This picks up right after the Boston series. Happy Fourth of July!
Something was slightly off in the bus’s suspension, which meant that the ride rattled her more than usual, bouncing herself and the other passengers against the worn fabric of the seats. For the man sitting next to her, the ride had to be sheer torture: no surprise, given the number of hits he’d taken. But he never complained.
And oh, god, oh, god, she still couldn’t think about torture.
As much as she wanted to, Sarah didn’t put her head back against the seat and close her eyes. Closing her eyes meant going back. Going back meant seeing Bryce—Bryce—in that rotting old room that stank of pollution and decomposition. She knew, in the sinking, hollow pit that had once been her stomach, that it would take months, possibly years to ever close her eyes and not go back. So now she sat stiffly, curled forward with her spine in the shape of a comma, and kept her eyes open until they burned. Her bones and muscles felt so tight it was a wonder she didn’t start creaking every time the bus hit a pot hole on the road from Boston to Providence.
She had a million questions for the man sitting beside her at the window seat. Hell, she didn’t even know his name, let alone what had brought him to Boston, why he hadn’t simply taken off during their fight, why he wouldn’t hit her back, why he’d pulled her out of danger with him. Why he was still sitting next to her.
She’d given him multiple opportunities to slip away. She’d seen the way his eyes had changed every time one of those opportunities had arisen. Whoever had trained him had been thorough; the man could be a full-time CIA agent and be at the top of the ranks. Maybe he was, or had been. But that didn’t feel right.
Neither did her confusion every time the man ignored an opportunity to get away from her.
What the hell had he been doing in Boston?
In Providence, they switched to a taxi, and the man—Nick, she’d call him for now, as that was how he had introduced himself—Nick gave the driver an address.
It smelled like old milk in the taxi. Sarah had already thrown up the contents of her stomach in Boston, outside the rental car they’d ditched at the bus stop. Nick hadn’t said a thing, hadn’t even looked at her, as she’d wiped her mouth and climbed back in to drive once more. She felt completely hollowed out and almost dizzy, but otherwise the raw, overpowering stench of the taxi, combined with the borrowing clothing that smelled like bus stop, would have made her want to lose her lunch. It was a small blessing.
Next to her, Nick either stared out the window or fiddled with his watch.
The taxi let them out at one of those greasy curbside diners that seemed to only exist in the movies. Sarah didn’t ask how Nick knew about it. She only went inside, found a booth with her back to the wall, and ordered a coffee.
“And some soup,” Nick added, surprising her since they were the first words he’d spoken, apart from directions and thanking the driver.
Both the waiter and Sarah looked at him in surprise.
He floundered a little bit, as though surprised by the attention, but he just nodded. “She could use some soup, too.”
“I’m fine,” Sarah said between gritted teeth. Her stomach recoiled at even the merest idea of food, but coffee, even if it was swill, she could handle coffee.
“Fine. Then I’ll have some soup, whatever the soup of the day is.”
“French onion,” the waiter supplied, already looking bored. Fluorescent lighting hadn’t done his unshaven face or the stains on his white T-shirt any favors. It also made everything in the diner seem a little too bright and too garish and far too real. “Anything else?”
“Cheeseburger, well-done, fries. Some of those little saltine cracker packets to go with the soup, too. Um, is there pie? Diners always have pie.”
“Cherry and lemon meringue.”
“Cherry, then.” Nick glanced at her, just briefly. She wondered if he could see that her jaw was clenched. How the hell could he think about food? “Two slices of that, whipped cream on them, but you can bring that later, no rush. And a ginger ale.” He thought about it for a second. “And coffee.”
“I see you’re hungry,” Sarah said, and it came out like an accusation.
He gave her a look she couldn’t decipher. “I missed lunch.”
Nick went silent again. It seemed...unusual. During their time in Spain, he’d talked at times to fill the silence, as though he couldn’t stand it, not when there was another person around to share things with. But it had been nearly two hours since they’d ditched the rental car, and though she’d seen him glance at her time and again and open his mouth slightly, as though to talk, he remained quiet. And it disquieted her.
The waiter returned with chipped coffee mugs and a coffee pot. Stale, Sarah determined immediately, but she drank hers black, letting it burn the back of her throat. Nick doctored his, dumping in sugar until the coffee was more white than brown, but he didn’t drink. When the waiter brought the ginger ale, Nick nodded that he should put it in front of Sarah. She didn’t take it; Nick shrugged.
Finally, she couldn’t stand not knowing any longer. “How did you know he was there?”
He stopped, the coffee halfway to his lips. “I’m sorry?”
“How,” Sarah said more slowly, “did you know he was there?”
Nick gave her a funny look. “Are you talking about Bryce?”
What an absurd question. Had he somehow missed the sight of her dead ex-partner? What else could she possibly be referring to? It wasn’t like they’d come across any other dead bodies that day. Or at least she hadn’t. For all she knew about Nick, Bryce could have been his third or fourth. Or his fault.
“You’re talking about Bryce,” Nick said, nodding once to himself. “I didn’t know.”
“How’d you know his name?”
“You said it.”
“I did not.”
“Several times, while we were in the...in the shed.” For a brief second, Nick looked queasy. It should have strengthened their odd connection, should have made her feel like she had a comrade, but instead it angered her. She didn’t want a comrade. She wanted for this to be somebody’s fault, somebody she could hunt and destroy. It wasn’t Nick. So she glared, and Nick sighed, putting his coffee to the side. “I didn’t know he was there.”
“Why the hell were you in Boston?”
“Drink the ginger ale and I’ll tell you.”
“No, you’ll tell me now.”
Nick’s eyebrows went up. He folded his arms on the table, sticking his elbow perilously close to a grease stain, and waited.
She broke first. “Damn you,” she said, and downed half of the ginger ale as Nick hadn’t touched the glass. The coffee had hit her stomach like a brick; the ginger ale eased that somewhat. Making her feel better just made the anger grow. She could actually feel her glare becoming more and more vicious.
Nick didn’t seem at all perturbed by that. “I was looking for a signal,” he said. Evidently, she’d drunk enough ginger ale to satisfy him.
“A signal.” It was oddly akin to her own story: an encrypted feed Bryce had given her a few months before he’d died had suddenly sprang to life on her phone. It had only been for a second. It had probably been a fluke, or a computer glitch or something. She’d investigated, anyway. Maybe, she’d thought at the time, it could tell her something about Bryce’s suddenly shifting loyalties.
It had told her something, all right.
“What kind of signal?”
Nick stayed silent. Swearing under her breath, Sarah polished off the ginger ale.
“Satellite feed,” he said immediately. “One that shouldn’t have been in use.”
“Because it belongs to—a colleague. And that colleague is very careful about who uses his gear.”
“Obviously, you do.”
“Well, of course. He’s my—colleague.”
“Orion,” Sarah said, a complete guess.
Nick said nothing and took his first sip of coffee. He grimaced and reached for the creamer.
It was Sarah’s turn to grimace as Nick poured at least three of the little cups into the coffee. How did he still have a tooth left in his head? “Was that why your watch was beeping?”
“Yes. I set Tan—my watch to alert me when I neared the source of the signal. The water made the reading unclear unless I could get within six feet. Going to Boston was a long shot. I didn’t have much of a choice, though.”
“Why didn’t your colleague handle this?”
“Because he doesn’t know. How’d you know?”
“That he was there.”
“I didn’t. My story’s same as yours.”
“I doubt it. Who was he?”
Was. The word hit like a fist.
Nick seemed to realize it, belatedly. He winced, though that could have been the fact that she had caused him severe deep tissue damage earlier.
“He was my partner,” Sarah heard herself say. Because her voice sounded strange, she cleared her throat, but it didn’t do anything. “Bryce Larkin and I were partners for three years.”
Sarah mimicked Nick, and shrugged.
“Okay.” Nick turned to his watch. Sarah’s eyes widened when the actual screen on the watch proceeded to grow in size, flattening out and molding against his wrist. Nick ignored her, however, and tapped the screen with his index and middle fingers. After a second, he looked up at her. “It says Bryce Larkin was killed eight months ago.”
“What?” How in God’s name had he found out about Bryce getting shot blowing up part of the DNI? “How do you know that?”
“Google search,” Nick said, giving her a quizzical look. “They said it was a bank robbery gone bad.”
Sarah made the mistake of closing her eyes, and saw it all again: Bryce’s dead, bloating, staring face, his hands. The bruises and punctures on his torso. The blood on the floor, on the walls.
“Excuse me,” she said, climbing to her feet and before Nick could do or say anything to stop her, she walked away.