Rina, Sandor and Sam are jammed together at a small table in a loud Cambridge pub. They’d left work a few minutes early today with glum, defiant faces. Leaving early was their symbolic protest against Evan’s treatment of Gil. A pitcher of beer and a plate of nachos now sit on the small table in front of them, but remain largely untouched.
Rina has texted Gil and left voice mail but he hasn’t replied to any of her messages. Privately, Sam is increasingly worried about him. She believes without a doubt the thing was a setup and that Gil is certain of this also. But, will Joel Anderson and his thugs leave Gil alone at this point? Or is it the first step in an even worse scenario from their playbook? Sam feels she is running out of time, especially after her phone conversation with Dean an hour ago.
Rina leans her elbows on the table, pushing her dark, red-streaked bangs from her forehead. “Can you believe that Evan could do this?” she says softly. “I just couldn’t realize he was such a prick.” She shakes her head in disgust. “I really want to punish him.” The words ‘prick’ and ‘punish’ carry a special punch conveyed by her Russian accent.
“Gil had no motive to hack the client’s site. He wouldn’t risk his job for such a silly prank.” Sandor drums his long pale fingers uneasily on the table top. He’s wearing the new long-sleeved black shirt Sam bought for him.
“That’s absolutely right, Sandor. I had absolutely no motive for something I did not do.”
They look up to see Gil standing at their table.
“Join us!” Sam pulls back the remaining chair at the small table and Gil takes a seat next to her. He digs into the plate of nachos. Rina hails the waiter for another mug and she then fills it with beer and sets it in front of Gil. Sam watches with slight amusement as Gil immediately downs two-thirds of the contents of the mug and tops it up himself. She recalls that he barely touched alcohol at other social occasions with coworkers.
“Where the heck is Dean?” Gil asks in a resigned voice. “He’s just abandoned Bubble Trendz. I thought it was his dream.”
“Don’t you think it’s pretty strange that he’s not back when the new guys are here?” Rina says.
Gil nods. “I never expected this from him. Guess I’m the fool, though. Guess the money was always what he was really after. After all, he’s the one who hired Evan.”
Sam looks at him with dismay. They’ve all got it so wrong. Without further reflection on the matter and without a clearly defined plan, Sam states simply, “This takeover by the Anderson group is a hostile one and I’m not even sure it’s legal.”
Sam sees the startled looks on the faces of Rina, Gil and Sandor. She doesn’t want to say Dean’s name in public, even here where there is only a remote chance of the wrong people overhearing it. In a low, soft voice she tells them, “Our guy, the boss, has not abandoned his company. But this is not the place to discuss it.”
“What are you saying, Sam?” Rina asks in a hushed tone.
Sam knows there is no turning back now. She’s going to put her trust in all three of them. She should have talked it over first with Sandor alone, but it’s too late for that. Quietly she says, “Let’s get out of here and go to my place. It’s close-by in Somerville.”
Dean is startled at his own reflection in the restroom of the fast food restaurant where he just finished a quick meal. His normally fair hair is a dark brown, and there is five days’ growth of stubble, also dyed dark brown, on his face. The hair dye looks a little harsh in the fluorescent light, his tired pale face looks chalky in contrast. You’re a pretty seedy-looking character he thinks to himself, staring through the cheap pair of sunglasses he bought at a drugstore. He wonders whether he should have shaved his head instead. It’s still an option for later. How much time does he have? This is the crucial variable: whether Joel Anderson now knows that he is still alive.
Dean exits the restaurant with a take-out coffee cup in hand and walks along the bustling road of a nondescript stretch of gas stations, car dealerships and fast food chains. The bus station is still another half mile away. He maintains a brisk walk, glad for his cardiovascular fitness. It’s probably the reason he’s alive right now.
For at least the hundredth time, Dean replays those minutes of his life in New York City last Thursday afternoon. From the start of it, he’d felt something was off. Then, Joel Anderson had turned suddenly, unexpectedly, mild after an overly long and harsh explanation of why their clients would appreciate having the holes in their computer security systems revealed to them. He’d then introduced Dean to a new fellow, Bernard, whom Joel said worked with the bankers and would be able to take Dean over to their offices to meet them after all. Joel would join them within the hour.
Bernard presented himself to Dean with quiet, deferential manners, but he didn’t project the air of someone in finance. For one thing, Bernard’s well-muscled physique asserted itself through an ordinary off-the-rack suit, more jock than stock analyst. They didn’t speak much in the elevator on the way down, despite Dean’s efforts to engage him in talk in the hopes of getting Bernard to reveal more of himself, more of the bankers’ angle in all of this. Bernard only mentioned in the briefest sentence that the office they were going to was ‘two blocks west’ and mostly avoided eye contact, looking neutrally ahead.
As they pushed through the heavy glass revolving doors and entered the loud, busy Manhattan street, Bernard’s strong index finger pointed the direction they should go. He seemed even bigger and bulkier than in Joel’s office and Dean felt himself moving slightly away from the man whose proximity was just overstepping the boundary of Dean’s personal space, even giving allowances for the throngs of people crowded along the street.
“You grow up here?” Dean remembers asking Bernard as they crossed the first intersection at a light. Bernard said “no” and kept his gaze focused ahead. That was the moment when Dean glanced down and noticed Bernard’s shoes — black running shoes, not the expensive Italian loafers favored by investment bankers. A bolt of instinctual clarity flashed through Dean’s mind and body and he knew at once what he must do. Run.
He bolted from Bernard’s side into traffic, running at full speed, his peripheral vision guiding him past collisions with taxis and a delivery truck, a bicyclist. He didn’t look back, he knew Bernard was coming after him. He just ran, elbowing past pedestrians, sheer terror driving him forward at amazing speed. He ran for blocks, adrenalin coursing through him, his lungs fiery with exertion, eyes ever vigilant for the safest escape route. When he spotted a wide alley he raced into it and flattened himself against the worn brick exit door of some building, catching his breath, trying to listen for his stalker above the pounding of his own heart. At once he realized this was a mistake — he would be safer in a crowd. Bernard was a hired assassin and would welcome the opportunity to catch him in an alley.
His calves shaking with fatigue, Dean darted once more onto the main avenue, now trotting, allowing himself a furtive glance to one side and the other. Ahead in the cold bright sunlight was an entrance sign to the subway and he descended the stairs, moving quickly, trying to disappear into the crowd. He bought a ticket and jumped on the first train, having no idea where he was going. Exhausted, he found a seat and slowly quieted his breathing and wiped the perspiration from his brow, trying to relax his demeanor, blend in. No passengers paid attention to him, all were absorbed in texting, reading or just their own thoughts as the train rattled on. But Bernard could be anywhere and there might be others as well. Many hours and several train rides later, Dean had found a secluded pay phone, one of few remaining, and placed his first call to Sam.
Dean’s thoughts refocus on the present as he continues walking along the side of the highway. He would bet every cent of the deal he signed with Joel Anderson that Perry Hinds’ death was not a suicide leap from a building. He knew Perry. The guy was a great entrepreneur at the top of his game. Probably just like Dean, Perry had learned too much through initial negotiations with Joel and then had refused to sign on, so Joel threw him out a window. Dean shudders. It was probably Bernard who had done the throwing. Has Bernard confessed his bungled job to his boss? What’s the punishment for such a thing? This is the one consideration that gives Dean hope that Joel doesn’t yet know that Dean remains a free man. But why is Joel Anderson playing such mean ball? What’s at stake — some extortion of companies to avoid having their databases hacked? That’s not a plan to take a two-billion-dollar investment firm to the next level and Joel Anderson is no fool. Something bigger, more sinister, is afoot and Dean hopes he’ll have enough time to figure it out, and to convince the one man he can trust and who might be able to stop it. Philip, his college friend, who works for a nameless agency in Washington.
Dean sees the bus station ahead and finds himself looking forward to a few hours of rest on his journey south toward the capital. Time to sleep and time to figure out what exactly to tell Philip. He hasn’t been in touch with his friend in several years, and Philip will need data, not stories. He can show up at Philip’s in his disguise and on the run, and Philip won’t conclude that he is a delusional psychotic. But, Philip will want to look at hard evidence. Dean discreetly touches the money belt under his shirt and thinks gratefully of Sam. Can she help him with this?
— to be continued