Seven separate signs declared that Franny's Diner 'n Diesel served breakfast all day. Patricia Lonnigan assumed that the coffee was straight from the Diesel half of the establishment. Put on a big urn at sunrise and let it boil for the rest of the day - that was the only way to get a brew like this, thick enough to chew.
She didn't care.
Two days out from L.A., and Eureka, Missouri was as good a place as any to have breakfast at 3:30 in the afternoon. The high from the job was all gone, the thrill at having played out a masterpiece now made her feel even worse for its absence. She could have flown back to Baltimore straight from the job, been back home in six hours, but for what? To listen to her boss bitch and moan about some fictitious way in which she'd screwed up? Lonnigan knew she was a damned good op, and as close to perfect as any unaugmented human could be. Unfortunately, she also knew the Mouse couldn't see past his hard-on for nanotech.
She'd heard he made a big show of the whores he brought in, pulled down their tops at parties, slapped them around - stupid tough-guy stuff. She wondered if he was gay. If he were in the closet, or even in denial, it might explain why he felt it necessary to demonstrate how tough he was. Lonnigan had never felt the need to prove herself, just to correct other's poor assumptions about her. The bastard had only made one of his what-are-women-good-for-anyway speeches in her presence, though. It was just after old Mr. Tong's funeral. As usual, she was the only woman in the room. In the middle of his first meeting with the senior staff, he started in on it, all the while staring at her tits. Lonnigan waited until one of the new guys, one of the Mouse's bootlickers, started to laugh. She threw her pen into his open mouth, hard, and watched him choke on it. After that, things went downhill pretty fast between her and the Mouse.
But he kept his comments to himself.
No, she drove out of California, letting the silent miles go by. Deserts, valleys, mountains, more mountains, the long fields of the plains... It let her stay in a kind of suspension, and stoppage of time. The hours passed on the road and she lived in the moment when the Acrobat realized that he'd underestimated her. She'd won, as she almost always did, excelling at the work she was born to do. She cupped the little flame of it as she drove.
She sipped her diesel coffee as the waitress set a Meat Paradise Breakfast on the table, with a bowl of grits on the side. The delights of such exotica were momentary at best. By nightfall tomorrow, she'd be back in the middle of the joyless slog her life had become. It was the only life she'd ever known; under Quing-Mei Tong, the Jade Prince, it had been fun. Not all of it, but on the whole, it had been a good life. The complaints from the more traditional members of the Tong family, mostly those who had only had mild cases of the Silicon Plague, sounded like little more than whining. They didn't like to see the clan-based organizations give way to a less ethnically-driven modernity. The Jade Prince had been a visionary.
Then he died, and his nephew came in. Simon had succeeded in blunting the worst of his initial foolishness, his naive and juvenile assumptions about power and how to wield it. The Mouse was wasting her talents on stupid little assignments. If only he would listen! Either that or just go off with his techno-toys to a resort somewhere and -
Next to the creamer, her phone warbled a reggae version of "Blue Suede Shoes".
Only an attentive person would have seen her fork pause fractionally on the way back down for another piece of sausage. Behind her sunglasses, the sudden dilation of her eyes was completely hidden. She Probed the restaurant, sending her shield out in all directions as far as she could reach, the touch softer than the pressure of sunlight. A bounceback signal would mean an attack any moment, but there was no nanotech within forty feet.
The phone rang on. She hadn't heard that ringtone since she and Simon had set up their contingency plans. In a moment of weakness, a moment of hope, she paused again before picking up the phone and opening it.
The text message read, "Run."
No code phrases, none of the numeric references they'd worked out. Just the one word. Whatever problems or complaints she'd had about her life were irrelevant, as that life was now over.
Lonnigan closed the phone as she stood up. She dropped a twenty on the table next to her food and went out to the car. A moment later, she was on the street, heading down toward the highway. Behind her, a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot of Franny's, paused for a moment, then pulled back out and also came onto the street.
The intersection at the on-ramp was ten cars lengths ahead of her, the light just turning yellow. Lonnigan stomped on the gas, watched the light turn red as she accelerated. Two more seconds and she swerved to avoid a truck that was starting a turn. Her 180 turn brought her to the ramp and she flew forward. She kept the needle above 100 mph for ten minutes, then took an off-ramp onto a back road and waited.
Four hours later, after sundown, she got back on the highway and headed for Chicago. She had one of her storage lockers up in Skokie. Part of the plan she and Simon had worked out was to never be more than a day's drive from supplies of cash, weapons, and clothes.
All that long, hot, silent afternoon, she had been waiting for that same horrible ringtone, the sound that would tell her that Simon was OK, that he had gotten out or was in a safe postion to talk, to send more information. She speculated, planned, worried and adjusted perspectives as she waited.
After she crossed the Mississippi and drove through the wheat and soybeans of Illinois, she stopped expecting his call but continued to hope. By the time she got to her locker in the small hours of the morning, she'd accepted that Uncle Simon was in serious trouble, that hope probably wasn't a profitable effort anymore. She spread a long cashmere coat out on the dusty floor and lay down.
She set her watch alarm to allow herself four hours of sleep. Rescue would have to be undertaken immediately, with whatever information and materials she had at hand.
And if it was too late for rescue, then she had plenty of time to plan for revenge.
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