It turned out that ICS had no problem with Emily babysitting for the neighbor woman, provided she waited to begin until her entire cover identity was in place and the mother’s and father’s background checks had come back.
Emily had a feeling the carefulness of the organization was thanks to Santa and Brent. She had read the entire binder cover to cover over the course of the next three days and was just getting ready to feel profoundly bored again when her flip phone buzzed.
She was struck with a sudden pang of unexpected, and illogical anxiety as the notification reminded her she had forgotten to plug the phone in since her first morning at the safehouse.
She flipped the phone open, relieved and slightly unsurprised to find it actually had 10% battery left.
Wow, owning a smartphone for a little bit, there, really has converted me to one of the battery-anxious! She opened the text message from Brent’s “unknown” number as she plugged the small phone into a charger in the kitchen.
c u in 20
“So it has come to this, Agent Nighthawk? Early 2000s texting abbreviations?” she murmured, silently laughing at his reticence to use the horribly slow method of typing a message on a dialpad. “I don’t really blame you anymore, to be honest.”
Her skills were rusty, again, from her short stint as a smartphone user.
She headed for the security and surveillance equipment, already rehearsing in her mind the procedures she’d read about in the binder for checking the various camera angles and security protocols.
Exactly 18 minutes later, she saw a dark SUV trigger a motion-activated camera hidden in the alley and then the screen displaying active security protocols flashed “APPROVED” as the SUV entered the single-car garage / lift behind the house next door. Emily toggled to the cameras inside the structure and watched as the SUV was lowered into the subterranean level and Brent got out. She tracked his progress along the corridor to the house, delighted to find she’d retained the binder’s instructions quite well and only got lost in the controls once.
“Hey!” she said, meeting Brent as he entered the safehouse.
“Hey yourself,” he replied, grinning at her with a mix of amusement and relief.
He’s really worried about whatever is going on.
“How are you settling in?”
“I memorized the whole binder,” she said.
He nodded, impressed, his eyebrows shooting up. “Putting that photographic memory to use?”
“It’s not really photographic,” she reminded, taking the grocery bags he held. “I just fit the information into some kind of story in my head–in this case a spy thriller, clearly–and it just sort of sticks.” She peered into the bags. “What did you bring?”
“Have a look. I am gonna go check the logs, quickly,” Brent said. “It’s just routine,” he reassured her.
“I know,” she said, tapping her forehead. “The binder, you know.”
Brent tapped his own forehead in response and then strode down the hall to the surveillance room.
Emily unpacked the grocery bags as instructed and found, to her delight, Brent had bought many of the “frivilous” food items she had decided against. Orange juice, guacamole, ice cream, bagels and cream cheese–
“Ohhh and chocolate!” she said.
Brent heard her as he returned from the surveillance room. “I’m glad you approve.”
“Do spies take ice cream breaks?” she asked, lightly squeezing the sides of the carton to demonstrate the ice cream was at the perfect softness to serve up.
“Of course we do,” Brent said gravely. “Mental health is very important in a good spy, and ice cream is very important to mental health.”
“Hear, hear!” Emily said, waving the spoons she’d just retrieved from a drawer.
Over ice cream, Brent brought her up to speed on the background checks ICS had run on her prospective employers. Everyone in the home had cleared. Neither parent had a record, and the small children in the home were definitely rascals, but not as far as ICS was concerned. The woman’s husband was actually stationed at the nearby Luke Air Force Base, which was apparently what had brought them to the state in the first place.
Brent slid a manila envelope across the table. “And here’s you.”
“Me? I that envelope? Wow. I must be a lot flatter than I realized.” Emily said, realizing she sounded almost as corny as Brent.
“Almost like I’m the new Flat Stanley,” she murmured.
“Flat Stanley! You had that too?” Brent exclaimed.
“Yeah!” She grinned at the thought of their shared experience even though they were a few years apart in age. Then she lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think we were supposed to find it fun to color in this paper cutout of him and then mail it off, but I just thought the story was kinda creepy.”
“Yeah, you’re right, there,” Brent snickered. “A kid getting squished flat by a bulletin board and then mailed all around the world–by his parents no less! Somehow doesn’t quite seem age-appropriate.”
“I still participated, of course,” Emily said. “I wrote an elaborate story about how Flat Stanley used his flatness to hide in between some papers on a mob boss’s desk and gathered information for the FBI. I was going to send it to my cousin Beth.”
“Was?” Brent echoed, putting his icecream bowl into the dishwasher. “What happened.”
“Dad just kept forgetting to take it to the post office. We didn’t get mail delivered or picked up at the dairy at that time. He would go to town and then come back and my Flat Stanley envelope would still be sitting on his truck’s dash. I didn’t want him to feel bad about forgetting so I finally stopped asking about it. Stanley became a fixture of the dashboard for a good while until–I guess we both just forgot about him!”
Brent was staring at her, his head tipped to one side.
“Are you sure he was forgetting?”
Emily blinked. “OH.” Her mind jumped back in time and she examined this minor childhood memory in light of the newly-discovered information that her dad had been an FBI agent and had been in semi-hiding ever since retiring due to some of the undercover work he’d done during his time with the Bureau.
“I–wow. Yeah, that makes total sense now,” she said, staring at Brent wide-eyed. “We were trying to lie low and be as totally disconnected from the whole concept of the FBI as possible. My Flat Stanley story was probably the last thing he wanted circulating out there!” She shook her head, opening the envelope Brent had given her. “The more you learn…”