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       Born to Spy, p.9

           Jayde Scott
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  "I'm the man holding the gun, you idiot," Stewart said. He did sound a bit annoyed, so I decided to stop my Oscar-worthy performance.

  "Oh," I said and swung around, fumbling my hands across the dresser, knocking down everything in the process. A crash cut through the silence as a vase dropped to the floor. I jumped. "What was that? I hear water. Is Hilly taking a shower?"

  "You knocked over the vase and the coffee maker!" Stewart yelled. "Water's spilling down the dresser and it's all over my polished shoes."

  I grabbed a coffee filter and started polishing his shoes like a shoe boy. Pretending I was blind was actually fun. I might dig this spy stuff, minus the guns and big buff guy. It kind of got your adrenaline pumping.

  "You're going to scratch my shoes," Stewart said. "Forget the contact. Put on your glasses!"

  From the corner of my eye, I saw Hilly bolt out of the bathroom. As she yanked the heavy door wide open and jumped over her bag, her heel caught in the strap and she toppled over, landing on her belly with a loud thud. I winced, my gaze wandering to Stewart who stood frozen to the spot.

  I slapped my forehead. Of course Hilly had to blow her chance of getting help. Why hadn't the idiot thought of taking off her heels?

  Hilly scuttled to her feet when Stewart stood and bolted after her. The same moment I jumped off the bed and stretched out my leg, kicking Stewart right beneath his knee. Losing his balance, he tumbled forward and banged his head against the sideboard.

  Danny laughed beside me and held up his hand for a high-five, but I ignored him as I listened to Hilly's heels thumping down the corridor. Would she get help, or run for her life and leave us to Stewart's mercy? I turned toward Danny, hesitating.

  "She'll get help," he whispered. "I hope."

  "You two!" Stewart stomped toward us, gun aimed at our heads. I swallowed hard, praying the police would storm in before it was too late. "Get up. Get up now. And keep your hands where I can see them."

  Danny and I stood and walked toward the door, then stopped. "She'll tell the police who you are and they'll come after you," I said.

  "Shut up," Stewart hissed. "Move it."

  I stood my ground, shaking my head, my heart pounding in my chest. A spy wouldn't show fear.

  Stewart inched nearer. "I said—"

  The lift whirred into motion, the noise of the mechanism cutting through the silence. Then doors opened and voices carried over from the hall.

  "Help me!" Hilly yelled. "There's a crazy man holding my brother."

  "Take the lift down and call the police immediately," the deep voice of a man said. "What's the room number?"

  "No way," Hilly screeched. "I'm going with you. Are you deaf? My little brother's in there."

  I crossed my arms over my chest. Did she forget I existed too? What was I? Chopped liver?

  "It's way too dangerous. Get to safety now," the same man said. "And tell someone to call the police."

  "I don't think so," Hilly said. "No one threatens the little troll."

  Stewart hesitated, peering between the door and Danny and me, then pressed his back against the wall and pointed his gun.

  "Stay out, he'll shoot," I yelled.

  Stewart turned toward me and raised the gun. The door burst open, hitting his back. Pulling Danny down, I ducked out of the way. But Stewart didn't shoot. He elbowed the man standing in the doorway and ran past, down the corridor.

  Chapter 12

  "Are you trolls okay?" Hilly stormed in, almost knocking over the man whom I recognised as the night security guard.

  I stood and rubbed my head as I stared at the open door. Stewart was gone, but he may come back, and this time he'd shoot because we knew his identity.

  Hilly wrapped her arms around Danny. "Don't you ever scare me like that again! What would I tell Mum? That you got your head chopped off in Ireland because Aladdin wouldn't buy a million-dollar portrait?"

  "Whoa, you're squeezing me...pretty tight. I can't breathe," Danny said.

  Hilly let go. "That hug never happened, okay, troll?" She ruffled my hair. "You did good too for a little squirt. I'm glad to see you in one piece."

  I stared at her, open-mouthed. Hilly was either having an emotional moment, or an alien had just messed with her brain. Knowing her, it was probably the latter. "Thanks. Now, let's get out of here."

  The security guard marched over, ready to take charge of the situation. "You'll have to give a statement to the police. They'll be here any minute now."

  For a moment, I felt like a helpless boy, ready to dump my responsibilities on someone else's shoulder. But I couldn't just crawl under my warm blanket and wait for this mess to clean itself up. The knowledge that something happened to Dad wouldn't let me find sleep. And then, I was a spy—maybe it didn't say so on a diploma hanging from a wall, but it still counted. And a spy never gives up.

  Pressing my legs into the ground so they'd stop shaking, I took a deep breath and said, "I hope the driver's still here."

  "Where are we going?" Danny asked. I could tell from his bulging eyes and quivering lips that he was still freaked.

  "Good question." I hesitated. A real spy would act, but what would they do? And then an idea popped in my head. "We're going after Stewart."

  "I hate to break it to you, Gonzo, but unless he left a map or a trail of bread crumbs behind, there's no way we'll find him," Hilly said.

  I peered at her and smiled. "We don't need him to tell us where he is because I think I know."

  Hilly narrowed her eyes. "Oh, man. I know where this is going." She shook her head. "Does this have anything to do with a tower topped by a powerful light used to guide ships in the darkness?"

  I smiled. "It might."

  "Oh, man," Danny said. "Are we going to rent a boat or something? You know I hate that more than camping."

  "I knew it," Hilly said. "Guess I'm not getting any beauty sleep tonight."

  "Like that'd help," Danny mumbled.

  "Follow me." I slung my backpack over my shoulder and took a step when the security guard put a hand on my shoulder.

  "You're not going anywhere, young man," he said.

  Hilly rolled her eyes. "Listen, rent-a-cop, we've got places to go and people to see and..."

  Her voice trailed off while I pondered. I know when a spy's in trouble he looks around and gathers information for a battle plan. I eyed the guy from head to toe. His shoes had small holes near the toes and heel. Dark circles framed his eyes. Maybe he had a second day job. Obviously, this guy was paid peanuts. I could use that to my advantage.

  I was about to start a bribing plan when Hilly screamed, then dropped to the floor holding her ankle as she wailed, "Ow. I broke something. It hurts...bad."

  "Is it your brain transplant going all haywire?" Danny asked with a grin. "I think your brain's rejecting you again."

  "I don't have one of those," Hilly said.

  I laughed. "See! Hilly's living proof a person can live without a brain."

  The security guard kneeled down next to her and turned to face me. "Go get her some ice."

  "No!" Hilly yelled. "I need him here."

  I stared at her shiny eyes filled with mischief. That girl was up to something.

  "Why?" the security guard asked. "It'll just take a sec."

  "He's her boyfriend," Danny said.

  Me and Hilly? Not in a million years. I glared at him, ready to smack him over the head when he held up his hand to silence me.

  "They're never apart, not even for a minute," Danny continued. "I mean, when they lock lips, I need a crowbar."

  Hilly and I exchanged a scowl. Whatever their plan was, it seemed better than mine. I hated being Hilly's boyfriend, but sometimes spies have to play along for the greater good.

  "Yeah, I need my sweetie plum here." Hilly reached for my hand and squeezed it hard.

  "You know I'm here for you, sugar pie." I gritted my teeth. The whole lovey-dovey stuff was just retarded.

  "Okay, then you get the ice." The security
guard pointed at Danny.

  "Oh, no. I need my brother too," Hilly said. "He sings me through the pain. Right, Danny? Well, what are you waiting for? Start singing, troll."

  The guard shot me a questioning look. "Troll?"

  "It's a nickname," I said quickly. "He loves it. Can you get the ice, please?"

  Danny started to sing. I swear I heard glass break and a dog howl outside. Okay, I made that up, but Danny's singing was so bad it wouldn't have surprised me.

  "I can't just leave you here," the guard said.

  Whoa, what a hard nut to crack. "Listen, sir. She's a famous ice-skater back home. They call her, 'Mean Ice Queen'." I scratched my head and glowered at Danny who was singing at the top of his lungs like a drunken opera singer. "Dude, enough already."

  "I was just warming up," Danny said, but he kept quiet.

  With a sigh, I turned back to the security guard to continue my spiel. "She's even been in the Olympics and won gold with her ugly yellow and green tutu that'd make a two-year-old cry and a poodle throw up."

  Hilly reached up and pulled my ear. Ouch! "How about a love tap?"

  I smiled at the guard through the pain. "We kid around like that. Isn't she the best?"

  Danny jumped in. "If her ankle's damaged, she'll never skate again and then she'll sue your butt off because it's all your fault. For goodness sake, go get some ice and save our most treasured athlete. Our country depends on you."

  The guard smiled. "I bet the paparazzi are on their way. My name will be in the paper and I'll be on TV."

  "Oh, yes, and on the Internet too," I said. "Maybe you'll even get a reward from the Queen herself."

  The guard's eyes gleamed. "The ice machine on this floor's broken, but I'll head up to the one on the fifteenth floor and fill a bucket. I'll be back in ten."

  As soon as the guard turned his back on us, we scurried out and ran down the stairs. Once at the reception area, I rang the bell until a sleepy receptionist turned up.

  "How can I help you?" she asked.

  "We're checking out early." I winked at Danny.

  She frowned and tapped a pen on her palm. "Any particular reason you're checking out at four a.m.? Is everything to your satisfaction?"

  "No," Hilly said. "There's roaches. Giant roaches."

  Nothing that girl said shocked me anymore. I slapped Hilly on the back and she screamed.

  "See that? I squished a big one," I said. That made up for the way she almost broke my hand upstairs.

  Hilly cringed. "Great. Now I've got bug guts all over me."

  "You ever heard of Raid?" Danny glared at the receptionist.

  "Come on, give the lady a break," I said. "They might have actually cleaned the room. It's not her fault roaches can survive even a nuclear fallout."

  Danny took off his shoes and started chasing invisible creepy crawlers, pouncing and slamming down his shoe. He was a great actor. If I could give him a high-five right now I surely would.

  "Something smells rank like a wet dog." Hilly held her nose and nudged Danny with her booted foot. "Yo, get that shoe back on now."

  "But it's my bug smasher," he said.

  The receptionist shivered and took a step back. "I've got the heebie jeebies. I'll call an exterminator immediately. Can I get you another room? A change of clothes? Or a shower?"

  I raised my brows. "Would you want another room in this roach hotel when you've just been shacked up with something hissing sweet nothings in your ear for hours?"

  The woman's eyes grew as big as saucers. "They hiss?"

  "Ever heard of Madagascar Hissing Roaches?" Danny asked, hitting the counter like he was trying to smash one.

  "Oh, you almost got it!" I yelled. "I can't believe it hopped off your head like that and onto the counter."

  Danny made a loud hissing noise and the receptionist jumped a mile high. I felt kind of sorry for her because she was such a nice lady, but it sure was funny.

  "Um, could you stand back, please? I'll refund your credit card straight away."

  I passed her Dad's card and waited until she checked the details.

  "All done. Thank you for staying with us," the receptionist said. "I'm so sorry for the inconvenience and hope to see you again in the future."

  "Dream on, lady," Hilly said.

  "We're quite into the arts and have a few hours to kill before our flight." I peered at her. "Do you know of any exhibition in town?"

  The receptionist typed on her keyboard. "There's a couple, but most won't be open before next weekend."

  I drummed my fingers on the table, thinking. "Maybe one that's not open to the public. I remember something about a lighthouse," I prompted.

  Letting out a soft sigh, she typed some more. I could tell she struggled to keep a smile in place. The roaches definitely got to her.

  "Did you find anything?" Hilly asked, impatiently.

  The receptionist shook her head. "I'm afraid not. If it's not open to the public then it wouldn't show up in our cultural events section."

  "Thanks anyway." I turned and my gaze fell on the blue and red lights flashing outside. Crap.

  "You didn't have to involve the police," the receptionist said, wide-eyed.

  I pulled Danny and Hilly with me as I headed for the door. "We have to go. Thanks, lady."

  Several detectives rushed, peering straight at me. We were busted. This charade was over. But instead of getting out the handcuffs, they just walked past.

  One said, "How do I get to room 205? We had a burglary."

  "In the room with the roaches? You might want to pull out your baton to crush those suckers. Take the elevator up...." The receptionist's voice trailed off as we sped out the door into the cold wind.

  "It's the middle of the night. Why couldn't you wait to check us out until the morning?" Hilly hissed.

  "Are you for real?" I shook my head. "Stewart found his way into our room once already. Do you want to wake up with a gun to your head?"

  "Yeah." Danny nodded. "And if he doesn't come after us, he'll get a head start. Or do you think he'll put his cunning plan on hold so we can get some sleep?"

  That shut her up so I could engage in some serious thinking.

  "You know what this calls for, right?" Danny asked. "A stake out! We'll hide by Mr. Hussain's shop and wait for Stewart to turn up. We'll need disguises. Maybe wigs. We could have big wild hair."

  "Hilly," I said. "You're almost there. Just give your frizz ball the finishing touch by dumping a bucket of water over your head and let it dry naturally. You'll look like you have a wild animal on top of your head. Just roar and nobody will want to mess with you."

  Danny laughed. "She even has the wild claws to match."

  "Listen, Gonzo." Hilly smacked the back of my head. "At least I don't have your greasy slicked back look as though you haven't seen water and soap in a year."

  "My hair's not oily!" I yelled. "But do I look rough and tough?"

  "Yeah, like a gnat," she said. "I don't think Stewart will return to the shop. Not in this lifetime."

  Danny shrugged. "He might."

  I doubted that, but I didn't want to agree with Hilly and alienate my best mate. I peered around the parking lot. The limousine wasn't there. "The driver's gone for the night."

  "Let's just get another car, then," Hilly said.

  I shook my head. "No. Turning up in a limousine is a bit obvious, isn't it?" Sticking my hand inside my pocket, I fished for the card the guy at the airport had given us and waved it in the air. "Let's give this man a call."

  "Great idea, mate," Danny yelled.

  Mr. Airport-man, as we called him, arrived less than fifteen minutes later in a run-down minivan. Hilly scribbled the words wash me in the dust on his vehicle. And she didn't forget to add a giant explanation mark.

  I shot her a warning look as I whispered, "Don't blow this, okay?"

  She wiped her dusty finger on my shirt. "That's for making me ride in this hunk of junk. I'm going to die from the fumes alone."

nbsp; Danny shoved her. "Just get in, drama queen."

  We jumped on the backseat, perched in between a baby seat and boxes with smelly stuff.

  "This is gross," Hilly mumbled.

  For once I agreed with her.

  "What does he store in these boxes, dead bodies?" she continued. "For all we know we're getting a ride from an axe murderer."

  "Then we'll put you out of your misery by following the ladies first rule and letting you go first." I rolled my eyes. This whole thing was my idea. Of course she wasn't going to knock it down a few notches.

  My feet sunk in the quick sand of fast food wrappers, newspapers, receipts and empty coffee cups. I buckled my seatbelt when I felt something cold on my hand. I held it up and stared. Thick, stringy globs dripped down my shirt. Bile rose in my throat and I thought I'd puke, but I held it back because I wouldn't give Hilly the satisfaction.

  Danny laughed. "You've been slimed."

  "Hey, Gonzo." Hilly held up a rotten banana peel. "You didn't tell me we'd be riding in a junkyard on wheels."

  "You mean the trash mobile," Danny whispered in my ear.

  "Where to, Batman? Or should I say Mr. Spy?" Airport-man spun in his seat, beaming at us.

  I leaned forward. "I'm so sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night, but your country desperately needs you, uh—"

  "Bernie," he said.

  "Bernie," I repeated, nodding. "We have an international art thief we need to find. We depend on you and so is every crime unit around the world. Is there an internet café around here?"

  "You do know it's the middle of the night?" Bernie said. "Us bats might like the darkness, but the rest of the population is out cold."

  Of course, it was barely five a.m. Why didn't I think of that?

  Danny patted my shoulder. "We'll find that lighthouse. I mean, how many of them can there be in Dublin?"

  "The Dublin Port company maintains six," Bernie said.

  I gasped. "Six? We don't have the time to search all of them. Not to mention, we've no idea where to start. By the time we check them all, Stewart will be long gone—if that's where he's headed in the first place."

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