30 January 2014

#fridayflash: dead zone

I'm trying to make these episodes stand alone, but if you want to read them as a series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Secret agents have to be as rational as chess masters, but all the same it's surprising how many of them have little superstitions and self-belief in minor superpowers. Pepper's favourite delusion was that the public transit systems of the world were controlled by a benign, unseen intelligence, and it liked her. It liked her so much that hopping on a train or tram ahead of a pursuer was her favourite way to get out of a tight spot. She couldn't be stupid about it, of course — the dodging into crowds and doubling-back still had to be done — but she seemed to always have something to board whenever she needed to vacate an area quickly.

Like now. The subway train pulled into the station just as she reached the platform, and she ducked into the second-last car as soon as the doors opened. She surrounded herself with other passengers, but at this time of night it wasn't busy, and she was definitely the only person who entered the car. The Bloor-Danforth east-west line still had the old-style trains, the kind that passengers couldn't move between cars while on the train.

She hadn't been able to see if anyone else had followed her onto the platform and boarded another car. If they had, she'd be exposed when it was time to disembark.

The problem suggested its own solution when Pepper checked the name of the next station and realised the train was heading west. She leaned back into the seat and spent the rest of the trip people-watching, trying to observe and deduce as much about each passenger as possible. It being a Saturday night, and the train headed out to the suburbs, most of the passengers were returning from a big night out downtown.

When the train reached its terminus, Pepper took her time disembarking. If she still had a tail, they'd want to get onto the platform first and start looking for her. She'd have her choice of open train doors to duck out of, and be able to hide behind train cars and pillars as she made her way to the bus platform.

She was almost disappointed that the station was practically deserted. There was no-one left to leave the train but her, and the three people waiting for buses had very obviously been there a lot longer than she had.

It had been a long time since she'd been to the west end. It took her a while to find the right bus stop, and a much larger while for a bus to actually show up. "Last trip of the night," the driver announced as she pulled away from the station. Pepper was one of only two passengers, the other one being a man the driver seemed to recognise.

Even though the bus was part of Mississauga Transit, it was a good twenty-five minutes before the bus reached that particular suburb. The driver slowed down before every major stop, but no-one seemed to want to get on. Both Pepper and the other passenger left at the end of the route — the gigantic shopping mall called Square One, even though it hadn't been square-shaped in decades. Pepper hailed one of the cabs that was always loitering around the bus terminal and told the cabbie to take her to Cawthra and Burnhamthorpe, an intersection about three kilometres east of the mall. She gave instructions for the cabbie to pull into the parking lot of a strip plaza, paid, and got out.

The plaza had a twenty-four hour pharmacy, a pizza parlour, and a dentist's office in it. Pepper went to the pizza parlour and ordered one slice each of the three remaining pizzas in the display case, plus a can of pop to wash down the food and get some caffeine in her system. She sat down at a table away from the windows and took a couple of bites out of one slice to make it look like she was eating.

Pepper pulled her phone from her coat pocket and checked the signal. She grinned. She didn't know why this particular intersection was so bad for radio and cellular signals — it was on flat ground, at the same elevation as the surrounding area, and didn't have any tall buildings nearby to cause interference — but it was. Half a kilometre in any direction and the signal was perfectly strong, but here she may as well be in the middle of the Badlands. Maybe, she smiled to herself, the UFO rumoured to be buried at Church and Gerrard downtown was really under here.

She powered down her phone, prised off the back of the case, and removed the microSD card from its slot. Then she powered up the phone without replacing the back cover. Once it was fully booted, she put it in flight mode.

She paused to take a few more bites of pizza and a drink of cola, then slipped the microSD card she'd stolen from Anton DeBussy's hotel room into the phone. To her slight surprise, the phone appeared to have no problem reading the card. She opened up a terminal window and used the "ls" command to list the files.

Now she was truly surprised, so much so that she almost dropped the phone onto a slice of pizza. She hadn't been expecting to recognise the file names. Pepper gingerly ran a virus check on the card, and when it came back clean she used the vi editor to open one of the files.

She gasped in spite of herself.

A few contemplative sips of cola later, she hooked the gold chain she wore around her neck from under her shirt, and opened the cameo locket strung on it. She put her personal microSD card in it and replaced the back on her phone.

"Hey," she said, walking up the counter and waving her cell phone in front of her, "I can't get a signal here. Could I used your phone to call a friend to pick me up? Local call, no long distance."

The pizza clerk rolled his eyes, used to such requests. "The boss says I gotta ask for a quarter," he said.

"Here's a loonie," said Pepper, setting a gold-coloured dollar coin on the counter. "Just one call, promise."

To be continued...


  1. your secret agent clearly couldn't operate in the Uk given the state of our train service!. Definitely crackles with the tension of a thriller, even in so few words

    marc nash

    1. Oh yeah, if Pepper had tried to take VIA rail she'd still be specifying ticket details when they gunned her down. But the TTC (Toronto transit) mostly works.

  2. Yeah, you're a little over a thousand words - 1075 to be precise, Katherine - but it's a highly enjoyable read, appearing to be much longer than it is - which is why I did the word count. I'm not normally a thriller fan, but as I've already said, this is very good. Looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. Really? Last I counted I was at 928 including the links, then I wrote the last three paragraphs and the tag. Always something!

  3. Well, so far so good, let's see if she makes the rest of the way back okay, or maybe her tail may prove to be far smarter than she thinks.

    I did like the detail of her feeling that the transit systems liked her, a bit of goof luck is always welcome in a job like hers.

    1. Oooops! I meant to write "a bit of GOOD luck."

    2. Either one works in this context!

  4. I wonder what those files said? She seems to have got away, but not sure it's going to be that easy for her. The story's going good.

  5. A nice "spy moving from transport to transport" story :).

    I also liked the part "Pepper's favourite delusion was that the public transit systems of the world were controlled by a benign, unseen intelligence, and it liked her. " She has a travel fairy lol :).

  6. I can feel a little more Holt-ish flippancy creeping into this as the weeks pass by. I wonder if that little book is having its influence! Especially read it in the bit about being superstitious about transportation systems.

    1. It's hard to say. Certainly this whole story arc got started from some of the sly comments John le Carre slipped into Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

  7. This was fun! Rooted Android phone with all the trimmings. I think she'd have done better to have turned the phone off while on the train though; if someone were tracking her through her SIM card, it might take her pursuit longer to figure out where she got off.

    So... what IS it on that SD card that surprised her so much?

  8. This one set us up nicely for whatever will happen next, I think, and is a good read on its own. I like the pace.

  9. Smooth. I like the calm feel and pace transitioning between parts. Well done.

  10. I sometimes like to keep an eye on my fellow passengers and pretend one of them is a tail, just so I have to lose them. Does that make me weird?


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