They were in the inner pocket of her coat, between two slices of moldy bread — in a pro-tective plastic bag, of course — the nuclear launch codes. Angela walked through the streets. One hand was holding her tattered wool coat closed against the DC autumn chill, the other lightly clutching her chest where she carried her secrets.
Earlier, at her makeshift shelter between two large dumpsters, Angela had prepared for her mis-sion. “We don’t want to be too obvious, Sully,” she’d said as she tucked her long, gray hair behind her ears. “They might find us out.” Angela put on a black crocheted floppy hat perfect for this weather, despite the gaping hole on one side. “Are you even listening to me?”
Sully had barely nodded. He let out a growl-groan, as Angela called it, while he shifted his body on the cold concrete searching for a more comfortable position. His hipbones protruded up under his rough brown fur with each movement until he was satisfied. Sully let out a sigh. His head slowly dropped down and his eyelids closed.
“Some partner. I’ll have to do this alone. Again.” Angela had sounded annoyed, but deep down she understood. She hastened to her contact. She never rushed. There was a difference: the former had the economy of movement that helped her glide through crowds unnoticed. Every time she set out, Angela remembered the line, “We never rush, we hasten,” from that princess movie she used to watch with her daughter. But that was long ago in another life, gone forever.
The meeting place was the top landing of the far right steps of the National Portrait Gallery, as it had been the past six months. Angela turned the last corner from the alleyway right into a cop. “You’re in a big hurry,” he said.
“Uh…no. Not really.” She resisted the urge to frantically rub her left arm and instead focused her wide eyes on her feet. Stay calm. Don’t blow your cover.
“Watch where you’re going. You could hurt somebody,” he gruffed as he stepped aside and let her pass. Without his large frame blocking her view, the Portrait Gallery was in her sights. Standing at their exact meeting point and casually scrolling through his phone was Daniel. No doubt planning his next mission. She crossed the street and up the steps to him.
“Angela,” he said.
“Daniel,” she gave him a quick nod. “You got my stuff?”
“Of course. You have the information I want?”
“Right here.” She patted where the codes were hidden.
Daniel handed her a filled plastic grocery bag. A smile started to creep across his face but he beat it back; “I think you’ll be satisfied.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Angela peered inside, checking each item. “That’ll do,” she said. She reached into her coat’s inner pocket and handed Daniel what he came for. He made a face.
“Best way to hide it. That cop didn’t suspect a thing,” she said proudly.
He tried to suppress a laugh. “I’m sure he didn’t.”
“You think this is funny?” Her eyes flashed in anger; “Because I can take my business elsewhere.” Angela began rubbing her left arm. There is no elsewhere.
“No, no Angela. We need you. You’re a valuable asset.” His face softened, “Are we good?”
She nodded. “I’ve got something special for next week.”
“I’m listening,” Daniel said.
She dropped her right hand to her side, “Troop movements in Eastern Europe.”
“Excellent! You always seem to know what we need.” He paused, thinking, “I presume that infor-mation will cost extra. How much?”
“Two more sandwiches. And I could use a new hat,” Angela said.
“Sounds fair. Until next week. Give Sully my regards.” And with that they headed their separate ways. As always, Angela stuck her head in the museum door to see where he went and, as always he tossed her secrets into the large waste can just inside. The drop point. They would be picked up shortly as they continued on their journey, but she never lingered long. Too dangerous. Before turning away, she saw the same security guard smile and tip his cap to Daniel.
“Nice work, brother,” he said as Daniel walked past him. There are operatives everywhere.
Angela wormed her way back through the alleys to where Sully was still napping; “Wake up! Dan-iel says hello. He put a nice big bone in here for you this time.” She pulled it out and placed it on the ground underneath his nose. Sully lifted his head, sniffed it, and wagged his tail in appreciation.
Angela sat down at her dining table set — two overturned milk crates — and dug into her feast while planning her next mission.
Susan Mannix is from Maryland, where she lives on a small farm with her family and me-nagerie of horses, dogs & cats. After earning a degree in English/Communication-Arts from Emmanuel College, she moved to the Washington, DC metro area and worked as a biomedical research editor for fifteen years.