United We Spy (Page 27)

“Oh.” A laugh filled the room. “Maybe I can help with that.”

I spun to look at the woman who stood silhouetted in the door. Wind gusted around her, and bits of hair blew across her face, framing her dark eyes as she looked at Zach and said, “Hello, sweetheart. Sorry to disturb you, but I believe you have a walk-in.”

Chapter Thirty-two

Maybe you’ve never heard the term “walk-in.” If you’re reading this, though, you probably have. You probably know that it’s the term spy agencies use for when rival operatives come in out of the cold. It’s a phrase that brings to mind hope and fear in equal measures. This could be big, you think. This could be nothing, you know. But whatever the case, it is never, ever something that you ignore or disregard.

And that’s why we all sat staring at the door, every one of us gaping at the woman who stood there.

In a flash, Zach was moving toward her, but Catherine held her hands up in surrender.

“I come in peace,” Catherine said.

None of us believed her.

Zach was almost to his mother, who reached out as if to hug him or touch his face.

“I missed you, darling,” Catherine told him. “You’ve grown into such a handsome young—”

But his mother didn’t finish because, just then, I rushed past Zach, toward the woman who had captured me—kidnapped me. I didn’t think as I pulled back my fist and punched with all my might. I felt pain and satisfaction in equal measure as I watched Catherine crumble, unconscious, to the ground.

REASONS I TOTALLY, COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY WAS NOT GOING TO SLEEP THAT NIGHT (NO MATTER HOW MUCH EVERYBODY TOLD ME I HAD TO):

(A list by Cameron Morgan)

Despite popular belief, hitting someone with a closed fist actually hurts the hitter almost as much as the hittee.

One of the little bones in my hand was technically broken.

It’s really hard to sleep when your ice pack keeps leaking all over your pillow.

The only thing worse than getting injured is Liz’s becoming your self-appointed nurse and, consequently, hurting you many, many more times while changing your bandages.

The look in Zach’s eyes when he saw his mother.

The look in Zach’s mother’s eyes when she saw me.

Knowing that an assault on a walk-in was in violation of at least three rules of the Geneva convention.

Remembering that I totally and completely didn’t care.

“What is she doing here?” I heard Liz’s voice as soon as the sun came up. Creeping toward the stairs, I saw her below, pacing like a tiny blond blur. The rain must have stopped and the chimney must have cleared, because the air was warm and dry—almost cozy—as I walked down the stairs.

“What does she want? Presumably not to kill us…because we’re not dead.” Liz was rattling off the facts at ninety miles per hour. “Let’s say we’re looking at a double-agent situation. She’s come to infiltrate us and send our plans back to her bosses.”

“She doesn’t have bosses,” Bex said, but Liz rattled on.

“Maybe she really is a walk-in. Maybe she has information for us and we can—”

“We can’t listen to her, Liz,” Bex said.

“But—” Liz started, until Zach cut her off.

“She’s just as dangerous in here as she is out there. You got that?” he asked. He looked at Bex and Liz in turn. “Do you understand?”

Macey took a deep breath and crossed her arms. “Well, I vote we bind her hands and feet and kick her out of a fast moving vehicle in front of the gates of Langley.”

“We can’t do that,” I said.

“Why not?” Zach asked, like he was seriously considering the idea.

“Because the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I started for the small room where we’d tied Catherine up the night before, but Zach lunged in front of me, blocking my way.

“I can’t let you question her, Gallagher Girl,” he told me.

“Isn’t that why she’s here—to talk?” I asked.

Zach shook his head. “She’s here to lie.”

“She’ll talk to me.”

“No, Cam,” Zach said. “It’s not a good idea.”

“Maybe it’s our only idea,” I said back.

“Well…” I heard a tiny voice behind me and turned to see Liz standing there, a truly guilty look on her face. “Maybe not our only idea…”

Catherine sat in her chair, hands and feet bound, yet she looked like she was waiting on a train, like she’d wait forever if she had to.

“Hello, Catherine,” I said, easing closer. She was across the room, but like a snake, I could feel her coiled, constantly ready to strike.

“You don’t have to do this, Cammie,” Zach said.

“Hello, darling,” Catherine told him, but it was as if she’d never spoken at all.

“Gallagher Girl,” he started again, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of his mother.

“Liz,” I said, and then my smallest roommate walked forward. She didn’t tremble or shake, but I knew she must have been terrified as she pulled up the sleeve of Catherine’s shirt and injected a clear liquid into the woman’s arm.

“Truth serum, girls?” Catherine said. She sounded so disappointed. “Isn’t that a tad cliché?”

“It’s stronger,” Liz said, then stepped quickly back. Zach moved between Liz and his mother until Liz was safely out of range of the woman tied to the chair.

“Really?” Catherine asked as Liz’s concoction entered her bloodstream. It was like she was growing drunk and sleepy. Her eyelids were heavy, and when she told Zach, “You’ve gotten so tall,” her words were slurred.

“Why are you hunting down the leaders of the Circle?” I asked, and Catherine looked at me for a long time, the tiniest of smiles playing at the corners of her mouth.

“It’s good to see you, Cammie, dear. It’s been too long.”

“Are you sure we shouldn’t hit her again?” Bex said from over my shoulder. “Because I totally think we should hit her.”

I crouched on the floor, looked her in the eye. “You can talk to me, Catherine. Or you can talk to the CIA. Maybe the moles the Circle leaders have within the agency won’t find you. But maybe they will.”

“They’re all dead, you know. The leaders. We just have one left.”

“We?” I asked.

“Your mother and Joseph and I,” Catherine said.

“She’s lying,” Zach said. “Joe would never work with her.”

“Oh. Of course he would,” Catherine told him. “He’d never admit it, but we want the same thing. We’ve always wanted the same thing. We just have different…methods.”

“Like torture,” I said.

Catherine looked right at me. “I didn’t want to hurt you, Cammie. I really didn’t. But it was the only way. I had to stop them, don’t you know? I had to stop this. You had to help me. And you did help me. And now we’re down to one.… Gideon Maxwell had one son and no grandchildren. His line stops there. There were no other heirs. So it’s possible that there is no Maxwell descendant in the Circle now. Maybe there are just six Inner Circle members instead of seven. Maybe we’re finished. But I doubt it. It doesn’t feel finished.”

Catherine seemed to think on that for a moment, and I had to admit that I agreed. Something in my bones told me it was still a long way from over.

“Maybe Maxwell appointed someone else to take his place before he died. But I honestly don’t know.” Catherine’s gaze shifted onto Preston. “Why don’t you ask him?”

Her hands were bound, and still Preston flinched, almost like he’d been slapped. I expected Macey to lash out at Catherine, but instead she turned to the boy beside her.

“Pres?” she asked. “Do you know?”

“No!” Preston’s voice cracked and he shook his head. “I’ve never heard of Gordon Maxwell.”

“Gideon Maxwell,” Liz corrected.

“I don’t know him! I don’t know any of my dad’s friends. Or…I don’t know which of his friends might be in the Inner Circle.” Preston seemed sad when he said it, as if he too had been living a lie. It was just that no one had bothered to tell him. “I don’t know anything.”

“Why are you doing this?” I turned back to Catherine. “Why did you betray the Circle’s leadership?”

“I’m in the betrayal business.” Catherine laughed. “Besides, I like the world the way it is. A world war is a highly inconvenient thing. I prefer my destruction on a much smaller scale.”

“What do they want? What are the Circle leaders planning?” I asked.

“You know what they’re planning,” Catherine countered. She sounded almost bored, like we were wasting her time. She looked around Zach, to where Liz stood. “It was her plan, after all.”

Liz shuddered but didn’t speak or cringe or cry. I couldn’t shake the feeling that our little roommate was growing up. We all were.

“Who is the mole at the Gallagher Academy?” I asked, but Catherine only looked at me as if I were crazy. “How did the Circle get Liz’s test?”

“Oh, that.” She shrugged. “The school has to file all of its admittance tests with the CIA. From there, it was easy enough for the Circle to acquire them just to see if there were any students we wanted to recruit…” She looked at Liz. “Evil plans we wanted to steal.”

“Why?” Zach asked. “World war…what’s in it for them?” He leaned down to his mother’s level. “What do they want?”

Then Catherine looked at her son as if he were the most naive boy in the world. “They want everything,” she said, and then she cackled. She was insane—there was no denying it. But she was also oddly lucid as she said, “The government is so big—so powerful. Cavan wanted the Union to fail—that’s why he tried to kill Lincoln. It’s the same agenda. They want what they’ve always wanted. Chaos. Fracture. Pieces so disorganized that no single player can ever have too much power.” Then she laughed. “Of course, what they really mean but never say is that they don’t want anyone to have more power than they have. Personally, I like power. It’s one of many reasons I want to see them fail.”

“Tell me what they’re planning,” Zach said.

“You know what they’re planning,” she countered. She was staring at Liz. “Don’t you, Liz?”

“They want war,” Liz said, her voice surprisingly strong.

“But is there war?” Catherine asked.

No. The answer swept over us all. Not yet.

“King Najeeb was a charismatic leader, but he was a grown man in a dangerous business. He still had enemies. His death, while sad, was not that tragic in the bigger scheme of things. And besides…it’s not like he doesn’t have an heir.”

“The princess,” I said, and Catherine nodded.