It isn’t so easy to spy on a spy. Especially when you’re not quite a spy yourself.
Call me Double-0 Nervous. I tried not to make it completely obvious. But my eyes kept following Henry, one of the newest hires at Beta Group – and certainly the hunkiest. Since his Day One I’d been attracted to those broad shoulders and that bulge (his concealed-carry shoulder holster, I mean).
Sadly, Henry’s storm-cloud-grey eyes had never once turned my way. I was hired, after all, only as the Plant Lady. An important, high-clearance job, mind you, because even the CIA’s ultra-secret Beta Group has plants that need tending. And if you leave watering and fertilizing to spies, well, let’s just say it’s not so grand for the growth cycle.
As Plant Lady to the Super-Secret, I’d undergone rigorous testing and vetting and training, and been forced to promise never to name my first-born child after any of the bad guys whose names I heard bandied about at Beta Group. Even the best of spies, after all, do enjoy a good chit-chat at the water cooler.
So as I toted my little plastic plant-care tote from lounge to cafeteria, office to basement, I did my professional best to simply tune out the bits and pieces of gossip I overheard. Water and fertilizer. Leaf-gloss and aphid spray. Clippers and plant stakes. Those were my stock-in-trade. Still, I couldn’t help cocking an ear when Henry starting waved his arms excitedly in the air.
“—and then boom! My left wheel exploded! Must have been Z-Faction, stirring up trouble again.”
Nothing is ever quite ordinary in the day of super-spydom, you understand. Henry was simply trying to explain to Arnulfo why he’d been late today. Sadly, Arnulfo had apparently already heard that particular excuse before. He looked unimpressed.
I returned my attention to the potted palm in the corner, trying to decide whether it was time for a larger pot or if I should just simply cut back the fertilizer schedule a tad. The palm had definitely gotten larger since last week. Considerably larger, in fact.
I really wasn’t trying to listen in, mind you. But honestly, Z-Faction was the one-size-fits-all excuse for everything that went wrong around here, from leaks in the men’s room to leaks at the White House. And I couldn’t help but overhear Arnulfo muttering words like “ridiculous” and “the very last time” and “quit-cher-bitchin,” or something to that effect as he stalked off toward his office
Henry’s face was growing increasingly pale. If he’d been a plant, I would have been thinking of adding a stake to help prop him up.
“Bad morning?” I asked cheerfully, pinching off the dead end of an overgrown palm frond.
“Very.” Henry pressed one hand to his head as if fighting a migraine. “First my car nearly kills me, then the boss chews me out for being three minutes late. Now I’ve suddenly got this killer headache.”
“Happens to the best of us,” I commiserated warmly, adding a sprintz of leaf gloss to the prolific pothos by the elevator. It, too, seemed to have morphed into a much larger clump of variegated leafery than I remembered.
Lifting my spray bottle of fertilizer to eye level, I examined its azure tint carefully. Nope, nothing to suggest I’d gotten the proportions of fertilizer-to-water wrong. But all the plants just seemed – bigger today somehow.
I turned my attention back to Henry, who’d sunk into a woeful-looking lump on the sofa, head now solidly buried in both hands.
“Say, do you feel alright?”
It was a minute or so before he responded. “Actually, I really don’t feel so good. And my stomach –”
That’s when I hurled my plant tote across the room, neatly decapitating the potted palm at its base. Spinning on one heel, I karate-chopped the pothos into spinach-green smithereens. Just as I’d suspected!
“Come on,” I said, yanking Henry to his feet. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“Wha- what’s the matter?” His pupils were oddly dilated.
“No time to explain,” I retorted, throwing his torso over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry and making for the stairs.
“Elevator?” He pointed hopefully to our right.
I shook my head. “Compromised. That’s probably where you acquired the headache. They’ve laced it with some sort of toxic nerve gas. We’re taking the stairs.”
We’d only just reached the sidewalk below when the top floor of Beta Group exploded. Tiny bits of greenery rained down around us, mingled with chunks of concrete. Bits of glass tinkled as they hit the sidewalk.
“Whew, that was close!” Henry said, staring up at the hole in the building where our offices used to be.
“That potted palm,” I shook my head firmly. “I should have realized it was an imposter. And the pothos – they’re fast-growers, but nothing grows that much in a week.”
“You mean – somebody swapped out the plants – and booby-trapped the pots?”
“Precisely. Z-Faction, I’m guessing.” I tried to keep my voice level, like any good spy would do. In truth, however, my heart was still racing. . . Partly from the mortal danger we’d just escaped. Partly because of the way Henry was looking at me now. . . with new-found appreciation and. . . interest?
Just then Arnulfo jogged by. I was happy he looked none the worse for wear, aside from a broad streak of dirt on his forehead. Halting in front of us, he pumped Henry’s hand warmly.
“Fabulous evasive action, Henry!” he enthused. “And I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about being late. You were right about Z-Faction being up to their old tricks. I see you even rescued the Plant Lady just in time! Good work!” Arnulfo patted me affectionately on the back.
“Actually, she was the one –” Henry began.
Arnulfo interrupted. “No time for that now. I’ve got to start scoping out a new headquarters. Time to start over, and there’s no time like the present. Maybe Z-Faction did us a favor, right?! I was wanting a bigger office anyway.”
“A silver lining in every cloud?” I suggested, as Arulfo’s figure trotted off in the distance.
Henry chuckled. “Sometimes it takes a little unexpected commotion to open our eyes to the good things right in front of us.”
His stormy grey eyes turned to mine again. “Hey, care to show me how you do that fireman’s carry sometime?”
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