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Id Tell You I Love You, But Then Id Have to Kill You

Ally Carter

  Chapter One

  I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they just disappear. Well, that's me—Cammie the Chameleon. But I'm luckier than most because, at my school, that's considered cool.

  I go to a school for spies.

  Of course, technically, the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a school for geniuses—not spies—and we're free to pursue any career that befits our exceptional educations. But when a school tells you that, and then teaches you things like advanced encryption and fourteen different languages, it's kind of like big tobacco telling kids not to smoke; so all of us Gallagher Girls know lip service when we hear it. Even my mom rolls her eyes but doesn't correct me when I call it spy school, and she's the headmistress. Of course, she's also a retired CIA operative, and it was her idea for me to write this, my first Covert Operations Report, to summarize what happened last semester. She's always telling us that the worst part of the spy life isn't the danger—it's the paperwork. After all, when you're on a plane home from Istanbul with a nuclear warhead in a hatbox, the last thing you want to do is write a report about it. So that's why I'm writing this—for the practice.

  If you've got a Level Four clearance or higher, you probably know all about us Gallagher Girls, since we've been around for more than a hundred years (the school, not me— I'll turn sixteen next month!). But if you don't have that kind of clearance, then you probably think we're just an urban spy myth—like jet packs and invisibility suits—and you drive by our ivy-covered walls, look at our gorgeous mansion and manicured grounds, and assume, like everyone else, that the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is just a snooty boarding school for bored heiresses with no place else to go.

  Well, to tell you the truth, we're totally fine with that— it's one of the reasons no one in the town of Roseville, Virginia, thought twice about the long line of limousines that brought my classmates back to campus last September. I watched from a window seat on the third floor of the mansion as the cars materialized out of the blankets of green foliage and turned through the towering wrought-iron gates. The half-mile-long driveway curved through the hills, looking as harmless as Dorothy's yellow brick road, not giving a clue that it's equipped with laser beams that read tire treads and sensors that check for explosives, and one entire section that can open up and swallow a truck whole. (If you think that's dangerous, don't even get me started about the pond!)

  I wrapped my arms around my knees and stared through the window's wavy glass. The red velvet curtains were drawn around the tiny alcove, and I was enveloped by an odd sense of peace, knowing that in twenty minutes, the halls were going to be crowded; music was going to be blaring; and I was going to go from being an only child to one of a hundred sisters, so I knew to savor the silence while it lasted. Then, as if to prove my point, a loud blast and the smell of burning hair came floating up the main stairs from the second-floor Hall of History, followed by Professor Buckingham's distinguished voice crying, "Girls! I told you not to touch that!" The smell got worse, and one of the seventh graders was probably still on fire, because Professor Buckingham yelled, "Stand still. Stand still, I say!"

  Then Professor Buckingham said some French swear words that the seventh graders probably wouldn't understand for three semesters, and I remembered how every year during new student orientation one of the newbies will get cocky and try to show off by grabbing the sword Gillian Gallagher used to slay the guy who was going to kill Abraham Lincoln—the first guy, that is. The one you never hear about.

  But what the newbies aren't told on their campus tour is that Gilly's sword is charged with enough electricity to … well…light your hair on fire.

  I just love the start of school.

  I think our room used to be an attic, once upon a time. It has these cool dormers and oddly shaped windows and lots of little nooks and crannies, where a girl can sit with her back against the wall and listen to the thundering feet and squeals of hello that are probably pretty standard at boarding schools everywhere on the first day after summer break (but they probably stop being standard when they take place in Portuguese and Farsi). Out in the hall, Kim Lee was talking about her summer in Singapore; and Tina Walters was declaring that "Cairo was super cool. Johannesburg—not so much," which is exactly what my mom had said when I'd complained about how Tina's parents were taking her to Africa over the summer whereas I was going to have to visit my dad's parents on their ranch in Nebraska—an experience I'm fairly sure will never help me break out of an enemy interrogation facility or disarm a dirty bomb.

  "Hey, where's Cammie?" Tina asked, but I wasn't about to leave my room until I could come up with a fish story to match the international exploits of my classmates, seventy percent of whom are the daughters of current or former government operatives—aka spies. Even Courtney Bauer had spent a week in Paris, and her parents are both optometrists, so you can see why I wasn't especially eager to admit that I'd spent three months plopped down right in the middle of North America, cleaning fish.

  I'd finally decided to tell them about the time I was experimenting with average household items that can be used as weapons and accidentally decapitated a scarecrow (who knew knitting needles could do that kind of damage?), when I heard the distinctive thud of luggage crashing into a wall and a soft, Southern, "Oh, Cammie … come out, come out, wherever you are. "

  I peered around the corner and saw Liz posing in the doorway, trying to look like Miss Alabama, but bearing a greater resemblance to a toothpick in capri pants and flip-flops. A very red toothpick.

  She smiled and said, "Did you miss me?"

  Well, I did miss her, but I was totally afraid to hug her.

  "What happened to you?"

  Liz rolled her eyes and just said, "Don't fall asleep by a pool in Alabama," as if she should have known better— which she totally should have. I mean, we're all technically geniuses and everything, but at age nine, Liz had the highest score on the third-grade achievement tests ever. The government keeps track of that kind of thing, so the summer before seventh grade, her parents got a visit from some big guys in dark suits and three months later, Liz was a Gallagher Girl— just not the kill-a-man-with-her-bare-hands variety. If I'm ever on a mission, I want Bex beside me and Liz far, far away, with about a dozen computers and a chessboard—a fact I couldn't help but remember when Liz tried to fling her suitcase onto the bed, but missed and ended up knocking over a bookcase, demolishing my stereo and flattening a perfectly-scaled replica of DNA that I'd made out of papier-mâché in eighth grade.

  "Oopsy daisy," Liz said, throwing her hand to her mouth.

  Sure, she knows cuss words in fourteen different languages, but when faced with a minor catastrophe, Liz says oopsy daisy. At that point I didn't care how sunburned she was—I had to hug my friend.

  At six thirty exactly, we were in our uniforms, sliding our hands over the smooth mahogany banisters, and descending down the staircases that spiral gracefully to the foyer floor. Everyone was laughing (turns out my knitting needle story was a big hit), but Liz and I kept looking toward the door in the center of the atrium below.

  "Maybe there was trouble with the plane?" Liz whispered. "Or customs? Or … I'm sure she's just late. "

  I nodded and continued glancing down at the foyer as if, on cue, Bex was going to burst through the doors. But they stayed closed, and Liz's voice got squeakier as she asked, "Did you hear from her? I didn't hear from her. Why didn't we hear from her?"

  Well, I would have been surprised if we had heard from her, to tell you the truth. As soon as Bex had told us that both her
mom and her dad were taking a leave of absence to spend the summer with her, I knew she wasn't going to be much of a pen pal. Leave it to Liz to come to a completely different conclusion.

  "Oh my gosh, what if she dropped out?" Liz cranked up the worry in her voice. "Did she get kicked out?"

  "Why would you think that?"

  "Well…" she said, stumbling over the obvious, "Bex always has been kind of rules-optional" Liz shrugged, and, sadly, I couldn't disagree. "And why else would she be late? Gallagher Girls are never late! Cammie, you know something, don't you? You've got to know something. "

  Times like this are when it's no fun being the headmistress's daughter, because A) it's totally annoying when people think I'm in a loop I'm not in, and B) people always assume I'm in partnership with the staff, which really I'm not- Sure, I have private dinners with my mom on Sunday nights, and sometimes she leaves me alone in her office for five seconds, but that's it. Whenever school is in session, I'm just another Gallagher Girl (except for being the girl to whom the aforementioned A and B apply).

  I looked back down at the front doors, then turned to Liz. "I bet she's just late," I said, praying that there would be a pop quiz over supper (nothing distracts Liz faster than a pop quiz).

  As we approached the massive, open doors of the Grand Hall, where Gilly Gallagher supposedly poisoned a man at her own cotillion, I involuntarily glanced up at the electronic screen that read "English—American" even though I knew we always talk in our own language and accents for the welcome-back dinner. Our mealtime conversations wouldn't be taking place in "Chinese—Mandarin" for at least a week, I hoped.

  We settled at our usual table in the Grand Hall, and I finally felt at home. Of course, I'd actually been back for three weeks, but my only company had been the newbies and the staff. The only thing worse than being the only upper' classman in a mansion full of seventh graders is hanging out in the teachers' lounge watching your Ancient Languages professor put drops in the ears of the world's foremost authority on data encryption while he swears he'll never go scuba diving again. (Ew, mental picture of Mr. Mosckowitz in a wet suit! Gross!)

  Since a girl can only read so many back issues of Espionage Today, I usually spent those pre-semester days wandering around the mansion, discovering hidden compartments and secret passageways that are at least a hundred years old and haven't seen a good dusting in about that long. Mostly, I tried to spend time with my mom, but she'd been super busy and totally distracted. Remembering this now, I thought about Bex's mysterious absence and suddenly began to worry that maybe Liz had been onto something. Then Anna Fetterman squeezed onto the bench next to Liz and asked, "Have you seen it? Did you look?"

  Anna was holding a blue slip of paper that instantly dissolves when you put it in your mouth. (Even though it looks like it will taste like cotton candy, it doesn't—trust me!) I don't know why they always put our class schedules on Evapopaper—probably so we can use up our stash of the bad-tasting kind and move on to the good stuff, like mint chocolate chip.

  But Anna wasn't thinking about the Evapopaper flavor when she yelled, "We have Covert Operations!" She sounded absolutely terrified, and I remembered that she was probably the only Gallagher Girl that Liz could take in a fist-fight. I looked at Liz, and even she rolled her eyes at Anna's hysterics. After all, everyone knows sophomore year is the first time we get to do anything that even approaches actual fieldwork. It's our first exposure to real spy stuff, but Anna seemed to be forgetting that the class itself was, sadly, kind of a cakewalk.