United We Spy (Page 13)
But walking into the small, sterile room with a lone metal chair and a window of darkened glass, I couldn’t imagine the boy I knew inside that place. The Preston Winters I’d met had been normal. Helpless. Free.
“I can stay with you, Cammie.…” Agent Edwards sounded nervous, afraid for me, as if part of him were starting to regret bringing me here and making me a part of this world. But it was my world too.
I thought about the scars on my body.
It was my fight.
So I turned to him. “Get out.”
I walked nervously to the heavy metal chair in the center of the room and sat down like I’d been told to do. In the reflection of the glass I could see the cameras trained on me. I had no illusion of privacy. Preston and I would be recorded from every angle; they wouldn’t miss a single word. But at least I’d get to see him. At least I’d get to tell Macey he was okay.
I sat alone for ten minutes, but I didn’t shift. I didn’t waver. I wasn’t about to let the men on the other side of those cameras see me sweat.
Then a buzzer sounded. The glass went bright, and I looked through to the other side at Ambassador Winters, who sat smiling back at me.
“Where’s Preston?” I lunged forward and was almost off my chair before I remembered Agent Edwards’s warning. I scooted back slightly but didn’t dare let my gaze leave the ambassador’s eyes.
“I don’t know, Cammie,” Winters told me. “You’d know better than I.”
“I thought he…” I started before the truth finally settled down on me. “You wanted to see me?”
“Don’t sound so surprised.” The ambassador crossed his ankles. He looked perfectly at home there in a room exactly like mine. But he wore shackles around his hands and feet. “You’re a very intelligent young lady. Maybe I missed your company.”
“Don’t be coy with me. And don’t waste my time.”
“Fine,” he said.
“Why am I here?”
“I’m sorry about what happened, Cammie,” he said, not answering my question.
“Sorry that you tried to have me killed, or sorry that I had enough dumb luck to avoid it?”
He shook his head—a tsk, tsk, tsk gesture that made my skin crawl. “You’re very lucky, my dear. But you are anything but dumb.”
“They said you wanted to talk to me—that I was the only person you would talk to.… So, what is it? What do you want to tell me?”
Despite the handcuffs and shackles, Winters leaned closer, looked into my eyes. “How are you, Cammie?”
He sounded like the man who had welcomed me into the embassy, embraced me like a friend. And I hated him for it. I hated him so, so much.
“No,” I said. “You don’t get to ask me that. You don’t get to act like you’re one of the good guys. Don’t forget. Do not forget that I know better.”
I watched the words sink in, and for a second I could have sworn a degree of sadness crossed his face. “I know you do, Cammie. But I’m still interested in your welfare.”
I started to stand. “Good-bye, Mr. Winters. I wish I could stay and chat, but we’ve got this big test, and I’d really better be getting back to—”
“Wait, Cammie. Please.”
“Tell me why you brought me here, or I go. Now. And I never come back.”
“What do you know about the Circle, Cammie?”
He shifted then, not with his body but with his tone.
“Stop wasting my time,” I told him again.
“I’m serious,” he said. “Do you know when we were founded? By whom? Why?”
He put a special emphasis on the final word and that, at last, made me wonder.
“Cavan was a proud man,” Winters went on. He didn’t wait for me to answer. “He hated anyone who might have more power than he had.”
“Get to the point,” I snapped, and Winters talked on.
“Cavan wanted—no, needed—the Union to fail. A divided America was the only America he could stomach. And that meant he needed Lincoln to die. For the country to splinter, shatter. So the question is, Cammie, what does the Circle need now?”
For a second, I forgot he was a man who’d tried to kill me, and I looked at him like he was one of my teachers, like it was just another day back at school.
“The Circle wants power. They need profit.”
“No, Cammie.” Winters shook his head, but he didn’t scold. “I’ll admit, we allowed ourselves to stray from Cavan’s original mission. We got greedy, hungry for physical wealth, and Cavan’s original goal slipped from our minds. I do so admire the Gallagher Academy. It is still what your founder wanted it to be. Of course, Gillian Gallagher did it all without government involvement. I wonder what she would say if she saw the way the agencies have the run over your school today.”
“You were a governor, an ambassador. You were almost president—and you mean to tell me that you hate the government?”
“Why should governments have more power than the people they’re supposed to govern?”
“Is this supposed to be a social studies class? Because I haven’t had one of those in ages.”
“We strayed from our mission, Cammie. Zach’s mother—Catherine—she’s just one of our operatives who became greedy. But people like Catherine were only reflecting what they saw in our leadership. We lost sight of our ultimate goal, and now the Circle is crumbling. And so those of us in the Inner Circle decided that it is time to finish Cavan’s original mission.”
I thought back to Cambridge, the mad terror in Knight’s eyes as he talked about whatever it was the Circle was planning. I had thought the truth had died with him, but there it was again—staring back at me through three inches of reinforced glass.
“What mission is it?” I asked, lurching forward. “What is the Inner Circle planning? Tell me how to stop it.”
He leaned a little closer. The shackles on his wrists jangled as he pointed in my direction and said, “Elizabeth Sutton is a very smart girl.”
The abrupt change in subject knocked the air out of me. I had wanted answers and I got games. “Don’t talk about Liz,” I snapped. “If that’s some kind of threat—”
“I would never hurt Ms. Sutton. And you…well, you would do well to listen to her. She is wise beyond her years.”
I shook my head and spat, “What does Liz have to do with this?” I was racked with confusion and fatigue. “Why am I here? Why are you telling me all of this? Why aren’t you telling them?” I pointed to the cameras that lined the room, covering every possible angle.
“Because I have a favor to ask of you, Cammie.”
I watched his eyes grow darker. Any trace of happiness was gone. I no longer thought he was enjoying himself, playing with me. He was a desperate man. And he looked at me as if I were his only way out.
“What?” I snapped.
The ambassador looked down at his bound hands. “My son. He’s not part of this, you know?”
“Preston will be fine. He’s in custody. Catherine can’t get to him now.”
The ambassador’s eyes iced over. “None of us will ever be fine again. But my son can help you stop it.”
“What have they done?” I asked again, more urgent now. I thought about what Knight had told me. “The Circle leaders got together and put something into motion. What was it?” Impatience and fear were breaking through my voice. “Tell me what I have to do!”
He was opening his mouth to speak—the words were almost there. A few moments longer and Winters would have told me everything we needed to know, but they were moments we didn’t have. Because before Preston’s father could say another word, the glass that stood between us went black.
“Ambassador?” I yelled and glanced at the door, expecting a guard to knock—come in and tell me that my time was up. But no knock came. I looked at the cameras, but the tiny lights were out and I knew that they were off. No one was watching. No guards were monitoring our conversation. I was alone in the quiet room, and I felt the hair on my arms stand on end. Everything was too still, too quiet, as I broke with protocol and rushed toward the glass.
“Ambassador! Ambassador, are you—”
I raised my hand and started to bang, but then I heard the sounds of a struggle on the other side. Sharp cracks filled the air—twice, in rapid succession, and I bolted away just as a third crack sounded.
The thick glass that separated the two rooms must have been bullet resistant—but not bulletproof—because the glass began to splinter, cracks spreading out like a spiderweb.
“Help!” I yelled into the cameras, but I knew no one would hear me.
I ran to the door and peered out the tiny window just in time to see the door to the next room open.
There was a small, basic lock on my door. It seemed out of place there in that high-security fortress; but I turned it anyway and backed away slowly, hoping that whoever had shot the ambassador wouldn’t care about me. I was a visitor—a kid. There was nothing trapped inside of me that anybody wanted anymore. I was nothing, I told myself.
But then the doorknob moved.
Someone pushed against the door, but the lock held, and I jerked backward just as something heavy crashed against the door.
In my head, lists were forming. Plans. Options. But the fact remained that I was locked in a room with no weapons and no…
I picked up the metal chair and took aim at the center of the web that filled the heavy glass.
Out in the hall, someone banged against the door, so I hit harder.
“Come on,” I said to no one but myself. “Come—”
And then the glass shattered, falling to the floor. I jumped over the partition and into the other room, where the ambassador was still bound to his chair as he lay on the floor. Blood stained the concrete. His face looked almost peaceful as he stared up at me and gave me one last smile.
“Save Preston,” he whispered, eyelids fluttering.
And then he died.
Even as I watched the life drain out of Preston’s father, I knew that I should run. And yet I felt like I should wait, hold his hand, tell him that his son was going to be okay. But there are some lies even spies can’t tell a dying man.
The door to the room where I’d been sitting banged open, and I didn’t wait for the shooter to realize I was gone—to see me on the other side of the shattered glass and follow. I leaped over the ambassador’s lifeless body and hurled myself into the hall, running away from the interrogation rooms as quickly as I could.
But my breath came harder than it should have. I told myself that I’d eaten too much of Grandma Morgan’s fudge over Christmas—that maybe the drugs they’d used to transport me there weren’t entirely out of my system. Whatever the case, my legs didn’t move as quickly as they should have. My breath was labored and heavy, and after a hundred feet, I wanted to double over and catch my breath, but I didn’t dare slow down.