Dressed in the same cream-colored suit I found in my closet yesterday, I ride up the elevator towards Atlanta Cares Bank, hoping I still have a job.
It’s ten ‘till nine, so I’m coming in late, and I already skipped work yesterday, so I’m in for a world of fury. I better just sit down at the desk and start taking the flurry of calls to come as soon as the businesspeople start their days.
Don’t get me wrong, Atlanta Caress far from the worst job I’ve ever had. It’s a nice bank, and the fact it’s one of the smaller branches doesn’t hurt since I know I’m not contributing to a massive lumbering corporation. Just a small, lumbering corporation. I do hate it, though, and if I never have to perform another menial task given to me by the living incarnation of cluelessness Mr. Larkins.
I’ll have to stay here ‘till the moment I can afford to repair my apartment, though…
That is unless I get fired in the next few minutes.
I reach the entrance to the bank, but it looks like it’s still closed; the metal bars in front are still lowered.
Larkins is there in front of the entrance, wearing a pleasant grin on his face, and behind him are two middle-aged women in skirt suits and another middle-aged man, none of whom I recognize. The man is somewhat striking, though– He’s a balding, blonde-haired man wearing a black suit over a black vest with a black tie. His eyes are small but sharp, glancing around the mostly-deserted hallway until his field of vision lands on me.
“Welcome, welcome,” Larkins says. “My very valuable young Harding.”
“Do you know who this is?” he asks.
The man gives me a curious smile. “You’re Morgan Harding, aren’t you?” he asks. I don’t like the look in his eyes, especially when it’s directed towards me. It puts me on edge.
“Yes sir, I am. May I… help you?”
“No, my meeting with your boss is already finished. Do you know who I am?”
“Ah, no. Forgive me. I can’t recall…”
He shakes his head, but his expression doesn’t change. “I’m Donald Blyth. I can’t believe you don’t recognize me. I figure I should fire my marketing team again, shouldn’t I?” He laughs softly.
Donald Blyth of Blyth Industries.
The CEO of the biggest technology company in Atlanta had a meeting with my boss, the manager of the fourth-biggest branch office of the seventh-biggest bank in Atlanta. I am not sure what to make of this at all. But I do not believe it is anything good.
“We’ve talked a lot about you, Morgan,” says Blyth. “I hope you will do very well in the upcoming days. You will be very important to the success of both our companies.”
“I… thank you?”
“I’ll be seeing you again soon, Morgan.”
He and the two women behind him leave.
Leaving me and Larkins alone.
I drop my professional tone and glare at him. “Wanna tell me what’s going on, boss?”
“Atlanta Cares is in big trouble, kid.” He’s smiling like a possum that just ate a dinotendies dinner.
“And that’s… good news?”
“Blyth Industries is really hurting with all of these scandals coming to a head,” he says. “They are involved in over thirty percent of our investment deals, and if they have to pull out of everything… well, you and me might be going to the unemployment office together.”
I repeat the question. “And that’s… good news???”
“It is after my meeting with Donald Blyth, that’s for sure.”
“Is it normal for CEOs of major corporations to meet with the branch managers instead of our own President?”
“No, but I won’t question it.”
Why… why won’t he question it? That’s all I’m doing right now.
I’m pretty sure Larkins is being suckered into something stupid.
“Does this have to do with that Dreamtech deal you were talking about the other day?” I ask. I believe “that other day” happens to be yesterday, but a whole lot has happened since then.
“Yep, that’s exactly what it’s about. I’m supposed to help them with a hostile takeover, and then I sell out for above the market price, and then Atlanta Cares is suddenly a much richer company and I’m suddenly the Vice-President of the bank.” What he’s saying seems extremely unethical and probably against the law, but he seems more interested in saving his own skin than about that. “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you dead, Harding. I’m serious.”
“Are you a murderer?”
“I fought in the war, Harding. Don’t mess with me.”
“As a plane technician.”
Larkins grumbles something unintelligible, probably a threat of some sort. “And don’t think I don’t know you came in an hour late,” he says. “Of course, if you had answered any of my calls yesterday you’d know I closed the bank today.”
“Why did you do that? For the meeting?”
“Because I don’t have any other employees I can trust to keep the place running and I have some Dreamtech-related business to take care of myself.”
That seems to include me.
“You’re on real thin ice, Harding. I like you, but you better deliver some results for me.”
“Uh, what kind of results?” What the hell is he talking about?
“Find out more about this company Dreamtech. Make sure it’s a clean buy. I know you’re pretty good at that stuff.” If only he knew the truth about that statement.
“Ah… yes sir?” Dreamtech is a currently-popular company, but it’s just some guys trying to develop gimmicky helmets that record your dreams and help you start to lucid dream. I don’t see why they would be notable enough for a major technology company to scheme over.
“Good. Then get the hell out of here and get to researching. Report back to me when you have something good.”
Well, this is not how I expected my day to go, but I guess it isn’t out of the realm of normalcy for this insane week.
I’m being tasked to do investigation work for my bank. How dumb is that?
I’m obviously not going to do it.
This is so far out of the realm of my job description that it’s probably in violation of several labor laws.
But I’ll make something up to tell him next time I see him.
I may be trying to keep this job a little bit longer, but I’m not going out of my way to please a man I plan to never see again after the next month or two. And doing investigative research definitely ain’t my realm of expertise. That one goes to…
Oh, for God’s sake.
Out of the corner of my eye–
I feel someone watching me.
I turn around but see nobody but some random businesspeople wandering around headed towards their various office places.
I’m definitely being watched, then.
If my suspicions are correct… then I know exactly who.
I head over to some vending machines to buy myself an oolong tea, and I notice a figure once again. I turn around.
There she is.
“Marge. What a surprise,” I say.
This late-twenties, six-foot-tall woman perpetually wearing a suit-and-fedora as her outfit of choice is one of Atlanta’s up-and-coming private investigators. She is often contracted by important individuals and corporations to find out certain pertinent information.
And she is my older sister.
Marge Eisenhower, the kind of woman who keeps her ex-spouse’s last name just because it keeps her in those same social circles.
The kind of woman who follows her siblings around to interrogate them.
She was a journalist once, but she since started her own business after she found out how much more it paid to do private work. It is absolutely no surprise that she’d be coming for me during all this Social Media Killer hubbub.
I have to wonder who her client is this time.
The way she walks towards me has a swagger– she sways her hips with a shade of arrogance in every step, like she’s caught me in a bear trap and is lackadaisically approaching me to put me down.
“I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by,” Marge says, her face narrowing into a sly grin. She pulls out a tiny notebook and an even smaller pencil, as if she’s going to write down notes. She’s not going to, of course.
“My beautiful sister has decided to grace my presence once more.”
“You know how I love checking up on you. How’s Mark doing?”
“Oh, I haven’t called him in a while,” I say, lying through my teeth.
She doesn’t know I’m leaving Atlanta either, okay? I haven’t… done a very good job telling anyone about this. It’s been a long-time coming but it might kind of be a rush decision at the same time…
“That’s funny,” she says. “That’s not what he told me when he called me yesterday.”
“What did he tell you?!” Why the hell would he–
Ah, dammit, I did it again.
“Seriously though,” I say. “What are you actually doing here?”
“You ask me.”
“I just did.”
“I mean– you tell me.”
“You’re investigating something… and you think I know about that something.”
Marge winks. “Sure is a nice coincidence we met, then.”
“Yeah, it must be. It’s too bad I need to go. I have some errands to run.” I start quickly walking away.
It’s true; I have to pay a very special visit to a very special Mercenary Prince as soon as I can and I don’t want to dilly-dally shooting the shit with my sister.
“Wait up,” she says, pacing behind me. “Where the heck is Morgie going all of a sudden.”
“Ugh, don’t call me Morgie!”
“We’ve reached an impasse. What would you like me to call you?”
“Call me by my name.”
Her smile fades and shoulders droop. “Sorry Morgan.”
“I really do have somewhere to be, so unless you’re investigating something life-shatteringly important I–”
“Does the Social Media Killer count?”
We walk around in one of the shopping mall floors in Peach Towers, aimlessly strolling while talking about the situation.
I can’t tell you how much I hate the Social Media Killer and anything associated with them at this point.
I say “them” as a singular pronoun but it could easily be a whole team of people, too. Nobody knows anything about them, not even Marge… at least as far as she’s willing to divulge.
“So once you find out who beat you up,” Marge says, “you’re going to…?”
“Make them rebuild my apartment and for the stuff they broke.”
“You’re always the paladin of justice, after all,” she says.
“I get revenge for personal injuries. It’s my mantra.”
“Oh come on,” Marge scoffs. “You barely look like you got a scratch on you.”
I put my hand up to my eye.
It was an obvious black eye just a day ago and now I can barely feel it. Sometimes even I’m surprised about how my body operates these days.
Of course Marge doesn’t know a thing about it.
“All I know is that they were hired by some pretty serious people.” That isn’t all I know and I most certainly won’t be telling her about the fact that I am pretty sure I saw the Social Media Killer in-person at the movie shoot last night.
It’s pretty peaceful round here in the mornings. Not many people around and most of the restaurants and stores aren’t open yet, so it’s mostly filled with people sipping on coffee before work and the occasional homeless person just trying to find a comfortable place to sit.
You’d think with Epstein’s ten-year campaign to improve the quality of living for Atlanteans that the homeless population would have diminished, but it doesn’t seem to me like much has changed at all. Or maybe there’s always going to be a minimum number of people on the streets who tend to migrate towards the downtown area and the outer areas have been cleaned up… but I’m going to have to assume that it hasn’t gotten much better after all.
Aside from that, Epstein’s policies have decreased obesity, nearly obliterated drug abuse, and increased business investment in lower-income communities. Some might call him a fascist dictator but what they’re really saying is “I’m mad I can’t buy sugary sodas from the vending machines anymore!”
If it weren’t for his serial cheating he probably would be seen in a better light, and his own New Hope party members wouldn’t be rebelling against him.
“Oh, I bet knowing who I work for would help you out a lot,” Marge says all of a sudden.
“Wait, who ARE you working for?”
Marge narrows her eyes. “Tell me the truth about what you know and I might tell you.”
“I know you, Morgan, and I know that look in your eyes when you’ve got your priorities set straight. You won’t pull away ‘till the job’s set.”
Look? What look?
We enter a small video arcade, sparsely populated considering it’s a Wednesday morning, but all the machines are still flashing bright and playing loud music.
I can’t believe Marge is actually wearing a fedora and suit right now. Not only is it not very fashionable, but it’s the end of March and it’s pretty hot outside. Shouldn’t she be in her casual attire… which now that I think about it is just a different set of summer suits?
She was the type to wear her school uniform on the weekends, believe it or not.
“Does this mean… you’re investigating me, too?” I ask. “I’m not the Social Media Killer if that’s what you’re suspecting.”
“Obviously not,” she says. “Do you even have a computer?”
“I did until the other night. But– hey! Why is it obvious?”
She takes on a mocking voice, saying, “‘Oh look, I’m Morgan, I hate the internet so I shun all social networks forever, making me the cool kid in the cool kids club.’ Something like that?”
I’ve been bested by my own sister.
“You really should join Netnect, though,” she adds. “With our family’s dashing good looks you’d probably rack up thousands of followers who send you creepy messages and comment on every post you ever make, just like me.” She makes a glowing smile and puts her hands on her hips, as if this is really something to be proud of.
We walk over to one of the more popular machines, for Taiko Drum Master (version 13). I’ve wasted many an after-work hour on this thing, though only one of the drum sets actually works correctly anymore so you can’t really play it multiplayer.
I’ve gotten sidetracked once again.
Marge is good at doing this to me.
“So then why me?” I ask. “What info could I possibly have that will help you?”
“Well… it isn’t actually the Social Media Killer I’m searching into, per se.” she says.
“Then who is it?”
“Who is it indeed…”
“Who is it…..?”
“I’ll just say that some other investigators have made some headway into researching the hacker’s motives and capabilities and they think there may be a connection with Donald Blyth.”
“The one you spoke to immediately before I found you.”
Could THAT GUY be the Social Media Killer? That would be really weird and almost anticlimactic.
Not that I care.
“If you really don’t know anything yet, then I guess just keep your eyes peeled,” Marge says. “I have a hunch.”
“Hunches are nothing,” I say, putting on my best R8PR impression. “Intuition is a poor substitute for proof.”
“If you were actually a private investigator you’d know how wrong you are,” she says, laughing. “The entire business is about taking intuition and justifying it.”
Huh. I kind of like that mantra more.
“Anyway,” Marge continues, putting her notepad-and-tiny-pencil back into her jacket inside pocket. “I’ll leave you to it. Nice seeing you, Morgan.”
“Nice… seeing you too, Marge…”
“Oh, and one more thing. If you’re still in Atlanta in a month, maybe I’ll drop by your birthday party.”
“You don’t have to.” You really don’t.
Marge saunters away just like she came.
Dammit Marge. She knows about me moving. I trust Mark too much to think he told her, which means something about what I said or did gave it away.
How does she do that?
The feeling you get after a conversation with her is usually exhaustion. Because it always feels like she sucked you dry for information and spat you back out. Even if you didn’t give her much it makes you feel like she absorbed it all out of you.
I was thinking about playing this Taiko Drum Master game but now I feel too tired.
Might as well head off to see the Mercenary Prince.