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Elyse, Redacted: An Excerpt
I can’t tell you where The Agency is. I’m forbidden from even describing the building- the architecture, the colour of the walls, the shapes of the windows- but I will say this. It’s kinda nice. Located where I cannot say, just down the road from a classified location, and wedged between a secret and a Starbucks, it’s been my home away from home for the eight years I’ve been in its employ. I had dropped in this morning to a) deliver the data from the USB drive into the hands of the tech team, who treasured any such items the way that Gollum treasures rings, and b) for my absolute least favourite part of my job- the debrief.
Debriefs are… Well, they are almost exactly as they sound, but with the tedium turned up to one hundred. Picture yourself sitting across the table from three incredibly stern faces in a windowless office so stuffy that everyone is sweating and they’re all pretending they’re not. It evokes the same sense of fear and primal dread as a first job interview or a visit to the principal’s office or possibly an X Factor audition. Presiding over the event was my boss, Arthur Black. A former spy himself, he had the rare and dignified position of having outlived most of his contemporaries, essentially making him the only one qualified to do his job. The average life expectancy of someone in our line of work is somewhere around 40. Arthur was pushing 70. Well, not so much pushing it as shoulder barging it into a concrete wall. But he still had it. Rumours often circulated that despite his advancing years and expanding gut he still went out into the field on secret missions. It seemed implausible enough to be plausible, as many rumours about enigmatic co-workers are. I liked Arthur.
Sitting to his right was one of my least favourite people on the planet. Dereck Fern. He sat riffling through a pile of papers which seemed in no particular order, his upper arms rigidly parallel and adjacent to his torso in an attempt to hide the ever expanding patches of wetness beneath his armpits. Great day to wear a light grey shirt, Dereck. I didn’t know quite where they found him, or even what his role was. He showed up to meetings like this with coffee breath and an air of superiority, used corporate buzzwords with aplomb and asked all sorts of awkward questions.
“And did you initialise intercourse with the target?”
See? And the worst part was his pronunciation of intercourse. I don’t care where you’re from, the middle syllable is -er-, not -uuhhh-. It was like he was enjoying it, savouring it, like it was a taboo word and he was being oh-so-naughty. I just hoped his pit stains were the only wet patch he has.
To Arthur’s left, Melody. Blonde, mysterious, not very chatty. She wrote things down, that’s about it. And I don’t mean she wrote minutes or made notes on what was said or filled in forms or anything. She would sit throughout the entire meeting, scribbling in some illegible shorthand into a big, important looking book. Even the prolonged, awkward silences I would intentionally leave before answering Dereck’s horrible questions were filled with the background sound of scrawling. One time, I would swear she started the meeting with a brand-new Biro, and had to pause the meeting to get another as it had run out. I’d swear I’ve had the same ball point pen since at least my mid-twenties. In fact, that pen may be the longest relationship I’ve ever had.
“Only once. But it was up the bum, so it doesn’t count” I eventually answered.
Arthur smiled. Dereck wrote down the words “only once” followed by the word “ANAL” in all caps, which he then underlined three times so hard it broke the lead of his pencil. He cursed and slid an unfortunate sharpener out of his pants pocket Melody continued to scribe as if possessed by some alien entity attempting communication through her. Maybe that was what was actually happening? Yet we all just ignored her because we thought she was doing her job?
“And how did he…err…respond to that?”
Maybe it was just the rampant sweat evaporating off him, but it actually seemed like steam was coming out from under his collar.
“Well I think he was surprised at first, but then he relaxed and took it like a champ.”
Dereck’s eyes widened. If he wore a monocle, which would not be out of the realm of possibility, it would have fallen into his brandy. I’m not usually so crude, you know. I just really hate Dereck and anything I can do to get under his slimy skin I feel obligated as a woman and an upstanding citizen to do so. Or maybe he just brings out the worst in me because he is just the worst.
“Can we focus, please? Dereck? Elyse? Melody?”
Melody looked up at Arthur with a face that screamed “what did I do?!” but instead of articulating her thoughts she merely turned her head back down and continued to transcribe an alien dictionary into the 100% recycled paper in front of her.
“Elyse, perhaps you’d like to summarise the events in your own words?”
So I did. I entered the residence at 1800 hours, I informed them, found the party to be in full swing, located the target, made myself known to him, used my abundant feminine wiles to get him to lead me to his inner sanctum, where I located the item, made the guy throw up on everything and fall off a balcony, then convinced some burly men that I was all innocent so they let me go.
But I went into more technical detail than that.
And yet between the two of them, Arthur and Dereck still managed to find half an hour’s worth of questions, ranging from mundane to inconsequential to downright creepy (Dereck).
An Audience of Corpses: An Excerpt
The two men approached each other and stopped, face to face, mere metres from Jack's poor hiding place. The grinning one extended his hand to the other, who took it firmly and shook it. The stern looking man looked over the other man's shoulder towards the blonde woman and nodded.
The woman nodded back in acknowledgement, and the stern man passed his doppelganger and climbed into the passenger side of the blonde’s car. She then climbed into the driver's side. There were two pops as the doors closed and the car drove away. The grinning man turned to watch them go, before adjusting his collar and turning back towards the idling car behind him. Jack's mind was telling him to act, to confront the man, but he fought the urge. He had no idea what he had just witnessed. He waited a few moments until he was sure he was alone in the alleyway, then stepped out, directly into a large fist.
Jack stumbled backwards, hit the wall and cascaded down it like a lemming down a cliff. Through a haze of alcohol and tears he could make out a large, vaguely human shape bearing down on him. He put up his arms to defend himself, but the figure knocked them aside, grabbed him firmly by the shoulders, lifted him several inches off the ground and pinned him against the wall.
“What are you doing here!” demanded an incredibly gruff voice.
Jack attempted to answer, only to find his mouth was full of blood. He spat it out to the side, hoping to avoid it connecting with his aggressor. That would not have improved his situation. He opened his mouth again to answer, but before any words could escape the man adjusted his grip and pinned him back against the wall, in a way that some might shake out a sandy towel at the beach. Jack felt a rush of pain up and down his spine; the air was knocked out of his lungs. Through a haze of pain, he felt his assailant’s grip momentarily loosen. Taking advantage of the gap in the assault, and feeling a surge of adrenaline, he drove his knee up into his opponent’s nether regions. The man dropped him and took a stumbling step back. Jack composed himself on his feet, then leaned forward and shoulder barged into his opponent as fast as he could. He drove his attacker backwards across the alleyway and into the opposite wall with a crunch. Jack disengaged from his target, whom he felt crumple to the ground, turned towards the lights of the street and ran. He did not get far. A shorter man stepped out from the shadows and raised his bulky arm right in Jack’s path.