The Thousandth Floor

Page 76

“How do you think I’m holding up?” he snapped. Rylin’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry,” he said swiftly, turning back into the Hiral she knew, the boy she’d fallen in love with once upon a time. “It’s just been really hard.”

“Of course it has,” she commiserated, and remembered what the guard had said. “At least your family came by to visit?” She wished she could just cut right to the chase, but she couldn’t just breeze in and break up with him, not here.

“My family?” Hiral reached for the bag and began sorting carelessly through the gifts.

“The guard said you’d already had two visitors today?”

“Those weren’t my family.” Hiral took a bite of one of the cookies, not looking at her.

“Oh.” Rylin’s stomach fluttered. She wondered if it had been V, or someone else involved in that whole twisted mess. She didn’t want to know. Maybe it would be better if she did just dive right in. “Listen, Hiral—”

“Ry,” he cut her off. “I need you to do something for me.”

Once upon a time she would have agreed on the spot, but now she knew better. “What is it?” she asked carefully.

“I need you to help me post bail.”

She started to laugh at the absurdity of it, but Hiral scowled, and she fell silent. God. He was serious.

He leaned his elbows on the table, his forehead in his hands. “My stash is at the liftie entrance to the C line, on seventeen.” His eyes were still closed, his shoulders hunched in apparent defeat.

“Hiral!” she hissed, panicked—what if the table was bugged?—but he just went on, speaking in low, rapid tones.

“It’s fine. Put your hand on my shoulder. They don’t actually listen in. I just don’t want them to see my mouth, use LipRead or anything.”

Rylin did as he said, her heart hammering. Anyone looking in would think he was overwhelmed, hanging his head in his hands, and she was comforting him. His fists were almost at his chin, blocking his mouth from view.

“The C line, on seventeen,” he went on. “Behind the left-side mech panel. I need you to clear it out. All of it. Don’t leave anything there, especially not the Anderton Spokes. V will reach out to you soon, to set up a time and place for the handoff. Give everything to him. It should be enough to cover my bail. Mainly thanks to you, stealing those Spokes,” he added.

Rylin was speechless. Had Hiral really amassed fifteen thousand nanodollars of drugs? When had that happened? “Hiral, you know I can’t,” she said slowly. “Not with Chrissa. If I get caught, she ends up in foster care.”

His eyes hardened, and he looked up sharply. “So the rest of us can risk jail all the time, but you’re too good for it?”

“I’m sorry.” Rylin tried to keep her voice even. “What about V? He could handle it.”

“You know he can’t get into the locker room. Besides, I only trust you with this.”

“Hiral, please—”

“Do you want me to stay in here? Is that it?” he snarled, his face reddening.

“Of course not, but—”

“Damn it, Ry!” Hiral slammed his fist on the table. She jolted back, but he grabbed her wrist with an iron grip. “You’re going to do this for me, okay? This is what people in relationships do for each other. They help each other, protect each other. You’re going to help me get out of here, because you’re my girlfriend.” He said it as if it were a curse word. “And, because you’re my girlfriend, I’ll protect your secrets.”

“My secrets?” Rylin whispered.

“What you took from Cord. I love you, Rylin. I would never tell on you, no matter how many times they ask me about it.”

Rylin felt as though she’d been kicked in the chest. He was threatening her about the stolen Spokes. Her eyes flicked up to the walls, feeling dazed. Could the cops be listening to this?

“I told you, I’m not important enough for them to eavesdrop on,” Hiral said, reading her mind. He leaned back and released her hand. Rylin pulled it into her lap. He’d been holding it so tight her fingers had gone numb.

“Okay. I’ll help,” she said, the words torn forcibly out of her. She didn’t have a choice.

“Of course you will.”

Rylin braced her hands on the table. It felt suddenly like there was no air in the room. The walls closed in on her as if she were the one imprisoned.

She couldn’t break up with Hiral. At least, not yet. She had to stay with him until she got through this, and got him out of jail.

“Now come give me a kiss,” Hiral said, with a nod to his shackled ankles. Obediently Rylin stood and walked around the table. She started to brush her lips lightly on his, but Hiral reached up and grabbed her forcibly, his lips hard and unyielding, almost bruising.

After a moment she pulled back. She felt cold all over. “I should get home,” she said, and turned to walk back through the guard’s room and out the front door.

“See you soon!” Hiral called out behind her.

For a few minutes Rylin walked without even realizing where she was going. Hiral’s ugly threat kept replaying in her head. Finally she stopped in her tracks and wrapped her arms around herself, still trembling uncontrollably.

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