“Let’s come clean with each other,” I say before slamming a notebook onto the table. “I’ve been searching all week for the Social Media Killer, and I found her just in time to watch her be hunted down by assassins and chased halfway across the city. Whoever is behind all this is someone big. I need to know who.”
Marge sits down at the table and yells to a passing waiter, “One pitcher of beer.”
“Hold on, this isn’t a dinner date,” I say. “We aren’t at this place to wine and dine.”
“Well, that’s why I ordered us beer,” she says with a wink.
“You know it’s one in the afternoon, Marge.”
“I’m getting a headstart on everyone else.”
I sit down.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet you,” Marge says, going through our usual charade of niceties. I thought I was able to discard those for now, but it looks like she won’t relent.
“And you as well,” I respond.
“I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than with my lovely little Morgan.”
“I’m very honored that you would consider–”
“Have you looked in the book yet?”
Ouch. Banter cut short.
“Yes, and that’s why I called you out here,” I tell her.
Here being Neddrick’s, a fairly nice restaurant near my house that is a prime location for having chats that other people aren’t going to listen in on. It’s always busy enough that nobody can really hear past their own table. I’m sure there’s a couple people attempting to spy on us at this very moment, but it’s not a big deal when we’re being drowned out by people yelling out at the basketball game up on the twelve-inch television screen on mute up in the corner of the room. If you have to know, it’s the Macon Wranglers versus the Forsyth Fowls, 50-33, end of the first half.
“The book” being the marked-up notebook I found inside of Jones’s backpack.
I flip open the book and let Marge see it.
“‘The List,’ what a succinct title,” she remarks. “Ah, and she has very pretty handwriting, this Jones girl. And she’s smart too, keeping all her information offline so no prying keyboards could snoop on it.”
“How long have you known her identity?” I ask.
“You might think I was hiding some very important information from you about my intentions,” Marge says. “But actually I learned it just the same time most everyone else did, about two hours ago. My employer was a bit upset I didn’t find out before you, considering I’m the private investigator and you’re just a stubborn asshole.”
“Look. This is the part that really matters about her book.” I show her the titular List. It’s a massive compilation of data that would make a wiki editor blush. On each page is the profile of a single person, with either a photograph or an admittedly-alright sketch of them in the top-left corner. Then it gives contact information, addresses, personal histories… and a list of wrongs done. the first one is always a sin against Jones or her family, and the rest are ones she collected afterwards, as it’s written with different pens and pencils over the years.
“This is amazing,” Marge says.
“Terrifying, more like.”
The entries are not in the same order as the Social Media Killer hacked in, but there is a red X drawn on top of each photo or sketch for the ones who have already been “killed”. I flip a few pages and find all sorts of yet-unhacked people, like philanthropist Gerry Tate, who abruptly cancelled a private program for parents of poor children to receive specialized job training last year. Or, better yet, Mark Winters, retired politician and the 42nd President of the United States. There aren’t any notes on him yet, but he must have done something pretty bad to end up here, right?
I see entries from people I distinctly remember being “killed” recently; Kendrick Deal is here with several shorthand notes that read something like “Cobb School Board– Dreamtech Betrayal,” or “Arnold Burrow Situation.” It’s not enough detail for most of these people I don’t recognize, but given the context I think I can figure this one out.
Even that guy out in Minnesota, the child porn trafficker, turned out to be Jones’s next door neighbor twelve years ago, according to her own writing. She’s been holding grudges that long?
“Literally hundreds of people,” I say.
The waiter brings out a pitcher of beer and two glasses. I pour myself half, while Marge goes all the way. This beer’s too bitter for me, some sort of too-strong IPA. I hate that kind of drink. My sister here clearly knew that and ordered mostly for herself.
I flip a page and find the CEO of Tim’s Codes, that guy from a few days ago who emotionally abused his wife and Jones uncovered via message logs. Tim DuPont, only thirty-four years old, is now out of a job because his own company’s board voted him out. Apparently his store sold her a defective computer four years ago and wouldn’t accept a return until she made a scene during a busy weekend.
She went to all that trouble just for that.
“Jones acts all high and mighty about all the hacking she has been doing,” I say. “But I don’t know… her reasoning for some of these feels a little… petty.”
“If you or I kept track of all the people who ever wronged us, I’m sure our lists would look similar,” she says. “Maybe even longer in your case.” She taps my cast a few times.
“Don’t remind me.” Seriously, don’t. “But the difference with most people is that we usually forgive and forget, unless it’s the most egregious stuff. Jones doesn’t seem to have ever done that in her life.”
“I think I’d like this girl.”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t.”
Jones Burrow, who are you?
A girl who never forgives…
A social networking ghost…
There’s so many questions and almost no answers.
Marge suddenly switches gears. “So do you want to know my side of this or not?”
“I absolutely do. I didn’t call you over for the company.”
“I’m not sure that’s entirely true.” She finishes her current glass of beer and pours a new one. “You want to know who I was hired by?”
“Yes, Marge, I do.”
“Your boss, Gheb Larkins.”
I would have spit out my drink, had I been drinking anything.
“Apparently he doesn’t trust Blyth very much but he trusts you a whole lot. He really did want you to do research for him and figure out if you trusted the Dreamtech deal or not.”
“Well, I mean, not that I really did any research, but…”
“And Blyth definitely was interested in you, I hope you’ll know that.”
“That’s… not something I enjoy to hear,” I say. I think back to the way he looked at me when we met. It was very uncomfortable.
“So he’s using my boss as bait for the Dreamtech deal, too. If the deal goes badly, Blyth Industries can dump it and leave Atlanta Cares Bank with the debt, and if it goes well, they can always shut the bank out. He’s a scapegoat for a hostile takeover.”
“You could look at it that way.”
Well, that isn’t something I can take. I’d lose my job.
Lose my… job.
I’d get twelve weeks of unemployment checks for doing absolutely nothing…. and then I could leave Atlanta scott-free
I’m not sure if I’d even like that.
“Is that why I was attacked? Because Blyth thought the Social Media Killer was a dope for Magitek?”
“Of course not, silly,” Marge says. “That was Mayor Epstein.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe you aren’t so smart at all.”
“When have you ever praised my intelligence, anyway?”
“No, what I mean is you might be even dumber than you look.”
“You never thought to consider the timing of the attacks. You probably thought about the point-of-view of the Social Media Killer herself, but never thought to consider the points-of-view of those affected. Do you remember who was hacked the day your house was broken into?”
“Not particularly.” It’s been a long few days, and a good number of people “killed” by Jones in the process.
“The major target that day was those five Blyth employees who had been covering up their taxes. It was the first day where it became really clear that the Social Media Killer was able to find all this financial information and utilize it. And who else in Atlanta might have some dirty finances? It’s been eclipsed by all the other mayhem since then, but I’d have to guess the Mayor got paranoid, someone made a list of possible targets of interest, and they hired out Motokawa’s men.”
“That’s your guess?”
“An educated guess.”
She smiles. It’s a smile that says I’m stupid for not figuring that out. But how could I possibly have figured that out beforehand? I don’t know the stakes or players in this game. It’s like asking me to place a bet at a casino blindfolded. I know essentially nothing about what’s really going on right now except from what I’ve stumbled onto in the past couple days.
“But wait, Motokawa’s men were under a contract that included multiple other celebrities and politicians, including Kendrick Deal, Epstein’s bitter enemy…”
“Well maybe Epstein wasn’t the one behind the contract then.”
“What do they have in common?”
“Uh… you can tell me?”
“I’d find out for you… but not for free.”
Marge, go solicit your work somewhere else.
Ah-ha. I flip to one of the last pages in the book, and…. there it is.
Sonny Piramal, CEO of Dreamtech. A criminal for money laundering, bribery, all sorts of corruption. The paper is filled to the bottom listing everything he and his company have done. And most interestingly, there’s already a red X over his smiling face.
The glue between all these disparate clues and factions, linking together people as far away as Tim DuPont (former programmer for Dreamtech) to Kendrick Deal (approved a Dreamtech high school recruitment deal against heavy opposition) to Mayor Epstein himself (one of his lovers is a major investor).
The glue is a friggin’ gimmicky sleep helmet.
Donald Blyth is nowhere to be found in this book but his slimy gloved fingers HAVE to be involved in here.
“Larkins definitely isn’t going to like this,” I say.
“Most certainly not,” Marge says. “Though… this will end up with the liquidation of Dreamtech’s assets, so maybe it will benefit someone.”
Ugh, business. Business and politics. The main reason I wanted to leave Atlanta. And currently the main reason I’m in it.
I’m in over my head.
This isn’t an investigation I need to be in. This is the kind of stuff they hire professionals for. This is what the police are supposed to be doing, not some dope working as a secretary at a bank. I don’t think I can back out now, but I should have done it from the beginning.
I feel so ridiculously stressed out by all this, and yet…
And yet… I kinda like it.
Technically, I’m actually accomplishing something here. It’s just that that something involves major figures and the rich elite trying to bring me bodily harm and death.
“Epstein… Mayor Epstein sending people to beat me up. Personally. That’s a really strange thought.”
“It’s just the political system these days.”
“And so is murdering teenagers?” I recall the immediate use of gunshots as soon as they spotted her at Piedmont Park. I certainly hope there weren’t any innocent people hurt or killed; I haven’t heard anything yet, but then again I haven’t been checking the news lately.
“Aside from all of this,” Marge says. “Jones said at Piedmont Park that her next attack was going to be one of her biggest. What does ‘The List’ say about that? Do you know?”
“I’m not sure,” I say. “It’d take days to read through all of this in detail. And knowing her assailaints, she probably doesn’t have that much time left.”
“Why do you care about her well-being all of a sudden? What’s your interest beyond getting payback for your trashed apartment?”
I don’t have an answer just yet.
Maybe it was meeting her family, or interviewing Courtney Trudeau, or talking to her in-person, or the fact she’s just a teenage girl. I don’t know.
I can’t see myself being satisfied if this whole case ends with Jones Burrow lying in a pool of her own blood, however much she may have it coming for.
“You don’t actually support her campaign, do you?”
“I mean, is it such a bad thing?”
“You and I are two different people, Morgan Harding,” Marge says, gulping down the rest of her current glass. “That much is true.”
“Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.”
“I’m glad I chose the beer,” Marge says, pouring herself another glass. “I’m going to need it. Do you realize what all this means?”
“That Dreamtech is behind all these stupid conspiracies?”
I continue staring at the picture of Sonny Piramal. It’s already crossed out, which means Jones must already have assembled all the incriminating evidence, right? She may have already scheduled the post and everything. If she goes through with it, she’s as good as dead.
Assuming she’s even alive now.
“Well, there’s one more thing I think might be important,” I say, changing the topic to something different but… very related. “What are we going to do about this?”
I flip to the end of the book, where there’s a photo of none other than…
Marge Eisenhower, also known as Marge Harding.
The picture is straight out of Marge’s PrivateDetectives.com profile, and it has links to her Netnect account and…
A red X over her name.
The sins include a little-publicized incident where Marge was expelled from Georgia State University over plagiarism on a term paper, among other smaller things. It was a long time ago, but not exactly the kind of stuff you want out in the open.
Marge drinks the rest of her glass and slams it on the table. Her smile doesn’t fade, but her eyes are scanning over the piece of paper like a hawk. “She’s good.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I ask.
“Yep,” she answers. “I’m screwed.”
“I can’t believe she found a comment thread where I defended Athens,” Marge says. “I was just playing devil’s advocate, but that was a post I made ten years ago. She’s a better sleuth than either of us combined.”
“I mean, I stalked her family technically and just chased her through an apartment building, and she still put your name on here over mine,” I say.
“You did what?”
“Long story.” Dressing up like a women’s magazine writer and giving a fake interview in order to get evidence probably breaches all sorts of investigative ethics, so I’m not going to divulge that one just yet. Poor Burrow family… Now that their daughter is a city-wide fugitive I don’t know how well they’ll be able to adjust…
“Have you heard anything about the Burrow family?”
“I really can’t imagine it’s anything good, Morgan. What do you think?”
We sit in silence as I drink another half-glass, just to get my money’s worth, and then she goes through another couple glasses all on her own. I think the news about her employer is racking her mind like no other.
“I don’t think you should report any of this to Larkins, actually,” I say. I finish my half-glass and set the glass aside. “I think we should keep it all a secret right now. I’m afraid word will spread and it will be bad.”
“I can’t do that,” she says without hesitation. “I won’t get paid if I don’t say anything. Look, I can’t be so concerned about the safety of some bitter little girl that I’m not going to tell him everything I know. It’s against my code. But I’ll wait twenty-four hours to do it– that’s my deadline for my next report. It’s only fair for you.”
“Yeah, that’s fair.”
She smiles. “And… thanks for the drink.” She gets up and leaves.
The waiter returns and calls to Marge, “Thanks for visiting Neddrick’s! Come again!” He puts the check on the table.