I have to repeat it to myself to make sure I am aware.
I’m in over my head.
It is perfectly true that I have faced many trials and threats in my time over the past year. I’ve been in life-or-death situations and occasionally had to make some tough choices.
Everything about this one, though, reeks of a situation I should never have been in in the first place.
If I had simply ignored the fact I was attacked and carried out my week as normal, I’d never have gotten involved again, I think. If I had let the case rest when we discovered Jones was the Social Media Killer, I wouldn’t be in this mess now.
I’d be in Tallahassee.
Sure, Jones would probably be dead by now, and Atlanta would be falling apart as we speak, but… I very well might be dead pretty soon myself. Can’t believe I was attacked on the orders of the Mayor of Atlanta himself, but I guess stranger things have happened to me.
“And that’s why I need you to find R8PR when you can,” I say to Karina over my cellular.
“I told you I’m– I’m really busy right now,” Karina says. Her tone is in a very harsh whisper, like she’s in the middle of a tense poker match. I wonder if that’s what she’s really doing with her secretive Friday night endeavors, running quasi-legal underground gambling meetups where she acts as the hostess and organizer to a bunch of rich celebrities looking blow their money and meet new friends.
I’m having too much fun imagining Karina as a hard-nosed businesswoman, probably wearing a flashy red wig as she sits back in a low-cut dress and watches the game play out.
“Morgan? Are you still there?”
Oops. “Yeah, I just really need to do this, so I can’t go get him myself. I know you usually don’t get done until late, but…”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Karina says. I can hear some voices on her end but can’t make out anything any of them are saying. “Just promise me you’ll be alright.”
“I promise I’ll be alright.”
I’m saying this with a broken arm and bruises covering my body.
“Be safe, Morgan.”
I should never make promises I can’t be sure I can keep.
I really wish I knew what Karina does on Friday nights that is so important, but this is definitely not the best time to be figuring that out.
But after a half-remembered bus ride and a lot of walking later, I’m back in Cobb County, standing in front of the Burrow residence.
I can already see from the outside that it doesn’t look too great. Some of the windows are smashed– there’s broken glass all over the lawn from the windows– and some furniture has been smashed and thrown out onto the driveway as well, including one of those nice leather chairs I sat on last time.
The Burrows’ car is pulled up but not damaged, so I think they must have gotten back from picking Kylia up from school or something. At least that’s what I hope.
I enter the house and find Kylia, Julia, and Arnold Burrow all standing in the living room looking over their ransacked home. Julia is looking over the framed photograph of herself, cracked-open and halfway burned, crying her eyes out. Arnold stares silently.
They see me enter.
“You… You’re Tracy Silver,” Ms. Zein-Burrow says. “Why are you here? Did you do this?” The look of horror in her eyes reveals her realization that I was not who I said I was.
I take a step forward and Ms. Zein-Burrow takes one back. “I need to tell you the truth,” I say. “I didn’t come here to interview you, Ms. Burrow. This might be a bit difficult to say at such a bad time, but… I came here because I found out your daughter is the Social Media Killer.”
Both of the parents look at Kylia, their eyes wide.
“No, not her. I mean Jones. Where is she?”
“I… I don’t know,” she says. “She skipped school this morning because she had a fever. I checked it myself. But she’s not here and– She’s a trustworthy girl… My baby…” She begins crying again.
“I don’t know why you’re here, but you need to leave,” Mr. Burrow says, pointing towards the front door. “Now.”
“No, I’m sorry but… I can’t. I need your help.”
“Your daughter Jones did another attack in Piedmont Park a few hours ago, and a dozen armed men chased her down trying to kill her. She is now a fugitive across the city. I caught her briefly, but… I’m sorry.”
It takes time for any of them to process what I just said.
“Alright… I’d tell you to sit down, but…” Mr. Burrow trails off.
“It’s okay. Just… What do you know about all this?”
Mr. Burrow seems lost in thought for a moment. As he looks away, Kylia goes upstairs.
“I think it makes a lot of sense now, for some of those victims,” Mr. Burrow says finally. The revelation seems to hit him like a sack of bricks. “Jones was always interested in my time on the Cobb County School Board, and asked me about it all the time. And after all that Dreamtech business… She probably looked through every single paper in my home office, and I didn’t even… God, I’m so stupid.”
I remember the entry in ‘The List’ for Kendrick Deal that mentioned this.
Mr. Burrow sighed. “Kendrick Deal, back when he worked on the School Board, brought in a proposal from Dreamtech, back when it was still new, to do some cooperative education programs and recruit students straight out of their A-levels to join the company. I saw the iffy safety testing results and when their CEO Sonny Piramal came in himself… let’s just say he didn’t come off as incredibly genuine. When I refused to give him my vote, Deal pushed me out of the Board. Jones knows all about that in great detail.”
So Jones has been using her father’s job. It makes a lot of sense that she’d be getting a lot of inside information rather than simply hacking into a million databases and consuming it all then, which is how I pictured it before.
“Do you know where she might be right now?” I ask.
The Burrows look at each other, and then shake their heads.
“Jones never really… went anywhere much, not that we ever knew of,” Mr. Burrow says. “She is a very diligent girl. If she is the Social Media Killer, she is probably already prepared for anything that could happen. I just… never thought it would be our girl.”
What this all means is that wherever Jones is now, there’s no easy way to find it.
“So all this time, while she was preparing to hack and attack, in front of you she wore her quiet mask.”
“I…” Mr. Burrow chokes up.
The room is a mess, which is par for the course when goons come in to destroy everything. I don’t feel like I should be in here.
“Can I… see Jones’s room?” I ask. “There might be something there.”
He hesitates for several moments. This is a pretty heavy request, especially right now, so I understand. “Yeah. Just follow me. Sorry about the mess,” Mr. Burrow says. His voice is cold, but he’s trying to be as hospitable as he can. We all go upstairs, except for Ms. Burrow who stays in the living room crying.
Outside of her own destroyed bedroom, Kylia lays on the carpet hugging an oversized stuffed animal. She isn’t crying, but she hasn’t said anything this entire time. It’s so strange that we ever thought a girl like this could be the Social Media Killer. It’s unthinkable now.
Jones’s bedroom is a wreck, too, but you can see traces of what it once was from the clean cream walls and the nearly-empty desk, except for an overturned cup of pencils and a printer cut in half by some sharp weapon. She seems to have been a very clean and organized person, and now her room is covered in mess, her bed literally cut in half through the middle.
“Jones was always a bit of a loner,” Mr. Burrow says. “She was outspoken with us, always talking about politics and social justice and all sorts of topics, but she barely ever brought anyone home, and never went out anywhere except to sports practice and the library. I knew she was a very… passionate person. I just can’t believe she would do something like this. Why didn’t we see anything?”
“I did,” says a voice belonging to Kylia. She enters the room behind us.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Jones is crazy,” she says. “I knew she was the Social Media Killer this whole time, and I never said anything about it, and now all this is my fault. I’m really sorry.”
“No, honey, it’s not your fault,” Mr. Burrow says. “Jones is the one who did this, not you. And she’s not crazy, she’s…”
“She’s crazy,” she says.
I think of our conversation on the rooftop. She seemed… intense. That was what I got from it. “I don’t know her,” I say. “But I think she’s just a messed up girl. She’s doing a lot of stupid things and she needs some help before she gets anyone else hurt. Not… crazy, I don’t think.”
“The first boy she hacked was Philip Rogers, the first person I… made love to,” Kylia says.
Mr. Burrow freezes in place, hairs on end, but he stays silent.
“Philip started saying a lot of nasty things to all his jock friends, and Jones must have overheard, because she hacked him the next day. Then… you know that Courtney girl that told you that I was… that I like girls and boys? Jones hacked her the next day.”
Mr. Burrow apparently hadn’t taken his daughter’s coming-out very well to begin with, but now he was petrified with shock.
“And I never told anyone because… I was grateful for it, okay? But then she kept going. She’s nuts. My sister is nuts.”
“If I had just said something, none of this would have ever happened.”
It’s all a big family squabble. Everything is starting to make a lot more sense.
“When I last encountered Jones, she left behind a notebook titled ‘The List’ and I looked inside it.” I take the book out of my bag and present it to them. “Did you ever know about this?”
Mr. Burrow takes the book and Kylia looks at it from behind him. They stare at the pages, slack-jawed.
“This is madness,” Mr. Burrow says as he flips through it. “The police chief gave her mother a speeding ticket, so she exposes corruption in his department. A Blyth Industries recruiter at school is condescending towards her, so she tries to take the company down. It makes so much sense now. All of what she was doing was for personal vendettas. She was doing this for us.”
The pattern nobody seemed to uncover, right in front of everyone’s nose. The only connection social networking couldn’t find.
“And Dreamtech? Just because Kendrick Deal ruined you doesn’t mean that company did anything. I mean, you work for them, right? But now they’re sending armed thugs after her because of all this.”
“Dreamtech has been trying to break into the open market with its technology for years,” Mr. Burrow says, rubbing his chin. “But it keeps having setbacks due to regulations and safety concerns.” Yeah, that sounds about right. “Blyth has been trying to buy out the company in a hostile takeover for years now, so Dreamtech needs a big success to raise its stock price and remain independent. It needs those regulations gone as soon as possible. And obviously, that’s not going to be okay for Jones, no matter how much it affects my job.”
“Business is so complicated,” Kylia says. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m in banking.
“This is needlessly complicated, and still doesn’t answer why Jones is trying to get involved,” I say.
“Well… she’s passionate,” Mr. Burrow says. “When she believes in something, she won’t stop until she’s made sure she’s accomplished it. She’s my baby girl…”
The entire family is in shock right now, and it’s clear that this is a terrible time to be questioning them all with this line of inquiry. Thing is, finding Jones is extremely time-sensitive. I can’t let my own sympathy get in the way of it.
“Well, we know Dreamtech is the next target. Sonny Piramal specifically,” I say. I think back to that obnoxious cardboard cutout of the CEO at that tech store. The bug-eyed face of a hardened criminal, apparently.
“But we have no idea where she could be…”
Mr. Burrow’s expression is solemn. He sees how serious all of this is, how dire the circumstances are.
“We have to stop her.”
“But do we really?” asks Ms. Zein-Burrow, standing in the doorway behind all of us.
Her eyes are reddened and cheeks are tear-stained, but her face is determined and eyebrows slanted down. “Ain’t she doing the right thing?”
All three of us look at her in confusion.
“Honey, what are you talking about? She’s a criminal,” Mr. Burrow says.
“And she’s doing it for revenge,” Kylia adds.
“Does it matter why she does this, except that she does?” she asks.
“Mom, Jones is in real danger. If we don’t stop her she’s going to be killed.”
“Shut up, Kylia,” Mr. Burrow says. “Julia… is this all because of… you know?”
She begins crying again.
“What is this about?” I ask. Once again, I hate to be nosy, but you know the situation here.
“Martin Quartermaster, the director,” Ms. Zein-Burrow says. “She got him ruined for me.”
I suddenly remember our interview, where she became very touchy on the subject of her short-lived film career. It was the only moment she broke her pleasant demeanor towards me.
So that’s what it was
She was the one sexually-assaulted all those years ago.
They covered-up their nice director’s reputation by getting Julia Zein blacklisted from all the big movies from then on, which is why she ended up doing voice acting for cartoons the rest of her career and never being able to fulfill whatever dreams she may have had.
Jones was right, They really were monsters.
“She’s much braver than us,” the weeping mother says. “She will make it.”
“With all due respect, Ms. Zein-Burrow,” I say. “She’s not brave. She’s just foolish, and a lot of innocent people have gotten hurt because of her. I have to stop her before someone else does, and I will do it with or without your consent. I apologize.”
She lowers her head, eyes pointed towards the floor, and says nothing.
Kylia and Mr. Burrow too remain silent.
“But none of us know where she could be. So… I guess that’s all useless, isn’t it?”
I’m in over my head indeed.
A hunt with no leads.
A mystery with all the clues already revealed.
I guess the only mystery left is Jones herself. Dr. Freud would have been better qualified than Sherlock Holmes in regards to this particular mystery, though.
“What’s that sound?” Kylia asks.
Gradually, we all hear it, a piercing wail growing louder by the moment.
Police sirens, and several of them.
We rush downstairs, only to see several police cars pull up and several officers exit their cars, guns drawn.
Marge, that conniving bitch.
She is too good at this game. And she played me like a Super Nintendo cartridge.
One portly, mustachioed man in a tan-colored suit steps out of his patrol car, sunglasses on and one hand over his holster. “Come on out, y’all,” he says. That’s the head of Atlanta City Police, Chief Baranowsky.
The four of us slowly exit the house, hands raised, and the police lower their guards.
“We just need to ask all y’all a few questions,” Chief Baranowsky says. He motions towards a patrol car and we start heading that way. “Harding, though. Actually we have somewhere else for you to visit.” He beckons me to his own vehicle.
This is going to be fun.