Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 18)

“You need backup,” Macey said, stepping forward. “We can be backup. Don’t make us stay here like we’re…helpless.” Her voice cracked, and right then I knew that I might have been the one who’d gotten a concussion last summer, but I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten hurt.

“Girls.” Mom shook her head. “What about Liz?”

“I’ll stay.” Liz was standing in the doorway in her frilliest, pinkest nightgown, looking exactly like Doris Day in a very old movie. “Bex and Macey should go, but I can stay and help with ground support and research and…Bex and Macey should go.” She took a deep breath, and then Elizabeth Sutton, the smartest girl at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, looked at our headmistress and said, “The odds of bringing her back alive increase by twenty-seven percent if Bex and Macey go.”

I don’t know if it’s a spy thing or a sister thing, but sometimes my mom and Aunt Abby can have whole conversations without saying a single word. Looks pass between them, thoughts move through the air like some kind of encrypted transmission. I watched them having one of those talks then. And still I had no idea what the verdict would be until Abby wheeled on Bex and Macey.

“Fine,” she said. “You two can come.”

“Awesome,” Bex said. She turned and started to run down the hall. “I’ll get Zach and—”

“Not Zach.”

Bex stopped and spun at the sound of my mother’s voice. Mom looked at Abby, then added, “Cammie isn’t the only person the Circle would like back. Zach stays here.”

“Don’t worry, Squirt,” Aunt Abby said. “We have you covered.”

I looked at Bex and Macey and then back to my aunt Abby, unable to hide the skepticism in my voice. “Who exactly is we?”

“That would be me, young lady.”

A tall, broad figure appeared in the shadows of the hall behind Aunt Abby, and I knew the British accent and mildly condescending tone as soon as I heard them. Agent Townsend smiled and picked up the heavy bag that sat at my aunt’s feet, then threw it over his shoulder as if it weighed nothing at all.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter Twenty-one

PROS AND CONS OF INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AS A SEMI-FUGITIVE:

(A list by Cameron Morgan with help from Rebecca Baxter and Macey McHenry)

PRO: Macey McHenry was right—private jets are awesome.

CON: Leaving in the middle of the night to make sure no one sees you can seriously disrupt a girl’s sleep cycles.

PRO: Two words: no customs.

CON: Madame Dabney had promised to begin Wednesday’s lecture with the story of how she once infiltrated an Irish Republican Army stronghold using nothing but dental floss and a batch of homemade scones.

CON: Packing at one a.m. pretty much guarantees a person will end up with socks that don’t match, a pair of jeans that don’t fit, and the sweatshirt with the big bleach stain on the elbow.

CON: Watching the stone walls of your school fade into the distance, your mother behind them.

PRO: Hoping that answers might lie beyond.

CON: Being a semi-fugitive means guards. And sometimes the guards include Agent Townsend.

PRO: Realizing that Agent Townsend is seriously not a match for Abigail Cameron.

“Cam, don’t sit there,” my aunt told me an hour later, pointing at the window seat I was already halfway into.

“Stay where you are, Ms. Morgan,” Agent Townsend ordered. “I don’t think there are a lot of snipers at thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic.”

“Yes,” Abby countered, “because obviously a plane is never on the ground, like it is…say…now.”

“Oh, please.” Townsend shrugged off her worries. “If they know she’s on this plane, they’ll simply shoot the whole thing down.”

“Oh,” Bex and I said at the same time.

Not. A. Comforting. Thought.

Maybe that was where the feeling in my gut was coming from. Knowing the Circle wanted me alive had been terrifying. Knowing the Circle wanted me dead and didn’t care who died with me was a whole new level of fear.

“You get some sleep, Abigail,” Townsend told her. “I’ll keep watch.”

“That’s very gracious of you, but being that we’re on an airplane . ..”

Even after the plane took off, they kept debating security perimeters and protocols. I’m pretty sure they argued for forty-five minutes about where the best place for cappuccino was near the Colosseum.

Finally Townsend said, “Always a loose cannon, aren’t you, Abigail? Taking chances.”

“I seem to remember one of those chances saving your hide in Buenos Aires three years ago.”

“Oh, Abigail…still bringing up Buenos Aires?”

“Well, you’re still alive because of it.”

It should have been easy to curl up in the plush leather seat and rest. (Grandma Morgan has always claimed that I am a world-class sleeper.) But every time I closed my eyes, I heard the music floating through my mind, the new soundtrack to my life. I turned my head to the window, but all I saw was the image of the sniper’s knife reflected in the darkened glass.

Finally, I tried to feign sleep. I would have sworn it didn’t work, but five minutes later, someone shook my shoulder.

I bolted upright and grabbed the hand that held me, twisted the wrist backward at an impossible angle. It was a second too late before I realized the hand was semi-friendly.

“Not bad, Ms. Morgan,” Townsend said, unfazed. He didn’t seem to be in even a little pain as he freed himself and told me, “Get your shoes on. We’re here.”

* * *

Somewhere over the Atlantic, Abby and Townsend must have called a truce. Or arm wrestled. Or compromised, because it was impossible to tell who’d won. They both seemed equally unhappy with our arrangement as I climbed down the stairs of the plane and onto the sunny tarmac below.

“You’re with me, Cammie.” Aunt Abby looped her arm through mine in a gesture that had nothing to do with girlie bonding. It was more like, They’ll have to go through me to get to you.

Townsend had arranged for a van, and the five of us crawled inside like a totally dysfunctional family. Townsend drove.

“Via del Corso is faster,” Abby said in a singsong voice. Townsend ignored her.

I sat in the back, wedged between Bex and Macey, staring at cobblestone streets lined with ancient buildings. There were bicycles and old women selling flowers, scooters and police cars that drove through the city with haunting, piercing sirens that caused the hair on my arms to stand on end. But nothing felt familiar.

“Anything, Cam?” Macey asked, turning to me.

I shook my head. “I think I need to walk.”

“Not here,” Abby and Townsend said at the same time. There was something especially terrifying about hearing them agree.

“But Dr. Steve says that music and sensory stimuli are essential in memory recall.”

“I’ve never heard him say that,” Bex said.

“Well…he told me,” I said.

Townsend shrugged. “With all due respect to the good doctor, I highly suspect that he’s a moron.”

That didn’t sound very respectful, but it hardly seemed like the moment to say so. And besides, there wasn’t time, because Agent Townsend was parking the van and announcing, “We’re here.”

It was a street just like a dozen others we’d seen since reaching the city center. Laundry lines ran between windows, a floating cloud of shirts and sheets.

“We’re where?” Bex asked, but then Townsend turned and pointed at the place where dozens of tourists were bleeding onto one street from another.

“There,” he said, just as Abby opened her door and laughing and talking filled the air. A large truck pulled away from the curb, and I caught a glimpse of brightly colored fabrics waving in the wind. There were stacks upon stacks of pashminas, rows of belts and piles of purses so high that I could smell the scent of leather in the air. People haggled over jewelry and imitation Michelangelos, and through it all, I kept thinking, I came here?

“Not so fast,” Townsend told me when I reached for the door. He pulled a bulletproof vest from the back of the van. “You’re a little underdressed.”

My aunt must have felt my hesitation, because she turned to take my hand. “Your mom and Liz and the five of us are the only ones who know you’re here. We’re the only ones who know about the package and the jewelry, so it’s highly unlikely that the Circle has staked out this place like they did the cabin.” She squeezed my hand. Townsend might have rolled his eyes.

“You’re here so we can get the Circle, Ms. Morgan. If you want to do something that has absolutely no risk, then you should have stayed at your little school and saved us all a lot of trouble.”

He was right, of course. The only way to be safe was for all of this to be over. The only way for it to be over was to put the vest on and climb out of the van.

Chapter Twenty-two

Covert Operations Report

On the eleventh of October, Operatives Morgan, Baxter, and McHenry engaged in a highly classified reconnaissance operation on the streets of Rome, Italy.

Agents Townsend and Cameron showed The Operatives how to form a close-range perimeter around Operative Morgan.

The Operatives also got to eat really awesome gelato for breakfast.

By the time we made it halfway through the market, I was starting to regret quoting Dr. Steve. Seriously. At that point I didn’t want any more sensory stimuli. What I wanted was for someone to turn the color and smells and volume down.

Cobblestones were beneath my feet. I ran my fingers against the rough stucco of the buildings’ walls, but nothing felt familiar. Even my own shadow was unrecognizable, with my shorter hair and bulletproof-vested physique.

Bex gave me a wink, and for a second I thought about Zach. I know this probably makes me the worst unofficial girlfriend ever, but it was kind of nice not having him there. It felt good to be just us girls again. It was nice to have the chance to miss him.

Townsend slipped his arm around my shoulders. Made by anyone else, it would have been a fatherly motion, a kind gesture. But I knew there was nothing sweet about it. It was just a really hard position to attack.

“Crowds are difficult,” I told him.

He nodded. “They are.”

“The number of potential threats, coupled with the decreased line of sight…” I went on, thinking about the cabin and the shooter and how close I’d come to dying on that hillside.

“It’s different from an attack in a secluded area,” Townsend said, as if he’d read my mind. “But not necessarily harder.”

Abby was two feet in front of us, clearing the way through the crowd, but somehow I knew I wasn’t in Rome with the best possible people—not with Mr. Solomon lying in a bed in the Gallagher Academy. The best possible person might never stand or speak or challenge me again.

“Ask me what I see,” I heard myself blurting.

“Excuse me?” Townsend asked, taken aback.

“It’s a test,” I told him, the words coming fast. “It should be a test. I’ve been trained for this. I know…Ask me what I see!”