“How come you didn’t erase the machine from your phone?” she asked, her joy hesitating as she saw Jack hunched at the kitchen counter, one hand propping him up, the other wrapped around his wineglass.
“I haven’t figured out how yet.” He took a drink, his lips curling at the bitter taste. He hadn’t waited for it to breathe.
“Impatient bastard,” she said, scared when he didn’t laugh. “Jack, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. If you pull your clothes out, I’ll get them to the cleaners tomorrow.”
He was brushing her off, and, peeved, she stood for a moment, arms crossed, staring at him. “What?” he finally said, and not liking his belligerence, she took her apartment card from her purse beside the door. Something was wrong, and she wanted him to know she knew it. “Where are you going?” he said, sounding almost afraid.
“Peri …” It was contrite now, but he’d snapped at her twice, and she wasn’t in that good a mood either. She didn’t want to argue. And if she didn’t leave, they would.
“I want a sensory sauna before I see Sandy,” she said tightly. “I’ll be in either Brazil or Arizona.” Lips set, she yanked the door open, not caring she was barefoot but for her nylons.
“Peri,” he cajoled, and she shut the door hard. Feet silent on the carpet, she strode down the corridor to the elevator, hitting the up button several times in fast succession. She raised her head as the doors opened, and she got in, tapping her apartment card before pressing the button for the top of the tower. The doors closed, and she fell back against the wall of the car, feeling every bruise, every sore muscle. Slowly her anger dulled in the new silence as she saw her reflection. Her eye was ugly, and she leaned toward the mirror to cautiously poke at it. Peri pulled away, a feeling that she’d been inexcusably remiss slithering up over her.
“Where’s my bag of magic rocks,” she whispered, watching her lips move. There was no bag of magic rocks. There was an old fable of a lazy man regaining his dwindling wealth by throwing magic pebbles into the farthest corners of his holdings every morning, in essence, catching the thieves who were nibbling away at his wealth. Lazy, she’d become lazy and complacent, and she didn’t like it. Something was going on and Jack wasn’t talking.
The lift dinged, but she stayed unmoving when the doors slid open and the translucent light of the gym, warm with the western view of the sunset, cascaded over her. “Good evening, Ms. Reed,” the attendant said cheerfully as he looked up from his screen, already knowing it was her by way of the card tap. His smile hesitated at her black eye, then steadied. “Will it be the Caldas Novas hot springs or the Jordan Hot Springs in the Sequoia National Forest tonight?”
His question hung unrecognized in Peri’s mind as a hundred inconsistencies swirled and condensed into one clear realization.
Something was very wrong.
“Um,” she hedged, the feeling she’d made a mistake growing heavier. “I forgot my flip-flops.” Peri forcefully hit the button for her floor and the doors slid shut, sealing her in a Frank Lloyd Wright box. She didn’t want her flip-flops. She wanted Jack to talk to her. Now.
Finally the elevator doors opened. Pace fast, she strode to her apartment, the need to get back to Jack a sharp goad. Her card was soundless, but she gasped when a scared Carnac ran out over her feet, then was gone in three seconds.
“She’s upstairs!” Jack was saying, spinning her head back around, the anger in his voice stopping her cold. “Everything was fragmented. It’s under control. Get off my case, Bill!”
Peri shoved the door all the way open. “Bill!” she exclaimed, seeing him inches from Jack, almost shoving him up against the wall beside the big windows. “What are you doing?”
Bill spun, and Jack slid out from between him and the wall, lurching into the kitchen. Fear rose through her as the bigger man’s anger vanished behind a pleasant mask—and her skin crawled when he moved to where he could see them both. “Peri!” he exclaimed, arms spread wide as if she might come right over there and give him a hug. “Thank God you’re okay. Jack said you lost six weeks.”
Jack wouldn’t look at her, hunched and angry, fixing his hair. She glanced toward her knife, still in her boot and halfway across the room. For a fleeting instant, confusion reigned. She shouldn’t need her knife. Bill was their handler. This was their home.
“I did,” she said as she came in. “I’m fine. I went upstairs for a sauna and forgot my flip-flops. What’s going on?”
Jack straightened, but his ears were still red. “We had a misunderstanding is all.”
Peri stiffly shut the door and dropped her apartment card on the table. She could almost taste the tension in the air. Bill wasn’t in uniform, but he might as well have been, with his white hair in a bristly flattop cut and the stiff formality with which he carried himself. He was half military, half CEO, and more clever than a cornered snake. Though older than Peri by several decades, Bill worked hard to keep his shape, but you could see his age in his lumpy nose and veined hands.
Bill’s welcoming smile faltered. “I’m sorry, Peri. I was worried about you.”
“I went to take a sauna,” she repeated warily. “Twelve hours in a car. Now, is someone going to tell me what’s going on, or do you boys want to play charades?”