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“We’re here for our IDs,” said Becks. “We did our part.”

“Oh, I know. I knew as soon as the bug started transmitting. They’ve been naughty, naughty boys and girls there at the CDC. They’re going to be very sorry when they get the bill for this. Killing people, cloning people, arranging outbreaks… it would have been so much cheaper if they’d settled their debts in a civilized manner.”

I went cold. Grabbing blindly for George’s hand, I asked, “What do you mean, ‘the bill’?”

The Cat looked up. For a moment, the smug, almost alien look on her face told me exactly where her nickname had come from. “We’re free operatives, Mr. Mason. You can’t blame me for taking my money where I can get it.”

“It was you.” Mahir’s voice was tinged with a dawning horror. I turned to look at him. He was staring at her, the white showing all the way around his irises. “One thing always seemed a little off to me when I reviewed the tapes we managed to recover from Oakland. Dr. Connelly was traveling on one of your ID cards. She should have been safe. She should have been untraceable. So how is it the CDC tracked her less than two hours after she arrived? And why did they lose track of her after that first ID was consigned to the fires?”

“I don’t know,” said the Cat. “Why don’t you tell me? You’re the journalists. You’re supposed to be the smart ones.”

“Wait.” Becks turned toward Mahir. I didn’t like the edge on her voice. “Are you telling me this woman got Dave killed?”

“If you answer that question, you don’t get your new identities. Think about that.” The Cat looked back down at her tablet, seemingly unconcerned. “You came here because you wanted a free pass out of your lives. You committed an act of treason because you were willing to do whatever it took to get that free pass into your hands. Are you going to let something that happened in the past come between you and getting what you paid for?”

“I guess that depends on whether getting what we paid for is going to get an airstrike called down on our heads,” I said.

Then a small, perplexed voice spoke from the stairs: “Kitty, what did you do?” I looked toward it. The Fox was descending from the second floor. The look on her face was almost childlike in its confusion, like whatever was going on was so far outside her experience that it verged on impossible. “Did you do another bad thing? You know what Monkey said he’d do if you did another bad thing. You remember what he did to Wolf.”

“Go back upstairs, Foxy,” said the Cat calmly. “Watch a movie in your room. I’ll bring cookies later.”

The Fox frowned. “You’re not answering my question.”

“That’s because I don’t have to answer to you.”

“No, but you do have to answer to me.” We all turned toward the new voice, Becks reaching for a gun she didn’t have. Her hand hovered in the air next to her hip for a moment, and then dropped back to her side.

The man who had emerged from the short hallway behind the kitchen looked at us mildly, like he had groups of strangers appear in his living room every day. Then again, maybe he did, considering his line of work.

“Mr. Monkey, I presume?” I said.

“No, no, Mr. Monkey was my father.” His voice was vague enough that I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “You must be the journalists.”

“Yes, we are,” said Mahir. “Are you the gentleman in charge of this establishment?”

“Not sure anybody really runs the Brainpan, but I guess it’s down to me.” A certain sharpness came into his eyes as he surveyed our motley group, belying his earlier vagueness. “Now what am I going to do with you?”

The Monkey was average-looking to the point of being forgettable almost while I was still looking at him. Caucasian male, average height, average weight, features that were neither ugly nor attractive, brown hair with bleach streaks, just like every other man on the planet who cared more about functionality than vanity. No one’s that forgettable without working at it. We were probably looking at the result of years of careful refinement, possibly including some plastic surgery. This was a man who never wanted to stand out in a crowd. He could disappear into the background before you even realized he was there. In its own way, he was as terrifying as the Fox. At least there, you’d probably see the crazy coming.

Or not, said my inner George. Remember the front yard.

I bit back my response to her and smiled at the Monkey instead. “You’re going to give us our fake IDs, whip up another one for my sister here, and send us on our merry way?”

“Monkey!” The Fox shoved her way through our group, all but flinging herself into the arms of the unassuming man. “Kitty did a bad thing, she did, she didn’t say she did, but she didn’t say she didn’t, either, and that means she did!”

“I did not follow that,” said Becks.

“The Cat killed Dave,” said Maggie. There was a low menace in her tone. I didn’t like it. I knew how the rest of us would act if we decided this would be a good time to lose our shit. Maggie… I had no idea. I’d never seen her really flip out. Suddenly that seemed like a genuine possibility.

“Who?” asked the Monkey. He stroked the Fox’s head with one hand as he looked at us, waiting for an answer. She snuggled into his arms, posture half that of a lover, half that of a pet. “I don’t remember anyone by that name.”


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