg under the table impatiently. “You said this was the place from your vision, right?”
“Yes, Eric, but nothing else is triggering another message. I can’t control it.”
“Okay then, let’s recap what we know for certain,” he says, resting his forearms on the table.
I tick off each fact on my fingers as I go along. “We know Greyson fell to his death from a twenty-story building,” I say, then I remember his large body disappearing mysteriously out the window of “Le Maison Sur.”
“No, we don’t.” Eric reads my mind. “If you don’t see them die, assume they’re still alive.” It sounds like a mantra he repeats to himself. I nod. Seems like a reasonable rule. For once.
“Henchmen are like insects, Julie,” Eric elaborates, “and Greyson’s a cockroach.” Eric says the last part with obvious disdain. “The brute always manages to weasel his way back into the picture, usually by the hand of a new employer looking for some thick skin and an even thicker skull.” His gaze wanders as if he recalls an unpleasant memory. Or maybe a bunch of memories. I wonder how many times Greyson has dropped into Eric’s life, unannounced.
“Then we can probably guess he’s working for our bad guy,” I say, interrupting his thoughts.
“You’re probably right.” I perk up at the statement. “But I’d say we’re dealing with an Evil Villain, not just your run-of-the-mill bad guy.”
“What’s the difference?” I ask, ignoring the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, seriously. An evil villain?
Then again, we are following clues given to use in the form of mysterious messages from the magic eight ball in my brain.
I better start taking notes.
“Bad guys are just screwed up people trying to make their own lives easier, usually at the expense of others.” He states it like a dictionary definition, something I should know. “Evil Villains are like...” He searches for the best definition. “You ever seen a superhero movie?”
I give him a look like, “duh.”
“Well, Evil Villains are like the maniacal enemies in superhero movies. They usually have one goal in mind and will stop at nothing until they get what they want, regardless of the destruction and death and pain they leave in their wake.” He chuckles darkly at a thought he has. “The ironic part is, half of them think they’re doing it for the greater good.” He shakes his head at the memory of all the bad guys he’s thwarted. Or were they Evil Villains?
“Do you think our bald man is a Bad Guy or an Evil Villain?” I ask.
“What do you think?” He doesn’t say it with an attitude, he’s just curious. Am I really listening to him? Am I taking this as seriously as he is?
I decide I am.
“If I had to guess, I’d say he’s an Evil Villain. Something in my gut tells me so.”
“Me, too.” Eric nods. “So, we’re dealing with an Evil Villain and a henchman that won’t die.” We sit in silence, thinking over everything.
“How did Greyson know we were at The Safe House?” I ask, trying to ignore the memory of setting a five-star hotel aflame.
“I was thinking the same thing. You mentioned the tattoo on Greyson’s neck matched the one from the computer virus?” He looks into my eyes for the answer, as if the deeper he looks, the easier it’ll be for him to see what The McGuffin showed me.
“Yes. It was like a silhouetted mouse.”
He thinks for a moment, absentmindedly staring out at the Seine. “Maybe The McGuffin is somehow tied to The Backup, and it’s sending the Evil Villain information of our whereabouts.” I make a horrified face. “Or,” he continues, not too eager to see me flip out, “Maybe Greyson put a tracker on you.” Not sure how that’s a more favorable alternative. Eric eyes me up and down. “I should have given you a pat-down,” he says with a smirk.
Yeah, like my half-naked hospital gown was hiding anything important.
Eric’s self-satisfied grin makes me want to punch him, but the thought of him giving me a “pat down” makes me blush. I change the subject.
“So, that’s it,” I say. “That’s all we know. And we don’t even really know any of it for sure.”
He slumps back in his chair. “God, I hate being in the dark,” he says. At least we have one thing in common.
Just then, a pretty waitress approaches us with two champagne flutes. She flashes Eric a beautiful white smile. Her platinum blond hair is pulled back in a clean ponytail that bounces with each step.
“Bonjour, monsieur.” She smiles, placing a tall champagne glass delicately on top of a square napkin in front of Eric. “Le jour est joli, n’est-ce pas?” I don’t even have to think twice about it. My years of AP French studies all come back to me at once, and it’s like she’s speaking English. “Pretty day, isn’t it?” she says.
“Yes, you are,” Eric responds with a wink. (Seriously? That didn’t even make grammatical sense.) The girl giggles as she places a second glass in front of me. She pops a cork from a bottle of cold alcohol, pouring bubbling pink liquid in Eric’s glass only.
“Thank you, beautiful,” says Eric. The waitress beams with rose-colored cheeks and places the bottle in a cold bucket of ice. Then she heads back to the kitchen with her tray, giving Eric another glance over her shoulder and sashaying her hips extra voluptuously. The whole thing is totally overdone, but I can’t help but feel a little envious at her confidence. Then I realize she didn’t bring us any water.
“Do people in France not need to drink water? How are we supposed to stay hydrated?”
Eric reaches his champagne flute out to me, ignoring my questions. “Cheers,” he says.
“Cheers to what? We’re at a dead-end, and we don’t even have a plan.”
He sighs and puts his glass on the table. “Here’s the ‘plan,’ Julie…” He leans forward. “The way I see it, we’re in the right place, according to your vision, so all we can do now is wait until The McGuffin gives us another clue. Until then, I think I deserve a glass of champagne.” He leans back in his chair.
He does have a point. But still, “How can you relax when the fate of the world, as you put it, is resting on our shoulders?”
“Technically, the world is resting on your shoulders.”
“Gee, that really helps put things into perspective,” I say. The sarcasm rolls off him.
“Then think of it this way,” he says, “we can’t help it if the last place The McGuffin led us to was here.” He gestures to the Seine behind us.
Admiring the Seine, though beautiful, only reminds me of how much I can’t relax and adds another layer to the giant ball of nerves growing in my stomach. Why couldn’t I have gone to some beach to get drunk for Spring Break like all the typical twenty-two-year-olds of the world? They’re probably all sitting in a pool somewhere, sipping on Margaritas with tiny toothpick umbrellas, flirting with each other, and enjoying their taste of the world outside of school. And I’m sitting here all worried about the fact that I’m sharing a lovely view with a handsome spy.
Eric notices my scrunched-up face and crumpled over posture.
I look up at him, drawn out of my depressing reverie. For the first time ever, he’s looking at me with genuine concern. Probably he’s just worried about his McGuffin.
“You need to relax.” He fills my glass of champagne and hands it to me. I reluctantly take it.
“Simon did say cortisol affects The McGuffin,” I murmur.
“Exactly. Just leave everything to me. All you have to do is tag along, tell me your visions, and stay out of my way. That’s all.”
He makes it sound too easy.
Nothing is that simple.
But his eyes encourage me to take a sip and surrender to the situation. After a moment of serious deliberation, I decide there’s a good chance I’ll end up dead by the end of this. Might as well enjoy a sip of champagne while I’m still alive.
“Sounds easy enough,” I say, and clink my glass against his in a triumphant moment of “screw you” to my stress ball.
Except I clink a little too hard, sending the fizzy pink liquid all over the table in an explosion of glass shards.
“Ow!” Eric shakes his hand, a thin line of red forming on the inside of his hand between his pointer finger and his thumb where the glass cut him. I grimace, champagne running down the side of the table and right onto my crotch.
So, this is what happens when I try to relax.