The Operator Page 38

“You’re good, then.” Standing, the tech handed her a packet of pills. “For the pain. We can refill it if you want.”

“Thanks.” Her eyebrows rose as she read the package. They were heavy hitters, enough to down a horse, far more than she needed. Someone wants me out for a while, she thought, pocketing the pills with no intent to use them. She’d live with her scrapes and sore knee rather than risk drugging herself into a state where she couldn’t draft.

Not yet having a plan to get home, she hadn’t even texted Silas, and an unexpected fragile feeling dogged her, making her meek when she was usually bold, compliant when she’d usually question. She hadn’t been accelerated, and her synapses were functioning as normally as they ever did, but doubt dogged her like a cur.

“Would you mind if I washed up before I leave?” she asked as the tech gathered his things, and he shrugged, looking at the tiny sink. “I don’t have a room.”

“Sure. Whatever.”

“Thanks.” Her intuition pinged as she caught his wary frown when he closed the curtain behind him. Shoes are falling, she thought, not knowing why or what it actually meant. Clearly it was a “Jack” thing. God help her, she’d been so stupid. Things might have gone differently if she hadn’t assumed he’d been a hallucination. Nice going, Peri.

Peri slid from the exam table, dismissing her leg when it only made a dull throb. Her bag from the jet was on the chair, and she tweaked the curtain closed tighter before pulling her rank shirt over her head and dropping the expensive silk in the trash. Her black pants were ruined, and they went in on top of them. The tiny sink and paper towels were far away from the shower she wanted, but washing up was a good excuse to stay and listen to the evolving argument next door.

“Swift is not a recoverable asset,” Steiner said, voice tight. “Reacquiring him will not further our goal.”

“Sir, I already told Reed that we’d find him.”

“You have no team, Agent Beam. It was all I could do to keep you from being suspended.”

Surprise, surprise, she thought as she pulled a wad of towels to wash her arms, but Peri wasn’t leaving Allen within Opti. Pretending to go along with Bill’s offer might be her only chance to rescue him. But Bill knew all her strengths and weaknesses and wasn’t averse to using them to his own ends. That he’d hooked her on Evocane and let her flee smacked of the beginning of a long-game ploy. She hadn’t wanted this, and yet . . . now . . . even knowing Bill was manipulating her . . . she was tempted.

Her motions sponging her arms slowed as she thought of the syringe of accelerator, somewhere within Detroit’s CIA facility. Maybe I should accelerate myself and be done with it. Warming, she continued to wash as she tried to figure out how she was going to get to Detroit when Steiner probably had them returning to Atlanta. It was Steiner’s home office, after all.

But it was hard to stay focused. She’d lived for so long needing someone to fill in the blanks after a draft that the chance it might work and she’d be normal was unimaginable. The shock of suddenly not knowing where you were or how you got there or why people were shooting at you . . . she was tired of it.

Across the room, Harmony continued to build up Allen’s importance in hushed, urgent tones. But it was a losing battle, and Peri could guess the end by the time she was dressed in her post-task black jeans and white top. She brushed her fingers along her empty boot sheath, feeling the lack. Her Glock and dart rifle were long gone, too. She looked up, startled, when Jack tweaked the curtain and came in.

“You gotta go, babe,” he said, his stubble just the right amount and his tie loosened.

Pulse hammering, Peri forced down the urge to kick him unconscious just in case. It was her intuition, nothing more. “Duh?” she whispered, unnerved that the drape never really moved.

Jack peeked past the curtain into the main room. “I mean, you gotta go into the lion’s den to get Allen and that Evocane. If you go into withdrawal, Steiner will know you’re hooked and move you into your new cell to keep you from running back to Bill.”

So I leave before they find out, she thought, that same flush of worry slipping through her. Zipping her leather jacket closed, Peri looked at herself in the tiny mirror, finger-combing her hair as she steadied herself. Jack slipped in behind her, and she closed her eyes, not wanting to see him standing there. He’d once been everything she’d wanted. He’d made her feel strong. It had been so good—until she realized they were lying to her. All of them. “You aren’t any different now from who you were a week ago,” he whispered, and her eyes opened.

Maybe, but I didn’t like who I was a week ago, either, she thought.

“We’re done. You’re dismissed,” Steiner said stiffly, and Peri looked at the curtain. Harmony’s shadow was a bare hint behind it, arms swinging as she stalked through the common area and through the med lab’s door. Her limp was obvious, but she was moving fast. She wouldn’t be that angry if she’d gotten her way, and Peri frowned, peeking past the curtain to watch Steiner follow her out, his two aides gibbering at his elbow, unsettlingly wide awake for four in the morning.

“At least she didn’t lie to you intentionally,” Jack said, and she let the drape fall, feeling the early hour all the way to her bones.

“But the end result was the same,” Peri whispered as the lab tech yawned over his paperwork. Harmony had been genuinely upset, and it sat oddly with Peri. It had been a long time since anyone had felt outrage on her behalf.

Head down, she returned to her bag. It smelled like jet, and her nose wrinkled as she sorted through it to make sure her diary was still in there. An urgent need to read it came and went—that she might find a reason why her life was in the crapper if she did. Three pairs of socks and underwear. Another top. Money, she thought as she felt the bag’s strap for the bump of folded bills tucked into the concealed pouch. “What . . .” she whispered when her fingers found a flat rise where it shouldn’t be. “You little snake,” she added, face warming when a closer inspection found the audio bug wedged into the pull tab of the zipper. They’d bugged her?

“Almost a disappointment if they hadn’t,” Jack said as Peri used her nail to pop it free. The tiny device skittered across the floor, and she stomped on it, hopefully blowing out the ears of anyone listening. The bag hadn’t been anywhere near her when Bill had called, but concerned there might be a second bug somewhere in the bag, she dug deeper. Toothbrush, hairbrush. Tiny mirror for surveillance. Everything looked clean.

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