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       Born to Spy, p.8

           Jayde Scott
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  I gagged. "Too much info, Hilly."

  "Let's find our limousine and get out of here. Oh, where is it? We'll never find it." Hilly stomped around some garbage bins when I pulled on her sarong, stopping her.

  "Uh, it's kind of hard to miss a stretched out car," I said.

  "That's just the stupidest plan for a getaway car anyway, Gonzo. Why am I stuck with the worst spy ever?"

  "Why am I stuck with the most annoying girl ever?" I asked.

  Hilly stopped and scowled at me. "You invited me because you needed my skills. Remember?"

  "Oh, yeah, that's right. I wasn't thinking straight. I wonder why. Maybe because my dad was—"

  "Kidnapped by leprechauns," Danny finished.

  "And we need to find him because we didn't come here for nothing," I said. "Let's wait for the police to leave and then we go back in. I want to know who Stewart is."

  "Okay," Danny said. "It's time to do some serious recon."

  I cocked an eyebrow. "What's that?"

  Danny rolled his eyes. "You really need to get in touch with your inner spy by watching more James Bond. It's a mission where you gain info about an enemy or potential enemy."

  "Not happening," Hilly said. "Maybe tomorrow because right now I'm hungry."

  "Then go to Booger King and grab a quick appetizer." Danny laughed.

  She shook her fist at him. "Let's get things straight, troll. I do not pick my nose—ever!"

  Would they ever stop their bickering? I shook my head, ready to beg. "Come, on. Please go in one more time. I'll do you a favour, anything you want—except handing over my dad's credit card."

  "Okay, I'll name my price later. I might want a pimple popped or my feet massaged," Hilly said.

  I'd rather give her Dad's credit card, but I kept silent as we watched the police car drive past. On the shop's first floor, the lights went on and off again, which made me assume Mr. Hussain lived there and was drifting back into his dreams of money signs jumping over fences like sheep. Just to make sure there wouldn't be another surprise in store for us, we waited for half an hour before we jumped over the fence into the backyard. The backdoor was still unlocked. Either Mr. Hussain forgot to check, or we were being set up again.

  I hesitated for a moment, considering my options. What would a real spy like Dad do? He'd kick butt and take no prisoners.

  "Let's go in," I hissed.

  Hilly shrugged, uninterested as usual. Danny stared at me for a moment but took the lead. The old hinges squeaked again as we sneaked in. The lights were switched off.

  "Where to?" Danny asked.

  I rubbed a hand over my face, thinking. The shop floor would make the most sense, go through the receipts and find Stewart's name. Maybe check if Dad had been there by searching for his name or credit card number. But something told me we'd have more luck combing the basement.

  "Let's split up," I said. "Danny, you look through the receipts for Stewart's name and anything on Dad while Hilly and check downstairs."

  "Split up?" Danny shook his head. "I've watched enough scary movies to know that's a dumb idea. The one that goes in alone is always the first one to kick the bucket."

  "This isn't a horror movie." I peered at Hilly. She was definitely a frightening sight. I was more in danger of conking out than Danny. "Okay, looking at her, maybe it is. But think of it as a zombie movie and not a slasher flick. The zombie—" I pointed at Hilly "—is coming with me, so you have nothing to fear, bro."

  "Once we get out of here, you'll pay, Gonzo," Hilly said.

  Danny slapped my shoulder. "Okay, then. Sorry, I can't lend you some monster repellent." He slipped through the corridor while Hilly and I headed for the stairs. It was so dark I couldn't even see my hand as I held onto the wall, moving forward at the speed of a snail.

  Hilly led the way, huffing like she'd never climbed a stair in her life. "Don't act like you don't want to be alone with me. I'm every guy's dream. But I have to crush your hopes because I'm taken."

  "I'm not into love at first fright," I said. She turned to shove me. I ducked out of the way and said, "That breath really stinks. Have you tried gargoyling?"

  "Stop the monster jokes or I swear I'll get a new purse—on your expense," she hissed.

  I pressed my mouth shut in case she'd make her threat real. Eventually, I reached the last step and paced through the open door, my hands brushing over the light switch on the wall. I pressed it and blinked against the sudden brightness.

  "If that's a two-way mirror, then there's got to be another room," I said.

  "You want me to search through this dust?" Hilly snorted. "Do it yourself, Gonzo."

  "Fine, princess." I smirked and started scanning the wall, looking for a hatch.

  The knob was big enough to poke me in the eye, and yet I only noticed it now because it was painted in white, the door blending in with the wall. I tried to turn it, but it was locked so I caught up with Hilly.

  As usual, she just stood around, playing furniture or something.

  "What are you doing?" I asked.

  She peered up from her nails. "What?"

  "You're supposed to look for clues, dummy, not just stand there and do nothing. What kind of spy are you?"

  "You should've packed us a pair of rubber gloves." She bent forward and retrieved something from beneath the sarcophagus, then tossed it toward me. "Here, catch. Either it's yet more bad art, or it might open something."

  My breath caught in my throat as I glanced at the large, rusty key in my hand. I bolted out of the room and slipped it into the white lock, turning the key until the mechanism snapped, and I stepped into a smaller room with a large table and what looked like a huge cupboard covered with a black cloth on one side. On the other side, a large curtain lined the wall. I peered underneath the curtain even though I knew what was behind: a window to observe the happenings in the adjoining room.

  On the table, a computer processor whirred next to three tiny monitors and a video tape recorder. I switched on one of the screens and watched Hilly lean against the wall, doing nothing. What did Mr. Hussain need an observance camera and a two-way mirror for? I had no idea, but I vowed to find out.

  I was about to turn away when I noticed the red light blinking on the video recorder, probably recording evidence. Not good. Not good at all. I pressed stop and then rewound the tape, then pressed play. The old mechanism hummed and I gasped at Dad popping up on the screen.

  Leaning forward, I tried to absorb as much of his body language as possible. He was peering at something intently, nodding a few times, and then turned to talk to someone standing behind him. His hand wandered into his pocket and he retrieved his watch. As he stared at it, a shadow moved behind him, whacking Dad over his head with what looked like a shovel.

  My heart hammered in my chest as I pressed my hands on the table. Dad had been here and someone had hurt him. They must've taken him somewhere. I had to find him before they did bad things to him and his rescue came too late.

  Hilly appeared in the door. "There's nothing to eat here and I'm starving. Let's go."

  I beckoned her to step closer and pointed at the screen. She gasped.

  "Where is he now?" she asked.

  "No idea." I stopped the tape and ejected it to take it with me as evidence.

  Hilly raised her hand as though to pat my shoulder, but then lowered it again. "Don't worry, troll. We'll find him."

  "Hope so." I switched off the screen and followed Hilly out, stopping next to the cupboard thing.

  "What's that?" Hilly asked.

  I peeled the cloth back to reveal yet more paintings and a printed sheet attached to the first frame. Squinting, I strained to read the faded fonts.

  Hilly stomped her foot behind me. "What does it say?"

  "Lighthouse and then something else. I'm not sure because it looks like another language. Maybe Gaelic."

  "They're probably transporting the stuff somewhere." Hilly shrugged and bolted up the stairs.

  I locked
the room and placed the key next to the sarcophagus, then switched off the lights and tiptoed to the ground floor.

  Hilly and Danny were whispering on the hall next to the backdoor as I reached them.

  "Dude, I'm so sorry about your Dad," Danny said.

  I nodded and changed the topic. "What did you find?"

  Danny shook his head and we bolted out into the cold night in search of our limousine.

  "At least we know your Dad was here," he said as soon as we jumped onto the backseat and the driver started the engine.

  "Yeah, but that's about the only clue we have." I rubbed a hand over my face, the tiredness making me cranky. "We need a hint. What kind of spies are we if we can't even find the tiniest hint?"

  Danny slapped my shoulder. "They're professionals. We're just amateurs starting out."

  "Hey, speak for yourself," Hilly called over her shoulder, a thick coat of chocolate sticking to her lip gloss as she chewed her way through a second bar.

  The streets were empty of traffic and we reached the hotel in record time. I thanked the driver for the late-night shift and we hurried through the empty reception to our room. The hall looked devoid of life; the other guests were probably snoring in their overpriced beds. I retrieved the entry card from my pocket and slid it in, then opened the door.

  Hilly flicked on the light when a dark shape moved out of the bathroom, pointing a gun at us. "Isn't it well past your bedtime? How naughty of you."

  Chapter 11

  A cold shudder ran down my spine as I stared at the gun in Stewart's hand. That's what the world of spies and espionage is like. Trust nobody—the golden rule in the spy world—and I had to learn it the hard way. My brain started to race, searching for a way out. Could I slam the door shut and sprint the other way? Nope because Danny stood frozen, blocking the exit. What about yelling? I opened my mouth, but no sound came out.

  Hilly grabbed Danny's hand and turned to run. What about me? I glared at her. Sure, throw your friends under the bus.

  "Stop or I'll shoot," Stewart said.

  She stopped, hesitating, but I swear she looked as though she might dart off like a gazelle any second.

  "Hey, princess," Stewart said. "Get inside now and shut the door! I wouldn't make a run for it unless you think you're faster than a speeding bullet."

  I knew Hilly was the fastest girl in school, but outrunning bullets? Not happening in this lifetime.

  Hilly shoved Danny in front of her. What was he supposed to do? Be her human shield? Dad always said boys should stand up for girls but did that mean they had to take their bullets too? Danny turned and protested when I noticed her push her ugly purse between the frame and the door as she pulled the knob shut behind her. Nice spy move, indeed.

  "How did you get in here?" I asked, trying to divert Stewart's attention from Hilly.

  He laughed. "You're not the only clever one here." He pointed toward the bed. The smile disappeared from his face. "Let's talk."

  Danny shook his head. "I'm not saying anything."

  "What kind of get up is this?" Stewart starred at my MC Hammer pants. "You look like you should be in a three-ring circus. Couldn't you come up with something believable?"

  "I don't know what you're talking about," I said.

  "Hey, this is fashion where I come from." Hilly regarded him up and down. "You're so last year. And where did you get those shoes? I'll make a deal, you let us go and I'll buy you an entire wardrobe on me. And some tweezers for that unibrow you've got going. Maybe some deodorant if it's on sale."

  Stewart laughed. "While you're at it why don't you throw in a curly red wig and some balloons? Listen, girlie, I don't do clown."

  Was the guy enjoying himself? I nodded toward Hilly. Laughing was good because he wouldn't kill us straight away. Though I had no doubt he might have if it didn't involve waking up the entire hotel and everyone else within a twenty-mile radius. So what would he do? Strap me to a chair, turn off the lights, hang a solitary bulb from a rusty chain above my head and yell, "Who do you work for?" I didn't sign up for torture. Scowling at him, I dropped down on the bed.

  "You sit too, Aladdin and Jasmine." He pointed at Hilly and Danny.

  "You got a whiff of bacon and just bailed out on us. I thought we had a deal," I said.

  Stewart's eyes glinted as his gaze swept over me. "Who are you?"

  "We're royals," Hilly said. "The maharaja Al Gonzales is my father, but we told you that already. Are you slow or something?"

  "You can have our money," Danny said. "It's in the safe. We only came here for a weekend of shopping. I had no idea Ireland was this scary."

  Stewart snorted. "So you're royals? Well then, where's your bodyguard, Your Highness?"

  "He's out getting a late night snack," Hilly said. "I was starving."

  "I didn't see him in the art shop." Stewart crossed his arms over his chest, unconvinced. Boy was he a hard nut to crack.

  "He was getting pizza," I said. "A big guy like him eats a lot."

  "Yeah." Danny nodded. "Either that, or he has a thirty-foot tapeworm living in his belly."

  "My sources tell me you're as royal as the hobo passed out in front of the hotel. Just give me the facts and I'll let you live," Stewart said.

  I considered my options. Keep up pretences, and risk Stewart killing us all. Or give away our identities, and hope the guy would let us live. What would Dad do? And then it dawned on me. A spy would never crumble to pressure, not even to save his life. I knew to be a top-notch spy and mingle with the big guys I had to have guts—lots of them. Taking a deep breath, I set my jaw. Keep it together, Gonzo. You don't want to get burned.

  "We're royals from a land far away," I said, "and here to buy a nice picture for her dad who happens to be my uncle." I wanted to ask where he kept my dad so bad, but I bit my lip instead. The guy wouldn't tell me anyway.

  "Fair enough." Stewart inclined his head as he pressed his lips together. "You had your chance. I would've kept my word and let you live."

  Danny snorted. "As if."

  "Pack your things," Stewart said. "Pull any stunts and I'll give the princess here a nice accessory when I tie a giant rock around her waist."

  "I'm not scared of some big rock," Hilly said.

  "I'm not scared of some big rock," Stewart repeated with a smirk. "Oh, but you will be when I push you out of the boat in the middle of the lake."

  "Has no one ever taught you the proper way to talk to a lady?" Hilly asked.

  Stewart pulled her to her feet and pointed to the drawers. "Pack. Now."

  I didn't ask where we were going because it didn't matter. His plans didn't involve taking us on an excursion. More likely, on an execution. I could see right through Stewart's scheme. Three teens disappearing in the middle of the night and leaving their stuff behind would raise suspicion. But by taking our belongings with us everyone would assume we had just checked out.

  Stewart watched us as we opened one drawer after another and stuffed our clothes haphazardly into our knapsacks. I tossed in another shirt when Hilly signalled behind Stewart's back. She was up to something, but I needed the specifics.

  "My makeup's in the bathroom," Hilly said.

  Was she serious? I didn't want to point out where we were going she might not need makeup, or a toothbrush for that matter. She might finally find a place where people accepted her bad breath—because they were as dead as she was and couldn't smell it.

  "Listen, sir, I beg you," Danny said. "You have to let her pack her toiletries, especially mouthwash. You'll be doing yourself and all of us a big favour. Remember how that hobo smelled out front? Without her mouthwash, she has the breath of ten of them."

  Stewart cringed and fiddled on the spot. "Hey, kid." When she glared at him he threw something. Hilly caught it in mid-air. "Have a mint on me," he said. "Matter of fact, take the whole package."

  "Seriously?" Hilly tossed the mint on the ground. "I need my lip gloss now! And I'm not going anywhere without it."

"Then get it," Stewart said. "But hurry up."

  Hilly walked down the short corridor. The bathroom was mere inches away from the exit, but she'd need a diversion. It was my time to shine.

  I pushed the last shirt to the back of the drawer, cramming it in between the upper and loser panels. Then I got down on my knees as though to peer in.

  "There's something else in there but I can't reach it," I said.

  Danny walked over. "Let me try."

  Oh, no, he was going to blow my distraction. I pushed him aside harder than intended. "What makes you think your arms are longer than mine?"

  Danny scowled at me. "What's wrong with you?"

  I pointed at the drawer and raised my brows, hopeful he'd somehow switch on his brain or psychic abilities—whichever came first. "Something's stuck in there, and I've no idea how to get it out because I can't reach that far."

  "Let me see," Stewart said. He bent down, then jumped up again. "Ha, I know what you're up to. But you're not fooling anyone here. Move over there." He waved the gun toward the bed.

  Puffing, I walked over and plopped down as I listened to Hilly making enough noise for two in the bathroom. With a bit of luck, she was paying attention to what was going on in here.

  I knew one thing—spies never give up. It was time to move to Plan B. I blinked and moaned, rubbing my eyes. "My contact fell out. Help me."

  "Where?" Danny dropped to the ground and ran his hands across the carpet. "You're as blind as a bat. We can't get you out of here without you bumping into every wall. I bet that'll wake everyone up."

  "Keep looking," Stewart said. "We don't need Mr. Mole here alerting security."

  "I can't see." Suppressing my grin, I closed my eyes and started feeling around the floor. I bumped into Stewart and grabbed his shirt, then yanked hard. "Danny, Danny. You have to help me. Please or he'll kill us. He'll get rid of the blind guy first. This is serious business." My hands swatted against his chest. "Have you been working out?"

  Stewart pushed me back. "Stop it. I'm not your friend."

  "That's so cruel of you." I wiped my eyes with Stewart's shirt and let out a long sob. "We've been buddies forever." I saw the gun in his hands and squinted even more. "Are you holding a remote? We don't have time to play a game of Wii when there's a man in the room with a gun."

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