Authors: Jude Watson
Maneuvering around pails and tools and rolls of insulation, they tracked Pierce as he moved through the building. They could see that he was heading toward elevators on the east side of the building.
“Mr. Pierce!” Amy yelled, running toward him. “We have a question!”
He turned, his smile frozen in place. Amy saw something flicker across his face when he saw her: recognition.
He knows who we are.
And then a second, more startling thought as his gray eyes stayed on her face.
He hates me.
“And who would you be?” he asked.
“You know who we are,” Amy answered. “Amy and Dan Cahill. The kids you’ve been tormenting in your media outlets.”
“I don’t have anything to do with the content in my magazines and websites,” Pierce said. “That’s what the Third Amendment is all about, a free press.”
“First Amendment,” Amy replied, and noted two spots of red on his cheeks at her correction. “And freedom of the press means that the government can’t censor the press. It doesn’t mean that you can’t forbid your employees from writing sensational and untrue stories just to sell papers.”
“But that’s my job, selling papers, little lady,” Pierce said. “And magazines, and website content. But if you’re upset about something, I suggest you contact our press office. It will make its way to the right person.”
the right person,” Dan said. “You’re the boss.”
Two security guards appeared, wearing baseball caps and tinted glasses. Amy and Dan hadn’t heard them approach, but there they were, as solid and unyielding as the concrete pillars around them.
“Hey, fellas,” Pierce said to them. “Gosh, this is why we lead a tour, kids. You can’t go wandering off by yourself. Construction sites are hazardous places. Accidents can happen so easily when you’re sixty-five stories up in a skyscraper without walls. Especially with the two Cahill daredevils! We wouldn’t want you to go splat now, would we?”
Amy looked at him, startled. Could he be
them? Impossible. He was a businessman. A major media celebrity . . .
“Show them the way out, gentlemen,” Pierce told the security guards. “The
way out, that is.”
Dan doubled over and sneezed repeatedly. While Pierce backed up, an expression of distaste on his face at his explosions, Dan dipped his hand into the plastic bucket next to him and then shoved it in his pocket.
Pierce barked at the security goons, “Why are you still standing here?”
One of the guards roughly shoved Dan forward. “Move.”
The guards led them in the opposite direction from the reporters. Amy’s mind raced. Something wasn’t right. Why weren’t they being led back to the group?
They were being corralled toward the far end of the building. They emerged from the drywall corridor, and Amy suddenly had a direct line of sight to Pierce. He stood stabbing the elevator button repeatedly. From this position Amy could also see what Pierce could not — the crowd of reporters hurrying toward him, Arabella scurrying behind them, waving her arms. Pierce couldn’t see them . . . but he could hear them. She could tell by the frown of irritation on his face.
It happened in a flash. Amy blinked as Pierce grabbed a nearby hanging rope, swung out over empty air, then dropped onto the partially completed pedestrian bridge a story below. He quickly walked over it, sixty-four stories above the city, then stepped into the skeleton of the building next door and disappeared.
What was that?
Did the man just drop ten feet, land on a girder . . . and tightrope across it?
“Move it, sister,” one of the guards said, nudging her along.
The guards pushed them past a curtain of thick plastic sheeting. Here the construction wasn’t as far along as on the rest of the floor. Girders stretched out into empty air. There was no drywall at all, just a concrete floor. Construction equipment surrounded them. A piece of yellow tape acted as a flimsy barrier between them and open air.
“Oops, no elevator. Guess we made a mistake,” one of the guards said. “So you’re going to have to take the fast way down.”
“Are you kidding?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know,” the guard said with a terrible smile. “Am I?”
The two guards herded them closer to the edge. Amy and Dan had to back up.
“C’mon, you kids are daredevils, right?” the other one said. “Let’s see what you can do. If you walk out on the girders, you can almost make it to the building next door. If you jump far enough.” He chortled.
They were close to the edge now. Amy didn’t want to look down, but she couldn’t help it. She could see tiny people moving below, cars and buses that looked like the metal toys Dan used to leave scattered on the floor when he was five.
“You’re scaring me!” Dan suddenly said. He shuddered, both hands in his pockets. “I-I’m afraid . . . of heights! NO! NO!” he screamed.
“Shut up, kid!”
Dan moved in a flash. His hand came out of his pocket and he threw ball bearings on the floor between them.
Amy didn’t need to be prompted. She knew what Dan was planning without one word being spoken. She and Dan ran in the opposite direction from the wildly rolling balls. They heard the curses of the guards as they windmilled their arms, trying to keep their balance and run at the same time. Both of them crashed to the floor.
Amy and Dan knew they had only seconds before the guards were after them again. They pushed through the thick plastic sheet and took off.
“This way,” Dan said, darting down a hallway.
Amy followed without question. She knew that her brother’s photographic memory had stored the layout of the floor in his head. He was probably leading them back to the elevator they’d taken to get up here, in hopes that Arabella had finally corralled the reporters. There would be safety in a crowd.
They heard the rustle of the plastic screen, then the
of running footsteps. The guards would be on them at any moment.
Then Amy heard the
of the elevator. Dan had already spurted toward the sound.
“There they are! Get them!” They heard the guttural voices behind them, but it would waste time to turn. They only had seconds now.
They burst out of the corridor just in time to see the top half of the reporters in the elevator as it descended past the floor.
“Our only chance,” Amy said to Dan. “C’mon.”
They both raced toward the descending cage and jumped.
Amy felt the cage rattle as she landed. Dan landed next to her. Arabella Kessler screamed, and one of the reporters shouted, “HEY!”
Amy and Dan dropped to their knees and laced their fingers through the mesh. The chilly wind threatened to blow them off the top of the cage.
Amy looked down through the wire cage. Arabella’s angry face stared up at her.
“Going down?” Dan asked.
“That went well,” Nellie said, fiercely turning the wheel as she exited the highway at Attleboro. “Just a reminder: One is supposed to ride in the
of an elevator. Are you both insane?”
“We were just trying to get away!” Dan protested. “You should have seen those guys! They were trying to kill us!”
“Or scare us,” Amy said.
“Scare us to
Dan said. “We could have been pancaked on the pavement!”
Amy shook her head in frustration. “Why did this guy Pierce target us? It’s not just to sell papers.”
“He recognized us, Amy,” Dan said. “Somehow he
us. Did you see the way he looked at you?”
Amy shivered as she remembered that gaze, ice gray and unrelenting. “He hates me. And I never met him before today!”
“Whoa, duck down!” Nellie suddenly yelled. “The vultures are still circling.”
A phalanx of cars still waited outside the Cahill gates. Nellie gunned the motor as the gates swung open and zoomed inside. As soon as they were out of sight, Amy and Dan popped up again.
Dan held out his phone to Amy with a groan. There was a picture on the Exploiter website of Dan and Amy balancing on top of the elevator cage. They were grimacing from the effort of holding on, but it looked like they were smiling. The headline was CAHILL CUTUPS ENDANGER BOSTON PEDESTRIANS FOR KICKS.
Amy dropped her head in her hands. “This is a nightmare. And we don’t even have one clue. This guy popped up out of nowhere.”
“Everybody has a history,” Dan said. He dug into his pocket. “And one of the security guards dropped this.” He held up a scrap of paper.
“It’s a ticket from the New Jersey Turnpike,” Amy said, examining it. “That doesn’t tell us much.”
“Well, we can place them on the road at a certain date and time,” Dan said. “Maybe Pierce was someplace south of New Jersey on that date, and we can go there and do some snooping.”
“Worth a try,” Amy said.
Nellie’s phone pinged as she unlocked the back door. “I hope that’s Pony,” she said.
“Did she say something about a pony?” Dan asked Amy as they shrugged out of their jackets.
“Our tech guy,” Nellie murmured as she read a text. “He’s getting back to me on my phone hacking. Pony is
“Did she say she has a
pony?” Dan asked. “Why are we the last to know?”
As Nellie punched in a number, Dan and Amy headed up the back stairs to the communications center. When they turned the computers on, a red alert flashed. At the same time they heard the sound of running feet and Nellie burst into the room.
“Shut down the system!” she shouted. “Go to Level Five!”
Quickly Dan ran through the keystrokes. The system was designed to shut down and reboot, as though there had been a power surge. But all the information on the hard drives would be wiped and replaced — names of Cahill contacts, addresses, safe houses — it would all be false, with enough nuggets of truth to fool even the wiliest hacker. Whoever breached the network wouldn’t know that the Cahills were onto them.
Nellie leaned over Dan’s shoulder as the screen went black, then immediately rebooted.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but Pony said to shut it down.”
Just then Amy’s phone buzzed, and she checked the number. She looked inquisitively at Dan. “It’s Mr. Smood,” she said, naming McIntyre’s law partner.
“It’s okay, you can talk on your phone, you just can’t use e-mail,” Nellie said.
“Amy, is that you?” The usual calm tones of Henry Smood were rattled. “I have some unsettling news for you. It appears that you are under federal investigation for embezzlement. They have a search warrant. You have to let them in, but don’t answer any questions until I get there. Not one, do you hear me?”
“We haven’t done anything wrong! We have nothing to hide.”
Mr. Smood cleared his throat. “Ah. And innocent people never go to jail.”
“Okay, I get your point,” Amy said. “We’ll keep our mouths shut.”
“All right, hold down the fort. I’m on my way.”
“But you just had surgery —”
“Checked myself out. I don’t need my appendix. But you need a lawyer.”
Amy heard the sharp click of the receiver. She’d never heard Mr. Smood sound so unnerved.
From up here, the knocking wasn’t very loud, but it was insistent.
Dan ran to the window. “They’re here,” he said.
The agents were polite but efficient. They swarmed over the house, paying particular attention to the command center. It was clear that they were both impressed with and suspicious of the complexity of the computer system. They unplugged and carried everything out.
Mr. Smood showed up and sat with Dan and Amy at the kitchen table while the agents carried files and computers out of the house. Nellie made tea and brought out the cinnamon rolls she’d made that morning. No one could eat.
A cold, hard rain began to fall. Finally, the agents left. Meanwhile, the presence of the black federal vehicles had inflamed the paparazzi. They had dared to climb over the stone wall and were set up on the lawn, busily filming and snapping photographs.
“We’re prisoners,” Amy said, watching behind a curtain as the photographers snapped photos of the agents carrying out boxes and equipment.
The federal agents got into their cars and drove away. Mr. Smood left, promising to get to the bottom of it. Soon even the die-hard paparazzi gave up and hurried to their cars. One by one, the cars drove away.
Amy picked at a roll, smashing the crumbs with her finger. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt so helpless. Without their computers, they couldn’t follow their slender lead.
Someone beat a rhythmic three knocks on the back door. They barely heard it over the rain. Cautiously, Nellie opened it.
A boy of about nineteen stumbled in, his ankle-length raincoat dripping rivers onto the kitchen floor. His hair was pulled back in a stringy ponytail, and his black-framed glasses were steamed. He looked like a cross between a drowned badger and the Loch Ness monster. He held out his arms like Frankenstein, blinded by his foggy glasses.
Nellie reached over and took off his glasses. She polished them on her shirt. “You must be Pony.”
“How’d you know?”
“I’m a genius,” she said, handing them back to him. “Come on, sit. I’ll get you a towel. This is Amy and Dan. Guys, this is Pony — our tech adviser.”
“I prefer digital cowboy,” Pony said.
“You two have never met?” Amy asked.
“Just online,” Pony said, shrugging. “I’m not an analog person.”
“Have a seat, pardner,” Nellie told him, tossing him several dish towels. As he wiped himself down, she turned back to Amy and Dan. “He set up our system and has been maintaining it ever since. And apparently, we have a problem.”
“Mondo problemo,” Pony said. His long, mournful face gave him the look of a hound dog, and when he licked his lips while looking at the cinnamon rolls, the resemblance was complete.
Amy pushed the plate toward him. “Help yourself.”
He grabbed a roll and finished it in two bites. “Okay. Your lossage is off the charts, but there is hope. I can build the system back — it’s just going to take time. Therefore I have brought to you” — he opened his raincoat, revealing a large inner pocket — “this baby,” he said, sliding out a small netbook. “It’s whistle-clean. And” — he reached inside the deep inner pocket again — “I programmed new smartphones. These are already encrypted, so you can send messages, but even I can’t guarantee complete safety, so don’t pass anything really crucial until I get a handle on who’s targeting you.” He popped another roll in his mouth. “Whoever the hacker dude is, he’s a stealth machine. Mega wattage. Along with these rolls, by the way.”
“What can you tell about him?” Nellie asked.
“He was able to invade a system designed by me. That narrows it down to maybe ten people on the planet.”
“Modest much?” Dan asked.
“Dude, there’s no modesty in hackery. Are you going to eat your roll?”
Dan pushed over the plate.
Pony stood with the roll halfway out of his mouth. “Now. Let me see the system.”
“You can’t. Federal agents just took it out an hour ago.”
“Oh, man. Seriously?” Pony crashed back into his chair. “This is so bletcherous!” He shuddered. “Okay, reboot . . . hand over your old phones. I might —
, I’m saying — be able to track the break-in through them. In my line of work, if you think something is impossible, it is. Until you decide it’s possible and you do it.”
Amy, Dan, and Nellie pushed over their phones. He dumped them in his inside pocket. Then he dumped the rest of the rolls into his outside pocket and stood. “Adios, amigos,” he said. He tromped to the door, opened it, and disappeared into the black rain.
Dan stared after Pony. “Our fate is in the hands of that guy?”
“He’s off-the-charts smart,” Nellie said, but even she sounded uncertain.
Amy sat, thinking hard. “If you
something is impossible, it is,” she said. “Until you decide it’s possible. Then it’s possible. Isn’t that what he just said?”
“Sounded like it,” Dan said. “If you add half a cinnamon roll to it.”
The sense of unease that had been gnawing at her suddenly grew into sheer horror. Information flashed. Connections clicked. One
connection after another.
“Amy?” Nellie touched her arm. “Are you okay? You look like you’re going to faint.” She stood up and put her hand on Amy’s neck. “Put your head between your knees. Breathe, kiddo.”
“No.” Amy’s voice was muffled because her head was now between her knees. The terrible truth was staring her in the face. Something she didn’t even want to glimpse, let alone confront.
She shook off Nellie’s hand and stood. “It can’t be!” she said. “It just can’t be, but . . .” Her voice trailed off. “. . . I think he did it. Somehow . . .”
“What?” Dan asked. “You’re freaking us out, dude.”
Amy took a deep breath and faced them.
“Pierce has taken the serum!”