328 27 24

The relief that sweeps through me is water through a burning house. Muscles I didn't know I had unclench—behind my ribcage, in between my toes. My brain's gray matter has gained another quarter-inch of space on all sides. I close my eyes and inhale deeply, and my mouth stays open, basking in the changed air.

Susan Wright has the type of presence that bends the space-time continuum. Hosts forget their reservation lists at the crook of her eyebrow. Hard-hitting financial journalists become fawning lapdogs under the influence of her silky answers. When I only knew her from TV, I figured her power was strongest over men, but I've since seen it wielded over employees' daughters, female publicists, Uber drivers.

Anyone and everyone.

My fatigue is gone. I start running. Through the cube farms, rumbling their borders with my clompy strides, elbows and shins flailing.

People look. Graham cuts short a manly stretch to crane his neck.

I pay no attention. I pop the doors to the lobby balcony with taut wrists, hitting the stairs in full stride, three at a time, racing toward Susan like a magnet after its mate.

I've reached the bottom of the staircase when Jim Davis appears at the balustrade.

"Stop!" he commands. "You've made admirable progress, but the midnight checkpoint ..."

I don't hear the rest, running, rushing, seeking. Susan is pushing through the lobby double-doors. The dark sedan she arrived in motors off. Elite's doorman blips off a walkie-talkie and greets her with hands professionally over his belt buckle.

They confer. Susan is average height, but the cashmere coat, purse, and laptop bag give her an outfitted heft that dwarfs the yellow shirt. Her eyes laser into his face. The toes of his boots turn out. He breaks his hands apart to fidget an earlobe.

She's dispensing with him as my front sandal hits the lobby hardwood. We lock eyes. She's been on a plane for twelve hours but there's not a trace of blear in them, matched orbs of flawless green seaglass. I bound past Security Kyle knowing I'm headed for a cheesy movie hug and not caring. Susan drops her bags and spreads her arms, and I rush in.

"I got your messages," she says, her mouth somewhere in my yellow spikes.

I grope back in memory to when I would've left her phone messages. Oh right—this morning before the kickoff meeting, about a hundred years ago.

"It's a coup d'etat—they're Russian, they money's out of Russia!" As we separate from the clutch, my heads is light and warm with her scents. "Nobody knows what it is, what we're building. But it's evil. I know evil code and this is serious evil."

Words are tumble backwards out of my mouth, landing on each other sideways.

Susan brushes the welt under my temple, mouth puckered with concern. "Who's Russian?"

"The trainers! Elite Development, it's a front. They're paying us. Carter—I think Carter's been taking their money on the sly."

She takes my hand, her long fingers wrapping my runty ones, and guides me to the bench near Sempiternity. We sit beside the gurgling water statue, and I tell my story. Stretched like a squirrel-pelt over a server rack. Jim Davis reciting my bio, shoving his box at my face. Trying to leave and being dragged back inside. The weapons cache in the van—once again omitting Mikhail and the dumpster. The redacted journal entries. Amphetamines. Paul and the kitchenette.

Susan listens with evident revulsion. She leans forward over crossed legs, head cocking a few degrees more with each disclosure—until at last it hangs parallel to the floor.

Blackquest 40Read this story for FREE!