Today is the last Thursday of May, which means this is the last Steffie the Spy story until next time.
My inspiration photo is by Thursday Door guru, Dan Antion.
Never Too Old
by Marian Allen
Steffie’s hair was gray and her trigger finger sometimes gave her an arthritic twinge, but she’d kept in shape, and her mind was as sharp as ever. So, when the young head of the department from which she’d retired called to air his concerns about a leak, she assured him of his ability to cope and took matters into her own hands.
She locked herself into her safe room with the holographic infoboard, and called up video-enhanced dossiers of everyone working for the department and all retirees with strong ties to current employees. She, of course, worked hard at keeping strong ties to everyone in the department, although past rivalries made some of her friendships with past employees more tenuous.
If anyone, then who? was the question.
The best possibility was information specialist Randolph Parfitt, a nephew of John Parfitt. John had more-or-less raised Randolph. Steffie remembered how the two of them had laughed when John had come into HQ post-retirement and had found his nephew working there: Security forbade anyone who worked for the department, past or present, telling anyone anything about it and, close as the two of them were, neither had told the other of his own involvement.
Steffie didn’t buy it. She had thought the laugher had fallen a little flat, had rung a little false. Genuine laughter was hard to fake or suppress, especially laughter with another component, like surprise or fear.
Time for a little field work.
John Parfitt was a co-worker Steffie had never warmed up to. He was a brute who didn’t have any objection to collateral damage. Now he was owner, manager, and bartender of the Stone Wall Tavern, a little place jammed right up against the parapet of an actual stone wall.
Steffie put on some heavy-rimmed black glasses with a mild prescription and a trifocal bit with mild and extreme magnification, She put on a dress old enough to be out of fashion but not old enough to be vintage chic, a rhinestone starburst brooch, flat shoes, and a pillbox hat with a silk flower on the side. She had a large handbag that had belonged to her grandmother. It was cloth, but the same blue-toned black as her shoes, so she took that.
“Matchy-matchy,” she said, smiling as she remembered her grandmother saying it.
When she walked into the tavern that evening at six, there were only two other customers. The location wasn’t close to any businesses or factories, so there were no stop-overs on the way home from work. Any custom it got, it got later, when it would feel like a good idea to go hoist one and watch sports in company.
She sat in a booth in an inconspicuout corner that gave her a view of the door to the outside and to the storeroom, which was apparently built into the thick stone wall. When John Parfitt came to get her order, they affected not to know each other. It was possible that John didn’t recognize Steffie, but she couldn’t afford to take the chance.
She ordered a Corona without a lime – unopened, just in case.
Randolph Parfitt came in and greeted his uncle heartily. John muttered a few words to him. Neither of them looked at Steffie, but Randolph ordered a shot of Four Roses, tossed it back, and left.
There was no point staying any longer.
She had been gone less than an hour when an explosion outside rattled the windows.
John Parfitt and what few customers he had ran out with many a “What the hell?”
They found a metal trash can – the kind with a lock-down lid – on its side, knocked into bulges all around, and went back into the tavern with many a “Damn fool kids.”
By that time, Steffie had crept back in, removed the flower from her hat and the lockpick that was attached to it, picked the lock of the storeroom, and slipped in.
Her glasses’ magnification showed her a hairline crack in the shape of a rectangle in the storeroom floor. A trapdoor. She opened it and climbed down the ladder inside.
With as little illumination as her brooch’s mini-torch could provide, she felt along the stone corridor beneath the wall above. She had to pick three more locks before she reached another ladder that led to another trapdoor. She lifted the trapdoor just far enough to see that the room was empty, and climbed up.
She was in a den – a man-cave, not a bear-cave – decorated with Patriots flags and memorabilia. Through the window, she could see weedy but trimmed grass and, not far beyond it, new-growth trees and an idle bulldozer.
She had just reached the window when the room’s door opened and Randolph Parfitt walked through, holding a gun fitted with a sound suppressor.
“Uncle John said that was you. He figured you’d find your way here, so he sent me to wait. He was always a much better agent than you. So am I. He should have been the star of the department, and now I should be. You were always overrated.”
“Oh, dear,” said Steffie. “I wish I had stayed in retirement. I’m far past my best. Retirement is where I belong.”
She tucked her grandmother’s cloth purse under her right arm and pressed it against her side with her elbow.
A dart flew out and struck young Parfitt in the neck.
He looked quite surprised in the moment before he crumpled to the floor.
Just in case he wasn’t alone, Steffie locked the den door, jammed a few shims from her grandmother’s purse around the rim of the trapdoor to hold it closed at least for a while, and shinnied out the window. The nearby trees gave her cover to pause and call in a report to the head of her former department.
She patted her grandmother’s purse as she threaded her way through the lot to the pick up point they had arranged.
Good spycraft didn’t just happen. Sometimes it ran in the family.
Thursday doors is under the direction of Dan Antion, photographer extraordinaire and critter daddy. Visit his site, enjoy his wonderful photographs, follow his directions, and enter a world of doors.
MY PROMPT TODAY: Dan’s picture.