Never Fade Page 31

Red brick buildings remained firmly rooted in the ground, but their windows had been bashed in. The grass on the Common was dead in patches, overgrown in others, and scorched to ruin where there had once been trees. Grand townhouses were locked and shuttered, ice and old snow clinging to their dark stones. There was a crowded lane open on each road for cars and bikes to inch their way down, but many of the old, overlapping streets were filled with makeshift tents and the people huddled inside of them.

It was bizarre to see the bright, colorful bursts of old umbrellas and children’s bedsheets propped up as makeshift shelters. Some of the worse-off folks were exposed to the freezing air with nothing more than a sleeping bag or a wall to lean against.

“I don’t get it,” Jude said, staring through the tinted windows. None of the streetlights were on, but there were enough fires burning that we could see the scene—and the first flurries of snow—from the back of the ambulance a hospital had oh-so-helpfully exchanged for the Leda Corp supplies we had dropped off.

“A lot of people lost their homes and housing when the markets crashed,” I said, trying to be patient with him. “The government couldn’t pay off its debt, and because of it, these people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to keep what they owned.”

“But if everyone everywhere is like this, why didn’t the banks just let everyone stay where they were until things got better? Isn’t there something we should do to help?”

“Because that’s not the way the world works,” Rob called from the driver’s seat. “Get used to it.” He was wearing a dark blue EMT uniform, and he seemed to relish his ability to flash the lights and sirens when people in the streets didn’t move out of his way fast enough. Sitting up front with him was the one member of Beta Team who had been assigned to serve as support on our half of the Op—his name was Reynolds, and I only had to take one look at Jude’s face as Reynolds and Rob slapped each other’s backs to know he had been one of the agents Jude had overheard plotting against us.

The rest of Beta Team were three blocks ahead of us, all seven crammed into the back of an old pickup truck. They were dressed as protesters of some kind—street clothes, ragged hair, Red Sox caps, jackets thick enough to hide the weapons tucked underneath.

This professor we were looking for lived in Cambridge, just over the Charles River. Harvard’s medical school, where he was conducting his research, was happily situated in the middle of Boston proper. Rob had decided, in his questionable wisdom, to divide the Op into a two-prong simultaneous assault. Beta Team would handle “disabling” the lab, and Jude and I would break into the target’s house and “pull” him in for questioning.

At least, that’s what Rob thought.

We backtracked to the Longfellow Bridge, crossing the river to the sound of Jude’s eager questions about baseball, the river, what the sticky substance was on the floor of the ambulance, how we were getting home, until Barton finally buzzed the comms in our ears.

“This is Leader in position, ready to commence Op at twenty-two thirty. What is your status, Minder?”

“Five minutes out from the Goose’s nest,” Rob answered, and I felt the ambulance accelerate under me. My anxiety took that exact moment to wake up. I sat a little straighter, bringing my knees to my chest and wrapping my arms around them.

“Are we connected to Home Front?”

“Home Front here. Line is secure, tracking both units now. Okay to proceed at twenty-two thirty. Satellite feed shows minimum interference at Target Two. Minder, we’re showing considerable activity in your sector.”

I’m not sure who was more disgusted to hear him referred to as “Minder,” Rob or me. He didn’t have a team of kids like Cate, but anyone who supervised a freak kid on an Op was slapped with that title.

“There’s a protest in the Old Man’s Yard,” Rob said. I looked up, scrambling on all fours to get to the back window. He was right. We were passing by the university’s tree-lined park, with its crisscrossing paths. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bodies clustered around a large bonfire, ignoring the sleet falling around them. Signs and drums littered the nearby patches of snow, the only thing between the protesters and the small ring of disgruntled police officers that had them surrounded. People seemed to be hovering at the edge of the small park, as if looking for a way to break through the line of uniforms and guns.

“What are they protesting?” Jude whispered, his breath fogging up the glass. I didn’t answer, just motioned for him to get down. I began counting the blocks we passed—one, two, three, four, five.

The ambulance came to a shuddering stop a short distance away from the professor’s pleasant little white house with a slanted gray slate roof. Rob unhooked his seat belt and stood, stretching slightly as he climbed into the back.

“We’re in position,” he said, pressing a hand to his ear. I felt his eyes slide over to me, but I kept mine fixed firmly on Jude, who had started shaking again.

This kid is going to get himself killed, I thought, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“You have the all clear,” said the agent monitoring the Op at HQ. “Goose Egg is a go.”

“Roger,” Barton said, and Rob echoed him.

He was looking a little ragged, a dark beard coming in along the edge of his square jaw, but Rob’s eyes were alert. He tossed the boy the other EMT jacket and a cap—like that could hide the fact that Jude looked about two years younger than he actually was.

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