by Edward Aubry

ISBN: 9780983893424
eBook Formats: .epub (Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod), .mobi (Kindle), .lit
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Quick Overview

What if your office crush almost killed you with a kiss?

Danny Marx has an innocent infatuation with the cute, quirky new girl, Caprice. When she meets him in the stairwell one day and surprises him with an unprovoked, yet passionate kiss, he thinks his fantasies have finally come true. That is until moments later when he becomes violently ill and collapses.

He awakens in a hospital where Caprice tells him that the kiss contained an exotic virus designed to intentionally make him sick. She breaks him out of the hospital claiming that both of their lives are in extreme danger.

Fleeing with Caprice, Danny embarks on an adventure in which nothing is what it seems. Exactly who or what is Caprice? Why are their lives in danger and who is chasing them? Can Danny trust the girl of his dreams…or has she just tossed him into a nightmare?

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1-  - FREAK

"Crush at 8:00."

Focusing on the task of firing a paper clip from a rubber band with the proper velocity to embed it in the soft, acoustic ceiling tile, Danny Marx nearly missed the significance of his co-worker's observation. His mind made the connection an instant before his release, spoiling his aim, and sending the clip careening off a fluorescent light panel into a neighboring cubicle. He heard a distant and weak cry of astonishment, and took comfort in the certainty that his culpability was not provable. He shot a look at the opening to his cubicle, and found the grinning face of Moe, the closest thing he had to a friend at work. Ignoring this face completely, he swiftly scooted his desk chair to the edge of the partition, and cast his gaze to the door of the stairwell.

"Ah, sweet nymph," he whispered. Standing just inside the door was a woman he did not know. He had not known her for about four weeks, ever since she had first walked into the building cafeteria during his lunch break and failed to introduce herself. Since then, he had gotten to not know her quite well. He didn't know her name, or where she came from. He didn't know how old she was. Although he conveniently imagined she was his age, twenty-six, he secretly acknowledged that she looked younger than that. From this, he was able to deduce absolutely nothing about her level of education. He didn't know her favorite movie, or song, or flavor of ice cream (assuming she was not lactose intolerant, about which he had no idea). Most vitally, he did not know if she had a boyfriend.

She was wearing her usual ensemble of skirt, shirt and necktie, all slightly mismatched. Today, they were confused shades of pink. On her feet were black boots with heels, over tall, white socks. The glasses she wore had unusually wide, wafer thin lenses in perfectly circular wire frames, making her eyes seem larger and her chin smaller than they actually were. Her auburn hair was curly enough that it grew out rather than down, and she showed no obvious interest in taming it. She wore dark maroon lipstick, but no other evident makeup. She stood there, slowly scanning the room, biting her lower lip and rocking her jaw back and forth.

"She's a freak," whispered Moe.

"She's the freak of my heart," said Danny. He sighed deeply. Moe sighed with him, in transparent mockery. "What's she doing here?" asked Danny, in the tone of a detective examining a clue. He had never seen her on his floor before, and assumed that she worked for a different office in the same building.

"She's lost," said Moe. "Seize the day, man! This is an opportunity if ever there was one." He offered a challenging smile.

Danny shook his head. "What do I say, exactly? 'Pardon me, Miss. I've been stalking you for some time now, and you conveniently appear to be in need of some assistance.' Even if I had a script, I'd just stutter through it anyway. Besides, she's not lost. She's looking for something. Or looking for someone." His eyes narrowed. "Be looking for me," he urged her quietly. "Save me from myself and be the one to break the ice. Be looking - "

In the middle of his plea, the sweep of her gaze landed on him, and for a moment, she stared directly into his eyes. Then she looked at Moe, and Danny was slapped with the unexpected sensation of being caught. She must have noticed that they were looking right at her, and just as surely must have guessed they were talking about her. As far as he knew, this was the first impression she had ever gotten of him, and as far as she would know, he was part of a conspiracy of two leering creeps.

The moment froze, offering him plenty of time to reflect on how he must have looked to her. His own attire was standard issue office uniform. Light blue shirt, tan pants, black shoes, boring tie, probably tied crookedly. His hair was getting long enough to misbehave, and he found himself unable to justify why he had put off getting it cut. Worst of all, he pictured how he must look by comparison to Moe, whom he always saw as better-looking, better dressed, and sharper-witted. Moe was standing, and Danny was still in his desk chair. Danny imagined even that detail as counting against him, as though she would be insulted that he was too lazy to stand while talking about her. He had enough hang time to think of all of these things during the fraction of a second between when she made eye contact with Moe, and when she started walking towards him.

"Great googly moogly," Danny whispered, and he felt the color drain from his face. He was paralyzed, and trapped in his seat. She was about to break the ice, after all. He should have been better prepared.

She walked straight up to the pair of them, and frowned. She looked confused, though. Not angry. Danny hoped that he might still have a chance of not seeming like a jerk. He was still stuck to his chair, and he could feel beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. If he didn't say something smart soon, he was going to have a very bad day. She looked directly at him for several seconds, and her frown deepened. Then she looked at Moe, and her frown relaxed. He had no idea what to make of that, other than that the mental image he had of himself at that moment was probably not unflattering enough. She glanced at him one more time, then spoke directly to Moe. "Do you know which one of these people…" She tossed her head back in a gesture to indicate the population of the entire floor. "…is Daniel Marx?"

So many things went through Danny's mind at that moment, but the most prominent was that she sounded nothing like he had imagined. Somehow, he expected her voice to be high and soft. Not squeaky, but not bold either. Instead, she spoke in a buttery alto, with an accent he could not place. Her cadence sounded Irish, somehow, but her pronunciation reminded him of his cousin from South Carolina. It made no sense to him, and immediately her mystique deepened. He heard himself say, "That's ... He's ... I'm ..."

"This is Danny, right here," said Moe smoothly, indicating Danny, who was still seated.

Danny rose, struggling not to lurch. Moe had given him a chance to pull himself together. He was in the moment now. She had not approached them to be confrontational, but to ask for help, something he had been too nervous to offer freely. More incredibly, she had actually been looking for him, and had given him an opportunity to talk to her, and he wouldn't even need to come up with some fake but realistic-sounding reason. All he had to do was let her start, and pray he didn't do anything stupid. "What can I do with you?" he asked, smiling casually.

Her brows rose slightly, and for a moment, this close-up view of the green in her eyes, through the huge windows of her glasses, soothed him. He started to feel his stress drain away, and already pictured this as the moment he would look back on and describe as the beginning of a long, wonderful story. Then, suddenly, that moment was lasting too long.

"For!" he said, less casually. "For. You. What can I do," he gasped, neck muscles bunching, "for you?"

If she thought him a fool, she showed no sign of it. "Porter needs to see you," she said. Danny tried to make some sense of that statement, and came up with nothing.

"Who's Porter?" he asked. He didn't give a damn who Porter was, except insofar as Porter had sent her.

"Down in billing," she said patiently.

"All right," said Danny. This was starting to come together. Apparently his company had a billing department. He hadn't known that, but it stood to reason. Evidently someone named Porter worked in that department and now had some reason to see Danny. In a new, awesome development, this woman also worked in the billing department, or some other department, of the same firm Danny worked for. They had something in common. It might be enough. The specific issue of what business he would have with billing did not trouble him. The fact that Porter didn't seem to have a phone was curious, but not significant. What mattered was that he had a window of at least two or three minutes to attempt small talk with this woman he had admired from afar, and possibly even find out who she was. "I don't know where that is," he said truthfully, desperately hoping she would say, "I'll take you there."

"I'll take you there," she said, with a small, friendly smile, and turned back to the stairwell. Moe gave him a subtle thumbs-up, and walked away. Danny took a little skip to catch up with her.

As he walked through the door, he had the odd sensation of being in new and unfamiliar surroundings. He had been working in this building for almost a year, and had never once used the stairs. The company he worked for took up the entire ninth floor of a twelve story building, which amounted to far more stairs than he felt comfortable climbing. The fact that this messenger had come this way suggested to Danny that the billing department must be on the next floor. He was not aware of any offices above or below the ninth floor, but then he hadn't been aware of Porter or the billing department either. As she led him down a flight of stairs, he tentatively offered, "I'm Danny."

"So I hear," she said. Duh, he thought. She was facing away from him, so he couldn't tell whether the mockery was mean-spirited, but her tone was not cruel. She reached the landing and turned, taking that opportunity to look back to him. "I'm Caprice," she said. She was smiling, but she said nothing else, and turned away from him again.

Caprice! She had a name! She had a beautiful name! This was a victory beyond measure. He pressed his imaginary advantage. "I haven't seen you around the office," he lied. Well, half-lied anyway. Technically, he had only ever seen her in the cafeteria on the second floor. "Are you new?"

They reached the next landing, and the door to the eighth floor. She turned to look at him again, but this time she paused, and her smile was different. Less polite, more knowing. Busted again, he thought. She had seen him in the cafeteria too, and had probably noticed him watching her. And yet, fantastically, she seemed pleased. He felt his adrenaline kick in. Small talk was already moot. The game was now more subtle, and he realized with dread that he wasn't sure how to play. He resisted the urge to keep talking, on the premise that silence was often a more powerful tool than words. He had asked her a question, even if it was a flagrantly stupid one, and he wanted to see how she would answer it. He put his hand on the door handle, and watched Caprice turn again and continue her descent.

"I've been here a few months," she said. He tried to formulate his next line, but was now distracted by the fact that they were still on the stairs. She had come up at least two floors without taking the elevator. That alone was only a bit odd, but it also meant that there was at least one office that was located that far away from the rest of the company. That wasn't impossible, but it did seem pointless. He didn't want to fixate on this, now of all times, but he couldn't shake it. Porter? Billing office? It all suddenly sounded so wrong, for no good reason he could offer.

"Why does Porter need to see me?" he asked. It was the absolute last thing he wanted to ask her, but he couldn't help himself. He didn't know how to play this game, but he was sure that question was going to cost him points.

"There is no Porter," she said.

They were still walking, and Danny wondered how long he should keep doing that. This was all suddenly something completely different from whatever it seemed to be one second earlier. "Is there a billing department?" he asked. Somehow that still mattered, although he sensed it wouldn't matter for long.

He heard her laugh. "Probably," she said, "but it sure isn't anywhere down here." She reached the landing between floors seven and eight, and stopped, facing away from him. He had no idea what he was supposed to be feeling by this point. Angry? Frightened? He wanted to storm back upstairs and call building security, but what would he report? Besides, this was her! Caprice! He couldn't walk away. This was getting too weird, too fast. He stood two stairs up from her, waiting for this to make sense. Then she turned, and he saw her face.

Her expression was soft, nervous even, and again he was struck by the depth of her eyes. In them, in that moment, he saw only vulnerability. He took the two steps that would prevent him from looking down on her. "I had to talk to you," she said quietly. "This was the only thing I could think of."

Uncertainty plagued him. He wanted to believe this new twist. Oh, did he ever. Unfortunately, somewhere between paranoia and his natural low self esteem, he found that impossible. He knew what he wanted to hear. He was afraid she did, too, and the only thing he knew for sure so far was that she was playing him already. "Talk," he said. He tried to make it sound manly and assertive.

She lowered her eyes, then looked at him again. "I've seen you watching me," she said. All right, that part would be true. He always knew it was possible. She bit her lip, looked away, looked back again. "Have you seen me watching you?" she asked.

It was too much to hope for. His life didn't work like this. Hell, no one's life worked like this. His lizard brain dumped more officious adrenaline into his system. Over the pounding of his heart, he managed to say, "I wasn't sure." That was true enough. He had been trying to stay under her radar, but really hadn't known until today how poorly he had done.

She took a step closer. "Be sure," she said. She opened her mouth to say something else, then thought better of it. Her face tensed. It looked to Danny like she was either about to say something very difficult, or just start sobbing. Then apparently unable to decide which, she chose a third option that caught Danny by surprise. He almost didn't even see her move, and suddenly she had her arms around him, and her face reaching for his.

He had never pictured a first kiss with her under these circumstances, which, considering the vast number of first kisses he had imagined, was a statistical absurdity. He couldn't understand how this could be happening, but he had no choice. He had invested so much of his emotional capital in yearning for this moment, his heart would not allow him anything short of complete surrender to it. He had Caprice. He had won her, somehow, without even knowing it. He was perfectly happy to let the details sort themselves out later.

As much as he had been surprised by the sound of her voice, even more unexpected was the way she felt to him. Her skin was softer than any he had ever touched. In his arms, she felt utterly relaxed, as though she had no bones in her body. She wore no scent he could detect, not even soap or toothpaste, and yet was so clean as to have no natural aroma either. He did notice the taste of her lipstick, unpalatable with a bitter edge. It felt greasy, like too many layers of lip balm. At that moment, it was a small price that he gleefully paid, and a welcome reminder that she was real, not just some cubicle daydream.

And then, suddenly, horribly, tragically, she was pulling away. He let go, not knowing what else to do. He wasn't sure what to say next, if anything. Then he saw that she was crying.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have ..." She was trembling now, and when he tried to hold her again, she flinched away. "This is wrong," she said, and wouldn't make eye contact.

Danny felt helpless, confused and faint. "Shhhhh," he tried to say, but he couldn't tell how it sounded because the pounding of his heart was too loud in his own head.

"I'm sorry!" she cried one more time, then fled down the stairs and out the door to the seventh floor. Danny hesitated, then lurched after her. Three steps into his pursuit, he froze, with no idea what he intended to do if he caught up to her. Then he realized the only thing that mattered at that moment was not losing her, and he bolted down the stairs. By the time he made it through the door, she was nowhere to be seen, somewhere on a large floor with many strange faces watching him inquisitively. Numb, he walked the two flights back to his office.

By the time he made it to the ninth floor, he was out of breath from the climb, and light-headed. He walked past someone he barely knew, who seemed bothered by his appearance. He bypassed his cubicle, opting instead for Moe's. Moe would help him sort this out, once he had a chance to sit down for a minute. Moe was on the phone when Danny knocked on his partition. Danny thought Moe's eyes seemed bigger than usual, and heard him say something that sounded like gibberish to whomever was on the other end of the line. Japanese client, maybe. Whatever he said, it must have translated into "Gotta go," because he hung up in a hurry. Moe said nothing, but tapped his lips with urgency. Danny rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth, looking for whatever crumb Moe was gesturing about, and his thumb came away with a maroon streak. Blood? No, lipstick, he remembered. His head hurt, he was having difficulty breathing, and he could feel saliva accumulating under the back of his tongue. He hoped the adrenaline rush would wear off soon. Moe was standing now, trying to tell him or ask him something, but he was still speaking in Japanese. Danny started to ask him to speak English, and to tell him about something that happened to him earlier that was kind of weird, but when he opened his mouth, what came out instead was his breakfast.

2 -  - SPY


"How do you feel?"

Danny sat propped up in his hospital bed. "Better without the catheter," he said.

His doctor smiled. "I imagine so. What do you remember?"

Danny looked out the window, away from this unfamiliar doctor. He saw a beautiful day, and wished he were part of it. Vague images trickled their way into the cracks of his recollection. "I passed out at work. I was talking to Moe, I think." He paused. "Oh," he said, turning back to face his doctor. He winced. "Did I throw up?"

Doctor Miles (as Danny could now read from his I.D. badge) nodded. "Yes. You also had quite a fever. You've been in a semi-conscious state for most of the time since you were brought in. Do you remember anything?"

As Danny shook his head, images began to coalesce in his mind. "How long have I been here?" Danny coughed after asking that, and was unhappy with what he tasted.

"Since yesterday morning," Doctor Miles said. "Do you remember what you had for breakfast?"

"Yesterday?" said Danny. He was still piecing together his situation, somehow he imagined his hospital stay had been longer than that. "Uh," he said, "a bowl of cereal? Maybe?" The image of that cereal hastily making its way back up his esophagus cut short any further speculation.

"Did you have milk with that?" asked his doctor.

Danny pulled his eyes shut. He hoped it conveyed the proper resistance to any more questions about food. While he refused to discuss milk, his mind meandered back over the events of the previous day. "There was this girl," he said, only dimly aware he did so out loud.

"What girl?" asked Doctor Miles, with more patience than curiosity.

What girl, indeed. The image of Caprice in the stairwell flared behind Danny's eyelids. He reconstructed that meeting with the sole purpose of determining if she and his vomit had been in the same place at the same time. He begged the universe for that not to be so. He remembered then that the sickness came afterward, but his relief was tinged with some other thoughts. The meeting ended awkwardly, although the details were unclear. He kissed her, he was pretty sure. No, she kissed him. That point returned vividly. She kissed him, and it was ... glorious? Fantastical? No, wait, it was weird. She kissed him and she tasted like chemicals. Then he puked and woke up with a needle in his arm and a tube in his urethra. She poisoned him. She poisoned him? Why? Someone said something, but Danny couldn't hear it over the pounding in his ears.

"Daniel?" said Doctor Miles.

Danny's eyes snapped open. He felt cold. "What?" he asked. It came out squeaky.

"I said it looks like you had a virus, and it has run its course. There are several things it could have been, but your symptoms don't quite exactly match any of them. If you don't mind, I'd like to keep you here another day for observation."

A virus. Not poison. A virus. Danny inhaled deeply, trying to slow his heart. His terror had been a bizarre, paranoid fantasy. "What about...Moe?" he asked, not quite finishing the sentence as planned.

"Your co-workers are all fine so far," said the doctor. "Whatever it was, you don't appear to have picked it up at work."

A nurse dressed in pink scrubs came in to Danny's room, holding a tray with a cup of juice and a plate with two pieces of white toast. "Are you up for some food, Honey?" she asked with a friendly smile. Doctor Miles stood up as she pulled Danny's table up to his bed.

"I'll check in on you in a couple of hours," he said, and smiled. "You're out of the woods now. Get some rest."


* * *


When Danny woke again, it was dark outside. The light was on in his room. It took him a few moments to adjust to both of those facts. He pulled himself up to find a clock, and only then noticed that there was a nurse in the room with him.

"Good," she said. "You're awake."

Danny stared at her, rubbed his eyes, and stared again. Unlike every scrubs-clad nurse in the entire hospital, this one wore a uniform that would have been more at home in a costume shop. It was a short, white, button-down dress with puffy shoulders, and a large red cross printed on her collar. Another red cross was printed on the small white cap that sat precariously atop a pile of red curls. Her hair was pulled back, but there was no mistaking it.

Still not fully awake, Danny delighted that Caprice had come to visit him in the hospital. The costume was entirely consistent with his view of her eccentricities. Impulsively, he said, "Hellooooooo, Nurse!" From her deadpan response, he thought perhaps she was too young to appreciate the Animaniacs reference.

"We don't have much time," she said.

"Really?" said Danny, uncertain of when visiting hours ended. The sun was down, so it must have been late. He tried again unsuccessfully to find a clock.

"You should be recovered by now," said Caprice. Danny now noticed that she was carrying a blue messenger bag. A vague alarm tripped silently in his head.

"Yeah," he said. "They said they wanted to keep me for observation, but I'm feeling much better." He paused, then added, experimentally and half-jokingly, "You know, for a minute there I was afraid you poisoned me in the stairwell. Heh." He hoped his feeble laughter would mask his growing concern. As he said it, he finally found the wall clock. It read 3:00, which seemed way too early for the sun to have gone down.

"Poisoned you?" Caprice was frowning. "It was a virus!"

Danny backpedaled. "I know. The doctor told me…"

Caprice cut him off. "It was a thing of art!" she said, moving closer. "Designed to be severe but safe, wrapped in a cocktail of catalysts and anti-virals for a super-quick ramp on and off! You don't even have a headache, do you?" She plopped the bag onto his bed. "Well? Do you?"

Danny shook his head, afraid to do much else.

"Poison," she grumbled. "That's an insult." She reached over, smoothly pulled the I.V. out of Danny's arm, and pressed a cotton pad to the needle wound. "Hold this," she said.

"Hey!" said Danny, but only from the surprise. He put his fingers on the cotton and she let go to unzip the bag. From it, she pulled a pair of jeans and an "I'm with Stupid" t-shirt.

"Get dressed," she said.

By now Danny was fully aware that it was three o'clock in the morning, that Caprice was responsible for putting him in the hospital, and that she was not here to visit him. He found the courage to ask, "What is this about?"

She looked at her watch. "We now have thirteen minutes. We can talk while we move, but I need you dressed right now."

"What happens in thirteen minutes?" he asked.

"In thirteen minutes our very narrow window of opportunity to extract you from this hospital undetected will close. That's all you need to know right now."

"Extract me? Hold on. Why did you make me sick in the first place?" Danny checked the tag on the t-shirt, hoping it was the wrong size.

"I needed to get you out of that building inconspicuously."

Danny eyed the nurse call button. "What would you have done if you wanted to draw attention?" he asked. Caprice reached into the bag, produced a pair of wire cutters, and swiftly disabled the controls on Danny's bed.

"Tick tock, Danny."

Danny stared at her. In the nighttime hospital light, Caprice's eyes appeared to be a smoky blue, very different from the green he saw when she kissed him. "You're telling me I have to leave right now."

"That's correct."

He looked at the shirt again. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"We're wasting time."

Danny was now entirely convinced that he was interacting with a crazy person. In an effort to buy more time to think, and perhaps run down her imaginary thirteen minute clock, he asked, "Why should I trust you?"

"Because your survival for the next twenty-four hours is a matter of national security, and because my fall-back instructions are to terminate you here in the event you don't cooperate."

She said this without hesitation or consideration. Danny reflected on the reality of the virus she had given him, and suddenly, horribly, this all felt real. Trembling, he started to undo his hospital gown. "Can you at least turn around?" Caprice did a formal about-face. He pulled the t-shirt over his head, then looked in the bag for underwear. It was empty. "Great," he said quietly. He slipped the jeans on and, very carefully, fastened and zipped them. "Isn't this shirt a little, I don't know, obvious?"

"It hides you in plain sight," she said. "Just keep moving."

He hopped out of bed, to the cold slap of the hospital floor. "Shoes?" he asked.

Caprice whirled around and grabbed the bag. Peering inside, she whispered, "Blast!" She threw the bag to the floor. "Just move!"

Additional Information

Author Edward Aubry
Word length 50,123
eBook Formats .epub (Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod), .mobi (Kindle), .lit
Publish Date Jan 25, 2012
Print ISBN 9780983893424
Buy Now in Print Buy from Amazon

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