I stared at her, and comprehension dawned on me. “You?” asked. “Seriously?”

Mrs. McCall came closer. “I know, I know,” she said. “Nobody ever suspects the soccer mom.”

It was when she said the word mom that my brain connected the dots and I thought about Kiki McCall and the fact that more than anything, she wanted to make varsity. There was something else, too. Something from my dream the night before, or maybe something from my first day on the Squad. Or maybe both.

“When you went to see Karen, I thought you’d figure it out,” Mrs. McCall continued.

“Karen?”

“Karen Madden. Oh, I suppose her last name is Camden now. It’s so hard to keep these things straight.”

The PTA president was planning to take me out, and here she was talking about Brooke’s mom? And then I remembered the last piece of information about Kiki. She wasn’t a very good cheerleader, and she clearly wasn’t cut out for espionage, but the reason she’d been strongly considered for the Squad was that she, like Brooke, was a legacy.

And that meant that once upon a time, her mother had been on a Squad.

That morning, I’d tried to convince the others that a rogue agent had tagged me, that the very same rogue agent had planted the bomb in Kann’s car and stolen the biotechnological weapon right out from underneath us at Ross’s office.

“You’re the rogue operative,” I said. “You’re the one who planted the chip on me.” I’d always thought that this woman had no respect for personal space, but really, she’d had ulterior motives. “You stole the nanobots and blew up the car.”

“I was trying to make things easy,” she replied. “At first, I thought I could scare you off, but the bomb didn’t seem to bother you much once you regained consciousness. I thought that when I crashed your retrieval mission, the other girls would realize they’d made a mistake and that you were never cut out for any of this.” She sighed. “And I thought for sure that when they discovered that you’d been tagged, they’d report it and you’d be gone, but no. They didn’t, did they? If they had, you wouldn’t be in school today.” She blew a wisp of hair out of her face. “It’s the darnedest thing.”

Half of me thought I should just take her out then and there. She might have been trained as an operative back in the day, but she was old and I was young, and I was willing to bet a lot of money that she couldn’t move like I could. There weren’t very many people who could.

“Nuh-uh-uh,” Joanne McCall said, making a tsking sound with her tongue. She pulled something out of her pocket, and I recognized the silver box in her hands. “You take so much as a single step toward me, and I’ll let these little darlings do their thing. I had a piece of your hair on file, you know. All that lovely DNA. So very convenient. I was so glad I’d gotten a hold of a sample that first day, when I saw you in the mall.”

“How can you…I thought…Anthony…”

“The TCI?” The fact that she used the acronym freaked me out. “I needed a diversion, and he was more than willing to buy a decoy. That boy is a bit slow. I knew he was bugged, and I figured you girls were listening, and that orders or no orders, you wouldn’t be able to resist saving the day.” She sighed nostalgically. “We never were.”

This was just freaking unbelievable. The president of the PTA was a former agent who’d been stalking me for weeks. She’d duped Anthony into believing he had the actual weapon, assuming that we’d be listening, but instead, she’d tricked Amelia, who must have replaced our bug with one of her own. If Amelia hadn’t come to me, hadn’t issued her little challenge, Mrs. McCall’s decoy wouldn’t have worked, and I wouldn’t be here now, by myself, with a mad-woman.

Her words echoed in my mind, and I wished I wasn’t processing them as fast as I was. She had my DNA, she had the nanobots, and she was saying that I wasn’t going to be around to enjoy the game on Friday.

It didn’t take someone with my mathematical prowess to finish the equation.

She was actually going to kill me. Psycho Mom was actually going to kill me. Again, I say: This was freaking unbelievable.

I had to keep her talking long enough to come up with another plan. There had to be a way out. She couldn’t just use a prototype biotechnological weapon to kill me in Bayport High’s practice gym. Well, she could, but I certainly wasn’t going to let her.

If I had a choice.

So I did the only thing I could do to keep her talking. I asked a question I already knew the answer to, even though I really didn’t want to hear her talking about it.

“Why?”

She giggled then, a high-pitched sound that made me realize just how crazy she really was. “If you have to ask that, Toby, you really don’t belong on the Squad. I knew that, of course, but still, I thought you’d be brighter than this. I guess I give those other girls too much credit.”

Just keep talking, I urged her silently, as I examined the exits in the room and the distance between us, trying to gauge whether or not I could make a run for it or knock the container from her hands before she could flip the lid.

“And that’s why this has to get so ugly,” Mrs. McCall sighed. “Because those girls chose you, and the government signed off on it, even though they knew that I’d been prepping my Kiki for this her whole life. She didn’t know why, of course. She’s a sensitive girl, and she wasn’t ready to learn, but she would have been ready if they’d picked her. I worked too hard and too long to make her ready to just sit back and let them pick somebody like you.”

My mom’s spiel about the mother who’d hired the assassin didn’t seem quite as outlandish anymore. In fact, compared to the situation at hand, it seemed almost reasonable. I mean, that mom hired an assassin. This mom was playing assassin herself—with stolen technology to boot.

If I got out of this alive, I was never going to dismiss one of my mom’s random stories ever, ever again.

“Once you’re gone, the others will see. They’ll have to give the tenth spot to Kiki. She’ll be wonderful, you know. She has to be.”

I thought of poor, clumsy Kiki, whose only distinguishing characteristic was the fact that she was Hayley’s lapdog. She’d never make the Squad. I thought about telling Mrs. McCall that, but one look at her crazy eyes told me that such a comment might send her right off the deep end.

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