United We Spy (Page 26)
“No!” I yelled. “He’s got to go! Make him go!” I yelled to no one in particular. My cries were lost inside the crowd.
There were guards in dark suits speaking into his ear, but King Najeeb didn’t seem to notice them or care. He was shaking the hands of his people. Blessing babies and waving at the masses like a returning, conquering hero.
He walked without a worry or a fear in the world right through the heart of Security Perimeter B—the area that was most dangerous for short-range arms and high-powered explosives.
Was it that thought that made me stop? I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious saw the small, abandoned package before the rest of me could process what it meant. Maybe it was Joe Solomon’s voice in the back of my head or my father’s angel on my shoulder, but in any case I did stop.
And I looked at the package on the ground, directly in the king’s path.
And I heard my own voice scream, “Bomb!”
Looking back, it was like it happened in slow motion—like running through sand. One moment, I was watching the king stroll through his people, shaking hands. The next there was nothing but a cloud of smoke and terror. People screamed. Children cried. But it all sounded so far away, like a TV blaring in a distant room.
I coughed and squinted. The force of the blow had knocked me to the ground, and my side ached. My hands hurt. It took everything I had to force myself upright.
“Cam!” Zach was yelling. I realized there was static in my ear. The blast must have knocked out our comms units. In the smoke, we were practically deaf and blind.
“Cam!” Bex yelled.
“I’m here!” I said. There was a bleeding woman carrying a child.
A man stumbled through the crowd, his face so covered in blood that I couldn’t even tell what damage had been done.
“I’m here,” I said, softer, as I pushed against the current of people trying to flee the blast site. I had to see it. The crater where the bomb had begun. The mangled bodies of the guards and the man who was Caspia’s only hope for peace.
“And I’m too late.”
Surely that wasn’t the longest night of my life, but it felt like it.
Not one of us protested when Liz insisted we stop and clean our wounds in the bathroom of a gas station outside the city. They were inconsequential, really. Scrapes and bruises. I had a pretty nasty cut on my shoulder, but nothing any worse than any of us had had before. We’d been on the perimeter of the blast radius. Ten feet closer to the king, and we wouldn’t have been so lucky.
Once we were back in the van, I risked a glance at Zach. No one had tended to his scrapes and burns. No one had tried to. He just kept staring out the window, looking for what, exactly, I didn’t really know.
Maybe a way out.
Maybe a chance to turn back time.
We kept the radio of the van turned low. News of the king’s assassination swept across the globe. Riots were spreading throughout Caspia and beyond, crossing borders, a whole region on fire. Chaos was the new norm. The world was a powder keg, and I rubbed my sore body, afraid I’d just felt the spark.
We drove all night, heading south along the coastline until I was almost convinced Zach was going to drive us out to sea.
Finally there was a dock with a small ferry that you had to push with a long pole, like it was still 1850. At last there was an island and an overgrown pathway and a house surrounded by tall trees filled with Spanish moss, a massive wraparound porch and a scene befitting Scarlett O’Hara.
“What is this place, Zach?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. He just kicked the front door; but it didn’t put up a fight, splintering easily, swinging open. Liz carried her computers protectively like there might be an alligator or a monster after her hard drive. But Zach said nothing. He just kept looking at the staircase as if waiting for a ghost to descend from the second floor.
It had been a grand old house once, a mansion. But everything about it had fallen into rubble from decades of disuse and neglect.
“Is this one of Joe’s houses?” I waited, but Zach was speechless. “If it’s Joe’s house, Zach, we probably shouldn’t stay. Someone may track us here.”
“Not Joe.” Zach shook his head.
“But you know it.” It wasn’t really a question, not a guess. I inched slowly closer. “Whose house is it, Zach?”
“It’s safe.” He turned. “We’ll be safe.”
“Zach…” I reached for him, but he pulled away and walked to the corner of the room, measuring his footsteps carefully, listening until one step sounded slightly different from the others. Then he knelt to the floor and removed one of the boards and reached inside to pull out six birthday candles and a G.I. Joe, a rumpled five-dollar bill and an assortment of broken crayons—and only then did I know where Zach had brought us. After all, that wasn’t the covert stash of an operative; it was the hiding place of a child.
“This was your mother’s safe house,” I whispered.
But Zach just looked around the big, dusty rooms that must have been so grand, once upon a time. “No. It was her house,” he said.
Spies aren’t like normal people. No one expects us to have houses and mortgages, tire swings and barbecues on the Fourth of July. But every spy is somebody’s child, and I stepped across those dusty floorboards, wondering what kind of place had given birth to the woman we called Catherine.
“This was my room.” He looked into the small space. “There were bedrooms upstairs, of course, but I didn’t like being alone. I was scared of the dark and the wind and the storms.… There were such bad storms.”
“Can it be traced to you, Zach? To her?”
“There’s natural gas on the property, and the rooms are still lit with gaslight. I think there might be a generator. A water well, but no phone. The whole house is off the grid.” Zach gave a gruff laugh. “It doesn’t even know there is a grid.”
“When was the last time you were here?”
“I don’t know. Ten years ago? Maybe longer. She used to talk about fixing it up—making it like it was in its prime. But I don’t know how it was. I just know this.”
He motioned around the derelict rooms, and I don’t know if he meant it or not, but it sounded like he was saying he didn’t know anything other than a vagabond way of life. “This is all I know.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay here, Zach,” I tried. “We could keep driving.”
“You don’t get it, Gallagher Girl.” He shook his head slowly. “The king is dead. There’s nowhere else to go.”
I grew up in an old mansion. I know the chill that creeps through stone walls, the sounds a roof can make in a hard wind. But that night was different. Everything creaked and moaned. When the rain started, it fell in heavy waves, beating against the house and dripping through the ceiling. There was a steady, even ping as fat drops fell on the keys of the old piano. And the longer the storm pounded outside, the more I expected the house might blow right off its foundation and out into the waves.
There must have been debris in the chimney, because when we built a fire, smoke backed into the house, filling it with an eerie haze. We propped open the front door, and for a while the smoke mixed with the wet wind while Preston and Macey surveyed the contents of the kitchen. Liz was unpacking equipment, and Zach stoked the fire.
But I just sat at the bottom of the stairs, rubbing my palms against my jeans, dried blood smearing onto dark denim, wondering, Is that it? Is it really over?
“What happens now?” I looked up to find Bex leaning against the banister, looming over me. It was like she’d read my mind.
“You should get some sleep, Bex. We’ll probably need to change your bandages and—”
“I’m not talking about my bloody bandages,” she said, then grinned. “No pun intended.”
“Look, Bex…” I started. Suddenly, I felt so tired, so worn.
“No, you look. This isn’t the end,” she told me. “You think I got shot…for this?” Bex snapped. “I’m a spy, Cam. I was born to do this—to be this. It’s in my blood. And I will do it until the day I die. It’s who I am,” my best friend said, then leveled a glare at me. “The thing I don’t think you realize is…it’s who you are too.”
“No.” Bex shook her head. “You don’t. If you did, you never would have spent half of our sophomore year dating Josh. You wouldn’t be freaked out at the thought of graduation. You would know what life after spy school means. It means this, Cam. This. And you are better at it than anyone that I have ever known. Now, get up. And tell us what comes next.”
But I didn’t move.
“Okay. Let’s have it.” She held out her hand, waggled her fingers.
“You know what,” my best friend told me. “Hand it over.”
I didn’t ask again. I just reached into my pocket and pulled out the list I’d been carrying around for weeks.
“There.” Bex pointed at the paper. “William Smith. Gideon Maxwell. Two names, Cam. There are only two names left!”
“I know, but…”
“But what?” Bex demanded.
“But the king is dead, Bex.” I felt silly pointing it out, almost disrespectful saying the words aloud. “We didn’t stop the assassination. We couldn’t—”
But Bex didn’t wait for me to finish. She spun and yelled across the room.
“Liz, has it started yet?” Bex asked. “Have the Iranians invaded Caspia?”
Liz sat at her computers. She didn’t say a word; she just shook her head. No.
“Then there’s time to bloody well stop it!”
I knew she was right. Of course she was. Bex was always right. She knew me better than I knew myself. But then again, isn’t that a best friend’s job?
“So tell me what comes next,” Bex demanded.
I looked up at her for a long time, thinking, praying. My voice was scratchy and distant. It wasn’t like my own when I stood and started to speak.
“Liz, when we get a secure line let me know. I’ve got to try to contact Mom and Abby.” Macey and Preston came in from the kitchen, and I looked around the group. “As for the rest of us, we’re going to try to get some sleep. Regroup. And first thing tomorrow morning, we’re going to figure out what happens next.”
I meant it in that moment. I really did. I thought we would sleep for a few hours and wake up to a new day filled with new possibilities. I thought the morning would bring change. But I should have known that it doesn’t take that long for change to happen—it takes a second. A moment. In a single breath, reality as you know it can simply fall away.
When I heard a sound on the porch I thought it was the wind rattling the shutters. It felt like the world and its troubles were blowing straight to our door, so I looked at my friends in turn and said, “Okay, everybody, get some sleep, and tomorrow we’ll figure out how to stop the Circle.”