“Safe house. I’m passing the buck.” His face was silhouetted in the lights from the passing cars as he waited for a gap in traffic. He looked angry, and his hands tapped the wheel impatiently. Muttering under his breath, he slammed the van into park when the light at the corner turned and his chance to drive away vanished. He stared out the window, then pulled the scrunchie from his dreadlocks and tossed it to the dash to sit with the three others. Turning to her, he said, “I want to know something. What did Silas defragment for you that he’d never seen?”
Peri licked her lips, feeling lost in the back of his van. “That I loved Jack,” she said, not knowing if it would help or damn her. She looked away, blinking fast. Government agents didn’t cry, even when they were lost, alone, and fighting their own people.
Nonplussed, he turned to the front and put the van in drive, griping at the car that didn’t slow down when he gunned it into the street. Miserable, Peri propped herself up against the rocking van, hating how relieved she was that someone was willing to help her.
“You treacherous bitch!” Howard yelled, and she eyed him, thinking he had some serious road rage, but he was looking at her. “You lied to me, and I bought it!”
Peri’s eyes widened when she looked out the front window. Cop lights, red and blue, were coming up the road. Instinct made her reach for her pen pendant, but there was nothing to write.
“I should have known!” Howard shouted, dreadlocks swinging. “Silas warned me you were slippery as slime mold.”
“Howard, you took the chip out, and Silas bought me a new phone they can’t track. I’m telling you, it’s not me.” Cops. Opti wouldn’t be so obvious, but they might use the local police to drive them into a trap. “I found your address in fifteen minutes knowing only that you worked as a vet and had a thing for squirrels,” she said calmly. “Maybe Silas let something slip. Or maybe they just followed your sorry ass back here, Mr. Janitor. I saved you by getting you out. See?” she said as the cop cars squealed past the van, lights still flashing. “They aren’t following us. They’re headed to your office.”
Howard’s anger was replaced by stone-cold fear. “I can’t go back.”
Peri moved into the front seat, scrunching low to keep out of sight. “It sucks, doesn’t it.” They had to get off this road. There were traffic lights every block, and they were making zero time in the rush hour.
Howard’s teeth clenched, and the glow from the oncoming cars glinted on his beads. “They’ll have my address, everything.”
You catch on fast, Doctor. “We have to ditch this van. They’ll put an APB on it as soon as they see it’s not in the lot. Mass transit is fifty-fifty as long as it’s aboveground. Anything below always has cameras, and I’m tired of face paint.”
“The van.” Howard’s grip on the wheel tightened. “They’ll be looking for it.”
Peri sighed. “Yep. We need to ditch it. Sorry.”
He glared at her, then back to the road. “If I find out you’re responsible for this …”
Ticked, she sat up. “If that’s what you think, then stop the van right now and let me out. I’ll walk away and you’ll never see me again.” Damn it, this wasn’t going well.
Howard abruptly jerked the van to the right, wheeling into an abandoned tire place and lurching to a halt. Weeds were thick at the edges, and a gully sank behind the building, rising to more weeds. About a half mile back, a big-box store glowed in the mist. Shocked, Peri stared at him. “Come on,” he said as he snatched up his coat. “We’re going to have to walk.”
Her relief was so thick, she could almost taste it. He wasn’t abandoning her. “You believe me?” she said as she scanned the van for anything useful.
He was already outside, taking his lab coat off to show his brown slacks and a knitted vest over a stark white shirt. All he needed was a bow tie. Squinting at the mist, he shrugged his coat on and pulled his collar up, clearly disliking the rain. “Believe you? No, but Silas trusted you. We’ll go through the empty lot and pick up a bus at the superstore. We’re skipping the safe house and going straight to the alliance. Someone else is going to have to decide what to do with you. I’m done.”
He slammed the door shut. She didn’t have time to search the van for anything to help their flight, so she got out and hustled to catch up. His back was bowed, and his office shoes were already wet and muddy. “I’m sorry,” she said, meaning it, but he never met her eyes even as he helped her down the ravine and across the shallow ditch of water.
It was going to be a long night.
Peri stood sideways in the bus’s aisle, two bags of food in her hand as she waited for the heavyset woman ahead of her to finish draping her coat over her seat back and sit down. It was after midnight, and the chartered bus full of overdressed, excited women had finally settled as the complimentary wine and late hour took their toll. She’d jumped at the chance to make a food run when the BING bus had pulled off the interstate for a fifteen-minute comfort break. The choice had been tacos, burgers, or subs. The subs won, hands down.
Finally the woman put her butt in the seat and Peri edged past. It felt good to get up and move around, but Howard had been sleeping when she’d left, and she wasn’t sure how he’d handle waking up and finding her gone.