“Thanks, Howard.” Silas extended his hand into the car, and Howard leaned to take it. The two shook. “Get her across the bridge. I’ll call you when I know something.”
“Will do. Thanks.”
Silas put his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched and neck red. “I’ll call you in a week, okay?” he said to Peri, eyes pinched and asking for forgiveness. “We need to work on a more permanent solution. I just need to take care of this. I’m not abandoning you.”
But it felt as if he was.
He waited for a moment, and when Peri said nothing, he reluctantly turned away.
Her heart thumped and she reached out after him. Embarrassed by her impulse, she pulled herself back, clenched hands jammed in her lap. She didn’t need Silas’s help. Taf would be sorely missed, though.
His hands still on the wheel, Howard sighed. Scooting to the middle, Peri leaned over the console. “This is going to be harder without Taf.”
“Don’t worry about Taf,” he said, his words slow. “She’ll get four hours down the road and ditch him.” He put the car into drive. “She’ll be back.”
Howard nodded. “She got out of the car way too easy.”
Not only that, but she’d left without much of a good-bye. Yep, she’d be back—if she could. Still unsure, Peri watched Silas and Taf cross the street ahead of them to reach the bus stop. Silas’s long, slow pace looked odd next to Taf’s fast click-clack in her boots. “Run him over, Howie. Just run him over,” she said. “He’s right in the middle of the street.”
“Ah-h-h, he means well.” Howard pulled out, sighing when Taf enthusiastically waved and turned away. It felt wrong leaving her to make her way back to them, and Peri slumped in the backseat to watch the shopfronts and foot traffic slide by. It bothered Jack, too, seeing as he was cleaning under his nails with the camo knife she had picked up at the airport. She hated it when he did that, and she fought the urge to tweak the imaginary knife away and throw it out the window.
I’m not depressed because Silas left, she told herself. His reasoning to wait was sound, but she couldn’t help but feel abandoned. He was an anchor—and she was adrift.
“You’d better hope Taf doesn’t show,” Jack said, and she checked to see the knife still in her boot sheath. “Even Howard is too much. You’re going to get them killed.”
Guilt swam up, and she sat straighter.
“You think you feel guilty now, wait until they’re dead,” Jack added.
Peri stared out the window, ignoring him. She was in charge of the task, and it was her responsibility to give her team members no more than what they were capable of. But part of her hoped Taf couldn’t make it back. She was too enthusiastic, too optimistic, clearly never having known real loss, and Peri wanted to keep it that way.
“Will you be okay on your own for the morning?” Peri asked as she divided her plan into low- and high-risk tasks. “I need to find out about the men Opti has on my apartment.”
“Our apartment,” Jack said, and she unclenched her hands.
“There’re always empty flats in the building across the street. We can set you up in one of them so you can do surveillance on my building,” Peri added, looking behind them when they slipped through a yellow light. Howard would be out of sight, out of Opti’s mind. “Do you have enough for a set of binoculars?” she asked, reaching for the bills she’d taken from under her silverware caddy.
Howard’s beads clinked as he nodded, and she settled back. “Good. Even if the blinds are pulled in my apartment, you can watch who goes in the building and make a guess as to how many agents are in there.”
“If you’re watching your apartment, Opti will be too. Once I know their schedule, I can play janitor and sweep the hallways for evidence of monitoring,” he offered.
“Good thinking.” The thrill of the task was bringing her alive, and she leaned between the seats to avoid Jack’s disapproving frown. “Just make sure to cover those dreadlocks. They know what you look like now. Take a right here. I’m going to walk the area to see where they put the foot men. That will keep me busy until about three. Once you get outfitted, find an empty apartment. They’re listed online. Text me the number around three fifteen. If I don’t show up by three thirty, get out and meet me at the coffeehouse where we had breakfast. If you get itchy, just go. If Silas shows up, go. I’ll be fine.”
Jack slowly scratched the stubble at his jawline—a show of nerves, her sketchy memory said. Howard seemed good with it, but she didn’t like Jack manifesting her worry. “I’ll bring dinner,” Peri said, pointing for Howard to take another right into a residential area, quiet on a Monday morning. “I need some paper and a pen. Can you pick some up while you’re out? We’ll need a final sketch of where Opti is, how to avoid them, and where to stash the bodies.”
That last came out of her mouth without thought, her head jerking up to find Howard’s brow furrowed. Jack cleared his throat. “This is a bad idea, babe. You know it.”
“I’m sorry,” Peri said, and Howard flashed her a nervous smile. “I’m doing the prep work to minimize conflict, but—”
“We’re good,” Howard interrupted, but it had been too fast, and Peri’s sense of guilt dampened her mood. Jack was playing cat’s cradle with a string of pearls, the black spheres clinking with the sound of an abacus. She didn’t need him to tell her this was a bad idea, and she threw the gloves Karley had given her at him. They made a soft plop as they hit the seat … and he was gone.