Armed and Dangerous (The IMA) (3 page)

BOOK: Armed and Dangerous (The IMA)
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Her feelings get hurt very easily.”

Because she acts like a
.” I paused. “And her new boyfriend — John — he does, too. He's
twenty years younger than her
, Dad. People think he's my brother.”

Dad sighed. “Christina, please. It's one thing to talk about the book — because I do wish she would stop her fame-mongering, especially because of them — ”

Em's lips went white. “Rubens,” she said warningly, looking around the room. As if the IMA had bugs in our house and were listening in on us right now.

Actually — that wasn't as paranoid as it sounded. Em had good reason to be afraid of them. They had ears everywhere. “If they did do something, Mamá would be the pretext. Not the reason.”

“You're too right. I wish you weren't.” Dad sighed, exchanging a long look with Em. “Well, you're certainly welcome to stay with us for as long as you want. I believe the guest room's clean, and since we aren't expecting anyone else that means it's all yours. You lucked out, kiddo.”

I shouldn't be here for too long. School starts soon.”

The undisguised relief on Em's face annoyed me. “You're starting college soon, aren't you?”

“Yes, at Coswell. I'll be a freshman.”

Dad almost dropped his teacup. “Coswell? What? Where the hell is that?”

“Arizona — remember? I was telling you about it a couple months ago, on the phone.”

Em righted his teacup as he spluttered, “I thought that was your safety school in case you didn't get into Stanford. Which you did. I remember you telling me you did.”

“Perhaps this isn't the time,” Em posited delicately.

We both chose to ignore her.

“I did get accepted into Stanford. But I don't
to go to Stanford. I told you that, too.”

You don't want to — ” I rarely saw Dad get angry. When he did, he developed a twitch over his left eye and his entire face turned purple. He looked seconds away from having an aneurysm, a heart-attack, or both. “Do you have any idea how many people would kill to have the opportunity you've so candidly passed up, Christina?”

Lots. I know.”

Rubens — ” Em valiantly tried to edge her way into the conversation. Again. Dad and I continued ignoring her.

I don't think you do.”

I do, believe me. I took everything into account. But I'm tired of being front and center all the time. I want to be on the fringe. I'm a lot happier there.”

Christ.” Dad mopped at his forehead, turning towards Em but speaking at me. “My daughter just gave up her full scholarship to Stanford.”

It wasn't a full scholarship — and it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision, either. I've been thinking about this for a long time.”

Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

Well. Yes, actually.”

Dad shook his head.

He might have looked like he was hamming up his anguish, but he didn't have a dramatic bone in his body. He could never afford to, being married to Mamá. That made his hurt and anger worse, because it was real. But at the end of the day, this was still my life,
choice. Going to school with the best, the smartest, the richest, the superlative-est — it didn't really appeal to me. It wasn't what I needed.

What I needed was tranquility, peace. Solace.

I no longer trusted myself in crowds. Not after learning that the so-called real world is just the white light being emitted through the neutralizing prism of our society's norms. Not after viewing the full-color spectrum of the human capacity for emotion and intent, and being blinded by that dizzying intensity. Not after seeing how much I wanted all that, despite knowing that lifestyle would ride me hard and leave me with a broken soul.

No. What I needed was safe, quiet exile.

“I'm sorry, Dad.”

Christ. Where's the bourbon? I need a drink.”

Rubens, so late? But your heart — ”

That is exactly why I need a drink.”

Dad, no — ”

But he had already gotten to the bottle and was knocking back the shot glass as Em and I watched, scandalized. He pinched the bridge of his nose and coughed, then looked at us sheepishly. “Doesn't go down as smoothly as it did when I was younger — ”

“Thank heavens for that,” said Em.

But it certainly takes the edge off.”

It's psychosomatic.”

Whatever works.”

Really —

I'm sorry,” I began again.

It's okay, Sweet Pea.” He coughed again, shrugging off the napkin Em was trying to press on him. “Really. It's your life, and I'll get over that. If Coswell is where you want to go, then, well, Coswell is where you'll go.”

How are you going to move your things?” Em asked.

Trust her to notice the details. “Um, well — ” I bit my lip, remembering the argument that drove me to my father's house at night in the first place. “Mamá was going to help.”

“That was, er, nice of her,” said Dad.

Was?” said Em.

Yeah. I think tonight might have changed her mind.”

Dad sighed. “She'll change her mind again, don't worry. And if she doesn't,
have a talk with her. Or her lawyer will. She isn't allowed to blackmail you into choosing sides.”

I sure hope not
. “Thanks Dad.” I yawned. “I think I'm going to go to bed. I'll leave my stuff in the car for now.”

Goodnight, Daddy — Em.”

Goodnight, Sweet Pea.”

As I was climbing upstairs I heard Em say, “Well. She's quite a character.”

“Liliana, or Christina?”


She's her own person,” Dad agreed. “I don't know where she gets it from. Her grandmother, maybe.”

Certainly not her mother.”

No,” Dad sighed, “I thank God every day for that.”

Me too
, I thought, carefully shutting the door behind me. It was heartening that they didn't think me quite so much like Mamá as I'd feared.

Chapter Three



My head was pounding, each pulse of my heart delivering pain as well as blood, only partly due to the alcohol I'd consumed. The back of my neck felt sticky. Sweat — or blood? I couldn't check. I couldn't move my hands. They were cuffed behind my back.

Hell,” I said, closing my eyes to the bright beams of light overhead. And then, feeling this somehow wasn't enough, “

That was more like it.

Forehead throbbing and eyeballs fit to burst, I studied the room through cracked lids. Cold tile floors. The kind that were easy to clean because of what got spilled on them.

This wasn't good.

“I really ought to kill you for defying this organization with such blatant disrespect.”

Of course
was here. Who else would bother with a manhunt? “You won't,” I said tiredly.

This time,” he agreed. His shoes squeaked annoyingly as he paced around the cell. “Your little runaround had the unexpected benefit of being a rather useful screening tool, permitting me to weed out those suspect individuals who have led me to question their value in the past.”

So nice to feel appreciated.”

I wouldn't go that far.”

He leaned against the far wall, arms folded over the front of his three-piece suit. Not smiling.
Really not good
. I'd pissed him off. That explained why the guards, who I'd noticed hovering near the door, were also keeping their distance. One or two of them usually tried to get in an extra kick while I was down. I swayed to my feet, because that was better than sitting on my ass. It was a mistake. The disorienting pain made me stumble back against the wall.

Such a pathetic display,” Callaghan said softly. “It isn't like you to be so self-destructive.”

Jealous I beat you to the punch?”

He slammed his fist into my temple. White bursts of pain exploded inside my head. I retched, collapsing in a heap. Over the ringing in my ears he said, “You were never this weak-willed before. Curious. What has possessed you?
has possessed you? I should say.”

You can say whatever you want. I don't have to answer.”

He fingered the holster of the gun hidden inside his suit-coat. “Don't make promises you can't keep.”

“Can the pleasantries, then.” I managed to struggle into a sitting position. The pain was blinding, but it was better than lying there prone. “Let's get right to it — what the fuck do you want from me?”

You and I had an agreement.”

We did?
“What was it?”

You know what I'm talking about.”

No, I fucking don't,” I growled, wincing inwardly at the volume of my own rising voice. “I'm hungover as fuck. So unless you have caffeine, aspirin, or some combination of the two, stop playing the fucking mental cryptic and answer the goddamn question.”

You're awfully confident for someone in your position. Remember,
work for
. Have you forgotten that, perhaps?”

Right now, I can't remember shit.”

I could assume that the cockiness is the alcohol speaking through your veins, but I somehow think not. After all, insubordination is something that seems to flow in you far more thickly than blood.”

That was too much. I wasn't going to put up with that. Not after that dickwad had framed me and nearly gotten me killed after delivering the fucking Judas kiss to our boss. Fuck, no. I hocked up a ball of phlegm and spat it at him. It landed, quivering, on his shoe.

There was a pause.

When he lunged, I was ready. I swept his legs out from under him with a single well-placed kick. He threw out his hands to break his fall, and rolled away before I could deliver the follow-up. The guards rushed forward, jumping to like a pack of well-trained dogs, but Callaghan held them back with a raised hand. “Stupid boy. Did you honestly believe for a second that this front of yours fooled a soul?” He pulled out his gun. “That it fooled me? I

The fuck you do, you psycho mick — ”

He pushed himself up to his feet. To the guards, he said, “Hold him, and open his mouth.”


Two of them grabbed me. I snapped my head, catching one of the guards under the chin. The one on my left jabbed me in the kidney with the butt of his gun. I leaned to that side, guarding against further damage, and received a debilitating blow to the back of my legs that drove me to my knees. When I opened my mouth to draw a breath Callaghan shoved the barrel of his gun past my lips and teeth, until the muzzle of it was brushing against the back of my throat. Beads of sweat dotted at my temples. I pulled away, and received a sharp jab to the spine for my efforts.

“Your little friend,” the bastard said, “how easy it would be, to bring her here—to make her cry, to make her scream.” He punctuated this with a shove that made me wince and exhale a ragged snort of air through my nose. “I wonder. Could you stand watching her beg for help you are unable to give? Stronger men have broken for less.”

He flicked the safety off.

“Of course, if she were all I wanted, I could simply kill you now and take her—but then you would miss out on all the fun. We don't want that, do we?”

I glared at him over the barrel.

“No,” he said, answering for me. “You don't.” With that, he yanked the pistol out of my mouth, spraying spit, and I sucked in a breath—which I immediately released again when he kicked me in the stomach hard enough to send me slamming into the wall again. I landed on my pinned arms and let out another curse. “Don't test me, Michael. Don't ever test me. You won't win, not ever, and I'll take you for everything you've got.”

He fired the gun up at the ceiling, making everyone jump except for him.

“When the boy is sober enough to tell his arse from his elbows, ship him off to Scotland. He'll be heading the BN mission there.” His eyes cut back to me. “He may not be our most qualified agent, but at least we know he'll fit right in with the locals.”

Satisfied he had made his point, he left me there to cough up blood and bile and impotent rage.

BOOK: Armed and Dangerous (The IMA)
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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