United We Spy (Page 16)
I did understand, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I looked at Liz and thought about what our oldest faculty member was really telling us: that the people we trusted most were gone. And there was no way to know when—or if—they would ever return.
Buckingham started through the Hall of History.
“Your mother is fine, Cameron. She will be back soon.” She looked certain. She sounded sure. But she held my gaze just a moment too long. Her hands shook, and in that moment, Patricia Buckingham didn’t look like a seasoned operative. She looked like an old woman, and it was harder than it should have been to watch her walk away.
“You need a coat,” Zach told me an hour later. Then he took off his own jacket and slipped it around my shoulders. Because even major security threats of global proportions couldn’t stop my boyfriend from being pretty much the sexiest guy alive.
We were standing in the space I’d first found a year before. Once upon a time it had been home to the Gallagher Academy’s covert carrier pigeon program. Then Mr. Solomon had used it to decipher my father’s final words to me. And now it was my favorite place to hide. With a small balcony and a secluded cave-like room, I felt free there, looking out over the school grounds and the lights of distant towns.
“I don’t get it.” Liz shook and paced. “Why would they leave? They can’t just leave!”
“Cam,” Bex said, inching closer. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’m not.” I laughed at my own foolishness. “It was Edwards,” I said. “When he brought me home, he asked about Mr. Solomon—like he knew he was still alive and hiding out here…like Edwards and his task force were going to come after Mr. Solomon and anyone who might be helping him.”
I felt like an idiot that I hadn’t seen what Mom was saying in that moment. I speak fourteen different languages. I should know “good-bye” when I hear it.
“So now they’re just gone?” Macey asked.
“They’re on a mission, Macey,” Zach reminded her. “If what happened at the prison proves anything, it’s that nothing has changed. The Circle has moles everywhere. Even within Max Edwards’s little task force. If we want to stop the Circle’s leaders, then we are going to have to track them down ourselves.” Zach crossed his arms and leaned against the balcony’s railing. “That’s what Rachel and Joe are going to do.”
He was right, and I wanted to say so. But a thought I couldn’t articulate had settled in my mind, and I felt myself turning it over and over like a talisman.
“What is it, Gallagher Girl?” Zach asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. It’s just…something isn’t right.”
Technically, a whole lot of somethings weren’t right, but there was one I couldn’t put my finger on, and that, more than anything, haunted me. I wanted to ask my mother for advice. I needed to talk to Abby. I wanted Joe Solomon to fly in like the pigeons and start asking me questions until I landed upon the answer my mind knew but couldn’t say. I had been on my own for months last summer. But I’d never felt more alone in my life.
“What do we do now?” Liz asked. “Who do we tell about my test and…you know…World War Three?”
It sounded so silly when she put it that way—so crazy and far-fetched; but Liz was the smartest person I knew, and Liz wasn’t just serious. She was terrified.
“Liz, are you sure you’re right about this?” I asked. “Are you telling me that five and a half years ago you said that a person would have to do these exact things to start World War Three?”
“Well…” Liz looked slightly guilty. “Not these things exactly.”
Bex opened her mouth to protest; but, for once, Liz was too fast for her.
“I said it would be about oil and the trade routes of the gulf. I said that to escalate the tension in the region, one would need to eliminate the trade options for Iran and drive over eighty percent of their oil traffic through the pipelines they have going through Caspia.”
“Caspia is a police state,” Bex said.
“Exactly. There was a coup d’état fifteen years ago, and a bunch of military higher-ups took over the government and got rid of the royal family. King Najeeb has been living in exile ever since. The royal family had close ties to the West and an alliance with Turkey. But the military dictatorship that now rules Caspia is loyal to Iran. The whole thing almost blew up ten years ago, but that led to—”
“The Treaty of Caspia,” I said. “Mr. Smith talked about that for a solid week our eighth grade year.”
“Exactly,” Liz said. “Caspia is a no-man’s-land. Neither Iran nor Turkey can officially cross the border. But if more and more of the Iranian oil traffic has to go through there, then that border starts looking more and more tempting to the Iranian forces.” Then Liz shrugged. “At least that was my theory.”
“What does that mean, Liz?” Bex asked with a shake of her head.
“It’s not science, okay? It’s a butterfly—”
“Effect, we know,” Bex finished for her.
“No! You don’t know. I’m telling you that someone has my essay.”
“And that’s why we can’t tell anyone, Lizzie,” I explained. “If you gave that answer to the Gallagher Academy, then that means the Circle got it from the Gallagher Academy. We have no idea who we can trust.” I took a deep breath. “Besides, it’s not like these things are covert. Everyone in the world knows what’s going on.”
“So?” Liz asked.
“So are you sure, Liz?” Bex finished. “I mean, it sounds like the best spies in the world think these things are unrelated. Flukes.”
“And things are never more than they appear?” The question cut us to our core. “Besides,” Liz added, “I think the best spies in the world are right here. And I’m asking them to believe me.”
“Can you get a message to Mr. Solomon?” I asked Zach, who shrugged.
“Maybe. There’s a dead drop I can use, but there’s no way of knowing when he’ll get the message. Or if he’ll get the message.”
“What about your mom?” Macey asked me.
“The same. We have to assume every means of communication in and out of the school is being monitored.”
“So what does that mean, really?” Liz asked me.
“I guess…I guess it means we’re on our own.”
THINGS THAT TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT IN THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED:
(A list by Cameron Morgan)
My mom and Mr. Solomon. I had no idea where they were or what they were doing. When—or if—they’d return. You may think spies would be used to that feeling, but spy kids? We never do get over it.
Liz. It was the only time I’d ever seen her depressed about getting a test answer right.
There was currently a non-zero chance that the Circle of Cavan wanted me dead. Again.
Having people want me dead was something I was actually starting to get used to.
“Hello, girls. Welcome back,” Madame Dabney said as we walked into Culture and Assimilation class the next morning. She walked down the row of tables that served as desks. There were lace tablecloths and silver candles. It always felt like we were going to tea, and in that room we sat straighter than anyplace else on earth. In that room, we were ladies.
She handed us each a stack of papers.
“What you have here is our best idea of what your graduation and placement examinations will contain. The written test, of course. Your practical exams…well, they could be anything. And make no mistake, they could come at any time.”
I thought about all I’d seen and done. My life had been a test for years.
“On the twenty-eighth we will be taking senior portraits.”
Madame Dabney handed the packets to the first girl in each row and we took turns taking one and handing the rest to the girl behind us.
“Those of you wishing to schedule summer internships must return these applications to my office by the fifteenth of next month,” Madame Dabney said, sending along another stack of forms.
“Letters of reference for placement in any of the US agencies are required no later than April first. Please do not wait until the last minute to request these, ladies,” Dabney warned. “That, more than anything, can ensure you receive a bad one.”
Finally Madame Dabney walked back to her desk. “And, of course,” she said, “the annual career fair is tonight.”
“Tonight?” I blurted, totally not realizing I was speaking aloud.
“Yes, Cameron. Due to the…events…of last fall we decided to host the career fair in the spring semester this year.” She passed another piece of paper down the long rows. “Here are the agencies and programs that will be attending. And do remember, ladies, this is not just their opportunity to get to know you. It is your chance to get to know them.” She smiled. “You’re seniors. Take this opportunity very, very seriously. Your futures will be here soon.”
I looked down at the piles of paper that lay on the lace cloth before me. I’d been running for days. I’d been hiding for years. But Madame Dabney was right. My future was on my tail, and there was no way I could lose it.
That night, the Grand Hall didn’t look like the Grand Hall. All the tables were gone, pushed to the sides or moved to another room. Booths lined the walls. I walked up and down the aisles. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had set up a mock firing range where the teachers usually sat. There were MI6 and Interpol. The FBI and CIA.
“Hi,” one clean-cut man said, pushing a brochure in my direction. “Have you considered a career with Homeland Security? We are the agency of the future.”
“The US State Department,” a woman said as I passed. “The world is our office.”
There were seventh graders, loading up on Tootsie Rolls and free erasers from the US Marshals Service (they make people disappear). To tell you the truth, I’d seen it all before. I’d heard all the pitches, read all the material. The years changed; the booths grew. But I didn’t have any better idea of what my future was going to look like.
“Hello,” a man in an FBI polo shirt said, “do you know where you’re going to be a year from now?”
I looked him in the eye. “That is an excellent question.”
Truthfully, I would have been happy just knowing where my mother and Mr. Solomon were right then.
“Official FBI Post-it pad for your thoughts.” I turned to see Bex behind me, holding out a bag full of loot. Part of me wanted to smile, but I couldn’t. I just looked around the big room I knew so well and wondered why everything felt so utterly unfamiliar.
“I don’t like this,” I said.
Bex, being excellent at both spying and best friending, didn’t ask me what I meant. She just slid her arm through mine and told me, “They’re out there, Cam. And they’re okay. And they’ll be back whenever it is best for them to come back and not a minute before.”