In that case, toss me my big painkillers when youre done with that?
There was a pause. You actually want them?
Im going to need them after we talk. I take a lot of generic drugs for the headaches my eyes give me. Thats not the same thing as my big painkillers, a nasty narcotic mix of ergot alkaloid, codeine, caffeine, and a few less-pronounceable chemical agents. They kill the pain. They also kill all higher brain functions for at least six hours after Ive taken them. I avoid drugging myself whenever possible, because I dont usually have the time to waste, but I was getting the feeling this might be the last free time we were going to have for a while. If spending it drugged out of my mind meant I had the stamina to handle the rest, well, Ive done worse in my pursuit of the truth.
I was just going to say that theres time for a nap before we talk, if you want it, and painkillers after that. The Daughters of the American Revolution always talk for hours.
No, there isnt. We ran out of time when someone decided wed outlived our usefulness. Time is now officially something we dont have. Hit the lights as soon as youre ready.
Right, said Shaun. There was a click. The room brightened before I heard him move away again. Servers need to initialize, and Ill turn on the screens. Your computers on the desk if you want to get it hooked up.
Got it. My headache screamed when I opened my eyes. I ignored it. The lower-wattage bulbs Shaun put in were bearable, if not exactly pleasant; I could deal. Sitting up, I bent forward to open the cat carrier, which was still sitting on the floor near the base of the bed. Lois was out in a flash, vanishing into the bathroom.
I rose and walked over to take a seat at my desk, where I started connecting cables. I was moving gingerly, to upset my head as little as possible, and that slowed me down; I was only halfway done when Shaun called, Clear. I put down the plug Id been holding, and the air filled with an electrical buzz that made all the hair on my arms stand on end.
Youd better have that set low enough not to fry anything, I said, going back to work.
What do you take me for, an amateur? Shaun was trying to sound affronted. I wasnt buying it. Its easy to slip when youre setting up a privacy screenthats part of why Im not fond of using them. They also make my teeth itch. Itll short out anything around the perimeter, but as long as you dont get any closer to the walls, youll be fine.
If youre wrong, you owe me dinner.
If Im right, you owe me dessert.
Deal. I swiveled in my chair. Shaun was sitting on the bed, leaning back on his hands in a pose of such sheer relaxation that it had to be forced. Skipping the preamble, I said, Buffy sold us out, and someone tried to kill us.
I got that.
Did you get the part where, legally, we were dead as soon as the CDC got the call saying we were infected?
I did. Shaun frowned. Im surprised they didnt come in shooting.
Call that the last of our luck, I said. The way I see it, they werent just gunning for Buffy. If they were, they wouldnt have bothered calling the CDC after they saw her truck go down. Horrible accident, very tragic, but theres no need to do that sort of mopping up.
Makes sense, Shaun said and flopped over backward. So what do we do? Pack our things and go running home?
That might not work, since presumably we already know something thats worth killing us for.
Or Buffy knew something worth killing us for.
Whoevers behind this has already proven that its the same thing. I cant imagine weve got two conspiracies running in parallel. That means whoever had our tires shot out was also responsible for the ranch.
And for Eakly, said Shaun. Dont you dare forget Eakly.
I wouldnt, I said. I cant.
I dream about Eakly. The statement was almost offhanded, but there was a depth of hurt to it that surprised even me, and I usually know what Shauns thinking. They never saw it coming. They never had a chance.
So leaving isnt an option.
Leaving never was.
What are we going to do about Rick?
Keep him on, of course.
Raising my eyebrows, I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees. There was no hesitation there. Why not?
Dont be an idiot. Shaun sat up, falling into a posture that was the natural mirror image of my own. Buffy got bit, right?
Buffy was dyingthats not right. Buffy was dead, and she knew it. She told us what shed done and how to find out more about it, right? Rick was there, and she didnt finger him for a snitch. She was sorry for what shed done, George. She didnt mean for anyone to die. So why would sheve gone and left us with a cuckoo in our birdhouse?
What if she didnt know?
What if? Shaun shook his head. They tried to kill Rick, too. If his car was a little less reinforced, or if hed hit at a slightly different angle, hed have been a goner. Theres no way to stage that. And the call to the CDC said we were all toast, not just the two of us. So what if Buffy didnt know? Ricks not a moron. Hed have said something by now.
So you say he stays.
I say we cant afford to lose anyone else. And I also say that with Buffy gone, Im an equal partner in this enterprise, so get up.
I blinked. What?
Get up. Shaun stood and pointed to the bed. Youre going to take a nap, and youre going to do it right now.
I cant nap. Im waiting for Mahir to call me back.
He can talk to your voice mail.