Only the Good Spy Young, page 22part #4 of Gallagher Girls Series
The sun was coming up over Roseville. Id never seen it from that window, but it was especially beautiful with the early morning rays reflected in Madame Dabneys finest crystal. In that moment and that place, almost anything seemed to lie within our grasp.
And maybe thats why Bex smiled. "Well, I have always wanted to see Blackthorne. "
I looked at Liz. "I just tweaked the van to incorporate solar technology. It really needs a road test for statistical significance, you know. "
"Us versus Blackthorne?" Macey said with a smile. "Yeah, Im all for that. "
I dont know how to explain it, but right then, things seemed okay. Our mission was clear.
We could go to Blackthorne.
We could get the journal.
Then we could find a way to bring Joe Solomon home.
Yes, in that moment everything was okay. But, of course, that moment could not last.
I remember the sound of the door as it swung open, the shocked, surprised look that crossed each of my roommates faces as we turned to see the slim, dark silhouette that stood in the open doorway and said, "So when do we leave?"
My mother took two steps forward, then turned to stare at Zach. "Didnt I tell you to stay in my office?"
THINGS THAT REALLY, REALLY SURPRISED ME
ABOUT THAT PARTICUALR ROAD TRIP:
1. That it happened. At all.
2. That it happened with a boy.
3. That of all the people in the van, Bex spent the most time driving.
4. That after a whole day in a vehicle with nothing else to snack on, a person really can sick of Peanut M&Ms.
5. That even while sleeping in a van, Macey McHenrys hair never gets messed up.
6. That no one mentioned Mr. Solomons name, not even once.
7. That no one talked about where we were going.
8. That four Gallagher Girls were playing hooky and missing an entire day of class (even with our headmistresss permission).
That, if you drive all night and only stop for essential, the Blackthorne Institute for Boys is only ten hours away from the Gallagher Academy.
Somehow it had always felt much farther.
"Are you still mad at me?" Zach whispered as we crossed the Pennsylvania border. His leg was pressing against mine, but I didnt think about how if felt, because my mother (who is a spy) was riding shotgun in the front seat, and my roommates (who are future spies) were surrounding us in the van. And besides, it doesnt take a lot of training to know that leg-pressing can seriously divert a girl from little things. Like trying not die.
So I didnt say a word.
"Ohh," Zach whispered. "The silent treatment. "
"Im not talking to you, Zach," I whispered, whirling on him, "because I know youre not going to really say anything anyway. Should I be asking you more questions you refuse to answer?"
As I turned and faced forward again, watched the yellow lines of the highway flying by, I expected more excuses. More lies. But instead, Zach just leaned across me and whispered to Liz, "Shes cute when shes silent. "
I didnt utter a single word.
Not when he ate the last of the M&Ms.
Not when he put his head only shoulder and tried to take a nap.
Not when he and Liz thumb wrestled (despite that fact that I was sitting between them) for better part of the state of Pennsylvania.
Not when Liz and Macey finally fell asleep and he leaned close to me and whispered,
"Are you sure you wanna do this, Gallagher Girl?"par
Nope. Not even then. I didnt have anything else to say.
At dusk, the silence broke as I heard my mother say, "Pull over here. "
Bex pulled into the parking lot of an old gas station by the side of a narrow two-lane highway. Weeds grew up between abandoned pumps. Rusty machines bore the ancient logos of Coke and Pepsi.
We felt utterly alone, but in a split second, all that changed.
A dark car was approaching from the south, traveling way too fast. Tires screeched as it slid sideways into the gravel lot, coming to a stop three feet the bumper of Lizs van.
"Mom!" I shouted, bolting upright, blood pounding in my ears. But before I could fully process the worst-case scenario that was playing through my mind, my best friend sat up straighter too and yelled, "Mom?" a second later, Bex was throwing open the van door and running to her mother, who was climbing out of the other car.
"Hello, darling," Mrs. Baxter said, throwing her arms around her daughter. But I noticed her gaze never left my mothers eyes.
"Anything, Grace?" Mom asked, climbing out of the van.
Bexs mother shook her head. "Nothing. Youre clear. "
At that moment a white pickup appeared on the deserted road, this time traveling from the north. It pulled into the abandoned station, and somehow I wasnt surprised at all to see Bexs father behind the wheel.
He hoped out of the truck. "All clear on my end, Rachel. Youre free. "
"Thanks, Abe. " She sounded relieved, and to tell you the truth, id didnt like it. Because for there to relief, there had to have been fear. And fear . . . well . . . I didnt want to think about that.
Liz poked me. "These are Bexs parents!"
I looked at my mother, who shrugged. "You didnt expect me not to recruit at least a little grown-up back up, did you?"
Macey stood on my other side and exclaimed, "Were going on a mission with Bexs parents!" as if wondering whether or not we were ready for Baxters to the power of three.
But my mother was shaking her head. "Actually, girls, for unsanctioned ops, its best to minimize the exposure of official agents. "
Its rule as old as espionage itself: Dont do yourself what you can get someone else to do for you. There are a million harmless reasons why a bunch of Gallagher Girls might break into Blackthorne (jokes, dares, pranks, etc. ). For a bunch of grown-ups, not so much.
Bex knew all this - I know she did - and yet she was looking from my mother hers and then back again. "So why are you . . . " she started, then trailed off.
"Theyre not here to help us. " My voice was flat against the wind. "Theyre here to guard me. " A look passed across my roommates faces as if no time at all had passed since November - as if we were still standing on a dark street in D. C.
"Do you have the journal?" Grace asked.
"No. " Mom shook her head, then pointed to my roommates and me. "They beat me to it. "
And that was when things got really weird.
I mean, my mom had broken into Sublevel Two!
My mom had been after my dads journal.
My mom had been person hot on our heels, creeping through the darkness in the depths of our school, which meant, I guess, that Agent Townsend hadnt been.
I was still shaking my head, trying to wrap my mind around that - around everything -
when another car appeared on the highway, and Macey cried, "Abby?"
It almost sounded like a question, and with one glance at my aunt I saw why. Her glossy hair had lost its shine. And when she walked towards us, the bounce that I had come to know in her step was gone.
"Hey, Squirt," she said, but it sounded forced. "Playing hooky, I see. "
I shrugged. "Maybe this is a CoveOps field exercise?"
She raised an eyebrow. "I know Agent Townsend, Cams. "
"Oh," Bex said.
""Which is why I am more than willing to take part in this little extracurricular assignment. " She looked at her sister. "Well . . . one of the reasons. "
My mom turned to Mr. Baxter. "What are our friends at Six saying, Abe?"
"Same story, different accent. No one has a bloody clue where theyve taken him. No one seems to bloody care. "
"I care. "
Zach stood on the side of the dusty road, hands in his pockets. When Mrs. Baxter saw him, she smiled a little too wide.
"Hello, Zachary," she said. "Its very nice to meet you. R
Zach mumbled something that sounded like "You too. " ( I guess Blackthorne doesnt have a Madame Dabney. )
And then the time for pleasantries must have been over because Mrs. Baxter turned to my mom. "Ready?"
It seemed like at the perfect question at the time. After all, I was getting ready to break into Blackthorne. I was out of the mansion. I was getting ready to go on a mission. A real mission. With Zach.
And my mom.
Words could not describe the nerves. Or the weirdness.
It occurred to me that I should have been taking notes, savoring every moment. But there was no time.
Mrs. Baxter started for the truck, climbing in beside her husband as she tossed my mother the keys to the sedan with the dark windows. Abby was already crawling into the SUV as Liz and Macey started for Lizs van, but my mother waved them away.
"It stays here," she said with a shake of her head. "We cant take the risk that someone might trace it back to you and the school. "
When my mother turned to me and asked, "Do you have everything?" she sounded like she was dropping me off at school or at a friends house. She sounded almost like a normal mom.
When I said, "Yeah, were ready," I sounded almost like a normal girl.
But as I watched my bodyguards pull onto the highway to monitor the perimeter of the school, normal felt completely overrated.
A moment later, my mother left us in a cloud of dust in the middle of nowhere, beside a gas station that had no gas, a van we couldnt drive, and a boy that some of the best spies in the world were hesitant to trust.
"And what are we supposed to do?" Macey asked.
Zach smiled. "We walk. "
It is a little-known fact about covert operations that you will spend a lot of time with people you cant really trust. They may be traitors and liars. We call them assets or informants. But mostly, in those days, I called him Zach.
The Operatives made contact with an asset who had firsthand knowledge of the Blackthorne Institute for Boys.
The Asset was also privy to Joe Solomons private plans, the Circles secrets, and some of the most awesome-smelling soap in the world.
The Operatives, therefore, tried not to trust (or smell) The Asset.
Walking across the week-covered lot of the gas station, I could feel the darkness falling.
The air was damp and chilly. I could hear Liz stumbling on the path behind me and knew without looking that Bex was bringing up the rear. I kept my eyes trained on the back of Zachs head as we walked deeper into the thick woods and closer to Blackthorne.
Twenty minutes later, I found myself asking, "How long until we get to the school?"
"Not long," Zach said, without a breaking a stride.
"How many guards will be there on patrol at our point of entry?"
He shrugged. "Dont know. "
"Whats the interval of the security camera sweep?"
"Hard to say. "
I reached out for his arm in the dark. "What do you know, Zach?"
"Youre on my home turf now, Gallagher Girl. " His breath was warm on my skin. "Do you have a problem with that?"
"Guys . . . " I heard Lizs timid voice behind me.
"Maybe I do," I snapped back at Zach.
"Cam," Bex said, her voice mimicking the concern of Lizs, but I barely heard.
"Maybe I -" I started again, but before I could say another word, Bex grabbed my arm.
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