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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 24
AKA Follow That Rat!
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 23 - AKA Krav Maga)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 25 - AKA Up, Up and Away)
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It’s still pitch black, and the only thing I have to lead me to Dr. Souris is the sound of his tiny feet scuffling and echoing down the slimy sewer tunnels. I follow quickly but cautiously, careful not to trip on my own shoes at the very least.
As I near the rushing water, it becomes more challenging to distinguish Dr. Souris’s soft shuffling feet from the rumble of the water. Where is this little dude headed?
“Dr. Souris!” I shout. “Wait! Let’s just talk about this!” My own voice reverberates back to me. “I want you to win your competition.” I try to be friendly. We’re friends, right? I mean, besides the fact that he totally tried to steal my brain and kidnapped me and all.
I stop walking for a moment, anticipating a reaction, and the shuffling stops. Did Dr. Souris stop walking because I stopped walking? My eyes adjust, and I realize I’m standing at the edge of a tunnel opening. I peer around the corner, careful not to make too loud of a stepping noise on the wet stone ground.
The tunnel opens up into a grand hallway of sorts with multiple archways leading to other shafts on the opposite side of the opening. I stifle a groan. Dr. Souris could have gone through any one of them.
I step down into the open space, paralyzed by all the options before me. Which tunnel should I take? If I take the wrong one, Dr. Souris will have gotten away! Then again, if I actually do catch up to him, what exactly is my plan?
I shake the thought away. There’s no room for doubt, as Penelope said before. She’s right. I go with my instincts, something I remember Eric told me, and follow the hallway down to the left.
The tunnel opens into more tunnels, where the water funnels out through barred gates. I keep moving forward, half sprinting half scanning each tunnel for Dr. Souris. I wonder how long it took whoever built this to build it. I mean seriously, who has the time to not only plan but execute such a convoluted underground system?
“Not so fast, girlie,” a raspy voice calls to me. I whip my head around.
Chantal slowly emerges from the darkest part of the tunnel. She’s limping, and with each step she takes, her blubbery lumps of skin jiggle through the rips in her tight dress. Her stained old-people teeth stand out against the thick coat of blood and guts covering her from head to toe. One of her ankles is rolled under, hence the limping, and she’s still wearing her red heels.
You gotta admire her for that, at least.
“There’s no time for this, lady. Where is Dr. Souris?”
She wipes a bit of blood from her nose and rubs it on her fanny pack.
My fanny pack. And now it’s stained with her mutant blood, damn her.
She just made this personal.
“Hand over the fanny pack, and I’ll let you walk away.”
She spits a wad of blood on the ground between us. “It looks better on me.”
Oh no, she didn’t.
Ready for this catfight, I step forward and curl my hands into fighting fists. YOW! My right wrist explodes with pain. I suck in a breath, blinking away black dots.
Yup, still broken.
Chantal takes advantage and runs at me, stumbling over her broken ankle. She’s slowed down by the lagging limb, but still moving at a pace that would make any other seventy-year-old jealous.
What a couple of feisty ladies we are.
There’s no way I’ll last in a fight with this woman. Not with a broken hand and a useless arm. Think, Julie. Think!
Chantal is now ten feet away, seething at the teeth, arms outstretched, cursing at her broken ankle. She groans, stops walking long enough to force her ankle back in place with a sickening CRACK, then continues running five times her old-person pace.
She closes half the distance between us before I remember there’s still one T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. pen in my pocket. I yank it out and point the end right at her.
I inspect the tool and barely notice the tiny “PN” engraved on the side. Of course! A normal pen when I don’t need one.
Chantal launches herself into the air and tackles me to the ground, knocking the wind out of me with her lumpy, blood-covered body. She slashes a wrinkly hand at me, her red acrylic nails slicing into my cheek.
I gasp for air and wriggle underneath her. My pen hand is pinned beneath her left boob. At least, I think that’s a boob. She’s so lumpy it could be anything. Uck.
She slashes for me again, and in the half-second she lifts her chest from my arm, I arc it upward to block her blow, pen still held tightly in my fist.
“Get off, old lady!” I yell, my voice echoing down the deserted cobblestone halls.
“Grrgbldsk,” she says.
I open one of my eyes to find I’ve stabbed her in her goiter. She’s bleeding through the small puncture wound, and the hot, sticky liquid spreads onto my hand.
“Ack!” I shove her off me and awkwardly crabwalk to the edge of the tunnel, grateful for the adrenaline surge masking the pain in my misaligned arm. She claws at her neck, her face, pulls at her hair. Her skin begins smoking and then melting.
Then I remember George telling me none of his pens are “normal.” This is the pen he created with disintegrating ink to destroy T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. messages.
Wait till he hears it destroys old ladies, too.
Chantal lets out her last strangled scream and then collapses to the floor in a melted heap of lumps and hormones and acrylic nails.
I wait for her remaining limbs to stop twitching before I let my shoulders down from my ears. It’s another minute or two before I gather enough courage to poke her with my shoe.
What a pity.
I quickly yank the fanny pack from her pudgy waist before any of the acidic liquid touches it.
“Oh, I missed you!” I say, holding the fanny pack in front of me. It’s dripping with blood and it smells absolutely disgusting, but damnit if I’m going to let these creeps steal the one thing that brings me joy in this insane spy world. I clasp the fanny pack around my hips like a boxing champion’s trophy. I cinch it tighter and wipe off as much blood as I can with my shirt sleeve, feeling accomplished for the first time in the last few days. Checking inside, I see the pockets are still intact. Whew. But something crinkly and square-shaped has found a home in the middle pocket. I inspect it in my non-broken hand.
Yuck! I chuck them across the room and try not to puke. This fanny pack is getting a thorough wash when we get back to T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. Head Quarters.
And we are getting back. I just decided. Right now.
My thoughts are cut short when there’s a loud metallic CLACK and then a rusty sounding CREEEEAAKKKK coming from further down. I follow the sound around the corner to find Dr. Souris at the end of a short tunnel.
He’s just opened an old metallic gate, and a rusty key protrudes from the lock. He taps a pattern into the stone wall. A few moments later, the wall opens to reveal a hidden safe, from which Dr. Souris pulls out a black briefcase.
“Hey!” I yell.
Dr. Souris whips his neck over his shoulder. He gives me a hunched over, beady-eyed hiss. The movement reminds me of the silhouette on The Director’s computer at Head Quarters, and I remember he calls himself Dr. Mouse. Suddenly, he doesn’t seem too scary.
Until he pulls a gun out.
Thank God this man is practically blind. The bullet bounces off the cobblestone wall and ricochets on each corner of the four-way opening before disappearing into the water runoff. My heart races. I guess I spoke too soon. Even a half-blind mouse is still dangerous with a gun, Julie! I grit my teeth and run after him as he disappears down yet another corridor.
Luckily, this one seems to be heading somewhere a little less pitch black. I force my body to keep moving, ignoring my side stitch, my broken hand, and the growing numbness in my dislocated arm. Every breath feels like fire in my lungs, but all I’m focused on is the white blur down the tunnel as Dr. Souris somehow keeps the lead.
How can a person half my height and who knows how much older than me be moving so quickly? Does he have rollerblades in his little black shoes or something?
I double my speed and lock eyes on my target. I’m catching up now, right on his heels, and just as we reach the light at the end of the tunnel (literally), a wave of sound and smell hits me like a brick wall, almost stopping me dead in my tracks.
We enter a cavernous space where three large tunnels come together to form a giant waterfall of sewage.
I gag at the smell, which has formed a sort of noxious gas. I hold my sleeve over my nose and peer through squinted watering eyes.
Dr. Souris is so short I can barely see him under the gas, but there he is at the other side of the hallway. The tiny man is now racing toward the docked boat at the edge of the lapping sewer water. It’s the boat I saw from the sewage bridge. Except now that I’m closer, I can see that there are two.
Oh great. Am I going to have to chase Dr. Souris on a boat? Because I really don’t know if I can handle a boat chase. Especially considering I’ve never driven a boat before.
But Dr. Souris doesn’t stop at the boats. In fact, he keeps going past the edges of the sewer waterfall and down a second tunnel. I continue after him, blinking the gas-induced fogginess from my brain. Where is he heading?
I round the tunnel entrance in time to witness Dr. Souris climbing up a rusty ladder toward a tiny shaft of light in the domed ceiling.
“Hey!” It comes out as a cough. “Not so fast, you… you turd!”
I could give Eric and his witty insults a run for their money.
But he climbs and climbs like a little rat until he disappears into the light, the black briefcase clanging against the metal with each step.
I race up to the ladder and grip a crusty rung just above my head. I take a deep breath and heave myself up with my one half-good arm, gripping the side of the ladder with the inner elbow of my broken-handed arm, forcing my brain to ignore the threat of tetanus.
Pretty soon, I reach the ceiling and climb over the ledge into blinding daylight.
We’re on a rooftop overlooking the Seine. I run to the edge of the building and look over to find a series of pink awnings.
“Tout le Monde” café. How the hell did we get here? Weren’t we just tens of floors underground?
A mechanical WHOOSHing calls my attention. Fifty yards behind me lies a helicopter pad with a small helicopter on top, and Dr. Souris is climbing inside.
“STOP!” I yell, but there’s no way he can hear me over the blades of the vehicle. So, I keep running after him. I’m ten feet away when the helicopter lifts into the air.
Without even thinking, I launch myself into the air.
It feels like an entire minute goes by in slow motion as I seriously wonder what the hell I’m doing jumping for a helicopter already taking flight. I witness my own foot land right at the edge of the open side door and push my body forward. I land on the metal floor with a SMACK and a loud POP and skid to the other edge.
Holy SHIT, I did it! “Yes,” I cheer for myself absentmindedly. Oh, man, my high-school gym teacher would be proud.
I push myself up with my left arm, and when it doesn’t hurt, I realize the POP sound was my shoulder popping back into place.
Just when it seems things are looking up, Dr. Souris whirls around, pointing a gun right between my eyes.