When Desperation Meets Opportunity Chapter 21 — A #NaNoWriMo 2015 Story

Chapter 21 — Jim

I better call in. After my late night, and the fact that Maggie is still here crashing on my couch, I’m in no position to head to work. Too much is on my mind, and I need to think clearly about our next moves. This is no longer about completing the tasks — we have a child to retrieve and a tyrant to bring down.

It is still early, barely after 7:00am on a Monday. I stroll out of my bedroom and see Maggie lying on the couch. She is still sleeping. So we can talk without worry of being listened in to, I steal her cell phone and take it into my bedroom. On the walk there, I take a look through her recent calls. Interesting — she got a call from Mr. Man last night. I wonder what that was about? Another thing for us to talk about. We have so much to speak on, but so little time.

In an effort to start repairing what is more than likely a relationship too destroyed to fix, I decide to make breakfast for Maggie. Given what she and I have been through, it is the least I can do. A bright moment in the gloomy mess of her life. Scanning the fridge reveals that I don’t really have a whole lot to make. I check my cupboards, and it looks like I have a mostly empty box of cereal and a pack of poptarts. Well, poptarts are food, and they are better than nothing. I put some in the toaster.

When they finish and pop up, the noise causes Maggie to stir. I tear off a piece of paper towel and carry them over to the table near the couch. She flips over and opens her eyes.

“Good morning” I say. “I have some food for you. It isn’t much, but I generally do a bad job of keeping the house stocked.” She smiles, and stretches. Then, she looks down at the pop tarts, and starts crying. Not a good sign. Was this attempt at breakfast that pathetic? I guess so.

“I’m sorry. Thank you for the offer. I just…that was the last thing that Brayden and I ate together.” Ugh, go figure. Once again, punished for doing the right thing. So much has happened in the intervening years. I can’t begin to pretend I know this girl anymore.

“Well…we can always go out for breakfast. I know a nice little place just down the way.” She agrees and gets up. I notice she is wearing the same clothes as last night. I don’t notice a bag or anything. “Did you need a change of clothes?”

She wipes her eyes before standing up. “I’m good for now. I didn’t realize I would be staying, so I don’t have anything. But really, it is okay. Nobody here knows I wore this yesterday.” The logic is compelling. “I am starving though. Some breakfast will be good to help us think clearly.” She then searches her purse for a phone, and begins to panic when it isn’t there. “Where is it? Have you seen my phone?”

I calmly and quietly reply. “Shh…I put it into my other room. I’m sure he was listening to you through your phone like he was through mine. I’ve been keeping mine in the other room when I needed to talk things through. He may have figured it out by now, but we can at least have comfort knowing he isn’t listening to us.” Her body relaxes. She walks over to the door, and I follow. We head downstairs and out onto the street. It is a short walk from here to the Pittsfield Cafe.

The Pittsfield is a cool location. I haven’t actually been there, but read a lot of reviews. It is located in a historic office building, which makes for a cool place to eat. We enter, get seated, and begin looking over our menus. Our waitress comes over, and we order some drinks. I go for water, while Maggie chooses a hot chocolate. Maggie’s face is still buried in the menu.

“If I remember correctly. You love pancakes. Still true?” We used to go on dates to a local place where we grew up that had pancakes as large as the plate. Even though Maggie was never overweight, she could put those things down. I always wondered how she could do it.

“Oh yeah. Have you heard of this Apple Pancake thing. Would that be good?”

“Yes. Please eat that! It is fantastic! In fact, it sounds so tasty, I’ll order that as well.” With that, our waitress returns, takes our order, and heads off to fulfill our hungry desires.

Surrounded by businessman and people in suits, I feel a little out of place here. After all, we are both in yesterday’s clothes. Both of us weary from our fateful decisions. Life wearing on us to the point that we see no more reason to hide it.

“What do we know at this point?” She asks me straight out. “All I managed to figure out was that Mr. Man’s real name is Lance Jacobs, and he works for or owns or something with Cyberdigital Associates. I’m not sure how helpful that is?”

I beam with excitement — this could be huge. “That is incredible Maggie! You can’t understand how helpful that is. I’ll get my friend Jake to come over and help with this new informati — ” she cuts me off.

“NO! You can’t bring in anybody else. We can’t risk losing my son!” She is frantic. I try and calm her down to not make a scene. A quick scan around the restaurant would seem that we are still fine.

“Don’t worry, I’ve been working with him discreetly. I actually was able to pull some data that, was it Lance? wanted me to destroy. We have been going over that. Knowing his name will help immensely in looking through it. We need Jake’s help. Between you and I, there isn’t much we know. He might be our only shot at getting to Lance.” She backs down and gives a simple head nod to lend her support to the idea.

Our food comes and we eat quietly. She is scarfing down her pancakes like she hasn’t eaten in weeks. It seems that within minutes her meal is gone.

“That didn’t show the best manners, but I don’t care. I haven’t had a good meal in weeks.” She admits.

“No problem here. I’m certainly not the tidiest eater in the world. Worse yet, I live alone, so I don’t have anybody to show manners for!” With that comment, Maggie chuckles a bit and reveals a smile. A small one, but we’ll mark it done as a win. Let’s see if I can screw that up by saying something stupid.

“So, I know this is not the best time, but how has Brayden been?” With that question, the smile vanishes as quickly as it came, but she calmly replies without losing it.

“Brayden is amazing. Such a wonderful, beautiful boy. He’s potty trained now. We’ve been making do, and it has been difficult. Sometimes, it has felt impossible. I suppose that is why I’m in this predicament. To be honest with you, I was absolutely devastated when you left us behind like we were nothing. Vanished to go on with your life and pursue your hopes and dreams. But, over time, I’ve come to realize that Brayden holds all of my hopes and dreams. My anger with you has gone down over time. I’m glad to see that you are doing okay, you know, besides all of this other crap.” I deserve her anger. I am owed her wrath. She didn’t say that she forgave me, which is good, because I definitely don’t deserve that. But, the fact that she is willing to open up to me now gives me the slightest amount of hope we can get out of this.

“That is great, really. And Maggie, like I told you before, I know it will never be enough, and that you will never forgive me, but I’m sorry. I was 18, and an idiot. I thought I was making the right move for me and for you. But that was stupid. It is too late to change the course of time, but just know I’d do it all differently if I could.” Our eyes meet for a moment, and it brings me back to high school. She was my true love. But I don’t think I ever told her.

We share this moment for a few the final moments of our meal. I pay the check, with cash of course, and we head back to the apartment. It was nice to have a moment away from the game that Lance has us on. It feels scarier knowing that this guy has a name. That he is even a real person. In fact, it scares me to think during our hour at breakfast he could have called. I quicken our pace back to the apartment.

Once inside, I scurry to the bedroom. Just one missed call from Jake. Maggie’s phone still quiet.

“I’m going to try and call him to talk to my son. Mind if I use your room to be alone?” I gesture her in there.

“Sorry about the mess. Not a whole lot of ladies lining up to enter that man cave.” That was meant for laughs, but understandably didn’t land the way I hoped right before she had to talk to Lance and her son.

While she is on the phone, I decide that I need to get Jake here as soon as possible to help crack this binary and perhaps get a lead on our guy. I’m conflicted, as it makes me wonder if in implicating Lance, what might that mean for us? Clearly, his goal was to limit the damage on him by forcing Maggie and to do his dirty work. On the flip side, the only evidence he has against us is purely word of mouth. In my mind, I dream up the idea that giving back the money we received for doing illegal things could get us off the hook. That is definitely me being naive. There is nothing simple about how this could all go down.

Jake is at work, but I know he’d drop it in a minute to come help. I’ve been sending him messages on my laptop, because as far as I know, Lance isn’t tracking that. I send Jake a quick message:

Huge breakthrough. Might help crack binary. Come over ASAP if you can.

After a few seconds, I get a reply:

Yes dude. Be right there. We need to catch up anyway. Work is busy but they can live a few hours without me. See you in a few.

My confidence is high that we might get something we can use. Even the slim possibility of having something we can use against Lance makes me feel that we can get out of this ok.

Maggie is still in the other room, so I turn on the TV and watch the news while I wait for Jake. Imagine that. The top story in Chicago is a critical systems attack at a cyber security company. I feel oddly proud of my accomplishment.

That is until they show security camera footage of the night of the breach. I want to throw up.

Look mom, I’m on TV.

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