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United We Spy (Gallagher Girls), Page 2

Ally Carter

  “Charlene…is she dead?”

  “Maybe. Probably. But you know Catherine better than we do, so tell me—why do you think she is picking off the leaders of the Circle of Cavan?”

  “She’s crazy,” the man said with a scowl, and I knew from experience he was right. “She hates us. She wants to control things, and what she can’t control she destroys.”

  I thought about Catherine Goode’s son. She hadn’t been able to control him. Did that mean she was bound to someday destroy him too?

  “They’re coming for you, Sir Walter.” I shook my head. “And they won’t be as nice as we are.”

  “I’m not in the Circle of Cavan,” the man spat.

  Bex shook her head slowly. “Wrong answer.”

  “I’m not!” This time, he shouted. “I’m not a part of that anymore.”

  “It’s not the Boy Scouts,” I told him. “They don’t let you walk away.”

  “I’m finished. And…and…this is your fault.” He pointed in my direction. “You should have had the decency to die when we needed you to.”

  “Sorry,” I admitted. “I’ve been going through a bit of a rebellious streak. I swear it’s almost over.”

  “So you’re here to kidnap me?” he asked.

  “You say kidnap. We say hold in a secure facility until it’s safe to turn you over to the proper authorities,” Bex replied with a grin. “But to each his own.”

  “If we found you, Sir Walter, then it’s just a matter of time before Catherine does too,” I told him. “Now, come on. Let us keep you safe.”

  I reached for his arm, but he jerked away.

  “No place is safe. You don’t understand. Look at you. How could you understand? You’re children. If you knew what the others want to do…what the Inner Circle is planning…I never wanted this.”

  “Why?” Bex asked. “What are they planning?”

  Knight shook his head. His lips actually quivered when he told us, “You don’t want to know.”

  He’d seemed afraid when he first saw us, when he spoke about Catherine and the people she had killed. But in that moment, his fear turned to terror. He rocked back and forth, saying, “You can’t stop it. No one can stop it. It’s—”

  “What are you talking about?” Bex shouted, gripping him by the shoulders, holding him still. “Tell us what you’re talking about, and we’ll stop it—whatever it is.”

  “You fools.” He laughed. “It’s already begun.”

  Bex looked at me. We’d come there with one simple mission: to find Thomas McKnight’s descendant and take him into custody. We hadn’t been counting on this. If the leaders of the Circle—the Inner Circle, as Knight had called them—were planning something, then that could very well change everything.

  There was a new urgency in her voice when Bex said, “Look, we’re asking nicely. When Catherine comes—she won’t ask at all. So come with us now. Please.”

  The man snarled, “Or what?”

  Irony is a funny thing. Maybe the room was bugged and someone heard the cocky, condescending tone of his voice. Or maybe it was just fate that made the sniper pick that moment to fire. But I guess we’ll never know.

  Suddenly, glass shattered, showering the room in glistening, falling shards. Bex and I dove behind the desk just as the rifle fired again. I heard the hiss of the bullet, saw the dark spot that grew on Sir Walter’s chest, and watched him fall hard onto his knees.

  He was still upright, though, as I scrambled toward him.

  “Sir Walter!” I yelled. He was one of the people who had sent a hit man on my trail, wished me and the list inside my head out of existence. But I didn’t feel any peace. Whatever ghosts had followed me to that room, they wouldn’t be satisfied just to watch him die.

  “Sir Walter!” I yelled again. A drop of blood ran from his lips. As the life drained out of him, he toppled over onto the floor, never to defy us—or anyone—again.

  “Cam!” I heard Bex call my name. She had a death grip on my arm and was dragging me to my feet. But I couldn’t move. I was frozen, staring through the shattered window at the woman who stood atop the building across the lawn, picking up a grenade launcher and pointing it in our direction.

  “Catherine,” I said.

  And then my boyfriend’s mother took aim at our window again. And fired.

  Glass crunched beneath my feet.

  Blood ran into my eyes.

  The grenade must have struck a gas line, because smoke swirled all around me and I could feel the heat of the explosion at my back. But Bex’s hand was still in mine, and the two of us stayed low, crouching beneath the black air, running down the hall, away from the body and the flames.

  When we reached the end of the hall, I looked out the window and saw Zach’s mother running across the lawn. She must have sensed me there, because she stopped and turned, raised her hand and waved, almost like she’d been expecting me, hoping to see me.

  And then she was running again, and I knew I had to find her, make her pay—that as long as she was out there, a part of me would never, ever heal.

  “Cam!” Bex yelled as sirens started to sound.

  Classes might not have been in session, but it was still one of the most prestigious places in all of England. There were smoke detectors and glass-break detectors, and someone was going to come looking for whoever had done this thing, and we needed to be far away when they did.

  “Cam, come on!”

  “She’s here!” I yelled, trying to break free.

  Bex held tightly to my hand—didn’t let me go. “She’s gone.”

  I’ve been to Bex’s home before. She is my best friend, after all. But when your best friend is the daughter of two superspies, then that pretty much means your best friend moves. A lot. So walking inside the Baxter flat, I couldn’t help myself. I looked around. New rooms. New walls. Same feeling.

  Even though every spy I knew (which was a lot of spies) had spent the past few weeks telling me I was safe—that as soon as I remembered the names on the list, there was no reason for the Circle to try to silence me—it was still kind of weird to walk inside the Baxters’ flat and have no one clear the rooms and pull the draperies tight over the windows. Instead, Bex’s mother hugged me. Her father kissed my cheek. They asked my mom about Sir Walter Knight and told us everything everyone at MI6 was saying about the explosion at one of the most famous universities in the world.

  But no one was worried about me. Or…well…no one was worried until I asked, “So what do we do next?”

  “Now, girls,” Mr. Baxter started, “I thought you knew that today was an exception.”

  “Knight is dead,” Bex said. “Crane is dead. Dubois is missing. Along with her two kids,” Bex added pointedly. “So I think Cam has a good point: What do we do next?”

  “We go back to school,” my mom said, taking over. “We go back and leave it to—”

  “To who?” Bex asked.

  “Rebecca!” her mother snapped.

  “Sorry.” Bex shrugged. “To whom,” she corrected herself, even though I highly doubted that had been her mother’s point.

  “You didn’t hear Knight.” I shook my head. “He wasn’t just spooked. And it wasn’t just Catherine. Whatever the Inner Circle is planning, it’s so big and awful that even he was terrified of it. And this coming from a man who has been a member of the Circle most of his life.”

  That was when I pulled the crumpled piece of paper from my pocket. It was in Liz’s handwriting. Tiny pieces of paper clung to the left-hand side of the sheet from where she’d ripped it out of a spiral-bound notebook just a few weeks before. I’d folded it in quarters and put it in my pocket, and it had stayed there ever since, never leaving my side, always within reach.

  The paper had grown soft and worn, and even though I knew every word by heart, I kept it. Part of me thought I might keep it forever. Part of me couldn’t wait to watch it burn.

  “Here,” I said, slamming the paper down on the table where the adults cou
ld see. “Seven names. Seven,” I practically shouted. In spite of everything, I still felt like I had to make them understand.

  I looked down at Liz’s feminine cursive, at the names I’d carried in my subconscious for years.

  Elias Crane

  Charles Dubois

  Thomas McKnight

  Philip Delauhunt

  William Smith

  Gideon Maxwell

  Samuel P. Winters

  “These men formed the Circle with Iosef Cavan in 1863,” I told them.

  “We know,” my mother said, but I continued as though she hadn’t spoken at all.

  “These men survived him. And then their kids took up the family business. And then their grandkids. And so on. And so on. And now… Now Elias Crane the sixth is dead.” I took a marker and drew a line through the name Elias Crane at the top of the list.

  “Dubois’s great-great-great-great granddaughter is probably dead,” Bex added, and I drew another line.

  “And now McKnight’s heir is gone too,” I finished with one more line.

  “We’ve found three heirs, girls,” Mr. Baxter told us. “Three is a good start.”

  I knew what Mr. Baxter was saying. The men and women represented on that list weren’t good people. They’d sold arms to extremists and assassinated world leaders—terror for profit was what Agent Townsend always called it. And I hated them. I hated them more than almost anyone on earth. But there was one person I despised more.

  I thought about the woman on the rooftop. She had kidnapped me—tortured me—to get those names, and now she was killing them off one by one, eliminating the competition in the most hostile takeover possible. And I knew that if Catherine wanted the leaders of the Circle dead, then maybe we needed at least one of them to be taken alive.

  “Three of them are dead,” I said, drawing in a deep, slow breath. “But we still have four more names. Now we have to find the descendants of these men. We have to find them and stop them before they can do whatever it is they’re planning next. Because, according to Knight, it is something bad and it is something big.”

  “That’s not for you to worry about, girls,” Mrs. Baxter said, and Bex threw her hands into the air.

  “So who is going to worry about it? MI6? The CIA?”

  We all looked at my mother, who put her hands on her hips. “You know that’s not possible.”

  “Exactly!” Bex said, as if my mother had just proven her point. “The Circle has moles at every level of the CIA. MI6 too. And Interpol. Who knows where else? And that is why you need us,” Bex finished, but her father was already shaking his head.

  “This was a one-time deal, girls,” Mr. Baxter told us. “Sir Walter Knight was a politician. An intellectual. A…nerd. He didn’t pose a physical threat, and for that reason and that reason alone you were allowed to come along today. That will not be the case for the others.”

  “But you can’t do this on your own,” Bex protested. “There’s too much legwork. You need us.”

  Bex’s mother folded her hands in front of her. “No. Actually, we don’t.”

  I thought about the locked door of my mother’s office, the parade of agents and assets who had been in and out of our school in the weeks before Christmas. The task of taking down the Circle was a mission so secret that only my mother and my teachers and their most trusted friends were invited to the party. Bex and I should have known that we wouldn’t be allowed to stay.

  “Where’s Mr. Solomon?” I asked. “What about Zach? They’ve been tracking his mom, haven’t they? Do they even know Catherine was here today? Have you talked to them? Are they okay?”

  “Cammie,” Mom said, “Joe Solomon is the last person in the world you need to worry about. And Zach is with him.”

  “What about Agent Townsend? Someone has to bring him into the loop. And Aunt Abby. She and Townsend are together, right?” I looked at Bex’s parents. “Have you—”

  “Cammie!” my mom said, louder this time, cutting me off. “That’s enough. The two of you are already in this far deeper than you should be. And this is as deep as you go. For your own good.”

  Mrs. Baxter walked smoothly through the room and placed her hand on her daughter’s back. “Bex, why don’t you and Cam go for a walk? Have some fun.”

  We both turned and looked out the window at the people on the street. I wasn’t sure what was stranger—that three parents were asking their teen daughters to leave the house on New Year’s Eve, or that Bex and I totally didn’t want to go.

  “They do a great light show at the Thames,” Mr. Baxter said. “You can see it better from the park.”

  But Bex and I had both witnessed our fair share of explosions for that day. We didn’t need to see any more.

  “We know where we can find another heir,” I said.

  “Not now, Cammie.” My mother’s voice was a warning.

  “We know that Samuel Winters’s great-great-great-great grandson shares his name and is the US ambassador to Italy. He’s probably at the embassy in Rome right now,” I went on. “And Preston is with him.”

  “Girls, we are not going over this again. The ambassador is a hard target. He’ll be safe in the embassy. And that means Preston will be safe.”

  “Charlene Dubois’s kids weren’t safe,” I said, and thought about the first time I had met Preston Winters. He’d had an easy grin that had made him seem a little too eager. His arms were growing too quickly for the rest of him to catch up. He’d been a dork. He was my friend. And now there were people in the world who wanted to kill his father—maybe even Preston himself. People don’t get to choose their families. Or their family businesses. Bex and I knew that better than anyone. And I couldn’t help but feel grateful that at least my family business was working for the good guys. Preston wasn’t that lucky.

  “Are Zach and Mr. Solomon in Rome?” Bex asked this time, taking the lead. “Because someone needs to be in Rome. Someone needs to get Preston.”

  “If I know Joe Solomon,” Mr. Baxter said, sounding sage and wise, “then I know that he is wherever he needs to be. Where that is, however, I’m not certain.”

  “But—” I started.

  “But nothing,” my mom said. “I’m sure Preston is fine, girls.”

  “She’s out there!” I snapped. My voice cracked, and I hated myself for it, but I talked on. “Catherine is out there, and she’s hunting the same people we’re hunting, and—”

  “And that is why you are going back to school!” I don’t know if my mother even realized she was yelling, but the words were out and echoing around the small room. “You are going to go back to school, and you are going to have one semester where no one is shooting at you and chasing you and… We are going to have one semester when I don’t spend every waking moment wondering whether or not my daughter is going to live to see graduation.”

  “We’re seniors,” I said. “I turn eighteen next month.”

  “Then act like it,” Mom told me. The words hit me like a slap. As far as our parents were concerned, it was over. There was no argument Bex or I could make. We were beaten.

  “Go watch the fireworks, girls.” Bex’s mom put her arm on my shoulders. “Go be young. Have fun. Enjoy the night.”

  Covert Operations Report

  Operatives Baxter and Morgan were temporarily exiled from the London safe house at 2300 hours and told to go have fun. The Operatives, however, were currently unfamiliar with the protocol for “fun-having,” so they decided to worry about their mission objectives instead.

  The people on the street wore funny hats and sang songs I didn’t know while they walked toward Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, parties, and pubs. But neither Bex nor I even smiled. She draped her arm through mine, and, as we walked, I was sure she probably looked chic and cool and European. I felt slow and clumsy and American.

  “So,” Bex said, “how did you enjoy your first collegiate experience?”

  “Honestly,” I said, “it didn’t seem all that different from
my high school experiences.”

  Bex sighed. “I know what you mean. If I ever reach the point in life where there are no more snipers, I might go crazy. Or bake. I could take up baking.”

  “Liz took up baking,” I reminded her.

  “Yeah, but I’d be better at it. I would totally rock baking.”

  But something told me she would vastly prefer the snipers.

  The crowds were growing heavier. We passed middle-aged women in feather boas, college boys with their collars turned up. I felt like disappearing, there on that crowded street. And yet, I also felt like the most conspicuous girl in the world.

  “It’s okay, Cam,” Bex said.

  “What?” I asked.

  “That’s the fourth time you’ve checked our tail in the past ninety seconds.”

  “You’re doing it too,” I told her.

  “Of course I am. Because I’m trained that way. Not because I’m afraid.”

  “I’m not afraid.”

  “After the year you’ve had, you’re either afraid or you’re crazy,” Bex said, and I thought about Dr. Steve—wondered exactly how many games he’d played with my head—just as my best friend added, “And you’re not crazy.”

  Bex gave me a smile that looked exactly like her mother’s. Her words had sounded just like her father’s. I’d never known anyone who was equal parts their mom and their dad. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was exactly fifty percent my father too. But my father was gone. Dead. And now I’d never know.

  “Tell me again,” I said.

  “The Circle leaders—or the Inner Circle,” Bex added with a wink, “wanted you dead so that you couldn’t tell your boyfriend’s psychotic mother…and my mother…and your mother…who founded the Circle back in the day. Without that list, no one would have ever known who the Inner Circle is. But you did remember, my brilliant friend. You remembered who was on that list, and now we all know who was on that list, and so the Inner Circle no longer needs you dead.”

  “Good,” I said with a nod.

  “I mean, they’d probably still kill you, you know? Out of spite. But there’s not a price on your head anymore, Cam. You’re safe now.”