“I’m running a little late, Ma. Our class got tied up in a debate over a movie we watched, but I can pick up Lily,” Marlene Griffith said into her blue Motorola phone. “What? Yeah, I remembered… Ma! Ma, I gotta go! I forgot where I parked. Tell Lily I’ll pick her up. Yeah, okay, yeah. Bye.” Marlene had finished her History of Cinema class forty-five minutes late because of a light-hearted shouting match over some trivial scene in Nosferatu, which ended in Professor Bob the Bachelor (as they liked to call him) replaying the same scene over and over again several times to prove his point. After leaving class, she began walking in the general direction of where she was she sure she had parked her white dinged-up Nissan Sentra (a hand-me-down from one of her aunts) when her cell phone rang. It was her mother Maylene, demanding to know where she was. Her little sister Lily had an after school rehearsal for the fall drama at her high school and was wondering who was picking her up from there because she was cold. Maylene reamed her for not leaving her cell phone on, which Marlene resignedly explained that it was still rude in this day and age to do so. By the time she hung up the phone, she realized she had parked her car in another lot that day and, with a sigh, made her way back across campus.
Shivering against the chilly breeze that kicked up the loose leaves falling from the brown trees, Marlene’s mind was wandering, as it often did when she made her lonely treks to and from point A to point B. She pulled her zippered black sweater tighter around her generous chest and thought (for some reason) about her father. Adrian Warner Griffith died when Marlene was only four. For all the fleeting memories she had of her father, she had even less photos. Her favorite was a close-up Maylene had taken of him a year before he passed away. His surfer boy blonde hair, brooding but playful dark blue eyes, and pale skin. Marlene caught a glimpse of herself as she passed the Fairview Community College auditorium doors. Her layered dark brown hair, her brown, almost hazel eyes and curvy body. Her eyes traveled back to watch the concrete as she walked when she thought fleetingly of her mixed background. Adrian was German-American and her mom was Filipino-American.
The campus was essentially deserted at this time of night, save for a few stragglers or people waiting around for their own night classes. The student center had been closed for hours. Walking past the darkened library, Marlene suddenly got the overwhelming feeling that she was being watched. Her hurried pace slowed to an amble, as she silently took in her surroundings. A pale ring of light from a bug-infested overhead lamp didn’t help much, as Marlene cast her eyes towards the shadows that loomed around the ten-foot ring of light. Not wholly satisfied with her lack of results, she decided to keep on walking, her hands clutched tightly around the tiny, black handled retractable knife she kept on her key ring. In reflection, she knew it wouldn’t cause much damage, but if she knew her cop shows, it would allow her a chance to get even a sliver of evidence against this unseen attacker. Her mother had made her paranoid enough to believe that you should never be afraid of the dark, only what’s hiding in it.
After walking for a few more minutes, she finally saw her beat up car alone in the farthest parking lot away from her class, a beacon of escape from the terrors the night held, under a buzzing streetlamp. Breathing a sigh of relief, she removed her keys from the confines of her pocket.
“Miss Griffith?” an unfamiliar male voice questioned her from behind.
“Ahh!” Marlene gasped, spinning around and unfurling the cheap knife. A man slightly older than her, dressed in a generic navy blue suit, white shirt, and bland black tie smiled warmly at her. His eyes traveled briefly to the puny knife before grinning at her again.
“If I wanted to attack you, I would’ve done so behind the library,” he said, with a hint of a faded British accent, “you’ve got a lot to learn, kid.” Marlene was floored, to say the least.
“I’m sorry. Who are you again?” she asked, still not putting the knife away.
“Oliver Masterson, Section Seven,” he said, removing a thin card from the confines of his jacket. Marlene almost reached out to touch it but thought better of it. She had once seen a movie where a girl touched something as small as a business card and she started tripping off the drugs that were on it. Loosening her sweater’s right arm to cover her right hand, she gingerly reached out and grasped the card. Like any typical business card, it gave the man’s name, contact information, and place of business.
“Section Seven? Is that like SD-6?” Marlene asked stupidly, rereading the card several times.
“No… and yes,” Oliver replied obscurely. Marlene had seen too many spy flicks and read too many spook novels to not come to the conclusion that this guy was some sort of secret agent. For all intents and purposes, this was beginning to feel like a scene from a well-worn spy novel.
“I can tell by the look on your face you’re wondering why I’m approaching you like this,” Oliver began, watching her face expectantly.
“Well, yes,” Marlene replied, her hand that was holding the knife lowering to rest at her side.
“I’ve been tasked to prepare you to go undercover for Section Seven as soon as you’re trained up a bit,” said Oliver.
Marlene raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she blurted out rudely. Oliver pressed his lips together in a wry smile.
“Afraid not, kid. Look, I wouldn’t even be here, disrupting your life like this, if we didn’t need you. If the powers that be didn’t think you were ready for something like this. Of course, if we had it my way we wouldn’t even bother you until you were out of uni, but c’est la vie.”
Marlene’s facial expression slowly turned from instant surprise to utterly mystified, before she nodded her head knowingly. “I’m on some hidden camera show right, ‘cause if it is, you can come out now!” Marlene called in a sing-song voice over Oliver’s shoulder. Her call was greeted by the sounds of the leaves rustling and the buzz from the street lamp overhead. Her eyes guiltily returned to Oliver’s, who didn’t look the least bit upset, though a bit perturbed by all these disruptions she was causing.
“You’ll notice that even though you told them to come out, there are no cameras are around you,” he explained wryly. Marlene’s shoulders sank. “I know it’s a bit overwhelming for you now, but why don’t you sleep on it? I know you have to pick up Lily from school,” he added.
Marlene nodded, picking up on what he wasn’t saying. “Ri-ight. You’re a secret government agency, so you must know, like everything about me already,” Marlene offered.
Oliver chuckled. “Secret, yes. The government, not quite,” he said cryptically. The genial man made a move to leave before a question popped into Marlene’s head.
“Wait. If I suddenly decide I want to do this, how do I contact you? Do I call one of these numbers?” she asked, waving the card around.
“No. We’ll find you,” he said simply. “Okay, but…” she said, her eyes traveling to the card again before looking up. Oliver Masterson had disappeared. Before she could question it again, her phone rang again.
“Marlene!” Lily’s worried voice came over the phone line.
“Alright!! I’m on my way!” Marlene said, quickly disarming the alarm to her car and throwing the card and her backpack into the backseat openly and flooring it out of the parking lot.