Chip had been carried off by Zabar’s henchmen even though Kay believed she had tricked him into calling off the attack. Zabar had been unmasked and his bank accounts found. Kay had only threatened to cause real damage. She and Norbert were afraid they had seen the last of Chip Mantooth and decided to execute on the threat they had made.

Kay looked at the Plume she used to call Zabar with as it buzzed announcing an incoming text message. It was from Zabar and contained only two words; “fuck you” accompanied by a photo. The picture was of today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper laid on top of Chip’s chest revealing a deep cut across his throat and blood. Lots of blood.

Kay winced and gasped as she turned the phone to show Norbert. “Damn it! Well we may have seen the last of Chip but Zabar, or whatever he wants to call himself hasn’t heard the last from us,” growled Norbert. “Let’s get to work and not dwell on what we can’t change. He’ll pay for this.”

“Whoa Norbert. Slow your roll because I need a moment to process the gruesome murder of my friend Chip. He relied on us to protect him and we failed.” A tear bobbled on Kay’s lower lid before breaking free and flowing down her cheek. “What the hell am I going to tell his family and Jade?”

“I’m sorry Kay.” Norbert placed his hand on her shoulder. “It’s sad to say but I’m desensitized to this shit. I’m thinking about stopping the money laundering scheme and I lost sight of the human life lost. Take a few moments if you need to.”

“I know that’s not possible at this moment, but I appreciate the offer. I’ll have time to grieve and feel guilty when this is done.”

Kay had created encrypted messages to be sent to all of Plushenko’s customers world-wide and started with the man behind the scheme. ”OK, Norbert, I created this great message, but I have no one to send it to. This is your specialty.”

“Teamwork is going to get us through this, Kay. I’ll get you the addresses of the players and the head asshole.” Norbert found Jalisat Bitar, the unofficial ruler of an oil empire in Saudi Arabia. “Here’s that. Now that I found this guy, I’m going to learn more about him. Everyone has a vulnerability.” Norbert discovered who he was and his weaknesses, hatched a plan to dismantle the Plushenko organization. It was only a small segment of his financial empire but taking it down would topple the organization it supported even if it didn’t get rid of Bitar. He would still be a rich and powerful man but not as rich and powerful.

“Are you able to find a way to make my name disappear so this whole affair will not come back to bite me?” Kay asked.

“I’m on it. You will be wiped clean from any servers in existence.” Norbert made it so Kay Whatley, Chip and anyone innocent couldn’t be traced. He downloaded a worm that accomplished this and more; he obliterated connections to Plushenko and Jan Zabar. “I owe you one, Norbert, in case I haven’t said that already.” Kay was relieved because she knew Norbert Klein was the best at what he did.

“I know, Kay, and I intend to collect.”

****

Bryce and Jade showed up at Kay’s condo to join Chip in devouring the contents of Kay’s well stocked fridge. Jade was shocked and broke down when they told her what had happened to Chip.

“Kay, your friends are great but my time in Leland is limited. Care to take a stroll?” Norbert asked in his charming Australian accent.

“Sure, Norbert but I’m sorry you have to leave so soon. Let me grab a jacket.”

Tracey started with the reminders. “Call your Mother. Two-hours late. Mother called, Mother called, Mother called, Father called.”

Norbert smiled. “They haven’t perfected telekinetic communication yet but it’s weird because I was thinking of Patsy and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Norbert and Kay stepped outside. The fresh-air was invigorating and after the Plushenko mess and her work at ViaTech, Kay was paranoid about being monitored while inside. The hum of drones overhead had become mesmerizing, although some called it noise pollution. Kay didn’t have memory of it being any other way.

“Kay, I alluded to it earlier, but I really think your skills are being underutilized at ViaTech. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff you learned at Via-Tech is important. I know it’s your career, and you’ve been climbing that ladder since your days cleansing data. I’m reminded of your mother’s work while she was here in Leland. She was on to something and I think you can find out exactly what that was and move her work forward.”

Kay interrupted. “You’re being vague, Norbert. Are you holding back, or do you just not know?”

“A little of both I guess,” Norbert said. “I think your Mother still has a lot of information she can dump on you. It may come in an unusual way if I know Patsy Whaley – and I do.

“Can my father fill in the blanks. He is married to my mother and probably knows, more than anyone else, what she was working on.

“I don’t know your Dad that well but keeping him in mind as we move forward will be important. He’s too close to your mother and the work she’s done not to be involved.

“You don’t trust my father, do you?”

“I didn’t say that,” Norbert said tersely. “Patsy, your mom, was much more than a programmer and working on Y2K was only a small part of what she did. I don’t think your father gave her enough credit. I’m only asking that you keep your father in mind, We came together, and it was an intellectual explosion. Now she’s ill and I’m afraid of losing all that energy and intellect that she brought to the table.”

“Thanks for reminding me about how physically fragile my Mother is.” Kay stopped and put her hand on her forehead to stop from crying.

“You know I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I adore your mother and think of you as an extension of her. Shit, first I gloss over the murder of Chip and now your Mother. It hurts seeing a friend slip away. It must be unimaginable what you’re going through. Smack me on the head next time I act like an asshole with no emotions.” Norbert smiled sympathetically. My motives are selfish Kay, I want you to help me because I’m over my head and need your talent.”

“Leaving Via-Tech is not something to take lightly. I have excellent benefits and my pay isn’t bad,” Kay said. “My Mother had my father’s income to rely on and I’m not in that position.”

“We’ll work something out. I’m not asking you to quit your job. On second thought, your job with ViaTech as it relates to bot manipulation may come in handy. Life without a safety net isn’t for everyone. In addition we can use Via-Tech as things progress. I won’t burden you with details, but what we will do will help preserve humanity as we know it.”

“Save the dramatics, Norbert. I’ll call my father and see if he’s willing to fly me home, which I’m sure he will. He always has unused miles from work and he and Mom don’t travel like they used to. While I’m in Chicago I’ll spend time with my Mom and see what she thinks about this. It would be a divergence from the path I set for myself.”

“You’re young, Kay and every generation hangs around a little longer. You’ll have plenty of time to lead a boring life when you’re old. I need to get back to LA. But please keep me posted.” Norbert punched in a few numbers and a DV was on its way to get him to the airport. “It sucks that you don’t have a tunnel hook-up in Leland. I hate having to fly because the bullet train is twice as fast.”

“You can join us via video while I’m in Chicago. Mom and I will call you and the two of you can tell me about the importance of what you worked on in the past and how it can be applied to future endeavors. I have a ton of questions about my Mom’s past. How did the two of you hook up over NASA and I want to hear about the Realm directly from you. You referred to my mother as a hacker – that sounds weird to me.” Kay stopped talking and realized that working with Norbert would be fun. If nothing else, she’d find out more about her Mother’s past.

Norbert packed up his things and left them on the front steps for drone pickup.

***

Kay was alone again in her condo, thinking about the evil that took Chip, but glad that Plushenko’ s money laundering network had been dismantled. They’d probably redirect their efforts to some other evil, but that would be a new story for another day. Progress itself was impossible to stop. The average person was awed at how easy some tasks had become but unaware of the price they were paying for convenience. Big corporations knew more about people than they knew about themselves. Their choices, likes, dislikes and lifestyles were tracked and had become part of an algorithm. An algorithm that was used by corporations to make money.

“Your father is calling,” Tracey said.

“Tracey connect. Video request.”

Ed Whatley’s moon shaped face showed up on the monitor hanging on her kitchen wall. “Hello TK. You look well although a bit skinny. Have you been eating?”

“You sound like Mom. I had a personal loss. A friend died – long story that I’d rather not get into right now. Is Mom up and around so I can see her too?”

“She’s on a VR tour of the Apian Way. Ancient Rome relaxes her and brings her back to the time we all went to Italy when you were young. Any chance you’re ready to come visit?”

“Yeah Dad, funny you should ask. I saw Norbert Klein today and he encouraged me to go to Chicago.”

Ed Whatley looked down. “Norbert Klein. I thought he was out of our lives but I’m glad he wants you to visit Mom. She really wants to see you and I’ve decided to surprise her.”

“Is she OK to handle a surprise?” Kay asked.

“I think it’ll do her good. I’ll have a private jet waiting for you tomorrow at the Leland Airstrip. Wheels up at 10am sharp.”

“What the hell – since when can you send a private jet?” Kay asked incredulously.

“Since, none of your business. I only have to make a call and it’ll be arranged. A business associate of mine recently experienced a setback but he owes me a favor. A lot has changed since we left Leland. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ed ended the call. Kay stood confused in her living room. A private jet?

Kay raked her hands through her hair as sweat gathered in her armpits and on the palms of her hands. She had no time to deal with an anxiety attack and didn’t like that a trip to see her Mom was causing one. Kay needed a release so she did what had become habit; she called Will.

“Hey, are you still talking to me after the last day or two. I was caught up with Chip and Plushenko and I’m sad and pissed off. I’m flying to Chicago to see my parents tomorrow. Are you available because I need someone to hold me.”

Will laughed. “You need to get fucked is what you need. Am I right?”

“Ah… yes,” Kay said. “I guess that’s what I was getting at.”

“Did your Aussie pal take off after helping with the Chip Mantooth matter?”

“Yes. Are you coming over?” Kay asked anxiously.

“I’ll be over in an hour because I have work to finish. I picked up a side hustle and it’s time sensitive. Can I bring anything special – lotions or potions?”

“No Will. You’ll have to tell me about your side hustle. Must be important work to put me and my amazing body on hold for an hour,” Kay joked.

“See you in an hour.” Will hung up.

***

The next day, Kay Whatley was on her way to Chicago.

Please recommend this...

Responses