Read Erased Online

Authors: Jennifer Rush

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Love & Romance, #Science & Technology, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Science & Technology

Erased (5 page)

BOOK: Erased
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8

I HELD THE PREPAID CELL PHONE IN
my hand, staring at the blank screen. Sam sat next to me, Cas across from both of us. We were in a little diner called Elkhorn Original, at a table in the back. All the booths near the windows were open and booths generally gave a person more privacy, but they were also hard to get out of when you were in a hurry. Another Sam lesson.

Nick sat outside on a bench across the street, on point. I couldn’t see him, but I trusted he was there. Even though he’d been against this, he was still with the group on most things. Majority vote. We won.

Three mugs of coffee sat on the table between Sam, Cas, and me, but none of us was feeling particularly thirsty. Sam bit into the mint candy he’d been sucking on.

“When he picks up,
if
he picks up,” Sam said, “you have two minutes, tops. We don’t want to risk being traced. Ask him what you need to ask him, and if he doesn’t give you the answer you need, hang up. No hesitation.” Sam leaned forward, closer to me. I was still staring at the phone. He set his hand on my knee beneath the table and squeezed.

“It’ll be fine,” he promised.

When Trev gave us the flash drive, he’d included a document titled
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.
It was a text file with a phone number, nothing else. That was the number we were calling now.

I punched it in, brought the phone to my ear. I could barely hear the ringing on the other end over the fierce beating of my heart. Trev had once been my best friend. Talking to him had been easier than talking to anyone else. And now I felt like I might vomit at the thought of hearing his voice. Or maybe it was that I worried it
wouldn’t
be him. If the Branch ever found out what he’d given us, they’d either wipe his memory or kill him.

As angry as I was with him, he didn’t deserve either of those punishments.

Cas fidgeted across from me and accidentally bumped the table. Coffee sloshed over the rim of his cup and puddled on the table.

“Sorry,” he muttered at the same time the line picked up and Trev said, “Hello?”

I looked over at Sam, nodded. He started the timer on his watch. Cas sopped up the coffee mess with a wad of napkins.

“Anna?” Trev said, his voice hitching.

I squeezed my eyes shut. “Yeah. It’s me.”
Take charge of the conversation. You only have two minutes.
“I need a favor.”

He didn’t say anything for what felt like much longer than two minutes. Finally, a breath, another pause, then, “What kind of favor?”

“Dani is alive and the Branch has her and I want to know where I might find her.”

“What?” There was shuffling through the line, the creak of a door and it closing a second later. “How do you know she’s alive?”

“We saw her on the security footage at a grocery store.”

“And the Branch, how—”

“They attacked her in the alley there. Riley and another agent.”

Trev cursed. Wind whistled through the receiver. There was a dinging noise, like the sound a car made when the door was open. “Give me an hour. You in Michigan?”

Sam shook his head. He must have heard Trev through the line.

“No,” I said.

“Sam tell you to say that?” I didn’t answer. “Meet me at the wind turbine field in Hart in two hours.”

“We are not meeting him,” Sam said.

“Anna,” Trev said. “Don’t use this number again. Okay? It’s only good for a one-time use. Meet me. I’ll see what I can dig up.”

“We are
not
meeting him,” Sam repeated. We locked eyes. He shook his head again.

“All right,” I said to Trev. “Two hours.”

“I’ll be there.”

The line went dead.

Sam’s hands curled into fists. “Damn it, Anna! We are not meeting him.”

“That’s fine.” I stood. “You don’t have to. Just like I told Nick: I can do this alone.”

Sam rose to his feet next to me. There were only two inches between us. I could smell the leftover mint on his breath, could practically feel the heat in his voice. “You really think we’d let you go alone?”

No. I didn’t. Which was why I was making a stand now. I needed this, and I was willing to risk a lot to get it.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe.”

Cas snorted. “She’s totally baiting us.”

The corners of Sam’s eyes pinched tighter. He knew it, too. “Fine,” he said. “Since this is your mission, I’ll let you brief Nick.”

He turned and walked out the door. I watched him go. Across from me, Cas practically vibrated with laughter. “Nick is going to love this plan.”

I grumbled to myself as I plodded outside.

Nick took the news like we all thought he would, with an air of disgruntled arrogance. He now sat in the backseat, silent as we headed for Hart, Michigan. The GPS said we were over two hours out, but Sam kept the speedometer just above seventy-five the whole way
there. Thankfully the freeways were clear of snow and ice, otherwise we’d be late.

We could see the wind turbines long before we reached our destination. The blades rose above the bare, gray treetops. There had to be four dozen of them, total, dotted here and there across the skyline.

When we pulled into the field, the turbines towered over us. It was hard not to feel small and insignificant next to them. The dirt road curved through the field. We could see straight back to the line of pine trees, so we were easily able to spot Trev’s car. It was parked on the access road to the sixth turbine. It was a brand-new luxury sedan with tinted windows and chrome wheels and a shiny jaguar hood ornament.

Trev was leaning against the passenger side.

The moment we were close enough to recognize him, my stomach turned itself into knots. I was ridiculously happy to see him, but that feeling was mixed with the sudden overwhelming need to double-check that my gun was in place.

My mind didn’t want to trust him. My heart did.

When we pulled in, Sam whipped a quick U-turn so that the car faced the exit.

I got out before Sam could tell me all the things I should or shouldn’t do.

The snow and gravel crunched beneath my boots. Trev took a step away from the car, a manila envelope tucked beneath his arm.

The boys were out of the vehicle in a matter of seconds, guns at their sides.

“Stop it, you guys,” I said.

I looked over the fifteen feet that separated me from Trev. He looked good. Black dress pants matched a black suit jacket partially hidden beneath a black trench. A gray scarf was tied around his neck, and his hands were covered in black leather gloves. His shoes were leather, too, narrow, almost pointed, at the toes.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. I expected him to be in jeans. I expected him to look sad. I expected him not to be dressed in expensive clothes, driving an expensive car, with his black hair slicked back.

I expected him to still look like Trev.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey.”

There was a long, awkward pause.

Trev was the first one to break the silence, and he jumped right into business mode. “I was able to dig up some locations that might be useful. I found no mention of Dani’s intake. I couldn’t verify that she was at any Branch location, but if she was, I’d guess it’d be a lab.” He tapped the edge of the manila envelope against the palm of his glove and looked away, his breath punctuating the air around him. “It’s good to see you, Anna.”

I took three steps closer. Slow, deliberate steps, like I was approaching an old family pet that may or may not have contracted rabies. “You look different.”

He pointed the envelope my way. “So do you.”

“Not as different as you.”

He glanced down. “Yeah, well… I don’t have any good response to that.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I don’t get one of your memorized literary quotes? Nothing to put me at ease?”

He licked his lips. “Would it help?”

“Probably not.”

He nodded. A ghost of a smile touched the corners of his mouth, but then he glanced over my shoulder, and the smile faded.

Nick marched forward. “We’ve already been here too long. Give me the damn envelope so we can be on our way.” Nick stopped two feet from Trev, hand extended.

Trev narrowed his eyes. “Anna asked for the info. Anna is the one I give it to.”

I didn’t have to see Nick’s face to know there was a snarl on his lips. “Give me the goddamn envelope.”

“I see you’re still as much a dickhead as you were two months ago,” Trev answered.

Nick struck first, but Trev was already ducking out of the way. He grabbed Nick’s wrist as he twisted around and flipped Nick over his shoulders. Nick landed with a heavy
thud
on the snow-covered, frozen dirt.

Trev didn’t waste a second. He scrambled on top of Nick, jammed a knee in Nick’s chest, and pulled a gun from a hidden shoulder holster.

He pointed the gun at Nick’s head.

“Put it down,” Sam said. He edged around me, his gun aimed at Trev. Cas came from the other side. His gun was out, too.

I hadn’t reacted at all. Trev had always been the quiet one, the smart one, the one who fought more with words than hands. Either he’d learned a lot in the last two months with the Branch, or he’d kept more secrets from us than just his identity.

“We’re not on the same team anymore, I get it,” Trev said, the gun still trained on Nick even though he was addressing Sam. “That also means I don’t have to put up with his vitriol, either.”

Cas snickered. “I don’t think Nick knows what
vitriol
means.”

“Get. Off. Me,” Nick said, his teeth clenched tightly.

Trev eased away, slid the gun back in its holster. He straightened the flap of his trench coat, hiding the gun once again.

I plucked the envelope from the ground, where it’d been dropped. I bent the metal clips, tugged the flap open. There was a thin stack of papers inside, stapled together.

“You’ll find the name of the lab and the address,” Trev explained. “I also included blueprints, so you can plan for blind spots.”

Sam came up behind me and read over my shoulder.

“All of the labs were given Greek alphabet names,” Trev went on. “Ours was the Alpha lab. Beta lab was shut down before we even got out. Something wrong with the treatments. They hadn’t perfected an Altered drug that would work in any group besides ours.”

“You keep saying ‘ours’ like there ever was an ‘ours,’ ” Sam said.

Trev fixed his hair. “Fine. You. Your group. Kappa lab barely got off the ground before there was an incident.”

“What kind of incident?” I asked.

Trev shook his head. “I’m not telling you that.” He didn’t wait for me to argue before continuing. “There’s only one lab still up and running today: Delta. If Dani is anywhere, I’d guess it’d be there.”

“Do you know for sure she’s not at headquarters?”

He nodded. “I was just there yesterday. If she were there, I would have known it.”

“Why, you Riley’s right-hand man now?” Nick asked.

Trev looked like he wanted to roll his eyes but didn’t. “No. I’m the head of the intake department.”

I felt the urge to gape but buried it quickly. “Head of the department?”

“Just the intake department,” he repeated, like that somehow lessened the admission.

“Does Riley know you gave us the flash drive?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t he suspect you at all? I mean… you lived with us for over five years. You…” I trailed off, because I wasn’t sure what else to say that wouldn’t sound pathetic.

Trev just stared at me, the space between his brows pulled tight with apologies and regret.

Wind rushed through the field. The blades of the turbines picked up speed.

Whump whump whump.

I shivered. “We have to go.”

He nodded. “I know.”

I turned for the vehicle. Sam was already there, holding the door open for me. Nick and Cas trailed behind, putting themselves between Trev and me.

“Anna?” Trev called. I stopped and glanced over my shoulder. I braced myself for one of his quotes. I wanted to hear one. Something to tell me that a part of the Trev I knew was still there, hidden somewhere in that expensive suit and tailored trench coat.

But all he said was, “I hope you find her,” before climbing into his car.

9

SINCE WE WERE WITHOUT A SAFE LOCATION
, we headed to the next best thing: an IHOP. Chain restaurants were good for safety and coverage. They were usually busy, so it was easy to blend in. At the same time, it was hard for anyone to attack, because there were so many witnesses.

Cas and Nick sat across from Sam and me. Cas had ordered the biggest meal he possibly could, to keep up his strength, according to him. It included eggs and bacon and toast and hash browns and pancakes. The rest of us stuck with the basics. For me, that was just a cheese omelet. But I wasn’t feeling very hungry.

Nick leaned across the table, keeping his voice low. While being in a public place afforded us safety and anonymity, it also gave us very little privacy. “Do I even have to say it? Trusting Trev is a bad idea.”

I stared at the gap between Cas and Nick, vision blurred, thinking. The part of me more concerned with self-preservation agreed with Nick. I’d never tell him that, of course. But meeting Trev, trusting his information, it was all a huge risk. And if I pursued this, the boys would follow. There was no doubt in my mind about that. Which meant this wasn’t just about me. If I got caught while looking for my sister, they would get caught, too.

“Imagine if it was someone you cared about,” Cas said. “You’d do anything for them, right?”

Nick snorted. “That’s why I don’t care about anyone.”

“I trust him,” I said suddenly, blinking. “Trev has had more than one opportunity to turn us in. He’s had more than one opportunity to kill us, if that’s what he wanted. But he hasn’t. If he was truly one hundred percent with the Branch, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We would have been surrounded by agents in that turbine field.”

Sam took a drink of his coffee, his fingers curled around the rim of the mug. When he set the cup down, he slouched in his chair and extended his arm across the back of my chair. “She’s right. The Branch had no reason to draw this out. If they wanted us, they would have had us by now. Trev had the opportunity. I say we check out the lab. There could be others like us.” He flicked his attention across the table, eyeing Cas and Nick. The boys had always had some kind of connection that allowed them to communicate silently with nothing but a look or a blink or a twitch of the mouth. I imagined it was
something they’d learned from their time as trained assassins, back before the farmhouse lab.

Cas cleared his plate, wiped his mouth with the napkin before tossing it to the table. “It’s been months since I’ve done any ass kicking. I’m dying to get some action.”

“I bet you are,” Nick muttered. “But you might have to beg for it.”

Cas grinned. “Good one, Nicky poo.”

Sam’s hand trailed down along my spine before coming to a stop at the small of my back. I twisted his way, our knees bumping beneath the table.

“You sure about this?” he asked.

I nodded. “As sure as I’ll ever be.”

“Then we should get going.” He gestured to the manila envelope tucked in my bag. “Delta lab is several hours off. If we get on the road now, we should reach it before dawn.”

The boys pushed back their chairs to leave.

“Wait,” I said. “Can I call my dad before we leave?”

It’d been over two weeks since I’d spoken to him. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, not now, not in the past. And even though he’d lied to me for over five years and posed as my father while he led the farmhouse Altered program, I still felt like he was family. He’d helped us escape when we’d needed him and he’d stood behind us at Branch headquarters. He’d even taken a bullet to save me.

“Use the oldest prepaid,” Sam said. “We’ll meet you outside in ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes,” I agreed.

They filed toward the door. “Anna?” Sam called over a shoulder. “Don’t tell him where we’re going.”

“I won’t.”

Hearing my dad’s voice always made me feel instantly at home, like we were back at the old farmhouse in New York, discussing the news over dinner. Back when everything was normal, at least for us. When we were safe.

“Anna,” Dad said when he realized it was me. “It’s good to hear from you. Everything all right?”

I held the phone tighter. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Just thought I’d check in with you.”

He sighed. “Everything is
not
all right, is it?”

All the tension ran out of my shoulders, and I slouched in my seat. My dad and I had never been close, even when we’d lived in the same house, when I’d thought the life I had was the truth. But if there was one thing my dad was good at, it was knowing a lie when he heard it.

“When will anything ever be all right?” I laughed to lighten the mood. “That’s not why I’m calling, though. I really just called to talk to you. How have you been?”

“Well… I’m still having trouble sleeping at night, but that’s to be expected. Everything has healed well enough. I’m just old.” He chuckled and it turned into a drawn-out hacking fit. “Sorry,” he said, once he’d recovered. “It’s this dry air.”

Somehow I didn’t think it was the air. I ran my finger through salt left on the table. The grains stuck to my skin.

“So, how are the boys?” Dad asked.

I looked out the restaurant’s windows to the parking lot beyond. I could just make out the roof of our SUV and the heads of the boys lined up alongside it, waiting. “The same, I guess. Cas won’t stop eating. Nick won’t stop being a jerk. And Sam…” I trailed off, because while my dad wasn’t technically my
biological
dad, he was still the closest thing I had to one. Heat burned through my cheeks. Sam was a subject I didn’t feel comfortable elaborating on. “Sam is good,” I finished.

“Have you had any run-ins with the Branch?”

“No, but…”

“But what?”

“Did you know there were other labs?”

There was a rustle through the line as Dad shifted. I imagined him reaching for a straw to chew on. It’d been his habit for nearly four years. Ever since he gave up smoking. “I didn’t know for sure, but I always imagined there were. That’s what their goal was, to make more kids like you.”

“How many more?”

“I don’t know.”

I checked the clock above the front counter. My ten minutes were nearly up.

“You aren’t going after them, are you?” Dad asked. “Trying to play the vigilante, save the others like you?”

“No,” I said, because that was the truth. At least, that wasn’t our first goal. Finding Dani was. Saving the others, if there were others, would just be a bonus.

“If not that, then what? Why ask about the other labs now?”

I wanted so badly to tell him about my sister. I wanted to tell someone. But Sam would be furious, and involving my dad would only put him in danger.

“I can’t tell you the details. You know that.”

He sighed. “Yes. I know.”

“My time is up.”

“All right.” He pulled in a breath. “Just be careful, all right? Please?”

“We always are.”

“I meant you, Anna.”

I gritted my teeth against the sudden burning in my eyes. “I will.”

We said our good-byes and I hung up the phone. The prepaid was no longer good, as far as Sam was concerned, so I tossed it into what remained of my iced tea and hurried to the door. I wanted to reach Delta lab as soon as possible, before Riley or anyone else did something terrible to my sister and she ended up dead all over again.

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