Daniel Beach hadn’t moved. He was so absorbed in his distant thoughts that she found herself relaxing beside him, as if he were the one person on the train she didn’t have to guard against. Which was foolish. Even if this wasn’t a trap, even if he was exactly who she’d been told he was, this man was still planning to become a mass murderer in the very near future.
The athlete pulled a boxy pair of headphones out of his sweatshirt’s big pocket and covered his ears with them. The cord led back down to the pocket. Probably to his phone, but maybe not.
She decided to make the next stop a test.
As the doors opened, she bent down as if to fix the nonexistent cuff on her pants, then straightened suddenly and took a step toward the door.
No one reacted. The athlete in the headphones had his eyes closed. People got on, people got off, but no one looked at her, and nobody moved to block her exit or suddenly brought up a hand with a jacket awkwardly draped over it.
If her enemies knew what she was doing, they were letting her do it her way.
Did that mean it was real or that they just wanted her to believe it was for now? Trying to think around their circles made her head hurt. She grabbed the pole again as the train started moving.
“Not your stop?”
She looked up, and Daniel Beach was smiling down at her – the perfectly sweet, guileless smile that belonged to the school’s most popular teacher, to the Habitat for Humanity crusader.
“Um, no.” She blinked, her thoughts scrambling. What would a normal commuter say? “I, uh, just forgot where I was for a minute. The stations all start to blur together.”
“Hold on. The weekend is only eight or nine hours away.”
He smiled again, a kind smile. She was more than uncomfortable with the idea of socializing with her subject, but there was a strange – possibly counterfeit – normality about Daniel that made it easier for her to assume the role she needed to play: Friendly commuter. Ordinary person.
She snorted a dark little laugh at his observation. Her workweek was just beginning. “That would be exciting if I got weekends off.”
He laughed and then sighed. “That’s tough. Law?”
“Even worse. Do they ever let you out for good behavior?”
“Very rarely. It’s okay. I’m not much for wild parties anyway.”
“I’m too old for them myself,” he admitted. “A fact I usually remember around ten o’clock every night.”
She smiled politely as he laughed, and tried to keep her eyes from looking crazed. It felt both creepy and dangerous to be fraternizing with her next job. She never had any interactions with her subjects beforehand. She couldn’t afford to look at him as a person. She would have to see only the monster – the potential million dead – so she could remain impassive.
“Though I do enjoy the occasional quiet dinner out,” he was saying.
“Mm,” she murmured distractedly. It sounded like an agreement, she realized.
“Hi,” he said. “My name is Daniel.”
In her surprise, she forgot what her name was supposed to be. He held out his hand and she shook it, tremendously aware of the weight of her poisoned ring.
“Hi…” He raised his eyebrows.
“Um, Alex.” Whoops, that was a few names back. Oh, well.
“Nice to meet you, Alex. Look, I never do this – ever. But… well, why not? Can I give you my number? Maybe we could have that quiet dinner sometime?”
She stared at him in blank shock. He was hitting on her. A man was hitting on her. No, not a man. A soon-to-be mass murderer working for a psychotic drug czar.
Or an agent trying to distract her?
“Did I scare you? I swear I’m harmless.”
“Er, no, I just… well, no one has ever asked me out on a train before.” That was nothing but the plain truth. In fact, no one at all had asked her out for years. “I’m at a loss.” Also true.
“Here, this is what I’ll do. I’ll write my name and number down on this piece of paper and I’ll give it to you, and when you get to your stop, you can throw it in the next trash can you see, because littering is wrong, and immediately forget all about me. Very little inconvenience to you – just that extra few seconds with the trash can.”
He smiled while he spoke, but his eyes were down, focused on writing his information on the back of a receipt with a no. 2 pencil.
“That’s very considerate of you. I appreciate it.”
He looked up, still smiling. “Or you don’t have to throw it away. You could also use it to call me and then spend a few hours talking to me while I buy you food.”
The monotone voice overhead announced the Penn Quarter station and she was relieved. Because she was starting to feel sad. Yes, she was going to have a night out with Daniel Beach, but neither of them was going to enjoy it very much.
There could be no room for sadness. So many innocent dead. Dead children, dead mothers and fathers. Good people who had never hurt anyone.
“It’s a dilemma,” she answered quietly.
The train stopped again, and she pretended to be jostled by the man exiting behind her. The appropriate needle was already in her hand. She reached out as if to steady herself with the pole and grabbed Daniel’s hand in a move designed to look accidental. He jerked in surprise, and she held on tight like she was trying to keep her balance.
“Ouch. Sorry, I shocked you,” she said. She released him and let the tiny syringe slide out of her palm into her blazer’s pocket. Sleight of hand was something she’d practiced a lot.
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