Authors: Jude Watson
The Callender Institute was on the Upper East Side of Manhattan near the river, in a quiet neighborhood of town houses and amber streetlamps. It was like going back in time. Nellie cruised by, looking for a parking space, but couldn’t find one. Finally, she pulled into a driveway, right in front of a
DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT PARKING HERE
“I bet James Bond never worries about parking,” she said.
They walked into the institute. It was set up like a private home, with thick multicolored carpets on the polished wood floors and seascapes on the walls. Shaded lamps discreetly lit a polished mahogany desk, behind which sat an older woman in a navy dress.
“We’d like to see our uncle, Fiske Cahill,” Amy said.
“As you know, we don’t have visiting hours per se at the institute,” the woman said politely. “But we don’t allow visitors after ten o’clock.”
“It’s very important that we see him,” Nellie said. “And we know he’s a night owl.”
The woman smiled at them in a patronizing way. “I’m sure whatever you have to tell your uncle can wait until morning.”
“Actually, it can’t,” Dan said. He threw a
we don’t have time for this
look at Amy and simply walked by the woman. Amy followed.
The woman reached for the phone. Nellie put her hand over it, preventing her from picking it up.
“I’d think very carefully about that,” she said sweetly. “You have a choice here. You can seriously jeopardize the plans for the Grace Cahill wing that is scheduled to open in two years. Or you can look the other way for exactly five minutes.”
They locked eyes. “I think I’ll read my magazine,” the woman said.
“That’s just what I was thinking,” Nellie said. With a flourish, she sat on a tufted armchair to wait.
“There is a Madrigal archive,” Fiske said. “But I’ve never met Sammy Mourad. And I’ve never been to the Columbia campus.”
They had found their great-uncle reading in bed in a pool of soft yellow lamplight, his glasses pushed down on his nose. He had frowned deeply while they told him their story, and Amy had been shocked at how much older he looked. His skin was sallow and pale, and the lines around his mouth looked deeper.
Fiske had always been wiry and strong, but after undergoing physical therapy for a bad hip, he had grown weaker over the fall. Then winter had brought robust health. They’d uncrossed their fingers when he returned to his tae kwon do classes and began to paint and cook again. But then he had fallen ill again in March. Now he looked old and tired. Amy felt fear clutch at her heart. She placed her hand over his where it rested on the blanket.
“Are you feeling okay, Uncle Fiske?” Amy asked.
“Just fine.” His smile was reassuring, but Amy noticed how his hand trembled as he picked up his water glass. “Dr. Callendar says the physical therapy has been very beneficial. I think I’ll be home next week.” He took a sip of water. “We need to get to the bottom of this. We should inform all the Madrigals, call in a team. . . .”
Amy shook her head. “Not yet.”
“If not now, when?” Fiske frowned at her. “You think this person has taken the serum. This could have dire consequences for the
, Amy. Not to mention that you and Dan are now a target.”
Amy looked at him, surprised. He held up a hand. “Yes, Nellie told me. As she should have. Don’t treat me like an invalid. If what Sammy said is true, that means that Pierce could be taking a daily, weaker dose of the serum, but it has a cumulative effect. Every day, he gets stronger. We have to find a way to get the serum back . . .
without anyone knowing what it is and what it means.
This is the worst thing that could have happened.”
Dan faded back in the room, his face in shadow. Fiske glanced over at him.
“And it’s nobody’s fault,” he said firmly. “Not Sammy’s, not Dan’s, not anybody’s. We have a very clever adversary.
We must stop J. Rutherford Pierce.
“We won’t be able to stop him unless we find out more about him,” Amy said. “If we surround ourselves with people, they’ll just become targets, too. Right now he only knows me and Dan, and he wants to stop us.”
Fiske looked at Amy over his eyeglasses. “He wants to
“That’s our risk to take,” Amy said. “I can’t ask others to sacrifice their safety. Not after . . . after . . .” Her voice thickened, and she stopped.
Fiske looked down at Amy’s hand on his arm. There was a long silence.
“Amy,” he said with great gentleness, “it is a source of terrible sorrow to me, as it was to your grandmother, that you were thrust into all this. If I could go back and give you and Dan a normal life, if I could give my
life for that, I would. But you are what you are. You are a Cahill, the
of the Cahills. And you will not achieve peace with that until you understand something.” He squeezed her hand and looked at her hard. “This is your life now. You can do your best, but you cannot protect everyone you love. You are not responsible for all the lives around you. You are only responsible for your own right action.”
to protect them,” Amy said. “As head of the family, I
“To the best of your power, yes. But that doesn’t mean excluding them from helping you!”
Amy set her jaw stubbornly. “Not yet,” she said.
Dan’s gaze went back and forth between Fiske and Amy, the battle of two strong wills.
“All right,” Fiske said. “Then you have to leave the country. Tonight.”
“What?” Dan asked. “That seems extreme.”
“No. It’s the only way.” Fiske sat up straighter. “There’s something I’ve been waiting to tell you. Mr. McIntyre had a will.”
“I know,” Amy said. “He left everything to Henry Smood.”
“Not everything. Grace left him a house in Ireland. She wanted him to keep it ready for you. It’s called Bhaile Anois, and now it’s yours. That’s where you must go.”
Amy frowned. “How can we fight Pierce if we’re in Ireland?”
“You don’t know what you’re fighting yet,” Fiske said urgently. “You need time to dig, investigate . . . plan. The computer system is down. You can’t do much here anyway. And you must trust Grace. Her instructions were very clear. When you had nowhere else to turn, you had to go there.”
Fiske interrupted Amy’s objection. For a moment he looked like the old Fiske — fierce, powerful, ready to spring. “As soon as we’re sure the system is bug-free, you’ll get back on the network. You can do it just as easily from Ireland as you can from Attleboro.”
Amy nodded slowly. She had to admit that was true.
Fiske leaned forward. “I’m glad you agree. There’s a private plane waiting for you at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.”
Slowly, Amy smiled. “As usual, you’re way ahead of me.”
“Just one small step.”
“But what about you?” Dan asked, moving forward out of the shadow. “We don’t want to leave you here.”
“This is the safest place I can be,” Fiske said. “This is a world-renowned medical facility. Anyway, nobody’s after me. They’re after you.” He turned to Amy. “Dan is the only one now who knows the serum formula. And where Dan is, you are.”
Amy and Dan exchanged a glance. “All right,” she said. “We hate to leave you. . . .”
“We’ll be together again,” Fiske promised. “Until then, stay safe.”
When they reached the reception room, Nellie had gone. The woman in the navy dress looked up.
“She ran out,” she said with an air of satisfaction. “I think you’re being towed.”
Amy and Dan pushed through the front door. Nellie was running down the street after a tow truck.
“Nellie!” Dan called.
But his voice was drowned out as a black car squealed to a stop at the curb. Two men got out. One of them flashed a badge.
“Federal agents. You’re under arrest.”
They didn’t have much time to think. Nellie had dashed around the corner after the tow truck.
If we go with them, Mr. Smood can get us out in a matter of hours
, Amy thought.
If we fight, we’ll get locked up.
Even as she thought this, the agents were hustling them into the backseat of the black car. Amy slid over to make way for Dan.
The two agents sat in the front of the car. Amy looked at the door. There were no door handles. The car took off.
“What’s the charge?” Amy asked.
There was no answer.
She leaned forward. “Can I call my attorney?”
She took out her phone. No service.
“There must be a blocking device in the car,” Dan whispered.
Where would they be going?
Amy wondered. Most of the federal offices were downtown. But to her surprise they drove west through Central Park and then turned north toward the Bronx.
She and Dan exchanged glances. Something didn’t feel right.
Amsterdam Avenue was quiet. It was past one in the morning now. Some people were on the streets, walking quickly, shoulders hunched against the chill. A group of young men exited a bar, laughing loudly. A shopkeeper walked out and straightened the stacks of papers outside his market. It seemed so strange to see street life go on when they were traveling . . . where? Amy felt the door with her fingers, searching for a latch, or a way to open the window. There was nothing.
The car moved through unfamiliar streets, making several turns. Now it cruised alongside an overgrown park. Amy glimpsed a tower in the distance. The area was deserted. Amy’s blood turned cold. It seemed incredible that they were still in Manhattan, and there wasn’t a soul around.
“I say, as soon as they open the door, we run for it,” Dan murmured.
The car pulled over and stopped. Amy’s heart was now hammering so hard against her ribs it hurt. She held on to the car seat, ready to spring. The two agents in the front got out.
Both doors opened simultaneously. They had no chance to run. They were grabbed roughly and pulled from the car. Amy’s arms were pinned next to her sides and her wrists held together behind her back.
They were forced to march on a wide pedestrian walkway bordered by shrubs. They passed through a brick plaza and she saw a towering arched bridge off to her right. It was high and graceful, half steel, half stone. There were no car lights on it. It spanned the river and the highway.
She was marched through the park. The grip on her wrists was so tight she could almost feel the slender bones crunch. She could hear Dan’s breathing behind her.
She still hadn’t seen their faces. But as they passed under a streetlight, she caught sight of the agent’s profile.
It was the smiling man from the cemetery.
Fear chilled her. Though she kept her head level, her eyes darted around, searching for an escape. The narrow path was surrounded by steep slopes tangled with brush. She strained her ears, but all she heard was a faint hum of traffic from far away.
They were shoved roughly down a steep stairway. The tower loomed above. Through the gloom she was just able to make out a sign.
Amy felt sweat dampen the small of her back. She was suddenly aware of everything — the coolness of the breeze, the shape of the leaves, the heavy sound of her guard’s footsteps. She tried to think of a way to get away, but the grip was merciless and she couldn’t leave Dan. He was being pulled so fast his feet dragged on the pavement. Her throat closed up. Her guard pushed her roughly forward.
The path turned, and she saw the bridge like a strange apparition. Half a steel span, half stone arches, it rose hundreds of feet above the Harlem River and the highways next to it. She knew that was where they were heading.
Two massive black metal doors guarded the bridge. They were splashed with graffiti and padlocked together, a heavy chain looped through the handles. The sign read
. She felt a momentary relief, but it ended when her guard used his other hand to rip the chain from the door. She didn’t have time to register the shock of that before she was pushed through and onto the bridge.
She heard the doors clang shut behind her. Pushing and pulling them now, the men forced them forward.
Under other circumstances, she would have noted that the view was breathtaking. The lights of Manhattan were tossed across the velvet night. The highways were ribbons of light.
“You’ve got a choice.” The voice was low at her ear. After all that exertion, he wasn’t even breathing hard. “You can go over and land in the river, or the highway. The river is gonna feel like concrete anyway.”
The other one snorted a laugh. He was short and muscular, with a blond buzz cut. “You see how nice we are? We’re letting you choose.”
She saw Dan’s chin shaking. Then he gritted his teeth. “A couple of choirboys,” he forced out.
Amy wanted so badly to reach out to him, grip his hand.
“Yeah, squirt,” the shorter man holding Dan said. “And you’re a couple of daredevils, horsing around on the bridge. I can see the headline now.”
“Choose, or we’ll choose for you.” The man holding her wrists grinned. Amy saw the flash of perfect white teeth. She saw him up close, the texture of his pores, the shape of his eyebrows, his ears. He was someone she wouldn’t look twice at on the street. Someone in line for coffee, or waiting for a bus, or taking his dog for a walk. What kind of a person, she thought, would throw two children off a bridge like it was all in a day’s work?
They dragged them to the railing. The river was a dark oily channel. The streak of car lights on the road, the lights of the low buildings, the faint sound of a car horn — Amy heard it all with the same strange clarity. Her teeth were chattering. She looked straight up at the luminous sky.
“River,” she said.
They released their wrists. She grabbed Dan’s hand at last. She felt the texture of his skin, his slight fingers. The feel of them made tears sting her eyes. Her baby brother. She couldn’t save him, couldn’t protect him. . . . She had spent months and months running, training, lifting weights, and studying martial arts. And here they were, on this high bridge, with nowhere to turn. They wouldn’t jump without a fight, but she knew they’d lose. They’d be thrown off if they didn’t jump. She’d rather be thrown. She’d rather go down fighting.
The railing was only waist-high. She felt Dan’s hand, tight in hers. She knew he was waiting for her signal.
“C’mon, kiddies, we don’t have all day. Climb over the fence.”
The metal railing was wet and cold. Amy curved her fingers around it. She put her hand over Dan’s. Ears straining, she thought she heard the noise of a car. But it was coming from the direction of the pedestrian walkway.
“Get going!” the man behind her barked. He put his hands on her waist and pushed her roughly up. Amy felt her balance wobble as she hung on to the railing. Panic roared through her as she started to tip over into space.
“Amy!” Dan screamed.
The man tried to tear her hands away from the rail. She didn’t have time to turn and fight, and her balance was off. She couldn’t breathe as he squeezed her around the waist as she kicked, trying to push off the metal railing and send him off balance. It was like trying to unbalance a mountain.
The car engine noise turned from distant to near, and suddenly headlights raked across the bridge. A truck was barreling toward them. A tow truck with a yellow Jeep wheeling crazily behind it.
She had barely registered her shock when she was suddenly flipped over the railing. Amy screamed as the dark river rose up below her. She heard Dan screaming, the squeal of brakes. . . .
And someone had her by the ankle.
Dan’s face, looking down at her, his mouth open, his eyes wild with terror. He had both hands wrapped around her ankle while the goon behind him had his arm wrapped around Dan’s neck. Dan’s face was purple.
Screaming, Amy swung in midair.
The black river so far below. Glints of reflected red on its surface. Her own heartbeat in her ears, roaring. . . .
Dan’s grip loosened. He was losing air, losing her, she was losing, they were losing. . . .
The steel arch of the bridge, if she could just . . . manage . . . to grab that pipe that looped around the railing . . . Dan’s grip loosened again, and she screamed as the river rushed up, but the momentum caused her to swing just a bit.
One . . . more . . . chance . . .
She had taken several classes in trapeze — a birthday gift from Fiske — and her muscle memory told her what to do: use the swing, get that arm extended, fingers straight out, ready to grab —
The noise of screeching metal assaulted her ears, blocking out the sound of her quick, hard breathing and the faint noise of traffic. Her fingers hit the pipe just as Dan let go and she was able to hold tight. The force of her body falling almost jerked her hand off the pipe, but she held on. She was now swinging above the river, holding on with only one hand. Her arm felt as though it was being ripped out of its socket.
Terror shimmered out through her fingers. She brought her other arm up and grabbed the pipe. She would not waste her energy and give in to the scream in her throat. She bit her lip and lifted her weight up, her arm muscles shaking with the effort.
She landed over the pipe on her stomach and was able to take one shuddering breath before sliding, inch by agonizing inch, closer to the bridge. Her hands smacked against the ledge and she allowed herself one sob of relief as she pulled herself up to the top of the railing.
As she yanked herself up, she saw the fishtailing Jeep hit both men. They went flying. Even from here, she heard the crack of skull against pavement.
Dan’s hands were underneath her armpits, dragging her over, and that was a good thing, because now her legs weren’t working. Dan’s body shuddered with sobs. Together they toppled onto the walkway. His tears mixed with the sweat on her face.
“I let you go! I thought you fell!”
“No . . . I made it. I made it.” Amy tasted blood in her mouth and realized she’d bitten through the skin on her lip. Over Dan’s shoulder she saw the tow truck parked at a crazy angle. One of the men was struggling to his knees, shaking his head to clear it. Nellie’s head stuck out.
“GET IN!” she screamed.
Dan pulled Amy to her feet, and they ran. Nellie flung open the door and they jumped into the cab of the truck. She floored it.
“What’s at the end of this bridge?” she shouted.
“I don’t know!” Amy yelled. “But it’s probably the same kind of metal doors as the other side. They have a chain and a padlock!”
“Not tonight they don’t. This baby is built like a tank. Buckle up and hang on!”
They were screaming down the bridge now, the speedometer needle rising higher. The two black metal doors loomed ahead. Amy knew they were firmly locked, and that they were padlocked on the other side with a thick metal chain.
“Hang on!” The truck hit the gate with a crash and Nellie kept her foot on the gas. The jolt sent them all flying forward, straining against their seat belts.
The truck didn’t crash through. Metal screamed as it only slammed the two doors open a few feet apart. They were wedged halfway through, trapped between them. The chain kept the two doors linked.
Nellie stared ahead. “Well. That
worked.” She glanced behind. “And we’re about to have company.”
Amy twisted and looked back. The two men were racing down the bridge toward them.
“Climb out the windows and over the hood,” Nellie ordered.
Nellie wriggled out her open window, squeezed through the opening between the truck and the metal doors, and yelled, “Tomorrow, I’m going on a diet!” as she scrambled onto the hood. Amy and Dan followed. They slid down the hood and jumped off, now safe on the pavement and facing a dark, hilly park. With a quick glance behind, they saw the men leap onto the back of the tow truck and clamber over the top.
“Run,” Nellie ordered unnecessarily.
The path twisted steeply uphill. They pounded up a set of stone stairs. Winded, they paused at the top, and saw below the two men still racing down their path, their legs as powerful and regular as pistons in an engine. They started to run again, streaking through the pathways. If they kept going up, they hoped to reach a road eventually. Amy felt her breath hot and rasping in her chest. Her lungs were giving out. The fight to get back on the bridge had taken most of her strength.