Okay, okay, I know. It’s a book, and Adam has to tweak things based on what he thinks will catch the readers’ interests, but really?
Anyways, we’re finally down in my underground hideaway and we can enjoy a couple days of being, well, us. Not running for our lives, not trying to figure out who to trust, not learning biographies. Just being.
It was too good to last.
If you’re tired of waiting for chapters, click on any image to purchase the book or the audiobook! And there’s an audio sample at the end, too.
Chapter 17: Lies, Damn Lies, And Reporters
The next two days were as near to heaven as Cass figured she’d ever get.
Neither talked about their pursuers, or the risk to their lives. They gave themselves to each other, experiencing a completeness that neither ever expected to find. Both knew this idyll couldn’t last, as the sweetest grapes grow on the rocky slopes of a volcano, but neither would acknowledge the rumblings below. At least, not for a time.
The morning of the third day, though, dawned differently. For the first time, Kendra logged into a secured terminal to poke a cautious eye towards the world outside her bunker.
‘Some good news, Cass,’ she said after a perusal.
‘That would be a switch.’
‘We’re in the news.’
‘That’s good? Ken, sometimes I worry about your ideas…’
‘It’s good.’ She paused the feed. ‘Our wedding was big news for a small town. I know for a fact there were at least two nosies there, maybe more I didn’t recognize. And, you gotta admit, it was a pretty dramatic departure. That kind of thing shows up in the feeds.’
‘Wouldn’t whoever’s trying to kill me try to shut that down?’
‘You’ve got it!’ Kendra beamed.
‘No, I don’t.’
‘If they wanted you dead, then yes, the whole thing should have just disappeared, you know? Keep it quiet, pretend it never happened. Who really saw anything, besides you? You saw a gun, heard shots – but I’ll bet everyone else there just saw us break and run. Why? Who knows, sure as hell they don’t. And that’s pretty much what the story reads as.’ She shunted the feed to a padd near Cass. ‘Go ahead, take a look.’
She waited while Cass read the brief article.
‘Miserable bitch!’ exclaimed Cass when she finished. ‘She makes us look either crazy or stupid!’
‘Oh, the writer? She does, at that,’ admitted Ken. ‘What do you expect from her? Mysti always wanted to be a mystery writer; here’s a couple real-life runaway brides and you expect her to hold back?’
‘But I’ve known Parker for years! She knows me better than that!’
‘She sees you as a story, maybe even her big break. You read any of the follow-up stories?’
‘I’m almost afraid to.’
‘Well, they can wait. My point is, if HLC, or whoever’s behind this, wanted you dead, then maybe the first article gets out, maybe not, but the subsequent ones? Not a chance. No, this means that HLC wants you under their thumb, wants to keep the pressure up, let you know they haven’t forgotten about you and hope you make a mistake.’
Cass shivered. ‘We’d better not screw up then.’
‘My thoughts too. And it also gives us some leverage if we can get to your buddy Lisa.’
‘How secure is your server?’
‘How secure is the gold in Fort Knox? Security is what I do, chica.’
‘Out of the way, then. I need the keyboard.’ Cass took possession of the system with a sureness that had been lacking. Fingers flew over the keys, almost faster than Kendra could follow.
‘Damn. This is second nature, isn’t it?’
‘Shush. You had your secret skills, well, I have a few too.’ Cass continued to type. ‘Remember my time at MIT?’
‘Yeah. You had a dozen different accounts. Never knew which one to look for.’
‘Yep, had to. My parents – well, let‘s say that their displeasure was active, for a while.’
‘Oh, honey, I didn’t know -’
‘Nobody did,’ Cass said brusquely. ‘Didn’t really want to think about it. Anyway. Kept them, too. Locked them up, pinched them off from the main system, then threw away the records, anything that would link them back to me. Once I get in – HAL’s being a prick, I haven’t used these accounts in years, and he’s a bastard about security too -’
‘MIT and their sense of humor, what can I say? Ah, that’s it.’ Fingers again. ‘Now, if Lisa checks her email – and this doesn’t get bounced into her spam – and she remembers the bender we went on when her boyfriend dumped her – we ought to hear from her pretty soon.’ She stopped typing. ‘Then what do I tell her?’
‘My turn. Gimme.’ Catching a quick kiss in passing, Kendra fell to the task at hand, explaining as she went. ‘Here’s what I think. They need you alive, to develop your idea. Or at least, they’d prefer you alive. The problem is, there’s a copy of your research – at least one copy, probably more – somewhere inside their network.’
‘Right, the one they stole from my computer.’
‘We steal it back. I have some worms here that I can reprogram to invade their system and wipe out any trace of your work. It won’t help if they’ve got an isolated copy, but I can have it spread throughout their whole network. If they plug their copy into an infected terminal, it’s gone.’
‘But I don’t remember all the details!’
‘So? We get in and get a copy of our own before wiping it from the system. That’s easy. All I need is a backdoor.’
‘Can’t you just hack in?’
Kendra continued typing, not as quickly as Cass, but her fingernails still beat out a staccato.
‘I can,’ she admitted. ‘The problem with that is getting traced back while I break in, and I’d really rather keep this place secret, or at least safe. I like it here.’
‘Ah! Lisa opens the backdoor for us -’
‘- My worm slips in and does its dirty work. Then at least we have some leverage if everything goes to pot.’
‘Got it now. Did anyone ever tell you you’re pretty good at this secret agent stuff?’
Kendra sat back and flexed her fingers, finished with her reprogramming. ‘Not lately. Not that I cared about.’
‘Well, while we’re waiting for Lisa, let me express my gratitude…’