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Threat Level: Cuttlefish

By J. L. Ender

What’s a spy’s greatest enemy? Ask any red-blubbered agent in Her Majesty’s Sea Critter Service and they’ll give you the same answer.

Stairs.

I sighed and looked down my glasses at the long flight of marble steps awaiting me. Bubbly Christmas music played in the background. The ballroom was alive with sea creatures mingling. Porpoises, mollusks, and more were chatting, drinking, and dancing. The crystal chandeliers were a little gaudy, but they looked perfect for dropping on an enemy with a well-placed bullet.

I forced myself to project confidence. I turned to Tommy, the sea turtle on the steps beside me. “I came to this party to make sushi and take names, and I’m all out of name tags.”

The turtle, a goon I’d squared off with before, squinted at me. “Do I know you?”

Of course you don’t! My disguise is perfect. “Nope.” I adjusted my glasses. “Don’t mind me.”

I flopped down the stairs without starting an international incident, and began searching for my target, the notorious gangster Sonny Feesh.

Then she caught my eye.

Daphne Odonto, the finest river dolphin to ever swim the Amazon. She wore a black cocktail dress that complemented her pink skin. It had a risqué split in the back that showed a dangerous amount of dorsal fin.

Her eyes locked onto mine. She grinned, probably because her face was stuck like that. “Well, if it isn’t Adolphus Godolphin. Didn’t expect to see you at Cuthbert Cuttler’s Christmas party.”

“Adolphus…?” I feigned confusion, tapping my disguise, a pair of glasses with thick black frames. “The name’s Charlie McPorpoise, ma’am.”

Daphne leaned close and whispered, “I know you can put on a pair of glasses and fool everyone else in the room, but I see right through your disguise, Adolphus.”

I grinned, but only because my face was also stuck like that. “I never could get a tuna past you, Daphne.”

Poseidon, it was good to see her. It had been ages—at least nine months—since our mission together in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean busting a ring of Indo-Pacific crustacean traders.

“Care to dance?” she asked.

“Can’t. I’m here on business.” The truth was, I wanted to dance, and probably had time, but I needed to seem aloof and mysterious.

She grabbed my flipper anyway. “I might be able to help.”

I let her pull me out to the dance floor, like a surfer caught in a riptide. We swayed to the music, and for a moment, I thought we could just be two dolphins dancing in a ballroom. The way it used to be when we were in love.

But I couldn’t stop myself from scanning the area, examining the finely dressed squids and octopi surrounding us. Mollusks? Give me a break. I never trust anything without a backbone.

“I’m looking for Feesh,” I whispered. “Sonny Feesh.” But the truth was, there weren’t many fish in the room, let alone a Feesh with a blowhole for trouble.

“I think you’ve been lied to, Adolphus. Haven’t seen that son of a sunfish all night.”

Crappie. I hoped I hadn’t been sent out here on the royal dime for nothing.

I struggled to keep my mind on the mission as we swayed. I was surrounded by enemies. I had to keep watch. I couldn’t afford to let anyone get the drop on me—

Is that a floating pistol coming our way? The air rippled, and a cuttlefish appeared. He’d been using his natural camouflage to blend in!

“Adolphus Godolphin, so glad you could make it.” The cuttlefish hefted his small pistol. “Say hello to my parents for me.”

“The name’s Charlie. You must have me—”

“You put on glasses for a disguise, you moron. Any idiot could tell it’s you.”

All around us, dancers retreated. Daphne crossed her flippers, frowning. I longed to draw the handgun tucked inside my tuxedo. I didn’t want to add a light show to this Christmas party, but I wouldn’t go down without a few fireworks.

“Wait,” I said. “Do I know you?”

“You seriously don’t recognize me?” He rolled his eyes and ripped away the mustache, revealing the face of…

I gasped. “Cuthbert Cuttler!”

“The one and only. You killed my parents. Now, at last, I’m going to get my revenge.”

“Who?” I blurted. “Are you sure it was me?”

“You don’t remember them?”

“You’ll have to be more specific. I’m one of the ocean’s fiercest predators. I’ve actually killed and eaten a lot of innocent fish.”

The cuttlefish’s tentacles writhed in rage as he sighted down the barrel.

I only had one chance—a backflip out of the bullet’s path, then a shot at one of the chandeliers above. It would be an epic achievement.

A bullet took the cuttlefish clean between the eyes.

I spun around. Daphne blew smoke from her own pistol. Stunned partygoers gaped at us, but mostly because their faces were stuck like that.

“So it was all a trap?” I asked. “But where did the tip about Sonny Feesh come from?”

Daphne grinned. “I helped old man Cuttler set you up.”

“You did what?”

“I knew you couldn’t resist a challenge. And I needed to find you. But not so you could bust a gangster or get killed by a vengeful… is he an octopus? I honestly can’t tell the difference. All these mollusks look the same.”

“Cuttlefish only have two tentacles,” I replied, wiggling both fins. “If you wanted to talk, you should have called me.”

“You’re a hard porpoise to reach, and this couldn’t wait.”

I took off my glasses, and someone in the crowd gasped. “Adolphus Godolphin was here the whole time!”

“What’s going on, Daphne?” I sensed a staircase coming, of the metaphorical variety.

“I’m pregnant, Adolphus Godolphin.”

“But I can’t be a dad. I’m a spy.”

“You’re going to be a spy… and a dad.”

I grinned, and not just because my face was stuck like that. “My greatest achievement.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J. L. Ender is the author of the superhero series Steel Fox Investigations, as well as a number of novels and short stories across several genres. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, destroyer of worlds (in an unofficial capacity), a dispatcher, and a phone operator.


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