Every now and again, Julia took a step back and asked herself what on earth she was doing, living the life that she was living. One day, she was a young Interpol agent, working under Chase Devineaux and trying to hunt down Carmen Sandiego for reasons she couldn’t understand; the next, she was a secret agent with an organization most people didn’t know existed.
Most days, she was proud of herself. She was pretty sure that, at only twenty-one years old, she was by far the youngest ACME agent, and as far as she was aware, only she and Zari had ever seen Chief in person. That was an honor, and from the dirty looks she occasionally received from more seasoned agents, she had a sneaking suspicion it was one that many wanted.
And all because she had the right instinct about Ms. Carmen Sandiego…
She laughed to herself as she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in her favorite silvery-blue towel. Imagine if she had listened to Devineaux and taken his word about “La Femme Rouge” at face-value!
Julia was torn. Hacking ACME was wrong—she knew that—but she also was sure that Carmen wasn’t a bad person. Everything she had observed over the last few months, indicated that the young thief was dedicated solely to defeating VILE. She couldn’t help but think that Carmen had a reason for hacking ACME, that there was something Carmen wanted to learn that Chief wouldn’t tell her.
Chief had sent her and Zari home immediately after the hack, telling them to return first thing in the morning “once she had decided on ACME’s response to these new developments.”
Now, first thing in the morning had arrived, and Julia couldn’t help but ask herself: what would that response be?
And what would she, Agent Julia Argent, do if she disagreed with it?
There was a coffee shop in Poitiers, halfway between her apartment and the bus stop, that Julia liked to frequent. She couldn’t always make it—it depended on how many times she hit the snooze button on her alarm—but today she had the time. Nerves over what Chief would say about Carmen Sandiego had left her unable to sleep in.
She stepped into the coffee shop, smiling at the sound of the gently tinkling bell which signaled her arrival. The smell of fresh coffee and baked goods filled her nostrils, rich and dark with the tiniest hint of chocolate. Already, her nerves began to settle.
Julia sat down at her favorite table and folded her hands on it, taking a few deep breaths. She knew, deep down, why she was so nervous about the fate of Carmen Sandiego, but it was something she wasn’t quite ready to admit.
A young woman with blond hair neatly braided down the side came over to Julia’s table. Julia looked over and smiled again when she recognized Renée Dupont. Renée’s younger sister, Nicole, had been one of Julia’s closest friends in primary school, and the two had remained good friends all the way through lycée. At that point, they had split ways, Julia remaining in Poitiers to begin her career with the French police while Nicole went to America to study at… goodness, Julia couldn’t remember which school, but it was a women’s college.
“The usual, Julia?” Renée asked.
“Yes, please,” Julia replied. “How are you, Renée?”
“Quite well, actually,” said Renée. “The assistant manager here is going on maternity leave next week and I have been asked to temporarily take her place. But Madeleine has told me that she is considering putting in her notice and moving—her husband has found a better job in Paris, apparently, and they might move there when her baby is born.”
“So you might become assistant manager permanently,” Julia concluded. “That’s wonderful!”
“And I’m sure you’re wondering how Nicole is doing,” said Renée.
“Naturally. I’ve been meaning to call her, but I’ve been quite busy with work.”
“I’m sure that there is little time to call old friends whilst you’re catching criminals all over the world.” Renée smiled. “Sometimes I can’t believe that my little sister’s best friend works for Interpol. It seems as though only yesterday you and Nicole were making a mess of our kitchen to make a chocolate cake—and then, just after my mother made you clean up, you covered the whole place in paint!”
“That was for a good cause,” Julia protested. “It was our friend Marie’s birthday, and we knew that none of the children in our class would go to her birthday party.”
“I remember Marie,” Renée mused. “Anyway, Nicole is all grown up as well. She’s deciding where to go to obtain her master’s degree. She’s been accepted to multiple programs—”
“—Of course she has,” Julia laughed. “I’d expect nothing less. Top of the class almost every year we were in school together, and she got a perfect score on the baccalauréat.”
“Don’t remind me,” Renée groaned. “Ever since Nicole learned to read, our parents have not stopped comparing us to each other. But anyway, she will most likely attend the Teachers College at Columbia, seeing as she’s so happy at Barnard. She’d be delighted if you called her, although she’s also quite busy with her studies.”
“Well, her birthday is coming up soon,” said Julia. “I’ll be sure to call her then.”
Renée smiled. “She’d love that. She has many friends at Barnard, but she and I were just talking a few days ago and she told me that nothing will compare to the fun you two had as children.”
“That’s so sweet,” said Julia. “I would love to talk to you longer, but I do need to catch the bus soon—”
“—Of course; I’ll put your order in right away. It was lovely talking, Julia!” Renée waved and walked away, leaving Julia alone with her thoughts once again.
Zari was smirking when Julia walked into the office. Julia nearly looked away, not liking the almost predatory gaze on her partner’s face, but she also refused to be intimidated.
“Good morning, Agent Zari,” she said, trying to remain calm. “You seem to be in a pleasant mood today.”
“You were wrong about Carmen Sandiego,” Zari said in lieu of a hello. “You thought she would be a valuable ally to ACME. Turns out she is only an ally to herself.”
“With all due respect, I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be so happy about this,” Julia replied. “Perhaps I miscalculated, but should we not be focused on our mission to stop VILE?”
“That’s for Chief to decide,” said Zari. “And unless she tells me otherwise, I will be happy about this. You’re right. Now that we’re done chasing your little hunch that maybe Carmen Sandiego isn’t so bad after all, we can focus.”
“Why are you making this about me?” Julia demanded. “You’re worse than—”
The door opened and someone walked into the room. Julia couldn’t quite make out who it was, until the figure clicked their ACME pen and the hologram of Chief lit up the room.
“Ladies, meet your new commanding officer,” said Chief. Julia’s eyes widened in horror.
“I am back!” Devineaux announced. “And Chief has given me clear orders. ACME has a new mission now: to take down Carmen Sandiego!”
“What?!” Julia exclaimed. She whirled on the hologram of Chief. “How is that our mission now? I thought we were supposed to take down VILE. Why are we turning our forces on the one person who has been the most successful at that?”
“She hacked us,” Chief said simply, almost flippantly.
“And that’s worse than everything that VILE has done and is doing?” Julia asked. Rage bubbled up inside her, but she forced herself to calm down. “Do we know what Carmen Sandiego was looking for? Perhaps this was simply a miscommunication. Hacking may not have been the answer to resolve it, but if we find out what she was trying to learn—”
Chief rolled her eyes. “Do you really need to know this?”
“If I’m going to continue to work with ACME, yes,” Julia replied firmly.
“Fine.” Chief sighed before walking to the front of the room. “Twenty years ago, I was an agent of Interpol, tasked with capturing a man named Dexter Wolfe, who Interpol believed was just a common thief. We tracked him to just outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He tried to flee and took out his car keys, but I mistook them for a gun.”
Julia glared at the hologram. “You killed an unarmed man.”
“That was wrong of me, and I take full responsibility,” said Chief. “But afterwards, when we went to search Wolfe’s house, it had been burned down. There was no reason for a common thief to burn down his own villa and flee, so I concluded that Wolfe must have been associated with a larger criminal force. I made my case to Interpol and ACME was formed. And I was right. Dexter Wolfe was a high-ranking VILE operative.” Julia’s glare darkened. “What?”
“Let me see if I’m following correctly,” said Julia. “You killed a man in Buenos Aires who was connected to VILE. Then, twenty years later, a woman of around twenty years of age shows up with intimate knowledge of VILE and its functions, and she accesses that specific case file.”
Chief blinked a few times. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh. ”
Devineaux stared at Julia. “I do not understand…”
“Dexter Wolfe was Carmen Sandiego’s father. Someone must have taken Carmen from Buenos Aires and raised her, most likely at VILE headquarters. They wanted to mold her into a thief like her father, but she chose her own path.”
“Or perhaps she didn’t!” Chief interjected. “Perhaps Carmen Sandiego has been working for VILE this whole time! Perhaps she’s been leading us on a wild goose chase—”
“Enough!” Julia shouted. Everyone gaped at her. “Carmen Sandiego is not working for VILE and you all know that. I understand being angry at her for hacking ACME, but she wanted to learn what happened to her father. That doesn’t make her evil, and it certainly doesn’t justify turning the entirety of ACME’s forces on her!”
“If you’re correct, and Carmen Sandiego’s father worked for VILE, it is even more imperative that we capture her and force her to tell us everything she knows,” said Chief. “If she’s following in her father’s footsteps—”
Julia held out her ACME keycard. “I quit. All of you are more interested in acting on a personal vendetta against someone who has stopped multiple VILE operations than in stopping VILE itself, and I want nothing to do with it. So I quit.” With that, Julia placed the keycard and her ACME pen on the table and began walking away.
“I am no longer Agent Argent,” Julia interrupted. She looked back to see that her former colleagues were still staring at her in shock. “My name is Julia.”