When Max’s dad came to pick him up on Friday night, he said, “Tomorrow, I will show you my new neighborhood.”
“Sorry, Dad,” said Max. “Tomorrow I have spy duty. You’ll have to call me Agent Pepperoni.”
“Oh,” said Dad. “Okay.”
“But you can be my helper spy,” said Max. “You can be Agent Cheese.”
“Not Agent Lightning? Or Agent Super-Cool Guy?” asked Dad.
“Agent Cheese,” said Max.
Max had it all planned out. He had been reading The Sneaky Book of Spy Skills and had been waiting until the weekend to try what he had learned. As they drove from the house Max lived in with Mom to his dad’s new apartment, Max imagined himself sneaking through dark shadows and collecting top-secret information. He imagined Dad sneaking alongside him. Dad would not be wise in the ways of spies like he was, but Max didn’t mind. He would tell Dad what to do.
When Dad opened the door, the new apartment was dark. He flicked on the lights. “What do you think?”
“It is very clean,” said Max. He thought that sounded nicer than saying it was very white. The kitchen had a white counter and white tile floor and a white breakfast bar between it and the living room. The living room was white too, except for a black TV and an orange armchair Max recognized from Grandma’s house. The rest of the room was empty. Max thought it would be perfect for practicing spy moves like leaping into action and falling from tall buildings. “I like it,” said Max.
“I haven’t had much time to unpack,” said Dad.
He showed Max a white bedroom with white walls and lots of cardboard boxes and a mattress on the floor. “This is my room,” said Dad. “And this is the bathroom.” The bathroom was white too, but there were two pale-green towels hanging on hooks and two very new-looking toothbrushes on the white countertop.
Max opened a door under the sink. There was nothing in the cupboard. A good place for hiding, he thought. “I like this, too,” he said.
“Would you like to see your room?” asked Dad.
Max expected another white room with cardboard boxes, but when Dad opened the door, that is not what he saw. He saw a room with blue walls and a bed with a silver blanket. There was a blue dresser and football-print curtains and a lamp with a Detroit Lions football helmet for a base. And two framed photographs: one of Max and Mom at Cedar Point Amusement Park and one of Max and Dad at a football game.
“Do you like it?” asked Dad.
“It’s very blue,” said Max. He didn’t want to say what he was really feeling. What he was feeling was like somebody was sitting on his chest. Max had liked the Detroit Lions last year, when he was in second grade. He still liked the Detroit Lions now, but not as much. And he did not think he liked blue very much at all. He could not imagine a spy with a blue room and football curtains.
“Are you okay?” asked Dad.
Max did not want to hurt Dad’s feelings. “I’m tired,” he said. He pretended to yawn.
Max brushed his teeth with one of the new toothbrushes in the new bathroom. Dad said there were new pajamas in his new dresser, but Max put on the soft old ones from his big weekend bag. He got out The Sneaky Book of Spy Skills and got into his new bed.
“All set, sport?” asked Dad.
“I’m not a sport,” said Max. “I am a spy.”
“That’s right,” said Dad. “You are Agent Pepperoni and I am Agent Flash.”
“Agent Cheese,” said Max.
Dad grinned. “Thought I could sneak that past you.”
“You can’t sneak things past a spy,” said Max.
“So I see.” Dad tilted the book in Max’s hands so he could read the title. “Does this book say what a helper spy does?”
“A helper spy does what the main spy tells him to. He jots down notes. He takes pictures. He is on lookout,” said Max.
“Sounds good,” said Dad. “When do we start?”
“Tomorrow,” said Max. “First thing.”
“Then we’d better get some shuteye.” Dad kissed Max on the forehead. He tucked the silver covers under Max’s chin. He pulled shut the football curtains and turned off the helmet lamp. “Good night, pal.”
Gray light filtered through the space between the football curtains and made shadows on the walls. Max heard a thump and a rumble that were probably the heat turning on.
There were footsteps overhead and a clicketa-clicketa-clicketa sound. There was a clank and a whoosh and voices. Max knew that these sounds were probably other people in other apartments.
But Max was a spy. He knew the sounds could be other things. Dangerous things.
“Agent Cheese?” called Max.
Dad appeared in the doorway. “Yes, Agent Pepperoni?”
“You don’t have to wait until tomorrow if you want. You can be on lookout now.”
“You got it.” Dad saluted.
Saluting was for the army, not for spies, Max knew, but he could tell Dad that tomorrow. Tonight Agent Cheese was on lookout, and that was good enough.