The Assignment

by Doreen F.

Michael could not believe his luck. After some tiresome years of working at the Special Branch in the office sorting out suspicious information from the completely irrelevant he was finally appointed a more interesting task. He had always been great at Physics and had a university degree. He was spotted by Special Branch scouts and got his job, which had not been really interesting so far. But they were short of staff because of the increasing number of terror warnings. Never would he have dreamed of this - well, maybe as a little boy. He was supposed to go to France to investigate a suspicious death of a British sailor and to trace his last steps in Europe. Michael was really grateful that he had been raised bilingually – his mother was French, well Franco-Canadian. Anyway he knew French very well, which was one of the reasons why he got the job. The Special Branch was short of people with language skills and surveillance training. In Calais Michael was to meet his French partner for this operation. They did not leave him much time to even pack his things. The assignment seemed urgent or did they only want to get him out of the office. There had been some really strange things going on in the last week. Everyone was being secretive and most of his colleagues never talked much anyway.

So Michael packed his belongings and got into his car in order to catch the last ferry to France. On the ferry he had time to think the assignment over. He outlined what he wanted to do on the next day. The French agent was supposed to meet him in the morning.

After some time on the upper deck watching the sunset Michael returned to the main deck and bought himself fries for dinner. Special Branch had booked a room at a rather shabby hotel, but he did not really mind. He did not expect to spend much time there anyway. At the hotel he unpacked the few things he had taken with him. It was not all that late, but Michael was exhausted. He went to the bathroom to take out his contact lenses. They had been bugging him since the wind had blown rather strongly on the ferry; he put on his glasses which were quite new. His university degree had impressed the scouts so much that they had even accepted a Special Branch agent whose eyes were not within the rather strict limits. "You never know, it might come in handy" they said. Probably they did not expect to send Michael on any assignment and had forgotten about it since he had been wearing contact lenses ever since he started working for them. With -6.00 Michael’s prescription was not extremely high, but that always depends on the point of view. He had never minded wearing glasses at school as he was a good student and really into science he thought that glasses fitted to the general image. It had not taken him long to get used to contacts, but now it felt really weird to be wearing glasses in public.

Before falling asleep Michael placed his glasses on the night stand. In case of an emergency he wanted to have them at hand. There was no such emergency that night, but one could never know. In the morning he awoke refreshed. After a shower he went down to the small room where breakfast was served. He had decided to stay in glasses for breakfast as he did not know what the day would bring and how long he would have to wear contact lenses that day. A coffee and some croissants later he felt strong enough for whatever the day might bring.

Back at his room he was putting in the contacts, when he heard a knock at his door.

"Who is it? Ce qui?"

"Your partner for the day." A female voice said.

"I’ll be right there, give me a minute or two. Espérez-vous, s’il vous plait."

Quickly Michael blinked his contact lenses into place and headed for the door. A French woman in her late twenties who was quite attractive rushed into his room.

"Hi, I’m Dominique La Roche! Gosh, I did not expect someone my age", she smiled.

"Hello, I’m Michael Barclay! I didn’t expect a female French agent my age" he smiled back at her.

Dominique outlined what the French knew so far and Michael told her what he knew and together they outlined what they wanted to do that day. They got on surprisingly well, but kept teasing each other persistently.

The day passed with a lot of research being done and in the evening they had reached the conclusion that they would have to go to Paris in order to find out more. Dominique wanted to leave in the evening, Michael wanted to stay the night in Calais and leave in the morning. In the end he ran out of arguments and had to give in. Dominique had twisted him around her finger. So Michael went to his hotel room and packed his belongings in his bag and checked out. They decided to leave his old Corsa and take Dominique’s Twingo to Paris. It was extremely dark and there was not much traffic. Dominique was driving really fast and Michael did not feel particularly safe at the beginning, but after some time he relaxed as he was tired. But he did not want to doze off, the main reason for that being Dominique’s driving skills. His contacts started bothering him a bit when he started rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, but fortunately Dominique was too busy while driving to notice.

After a while he started talking casually to Dominique in order to stay awake. She was really interesting and once they started talking about movies time passed really quickly and at 4.00 they reached the outskirts of Paris. They were going to Dominique’s place in order to relax a bit. To his utter surprise Dominique’s flat was even smaller than his back home. She pointed out that he could sleep on the couch. They had decided to start to work around 9, so there were nearly 4 hours of rest ahead of them. Dominique went to her room which was the only other room. Michael lay down on the sofa. Suddenly he realised that he was still in contacts, but he could hardly find the energy to get up again. Eventually he went to the bathroom and took them out. 4 hours of rest was not much for his eyes, but all that he could give them at the moment.

The couch was quite comfortable and Michael had no problem falling asleep as soon as he lay down. He woke up after what felt like ten minutes because Dominique was up and not too quiet either. Michael sat up and looked around, but could not see too well without correction.

"Hurry up, I overslept, it’s nearly ten." Dominique said as she noticed that he was awake.

"Just gimme a minute."

"I’ll make some coffee and then we have to go."

"Good, I’ll be right back" Michael said getting. Where had he put his contacts case? Had he put it back into his bag? He looked for it anxiously, but it was not there. Had he left it in the bathroom?

"What are you looking for, Michael? I think you left something in the bathroom, if that’s what you’re looking for."

"I hope so, thanks."

He rushed to the bathroom. How could he have been this stupid? Leaving his lenses in the bathroom? He must have been really tired. Squinting around he found his contacts case on the sink. What would Dominique be thinking? Had she drawn the conclusion? She was not dumb, so she probably knew. Quickly Michael put his contact lenses in. They were far from comfortable, but after a while and lots of blinking they felt okay. He glanced at himself in the mirror before he heard Dominique calling and returned to the main room. The coffee was on the table.

"Thanks for the coffee and letting me stay at your place. Your boyfriend will be jealous, when he finds out."

"He won’t because there is no boyfriend. But you should not tell your girlfriend either."

"She won’t hear anything because I don’t have a girlfriend. That’s part of the job, I guess."

They smiled at each other.

"Uh, listen Michael… I’ve seen you wear contact lenses, there’s no need for secrecy. Remember I’m an agent as well."

"Great, I hope that’s not a problem. I mean my eyes are not within the limits, you know?"

"If you are a good agent, I don’t give a damn about it, but make sure you don’t lose them."

"I’ll do my best and I’ll carry my glasses with me."

"Right, let’s go then, we’ve got many things to do."

Pocketing his glasses Michael left the flat and they went down to Dominique’s car. A lot of their work was boring and consisted of questioning various people without getting any result. One of them seemed extremely suspicious and when they told that to their bosses they got the permission to bug him. Michael, the physical scientist built two bugs and Dominique who was extremely skilled in opening doors brought them into place. They decided to start their surveillance immediately. They spent some hours in the car listening to their suspect or rather not listening since nothing was happening until eight, when the suspect got a strange phone call after which he left his home. They had agreed to follow him, but only one of them, Dominique – she had once again convinced Michael. She had a walkie-talkie and they agreed to stay in contact. Michael was bored watching the flat. What should be happening anyway? His contact lenses were driving him crazy, but there was nothing he could at the moment. After a while Dominique returned looking disappointed. "I lost him, there were too many people and suddenly he was gone. Let’s call it a day and continue tomorrow, okay?"

"Great idea, I’m really tired."

Back at Dominique’s flat Michael excused himself saying, "I have to take my contacts out." That was quite a relief. He put on his glasses and returned to the main room.

"What would you like to eat, I only have frozen pizza" she asked from the kitchen.

"Doesn’t matter."

"Frozen pizza it is then" Dominique said turning to face him.

"Oh, Michael, nice glasses" she smiled at him blushing slightly.

"They’re quite thick, aren't they?"

"Not what you’d expect from an agent, but as long as Special Branch doesn’t care, who am I to judge that?"

"Actually I value your opinion, so what do think?"

"They suit you and you’re gorgeous anyway?"

"Really?"

"Did I say that out loud? Oh, my god I can’t believe I just told you, my colleague, that you’re gorgeous."

"It doesn’t matter. I really like you Dominique. You’re the best part of this whole boring job."

They moved closer and kissed and neither of them regretted taking this step. The night was great, although they did not get all the sleep they would have needed. At least Michael could enjoy the comfort of a bed instead of the couch.

In the morning they felt refreshed and after a coffee and croissant they took Dominique’s car to their surveillance post. Michael had once again put in his contacts, which felt better than in the evening, but he was carrying his glasses with him just in case.

There was not much activity in the morning. They took turns having lunch. In the early afternoon they were about to call it a day and leave when the suspect left his flat. This time they decided to tail him together. He took the metro to Monmatre and suddenly they found themselves in a run-down neighbourhood. Michael did not feel really safe at all. This felt like a trap. Dominique would not hear that and they went on until they reached a cule-de-sac. The suspect had vanished in one of the buildings. They decided to wait outside. The weather was not great, there was a storm coming and Michael’s eyes did not appreciate that at all. To hell with it, he thought, there’s nothing I can do about it right now. Dominique had noticed that he was in some serious discomfort, but there was nothing she could do either. Suddenly they heard voices coming from the only exit the street had. They were trapped. Dominique and Michael looked at each other thinking the same thought, "Run." They started running towards the high wall which was at the end of the street. Somehow the rush of adrenaline they were experiencing made the impossible possible and they managed to climb over the wall. Michael had no clue where they were and followed Dominique who was leading the way. While running Michael felt a sudden pain in his left eye and then his contact lens was gone. Great, he thought grimly, why don’t I stop and find my lens? Dominique was gaining and the men behind him were coming closer. Michael started running even faster straining his one good eye so as not to trip. They reached another metro station and without thinking Dominique went down the steep stairs, Michael close behind careful not to miss a step. They were in luck, a train was just about to depart and they squeezed through the closing doors.

Sitting down in the rather empty train they exhaled. "That was close, they nearly caught us."

"That was a trap. They must have noticed the surveillance."

"I guess, it was not as subtle as we thought."

"I must take my lens out. I lost the other while running."

"Oh, merde, I’m sorry Michael."

Michael took out his remaining contact and put it into the case. Then he reached into his pocket to take out his glasses. For a moment he thought they were not there, which would have been his end, but they were right there in their case. Slipping them out, he felt his hand being seized by Dominique. "We have to get out, Michael. They’ll be waiting at the station closest to my car."

Out of the metro they walked until they were quite close to the car.

"You have to get the car. They won’t recognise you that easily with glasses. And take off your jacket." Dominique said, ruffling through his hair. "Perfect, your own mother would not recognise you. I’ll be waiting in the boulangerie over there. Here’s the key and remember, we drive on the right."

Michael took the keys and casually walked towards the car, unlocked it and got behind the wheel. He turned the ignition and reversed out of the tiny parking spot. He had not been driving in glasses for long and it felt really weird. When he reached the boulangerie Dominique jumped in and they returned to her flat. They decided what to do. Back in the flat, they called their bosses and told them what had happened. A team was sent to where they had been attacked and to the flat and by sheer luck they managed to arrest the suspect. Unfortunately it turned he had nothing to do with Michael’s and Dominique’s case, he was a drug dealer. Their bosses were rather disappointed, but decided to give them two more days to follow up any other leads they had. Both could not help feeling that their bosses wanted them out of their way. But why?

They spent the evening at Dominique’s place eating Chinese takeaway for a change. They had a great evening despite the events of the day. Michael had called his optometrist back home and ordered new contact lenses since the ones he lost had been his last pair. So he had to stick to his glasses for the moment. Dominique’s relaxed attitude towards this made him feel better and he got used to wearing them quite easily. The night spent together was great. They were exhausted and fell asleep shortly before midnight.

In the morning Michael woke up first and turned over to watch Dominique sleeping. She looked so peaceful. Feeling his stares she opened her eyes.

"I hate being watched while sleeping, what about you?"

"Me too, but watching is really great."

They kissed again.

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