Never Fade Page 19

Cate whirled on her heel, her hands half raised, like she could shove the thought of it back at him. She was still shaking when Frog Lips escorted her out.

Alban didn’t so much as flinch when she slammed the door shut behind her. “So, you found our little missing treasure, did you?”

Cate’s interruption had broken into my haze of fury, but just like that, I was free-falling back into it, twisting my hands under the desk to keep from wrapping them around Cole’s neck.

In the end, it hadn’t mattered a single bit that I had managed to get the League to cut Liam loose. His brother, apparently, had found some way to drag him back into the thick of things. I didn’t really understand what I had seen, which was not, as Alban believed, the flash drive itself, but it was clear enough to me that Liam had somehow been involved.

“Well, don’t keep us in suspense,” Alban said. “We need to get protection to the informant as soon as possible.”

Or you need to send someone to kill him for it.

“I just think—” Cole began.

The one thing, the single, solitary gift that Thurmond had given me was the ability to lie, and with a straight, unflinching face.

“I didn’t recognize them,” I said, “so I can’t give you a name. Maybe if I described them, Agent Stewart will be able to give you one?”

“Maybe,” Cole managed to croak. Then, after clearing his throat, he added, “I worked with a lot of people in Philly, though.…”

Alban gave me an impatient wave, his dark muddy eyes on mine.

“It was a woman,” I explained. “I could see her standing near the PSFs’ van. She looked nervous and kept glancing around, until she saw something on the sidewalk—then she must have found it. Late into her forties, a bit heavyset. She had long, dark hair and glasses with green frames. Her nose was slightly crooked at the end.”

And she was also my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Rosen.

Alban nodded with each and every small bit of description, then turned to Cole. “That ring any bells?”

“Yeah,” Cole said, his fingers drumming on the armrest. “I can work with that. I’ll write up the full report for you.”

Alban nodded. “Have it on my desk by eight tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” Cole said, struggling back up to his feet. I was afraid if I looked at him, I’d give myself away. He lingered for a second by the door until Frog Lips ushered him out, too.

Alban stood, making his way over to the row of dull, mismatched filing cabinets behind his desk. He slid a ring of keys out of his shirt’s front pocket, giving me a small wink. I almost couldn’t believe it—every single time I’d come to his office, I’d stared at those ugly things, wondering what was inside, and now, he was actually opening one?

He tapped his finger against the nearest drawer. “The advisers think it’s archaic and backward for me to keep these, considering we’re in the height of our digital game. Isn’t that right, Peters?”

The adviser gave a tight-lipped smile.

Whatever they really thought, to me, it was Alban’s one “old school” trick that actually did what it was supposed to. The records or files or whatever he kept in there were only ever going to be seen by one person: him. There was no chance someone would hack into them or install some kind of backdoor program and download their contents. He’d insisted on installing both a retinal scanner and digital keypad lock on his office door—the two most expensive pieces of tech at all of HQ. If someone wanted in those files, they needed his permission or to be very creative.

He slid a red folder out of the dented black cabinet at the far right, pushing the drawer shut with his hip as he turned back toward me. “I just had a thought, Ruby—I haven’t had a chance to thank you for the excellent work you did pulling this information together about the camps. I know you gave it to me a few months ago, but I’ve only had a few minutes to glance through. I can tell that a lot of effort and thought went into it, which I admire.”

I don’t know that he’d ever actually surprised me before that moment. I’d given up weeks ago on that folder ever catching his attention, when I’d seen only the smallest sliver of a corner sticking out beneath a stack of papers on his desk that was as tall as I was. That was my last hope, I remembered thinking, and it is being crushed.

Why name an organization the Children’s League if you were only going to pretend to help kids? The question stayed with me every day, through every class, through every Op. I felt its teeth tighten around the back of my neck each time I was dismissed without a second look; it had locked its jaws and wouldn’t let me or my conscience go. Most of the agents, especially the ex-military guys, couldn’t have cared less about the camps. They hated Gray, hated the draft, hated having their service orders change, and this was the only organization that was visible and actually trying to accomplish something aside from sending out vaguely threatening messages every few months. Trying to get them to do anything to help other kids was like shouting in a room where everyone was already screaming. No one wanted to listen because they had their own plans, their own priorities.

From the first night at HQ, I knew that the only way I’d be able to face myself in the future was if I tried, as hard as I could, to redirect the League’s resources into freeing the kids still in camps. Over the past months, I planned, sketched, and wrote down everything I remembered about Thurmond, from the way the PSFs patrolled, to when they rotated, to two camera blind spots we’d discovered.

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