In the six weeks that passed since we’d been in the laboratory, there were only two moments altogether when I worried what my family might be up to. Those worries were quickly banished by ruthlessly focusing on the task at hand, i.e. finding a cure for Orcus Locke. My family had been stowed away in some obscure corner of my mind, and I hadn’t bothered looking at them since. Today, however, the day immediately following my idiotic snog-fest with Orcus, the rest of the Tourney family came galloping to the fore.
I had been sitting in my allotted bedroom organizing charts of our successes and failures, and putting in certain chemical equations that I knew Orcus would later criticize, when the knock came on my door. Raechel poked her head in, and I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Her face was passive, and she’d said calmly, “Your mother is on the phone.”
I’d groaned, and marched after my best friend towards the waiting telephone (conveniently just down the hall; have to hand it to the Lockes, they think things through). As I put the receiver to my ear, my mind raced with a million scenarios, all involving me simply dropping the phone back onto its hook and walking away. I didn’t though. I took a deep breath, and said:
“You have some explaining to do, young lady,” said my mother’s voice angrily.
“What have I done now?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me!”
“I’m sorry.” I put an obnoxious cheeriness into my voice, and repeated, “What have I done now?”
There was a stony silence, and then Helen said, “Why are you at that boy’s house?”
“That’s not your concern, Helen.”
“I’m making it my concern,” she snapped.
“Who told you?”
“That is irrelevant.”
“No, it’s very relevant. Who told you?”
She paused. “Fine. Carson told us. Your father called the school to speak with you, and Carson explained you were out, and told us how to reach you. Now, young lady, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“On what count? Being at Orcus’ home? Carson told you, didn’t he?”
“He was vague,” she said crisply.
“I can’t be any clearer, then; you know that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You have to take whatever Carson said at face value,” I told her. “If Carson wasn’t detailed, I can’t be either.”
Helen was silent a long moment. “So it is government work?”
“Yes. Very important; secret stuff that could have the whole family assassinated.” Well, that bit wasn’t true, but it wouldn’t hurt to lay it on a little thicker than it actually was. “I mean, we’re talking the rough stuff, not just bullets in the head. Dismemberments, dissolving bodies in acid, unexplained disappearances…the works, Helen.”
“Well,” she said, “it seems you’re finally more than just a waste of cash.” I ignored the barb. “I want you to stay away from that Locke boy,” she continued. “He’s trouble.”
“I can’t very well avoid him, Helen. He’s kind of my partner on the job.”
“If I hear you’ve been shirking government work, you little shit, to go cavorting—”
I took the plunge. “So I shouldn’t tell you about our snog party yesterday?”
“How could you?!”
“Well, it’s sort of complicated.”
“Complicated?!” she repeated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It mean it’s complicated. In any case, how would you suggest I go about being elusive? I’m in his house. It doesn’t get much closer than that.”
Helen snarled into the phone. ‘If I find you’ve disregarded me, Mallory Eleanor, you will pay the piper.” And then she slammed down the phone.
I looked at Raechel. “Did you hear that?”
I dropped the phone onto the hook. “So I’ve been paying the piper a long time, I suppose, as I usually ‘discard’ everything she says.”
Raechel nodded. “Just so we’re clear on this, she knows it’s ‘disregarded’, right? ‘Discard’ isn’t actually something that’s really a thing for metaphor and stuff.”
“You have a way with words,” I said flatly. “And also, yes.”
“What are we going to do when your mother refuses to send you to a college?”
I shrugged. “I suppose I’ll eventually have to tell her that I’ve got that embassy internship in London. Do you think she’ll be very upset?”
Raechel nodded. “Yes. She will be furious.”
Orcus would need to know about Carson talking to my mother, and he would need to know immediately. My mother wanted information, and Carson, while being very clever and quick-witted, was very lonely and very single. If he was as clever as we thought, he’d know Orcus was telling him bed-time stories, and he would have no moral compunction in passing the real information along to my mother (before anyone asks, we hacked into the Pentagon and collected his information; he was assigned to Blackthorn “due to habitual disregard for and resentment of superior officers.” It’s not a fantastic leap to make where Paul Carson is concerned.) Yes, Orcus needed to know, and we needed to make a plan.
I ran it by Raechel, and she agreed. While she went off to see Grandfather and Phyllida about waking Sebastian, I made straight for the lab; Orcus rarely left, and it didn’t take rocket-science to guess he would be there now. It made matters worse that he was quite pleased to see me.
“I wondered when you’d arrive,” he said lightly.
“Excellent,” I said quickly, “I got a phone call from my mother.”
He paused and fixed me with a stare. “Should I guard myself?”
“No,” although it would serve him right, “it’s important we take this into consideration.” When he motioned for me to continue, I told him about the phone call, about what my mother had said, and my suspicion that Carson would let loose his tongue. Orcus’ face was cold and expressionless, and his eyes seemed a bit darker than usual.
“He knows,” he said when I’d finished my story. “He knows what we’ve been up to. I spoke to him this morning, and he didn’t quite cover the mouthpiece on the telephone when he let it slip.”
Things were only going to get worse, I decided. “If he knows we’re not telling the truth, why is he pretending to buy it? Blackmail?”
“It is a logical conclusion,” Orcus replied, dropping onto a stool and pulling me close. He’d been very touchy since yesterday, and I couldn’t quite account for it. If I hadn’t known he was a strict teetotal, I’d think he was drunk.
“Blackmailing teenagers wouldn’t work.”
“Legally we are adults.”
“Yes,” I said, “but we’re still in school.”
“That won’t matter if Carson brands us to the big-wigs on Capitol Hill as traitors.”
Could things get any worse? “What exactly did he say?”
Orcus shrugged. “We think the vampire son has a disease, we’re looking for what sort of sickness it could be, of course, we’re bluffing, we’ve guessed at the game; that sort of thing. He’ll get what he can from your mother about you – ”
I hummed my interruption, and Orcus didn’t seem at all perturbed. I started kicking myself mentally. If pretending to be receptive made him that much easier to deal with, I should have thought of it a long time ago. “Helen knows nothing. I told her it was government, and it could have the family trounced. She let it go after that. And you can bet that Raechel’s parents won’t be talking, either. Or her brother.”
Orcus looked extremely pleased. “Well done, darling,” he said. “I suppose Carson knows nothing of your dilapidated relationship with your mother?”
“Not unless Hoare told him, and Hoare hates him as much as I do. Why should he tell?”
“Fear of sacking, torture, getting whacked. . . .” Orcus laughed at my expression. “Darling, you of all people know that the government is one massive mafia. It has its soldiers and spies on the ground, and its connections everywhere; saying no could, quite literally, be the death of dear Mr. Hoare.”
Much as I hated to admit it, Orcus was right. It wasn’t that I was worried for Mr. Hoare’s life; he was my favorite teacher, to be sure, but he was safe as far as all this went. What had me nervous was the thought of what Carson might do with the information he got, whatever nature it might be. “They’re all afraid of your family,” I finally said.
Orcus laughed. “A particular advantage. I do think that as soon as Carson drops our name to his superiors, whatever case he’ll have built up will disappear.” His herbal eyes glinted. “My father does have his uses, you see.”
I tried to think nothing of that remark, with no success. Raechel had been very right: Mr. Locke would need to know of our suspicions, if he didn’t know already.