Master PC – Mind Magi
Part Two – A Day Of Questions
Chapter Twelve – Whisper Revealed
The cab was out of sight and it took me a minute to pull myself together.
I crossed the street. I still couldn’t think of any good excuses to give the police. My plan to make it look like I hadn’t been in the room was all I had to go with. I needed an alibi, and if Whisper wanted my help, he would provide me one. I went into the alley and looked around.
The alley didn’t go very far. There were three doors on one building and two on the other. Fire escapes climbed both, but otherwise there was nothing but trash bins. No one was waiting. “Great…” I said under my breath.
I turned and started toward the street. Then I saw someone enter the alley, blocking the exit. I stopped, wary of another potential attack. If my Charm had helped me to stop Mr. Speedy in the hotel, maybe it could help me with new aggressors.
“Ral?” came a female voice.
“Who’s asking?” I returned, not answering their question.
They started to approach, walking cautiously. “I warned you more were coming. Why didn’t you listen?”
It was early afternoon. The sun was high overhead but the two tall buildings I stood between blocked out any direct light. By the ambient light I had difficulty seeing her clearly. The voice was definitely female, but the question was one I would expect only from Whisper.
I let my eyes adjust to the dimness and watched as she continued to draw near. Thanks to Doctor Holzer, I could tell she wasn’t lying to me about the warning. Still it was a shock to see a woman rather than a man. I was expecting some small wiry guy with glasses and a bad hair cut. Instead, a young woman stood before me. She had shoulder length white-blonde hair, a fair complexion and startlingly light blue eyes. She reminded me of clear, bright mornings after the snow had fallen back at home.
The outfit she wore was closer to what I expected. A dark green t-shirt that only barely hid the bulge of her breasts. It was tucked into utility style khaki-colored pants. She even wore what looked like military boots. I knew the clothes weren’t military. Anyone could find the same outfit in pretty much any outlet, even Wal-Mart. She was dressed down, in something accepted as every day. The only thing that stood out about her was her face.
If she used Master PC as much as I believed, her face and body could have been a disguise. I could accept that she was a woman, but maybe not so alluring in real life.
I guess I was staring too hard or the look on my face seemed sour because she said, “Ral, I’m sorry if me being a woman has upset you, but this is who I am and I would appreciate at it if you would stop looking at me like that.”
That snapped me out of my thoughts. “I’m sorry. You caught me off guard. I guess with all the cloak and dagger stuff you pull, I just always thought of you as a guy.”
“I’ve always been a woman. I just don’t let on that I am. Most people mistake me for a man and that’s fine with me.” She adjusted the backpack she had slung over one shoulder as she spoke.
“Because it keeps you safe?”
“Fair enough. You asked for my help and I’m going to need yours in return. Tell me what you’ve got because my room is wide open. I’m sure someone has called the hotel security by now and the police are on their way.”
“No, your room is safe for the moment, but my calculations only give us five maybe six minutes before anyone finds something amiss.”
“Yes,” she said, and then she turned back down the alley, walking away.
I followed. “Where are we going?”
“You’re in need of an alibi. It will be best to not even be close to the hotel when the police show up.” She turned the corner back the way she had come. I expected her to stop and wave down a cab, but she kept walking. We crossed the next street and then turned at the next one. She stopped next to a silver Toyota Camry, pulled out a keychain and I heard the telltale sound of the anti-theft alarm being disarmed. “Get in,” she said as she climbed in the driver’s seat.
I got in and buckled up. She looked at me. “Don’t trust my driving?”
“Habit,” I replied simply. “Where are we going?”
“First, we have to establish your alibi. Know a good restaurant?”
My stomach growled at the idea of food. I nodded. “But we’ll need better attire.”
“We’re having a luncheon interview. I’m going to hire you for my store as my new clothing designer.”
She gave me a coy look then said, “Fine. As long as you don’t really expect me to model your clothes.”
“If you know as much about me as I believe you do, then you’ll know I have only one rule…”
She continued looking at me.
I shook my head. “No one has to do anything they don’t want to.”
“A good rule to follow. Too bad the rest of the Mind Magi don’t follow it.” She started up the car and pulled away. “You said we’d need better clothes. The rest of mine aren’t much different than this.”
“And the rest of mine are back in the hotel suite. We need to stop at a business suit shop. Somewhere we can each get clothes appropriate for the interview and have them tailored immediately.”
Whisper nodded and turned a corner.
“How well do you know New York?” I asked, not sure where we were.
“I’d say pretty well. I not only memorized the map for the city and surrounding area but most of the business listings and their specialties.”
“You use Master PC?”
“Are you a Mind Magi?”
Her brows furrowed and she glanced at me, “Me? No.” She went back to watching the road.
I continued to watch her. I was puzzling over the way events were going and the fact that most of the people I tended to count on were women. Apparently I was too silent in contemplation too long because Whisper said, “Look, Ral, I’m sorry if my looks disturb you. I’m even sorrier that you’re as handsome as ever, but we can’t do anything about that. Please, put it out of your mind so we can focus on what we have to do.” Again she looked at me from the corner of her eyes.
I nodded and looked away. She was right. I couldn’t get distracted.
“I know you’ve got a ton of questions. Just ask me and I’ll tell you what I can. You’ll have to trust that anything I don’t answer is because I haven’t confirmed it yet.”
“Confirmed? How? You know so much about me, but because of your nature of not trusting anyone, I don’t know squat about you. How about relieving some of that? How about proving you trust me, just like you said on the phone, and telling me something about yourself first. That will give me a better understanding of who you are and what your motivations are.”
She nodded. “Fair enough, but why don’t we get our suits first. I’ll tell you about me and answer your questions as we eat,” she said as she pulled us into a parking garage.
We got out and I followed her to a Men’s Warehouse. I chuckled quietly at the simplicity of her choice. It wasn’t the most expensive or the most prestigious, but they made good suits and tailored them on the spot. I was impressed.
It didn’t take long to find suits that fit close enough that the tailoring wouldn’t take more than a few minutes each. I gave an extra big tip to the sales girl to help speed the process along. We were going to leave wearing the new suits. I was still wearing my dress boots from earlier and Whisper got new heels and stockings.
When I had first seen Whisper in her new suit, I was stunned. The street clothes did tone down her looks, but the sharp business suit brought out her confidence and beauty in a way I wouldn’t have guessed at. When we were paying for the store’s services she fidgeted and tugged at it. She looked uncomfortable.
“Leave it alone,” I said softly.
She looked up. “I don’t do suits Ral.”
“I realize that, but you look good in it. It looks good on you. Leave it alone.”
She rolled her eyes and started for the doors. I followed and had to grab her arm when she stumbled in the heels. They were only two-inch heels, but she was used to the wide support of her boots. “When we get done talking to the police I’m changing back into my normal clothes.”
“That’s fine, but we still have an ‘interview’ to have. Then we’ll head back and talk to the police.”
We got to her car. She got in and started to slip her new heels off to drive. I said, “I wouldn’t. You could get a run up those stockings.”
Again she rolled her eyes. “This is why I avoid all this crap.”
I chuckled as she put her heels back on.
A few minutes later we were being seated at a fairly nice restaurant. We both ordered and I had to stop Whisper from fidgeting so much.
“Can I at least take the jacket off?”
I nodded and did the same. When I looked at Whisper again I was stunned. The darker clothes she had been wearing, even the dark color of the suit jacket had made her look so pale, like a ghost. Now, in the white blouse, she seemed almost translucent. I couldn’t actually see her bones or blood or anything, but she looked like she could fade away.
Whisper noticed me staring at her. She sighed, “Ral. Snap out of it. This is why I wear dark colors. Lighter ones make me look worse.”
“So this is what you really look like?” I asked gently.
She nodded. “I thought about changing my appearance for meeting you but then remembered what I had already said about trusting you. I can’t show trust in you if I’m not at least a little bit honest with you.”
“Thank you. And honestly, you look nice, even in the blouse.”
“No I don’t. I look like a ghost.”
I chuckled. “Okay, I was thinking the same thing, but really, it suits you. Especially the whole ‘don’t notice me’ theme of yours.”
“Oh, please! Tell that to all the guys who passed by me while I was waiting for you earlier…”
“I would say you’re afraid of personal attention, but that would be getting too personal. How about we work on this trust thing a bit more?” I stopped to wait for her to either nod or shake her head. She just watched me, apparently ready for me to continue. “Would it be too much to ask for your name?”
She crossed her arms and contemplated me for a moment. The move distracted me because she was accenting her chest. I doubted she realized it. I sat back to make it look like I was just trying to get comfortable for our meal.
I sat there patiently. Time was important to both of us and she finally relented. “Okay, but you have to swear to never pull me up. Got me?”
I nodded. “You have my word.”
“My real name is Pamela Ericson. Pam to my friends.”
I nodded and then leaned forward. Softer I asked, “Do you have another name to go by? Whisper just doesn’t go over well in crowds.”
She nodded. “Jennifer Dalton. I even have ID for her.”
I leaned back. “Good. Now then…” ‘Jennifer’ suddenly looked up past me and smiled. It took me a second to tear my eyes away from her. She was getting better looking or something was really wrong with me. I suspected her use of Master PC, but wouldn’t have the chance to confirm just yet.
I looked around and the waiter had just arrived with our drinks. I had tea and Jennifer had water.
Each of us thanked him and he left. I didn’t bother with sweetener. I was already anxious enough regarding the issue with the Police and the idea that Vikkor was out there somewhere too. With the attacks, I had momentarily forgotten about her.
“I need to know as much as you can tell me… Jennifer.” It felt odd calling her that. She just didn’t look like a ‘Jennifer’ to me. Pamela fit better, but not much.
“I’m not sure about some of my information. I’m still waiting on confirmation on certain details.”
“Confirmation? I thought you said you didn’t trust anyone else?”
“I don’t. I have a few networks working on it. Programs I wrote to do what I need.”
“Then what do you know?”
“I know that you still have to go to the store opening tomorrow. It’s a big turning point in your life, and it affects many other things.”
“What things? And what’s this turning point?”
She shook her head. “I want to tell you Ral, I really do, but I can’t. I’ve learned that lesson way too many times.”
“You’re not making any sense… Jennifer.”
She sighed and slouched back in her chair. She may have looked uncouth the way she was sitting, but it was still a stunning sight. I really hoped whatever it was that had happened with my girls this morning was over for the time being because if she was close to me and I started… having cravings again…
Jennifer looked at me again. There was a resolution in her eyes she didn’t have before. She straightened up and leaned forward onto the table. “I know you really well, Ral. I know what has happened to you, what your life is like and what is coming for you. I guess the best way to help you understand is to tell you how I came to be who I am now.”
From her expression and words, I knew that she was about to do something profound. I leaned forward too, mimicking her and nodded.
“I used to be a hacker. There wasn’t a program I couldn’t crack, and it didn’t matter what OS it was written for because I knew them all. I could break into systems that others wouldn’t bother with because they simply knew they couldn’t. It was a thrill, a game, and I was good at it.”
“When the Internet hit it big and made its advances, I started meeting other hackers. We’d practice cracking each other’s systems and leaving little notes. So-n-so was here and the date, or whatever. Again, it was all just for fun, just a game.”
“Then this new guy hit the scene. He was good. I could keep others from getting into my system unless they had some new program that I hadn’t learned about yet, but otherwise I was nearly untouchable. This guy comes along and breaks in like my computer was an open book. Nothing I did could keep him out and I couldn’t figure out how he did it.”
“Well, I sought something to help me master my computer, and you can guess what program I found.”
“Obviously, I knew it wasn’t a hacking program so I put it away. I don’t delete programs because they may turn out to be worth something later. Well, later came around and I went back to it and found out what it could do.” She paused there with wide eyes that I understood to mean, “Imagine my surprise!” and “It was so incredible!”
Again, I nodded. I had been there and the novelty had worn off.
She shook her head. “Obviously there was no point in continuing with my ‘game’. I could give myself unequalled skills. I also did what I’m sure anyone else does with the program: made sure I was set financially, cleaned myself up and even helped out my family.”
The word ‘family’ made my gut twist. It wasn’t a disgust factor but a longing to have one of my girls with me. I hid the fact from Whisper and let her continue.
“For a while, everything was great. I didn’t have to work, I could go out and do all the things I thought I ever wanted, but I’m sure you’ve had that feeling too. Like you could do so much more. The fact that you weren’t the only one who could benefit.”
She stopped. The look of child-like elation dropped. Her shoulders slumped and she looked out the window. “I thought that too, until my mom died in a car accident.”
I knew that feeling too. Having nearly lost Renée was heart wrenching.
“I’m sure, to this day, that if I had been there with my laptop, I could have done something. I could have healed her wounds, improved her resilience, done something to help her chances of survival.” She swallowed hard and a single tear started down her cheek.
I was tempted to reach over and wipe it away, but I restrained myself. Things tended to happen when I got emotionally involved in someone else’s emotions. I couldn’t get distracted.
She wiped away the tear, sniffed back the rest and looked back at me, that same resolution in her eyes again. “I made a new promise to myself that day. I wouldn’t let anything happen to anyone I cared about.”
“I set out learning everything there was to know about the program. Just like in my hacking days, I broke it down, inspected and learned all its secrets and then put my knowledge of it and programming to use. The problem was, I was trying to play god. I was trying to decide who would get to live and who wasn’t worthy of that protection. I also realized that death, as much as everyone fears it, is just as natural as being born.”
She stopped again with more sniffles. I was pretty sure she was close to her mother. That loss had really torn her up and she had yet to fully heal from it. It was possible that she never would. Not even with Master PC to help.
“I contented myself with watching people. It was simple enough. I’d go to the mall or a concert. I’d just sit and watch them. I’d watch events play out and it was like my own version of some kind of reality TV show.”
“Some of the people I watched really caught my attention. Not because they were especially attractive but because they had personality. I figured out who they were and used the program to watch them when they weren’t at the mall or some other public place.” She shrugged. “Call me a peeping tom, whatever. I just found them interesting. The next thing I knew I called one up. I didn’t know why, but I told the girl she was pregnant. She didn’t even know.”
“That set off a new chain of events and I lost track of them. I knew my call had triggered it and I wondered if I hadn’t called her if things would have played out differently. That’s when I decided to test the theory.”
“I wrote up a program with a hefty algorithm that would help me to see what an outcome would be.” She noted my raised eyebrows and said, “I know and yes, I cheated to accomplish that. The point was I did it and found that most of the time, if I said nothing, things would still work out. Sometimes I did have to call and tell someone some bit of info to help it along, but only if I was sure it would be more positive than if I did nothing. I even saved one relationship. Those two are happily married and have two kids now.”
Whisper looked up again and smiled. The waiter had arrived with our food. For a few minutes neither of us said anything as we ate. I felt like I was starved and the food only partially took care of that hunger. I realized that my hunger wasn’t just for food but the urge wasn’t nearly out of control either. I would have to do something about it soon, but wasn’t sure at the moment what it would be.
Both of us had eaten a good portion of our meals. Whisper looked at me and smiled. She wasn’t flirting, it was just a genuine, happy-to-be-there smile.
I couldn’t help but to smile back. “What?”
She shrugged. “I just… I don’t know. I’ve never told anyone all of this before. It feels good to get it out.”
“I’m sure locking yourself away from others so you don’t potentially mess up their lives is frustrating.”
She nodded. “My family keeps asking to come around to visit. I keep making excuses not to.”
“There is a way to solve that...”
“Leave the program at home and just go for a visit. You have to remember, you chose to do this ‘watching people’ thing. You don’t have to do it.”
“I can’t just ignore what I know…”
I shook my head, “Why not? You said you don’t want to play god, fine, don’t. It’s that simple.”
We ate for a bit more, neither of us saying anything. I didn’t need more from her. I understood her to be a good person, someone who cares about others. She wasn’t some cold, calculating, faceless person, but a living, breathing woman with dreams and desires.
That made me wonder though. She had talked about what had brought her around to doing the things she did with computers, but what about her personal life? I somehow doubted she had married. I’m sure that would have made a difference in how things played out for her. I didn’t think she had a steady boyfriend either. It was possible she had dated but nothing too serious.
I stopped myself. Why was I worried about whether she was married, had a steady boyfriend or even dated? I wasn’t going to do anything with her, nothing more than trying to solve the issue of who had sent those Dragons after me. And the thought of that dead woman settled my other emotions. If someone were willing to kill their own people, what would they do to me?
I sat back from my plate. I was full from the meal but could tell I could use a good bed romp. I needed my girls and they hadn’t been gone more than a couple of hours.
Just then my phone rang. The caller ID showed the hotel. I answered, “Hello?”
“Mr. Setton, this is Jacob Norton, Concierge of the “W”. I hate to disturb you like this, but the police are requesting your presence.”
“The police?” I asked. It told Whisper what the call was and I had to act surprised.
“Yes, it seems there was a disturbance in your room. When can I tell them to expect you?”
“I’m on my way now. You caught me just as I finished an interview.”
“Thank you, Mr. Setton. I will let the detective know.”
I hung up and looked at Whisper. “Well, looks like lunch is over.”
She nodded and I waved over the waiter.