He meets a girl, it could almost be an accident, the way she slides into him, tips his cheek with her elbow, makes eyes at him, his whole body quivering, noticing her. It could almost be an accident, at a bus stop, or a train station, or the line for the laundrette change machine, or an ice cream vendor, or someone making fresh crepes, the egg swirling, hardening into solid substance. It could almost be an accident but it isn't; this is what she does. She is a spy, The Devil pays her well for sliding into him, tipping his cheek with her elbow, making eyes, and she slips the cash into her bra, not trusting pockets, knowing how easy it is to finger ways inside, like electricity, and extract.

This time, her instructions were to find out how he creates it, the thing he makes so much money from, and she winds her way into his flat, into him, him inside her except it is the other way round, little does he know, as the sun streams through his rooflight, dust spinning, her cajoling, fondling, worming. She's getting inside him, into his cavities and recesses, reading his memories, his storage, and copying it for The Devil, for later. As he lies on top of her, as he plunges in and out, she half-smiles, she moans when she should, groans when she should, and all the while she is scanning him, roaming freely inside his mind, until she finds it. It is shorter than she expects, but she is not paid to judge, only to spy, and she copies it and she knows she will be well rewarded, and then she moans a little more and groans a little more, as she is supposed to, and he suspects nothing.

He makes her breakfast and he grins, shyly, and he doesn't talk about his work, he believes he is guarding himself, waiting to see if she could be the one, watching her sip her coffee, sensing what he thinks is flirting, is the beginning of something, wondering where this will go. Inside, she is folding herself closed, shutting down her probes and her scans, and when she tells him she has to go, she has to go to work, they'll fire her if she's late, and he helps her put on her coat, it could almost be an accident , letting her fingers stroke his cheek, and as she walks out into the street, she wonders why she did that, an unplanned move, not part of the exit strategy. Then she folds herself tighter inside and moves towards the subway, where she takes the express train to where The Devil is waiting for her and what she has to offer him.

Tania Hershman 2012

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Longlisted, 2012 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

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