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I want to tell him that I didn’t do it, that I never saw any of Melvin’s victims, that I would never have helped him, never. But it sounds weak, and worse, it sounds like lies. Even my own confidence has been shaken by what I saw on that screen. Reality has bent and warped and shifted around me. And I don’t know what’s true and what’s a lie anymore.

Sam walks past me to the door. He doesn’t look at me.

I follow.

 

 

12

SAM

I can’t look at her. Gwen. Gina. Her. After all the horrors we’ve seen, I thought I knew her. I thought she was . . . someone I could trust.

And now, sitting in the same car with her is hard to take. I want to scream and pull the ejection lever and get the hell out of this, because everything is poisoned and toxic and wrong. The sight of Callie’s face has destroyed my world. Last time I saw her it was on a Skype call. I was in Afghanistan, getting ready to fly a mission. She was excited about something mundane—a new job she’d just landed, I remember now. A job she didn’t even live to start. I hadn’t known my sister, not for many years; we’d been separated when our parents died, adopted out separately. I’d never even seen her until I was deployed. I’d never seen her in real life at all. Only on video screens.

This was another distant picture of her, light from a dead star, and suddenly I remembered how her lips curled when she smiled, and how her eyes shone when she laughed, and how she’d had a cat named Frodo, and I want to kill this woman who’s sitting so silently next to me. The one I don’t know at all.

We’re back in our street clothes, the Rivard Luxe tracksuits left in changing rooms. We have our backpacks, our weapons, our phones. We should be back to normal. We are anything but that.

I hurt all over, and I feel exhausted and wounded. We’ve left our rental behind—Rivard’s security chief guaranteed it would be returned for us, and the damage fees paid—and we’re in a Rivard-branded town car, heading for the airport. Not to the huge sprawl of Hartsfield, but to a smaller, more exclusive one: DeKalb-Peachtree. It’s the sort of place the Atlanta rich keep their jets and helicopters, and for a moment I miss flying again, the sheer mindless freedom of being up there in the blue. Being a passenger sealed inside a cabin isn’t the same.

I could walk away, I think. It’s very clear to me, clear enough to touch. I could get out at the next stoplight, hail a cab, get a flight, go anywhere but here. I owe her nothing. Rivard can’t touch me. The sight of Callie’s unconscious face, knowing what would happen to her in the hours or days after that . . . it’s broken something inside me. I thought I was tougher than this. I was wrong.

The only thing that makes me hesitate at the next red light is that it wouldn’t be just Gwen I walk out on. There are her kids, too—innocent kids who never did a damn thing wrong, who were born to a killer and don’t deserve to be torn apart by the wolves that are bound to come for them. If this video gets out, Gwen won’t be safe, not anywhere, not ever. And the kids will be just as endangered. I think about Connor, the quiet, introverted kid who came out of his shell in our hours together nailing shingles on the roof of their Stillhouse Lake house; I think about Lanny, a bright, stubborn girl who hides wounds under armor. Brave kids. Good ones.

You’re not their savior, I tell myself. You don’t owe them a thing. That’s true. I just want to feel whole again. I thought revenge would do it, when I first started all this. Then I thought I was finding something like peace without that bloody price.

Now, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole again.

I haven’t been paying attention to the journey, but I’m dragged out of the dark places in my mind when the car slows down for a barrier. We’re at the airport, and then we’re through and onto the airfield. I’m familiar with small places like this; when I was a teen, I hung out at one, helping out with repairs and maintenance just so I could be around the planes. Once I was old enough, I built engines. Learned to fly. This place feels, unexpectedly, like home.

It’s a little bit of sanity, just when I need it.

I finally risk a glance at Gwen. Her face is as pale and smooth as marble, but I’m struck by the fact that there are tear tracks on her cheek. Damp spots on her shirt collar. She’s been silently crying, and it’s a rare sign of weakness from her. If she senses me looking at her, she doesn’t respond. She stares straight ahead, looking—at least, from her expression—into nightmares.

In that moment, she looks more like Gina Royal than I’ve ever seen before. All of Gwen’s certainty and fierce, hard-won confidence is gone.

The car stops at a private hangar, and I get out. Take a breath of air tinged with the sharp, nose-burning smell of jet fuel and oil. I have that wild urge again to just turn my back, walk away, let my long-nursed rage bleed off into the cool air and start over. That video called everything into question. Everything I thought I ever knew about Gwen, and myself.

But it strikes me, as I hear her door open and turn to look at her, that Gwen is having the same crisis, only hers must go even deeper. All the way to the bone. She looks like she’s seen into hell, and hell’s leered back.

“You should go somewhere else,” she tells me. “You can’t trust me, Sam. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t know what to think, either.”

I ask her, point-blank, “Have you been lying to me? Were you helping him?”

She’s violently shaking her head before the first few words are in the air. “No. No! I don’t know what that was, but . . . no!” Her voice sounds unsteady, but fierce. She takes a deep breath and angrily swipes tears from her cheeks. “I’m going to find Suffolk. Are you coming or not?”

I look over at the sleek private plane that’s waiting for us, a uniformed pilot standing by.

And I say, “For now.”

 

I’m not surprised to find that the interior of the G-7 is top-of-the-line custom work—leather recliners, polished wood tables and trim, original artwork on the walls. Rivard didn’t name his company Rivard Luxe for nothing; he clearly likes his comfort. The plane holds, at most, twelve passengers; there are six recliners, and two sofas set facing each other that could hold another six comfortably. The pilot vanishes after telling us the flight time; another uniformed officer from the hangar scans our IDs, in case of emergency, and wishes us a good journey. Then a flight attendant I’m almost positive is a famous runway model boards and shows us menus. We have a choice of steaks from Bone’s, or a custom lunch from Cakes & Ale, with dessert from Alon’s Bakery. I’m not from Atlanta, but I was stationed close enough to know big-name restaurants.

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