I had so much fun playing with Elizabeth’s Friday writing sprint words last week that I decided to do it all over again. So here’s a warm, sunny short story about a character who was featured in a newspaper, using the prompt words bikini, flirtation, blowtorch, confidential, parcel, baptism, excuse, dishonest, lump, warning, needle, heavenly, twisted, mindless, fake and sky.
The Naked Truth
Juliet Indigo left the shelter of her thatched bungalow and strolled down the beach to the water’s edge. It was hard to look nonchalant while wearing nothing but fake tan, but she gave it her best shot.
She’d brought a bikini for this mission, more in hope than expectation. It was hanging in the secure lockers provided at reception, together with her phone, her flip-flops, her toiletries and her travel bag. Undercover Island promised its visitors absolute privacy and enforced that guarantee by stripping them of all their possessions on arrival. Juliet had stalked, starkers, through a scanner before being escorted to her bungalow by an equally naked butler.
She was unclothed, unarmed and entirely incommunicado. The only upside was that Alpha Lima, the agent she’d been sent to meet, would be similarly stripped down. There would be no weapons, no backup, no cameras, no notebooks. No innocuous-looking parcel or fully loaded thumb drive. Just a one-time face-to-face no-witness exchange of super-ultra top-secret confidential information.
For her first solo mission, this was a baptism of fire. With a blowtorch.
A warning prickled the nape of her neck and she turned away from the azure sea and cloudless sky to face the naked man emerging from the next bungalow. He was about a foot taller than her and maybe a hundred pounds heavier, all of it lean muscle. He had dark hair braided close to his scalp, skin the color of strong coffee, a complicated, multicolored tattoo encircling his left bicep and another—eek!—low on his belly. At some point in his life he’d spent a significant amount of time and money with a top-notch needle artist.
He approached slowly and stopped more than arms’ length away—just close enough that the sound of the waves would drown their conversation.
He looked entirely wrong for covert operations. The agents she worked with were professionally nondescript—average age, average height, unremarkable in every way. This man was unforgettable, but if he wasn’t her contact what was he doing here?
Only one way to find out. “Alpha Lima?”
“That’s what Agency people call me. Also AL1z49…” He recited the ninety-character identity string fast, flawlessly, without hesitation or correction, as though he knew her something-more-than-eidetic memory would easily keep pace. He lowered his voice and she thought she caught a hint of Scots brogue. “You can call me Al. Much easier.”
“I don’t need to call you anything.” She folded her arms over her naked breasts. “I just have to give you the password. Once. It’s your responsibility to remember it, but if you want to recite it back to me I’ll double-check it before I leave. I don’t want to find myself dragged back here if you get back to your Bat-cave and hit the wrong key.”
Call-me-Al (Alistair?) blew out a breath and looked past her, across the lagoon to the distant atoll that housed the small private airstrip. “Sorry, Juliet. I don’t actually need the password. It was an excuse.”
What? She twisted around, just in time to see the Agency’s two-seater plane take off. It buzzed low over the beach. The pilot leaned out, gave her a cheery thumbs-up, and climbed into the heavenly hereafter. “You’d better explain.”
Al drew a pattern in the sand with his toe, then scuffed it out with the sole of his foot.
“The Agency set this up, but it started when your mother won the Brainiac Challenge. She came top in every category—codebreaking, puzzles, memory, navigation. She took on the world’s best retired academics, captains of industry, and spies, and made them all look like a bunch of beginners.”
“She’s also a demon at Sudoku and the terror of the bridge circle,” Juliet said. “You play cards with her at your peril, but I don’t see what she has to do with the nation’s security.”
“Her double-page interview in the Backwater Examiner,” Al said. “The one where she said ‘I’m brainy, but my daughter’s a thousand times smarter.’ My great-aunt sent me the article. There was a photograph, too, though I have to say it doesn’t do you justice.”
An odd sensation stirred in Juliet’s belly, low and hot as a barbecue pit. She was pretty sure it wasn’t the precursor to a holiday flirtation. More like the rapidly heating coals of mindless fury. “So you and the Agency traded for me as if I were a collectible?”
Al rolled his powerful shoulders. “Your boss traded you for two traitors and a whistleblower. He’s not dishonest. Just a little short-term.”
“He’s a worthless lump of sub-par DNA.” She glared up at him. “But you… I thought you people were supposed to be the good guys.”
“We are the good guys. And girls.” He tilted his head invitingly. “You could be too. If you agree to join us.”
“Is this the part where you make me an offer I can’t refuse?”
Her head was spinning. His secretive group was legendary. What little she’d heard about them was all favorable. Nobody knew much about them, but everyone knew they only took the best of the best
“This is the part where you get to use all your brain, rather than doing party tricks with your memory.” He held his arms out to the sides and turned a full circle. The back view was as impressive as the front. “What you see is what you get. Off the record. No secrets withheld. No hidden agenda. Ask me anything, and then decide.”
Juliet dug her toes in the sand and raised her face to the sun. The air temperature was perfect. The island’s bungalow-with-butler made her one-bedroom apartment look like a hovel, and the man in front of her was the most interesting challenge she’d faced in a long time.
Back home in London the forecast was for heavy rain with a side of snow.
“It’s a big decision, Al,” she said slowly. “I have questions. This may take awhile.”
That was almost as good as a mini-vacation. I hope you enjoyed it! Happy Sunday, everyone 😀