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Over the Top Secret - Epilogue
AKA Clam Chowder
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
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“That pretty much sums everything up,” I tell the camera. I let out a satisfied sigh, feeling much better now that I got everything off my chest. Hashing through all the details helped me see things more clearly and, looking back, I realize nothing that happened to me was as bad as I’d thought. I mean, besides all the “almost dying,” being kidnapped multiple times, and the continuing torturous experimentation.
It’s been somewhat agonizing not being able to tell Nicole or my parents what happened. They’ll never know what my real job is, and they’d never believe me if I told them. At least I can rest easy knowing they think I moved to New York for a fancy “business” job, whatever that means. It’s safer for them to stay uninvolved, I keep telling myself. But that fact still doesn’t make it any easier to keep this enormous secret from them.
“It’s about time,” Eric says from just behind me. I jump in my seat and whirl around. He’s holding the box of pizza, now a platter of aromatic crumbs, and smacking on the last piece in his hand.
“How long have you been there?”
“Long enough.” He crunches the crust down in three bites.
I roll my eyes. “Why are you in my space again?” If you can even call it that. There’s barely enough breathing room for one person in this ridiculously small cabin in the woods, let alone two.
He shrugs. “I was bored. And you entertain me, Julie Richardson.”
Honestly, I can’t blame him. We’ve been locked in this safe house for the last week and a half, and I’m getting seriously stir crazy. With barely any breathing room and a pantry that was only stocked with canned clam chowder, I’ve been starving and in need of some fresh air since the first day we got here.
Eric drops his crummy pizza box on my temporary desk, spilling greasy flakes of cheese all over the laptop keyboard.
I glare at him, grab the box, and angrily stomp into the kitchen. Which is literally four strides away. Pinching my nose, I attempt to shove the large cardboard box into the overflowing trash can at the edge of the kitchen counter, but it causes the bag to rip, and a mix of sticky juices spurts out everywhere.
“Nice,” I mutter, staring at the mess. We’re out of trash bags and Lysol, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
We’re stuck in a pigsty.
“Goddamnit, this place is filthy and we can’t even take the trash out!” I shout.
“Don’t get mad at the pizza just because you couldn’t eat it.” Eric leans against the tiny center island, watching me with an amused half-grin.
“Eric, how can you deem it necessary to order a pizza and reveal our secret location, yet you won’t take the damn trash out?” (How did he even get someone to deliver pizza to the middle of the woods anyway? God, he irks me!)
Eric shrugs again. “Priorities.”
Priorities? Oh, how I want to slap that stupid grin from his face. “How about fresh air? Is fresh air not a priority? Why can’t we at least open the damn windows?!” I pull at the metallic shades that have been blocking the sunlight from entering this musty safe house, but they don’t budge an inch. The anger bubbling inside me finally boils over. I bang on the steel window blockers, yelling obscenities.
“Hey!” Eric grabs my wrists and yanks them behind my back, locking them in his tight grip.
“You know we can’t go outside, Julie.” Eric’s voice is low, and the way he says my name draws my entire body to perky attention. You’d think I’d be used to him by now, but each time Eric comes close to me, my breath catches, and I find myself both wanting to scratch his eyes out and hoping he’ll plant a kiss on my lips.
He adds in a warning tone, “Nestor is out looking for you, and it’s a threat we don’t take lightly here at T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.”
“What kind of an evil villain name is Nestor anyway? Nestor from The N.E.S.T.,” I mock. “Sounds made up if you ask me.”
“Stay focused, Julie,” Eric says, his hot breath tickling my neck. How is his breath still minty? He just ate a whole pizza! “As our new McGuffin, you’re T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.’s biggest target in the world right now, and it’s my job to keep you, er, The McGuffin safe.”
Argh, he’s making sense. I let my shoulders down slightly.
“Safe is different than locked up like a prisoner,” I mutter. “Why couldn’t we have gone to a safe house on the beach? Or to another one of those fancy hotels in someplace like, I don’t know, the Bahamas,” I whine, suddenly missing my breezy hometown.
Eric presses his lips together. Probably, he’s wishing we were on the beach right now, too. “You should be thanking me, Julie. This safe house isn’t even in the T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. list of accessible locations anymore.” He lowers his voice to a whisper. “It’s strictly off-grid.”
Gulp. No one will find me when I die of cabin fever.
“Let’s try to have some fun,” Eric says, straightening up behind me, my wrists still locked in his iron grip. That could have two very different meanings, but I’m sure he’s not trying to be perverted. It’s off-putting to think of Eric and fun in the same capacity. I doubt we have the same definition of the word. “Try to break free,” he says.
Ugh. “I don’t want to play your stupid game, Eric.” He doesn’t move at all. “Just let me go!” I wriggle with all my might and let out some embarrassing grunting sounds. If anything, I’d say Eric’s grip tightened.
“That’s what I thought.” I can hear the smirk in his voice. “You’re useless in the field without me.”
“And you’re useless as an agent without me,” I counter.
His body stiffens against mine. He knows I’m right. I wriggle my wrists, but his grip doesn’t loosen.
“You gonna let me go now?” I say to the wall in front of me.
Eric spins me around and pins me back.
“You’ve got a lot to learn, Agent Julie Richardson,” he mocks.
We share a moment of electric silence, staring into each other’s lively eyes. Eric leans forward, ever so slightly, and my heartrate hikes. Then I hear it. A slight buzzing sound.
“Did you hear that?” My ears stand perked like a terrier as I stand there, motionlessly straining my ears.
“What are you talking about?” Eric asks, looking around as if I’m insane. BZZZZZZZ.
“There it is again!” I follow the source of the buzzing and realize it’s coming from Eric’s ear. “Are you wearing an earpiece?”
“No.” He hastily taps his ear, and the buzzing noise goes away.
“Who are you talking to?” I ask, realization that he’s been up to something slowly sinking in. “Was that Simon?”
“No,” he says, backing away from me.
“Have you been contacting him without telling me?” A rising tide of shock and anger swells in my veins.
“I mean, only for check-in purposes.”
“You said we couldn’t contact anyone.” I take a step toward him, getting up close and personal. “You said The Director would contact us once the situation became stabilized.”
He just stares back at me.
“What’s going on here, Eric?”
“It’s nothing you need to worry about.”
“Tell me!” I grab a can of soup sitting on the counter and throw it at him. Eric ducks, letting the soup can burst against the cabinetry on the opposite wall, spewing clam chowder everywhere.
“Woah, no need to get crazy.” Eric says with a shaky voice as he slowly backs away.
I may have overreacted. But then the thought crosses my mind that Eric has probably been lying about this entire situation—I mean, after all, would he really be able to order pizza to a secret, unaddressed cabin in the woods? “Are we even on lockdown?” I ask, just to be sure.
Eric sucks in a breath through his teeth, grimacing like he doesn’t want to answer the question. It fills me with a panicky dread that sends my barometer way past crazy.
I grab another two cans and throw them at Eric with all my might. He uses the small kitchen island between us as a barrier and ducks. Soup explodes against the wall in the living room and the boarded window of the front door.
“Alright! Stop throwing things, and I’ll tell you.” The hanging pots and pans clank against each other as Eric backs up into the corner against the stove.
I’m holding the last can of soup in my hand, aimed and ready. “Well?”
Eric takes a moment before saying, in a low, serious voice, “This has been a test.”
A test? I’m rendered entirely speechless. Another goddamn TEST?!
An audible SNAP fills the tiny space as what little remaining restraint I have breaks in two.
I haul the last can of soup at Eric, screeching like a madwoman. It actually catches him in the shoulder this time with an audible THUNK.
Religion won’t save him now. I dart across the room for the knife brick in the corner, but Eric sees it coming and grabs the giant steak knife first.
“Stand back,” he warns, terror in his eyes.
“What the hell kind of a test has this been? Haven’t I been tested enough?!” I unsheathe a two-pronged carving fork from the wooden block of utensils and hold it in front of me like a sword, jutting it out to stab Eric in the gut. He expertly blocks the blow. His steak knife meets the middle of my fork with a metallic SHING.
“We—I mean, Simon just wanted to test your limits, you know? See how far you could go before breaking.” He twists the fork out of my grip. It falls to the floor with a clatter.
“This was your idea?” I say, seething.
He stands up taller, puffing his chest out defensively. “Now that we’re going to be working together, I think it’s highly important to know your breaking points.”
I stare him down, unable to speak without it coming out as unintelligible shrieking.
“It’s not like we used any needles,” he continues. “We made sure to skip out on the needles.”
“I am going to kill you!” I growl. Eric drops the knife and turns away when he sees me lunge for him. I land on his back with a THUD, wrap my legs around his waist, and claw at his face, yelling into his earpiece, “You, too, Simon!”
“Damn it, Julie. Stop yelling!” Eric tries to throw me off of him, but my grip won’t budge, and the weight of the motion sends us crashing into every doodad on the countertop. The pots and pans fall to the floor with an ear-shattering clatter.
“You asshole!” I shriek, yanking at his hair with all the pent-up energy that’s been accumulating in me in this damn safe house. He yelps and reaches back to pull me away, his arm crashing into the empty wine glasses hanging from the cabinetry. The glasses break into jagged pieces, spreading out across the marble countertop.
“You better be getting this data, Simon,” Eric gasps from beneath my arm wrapped around his neck. Drawers are caught on my jean belt loops, snapping into place with a loud clatter of silverware.
“Screw your data!” I shout. Eric trips over the corner of the counter and falls onto the couch in the living room. My grip breaks in the fall, and he lands on top of me in an awkward position, my elbow giving him a nice stab to the gut.
“You better take me back to headquarters right now,” I say, struggling under his weight, “or I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” Eric asks from above me, pinning my arms down by my sides. He smirks down at me, and I suddenly become acutely aware of his body pressed against mine, our chests heaving from the adrenaline of the struggle. “You’ll never have the upper hand, Julie.”
“Oh yeah?” In a sheer act of will, I somehow manage to twist our bodies around with every remaining ounce of energy I have so that I’m on top of him, shoving the couch covers to the ground in the process. Eric’s head hits the armrest, and I quickly grab his wrists, pinning him to the couch frame. “Don’t test me, Eric. I’m The McGuffin.” I say it with pride, feeling powerful for the first time since this shit show started.
Eric laughs, actually laughs at me, the bastard. “Did you get that, Simon? Julie thinks she’s done being tested.” He grins knowingly. “Not as long as you’re The McGuffin.”
I scoff. And then all my energy fizzes out of me like a balloon being popped by a pin. There’s no point fighting it anymore. I’m The McGuffin, which means I’ll always be Simon’s lab rat.
At least the incessant testing comes with job security. Plus, my two imbecile partners remembered not to use needles this time.
Suddenly, the front door jostles. Eric and I share a shocked expression.
“Simon?” I mouth.
Eric furrows his brow.
Another jostling of the door handle. Eric throws me off of him, and I land on top of the glass table. Thankfully it doesn’t break, but I hit my funny bone on the corner. And I’m not laughing.
I duck behind the couch as Eric gets into a fighting stance, carefully approaching the door. He taps his earpiece. “Simon, is that you? Come in. Over.”
A moment later, the front door swings open. The silhouetted figure of a woman steps through the threshold. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the glorious bright daylight behind her, but soon it’s clear who she is.
Penelope Barnes. AKA The Director of T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.
She’s wearing a sundress, a sun hat, and sunglasses, pulling behind her a rolling brown suitcase and carrying a tote bag over her shoulder. The bag says, “You had me at Merlot,” and it’s overflowing with bottles of wine.
She steps inside the living room, bringing with her some much-needed fresh air. I jump up from the floor.
“Director!” I say, relieved to have some contact with the outside world.
“Er, what are you doing here?” Eric asks, standing awkwardly between us.
She looks like she’s heading out on a beach vacation. But… to the middle of the woods?
The Director removes her sunglasses, slowly taking in the mess around us. The slight smile that was tugging at the corner of her lips when she walked in slowly slides off her face as she registers the scene. Clam chowder spattered on every wall, putrid trash overflowing and leaking in the corner, pots and pans spilled onto the counter, wine glasses broken all over the floor. Then her eyes land on Eric and me, skin flushed and hair crazy from our tussle.
It’s not a pretty sight.
“What have you done to my house?” Her voice comes out like a squeaky toy.
“Your house?” Eric says.
She whirls to face him. “Yes! My safe house.”
Eric and I share a confused expression. Eric speaks first.
“But Simon said it’s off-grid—”
The Director flashes Eric the Evil Eye. Her voice becomes low and severe when she says, “Simon is behind this?”
Eric nods. “Yes, it was all Simon’s idea.”
Such an ass.
“And what idea was that, exactly?” she asks.
Eric fills her in on all the details, explaining that they created a fake Evil Villain (I knew that name was nonsense!) as the reason for keeping me locked up and that they wanted to expose me to all my personal trigger points until I reached my breaking point.
One look around this place, and it’s pretty clear I reached it.
BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP—The Director’s watch goes off once again. She calmly removes it from her wrist and sets it on the counter among the broken wine glass shards. She steps toward the nearest cabinet, her sandals crunching down on the broken shards on the floor. She pulls out a coffee mug from the cupboard and pours herself something red from the twist top wine bottle in her bag.
“Uh, Director?” I ask, suddenly worried for her mental health more than mine. She was probably coming here expecting a mini-vacation but found the two of us duking it out instead.
“Just… clean this mess up,” The Director says with her eyes closed. Eric and I share a worried glance.
“There aren’t any cleaning supplies—” I start, but Eric interrupts me with a pointed stare. He trudges over to the stovetop and types something into the tiles on the backsplash. A hidden cabinet is revealed with all sorts of cleaning supplies, towels, paper goods, snacks, feminine supplies, and even a sunchair shoved inside.
So that’s where he hid everything. Sunovabitch.
He tosses me a container of Lysol wipes. I get to scrubbing the chowder off the nearest wall. Eric carefully sweeps the glass shards into a dustpan.
The Director takes a sip of her wine, grasping the mug close to her as if it were a cup of hot cocoa. Then she closes her eyes, probably imagining she was in the Bahamas right about now.
I give a sideways glance at Eric. He’s pouting and shoving the broken trash bag into a new one, probably thinking the same thing as The Director.
I can’t help but grin at the sight of him all grumpy. Eric notices and makes his way over to me, pretending to sweep something off the carpet nearby, the whole time keeping one eye on The Director who’s still silently sipping her wine cocoa.
“I hope you’re happy,” he says in a low voice.
I chuckle again, unsure exactly why I feel like laughing. Being so close to Eric always turns me into a child.
“Did you just laugh?” he asks, incredulous, probably thinking that he and Simon did manage to break me.
“No. Get back to work.” I turn back to scrubbing the wall, hiding the smirk on my face.
“You’re crazy,” he mutters so only I can hear.
No, I think with a smile. I’m The McGuffin.
Well well well… we made it to the end of this crazy spy adventure! 💃🏻👏😎🔥
What did you think? Are you satisfied? Did you laugh out loud? Giggle? Scream? Cry? Feel absolutely nothing?
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✨ I am SO GRATEFUL to have gone on this adventure with you, Gigglers! Thank you for reading, commenting, supporting, and sharing this story. It truly means the world to me!
Next up, I’ll be preparing this book for physical publication, which includes finalizing the book cover! Can’t wait to share more about that with you soon. (I also have a funny bonus scene that I haven’t decided whether or not to publish here or leave as a little surprise for readers of the hard copy! Muahahahaha)
Stay tuned for more shenanigans and fun stuff to make you giggle— and please be sure to share this story with all the goofballs in your life. THANK YOU!