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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 28
AKA Triggered by the Trash Man
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 27 - AKA Puke Breath)
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Mom hands me another Pina Colada. I take it with my non-broken hand and start sucking it down, thankful she used coconut milk instead of real milk, but somewhat disappointed it isn’t her homemade chicken soup.
Right after they got home from their cruise last night, my parents went straight to CostCo and purchased their very own margarita maker. Which my mom has been using to try to re-create the Pina Coladas from the ship. Which she apparently hasn’t perfected.
She keeps handing me her defects, but I’m happily drinking them down in an attempt to numb the pain in my healing hand. I idly admire the handiwork of the nurse who did my casting. It’s a bright pink color, and it’s waterproof.
Dad is sitting on the love seat across from me in the living room. He’s got the Apple T.V. setup to stream his iPhone photos from their trip. He’s telling me all about the differences in texture of the Pina Coladas on the ship versus the Pina Coladas in Inagua, but I haven’t registered a word he’s said.
I’m staring blankly, absentmindedly wondering for the hundredth time whether I should tell my parents what really happened to my broken hand, the only proof that my time at T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. was real. They think I broke it by “accidentally hitting a wall,” which isn’t too far from the truth.
Mom flashes dad a flirty grin from the kitchen, and he does a little growl and a snap with his teeth. She giggles and gets back to pouring another Pina Colada. I think I just threw up in my mouth.
It’s a whole new world at the Richardson’s residence.
Two nights ago, I was on the phone with Nicole, about to reveal everything, but she only had a few free minutes left on her break, so I let her tell me about her most recent date with Dr. Reeves. I guess it’s a good thing, though, because The Director would have had to send someone to kill me if I’d leaked anything anyway.
So now I’m sitting on the couch, numb, mentally replaying my last moments as The McGuffin.
After we retrieved The Backup, Eric called for the P.I.L.O.T., and we headed back to Headquarters. I was debriefed in a cold, stark room before given another granola bar and a fresh set of clothes (a pair of jeans that actually fit and some good ol’ granny panties).
Once I was cleaned up, and my shrunken stomach was filled with a granola bar, I entered another round of testing with Simon. He was instructed to remove The McGuffin from my brain, something he swore to The Director he had been prepared to do upon our arrival.
I expected Simon’s testing to take forever, or at least involve a scalpel or a needle or something terrible. Probably it did require some of those things, but I wouldn’t know because the moment my head hit the chair, I passed out. This time from exhaustion. I woke up feeling unnerved in my stomach and worried that Simon may have given me some sort of experimental mutant serum. Guess I’d spent too much time with Dr. Souris.
Speaking of the little mouse man, unfortunately, T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. couldn’t question him about anything because Eric exploded him in his helicopter over the Seine. Most of his deformed inmates destroyed each other in the great sewer jailbreak of the century. The rest were discovered running through the streets of Paris, terrorizing other tourists. I don’t know what happened to them after that. The T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. team must have done a damn good job of covering it up, because not even my mom has found anything about it on Facebook.
The N.E.S.T. pamphlet was recovered from my back pocket, dried with a hairdryer, and examined by Simon and a few supplemental evidence analysts. They told me nothing of the clue. Then they thanked me for my cooperation and sent me home.
That was it.
I didn’t even get a “Goodbye Julie, thanks for ruining everything,” from Eric. My eyes do an involuntary roll at the thought of him. What a turd.
With an unsatisfied sigh, I finish my third Pina Colada and decide to take the trash out. My brain needs some fresh, humid Floridian air, I decide.
I’m tying the bag up in the kitchen when mom says, “Are you alright, sweetie?”
“Yeah, I’m just tired.” And bored. I should absolutely be doing schoolwork to catch up on all the projects that were deleted on my laptop just days ago. But something about doing homework doesn’t excite me anymore.
“I’m going to pack after I take the trash out,” I say. Spring Break is over tomorrow, and I’ll be headed back to college. Soon I’ll graduate and get a generic business degree and… damn it, I still don’t have a plan. I slam my forehead with the palm of my head.
It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine, I tell myself.
“Thanks for the drinks,” I add.
“Alright,” Mom says with a furrowed brow. She plants a kiss on my forehead where I slapped it, then rubs it affectionately. “You ready, Dan?” she asks my dad. He hops off the couch and nods his head.
“Yes, ma’am. After you, my dear.” He motions toward the front door and grabs Mom’s butt as she sashays past him with a giggle. I grimace.
“See you tonight, Julie,” mom says, dipping into their silver Nissan sedan like it’s a fancy limousine and not our old family car. I wonder how she could forget that time I hurled all over the back of her seat when I was seven and ate too many gummy bears. “Love you!”
“Bye, kid!” Dad waves through the front window.
I wave back until they’re out of sight, then I go collect the trash and drop the heavy bag into our trashcan with a loud thud. It’s pretty much empty, but I pull it to the curb anyway.
The deep mechanic whirring of a car engine snaps me to attention. A sizeable green garbage truck pulls to the curb next to the trash can, and a man in a reflective yellow vest steps out. He’s a tall, burly guy with curly black hair and dark skin. He smiles and waves at me. I nod back politely.
Since when does the trash man come on Fridays? I probably have my days mixed up, I think, shrugging my shoulders.
The man walks around the back of the truck and steps toward me.
“Hola, Julie.” His voice is gruff. There’s something eerie about the way he says my name. Then I realize it’s because he said my name.
“Uh, have we met before?” A sick feeling gnaws at my stomach. This doesn’t seem right. Probably, I had too many Pina Coladas.
“Excuse me,” I say, turning on my heel to head back inside.
The man grabs my forearm with a very tan, hairy arm. His grip is tight but not as strong as Chantal’s. When I look down, I notice a tattoo peeking out from his sleeve. As he yanks me back toward him, his sleeve moves, revealing the rest of his tattoo.
A pile of snakes writhing on top of each other, forming the same image that was on the pamphlet at Dr. Souris’ lab—The N.E.S.T. symbol.
I suck in a breath, realization sinking in. The tingling feeling on my spine returns, immediately followed by violent whole-body convulsions that I have no control over. The trash man grips my arms tighter. I vaguely hear him tell me to stop wriggling as my hearing becomes tunneled.
I close my eyes and let the wave of images crash down on my eyelids.
Everything is black as all get out (whatever that means), but I feel like I’m suffocating beneath something massive and squirming on top of me. I crack open my eyes to find I’m lying in an enormous pit of snakes. Thousands of the slimy creatures writhe in big piles above and beneath me, tightly winding themselves around my joints. The incessant hissing sends goosebumps and shivers to every inch of my body.
I scream for help, but my voice is too weak. A thick, scaly red viper stares me down with an angry hiss, rears its ugly fangs, and launches at my face. I jump. The bite sends a brief flicker of images through my head—tropical beaches, a jungle, the smirk of a woman wearing red lipstick—and then they disappear.
Before I can catch my breath, another snake stabs me with its fangs, and this time images of a snowcapped mountain fly through my mind. Pine trees, a crackling fireplace, a bubbling glass of champagne. These images blow away in a cold, snowy breeze, replaced by a crooked set of teeth featuring a giant silver fang protruding from the middle. A deep laugh reverberates through the air, and I’m snapped back to the snake pit.
I scream as another set of fangs penetrates my ankle, followed by another bite on my thigh, then my wrist, my chest, my neck. I burst into a fit of convulsions as a rapid dance of sights, smells, and sounds transports me to places all over the world. Time’s Square, Tokyo, the sea, the mountains, the smokey smell of a campfire, a citrusy orange breeze, fresh-cut grass—it’s all so overwhelmingly fast that everything turns into one giant blur of colors.
The hissing in the snake pit mutates into a chorus of laughter. Deep, throaty chuckles, powerful booming laughter, high-pitched cackling—the mischievous song of villainy. The searing hot venom burns its way through my veins, growing closer to my heart with each erratic pump of blood until I finally blackout.
My eyes fly open, and I’m back in my front yard, in the trash man’s tight grasp. I squirm to no avail. My pulse thumps rapidly, and I’m panting irregularly. Holy shit, a vision!
Why the hell did I have another vision? I’m going to give Simon a piece of my mind when I see him.
A smile spreads on my face, and I realize excitement is building in my stomach. I’m going to see that crazy kid scientist again because I’m still The McGuffin!
Before I can celebrate (or wonder why I feel like celebrating, let alone what must have gone wrong at T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. for The McGuffin to still be sending me messages), the trash man hoists me over his shoulder and steps to his truck in two quick strides.
“Help!” I scream, but I know no one in this cul-de-sac can hear me. Tonight is bingo night at the neighborhood clubhouse, and all our old people neighbors are duking it out for the next week of bragging rights. Even if one of their hearing aids were strong enough to register my cries, I doubt an army of walkers and pace-makers would be much help.
The fake garbage man heaves me over the edge of the truck and slams me into the trash compactor. I wince from the impact and the putrid smell, quickly scan the trunk for anything helpful. A half-broken shovel and a dead potted sunflower spill out of a broken trash bag. Someone must have given up on their gardening hobby.
The man reaches for the trash compactor button. I grab the shovel with my good hand and swing it with all my force in the man’s direction, eyes closed as to focus my efforts.
I make contact with his face to the sound of a sickening crunch.
Score 1 for Julie!
“Ouch!” says a voice that doesn’t match the brawniness of the tough-looking man. What the heck?
I scramble out of the trash compactor to find Eric standing in front of me, nursing a broken, bloody nose.
“Eric!” I don’t even try to hide my relief when I say it. He yanks the shovel from my hand with a glare.
“Thanks a lot!”
The trash man lunges at Eric from behind. Eric smoothly swivels out of the way, and I watch from the side as the man runs right into the trash compactor. Eric presses the button, and the heavy machinery slowly descends on the squirming burly man. Piercing screams fill the air.
I wince and turn away. “Is that really necessary?”
“What, no ‘thank you?’” He snaps his nose back into place. Shrieks of terror and the crunching of bones twist my stomach into a knot as the trash man is compacted behind us. I grimace, willing the black dots to stay out of my vision.
It doesn’t work.
I fumble back a step. Not now! I think. Not before I get my answers!
“What are you doing here?” I grumble.
“Aaaaagh!” The trash man’s screams gurgle behind us.
“You’re still The McGuffin,” Eric says matter of fact.
“No, shit! I had a vision right before that creep tried to kidnap me.” I point to the trash compactor, now spurting blood into the air with each new crunch of force. The floor wobbles beneath my feet, and the dancing black dots crowd closer together.
Eric straightens up at the mention of my vision. “What was it?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I spurt, trying to keep things short. The gurgling screams continue, now mixed with the compactor’s mechanical whirring as it struggles to crunch down on the rest of the trash man.
“Tell me on the way,” Eric says, sliding a pair of T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. branded sunglasses on his face. “We gotta get back before The Director flips her shit.”
I lose vision in one of my eyes. “Wait, wait—” I stammer, more so talking to my failing body than to Eric.
“No more waiting, Julie. We’re heading back to T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.” He puts his sunglasses on. “What is that annoying sound?” He turns toward the trash compactor, still struggling to consume the trash man’s body.
Eric presses the button on the remote. The heavy machinery slams down with a loud CRUNCH and a massive spurt of blood comes out in one final blow.
NOW how are your theories lining up? Did you see THIS coming?!