Standing in the tight space between the front seats of the van, Ted used the rearview mirror to examine his appearance. “I hate this. I look like a moron,” he said as he fussed with the knot of his yellow and black polka dotted tie.
“Can’t help how you were born,” Ruben said with a smile.
“Please, I look good. It’s this damn outfit,” Ted retorted.
Ruben typed on his keyboard and the three monitors in front of him came to life. “The boss says wear the suit. You wear the suit. That’s how it goes,” he said.
“But all yellow? Seriously? How am I supposed to stay undercover in a yellow suit?” Ted complained.
“The boss is trying to build a brand. You know, like the Men in Black. We’re the Men in the Yellow,” Ruben said.
“That’s stupid,” Ted said, straightening his tie again.
“Take it up with management,” Ruben said.
The small monkey sitting next to Ruben spun on his stool and laughed.
“Don’t start,” Ted said, pointing an angry finger at the chimp.
The monkey spun again, pointing back at Ted.
“Leave him alone. It’s not George’s fault you look like a moron,” Ruben said, rubbing the monkey’s head.
“This was not in the recruitment pitch. No one said anything about yellow suits and monkeys,” Ted said as he slid his knife into the thin sheath hidden under his sleeve.
“The boss has her reasons. Maybe she thinks no one will suspect you dressed like that. I mean, what kind of secret agent wears all yellow, right? Only a total moron would go into an undercover mission dressed like that,” Ruben said as he put his headphones on.
Ted slid a second knife into the seath hidden in his boot. “This time, the damn monkey stays with you in the van.”
George grunted in protest.
“Don’t talk to George like that. He’s our partner too,” Ruben said as he banged away on his keyboard.
“Partner! All he ever does is wreck stuff,” Ted replied. He took the earpiece off the small counter next to Ruben and put it in his ear.
“He’s a highly trained operative,” Ruben said. He and the monkey exchanged a high-five.
“Highly trained my ass,” Ted said. “You remember what he did at the train station, right? Screwing up the board that had all the arrivals and departures? Or that time at the park when he emptied an entire dump truck of sand in the lake? And don’t forget that time at the camp ground that he started a forest fire. A goddamn forest fire.”
Ruben flicked on the microphone in front of him and Ted winced at the initial buzz that came through the earpiece as it came to life. “Mic check,” Ruben whispered.
Ted shot him a thumbs up.
“Stop being such a prick and do your job,” Ruben said in the mic.
Ted gave his partner the middle finger.
George laughed and mimicked the action.
“Great. Now look at what you taught him,” Ruben said.
Ted gave the monkey the middle finger.
George blew a raspberry and used his hands and feet to shoot four middle fingers back at Ted.
“Those were all successful missions by the way,” Ruben said as he studied the monitors.
“No thanks to him,” Ted said.
George jumped down from his stool, scampered to the back corner of the van, retrieved the yellow cowboy hat that completed Ted’s outfit, and extended it to him.
“I’m not wearing that,” Ted said.
“Put the damn hat on and get over yourself. Our target’s on sight,” Ruben said.
Ted peered over Ruben’s shoulder at the screen. The camera showed the front steps of the city’s largest library. A group of school children were heading up the stairs with a young woman who Ted guessed was their teacher. Walking next to them was a small man with a bushy mustache and glasses. He wore a bowtie and an old brown sweater vest, and he was carrying a black briefcase. “Let’s call him bowtie,” Ted suggested.
“Look, this is an easy one. Wait for the exchange, put eyes on his contact, and then get that case. Simple,” Ruben said.
Ted nodded. “Simple,” he said.
Ruben opened the van door and sunlight poured in from the outside. “And try not to kill anyone this time,” he said.
Ted smiled, took the hat from George and said, “No promises.”
As they walked up the white marble steps of the old library, people whispered and pointed at George. “This is the worst,” Ted mumbled.
“Stay focused,” Ruben said in his ear. “The map shows there are two floors open to the public. The third floor is all offices. Second floor is mostly just rows of bookcases. Look for the exchange there.”
They walked in the large front doors. The library was crowded. There was a long line of people carrying stacks of books at the checkout desk. Other patrons sat computers, searching for books. To the right, the group of school children were settling into a circle on a mat where a librarian was preparing to read to them. To the left, the sat a bookcase full of encyclopedias. Ted hadn’t seen an encyclopedia since he was a child. Their presence brought a warm feeling.
The nostalgia vanished when Ted spotted the small man with the bow tie. He was moving up a ramp that led to the second floor.
“Excuse me, sir. You can’t bring pets in here,” a pimply faced teenage boy said to Ted.
Keeping his eyes locked on the man, Ted said, “This is George. He’s not my pet.”
“You can’t bring a monkey into the library,” the teen said, moving into Ted’s line of view.
Ted looked down at the teen. His nametag said the teen’s name was Brian and indicated that he was a volunteer. “Look, Brian. This is George. He’s just here to check out some books,” Ted said. Patting George on the head, he added, “Stay out of trouble, okay buddy.”
George grunted happily and ran off to the right.
“Hey! Wait!” Brian said. Confused, the teen looked from Ted to George. With panic in his eyes, he decided to follow the monkey. “Stop right there,” he called as he chased after George who had already joined the children’s reading circle.
Ted walked casually up the ramp.
The man in the bow tie had stopped at top. Setting his briefcase on the ground, he retrieved a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his brown with it. He seemed to be searching for someone. Ted assumed the handkerchief was a signal of some kind.
Ted walked by the man without making eye contact. The second floor was a maze of books. There were two primary aisles in the middle of the space that were separate by a long bookcase. Smaller aisle shot of the main drags in either direction. Ted moved down the main aisle to the left. Watching the man with the bowtie out of the corner of this eye, Ted took a book off the shelf and pretended to read it.
The man in the bowtie checked his watched, wiped his forehead again, picked up his briefcase, and began to pace, looking down the two main aisles.
Ted slid his first book back on the shelf and took a second. In the distance, he heard children laugh and clap. He knew George had to be at the center of the commotion. “Damn monkey,” he said to himself.
“You got eyes on?” Ruben asked.
“Eyes on the briefcase. No contact yet,” Ted said, flipping the pages of the book.
The man with the bowtie stopped and peered down the other main aisle. There was a flash of recognition on his face. Stuffing the handkerchief in his back pocket, he hustled out of sight.
“Damn it,” Ted said, putting the book back on the shelf.
“Everything good?” Ruben asked.
“Picked the wrong aisle,” Ted said as he moved back to the front of the room and then turned down the other main aisle. He caught of glimpse of the man with the bowtie just as the man took a right down another line of books.
“How many exits are there?” Ted asked as he crept toward where the man with the bowtie had just been.
“The ramp is the main one. There’s an elevator in the back left,” Ruben said.
“Good,” Ted said. He walked passed where the man with the bowtie had turned and glanced down the line of book cases. The aisle was empty. Ted’s heart began to race. “I lost him,” he said.
“Well, find him. The place ain’t that big,” Ruben said.
There was a new commotion two aisles behind Ted. Spinning, he rushed to see what was happening. Twenty yards down the side aisle, Ted saw George pushing a small silver cart. The monkey was randomly picking books off the shelves and putting them on the cart. The teenage volunteer was following behind George complaining but not intervening. It was clear the Brian had not been trained in small monkey management.
Ted laughed. “Stupid monkey,” he said as he returned to his search. Pretending to search the bookcases for a specific number, he moved from one aisle to the next.
After checking seven aisles Ted took a book off the shelf, pretended to look at the number on its spine. He whispered, “I’m not finding him. Has he come out the front?”
“Nothing here. Keep looking. He’s in there somewhere,” Ruben said.
Ted replace the book and continued moving through the stacks. He past four more before something caught his eye. The man with the bowtie was nowhere to be seen, but his briefcase was unattended in the middle of an empty aisle. Ted paused. He glanced down the two adjacent aisles. They were both empty. “I’ve got eyes on the case. I’m grabbing it and getting out of here,” he said to Ruben.
Ted rushed down the aisle toward the case. Stopping next to it, he turned toward the books and pretended to scan the shelf for a specific title. There still appeared to be no one around. Reaching down, he grabbed the handle of the case and turned to head back the way he’d come.
“Bowtie is exiting the building,” Ruben said.
“I’ve got the case,” Ted said.
He froze. The hard muzzle of a gun pressed into the small of his back. Ted considered going for the knife in his boot, but the pressure of the gun increased and a soft female voice whispered, “Don’t even think about it.”
Ted flet her soft warm hand move to his ear and remove his earpiece. Keeping the gun in his back, she took the knife from his boot. “What else do you have?” she said.
“That’s it,” he lied.
She laughed and said, “I believe you are carrying my case.” She smelled sweet, like jasmine and orchids.
Ted tried to turn and she pushed the gun into his back again. “No, no, no. Don’t make me kill you here and ruin all these marvelous books with your blood,” she said. Her tone was calm and playful. Ted could tell he was dealing with a pro.
“Here’s how this is going to work. You and I are going for a walk. When we’re outside, you’ll give me my case, and we’ll go our separate ways. Screw with me, and I’ll start shooting people on my way out. No funny business and no one has to die. Got it,” she whispered in his ear.
“I’ve got a whole squad of agents outside. You’ll never make it out,” Ted said.
The woman laughed and said, “I’ll take my chances. Now walk.”
Ted made his way back down the main aisle toward the ramp. His mind raced through his options. None of them were good. He had no idea what he was up against. Was she alone or did she have partners? Could he disarm her before she got a shot off? Would she really shoot innocent people? There were too many unknowns. All he could do was play along.
As they approached the ramp, she moved next to him and pressed her pistol into his side. She was fit but not thin. Her hair was dark brown and cut short. She wore a simple black t-shirt, jeans, and sunglasses. She concealed her gun under a jean jacket she draped over her arm. “I mean it. You might get this gun from me, but not before I kill a few kids,” she whispered.
Ted walked slowly down the ramp, hoping something would shift the tide in his favor; but as they neared the bottom, he began to lose hope. He knew the minute they were out the front door, she would put a bullet in his ribs and make a break for it. That’s what he would do if their roles were switched.
They came to the bottom of the ramp and Ted paused. The woman pressed the gun in his side and said, “Keep moving. We’re almost there.”
“Look out!” The teenage volunteer’s crackling screamed came behind them. Ted gasped in shock at the sight of George riding his library cart full of books down the ramp as if it were a surf board. Less than a second passed before the monkey collided with both Ted and the mystery woman. With a loud crash, the cart, the monkey, piles of books, the woman, the case, the gun, and Ted all flew in different directions. Ted hit the ground clean, but the woman smashed into the bookcase of encyclopedias.
Adrenaline pumped through Ted’s veins as he jumped to his feet. Diving, he snatched the gun off the floor. The library volunteer had rushed to the aide of the mystery woman. Fawning over her, Brian was urging her not to move, explaining that she might be injured. Ted looked at the front door to see George escaping into the street, dragging the case behind him.
“Damn monkey,” Ted laughed as he reached down and picked up his yellow hat from the floor. He placed it on his head and tipped it to the woman who still appeared to be stunned from the impact of George’s cart. Ignoring the commotion around him, Ted calmly stepped over the scattered books and walked out of the building. Another successful mission in the books.