Reacting to her calm, and with the unspoken promise of sex to come, he relaxed and took the drink she offered. She dipped her fingers into it and then pressed them to his mouth. She repeated the gesture, playfully, teasing the Rohypnol into his system until the glass had been emptied, and when it had been done, she staved him off until the drug took effect. She told the chauffeur to take the man home and, without resistance, stepped out of the car.
In the cool of the predawn, she breathed deeply to clear her head. And then she began to walk, oblivious to time, aware only of the lightening sky and eventually the morning call to prayer that sounded from the minarets across the city.
It was fully light when she arrived at the apartment that had served as home for the last nine months.
The place was shuttered and dark, and she flipped on the light. A bare low-wattage bulb hung suspended from the ceiling, revealing a one-room apartment with more floor space devoted to cluttered stacks of books, file folders, and computers with their attendant wires and paraphernalia than to either the desk or the couch that doubled as a bed. Beyond that, the place was empty.
She removed the medallion from around her neck and paused, momentarily distracted by the blinking red light at the foot of the couch. Then, with the medallion flat between her palms, she twisted it and removed a microcard from the opened halves. She sat in front of the computer, slid the card into a reader, and, with the data downloading, reached for the answering machine.
The voice on the recording was like champagne: Kate Breeden at high noon. "Michael, darling, I know you're still wrapping up and aren't expecting another assignment for a while, but I've received an unusual request. Call me."
Munroe sat on the couch, replayed the recording, leaned her forehead onto her arms, and closed her eyes. Exhaustion from the day's work weighed heavily, and she lay back, eyes glazed in the direction of the monitor and the download status. She glanced at her watch. Just after ten in Dallas. She waited a moment, then straightened, and bracing for what was to come, picked up the handset, and dialed.
The effervescence in the voice on the other end brought the crack of a smile, and Munroe said, "I just got your message."
"I know that you aren't looking for new work for a few months," Kate said, "but this is an exception. The client is Richard Burbank."
Munroe paused. The name was familiar. "Houston oil?"
She sighed. "Okay, fax me the documents, I'll take a look." There was an awkward silence, and then Breeden said, "For a hundred thousand dollars, would you be willing to meet in person?"
Munroe said nothing. Simply let the silence of the moment consume her.
Breeden spoke again. "It's been two years, Michael. Consider it a good omen. Come on home."
"Is it worth it?"
"You can always go back."
Munroe nodded to empty space, to the inevitable that she'd so far managed to postpone, and said, "Give me a week to wrap things up." She dropped the phone into the cradle, lay back on the couch, and with an arm draped over her eyes inhaled long and deep.
There would be no sleep today.
. . .
For the fourth time in as many minutes, Munroe checked her watch, then the length of the line ahead.
Stamps hammered into passports. The irregular beat created a distracting rhythm, a cadence that patterned the background of her thoughts.
She was going home.
Home. Whatever that was supposed to mean.
Home. After two years of shifting time zones and Third World countries, of living a nonstop clash of cultures through places alien and alive. These had been worlds she could feel and understand - unlike home. Teeth clenched, Munroe shut her eyes and exhaled softly, tilted her head upward and took in another drink of air.
Excerpted from The Informationist by Taylor Stevens. Copyright © 2011 by Taylor Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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