“Hey!” the woman coming out of a stall exclaimed, but the first woman was down and Peri crouched beside her, feeling her pockets for her ticket. She hated this. These people were not criminals, but she needed the three minutes of disorientation this would give her.
“Boarding pass!” Peri demanded as she stood from her crouch, the woman’s pass in hand, and the next woman coming into the bathroom changed her mind and fled. “Give me your boarding pass!” Peri said again, and the woman backed up into the stall, her face white.
“Take it!” she said, throwing it at Peri.
Peri scooped it up. Now Opti would focus on two flights. Grabbing the handle of the first woman’s bag, she walked out of the bathroom.
“Stop her!” the woman in the bathroom shouted. “Someone call 911!”
She had ten seconds—tops. A wash of panic hit her as she realized she was committed and on her own. If they caught her now, she’d be incarcerated in an Opti jail forever.
I need a coat before I get to baggage claim, she thought, her fast pace fitting right in as she hustled down the hallway. Wadding the tickets up, she threw them away. There was a commotion behind her, an argument between two passengers, and she took a quick right into an open restaurant. Passing a table, she lifted the nearby unattended coat. It was scratchy with nylon, but it was long and the color was right. She picked up a man’s hat at a food kiosk. Five seconds later she was back in the hallway. They’d be missed, but all she had to do was go faster than the uproar, and people usually wasted time trying to get someone to help them instead of taking action. Allen wouldn’t make that mistake. She’d seen it in his eyes last night.
Adrenaline pounded through her when the “Mr. All-on” page went out, telling airport personnel to check in and watch for anything unusual. That was why she’d taken the tickets. They’d shut everything down if they thought she was catching another flight. Dealing with angry passengers would give her more time to get out of the airport. It was a trap with many holes, and she was going out the front door.
The woman’s borrowed luggage was of higher quality than hers, holding a straight line as she trundled down the moving walkway, heading for baggage claim. Head lowered, she avoided the electric cart with six uniforms on it speeding past. Her phone hummed from a back pocket, and she shut it down when she recognized Bill’s number.
But her cool façade was wearing thin. Staring dead ahead, she strode by the security gate. Someone else’s cheap perfume rose from the borrowed coat, sticking in her throat. Clusters of suits and ties were refastening shoes and gathering belongings. She dodged around a family with a stroller. Baggage claim was down an escalator, and from there she’d be gone. She’d probably been on camera since popping that poor woman in the bathroom. The escalator would be one of the first records they looked at, seeing as everything funneled through it.
And yet she smiled as she imagined Allen, or maybe Bill, jammed into some trashy back room among half-empty coffee cups and wadded-up bags of chips, scanning security tapes to find her. By the time they looked, it’d be too late for anything but figuring out how she’d done it. The hat wasn’t going to help much longer.
That would, though, she thought as she spotted a family headed for baggage, struggling with two kids in a twin stroller and two more trailing behind.
“Need some help?” Peri said, and the harried woman glanced up, her suspicion evaporating as she saw Peri’s apparent innocence and free hand. “I can take a bag,” she added, and the woman handed Peri hers.
“Thank you so much,” the woman said as she grabbed the hand of the smallest child. “I’m not flying again until they have their driver’s licenses.”
“Where did you come in from?” Peri asked as she tucked in behind them to become part of a family instead of a single woman on her own.
“Boston,” she said, her accent heavy as she got on the escalator and sighed. “It’s my granddad’s birthday. Maybe his last one. Or I’d never fly out here with all of them.”
They descended slowly, the kids trying to walk backward while holding on to the moving handrail. At the base of the escalator, a pair of industrial boots turned into a set of thick blue trousers. There was a weapon holstered to the man’s waist, and Peri looked away before she and the family got low enough for the guy in the blue to see a face.
“Your shoe is untied,” she said, dropping down to the little girl beside her, and the mother badgered her to stand still, worried Peri wouldn’t finish before they got to the end of the escalator. Peri’s fingers fumbled, and the moving steps began to sink level. She could see his boots, and heart pounding, she stood, turning to grab the rolling bag. Looking back as if worried it might catch, she stepped off the escalator in the wake of the noisy family.
Heart in her throat, she almost cried out when that stupid rolling bag snagged, but the guard was on his cell phone. She’d made it. “Do you have it from here?” Peri asked the woman as she shoved the bag’s handle at her. “My carousel is the other direction.” Not waiting for an answer, she walked away. A quick glance at her watch: she’d been alone for almost four minutes. The glass doors were just ahead.
But then her breath caught and she made a sharp right turn. Allen. Somehow he’d gotten down here before her, phone to his ear and watching everyone. Damn it all to hell and back.
Fingers shaking, Peri got in line at the coffee hut, hoping her borrowed, off-the-rack coat and black slacks would make her invisible among the businesspeople. She’d seen his wiry strength and scars last night. He was bigger than she was, and she had no doubt he’d use it to his advantage. If she had to fight, she wanted a cup of hot coffee in hand.