The Drafter

Page 98

Peri dropped facedown on the pavement. “Office shoes,” she whispered, spotting them at the front of the van. This should be easy.

“Okay, try it now!” Tony called, and the engine whirred and chunked, and died.

Motions slow and even, Peri tried the back door, elated to find it unlocked. Idiots. She slipped inside, praying the man behind the wheel wouldn’t notice the flush of air. On cat feet, she crept up to him, Glock in hand. The hood of the van filled the front window, and adrenaline sang as she slipped behind the driver and put the muzzle of the weapon to his neck. Messy. A gunshot to the neck was messy, and you didn’t ever come back from it.

“Ahhh, shit,” the man breathed, his hands coming up from the wheel. He didn’t care if she was caught or not—at least, not enough to risk his life.

Peri smiled. “Good man. Be ready for a poke. I’m going to put you down nice and easy. If you move or open your mouth, it’s going to be a bullet through your neck instead. ’Kay?”

He nodded, grunting when she took one of the syringes and jammed it into his bicep.

“Chuck, try it again!” Tony called, and she reached over him to turn the key. The engine choked to life before failing. “Hell if I know,” Peri heard Tony mutter, and she lowered her pistol. Chuck was out, pulse strong and steady. Heart pounding, she tucked her weapon away, taking Chuck’s hat before grabbing another syringe and boldly getting out the passenger-side door.

“I hate computerized cars,” Tony was saying. “Better call it in and get a new van out—hey!” he managed to yell before she was on him. He lurched backward, avoiding her front kick.

Tony’s eyes went bright in recognition, eager as he came at her. She blocked, pain racing to her spine. She grabbed the next blow, spinning around and getting behind him to yank his footing out from under him with a swift kick to his knee. He went down laughing, which was just insulting, and she forced him to stay there, tugging his arm up behind his back until he stopped.

“Ow! Reed,” he said, his nose bleeding from the fall and Opti pin catching the street light. “You are so caught.”

“Say good night, Tony.”

He yelped when she jammed her second syringe in his ass, but she had his arm twisted, and he gave up fast. She sat on him a little longer to be sure, the van’s bulk and the shadows hiding them. Exhaling, she stood and rolled him under the van and out of sight. Turning, she waved at Taf and Howard before she gentled the hood down and crossed the street. Jack was waiting for her at the entrance, and she scooped up Chuck’s hat in passing, putting an extra sassy sway to her hips as she put it on her head in case Opti had tied into the building’s facial recognition cameras.

“Nice of you to give me room to work,” Peri said, and Jack inclined his head.

“Nice to see you can do something on your own,” he said back, and she strode in, head down as she cleared the front door.

The enormous rock and silk flower arrangement by the entryway hadn’t changed, and Peri shoved the four-foot-high vase over, snatching up her spare apartment card even before the heavy plaster hit the floor. That was easy.

The man behind the concierge’s desk looked up at the crash. This might be harder.

“Reed is in the building,” he said into his two-way, telling Peri no one knew yet that Howard was up in Suite 606. Smiling, she tucked her card down her blouse. “No closer, Reed,” he said, dart gun pointed at her, and she threw Chuck’s hat at him.

His eyes shifted and she dove to get below the angle of the desk. Her air huffed out as she hit the wall of the desk—

And suddenly—she wasn’t pressed against the desk, but standing over him, three feet from where she’d landed and in the middle of the lobby.

Shocked, Peri looked down at the unconscious man, not knowing how he’d gotten that way or how she’d moved across the room. The dart gun was in her hand. An empty syringe was jammed into his leg. Damn it! I’ve drafted!

Scared, she smacked her hand against her boot sheath to find her knife still there. Then she looked at her palm for a note she hadn’t written, her fingers closing into a fist as she listened to the silence and waited for the nightmare to begin. Her heart pounded. Nothing. Slowly her fist opened as she exhaled. She was okay. Silas’s patch job had held through a draft—this time. “Jack?” she breathed, anxious for an answer. Her head hurt as if someone had yanked on her hair. Strands of it were drifting to the floor.

Gasping, she fell into a defensive crouch when Jack stood up from behind the desk. “You drafted,” he said, grim-faced. “Move. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember.”

“How long?” she whispered, grabbing the heels of the Opti agent and dragging him behind the desk.

Jack looked down at him and shrugged. “Hell, babe. I don’t know. You didn’t lose more than the draft, though. Thirty seconds?”

“How about that,” she said, remembering what Allen had said about Opti being able to artificially scrub time from her when she drafted. Damn it all to hell. It’s true.

A tinny voice calling her name pulled her to the square of black plastic kicked across the floor. It wasn’t her original wire, and figuring it belonged to the man she’d just downed, Peri scooped it up as she went for the stairs. “Peri! Are you there?” It was Howard, and a second wash of relief took her.

“I’m fine.” She put her back to the fire door and leaned into the stairwell, listening to Howard babble as she took a quick look up and down the hall. “Howard. Relax,” she said, interrupting him. “I drafted, but I’m okay.” Peri opened the door wider, and Jack went before her, taking the stairs two at a time until he waited at the fire door. “I’m going up now,” she said. “Get Taf and leave. Don’t wait for me. I’ve really pissed them off. I’ll see you over the border. Tell Silas I’m sorry and that his patch works.”

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