It’s worth noting that technically I hadn’t received a physical list. I’d received a list as part of Hal’s message to my implant. When I thought about the message, I knew everything on the list. Russell Hardwick’s name was on one of the most recent conversations.
It had happened yesterday around eight in the morning, only a few hours before I’d come into work. The message described the location as Sandy LePage’s office, but the meeting was with Ryan McCall.
Of all the meetings, and there were more than 20, this one stood out because of who was involved, when it happened, and where.
I knew I wanted to look at it first.
Hal had placed the files on the League’s server, but I didn’t need those. I could view them directly from my implant. I thought about opening the file and then it was open and found myself viewing Sandy’s office from the inside wall. I’d sent the bot to burrow into a bookshelf, giving it a view of the entire room.
It was a room I’d never been inside physically, but I knew it well enough by now.
Sandy had a corner office that could arguably be a suite. The walls were mirrored glass from the outside. From the inside, they looked out on the lawn and woods behind the building. Going by the view alone, it felt like Sandy had a desk in the middle of a forest.
Of course, it wasn’t just a desk. From left to right, it had a small bar, a long table for meetings in front of big-screen television, a long, t-shaped desk that had two chairs and two monitors, and a private bathroom including a shower. In the middle of the room, in front of the bookshelf and under my bot, it also had a couch and a couple of chairs that made it feel like a living room.
I didn’t know if all of that qualified as a room or not, but it felt like at least three.
Ryan McCall, the lead scientist for Higher Ground, sat behind the desk. As he watched, Russell Hardwick walked down the room, passing the bar, the long table, television and all of it with barely a glance.
The thin line of his lips and the tight efficient gait made it clear that he wasn’t happy to be there. Though I couldn’t read his mind, watching him, I could easily imagine him punching the next person he saw.
After spending the last few years in costume on and off, it felt strange to see an overweight, middle-aged man in a blue business suit in the grasp of the same emotions I’d seen on the face of murderers and small-time thugs.
Ryan smiled slowly as Hardwick approached, standing and beginning to walk around the desk to shake his hand.
Hardwick’s lip curled and he walked past Ryan, ignoring the outstretched hand, and sat down in the chair.
When Ryan shook his head and sat down in his chair, Hardwick said, “Let’s get this over with. You’ve got something of mine. How much do I have to pay to get it back?”
Lines of something glittery in Ryan’s green shirt sparkled as he pulled out a flash drive, setting a tic in Hardwick’s cheek going.
“You’re meaning this?” Ryan held the drive over the desk. “What makes you sure I’ve brought you here to blackmail you? I might be here to play Good Samaritan and return a man his stolen property.”
Hardwick frowned. “You might be and yet I somehow doubt it. We both know what’s on that flash drive. The only reason you’d have it is because you had someone steal it and the only reason you’d have someone steal it is because you know it makes me look bad.”
Ryan dropped the flash drive into a desk drawer and closed it, the lock clicking into place. “That’s not the only reason we’d have someone steal it—if we did that. We might have someone steal it because we want you to do the right thing, but don’t trust you to do it without the right motivation.”
Hardwick stared at him. “If you all want more money, you’ve made a big mistake. I’ve put millions into your company and I’ll put millions more in if I think it’s a good investment. If you’re thinking that you can force me to do it, you’re making an enemy you don’t have to make and if you’ve read the files on that drive, you know why that should frighten you.”
Ryan shook his head. “There’s more to life than money. What we want is bigger. We want to control our own destiny. We know you have connections in the Nine. So do we, but we want out and we want you to help us get out.”