Hardpressed

Author: P Hana

Page 25

   

“You’re going after these people yourself?”

I remembered Sid’s defeated look this morning. “What choice do I have?”

“What if that just exacerbates the situation?”

“I have a hard time imagining a scenario more damaging than the one we’re dealing with right now.”

He pursed his lips and nodded. “Agreed. What can I do?”

I shared with him the names of all of the original M89 members that I needed to research. We split the names, and when we returned to the office, we set to work tracking down anything we could find on them.

To my surprise, I found a professional history for all of those on my list. Everyone seemed established with a career, though many were now based on the west coast working for technology companies in the valley. I studied their photos carefully, as if somehow their faces could tell me something I didn’t already know. Which one of them hated Blake enough to sabotage us this way?

I jumped when my phone rang.

“Blake, hi,” I said.

“How’s everything going?”

I glanced at the names written in my notebook and shifted my thoughts back to where we’d left off this morning. “Fine.”

“Listen, I have to go to San Francisco to take care of some business. I’m flying out tonight on the red-eye.”

As annoyed as I’d been this morning, a pang of regret coursed through me. I tried rubbing the frown from my forehead.

“That’s sudden.”

“Something came up. I know this isn’t a great time. I don’t really want to leave you right now, Erica.”

I sighed. “I’ll survive.”

“I’m confident of that. Have you met Clay yet?”

“Who?” I frowned again.

“I guess not. He’s hard to miss.”

“Who the hell is Clay?”

“I’ve hired him to taxi you between work and home. He’ll be outside the office when you need to leave tonight.”

“Shit, Blake. We talked about this.”

“We did, and this is what needs to happen, at least until I get back.”

The coffee at lunch had given me just enough energy to be outraged.

“Have a great trip, Blake.” I hung up and shut off my phone. I couldn’t deal with his controlling shit right now.

James came in then, stopping short when he saw me.

“You all right?”

I straightened and tried to put Blake out of my mind. “I'm fine. What’s up?”

“What have you found so far?” He took a seat and lowered his voice as he spoke.

Not like researching the hacker group we’d all become so familiar with was a big secret, but I didn’t want people to know I was on a wild goose chase to actually hunt them down. Thankfully, he already seemed to pick up on that.

“Some enviable LinkedIn profiles. Seems like everyone has moved on and is doing well. Upstanding citizens as far as I can tell. What about you?”

“Same with mine, but there are two people you missed from the list.”

I hesitated, waiting for him to continue.

“I’m assuming you know Landon was involved.”

I nodded silently.

“Okay, and then there was Brian Cooper.”

“He’s dead,” I said flatly, betraying what I already knew but had failed to share earlier.

He hesitated a second, no doubt registering that fact. “Right. Well, he was survived by his mother and his brother, Trevor.”

“Did you find something on them?”

“His mother lives about twenty minutes from here.”

“I doubt she’s spearheading a hacker group. What about his brother?”

“I can’t find anything on his brother.”

“How is that helpful?” I regretted the way that came out. I was tired and edgy, but taking it out on James when he was only trying to help was unnecessary.

“Don’t you think it’s a little odd that every other person on this list has a glowing resume and the twenty-five-year-old little brother of their former partner in crime has absolutely no professional associations, no Internet presence, no profiles, nothing?”

“Maybe he learned a hard lesson from his brother and decided not to waste his life online like the rest of us.”

He tilted his head, looking as unconvinced as I felt.

“Fine. So we have no idea where he is or what he’s up to.” I clicked my pen as I pondered my next move. A part of me worried about the road I was going down, but things couldn’t get more fucked up than they already were. Might as well go all the way down the rabbit hole. “Get me the mother’s address.”

“You going to see her?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Let me come with you. Could be totally harmless, but you shouldn’t go alone.”

The protective tone of his voice took me by surprise. I silently wondered if I had damsel in distress tattooed on my forehead, but in truth I wasn’t wild about going on this venture by myself either.

“It’s okay. I can handle this.”

He didn’t look any more comfortable with my solo plan, and I couldn’t help but give him points for caring. Still, I wasn’t getting him any more involved in this mess, especially if it meant outing Blake’s association with Cooper’s death.

“Don’t worry, James. I won’t be alone.”

*

I stepped out onto the street and came face to face with an imposing man standing guard by a black Escalade parked at the curb.

“Ms. Hathaway.”

He took a step in my direction and I resisted the urge to take a defensive step back. His sheer size took me aback. This man had been hired to protect me.

“Hi, Clay.” I shook his hand, which engulfed my own. He was well over six-feet tall, and his black T-shirt strained over his enormous muscular arms. He looked every bit the part of a bodyguard, except for the kind light gray eyes that contrasted beautifully with his dark skin.

“Mr. Landon has instructed me to escort you wherever you need to go.”

I suppressed the urge to take my irritation at Blake out on him. Not that I really could. “Perfect. I need a ride to Revere.”

He nodded and opened the back door for me. I hopped in and gave him the address, hoping against hope that Clay wasn’t under orders to report my whereabouts to Blake too.

A short while later, Clay pulled up to a large colonial-inspired home in an impressive new development. Unlike their well-kept neighbors though, whoever lived here didn’t spend much time maintaining appearances. The grass was tall and weeds thrived through the cracks in the path to the house. No flowers adorned the yard and the flag that hung was tattered to shame.

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