It was lunchtime, and the line for the sandwich shop wound out the door.
Terrence hated when it got busy like this. By the time customers made it to the counter, they were all holding onto their tempers with both hands. If he was lucky.
Case in point—the red-headed American standing in front of him.
“Okay, I want a sandwich, a real sandwich,” he was saying. “Like a hero sandwich.”
Terrence blinked. “You want a sandwich that’ll make you a hero?” This guy had listened to far too many commercials.
The American sighed. “Never mind. Just make me a sandwich.”
Terrence grabbed two slices of bread and reached for the butter.
Terrence froze, a glob of butter still on the knife.
“Don’t touch my sandwich with butter. Jeez. I can’t believe people back home think this country has culture. Put mayonnaise on it. You have mayo, right?
Terrence wiped the knife carefully. The man had used the first of the code words—no butter. “Of course, sir. What else would you like on your sandwich?”
“Let’s start with roast beef.”
Terrence slapped beef on the sandwich and automatically put the top slice of bread on. “Here you go—“
“We’re not done. I said I wanted a hero sandwich.” The man shook his head. “Take the top slice off and add another kind of meat. Maybe ham.”
Terrence added ham, but the American stopped him before he got the bread on top again.
“No—don’t put that top slice back until I say we’re done. Add some shredded pork.”
Three kinds of meat. That was the other code. This guy seemed eccentric, but that was no doubt part of his cover. The CIA probably put them through special classes.
Either that or they never fed their agents. The American insisted on adding lettuce, tomato, and olives before Terrence could put the thing together again. He charged the guy for four sandwiches, and the man didn’t even blink at the price. That was the final code in the sequence. He slipped the small capsule of paper in next to the meat.
Judy swore under her breath. She’d been watching Terrence carefully, concerned that he’d get confused when the guy in front of her used all the right phrases. She grabbed her wallet and followed the American out the door. He headed straight for the park.
She had to get the sandwich from him before he found the message.
As he ambled toward a park bench, she ran up behind. “Excuse me, sir, but can you help me? My tire went flat, and I don’t have a jack. If I don’t move it soon, they’ll clamp it, and I don’t have enough to pay the fine.”
He turned around. “I’d love to help, but I’m not exactly carrying a jack. All I’ve got is a sandwich.” He grinned, a quick flash of teeth in his freckled face. “I’m actually looking forward to eating it.”
Marian shook her head as she ran a critical eye over Judy’s jeans and trainers. What an amateur. Didn’t they teach seduction techniques anymore? Say what you like about modern education—she thought it was going downhill fast. She adjusted her tight-fitting silk skirt and sauntered over.
“Don’t bother,” she husked in a sultry voice. “She’s probably going to use it for something illegal. I know this woman. She hasn’t worked an honest job in years.”
Judy’s head snapped around. “And you, of course, are a prime example of hard work. Isn’t a little early for walking the streets?”
Marian’s laugh was throaty and hinted at possible pleasures to come. “My affection is hardly for sale.” She took a step closer to the American. “But it can be earned—if the right person is trying.”
The American swallowed hard. “I’ve, uh, got a sandwich here if you’d like to share. It’s the closest thing to a hero you’ll find on this side of the Atlantic.”
Marian’s lips curved. “I doubt that.”
Aaron walked by and his head swiveled. Marian. He still owed her for that regrettable incident in Istanbul. It had taken him months to live it down.
He joined the group by the bench and gave Marian’s target a smile. “Just a word to the wise, friend—last time I spent any time with this lady, I woke up in handcuffs.”
“You seemed to enjoy it at the time.” Even Marian’s shrug managed to be sultry. Maybe he’d snag what she wanted and then let her steal it from him. Afterward.
Judy rolled her eyes. “Please. You can do better than her.”
Aaron doubted it. He needed to find out what the package was. “So what seems to be the problem?”
The American said, “I was just about to have lunch, but this lady needs help changing a tire. Do you have a jack?”
Aaron shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” Lunch? Was it in the sandwich? “Maybe the two of us can lift the car long enough to prop it up on blocks or something.”
The American put his sandwich back in the bag and the two ladies relaxed. Okay, target identified. The four of them headed down a side street that had a dusty Mini parked at the end.
Aaron had just tried the rear bumper with the American when a flicker of movement caught his eye. Marian was headed down the street. Just then, man’s voice called out, “Why the hell are you messing with my car?”
Judy swore and sped back toward the main street—in hot pursuit of Marian. “I’ll take that,” she said as she lifted the sack smoothly from behind.
“Bitch,” spat Marian. “Aaron—she’s getting away.”
This had better be worth it, he thought as he darted past.
Rivin peered out between two bushes. Judy had reached the park with pursuit only a few steps behind. She shot a despairing look toward the bushes and Rivin sighed. Brownie to the rescue again.
He leaped out and wrapped a quick glamour around himself as Judy tossed him the sack. The mortal chasing her should only see a cocker spaniel.
But the man dove into a rugby tackle, and the bag went flying.
“Hey, that’s my sandwich,” a red-headed guy yelled, coming up from behind.
“What the hell?” Rivin’s assailant said. “You don’t feel like a dog.”
Rivin snapped a kick under the man’s chin, and his head rolled back.
“Look, I’ll buy you another sandwich,” Judy said smoothly, stepping toward the redhead. “It’s the least I can do for all the trouble I put you through.”
Rivin ducked behind her and slapped on invisibility before scooping up the sandwich to flee. The sound of arguing voices retreated as he approached the Thames.
He slipped into his favorite passage and emerged on the other side in Faerie. Even if he were blind, he could tell the difference, just from the scent of the air. Not even a hint of petrol.
Rivin borrowed a horse and rode until the moon started to set. He set the horse to pasture and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“I bear a message for her ladyship’s eyes only,” he insisted to the wizard at the door. The wizard’s eyes narrowed, and Rivin’s vision started to dim. He rasped, “I’ll just sidestep back into mortal lands if you don’t let me go.”
“Good riddance,” the wizard murmured. His eyes filled with the same sort of curiosity a cat’s might as they played with their food.
“And I would not be pleased.” Her ladyship’s voice held a hint of steel.
The pressure eased immediately. Rivin got to his feet, sucking in deep breaths. He barely managed to bow before handing the sandwich over.
Lady Almadine unrolled the message and tapped a perfect fingernail on the table before writing out a reply. She met Rivin’s eyes as she handed it back.
“This is to go through the same chain of agents as before. This must be in the Prime Minister’s hands before tomorrow’s sun sets.”
Rivin gulped. “Er, the exact same? There could be a problem with that…”
Note: ordering a sandwich in London is based on my husband’s experiences in the late 80s. It could be peppered with Subways now for all I know, so if that’s the case, give it the proper time stamp, and hopefully, the story will make sense. 🙂