Room 212 by M.C. Webb by M.C. Webb - Read Online

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Room 212 - M.C. Webb

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Author

Chapter One

KIA

Hey, kid. You eat today? I’m in the mood for Big Sal’s sardines and banana pepper pizza.

I swing my head to the right where Curtis sits typing away at a keyboard in the middle of a workstation of computer screens only slightly bigger than mine, and I grimace.

That is just nasty, Curt. I’ll pass.

Suit yourself. I’ll have them bring your rabbit food, but you don’t know what you’re missing, he tosses over his shoulder.

Yeah, I do, and I say it’s nasty, I tease.

My friend, my parental figure, for all intents and purposes, has the worst taste in food. That and drinking night and day are the only two flaws I can find in the man. He’s not a mean drunk, quite the opposite. Curtis would be what addiction specialist label a functioning alcoholic. He enjoys his beer, just enough to be buzzed but never falling completely into a state of drunkenness. But he is my best friend, and like with anyone you love, you take the good with the imperfections.

In the word of technological advancement, Curtis Wright is a god; it’s just too bad what he does is mostly illegal. But his devil-may-care attitude is one of the traits that attracted me to him. Not sexually—good grief, the guy is in his early sixties—but his vast knowledge and no regrets policy. According to Curtis, if we have the ability to advance the tech world, we damn well should. Someone is going to do it, so it might as well be us. It didn’t take long for me to adopt this mindset.

Two years ago, I graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s in their prestigious computer science program. A month before I entered the master’s program, my mother had a stroke and became paralyzed on her left side. I chose to put off furthering my education to oversee the long road to the best recovery possible. It would’ve been nice to be able to trust my mom’s care to my step-dad, but he let it be known he found the process taxing, thinking my mother, the woman who buried the love of her life, my dad, twenty years ago but still wore her wedding bands, was a burden. This is the female who worked three jobs just so we wouldn’t end up on the streets.

Then one day, Berrett Lane had a business meeting in the bar where she was working. The meeting ended, and he returned to take her to dinner.  A fairly wealthy handsome stranger showed interest in what I know was a lonely widow. Three months later, spousal agreement papers were signed, and we had a new place to call home. Mom didn’t have to work but still volunteered at the local hospital occasionally.  However, it was obvious to me she wore a fake smile to mask her unhappiness. Then there were the unexplained bruises, or the slight limping she tried to hide, but she never allowed me to know what transpired between them privately.

Over the next few years, she and Berrett fell into an uncomfortable existence, putting on the niceties, the roles they both played when wooing possible investors or entertaining current clients. On the outside, we appeared to be a nice family, but on the inside, Mom and I had very little to do with Barrett. It was in my senior year of high school I became curious as to why my mother would marry a person she clearly loathes. Late in the evening, in between my English paper and a rerun of Friends, I began trying to hack Barrett’s files on his computer and figured out that in those papers they signed before they marriage was a payment arrangement.

In so many words, my mom was Barrett’s companion. She would accompany him to all social events, never involving herself in his business affairs, and in return, while she could never claim right to any of his business earnings, she would be provided for, and he would also provide for me through my college education. 

It took me two weeks to hack into Barrett’s personal files entirely and only two minutes to realize my wonderful, loving, kind mother had sold her soul to make certain I had a life. I despised the hatefulness of the arrangement; it sounded too much like my mom was an escort for life because of me. It was galling, and I had every intention of making it stop. No way my mother would be a show dog any longer. We would find some other way to live, any other way, but when I entered her bedroom just before sunrise and saw her asleep in the oversized bed, her dark hair spilled across the crisp white pillow, I understood the deal gave her peace.

She could rest in the large home overlooking the best eighteen-hole golf course on one side and New Hampshire’s Gold Coast on the other, mind at ease as I pursued my education. I probably stood in the same spot for an hour wondering if it was worth disrupting something she had, no doubt, worked hard to procure. She wasn’t stupid; on the contrary, she was a woman adapted to her situation, and God knew there are worse situations. If I woke her, demanding we leave or questioning her choices, she would die from the shame alone. In the end, I couldn’t let her know what I’d discovered. I couldn’t begrudge her a nice, comfortable life that she chose for both of us, but I could hate the man who made the deal. The one who misused and abused her.

So, I turned my hate toward Barrett, starting with the break in his systems. At first, he appeared to be just another business man in the pharmaceutical industry. But as I entered my first years of college, I found something odd in some of the files I began creeping through on down time between exams. There were several entries for a test medication that resembled date rape drugs. The only reason I even recognized the ingredients at all is I had to listen to my roommate recite the breakdown of drugs for her pre-med courses.

Once I latched on to the discrepancies, I began to dig. I had to funnel my way through years of outdated technology and shitty file systems to find all the breadcrumbs. It was around this time I found Curtis. He found me first online as a consultant. It was by chance I stumbled onto his information while studying for an exam and learning from some of his information. Once I read his work, I sought him out for help.

Curtis is a hacker, but he’s also a licensed P.I. Instead of stakeouts and following clients’ spouses through town to catch them cheating, Curtis simply uses his computers and traces withdrawals, credit card transactions, and spending habits. It’s all very illegal, but the clients never ask how he gets the goods, and they must sign non-disclosures when they request his services. Upon my arrival on his doorstep asking for assistance to trace the activities of Barrett and his shady prescription drug dealings, Curtis shut the door in my face.

When I came again for some guidance on the facial technology, explaining I had already mapped Berrett and his associates, I only needed help with maneuvering around the city camera’s security feeds, Curtis looked me over head to foot, bushy gray brows drawn down in a frown as I spoke. He reminded me of an old hippie, never wearing shoes unless he left the house and then only choosing brown leather flip flops. I don’t believe he ever brushes his salt and pepper hair; it still hangs to his shoulders in a constant disheveled heap of curls.

His skin wrinkled around his wise, old blue eyes.  His lumpy nose was red from years of drinking, and his mouth was frozen in a permeant pucker from staying in deep thought twenty-three hours of the day. As it became obvious he wasn’t shutting the door on me, I hurried to explain the facial mapping and access into the video feeds across New Hampshire and Boston. With each word I spoke, Curtis’ brows rose ever so slightly until they nearly touched his hair line.

You’ve accessed Dryer pharmaceuticals’ mainframe of communications?

Casting my eyes to my feet with the onset of shame, I nodded before looking back at him.

You, all ninety-eight pounds and what? Twenty years old has gained entry into one of the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet just so you can exploit the information to get money for yourself?

No, I object before he can go further, "not for myself, not directly. But I’m one hundred and fifteen pounds; I’m