There wasn’t a ton to do in her storage room. She refilled her little acid syringes, though she couldn’t think of a scenario where she would need them here. She could have worked on harvesting the kernels out of her peach pits, but she’d left them in the barn. It wasn’t worth taking the chance to try to connect to the Internet, just in case she was going to be here for a while, and she didn’t have any reading material. There was one project she’d been thinking about, but part of her violently rejected the idea of writing any of it down. Though national security hadn’t exactly been her friend for a while, she still wasn’t going to put the public in danger. Writing her memoirs was not an option.
But she needed to think it all through in an organized way. Maybe if she just wrote some key words to help her remember?
She was sure of one fact: Something she’d overheard in the six years she’d worked with Dr. Barnaby had been the reason for the lab attack and for every assassination attempt that had followed. If she could pinpoint the information involved, she would have a much better idea of who was behind the murder agenda.
The problem was that she’d heard a lot of things, and all of it was insanely sensitive.
She started to make a list. She created a code, designating the biggest issues, the nuclear ones, as A1 through A4. Four big bombs that had been controlled during her tenure. Those were the most serious projects she’d worked on. It would have to have been something of the gravest nature to merit destroying her section.
She hoped. If it was some petty whim by a cheating admiral who thought he might have been mentioned in an investigation, she had no chance of ever figuring it out.
T1 through T49 were all the non-nuclear terrorist actions she could remember. There were minor plans – ones that hadn’t come to much – that were slipping through her memory, she knew. The major plans, T1 through T17, ranged from biological attacks to economic destabilization to importing suicide bombers.
She was trying to come up with a system to help her keep all of the different actions separate (the first letter of the city of origin plus the first letter of the target city? Would that differentiate the events enough? Would she forget the meaning of her notations? But listing the full place-names was too much information to commit to writing) when she heard Kevin calling for her.
“Hey, Oleander! Where are you hiding?”
She snapped her computer shut and walked to the top of the stairs.
“Did you need something?”
He came around the corner and looked up at her. Both of them held their position, keeping the length of the stairs between them.
“Just a heads-up. I’m taking off. I left a phone with Daniel. I’ll call when I’m ready for you to send the e-mail.”
“This ain’t my first rodeo, sister.”
“Well, good luck, I guess.”
“Don’t turn my house into some death lab while I’m gone.”
Too late. She suppressed a grin. “I’ll try to rein myself in.”
“This is probably it. I’d say it was a pleasure…”
She smiled. “But we’ve always been so honest with each other. Why start lying now?”
He smiled in return, then was suddenly serious. “You’ll keep an eye on him?”
She was slightly taken aback by the request. That Kevin would entrust his brother to her this way. And even more shocked by her own response.
“Of course,” she promised immediately. It was disturbing to realize how sincere her answer was, and how involuntary. Of course she would keep Daniel safe to the best of her ability. It wasn’t even a question. She remembered again the strange feeling that had first surfaced in the dark of her torture tent – her premonition that the stakes had doubled from one life to two.
Part of her wondered when she would be free from this feeling of responsibility. Maybe this was always how someone felt after interrogating an innocent person. Or maybe it only happened when that person was as… what was the right word? Honest? Virtuous? Wholesome? Someone as good as Daniel.
He grunted, then turned his back and headed toward the main room of the house. She couldn’t see him anymore, but she could still hear him.
“Danny, c’mere. We’ve got one more thing we need to do.”
Curious – and procrastinating; the catalog of nightmares past was beginning to give her a headache – she walked quietly down the stairs to see what was happening. She knew Kevin well enough to be sure he wasn’t calling Daniel over for a heartfelt good-bye, complete with hugs and snuggles.
The front room was empty – Arnie had cleared out – but she could hear voices through the screen door. She went out to the porch, where Lola was waiting for her. She absently scratched the dog’s head while she took in the scene, lit by the porch lamps and the headlights of the sedan.
Einstein, Khan, and the Rottweiler were all lined up at attention in front of Kevin. He looked to be addressing them while Daniel watched.
Kevin started with his star pupil. “Come, Einstein.”
The dog stepped forward. Kevin turned his body to point at Daniel. “That’s your honey, Einstein. Honey.”
Einstein ran to Daniel, tail wagging, and commenced sniffing up and down his legs. From Daniel’s expression, he was just as confused as Alex was.
“Okay,” Kevin said to the other dogs. “Khan, Gunther, watch.”
He turned back to Einstein and Daniel, dropping into a wrestler’s crouch and approaching slowly.