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By´╝ÜCandace Blevins

Wulff seemed to be trying to protect me from Fox, but then again, this could be the classic game of good cop/bad cop.

I needed more information.

“What’s your end game?” I asked Wulff.

He shook his head. “If I could’ve caught you in the first twenty-four hours, it would’ve been to hack whoever you sold our info to, so I could delete it before they had a chance to go through it. Now? I still need to delete it, but much of the damage is done.” He sat up, ran his hand through his hair, and sighed. “I can’t tell you our plans for damage control, only that we need to do it. Also, I’d rather have you working for us in the future, instead of them, so we’ll talk to you about putting you on retainer, but only if you prove you can be loyal.”

“So, you’re starting out nice because you don’t want to make an enemy of me unless you have to?” I’d secretly hoped he liked me and couldn’t bring himself to hurt me, and if I were honest, I’d have to admit to being a little disappointed at his logical reasoning.

“I’m starting nice because I think it has the highest chance of getting the desired results. If it doesn’t, we’ll go to Plan B.”

“And what’s Plan B?”

“Not nice.” Steady gaze, unapologetic tone of voice.

I looked at him a few seconds and asked, “Can you send Fox away so we can talk?”

“No.” He didn’t hesitate, didn’t even consider it.

I bent my knees, pulled my legs up, and wrapped my arms around them. “While I admit the idea of going back on the grid and living a normal life sounds tempting, I’m not sure it’s me. I mean, what does this girl do for a living? Can I do it? Would I want to?”

“She’s an ex-prostitute with brain cancer. She’s never been arrested, and has a clean driving record. She has no family who’ll miss her. She lives in South Carolina, so as long as you stay away from there, no one you meet is likely to hear the name and think of her. The name isn’t terribly unusual, though, so it’s likely you’d be okay even in the same town.”

God, I needed to go for a run. I still felt sluggish, whether from whatever they dosed me with, or from sleeping for so long, I didn’t know, but pounding the pavement a few miles would work it out and clear my cobwebs. I looked up, knowing the answer, but I had to ask anyway. “I think best when I run.”

“Yeah, I get that, but you have to know it isn’t an option.”

“Can I do something else to step to the side of the problem? A strategy game, or maybe a firewall to break through, some encryption to beat?”

“Not letting you on a computer, but there are some board games in one of the bedrooms.”

“You realize she’s just trying to buy time, right?” Fox asked, his voice incredulous.

“No, I get it. It’s a big decision and she needs to keep her conscious brain busy so her subconscious can work on it without interference.” He looked back to me. “I remember seeing dominoes, checkers, and I think backgammon, and a deck of cards. How about some Rummy?”

After we’d basically trounced Fox in a few games, he decided to go make dinner while Brain and I played a few more games. Both of us remembered every card drawn, and all of the games were close. We stopped when we’d both won six games, and he said, “Okay, doll. Decision time. I’ve given you all the leeway I can.”

I nodded. “How long, beginning to end, do you think this will take?”

“Up to a week to make the necessary arrangements and then get her to a ski slope and fake the accident. We already have the doctor near the ski slope in our pocket, but he isn’t the only person we’ll have to pull in. Probably another week to get you into surgery, and then however long it takes you to heal. You’ll take on her identity even before she dies, by that point she’ll be in a hospital bed in a safe house with a nurse to give her drugs so she doesn’t hurt. Our deal is to make the end of her life as painless as possible, and we will. If you don’t opt for her identity, someone else will take it. Her pimp put it up for auction a few weeks ago — we have first dibs, and another two days to pay and take her on, or the option goes to the next highest bidder.”

“Give me ten minutes of silence, no one talking, no pressure, and I’ll tell you what I’ve decided.”

He pulled his phone from his pocket, leaned back, and ignored me.

I rested my head on my knees, closed my eyes, and plotted. If I said no, they’d hurt me. If I said, yes, I’d have to give them information and then I’d lose my bargaining power… or would I? There was a lot of information not on my laptop, stuff I’d picked up here and there. Hmmm.