“I just got a message from HQ. This mission is going to be tough,” Nathan said solemnly.
“Yeah, but what did your mom want?” Carl asked.
Nathan glared at his next-door neighbor. Carl held a stick in his hands like a rifle and wore a bucket on his head like a helmet. After a few moments, his eyes lit up and he stood at attention.
“Er, I mean, what’s our mission, sir?”
Nathan surveyed his surroundings. A hammock swayed between a couple of oak trees. Other than that, it was just a short walk on the grass to reach the dock where Nathan’s sister loved to sunbathe. She was trying to distract passing jet skiers so that they crash into the seawall, or, that’s what their mother claimed. Though his sister denied it, Nathan still held out hope it would happen someday.
Nathan motioned toward the dock. “My squirt gun was stolen from me. We need to get it back.”
“You know, my friend Mary likes to play board games like Sorry…” Carl began. Nathan didn’t let him finish.
“Do you want to play Secret Agents or not?” he snapped.
Carl’s eyes dropped to the ground. “I g-guess s-so.”
“Then follow my lead,” Nathan said, crawling on his stomach across the grass. He rolled gracefully to the cover of one of the trees and motioned Carl to do likewise. Carl, not known for his prowess at being a secret agent, executed a series of somersaults to reach his destination. The bucket on his head clanked against the ground after each tumble.
Nathan could hardly hold back his scream. Carl was trying to blow their cover. On purpose. How bad can one kid be at sneaking up on somebody? He couldn’t decide between calling Carl a big, fat, stupid-head or a butter-licker. Just as he decided that Carl deserved both, Nathan noticed his mother peering at him from the cottage window.
“Be nice to Carl,” his mother’s words echoed in his ears. “He doesn’t get to talk to a lot of kids like you do.”
Nathan took a deep breath, and tried to set Carl’s blunder aside.
“Look, over there!” Nathan whispered, pointing at his sister. “It’s the Siren, and she’s got my squirt gun!”
“A Siren?” Carl listened carefully. “What’s the emergency?”
Nathan couldn’t stop exhaling an angry sigh from his nostrils.
“A Siren is a mermaid, you blender-brain. Don’t you know anything?”
“I’m super sorry.” Carl choked on his words. “I didn’t know your sister was a mermaid. Honest! Mary was right. I’m no good at this.”
Carl buried his head in his knees. Nathan tip-toed away as quickly as he could. It was clear that he would have to face the Siren alone. Just as well—that big baby had done more than enough damage already. He only hoped Carl’s sobs wouldn’t alarm the Siren. Or worse: the Siren’s mother.
He crept forward, trying to minimize the pressure he put on the dock’s squeaky planks. The Siren, looking toward the sky, was unfazed. Beside her was Nathan’s prize, begging to be reclaimed. Despite how unconscious she appeared, Nathan’s sister was more than aware of his intentions.
“Go away,” she said.
“I want my—”
Nathan sulked back to Carl. The Siren was too strong, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. She had the moral high ground too, and she knew it. Reporting to his mother would make him lose his squirt gun privileges forever. Plus, that would be a total Carl thing to do.
Though still puffy around the eyes, Carl had managed to stop crying. He wasn’t doing such a bad job of keeping the sniffling to a minimum either. Maybe Carl was capable of learning something after all.
“Mary has a good idea to get your squirt gun back,” Carl said.
“Mary is here?” Nathan asked.
“Of course.” Carl gestured towards the hammock gently swaying in the breeze. “Just listen. I’ll introduce LeeAnn, er, the Siren, to Mary. We’ll distract her while you sneak up and take the gun.”
“She won’t fall for that, Carl. She doesn’t fall for anything.”
“Just give us a chance to prove ourselves as secret agents. Please?”
“Fine, we can try it,” Nathan said with a sigh.
Carl skipped ahead. Like a true secret agent rookie, he hardly gave Nathan any time to slip stealthily into the water before proceeding with the plan.
“Hi, LeeAnn,” Carl said as he approached the sunbather. “Have you met my friend, Mary?”
LeeAnn sat up. She craned her neck to see behind Carl. Nathan waded into position, preparing for failure.
“Go on, shake hands,” Carl said. LeeAnn gave Carl the strangest of looks—the same kind of look Nathan gave him when Carl came outside eating a stick of butter like a lollipop. It probably did not help Carl’s case that he was still wearing the bucket. But, to Nathan’s amazement, she reached out to shake the phantom hand. She was so captivated by the character apparently before her, or disturbed, that she paid no attention to Nathan climbing onto the end of the dock. Before she knew it, he seized the squirt gun. Raising it above his head, he yelled triumphantly:
“Secret agents: DELTA SPLIT!”
Immediately the two sprinted away from Nathan’s bewildered sister, giggling uncontrollably the whole way. Once they were again safely hidden behind the tree, Nathan gave a salute.
“Nice work, Secret Agent Carl.”
“And Secret Agent Mary, too.”
“Of course,” said Nathan. He handed the coveted squirt gun to his friend. “Now let’s drive that Siren back into the sea.”
By Nick Stump