Inside Out Page 38

Amused, I huffed in mock outrage. “Tell Sheepy that if he bites me on the leg, I’ll send Zippy after him.”

“Zippy?”

“My little cleaning troll. He has a nasty habit of shredding dust bunnies.”

He laughed. “Sheepy’s not going to back down. He meant what he said.” All humor evaporated from Riley. He pressed fingers into his right temple, wincing in pain. “My break’s over. I need to return to my station.” He met my gaze. “Did you come here for a reason?”

“Yes. I need help…” How should I phrase the request?

“Name it.”

I stared at him. He used the exact same words I had when talking to Cog. Did he overhear us?

“What? Did you expect me to say no?” His confusion seemed genuine.

“I…”

“I have to go.”

I told him about needing a computer, but didn’t mention Logan’s name. “Preferably one located in an isolated area.”

“I’ll see what I can do, and let you know during my next shift.” He strode to the door.

“How?”

He paused with his hand on the knob. “Come to our room, I’ll try and schedule my break time to coincide with your visit again, but you might have to wait a bit.”

“You knew I was here?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

He gave me a mischievous smile. “Sheepy told me.”

On my way back to level two, I checked to see what I had netted in the laundry chute. A couple shirts, three pants, a handful of undergarments and a Pop Cop’s uniform. I debated about the uniform as I sent the rest down. It could be a great disguise, but it also could be trouble. Did the Pop Cops keep track of their uniforms? Did they all recognize each other by sight? If a person wore a white kitchen uniform, I wouldn’t know if they were scrub or spy. Postponing my decision, I rerigged the net and left the uniform within its black web.

I stopped at the cafeteria, pushing my way through the miasma of so many people gathered together. When I reached the serving scrub who had mentioned the clogged air shaft, I paused.

“Your problem is fixed,” I said.

He nodded.

“Thanks.”

He made eye contact and resumed filling the bowls with food. But he squared his shoulders, stood a little straighter and the barest hint of a smile settled on his face. The image of his smile hovered in my mind. Even though we had a limited variety of food, the kitchen scrubs worked hard to cook meals for the rest of us.

Cogon had always thanked the servers, calling them by name as he moved through the line. I remembered being annoyed and impatient with him as he held up the rest of us who waited. Considering Cog’s present situation, I regretted every harsh word I’d said to him.

I fought my way around filled tables, searching for a seat. Jacy and his buddies occupied an entire table. When I glanced back at them, Jacy patted the vacant seat next to him. Funny. There hadn’t been an empty one there a second before.

Understanding the hint didn’t mean I would take the hint, I hesitated, but couldn’t produce a good reason to avoid him. I sat next to him.

“The microphones are working well. Thanks,” Jacy said.

“No problem.” I shoved a spoonful of green bean casserole into my mouth.

“We’ve already gotten a few nuggets of useful intelligence. Do you think you could install a few more?” His casual tone didn’t match the intensity in his eyes.

“Where?”

“Over the Control Room and in the lifts.”

“Monitoring Pop Cops not enough?”

His gaze slid over the mass of scrubs. I copied him, trying to see the people through his viewpoint. Clusters of miserable expressions dominated, but a few smiles and a couple of laughing faces stood out from the crowd.

“No. Not enough at all,” he said. “Can you do it?”

“Sure.” I ate a few more scoops of casserole. When I realized I hadn’t even tasted the food, I slowed down and made a conscious effort to savor it. Not bad. Did the cooks change the recipe?

“What do you want in return?” he asked.

Interesting question. He dealt in information. “How about you tell me if you hear anything I would consider important through those microphones?”

“Deal. In fact, I’ll start now. I heard Cog confessed to killing Broken Man and dismembering him.” Jacy watched my expression. “Gruesome, I agree. And despite the evidence the Pop Cops found, I don’t believe Cog is capable of harming anyone.” He gestured to the scrubs around us. “And neither do they. If Cog killed the Pop Cop, we all know it had to be an accident.”

He waited, but I wasn’t going to confirm nor deny his theory.

“Cog has taken the blame for everything. However, Lieutenant Commander Karla knows Cog is too big to fit into the air shaft above Broken Man’s room, and she’s determined to find the scrub who started this whole mess.” Jacy stared at me. “And do you know what Cogon did then?”

Icy fingers of dread clutched my heart. “No.”

“He saved your ass. Again. He told Karla that Roddie was in the air shaft.”

Roddie? I spun the name around my mind, but failed to recognize him. “A friend of Cog’s?”

“You don’t know who he is?” Jacy’s face creased as if he smelled a rotten stench.

“Should I?”

“You damn well should! He was the man who Karla kill-zapped at assembly 147,002. He was recycled because of you and you don’t even know his name!”

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