If he was planning to ruffle her calm, he was disappointed. “She goes back to Pharmadene,” Riley said, without much emotion. “And you’re right. She can’t leave there again; she’s too high a risk. If she decides she wants to end her drug regimen, or chooses another method of…termination, that is entirely her choice; it’s one we give all the addicts. Frankly, if it was me in this situation, I wouldn’t want to go on.” She looked up then, but not at Pat—at Bryn, who felt a chill ladder up her spine. “Would you?”
Bryn didn’t reply, but she knew if she’d been forced to do so, she would have had to confess that dying, however horrible, might have been better than living the rest of an immortal life with the burden of this on her conscience.
The shower cut off in the bathroom. Riley went to the closet and combed through clothes (How do you choose an outfit for a time like this? Bryn wondered) and handed underwear, pants, and a shirt off to her colleague. “You should leave,” Riley said to the rest of them. “The clock’s ticking. You should be able to go without any questions being asked, but if you’re stopped at the cordon, give them my name.”
Bryn said, “You can’t just—”
“Can’t just what?” Riley snapped, and for a moment her shell of calm cracked through to white, furious rage. “Can’t clean up this mess? That’s all I do, Bryn. It’s my fucking job. Day after day. Night after night. I see the wreckage that Pharmadene left us with, and I get to sweep up the broken glass. So either get out of the way or grab a broom.” She paused for a second, shut her eyes, and then looked at Pat. “McCallister, get her the hell out of here. Now.”
He stood still for so long that Bryn was convinced he’d do something, stop what was happening, try, but instead when he did move, he only crossed to Bryn and took her hand. “We need to go,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“We can’t let them just abduct her—”
“Bryn, we’re on thin ice as it is. You can’t fight this. Listen—listen to me!” She was trying to pull free of him, and get to Lynnette, and he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. Hard. “You exist on the government’s sufferance, and that can end anytime they want. Don’t fight them on this. Don’t. There’s nothing we can do for her!”
“There should be!” she snapped, and broke free of him…but then didn’t know which way to go. Toward Lynnette, whose limp body, clothed now, was being carried out by the male agent…or to coldcock Riley Block, just for the hell of it.
In the end, the choice was taken from her, simply because the FBI didn’t stick around for it. In the next breath Lynnette was out of the room, and Riley was a step behind, and it was just her and Patrick standing there, with Lynnette’s blood staining the bedspread in the outline of her head.
And he was, as always, right. She didn’t have the power to fight the FBI on this, and Lynnette probably wouldn’t thank her for doing it. Still, she gulped in a few breaths, and said, “It isn’t right. What they’re doing.”
“No,” Patrick said. “And we can discuss that all you want. But we need to leave. Now.”
She knew that, but looking around the house, she felt a moment of disorientation, of utter loss. “Just a minute,” she said, and went to the plaster cast of the children’s handprints on the wall. She took it, threw another look around the room, and had no idea what else there was. A whole life—four lives—had been lost, and all she could think to grab was this one thing.
She didn’t have the heart to look anymore, certainly not at the bodies cooling in the other room. In the end, she just walked out. She knew Patrick was worried about her, but she didn’t feel upset. She’d shut down. She just felt…distant now. Resigned, and oddly at peace.
She got in her car, put the plaque in the passenger seat, and leaned out the window to say, “I’m going to work. See you tonight.”
She rolled up the window on whatever he was going to say and drove away.
It wasn’t until she was in her office, holding the plaque in one hand as she tried to figure out where it should go, that the walled-off parts of her crashed in like a tsunami, and she had just enough time to put the thing down before she collapsed against the solid bulk of her desk.
She was still crying when her phone rang. It was Lucy’s ringtone. Bryn gulped in air, wiped her eyes, and tried to clear her throat before she answered. Better to keep it short. “Yes?”
“You wanted me to remind you about that vendor appointment this afternoon,” Lucy said. “Dang, you’ve got a lot of off-sites all of a sudden. What’s that about? Oh, and don’t forget you’ve got Mr. Chen’s interment tomorrow. In case your meeting runs long today.”
Even keeping it brief didn’t help, because after a second’s pause, Lucy said, in a totally different, concerned tone, “Honey, are you okay?”
“Fine.” Bryn hung up, because she definitely couldn’t talk about any of this, not with Lucy, not with anyone. She didn’t need to be sobbing on the floor right now; it wasn’t helping the dead Renfers, or Lynnette, and it wasn’t helping her. Lucy rang back, but Bryn ignored it, went into the private washroom attached to her office, and ran cold water over her hands and face. Her makeup needed significant repairs. Doing that steadied her, focused her, and by the time she stepped out and locked her office door, she felt almost herself again.
She turned and came close to running into Lucy as the woman strode toward her down the hall. She flinched. Lucy didn’t. “I know you didn’t just hang up on me, just because I asked if you were okay.” The other woman peered at Bryn closely, and despite all the makeup repairs Bryn felt suddenly very exposed and fragile. “You’re not okay. What happened?”
“I…lost someone,” Bryn said. “Someone I was trying to help. That’s all. It was just…hard.” Even that much was tough to say without choking on the words, letting the memories flow out and overtake her. “I’m fine, Lucy. Thanks.”
“Okay, then,” Lucy said, but she was still frowning just a little. “You sure there’s nothing I can do for you?”
“Just tell Joe that I’m off to Pharmadene. I need him to stay here and cover the shop.”
“He doesn’t like letting you go off by yourself. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was kind of obsessed with you.”
That was…funny, in a strange sort of way. “Trust me, he’s really not,” Bryn said. “His wife would kill both of us.”
“Seen that happen. Hell, I think Mr. Chen might have, too, him dying on top of that hooker and all.”
Bryn dredged up a smile for her, from some unknown storage compartment deep inside. “Joe’s got the address where I’m going. I’ll probably have my cell off during the meeting.”
“You be careful,” Lucy said. “And if you don’t mind me saying so, stop off and have yourself a drink after. You look like you need one.”
Boy, was that true.
Pharmadene’s building was more like a corporate reservation: acres of land—mind-bogglingly expensive on the outskirts of San Diego—all surrounded by both an obvious fence and (Bryn was sure) more high-tech methods of security that were invisible to the naked eye. She had talked herself into feeling confident at the beginning of the drive, but as she rolled up toward the guarded iron gates (much thicker and more imposing than the last time she’d been here), she realized that she was trembling—fine little vibrations throughout her muscles, but most noticeably in her hands.
Her body was sensibly telling her to run like hell. It, at least, hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to rot. Bryn took a swallow of lukewarm water from a bottle to combat the sensation, and had her ID out and ready as she came to a stop at the guard station. The man on station there looked at her with professionally cold eyes, checked her ID, and checked the handheld tablet he was holding for confirmation. Then he had her press her finger to a scanner for print recognition before handing over a parking pass.
“Go straight until you see the sign for visitor parking,” he said. “Turn right, take only the space number that matches this pass. Leave the paper on the dashboard and proceed directly to the security desk inside the building. Don’t make any stops along the way. You’ll be monitored.”
He wasn’t kidding around, and neither was she; she followed the directions exactly, even down to making sure that she took the shortest possible path from her car to the glass-and-steel doorway. There, trapped between that door and another of bullet-resistant glass inches thick, she had to scan her fingerprint again before a cool female voice said, “Please proceed directly to the security station. Welcome back, Ms. Davis.”
Bryn shuddered hard at the creepy fact that this place knew her.
Inside was a vast atrium, designed to awe those who stepped inside; the central bank of elevators rose up at least twenty floors, and sunlight flooded down through the thick paned glass on top to glitter coldly from even more steel. The security station was made of that same burnished metal, about as comfortable as a morgue table…of which she had some experience.
Behind the chest-high desk stood no less than four people, but three of them were stationed well back from the one who smiled professionally at Bryn, accepted her ID, and passed over a badge. It was marked as ESCORTED VISITOR. “You’ll need to stay close to your escort, ma’am,” he told her. “If you get too far away…”
“I know,” she said. “Condition Red. Alarms go off. I get Tasered.”
“Something like that,” he said, without much concern. “Ms. Harris will take you upstairs.”
Ms. Harris was one of the three behind the counter, a black woman with a military-short haircut and the posture of someone who’d spent hours standing for inspection. She had a handgun, a Taser, pepper spray, handcuffs, and a number of other things that Bryn couldn’t identify at a glance. Ms. Harris was not chatty. Bryn said hello, Harris nodded, and that was the extent of their entire personal conversation all the way up to the twentieth floor. She couldn’t help but imagine Lynnette taking this same journey, but going down, down into the basement levels where all the labs were.