Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 23)
“I have to go,” I told them all.
“No,” Zach yelled. “You don’t!”
“He’s right, Ms. Morgan,” Townsend said. “We’ve come this far. There are channels, operations—”
“The same channels that told the Circle they should send an assassin to stake out Joe Solomon’s cabin?” I asked, but Townsend seemed indifferent to the point. “The last time we went through channels, I killed a man.”
“The Circle could be here.” Macey was beside me, pleading. “Did it ever occur to you that they have this place under surveillance just like the cabin was?”
“We’ve been staring down at that building for hours, Macey. Of course it occurred to me.”
“But did you think about why there’s no record of your having been there?” Bex said. “Did you think about—”
“What if it’s still there?” I shouted. “I came to Rome for that—” I pointed to the bank. “I came looking for whatever is in there.…And what if it’s still in there?”
“Ms. Morgan.” Townsend sounded like the cold, calculating operative he was.
“Would you die to stop them, Agent Townsend?”
“Yes.” He didn’t miss a beat.
I pushed up my sleeves, revealing the fading slashes on my arms. “Then think about what I would do.”
“Cam,” Bex said, easing closer.
“You need me,” I said, looking at Townsend and then Zach and Abby. “You never would have known about the embassy or Preston or the bank. You won’t know what I know until I get inside.” I breathed deeply. “You need me.”
“Cam,” Zach said. “You don’t have to take this risk.”
“Rome, Abby.” I ignored him and turned to my aunt. “A month before my father disappeared, he needed you in Rome. Now I need you in Rome.”
“I know.” Abby’s voice was small and fragile, and immediately I wanted to take the words back. But then she straightened and turned to the bank. “Where do we start?”
Covert Operations Report
At approximately 0900 hours on Saturday, October 14, Operative Morgan was given a stern lecture by Agent Townsend, a tracking device by Agent Cameron, and a very scary look from Operative Goode. (She also got a tip that her bra strap was showing from Operative McHenry.)
The Operative then undertook a basic reconnaissance mission inside a potentially hostile location. (But it wasn’t as hostile as Operative Baxter was going to be if everything didn’t go according to plan.)
Walking across the square that morning, I should have been afraid. I looked down at my hands, waiting to see them shake a little, but they were steady; my pulse was even. I don’t know if it was my training or my gut telling me that I was prepared—I was ready. But more likely it had something to do with the voices in my ear, talking over one another, giving orders all the way.
“Very good, Squirt,” Aunt Abby said. “Now, stop at that corner and let us—”
“Keep walking, Ms. Morgan.”
“Townsend,” Abby snapped. “The southwest security camera is blinded.”
“I’ve got eyes on her from the southwest,” Zach said. “She’s clear.” I could see him on the far side of the piazza, reading a paper and staring through the morning crowds, looking right at me. “She looks great.”
“Okay, Squirt, you know what to do,” Abby said, and I walked on.
Agent Townsend was at my back, and Bex’s voice was in my ear. “So far so good, Cam. Just keep walking.” So I did. All the way across the square and through the bank’s heavy doors, into a lobby that I could have sworn I’d never seen before.
The only thing that was familiar was the way Macey walked twenty feet in front of me in her tallest heels, her hand draped through Preston’s arm. Every now and then she’d laugh and lean to rest her head on his shoulder. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was a part of her cover or her natural tendency for really effective flirting (or, perhaps, her cover as a really effective flirt?), but the effect couldn’t be denied.
No one in the lobby was looking at me.
“Okay, Cammie.” Aunt Abby’s voice was clear in my ear, and I heard her draw a deep breath. “What are you seeing?”
She didn’t just sound like a CoveOps teacher—she sounded like the CoveOps teacher. So I took a casual turn around the floor and tried to do what Joe Solomon had been asking me to do for years: see everything.
There were fresh flowers on a table, and the ceilings were at least thirty feet high. The floors were made of stone and looked as old as the city itself. It was the kind of place that was built on wealth and prestige and the ability to keep the masses out. But whether or not I’d made it past those heavy doors before was something I couldn’t say.
Across the room, Preston walked to one of the small tables and said, “I’d like to make a withdrawal, please.” He pulled a wallet from his inner pocket and handed a card to the teller, while Macey leaned against him, smoothing the lapel of his jacket. She looked like a girl in love. Preston looked like a boy about to vomit all over a two-hundred-year-old table. And I kept turning, scanning the room as casually as I could.
“It’s okay, Cam,” Bex said in my ear. “You’re just taking a look around. It’s just a recon.”
“Focus, Ms. Morgan,” Townsend said.
“I am!” I hissed in his direction.
“Cam, think,” Bex urged.
“It’s…” I started, then shook my head in frustration. “Nothing.” I felt like the least consequential person to ever grace that beautiful old building. “I’ve got nothing.”
I’d never been more ashamed of my memory in my life.
“Okay,” Abby said, “pull out. We’ll regroup and—”
But then Abby’s words didn’t matter—nothing mattered besides the woman who was walking toward me, hand raised, saying, “Signorina! It’s so good to see you again.”
See you again…
For a moment I could have sworn I’d misunderstood—she must have been confused. But there was a smile of recognition on the woman’s face as she leaned closer and gripped my hands and kissed me once on each check, saying, “Ciao, ciao.”
“Yes, yes,” I said when finally her hands left mine. “It’s so good to see you too.”
“I told you, Roma is lovely in the autumn, is it not?”
“It is.” I nodded, mirroring the woman’s stance and expressions, trying my best to make Madame Dabney proud.
“You’re here to see your box, no?”
Well, as a spy, needless to say, my first instinct was to lie. As a chameleon, what I really wanted to do was hide. But right then, more than anything, I was a girl who needed answers. So when the woman gestured to the stone staircase that spiraled down into the lower level and asked, “Shall we?” all I could think about were the words your box. And smile.
I had a box.
Across the lobby floor, I saw Townsend start my way, and Abby’s voice was in my ear, saying, “Cammie, wait for Townsend. Wait for Townsend!”
But I’d already done enough waiting for a lifetime. I turned and followed the woman down the stairs, to a long hall with arched ceilings. The woman led me to a heavy door, too glossy and modern to really belong in that ancient building, and I knew that we were leaving the part of the bank the public got to see.
“Please,” the woman said, gesturing to a small box beside the door.
“It’s a retinal scan,” I said.
“Sì,” she told me with a smile.
Townsend had reached the bottom of the stairs and was heading our way. “We really should be—”
“There’s a retinal scan,” I told him. He seemed slightly taken aback, but not so much that the woman noticed.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said, staring right at me. “But we really should be leaving.”
“And who might you be?” the woman asked, looking Townsend up and down.
“My guard,” I told her.
“Of course,” she said, unfazed. “As I explained to the signorina last summer, privacy and security are paramount. You are welcome to wait here, but once we are through these doors—”
“No,” Townsend said just as, through my ear, Zach shouted, “Cammie, don’t!”
But it was too late, because the heavy doors were already sliding aside, and I was already inside.
The woman kept talking about the weather and banking laws. She said something about liking my shoes and the changes to my hair. It was small talk. Never in my life have I been a fan of small talk—especially not when so many more pressing questions were flooding my mind.
Like, when had I been there, and why? Like, how did they have my retinal image, and where were we going? As we walked, I felt the floor sloping steadily downward. Gradually, the voices in my ears dissolved into static, and I was alone with the woman and the thick stone walls, on a path I totally didn’t remember walking before.
As we turned a corner, I saw a man in a well-cut suit. The woman smiled at him, and he came forward.
“If the young lady will permit…” He reached for my hand and placed my forefinger into a small device that scanned my finger and pricked, pulling a tiny bit of blood.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, more out of shock than pain, and the man smiled as if he’d heard that before. Heck, he might have heard it from me.
Then the device beeped and another door swung open, and the man gestured me inside.
Number of minutes I waited: 20 Number of minutes it felt like I waited: 2,000,000 Number of times I wished I’d brought a book or something: 10 Number of tiles in the ceiling of that particular room: 49 Number of crazy scenarios that swirled through my head: 940
When the woman reappeared with a sleek metal case, she smiled and placed it on a small table, closed the door, and left me alone.
I knew it wasn’t a bomb, of course, and yet, reaching for the lid, I could have sworn I felt my heart stop beating.
Had I purchased that safety deposit box when I was there last summer? Had I left a clue inside? Or was it just an elaborate cover, a ruse I’d used to access the bank and run some other scheme?
Those were just a few of the thoughts inside my head as I reached for the lid and slowly lifted, expecting anything but what I saw.
I’d wondered where it was for weeks, but holding it in my hands felt anticlimactic. “It’s Dad’s journal,” I said again, just as there was a knock on the door.
“Is everything okay?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” I called, shoving the journal into the back waistband of my jeans.
Looking down at the now-empty box, I tried to focus on the positive. “I was here,” I told myself.
The fact should have made me happy. There was another point on the atlas, a thumbnail on the map of the war room in Sublevel One. But then I had to admit that the box itself was worthless. We had come a long, long way for nothing.