Chapter 27 – It’s Time To Tango (Part IV)

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Dean Harwood huffed and made as if to sit back down in his chair. His eyes flashed to the gun once again and his frown deepened. Instead of sitting, he folded his arms across his chest and seemed to fold into himself.

“Give him the code,” Whitaker said.


The gun switched to Harwood. “If you don’t tell him the code, I will shoot you.”

“Threaten me instead,” Elaine said.

“What?” Both Harwood and Whitaker spoke at the same time and their surprise registered in the same way–they looked at one another as if embarrassed.

Elaine spent a long moment silent as if collecting her thoughts, Harwood and Whitaker remained captured in their collective surprise until she spoke again.

“You’re in this because your wife is sick, Professor Whitaker,” she said abruptly–and just as swiftly the gun was back on her. Harwood felt his muscles tense and he started to move to recapture Whitaker’s attention–but Elaine’s hand shot up in warning and he froze. “You need money, I suspect, to pay for her treatment. Cancer is expensive and I can see how that would lead you down the path to the dark side.”

Whitaker shook visibly as he spoke. “My wife,” he said. “My wife has nothing to do with this. She’s none of your business. Shut your mouth, little girl.”

“Do you want me to shut up? I can convince the dean to you give you the authorization code. Just tell me, what do bitcoins have to do with your software?”

“Huh?” Blinkered and flushed, Whitaker shook his head and pursed his lips at Elaine’s question. “All I have to tell you is why we’re using bitcoins and you’ll convince Richard to give me the authorization code?”

“I don’t think that–” Harwood began, but Elaine fixed him again with a look that took the voice right out of his throat.

“You hired me to discover the root of this cheating ring,” she said. “I’m about to lay it bare, and when I do, all you need to do is tell Whitaker the code and he’ll let us go.”

“I…” Whitaker said. “Sure, I’ll let you go.”

“Bitcoins?” Elaine said.

“Okay. The person we work with–he calls himself Professor X–commissioned the software by paying us in bitcoins. Of course, we all cashed them out as soon as we got them, but as the software developed he’s asked us to trade the coins with him as their value changed and it’s worked to fund the research. The grant money helped too, but Professor X subsidized us hugely using that currency.”

“Are you aware that not only were the students selected by your software fitting for your departments and numerous grants they’ve also been the people sending you those bitcoins? Not only has Professor X been having you design software that manipulates student records and graduate selection, but he closed the loop by making sure it would look as if they were paying you to do so. We’ve been checking those bitcoin transfers and it looks a lot like graduate positions are being bribed out of the department.”

Whitaker frowned and his grip on the gun wavered again. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Your Professor X has been playing you this entire time,” Elaine said. “You design the software and you get the heat for the fallout. It’s almost perfect really, a phantom mastermind who will just vanish

“Sir, give him the authorization code,” she said. “I think everyone knows now that when this ends everyone involved will be found out irrespective of if the professor finishes the project or not. You have nothing to fear from the school even if you give him the code.”

“I don’t fully understand,” Harwood said and he took a deep breath while looking at Elaine as if staring at her hard enough might reveal the impetus behind her request. “But I’ll trust you on this, Ms. Mercer.” He leaned forward and raised his voice. “The code is HEXIDECIMAL8990. All caps.”

A long pause followed and the phone crackled to life and a voice cut through the clatter of keystrokes. “The code works. I’ll get the build started,” said Linscott.

Whitaker nodded and a smile hesitated on his lips. His posture relaxed a little, but the gun remained aimed squarely at Elaine. “This will be over soon,” he said. “Just be patient.”

“Will you let us go now?” Dean Harwood asked.

Whitaker shook his head. “I need to keep you both here for a little longer.”

“I’m sorry, but this is where our conversation ends,” Elaine said.

“You’re not going anywhere. You’re staying right here until Linscott says he’s done,” Whitaker said.

In a loud, clarion voice Elaine said, “Clear!”

With that word, the holographic image of Elaine blurred and vanished—the phone emitted a high pitched screech and the speaker threw a spray of radiant sparks—the lights in the room went pop and darkness crashed down—Harwood slumped in his chair with a grunt and Linscott fell to the floor with a surprised cry. The gun jumped out of Linscott’s hand as he toppled and it skidded across the room.

The doors to the office banged open and people rushed in and with them light from the hall spilled into the room.

“Get the gun!” A man dressed in a suit knelt over Whitaker and pulled him onto his side—he found himself unable to resist, or move, his legs felt numb as the handcuffs went on. “Don’t move, you’re under arrest.” A woman in a suit, her own gun drawn, went quickly across the room, retrieved the pistol and went to check on Harwood who moaned behind his desk.

Behind them, backlit by the hallway’s florescent lights Elaine walked into view, her goggles glinted as she stared down at him; right at her shoulder a womanly student with striking green hair grinned at him. Whitaker closed his eyes.

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