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Under Cover

Under cover


Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

“Hi, D”. The voice was familiar, perhaps even too familiar for her liking. As she rolled her eyes he briskly walked over to her desk, almost as if her eyes were a hook and she’d caught the most annoying fish amongst the sea of miserable sods in the precinct. “I told you not to call me that, M”, she replied through gritted teeth. “Fine, fine. Just as long as you don’t make M a thing. I mean, apart from making me wish I was at home watching a Bond film I kinda see why D annoys you now. Sounds weird. That reminds me actually my dad used to call me tha-” “I’m gonna stop you right there. What do you want?”, she quickly interrupted. “Right, yeah, undercover assignment, had to imagine up a whole character for you. It was fun”, he continued, blissfully unaware of her growing impatience. She sat up, pens quietly rattling against a mug stained with coffee now months old. Unlike Mark, she was always acutely aware of her surroundings. She knew damn well that the mug was in need of a good cleaning, but as the days and coarseness of the once deliciously silky-smooth coffee grew, she slowly started to take comfort in the sight of it as she worked case after case. If something millions upon millions of people drank and thoroughly enjoyed everyday could end up in this state, but still look like any ordinary fresh cup of coffee from afar, then she wasn’t as alone in a way. Wasn’t a special, lamentable case herself. “You okay?”, he inquired, dropping his annoying tone for a moment of genuine concern. “Sorry, yeah, just got lost in my own thoughts for a second. Go on”, she gently replied, picking up on that concern. She sat down, not really knowing why she’d sat up in the first place. She sometimes found herself confused like that. Doing something for no reason as her mind raced. It’s like she loses track of one thread as another is going, full steam ahead. “As I was saying, undercover case, human traffickers operating down in New Street. Seems like one of them took a liking to a girl and seemingly had a change of heart. Only reason we caught wind of the operation is because he was found dead in his house a few hours ago. Left a note detailing everything. On top of saving us from one mammoth of an investigatory headache, it also means that we can slip you in undetected. I’ve sent a transcript of the note to you. I’ve highlighted all the important bits. Fucker rambled on for a while before actually proving useful to us. We’re sending you in tomorrow”, he said, losing his professional tone towards the end, primed and ready for a stinging demurrer. “Tomorrow? Are you serious?”, she scornfully replied, gladfully reaffirming his expectation. “Short notice, I know, but apparently they don’t like to stay in the same place for too long. Need to get on top of this as soon as possible”, he concluded. She scrunched her eyes closed, producing two flesh coloured prunes as she let out a very telling sigh. “Fine”, she quietly said, turning away to her computer to read the transcript email now providing a small shred of light to the cavalcade of dulled opened emails in her inbox. Mark looked at her for a second, a confusing cocktail of sympathy and apathy in his gaze, before walking away. She opened it, immediately scanning past the highlighted information that’d prove incredibly useful when trying to pose as one of them. She landed on what was situated at the bottom of the transcript, or more accurately, what was actually written first but deemed so unimportant by Mark that he effectively threw it down a transcript well. It wasn’t highlighted, obviously, but she didn’t even notice as she began reading.

“She was only a little girl. And one of the most joyful girls I’d come across at that. There was nothing callus beneath her smile, there was just pure, simple content. She was merely content to be alive, her parents once right beside her, and that made her so happy. She wasn’t complicated at all, and there was something so… comforting about that. Unlike us, she had no ulterior motives. In fact, she didn’t even feel any contempt or anger after we took her, not really. I could tell. Feelings like that were alien to her. There was just innocence… just innocence. To get her to come with us, we had to emulate that. We had to fake that undiluted purity. Our true intentions screaming from behind an uncanny mask that’s literally plastic and manufactured, just like any other mask. I can still hear her screaming. And it just sounded worse. I’ve heard a lot of screaming in my time, trust me, but I could hear it in her screams. There wasn’t a tinge of anger. It wasn’t the screams of someone who’d launch at us like an animal if we let them out. It was just the screams of someone who wanted to go home. The screams of someone who couldn’t comprehend anything that was happening to her. I’d like to say that she was beneath our whole operation, but I think she was above it. She was above every single disgusting inch of the walls and the people that once surrounded her. I tried to save her, honestly. They knew, though, all of them. They very quickly caught on and I didn’t even notice. I was too busy constantly trying to calm her down as best I could and add extra food and water to her meals. I should’ve just helped her escape. So fucking careless of me”.

Deardrie jolted up. Wait, no. D, she jolted up, hearing the familiar rattle of her pens as tears filled her eyes. Eyes which were tethered to the glow of her monitor. Her breath was now running at the pace of an Olympic athlete as she struggled to reach for her coffee, only to remember the state she’d intentionally left her. No. It in. This realisation gave her a little smile as she slowly started to breathe normally again, as she slowly sat down, her eyes still locked intently on that less than comforting glow. She retracted her hand away from the “coffee” and placed it firmly on her mouse, making sure to scroll far, far away from the transcript’s nasty Mariana Trench. “What the fuck?”, she said under her shallow breath. She sat back in her chair, looking up to the slightly dilapidated and discoloured ceiling of the precinct. The race that her breaths were partaking in had now had a change of venue, a venue much more debilitating than the last. To distract herself, she decided to do something she never thought she’d ever do. She glared at a dear old friend of three months. Not in a million years, she pointlessly thought. But since instead, a million thoughts were plaguing her now throbbing head, she was willing to seek after anything that’d get her away from the computer and also taste nice at the same time. She grabbed the mug and finally sat up with some sort of purpose and end goal in mind. Walking past Mark, she gave him a soft, carefree smile, clearly trying to hide how she was actually feeling so as not to spark an unnecessary conversation between the two. The necessary ones were already bad enough. The moment her face was out of view from him, it snapped straight back to a tired and defeated droop, like there’d been many pegs pulling everything up that all just unanimously agreed with each other to give in to the heavy toll that this task presented. She approached the coffee machine, a sight strangely unfamiliar to her. It’s not as if the stuff isn’t her cup of tea (or coffee in this and many other cases, literally), she thought to herself, it’s just that she was always undercover. So many different characters all the time. Not only did that mean she was never even in the precinct really, but it also meant that she’d constantly lose herself in all that confusing commotion. She’d spent ten years of her life religiously devoted to that sweet nectar, bordering on addiction, but now she wasn’t just herself anymore. She was multiple people, some of whom didn’t even like coffee. And there was the matter of ol’ faithful. The mug she’d grown attached to. A sight actually familiar to her. She knew it was silly, though. She knew that right now having a nice cup of coffee, maybe even partaking in some water cooler talk with the three guys that were always guaranteed to be hanging around it, was definitely a lot more important. She gave the mug one last look as she. No. No she didn’t. She turned right back around. In that moment, the different splotches of coffee stains staring back at her, she realised what was truly important. It’s the only thing we have left, D. It’s just a dumb mug, yeah, but you even said it yourself, it’s just like us. And we take so, so much comfort in how we only know that. We only see those stains. It’s just us. Us against the world. Us agains- “Hi, D”, interjected Mark, who’d seemingly teleported to the coffee machine. “Oh, sorry, sorry. Forgot. Whoops”, he quickly corrected. “Wha- what? Sorry?”, she replied, trapped in her own mind once again. “Doesn’t matter”, he said, chuckling to himself as she was plummeting back down to reality. She looked at the machine, her mug gripped tightly around her hands, almost like some force was compelling the clasp. She went to fill it up with coffee. NO. Her hands wouldn’t come loose. Yeah, they were stuck. “What?”, she said, confusion and a slight ounce of terror in her voice. You’re not ruining it, I’m sorry. I need something. I don’t have much left. You have to understand. “I…”, she said, Mark butting in once more, “Just let go, D. You know this is all just pointless. Honestly, I’d even go as far as to say that it’s pathetic. Pointless and pathetic. Reminds me of a certain someone. You’re just sitting there, pissing your pants, dreaming up delusional worlds. World after world, character after character. It’s so fucking sad. They aren’t real, you aren’t some tough as nails detective on their next undercover case. You’re just a scared little girl. All alone. Thinking you’re so strong. Yeah, literally in your dreams, kiddo. She started to scream and scream an-

Ear-deafening silence is irradiating throughout the house, only being broken up by a malicious mix of the dilapidated infrastructure settling in an eerily, otherworldly sounding fashion and the pitter-patter of the rain striking against the many windows with weak, but still hostile sounding intent. These sounds are irregular, but expected, as they seem to be in cahoots with the silence. The haunting harmonies are interspersed at random intervals into all the rooms, claiming them as their own, owning the thick atmosphere in each and every one. Then, suddenly, as quick as the many raindrops fall from the window sills found around the house, an unexpected sound occurs, the sound of the door opening in a steady, controlled manner, which creates an incredibly visceral creaking noise that reverberates off of all the surfaces as if a new challenger had appeared to rival the cacophony of angry owners populating the house. As it opens, the floorboards right in front of the door start to creak, too, adding to the overbearing choir of creaks happening in that unearthly moment. A man carefully walks into the room, making sure to not lackadaisical enter as it already seemed unsettled enough as it was in its natural state. He’s a man of average height, wearing a tight tank top which stood out amongst the darkness with its bright white colouring. As he makes his way over to the be-

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“So, about the undercover case, are you ready for it? I didn’t wanna mention it before for obvious reasons but it’s been a while, hasn’t it? About three months I think? Look, I get it, alright? We all get it. The job can be a lot sometimes. Being different people, seeing the kinda shit these sick bastards get up to first hand. Surprised all of us haven’t had a breakdown. And I am genuinely really sorry that it’s such short notice. I really did try to get someone else to do it, but they insisted. Apparently, nobody’s as good at it as you. It’s just that my hands are tied here, ya kno-”

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“Hi, D”, he said. “What?”, D replied. “HI, D”, he said. “HIDE!”, he shouted.

He was so close to the bed now. “I know you’re in there, poppet”, he said. He started to chuckle, the sound struggling to scrape its way through his coarse smoker throat. “What are you this time, eh? You undercover?”, he said, inching closer and closer. I tried to manoeuvre my way through the covers, wiggling my small body around the fabric sand dunes stood in my way. There it was! Finally! A small crack in the covers that presented the door like a framed painting, like the most dimly lit exit sign ever. If I don’t make a break for it now it’ll be too late. It’s now or never. In what felt like an eternity, I clasped my hands around the two fabric sides, even tighter than I clasped the mug, and ripped it open, pulling the bedding up and over my head, like I’d just put on the most fancy, lucious cape ever. In a flash, I was off the bed and heading for the door. Adrenaline coursing through my body so much that I didn’t even feel knocking into the side of my dad. Before I knew it, I was out of the room and down the stairs, heading straight for the front door. Every sound in the house that used to annoy me now completely blocked out as all I could focus on was finding the key. I desperately shoved my hand into the bowel of keys to the side of the shoe rack, using only the familiar feel of the jagged plastic keycap as guidance as I stared intently at the top of the stairs. “This is ridiculous. You can’t leave”, he shouted from the landing. That’s it! I could feel it! The jagged plastic that always used to cut my hands as I opened the door! It’d never felt this good before. I quickly slammed it into the keyhole an-

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“As if this would ever happen”, he said, now at the bottom of the stairs. I started to cry. He was right. I pulled the cover over my head, the tears streaming down my cheek. I’ll go back to being undercover. I like it in the precinct. I don’t like this story.

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Credit: Harper Boon

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