Someone is handing the blade to him.
That someone is me. I can see my profile. I’m standing just in front of the camera, next to a wall full of knives and hammers. Melvin’s tools.
And I’m smiling.
“I’d arrest you right fucking now,” Lustig tells me, “except that I don’t have jurisdiction, and Kansas already acquitted your sorry ass. Now you sit down and tell me everything you know about Melvin Royal. Right now.”
I’m numb. I’m just . . . empty. I sit down, still staring at the screen. At my face—Gina Royal’s face. It hurts to talk, but I force the words out anyway. “It’s a fake,” I tell him. “I wasn’t there. I was never there. Absalom faked—”
“Shut up with that bullshit,” Lustig says, then rolls my chair around so he’s leaning his weight on the arms, shoving his face close to mine. “You were there. All this, this victim act? I’ve had my doubts all along, and believe me, I’m very done being played. You tell me what you know!”
“That’s not me!” I scream it in his face, out of sheer panic and desperation—it’s a raw, rough, broken sound, and it hurts. God, it hurts. “I don’t know! I am not part of this!”
He shoves my chair, and it rolls back and smashes against the wall with such force I’m almost pitched out of it. I get up, ready to fight, but Lustig doesn’t come closer. He stares, and then he turns and walks away. Raj is turned toward us, mouth half-open in astonishment.
Sam hasn’t moved toward me, either. He looks calm and blank, right up until he picks up the monitor and throws it against the wall. It smashes into sparks and broken plastic, and Raj lets out a yell of protest, coming up out of his chair.
“Sam!” I cry that out, and wish I hadn’t, because the look he gives me flays me to the spine. It destroys me. I wonder if he’s about to finish the job that Suffolk started.
Lustig pauses at the office door to say to Raj, “You don’t let her leave this room until I come back. Understand?” He charges through. Raj nods and gets himself together. He blocks the way out.
I feel trapped. Hunted. My throat is on fire, and when I swallow, I taste blood.
Sam heads for the door, too. I want to call after him, but I’m afraid to do it now. Raj is in his path, until Sam says, in a voice that I don’t even recognize, “He said she had to stay. I don’t.”
Raj reluctantly edges out of the way, and then Sam is gone. I’m alone with the tech agent and the smashed monitor. The room smells like ozone. Raj won’t look at me. I can see he’s nervous; his throat is working, and he’s tracking me out of the corner of his eye in case I make a move. But I don’t. I just stand there, numbly. I don’t know what else I can do.
Mike Lustig opens the door. He looks grim and furious, and Raj gratefully sinks back into his tech chair. “You can go, Gina,” he says. He bites the words off in chunks. I’m no longer Gwen Proctor to him. “But don’t you get comfortable. You won’t be out walking free for long. Now get the fuck out of my building before I do something I’m going to regret.”
There’s another agent standing next to him, stone-faced, and I can tell that he’s my escort out of the building. Everything feels unreal now. I wonder what they’ll do if I just lose control and start screaming. Probably drag me out anyway. I don’t make a conscious decision to leave; I just do it. I’m suddenly out of the darkness of the monitoring room, and into a hallway. The agent has a grip on my arm—firm, not abusive.
He escorts me out, unclips my badge, and walks me to the lobby, where the FBI receptionist takes the identification from him. Both of them look at me expectantly.
I don’t know where I’m supposed to go now. What I’m supposed to do.
I finally realize that I’m expected to leave, so I walk out the front doors, which automatically lock behind me. It’s dark, the sun long down, and the wind’s cold. I stand there in bewilderment, thinking I’ve fallen out of time. Out of space. This is Wichita. I’ve driven these streets. Walked in that shopping center visible in the distance. Gotten gas at the station on the corner.
I shouldn’t be here.
The enormity of everything that’s just happened rolls over me, and I stagger to one of the broad concrete blocks that guards the approach to the ground-floor lobby of the building. It’s not low enough to sit on, but I lean against it, trembling, gasping for breath. The past is cascading down on me now, in smells and colors and tastes and horror, and could it be right, could it possibly be right that I was ever part of what Melvin did, that I’d been in that garage prior to the day it all cracked apart? That I helped him, and I’ve forgotten all of it?
Am I insane?
I don’t know how much time passes. Minutes, but it feels like hours, and there’s the scrape of footsteps, and someone’s coming toward me. For an instant, I think it’s Melvin. I think, this is how it ends.
But then he passes beneath a streetlight, and I make out Sam’s face. He isn’t reaching out, but he’s here. His gaze is fixed on the offices behind me.
“Get up,” he tells me. “I talked to Rivard. The plane’s waiting. It’ll drop us in Knoxville. I’ll drive you back to Javier’s.”
“And then?” I ask. It comes out in a rough whisper.
He doesn’t answer. And he doesn’t wait for me. I’m left to scramble along in his wake, lost, but grateful to have a path out of this nightmare.
I will never come back to this place.
I realize that the way I whisper the words, it’s become a prayer.
When we hear the crunch of gravel outside, I grip my brother’s hand tighter. I haven’t let go for the past hour, and neither has he; we’re back to our little-kid days, after Mom and Dad went away—both arrested, the same day. I still remember that more vividly than anything else: me and my brother sitting in the backseat of a police car. It felt like being in a cage, and it smelled like sweat and feet, and we held hands the whole way. We didn’t talk. I don’t think either of us knew what to say. I remember not being so much terrified as dazed. I kept expecting it to be over, that Mom would come get us, and we’d get ice cream and go home. Brady—now Connor—had been the one who’d cried, and I remember being impatient with him being such a baby. I kept telling myself it was nothing. We would be home soon.