United We Spy (Page 25)

“It has to be personal,” Liz said, finally looking at all of us. It was almost like she’d forgotten we were even there. “Someone has to strike first.”

“And by strike you mean…” Zach prompted.

“An assassination. The Circle is going to assassinate the king of Caspia.”

“Caspia doesn’t have a king anymore,” Macey reminded her, but Liz just shook her head.

“King Najeeb may be living in exile, but he’s still incredibly popular in his home country. If he were to die, then the Caspian government would have a full-fledged revolt on their hands. And the Iranians are banking on a very stable Caspia. That is their largest remaining trade route. If Najeeb dies, then the Iranians will have to move in to stabilize the region.”

“And break the Treaty of Caspia…” I filled in.

“Exactly,” Liz said with a nod.

World War I ignited after the killing of an Austrian duke. World War II began with German troops crossing a border. Sometimes big things start in small ways. And it was easy to imagine what the assassination of a king might lead to.

“We have to stop them.”

“We can’t move Bex.”

“We should move Bex to a hospital.”

I wasn’t sure who said what, to tell you the truth. The words were a blur. Were they coming from outside or inside my mind? I could no longer tell. The only things I heard for sure were my mother’s words coming to me over and over again.

You’re doing the right thing.

“Cammie.” Liz’s voice broke through the fog. “Cammie, what are we going to do? They’re going to assassinate the king!”

“No they aren’t.” I turned to see Bex leaning against the door frame, weak as a kitten. But there was a spark in her eyes again. She was utterly and completely Bexish as she said, “They aren’t, because we’re going to stop them.”

Chapter Thirty

PROS AND CONS OF DRIVING CROSS-COUNTRY TO STOP A POSSIBLE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT:

PRO: Big elaborate road trips are supposed to be a teenage rite of passage.

CON: Somehow I don’t think normal teenage road trips involve buying a van from a dealership called Toothless Joe’s Quality Used Vehicles (even though everyone we saw did, in fact, have teeth).

PRO: It is a whole lot easier to continually bounce your Internet access off of various satellites if you are constantly moving into the range of different satellites.

CON: It’s pretty hard to remain alluring and attractive to your boyfriend if you spend all your time sleeping and eating and working at sixty miles an hour.

PRO: Knowing you’re doing the thing you’ve been training to do since you were twelve years old.

CON: Knowing in your gut that you might not be ready to actually do it.

I’m not going to say it was the strangest covert task force ever assembled, but it wasn’t exactly ordinary either.

“We should go in from the north,” Zach said, leaning forward and addressing Macey, who drove.

I looked through the windows at the towering buildings of the Manhattan skyline. The streets were already packed with people carrying picket signs and Caspian flags.

“What do we know, Lizzie?” Bex asked. She held on to the back of the front seat, supporting herself more than she usually would, but she didn’t wince or show any kind of pain or fear. She was being brave. I would have settled for her being careful.

“His Royal Highness will be addressing the rally at noon exactly. He will make brief remarks from a stage on the street in front of the UN. There’s a little square there for protests and rallies. The NYPD should have the whole area blocked off.”

“Is he going inside?” Zach asked.

Liz shook her head. “According to what I’ve gotten off of the UN servers, he can’t. Not really. I mean, technically, the king is a deposed monarch, which means he has no official authority to speak on behalf of Caspia.”

I couldn’t help myself. I looked at the people who filled the streets, many of them carrying signs with a royal crown on them, pictures of the king. “Yeah. But you’d have a hard time convincing them of that.”

We drove as far as we could, then Macey parked the van. We left Liz there to run our comms and do her magic with the computer. As we walked toward the East River, the wind blew harder, and the crowds grew heavier with each passing step.

“Cam,” Macey said, “have you heard anything else from your mom?”

I shook my head, but it took me a second to speak. “I put a post on the message board that we know what the Inner Circle is planning. But she may not get it in time. Or she may be too far away or already engaged in another op or…”

Hurt.

Dead.

Imprisoned.

I didn’t like any of the other possible ends of that sentence, so I didn’t say them. No one blamed me. No good would come from saying them aloud.

“I think about the Caspia I knew as a child.” A voice came booming through the streets, and my friends and I all stopped to listen. The man’s English bore the accent of someone who was raised in the Middle East but educated in the West—America, or England, maybe. And when he spoke, it was like all of New York fell under his trance.

There was no denying it: that was the voice of a king.

“He’s here.” Until I said the words, I hadn’t realized how much I’d been hoping that it all might have been just a false alarm, an easy fix. “Liz, I thought you hacked into Homeland Security and told them there was a potential terror threat at the UN this afternoon?”

“I did!” she countered. “I gave them enough to shut down half the city. I don’t know what’s happening.”

“I do.”

Until then, Preston had been quiet. An observer. A guest. He seemed almost surprised when we all turned to him. “I mean, have you ever seen a politician give up a microphone?” Preston quipped, then shrugged. “I haven’t.”

And I knew he had a point.

“We’re too late,” Macey said.

The United Nations was right ahead of us, on the other side of a wide avenue that had been blocked off. Crowds stood between us and the long row of flags from all the participating countries. The flags blew in the wind, the flagpoles standing like a hundred sentries guarding the entrance to the building.

But the people on the street didn’t care about the towering glass-and-steel structure. Their eyes were trained upon the small grassy area that had been cordoned off, a man and a microphone centered on the small stage.

“There were hard times,” the man said, “but there was hope. There was fear, but there was also courage. I think of the Caspia that I wanted for my child, and my heart breaks that Amirah will never know the sunrises over our sea. My soul bleeds to think that all of our children will never know a Caspia without tyranny and fear!”

The crowds erupted in thunderous applause.

“What do we know?” I asked.

“Amirah, crown princess of Caspia,” Liz said through our comms units, rattling off enough facts to make Mr. Smith proud; but the time for tests was over. We were never going to be graded again. “She’s second in line to the throne.”

“No, Liz,” Bex countered. “She doesn’t have a throne anymore.”

“What do we know about the security situation?” I asked, this time being more specific.

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Macey said.

“Zach, talk to me.” I turned to the boy who had spent more time with Joe Solomon than any of us, and Zach didn’t wait for instructions.

“Since he’s not an official visiting dignitary, the Secret Service won’t be here. He will have private security and the NYPD.”

“Good. Macey, you and Preston go find the cops and his private security detail. Beg, plead—lie if you have to—but get someone to get him off that stage.”

“Got it,” Macey said. She grabbed Preston’s hand, and together they took off, pushing through the crowds.

“Liz, get back into the NYPD database and alert all units in the area that we have possible terror activity. If Homeland Security isn’t going to take this seriously, maybe the NYPD will. Let’s see if we can’t get them to shut this thing down.”

“I’m on it,” Liz told me.

In my mind, I flashed back to another clear day, another charismatic man behind a microphone while crowds cheered. At the time, Macey’s father had been running for vice president, and we’d thought that she was the one the Circle of Cavan was chasing. At the time, Mr. Solomon had spoken about security perimeters—long-range, mid-range, short-range. Zones A, B, and C. And I looked to the horizon.

“What can we do about snipers?” I asked, and Zach scanned the skyline. Clear views and light wind. And even without saying a word, I could see it in Zach’s eyes. He didn’t like the situation.

He looked at Bex, who shook her head.

“That building puts you on top of three different bus routes. It’s a clear shot with great exits. So…nothing,” she said. “There is nothing we can do about snipers except…”

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” I filled in the rest.

On the stage, King Najeeb spoke on, a somber silence sweeping farther through the crowd with every word. “I do not hate the men who burned my father’s statues. I have forgiven the mob who dragged my mother from her bed.”

I thought of my own mother. Where was she sleeping? And would she wake one night to the feeling of a cold barrel of a gun against her temple?

A limousine and two NYPD police cruisers were pulling around the back of the crowd to a small area behind the stage. I felt a tiny bit of hope that maybe it was working—that he was leaving.

Together, we started pushing through the crowd, trying to make our way to the stage and the man upon it, who kept speaking. If King Najeeb knew the danger he was in, he didn’t show it.

“The home I love is gone now, but I do not mourn for it. I pray instead for the promise of a new day, a new era, a new beginning, when peace and love can shine upon all the children of Caspia. A new reign of hope and not of fear, of promise and not of terror. I pray for home. I pray for Caspia. I pray for the future.”

Applause filled the streets, followed by chants and cries. King Najeeb stepped away from the microphone and waved triumphantly at the crowd. I felt my heart start to beat again, knowing he was finished. He was okay. But he wasn’t safe, and we all knew it. I waited for him to leave the stage, for his guards to hurry him into the waiting car; but the king pushed his guards aside.

“He’s a man of the people,” I said, citing some article that Mr. Smith had made us read once about all the royals in the world who were living in exile. The former king chose an apartment over a palace, a subway pass over a limousine. And, whenever possible, he liked to walk wherever he went.

The peaceful, easy chanting of the crowd was changing, morphing from song to roar, as the people parted and the king climbed down from the stage, easing out into the crowd as if intending to shake the hand of every person who had gathered there.