Before she met Frank, Sarah used to think that there was a magical quality that separated adventurers from receptionists. She imagined that it was like the difference between actors and movie stars.
After, she wasn't so sure.
"How do you do it?" She rested her head against his shoulder. "How do you go from thinking about breaking into the CIA secure records depository to actually doing it?"
"Well," Frank said. "I decide what I want to do, and then I make a plan. Usually I have at least one backup plan. Then, I implement my plan."
"Do you ever wait for a magic feeling? Are there some times when you just know?"
"So you just do it?"
"And then it gets done?"
That wasn't how she figured those things worked. "Can I join the group?" She didn't beg Frank, she just looked pleadingly in his direction. "I want to do that too. Also, I want to travel the world and see exotic places and get into thrilling scrapes with the law."
"Of course you can," Victoria interjected.
"Awesome!" Sarah's excited fist pump accidentally hit Frank in the face. He didn't seem to care.
It was significantly better than hiding in a hole, but not quite as exciting. Maybe they'd do that again.
"This is a handgun," Victoria explained. "You are going to use it to shoot things."
"Right," Sarah said. It was pretty disconcerting getting gun lessons from someone she was sharing a flowery comforter with. "I can probably shoot all kinds of things. It's the accuracy that's gonna get me."
"This is why you practice," Victoria said. Sarah could hear her gritting her teeth. "First, handguns, then rifles, then sniper rifles, then fancy machinery."
Victoria placed the handgun on top of Sarah's leg. It was heavy. It felt mean. Sarah took a second to realize that if she were to pull the trigger, it could probably kill her right there. It was significantly less fun than sneaking in to secure locations with Frank.
"I want you to have firing practice at least one hour per day," Victoria said. "But first, you are going to load and reload the gun 3,000 times. You need to do this until it is an unthinking instinct to properly ready your gun while you're being shot at."
Sarah nodded. She could smell Ivan baking cookies, and he was humming. This was her life now.
Right, loading and unloading a gun.
When Frank had said they were going to the city for an adventure, Sarah had thought he meant something romantic and dangerous. Instead, he parked at an obscenely shiny gas station.
Frank was grinning. "This is gonna be so fun," he said.
Her face was probably a little bit more skeptical. If Sarah was serious about this spy business, she should possibly consider putting a bit more effort into concealing her emotions. "Right, Frank, what are we doing?"
"Training exercise," he said. "I want you to figure out where all of the security cameras in the store are, then see if you can figure out where they are pointing. You can only take out 2 security cameras, and you need a clear path to get to the safe in the back of the store."
It was like a gigantic brain puzzle. "If I get it right, will you buy me ice cream?"
"I don't know why you would want to eat ice cream, it's 12 degrees outside."
"I want Cherry Garcia," Sarah said. "I want to eat it with a mug of hot cocoa."
Frank smiled all the way across his face. "If you can make me a clear path through the store, I will buy you some ice cream with hot chocolate to go with it."
Sarah bit her lip. The store had at least 2 different kinds of cameras, the black dome thingies, and the rotating old-fashioned kind. "Well, I count six from this spot," Sarah said, "And obviously, the 4 next to the beer aisle are going to be pointing there..."
The safehouse got a call from one of Ivan's shadowy, mysterious contacts at 2 in the morning. That was probably done on purpose to disrupt their entire operation by some shadowy heartless guy that liked to mess with spies. (In her head, this guy looked slightly similar to Alexander Dunning. Frank said that it was normal to imagine all of the sadistic psychopaths she dealt with to look like her first one.)
2 in the fucking morning. In Sweden. There was a phone call and then Ivan was pulling everybody from bed. And Sarah couldn't even lean into her boyfriend because if she leaned into him that would turn into snuggling and then she would fall asleep and miss the briefing and that could potentially put the entire mission in danger. Marvin looked perky.
"We have been hired to do an assassination of a foreign senator inside of an Ikea," Ivan said.
Inside of an Ikea. The mission was going to be inside of a Swedish Ikea. Victoria could be getting a sniper position in the furniture show room, and then they could have Swedish meatballs afterward.
"We need to get more meatballs while we're there," Sarah said.
"I agree," Marvin raised his hand.
Frank squeezed her hand. "This sounds too easy. Why do they need people of our expertise?"
"Well," Ivan paused. "It is that French minister that secretly impregnated a the Eurovision winner's daughter and used his government clearance to erase the baby from existence but then kept his own sex tape from the encounter. He's on his book tour."
"Press," Victoria said. "They'll be lucky if I don't shoot all of them."
Sarah waited for that to be a joke. It might not have been a joke. She couldn't tell with Victoria.
"Sarah, you will be undercover as a typical Ikea customer. You'll be carrying one of the blue bags, but yours will be full of weaponry. If any leg of the mission goes sour, bring the equipment to us."
"I think I should wear a knitted moose sweater," Sarah said.
"I will get you a knitted moose sweater for your part of the mission," Frank said. He bumped her with his shoulder.
Marvin pretended to gag in Frank's face.
Sarah snuck into Frank's room in the middle of the night. She was barefoot and the hardwood was really cold. He was still awake, reading in bed. Well, maybe he had been dozing. He smiled when he saw her.
"Hey," she whispered.
"Hey," he said.
She crawled into the bed next to him, underneath the down blanket but over the sheets. Sarah buried her toes in the back of his knee and he wrapped one arm around her. "What's going on?"
"I was thinking," she said. She opened her mouth, then realized her mouth was open and closed it, and then realized that she wanted to say something. It was really embarrassing. Her cheeks were probably bright red. "Are we dating?"
"I thought so," Frank said. "Why, do you want to be not dating?"
Sarah poked him. "No, Stupid, I want to be dating. I just wasn't sure. Because we've made out like 8 or 9 times (8, officially) and you haven't even tried for second base."
"Oh yeah, I figured we should take things slow."
"Take things slow?" She felt a little bit like she was choking on her tongue. "You kidnapped me from my house with no warning and that was okay, but now you want to try and act like this relationship isn't deeply weird?"
"I didn't say that," Frank said. "I just mean that I know what I did was creepy. I did it to protect you and I don't regret that, but I wish it didn't have to be like that. I wanted us to get to know each other better, for there to be a more organic connection."
Sarah found herself dealing with intense conflicting impulses. On one hand, she wanted to punch him in the face. On the other hand, she wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out. "So you want to hold off on all sexual developments?"
"For an unknown amount of time."
"And no way to know when we are actually ready."
"I think we'll just know," Frank said.
"And this was insignificant enough that you never bothered to tell me?"
"I just figured it was unspoken."
Sarah started to warm up her fingers on the warm spot at the back of the neck. You know, for payback. He shivered, but didn't say anything. "Well, I've got to be honest. I'm a lot less upset about no nookie now than I was when I came in here. And I think that you should wear a purity ring. Like a Jonas brother."
She kissed the top of his head and left his room without looking back.
Sarah was probably still sulking when she went to the kitchen for gun handling with Victoria. She didn't even notice that she was sulking, it was just kind of permanent. She was a grown woman contemplating trying to convince her own boyfriend that they should have sex. She may have rested her face directly on the table and not looked up for few minutes.
If she had a bowl of cereal there, Sarah probably would've stuck her face in it. All of the sexual frustration of the last few weeks had turned to gnawing apathy.
She looked over and Victoria was scowling. Sarah put her head back on the table. She had gotten to the point where she almost didn't need to look to assemble the gun.
"What did Francis do?"
"Won't do," Sarah sighed. "Me."
"Oh." Victoria narrowed her eyebrows. "I am dealing with a similar difficulty." She picked up a handgun and waved it in a way that was businesslike and calmly menacing at the same time. "Marvin, shoo."
Sarah tried closing her eyes while inserting the cartridge, but got it crooked. "We need tea for this," Victoria said. She was so British sometimes, it was really hilarious. Like the time Ivan had found the Fish and Chips shop in Versailles and she had nearly exploded with rage. That was a happy memory. Frank had held her hand then. That was probably all she was going to get for weeks. Maybe months, depending on how busy they were.
Sarah leaned all the way back in the kitchen chair until her head was smooshed into the back of it. She probably looked really attractive. "Nuh," she said.
Victoria held a steaming mug in her hands. "Ivan has decided that he does not want to reconsummate our relationship until after he has found a grand gesture to prove his love to me." She looked composed and furious at the same time, it was magical.
"Frank thinks we jumped too fast into the relationship, you know, after he kidnapped me. I don't even care that it was super creepy any more. He saved my life, you know? And now I am an international super spy who can't get her own boyfriend to do her."
"I think they plotted together," Victoria said. "This reeks of a group decision. We need to counter-plot."
"Well, I can't think of anything that doesn't involve suggestively touching each other when we're around them to make them jealous and full of the manly hormones."
"That sounds fine to me," Victoria said. She kissed Sarah's cheek. "We are going to break them. This will be fun."
Once they moved to Belgium, they stayed in a safehouse with a backyard big enough to use for target practice. Marvin took a few packages of post-it notes and spent hours meticulously drawing a frowny face on each one. Then, he put the post-its on the trees of the back yard.
"Target practice," he cackled. All of the trees around her were sprinkled with bright pink and orange papers with big frowns on them. "You need to hit 40. You have 60 seconds."
Marvin grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around like they were playing pinata. His bulletproof suit was very, very green. Sarah was dizzy and the post-its were tiny and her nose was numb. "Go," Marvin shouted, jumping into a snowbank.
Spy driving practice with Frank was the absolute worst. Sarah broke 17 cars trying to learn how to power slide on a dirt track. And they weren't usually little breaks. One time, the clutch wouldn't engage, so she kicked it and then it snapped like a twig. And she cut her foot on it.
"You're not being smooth enough," Frank kept saying. And he just always sounded so patient and understanding that she wanted to strangle him and that would make her lose what little smoothness she had found.
"If you say smooth one more time, I am going to throw my slushie in your face. And then I will walk to the market and buy a slushie made of fish guts and then I will throw that in your face too!" Sarah sat in the car, trying really hard to get her eyes to stop burning. Stupid emotions always got all over everything.
"Fish guts, very funny," Frank said. He put one hand on top of hers. "But how about I drive us back instead?"
"How about you just drive whenever we are in a car together?"
Frank smiled. "That works too."
That made the complete failure feel a little bit better.
Victoria showed Sarah some of the finer points of manipulation through seduction in the kitchen. In front of Frank and Ivan. It totally counted as a spy lesson, 'cause Sarah could stand to learn how to lure random security guards into submission. Sarah had never even been able to cry her way out of a speeding ticket. (Of course, she didn't have Victoria's rack.)
But Victoria was really great with the hands-on teaching. While half-naked. In front of their boyfriends. With a legitimate excuse. Victoria was a fucking genius.
Laos was really hot, but it was the humidity that really got to Sarah. The weather change made her kind of loopy and it was hard to focus and her hair was a miserable frizz ball.
For once, she envied Frank's baldness. It was her good luck that this was the mission where he had to wear a full wig in order to better blend with the crowd. He was super whiny about it, too. It was pretty adorable.
The mission, from what she could tell, was pretty standard and boring. Basically, they had to break into an international bank on 3 separate levels, hijack the safety deposit boxes, and frame a seriously sketchy minister of finance for the whole thing. It was like a 4 on the 15 point mission dangerousness scale.
That's why it was so weird when Ivan wasn't at his checkpoint in the designated time. He wasn't even close, and Sarah had a good scope and vantage point.
When he finally came into the line of sight, Ivan was clutching his leg and barely limping. Because he had gotten shot.
Right. The contingency plan was that she would drive the getaway car. She had the keys in her left pocket.
She drove slowly enough that she didn't attract any attention and then pulled into a corner near Ivan. His face was too pale. Sarah had to keep it together. "Are we blown?"
"Only a little," Ivan said. "The others should be fine. Our getaway will be complicated." He had blood on his beard.
Sarah could see tiny vans assembling a tiny road block on the original access road in the distance. If Frank were driving, he would make his own exit. Right, so she had to find a new exit and then make it. Even her breathing was shaky.
"Are you okay?"
"Just fine," Ivan pretended. He wasn't especially good at it either.
Well, there were a bunch of really flimsy-looking chain link fences covering an old dirt path, and if it was a path, it had to lead to somewhere. Frank had said that if the car went fast enough, she could bust through without ruining the windshield.
Sarah handed Ivan her gun. "Just in case," she said.
She really wished she had some AC/DC to play super loud, because her heart was pounding. Right, now Sarah just had to demolish some chain link fences. Because she was a spy.
Ivan was okay. Well, mostly okay. He was resting in bed. Victoria, however, was pretty much the definition of not okay. 3 days later, she was still pacing.
Yeah, it was pretty bad. She looked gray and shaky and didn't like looking at Ivan and so she hid in the kitchen and baked batches of cookies, or hid in her bedroom and crocheted tiny, useless doilies.
Marvin was too stuffed with cookies to do anything useful and Frank had no clue. So it was up to Sarah. She was the chosen one.
She got some knitting needles and some yarn and invited herself into Victoria's bedroom. "Hey," she said, jumping on the bed. "Do you have any movies or anything in here? Frank's driving me crazy."
Victoria looked blank and hollow, but Sarah figured that Victoria couldn't handle anyone treating her like she was vulnerable. "I think there's a copy of Vertigo somewhere," Victoria said.
That movie was a terrible idea. Sarah decided to summarize Capturing Her Pearl instead. Victoria only pretending to pay attention, so Sarah didn't bother with the juicy evil twin details, they would just be confusing.
Victoria's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing?"
"Summarizing and mocking a truly horrible work of fiction in an informal format?"
"With your knitting needles."
Sarah looked down. Her scarf was totally like 4 inches long already. "Knitting a scarf." It might possibly be for Frank, maybe.
"No," Victoria said. "You are purling each row."
Purling. She kind of sucked at knitting. "Oh, you mean going backwards! Yeah, this is way quicker."
"Your tension will be shit," Victoria said. She looked really offended on behalf of knitting.
"Yeah," Sarah admitted. "But it'll be fast. And Frank likes me." Victoria winced when she heard Frank's name.
She rolled over and gave Victoria a sideways hug until Victoria gave in and slumped down on the bed too. Victoria looked really tired. Sarah wiggled around until her tummy was under Victoria's head.
"It's not your fault," Sarah said.
"I know." Victoria frowned. "I just hate to see him shot. This was a terrible idea."
And that's when Sarah's carefully prepared speech came in handy. She tried to deliver it as organically as possible. "You know," she said. "Ivan would keep doing this even if you weren't around. Neither one of you are going to stop. But if you leave Ivan, he'll be doing this stuff alone with no backup. At least with you, he's got a team."
"Yes," Victoria said. She closed her eyes. "I just hate to see Ivan shot."
They moved to Poland for Ivan to recover. Nothing ever happened in Poland. (Well, aside from the World War II business.) It was very calm. Sarah got to do touristy things, like tour abandoned castles, fruitlessly scour the countryside for a Starbucks, and learn how to shoot a sniper rifle.
Ivan and Victoria were really busy rekindling their romance, and Marvin was insufferably bothered by it. He made his tinfoil hat 3 times its size and claimed that they were attracting satellites.
By the second week, the new country smell had worn off and Sarah was feeling tied down. That was when Ivan decided to give her dancing lessons.
Even with stitches and a pronounced limp, Ivan was an amazing dancer. Sarah pretty much just let her body be flexible and he made her look like she contained skill and talent. His beard was surprisingly soft, it wasn't scratchy when she accidentally hit her forehead on his chin.
Marvin was visibly unimpressed. "Ballroom dance is dying. Nobody knows how to do it well any more."
"This is true," Ivan said, dipping her.
"So what are the chances that she'll get to a fancy dress party all dressed up and sit alone in her chair while a crowd of the gropey old men have an excuse to get their hands on her?"
"Very slim," Ivan replied. Sarah was starting to get kind of freaked out, but Ivan's eyebrows were very reassuring.
"So when you consider that most of the great ballroom dancers have started to die off and get debilitating arthritis, the pool of disgusting rich men skews young and unskilled. You are only teaching her to follow, and all of her potential leaders are going to waddle like penguins!"
"Thank you, Marvin," Sarah said.
"I'm gonna go get a butterscotch brownie." Marvin's hat crinkled as he walked.
Ivan continued to spin her, but slowly. "We will focus on technique in a few weeks' time," he said. "First, you must get used to being graceful."
Victoria strode into the house, still wearing her combat boots and snow pants. "I'm cutting in," she announced, and grabbed Sarah.
Sarah's life was awesomely weird.
And then Sarah had a really long and vivid dream where she and Victoria were secret crime-fighting lovers who fucked a lot.
That totally didn't mean anything though, just that Victoria was gorgeous and Sarah had eyes that worked. She wasn't even slightly unsettled. Nope, not even a little bit.
Sarah knew was a confident woman, secure in her own sexuality, who was only going slightly crazy because her boyfriend refused to fuck her.
And she was slightly bisexual and flexible. But most spies were supposed to be like that. It was the rules or something. And Sarah Ross was kind of almost a spy.
Right, so. Frank got accidentally locked in an empty storage closet with no lights, an active bomb, and a Swiss Army knife. And then he got out, barely.
Sarah spent almost 10 hours with her forehead pressed up against the door, thinking that her boyfriend was about to explode. Honestly, a lot of her thoughts were about how she had never even seen him naked. The least she ever saw was when he was in that Speedo in Prague. And he might have died and that would've been all she ever saw of him. And then he would be dead and she would be boyfriendless and probably team-less because Sarah was pretty much an untrained liability and she would have to go back to working for Kansas but the government probably wouldn't take her back because of her CIA record and she would probably have to become a telemarketer and buy 19 cats for company and also he would be dead.
So yeah, Sarah was upset.
Frank, meanwhile, was totally fine, like a cucumber. He was bald like a cucumber too.
Sarah really was glad to see him, so it made no sense that when she saw him, she slapped him across the face and then locked herself in her bedroom. She felt like she was 13, it was horrible.
Frank sat outside of her door with his whole back pressed against it. "Sarah," he said. His voice was really soothing. "Talk to me."
She couldn't make her voice work. "Sarah, let me in and we can snuggle," Frank said.
"I hate you so much right now," she said. "I thought you would be in pieces and now you're just not and you're fine! You're just fine and not exploded but I'm not fine and I don't understand how you could even pretend to be. But I don't think you are, you're just okay with almost dying in a really horrific way and leaving me all alone."
"Hey," Frank said. "I wouldn't just abandon you like that."
"You would if you were dead." She buried just her head under the blankets. It was a super shitty day. "I want Victoria," she yelled from under the covers. "Tell her to bring chocolate."
Victoria brought tea, too, and Sarah avoided looking at Frank's face when she let Victoria in.
Victoria wrapped Sarah in a big warm hug and whispered, "Francis is usually good, but when he's not, he's an enormous imbecile." Sarah nodded.
"I don't know what I would do without him," she said. "I never wanted to be like this. I'm scared."
Victoria picked up her knitting needles. "Well, if something were to ever happen to him, you're a rich woman. You won't need to work again."
"Private contracts pay extraordinarily well," Victoria explained. "You have been getting a portion of the cut after expenses." She put down the knitting needles. "Francis set it up. Didn't he tell you?" Sarah shook her head. "Oh, I am going to smack him," Victoria sighed.
So Sarah was rich. Like actually rich. She had a bank account on an obscure island that had a balance that had six digits in it. It was hers. If something did happen to Frank, she could be the miserable, bitter cat lady who never had to leave her house for anything. That would be excellent for wallowing. Also, she could hire a maid.
It wasn't like she was going to go buy a car or anything, although she could. Sarah just needed a haircut and a good pair of shoes.
So Victoria brought her to Paris.
Victoria looked like she belonged in there; Sarah looked like a tourist. She didn't care though, it was fun to gawk at everything.
Victoria took her to a super exclusive upscale boutique place that Sarah was pretty sure was technically too awesome to exist. It was like the world's biggest walk in closet full of magical shoes. They were so expensive that they did not have price tags, and the shoe selector wore a suit and bow tie as he measured both of her feet in 4 different directions.
"So," he said. He even had a super thick french accent. "What sort of shoes are you looking for?"
Sarah figured that it would be a no-brainer to ask for shoes that were gorgeous and made her legs look like magic. "Pumps," she said. "But I want them to be sensible, not trendy."
"Madame," the shoe selector said, and disappeared like a magic shoe fairy.
Sarah tried on 47 different pairs of shoes before finding them. They were comfortable, she could walk in them, and they were the most gorgeous things she'd ever seen.
When Sarah wore those shoes, it felt like every step she took was directly on the faces of every high school cheerleader she'd ever hated.
Paris was so gorgeous that Sarah kept getting half-lost and wandering dazedly around. She was in an outdoor market, and the fruit didn't look like real fruit. It looked like magic movie fruit, it was amazing.
And there were celebrities just mingling around like normal people and nobody was gawking. Well, Sarah was gawking a tiny bit.
But Dame Judi Dench was standing on the street corner with a baguette in a bag, eating a perfect pear. And her hair was really long. Maybe she was wearing a wig. Sarah moved just a little bit closer, not so much that anybody would notice, but just for a little better look.
The baguette had a scope on it. Sarah knew what a scope looked like, and that was a fucking scope. Maybe that wasn't Judi Dench after all. Victoria would know. Sarah hoped the scope-carrier wasn't Judi, that would be kind of depressing.
Great actresses were supposed to suck at stuff, like having quiet private lives and professional sharpshooting.
Hopefully Not Judi Dench found Victoria before Sarah did. Sarah heard them before she could pick them from the crowd.
"Victoria," Hopefully Not Judi Dench called. "How lovely to see you."
"Agnes," Victoria spoke too politely. She really obviously hated this lady. "It's been quite a while."
"It has indeed," 'Agnes' replied. Victoria watched her like a very suspicious lion. Sarah was starting to get all freaked out. "I hear that you've come out of retirement."
Victoria was scarily calm. "Have you?"
"My sources say that you've joined an independent consulting firm." 'Agnes' looked angry.
"I have," Victoria said.
"And you've taken a lover."
Victoria looked visibly uncomfortable. Yeah, Sarah was scared. 'Agnes' was scary. She looked jealous. Ivan was still recovering from a bullet wound. 'Agnes' might know about Ivan and Victoria's past. She looked like the type of woman who liked to murder sweet Russian men.
Sarah thought on her feet. She was a spy now, she could totally do that. She quickly changed her flats to the magic heels that were still in her bag. And she fluffed her hair out, but that would be fine since she'd only been out of the salon for a few hours. Her clothes were acceptable, she looked casual, maybe slightly romantic.
Right. Thinking on her fight, because she was a spy. Sarah walked casually over to Victoria and 'Agnes', careful to be completely oblivious to the other woman. She slid one hand around Victoria's waist and nuzzled her forehead against Victoria's cheek. "Hey," she said. Sarah tried to use her special boyfriend tone.
'Agnes' looked furious. For a split second, Sarah was scared that she had messed up and Victoria might not go along with it.
Then, Victoria kissed her forehead, sweetly and like it was a reflex. "Hello," she murmured. She twisted her body toward 'Agnes'. Sarah was at least 90% sure that Agnes was not an assassin who pretended to be Judi Dench, but she had seen weirder things. "Sarah, this is an old schoolmate of mine, Agnes."
"Nice to meet you," Sarah said, holding out her hand and pretending to be completely socially clueless.
"Aggie, I'm afraid we must be going. Business and all that," Victoria smiled sharply.
'Agnes' was subtle, but her anger was super obvious. Sarah waited until she was out of hearing distance and whispered, "Her baguette had a scope on it. I was suspicious."
"That was an old colleague," Victoria sighed. "We didn't part in good circumstances. We are in a fair bit of danger."
Sarah didn't roll her eyes, but she wanted to. "On the upside, I totally sold that."
"You did," Victoria smiled.
A group of unwashed probably college students were leering at them. Sarah gave them a nasty stinkeye, the gross pervs. "Let's go home?"
Sarah did not lead off with the shoes, or with the haircut, or with the fact that she was pretty sure her skin was 3 times softer than it was before she left, or that she had actually missed rural Estonia a little bit. She let Victoria do most of the talking.
"Agnes found us me in Paris," she said.
Ivan's face crumpled with anger. Marvin's eyes got too wide. Frank looked mildly concerned. Okay, so there was probably a history there.
"She thinks that I'm Victoria's girlfriend." Marvin made a face of pure disgust. "I made a snap judgment!"
"That's fine, Honey," Frank said. "Victoria, what do you think we're dealing with?"
Victoria sighed. "I knew she would come back eventually. Things are so unfinished, and we have spent so much time in Europe."
"The European jobs are better," Ivan growled.
"I was stating a fact, Ivan," Victoria snapped.
Sarah got up and grabbed 2 cookies and a glass of milk. She dunked the cookies very slowly into the milk, getting them nice and soggy. Frank's foot was wrapped around her ankle. She ate all of the cookies before Ivan and Victoria stopped bickering long enough to let her get a word in.
"Anybody want to tell me why Agnes is so scary?"
Marvin clicked his tongue. "So imagine a woman just like Victoria, except not quite proficient. But she's evil, and she's crazy, and now she wants to kill us."
"Oh," Sarah said. That did sound pretty rough.
It wasn't an especially agonizing wait, though. Agnes was apparently really impatient to get her revenge. She showed up in the middle of their backyard with a bazooka and a bag of keepsake decorative soaps.
Ivan hid in the trees with a sniper rifle. They all had agreed that he was best kept secret.
"Sarah," Agnes called. "I have a present for you."
"I am not taking your evil soap," Sarah yelled back. "Firstly, it could be poison. Secondly, it is the soap of the Dark Side. Thirdly, you were an asshole to my girlfriend."
"You tell your girlfriend that she deserved it."
That was when Sarah got a little bit pissed. "I will not," she yelled back.
Agnes took a step back and roard, "This all could have been avoided if she just hadn't gone to America in the first place. It is a horrid, classless country."
"Your accent is uneven," Sarah shouted. That was really offensive to a British person, apparently.
"You tell Victoria that I have assembled a team of my own, one far superior to hers, and when we both do meet, she will be soundly thrashed!"
That was when Marvin jumped from the bushes and clumsily tackled Agnes. She punched Marvin in the throat and turned away, laughing. "Soundly thrashed!"
Marvin feigned unconsciousness for a few minutes and then turned over with a thumbs up. "GPS tracker is in place," he said. "Also, she smells like spray cheese."
Sarah lay in her room, which was kind of alarmingly too big, and tried very hard to go to sleep. It didn't work, though, everything was too tense and she just felt like stress-eating.
Stress-eating was almost never the answer.
Frank tiptoed into her room, trying very hard not to giggle. His face was ridiculous. "I know you said that I couldn't handle chapter 58," he said. "But I am. I am completely fine."
"Member," Sarah whispered. Frank shoved his face into a pillow and giggled. "I told you. You, Frank Moses, cannot handle the badness."
"Sarah," he said, pulling her next to him. "He was penetrating her clitoris."
"I know," she said.
"But the author is a woman."
"She has all of the equipment in question on her body."
"She could probably find science textbooks."
"Or a mirror," Frank looked genuinely agonized. "How could this happen?"
"Nobody knows," Sarah said, grabbing on to his hand. "It's professionally-published romance novel. This just happens."
"Let's read chapter 59 together."
"This from the man that could plausibly be wearing a secret purity ring," Sarah laughed. "I must be a terrible influence."Frank smiled. "The worst," he said.
So it turned out that as retirees and a complete unknown, their group didn't really have a lot of connections with agents who were active and competent. So Frank called in a favor from William Cooper.
That dude probably slept with his suit on.
"Hey, shortstack," Sarah said when he arrived. Normally she would've insulted him a little bit more, but she was busy playing Go Fish with Marvin.
"Marvin, do you have any fours?"
She was deliberately playing Go Fish because it was weird having to be on the same side as the guy who interrogated her for a day and a half. On the upside, he looked really irritated with their safe house in Norway.
"Sarah, do you have any kings?" Marvin had asked her for kings with his last turn, and for the turn before that.
"Go fish," she said. She had a really good view of Frank leaning over a counter and looking mildly threatening.
Marvin had a stack of at least 15 cards. "Marvin, do you have any nines?"
"Go fishing," he grinned.
Victoria walked behind him. "Marvin's cheating. He's got 3 of them."
"I figured," Sarah said.
Marvin began to pout. "Even if I did have the cards in question, I would never reveal that to my opponent!"
"Yeah," Cooper drawled. "The other side doesn't stand a chance!"