The Last of August

Page 66

“He will ask,” August said.

“Then you’ll answer. Go.”

He did.

“I’ll hang here,” Lena said. “Don’t worry, I won’t talk.” As usual, she understood me completely. When I looked over, she was playing Tetris on her phone.

“Charlotte,” Tom said a bit awkwardly. “I—”

“No,” I said. That shut him up.

I pulled a Lucky Strike from my cigarette case and lit it. Four long inhalations. My nerves lost some of their frantic hum. I missed that hum when it wasn’t there, but I knew how to regain it, quickly, if I had to. I’m skilled at regulating my systems, though it’s taken rather a lot of practice. Not to mention the several stints in rehab.

In the next twenty-eight minutes, I concocted, vetted, and finalized my plan. Honestly, I was pleased that August and Watson were for the moment gone. Democratic decision-making had failed us so far, as a team (was that what we were?). Things ran more smoothly when I was their benevolent dictator.

We would go to Prague, to the art auction. I believed Phillipa when she said she’d hold it. I believed her, too, when she said she wouldn’t tell anyone about our presence. She did like her orchids, after all. And these auctions were her livelihood. She would set up armed guards and hope that my goals were as childish as she believed me to be.

This wasn’t to say that the auction would be safe. It wouldn’t be. I simply had no doubts about our getting in.

The particulars. Something about surveillance, I thought. Something about privacy. When I’d arrived at that horrid art squat yesterday, I’d spent some time wandering through the open studios, trying to gather my thoughts. The fight I’d had with Watson had affected me more than I’d liked, and my new location wasn’t very soothing.

Really, the sheer amount of blow available to me was impossible to ignore. When the second boy in ten minutes offered me a bump, I declined with enough difficulty that I was concerned I would say yes the next time.

I took myself away to a corner studio. The artist was missing, but his work was on display. It had to do with CCTV, those surveillance cameras that line both European and British street corners, and the means he’d concocted to avoid their gaze.

He had a certain display of masks I found intriguing.

I would get to that later.

The last emails, then. I spent my second cigarette reading them through.

I learned that Leander had pretended, at times, that I was his daughter. I had never pretended he was my father. Fathers were exacting and distant and cruel. Leander was none of those things. Still, I was charmed.

More importantly, my uncle doubted his theory that Nathaniel was in fact Hadrian in disguise, and I did as well. How on earth had he been teaching a class? How had he made that work? Still, if there was any truth to it, I needed to know.

I sent three texts to my brother. This time, he replied quickly. He offered resources. He approved of my plan. His final text read, I’m sure he wishes I was his son, too.

Well, he only said it about me, I wrote back, with some pleasure, and then I turned my phone off.

My next order of business was to confirm some minor financial details with Lena. We discussed a choice of clothing for the event, as I knew this would please her. I owed her quite a few favors at this point. We hammered out escape routes. She informed me that she’d entered my name into something called a Secret Santa back in Sherringford. The other girls on our hall were to exchange presents when we returned in January, and according to Lena, my participation was mandatory. I told her I’d contribute a book on snails. She frowned, and then shrugged in assent.

That settled, I reviewed photographs of the Moriarty family. All blond. All tall. All rather vicious looking, even August, who’d taken pains in the past to soften his appearance with that particular professorial haircut. He’d pared himself down now. That guise was gone, and what was left was spiny and sad. Watson often compared our lives to art and entertainment—this was like a sitcom, that was like a circus. If that was the case, August Moriarty had gone from living in a campus novel to playing Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The latter was more interesting, of course, but I may have lingered over the old picture of him on the Oxford website.

Because that man—the man in the photo—was dead. He and I both knew it, and knew it was my fault. I wondered if our relationship now was a kind of shared mourning for the old August Moriarty. It’s strange to grieve for your former self, and still I think it’s something that any girl understands. I’ve shed so many skins, I hardly know what I am now—muscle, maybe, or just memory. Perhaps just the will to keep going.

When I looked up, still deep in thought, I caught Tom craning his neck to see my screen. I’m not particularly proud to say that I snarled at him.

“Char,” Lena said mildly. She didn’t take her eyes from her phone.

“You’re disloyal,” I told Tom. “You proved that with Mr. Wheatley. I swear to you that if you ever give up sensitive information again—if you ever betray Watson again—I will find a way to wear you as a hat. Stop looking at my screen.”

Tom shrank back into his sweater vest.

“I’ll play you in Tetris,” Lena offered. He nodded shakily.

I was making quite a few threats today. It wasn’t my favorite mode of operation, but it was to be expected when I was surrounded by petty criminals.

I lit my last cigarette.

Final matters. For this mission, I would need to recruit a few armed guards. Only those loyal enough to Milo that they would extend that same loyalty to me. Though I disliked working with those outside my circle—Tom, even now, was chewing gum as he sat across from me—I understood its necessity. I couldn’t perform my role if I was preoccupied with pointing a gun. To that end, I sent one of the swarming mercenaries to find Peterson and a few others. They’d follow us to Prague.

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