“He wasn’t one of your clients,” Maggie practically spat. Mahir put a hand on her shoulder, preemptively restraining her. She ignored him, eyes locked on the Monkey. “You made a new identity for a woman from the CDC. Kelly Connolly.”
“You used the name ‘Mary Preston,’ ” interjected Becks.
“Ah!” The Monkey smiled. He wasn’t forgettable when he did that. For a moment, his face pulled itself into a configuration that was handsome enough to explain how he was able to shack up with two attractive, if psychologically damaged, women who did his bidding without complaint. “That was a tricky piece of work. I don’t usually do that much image replacement for a simple death-and-rebirth routine, you know? It was a challenge. I like challenges.”
I spoke before I had a chance to think better of it, saying, “Yeah, well, that challenge came with a tracker that led the CDC right to her, and hence, right to us. They bombed the whole block. It destroyed our offices and killed one of our staffers.”
The Monkey’s smile faded, replaced by a frown. “That’s not possible. I don’t place trackers in my IDs. It would damage my reputation among my primary clientele, and I’ve spent quite some time building it up.”
“The reputation, or the clientele?” asked George.
“Both.” The Monkey squinted at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead? I remember your face from the news feeds—and from the CDC records I’ve been reading all morning. Fascinating stuff.”
“I got better,” she said.
“We’re losing the thread here,” I said, wanting to divert the Monkey’s attention from George. Somehow, he struck me as the kind of guy who’d love to take her apart, just to be sure she was a clone and not a cyborg or something. “We planted the bug at the CDC for you. We want our papers.”
“You killed Dave,” said Maggie, not budging from her core point.
I was starting to feel like there were at least three conversations going on, and I wasn’t directing any of them. “Can we all settle down for a minute? Please? It’s getting sort of hard to figure out what’s going on here.”
“No, it’s pretty simple,” said the Monkey mildly. “You exchanged currency and services for a set of false identities that could potentially get you out of whatever trouble you’ve managed to get into—which I have to say, is extremely impressive trouble, especially given where you started. You don’t trust me or my girls, but you didn’t have anywhere else that you could go for this sort of service. I understand that. I’ve worked hard to keep down the competition.”
The Fox pulled her face away from his chest long enough to look over her shoulder and inform us solemnly, “That’s part of my job.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said. “You look like you do it very well.”
She offered a hesitant smile, and then turned to nestle back against the Monkey. He stroked her hair and said, “Now, you’re also having a crisis of… call it faith… because you’ve decided I was somehow responsible for the death of your friend. I assure you, it’s not the case. Not unless he was trying to establish himself as one of my competitors.”
“He was a journalist,” said Becks quietly.
“So he wasn’t trying to set himself up as the competition. Huh.” The Monkey looked toward where the Cat still sat calmly, fingers skating over the surface of her tablet. “Cat? Does what these people are saying have any merit?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she replied. She didn’t raise her head. She might as well have been responding to a question about whether she wanted soup for dinner.
The Monkey frowned, a flicker of irritation crossing his face. He pushed the Fox gently away from him. “Look at me while I’m speaking to you.”
The Cat still didn’t look up.
“Look at me.” The Monkey’s annoyance was entirely unmasked now. He didn’t look forgettable at all. “Jane. Put it down, look at me, and tell me what you did.”
“That’s not my name.” The Cat finally took her eyes off the screen. Her lips were pressed into a thin, hard line as she raised her head and glared at him. “My name is Cat.”
“Your name is scared little girl who couldn’t deal with all the boys who only wanted you for your body, but wished you’d put your brain in a jar so that they could f**k you and be smarter than you at the same time. Your name is ‘I took you in when you said you wanted out.’ Your name is ‘you came to me.’ I own you. Now what. Did you. Do?”
Carefully, like she was in no hurry at all, the Cat put her tablet aside. She stood and strolled over to us, stopping barely out of the Monkey’s reach. “You took the man from the CDC’s money. You said you’d build him the perfect disappearing girl—one who’d never set off any red flags or raise any alarms. And then you went into your damn workshop, like you always do, and you left me alone with Princess Crazy-Cakes here”—she gestured toward the Fox—“to entertain your client until he got bored and went away. He didn’t get bored. He knew how you worked. He was waiting for you to leave.”
“What?” The Monkey glanced at the Fox. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
She sniffled. “Kitty told me to go outside and play with the crows. We found a dead squirrel. I set it on fire.”
“Kids these days,” said Becks dryly.
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