S.J. Varengo

Author

Assignment: Sydney Excerpt

From Chapter Four - An Introduction to Dot

The pie was delicious and Burke had to exert every ounce of restraint he had not to ask for thirds, especially since, for all her coarse nature, Dot had enough genuine grandmother juju that she kept telling him to eat more. “You’re too skinny. If you stick your tongue out, you look like a zipper.” And so on.

“So do you need me to fill you in on everything that’s happened since I arrived?” he asked. He quickly realized the question had been a mistake.

“Do you honestly think I don’t already know? I know when you got off the Qantas jumbo, what you were drinking when that prick Withers got himself shot, what Kitten thought of you, what you saw on—”

“Wait, back up. What did Tina think of me?”

“A lady never tells.”

“Well, that should free you up to tell me everything!” Burke chortled. He quickly realized he’d committed yet another mistake.

Dot slowly turned and walked to one of the many cupboards that lined her kitchen walls. She opened it and extracted a small vial.

“You see this, smartass? This is the antidote to the poison I put in that pie. You’re about one more wisecrack from watching me pour it down the sink.”

Burke’s eyes grew wide. It made no sense that his own handler would poison him, but as he looked at the expression on Dot’s face, he got the feeling she wasn’t kidding around.

“Poison? Why the hell would you do that? We’re on the same side!”

“I believe we are—now. But the people we’re dealing with are very crafty, Burke. Perhaps cleverer than anyone you’ve faced to this point in your career. I knew what you looked like before you got here, so I was pretty sure it was you. But they know what you look like too, and they have the means to make someone up to look enough like you to fool an old broad. So leading with poison seemed like the best plan, especially since I had this.” She waggled the vial back and forth between her fingers. “I figured if you were legit, I’d give you a dose and spare you a particularly painful death. And if you were an enemy spook, I’d laugh over your body as you foamed at the mouth and bled from your eyes and ears as your brain melted.”

“You’re a stone-cold bitch!” Burke said, instantly fearing he’d made the fatal third wisecrack.

But Dot smiled. “That’s the first thing out of your mouth I’ve liked!” She stepped toward him, offering the vial, but at the last minute, it slipped from her fingers and shattered on the flagstone kitchen floor.

“What the shit! Oh my god!” Burke gasped.

“Take it easy, Nancy. I was fucking with you. That was peppermint extract. There’s no poison. I can’t believe you fell for that one. Oldest spy gag in the book. Hell, we pulled that on newbies back during the Cold War. It was our favorite hazing ritual!”

Burke wanted to be furious, but as soon as his heart rate normalized, he realized Dot might just be the coolest person he’d ever met.

- Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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