Chapter 6 – Maneuvering for Advantage (Part III)

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Larry began to ask them what they’d like, but paused mid-word when he noticed Frog’s dark sunglasses and flat expression. His eyes slid from her and onto Elaine, where they hung for a moment on the goggles poking from her hair. Elaine noticed how he looked totally unprepared for them, from the dazzled look in his eyes to the blue apron with the logo of his employer emblazoned on the surface. She couldn’t quite determine the proper expression for him, but Frog had been clear this would be a noir-spy novel shakedown. So she set her face to grim.

“Larry Pilgrim,” Frog said in a voice like police detective hooking a suspect. “We need a few questions answered.”

“I shouldn’t be talking to you,” Larry said immediately, he glanced at his coworker who tried even harder to look busy.

“You’ve got a history, Larry,” Frog said. “We can talk here or we can take it someplace more…private.”

Elaine took that as her cue to step forward and put the manila envelope onto the table, she’s pushed the newspaper out slightly so that the headline announcing the cheating ring became prominent. Larry took one look at it and swallowed. He took a deep sigh and glanced between them. He tapped his fingers on the table a few times and worked his jaw.

Turned to his coworker he hooked his thumb under his apron. “Hey, John, can you take over for ten minutes? If that’s okay, I’m going on break.” The other student shrugged and mumbled something incoherent as Larry pulled his apron off and waved for Frog and Elaine to follow around the back side of the small structure.

They met him near the back where a door swung open and he hung his apron upon an inside hook. “This way,” he said, motioning for them to follow him around the front of Wexler Hall, and opened up the door into the hallway there. Tight lipped, he walked stiffly over to another door, which opened into a stairwell, and they followed him inside. He walked to the far wall, stopped and turned to them.

“What do you want to know?”

“Two years ago, you were implicated in a cheating scandal in your college of choice,” Frog said. She hadn’t removed her sunglasses; the dim light in the stairwell produced a haze around her face as stood making her seem to stand out against the grey walls.

“So you’re going to blackmail me?” Larry said. “We were cleared of those suspicions. I’m not going to turn on my team because you can read the newspaper.”

“You still changed colleges immediately after,” Frog pressed. “That’s not the action of an innocent man. You were involved in actual cheating, weren’t you?”

“No.”

The Enoch handset in Elaine’s hand chimed softly. “He’s lying,” she said. “Hesitation levels were high for his first two sentences were within norm, it spiked contrast with the terse answer.”

Larry frowned and glanced at Elaine, shaking his head. “You have a lie detector?”

“Better,” Elaine said. “I have a truth detector. Furthermore, I’m not here for my brother, this is completely unrelated, so you’d better answer our questions.”

Larry’s eyes narrowed. “But I thought—”

“So you were part of a cheating ring,” Frog said, stepping slightly closer. “Does your sister know? What did you tell her. I suspect she thinks rather highly of you.”

Larry took a step back, the back of his shoe struck the wall and he glanced back.

“I knew about a cheating ring, but I wasn’t part of it,” Larry said. “Some of the other students had something going on and—if you’re not doing this for your brother, why are you doing this?”

Chime. “Lie,” Elaine said.

Frog tilted her head slightly and adjusted her hat again. “Larry, Larry, Larry…”

“He’s nervous,” Elaine said, “but it’s not the questions making him nervous. His adrenaline is up, he’s anxious…it’s not because he’s lying, it’s because he’s waiting for something.”

“I’m not,” Larry said.

Chime.

“You’re stalling,” Frog said.

Larry just stared at her, without providing an answer.

Frog pulled her sunglasses off and pointed them at him; then she brushed past Elaine and went for the stairwell.

“Ah hell,” she said. “He’s stalling!”

A shadow passed over the frosted window at the door and the handle turned and the door began to open. Frog grabbed the handle and slammed the door closed once again. The person on the other side swore aloud.

“Elaine, the stairs!”

When she turned towards the stairs, she heard the sound of heavy footfalls thumping down from above. Several figures descended the stairs and clustered together a flight up. Amid them Elaine recognized several of the members of Larry’s Darknet team, Casey Vargas among them. Her dark eyes fixed on Elaine and she folded her arms; her brooding demeanor and tense body language formed a solid blockade.

“You might as well open the door,” Larry said, stepping out of the corner. “You’re both surrounded.”

Now, Elaine and Frog fell back into the corner that Larry just vacated.

“This wasn’t part of the plan,” Elaine said.

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