One of my early attempts for our 2018 short story challenge included a pair of spies working undercover who had been trapped into getting married, so as not to blow their cover. Unfortunately, the bride just could not seem to keep the look of loathing off of her face during the ceremony, which made me think it was going to take more than a short story for me to get them to any semblance of a happy ending.
I swapped out the troublesome spies for a more amenable couple and wrote A Change of Plans instead, but I didn’t completely forget about the spies. When I saw this year’s words, I thought maybe it was time to give the two of them another chance, after all, they’ve had two years to get to know each other and work out their differences.
Surely they’re ready for their own “happily ever after” by now, right?
Let’s see how it goes, shall we?
“Is this some kind of joke?” Amelia glared across the desk at Mr. Saunders who sat in his tufted velvet ergonomic desk chair like he was royalty, rather than the mid-level bureaucratic puppet she knew he was.
“Mr. Saunders—if that was really his name—steepled his fingers over a protruding belly that would have put Kris Kringle to shame and adopted a benevolent master-of-the-universe expression that invited Amelia to cooperate and comply.
All it did was make her wish she had a blunt instrument handy.
“I’m quite serious, I assure you,” he said, sliding a thin manila folder across the desk toward her.
Amelia tamped down her anger and worked to slow her breathing. “I resigned,” she said as she slid the folder back.
Mr. Saunders shook his head. “The Management does not feel that would be . . . appropriate at this time.” He slid the manila folder back again and held it in place with one pudgy hand.
“Well The Management can—” Amelia bit back a blistering retort when her old partner Marco, sitting in the worn leather chair next to her, nudged her foot in warning. “But we agreed,” she began again, using the warm beguiling tone that had brought more than one man to his knees during her years of undercover work. “The Peabody case was my last.” She lowered her head a bit and batted her lashes for good measure. “My book tour starts on Tuesday.”
Mr. Saunders’ cheeks flushed slightly, and he cleared his throat before speaking. “Unfortunately, something has come up that needs your . . . expertise. Some . . . unfinished business, you might say.”
Amelia raised one perfectly arched brow and waited; willing to be convinced, but not too eager. No need to rush her fences.
“There’s a package that needs to be . . . delivered,” Mr. Saunders unlocked his desk drawer and removed a small, slightly battered dun-colored box and placed it on the desk.
Amelia knew exactly what was in that box, after all, she’d been the one to acquire it in the first place. She pasted a mildly interested expression on her face. “I thought Mackenzie was handling that.”
“There was a slight . . . accident.”
Dead was a bit more than a slight accident, but Amelia forbore to quibble.
“Your book tour will provide the excuse for you to be in the city and The Book Mill will put you in the perfect position.”
“You’ve done your homework.” Amelia nodded her head toward Marco. “Why is he here?”
“After what happened to Mackenzie, let’s just call it . . . insurance.” Mr. Saunders paused, then added “He can be your husband or something. It will give him an excuse to stay close.”
“No!” Amelia and Marco replied in unison.
“I’m perfectly capable of handling a simple delivery on my own,” Amelia quickly added. “We certainly don’t want a repeat of Bulgaria.”
Mr. Saunders held up a hand. “It’s not up for debate. You’ll work together on the delivery and then . . . maybe we’ll talk about your resignation.”
Amelia paused, as if she was going to argue, and then slipped the box and folder into her leather shoulder bag. She and Marco left the office, remaining silent as they traversed the long silent hallway, descended the (probably bugged) elevator, and walked seven blocks to a hole-in-the-wall diner that served breakfast all day.
Once they were seated in the patched red Naugahyde booth, Amelia relaxed for the first time since she’d entered Mr. Saunders’ office an hour before. Part one of project Unfinished Business was now underway.
“Good job in there,” Marco said as he scanned the menu. “You’re an even better actress than I thought”
Amelia took a sip of strong black coffee from a thick white mug as her eyes scanned the room. “You have no idea.”
# # #
Well, Amelia and Marco seem to be off to a better start than last time. I think they’ve earned a bit of a break for today, or at least a chance to enjoy their breakfast. Check back next week and we’ll see what happens next.
In the meantime, Happy Holidays to all. Hope your year is ending on a positive note.