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[Gallagher Girls 01] I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Page 2

Ally Carter

  But Bex was a natural-born spy. She just raised her eyebrows and said, "You'll see."

  Chapter Two

  Bex had spent six hours on a private jet, but her cappuccino-colored skin was glowing, and she looked as if she'd just walked out of a Noxzema commercial, so I really wanted to be petty and point out that the sign in the foyer said we were supposed to be speaking English with American accents during the Welcome Back Dinner. But as the only non-U.S. citizen Gallagher Girl in history, Bex was used to being an exception. My mom had bent some serious rules when her old friends from England's MI6 called and asked if their daughter could be a Gallagher Girl. Admitting Bex had been Mom's first controversial act as headmistress (but not her last).

  "You have a good holiday, then?" Throughout the hall, girls were beginning to eat, but Bex just blew a bubble with her gum and grinned, daring us to ask her for the story.

  "Bex, if you know something, you've got to tell us," Liz demanded, even though it was totally pointless. No one can make Bex do anything she doesn't want to do. I may be a chameleon, and Liz may be the next Einstein, but when it comes to general stubbornness, Bex is the best spy ever!

  She smirked, and I knew she'd probably been planning this scene since she was halfway over the Atlantic Ocean (in addition to being stubborn, Bex is also quite theatrical). She waited until all eyes were on her—holding the silence until Liz was about to explode, then she took a warm roll from the basket on the table and nonchalantly said, "New teacher." She tore the bread in half and slowly buttered it. "We gave him a ride from London this morning. He's an old pal of my father's."

  "Name?" Liz asked, probably already planning how she was going to hack into the CIA headquarters at Langley for details as soon as we were free to go back to our rooms.

  "Solomon," Bex said, eyeing us. "Joe Solomon." She sounded eerily like the black, teenage, female James Bond.

  We all turned to look at Joe Solomon. He had the scruffy beard and restless hands of an agent fresh off a mission. Around me, the hall filled with whispers and giggles— fuel that would have the rumor mill running on high by midnight—and I remembered that, even though the Gallagher Academy is a school for girl geniuses, sometimes the emphasis should be kept on the girl.

  The next morning was torture. Absolute torture! And that's not a word I use lightly, considering the family business. So maybe I should rephrase: the first day of classes was challenging.

  We didn't exactly go to bed early … or even a little late … or even at all, unless you count lying on the faux-fur rug in the common room with the entire sophomore class sprawled around me as the basis for a good night's sleep. When Liz woke us up at seven, we decided we could either primp for an hour and skip breakfast, or throw on our uniforms and eat like queens, before Professor Smith's 8:05 COW lecture.

  B.S. (Before Solomon), waffles and bagels would have won out for sure. But today, Professor Smith had a lot of eye-lined and lip-glossed girls with growling stomachs listening to him talk about civil unrest in the Baltic States when 8:30 rolled around. I looked at my watch, the ultimate pointless gesture at the Gallagher Academy, because classes run precisely on time, but I had to see how many seconds were standing between me and lunch. (11,705, just in case you're curious.)

  When COW was over, we ran up two flights of stairs to the fourth floor for Madame Dabney's Culture and Assimilation lessons which, sadly, that day did not include tea. Then it was time for third period.

  I had a pain in my neck from sleeping funny, at least five hours' worth of homework, and a newfound realization that woman cannot live on cherry-flavored lip gloss alone. I dug in the bottom of my bag and found a very questionable breath mint, and figured that if I was going to die of starvation, I should at least have minty-fresh breath for the benefit of whatever classmate or faculty member would be forced to give me CPR.

  Liz had to go by Mr. Mosckowitz's office to drop off an extra-credit essay she'd written over the summer (yeah, she's that girl), so I was alone with Bex when we reached the base of the grand staircase and turned into the small corridor that was one of three ways to the Subs, or subfloors, where we'd never been allowed before.

  Standing in front of the full-length mirror, we tried hard not to blink or do anything that might confuse the optical scanner that was going to verify that we were, in fact, sophomores and not freshmen trying to sneak down to the Subs on a dare. I studied our reflections and realized that I, Cameron Morgan, the headmistress's daughter, who knew more about the school than any Gallagher Girl since Gilly herself, was getting ready to go deeper into the vault of Gallagher secrets. Judging from the goose bumps on Bex's arm, I wasn't the only one who got chills at the thought of it.

  A green light flashed in the eyes of a painting behind us. The mirror slid aside, revealing a small elevator that would take us one floor beneath the basement to the Covert Operations classroom and—if you want to be dramatic about it—our destinies.

  "Cammie," Bex said slowly, "we're in."

  We were sitting calmly, checking our (synchronized) watches, and all thinking the exact same thing: something is definitely different.

  The Gallagher mansion is made of stone and wood. It has carved banisters and towering fireplaces a girl can curl up in front of on snowy days and read all about who killed JFK (the real story), but somehow that elevator had brought us into a space that didn't belong in the same century, much less the same building, as the rest of the mansion. The walls were frosted glass. The tables were stainless steel. But the absolute weirdest thing about the Covert Operations classroom was that our teacher wasn't in it.

  Joe Solomon was late—so late, I was beginning to get a little resentful that I hadn't taken the time to go steal some M&M's from my mom's desk, because, frankly, a two-year-old Tic Tac simply doesn't satisfy the hunger of a growing girl.

  We sat quietly as the seconds ticked away, but I guess the silence became too much for Tina Walters, because she leaned across the aisle and said, "Cammie, what do you know about him?"

  Well, I only knew what Bex had told me, but Tina's mom writes a gossip column in a major metropolitan newspaper that shall remain nameless (since that's her cover and all), so there was no way Tina wasn't going to try to get to the bottom of this story. Soon I was trapped under an avalanche of questions like, "Where's he from?" and "Does he have a girlfriend?" and "Is it true he killed a Turkish ambassador with a thong?" I wasn't sure if she was talking about the sandals or the panties, but in any case, I didn't have the answer.

  "Come on," Tina said, "I heard Madame Dabney telling Chef Louis that your mom was working on him all summer to get him to take the job. You had to hear something!"

  So Tina's interrogation did have one benefit: I finally understood the hushed phone calls and locked doors that had kept my mother distracted for weeks. I was just starting to process what it meant, when Joe Solomon strolled into class—five minutes late.

  His hair was slightly damp, his white shirt neatly pressed—and it's either a tribute to his dreaminess or our education that it took me two full minutes to realize he was speaking in Japanese.

  "What is the capital of Brunei?"

  "Bandar Seri Begawan," we replied.

  "The square root of 97,969 is …" he asked in Swahili.

  "Three hundred and thirteen," Liz answered in math, because, as she likes to remind us, math is the universal language.

  "A Dominican dictator was assassinated in 1961," he said in Portuguese. "What was his name?"

  In unison, we all said "Rafael Trujillo."

  (An act, I would like to point out, that was not committed by a Gallagher Girl, despite rumors to the contrary.)

  I was just starting to get into the rhythm of our little game, when Mr. Solomon said, "Close your eyes," in Arabic.

  We did as we were told.

  "What color are my shoes?" This time he spoke in English and, amazingly, thirteen Gallagher Girls sat there quietly without an answer.

  "Am I right-handed or left-handed?" he
asked, but didn't pause for a response. "Since I walked into this room I have left fingerprints in five different places. Name them!" he demanded, but was met with empty silence.

  "Open your eyes," he said, and when I did, I saw him sitting on the corner of his desk, one foot on the floor and the other hanging loosely off the side. "Yep," he said. "You girls are pretty smart. But you're also kind of stupid."

  If we hadn't known for a scientific fact that the earth simply can't stop moving, we all would have sworn it had just happened.

  "Welcome to Covert Operations. I'm Joe Solomon. I've never taught before, but I've been doing this stuff for eighteen years, and I'm still breathing, so that means I know what I'm talking about. This is not going to be like your other classes."

  My stomach growled, and Liz, who had opted for a full breakfast and a ponytail, said, "Shhh," as if I could make it stop.

  "Ladies, I'm going to get you ready for what goes on." He paused and pointed upward. "Out there. It's not for everyone, and that's why I'm going to make this hard on you. Damn hard. Impress me, and next year those elevators might take you one floor lower. But if I have even the slightest suspicion that you are not supremely gifted in the area of fieldwork, then I'm going to save your life right now and put you on the Operations and Research track."

  He stood and placed his hands in his pockets. "Everyone starts in this business looking for adventure, but I don't care what your fantasies look like, ladies. If you can't get out from behind those desks and show me something other than book smarts, then none of you will ever see Sublevel Two."

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mick Morrison following his every word, almost salivating at the sound of it, because Mick had been wanting to hurt someone for years. Unsurprisingly, her beefy hand flew into the air. "Does that mean you'll be teaching us firearms, sir?" she shouted as if a drill sergeant might make her drop and do push-ups.

  But Mr. Solomon only walked around the desk and said, "In this business, if you need a gun, then it's probably too late for one to do any good." Some of the air seemed to go out of Mick's well-toned body. "But on the bright side," he told her, "maybe they'll bury you with it—that's assuming you get to be buried."

  My skin burned red. Tears filled my eyes. Before I even knew what was happening, my throat was so tight I could barely breathe as Joe Solomon stared at me. Then, as soon as my eyes locked with his, he glanced away.

  "The lucky ones come home, even if it is in a box."

  Although he hadn't mentioned me by name, I felt my classmates watching me. They all know what happened to my dad—that he went on a mission, that he didn't come home. I'll probably never know any more than those two simple facts, but that those two facts were all that mattered. People call me The Chameleon here—if you go to spy school, I guess that's a pretty good nickname. I wonder sometimes what made me that way, what keeps me still and quiet when Liz is jabbering and Bex is, well, Bexing. Am I good at going unnoticed because of my spy genetics or because I've always been shy? Or am I just the girl people would rather not see—lest they realize how easily it could happen to them.

  Mr. Solomon took another step, and my classmates pulled their gazes away just that quickly—everyone but Bex, that is. She was inching toward the edge of her chair, ready to keep me from tearing out the gorgeous green eyes of our new hot teacher as he said, "Get good, ladies. Or get dead."

  A part of me wanted to run straight to my mother's office and tell her what he'd said, that he was talking about Dad, implying that it had been his fault—that he wasn't good enough. But I stayed seated, possibly out of paralyzing anger but more probably because I feared, somewhere inside me, that Mr. Solomon was right and I didn't want my mother to say so.

  Just then, Anna Fetterman pushed through the frosted-glass doors and stood panting in front of the class. "I'm sorry," she said to Mr. Solomon, still gasping for breath. "The stupid scanners didn't recognize me, so the elevator locked me in, and I had to listen to a five-minute prerecorded lecture about trying to sneak out of bounds, and…" Her voice trailed off as she studied the teacher and his very unimpressed expression, which I thought was a little hypocritical coming from a man who had been five minutes late himself.

  "Don't bother taking a seat," Mr. Solomon said as Anna started toward a desk in the back of the room. "Your classmates were just leaving."

  We all looked at our recently synchronized watches, which showed the exact same thing—we had forty-five minutes of class time left. Forty-five valuable and never-wasted minutes. After what seemed like forever, Liz's hand shot into the air.

  "Yes?" Joe Solomon sounded like someone with far better things to do.

  "Is there any homework?" she asked, and the class turned instantly from shocked to irritated. (Never ask that question in a room full of girls who are all black belts in karate.)

  "Yes," Solomon said, holding the door in the universal signal for get out. "Notice things."

  As I headed down the slick white hallway to the elevator that had brought me there, I heard my classmates walking in the opposite direction, toward the elevator closest to our rooms. After what had just happened, I was glad to hear their footsteps going the other way. I wasn't surprised when Bex came to stand beside me.

  "You okay?" she asked, because that's a best friend's job.

  "Yes," I lied, because that's what spies do.

  We rode the elevator to the narrow first-floor hallway, and as the doors slid open, I was seriously considering going to see my mother (and not just for the M&M's), when I stepped into the dim corridor and heard a voice cry, "Cameron Morgan!"

  Professor Buckingham was rushing down the hall, and I couldn't imagine what would make the genteel British lady speak in such a way, when, above us, a red light began to whirl, and a screaming buzzer pierced our ears so that we could barely hear the cries of the electronic voice that pulsed with the light, "CODE RED. CODE RED. CODE RED."

  "Cameron Morgan!" Buckingham bellowed again, grabbing Bex and me by our arms. "Your mother needs you. NOW!"

  Chapter Three

  Instantly, the corridors went from empty to overflowing as girls ran and staff members hurried and the red lights continued to pulse off and on.

  A shelf of trophies spun around, sending the plaques and ribbons commemorating winners in the annual hand-to-hand combat and team code-breaking competitions to the hidden compartment behind the wall, leaving a row of awards from swim meets and debate contests in its place.

  Above us, in the upper story of the foyer, three gold-and-burgundy Learn Her Skills, Honor Her Sword, and Keep Her Secrets banners rolled miraculously up and were replaced by handmade posters supporting someone named Emily for student council president.

  Buckingham dragged Bex and me up the sweeping staircase as a flock of newbies ran down, screeching at the top of their lungs. I remembered what those sirens had sounded like the first time I'd heard them. It was no wonder the girls were acting like it was the end of the world. Buckingham yelled, "Girls!" and silenced them. "Follow Madame Dabney. She's going to take you to the stables for the afternoon. And ladies"—she snapped at a pair of dark-haired twins who seemed to be especially frantic—"composure!"

  And then Buckingham whirled and raced up the staircase to the second-story landing, where Mr. Mosckowitz and Mr. Smith were trying to wheel a statue of Eleanor Everett (the Gallagher Girl who had once disabled a bomb in the White House with her teeth) into a broom closet. We swept through the Hall of History, where Gillian's sword slid smoothly into the vault beneath its case like Excalibur returning to the Lady of the Lake, and was replaced by a bust of a man with enormous ears who was supposedly the school's first headmaster.

  The entire school was in a state of organized chaos. Bex and I shared a questioning look, because we were supposed to be downstairs, helping the other sophomores check the main level for anything spy-related that someone might have left lying around, but Buckingham turned and snapped, "Girls, hurry!" She sounded less like the soft, elderly teacher we kn
ew and more like the woman who had single-handedly taken out a Nazi machine gun on D-day.

  I heard a crash behind us, followed by some Polish expletives, and knew that the Eleanor Everett statue was probably in a billion pieces; but at the end of the Hall of History, my mother was leaning against the double doors of her office, dropping an M&M into her mouth as calmly as if she were waiting to pick me up from soccer practice, acting like it was just an ordinary day.

  Her long dark hair fell across the shoulder of her black pants suit. A wisp of bangs brushed across a flawless forehead that she swears I'll have, too, just as soon as my hormones stop waging war with my pores.

  Sometimes I'm seriously glad that we live ninety percent of our lives inside the mansion, because whenever we do leave, I have to watch men drool over my mom, or (ick) ask if we're sisters, which totally freaks me out, even though I know I should be flattered that anyone would think I was related to her at all.

  In short, my mom's a hottie.

  "Hey, Cam, Rebecca," she said before turning to Buckingham. "Thanks for bringing them, Patricia. Come inside a sec."

  Inside her office, thanks to its soundproofed walls, the mayhem of the rest of the school completely faded away. Light streamed through leaded windows and flashed upon mahogany paneling and floor-to-ceiling bookcases that were, even as we spoke, spinning around to hide tomes like Poisons Through the Ages and A Praetorian's Guide to an Honorable Death, replacing them with a flip side of volumes like Educating the Upper Echelon and Private Education Monthly. There was a photo on her desk of the two of us on vacation in Russia, and I watched in awe as we hugged and smiled in the frame while, in the background, the Kremlin was replaced by Cinderella's Castle at Disney World.

  "Holographic, radio-synthesized photo paper," mom said, when she saw my gaping mouth. "Dr. Fibs whipped up a batch in his lab over the summer. Hungry?" She held her cupped hand toward Bex and me. Amazingly, I'd forgotten all about my empty stomach, but I took a green piece for good luck. Something told me we were going to need it.