United We Spy (Page 10)
But he wasn’t. He was Interpol. And when he brought a hand to his temple—a tip of the imaginary hat—I was quite certain that I would be seeing him again very, very soon.
When the agents closed the door and drove the man and Preston’s father away, I looked down at the piece of paper that was still in my hands. The ink looked like blood, running across the page. Without a word, Liz handed me a pen, and I crossed off the name at the bottom of the list.
Three to go.
We had dry clothes and hot coffee, but even as we sat on Macey’s jet, I didn’t feel any warmer. Or safer. In a few minutes, we’d take off. In a few hours, we’d be home. Preston was, technically, out of harm’s way, but it still felt like our mission was a complete and utter failure.
Macey sat beside me, motionless. I wanted to tell her that it was okay, that Preston would be safe now. But Macey didn’t want to hear it. Which was just as well. I didn’t want to say it.
When the jet’s door slid down and Aunt Abby stepped in, I thought that we were ready to go home. But then someone else climbed into the cabin.
“What are you doing here?” Macey shouted at Agent Townsend. “Where’s Preston?”
Macey was up and moving toward him, and I could have sworn Agent Townsend looked scared.
“Macey.” Abby blocked her way. “I’ll be asking the questions. Now, sit down,” Abby ordered. And for once in her life, Macey did as she was told.
There was a bandage on Townsend’s temple. “Are you okay?” I said.
“I will survive, Ms. Morgan. Thank you for asking.”
“No,” Abby snapped. “Cameron Ann Morgan, don’t you sit there acting like you’re so sorry. I’m not even going to ask the four of you why you’re here. I don’t care. What were you thinking—stumbling into a live op like that?” my aunt asked, but all I could think of was how she’d been when she first came to my school. Cocky and easy and fun. She’d grown up. And I guess she wasn’t the only one.
Bex shifted in her seat. “We didn’t know it was a live op.”
“Well, you should have known.” Abby had her hand on her hip. She sounded like my mother. “You all should have known better. You’re seniors. You should realize by now that everything you do comes with repercussions.”
“How were we supposed to know you’d be there?” Macey challenged. She crossed her long arms. “All anyone ever says is Don’t worry about Preston. Preston isn’t in trouble. We won’t let Preston get hurt.”
“And we didn’t,” Abby countered. “We had eyes on the embassy at all times.”
“So that you could take him!” Macey shouted, and, for that, not even Abby had an answer. She and Townsend shared a look and, I’m not going to lie, it kind of scared me. Macey must have seen it too, because her voice changed. Anger morphed to terror.
“Where is he?” she asked. “Where is he right now?”
Townsend shook his head slowly. He ran a hand through his hair and took a seat. I watched my aunt lean ever so slightly against him.
“We don’t know, Ms. McHenry,” he said.
“You’re lying,” Macey snapped.
“We would lie—if we had to. But we aren’t,” Abby said with a shake of her head. “All Circle operatives are held in a high-security facility, the location of which is need-to-know, and we don’t know. I can promise you that.”
“I don’t believe you,” Macey told her.
“That’s fine.” Abby shook her head. “But I’m telling you the truth. He’ll be okay, Macey. It’s normal. It’s protocol.”
“Protocol for what?” Bex asked.
“He’ll be questioned, along with his father,” Townsend said.
“Questioned…” Macey started. “You mean, interrogated. You mean, tortured.”
“He’s in the authorities’ hands, girls,” Abby said. “He’ll be fine.”
“Like Cammie is fine,” Macey said, then glanced at me. “No offense.”
“None taken,” I said. “I think.”
“We aren’t the Circle, Macey,” Abby told her. “We’re the good guys.”
Macey crossed her arms. “Forgive me if I have my doubts.”
“What about Preston’s mother?” Liz asked.
“She’ll be questioned too, I’m sure,” Townsend said. “But the Circle doesn’t exactly admit spouses, so I doubt she knows anything. She’ll stay at the embassy for now.”
“That man…in the van with Preston’s father—” I said.
“His name is Max Edwards,” Townsend filled in before I could say anything more. “He used to be with Interpol.”
“I remember him. I met him two years ago at the career fair. He told me he knew my father.” I thought about the man who had given me his business card during my sophomore year. He’d looked at me that night like he saw through my chameleonness. He’d looked at me that way again that afternoon. Something about it made me feel uneasy, vulnerable. Naked.
“I don’t doubt it,” Townsend said. “Edwards has been in this business a long time. He knows everyone. That’s why he’s heading up the task force.”
“What task force?” Bex didn’t even try to hide the skepticism in her voice.
“Seems the intelligence community is finally starting to take the list seriously, girls,” my aunt told us. “Edwards is in charge of a brand-new task force that has just been put in place. It’s not big. Just a few key agents from the CIA, MI6, all the usual suspects. They’re supposed to track down the Inner Circle. Not that it’s going to be easy. But they’re going to try. And if today is any indication, they might just succeed. Winters is the first Inner Circle member to be taken alive, after all.”
Knowing what we knew about the Circle’s network of moles within the world’s intelligence community, I started to agree. Maybe it would work. Maybe we wouldn’t have to be alone in the search anymore. But Macey just crossed her arms and huffed.
“You mean the Inner Circle and their families?” she asked.
“Preston needed to be questioned, ladies,” Agent Townsend said as if he expected that to be the end of it.
“But…” Liz spoke then. Her voice cracked. “He’s just a kid.”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Abby leaned forward, staring at the four of us as if she were about to give us the most important lesson of our covert lives. “You should stop and listen to yourselves sometime. ‘We’re practically adults, let us run wild.’ ‘We’re only kids, leave us alone.’” I watched my aunt lean closer, emphasize every word. “You can’t have it both ways.”
“When is Preston’s birthday, Macey?” Townsend asked.
“December fifth,” Macey said.
“Then he just turned eighteen, did he not?”
“So he’s an adult now, by our standards. And the Circle’s.” Townsend looked at us all as if part of him truly hated what he had to say. “So no matter what we know about his father’s dealings, at this moment, there is a good possibility that Preston knows more.”
Macey was shaking her head. “No. No. He didn’t know a thing.”
“Didn’t he?” Townsend asked. “Abby is right. You want to be treated like grown-ups? Well, that includes both the good and the bad. And the possibility exists, ladies, that Preston Winters might be very bad indeed.”
My roommates and I fell into silence. I didn’t say a thing because, like it or not, the adults in my life were right far more often than they were wrong.
The Circle had always been a step or two ahead—and right then, I didn’t like where those steps were going.
It was dark when the jet finally landed. I’m sure I must have slept on the long ride over the Atlantic, but I didn’t really remember. I just remember staring out the window: watching, thinking, waiting for something, but what, I didn’t know.
On the Tarmac, Agent Townsend whispered something to Abby, then squeezed her hand and kissed her softly when he didn’t think we were watching. But we’re Gallagher Girls. To tell you the truth, we are always watching.
Abby let him go, her eyes a little misty. And I couldn’t help myself—I thought about Zach. He was out in the world somewhere. And a part of me worried that I might never see him again.
“Go to bed, girls,” Abby told us when we walked through the doors. The lights were out. Our school was sleeping, and in the stillness I could feel how far we’d gone, and how far we still had to go.
“I’m not going to tell you again,” Abby snapped, and started down the hall that led to the stairs to the teachers’ quarters. “Now go to bed.”
And maybe we would have done exactly that, except when we reached the top of the Grand Stairs, I saw the light seeping from underneath my mother’s office door, and that was all the invitation I needed. I raced down the Hall of History and never looked back.
“Mom!” I yelled. “Mom, I’m—” I said, bursting through the door; but then I stopped cold because Joe Solomon was lying on the leather couch in my mother’s office. And, oh yeah, his shirt was totally off.
“Uh…” I said. I might have physically stumbled. But what else was I supposed to do at the sight of my teacher—and my mom’s new sort-of boyfriend—with his shirt off?
It was epic. It was awkward. It was epically awkward.
And judging from the traffic jam of girls who were plowing into me from behind, I totally wasn’t the only one who thought so.
“Uh…” Liz echoed me but couldn’t find the words to finish, either.
“I’m fine,” Mr. Solomon said, and then he tried to sit upright. I could see the bruises that covered his chest, spreading across his ribs. When he shifted on the sofa, I saw the massive gash in his side, and I felt the cold feeling of dread that maybe he wasn’t the only one who’d gotten hurt.
“Where’s Zach?” I blurted.
“He’s fine,” Mr. Solomon said, even though, technically, he hadn’t answered my question.
“Step aside, girls,” my mother said from behind us, and we moved out of the doorway and into the office, watched her dip a sponge into a bowl of sudsy water and kneel at Mr. Solomon’s feet. He winced when she brought the sponge to the long, ragged knife wound that ran across his ribs.
“Wimp,” she told him. He smiled.
“Did you find Catherine?” Bex blurted. “Did she do that to you?”
“No.” Mr. Solomon shook his head. He sounded more disappointed than pained, like he’d gladly suffer a thousand cuts if it meant bringing Zach’s mother to her end.
“Where is Zach?” I asked. “Is he…” I trailed off. I just looked at Mr. Solomon’s blood and couldn’t finish.