“I’m fine!” Astrid shouted without really meaning to. “I’m going for a walk.”
Grabbing her jacket, she was out the door and halfway down the block, before she slowed and put it on. It was chilly, and the unusually moist air made her breath form little clouds. Pulling her hood over her head and yanking the strings down, she tightened it around her face.
Why had she yelled at her mother? She only wanted to make sure that Astrid was healthy. Maybe there was something wrong with her brain. Maybe she had some kind of brain damage. What if her IQ really had dropped to 184? What a nightmare!
Suddenly Astrid heard a sound behind her. She glanced quickly over her shoulder, but didn’t see anything. She began walking a little quicker. She heard another sound behind her. Somebody was following her. Even as she wondered who it could be, she wondered whether she had noticed the noises because the humidity in the air. She knew that dry air absorbed acoustical energy more than moist air, since air was more dense than water vapor. She was sure she heard a footfall.
Speeding up her stride, Astrid passed the large evergreen shrub on the corner of the Trent family yard. Then she dived behind their hedge and ran around behind the corner of their old-fashioned front porch, peeking out at the sidewalk. Seconds later, a tall figure in a black trench coat walked by, looking left and right, no doubt trying to figure out where the girl had gone. The growing darkness left him little more than a silhouette even near the glowing streetlights.
There was something very familiar about the straight back and the tightly-wound energy of his stride. Astrid smiled. Retracing her steps beside the hedge, she jumped up behind the dark figure.
“Are you on Astrid-watch again?” she asked.
“Well, it seems that someone has to be,” said a cultured English accent.
The figure turned, revealing the handsome features of Mr. Charles Edward Toulson, Interpol agent. Mr. Toulson had watched over Astrid in the past, most recently the previous May, when he had foiled a group of terrorists attempting to kidnap the girl inventor.
“Do you want to walk me home and tell me why you’re here, or would you rather stand out here in the cold?” she asked.
“I think it’s quite nice out, actually,” he said, looking around. Then he touched his earpiece. “Alice is returning to Wonderland. We’ll meet there.”
Astrid’s face turned dark.
“Don’t like your codename?” asked Mr. Toulson.
“Alice was mentally deranged, you know,” she replied in a low voice.