Chapter Seventeen

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"Enough," I say, leaving my cubicle, facing him in the hall like some gunslinger in a western.

Heads spin—my coworkers', the Elite facilitators'. The office air crackles.

"You want a scapegoat? Right here. I'm the one who disappeared. Prisha is my direct report, and you're not going to stand here and bludgeon her with bogus right-wing talking points."

By degrees, Jim Davis's eyes shift to me. "Where did you disappear to?"

"Bathroom."

"You were gone forty-eight minutes."

"What do you have, stopwatches on us?"

He ignores this. "You were not in the bathroom for forty-eight minutes."

"I got sidetracked, made myself tea up on ten. The executive floor has those fancy loose tea—oolong. I had an impromptu brainstorm."

"A brainstorm by yourself?"

"Yep."

My stomach growls. My left hip hurts from standing, but I'm not about to sit now.

Davis asks, "Any useful insights?"

"Could be," I say. "I need to catch up with my team. Bounce some concepts around, figure out what sticks and where."

Mulling this, he fingers his chunky glasses. I have the stray notion that he's activating a truth-detecting feature of the specs, some military-prototype overlay that tells him my statements have a 97.2% chance of being lies.

"Returning to Miss Agarwal," he says. "She is a recent hire, correct?"

"Relatively."

"The hiring decision was yours?"

"Mine and Susan's."

He pulls a faux-thoughtful face. "You believed Miss Agarwal was the best individual for the job?"

"We didn't believe it. She was."

"Best resume? The most experience, outperformed all other candidates in interviews?"

The pig says it without saying it: did we give her special treatment? Did that second X chromosome get her the job?

A throat clears behind me. I turn. Paul Gribbe is standing outside his office, watching. He gives me a significant look. I remember his advice from before. Play it cool—and that was before Cecil and I had our dumpster adventure.

Still. Gender studies was one of my majors at MIT. Now Jim Davis is going to smirk like he's won the point, reducing a complex topic and decades of scholarship to a playground piss-off?

"Let's talk about your qualifications. Where was your primary education?"

"Military academies."

"Explains the fashion," I say under my breath, then aloud, "U.S. military academies?"

Davis smiles into the question, rigid faced, eyes like blades. Does he suspect I know about the Eastern European ties? Does he care?

Before he can respond, Carter Kotanchek breezes in from the elevators.

"Alrightee, what'd I miss?" One cuff of his suitcoat is rolled; one isn't. "On track? Slayin' it?"

Carter's long-legged strides seem to put off wind. He comes to stand beside me, eyes sweeping the space for takers. Paul pats his paunch absently. I'm certainly not saying a word.

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