06
AUGUST, 2018
This is the first of the stories I’m writing as part of my ‘Ray Bradbury Challenge’. Ray Bradbury famously advised aspiring authors to write a story a week. I’m trying to follow his advice. I’m also adding random genre, location and object prompts to coax me out of my comfort zone. I’d love it if you’d join me. 
My granddaughter giggled as her spoonful of porridge dived like a spitfire in a dogfight, but my hand froze when I heard Truman on the wireless. This would make my position at work very delicate.

“The atomic test put us all under suspicion.”

My usual work was essentially secretarial. Feeding misinformation to the Soviets from my desk at the Department of Ferrous Materials. Copy this, deliver that. Sure enough, within a few weeks of the announcement about their atomic test, I’d received a different kind of assignment.  This was true fieldwork. We were to intercept the information of a fellow double-agent as they attempted a routine rendez-vous. I had been chosen because I was plausible in the setting.  In other words, I was considered the sort of person who would use a bus.
The operation did not go smoothly.

Agent HOUND and I sat in shadow as the director read by the light of a green banker’s lamp. “You identified the target. As expected, she’d joined the number 32 bus for the handover. Agent BISCUIT rose to engage her as agreed, but she bolted.”

HOUND winced theatrically. “I hate to pass blame, but BISCUIT spooked her. I wish she’d waited for my signal.”

“And when Agent HOUND pursued the target, you stayed on the bus, Agent BISCUIT?”

I tilted my head and waited as the silence thickened, my face passive. A basic strategy that had served me time and again. Even against the everyday aggressions of those who should know better. Play dumb. Play dumb until you strike.

“Mrs-” he coughed, “Agent BISCUIT?”

“Oh yes, that’s correct,” I conceded, feigning surprise that the statement warranted a response.

“Why did you fail to assist Agent HOUND?”

“I’d rather like to know myself,” said HOUND, raising a perfectly groomed eyebrow and flashing a smile, as if inviting me to join him for a nightcap.

I returned the smile. My son is about his age.

“Agent HOUND has great potential, I’m sure-”

“Now wait a minute-“ he interrupted, but the director held up his palm to cut him off.

“Are you suggesting he made an error, Agent BISCUIT?”

I picked at a raised spot in the tweed of my skirt. “Have you had a chance to inspect the newspaper HOUND recovered?”

“The microdot was as expected, nothing we hadn’t authorised her to relay.” said the director.

“So, we still don’t know who the re-doubled agent is?” said HOUND. He leant his jaw on his hand and swung his face at me, like a gun dog identifying an injured pheasant.

I stood up. “Do you notice anything different about me?” I took a slow twirl, hands raised in query. No man had looked at me for so long in years. They found it almost impossible. The stealth-technology of middle-age had often proven useful.

“It might be a good idea to be a little less conspicuous when you return to the office.”

“You look like a fool,” HOUND translated.

I let my eyes drop to his feet, “You can tell a lot about a man by his shoes.” Retaking my seat, I touched the pearls at my neck before I could stop myself. HOUND seized on the tell.

“One day in the field and you think you’re Mata Hari.”

I tutted. “You seemed like such a well-brought-up young man.” The Scottish accent I’d suppressed since my first term at Cambridge coloured my words with irony. I crossed my legs to admire the improbable dagger-like heel. “I must say, they do feel rather good as long as you don’t need to get anywhere very fast. Extraordinary.”

The director coughed. “If we could return to the matter at hand-”

“-Or at foot,” I said.

He was amused. “I can see you’re rather enjoying this BISCUIT. But if you have something to say, with all due respect, snap to it. Inappropriate footwear is no defence.”

I nudged the shoe off at the heel and slid it off.

“You’re embarrassing yourself,” said HOUND. He looked truly revolted.

I placed my shoe on the desk.

“They aren’t my size anyway.” I slipped off the other and placed it, too, on the desk, my stockinged toes silent on the cool floorboards.

The director was ready to hear what I had to say. He wasn’t foolish enough to underestimate me completely. Unlike his protégé.

“Agent HOUND,” I swivelled to face my accuser, “would you kindly tell us how long it took you to apprehend the target of the investigation after she fled?”

HOUND refused to look at me, answering the director. “The subject was no glorified civilian, she’s a fully trained agent in her prime.”

I nodded, ignoring the implication. “And do you recall what she was wearing when she joined the bus?”

“I don’t see how-“

“She looked very chic, I thought. But I’m sure you have more of an eye for fashion than I.”

HOUND rolled his eyes, his jaw locked tight.

I said, “For a woman, she was very fast. When she ran, she had a sprinter’s technique. I was rather impressed with you both.”

The leather of HOUND’s chair creaked as he leant back, his hands behind his head, his knees wide open. He laughed lightly as he told the director, “the slut hitched her skirt up above her suspender clips.”

“Quite,” I said. I span back to face the desk. The director was already inspecting the shoes.

“These are hers?” He looked to me for confirmation.

I nodded. “She waved that newspaper around as if she was inviting a dog to play fetch. Which is close to the truth, as it turns out. Meanwhile, these were barely concealed beneath her seat.” HOUND’s temples were bulging. “You’ll find the real microdot on the sole.”

“Well, well,” said the director, peering inside a shoe, “we’ll have to repeat your venture away from the desk, Agent Biscuit.”

I stood up. “Well, I don’t know. I’d hate to make a fool of myself.” I offered a handshake to HOUND. “Or anyone else”. He pushed past me towards the door.

Consistently underestimated. We’ll keep the red flag flying here, comrades, have no fear.

 

This story’s prompts: Spy genre, On a Bus, High Heels.

4 Comments

  1. Sarah Haven

    Really enjoyed this!! So witty with a clever twist.. Made me think about building character from small details. I love the narrative voice.

    Reply
    • gal9i

      Thank you! I’m so glad you liked it. I am doing this to improve, so don’t hold back with any constructive criticism.

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Love it!!

    Reply
    • gal9i

      Thank you Sarah!

      Reply

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