I’ve lived in London my whole life. I know the map of the tube system like the back of my hand, each different coloured branch permanently ingrained into my memory. But then again, I’m good at remembering things. I could visualise strings of numerical data with just one glance. It’s how I did so well in exams, back when I was in school, but no-one seemed to notice – definitely not my parents, anyhow. London is what I know best.
At least that’s what I thought before. The London Matthew Archer takes me through, in an inconspicuous black Vauxhall, is not the London I’ve seen so many times before. It’s dark and hidden and filled with stone buildings, all seemingly identical but all so different. It’s like the bricks are holding secrets. They’re desperate to be set free.
Something tells me that Matthew Archer is not going to be setting me free anytime soon.
I should never have got involved in the first place. Mum has always said that I’m too curious for my own good. I think being kidnapped by a spy for the British government is probably good evidence for this.
“Where are you taking me?” I ask, after what feels like a lifetime of silence. Matthew’s eyes don’t leave the road.
Matthew Archer is about ten years older than me, give or take, and has cropped blonde hair and an incredibly strong jawline. I can see his abs through his tight shirt. His expression is hard and unfaltering; like it has been since the first moment he laid eyes on me. His hand was tight on my shoulder when he practically manhandled me into the direction of the car, moments before a gang of armed officers stormed into the block.
Honestly, it’s been a bit of a blur. I remember some men, a device, some vague psychological theory absorbed from my recently sat A Level. Apparently I stopped an explosion.
“You’re meeting my boss,” Matthew states, “He’d quite like to talk to you.”
Oh bloody hell. This is not happening. How can this be happening? Stuff like this happens only in movies and Spooks reruns – what is Matthew Archer’s super spy boss going to do to me? Yeah, I stopped an explosion, but is it an offence to interfere – albeit accidentally – in a government operation? Am I going to be shipped off to some obscure Oceanian island and never heard about again?
I’m eighteen. I’ve not written a will. I want my best friend Alex to get my book collection. How will she get my book collection if I’m halfway across the world in a camp for government convicts? Mum will donate it to a bloody charity shop, I know she will…
“Oh,” I say quietly. My stomach is doing cartwheels. I’ve never, ever, been in this much trouble before, and it’s terrifying. “Right.”
Matthew breaks at a red light. I feel his gaze flicker over to me. “Do you know what’s happening, Daisy?”
It’s the first question he’s asked me. Before, it’s all been demands and orders, like he’s used to and comfortable giving them out. I shift uncomfortably in the leather seat. The car has that new car smell, like plastic, and it only aids my queasiness. I shake my head quickly.
“You singlehandedly destroyed a terror cell that had managed to go under our radar. If it had been down to us, your whole street would have been obliterated,” Matthew says with a vague hint of a smile on his face, “There are going to be a lot of people who will want to meet you.”
“Who are these people?” I ask, desperation seeking into my voice, “Who are you? Is this MI5?”
Matthew laughs, but it’s bitterly and without humour, like he’s in on a joke I don’t know about. “MI5 are even more useless than we are. No, I work for another group. MIX.”
MIX? Is he bullshitting me?
I raise an eyebrow. “I’ve never heard of MIX.”
“Most people haven’t. MI5 and MI6 are the public front. We do all the serious stuff. But apparently even we couldn’t find the bastards you managed to collapse,” Matthew murmurs, “We’re going to the headquarters now.”
Something about this gives me a really bad feeling. If civilians, like me, aren’t supposed to know about MIX – what will happen to me now he’s told me? And this is not taking into consideration that I now know Matthew’s identity and the location of his top secret headquarters. I am not going to walk away today free. I am not going back to my normal life.
“After this…” I start, pause, breathe, “After this, what happens to me? Can I go home? I’ve got to get my A Level results tomorrow, and…”
Matthew’s jaw clenches a little. It’s how I know that the next sentence is a lie. “Yeah. Of course.”
The way Matthew’s eyes quickly observe me for a moment seems to me like he’s noticed how young I actually am. Eighteen year olds don’t tend to get involved in destroying bomb threats. It’s like he’s realised that this spy life is one that he’s chosen and not one stumbled in by accident; my whole world could break.
Moments later the Vauxhall pulls in to an underground carpark. Matthew scans his identification card at the gate and the barrier buzzes open, letting us in. A man watches us from a Perspex booth to the side. When he catches eyes with me, he quickly dials a number into a mobile phone and presses it against his ear.
“He’s just letting upstairs know we’re here,” Matthew adds to admonish my worries. “Come on. Follow me.”
When I open the car door, Matthew is already halfway to the lift. I debate legging it, right there and then, but then I envisage helicopters hovering over my house at night and being snatched from my bed by the same armed officers I saw earlier. I’d got myself into this, now it was a matter of getting myself out of it.
Definitely easier said than done. MIX was not going to leave me, not yet.