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Secret Agent Analyst
Author: Penelope Peters

Chapter One


It was a gorgeous spring day, and the sky above the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was a kaleidoscope of color. A brisk breeze kept kites of all shapes and sizes flying, skirting around the Washington Monument, carrying laughter from children as they raced on the grass to add their kites to the fun.

Anthony Dare stood off to the side, hands clenched in his overcoat pockets. Few paid attention to him; if they noticed, they assumed he was merely another government flunkie on his way to work in one of the cold, nameless buildings that surrounded them. That was how Anthony preferred it. Better for him... better for them, too, that they not suspect the truth.

Anthony watched a young father help a little girl untangle her dragon kite. The kite was too big for her to handle, but either she didn’t care or the father didn’t realize.

It should have been Enrique and his son on the Mall, flying the box kite they built together.

Instead, Enrique’s son stood across the Potomac in Arlington Cemetery, where he held his mother’s hand and not a kite string. He watched them lower his father into the ground, instead of watching their kite soaring into the sky.

The little girl and her father were ready now; the girl held the string as her father threw the kite up. It caught the breeze before crashing down close to where Anthony stood.

“Sorry, honey,” the dad called. “Look, maybe we should try that other kite, it’s smaller—”

“No, I want this one,” insisted the girl as she ran across the grass to collect her dragon, which Anthony realized was nearly as big as she was. “I’ll get it next time!”

Get him next time, Enrique had said, gasping for air. Every word was a bullet to Anthony’s chest–which would have been a perfectly fine metaphor, except for the actual bullets in Enrique’s chest.

The little girl raced back to her father, her dragon kite held aloft above her head. Ribbons trailed after her in a knotty mess. Enrique would have taken the time to untangle them, showing his son how to do it himself, and then they’d try again until the dragon flew triumphantly overhead.

Anthony watched as this father, too, knelt on the grass and unpicked the mess. Only then did Anthony turn away and start walking north to Dupont Circle. His stomach was an equally knotty mess of anger and disappointment and guilt.

Another mission over... and the notorious supervillain Cicero was still at large. Oh, Anthony and Enrique had managed to stop Cicero’s latest scheme to take over the world, before Enrique had been senselessly killed as they made their escape. Anthony barely remembered the details of the scheme; they were unimportant now that it was safely foiled.

Anthony Dare always succeeded in stopping Cicero’s plans; it was his job as the world’s best secret agent, after all. Stop Cicero; if possible, arrest him and make him stand trial for his crimes. It was the moral, humane thing to do with supervillains, what Anthony had been taught to do since his first day of work at the DVM. Always detain, never eliminate. Kill them, and we become them, was the generally accepted rule.

All well and good, and on very successful missions, Anthony captured Cicero and turned him over to the authorities.

It never went much further, though, since Cicero always managed to escape before standing trial.

Every other villain Anthony defeated stayed in the maximum-security prisons where he put them. Every other villain vented their frustrations through underwater basket weaving, or writing best-selling novels about middle school dramas, or knitting baby booties for sale on Etsy.

But not Cicero.

Get him next time was the mantra.

Except there was always a next time. Except that Anthony said it every time. The words had long since started sounding hollow.

It took a while to walk to Dupont Circle, but Anthony’s mood wasn’t any better when he arrived. The circle was bustling, much as it always did, but the bookstore at 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW was not particularly busy; the only customers a man perusing the comic books and a mother and child reading Dr. Suess by the windows.

The café in the back of the bookstore operated at full speed, nearly every table taken with people enjoying their waffles and egg sandwiches and fruit salads. The familiar sounds of a busy restaurant were as jarring as they were comforting; life continuing. A life that Anthony’s and (Enrique’s) sacrifices made possible. It was a good reminder.

Anthony nodded briefly to the bookstore cashier, who nodded back. No one noticed as Anthony ran the badge concealed in his hand over the security device sitting on the counter.

“Welcome back, sir,” said the cashier calmly after a quick glance at his register. “Glad to see you again.”

Anthony’s smile was thin and forced. “Thank you.”

He headed straight for the history and science fiction aisles, noting the locations of the current customers. It didn’t hurt to be quick or careful, and Anthony Dare was excellent at both qualities.

The elevator tucked between the history and the science fiction books generally went unnoticed by most customers. Those in the know considered its placement either entirely appropriate, or the worst sort of joke. Curious customers who opened it, either by accident or out of curiosity, would only find a supply closet behind the door.

Of course, they didn’t have the right badge. Besides, their table in the attached café was waiting, with a complimentary plate of nachos.

Amazing how quickly people forget things, when tempted with a free plate of nachos.

No one noticed the supply closet door closing behind Anthony. No one noticed the flash of light, either.

The elevator rose quickly past the public floors of the building, and straight up to the private floors—which were so private, most people didn’t know they existed.

That was mostly because people couldn’t even see them, on account of their being, for lack of a less technical term, invisible.

After all, some spy agencies were perfectly content to have oversized buildings plastered with their name and seal and guards at every corner, happy to announce their existence to the world.

The Department of Villain Monitorization had the excellent sense to realize a spy agency everyone knows about has perhaps missed the point.

The elevator traveled quickly through the dark corridor. The lights in the elevator were feeble, which suited Anthony’s mood just fine. He straightened his tie, tugged his shirt sleeves, and took deep breaths, preparing for the moment that the elevator arrived.

It was always the same when he returned from a mission.

“Gotta look pretty for your fanbase, Dare,” Enrique teased, brushing non-existent lint from Anthony’s shoulders.

“You’ve got powdered sugar on your nose,” Anthony chided him.

“No one ever looks at me, though.”

Anthony closed his eyes, trying to dampen down the flash of anger that surged. Enrique had been right, after all; no one had ever looked at him. Just like they’d never noticed Clare, or Julian, or Hiro. Even when Anthony’s field partner did survive, only Anthony received the accolades.

Now Enrique was dead, Anthony was alone, and no one would even remember Enrique at all.

“Here we go,” he whispered to himself through closed lips the moment before the elevator doors opened.

If asked, most people passing by 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW would say that the buildings there had five stories at most.

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