Okay, now you get my reaction last week, don't you?
Derek? Our loving husband, Derek? He was the frakker behind it all?
He was a smart bastard, I'll give him that. He totally fooled us both.
Maybe I'm not being fair. I know that Cass has kicked herself for decades, on and off, for not picking up on his duplicity, but maybe it wasn't there at first.
I dunno. I'm supposed to be the cynical one, the one with all the experience, and I didn't pick up on it either, so maybe he was genuinely in love with us. I'd like to think so. It doesn't make the ending easier, but it makes the beginning sweeter, instead of being a deception.
I guess we'll never know.
Chapter 26: The Reckoning
For all that Kaine was, or had been, a Director of Security, his personal system was a straightforward hack. It took Mac under a minute to break his passwords and encryptions, and the entire contents were available. She farmed files out to everyone at random, and they started scanning. It wasn’t long before the exertions of the day caught up to them, and one by one, they called it a night, promising to meet and review in the morning. Everyone except Mac that is. She was used to white nights chasing the ghost in the machine, so sipping coffee and reading through the treasure trove of documents was nearly peaceful.
At seven, at least somewhat rested and recovered, they gathered.
“Mac, you start. You’ve been looking at this all night,” directed Cass. She had thoroughly shaken off the immediate effects of the previous day. Now that the prospect of open conflict was subsiding, she seemed eager to retake charge of her life.
“I started by recalling the company that Kaine had sent to your house, they hadn’t been able to contact him so were waiting for orders, he was such a controlling jerk that he’d told them not to do anything until he gave the go, and by the time they were ready to go he was dead and so they just kept waiting and waiting, finally I sent them an email in Kaine’s name saying to stand down and return to base, I think I got the phrasing right because this morning there were check-ins from all of their leaders here in Houston and they wouldn’t be able to do that if they were still in Sonora.”
“Good thinking, Mac!” said Kendra. “I totally forgot about them.”
“So did I,” admitted Stone. “Mac, have you done anything else in Kaine’s name?”
“Other than send an email to his subordinates, saying he was going to be late today because he didn’t feel good, no, not yet, there’s nothing that is really urgent, but sooner or later, someone is going to come looking for him with a problem that only he can solve, and then we’re going to have to think fast.”
“I’ve got a solution,” said Lisa. “Does he have a family?”
“No, no family, not even a cat, he lives alone in a place on the East side, big house on a bigger lot, almost like a private fortress, nobody gets in or out, why?”
“Take his body there, drop him somewhere in the house, load him up with some of that Octol, and blow him to kingdom come. Fake a suicide note. Make him say he regrets the senseless murder of his secretary and that he can’t take the guilt. Plant it in the system with a timestamp that’ll make it all look like a suicide. The cops won’t question why a Director of Security had enough Octol to put his house on the moon, not in Texas.”
Stone nodded admiringly. “Dr. Mantchev, that’s bloody clever. It ought to work. Mac, as soon as we’re finished, work on that note. We’ll need to time it to match the explosion. Montana, who are your demo experts again?”
“Alivia and Elle.”
“Send them, with Bruce and Alycia as support.”
Montana stepped out to start the process.
Stone said, “Who’s going to be missing Kaine?”
“So we keep calling him the Director of Security, which is what he did, but his actual title was Deputy Director for Security, he reported to the Director of Operations, and he has an Assistant Deputy Director for Security, a woman named Alyssa Jordan, she’s supposed to have a meeting with him today at noon, routine stuff, it looks like.”
“Send her another email. It should say he’s not coming in today,” suggested Cass. “She’s the one who’ll take over once Kaine’s “suicide” is discovered?”
“She should be, she’s been in the department for six years, worked her way up from a security grunt, seems to be really good at her job, and has been pestering Kaine about the stuff he’s been keeping from her, she doesn’t know what it’s been about, but you know security people if there’s something odd they want to figure it out.”
“Is she liable to pick up where he left off?” Kendra asked.
“No, not likely, though I’d want to tie up any loose ends in his office before she gets in there, just to be sure.”
“You should have some time,” said Stone. “Kaine said that if the door was closed, nobody would dare to go in there.”
Cass nodded. “Makes sense. Mac, more for you. Do it with an escort after we’re done here. It needs to be done before the note goes out, though.” She nodded to herself and continued. “Okay, what else? Are there any other contracts?”
Montana returned and took her seat as Mac answered.
“There’s nothing in his computer about contracts with Talbott or OutLook, but there were some interesting files about the contacts in law enforcement throughout Texas, plus other nations, though none as extensive.”
Kendra shook her head. “No good. We can’t leave any hanging over us.”
“Once we get done with this, I can get back into OutLook and go digging again, I’ve kept my little backdoors open, I’ve been checking on them, and they haven’t been found yet, but it would be a lot easier if we could just ask Talbott, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I agree,” agreed Kendra with a feral grin. “And I plan to do just that.” Seeing Cass’s face, she hurried to add, “Not on my own, of course.”
“Better,” said a somewhat mollified Aiyana.
“Not to be a downer,” said Montana. “But what’s to stop the next owner of HLC from doing the same thing when they learn about Cass’s research?”
“That’s easy,” Mac said immediately. “You two own HLC. You’re the inheritors of the entire D.D. Harriman Trust, now that Derek’s dead.”
The room was silent for a full minute before Cass spoke.
“What did you say?”
“You two are the widows of Derek James,” explained Mac patiently. “You married him in the Sonoran Republic, where the marriage and inheritance laws are crystal clear. A marriage invalidates all prior wills or estate disposition orders in any jurisdiction. This has been hammered out by treaty and went all the way up the UE. It’s ironclad. Even though the Trust is based in the Swiss Confederacy, it’s still covered. You don’t even have to worry about being ineligible by the conditions of the Trust. They don’t apply in this case since it’s a lateral inheritance within the same generation. The rules only apply when it passes from an elder generation to a junior generation. This is once it goes through probate, of course, but that will o be cut-and-dried. Your marriage is part of the public record. Even if someone wanted to challenge the duration, it’s not like you didn’t have a history together that goes back long enough, so yeah, you guys own HLC. don’t think you have to worry about that part of it.”
“Holy fuck,” breathed Kendra.
“Ah…” was all Cass could manage.
“You’re sure about this?” said Stone.
“Oh, positive, I can pull it all up for you –”
Stone waved off the offer. “I don’t do legal crap.” Stone exhaled. “I guess we just have the one problem now. What do we do about Talbott and OutLook?”
“Um,” Mac spoke timidly, for once.
“You have more to add?” said Stone.
“Yes,” replied Mac.
Mac’s hesitation lasted a couple seconds before she began. “I think that Derek bought OutLook. Not the Trust, but Derek himself.”
“Mac, stop with the bombshells!” exclaimed Kendra. “What else aren’t you telling us? That there’s a warp-capable ship out there ready to head into the black?”
“No, it’s not finished yet,” said Mac before realizing that Kendra thought she was exaggerating. “Oh.”
“Seriously? A starship?”
“Aiyana, remember that old show?”
“The one by Roddenberry?”
“No matter. We’re naming it Enterprise,” insisted Kendra before lapsing into silence.
“Let me get this straight,” said Cass, taking over for the now-speechless Kendra. “Derek bought OutLook. When?”
“Near as I can figure out, eight, nine months ago,” Mac said.
Cass thought about it. “I remember telling Derek about my research, oh, maybe a year ago.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” demanded Kendra.
“Why would I? No, I don’t mean it like that,” she answered, seeing the look of hurt on Kendra. “I – that is, he asked me one night, you were away, and we were having dinner. We were just talking about work and stuff. You know, table talk, and I got excited about a new simulation I had run which supported my theory. He never brought it up again, so I didn’t either. It just wasn’t part of life at home, okay? Like you never told me about OutLook, right?”
Kendra slowly nodded, her hurt fading. “Because it was just part of life away from you and something I was getting out of.”
“Exactly. Anyways, the time frame fits. Derek must have dug around to figure out if I was onto something or if I was on a dead-end. Hey! He did talk to me again about it a few weeks later. I just remembered.”
“What did he say?”
Cass’s face scrunched as she tried to recall details. “It was along the lines of, was I sure I wanted to waste my time on something that might just be fluff and feathers – that’s exactly what he said, fluff and feathers. I told him that it was important to me and how would he feel if I asked him to stop light sculpting, and that was the end of it.”
“Except it wasn’t,” said Stone. “He decided you were a threat and started planning how to eliminate the threat.”
“I wonder how he knew about OutLook?” wondered Montana.
“Huh?” was Cass’s insightful comment.
“It’s not like we go around advertising our services,” explained Montana. “There’s quite a market, yes, but it’s all word-of-mouth. At least, that’s what I’ve seen.”
“Um. That’s because of me,” Kendra confessed.
“I was home, working, doing some research on a route for a run, and Derek was there as well. An email arrived from Talbott, and I opened it up to read. Derek must have heard the alert because he turned around and saw it on my screen. You know how Talbott always uses the format with the OutLook letterhead?” Montana and Mac both nodded. “You can’t miss it, and he didn’t. He asked, so I said it was a company I occasionally worked for, which was true enough, and I was a courier. He wanted to know about some of my jobs, so I told him a couple of the funnier stories because who wants to hear, “I took a package from Chicago to Des Moines?””
Kendra looked around and saw understanding on everyone’s faces. “That was it, the only time we talked about OutLook. He must’ve gotten the idea that OutLook provided all sorts of other services, or maybe he found out on his own, but that’s got to be how he made the initial connection.”
“We should look into it, but later,” agreed Stone. “A more immediate problem is how we get him reported as dead instead of just missing. That means officials will have to get involved.”
“I can help with that,” said Mac. “Or maybe I should say Kaine like I said he had all kinds of bent contacts in law enforcement in Texas, and it was really heavy here in Houston, all we have to do is find one who has enough pull, and we can get his death listed as a home invasion gone wrong, or attempted kidnapping, or anything we want really, it shouldn’t be tough, in fact, I can pull a name before we finish here.”
“We wait for the official paperwork to become widows and inheritors of the Trust,” finished Kendra. “Then we deal with Talbott from a position of power.”
“What about the rest of the team?” said Montana. “Mac and I will stick to the end. We kinda burned our bridges on the way out of Dodge anyway. The rest might be able to slide back into their positions. It’s only been a few days, and as long as they don’t mind an official reprimand, I’ll bet we can get them back without Talbott being any the wiser.”
“Good thinking,” agreed Stone. “I’ve got nowhere in particular to be, so I’d like to hang with you for a while. If we can give the agents their lives back, I’d like to do it.”
Cass stood. “Okay. First, Mac gets us the local contact in the police to deal with Derek’s death. Second, take care of Kaine’s office and his body. Third, send the agents back to OutLook.”
Mac interrupted. “Those that want to, of course, because they might not want to, every one of them volunteered to help when they heard it was Kendra in trouble, they all volunteered again before coming here, I know that Sanzari was tired of her assignment on that submarine, and I haven’t talked to the others, but their actions really do speak volumes about their commitment, and to just send them back to the agency would probably be an insult, so you really ought to give them a choice, and then be prepared when they tell you a third time that they’re in.”
“I agree completely,” said Kendra. “Cris, I’m sure you’re right about whether we could get them back in, but I also know you’re dead wrong about whether we should send them back in. There’s something else to consider, which I just thought of.”
Montana looked at her expectantly.
“If what Mac says is right, we own OutLook. I’ve got enough resources to keep them on payroll until it’s all official, and then they can all go back to work. No reprimand, no suspensions, no firings.” She smiled brightly.
“Crap. I forgot! You’re right. Even if you weren’t, I don’t think any will bail. But someone had to bring up the option.”
Cass regained control. “Third, those that want to go back, we let go back. Those that want to stick, stick. Fourth, bring Lisa home.” She turned to Mantchev. “We did promise.”
Mutely, Lisa nodded. Cass wrapped her in a hug, and Kendra joined in. Then Stone, not usually prone to emotional displays, stepped in, followed finally by Montana and Mac. They all stood there, silent, until there was a ping! and Mac disengaged.
“Sorry, I set up a search in Kaine’s files for the police contact he went to most often with sensitive stuff, and it must have found it.”
That seemed to be a signal, and everyone stepped back.
“Okay, then,” said Cass, and if her voice was a bit husky, nobody said anything. “Make it so.”