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She could accelerate her plans now. She didn’t need to wait for dark. She grinned, then smoothed the expression to ease the tension in her fake skin. The new freedom was a heady thing.

Alex skipped quickly down the stairs, computer tucked under her arm. She already had a pretty workable plan – low risk, minimal exposure – so she was listening to the calls only in the vain hope that Carston would screw up and say something meaningful. It was unlikely, but she’d finish it out. Later. Right now she could get started on the specific preparation.

“Huh,” Kevin grunted. Alex saw him look past her to where Val followed. “Hey, Val, how many virgins did you have to sacrifice to make her look like that?”

“I don’t need any satanic help to do what I do,” Val responded. “And virgins aren’t useful for anything.”

Daniel got up from the couch where he was watching the news – taking it seriously as his assignment – and came around the stairs to see what Kevin and Val were talking about.

Alex hesitated on the bottom stair, feeling oddly vulnerable. She wasn’t used to caring if she looked pretty or not.

Daniel did a small double take, then his face relaxed into a smile.

“I’d gotten so used to seeing you with the bruises, I’d almost forgotten what you looked like without them,” he said, and then his grin got wider. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Alex knew she hadn’t looked like this on the train, but she let it go.

“I’m headed out to place the tracker,” Alex told them. “Shouldn’t take me long.”

“Do you want me to come?” Daniel asked.

“Better to keep your face hidden in the daytime,” she told him. He didn’t look happy about it, but his expression was resigned. She imagined how she would feel if he ran out to do some surveillance, and she could understand his reluctance.

“It won’t be anything,” she promised.

“Take the sedan,” Kevin said, gesturing to a set of keys on the counter.

“Wilco,” Alex said, imitating his soldier tone. He didn’t seem to notice.

Carston’s housekeeper would probably be home by now, unless she had errands to run. She only worked mornings there. Of course, she could have other clients, but Alex imagined that Carston would pay well so he wouldn’t have to share – he would want her free if he needed something. Alex drove the black sedan across town, not all that far, really, from Daniel’s empty apartment. She was glad he was safely tucked away at Val’s. She was sure they’d have some kind of surveillance on his place, just hoping he’d be stupid enough to come back for his toothbrush or favorite T-shirt.

The housekeeper’s neighborhood had street parking only. She found the decade-old white minivan a block over from the apartments where the woman lived. There was plenty of traffic, both cars and pedestrians. She found a spot near the minimart on the corner and set off for a walk.

The early-summer heat had her sweating almost immediately. Unlike Kevin, she didn’t have a myriad of costumes to choose from, so she was in her blazer again today, and it felt twice as thick as usual. Oh, well, she needed the pockets. Hopefully the makeup wouldn’t sweat off.

There were enough people around her that she felt invisible, just one of the herd. The numbers dwindled as she crossed over to the next block, but she still didn’t stand out.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and hit Redial.

Kevin answered on the first ring. “What’s the problem, Oleander?”

“Just calling to say hi,” she told him.

“Ah. Blending?”

“Of course.”

“Talk to Danny. I don’t have time to blend with you.”

“I’d prefer it anyway,” she said, but he was already gone.

She heard a thud as the phone hit something, and then Daniel said, “Ouch.”

Alex took a deep, calming breath. Kevin always made her want to stab things.

“Alex, are you all right?”


Kevin shouted something in the background.

“Kevin says you’re trying to look natural,” Daniel said.

“That’s part of it,” she agreed.

She was only two cars from the minivan now. There was a man ahead of her but walking in the same direction so his back was to her. She couldn’t hear anyone close behind her, but there could be someone who had her in his sight line. She didn’t turn to look.

“So I guess we should talk about something normal people talk about,” Daniel was saying.


“Um, what would you like for dinner? Do you want to stay in again?”

Alex smiled. “Staying in sounds great. I’ll eat anything you feel like cooking.”

“You make things too easy for me.”

“There are enough difficulties in the world without adding my own.” She flipped a few locks of the wig out of her eyes, her fingers knocking into the phone. It skittered across the sidewalk and teetered on the edge of the curb. “Hold on,” she called toward it. “I dropped the phone.”

She knelt and swiped the phone up, holding on to the edge of the minivan’s wheel well for support. She jumped back to her feet, brushing at the knees of her leggings.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

“Did you just plant the tracking device?”

She started walking again, heading for the end of the block, where she could begin circling back to the car. “Yes.”


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