Authors: Jude Watson
Finally, they spilled out onto a dark, empty street. Amy almost sobbed with disappointment. There was no one around. The stores were closed, the metal gates locked.
A car cruised through a red light and turned down the street. One of the men vaulted the stone wall. Nellie ran into the middle of the street as the car zoomed toward her. She did not move. She closed her eyes.
With a squeal of brakes, it stopped only inches from her.
A head popped out of the window. Amy couldn’t hear the words, but she got the general sense of outrage, alarm, and irritation. She and Dan ran toward the car as Nellie slid onto the hood and crossed her arms.
“Are you crazy, lady?” The African-American man was white-haired and angry. “I’m on my way to work! Don’t give me a hard time now.”
“I just need a ride,” Nellie said. “Me and my friends.”
“Do I look like a
The two men were now on the sidewalk, watching. Amy knew it wouldn’t take long before they would make a decision. With the same chilling neutrality, they could kill the man in the car, too.
She ran over, already reaching for the cash in her belt. She handed the man a hundred-dollar bill. “Here’s your fare.”
He stared at it. “I think I just started a business. Ernie’s Car Service. Get in.”
They hopped in the backseat and Ernie took off. It took whole minutes for their heartbeats to slow.
“Nice rescue,” Dan said. “How’d you get that truck?”
“They shouldn’t have stopped for coffee,” Nellie said, and winked.
Ernie was heading to his job at a downtown bakery, and he obligingly dropped them off on the Upper West Side.
Nellie had contacted Fiske from the car, and to her great relief a black late-model car was waiting at the corner of Broadway and 110th. They stood for a minute, shivering in the suddenly cold wind. A pattering of rain hit the streets.
“Here we go, kiddos,” Nellie said. “After tonight, I think you’ll be safer in Ireland.”
“There’s one thing,” Amy said. “Those goons — do you think there was something crazy about how strong they were?”
“What do you mean?” Nellie asked.
“One of them ripped the chain link from the door with one hand,” Amy said. “And the way they ran . . . how fast they caught up to us.”
“They never broke a sweat,” Dan said. “And you’d just hit them with a car.”
“Do you think . . .” Nellie left the sentence unfinished.
“I don’t know,” Amy said. “Could Pierce have used Sammy’s experiments to give his guards a boost?”
“I think he’s capable of anything,” Nellie said. “We saw that tonight.”
“That means we’re up against a bunch of serum-boosted guys?” Dan asked.
Nellie felt hopelessness suddenly engulf them, as relentless as the rain sweeping up Broadway.
“We’ll beat them,” Amy said. “We’ll beat them because we have to.”
Nellie smiled. Leave it to Amy to sum it up. Simple and clear.
Nellie wanted to burst out crying. She wanted to tell them how proud she was of them.
Instead, she had to let them go on alone.
“The car will take you to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey,” she told them. “There’s a private jet waiting there under the name Swift. When you land in Dublin, someone on that end will meet you.” She hugged them both. “Good luck, kiddos. Remember — minimal contact from now on, but always let me know where you are. Keep a low profile. As soon as Pony gets the system back up, we’ll figure this all out. And we’ll beat them.”
“Because we have to,” the three of them said.
Nellie ran across deserted Broadway against the light. She hadn’t wanted Amy and Dan to know where she was going, because they would have insisted on coming, too. Tonight it had been brutally brought home to her that Pierce would stop at nothing to get at anyone with access to the serum. He was willing to throw two kids off a bridge —
They’d survived, but the terror they’d felt tonight would haunt them. Nellie touched her shoulder. The scar from the gunshot wound was still red. She’d been a hostage. She knew about nightmares.
There was one more target. One that had occurred to her in Ernie’s car. The only other person who knew the serum formula.
They never should have left Sammy alone.
Sammy had mentioned that he was going to pull an all-nighter. With any luck, he’d still be there, safe and sound and all nerdy and adorable in his lab. Nellie tried to text and run at the same time as she headed toward the chemistry building.
ARE YOU STILL THERE
SAMMY IT’S NELLIE
When she reached the chemistry building, the security guard wouldn’t let her up and wouldn’t confirm if Sammy had left.
“But I was just here!” Nellie protested. “I brought him a pizza.”
A young man was signing out as she was talking. “Are you a friend of Sammy’s? I’m his roommate, Josh.”
“Yes! Is he still here?”
“He left about a half hour ago,” Josh said. “There was some kind of family emergency. They called up for Sammy — his uncle was here.”
Nellie shifted her feet. “His uncle?”
“Yeah. I was worried, so after a minute I came down after him. I saw him standing with a couple of guys by the curb. They were talking to him, and then suddenly he just kind of collapsed. It must have been seriously bad news. They helped him into the car. Jeez, I hope his family is okay. I’ve been texting him, but he hasn’t answered.”
Nellie swallowed against the ball of fear in her throat. “Did you notice anything about the car?”
“It was a black SUV. I don’t know what the make was. I don’t pay attention to cars.”
“Anything at all . . .”
Nellie shook her head, confused.
“The license plate said ‘the first state.’ I noticed that because I didn’t know there
a first state. Hey, if you track him down, will you tell him to give me a buzz?”
Nellie thanked him and walked a few feet away. She whipped out her phone and activated her search engine. She typed in
Delaware was the first state to ratify the US Constitution. “First state” was on its license plate.
“Delaware,” Nellie muttered. “That really narrows it down.”
They arrived in Dublin in a hard rain. All they saw was a curtain of gray. They made it through customs quickly and walked into the lounge. A young man with a dark wool cap pulled down to his eyebrows stood.
“Sarah and Jack Swift?” he asked in a thick Irish brogue. At Amy’s nod, he added, “Guess you landed at last.”
Amy and Dan looked at him, confused. Their plane had been early.
“The birds,” he said. “Swifts. Legend is that they spend their lives in the air and never land. Ach, never mind. Welcome to Ireland. I’m Declan. Follow me.”
They followed him out to a parking lot, where a battered truck waited.
“This is some rain,” Dan said.
“We call it a little mist here.” Declan climbed behind the steering wheel. “You can sit in the back, there’s a blanket there — heating’s not the best in this heap. It’s a long drive. There are sandwiches and a thermos of tea in the basket for your dinner. We won’t be stopping.”
“All right,” Amy said. “What’s the name of the town?”
“Meenalappa. Don’t get excited, there’s not much to it.”
“How many hours is the drive?”
“As many as it takes, I’d guess.”
Declan turned on the engine and drove. Soon they were on a highway, and Amy and Dan lost track of where they were going or why as the numbing monotony of a drive in the rain took over.
Amy had fallen into an exhausted sleep on the plane, and now she was wide awake. She wished she could fall into that dark oblivion again. Because for the first time since she’d stood over an open grave only twenty-four hours ago, she had time to think about the last time she saw Jake.
She and Dan and Fiske had flown to Rome for New Year’s. Somehow, away from Attleboro, away from all those reminders of Evan and what she’d lost, Amy had felt herself come back to life again. She still remembered the New Year’s Eve dinner that Jake had cooked for all of them. Atticus had woven tiny fairy lights all over the dark, somber apartment until it glowed with cheer. She remembered the sudden, surprising snowfall that began as they ate their dessert, and how Jake had grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s walk.” That midnight walk through the snow had given her a glimpse of a new life, a new way of being. An Amy who wasn’t tortured by memory and crushed by guilt.
She stared out at the cold gray rain, wondering how a memory that had once given her hope could hurt her heart so much.
She had sent a text to Jake as she waited on the runway in New Jersey.
HAVE TO GO AWAY FOR A WHILE. NO INTERNET. I WILL BE IN TOUCH.
She had added I LOVE YOU and taken it out. How could she sign off that way, when she could be going away for a long time? How dare she use the word
when she never knew, from one day to the next, what her life would be? She was midair, like a swift, never able to land.
Darkness fell, and the sound of rain drumming on the roof lulled them into a doze. When they woke they were off the highway and driving on a series of small lanes. They could smell the sea. Declan drove faster than Amy would like, since she couldn’t see beyond the headlights. But he seemed to know every twist and curve.
The car climbed a small rise and then made an abrupt turn into what seemed to be a row of bushes. The opening was barely wide enough for the car.
Through the rain they glimpsed a whitewashed cottage, long and low. Declan pulled up and cut the engine. Without a word, he slid out of the front seat and clomped away.
“Are we supposed to follow him?” Dan asked.
“I guess so.”
They headed out into the rain. Declan had swung open the front door, and he turned and handed Amy a key.
“My sister came out earlier and put on the heat and stocked the cupboards. There’s everything you need inside. Bicycles in the garage. It’s about a fifteen-minute ride to the village.”
He headed back toward the car.
“Which way?” Amy called after him.
He gestured, but it was hard through the rain to see if he meant left or right. He hopped back into the car and drove out.
“Ah, it’s that legendary Irish charm I’ve heard so much about,” said Dan.
They walked inside. Declan had switched on the lamps, and the room looked bright and welcoming. There was a small fireplace with two plump sofas in front of it. Amy peeked into the next room, a large kitchen with another fireplace. The back staircase led to the bedrooms, all made up with fresh linens. Laid out on the sinks were new toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soaps.
The rain lashed the dark panes. They didn’t know where they were, or why they were here, or what they would do the next day. They were too exhausted to care. They slipped into sheets that smelled softly of lavender and reminded them of Grace, finally feeling safe enough to sleep.
When Amy awoke, the sky was blue outside her window. She peeked into Dan’s room but the bed was empty. She glanced out the back window. A sloping lawn behind the cottage led to a dock with a motorboat tied to the piling. The inlet snaked out toward a misty blue bay.
Dan stood on the lawn, his back to her. He was dressed but barefoot, the wind ruffling his hair.
She started to turn away, but stopped. There was something so . . . solitary and sad about the scene. Something about his posture, the way his hands hung at his sides, told her that he was hurting.
She shoved her feet inside her sneakers, went down the back stairs, and pushed open the kitchen door. The scent of fresh meadow and salty sea hit her nostrils as she climbed a rise to stand next to Dan.
“Did you notice that the house is in a hollow?” Dan asked without turning to greet her. “And it’s invisible from the road. We have three exit points — the road, the sea, and across the field. This is Grace’s safe house.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” And it hurt to see that her little brother had figured it out. He should be pitching baseballs, not noticing escape routes.
Dan stared with a fierce gaze at the inlet. His chin trembled. “I let go,” he said. “On the bridge. I had you, and I let go.”
me,” Amy said quietly. “You caught me as I went over. And you held on while some goon was
“Amy . . .” Dan turned to her. His face was anguished. “I felt you
I had you, and then I couldn’t hold on. I couldn’t hold on! I thought you were dead!”
me!” Amy cried. “You saved my life! And I’m here, Dan. I’m right here because of
“I’m the reason we had to run away,” he said. “I was so stupid! I got us into this mess. I’m the reason Pierce has the serum. Now he’s trying to kill us, and we probably have the FBI looking for us, too. I just messed up everywhere, big-time. I never get it right.”
“You get it right plenty of the time,” Amy said. “Maybe not
the time. But nobody does. Especially not me.”
“I’ll follow this through,” Dan said. “I have to — I started it. We’ll stop J. Rutherford Pierce together. But after that, I’m out.”
“What do you mean, out?” Amy asked, startled.
Dan took a breath. “I don’t want you to think this is one of my crazy impulsive decisions. I mean it. I don’t want to be a Cahill anymore.”
“You can’t just . . . resign!”
“Fiske did. He left. He renounced the family. He disappeared, traveled all over the world. . . .”
“Fiske was an
when he did that! You’re only thirteen!” Amy shook her head. “Look, Dan. We’ve both felt like quitting plenty of times — we’ve scraped the very bottom. And we’ve always found a way to go on.”
Dan’s mouth was twisted with the effort not to cry. “This is
“It’s always different,” Amy said soothingly. “But then we —”
“NO!” Dan shouted the word, and Amy’s mouth snapped shut.
“No,” he said, more quietly, and that stillness frightened her more than his outburst. “I haven’t figured it all out yet. But I’ve been through enough. I’ve
enough to know this: I don’t want to be a Cahill anymore. I don’t want to live in Attleboro. I don’t want any of it.”
Amy felt his words like a knife in her heart. “You want to . . . leave me?”
“Of course not!” Dan slammed his hand against his leg in frustration. “I just . . . can’t . . . live like this anymore. Maybe I can live with Nellie somewhere . . . for a while. Maybe Fiske will take off again and I can go with him. Not forever. You can keep training, and keep the Cahill network going, and keep staying alert for the next bad guy to come along. Because there’ll always
another one. But I don’t want to. I . . .
!” The word was torn out of his throat. She saw his shoulders shaking. He held his head in both hands. “You don’t know what it’s like,” he whispered. “To have the serum
in your head
Amy opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Of course she didn’t know. Couldn’t know. What was she supposed to do? Yell at Dan? Plead with him? Tell him that he was abandoning her? When obviously this was the hardest decision he’d ever made?
Wasn’t this what she wanted for him? Safety? A little bit of normal? No matter how much it cost her. No matter how much it hurt.
“Okay,” she said. “We’ll work it out. I won’t stand in your way.”
“You’ll still be my sister. That won’t change.”
They were silent for a while, listening to the wind in the grass. Amy felt turned inside out by Dan’s pain. Her brother looked so young at that moment, standing in the grass barefoot, with his messy bed head. But his eyes looked older. Older than a thirteen-year-old’s should look.
If he had to let go of her to have a normal life, the right thing, the brave thing, would be to let him go. But could she?
Clouds had covered the sun, and the inlet was now iron gray with flecks of white. Amy shivered.
If she let Dan go, she’d be alone.
After a hasty breakfast, they wheeled the bicycles out of the garage and headed for the lane.
“Left, or right?” Amy asked.
“I think I remember seeing the headlights turn right last night,” Dan said.
“And it’s downhill,” Amy said. “Let’s try it.”