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“You can’t be sure it was the CDC.”

“That’s what the blogs are saying. They’re calling it a training exercise. As in, ‘The CDC decided to train their employees on beating the crap out of my parents.’ ” My fingers clenched even tighter. “Those f**kers. They had no right.”

“Ahead, turn left,” said the GPS.

Do it, said George.

I turned left.

“This is insane,” said Becks. “What the hell is going on here? What did we do?”

“Honestly? I don’t know anymore.” Something in my face must have told her to let it be. Becks shook her head, settling in her seat. After a moment’s hesitation, she drew one of her pistols, resting it against her thigh below the window’s sight line. If someone decided to use us for a “training exercise,” they weren’t going to find us as off guard as they might have liked.

The GPS led us through a maze of side streets to what looked like a relatively major road, one that led us away from downtown and toward the less densely populated residential areas. The buildings took on a dilapidated look as we crossed from one zone into the next… and then, abruptly, began to improve, until we were passing well-maintained mini-mansions surrounded by high fences instead of tenement apartment buildings. Some of them even had their own private gatehouses. The convenience stores and their kin were replaced by upscale grocery stores, fancy salons, and dry cleaners whose signs boasted zero-contact door-to-door service. There were no blood tests on the corners; instead, men on motorized scooters patrolled the sidewalks, running checks on anyone who wanted to get out of a vehicle.

More tellingly, as we drove deeper into the clearly wealthy part of town, people began appearing on the sidewalks. Some of them were walking small dogs, like Maggie’s teacup bulldogs, or the more traditional pugs and Pomeranians. Others had cats on leashes. We even passed a couple with one of those bizarre tame Siberian foxes trotting at their heels, its bushy tail low and its triangular ears pricked forward as it scanned its surroundings for danger.

“This can’t be right,” said Becks, watching the fox slide out of view. “Check the directions.”

“These are the directions Mahir gave me. Maybe they’re hiding in someone’s attic. I don’t know. Wherever they are, they’re going to be trying to stay unobtrusive.”

“In two hundred yards, you have reached your destination,” announced the GPS.

I looked forward. “Oh, f**k.”

“You have got to be kidding,” said Becks.

In front of us loomed the elegant, fenced-in shape of a luxury resort. It looked like it was large enough to host the entire Republican National Convention, assuming anything as gauche as politics were ever allowed to pass its pristine white gates. The guardhouse in front was staffed by four men, their concierge uniforms somehow managing to go perfectly with their assault rifles. Two of them moved out to the street, motioning for me to stop the van.

“There’s no way we can reverse fast enough,” said Becks. “They have to have cars.”

“Or they’d just shoot the windows out.” I set the brake. “It was nice knowing you.”

“Same here.”

The men took positions on either side of the van, one next to my window, one next to Becks’s window. The one next to mine raised a white-gloved hand and knocked, deferentially.

Forcing a smile, I lowered the window. “Hi,” I said. “What seems to be the problem?”

“No problem, Mr. Mason. We’ve been expecting you.” The man produced a handheld blood-testing unit while I was still gaping at him. “If you would please allow me to verify your current medical state, I would be delighted to explain.” On the other side of the van, his companion was making a virtually identical speech to Becks.

“Uh.” I stared at him for a moment before focusing on the most disturbing part of that statement. “You’ve been expecting us?”

“Oh, yes. Miss Garcia contacted the front desk after you called.” The man kept smiling. It was starting to make me nervous. “We’re thrilled to have you joining us.”

“Uh… huh.” I took the testing unit, pressing my thumb down on the pressure plate. “Did she threaten your lives, by any chance? Tell you you’d never work in this town again? Cry?”

The man actually laughed. “Oh, no, nothing like that! She simply asked us to meet you at the gates, and to assure you that the Agora Resort is a completely confidential retreat for those who may be in need of more… confidence… in their security.”

“Wait—did you say the Agora?” Becks leaned into my field of vision, her right hand still outstretched as she pressed her thumb to her own blood-test unit. “This is the Agora?”

“Yes, Miss Atherton.” The man frowned, although his overall air of polite readiness to serve remained. “You’ve heard of us?”

“My mother stayed here once, when she was younger. She was a Feldman before she got married.”

“Ah!” said the man, suddenly all smiles again. “Of the New Hampshire Feldmans?”


“It’s a pleasure to have another member of the family with us. I hope we can live up to whatever fond memories she may have shared with you.” He deftly plucked the test unit from my hand, holding it up to show the green light that had come on at the top. “You are, as expected, clean. Welcome to the Agora, Mr. Mason. I, and the rest of the concierge staff, am pleased to serve.”


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