Authors: Leslie Langtry
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MARSHMALLOW S'MORE MURDER
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Copyright © 2016 by Leslie Langtry
Cover design by Janet Holmes
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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"Merry." Riley was breathing heavily—and not in the good way—through my cell phone. "Help me…"
The line went dead, and my world obediently exploded.
Twelve little girls started squealing instantaneously as if they were all rigged to the same C-4 charge and some idiot had pushed the big, red button.
"Girls!" I shouted in vain as I stared at my phone. But they ignored me because the First Lady was walking toward them.
Yeah, no way I could corral them now. Dammit. I hit the redial button and walked away from the scene of my troop surrounding the most important woman in the country. Oh well, the Secret Service agents could handle this. Maybe.
My heart was pounding as I listened to the endless ringing. Something was very wrong. Riley was in trouble, had asked for my help, and I was in no position to help him. In fact, why was he calling me? If my former handler was on assignment, why didn't he call the CIA?
"Ms. Wrath!" I heard shouting behind me and turned to see a Secret Service agent in his black suit, mirrored sunglasses, and earpiece, holding two of the Kaitlins apart. One of them had a bruise developing on her chin. The other had a smug look on her face.
We had four Kaitlins in the troop. Each one had the same last initial. All four had brown hair and brown eyes. And each girl spelled her name differently from the others. It was just easier to refer to them all as
. Easier mainly because sometimes I had trouble telling who was who. Of course, I was never going to admit something like that. Showing any sort of weakness around little girls was about as dangerous as poking a grizzly with a painful skin rash.
My Girl Scout troop was pretty large. Memorizing last names wasn't something I was good at. Kelly knew their last names and most of the parents—a task nearly impossible since the parents weren't really around much. Getting the first names down was enough for me because I was also in charge of making sure the girls didn't set fire to…well, anything. They really liked starting fires at camp and took up the task with the eagerness of pyromaniacs in a match factory made of wood.
I sighed, pulling the two aside so the First Lady could talk to the girls who
fighting. "What are you two doing?"
I was on my own here. My best friend and co-leader, Kelly, was back at home about to have a baby at any moment. Our troop had won a free trip to Washington DC for selling the most Girl Scout Cookies…
. You can do that when you can blackmail a bunch of CIA agents. And trust me, I had lots of material to work with.
So, I had to bring the girls on this trip without backup. Well, technically that wasn't entirely true. I had a parent with me because the girl-to-adult ratio is very strict in Scouting. But Mrs. Evelyn Trout was once again AWOL—so I was handling things alone. An idea that was looking more like a bad one with every advancing second.
"She called me a stupid-head!" the smug Kaitlin snapped.
I looked at the bruised Kaitlin. "Why did you do that?"
The agent let go of the two and walked away, foolishly believing I had things under control now. He stormed over to help the other four agents contain the remaining ten girls, who were now mobbing the most important woman in the United States.
"She said the Secret Service carried Brownings, when
knows they carry Glocks!" Bruised Kaitlin folded her arms over her chest, and the smug look transferred from one to the other.
I threw my arms up in the air. "I don't care if they carry flamethrowers! You can't fight in front of the First Lady!"
A cry rose up from the group, and I turned to see five very panicked men backing up from an advancing horde of squealing children. The First Lady, Mrs. Benson, simply smiled and raised her hand, fingers in the quiet sign for Girl Scouts everywhere. Immediately, my girls stopped, raised their hands, and went silent. I tried not to laugh. I really did. An unarmed woman succeeded where five armed bodyguards had failed. Classic.
The Secret Service used to be made up of competent, professional men and women. And while I was sure there were still a handful of those dedicated agents out there, recent stories in the news had kind of tarnished that reputation. I could have wondered what happened to make it all go downhill, but that would have meant I had time to care about other federal agents. I didn't.
There wasn't a lot of love between the agencies. In fact, the annual softball tourney usually got a little out of hand. Especially that one time in the 1960s when Team CIA slathered the balls with LSD. I hadn't been born yet, but I wish I'd been there to see the FBI team running in terror from imaginary dragons in the outfield.
"You know, ladies…" the President's wife said to the girls who were now seated on the floor around her. "…I was a Girl Scout."
A chorus of "wow"s
and "no way"s rose up around her before the silence settled in and the First Lady started telling them about her days as a Brownie.
"Were you ever in any shootouts?" Inez asked through missing front teeth.
"Why don't they have badges for throwing knives?" pretty, plump Hannah asked, her blonde hair in two ponytails.
The First Lady looked a little confused, "Um…no?"
"Girls!" I hissed. "Appropriate questions, please!"
Lauren, a tall, skinny kid with a long, red braid, stuck her chin out. I was a little worried. Lauren wasn't difficult at all. She just had a strange way of looking at things.
"Do you like dogs?" she asked finally.
Mrs. Benson laughed. "I do like dogs. That's one question I can answer. We have two golden retrievers here at the White House."
I relaxed a bit as the First Lady launched into a story about how she and the President had gotten their dogs. The girls were silent. They loved animals. Any animals. This would take a little while.
My name is Merry Wrath, and I used to be an active CIA agent. And I know, if you saw me—with my short, unruly hair and slim frame—you probably wouldn't believe I could have been a field agent. I've heard that before. But it didn't take brawn so much as brains and the ability to improvise to be a good agent.
At that time, my name was Finnoughla Merrygold Czrgy, and Riley, the man who'd just called begging for help, was my handler. I'd worked black ops all over the world for years until the previous Vice President outed me to a journalist to get back at my father, a US Senator, for a vote he didn't like. After several lengthy congressional hearings and some nasty finger-pointing, some random guy went to prison, and I was out of a job. The Agency paid me a very handsome severance package, and I was set for life. But still—I had to leave a job and lifestyle I loved because of political backstabbing.
Since that time, I've changed my name and appearance and moved back to Who's There, Iowa, where I lead a troop of twelve soon-to-be third grade Girl Scouts. Weirdly, my life is far more dangerous now than when I was a spy, complete with the inconvenient appearance of dead terrorists in my house and being stalked by cat assassins. Go figure.
"Okay, girls!" I shouted as Mrs. Benson got to her feet. We were only allotted a few moments on her schedule, but no matter how long, I knew my troop would never forget this visit. "Let's thank the First Lady for her time! We need to get going!"
Being a former CIA agent and having a dad who's high up in political circles meant that I could give this trip some special side trips. Like meeting the First Lady in the White House. There were some perks from my forced early retirement after all.
But right now, my heart wasn't really in it because I was worried about Riley. There was no doubt it was Riley who called. I'd have known that voice anywhere. But why was he calling me? Riley was an active agent with the CIA. I stopped working for him two years ago. Calling me made no sense because if he'd called the Agency, they'd have entire teams trying to find him using every resource available. Which was about one hundred percent more resources than I had.
And I knew of only one place where I could find the answers—Langley, CIA Headquarters. The fact that I'd be dragging a bunch of eight-year-old girls along was simply a bonus. We left the White House and some very relieved Secret Service men and headed out.
The men with holstered guns at the main gate, however, were not amused.
"You're not on the visitor's list, Ms. Wrath," said the humorless man in the black suit, mirrored sunglasses, and earpiece. I swear—Feds are
unimaginative. Perhaps I could have Dad submit a congressional bill to make these guys dress like bananas or aardvarks. Nothing would confuse a would-be terrorist more than a banana toting an Uzi.
"Merry!" My old friend Maria Gomez waved as she walked toward us. "Knock it off, Smith, they're with me! Who do you think is responsible for those?" She pointed at the remains of at least a dozen boxes of Girl Scout Cookies littering the guard shack. I smiled as he winced.
Langley never knew what hit them. Apparently Girl Scouts would make very effective terrorists. Think about it—all they'd have to do would be show up in uniform with a little wagon full of cookies.
"Is that a dead
?" Ava cried with glee as she pointed to a gruesome photo on the wall.
"What kind of holster do you prefer—hip or shoulder?" Betty asked a horrified agent.
"Is this the NOC List?" Lauren asked as she punched a few keys on a computer. "Did Tom Cruise really come down from the ceiling in here and try to steal it? Can I do that?"
I ignored them as I filled Maria in on the call from Riley, handing her my cell in hopes she could trace it. Okay, okay, I didn't ignore them. The girls were always in my peripheral vision. Besides, they were only asking questions. These agents should have realized this was educational.
"Don't you have anyone helping you?" Maria asked as she eyed the girls running amok in her department.
I sighed. "Evelyn Trout—one of the parents—is supposed to be here. But she keeps running off before we leave in the morning." I shrugged. "I always find her in the bar at the end of the day. Besides, I can handle it," I totally lied.
Maria Gomez and I went through training together at The Farm. That was the secret CIA compound where they turned ordinary people into smart killing machines. There weren't very many women in our class, so Maria and I became close. She was funny and smart and fluent in every variation of the Spanish language on the planet. The woman was also a knockout with huge brown eyes, pouty lips, and waves of thick and glossy shoulder-length hair. It worked to her advantage every time.
One of the girls had found a way to access the speaker system through the phones and announced in a disguised voice, "Poopy Heads have infiltrated the building! I repeat, Poopy Heads have infiltrated the building!"
Maria looked back at me. "Yeah, I think you've got this." She turned to her computer and started typing. I'd tell you more than that, but it would be a breach of national security. While she worked, I shot my troop a glare that made them settle down a little. The only female agent in the room wisely showed up with pads of paper and colored markers, and the girls were cleverly distracted. At least for a little while. I made a mental note to send the assistant a case of cookies next year.
After a few minutes, Maria said, "I triangulated the call, and it seems to be coming from the DC metro area, but I can't get more specific." She squinted at the screen. "I think I can get it down to a six-block radius, but it will take a little time."
Damn. I didn't know how much time Riley had. But there wasn't much I could do. Everything depended on the technology we had, and the CIA was at the top of the list in that regard. At least he was in the country and in the same city. If he'd been in Bangkok, he'd have been on his own. For a moment I pictured taking my troop to Thailand. The thought made me shudder.
I got to my feet and shook Maria's hand. "Thanks. Let me know. I'm going to take these kids to the hotel pool for the rest of the afternoon to burn off some energy." And hopefully do a little more thinking on this problem.
"No problem," Maria said. "It's the least we can do. I always felt bad about the way you were railroaded out of here."
"I know you can't tell me what Riley's been working on, but can you give me a hint? It might help narrow things down," I asked.
"I don't have that kind of clearance, Merry," she said. And she was right. I knew better than to ask.
I turned to the girls and announced, "Okay, ladies! Let's head back to the hotel for some pool time!"
The room exploded into cheers. That was one way to round up a bunch of kids. Promise them swimming. I'd have to remember that.
Maria laughed. "Where are you staying?"
"The Grand American Inn downtown," I said, my eyes on Ava, who had just hacked an absent agent's computer and was setting up a dummy database where everyone's name was
Time to go.
Back at the hotel pool, I collapsed onto a chaise lounge while the girls drove the lifeguard crazy. He was cute, with long dark hair and a sweet smile. He was maybe sixteen—which meant he was in for it. My girls were a little boy crazy. I heard constant cries of "look at me" shouted in his general direction over and over. When he did glance at them, they swooned. Caterina, one of the quietest girls, actually pretended to drown. If I didn't know she was on a swim team, I'd have worried. These girls were good. If they didn't have a future in espionage, they definitely had one in acting.