The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2018 Winners Anthology, Secret Keepers here.
“Good Old Mrs. Robinway” by Serena Jones, Baker Academy
Second Place, High School Level, 2018
Good Old Mrs. Robinway
In the busy city of Harper, Kansas, there was a simple office. It was a little building that nestled between the museum and the antique store on Dodd Street since before anyone could really recall. The funny thing was, no one really knew what the office did. The manager of the building, Mr. Grey, wasn’t much help.
“We file taxes,” he would reply to the ever-curious Girl Scout.
“Life insurance,” he would tell the nosy Mrs. Turnpike.
“Printing,” he would say quickly to the museum owner trying to make small talk.
Of course, it wasn’t any of those things. The city folk were clueless. They believed it was the best tax/insurance/printing office they had ever seen. Mr. Grey’s job was to make sure that it stayed that way.
Because, in reality, the office was a disguised safe house for international spies. Every member was sent all over the world, foiling terrorists’ plans one day and stopping wars the next. Mr. Grey had created the office as a place that spies could relax in anonymity.
Most spies were very young. 42-year old Mr. Grey was the oldest by far. The life of a spy was dangerous after all. There was only one person who was older, and she had been at the office before anyone else. The elite, ever mysterious widow, Mrs. Robinway. Tomorrow would be her 63rd birthday.
Mrs. Robinway didn’t look like much more than an old lady, with powder-white hair and wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. Every time she smiled they would crease. Whenever she held something, her mild arthritis would make her hands quiver. Still, she had gained the respect of every spy at the office.
She seemed to always hold up her cover as an office secretary who sorted mail and greeted visitors. The newer recruits, aged from twelve to twenty, liked her for her cover’s approachability. They could always count on her to have a jar of candies in seasonal colors sitting invitingly on her desk for everyone. The only problem with the supposed “elite” was one tiny detail: unbeknownst to the spies, she wasn’t actually a spy.
She believed they were actually at a printing office. She had come to the office a decade ago, wanting something to get her mind off her deceased husband. Mr. Grey had happily welcomed her, believing that she, too, had heard the news that spies were welcome. She spent her days filing paperwork, which was actually spies sending messages back and forth in code. Her clueless attitude seemed, to the other spies at least, to be her expert acting.
“Mrs. Robinway!” Mr. Grey barked.
Mrs. Robinway looked away from the cat poster she was tacking up.
“How can I help you, Wallis?” she asked kindly.
The manager’s breath caught in his throat for moment and he had to cough. Mrs. Robinway had a way of using her mystique to catch him off guard. He cleared his throat and straightened up.
“Mr. Grey,” he grunted. “Mrs. Robinway. Let’s try to keep it professional. Now, do you still have that file I asked to keep safe?”
He gave her a knowing look that Mrs. Robinway didn’t bother to acknowledge. To her, Mr. Grey was an overly dramatic boss. How important could a couple files for a printing office be?
She spun around in her chair, thumbed through her filing cabinet, and pulled out a bright red folder. She handed it to him and for a split second, their fingers touched.
Mr. Grey gave her a shy smile, which was uncharacteristic for him. Mrs. Robinway smiled too, albeit slightly confused. What a strange man.
After a minute, he regained his serious disposition and cleared his throat yet again.
“Ahem, ahem! Thank you, for the file. I believe two of our younger interns wished to speak to you before going on their mission,” he said quickly, then darted into his office.
Mrs. Robinway smiled. She knew who the interns would be. Keith and Lynn. She loved them much like she loved her own grandchildren. They were lovely boys. Sure enough, the two young men approached her desk, looking rather stressed.
Lynn, the fun-loving redhead, reached into her candy jar to pull out a handful of red, orange, and yellow M&Ms. Keith, the more pessimistic one, gave him a disapproving look as Lynn shoved all the candies into his mouth at the same time.
“’Ello, Mrs. Robinway, we’re off to the, uh, ‘copy supply store,’” Lynn said, his voice muffled by the ridiculous amount of sweets in his mouth.
Lynn was a new recruit, and wasn’t very good with his cover. He also hadn’t quite trained away his evident Irish accent, which some spies liked to tease him about. He was a good kid, though, through and through. Keith was admittedly a bit of a brat at times, but he watched out for Lynn. Keith wouldn’t admit it, but he cared a lot about him.
Keith gave him another look of disdain.
“Uh, and we were uh, wonderin’ if you could give us a bit of advice or anythin’ to help us out. You being the elite here and all,” he offered, anxiously twisting his hands.
Keith rolled his eyes. He often doubted Mrs. Robinway. In fact, he didn’t think she was a real spy. Lynn firmly disagreed and was always trying to prove him wrong.
Mrs. Robinway smiled.
“Oh, ho, ho. Well, I wouldn’t call myself an elite, but I actually do happen to have something. You two are such good boys, and it’s cold outside. I made you these.”
She fished under her desk and pulled out two hand-knit hats, blue for Lynn and black for Keith. Lynn took the hat and his face fell for a moment. Keith scoffed. He went to give Lynn a smug I-told-you-so look, but was surprised when Lynn jammed the black hat on his head and gave Mrs. Robinway a winning grin.
Lynn wasn’t about to let his spirits get crushed so quickly. He just knew Mrs. Robinway was special.
“Thank you, Mrs. Robinway,” he said quickly, and ushered Keith out the door before he could protest.
She smiled, the corners of her mouth crinkling like tissue paper. Those two boys always brightened her day.
The boys didn’t return to the office for three days. Mrs. Robinway had to admit, she was a little worried. They were practically her adopted grandchildren, those boys. On the fourth day, however, they came bursting through the door with manic grins and bright eyes. Their hats were gone and their hair looked staticky.
“Goodness me, boys, where have you been?” Mrs. Robinway inquired.
Lynn gave her an ear-splitting smile. Keith looked somewhat reluctantly happy.
“Oh, Mrs. Robinway, we can’t thank you enough for your wisdom! You are truly an elite to be praised!” he shouted.
Mrs. Robinway, unsure of the situation, blushed. “Oh, I’m just an old coot, boys. What are you talking about?”
The boys smiled at each other. Mrs. Robinway was messing with them again. They rushed to tell their friends the good news.
A huge group of spies gathered anxiously, gasping at every frightening moment as Lynn spun their tale.
“And so there we were, cornered by at least a dozen, no, two dozen, of Doctor Blade’s bots, absolutely no way out in sight.”
An older recruit gasped. Everyone knew about Erica, who had lost her eye to one of those vile machines.
Lynn spread his arms wide dramatically, loving the attention he was getting. “And so this guy over here thought we were goners! That Mrs. Robinway wasn’t a truly mighty spy!” he accused, playfully ruffling Keith’s hair.
Keith rolled his eyes, but everyone could see he was smiling.
“And I said, ‘Wait, the hats!’, and we snatched them off our heads. True, the hats had given us away in the first place, but we didn’t account for the old lady’s brilliance! Without a moment to lose, the bots closing in with their pincers at our necks—”
Lynn jumped on a table, pantomiming a claw grappling for his neck. All the spies watched him with a mix of shock and amusement. Keith took a cautious step forward, just in case Lynn took an accidental dive.
“—and Keith whips out his lighter and we lit the hats!”
His audience was silent.
“Ah, don’t give up on me now! I’m just getting to the best part! It turns out wool is so flammable, it caused smoke to go up to the detectors! Every mad scientist has to have a good emergency system, right?”
Lynn grinned more and more as he saw pride reflected in his colleagues’ eyes. Even the eldest were giving nods of approval.
“And sure enough, BAM! The sprinklers go off, short circuiting every bot within a half a mile radius! All of Doctor Blade’s work went down the drain! You should’ve seen the man’s face!”
A small girl with big freckles pushed her way to the front. She waved her hands until she got Lynn and Keith’s attention.
“So did you get him? Is Doctor Blade finally in jail?”
Lynn took a deep inhale.
“Yes, he finally is, Jane! And it’s all thanks to Mrs. Robinway!” he screamed happily, diving backwards off the table. Keith stumbled forward and just barely managed to catch him.
“Three cheers for Mrs. Robinway!” he yelled from Keith’s arms.
The group of spies joined in to shout, “ROBINWAY, ROBINWAY, ROBINWAY!”
From upstairs, Mrs. Robinway chuckled, beside herself. Mr. Grey smirked at the muffled sounds of cheering.
“You’ve done a great deed for this office, Mrs. Robinway,” he said proudly, crossing his arms.
She went red, her head down as she shuffled papers together.
“Oh, I didn’t realize hats were such a big deal in this town. I suppose I’ll have to make more,” she giggled.
Mr. Grey cocked his head slightly in confusion, then realized she was just pulling his leg. Trust her to be so modest.
“I’m serious, Mrs. Robinway, I don’t know what we would do without your assistance to this fine facility.”
She took a deep breath.
“Probably fall apart, I suppose,” she said, snorting.
Mr. Grey felt his heart flutter at her simple laugh. Truly, Mrs. Robinway was a spy to be respected.
“Seriously, Mrs. Robinway, we must celebrate. You’ve just saved two of our men.”
From certain frostbite, I suppose, she thought to herself. What else could Mr. Grey have meant?
“Oh no, Mr. Grey. Celebrating sounds lovely, but I have several papers I promised to have on your desk. By the way, when did you want those? Monday or Tuesday?” she asked with one of her honey-sweet smiles.
Mr. Grey smiled wryly back. A single tear welled up in his eye. Mrs. Robinway, a true saint. Dedicated to her cover no matter what. She was right. They would fall apart without her guidance and expertise.
Mr. Grey sniffled, that tear sliding down his cheek.
“Good old Mrs. Robinway,” he said, brushing the tear away with a stroke of his fist.
Mrs. Robinway stared at him, slightly concerned as he continued to cry.
“I’ll just get them in on Monday, then.”