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 😀
That was great fun! And you definitely left me wanting more (and an island vacation)!
Thanks, Penny! And I’m with you about the island vacation.
Great to hear from you. How are you? Are you writing? If you’re minded to give us a quick update I’m sure everyone would love to know.
2 yrs ago… I burned out on the writing. I was putting all of my “spare time” in to it- getting up at 5am working on it before work, durning my breaks and inches at work, in the evenings, etc. really putting in the time. Then nothing else would come out. I was just done. I started to art. I could barely do a stick figure… then I got lots of time in doctors offices and rehab and hospital rooms while continuing to work and take more and more time helping and caring for my parents. I lost my dad last year and I lost my mom this year. Then I had to start clearing out a house, dealing with probate and am kinda in the middle of all of that.
Arting has been my saving grace… now some writing is starting to come back. I am working on illustrating some kids books and have some ideas for some that I would like to do over the next couple of years. Illustrated story … who knew? I never thought that would be one of my talents.
I’ve been looking at some of the Friday prompts thinking how interesting it would be to do some visual storytelling with them, but it takes even longer to think through and draft rough sketches,.. I’m still trying to think up a way to do it that will work. Can we even post up pictures on posts?
I am still working full time, looking for where I might want to relocate to, and helping my brother get his new company going (I do web, social media, and lots of marketing stuff) … we’ll be having fun, higher end and higher horsepower cars that people can come and drive and enjoy. … and they already have plans to go from there. I’m a car/motorcycle horsepower junkie… always have been – so I am looking forward to working with my brother on this and keeping up with my art. I have been told we’re going on a company research trip to Vegas later this year and I will be expected to try out some new Ferraris, lambos, and others. Can you hear how loud I’m smiling?
I have 2 commissioned pieces to do over the next month that both happen to have cars in them too. Some people really liked a Woodward Dream Cruise piece I did for pet rescue auction recently… It was a riff on the “freedom ride” animals take when they are rescued… so I have some pups and a cat in a Ford Hotrod- taking a freedom ride. Next up a 57 Chevy and a 63 corvette. One with people and pets, One with just the car.
I still keep up with you gals here to keep my brain engaged and keep my toes in the game. For now you can find me on IG @chaco_kid if you don’t mind seeing my schnauzers or me learning different types of art as I go. Thanks for letting me continue to lurk and hang out around here.
Thanks for the update–wow, lots to talk about!
So sorry about your parents. I gradually lost my bright, funny mother to dementia, watching her deteriorate until her death last year, and then I spent another year administering her estate. I’d like to say that writing helped, but there were chunks of time when I simply couldn’t, though reading was a lifeline. I’m really glad that arting saw you through the hard times. Good luck with the paperwork.
I can barely draw a stick figure. I took a quick look at your IG and find it hard to believe you could ever have been that artistically challenged. I love, love, love that you’re experimenting, and that you’ve got commissions. That’s so wonderful. Likewise I love that you’re going to work with your brother on a business that makes you happy. I’m not really a car person but I get the appeal–one of my husband’s friends is a classic motorcycle enthusiast (Laverdas and Aprilias and whatnot, hope I got that right). Those things are works of art, and the sound they make is unforgettable.
Even though I’m artistically challenged, I really like the current trend for graphic novels (I know the Japanese have been making them forever, but it feels like a new thing over here). Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London ones look really cool, and Rainbow Rowell’s likewise. I’d like to give that a go one day, after I get the print books published.
And on that note–I would love to see you do a visual version of a Friday writing sprint, and I bet Elizabeth would, too. I don’t think you can post images directly in the comments, but if you email it to us we could always add it to Elizabeth’s post or put it up as a separate post. I could send you my email address off-line now, or you could put up a quick comment if/when you have something you’d like to put up and we’ll contact you then, or you could post it elsewhere online and put a link in the comments. No pressure, but that would be very cool!
Thank you for continuing to lurk and hang out. We’re glad you’re here.
Penny, it’s so good to hear from you again, and I’m so sorry about the loss of your parents. That’s a big one, especially both so close together. When I lost my mother a few years ago after a couple of years of decline, I couldn’t write for almost a year. It’s so wonderful that you have art to help you through. I myself couldn’t draw a stick figure; that’s why I have to put words on the page, I guess.
Congratulations on getting the commissioned work, that’s wonderful, especially on a subject you enjoy. As Jilly says, we’d love to have any of your drawings to illustrate a sprint or anything else. Let us know and we’ll put them up.
Jilly and Kay Thanks. Will do. 😀
What a great story, Jilly! Thanks for a great start to Sunday.
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. It took me a while to get going, but I had fun.
I sure hope you’ll continue this one next week… 😉
LOL, I can’t believe you got your MC and the hero naked for the meet-cute, but I love it! It’s freezing here today, and I really enjoyed the heat (-:.