The Insiders (The Insiders Trilogy #1) by Tijan


“You cleared the upstairs, right, Chase?”

Chase. Chase was the guy who showed up first. Chase was my maybe ally.

“He better have, or was the two pumps not long enough?”

A full belly laugh came from the boots guy.

“Shut up, Rafe. Clemin. Both of you.” Chase’s voice was strained.



* * *



I was being hoisted up in the air.

My one shot. My one chance. My neighbor.

A bloodcurdling scream ripped from my throat.

“Aahhh!” Breathe. “He-e-elp me!”

Please, Mrs. Jones. Please hear me.

Chase dropped me back to the ground, and instead of a hand, I saw a boot lift up—

Then—

Sirens.

The cops were coming.





TWO



I wasn’t being taken to a police station.

I was told that I was fine at the hospital. But after being told I was also in shock, after being told all the big words that I knew the definitions for, like dissociation, minimization, and deflection—I could only focus on one thing now. After leaving the hospital, I was not going to the police station. I knew the maps, the geography, and that’s where I should’ve gone.

Right? But no. The hospital was behind us where the station was too.

We were heading out of Chicago, and maybe another half hour or so from the small town where my mom and I lived.

Wait. Second thought—where we used to live?

What would my mom do now? Could Chrissy Hayes remain in that house after I was just attacked, almost taken hostage? I called my mother by all kinds of names—Chrissy Hayes, Chrissy, or Mom. Or, well, a whole other kind of names too, because to say she’s a character is putting it mildly. And we have an interesting relationship to say the least.

I might be deflecting here.

Numb. I was numb. I should be pissing my pants, but instead I’m ruminating over how I refer to my mother.

Could I stay in that house after what just happened?

I’d been planning to spend time with Chrissy, helping with the house and working at the local computer store to make some extra money before I left for school. But now … fuck if I knew.

Myriad curses went through my mind as I realized Chrissy would have to move.

Shivers pierced me as I went over what had happened tonight, but then we were pulling into a driveway, next to a booth. A large gate barricaded us from moving forward.

Official police business, my tech ass.

Then again, nothing seemed official. I was told that I was being taken to my mother, but I left with two detectives. Bright and Wilson. They introduced themselves, then said she couldn’t see me in the hospital. They didn’t explain why, but I was to go with them to see her.

I went.

I was in the backseat of their unmarked car a few minutes later.

Bright’s window rolled down. She flashed her badge. “We’re expected.”

The attendant nodded, hitting a button. The gate opened, showing a campus of buildings behind it. Some made of dark red brick. Some seemingly made of reflective windows, top to bottom. Some painted totally black. A large parking lot sat in the middle of the buildings. “Phoenix Tech” was on a sign in front of the first building, but we went past, heading around it and toward a smaller building on the opposite end of the lot.

My tongue was glued to the back of my throat. We were at Phoenix Tech headquarters.

I had yearned to get an internship there every year since fifth grade, and then through college. I kept applying, but they kept denying. Some might say I was being desperate. I prefer determined. It’s a quality that I feel is honorable. Plus, I wasn’t above hoping they’d take pity on me one day. It worked, because while I might not have been good enough to walk their hallways, I was good enough for them to give me charity. They awarded me the majority of my grants for undergrad, so I’d been able to go to college debt free. I’d been expecting that to change for graduate school, but it hadn’t. Or, well, it kind of had.

I was hired as a graduate assistant, starting in the fall, which gave me a stipend, but the rest was covered by another scholarship from Phoenix Tech.

Phoenix Tech was one of the world’s leading companies on cyber security. I was going into information systems, which was close enough. A job here would be a dream.

“My mom is here?” I asked, when Bright parked, and both her and Wilson got out of the vehicle.

Neither answered.

Bright opened my back door and motioned for me, slipping her sunglasses over her eyes. “It’s time for you to find out some answers.”