His hands were soft on her skin. Lina had always liked his hands. Most of the men she was with, their hands were so rough and chapped from manual labor and rough living that she had to pick her wardrobe with care to avoid runs and snags. Alan Musselman had a thick callus on the pad of one thumb for some reason, but otherwise, his hands were soft.
He stopped kissing her long enough to strip off his khakis and underwear in one movement, knelt on the bed above her naked, his erection straining toward her like a tree branch growing toward the sun. Her clothes had long since been peeled away, and he bent to nudge her bare thighs apart. She stopped him with a hand on his chest.
“Sweetie, you know I don’t do anything until you’re clean,” she said.
“I know,” he said, panting, “but I just…”
“Go wash up then, and do a good job,” she said. She smiled wickedly. “You know I’ll make it worth the wait.”
He knelt and sniffed at her crotch, gave a tiny whine of urgent need, then climbed off the motel room bed and stumbled into the restroom, his erection bobbing.
Lina rolled lithely off the bed as the door closed. She crept quickly but silently to her purse, pulled out her cell phone and a set of ear buds. She paged through the menus to the special application Haziz had installed, plugged in the ear buds and moved to Alan’s clothes. Instead of putting the buds in her ears, she swept them over his pants pockets, was rewarded almost instantaneously with a beep from the phone.
She heard the water stop running. She dropped the phone back in her purse and scrambled onto the bed again as the door opened. Alan’s face betrayed a moment of confusion at what she had been doing, but it was forgotten as she spread her legs to play with herself. “Hurry up and help me,” she moaned, and he leapt onto the bed in response.
Even though they had covered the walls with curtains like bland tapestries, there was a limit to what they could do. In spite of the visual distraction, Nathan Gentle could still smell mildew and old dust, a smell that only intensified when the door opened and Keck leaned in. “She’s back.”
“About time,” Gentle responded. He left his suite and walked with Keck down the hallway toward the elevators. The hallway had been decorated in the tasteful blandness of a higher-end business hotel, but the textured sand-colored walls and muted abstract giclee prints just highlighted the cracked walls and black splotches of mold. Gentle stepped over the tears in the carpet that exposed bare concrete floor.
“Were there any problems?” Gentle asked.
“She didn’t say.”
“Where is she now?” Gentle asked.
Keck shrugged his narrow shoulders. “In with Haziz.”
“Already? Damn it,” Gentle muttered. “I’d hoped to talk to her before she got to him.”
They passed the elevators covered with caution tape and entered a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. Once in the maintenance areas of the hotel, the contrast between the intended décor and recent decay was lessened; the owners had never cared about making these parts of the building look good. They went down a set of fire stairs and stopped before a steel door. Keck punched in a code and the door unlocked with a click.
They passed rooms that had once held massive washers and dryers, but were now crowded with maps and surveillance photographs. They continued toward Haziz’s workshop near the end of the corridor. Gentle heard Lina’s voice saying, “I’m not the one you have to convince. But for what it’s worth…”
The voice cut off as they drew nearer and entered the room.
Lina turned and smiled at him, her tight dancer’s body angled for its best effect. She always seemed to be posing for a photographer who wasn’t there. Even her hair, blond highlights over black undertones, always framed her face perfectly, as if it knew it would be on camera at any second. She lived as if she starred in a reality show that only she was aware of. “Hi, Nathan.”
“Did you get it?”
Haziz, sitting at a long work bench piled high with computer equipment and electronics tools, turned and held up the cell phone. Servos whirred as the tiny camera that replaced his missing left eye tracked toward Gentle.”It’s here. I haven’t looked at it yet, but the capture seems to have been successful.”
“How soon can you have it ready?” Gentle asked.
“By morning, if the data’s good.”
“Good,” Gentle said as Lina pressed herself warmly against his side. He unconsciously wrapped an arm around her waist. He looked down into her green eyes. “Who’s the one he has to convince?”
“What, baby?” Lina sitffened. Her eyes, wide with poorly-feigned innocence, were so beautiful that he found himself feeling guilty that he didn’t believe her. Life would be so much easier if he could.
“You said you’re not the one he has to convince,” Gentle said, and she squirmed slightly against him.
“We shouldn’t be screwing around with just the launch,” Haziz said bluntly. “Blow up the rocket, they’ll just build another one. But kill the people building the rocket…”
“They’ll just hire more,” Gentle said. Even though Haziz’s face—the left side covered with scar tissue where it hadn’t been cut away to make room for the camera housing, cables snaking under the skin and down his neck—was repulsive, Gentle forced himself to meet the man’s eyes without flinching. “We’ve already been over this. People are cheaper than rockets. The only way we stop this for good is to make it so expensive that they know they’ll never see a profit.”
“But can we do that?” Haziz asked. “Stopping this one launch is already hard enough. And every security loophole we exploit will get closed the next time. How many launches will we have to stop before they call it quits? Killing people is easy, and people get scared, where machines don’t. Before long, people would be too scared to take the job, no matter how much they pay.”
“He’s got a point, baby,” Lina breathed beside him.
“This has already been settled,” Gentle said. “If we have to escalate later, well, that comes later. But for now, we hit the target we’re already aiming at. Get to work.”
Haziz’s good eye narrowed, but he didn’t say anything else. He just nodded and plugged a USB connector into the vertical slot next to his camera eye. He turned away to begin analyzing the data.
Gentle turned to Keck, whose pale face looked sickly green in the glow of Haziz’s flourescent work lights. “Has your team started rehearsals yet?”
Keck nodded. “They’re in ballroom A right now.”
“Make sure they’re ready,” Gentle said. “If Haziz gets his part done, we’ll hit them tomorrow night.”
Keck nodded. Gentle turned and left the room hand-in-hand with Lina.
“I did good, right?” Lina asked.
“You did good,” Gentle said, not looking at her. “But these games you play, they’re going to end it all in tears someday.”
Gentle stopped and looked into her eyes. And then he smiled.
Lina’s eyes widened in fear. Her hand squirmed out of his grip, but he grabbed her wrist, his finger pressing on the special nerve, the one that made it feel as if your wrist would break if you tried to resist. Press that one special spot, and you could move a person wherever you wanted them to go. And right now, he wanted her back in his room.
Her whimpers echoed off the walls as he led her to the steel fire doors leading upstairs.