The South |

The Eyes of Spies

by Lydia Ship

The double agent slid down the side of a roof and launched, arms waving, across an alley to the next building, followed closely by his pursuers. The agent and villains remained visible at all times because they existed in a movie. We watched this movie on gigantic twin leather sofas in a towering hotel’s private lounge, an unmarked floor near the top floor. Three other people sat on my couch and a disinterested man, most likely a spy, intertwined his legs with mine.

We had plenty of room, but the other couch held eight people sitting in the television’s skyscape glow as scenes from the movie flecked their rapt faces. Maybe that couch attracted the stupid spies because the movie wasn’t that great, with corny pratfall gags and a juvenile sexual undercurrent that placed scantily-clad women fighting or tricking the agents or being tricked; the spies mingling around us made fun of it, and the room grew rowdier, lookout-loud.

I’m not sure how I knew so many spies except that pretty much a third of the population had gone underground, but even before that, I always took chances—investing dangerously, driving at 90 mph, falling in love with men who made a lot of promises—and though little delivered still I believed in my instinct, so I guess my confidence singled me out, and I could cut a mean line on a paraglider; I always found myself racing a spy and then we ended up at some spy place or another, which was how I discovered the lounge.

The guy next to me was moving my legs with a light touch—over here, over there—and stone-faced, a German type who probably separated his food into tidy boxes of nutrition, wore a dark t-shirt tucked into dark pants every day, and certainly performed on me like he took himself far too seriously, which was funny and hot at the same time, because after all, he was a spy, I was sure of it. I was not a spy, hadn’t joined yet, because I imagined spies had to be precise and focused, while I am generalized in an abstruse way and scatterbrained. This German spy was scissoring my legs in a completely inappropriate manner, and I had on white-washed jeans with little zippers from ankle to calf because so help me, I’m such a tacky dresser, but he would zip and unzip the zippers and position my legs like he wanted me to cut him in half, and normally I’m not easy, but I sort of liked it… funny and hot. I grinned which he didn’t like so I stopped. Have you ever been naked without being naked? We were. The only reason I had reservations is that I’m a kissy person; I like kissing, and kissing this guy was out of the question, or at least, he had that kind of non-romantic demeanor. 

The lights in the room changed to red, and everyone moved at once, and when I separated from him my legs felt heavy, but he pulled me over, behind the couch, as the front doors of the lounge were kicked in—and I couldn’t believe it was really happening with everyone trying to escape but calmly like a sleeper ballet, and before I could roll under the couch, I slid instead down a ramp, a trapdoor, which the spy reached up and pushed back into place over me; he fastened it, and then he pulled a string that presumably slid something over the door or I’m not really sure what it did. 

We were in a tiny box. 

We crawled through another door into a dark tunnel, and he closed the door behind us and locked it. We couldn’t see each other though we weren’t moving. We listened to the floor above us, but we didn’t hear any violence, just orders. Some people had to strip to be searched and that must’ve been embarrassing, but it sounded like a government search, and the government was polite in these matters and probably gave them privacy from the others.

In our world, you were either searching or being searched. On the streets of our city’s desecrated downtown, no gang members flashed signs or guns anymore—only two sides remained: government, and spies. Citizens kept neutral and obedient for the most part. No prostitution, no loitering, no drugs, no violence, no jail for citizens, either. No cars: everyone flew on paragliders, unless you couldn’t fly, and then you walked. After all the arguments, it turned out deterrence really did work. Deterrence wiped out the cities and deterrence wiped out the crime. Deterrence worked, except on the spies. One of the reasons spies received the most lenient punishment was that nobody could prove they were spies. All of their sabotages looked like accidents such that sabotage was indistinguishable from accident. The spy networks were so diffuse that no one could prove they existed with certainty.

Yet there I was, underfoot, under-floor, caught in my first spy activity ever. 

“We’re going to stay here,” the spy said, and guess what his accent was?

 I smiled because of the dark. “You just want to keep me here.”

“That would have been a lot of trouble I went through, all to put you down here.” He sorted his words like beads on an abacus. 

“Yeah, but I’m worth it.” Maybe I’d be able to tell a smile from his voice.

“Sure,” he said. “But that would have been so much headache, making sure my allies left, waiting until the floor behind us cleared, texting my buddies to tip the police, timing it all perfectly. All for a few moments in the dark.”

I laughed.

“Shhhhh,” he said.

Then I felt his nose brush my cheek. I knew it was his nose because then I felt his eyelashes, and slowly, he felt my whole face with his face… funny and hot! He was getting ready for a kiss—it was kiss logic at last from the German spy!

I would say it was the most perfect kiss of my life, with the darkness only heightening all the other senses. One of the reasons is that I got the impression not just then but the whole night that he didn’t let himself go that often, he couldn’t, but there I was, clearly not a spy, completely trustworthy, in fact, and, not that I couldn’t see problems ahead, but we just naturally fit; under the floorboards of a government search was the perfect place to kiss me. (…Can I also fast-forward to say that I later found out he was like a culture encyclopedia; he lived in a tree house. My heart! All of this potentiality was in that first kiss.)

Then we heard banging on the floorboards, a trick to find hollow spots. I followed him deeper down the dark tunnel and we emerged in an elevator shaft. At least a dozen spies were descending wide gray ladders on both sides. We crawled down to the bottom and he popped some kind of wire above the elevator doors while I swung through, trying to look as if I’d just stepped out. When he stepped out after me, he’d changed his shirt and slumped like a citizen. A few citizens walked by and we feigned interest in a wall directory before taking the elevator down to the conference-level floor. We actually had a mission, or he did, at least. The mission didn’t have a name and it wasn’t clear who’d assigned it, exactly. 

We split up and I gate-crashed a marketing conference by linking arms with a random raucous polo shirt sporting a conference pass, and sidled outside to the skeet-shooting, where I spotted my spy. Sports involving guns, and martial law, too, for that matter, were encouraged now to the point of absurdity, and so he created a distraction at the barbeque grill while I removed the springs from the skeet shooters. As we’d planned, the skeet machine malfunctioned, and everyone herded inside for board games. I’m not sure why we did that, except that the board games were a lot more fun, but I think it also had something to do with the cameras outside. Spies always tried to thwart footage of citizens. Mission accomplished. That was it? That was it.

Looking around the room, I marveled at all the spies. The ubiquity of spy movies and books and paraphernalia in mass production suddenly made sense. After deterrence, signs of imagination all but disappeared, so of course everyone sought a kind of autobiography. But it was like a dream in which the most private parts of us had to stay hidden, until only two sides remained: perfect honesty and trust, and everything else. Looking around the room, if you were one of them, you could see secrets behind the eyes, people imagining better shelter.