Emily tapped the side of her nose thoughtfully and wondered how she’d ended up staring out her kitchen window yet again.
Quarantine Log: The parking lot view from the kitchen window is quite limited, but it’s better than staring at the ceiling. Or the wall.
Snickering at her own thoughts, she slid her phone out of her back pocket and typed them, almost verbatim, into a new text message to Izzy.
She’ll get a kick out of this. Maybe it will help cheer her up.
Her extroverted friend hadn’t admitted it, but Emily could tell she was mourning the loss of on-campus college classes even as she joked about hiding under her bed with a flashlight in order to study without interruption from her little brothers.
Sheesh, girl. Izzy’s reply was almost instant. Take up knitting or something!
Emily laughed aloud and began typing that she had tried knitting when she was a preteen, but it hadn’t gone very well. I think I still have that sad little failure in a box in my room— she was in the middle of typing when her phone vibrated in her hand, notifying her that Izzy was calling.
Punching the button, she said, “Hey! How are things under your bed?”
Izzy giggled. “I wasn’t enjoying having my nose practically in the carpet, so I’m hiding in the back of my closet now. Long maxi-dresses to the rescue!”
Emily snorted. “Have the little guys found you yet?”
“Not so far.”
“How’s the studying going, then?”
“Well, I’m calling you so… what’s your guess?” her friend said. Emily could picture the girl’s eye-roll that likely accompanied it.
“That you’re bored out of your mind and having a hard time sticking to any one task?” she guessed.
“How ever did you know?”
“You’re asking the girl who’s excitement for the day has been watching the folks moving into a unit across the parking lot. They’re surprisingly bad at backing up their moving van. Like… really bad. They keep backing in, almost immediately deciding they don’t like it, leaving, and coming back a short time later to try again.”
“So, it occurred to me that if you got up on one of your kitchen chairs, you’d be looking at the parking lot from a higher angle and could probably see more of it… you know, if you wanted to take your snooping to the next level.”
Emily laughed and immediately hopped up on one of the chairs. “You’re right! See, this is why you’re my best friend. Also, with thinking like that, I fully expect you to be the architect designing a fabulous new —erm—government building 5 years from now.”
She’d been about to say, ‘a new headquarters for ICS,’ but had stopped just in time. Izzy didn’t officially know about ICS or its operatives in the Phoenix area.
“We’ll see—” Izzy began. Then her voice dropped to a whisper. “Oh no, they’re coming!”
“Who’s coming?” Emily’s mind jumped between dark-clothed assassins sent by the 10,000 and secret agents who had somehow found out Izzy was connected to her and she was connected to Brent Peterson and he was a spy with ICS.
“My brothers!” Izzy whispered.
Emily grinned, shaking her head at her own overactive imagination. “C’mon, they can’t be that scary! They’re not as bad as bomb-threats at a political rally, are they?”
Izzy just gave a muffled snicker in response.
“Although, from what you’ve told me about their bedroom and how it always looks like a bomb has gone off in there…”
Izzy’s snicker increased in volume and became dangerously close to an audible giggle. “Don’t make me laugh,” she whispered in a voice Emily could barely make out. “They’ll find me!”
Emily grinned. “Wow, these guys with the moving van. They’re trying yet again! Seriously—I’ve never driven a moving van, but I’m pretty sure even I wouldn’t need six tries to get it into the right parking spot. Even in a narrow parking lot like this one. Oh, rats.” She muttered. “I think I just told on myself. I wasn’t gonna ‘fess up to finding myself randomly staring out the window six different times.”
Izzy’s giggle took on a pinched quality, and Emily pictured her covering her mouth trying to keep it in. After a second, the loud, exultant voices of Izzy’s little brothers screaming “FOUND YOU!” pierced through the phone, and Emily held it away from her head, laughing. As the noise level grew, Emily opted to end the call and send a “goodbye” text full of laughing emojis instead.
She couldn’t shake the thought of the old knitting project in the box in her closet, so she headed back to her bedroom and began rummaging around. When she found it, she was delighted to discover it had already mostly unraveled and that both knitting needles were still stuck into the ball of yarn. She dialed Brent’s number as she unraveled the curly yarn all the way and wound it back around the ball.
“Hey! I was just about to call you!” he answered, sounding hurried.
“Oh!” Emily found herself smiling. “That’s cool! What about?”
“You first!” he said.
“I wondered if I could ask Agent Mirage a question… and how I’d go about getting ahold of her.”
Brent chuckled and there was a rustling sound for a moment. Then, his voice echoing from being on speakerphone, “Hey, Mirage, Emily has a question.”
“Well, that was easier than I expected,” Emily said. “Hi, Mirage! I was wondering… is there some kind of resource you’d recommend for learning to knit? I’ve been really bored ever since Sunrise Coffee switched to reduced hours—and therefore did away with my shift.”
Agent Mirage made a sympathetic noise. “Don’t you wish this virus was a little bigger—something visible so you could just haul off and punch it?”
Emily blinked. That’s such an Agent Mirage take on this whole thing. “Well, I can’t say I’ve thought of it that way, but it would be nice if it was a more tangible enemy, I suppose.”
“Look up the video channel Stabby Sticks ‘n’ String online,” Mirage said, “There’s a whole playlist of beginner knitting instructions.”
Emily contained a giggle. Of course her favorite channel is called Stabby Sticks…“Thank you!” she said aloud. “I’ll look it up!”
“Hey, Emily,” Brent said. “I’ll be knocking on your door in about 2 minutes. Just make sure you’re not brandishing the sharp sticks then, okay?”
She rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the heads-up it won’t be the bogeyman knocking. Why are you coming by? Do you need me for a mission or something?”
“Not this time, but I do need your point of view.”
“As in, your vantage point,” Agent Mirage clarified.
“I’m still not sure what you’re talking about, but hey—it will be fun to see you!”
She heard the sound of a van door rolling open. “Be there in a sec,” Brent said, and then the call went dead.
Emily put her phone in her back pocket and hurried out of her room, setting the knitting supplies on the kitchen counter on her way to the front door. She stood on tiptoe and put her eye to the peephole. In a moment, a figure walked into view wearing a blue polo, a baseball cap, and black nerd glasses just above a light blue surgical mask. He carried several grocery bags in each hand.
It was Brent.
Who needs a disguise when it’s suddenly normal to wear a mask everywhere? This must be making your spy job so much easier!
He gave a short knock and she paused just a moment so it wouldn’t seem like she’d been waiting at the door. Then she opened it.
Before she could say anything, he said, “Good afternoon, ma’am. I have your grocery order.”
“My—?” she began, but stopped when he winked.
Oh… play along, play along. Got it.
“Great!” she said. “Uh—thank you!”
He set the groceries just inside her doorway and then backed up a couple paces. “I have one more load to bring up. Be right back.”
The weather outside was mild in an Arizona-spring way—low 80s—so Emily didn’t worry about closing the door while he went back down the metal stairs to the parking lot. Instead, she peeked inside a couple of the bags.
I never know with you, Brent. Is it actually groceries, or are you smuggling in super cool, high-tech spy stuff you need to stash here for some reason?
It was, indeed, groceries.
All the bags contained useful staples. How he’d actually found some of the items was beyond her.
Hand sanitizer? You must have connections, Agent Nighthawk!
Hearing his footsteps on the stairs again, she looked up. Brent approached, his eyes smiling above his mask. He had several more bags in one hand, a 4-pack of toilet paper under the other arm, and a 10-pound bag of rice in that hand.
“Here’s the rest of it,” he said, setting the bags inside her doorway and then glancing around furtively before passing her the package of toilet paper. “Including the goods,” he whispered, winking.
“You’re a TP smuggler now, huh?” she laughed.
“Part of the job description!” he said cheerfully. He took a small bottle of hand sanitizer out of his pocket and squirted a generous glob onto his hand. He efficiently rubbed it in and then took a flat package of disinfectant wipes out of his other pocket. He removed one and reached in to wipe the spot on her door where he’d knocked, as well as the doorknob—which he hadn’t touched.
“Never bad to be extra careful,” he said. “Well—have a nice day!” In an undertone, he added. “Nice to see you, by the way.”
Emily smiled. “Thanks!” she said, leaving it at that for the double-meaning.
Brent nodded, grinned again under his mask, and turned back to the stairs, thoroughly wiping down the railing as he descended.
Emily watched a moment and then shook her head. Spies—disinfecting as they spy. What a strange world. I guess it does help to remove fingerprints, though. Nobody will ever know he was here.
She moved the grocery bags around the corner to her tiny kitchen and closed and locked the door. The second bag she opened contained something that most certainly wasn’t groceries: a small black case. It had a sticky note stuck to the top and on it, in Brent’s scrawly handwriting, were the words:
Hi! Could you stick this to the inside of your kitchen window—right at the top center? Need a clear view of the parking lot. Thanks! —B
Emily opened the case, and grinned at the tiny camera nestled in black foam inside. “So cool!” she whispered.
She set the case on the kitchen table and carefully removed the camera. It was approximately the size of a hearing aid battery and surrounded by an adhesive sticker. A thin cord led from it to the case.
Emily climbed up on her kitchen chair just as she had done while on the phone with Izzy. She then peeled off the backing and carefully positioned the camera at the very top of the window before pressing the sticker firmly onto the glass. She poked at it gently to make sure it was going to stay put. The sticker seemed to be doing its job, so she hopped down out of the chair and pulled the second sticky note from inside the lid of the black case.
Last step! Raise the antenna and push the green button. Don’t worry… nothing will explode. Thanks for your help! —B
“How did he know my first thought would be—BOOM!—?” she said to herself, smirking.
She extended the telescoping antenna. When it was full height, she rubbed her fingers together for a moment and then pushed the green button just below. An indicator light winked to life. Red, then blinking yellow, then finally green.
“That’s probably a good sign…” she said, glancing from the case to the adhesive camera and then down at the tiny strip of parking lot she could see.
I wonder what they’re spying on!
Her phone vibrated and she pulled it from her pocket. It was Brent.
“Hi! Did I do it right?” she greeted.
“You sure did! Signal is strong and the picture is clear. Thanks for your help.”
“So… what are we spying on exactly? Is someone breaking into cars in the parking lot or something?”
“I could tell you, but…” Brent said, and she could almost hear him wink.
“Right, right. Awesome gadget, by the way.”
“Knew you’d think so. Hey, listen. Just lay low for a bit, okay? Stuff could get crazy out here any time now.”
“Is there danger?” Emily asked, her eyes widening as she scanned the parking lot for which vehicle could be Brent and Mirage undercover.
“I can neither confirm nor deny. Just—stay in?”
“It’s a quarantine. What else am I gonna do? Besides, I have some knitting to learn,” she said, eyeing the ball of yarn on the counter.
Brent chuckled. “Perfect.”
“Thanks for the groceries, Brent.”
They ended the call and Emily returned to putting the groceries away. She found her tiny cupboard didn’t have space for the bag of rice, so she leaned it against the side of the cabinet until she could find a good place for it.
That will last me… months.
Emily peered out the window one last time and noted the new neighbors across the way finally seemed content with the way their moving van was parked. I guess that excitement is over.
Time to learn to knit.
She grabbed the yarn and needles from the counter and plopped down on her sagging couch. “Okay, Stabby Sticks ‘n’ String, huh?” She frowned at her phone. Normally, she avoided streaming videos since her extremely cheap prepaid plan only came with 500 megabytes of data each month.
She bit her lip, thinking.
Sunrise Coffee’s owner, Connor Gomez, had announced the employees they’d furloughed would still be getting paychecks. She figured with the gas money she’d be saving by not driving to work for the rest of the month, she could probably splurge and buy some additional phone data. To be on the safe side, she logged into her bank account and checked the balance against her upcoming expenses.
“Nice,” she whispered. The numbers worked.
Opening her phone provider’s app, she purchased two gigabytes, grinning to herself.
If I can figure out basic knitting before all this data is used up, I could actually stream some spy shows! This is going to make quarantine significantly less boring.
Armed with determination to make the most of her two gigabytes, Emily searched for the video channel Agent Mirage had mentioned. Sure enough, there was a Knitting Basics playlist. The first video was entitled Making a Slip-Knot and she didn’t bother opening it. One of the perks of growing up rurally… she already knew how to tie quite a few knots, including the ever-handy slip-knot.
She made one and slid it onto one of her knitting needles. This much I do remember. Okay, Casting On… let’s watch that one.
She tapped the next video and waited while it buffered a moment. Her eyes strayed to the kitchen where she could see the small adhesive sticker holding the camera to the window. She wondered again what Brent and Mirage were up to.
The knitting video began playing on her phone, and she bent over it to pay closer attention. She didn’t want to have to play it twice if she could help it.
A quarter of an hour later, she had 20 loops on her needle and she was ready to watch Making the Knit Stitch. To her delight, the way the first video had taught casting on was so much like the knit stitch, she already knew most of the steps. Halfway through the video, she paused it and struck out on her own, realizing she could remember the steps without the video’s prompting. Eventually, she found she’d fallen into a steady, if slow, rhythm. Her stitches were a little uneven, so she tried to pay closer attention to how much tension she was putting on the working yarn. In another couple of rows, it was already looking better and more uniform.
This is officially so much easier than the last time I tried. If at first you don’t succeed, try-try-again… or wait ‘til you’re a little older and then try again, apparently.
She was so engrossed in the stitches she didn’t notice the first shouts outside. Eventually, though, it bled into her awareness, and she jumped, dropping a stitch.
“Ahh!” She stared at the loop slipping down away from her needle. Her eyes darted to the video in the playlist called, Picking Up a Dropped Stitch.
But the shouting continued outside in the parking lot.
“Oh, who am I kidding?” She tossed the knitting aside haphazardly and dashed to the kitchen. Hopping up on the chair, she peered down into the parking lot.
Mayhem surrounded the moving van. Several men were lying face-down on the pavement with their fingers interlaced behind their heads. Agent Mirage covered them with a drawn handgun, barking orders for them to remain still.
Brent sprinted across the parking lot toward her building. Why, she couldn’t tell for a moment. Then she heard the distinct sound of feet hitting the bottom steps of the metal stairs leading up from the ground floor.
He’s chasing someone, and they’re coming up this way.
There was another set of stairs at the opposite end of the building that could be used to gain access to the alley behind. Whoever Brent was chasing had enough of a lead that they’d be able to run across the landing and then disappear down the other stairs before he caught up.
Emily jumped off the chair and glanced around her kitchen. The bad guy was nearly to the top of the stairs, if her ears didn’t deceive her. Would he continue up to the third floor or would he run right past her door? Could she stop or slow him?
She caught up the bag of rice from Brent and dashed to the door. The pounding footsteps outside had changed and she knew she had a mere second. She threw open the door and stepped onto the threshold. Without thinking, she swung the 10 pound bag of rice as hard and fast as she could in a shoulders-high arc.
Somehow, the timing was just right and it connected heavily with the chest of the oncoming man. The sudden blow checked his momentum so suddenly, he lost his footing and went down hard. The bag of rice exploded, showering the entire area as if a sudden wedding had broken out on the landing. Emily’s momentum spun her in a complete circle, and she nearly slipped on the grains, but caught herself with the doorframe. The top of Brent’s head appeared as he charged up the stairs.
“Watch the rice!” she screamed so he wouldn’t slip.
He skidded to a stop just short of the mess, his gun at the ready. “Uh…” he said, eloquently, breathing hard as he surveyed the scene.
Emily glanced back at the fallen man. He hadn’t gotten up, but lay on his back, dazed and wheezing. Suddenly worried he’d seriously injured himself when falling, she said, “Is he okay…?”
Brent holstered his gun and bent over the man, stepping carefully in the rice. “Just got the wind knocked out of him, if I’m not mistaken.” He rolled him away from Emily and snapped handcuffs around the man’s wrists.
He turned back around and looked Emily and the rice over once more. “Wow,” he said. “Props for the most…unusual way of stopping a criminal. Good thing it wasn’t the canned goods. He might not have made it.”
She winced and grinned weakly.
“Sorry about the rice,” they said to each other in unison.
After a shared snicker, Brent hauled the man to his feet, keeping him turned away from Emily as he was starting to come around. He won’t be able to identify me later—if he even remembers what happened, she guessed.
He gave her a salute and a silent wink before marching the man back down the stairs at a much slower pace. Emily watched them go before retrieving her broom and dustpan. And I thought it would take me months to use up this rice. She couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she swept up the mess, feeling a little guilty about the waste. A round sparrow flew down and made off with a grain of rice, which made her feel a little better about it.
Back inside, she found she had two missed calls from Brent.
“There you are,” he said when she called back. “I was getting worried we’d missed one.”
“No, just had a lot of sweeping to do all of a sudden,” she said dryly.
“I can get you another bag of rice.”
“You must have friends in high places.”
“So, I take it my new neighbors weren’t the nice sort? I knew they couldn’t back up a moving van very well, but I didn’t realize that was criminal.”
“Oh, they could back up a van all right, every time they “tried” they were actually offloading more men or equipment.
“Yikes! That sounds like quite the operation.”
“Yep, you just helped us bust a whole ring of counterfeiters.”
“The man you riced was the ringleader. We suspect ties to the 10,000.”
Emily found herself grinning. “No way!”
“I feel like I should call you The Wok-man or something else rice-related. But you’re not a man, and a Walkman is already a thing.”
“That’s a really bad pun, Brent.”
“I try my best.”
Emily rolled her eyes and grinned. “Well, I gotta go stab some yarn now that I have all this adrenaline to process.”
Brent repeated what she’d said, and she heard Agent Mirage exclaim, “ATTA GIRL!”
“Thanks for your help today. You did great, as usual,” Brent said. “I’ll be by sometime for the camera.”
“I look forward to it.”
When they’d ended the call, Emily pocketed her phone and plopped back down on the couch to hunt for the dropped stitch. When she found it, she followed the video’s instructions for putting it back on the needle properly. Then she pulled up Izzy’s message stream and started typing.
Quarantine Log: the parking lot wasn’t nearly as boring as one might expect. Especially from the new angle. Also, knitting really IS therapeutic.
Copyright 2020 by Perry Kirkpatrick. All Rights Reserved.