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Conspiracy girl, p.25
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       Conspiracy Girl, p.25

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  For Halloween I bought him a Batman costume to go trick or treating in with the girls. His need to defend the world’s victims against bullies is the reason I love him the most.

  Finn leans down to kiss me, his lips as warm and demanding as his hands which are stroking up my body, and I forget all about the past and get completely lost in the present. After a few minutes he pulls back and we both turn to stare over the rooftops of Paris.

  ‘Happy eighteen-month anniversary,’ he whispers, nuzzling my neck.

  I wrap my arms around him and look up into his eyes. ‘I love you,’ I say.

  He grins smugly. ‘I know.’

  I punch him in the stomach and he folds over double. ‘Man, I wish I’d never taught you that move,’ he wheezes, sucking in a breath.

  Finn is a mixed martial arts pro, so he’s been teaching me. The funny thing is that I don’t even feel the need to defend myself any more, but I just like watching him sparring, especially when he’s only wearing a pair of shorts. More often than not, we end up in a sweating heap on the bed. My exercise fanaticism is nowhere near what it was, most probably because I get my workouts in other, infinitely more satisfying ways.

  I wriggle out of Finn’s grasp and head towards the bathroom. ‘Come on,’ I say, ‘we have to hurry. The girls will be here any second.’

  Finn groans. ‘Whose idea was it to bring them to Paris with us?’

  ‘Yours, I seem to remember,’ I say, chucking him his T-shirt and boxers. ‘You promised them you’d take them to Cirque du Soleil. In Paris. Iris and I are just along for the ride.’

  Finn smiles. ‘I know. I’m a great uncle.’

  ‘Yes, you are,’ I say, watching as he drops his towel and starts getting dressed. ‘And an even better boyfriend.’

  Finn grins at me and I smile back.

  Finn sold his loft in the West Village and I sold my apartment building and together we bought a brownstone in Brooklyn, close to the park and with two spare bedrooms which we decorated for when the girls and Iris come to stay. There are even two pink toothbrushes in the spare bathroom. The kitchen is state of the art, with every appliance known to man (but not to Martha Stewart) arrayed on the surfaces. Finn cooks most nights and it turns out that’s just one more of his many skills. Aiden is staying at the house right now, taking care of Goz, and the chickens in the backyard.

  ‘Before we go out,’ Finn says, walking towards me and pulling his T-shirt on over his head, ‘I want to give you something.’

  ‘There’s no time for that,’ I say, rolling my eyes at him.

  Finn shakes his head at me. ‘You’ve got a one-track mind . . . No, it’s something else,’ he says, his mouth twitching at the edges.

  He reaches into his bag and then beckons me over to the bed.

  I walk over and he grabs my hand and pulls me down beside him.

  ‘Close your eyes,’ he tells me.

  I glance at him suspiciously but he just nods at me, so I do as he asks.

  I feel Finn’s fingers brush my collarbone and I shiver involuntarily. My eyes fly open and I glance down, my fingers reaching for the brooch he’s attached to the collar of my coat. It’s made from dozens of diamonds, arranged in the shape of a key. I stand up and run to the mirror. Finn walks up behind me and wraps his arm around my waist, resting his chin on my shoulder.

  ‘Aiden grew them,’ Finn tells me, ‘with his new machine.’

  I can’t help but laugh as my fingers run over it. ‘I love it,’ I tell him, turning and throwing my arms around his neck. ‘It’s perfect!’

  Finn picks me up and spins me around, depositing me on the bed, and then eases himself on top of me. I wrap my legs around his waist and let him kiss me until the room spins.

  When two little fists start banging on the door we don’t even hear them.

  A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

  The idea for this story came from an article about synthetic diamonds in Smithsonian magazine. Further research showed what a threat synthetic diamonds are to the big diamond mining companies and hinted at several high-level conspiracies involving death threats, kidnapping and extortion.

  Never being able to stay away from a good conspiracy theory my imagination got to wondering . . . and then it invented Finn. The rest you know.

  Thanks to . . .

  The real Nic, whom I adore and miss every day.

  The real Melia and Grace, two of the coolest, funniest, smartest girls I know. I love you both.

  Amanda, my wonderful agent.

  John, my amazing husband.

  My mum and dad, for being endlessly supportive and never letting on how much they hate the fact that I live on the other side of the world.

  Becky Wicks, fellow author, fellow traveller along this somewhat lonely road – thanks for all the support, giggles and lip-synching to Frozen songs.

  Lauren, Vic, Helene, Asa, Jessica, Rachel, Karth – I’m so lucky to count you as friends.

  Rachel Mann, my brilliant editor at Simon & Schuster, as well as Paul Coomey and Vic Parker for their mad design and copy-editing skills and Maurice Lyon for proofreading.

  All the bloggers and fans out there. You are the best!

  The cop walks past me and the piece of paper scalds my palm. There’s a waste paper basket right by my foot. I could easily toss it in and turn my back on the boy. I know I should do this. But for some reason, possibly to do with the fact he looked so relieved when I said I’d do it, I don’t. Instead, I slip the scrap of paper into the front pocket of the sweater I’m wearing and then I stand up. I tell myself I am going to find Detective Owens before this boy tries to get me to do anything else for him. But really, it’s because I can feel his gaze burning the back of my neck and it’s making me feel tense, like I’m sitting on an anthill.

  I manage two steps before a gunshot from somewhere in the building jolts me straight back into my seat. For a split second everyone in the room freezes, all heads turned towards the door. And then three, four, five more shots ring out in succession and the sound of screaming bursts through the walls; bloodcurdling screams, screams that are cut terrifyingly short by another round of gunfire, this time closer.

  The three cops in the room go running past me in a blur, all heading for the door. The first two pile out into the corridor, guns already in their hands, shouting commands to each other. The third – the one who just cuffed the boy to the desk – hovers in the doorway. He looks over his shoulder. ‘Stay here. Don’t move,’ he shouts at us, clearly forgetting that he just cuffed one of us to a desk, and then he takes an uncertain step out into the corridor, following his colleagues.

  He is blown instantly backwards, the force of the bullet throwing him several feet across the room. Gunfire detonates all around. But I don’t notice. I’m just staring at the body of the cop, lying on the floor not fifteen feet from me, his face no longer recognisable as a face, just a crater foaming with red, with shards of white poking out of it.

  Everything funnels in that moment; the world reducing to a shattering hum and the completely unreal image of this cop dead at my feet. And then, as if I’m the epicentre of a bomb, reality explodes around me, everything sharpening, noise and heat rushing back in as though filling a vacuum. I become aware of someone yelling at me.

  ‘Get these off!’

  I turn slowly. The air feels suddenly dense as tar, as though I’m wading through it. The boy is shouting at me. He’s standing up, straining against the cuff that holds him to the desk, the muscles in his neck are so taut they look like they’re about to burst through his skin, and for a moment that’s all I can focus on.

  ‘Keys! Grab the keys!’ he yells. He’s pointing with his free hand in the direction of the dead cop.

  For a few seconds I sit there unmoving. I cannot move. Then his shouts manage to break through my daze.

  ‘They’re in his pocket!’

  I tumble out of my chair to my knees and start crawling towards the body, ducking automatically as bullets roar over my head. Th
e glass above the door explodes, shards flying like daggers. On the far side of the room a police radio crackles to life. A disembodied voice on the other end cries for help before a storm of static drowns it out.

  I reach the cop and my hand hovers in mid-air as I stare down at the mass of red and grey pulp where a head should be. Oh God, my body starts to shake, nausea rising in a solid block up my throat, hysteria gaining a foothold in my brain. I breathe through my mouth and force myself to focus. Which pocket?

  ‘Hurry!’

  The boy’s voice punches through the panic and my brain suddenly throws a switch. It stops computing. Somehow I stop seeing the blood and the gore. I no longer feel the sticky wet warmth beneath my bare knees. I stop noticing the bullets. All I can hear is the gallop of my pulse thundering in my ears and Felix in my head ordering me to stay calm.

  Without thinking, I shove my hand deep into the front pocket of the cop’s trousers and find the key. I tug it out and crawl as fast as I can back to the boy through the carpet of broken glass which now litters the ground between desks. The boy snatches the key from my outstretched hand and jams it into the tiny hole. The cuff springs apart, freeing him.

  Instantly, he throws himself on top of me. ‘Get down!’

  A bullet smacks itself into a filing cabinet just behind us as we tumble to the ground. His chest presses down on mine, my face is buried in his shoulder. Quickly he rolls off me and pushes me towards a desk. I scoot underneath it, banging the side of my head on the sharp metal corner of a drawer unit. I let out a cry.

  ‘Shhh.’ His hand clamps over my mouth.

  I tug his arm away. ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ I whisper.

  Before he can answer me, the shooting stops and a silence falls that is even more terrifying than the gunfire. The boy and I both freeze, staring at each other unblinking, just a few millimetres between us. Together, enclosed in the tight space beneath the desk, we strain to listen, and over the radio static and the whir of the air conditioner overhead, I pick out faint cries coming from somewhere in the distance; the unnatural keening howl of a wounded animal.

  The boy shifts his weight. His back is pressed to one cabinet, his feet to the drawer unit. Carefully, he peers around the edge of the desk then ducks quickly back, breathing fast. A bead of sweat trickles down the side of his face.

  ‘Shit,’ he murmurs, resting his head back against the cabinet and closing his eyes.

  ‘Wh—’ I begin, but stop when I hear the sly creak of the door being pushed open. A boot crunches on glass. The boy’s eyes flash open and lock on mine, holding me in place, silencing the scream that has risen up my throat and is threatening to tear free. My legs begin to shake from holding still in a crouching position. The boy’s right hand squeezes my knee hard – another warning, his eyes wide and burning fiercely into mine, telling me: Do not move.

  Something topples off a desk on the far side of the room and, over the boy’s shoulder, through a gap between two filing cabinets, I glimpse the back of a man’s leg. Whose? Is it a cop? Where is everyone else? What happened to the cops who ran out into the corridor?

  No. I shut off the thought, not wanting to go there.

  The man in the room is standing stock-still with his back to us. What is he doing? I can’t see. He’s facing the wall – the chalkboard with all the homicide cases listed on it. The seconds seem to extend into whole hours, days, centuries, and I’m holding my breath and the boy’s hand is still squeezing my knee and my heart is bursting, literally bursting, as though too much blood is pumping through it. My leg muscles are on fire and, without warning, my foot slips. Not far. But it bumps the edge of the desk. The man spins instantly in our direction. The air rushes from my lungs and the boy shifts beside me, a single word that I don’t catch, falling from his lips like a dying man’s prayer.

  The man starts to head in our direction, is almost on us, when someone somewhere else in the building shouts something that’s instantly swallowed in a storm of gunfire and the man rushes out into the corridor.

  The boy darts his head out and then he’s out from under the desk and reaching for me.

  ‘Move!’ he says, pulling me to my feet.

  I glance around, holding on to the desk for balance. The room seems to spin and dip as though it’s a fairground ride.

  ‘We gotta go now!’ the boy says, dragging me towards the door.

  I dig my heels in, my grip tightening on the corner of the desk. The boy yanks on my arm, ‘Come on!’

  I shake my head at him. ‘This way,’ I say, pulling my hand free from his and heading for a glazed door at the other end of the room; the way Detective Owens went. The boy glances once over his shoulder towards the corridor and then hurries after me. I weave between the desks, feeling adrenaline finally cranking through my system, erasing all other thoughts from my mind except for one: RUN!

 


 

  Sarah Alderson, Conspiracy Girl

 


 

 
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