“Little Bird, do you come in?”
Skye had to do all she could not to snicker as Agent White’s voice came through her earpiece. She knew it made sense to use codenames, but she honestly only ever thought they did that in movies.
“Copy that, Big Bird,” Skye answered with a straight face, wary of all the people filing into the stadium all around her. She craned her neck to peer into the stadium where the soccer match was in its first quarter. 0-1. Manchester already scored a goal. Talk about dumb luck. There was no way they were going to win. Liverpool had this game in the bag.
“See anything suspicious?” Agent White asked.
More chatter from agents stationed outside the arena sounded through, one of them she recognized as Agent Trevor Beakley. “We caught onto something through the scope. Little Bird, there’s a man headed your way, just came through the gates. He has something under his sweatshirt. Do you see him?”
Skye’s heart pounded intensely as she glanced over and saw a man fitting the description casually walking through the crowds. Slow place. Casual stride. Neutral expression. This wasn’t their guy.
“This isn’t him,” Skye dared to voice. “Find a different target.”
“Go check it out, Little Bird. That’s an order,” Agent White said, making Skye sigh internally. They were just wasting time by making her do this.
As Skye got closer to the man, she still couldn’t see what was inside his sweatshirt. Her heart pounded furiously with the thought of having to talk to the man, so hopefully she could pass right by.
Very cautiously, she approached, and she couldn’t help it as her lips turned up into a smile. A small puppy popped its head out of the top of the sweatshirt and began licking the man’s chin, causing him to chuckle.
“Who’s a good boy?” the man said to his dog, and Skye walked right on by.
“Not him,” Skye said quietly, beginning to survey her surroundings once again. If I was a terrorist, where would I hide? she thought to herself. Everyone looked so normal here. Of course, there were the occasional heavy set or overly skinny men who had their shirts off and bodies painted, but that was as crazy as it got.
“Big Bird,” Trevor said. “Go check out that woman with the umbrella stationed over in the southeast corner.”
“Roger that, on my way,” Agent White answered.
Skye was about to turn around when she caught sight of a man standing by the stairwell with his arms crossed over his chest, his foot tapping the ground quickly as he stared out over the game.
“Can you do a face scan of this man up here?” Skye asked quietly, trying to look occupied as she pulled out her phone and pretended to scroll through it. “Plaid button-up shirt. Jeans. Brown hair hitting his shoulders.”
“Copy that, Little Bird,” Trevor said through her earpiece. Skye waited another minute before she heard his voice again. “Negative. The facial scanner brought up a man named Stan Selick. He doesn’t have anything on his record besides a few speeding tickets. Find a new target.”
Skye shook her head in frustration as she glanced up at the man again. Now he was drumming his fingers on his arms. Why wouldn’t anyone listen to her? Either this man was nervous about the outcome of the game, or he was their guy. This had to be it.
The crowd suddenly went into a wild frenzy as Liverpool scored a point. Skye wanted to join them so badly, but she had more important fish to fry.
As the crowd became all worked up, that’s when the man began to move and Skye started to follow him.
“I said negative, Little Bird. Do not pursue him. He’s not our guy.”
“And I say otherwise,” Skye replied stubbornly. “I’m ninety-five percent sure. If I’m wrong, you can ground me for a month, or whatever it is you guys do to agents.”
Skye continued to follow the man, her heart beating more and more rapidly with each step she took. She did her best to follow him nonchalantly while at the same time keeping a close eye on him. Never in her life has she had to follow anyone before, especially someone who could possibly kill her.
The man turned away from the crowds and into one of the less traveled tunnels. She stopped right at the end of the tunnel and smiled at someone beside her as if she were there with them. Sure enough, the man turned around to take a look behind him before disappearing around the corner.
Taking a deep breath, Skye started to follow. It was now or never.
She stopped short just beyond the corner as she heard two male voices speaking in low tones. “—southeast corner.”
“We should get out of here soon then,” the other male voice answered.
“Is that such a good idea? Vlad is here. You know what happens when people mess with him.”
“We can’t stop it now. We’ve already been paid to do this. So let’s just get out of here before this place blows.”
Skye’s eyes widened as she whispered, “Are you picking up on this? I have our two guys. They’re about to head out the east exit.”
“Do not engage. I repeat. Do not engage,” a different agent said, his voice urgent. “We have a team on standby ready to arrest them. Find the bomb ASAP. Got it?”
With a frown, Skye said, “Engaging might be the only way. Sorry.” She ignored the other agents’ warnings as she continued to listen.
“You take this end, I’ll take the other end. That way we won’t be seen together.” After that, one of the men walked right past, not even giving her a sideways glance, which meant that she had to catch the other one.
Skye rounded the corner, acting much braver than she felt. This was most definitely a stupid idea. But her own life didn’t matter if it meant she could save all of these other people. She caught sight of the other man making his way down the empty tunnel, quickly creeping up from behind and pressing a knife to his back, hard enough to draw blood.
“Where did you plant the bomb?” she growled.
The man slowly put his hands up, turning his head to look at her from the corner of his eye. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Stop lying to me. I’ve been following you for a while now. I know who you are, I know that someone paid you to do this. Now, if you value your life, tell me where you planted the bomb.”
Before she even had a chance to react, the man spun around and hit her wrist, causing her knife to clatter to the ground. He struck out with his fist, but Skye diverted his attack with both of her arms, landing a blow of her own to the man’s throat.
He choked and stumbled backwards, giving Skye another chance to attack, kicking the man in the stomach so he doubled over.
But her luck was short lived. The man got to his feet and managed to get his hand around Skye’s throat, slamming her back against the cement wall. She lunged for the man’s face, but with his other hand, he caught her wrist, holding her back. Black dots swam at the corners of her vision, but she didn’t give up. In a quick movement, she kicked her feet up, landing a blow to the man’s groin. He gasped and began groaning, the look in his eyes only becoming more menacing, but he never let go of his grip around Skye’s throat.
“What are you?” the man growled. “A police officer? Stadium security?”
Skye wasn’t even able to answer, instead concentrating on trying to get air into her lungs. This was not how she planned on this going.
The black nearly overcame her entire vision when she suddenly heard a deafening clanging sound, and then the man’s grip around her throat loosened. She gasped for air, her hand instinctively reaching for her gun when she glanced up and found herself looking into the familiar blue eyes of Chris Ryder.
She glanced wildly from Chris to the man who laid unconscious on the floor to the metal fold-up chair in Chris’s hands.
“What are you doing here?” Skye gasped, not wasting another moment as she took the man’s wallet out of his back pocket and checked his ID. The man was indeed Stan Selick. However, either he was very careful at not getting caught in his dealings, this wasn’t his real identity, or his records got erased in the system. She didn’t know what to do from here… Maybe Agent White would take care of it.
“I would ask you the same thing,” Chris replied with a confused expression, setting the chair down against the wall. “You here for the game? I guess you are a Liverpool fan, right?” Chris began dragging Selick’s body into a broom closet so anyone who might pass by wouldn’t notice him.
“Right,” Skye said, not entirely sure how this conversation was supposed to go without lying to Chris completely about why she was here. “Is this one of your men? I can’t imagine why he’d want to attack me out of the blue like that.”
Chris shook his head as he put a hand on Skye’s shoulder, looking into her eyes with concern. “Are you alright? That was quite the punch to the throat. You must have a great self-defense teacher to learn a move like that. That’s more of a military-grade attack.”
Skye grimaced, already knowing that he could see right through her lie. But she couldn’t exactly tell him the truth… Agent White made it very clear that she couldn’t tell anyone who she really was and what she really did for a living.
“After what happened, I realized I needed to learn to protect myself better. Why are you here?” Skye tried again, hoping to change the subject.
He looked as if he were debating whether or not to tell her, but then he decided to in the end. “I’m looking for a bomb. I followed this man this far, but unfortunately, I had to knock him out. Did he say anything when he was talking to you?”
Chris’s blue eyes looked so intensely at her that it make her cheeks flush with heat. Now that he wasn’t busy kidnapping her and being the bad guy, she was able to see just how attractive he was.
His hand slid from her shoulder and down her arm, but then he froze as his fingers grazed against the gun on her hip that she concealed beneath her jacket.
“Why do you have a gun?” he asked in a whisper, and Skye could see his thoughts swirling around in his eyes. “You didn’t have that last time I saw you.”
Before she could answer him, Agent White’s voice crackled in her ear. “Little Bird, are you okay?”
Skye swallowed hard. She had to answer. Lives depended on it, even if that meant Chris finding out that she got recruited by MI6.
“I’m fine,” Skye said, watching as Chris’s face expression turned from confusion to surprise to understanding as he put the pieces together. “Selick mentioned to his partner that the bomb was planted in the southeast corner of the stadium. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Great job, Little Bird. I’m on my way.”
The man on the outside said, “We’ve got Selick’s partner in custody. Sorry we doubted you, Little Bird.”
Skye chuckled and rolled her eyes. Maybe this would make it so they believed her next time something like this happened. “No problem.”
Chris just stared at her incredulously, his eyes not seeming to be able to get any wider. “You’re with MI6?” he mouthed, still not seeming to believe it.
She just shrugged, not really understanding why she wanted to stay here for a little bit longer than have to go and find Agent White on the other side of the stadium. She had absolutely no clue how to disarm a bomb, but she could at least help find it.
Skye watched as Chris’s expression went from open to closed and guarded within a second. He lifted his hand and rested it against the wall right next to her head, trapping her against the wall. Skye stared up into Chris’s eyes, her heart beating furiously at how close he was. Right at that moment, his phone rang and she watched as he dug it out of his pocket.
“Hey,” Chris said.
Being so close to him, she could hear the man on the other end. “Stop flirting with the girl. We have work to do.”
“You can see me?” Chris chuckled as he glanced around, but his gaze finally remained fixed on a figure at the end of the tunnel who had his arms crossed disappointedly.
“Yes, I can see you. Come back to the box. Vlad is negotiating a weapons deal with someone and he wants you there.”
Chris saluted with his hand to the man at the end of the tunnel, a big grin on his face. “Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.” He hung up the phone but never dropped his hand, maybe because the man on the other side of the tunnel still had his eye on them.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Skye hissed, very aware at how close they were. She needed to get back to Agent White and Chris wasn’t helping in the slightest. In an unsuccessful attempt, she tried to push herself away from the wall and away from him, but his other hand rested against her waist, pushing her back against the wall.
“Protecting my cover,” he whispered back.
Skye’s eyebrows furrowed as she fit the pieces together. The mask? The lies? “Don’t tell me your cover is to be a ladies man.”
“That’s exactly what my cover is,” he chuckled, his whole being looking on edge as if he didn’t like that fact in the slightest. As good at acting as he was, she could still see right through him. “Humor me? How about a little kiss?”
By now, Skye’s heart began beating furiously in her chest, heat rising into her cheeks. He couldn’t be serious… “Absolutely not,” Skye shot back.
Chris chuckled, a real grin spreading across his face. “Well, it was worth a shot.”
Skye couldn’t help but giggle when she realized what he had been trying to do. He knew she would say no. He was just being funny.
The smile never left her face as she pushed away from the wall and he let her this time. “I need to go.” Without another word, she made her way down the tunnel in the opposite direction, feeling Chris’s eyes on her back before she disappeared completely. Not being able to lie to herself, she felt extremely flustered. Chris was really smooth, the much she felt sure of.
When she reached the southeast corner of the stadium, she caught sight of Agent White and another of her colleagues, Agent Fletcher, underneath the bleachers. Her eyes widened as she caught them fiddling with a contraption that had a series of wires poking out of it. The bomb.
Agent White sighed as she threw her hands up in frustration. “I can’t figure it out. This isn’t a kind of bomb I’m familiar with.”
The timer on the bomb counted down, currently at four minutes thirty-nine seconds left until detonation. Skye swallowed hard. What if they couldn’t disarm it? Would all these people die? Would she die?
The crowd roared in an excited frenzy, but the noise just went right past Skye’s ears. Normally that sound shot a burst of adrenaline through her, but when she realized just how much danger these people were in, she couldn’t bring herself to be excited at all.
“Let me take a look at it,” Agent Fletcher said, scrutinizing the device with an intense expression. A couple minutes passed of fiddling with the wires and the only thing Skye could do was watch in horror as the timer counted down further and further. Fletcher ran a stressed hand down his face, an immense amount of sweat clinging to his forehead.
“This kind of bomb is new,” Fletcher said finally. “Get Director Price on the phone and fast. We need to get more insight on this weapon.”
“Wait,” a voice said from behind them, and all three of them spun around, Fletcher and White immediately taking out their guns and pointing it toward Chris.
“It’s the CIA agent,” White whispered to Fletcher who nodded, but they never put down their weapons.
“Get out of here,” Fletcher said with a hard stare. “We have this under control.”
Chris crossed his arms and looked at them pointedly. “Do you? Because there’s less than two minutes left on that timer. It takes, on average, forty-five seconds to disarm that bomb. If you want it disarmed, you better let me do it now.”
“What do you know about this?” Fletcher asked suspiciously, edging even a little closer with his gun raised.
“This is one of Vladimir’s explosives,” Chris answered. “I doubt he planted it here but he has a lot of customers. I might be the only one here who knows how to disarm the bomb, so will you stand aside? Or do you want to watch people get killed?”
Skye held her breath as she watched the scene unfurl. They didn’t have a lot of options, and her superiors must’ve known that because they lowered their weapons and nodded their heads toward the bomb as a go-ahead.
Chris didn’t waste any time as he rushed toward the menacing weapon and knelt down, his fingers working deftly. One minute eighteen seconds.
Fletcher began tapping his foot nervously as they all watched in fear as Chris worked over the bomb. Forty seconds.
“I thought you said you can do it in forty-five seconds,” Agent Fletcher hissed, even more sweat dripping from his forehead.
“No I didn’t,” Chris grunted, his teeth clenching in concentration. “I said ‘on average.’”
Chris wiped his forehead on his sleeve and his fingers began moving faster across the keypad. He got the bomb to unlock and typed in a code before pulling out a knife from his back pocket and cutting one of the wires.
The timer stopped its countdown at eight seconds and everyone let out an audible sigh all at once. Chris ran a hand through his hair, breathing a sigh of relief of his own. “I hate disarming bombs,” he muttered before standing up.
“Thank you,” Agent White said as she shook Chris’s hand. “Really. We can never thank you enough.”
He just shook his head, beginning to walk away. “Don’t mention it. I have a cover to uphold so best of luck.” He looked straight at Skye before adding, “Maybe I’ll see you around.” Chris disappeared before Skye could even reply to that.
“Find out what kind of bomb this is,” Agent White ordered Fletcher. “We need to know how to disarm it in case we happen to run into it again.”
Several men wearing all black rushed into the scene and detached the bomb from the underside of the bleachers, placing it in a black duffle bag and searching the area for anything else that might be connected to the weapon or possible fingerprints of those involved—all while the fans sitting up on the bleachers had no idea they were there. So this must be what it felt like to be a spy… They’d do all the work without any of the credit. But somehow, that didn’t sound so bad. Just knowing that she could help keep the people here safe was enough for her.
“Becker, let’s move out,” Agent White said, motioning her over with a hand. “Our work here is done.”
Skye nodded and began following Agent White, Agent Fletcher, and several of the black-clad men, the adrenaline slowly washing out of her. Never in her life had she felt so stressed and she didn’t realize how much of a toll it would take on her until now.
Her eyebrows furrowed together in confusion as she felt something rustle inside of her jacket pocket. She dug into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper, her heart immediately jumping into her throat.
The paper read, Dinner? 319-424-7638 — Chris
A grin pulled up on the corners of Skye’s lips as she placed the paper back into her pocket. Maybe she’d consider calling him. Maybe. And she couldn’t help but notice that he asked her out as Chris and not his cover as Adam which said something. Was this just a way to protect his cover? Or did he legitly want to see her again?
She couldn’t lie. The prospect of going on a date with Chris excited her, but she also couldn’t help but feel wary. What was this CIA agent up to? And how could she know if this was actually real?
Skye shook her head as she pushed the thought away. She still didn’t know if she was going to call him, but the more she thought about it, the more the consideration became a possibility.