"What the hell were you thinking?"
I'm in the passenger seat of Agent Duncan's car, checking Marlowe's gun to see how much ammo I've got. Turns out it was fully loaded.
"You didn't give me a lot of room to improvise," I tell her.
"You blew up your apartment," she says, and then she gets angry. "You laced your own apartment with explosives. Are you fucking insane?! What if--the fire--"
"Taken care of. I've been setting up bombs since I was 12. With the right explosives, I could scramble an egg without cracking the shell."
"Thought you said you don't remember anything back from when you were a killer."
"I still remember the trade." I look back behind us, down the street. Fire engines in the distance. They won't find much to clean up; just the charred, thoroughly drenched remains of my apartment. "You can slow down now. Unless he bugged your car, Marlowe won't find us."
She struggles between staring at me and keeping her eyes on the road. "How do you live like this?"
"I make time between explosions. I need your Agency badge."
"I need it to fix this."
"Just because you saved my life doesn't make us friends."
"You blew my cover. Now I've got to come at this from a different angle. Give me your Agency badge."
"Goddamn it, no. I'm not part of this--this thing you're doing," she says. "I'm just the woman who's turning you in."
"You made yourself part of it when you decided to snoop around my place to see what I was really up to. If it comes up later, tell them I stole it from you."
"I need to report a missing badge immediately."
"I've still got 24 hours before you report me to the Agency, right? Do it then."
Before she can make a decision, my phone starts ringing. Probably Marlowe. I flip it open and bring it to my ear.
"Hello, Marlowe. Liking my place so far?"
A woman laughs on the other end. "Did I interrupt something?"
That's not Marlowe.
"Who is this?" I look at Agent Duncan, then do a quick scan of the road. Is someone following us?
"I'm hurt. You've already forgotten what my voice sounds like?"
Every muscle in my body seizes up all at once. Nerve endings fire up warning flares. A flock of goosebumps flutter down my back.
"Miss July," I say.
Agent Duncan stiffens besides me. "What?" she asks.
"I've been observing your little situation from afar. I hope you don't mind; we like to keep an eye on our valued assets," July says.
"The Miss July? As in, 'member of the Administration' Miss July?" Agent Duncan asks.
I ignore Agent Duncan and focus on the phone. "I'm not an asset anymore."
"Come on, Jack. We both know better," July says. "It's only a matter of time before you get over this whole 'mid-life crisis' of yours and come back in out of the cold."
"Then I'll make it interesting," she says. "All it takes is one phone-call, and Marlowe will know exactly where to find Jessica. I wouldn't even have to call--a text message would do."
I'm good when it comes to picking up survelliance, but the Administration's got a network of informants that outnumbers the population of some small countries. On top of that, they've got entire satellites on their side.
"This isn't your business," I tell her.
"You're always our business. We want you to do a job."
"I'm not killing anyone."
"This one's easy," she says. "In fact, I'm doing you a favor. It's related to your current case. We want you to kill the man responsible for hiring Marlowe to take out Nova."
Alright. That's different.
"And who would that be?" I ask.
"You already know."
"What, Jimmy Rico?"
"He has his reasons."
"So," I say, trying to get a grasp on all of this. "You want me to kill the guy who's trying to kill Nova. If I don't do it, you'll let his people kill Nova. If I do do it, you'll let Nova live. Is that about the size of it?"
If Jim Rico is responsible for this--for trying to kill Nova, for the hotel bombing, for everything--then he's one slimey son of a bitch, and killing him is very tempting. But that's not my style, not anymore.
"So what's your gameplan here?" I ask. "Going to keep feeding me morally reasonable targets to kill?"
"Oh, no," she says. "Eventually, I'll work you back up to the puppy-stomping."
"You know, when you're trying to seduce someone to the dark side, it helps if you don't actually tell them."
"That's boring," she says. "Besides, we both know you're an addict."
Agent Duncan spares another glance at me. She's been quiet since the beginning of this exchange, just listening. I'm thankful for that, but I'm also worried she's mulling over the wisdom of turning me in right now.
"I'm done with that," I tell July.
"Tell it to your therapist," she says. "What was the line you fed Agent Duncan, again? 'I don't remember any of it'? But you do, don't you? You remember every glorious moment. After our little experiment, you just had a... 'moral lapse'."
My grip on the phone tightens. July doesn't let up.
"It's hard, isn't it? Not killing. Particularly when you're surrounded by so many amateurs. Like whoever did that hotel bombing. Sloppy. Stupid. Unprofessional. That sort of incompetence--it makes you want to hurt someone, doesn't it, Jack?"
"I'm done with that," I repeat. Like a mantra.
"The world's full of morons," she says. "All of them dousing themselves with gasoline. And you? You've got yourself a pack of matches. What's one more sociopath to the fire?"
"You've got a day to take out the trash. We'll be in touch."
She hangs up. I suck in a long breath, then turn to Agent Duncan.
"I need your badge," I tell her. "And some explosives."