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Born to spy, p.10
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       Born to Spy, p.10

           Jayde Scott
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  "They're having a huge rack of paintings on display and will need loads of space." Hilly looked at Bernie. "That might exclude one or two."

  Bernie raised his brows. "Did you say, paintings? For an exhibition?"

  I nodded.

  "There's a small, private lighthouse on the northwest side that's used for exhibitions, but I don't think it's open to the public," Bernie said.

  "How do you know?" Hilly asked, suspiciously. I nudged her, but she just mouthed, "What?"

  After what we went through, how could I blame her for being careful?

  Bernie seemed embarrassed. "I examined a guy's bags on a standard routine check. He was heading that way."

  "Woo-hoo," Danny yelled. "What are you waiting for? Take us there."

  "Yes, sir." Bernie started the run-down van and pulled out of the parking lot. The engine roared and sputtered, and for a moment I thought it'd die on us. But it didn't.

  "You're probably used to Lamborghinis and Ferraris," Bernie said.

  Hilly laughed. "Bicycles, more likely."

  "Not really." I glared at her. "It's all about keeping a low profile."

  Bernie continued to chatter as we raced through the empty streets. I let Danny do the talking and switched off, eager to catch a moment alone with my thoughts. Was it really such a good idea to go after Stewart without getting the police involved? He carried a weapon, we only had our hands and Hilly's sharp tongue for defence. But what other choice did we have? Stewart was still our only link to Dad. Calling the police without proper evidence was out of the question, so that left us with no other choice than to catch the guy.

  The van turned a corner and picked up speed on the empty street. I peered out the window, past what looked like large warehouses closed for the night.

  "We're here." Bernie pointed to a high fence.

  Danny coughed and nudged me.

  "Oh no! Not another fence," Hilly said.

  I grinned. "Great. Let's go."

  Pressing her palm down on my shoulder, Hilly stopped me. "Wait, shouldn't we come up with a plan first?"

  Apart from that lock-picking thing, she had no single spy bone in her body. "Does Batman stop to write his shopping list before he goes to pick up the bad guys?" I shook my head. "I don't think so."

  "Do you need another sidekick? Just call me Bobin." Bernie's eyes glittered with hope. How could I smash the poor man's dreams?

  "One can never have too many…Bobin." I opened the door and jumped out, heading for the fence. "I don't see the gate. Maybe it's on the other side."

  "Since when is that a problem? Man up, Gonzo." Danny grabbed hold of the mace and climbed over like a monkey.

  "Hey, wait for me," Hilly yelled.

  "The last one at the lighthouse's a big chicken." Danny guffawed and sprinted toward the imposing tower in the distance rising against the dark sky.

  I couldn't let him win, so I jumped over and raced after him. He beat me by a few steps.

  "Yo, a little help might be nice." Hilly hung upside down on the fence.

  "I told you to put on a pair of tennis shoes after your last high heel fiasco," Danny said. "But you're the know-it-all, so suck it up and just get down here."

  Bernie eventually reached us and pointed behind him at Hilly. "Batgirl's in bad shape. Looks like someone needs to join the gym."

  "I'm fit like a tiger," Hilly yelled. "What did you expect me to do? Fly over the fence? Do I really look like a superheroine in a shiny spandex costume complete with pantyhose, a mask, a cape and a pair of wings?"

  I made a cuckoo sign. "Did you just say wings?"

  "Whatever," Hilly said. "You get the idea."

  "But Batgirl—" Bernie started.

  "She's as real as Barbie," Hilly screeched. "Just hand me over the keys and I'll drive you to whatever mental institution you broke out of."

  Leaning against the whitewashed wall, I laughed at Hilly's effort to climb a fence, only then noticing the headlights travelling up the winding path in the distance.

  Chapter 13

  "Hurry up. Someone's coming." I rattled the door to the lighthouse, but it was locked.

  Hilly reached us and I handed her Dad's credit card.

  "Sure, no need to thank me." Kneeling, she wiggled the card about until the hinged squeaked and the door swung open. "You owe me a few handbags and at least one pair of shoes."

  I snorted and dashed in past her, then stopped to scan the tiny hall lit by the first rays of light spilling in through a large bay window. There were two closed doors on the ground floor and a narrow staircase.

  "What are we looking for?" Bernie asked.

  "That's a good question," I said, hesitating. "Anything suspicious. You and Hilly, check upstairs. If you don't find anything, return to the car and wait for us."

  Bernie and Hilly disappeared up the stairs while Danny and I tried the first door. It was a kitchen with loads of trays covering the counters. Before I could stop him, Danny popped a dough ball into his mouth. I could smell cheese and tuna as he chewed.

  "Hungry?" I glared at him.

  He nodded. "Try some. They're great."

  I shook my head and walked out again, ready to check the next door. It was a living room with a tiny fireplace, but the furniture had been moved to the side to make space for a few easels set up in the middle.

  "They're holding the exhibition in here?" I whispered.

  Danny nodded and helped himself to another dough ball.

  My mouth watered and I rolled my eyes. "Give me one, then."

  He grinned and held out a tissue with at least half a dozen of them. "I knew you'd come around."

  Did I have a choice with all his munching? At least he thought about not leaving crumbs on the floor. I bit into a dough ball and let the tuna mince pick my taste buds. Boy was it delicious.

  "This is—" I turned toward Danny, trying to find the right words, when my gaze fell on a trapdoor hidden right beneath the stairs outside the living room. We couldn't see it before because the staircase blocked our view, but in here, with the living room door open, I stared right at it. "What's that?"

  "Huh?" Danny followed my lead as I marched over and yanked. It didn't budge.

  Wheels screeched to a halt and an engine idled. Crap. Somebody was here.

  "I'll get Hilly," Danny said.

  I shook my head. "There's no time. Someone's coming." My hand wandered over the old wood. "I don't get it. Where's the lock?"

  "There isn't one. Look!" Danny scratched at the frame until a hook sprung loose, and he opened the door.

  Outside, the engine died and a car door opened.

  "Let's hide in there," Danny said.

  I shot an anxious glance toward the staircase. "What about Hilly and Bernie?"

  "She'll be safe with him."

  Yeah, but was Bernie safe with her? "I'm not worried about him, dummy," I said.

  Danny grinned and we squeezed inside the opening, almost toppling down the stony stairs. I pressed a finger on my lips to signal Danny to keep silent even though he couldn't see me in the pitch dark.

  Below us, something shuffled across the floor.

  "What was that?" Danny asked.

  "Shush," I hissed.

  In the hall, the door opened and closed. The floor creaked under heavy footsteps, stopping right in front of us. I held my breath. Was it over? Would we be exposed now?

  The footsteps shuffled away. I let out a sigh of relief when I heard a soft moan behind me. I jumped, a little startled. Okay, so maybe a lot. I hoped I didn't scare Danny because I'm always supposed to be the brave one. After all, I'm the one with spy genes in my genetic code.

  Just wait a cotton-picking minute! There was only Danny and I in the room. I didn't believe in ghosts, but I knew they like to moan in the dark. What was next? Clanking chains? Disembodied voices? Floating heads?

  "Someone's here," Danny squealed.

  "Say it again and they'll hear you in Scotland," I hissed. "Keep it together, man. I'll go and ch
eck." I didn't want to go, but my spy-genes kind of expected it of me.

  "I'll wait here," Danny said. "You know, just in case you need backup."

  "How exactly are you backing me up when you're not behind me?" I shook my head. "Never mind."

  Taking a careful step after another, I descended into the darkness. Another moan rang to my right. My heart pounded in my chest and I swallowed hard. A spy's never scared. But I was just a beginner, so I figured a little fear was okay. It'd go away with experience.

  Something crunched beneath my feet. I bent down and retrieved it with shaking hands, staring at Dad's high-tech watch glowing in the dark.

  "Dad?" I whispered, hope choking my throat.

  The watch in my hand beeped. Scared the person upstairs might hear it, I pressed a few buttons. The beeping stopped and a dim light came on, casting shadows over the walls. Racks with wine bottles reached as high as the ceiling. My heart was pumping so hard, I could barely breathe as I inched toward the far right side, the watch in my hand illuminating only a few inches at a time.

  The soft glow fell on a hood covering a person strapped to a chair. Sweat trickled down my back and my mouth went dry. Please don't be a ghost or an ogre, I chanted in my head like a million times. With one flick of my hand, I pulled the hood back to reveal Dad's face and gasped.

  "Dad, are you okay?" I whispered, hoping he was alive.

  His eyes flickered to life, then closed. I hurried to peel off the wide tape across his mouth. He let out a moan.

  "Thom?" His voice came softer than a whisper.

  "I'll get you out of here," I said. "You just hang on."

  My hands moved over the tight knots holding his hands and upper body in place. Dad's chin fell on his chest as though he nodded off. He didn't start to snore like he usually did. I scraped and pulled at the knots harder, but they were too tight. Even if I figured out how to untie them, I couldn't carry Dad's weight up the stairs and out of here—unless I found a telephone booth and turned into Superman. I wasn't keen on leaving him behind either, but what other option did I have?

  In a few long strides, I reached Danny. "Dad's down there tied to a chair. I can't loosen the knot. We need to get help."

  Danny snorted. "I used to be a scout. Hilly might be your first choice for locks, but I'm your man if you're looking for someone to undo a knot."

  We climbed back down. I shone the light from the watch on the knots as Danny struggled with the rope. It wasn't even much of a struggle. I barely counted to twenty before Dad was free.

  "Let's help him up," I said, squeezing a shoulder under Dad's arm. "You grab the other."

  Pressing my lips tight, I pulled Dad's unconscious body across the floor.

  "There's no way we'll get him up the stairs without dropping him," Danny said.

  "Let's try."

  "Thom, is that really—" I could hear the hesitation in Danny's voice.

  "A wise decision?" I shrugged under Dad's weight. "Maybe not, but what if we can't find anyone to help? If Stewart discovers Dad untied, he'll kill him. A good spy never lets their dad get shot."

  Squeezing both of my hands under Dad's arms, I pulled. Danny lifted Dad's feet and we scrambled slowly up the stairs. There weren't that many, but by the time we reached the door, my shirt stuck to my back where sweat slicked my skin.

  I held my breath for a moment to calm my racing heart and listen for any sounds. When nothing stirred I pushed the door open an inch or two and peered out. The hall stood empty.

  "All clear," I whispered behind me, then pulled Dad out, steading him.

  Danny huffed. "He is a big fella, isn't he?"

  "I think they haven't fed him because usually he's much heavier." I grinned. "He works out a lot. One day I'll be just like him."

  On the floor above, the floor creaked.

  "Let's get out of here," Danny whispered.

  "Heck, yeah."

  I waited until Danny squeezed his shoulder under Dad's arm, then I started pulling again as fast as I could. We were almost outside when a door above opened and footsteps thudded down the stairs.

  "Hurry, hurry, hurry," I yelled.

  "Stop right there, or I'll shoot," Stewart said.

  My mind froze but my feet didn't halt. Pulling Dad with Superman powers, I bolted out the door into the morning light.

  "Where's the gate?" Danny shouted.

  "Don't know."

  Behind us, I heard the door swing open as we rounded the corner and stopped. In front of us stood Mr Richards, the art gallery director.

  Chapter 14

  "Hello, boys. I knew you'd be trouble the moment I saw you." A smug grin played on Mr Richards' lips.

  I swallowed and scowled at him. "Don't you have a gallery to run?"

  "I gave myself the day off." He glared down at my dad. "It looks like Mr. Gonzo's not getting married anytime soon. Unless they do weddings in Davy Jones' Locker. In that case, maybe an old gym sock can fill in for his best man because I sure don't want the job."

  "The police will be here any minute. Get out of the way and we might put in a good word for you," I said.

  Mr. Richards laughed. "I don't believe you. You're about crazy as your friend from the loony bin. Now get back inside."

  A car revved in the distance. I squinted at him. "Why? So your crook guests don't see our guts painted across the walkway?"

  "Yeah, that kind of art work wouldn't go for millions," Danny said.

  "My clients won't be coming for another hour or so." Mr. Richards smiled. "Besides, they're not crooks but rich folks with fantastic taste."

  I snorted.

  "You heard him. Move it," Stewart said behind us.

  Turning, my gaze fell on the gun in his hand. His beady eyes moved nervously between me, Dad and the empty parking lot. So the buyers knew nothing about his shady scheme. He might not have been so keen to shoot at the hotel, but I had no doubt he wouldn't hesitate here when his business was at risk.

  Mr. Richards tapped Stewart on the shoulder. "You know what to do. Just make it fast and dispose of the bodies as quickly as you can. I'm going to bring in the rest of the paintings."

  My death was set in stone. I had to act, and fast. Even if I got shot, it didn't matter. I'd die like a true spy—fighting until the end. My heart pounded as I nodded toward Danny and we pulled Dad back to the door, then stopped.

  "What now?" Stewart asked.

  "He's too heavy. My arms are hurting already," I whined.

  Stewart glanced away, hesitating.

  I let Dad start to slip out of my arms to make it look convincing. "I'm losing him. Quick! Somebody help."

  "If you run he's dead." Stewart slung Dad's arm over his shoulder and squeezed him through the narrow doorway when I motioned Danny. Flexing my leg, I kicked Stewart in the back of his knee as Danny wrestled his arm.

  "Get the gun!" Danny yelled.

  I kicked Stewart's leg again. He cried out. I grabbed hold of his hand, biting his wrist until he dropped the gun to the floor.

  "Danny, get it. Get it now!" I shouted.

  Danny kneeled down, but Stewart dropped Dad on top of him. With lightning speed, I jumped over the bundle on the floor and flung myself forward. The fall knocked the breath out of me. I winced and grabbed hold of the gun, then turned and pointed it at Stewart.

  "You don't even know how to use it," Stewart said.

  "Try me." The gun didn't seem much different from the paintball ones Dad and I used. I released the safety catch, hoping I was doing it right. "Help them up."

  Stewart's eyes glared and his nose flared like a bull's. I wasn't teasing him with a red towel, but I swear he was going to charge me any minute.

  "No, Aladdin. I'm not lifting him." Stewart shook his head. "So you better go whistle for your flying carpet." He inched closer, a mean frown perched between his brows. "You're a little boy trying to play detective and that's going to cost you your life."

  "Funny you should think that," I said, "since I'm the one holding the g

  "Face it. There's a big difference between us. I don't suck my thumb, wear diapers and go to school, kid. Are you going to stop me, a Mr. Universe champion, lunging toward you and ripping that gun out of your hands?"

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hilly and Bernie sneaking down the stairs. I grinned as I said, "No, I'm not, but my genie will. Turn around."

  Stewart laughed. "You really think I'm falling for that? That's the oldest trick in the book."

  "I saw the bat-signal, Batman." Bernie placed his large body behind Stewart as he held up another gun. "Looks like we got the international art thief. Wait until my police friends from the doughnut shop hear about this one. I'll be an agent in no time."

  Hilly chomped on gum—no idea where she found it—and raised a high heel, waving it around like a secret weapon. "Guys, backup has arrived."

  Of course. She wouldn't help before but now with two guns backing up her butt, she'd turned all badass.

  "What're you doing with a gun, Bernie?" Danny asked.

  "I always pack heat." Bernie puffed out his chest in a powerful stance. "I'm a security guard."

  "Hey, wannabe-agent," Stewart yelled. "Don't quit your day job." He lunged at Bernie when Hilly held out her high heel and whacked him over the head several times. Stewart moaned and dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

  "I think somebody's going to need a whole bag of ice," Danny said.

  "Wow." Bernie nodded at Hilly. "When you got all tangled up on that fence, I thought it was your first day on the job, but I guess I was wrong. You do kick butt like Batgirl."

  "What can I say? I'm not just a pretty face." Hilly slipped her foot into her high heel and glared at Stewart. "That's for the rock comment back at the hotel. If you ever talk rocks again it better be about the four C's of the diamond grading system—cut, carat, clarity and, last but not least, colour."

  "Please quit talking, your breath—" Stewart reached in his pocket and moaned. "Have a breath mint."

  "Okay, Stewart," I said. "Get up and help my dad."

  Stewart lifted Dad and scowled at me.

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