When Operatives Morgan, McHenry, Baxter, and Sutton (hereafter referred to as The Operatives) returned to the Gallagher Academy for the spring semester of their junior year, they were faced with an absent mother-slash-headmistress, a fugitive former teacher, and a tall, dark, and cocky new faculty member who, presumably, knew far more than he was saying.
The operatives were resolved to make him say.
The first day of the semester started as semesters often do.
Mr. Smith gave a really good pop quiz on the world's most unstable political regimes and the top five ways to undermine each. By midmorning Madame Dabney was passing out place cards and instructing us to prepare a seating chart for a state dinner that includes two ambassadors, five senators, and three rogue operatives who may be selling nuclear technology to the highest bidder.
But walking out of Madame Dabney's tearoom that Monday morning, I couldn't help but remember that nothing would ever be "typical" again.
"That's it. It's official!" Tina Walters whispered to me. "Joe Solomon is in deep."
I shot an anxious glance at Bex, but Tine went slowly, savoring every word.
"According to my sources, he hasn't been farmed out to any cooperating agencies. He's not listed on the in-action list. And he's not exactly the type for official cover operatives, so wherever he is . . . our teacher is in deep, deep cover."
The entire junior class, and I recognized the look that was spreading through the narrow hall. If possible, Joe Solomon had just gotten cooler. And hotter.
"I bet he and your mom are on some super-secret and dangerous mission, Cam,"
Courtney Bauer guessed as we emerged into the main corridor on the second floor.
"Yeah." Anna Fetterman's voice had taken on a dreamy quality. "I bet your mom and Mr.
Solomon are going to find them. I bet . . ."
Anna went on, but I tuned out, barely registering the sounds of my school - slamming doors and running girls. I looked into center of the foyer below, where a half dozen teachers stood huddled together in a way I'd never seen before.
"Cam?" Anna asked. "Are you okay?"
One by one the teaches in the foyer began to break away and start down the halls or up the stairs.
"Cam?" Anna asked, her voice higher.
"Sorry, Anna," I muttered. "I've . . . got to go."
Professor Buckingham was already at the top of the Grand Staircase, walking toward the Hall of History, when I cried, "Professor? Professor Buckingham!"
"Yes, Cameron?" She didn't snap the words, but they sounded weary. She seemed tired as she stood beside the sword that had belonged to Ioseph Cavan. "Is there something I can help you with?"
I wanted to know why my mother's door was closed to everyone, even me. I wanted to ask how it could all be true about Mr. Solomon - how it could be true at all. But there was only one thing that I knew it was okay to ask.
"It's spring," I said.
"It is?" Professor Buckingham glanced out a window streaked with freezing rain.
"I mean, it's the spring semester. You said last fall that you might be able to teach me about the Circle of Cavan in the spring. And . . . it's spring."
All around us, girls were filing into classrooms, rushing out the front doors to P&E. the halls were growing quiet. School was back in session - life was back to normal. But behind Patricia Buckingham, my mother's office door stayed closed.
"Junior year curriculum is very challenging, Cameron dear," she said.
"I know that's why I -"
"You need to focus and learn as much as you can."
"I know, but the Circle is -"
"Cameron, the lessons of this school are essential for fighting the evils of the world - no matter what that evil calls itself. You have to learn those lessons," she snapped, and I knew it wasn't advice; it was an order. And she was right. My classes weren't less important now. Not by a long shot.
"And even if that were not the case, I'm afraid there are a number of . . . pressing matters that require my attention for the time being."
And then it hit me: for the first time that I could remember, our oldest faculty member looked . . . old.
Her hands were dry. Her eyes were puffy. And I could have sworn I heard her voice crack as she said, "Now, if I'm not mistaken, you're about to be late for Covert Operations. You don't want to keep our newest teacher waiting."
Running through the halls toward the elevator to Sublevel Two, I tried to brace myself for what I had to do.
1. Learn what (if anything) Agent Townsend knew about it my mother, Mr. Solomon, and the Circle of Cavan.
2. Discern whether Agent Townsend would lean toward practical or theoretical examinations and how to best master each. (Because being the target of an international terrorist organization is no excuse for letting your GPA slide.) When I reached the small hallway beneath the Grand Staircase and the large mirror that was supposed slide aside and show me the way to the Covert Operations classrooms, I pressed my hand against it waited for the eyes of the painting behind me to flash green.
But the glass beneath my palm stayed cool, and nothing happened.
It was first lecture with Agent Townsend, and I was already late. I actually knocked on the mirror as if there were someone back there, waiting to let me in.
I was turning, starting for the other elevators, when I saw it: a small, neatly typed piece of paper taped to the wall.
ATTENTION STUDENTS: UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, THE SUBLEVELS WILL BE
CLOSED. ALL COVERY OPERATIONS COURSES WILL TAKE PLACE IN ROOM
I didn't know what was happening. All I knew for certain was that I was late, so I turned only heel and ran through the empty hall, past the library and the student - all the way to the classroom that had been nothing but a big storage closet at the end of last semester. I almost ran right past it, but at the last second I grabbed that door frame and skidded to a stop.