After he had everything ready, he called home. Karen picked up. Karen and Jared were his caretakers. He’d thought they were typical foster parents, until he’d been recruited into Project Mentor. They were CIA; they’d been tasked with taking care of him. He might’ve gotten mad when he found out they’d been ordered to adopt him, but when he learned the truth they’d sat him down and explained that they’d known his parents and had taken on the job to make sure their friends’ son was looked after.
At least he could tell her the truth, or part of it. He was going on a mission.
“Another? So soon?”
“Don’t worry. It’s not dangerous. It’s a chance to prove ourselves to the agency.”
“Just be careful. And remember your training. And bring a coat, it’s the middle of winter.”
“How do you know we’re not going to the Southern Hemisphere?”
“Don’t do that to me John, now I’m going to be worrying all weekend.”
“I’ll be careful. Give my best to Jared.”
John hung up the phone. He had a hard time expressing how he felt to Karen and Jared. It was like if he told them he loved them he was betraying his parents, or letting them go.
“It never ceases to amaze. We have dog-eared books with notes in the margins on the off chance you need to be a booklover. What else is hidden back there?”
John turned to Mal, putting a grin on his face as he did.
“There’s a whole row of Halloween costumes.”
“A Halloween mission would be the best. Are you okay? When you hung up the phone it looked like you’d eaten a sour grape.”
“I know the look John. Everybody in the foster system has it.”
She reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. He returned her smile. That was one thing that bound them together tighter than any CIA training. They all knew what it was like to grow up without their parents.
Barely an hour later, they were above the clouds in a private jet. This wasn’t what they were used to, maybe this was how full CIA agents did it. Steve made sure all the gear was in place and Mal was dead to the world in front of her laptop. John had his phone off so he couldn’t text Brian. It was a long flight.
* * *
Once they landed, time leapt into overdrive. They slipped out of the airport. Luckily they had a driver, because Steve was the only one with a license and he wasn’t supposed to drive after nine. The pressure of the earpiece was familiar, but the clothes he was wearing weren’t. He usually wore button down shirts and sweaters. Right now he was in a ripped long sleeve tee with a band he’d barely heard of on the front. A heavy coat and backpack completed the disguise.
He got out of the van, walked into a bookstore, and made his way to the coffee shop. The smell of premium roast made his mouth water.
“I think I’ve got her,” Mal said.
John resisted the urge to touch his ear as he spoke, trusting the sensitive microphone to catch his words.
“You’re in the system already?”
“Jo—Proctor, it’s open Wi-Fi. You could hack into it. Anyway, look in the south corner.”
John scanned the wrought iron tables. Almost a dozen people were scattered among them, reading or taking advantage of the free internet. Most were sitting alone, including one girl at a corner table. It was Ana Taylor. John recognized her from the briefing.