“Are you insane?” But she’d killed people before, even if she didn’t remember it.
“Just be careful,” Allen said. “I’m telling you, she’s not the same woman.”
Remembering Peri’s off-the-cuff comment about the fish, Silas huffed, “Tell me about it. When did the woman learn how to cook?”
Clearly relieved at the change of subject, Allen smiled. “Haven’t you heard? Bill made it an Opti-sanctioned stress relief. She’s gotten good, from what I hear.”
“And you’re eager to eat it up, eh?” he said. “Move right in where Jack stepped out. She made you sleep on the couch, didn’t she? That’s all you’re going to get.”
Allen’s face darkened. “I’m not the one who tried to convince her to wash out. I supported her and her idea to bring down Opti. I still do.”
Silas leaned in, his arms hurting. “You’re after the glory, Allen. That’s all you ever wanted, and you played on that need in her like it was an addiction needing to be fed because you couldn’t do it alone. You used her. Convinced her it was possible.”
“It was possible,” Allen protested, and Silas’s eyes narrowed at the guilt. “It still is.”
“You used her,” Silas pushed. “And now her mind is so full of holes that the traumatic draft you forced on her is going to ooze right through and drive her mad. This is your fault.”
“This is not my fault.” Allen stood, white-faced. “She wanted to do it. She knew the risks.”
“You encouraged her,” Silas accused. “You erased the year we trained for it.”
“You agreed to it.” Allen began to pace in his odd step-scuff motion, pain only making him more agitated. “You were there with me, making sure I got everything.”
“To try to keep her alive!” he shouted back.
Allen hobbled closer. “She’s gone,” he said flatly. “She left five years ago. She chose to make a difference, but there’s nothing left of her. Let it go, Silas.”
Silas forced his jaw to unclench. “She is waiting for me right now. Get these cuffs off me.”
Allen straightened, eyes furtive. “Ah, you helped her escape. I can’t let you go.”
Silas’s lips parted. “She’s waiting. Uncuff me, give me your gun. Tell them I hit you.”
“Where is she?”
Silas said nothing. Allen turned away and Silas jerked at his cuffs, making the smaller man jump. “She’s one bad draft away from a MEP,” Silas said. “That crapfest at the bar is already trying to manifest itself. I untangled three potential memory knots just getting her to relax yesterday. She’s going to snarl up if she’s left alone.”
“So tell me where she is so we can take care of her.”
Take care of her? He meant another memory wipe. Pissed, Silas fumbled for the tether and gave it a yank. It pulled tight against the heavy cabinet and held firm. He didn’t trust Allen anymore, and his pulse quickened until his face throbbed. “Don’t do this, Allen.”
“They trust me,” Allen said, suddenly in a hurry as he looked at his phone. “Tell me where she is, or nothing happens.”
“Don’t do this,” Silas warned, and Allen jumped when he tried to stand, failing, stopped by the cuffs. “Allen.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, eyes on the grimy windows as the sound of approaching agents grew louder. Lips pressed, he tucked Peri’s diary back behind his coat. “I’ll make sure you get a chance to read this. I think she’s beyond recall. All we can do is bring Opti down.”
“Allen!” Silas exclaimed, furious as Allen hobbled to the door.
“Where’s my car!” Allen shoved the door open and hobbled down the stairs.
The door shut, and, fuming, Silas yanked at his cuffs to no avail. Allen was lying. Peri knew it, or at least her subconscious did, otherwise why would she break his fingers and fracture his knee? He had to get out of here. Warn her. It was never meant to go on this long. He needed to get her out before everything she’d been was gone.
But he couldn’t even get out of his chair, and with a groan of frustration, he fell back, stymied and brooding. Allen had always been a tricky bastard, even when the two had been the best of friends. Nice to know some things never changed.
Peri walked quickly across a student dorm parking lot, uncomfortable in Liz’s cheap, blue nylon coat and trying to look as if she knew where she was going. She knew what she was looking for, just not where it was. An early-model beater wouldn’t have a security system or computer that could be LoJacked, and taken from here, it might not be missed for days.
It was starting to mist and the temp was dropping as it grew dusky. Clammy and cold, it was an ugly night in Charlotte. She fingered the long-handled screwdriver in her pocket that she’d lifted from the garage she’d passed. The lime-green two-door with the torn cloth top was a good bet. If she was lucky, it would be unlocked.
Smiling, Peri yanked the handle up and slid in as if she owned the ugly thing. It clearly belonged to a guy; there were shark’s teeth hanging from the rearview mirror, and silhouetted, naked-girl floor mats.
And it stinks of aftershave, she thought, nose wrinkling as she slipped her boot off and hammered at the steering column until it cracked. She’d been jumping buses for almost half an hour, putting a fair amount of distance between her and the mall. The nylon coat rasped as she moved, and she thought longingly of the coat she’d left behind, not to mention everything else. If she’d even guessed she’d be looking to hot-wire a car, she’d have bought a knife instead of socks. At least she had clean underwear on and a few bucks in her wallet.