Jana and Tilly are about to meet Fox and Enigma.
It took me about two minutes to get ready. I threw on some clean clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and I was ready to go. Tilly took longer. When she emerged from her room, she wore a bleeding-edge-of-fashion skirt so short I’d never have worn it in public, a shimmering blouse that didn’t even have buttons above her navel, and a strappy pair of high-heeled shoes that probably cost more than my entire wardrobe.
Folding my arms, I said, “You do realize we’re just going to visit another slicer, right? We’re not going to a club or any fancy restaurants.”
“How do you know?” Tilly responded. “What if you deduced the wrong address and Fox just agreed to meet us there to throw you off? Then, he won’t have an apartment to invite us into.”
I hadn’t thought of that possibility. Then again, I was virtually positive I had the right address. “Unlikely, but I suppose it could happen.”
“And, you did tell Fox an Enigma to look for a gorgeous brunette and the blonde next to her. I might have dressed more casually if you told them to look for two pretty women, a blonde and brunette.”
I shook my head, pretending more frustration than I felt. “Fine. And it’s not like I want to wait while you change into more appropriate clothes.”
Tilly grinned, “I knew you’d like it.”
“Well, I don’t,” Kelly said. “This whole operation depends on you two. What if this Fox and Enigma turn out to be a couple of girl-grabbing psychos?”
“We don’t have a lot of choice, Kelly,” I said. “I’m going to need Fox’s help, not only as a recruiter but as a slicer. I have no idea what type data, if any, we can extract from the Star Stone. But I do know we’ll have a much better chance of finding what we need if I’m working with a team of the best slicers in the galaxy.”
“Yeah, I understand that. But why can’t you handle all of this at that Club you and Tilly go to?”
I knew Kelly was truly concerned about us and wasn’t trying to be difficult, so I tamped down exasperation and responded with the question of my own. “Would you trust someone who claimed they wanted to join the rebellion but refused to meet with you in person?”
Kelly glared at me for a second, shook her head, and started hiding weapons on her body. “Okay, you win. But I’m tagging along, too.”
“I told Fox there would be two of us.”
“And there will be two of you. I’m going to tail you. If Fox has more people working with him, I’ll spot them. Wherever he takes you, I’ll follow. And, if I get the slightest twinge of a bad feeling about this, I’ll come in and get you.”
This was becoming a lot more complicated than it needed to be. I suppose I should be flattered that everyone wanted to keep an eye on me, but I felt more like I was fifteen and trying to convince my parents to let me go on a date with a seventeen-year-old boy.
That was a memory I didn’t want to dredge up again — especially since Mom and Dad were right to be concerned. Don’t worry, that story had a happy ending. A knee to the guy’s groin stopped him and a threat to his father’s credit rating kept him in check.
Anyway, I didn’t think this was going to end the same way. My gut told me I could trust Fox — at least enough to meet with him in person. But, Kelly had a point. Drake and Janine were counting on me. That meant, I had to be careful and take precautions.
I nodded to Kelly. “I think that’s a good idea. If Fox takes us to an apartment in the building and everything seems on the level, do you mind if I tell Fox you’re there and see if he’ll invite you in?”
Kelly considered that question for a few seconds. “Tell you what, if Tilly thinks everything is on the level, she can tell Fox about me and see if he’ll let me join you.”
I cocked my head and asked, “Why Tilly? Not that I mind, I’m just curious.”
“I’m sure you’ve got great instincts for trouble in the net. Tilly has great instincts for trouble in the real world. If she didn’t, she’d probably be in prison right now.”
“She’s right, Jana,” Tilly added.
“Whatever. Can we get going now? We’re going to be late as it is, and I hate being late.”
Tilly headed for the door, “She’s not kidding, Kelly. I have never met anyone who was so anal about being on time in my entire life, and many of my jobs require split-second timing.”
I followed her to the door, “I’m not that bad.”
“Uh huh,” she said, stopping in the middle of the doorway.
I waited for Tilly to move. She just stood there. So, I just stood there and waited. Tilly smiled at me and didn’t move. I smiled — okay, it was more like a grimace — and waited some more. Tilly still didn’t move.
“Okay, you win,” I spat. “Now, move!”
Tilly turned and walked out, but not without adding, “Told you!”
Once we were outside, I turned and walked towards Fox’s building. Next to me, Tilly sashayed. I swear, there wasn’t a single guy along our route who didn’t stare — openly or surreptitiously — at Tilly. She jiggled and wiggled and did it all as naturally as breathing.
“You’re attracting a lot of attention, you know,” I murmured.
Tilly cocked her head, smiled brightly at a particularly brazen admirer, and said, “That’s the idea, Jana. I spend all my professional time hiding in shadows, it’s why I like to be very visible when I can be. You ought to try it sometime.”
“I’m serious, Jana. If you’ll let me help you, you can look just as exotic as you claim I do.”
I’ll admit, that had some appeal to it, but this wasn’t the time for it. “We can worry about that later. Right now, you are making Kelly’s job a lot harder.”
“Wrong,” Tilly sang.
“That’s crazy! How can she pick out people looking for us when everyone is looking at us?”
“You said it yourself, Jana. Everyone is looking at me. Since you’re the person Fox is watching for, anyone looking at you stands out.”
“I’m not saying you aren’t worth looking at, Jana. We’ve been over just how beautiful I think you are. But, I’m dressed to attract attention and you’re not. I’m walking to attract attention and you’re not. Fox might have tracked down my identity though I doubt he cares all that much about me. It’s certain, he knows what you look like. Hell, you told him who you were and I guarantee the first thing he did when he got home was find pics of you. If he has any minions surrounding his lair, they’ll be watching for you.”
When Tilly put it that way, it didn’t sound so bad that everyone was looking at her and ignoring me. I think. Anyway, her reasoning seemed sound to me.
Ten minutes later, we entered the lobby of eight thirty-six Strathmore. My eyes swept the lobby, looking for one of the half-dozen people I thought might be Fox. I found one of them, a nice-looking man about my age, perhaps a little older. He was watching me while his companion — an oddly intent-looking man in our same age range — had his eyes locked on Tilly.
Well, damn, Tilly was right. She did draw every eye except for those specifically looking for me.
I smiled and waved at the two men and set off in their direction. Fox waved back and the two men headed our way.
“Hug Fox like he’s an old friend,” Tilly said.
“This lobby has six security cams. I doubt anyone will ever check the vids, but it’s best if we act like we’ve known each other for years.”
When we were a few feet from the men, Tilly opened her arms wide and smiled fondly at the man who must be Enigma. Then she said, “It’s been way too long since I’ve seen you. Give me a hug!”
Enigma, whose eyes had been roaming all over Tilly, broke into a huge grin and enveloped her in his arms. Fox and I both opened our arms and broke into more tentative smiles.
“Jana!” Fox said.
Not to be outdone, I said, “Nathan! I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again.”
I tried to act natural, going so far as kissing Nathan’s cheek, but we were both a little stiff. It’s a slicer thing — we’re not used to meeting each other in person. Next to us, Tilly all but melted against Enigma, who was enraptured. But, what guy wouldn’t be?
Nathan and I broke apart quickly. Tilly and Enigma took their time.
After a few seconds watching them, Nathan said, “Do you guys want a room?”
Watching their hands roam, I’d originally thought the same thing. Then, I realized what they were doing. In a fierce whisper, I asked, “Are you two frisking each other for weapons?”
They broke apart, neither one of them looking even remotely embarrassed.
“Would you like to come down to my apartment?” Nathan asked.
“I’ve got a basement apartment. Actually, two of them linked.” Without waiting for an answer, Nathan set off for the drop chutes. “I’m sure, Jana, you can think of many reasons why I do that.”
I could, though I didn’t like basement apartments myself. With a nod to Tilly, I followed Nathan into the drop chute.
Will Fox help Jana? Find out more in Chapter 17, coming Wednesday.