Code In – No. 281

A London telephone boxStunned quiet woke Craig.

A heavy exhale on the other end of the receiver he held to his ear preceded a woman’s terse voice. “How did you get this number?”

“I…” Craig checked the surrounding telephone box for an answer.

Grime and graffiti coated the paned glass trapped between rigid frames of red. Outside, a misty alley led to a lone streetlamp down the block, the limey glow warming the brick of a shuttered pub and damp cobblestones he didn’t recognize. Inside, smells he didn’t want to identify steamed off the floor.

“Sir?”

Craig shuffled back to the telephone, his slippers squelching in something wet and sticky. The black base reflected his need to shave, his plaid pajamas, and the sputtering of the bulb above his head. “Who is this?”

After a click, the line died.

Goodbye to you too.

Craig stared at the receiver, then set it in the cradle. Ten pence returned with a tumble and clink.

He went to scrub his face, to wipe away the dream, to clear the fog in his mind, but stopped when a handcuff tugged on his wrist. The links kept him pinned to the telephone’s cord but the nine numbers written on his palm in thick black ink stirred the rumble in his bowels.

He checked the number through his mental rolodex, but failed to attach a name, a department, an organization.

But I bet I know who you are.

His hand trembled when Craig retrieved the receiver. He pulled the pence out with quaking fingers, plunked the coin into the pay slot, and punched in the number.

One ring chimed and a British man asked him to, “Code in.”

“Excuse me?”

Thunks suggested a transfer and the terse woman returned. “Stay where you are.”

Craig raised his cuffed hand, the metal rattling on the cord’s ribs. “I don’t think I have a choice.”

“Excellent. An extraction team is on their way.”

“Extraction team?”

The line died again but something in the back of Craig’s brain itched. Bouncing the earpiece against his forehead, he willed the nagging sense to explain, for logic to clarify the situation, for memory to show how he’d gotten from the plush confines of Elodie’s bed to being handcuffed and trapped in a random telephone box.

Nothing resolved except the telephone’s flat-lined dial tone and the rush of a passing car sending moist air against the box’s red rims.

To hell with this.

Hooking the receiver back into the cradle, Craig fought with the handcuff. He twisted and yanked until his wrist burned, his skin went blotchy, and sweat licked his palms.

Like his mind and memory, the metal held fast to its secrets.

What am I going to do?

Leaning against the telephone, Craig hung his head and sought another option, another way out, another number to dial.

Before he’d muddled out the hotel’s name, headlights shot against his legs, brightening the box’s gloom in solid squares of white. An engine rumbled then went quiet. A door opened and slapped closed. The quick snap of heels approached and knocks rapped the glass behind him.

They probably know exactly what they’re doing here.

Craig turned to find shadows playing with olivine features half hidden by a beret and the upturned collar of a woolly trench coat.

The woman beamed and wiggled a finger at the door.

Craig fumbled with the clasp.

“Good to see you.” The woman slipped inside and closed the door behind her.

“You…too?”

She smirked and sifted through a ring of keys she pulled from the trench’s inner pocket. “It’s okay, you’re not supposed to remember.”

His stomach swirled, and Craig braced a hand against the box’s inner wall. “Remember what?”

The woman cocked her head, her charcoal beret accentuating the curve of her face. “Any of it. Me. You. What you’re doing here in London.”

“I’m on vacation.”

“No you’re not.”

“What?” Craig backed up until the receiver jabbed between his shoulder blades. “Just what is going on?”

“Debriefs are not my job.” The woman selected a tiny silver key and motioned at his cuffed wrist. “Let me see.”

“But you know what’s happening? What this is all about?” Craig flashed the numbers on his palm.

Ignoring the digits, the woman eyed the cuff’s lock and inserted the key. “I do, in fact, know exactly what that is all about.”

The cuff opened and Craig grabbed the woman by the forearms with a desperate grip he didn’t know he had. “Please, Miss. Anything.”

Her pleasant mouth collapsed into a displeased pucker. “Don’t do this, Len.”

“Len?”

She clucked her tongue. “You really did a number on yourself didn’t you?”

The itch in his skull chafed.

“Yeah. Maybe. No. I don’t know.” Craig shook her, then squeezed as if to wring answers from her pulped flesh. “I’m in the middle of God-knows-where wearing my goddamn pajamas. Everyone I’ve talked to has hung up on me or dodged my questions and I need something.” He noted the grimace hiding beneath her stoic features and loosened his fingers. “Please. Your name. Mine. Anything.”

“Anything?” She melted against him, her face floating like a harvest moon above the sea.

Craig’s thoughts fluttered and he mumbled something agreeable.

Her smile all but stalled his heart. “My name’s June.”

June’s eyes grew wide, grew into two pools of blackness flecked with gold, grew so large Craig dove down until he forgot about the box, about the handcuff, about the possibility of drowning.

After a stomp on his toe, however, June slipped from his grasp. Her hand rested on the door’s latch, but she didn’t run any further. Her sober gaze darted from his slippers to stubble instead.

“And you are Dr. Craig Lenard, our prized asset.”

The first name at least felt right and Craig shook out his stubbed foot. “Whose our?”

“The United States,” June tucked away her keys, “you know, the old red, white, and blue.”

“So I’m a diplomat?”

“Of course not.” She neared and smoothed the lapels on his pajama’s shirt. “You’re an enigma and infiltration expert, inventor extraordinaire.”

Craig brushed away her hands. “Huh?”

“You’re a spy my dear or at least you’re housing one.” She stroked his cheek, the leather of her glove velvet soft, then June settled back on her stout heels. “Come along and we’ll see what else you’ve found.”

“I haven’t found anything,” Craig stomped a slipper, “I’m on vacation.”

“You don’t spend three months with France’s biggest commie and come away empty handed.”

“Elodie?”

“Madame Utkin actually,” June sniffed as if something foul had joined the box’s other odors, “she took her husband’s name.”

“She’s married?!”

“Oh Len.” June offered her hand. “Let’s get you back.”

“I’d prefer some answers.”

A glimmer of disappointment lit her eye but June turned before he could ask, before he could begin wondering why, and stepped from the box.

One quiet pop, a cautious opening of champagne, cracked the night.

June’s fall shattered the stillness with a sharp gasp of pain and smack on asphalt.

“June?!”

“Get back.” She shooed him away and groped into her trench.

And get shot at? No, thank you.

Rushing to her side, Craig hefted June onto his shoulder.

“The car.” With his help, June managed to stagger across the pavement, the hustle splattering her trench and the hem of Craig’s pajamas.

As another pop cracked, Craig dumped her into the passenger seat of a slick-lined roadster. Sprinting around the bumper with his head ducked low, Craig threw himself behind the steering wheel and slamming the door closed.

“Here,” June tossed him the car’s key with a bloodied hand. He caught it and she grimaced as she pulled a pistol from beneath her trench. “Take this.”

“I’ve never used one of those.”

“Sure you have,” she shoved the gun at him, “you taught me.”

Craig plucked the pistol from his lap and eyed it uncertainly until a ding sounded against the car’s roof.

“Cover’s blown,” June cocked a second gun, one pulled from a holster around her thigh, “get us to the Embassy.”

“The Embassy right.”

Seizing the wheel in one hand, pistol in the other, Craig floored it and hoped his memory of London streets would serve him better than what little he remembered about himself.

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