The Drafter

Page 55

“You want to fight?” he said as if disappointed. “Even if we could get out of here, we have to extract that chip or they’ll just find us again. I’ve got this under control.”

“I have a chip in me, and you tell me you’ve got this under control?” she said pleasantly, her teeth bared at him as she smiled for the passing people. There were two Opti agents by an escalator, and Silas’s grip tightened again.

“I can get it out of you,” he said, his anger not directed at her for once. “We can do it here. It’s all set up. All I need from you is a little trust.”

That phone call, she mused, searching her intuition, but it was as if she didn’t have any. Nothing. She was coming up empty. She had to trust him. Or rather, she had to trust her gut, and her gut was saying he wasn’t lying to her, even if logic said he was. “Okay,” she said, and he exhaled. “But I’m not so good at trusting others.”

“I’ve noticed.” His lips twisted wryly, and he turned them down a hallway. “Keep walking. A man named Squirrel is waiting for you in the women’s bathroom.”

Peri’s doubts rushed back. “Squirrel?” Was he serious?

“We all have lives outside of this,” he said, his grip pinching her elbow. “He looks like a janitor, okay? Just go in, and he’ll take the chip out.”

“Just like that? You want me to go into a bathroom and let a janitor cut me open?”

Silas slowed to a stop, and she stared at him. Did he have any idea what he was asking of her? The bathrooms were next to the main entrance, and there were people there, people watching them without watching.

“I’d take you to his office, but not when you’re chipped. Peri, please. Squirrel and I go a long way back. He’s a good man.”

“Tell me his real name, then,” she demanded as she counted the agents. Six? Seven? She was twenty yards from the door, twenty from the bathroom, and nothing felt real anymore.

“No can do. But I’ll come in with you if it will make you feel better.”

There was a CLOSED banner across the bathroom entry, the door propped open with a wooden wedge. Two men and her alone in a bathroom? “No. I can do this,” she said. Great. What if I draft? What if I forget and run out of the bathroom and give Allen a huge hug?

Silas sighed and handed Peri her coat. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll see you in five minutes.” Snatching up her wrist, he rubbed a thumb on her palm over the words he’d written, smearing them. She nodded, cold, as she understood what he was saying. He might not be there when she came out. She’d have to get to the dealership on her own. Screw it. I can do this.

“Don’t forget my luggage,” she said, and then, chin high, she strode toward the bathroom. One of the men by the main door was talking to himself in a whisper, and she fixed her gaze past him, pace never faltering. She couldn’t resist a quick look back as she ducked under the tape cordoning off the bathroom. Silas was on a bench, slouched and feet spread wide as if waiting.

“Bathroom is closed,” a wiry man with dreadlocks and dark skin said as her boots clunked on the chipped tile. “Don’t they teach you how to read at that high school of yours? Get out. I’m not going to lose my job because you have to pee.”

“Squirrel?” she whispered, not liking how pale her face was in the mirror’s reflection.

Immediately the late-thirties man sighed as he propped his mop up against the dented janitor cart. Hands on his hips, he made a show of looking her up and down. His eyes were scary-bright, and she didn’t like how they lingered on her black eye. “You’re smaller than I thought you’d be,” he said, his accent marking him as from the South, maybe Louisiana.

“Uh, sorry?” she fumbled, not liking that the janitor cart was stained from chemicals and covered with torn stickers. She liked it even less when he opened up an old toolbox, but was reassured when she saw packets of clean bandages and doctor stuff. Peri came closer. His hands were scrubbed to a soft pink, and they were smooth, not the hands of a janitor. The door was open, but Silas would let them know if someone was going to come in.

“You work for the alliance,” she said, alarmed when he lifted a panel and brought out a wand. “How do I know you’re not chipping me?”

Expression wry, he handed her a hand mirror. “You can watch. Stand still. Arms out.”

She put her coat down, noticing that he’d dried the sinks when she draped it over one. “What is that?” she asked when he ran the wand over her.

“It’s a chip finder from my office,” he said, and she almost turned until he grunted at her to stand still. “I’m a vet in my other life.”

Peri frowned as he wanded her back. “Opti doesn’t chip their personnel like dogs.”

“Uh-huh,” the man said, and the wand beeped.

No. Shocked, she pulled the hand mirror up, turning her back to the row of mirrors. Her heart pounded, and the ugly feeling of betrayal slid through her. It was high up on her shoulder, where she’d had a mole removed four years ago. They’d chipped her.

“Well, at least it’s not in your ass. Can you slip your sweater down a little?”

She spun, horrified, and he ducked his head, smiling. “I know what I’m doing,” he said as he put the wand away and snapped on a pair of purple gloves. “I’ve got a license to practice medicine. It’s the vet degree that’s fake. It’s easier to get regulated meds as a vet. You can watch. That’s why I gave you the mirror.”

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