The Operator Page 112

“Thank you, Michael. Leave the door open, will you?”

Bobbing his head, Michael left. Bill stood at his desk, unmoving as he listened to the two men in the outer office exchange a word, and then Michael’s shoes on the imported tile. Finally the hermetically sealed door in the outer office hissed shut.

“Sean!” he shouted, making a fist when he realized his hands were trembling.

“Sir, I’ve got the first of Denier’s info,” the small man said as he hustled in. “And Chang’s is on the way. I’ve got an ETA for dinner of forty minutes, but I promised them a twenty tip if they could make it in thirty.”

“I want you to shred this,” Bill said as he gathered up Peri’s info. “Shred the office. Everything. We are out of here in twenty minutes. You’re driving.”

“Sir, what about Chang’s?”

Bill hesitated. “Thirty, then. Start with these,” he said, handing him Peri’s info.

“Yes, sir.” Juggling the papers, Sean turned and calmly walked out of the room.

The adrenaline tingled down to his toes, and Bill went to stand before the window, smiling when the shredder whirled to life. Helen was cutting out the middle man. Thank God Michael was as simple as a four-year-old when it came to office politics. Thirty minutes was a negligible risk; chances were good that Michael wouldn’t tell her of this meeting at all since he was probably thinking of betraying her himself.

Money, he thought, running through his own checklist as he twisted his Opti ring, working it over his thick finger to try to get it off. Resources. Places I’ve cleared but never used, and one kick-ass assistant who knows the power of a cup of coffee and blind obedience. A smile began to grow, and he spun, anxious to wipe the room and shut the door for the last time. Tomorrow he would be free of Michael and have Peri back at his side.

It’s going to be a good day, he thought as his Opti ring finally worked over his knuckle and he set it on the empty desk as if it were a resignation letter. And the best part? He didn’t have to do a thing but sit back and watch.





It wasn’t the first time Jack had been cuffed and thrown into the back of a panel van with no seats, but it was the first time fear, real fear, had been a part of it. He and Peri had never been caught outside of a few training tasks where the odds had been intentionally stacked against them to see how they’d respond. Now, in the middle of the night with nothing between him and the cold metal wall of the van but a wrinkled Armani suit, he knew the meaning of doubt.

He could hear Harmony breathing in the far corner, see the darker slump her body made. Neither had said much after the first few minutes of being bundled inside, and the silence had held as they spent by his reckoning at least an hour on an expressway, the turns so gradual that trying to figure out their final destination was chancy at best. He figured they were going to their deaths. Clearly their usefulness was done, meaning Peri was likely dead.

Jack found he was more troubled about that than he ever expected he would be.

The hum of the van muted, and he felt it slow. Harmony stirred. His pulse quickened, and he shifted his hands, fingers swollen from the tight band of plastic. There was no whoosh of passing traffic, meaning they were on a deserted stretch, or more likely, it was just because of the late hour.

“Harmony?” he hazarded, knowing the proud woman was likely more inclined to kick him than talk to him.

“This really sucks,” she said, her voice resigned. “I had always hoped I’d be buried next to someone I actually, you know, liked.” She sighed, adding, “What do you want.”

It was flat and emotionless. Much better than the hysterics he half expected. But then again, Peri liked her, and Peri was a great judge of character.

Usually, he thought, surprised at the flash of guilt.

He gathered himself, training and a steadfast refusal to simply give up demanding he do something. “Hey, don’t hit me. I’m coming over.”

“Why?” she asked, but he was already moving. “What is your problem!” she exclaimed when his shoulder knocked hers as the van turned and he fell into her. He settled himself, awkward because of his bound hands. Peri would know what he was doing right off. Hell, Peri would have asked him.

“I’m going to try and get your cuffs off,” he said, and she snorted, not moving.

“I’m not cuffed,” she said, and he jerked upright.

“Excuse me?”

“I snapped it an hour ago,” she said. “Come on. Show me.”

Jack stared at her in disbelief, her shadowy silhouette showing her confident amusement. “Why didn’t you say something? It’s been over an hour.”

“Because you’re a tool and I don’t like you,” she said, finding his hands in the dark and jamming what looked like a hairpin into the workings of the cuff.

Immediately it released, and Jack freed himself, rubbing the circulation back into his hands as he scooted to the opposite corner, not believing she’d left him like that.

“Hey, if you’re going to pout about it, I’m sorry,” she said, and his mood worsened. “You didn’t say anything, and I assumed you had gotten yourself free.”

“Yeah, okay.” But it sounded sullen even to him. Frustrated, he thumped his head back against the van, little more than an uncomfortable, rolling box. He had known he wasn’t going to die in bed, but he’d thought he’d have more time. What rankled was that he hadn’t gotten sloppy; he’d gotten replaced by a chemical soup.

“They’re taking us to a big field, aren’t they,” Harmony said softly.

“Or a short dock.” He looked toward the front of the van, the partition between them and the driver nothing more than a thin piece of metal. “It’s quiet, though. No conversation. Only a driver.” Which was curious in itself.

Harmony’s laugh was bitter. “How many people does it take to put a bullet in someone’s head?”

Jack scratched his bristles, estimating it to be about one in the morning. “They usually have two for this kind of thing. Easier to move the bodies.”

“Nice to know there’s an SOP.” Harmony stretched only to fall into a dejected slump. “I never thought I’d be on this end of a murder investigation. My brother would laugh his ass off.”

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