"It's gone!" I exclaim, raking my hands through my hair. "My CAA ceremony uniform is gone from my room. I had my fitting for it only a few days ago and now it's gone and somehow it found its way into Genevieve's present."
"Honey," my mom sighs over the phone. "Maybe someone thought it would be a funny joke to give your best friend something of yours for her birthday and didn't know what it was."
"What kind of kid sneaks into the hostess's room and steals some clothes to wrap up and give to the birthday girl? That's messed up and totally would never happen. Mom, someone is trying to expose me."
"Who would want to do that?"
R. R would. Whoever this R person is, he or she wants to expose me, scare me, make me feel guilty, or threaten me.
But I do not dare say any of that to my mother. "I don't know, I just know something is wrong. Why would Genevieve get that present if someone wasn't trying to expose me."
My mom is silent for a short time. Then she takes a deep breath. "We can get you a new suit. I think..." she hesitates and my heart drops. "I think it might be time for you to come and live permanently at headquarters."
"No." I answer automatically. "I am going to graduate - I have to. And wouldn't it look suspicious if I left right after a boy was murdered?"
Mom sighs again. She sounds exhausted and suddenly I wish I had not told her this. "Honey, this is the perfect opportunity to leave. A boy just died so everyone will assume we moved to protect you."
"No, mom. I won't go."
"You are going to need to say goodbye eventually, Esmera."
I want to throw my phone at the wall. No way is she taking me away yet. "I am not emotionally prepared yet. I thought I still had five more months."
I hear my dad's voice mumbling in the background and then my mom's muffled voice answers. After a short conversation, mom returns to talking to me. "Alright, you will graduate at the school but as soon as graduation is over, you are coming straight here."
"Thank you." I say before hanging up the phone. I fall sideways onto my bed and groan loudly. I still refuse to allow myself to think about Coleman much, and I force myself not to think about Gage. His killer is still out there, but there is noway for me to know who he is now.
I grab my backpack from beside my door and glance in the mirror on my way out. I pause, frowning, noticing a circular mark in the middle of my back, just visible above the deep back of my shirt. I remember the pain that had been there before - the burning pain that had slowly diminished until I didn't feel it anymore. Now, I realize that there is a mark there; a circular mark that resembles the cigarette burn scars I sometimes see on victims.
A lesson from my father comes to mind. When an agent kills an innocent person, or someone they were not ordered to kill, they get a scar as a punishment.
Well then. I sigh, slipping my shirt off and exchanging it for a different one. The first of many, I guess. After all, assassins do as they are told without question.
Once at the school, we crowd into the gym for the assembly that will take place so that everyone gets their new school schedules and we get to our classes on time. Reid is in my home room. He has every other class with Esmera.
“Smart people,” I grumble, looking at the two schedules side by side. “You two are in all the AP classes. The only one I have with both of you together is gym.” My eyes scan Esmera’s page again. She and I have study hall together right after lunch.
Esmera grins at her boyfriend. “I hope you like competition,” she giggles. “You’ll be in for a treat.”
Reid’s eyebrows rise. “I was top of my class all through my schooling. What’s another year here?”
Having come from England, Reid is technically graduated already and he is re-learning things here. Why he bothered to come to the second semester of our last year here, I do not know. I frown at him. “Why bother coming?”
He shrugs. “Always good to expand your horizons.”
Principal Garcon calls the room to attention. There is no more talk until after the assembly, and by the time we are dismissed, Reid is already out the door with Esmera in tow as they head to AP English.
"Wow," someone croons behind me. I turn to see Claire and her bitches watching my friends walk away. "Not even an hour into the second semester and the new kid already has a girlfriend."
"He's so hot," Emma sighs. "And his accent just makes him hotter."
"British is so hot on guys," Harper agrees.
"But not on girls," Claire says, pointedly glancing at me. "It's just annoying on a girl."
"You know what else isn't hot?" I say casually, stepping right into the lead bitch's face. "A bad personality." I whirl quickly away, smacking her in the face with my red curls and stalk away feeling proud of myself.
Almost as soon as I arrive home from school, my father calls me into the study. “Ried,” he barks, “get your agent gear on and grab the heavy tranqs. You have a big one to take down before the CAA does. Your instructions-”
“No,” I interrupt.
My father’s eyebrows rise. “No?”
I cross my arms. “I won’t sabotage for you anymore. I don’t like doing it and I don’t appreciate it.” After seeing the way Esmera reacted to seeing the CAA uniform in Genevieve's present, I realized there was no way I could continue sabotaging her family's company.
“It’s because of that girl, isn’t it?” He snaps. “The one I've heard you talking to on the phone. You have your heart set on a girl and she's distracting you.”
I shrug. “So what if that's true? Esmera is a wonderful girl and I like her.”
“Esmera?” I realise belatedly that he hadn’t known her name until this second. “Esmera McKain? You’re in cahoots with their daughter?”
I bite my lip and hesitate for a moment. Well you’re already in this deep… “Yes.”
His roar of outrage nearly shakes the windows out of the walls. “You realize that you have betrayed the BAA? You’ve betrayed me?” His fist comes down on the desk in front of him. “I ordered you to compete with her, not fall in love with her!”
“Wait,” my jaw drops. “She is the one I have been beating for the past month?”
My father stares at me as though I am the stupidest person in the world. “I thought you would have figured that out by now.”
I shake my head. Suddenly I have to lean against the door frame for support. “She can’t be a… You’re lying.”
My father shakes his head. “Don't be naive, Reid. Does it really surprise you that the daughter of the CAA leaders is an Assassin? You two have been competing to kill since your first mission. I never once sent you to sabotage anyone but her.”
I am speechless.
My father moves around the desk and put his hands on my shoulders. “No girl is worth this. You are fraternizing with the enemy. Forget about who she is and go beat her to the target.” He reaches into my pocket and retrieves my phone. “Call her right now and tell her you two are finished. Get rid of the distractions and-”
"No!" I cry, flinching from the phone as though it burned me.
"Reid," Father roars. "If you do not end things now, you'll get in so deep that I'll have to take restrictive measures. You'll stop going to that school and you will not be seeing her again. I'll send an agent to-"
"Stop," I cry, defeated. I know my father will not stop until he has ensured that she is not a threat to him.
He will kill her if he thinks he has to.
I hold my hand out for the phone.
She picks up on the second ring. “Hey, I wasn’t expecting you to call.” she sounds out of breath.
I realize she must be on her way to the mission. My voice has no inflection as I pull my agent gear over my head and zip up. “I wasn’t either.”
“What wrong?” She asks.
“We have to stop seeing each other,” I tell her. “I… I can’t keep pretending anymore.”
There is no response for a few moments. “You’re breaking up with me?” I can tell she is attempting to sound brave but her voice comes out as a squeak. “You pretended to like me?”
“Yeah, something like that,” I answer. Then I end the call at the first note of her tears.
I look at my father and he nods, satisfied. “Now you must go and kill the target before she does.”
I take the knife he hands me and slide it into the sheath on my belt. I listen numbly as my father explains that I am to tranquilize the target and then use the knife to finish the job. It is one of the more gruesome missions I have been sent on, but it is not the worst. At least I do not have to disembowel this man.
I turn toward the door and slide my mask over my head. I stop at my father’s voice, my hand on the handle. “Be careful. Don’t be reckless. Remember she has tranquilizers too.”
All I can do is nod as I leave the study, feeling as though a part of me has been torn away.
My hands shake as I slide my knife into position on my belt. I sniff loudly and try to wipe the tears from my eyes. “Of all days,” I mutter angrily. “Of all moments he had to end us, why did he have to do this now?”
The tranquilizer darts fit nicely into my belt and I strap my shooter to my wrist. When I mount my bike, I realize I left my mask inside the house. Grumbling about how Reid has no right to throw me off like this, I finally return to the bike and flick my silencer switch.
Ross Portland is a forty eight year old bodyguard that usually works at the entrance of the most illegal social drug house in the mountains: Jule’s Junkies. Why it has such a bad name, I do not know, but my parents need the bodyguard gone so they can set up an undercover agent as the new bodyguard in order to infiltrate the club and take it down from the inside. Of course, as the best agent in the CAA, they asked me to carry out the deed.
It takes me half an hour to arrive at the man’s house. Mom told me that he would be in his personal training room at this hour, working his muscles right up until his shift at Jule’s starts tonight. This is where I am to assassinate him. If he is murdered in his own house, police will believe a crazed drug addict killed him out of spite for not getting into the club.
I leave my bike on a back road outside the city and take to the trees and roofs to get through the city. Looking for a way into the house, I pass the gate without being seen and pull out my heat detector. No one is around except the hulking heat signature of Ross in the gigantic room attached to the back of the house. If the BAA agent is near, I will not know; our gear eliminates all traces of our movements, including our heat signatures.
A window near the roof is open and I climb up to it. It is easy to climb inside and shimmy across the rafters to get a good position above the massive man below. I slide a tranquilizer into the shooter with a tiny click and take aim.
You pretended to like me? My shaking words come into my mind and linger there, repeating themselves over and over. Reid had agreed that this was the case. Tears blur my vision just as the dart exits the shooter. I hear a grunt below and hastily dab my eyes through my mask. My eyes meet Ross’s on the floor. The tranquilizer pierced the punching bag in front of him, missing his arm by inches.
My eyes fly wide and I try to shimmy backwards but Ross reaches the window first, closing it. He roars in outrage. Despite myself, I think about the dinosaurs on Jurassic Park that made the same noise as the man below me.
I push myself along the rafter and try not to look down as Ross darts across the room, picking up a collection of short knives. He begins hurling them at me and I have to dodge each one in rapid succession.
An eye watering pain slices across my shoulder and skims my temple. I lose my balance on the rafter. Suddenly nothing is holding my weight in the air. My back hits the floor, taking the breath out of my lungs.
I hear my name at the edge of my mind as I struggle to suck air into my lungs. If a normal human had fallen from that height, they would be dead.
I hear another thump beside me. I manage to turn my head enough to see Ross on the floor beside me, his eyes half closed and mouth slack. A black feathered dart protrudes from his shoulder blade.
A black figure appears above me and kneels next to my head. "Emsera..."
“How do you know who I am?” I demand, still gasping for air.
The agent reaches up and removes his mask. Reid’s pale green eyes gaze guiltily back at me. “I didn’t know until an hour ago,” he says. “My father made me call you.”
“Your father…?” My eyes widen as I finally put everything together. “Your father! My mom recognized you! You’re Marcos Knox’s son.”
Reid nods and extends his hand again. "Hello, I'm Reid Knox. Nice to meet you."
I huff and shake my head at him but the movement hurts. I try to raise my arm but wince as I realize my shoulder is dislocated, the other bleeding from the wound Ross inflicted. Reid kneels beside me and pulls me against his chest. With one hand he removes my mask, the other gently taking my dislocated arm. Tears make tracks down his cheeks and he leans his forehead against mine. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers.
Suddenly he jerks my arm and pain like no other shoots through my body before fading. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming. Finally, I open my eyes and realized he put my shoulder back into place. I slowly raise my hand to touch his face as my natural healing begins.
“I thought you were dead,” Reid admits, choking on his words.
I shake my head and wince again. “I’ll be okay.”
Reid shakes his head. “I never pretended to like you,” he says so quietly I almost miss his words. “I... I think... I love you.”
I am speechless looking back at him. This seems too soon. We have only known each other for a short time and for a moment I feel put back.
Suddenly Reid bends down and his lips meet mine. I hear myself sigh deeply before I kiss him back. When he finally pulls away, he rests his forehead against mine. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to do that for the past month.”
"Why didn't you?"
"I was afraid," he admits, "I'm going to have to leave for England again and I didn't want to get attached... I guess it's too late."
A smile stretches across my face. “I guess so.”
After a few more moments of silence, Reid looks at me again. “Can you stand? You need to finish your mission.”
I frown and realize I completely forgot about Ross’s unconscious form behind me. “Right,” I sigh. Slowly and with Reid’s help, I push myself onto my feet and test my balance. The fast healing of assassins has never failed me before, and it does not now. My relocated arm does not hurt at all anymore, and my cuts have mostly healed over. Blood has soaked through the cloth on my gear but the red stains are drying now.
I glance back at Reid. My blood is now on his hands as well as his face from resting it on the cut at my temple. He looks happier, gentler, though there is a hint of something else - awe?
The knife pulls free of my belt easily and smoothly. I press it into the skin at Ross’s throat and watch the bright red liquid flow across the floor as his jugular vein pumps blood out. Reid comes to stand beside me as we watch the flow pump steadily slower before it stops.
"We need to make it look like an attack," I say, looking around. I take a throwing knife and slice a few quick lines into the punching bag and turn to see that Reid has sliced jagged "defense" wounds into Ross's forearms. We add a few more cuts here and there as though Ross put up a grand fight, and lodge a few of his throwing knives in the walls as though he attempted to ward off his attacker. When we are finished, the scene looks perfect. Removing all items we touched, we climb out the window and leave it slightly open, leaving a small bit of Ross's blood on the edge as though the attacker had it on him and fled through the window.
Reid’s arms come around my shoulders. “You are a great assassin,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry about what I said over the phone. I was afraid of what my father would do to you if I refused to end it.”
I turn in his arms and rest my cheek against his chest. “All is forgiven,” tell him. “But we still have to figure something out. Mom doesn’t like you, and I can understand the reason now. No doubt dad doesn’t like you much more.”
Reid nods. “We will figure something out,” he promises. “I’m not letting you go again.”
I smile and stand on my toes to kiss him again. “Wait,” I pull back suddenly. “Gen. You two both came from England. She said she went to the same private school as you did.”
Reid is already nodding. “She’s an agent too. She was inactive for the years she was here, but now she has pledged to join the BAA officially.”
I nod as puzzle pieces click together in my head. “At the pool party, something happened.”
Reid nods solemnly. “I don't know what happened, but I think someone was trying to expose one of us.”
"That was my uniform," I explain. "I don't know what happened but I think someone wants us to know about one another."
Reid nods. Then he frowns. “Okay, I have to ask you something. Nickolae. Is he…?”
I nod. “Nickolae is an agent too.”
Reid looks as though he already knew the answer. “God, why does my life have to be so complicated?”
I giggle. “I know what you mean.”
Sirens begin to sound, miles away but coming this way. Someone must have heard the scuffle and called the police.
“We should probably get out of here,” Reid sighs. “Before someone comes by and realizes something is wrong.”
When I finally get home, I practically skip to my room and dump my spent gear down the chute to be burned. My weapons soon follow, and I park my bike in the garage to get the tires changed. Feeling spirited and over the moon with happiness, I imagine my first kiss over and over again in my head.
However, as I pass the office, I hear voices and stop. Mom doesn’t know I’m home yet so she is still speaking loudly. I hear my father’s voice, changed slightly from the speakers of the computer. My parents must be video chatting. Usually, I would have ignored their conversation and continued to the kitchen for food. What makes me stop though, is what I hear them talking about.
“The sabotage is getting out of control,” my father says. “Allen returned today with injuries that could have been caused by nothing other than another agent’s knife. He said he failed his mission. This saboteur is causing agents to kill themselves because they think they are failing us.”
“I know honey,” my mother answers. “But what can we do? We already put everyone back into training to get better. The sabotage just keeps going.”
“We need to retaliate,” dad barks. He sounds angrier than he ever has. “I will not lose any more agents to suicide, nor will I allow Marcos to get away with this.”
“Are you sure it’s Marcos?”
“Of course it’s him. Who else would send their agents to sabotage another Association?”
Mom hesitates. “It could be the UAA? The States have always thought they were better than us.”
I can practically hear my father shaking his head. “The UAA is arrogant, but they aren’t stupid. They would never sabotage another agency and risk retaliation. Besides, you know Marcos has always wanted to create an international Assassination Association to run.”
“And that son of his,” my father’s voice takes on a dangerous tone and I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “He is obviously one of the saboteurs. Perhaps we should target him.”
“No,” my mother answers in a deadly tone. “He is simply following orders. Until he is twenty, he is not allowed to do anything but follow orders.”
“Do you have a soft spot for this boy?” The accusation is evident in her husband’s voice.
My mother hesitates again. “I’ve seen the way he looks at our daughter. He is not all bad. If he was anything like his father, he wouldn’t bother with a girl like Esmera.”
A sharp laugh echoes around the room. “He is playing her, Silvanna.”
I grit my teeth, remembering the way Reid had been crying when he picked me off the floor. There was no way he could be faking.
My mother voices my thoughts. “No one can feign that kind of adoration.”
Dad seems to be finished with the topic. “Fine, we won’t go after the boy. I guess there is a possibility that Marcos would only come back harder if we took someone so close to him. Instead we will target other agents. Ones that are over twenty that are fully capable of making their own decisions between right and wrong.”
My mother remains silent.
“There is something that bothers me though,” dad continues. “Why is it that Esmera’s saboteur is the only one that has killed the target before she could? Why is it that none of the other agents have had their victims killed for them? All of the agents return with stories of how their saboteur saved the target somehow, or intercepted the weapon before it harmed the victim. Except Esmera.”
I frown. After we left Ross’s house, Reid told me he was only ordered to sabotage me. He had no one else to beat.
“Maybe,” my mother says, echoing my own thoughts. “Marcos is targeting Esmera purposely. He wants it so seem as though she is failing us so much more than everyone else is simply because she is our daughter.”
My father makes a noise of agreement. “We will retaliate soon. First I need to figure out how. I’ll call you tomorrow night to let you know what I decide.”
They say their goodbyes and then the monitor goes dark, eliminating the glow around the door. Before my mother can leave the office, I hurry down to the kitchen and bite into an apple. I open my textbook and lean against the counter as though this is what I have been doing for the past ten minutes.
Mom enters within another minute. “Oh,” she exclaims, spotting me. “I didn’t realize you were home.”
“I walked past the study and figured you were busy,” I explain casually. “I didn’t think I should bother you.”
She nods and sets to work dishing herself some spaghetti. “I made supper. Eat, honey, and tell me how the mission went.”
I breathe in the city air as I approach my destination. My heart pounds and I can practically feel the blood pumping through my veins. After over a month of vigorous training to get back up to par, I have finally been given my first mission. This one sends me out of Elders and into the more eastern part of Alberta. I am to assassinate a drug lord in a nearby city and I have to do it without killing whatever prostitute he might have brought home tonight.
I touch the knife on my belt for reassurance as I jump to cling onto the bottom of a fire escape ladder hanging unusable because of it's badly misshapen rungs that do not allow it to reach the ground any longer. A cat spooks at the sound and dashes from behind an abandoned mattress in the dingy, dark alley. With the newfound strength I have, thanks to my training, I pull myself up the ladder and onto the fire escape. Now, with the information given to me with the mission, I am able to ascend the rickety metal platforms one by one until I reach the fifth floor, knowing it is the correct room because of the cigarette burns in the curtains and the empty beer bottles laying over the table and playboy magazines scattered throughout the apartment that I can already see from the window.
With a click, I am able to trip the lock on the sliding door and slide the glass out of the way, entering the disgusting apartment. With the knowledge that my target will not be home for another twenty - I check my watch - sixteen minutes, I find the half full bottle of beer he has left next to the couch. I take one of the poisons I have on my belt and measure a few drops into the bottle. I made the concoction only one hour ago. With no taste or smell, it will kill the target quickly, the symptoms mimicking the signs of an overdose as he enters into convulsions and spasms until his body finally stills for good. I will stay outside the window just long enough to ensure that he dies before I depart. Should, for some reason, he not ingest the poison or it does not kill him, I will be ready with one of my dissolving darts.
The lock clicks behind me and I scramble across the floor, closing the sliding door with the grace of a silent cat. I conceal myself behind the curtains, using one of the larger cigarette burns as a peephole.
The target is large and stocky, his hair greasy and unkempt. Indeed, he has a skimpily dressed woman on his arm, a cigarette between her long, scarred fingers. He pulls her roughly into the room and practically tosses her on the couch.
I watch, my heart beating quickly, as he reaches for the laced beer and takes a long swig. The woman readjusts as he leans over and positions himself above her. Suddenly, his eyes bulge. His hands shake and he tumbles from the couch, knocking the bottle over as he falls on it, spilling beer. The woman scoffs in disgust but soon screams as the his muscles move of their own accord and spasm uncontrollably. I cover my mouth with my hand as the man throws up the contents of his stomach. Finally, he falls still and does not move again.
The woman slowly rises from her seat on the couch, readjusts her almost non-existent skirt, and tosses her hair as she leaves the apartment.
I shudder as I leave the scene and approach the mouth of the alley cautiously. I can hear men talking in low tones but they seem too drunk to be making any sense.
That is, until I hear what they are saying.
"Yeah, the kid that joined the UAA," one slurs. "Came from fight under the leader's nose."
I frown and lean against the grimy wall to listen in further.
"Who is he?" The second man asks.
The other one snorts. "Offspring of the Association leader or something."
The second one laughs. "Some leader! He can't even keep his own blood working under him."
Who are these men? I wonder. How do they know about the goings on inside the Agencies and why are they discussing such sensitive matters in such a public place? Anyone could hear.
I press as close to the wall as possible and sneak a peek around the corner. One man is short and round, his chubby hand tapping a nearly empty beer bottle against the wall and swaying slightly as though buffeted by a slight breeze. The other man, the taller, slightly skinnier one, is holding a cigarette to his lips and drinking from a can of another beer. The pair look too drunk to still be coherent this late at night, though because of what they are talking about, I wonder if they are faking it.
"I heard the UAA is recruiting agents from all over," the short one continues. "They're targeting young, able agents that have problems with their families. The closer they are to the leaders, the better, apparently."
"Sounds like some dirty work," the tall one answers, taking a swig from his can. "Who else have they raked in?"
"Three from the JAA," the short one squints as he tries to think. "Another from the AAA, another five or so from the MAA, and I believe there were at least four from IAA. "
I frown. Japan seems an unlikely participant in this exchange. I cannot see why Australia would venture so far north; they tend to like staying in their close-knit agency and mainly travel throughout the southern hemisphere since the leader seems to think the north has enough competition already. Mexico is close enough to the United States for the recruitment not to be a surprise, but Ireland? They're so tame, so quiet, so easily forgotten that I cannot remember hearing the last time they interacted with another agency.
"Damn," the tall one chuckles.
The other snorts and spits. "I've heard rumors that they have their sights on the boy at the BAA. Now that would be a prize."
"That's a pretty big bunch," nods the tall one slowly. "Say, how do you know how many have been taken by the UAA?"
The chubby man chuckles and shakes his head at his companion. "Don't you recognize me, Jeff? I'm the UAA leader's brother."
Jeff seems surprised at this news. Evidently, he did not know about the identity of his comrade. He hides it quickly, however, and chuckles. "Of course, Howard. I barely recognized you outside the agency without your gear on."
"Please," Howard waves a drunken hand. "Call me Howie."
Jeff seems slightly uncomfortable but leans against the wall, obscuring my view of the men. "Right, Howie. Now, what's the average age of these new recruits? You know, for curiosity's sake."
"Jeff," Howard chides, his tone suddenly sober as though his drunkenness was completely an act. "You know that if I tell you too much, I'll have to kill you. As it is, you already know a lot."
Jeff shifts uncomfortably and looks like he wants to flee. He steps away but the shadow of Howard seems to follow him. Suddenly, Howard has Jeff against the wall by the throat, beer bottle forgotten and stance alarmingly sober for a man that was tottering dangerously only moments ago. I shy back into the alley to avoid being seen.
"How about you tell me why you're so interested in the business my brother conducts, hm?" Howard demands menacingly.
"I, uh," Jeff mumbles but his words stop short in a garbled noise only made when one's windpipe is pressed on in the middle of speaking.
"I know you bear the crest of the BAA under that little disguise of yours, you tea drinking scumbag. I know you're a spy." Howard does not leave room for response as I hear short gasps for air and the almost non-existent sound of a knife pulling from its sheath. "I don't like spies."
There is a grunt and then a gargling noise, followed by a heavy thump. I glance down at the pavement in front of me to see red liquid running over the sidewalk and into the mouth of the alley. Afraid to move, I stand just around the corner from where one of my fellow agents just got murdered and watch his blood pool in the cracks of the alley.
When I finally get up the courage to attempt an escape, I peek around the corner. The dead body of the agent slumps against the wall but no one else is near. I listen and glance in either direction before tearing across the street and mounting my street bike without taking a backward glance. Nothing happens for the rest of the night.