Chapter 22 – Priming the Pump (Part III)

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“Whitaker certainly seems to have a lot to lose if something goes wrong,” Toller said. “Is that what you’re getting at? This whole story about them doing it on the University dime sounds nice when Shutter’s tells the story but it sounds like a game to him—but perhaps those two aren’t playing.”

“So you’re going to tell Mercer?”

Warren shrugged, his fingers fluttered over the keys as he moved around Stormwind Castle and waited for Shodan to notice him. “Well, earlier today I alluded to Richard Harwood that we needed another meeting. Not too long after that, he contacted Mercer to tell her that we were meeting—perhaps so that she could insinuate herself into the conversation.”

“So we’ll have all of them in the same room?”

“Looks that way.”

Toller smiled to herself as she pulled up next to a café offering fresh coffee and sandwiches.

“The grand finale,” Toller said. “We get all the parties in the same room, test the waters and shake them up just in case something is going on, and then we cut them loose? I think that even Rockefeller will appreciate that for a closing salvo. Legwork, right?”

Warren nodded but his attention was on the video game. “Legwork,” he said.

* * *

Roger opened the door to the office early and went about his day as if he were working—after all, the offices were mostly closed on a Saturday. He crossed over the turned off computers, empty cubicles, and the kitchen—where sound of the drippy sink and the off what-is-that-smell comforted Roger with a sense of place. The florescent lights came on with a reluctant buzz as he poked around the other offices to make sure nobody was in today. There would have been people earlier in the morning, probably catching up on work from the week.

He felt relived nobody was there, it would make what he was about to do look less weird.

The first person arrived mere minutes after he got the computers up front humming. He recognized her: a small girl wearing a conservative outfit, her dishwater blonde hair pulled back around her ears and a shrewd look on her face. Susan Pilgrim from Elaine’s brother’s alternate reality game team, he’d seen her picture during the briefing.

She had some paperwork with her, as expected. She walked up to the counter, smiled at him and handed him the paperwork with barely a word. It looked exactly like a student records requisition form, he helped Elaine do them up himself, except for headers that signified that it belonged to the DarkNet ARG game—he would be shredding it shortly after using one of the industrial shredders so that nobody at the office would mistake it for a real request.

He thanked her and wandered back to where the files were kept. The copying machine could transfer directly from a set of documents to a USB thumb drive—he used the document she’d handed him in order to identify the proper files from the cabinets, pulled them, and then picked a thumb drive with her name on it (Elaine provided those as well.) He also pulled another document from a folder and walked back to the front.

Susan Pilgrim cast him a grim smile when she took the thumb drive from him and plugged it into her phone. She checked the number that appeared on the screen against the page that Roger just handed her as well.

What appeared on the screen must have been favorable, because she smiled, thanked him, and walked away.

For a moment, Roger felt almost as if he were following an automatic script. Robotic. He looked down at his own reflection in the counter. Elaine had been exacting in her briefing on how to follow through, who to give what to, and what information he needed to scan for them. As far as he knew, she had never been in these offices but she managed to describe what he needed to do, and where to go, with a particular clarity that caught him by surprise.

Of course, that wasn’t half the problem he had. He scratched and itch behind his ear—scanning student records and handing them over to random people violated the law, the cheating he dreaded. When he first argued against being part of this (and Elaine’s friend, Frog, convinced him he was needed) he felt trepidation. Fear almost.

But now, he couldn’t tell what he felt. Here he was, doing it and it felt exhilarating.

After all, he could get caught and that gave him a little buzz in the back of his head as he scanned the first documents into the first USB thumb drive.

That didn’t matter. Half-unseeing the empty corridor in front of him, Roger reflected on how doing this for Elaine meant that she’d spend more time with him. After all, he’d discovered she was deeply pragmatic and preferred the company of people she could trust and rely on. Also, the student records he was feeding to her involved students who might have their academic careers ruined by the unknown cheaters she was investigating.

A little cheating to fight cheaters and while he was at it he just might get the girl.

He smiled as he waited and launched a game of Solitaire on the workstation at the reception desk.

A minute later, two more people walked in—David Dalton, wearing a suit and tie, and Adam Roach with a blue light at his ear—both of them handed Roger their request forms and he went to work retrieving the information that they needed.

On the other side of campus, each time a thumb drive got plugged into a phone, Hadaly downloaded the extra information from the physical forms loaded on the drives (through the cryptophones) and added it to the data she was compiling on the cheating case. As the picture began to fill out, she informed Elaine and Frog as new evidence refined their model.

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