Author's Note: Twelve more chapters remain . . . .
Currently Listening To: "Streets of Love" by The Rolling Stones
No effing way.
It can't be.
Breathe, Charlotte. And pick your jaw up off the floor.
To say that I'm thunderstruck right now is an understatement. It can't be. It's him yet again! At least I now know his name at long last.
Liam Cato. His name is Liam Cato. He's Dr. Cato's son and the White Agent who pursued me just yesterday. Standing here face-to-face with him, I want nothing more than to run and hide. Unfortunately, I can't because that would completely blow my cover and cost me the only lead I have to finding out all of the information saved onto Dr. Cato's flash drive.
There's no way in Tartarus that he knows it's me this time, not like yesterday. I'm thankful for the green contacts I'm wearing to conceal my hazel eyes that he seems to have taken an interest in, as well as the wonderful makeup job that Lilly did. My eyes are slanted just like the real Olivia's and they look out into the world behind purple glasses. Not wanting to risk losing a wig like I almost did inside BioLife, Lilly dyed my hair dark brown to match Olivia's exact hair color. For once, I'm thankful for my bushy hair or I wouldn't have been able to pull off Olivia's curls. The reporter and I are even nearly the same height—she has me by an inch and a half. Therefore, I have stuffed insoles into my flats for a little extra vertical stance.
Nervously, I retain my composure. I stand there in the shadows of the hallway landing, waiting for Liam to say something. I would say that he's taken aback to see me—or Olivia—but he hides it well behind an apathetic mask.
"Miss Cruz?" He says as politely as he could I suppose. "May I ask why you're here?"
After my initial freaking out at the sight of Liam, it's right about now that I notice he's shirtless.
And I've never seen a boy without his shirt on before in real life.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I try not to gawk at him but I can't help it. I feel color rising in my cheeks and I hope I'm not blushing. To see him like this is almost as unexpected as showing up on his doorstep in the first place. His chest and abdomen are . . . chiseled . . . to say the least, like those men on the covers of those awful romance books I tried to read but couldn't get pass the cheesy dialogue and extensive descriptions of certain explicit acts. It's like someone sculpted Liam and his muscles were the materials.
He's definitely something pleasant to gape at, more so than just his fascinating face and his own alluring eyes. For some odd reason, I suddenly want to run my fingers across the ripples that make up his abs. Weird.
I try to forget that he's half-naked when I respond to his question. I spent nearly an hour perfecting Olivia's voice. Like Ava Suarez, Olivia Cruz is not a Paradise native. She's from Spain so she retains her Castilian Spanish accent. Her pitch was easy to accomplish but I struggled earlier with interchanging s and z sounds and leaving off certain consonants that end words.
"Agent Cato, as you've probably seen in several Channel 13 news broadcasts, I am assigned to following Charlotte Tatum's story closely," I speak, doing a pretty good job of mimicking Olivia Cruz if I say so myself. I'm not a hundred percent confident but I don't think he can tell I'm a fraud. Mimicry happens to be a forte of mine, like a butterfly. "I have recently uncovered some information that can assist you in your investigation of Noah Emerson's death. May I come inside?"
Liam steps aside and I stroll into his penthouse apartment, clutching an envelope in my hands. It's a lot smaller than my house but also a lot more expensive. I note the exercise bike by the front door, as well as the glass case displaying several Dischargers. The portrait of the Chancellor on the wall creeps me out. Just saying.
"Have a seat," Liam urges me into a couch opposite an enormous digital screen. He doesn't say anything more as he saunters into his bedroom and pulls on a t-shirt. Darn. I was enjoying the spectacle he was putting on for me. Oh well.
Liam joins me on the sofa and puts as much distance between the two of us as he can. Other than walking by him on several occasions on the monorail, this is the closest I have been to him. Even when he returned my pen to me at the orphanage, we weren't this close. He had stood at arm's length then. Now, he's only inches away from me. If he sat any closer, our bodies would actually touch.
Liam is direct and straight to the point when he speaks. Liam, Liam, Liam. I love thinking his name. I like it. It suits him well.
"What information have you uncovered, Miss Cruz?"
"Olivia," I correct him.
"I've always called you Miss Cruz during interviews," Liam informs me before I can say another word.
Oops. Apparently, Olivia and Liam are acquaintances. Makes sense as he's a White Agent and she's one of the top reporters on the island. I should have spent a little more time doing my homework before I came calling here; however, time was of the essence earlier. Or maybe I was just too impatient to return to BioLife. Whatever the case may be, I must tread softly now and be a little more careful with what I say from here on out.
"This is not an interview," I point out to him. "We can be informal here." I almost said, "Feel free to be informal here." "Feel" would have been a poor word choice.
"All right then, Olivia," he corrects himself. I long to hear him say "Charlotte" again.
"Liam," I say, making sure not to put any emphasis on his name or speak in a dulcet tone of voice. "I've managed to intercept a message from the Entity and—"
"How so?" Liam wants to know. "How would a reporter, even one as thorough as yourself, would be able to intercept a message from the Entity?"
I'm well prepared for such an inquiry.
"Since all media outlets answer directly to officials within the Core, the Chancellor has provided us with a few spies that have penetrated the Entity's network. These spies filter information to my boss who has us report only on the content selectively filtered by Parliament. There's a lot out there that I know about but I can't tell it to the people. So, I'm assuming that one of the spies got it to me or perhaps Charlotte Tatum herself. I don't know."
Lies. But they were the best I could come up with to sell him on such short notice. Hopefully, he'll believe me and buy them all.
He observes me for a moment before speaking. I'm so nervous now that he can see through my disguise. I start to sweat profusely. I hate sitting so near to him but enjoy it at the same time. It's torture.
"What type of message did you intercept?" He finally asks me.
"Well, more or less received than intercepted," I correct myself. It's difficult to think rapidly on my feet, as I'm unable to predict what type of questions Liam will ask me. I made a minor blunder earlier with choosing the word "intercepted". "It's a message that was intended for Representative Noah Emerson."
Oh how I wish Liam wasn't addicted to the Purge just so I could see his reaction. I bet he didn't expect me to say something like that.
"The Entity employed a Messenger, people who deliver important information to SAFE members. The Messenger was Charlotte Tatum and she was supposed to deliver this package to Emerson." I gesture then at the envelope clutched in my grasp. "Obviously, it never made it to him. Instead, it ended up on my doorstep last night."
It amazes me how easily I can lie, but I guess it comes second nature since I live a lie every day.
"Who sent it to you?"
"I don't know. Like I said earlier, it could have been a spy or Charlotte Tatum, I believe. There was a note attached to the package and it said this—"
I slide my hand into the jacket I'm wearing and pull out a folded piece of paper. I hand it to Liam and watch him unfold and read it. I know what it says, having written it myself of course:
The Entity gave this to me and wanted me to deliver it to Representative Noah Emerson, who turned up dead when I went to visit him at BioLife. Inside of the envelope contains a flash drive with information on it for Liam Cato, a White Agent. I'm unable to deliver the drive to Agent Cato because I will be arrested on sight. I need your help. As a reporter, you can go places that I can't go. I need for you to take this to Agent Cato and convince him to watch the video on the file. This disk may be the key to finding Emerson's killer, as well as proving my own innocence.
Liam returns the note back to me after reading it. "Charlotte definitely delivered this to you," he says. There it is again—he said my name. "She signed it with her initials CT."
"Perhaps," I speak quietly. "Or maybe someone else knows what's going on and wants the truth out there. But it's not for me to speculate. I'm a reporter, not an investigator. I present the facts, not theories."
"That's what White Agents do as well," Liam tells me placidly.
"Then why are you accusing an innocent girl of murder?" I question him, working hard to keep my voice steady and Purge-influenced smooth. I couldn't help it. A rush of anger flared up inside of me all of a sudden. If what Liam said is true, and the White Agency presents the facts, then I want to know why they're accusing me of a crime I didn't commit.
"I can't answer that question," Liam replies simply.
I fall silent as much as I want to retaliate and maybe lash out at him. I think back to that brief moment I spent with him on that bridge before I took a plunge into the Utopia River for the second time in as many weeks. "I know you're innocent," Liam told me. He also said he wasn't my enemy and he promised in his apathetic way that he would find Emerson's true killer. He wanted me to trust him. He alone might be the only in law enforcement that thinks I'm innocent. I can't be upset with him when he might be my only ally with a badge.
"How about I show you what's on this drive now?" I suggest, removing the Hippocampus from the envelope in my hands. "Do you mind?" I indicate his laptop that's connected to the screen.
"Not at all."
It takes me a few minutes to turn on the computer and hook the drive up to it. Then, I play him the message from Dr. Cato. I watch him for any reaction to seeing his mother but he just sits there, staring blankly. I can't imagine ever going back to not caring for my father, Abigail, or even Scarlett. My family means more to me than life itself. I never want the Purge to distort my mind ever again, to take away all of the care—all of the love—that I have for my family.
When the message ends, Liam faces me at once. "Who else knows about this?" He wants to know.
"No one," I respond with yet another lie. "I was planning to show it to my boss but I felt compelled to bring it to you first. In order for me to report to entire story, you can use your credentials to get us inside of BioLife and find out what else Dr. Cato knows."
Silence. He's good at internal brooding because that's what I know he's doing. He's also thinking long and hard about his decision before he makes it, trying to decide if it's worth his time, and possibly his career, to assist me. He has to be the least bit curious, has to be. Please, I beg silently. Help me . . . .
"Okay," he says suddenly, surprising me so much that I nearly jump. "We'll go to BioLife. When would be a—"
"As soon as possible," I silence him. "But I have another matter to attend to, so I'll meet you at the nearest monorail station in about an hour."
Liam nods and I rise from the sofa to disconnect the drive from his computer and return it to the envelope. Then, I take my leave. I ride the elevator down to the lobby and exit the Paradise Grand Hotel to sunshine. As I walk up the sidewalk, hurrying to rejoin Aidan, I can't help but to think about how quickly Liam agreed to help me. Did he see right through my plan, right through my disguise? If he knows it's me, is he planning to set me up and take me to a place where I have no chance of escaping this time? I shake my head. He doesn't know it's me. If he did, he would have arrested me inside of his apartment.
Still, I'm paranoid.
In an alleyway, a couple of blocks from the hotel, is where I enter the cloaking bubble enclosing Aidan's mobile home. The entire time I was walking, I expected Zeppelins to come dropping in on my head. I enter the trailer to find Elijah playing video games and Aidan sitting there, watching him. I notice immediately that Aidan's not wearing his usual happy demeanor. In fact, he looks worried, troubled even.
I look around. Lilly should be here by now. She was supposed to meet us so that she could shadow me when I ride the monorail with Liam to BioLife. "Aidan, where's Lilly?" I demand to know.
"Huh?" He seems to snap out of some kind of stupor when he speaks. He looks over at me, only then noticing my presence. He never looked up when I walked inside. "Lilly? Yeah, she's not coming. She got held up at the studio or something so I'm going with you."
"You are?" I'm taken aback. Aidan rarely leaves his RV for anything. Even when he came over to Lilly to help protect us, he spent most of his time inside it.
He nods but doesn't smile like he normally does. He doesn't seem too thrilled about secretly accompanying Liam and me.
"Are you okay?" I ask him, concerned. He's acting very weird right now.
"I'm fine," he tells me, popping open a can of Alacrity. Unlike Liam, he is not talented at hiding his emotions. I wonder if he ever was. He takes a swig of the drink and adds, "I guess it's time for us to get ready and alter the plan a bit. I'm assuming that you got Liam on board as you're not in handcuffs."
I smile weakly, hoping to get one out of him. But alas, gone is his contented personality. I miss it already.
"Yeah, he's meeting us at the monorail station in an hour."