Silas reached inside to find the lock, and Peri impatiently pulled him out of the way. “Give me a second,” she said, wedging a crowbar in place. Her hands fisted, and then she smacked it with a side kick that expended all her frustration. Shock reverberated up her leg and she stumbled, but the lock snapped and the door swung inward. Her entire leg had gone numb, but she didn’t care.
Silas grabbed her elbow as she regained her balance. “Feel better?” he said drily.
“We don’t have time for you to pick another lock,” she muttered, and with a last look at the dangling chain, she limped into the bar.
The glow from the Juke’sBox and lotto console made weird shadows, and the gaming lounge was a pit of darkness that somehow still reeked of testosterone. She passed it, feeling odd being here when no one else was around. The automatic floor cleaner was stuck against the stage, clicking as it tried to reset. Peri’s gaze lingered on the mirror behind the bar, but she didn’t know why. Her chest hurt as the need to remember became an ache.
“Cold in here,” Silas said, his nose wrinkled as he set down Taf’s rifle.
“And dark,” she added, frowning when she realized her hands were in her pockets so she wouldn’t leave prints. With a resolute frown, she went to the Juke’sBox screen and planted a big kiss on it, making sure all her fingers and thumbs pressed the glass.
Silas was staring when she turned around. “I assume there’s a reason for that?”
“I want Allen to know I was here.” She kept looking at the front door. No … not the front door—the solitary chair sitting beside it. Frustration made her antsy. She knew what she had to do, but not how to start. It was like the first time in bed with someone, awkward and having all the urgency of needing to get on with it before someone’s parents walked in. It would probably be as satisfying as that, too—as in not at all.
Silas swung a chair from a table and set it before the black hole of the fireplace in invitation. Peri’s heart hammered. “Give me a second,” she said, scanning for something that spoke to her other than the padlock and the chair beside the front door. The scratched floor before the stage pulled her. It was a trigger. She’d seen it in her dream.
The image of Jack, white from blood loss and pressing a red scarf to his gut, surfaced. Peri stared at the parquet. It would be hard if she lay down on it, like a gym floor. There’d be a layer of wax that she could rub aside to find the smooth finish below. Her stomach knotted, and she turned away. Did she want to remember?
“I can’t believe I’m trying to render a memory with a memory knot,” she said, feeling ill.
Feet scuffing, he crossed the room to her. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want to—”
“That’s why I’m here, Doctor,” Peri said sharply, not liking that he’d baby her. She was an Opti agent, damn it. She could take it.
But her grief had grown heavy. She had to find the root of the corruption to clear her name. The answer was here—somewhere between the scratched floor and dark timbers. I need more triggers, she thought as she closed her eyes. She needed the smell of gunpowder, the feel of a smooth rifle stock in her grip, the sticky sensation of blood on her hands. Stiffening, she rubbed her fingers together. She’d been cold that night. Her coat had been on the bar.
Her eyes opened, and she looked at the blood in her cuticles as the disorientation of a fragmented memory trying to reassert itself wafted through her.
“Don’t force it,” Silas said, looking helpless and glum. “Take your time.”
“I don’t have time!” she exclaimed, then gasped, dropping to a kneel and fumbling for her Glock when Allen walked in the locked front door. There was snow in the parking lot behind him, and lights from the traffic. Nodding to her, he sat down in the chair beside the door and brushed the snow from his black curls before pushing his glasses back up his nose.
Hallucination, she thought as she started to shake, unable to drop her gun or look away.
“Peri?” Silas hadn’t moved, his cautious glance at the door convincing Peri it was her imagination, even as Sandy set a cup of coffee on the bar and tossed a rag over her shoulder.
“We’re going to have to get that furry orange mouse-eating bug back into your apartment. We could have lost you on your ‘evaluation mission,’ ” the small woman said, and Peri stood, shifting her aim to her. Frank was there, too, and her face twisted in pained confusion.
“Here you go, sweet pea,” the huge man said as he set a cup of coffee on the bar. “Something to warm you up.”
Trembling, Peri closed her eyes. They are not here. I am hallucinating.
Her eyes flashed open when Silas put a hand atop hers, holding the Glock. “You okay?”
The bar was empty, the apparitions chased away by his touch. Scared, Peri turned the weapon upside down and extended it to him. “I don’t care what I find out, I’ve got to try.” She looked at Silas. “Unless Allen really is sitting by the door and Frank and Sandy are tending bar.”
“No.” Silas set the pistol on the low stage. “Sweet Jesus. You should have—”
“What?” Peri said flatly as she pushed her fingers into her forehead. “Come to you sooner, Dr. Denier?” How can anyone get a clean defragment from this? Arms around her middle, she paced to the chair he’d pulled out and sat down in a huff. “Do your thing,” she said belligerently.