“Man, I’m really sorry but I need to get back to Becca,” Jeff urged.
Ramier paced in the Georgetown Hospital conference room that Portwood had ordered everyone to. “Just give me a second. Adeline’s with her and you casted her five minutes ago,” he reminded Jeff.
Suddenly, Ramier booted Greg Sapman’s computer and intrigue got to Jeff. He stared at the screen as Ramier opened the browser history. His eyes blinked repeatedly as he took in the three-way taking place graphically on the screen. “My pregnant wife is lying in a hospital bed. That is wrong on so many levels,” Jeff scowled as he turned away from the website that loaded as Greg’s home page.
“Agreed, and you’re a smart man to be saying that but I thought Governor Sapman might like to know how their home computers and network were compromised. He pointed to the webcam and then to the web addresses of numerous live chat programs listed in the history repeatedly. Ramier casted the computer and brought up the women available for chatting. Jeff shook his head. It appeared that Greg had multiple conversations with a brunette that called herself Tammy Tangston. “They cannot be that stupid.”
“Here’s your chance. Why don’t you show the Governor what idiots his sons are. Might be changing his tune about you,” Ramier pointed out.
As appealing as that sounded, Jeff didn’t want to look his father-in-law in the eye and explain how his moronic sons had compromised everything from their own home to the Senate Bank.
The door to the conference room opened. Jeff watched Rainer shove a kid through the door with Garrett and Sargent Sorenson behind them.
“I’ll be with you in just a minute,” Portwood spat as he directed Governor and Mrs. Sapman along with Greg and Brent into chairs in the waiting area outside the conference room. “Tuttle keep an eye on the Sapman’s for me, would you?”
“You got it,” Tuttle agreed.
“Why am I here? What are you gonna do to me?” The guy that Garrett Haydenshire had by the shoulders appeared terrified as Garrett shoved him down in one of the rolling chairs in the room.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” Portwood growled inches from the guy’s face. Jeff tried not to look shocked by his fury as he watched his boss work. “You’re gonna shut the hell up and then we’re gonna figure out who you are and why you decided to be a genius, and try to hack the National Bank’s Website?” Portwood spat and Jeff understood.
The guy seated before him wasn’t Gifted. There were so many Gifted people currently in the room Jeff hadn’t yet realized that there wasn’t an energy stream coming from the suspect. The American Realm Senate Bank would not be acknowledged by anyone until they knew just what the man they’d arrested knew.
“His name is Christopher Reynolds,19, he’s a Hokie,” Garrett taunted.
“I swear I wasn’t gonna steal any money from the accounts,” Christopher pled.
“Uh huh, you just wanted to see if you could get in, right? Just prove you could do it?” Ramier rolled his eyes.
“No, I swear. I’ll tell you everything. Just don’t arrest me,” Christopher begged.
“Chris do you see the cuffs on your wrists? Those aren’t for looks,” Garrett huffed. “You’ve been arrested. What are they teaching you at Tech?” He quizzed with a smirk.
On the verge of tears, Christopher seemed to decide that he could in fact talk his way out of the handcuffs.
“These guys emailed me and asked if I could make it look like this other guy was gonna hack this like big bank or whatever,” he began. “I said sure for the right price. The next morning there’s 2500 dollars in my checking account,” he continued to gush out his confession. “I was supposed to use this guy’s student number, Strenton, or whatever and make it look like he was gonna pull a bank job online.”
No one spoke as confused glances shot around the room.
“Who were these guys? What are their names?” Portwood demanded.
“I don’t know. I never saw them but they already had my checking account number and I just kept getting paid. They said they’d cut me in on a big score they were taking if I got the guy into trouble for them,” Christopher couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “They gave me his address. Told me to make it look like everything was coming from Strenton’s computer. I swear that’s all I know. How did you even find me?” he finally pled.
“Get him out of here,” Portwood commanded. “Take him in, print him, and call his parents.” He gave the coded order to scare the shit out of the guy but not to lock him up.
“Yes, sir.” Garrett jerked Christopher out of his seat and shoved him forward.
The latch of the door gave an ominous click as Jeff tried to remember to breathe.
“Any idea why you’re being set up?” Portwood studied Jeff.
Sharing a quick glance with Logan, Jeff prayed Mentor Vindico wouldn’t hate him for telling the truth.
“It’s not his fault,” Logan stepped in.
“It may not have anything to do with that,” Jeff interrupted. “A lot of people at school are pissed at me.”
Drawing a deep breath, Portwood threw back the chair Christopher had previously occupied. “Sit and talk. If you want the Elite appointment, you better start at the beginning and not leave anything out.”
“Yes, sir,” Jeff choked as he and Logan took seats.
“Everyone else wait outside but don’t go anywhere,” Portwood commanded.
As the rest of the team filed out of the room, Rainer offered Jeff a hopeful smile.
Jeff began speaking as if his very life depended on it. “Bec told me she was pregnant a few days before school started.” Portwood seemed to visibly soften as Jeff continued. “I freaked out, of course.” He was still disappointed in himself over his initial reaction. “Anyway, I guess I’d never really hung out with many people.” He prayed Portwood understood that he’d never had many friends. “I hung out with Logan and Rainer mostly and then after you both graduated, I just sort of worked all the time or hung with Becca. I needed to talk to somebody about the baby. I knew Mentor Vindico would kind of understand. Everyone knew what happened back in the Spring. I went to see him the first day of school and told him everything. For some reason, he helped me. But you gotta understand, people at school haven’t ever really liked me. There’s the thing with my dad not being around so I don’t have a Gifted name and I always had to work so I couldn’t really just hang out and mess around,” he regurgitated the way his life had been for as long as he could remember. “I got the appointment to Iodex as an intern and a bunch of people are still really angry about that. With everything that happened with Becca, I guess they thought it wasn’t fair. No one has any idea how hard I’ve worked to keep my grades up and try to make enough money to help my mom with rent and groceries and pay for my clothes and everything. I worked my ass off, man, I swear.”
“I know, Jeff,” Portwood assured him. “Keep going.”
“Mentor Vindico is tough. I mean like the hardest teacher Venton’s ever had,” he vowed.
This brought about a genuine chuckle from Portwood, furthering Jeff’s hopefulness.
“For some reason, he believed in me and he didn’t care that I don’t know my dad or have even half the amount of money most of the kids at school have. But outside his upper level Ioses defense classes, people don’t like him. He doesn’t take their shit and he doesn’t really seem to care.” Jeff was still in awe of his favorite mentor.
“People not liking Dan has never bothered him. He gives no fucks. What does that have to do with people trying to frame you for hacking the Senate Bank?” Portwood demanded.
“You told him not to skip anything,” Logan reminded. Allowing that, Portwood nodded for Jeff to continue.
“People obviously heard that Becca was pregnant and then that I got the Iodex appointment. And then that Mentor Vindico kind of took me under his wing. He’s been giving me extra training sessions and he lets me hang out with him.” Jeff felt his cheeks blaze as he considered how lame that probably sounded. “People got mad and did the whole Mentor’s Pet crap. But I don’t care. I just want the hell out of school. It’s so stupid. I’m tired of hanging around with people whose biggest concern is who has the newest version of some freaking video game and who banged who Saturday night. I’ve learned more in the last six weeks from you and from Vindico than I’ve learned in the last six years at Venton. Stuff I’m actually going to use in my life. I’m gonna have a kid. I need to grow up.” This appeared to deeply impress his boss. Jeff’s breaths came easier now. “Anyway, Governor Vindico asked Mentor Vindico,” Jeff choked he didn’t want to out either of the Vindicos.
Logan stepped in quickly. “Dad and Governor Vindico asked Dan to figure out what the hell was going on at Venton. They didn’t want it all falling in Governor Vindico’s lap with the press. And here’s the missing piece to this puzzle that even Jeff doesn’t know … Fionna’s not doing well,” Logan’s voice lowered even though they were the only three people in the room. “Ad’s making her stay in Hawaii for the next several weeks because something about the volcanic energy of the islands regulates her energy. But what happened to her back in March is affecting the baby. It’s bad. You know how Dan is about her.” He gestured his hands out to Portwood. “He’s a mess so he asked Jeff and me to help him help his dad with Venton. He knew if we opened it up as an official Iodex investigation the press would eat Governor Vindico alive,” Logan sighed. “We suspected Mentor Bryant knew Jeff was helping Dan and that she was trying to make it look like he sent that electric pulse through the lock on the test vault. Maybe that isn’t it. I don’t know yet but don’t be mad at Jeff. You know he’s not gonna turn down Dan.” Logan shared a knowing glance with Portwood that made Jeff uncomfortable. Clearly his admiration of Dan Vindico was known throughout Iodex.
Drawing a deep breath, Portwood nodded. “I’m guessing that when Dan presented his findings on the affair to his dad and Governor Haydenshire, Wilshire figured out that you were helping him. I take it he knows of your tech skills,” Portwood gestured to Greg’s computer still on the table.
Nodding Jeff tried to swallow the rocklike enclosure in his throat. “Dan asked me to get him the stuff on Wilshire’s affair first. That’s what the Governors wanted most. So that’s what I did.”
“The question remains, where do we go from here?” Portwood seemed to ask the air around him. Jeff’s heart rang in his ears deafening the drowning silence.
“I’m just gonna talk so listen up,” Portwood announced a full minute later. “Few things, first of all, I don’t give a damn if you and Logan want to play detective for Dan or the Crown Governor or whomever. If Governor Haydenshire or Vindico had asked me to look into Venton, I would have done the very same thing. So you can breathe Jeff. But let me tell you a few things about Dan Vindico,” Portwood eased. “Know that I love Dan like a brother and I admire the hell out of the guy. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for him, but Dan’s never been all that good at playing by the rules when it comes to getting what he wants. And when it comes to Fionna or his girls then stand back because he’s like a man possessed. When he started dating Fi, he somehow got better and worse,” Portwood recalled. Logan nodded adamantly. “He was almost human again instead of the shell he’d been for years. But then he had a prize and he was going to get her come hell or high water. He decided he would quite literally kill anything or anyone that stood in his way.” Jeff understood the Wretchkinsides reference only too well.
“So, maybe let me do your training instead of Dan. Sounds like he’s got his plate full with his girls, and Jeff you need to learn to play by the rules. Dan never had to,” he explained with pain-filled regret.
“That’s what the other mentors are saying too,” Jeff allowed.
Portwood drew a deep breath. “You want to be on the Elite team, then here’s your final exam.” Portwood challenged and Jeff’s heart began to vibrate in his chest. “Do you think whoever the people are that paid that idiot to make it look like you were trying to hack the Senate Bank are just trying to get you into trouble or is there more to this? And why are they doing this? What did we just learn?”
Nodding Jeff drew a deep breath. All right, Strenton here’s your chance show them what you’re made of. “No, sir. I don’t think they’re just trying to get me into trouble. I think whoever is stealing the exams and putting them online are the same people that did this. They’re trying to pin it all on me. I mean, it would be perfect. They know that I would know how to get the exams online. They could get back at me, make me lose my job, embarrass Becca,” Jeff shuddered slightly before going on. “But more importantly, they could make Mentor Vindico look like a joke for asking for my help and that would really make Governor Vindico look like a fool. There are a bunch of kids that don’t like Governor Vindico being up there. The last few years, Wilshire hasn’t really done much. Everyone liked no one caring what they wore to school or if they had soda in class or whatever,” Jeff pointed out. “Whoever did all of this must not know me that well because they thought I was living at the Sapman’s. Clearly, they thought I’d be home today so it’s no one that had any idea that Bec is here in the hospital. They obviously don’t know how to hack or they would have done it themselves. They hired some Non-Gifted kid from Tech to do it for them so they didn’t want it getting around Venton that they were trying to get me in trouble. Everyone in Ioses order knows Bec and I have a place together.” He stated everything he’d deduced from the last few minutes.
“Excellent detective work, Elite Officer Jeff Strenton,” Portwood complimented. His deeply impressed grin releaseed the pent up air from Jeff’s lungs. “Now, I think we’re gonna ask Dan to help you. You’re going to school with kids that are willing to put you in Felsink Prison. That tells me that neither you nor Becca are particularly safe at Venton Academy. I won’t have that. Let’s go yell at the Sap-asses, take the Governor down a notch or two, and let him see what an incredible officer his son-in-law really is, and finish helping Dan with Venton. I don’t want Governor Vindico going down for this either. But remember what I said, Jeff. If you want to be one of my top officers, then we’re gonna do this the right way, by the books. No more rogue missions or ones you’re keeping from me okay?” he directed the question to Logan and Jeff.
“Yes, sir,” Jeff and Logan answered simultaneously.
“There anything legal on that machine?” He gestured to the Sapman’s computer.
“It’s pretty much nothing but porn and pirated video games,” Jeff explained. “Sir, could I please go check on Becca before we do this?”
“You got five minutes, Strenton, and then you’re gonna watch me chew up the Sapmans and spit them out. But then we’re gonna discuss how myself and a few of your Elite team mates will be tutoring you and getting you through your exams. You’re right. You need a real job in the real world. Unfortunately, Jeff you and Becca got a little ahead of yourselves and you’re going to have to forfeit some of your childhood for your adult life but if you’re willing to step up to the plate then it’s not just gonna be Dan that stands beside you and helps you out. We’re gonna catch the guys trying to set you up and then we’re gonna make you an Elite officer,” Portwood vowed.
“Thank you,” Jeff gushed. “You have no idea how much that means to me. I’ll do anything. Thank you, sir.”
“Go check on her,” Portwood ordered.
Jeff rushed towards the door. “I’ll be right back.”
He met Adeline coming out of Becca’s room. She smiled sweetly looking relieved herself.
“She just woke up. She’s asking for you. I was just coming to get you. She’s much better. I’m relieved. I still want her to stay for the next few days but if we can keep her rhythms regulated and she takes it easy I think you’re gonna be a daddy around April or May.”
“Thank you for taking care of her. She means everything to me,” Jeff swallowed back the emotion that had him in a sudden chokehold. He was not only going to make this work he was going to have help.
“Go see her,” Adeline urged.