Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 25)

Here, it turned out, was another safe house, this one an abandoned villa on a small lake north of Rome.

“We’ll rest tonight,” Townsend said from the driver’s seat while Zach pulled open my door.

“Come on, Gallagher Girl,” he said. “Try to get some sleep.”

I took his hand and stepped from the car. We were far enough north that the air was significantly cooler, and the breeze felt like a slap, waking me from my daze.

“I don’t need sleep, Zach. I need answers.”

“Cammie, we already know so much,” Bex said, and I wheeled on her.

“We don’t know anything. We don’t have anything except this.” I held up my father’s journal. “Which, by the way, we had last semester. We don’t know where I went or what they did to me.” I heard my voice crack. “We don’t know where I messed up.”

Suddenly, it all became too much, so I took the journal I treasured above everything else and hurled it against the car.

“Cammie!” Abby sank to her knees on the dusty driveway, and I don’t know what was more surprising, the shocked pain of my aunt’s expression or the small envelope that leaped from between the pages and fluttered to the ground at her feet.

“What is it?” Bex asked, reaching for the letter that must have been tucked inside the book I hadn’t even bothered to open. “Is it from you, Cam?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head and looking at my father’s handwriting—at the words For my girls. “It’s for me.”

There was cheese and stale bread in the kitchen. Macey scavenged for bottles of olives and a few mismatched plates, while Zach built a fire and Townsend and Bex checked our perimeter. But Abby and I just sat staring at the letter that lay in the center of the old kitchen table, like it was too precious or dangerous to touch.

I’d seen my father’s handwriting before, of course. I’d read his entire journal, memorized every word. But something about that letter felt different, as if he were calling to me from beyond the grave.

After a while, the others took their seats at the table, but no one reached for the food. We just sat, watching, until the silence became too much.

“Read it,” I told Aunt Abby, pushing the letter toward her; but she shook her head no.

“We’ll take it to Rachel. She can—”

I pulled the envelope away and handed it to Bex. “You do it.”

“Cam.. .”

“I need to know,” I said, and she didn’t argue. She just picked it up and started to read.

“‘Dear Rachel and Cammie, If you are reading this, then I am probably gone. Well, that or Joe finally found the hole in his cabin wall where I’ve been stashing things for years. Or both. In all likelihood, it’s both.’”

I know Bex’s voice almost better than I know my own, but as she spoke, the words shifted and faded. I heard my father as my best friend read.

“‘Please forgive me for not giving this to you myself, but as long as there’s a chance that I can go on without putting anyone else in danger, I have to take it. I think that I have the key—quite literally—to bringing the Circle down. But a key does no good without a lock, and that’s the next thing I have to find. I’ve stored the key in a bank box in Rome that only you and Cammie and I will be allowed to access.’”

“Rome,” Abby whispered. Guilt and grief filled her eyes, but there was no time to think about it, because Bex kept reading aloud.

“‘I shouldn’t say any more here, in case this note falls into the wrong hands, but once you have the key, you will understand. If I am right, then there is a way to bring the Circle to an end, a window that can lead to a happy ending. And I will find it. I promise you I will.

“‘I love you both.’” Bex laid the letter on the table, and I stared numbly at the words until my gaze came to rest on the three letters at the bottom of the page.

M.A.M.

Matthew Andrew Morgan.

“Cam,” Bex was saying. “It will be okay. We will—”

“I…I saw this.”

“Yeah, Cam,” Macey said. “You had the letter. You found it at Joe’s cabin and took it to Rome and—”

“Not in Rome.” My hands shook as they traced my father’s initials. The paper was smooth, but what I felt was rough stone and crumbling mortar.

“Cammie,” Abby said softly. “Cam!” she snapped, pulling me back.

“Aunt Abby.” I heard my voice crack. “We need to get the car.”

Chapter Thirty

My memory wasn’t back. It wasn’t as simple as that. But there were flashes—images and sounds. I felt my head spinning like a compass, guiding us for hours until our ears popped and the snow blew, and I stared out our car window, looking for anything that seemed familiar.

No one spoke as the roads grew narrower, steeper. I didn’t know if it was the altitude or the situation, but I found it harder and harder to breathe until I said “Turn here” for reasons I didn’t quite know.

We drove on. The road turned to lane and then…to nothing. Agent Townsend stopped the SUV. “It’s a dead end,” he said, and Abby turned to me.

“It looks different in the winter, Squirt. Don’t pressure yourself or—”

“I’ve been here.” It wasn’t just the feeling of waking up in the convent, the memory of the chopper ride down the mountain. I knew that air. “We’re close,” I said, and before anyone could stop me, I reached for the door and was out, wading through the drifts.

The flashes were stronger then, clearer than they had been on the hillside with Dr. Steve. Those rocks were the same rocks. The trees were the same trees. And when I saw the broken branches, I knew that I had broken them on purpose—that I’d known someone would come looking for me eventually and I wanted to show them the way.

I just hadn’t known that that someone would be me.

“Are you sure?” Bex said from behind me. “Are you positive that this—”

I reached out for a piece of pine, my blood still on the bark. “This is the place.”

It took an hour to reach it—the ruins of an old stone house that stood alone, crumbling at the top of the mountain.

“I was here,” I said.

The images in my mind were black-and-white and blurry, but I felt it in my bones. My dreams were coming back, but they weren’t dreams. And yet they weren’t quite memories either as I pushed through a creaking wooden door and walked through rooms I didn’t recognize, listened to sounds I didn’t know. Only the feel of the stones beneath my fingers was familiar.

There was a cold fireplace filled with black logs and forgotten ashes. It hadn’t burned in months, but I heard the crackle of the fire.

Two bowls sat on a table, cold to the touch, but I could taste the food.

I’d already broken free once, but there was something in that building that hadn’t let me go.

Townsend and Abby were wordless, efficient. Opening drawers, scanning floorboards. They covered every inch of the old stone house until they finally huddled together and spoke in low, conspiratorial whispers.

“Nothing,” Abby told him. “You?”

“This place is clean,” he said.

But I just turned to the small door that led to the narrow cellar stairs, and said, “Down there.”

Zach was at my back, following me into the musty cellar. There was one tiny window high on the wall, barely peeking over the ground.

“Come on, Gallagher Girl,” he said. “Don’t do this to yourself. The Circle never leaves anything behind.” My fingers traced the walls beside a narrow bed. “They never use a safe house twice.”

And then my fingers found the letters scratched into the mortar between the stones.

C.A.M

Cameron Ann Morgan

My hand began to shake as it pushed the mattress aside, revealing three more letters hidden below.

M.A.M.

Matthew Andrew Morgan

“Yes,” I told Zach, my voice flat and cold and even. “They do.”

* * *

Zach couldn’t hold me in the room. Agent Townsend couldn’t stop me on the stairs. I was too strong in that moment. I wasn’t running from that place or its ghosts. I was running to something, for something, as I burst through the door and out into the snow.

The woods were alive with flashes and beats, images that came in black-and-white, like I’d seen it all before in a dream. But not a dream, I realized. A nightmare.

Bring the girl, a voice said.

Show her what happens to spies who don’t talk.

My mind didn’t know where I was going, but my legs did. They took me over banks and around pine trees. My body was impervious to the cold and the boy at my back yelling, “Cammie!”

Zach was struggling to keep pace behind me, but all I heard was the music, and the cold voice saying, The least we can do is take her to her father.

I skidded to a stop at the edge of the trees, exhaling foggy, ragged breaths, staring into the small clearing. But it wasn’t a clearing—I knew it. The outline of the trees was too precise, the corners too square to be random.

Snow covered the ground, and yet I knew that patch of earth. I’d felt it calling to me for weeks, pulling me back to that mountain.

“It’s real,” I said.

Abby was behind me, panting from the altitude. Zach tried to put his arms around me. He didn’t know my shaking had nothing to do with the cold.

When I began to say, “No. No. No,” he didn’t know I was revolting against, not a memory, but a fact.

“What is this?” Townsend was there finally, Bex at his side.

But it was Macey who stood apart from the others, seeing the small clearing at a distance. And that’s why she was the first to realize, “It’s a grave.”

“No. No.” I fell to my knees and began to scrape blindly through the white.

“Cammie.” Townsend’s hands were on mine, but Abby was already on her knees beside me, scraping too.

“Cammie!” Zach yelled, and pulled me to my feet and into his arms. “Stop.”

“He’s there,” I said, the words blending into sobs. “He’s there. He’s there.”

Abby didn’t scream, but she kept clawing, her bare hands bleeding in the snow.

“It’s over.” Agent Townsend reached for her. He didn’t scold or scoff. He just smoothed her hair, pressed his cheek against hers, and said, “He’s gone.”

Chapter Thirty-one

I know the theories behind interrogation tactics. I’ve seen the tutorials. I’ve read all the books. In the part of my mind that was still thinking, processing, planning, I knew that if the Circle had wanted to break me, there was no better place than my father’s grave to do it. I stared at my reflection in the window of the car that carried us back to school twelve hours later—at my sunken eyes and thin frame—and I thought about the nightmares and the sleepwalking.

I knew it might have worked.

When the school gates parted, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I’d ever set foot behind those walls. It was the August after my father disappeared, and I had spent every day since wondering where he had gone and what had happened. For years I’d thought that not knowing was the hard part. But right then all I wanted to do was forget.