Chapter 1: Chapter 1
They grabbed him on his run, which in the end, was his fault. All things considered, he should have been paying attention. The fact that the love of his life had dumped him was no excuse, after all: it had been over two months and honestly, he worked in counter-intelligence, he knew he had to sleep with one eye open, and preferably run with both eyes open, but they still grabbed him in the bloody daylight, on the corner by a Marks & Spencer, and it was all his own damned fault.
He took some comfort in the fact that the extraction team was at least skilled. A screech of van tires, the reek of rubber burning pavement, a prick to the neck, and he was on the floor, being whisked through the streets of London. East, he thought, they were heading east, and then the drug took over him.
He woke earlier than they anticipated, clearly, as when he clawed through the darkness, he was still lying on the floor of the van, and the team was talking over his head.
“…don’t see why we need him…”
“…handle this ourselves…”
“Didja catch the Chelsea game last…”
“I tell you, no respect, we’ve trained just as much as anybody—”
Matthew categorized them as British. Northern accents, one of those counties up there, but the petulant one sounded a bit tosh on top of that. He did a mental inventory of his latest missions. Had he managed to piss somebody off in the home office? Sure, Dauphine worked autonomously most of the time, and recriminations were supposed to be dealt with inside the branch, but Dauphine, like the other freelancing agencies throughout England, did answer to headquarters, in the end. If he’d seriously displeased headquarters, they might not be willing to let Dauphine deal with him. But the trouble was, he couldn’t remember anything that he’d done lately that would draw the attention of the smug bastards at Headquarters.
He decided it was better to lie quietly and gather more intel. He could make his move when he had more information. He was out of luck, though, for right at that moment the van slowed down. A boot nudged his shoulder. “C’mon, Tulkinghorn, let’s go.”
They knew his code name, Matthew realized. He really was in deep trouble. They shoved a hood over his head, but he listened and counted how many times they turned and his paces, in case he needed to retrace his steps. There was the beep of a security system, and a rush of air conditioning and the smell of office building, the thud of combat boots on linoleum, long hallways, and finally a small room. The acoustics alone told him it was sound-proofed.
“Sit him down,” he heard an elderly voice say, and he was shoved into a chair. “Take the hood off. Do we not know how to treat our visitors anymore?”
The hood was yanked off, and Matthew looked up to find himself in some sort of office, sitting across the desk from a matronly woman wearing a business suit and a scowl. She glanced over him once, and Matthew had a split-second to wish he were wearing a suit instead of his running gear.
“You may go,” the woman said to the men who’d dragged him in. “If we need you, we’ll call.”
“Should we uncuff him first?” the same one who’d spoken earlier asked.
“No need,” Matthew said, and dropped the undone cuffs on the desk. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty myself.”
“Of course you did,” the woman said, and Matthew felt like a chastised schoolboy. He glanced at the desk, but there was no nameplate or anything personal at all, really. There was just a desk calendar, a pen-cup, and a few sheets of paper, neither fastidiously tidy nor messy. The paintings on the wall could have been found on any of the old estates in England, and were of nobody particularly famous. They told him nothing other than the fact that this woman intentionally revealed little about herself. In fact, the only personal thing in the office seemed to be her cane. She waited until the other men had cleared out. “Sorry for the fuss and bother, Mr. Crawley.”
“Who are you? What do you want with me?”
“In time. Would you like some tea?”
“I’d rather finish my run,” Matthew said.
“You’ll have the chance for that later.” The woman reached into a desk drawer. Matthew tensed, but she merely pulled out a file. She flicked it open. “It says here you went to Cambridge.”
Matthew narrowed his eyes. “What of it?”
“Went on to practice law after respectable marks, very nice. Your records as a solicitor speak well for you, Mr. Crawley.”
“Thank you,” Matthew said, baffled as to why this woman would have his file. “Excuse me, but what’s going on?”
“A job interview,” the woman said. “Do keep up.”
“I don’t recall applying for a job. I already have one.”
“And this is a better one. You’ve worked for Dauphine for how long?”
“I have no—”
“Idea what I’m talking about? I expect so. No matter: Mr. Barrow, my P.I. is very thorough and I of course have spies in all of the other agencies, if you’ll pardon the pun. It says here you’ve worked for Dauphine for nearly four years. My, my, that must take quite the sense of humor.”
“I like to think I have one of those,” Matthew said through gritted teeth.
The woman pursed her lips. “Yes, well, with a handle like Tulkinghorn, I expect you must. That will have to change.”
“What will?” Couldn’t a bloke just run in peace, Matthew wondered? He’d wanted a mind-numbing long-distance jog to help him get over the fact that Lavinia thought he found his job more important than he’d found her. He most certainly didn’t want to be pushed around by an aristocratic woman with a sharp tongue, applying for a job he most certainly did not need.
“Your handle, of course. We can’t have our agents at Crawley’s running around calling themselves things from Dickens novels.”
“What? Crawley’s isn’t in the—” Matthew broke off as the woman’s eyes flashed a dangerous warning at him. He’d only been about to say intelligence business, but he thought better of it now. “I thought it was a bank?” he offered, lamely, instead.
The woman gave a long-suffering sigh, and he felt like a foolish schoolboy once again. “It is. But not all of it. Come with me.”
Confused, Matthew pushed himself to his feet, ready to follow her from the room through the door behind him. But she pushed a button on her desk, a button he had not noticed before, and a panel slid open in the wall to his right. She gave him an imperious look and then they were walking together down a long, well-lit hallway, her cane tapping imperiously with every step. Matthew, feeling foolish in his trainers and his Adidas running gear, kept pace with her even as his mind whirled. Crawley’s was in the spy business? But he banked with them! Surely, he would know something.
“There’s much you don’t understand, young Matthew, and I’m afraid I don’t have time to cover all of it. But this is a job offer. If you want in, you’ll come work for Crawley’s, with a respectable raise from your previous salary, and a healthy benefits package. We’ve need of somebody with your talents for a special project.”
“Doing what?” Matthew asked.
“I can’t tell you that. You must decide right now: in or out?”
Matthew stared at the woman, positive that she must be absolutely mad. His bank was full of spies? Certainly, he was starting to get bored at Dauphine, where they used him for his legal knowledge more often than not, and kept him out of the field. True, the name Tulkinghorn did grate on him, as his superior really hated lawyers, but was that really enough reason to leave for a new agency, one so secret that even in all of his years of freelancing counter-intelligence, he hadn’t heard of them?
He’d never run from the unknown, though. In fact, more often than not, he’d embraced it. And they had extracted him flawlessly, so, felony aside, they clearly knew what they were doing.
“I’m in,” he heard himself say.
The woman’s lips twitched into what was almost a smile. “Excellent.” She held out a hand to him. “I’m Violet Crawley. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Matthew,” Matthew said, feeling odd as he shook her hand. He gave her the same smile that had gotten him past several security checkpoints in the past. “Pleasure’s all mine.”
“Oh, you are a charmer, aren’t you? Your file didn’t say anything about that.”
“Erm, thank you?”
“You’ll need it,” Violet said, her voice cryptic now, and they continued walking until they reached a steel-reinforced door. “Let me be the first to say welcome to Crawley’s, Mr. Crawley.”
“Thank you,” Matthew said, as Violet bent down and peered into the optical scanner.
“And more importantly, welcome to the clandestine branch of Crawley’s,” Violet said, and the door slid open. “We call it the Abbey.”
^ ^ ^
Matthew did not have the luxury of settling in, as the minute Violet led him through the doors, it seemed as though everyone and everything in the Abbey wanted a piece of him. He was whisked off to be fitted for new gear by an agent named Molesley, a genial-enough bloke that didn’t have much to say for himself. After that, the operations manager, Charlie Carson, came by to deliver the rules to Matthew in such a stern voice that Matthew immediately vowed not to take a single step out of line, as he really did not want to risk disappointing the man. A woman who introduced herself only as Mrs. Patmore had brought him food in the briefing room, while he’d sat there, still wearing his running togs, eating what had to be the most delicious meal he’d ever had.
Matthew could not believe that this was his life.
When the door opened again, admitting a man and a woman, Matthew stood up once more, though he hadn’t quite finished his sandwich. “Ah, so you’re the new recruit everybody’s buzzing about,” the man said, holding out his hand. “Robert Crawley. Delighted to meet you. And this is my wife, Cora. We run Crawley’s.”
Matthew nearly choked on the sandwich he’d been hastily trying to swallow. “Honored to meet you, sir. Matthew Crawley.”
“I like the name, but I suspect we won’t be calling you that much longer,” Robert said, a knowing smile on his face. “In fact, here’s Mother now. Have you picked this man’s new moniker, Mother?”
Violet Crawley entered. “I have,” she said. “He’s Perseus around these parts.”
Matthew blinked, not displeased in the slightest. The name was leagues better than Tulkinghorn.
Robert Crawley, on the other hand, frowned. “Mother, are you sure that’s wise?”
“When we started the Abbey, you agreed that I would be the one selecting the names of our agents, did you not?”
“I did, but—”
“So it’s settled,” Violet said. “Perseus it is.”
“You do know,” Robert began, but Violet glared at him. “Very well, Mother. So, Perseus, how are you finding the Abbey?”
“Oh, it’s…” Surreal, Matthew thought, but he managed to compliment the Abbey well enough that he didn’t embarrass himself.
Cora talked about Mrs. Patmore’s cooking as though the Abbey were a restaurant rather than a super-secret spy hub, and Robert expressed gratitude with Matthew for joining the team at least twice more. “You’re the only one that can handle this problem,” he said, before he and Cora were called away, leaving Matthew alone with Violet once more.
“Mrs. Crawley,” he began, perplexed.
“That’s my name around the Abbey. You may refer to me as the Dowager.”
“Ma’am,” Matthew said, clearing his throat. “Why have I been brought in? You’ve surely got many capable agents of your own.”
“Some of the best,” Violet said. “But the problem we need you to solve is…a little delicate.”
“Delicate how?” Matthew asked warily.
“Delicate as in it’s one of our agents causing the problem, and we need you to find her.” Violet hit a button on the table, and the screen lit up, filled with a picture of a slim young woman with piercing dark eyes, sitting astride a horse that bore a blue ribbon on its bridle. “This is one of our agents. We need you to find her.”
“Who is she?” Matthew asked, immediately intrigued by the superior look on the woman’s face. It was the first interest, he realized, he’d taken in a woman since Lavinia had dumped him.
“Perseus,” the Dowager said, turning to him, “meet your Andromeda.”
^ ^ ^
It was raining in York. Matthew wondered if he turned up the collar of his coat to block some of the miserable drip down the back of his neck if he would look too much like one of those private eyes from the old movies or a 1920s gangster or something. He’d have to talk in an absurd accent and no matter how skilled he was in other areas, accents were just a hard thing for him to master. He had German and a fairly decent Eastern European accent down pat—those were the only ones he really needed, he found—but he was rubbish at everything else.
Besides, he didn’t really need an accent. It was just York, after all.
He’d been given the assignment to track down Mary Crawley, alias Andromeda, three days before. The previous two days had been spent reading everything he could on his target: recruited by the Abbey straight out of Oxford—he should’ve known—and by all reports, the Abbey’s top performer, though many of her mission logs were black-lined to death. Her academic record was as flawless as his own, though her political leanings seemed far more conservative than his. He imagined, if they’d gone to the same university, they might have ended up on the opposite sides of a debate about that one night.
But from the way it looked now, he might never meet Mary “Andromeda” Crawley, daughter of Cora and Robert. The details on her latest mission were scant at best—it had been outsourced from another agency, so there weren’t many details. All they knew was that Mary Crawley had been sent to clean up a terrorist problem, and now she appeared to be in bed with Kemal Pamuk, a notorious Turkish terrorist with suspected ties to a few bombings in the south of France the year before. Documents linking Mary’s name to Pamuk’s had surfaced, first online, and then in the Yorkshire Observer, though the Abbey had managed to quash that one rather quickly.
By all intents and purposes, it looked like the Abbey’s greatest agent had gone rogue.
Now Matthew was in York, watching his one and only lead to her whereabouts.
Anna Smith had been one of the finest assets at Crawley’s, an executive assistant that had risen through the ranks until she’d landed a coveted position in the Abbey as the head of R&D. Now she lived a quiet life with a flat in York. She’d handed in her resignation the day the Abbey had officially black-listed Mary Crawley.
It was more than a little suspicious.
Matthew stayed in the shadows as he watched the diminutive Miss Smith move down the street with her black umbrella and her bag of groceries. He counted to ten in his head and then slipped after her, hands in his pockets and head down. He didn’t intend to rough Anna Smith up, but she had dodged his calls. He only had a set amount of time to locate Mary Crawley; he couldn’t afford the luxury of courtesy.
When Anna ducked into an alley, he followed—and found himself shoved up against a brick wall by somebody much taller than Anna Smith.
He immediately moved to resist, but the man who’d grabbed him had had training, too. Matthew was shoved back into the wall once more.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the man demanded.
Matthew blinked as he recognized John Bates, the executive assistant of Robert Crawley. “Bates? What are you doing here?”
“Better question is what are you doing here,” Bates said, not loosening his grip at all. “Why are you following Anna?”
“I wanted to—”
“John.” A quiet voice came from across the alley and both men looked over to see that Anna had sneaked up on the both of them, still holding her umbrella. “Let him go. He means me no harm.”
John Bates glowered, but let go of Matthew, letting the other man slide down the wall until he was on his feet once more.
“That’s true, isn’t it?” Anna asked, turning that bland stare on Matthew. Matthew discovered it was twice as effective as Carson’s stare; he simply couldn’t look into that calm face and lie. “You don’t mean to hurt me. You just want to talk to me. About Mary.”
“Yes. I suspect you may know where she is.”
Anna continued to stare at him. “You’re the new agent. From the Abbey.”
“Matthew Crawley,” Matthew said, holding his hand out. Though Bates’s glare deepened, Anna crossed the alley and shook his hand. “Code name Perseus.”
Anna seemed amused by that. “Of course. Would you like to come up? I’ll put some coffee on, we can all dry off.”
“Anna,” Bates said. Matthew glanced at him warily; he’d heard that the other man had hurt his leg on a mission in the 80s with Robert Crawley, but it certainly hadn’t slowed him down any.
She had a second story walk-up in what seemed to be a pleasant building. Matthew felt Bates’s glare on him the whole time they walked down the hall. “Miss Smith, do you know where Mary is?”
“No,” she said, as she unlocked her door.
“If you did, would you tell me?”
“No, I don’t think I would.” Anna let both men into her flat.
“At least you’re honest,” Matthew said. He looked around; it was a cozy little flat, much smaller than he would have expected, given the salary she had been making at Crawley’s. There was a writing desk in the corner, and on top of that a series of framed pictures. Matthew immediately moved over to this and picked up one, of Anna and Mary. Mary was obviously holding the camera, and they were squished together so they could both fit in the picture, broad grins on their faces. Behind them was the Eiffel Tower. “You were more than colleagues with Mary Crawley.”
“Yes. We were friends at university, and she’s my dearest friend now. She got me the position at Crawley’s.”
“And yet you’ve no idea where she is now?”
“None whatsoever.” Anna put the kettle on and fixed him with a look. “Do you even know why you’re looking for her?”
The frankness in her stare made Matthew uncomfortable as he set the picture down. “I was assigned to it.”
“And you always do as you’re told,” Anna said, making it almost a question.
“I follow orders,” Matthew said.
“Then you won’t find her. More so, you shouldn’t.”
“If Mary is involved in—”
“She’s not,” Anna said. “And it’s wrong of the Abbey to turn on her as they have and send new agents out to hunt her down. No offense.”
“Do you have evidence of her innocence?”
“I shouldn’t need evidence, and neither should the Abbey,” Anna said. “How do you take your tea?”
^ ^ ^
It took time for her to take the bait, but what he’d read in Mary and Anna’s files proved true: they simply couldn’t go for long without contacting each other. The call came in the night after he’d sat through tea with John Bates and Anna Smith, on Anna’s landline. He’d been dozing by his equipment, as there didn’t seem to be much on the telly but mindless reality shows and period pieces that he had no interest in. When the equipment beeped, the screens flashing to show an unknown number, he jolted upright.
“Took you long enough,” he said, cracking his knuckles before he started typing.
Anna picked up. “Hello?”
“It’s me.” The voice on the other end was lovely, Matthew reflected, cool and reserved. She hadn’t bothered to alter it, so the software immediately identified it as Agent Crawley, code name Andromeda. Was that ego, Matthew wondered, or simply sloppiness?
“Oh, thank God, you’re safe,” Anna said, and it sounded like she might be crossing herself.
“Where are you? Do you need me to come—”
“No, I’m fine. Stay where you are, please. Don’t come looking for me.”
“Is there any news from the Abbey? Have they lifted your suspension?”
Suspension? Matthew’s hands, fiddling with the knobs on the equipment, stilled. Every report he’d read had said that Anna had resigned.
“No luck yet. Mary…”
‘What is it?”
“They’ve hired somebody new. He’s tasked with tracking you down and bringing you in.”
Well, that was to be expected, Matthew thought. He could only hope that they didn’t have a way of giving Mary his photograph—
“Tall bloke, from Manchester.” Anna proceeded to analytically list exactly what he looked like, his accent, and even the scar on the left side of his jaw. By the end of her list, Matthew was rubbing his forehead with one hand, actively cringing. There was simply no way he’d be able to sneak up on Mary now. He felt as though Anna had painted a picture with words alone and had handed it right to Mary. And good lord, the woman had an eye for detail. “And he’s handsome, too.”
Matthew sat up straighter.
On the other end of the line, Mary let out a deep laugh. The decryption software had almost placed a lock on her signal. “Trying to set us up?”
“Well, he’s really not hard on the eyes, and this business won’t go on forever…”
“I’m not coming back to the Abbey. Not after what they did.”
“It doesn’t hurt to keep your options open.”
Matthew shook his head, positive he wasn’t hearing this. There was no way that Anna Smith was attempting to set Mary up with the man responsible for locating her. It was simply impossible.
“Yes, I’ll do that,” Mary said, and there was an undercurrent of sarcasm to her words. He wondered why her signal was taking so long to locate. “In between the running and the spying and the double-talk, that’s a wonderful time to have a romance with a perfect stranger. Especially one who’s likely convinced I’m a terrorist.”
“Even you need to see to matters of the heart, Mary.”
“Haven’t you heard? I don’t have a heart. Everyone knows that.”
Anna chuckled. “Sure you don’t,” she said, and the subject appeared to be dropped. The decryption software finally beeped: Mary was in Brazil, in Sao Paolo. Matthew plugged the coordinates into the Abbey’s secure network, calling satellites online. If Mary was in Brazil, he’d have a reading within minutes. “How much longer will this take, Mary? How much longer are you going to run?”
“As long as I have to. I’d best get off the line soon. Are you truly well?”
“And that Mr. Bates of yours?”
“He hates being in London all the time, but it doesn’t make any sense for both of us to give up our positions at Crawley’s. He sends his love. And Sybil does as well. Everybody in R&D, too.”
“I notice Edith isn’t on that list.”
Matthew frowned. Sybil and Edith, he’d met. They were operatives like himself, though Sybil seemed awful young for it. If Anna was speaking truthfully, Sybil’s warmth toward him on his first day at the Abbey made no sense. His job was to bring Mary in, and if she was on Mary’s side…
“You know Edith loves you, too,” Anna said. “In her own way.”
“I’d best go.”
“Will you call again?”
“When I can,” Mary Crawley promised her friend, and hung up.
Matthew shook his head—what a strange conversation—and continued to refresh the screen. The satellites had located the coordinates easily, now it was just a matter of waiting for the picture to load. He got up and grabbed a glass of water and another packet of crisps while he put on the coffee. It looked like he would be burning through the night once more, and likely on a flight to South America the next morning.
The picture came up: a little street café in the center of the city. Tables were crowded with the lunch rush. He scanned the crowd, looking for any sign that Mary Crawley was at any of the tables.
A flash of white on one of the tables—empty, oddly enough—caught his eye. He repositioned the satellite to get a better look, zooming in. It was a note, he saw, written in English.
Eavesdropping is rude — M. Crawley.
“Oh, hell,” Matthew said.
“It really is, you know,” said a voice behind him, and Matthew whirled, gun already out.
Mary Crawley didn’t flick a single eyelash at that. She was standing in the doorway to his kitchen, leaning one slim shoulder against the doorjamb, her arms crossed over her chest. Though she wore dark clothes, she wasn’t dressed for breaking and entering. She was likely armed to the teeth and twice as dangerous as he was, and she looked like a bloody university student out for a night on the town.
He gaped at her.
“Matthew Crawley, I presume,” she said. “That wasn’t very polite of you to spy on my friend.”
“How the hell did you get in here?” he asked, blinking at her.
“Through the door. Sorry I didn’t knock. I wasn’t feeling very polite myself.” Her smile turned feral. “I’m not much for politeness in general, actually. Your security’s top-notch. Molesley’s work?”
“I’m not answering that,” Matthew said, though it was.
“Carson’s is better. He taught me everything I know.” Mary inspected her fingernails and flicked an imaginary piece of dust off of her sleeve. “You can put the gun down, you know.”
“I’m good, I think.”
“What’s the matter, Matthew?” Her eyes flashed both amusement and challenge. “Afraid?”
“Not in the slightest, but I’ll hold onto my gun just the same.”
“Suit yourself.” Mary crossed the room and dropped onto the couch, propping her feet up on his coffee table.
This was just reaching levels of absurdity beyond even his comprehension. “What are you doing here? You do know I’m assigned to bring you in, right?”
“So you’ve come to turn yourself in, is that it?”
“Oh, no, nothing of the sort.” Mary shuddered, rolling her eyes. “I told Anna I’m not going back to the Abbey, and especially not dragged in by some interloper. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said automatically.
“Oh, a gentleman, too,” Mary said. “Anna didn’t mention that.”
“Well, she certainly mentioned everything else,” Matthew said, annoyed now. “If you’re not here to turn yourself in, what are you doing here? Pretty silly of you to walk right into my apartment when you know I’ve been assigned to track you down and bring you in. Or do you want to get caught, is that it?”
“You seem awfully confident you’re going to succeed.”
“You’re sitting on my couch and eating my crisps. I haven’t had such an easy assignment since primary school.”
Mary brushed her hands off. “I beg to differ. And you asked why I’m here, well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? I wanted to get to know the man my father picked to track me down.”
“What? You’re not looking forward to the big happy family reunion?”
“There’s a reason they call him the Earl downstairs, you know,” Mary said, rolling her eyes once more. “Anyway, now that I’ve gotten your measure, I’d best be on my way. No need to get up. I’ll see myself out.”
“I don’t think so—”
Mary threw a knife. Later on, Matthew would wonder how she’d moved so fast: he certainly didn’t see it. One second, she was sitting languidly on his couch and the next, a knife had sprouted dead center in the middle of his computer monitor. He ducked for cover as that exploded in a shower of sparks. And out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mary sprint for his balcony.
He shoved himself to his feet, but she clearly knew how to use those long legs of hers. By the time he burst through the balcony door, the balcony outside was completely empty. He gave a ripe oath, looking over the ledge, but she was nowhere to be found. Instinct made him look up—right as the heel of her boot disappeared over the top of his building. He tucked the gun in the back of his trousers and began to climb, grateful for once that he’d picked a flat with textured exterior walls. He hadn’t free-climbed in years, but it came back to him, just like riding a bicycle, so that he hauled himself over the lip of his building less than thirty seconds later.
She’d crossed the roof in that time; he landed too loudly, and she looked up, meeting his gaze for a split second.
“Don’t move!” He sprinted across, pulling his gun from his waistline as he did so.
This time she did pull a gun on him. “Stay back!”
They stood like that, twenty feet apart, guns trained on each other, breathing hard for a good ten seconds before one of them broke. Surprisingly, it was Mary: she began to smile, and then to laugh. “Oh, this is completely ridiculous,” she said.
“Don’t move,” Matthew repeated. He had a half-wall to his right, where there was a sort of community garden for the building. If he needed to, he’d have cover, while Mary had none. “Put your gun down.”
“After you, of course.”
“So what now, then? Are we to stand here like partners in a duel, waiting for the sun to rise?” The mockery in her tone made him swallow hard. “Just let me go. You’ve no idea what’s truly going on here.”
“I know enough,” Matthew lied, as he was starting to get the impression that things at the Abbey really weren’t what they seemed.
She scoffed. “You know nothing, Matthew Crawley.”
“Put the gun down.”
“I think not,” Mary said. Her gaze flicked down to his gun and back up to his face, her expression growing unreadable. “What do they call you? At the Abbey?”
Matthew stayed silent.
“It’s not a secret. I can just call Anna and ask her, you know.”
She had a point, Matthew knew, as the evening had more than proved. It cost him nothing to admit his handle. “Perseus.”
Mary fell quiet at that one, and it was impossible to read her face in the dark, but he sensed more than saw her disquiet. Clearly she was up on her Greek mythology. Finally, she cleared her throat. “Tell me, Perseus, how did they bring you in? Ring you up, invite you over?”
“Grabbed me with a van, actually,” Matthew said, smiling a little at the humiliating memory.
Mary nodded. “Good. All I needed to know. Toodles,” she said, and before Matthew could stop her, she jumped onto the lip of the roof and leapt off.
Matthew cursed again—he hadn’t seen a harness—and sprinted forward. Was the woman absolutely mad? There were at least six stories and the nearest building was too far away. There was simply no way she could—
He looked over the edge just as Mary Crawley glided away through the night on a wing-suit.
She really had come prepared. The next day, he received a card in the mail from Anna. It said, simply, I hope she didn’t rough you up too much. And that was when that Matthew Crawley discovered that he really, really needed to step up his game.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
It was thrilling to fly, even if that flight came at the cost of inadvertently showing her hand to her enemy. Mary didn’t care. She still loved the absolute, endless freedom that came with launching herself into the air, relying on nothing but the wind, herself, and gravity to bring her safely to the ground. The wind whipped at her hair, buffeting the folds of her wing-suit—one she’d had Anna make special for her, back when Anna had worked in R&D—and filling her with a sense of utter completion. Until she landed, and she spotted the Bugatti Veyron parked innocently on the curb.
She climbed into the passenger seat, euphoria from her flight fading. “Hello,” she said.
Rick Carlisle looked up from his iPhone. “Hello, darling. Get what you came for?”
“You could say that,” Mary said. She wasn’t entirely sure what she had come for—a close-up look at the man her father had replaced her with? Intimidating the spy who had harassed her best friend? The chance to use her new wing-suit?—but she supposed she’d achieved it, whatever it was. “What’re you doing here?”
“I got a call that said you needed a ride, and I happened to be in the area.”
At some glitzy party with another floozy, Mary thought. Before she’d gotten burned, more often than not, she’d been that floozy. The connection had been handy at first when the Abbey had burned her, but now it was proving a little tiresome. Rick Carlisle flitted between all of the agencies—Branksome, Dauphine, Crowborough—and did so happily through blackmail, double-talk, and a number of other unsavory practices.
“And of course you wanted to check on your pet project,” she said, keeping her voice neutral. He didn’t have much truck with Crawley’s, save for Mary.
“Oh, Mary, Mary, you’re hardly anyone’s pet.”
Mary wished that were true. She edged back into the seat, never letting her guard down—it was idiotic to do so around Rick Carlisle—but relaxing somewhat. “Might want to leave. I may have been followed.”
Yes, she was. She had not expected things to get quite so intense with Matthew Crawley, but one look at his face, and her stomach had jumped. And she knew that if he had been any other spy, he would have taken the shot on the rooftop. He’d been closer to cover than she had been, and judging by the fact that he’d free-climbed up onto the roof in the time it had taken her to cross it, he was fast. But, she thought, his induction to the Abbey had been the van-grab. They only did that to agents that they knew had ethical issues with killing, which meant that Abbey didn’t want her dead. They just wanted her back, the disgraced agent, the damaged goods.
She wasn’t going back to them, not after the way they had treated Anna. And herself, to some extent, but Anna was the point of contention now. Did nobody remember the concept of loyalty?
“Where are we going?”
“Flight to catch. There’s a party even you won’t want to miss,” Carlisle said.
And that was why all of the agencies were willing to play ball with Carlisle, Mary thought. More often than not, he knew about events even before they were about to break. If he considered a party important, it had to be. Perhaps this would be a chance for her to uncover the link she’d been seeking, and she could go home.
With ruined credibility, Mary thought, and not much else to her name. Oh, what a joy. She nodded her acquiescence, and Carlisle drove them across London to the airport. Whenever she closed her eyes, she saw Matthew Crawley’s startled face as he sat by his surveillance equipment, looking like he had seen a ghost.
Fitting, she thought. A ghost was what she felt like, these days.
Three days later found her sitting on a yacht in the Mediterranean, counting down the hours until the party began. She wished desperately that she could call Anna and talk, as their faked conversation about Matthew—what a prig, he probably thought they actually found him handsome—hadn’t really counted. But it wasn’t safe to contact Anna, not with everything hanging over Mary’s head as it was. So Mary sipped chilled fruit juice—no alcohol, her head needed to be clear—and waited for the party. They were stopping at port to pay a call to a Monsieur Davenport, a wealthy financier fond of lavish parties and foreign houseguests. Since the group Mary had infiltrated had the latter in spades, they’d all received invitations.
She wished they were simply less banal people, though. A simple string bikini and they all leered like hooligans. It was frightfully pedestrian.
“I’m going in to change,” she told the host in flawless French. She made sure to add some slink to her stride as she strolled off the sundeck and to the cabins below. The minute she was in her cabin, she pulled out her satellite phone from beneath the desk and checked it. No messages.
Didn’t they understand how bored she was? Matthew Crawley had proved an utter disappointment; by the latest reports, he was chasing a lead through Seoul, of all places. Her father had picked out a winner, there.
They called him Perseus.
The thought alone made Mary roll her eyes as she washed up and began the ministrations to get ready for the evening. She applied lotion, inspecting for sun damage, and rolled her hair up to deal with later. The name Andromeda had been a joke—as the daughter of an ex-CIA officer and the head of Crawley’s, she truly could be considered a princess around the Abbey—but it had been understood that if she needed a Perseus, she would fill that role herself.
And now her parents had given that name to Matthew Crawley. They really did think her lost and in need of rescue.
She restyled her hair into a complicated twist that Anna could have done in under sixty seconds (it took Mary considerably longer) and sighed as she drew on the Versace number she’d selected for this evening. Though it was probably old-fashioned, she drew on elbow-length gloves. They were made to have a better grip than her own fingers, in case she needed to do any climbing today, and even better, they meant she wouldn’t leave fingerprints. There was always a chance that the person pulling Pamuk’s strings would finally come out into the open, or maybe Carlisle had told her about it because Mary’s most mortal enemy would show. Mary would be fine with either. She would dearly love the opportunity to put a stake through the heart of Vera Bates, assuming the awful Mrs. Bates even had a heart.
“Miss Gestreaux?” A light tap on the door made her look over from the mirror on the vanity. It was the captain, the only man on the ship who did not constantly leer at her. Because of that, Mary felt a small amount of charity toward him. “We should be docked within fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you,” Mary said, and went back to applying her make-up.
Veronique Gestreaux was a master at parties, both intimate and lavish, and the Davenport gala had the latter in spades: ice flown in straight from Alaska, apparently, foods even she couldn’t pronounce, the servers dressed up as though they were serving pharaohs instead of the idle rich. There was even a tiger being walked about on a leash, which nearly made Mary roll her eyes. How gauche. Veronique, on the other hand, cooed over the tiger, giggled at the oil magnates and politicos attempting to charm her, and generally played the society darling. Mary Crawley, hiding behind the mask, simply took the opportunity to help herself to caviar. Currently, she was pretending to be fascinated by whatever lies the oil sheikh next to her was attempting to tell, but she was more interested in an internal debate about whether chewing her own arm off would free her from this conversation.
In the end, her salvation came from an unlikely source.
“I do hope you will excuse me,” a voice said at her elbow, and Mary turned to see Evelyn Napier. He bowed respectfully to the sheikh. “I hope you don’t find me abominably rude, but I’m afraid I must steal your companion. You see, she’s owed me a dance these past seven years.”
Mary put on her best simper, for all it was true: she’d met Evelyn during a university party, and had indeed promised him a dance. But a friend had taken ill, which meant she’d left before he could claim it. It would have been to something like that idiotic Push the Button song, not to a twenty-piece orchestra playing Big Band era swing, but the sheikh didn’t need to know that.
“My savior,” she said dryly as they walked to the dance floor together.
“You did look rather bored. Jousef does like to prattle on about those horses of his, doesn’t he?”
“Too right,” Mary said, letting him lead her out onto the floor, where they joined the other couples. “I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you’d forgotten how to cross the Channel.”
Evelyn smiled tightly. “I still get out into the field.”
But not enough, Mary thought, to handle Pamuk himself. “I’m sure you do.”
Perhaps reading her thoughts, Evelyn cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable. “I’d rather hoped I might run into you,” he said.
“Because I wanted you to know that the information about Pamuk, that did not come from my office.” Evelyn looked at her solemnly now, which seemed absurd given that they were swing-dancing. “The leak did not come from Branksome.”
“And how do I know that I can trust you?”
“Lord, Mary,” Evelyn said. “Surely you don’t mean that.”
Mary fixed him with her coldest look. It surely hadn’t been a coincidence that the biggest fiasco of her career had come when she’d contracted work for Branksome.
“How long have we been friends? I would never do this to you.”
“I wish I had the luxury of certainty,” Mary said. “But you know how it is in this life, Evelyn.”
“Do you never tire of looking over your shoulder?”
“Evidently she does,” said a new voice behind Mary, and she froze as she immediately recognized it. “Otherwise she might have seen me coming.”
Mary turned very slowly. “Matthew,” she said, giving him a very slow nod. “It seems you’re not in Seoul.”
He smiled, and up close, she could see that his eyes were just as blue as Anna had described. Possibly even more so. Like everybody else at the party, he wore evening dress, and the cut of the suit looked well on him. “No,” was all he said.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” Evelyn said, looking curiously at him. “Evelyn Napier, Branksome Industries.”
“Matthew Crawley.” Matthew shook his hand. “Crawley’s.”
Evelyn’s eyes widened.
“I’m here with Mary, actually,” Matthew said. “Mind if I cut in? It’s been days since I’ve seen her.”
“By all means.” Evelyn gave Mary another measuring look. He really was handsome, Mary thought, but she’d never been interested in him, no matter how often her mother had pushed her toward him. Merging Branksome and Crawley’s would have been quite the feather in everybody’s cap, after all. Mary had no intention of using marriage to merge two agencies. Her personal life and her professional life needed some distance, after all, no matter how closely they intertwined at times. “Mary, I meant what I said.”
“I’m sure you did.” Spies always did. That was why their double-talk was legendary.
The minute Evelyn had walked away, she turned on Matthew. “What are you doing here?”
“Claiming a dance,” he said, obviously feigning innocence. “What else?”
“How did you find me?”
“It’s not as much fun when the tables turn on you, is it?” He held out a hand.
Mary stared at it. “What are you doing?”
“Didn’t you hear? I’m claiming a dance.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Deathly so,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers. He nodded at his hand, still held out. “What about it?”
She gave a small shrug. “Why not?” she asked, and put her hand in his.
“I must say, I never pictured you for a Veronique.”
“I’m a woman of many talents.” So he’d not only located her, but he’d rooted out her cover as well. Perhaps she’d been wrong to think so little of him. She hesitated before she took his hand, but reminded herself that they were in public. Matthew wouldn’t make his move there. And there would be plenty of time to slip away and evade him later, therefore a dance now couldn’t hurt. In fact, it was a little thrilling, dancing with the enemy. “And you don’t know a thing about me.”
“Perhaps.” He smiled.
“How’d you track me?”
“Not telling.” Matthew seemed amused. “What are you doing here, Mary? Not really your scene.”
“Surrounded by rich, elegant men so bored with their lives that they’ll throw money at the first thing to provide even a small amount of intrigue? Oh, darling, of course it’s my scene.”
“Maybe not yours, though,” Mary said. “Ever so sorry to call you away from spying on my friends.”
“You’re not going to let that one go, I see.”
“Why should I?” Mary scanned the surrounding area, looking for clues that Matthew hadn’t come alone, that he was the decoy and there was a trap being laid for her. There could be no other reason for Matthew to want to dance with her, but for the life of her, she couldn’t spot a single sign that something was amiss. “Anna’s done nothing wrong. She doesn’t deserve to have her privacy invaded.”
“It was a phone tap, nothing more,” Matthew said, but he now looked uncomfortable.
Mary rolled her eyes, deciding to ignore the fact that she’d done the same thing to countless others in the past. As she did so, the song changed to a slower number, some smooth song from the thirties that she didn’t recognize. The bandleader stepped up to the old-fashioned microphone and began to sing. Instinctively, she stepped back, but Matthew’s grip on her tightened. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Still my dance.”
“Why?” she asked, even as they began to dance to the new tempo. Matthew, she discovered, was a far better dancer than she might have given him credit for. In truth, she shouldn’t be surprised. He’d had to have lessons at some point during training.
“Consider it a chance to explain.”
“You said that I know nothing about what I’m mixed up in.” Matthew’s gaze was intense now, unwilling to let her look away. “I imagine you’ve got some brilliant escape plan already cooked up, but let’s call a truce. A time-out, if you will, between two colleagues. What’s going on, Mary?”
There was a split-second of time where Mary wanted to tell him everything, which startled her, as she was not the type to share. Growing up as she had in the shadow of the Abbey, being reserved and keeping things to herself had become second-nature, and trusting others an impossibility. But when Matthew looked at her like that, she wanted to confess everything and have a confidante.
The feeling passed almost immediately, but the fact that it had been there at all perturbed her.
She covered with one of her many company smiles. “It seems what’s going on is that the host has a strange fetish for nostalgia and we’re dancing to music from the thirties, Matthew.”
“Some people like thirties music,” Matthew said, though he looked annoyed now, “but I have a feeling it’s not what drew you to this party. Nor was it any of those rich, elegant men you talked of earlier.”
“Very well. Perhaps I was bored. Maybe that was why—” Something in the corner of her eye made her fumble mid-sentence. Had she really just—had that been—no, it couldn’t have been. That was impossible.
Or was it?
“What is it?” Matthew asked.
Mary blinked at him, as though he’d somehow vanished for a second, even though she knew she’d been in his arms the entire time.
“You stopped talking,” Matthew said, giving her a funny look. “You must have seen something. What is it?”
When he turned to look, Mary wasted no time; she stepped in, right behind his heel, so that when he shifted his weight, he stumbled backwards—right into a kilted waiter that was carrying a tray of champagne. “Oh, dear me,” she said, faking concern as Matthew was liberally splashed. “Do let me get something to help you clean that up.”
“Mary—” Matthew made a grab for her wrist, but ever agile, she slipped right from his grasp and melted into the crowd, leaving him to be fussed over by the wait-staff, who likely had their jobs to worry about if they did not keep the guests happy. The furor, contained as it was, provided just enough cover for her to get away. She angled through the crowd, the look on her face specifically cultivated to keep people from approaching her.
There was no possible way she had seen Kemal Pamuk. It had been a glimpse, out of the corner of her eye, so it was probable that it wasn’t him. The feeling churning through her stomach told her otherwise, no matter how impossible she knew it to be.
She’d spotted him across the room, by a hallway the led off into the private part of the house. If it truly was him—and it wasn’t, it couldn’t be—he would have moved away to somewhere more private, like a study or a den where the normal partygoers hadn’t congregated. Mary gave the room a cursory look to make sure that Matthew was still occupied, and slipped into the hallway. She paused inside the doorway to crouch and pull her gun free from its thigh holster.
If Pamuk really was alive, she was going to end him tonight. For real this time.
“You know, I really should be offended,” said a voice, and she looked up to see Matthew standing there once more. He had a little snub-nosed pistol in one hand. “You find me so unimpressive that when you had the opportunity to get away from me completely, you didn’t even try.”
Mary was struck with the absurd desire to pat his shoulder. She remained crouched, hand on her gun.
“Oh, right,” Matthew said, as if he’d forgotten she was armed. “Don’t move. Take the hand off the weapon. Slowly.”
“I really don’t have time for this right now,” Mary said, rolling her eyes.
“Hot date?” Matthew asked.
“If you must know, yes.” Mary, sensing that she had no other choice, slowly released her grip on the gun, spread her hands out, and rose to her full height. The hallway was fairly narrow, which meant his reach wasn’t much of a factor, but she knew that he was fast, and now she knew that he was silent. Hand to hand combat wasn’t her strength, especially not in such a small space, but it certainly looked like she didn’t have a choice, which was precisely what she wanted him to think. Her hand slid to a slit in her dress.
Matthew’s eyes warmed, as if he suspected she was thinking of throwing a punch. “Don’t even try,” he said. “It won’t end well for either of us.”
Mary replied by flinging the knife at the wall beside his head. Matthew flinched away, and she turned and sprinted. She heard Matthew’s startled oath, but she didn’t stick around to see his reaction. She’d been right: he was fast. By the time she heard his footsteps behind her, she’d already rounded the corner, but she didn’t have much of a lead time in her heels, and she knew it.
The man might be cute, she thought, but he was also a pain in the ass. Mary dashed down the hallway, hooking a left on instinct alone, and heard him gaining on her rather quickly. She’d memorized the layout of the house. There was a study coming up, with access outside. Sure, it dropped over a cliff, but there wasn’t much she could do about that. She swerved into the room, tripped, rolled, and came up with her gun in her hand, pointed at the doorway.
Matthew skidded to a stop when he saw her and her gun. “Oh, bloody—”
“Well, well, well,” said a third voice, and both Matthew and Mary jumped. In her haste, Mary hadn’t cased the room at all. It was a large study, full of several sofas and overstuffed armchairs for reading, the walls lined with books, most of which probably were in Latin and Greek. Mary looked over at one of those armchairs, and her heart stopped.
“P-Patrick?” she asked.
Patrick Crawley looked over at her and smiled, the bandages across his face making what should have been a benign expression seem entirely gruesome. “Hello, Mary.”
The woman was getting on his last nerve. It had been an awful three days, worse than anything he’d put up with in university, as he’d spent those days scouring for every little detail, gathering every last scrap, putting together all of her old mission files. Finding out she would even be present at the Davenport party had been a lucky accident at best: he’d uncovered a connection to Richard Carlisle, who owned several online media outlets and had been photographed several times with Mary on his arm at various charity and society events. A blurb about the Davenport party on one of the websites had sent Matthew into investigating it deeper. It seemed that it was rapidly becoming a hotbed of the movers and shakers behind the scenes in the political world. The one thing he’d learned from Mary’s file was that if there was a power play going on somewhere, Mary Crawley wouldn’t be far away. She had an uncanny ability to be nearby whenever something major broke, which meant that if she weren’t at this party directly, he could probably bet she would be somewhere nearby, watching from the shadows.
So, taking a risk, he’d put on his best dinner jacket and had charmed his way in. And there she was, no longer the ghost who’d broken into his apartment, but a vibrant woman in a brilliant red dress. He wondered as he watched from the shadows if it was being a spy that gave her that air of allure and mystery, or if that came naturally. He figured it had to be the latter. He’d almost appreciate that about her during their dance.
What he didn’t appreciate was how damned ornery she was.
The knife missed his left ear by mere centimeters, making him swear and duck away. By the time he straightened, Mary vanished around a corner, sprinting away as fast as her heels would take her. Matthew gave chase, though he wondered why he bothered. The woman had already thrown two knives at his general vicinity. Sooner or later, she was going to actually hit him.
He must really like to punish himself.
Annoyed, he chased her into a study of some type, and skidded to a stop. No spy wanted to come up on anybody unawares, and he’d not only stumbled in on Mary pointing a gun at him, but on a stranger as well.
There was a man in the armchair. At least, Matthew as pretty sure it was a man. Bandages covered the stranger’s entire head, leaving only his eyes and mouth visible beneath a fedora. A trench coat hid a slim build. It was impossible to decipher an expression, but Matthew immediately sensed a gleeful calm about the stranger.
Mary, on the other hand, went the color of parchment. She was kneeling, the dress slit far enough up one slender leg to reveal a thigh-holster, and her gun was pointed directly at Matthew. She wasn’t looking at him, however, but at the stranger in the chair. “Patrick?” she stammered.
He turned his head to look at her, and Matthew suppressed a shiver. The bandages might have covered his face, but they left his neck bare, and the skin there was puckered and raw, the same color as Mary’s dress. “Hello, Mary,” Patrick said.
Canadian, Matthew determined. The bandaged man had his hands in his pockets, which meant that Matthew didn’t know if he had a weapon or not. But since Mary was the one pointing a gun at him, she was probably the greater threat, no matter if she seemed to have forgotten he was there.
“Miss me?” Patrick asked Mary.
“How?” Mary asked, her voice hoarse. “How are you alive, Patrick?”
Patrick’s lips curled up underneath the bandages. “Long story,” he said, and looked at Matthew. He rose to his feet slowly, almost creakily. “I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced.”
“Matthew Crawley,” Matthew said, as Mary blinked at him as though he’d just teleported into the room. It was not a gratifying feeling. “Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand. My hands are a little full.”
“No matter,” Patrick said. “I must take exception, however, in your pointing a gun at my cousin, though.”
Cousins? Matthew looked quickly between Patrick and Mary, though with the bandages on the former, there was no possible way to discern any familial resemblance. He turned back to Patrick. “I’m afraid it’s an occupational—”
Patrick raised his gun and shot Matthew.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Mary didn’t think. The minute she heard the shot, training took over: a split-second after Patrick had pulled the trigger, she shifted her aim and put two in his chest by instinct. It was only when the recoil sang up her arms, when Patrick fell backward, a startled look in his eyes, when Matthew crumpled, that reality stampeded back in, nearly knocking her flat as well.
Matthew and Patrick hit the floor at the same time, Matthew sideways and Patrick flat on his back. Matthew’s gun clattered away from him. Mary ran through the stink of cordite, praying, though she had no idea why. She had no love for Matthew Crawley, but he wasn’t a bad sort. So far. He didn’t deserve to be mowed down like cattle, like Patrick had done to him.
Just like she had done to Patrick. Patrick, who had been most definitely alive when he shouldn’t have been. Well, she’d solved that problem for him, hadn’t she? She’d aimed for center mass, and this close, she couldn’t have missed. Swearing, she crossed the room in two strides to see to Matthew—and Patrick Crawley sat up and coughed.
He kept his gun trained on Matthew. Mary froze. Should have done the Mozambique drill, her brain chipped in. She told her brain to shut it.
“Very good, Mary,” he said, his eyes hooded by the bandages and the fedora. “The years have taught you well.”
Mary aimed for his forehead this time. She should’ve known he was wearing a vest. “Why did you do that? What the hell is wrong with you?”
Patrick looked up and smiled at her, and Mary felt a chill crawl over her bared shoulders. “So many things, Cousin,” Patrick said, so quietly she almost didn’t hear him. “So very many things.”
Matthew writhed and moaned, and Mary started breathing again. Perhaps relief was premature—Patrick had shot him in the torso—but it didn’t stop her from experiencing an odd and staggering sense of relief and horror. She didn’t dare keep her eyes on Matthew, however, when there was a madman in the room with her. She focused on Patrick. “What happened to you?” she asked.
“I don’t have time to explain myself to you.” Patrick winced and began to climb to his feet.
“Don’t you dare get up!”
Patrick’s lips twisted up. “Poor Cousin Mary,” he said, his voice hollow and mocking now. “Trapped by your conscience once again. Will it never end?”
Mary swallowed before she gave him her most superior look. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re on about.”
“How long do you think he has? And can you, Andromeda of the Abbey, possibly pull the trigger before I can?”
“How many times have I shot you tonight?” Mary asked, narrowing her eyes even though she felt a bit like heaving.
“Yes, but now you’re in a stand-off, and in a stand-off, you lose.” Patrick moved to get up.
“Stay there! Put your gun down,” Mary said.
“You have a tell, you know.”
“Put the gun down,” Mary said more slowly, though inwardly, she’d begun to count. Matthew was so very, very still.
Patrick looked as thoughtful as it was possible beneath swaths of bandages. “No,” he said, “I don’t think you do know. Well, how about that? You have a tell, Andromeda. I shan’t tell you what it is. That’s no fun for me. But I know what it is, and rest assure, I will shoot this man before you can shoot me.”
Mary stared at him, horror growing. She didn’t understand. She didn’t understand how he had survived an explosion that would have killed anybody else, or what he was doing here at this party, or why he had shot a man in cold blood right in front of her.
“And how long if you don’t get to him and stop the blood-flow? How long if I dissemble and stall? Where did I hit him? Is it fatal? Could he be saved?” Patrick’s lips twisted upwards, but there was no humor in his expression. Just sheer and total malice that made Mary want to shiver.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“I have my reasons. None of which I’m going to share with you.” Patrick moved to get up once more.
“I think not,” said a new voice, and Mary’s heart stopped. Kemal Pamuk stepped into the room.
“No,” she said, ignoring the Desert Eagle he was pointing at her chest and the fact that Matthew had begun to groan. That was all she could say. No. It wasn’t possible. She’d heard reports from all over the world that Pamuk had been spotted—reports that had kept her away from the Abbey—but this, this simply couldn’t be happening.
“Why not?” Pamuk asked.
“I killed you!”
“Did you? It seems not, as I’m standing right here.” Pamuk turned his handsome head slightly, a minor tilt, and Mary saw that his neck was completely smooth. The room temperature plummeted into the arctic. “Patrick, stop messing around. Get up, and let’s go. Our work here is done.”
How was this possible? Pamuk had had a scar, a thin, ropy scar that had stretched from his ear to the tip of his chin, tracing his chiseled jaw. She knew that because she’d spent six miserable, everlasting hours with his dead body in that crappy little hotel room in Bucharest, waiting for the extraction that had never come. Every detail of that night was emblazoned onto her very soul, to be carried around like the black mark she knew it to be.
“Oh, very well,” Patrick said, sighing. He let out a laugh, and the noise scratched against Mary’s very core, it sounded so unhinged. She took a deep breath and hoped she wasn’t trembling, as a shaking hand gave away a spy every time. “If you insist, dear friend.”
“Dear friend?” Mary echoed. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t happening.
But no, it was very much happening. A man lay bleeding on the floor, and two men that should have been dead stood over the body, looking amused. Somewhere or other, she’d disembarked from reality. Her training at the Abbey, her years in the field, they had done nothing, absolutely nothing to prepare her for this moment.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Patrick said, and the smug tone of his voice finally touched the deep wellspring of anger that propelled Mary’s very existence. She began to see things clearly once more. Logically. Like a good spy. “My dear friend and I are going to walk out of here safe and sound.”
“Like hell you will,” Mary said. Two targets, she thought. Patrick had the same training she did, though his hearing and vision had probably been impaired in the explosion—if that was truly where the bandages came from—so she might have an advantage there if it came down to hand to hand. Pamuk was skilled in the art of krav maga, or at least that was what his dossier claimed. She’d need to strike and disable quickly in the event that she missed. But first, she’d need to stall. “You’re staying right there and telling me what the hell is going on right now or so help me, I will put a bullet in your head and I promise you, Cousin, I will not feel a drop of sorrow.”
Patrick chuckled. “It’s nice to know things never change. Do you really think you could shoot both of us before we get either you or your associate here? That’s what you’re thinking, right?”
There was no way she could make both shots without either Matthew or herself dying. Her jaw worked.
“Tick-tock, Mary,” Patrick said.
From the floor, Matthew coughed, and Mary noted that Pamuk jumped. “She probably can’t shoot you both,” he said, wheezing a little. All three of those standing tensed as he flopped onto his back. The red splotch on his side made Mary grit her teeth. “But…”
He rolled, arm striking out, and Pamuk let out a terrible yell. Mary fired off a shot toward Patrick, but the man ducked away. Blood sprayed the wall behind him; she’d nicked his shoulder. She got a glimpse of Pamuk practically leaping from the room, clutching his leg. Patrick ran after him, one hand clasped to his shoulder.
Mary cursed and started to take off after them, but Matthew groaned. Their eyes met for just a fraction of a second. In his, she saw resignation. “Guess you’re getting away after all,” he said.
Before she knew quite what she was doing, she shoved aside every feeling she had about Pamuk and Patrick and dropped to her knees beside him. “How bad is it? Where were you hit?”
“What are you doing?” Matthew asked, flinching as she reached for his shirt. “Why are you—God! Ow!”
“What did you do to Pamuk?” Mary ignored the second oath and the third, though when he began turning the air blue, she raised her eyebrow at him, completely unimpressed.
“Stabbed him, of course. Borrowed the knife you used to murder my monitor. Hope you don’t—” Matthew gritted his teeth when she peeled his shirt away from the wound. “Mind. OW. Why are you doing that?”
Mary studied the gunshot wound. Three inches to the left and things might have gotten serious. “You can walk,” she said.
“Get up.” She didn’t bother to be gentle as she hauled him to his feet. She told herself that the feeling flooding through her wasn’t sheer and total relief, though she knew it to be a complete falsehood. Matthew, it appeared, didn’t take well to being manhandled. “Must you use such vulgar language? You’re in the presence of a lady.”
“You threw a knife at me! Twice.”
“Oh, for the love of—I didn’t hit you, you’ll notice. Now, come on, lean on me. We need to get out of here.”
“Because you’ve bled all over the floor and Patrick bled all over the wall when I shot him, and I don’t imagine the host will be pleased. It’s bad manners.” Mary rolled her eyes. Was he always this dense?
“No, why are you helping me?”
“Come now, you don’t really think I’m so heartless that I would leave a man bleeding to death on the floor.”
“To death?” Matthew stumbled into her, and Mary gritted her teeth once more as she corrected their course.
“A little medical attention and you’ll be fine.” She hoped. He was the color of wax already. At the door, she hesitated. Patrick and Pamuk would have surely headed for the east wing of the house, where there were several easy egress points. They might have regrouped and might even be lying in wait for them even now. But to head the opposite direction meant going through the party. Unfortunately… “Do you think you could support yourself?”
“Yes,” Matthew said, but he grimaced. “But not for long. Why?”
“Hold your breath,” Mary advised, and did up his shirt for him. He worked out, she noticed, but she didn’t comment. She closed his dinner jacket. “We’ll have to move quickly and you’ll probably drip, but—”
“We’re going back through the party?” Matthew asked.
“Take my arm. You must grin and bear it, I’m afraid.”
“We’re going to have a long chat if I get out of here alive,” Matthew told her.
Mary rolled her eyes at him. “Won’t that be thrilling. Come on. Do let’s avoid the tiger, though. Tamed or not, I don’t think they’d be able to resist the fresh blood.”
“Did you really have to remind me of the tiger?” Matthew asked.
She heard the way his breath hissed through his teeth as they moved back into the open foyer. Though they hadn’t been gone long, the party had picked up in speed and tempo, into a furor that she imagined was fueled by the copious amounts of free alcohol flowing. Fire-jugglers had taken up shop at the center of the room, and the crowd was gasping as the sweat-covered men in Egyptian loincloths struggled to top their latest tricks. Mary edged around the crowd, guiding Matthew and trying to look every bit like the society miss and not the sole thing keeping her companion from crashing to the floor. If it felt like an eternity before they reached the front doors to her, she couldn’t even imagine how Matthew had felt.
To his credit, he didn’t collapse the minute they were free of the party. He handed his keys to the valet. The second the man had disappeared to fetch the car, Matthew grunted.
“What is it?” Mary asked, worried that he might fall over and they would have to ring for an ambulance. Whether she liked it or not, the minute Patrick Crawley had shot Matthew—for pointing a gun at her—Matthew had become her responsibility. And she couldn’t let him go unprotected to a hospital where Patrick and Pamuk might show up to finish the job.
Her life had just gotten infinitely complicated. She’d get Matthew to safety and health, she decided, and jump back into the wind.
Patrick Crawley wasn’t dead. Kemal Pamuk wasn’t dead. Mary’s entire world had been upended into an even worse mess than before, which was saying something. She hadn’t talked to her mother in weeks.
“I’m bleeding,” Matthew said.
“Yes, I’m aware of that.”
“No, I mean…” Matthew jerked his head at the ground, where a couple of drops of blood had landed. “And don’t you dare say anything about it being uncouth. I swear…”
“Go and stand in the bushes,” Mary said.
“Won’t that look strange?”
“You’re supposed to be rich. You’re entitled to look strange.”
The valet returned with Matthew’s car—which didn’t even have the luxury of leather seats, she noticed with a disdainful sniff. She gave him a skeptical look when he aimed for the driver’s side. “I think you’ve had a few too many cocktails for that, darling,” she said, and nipped into the seat before he could.
“It’s a rental,” he said between his teeth as slid into the passenger seat. “I haven’t cleared anybody else to drive it.”
“I think you should worry more about the fact that you’re bleeding all over it than my driving,” Mary said, and, punching the car into gear, they rocketed off into the night.
Though he tried to hold onto it, consciousness was a slippery thing, eluding his fingers and his mind and pulling away from him with every mile that they drove. They drove. Two of them. In the same car. Somehow he’d gone from tracking Mary “Andromeda” Crawley down at a party, to fighting with her, and now they were fleeing together. She’d all but carried him out to his car.
This was the weirdest spy hunt he’d ever encountered.
That thought made him feel cold, frightfully so, and then he realized that it wasn’t the thought, but the fact that he was bleeding. That was why he was cold.
But why was he bleeding? Matthew couldn’t remember.
Oh, right. He’d been shot.
That had hurt. In fact, it had hurt quite a bit.
Mary Crawley really did have a lovely voice, even if right now it was tinged with worry or exasperation. Matthew turned his face toward the sound, wondering why her face was so fuzzy and out of focus.
“Matthew,” she said, and this time she sounded more exasperated than worried. “Oh, for heaven’s—”
Something snapped in front of his face. “Matthew!”
He blinked awake. “What do you want now?” His voice came out surprisingly peevish.
“Stay awake. We’re almost there.”
“Where’s…” The black slid in and once more, something snapped. “Would you quit that!”
“I’ll be happy to,” Mary said, “the moment you quit passing out on me.”
“I hate you,” Matthew said, closing his eyes. He cursed, reaching for his gun, when something jerked his shoulder, but it was only Mary, driving his rental car on the wrong side of the road and—no. They were in France. She was on the—
“Matthew, for heaven’s sake!”
“I hate you,” Matthew repeated, glaring at her.
“I hate you, too. Now, will you—oh, thank God, we’re here.” He felt the car shift as she pulled it off the road and into a car park. Matthew drifted away on the darkness for an indiscriminate amount of time, and for no time at all. Distantly, he heard the car door open. Voices, one of which belonged to Mary, another, unfamiliar, though English and as northern as they came. Finally, something touched his side, and he came to with a lunge, arm swinging up to fend off his attacker.
He came to regret both, as agony splintered through his entire body, as though somebody had forced a length of iron through a blacksmith’s fire and had driven it, sizzling and awful, right into his ribcage. Mid-swing, his eyes rolled back into his head and blessed unconsciousness stole him away, an act of mercy if ever there was one.
“I’m not a doctor, milady.”
“Then why do I get to call you Dr. Mason, then? You’ve medical training.”
“Doesn’t mean I’ve operated on a human. Leastways, not a live one.”
Matthew heard the voices, insistently tugging him out of the space between nothingness and reality. He was uncomfortable and cold and had no idea why, but he didn’t open his eyes. He heard the voices fade out for a second, but they came back, which he didn’t mind. The woman sounded pleasant. Also familiar, but more importantly, pleasant.
“Oh, come now, Dr. Mason. He can’t be that different from your normal patients.”
“My normal patients are horses.”
“He’s about as stubborn as any of them. It fits.”
Matthew slowly opened his eyes and took in the room all about him. It looked like some sort of...operating room? There was something off about it, though, and he couldn’t figure out why until he looked at the wall. Instead of the regular human skeleton picture, the skeleton was of...a cat?
“What the devil?” he asked.
“Oh, he wakes,” the woman said, and Mary Crawley’s face came into view over him. He blinked, but it wasn’t a mirage. “See, William? You did fine.”
“If you say so, milady.”
“Am I at the vet’s?” Matthew asked, and realized that it hurt to talk.
“No worries.” A man’s face, pleasant, pale and slightly round, appeared in view. He had straw-colored hair that was messy, as though he’d just climbed out of bed. “You haven’t been turned into a dog, Mr. Crawley.”
“Ignore William. He’s overly proper,” Mary said.
Matthew ignored Mary instead, as he had no idea what she could be doing there and thinking was rather difficult. “But a vet’s office?”
“Well, I’m a veterinary surgeon, and this is my practice, if that’s what you mean.”
Matthew, realizing that the reason he was cold was because he was lying on something metal, lifted his head. He was shirtless, wearing only his tuxedo trousers and shoes, on what looked like an operating table. The subject being operated on, he realized, was himself, as those were definitely sutures in his side. “What the hell! What’s happened?”
Mary looked at William and rolled her eyes. “You’d think he would remember getting shot, of all things.”
“I hear it’s traumatic,” William said, sounding diplomatic. He looked at Matthew. “Please try not to move. The wound wasn’t as bad as we originally thought, but I’m not quite done here.”
Matthew closed his eyes and it all came flooding back to him: the strange, bandaged man that Mary had called Patrick. The handsome foreigner Patrick had called Pamuk. The way they’d stood over him, taunting Mary while she looked like one of them had plowed his fist into her stomach. The pain, coming in dull waves, in sharp waves, in unending, unrelenting waves. He looked at Mary now; she was no longer bone-white, but neither did she look entirely unfazed. “How bad is it?” he asked, looking at William.
“It missed anything major. Or at least, I’m fairly positive it did.”
“Well,” and William looked amused now, “you’re not a horse, so I can’t be one hundred percent certain.”
Matthew wasn’t sure how to take that. Thankfully, at that moment, something much more pressing occurred to him. “I can’t feel my fingers,” he said. In fact, his entire body felt float-y and disconnected somehow.
“I gave you something.” William returned quickly to working on Matthew’s side.
“What could you have possibly have given me? You just said you work on horses!”
“It was a small dose,” Mary said, and Matthew immediately turned his head to look at her. He’d forgotten she was even present, which was no small feat. Mary Crawley had the sort of gravitas that could fill entire ballrooms. It was something in her manner that imperiously demanded the attention of everybody around her—or maybe that was just him.
“A sm—a small dose?” His voice was a yelp now. He turned his head back to glare at William. “Did you give me horse tranquilizers?”
“Yes, and you should be grateful.” Mary swatted his good shoulder.
Matthew focused on her. “What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why not just leave me there? Why am I being operated on by a veterinary surgeon and not a regular one? Mary, what the hell is going on?”
“What’s going on is William very graciously dug a bullet out of your side after I rang him up in the middle of the night, so you should be grateful and stop asking questions.” She gave him a significant look.
“Almost done,” William said, “I promise.”
This entire night had been a study in the surreal, Matthew thought. He lifted his right arm and stared at his hand, wondering what it felt like. He wiggled his fingers. Mary grabbed his hand and pushed it back down onto the operating table, giving him a look as she did so. “You’re upsetting William’s work.”
“It’s all right, milady, truly. He’s not in the way.”
“I can’t believe you gave me horse tranquilizers.”
“Oh, be quiet and enjoy them.”
William coughed and suddenly had to look away. When he turned back to finish the stitches in Matthew’s side, the corners of his lips were twitching upwards. “He might be able to focus more if you talked to him,” he told Mary over Matthew’s body.
She gave him a perplexed look. “About what?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t been properly introduced to the strange man you brought to my office in the middle of the night, milady.”
Mary scowled at him, and William’s lips twitched again.
“Very well,” she said, and looked at Matthew. “We’re still in France, if you must know. You’re lucky my friend William relocated here to take over his uncle’s practice a year or two ago. You passed out while you were trying to hit William, which wasn’t very sporting of you. He gave you horse tranquilizers because you really didn’t believe in being still. According to him, they’ll wear off in about an hour, and then you’ll really regret it.”
“I never said that,” William said.
“Do I at least get painkillers then?” Matthew asked. “Human ones?”
Mary looked at William. He pulled off his gloves and sighed. “I’ve something that will work, as I’m done here. I’ll go and get it.”
When he moved away, his gait was so unsteady that Matthew automatically lifted his head to see what could possibly be wrong with the man. His eyebrows shot into his hairline when he saw the prosthetic calf and foot below the man’s left knee.
“Iraq,” Mary said quietly. “Five years ago now.”
“And he works with horses?” Matthew asked.
Mary bristled. “Just because—”
“I’m impressed,” Matthew said, and laid his head back down. “That can’t be easy.”
“He gets by.” Mary sighed and turned, pulling herself up so that she was sitting on the edge of the operating table next to Matthew’s hip. He blinked at the familiarity. “Your rental car’s a mess.”
“Imagine that,” Matthew said. “Know any good ways to get blood out of the upholstery?”
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Matthew felt a twinge in his feet and wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not. He’d been shot. He’d been shot at before, but never shot. And never so coldly. Patrick Crawley hadn’t even given him a single warning. “Why are you still here, Mary? Why not just dump me on William and run? You know I wouldn’t have hurt him.”
She looked exasperated for a moment, though the expression faded to one that surprised him: grim acceptance. “William’s not connected to the Abbey,” she said, looking chagrined for the first time.
“So it’s okay to dump the random bullet-riddled spies you picked up at parties on his front step and waltz away if they’re connected to the Abbey?”
“It was one bullet.”
“Excuse me, the bullet was in my side. I think I get to be the one who claims how serious a matter it is.”
“Honestly.” Mary rolled her eyes. “If you must know, William is a friend. You don’t dump your extra weight on your friends and run, not when you’ve as few as I do right now. So of course I’m here until I can get rid of you. No matter: this is as good a place as any to hide.”
“You don’t seem like much the type to hide away,” Matthew said, the words emerging before he had thought about them. He blamed whatever horse tranquilizers William had given him for the fact that his voice sounded soft. The “extra weight” comment should have bothered him, but he found it more amusing than anything.
“Yes, well, life can catch anyone unawares if you let it, can’t it?”
Matthew opened his mouth to reply, but William shuffled back in, holding a pill bottle. “What is that?” Matthew asked.
“Human drugs.” William set it on the operating table next to Matthew, raising his eyebrows at the way that Mary was sitting. “I remembered I had some in my medicine cabinet. Not quite prescription strength, I’m afraid, but I only have stuff around the office for dogs and horses.”
“This will do quite well,” Matthew said quickly. “Thank you.”
“It’s no trouble.” William glanced between Mary and Matthew. “I’ll go make up the bed in the spare room for him, milady. You can take my room. I’ll be fine on the couch.”
“No, William, we can’t push you out of your own bed—”
“It’s fine,” William said, and limped off. Matthew suspected he was moving rather faster than usual to avoid an argument with Mary, and couldn’t fault him for that.
Indeed, she scowled the minute he was gone, and muttered, “I should have known.”
“Why does he keep calling you ‘milady?’“
Mary eyed Matthew rather sharply. “It’s a long story.”
And not one she was going to tell, Matthew surmised. He leaned his head back against the operating table and felt the feeling gradually return to his fingers and toes. It wasn’t pleasant; they tingled horribly, sharp pricks that startled him and made him wonder exactly what his side was going to feel like later on.
He’d been shot by a bandaged madman at some society party in the south of France. He’d been a spy for four years, but it had never been quite so…James Bond-like until he’d met Mary Crawley. Usually spy work was ninety-eight percent drudgery: reviewing surveillance tapes, decoding messages, comparing grainy satellite pictures to confirm extremely tenuous hypotheses. But ever since he’d been stuffed into a van and taken to Crawley’s, his life had become a revolving door of international travel, knife fights, barbed dialogue, and now, gunshots by Bond villains.
“Who was the man that shot me, Mary?” he asked. “He called you cousin.”
“Because he’s my cousin.” Mary didn’t elucidate.
“And the man I stabbed?”
“Another man who’s supposed to be dead and somehow isn’t,” Mary said, not looking at him.
“Pamuk,” Matthew said, sounding the name out loud. “Patrick and Pamuk. They…sound a bit like they should have a chat show together, if I’m going to be honest.”
Mary’s shoulders shook, and Matthew realized she was trying not to laugh.
“Who were they, truly?”
“Patrick worked for the Abbey. He was recruited six months before I was.” Mary began to play with her hands, wrapping her fingers together and untangling them slowly. There were scars on the smooth skin there, Matthew discovered, which was unsurprising given her affinity for knife-fighting. “He was killed on one of our first missions together. Or so I thought.”
“An explosion?” Matthew asked, searching his hazy memory.
“A bad one. There’s…honestly, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out how he might have survived, and I’ve got nothing.” Mary fell silent for a long moment. “It should have been me. I was supposed to be the one to go into that warehouse that night, while Patrick was supposed to run surveillance from the van.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Matthew blinked at that, and felt a blush rise when he realized precisely what she meant.
“Don’t be a prude,” she told him. “It’s not like you’ve never had a girlfriend, not with that face.”
Lavinia had never really talked of such subjects in front of him, though he’d grown up with a nurse for a mother. He knew it happened. They simply avoided discussing it.
“Either way, I don’t think it matters much to Patrick. He likely suspects I set it up. It certainly would explain some things.”
“Like why you went off the grid?” Matthew asked. His brain was slowly beginning to churn back at what he hoped was his normal speed. His body certainly felt less like it was floating and more like something awful had happened to it. “You think he’s behind whatever it was that forced you to do that?”
“Oh, probably.” Mary rolled her eyes and hopped off the table, brushing off her hands. There was blood on her wrist, Matthew realized. His blood. It made him a little dizzy to see it. “Or maybe it’s the man I was supposed to assassinate that’s pulling the strings. I’ve no way to know. Not from here, and not while I’m dealing with you.”
“You heard me,” Mary said.
“I didn’t think that the Abbey—I thought they didn’t believe in—”
“I wasn’t working for the Abbey at the time. They’d farmed me out to Branksome. Ah, William, are the rooms ready?”
“Yes, milady.” William stood in the doorway. “Do you need help, Mr. Crawley?”
“No, no, I’ve got it.” Though his mind was still reeling a little bit at Mary’s rather blasé announcement that she was an assassin, Matthew sat up. He immediately regretted even thinking about doing so, as the feeling returned all at once. Somebody had slammed an iron spike into his side. He gasped. When Mary reached for him, he held a hand out to stop her. “It’s fine. Give me a second.”
It took him longer than a second before he was able to swing his legs off the table and stand up, but neither William nor Mary moved to help him, for which he was grateful. He grabbed the pill bottle as he hobbled after William. Why he was limping when there was nothing wrong with his legs, he didn’t know, but he didn’t question it.
“I live pretty modestly,” William said by way of apology, “but I do keep a guest bedroom done up for when Daisy…”
Would that be the same Daisy, Matthew wondered, that he’d met briefly at the Abbey?
“Well, for when she visits, though she doesn’t make it to France much,” William finished, and led him into the guest bedroom. It was tidy—cozy, Matthew would have called it—just a simple room with a single bed and a chest of drawers. On top of the bureau was a faded snapshot of William, in an army uniform, next to the selfsame Daisy from the Abbey, who looked much younger and much happier.
Matthew didn’t comment. He looked at the pocket doors in the wall.
“It was originally one bedroom,” William said, explaining as he nodded. “I made it into two. That opens into the other room.”
“It can be. I’ll get you some food; you’ll want that before you take anything for the pain.”
“Thank you,” Matthew said. “Truly.”
William just nodded and left again. He was not in the slightest bit nonplussed, Matthew realized, to have strangers in his veterinary practice in the middle of the night. Even strangers with bullets in them. That had to be the strangest definition of unflappable Matthew had ever come across.
He went to the pocket doors and pushed them open.
Mary, in the master bedroom, had her back to him as she pulled out her earrings. The room wasn’t much larger than Matthew’s, he discovered. “What do you want now?” she asked.
“An explanation would be nice.”
“Well, I’m afraid I’m simply too tired to give you a proper one at the moment. Two men from my past came back from the dead tonight, you’re not in Seoul, and now we appear to be in this together. There. Does that suffice, for now?”
Not in the slightest, Matthew thought. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I already told you that. Do keep up.”
She set her earrings down on the chest of drawers and turned to look at him. “I couldn’t let you go to a hospital, not with Pamuk and Patrick on the loose. You were safer with me, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m not such an unsympathetic beast that I would let you bleed to death at that awful house or leave you unprotected like that.”
“But why?” Matthew asked.
“You work for the Abbey. Clearly you must be of some worth. It’d be a waste to lose your potential.” She rolled her eyes and crossed the room to close the pocket doors. When Matthew didn’t move his hands from them, she sighed. “What is it now?”
“Leave them open. That way you can’t sneak away in the middle of the night.”
“You don’t honestly think you’re going to bring me in now, do you?”
“I was given an assignment.”
“I have need of my privacy,” Mary said.
He felt like smirking all of a sudden. The woman talked in the most blasé fashion about having cramps and had been needling him all night. She hadn’t even paled at the sight of him bleeding all over the place. She might be proper, but impropriety clearly didn’t shock her as much as she pretended. “It’ll be dark,” he said. “That’s private enough. I’m a light sleeper. If you try to sneak off, I’ll hear.”
“Whatever. It makes no difference to me. I’m going to shower, and you’ll simply have to take my word that I won’t slip out through the bathroom window, as I’m going to close the door to shower.”
“Pity,” Matthew said before he could stop himself.
Mary rolled her eyes and stomped away. The minute she was out of sight, Matthew remembered his side hurt like the dickens, and abruptly stopped smiling.
He might have been a light sleeper, Mary thought, but the man didn’t make a single noise in his sleep. Why this annoyed her, she didn’t know, except that she nearly got up twice to make sure he hadn’t stopped breathing. William had assured her that the wound wasn’t that bad, though Matthew wouldn’t be comfortable for a few days, so there wasn’t much of a chance it had suddenly killed him in the night, but she hated that she worried anyway. She hated that he had any effect on her whatsoever because he was Perseus and she was Andromeda and it was all so bloody predictable that it made her want to scream. Because of that, and because she was all too aware that the pocket doors were open, she slept poorly, waking every hour on the hour.
It gave her time to think. Now that the adrenaline and fear had faded, she could see the situation a little more clearly. Somehow, against all laws of mankind and nature, Patrick Crawley had survived the explosion in Dorchester. They’d all grieved—Mary not very hard, admittedly, because she’d never got on well with her cousin—at the Abbey. From that awful failed mission, she’d carried the guilt and the sobering knowledge that if she’d been feeling in top shape, that would have been her that had gone in to retrieve the intel. She liked to think that if she had been the one to go into that warehouse, she would have spotted the charges, as Patrick was always so cocky about these things. It made him a great point-man, but he’d been a bit useless on some of the more intricate missions.
She had no way of knowing that for sure that she wouldn’t have died in the explosion, though. So the information that she had thoroughly escaped death sat heavy on her mind whenever she did not particularly want to think of it.
Apparently, though, she wasn’t the only one that had narrowly escaped death. The whole evening had been a farce in that regard: not only Patrick, but Pamuk, too, had clearly beaten death in that fabled chess match.
It had occurred to her on that long, terrifying drive to William’s that she must have killed Pamuk’s double, which meant he’d seen her coming. Somebody from Branksome might have alerted him, or Mary might have slipped up. Had Pamuk’s double even known what he was in for when he’d tried to bed Mary Crawley? She’d killed an innocent man, one whose only sin was to work for an employer that clearly wasn’t above sacrificing his subordinates.
Regret and shame flooded through her at the thought, and kept her awake for hours. When she did fall asleep, slumber came in patchy, insufficient fits and her thought always returned to the look of smug superiority on Kemal Pamuk’s face as he stood next to Patrick Crawley, who was clearly a bottle of golden syrup short of a treacle tart.
When her sat-phone rang, she sat up with a jolt. In the other room, Matthew did the same. She heard his curse as the movement obviously jarred his wound.
Mary ignored that and checked the display. Anna. If Anna was contacting her…her heart in her throat, she picked up. “What’s wrong?”
“Mary.” Anna’s voice was thick, like she had been crying. “I know I’ve no right to ask you this but—they took him away. It’s wrong, it’s all wrong and they took him and I don’t know what to do—you’ve got to help me.”
“Who? Bates?” Mary shoved out of bed, on her feet before she knew what to do about it.
“It’s Scotland Yard, they’ve just come—they said he killed her—”
“Anna, slow down. You’re not making much sense.” Her heart was hammering, Mary realized. She’d never heard Anna, calm, serene Anna, sound so worked up. And they’d survived Oxford together. “Tell me what’s going on and how I can help.”
“It’s Vera Bates, Mary,” Anna said, and made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob. “She’s dead, killed it looks like, and they say John did it. They’ve taken him away! They say he’s a Russian spy!”
Oh, hell, Mary thought. Vera was dead and the secret was out anyway. She had not expected this. “Stay put,” she said. “I will handle this. Stay right there, and keep your phone on.”
“But—you’re on the run—”
And she had two dead men to find and stop before they pulled off some nefarious scheme, Mary thought, but she pushed it aside. “I will be there as soon as I can,” she said. “Try to get as much information about it as you can. Call Sybil. She can help. And Gwen. Gwen, too, she’s brilliant with computers, she’ll know something probably before the rest of us.”
She heard a sniffle on the other end of the line. “O-okay.”
“And stay put. I’ll be right there.”
Anna was outright crying as Mary hung up, which hurt deep in Mary’s soul, but there wasn’t much she could do about that. She dropped the sat-phone on the bed and crossed to William’s closet. He was much too tall for her, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The timing of this attack—for there was simply no way that John Bates had murdered his estranged wife—couldn’t be a coincidence. Something was going on and she needed to move. She’d pick up new clothes in England.
“Mary? What’s going on?” Matthew asked.
“Get dressed,” Mary said.
“It’s not sneaking off if you’re coming with me.” She grabbed a button-up shirt from the closet and giving no thought to modesty, pulled off her pajama top. She heard Matthew’s startled curse as he spun around to give her privacy—the prude—but didn’t comment. She grabbed a belt, poked a new hole with her knife, and a set of William’s trousers. She’d leave a note and some money. “Go on! Get dressed!”
“Where are we going?”
“England,” Mary said. “I’ll explain on the way.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“John Bates is a spy,” Mary said, taking a curve in the road so fast that Matthew was thrown up against the car door. He could only thank whatever deity that happened to be listening that his gunshot wound was on the left, but he banged his elbow on the door nonetheless. It hurt.
“Yes, I know that. He works for the Abbey. I met him the night you got the drop on me.”
“No, no.” Mary gave him an impatient look. “No, he’s a spy.”
Matthew stared at her, perplexed. The satellite phone call had woken him from a deeper sleep than he cared to admit—though if pressed, he’d blame the horse tranquilizers—and from then, things had not improved. Though Mary appeared outwardly calm, there was a light in her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before, not even when he’d been bleeding all over the floor: she was scared. She’d buried most of it behind that lady of the manor mask of hers, but there was clearly a sense of panic to everything she did now. Including, Matthew thought, her driving. And that was a bit worrisome, as he was in the car with her.
“I don’t get what you—wait a second, are you saying that—for whom?”
“The Soviets. Who else?” Mary tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and, hitting an open stretch of French road, shoved her foot down on the accelerator. “Well, that’s not fair. He was a spy. He’s not one now. Not officially.”
“Officially?” He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that the Abbey had a mole in its midst. Matthew stared at Mary, aghast. “You’ve been sitting on information that one of your colleagues is a Soviet spy?”
“Used to be a Soviet spy.”
Matthew just continued to stare until Mary sighed. “It’s a long story,” she said.
“Everything seems to be a long story with you.”
“It’s a good thing we’ve got ten hours in a car together for me to tell it.”
“Wait, are we driving back to England?” Matthew asked, puzzled. “Why not fly? I’ve got Branson waiting for me back at the airstrip.”
Mary gave him a look. “Like I’m going to fall for that.”
“Fall for what?”
“The minute I get on that plane, you’ll drag me back to the Abbey, and I’m not going back.”
“You’re going back to Anna,” Matthew said. “Anna’s part of the Abbey.”
“Of course I’m going back to her. She needs my help. And since they put her on suspension, she’s not part of the Abbey. Not really.” Mary stomped on the accelerator once more. The engine whined in reply, and Matthew gripped the door handle.
“How do you know it’s not a trap?” he asked.
He saw a muscle in her jaw work in the light reflected from the rearview mirror. The roads were understandably clear at just shy of four in the morning. “It’s not,” she said.
“You trust her that much?”
“With my life.”
“And you must get back to her as quickly as possible?”
“Then let me call Branson. We’ll take the jet.”
He could see her resolve flicker; cutting down their travel time by a good eight hours was obviously attractive to a woman so dead-set on helping her friend. But she hadn’t been born yesterday, and surviving as long as she had in the world of espionage, she’d clearly grown careful. “I want your word,” she said. “Your word that you won’t trap me into going right back to headquarters.”
“How about a compromise? We take the jet, you help Anna, and afterward you come back with me.”
“I’m not going back.”
“Your parents and your grandmother want very much to see you,” Matthew said, pushing at the point where he’d learned she was most likely to break.
Instead of conceding, however, she hunkered forward over the steering wheel and her jaw firmed up. This went deeper than just espionage. There were family issues buried in there, Matthew realized, and wondered why he hadn’t seen that before. “No.”
“What happened, Mary? What caused the break?”
For a long time, she was quiet, the stony silence that women knew how to wield well, in Matthew’s experience. “So many things,” she said at long last, and it was almost too quiet for him to hear.
Matthew gripped the door harder and considered. He wondered if she knew that there was a wealth of pain in her voice or not. She was a spy, so maybe she did. Maybe it was even calculated. But if it wasn’t…
“I’ll give you my word,” he found himself saying.
She flicked a startled glance at him. “Your word that you’ll do what, exactly?”
“We take the jet back to York, and to Anna. I won’t trick you into going back to the Abbey. When we’re done helping her, you go your way and I go mine.” He was telling the truth, Matthew realized. It had taken him forever to learn how to lie, as the spy business required it, but right now, every word was laced with God’s honest truth.
She stared at him in outright disbelief. “Why?”
It was the question he had been asking her all night. Matthew had to admit that it did feel nice to have the tables turned. He put his hand on his side, even though it made him flinch. “I owe you one, that’s all. This clears the ledger.”
“You’ll let me go. Just like that.”
“Sure,” Matthew said, and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I found you once before. I’ve got every assurance I can do so again.”
She snorted, but her voice sounded a little shaky when she said, “I think you overestimate your own abilities, Matthew Crawley.”
“Perhaps. Or maybe you underestimate them, Mary Crawley.”
Mary slammed on the brakes, doing a U-turn. Given that it was four a.m. in the French countryside, there wasn’t anyone about to run into, but Matthew still jumped. “What are you doing?”
“Call Branson,” she said, and left it at that as she sped the opposite direction, back to where the party had been held.
Matthew didn’t bother to ask how she’d known where the jet was, as the answer would probably frighten him. Once he’d roused the Irish pilot—who did not sound at all happy about the prospect of flying at such a beastly hour—Matthew slipped his phone back into his trouser pocket. “So we’re to be allies.”
“For a time,” she said.
“Why’s it so important that we get back to Anna?”
“Because it’s too convenient.” Mary’s fingers tapped the steering wheel, restlessly. He almost reached over to grab her hand, but he suspected that as tense as she was, he might draw back nothing but a nub. “Vera Bates shows up murdered now, right as Pamuk and Patrick come back from the dead?”
“You think the same person is behind all of it?”
“Vera Bates wasn’t a smart woman. Oh, sure, she was cunning, but she wasn’t smart. And she was too vain to have fallen on her sword to make Bates’s life hell, so to speak.” Mary’s fingers kept tapping. Tap. Tap. Tap. “You’ve noticed how much older Bates is than Anna.”
“Yes,” Matthew said, bewildered. “What of it?”
“He married Vera when he was young. Eighteen, maybe, nineteen. I don’t recall the exact details, and it’s not like they matter anyway. She got mixed up with the Soviets, back when there were still Soviets.” Mary took a hard right, and Matthew flinched as it jarred his side. “Bates was serving with my father at the time, in the RAF. Back when my grandfather still ran Crawley’s.”
“Vera told him she was being threatened by the Soviets, so Bates…Bates agreed to pass on information to them to keep her safe. They had no idea that the Abbey existed. They thought Bates was just a soldier with access to some intel they wanted. The other spy agencies, though, they knew about the Abbey and when information started getting linked from somewhere close to my father, they assumed it was coming from the Abbey. Never mind that he wasn’t actually part of the Abbey yet.” Mary’s scowl deepened for a fraction of a section. “Back then, you served your time in the military, then you joined the Abbey. That was when the Abbey started separating itself from the other agencies. Going off the grid entirely. Officially, the Abbey doesn’t exist to most of the others.”
That made a lot of sense. “I worked for Dauphine for four years,” Matthew said, “and I’d never heard of them until they grabbed me.”
“That’s the way they prefer it.”
“So John Bates gave information to the Soviets?”
“Yes, I’m afraid he did.”
“Then he should be in prison!”
“It’s not as cut and dried as that. I think, but I can’t prove, that Vera forced his hand. But he managed to leak the exact same information to the Abbey at the last second, so that they would know what the Soviets knew. He made it look like an accident.”
“How did your father react?” Matthew asked.
“He doesn’t know.”
“What? But you said Bates worked—works for him.”
“He never knew. My father left the RAF shortly afterward and went to work for Crawley’s full time. He helped them ‘transition’ to becoming only a bank, or so it looked like. Part of it was his disgrace, you know.”
“Oh.” Matthew rolled that around in his mind for a moment. So Robert Crawley had been suspected of being a double agent, and Crawley’s had used the inherent shame to “close down” their intelligence agency. It was...incredibly crafty. “Why do I get the feeling that your grandmother was behind that ‘transition?’”
Mary scowled. “Smarter than you look, aren’t you?”
The last thing he expected was for Mary to sigh in contrition. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You mustn’t pay any attention to the things I say when I’m like this.”
For a split-second, a worried look flittered across her face. Matthew remembered how calmly Anna had faced him, in that alley by her flat, and the polite card she had sent about his wellbeing after his encounter with Mary. He’d never met anybody quite so ethereal and serene. “I’m sure Anna’s holding up,” he said.
“Oh, I’m sure you’re right. I just don’t like this. Something’s up, and I can’t figure out what.”
“Keep telling me your story. If your father doesn’t even know about Bates’s duplicity, how do you? Did he tell you himself?”
“Richard Carlisle told me. I haven’t even seen Bates since he did, either, as it was—it was right before I went after Pamuk. Or Pamuk’s double. Whoever the hell it was that I killed.” For a second, a shadow passed over Mary’s face. “I’m not sure I want to face him.”
“How did Carlisle come across the information?” Matthew asked. “And how can you be sure?”
“I’ve no idea. Carlisle found them through one of his sources—a weasel, no doubt, they’re all weasels—and I’ve no reason to doubt their veracity, other than to suspect it was really Vera behind all of it. She’s a nasty piece of work. She’s made life hell for Anna.” Mary’s fingers tapped once against the steering wheel. “I’m not sorry she’s dead. I’m just sorry Anna’s suffering for it.”
“Do you know how she died?”
“No idea, but if somebody killed her, it wasn’t Bates.”
“How does her being dead tie to Patrick and Pamuk not being dead?”
“For the last time, I don’t know. God. This is like a game of twenty questions that will never end!” Mary hit the steering wheel in frustration.
Matthew set his teeth and reminded himself, very calmly and very slowly, that neither of them had gotten much sleep. When that did nothing, he took a deep breath, and another. “I’m trying to put as clear a picture as I can together,” he said. “We can’t do anything if we don’t know the facts.”
Mary let out another sigh, again contrite. “I don’t know,” she said, over-enunciating, “what the hell Patrick and Pamuk have to do with Vera Bates, other than the fact that the timing is suspect. There. Are you happy?”
“Quite,” Matthew said through his teeth.
“For all I know, maybe it’s a life for a life,” Mary said darkly, “and somebody else I know is dead in reply.”
“I highly doubt it’s that fantastical,” Matthew said. Looking ahead, he spotted the sign for the airstrip where the Abbey’s jet awaited, and he couldn’t help but be relieved. Branson’s flying was bound to be safer—and much easier on his wounded, aching side—than Mary’s driving or her temper.
Mary’s knees went weak at the sight of the jet. Homesickness was foolishness, she knew, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to push the feeling away. For all that she’d wanted her independence—to be a proper spy, one that could be taken seriously on her own merits and not because she was the daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley—being ostracized from the Abbey as she’d been, she’d learned that loneliness had a thousand different flavors, each more poignant than the last.
And lord, she really must be tired for her thoughts to turn in such a maudlin direction.
“Need any help?” she asked Matthew as she turned off the engine. She had to remind herself that it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know anything. He’d been tossed in to the deep end of the pool right away. Of course he would have questions.
But did he have to have so bloody many of them? She could barely think.
“I’ll be fine.” His voice was curt.
She took him at his word and climbed free of the rental, striding toward where Branson waited. He was wearing his pilot’s uniform, but he didn’t look happy about the early hour. Nor did he seem particularly overjoyed to see her.
“Andromeda,” was his only greeting. “Coming home with your tail between your legs, I see.”
“Set a course for York,” Mary said, and climbed aboard the plane.
Matthew climbed aboard a minute or so later, followed by Branson. Matthew settled into the copilot’s seat as the plane engines started up, though there were plenty of seats in the cabin. “York?” Branson asked Matthew, and Mary bristled to hear her orders questioned.
“Right away,” Matthew said.
“Be a couple of hours,” Branson said.
Mary ignored both men and headed to the back of the cabin, strapping herself in at the computer console. She’d have to wait for the plane to get going before she could get any work done, she knew, but she could at least prep her thoughts. Gwen and Anna had worked to kit out the company jet for all of the various Crawleys that might be using it. As a result, everything Mary needed was right there. She felt a pang at that, but she pushed it aside to pull out her favored notepad and pen.
“Cruising altitude,” Branson called back, probably more of a reflex than a courtesy.
Mary nodded and powered up the computer. Anna’s Abbey-link was active, she saw right away. She clicked it open.
Instead of Anna’s face, however, Gwen’s filled the screen. The redhead jumped back in surprise. “Mary!”
“Hullo, Gwen,” Mary said. “What’re you doing on Anna’s computer?”
“She rang me up, and I was already in York, so.” Gwen peered at her suspiciously. “Are you on the jet?”
“On our way to York.”
“Does this mean you’re back?”
“I’m helping Anna,” Mary said, and left it at that.
That turned out to be good enough for Gwen, for she shrugged and filled Mary in. Vera Bates was most assuredly dead. She’d flatlined in her flat, apparently, which looked like a proper wreck. “Whoever killed her, they roughed her up some. They found her last night, but it looked like she’d been there for hours.”
Pictures began appearing on the screen, replacing Gwen’s face. Vera’s flat, Mary saw. It almost sickened her: furniture was knocked over, knickknacks strewn messily across the floor. Vera hadn’t gone without a fight—a brutal one.
“Does Bates have an alibi?” she asked when Gwen’s face reappeared.
Gwen shook her head. “No. They’re taking him to London and—”
Anna’s face appeared behind her. She looked like she’d been crying, but her eyes were clear now. She, also, Mary noted, looked as angry as it was possible for Anna Smith to look. “He didn’t do it.”
“I know that. But if he has an alibi—”
“He says he was home alone. None of his neighbors saw him,” Gwen said.
Mary sucked in a breath. “Any other suspects?”
“None,” Gwen said.
“But they haven’t looked very hard.” Anna scowled.
“He didn’t do it,” Mary said.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along! And now they’re on about him being some kind of—of Soviet spy—”
“Now that, he did do,” Mary said.
Anna’s mouth dropped open in shock.
“I can’t explain over the link. We’ll be in York in a couple of hours. Can somebody come pick us up at the airfield?”
“We? You and Branson?”
“And Matthew,” Mary said. At the shocked looks of her friends, she nearly rolled her eyes. “We’ve agreed to work together. For now. Gwen, have you checked the surveillance round Vera’s flat? Expand past the normal circles. It’s a slim chance, but it’s all we got.”
“All dark,” Gwen said.
“I figured that. Keep an eye out on the old Soviet channels; focus on those that were active in the early 90s. If there’s any chatter...”
“You weren’t kidding,” Gwen said, her eyes widening. “Is he really—”
“It’s complicated. I’ve some research to do. See you in a couple of hours.”
She logged out and hunkered down to bypass the computer’s security. If she was going to do some digging, she didn’t want it on record. She started on Patrick first. If coming back from the dead was anything like resurfacing with a new identity—one the Abbey couldn’t track—it had to be expensive. His accounts had been shut down in the event of his death, his wealth going to a distant cousin unrelated to anybody at Crawley’s. On a whim, Mary checked into that cousin, and her frown deepened. The cousin didn’t exist. The money had vanished completely.
This was more of a job for Thomas than it was for her, she knew. Thomas, the Abbey’s investigator, could sniff out hidden money better than anybody. It was the only reason they kept him on, under Carson’s watchful eye. He had a nose for money and the sticky fingers to match, after all.
She tracked the money to the Caymans, where she lost it again. With a sigh, she sent Thomas a note to look into it, hoping that the intrigue would get past his natural insolence.
Once that was done, she set up a search for badly burned victims being admitted to burn wards all across England and a few other countries, just to make sure. That would take a couple minutes to run; she leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.
From the cabin, she heard murmured voices. “What happened to you?”
“Ouch. Did she do it?”
“No.” There was a pause from Matthew. “No love lost between the two of you, I see.”
“Dare I ask?”
“Don’t date one of her sisters, and you’ll be fine.”
Well, that was nothing of interest to her. Mary went back to her research. There was frustratingly little on how Patrick might have survived that explosion, or recuperated, or where he had been all of these years. Had there been some other reason for him to be at that party? Had he been meeting somebody else, or trying to prevent Mary from doing so?
She hacked into the Davenport’s security and began to download the security videos from the house party they’d attended earlier to the Abbey’s server. As she did, the urgent message light began to flash on her phone. She checked the name and instead of calling back, opened up the satellite link on the computer again.
This time it was Anna sitting at the computer. “There’s a problem,” she said.
Mary felt ice begin to coat her insides. Anna was far too calm. “What is it?”
“Gwen found some chatter on one of the old Soviet channels. Yekaterina Derevko has put out a hit on John.”
Mary stared at her friend in stunned silence for a full ten seconds before it processed. She held up a finger toward the computer screen to tell Anna to wait, and turned toward the cabin. “Change of plans, boys. Reroute to London.”
“What?” Matthew’s head appeared over the back of his chair. “What for?”
“What else? A prison break.”
The feeling in Matthew’s side had migrated from a dull-yet-insistent throb to outright pain by the time that the Abbey’s jet touched down on the tarmac, but he gritted his teeth and followed Mary out of the plane. Branson stayed behind to run post-flight checks and wait for Anna and Gwen, which meant that it was only Mary and him that jogged across the rain-splashed tarmac to the waiting car, which he’d ordered ready to go the minute Mary had launched her ridiculous plan.
They were going to break a man out of prison before the Russians could kill him. When had Sir Ian Fleming started narrating his life?
Mary took the driver’s seat and his side hurt so much, he didn’t protest. “Where are we going now?” he asked.
“We’ll set up at Edith’s. Won’t she love that.” Mary kept her gaze forward, apparently focusing on pushing this car past its limits. Matthew wondered if she had a compulsion to do so for every rental car she encountered, and made a silent promise to keep her far from his own beloved Audi. “How’s your side?”
“Hurts like nothing else I’ve ever encountered, thanks for asking.”
Mary nodded, as though she’d expected that, and pushed the car even faster. “Sybil will be there. She’ll have good drugs.”
“If you say so,” Matthew said. He was having a hard time focusing. It was a mixture of interrupted sleep and international travel while grievously injured, a combination he looked forward to never experiencing again. “So what’s the plan, then? I’ve never broken a man out of jail before.”
“Me either. I don’t want to repeat it fifty times so I’ll wait until everything is together before I fill everybody in.”
Matthew nearly shrugged, but thankfully remembered the fact that he’d had a hole blown through his side at the last second. “Very well,” he said.
Apparently Mary Crawley could feel guilt, for she sighed. “I don’t know what it is yet,” she said. “The plan, I mean. Not entirely. I just know we’ll have to move fast. The Derevko sisters are…notorious. Surely you’ve heard of them, working at Dauphine.”
He hadn’t, actually, but that didn’t surprise him. He was rapidly approaching the point where a bear could stand on the hood of the car and tap dance, and it wouldn’t surprise him. All in all, though, he hoped that wouldn’t happen. It would be hard to explain the scratches to the rental agency.
“No? You’re probably better off. Two of them haven’t been heard from in a couple of years, but the third…” Mary shook her head. “I haven’t had any run-ins with her personally, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. She’s put a hit out on Bates, which tells me he either knows something or they’re scared that he knows something. They’ll move quickly, especially in London. So we have to be faster.”
Which was why Gwen and Anna were heading to London in the chopper and why Mary was currently breaking every speed law in England, Matthew surmised. He leaned back, hissing through his teeth a little at the blistering pain in his side. “Did we get here soon enough to grab him in transit?”
“No, but they’re transferring him to a different facility in three hours.” Mary punched through to avoid a red light, looking over in concern when Matthew swore. “Best hold on. Time is of the essence.”
“So are traffic laws!”
Mary laughed, a long, rich chuckle. “If you think this is bad, just wait until you see Edith drive.”
Thanks to Mary’s lead foot and luck, they made it to Edith’s flat in what Matthew suspected to be record time. It was in a nice neighborhood, nothing remarkable. The doorman expressed his surprise at seeing Mary, but she breezed right by with a smile, a limping Matthew in tow. He gave the doorman an uneasy salute and followed Mary onto the lift.
“He probably thinks it’s a walk of shame,” he said without meaning to.
“What?” Mary glanced askance at him.
“Well…look at you.” She still wore the clothing she’d borrowed from William. The regal bearing and posture of course told the world that she was a proper lady, but the trousers and button up shirt simply swallowed her slight frame whole. “You do look a bit…”
“Ugh,” Mary said, rolling her eyes at him. “Don’t remind me. Oh, this is it. She’ll already be awake—she’s one of those infernal morning people.”
Mary gave him an unimpressed look and led the way off the lift.
Edith Crawley really was a morning person; she answered the door wearing yoga pants and a tank top, looking as though she’d been awake for hours. She blinked at the both of them. “M-Mary?”
“I really hope you aren’t on one of those awful cleanses where you’ve given up coffee again,” Mary said, pushing past her sister into the flat.
Edith remained there, blinking in shock at Matthew. “Hi,” he said, feeling horribly awkward. “Can I…”
“What? Oh, sure. Come in. I…Mary? What are you doing here?” Edith followed after her sister, leaving Matthew to his own devices at the entrance of her flat. It was tidy, he realized, but not the same lived-in tidy that Anna’s flat had been. This one was meticulously neat: the bookshelves were all lined with books ranged by size and color, the art was precise, the furniture was angular and unforgiving. There was a yoga mat on the floor, neatly squared off. A little perturbed, he trailed after Edith through a sitting room and into a small kitchen.
“Oh, thank God,” Mary said. She reached into a cupboard, withdrew a mug, and proceeded to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot by the stove. “You’re an angel, you are.”
“I’m confused is what I am. What are the two of you doing here and why do you look like that?”
“Long story,” Mary said. “Is Sybil here?”
“In the guest bedroom, still sleeping. What are you—”
But Mary waved a distracted hand at her sibling as she headed off, no doubt to roust the youngest Crawley from sleep. Matthew was left awkwardly standing in the kitchen with Edith.
She turned to him. “What on earth is going on?”
“Mary’s right in that it is rather a bit of a long story.” Though he longed for coffee, he wanted to sit down more. He gestured at the table. “Do you mind if I…”
“Oh, sure, go ahead.” Edith sighed and got down more mugs from the cupboard as he lowered himself into the chair, gritting his teeth. The noise must have alerted her, for she looked over in concern. “Is something the matter?”
“Not much. Got shot, and I’m afraid it’s not agreeing with me.”
“Mary shot you?”
“No, she prefers flinging knives at my head. It was—”
“That’s quite enough,” Mary said, coming back in. She flashed Matthew a pointed look, and he drew back in surprise. Was he not supposed to tell others about Patrick Crawley’s miraculous revival from the dead? Mary addressed her sister. “I’d make more of that, were I you. We’ve got quite a few people coming. Anna and Gwen should be here shortly, and Branson even before that.”
“Tom’s coming over?” Sybil Crawley, in the process of finger-brushing her hair back, wandered into the kitchen. “Why?”
“There’s a situation with Bates.”
“Does Papa know?”
“Not that I know of.”
“He’s in Hong Kong, he and Mama both,” Edith said, casting a puzzled look at Sybil.
Mary nodded. “Sybil, would you be a dear and check Matthew’s gunshot? He’s been making the most awful faces since we got off the plane and—”
“You shot him?” Sybil asked, clearly aghast.
“For the last time, no, I did not.” Mary rolled her eyes.
“Is there something I should know about you that people keep assuming you’ve shot me?” Matthew asked.
“She shot Carson once, is all,” Edith said.
“What?” Matthew asked.
“It was a BB gun. And it was in the foot. Also, I’ve apologized to him for it about fifty times already.” Mary scowled. “I was twelve. Let’s move on, shall we? Bates is an ex-Soviet spy, he was arrested for killing Vera Bates last night, and the Russians have put out a hit on him.”
Edith and Sybil Crawley stared. After a minute, Edith looked down, slowly, into the coffee cup she held in her hand. “Yes, what is it?” Mary asked her, patience clearly snapping.
“Just wondering what’s in your coffee that isn’t in mine.”
The Crawley sisters really were a striking trio, Matthew realized. After their initial shock, they were all very quick to move: Sybil pulled him over to the couch so that she could examine his side, Edith opened up various cabinets and revealed computer monitors all over the place, and Mary cooked breakfast, though she complained bitterly about it. “You know I’m an awful chef.”
“It’s just eggs and ham. Even you can’t screw up eggs and ham,” Edith said from where she was typing away at a laptop.
“Don’t see why I should be the one to cook when I’m the one in charge of the mission.”
“You’re still officially a rogue spy, I’m the better hacker, and Sybil’s patching holes in your boyfriend.”
“I’m not—” Matthew said at the same time as Mary protested, “He’s not—”
They shared an uneasy look as the awkwardness settled around them.
“You’re not that good of a hacker,” Mary said to Edith, as if that settled anything.
“If it wasn’t Mary who shot you, who was it?” Sybil asked Matthew as she inspected the wound.
“I’d rather not say at the moment.”
Sybil pulled on a set of latex gloves. “So what you’re saying is that it was really Mary, and you’re protecting her,” she said. “This will hurt a bit, but I want to make sure.”
Matthew yelped when she touched his side, wincing away, but Sybil was merciless. When she was satisfied that she’d given the injury a good look, she put a fresh dose of disinfectant on the wound and bandaged it once more. “You need plenty of rest for that, you know,” she said. “Not to be hopping all over the place following my sister. She’ll put anybody who tries to do that in an early grave.”
“I heard that,” Mary called from the kitchen.
“William gave me some drugs for it,” Matthew said. “It’ll be fine.”
“It’ll get infected.”
“How can it, when it’s bandaged so well?” Matthew said, attempting to sound charming.
Mary shoved a plate of runny eggs, ham, and toast into his hand. “Stop flirting with my sister. She’s taken.”
“Okay, I think I’ve got an idea about how we could do this,” Edith said as the rest of them joined her in the dining room. “You said we’ll have Branson, Gwen, and Anna, correct?”
“Yes. I don’t want to bring anybody else in, so we’ll be rather short-staffed, I’m afraid.”
“We can make it work. Here’s what we’ll do…”
Matthew was surprised to find himself teamed up with Anna. He’d had to argue to come along in the first place, as nobody wanted to risk his injury worsening, but there was no way that he was going to miss out on this. So when Mary had finally given in and snapped, “Fine, you stay with Anna and if anything happens to her, I really will shoot you,” he counted it as a victory. Then Anna, Gwen, and Branson had arrived, and Matthew realized that Mary hadn’t been talking about babysitting so much as she had been talking about containment.
Anna Smith was furious and even worse, she was armed. She strode into Edith’s apartment in full mission gear: black tactical suit, gun holstered at her side, a helmet dangling by its strap from one hand, duffel bag swinging from the other. Matthew blinked, but the vision didn’t change. She had an actual crossbow slung across her back, like some sort of medieval warrior transplanted into modern times. It wasn’t anywhere near as frightening as the sheer determination on her face.
“We brought some of your old things,” she had said, handing the duffel bag to Mary.
Mary had nodded, as if she’d expected that. She had given her friend such a long, steady look that Matthew wondered if either was going to speak ever again. But all she’d said was, “You okay?”
“Let’s do this.”
“Guess that answers that.” Mary had disappeared into Edith’s bedroom with the duffel bag and had emerged a few minutes later, kitted out very much the same as Anna but minus the crossbow.
Matthew was still marveling at said bow an hour later.
“I’m not very good with guns,” Anna said, and Matthew tore his gaze away from the medieval weapon. “So Mary suggested I learn some other weapon.”
“Mary wanted you to learn how to use a crossbow?”
“I think she was hoping I’d use a taser,” Anna said, a small smile crossing her face. “I do have one, and a gun, too, but overall…” She patted the crossbow with one gloved hand.
“I see,” Matthew lied and returned to peering through the binoculars.
They were stationed atop a two-story building about three blocks from where Bates had been transferred. The argument had raged between the Crawley sisters about whether to grab Bates while he was being transported or not. Ultimately, Mary had won: the Russians might be expecting that the Abbey would try for the easiest way to extract their agent. It was more difficult and riskier to extract Bates while he was still being held in the facility, but they worked for Crawley’s. They didn’t believe in doing things the easy way.
It rankled Matthew somewhat to be away from the action, but it couldn’t be helped, not with his side on fire the way it was. So he waited next to Anna, kneeling behind a low wall, and keeping a look out for everybody.
“So,” Anna said. “What’d you do to Mary to make her shoot you?”
“You people really are fixated on that.”
Sybil’s voice crackled over the comm. “Underwood and Nightingale are in place.”
Underwood, that was Gwen, Matthew remembered, though that was a strange name. She was set to override the station’s security system, with Sybil watching her back.
“Lucky’s set, too,” Branson’s voice said. He sounded less than thrilled by his handle, and Matthew didn’t blame him.
“Copy that. Buffy and Perseus are good to go.”
“Buffy?” Matthew asked.
Anna rolled her eyes. “Sybil’s a fan. Thinks it’s a great joke.”
“Andromeda here,” Mary said. “Bonneville needs another minute. Hold please.”
When Matthew looked over, he saw Anna’s lips moving, though no sound emerged. It took him a few seconds to realize that she was praying. “He’s going to be fine,” he said, a bit uselessly. “We’ll get him out of there and to safety.”
“Can’t hurt to have extra help,” Anna said, and settled behind her crossbow to wait.
“Bonneville here,” Edith said. “Set your watches. Go time in five…four…three…”
“Two…one,” Edith said, and Mary burst from where she’d been tucked away in the alley. She took two running steps and slammed the battering ram through the glass door of the tobacco shop belonging to one Mr. A. Milsner and his son. The door cracked and blew inward. Mary dropped the battering ram, swung her M-16 up in the same movement, and surged inside.
It wasn’t a large shop, just the one main room, a back room, and the apartment above, she imagined. Shelves were lined with magazines in all languages, imported junk food, and other knickknacks. Behind the counter, floor to ceiling shelves held cigars and cigarettes and various other forms of tobacco and alcohol.
Mr. A. Milsner jumped when she came storming in. Mary gave one short apology in her mind before she shouted, “Down on the ground! Hands on your head!”
“Please, please, there’s no need for violence—”
“Get on the ground!” Mary repeated, twitching the gun.
Mr. Milsner went the color of ash and obeyed, though he continued to babble that she could take anything in the shop, that he wouldn’t fight her, that she please didn’t damage anything. He lay on the floor behind the counter, quivering.
“We are go for Bonneville,” Mary said over the comm. “No sudden movements,” she told Mr. Milsner as she pulled a set of cable ties out of her pocket. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Oh yes?” he asked in Russian. “You are here for Bates, no?”
Definitely not the very-British Mr. Milsner, Mary realized a split-second before the man swung around onto his back and did a flip-kick to his feet. He kicked the M-16 out of her hands right at the same time as Mary’s training kicked in. She dodged backwards, her elbow deflecting off of a dusty rack of postcards. Cards and metal clattered to the floor as she backed out of the way of another kick.
Not-Milsner lunged at her, hoping to grab her, no doubt. Mary snatched her silenced pistol from its holster and shot him twice. There was a look on his face as he fell to his knees and then over, clearly dead.
Edith came into the shop and took in the chaos. “And you wondered why we all thought you’d shot Matthew,” she said, and hurried into the back room.
“Might want to hurry. They may have heard that.”
“Why’d you shoot him?”
“He wasn’t Milsner,” Mary said.
It was Edith’s turn to go the color of ash.
“Head’s up, team,” Mary said over the comm. “Derevko’s team might know we’re here.”
“How do you know?” Sybil asked.
“They had a look-out in the shop. I took care of it, but I suggest we move quickly.”
“Almost done,” Edith said. She was the resident munitions expert at the Abbey. A young love for engineering and engines had translated to a frightening competency at, as Gwen had put it once, things that go boom. Now she closed up the heat scanner and began to line a doorway-sized space in the wall with what looked like gray rope. “He’s in there, and he’s on the other side. Let’s hope he stays there.”
Mary crossed herself.
“Ready,” Edith said. “Nightingale?”
Mary and Edith went back into the main room of the tobacco shop and crouched behind the desk. Mary held her hands over her ears; Edith fiddled with the remote control console. “Three,” she said. “Two. One.”
The force of the explosion shook the floor. Coughing at the sudden influx of dust and debris, the two sisters looked over the edge of the counter and into the stunned face of John Bates. There had been a wall between them, but thanks to Edith, that was no longer the case.
He recovered rather quickly. “Anna?” he asked as Mary raced into his cell.
Mary hooked a giant padlock around the cage bars to prevent the cell door from opening. “Cell’s contained. Go, Underwood!”
“Waiting two blocks away,” Edith told Bates. “C’mon!”
The three of them raced over the rubble and into the tobacco shop right as the station’s alarms began to shrill. Every cell door containing a prisoner slid open at once—Gwen’s work—save for that of John Bates, which would prevent any of the police from following them through the giant hole in the wall that they’d created, provided they could get through the chaos of the unleashed prisoners. Though the door strained against the metal of the padlock, it was no match for Mary’s work. Mary, Bates, and Edith hurried out to the curb, where Branson had just pulled the SUV.
Edith and Bates had already climbed in when the first shots erupted.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
During training, Matthew had discovered what happened when bullets started flying: mass pandemonium. The Dauphine trainers had been using blanks, but none of the other trainees had known that. There had just been a general scramble to hit the dirt and get out of the way when somebody had opened up fire on the trainee barracks. Only later had they really learned to hone those reflexes so that instinct became training and training became instinct.
He dropped by habit, immediately scanning the surrounding area. How had a shooter gotten past them? On the ground, Mary threw herself backwards, scrambling out of the line of sight and into the alley. She wasn’t limping and Matthew didn’t see any blood, but the SUV sped off without her.
“There!” Anna said. Like him, she’d dropped, though she was hunkered over the crossbow. She pointed at a building due east of them, nearer to the tobacco shop than they were. “On the roof! See him?”
“I got him,” Matthew said, and dropped into place beside the sniper rifle they really hoped they wouldn’t need. A second too late, he remembered the wound in his side. The way he landed ensured that he would not be making that mistake twice. Gritting his teeth, he looked through the scope. “Can you reach him?”
“No, he’s out of range—oh, damn, they’ve got a tail.”
The SUV with Bates, Branson, and Edith had peeled out, heading south, as was the plan, but now, two burly SUVs barreled into view, hot in pursuit. “Damn, damn, damn,” Anna said.
“Get at least one of them if you can,” Matthew said. They would pass right by their vantage point. “I’ll deal with the shooter.”
The shooter had to be his priority. The shooter had Mary pinned in the alley.
“Got it,” Anna said.
Matthew was too busy taking aim of his own target to spot for her. He’d seen a flash in the early morning gloom, which had to be the shooter on the other rooftop, but the man had disappeared. Was he waiting Mary out or had he moved? After the first round of shots, there hadn’t been a single bullet fired, so maybe things would be okay.
Police officers came pouring out of the station and the shooter on the roof began firing into the crowd of them. Spoke too soon, Matthew thought, and strained his eyes. The second the man’s head and shoulders popped into view, Matthew didn’t hesitate. He pulled the trigger. The man fell out of view.
A second later, he heard the thwump of Anna’s crossbow going off, followed by the squeal of tires and the crunch of a vehicle colliding with something very solid. “What is it?” she asked as she reloaded.
“Mary’s pinned in that alley.” Matthew pointed; the place was now buzzing with police who were shouting at each other and into their radios. “If she tries to get out—”
“Look!” Anna pointed not at the alley, but at the roof of the tobacco shop, where they could see a very slim figure sprinting for her life. “See? She’s fine.”
The figure also wasn’t slowing down as she approached the edge of the building.
“No—she can’t—that gap’s too wide!”
Mary Crawley, unsurprisingly, didn’t hear him. Even as Matthew gaped, Mary launched herself into the open air between two buildings, arms and legs bicycling. For an eternity, Matthew’s entire world stopped, suspended in mid-air just like Mary.
She landed with a roll, ducking out of sight behind the roofline.
“Is she mad?” Matthew asked Anna.
The blonde rolled her eyes and laughed, though Matthew thought she looked a bit shaky. “They all are, in that family. Once you learn to live with it, your life gets easier.” She glanced over the side of their building. “We need to go.”
Matthew looked, too. The SUV that Anna had sabotaged with a crossbow bolt to the tire was now spewing forth Russians in black leather coats. He abandoned the sniper rifle; Anna slung her crossbow across her back. As one, they raced to the other side of the building. He let Anna take the rope down first and, clenching his teeth hard against the pain and hoping he didn’t tear his stitches, he followed her down, grateful that the gloves absorbed most of the friction. After that, he took off as fast as he could, trying to keep up with Anna. She was quicker on her feet than Matthew would have expected.
He decided to give up on being surprised for the rest of the day. It was getting old, rather quickly.
Anna ducked into an alley and he followed; she’d been the one in charge of mapping the surrounding area, she knew where she was going. They had a kilometer radius to evacuate, as the police would be locking down that area. Every pounding step into the pavement was a reminder that he was an idiot, that he should be lying in a bed somewhere, recuperating from the fact that somebody had perforated him rather severely. Matthew just ran on through the pain, though he really did have to wonder why he was doing any of this.
“Change of plans,” Anna said. She grabbed the lip of a wheelie bin and swung herself up. From there, she made a leap like a gymnast going for the gold on the uneven bars to grab onto a dangling ladder up to a balcony. She scrambled onto the balcony. “Hurry!”
“Oh, right,” Matthew said. “Just like that, sure. You do realize I’ve been shot!”
Even so, he hauled himself onto the wheelie bin, where the lid sagged dangerously under his weight. The slap of boots rang against the pavement just around the corner—coming far too quickly for him to make that leap, assuming he didn’t fall and land on his face, so he did the first thing that came to mind: he lifted the other lid and jumped inside.
Of course, it reeked horribly. Matthew held his breath and listened: the throbbing rhythm in his side, perfectly in time with the tympani drum roll that had become his heartbeat, the labored breaths of the men that ran by, their shoes pounding on the ground of the alley in a cacophony that sounded thunderous to his ears. Even as he hoped that his left knee wasn’t somehow buried in a soiled nappy, his hand pulled a tranq gun free of his back-up holster. If he was going down, he was taking at least three of them with him. Anna could crossbow the last to oblivion if it was one of the Russians.
But the men ran right by, and there were shouts that told him they’d turned left out of the alley. Matthew waited, still not breathing, but they didn’t double back.
After what felt like ages, the dumpster lid lifted. He jumped, but thankfully managed to pull his finger from the trigger before he could shoot Anna, who gave him an amused look. “C’mon,” she said, offering him a hand.
He took it gratefully and climbed free of the reek. “That was close.”
“Quick work, too,” Anna said as they began to jog in the opposite direction. “You seem an old hand at that.”
“I learned everything I know from The Never-Ending Story.”
Thankfully, they didn’t encounter any Russians in the three blocks it took to get to their first rendezvous point. There, Anna dug behind a skip until she emerged with a tennis bag. She tossed a shirt, jacket, and hat at Matthew right as Sybil and Gwen arrived from the other direction.
“That was exciting!” Sybil said. Like Anna, she rummaged around and grabbed another bag, this time for Gwen and herself. There were jackets, hats, and even a set of jeans for them as well.
The comm sprang to life. “Andromeda here. What’s everyone’s twenty?”
“Underwood, Perseus, Nightingale, and Buffy are at Checkpoint B,” Anna said.
“None. Though Perseus smells a bit ripe.”
“I won’t ask. Lucky?”
“Bit busy at the moment!” Branson’s voice sounded strained. Across the alley, Sybil and Anna both went pale. “But we’re all okay here!”
Matthew pulled on a cap that made him feel vaguely like he had never really escaped the 90s and edged to the front of the alley, peering around. “Coast is clear,” he said as he stripped off his gloves, deliberately not turning around in case any of the ladies in the alley shared Mary’s (lack of) modesty. “Anna, we should get to Mary.” It would have been smarter to split off into different pairings, but he remembered Mary’s words that he was to stay with Anna. “Gwen, Sybil, either of you spotted?”
They both appeared beside him, fully dressed. “No,” Sybil said.
“Then see if you can give Branson some logistical support. Reroute traffic or something, if you can.”
Gwen stared at him. “Just how good of a hacker do you think I am?” she asked.
“Mary says you’re the best.”
“Mary and I need to have a long talk about realistic expectations. C’mon, Syb. Let’s go set up shop.”
“What’s your twenty, Andromeda?” Anna asked.
Mary rattled off an address in reply. “I’ll meet you at the regular rendezvous point.”
“Are you sure? You don’t need back-up?”
“Please.” Mary’s scornful laugh made Anna shake her head. “It’s no trouble. I’ll see you there.”
Anna gave Matthew a shrug. “We’ll take the other car,” she said. And looking like a university student (Anna) and a wayward club promoter that had somehow landed in the wrong decade (himself), they headed off into the gloom of the morning, Anna’s crossbow safely stored away from prying eyes by the tennis bag.
The crew had picked the remote rendezvous, as it was understood that they might need to shuffle Bates out of town and they couldn’t risk anywhere public with him. Mary, for her part, wasn’t sure if Derevko knew Bates’s current association with the Abbey or not, which meant that even having a rendezvous might be a bad idea. An even worse idea was using an established location like this one, which they’d used on several missions in the past. But they didn’t have much of a choice. They’d been so focused on just getting Bates out of that cell that they had no idea what to do with him next. He’d have to run, for sure, but where and with whom?
Anna would go. Anna would follow Bates to the end of the earth and back, and never once complain about sore feet or travel fatigue.
“You sure this is the place?” the cabbie asked, peering through the morning drizzle at the warehouses lining the empty road. It did look like something out a depressing movie, Mary thought.
“I hear the area’s on the mend,” was all she said.
“If you say so.”
The cabbie was all too happy to take her generous tip and move back to the heart of the city where the fares were more plentiful and perhaps not taciturn or dressed all in black. Mary waited until he was out of sight before she pushed her hands into her pockets, ducked her head against the rain, and began the trudge. She’d had to abandon the M-16 because she hadn’t been able to carry it and navigate the ladder, but she had her back-up in an ankle holster and her old Beretta—thank God for Anna Smith and her sentimentality about one’s first weapon—concealed in the back of her trousers. The heavy, dark clothing might have drawn attention from other cabbies, but the one who’d picked her up had clearly been about the money and nothing else. A generous tip would hopefully keep him quiet for at least a little while.
Though who knew? The Russians had certainly moved quickly if they’d had time to get a spotter in place. Whatever the Russians’ plan had been, the Abbey crew had evidently foiled it unintentionally. If the Abbey crew had moved any more slowly, they would have blown the wall to find a very dead John Bates waiting for them on the other side. It chilled her to the bone, thinking of Anna.
And now Bates would have to run, and Anna, too. The last three months had taught Mary all about running, and about loneliness. It was a long road, Mary knew, and a tedious one at that. Hiding somebody effectively took painstaking attention to detail and patience. It would take all of the resources that the Abbey crew had, and probably even more than that.
That thought drew Mary up short. She felt a chill as she looked around at the warehouses lining the street, their empty windows and blank storefronts seeming somehow ominous in the morning gloom. This, she realized, was an Abbey rendezvous. John Bates had officially become an Abbey matter…and Mary was no longer part of the Abbey.
If she left now, she could vanish again, just like she had before. There was nobody around to stop her. Nobody would even know she had been here. She was, she realized, completely alone, and she didn’t owe them a thing. She’d done her part: she’d led the team to free John Bates, and the rest of her crew could handle it from there. Strictly speaking, she wasn’t necessary for the next part of their plan, whatever that was.
She could do it. She could go. There was a network of friends, people she’d met outside the Abbey, that would be willing to help her disappear for a second time. Her time after she’d failed to kill Pamuk—or after she’d succeeded in killing his double—had taught her the value of contacts and of thrift. Those days had shown her that she did indeed have the strength to carry on, that she could keep running even now.
And she knew, very deep down, that if she ran now, she would need to run quickly and run far. Matthew wouldn’t give up until he brought her in, which meant she would need to run hard and run fast. It simply wouldn’t do to make his life easy.
The crew could handle Bates and surely Anna would understand. Anna had understood all along, after all. She would understand that Mary couldn’t possibly return now, that she had to take the opportunity while she had one, and she needed to vanish.
But Mary, about to step off of the warehouse porch where she’d taken refuge from the drizzle, paused. Even if Anna understood, what would she and the others think? The last time they’d seen Mary, she had been running from Russians and police officers alike. She hadn’t had one bit of contact after that short call to the others, which meant anything could have happened to her in that time. She wasn’t normally the type to care about what others thought of her, but leaving now and making Anna and her sisters and, yes, even Matthew wonder, seemed too cruel and callous even for her.
Maybe she should leave a note. What would it say? Gone on the lam, darlings. Such good luck finding me?
What a silly note.
“Damn it,” Mary said. She clenched her fists, attempting to focus the tension into her arms. Slowly, she loosened her fists and began to pace back and forth. It was unbecoming of a spy to show so much emotion, but she was alone, and she was tired, the last licks of adrenaline from her race to get away from the station having long faded. “Damn, damn, damn.”
This was why spies weren’t supposed to get involved with others, she thought. Others worried about you, and others would worry if they thought you’d been killed by Russians or arrested.
Mary let out a long-suffering sigh—the things she did for her friends—and settled in to wait on the step, ignoring the wet. If Branson managed to shake his tail, he’d drive around London for at least another twenty minutes or so, which meant that even when the others did arrive, there would be plenty of time to wait.
She wished she’d thought ahead and brought a book.
In a fraction of a section, she whirled, already on her feet, gun out. Her heart hammered against her ribcage as she stared at the soggy bandaged face of Patrick Crawley, who had walked up to her in the rain as though she were nothing but an ignorant civilian.
He had his hands in his pockets, completely at ease where he stood in the street. In the light, she could see details she had not noticed the night before, like the fact that there was a twisting, ropy scar riding over all of the other scarred, puckered skin at the base of his neck where the bandages gapped. His eyes, though, his eyes were precisely the same shade of brown that she remembered from across the conference room as they prepped for one mission or another.
He didn’t even flinch at the gun.
“What are you doing here?” Mary asked.
Patrick glanced up, but whether he saw the empty front of the warehouse or the sky, Mary didn’t know. He’d traded his fedora for a black knit cap, though the fedora would have protected his face better. Something about all of it, though, was giving her goose-flesh. “Guess the Abbey still uses this place after all.”
Not for much longer, Mary determined, ignoring the fact that she wasn’t part of the Abbey anymore.
“You know, it’s good to know some things don’t change.” Patrick’s eyes glittered through the bandages. “You haven’t.”
But she had, Mary thought. Her heart was pounding too hard for her to concentrate on that, though; what was Patrick doing here? Was this a set-up? Was he alone? Was Pamuk around somewhere?
She longed to look, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off of Patrick. “Where’s Pamuk?”
“Not here,” Patrick said.
Was that the truth? A lie? Mary couldn’t figure it out. She’d never been able to read Patrick, back when his face had even been able to show emotion. Now, the bandages obscured most of what she could see, and the rest…
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Why come back? Why now? What do you want?”
“I want to wake up in the sodding morning and have my first thought not be, ‘I’m on fire,’ that’s what I want. I’m not going to get it.” Patrick licked his lips, and Mary nearly shuddered. She knew it was impolite to be repulsed, but she couldn’t help it. It had been a long, confusing, and trying night, and the day hadn’t improved on that at all. “How’s that new partner of yours? I wasn’t aiming to kill him, you know.”
“Then why shoot him at all?”
Patrick’s eyes went cold. “Because I don’t like to be replaced.”
It took Mary a few seconds to catch what he meant; Patrick had been her partner a long time. Before he’d apparently cheated death and disappeared, but surely…
“You can’t be serious,” she said.
“Why not? We were good partners once, weren’t we?” Patrick edged forward a step; Mary shifted her stance and tightened her grip on the gun hilt.
“Why not? Well, to start, it was over three years ago, and not a peep from you! Don’t you think I would have had a new partner by now?” She hadn’t, of course. Robert had put her on solo work almost immediately after Patrick’s death, and if she’d needed backup, she’d brought her sisters or Anna. But Patrick had no way of knowing that. So it was better to bluff, and to try and figure out what he wanted.
Surely, he wanted something.
“My research says otherwise.” Patrick’s smile was a cold, bitter thing. “By the time you make amends with your father and all of those coddled, silly folks at the Abbey, your new partner will have healed up quite nicely, but there’ll always be a part of him that knows, a part deep inside that tells him that he got shot on your watch, that you’re inadequate.”
“I’m not terribly bothered about that,” Mary said, attempting to flick the thought away and finding it more troubling than she liked. “After all, right afterward, he saw me plug you full of holes. Speaking of which, how’s the shoulder?”
He didn’t shrug, but he did tilt his head a little, emphasizing the bandages somehow. “I can’t thank you for it, that’s for sure.”
“Pity it wasn’t a few inches to the left.”
“Yes, I find it a great pity indeed that you’ve failed to kill me three times now, Cousin Mary.” Patrick’s eyes hardened.
Mary tensed, sensing more than just a shift in the air. She’d always been good at stand-offs, at the verbal wars that sometimes occurred between one spy and the next. It was like a game of cat and mouse, and she had grown rather feline—by her own admission, even.
Right now, she had an uneasy feeling she might be the mouse.
“Three times?” she asked. “I only shot at you twi—oh, you can’t think the warehouse was my fault. Honestly.” She rolled her eyes.
“A flimsy excuse! A shallow, lazy, flimsy excuse was the only reason you were not running into that warehouse instead of me! That was the only reason you haven’t spent the last three years remembering what it’s like to burn alive, to feel your skin crack and peel and to know that there’s no way you should be alive, but here you are!” Patrick’s whole mien shifted into malice. He had yet to draw a weapon, but his anger was razor-sharp, energizing the air about him. Mary felt the bottom of her stomach fall away. “You should be dead, cousin. And yet, here I am, living the half-life you’ve cursed upon me.”
“I had no idea the warehouse was rigged, Patrick. Don’t you think I would have warned you, if I had?”
“Look at that. Another excuse. They just keep coming, don’t they?”
“The truth,” Mary said, her heart pounding harder. “And while it’s clearly nothing next to what you’ve gone through, I’ve had to live with the knowledge that I could have been the one to go into that factory, and the guilt that I wasn’t. Don’t think me small.”
“Small. The great Andromeda, small.” Patrick laughed. “Of course. And now look at you, alone, isolated from your oh-so-mighty Abbey and all of those people who love you, but you’re the one who’s turned your back on them, haven’t you? The powerful Andromeda can do it all alone, she doesn’t need a rescuer or her ineffectual parents to save the day, she can do it all.”
“I’m hardly superwoman,” Mary said, rolling her eyes to cover the fact that each word felt like a knife being slid between two of her ribs, spreading pain through her abdomen. Her heart clung to the back of her throat. Was that really how everybody saw her? “But it’s true that I worked to get where I am and that I’m quite independent. I’ve never denied that. Tell me truthfully, Patrick, have you lost your mind?”
After all, she’d seen something in Patrick’s eyes the night before, but even then, it had nothing on this churning, raging sense of menace and hysteria. His body was almost bowed forward as though his spine had curved into a comma-shaped abomination and as though he might shatter at the lightest touch. With a disconcerting jolt of sheer horror, she realized why his clothing had sparked something in her mind: he had been wearing that precise outfit the night he had run into the warehouse down to the raggedy Doc Martens.
How often had she teased him about those damned shoes? The chill that raced over her body had nothing to do with the weather.
“Oh, no,” Patrick said, “I assure you, I’m quite sane. And you know how it feels just as well as I do, now, Mary. To be alone, to be out in the cold.”
Mary said nothing, though she could feel her hands, already white-knuckled, tighten further around the gun.
“That’s what it’s like in the real world, isn’t it? All alone. That great big family of yours and yet you’re isolated. What will your father think? His daughter, an assassin, like a commonplace spy. He raised you better than that, and you’ve betrayed him—”
“Stop,” Mary said, her voice thick.
Patrick’s entire face seemed to light up like a child’s that had spotted candy. “Oh, struck a nerve, have I?”
She was shaking. How long had she been shaking? “How could you have? You’re babbling like a lunatic.”
“How does it feel to be a stone cold killer, Mary Crawley? How does it feel to look a man in the eye and—”
Mary moved without really acknowledging it. She didn’t want to shoot him, she just wanted him to shut up. So she fired a shot over his shoulder. Patrick apparently expected this; he moved so fast that even tensed as she was, she had no way of stopping him. She barely saw the gun before the flash of the muzzle almost blinded her. Shouting, she threw herself to the side, but she didn’t move fast enough.
Her arm screamed with red hot pain. She slapped a hand to it in shock as Patrick turned and took off running, vanishing around the side of the building. Without a single thought to her own safety, she took off after him.
“That was Edith,” Matthew said as he hung up his phone.
“Yes?” Anna kept her gaze on the road and her fingers clamped to the steering wheel. Thankfully, she was only about a quarter of the reckless driver that Mary was, which meant that his whimpering, aching side only felt like a four-alarm fire rather than a full five-story blaze. “Did they—”
“They got away. They’re on the way to the rendezvous as we speak, and should be there in about twenty minutes.”
Anna visibly sagged with relief. “Thank God,” she said.
“Speaking of the rendezvous—”
“It’s just up here on the left, right there, you see?” Anna pointed out of his side of the car, and Matthew got a glimpse of another abandoned street full of equally empty warehouses and industrial buildings, all marked with graffiti and other signs of a broken down area. “It looks dodgy, I know, but the Abbey’s been using it safely for years and—”
Matthew’s entire body went tense. “Stop the car!”
“Stop the car! It’s Mary!” Before the car had fully rolled to a stop, he’d stumbled out of it. Anna slammed the car into park nearly onto the sidewalk itself and climbed free, crossbow in hand. Matthew didn’t wait for her to catch up: he’d spotted Mary in a gap between the buildings, sprinting with her gun out, which couldn’t mean anything good. He ran down the alley, limping thanks to his side, Anna in hot pursuit.
“Matthew! What’s going on?”
He had no idea. Matthew took the corner, nearly tripped over rubble, and kept going. He could see Mary up ahead, chasing something—someone—
Matthew spotted a flash of white on the figure and fumbled for his gun. His vision was going red at the edges from pain, but he had to keep going because: “Oh, bloody hell, it’s Patrick,” he called, and tried to push himself faster. Mary and Patrick, up ahead, turned a corner.
“But that’s impossible—he’s been dead for years!”
“He’d have known about this place, right?”
When he looked back over his shoulder at Anna, she was blinking at him. Matthew didn’t have time for that. “Would he?” he asked, and they made the same turn Mary and Patrick had. It opened onto a much narrower, emptier, dirtier street.
Matthew pushed his legs faster.
“Why, y-yes, I suppose, but he’s dead.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because he’s the one that shot me.”
“He—okay, I’ll go with it, but you and Mary both owe me explanations. This way’s faster.” Anna cut to their left, and it took everything Matthew had to keep from falling over as he spun to follow. They had to hurdle over bits of rebar and fallen trash cans, but the alleyway burst out onto a main road, across which they could see both Mary and Patrick sprinting toward a field.
Both Anna and Matthew skidded to a stop. “Why doesn’t she shoot him?” Matthew said.
“She’s a lousy shot on the run.” Anna shook her head. “What is he doing?”
“It looks like he’s going to that warehouse up there, on the hill.” Matthew pointed, and hissed out a breath as that only made his side scream with fire and fury. “Don’t know what he’s even doing here except—”
He didn’t know where the idea came from, and later on, he wouldn’t even stop to wonder why. Instead, he cursed, and his entire world went from shaky to frigid in a heartbeat. All of a sudden, he just knew. “It’s a trap!”
“Warehouse—explosion—I’ve got to—” Without bothering to finish, he took off running again. His side, it felt like that brand was back, the sizzling metal forced into his skin. He gritted his teeth and just loped onwards. Mary was too far away. She was running across the field, chasing Patrick, who’d nearly reached the warehouse’s front door.
He would never reach her in time.
“Mary!” he shouted, but his voice was hoarse and it didn’t carry well.
Mary kept running.
“Mary! Don’t do it!”
If anything, those long legs of hers pumped even harder. Damn it, Matthew thought to himself, and wondered if the Crawleys would truly be the death of him. He found some inner strength that would surely cost him later and pushed on harder.
Patrick reached the warehouse and disappeared into its depths.
His lungs were on fire, absolutely on fire, but that burn had nothing on the all-encompassing agony radiating from between two of the ribs on his left side, a pain that threatened to suck him in and never let him go…He clenched his teeth and put on a final burst of speed, one that he reckoned might very well kill him.
“Mary, stop! It’s a trap!”
Mary reached the front walkway, careening to follow Patrick—
She almost had the bastard, but holy bleeding hell, her arm hurt. Son of a bitch, Mary thought as she ran from field to pavement. There was no way Patrick should have gotten the drop on her—again—but her arm screamed with a pain that was harder to ignore with each step. She pushed onward; Patrick had just raced into the warehouse ahead of them both. The idiot must be hoping to lose her in there.
A thwump made her stumble just as her second foot touched down on the pavement. Even as her mind categorized the sound, she registered the sight of a crossbow bolt buried in a post a foot to her left. She instinctively threw herself to the right. She rolled, wondering what the hell Anna was on about, shooting at her like that.
She came out of the roll into a kneeling position, clutching her backup piece as well as her Beretta though her arm hurt like nothing she’d experienced before. The Beretta, she kept trained on the open, dark doorway of the warehouse where she’d seen Patrick disappear. The backup, she had aimed at where she assumed Anna was. The arm was mostly useless anyway, and she wasn’t going to shoot at her best friend.
But it was not Anna charging at her at full speed. It was Matthew.
The guns lowered for a split second. “M-Matthew? What are you—”
Matthew ignored the guns and grabbed her arm, thankfully not anywhere near the gunshot wound. “We have to go. We have to go right now.”
“Trap!” Matthew said, and yanked on her arm so that she was forced to come with him. She could have fought him off, but shock and surprise found her letting herself be towed away. After a fraction of a second, her brain caught up to the rest of her. She started to sprint along with, rather than stumble beside, Matthew. Where had he come from? How did he know what Patrick was doing? How was he so sure that it really was a trap and not—
There was a great invisible force at Mary’s back, knocking her from her feet and forward. She and Matthew went tumbling. Heat and sound rushed over them in a percussive wave, clearing away all sanity and the rest of the world. For one endless moment, there was nothing but confusion and dust and dirt swirling all around her.
She coughed to break the trance, and found that she was on her back, crushed under…Matthew? She felt scorched, like she’d stepped too close to a campfire and it had singed her skin, but even warmer than that was Matthew, who was lying on top of her, his body shielding hers from the worst of it. She had no idea how they had landed that way, with her arms around him so tightly that she could feel her fingers digging into the tops of his shoulders, her head tucked up against his chest. Panicked for a brief moment by a sense of overwhelming claustrophobia, she nearly bucked to get him off of her.
Reason rushed back in: something had exploded. No, Mary realized as it occurred to her that she needed to breathe, which was rather hard to do, trapped under Matthew as she was. Not something. The warehouse had exploded. The warehouse that Patrick Crawley had just run into had detonated so thoroughly that Matthew and Mary were surrounded by rubble. Her ears were ringing and her brain felt like an ongoing roll of thunder trapped in her skull, fighting its way to get out. When feeling broke through the numbness, Mary suspected she’d regret quite a bit. She clenched her jaw as she surveyed the damage around them.
It was an absolute miracle that Matthew hadn’t been clobbered, protecting her the way he had. He was tensed, his eyes resolutely shut against the dust. She could feel his heart pounding only because hers matched it for tempo and tenacity.
She began to cough, and Matthew’s eyes shot open. “Are you okay?” he asked loudly, in a way that indicated his own hearing had been compromised.
She coughed harder. “W-wh—”
“Are you well? You weren’t hit, were you?” Matthew looked for a second like he might pat her down like a field medic. Mary finally released her grip on his shoulders, trying in vain to cover her mouth so that she wouldn’t continue to suck in dust.
Matthew, however, caught her wrist before she could do anything. “You’re hit!” he said, his eyes widening as he took in the wound in her upper arm.
She wished he’d get off of her so that she could breathe. Mary nearly moved to shove him off, but Matthew probed around the wound with his fingers, making her hiss and swear. “It wasn’t the explosion that did that! Now, would you mind—you’ve a bloody nose, too, you know—”
“Ahem,” said a new voice, and both Mary and Matthew looked up to see Anna standing over them. She had her crossbow loaded but dangling at her side. Her eyebrows were nearly to her hairline. “Not to be the one to point out the obvious, but we might want to deal with that after we get out of here or end up explaining our proximity to the large, suspicious warehouse explosion to the police, perhaps?”
“Good point,” Matthew said, but didn’t move.
Mary cleared her throat pointedly.
A second later, Matthew seemed to get it, for he flushed all the way to his shirt collar. “Right,” he said, and rolled off of her so quickly that she wondered if she’d burned him. He scrambled to his feet while she hid her mortification by picking up her dropped guns and pushing them back into their holsters. Matthew extended a hand down to help her up. Halfway through the motion, a look of concentrated pain crossed his face, but he continued to hold his hand out.
Mary debated his wound, his pride, and in the end, let him help her to her feet. She staggered a little upon standing. She chose to blame it on the fact that the ground felt like it was still quaking from the explosion rather than her own jellied knees. “Where’s the car?”
Matthew took a step and nearly crumpled to one knee. Mary automatically moved so that she was on his right side. She slipped his arm over her shoulders before he could protest. “Argue later,” she told him. “Lead on, Anna.”
“This way,” Anna said, the amused look gone. “Since I’m the only one without a hole in me, I’ll drive.”
Knowing that time was of the essence now—there was no way somebody hadn’t called that explosion in—Mary forced herself and Matthew to keep pace with Anna, who kept up a light jog. It was time to be dispassionate, to be a spy, to not think about the fact that she had narrowly escaped death. She resolutely did not turn to look at the burning building as they rounded the corner, hurrying away. She focused on putting one foot down, then the next, listening to the jagged cut of Matthew’s breath as he struggled to keep up with their pace.
When they reached the car, she grabbed a first aid kit out of the boot and jumped into the back seat after Matthew. Anna peeled out, racing away from the rendezvous and the site of the explosion. Matthew, grimacing himself, insisted on taking a look at her arm, though he refused to let her return the favor and check out his side. It was only then, while Matthew probed at her arm, that Mary finally allowed the truth to come crashing over her: Patrick Crawley had tried to lure her into a building and kill her. And if it weren’t for Matthew and Anna, he would most assuredly have succeeded.
The trembling didn’t stop all the way to the new rendezvous.
Matthew winced as he finally hit the bottom of the ladder. It wasn’t a considerable drop, less than a meter, but even the smallest jump would have felt like hell. He landed with a grimace and immediately moved out of the way. Anna and Mary were following him down the ladder into the open space. It had once been a maintenance station for the Tube, but it had been closed for years. Apparently it was only deemed appropriate for rats and taggers, for the grimy, dusty mechanical parts littered about were covered in ample graffiti. “Are we the first here, do you think?” he asked, peering into the dark corners of the giant, arched room. Yellow tiles had been chipped off the walls.
“Branson and the others are close,” Anna said, landing lightly and easily. She rubbed her hands on her trousers. “Sybil and Gwen shouldn’t be far behind.”
“Excellent.” Mary’s landing was a little more cautious, like his own. Though she’d tried to hide it, the explosion had hurt her just as much. He’d seen her flinch a couple of times since they’d left the car—hiding the bloodstains in the backseat with his over-shirt as best they could—but she hadn’t said a word. She also hadn’t made a sound when he’d stitched up the rather ragged gash in her arm.
She was paler than even Mary Crawley had a right to be, but he knew if he said anything about it, she’d snap at him. For all of their sakes, he remained quiet.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.
“Oh, do sit down!” she said, glaring at him.
Matthew jumped. “What?”
Anna apparently decided that it was up to her to be the diplomatic one of their duo, though she’d had worry lines etched into her own face all morning. She stepped between Matthew and Mary. “You do look like you’re about to keel over,” she told Matthew in a much kinder voice. “We’ll handle it. You rest.”
A rustling overhead made all three of them turn, guns raised. “Just us!” Sybil called from the porthole. Her grinning face appeared. “Miss me?”
“Terribly,” Mary said, voice as dry as the dust collecting all around them. She began to poke around the edge of the room.
The room wavered as Sybil and then Gwen began to clatter down the ladder. Matthew decided that maybe sitting down was preferable after all. He looked around for a safe place that wouldn’t give him hepatitis; Mary gave a slight nod toward a stool, surprising him. He almost convinced himself he’d imagined it because Mary went back to scoping out the perimeter rather quickly. With a quiet grunt to himself, he sank down onto the stool, which of course made Sybil come fuss over him. She was quite determined to live up to her handle, Matthew had already seen, so he silently unbuttoned his shirt and let her get a look at his wound, which was of course bleeding again.
“What the hell happened to you two?” Gwen asked, looking from Matthew to Mary. “You look like you’ve been jumping around in rubbish.”
“Matthew has,” Anna said without breaking a smile. She kept her gaze focused on the porthole above.
“And you?” Gwen asked Mary.
“There was an explosion,” Mary said.
Sybil paused in the middle of lifting the bandage on Matthew’s side up, the better to stare at her eldest sister. “What did you blow up?”
“Nothing!” Mary rolled her eyes. “And it’s a long story, so we’ll wait until everybody is here until we tell it.”
“First she shoots you,” Sybil muttered to Matthew, “then she tries to blow you up. She really is making my job worse. Hold still, this will sting.”
“It always does,” Matthew said with a sigh.
He managed not to swear—too much—as Sybil disinfected and re-bandaged his wound with supplies from the medical kit Mary had grabbed earlier. They fell into an uneasy quiet waiting for the others to arrive: Mary paced around the edges of the room, poking through various things, Gwen sat on another stool with a tablet and an intense look on her face, and Anna remained absolutely still, keeping her vigil on that porthole. It was getting harder and harder to think, Matthew noticed. His thoughts were hazy and rimmed with black edges, slippery and difficult to grasp through the radiating pain.
“You’re done, but the minute we’re through here, you’re going to a hospital to get it properly looked at,” Sybil said, and Matthew nodded his gratitude. His hands shook a little as he did up his shirt once more.
Sybil wandered over to Gwen and was replaced, to Matthew’s surprise, by Mary. “Edith texted me,” she said as she took the stool Sybil had just abandoned. “They hit traffic. Should be another couple of minutes.”
Matthew nodded, his head still foggy.
“Do you think it’s strange?”
“This whole…thing.” Mary frowned and was silent for a long time. “There’s no way he could have gotten out of that warehouse in time.”
“He has once before,” Matthew managed to say.
“No, I think he meant for me to go down with him, truly. You didn’t see him. He was utterly mad. Well, lucid sometimes, but mad at others.” Mary looked troubled. “He wanted me to run into that warehouse, and die.”
It might have been hard to concentrate, but Matthew still managed to detect an undercurrent to her voice. “You didn’t die,” he said.
She was silent for a long time. “Because of you.”
“I was just in the right place at the right time.” And his body was going to be paying for it for quite some time, Matthew determined. He gave her what he hoped was a bolstering half-smile. “I’ve had near-death experiences before. Some just last night.”
“The shot wasn’t anything near fatal—”
“I was talking about your driving,” Matthew said.
Mary let out a brief chuckle, and he felt a bit of pride, though it seemed foggy and distant like the rest of him. “What was his game, showing himself last night at that party, if he was just going to drag me into a warehouse and kill me?”
“You’re asking me to assess the logic and mentality of a madman?” Matthew asked.
“I’m not sure I am, actually.”
“Then what are you asking?”
“I don’t know. Something’s off.”
“Probably because we just got our teakettles rattled pretty good by an explosion. Look at it this way: he was driven insane by an explosion. He clearly viewed it as your fault. It’s bound to shake you up some.”
“He was waiting there because he knew that we,” Mary began, but just as she did so, the porthole above them opened.
Branson’s head appeared in the space. He grinned down at them. “Everybody made it?” He made it down the ladder in what had to be record time and crossed to Sybil in three steps even as Anna answered in the affirmative.
Matthew noticed that Mary looked down with a scowl, though she didn’t say anything.
Edith was the next down the ladder, followed by Bates, who came more slowly due to his old injury. Those gathered in the maintenance station watched as he carefully made his way down the ladder. Matthew figured they knew better than to offer help, though it was a painstaking process.
When he finally reached the bottom, however, Anna let out a cry and finally broke her stillness, racing across the room and launching herself at Bates. Matthew found that he had to look down quite suddenly, though Mary watched her friend with a smile on her face. When Matthew dared look up again, Anna was surreptitiously wiping her eyes and Bates, looking shaken but happy, was beaming at all of them, even Matthew. “Can’t say I care overmuch for the accommodation,” he said, “but I couldn’t have picked a better group of saviors. Thank you.”
He looked around, meeting everybody’s eyes in turn. “I know what some of you gave up to be here,” he said, and his gaze lingered on first Mary and then Anna.
The former gave a light shrug. Matthew caught the instinctive flinch and the way her opposite hand went up to her gunshot wound, but Mary recovered easily. “It was nothing. Truly. You’d have done the same for any of us.”
“Aye, but that doesn’t make the lot of you any less fine of a rescue party. Though I do have to ask: with all of the talent here saving me, who’s watching the Abbey?” Bates asked, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
Matthew sensed more than saw Mary tense up beside him. He looked over sharply, just in time to see what color Mary had left drain out of her face. “Oh, hell,” she said. “Of course that’s it.”
“What?” Sybil asked.
“I’ll explain on the way, but we’ve got to get to the Abbey right now!”
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
It turned out that Mary hadn’t lied: her driving was indeed positively tame compared to that of Edith Crawley. It wasn’t that Edith’s lead foot on the accelerator didn’t obey the laws of physics. No, it was that the car seemed to disregard that there were any laws of physics at all, and thereby created its own rules. Buses, street lamps, signs, even pedestrians did not have requisite distance about them and therefore could be as narrowly avoided as possible.
Matthew’s grip tightened yet again on the door handle as Edith made a hairpin turn, no doubt frightening the life out of a group of elderly tourists on a tour bus. Welcome to London, Matthew thought as Edith once again put the pedal to the floor. Hope you like the Stig.
After all, he was pretty sure that nobody else could drive with such precision. Maybe that was why the Stig always wore that helmet.
“How much longer?” Mary, in the seat in front of Matthew, asked.
“Driving as fast as I can,” Edith said from between gritted teeth.
Matthew certainly hoped so. He couldn’t imagine going any faster without a rocket engine under the hood. He heard the squeal of tires that indicated Branson was still hot on their tail. Anna had ridden along with him and the others, which meant that she could fill them in on what Matthew and Mary had informed her of earlier involving Patrick and Pamuk.
Sybil was apparently used to her sister’s driving, for she ignored it to give Matthew a stern look. “You really should be resting,” she said.
“Bates said it: the Abbey’s not protected,” Matthew said. “I’m needed.”
“How do you even know the Abbey’s in trouble? Who on earth would want to attack it right now?” Edith asked.
Matthew looked at Mary. She scowled. “Kemal Pamuk,” she said.
“What?” Sybil asked. Matthew noticed that Edith looked shocked, though he couldn’t figure out if that was because she’d just swerved around a bus with less than a coat of paint to spare—a new record for this drive—or if she was reacting to Mary’s announcement. “Why?”
“I don’t know. Matthew and I ran into him at a party last night.”
“Together?” Sybil looked from Matthew to Mary in surprise. “And what does this all have to do with Bates?”
“Classic distraction ploy,” Mary said.
“And the explosion?”
“Let me get this straight,” Sybil said. “Kemal Pamuk murdered Vera Bates, alerted the Russians so that they’d kill Bates and interrupt our attempt to break him out of jail, and tried to blow you and Matthew up to distract us?”
“Yes,” Mary said.
“Bit on the overkill side, isn’t it?” Edith asked.
“Bus,” Mary said, and Edith was too busy scaring a few years off of a new batch of tourists to continue arguing logic. “I don’t know if I’d precisely call it—”
The mobiles that Matthew, Edith, and Sybil carried began to shrill all at once. Edith cursed. “That’s the Abbey signal!”
“The what?” Matthew asked as he pulled his mobile out of his pocket to get a look at the screen. The word Emergency flashed in blue.
“It’s like the bat signal,” Sybil said.
“Damn, it’s serious. I was hoping I was wrong,” Mary said.
“That’s a first,” Edith said, mostly under her breath.
Mary glared at her sister. “Shut those damned things off, will you? I’ve already got a headache. My ears are still ringing.”
Matthew’s were as well. He tapped at the mobile, but Sybil grabbed it away from him and silenced the signal herself. “They didn’t give me an orientation in bat signals,” he said, his voice defensive. He was somewhat gratified that he wasn’t the only one that swore when Edith threaded the needle between two bulky SUVs, close enough that Matthew could read the odometer in the car next to him with perfect clarity.
“If the Abbey—if the Abbey’s in danger, I’m going in,” he said, probably a little too loudly.
Sybil glared at him. “You need to rest.”
“I can rest later. The Abbey’s my responsibility, too.”
“If you push yourself too hard, it’s not going to be for much longer.”
“I’ll be fine.” Matthew clenched his jaw, and he wasn’t sure if it was because the throbbing in his side was threatening to overwhelm his consciousness or if it was just stubbornness. “You need all of the help you can get.”
“Yes, dragging your unconscious body to safety after you pass out!” Sybil rolled her eyes.
Mary grabbed the dashboard as Edith made a turn that put the car on two wheels for one brief, exhilarating, terrifying second. “Sybil, give him the LMX.”
“The what?” Matthew asked.
“No!” Sybil said.
“He wants to help and we need all the bodies we can get on this.”
“What’s the LMX?” Matthew asked.
“It’s poison,” Sybil said.
“It’s useful,” Mary said.
“Just give him the damned shot. If he gets the antidote within twelve hours, he’ll be fine. Now will you all shut it and let me drive?” Edith stomped the accelerator, pressing them all back against their various seats, in obvious agitation. When her mobile rang, she flicked her eyes away from the road to glare at Mary for a split-second. “Answer that, would you?”
“It’s Mrs. Hughes.” Mary nearly dropped the phone in her haste to answer. “What’s happening? Is everyone all right?”
“Let the man talk, Mary,” Edith said.
Matthew looked away from the sisters to find that Sybil had dug around under the seat until she’d pulled up a silver, hard-sided briefcase. “Erm, what’s that?” he asked, keeping his voice low so that Mary wouldn’t snap at him.
“The LMX.” Sybil didn’t look happy about it as she keyed in a code. The briefcase popped open an inch, enough for liquid nitrogen steam to waft gently from its interior. Matthew gaped. “Thankfully Edith always keeps a supply of it in her car or you’d be out of luck, son.”
The briefcase turned out to contain two cylindrical containers and a syringe. Matthew’s resolve began to waver in the face of the bright yellow-green liquid in one of the containers, which Sybil used to painstakingly fill a syringe.
“It’s—it’s not really poison, is it?” he asked, gulping hard.
“Of course it is, but if you insist on going in with us, you won’t be able to last much longer. Keep this on you.” Sybil handed him the second cylinder, which contained purplish liquid. “Relax, you won’t break it. But you’ll need to drink it within twelve hours.”
The antidote, Matthew realized. “Or what happens to me?”
“You’ll be fine.” Sybil paused. “In a couple of months. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes,” Matthew said, though he really wasn’t. “But I do have to as—Aah!”
Sybil jabbed the syringe into him, none too gently. For a split second, there was nothing but shock, but that quickly fell away into a sensation Matthew would never be able to describe accurately, nor would he ever want to. It wasn’t quite like fire ants were crawling over every bit of his skin and his scalp and his toes and biting, but it felt damned close. His body was briefly, horribly, immeasurably on fire, the pain greater than anything he had ever known—
And then he felt fantastic.
Alarmed, he patted his chest, his side, his arms, which had most definitely been sore just a moment before. Every bit of exhaustion that had been persistently dogging his heels vanished, leaving him refreshed and clear-headed and clean.
“What did you just give me?”
“It’s a blocker,” Sybil said. “Let me see your tongue.”
“Your tongue. Stick it out.”
Feeling absurd, Matthew did so. Sybil glanced at it, and nodded to herself. “You’re fine. The LMX will block the pain receptors in your body, but it’s not magic. It may prevent you from knowing you’re hurt worse, which is why we’re really not supposed to use it, so you’ll have to be—”
“Do you mind? I can’t hear!” Mary said.
“Careful,” Sybil finished with a whisper.
It turned out not to matter, for Mary hung up the mobile anyway. “That was Mrs. Hughes. She got out safely, but the safety measures activated and Carson and the others are trapped down there. They can’t get out.”
“How many assailants?”
“As far as they can tell, eight. Two in charge, six following them. They knocked Lynch and Molesley out, but Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes are fine and safe upstairs.” Mary paused, and her throat worked. “Carson’s been shot.”
“Oh, my God!” Sybil leaned forward, eyes wide and glassy. “Is he okay?”
“Mrs. Hughes says he is.” But Mary took a deep breath. “Nobody’s seen Granny.”
“As far as anybody can tell, she wasn’t hurt. They just don’t know where she is.”
“If the security measures kicked in, there’s no way we can get in,” Edith said, putting the car up on two wheels once more to screech around a turn and give three pedestrians near-death experiences.
“I know a way in. Two ways, actually. No, make a left up here; we’re not going in the front. Do you have the urban climbing kit in your trunk still?”
“We’re climbing the Abbey?”
“Matthew, Gwen and I are. The rest of you are going in the other way.”
“And what way is that?”
“How else? Through the underground car park. Pull in over there so we can get out and I’ll explain. It’ll go much quicker if I tell everybody at once.”
Mary finger-combed her hair, though it was useless. Between the raid, chasing Patrick, and nearly getting blown up, she’d turned her hair into an impossible mess that would take special attention from an army of stylists. Since she didn’t even have time for even a hairbrush, she threaded the tie back around it in a messy bun and left it that way, where it wouldn’t get into her eyes. “Got everything?” she asked Gwen.
The redhead, wearing the same coveralls as Matthew and Mary on either side of her, didn’t look up from the tablet, where she was inputting a series of numbers that Mary couldn’t possibly hope to understand. “In a moment,” she said. “I want everything set before we go up in case it starts to rain again.”
That was sensible, Mary told herself. That was the smart, prepared thing to do. And they needed to be smart and prepared. It didn’t stop her from wanting to pace back and forth. Carson had been shot. Pamuk had come to the Abbey and had shot Carson because she hadn’t killed him. Certainly, they had medical supplies in the vault, and some of the best medical field training in the country, and Carson would be fine, but she still wanted to scream. And that wasn’t even counting Granny—Granny was missing. Never mind that Granny had once waited inside a wall for three days to get necessary information that had led to the eventual end of the Iron Curtain, if Granny was missing…
She needed to do something. When she lifted her hand to her ear to check in on the other team, though, Matthew shook his head. “It won’t make them move any faster,” he said, and Mary scowled because he was right.
Instead, she crossed her arms over her coveralls—the breast pocket of which read “Geraldo” in stitched letters—and leaned back against the wall. They were waiting outside of Crawley’s, close to the service entrance.
“You don’t do well with waiting, do you?” Matthew asked. He’d gained some color in his cheeks since the LMX, which was a good thing. He’d been starting to resemble a corpse at the abandoned Tube stop.
“It’s an acquired skill.” Matthew picked at a string on his sleeve. His own coveralls read Deepak and were a great deal grimier than Mary’s. “You could consider this practice.”
Mary bit her tongue before she could retort something about how he should consider his face practice, as it probably wouldn’t make sense. Thankfully, Gwen came to her rescue by folding the tablet cover closed. “Ready?” Mary asked her.
“Let’s go wash some windows,” Gwen said.
Mary collected her kit—squeegee, suds bucket full of not water and soap but flash and smoke grenades and extra cartridges—and strolled across the pavement. She would have preferred to run, but their ploy would only work if they didn’t draw attention to themselves. Besides, it was one of the first things she had learned about being a spy: one only has to act as though one belongs somewhere and people will believe it. She kept that thought in mind as she reached the window-washing scaffolding and climbed over the rail. Gwen and Matthew followed.
“Mustache,” he whispered to her.
“Damn,” Mary said, and fixed her mustache, which she’d had to apply rather hastily. It wasn’t even the right shade, but the pickings from the costuming disguise kit in the boot of Edith’s car had been slim. Matthew’s own mustache was an odd reddish color, but he’d mussed up his hair, so he looked somewhat passable. Nothing like a Deepak, to be sure, but they only had to keep the charade up until the scaffolding had motored its way up the side of the building.
“Is it straight?” she asked, wiggling her nose.
“Ridiculous, but it’s fine. Hold tight.” Gwen flipped the switch in the corner of the platform and it began its crawl up the mirrored glass side of Crawley’s. “Though what respectable window-washer would be doing out in the rain like this…”
“Let’s just hope they’re focused on the Abbey rather than the banking side of…no, wait, that’s absurd,” Matthew said, and Mary happened to agree, as the premier bank of England should probably have the best security in the country.
“Let’s just hope they don’t notice at all, shall we?” she said. She gripped the railing with her free hand. “How long will this take to get to the top, Gwen?”
“Shouldn’t be too long.”
Mary kept her hand obscured in the folds of the coveralls, wrapped tightly about her gun hilt in anticipation of trouble. With every second that ticked on, she was more and more certain that they were going to be found out, that one of the windows they were slowly creeping by would open and the gunfire would rain down on them.
They reached the top without a single problem. The scaffolding platform barely even shook in the wind.
“I’ll go first,” she said as she and Gwen unfolded the ladder they would need to truly reach the roof. They hadn’t needed Edith’s urban climbing kit after all. “Gwen, you follow. Matthew—”
“Watch the rear, got it,” he said.
“Just what do you mean by rear? I won’t have you staring at my arse,” Gwen said.
Matthew immediately blanched of all of the color he gained. “I—no, I wouldn’t—I would never—”
Gwen grinned and braced the ladder for Mary. “Gotcha.”
“Just exactly how much time is it that you and Sybil spend together?” Matthew asked.
“They’re cute when they’re flustered,” Gwen said to Mary, and Mary laughed a little before she began to climb the ladder, gritting her teeth. This was the most taxing part of the plan, and she was nearly sweating by the time she swung herself over the lip of the roof. She was grateful Matthew had the LMX.
“Buffy,” she said into the comm. “We’re on the roof. Where are you?”
“Still underground,” was the reply. “I’m starting to think you hate me.”
“I’ve smelled pleasanter things on the morning after those awful parties you used to drag me to at university.”
Mary didn’t envy the other team—they had to break in through the sewers, after all. It must truly be terrible if even Anna was willing to complain about it. Keeping that in mind, she moderated her voice into sympathy, “Didn’t I claim those parties were practice?”
“Yes, and I hate that you’re right.” Anna sounded amused, at least. “I’ll let you know when we’re at the door.”
“He’ll be fine. They’ve got the best medical help in London down here. And he’s strong.”
Mary closed her eyes briefly. “Of course he is. He’s a stubborn old goat. He’s fine.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Once Anna clicked off, Mary did a visual sweep of the roof, not moving as first Gwen and then Matthew joined her. There was a blind spot in the camera overlap, a failsafe for the few who knew how to enter the Abbey from the roof. The folks at Crawley’s had no idea it existed, but Mary intended to use it for her benefit. When Matthew started to shift to give the ladies more room, Mary grabbed his sleeve. The blind spot wasn’t that large.
Gwen pulled the tablet out of her tool belt and immediately began to work, her fingers flying across its surface. “If they broke in,” Gwen said, “they’ll have hacked the Abbey’s cameras. If they used…a-ha, they did. Excellent. I can sneak in on their channel and…et voila! I’m a genius, I tell you.”
She held up the tablet for Matthew and Mary to get a look. Security footage from various camera angles filled the screen. “Now I see what they see. Amateurs.”
“Amateurs that broke into the Abbey and shot Carson,” Matthew said in a quiet voice.
Gwen sobered. “Right,” she said. “Good point. Let me get the roof codes and I’ll transfer this to your phone, Matt. Hold on, though—those are generated in Crawley’s rather than the Abbey, which means it’ll take me a minute to get them—just let me…” She bent over the tablet and Matthew met Mary’s eyes over her head.
‘Matt?’ she mouthed at him.
He shook his head, a minuscule movement. ‘Matthew,’ he mouthed back.
“Once we’re inside, I’m not as useful,” Gwen said, clearly distracted. “You’re sure that you have the access codes to the private lift, Mary?”
“Yes, Carson designed it so that only a few select people would have access, and I’m one of the lucky few.”
“They won’t have revoked my access,” Mary said. “Gwen?”
“This actually doesn’t go faster if you natter at me,” Gwen said.
It was agonizing, waiting while Gwen’s clever fingers flew over the tablet’s surface, hoping that it wouldn’t begin to rain once more, wondering if Granny and Carson and the others were okay. What did Pamuk want? Why had he stormed the Abbey like he had?
Figure out his motives later, she told herself. Deal with his actions now. It was something they had taught her during training. Store observations away, but don’t let them hinder your forward movement. Spies should be like sharks.
Still, worry gnawed through her midsection like the ever-present pain that clawed at her arm.
“Got it! Take that!” Gwen stabbed a fist into the air in triumph. “You are mine.”
“So we can go now?” Mary asked. She liked Sybil’s friend, she really did, but did all computer programmers have to be so…eccentric?
“Wait, wait, just a few seconds, I want to loop it ste—okay, go!”
Mary launched herself into a sprint, trusting that Matthew would keep close. They left Gwen behind; the hacker would find an abandoned office and set up there, hopefully becoming a one-woman command center if all went well. Mary hoped all would go well. She tore across the roof, which wasn’t easy due to the day’s rain, yanking open the roof access door and hurrying inside. Matthew slipped right before he reached the door, arms flailing, but he regained his footing before he could crash to the ground. Inside, she took the stairs down two at a time. She didn’t want to test Gwen’s hacking skills for any longer than she had to, in case the crew that had overtaken the Abbey somehow figured out their cameras for the top floor were looped.
Mary counted two flights of stairs and stopped just outside the stairwell door to slow herself down. From there, she and Matthew strolled down the hallway as though they completely belonged there, as window-washing janitors or some noise. Luckily, they encountered nobody. They only had to go down one hallway to get to the private lift, but it was still business hours and the offices were theoretically occupied, hopefully with nobody the wiser that several floors beneath them, a major coup was being staged.
When she reached the storage closet door, she pulled it open and slipped inside. Immediately she began to strip, Matthew following her example, revealing their regular clothes and the vests beneath. They clipped spare cartridges and grenades to their tactical vests in perfect solidarity. “Now what?” Matthew asked her as she checked the magazine in her gun.
“Follow me.” She kicked the discarded coveralls and mustaches under a shelf and headed deeper into the closet. He followed her, looking a bit dubiously at the cleaning supplies all around them. She had to stand on her tip-toes to read the labels of all of the bottles on the top shelf, but when she found the one for Tony Strallan’s Tractor Cleaning Fluid: Main Ingredient Sodium!, she turned it counter-clockwise. Because Matthew stood so close to her, she felt his jump as a pane in the back wall opened up, revealing a dimly-lit lift car.
He blinked. “That’s it?”
“Yes, it’s…a bit of a tight fit.”
Mary stepped inside, which so narrow she could touch her elbows to each wall on either side of her. “Carson designed it so that there wouldn’t be room for an entire army in here.”
“Or even a mildly overweight person.” Matthew took a deep breath. Given the severe lack of space, he had no choice but to stand immediately in front of Mary, so that his nose nearly brushed her forehead. “Underwood, we’re in the lift.”
“Copy that. It’s all on Andromeda now.”
“Yes,” Mary said, leaning around Matthew and trying not to notice that he shifted uncomfortably in place as her chest brushed his uninjured side. She held perfectly still for the ocular scanner.
The panel flashed red: ACCESS REVOKED.
Mary frowned stood in front of the scanner again, but the panel flashed red, the words changing to a warning. She cursed.
“What is it?” Matthew asked.
“They’ve taken away my access!” It had to be her father’s work: he was the only one with clearance. Mary felt twin spears of fury and betrayal cut through her. Certainly, she’d gone rogue, but she was still a Crawley. Surely Robert wouldn’t deny her at least that much. “Gwen, there’s an issue.”
“Hold tight, then. I’ll try and get around it. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Trust me,” Matthew said, and she felt him breathe in. “Really not a problem.”
Gwen made no reply. A second later, the control panel went back to a neutral blue shade, the danger of alerting the rest of the Abbey downstairs having passed. It did, however, nothing to clear up the fact that she was now absolutely crammed into a lift with Matthew Crawley with barely enough room to breathe, let alone move.
She suddenly had no idea where to look.
She could have stared at his chin, which, thanks to the fact that she wore boots instead of her usual heels, was level with her eyes, but that would have meant crossing her eyes. Looking down only reminded her that there was no space between them and that they were of a…rather compatible height.
Had it been this warm in here a moment before? She wasn’t sure.
“Well,” Matthew said, his voice sounding strained, “I guess if they were going to match code names, you should be grateful they went with Perseus. I’m not sure you’d relish being stuck in here with a sea monster.”
Mary bit her tongue. “Yes,” she said. “Probably not.”
“Andromeda.” Anna’s voice cut in through her ear, a very welcome addition to the more than cramped lift cart. “We’ve reached the door. Where are you?”
“Trapped in a lift with M—Perseus.”
“Working on getting them out,” Gwen said. “Everybody just hold tight for a tick.”
Mary clicked off the comm and sighed. “I don’t know if I’m angrier with my father for taking away my access or with Carson for setting this up so that we’re trapped in here.”
“I don’t know.” Matthew’s voice was strained, though he was obviously trying to sound upbeat. “Gives us a chance to get to know each other better, at least.”
“Yes, rather intimately, I’m afraid,” Mary said, and Matthew blushed. “I’m surprised my father didn’t put you in the system since it’s clear you’re supposed to be the Perseus to my disgraced Andromeda.”
“Andromeda wasn’t disgraced. And I would never,” Matthew started to say. He paused and cleared his throat. “I could never replace you. Perhaps there’s something more going on with the codes.”
“No, there’s not. This is my father’s way of making it abundantly clear that I’m a disappointment after this business with Pamuk.” And look, her brain pointed, where that’s gotten us. The Abbey was under siege, the only rescue was trapped underground or in the lift, Granny was missing, and Carson had been shot.
The fates had, she’d discovered, the cruelest sense of humor of them all.
Matthew, instead of offering some useless platitude, went silent. “Was it difficult?” he asked after a moment where Mary counted every agonizing second.
“Looking a man that you meant to kill in the eye.”
Some days, she felt like it had been incredibly difficult. Other days…she had expected that she would have to give up a sliver of her soul in the process, possibly even a bigger slice than she had anticipated. But nothing of the sort had happened. Instead, she had felt nothing but numbness, even though it had been hours before she could safely get away from the man she had killed.
To come through it all and feel so little when she knew she should feel so much had been the most difficult thing of all.
“You’ve never had to kill before?” she asked, deflecting instead.
“Never at close range and never out of anything but self-defense or in defense of another.” Matthew went silent again, staring at the wall beyond her head. “I don’t know if I could.”
“Then you’re a far better person than I, Matthew Crawley.”
“That wasn’t what I mea—”
“Hey, guys, guess what?” Gwen’s voice rang in their ears. Next to Matthew, the control panel glowed green. “I’m still a genius. Going down?”
“Thanks, Underwood,” Mary said since Matthew had closed his lips with a pained look. She wished he wouldn’t do that. He was so much more handsome when he smiled.
Handsome? The thought nearly made her jump. She really needed to get off this lift.
Thankfully, even as she thought that, the car lurched and they began to descend. The ride was not pleasant. Because it had been secreted away in the building’s plans, the lift wasn’t as hydraulically-smooth as any of the other lifts. The car rattled and shook, jostling the two inside. Matthew braced his free arm on the wall over Mary’s shoulder; Mary planted herself against the wall, her own free hand hooked into the bottom of Matthew’s tactical vest to keep him from losing his balance and crashing into her. Every second that passed had her imagining a new way to plummet to their deaths. From the look in Matthew’s eyes, he was entertaining some of the very same thoughts.
Neither she nor Matthew commented on the relieved breath that the other gave at arriving safely. The loud chime from Matthew’s pocket, however, made them both jumped. He bumped her with his elbow as he pulled out his mobile. “Looks like Gwen really is the genius she claims to be,” Matthew said, showing Mary the screen.
“Your comm is on, just so you know,” Gwen said. “And you’re clear to reach the second entry point.”
Matthew muted the mic and cursed. “Do you think they heard all of that?”
Mary took his phone away from him to get a look at the security camera footage Gwen had loaded onto it. “No, just that bit,” she said. “Buffy, we’re at the bottom. Matthew and I are coming out.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
“Copy that,” Mary said, clicking off as she handed Matthew his phone back. She took a deep breath and looked him square in the eye. “Ready?”
Mary tensed, gun at the ready. The hallway beyond was mercifully empty. “This way.”
Below the main center for Crawley’s, the Abbey was laid out over three floors. The lowest level held safe rooms and old storage, and was so rarely used that even Mary’s memory of its layout was foggy. Most people thought there were only two entry-points, when in reality there were four: the shaft Mary and Matthew had just used, the stairwell, and a tunnel to the car park that could only be opened from the inside. It was located down a hallway and through an empty storage room.
Mary’s heart pounded in her ears with every step, eyes constantly darting and waiting for one of the assailants to pop out of the shadows and shoot them. She ducked into the storage room, automatically giving it a visual sweep and nearly letting out a gasp of relief when it proved empty. Matthew took up the job as look-out at the doorway as Mary crossed the room. She knelt, yanking up a bit of the floor, and pulled the lever that unearthed. There was a small groaning sound and the wall swung open like a trapdoor in an old cartoon, revealing her sisters, Branson, Bates, and Anna on the other side.
She blinked. “What happened to you lot?”
“Sewers,” was all Branson said as they tracked by her, dirtied and smelling a trifle ripe.
Edith in particular had a swath of mud across the sleeve of her tactical jacket. She noticed Mary’s scrutiny immediately, for she glared. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.” Mary looked around and clicked on her mic so that Gwen could hear, too. “Everybody know what we need to do?”
They’d all agreed on a plan before splitting into groups to break into the Abbey, so the others just nodded.
“Very well. Do everybody try not to get shot, please. We’ve had quite enough of that for one day.”
“Just because you shot Matthew—” Sybil started to say.
“I didn’t shoot him,” Mary said at the same time as Matthew said, “She didn’t shoot me!”
“Right then,” Branson said, and muscled his way through the center of the group, leading the way out. Sybil, Edith, Bates, and Matthew trailed behind him, leaving Mary with Anna.
“How many are on the second level, Gwen?” Mary asked.
“Just two. One’s posted outside the infirmary trying to break in, the other’s on the look-out.”
“Please tell me the look-out’s falling asleep on the job,” Anna said.
“’Fraid not. Surprised?”
“Not at all. That would have been too easy.”
Mary took point. Under Crawley’s, the Abbey spread out over three floors, covering quite a bit more square footage than any of the floors of the banking center. The uppermost floor of the Abbey held the command center, where the intruders had set up shop, as well as the cafeteria and the gym. The second floor held the armory and the infirmary, and the third floor was mostly empty storage, arranged in labyrinth fashion. Mary firmly blamed her grandfather’s sadistic love for M.C. Escher for that one. They traced their way to the western staircase, avoiding as many of the cameras they could in case Gwen’s override failed.
Gwen had assessed the situation correctly. The infirmary, located on the eastern part of the second level, was locked with a vault door. One of the intruders had a tablet hooked into the access panel by the door and was bent over it in fixed conversation. His companion, however, stood by the entrance, gun lowered. His seemingly relaxed stance, though, was ruined by the fact that his head swiveled at regular intervals, studying the surrounding hallway.
Mary ducked back behind the corner before he could spot her and nearly cursed under her breath. There was no way Anna could get off two shots in quick succession, and even with the silence on Mary’s gun, it wouldn’t be quiet enough to take them out efficiently.
“Any ideas?” she whispered to Anna.
Anna wordlessly unslung her crossbow and handed it to Mary. “Wait, what?” Mary asked as her friend reached into her kit bag and pulled out a tube. Mary blinked. “A blow-gun? Really?”
“Got any better ideas?” Anna asked. “I’ll take the look-out.”
“If you say so,” Mary said as Anna loaded the tube. She dropped a bolt onto the crossbow, and thanked the hours upon hours Anna had insisted she spend at the range, learning all sorts of weapons. The fact that she was about to take a man down with a crossbow, she realized absently, was not even the strangest part of her day. She took a knee. “I’ll count off.”
“Much obliged,” Anna said, and sucked in a deep breath. She nodded to Mary.
On “one,” Anna stepped forward and delivered a perfectly aimed shot to the side of the look-out’s neck. Mary waited half a beat and slid forward, but she misjudged the space between herself and the wall, and clipped said wall with the crossbow. The crossbow came down right on top of her gunshot wound, sending excruciating waves of agony rocketing through her. In horrified, perfect slow motion, she watched the look-out fall forward, already out, and the hacker slowly, slowly begin to turn…
Anna, somehow moving even faster than the hacker, dropped the blow-gun. She plucked the taser from the back of Mary’s vest, aimed.
The crackle of the taser filled the air. Mary dropped the crossbow with a potent curse, hand going to her arm.
“You okay?” Anna asked even as the hacker fell to the ground, twitching.
Mary wasn’t quite able to speak yet, so she nodded. She managed to push up to her feet and hurry after Anna. They removed cable ties from their pockets to bind the hands of the intruders, duct tape from Anna’s kit bag to gag them. Anna worked at disconnecting the radios as Mary ripped the electronics away from the panel. “They haven’t changed the codes, have they?”
“No, yours still work down here at least.”
“Oh, look, something’s finally going my way,” Mary said, pushing in her code. There was a hissed of the lock decompressing. The infirmary door cracked open an inch. “Carson? Dr. Clarkson? It’s us, we’re here to—”
She pushed open the door and froze.
The room was completely empty. There was nobody on any of the beds, and even Dr. Clarkson’s customary stool was completely empty. The lights flickered at half-power.
There was a puddle of dark red on the floor that could be nothing but blood.
“Mary? Mary, what is it?” Anna rose to her feet to follow Mary into the infirmary, but the dangling wire from the stolen radio receiver caught on the knee of her trousers. She let out an annoyed breath and tugged at it.
“I don’t—there’s nobody in here.” The hair on the back of Mary’s neck stood up. Something was definitely wrong. “Gwen,” she said.
“What is it?”
“What does the camera show for the infirmary?”
“Carson and some other people,” Gwen said. “Why?”
“It’s empty,” Mary said.
Anna, about to rise from fixing the wire tangle-up, froze. “What?” she asked, and a hole appeared in the wall right above her—exactly where she would have been had she stood up.
Before Mary had even fully processed that, Anna threw herself into a roll, aiming for the first cover she could find. Mary scrambled backward into the infirmary, intent only to get out of the line of fire. Where had the shot come from? Who was shooting?
Anna ducked behind the same corner where they’d taken cover earlier. Mary raised her gun and peeked around the infirmary doorway.
Gunfire, loud, raucous, jarring, peppered the hallway, chewing a pattern along the wall to her left. Mary jumped back—and something grabbed her from behind.
Instinct had her driving her elbow back, but her assailant dodged out of the way. Unimpeded, she fell backward. The wind was knocked from her lungs when she landed, but she rolled, wanting only to get to her feet and shoot the son of a bitch who’d grabbed her.
She made it to her knees before she realized that Kemal Pamuk was standing by the door, gun firmly trained on her forehead. Everything went instantly cold.
Pamuk, on the other hand, smiled and hit the button to close the infirmary door, locking them both in. “Hello, Mary,” he said. The sound of the door closing rang through her head like a gong. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Operating as the team’s eyes—Sybil insisted, pointing at her eyes to indicate that she was watching Matthew as they headed up the stairs—meant that he trailed after the group. He had Gwen’s program running on his Abbey-issued mobile, and all looked clear: the intruders were sequestered in the control room and the injured Abbey personnel were in the infirmary. The downstairs hallway showed two men that Anna and Mary would take out. Hopefully Gwen’s computer genius was truly as good as she claimed and those in the control room weren’t seeing what Matthew was, which was that Mary and Anna were creeping toward the two men in the lower hallway, and Matthew and the rest were heading resolutely for the control room and the look-out posted outside.
Bates took point, Branson and Sybil flanking him. Edith and Matthew fell in behind the three of them. They communicated with hand signals and facial expressions alone, and it was quite a bit different than working alongside Mary, as there was no sarcastic commentary.
Nor was it anywhere near as fulfilling.
When they reached the hallway, Sybil switched her Smith & Wesson for the rag and a bottle of chloroform she’d taken from stores. She nodded at Bates before heading forward with Branson flanking her. Matthew followed, keeping his attention divided between the mobile in his hand and the corridor ahead. When they neared a curve in the hallway, Matthew held up a hand.
Sybil ducked into a doorway. Branson gave Matthew a nod as he accepted the mobile from him before taking up a post in the doorway opposite Sybil. Matthew entertained one sour thought that things really never ended well for the bait, holstered his gun, and waited in the middle of the hallway like an ignorant toff.
Right on time, the patroller rounded the curve and spotted him. Matthew had an eternity to study the whites of the man’s eyes beneath the mask—and Branson stepped smoothly from the alcove and put his gun against the man’s temple. “Don’t move.”
The man, predictably, went for his radio. Branson grabbed it before he could, giving him a look. Even as the man moved to retaliate, Sybil sprang forward. And then the man was too busy being chloroformed by Sybil to worry about fighting anybody off or getting on contact with him.
They left his unconscious body in a doorway.
“How’re your trousers?” Branson asked as they parceled out the man’s weapons.
“Still dry,” Matthew said. Branson spared him a grin as he and Edith disappeared into the room adjoining the control room. Matthew didn’t envy them their trip through the ventilation ducts, especially smelling the way they did.
Sybil and Bates moved to either side of the control room entrance. Matthew had only been in the room once or twice; he’d needed to use the satellite hook-up to search for Mary, which was the only reason he’d been able to track her down in France. Outside, the hallway was lushly carpeted in a way that spoke of class, as though this were the banking center rather than the floors upstairs. Even though it was the control hub of one of the most effective espionage agencies on the planet, it just felt like a regular office hallway, which meant he felt rather absurd, standing there waiting in all black.
“Gwen,” Mary said over the radio and the three of them in the hallway froze. It had to be serious, Matthew thought, if she was ignoring Gwen’s handle. He shared a worried look with Sybil. What had gone wrong?
“What is it?” Gwen asked.
“What does the camera show for the infirmary?”
“Carson and some other people. Why?”
Matthew looked down at his mobile. It was a little hard to make out details on such a small screen, but he could see people in the infirmary, Carson occupying one of the beds as Clarkson bent over him, operating on his bullet wound.
“It’s empty,” Mary said.
“That can’t be right,” Matthew said to Sybil and Bates. He started to extend the phone to them so that they could see, but the sound of gunshots cut through the air, making all three hit the floor. Matthew searched the hallway; it was empty.
“Sounds like they know we’re here.” Bates activated his comm. “Who’s got eyes on the shooter?”
“He’s down here! Mary and I are pinned,” Anna said. There was a pause and then they heard another spate of gunfire. “One shooter as far as I can tell. East wing.”
“I’m coming,” Bates said. “Hang tight.”
Bates gave them a fleeting look before he headed off, sprinting as fast as his bad leg would allow. Matthew and Sybil exchanged a look. “Go,” Matthew said. “I’ve got this.”
“Are you sure? Five of them and three of you—”
“Go save Anna and your sister. We’ve got it.”
Sybil needed no more urging; she raced after Bates, leaving Matthew alone at the doorway.
“They know we’re coming,” he told Edith and Branson over the radio. “Might as well go for it.”
“Damn the torpedoes,” Branson said. “Go!”
Matthew slapped his hand to the scanner outside the control room; the instant entry confirmation clicked into place. He didn’t bother with a deep breath. There were four men inside the room, and three of them. It wasn’t the time to think. There was no choice but to act.
So he burst through the door, aiming first for the satellite panel, which Branson wouldn’t be able to reach through the ventilation ducts.
The room was completely empty. “What the hell!”
“What’s going on down there?” Gwen asked. A new round of gunfire made Matthew flinch.
“Bates and I are taking care of the gunman on the second floor—”
“The control room’s empty—”
“We’ve lost Mary—”
“I’m—” Branson dropped into the control room from the ventilation duct and blinked at Matthew. He swore. “What the hell?”
“I don’t know,” Matthew said, and both men spun in place at movement in the corner.
It was the door sliding closed. “No, no, no,” Matthew said even as he ran, knowing he would never reach it in time, knowing it would close before he could even get halfway. The panel beside the door glowed an ominous red, and the words “REMOTE OVERRIDE” flicked over the screen. “Gwen, somebody’s locked the door to the control room—”
“Oh, shit,” Edith, who’d just dropped into the room, said. She’d landed beside the conference table and had gone to all fours.
“What is it?” Branson and Matthew asked on the same breath.
Edith merely pointed under the table.
Dread made Matthew begin to sweat as he bent to look. In an instant, he completely forgot that they’d lost Mary or that there was a shooter on the second floor.
Sybil’s voice cut in through their earpieces. “Shooter down! Anna, Mary, are you okay?”
That explained why the shooting downstairs had stopped.
They did, however, have more pressing problems, in Matthew’s opinion. It seemed Branson agreed, for he met Matthew’s eyes as he raised his fingers to his ear to activate the comm. “We’ve a bit of a situation.”
There was a pause over the headset. “Mary—are you okay? And how much is a bit, Tom?” Sybil asked.
Matthew stared at the bomb strapped to the bottom of the conference table. “Everybody needs to get out of the Abbey right now,” he said. “There’s a bomb.”
“Can’t exactly—a bomb? Get out of there, get out of there right now!”
“Door’s locked!” Matthew said. Still, he hurried over to the panel and began entering the codes he’d learned just earlier that week. To think he’d worked at the Abbey for less than a fortnight and he was already faced with a bloody bomb on the job.
In that moment, he was rather regretting meeting anybody and everybody named Crawley.
“Nothing’s working,” he said, desperate now, as his code was rejected a third time.
“Oh, hell,” Branson said for all of them, and as one, the men turned to look at Edith.
She turned a rather spectacular shade of pale. “I’m really rethinking being the munitions specialist in the family,” she said to the air in general, and ducked under the table to get a better look at the bomb.
“Does anybody know what’s up with Andromeda?” Gwen asked on the comm.
Mary stayed still. The gun in Pamuk’s hand seemed large—almost too large—a gaping mouth that stared at her and taunted her with precisely how many times she had failed within the past twenty-four hours alone. Matthew had gotten shot. She had gotten shot. Bates had been framed for his ex-wife’s murder, Patrick and Pamuk had both risen from the grave, and the former had gone down in the same fiery blaze that she had thought had taken him years before.
It was a very full, very terrifying twenty-four hours, she thought. Less than, even. Twenty-four hours before, she had been on a yacht, preparing for a party.
“What do you want?” she asked Pamuk, not daring to raise her gun. “I assume this isn’t your cordial attempt to catch up on old times.”
“Cordial?” Pamuk’s smile was velvet over rage. “You tried to kill me, Mary. In addition, you did kill a double I worked very hard to cultivate.”
“If I’d known…”
“He had a family, you know.” Pamuk’s smile deepened, angrily and maliciously. “A mother. She goes every day to put flowers on his grave.”
“You’re a pig,” Mary said. She was trembling and cold, oh, so cold. “You’re an absolute pig. You knew precisely what I had been ordered to do.”
“That is the problem with you English spy agencies,” Pamuk said, sneering now. “Orders. Nobody acts on instinct anymore.”
“What do you want?”
“Many things. What I want most is your death, I think. You killed my double, I kill you. An eye for an eye.”
Chatter squawked in her ear—Matthew, Branson, Edith, Gwen. She ignored it; she couldn’t focus on it and look up at Pamuk, towering over her with that gun in her face. Keeping her hands raised in the air, she slowly rose to her feet so that they were more of a height.
She was Mary Crawley, heiress to the Crawley’s millions. She would not cower before any man.
“Bit old fashioned for you, I think,” she said. “Why did you come find me in France if it wasn’t to kill me?”
Pamuk’s cool facade shifted for just a hint of a second. Mary wondered exactly how much he lost at the poker table in Monaco every year. “I had my reasons,” he said.
There was squawking in her ear. She caught the word ‘bomb’ and nearly rolled her eyes. Of course there was a bomb in the Abbey. Because why wouldn’t there be one, with the way her day was going?
“And working with Patrick? Was that just the, how would you put it, the icing on the cake?”
“Patrick provided a service I required. I ended the service when I no longer had need of it.”
Mary stared at him. “The building. The explosives. That was you.”
“A fitting, ironic death, wouldn’t you say?”
She no longer felt cold. No, it was something worse than that. Her error in taking out Pamuk had led to this entire fiasco of a day, and now Patrick really had joined the ranks of the dead, unless he pulled off yet another miracle. Somehow, she doubted it. “What’s your game here, Pamuk? What are you after?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“You think?” Mary asked and fired, aiming for the ground between his feet.
They were screwed.
“It’s far more complex than anything I’ve ever seen,” Edith said, her eyes wide as she stared at the mess of wires. “This isn’t the signature of any bomb-maker I’ve ever seen, either, now that I think about it. This is totally new.”
“Edith,” Branson said, his accent thicker than usual, “if this blows up, how screwed are we?”
Edith looked from his face to Matthew’s, still pale. “Got your wills written up, boys?”
Matthew had a hard time swallowing. “That bad?”
“Maybe. I think I can…” Edith’s hands were steady as she reached into the mass of wires. Just before she could touch one, though, the massive monitors taking up an entire wall of the control room all sprang to life. The three agents swore and scrambled for weapons that had been discarded in the need to disarm a bomb.
The monitors showed static at first, but it cleared almost right away.
“What’s going—” Matthew started to say, but before he could finish that sentence, a man came onto the monitor, and he fell silent. He recognized that face; it had popped up several times in his research into Mary Crawley’s associates.
It in no way belonged to anything associated with the Abbey, however.
“Rick?” Edith asked for all three of them, looking startled.
She caught him off-guard. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Two things happened at once: Pamuk leapt back and the slide on her gun popped open—the last bullet fired. Mary cursed and threw the gun to the side, lunging forward in the same motion. Pamuk had her in reach and weight, but she didn’t have much of a choice. She hit him in the midsection with her shoulder, and they crashed to the ground in a pile of limbs.
Damn. She’d had better ideas.
Pamuk tried to swing the gun up, but she grabbed his forearm with both hands, forcing it down, forcing that mouth of the gun away from her body, saving her life. He snarled and jabbed out with an arm—catching her at precisely the spot in her arm that she’d been shot earlier.
Pain exploded so hard that her vision turned red. Mary cried out, her grip slackening on Pamuk’s arm. She managed to duck, but she was still too close to the gun when it went off, so that it felt like a minor blast inside her eardrums, which were already ringing. It took everything she had to drive her fist into his abdomen, knocking all of the air out of his lungs.
Even as he curled in like a shrimp, she lurched up, her good arm flailing out until it connected with one of the beds. She leveraged her weight onto that arm and kicked out. Her foot hit Pamuk’s wrist, sending the gun skittering away.
He struck out, aiming for her bad arm again. The blow glanced off her elbow, but it was still close enough to hurt. Mary gasped and tried to pull herself away. Pamuk rolled, taking her with him, pinning her with his weight. She aimed for his temple. He blocked, and suddenly, his hands were around her neck, cutting off her oxygen supply.
“Carlisle?” Matthew asked, staring at the ginger-haired man on the screen.
Rick Carlisle, media magnate, smiled slowly and cruelly. “You must be Matthew Crawley,” he said, and his accent was every bit as refined as Mary Crawley’s. He had patrician features, to boot, and he was dressed in a very smart suit, the eyelets in his tie sharp against his collar. “I’ve heard much about the vaunted Perseus from my source. I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but, well, that would be a lie, and I believe a man should always be honest, even in the end.”
“Can somebody please tell me what’s happening?” Gwen asked over the comm. “I can’t see anything—my feeds cut out—”
“What have you done?” Edith asked, rising slowly to her feet. She was still pale, but now there was fury starting to overtake her face. “Was this all you? Was Mary in on it?”
“Oh, goodness, no.” Carlisle smiled. “Ms. Crawley had no idea any of this was going on, which somehow makes it sweeter, if I do say so myself.”
“What do you want?” Matthew asked. “What have you done with the others?”
“The Abbey personnel? They’re fine. After a fashion.”
“Edith? Tom?” Sybil asked over the intercom.
Matthew exchanged a look with Branson, who looked both confused and angry. “We’ve a problem,” he said, turning away from the screen.
Pamuk’s face loomed in front of hers. Even though her vision was starting to go black at the fringes, from this distance he looked warped and ghoulish, like a Halloween mask gone wrong, the very facsimile of Death itself.
If this was the last thing she was going to see before she died, Mary Crawley was going to head into the afterlife extremely pissed.
“I expected more of a fight,” Pamuk said, sneering.
Mary’s thoughts began to shift apart. She needed to break free. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t breathe. She tried to writhe, tried to get away, but he was bigger than her, his weight pressing into her, and his hands were around her neck, squeezing and squeezing. She tried to make a noise, tried to say something, anything—why weren’t the others coming? Where were the others?—but all she could do was move her arms…
Her hand brushed something on her thigh, something she vaguely recognized as her knife holster.
Maybe, just maybe—
“I think I’ll do you a favor and embellish when I tell others how you died,” Pamuk sneered. “Nobody would believe me otherwise.”
“What’s that?” Pamuk asked as Mary’s fingers finally closed around something. “Couldn’t quite make that out.”
Mary went absolutely still, letting her eyes flutter closed. It took every bit of willpower she had to keep her thoughts together, gathered in one place, to make the plan, even as simple as it was.
“Nice try, Crawley, but I know you’re faking it,” Pamuk said, and tightened his grip, leaning forward a little as he did.
“Bastard,” Mary said again, though the word came out as nothing but a gurgle. Drawing every last bit of energy she had, she drove her arm down onto his thigh, the knife she held in her fist slicing through. He let out a yell, freeing her as he gripped his thigh. She rolled the other way as he fell onto his side. Every instinct was shouting: escape, run, flee.
She scrambled instead for the gun.
“What kind of a problem?” Sybil asked over the comm.
“Ah-ah-ah,” Rick Carlisle, on the screen, waved a finger, and abruptly static erupted in Matthew’s ear. He didn’t wince—he couldn’t feel pain yet—but Edith and Branson both let out gasps. “None of that now.”
The static cut into her reality. Mary let out a cry of surprise, and in that moment, Pamuk tackled her to the ground. She went down with a crash.
“You bitch—you utter bitch—” His voice broke down into a jumbled mess of swearing and obscenities as he used his fists on her, trying to land a blow. Training kicked in, though; Mary blocked with her forearms, twisting this way and that, as the blows rained down. She twisted and drove her knee up. It was a lucky strike.
Pamuk went down, this time clutching his crotch. Mary didn’t bother going for the gun. She reached out blindly, fingers grabbing the first thing they came into contact with. Without stopping to wonder what it might be or why it was so heavy, she brought it down, hard, onto the temple of Kemal Pamuk.
This time, he dropped like a stone. His head made a resounding crack as it hit the tile, near the bloodstain that was already there.
Mary didn’t waste time trying to get her breath. She dropped the bedpan, scrambled backward on all fours, like some sort of crab. It took her two tries with shaking hands to pick up the gun, but she managed it.
Then, and only then, did she start hyperventilating.
“What do you want, Carlisle?” Matthew yanked out his earwig, as it was apparently useless anyway.
“Same thing any sane person wants,” Carlisle said, giving a tiny bounce of a shrug. “I want to end the Abbey.”
“But why?” Edith asked.
“Because you’re all a nuisance.” Rick Carlisle’s face contorted monstrously for the briefest of instants. “Which would be reason enough, I suppose, but the fact is, your monopoly of intelligence and espionage within the shores of Britain has gone on far too long, and it’s time for new blood to move in on your territory. Hence…”
He took a short, mocking bow.
“This is a coup? That’s all this is?” Branson asked.
Carlisle smiled. “Don’t be jealous, Irishman,” he said. “Some of us simply know how to do it right.”
“You know what this bomb will do to Crawley’s, to the economy,” Edith said, and Matthew wondered precisely how he could have forgotten that they were currently occupying the same room as a very large bomb. “You know England could hardly afford that.”
“Yes. The bomb. The final step in my brilliant plan to cripple the Abbey and Crawley’s at the same time.” Carlisle smiled. “In five minutes’ time, it will go off. I’ve given you a sporting chance to escape, you see, because I’m a gentleman, but there’s no doubt that this will be a devastating blow, something far worse than even the LIBOR scandal. And when they look deeper into Crawley’s and into the paperwork already buried there, what will they find? My, my. I do hope you escape.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “After all, it would be a shame for you to miss the show.”
“You’re mad,” Matthew said, gaping at the screen. “You’re absolutely daft. There’s no way this ends well for anybody.”
“And that, Mr. Crawley, is where you are remarkably short-sighted. Four minutes now.” Rick Carlisle smiled. “Hope you can get out the way you got in. Toodles.”
The screen went dark.
It took forever to grasp her thoughts, to put them into some semblance of order, but she remembered. The infirmary door was locked. She stumbled to it, swatting desperately at the unlocking mechanism, until the door slid open.
Bates came in first, gun up, but Anna and Sybil weren’t far behind him. The minute Bates said, “Clear,” Sybil broke apart and raced straight for Mary. “Oh, God, you’re all right! Mary—Mary, say something.”
Mary coughed. “W-water,” she managed, though it felt like there were knives slicing her throat to ribbons.
Anna knelt next to the body on the floor, feeling his neck for a pulse but keeping her Taser aimed. “Dead,” she said, rising, and Bates handed over a cup of water. Anna’s eyes tracked to the bloodstain on the floor.
Sybil’s quiet curse spoke for all of them.
Mary took the water with shaking hands. It was both agony and relief as it slid down her throat. “He got the drop on me,” she said, slowly, each word slicing against her abused vocal cords in a way that made her want to scream. “It was a trap. I—why can’t I hear anybody?”
“Communication’s down,” Anna said. “The others are upstairs, but we lost contact.”
Sybil frowned. “We’ll go deal with that. You stay here with Anna—”
“No,” Mary and Anna said together, though it was much quieter from Mary. “We’ll go together,” Anna finished. She looked at Mary. “Can you walk?”
Since she had no desire to talk anymore, she just nodded. Her entire body was shaking, the adrenaline and the fear and a thousand other things—Pamuk’s words like nails, pounding into her skin, his threats and accusations as he did his godawful best to kill her—all mixing together until she could barely stand.
But the Abbey was in danger.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Then let’s go.”
The minute the screen cut out, Matthew put both hands through his hair. He imagined that the motion was pulling at the stitches and Sybil would yell at him, but he couldn’t feel anything, so it hardly mattered at the moment. And if they couldn’t figure out how to stop a bomb from blowing up in four minutes or less—assuming Carlisle wasn’t lying—it wouldn’t matter anyway.
“This is a bloody mess,” he said, unnecessarily.
Edith knelt next to the bomb without saying a word, her eyes raking over it.
“Sabotage,” Branson said, sounding disgusted. “I expected something more than that.”
“Yes, well, we can focus on that later.”
“He’s somewhere in Crawley’s.”
Matthew turned to look at Branson. “How do you know?”
“I recognized the background. He’s in one of the conference rooms. He doesn’t want to level the building—”
“Doubt he could, with a bomb this size,” Edith said, distracted.
“So he’s here because he wants to watch, up close, what he’s doing to us,” Matthew said, and paced back and forth a little. “Is there time to escape?” This was directed at Edith.
She snorted. “No.”
“Can you disarm it?”
“I’m trying. He’ll have built a failsafe into it. Or whoever his engineer is will have. I need quiet.”
The men nodded and headed over to the farthest corner of the room. “The comms are down,” Matthew said. “You’re not injured. You need to get out and warn the others, and help Mary if she’s in trouble, but everybody should try and escape.”
“What about you?”
Matthew took a deep breath. In truth, he wanted to run, screaming, from the room, but there was a bomb, and he’d signed on to this, so the Abbey was his responsibility while they still had one. Robert and Cora were in for a nasty surprise when they returned from Hong Kong. “I’ll stay here, see if Edith needs a hand. Not sure I can do much in this situation, but it’s all we’ve got. Get to the others, try and escape.”
“They won’t go,” Branson said, but he nodded and accepted the leg up Matthew gave him to get back into the ducts.
Matthew immediately returned to Edith’s side. He knew absolutely nothing about bombs or how they operated. He’d had to face down a lunatic with a dead man’s switch at Dauphine once, but it wasn’t a situation he particularly wanted to have to recall. Everything looked like a mess of wire and plastic explosive, like some jumbled, confusing map that he had no legend for.
He could feel greasy sweat sliding down between his shoulder blades. He gamely swallowed. “Need anything?”
“About forty five minutes and a manual, but I’m not going to get it.” Edith reached into her tac vest and began pulling out tools. “Hold these. Sure you don’t want to run?”
“I’m here with you ‘til the bitter end.”
“No wonder Mary likes you. Clearly you’re an idiot.”
“Takes one to know one.” Matthew took the tools, which didn’t look like any types of wrenches or screwdrivers he’d ever seen. “I’m going to set my watch for three minutes.”
“Give me two and a half instead. I like a challenge.” Edith’s eyes were practically burning as she continued to study the bomb on the underside of the table. Gamely, Matthew set his watch.
“Don’t shoot—it’s me!”
Branson’s voice sounded before Anna could be put a crossbow bolt in his throat. He stepped into view at the top of the stairs, but none of Mary’s team relaxed. “Tom!” Sybil said, rushing up the stairs to hug him. “What’s going on? What’s happened? The comms are down.”
“Carlisle cut them off,” Branson said.
Mary blinked. “What?” Her voice sounded low and throaty, but it was the best she could do. “Richard Carlisle?”
Branson nodded. “Turns out he’s the one behind all of this. He’s set up a bomb. We need to get out of here.”
“But that’s impossible.” God, her throat hurt. “He’s not our enemy. He’s a friend of mine.”
“And he’s trying to blow up the Abbey. We need to go.”
“Wait—Edith. Matthew.” Anna grabbed Branson’s arm. “Where are they?”
“Edith’s trying to disarm the bomb, Matthew couldn’t get out through the vents. We need to go now.”
“But we can’t leave them,” Sybil said.
Branson didn’t look at her. “We must,” he said, and pulled her after him, down the stairs.
Edith breathed in, long and deep, and slowly put her hands on the bomb. When it didn’t explode on impact, Matthew felt his heart start up again. “I think,” she said, as her fingers threaded through wires and masses of components, “that I’ve located the failsafe. If I can remove that first, I can take out the main power source and make the bomb inert.”
“How sure are you?” Matthew asked.
Edith winced. “You don’t really want to know the answer to that.”
“Point. Do I need to do anything?”
“Pray,” Edith said, and grabbed the wire cutters. Matthew didn’t bother to hold his breath this time. He just stared as Edith carefully worked the wire cutters into place, tensed for just a second, and said, “I hope Carlisle has a sense of humor,” before she cut the wire.
The Abbey did not blow up.
“Oh, thank God,” Edith said when part of the bomb stopped blinking red. “I was right. How long do we have left?”
“About ninety seconds.”
“I hope the others got out,” Edith said, and handed him the wire cutters.
“I’m not leaving! We’ll never make it in time, and she’s my sister—”
“And if you don’t, your parents will come home to three dead daughters instead of just the one,” Bates said, overriding Sybil before she could protest again. “We’ll live to fight another day, Miss Crawley, but for now, we must go.”
Sybil did not look very happy about that as Branson pulled her away. Mary knew precisely how she felt, but she couldn’t say anything or focus on anything beyond the arm that Anna had around her shoulders, helping her along.
Matthew heard Edith’s sharp intake of breath. “Yes?” he asked, his belly coiling with nerves.
“I think I’ve figured it out.” She turned to look at him, her brown eyes huge, and suddenly she reminded him of the Mary he’d only caught glimpses of in the past twenty-four hours, the one who had raced to aid her best friend and the one who had faced two enemies returned from the dead. Neither sister would appreciate the comparison, so he kept it to himself. There was also the matter of the very active bomb centimeters away from his head.
“I won’t ask if you’re sure,” he said. “Just—do it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Too late to turn back now,” Matthew said, with a false bravado he was not even remotely close to feeling. “I have faith in you, Edith Crawley. You can do this.”
“You great twit, you barely even know me.” But Edith took a long breath, and another one, before taking the wire cutters from his hand once more. “If I’m wrong, we’ll be what they call a pink mist, did you know that? There won’t be enough of us left to ID.”
“I’ve always wanted to go out in a fog. Be a bit like London, don’t you think?” Matthew said, his lips twisting up. “At least we’ll miss whatever nefarious plans Rick Carlisle has for this place.”
“Yes, there always is that.” Once more, Edith fitted the wire cutters into place. It wasn’t a red wire this time, Matthew saw—and he suddenly understood her joke about Rick Carlisle being clichéd—but a black one. How it was different from every other wire in the mess, he didn’t know. He had to have faith that Edith did, though.
He wished he’d called his mother more often. He was sorry he was going to leave her with this mess. Would they even tell her what truly happened to him?
“Well, I’ll see you on the other side,” Edith said, and he gripped her elbow for solidarity.
No turning back now.
Edith drew in a breath. Matthew felt a bead of sweat slide down his temple.
Edith cut the wire.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Matthew stared at the severed wire beneath the cutters in Edith’s hand. “Was that it? Did it work?”
Next to him, Edith stared at her work. “Yes. Yes, I think it did,” she said.
Matthew wasted no time dropping to his knees in a boneless pile of relief. “Thank God,” he said.
“Thank God later. You need to see if you can get on the computer and raise the comms again now. I need to make sure there isn’t a failsafe buried in here that I can’t see.”
“Just don’t blow us up,” Matthew said as he headed for the nearest computer. He didn’t need to look to see Edith flip him off.
The group finally reached the door the others had used to access the Abbey from the sewers. Mary followed blindly, trying not to think or to hope or to feel anything about Edith—she’d always loved blowing things up, so if there was anybody in the Abbey that could fix this, it was surely her, there was no need to worry. Her body felt like a raw, exposed nerve. Lack of sleep, proximity to an explosion, a gunshot, the fight with Pamuk, it was all catching up to her, and not even adrenaline could shield her from the pain much longer.
Bates and Branson scurried ahead to pry the door open, the same way she and Matthew had let the others in. The minute they did, however, the entire party drew up short.
Violet Crawley stepped through the door. “About time you showed up,” she said, her voice as cool and aristocratic as ever.
“Granny!” Sybil’s eyes went round. “What are you doing here?”
“What else? The Abbey’s in trouble, and it’s time we cleaned up the mess.”
“But there’s a bomb—”
“Is there?” Violet asked as Sybil’s mobile began to ring. Mary recognized the song as the one Sybil had picked for Edith. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one, for Violet gave a satisfied nod. “I presume that your sister has dealt with that?”
Sybil held up a finger and answered the mobile. “Yes?” she asked, and listened for a moment. After a thank you and a “See you in a minute,” she hung up and gave them a bewildered look. “Edith’s dealt with the bomb. She says it’s safe and that we don’t have to leave.”
“I would expect nothing less. Now let’s find your sister and that goofy-looking young man I hired last week, and let’s put a stop to this. I’m afraid there’s not much time to lose.”
Matthew’s fingers stilled when the panel beside the door turned from red to green and the door slid open. Instead of the enemy, the others poured into the control room. They had Violet Crawley with them.
“Is it truly disarmed?” Branson asked Edith right away.
The blond waved an absent hand at the components she’d already pulled off of the bomb while Matthew had been at work on the computer. “Shouldn’t harm anyone now,” she said.
“Are all of you okay?” Matthew asked, his eyes drawn to Mary. She was paler than she had any right to be, her eyes glassy, but she was upright on her own, though Anna was hovering worryingly close to her friend.
Before he could go to her, however, Sybil crowded into his personal space, shooing him toward a chair. “I want to see if you’ve pulled your stitches,” she said.
“I haven’t pulled my stitches,” he said.
“I’ll determine that, thank you.” Sybil’s expression was completely unyielding.
Edith finally looked up at the group and spotted Violet. “Granny! Where did you get to?”
“That’s not important, my dear.” Violet strode across the room and hit the security camera in the corner with her cane. Everybody jumped; there was a crackle of damaged electrical components, and the matriarch gave a satisfied nod. “There. That should keep him from spying on us for the time being.”
“Somebody needs to check on Gwen, make sure Carlisle hasn’t found her,” Anna said.
“I’ll call her mobile,” Branson said, stepping away.
Matthew, meanwhile, peeled out of his tac vest and tugged his shirt up. His stitches hadn’t pulled much, but the skin looked angry and red. It was fascinating not to feel any pain.
“So what the hell is going on? Does anybody know?” Sybil asked as she prodded at Matthew’s side.
“Language,” Violet said, though she seemed amused. “And I’m not sure, but I do have my suspicions.”
Sybil, mollified that Matthew hadn’t done any more damage to himself, began redoing the bandages.
“How did you happen to arrive so quickly?” Violet asked.
“Mary figured it out, ma’am,” Bates said. “We were already en route when we received the call.”
“I see,” Violet said. “I’ve attempted to contact my son and his wife, but they aren’t answering their mobiles. Mr. Barrow is looking into the matter. Even so, we must act quickly. Richard Carlisle appears to be a much more dangerous man than I thought.”
“Do you know something about Carlisle we don’t?” Mary’s voice made Matthew look away from Sybil’s work; the spy had raised her head and he could see, fully for the first time, red marks stretching across her neck. Somebody had tried to strangle her.
It took Matthew a few seconds to look down once more.
“I knew he helped you out after you threw your fit and left the Abbey,” Violet said. “I had Barrow look into him, of course. He found a few discrepancies, but nothing of this nature, but one could say he has been on my radar, yes.”
“So, this may be something I should have asked before,” Sybil said, “but I don’t even know who Carlisle is. What does he want with us and why is he doing this?”
“It’s Richard Carlisle. He owns half the news sites in England,” Anna said, since Mary had grimaced. Whether that had anything to do with the angry red marks on her throat or the fact that she had just been publicly chastised by her grandmother, Matthew didn’t know.
“Do we know anything about him?”
“We know he’s upstairs,” Edith said.
“Well, let’s go get him, then!”
“Given that he has several of our nearest and dearest held hostage, perhaps we ought to find out which conference room he’s occupying before we rush in with our trousers about our ankles?” Violet said, and Sybil scowled.
“I was trying to work on that,” Matthew said, gesturing at the keyboard.
“Are you a hacker?” Sybil asked, surprised, as she taped up the final bandage.
“I hold my own,” he said, though he hadn’t even gotten past the first wall of security. He pulled his shirt down and turned back to the computer. “Though admittedly, Gwen has nothing to worry about from me trying to steal her job.”
The monitors on the wall sprang to life, making every single person in the room reach for some sort of weapon. It was once again Richard Carlisle. Instead of looking annoyed, he seemed pleased.
“Can’t be sure you’re there,” he said, and a couple of them glanced at the still-smoking camera in the corner, “but if I had to place a wager, I’d bet on that. How is everybody? I dearly hope Mr. Pamuk didn’t do too bad of a number to Miss Crawley. I’m quite fond of her.”
Mary rolled her eyes.
“Here’s the deal,” Richard said. “I have your people. I’m sure you want them back. I’m also sure there’s already some half-mad plan to retrieve your wounded comrades from me, but let me assure you now, it will not work.” Abruptly, Carlisle turned serious, and Matthew understood why people never crossed him. “I am prepared to offer you a deal. If you wish to see them alive and in one piece, you will send up Violet Crawley.”
“We will do no such thing,” Sybil said, half-rising to her feet in anger.
Anna, though, frowned. “Send up? To where?”
As if he could hear her question, Carlisle smirked. “And because it would be rude to invite a guest and omit the address, I’ll show you where I am. You’ll recognize it, I think.” Richard reached forward and turned the camera around to show a lush suite of offices, all ornately decorated. From the way everybody immediately turned to look at Violet, Matthew realized that these must be the offices she kept upstairs in Crawley’s.
“You can’t fault his taste, I suppose,” Violet said, confirming Matthew’s theory.
“You have eight minutes. If anybody comes in, I will personally—”
The screen cut to black. This time, people didn’t bother to reach for weapons. The redhead that popped up was not Richard Carlisle, after all.
“Oh, there you are,” Gwen Dawson said, squinting at the lot of them.
“You can see us?” Sybil asked.
“Well, yeah, I piggy-backed onto the monitor behind—Matthew, I think.” Matthew turned slightly to look at the computer monitor; there was a blinking red light near the top. “It took some doing. I didn’t catch the Trojan until it was almost too late, but I’ve pushed them completely out of the system. A man named Richard Carlisle is the one behind this. He—”
“Is up in my office on the twelfth floor, yes,” Violet said.
Gwen blinked. “Okay, apparently I’ve missed some things.”
“Gwen, do you have a way of seeing into the Dowager’s office?” Anna asked, stepping forward so that she was hovering near—but not beside—the head of the Crawley family. “Is there any way to tell what they’re up to?”
“Well, it’s not good.” Video footage of Violet’s office filled the screen. Richard Carlisle sat at the massive island of a desk as though he owned the building. He had a man in a suit by the door; Matthew could tell by the way that the man stood that he was packing heat.
The screen switched to a waiting room. A man Matthew recognized as the Abbey’s medic was kneeling over Carson, who seemed distressed about bleeding all over the carpet. A couple of the staff were seated nearby, hugging their knees to their chests. Men holding semiautomatics paced around them, looking blank and foreboding.
Branson stepped back into the control room. “We can take them.”
“Without causing injury to our own people?” Mary asked the Irishman.
“I’m just saying that we—”
“Whatever you were about to say, Mr. Branson, I would hold off.” Violet tapped her cane against the floor absently. “I shall give myself up.”
Immediately, there was a chorus of “No!”
Violet raised an imperious eyebrow at all of them. “I don’t recall this being a democracy,” she said in a voice so mild, vanilla ice cream manufacturers sat up and took notice. “I will be turning myself in. This man is a threat to my employees.”
“Underwood,” Violet said, cutting Edith off.
Gwen sat up quickly. “Yes, Dowager?”
“You say that Carlisle has no way of knowing what is going on outside of my office?”
“Very well.” Violet turned to the rest of the room. “Give me five minutes and go up to the fourteenth floor, in the east wing. You will find a janitor’s closet there. Turning the Grantham Tile and Grout Stain Remover three times clockwise will be quite revealing.”
For a long moment, there was silence.
Sybil began to laugh. “Always another secret, Granny,” she said.
“Always,” Violet said.
Mary’s body felt like it had that time in University where she had simultaneously discovered Jack Daniels and the suitability of the hill behind her flat for sledding, but she pushed herself onward. There had only been time for a trip to the armory to restock before Violet insisted on handing herself over. There hadn’t been enough time to really rehash their plan and properly evaluate precisely how mad they all were for thinking they could get away with this.
She pushed the pain down with an old breathing trick. She had to keep moving, otherwise thoughts were going to come crashing through her skull and overwhelm her, and she would be no good to anybody. It didn’t stop thoughts from getting through the cracks, but she could hardly help that.
Richard Carlisle hadn’t been fazed that Edith had disarmed the bomb, which meant either he had meant for it to happen, or that part of the plan hadn’t been absolutely vital to him. Whatever he was up to—sabotage, a coup, a hostile takeover—he wanted the Abbey’s reputation, Mary figured. They were one of the most respected spy houses in England. Taking them over would go far internationally.
Due to their various injuries, Matthew and Mary headed for the lift while the others took the stairs. Mary pressed the button for the eleventh floor.
“It’s the fourteenth,” Matthew said.
Mary shook her head. “Granny’s got another passage.”
Matthew goggled at her. “Your grandmother has two secret tunnels into her office?”
“We’re Crawleys.” Mary hugged her arms close to her chest, though every movement sang up through her injury. There was something discordant about walking through a bank in body armor, no matter that it was hidden beneath a denim jacket. “We sleep with a knife under the pillow and a gun in the nightstand. Paranoid doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
“Noted,” Matthew said, eyes wide. “Why not inform the others?”
“They’ll all be needed to get the hostages out, and you and I are too injured to be much help there.” Mary watched the numbers rise as the lift car climbed. Thankfully, nobody stopped them. “Granny thinks she’s invincible, but there’s no way I’m letting her go in without backup.” When Matthew looked uncomfortable, she conceded with a sigh. “Anna knows. I told her while you were all looking for the spare clips.”
“And she’s okay with it?”
“She knows we can take care of ourselves.”
Anna had argued, actually, and vehemently. If Richard Carlisle was powerful enough to stage Vera’s death, frame Bates, and storm the Abbey, it was foolish to go in at all, much less battered, bruised, and bloody like they were. But all of the able-bodied fighters were needed to get the wounded out, and it was cramped besides. Mary and Matthew had already had their trial by fire in a tight, uncomfortable place.
“So what’s our signal to go in?” Matthew asked.
“The opportune moment.” The lift stopped on the eleventh floor. “I’m just not sure what that is. I have no idea what Carlisle’s plan is. For all I know, we could be walking into a trap.”
“That’s comforting,” Matthew said.
“Isn’t it just.” Mary made a left at the corner. At the office numbered 1112, she stopped, looking about, and jiggled the handle three times. The number plate by the door slid up to reveal a small lever.
Oh, good, she thought. Still there. “Just how many secret tunnels do you suppose this place has?” Matthew asked, blinking at the lever.
“Dozens. I don’t know all of them, but I figure by this point, I know most.”
“I grew up here. It’s boring when your father pretends to run a bank all day. I made my own fun.” Mary pulled the lever. Just like she hoped, one of the ceiling panels moved noiselessly to the side. She reached up and tugged on the cord that dropped down, pulling a ladder to their level. “After you.”
“No, I insist, ladies first.”
“Matthew, I have more reason to be in the bank than you do. Up you go.” If anybody saw her in the bank, they would just assume one of the eccentric Crawleys had dropped by, and that the ladder was there for maintenance. Matthew raised his eyebrows at her as he gingerly climbed up, looking like he was taking pains to avoid overexerting his side. Good, Mary thought. It would hurt like nothing else once he took the antidote for the LMX.
She followed as quickly as her injuries would allow. Her throat felt raw and slivered with cuts, but she’d managed to make her voice sound normal. She wore a scarf over the bruising, which stung like nothing else, but the pain was still at tolerable levels. The scarf would need to go the minute the action started, of course.
“Which way?” Matthew asked after he’d pulled the ladder up and she’d closed the panel. They were stooped over as there wasn’t too much space between the floors—more than most people knew, obviously, but quite a bit less than it took to walk along comfortably.
She pointed off to the right and handed him the night-vision goggles she’d pinched from supplies. “Step carefully now. One step wrong and we’re going to have to explain to a room full of bankers why there are people lurking in the ceiling.”
“Heavens,” Matthew said dryly as he fit the goggles over his eyes. “Lay on, Macduff.”
They made it only a few steps before Matthew let out a startled curse. “Sorry—my mobile,” he said when Mary whirled, ready to fend off an attacker. “That’s Anna. They’re reaching the fourteenth floor now.”
“Wish we had a proper set of comms,” Mary said, but whatever Carlisle’s people had done to hack the system had pretty much fried the software. It would be up to Molesley and Carson to create a new set for the Abbey.
Provided Carson survived this.
Please, Mary prayed to a deity that she wasn’t sure existed, please let Carson survive this.
How long had he been without proper medical help? How old was he? How strong? The man had a heart like an ox, but it tore hers in two to know that he was scared and in pain.
Had Richard Carlisle’s overthrow of the Abbey been her fault? She was too tired to rack her brain, try to figure out if there was something she’d said, something she’d done, that had given the business mogul the fuel he needed to launch this attack. With a man as shrewd as Rick Carlisle, there likely was, but for the life of her, she didn’t know what it was.
“Hey,” Matthew said, breaking into her thoughts and making her jump the slightest bit. “Are you okay?”
Mary took a second to compose herself. “Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked, her voice haughty.
There was a pause behind her. “Your neck,” Matthew finally said. “It looks like Pamuk tried to choke you.”
“Never fear, I clocked him with a bedpan for his trouble. He’s dead.”
Again, there was another pause as Matthew considered this. “Perhaps,” he said at length, “it might be kinder to his family to change that story from ‘he died by bedpan’ to ‘he died in bed.’“
“It matters little to me, I assure you. Now, shh.” Nerves wound tight in her midsection. The others would be descending through the ceiling, but this tunnel brought them up through the floor off to one side of the large suite, over by the bookshelves. It put them at a distinct disadvantage, as there wasn’t much cover anywhere around the trap door. But, provided Carlisle’s men weren’t hurting Granny, Matthew and Mary could stay and eavesdrop for as long as they liked and try to get some inkling of Carlisle’s plan—until things invariably went to hell in a hand-basket, but that would be a problem to concern herself with when it happened and not before. Despite being the daughter of a banker, she was rather too poor at the moment to buy trouble.
Absolutely silent, she found the trap door and pulled Matthew next to her, gesturing. He nodded and pressed his ear to it, while she unwrapped the scarf and tossed it to the side. After a minute, he shook his head. He pantomimed pushing up on the trap door. Mary thought about it; considering the trap door’s position in the corner of the room, it didn’t fall in the line of sight of the one guard she’d seen on the surveillance. Granny always made sure to keep this trap door well-oiled.
So she shrugged and agreed, but pulled out her gun in case. Cautiously, Matthew pushed up on the trap door.
It swung open fully to reveal both a guard and Rick Carlisle. “Mary!” he said, as Mary froze, her gun trained on him. “Nice of you to join us. And you brought company. Matthew, isn’t it? It’s so nice that we have the opportunity to meet face to face.”
Because she was pressed up against him, shoulder to shoulder, Mary could feel exactly how tense Matthew was as he glared up at the ginger-haired man above them. “Carlisle,” he said at length.
“Might as well put that down,” Carlisle said to Mary.
“Over your dead body,” Mary said.
“Makes no difference to me.” Carlisle turned to his associate, the one with the Uzi. He gestured at Matthew. “You can shoot that one to make a point, if you like.”
The barrel swung toward Matthew. “No,” Mary said, far more sharply than she meant to. She lowered the gun. “There’s no need for that.”
“Good girl,” Carlisle said, beaming. He held a hand down to help her up. Instead, Mary handed him her gun and pulled herself out of the trap door, rising to her feet. She would have helped Matthew, but if Carlisle didn’t know about the wound in his side, she wasn’t going to telegraph it for him.
She was surprised to see Violet seated at the desk, looking very much not like a hostage. “Granny?” she asked. “What’s going on? Wait...” She swung about to give Carlisle a narrow look. “Just how is it that you knew we were in there?”
“Oh, your grandmother told us about the trap door nearly five minutes ago. We were waiting for you to join us.”
Mary turned back as the guard stepped over to pat her down. She wanted to look at Matthew, but he wouldn’t have any more idea what was really going on here than she did. All she knew was that Violet Crawley was seated quite at her ease and that there were no guns of any sort trained on her.
Was it possible that Rick Carlisle had had inside help? From her grandmother?
No, that wasn’t possible. Violet Crawley was a master manipulator. Mary had seen a lifetime of her Aunt Rosamund railing against Violet’s machinations, after all, which meant Violet had something in play. So she’d go along with it for now. It wasn’t hard; she was severely out of sorts to have been discovered so quickly. “You gave us up?” she asked, wheeling about to face her grandmother so quickly her elbow nearly clipped the guard (which may have been intentional).
“Certainly,” Violet said, looking like butter had no business melting anywhere near her mouth.
“But—why?” Matthew asked. He looked genuinely betrayed. Good, Mary thought, that would help them sell it.
“Mr. Carlisle has offered me a partnership. It seemed prurient to inform him that an office comes equipped with a trap door if I’m to gain his trust,” Violet said.
Mary caught the singular use of trap door and understood: they’d been used as bait. It was a little more comforting than her grandmother turning traitor, but not much. It rankled.
“Yes, a partnership,” Carlisle said, and it was obvious to Mary at least that he had no intention of following through on that promise. He likely viewed Violet Crawley as the frail old lady she was presenting herself to be. Robert Crawley purportedly ran Crawley’s and was head of the Abbey, not Violet (which was patently untrue; everybody in the Abbey knew who really ran things). Carlisle’s quarrel would no doubt be with him, or with Mary if Robert Crawley still wasn’t answering his mobile.
A line of ice crawled up Mary’s back; she had to hope that if her parents weren’t answering their mobiles, they were simply on a plane and not seriously in trouble. If they were, though, Thomas would find out. Thomas was good at finding trouble.
“What are you after here, Carlisle? Whatever your plan is, it’ll never work,” Mary said, wrenching her glare away from her grandmother.
“Your overconfidence always was your greatest failing, Mary,” Carlisle said. “I expected it to be more difficult, you know. Cultivating Patrick, sure, that wasn’t easy, but Pamuk came right along like a dog when I called him. What did you do with him, Mary?”
“Does it matter? He’s dead.”
“Good riddance. He was a fool. One less problem I have to worry about, though I’d rather he have killed you like he was supposed to. I really don’t like to get my hands dirty, you see.” Carlisle made a show of sighing as he looked Mary up and down. “Thankfully, being the leading media mogul in all of London means I know the good spots to hide the bodies. I’ll make sure your final resting place is one befitting of that blue blood of yours, Mary.”
“Now, Richard,” Violet said, rising to her feet (and leaning far more heavily on her cane than she needed to), “you do remember that we had a deal. My family is not to be harmed.”
Carlisle seemed amused; a couple of his guards standing by the door, not too far from Mary and Matthew, grinned along with him. “And this one?” Carlisle asked, turning to give Matthew a once-over. “This one part of the family, too?”
“Don’t let the name deceive you. He’s no relation.” Violet’s shrug was astounding in how much it conveyed how little she cared. Mary nearly raised her eyebrows, impressed. She’d grown up hearing stories about her grandmother’s glory days, but she never thought she’d see it for herself.
Carlisle’s smile broadened as he crossed to the desk, staying on the opposite side of it from Violet. He opened a box on the desktop and pulled out a gun. And then, still smiling, he pulled out a silencer and began calmly screwing it onto the barrel of the gun. “If you’ll forgive me the impertinence, Mrs. Crawley, not a single soul in this room actually believes you have any plans to defect and betray your agency. You may drop the charade at any time you wish.”
Violet looked affronted. “Charade?”
Matthew edged closer to the guards by the door, though what he hoped to do, Mary had no idea. Even with the LMX, he wasn’t nearly strong enough to take both of them out at once.
“You know, I’ve always believed in cleaning house whenever I’ve absorbed a new company. It’s just one of the business practices I follow.” Carlisle checked the clip on his gun and shoved it back in with a satisfied nod. “It makes an example to my new employees that I’m not playing around. Get rid of the old bosses, bring in new ones that show I mean business. Make, if you will, an example of the old managers, if I’m forced to.”
He thumbed the safety of the gun off and turned, considering Violet and Matthew before he faced Mary. When he raised the gun, she flinched. How many times would this day see her at gunpoint?
“I’ve never acquired a spy agency before,” Carlisle said. Mary tensed, sweat pricking at her hairline and temples. It was a weakness and frustrating, but there was little she could do to stop it, not when faced with the ice cold look in Carlisle’s eyes. “But business, you’ll find, never really changes, no matter what it is.”
“There’s no way you’ll get away with this,” Matthew said.
Carlisle laughed. “But I already have. Any moment now, the news will be alive with the story of how millionaires Robert Crawley and his wife Cora died in a ‘tragic’ plane accident. Their bodies will be recovered, of course—I paid the pilot good money to see to it.”
“You bastard,” Mary said, fear dropping the temperature in the room by ten degrees.
“And John Bates, well, he’ll go back to prison—that’s if the Russians don’t get him first. And who knows what he told that lovely young girlfriend of his in his time on the run? Something shocking, no doubt. Don’t worry, I know how fond you are of her, so I’ll make sure they make it quick when they do decide to take care of her. It’s the least I could do, after all. We did have such great times together.”
Mary discovered she was suddenly, coldly, angrily incapable of speech. Her hands tightened into fists; she longed to jump at Carlisle and just start hitting and kicking and causing pain. Her entire body felt like a giant exposed nerve, her throat ached, her arm burned, and her skull felt too tight.
She had never, she discovered, hated somebody more than she did Carlisle at that moment in time.
“And when the others mount their pathetic rescue attempt, I’ll make examples of them, too. But yes, I’ve accounted for everything,” Carlisle said, with a tiny, indifferent bounce of his shoulders.
“Have you?” Violet Crawley asked, and just like that, she was holding a small, snub-nosed Beretta Jetfire in her hand, aimed squarely at Carlisle.
The ginger blinked. “How on earth did you—” he started to say.
He was interrupted, of course, by the unmistakable sound of shooting.
Matthew didn’t know if it came down to luck or the thousands of situations Dauphine had put him through, but somehow, somehow he got the drop on the guard nearest him. When the shooting broke out, Matthew lashed out with a closed fist, catching the guard with a haymaker that would have the other man seeing stars for hours. Instead of letting him fall, though, he leapt behind the man and caught him, swinging him about like a shield, just in time.
The second guard by the door turned and plugged his comrade full of bullets. Matthew let him get off two shots in surprise before he threw his shield to the side and went in under the man’s gun with a proper rugby tackle. It drove the man back against the door. Matthew grabbed his wrist, forcing the gun away from him and to the ceiling.
The guard tried to get in a punch, but Matthew had his arm pinned between their bodies, so it really just became an ineffectual struggle. More muffled gunfire echoed through the room, but Matthew couldn’t pay attention to that. He strained, grunting, against the other man, who unfortunately freed his arm.
Matthew did the only thing he saw available to him: he head-butted the guard.
The other man dropped like a stone. Matthew swooped to steal his gun and whirled even as more gunfire from far away sounded.
He wasn’t quick enough. He turned, and Carlisle had an arm around Mary’s throat and a gun pressed to her temple.
“I know,” Mary said as Matthew, mouth agape, took in the scene. She rolled her eyes. “This is far too commonplace for my liking.”
“You okay?” Matthew asked.
“That’s touching, that is,” Carlisle said, sneering at Matthew over Mary’s shoulder.
Matthew kept his gun trained on Carlisle. Though gunfire still sounded—it was definitely coming from the other room, which meant their reinforcements had arrived—nobody in the office flinched. Violet and Matthew kept their guns trained on Carlisle, who had his silenced Walther PPK a bare centimeter from Mary’s hairline.
“Honestly, I’m fine,” Mary said, rolling her eyes.
If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Matthew might have smiled. He’d learned so much about Mary Crawley in the past week, and he had to admire her ability to function under stress. She looked like a bored debutante.
“You should give up,” Matthew told Carlisle. “Your people are beaten.”
“Hardly. And you don’t get to call the shots. I’m the one holding the leverage.”
“You’ve two master marksmen aimed at you,” Matthew said.
“Ah, yes. But can you pull the trigger before I can? You can kill me, but I guarantee I can kill her first.”
Perhaps it wasn’t prudent, Matthew realized, to challenge that. He swallowed, keeping his gaze on Carlisle’s face. He wished he were a better poker player. He didn’t know anything about the man, didn’t know if there was a tell he could look for, a sign that the man was bluffing.
Outside the door, the sound of gunfire stopped. Matthew had to hope that was a good thing.
“You know, you’re a real git,” he said before he could stop himself.
“As ever, Perseus,” Violet said, her voice dust-bowl dry, “you articulate so nicely where so many men cannot.”
Matthew wanted to ask what side the Dowager really was on, but he held his tongue.
“Not to hurry things along,” Mary said, “but if we keep going at this rate, I’m going to miss Graham Norton, so could somebody please—”
The door behind Matthew opened. Though Matthew jumped, he kept his gun trained on Carlisle. Violet, on the other hand, swung about. The way she lowered her gun told Matthew it was somebody on their side.
He was not, however, expecting Robert Crawley.
“What?” he asked.
Richard Carlisle seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “What?” he echoed Matthew, his arm tightening around Mary’s neck. Mary gaped at her father in shock. “That’s not possible. You’re supposed to be dead.”
“And yet.” Robert’s face hardened into stone. “Unhand my daughter, put down that weapon, and cease this nonsense immediately.”
Carlisle, to his credit, recovered admirably. Though his mouth bobbed open soundlessly once or twice, he drew himself back to his full height. “Perhaps,” he said, and Matthew wanted to shoot him for the supercilious tone in his voice alone, “you do not understand the true meaning of the word leverage. I am holding your eldest daughter at gunpoint.”
“Yes, I’ve got eyes, I can see that,” Robert said. He looked not at Carlisle but at Mary. “Are you all right?”
“I’ve been better,” Mary said. Her face was strained—Carlisle was exerting pressure against the bruising on her neck. Matthew’s hands tightened around the hilt of his gun, his jaw clenching.
“And you, Mother?” Robert asked.
“Oh, you know me,” Violet said. “I never complain.”
“Of course.” Robert turned slightly to look at Matthew. “Matthew. Do me a favor?”
Time lost all meaning and measure; in a split second, Matthew lived an eternity where it was nothing but him and Carlisle staring at each other. He was reminded quite forcefully of the question he had asked Mary in the elevator, about how it felt to look a man in the eye and kill him.
The moment broke and Carlisle smirked. “You won’t shoot me,” he said, confidence dripping from his words. “That’s not in your nature.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Matthew said and, without letting himself think about it, he raised his arms a few centimeters and fired off a single shot.
She had no idea what Matthew intended to do, but apparently the past twenty-four hours together had done them a world of good. The minute Matthew shifted his aim, Mary tensed, her coiled muscles ready to move. And a good thing, too: Matthew shot, Carlisle let out a shout and dropped his gun as though it had burned him, and Mary reacted.
There was the crunch of something in the room breaking as she threw all of her weight forward, leaning at the waist and hauling on the arm around her neck. It hurt like nothing else in the world, so badly that she saw sparks, but it did the trick: Carlisle went flying.
Unfortunately, she didn’t plan it well. Carlisle went flying into Matthew, who had time enough for only one last gape before he was bowled over by a ginger media magnate. “Oh, shit,” she said, eyes wide. She leapt forward to try and help, but suddenly her father was there between them, holding her back.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”
“No, Papa, he’s—”
Matthew somehow managed to extricate himself and deliver a blow to the side of Rick Carlisle’s jaw in the same motion. “Quite able to take care of himself,” he finished her sentence, and climbed to his feet while Carlisle lay drooling on the carpet. He looked over at a pile of shattered alabaster in the corner. The ricochet from Matthew shooting Carlisle’s gun must have hit the ugly vase Violet used to store umbrellas in the corner. “Sorry about the vase.”
“Oh, don’t be. It was a wedding present from a dreadful, dreadful aunt.” Violet waved a hand. “I’ve hated it for half a century.”
Matthew blinked at that, but seemed to shrug it off. He turned to face Mary and Robert. “Are you okay?”
Her throat hurt and she was sure that if her father weren’t holding her up by the arms, she might actually crumple to the ground, but she nodded. And speaking of her father: she wanted to hug him and never let go, possibly, as it had been far too long and he wasn’t dead in a mangled heap of fuselage somewhere over the Alps. But it had been three months since she had been cut off, three very painful months, and Robert’s revoking her access told her exactly how he felt about her decision to take on the assignment she had.
So she asked, “How are you alive? They said you’d died in a plane accident!”
“You think this is the first hostile takeover we’ve dealt with at the Abbey, my dear?” Robert studied her for a long moment. He looked tired, but he also looked solid and like her father. She almost wanted to cry. In fact, she could feel tears welling up, and whether they had been three months in the making or merely three hours, she didn’t care.
“What’s happened?” Violet asked, stepping forward. “Is everyone all right?”
“Cora’s calling an ambulance for Carson, and nobody else was wounded.” Robert frowned and looked Mary up and down again. “Too severely, that is. What have you done with your neck? And...last I heard, you were in France?”
“Anna called me. They framed Bates—”
“And set the Russians on him. Yes, I know all about that.”
Mary blinked. “You do?” Matthew asked from behind Robert. “How?”
“Katya Derevko and I are old friends. A simple phone call cleared the confusion right up.” Robert shrugged. “In addition, I’ve spoken with a few of my contacts at Scotland Yard, and they’re in the process of dropping the charges against Bates even as we speak.”
Mary quite suddenly needed to sit down. She did so, in one of Violet’s guest chairs. It hurt to laugh, so she didn’t, though it was close. In her state of exhaustion, if she began to laugh, she might never stop. “Of course,” she said. “A few phone calls and it’s all fine. Of course it is.”
For a second, a frustrated look flickered over Robert’s face, but he just pressed his lips into a line. “We’ll discuss it later. For now, I do believe we should deal with the would-be usurper unconscious on the floor. Matthew, if you would help me—”
“No, Papa, he’s been shot, he can’t lift anything.”
“LMX,” Matthew said, raising a sheepish hand.
“Ah. Then clearly, the two of you need medical attention. I’ll see to the details—oh, Branson, there you are. Mr. Carlisle here needs to be put in cuffs and dealt with.”
Branson, who’d just stepped into the office, gave the unconscious body on the floor a hard look. “With pleasure, sir.”
“Papa,” Mary said, though she had no idea exactly what she was going to say.
Robert placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll talk about it later,” he said, and bent to help Branson with the body.
Mary recognized the action for what it was: she’d been dismissed.
“Fine,” she said, and gave Matthew a look. He was pale and sweating, but he hadn’t started shaking and he had hours to go before the LMX became necessary.
He looked her in the eye and gave her, of all things, a wryly amused look. “Best follow orders, no?”
“Just this once,” Mary said.
“I’ll escort you out,” Violet said, appearing at Mary’s elbow. “As I suspect it’s only going to become more chaotic from here.”
As was always the case, she was right. They headed into the waiting room to find chaos and confusion awaiting them. What remained of Carlisle’s men were either unconscious or bound and gagged, lined up against the wall. Inside, the Abbey personnel milled about, taking care of business. Sybil, of course, had immediately moved to assist Clarkson by Carson, but Cora was there, too, worry written in every line of her face. When she spotted Mary, though, her eyes went as wide as saucers. She crossed the room in two strides and wrapped Mary in a firm hug.
“Oh, my darling! What have they done to you?”
“I’m fine, Mama,” Mary said, though her throat was back to burning uncontrollably. She coughed.
“Your poor neck—what happened?”
“She got into a fight with Kemal Pamuk,” Matthew said from Mary’s side. “He tried to choke her out.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine,” Mary said before her mother could launch into another worried tirade.
“And there will be plenty of time later to catch up, once the doctors have seen to them.” Violet’s hand wrapped around Mary’s elbow once more. “First things first, Cora.”
Immediately, Cora drew herself up to her full height. “Of course. Anna, you’re not injured, are you?”
“Please help Mary downstairs. And Matthew—are you injured?”
“Yes, but I’ve the LMX.”
“Go with them.”
Quiet and discreet as ever, Anna slipped to Mary’s good side and maneuvered the brunette’s arm around her shoulders. Though she could walk on her own, Mary was grateful for the support. She didn’t give a fig about seeming weak in front of the others. If they were going to challenge her, they could very well go take a bloody look at Pamuk’s body rotting in the infirmary, for all she cared.
“Doing okay?” Anna asked under her breath as they left the waiting room behind.
“I do wish people would stop asking me that.”
Anna smiled. “You’ll be fine.”
Violet stayed with them as they headed for the executive lift, Anna supporting Mary. She tightened her grip on Mary’s waist as they waited for the lift. Next to her, Matthew opened and closed his mouth a few times, as though he were dying to say something.
Everybody save Violet jumped when the lift dinged. Mary didn’t bother to give the others a sheepish look, as Matthew was doing. She wanted morphine and a lot of it. Also, she could really use a shower and a nap. She was so exhausted that she did not care which order these things came in, as long as they came at all.
It was Matthew’s sharp intake of breath that made her look up when the doors whispered open.
Patrick Crawley stood in the lift, clothing burnt and tattered. He held a very large Desert Eagle in one clenched fist. It shook as he raised it. “Not again,” he said, his skin gruesome and red beneath what was left of the bandages. “I swore, never again, and yet—and yet—you—”
Mary looked down the barrel of yet another gun and thought “Never again” fit every feeling she had about the situation.
“You’re alive?” she asked. “How?”
“Does that matter?” Patrick’s eyes were flinty. “All that matters is—”
He broke off mid-sentence, possibly because Violet Crawley’s cane came down with a crash on top of his head. Matthew, Mary, and Anna gaped in shock as Patrick’s eyes rolled back into his head and the burnt man collapsed in a heap in the middle of the lift. As one, they turned to look at the matriarch of the Abbey.
“Well, it wasn’t like I was just going to let him shoot you,” Violet said. “Bit of a nuisance, though, isn’t he? I thought he died in an explosion.”
“Seems not,” Mary said, eyeing the body on the ground.
“Twice,” Matthew felt the need to add.
Violet gave a small shrug and stepped delicately over the body. “The guards in the lobby can deal with him,” she said. “But we need to get you two some medical help before we worry about relatives doing their best Lazarus impression.”
Matthew turned to Mary, a very worried look on his face. “Does this happen often?”
“Welcome to the Abbey,” Mary told him, and proceeded to tune everything out until she was being loaded into an ambulance with Anna and whisked away.
There was chaos when they arrived at the hospital thanks to a multi-car accident that arrived around the same time, which meant that somehow, Mary and Matthew ended up shunted off to the side of one hallway on stretchers with Anna keeping an eye on them. Matthew, who had downed the antidote to the LMX on the way to the hospital, lay there quietly, looking pale and stoic in spite of it all. Mary no longer wanted to bother with talking because talking felt like murder on her throat.
So they lay there, absorbing, while Anna sagged against a wall and perfected the thousand meter stare.
They took Matthew away first since his injuries were judged more severe. Mary waited with Anna, wondering if anybody else was going to show up from the Abbey, wondering if Carson was in surgery yet and how he was doing. Though Anna made a few calls, the general chaos of the emergency room made it difficult to get answers. Mary was rolled away to be examined before Anna was able to find out anything solid.
It was only because she knew Anna was somewhere in the hospital, looking out for her, that she let the doctors administer an IV drip. Whatever they put into it, along with the stress and trauma, finally overwhelmed the nerves and fear; she fell asleep in the examination room, the sleep of the truly worn out.
She woke, a little, to the feeling of movement. There was a whirring blur of fluorescent lights breezing by overhead, the prattle of doctors’ voices as they talked to each other over her, and then Mary closed her eyes once more.
When she woke fully, it was dark. Thankfully, she recognized that she was in a hospital room seconds before she attacked the woman in scrubs who was standing at her bedside. “Where am I?” she asked, or started to. She broke off; her throat burned.
Thankfully, the nurse seemed to understand her. “You’re in the hospital, dearie. Don’t try to talk—you really did a number on your trachea.”
Mary managed a nod, though her head had begun to pound. She glanced about and gestured toward a table by the window—or more specifically the notepad sitting on top of it. The nurse gave her a wry look as she retrieved the notebook and handed Mary a pen. When Mary scribbled a short message, her eyebrows rose. “There was a woman here, but she left when visiting hours were over.”
Mary frowned. Anna had gone?
“But I’ll see what I can find out about your friends.” The nurse patted the bedspread comfortingly. “I just need to do a few things first.”
Mary submitted to the blood pressure test, the pupil dilation exam, and the various other questions that she could answer nonverbally only because the nurse did leave quickly, and had promised to check on Matthew and Carson. The minute the door closed behind her, the bathroom door to the suite opened. Anna poked her head out before Mary could search for a weapon.
Mary put her hand on her chest and pantomimed having a heart attack.
“Sorry,” Anna said, smiling. “How are you feeling? Throat sore?”
“Carson’s fine, he pulled through the surgery.”
Mary leaned back in relief. She raised her good arm to rub her face. “Worried,” she managed, though her voice came out as more of a croak. She took the cup of water that Anna held out. By the time she finished it, she was white-knuckled from trying not to scream from the pain of the water against her throat.
Anna gave her a sympathetic look. “Want more?”
Mary grabbed the paper and pen and scribbled, “Yes, but can’t handle it. Matthew?”
“Miraculously, he didn’t do too much damage to himself, but he was a little shocky and they were worried about infection, so they’re keeping him. Why don’t you get some sleep? The doctor is coming in to talk to you in the morning. I’ll keep watch.”
“You don’t have to,” Mary wrote. Her eyelids began to droop. Now that she’d had water and she knew Carson was going to fine, she could feel sleep approaching once more.
“Are you kidding? It’s the most peace I’ll get in the next few weeks. The Abbey’s a mess. If I’m not here, I’m expected to be there.” Anna’s eyes twinkled. “Besides, John’s here, too, keeping an eye on Matthew. It gives me an opportunity to sneak away and meet him for coffee.”
“You’re a good friend,” Mary wrote, and fell asleep.
The nurse woke her later to tell her the exact same news Anna had delivered, and there were routine checkups throughout the night—they must have been worried that she had a concussion—but she woke the next morning feeling, if not better, at least a little refreshed. She managed a shower and made sure not to look at the bruising on her throat as she dressed in the sweatpants and T-shirt Sybil had brought over from her flat.
Because her mother arrived and insisted, she choked down the liquefied breakfast the hospital kitchen sent up, but only a few bites. She was already regretting those by the time the doctor came in to consult with her and wheel her off for another set of x-rays (she’d apparently slept through a set the day before). Cora walked along beside her to keep her company, which was handy because it meant that Mary got caught up on Abbey gossip while her mother fussed over her. The pain medication they put her on for her throat and arm made her groggy, so she dozed in and out, usually waking to a new a visitor beside her bed.
Toward the end of the day, she was able to swallow—and eat—a little more, but her throat hurt too badly to talk, so she let her visitors (Gwen, Violet, Sybil, Anna, and even Edith) do the talking for her. They’d all been to visit Matthew next door, too, but he was on orders to stay in bed, so he didn’t drop by, and Mary was too dizzy to try and navigate to his room.
Sybil took watch that night, napping in the chair while Mary dozed in and out of twilight sleep.
Robert did not visit his daughter at all. If ever there was a message to be got across, Mary thought, that did the trick.
Branson dropped by to pick Sybil up the next morning and begrudgingly updated Mary on how Carlisle had gained his access to the Abbey: he’d had an inside source in one of the low-level Crawley’s analysts, a young man named Jimmy. Robert had spent the entire previous day running about London, smoothing over the tendrils of Carlisle’s manipulations, which were far-reaching indeed. It looked like it would take the Abbey several months to recover, especially since, and Branson gave Mary a pointed look as he said this, the top two operatives were currently on medical leave.
“Next time,” Mary managed to say in a hoarse voice, “I’ll let you be the injured one.”
“I’ll pass,” Branson said, though he smiled a bit at her before he escorted Sybil out.
Anna arrived about twenty minutes later to take her place. She had her fletching gear bag on her, which made Mary raise her eyebrows in surprise. “What?” Anna asked, smiling as she wheeled the breakfast table Mary wasn’t using over to lay her equipment out. “It’s the best time I’ll have to do this.”
“The nurses are going to get suspicious.”
“They’re dealing with three GSWs in three rooms in a row. Your father’s paid them well, I assure you.”
“Oh, so he’s been here?” Mary asked, letting some of her annoyance leak into her voice. “Nice to know.”
“I’m sure you were just asleep.” Anna set her fletching knife on the table next to a bag of feathers. “Want to help?”
She was so bored, she was going to start drawing rude pictures on the wall to entertain herself, but Mary’s shrug was listless. “Sure,” she said, scooting close to that edge of the bed.
In the afternoon, Anna was called away to deal with something at the Abbey, leaving Mary without a guard or a visitor for the first time since she’d landed in the hospital. She normally might have passed the time with a book or a nap, but she’d already finished the mystery novel Edith had brought her and she was too paranoid to nap. After twenty minutes, she was bored of her own company. She swung her legs out of her bed, untangled her IV stand, and rose to her feet. In truth, if she hadn’t had a guard every moment of her time in the hospital, she would have already signed herself out AMA and dealt with the consequences.
But disappointing Anna was like kicking a puppy, so she shuffled into slippers and headed out into the hallway. Carson was napping when she looked in on him, so she headed in the other direction. Matthew looked up from his e-reader when she knocked on the doorjamb. He looked pale and fatigued, but it was nothing like the weariness from the fight against Carlisle, so Mary considered it a positive. “Mary,” he said, a smile clearing out his features. “I was wondering if you were going to show up.”
“They’ve got guards on me in case I run,” Mary said, only half-joking as she shuffled inside. “Want some company?”
“I’d be delighted, as I’m trying to put off another hit of morphine as long as I can, and I could use the distraction.”
“The drugs make me groggy, too,” Mary said.
“How’s your throat?”
“Branson’s happy that they’ve found the one thing that can shut me up, I imagine.”
“Not for long,” Matthew said. He set the e-reader off to the side and sat up, wincing as he did so.
“How’s your side? No infection?”
“Apart from having a giant hole in my side, I appear to have a clean bill of health.” Matthew started to shrug, and winced yet again. This time, his breath hissed in between his teeth. Mary wanted to tell him to just take another dose of morphine, but since she struggled against the use of the drugs herself, she held her tongue. “The surgical consultant dropped by to ask who had done my original surgery. She said she hadn’t seen such clean, neat sutures in a long time, if ever.”
“You’ll have to let William know he does good work, then.”
“Yes, I owe him rather a bit of gratitude.”
Mary glanced at the e-reader curiously. It struck her that she’d spent twenty-four hours in the company of this man, had researched him in the name of espionage, but she didn’t really know much about him and his hobbies. “What’re you reading?” she asked as she settled into the visitor’s chair.
She was surprised to see red tinge Matthew’s cheeks. “Ah, nothing.”
“What, is it smut?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that. It’s...Fleming.”
It took her a minute to put it together. “You’re reading a James Bond novel? Isn’t that a bit cliché?”
“You should take pity on me. I’ve been shot, you know.”
“So’ve I, but you don’t see me taking a busman’s holiday.”
“I bet you only read dead Russians,” Matthew said, shaking his head at her.
Mary opened her mouth to point out that she had read Fleming like any spy with self-respect, and realized that a trap lay in that direction. She closed her mouth with a snap. “I read more than that,” she said.
The sound of footsteps down the hallway made both of them look over, Mary imagined, as those shoes weren’t the rubber-soled trainers the nurses preferred. Her stomach dropped when Robert poked his head into the room. “Matthew, have you seen—oh, there you are, Mary.”
“Papa,” Mary said.
Robert looked distinctly uncomfortable, as though his collar were too tight. “I thought...I thought I might drop by, see how you were doing?”
“I’m fine, Papa,” Mary said, hoping she didn’t sound like a frog. “The doctors are hopeful that Pamuk didn’t inflict any lasting damage.”
“Good. That’s good.” If Robert had had a cap to worry between his hands, Mary imagined, he would have been doing so right then. The aura of general awkwardness hung around until the banker-turned-spy cleared his throat. “Perhaps you might fancy a walk, if you’re up to it? It’s been awhile since we talked.”
“If you don’t mind going slowly. I’m afraid the drugs make me a bit addled.”
“Certainly.” Robert extended an arm to help her to her feet. She accepted the help only because she didn’t want to cause a scene in front of Matthew, but she couldn’t deny that she was hurt and angry that Robert hadn’t visited her before.
She’d walked out on the family and on the Abbey three months before, and if she were going to be completely honest with herself, she could admit that quarreling with them over the Pamuk assignment had been rash. There was a reason the Abbey didn’t believe in performing assassinations. She had a bruised trachea to support why it wasn’t a good idea, after all. But she was his daughter. Surely he could have taken five minutes from his schedule to come visit?
He’d revoked her pass-codes to the Abbey, and Mary supposed that summed it all up.
Robert, however, looked miserable as they walked silently and slowly down the hallway, side by side.
“How are things at headquarters?” she asked when she tired of the silence.
“They’re progressing. It’s a pain to have Carson out of commission, I will confess. He’d have the place spic and span by this point.”
“Mm,” Mary said.
“But we’ll soldier on. We always do.” Robert eyed her without looking directly at her. “How are you feeling? Truly?”
“Do you care?” Mary asked, the words slipping out before she could quite hope to stop them.
Her father looked pained. “Of course I care. Whatever our falling out, you’re still my daughter, and I still care for you very much. It hurts me to see you in pain.”
The rebuke—and the earnestness behind it—was enough to make her want to cringe, but Mary relented with a small sigh. “Like I said, he didn’t do any lasting damage. I’ll have a scar on my arm from the bullet wound, but all in all, it could have been much worse. They’re releasing me tomorrow.”
“Are you coming home?” Robert asked.
“Am I welcome home? You revoked my access.”
“What was I supposed to do, Mary? You were acting so wild, and taking assignments like the one Branksome gave you—”
“It was one assignment,” Mary said, and words came spilling out, words that had been bottled up for three months of running and hiding and separation from her family and friends. “A friend called in a favor and I had time, so I took it. Am I to pay for that for the rest of my life, Papa?”
“Of course not,” Robert said. “There is hardly any need to be so dramatic about this. If you had just come back and talked to your mother and I about this—”
“You revoked my access and you left me in the cold. I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“And sulking by working freelance for three months like a petulant child was the solution you chose instead?”
“It kept me busy,” Mary said, glaring at her father. “And what’s it matter to you? You’ve your replacement now that you’ve traded in your Andromeda for a Perseus, your golden boy hero.”
Robert held up a hand. “Now wait just a minute—”
“I’m flattered that you waited so long as you did, I suppose,” Mary said, “but you made it very clear that I wasn’t wanted, Papa, and I got your message.”
“Hold it,” Robert said, grasping her arm before she could storm away with her IV pole in tow. “Matthew is not a replacement. He was never intended to be. We hired him to find you because this has gone on long enough. It’s time for you to return to your home and for us to put all of this nonsense behind us. And a good thing we did, too. When I think of you facing those madmen by yourself...”
“I held my own.”
“I’ve no doubt of that,” Robert said with such frankness that Mary blinked. “But I feel better knowing you had a partner there with you, which was always what Matthew was intended for. You’ve gone it alone since Patrick—well, I can’t say he died anymore, can I? Since the explosion, then, you’ve worked solo, and you’ve done amazing work, but Mary, even your grandmother needed a partner every once in a while.”
Mary, about to rebut that, closed her mouth once more. What she had been about to say, she realized, sounded a lot more petulant than she was comfortable admitting. But she wasn’t some juvenile, wet-behind-the-ears new agent. She’d had so many successful missions. She’d proved herself in the field time and again, had shown her parents and her superior officers that her judgment was sound. She knew her own mind. She excelled at what she did because of it. And she did enjoy the glory of solo missions.
But she and Matthew had worked really well together, hadn’t they? Almost seamlessly, if she were going to be honest. They’d picked up an instant camaraderie that still disgruntled her. He’d saved her ass, she’d saved his.
And maybe her father had a point. She had, after all, disobeyed direct orders when she had taken the Pamuk assignment without consulting anybody.
Still, being frozen out without trust had been disheartening. She didn’t like being made to feel incompetent.
“My record speaks for itself, Papa. I work well alone.”
“But for how long? It scared me, to see the risks you were willing to take. I may be your superior at the Abbey, but I’m also your father, and I worry like a father does when I see you putting yourself in danger. But your mother has been getting on my case about this, and she’s right. We should have trusted you more. So I’m sorry for that.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Mary said, and was startled to find that she meant it.
Robert nodded, accepting her apology. “If you ever pull something like that again—”
“I won’t,” Mary said. “I’ve learnt my lesson.”
Robert met her gaze and studied her until he nodded, apparently satisfied with what he saw. “Good. So you’re coming back to the Abbey?”
“If you’ll have me,” Mary said, her voice shaking a little. She felt a heavy weight lift off of her chest. That was relief she was feeling, she realized. She hadn’t understood until this moment just how much being part of the Abbey and having her father’s approval meant to her.
“Of course we will.” Robert finally reached out and hugged her, which was such a rare gesture on his part that Mary tensed. Eventually, she forced herself to relax, and Robert drew her away to arm’s length. “I’m glad that’s settled. You’re to report in at headquarters in six weeks’ time, you and Matthew both.”
“Six weeks? I don’t need that much medical leave.”
“The medical leave is for Matthew. You, on the other hand, are suspended until he’s ready to come back to work.”
“You don’t really think I can let you just come back to work without making an example of you,” Robert said, though he was smiling. “People will accuse me of nepotism. Besides, you could do with a rest.”
“I suppose that’s your way of telling me I look tired,” Mary said, rolling her eyes at him.
“Get some sun, have a holiday. Let your mother drag you shopping, something, anything. Just, be ready to go in six weeks’ time.”
“Yes, sir,” Mary said, mostly managing a straight face. This time instead of a hug, Robert gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder. The rest of their walk was spent catching up on what little Abbey gossip the others hadn’t managed to give her, including a few of the plans for Patrick’s rehabilitation, as the “Poor chap’s gone quite mad, you see.”
She headed back to Matthew’s room in much, much lighter spirits than she’d left it. He was still awake, though he wasn’t reading. Instead, he looked at her glassily. “Sorry,” he said, his words slurred. “Tried to hold off on the morphine since I think so much better without it, but the nurse came, and there was a guilt trip and...”
“No need to stand on ceremony on my behalf.” It took Mary a little maneuvering to get back into the visitor’s chair with the IV pole still attached to her wrist. “Papa says we’re to be partners, after all. I imagine we’ll see the worst of each other before long.”
Matthew brightened. “So you’re coming back?”
“In six weeks, yes. I’ve been given some leave.”
“Guess my mission was a success, after all,” Matthew said. When she gave him a confused look, he smiled. “I was hired on to bring you back in, remember? You’re in. That means I win.”
“Oh, don’t gloat, it’s unprofessional.”
“Feel floaty,” Matthew said. “Don’t like hospitals.”
“And that’s even more unprofessional.”
“Don’t care. What are you going to do with your leave?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Mary said. “Possibly get some sun, read a book by a dead Russian. It will be so nice to have a holiday.”
“Well, I’ve an idea, if you want to hear it.”
“I’m all ears,” Mary said.
Matthew suddenly felt the need to sit up straighter, which took a minute and quite a bit of swearing as he jarred his side. But eventually he sat upright, looking at her with such an open, earnest, respectful look that Mary wanted to shift uncomfortably in her seat.
“Yes?” Mary said.
“Well, you’ve got your leave and I’ve got mine, and I think it’s time we spent them together, don’t you?”
Mary stared at him. When it failed to process exactly what he was saying, she kept staring, and staring some more. Her heart, which was actually quite traitorous if she was going to be completely honest with herself, was thumping in her chest, betraying the cool spy façade she’d worked hard to cultivate as Mary Crawley for years. Matthew just looked at her with such sweet, open hope on his admittedly very stoned face.
So she said the only thing she possibly could: “Maybe in the future, we should cut back on the morphine.”
Matthew’s face fell. “So that’s a no?”
“Well...” It was time to extricate herself from this conversation, Mary thought. She rose to her feet once more and edged toward the door. Some devil inside her, however, made her stop and turn before she reached it. “All right.”
Matthew perked up. “All right?”
“If you remember this conversation, meet me in Majorca in two weeks.”
“I will definitely remember this conversation, Mary Crawley,” Matthew said, and fell backward with a goofy grin that made Mary wish she had her mobile. That would be quite handy blackmail someday. But it didn’t matter, for his snores followed her out of the hospital room.
In the end, Matthew didn’t remember having any conversation with Mary after she’d left to talk to her father, so when he received an email a week after being released from the hospital with the subject line, “In Majorca, why the hell aren’t you here yet?” he was a little confused. It didn’t take long to put things together, however. It took even less time for him to grab a pair of swim trunks and his go-bag.
He was on the next flight to Spain. Mary wasn’t the only one that could use a little sun.