Ahoy there mate! Today I bring to you another episode from Jem Jones’ wonderful prompt series. She gave us a prompt for May, and I whirled it around my brain…and I came up with several equally depressing options that all flopped. So instead I dug out a prompt from many moons ago and that flowed much more smoothly.
Because spies are always fun.
find out more at Jem’s blog here!
Disclaimer: I ended up doing a lot of research into espionage while writing this, and what I found was…that it’s much different and way more boring than what is typically depicted in the movies. Naturally. Well, after reading through article after article by ex-spies moaning and groaning about how unrealistically popular media portrayed their work, I tweaked a few things in the spirit of Realism. But there’s only so far that can go in Art, so please, excuse the liberties I took as a little civilian fed by spy movies.
Also isn’t the word espionage so cool??
I heaved huge gasps of breath as I ran, flying past bakeries just starting their ovens for the day and splashing through muddy puddles. The gun hidden inside my leather jacket thumped unpleasantly against my midsection. I stifled a groan. There would be a huge bruise there tomorrow.
I risked a look over my shoulder. Still no signs of my pursuers. In fact, I’d lost them an hour ago, clear on the opposite side of the city. But it never hurt to be more safe than sorry.
Well, it did hurt, a lot, but at least my cover was still safe.
I finally allowed myself to slow to a jog, then to a drunken stumble as an early morning streetcleaner looked at me suspiciously. I staggered down an alley, out of his sight, and immediately switched to my rapid, purposeful stride. I had places to go, people to see…
Oh dear. People to see.
I cursed under my breath and forced my tired legs into a jog towards the nearest phone booth. Down a dark side street. Perfect.
As the phone rang, I glanced furtively to the left and right, out of habit. All clear.
“Hello?” the voice of an old lady demanded. “Who is this?”
“Hello Grandma.” I slowed my still-heavy breathing.
“Yes. Look, I’m sorry I –“
“Where were you? You promised to visit me and take me to the opera for my birthday! And you didn’t say a thing! I was worried sick! You could’ve been, I don’t know, shot to death and I wouldn’t know!”
My jaw tightened. If I was who she thought I was – a normal uni student – she would have been overreacting. But as it was, she’d nailed the truth. I’d spent the previous day hunting around for information, and I’d spent the previous night trying not to get shot.
“I’m sorry Grandma. My economics professor assigned us a boat-load of homework, and I spent the whole night and every free moment I had to do it, and I was just so stressed out with that and finals coming up that I completely forgot. I am so sorry.” I ran a hand through my hair. “After all you’ve done for me.”
The lies slipped smoothly and easily and convincingly off my tongue. Every other word I’d spoken for the past few years had been lies. It was a necessary part of my job, the only way to protect those I loved and innocent strangers. But I chewed the inside of my lip. This was Grandma, the woman who had raised me after my parents had died. Not a contact, not a stranger, not an enemy.
Necessary, I repeated to myself.
A rustle from the other end. Her voice had softened. “Ah well, I forgive you.”
I relaxed from tension I hadn’t realized was building. “Thanks Grandma, I –“
“If,” she interrupted sharply, “you come to my flat right now and give me a visit.” Her voice quieted again. “It’s been months, Jude. I miss you. And your hugs. And you can’t be eating anything as good as my own homemade stew at the university. I even have some leftover pie.”
I froze, glancing around me again. Outside this street, people were walking around now, briskly marching to work. I’d been out here for too long. I needed to get to a safe house, I needed to relay the information to my local asset, I needed a shower…
I needed to see Grandma. I owed her that much, and maybe a small part of me wanted to see her too. In this world of deceit and never-ending caution, she was refreshingly blunt and transparent. I needed to protect that and more importantly, I needed to protect her. Which was exactly why I couldn’t, wouldn’t, ever tell her about my real life.
And it was also why I couldn’t risk visiting her in the middle of a mission.
I bit my lip and again ran a hand through my dirty blond hair. “Grandma, I’m sorry, but –“
“Save it,” she snapped. “If you don’t want to see your own grandmother, that’s fine by me.”
“That’s not what – ”
“Oh, of course it’s what you meant. I completely understand that school and probably parties and drinks and girls are more important than the woman who raised you.”
“Grandma,” I said helplessly.
The phone clicked. Exhaling heavily, I put it back and leaned my hands against the brick wall, letting my head drop and my hair fall over my face. Just a few seconds of peace so I could gather my thoughts, re-access things.
Rapid footsteps echoed.
My head whipped up, and a string of choice swear words flew through my head as I dove to the ground and rolled into an open street, bullets spraying overhead. A cab blared and I popped up before it hit me, running before the driver took his hand off the horn.
I wove in and out of the ever-increasing morning traffic, both in the street and on the pavements. The traffic was fortunate, since we would be long gone by the time any police could arrive, but it was also unfortunate because many innocents would probably be killed or injured by the time the chase was over and I’d lost my pursuers again – for good this time.
Through my rapidly flashing thoughts as I calculated my route and analyzed obstacles and determined the best way to lose them, sorrow panged at my heart. I could be killed today. And Grandma would never know.
Pain jolted across my body each step I took. I slunk close to the walls, gripping my wet midsection and letting my gun dangle loosely in my hand. It was still early evening but darkness had already fallen. I was betting on that darkness to keep both the blood, which was concerning, and the gun, which was illegal, hidden.
I had very few options at this point. I had two hours to meet my contact with the information I had gained the previous day. If I waited that long I’d lose too much blood and I would stop thinking straight. I needed to get the wound taken care of.
The nearest hospital was too far. Grandma’s flat was five minutes away. I’d either killed or otherwise incapacitated my pursuers.
I grit my teeth.
Five minutes later I rang the doorbell. Once. Twice. The door swung open and I swung inside, swiftly slamming it shut, dropping my gun, and turning all the locks and bolts. Then I turned to face Grandma, who stared at me openmouthed.
I grimaced and lifted a blood-stained hand from my midsection. “Can you –“
“Don’t bleed on my floor!” she snapped as she spun on her heel and marched to the kitchen.
I clapped the hand back.
“Sit on the chair right here!” she hollered as she flung open cabinets and drawers, pulling out supplies. “Where there’s tile instead of my thousand dollar rug!”
I lurched into the kitchen, blood splattering. I hadn’t realized how much there’d been until the bright red droplets dotted the pristine white tile and –
“The clean dishes too?” Grandma said, raising her eyebrows as she prepped various medical materials. “What did they ever do to you?”
I stumbled away from the open dishwasher and all but collapsed into the chair by the kitchen table. Grandma was petite and she looked frail, but her wrinkled hands were as strong as ever as she expertly cleaned and dressed my wound. Decades working in the ER really paid off. But at the moment I was too busy screaming to be grateful.
“I hope you realize how much trouble you’re in, young man,” she said, fixing those stern grey eyes on me as she finally tied off the last bandage. I moaned.
She stood to wash her hands, then plopped back down in a seat in front of me. She crossed her arms. “What was it, a bar fight?”
I glanced up at the clock on the far wall. “At six in the evening?”
“It’s never too early for stupidity.”
I clenched my teeth and shifted to a more comfortable position, my eyes squeezed shut. “Can you close all the windows? And turn the TV on.”
Silence, then the hinges of the chair groaned as she stood. A moment later, a news anchor was describing the chase I’d caused. Grandma sat down again and I opened my eyes.
“I’m ashamed to admit it, Grandma, but –“
“No you’re not.” She peered at me closely. All these years and she still didn’t need glasses. “You had way too long to come up with another story. Always good at lying, you were. Tell me the truth, the real truth, the hard truth. I can handle it.”
I stared at her for a long moment. She stared right back. I bit my lip and leaned back. I wanted to cross my arms but that hurt too much. I settled for placing them awkwardly on my thighs.
“I’m not in university studying for my doctorate.”
“I’m…” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “I work to secure national security.”
“You mean you’re a spy,” Grandma said, her tone perfectly neutral.
“Kind of. Sort of.” Another deep breath. Inhale, exhale. “That’s why I had to lie to you. For your own safety. For the country’s safety.”
She frowned. “Then why are you telling me this now? I know you had another lie up your sleeve. You could’ve easily fooled me if you wanted to.”
“Well.” I crossed my ankles. Inhale, exhale. “I trust you, Grandma. There will be background checks, of course, and briefings, and other precautions. But…you need to know. You ought to know. Just in case…” I glanced down at my midsection and swallowed. “Just in case I don’t come home one day. I want you to hear the truth from me, not some government official.”
“Oh, Jude.” Grandma stood and tenderly wrapped her arms around me. She smelled like vanilla soap, with the faint whiff of antiseptic. I relaxed in her embrace.
“I missed your hugs too, Grandma.”
*happy sighs* They might not be entirely realistic but spy stories are still hugely entertaining to read, watch, and write about. What’s your favorite spy movie? 😀
Also, here’s the link to the prompt that is currently up for June, if you want to join in! (You should definitely join in.) But you can also write a Quirk any time you choose, as I did, to stretch those writing muscles. 😉
Until next time,
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