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“In that case, toss me my big painkillers when you’re done with that?”

There was a pause. “You actually want them?”

“I’m going to need them after we talk.” I take a lot of generic drugs for the headaches my eyes give me. That’s 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 I’ve taken them. I avoid drugging myself whenever possible, because I don’t 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, I’ve done worse in my pursuit of the truth.


“Don’t argue.”

“I was just going to say that there’s 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 isn’t. We ran out of time when someone decided we’d outlived our usefulness. Time is now officially something we don’t have. Hit the lights as soon as you’re ready.”

“Right,” said Shaun. There was a click. The room brightened before I heard him move away again. “Servers need to initialize, and I’ll turn on the screens. Your computer’s 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 I’d been holding, and the air filled with an electrical buzz that made all the hair on my arms stand on end.

“You’d 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 wasn’t buying it. It’s easy to slip when you’re setting up a privacy screen—that’s part of why I’m not fond of using them. They also make my teeth itch. “It’ll short out anything around the perimeter, but as long as you don’t get any closer to the walls, you’ll be fine.”

“If you’re wrong, you owe me dinner.”

“If I’m 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. “I’m surprised they didn’t come in shooting.”

“Call that the last of our luck,” I said. “The way I see it, they weren’t just gunning for Buffy. If they were, they wouldn’t have bothered calling the CDC after they saw her truck go down. Horrible accident, very tragic, but there’s 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 that’s worth killing us for.”

“Or Buffy knew something worth killing us for.”

“Whoever’s behind this has already proven that it’s the same thing. I can’t imagine we’ve 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. “Don’t you dare forget Eakly.”

“I wouldn’t,” I said. “I can’t.”

“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 Shaun’s thinking. “They never saw it coming. They never had a chance.”

“So leaving isn’t 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?”

“Don’t 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 dying—that’s not right. Buffy was dead, and she knew it. She told us what she’d done and how to find out more about it, right? Rick was there, and she didn’t finger him for a snitch. She was sorry for what she’d done, George. She didn’t mean for anyone to die. So why would she’ve gone and left us with a cuckoo in our birdhouse?”

“What if she didn’t know?”

“What if?” Shaun shook his head. “They tried to kill Rick, too. If his car was a little less reinforced, or if he’d hit at a slightly different angle, he’d have been a goner. There’s 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 didn’t know? Rick’s not a moron. He’d have said something by now.”

“So you say he stays.”

“I say we can’t afford to lose anyone else. And I also say that with Buffy gone, I’m an equal partner in this enterprise, so get up.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Get up.” Shaun stood and pointed to the bed. “You’re going to take a nap, and you’re going to do it right now.”

“I can’t nap. I’m waiting for Mahir to call me back.”

“He can talk to your voice mail.”