“Mom, make Dad stop acting like he knows everything,” I said, without any real rancor.
“Michael, tell the kids what they need to know,” said Mom. “And in exchange, Shaun will tell us what we need to know. Isn’t that right, Shaun?”
“Yeah, Mom. That’s right.” I’ll tell you how to steal the last things in the world that belong to your adopted daughter, and you won’t even think of yourselves as grave robbers. The acid in the thought was almost shocking, even to me. I realized I was digging my nails into my palms again. I rested my hands on the edge of the table, forcing my fingers to uncurl. “So what are we looking at here?”
“The trouble is the distance. There’s no single safe route from here into the Florida quarantine zone—maybe if you were aiming for something in the contaminated parts of Texas?” Dad glanced up, a canny glint appearing behind the amiable twinkle in his eyes. “You didn’t mention exactly what you were trying to accomplish on this little road trip, come to think of it.”
“True, and we’re not going to mention it, so don’t bother fishing,” I said. The map covered the Southwestern United States, stopping shortly after it crossed into Texas. “Are you saying this is as far as you can get us?”
“I’m saying this is as far as we can get you before things become complicated,” Dad replied. “You don’t mind complicated, do you, Shaun?”
“I like to think it’s a specialty of mine.”
“Good.” He beckoned me closer. I motioned for Becks to do the same. He began tapping highways and side roads, rattling off names, security levels, and known geographical quirks with a speed that was almost daunting. I was so busy trying not to lose track of what he was saying that I barely even noticed when Mom slipped out of the room. Dad pulled out another map, this one covering the space from Texas to Mississippi, and kept talking.
“What?” I asked, without thinking about it.
Dad glanced up, eyes narrowed. “What’s that?”
“I think I’m confused, too,” said Becks smoothly. “What do you mean about fuel shortages in Louisiana?”
Dad smiled at her and began talking again, saying something about fuel pipelines being compromised in the wake of Tropical Storm Fiona. I couldn’t quite make out the details; George was talking too loudly for that. You need to get Becks and get out of here. Abort the mission. Abort it now. There isn’t time to argue.
Maybe there wasn’t time to argue, but there was time to scowl at the map, trying to wordlessly express my confusion to the voice inside my head.
It must have worked at least a little, because George groaned and said, They’re hiding something from you. You told them you had the files. They should have tried to make you hand them over before they told you anything, and they didn’t. That means they think they can have their cake and eat it, too. You need to get out of here.
I stiffened, hoping Dad was too focused on Becks to notice. George was right. We’d made this plan, which was, admittedly, a stupid, suicidal plan, expecting the Masons to be willing to make a trade. Normally, that would mean they wouldn’t expect me to give them the files without proof of cooperation on their part. So where were those negotiations? Where was Dad insisting I give them a single file, just to show that I was serious? Hell, where was Mom? She should have been in the room, keeping an eye on us, making sure Dad didn’t get too excited by the process of showing us how clever he was and show us a little bit too much. That was the most damning piece of the admittedly sketchy evidence: Mom should never have left the room.
“Who’s paying you?” I asked conversationally, taking my hands away from the table. Becks cast a startled glance in my direction. I smiled reassuringly. “It’s cool, Becks. They’re just selling us up the river, and I was wondering who they were selling us to. That’s all.”
Dad paled. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve been on the run too long, son. It’s starting to affect your thinking.”
“Well, yeah. I know that part. I mean, it’s driven me crazy and everything, which I know you know, since you’ve been looking for an excuse to have me declared mentally unfit and take my stuff since George died—great job mourning for her, by the way, really top-notch—but I don’t think this is me being crazy. I think this is an unfortunate moment of me being sane, and when I’m sane, I have to admit that everyone in the world really is out to get us.” I pulled George’s .40 from my belt, bringing it up and aiming it at his head. “I’m only going to ask you one more time. Who’s paying you?”
“No one’s paying us, darling.” Mom’s voice came from behind me, calm and even cheerful, with the faintly manic edge that accompanied every mother-son outing we’d ever taken. The click of a safety being disengaged was basically just overkill. “It’s simply that we don’t think you should be running around besmirching our family name. Not after everything we’ve done to build the brand.”
“Hi, Mom,” I said, still aiming the .40 unwaveringly at Dad. He wasn’t moving. I always knew he was a smart one. “Is this the part where you tell me to put my gun down?”
“No, this is the part where I save your ass,” said Becks. The statement was accompanied by the sound of her revolvers being cocked. “Please believe me when I say that I respect your work greatly, Mrs. Mason, and I will blow your f**king head off if you don’t stop aiming that gun at my boss right now.”
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