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An Unexpected Spy - A Short Story

When I retired from the agency years ago, I thought my days of espionage were behind me. But every now and then, headquarters call me in for something only I can do. After all, how often do you expect a tiny woman in her fifties to be a secret agency’s ex top spy?

You wouldn’t, and that’s why it works. I can get into almost anywhere.

‘Aunty, please mind out, there is a car behind you.’

I nod gratefully at the young man, but I already know about the car. It’s mine. A BMW X2—latest model of course—with an additional bonus or two. This behemoth can drive itself—not in the gimmicky way that other manufacturers are just developing—which is certainly useful, as at 5 foot 1, I can’t even reach the pedals! Plus, with bulletproof glass and many more mod comms, it’s the perfect car for a spy.

Ex or not.

I watch as the giant BMW prowls past me, avoiding the other pedestrians with ease before turning down a tiny alley behind a museum. Our stop. It will wait there for me while I go inside, until I need it to pick me up.

My mission is simple, suitable for a retiree. A quick artefact swap. Within this museum is an ancient Mayan tablet the agency needs to analyse. The supervisor told me they want to verify a prophecy it apparently reveals, to keep the world safe, but I’m not so sure. I’m a modern woman, and my daughter goes to university as a scientist. She would never let me believe in prophecies, and I have seen too much of the world to believe such things exist.

Life is just a merry accident, one we have to do our best in. This is the wisdom you get as you age.

I smooth down my orange sari and pat at my greying hair, happy to be neat and checking my special pin is still in place. It is. Then, I quickly check inside the beaded silk handbag slung over my shoulder. Everything there. Under that, tucked into the pocket of my trousers under my sari and well out of sight, the replica tablet I’m to swap.

‘Ma’am, I’m afraid we can’t let you in now. It’s ten minutes till close time.’ A guard stood in the doorway.

I know that. Perfect timing. But I pretend to look shocked and click my tongue, looking between my watch and the great clock in the entryway. ‘Oh, this watch! It’s an hour behind.’

‘We open again at 9 tomorrow.’

I sigh. ‘Can I at least just use the bathroom?’ I gesture to the ladies’ room down the entryway. ‘It’s urgent. I knew I shouldn’t have let my daughter cook last night.’ Then I lean forward to add conspiratorially, ‘There was something wrong with her prawn biryani, if you know what I mean?’

The guard looks bored, so with a shrug of his shoulders, he gestures with his thumb. ‘Whatever, just the bathrooms. I’ll be keeping my eye out.’

I mutter hurried thanks and dash off, glancing behind me to see him turn back to the doorway.

Of course I don’t go to the bathroom. Instead, I dash up the steps to the side, feeling the replica tablet thudding against my hip. Up here, two left turns, then through the far door on the right to the exhibit with ancient Mayan discoveries.

I glance up at a camera, knowing immediately where it is. I had studied them with a bright young recruit, who I can only call ‘G’, and she’d promised she’d handle all the cameras on the day.

‘Just do your thing,’ she’d said, chomping on a piece of peppermint gum as she flicked through the different stations in the museum security system. ‘I’ll handle it here.’

I hope G was right.

Next left, and I totter along the hallway, muttering to myself. ‘Oh, it should be here,’ and ‘quickly,’ earning tired looks from guests and security alike. A flustered older woman lost in a museum is nothing new to these people.

I keep up the act all the way to the exhibit, and as I try to push open the great wood doors, I crash to a stop.

They don’t budge.

‘G!’ I whisper into my headpiece. ‘The door is shut!’

‘Sorry, Aunty,’ she said. ‘We planned for the exhibit to be closed for extra measure. Didn’t “H” tell you? Just head round to that door on the left and type in this code.’

She garbles a load of numbers before I can even make it to the keypad. Thank goodness I’m a pro. Ex or not.

I grumble under my breath and slip through the door, tossing my sari back over my shoulder as I search for the glass compartment with the real tablet. With quick, small steps, I circle the room until finally I see it.

A message echoes over the museum intercom about closing time in five minutes, and I grab a pair of plastic gloves from my handbag, stuffing them on. Then, I pull the hairpin from my greying hair, twist it, and unhook a secret latch. The inside slides out, which I use to unlock the small glass cabinet. The artefact drawer slides open effortlessly.

I lift the original from the drawer—it must be at least a thousand years old—and take folded bubble wrap from my small handbag, wrapping the tablet carefully. Then, for extra measure, I unfold some stored gaudy birthday wrapping paper and wrap the bubble wrapped tablet in there too, just in case someone asks to inspect my bag. Nothing to see but a child’s birthday gift.

I’m placing the replace tablet precisely in place in the drawer and sliding it shut as the next intercom sounds through the museum.

‘All guests are to make their way to the exit. The museum is closing now.’

The two-minute warning, I noted, relocking the cabinet and dusting the glass off for good measure. Finally, the ‘gift’ goes in my bag and the pin back in my hair before I dash back to the staff door to this exhibit. By now, the corridors are mostly empty, so I slip through like a fish escaping a net to freedom, tottering back down to the ground floor.

The guard is looking towards the bathrooms, as promised. I tut and peek down the stairwell, disguising it as taking my shoe off to neaten the toe of my tights. He looks away to address a guest, and I shove my shoe back on and hurry to the bathroom door, pushing it open but not going in. Instead, I turn and walk towards the guard, and he turns at the sound of the opening and closing bathroom door, eyes meeting mine as I plod towards him.

‘Feelin’ better?’ he asked, voice gruff, awkward.

‘I hope so. It’s my son’s birthday tomorrow, and my husband’s cooking saag aloo. My favourite.’

I dash down the steps, pressing a secret button on my handbag, and it’s mere seconds before the X2 meets me on the street.

And that, kids, is how it’s done. None of that sneaking in at midnight and flipping in from the ceiling window and spinning down on ropes and levers.

The door to the car opens for me, and I chuckle to remember that I too in my youth had been just as over-the-top.

‘Alright, G, where next?’ I say to the woman over the speaker as I buckle into the driver’s seat. Not that I’m driving, but it’s important to keep the aesthetic.

‘There’s an address coming to your X2 now, Aunty,’ she said. ‘You’re to meet with the toolmaker who made the replica. He’s an expert on ancient south American artefacts and will translate the tablet for us.’

I frown as I reach into the glove compartment for a pair of sunglasses and put them on. ‘And he can be trusted?’

‘Yes, Aunty. He’s worked with us before.’

‘Alright then,’ I sigh, leaning back. ‘Let’s meet this man.’

‘It’s a long drive, Aunty. Get some rest. There’s a warm meal in the centre armrest for you. An agent dropped it off while you were in the museum.’

I cluck happily and pull it open. Prawn Biryani.

‘You’re a cheeky girl, G. Has anyone told you?’

The drive is, as she said, long, but I manage to get some shut eye. When I finally arrive, it’s a place most unexpected.

This ‘toolmaker’ lives on the outskirts of town, in what I can only call a homestead. The home consists of several buildings, mostly sheds and workshops, and out front is a giant tree stump, where a man I can only describe as a Viking with long grey curls and a huge burly body is out front, swinging a giant sword down in a great arc onto a piece of wood resting atop of the stump. The sword splits the wood clean in two.

Even I flinch, and the BMW stopped smoothly before him. The Viking turns as I jump from the car. He must be double my height.

‘You the toolmaker?’ I ask, patting down my sari nervously, checking the bag and the item are there.

‘Aye,’ he says, resting on the giant blade and flicking his great grey curls over his shoulder.

‘There’s a tablet I want you to look over,’ I say airily, the words I was told to say. Seems too obvious to me, but G swears it’s fine.

His nods his great head and swings the giant sword over his shoulder as if it were a butter knife. ‘Let’s get inside.’

I follow, not sure what to expect. Chairs to be twice their usual size, perhaps, or giant weapons sprawling everywhere. Instead, he leaves the sword on the porch, and I see the cleanest kitchen I’m sure I’ve ever been in.

‘Tea?’ he asks, and I couldn’t help but nod, feeling lighter.

‘That would be perfect!’ I totter over to the kettle. ‘May I?’

The man chuckles and grabs two ginormous mugs. ‘How could I refuse?’

‘I’ll make it as you look the item over.’ I hand over the birthday-wrapped gift in my bag.

He eyes me up oddly, but as I urge him on, he unwrapped it—rather happily, I thought—and gasps as he see what’s inside.

‘I knew what it would look like, of course. Having made the other one,’ he pauses. ‘But holding the real deal …’

I smile at the respect he has for the artefact, giant fingers holding it in the bubble wrap lightly, trying not to touch it directly. Appearances say nothing of a person, but how this man, the toolmaker, treats both the artefact and me, I’m certain he’s a good man.

When you’re older, you just know these things.

I leave after tea, leaving the artefact with him and the instructions that someone is keeping an eye on him, and that he should use a certain phone to contact the agency. I pass him an old Nokia, which looks comically tiny in his hands.

‘I still can’t believe you’re with the agency,’ he shakes his head. ‘You don’t look it.’

‘And that’s why it’s perfect,’ I smile, bobbing my head on my way out. The behemoth X2 pops the door open in anticipation of my arrival, and I jump in, sighing happily as I think of my return home. ‘What happens now, G?’

‘The toolmaker will analyse and translate the tablet and send us the information,’ she replies, yawning. She sounded as tired as I felt, and she was the young one! ‘From there, we’ll send a team to whatever location the prophecy dictates.’

‘Not me?’

G chuckles light heartedly. ‘No, not you. You’ve done your bit, Aunty.’

‘Good. My husband is making Saag Aloo tomorrow, so I want to be back in time. It’s my favourite.’


Another short story I wrote in my NYC Midnight entry last year. Finally, I wanted to share it with you.

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