I tried to erase all suspicions from my expression.
Vexx’s ideas weren’t always bad.
But somehow, staring at the artificially perfect face that looked nothing like him, I couldn’t quite bring myself to trust whatever would come out of his mouth. He had prepped for this speech. The idea’s glimmer wasn’t a spur of the moment thing but the long awaited time for a revelation.
Despite my best efforts, my arms crossed over my middle.
“What is it?” I mumbled.
“Bad news or good news first?” He fidgeted. Gosh, this was going to be painful.
“That order sounds fine.”
Vexx nodded and waved in invitation to follow him. My shoulders slumped as I fell in line. Show and tell didn’t suit my current mood at all. He better had something good or he might lose some teeth before I even realized my foot left the floor.
I hated anger without a target.
“There’s no gentle way to say this so please don’t hit me,” Vexx began as he clicked and swiped on his hologram to bring up a folder full of files. “You’re wrong.”
My jaw clenched but I motioned for him to continue. In order to limit the chances of violence, I sat on a stool behind one of the counters. The long leap should leave time for my reason to stop the hit if necessary.
“I’ve been tracking the stock options of the companies you targeted and there’s a pattern. In the week or so following your assassinations of legal tech heads, a couple of numbered companies buy the plummeting stocks. They all link back to Merrilyn Technology.”
On the board, the shares of Subcutaneous Wonders and other companies appeared. The color-coded pie charts showed pretty clearly that the numbered companies, put together, owned the majority of the shares. If not all of them in some company.
At least, Vexx said I was wrong instead of “I was right” or “I told you so”. The news was frustration enough without layering on the insult.
“With the financial backing of the giant, the companies can buy the services of new CEOs no matter how much they fear sitting in the chair of someone you offed.”
I shrugged. My tactic wasn’t perfect but what was one woman to do against thousands of mega corporations? I did the best I could. I expected it to be imperfect.
“Same thing happens with the tech cartels.”
The board showed a flowchart that pulled me off my stool. That, I didn’t expect. Normally, local mafias should divide the newly freed territory amongst themselves or perform a hostile take-over of a weakened organization. The flowchart showed that small cells of the same mafia grabbed the assets of the fallen cartels worldwide.
“You have proof of that?” My question barely made it past my clenched teeth.
“Yes.” Vexx dropped his eyes, afraid I might take my anger out on him. As pissed as I was, I felt too proud of him to raise a hand. “It’s all in the dossier. I’ll transfer it to your computer so you can analyze it yourself.” He stole a glance at me and stepped back after taking in my stiffened muscles. “I have circumstantial evidence that Merrilyn funds that mafia.”
“I need fifteen minutes.”
Without waiting for his answer, I ran to the training room. How could I have missed that?
Of course, I knew the answer.
Furious at myself, I punched my bag with all my strength. The hit resonated from my unprotected phalanges to my elbow but I kept on going.
I had been cocky.
When I extracted Vexx from Merrilyn Tech, I had used him to steal files and open up doors to some of the top scientists of the company. I had taken twenty lives that week, a powerful and fear-inducing blow to the R&D department. I presumed it would take them a couple of years to get back on their feet. I presumed that, by then, I would have a long enough list of victims to turn the impenetrable tech industry into Swiss cheese.
Like Vexx said, I was wrong.
I was stupid. Impulsive and stupid. Damned be my anger management problems.
By the time my fifteen minutes ended, my hands bled all over the punching bag. But I felt better. I took off my sweaty blouse, ripped it in half and wrapped it around my knuckles as I walked back in the lab. Vexx blushed at the sight of my black lace bra and tousled hair but didn’t comment.
“Why did you let that happen?” Exhausted physically and mentally, I dropped to my stool.
“I didn’t know how to stop it. And I needed to have enough to convince you.” His voice was but a whisper. He probably hoped this would go as smoothly as when he rehearsed the exposé in front of the mirror. “Then I figured out the how but thought we couldn’t pull it off before next year’s ball.”
I looked up to him and his new face. He would have let the events run their course until he got his new identity because he needed to be in the field with me.
“You want us to use the ball to retrieve information.”
“That would be part of the good news.” I raised a questioning eyebrow as he continued. “Remember when you told me not to leave anything behind in Merrilyn’s system to be sure they couldn’t track me.”
“You didn’t listen.” My eyes narrowed. Conflicting emotions boiled within me: I simultaneously wished for a more obedient protégé and thanked the initiative that led to potential victory.
“I didn’t listen.” He cringed then relaxed when I didn’t move. “I left a backdoor ruled by my version of Echelon. It sends only the information I asked it to track so the minimal use of bandwidth won’t trigger any alarm.”
“Get to the point.” I growled. My muscles were starting to tense again.
“I know where Merrilyn Tech keeps record of all its dealings and employees, how the records are structured and how to access them.” Vexx smiled, pride tainting every word of his revelation. I could see in his eyes how many hours he spent on this.
“Obsessive much?” I taunted. Vexx’s smile turned into a frown.
“Look who’s talking.” The hacker regretted his answer as soon as it crossed his lips. If he had said it to me five minutes ago, he would have earned a split lip. But my anger had a target now. I smiled.
“So the treasure is at the Merrilyn Plaza?”
“Nope.” Vexx hit a couple of keys on the hologram. “The key to the treasure chest is.”
Killing Time OST – 9b – Pattern
I tried to erase all suspicions from my expression.