“Top of Charlotte,” a pleasant but recorded voice came through Peri’s phone, and her focus blurred. Silas mentioned Charlotte. “Hours are four thirty p.m. to ten a.m., seven days a week. To make a reservation, please leave a callback number.”
Pulse quickening, Peri hung up before the beep. Silas had said she’d been on a task. Her black eye put it about two days ago—Jack’s and her last mission. She wanted to retrace her steps without Opti—without Allen. If Opti didn’t know she’d guessed the location of her last task, they wouldn’t look for her there right away. Maybe.
Peri exhaled, casual as she shoved her phone in a pants pocket, not her purse. She was ditching the bag, but the phone she’d keep a while longer. Her wallet was already in her back pocket. She’d miss her purse, but walking off with it would raise red flags.
Eyes scanning the terminal, she quickly marked three women. All were her size, traveling alone, and at different gates. And thanks to the airline cramming too many flights into too little space, they’d all be boarding within thirty minutes of each other.
She wasn’t getting on that plane. Allen wasn’t her anchor. Her anchor was dead. A snarky alliance operative named Silas had more answers than she did. Charlotte might tell her something, but first she had to get them looking everywhere but where she was going.
An announcement came over the speaker that her flight would preboard in twenty minutes. Peri looked at her clean palm, fingers curling over it. She’d left her necklace pen at Allen’s, at his insistence. The trip was supposed to be downtime, not a task, he’d said. I’m a trusting idiot.
The security guard chatting across from her brought her head up, and she smiled at Allen as he wove through the scattered luggage, two cups of blessed caffeine in his hands. Allen had been a perfect gentleman last night, sleeping on his couch and making her breakfast when she got up late. He might not be her anchor, but he’d been someone’s—he had the pampering down.
“Here you go, Peri. Half a pump of caramel syrup. Just how you like it.”
The cup was warm in her hand, and she took a careful sip. Just how I like it? she thought, deciding that, yes, this was good, making her wonder if Bill had found her diary already and was coaching Allen. The more comfortable she was, the more likely she’d believe their story. And she was becoming convinced it was a story. She’d seen Bill’s thread of anger-driven fear last night. He needed something from her. The names she’d just destroyed, perhaps? Chances were good the original was still somewhere.
The three security people were getting uptight about the increasing press of passengers, and Peri unclenched her jaw when one of the women she’d been watching suddenly stood. Trundling her luggage behind her, she headed for the bathroom.
Crap. Why couldn’t it have been the one with the Dries van Noten coat? “Watch my things?” she asked Allen as if they were the best of friends, and he nodded, oblivious. “Be right back,” she added, making a point to set her purse beside him as she waited for the woman guard to stand. There was no way they were going to let her out of their sight, even to use the facilities.
“Sorry,” Peri said to the female guard, regret almost a pain as she left the jacket and snappy cap beside Allen. “I hate plane commodes.”
The guard looked to be just out of college, especially in the civvies she had on, but her Opti-boot-camp haircut gave her away. Peri hoped she wouldn’t follow her in. Unless the woman had undergone additional training before joining Opti’s security, her self-defense would be limited. Even so, downing anyone with a single blow was chancy.
Peri’s gut tightened and she swung her arms as she followed the woman in the blah brown coat into the bathroom. Sure enough, her escort followed her in. Peri scanned the corners to find the cameras, and then turned to go into the first half of the bathroom while the woman in the brown coat wrangled her luggage the other way. She had a few moments to act—that was it.
Her side of the bathroom had a woman at the hand dryer. Peri grabbed a bunch of brown paper and soaked it into a soggy mess, using it to pat her neck and cool herself. Finally the woman at the dryer left. From the other wing of the bathroom, a toilet flushed.
Peri moved. With a decisive gesture, she flung the wad of paper at the camera in the corner with a strong sideways throw. It hit with a splat and stuck. Turning a hundred eighty degrees, she tucked her right leg and pivoted on her left. The guard’s eyes widened. She reached for her absent gun, and Peri’s right foot connected with her head. Crying out, the woman fell back into the stalls, legs and arms flailing. Peri followed her in, grabbing her hair and slamming her head down on the metal piping.
She quit moving. Peri backed up, breathless. A soft splat told her the wad of paper had fallen. Chances were good that no one would investigate if she could get the woman’s legs tucked into the stall in time.
“Sorry,” Peri whispered as she pulled the guard into an undignified, slumped, seated position, locking the door and rolling into the adjacent stall. Brushing herself off, she shook out her hair and strode boldly out and over to the other side of the bathroom. If she was lucky …
“What was that?” the woman said as she primped at the mirror. Her coat was off and draped over the raised handle of her rolling bag. Her purse was on the tiny shelf.
A pair of feet moved in one of the stalls. She didn’t have time to take care of the camera. “I am so sorry,” she said, grabbing her fist with her other hand and swinging her elbow into the side of the woman’s head. The woman cried out as Peri struck, reaching for the sink as Peri followed it up with a punch to her jaw.