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       Born to Spy, p.6

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "The security guy was right," I said. "We can't just walk into a hotel without a proper cover because no one will take a bunch of teens seriously. Now, if we pretend to be some rich teens I bet things will look different."

  That definitely got Hilly's attention. "I'm getting to play the princess," she said.

  Danny glared at her. "No, you don't because Thom's the spy. And he's the one with the credit card."

  "But I look like one," Hilly said.

  "We better call an ambulance," I yelled. "And quick because the toxic fumes from all the perfume she wears have gone to her head."

  "She's definitely had too much sugar on that plane and now her brain's turned into marshmallows," Danny said.

  "You may turn Cinderella into a princess for all you want, at the strike of midnight everyone will see she's just a pauper. Like that troll over there." She pointed at me.

  "Just do it," Danny said.

  "Yay, I get to wear the tablecloth." Hilly scuffed and pulled out the rest of the stuff from the bag. I stared in awe at a yellow pair of oversized pants and more scarves as Hilly shrugged into a sarong, tightening it around her waist with a shawl.

  "Put those on, troll." She tossed the yellow pants toward me and a garish orange skirt toward Danny.

  The pants were hideous. I scowled as I held them up. "Why do I get to play Aladdin? The only thing missing is the turban, genie and magic carpet."

  "Because you're also a prince, silly," Hilly said.

  "If I'm Aladdin, then that makes you my Jasmine," I said. "Oh, gosh, where's the toilet? I think I'm going to throw up."

  Danny handed me an empty ice bucket. "I feel for you, brother. I've had days like that, but remember I've got it worse because I have to live with her."

  Hilly rolled her eyes at me. "Listen, Your Highness, I wish I had a tiara, but I don't. You want your dad back so the show must go on. Now get off your high rug and jump into character."

  "Hey, why do I get to wear the skirt?" Danny shouted.

  "Because it suits you best," Hilly said. "And it does wonders for your hips."

  Danny shrugged into it mumbling, "This is retarded."

  "There's nothing else," I said, laughing. "If I wear the pants and she's getting the dress—"

  "Yeah, got it." Danny pulled the skirt over his jeans, irritated. "But as soon as we've checked in we go to the nearest shop and buy something that doesn't look like we've just escaped from a circus."

  I laughed. "If Hilly could tone down on the red cheeks and lipstick, we might not look like clowns."

  She turned toward me, eyes sparkling like those of a pouncing cat. "Clown, huh? I'm going to take my horn and honk it in your ear as loud as I can, then I'm going to stomp on your head with my big red, floppy shoes."

  Howling with laughter, I ducked lest she hit me. "Have you ever tried slapstick comedy, Bozo? You'd be perfect."

  "You—" She inched closer.

  Luckily, the driver pulled up in front of the hotel and we stepped out, Hilly taking the lead. We got our fair share of gawking as we entered the reception area, but as usual Hilly seemed to be too absorbed in her own world to notice.

  The girl at the reception gazed from Hilly's red sarong to my yellow MC Hammer pants and then to Danny's orange skirt that was so long it brushed over the floor in a wide bow.

  "I'm Princess Al Gonzales. The maharaja's my father. How do you do?" Hilly said. "It's usually customary for people to bow."

  I almost slapped my forehead. Who did she think she was? The Queen?

  "What can I do for you—" bowing slightly, the receptionist peered around her like someone might just jump to her rescue "—Princess?"

  "Now that's more like it. The presidential suite," Hilly said, snatching the credit card out of my hand and placing it on the counter. "And pronto. It's been a long three-day shopping marathon in Dubai. The sales there are worse than at NEXT. The women turn into beasts over a Fendi handbag. I need my rest now."

  The receptionist nodded. "Of course."

  "And valet park our limo," Hilly said.

  "You don't valet park limos, goofy," I hissed.

  She was going to blow our cover. Hilly acted like she knew how to be rich with her talk about caviar, but in reality she had no clue, and everyone would see it.

  "A room should be booked already under the name Gonzo," I said quickly. "Your dad did that, remember?" I glared at Hilly but she turned away, puffing.

  The receptionist typed on her keyboard. "Here it is. Room 205. It's been booked for three days. Would you like the bellboy to carry your luggage upstairs?"

  "That won't be necessary," I said, grabbing the entry card from her outstretched hand.

  The girl frowned. "But the princess has been shopping for days."

  I pulled up my sleeve and flexed my biceps. "Been working out a bit. I can do it, but thanks anyway."

  "Hey, Gonzo," Hilly whispered. "Next time you do that, you better have something to show because that was pathetic."

  I pushed her away. "What's really pathetic is that breath of yours. If I were you, I'd go to my room and brush straight away followed by loads of gargling, and then more gargling, and yet more gargling."

  "Thank you for staying with us and I hope you'll enjoy your vacation," the receptionist said with a bright smile.

  Hilly rolled her eyes. "Vacation? This is my way of life, Miss."

  I could feel the girl's stare as we walked to the lifts. At least the whole charade worked and no one asked us about our parents, but someone might so I decided to keep away from prying eyes as much as possible.

  Room 205 was perched between a narrow space with an ice machine and an escape stairwell to the left. I unlocked the door and we stepped in when Hilly let out a shriek.

  "What now?" I asked.

  Danny shrugged. "Forget her. I wouldn't mind a game of Guitar Hero."

  "Okay then. Let's get ready to rock." I slapped him on the head. "Snap back to reality, dude. You're James Bond and we're on a mission. Would 007 jam when his dad was being held prisoner in a dark and cold cell by, for all we know, a rogue leprechaun who is feeding him nothing but shamrocks?"

  "That's horrible!" Danny yelled. "Nobody should be forced to eat salad. Ever."

  "Hello? Is anyone listening to me? I'm not staying here," Hilly yelled, pointing to the large room with a double bed and a nice view over the city. "Thom's dad got the better deal. I'd rather be taken prisoner by the stupid elf man and be forced to live on a diet of lettuce than sleep in this."

  "I'm all for it, sis. It could help you lose the love handles you always complain about," Danny said.

  Hilly glared. "I'm going to follow elf man to his pot of gold, dump it out and bang you over the head with it."

  Danny jumped on the bed, stretching his legs. "You're such a drama queen. Get over it. It's not like you're living in a five-star hotel at home."

  Swinging her fist in the air, Hilly inched toward him. "Keep talking and you're going to have five stars floating over your head in a spinning circle like in the cartoons." She turned toward me. "I was promised a luxurious, once in a lifetime, dream vacation to Ireland. I was told I could live my fairy tale trip as the consultant on your dad's case."

  "A consultant? Who said that?" I shook my head. "That's not how it works, Hilly."

  "I might've exaggerated slightly." Danny winced as he saw my angry face. "What? You told me to get her to come no matter what it took. So I improvised."

  "Fine, I want my own room then," Hilly said. "There's no way I'll be sleeping in the same one with two trolls. I bet you snore like a pair of hogs."

  I cracked up with laughter. "There's this new invention that does wonders for keeping noise out. It's called earplugs. Now come on. Let's unpack and get something to eat. I don't know about you but I'm starving."

  "Oh, that's it. You're going to pay." Hilly ran over to the phone and spoke into the receiver before I could stop her. "Room service for 205, I want the best of your hors d'oeuvres, French baguette
with beluga caviar, veal scaloppini with risotto and crisp asparagus, and crème Brule. Don't forget the cheese plates and make it three of each."

  Danny snapped the phone out of her hands, shouting into the receiver, "Sorry, Miss. My brain-dead sister's just playing a prank on you. Cancel the order. I repeat, cancel the order."

  I heaved a sigh of relief. Danny was the best. "Let's grab a pizza and we'll check out the antiques shop afterwards."

  Hilly sulked, mumbling to herself, "This place sucks."

  Luckily for us, there was a pizza parlour opposite from Mr. Hussain's store and so we ate at the table overlooking the street, all the while staring out the large window. In the hour we spent there not a single customer walked in. Either Mr. Hussain charged horrendous prices for the stuff he sold in there, or he had a second job that made money.

  We finished our meal and crossed the street. From outside, the shop with its peeling façade and grey walls blended right in with the neighbouring buildings. The oil paintings displayed in the tiny window looked like they needed a good scrub. A cardboard indicated that the shop closed at 6.30 p.m. An old bell chimed as we walked in and the dark-haired man behind the counter looked up. A full beard covered most of his face, deep lines creased the olive skin beneath his eyes.

  "Good day," he said in a thick accent that I couldn't quite place. "I'm Mr. Hussain. How can I help you?" His tone was friendly. If he found it strange that a bunch of teens in oversized Asian clothes march in he didn't show it.

  Hilly stepped forward and beckoned me to speak.

  "This is Princess Al Gonzales," I said. "We're here because she wants to buy something from you."

  Mr. Hussain smiled. "Of course. Are you interested in anything in particular?"

  "Do you have a catalogue?" I asked.

  "I do. Just a moment, please." Mr. Hussain went next-door and returned with a leather-bound book and a young blond man. "This is Stewart, my sales associate."

  Stewart nodded, regarding us intently. Curiosity sparkled in his eyes. "How much would you like to spend?" he asked.

  I peered at Hilly.

  "I'll see if anything catches my eye. The sky's the limit," she said. "It's a birthday present for my father, the maharaja Al Gonzales. So I'm thinking in the millions. One can't skimp on Daddy, can they?"

  Stewart's jaw dropped. He cleared his throat, his nostrils flaring. Boy was he already smelling the big bucks. "To skimp would be a great injustice. I think I have the perfect gift. Just came in a few days ago."

  I shook my head. "We're not looking to discover the local talent. We want the big names. The bigger, the better."

  "Let me think then." A smile played on Stewart's lips. "Did you say your father's a maharaja?"

  "Maharaja Al Gonzales," Hilly said proudly. She certainly knew how to get into her acting parts.

  Stewart shook his head. "Never heard of him."

  "He's not into the whole celebrity thing. He'd rather keep a low profile, you know," Danny chimed in.

  "Follow me then." Stewart led us to a back room with tens of paintings, then pointed to a blue one with black and white dots. I swear it looked like something we did in pre-school. "That's a Van Gogh imitation. You won't be able to tell it apart from the original."

  "Who?" Hilly asked.

  "Van Gogh, dummy. You know the—" Danny waved his hand around. I could tell he had no idea who the guy was either.

  "Who did the replica?" I asked.

  "He isn't well-known yet," Stewart said.

  I scoffed. "That's a shame because we don't buy fakes. Don't you do originals?"

  Stewart regarded me for a moment, hesitating. He cocked an eyebrow and opened his mouth to say something when Mr. Hussain barged in.

  "Found anything your dad might like?" he asked.

  I stared at Stewart as I said, "Not yet. We'll have a look at the catalogue and get back to you."

  The old man scowled as we left the shop, probably angry at the outlook of losing a potential customer, but I'd seen enough to know staying wouldn't take us anywhere.

  The sun set on the grey sky as we arrived at the hotel.

  "There's a message for you," the receptionist said.

  With a nod, I took the paper from her outstretched hand and waited until we got to our room before reading it.

  "What does it say?" Danny craned his neck to peek over my shoulder.

  "It's from Stewart," I said, passing the note to Danny. "He wants to meet us in front of the shop at midnight."

  Chapter 9

  So Stewart wanted to meet us in front of the shop at midnight.

  "How did he know where we'd be staying?" Danny asked, echoing my thoughts.

  "Who?" Hilly slumped down on the bed and pulled off her boots.

  "Stewart—the guy from the shop," I said, rolling my eyes. If every fifteen-year-old had the attention span of a mouse, I didn't want to turn fifteen.

  "That's pretty obvious, troll," Hilly said. "You're a prince, for goodness sake. You basically have a giant price tag hanging off your head. Either he followed us home like a stray puppy, thinking he was going to sink his teeth into a giant T-bone. Or he assumed you'd be here because this is the fanciest hotel in town."

  I blinked, thinking. For once, Hilly was right. We were shacked up at the most expensive hotel in town. Dad had booked this room for himself, but apparently never arrived. What if he chose it to give the impression of a rich guy ready to spend millions on a piece of art?

  Danny inched closer, jerking me out of my thoughts. "I say we squeeze him for information, you know, like James Bond would do. Let's bag him, gag him and tie him up."

  "Yeah, we'll play good cop, bad cop," Hilly said. "I get to shine the bright light in his eyes."

  I slapped my forehead. "We're not here to torture and cross examine, dummy."

  Danny pointed at me, grinning. "Oh, man, you'll make the perfect good cop."

  "Listen, I'm not here to get arrested." I shook my head. What did I let myself into?

  "You'd not only suck in the role of the bad cop, you're a scaredy cat too." Hilly snorted. "Oh, how about we blast him with loud music?"

  "And wake up the entire street?" I asked. "That's not going to happen."

  Danny smirked. "Hilly's iPod is the perfect weapon. Not only does the music suck but it'll also make him deaf. Oh, he'll talk. I guarantee it. By Hilly's third song, he'll be begging to reveal his secrets."

  I laughed. "Heck, I bet he'll even throw in a good painting."

  Hill glared at us. "You trolls wouldn't know good music if a few notes fell from the sky and hit you on the head."

  I wasn't going to give into her. "Let's stop bickering. It's my dad and my decisions are final. We'll meet Stuart and that's that. No loud music, no gagging and playing any sort of cop."

  "Sure." Hilly shrugged. "I mean what can it hurt to meet a psychopath at the witching hour?"

  "We should take weapons," Danny said. "You know, just in case."

  "That's what these are for." Hilly waved her hands in the air inches from Danny's face.

  Dangerous stuff, I could tell. "Nice razor sharp claws...I mean nails," I said, grinning under my breath.

  She picked up her shoe and held it to my throat. "Don't think my high heels aren't a weapon either?"

  Danny pushed her hand away from my face. "They match your shirt really well. I might be into them…if I were a girl. But a weapon?" He shook his head. "Not so much."

  "You really think they match?" Hilly asked.

  "Oh yes," I said. "You are the fashion diva of Ireland." I crossed my fingers behind my back.

  "You know Stewart did have nice eyes," Hilly said, dreamily. "Well, for an old man."

  "He was, like, twenty." I huffed. "But who cares? We're not here to play matchmaker. Ever wondered why he didn't just tell us what he wanted at the shop?"

  "Duh!" Hilly slapped my head. "He didn't want the boss to hear."

  Frowning, I scratched my chin. "Whatever it is, it's probably illegal."
<
br />   "I could've told you that back at the shop," Danny said. "Didn't you see his face when Hilly mentioned millions? I swear he was listening to the credit card machine whirring in the background."

  "So, we're going?" It wasn't a question as much as a statement. Something happened to Dad, either on the way here, or before he could check into the hotel. We'd find out what it was, even if it involved an appointment with the local phony.

  Hilly just shrugged, as enthusiastic as a turtle at the prospect of running a mile to get some food. "Listen, you're giving me a headache, troll. And for that you'll pay. I want a deluxe spa treatment. Got it?" She waved her hand in the air and left for the bathroom.

  "Are you sure it's not from all that crap you listen to on your iPod at a billion decibels?" I yelled. "I'm surprised you're not deaf already."

  "What?" she shouted back from the bathroom. "I can't hear you."

  "Well, turn up your hearing aid." Danny smirked and turned to face me as he said, "Maybe we should leave her here before she messes up. You've no idea how cranky she is when she doesn't get her beauty sleep."

  "Did you say beauty?" I laughed. "She'll have to get a lot of sleep then. Whatever happens, we're not leaving her unsupervised. She'll hire the entire spa department staff and turn our room into her own personal spa giving a whole new meaning to the word pampering. Heck, I bet she'd even cram in palm trees, bring in sand and play tropical music and ocean sounds to get that Hawaiian ambiance feeling."

  Danny crashed on the bed, guffawing. "She'd bring in a small pool for sure. And where there's a pool, there's a party. I bet with access to your dad's credit card she might decide to have the hotel room decorated and redone for the two days we're here."

  Boy, was he right. I glared toward the bathroom. "No one's going for a dip on my dad's dime."

  We arranged for the limousine to be ready shortly before midnight, then ordered some snacks on room service and engaged in some serious Xbox playtime while Hilly watched a boring movie, doing her nails in the meantime.

  At 11.30 p.m., well past our bedtime, we sneaked out of the room. The reception area stood empty. Outside, the air smelled humid. A strong wind whipped against my skin.

 
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