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If she didn’t agree to the job, they would do their best without her. But trying to leave the informant physically unmarked would be slow… too slow. Failure was hard to contemplate.

She almost salivated at the thought of all the goodies waiting for her back at the lab. Things she could never get her hands on out here in the real world. Her DNA sequencer and polymerase chain reactor. The already fabricated antibodies she could stuff her pockets with if the invitation was on the up-and-up. Of course, if Carston was for real, she wouldn’t need to steal those things anymore.

She tried to imagine sleeping in a bed again. Not carrying a pharmacy’s worth of toxins on her body at all times. Using the same name every day. Making contact with other human beings in a way that left nobody dead.

Don’t count on it, she told herself. Don’t let it go to your head and impair your judgment. Don’t let hope make you stupid.

As pleasant as some of her imaginings were, she hit a wall when she tried to visualize the steps she would need to take to make them happen. It was impossible to see herself walking back through the shiny steel doors into the place where Barnaby had died screaming. Her mind totally refused to construct the image.

The lives of a million people were a heavy weight, but still an abstract idea in many ways. She didn’t feel like anything could push her hard enough to get her through those doors.

She would have to go around them, so to speak.

Only five days.

She had so much work to do.

CHAPTER 4

T

his operation was murdering her nest egg.

That thought kept circling in the back of her brain. If she lived through the next week, and nothing changed in regard to her working relationship with the department, she was going to have serious financial issues. It wasn’t cheap changing lives on a triannual basis.

Just acquiring disposable funds in the first place had been a major procedure. She’d had money – the salary had certainly been a factor in her choice to do the job in the beginning, and earlier than that, she’d inherited a decent insurance payout when her mother had died. But when you work for powerful paranoids who probably note it in your file when you switch toothpaste brands, you can’t just withdraw all your money and put it in a shoe box under the bed. If they weren’t planning to do anything to you before, you might have just given them a motive. If they were, you just made them decide to accelerate their plans. You could try withdrawing all your money on the way out of town, but that limited your ability to pay for any advance preparations.

Like so much of it had been, it was Barnaby’s scheme. He’d kept her in the dark about the details to protect the friend or friends who helped him set it up.

In the cafeteria located a few floors up from the lab, she and Barnaby had let themselves be heard talking about a promising investment situation. Well, Barnaby had called it promising and worked to convince her of it. There was nothing remarkable about the conversation; various versions of it were probably taking place by watercoolers in several normal offices at the same moment. She played being convinced, and Barnaby loudly promised to set it up. She wired money to an investment firm – or a company that sounded very like an investment firm. A few days later, that money was deposited – minus a 5 percent “commission” to compensate those friends for their time and risk – in a bank in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the name of Fredericka Noble. She received notification of this new account in an unmarked envelope placed in a copy of Extranodal Lymphomas at the county library. An Oklahoma driver’s license for Fredericka Noble, with her own picture on it, was also in the envelope.

She didn’t know where Barnaby’s drop was. She didn’t know what his new name was going to be. She’d wanted them to leave together – the vast aloneness of running was already part of her nightmares then – but he had thought that unwise. They’d both be safer separated.

More investments, more little envelopes. A few more accounts were created for Freddie, but there were also accounts and IDs for Ellis Grant in California and Shea Marlow in Oregon. All three identities were strong creations that would hold up under scrutiny. Freddie had been blown the first time the department found her, but this only made her more careful. Ellis and Shea were still safe. They were her prized possessions and she used them carefully and sparingly so as not to contaminate them by any association with Dr. Juliana Fortis.

She’d also started buying jewelry – the good stuff, and the smaller the better. Canary diamonds that looked to her eyes like nothing more than yellow sapphires but that cost ten times as much as their clear counterparts. Thick gold chains; heavy solid-gold pendants. Several loose gems she pretended to be planning to set. She knew all along that she would never get back half of what she paid, but jewelry could be carried easily and later converted to cash under the radar.

From a pay phone, Freddie Noble rented a small cabin just outside Tulsa, using a new credit card that would be paid from the Tulsa bank account. The cabin came with a sweet older landlord who sounded happy to bring in the boxes she mailed there – boxes full of the many things she would need when she walked away from her life as Juliana Fortis, everything from towels and pillows to her unset jewels to reflux condensers and boiling flasks – and collected his rent without commenting on her absence. She left a veiled hint here and there that she was planning to leave a bad relationship; it was enough for the landlord. She ordered supplies from library computers, giving an e-mail address she never accessed on her laptop at home.

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