My plan to amuse myself--and maybe you, too.
The Story So Far...
April 2, 2021
He'd been restless and squirming since I'd come back aboard that afternoon. In many ways, Stavros was like a child—but such a handsome child, and I do have a fondness for beauty.
Finally he offered his confession as we sat on the upper deck, watching the Aegean sunset turn to velvet night. He waited until Nik had served the cocktails and we were alone again.
"Carissima," he said, "I'm afraid I lost them last night."
"Lost what, Stavros?"
"Your diamond earrings—I'm so sorry. I had three kings, but the Sheik—it turns out he had a flush."
Gambling again, on my yacht, with my money—and with the Sheik, no less. A cruel, unctuous man who wrongly thought Stavros was my weakness. No doubt my earrings, the stunning Merlin Twins, would look lovely on his new French mistress. I'd won the diamonds as second prize in a rather outrageous target shooting contest in Djakarta during my first marriage; I could have taken first but pulled my shot at the last minute to avoid the win. I could think of no other graceful way to turn down the matched pair of young slaves that ultimately went to the grinning victor, a purported great-grandnephew of the last Russian czar.
"Stavros, did the Sheik go with you when you got the diamonds?"
"Yes, Emma darling. I insisted. We had to keep each other honest."
Honesty was not a trait the Sheik was likely to ever show, but sweet Stavros didn't know that.
"He saw you open my safe?"
"Yes, but I held my hand over the keypad. He did not see the combination. I promise."
The Sheik, a fan of spy technologies, would have recorded the keypad's tones. Without even checking, I knew the slim, unmarked file was no longer in my safe.
The bait had been taken.
"Hand me my phone, Stav. Not that one; the secure one. I need to make a call."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? YOU DECIDE:
A. The story switches to the other end of Emma’s phone call: the nefarious hero. I’m thinking—a freelance spy type. Tall, blond, possibly Russian but available for the right price to any bidder. They have a history—and perhaps a future.
B. The tale goes to the Sheik’s point of view. We find out what’s in the slim, unmarked dossier and eavesdrop on his plans for world domination.
C. Our lady spy calls her government contacts to plot her next move; it turns out she works for the CIA or MI-6.
OR SUGGEST SOMETHING ELSE.
You have until Sunday evening (April 4) to cast your vote. Next installment on April 9. And we’re off!
April 9, 2021
Subject: Introducing the Hero
Preheader: The vote was definitive; very few people DIDN’T want to meet the hero. Some good suggestions, but I’m longing to meet him, too—so, here!
The phone in my hip pocket rang. The secure phone. Clients only. I looked away from the scope long enough to identify my caller. Worth the risk. If I lost my target, I’d recapture tomorrow. If I skipped a call, I might miss a job. Or a warning.
At long last.
I checked the scope (aimed at the factory’s employee entrance) and tapped my earpiece to accept.
“Lady Emma,” I said in greeting.
Silence. Then a surprised laugh. My reward for days of fanatical research.
“Now, how did you find out I was a Lady?” she said. She was smiling, off-balance and trying to hide it. I grinned, my attention split. Small forms were filing out of the factory. I didn’t speak for fear she’d hear my answering smile.
This was a mistake. It allowed her to tag me in return.
“My,” she said. “You really are very resourceful, Dmitri Igorevich.”
I stepped back, startled, and cursed. “Chert poberi.” If she’d uncovered my middle name, she knew my family name as well. I shook my head and conceded the battle to her. “As are you, Lady Emma.”
Im my mind’s eye, I could see her incline her head in an elegant nod of acknowledgment. Her father was minor British nobility. I should have known. In a desert town outside of Kabul, at a Singapore casino’s chemin de fer table, on the tarmac at the Bishkek airport—the woman had an unconscious royalty to her movements that wetworks missions and an assortment of seedy characters couldn’t disguise.
She fascinated me.
“Shall we agree,” she purred, “that what we know won’t be used against each other?”
A promise she was as likely to break as I was, but we would lie to each other in the social protocol of the freelance espionage agent. “Of course. How can I help you, Lady Emma?”
“Stop calling me that, for one.”
“Forgiven. I’d like to hire you. Are you busy at the moment?”
I’d forgotten my quarry. Emma was a distraction. A quick glance through the scope proved I’d missed my chance. Regain? Or address this issue later?
“Possibly. Depends on what the job is and how long it will take.”
“Can we meet to discuss it?”
I looked at the bare, ugly apartment. Its only redeeming feature (an unobstructed view of a distant factory) would not recommend itself to anyone other than me. “I’ll meet you. Shall we try somewhere more refined this time?”
She laughed. “Some place where I won’t get desert sands in my hair? Let’s go to Paris. I’ll meet you the day after tomorrow at noon local time, within sight of Winged Victory.”
The Nike of Samothrace stood in a vast stairwell in the Louvre. Several exits. Crowds. Metal detectors at the entrances. A good place for distrustful people to meet.
“I’ll be there.”
“Lovely. Thank you, Dmitri.”
I disconnected, working to control the small grin that threatened.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? YOU DECIDE:
A. Now we switch to the Sheik’s point of view, to measure his menace.
B. We skip the intervening events and land with both feet in the Louvre at the appointed time
C. Emma deals with an unexpected visitor on her yacht—a US Senator traveling in disguise
OR SUGGEST SOMETHING ELSE.
You have until Sunday evening (April 11) to cast your vote. Next installment on April 16.
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I'm supposed to care about money, but I don't. I'm just here to amuse myself, and maybe you. This story is free to a good home!