United We Spy (Page 4)
Bex gave me a smile that looked exactly like her mother’s. Her words had sounded just like her father’s. I’d never known anyone who was equal parts their mom and their dad. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was exactly fifty percent my father too. But my father was gone. Dead. And now I’d never know.
“Tell me again,” I said.
“The Circle leaders—or the Inner Circle,” Bex added with a wink, “wanted you dead so that you couldn’t tell your boyfriend’s psychotic mother…and my mother…and your mother…who founded the Circle back in the day. Without that list, no one would have ever known who the Inner Circle is. But you did remember, my brilliant friend. You remembered who was on that list, and now we all know who was on that list, and so the Inner Circle no longer needs you dead.”
“Good,” I said with a nod.
“I mean, they’d probably still kill you, you know? Out of spite. But there’s not a price on your head anymore, Cam. You’re safe now.”
I nodded my head, thought about the other fear I couldn’t shake. “Is Preston safe?”
“My parents think so. And my parents have a very annoying habit of being right,” Bex said; but I just studied my best friend and maybe the most naturally gifted spy I’d ever known.
“What do you think?”
“I think Preston is probably safe for now. But he won’t be forever.”
“Yeah. And I just keep thinking…” I let the words trail off.
“About Knight?” Bex guessed. She took a heavy breath. “Me too. Fancy a guess at what he was talking about? If the leadership of the Circle is planning something so big and awful that even blokes like Knight are scared…then I’m terrified.”
Bex is the bravest person I know. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. It is the honest truth. And I know a lot of seriously brave people. But right then Bex shivered a little—a whole body shake, like her spine was tingling. Like someone had just walked over her grave.
“I guess we’ll find out eventually,” I told her.
“Yeah,” Bex said.
Neither of us said what we were thinking: that finding out was the part that scared us.
Then she turned to face me. “But we’re going to win this thing, Cam. We are going to find the other descendants of the people on that list and take them down. And we’re going to find and stop Zach’s mom. We’ll do it, and…” But my best friend trailed off. “One more thing.”
“Happy New Year.”
Just then horns began to honk. Lights flickered. There was a blast, and purple hues streaked across the sky, shining down on the city of London. It had been a year since I’d seen Zach there, since Mr. Solomon had been on the run and my world had been turned upside down. I looked up at the fireworks that filled the sky. It was exactly the kind of moment when Zach liked to show up, say something cryptic, and kiss me.
I half-expected him to appear through the crowd, crawl out of the river in a wet suit, rappel out of a black helicopter.
But no kiss came.
“Happy New Year, Bex,” I told my best friend, then turned and checked my tail, knowing there was no such thing as a fresh start, totally unsure whether or not this new year would be exactly like my last.
PROS AND CONS OF RETURNING TO THE GALLAGHER ACADEMY AFTER ALMOST A FULL MONTH AWAY:
PRO: Laundry. Sure, Grandma Morgan is an expert ironer, but the Gallagher Academy has this lavender-scented detergent that is maybe the most awesome-smelling stuff ever.
CON: There is nothing like being back at school to remind you that you have a lot of work to do. (And I do mean A LOT.)
PRO: Over the break, the maintenance department finally got around to installing the new judo mats.
CON: Bex, of course, had to challenge everyone to a round of judo.
PRO: Two words: Sublevel. Access.
CON: No matter how many hours we spent trying, we never could figure out exactly what the Circle was up to.
I know I shouldn’t admit it, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the rest of the students coming back to school. Bex and I had been alone with my mom and the other teachers for three whole days by then, and there was something nice about it. No lines in the Grand Hall, no crowds on the stairs. I could use all the hot water I wanted in the shower. But most of all, I totally wasn’t looking forward to—
Sure, they call me the Chameleon, but when it comes to getting lost in the crowds at the Gallagher Academy, Liz really is quite a natural. After all, that afternoon the halls were full of girls and teachers, piles of backpacks and suitcases lining the halls, and even though we’re seniors and all, Liz was lost in a throng of freshmen and sophomores.
But as she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into a quiet alcove, I couldn’t help but remember that the start of a new semester meant questions—lots of questions. And the hardest ones weren’t going to be coming from our teachers.
“So…what happened over break? Where did you go? Who did you see? What do the Baxters think about Preston, and…oh… Just tell me what happened!”
Technically, the answer was classified. We were in an unsecured alcove with far too many highly trained ears and eyes around. I could have given any of those excuses, but I didn’t have to, because just then Bex stepped into the alcove and said, “She’s here.”
Now, to be technical about it, there were a whole lot of girls there, but I knew exactly who Bex meant. What I didn’t know was why she was leading us down the main staircase and through the foyer that served as the official front door of our school.
Out front, at least a dozen limos and town cars were lining up to deliver our classmates, but Bex broke into a full run, darting around the corner of the building.
“Bex,” Liz cried, “slow down. Where are we…”
But then Liz couldn’t finish. She was too transfixed by the sight of the swirling blades of the helicopter that was slowly coming to rest on our school’s back lawn.
“I’ll hand it to Macey,” Bex said. “She still knows how to make an entrance.”
We were used to some pomp and circumstance, but even for Macey McHenry, a helicopter arrival seemed a little over the top. But then I realized that Macey wasn’t alone.
My mother was walking around the corner of the mansion, waving to a man in a trench coat and scarf who was offering a hand to help Macey climb out of the helicopter.
“Senator,” my mom said, shouting over the roar of the engines. “What a nice surprise.”
She sounded like she’d been expecting him, but considering the fact that our school wasn’t going on full automatic lockdown, my mother must have had it on good authority that he wasn’t coming inside.
“Hello, Mrs. Morgan,” Senator McHenry said, taking my mother’s hand. Then he seemed to notice Bex, Liz, and me. “Girls,” he added.
Macey was quiet beside her father. She looked thinner than I remembered. Her usually bright blue eyes were duller. Worried.
“Hello, Senator. It’s so nice to see you again,” Bex said in her best American accent, harkening back to the role she’d played so well the very first time Macey had ever set foot on our campus. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Oh, just dropping Macey off,” he said. “I’m sorry for the intrusion, but with all that has gone on in the past few weeks… It seems being a public figure has become a bit of a hazardous job. I mean, did you hear about that woman from the European Union? Dubois, I think her name was.”
“I did,” Mom said.
“And then Sir Walter Knight,” the senator went on. “I can’t believe it. If a man isn’t safe at Cambridge…” The senator shook his head then looked into my mother’s eyes. “I got acquainted with him during the campaign, you see. He and Ambassador Winters were close. Knight was a top advisor.”
“Oh. I wasn’t aware of that,” Mom said, even though she was very well aware of it all. In fact, she knew more about what was going on than even the senior senator from Virginia, but that’s part of the job, sometimes. Shaking your head. Saying the right things instead of the truth.
“I wanted to make sure Macey got here safely.” He squeezed his daughter’s shoulders, and Macey didn’t pull away. In fact, she didn’t do anything. I wondered if maybe that was what I’d looked like the semester before, climbing out of a helicopter, numb and too thin. But exactly why Macey looked that way I wasn’t really sure.
“Now, Macey, you have a good semester.” He patted her awkwardly on the arm.
“Study hard and…enjoy yourself.”
I waited for him to give her a hug, kiss her cheek. But Macey’s father just hunched low and walked back to the chopper. Once inside, he gave us a textbook politician’s wave, and then he was rising, disappearing into the sky over Virginia.
Three months before, when I had found my father’s grave, I’d tried to claw through the frozen earth with just my bare hands—I’d been willing to do anything just be closer to him. As the cold air whirled around us, I thought back to the way I’d felt then, and I looked at Macey, who hadn’t even watched as her own dad took flight.
“So, Macey,” Liz started slowly, “how was your—”
“Where is he?” Macey asked, cutting Liz off and spinning, looking at my mother.
“Who?” Mom asked, but I already knew the answer.
“Preston. He’s here, right?” There was a hopefulness about Macey, but a desperation too as she asked, “You did get him, didn’t you?”
“Macey,” my mother said, reaching for her, “you have to understand—”
“No,” Macey snapped. “I don’t have to do anything.” Her father’s helicopter looked like a wasp on the horizon.
“The US Embassy in Rome is one of the most secure buildings in Europe. Preston’s father is a powerful man. He’s safe,” Mom said, then repeated, “Preston is safe.”
“I heard Elias Crane the sixth had a car accident,” Macey said. “And Charlene Dubois and her kids disappeared? Her kids!” Macey had a point, and she knew it. It wasn’t just the leaders of the Circle who were getting hurt. Their kids were getting caught in the cross fire. Which meant Preston wasn’t as safe as any of us wanted to believe.
“I wasn’t living in a cave, you know,” Macey told us. “These things make the news. And every day I waited for the news that the American Embassy in Rome had been attacked.”
“That didn’t happen, Macey,” I told her.
“But it will.” Macey was so certain, and the worst part was that she was right. “So when are you going to get him?”
“When the time is right, Macey. And only when the time is right.” My mom sounded like a headmistress, a senior operative, someone who had lived most of her life on a need-to-know basis. And as far as she was concerned, we absolutely, positively did not need to know.