In a way, this is my fault. I have a way of making too many promises.
But, promise I did. And now I’m here.
The skirt of the uniform that I borrowed from the target’s sister is a little too long, but that’s good. A little awkwardness doesn’t hurt when you want to blend in with fifteen -year -olds. I stand just out of sight on one side of the closet doorframe and scan the jumbled crowd of kids in the hallway outside: baby-faced girls and kaki schoolboys in plaid ties. I’m starting to worry that I won’t spot him when I catch sight of a blond, navy-style buzz cut bobbing around the corner. The kid it’s attached too is way too short and skinny to pull it off. It goes a long way toward making him look even less “tough” than he would have otherwise.
He looks at the note in his hand and slows next to the closet door. Good. At least the kid can read a map. I open it a crack and I grab outward, turning on a light as I pull him in.
I bite my lip in time to stifle a groan at the grin on his face. He sees a “girl” his age, long red hair, green eyes, good skin. He also knows that the note and hand-drawn map in his locker were tinged with cheap smelling perfume. Old- fashioned trick, but it works.
“You must be Sara.”
“You get invitations like this often?”
“Can’t say that I do. Not all the girls around here have your sophisticated taste.”
“We don’t have time–”
“Ok then,” he steps forward, pressing my shoulders into the wall. “Let’s make this quick.”
I wanted to do this the polite way. Really, I did. But Mr. Charm School Dropout, here, is making that impossible. His face is wedged against the wall in time to muffle the groan resulting from the new position of his arms.
“I won’t dislocate your shoulders unless I have to–please don’t require that of me.”
“Nothing’s the matter with me.” I loosen the cuffs a little–I go soft with the young ones, sometimes—and press his head a little more firmly into the wall. “I just don’t have time for the antics.”
I pull back on the chain of the cuffs just enough to get a handkerchief around his nose and mouth. One good breath and he’s nice and quiet.
I won’t have the chance to be a part of the actual bust, but it does provide the distraction I need. I manage to hold Prince Charming around the waste and lead his stumbling, lethargic self to a side door opening into the head master’s office. The surge of 500 adolescents buzzing on adrenaline toward the opposite end of the hallway, combined with sirens and shouting detectives, makes us easy to miss. When I get him through the door, his mother and sister take over, leading the way to my partner’s van out back. we’d had it painted to resemble a school food service truck, just in case, but now I’m pretty confident that our little side project will go unnoticed next to the spectacle of six preppy kids being handcuffed on the soccer field.
I kneel in the back with Headmaster Keeler and her kids while my partner drives us off the lot. Keeler’s daughter scoots closer to me, the smell of sharp perfume clinging to her borrowed clothes that I’m still wearing, and leans into my side. The kid is clutching her hands hard enough to bleach her knuckles. Let her cuddle into me, if she wants to. As we turned another corner, I see her glance down at her brother for the third time. I wait for her to look up before I answer the question she hasn’t asked.
“It’s ok. It’s just a light sedative. He’ll be back to normal in a little while.”
“He’ll fake unconsciousness for as long as he can, if he knows what’s good for him,” Headmaster Keeler mutters. She’s staring out the window at the blur of traffic through the tinted back window. Her jaw is just as tense as her daughter’s. “Thank you, Rowan—for getting him out of there before your…colleagues showed up. “
“No problem—I’m just lucky your kid is a lightweight.”
Dr. Keeler smiles
“There’s a grace to your false modesty, Rowan. That’s a rare gift.” She swallows. “I will do whatever’s necessary to compensate you for any professional backlash this might cause.”
“Don’t mention it—anything for you, Professor.” I follow her gaze to the back window. Rain is starting to blur what little we can see of the road. “Actually, I think we did him a favor. The headache he’ll have when he wakes up is nothing compared to what his buddies would have done if he’d made it to the field.”
Dr. Keeler looked over.
I make myself meet her eyes.
“When I planted the map in his locker, I found money—a lot of it—and a plane ticket. if any of that belonged to his friends on the soccer field, they probably knew he had it—and if he wasn’t planning on giving it to them…well, I’m pretty sure that gun in his coat wasn’t just for show.”
Maybe it was the weak fluorescents in the roof of the van, but Dr. Keeler looks a little pale. I turn toward the window. she deserves the privacy of her emotions, at least. “If you need any help disappearing for a while, I know people who can get you on a plane, nice and quiet.”
I hear a soft chuckle.
“I bet you do.” Dr. Keeler sighs. “I knew you would find a place worthy of all your gifts. I’m just glad that you’re on my side.”
“Of course, professor. Always.”