The Operator Page 52

“Then it’s a good thing I don’t need it,” she said as she yanked the felt-tip pen from her pendant and scribbled on the napkin. He leaned forward, going cold when she wrote BILL DARTED ME WITH EVOCANE.

“How,” he whispered, eyes widening as she wadded the napkin up into a tight ball. But the answer was obvious. Oh God. He only had three days to give her. She was running without a net and was rightfully scared. At least she hadn’t been accelerated. The syringe holding the accelerator she’d taken from Bill was locked up in Steiner’s office. Had she?

His lips parted to ask her, but Peri shook her head to stop his next words, pointedly letting the balled napkin drop between them. She thought one of them might be bugged, and with the ease he’d slipped WEFT, it was probably him. Shit.

“I expect that whatever Michael brings, it won’t be Evocane. I’m just after Allen,” she said lightly, but he could see the lie in the way she kept looking over his shoulder to the skaters, as if expecting Navy SEALs to come lurching up between them.

“This is a trap,” he said, deathly worried as he handed the three Evocane pens to her under the table.

He watched, his heart breaking as she tucked them away. There was guilt in her eyes when they flicked up to find his—guilt and relief. “Of course it is,” she said. She took a slow breath, gaze distant, as if she was feeling the paths of her life shift ninety degrees to a direction she didn’t want. “That’s why Harmony is with me. Trap or not, this is likely to be the only shot she’ll get at Michael. I think he killed her entire team in front of her for an object lesson. I help her get Michael, she helps me get Allen. You know I’m no good on my own.”

She was, despite what she said, but the relief he’d seen when she took the injector pens made it clear that she was risking her life on chancy intel and limited resources for the hope that the Evocane Bill promised her would be real. What if it isn’t? Will she go back to Bill to stay sane? Would I tell her to go? Drive her there? Kiss her good-bye and walk away?

“I’ve got to go,” she said, rising as the crowd began singing along with the band. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Thank you.”

“Peri, about the Evocane,” he said as he stood as well. “I’m getting close to figuring this out. A week maybe,” he lied. But he’d given her only a few days’ worth, and she knew it.

“I’ll be fine,” she said as she scanned the square, the thump of the bass beating into them. “Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m seeing this through. I owe Harmony that much. Steiner was just getting in the way.”

But she was dancing to Bill’s tune, and they both knew it.

“Good,” he rushed, not wanting to see her leave. He wished he could go with her, but the cold truth was he’d slow her down. His muscles were good for breaking heads, not speed records. “Don’t let him accelerate you. Once you take it, there’s no going back.” At least now, all she has to do is beat the withdrawal.

From her distant bench, Harmony swore and stood. “They’re here!” she said loudly, and Peri’s focus blurred.

“They followed me,” Silas said, but Peri shook her head even as she took a last gulp of her coffee and stuffed her crumpled napkin with her note on it in her pocket.

“No. They’ve been on us since we hit I-70. I’m sorry, Silas. Will you be our rabbit? If they follow us to the drop site, we won’t have a chance. I’m sorry.”

He could tell she was, and he nodded, not caring whether it made him into a chump. “Go,” he said as he gave her a hug, eyes closing as her slight body relaxed against his. He could feel it even through his thick coat. She felt so small, he could hardly bear it. “Call me,” he finished, refusing to let his throat close as she pulled away.

Nodding, she drifted back, her fingers lingering on his until the last moment. She hadn’t pulled away first, and his heart ached.

Harmony had come forward and was tugging at Peri’s elbow. “Now,” she said tightly, and Peri looped her arm in hers, giving Silas a last look before turning and vanishing into the crowd.

Slowly Silas sat back down, calling himself a fool as he dropped his empty paper cup into hers. A couple pressed close, wanting his table, and he ignored them, jealous of their boring life, even if it came with cheap knockoff shoes and polyester suits. He’d lost her once. He’d do almost anything to keep her safe. Anything. And he’d just given her poison.

The couple inching closer protested as three men in identical suits pushed them back. Silas looked up, not surprised when three more flowed past him into Sim’s Mules. Steiner was right behind them, his pale face spotted red with cold as he halted before Silas.

“Where is she?” Steiner demanded, eyes on the two cups.

The couple fled. Silas put the flats of his arms on the cold cement table and leaned in, casually playing with the two nested cups. She had a thirty-second head start. He could buy her a few minutes more. “Who?”

Steiner gestured, and Silas jerked when one of the agents grabbed his shoulder and yanked him to his feet. People scattered, but the band was loud enough that they were hardly getting noticed. “Hey! Watch it!” Silas complained, shaking the cold coffee from his hand as Steiner’s face went red under his graying hair.

“I ask again, Denier,” Steiner intoned, standing too close with his agents hemming Silas in from behind. “You left Atlanta. Came here to meet her. Where is she?”

Silas tried not to smirk. He didn’t want to lose his lab access, after all. “Probably her old apartment two blocks over on Wright Avenue, seeing as I gave her the key,” he ad-libbed. “Harmony is with her of her free will. Neither one of them look fond of red tape. You might consider backing off and letting them do their job.”

Motion brusque, Steiner motioned for someone to frisk him. “What’s at her apartment?”

Arms out, Silas shook off the heavy hands, not liking the attention. “Besides memories?” he said as he fixed his coat. “Weapons, so be careful if you’re going to follow her there.”

“Then maybe we should put you at the front door.”

Shrugging, Silas started into motion, heading for the nearby street and the two black cars parked illegally at the curb. He could slow things down while still being cooperative. “Sure. I’ve done that before. I want a vest,” he said, knowing it would take some time to find one that fit him, and since he asked, they had to comply. Peri wouldn’t mind his showing them the apartment, seeing as she hadn’t lived in it for a year and it was likely occupied by someone else. Besides, the distraction of going through it might give her an entire day before they found her.

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