Cassie had no idea what information might be helpful. She answered Mundo’s questions about who and what she had seen on each of her trips to the jewelry shop, but none of it was information she hadn’t given at earlier debriefings. She struggled to keep her mind on topic. Without May, how would they get Galahad’s messages? Would the Pharm turncoat who was acting as middleman try to make contact in some other way?

“You’re sure you never saw anyone who looked suspicious?” Mundo asked for the third time. “Any spy would’ve likely been a girl, you know. Someone pretending to buy jewelry like you were.”

“There was the time I ran into those Zoo girls trading ostrich plumes for zebra pendants,” Cassie said. “But we followed up on that at the time it happened.”

Alex nodded and shoved a piece of sweat-damp hair off his forehead. “I remember that. They were just what they appeared to be—ordinary monkey-eaters.”

“That’s not a nice thing to call them,” Kayleen said, lounging in a bikini at Mundo’s side and occasionally taking meeting notes. They were settled underneath a hinged flap Sid had attached to the deck awning and she motioned for one of the children to pull the rope harder so the fan would move more air across her body.

“They are monkey-eaters,” Julilla said. “And they also eat cheetahs, bats, and toucans. Might as well call it like it is.”

Mundo took a sip of his drink. “Let’s not have any name-calling. If nothing we did tipped off the Pharms and Obits, then it was something someone else did. That might be good, since it means no one in the alliance is working against us.”

“Unless May herself was,” Julilla pointed out. “Maybe they knew all along she was feeding us information and got tired of not knowing who she was really working for.”

Everyone fell silent, pondering this possibility. If May was unreliable, the entire mission was compromised. Their embedded team might not be alive and their messages could have been fakes, composed by May herself with the intention to deceive. The idea was so troubling that Cassie reached for her glass of tequila in warm lemonade mix. There was a dead bug floating in her glass but she picked it out and took a long swallow, feeling the alcohol burn all the way to her stomach.

“No,” Alex said. “I think she was what she said she was. We had the twins monitoring her and—”

“And they’re about as reliable as a weather forecast,” Julilla said. “They do good work when they’re not otherwise engaged, but….”

Heads nodded. Everyone knew what the twins were like.

“We can speculate all day,” Mundo said. “And at the end of it all, we’ll still need a plan. So let’s cut to the chase.” He looked at Kayleen. “Read off the key issues, babe.”

Kayleen sat up and squinted at her notes. “In no particular order, we must re-establish contact with our embedded team, create redundant lines of communication, whatever that means, and we need to find May and either rescue her or kill her.”

Alex nodded. “Sounds about right.”

“So what’s the plan?” Mundo said.

“The problem,” Cassie said, embarrassed to feel all eyes upon her, “is that we don’t have enough information.” She glanced at Julilla for confirmation. “We don’t know for sure who picked May up and we don’t know where she was taken. We don’t know how to reach her middleman, so we don’t know where to find our embedded people. How can we make a plan without information?”

“I’ve got the twins waiting for an opportunity to go through May’s shop,” Alex offered. “They ought to turn up something within the next twenty-four hours.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Mundo said. “But since it’s all we have to go on, we’ll break for now.” He tossed back the last of his drink and ran a hand down Kayleen’s back to the tie of her bikini top. “You can all go. And tell Truong to keep the kids off the patio for the next thirty minutes or so.”

* * *

After supper and evening chores, Cassie and Julilla escaped to the penthouse. They selected pretzels and mustard from their diminishing supply of snacks and sat in patio chairs to talk. As the high evening breeze cooled their bodies, Cassie felt some of her worries cool as well. “You didn’t really mean that about May, did you? That she might’ve been a Pharm double agent instead of ours?”

Julilla crunched a pretzel. “I’d be surprised if she was, but I thought we needed to have that possibility on the table. If you’re prepared for the worst, anything else that happens is no big deal.”

“But if the Pharms were on to the whole thing, wouldn’t they have come here first?”

“They have. Over and over.”

“You know what I mean.”

Julilla sighed and got to her feet. “Yes, it does seem like if they were using May to get information about us, they would’ve attacked by now. But a smart leader doesn’t do the obvious for the precise reason that it is so obvious.”

“So we know nothing, and have to wait.”

Julilla looked at her. “Yes. Most of what soldiers do is wait. Haven’t you figured that out by now?”

They spent the next hour in lazy gossip. Julilla read aloud from The Art of War, and Cassie countered with a few pages from On the Origin of Species. They were relaxing on chaise lounges, cool and comfortable for the first time all day and wondering if they could get away with sleeping on the patio for the night when a distant sound made them sit up, frowning.

The sound grew louder, a steady rhythmic wail.

“Sirens?” Cassie said in disbelief.

Both girls rushed to the edge of the patio and leaned against the railing, watching the tiny flashing lights grow brighter while the bleat of the sirens grew into a scream.

“Pharms,” Julilla said needlessly. “The fuckers are coming straight at us, too.”

There was no time for discussion. They grabbed their weapons, locked the penthouse, and ran down the stairs. They arrived at the ground floor breathless, shoved through a crowd of sleepy children, and stopped under the entranceway awning.

The flashing lights of the squad cars strobed over the group while Alex argued with the driver of the lead vehicle. Two Pharms got out of the second car and several Regents guards reached for their weapons. The Pharms made no move on Alex or the rest of the group, though, and removed something long and heavy from the trunk. They tossed it to the ground where it landed with a sickening thud. Laughing, they jumped back into their cars and the procession drove off, sirens blaring and lights flashing into the night.

Her mind on fire and her heart rising into her throat, Cassie rushed forward. Alex was already crouched over the shrouded form, tugging at the blood-stained sheets. Finally he ripped down a corner that was obscuring the face. Cassie and the others crowded closer and Julilla held her flashlight aloft so they could get a better look.

It was Cuervo, May’s Pharm turncoat.


1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

OMG, that means Galahad's been compromised. OTOH, I'm glad the body wasn't May. Ah, but what if Galahad knew he was compromised and that May was in danger and rushed in to her rescue just in time. But then would he go to the Obits?

Good one, Ann. I am so totally hooked.