Killing Time by Linda Howard


  “How about my driver’s license,” she offered. “Or a credit card. Want to see them, too?”

  “If you don’t mind,” he repeated, and she actually laughed as she opened her purse and removed both cards from her wallet, handing them across the desk.

  He studied the license with its holographic seal, closely examined it for signs of tampering, then compared the signature on the bottom with the signature on the back of the credit card. They matched, of course. He was beginning to feel foolish, while she was not only relaxed, she was amused as well.

  “Good,” he said as he returned the cards to her. “Now I don’t feel as if I need to take your weapon away from you.”

  “Try to take my weapon,” she corrected. “There’s a point at which I stop being a good citizen and become a pissed-off agent.”

  “Then don’t do anything that makes me nervous, and we’ll get along fine.”

  She picked up another fry. “If I wanted to shoot you, I could have done it this morning when we were the only two people around, and my weapon was already unholstered.”

  “There’s that,” he conceded. “Have you had any other thoughts about how Taylor Allen’s murder ties in with your other cases, and why someone in your office would obviously leak your whereabouts to a sniper who might or might not be the killer?”

  “On the surface, I can’t see any connection between Mr. Allen and the other cases. As for wanting me dead, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Assuming I did find something that is threatening this someone in my office, I don’t know what it is, and killing me would only result in someone with a lot more experience taking over. Killing me isn’t cost-effective, as far as I can see.”

  “You’ve been pretty calm about the whole thing,” he observed.

  “What choice do I have? I suppose I could get hysterical and cry on your shoulder, but what would that accomplish, other than a stuffed-up nose?”

  She hadn’t been rattled when she was shot at, either, he remembered. He liked that kind of steadiness in anyone. There was a lot about her he liked, including that friendly smile. He just wished that damn verification would come in so he could feel better about liking her. Until then, he’d already let his guard down as far as he could without crossing over into total unprofessionalism.

  The phone rang again and he answered it. He listened, said “Thanks,” then hung up and smoothly pulled his weapon and leveled it at her. “Use two fingers and remove your weapon, then place it on the desk and step back,” he said in a cool, level tone. “You’re under arrest for impersonating a federal agent.”

  7

  Nikita’s heart gave a quick thump and adrenaline burned through her veins. This was it; she’d hoped events wouldn’t bring her to this, but she was a realist and she’d prepared. She had to be more convincing than she’d ever been before in her life, or her ass was burnt. No, that wasn’t it. A cooking term, though . . . Burnt, cooked, baked—oh, yeah: her ass was toast.

  The ridiculous thought calmed her a little. Without protest she opened her jacket and awkwardly used the first two fingers of her left hand to pull the heavy weapon from the holster. She laid it on his desk, barrel pointing to the side. His big hand closed over the weapon and moved it out of her reach.

  “You have the right to remain silent,” he began as he lifted her to her feet and secured first her right wrist, then her left, in a set of handcuffs. The cold steel bit into her, so tight it felt as if her bones were squeezed together. She didn’t bother listening as he recited the Miranda; she knew the drill by heart.

  “Please empty my purse onto your desk,” she said softly, looking up at him. He was still standing close, gripping her arm, so close she could feel his body heat. Cops were taught to use their own bodies to subdue and control, to grip, the agonizing holds that paralyzed a struggling suspect with his or her own pain. She didn’t make even a tiny move of resistance, in fact leaned even closer to him, so close her hair brushed his shoulder. “Please.”

  His gaze was flat and remote, his face expressionless, all hint of affability gone. “Why?”

  “There are some things in there I want to tell you about. Handcuff me to the chair or the desk if you’re worried I’ll try to bolt. I promise I won’t, but you might feel nervous.”

  “Nervous?” he asked, briefly puzzled and his attention caught. “How’s that?”

  “Because I have training that you don’t.” Maybe this was working. She could see the flicker of interest in his eyes.

  “If you were a real FBI agent, I might believe that.”

  “I am a real FBI agent, just not . . . now.”

  “Maybe you can convince a judge you’re delusional, but I’m not buying it. They have no record of a Nikita T. Stover as an agent, former or otherwise.”

  “I didn’t say ‘former.’ Please, just empty my purse on your desk. I’ll tell you about everything that’s in there.”

  For a moment she thought he’d refuse, but in the end his curiosity won out. He didn’t take chances; he made her sit down, and he used a second set of cuffs to attach one of her ankles to the chair. Being cuffed was very uncomfortable, the way it pulled her shoulders back. Experienced prisoners didn’t try to keep their shoulders balanced; they dropped one and let the cuffs ride more to the other side, which effectively relieved the pressure on both shoulder joints. She tried that, and almost sighed as the pain instantly faded.

  Picking up her purse, he dumped the contents on his desk. After a moment he frowned at the array of gadgets. “What’s all this?”

  “First, look in my wallet. In the zippered compartment, there’s a card. Take it out and look at it.”

  He unzipped the section she indicated and pulled out the card. It was thicker than most cards, about the same as three personal cards stacked together, and made of a lightweight, translucent compound that was virtually indestructible. It wouldn’t burn, and she herself had tried to hack it to pieces just because they’d told her it couldn’t be done. They’d been right.

  On the left side a gold shield with an eagle on top had been laser-embossed, a shield that was similar but not identical to the one she’d showed him earlier. The shield read “Department of Justice” on the bottom and “Federal Bureau of Investigation” on the top. That hadn’t changed, but the shape of the shield differed, being slightly more rounded, and the eagle looked more fierce. On the right side was a three-dimensional holographic photo of her, and below was her name and serial number.

  “Cool,” he said, holding up the card and tilting it so the hologram flickered. “What’s it supposed to prove? That you know someone who can make 3-D pictures?”

  “Try to destroy it,” she said. “Go ahead, try anything you can think of. Cut it up. Melt it. Pour acid on it. See what happens.”

  “I don’t have any acid with me today,” he said, but he took a pair of scissors from his center desk drawer and tried to cut the card. Then he tried again, a look of concentration settling on his face. “This is thicker than a normal card,” he said, bearing down with all the strength in his hands.

  The rivet popped out of the scissors and the two pieces fell apart in his hand.

  “Shit!” he said in surprise, and examined the card with more interest. “What’s it made of?”

  “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” she said, trying out the old joke. When he didn’t laugh, she shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s called poly-di-something-something; I’ve never been able to pronounce it. The trade name is Ondite, for reasons I don’t know. NASA developed it for spaceships about, oh, a hundred and twenty years ago. Sort of.”

  His gaze went flat again. “Stop fucking with me, lady. If this wild story is all the explanation you have, you’re wasting my time.”

  “Because NASA didn’t exist a hundred and twenty years ago? It didn’t, counting from now. Try burning the card,” she suggested, thinking he needed to be more intrigued before she tried explaining about NASA.

  “I’ll take your word for it,” he sa
id, and tossed the card onto his desk.

  She was losing him. The key was getting his curiosity piqued enough that he would keep listening to her. He looked ready to haul her off to a cell, so she said quickly, “That silver case. Open it up.”

  “Why don’t you just save your breath and—”

  Abruptly her patience broke. She had to convince him, and she didn’t have a lot of time to waste doing it. “Oh, for God’s sake,” she said in exasperation. “I’m from the future. The year 2207, to be exact. I’m federal agent Nikita Stover, sent back to catch a killer from my time who traveled back to this time to systematically kill—

  “You don’t believe a word I’m saying, do you?”

  “You’re kidding, right?” he asked rhetorically. He’d folded his arms across his chest and appeared to be waiting for her to wind down.

  “The silver case is a DNA scanner. I was hoping I’d be able to get a reading in the forest behind Mr. Allen’s house, but you stuck too close to me. Go ahead, open it. I assume you’re bright enough to recognize technology that doesn’t exist now.”

  Goading him probably wasn’t smart, but she would do anything necessary to stay out of a jail cell. She would be useless there, and if her location became known, vulnerable to another attack.

  “If it doesn’t exist yet, then how can it be right here?” he asked, picking up the case and showing it to her, for all the world as if she hadn’t noticed it before.

  “I didn’t say ‘yet,’ I said ‘now.’ There’s a world of difference.”

  “Not that I can see. I’m holding it now.”

  “Okay, so time travel messes with syntax,” she snapped. “Do you want to get into an argument about past future tenses? The scanner exists temporarily in your now, but when I leave, it goes with me and it will then not yet exist.”

  Again she saw that flicker of curiosity in his expression when she mentioned past future tenses, which she’d hated studying in school. Time travel could tie language in a knot, making it possible for one person to both intend to do something, and at the same time to have already done it. But she didn’t want to discuss language with him, she wanted him to look at the scanner.

  “The lid is really a part of the scanner,” she said, nodding toward the case. “It folds all the way back and connects to the bottom of the case. It won’t work unless all the connections are made.”

  “There aren’t any holes in the lid for connections,” he pointed out, again showing the case to her.

  Nikita rolled her eyes. “There will be. They stay closed until the initial contact, to keep out dust and debris. Just open the damn thing, will you?”

  His lips quirked in amusement at her irritable tone. “You’re getting a tad pushy, Ms. Stover. Remember who’s wearing the cuffs and who isn’t.”

  She narrowed her eyes. “Only because I let you cuff me, to show my goodwill.”

  “So you keep saying.” He’d been fiddling with the scanner the entire time, and now he opened it and slowly folded the lid all the way back, holding it up close to his face so he could watch for any hidden latches to spring open. Just as the two surfaces touched there was a quiet click as the two halves locked together. Immediately the self-test function began running, a series of different colored lights dancing over the scanner.

  He tried to pull the pieces apart, but once the lid was secured, it stayed that way until the release button was pushed.

  “Magnetized?” he asked, frowning.

  “No. I told you how it worked. Press the triangular button at the very top to release the mechanism.”

  He studied the face of the scanner, pressed the specified button, and the lights went out as soon as the lid was released.

  Silently he once more folded the lid back so it met with its matching half. Again came the quiet click and the lights flashing as the self-test ran again.

  “Snazzy gadget,” he finally said. “What’s it supposed to do, other than look impressive?”

  “I told you, it’s a DNA scanner. It can recognize and process DNA. If you’re in the data banks, the way I am, it’ll give you my name, address, any prior arrests and convictions, where I work, where I live, my genetic heritage.”

  “How does it work?”

  “It’s sensitive enough to pick up DNA from skin cells that humans shed everywhere they go, and lead you to the sample. Since I’m sitting right in front of you, you won’t have to go to that much trouble. To get a reading, just press it to my skin or clothing, and push the round green button.”

  “But you could already have programmed whatever information you wanted into this gizmo, couldn’t you?” Smiling, he pressed it to his own hand and pushed the green button.

  The lights danced, and information flashed on the three-by-two-inch screen. The scanners used one dimension instead of three, because that way the system was less complicated—and less expensive—for field work. It was the same video technology that was available to him, unchanged over two centuries. When something worked, like the wheel, it lasted, while other technologies fell by the wayside.

  “ ‘Subject unknown,’ ” he read. “ ‘Genetic structure compatible with that of the northern European areas, specifically the ancient Celtic tribes, and to a lesser extent the Cherokee tribe of North America. Subject has blue eyes and brown hair. Require additional data for identification.”

  He stared at the little screen for a long moment, his expression unreadable. “How do I clear this?”

  “Either scan something else, or close the lid. The information has been saved unless you push the delete button, which is the orange one next to the green.”

  He deleted his reading from the scanner, then silently put it against her cheek and pressed the green button.

  “ ‘Stover,’ ” he read. “ ‘Nikita Tzuria. Age thirty, sixty-seven inches or 1.7179 meters in height, current weight unknown.’ ” He paused, eyed her up and down, and said, “I put you at around a hundred and thirty, maybe thirty-five, depending on how muscled you are.”

  Nikita couldn’t help smiling, because the last time she’d had a physical she had weighed in at one thirty-three. That had been over a year ago, but her clothes still fit, so she imagined she weighed roughly the same now as then.

  He continued reading. “ ‘Subject has been employed by the United States Department of Justice, investigative branch, specifically the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for six years. Subject resides in Des Moines, Iowa. Genetic heritage, in order of influence: northern European, southern European, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Slavic, and the Aztec tribe of Central America.’ ” He glanced up at her. “That’s quite a list.”

  “What can I say?” She hitched one shoulder; with her hands cuffed behind her that was all she could manage. “My ancestors got around.”

  “Middle Eastern.” His gaze bored into her. “Where in the Middle East, specifically?”

  “Israel. Tzuria, my middle name, is Hebrew. I don’t know what it means.”

  “Your first name is Russian.”

  “Blame my mother. Her name is Nicolette, and she thought Nikita was a nice match. But I guess it sort of fits, since I have some Slavic heritage.”

  “How about the Chinese part?”

  “That would be my . . . I forget how many greats. Six or seven, I think.”

  “Greats?”

  “As in generations. My great-great-great-great-and-so-on-grandfather. That came about during the Chinese Revolution.”

  “I see.”

  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. He was staring at her as if she had two heads. “And the Aztec?”

  “I can’t explain that one. Since it’s the last one listed, the genetic influence is so small it’s statistically unimportant.”

  He scratched his jaw. “I have to say this is all real interesting, but how is it supposed to convince me this wild tale you’re telling is even remotely true?”

  “I think you should do some more DNA scanning; scan your chair or your jacket; let it show you where the DNA
samples are. Or take it outside and scan someone I haven’t met, so there’s no way I could have programmed anything about them into the scanner.”

  “It’ll just tell me that the subject is unknown, like before. As for any particular genetic mix, how would I know for certain whether or not anything the scanner tells me is true? I don’t know where everyone’s ancestors came from.”

  “But they might. Pick the most unusual person you see. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.”

  Again his lips twitched with humor. “See that you do,” he said, and he strolled out of the office with her scanner. At least he closed the door behind him, so no one could see that she was being held captive. While she waited she tried to ease the strain on her muscles by shifting back and forth, giving one group ease while another bore the pain for a while.

  After about twenty minutes he returned, and placed the scanner on the desk. He sat down in his chair and studied her across the scarred surface. “I’ll give you that you’ve somehow come up with a piece of technology I haven’t seen before, but that’s all. I do think the FBI—the real FBI—will be mighty interested in this little gadget. What else do you have?”

  He wasn’t convinced, but he was definitely interested. Nikita was beginning to get a fix on his character. Anything that intrigued him had him caught; he could no more stop himself from trying to solve a puzzle than he could flap his arms and fly. Despite himself, he wanted to hear what else she had to say, wanted to see what her other equipment did.

  She thought a minute, trying to think what would most impress him. She’d thought the DNA scanner would do the trick. Finally she said, “Do you see the little red tube?”

  He fished around in the pile of her stuff and picked out a slim red tube, about three inches long and the diameter of a pen. “This?”

  “Yes. That’s Reskin. It instantly heals cuts and abrasions. Do you have a knife?”

  His eyebrows lifted. “You want me to cut myself?”

 
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