Merry Wrath - Book 2
Ex-CIA agent turned suburban scout leader, Merry Wrath, is just trying to live a normal, quiet life. But all that goes out the window when a convicted traitor (who's inconveniently not in his prison cell) dies on her doorstep, and an obese cat, who bears a disturbing resemblance to Hitler, decides to move in.
To make things worse, it's time for the annual troop cookie sale, her new boyfriend's old college flame shows up to win him back, and someone's shooting at Merry in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Is the assassin after her or the cat? Is Riley, her hot former CIA handler, hitting on her? Is Rex, her boyfriend, going to dump her? Will she sell enough cookies to take her troop to Winter Sniper Camp? If Merry doesn't find answer to these questions soon, it may be too late!
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As a former CIA operative, I've heard a lot of statements that have chilled me as though I had a foot-long icicle down my throat while sitting naked and wet on an ice floe. (By the way—don't go to Greenland. Ever.) Things like, Open up! It's the police, and we have a flamethrower! and Tell me the code or I'll have to use this pair of pliers on your eyelids. All terrifying under normal circumstances, but throw in the Iranian secret police or a Venezuelan death squad dressed as circus clowns, and they have a smidge more gravitas.
But nothing…nothing compares to what I was just told.
"What do you mean we have to sell cookies?" I asked Kelly with a slight tremble in my voice. "To people? On purpose?"
My best friend and co-leader rolled her eyes. "Girl Scout Cookies. Our troop has to sell them."
"Why on Earth would we want to do that?" I asked, backing up against the kitchen wall. I was starting to regret never having put in hidden panels with weapons around the house. But then Kelly would just laugh at me if I pulled a garrote on her.
"Because it's a fundraiser for us and for the Council." She pointed to the stack of order forms and the colorful brochure showing the prizes the girls get for selling so many boxes. I started flipping through the flier. Tiny pewter owls? Why does a little girl need one tiny pewter owl? Unless the purpose is to melt it down into one tiny, pewter bullet—then it sorta makes sense. And what's with all the sticker books? Diabolical! I can only see a child's access to 101 stickers turning into a nightmare of epic proportions. Oh wait! Dora the Explorer stickers! I looked up at my Dora bedsheet curtains and cringed. I really need to buy drapes.
"How do we sell cookies?" I asked. "Set up a store somewhere?" I had no idea how something like this worked. It kinda sounded like a scam, actually. Selling certain cookies only one time a year. Give them a taste, and then demand turns into desperation. Hmmm…also diabolical. I knew international villains who could learn something from the Girl Scouts.
"We go door-to-door," Kelly sighed. "Take the forms to work. Call our friends and beg or blackmail them."
Definitely a scam. I shook my head. "I don't have any friends besides you, Rex, and Riley." I wondered if I had enough blackmail material to get Riley to take the form to Langley to sell among the other spooks. I mean, I had some good stuff (like photos from the time he overused self-tanner for a job on the Riviera and looked like an Oompa Loompa), but did I have enough?
"Wait!" I said as I studied the form. "People have to give their names, addresses, and phone numbers?" No one in the CIA would do that. We can't even tell spouses and children what we do for a living.
"You'll have to do it." I shoved the whole mess toward my best friend and troop co-leader. "I'll do the behind the scenes work. Like the incentives and inventory, fear and intimidation, blackmail sales, wet work, and stuff."
Kelly rolled her eyes. I got the distinct impression she wasn't taking me seriously. "No wet work—no spy stuff! We're just selling cookies!"
I winked at her. "Right." I placed my index finger on my lips and looked around. "Just selling cookies." I winked again for emphasis.
Kelly rolled her eyes and sighed the sigh of 100 martyrs. "Look, we have to do it. I know you don't want to. But it's non-negotiable. If you want to do all the things you've planned with this troop and you don't want to pay for it yourself, we have to do this fundraiser."
She put her hands on her hips, a sign I knew meant that this conversation was over, and I had lost. And she was right. Even if she wasn't. Kelly was right. She always won.
"I'm not planning anything expensive…" I moped.
My best friend's right eyebrow bent upwards. "Oh really? What about the winter survival skills campout?"
I shrugged. "That's a totally legit idea."
"In Newfoundland?" Kelly asked. "And your equipment list is ridiculous." She numbered the items off. "Snow shoes and cross-country skis for each girl…sleeping bags with a 50-degrees-below-zero rating…white sniper camouflage suits…"
"Hey!" I protested. "Those are important!"
Kelly ignored me. "And I'm not even going to mention flying in some Israeli Mossad agent you know to teach a weekend-long class on self-defense to second-grade girls."
I lifted my chin and sniffed. "It's called Krav Maga—and he's the world's foremost expert. How do you expect these girls to survive a kidnapping attempt?"
Kelly narrowed her eyes. Uh-oh. Why did I have to bring that up?
"Well, I guess they could've used that a few months ago when you dragged them into a gunfight with the CIA and local SWAT team."
I slumped. She was right. Totally my fault there. I still felt bad for that one. It didn't matter that the girls thought it had been the best day of their lives.
Kelly's voice softened. "Look, all I'm saying is that these things cost money. And we can raise some of that by doing what Girl Scouts have been doing for a century—selling cookies."
"Fine," I grumbled. "But you have to be in charge."
"Okay. But I'm not doing everything," Kelly agreed. "I'll talk about it at the troop meeting."
A couple of months ago, my life had been pretty uneventful. I was your typical, disavowed CIA agent who moved back to Who's There, Iowa in disguise and under an assumed name. Kelly was the only person I grew up with who knew who I really was. That isn't as unusual as it may sound. No one really knew who I was when I lived here as a kid. I didn't have many friends and was kind of a wallflower—if wallflower means I was invisible (which, by the way, would've been an awesome superpower to have as a secret agent). My dad, a United States senator, didn't even start running for office until I'd gone off to college. And by then, he'd moved to Des Moines—the big city.
As for relatives—we only had my mom's family, and they all lived in Maryland. Never set foot in Iowa. My dad was an only child and my grandparents, long gone. I had a tiny connection to this community, which was a benefit as far as I was concerned.
Anywhoo…I lived here completely under the radar and helped Kelly with her Girl Scout troop. That is, until someone started knocking off major international terrorists in my backyard and the CIA sent my former hottie handler, Riley Andrews, to babysit me.
"How's the dating thing going with Rex?" Kelly asked with a wink.
I shrugged. "Good, I guess." Rex was the gorgeous police detective who lived across the street.
"We hang out at his house every Saturday night with a rented movie and carryout," I said cautiously. My previous line of work as a secret agent still kicked in from time to time, and I didn't want to jinx it by telling Kelly too much.
Not that there was much to tell. We actually just spent Saturdays at his house, watching movies and eating. Rex said it was because he was out around town all the time with work and liked relaxing at home and getting to know me. But for this girl, whose dates have included dodging bullets at a Polish fusion restaurant in Tel Aviv and dancing the rhumba with diplomats at a NATO gala, things were getting a little dull.
"Sounds cozy…" Kelly smiled.
"You got that right," I answered. I'd virtually memorized everything in Rex's living room, from the candlesticks that could be used as weapons to how long it would take us to get out through the side windows if attacked by North Korean spies or spider monkeys armed with blow darts (which, it might surprise you to know, can actually be the same thing).
Kelly frowned and studied me. "Not going well?"
I shrugged again. "We have fun. He's great to hang out with. We fool around a little." Rex was a great kisser. We hadn't taken it much further than making out though. I wasn't going to tell her I was getting worried. Let her think everything's fine.
"I just thought dating a detective would be a little more exciting." You know, I really have no idea what I'm going to say sometimes.
My best friend's right eyebrow arched sharply. "Exciting? I thought you didn't want that."
I waited for her to once again remind me of the mess that happened a few months ago, but she didn't say anything.
"Well, what about Riley?" Kelly said with a wicked grin.
I glared at her, but she just gave me that look that said answer-the-question-cuz-I'm-not-going-to-drop-it-til-you-do. I hated that look.
"Riley is…well, that's complicated," I finally answered. A few months ago, it seemed like my former handler was interested in me. But I hadn't heard from him in over four weeks. He'd said something about a lead on Midori Ito—a Yakuza boss who'd rudely showed up murdered in my kitchen a short while ago. We'd never solved that murder, and Riley was on the case. Part of me got that he was a working CIA operative, often sent out of country on assignments for long periods of time. But the other part of me was a little more needy than that.
"I think he's been out of town on assignment," I said in hopes of ending this line of questioning. "Which is fine because I'm seeing Rex." And that was true. I didn't really want a love triangle, did I?
Kelly nodded. "Fine. I've got to go anyway." She put on her coat and headed for the door. "Read over the stuff for the meeting. We've got to go over this with the girls." And then she left.
I carried the Girl Scout materials, a bottle of wine, and a plate full of Pizza Rolls with a healthy dollop of three-cheese ranch dressing out to the living room and put them down on my new coffee table.
That's right. I'd finally bought furniture! Okay, well, I'd bought a coffee table. Kelly had taken me to IKEA a few weeks ago. Her argument was that since I now had a boyfriend of sorts, I should have furniture that a grown-up would have. We spent hours in showroom after showroom before I finally freaked out and bought one tiny table for my living room and threatened her with a stapler if we didn't leave immediately. That was it.
Have you ever been in one of those places? I felt like I was being assaulted by furniture and designers. How the hell does someone survive a place like that? I suppose if you were wealthy, you could just pick out whole rooms and have them delivered. But I couldn't do that. Oh sure, I had money, but I had no idea if those whole rooms would work in my house. Wouldn't I have to measure or something? And if it all didn't fit, how on Earth would I decide what goes and what doesn't?
Kelly was slightly less than happy with me as we drove three hours home with one box containing the pieces and parts for a coffee table. She didn't even offer to help me put it together. I didn't want to ask Rex because I wanted to surprise him with my new "grown-up" status as a responsible furniture owner.
It took me five days to put the damn thing together. I'm not kidding. And when I got it done, it looked less like a table and more like something Picasso had drawn after ingesting LSD and chasing it with absinthe. Still, it stood and wobbled a only little. Well, it wobbled only a little once I put a 9mm magazine under one of the legs.
I haven't unveiled it to Rex yet. I'm waiting to do a big ta-da when I get a lamp or something. I want to really blow his mind.
The doorbell rang, and I paused with a mouthful of Pizza Rolls. Who could that be? Kelly must've forgotten something. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, because I'd forgotten napkins again, and made my way toward the door.
I couldn't see anything out of my security peephole in the door. That's weird. Was it a little kid? I took a chance and opened the door.
"Please…" A man lay bleeding on my porch. He reached toward me with bloody fingers. "Help…" His eyes grew wide when he saw my face, just before the light went out of them and he collapsed, lifeless.
I stepped over him and looked around the neighborhood. There was no one there. A long, bloody trail led from a beat-up, orange hatchback in my driveway. This guy hadn't been delivered here by someone else. He drove here. To my house.
I pulled my cell phone out, dialed, and watched until the lights came on in the house directly across the street.
"Hey, Merry!" Rex answered. His deep, sexy voice usually took my breath away, but not this time. Okay…so maybe it did…a little.
"Rex," I said without any pleasantries. "Do you remember hearing about Lenny Smith?"
"The spy who sold all those tech secrets from Silicon Valley to the Chinese? Yeah." His voice was a little more guarded now, which was depressing.
"You might want to come over," I said with a sigh. "He's dead on my front porch."