Chapter 14: Fools Rush In – part 1
Flames climbed the piece of paper in Addison’s hand, consuming a short list of numbers: 24, 9, 76. She, Shane, Teague, and a handful of others knew the numbers’ meaning. They were the number of Triptych employees who’d gone AWOL today, AWOL employees recovered, and the current count of co-conspirators.
Nine, Addison marveled. Less than half of the people abandoning ship had been caught. The virus was working. Allegiances were shifting. It was time to act, but fear nibbled at her resolve.
Worrying her lip, Addison dropped the burning paper into her bathroom sink. The edges browned and crinkled, marching inward until only ashes remained.
Addison peered through the whisps of smoke to study her reflection. Her hair was neatly tucked into a French twist. Frowning, she pulled it loose. Her dark curls fell past her shoulders, jutting out awkwardly in places since they hadn’t been trimmed in weeks. The gray in her roots showed, too.
Between her unkempt hair, wrinkles creasing her blouse and skirt, and the bags under her eyes, she was the picture of harried and exhausted. The facade–only slightly exaggerated considering her continued long hours–pricked at her pride, but was necessary. If she could set things in motion, they had a chance.
Addison reached mentally for her husband and children, but thought better of it. Instead she nudged Teague. I’m ready.
Encouragement flowed from the Scot. Sealbh math dhuit.
The foreign words prompted a brief smile. I assume that means “good luck.”
It does, Teague replied. Go. We’ve got your back.
Her smile returned. I know. After triple-checking that the microchips were still in her pocket, Addison nodded to herself and teleported.
A moment later Addison materialized at the door to Daniel’s suite. She took a deep breath, pushed the chime on the door’s control panel, and waited. And waited.
After a full minute had passed Addison probed mentally. She wasn’t surprised when her senses didn’t penetrate the wall. Why would Daniel have lessened his protections now?
“Hello, Addison.” She almost jumped from his voice coming from the panel’s speaker. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Like hell it was, Addison thought. He’d known she was there and made her wait. She kept her annoyance out of her voice. “Hello, Daniel. Please pardon the intrusion, but I was hoping you might have a few minutes to talk.”
“Of course.” The door clicked open, and Addison imagined the condescending smile on the bastard’s face. “Please come in.” Palming the four translucent microchips, Addison let herself into her former home.
Although the airy foyer hadn’t changed, Daniel’s living room had. Its light, neutral tones had darkened to grays, now tinted red from waning sunlight shining through the wide bank of windows. Sleek, dark-stained furniture seemed to drink the light, making the high-ceilinged room feel close. Addison let one of the microchips slip from her fingers. The thick carpeting muffled its impact.
Her former mentor stood near the windows, dividing his gaze between Addison and the ocean view. The sunset painted the sea and half of Daniel’s face crimson. Holding back a shiver, Addison reached mentally. Other than Daniel’s shielded mind, she sensed no one.
He donned his practiced, disarming smile. “You look terrible.”
“I know,” Addison returned, swallowing a retort. “That’s part of why I’m here.”
“Oh?” Daniel’s smile waned, making him seem more genuine. He gestured at the suede couch and armchairs, then headed for the bar on the far side of the room. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Addison willed her feet to move toward the nearest chair. “A scotch on the rocks would be fantastic. It’s been a long day. Again.” She dropped a second microchip behind the chair, then sat down.
Daniel glanced up at her while pouring her drink, and another for himself. “I know what you mean.” She studied him as he approached, drinks in hand. His suit was flattering and beautifully cut as always, if a bit rumpled. His features were similar: handsome, but age was catching up with him. Addison almost felt a pang of sympathy. Years of his manipulative games prevented it from taking hold.
After handing Addison her drink, Daniel settled on to the couch with his. “Problems with the Denalthi project?”
“Not exactly,” she hedged. Addison frowned at the drink in her hand, hoping that her mounting nerves would be attributed to the conversation. “Something’s going on, Daniel. Another of my staff has disappeared. And there’s more security about, but no word of why.” Addison looked up, meeting her adversary’s earnest gaze. “I’m worried.”
Daniel nodded, sipping his drink. “There’s nothing to be concerned about. Idiots are attempting another coup. It won’t work. Do you know how many insurrections I’ve quashed?”
Addison shook her head, then remembered to breathe.
“Four.” He threw back the rest of his scotch. “Amateurs.”
Addison laughed, proud of how genuine it sounded. “You don’t play a player.”
“Indeed,” Daniel chuckled, holding her gaze. Seconds passed and his eyes bore into her, but Addison didn’t flinch.
Daniel looked away first, into his empty glass. He stood, motioning at Addison’s barely touched drink. “Drink up before it gets watered down.”
“Right.” She took another sip as Daniel moved toward the bar. As soon as his back was turned she flicked another microchip to her left. It bounced off the carpet, hitting an end table with a soft tap.
Daniel stopped a few feet from the bar, cocking his head. “What was that?”
Addison’s heart hammered in her chest. “Hmm?”
He turned and scanned the room with his eyes. “I thought I heard something.”
Addison put on a wry smile. “Are you getting paranoid, Daniel?”
Apparently reassured, Daniel shrugged. “Paranoia is good for one’s career.” He crossed the remaining distance to the bar.
With shaking fingers Addison squeezed the remaining microchip. The chips forming a triangle on the floor whined briefly, then Joon-as-Daniel appeared to Addison’s left. The real Daniel whirled around in time to see Joon aiming her gun and firing. Three red-tasselled darts formed a neat cluster on his chest.
Daniel’s glass thumped on the carpet as he gaped at the darts, then Joon, and finally Addison. “Don’t… play…” he slurred, then slumped to the floor.
Daniel–Joon, dammit!–rushed to Addison’s side. She didn’t remember standing. The ice in her glass clinked from her trembling hands.
“Are you all right?” The genuine concern on hi–her face was disconcerting.
Addison nodded. “Yes. He had no idea.”
Daniel’s boyish grin almost worked its magic. “That’s my girl.”
“I’m not–” Addison took a deep, calming breath. She nodded at the real Daniel. “Tie him.”
Joon bobbed her head, pulling a handful of zip ties from an inside pocket of her suit jacket. Feeling oddly disconnected, Addison watched not-Daniel advance on Daniel’s prone form. They were actually doing this. She couldn’t wait to get out of this bloody suite so she could reach her family.
A whisper carried from the windows. Addison turned to look, but the air seemed to solidify. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a robed figure ripple into view: one of Carlyle’s witches. Shane! Teague! Addison cried. When no one replied, she tried Joon. Get the gun! Shoot him!
Frustration all but drowned Joon’s reply. I can’t move!
The witch–a short, olive-skinned man with salt-and-pepper hair–ignored them as he walked over to Daniel and reached down. To Addison’s horror, Daniel took the man’s hand and stood up. “Thank you, Mattioni.” Then he smirked at Addison, tsking as he flicked the darts off his chest. No blood stained his shirt. “Addison, you manage to be predictable and surprising simultaneously.”
“Dr. Gibson,” Mattioni said with a light Italian accent. “She dropped three chips of some sort. There, there, and there.”
Daniel frowned at the closest of them. “Interesting,” he mused, then glanced at the witch. “Transfer control of them to me.”
Mattioni whispered again, and the force holding Addison waned. She tried to run, but her limbs wouldn’t cooperate.
“Turn and face me,” Daniel ordered. Addison tried to resist, but she couldn’t sense anything to fight. She and Joon obeyed.
Daniel paced around his double, scrutinizing Joon. “Addison, I’m flattered. You’ve been keeping a spare me around.”
Addison snarled. She couldn’t open her mouth to speak.
Her captor frowned at her momentarily. “Oh. You may talk.”
“You’re a narcissistic pig,” Addison spat.
He blinked, dismayed. “A pig?” He smoothed his stylish suit. “Hardly. But I can’t argue about narcissistic.” Then he turned to Joon. “Who are you?”
Joon looked down her nose at her twin. “Daniel Gibson.”
“Of course,” Daniel chuckled. “If you know who you truly are, tell me your original name.”
“Joon Ri.” The words seemed torn from her mouth.
“Ri?” Daniel laughed. He grinned at Addison. “How did you get ahold of her? Or rather, him?”
“You bloody well know!”
The bastard sighed. “No, Addison, for once I don’t. But considering the grudge she held against Myers–and what a fiasco that was!–I assume the Chairmen sicced her on you. It’s amazing how after all this time you still don’t understand the phrase ‘Stay away from Myers.'”
Addison’s stomach dropped to her feet, which was ridiculous. Of course he knew about her and Shane. According to Teague, he’d been suspicious weeks ago. Addison shoved her anxiety aside, replacing it with anger and indignation. “Why?! What is so bleedin’ important about keeping us apart?”
Daniel shrugged. “I’ve no idea. But keeping you apart has been very entertaining, if aggravating at times.” He strode up to her, standing close enough for his chest to brush against her breasts. Smirking down at her, he said, “I hope you enjoyed your honeymoon, because it’s officially over.”