Jack pointed his chopsticks at her. “Don’t involve them. They’ll get hurt.”
But what choice did she have? “Okay,” she said, hands clapping once. “Slight change of plan. Taf? Howard and I are going to go upstairs and take out the Opti observatory post.”
Peri nodded. “If everyone is wired, having you there to monitor and misdirect will widen my window tremendously.”
Taf reached for her rifle, her lips pressed tight. “I’m coming with you.”
Jack cleared his throat, but Peri was ahead of him; taking the rifle out of Taf’s hand, she gave it to Howard. “Taf, you’re a crack shot, but a better driver, and you don’t put your driver in a place where she doesn’t have a car.”
“But,” she started, and Peri shook her head.
“I don’t want us caught because we don’t have an exit plan,” Peri interrupted, and the younger woman slumped in resolve. Behind her, Howard exhaled in relief. “Once Howard is set, I’ll go in. Taf, you keep watch on the stairwell. When I turn the light on in my apartment, I want you to leave. Howard, you too. Both of you take the car and park it at the restaurant I indicated on the map. You’ll be able to see my apartment from there, and it will give you a clean run to the front to pick me up when I signal by turning the light off again.”
“Our apartment,” Jack said, and her eye twitched.
Only because I invited you in, you prick.
“I’m not doing anything,” Taf complained, and Peri stretched, enjoying the sensation of her body coming alive.
“That’s why I like this plan.” Peri looked up from her lunge, hoping Taf could see her smile in the gloom. “I say we have a seventy percent chance of getting away clean. Ten if you’re not behind the wheel. I’ll probably be coming out hot. I need you ready.”
That made the woman smile, and Howard gave Taf a relieved kiss and a squeeze, while Jack set the take-out box aside and stood, his dark expression saying he knew her estimation was grossly overgenerous. Why was it harder to listen to her intuition when it had Jack’s face?
Deciding against her coat, she tucked Allen’s borrowed Glock in her waistband. Alone, she tried not to watch as Howard finally let Taf go. “See you in an hour,” he said, his voice soft, arms falling from her reluctantly, and the young woman nodded, head down. See a woman in trouble, look no farther than the man beside her.
Taf’s unhappy smile met Peri’s own, and Howard jiggled on his feet, nervous as he looked at the rifle, then gave it to Taf. God help her, she hated this. They weren’t helpless, but seeing them risking their lives to bring the corrupt fraction of Opti to light was giving her a bad feeling. She was trained for this. They were not.
But she had little choice. Hoping Jack would stay behind, she headed out with Howard tight behind her. He was breathing fast, and she eyed him as she hit the button for the elevator.
“You got a plan for this, right?” Howard said as the little green arrow lit.
The doors slid aside, and Peri grimaced at Jack already in there, waiting for her. “Going up?” he said slyly, and she stepped inside, ignoring him.
“Um, Peri?” Howard said, dark eyes wide as she pushed the button for the sixth floor.
“You keep the first man I down on the floor, and I’ll take what’s beyond him,” she said.
“Sure.” Howard licked his lips. “But we only have one gun.”
Guns. Why was it always about guns? “You can have it,” she said, giving it to him as the doors opened and she padded out into the hall. 602 … 604 … 606. Her gut tightened, and she motioned for him to stay back from the door. “Tell them you forgot the keys,” she whispered as she stood sideways to it and pounded aggressively on the door. “And don’t touch the man I bring down. He’ll probably know something hinky to turn the tables on you.”
For cripes’ sake. It’s like Self-Defense 101. What else haven’t I told him?
Howard’s eyes widened, and she motioned for him to say something. “Ah, I forgot the keys!” he blurted, then dropped back when Peri waved him off again.
“Are you shitting me?” someone inside said, and Peri found her balance. “Christ almighty, Jason, I swear you’d forget your balls if your girlfriend didn’t have them already.”
The door opened. Peri stepped in front of him, hands free as she grabbed his arm and tucked into him. He knew enough martial arts to go with it, and he flipped over her, his breath whooshing out as he hit the floor in the hall. Still holding his hand, she gave a twist, and he screamed as she snapped his wrist. That would keep Howard safe—at least from one direction.
“Hands where I can see them!” she shouted, taking his pistol from his holster as she jumped over him and ran into the unfurnished living room. A second man was getting up from a folding chair, barbecue wings going everywhere as he lunged to the bank of equipment.
Peri shot the floor, hearing the slug bury itself in the cement and bits of wood splintering out. The man skidded to a stop, hands in the air. From the hall, a pained groan filtered in. “Howard! Get him in here! Kick him if he doesn’t move on his own. Don’t touch him!” She wasn’t going to take for granted that because they’d caught them off-guard they were sloppy. Opti hadn’t expected her to be here, not really. “Howard!”
“You heard the lady. Inside,” Howard said, and Peri motioned for them to stand in the barren kitchen. The man who’d answered the door looked pale enough to pass out, and Peri relaxed a notch—until she saw the restraining equipment on the counter, ugly with its needles and drugs. Preventing a draft was easy. Holding an agent trained in the art of escape was not.