Writer’s Block

It was one of those days when the cursor seemed determined to taunt Andy from the corner of the blank white page. It had been three days since he’d written a single word. At least the first of those three days he had been world building. That was writing, after a fashion. Yesterday, he’s simply not written and today seemed determined to follow that same pattern.

Heaving a sigh, Andy pushed away from his desk. He paced to the window, where he’d left a pile of recently acquired books. It wouldn’t have been correct to call them knew, although he’d just gotten them and had never read any of them.

They were old books. Some even had leather covers. All had pages that were discolored with age. If he was very lucky one of them might have even come with a book scorpion. The useful creatures ate the pests that would consume glue and other parts of old books.

Andy flipped open the cover of one and paged through it. It was filled with useful herbal lore. Even if he didn’t trust the information for personal use, it would be a good reference for his stories.

Many of the other books in the pile were of similar use. He was nearly through the pile when he opened a stained, cracked cover. His eyes widened as the pages began turning themselves. A soft glow seemed to emanate from the page themselves.

He set the book down on the desk, as the pages continued to turn. “Leon,” he called, his voice ringing through the house.

He was about to call again when two things happened. The first was that the pages sudden stopped turning, although the faint light remained. The other was that Leon had appeared in the doorway. “What’s wrong, Andy Capp?” he asked.

Waving at the book, Andy said, “That… Did you see?”

Leon blinked and then stepped over to the book. Carefully, he took hold of the pages. He slowly flipped back to the front cover. “This is… it’s a magician’s spell book, Andy,” he said. He closed the cover and, to Andy’s relief, the glow died. “Where’d you get it?” Leon asked, turning to face him.

Andy heaved a sigh. He ran his hand over his brow, even as he shook his head. “It was in the collection that I just purchased,” he said, his voice faint. “I didn’t realize it was… It seemed perfectly normal until I began to page through it.” Now that he thought of it, though, such a book would fit with the others in the collection. “What shall I do with it?”

Leon grimaced. “I will ask my dad,” he said. He headed out of the room, bringing the offending book with him.

Shaking his head, Andy hurried to follow Leon. He wasn’t going to get any writing done today. That much was certain. Hopefully, he would have better luck when he sat down to write tomorrow. If not, it might be time to break out his book of prompts.

The Next Emergency – 5

Andy sat beside the bed where Leon was sleeping. He wasn’t badly injured and he hadn’t lost too much blood. However, it was severe enough that they wanted to keep him overnight. When he was released, they’d want his arm kept in a sling for a few weeks. He wouldn’t be allowed in the field.

Somehow, Andy couldn’t bring himself to feel upset about that last. He heaved a sigh as he smoothed his hand through Mariya’s fur, focusing on the soft, smooth locks between his fingers. He had so much he needed to tell Leon and very little of it was good. At the same time, he wasn’t ready for his partner to wake yet.

“Hey, Andy Capp,” a soft voice said.

Andy’s eyes flew opened and he bit his lip. Releasing his breath in a huff, he said, “We’re both out of the field.”

“Nate took you out of the field for what you did?” Leon asked, his brows furrowing.

Grimacing, Andy said, “She says it’s not a punishment. It’s… until I come to terms with what I’ve remembered. She wants… My doctor will have to clear me.”

For a moment, Leon simply lay on the bed with a frown on his face. “That make sense,” he said, finally. When Andy tensed, Leon reached out and set a hand on his knee. “Don’t misunderstand me, Andy Capp,” he said, in a gentle tone. “It’s just that… I know that this isn’t easy for you to know. It’ll take some time for you to get your head wrapped around it.”

Andy nodded. In a softer voice, he added, “She wants to see… if maybe the Organization’s doctors can get rid of the conditioning too.”

Leon grimaced.

Dropping his gaze, Andy said, “She… called it a d-dangerous liability. If Dr. Caudill hadn’t been there to call me off…” he trailed off. He could feel himself beginning to panic.

However, Leon surprised him by saying, “Name five things you can see.”

“What?” Andy asked, blinking rapidly. Meeting Leon’s gaze, he said, “You… the window, the trees outside, a lamppost… cars?”

Leon grinned. “Name five things you can hear,” he said.

Although he didn’t understand what Leon was doing, he said, “My voice, the machinery, the public address system, my – my breathing, and – and I can hear my eyelids fluttering. Leon, what are you…”

“Name five things you can feel,” Leon said, nodding encouragingly.

Frowning, Andy shook his head. “Your hand on my knee, Mariya is sitting on my foot…” he trailed off and closed his eyes. “My clothes… I can’t think of anything else.”

“You also aren’t panicking anymore,” Leon said, his voice soft. When Andy looked at him in surprise, he smiled. “We’ll get through this, Andy Capp. Whatever happens, you aren’t alone anymore.”

Tears welled in his eyes, but dashed them away with the back of his hand and smiled. “Thank you,” he breathed. Heaving a sigh, he nodded quickly. “You’re right, but I needed the reminder.”

“That’s why I’m here, partner,” Leon said, nodding.

Heaving a sigh, Andy said, “There was an incursion by ACRE at the Brussels field office.” His voice was soft and his tone serious, but he was perfectly calm as he spoke. “They got away with certain Organization files. The Section Two agents that were sent are trying to figure out exactly which ones.”

“That’s bad,” Leon murmured, scowling.

Nodding, Andy said, “There’s more… Kolya and Kit were both injured in the attack.” His brows furrowed. “Kolya will be out for a couple weeks, but he’s at home for his recovery. Kit… is at OWL medical in Albany. He’s in rough shape, but he’s conscious and the prognosis is good.”

Leon heaved a sigh and flopped back again his bedding. “He’ll be fine,” he murmured. His eyes closed for a moment as he repeated the words.

Nodding, Andy said, “From your lips to the Great Father’s ears.” Heaving a sigh, he threw propriety to the wind and climbed onto the bed, to curl up against Leon. “We’ll all get through this, Leon. ACRE won’t win, whatever files they may have gotten.”

“From your lips,” Leon said, his tone wry. He kissed Andy’s brow and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. In a few moments, Leon had drifted back to sleep. Andy reached down to lift Mariya up beside them. Then – as she curled up against him – he drifted off to sleep as well. If the nurses were bothered by the scene, they also had the good sense not to disturb their slumber. Heaven knew it might be the last true rest they would get for some time.

The Next Emergency – 4

Leon followed Lorenzi and Authier into the room where the meetings were to take place. He frowned when the pair turned to stare at the doorway. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Andy was standing just outside the room, allowing Mariya to inspect every corner for possible intruders. Turning to the pair of agents, he smiled. “He’ll join us in a moment,” he assured them.

True to Leon’s prediction, Andy joined them as soon as Mariya had finished checking the room for him. “I have both post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attack disorder,” he said, as he began his own check of the room. “I… can’t enter a room unless I know it’s safe. Mariya is trained to check for intruders hiding in corners… among other things.”

“She’s not simply an emotional support dog, then,” Authier said, frowning thoughtfully. “She’s a trained service animal.” When Andy nodded, he continued, “That would mean that your psychological issues are on the level of a disability, Agent Surikov.”

Andy nodded without turning to face them. “Until I was paired with Mariya, I was entirely housebound, Agent Authier,” he said, his voice faint. He shook his head. “It didn’t seem to matter… I could work from home using email and video conference calls. I did my shopping online or by having stores deliver my groceries.”

He gave a weak laugh. Turning to face them, he smiled. “My doctor would even come to my apartment for our sessions,” he said. “It was at her insistence that I got a service dog. That… reopened the world for me. It enabled me to travel to a writer’s conference and… in the process, I met Leon.”

Leon nodded. “He’s come a long way in just three years,” he said, smiling faintly. Changing the subject, he asked, “What security measures do you have in place for the meetings?”

“This area of the hotel will be closed to everyone who isn’t directly connected to the delegates,” Authier said, nodding slightly.

Andy continued his circuit around the room. “And have you… what is the word, Leon? Scrutinized?”

“Vetted?” Leon said, grinning. Andy had been living stateside for nearly seven years, but he still had trouble with certain words and idioms.

“Vetted?” Andy repeated, scowling. At Leon’s nod, he smiled at Authier. “Have you vetted those people who will be allowed in the area quite thoroughly?”

“We left that up to their own governments,” Lorenzi said, shaking his head. “If their own governments trust them…” he trailed off.

“Their own governments may well trust them to do harm to Prince Roderick, Agent Lorenzi,” Andy pointed out, his voice soft. “We shan’t know if that were the case, until we check them all quite thoroughly ourselves. Yes?”

“I’m beginning to see how you came to be an enforcement agent,” Authier murmured.

Andy grimaced. “I was formerly with Vector, Agent Authier,” he said, his voice soft. “That training and… an incident that preceded my leaving the organization are, in fact, the root causes of my psychological issues.”

“What kind of training did they put you through?” Lorenzi asked, frowning slightly.

Andy grimaced and turned away. Changing the subject, he said, “I don’t like these windows. They’re too large and open.” He pointed through the glass, adding, “A sniper could position themselves in that building yonder and have a clear view of the delegates.”

“Curtains?” Leon suggested.

Shaking his head, Andy said, “Wouldn’t stop a determined sniper, however… if the material were of the sort that would block heat signatures…” he trailed off.

“I’ll get in touch the local field office and see if the folks in Section Eight can get us something we can use,” Leon said, nodding.

“You might have someone check that building previous to the meetings, as well,” Andy suggested, glancing at Authier and Lorenzi.

When the time came, Andy and Leon did one last sweep of the room. Leon had a few words with Barcroft, who assured him that everything that could be done had been. The building across from the meeting room had been swept. Everything seemed quite in order.

Satisfied that the delegates attending the meeting would be a safe as they could possibly be made, Andy and Leon went to fetch them from where they had enjoyed breakfast. As they were heading into the conference room, a pretty blond hurried up to Barcroft and spoke with him softly, but urgently.

Andy sent Leon a concerned frown. Nodding once, Leon hung back from the group and the stopped as Barcroft stepped up beside him. “One of the people in King Kahgli’s entourage doesn’t check out,” he said. “Armer finally managed to verify that he’s not who he said he is.”

“Any hint that King Kahgli knows?” Leon asked.

Barcroft shook his head firmly. “From what we’ve been able to learn, she thinks he’s who he’s claimed to be,” he said. “The only reason Armer figured out the truth was that she chased down one stray detail that didn’t fit with the rest of his history.”

Leon nodded and then quickened his pace. “Which one?” he breathed, as he was about to slip into the room.

“Delarn,” Barcroft breathed. Setting a hand on Leon’s shoulder, he added, “I’m sure we don’t want him to know our suspicions. We’ll stay just outside the door, until you call us in.”

Nodding once, Leon stepped over to Andy. “Delarn is our guy,” he breathed. “How do you want to play it?”

Andy chewed at his lip for a moment, watching as the delegates began to settle down in their places around the table. The members of the various entourages either stood or sat behind the person they accompanied. “We need to let him make his move,” Andy breathed. He looked up at Leon. “You stay close to King Thorinn and Rory. I’ll get as close to him as I can without arousing suspicion.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Leon said. He sidled around the room, moving in as relaxed a manner as possible. At the same time, he moved over to where King Thorinn was sitting and settled himself against a pole just behind Rory’s seat.

Frowning, just a bit, Rory glanced up at him and arched his brows. When Leon gave him a sunny smile, he heaved a sigh and turned away. Clearly, Rory could sense Leon’s tension. Hopefully, the same would not be true of Delarn.

Almost unconsciously, Leon sought out his partner. He couldn’t help but smile as Andy let Mariya lead him over to where their target was seated with the woman he professed to serve. His complete attention seemed to be on the little dog. He spoke to her softly and coaxingly in Ukrainian, making a great show of attempting to brush her. Anyone who knew her would know it was an act. Fortunately, Delarn didn’t know the little dog or her owner all that well.

Finally, just as the meeting was called to order, Andy managed to wrangle the little dog and began brushing her, kneeling just behind Delarn. Of course, the whole thing was an act, staged to give him an excuse to be near their suspect. Still, Leon thought the performance was masterful from both dog and human.

“We have one matter on the table,” Thorinn said, looking around at those who were gathered. He paused for a moment and then waved at Sereda. “Thus far, Princess Sereda has acted as the representative of the Dwarva to the League of Nations. Are we satisfied with this arrangement? Should we divide our representation, so that she only represents the Dwarva of the Depths? Alternatively, should she remain the representative from the Dwarva and let the other huldrafolk put forth representatives of their own?”

King Velodar, of the elves of the Tree-Decked Mountains cleared his throat politely. “Speaking for my people,” he began, “we don’t feel the need to have specific representation to this… League of Nations, though we would like to be informed of what they are doing.”

Both of the other elven monarchs nodded in agreement with his words. The Elven Elder of the Hidden Valley turned to his dwarven counterpart and added, “Princess Sereda suits our needs quite well as your representative. Does she not?”

“Quite,” Olafur murmured, giving a firm nod.

One of the gremlins left off bouncing in her seat to add, “We’re all fine with things as they stand.” Then her expression turned thoughtful. “Though… maybe we could add some gremlins to your staff?”

“That’s a capitol idea,” a gnomish thane breathed. He sat a little straighter in his chair. In a somewhat louder voice, he said, “That is a capitol idea!”

“It’s certainly a workable solution,” Sereda said, her tone mild. “Other representatives have members of their staff from… states within their nation’s borders. This wouldn’t be so different. If you had concerns, you could communicate them to me through them. I could see that they are informed of what transpires and then pass on word to you.”

“We could certainly try it,” King Merrul said, nodding. He glanced at Thorinn. “A dwarf from each kingdom added to Princess Sereda’s staff would ensure equity in our voice.”

“And keep infighting to a minimum,” Rory murmured.

At that, Thorinn nodded. He glanced around at the assembled kings, nobles and elders. “Each of us shall chose one or two people to send to help staff the offices at the League of Nations,” he said. “Choose wisely, of course, for they must be both trustworthy and knowledgeable of your needs in matters relating to the wider world.”

Edric, representing the Carta chuckled softly. “We’ve already got our representative in your staff, Shirley,” he said, his smile almost teasing.

“Oh, my goodness! Indeed, you have,” Sereda said, her eyes wide.

“That is our decision, then,” King Tindar said. To that, all those assembled replied with words of agreement.

No sooner had that occurred, but Delarn was in motion. Leon acted on instinct as the dwarf flung something at Rory. He threw himself between the dwarf and his target. He felt burning pain in his back, by his shoulder blade. Then, there was a startled cry and a dull thump.

“Barcroft,” Leon called, pushing away from Rory. He grimaced against the pain as he turned to see Andy wrestling with Delarn. The delegates in the room were watching the scene in shock. Agents were rushing into the room and Delarn was struggling to escape from Andy.

The dwarf turned and, in his struggles, cuffed Andy on the cheek. He managed to pull away and almost gained his feet when Andy growled and launched at him. “Andy, no,” Leon cried, knowing that the Conditioned Response had been triggered.

Andy was sitting on the dwarf now, pommeling him with his fists.

“Mir,” Leon cried, knowing that he hadn’t quite gotten the pronunciation correct, but praying that it was close enough.

Caudill echoed him, but got the pronunciation perfect. The affect was both immediate and dramatic. Andy froze in mid-strike and then gave a strangled cry. He scrambled back from Delarn, allowing Barcroft’s people to take him into custody.

Heaving a sigh, Leon went to Andy, who was sitting on the floor with his face buried in both hands, shaking and sobbing. “Andy,” he said, touching him on the arm. “It’s all right. You’re all right, Andy Capp. Just breathe.”

“I killed him,” Andy cried, lapsing into Veligradian. “I didn’t mean it! It was an accident! Oh, my God!”

Frowning, Leon said, “Hey, hey, hey! He’s not dead, just battered.” He forced Andy’s gaze upward and pointed. “See? He’ll be fine!”

Andy gave a shuddering breath and then looked up at Leon, as if he were seeing him for the first time. “Leon?” he breathed. “But… I was just…” he trailed off, then, blinking rapidly. Then, he put a hand to his mouth. “A flashback?”

“What?” Leon asked, blinking in confusion.

Meeting his gaze, Andy said, “I just had a flashback. I – I was in Petrov’s office and… I beat a man to death! And the blood! Oh, my God!” He shook himself and then looked at Leon with wide eyes. “That’s your blood! You’re hurt!” Then, Andy went into what Leon called “paramedic mode” and began tending to the injury.

He batted someone’s hands away, scolding them not to remove the knife, even while he was telling someone else to call for an ambulance. Someone brought a first aid kit and Andy began dressing the wound, binding the knife securely, so that it wouldn’t shift inside the wound and cause more damage.

When the ambulance arrived, Andy handed him off to the paramedics. He heaved a sigh before leaning in to kiss Leon gently. “I’ll come as soon as I can,” he promised. “I need to tend to things here.”

“I know,” Leon said, nodding. He could only smile, however, as the paramedics brought him out of the conference room. Finally, they knew what had happened to trigger Andy’s post-traumatic stress disorder. Killing someone had most certainly been traumatic for the sensitive young man, particularly so hard on the heels of learning that his wife had been killed. Leon was certain there was more to it than Andy had said. However, now that the memories were at the surface, the healing could truly begin. Leon vowed to be with him every step of the way.

The Next Emergency – 3

Andy trailed along behind Leon as they headed into the hotel, where they would be working for the next several days. They were being called upon to help with the security of some dignitaries that were due to speak at an upcoming meeting in the League of Nations. Since there had been threats made, OWL had been called upon to help with security.

Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were also on hand, for the same purpose. Andy was nervous about meeting people from another organization. He’d heard from his cousin how FBI agents could be towards people from Veligrad. Even if their government leaders were shaking hands and smiling at each other now, the war hadn’t been so long ago and people weren’t quick to forget those they’d once called “enemy”.

“All right, Andy Cap?” Leon breathed as he led the way to the front desk.

Andy gave him a weak smile. “I think I might be sick,” he admitted.

Leon stopped to frown at him. He set a hand on Andy’s shoulder as he looked into his eyes. “Take a few deep breaths while I find out where everyone is,” he said, his tone gentle. Even as Andy nodded, Leon pushed him towards a low overstuffed chair that was set off to one side.

Andy watched his partner step up to the desk clerk. Then, he closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. Mariya settled herself on his feet, near at hand if he needed the extra comfort that petting her provided. She gave a soft bark and his eyes flew opened.

“Sorry,” an older man with a full dark beard and warm brown eyes said. “I didn’t mean to startle her. I just… you seemed distressed.”

“You didn’t startle her,” Andy said, reaching down to smooth Mariya’s fur. He gave a weak smile. “She’s trained to warn me if anyone approaches me that might catch me unawares. I… was actually trying to not have a panic attack.”

Blinking, the man settled down in a nearby chair. “Are you all right now?”

“I believe so,” Andy said, nodding. He shrugged and then rubbed a hand over his brow. “We’re supposed to be working with a team of FBI agents and… I think I let my cousin’s horror stories about them get to me.”

“You’re one of the agents from the Organization for Worldwide Law-enforcement?” the man said, blinking.

Andy gave a nervous laugh. “You… would be with the FBI,” he said, nodding. That was just the sort of luck he would have, after all. Rubbing a hand over his brow, he released a sigh. Then, he stood and extended his hand. “Andriy Pavlovych Surikov, with the O.W.L.”

“S.S.A. Devin Lorenzi,” he replied, shaking Andy’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Agent Surikov.”

“Likewise,” Andy assured him. He waved towards Mariya and added, “This is my service dog, Mariya. My partner went to see where we were meant to check in with you and with the delegates we’re all meant to be escorting.”

“I was just sent to get the two of you, actually,” Lorenzi said. He smiled when Leon stepped over to them. “You must be Leon Reilly.”

“Nate told you about us?” Leon said, blinking in surprise.

Lorenzi smiled, a ready, easy expression. “Only the basics,” he said. Turning to Andy, he asked, “Ready to get going?”

Andy rubbed a hand over his brow. “Sure,” he breathed. He followed Lorenzi through the hotel lobby and to the doorway of a small room next to the hotel’s dining room. He blinked when he saw two familiar figures among the strangers.

He very nearly stepped into the room, but he froze just at the threshold, unable to move. He heaved a sigh. “Mariya, check,” he said, signaling the dog. She snuffled and headed into the room. She made a circuit, sniffing at all the corners. After giving a soft humphing bark at each of the agents to tell Andy they were armed, she returned to his side.

Secure in the knowledge that the only people in the room were those in plain sight, Andy followed Leon and Lorenzi inside. Then, he smiled faintly at the two surprising familiar figures. “Rory,” he said. “It’s so good to see you again.” He nodded politely and said, “Thorinn.”

“You know each other?” one of the agents said, frowning.

At the same time, Thorinn shook his head. “Andy! Leon! Whatever are you doing here?”

Leon chuckled. “We manage the Kinderhook Manor,” he said, shrugging.

“Where we celebrated our anniversary,” Rory said. He had a speculative look on his face as he added, “These agents said we were waiting for two enforcement agents from the Organization for Worldwide Law-enforcement… Yourselves?”

“Indeed,” Andy agreed. He glanced at Thorinn. “Managing the Manor is… sort of a cover story,” he explained. “Our organization uses it as a secure location for agents to lie low or take holiday.”

“It’s also a great way to raise some capital,” Leon said, nodding. Glancing at Andy, he said, “Like your books.”

After the explanation had been given, introductions were made. If the agents thought it was odd that their organization would keep a bed and breakfast or that they allowed someone like Andy in the field, they were too tactful to say so. Instead, the leader of the team, Agent Aidan Barcroft, simply set out explaining what security measures were already in place.

While he went over the details with Leon, Andy checked the room for listening devices or hidden cameras. He did find one camera, but it was obvious that had been put in place by the hotel itself. Once he’d verified that the room was secure, he returned to Leon’s side. “The notes that Nate gave us mentioned that there had been threats made?”

“We aren’t certain who would have cause to threaten Rory yet,” Thorinn said, nodding. “However, they are attempting to sway the vote on a certain matter by doing so.”

“That was why you were brought in,” Lorenzi said. “Our superiors felt that your organization had more experience in such matters than we did.”

“To what, exactly, is the vote pertaining?” Andy asked, shaking his head.

Thorinn heaved a sigh. “As it stands, there is currently one representative to the League of Nations from all Huldrafolk,” he said. His brows furrowed. “Some would prefer that representation was divided, either based on race or on geographical region.”

Rory spoke up, his voice soft, to add, “Thorinn is perfectly happy with how things currently stand.”

“But someone wants him to vote for more representation,” Leon guessed. When Thorinn nodded, his brows twitched. “Are they asking you to push for the former or the latter?”

For a moment, Thorinn simply frowned at Leon. His tone was curious as he said, “The latter. Do you think that may be significant?”

“If it was a matter of feeling that the current way of doing things failed to take the needs and desires of different races into account,” Leon said, “you might be someone they’d try to influence.”

“Because he’s married to a gnome,” Rory said, nodding. “They aren’t trying to get him to be sympathetic to their cause, however. They mean to force his hand.”

“Ask yourself: who would gain by having the representation divided by region,” Andy said, shrugging. “Whomever that is will, likely, be the one behind the threat.”

Agent Barcroft nodded. “That makes sense,” he agreed. Turning to Thorinn and Rory, he added, “I’ll have Armer begin looking into those parties.” Then, he nodded at Leon and Andy. “Meanwhile, Lorenzi and Authier can show you the meeting chamber. We’d like your opinions on the security measures we’re already taking for the talk.”

“Sounds good,” Leon said.

At that moment, Andy’s comm warbled and he pulled it out. After assembling it, he said, “Surikov here. Is that you Kim?”

“It is,” she said, her voice light and relaxed. “I just wanted to let you know that everything is fine in Brussels at the moment. It’ll be a while before they come back, but they’ll be back as a group.”

“Thank you,” Andy said. He heaved a sigh of relief. “That’s good news, Kim. Thank you for the update.”

“Not a problem, chickee,” she replied. Then, the comm went dead and Andy tucked it away once again.

“Problem?” Agent Barcroft asked, frowning.

Leon shrugged. “We’re not on the list of those fully informed,” he admitted. “However, the agents that were originally to be sent here were called away to deal with a problem in Brussels.”

Andy nodded. “A security team had been dispatched there from the Albany Field Office previously,” he added. He shrugged. “We’re a small field office, Agent Barcroft.”

“It’s nice that you were concerned for your co-workers,” Authier said, his voice low. “I’m glad to hear that they’re all right.”

“Actually,” Andy said, grimacing, “Kim just said they’d be back as a group, not that they were all right.” He looked at Leon. “Careful wording, yes?”

“Definitely,” Leon agreed. He glanced at Authier and shrugged. “No one was killed, but… someone was hurt and she can’t give us details, so… she didn’t say that in so many words.”

“It can’t be easy,” Dr. Caudill murmured, “having to read between the lines all the time.”

“It’s part of the job,” Leon said, shrugging.

Andy smiled. “For us, anyway,” he added. Then, he smiled at Lorenzi and Authier. “However, we have work to do here and, for the moment, our colleagues in Brussels must take a backseat to our current concerns.”

“Right,” Lorenzi said, waving towards the door. “We’ll show you the meeting room.”

The Next Emergency – 2

“Worried about Kolya?”

Andy glanced over at Leon with a faint frown. “I’m worried about all of them,” he said, his voice soft. He heaved a sigh before giving a slight shrug. “Perhaps more about Kolya than the others, because I consider him a friend.”

Leon nodded. He’d noticed that the pair had become close in the last couple years. When they worked in the field with the members of Section three, Kolya kept a close eye on Andy. When Leon had asked, Andy had said something about training, but he’d been vague on the details. Leon trusted Andy, so he pushed any feelings of jealousy to the back of his mind. They were friends, nothing more.

“What kind of training did they give him?” Leon asked, his voice soft.

For a moment, Andy didn’t answer. Then, when he spoke, his voice was soft and Leon knew it was something he shouldn’t mention to others. “He was part of the Program, like my cousin. They trained him as an assassin,” he said. His brows furrowed. “When the Program folded… he was transferred into Vector, where he acted as a security agent.”

“Like he does now, then?”

Andy grimaced and shook his head. “Sort of, but not really,” he said. Glancing at Leon, he said, “I’ve told you that I wasn’t previously trained to protect myself, outside of the Conditioned Response?”

“Right,” Leon said, nodding. “You were meant to do your job without anyone noticing, so they didn’t feel the need to give you firearms training or self-defense training of any kind.”

“On jobs when there might be the need,” Andy said, nodding, “they’d send a security agent with us.” He looked over at Leon and chuckled. “Kolya was called upon to watch my back more than once, Leon. I knew him before we met on this side of the Pond, as they say.”

That was news to Leon. They’d acted like perfect strangers when he’d introduced them. “Does Nate know?”

“Daresay no,” Andy said, chuckling wryly. He shrugged. “With Vector… you didn’t let your superiors know someone was a friend. If you did, they made sure you never saw each other again.”

“It’s not like that here,” Leon said, shaking his head. When Andy frowned at him, his expression one of doubt, Leon scowled. “It’s not.”

“Right,” Andy said, turning his gaze back to the road ahead. “Except when you’ve been trained together. Then, they tell you point blank not to try to contact each other… ever.”

Leon blinked at Andy’s words and then chewed at his thumbnail for a moment. He remembered being told that very same thing at the conclusion of his own training. In fact, he’d never seen any of his fellow trainees again, not even after a decade with OWL. “I wonder why that is,” he mused.

“Friendship can be a liability in our line of work,” Andy said, his voice soft. Then, he shrugged and sent Leon a warm smile. “It can also be an asset.”

Nodding, Leon reached out to pat his knee. “They’ll be all right,” he said, his voice soft.

“From your lips to the Great Father’s ears,” Andy murmured in reply.

The Next Emergency – 1

“Andy,” Kim said, peering into the office. “Leon! I’m so glad that you’re both in.”

Pausing in his typing, Andy tugged his glasses downward to frown at Kim. At the same time, Leon gave her a charming smile. “What’s up there, Kim Bear?” he asked.

“Aren’t you the clever one,” Kim said, rolling her eyes.

Andy smirked. “Truly,” he said. “Homer himself walks among us.”

“I’m a poet and I well know it,” Leon said, winking broadly. “I make a rhyme every time.”

“Enough,” Andy said, shooting him a glare. Turning back to Kim, he said, “Did you need us for something?”

“Nate said she needed to see you in her office,” Kim said, nodding. “She’s got something major that needs looking into and you’re the only qualified agents handy.”

“Not surprising, seeing as we’re the only Section Two agents in the Albany Field Office,” Leon said, as he got to his feet.

Andy grimaced, as he followed his partner’s example. “We can’t have a crisis,” he said, only partly teasing. “My schedule is already full.”

“Good luck with that excuse,” Leon said, fighting back a smile. He sent a jaunty wave in the direction of Angie as they swept past her desk. He rapped on the door to Nate’s office, waiting only a moment before she invited him in.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” she said, nodding as Leon opened the door. She smiled at Andy. “I’m the only one here, Andy. You can come on in.”

Andy fidgeted a bit before he followed his partner into the room. “Kim said there was some sort of emergency?” he said, as he settled down at the table which dominated the room. Leon sat down beside him, leaning to one side comfortably.

Nate frowned at them for a moment before she joined them at the table. “I’d like the both of you to escort some important dignitaries to a meeting in Washington,” she said. “Emily will run the Manor in your place.”

She met Andy’s gaze when he bit his lip. “She will also keep an eye on Martyn while you are both out of town,” she added. “That way, he won’t miss any school.”

Nodding, Andy asked, “When do we leave?”

“Right now,” she said. When both of them looked at her sharply, she shrugged. “The agents that were going to play escort were called away due to an emergency in Brussels,” she explained. “Right now, you two are the only agents with the proper clearance in the area.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Leon said, nodding.

As he moved to his feet, Andy also stood. “I’m supposed to finish the edits for chapter eighteen,” he said, scowling.

She nodded. “Bring it with you and email it as soon as you can,” she said. “Once you join up with your principals, they are your primary focus.”

“Understood,” Andy said. Then, he followed Leon back out of the office. “What’s going on in Brussels?” he murmured. “Isn’t that where our section three team was sent?”

“Yes and I don’t know,” Leon said, his voice soft. He beckoned to Kim and said, “Can you find out the situation in Brussels? Keep it on the downlow?”

“You got it,” she breathed, nodding. Giving them a wan smile, she held out their go-bags. “Good luck and stay safe,” her voice carrying in the normal way. “Your tickets are in the front pockets of your bags.”

“Thanks, Kim Bear,” Leon said, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “You’re a peach!”

Andy smirked and rolled his eyes. “Come on, Lover,” he said, catching Leon by the shirt sleeve and dragging him towards the door. He knew they could trust Kim to find out if their co-workers were all right. Whatever happened in Brussels, it couldn’t be good – not if it involved members of Section Three and now had Section Two agents being called away to deal with it.

Arguing Semantics – Part 3

The final part of the story…


“Well done, boys,” Nate said once they were settled in her office. She touched the micro-transmitter that was on her desk. “We’ll get this down to the Section Eight folks in Washington. If it does what they suspect, they’ll be able to locate the base this cell is working out of.”

Andy heaved a sigh of relief as he smoothed his hand through Mariya’s fur. “It wasn’t easy,” he told her. His brows furrowed. “You’ve got our reports?”

Nodding, Nate said, “The lab techs assure me that it won’t matter if they pack up and move.” She leaned forward to look into his eyes. “You did well, Andy Capp. Just accept the compliment.”

Andy blinked. “Andy Capp?” he repeated, when Nate smiled, he gave Leon a flat-eyed glare. “Does this mean everyone is going to be calling me that ridiculous nickname?”

Leon chuckled and shrugged. “It suits you so well, partner mine,” he said, his tone light and teasing. Then, he moved to his feet, hesitating while Andy followed suit. He arched his brows at Nate, who shrugged. Then, they headed out of her office.

As they were heading down the corridor towards their own office, Andy said, “What was that look for?”

“I was wondering if she was going to scold you for disobeying my order out there,” he murmured. When Andy looked up at him in surprise, he rolled his eyes. “I told you to get out of there.”

“You said to take off, if you were spotted,” Andy said, nodding. He smirked and shook his head. “I followed that order to the letter, Lyova. I took off and got into the car and then… I came back and picked you up – to prevent your capture and possible torture or murder by enemy agents.”

Leon chuckled again and shook his head. “Are you saying that I should have ordered you to leave me behind?” he said.

“If that was truly what you wanted,” Andy said, nodding. He strode into their office and headed over to his desk. After settling Mariya on her pillow, he settled down at his computer. In moments, his fingers were moving over the keys in a rapid, steady rhythm.

“Already getting to your writing for the day?” Leon asked, as he turned on his own computer.

Andy rolled his eyes. “I’m sending a message to my cousin, asking him about the micro-transmitter. Are they really going to be able to track down the cell, even if they pack up shop?”

Leon scowled at him and then asked, “What’s he say?”

Glancing over at Leon, Andy smiled tightly. “All past experience says they will be able to do so,” he said, nodding. He heaved a sigh and then got to work on the story he was editing. It was a children’s book with his dog and Leon’s cat as the main characters.

“Next time,” Leon said, his voice soft. “Leave me behind, Andy. I don’t want you killed because of me.”

“Neither do I,” Andy said, looking over at his partner. He smiled faintly and then shook his head. “I’ve the same training as you, Leon. Stop trying to protect me. I can take care of myself.”

For a moment, Leon looked as though he was going to argue, but Andy cut him off. “Partners watch out for each other. That’s not the same as you keeping me from danger.”

“Right,” Leon said, ducking his head.

Arguing Semantics – Part 2

The second part of the story…


Leon was more than a little nervous as they made their way back to their vehicle. There were so many things that could go wrong. All it would take was one of the ACRE agents spotting them and it would be all over. With the news that she was having them look into Leon, that made it all the more likely they were actively looking for them by now.

“Listen,” he breathed, as they strode across the parking lot towards the car, “if they spot me, you take off.”

Andy glanced back at him with a scowl. “You can’t honestly believe I would leave you,” he said, shaking his head.

Grimacing, Leon said, “If it comes down to that, Andy Capp, you need to get that micro-transmitter to Nate.”

Andy bit his lip and turned away, quickening his pace. “I won’t like it, Lyova,” he breathed. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that.”

Leon heaved a sigh and glanced back. His eyes widened when he spotted two of the goons he’d spotted hovering around the local leader. “No such luck,” he said, turning back to Andy. “Go,” he snapped. “I’ll hold them off.”

Andy said something unkind in Veligradian, but he took off for the car at a run. Meanwhile, Leon spun around, drawing his sidearm. He ducked behind a nearby car as he fired off two sleep darts. The enemy agents dodged to either side and returned fire. Of course, their guns fired bullets, so glass shattered around Leon.

He heard the squealing of tires and he knew that Andy, at least, had gotten away. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a car flew up beside him and Andy yelled, “Get in the car, Leon!”

“Andy?” he rasped, but he didn’t hesitate. Instead, he dove into the backseat and tugged the door closed as Andy floored the gas pedal. There was another squealing of tires as Andy took off away from the scene.

Heaving a sigh, Leon sat up and hastily buckled his seat belt. “I told you to get out of there,” he snapped.

“You’re welcome,” Andy said, his voice strained. He glanced in the rear-view mirror, catching Leon’s gaze. “I told you that I wouldn’t like to leave you behind, Lyova. I meant it.”

“I wonder which is going to get you killed faster: your loyalty or your stubbornness,” Leon said. He glanced back and was relieved to see that no one was following them. Relaxing back into the seat, he ruffled his hand through his hair. “Thanks for picking me up,” he breathed.

Andy heaved a sigh and nodded. After a moment of silence, he began chuckling. It was a thin, almost hysterical sound. “Did you see the looks on their faces?” he asked, tears in his eyes. He shook his head. “I don’t suppose you did, but… it was classic, Lyova! They were completely caught off-guard by what I did.”

“One thing I’ve learned working with you, Andy Capp,” Leon said, chuckling softly. “Expect the unexpected.”

Arguing Semantics – Part 1

Another short piece featuring Andy and Leon…


“The first thing we need to do is get into her room, to check the safe for the micro-transmitter,” Andy said, his voice soft. “To do that, we need to make certain she doesn’t return while we’re searching.”

“I’ll distract her,” Leon said, his gaze going to the woman. He smiled as he turned back to Andy. “You can break in and find the safe. It should be easy enough.”

Andy frowned. “Why don’t I distract her, while you get the micro-transmitter?” he asked, shaking his head briskly. He refused to admit that he was jealous. That wasn’t the reason he didn’t want Leon to handle the distraction of the woman.

“You’re a thief,” Leon said, his tone reasonable. He shrugged. “You know how to get in and get out quickly and without leaving any sign that you’ve been there.”

“I’m not a thief,” Andy said, rolling his eyes. “I’m an acquisitions agent.”

Leon smirked. “The difference is…”

“Thieves steal things for fun and profit,” Andy said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I steal things when it’s necessary for my job. I’m not a thief. I’m just really good at acquiring things that aren’t mine.”

Chuckling, Leon said, “I’m very good at distracting beautiful women. Let’s play to our strengths. Shall we?”

“Fine,” Andy said, heaving a sigh. He pushed away from the wall, heading for the stairs. Before he got out earshot, he added, “Watch for me to return.”

“You got it,” Leon breathed.

Without looking back, Andy headed up the stairs from the lobby. He used the elevator to go the floor where his own room was. Then, he used the fire stairs to go down to the floor where the woman from ACRE was staying. He chewed his lip as he headed to her room. It was directly below their own, which made it easy enough to find. It also gave him a pat excuse if someone caught him on the way in: he had simply gotten the floor confused.

He made it into the room without difficulty. The hotel used keycards, but OWL technology made it easy enough to bypass that. He eased the door closed in his wake and scanned the darkened hotel room, searching for the hidden safe.

He started by checking behind the pictures in the room. He almost laughed when he found it behind a print of a vase of flowers on a table. Setting the print on the floor, he put his ear to the door. He was glad that the safe, at least, was the old-fashioned sort. That made cracking it a simple matter of listening to the tumblers.

He eased the door opened and grabbed the micro-transmitter. It looked exactly like the picture that Nate had shown them. Tucking it into his jacket, he closed the door and turned the dial back to zero. He was just replacing the print when he heard the door to the room click.

Tensing, Andy hurried to the window. In a heartbeat, he was on the ledge and edging away from it, just before the person entered.

“Find out who that man was,” their target snapped at someone. “I don’t like how friendly he suddenly was towards me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” a low voice replied.

Andy glanced up towards the floor above and back at the window he’d just come out. He didn’t hesitate another moment before he climbed up from the window ledge towards the next floor. He grabbed the window ledge for his own room and then gasped when someone grabbed his wrists.

“Sorry,” Leon said, his voice faint. He peered over the window ledge. “I couldn’t keep her downstairs any longer without arousing her suspicion.”

“Turns out, you aroused her suspicion anyway,” Andy said, as he let Leon help him climb up onto the ledge. Then, he swung into the room and set his feet on the floor. “I’ve got it. Might I suggest we leave before she realizes who we are?”

“Good idea,” Leon agreed.


Just a short story featuring my two little spies from NaNo 2017, Andy and Leon.  Do I need to warn you that there’s violence and such?  There is… but it’s not graphic.


“Well,” Andy said, glancing around, “this is a nice change of scenery.”

Leon frowned, his gaze sliding over to his partner. “It’s a prison cell,” he said, shaking his head.

Andy sighed. Meeting Leon’s gaze, he said, “I was being sarcastic?”

“Ah, yes,” Leon said, smirking. He looked through the bars at their captor. “I should have guessed that, really.”

“Being in a cell should be the least of your worries,” the man growled, locking eyes with Andy. “Tell me what you were doing here.”

Andy blinked. “I’m a writer,” he said, nodding. He was speaking slowly, as if their captor wouldn’t understand him otherwise. “Leon’s a photographer. We’re working on a book together. He was taking pictures of the local wildlife, which I intended to incorporate into my story.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” their captor snapped.

Leon bit his lip and glanced over at Andy. The expression on his face was one of mild annoyance. It seemed like he was about two seconds away from saying that was exactly what he thought. Clearing his throat, Leon said, “It’s the truth!”

“You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you, Mr. Reilly,” he growled.

Andy blinked and looked over at Leon. “I thought your name was Jones,” he said, his expression one of wide-eyed innocence. He shook his head. “Who’s this… Reilly?”

Leon shrugged. “Search me,” he said.

Rolling his eyes, Andy said, “They already did that!”

“Enough,” their captor snapped. He turned to one of his goons. “See if you can force the little one to talk. He looks soft enough that it should be easy to break him.”

Frowning, Leon watched as the goon strode into the cell. As he approached Andy, the smaller man shrank back in his chair. Leon bit his lip, struggling to read the other man. Was he only pretending to be afraid or not? He couldn’t say for certain it wasn’t an act, but he also knew that Andy was easily frightened.

“What are you going to do?” Andy asked, shaking his head. He blinked as the handcuffs locking him to the chair were loosened. Then, he was being half-dragged to the center of the cell. He squawked as he was lifted off the ground and his wrists were locked into shackles that hung from the ceiling.

Their captor smiled. “Let’s see how much it will take to get you to talk,” he said, drawing a whip out of seemingly nowhere. He stepped around Andy and began lashing at his back. The shirt dulled the sting of the whip, Leon knew. At the same time, it wouldn’t help for very long.

He met Andy’s gaze and was not surprised to see tears standing in the pale blue eyes. What did surprise him was that Andy didn’t make a sound through the entire beating.

Finally, when their captor paused, he said, “We’ve told you why we’re here. What… could you hope to accomplish by… this?”

For the first time, their captor’s confidence seemed to falter. Glaring at the goon, he said, “Get him down. We’ll give them some time to consider their fate.” Then, after Andy had been deposited on a nearby bed, they were left alone.

Leon was about to call out to Andy when the other man lifted his head and frowned at Leon. “Think they’re watching?” he breathed.

For a moment, Leon didn’t know what to say. He glanced around, trying to spot anything that might be a hidden camera or a listening device of some kind. Turning back to Andy, he shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said, finally.

Nodding, Andy took a deep breath and pushed off the bed. He was a bit unsteady on his feet, but he made it to Leon’s side and made quick work of the handcuffs locked on his wrists. As Leon stood, he wrapped his arms carefully around Andy. “How did you do that?”

“Vector Training,” Andy said, giving him a tight smile. “That goon hits like a girl… or, at least, he’s not nearly so good at giving lashes as my handlers were. Shouldn’t we be on our way?”

“Definitely,” Leon agreed. He helped Andy over to the door and was surprised when Andy made quick work of that lock as well. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, Andy was specifically trained as an acquisitions agent. Locks and safes of any kind were his specialty.

They moved quickly, but quietly and carefully down the corridor until they reached the exit. It was, naturally enough, guarded. Andy gave Leon a crooked smile. “I’ll take care of them,” he breathed.

“You sure?” Leon asked, his voice hoarse. Andy still didn’t seem all that steady on his feet.

Giving Leon a playful wink, Andy stepped out into the open. “Be ready,” he breathed. Then, he cleared his throat. As the guards turned to him, he smiled. “I say! Have you happened to spot my partner? I’m afraid I’ve quite lost him.”

Laughing, the guards advanced on him. “Why don’t we put you back in your cell and then we’ll find him for you,” one said. He chuckled again when Andy gave ground before them.

Leon watched as they moved past him, totally missing Leon’s presence. He was surprised but he didn’t waste Andy’s effort. He stepped out and grabbed the gun from one of the guards. He struck the man in the face with the weapon, as he turned to Leon.

As the other guard turned to Leon, he smiled. “So, you’ve found me,” Leon said. He arched his brow and added, “Hands on your head.”

Scowling, the guard did as Leon had ordered. Andy neatly disarmed him and then they tied him up, gagged him and put both guards in a convenient closet. “Might I suggest we hurry?” Andy asked, smiling wanly.

“Absolutely,” Leon agreed. He definitely didn’t want to linger in an ACRE base for too long. They slipped outside and moved across the yard to where there were several cars parked. Leon stood guard while Andy broke into one, which just happened to have the key tucked inside the ashtray.

Leon sat in the passenger seat, while Andy drove. When they neared the gates, which were guarded, Andy ducked downward and slammed his foot down on the gas pedal. They crashed through the gates under a hail of gunfire. Then, they were out and away. They drove at full speed until Leon felt certain they’d lost any pursuit. Then, he touched Andy on the sleeve. “You can slow down now,” he said.

Heaving a shaky breath, Andy nodded. The car slowed down to highway speed and they turned onto a main artery into the city. He smiled at Leon as they joined the flow of traffic. Then, he began chuckling softly. “When we get to a rest stop,” he said, “You’re going to drive. I need to lie down.”

“Sure thing, partner,” Leon said, nodding.

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