"Not now, Rebecca," her father said.
"So what was that, then?" Bex asked. "Training op?"
"Bex," her mother hissed.
"Perimeter security test?" Bex tried.
"Rebecca, I will have that agent pull this van over," her father warned, but Bex just plowed on.
"Because, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Joe Solomon one of the good guys?"
I wish her parents had cut her off, scolded her, said something - anything - because nothing could have been scarier than the look that passed between Mr. and Mrs. Baxter just then. Even Bex went quiet at the sight.
A minute later I felt the van veer and slow and, all around us, the world got dark.
Through the van's interior light, Bex looked at me. "Tunnel?" I guessed.
She stared at me and whispered back, "Zach?"
Before I could answer, the tunnel lights flickered, and we were lost in total darkness as the driver yanked the wheel. Tires screeched. I grabbed on to the seat, felt the swerve of the Baxters on either side of me, and yet no one screamed or braced for a crash as we careened fast -too fast- toward the tunnel wall. In the darkness I felt my best friend's hand reach out and grasp my own, as suddenly, that wall in front of us parted, and the painter's van was swallowed up whole.
I spun in my seat, and through the van's dusty rear windows I saw the hidden door close.
"Cool," Bex whispered.
Then there was a light at the end of the tunnel (literally). Everything grew brighter while the van slowed and the passage grew wider until the space we were in was anything but a tunnel anymore.
"Welcome to Baring Cross Station," a high voice said as the van door slid open.
Instantly, Bex's mother's arm was around my waist; her father's hand was gripping mine, and the best and brightest part of Her Majesty's Secret Service were staring, watching me climb out of the van as if I were the most interesting thing in that cavernous space.
The ceiling must have been five stories high. Catwalks sprawled above, and more vans sat to my right, parked at strange angles. All around us, people ran, shouting orders.
There were stainless-steel staircases, polished chrome risers and frosted-glass partitions everywhere. I couldn't help but think that it had been almost exactly a year since I'd been escorted into another super-cool, super-secret underground facility, beneath D.C. had been because of a boy. (Or . . . more specifically . . . a boyfriend.) In London, it was because of a man. (Or . . . more specifically . . . a teacher.) The year before, I'd known the trip was coming. This time nothing about the day was in any way routine. Last winter, my mother had taken me to that facility to answer questions. But this time I stood beside the Baxters, consumed by the thing I didn't know.
"Are you okay?" a woman asked.
"Did he hurt you?" a man with surgical gloves and a white coat wanted to know.
"How the bloody hell did he get so close?" another man snapped.
"Traitor's Gate," one woman answered. "He came in through Traitor's Gate."
Of course he did," the man mumbled, and I tried to shake the words from my head. They were gibberish. Nonsense. Because "he" was Mr. Solomon.
"He" was one of the best spies I've ever known.
"He" was my father's best friend.
As we walked past a massive wall of screen, images of the city flashed by so quickly it was a miracle anyone could see a thing.
"Satellite is up!" a young man in horn-rimmed glasses yelled.
"Get me eyes on every tube entrance, every intersection, every airport. We're close people!" an older woman cried. "Let's not let him get away."
Bex's eyes found mine, and I knew what she was thinking: our teacher wouldn't have walked onto that bridge if he hadn't had a way of getting off; he wouldn't have come to London if he hadn't had a way of getting out; and when Joe Solomon doesn't want to be found, there's not a camera, satellite, or operative on earth who can see him.
"Baxter! A voice called from the catwalk above us. "You have the girl, then?"
Bex's father placed his arm around my shoulder. "She's here. She's fine."
The man gestured to a metal door at the end of the catwalk. "Then come this way," he told me, but Bex stepped closer.
We'll be happy to wait in there," she said.
The agent looked at Mrs. Baxter, whose face was just as determined as her daughter's.
"I'm going with her," Mrs. Baxter said. "Cammie is our responsibility."
"Then you should have thought about that before you took her bloody ice skating," the agent snapped.
I wanted to say something in protest - to remind them that it wasn't the Baxters' fault -
whatever "it" was. But Mrs. Baxter's hand was on my shoulder, gently pushing me forward, telling me that the path I was on now was one I had to walk alone.
PROS AND CONS OF SPENDING THE NIGHT IN A TOP SECRET ROOM OF A TOP SECRET FACILITY, BUT NO ONE WILL TELL YOU WHY
(A list by Cameron Morgan)
PRO: Turns out, top secret underground government facilities are an excellent place to warm up after ice skating.
CON: The warming-up process includes no friends, no family, and absolutely no answers.
PRO: Sometimes it's nice having a moment alone to compose yourself after fairly traumatic (and totally confusing) experiences.
CON: The "moment" stops being nice when it goes on for almost two hours.
PRO: Three words - Extra. Credit. Essay.
CON: Two words - No. Bathroom.
PRO: Knowing there are fifty operatives and at least two hundred cameras between you and the people trying to get you.
CON: Realizing, you know even less about those people then you thought you did. A lot less.