By Chelsea M. Brown
Charlie stood in front of the gray mansion with peeling paint and a dark front yard. She held the address on a slip of paper in front of her, matching it to the loose numbers hanging above the door frame. She was certain she had the wrong location. There was no porch light glowing. No one passing out candy. No holiday decorations. No sign of life.
The trick-or-treaters rushed past her, scurrying away from the house, their nervous gazes facing away.
She steeled herself, holding her backpack close, she pushed through the rickety gate, and made her way to the front door. The good thing about all the neighborhood kids avoiding this house was no one watched her enter, too afraid to turn their attention her way.
Charlie didn’t spend any time searching the first two floors. The dim light spilling from the windows all came from the third floor. She stepped carefully up the stairwell, avoiding the dusty handrail, and was pleasantly surprised when the old wood didn’t creak beneath her.
He knew she was coming—he’d sent her the address, after all—but her training came to mind. Don’t let someone become aware of your presence until you want them to be. There were two problems with that though: he had received the same training and they’d always been finely attuned to each other’s presence. It was a tough pill to swallow that, even years after their breakup, she still knew when he was around. The earth shifted on its axis; the air stilled in her lungs. He was a force she hadn’t been able to overcome, so when he called her for help, she was unable to refuse him.
She waited outside the only door on the third floor with light peeking out from underneath. She wasn’t ready to see him again, but she had no choice now. She came all this way already. Might as well go the few extra feet inside.
As she pushed the door open, Noah spoke out, lit only by his dimmed computer screen. “Took you long enough.”
His playful banter and accompanying smirk made her feel like she did when they were fifteen, before anything had happened between them, when they were best friends and training to take on the world together. She breathed a sigh of relief that they were able to revert to that part of their history together. There were far worse parts he could have chosen.
“I’m sorry,” she said, tossing him the food she brought for him out of her bag. “I thought you’d prefer I was late to ensure I wasn’t tailed here.”
He nodded, looking relieved. “I do. If they find out where you got this intel, that’s two years of undercover work down the drain. Not to mention my life.” Noah tuckered into the bag of fast food, like he hadn’t eaten in days. Lord knew how long he had been hiding.
“What do you have for me?”
He turned the computer around to face her and opened a different window. It was the proof her superior officer was looking for to take down a smuggling ring. This type of ring dealt in information. Many undercover agents’ identities were traded like baseball cards.
“Boss’ll love that.”
“That’s why I called you.” He yawned, but tried to fight it, keeping his mouth tight around his teeth as they separated against his will. He closed the window and pulled the drive from the computer before tossing it in her direction. “I trust you’ll know what to do with it.”
She caught it, admiring the beauty of the 2-inch piece of plastic while considering the praise she would receive.
Noah’s head leaned back against the wall, and his eyelids fell, heavy. His trust in her touched her heart. It made the job easy.
She waited expectantly as his eyes slipped closed and his breathing evened out until there was silence. His hand fell to his side, clinging to a half-eaten burger, and his chest was still.
Smiling to herself, Charlie reveled in the fact she still had it and picked up the laptop, glancing quickly at the coding on the screen she was never able to understand like he could, and tucked it into her backpack. She’ll have to assign someone to look at it, see with whom Noah had also shared this intel.
As she hoisted the bag to her shoulder, she looked at him again. They were so happy once, but she realized she didn’t even miss him anymore. He was no longer the man she knew. Or anyone knew, for that matter.
She looked around the rest of the dust-covered room. He would be safe here. There were worse places than an abandoned mansion everyone thought was haunted. No one was likely to stumble on the body.
Bio: After growing up in the bitter cold of the Midwest, Chelsea M. Brown earned her B.A. in English in the glorious Florida heat at Jacksonville University and studied fiction writing and publishing at the University of Southern Mississippi. She happily works as a technical writer by day and freelance editor by later day. She loves reading, her dog Aspen, watching Chicago sports teams, and traveling whenever and wherever she can.