*This chapter contains strong language, condoms, crossword puzzles and an escape.
27. The Escape
Her body had relaxed, her mind was tense.
I pulled myself up on my elbows to look at her face. Her eyes were serious. "Are you ok?" I shifted to brush away the hair stuck to her forehead. It was the sort of thing I was supposed to ask. We both got there. It can't be that.
He's seeing someone else, she thought like a slap. "I have a couple of seats to Paris next week. Just two days."
I felt the shock in my face before I could hide it.
He said he had next weekend off. Let's see him squirm out of this. She had already decided my look confirmed her suspicion. "What do you think?"
"I- well I'm on call," I said.
She shifted under me and turned her face away. I knew it.
I reached down and held the edge of the condom so it didn't pull off when I rolled onto my back. I slipped the condom off and dropped it over the edge of the bed, into the trash. "You knew I was on call. Didn't you?" I asked after several silent minutes. After those two captains in New Zealand, she's the jealous one? I wondered with a twinge of anger. I thought we'd been having a good night. I'd even come home early.
"It's fine," she said and moved her leg away from mine where they touched. He's not even going to admit to it.
My jaw tightened in frustration. I wanted to roll back over and shake it out of her. Shout, 'I'm not cheating!' in her stunned face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and thought of an empty room. White walls. No windows. "It's not fine. I'm sorry I can't go with you." Breathe in and then out. One window with parted curtains letting in bright light. "I can't even ask about full leave right now. We're too busy." I could feed her reasonable reasons until she calmed down and came out with what was bothering her. Until then I was going to breathe. None of the panicky thoughts of the whole weekend together, the pressure and the expectations. I was so worn down I barely had the energy for tonight.
She sighed, nervous and determined. "I don't always feel like you want to be here." I wonder who she is. Some agent with sunglasses and a gun?
I propped myself up on one elbow to look at her face. She had her head turned to the wall. "Why do you think that?" Where did all of this come from? If she'd been worried about it before I would have known. I'd opened myself up more after the fiasco in the parking garage. I knew she was worried her little brother was drinking again and she hadn't talked to him in weeks.
She sighed again, impatient. "You're preoccupied all the time. Like you're somewhere else in your head." With someone else.
"I've been slammed at work. I'm tired, that's all," I said, defensive when I should have been reassuring. I'm supposed to give anything my full attention while Craig's throwing pick-ups at me and I'm up to my ass in reports?
There was hurt and triumph when she looked at me. "Is that all?" She shifted and sat against the headboard with the sheets pulled up under her arms. I knew it. It's some slut from the office.
I sank back against the mattress. "I think all those time changes are getting to you." Say it if you're going to say it. Say it out loud so you can hear how ridiculous it is.
"I think you're full of shit. Don't try and con me and tell me it's just work." I'm not stupid.
I sat up, looking for my shorts. "I've got six other girls on the side, that must be it." I flipped the blankets back off my legs and found my pants but not my shorts. Where are they?
"There is someone else, I know it."
Screw the shorts. I jammed my legs into my pants and stood to pull them up the rest of the way. "What if there was? Would it even matter? After Captain Reynolds? After that steward with the accent in Paris? A relationship doesn't get much more open." I couldn't remember where my shirt had gone either. I looked over and around her for it.
How does he know about that? Mary must've told him. "You think I did it, so you're going to do it now? Is that it?" she asked, prepared to deny it. Prepared to lie to my face.
The anger sat low in my stomach and I stepped around the bed to face her. She'd moved to the edge, draped in the sheet like a toga. I leaned down to look at her stubborn face. "I know you did it and I didn't care. I knew about all of them." I straightened up to look for my shirt. It was too cold to leave without it. I turned my head and saw it draped over the edge of the dresser. I don't need this shit.
Her voice came from behind a wall of cotton as I fumbled to get the shirt on. "Who is she?"
I stood at the door and looked back at her. There was a frown carved into her face as she steeled herself for the answer.
"She's a figment of your fucking imagination." I stalked out of the room, grateful that she didn't try to chase me down, grateful that I could leave her guilt and anger and confusion back in the bedroom while I slid on my shoes and ducked out through the back door.
She's going to want her keys back. I sighed and my breath swirled in front of my eyes in a cloud of steam. I shoved my hands in my pockets and walked faster, feeling exposed in the dawn light. When did she get so damn possessive? She was supposed to be happy with her pilots and we'd get together when we were both home. What was wrong with that?
My arms were cold when I got inside. I rubbed them and looked at the clock over the TV. It was almost time to leave. Quick shower and then you can head into the office. There's the report from the op in Chicago and the proposal for Wednesday to do.
I felt my anger drain away as I made plans for work. I had to rewrite my initial statement about Chicago. I'd proofed it last night and the tone was all wrong. It read like I had picked him up on his lunch break because I was in a hurry, not because it was the best time. That wouldn't go over well with Craig. He seems to forget that I'm the only one that can do this. He doesn't have any other guys lined up to do the pickups. I didn't have much time to enjoy warming up in the shower before I was getting dressed again, combing my hair and brushing my teeth. I've got those Sudoku books for Gail in my desk with the crosswords I picked up for Carol. I have to remember to take them with me when I head down.
Reva's car was in the driveway when I got into mine. I was going to have to call later and smooth things over. Maybe flowers. What kind does she like? I tried to remember as I pulled into the street. I got on the highway instead of taking the back way and was at the gate in forty-five minutes.
I zipped up my jacket against the chill before I got out of the car and almost forgot to roll up the window. I went in the side door with my card key and bypassed the cubicles.
There was no one in the halls and the only other office with a light on was Kepler's. I unlocked my door, flicked on the light and stuck my briefcase in the chair next to the bookshelf. I grabbed my coffee mug and went down the hall. I tapped on Kepler's door.
He looked up from his desk, eyebrows up before he nodded. "Morning. Meeting time didn't get moved up, did it?" It looks like he's going on coffee and no sleep again.
The sleep comment was fair, I'd come straight off assignment to see Reva. "We're on for 2pm. It shouldn't take long."
"As long as they don't throw any more high profile cases in." He nodded at the mug. "Is there coffee?" I hope Warren didn't make it. That stuff's mud.
"No idea. Probably not. I make it lighter than Warren though, if you're interested."
He's in a good mood. "I might stretch my legs later and get a cup," he said, watching my face.
I shrugged. "If I don't go through the pot before then." Halfway down the hall I still felt the prickle of his eyes on the back of my neck. What's wrong with being in a good mood?
The kitchen was dark and didn't smell like burned grounds. Warren wasn't in yet. I dumped four tablespoons into the filter and closed the trap. The pot started automatically and I leaned against the counter watching it. Three hours of sleep was catching up to me. I put my elbows on the counter and looked around the room, breathing in the coffee smell to stay awake.
I reached for the phone on the wall and dialed.
"Security, Finnigan." Day shift already, Finnigan had just come on, he had the crisp official tone that he'd lose halfway through his shift.
"Sean, it's Agent Piken. I have some books I want to take downstairs. Can you put in a clearance with Gail for me? White's already signed off, should be in last night's log." If I drop the books off now, I'll have time to visit this afternoon. If I waited, the quarantine process would take too long and the books wouldn't be cleared by the time my meeting was over.
"Let me check." There was a clatter from the ancient keyboard they had in the video room. "Yeah, I'll send a note up to Gail. What do you have?"
"Two New York Times crossword puzzle anthologies and a Super Crossword Book. Tell Gail that I've got her Sudoku books too. Both of the ones she was looking for." I willed the coffee to drip faster. My eyes felt raw. Maybe I can stretch out on White's sofa.
Finnigan hammered the keys again. "Ok, it's noted."
"Thanks. I'll head down there in a few minutes," I said and checked my watch. Quarter to nine. I didn't have to have that revised report to Craig until after my meeting. There’s enough time to drop off the books and have a nap.
"No problem. Anything else I can do for you?" He was rushing me off the phone so he could get back to playing minesweeper.
"That's it. Thanks." I rubbed my eyes, relieved to see the coffee was done. I poured a cup and dumped two packets of sugar into it. I let it warm up my hands as I walked back down the hall. I took my first sip rifling through the bottom drawer of my desk for the books. I pulled them out of the plastic bag and set them on my blotter. I put the two smaller Sudoku books to one side and then shook the crosswords to make sure there were no loose pages or receipts stuck in them. Something like that would push back quarantine by a day. Nothing loose. I piled them back together and tried to smooth down a bent corner with my thumb.
I picked up the pile of books and was about to step out the door when I realized I was holding my coffee. Gail would love that. I gulped down half the cup, the hot liquid making my eyes water, and set the mug on the bookshelf. I grabbed my jacket, checked for my keys and tried again. I closed the door behind me, locked it and continued down the hall.
Gail's head was already up when I rounded the corner. Finnigan told her I was coming this time. It was an unfair thought, he'd only forgotten once. But I was the one who got threatened with a body cavity search.
He's looking thin. She looked me up and down with her hand on the gun under the desk.
My smile slipped. "I've got your books," I said and set them on the bare corner of her desk. I went to the eye scan without being asked and the first light blinked orange. I put my card in and the second turned green. There, you paranoid old woman. Now you can put the gun down and talk.
She had a security wand and waved it over all of the books. "Where did you find these? Everywhere here is sold out." Cookies, crossword puzzles; is he setting up camp down there?
"I can't reveal my sources," I said when she handed me the crossword books. My eyes were watering and I wiped them with my fingers. I wonder if they have a sofa anywhere else down there. The one in our break room is awful and White might be camped out on his in by now.
"You're sweet. Make sure you get some of those bagels I brought when you come back up. I bet you've had nothing but coffee this morning," she said before she turned to her books. This'll last me all week.
"I'll do that." I pushed the button to release the door and it slid open. I shivered across the long hall and in the elevator. I tucked the books under my arm and stuffed my hands in my pockets. I exchanged nods and 'good mornings' with a few techs in the halls.
When I turned the corner I stifled a sigh. The quarantine window was empty again. I know he doesn't like standing in the damn cage, but it is his job. I leaned on the small counter and rang the buzzer set into the wall. Past the counter was a thick metal grate that had been painted white and had a padlock on it. It looked more like a gun cage than a place for incoming books, clothes and sundries. I moved close to the chipped surface of the grate. I couldn't see around the corner to the door that led into the sterilization lab.
I bet he's in the cafeteria getting a donut. I wiped a smudge off the black surface of one of the books with my sleeve. I had reached for the buzzer again when I heard the lab door open.
"Coming." No deliveries this morning. Who needs something checked now? "Oh, Agent Piken." Richardson buttoned his lab coat and skirted a pile of plastic crates to get to the grate. Figures.
"I have some books. They should all fit in one bag." I held up the books for him to see. Let's do this so I can find somewhere to lie down.
"They might," he said and pushed a bag through the slot at the bottom of the grate.
I sealed the books into the cheery orange biohazard bag and pushed it through the hatch under the counter. "You think these will clear sometime this morning?" Outside goods for the subjects came on Wednesday, which meant a Monday request should clear by noon unless there was a backup from the last delivery or a special order. That would be my luck this morning. I wiped my eyes which had started watering again.
"Should clear before one. Anything else?" I swear White is letting them have more outside stuff to justify keeping the steri-lab manned 24/7.
"That's it. Thanks," I said, not unhappy to get away from him. He was one of the ones like Forrest that thought the subjects should get minimal privileges. Wonder how he would like it, no time outside, no phone, no internet. He'd crack in a week.
I had turned the corner and I saw a shock of red hair at the far end of the hall. "Morning, Ray," I said and walked over. I wonder if he's using his office right now.
He met me halfway, his eyebrows up. "Got something in quarantine?" What'd you bring her this time? he asked with interest.
"Crosswords. She used to get the Times at the Slope." I felt caught even though he had cleared the books. He looks tired, I realized. His lab coat was even more rumpled than usual and he was pale under his bright hair.
"Oh, right." We were up all night with the new one and then Forrest called out on some family thing so I have to manage all of his experiments too.
I nodded. All I wanted was a spot on his sofa and a darkened office with a shut door. "Yeah, I had a-"
"If you want to see her, she's getting prepped for A treatment. I can leave her in there for maybe half an hour, do Sherman first." There's no one to cover for me until noon, so I'm taking the treatment schedule too.
I had to shake my head at the change in subject. "Sure. I mean you don't have to," I said. I felt more awake at the prospect of seeing Carol this morning. Too bad the books won't be through.
White smothered a yawn with the back of his hand. "It's no problem. Come on," he said and started down the hall. Next time I'm going to make up a dead great aunt. He's getting five days. I could use that kind of time off.
"Who couldn't?" I trailed after him, down past the labs with the monkeys and the dogs. They barked as we passed.
He pushed open a door and we stepped into a locker room. It had the same blue lockers and red benches as the one near the elevator and a quarter of the floor space. "You're going to have to change. There are scrubs on the shelf over there." He gestured off to the left. "And booties to put over your shoes. I'll go tell Campbell we're doing Sherman first." He went through the double doors at the other end of the room, shoulders hunched against his tiredness.
Blue ones. I wonder if green is only for the dogs? I kept my keys and stowed the rest of my clothes in an open locker. I was putting the thin booties over my shoes when he came back in.
"Come on. I have to get to Sherman in a few minutes or the whole schedule is off," he said with more weariness than impatience. He watched me struggle with the shoe covers. You look like you dropped a few more pounds. Having any headaches? he asked, trying to diagnose me with some side effect from the gas.
I shook my head. "Nope. Just worn out. We've had a lot of pickups this month."
"I hear that." He nodded and held the door open for me. There was a small scrub station and more doors with large black numbers painted on them. She's in 3. Campbell will come for her when we're done with Sherman. Half an hour, maybe less.
I watched the door swing shut behind him as he hurried off to see the other subject. I turned to door three. The metal was warm under my hand as pushed the door open.
I felt Carol jump when she heard the door and the deep breath she took to calm herself down before she saw it was me. "What are you doing here?" she asked, face drawn up in confusion and her arms crossed over her chest. This isn't a good time for cookies.
I let the door close behind me and my smile felt awkward. Her gown tied around in the front and she felt vulnerable out of her jumpsuit. "I came down to drop off some books. White grabbed me out of quarantine and brought me over." I made sure I kept my eyes on her face and stayed near the door. The room was like a doctor's office, down to the bench covered in paper that crinkled when she moved. The smell of alcohol and floor cleaner made my nose burn. "I can come back later." You look like you didn't sleep.
She looked down at her feet. They didn't touch the floor. "No, it's fine. How long before they come back?" she asked, eye on the door on the other side of the room. It didn't have any numbers on it. I hate needles. She rubbed her arms against a chill.
"Me too. You should see what it takes to get me to a doctor." I'd give you my jacket if it wasn't in the locker room. I moved further into the room, opening the cupboards to see if I could find a blanket.
"Are you snooping, or are you looking for something?" I could feel her eyes on my back and shut the cupboard. They keep gauze and long q-tips in there. I checked.
"Just looking," I said, still tired and slow. I leaned on the counter behind me, grateful to have somewhere to put my hands. "I brought your books. I could only find two of the New York Times collections. The woman at the bookstore suggested another one."
Her smile was strained. You didn't have to. "Did you catch Dirty Jobs last night?" Her eyes darted toward the door and then back to me.
"No. I got hung up," I hedged. "Are the meds keeping you up again? You look tired."
She sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Don't you know you aren't supposed to tell a girl she looks tired? Didn't you have any sisters, Slick?" Under her light tone she was drawn tight. Do you think I want to talk about my treatments right now?
"Sorry, I was- never mind." I stifled a yawn and rubbed my eyes. Why do I bring these things up?
"It doesn't look like you got much sleep either." I thought you went home at a decent hour last night.
She met my eyes and I couldn't look away. "Well, I had to meet... someone." I didn't want to talk about my argument with Reva any more than she wanted to talk about needles.
She nodded. "Ah, the girlfriend." There's a special on sharks next week. You'd like it.
I didn't like the way she said 'the girlfriend' like she might say the car, or the toaster. "We had a fight," I said without meaning to. She's about to get pumped full of drugs and you want to whine about your morning?
Her shoulders relaxed and she patted the table next to her. "What happened?" Did she find out you like Enya?
I moved over to the table and leaned on the edge next to her. Her feet swung back and forth and I could feel the movement through the pads on the bench. "It's stupid."
She put her hands on the edge of the bench too and her right hand almost touched my left. "People don't have smart fights."
"I've been distracted so she thinks I'm cheating." I was surprised how easy it was to sum up in one sentence. It's not like I'm running around after girls all day.
"She said that?" Doesn't she know you can read her?
"She doesn't know. She implied I was cheating and I brought up all the pilots she'd been sleeping with at work," I admitted, ashamed of myself. All of those guys I bring in for digging and I was doing it to my girlfriend.
She cleared her throat to keep from laughing. "I guess it's an open relationship. I wouldn't have guessed." You're a wild man. With a big mouth. There were better ways to bring that up.
"I have a wild girl at least. I flew off the handle when she wouldn't come out and say it. She could've just asked if I was cheating.'"
"Maybe if she was a path, or knew about you. Even then asking means having it denied or confirmed. No one wants something like that confirmed." I guess this explains why you're in so early, she concluded and gave my hand a light squeeze.
I turned my hand to hold hers. "You're probably right. You should be a therapist. Did you ever think about doing that when you get out?"
She pulled her hand away and slid off the table. Her slippers squeaked against the tile. When she turned to face me she looked small and tired. When I get out? "Andrew, what makes you think I'm getting out of here?"
If she had been angry I would have been able to argue better. Her bone weary acceptance got to me. "It's the aim of the program," I said without conviction. How are you so sure?
She tilted her head to one side. You've been at this a long time. You can't be surprised. She took my hand and held it between hers. "I killed people. They're not ever letting me out."
I stood up straight and looked down at her eyes. They were red around the bright blue irises. "You're going to be better. You did that when you were sick." I couldn't think of anything else to say. I didn't have it in me to confirm what she suspected. She wasn't getting out.
"I'm not stupid. If I was ever declared sane I'd get put in prison instead." They're not going to take a chance on letting me out, not matter how well this works. She blinked and tears slid down her cheeks.
When I hugged her, her head didn't quite reach my shoulder. Her arms were trapped between us and I could feel hot tears soak into my shirt. She let me hold her head in place with one hand and rub her back with the other. She pulled away after a few minutes and wouldn't meet my eyes. I can't believe I did that. "You should go. They're going to come for me soon."
My hands found the edge of the bench again. "I could come back this afternoon. I was going to, with the books," I said to fill the silence.
I could feel the smooth surface of her block, like a thick sheet of glass under what she was saying. "Sure. Come back this afternoon." It's not like I'm going anywhere. She backed across the room to stand next to the counter.
I wanted to hug her again. I tightened my grip on the bench. "My meeting is at two. I can be down by four," I promised and pushed off the table toward the door. I needed to get out of the room, away from this.
She nodded again. "I'll see you later."
"Right, later." My tone was too bright. Her eyes were understanding.
I got dressed and walked back up to my office, wide awake. I sat at my desk with the door open and watched people walk back and forth down the hall. I couldn't seem to concentrate on my report. I looked out the window. I stared at the blank word document. I got up and looked at my bookshelf and retrieved my coffee mug. I looked at the calendar on the wall. It had photos of World War 1 planes. Last week was my three year anniversary, I realized with some surprise. I tapped the day with my finger. The 3rd of March. Three years. Three years with a handful of vacation days taken and two sick days. I had forty vacation days with the department and twelve personal days. And a sabbatical.
I peered down at the calendar. Ticking off the years on my fingers. It was definitely three. Three years was a sabbatical. All government agencies were required to offer them to telepaths every three years. "Six months off," I said to myself, sitting down behind my desk. I looked at my screen again. Craig's not going to want to give it to you. It'll slow down the program. Maybe not if I packed more pickups in before. Then I could go and they'd have plenty to do. He has to let you. It's the law.
I sat up straighter; a weight had lifted from my shoulders. I took a quick glance at my notes and started typing. I finessed the report into something Craig would want to hear.
It was almost noon when I finished proofing the report. I stretched my neck and wondered if White would want me to bring him a sandwich from Gerrard's for lunch.
The phone rang.
"Piken," I answered, seeing it was a downstairs number. Be funny if White called when I was thinking about lunch. Guy has a hollow leg or something.
"Piken, it's Kepler. Were you the last one with Matthews before her treatment this morning?"
I have clearance, I thought with a defensive frown. "Maybe. I saw her before they came for her. One of the techs might've come in to prep her after I left."
"But you were there? 9-9:30-ish?" he asked in a rush.
I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Kepler was never anything but calm and cool. "I was there. Look, did something happen? I didn't leave anything in the room." I patted my pockets for my keys. They were a solid weight against my side.
"Don't go anywhere. I'll be up there to talk to you in half an hour," he said even faster.
"What's going on? Was she too upset? Did she refuse her treatment or something?" They're not going to let me bring her things if she doesn't follow her regimen.
He huffed into the phone. "Refused treatment? Christ Andrew." He took a deep breath. "Did she say anything? Seem off at all?"
My chest was tight. "She said she knew she wasn't getting out."
"That's fucking perfect."
"What happened?" I gripped the phone so hard I thought it would crack.
He sighed into the line, making it crackle. "She's still unconscious. She stabbed White in the leg with one of those big syringes and tried to off herself. Doc's pretty shaken up."
What? "What are you talking about? I was just down there."
"Look, I have to get someone to corral these subjects that were brought over for treatments. I'll fill you in when I get done. Don't go anywhere." He hung up and the dial tone buzzed in my ear.previous