Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 13
“I know,” Brown Hair said, evenly meeting her gaze. “You’ll get it back soon enough.”
Tablet Guy dug her laptop out and set it up on the coffee table. Apparently her password was no match for him, because his fingers flew across the keyboard without him bothering to ask her for any information.
He checked something against his tablet. “This is it.” Then his smile started to fade, replaced by a frown.
“What’s wrong?” the woman asked.
“Oh…crap.” He seemed to be searching for something for a couple of minutes without talking before he looked straight at Donna. “Tell me about holyrollingfraud.link.”
“The website you run. Tell me about it. How are you accessing it?”
“What are you talking about? I don’t run any websites.”
“Look, despite you trying to use an anonymizer, we still tracked your MAC address. It was used to send an e-mail in response to a request for information about licensing one of the Reverend Silo clips.”
“My what address? I don’t have a Mac. Duh, that’s a PC, genius. What kind of computer guy are you if you can’t tell the difference?” She belatedly realized she was snarkily rambling in her fear. “Besides, I can’t afford a Mac on my salary. And Reverend who? I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” She shifted position on the couch, trying to give her chafing wrists a break.
Now the five people exchanged a wary glance. “Uni, give me the sat-phone,” Tablet Guy said. “I need to call Bubba.”
Uni—at least now she had a name for Blue Eyes—produced a phone and handed it off to the guy. Tablet Guy took the phone from Uni, her laptop, and his tablet, and disappeared down a hall. The sound of a door closing filtered through to the living room.
The woman took over. From her stance with her hands on her hips and feet apart for stability, even though she wore jeans and a blouse, Donna suspected she was law enforcement. She walked over to stand in front of Donna.
“What is your name?”
“Okay, seriously? You people kidnap me and don’t even know who you kidnapped? You realize my family is broke, right? Please, just let me go!”
Brown Hair dug through her bag. “Hey! That’s mine!” Donna protested.
He came out with her wallet. “Donna Epperson,” he said when he read her license.
She briefly struggled against the wrist restraints, until they started cutting into her flesh. “Why did you kidnap me?”
“We haven’t kidnapped you,” the woman said.
“Really? Because I think this is the definition of a kidnapping.”
“At least she didn’t try to bite any of you,” the black man said with an amused smile. Everyone seemed to think that was funny, for some reason.
Hell, the kidnapping had been so quick and obviously well-planned that Donna hadn’t even had time to think, much less fight back or bite.
“Donna,” the woman said, “you can call me Chief. Your computer was identified as the one being used by the person who is posting the videos of Rev. Hannibal Silo.”
This had to be a dream. Maybe she stepped off the curb and a car hit her and she was in a coma or something. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I work at the First Atlanta Commerce Bank. I’m one of their head tellers, and I’m going to lose my job if I miss work! I’m the head teller for this afternoon’s shift. I don’t own a website. I don’t even know how to own a website! I’ve worked at the bank for the past six years, and you people are going to cost me my job!”
“Just calm down,” Brown Hair said. She had to admit he was cute.
Great. My luck, I meet a cute guy, and he’s kidnapping me.
She didn’t want to start crying, because none of this made any sense and she didn’t want to give these wacky strangers the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
She’d started out her Monday morning the way she did every Monday morning. No, working at a bank wasn’t her life’s dream, but she was happy enough with what she did. The security she had from her job. The independence. The benefits.
The unshared bedroom in a decent enough apartment with two friends she dearly loved and got along well with.
She had no complaints in general.
Maybe they thought she was someone else. Well, no maybe about it. All that nonsense about websites and video clips.
That was it. They thought she was someone else.
Maybe they’ll let me go since they obviously screwed up. “Please, whoever you’re looking for, I’m not them. Just let me go, and I swear I won’t say anything!”
The guy named Uni was about to say something when they heard a door open down the hall.
Tablet Guy reappeared, looking unhappy. He had her laptop and tablet, but he wasn’t on the phone any longer. “Good news, or bad news?” he asked his compatriots.
“Bad,” they all said at once.
“Whoever is running the website was piggybacking a connection through her laptop. She’s not the right person.”
“See? I told you—”
Brown Hair held up a hand to silence her, but focused on Tablet Guy. “What’s the good news, then?”
“We can use her computer to bait both the person we’re really looking for, and the people looking for them.”
“What?” Donna added her voice to everyone else’s that time.
Tablet Guy continued as if everyone understood what he was talking about. Then Donna realized they did know what he was talking about. She was the only one in the dark.
“I found evidence where our unsub fish has been piggybacking through her computer quite a bit. He’s left trails here and there.” He looked at Donna. “What is your schedule?”
“Your schedule. Do you go to that coffee shop all the time?”
She gave up trying not to cry. “Look, please, just let me go!”
The woman rolled her eyes in obvious exasperation, and somehow, that was worse. Donna flinched away when the woman pulled out an ugly-looking pocket knife and opened it, stepping toward her.
“Relax. I’m going to cut the cuffs off. Hold still.”
Gulping and sniffling, Donna froze, waiting for the feel of a knife in her back or something, but…
Nope. The woman deftly freed her, reinforcing Donna’s opinion she was maybe a cop. Donna waited to move until the woman stepped back. Then she saw, yep, they were those plastic zip ties cops used. The woman dropped them on the table and folded the knife, returning it to her pocket.
Donna rubbed her wrists, then wiped at her eyes. “Are you going to let me go?” Maybe they weren’t kidnappers. If she was a cop, if they were all cops, maybe this was a secret operation. That would explain why they wouldn’t tell her—
“No,” all of them said, making her draw back.
“Not yet,” the woman amended.
Tablet Guy pointed at himself. “Lima.” He pointed at the black guy. “Omega.” The woman. “Chief.” Blue Eyes, of course, she knew was Uni, and then it turned out Brown Hair had a reasonably normal name. “Victor.”
“Are you cops?”
Lima sat on the coffee table in front of her. “We need you to listen to our story. No, we won’t hurt you, and yes, we will make sure you are compensated for our screw-up, but in this case, our screw-up might have saved your life.”
“You said you work for a bank?”
“I…yes. You didn’t answer my question. Are you guys cops?”
“Chief was, until recently, a cop, but no. We’re a special operations unit in deep cover. Please, work with me here. Answer my questions. You work for a bank?”
“Yes.” She sniffled again and Chief left the room, returning a moment later with some paper towels.
“Sorry, we don’t have any tissues.”
Donna tentatively accepted the paper towels. “Thank you.” She blew her nose.
Lima continued. “Somebody has been using y
“No one’s ever committed any identity theft on me before. I’m careful. I’m not stupid. I only do my credit card and banking stuff at home on our Wi-Fi there.”
He took a deep breath. “I didn’t say you were stupid,” he slowly said, indicating he definitely thought she was stupid. “How well do you know computers?”
“I can use mine. I use them all day at work.”
“Do you program them?”
“No. I have a business degree, not a computer one. I ended up working at the bank after college.”
“Do you know about websites?”
“Well, how to use one. Not how to build one. I’ve never done that before.”
“What is your usual routine like?”
She studied them all again. “Why should I tell you all of this? How do I know you guys aren’t bad guys?”
Uni had been standing there, arms crossed over his chest and his chin resting in one palm. “If we were the bad guys,” he snarked, “you’d be crying over missing digits right now, and I don’t mean zeroes and ones. Please let him ask the questions and answer the ones he puts to you.”
She blanched and refocused on Lima.
“I work Monday through Thursday,” she said. “I work a split shift, nine to nine, with a three-hour break in the afternoon. I take the bus to work, so I go to that coffee shop every day for lunch for three hours, and—”
“Surf the Internet,” Lima finished.
She nodded. “Why?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“I…Well, I’ve been working the split shift for a couple of years now. Wait…” She thought about it. “Are you saying someone’s been, like, getting into my computer or something?”
“Now she gets it,” Victor drawled with a handsome smirk that she was halfway tempted to get up and go smack off his kisser.
Lima ignored him, nodding. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“Sometimes my computer starts running really slow for no reason. But a friend told me that was probably because it was on a public Wi-Fi connection.”
Lima’s eyes dropped closed, his head hanging. “Did it do that today? Like maybe right before we first got there?”
She started to say no, then checked herself. “Yeah, actually, it did. I was almost ready to restart it when it stopped acting up.”
“Shit,” he muttered.
“What’s that mean?” Omega asked.
Lima raised his head. “We need to go fishing again and use her as bait.”
Fear pierced her again. “What?”
“Metaphorically speaking,” he said. “Does she have a cell in her purse?”
Victor dug into it and produced her phone, handing it to Lima.
He studied it for a moment before looking at her. “I’m going to let you call work. Tell them you have a family emergency, that someone, I don’t care who, was rushed to the hospital and you had to go be there, and you’ll be out for the rest of the week.”
“But I can’t afford to miss work like that!”
“We’ll pay you,” Lima said. “I can have twenty-five grand dropped into your bank account in twenty minutes.”
Her jaw gaped. “What?”
Lima arched an eyebrow at her. “Seriously. We’re the good guys, and we don’t want to fuck you over with your pay. But do not make me regret letting you make this call.” He held the phone out to her.
Wondering if it was a trap, she stared at it for a moment. She already had a missed call from work.
“But…IRS laws. They’ll flag it, and—”
“An overseas account, then,” Lima said. “Seriously. We’re good for it. I do this all the time to hide our trail. Black-ops money. Untraceable.”
“I’m not good at lying.”
“Then I suggest you keep it simple.”
She stared at her phone then finally took it from him and dialed in to the back office line for HR at their branch.
Lima’s gaze held hers as she waited for someone to pick up.
“Hey, Kathy? It’s Donna Epperson. Listen, I’m really sorry, I’ve got a family emergency and need to take a couple of days of unpaid family leave time. My dad called and my mom’s been rushed to the hospital… No, I don’t know what’s going on yet. I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner, I was at lunch when he called me. I’m on my way to meet them now… Thanks, can you fill my shift for the rest of this week? Hopefully I’ll be back on Monday. If not, I’ll call by Friday and let you know… Okay, thanks.”
When she ended the call, Lima wiggled his fingers, motioning for her to hand the phone back.
She handed it over.
Lima stood and grabbed his tablet. After doing something, he walked over and showed it to her.
On the screen was displayed a user interface for Banque Grande Suisse Internationale.
And a transfer into an account in the amount of twenty-five grand.
Her jaw gaped.
“You’re in banking, so you should have a hint that this is legit, right?”
She nodded. She’d seen that screen before.
It was legit.
“When we’re done figuring this shit out,” Lima said, “I will turn control of that account over to you. You are then free to do whatever the hell you want with the money. Okay?”
She swallowed hard and nodded.
Even though Donna was cute and single, Victor was getting the sense that despite claiming to have a business degree, and working in a bank, she might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to being quick on the uptake.
Looks like I owe snowflake an apology.
Until now, everyone in their unit had playfully teased Pandora for her lack of street smarts despite coming from Chicago and being a reporter.
It looked like this woman would usurp her in the clueless special snowflake department.
They moved to the dining room table where Lima used his tablet to give Donna the rundown on the story from start to finish, as much as she needed to know, but more than enough to instill in her the absolute need for secrecy about what they were trying to accomplish and why.
They left out some of the finer and more personal details, like six of the teams pairing up with women in the process.
“So…this Reverend Silo guy. He’s the one I’ve heard about on the news? Well, I’ve tried not to hear about him. I’ll admit I go out of my way to avoid bad news. The world sucks enough as it is.”
“Yes,” Lima said. “We’re hoping to find his wife. If we can locate her, via whoever is helping her post the videos, it will likely help us expose everything he’s been doing.”
She slowly nodded. Victor could stare at her greenish hazel eyes all day.
Clueless special snowflake or not.
Donna tucked her brown hair behind her ears. Even without obvious makeup, she was cute. “You think the guy who was piggybacking through my computer is that guy?”
“Might not be a guy,” Lima said. “Might be a woman. Do you see the same people in the coffee shop all the time?”
“Sometimes, but it’s hard to tell. Most everyone wears a surgical mask. I frequently see the same people, yes.”
“We’re going to need you to help us over the next couple of days,” Lima said. “We’re going to take you to the coffee shop every day at the same time you’d usually be there, and we’ll wait there with you.”
“I…I’m not a spy. I told you, I’m not good at lying.”
“We don’t need you to be,” Lima said. “We just need you to do exactly what we tell you to do. If the man or woman shows up and starts using your connection again, we’ll figure out who it is and grab them.”
“And that’s al
“That, and not say anything to anyone about all of this,” Omega said.
Victor wanted to sit and stare at her. He was content to let everyone else do the talking while he watched and listened.
Hell, it was the closest he’d been to getting laid in a looong damn time. Even if nothing came of it, at least he’d have a fantasy to hold onto while rubbing one out in the shower.
“You think this Reverend Silo killed those people in LA? At that clinic? You have proof?”
“Pretty definitive proof,” Chief said. “But if we move too soon, before the vaccine is developed, there’s a very good risk he might release more Kite virus and infect more people.”
Donna rubbed her hands up and down her arms, smoothing the gooseflesh suddenly rippling her skin.
He wanted to stroke her skin—
Pay attention, idiot!
“Okay. I’ll do what I can to help.”
“For safety’s sake,” Chief said, “you need to stay here with us the next few days.”
“What do I tell my roommates?”
There always had to be a hiccup. “How many?” Victor asked.
“Two. Lisa and Ginny. I can’t lie to them and tell them my mom’s sick. They know my mom. And they both know I suck at and hate to lie.”
“Do you see your mom a lot?”
“Well, no, fortunately not. She lives just outside Atlanta, with my dad and some other relatives. Close by. I don’t have a car.” She let out a disgusted sounding snort. “They’re trying to talk me into leaving and going to some hunting cabin my uncle has to ride out this stuff. I have a real job, though. I can’t just up and leave. I’ll get fired. Lisa and Ginny know I won’t go with my parents. It’s been a point of contention between me and my parents for weeks now.”
“Perfect,” Victor said. “Look, tell your friends that you agreed to go look at the cabin with your parents and stay for a couple of days, just to placate them.”
Doubt crossed her expression. “I don’t know if they’ll believe that.”
“Is there any chance of your parents just showing up at the apartment?”
“No, not really.” Another snort that was definitely disgust. “And my mom flat-out told me if I left I couldn’t bring them with me. I wouldn’t leave them behind even if I did go. I love them. They’re like sisters to me.”
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
Other author's books:
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