Fran stood at the car, clearly frustrated. She had one strong-armed man with her, the guy clearly trying to stay out of her way. Things were not going well in the land of prisoner exchange. The small size of the plane was good, limiting the number of people Peri would have to deal with. If Fran had one man, then Allen probably had one man as well. In the plane?
One of the borrowed phones in Taf’s pocket began to hum. Her eyes wide, she smacked a hand to cover it, but they were too distant for the soft sound to carry.
“They should be here by now,” Fran said, phone to her ear.
Allen shifted his weight, clearly uncomfortable. “You lost her.”
Fran ended her call, peeved. “They aren’t answering because I keep calling.”
“I told you not to confuse forgetfulness with stupidity,” Allen said. “She’s extremely intelligent. Did you use the audio binder? Give her the Amneoset?”
“Of course I did,” Fran said, and Peri’s flush at his “intelligent” comment vanished. At least she knew the drug was almost out of her system. Amneoset metabolized in an hour.
“I want to see Silas,” Fran demanded. “I have only your word that he’s in there.”
“Then show me Peri Reed,” Allen said, clearly hurting. He wasn’t taking his meds, probably because painkillers interfered with his ability to recognize twin timelines. Maybe that’s why Jack liked to drink, she mused. Her face blanked as the thought swirled in her; then she shoved the heartache away. Silas was in that plane, and she had a job to do.
“John!” Fran barked, and Peri jumped. “Retrace our route and see what’s keeping them.”
The man bolted into motion, the car door slamming shut and the engine loud as it started in the echoing space. Peri frantically waved for Taf to stay put. Where does she think she’s going? Howard stopped her, and they began arguing in hushed tones. Peri’s eye twitched. She should have shot them both in the foot.
Allen whistled to get the pilot’s attention, limping away from the stair and craning his neck to see into the cockpit, but it wasn’t nearly far enough away to let her sneak onto the plane. “Tell the tower we’re leaving,” he demanded, and Fran frowned, hands on her hips. The car was backing up to the wide door. Things were deteriorating fast.
“What about the exchange?” Fran stalked forward. “I want Silas.”
“And I want Reed, but you lost her.”
Peri’s eyes fixed on the plane. Silas was on it. If they left now, she’d never find him.
“You don’t know that. Give me five minutes to figure out what’s going on,” Fran said.
Allen hobbled forward, his expression creased in mistrust. “Five minutes,” he said, gesturing behind him to the plane. “But my man goes with yours.”
Fran shouted at the car, and it stopped. Peri’s heart pounded when a man thumped down the plane’s stair, a pistol in his unsnapped shoulder harness. He didn’t look like a pilot.
“Go with him,” Allen said brusquely. “If by some miracle you find her, call me and keep your distance. I don’t want to lose her again.”
Fran huffed. “I haven’t lost her.”
The man hustled to the car and got in. Slowly the car accelerated, and it was gone. Grimacing, Allen hobbled to the plane. Fran was right behind him. Peri was betting they both had weapons or they wouldn’t have sent their people away. Fewer people meant fewer witnesses.
“Taf, give me your rifle,” Peri whispered, her hand extended behind her. Howard made a small noise, and she turned, eyes widening when she saw that Taf was gone. “Where’s Taf?”
Finger shaking, Howard pointed across the hangar. Peri’s face went cold as she followed his gaze. “Oh no …,” she whispered. Taf’s slim form was slipping along the wall.
Howard edged closer, beads faintly clinking. “I couldn’t stop her,” he whispered. “She’s going to distract them for you so you can get Silas out of the plane.”
Damn it all to hell. Peri’s gut clenched when Taf boldly stepped out into the light, boots clunking. Fran spun and Allen froze, their backs to the plane. “Hey, Mom,” Taf said, her feet spread wide and her stance confident as she hit the southern drawl hard.
“Mom?” Allen questioned, and Peri crept closer.
“This is my daughter,” Fran said drily, not scared nearly enough by her crazy-ass daughter holding a rifle. “She’s not supposed to be here.”
“Things change,” Taf said. “I can tell you what your stooges will find. Want some spoilers?” she mocked.
Fran punched buttons on her phone. Taf’s pocket began to hum and the older woman became livid with anger. Allen laughed.
“What did you do?” Fran exclaimed, stalking forward until Taf cocked the rifle.
My God, is she going to shoot her mom? Peri thought, remembering the temptation once or twice herself.
“I’m fixing to stop wasting your time and my life,” Taf said, as satisfied as her mother was angry, but she’d drawn them far enough from the plane, and Peri gave Howard a look to stay before slinking forward. She crept up the stairs, trying not to shift the plane’s weight as she eased aboard. Relief was a surprising wash through her when she found Silas bound and gagged in a seat. Finger to her lips, she smiled at his glare. His eyes were angry but clear. New bruises and scrapes showed they’d beaten him, but he wasn’t drugged.