“Due to a severe dust storm closing in on Phoenix, all scheduled flights are postponed until further notice.”
The female voice from the speakers brought silence across the huge airport hall, and for one moment, hundreds of people stood motionless.
A low murmur was the first sound following the complete silence, a murmur that grew into one loud, pissed off growl, and Terminal 4 vibrated with anger.
Kyle Dunn slowed down his pace and tried to unclench his teeth. From the second their plane had touched the ground, he knew this layover would be trouble. All five of the G.E.E.K.S. Inc. had fake IDs, and their bags were full of suspicious gadgets. Cameras, trackers, and comm-sets would put a nasty grin on every security guard’s face. Not to mention a crucial piece of evidence from yesterday’s murder, now safely tucked inside his teammate’s backpack. If found, it could connect them to the murder as the prime suspects, though they only failed to prevent it.
Flying from New Orleans to Los Angeles should’ve been simple enough, but this layover in Phoenix had now grounded them for who knew how long. Unable to do anything about it, he and his four teammates jumped on the opportunity to stretch their legs and walk around.
A silent alarm had wailed in the back of his mind since they took off, but now, with the approaching dust storm anchoring them to the airport like sitting ducks, his paranoia exploded. One wrong move, only one, and everything could go straight to hell.
As an ex-mercenary, he knew death, danger, and doom. Now, as the only security expert in a group of wackos, he knew distraught and dread. Herding the four geeky vigilantes, still high on adrenaline from last night’s trouble, made him feel even more visible than usual.
Maybe it was only his paranoia, but the lazy glances of airport security transformed into hard looks when they spotted him.
And he indeed was a glance magnet, dressed as a goth drag queen. But that kind of attention was deliberate. Everyone would remember a tall drag with smoky eyes and a jacket over a black dress, yet no one would see Kyle “Achilles” Dunn under the makeup.
He scanned the crowd and caught a glimpse of green headphones on Michael’s head. The kid caught his wave, waved back with a huge sandwich in his hand, and made a bee-line toward Kyle.
“See that free chair?” Kyle turned him to the row of dark grey chairs to their left. “Sit there, eat, and wait until I find the others. And don’t take off that backpack.”
“Creepy’s over there,” Michael said.
“I know. I put him there.”
Creepy Voice sat in the last chair in the row, typing on his laptop. The Lakota had pulled his long dark hair up into a messy man-bun, not because he was trying to look like a hipster, but because it had been soaked during last night’s swamp escapade. Kyle wondered if the other passengers could smell the mud and unnamed rotten things Creepy had crawled through the night before.
Kyle decided not to sniff Michael to check. “Be here when I come back. As soon as I find Catalina and Preston, we’re off to—”
“I heard them mumbling about coffee.”
Good. That would narrow his search to the closest cafes.
Michael chewed on his sandwich and, within a mere second, became lost in his phone, as any other teenager with sloth-like energy levels would. No problem with him catching someone’s eye. The kid melted in any crowd, and disappeared, as if erased.
Two down, two to go.
Kyle fished his phone out, grumbled a curse under his breath, then put the phone back in his pocket. Catalina and Preston were reason and competence, and their fearless leaders. No matter how tired or nervous, they wouldn’t attract any attention to themselves. The two of them – most certainly – wouldn’t think of this as a field trip. Right.
He relaxed his shoulders and tried to look bored and not like a pissed-off banshee ready to carry them one by one back to the plane.
“You look like someone has your voodoo doll,” Catalina said from behind him, “and they soaked it in vinegar.”
He turned around to find a cup of coffee raised to his face. His gaze immediately studied her hair, but though her hair was as long and dark as Creepy’s, and her bun secured with the same nonchalance, her ringlets shone. A faint trace of something flowery spared him from sniffing. Even after a sleepless night, Catalina still looked way better than half of celebrities whose pictures she shot for the covers.
Three down, one to go.
Catalina grinned behind the dark sunglasses. “Is there a reason for your vibrating?” she asked in a lower tone. “Something wrong?”
“Something besides the dust storm grounding us here for hours, all five with fake IDs and...” He stopped and took a long breath. She knew all of that, and his tone oscillated between whining and nagging. “Where’s Preston?”
“Give him a minute.”
She’d barely finished her sentence when he saw Preston approaching through a tense group of Korean tourists.
All four of his companions were now within his reach and under his eye. He huffed a relieved breath and took the cup from Catalina. Now he could relax his too rigid stance and simply—
Not yet. Preston’s smile lay plastered on his face, as if glued.
Fact number one: Preston never smiled to himself, with no reason.
Fact number two: His real smile gave warmth to his sharp face and even sharper eyes. This one was a mere muscle movement, nothing more.
Fact number three: This smile was slightly crooked, as if Preston was stuck somewhere between annoyance and embarrassment.
Any other time, Kyle would take some joy in Preston’s discomfort because they rarely saw him express anything, much less two emotions at the same time – but this was the worst place for his boss to find the ability to show he was human over whatever was going on.
And when Preston finally cut his way through the tourists and stepped out into the open, that whatever was hanging from his hand.
A girl. A small mass of red curls, runny nose, and who was probably four years old or so. Pink Hello Kitty shoes matched the same miniature backpack and a cap. She clutched Preston’s hand with both hers, looking up to him as if she wanted to climb up his leg.
“She bumped into me,” Preston said. “Apparently she ran off, and now she can’t find her mother. And she wouldn’t let go of my hand. Nothing I could do.”
Yeah. Any one of them could’ve dealt with that type of situation quickly, but not Preston. Preston was the worst choice to stumble upon a crying child.
So much for laying low and not attracting any attention to themselves.
Kyle spread his mouth into the warmest smile he could muster and prepared himself to give a much needed lecture.
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