The Rule of Many
Limos and luxury cars line the extensive circular driveway, stuffed with partygoers ready for the welcoming bash. Mrs. and Mr. Cross have already arrived with much fanfare from their son and his doting employees. I wonder if Ciro’s sisters are here.
I hear him get on the microphone, introducing his unwitting parents onto the stage of the overflowing banquet hall, the governor of Alberta and the mayor of Calgary looking on from the front row.
Everything’s falling nicely into place. If only the man of the hour would show.
I look at my watch: 7:30 p.m. He’s late. Ava’s knee bounces furiously, as if she can shake out her anxiety.
“He’ll come,” I say.
From our hideout in the corner of the foyer, shadowed and easily overlooked, we have the best seats in the house. A perfect vantage point to see and be unseen. Ava scans the budding festivities through the glass walls on our left. I keep my eyes on the glass windows straight ahead, seeing past the dazzling flares from the cars’ headlights, holding out for the first glimpse of the president.
A string quartet begins to play, and an electric energy pulsates through the hotel, enlivening the crowd around us with a giddy exhilaration, and I can’t help but feel it too. Eager, I spring to my feet. I pace up and down our tucked-away corner, checking the time, watching Emery from across the room, waiting on her signal.
“Do you hear that?” Ava asks. She stares up at the ceiling. I move beside her as we listen to the muffled roar of whirling blades slicing the air somewhere above the building.
“A helicopter,” Ava says.
We look to Emery, who stands near the entrance, her gaze locked skyward. Guests file past as she removes a headscarf from her pocket, drapes the silk over her distinctive curls, and pulls it into a tight knot at the back of her neck. She folds her right arm over her chest, our cue to move.
I feel, rather than see, Barend steal into place behind us, our long shadow, as we push to the end of the foyer. Pawel detaches himself from the crowd and crosses our path as he follows Emery out the front door. “Lots of luck,” he whispers earnestly. Like luck has anything to do with it. It’s all up to us.
Our target is the oversized clock that consumes the entire wall alongside the vacant concierge desk. Ava stops before the number six, and we slip behind a false door and stride side by side down an empty staff hallway. Three right turns, two left, a final door, and we’re outside.
There are no lights behind the hotel and no people. The night is chilly and moonless, but we find the footpath we were directed to take and make our silent way to the small grove of trees just twenty yards out.
Ten paces in, Ava and I turn from the path and weave through the evergreens until we spot the narrow clearing that is to be our stage. We position ourselves in its center, shoulder to shoulder, and wait. Somewhere to our right, concealed within the trees and darkness, Barend stands guard.
When told of the plan, Emery immediately authorized the private rendezvous. She knows pleading our case face-to-face with the president is the only way. Cameras and screens provide a barrier, Emery said. The media paints you solely as American rebels. Let him see how human you are. With Pawel at her side, Emery is to meet and escort the president here, while Ciro entertains his parents and guests, keeping them safely ignorant inside the banquet hall.
The minutes tick off, and Ava starts to shiver from either the cold or nerves. Or is that me shivering? Ava and I brought no weapons with us, to show good faith. No guns, no knives. Just us, with our naked conviction and hope.
This could be our last stop, a final end to the endless chase. A place to plan and plot and devise our crucial counterattack.
Ava nudges me with a sharp elbow. She points to the trees in front of us. Two distinct shapes emerge, a faint silhouette floating behind.
“Ready?” I whisper needlessly. Ava tightens her jaw, and I ball my hands into white-knuckled fists. I take a big gulp of air and exhale slowly. My breath comes out in swirling smoke, reminding me of a dragon. There’s a fire inside me, and suddenly I feel warm and calm. One look from Ava and I know she feels it too.
The outlines become faces and bodies. Emery appears first, then President Moore, with Pawel a few steps behind. I stare at Moore, transfixed, my eyes glued to the man who can grant us refuge.
He stumbles forward, as if his own eyes have not yet adjusted to the dark. I search his every feature, looking for any hint of surprise, or shock, or understanding. But his face, though startlingly attractive in the starlight, is blank. Indifferent.
“President Moore,” Emery says, “this is Ava and Mira Goodwin.” He looks at us cross-eyed, his round eyes squinting as he takes us in. We all stand motionless, awaiting his response.
“You don’t look identical to me,” the president finally states, his thin voice magnified in the still night air. “One of you’s slightly taller, the other rounder.”
The leader of the free world opens with an insult. My first reaction is to defend my identicalness. Surprising, when all I’ve ever wanted is to be seen as different from Ava.
“Sir—” Ava and I speak at the same time.
The president laughs. “Ah, there it is.” The ground spins as he turns to leave. “This conversation will be moved to a different setting. Just the twins and me.”
Barend detaches from the shadows. Pawel and Emery enclose my sister and me. Ava grabs my arm, her grip tight enough to bruise.
“We do not agree to any change—” Emery starts, but Moore shouts over her.
Everything shatters, all plans and expectations smashed to pieces.
A gunshot rings out, then two more.
“Run!” Emery yells.
The last thing I see is Ava’s face, twisted in fear and fury.
Then something covers my eyes. My mouth.
I’m thrown over a bulky shoulder, the deafening sounds of a helicopter growing louder with every footfall. With every one of my muffled screams.
I’m shoved against something solid. I reach out, arms flailing, but there’s no one beside me. Ava.
I feel the chopper lift into the sky. Two spinning blades taking me higher and higher away from Common ground.
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