Suicide Club

Lea Kirino is a “Lifer,” which means that a roll of the genetic dice has given her the potential to live forever—if she does everything right. And Lea is an overachiever. She’s a successful trader on the New York exchange—where instead of stocks, human organs are now bought and sold—she has a beautiful apartment, and a fiancé who rivals her in genetic perfection. And with the right balance of HealthTech™, rigorous juicing, and low-impact exercise, she might never die.

But Lea’s perfect life is turned upside down when she spots her estranged father on a crowded sidewalk. His return marks the beginning of her downfall as she is drawn into his mysterious world of the Suicide Club, a network of powerful individuals and rebels who reject society’s pursuit of immortality, and instead choose to live—and die—on their own terms. In this future world, death is not only taboo; it’s also highly illegal. Soon Lea is forced to choose between a sanitized immortal existence and a short, bittersweet time with a man she has never really known, but who is the only family she has left in the world.

Rachel Heng’s debut novel Suicide Club publishes July 10th with Henry Holt & Co.

 

 

ONE

The cake was a huge, tiered thing, painted with buttercream and decked with tiny red flowers, floating on a glass pedestal in the middle of the crowded room.

No one talked about it, or even looked at it. But every now and then, someone would linger a little too long by the drinks table, pretending to assess the various bubbly greens on offer while peeking at the cake out of the corner of their eye. Todd stood dutifully by Lea’s side, a slender flute of pale cordial in hand.

“Lovely party,” he said, nodding as if someone had asked him a question. He beckoned at her with his glass. “Great drinks. I’m really enjoying the Spirulina Spritz.”

Lea smiled absently. Her eyes flitted over the crowd, taking in the navy dresses and delicate silver jewelry, the tasteful suits in varying shades of gray. The flowers on the cake stood out like pinpricks of blood in an otherwise bloodless room. Even the bronzed faces, framed by shiny locks, so well hydrated and even-boned, seemed gray to her.

But it was a success, by all accounts. The party was a success.

She wouldn’t forget to smile. Healthy mind, healthy body.

* * *

“There they are! My favorite couple.”

“Natalie.” Todd brightened, tilting his head in welcome.

Natalie delivered her air kisses with the forbearance of a celebrity deigning to have their picture taken. First to Todd, then to Lea, careful not to actually touch their cheeks.

“You look—wow—great,” Todd said, still nodding. Lea suppressed the urge to grab his head and hold it still.

She did look great, though. Her sheath dress shimmered in the candlelight, shadowy indigo. It looked as if Natalie had been poured, a creamy, fragrant liquid, into the sleek dark length of it.

Lea flashed a smile, mentally cataloging her own appearance. She measured her straight black hair against Natalie’s glossy brown curls (Natalie’s was more luscious, more full of life), the burnt umber of her skin against Natalie’s pale, freckled visage (prone to UV damage and melanoma, so here Lea had a clear advantage). Natalie’s face was angular and long, which, together with her large front teeth, gave her an equine aspect. Lea, on the other hand, had never lost her baby fat and her cheeks remained full and plump, lacking in angles altogether. It was something which had bothered her as a girl but that she prized today. As with most lifers around the same age, their bodies were as similar as their faces were different, nearly identical in stature and muscular tone.

“Please,” Natalie said. “Don’t patronize me. Can you see these lines?” She pointed to one smooth, rouged cheek. “I know you can, so there’s no need to be polite. I’ve had the worst week, just the worst, must have taken at least three months off my number. But I don’t want to talk about it.”

She pressed her lips together. It was evident that she did, in fact, very much want to talk about it, but no one said anything.

“Lea!” she said suddenly. “Tell me all about you! You are naughty, always keeping things to yourself.” Natalie glanced coyly at Todd.

“Trust me, I’d love to have some secrets. But with friends like you . . .”

They burst out laughing. Todd laughed too, right on cue. Their laughter was rich and cascading, a golden ribbon unfurling through the party, making people turn to look, people who were until then perfectly secure of their position in life but at that moment felt something was missing.

More friends arrived to join the group, and the flirtatious barbs continued. Lea was up for a big promotion, which she made sure to slip in casually while complaining about how much more work she was getting. She felt the information sink in and waited for the reaction it would generate. Sure enough, Jasmine jumped in with a cautionary tale about how promotions tended to turn coworkers against you; after all, that was what happened to her when she was the first lifer at her firm to get to director level before she hit a hundred.

The conversation fizzled, and they cast their gazes about, looking for a new topic. Some pulled out their tablets.

“So,” Natalie said, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “Have you seen it?” She tossed her hair, the lush ringlets giving off the faint scent of coconut. Her neck was firm and smooth. Like the flank of a racehorse, Lea thought.

“Seen what?”

Natalie rolled her eyes, pushed her shoulders back. Her left shoulder, Lea noticed with satisfaction, was slightly lower than the right. Lea drew herself up to her full height as well, glad that her sleeveless silk top showed off the definition of her upper arms, the symmetry of her clavicles.

“The video, of course,” Natalie said.

No one looked up from their tabs, but Lea felt the air freeze. She saw the man’s eyes, hard and shiny, pupils perfectly opaque, like a fish. His mouth, filling up with heat and fire, melting into brown and black and red, flesh vanishing into smoke and flame.

“Oh, God,” said a tall man with poreless mahogany skin. He sipped on his vitamin spritz and shuddered. “Can we not talk about that again, Natalie?”

Natalie’s new fiancé, Lea remembered. She looked at him closely, taking in his height, posture, muscle tone. She noted the dark intelligent eyes, long lashes, elegant, broad forehead.

“What? We know everyone’s thinking about it,” Natalie said.

“Unfortunate, unfortunate, very unfortunate. How could we not?” Todd bowed his head.

“Exactly!” Natalie crowed.

“They’re sick,” someone else chimed in.

“Disgusting.”

“Antisanct.”

“Imagine children watching that.”

“Imagine us watching that. Who knows how many months you lose watching that kind of thing?”

“Right! Just think about what it does to cortisol levels.”

“Pure spectacle, that’s what it is.”

“And to do it like that. I feel nauseated just thinking about it.”

Suddenly Lea could smell it—the acrid burn of flesh, the eye-watering sting of smoke. The man’s eyes, filled with a hard, unfamiliar conviction, a deep sadness. Something inside her lurched. Revulsion, she told herself. Shock.

“Are you okay, Lea?” Todd said. “You look a little pale.”

Everyone was looking at her now.

“Oh, yes, Lea,” Natalie said, eyes wide with concern. “Now that Todd’s mentioned it. How are your vitamin D levels, darling? I can recommend a clinic, you know, if yours isn’t quite up to the mark.”

“Perfect, actually.” Lea smiled, ignoring the barely veiled insult. “And no, thank you. I would never leave my Tender. Jessie and I go way back—she was assigned to our family when my mother made senior VP.”

“Of course,” Natalie said. She pressed her lips together and turned back to the others.

* * *

It won’t kill you to be nice. At least try.

I am, Lea thought. I am trying. Irritation flared in her belly. She saw her mother’s face, the lines emanating from the corners of her eyes. Then she heard her voice in her head again: Wrinkles are caused by the loss of elasticity in the skin, a consequence of wear and tear that can be delayed, but not eliminated, by RepairantsTM.

Ever practical, her mother. Even after she’d been dead for thirty years. Her spine had remained upright till the very end, her downy hair as black as it had always been, kept neatly cropped close to her skull by monthly visits to the salon. Her skin retained its elasticity far better than some of her lighter peers, who had withered decades earlier. Her muscles stayed firm, her feet smooth and well-groomed, her mauve lips full. Such were the benefits of being the CEO of Talent Global and having access to Tier 4 treatments.

Uju had lived to a hundred and forty-two—forty-two years older than Lea was now. It had been a good outcome for someone of her generation, someone who had been in her sixties when the Second Wave began. For Lea, however, a hundred and forty-two would be failure. Three hundred was now the number to beat.

Don’t waste it. I gave you everything. Everything your brother couldn’t have. Her mother’s voice was quiet now, but Lea heard in it the ache that always made her snap to attention, that threatened to open up the wound that the decades, so many of them, could not heal.

She looked around the room at the sleek, glossy haircuts, the smooth foreheads and ramrod spines. The beautiful, wealthy, life-loving people conversing in low voices, politely laughing and clinking glasses from time to time. She took in the premium vitamin spritzes, the fine crystal flutes, the high ceilings and expansive view of the city down below. The space she had rented for the party was usually reserved for corporate functions, but select employees at the Healthfin fund she worked for were able to book it for special occasions.

No, she hadn’t wasted anything, Lea thought. Her mother would surely have been proud.

* * *

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Lea!”

The room burst into thunderous applause. Cameras flashed.

Lea smiled the way Uju had told her to eighty-eight years ago: Your eyes, make sure to use your eyes, or it looks like you don’t mean it.

She picked up the knife and sliced into the bottom layer of the cake. The Styrofoam gave a high squeal when the plastic blade went through it, but even as she winced inwardly, Lea never let the smile leave her face.

 

 

TWO

The pavement was a slipstream of browns and grays. The jacket-clad men and women all walked in the same way— elbows pinned to their sides, heads down, gaze directed at the heels of the commuter in front of them.

Lea didn’t know what it was that made her look up. Perhaps it was something in the air, the smell of summer giving way to fall, that first nip of coolness brushing her cheeks. Perhaps it was the delicate ankles of the woman in front of her, clothed in dark mesh. Or the leftover buzz from her birthday party the night before, a desire to take in the expanse of the street, the eggshell blue of the morning sky.

When she saw him the air went out of her lungs. He was crossing the road some way ahead of her. He moved slowly, unaware of the disruption he was causing to the flow of commuters around him. Lea could see the looks of annoyance on their faces as people were forced to veer off their usual unthinking paths. The impatient clicks of tongues and issuance of sighs filled her head. He, however, did not seem to notice and only kept walking at the same ponderous pace, one heavy footstep after another.

This old, oblivious man couldn’t be her father. Yet she couldn’t tear her eyes from him. She saw how his once-black hair had faded to gray, how thinly it sat against his scalp, the unkempt edges of it curling at his lined neck. She drank in the curve of his jaw that used to hold more flesh than it did now. She watched as he brought his chin to his chest and his hand to his nose, pinching its base as if preparing to go underwater. The gesture was unmistakable.

Lea felt a violent jerk in her chest. A pressure on her diaphragm, a tightness in the throat. Eighty-eight years since the day he’d disappeared without saying goodbye, and there he was again. On the other side of the road, as if he’d never been gone at all.

Let him go. Uju’s voice to twelve-year-old Lea. We have to let him go. It’s better this way, after what he’s done. He doesn’t belong in your life.

The crowd was bearing the man farther and farther away, despite his slow pace. Now he was on the other side of the street, disappearing down the pavement. Soon he would be out of sight.

Her mother had been right then and she was almost certainly right now, especially now. Everything Lea had worked so hard for, decade after decade, was about to pay off. She’d done it with her mother’s support and discipline, yes, but she’d also done it in spite of her father, everything that he’d done and was.

Lea bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, sucking the soft flesh between her teeth. She started elbowing her way through the crowd.

“Watch out!” A stray shoulder rammed into her chest.

He was getting farther away. Only his lack of speed allowed her to keep her eyes on him; he was like a pebble in a stream, forming ripples in the crowd that surrounded him. Now all she could see was the top of his gray head, bobbing amidst the swirling human currents.

The traffic crossing was too far away. Lea craned her neck as she continued pushing her way through the crowd, but he was turning the corner on the other side of the street, and would soon be out of sight altogether. She made a sharp right.

Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry, sorry. Pardon me. Sorry.

She found herself at the edge of the sidewalk. Vehicles sped past, their tinted windows hiding those powerful enough to use car pools at peak hour. On the other side of the road, her father was about to turn the corner, about to disappear again. For the second time in eighty-eight years, she was going to lose him.

A gap opened in the flow of traffic. Lea stepped out onto the road.

* * *

She woke up with the familiar cold of tiny electrodes attached to her bare skin.

“Lea Kirino, one hundred years old.”

The voice came from a woman in Tender’s maroons, standing next to the bed. She was reading from a tablet. When she lifted her eyes from the screen, Lea saw that they were the dark, damp color of moss.

“Happy belated birthday. Could you tell me what happened?” the Tender said.

“I was walking to work. I was late—” Lea stopped. Work. The Musk presentation. She stiffened and tried to sit up, but her head felt thick, her brain swollen. “What time is it?”

The Tender placed a hand on Lea’s shoulder. Her touch was gentle but surprisingly heavy. Lea sank her head back into the pillow.

“What happened?” the Tender asked again. “Why did you step out onto the road like that?”

Her father’s face in the crowd. The sagging cheeks, the thin neck. Lea thought of the white envelopes that were slipped under her door every few months, the statutory declarations she had to make stating that she did not know where he was. They were still looking for him, decades later. What was he doing in the city?

“I was late for work,” Lea said again, her thoughts whirling. “I was trying to take a shortcut. The cars—they didn’t stop.”

The Tender was looking at her with eyebrows drawn together, two deep lines between them. Lea wanted to tell her not to frown, to remind her of the importance of a neutral expression in preserving skin elasticity. But she could tell from the Tender’s skin that she was well hydrated and pH balanced.

“How bad was it? Will I need to have anything replaced?” Lea recoiled. She had managed thus far to keep all of her limbs organic, no mean feat for someone who had just reached a hundred. It was only when the Tender failed to reply that Lea noticed the white stripes across her maroon sleeves.

“Which division is this?” she asked.

The Tender tapped a silent note into her tablet. Its red recording light blinked.

“Late for work, you said.”

“Yes. Why does that matter?” But Lea’s heart was sinking even as she asked the question. Directive 109A: Reckless Pedestrian Conduct in Undesignated Zones.

“Look, I know it was an undesignated zone,” Lea said. “But you’ll see, just look it up, my record is spotless. It was one tiny mistake, surely this doesn’t matter?”

The Tender was listening carefully now, head tilted to one side. “Where did you say you were crossing again?” Her cool gaze didn’t budge.

“Somewhere along Broadway. The intersection with Thirty-second. Maybe Thirty-fourth.” The Tender’s fingernails clicked neatly against the polished
glass of her tablet.

“And where do you work?”

“Borough One West. Why does that matter? You haven’t answered me—how bad was it? Am I okay?” Lea spread her hands out underneath the sheets, feeling the webs of skin between her fingers stretch. She wriggled her toes and bent her knees. Around her, the electrode wires rustled like a bed of grass. Her body felt normal, as far as she could tell. But she’d heard that these days, replacements felt normal too.

Posters lined the wall, comforting and familiar in their thin metal frames. A fat-encrusted artery stretched out like a sock (“Meat kills”); a raw, torn joint (“Switch to low impact today”); the ubiquitous glowing red eyeball (“Fruit—#1 cause of diabetes-led blindness”). Recessed ceiling lights cast a warm but insistent glow, leaving no corner of the room unlit. Lea recognized the album streaming from invisible speakers as Sea and Mandolin, dubbed one of the most calming records of the decade. Nevertheless she felt her cortisol levels ticking up. What was this Tender doing? Certainly not her job. Lea looked around the room for a feedback box, but except for the bed, the room contained no furniture or equipment.

“Borough One West,” the Tender repeated. “Why would you try to cross where you did, then?”

“What?” Lea said. Because I saw him, she thought. Because I couldn’t lose him again. But she couldn’t say that.

“Where you crossed. That would have taken you farther east.”

“This is ridiculous. I have to get to work.” Lea sat up.

The Tender eyed her but didn’t say anything. After a few seconds, she tapped another note into her tab. It silently spat out a single sheet of paper.

“Your treatment plan,” she said. “You sustained no injuries, only minor bruises from when you fainted. Shock. The car barely grazed you, its sensors were perfectly operational.”

The paper was wafer thin between Lea’s fingers and so translucent that it looked like it would dissolve when touched. A deep red cursive rolled across the page, curling elegantly around phrases like “occipital curvature index” and “ventro-medial prefrontal cortex.”

“You’ll need to attend some follow-up sessions.”

Lea read the sheet again, her eyes darting unevenly across the page, but she couldn’t make any sense of it. It was like no treatment plan she had ever seen before. The weekly sessions were at a different clinic than usual; no supplements were prescribed. No rehabilitative exercises.

“What is this?” Lea asked, looking up from the sheet of paper.

But the Tender was already gone.

Lea turned the page, dread collecting in the pit of her stomach. She was under Observation. But that made no sense; people like her didn’t get placed on the Observation List. That was for other people—no one she knew, of course—but people she imagined were serially divorced, unemployable, or cognitively impaired. The non-life-loving, the antisanct. Lea was a good lifer. She worked in Healthfin. She was as life-loving as it got, surely the Ministry knew that?

Then it clicked: they thought she’d stepped in front of the car on purpose.

Lea let out a snort of indignation. She shook her head as she began plucking the electrodes off her body. The white circles offered little resistance, lifting off her dark, smooth skin with a satisfying thwip. She placed them in a neat pile on the bed, wires aligned so that their little adhesive heads bunched together like a bouquet of white, wilted roses.

Her clothes lay folded next to the bed. As Lea slipped on her underwear, she caught sight of her reflection in the opaque polish of the smooth walls. Instinctively, she stood up straighter, drew her abdomen in, and clenched her glutes. She was the picture of a model lifer. Under Observation—she would clear that up soon enough.

Her lungs expanded with the tilt of her spine, her breathing was back to normal now. She would speak to Jessie. Maintenance was scheduled for Saturday, so a special appointment wouldn’t even be necessary. She could tell her everything then. Jessie would inform them that the whole thing was a big mistake, elaborate on Lea’s exemplary medical and motivational history. They would remove her at once from the Observation List. Perhaps she would demand a formal letter of apology.

* * *

Lea’s office was in a tall glass building in the middle of Borough One. Eighty floors of floating desks and people, and Long Term Capital Partners at the very top. There was something about this great cathedral of empty space carved out from the choked, tumbling streets outside, and stepping into the building’s vast lobby always sent a small tremor up Lea’s spine. Looking up, there were the soles of polished shoes, cushioned desk feet, the glazed bases of ornamental plant pots. Something naked and alive about it all, all those objects and people suspended so naturally above her, their undersides exposed and vulnerable. Often she came to work early just to linger in the lobby, but today there was no time.

Lea listened to Jiang’s frantic voicemails as the elevator swept her up. On one side, people and screens and cubicles whipped by, melting into a smudge. On the other, the city soared, a forest of metal and glass reaching up to the heavens.

As the ground dropped away from Lea’s feet, she thought of the way the Tender had looked at her this morning. There was something about her shifting eyes, her pale mono-ethnic face, that left Lea with an unsettled feeling. Even the motion of the elevator, normally so pleasurable, did not dispel this sense of unease in Lea.

When she got to her office, Jiang was already there. From the violent knitting of his forehead, Lea could tell that it was worse than she had thought. Jiang was usually very careful about his skin.

“I am so, so sorry,” she said before he could say anything. “You’ll have the presentation on your desk in an hour, I promise. It’s practically finished. I just need to update the hourly figures.” She wouldn’t tell him about the accident, it might have an impact on her promotion this year. No, better to keep it vague.

Jiang was still frowning. He was not one to get angry— none of them were. They knew how bad anger was for oxidative degeneration. She wondered if she should suggest some breathing exercises.

He was pointing at something outside her office. “What are they doing here?”

Everything looked normal: well-dressed colleagues watching terminals as green numbers ticked by, sitting in QuietCoves with their eyes shut, constructively dissenting in glass-doored meeting rooms. An air of efficiency suffused the bright, sunlit space.

“Who?” Lea asked.

And then she saw them. Two men in suits, one fair and lanky, hair slicked so far back it dipped into the back of his shirt, the other dark-skinned, square-nosed, and well-built. Their suits were charcoal gray—tasteful, Lea observed, but not in the expensive fabrics her clients wore. Both clasped tablets in their right hands like Bibles. They were looking straight at Lea.

“They’ve been here all morning asking questions, with some kind of permit from the Ministry? It’s a subdivision I’ve never even heard of. The clients don’t like it. Strangers are bad enough, but if they knew they were Ministry—well, then.”

What were they doing here, and how could they have gotten here so quickly? She’d only just come from the clinic.

“So? Did you do something? You know, you’re under oath to the company. Is it”—he lowered his voice even further— “extensions fraud? Because if it’s anything like that, I know a guy. Not from personal experience, of course. But you know how it is, I keep a wide network.”

“No!” Lea said. “Of course it’s not fraud. It’s—I had a kind of accident this morning.”

“Accident? Did you get anything replaced?”

Something in Jiang’s voice made Lea turn—an edge to it, a frisson. Was it excitement? But his expression had not changed from the serious mask, tempered now with some concern.

“No! I’m perfectly fine, just look at me. This is completely ridiculous,” she said. A polite yet firm smile on her face, the kind she gave clients who simply did not meet their lifespan-net-worth-index criteria, she strode out of the office and onto the main floor.

“Good morning, gentlemen. Can I help you with anything?” Lea said.

The one with the slicked-back hair and bad posture opened his mouth as if to speak, only to be interrupted by a cough from his colleague. He closed his mouth.

“You would have received a treatment plan,” the interrupter said. Dewy and poreless, his skin had the unreal sheen of someone with abundant access to antioxidant treatments. He had to be high up in the Ministry.

Lea couldn’t take her eyes off his skin. It was literally giving off a glow. Its unblemished expanse was like varnished walnut, and it tugged at something inside of her, made her want to bring her palm against it, leave a smarting mark.

“What are you doing here?”

The two looked at each other again. They were getting more attention now—polite colleagues, pretending to be absorbed in trading and leveraging, were in fact far too quiet to be doing any actual work.

“My name is AJ,” the one with the perfect skin said. “And this is my colleague, GK.”

GK, busy tapping notes into his tablet, glanced up.

“We are here to observe,” AJ went on. GK was slouched over his tablet again. Lea resisted the urge to correct his posture—clearly he had to be further down in the Ministry, with a spine like that.

“This is a place of business. Do you know who our clients are? You can’t be here.”

At this, the two men simultaneously pulled out slips of paper, crossed with the same red cursive as on the plan she’d received this morning. These papers were smaller, just large enough for the three words “Right to Observe.” A gold stamp, the shape of a heart, right in the middle. Permits, like Jiang had said.

“What subdivision are you with?” Lea asked. “I’ll have to provide feedback.”

AJ blinked. She had his attention now. But then he smiled, flashing small, square teeth. “What about?” he asked.

“Trespassing,” Lea started, but then remembered the papers. “Deliberate inducement of cortisol generation,” she continued. They could lose their jobs for that.

Her colleagues were openly gathered around now. At the edge of her vision, Lea saw Jiang, tapping shoulders and cupping elbows, trying to disperse the onlookers.

GK was typing faster. Between sentences he would glance up at Lea, first one way, then the other, like an artist trying to capture her likeness.

“And if you don’t leave immediately, we’ll have to call security,” Lea went on.

Now GK smiled too, looking up from his tablet, lips stretching thinly across his flat, pale face. “We’re in touch with security. You shouldn’t worry about that.” He pulled out a small square of orange plastic, curved at the corners, identical to the pass Lea had attached to her keys. “We’ve been given full access.”

Lea breathed down a rising panic. “Fine. Do what you like.”

She turned and walked back to her office. Jiang followed her, closing the glass door behind them.

“They can’t stay here. It’s throwing the clients off.” Jiang gestured at the waiting area, where a handful of clients were filling in forms and reading their latest reports. Several had brightly patterned silk scarves wrapped around the bottom halves of their faces. A couple were even wearing sunglasses. They were far too discreet to stare directly, but Lea could feel their eyes on her.

“I can’t do anything about it. You heard them. I’m under Observation.”

She scratched at a hangnail under her desk, the old guilty satisfaction a sudden relief. Blood swelled from the wound for a split second, before clotting in a smooth patch that would heal in moments.

“Oh.” Jiang’s voice changed, buckling ever so slightly, as if under an invisible weight. “Observation. I see, well. I see. I didn’t hear that.”

His gaze slipped from her face, traveled the length of her office before coming to rest on a spot in the middle of the far wall. He clasped his hands together, then unclasped them, then clasped them again.

He glanced out again at where AJ and GK were standing. AJ was talking to the receptionist, hands in his pockets, leaning against the desk in an unnaturally casual stance. A peal of low laughter trickled out of the receptionist’s throat. She leaned forward conspiratorially, red lips barely moving. Tap tap tap, went GK’s fingers.

“Jiang,” Lea said. “You don’t actually think—”

“No, no, of course not.” He flashed his pink palms at her. “But—still.”

“Still what?”

“Just, you can never be too careful, you know. As employers, we only want what’s best for you. Healthy mind, healthy body. Maybe,” he said, examining the back of his left hand as if he had never quite noticed it before, “maybe you’re working too hard.”

“What?” Lea’s voice rose.

“We can get Natalie to back you up on the Musk account. Always good to have two heads working on a deal as big as this.”

The thought of Natalie’s smug, all-natural face made Lea say, in a louder voice than she’d intended, “No way. I brought the Musks in. You’re not handing them over to anyone else.”

Sunlight streamed in from all directions. Jiang’s face was like a moon, round and pitted with visible pores, several of which were dark and enlarged. Despite the icy air-conditioning, a fine film of perspiration coated his forehead.

“They’ll be gone by next week, I promise,” Lea said, controlling her tone. “I have a maintenance appointment Saturday. They’ll sort the whole thing out. It’s just a misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” he finally said. “But you promise you’ll let me know if—if anything comes up. Anything too cortisol-generating or rest-detrimental.”

When Jiang had gone, Lea leaned back in her ergonomic chair. Except for the alarm that regulated her sitting time, the screens on her desk were completely dark. The timer meted out a fixed number of seconds before an automated voice would remind her to complete her Hourly Stretches. The numbers vanished noiselessly, green resolving into black again and again. The longer Lea stared at them, the less sense they made. Glancing over the tops of the screens, she saw GK and AJ, now pacing the perimeter of the waiting area.

It occurred to her that she could make it all go away. She could tell them who she had seen, why she’d stepped out onto the road so urgently. She could tell them she didn’t want to let him get away, not again. And it would be true, in part.

But then what? What if they found him? It might have been eighty-eight years, but the Ministry had a long, unforgiving memory.

Excerpted from Suicide Club, copyright © 2018 by Rachel Heng.

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