Take the Key and Lock Her Up, Page 2Ally Carter
“Where’s Karina Volkov?”
The PM studies me. “Where is who?”
“Alexei’s mother. Where is she? What happened to her?”
I expect a lecture on understanding my place or respecting my elders. I’m not at all prepared for the look in the PM’s eye as she turns back to the gray waters of the sea and says, “Why should I know?”
“Because she was part of the Society. And the Society knows everything.”
“Karina went away several years ago, but that was no surprise to anyone. She was always … flighty.”
“Why does everyone think she could just run off and leave Alexei?”
“Are you saying you could never leave Mr. Volkov, Ms. Blakely?”
I don’t know if it’s her smirk or her question that knocks me back a step, but I move anyway, carefully across the slick rocks.
“I’m saying moms don’t do that.”
“Your mother didn’t do that.”
“No. She didn’t. She just kept picking at a wound that was two hundred years old until some powerful people needed her dead. And now they want to kill me. They’ve already gotten way too close to killing my brother.”
I take a step closer. She might be powerful in Adria, but I know every inch of this rocky shore. This is my turf. I’m not going to be intimidated by anyone here. Even her.
“Why are you here?” I demand, but the PM only smirks again.
“You’ve been a very bad girl, Ms. Blakely.”
I ease closer. “You’re under the impression that I care, Ms. Petrovic.”
The wind blows her white hair around her face, and it’s almost like she’s risen from the sea, an omen or a curse.
“The Society has operated in secret for a thousand years. Four times longer than this”—she gestures to the land and water that surround us—“has been a country. Regimes rise. Dictators fall. Wars rage the world over and still we stand. Do you know why, Ms. Blakely?”
“Because I wasn’t around to ruin everything?”
She raises an eyebrow as if to indicate I have a point, but she doesn’t say so.
“We survive because we take care of our own. I’m here because you need a friend. I’m here because you need us.”
“Am I supposed to believe that you care about me? Or do you just care about the lost princess of Adria?”
That I can even ask that with a straight face shows how surreal my life has become. But, then again, maybe it’s not real?
Maybe I’m still in a psych ward, strapped to a bed. Maybe that would be better than this, because then, at least, Jamie would still be at West Point—Jamie would still be safe.
“The Society needs you, Grace. And you need the Society.”
“The Society needs me for what?”
Sometimes the scariest answer is silence. I stand in the wind, listening to the waves crash and the birds cry. It sounds almost like Adria. Perhaps I could close my eyes and pretend that I am back on the beach, looking up at the wall. But I don’t want to. I’m on the other side of the world for a reason.
“You are significant. And for that reason you’ve been summoned.”
“I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you.”
I’m starting to turn. I’m desperate to leave. I’m going to run, swim … fly. But then the PM calls, “If I found you, then others will, too!”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? That I wasn’t safe in Adria. And, in time, I won’t be safe here.
Someone managed to blow up a car belonging to the Russian government. Someone managed to kill a West Point cadet and frame an ambassador’s son. Someone wants my brother dead.
The wind blows the PM’s chic white hair across her face, but I can see her eyes. I just can’t read them.
For a second, I am tempted. I really, truly am. But then the PM says, “Come with me, Grace. Come home,” and something inside of me snaps.
“I’m not going back to Adria. I am never going back to Adria. I made that decision while I watched my brother lie on a dining room table with his blood all over my hands. I am never going back there. Ever.”
I turn and start down the beach. As I round the bend, I can see the little water plane that brought her here, bobbing on the waves, waiting to fly far, far away.
“We can help,” the PM offers, as if it is a last resort.
But it just makes me want to laugh.
I face her. “Like you helped my mother? Like you helped my brother? He’s learning to walk again, by the way. He doesn’t even need the canes anymore if he goes slowly. We’re just lucky that he never lost blood flow to his brain, because then … Excuse me if I think your help might be a little too late.”
I spin and start back toward the cabin; the conversation is over. It’s not really up for debate.
But Alexandra Petrovic did not become the most powerful politician in Adria by taking no for an answer.
“You seem to think that I’m asking, Ms. Blakely. Which I’m not.”
I stop and turn. “And you seem to think that you scare me, Ms. Petrovic. Which you don’t.”
The conversation is over, but the PM is smiling. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here?”
“I think we’ve already established that. Thanks.”
“I mean why I am here and not Eleanor Chancellor.”
At the sound of the name of my grandfather’s chief of staff, I go still. The PM’s right. Ms. Chancellor should be here. She’s the one who took me deep into the tunnels beneath Valancia and told me the Society’s tale. She’s the one who introduced me to this world and started guiding me on this journey.
She should be here.
But she isn’t.
“What have you done to her?”
“This problem is larger than you, Ms. Blakely. It is larger than me. It is hundreds of years old and lives in the shadows of the darkest halls of power in the world. So once again I’ll say: You need to come home.”
“No.” I shake my head again, like my consciousness is trying to drag me from a very bad dream. “No. I’m not going back to Adria.” It’s a mantra now. “I’m never going back to Adria.”
The smile on the PM’s face doesn’t belong there. She looks like someone who has almost won.
“Well, that works out nicely, then, because that isn’t where we’re going. I will be in Washington, DC, for a few days, and I’d like you to come with …”
She doesn’t finish. She just looks at me, a confused expression upon her face as her steps falter. It’s like all her strength is fading, her mission clearing from her mind like the fog.
I look down at the cup in my hands. My tea has gone cold, so I toss it to the moss-covered ground. The prime minister has almost finished hers.
“No, you misunderstand, Madame Prime Minister. I’m not just good at staying alive. I’m also really, really good at drugging people.”
She slumps slowly to the ground, getting mud and grass stains all over her pretty white suit. Well, that ought to show her, I think. It’s time she learns that I mess up everything I touch.
There’s a shout in the distance. I can hear my name being carried on the wind.
“Gracie!” Alexei is standing on the rocky shore of the beach. Behind him, the water plane is coming to life, and I know it’s time to go.
I don’t look back at the woman on the ground; I just run along the rocks to where my brother waits inside the tiny plane.
Alexei moves to help me inside as Dominic punches at the plane’s controls. The pilot lies on the rocks, unconscious, and the Scarred Man looks at me.
I knew he’d see the plane, subdue the pilot, collect my brother, and take him to safety. I’m only a little disappointed that they bothered waiting for me. The smart move would have been to leave me here on this island, but I’m not the only one who acts stupid sometimes, and I’m my mother’s daughter, so the Scarred Man will never, ever let me go.
“Grace Olivia, hurry!” he tells me as I climb inside. Alexei follows and slams the
The water is rough, and the plane bounces, fighting gravity and the current. Soon we’re in the air and rising through the fog. This must be how Jack felt when he went up the beanstalk. I wonder if we might find treasure, up here in the air. More likely there are just bigger, meaner people who want to see us dead.
Jamie’s in the seat beside Dominic, a headset over his ears, and the two of them talk like soldiers. Like grown-ups. Alexei and I are in the back, and with the roar of the air around us—the whirling of the small plane’s engines—it’s almost like we’re alone.
He puts his arm around me and pulls me tightly against him, warm. Solid. Beneath us is a massive mound of stone, but Alexei is the rock I lean on. He is the only thing that can still make me feel safe.
“What are we going to do?” Alexei asks.
“I don’t know.”
If my brother and Dominic hear, they don’t reply. The four of us just stare out at the clouds and the horizon, looking for a safe place to land.
It takes three days for them to break me.
Three days of flying and then driving, of fast food and sleeping in the old car that Dominic may or may not have stolen. But I’m too tired. I’m too sore. And, frankly, I smell too bad. We all do. You’d think running for your life would involve a lot more exercise, but so far it is just a long strip of asphalt and an endless stretch of sameness that lies before us, day after day.
So it’s no wonder that, eventually, I snap.
“Where are we going?” I say while Dominic pumps gas.
Jamie’s in the backseat of the car, covered with blankets but sweating, shaking. He’s been like this for hours, but I’m the only one who seems to care.
“Dominic!” I shout, and slowly, he turns to me.
It’s dusk—that time of day when you may or may not need headlights. It’s neither day nor night, bright nor black. We are in the gray area of life, I know. And I don’t like it.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
“Mexico,” he says. It’s not a question, not a debate. “There is a woman there who owes me a favor. She will help us.”
“Mexico?” I ask.
“Yes. Don’t worry about the language. I am fluent. It will be—”
“I’m not worried about speaking Spanish, Dominic. I’m worried about my brother.”
“It is for your brother that we go.”
“He needs to rest.” I glance down to where Jamie leans against the window, eyes closed. He looks worse than I’ve seen him in weeks, since the hospital. Since Germany. “We’ve got to stop. He’s not strong enough for this.”
“America is no longer safe.”
“America is a big freaking country.”
“We must get you both someplace safe,” he says again, and for the first time, I hear it. Dominic isn’t just worried. Dominic is scared.
As a boy, he loved our mother. As a man, he watched her die. It is far too late to save her, but it’s not too late for us, and so he is going to keep driving—keep moving. He will never, ever stop.
“How did they find us?” I ask, thinking back to the sight of the prime minister in her white suit, appearing out of nowhere like a ghost.
When Dominic turns back, he looks me squarely in the eye. I’m not just the pesky kid sister anymore, the brat, the burden. Dominic and I have been through too much together, and now he knows me well enough not to lie. I almost wish he would, instead of saying, “I don’t know.”
If there was a leak we could plug it, a trail we could clear it. There are few things in the world scarier than the unknown. I’ve learned that the hard way. And now the only thing Dominic knows is to run and keep running until there is no room left to take another step.
“Jamie’s fever is back,” I say.
“We will give him fluids in the car, hang a bag. He’ll be—”
“He will not be fine!” The gas station parking lot is empty, but I don’t care. I’d yell even if a crowd were watching. I have to make him see. No. I have to make him stop.
“He needs a bed, Dominic. And a shower. And a meal that doesn’t come out of a bag. We all do. When was the last time you slept? I mean really slept?”
“I’ll sleep when you’re safe.”
“Oh, Dominic.” I shake my head slowly. “I will never be safe. And that goes double if you collapse or give out on us. We need you. I know you know that. But I’m saying it anyway. We need you at your best. And you’re not now. You can’t be. It’s just not possible. So …”
I don’t realize Alexei’s behind me until Dominic glances over my shoulder, but even before I turn I can hear it: the conversation they are having without me. It consists of glances and shrugs. Neither one of them wants to admit that I’m right. But they probably don’t want to spend another night sleeping in a twenty-five-year-old Buick, either, so Alexei shrugs.
“I will see about getting us some rooms.”
The little motel on the far side of the parking lot probably has only twenty units, and it doesn’t seem busy. The opposite, in fact. Which is worse.
“Stop,” I call out, and Alexei turns. “You’re still front-page news,” I tell him. With all that’s going on with me and Jamie, the fact that Alexei is a wanted fugitive is easy to forget sometimes. But the headlines are real. The manhunt is months old but ongoing. “Even if no one in their right mind would expect you to run to the US, we probably shouldn’t take the chance.”
Then I look at Dominic, the scar that will forever mark his face. “And you’re … memorable,” I tell him, then hold out my hand until he passes me his wallet. “You two stay here. I’ll go see about the rooms.”
There’s a smell that comes from being on the run. It’s the odor of stale, reheated coffee and dim, abandoned rooms, of seedy motels where a decade’s worth of cigarette smoke has seeped into the curtains. Inside the little motel office, the coffeepot has been on all day, and the smell of it hits me as soon as I step inside.
But, otherwise, the place is clean. Tidy. The woman behind the counter is busy with a pair of knitting needles and pink yarn. Then I realize that the entire room is covered in yarn. There is a knit sleeve over a jar of pens, a calendar holder on the wall, and at least a dozen dolls with brightly colored yarn dresses. Whoever this woman is, she really must believe that idle hands are a devil’s plaything. I doubt she’s been truly idle a day in her life.
“How can I help ya, hon?” she asks me, a big, bright smile on her face. I might be the only real person she’s seen for hours. Maybe days.
“Do you have any adjoining rooms?” I ask.
“Well”—she gives a little laugh—“we’re not exactly fully booked at the moment. I think we can take care of you.”
The sun is almost down now, and a neon light is coming to life. The word VACANCY glows green against the glass.
“Can I have two, please?”
The woman eyes me then, a little skeptical. I don’t want to know what she’s seeing. I’m still too thin, too tired, too haggard and dirty and worn. I probably look like the chased animal that I am, and there’s not a doubt in my mind this woman sees it. From her place behind the counter, looking through that perfectly clean window, this woman sees everything.
“You okay, sweetie?” she asks me, tilting her head.
“Yes. Thank you.”
Dominic is still by the car. Alexei is looking under the hood.
“Who you got with you out there?” she asks.
“Uh …” I glance over my shoulder as if I can’t quite remember the answer. “My dad,” I lie. “And my brothers. We’re …”
But not quite lost enough.
“Where’s your momma?” the woman asks.
I look down at a neat stack of knitted coasters, finger the stiff yarn.
You can’t fake the way my voice cracks, my fingers tremble. And finally the woman is convinced that I’m not lying.
“Oh, heck, s
weetie. I’m sorry. Here. I’ll get you those rooms.”
She’s busy for a moment, typing on a computer that might be older than I am. Then she reaches in a drawer for two heavy metal keys attached to massive plastic tags. Rooms five and seven. Our home for the next twenty-four hours, if we’re lucky.
The woman runs one of the many credit cards the Scarred Man gave me. They all have different numbers, different names. I have no idea where they came from. They may be stolen or just attached to one of his many identities. It doesn’t matter as long as they’re clean and untraceable.
“What brings y’all to Fort Sill?”
For a second, I’m sure that I’ve misheard her. I hope that I’ve misheard her. But I haven’t. I know it in my gut. I should have seen it before now. I should have felt it like a magnetic pull, a steady, constant tug. There’s a flag on the wall that was knitted out of yarn that’s red, white, and blue. I see the map now, a pin over where Fort Sill sits in the southwest corner of Oklahoma. I should have noticed the tidy stacks of flyers like tourists always grab, announcing the local sights. Almost all of them have the words Fort Sill blazoned across the top.
Maybe this was why, deep down, I was so desperate to stop here.
Maybe this is why the Scarred Man was so desperate to stop me.
“Sweetie?” the woman says, bringing me back.
“We … we used to live here.”
I’d give anything for it to be a lie, but the woman brightens at my words. She glances through the window again. Dominic is still standing by the car, so broad and tall and strong.
“Oh. Was your dad a military man?”
I look out the window at the coming darkness. A cold seeps into my bones as I say, “Yes.”
The room is dim. Heavy, old-fashioned curtains cover clean windows, and only a little light creeps into the room from the bathroom. I’m part bat now: I can see in the dark, hear every drip of water from the leaky faucet, every buzz and hum from the bathroom lightbulb that is getting ready to blow. But, most of all, I hear Jamie.
His breath is deep but labored. Just lying in bed is hard work for him. He’s no longer the boy who could wake before the sun and run around the great walled city twice before breakfast. He’ll probably never be that boy again. But he’s alive, and that’s enough.