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“I don’t suppose you have the files on you,” she said.


Tonight, her name was Alex.

She’d needed to put a little distance between herself and DC, and she’d ended up in a small motel just north of Philadelphia. It was one of half a dozen that lined the interstate on the way out of the city. It would take any tracker a while to search all of them, even if he first somehow narrowed down her position to this part of town. She’d left no trail to even get a hunter to Pennsylvania. Regardless, she’d be sleeping in the bathtub tonight as usual.

There was no table in the small room, so she had all the files laid out on the bed. Just looking at them exhausted her. It had not been a simple matter of having Carston FedEx them somewhere.

The information was ready, Carston had told her. He’d been hopeful that she would meet with him, and he would have brought the files with him if he’d been expecting her. She insisted on hard copies, and he agreed. She gave him the delivery instructions.

The difficulty was breaking the connection on both ends.

For example, she couldn’t just have Carston dump the files into a trash can and hire someone to pick them up for her – it was too easy for people to keep an eye on that trash can. The watchers would see the person who picked the files up and then follow that person. That person could take the files to a separate drop spot before she came near them, but the eyes would already be there. Somewhere along the line, the package had to be out of the observers’ sight long enough for her to perform a complex little shell game.

So Carston had, as instructed, left a box for her at the front desk of the Brayscott Hotel. Mr. Green was ready. He thought Carston was a friend who had stolen back those family heirlooms from the violent ex, who was surely following him. Mr. Green had given her the code so she could remotely watch the hotel’s video surveillance feed from an Internet café miles away. Just because she hadn’t seen people following Carston didn’t mean they weren’t there, but he appeared to simply deliver the box and walk away. The manager did a good job of following all her instructions, most likely because he knew she was watching. The box went into the service elevator and down to the laundry, where it was transferred to a maid’s cart, delivered to her room, and then put into her inconspicuous black suitcase by the bike messenger to whom she’d given the key card and five hundred dollars. The bike messenger had taken a circuitous route, following the instructions she’d given him over a cheap prepaid phone that she’d already disposed of, and eventually dropped the box with a confused salesperson at the copy store across the street from the café.

Hopefully, the watchers were still back at the hotel, waiting for her to walk through the front door. Probably they were smarter, but even if there were ten watchers, there wouldn’t have been enough to follow every stranger who walked out of the hotel. If one had attached himself to her messenger, he would have had a hard time keeping up. She could only cross her fingers that no one was watching now.

She’d had to move fast. That next hour was the most dangerous part of her plan.

Of course, she’d known there would be some kind of tracking device hidden in the materials. She’d told Carston she would scan for a trick like this, but perhaps he’d guessed that she didn’t have the tech to do that. As quickly as possible, she made a set of colored duplicates. It took fifteen minutes, much too long. The duplicates went into the suitcase, and the originals into a paper bag that the girl at the counter gave her. She left the box in the garbage there.

The clock was really against her now. She’d climbed in a cab and had the driver head toward a rougher part of DC while she looked for the first place that would give her the privacy she needed. She didn’t have time to be picky, and she ended up having the cabbie wait for her at the end of an unsavory alley. It was the kind of behavior he would definitely remember, but there was no help for it. They could be watching her already. She hurried to the bottom of the dead-end alley – what a place to be caught! – stepped behind a dumpster, and cleared a spot on the broken asphalt with her foot.

The sound of movement behind her made her jump and spin around, her hand on the thick black belt at her waist, her fingers automatically seeking the thin syringe hidden farthest to the left.

Across the alley, a dazed-looking man on a bed of cardboard and rags was watching her with a mesmerized expression, but he said nothing and made no move to either leave or approach. She didn’t have time to think about what he would see. Keeping the homeless man in her peripheral vision, she turned her focus to the bag of original documents. She pulled her lemon-shaped squeeze bottle out of her handbag and squirted it into the paper bag. The smell of gasoline saturated the air around her. The man’s expression didn’t change. Then she lit the match.

She watched the burn carefully, the fire extinguisher in her hands now in case the flames started to spread. The homeless man seemed bored by this part. He turned his back to her.

She waited until every scrap was ash before she doused the flame. She didn’t know what was in the files yet, but it would assuredly be very sensitive. She had never worked on a project that wasn’t. She rubbed the toe of her shoe across the black and gray powder, grinding it into the pavement. There wasn’t a fragment left, she was sure. She tossed a five to the man on the cardboard before she ran back to the cab.

From there it was a series of cabs, two rides on the Metro, and a few blocks on foot. She couldn’t be sure that she’d lost them. She could only do her best and be ready. Another cab landed her in Alexandria, where she rented a third car on a third brand-new credit card.