The Operator Page 123

Peri rubbed her forehead, not caring whether he knew she was tempted. She needed money to resettle herself, buy a cloak that even death couldn’t find her under. The coffee shop was a loss, and now she had Silas with her. Two people meant four times the cost.

Flushing, she took her eyes off the envelope. “I don’t kill for money.”

Bill pushed it forward. “You don’t kill for kicks, either.”

“I did it to be free of you,” she said, wanting to point at him but not willing to give the maybe-scopes trained on her an excuse. “All of you. Be careful, Bill. Walk away, or you’ll move to the top of my list.”

Still, Bill smiled as he stood and put his sunglasses back on. “You are free. You just don’t know it yet. Is Steiner giving you flack?”

Not understanding, she shook her head, his faint tone of protection familiar. “Nothing I can’t handle,” she said softly.

“Because I’d take care of that for you,” he added. “Let me know if that’s not enough to get you and your new anchor settled. I can float you whatever you need until the next task worthy of your talents comes in.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You aren’t listening, Bill. You got me hooked on a drug that makes me into a tool. You think I’m going to forgive you for that?”

His gaze shifted to the nearby people, silently telling her to lower her voice. “You already have, or I’d be dead,” he said, then softened. “Peri, Peri, Peri, I got you halfway to remembering your drafts. If you aren’t ready, I respect that.”

“Ready?” she said, flustered. “I’m not doing it.”

Still standing over her, he frowned, a worry line pressing into existence over his eyes. “Perhaps it was a mistake. I am sincerely sorry if it was.” He turned to look behind him at Silas and Jack, both of them waiting at the outskirts. The kids had saved his life, but that’s why Bill had wanted to meet here. “How long until you’re off it, then?”

None of your business, she thought, saying, “Just about the same time your chemical tracker runs out.”

Again he smiled. “Atta girl. Enjoy your downtime. I’ll be in touch.”

“I’m done, Bill,” she said as he began to walk away. “Call me again, and I’ll kill you.”

But all he did was turn to give her a smile. “Life is boring,” he said, focus distant as he buttoned his jacket. “You need me to feel alive.” His eyes fixed on hers, and her mouth went dry at the truth of it. “It was a real pleasure working that closely with you again. You did a lot with half an anchor. Think of what you could do with a whole one.”

“Silas is a good anchor,” she whispered, stomach rolling.

Shrugging as if it didn’t matter, Bill turned and walked away, catching a little girl who had barreled into him and solicitously making sure she had her feet before letting her go.

He had left the money behind, and she took a breath to call out after him, swallowing it back. She had to move. Silas would be with her. Two were harder to hide than one, but they didn’t need Bill’s money to do it.

She watched Jack say his final words to Silas and jog across the plaza to join Bill, but her thoughts had gone to her goal of sedate days. That they would safely turn into sedate weeks of inaction, and then sedate months of boredom, suddenly had less appeal.

Slowly she tucked the fat envelope into a pocket. Picking up Carnac, she crossed the plaza to Silas, squinting when the bright sun hit her. She wasn’t taking Bill’s money as a promise to work for him. She was taking it to help hide herself and Silas.

But as she lifted her head and smiled at Silas in the new sun, she wasn’t sure she believed herself.

 

 

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CHAPTER


ONE


Trisk ran a hand down her Jackie Kennedy–inspired dress suit, not liking how it hampered her motions even if it showed off her curves. Grades and accomplishments were her primary weapon in the battle to attract an employer, but appearance came in a close second. She was dressed better than most on the crowded, noisy presentation floor, but she didn’t want even a shimmer of glittery dust to mar its stark, businesslike black.

Anxiety pinched her eyes as she sat attentively at her booth, surrounded by the remnants of her past eight years, which suddenly seemed dull and vapid. She smiled at an older couple as they passed, their clipboards in hand as they shopped. “How are we for security?” one asked, and Trisk warmed when the other ran his eyes over her, making her feel like a horse up for auction.

“We could use someone, but how good could she be? She’s in with the geneticists.”

“That’s because I am one,” Trisk said loudly, shoulders hunching when they gave her a surprised look and continued on.

Jaw clenched, she slumped back in her chair, shifting the seat back and forth as she frowned at the empty interview chair across from her. It had been four months since graduation, and as tradition dictated, her class had gathered in a three-day celebration in the university’s great hall to say good-bye and decide where they would start their careers. Like a reverse job fair, past graduates came from all over the U.S. to meet them, look at their strengths and weaknesses, and find a place for them within their companies. Tonight her classmates would part ways, some going to Houston, others to Portland or Seattle, and the best to Florida for the Kennedy Genetic Center, working in the National Administration of Scientific Advancement.

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