An unfamiliar sound pinged somewhere behind Emily, and she straightened, backing out of the pantry she’d been poking around in. She set down the notepad and pen on which she’d been writing an inventory of the safe house’s food stores and glanced around the room.
Is that a warning tone from the security system? she thought at first. Or maybe from the communication equipment?
At that thought, her eye fell on the cheap flip phone Brent had left with her and she laughed at herself. “It was a notification from the ‘communication system’ if that’s what we want to call my new cell phone.”
She flipped it open, amused by the fact she’d had to downgrade back to a flip phone. I’m back where I started! Good thing I don’t really mind.
She had a text message from a number she didn’t recognize. Opening it, she read,
Hey! How are you settling in? Tried any MREs yet? Doing okay? – Bird of the Evening
“Wow, Brent,” she said under her breath, grinning, “even your codename has a codename!”
She began writing a reply, immediately remembering how laborious it was to craft a text message with a number pad.
“First-world problems,” she muttered to herself. She kept the message short.
Doing fine! No MREs, just frozen. Want to go to grocery store.
She pressed send and then eyed the inventory list she’d been making. The safe house was well-stocked with all kinds of non-perishable staples, but no fresh foods. She’d survive without a shopping trip, but her food options would be much improved if she could get the okay.
A second later, her phone chirped again and she saw Brent’s reply come in.
2/2 don’t have your identity done yet. Keep me posted on how it goes?
She raised her eyebrows and waited until the first part of the message came in a second later:
1/2 You should be clear for a quick grocery trip if you go to the local store on Main Street and disguise your appearance a bit. Use cash since we
“Ah, dumb-phones,” Emily said, shaking her head as the re-read the split-up text messages in the correct order. “Oh, good. Disguise my appearance and use cash and then I can go get groceries!”
Cash is in the binder. Brent sent, as an after-thought.
Emily opened the binder which she’d laid on the kitchen island, and flipped through until she got to a zippered pouch attached to the binder rings. She unzipped it and peered inside at the neat stack of bills.
She sucked in a breath. There’s more than enough here. She took out 3 bills, reverently, and tucked them into her pocket.
That took care of the cash. Now she needed to figure out how to alter her appearance. Her eyes had itched so badly from the smudgy black makeup after her last quick disguise, so she decided she’d have to take a different route this time.
She headed down the hall and checked through the drawers in both bathrooms. There was a cheap all-in-one makeup kit and some unopened lip-glosses. She selected a bubble-gummy, light pink she’d never normally choose, thinking it was best to pick something outside her norm.
Still, it wasn’t enough of a change to count, she knew.
What I need is a disguise.
She realized she hadn’t investigated the closets in either bedroom the night before. And what better place to house disguises?
She opened the door to the walk-in closet in the big master bedroom she was staying in, and gasped in surprise. The contents were a miniatured version of Derek’s wardrobe room at ICS headquarters. Multiple colors and styles and sizes filled the racks and shelves. Shoes lined up in space-saving rows below. And along the back wall, shelving housing wigs, hats, and sunglasses.
She took a step closer, scanning each shelf, and burst out laughing when she saw a display of terrible, fake mustaches. “Of course there are mustaches. Of course. This is a spy safe house after all!”
Brent might have tried to tell her spies with fake mustaches was just movie stuff, but she was looking at proof otherwise. She took a dark, sweeping one gingerly from the display and held it to her upper lip. One glance in the mirror had her rolling with laughter. “I look like Captain Hook! Oh, wait, wait–“
She pulled the ponytail holder out of her hair and shook her hair down onto her shoulders. “Now I look like Captain Hook.” She looked around the closet for an appropriate hat with a sweeping feather, but didn’t see one.
That’s okay, she thought, I probably shouldn’t go to the store as a pirate, anyway. That would be attracting attention.
She settled on a Cardinals jersey shirt and a white-blond wig. The pink lip gloss actually went perfectly with the hair color, to her surprise. Popping a pair of oversized aviator sunglasses on, she cocked her head at her reflection in the mirror.
Looks nothing like me. Perfect.
She returned to the kitchen and consulted the binder on how to leave the house and set the alarm system properly. She also scrutinized the map of the neighborhood to see where this “Main Street grocery store”was.
To her surprise, it was fairly nearby. She debated walking, but decided she didn’t want to carry a dozen grocery bags for a mile. Besides, the golf cart looked fun to drive.
She left through the garage, pressing the correct buttons on the alarm system beforehand. She backed the golf cart out with a jerk, surprised at how sensitive the pedals were. She waited to see that the garage door had shut all the way, and then headed out of the alley to the street.
The mile went by quickly in the little golf cart, and she found herself parking outside a miniature-sized grocery store. She glanced at the list in her hand and hoped they would actually have everything.
“Just the basics, ma’am,” she murmured hopefully.
Inside the store, though, she was surprised to see they’d stocked every category a regular-sized grocery store would, just with less variety and options in each.
This will work just fine. And I’ll probably get in and out sooner for it!
She walked through the store, loading the also-miniature cart with eggs, milk, butter, cheese, a little tray of chicken, fresh produce, and–feeling fun–a small carton of ice cream.
The safe house already had a full complement of spices and sesasonings, so with these fresh foods, she’d have almost endless meal possibilities.
At the last minute, she grabbed a package of flour tortillas, planning to make chicken burritos for lunch and breakfast burritos the next morning.
She checked out using the self-checkout so she wouldn’t have to interact with anyone, and loaded her grocery bags into the back seat of the golf cart. She decided to thread all the handles onto one of the seat belts and buckle it so there would be no chance of one of them sliding off the cart.
As she was doing this, a red minivan pulled up into the parking space beside hers, momentarily sending her anxiety skyrocketing. She glanced at the driver and then what she could see of the back seats through the window tinting.
Oh, good. Just a soccer mom. She relaxed and finished buckling up her grocery bags as the mother came around to the side door nearest Emily and slid it open. A McDonald’s fry container toppled out and the mother vainly tried to catch it before it hit the ground. Stooping to pick it up, the woman called out, “Stay put, boys!”
But that, too, was in vain as two little boys who looked like they might be twins shot out of the van, apparently chasing each other.
Heedless of their surroundings, the child in the lead headed directly for the street behind the van in an attempt to get away from his brother chasing him.
Relexively, Emily stepped in front of them and caught the first child just before he darted out past the end of the van. The mother caught the second from behind.
“Boys!” she scolded. “That’s a street! That’s dangerous!”
Emily released the little one she’d caught and he returned to his mother immediately, abashed at having been caught by a stranger.
“Thank you,” the mother sighed. “They’re just too fast sometimes.” She reached back into the van and retrieved a chubby baby in a fuzzy blue sleeper. “I’m soundly outnumbered now. More boys than hands.” She tipped her head toward the little one.
“I understand,” Emily said. “I’ve helped take care of multiple kiddos before. You’re brave to take them all out to the store like this. Let me at least help you get them into a cart.”
She had nearly asked if the woman wanted help getting them into a cart, but she remembered at the last moment that most people replied to such questions with a reflexive, “No, I’m okay.”
The mother nodded, so after the van was shut and locked, Emily helped to herd the two wiggly little boys toward the curb and the carts. The mother sat the rolly-polly little one in the child seat and buckled him while Emily kept an eye on the others for any sign of them running again. Then, selecting the wiggliest of the two, their mother lifted him into the basket of the cart she took the hand of the remaining boy and took a deep breath. “Okay, think we can do this.”
Emily smiled at her.
The woman hesitated a fraction of a second and then asked, “You don’t happen to do babysitting or nannying, do you?”
Surprised, Emily nodded. “I have, actually.”
“Have any openings?” the woman said, looking hopeful.
“Uhh… I don’t don’t do it regularly… so I don’t have anything scheduled right now,” Emily stammered.
Like, anything. Zilch. Nada. No job. Nothing to do.
The woman fished in her purse for a moment and retrieved a crumpled receipt and a pen. Checking it, first to see if it was anything important, she scribbled her name and number and held it out to Emily.
“Think about it?”
Emily nodded, and the woman gave her another smile before one-handedly wheeling the cart into the store, tugging her son with her. He turned around backward and made a goofy face at Emily as they disappeared into the store.
Emily stared down at the worn receipt.
Kara Miles. Well… it would certainly give me something to do. I wonder how ICS would feel about it.