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The Kill Order
By Robin Burcell
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Robin Burcell
All rights reserved.
South San Francisco, California
Piper Lawrence eyed the cigarettes in the pocket of
the man sitting next to her on the bus. She'd given up smok-
ing a year ago, because she couldn't afford it and commu-
nity college. Or anything else for that matter. Books cost a
fortune. Food wasn't exactly cheap, either. But sometimes
people tucked money in their packs—she used to. Besides,
pickpocketing kept her skills sharp, and in this case it wasn't
really going to harm anyone.
Her stop was coming up, and she waited for the bounce
that always occurred as the bus crossed this particular in-
tersection . . . Then, “Sorry,” she said, accidentally bumping
into the man as she rose from her seat. She moved toward
the front, holding on to the handrail. As the bus slowed, then
stopped, she hurried down the steps, and the door swished
closed behind her, sending a slight gust of air at her back as
the bus took off.
The cigarette pack felt slightly heavier than it should, and
she was curious, but figured it wasn't wise to open it there,
2 Robin Burcell
in case the guy discovered it missing too soon. She quick-
ened her pace, turned the corner, and walked the two blocks
to her destination, a small business park filled with ware-
houses, most subdivided into small shops. It was located in
the city of South San Francisco, on the east side of Highway
101. Her friend's shop wasn't in the nicest of areas, but this
time of night it was quiet.
About to open the pack, she hesitated when she saw a
black sedan parked near the corner. The streetlamp cast
just enough light for her to see two men sitting in the front
seat, and a third man with gray hair standing at their open
window. Apparently the conversation had concluded, and he
started to walk away, but the driver called him back, saying,
“Hey, Brooks.” The man returned to the car.
The vehicle faced the direction she was headed, and she
couldn't see the two men he was talking to, or hear what
they were saying. For a moment, though, she thought this
Brooks guy was the gray-haired man from the bus, wait-
ing with undercover detectives to arrest her for pickpocket-
ing. Then again, she'd been in the back of a few cop cars.
Around here they drove those big Fords, she thought as the
gray-haired man turned, looked right at her. She realized
then that he was not the same person at all, and she chided
How stupid to think they'd send out detectives over a pack
of smokes, and she wondered why these men were here at
all. This time of night, everything in the area was closed.
Drugs? Probably not. They didn't look the type.
Since none of them seemed interested in her, she ignored
them, crossed the street, and opened the cigarette pack,
thereby discovering it contained a few cigarettes and a
lighter, which was probably why it felt heavy.
Waste of talent, she thought, then pushed open the door
of her friend Bo Brewer's shop. Bo fixed things for a living.
Today it was copy machines. Tomorrow it would be some-
THE KILL ORDER 3
thing else, depending on what he bought from the govern-
ment surplus auctions. In the most recent lot, he'd purchased
seven copy machines, all the same model, all in various
states of repair. The fact he was able to buy perfectly good
office equipment for so cheap was, in his opinion, why the
government was broke. He'd quickly fixed two machines by
swapping out parts, estimating that he could sell the pair
for what he'd paid for the lot, which meant that he'd already
recouped his investment.
Bo looked up as she walked in. “Hey,” he said, then bent
back down over his keyboard, typing something into his
“You realize there's two guys sitting in a car out there?
Some guy talking to them. Kind of strange, don't you think?”
“Saw it there earlier. Probably the cops. I think the auto
repair shop next door is dealing in stolen car parts.”
“Doesn't look like a cop car.”
“If they're undercover, it wouldn't.”
“I brought you something.” She set the cigarettes and
lighter on his desk.
“Who'd you steal that from?”
“Some guy on the bus.”
He went back to work.
After a long stretch of silence, she said, “Let's go some-
where. A movie.”
He didn't answer. It wasn't that Bo was ignoring her. It was
more that he was intent on what he was doing. A week ago
after he'd finished breaking down the remaining machines,
determining which could be used for parts and which would
be repaired, he made the unfortunate-for-her discovery that
the federal government had left the hard drives in the copy
machines. The moment he tapped into a few, he'd become
obsessed with reading what was on them. Especially one
machine from the San Francisco FBI office because it had
something on it besides the usual reports on bank robberies
4 Robin Burcell
and white-collar crimes. A page filled with nothing but a list
of numbers. Bo figured it was a code of some sort. Because
he was a semidecent computer geek, it was now his mission
in life to learn what it was, and he'd searched every which
way on the Internet, even running it past one of his geekier
He balked when the guy wanted to see the whole thing.
He was paranoid. Nothing was safe on the Internet in his
opinion, and so he never showed the entire list.
He did, however, give it to her to read, but it meant noth-
ing to her. Numbers just sat in her head, literally and figura-
tively like dead weights, refusing to go away.
And tonight, he was still at it. Piper watched him for a
few minutes, bored to tears, hoping he would have moved
Excerpted from The Kill Order by Robin Burcell. Copyright © 2013 Robin Burcell. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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