Jan 10 2017 11:00am
You Don’t Know My Name: New Excerpt
Find out if you are ready to join the Black Angels in the captivating and emotional page-turner, You Don't Know My Name, from debut novelist Kristen Orlando (available January 10, 2017).
Fighter, Faker, Student, Spy.
Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan.
Now Reagan has to decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she's always wanted? And does she even have a choice at all?
The numbers on my phone stare back at me. Thirty more minutes of target practice before I can start my homework. I take a breath and run the back of my hand across my forehead. It’s still damp with sweat from my run and the hour of Krav Maga with Mom. I shake out my arms. The exhilarating buzz that comes from fighting is starting its slow leak from my veins as I stand alone in the silent shooting range.
My Glock 22 pistol feels heavy in my hands tonight. My muscles must be more tired than my brain is registering. I aim my gun at the dummy target and squeeze the trigger.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Two shots to the heart, one shot to the head.
“Reagan. Reagan.” I hear my father’s muffled voice. I remove my bulky black earphones.
“Yeah?” I call back.
“Get in the panic room,” he screams. I open my mouth to ask if this is another one of his many drills but before the words can escape my lips, the secret door that leads to our basement slams shut so hard, I jump. My parents’ heavy footsteps bounding down the hardwood stairs tell me this is not a joke. This is not a fake break-in or drill. They don’t have to say another word. I feel my stomach drop. My body moves without me telling it what to do. I tuck the gun into the back of my pants as I sprint into the weapons room, tear open a metal cupboard, and grab two assault rifles off the shelf.
Just in case.
“Get in,” Mom calls from the doorway of the panic room.
“Hang on, I’m just grabbing some—”
“Reagan, there’s no time!” There is a tightness and urgency in her voice I’m not used to hearing. She’s normally the picture of calm. Grace, even. The flash of fear in her eyes makes my knees momentarily weak. I slam the metal cupboard and the crushing sound of metal on metal echoes off the walls. I tuck the guns under my arms and run into the small panic room. As soon as I step inside, Dad slams the heavy steel door shut. My eyes widen as he frantically punches in a six-digit code. The weighty click of the steel beams locking into place makes my heart race.
“Mom, what’s going on?” I ask and slide the guns onto the concrete floor.
I wait for her answer but she’s too focused on switching on all the security camera monitors built into the steel and concrete. I lean my back against the wall. My exposed skin bristles against the cold concrete and the gun I tucked into my pants digs into my spine. Ouch. I reach around my body and pull it from my waistband. I hold the warm steel in my cold hands, still waiting for an explanation.
“What’s happening?” I ask again. We never use this panic room. Ever. It was built for those code-blue-emergency moments that we’ve practiced many times but never had. Until now, I search their faces for an answer, for anything, really. They are stone-faced, staring up at the monitors, their bodies frozen. I follow their eyes. And then I see him. Air catches in my lungs as a man, dressed all in black, walks across my dimly lit family room.
“Oh my God,” I whisper. I stare up at the security cameras as the stranger with long dark hair and high cheekbones walks down the hallway and into the kitchen, his arms outstretched, a pistol in his hand, his finger on the trigger.
“It’s him. I know it’s one of his guys,” Mom says.
“It’s who?” I ask. My voice is sharp and high.
“Not now, Reagan,” Dad answers.
I open my mouth to protest, then close it. I lay my pistol at my feet and dig my fingers into my hip bones. I know I’m not supposed to ask questions, but the worried lines on their faces are making me sick. I should be used to being kept in the dark by now but I still hate it. “For your own good,” they always say. “For your safety.” But I’ve never been safe. Being their daughter makes me a target. I know their lives are dangerous. The work they do is dangerous. Their enemies would gun me down and kill me in broad daylight without giving it a second thought.
Mom and Dad do their best to ease my mind but I don’t know of too many other sixteen-year-olds who have weapons stashed in hiding spots outside of school. Who sleep with knives taped to their headboards or know ten different ways to break someone’s neck. Looking over my shoulder will be my life and I guess I’m okay with that. I just wish they’d stop leaving me in the dark; stop pretending like no one can hurt me.
The satellite phone rings, cutting the tense silence inside the cramped bunker. Dad picks it up.
“Hello?” he says. I hear a man’s voice on the other end. “Yes, he’s in. I heard glass break before we got inside the garage. It looks like he’s alone.” My father pauses. I take a half a step closer to him, straining to hear the man on the other end. I can only make out a few words. Gun. Team. Kidnap. Threat. Execute. I step back, close my eyes, and lean against the icy wall. My fingers feel for the double-heart charm and press it between my thumb and index fingers, trying to find my breath. For years, my parents have been training me to deal with situations just like this. I know what I’m supposed to do. The trained fighter in me wants to run out of the panic room and blow this guy’s head off. But a fraction of me—the terrified, anxious girl I push away—she’s hoping this is all just a bad dream.
“Okay. All right,” my father says into the phone, his voice sharp.
“Who’s on the phone?” I whisper to Mom.
“Someone at CORE,” she whispers back, never taking her eyes off the security cameras as the hitman makes his way through the second floor, searching for us in bedroom after bedroom.
“They said stand by,” Dad says, hanging up the satellite phone. “Backup is on the way. They’re monitoring the situation from headquarters.”
“How are they going to help all the way in DC?” I ask, anxiety gripping my vocal cords and altering the sound of my voice.
“It’s going to be okay, Reagan,” Mom says, turning around and looking at me for the first time since Dad locked the panic room door. She puts a hand on my shoulder. Her green eyes are fierce and focused, but her warm touch softens me somehow. It’s like she can feel the traces of fear I’m struggling to contain radiate from my body. I reach up and grab her hand. She takes my fingers in her cold palm, squeezes them, and for a moment, I forget about the panic room and loaded guns and the hitman that’s roaming our house. For just one second, I feel safe.
“They’re here,” Dad says. I look up at the exterior security cameras as a black SUV pulls down our street, turning off its headlights as it creeps closer to our house.
“Who’s there?” I ask, my voice dropping to a near whisper.
“Our Black Angel watchers,” Mom answers and turns her attention back to the security cameras. A man and woman climb out of the car, dressed all in black. As the woman moves closer to the garage, I recognize her walk. Aunt Samantha. The Black Angel watcher who’s protected me my entire life. When Mom and Dad would disappear on missions, Aunt Samantha was there to take care of me. When I was younger, I thought she was just my nanny. But now I know she’s an intel specialist for CORE, was awarded the Medal of Valor by the president during her years in the army, and can shoot like no one I’ve ever seen.
“I’m going after him,” Mom says, pulling off her red sweater, revealing a black tank top underneath. Her arms are chiseled and her stomach is perfectly flat, the result of five hundred pushups a day for the last twenty years.
“No, I’ll go,” my father replies.
“No. You stay here with Reagan.”
“I want to go, too,” I say, adrenaline pumping through my veins.
“Absolutely not, Reagan,” Mom replies. “Both of you stay here.”
“Elizabeth, honestly, it could be…”
“Jonathan, this is not up for debate,” Mom snaps and spins around, looking back up at the ten different security cameras. “Where did he go?” she asks just as the stranger’s boots pound on the floor above our heads, sending our eyes to the ceiling. We stare up until the sound of his feet fade away. We turn back to the security cameras in time to see the hitman open the garage door, bound down the steps, and stand in front of our large tool chest. But it’s not really a tool chest. It’s the secret door to our basement. I feel Dad’s body tense as the hitman pulls on the large steel handles, but the door is locked tight, only accessible by a six-digit code that changes every month.
My mouth drops but before I can say another word, Dad picks up the phone and pushes a few buttons. Before the voice on the other end even says hello, Dad is yelling. “He’s at the basement door, Thomas—how the hell does he know about that? Only someone on the inside could possibly know that type of high-security detail.” A voice says something on the other end of the phone. “Well, you better figure out how he got that intel, and then you put the bastard who gave it to him behind bars for life, you understand me?”
Dad slams down the phone before Thomas can answer.
Mom turns around and holds out her palm. “Reagan, give me your gun.” Her eyes are sharp and every muscle in her face is tight. I’ve watched my parents shoot and practice Krav Maga, jujitsu, and Muay Thai for years. But I’ve never actually seen them use their skills. I lean down and slowly pick my favorite pistol off the floor. I carefully place the gun in her open hand.
“Please be careful,” I say, the words barely escaping my tight throat. She leans in and kisses me on the cheek.
“I’ll be fine,” she says, giving me a small smile. As she turns and reaches for the door, a million pins prick my skin and I can’t feel my hands or my feet or my legs. I drop my head as she punches in the six-digit code. The steel beams unlock and I look up to capture what I’m afraid could be my final image of her.
I’ve been doing that my entire life. Before they go off on missions, I try to take in every piece of them. The way my dad’s strong hands curve around his favorite coffee cup. The way my mom carefully brushes stray pieces of her blond hair out of her eyes. The feeling she leaves on my cheek when she kisses me or the tightness of Dad’s hugs. I freeze that moment, hold it tight and file it away. But this time, she’s already gone.
Dad slams the panic room door and punches in the code again. The steel beams lock back into place. I watch the security cameras as Mom walks across the martial arts room, then slips out the escape route in the corner of the shooting range, softly closing the metal door behind her. Dad picks up the satellite phone and punches in another number. I hear a female voice pick up on the other side.
“Sam, stand by,” Dad barks. “Elizabeth is on her way out. She’s on her own so watch her back.”
He slams down the phone without waiting for a reply. I look up at him. His jaw is clenched. He’s trying to look calm, but his wide, wild eyes give him away. He’s almost as panicked as I am. He frantically searches the security cameras for my mother. I look back at the screens in time to see Mom slip out the secret side door of the house and run to meet the Black Angels standing in our driveway, my gun glistening in her hand.
Dad and I watch in deafening silence as the hitman pulls and pulls on the steel doors. He flips open the keypad, typing in random numbers with his middle finger. I lower my head for a moment and beg. Please, God, please don’t let him have the right number. I look back up and search the security cameras for Mom. She’s gone inside the house while the other Black Angels creep to the side garage door near the backyard. My heart is beating so loud, it’s the only thing I hear as I watch Mom reach the mudroom, pull her gun up to her chest, and pause at the garage door. My body starts to tingle again as I watch the team outside rip open the side door and point their guns straight at the hitman’s head.
“Get down on the ground,” a deep voice calls out on the security camera. The hitman turns around, points his weapon at the two Black Angel watches, and fires. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Aunt Sam dives behind one of our SUVs as the hitman reaches in his pocket to reload. But before he can shove the magazine into his pistol, Mom has snuck out the garage door and is sprinting up behind him.
“Mom,” I scream and step toward the security cameras. Dad pulls at my shoulders as Mom grabs the hitman’s arm and slams it into her knee, knocking the gun and ammunition out of his hand. Dad’s grip tightens as she tucks her leg beneath his. I know that move. Mom taught me that move. Using all her strength, she flips him flat on his back. I hear the crack of his skull on the cold, hard, cement and his breath knock from his chest. He desperately gasps for new air as Mom pushed the barrel of my gun into his forehead.
“Who sent you?” I hear her ask. The hitman says nothing, just grunts in pain. “Who sent you?” she says again, her voice rising. She digs the gun into his right temple. He slowly lifts his head off the garage floor and looks up at my mother. He says nothing as they stare into each other’s eyes. Just when I think he’s about to give up the puppeteer pulling his strings, he spits in her face. Air pulls from my lungs. My eyes widen as Mom raises the gun into the air. Dad’s hand tightens on my shoulders again. Halfway up, she stops. She glances up at the security camera, remembers I’m watching, and returns the barrel of the gun to his temple.
“You’re not even worth it,” she hisses. Aunt Sam and the other Black Angel watcher search his body for weapons as my mother holds him down, her knee in the center of his chest. A murderous tool kit of pistols, knives, ammunition, and ropes are taken out of his pockets and thrown to the ground.
The satellite phone rings again.
“They got him,” Dad says. I can hear Thomas on the other end. “No. No. We need him alive. Tell them to take him back to Langley. We need to find out how he knows. How he found us.”
I look back up at the security cameras. Mom is gone. Aunt Sam is tying the hitman up with zip ties. They yank him to his feet. His cracked skull is bleeding. Trickles of blood rush down his forehead, into his eyes, and across his cheeks. They hold him by both arms, guns, pointed at his head. He doesn’t resist. He just hangs his head. He probably knows what will happen next. They grips his arms tight, walk him outside to their SUV, throw him inside, and are gone.
“Thomas, I can’t believe this happened again. Intelligence thinks they’ve been watching us for almost a month. I don’t understand how he got inside this house. You’ve got to put us somewhere safer. My family could have died tonight.” Dad’s voice rises. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “No, I’ll be there in the morning. I want to talk to him myself. We’re all coming, so don’t send protection. See you in a few hours.”
“What do you mean we’re all coming?” I ask as he hangs up the phone.
“We’ve got to go to DC tonight,” he answers, his fingers quickly punching in the code. The steel beams unlock and the door opens. “Grab your go-bag. We’re not coming back here.”
I stand frozen in the panic room. We’re not coming back? No. Not again. I watch him, dazed, as he walks away from me. I force my body to chase after him into the weapons room. “What? Why?”
“They know where we are,” he answers sternly without turning around.
“But I just started the school year and I actually like the girls in my class and I have a precalculus test on Monday and …” I babble. Words are just tumbling out of my mouth. I’m not even sure what I’m saying.
“Reagan, this is not negotiable.” He turns around and shouts in my face. I stop in my tracks and close my open mouth, surprised by his anger. He raises his arm, pointing toward the panic room. “Were we even in the same room? Did you not just see what happened? If he hadn’t tripped the alarms on the property, we’d be dead right now. We’re not safe in Philadelphia anymore. He’s just one assassin. If they know where we are, they’ll send twenty more before morning. I’m not going to stay here and watch my family die. We have to leave. Tonight!”
I hold on to the air in my chest until my lungs burn. Philadelphia was just starting to feel like home. And there they go again, ripping me away from my friends and my school and the life I was building here. The worst part is, I’ll never get to say good-bye. No farewell party. No note. No explanation. I’ll just disappear. Like all the times before.
I’m so sick of this. We’ve moved so many times, I’m losing count. Seven times? Eight times? I was just starting to feel a sense of normalcy here but saying those words out loud will just piss Dad off. I’ll be reminded that I’m not normal. That I have a gift. That I was born to do this. It’s a phrase I’ve heard so many times, I’ve memorized my parents’ inflection and the way they always emphasize the word born. I was born to be one of them. A Black Angel.
I dig my nails into the palms of my hands and watch helplessly as Dad climbs the back staircase. His pounding footsteps tell me this conversation is over. We’re leaving. And there is nothing more I can say.
Copyright © 2017 Kristen Orlando.
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Kristen Orlando’s life is writing, and she has been lucky enough to make it her living, first as a television producer, then as a marketer and now as a novelist. Kristen graduated with a B.A. in English literature from Kenyon College. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with the other great love of her life, Michael. You Don’t Know My Name is her debut novel.