Susan Vance plucked a pencil from her desk drawer and placed it gingerly, yet expertly, on her ear.
She had been on this mission for two weeks, and she was getting closer than she could imagine. It was funny, the things that people would tell a pretty girl who they thought didn’t have a single brain in her head.
A pretty, ditzy girl who just happened to also have a leopard.
If she was being honest with herself, the leopard was likely the best part of the whole gig.
Baby was a holdover from her last mission, but she seemed to go with anything. Who could forget a woman tailed by a leopard? (And she had always wanted a cat growing up.)
When Susan had first begun working for the CIA, she’d gotten frustrated trying to blend in. The men seemed to have no trouble – who would remember a guy ordering a drink at the bar, listening to a jazz band, meeting with another nondescript man and sharing information?
But Susan could never sit at the bar, drinking a martini, without a line of men coming over, saying, “Baby, why are you here all alone? Sweetie, why don’t you come over and talk to me? Sunshine, can I buy you a drink? Are you waiting for Mr. Right, Toots?”
It was so annoying, headache-level annoying. Yet, she had finally found a way to turn it to her favor, as of late – she’d save the men the trouble of coming to her and simply find them first, and tilt her head to the side and play the part of the ditz. Men didn’t seem to examine it very deeply. Why would they? It was disgusting. They thought that women were so empty-headed that if they saw something that confirmed that, it was gospel.
What made it easier was that she could take things right out from under them, while she flashed a smile and made them thank her all the same.
That was (other than the leopard of course) the very best part.
So when her handler gave her a blurry, tattered photograph of David Huxley, she knew he would be no match for her.
After all, they never were.
They never liked to give her all the information at first. They were frustrating that way, as if they wanted to trickle out details from a leaky shower faucet rather than allow Susan to just step into it and risk getting wet.
So they didn’t tell her what they needed David for. Not at first, at least.
Instead, they spoke in codes.
“The information”, they said. “The target”, they called him. Sometimes she heard him referred to so many times as “the target” that she could picture herself pulling back an arrow in a bow and letting it fly, splitting him in two.
Then again, it would be more likely that the leopard would somehow end up eating him.
When Susan did finally get the information, she could have yelled at her handler until she was blue in the face. Who leaves a vial of the world’s most expensive and deadly poison encased inside a dinosaur bone?
She also wished that she had found out it was nontoxic to dogs after she’d driven herself crazy trying to get it back from George.
George was, thankfully, indestructible anyway. He was a trained poison-sniffing dog in the first place, the only one of its kind that the Agency was willing to lend out to agents rather than keeping them behind at the facilities.
Which hadn’t helped her to keep a lid on what she was after, however. Thankfully, David just seemed to find her one big frustration; that and irresistible.
Men were so silly. Everything that they hated, they decided that they wanted in the end, and everything they wanted, they decided that they hated in the end. Susan had spent a few years out in Los Angeles on a mission, working as a waitress on Sunset and watching as everyone who wanted to be an actor and became an actor turned out miserable, and everyone who wanted to be an actor and stayed a waiter became miserable and would insist that if only their luck would change, they would be happy then.
To be fair, Susan figured that she was acting too.
When they dug up the dinosaur bone from the dirt, keeping George at a safe distance this time (come on, George, Susan thought to herself, you need to learn how to just be a dog and stop being on the job all the time), then the leopard came back into play.
She needed to tell her handler that the next time, the job needed to have nothing to do with animals, much as she liked them personally. She had already made a similar rule about babies after her spyglass had ended up with saliva in the locks after the baby she was rescuing from a rival spy had decided it was the best option for a chew toy.
She didn’t have much time to muse on that, however, and they were bounding off again after Baby, who seemed to feel the same wanderlust as Susan had.
Her alter ego had grown up in Connecticut and gone to fancy school after fancy school – if she had been that Susan Vance, who would she have been today?
In reality, she had moved from New York to Chicago to Indianapolis and then, ultimately, Rapid City, South Dakota. That had been where Susan Vance had been born, and any name she had gone by before had been buried.
All roads led back to Rapid City, but only if she let them.
Susan had let herself fall in love once, but only once. That had been a mistake. The man had looked a little bit like David, if she was honest with herself (And where was he now? No need to wonder, no need to know), and maybe that was why she was starting to feel guilty at the whole ruse.
She hadn’t felt guilty when he’d gotten locked up in jail – she’d only needed to channel an previous version of herself, a once-upon-a-time identity she’d thrown away a long time ago, to convince the cops to let them go.
She hadn’t felt guilty in any situation that she knew how to get out of, and that was almost every situation she had seen in her life. She could have climbed on top of a train and jumped off without breaking a sweat, or rolled down a ravine without breaking a limb, or (apparently) handle a leopard without much concern, other than for the continued survival of her dress. But when she climbed up the ladder to the dinosaur skeleton, she felt bad to be demolishing all of his work, and she really wished that she could have told him why, that this destruction of an artifact was necessary to stop the poisoning of any unlucky museum-goers.
Why the hell did there always have to be some anarchist cell or religious sect or whoever it had been this time, always doing some kind of bizarre mass poisoning? Why couldn’t people just mail out their opinions via the postal service, or publish them in the newspaper?
The bones fell away before her, and the ladder began to sway backwards.
She could have gripped any number of things around her. She’d been trained in how to do so, and had always been a great rock climber besides.
But David reached out and grabbed her, and somewhere in a sort of haze, she heard him say that he loved her.
Susan wanted to sigh, wanted to push him away, and sort of wanted to explain everything.
It would probably sound something like their description, down at the jail, at home there had come to be two leopards.
However… If this worked out, if it somehow worked out like nothing in this crazy world ever seemed to, it could be nice, too.
A woman couldn't live on work alone, right?