The Drafter

Page 95

Lips parted, Peri cautiously stretched across the backseat of the car to pick them up. “If you have any doubts, tell me now,” she said, and Howard shook his head.

“Taf is not going to let this go,” he said, clearly concerned as his grip tightened on the wheel. “Where she goes, I go.”

So his drive to do what’s right isn’t entirely his own, she thought, then started when she figured it out. “Taf’s the student you were tutoring when you met Silas, wasn’t she?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Howard said, his worried smile going wistful.

“Do you love her?” she asked, needing to know before she put either of them in harm’s way, and his smile faded.

“I’m afraid to, but yes. I just don’t want to be the man she uses to punish her mother.”

Deciding they were far enough out, Peri put on her gloves. “You aren’t,” she said, leaning over the seat to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Why don’t you drop me here?”

The car’s brakes squeaked as he stopped, and Howard was smiling when she got out. “See you about three thirty,” he said, and she gave him a little wave and walked away. Howard pulled up to the stop sign ahead of her, turned, and was gone.

Head down, she started for her apartment, vowing nothing was going to happen to either of them.



It was edging toward midnight when Peri stood at the dark window of the empty apartment across from her building, munching on Chinese take-out as she half-listened to Howard and Taf talking in the master suite. True to Howard’s prediction, Taf had showed up, and she envied their banter as they ate their rice and fried meat. It was obvious that Taf had come back more for Howard than for her. Peri had to keep them both safe.

Her recon to find where the Opti agents were positioned had been successful, and she’d easily spotted the expected three teams stationed around the building in the standard Opti triangle formation. According to Howard’s intel, an additional two Opti agents were wandering the halls as security guards, a third probably in her apartment, since Howard hadn’t seen him since he’d arrived. The agent at the concierge’s desk made four on-site, and there were two in the van at the curb.

It was Howard’s opinion that everyone was wired, which could work for them, with a little effort, especially since Howard had located Opti’s off-site observatory post three stories up from the room she was now standing in, eating cold Chinese food from a take-out box. After three hours of watching the black Opti van almost beneath her feet at the curb, she decided it was worth the risk to try to take out the monitoring room. It would be a grand place to leave Howard—relatively safe and out of the way.

It’s a nice apartment, even with the lousy view, Peri thought as she dug through the vegetables to get to something other than tiny corn and broccoli. Open floor plan, nice fixtures. But most people liked the view of Detroit poking up from the new green spaces, all connected by the visually pleasing, raised magnetic rail. This no-view suite was probably hard to keep rented.

Jack was sitting on the floor beside the ceiling-to-floor window, his back against the wall and his legs stretched out, eyes closed as if waiting for a task to begin. She was getting accustomed to him popping in, but if she ever saw Silas again, she was going to smack him. Seeing her mother there giving her advice in her lordly tone, her hair perfect and her fingers playing with her jewelry, might have been preferable to a sexy man in a Dolce & Gabbana suit who had betrayed not only her, but her love for him.

Digging into a water chestnut, Peri crunched through it, an unexpected pang running through her. She and her mother hadn’t been on the best of terms when she’d left. It was sort of too late to fix, but maybe she could find closure for herself. God help me, but if I survive this, I’m going to visit her, she thought, and Jack opened his eyes and stretched.

Leaning to look down the front of the building, Peri watched two suits leave, the men making eye contact with the black Opti van before getting into their black car and driving off, headlights shining. They weren’t the same two who’d gotten out of it five minutes ago. Shift change, perhaps?

“Howard?” Peri called softly, and she heard him grunt. In half a moment, he came in from the back bedroom rubbing his dreadlocks and moving slow, stiff from the floor.

“Is it time?” he asked.

“Yes.” Her pulse quickened, and she set the take-out box down to shake her hands out. “I’d rather do this at four in the morning, but midnight is close enough. As long as we stay out of the square, we’ll be clear of people.”

Yawning, Taf came out from the back room, her hair mussed. “You sure?”

“Absolutely.” Peri did a double take, realizing only now that Taf’s butterfly tattoo glowed in the dark. Taking the felt pen she’d been using to sketch the apartment, she stuck it in her boot sheath next to that awful camo knife. Mightier than the sword, she thought drily. “This is a quiet neighborhood where gunshots are mistaken for transformers on the telephone poles blowing. That’s why I wanted to live here.” Even before Jack, she thought, then started when she realized Jack was eating from the box she’d set down, picking through the vegetables with chopsticks from Overdraft. The box was steaming now, and he was dressed in task black, looking good enough to pin to the floor.

Unhappy, Peri ran a hand across her jeans. The lack of her usual polish bothered her. An untidy thief was lowbrow. A well-dressed one was classy, ending up in the chief’s office instead of the local lockup with hookers and sullen shoplifters.

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