Home > Also Known As (Also Known As #1)

Also Known As (Also Known As #1)
Author: Robin Benway

Chapter 1

I cracked my first lock when I was three.

I know that sounds like I’m bragging, but really, it wasn’t that hard. It was a Master Lock, the same combination lock that you probably have on your locker or bike. Anyone with Internet access and too much time on his or her hands can crack a Master Lock. I’m serious. Google it. I’ll wait.

See? Easy.

My parents were the ones who gave me the lock. They still swear up and down that they weren’t testing me, that I really wanted to play with it and they were just trying to keep me from having some sort of toddler meltdown. But really? I’m not buying it. How many of you had a Master Lock for a toy?

My parents weren’t surprised that I cracked the lock. I think they’d have been more surprised if I hadn’t opened it. It would probably be hugely disappointing for two spies to have a completely inept kid, you know? Even my name—Margaret, ugh—was chosen because it has so many different nicknames: Peggy, Maisie, Molly, Margie, Meg—the list is endless. My parents have called me Maggie since I was born, but I have twelve birth certificates that all say something different.

Maybe I should explain.

My family works for the Collective. You’ve never heard of the Collective, but you’ve definitely read about our work. Tobacco executives on trial because of damning evidence? Human smuggling rings being broken up? The fall of that Peruvian dictator? That’s us.

I have to admit, I’m still not sure who or what the Collective even is. I know only a few details: there are about two hundred spies stationed around the globe, moving to wherever we’re needed. Some of us are forgers (more on that later), computer hackers, statisticians, weapons experts, and I think a few assassins, too, but my parents won’t answer my questions about them. I don’t know how many safecrackers there are, but my family moves a lot because of me. Apparently a lot of safes need cracking.

We don’t ever take things that aren’t ours. The Collective may be secretive, but we’re not sneaky. The whole point is to right wrongs, not create them. When I was little, I thought the Collective was like Santa Claus, giving out presents but never being seen. Now I know, of course, that the Collective is based in London, not the North Pole, but whether it’s run by dozens of guilty-conscienced millionaires working toward a noble cause or one crazy Howard Hughes–type dude, I have no idea.

The Collective had stationed us in Reykjavík, Iceland, over the summer. We were getting ready to head to New York tonight after finishing this job, which could not end soon enough for me. The summer had been painfully boring (and painfully bright, because Reykjavík gets twenty-four hours of sunlight during the summer), since my parents were both busy trying to figure out the case, and school wasn’t in session. I spent a lot of time practicing my safecracking skills on safes that the Collective sent to our house, but even that got old after a while. I started keeping an eye on the family across the street, even though there was nothing suspicious about them. They were painfully normal, especially their son. Especially their cute son. I even managed to mortify myself by having a long-running and completely one-sided “How you doin’?” imaginary conversation with Cute Boy.

Where’d we move from? Oh, nowhere you’d know. So what do you do around here for fun?

Ice cream? Yeah, I love ice cream. With you? Of course! No, my parents are totally cool with me dating.

See? Pathetic. As you can tell, I’ve never had a boyfriend, but whatever. It’s cool. After all, most girls who have boyfriends probably can’t say that they helped to bring down the Peruvian government, right?

So, after a long and lazy summer spent safecracking and slowly going crazy over Cute Boy, I was ready for New York, ready for a change.

I was ready for something to happen.

*

The first rule of being a spy: Listen. Our family friend Angelo always says that a good spy never asks questions, that people will always tell you what you need to know.

I’ve known Angelo my entire life. He was friends with my parents back when they were all in Berlin together, and they’ve stayed in contact ever since. Angelo works for the Collective, too, but I think he’s semiretired now, or at least that’s what he says. For all I know, he’s getting ready to be knighted by the queen or about to go spelunking somewhere in the Galapagos. He always gives good advice, too, especially about safecracking and lock picking. It’s like if Tim Gunn and James Bond had a baby, and that baby was Yoda. Angelo’s response? “Who’s Yoda?”

I sent him the Star Wars DVDs for Christmas. And a DVD player.

Angelo’s a forger. I have twelve passports and just as many birth certificates, and they’re all Angelo’s handiwork. He handles most of the paperwork for the Collective, including duplicate documents. Like, let’s say that someone wants to sell the original Gettysburg Address on the black market and use that money to buy guns for crazy despots. (It’s been known to happen.) Angelo forges the document, switches them out, and then the bad guy ends up with no money, and the Gettysburg Address gets returned to its original home. There are probably about a million more steps involved, things like finding the right paper pulp and hiding printing presses, but Angelo doesn’t like to discuss details. He can be quite secretive that way, but I understand. We all work in different ways. As long as he keeps using flattering pictures on my passport photos, I’m happy.

As soon as I started writing, Angelo taught me how to forge signatures. In fact, the first name I wrote wasn’t mine, it was my mom’s, a near-perfect imitation of her signature. And when I was tall enough to reach his front door, Angelo taught me how to pick locks. Once his front door got too easy, we moved on to Gramercy Park, which is in Manhattan. Angelo has a key to that park, but it’s no fun when you have to use the key. I love my parents, I do, but neither of them could open a lock if their lives depended on it. And since our lives do, in fact, depend on it, that’s usually where I come in.

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