Sarah Beth Durst

Excerpt from Spy Ring

Chapter One

The attic was perfect for spying.

Except for all the spiders. And the dust. Wrinkling her nose, Rachel tried not to sneeze for the zillionth time, but it still slipped out. Aah-choo!

"Sorry," she whispered to Joon. "Real spies don't sneeze on missions."

"Sure they do," Joon whispered back. "They just have partners with tissues." He dug into his backpack and tossed her a tissue.

"Thanks." She wiped her nose, then crammed the used tissue into her pocket.

Joon always came prepared for everything from allergies to quicksand. Well, maybe not quicksand. There weren't many quicksand emergencies on Long Island. Which is too bad, Rachel thought, because that would be an amazing excuse for being late to school. "Sorry, quicksand ate my bus." Certain Joon would laugh at that, she whispered, "Hey--"

Below them, the stairs creaked.

He signaled to her with a finger to the ear, their special signal for "quiet." She signaled back with a finger to her nose, which meant she understood. Flattening onto her stomach, she pressed her ear closer to the dusty floor.

One set of footsteps.

Or was that-- Yes, she heard two!

Both Mom and Dave had come upstairs, where they went when they wanted to discuss stuff they thought wasn't any of Rachel's business, even though it affected her life. Like the other week, when Mom and Dave got engaged and didn't tell Rachel for three days. I wonder what life-changing decisions they are going to make without me today, she thought.

It wasn't that Rachel minded Mom and Dave getting married. In fact, she thought it was a great idea. Dave already lived with them anyway -- he'd moved in over a year ago -- and he was a cool almost-stepdad. For her last birthday, after he'd seen how much she loved his dog, he'd announced that Brewster belonged to both of them now. Also, he baked excellent chocolate chip cookies. And he made her mother happy. If they'd asked for Rachel's opinion, she would have said do it. But they hadn't asked her. In fact, by the time they'd told her, they'd already settled on a date for the wedding... which fine, whatever, she didn't care when it was, but she didn't like how it made her feel -- like she was an afterthought.

She glanced over at Joon.

He'd felt that exact same way, he'd said, when he'd found out what his parents had known for months -- months! -- that their lease was running out on their rental house, and it wasn't going to get renewed. They thought he didn't need to know sooner, and they hadn't wanted to worry him, especially as there wasn't anything he could do about it. No matter how he felt about it, Joon and his parents were going to have to move.

Sure, it wasn't his parents' fault. But by the time they'd told Joon, they had given up on finding a place anywhere nearby and were looking for a new house outside Setauket, which meant he'd have to switch schools, which was absolutely not okay.

"They're right below us," Joon whispered.

"Told you," Rachel whispered back.

I knew this was the perfect spot, she thought. Listening, she heard the footsteps halt directly beneath them, inside Mom and Dave's room. As she'd hoped, Mom and Dave's voices drifted up to the attic as clearly as if Rachel were hiding under their bed:

"Pink or white?" Dave asked.

"Are we really supposed to care what color the napkins are?" Mom asked.

"For what it's worth, I don't think there's a wrong answer."

Ugh, more wedding planning. Rachel'd hoped to overhear something important. Or at least interesting. She certainly didn't care what color the napkins were.

"Sorry," she whispered to Joon.

Joon shrugged, as if to say he didn't mind. He probably didn't. After spending yesterday helping his parents sort through closets, he'd showed up at her house this morning and begged her to think of something to do that didn't have anything to do with the Move (he always said the word like it was capitalized). She'd brainstormed about twenty different ideas, but spying from the attic had been her best one.

It had been that way since the day they met back in kindergarten -- she came up with the ideas, and he supplied the let's-do-it. She and Joon had been the first two kids tagged out during capture the flag. Rachel had studied the elementary school playground, studied him, and then announced they weren't out; they were pirates. And pirates didn't have to follow the rules. Joon had jumped into action immediately. In less than ten minutes, they'd stolen the flag, won the game, gotten disqualified, and become best friends forever.

Now, at age eleven, they'd outgrown being pirates.

Instead, this summer, they were spies.

She just wished she'd picked a better mission for today. Not that this is a total waste, she thought. It was never a bad thing to spend an afternoon hiding out with your best friend in the entire world, especially when there could be a limited number of days like this left.

"White napkins," Mom decided. "Shaped into swans. No! Armadillos."

"Not sure they can do armadillos," Dave said, "but we can ask."

Flat on his stomach across from her, Joon mouthed, Armadillos?

Rachel shrugged. She was 99 percent sure Mom was joking. Her nose began to itch again. She pulled out the tissue and pressed it to her nostrils. Don't sneeze, she ordered herself. She crinkled her nose like a rabbit.

Maybe she shouldn't have lain down on the attic floor. Dust coated everything up here -- floor, beams, cardboard boxes, her old Barbie house, a broken rocking chair. It was impossible not to breathe it in. And once she did -- DO NOT SNEEZE, she thought.

"More important than napkins--" Dave began.

"Actually more important," Mom said, "or do we need to decide how many spoons per guest? Because I vote six spoons. Or seven. At least eight."

"Well, we do need to decide... Never mind. There's something else I want to talk about. I want to... That is, I had an idea for a present for Rachel.... I think she'll like it, but..."

A present? Ooh, that was interesting!

"Not another dog," Mom said firmly. "One is enough."

"Not a dog."

"Or a cat."

"It's not a cat."

"No emu."

"I promise no emu," Dave said. "It's a family heirloom. A ring. Because you're getting a new ring, and I'm getting a new ring, and I thought it would be nice..."

That was nice, though Rachel didn't ever wear jewelry, and she didn't actually want a ring. She would rather get another dog. Or an emu. But it was still sweet. She'd have to remember to pretend to be both surprised and grateful when he gave it to her.

"What's wrong with it?" Mom asked. She sounded amused.

"Why do you think anything's wrong with it?"

"Because of the way you brought it up. Let's see it."

Hmm, Mom had a point. Dave usually had no problem stringing sentences together. He could talk for hours about pretty much anything from the weather to cheeseburgers to endless historical facts. What was it about this ring? Was it hideous? Maybe it was hideous. Like one of those plastic rings from Chuck E. Cheese.

She heard Mom say, "Huh."

How ugly would a ring have to be to get that response? Rachel wished she'd bored a hole through the attic floor. Or had some kind of super-spy gadget that would let them look through solid floorboards and walls. She wanted to see too.

"Yeah, you get the problem," Dave said. "It's kind of a mess."

"It's silver, yes? Baking soda and vinegar will clean it up," Mom said. "But... why exactly do you think Rachel will like it?"

Rachel was glad she'd asked that.

"Family lore says it belonged to my great-great, maybe a few more greats and a couple of times removed -- not exactly sure how the family tree bends.... Anyway, it supposedly belonged to Anna Smith Strong. You know, the spy."


Rachel and Joon exchanged looks. His eyes were as wide as hers felt.

She knew that name. Of course she did.

Anna Smith Strong was one of George Washington's spies.

Every kid at Setauket Elementary School learned about George Washington's spies. In August 1778, two years into the Revolutionary War, Washington called for the establishment of a spy network on Long Island. According to Rachel and Joon's teachers, it was headquartered right here in Setauket, New York. Washington named them the Culper Spy Ring, and Anna Smith Strong was the only known female member. As far as Rachel was concerned, that meant she was automatically awesome.

She was one of Rachel's heroes.

"I say 'supposedly' because we don't have proof," Dave continued. "My mother tried to donate it to the Long Island Museum once, and they refused because they couldn't verify the provenance. We don't have any kind of paperwork showing where it came from. Plus the date on the inside -- you can't see it because of the tarnish -- but the date etched on the inside of the ring doesn't match any dates known to be associated with Anna Smith Strong. Still, though, it makes a nice story: worn by one of George Washington's spies."

Rachel felt as if she'd just been dumped into a barrel full of chocolate. This was not what she'd expected to hear when she'd had the idea to eavesdrop on her mom and Dave, but... Wow. That's not just "a nice story," she thought. It's amazing! Incredible! Phenomenal! A ring owned by the Anna Smith Strong?

"The museum did verify that it's old," Dave said. She knew Dave could trace his ancestry back to the American Revolution -- she'd thought it was incredibly cool when he first told her that -- so it was entirely possible the ring had been handed down through the generations. Wow, wow, wow, Rachel thought.

"I'm not sure an antique silver ring is the best present for an eleven-year-old," Mom said.

No! It's perfect! Rachel wanted it more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life.

"I just thought... since Rachel likes spies," Dave said. "She loved it when I told her that I'm related to Anna, even if it is distantly. Got big points for it."

Nancy, Rachel corrected in her head. Anna had been known as Nancy to her friends and family. Anyone who knew anything about her knew that fact.

"Fine," Mom said. "Leave it here. I'll take care of cleaning it."

"I thought I'd give it to her the morning of the wedding," Dave said. "So she feels a part of the day."

In a melty tone, Mom said, "She'd love that."

Rachel agreed. But she couldn't possibly wait until the wedding to get a look at it. A real spy ring! What would it feel like? Was it--

And then Rachel sneezed. Oh no. Inhaling, she pressed her hands and the tissue to her mouth and nose as if she could suck the sneeze back in.

Below, Mom said, "What was that?"

Rachel didn't move. She didn't even breathe. Across from her, Joon was just as frozen. He didn't so much as blink, as if they could hear the flutter of eyelashes.

"Pipes?" Dave suggested.

After half a minute, Mom and Dave began talking again, this time about his parents, which was significantly less interesting than a ring worn by a real-life spy, and Rachel exhaled. She didn't have a good excuse for why she and Joon were up in the attic, and if they were caught, there went their perfect spying spot, as well as any chance of getting a peek at that ring any time soon.

Rachel whispered to Joon, "We need to see it."

He nodded so enthusiastically that dust flew up around him in a poof.

She managed not to sneeze again.


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ISBN: 978-0063323452

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