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Dont Judge a Girl by Her Cover, Page 2

Ally Carter

  Number of times Macey glared at her mother: 26

  Number of times Preston tried to catch Macey's attention and she totally ignored him: 27

  Number of times Macey had to practice a "spontaneous" dip while dancing with her father: 5

  Number of minutes I had to sit alone in that enormous arena, wondering if freedom and democracy were always this well rehearsed: 55

  By noon, Clipboard Lady was running through things one final time.

  "At exactly 8:04 the music will come up." Clipboard Lady raised her hands dramatically. "At this point," she said, studying the candidates and their families over her dark- rimmed glasses, "I recommend spontaneous dancing."

  Preston smiled at Macey. Macey shuddered.

  "Balloons will fall at 8:06. Celebrate, celebrate. Dance, dance. Fade to commercial."

  "All done?" I asked when Macey appeared beside me a minute later. She looked more relieved than I've ever seen her. (And that's including the time Dr. Fibs announced that he wouldn't be needing her to help him with his bunion- pads-as-weapons experiment. Which, needless to say, is pretty darn relieved.)

  "Let's go," Macey told me, but we both must have gotten a little bit sloppy over summer vacation, because Preston was already on our tail.

  "So, can I interest you ladies in some midday refreshment? I hear the Hawaii delegation might be roasting a big pig." At that point I might have felt sorry for Preston because that was maybe the dorkiest thing I'd ever heard. But Preston didn't shy away from his dorkiness—he embraced it. No part of Preston Winters felt sorry for himself. He was the only person I'd ever met who was completely without a cover. And I liked him for it.

  "Sorry, Preston," Macey said as she grabbed my arm and pointed me toward the doors. She waved her well-worn itinerary in front of him. "Duty calls."

  But if there's one thing that living with the child of a career politician has taught me, it's that they never take no for an answer.

  "Hey," he said. "Yeah. Itineraries. Doing our part. That's great." We were ten steps ahead of him, but for a skinny guy he was really pretty fast. And persistent. "I'll walk with."

  Since there were two Secret Service agents flanking us, and a news crew setting up for a live feed, Macey must have thought twice about stopping him. Instead she pushed against the metal doors again, and soon we were retracing our steps through the underground tunnel.

  An older man with crazy white hair and wild eyebrows nearly ran me over, mumbling a very southern, "Excuse me, miss." A pair of women wearing "Washingtonians for Winters" T-shirts practically bowed in front of Preston, but he just kept pace beside us, almost jogging to keep up.

  "So, you ladies go to the same school, I take it?" Preston gasped. "Are all the women of the Gallagher Academy as striking as the two of you?"

  Macey spun on him. "Actually, striking is what we do best."

  "So, Preston," I said, eager to change the subject. We turned down the dingy narrow corridor that had taken me to Macey that morning. "You must be excited…about your dad. First son. All that."

  "Oh, yeah," Preston said. "I'm very excited about my father's plan for America."

  He might have been a politician's son, but I was a spy's daughter, so I knew a lie when I heard one. As we reached the service elevator, I watched Macey frantically punch the button, saw her mentally planning ways to keep Preston out, but all I could do was think about another boy and another elevator, and remember that there are some things even a Gallagher Girl can't keep from sneaking up on her.

  As the doors slid open, we all climbed on. It was tight fit, so one of the Secret Service agents held back.

  "This is Charlie, by the way," Preston said, gesturing to the man who seemed to take up more than his fair share of the small space. "Charlie's been with me since…when was it? Missouri, I think?"

  The door slid closed. Charlie didn't say a word. And beneath his breath, I heard Preston fill the awkward silence with a whisper, "Good times."

  The ride to the top seemed slightly longer this time. I should have wondered why, but I didn't—not until I heard the ding and saw the doors slide open onto a space that I was certain I had never seen before.

  We might as well have been in a different country— much less a different building—as we stepped into the fluorescent glare of a room that had no red carpets, no rushing interns or patient guards. A room-service cart that was missing two wheels sat along one wall. There were laundry carts and old headboards. Massive machines churned, filling the space with loud noise and an almost unbearable heat.

  "Did you hit the wrong button?" I asked, looking at Macey.

  "It says 12:05: film promotional video. Service elevator. Level R." She pointed to the big R that had been painted on the wall in front of us.

  I glanced at Charlie, who hadn't said a word since we left the convention center floor, but he didn't hesitate to hold up his sleeve and say, "Control, I'm with Peacock and Mad Dog—"

  Beside me, Preston raised his eyebrows and whispered, "I picked that myself."

  But Charlie carried on. "We're on Level R. Are they filming the video here, or has that been changed?" He looked at me. "They're checking."

  The air was hot and stale, the room way too small to be an entire floor. A door with a small window was at the far end, so I wasn't surprised to hear Macey say, "I bet we're supposed to be out here," and see her push out into the light.

  There are many things a Gallagher Girl has to be: adventurous, daring, and totally unafraid of heights, to name a few. And all of those came in handy as Macey, Preston, and I stepped out onto the hotel's roof.

  A strong wind blew off the harbor, banging the metal door shut behind us. As we stepped toward the roof's edge and peered out across the city, we saw historic church steeples and towering skyscrapers. Some buildings looked as if Paul Revere himself were going to step outside; others seemed straight out of the future. Sixty stories below, news vans and tour busses stood on the gridlocked highways, but on the hotel's roof the chaos of the convention seemed to be far, far away. And that, I guess, was the problem.

  There were no camera crews, no public relations specialists. I glanced at Macey, who said what I was thinking. "This isn't right." Then she turned to Preston. "Where were we supposed to be, exactly?" Macey looked from Preston to her well-worn agenda, and then she finally held out her hand. "Let me see your itinerary."

  "Okay, yeah…see that's not so easy to…" Preston stumbled for words and then admitted, "My mom has it."

  I looked behind us, searching for Charlie, but the man was nowhere to be seen, and in that moment, everything seemed to change.

  Maybe it was my four full years of training, or my sixteen- and-a-half years of being Rachel Morgan's daughter, but somehow, some way, I knew that rooftop was a very bad place to be.

  "Hey, you're"—Preston started as I ran toward the heavy metal door—"a really fast runner."

  But I barely heard him as I pulled with all my might against the door, trying the handle in vain, banging against the gray metal. It was locked—or jammed—and there was no leaving the way we'd come.

  "This isn't right," Macey said behind me, double- checking her itinerary, still so entrenched in the part of herself that was a politician's daughter that she was ignoring the other part—the spy part—the girl she thought she wouldn't get to be during her summer vacation.

  "Something's just not…" but then she trailed off. Macey's blue eyes stared into mine. I saw in them a realization—a fear—as she looked down at the paper in her hands and then back at me…

  And then toward the helicopter that was flying too low, too fast, and heading right for us.

  Chapter Three

  Here's the thing about covert operations: the really bad things always happen when you least expect them. The bad guys don't give you a heads-up when you're going to be attacked. They don't let you wait thirty minutes after eating. And they never, ever let you stop to put on comfortable shoes.

  So training for that kind of life
means one thing: spy school is never really out of session.

  I thought about the piece of paper in Macey's hands and told myself that it could have been an innocent mistake, a change of plans. It didn't mean that our teachers had intentionally drawn Macey—and by extension, me—onto a roof with some kind of terrible test in mind. It didn't mean we had a fight coming. It didn't mean my heart had reason to race.

  But still I looked at my roommate and asked, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

  Macey shrugged. "Our teachers wouldn't do anything in front of him." She gestured to Preston, who was leaning over the railing, staring down at the chaos on the street below, completely oblivious to the dark spot that was on the horizon and moving in fast.

  I thought about Preston's missing itinerary. "Maybe he wasn't supposed to be here?"

  And with that, Macey let her piece of paper fall; I saw it flit and float in the air, and swirl around us as the chopper hovered lower. It was as if Macey had let her cover fall as well. The hotel was full of people who would only see the candidate's daughter, but right then—right there—there was no doubt who Macey McHenry had to be.

  "Hey, you guys, look at—" Preston said, finally noticing the helicopter above us. He stopped suddenly as a rope fell from the chopper and dangled between sky and roof.

  I heard a click, a metallic creak as the door to the roof opened. But instead of Charlie, two masked figures stepped into the glaring sun. And then I couldn't help myself; I screamed, "I'm on summer vacation!"

  I felt Macey at my back, saw Preston staring at a dark figure rappelling from the helicopter as if he'd somehow stumbled into a video game—or a nightmare. "They don't look like undecided voters," he said, as if sarcasm were a weapon he'd relied on his entire life and he really didn't want it to fail him then.

  The masked figures didn't rush toward us. They weren't sloppy. They were deliberate. They were good, moving with purpose, keeping an even spacing as Macey and I stood

  back-to-back, bracing ourselves in the center of the roof.

  "Preston!" I yelled. "Get down!"

  I wanted him to hide. I wanted him to be unconscious or blind. I wanted him anywhere but there. I already knew too well how having a civilian boy in the middle of a CoveOps exercise can turn out. It was a chapter I didn't need to read again.

  "This isn't"—I said with a grunt as I parried the attacker's first blow—"a very"—I took a half-step to my right and landed a kick at one of the masked men's knees—"good time for me!"

  A masked man stood in front of me. Blazing white teeth shone behind his dark mask. For a split second I thought it was the smile of Mr. Solomon. The first attacker who had come from the chopper had the unmistakable curves of a beautiful woman, and a part of me wondered if it was my mom.

  But then from nowhere I felt a punch in my side, a perfect blow, and as I fell onto the sticky tar-covered roof, I saw news choppers beginning to swoop and swarm around us—and I knew.

  I knew no one at the Gallagher Academy would be this careless.

  I knew my mother and Mr. Solomon would rather die than risk exposure of our school on this kind of stage.

  I knew there was something more behind the punch— not in the attacker's fist, but in his eyes.

  And then, more than ever, I knew I had to get Macey and Preston off the roof.

  I don't know how to explain what happened next, but in that instant, all the P&E lessons I'd ever had came back to me. In that moment, I knew surviving wasn't just about punches and kicks; it's about geometry and it's about timing; it's about having your reflexes speed up while your mind slows down.

  Maybe it lasted a minute; maybe it lasted a month. All I really know for sure is that one of the men moved toward me. I ducked as his fist flew, narrowly missing my head, and yet my focus was already somewhere else—my eyes were scanning the roof, looking for a weapon, a way out, or both. And that's when I saw it—a narrow window washer's plank dangling off the side of the roof. It had rails on both sides and was attached to a pulley system.

  My heart pounded. The wind roared in my ears as I grabbed Preston's hand and screamed, "Come on!"

  There were footsteps behind me—a hand on my arm. I spun around, but before I could land a blow, Preston pulled back his free hand and punched the man in the throat. It was a perfect lucky shot, but I was willing to take any help I could get as I pulled the potential first son out of harm's way and onto the narrow plank.

  "I hit a guy," Preston said, staring at his fist as if that were the most shocking thing of all.

  "I know. Good job," I said, reaching for the controls; but then for the first time Preston seemed to notice that I had guided him onto something that was dangling off the side of a sixty-story-building.

  "Wait!" he shouted.

  "You'll be fine," I told him.

  "But shouldn't I…" he muttered in the manner of a boy who knows he should be chivalrous but doesn't quite know how.

  Behind me, I heard Macey cry out in pain, but I kept my focus and hit the green button, knowing somehow that getting Preston off that roof was my mission at that moment.

  "Hang on!" I yelled, and in the next instant gravity took over and Preston dropped twenty stories to safety.

  I might have savored that fact, but the attackers seemed to refocus, and I watched the woman raise her hand and point to where Macey was taking her place by my side.

  "Get her," the woman ordered. I stole a sideways glance at my friend, the daughter of a United States senator and one of the wealthiest women in the world. My friend, who had been featured on every newsstand in America. My friend, who would be any kidnapper's dream.

  Macey and I were retreating slowly, coming closer and closer to the wall behind us, and I knew we were cornered.

  "No," I cried, as if that was all it would take for them to stop.

  And then I saw it—a rusty vent ten feet to the right of the door I'd given up any hope of opening. I dropped to the ground, kicked the vent as hard as I could, and felt it give slightly. I kicked again while, behind me, the men lunged for Macey. I heard a sickening snap. I turned and saw my roommate clutch her arm and fall to the ground, howling out in pain, so I kicked harder, and this time the old vent buckled under the pressure. It popped free, and I hurled it toward the head of one of the men who was reaching for Macey. I heard the crash of metal against skull, but I didn't stop to survey the damage—I was too busy grabbing Macey and pushing her toward the hole in the wall that the vent had left.

  I started to follow, but someone grasped my shoulders with a steel grip holding me to the spot. I clawed against her; but as I tried to pry myself free, my hand brushed against a gold ring engraved with an emblem that I could have sworn I'd seen before. For a split second my mind went still as I tried to place it, but then I heard a frail voice say "Cam," and I remembered my friend—my mission.

  I clawed harder, leaning forward, praying that my momentum would take me through the gap in the wall to a safer place. Suddenly, I remembered the Winters McHenry campaign button on my blouse. I heard my shirt rip as I pulled the button free and jabbed the pin into the hand on my left shoulder.

  The woman behind me howled in pain as I pushed Macey all the way through the vent and followed after her.

  "Run, Macey!" I screamed. "Go!"

  I wasn't thinking. No strategies came to mind. No flash cards. No vocabulary words. It was the age-old case of fight versus flight. I looked at Macey, whose arm hung at a strange angle; I felt my side and knew my ribs were bruised at best and maybe broken, and I knew that fight wouldn't be an option much longer—that we had to get out of there and soon.

  "Go," I told her. Behind us, I heard the metal door open again. A flash of light sliced across the cement floor, illuminating a pair of long legs bent at an odd angle, protruding from behind one of the room's massive machines.

  I heard Macey whisper, "Charlie."

  We pushed past the churning machines and skirted a decade's worth of broken furniture and hotel relics unti
l we reached the elevator that had brought us there.

  And then for the first time, I honestly felt like I could


  The elevator's doors stood open. Mangled wires protruded from the control box, still sparking where they'd been pulled out of the wall and sliced in two with professional precision.

  There was no place we could run. No place we could hide. I turned to look at the three figures, approaching us in perfect formation—a hunting party with a helicopter ready to take my friend to someplace I didn't dare imagine.

  I glanced around for a weapon, found a rolling cart and pushed it toward them with all my might, hoping it might serve as the greatest bowling ball in history and knock the black-clad figures down in one swipe. But the man in front merely tossed it aside.

  "Cam," Macey whispered. She was growing paler. Her left arm had swollen to twice its normal size, but still she managed to point with her right toward a square hole in

  the wall—a shaft or chute of some kind.

  I didn't know what it was or where it led. And I didn't have time to ask. I just dove, pushing Macey ahead of me.

  One of the men lunged forward. I heard a cry of "no" reverberating down the shaft, but it was too late. Gravity had taken over, and I was hurtling toward the unknown, praying that it would be better than the place I had just left.

  Free-falling, I felt my head bang against the metal shaft. Something hot and wet oozed into my eyes, and still I felt…grateful…hopeful. Dizzy.

  There was a soft thump. The ground beneath me seemed to roll, but at least there was ground.

  I turned and squinted through dizziness and pain to see a red drop fall onto white sheets. Macey lay unconscious beside me.

  I lay my head back and felt the world begin to spin. In the distance, someone yelled, "United States Secret Service, open up!"

  And through a hazy fog, my mind drifted back to the last time the world had gone upside down. A boy was dipping me in the center of my school and kissing me. For a moment, I could almost see his face leaning toward me, as if my life were flashing before my eyes.