Every good operative knows there are several reasons to keep someone waiting before questioning them. Sometimes you want to make them nervous; sometimes you want to let them think; sometimes you need to gather the facts; and sometimes talking to them isn't that important. But there was only one reason that occurred to me when I heard the door creak open and pulled my head and arms off of the cold steel table.
"Is my mother here?"
The door slammed, and I turned to watch a man I'd never seen before walk to the other side of the room. He was tall with black wavy hair and deep blue eyes, and as he spoke in his rich British accent, both the spy in me and the girl in me became instantly aware of the fact that I was drooling.
"How are you, Cammie?" he asked, but barely waited to hear my "Fine."
"Is there anything you need? Water? Something to -"
"What happened on the bridge?"
The man chuckled softly. "Well, that's what I was hoping you could tell me." He dropped a file onto the table between us and moved to the chair opposite me, but there was something about the gesture - the sound of his laugh - that felt strange to me. Nothing seemed that funny anymore.
"He didn't hurt you?" the man asked.
"Mr. Solomon is my teacher. He would never hurt me."
"Are you sure we can't get you something? Some hot cocoa, maybe?"
"I don't want cocoa. I want to know why a six-person grab team just surrounded Joe Solomon. I want to know why one of the CIA's best operatives had to break me out of M16's protection to talk to me. I mean, we are on the same side, aren't we?"
And then the man's smile disappeared - faded in a flash. "Oh, we know who our friends are."
"Really? Because it seems -"
"What happened on the bridge?"
"That's what I'm asking you."
"What did Joe Solomon say on the bridge?" he gritted his teeth as he reworded his question.
"I don't know. It all happened so fast. I didn't really understand."
Again he laughed, and this time mumbled, "Of course you didn't."
"What's your name?" I asked, but he didn't answer. "You're MI6, right?"
"Impressive," he said, but something in his tone told me he wasn't impressed at all.
"Who are you? Where are the Baxters?"
He shifted in his seat and leaned forward. "Thanks to the Baxters, half of London saw what happened today, which, in our business, is a bad thing. So the Baxters are a little tied up at the moment."
I didn't know what was worse, that Bex's parents were in trouble because of me, or that the man across from me was talking to me like I was an outsider - a fraud. Sure, I am a sixteen-year-old girl-slash-operative-in-training get me wrong, the sixteen-year-old -girl part has come in seriously handy on occasion, but he was giving me the kind of look I've come to expect from people who didn't know the truth about my school - and the man across from me was supposed to know the truth.
At least I thought he was.
"Um . . . just out of curiosity," I said, "what level clearance do you have?"
"What level of clearance do you have?"
"I asked you first."
The man smirked, then said, "High enough." Which wasn't really an answer, but I didn't think this was the time to say so.
"Why is everyone looking for Mr. Solomon?" I asked. When the man leaned back in his chair, I leaned closer and searched his blue eyes. "There's been some kind of mistake," I told him. "Call the Gallagher Academy. Call my mother.
"What did Joe Solomon tell you on the bridge?" the man snapped, but I barely heard the words.
"My mother is Rachel Morgan, operative ID 145-23-6741. Headmistress of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. You have to-"
"I know who your mother is," he stated calmly. "Now tell me about Joe Solomon!"
I let the words wash over me, tried to find the center of my rage, of my fear, before I slowly whispered, "The pigeons. Mr. Solomon told me to follow the pigeons."
I waited for him to laugh again, but this time he studied me. "Does that mean anything to you?"
"Not a lesson you've had? A cutout you've used?" he asked, then shook his head in frustration. "A cutout is a go-between two spies might use to carry information between
"I know what a cutout is."
"And the pigeons don't mean anything to you?" he asked again.
I closed my eyes, thought back to the feeling of the cold wind on my face and the pressure of Mr. Solomon's hands on my arms, but it was his eyes that I saw most plainly.
"It happened so quickly. He was scared. He wasn't himself."
"There's good reason for that," the man said without a hint of emotion. "You don't know Joe Solomon."
"You're wrong," I said flatly. "There's been a mistake. Mr. Solomon is on the Gallagher Academy faculty. He's CIA, and he came to London to protect me or warn me . . . he was just worried because of the threat."
"You still don't get it, do you?" he was almost smiling as he closed the folder. "Joe Solomon is the threat."
"That's ridiculous," I shot back. "Mr. Solomon is my teacher."
The man stood. "You can stop calling him 'mister,' young lady." He walked to the door and rapped on the glass. "Joe Solomon will never be your teacher again."
Over the next six nights the Baxters and I slept in five different safe houses.
There was seemingly abandoned gardener's shed on an estate in Scotland, an apartment with a view of Big Ben, a cottage in Wales, and something that could best be described as a small castle, which came complete with a suit of armor and a peacock.