United We Spy (Page 8)
“I’m okay. I’m safe. But you aren’t.” I stole a glance out the window. I didn’t see Bex and Liz, but they were out there. Waiting. Ready. “Look, we don’t have time to explain it all now, but we need you to trust us.”
“Macey?” He turned to her just as there was a honk in the alley behind the school. Down below, we saw a truck moving to block the narrow passage. Vendors yelled. People on Vespas tried to squeeze around. But the truck didn’t budge.
“Look, Preston, I wish we could explain everything. But we can’t. Not yet. Bex and Liz are outside waiting for us, and we have to go. Now.”
He glanced around, bewildered. “Where are they?”
Just then the truck honked again, as if in answer.
“That’s a bread truck,” Preston said, glancing out the window. “You came here in a bread truck?”
“Do you trust us?” Macey asked. It was the million-dollar question. Without the right answer, everything would have been for nothing.
Preston grinned. “Yes.”
I reached for the window. “Then let’s go.”
I was unlatching the glass when I noticed Preston was no longer beside us.
There was a banging on the door. A deep voice was yelling, “Mr. Winters? Mr. Winters, open the door, sir.” And Preston was halfway there.
“No!” Macey yelled and bolted across the room. She pressed his body against the door, and it looked like Preston couldn’t decide whether to be worried or incredibly happy about the situation.
“Just you,” she explained.
On the other side of the door, the guards banged again. I thought of the men on the motorcycles who had chased me through the streets last fall. Maybe they were the same ones who were in the hallway right then. Maybe this time I wasn’t meant to get away so easily.
“They’re my bodyguards,” Preston tried to explain, but Macey just jerked him by the collar.
“You have new guards now,” she said.
Preston, however, didn’t look so sure.
“My dad said I should never go anywhere without them. There have been a few attacks against some high-profile people in Europe. Not that I’m all that important or anything,” he tried to explain.
“Yeah, well, trust me. You’re high-profile enough,” I said. “That’s kind of why we’re here.”
Down below, Bex honked again.
Outside, the banging grew louder. They were trying to break down the door.
“It’s now or never, Preston,” Macey told him, but he just looked at me.
“I came to you once, Preston. When I had nowhere else to go. I was hurt and bleeding and scared, and you saved me. You saved my life. Now I’m trying to return the favor.”
He turned to Macey then, reaching out to take her hand. And together they climbed onto the windowsill.
We were almost to the end of the alley when we heard the explosion. The truck shook. Macey was knocked off her feet, and Bex put the pedal to the metal, laying rubber down the cobblestone alley. When we reached the street, she didn’t even slow down. We shot into traffic, tires squealing, while black smoke filled the air behind us.
“Uh…” Terror filled Preston’s eyes. “I think my school is on fire.”
“We know,” Macey said.
His eyes got even wider. “How do you know?”
“Because we’re the ones who set it,” Macey said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world; but Preston just looked at us all in turn, taking it in. He knew the truth about the Gallagher Academy, after all. He shouldn’t have been surprised. But I guess there are some things you have to see to believe, and it was like Preston was seeing us for the very first time.
“Oh,” he said numbly. “Okay.”
In the front seat, Liz spun around. She had a laptop open and yelled at me, “He’s transmitting!” Then she looked at the boy and smiled. “Hi, Preston!”
“Hi, Liz. How are you—hey—hey!”
He stopped talking. I’m pretty sure that’s what most boys would do if Macey McHenry were ripping off their shirts.
“Macey!” Preston gasped, but Macey didn’t slow down.
“Take it off,” she told him. “Take it all off.”
She had ripped the button-down shirt off his arms and was going to work on his belt.
“No,” Preston snapped. But he didn’t protest long because, if I’m going to be honest—which is kind of the point of these reports—I was already unzipping his pants.
Then Macey started ripping off Preston’s white T-shirt. (Yes, actual rippage.) And I was fighting with his zipper. I wasn’t exactly proud of how we handled the situation, but desperate times call for incredibly desperate measures.
“Give me everything you have,” I told him.
“Really, Cammie. I never knew you thought of me that way.”
Preston’s pants were undone by that point and I ordered, “Step!”
He did as he was told, and a moment later I had the pants in my hands.
Preston just stood there, dumbfounded, in his boxers as I cracked open the back of the truck and hurled the pants into the street. A split second later the rest of his clothes and shoes followed.
“Hey!” he shouted, but right then, through the open doors, I heard the roar of motorcycles. Memory came rushing back. Terror mixed with adrenaline, and I didn’t feel sorry for the mostly nak*d boy. Not even a little bit. I just wanted us all to get out of this alive.
“Liz?” Macey asked, but Liz shook her head. “No go,” she said. “He’s still got a signal.”
“What if it’s in him?” Macey asked.
“Then we cut it out,” I said, pressing Preston to the floor of the moving truck.
“I don’t like the sound of this!” Preston shouted, his voice way more high-pitched than any eighteen-year-old guy ever wants his voice to be, but I didn’t have time to care. I was looking at his body, examining every inch for scars.
“Have you had any shots, Preston? Any implants in the last six months?”
“What?” he shouted.
“Focus,” Macey said. I thought she was going to slap him.
“I…I had to go to the dentist!” he shouted.
I didn’t ask for an invitation. I pried open his mouth like Grandpa Morgan trying to buy a horse.
“Retainer,” I told Macey.
“Give it to us, Preston,” she told him.
“No.” He scooted farther back, pressing against the side of the truck.
“Give it to us,” I told him. “Or I borrow Bex’s knife.”
And that must have done it, because he handed me the slimy piece of plastic and metal. I hurled it out the back of the van.
And we waited.
Seconds stretched out for what seemed like hours before Liz finally gave the longest sigh I’d ever heard.
“That does it,” she said. “He’s clean.”
Only then did Macey and I drop to the floor of the truck. Breathing hard. Hearts pounding. I laid my head against a basket full of croissants, resting there, staring at Preston, who sat in his boxer shorts, arms crossed self-consciously across his chest.
“Are you going to explain?” Preston was trying to keep his voice steady and failing. “What is going on?”
I wanted to tell him everything—about his father and Zach’s mother and all the ways his life was getting ready to change, but I couldn’t say a word because Bex was already yelling, “Hang on!”
Rebecca Baxter may possibly be the greatest spy I’ll ever know. She’s also probably the most aggressive driver. So when she gripped the wheel and took a corner far faster than any bread truck is ever supposed to move, we all held on for dear life while the truck jumped the curb and burst through a newsstand.
Preston looked like he might throw up, and I couldn’t really blame him.
Liz turned around and handed a bundle of clothes between the seats. “Here you go,” she said.
“You brought clothes?” Preston asked. “You knew you were going to make me jump out of a window. And strip. And throw a perfectly good retainer away?”
Bex glanced back. “I was just hoping about the stripping part. Nice abs, by the way.” Then she went back to driving.
“Look, Preston,” Macey started. “We can explain. And we will. Soon. But right now we have to get you someplace safe.”
“I was someplace safe! And then you made me jump out a window and blew up my school!”
“You weren’t someplace safe,” Macey told him just as I heard the roar.
“And, technically, we didn’t blow up the school,” Liz qualified. “It was a very small and highly controlled explosion.”
Through the dirty windows at the back of the truck, I saw motorcycles come racing up behind us. I felt Bex jerk the wheel, and the truck skidded onto a main street, going the wrong direction.
Cars honked. Pedestrians yelled as Bex swerved onto the sidewalk. But still she didn’t slow down.
Preston’s breath was coming harder than it should have as he asked, “What is going on?”
Before I could explain Bex said, “Guys, we have—”
But she never got to finish. The crash came too fast—too hard. One second we were careening along the Roman streets, and the next there was nothing but the screech of tires and the crunch of metal. I felt myself falling, tumbling in the back of the truck as it flipped onto its side. Sparks and scraping metal. Something was pushing us across the street.
And then we were falling, tumbling over and over like clothes in a dryer, until there was a splash and then nothing but cold and fear.
The river was freezing. Bread floated all around us as the water cascaded through the back of the truck and the broken windows, taking us lower. Deeper into the cold.
“Preston!” Macey was yelling, but she sounded too far away. “Preston!” she called again.
Slowly, water filled the back of the truck, and as my eyes adjusted to the black, my head swirled. Blood ran down my face. I wanted to be sick or maybe just close my eyes and sleep, but then I thought about what I’d told Bex just days before: what I really wanted to be was alive.
So I kicked and clawed and swam toward the broken doors at the back of the truck, and that was when I saw him. Preston’s eyes were closed and his lips were turning blue. A bump was growing on his head, and I knew it wasn’t just the cold water that was sending him into shock.
“Preston! Cam!” Macey yelled again, and I realized it was coming through my earpiece.
“I’ve got him,” I yelled. “Swim!” I ordered, and put my head down, pulling Preston out of the truck as quickly as I could. My friends must have done as I said, because when I surfaced they were gone.
Air bubbled up from the sinking truck.
“Cammie!” Liz yelled. She sounded afraid, but I couldn’t see her. It was like I was in an echo chamber. The whole world had had the volume turned down.
“Cammie, are you okay?” Liz said just as a bullet pierced the water, slicing into the murky darkness. Splash. And then another. And another.