Authors: Greg Logsted
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 2009 by Greg Logsted
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
ALADDIN and related logo are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Alibi Junior High / by Greg Logsted.—1st Aladdin ed.
Summary: After thirteen-year-old Cody and his father, an undercover agent, are nearly killed, Cody moves in with his aunt in Connecticut, where he is helped with his adjustment to the trials of attending public school for the first time and investigating a threat in nearby woods by a wounded Iraq War veteran.
[1. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 2. Junior high schools—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction. 4. Aunts—Fiction. 5. Veterans—Fiction. 6. Spies—Fiction. 7. Connecticut—Fiction.] I. Title.
Visit us on the Web:
To Lauren and Jackie,
because once is not enough
I’d like to offer a huge thank-you to my editor, Liesa Abrams, for all of her help and support. She’s the best. And to my agent, Pamela Harty, for keeping her hands firmly on the wheel. I hate that kind of driving. Special thanks to Andrea Schicke Hirsch, Robert Mayette, and Lauren Catherine for all their patience and advice. You guys rock! Thank you, Jackie Logsted, for being my little girl. Daddy loves you. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for my wife, Lauren Baratz-Logsted. She’s an original. I don’t know what I would do without her help, guidance, and inspiration. There’s nobody I’d rather have by my side.
I hate airports.
I’ve been in airports all over the world, but they’re basically all the same. Places of painful partings and awkward greetings.
The door opens and I follow the others off the plane, through the skywalk and into the terminal. I scan the room, sizing up the security, looking for emergency exits, and watching for possible hostiles. Nothing seems out of the ordinary but I make a few mental notes. There are eight people worth watching carefully, five to keep an eye on, and I remind myself that the best always blend in so I don’t dismiss anyone.
I’m tired. I’ve been traveling for a week, slicing up my time like an apple. Bouncing from one country to another, one city to another. Switching between planes, trains, boats, and buses.
Living on soda and candy bars. Changing clothes and IDs while trying my best to fit in, to not be noticeable, to never do anything that would make people remember me.
I’ve been following my dad’s prescribed route to Connecticut—a route he guarantees will make me disappear. I’m falling off the map, trying my best to become the invisible boy.
I pass through baggage pickup without stopping. Everything requires that I move quickly; my dad and I agreed that a small carry-on and a garment bag was all I really needed.
I slow down and wait until I see a family passing through security together. I blend in with them. The guard seems sleepy; I doubt he’ll remember me.
There are people all around me greeting passengers. Everyone’s hugging and crying, taking pictures, shaking hands and slapping backs. The noise level keeps getting higher. It’s one huge, emotional paper shredder.
I look around the room and start to worry again. My dad said he trusts her more than anybody, but what if she doesn’t show up? What if something’s happened to her? What if I don’t recognize her? It’s been a while since I last saw her, and people can change.
There’s a woman by the door. She seems about right: late thirties, medium height, attractive, shoulder-length brown hair, obviously looking for someone. She’s also wearing a New York Yankees cap so there’s a part of me that actually hopes it’s
her. Then I
get a clear look at her face and the memories come flooding back.
I walk up to her. “Aunt Jenny?”
She smiles and throws her arms around me. She seems very excited to see me. I’m not sure if I should hug her back so I just keep my arms at my sides. After a while she stops hugging me and places her hands on my shoulders, studying my face.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you again. Wow, you look so different. I’m glad you saw me first. It would have taken me a while to recognize you. I haven’t seen you in about four years.”
“Three years and seven months.”
“Um, right. Well.” She gives me another big smile. “Welcome to Connecticut!”
“Do you have any bags?”
I hold them up.
She looks surprised. “That’s it? That’s all you have?”
She does a little raise of her eyebrow along with a slight shrug. “Well, okay, I guess we can just pick you up some stuff. Your dad certainly sent me more than enough money. You don’t need a collection of Rolex watches, do you?”
“That was a joke.”
She looks at me and lets out a short sigh. She seems uncomfortable. “Well, yes, okay. I guess we should get going, right? Do you need anything before we hit the road? Something to eat? Bathroom?”
I look at her cap and remember that day at the café.
“I hate the Yankees.”
Her head snaps back. “Okay…it’s really just a cap; I’m not a fan or anything. I just wear it to keep my hair out of my face when I drive. Do you want me to…get rid of it?”
I know I should say no but I keep thinking about the waitress in Santiago, the blood, the smoke, the cap still stuck on her lifeless head. If I have to watch Aunt Jenny walking around every day with that cap on, I think I’ll go insane.
Something inside of me feels like it’s melting, dissolving, collecting on the floor, and spreading out around me. I let out the word before I have time to pull it back in.
She just stares at me. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything about the cap. Then she starts to laugh, a strange and different sort of laugh. Not like when you laugh during a movie, more like when you lock your keys in the car while it’s running and the music is jacked up to the max.
“Fine.” She tosses the cap into a nearby garbage can. “What do you say we hit the road?”
I follow her, walking slowly, scanning everything around me. It’s great to finally be outside but I find the vastness of the parking lot disturbing. There’s so much space for people to hide in, there’s so much activity.
After walking together in silence for a while it starts to feel very suffocating. I really should try to communicate. That’s what people do in these situations, right? I clear my throat and say the first thing I can think of.
“Aunt Jenny Williams, I want to thank you for meeting me at the airport.”
She looks at me for a while. I’m beginning to think I said something wrong. She smiles, but it’s a sad smile. “You’re welcome, and just call me Jenny, or you can call me Aunt Jenny if you want, okay?”
“Okay. I just found out you were my real aunt last week.”
She stops walking and looks at me. “Really? Your dad never told you that I was your mother’s sister before?”
Her eyebrows seem to be trying to reach all the way up to her hairline. “Never? Even when I came to visit?”
“No—he wants me to call all his girlfriends Aunt This or Aunt That. I just thought you were one of his girlfriends.”
We start to walk again but I feel a shifting in her mood. She’s shaking her head; something has crept under her smiling face.
She raises her chin. “Well, here’s my car, Cody.”
It’s a red Jeep Wrangler. A questionable choice for transportation, as it lacks speed, mobility, and protection, although it’s a capable off-road and poor-weather vehicle. The color, of course, is totally wrong. We might as well just drive around all day sending up flares.
She opens the door for me. I toss my bags in the back and buckle myself into the front passenger seat. The radio starts when she turns over the engine; it’s set to a pop music station. My dad only listens to opera. His favorite is definitely
The Barber of Seville
but I’m not sure, I think I prefer
We pay the parking fee and after a few short turns we’re heading south on the interstate. The faster we drive the louder she turns up the music. I don’t know why but the noise reminds me of the café. Is that how it’s going to be from now on? Why can’t the past stay where it belongs?
I feel like we’re getting boxed in. We’re surrounded by cars and trucks. They’re too close—they could do anything to us. It’s making me nervous. I can feel the sweat starting to flow down my forehead; my heart’s pounding, it’s getting hard to breathe. I turn to Jenny and attempt to talk over the music. My voice comes out sounding desperate, pleading, like I’m drowning, calling out for help.
“Are you naked?”
She jumps and gives me a puzzled, slightly horrified look. “Am I what?”
“Naked. You know, are you carrying?”
“Do you have a weapon?”
Her eyes open wide for a moment and then she actually starts to laugh. “Cody, I don’t have a gun. I don’t believe in them.”
My voice rises even higher. “What do you mean, you
don’t believe in guns
? That’s like saying you don’t believe in knives and forks.”
I can see her knuckles growing whiter as she tightens her grip on the steering wheel. She snaps, “Calm down. Statistics show that if you have a gun in your house it’s much more likely that it will be used against you or a member of your family.”
I moan and slouch lower into my seat. I’m doomed. What was my dad thinking, sending me here? Last week I didn’t even know I had an Aunt Jenny. Now I’m supposed to live with her and trust her with my life? I can feel everything slipping away from me.
“You do know what’s happened to me, don’t you? You know they’re after me, right? Shouldn’t you have a gun?”
Jenny looks at me. Her hair is whipping around her face. I guess she really did need the cap for driving. She turns down the music. Her voice softens. “Cody, I work with computers and numbers, not guns, but your dad trusts me. Now you’re just going to have to trust me, too.” She takes one hand off the steering wheel, tucks her hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve had a rough time. I know you’re scared, but your dad and I are
sure you’ll be safe here. I wouldn’t have agreed to this if I didn’t think you’d be safe. Remember, he works for the CIA. If anyone knows how to hide people, it’s him. And besides, they’re looking for him, not you.”
I ease back into my seat. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling myself for the last few days. He wouldn’t send me here if he didn’t think I’d be completely safe. But I still don’t understand why I couldn’t have helped him. We’ve always been a team, we’ve always watched each other’s backs. It’s what we do.
“You look tired. You can take a nap if you want. We still have another forty-five minutes before we’re home.”
I tell her I’m fine and that I don’t need a nap, but even as the words leave my mouth I can feel my eyes closing shut. I fight it for a while, but then the radio starts fading into that soft mist of sleep.
It’s the same dream I’ve been having for two weeks. We’re back in Santiago; it’s the morning that changed my world.
My dad and I are both in a great mood, and we’re having breakfast at this small café we’ve been going to a lot. I like it more than my dad does. The food’s just okay but I love sitting outside under the large awning and watching everyone walk by. The friendly waitresses are beautiful and there’s always someone playing guitar in the corner.
We’re sitting at a table outside going over some work together,
comparing notes, maps, and trying to piece together the schedule of our prospect. We’ve been following him for a couple weeks, and between the two of us we have his whole routine just about nailed down. We’ve even found openings for two possible appointments next week.
We’re part of what my dad calls “the advance team.” We’re sent ahead of the main team to put together a file on someone the CIA finds to be dangerous. My dad says our team is so secret, very few people even know we exist.
I’ve grown to like this kind of paperwork. It’s a welcome relief from the constant karate, weapons drills, and homeschooling he puts me through every day.
My dad slaps me on the back and suggests we take a break for the rest of the day, maybe head out to Valle Nevado for some skiing if I think I can keep up with him.
The waitress stops by our table to refill my dad’s coffee. She’s wearing a New York Yankees cap, which seems very odd to me—a Yankees cap so far from home. She gives me a smile and a quick wink. It’s shaping up to be a great day.
I turn to my dad, intending to ask him if he wants to rent skis in town or at the mountain, but I stop. Something’s wrong. He’s staring at this small blue car that just pulled up in front of the café.
I can see why my father’s looking at the car; there’s something just not right about the way the driver’s acting. He’s moving too quickly, too unevenly—he seems very nervous. He glances our way, notices we’re looking at him, and then reaches under the front seat. At first
I think he’s going for a gun but when he comes up empty-handed I relax a little.
He bolts from the car and races across the street; for a large man he moves quickly, but there’s something odd about the way he runs. A car slams on its brakes and nearly hits him; he slides across its hood, lands on his feet, and continues to run. I’m watching but it’s just not making sense to me. It’s just not sinking in, it’s like watching a foreign film with the subtitles in a different language, too.
My dad pulls me to my feet and yells, “Go! Go! Go!” He pushes me through the front door into the restaurant. I plow into a waitress; her plates shower down all around us. I just keep running, my dad’s right behind me, pushing me to go faster, yelling for me to head for the back door.
I hear two pops, that’s it, just,
My dad shouts, “Get down!” and throws me to the floor, covering me with his body. My face is pressed hard against the cold tile.
The blast is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. A flash and a burst of light and heat, followed by an unbelievable roar. I hear glass breaking, people screaming, and objects crashing all around us. I feel like I’m tumbling and twisting into a dark, murky tunnel.
I’m not sure how long I float in this distant land of shapeless darkness. When I open my eyes it’s raining. I smell smoke and burnt flesh, like a forgotten barbeque. I can’t hear anything except this high-pitched ringing. I don’t know where I am or why I’m lying on my back in the rain.
It slowly comes back to me; all the pieces sluggishly start sliding
themselves together. I call out for my dad but can’t hear anything over the ringing in my ears.
I realize the rain is a sprinkler system.
There’s someone lying next to me. I look over and see the waitress who had winked at me. Her lifeless eyes are now permanently opened wide and there’s a large piece of metal sticking out of the center of her chest. The Yankees cap is still on her head, but it’s now soaked in blood and almost unrecognizable.
There’s an arm near me, just an arm, and it has a wedding band on the ring finger. I pick my head up and look around at what’s left of the restaurant. There’s blood and bodies all around me. I start to scream but it’s a silent scream. All I can hear is the ringing.