That was certainly a very long trip through the convention center. I took a look at basically every section of the tech expo with as much attention as I could give, but I still feel like I’ve covered maybe not even twenty five percent of what this place has to offer. It’s just too huge.
So, after I eat a late lunch (my stomach’s getting angry at me already), maybe I’ll come back here and take another look? Though I guess I’d rather not, since I have that dinner party that Mr. Larkins is hosting tonight at Peach Towers. Why am I invited to that again?
Well, today’s been very productive already, anyway. There’s some clear signs to me that a lot of these tech companies are putting out products that aren’t as benign as they appear to be. Blyth’s obvious repurposing of the Dreamtech helmet with their “Dream Weaver” is the main culprit, but I’m not so sure I like those robot soldiers that Sakaguchi is showing off, either. And then there’s that tiny matter of the eco-terrorist John Vann pledging he is going to become the next mayor of Atlanta… which sounds about as weird as it does scary.
A lot of stuff to think about, and a lot of stuff to do more sleuthing on when the time comes. For now, I’m going to think about where I want to go for lunch. There’s a Waffle House a few blocks away, but that one’s always packed because the foreign journalists like writing think pieces about how shocked they are that it’s actually good. I guess Slappy Burger will be the way to–
A fedora pops out of the crowd and makes its way towards me. When I see the body it belongs to, I can’t help but reflexively groan. How many times today am I gonna run into all these people? Moreover, how many times in my life am I gonna run into this one…
“Hiya, Morgan,” Marge Eisenhower says as soon as she reaches me.
“Hello, older sister,” I say. “It is sure a convenient coincidence that you are here at the Atlanta Annual Tech Expo. I find it very fortunate that we are to meet here.”
“As am I, dear child,” she replies. “Perchance you are interested in a caffeinated beverage and a nutritious pastry?”
I break character the moment I am offered free anything. “Are we talking Coke Zero, or like, Bustable Lemons or something? I only do with the highest-caliber of… Oh, you mean coffee.”
“Good job,” she says. “You’ll be a detective yet.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of sometimes.”
“So what brings you here to this little convention?” Marge asks as we enter the cafe, which is named The Beans. I don’t know why. “Business? Pleasure?”
“Clearly neither of those,” I say.
We go over to an empty high table. Marge sets down her purse and goes up to the counter to order. She promised me caffeine and nutritious pastries. I better be getting both of those.
I don’t know why I didn’t expect this sort of ambush, especially right as I was done and about to leave. I’m halfway convinced that Marge has a tracking device planted inside me that she uses to watch my every move. Well, except the fact that she doesn’t know about R8PR and tracking me is a good way to find out about him. Unless she does and just isn’t saying because she play coy about literally everything… I hate this woman so much.
She comes back and sets down two coffees, and two coffee cake slices. I am pretty sure these are not real coffee cakes cut into smaller pieces, but plain old Little Debbie coffee cakes.
Marge laughs. “That barista up there seems to like you,” she says.
“Huh? What do you– Oh no.”
I see the white girl with pigtails. The same exact one that Mr. Larkins and I met the other day at the coffee shop in Peach Towers. The one named “Tony.” Not with an “oh,” with an “ah.” She’s here… why is she here? Why is she staring at me with such an intense face?
Why is she coming over here?!
Tony comes to our table, takes one long look at me, and then sets down a few packets of creamer. “You forgot this,” she says.
“Oh,” I say. “Uh, thanks.”
“Don’t thank me,” she says. “You shouldn’t have forgot to get creamer. For all the fuss you made last time about your precious milk.”
“Seriously, Morgan, what’s the big deal about creamer?” Marge asks.
“I– Shut up, Marge.” I turn to Tony and try to make amends as much as I can. “Um, Tony, thank you for remembering, then. You’re a good barista. How come you’re working at this cafe now?”
“Some people have to work more than one job to survive. Not that you’d know that.” Her glare burns through my soul and cauterizes the wound. I think I’m done talking to her forever now.
Tony returns to the counter and I try to block out the fact that she is probably going to be staring at me for the duration of our visit to this cafe.
Marge is already drinking down her coffee even though she got it like, sixty seconds ago. How can she handle that heat? Is her tongue made of steel? “You know, it’s very unlike you to willingly attend an event that involves being around so many other people,” she says. “I’m impressed.”
“You’re saying this like I have some social anxiety disorder. I don’t– No, I don’t.” Right? …Right? “And you know why I’m here, Marge. Same reason as you, probably.”
“You were hired by Blyth Industries to investigate the location of Jones Burrow, the former Social Media Killer?” she asks.
“Well. no, but– you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Her smirk, though, says exactly that she does.
“Wait, are you really STILL working for Blyth, the clear villain in all this?”
She rubs her fingers together in the “money” gesture. Wow. “I’m a detective, not a professional moralist.”
“But still… surely you have a heart.”
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” she says. “I know you, dear, have a heart for your little girlfriend, but she’s the reason I’m getting a paycheck every week.”
Karina? What does she have to do with– Oh, she’s teasing me about Jones. “Are you sure this isn’t all unchecked aggression about your obvious vendetta towards some girl who nearly ruined your career by publicizing some of your younger mistakes?”
Marge clasps her hands together, leans in close to me, smiling, and says, “So, Morgan. I think you’ve noticed the same thing as me today. There’s some suspicious activities going on around here. Something’s going to go down soon.”
As she leans forward, I lean back. “Yeah. Nothing about today has given me a good feeling. It’s like the air is… I don’t know. Worrisome?”
“Everyone around here’s acting like they’re stockpiling for some disaster,” Marge says. “What with John Vann’s big announcement today, I think people aren’t just ready for it, they’re expecting it.”
“Weren’t you a big fan of John Vann before he went crazy and founded the Earth Group and stuff?” I ask her. “Back when he was still named Incalatanga?” My hope is that reminding her of her teenage histrionics will make her wince and give me happiness.
But all she does is smile. “A lot of people think John Vann is going to make a big splash. There’s basically a cult around him and his promise for an Ecotopia. He says he’s running for mayor… I can imagine that that’s going to really change the debate, even if he never shows up in-person. Some people say the Social Media Killer was a precursor, and he’s the real knight in shining armor who will swoop down and destroy the corrupt powers that control the city.” She takes a big swig of coffee and then sets the now-empty cup down, upside-down on her coffee cake plate. “I don’t believe any of that, but it’s interesting where people’s minds go, isn’t it, Morgan?”
“Well, that’d all be interesting, especially if there was some massive conspiracy behind the scenes involving the Social Media Killer that has yet to become news. But of course there isn’t,” I say. I try to take a swig of coffee myself, but it’s still too hot and I burn my tongue. “Ouch.”
“Don’t play with fire,” Marge says. “You might get burned.”
“This is coffee, not fire.”
“Thanks for the info, by the way.” She stands up and pushes her plate to me. “Glad to see you’ve still got it in you. That party you’re going to tonight? Your boss doesn’t exactly like me anymore, so I’ll be staying away. Be sure to tell me everything you see, alright?” She tips her fedora begins walking away from the cafe. “You can have my coffee cake. I’ll see you later, Morgan.”
“You’re leaving, just like that? What about–” To my other side, a plastic cup with a piece of paper is set down on the table.
“Your check,” Tony says.
“What? A cafe with checks?”
I turn back to where Marge was– and she’s gone. Disappeared back into the crowd.
Well, at least I’ve got two coffee cakes now… Yay…