Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 5
As tempting as it was for Ax to flip a bird at his current employer and quit, he knew he couldn’t. He had to continue working at the shitty job making crappy pay for now.
To quit, without another job to replace it, would look highly suspicious should someone come looking for him.
He also wouldn’t be able to explain the sudden windfall of money to anyone if they discovered it.
The tiny two-bedroom apartment sucked, but it was all they could afford before now. Ax and his middle brother, Rami, six years older than Ax at thirty-eight, had the larger bedroom. Altoh, the oldest at forty-one, had the smaller bedroom all to himself.
He grabbed a shower and headed to his bedroom. It was close to ten o’clock at night and he had a long day tomorrow. He didn’t have to be into work until noon, but he’d need to hit one of his favorite weekend coffee shops first to piggyback through someone’s connection. For this kind of stuff, he never directly accessed those accounts without piggybacking. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it was more than good enough to stop ninety-nine percent of people who might be looking for him.
At least Monday’s online session would be predictable. He had a favorite coffee shop he hit then. The same woman was always there, Monday through Thursday. The only reason he violated his rule about not going to the same place two days in a row. He’d used her connection so frequently that it would look like she was the guilty one, until someone took a harder look at her computer and found nothing on it.
One more way to hide his own tracks.
He’d snooped through her laptop to see what was there and found out she worked for a nearby bank, but not a high-level job he could glean info from.
She apparently killed time in the middle of her shift there at the coffee shop instead of going home. She shared an apartment with two other women, from the looks of her social media accounts and the Excel spreadsheets she used to carefully track all expenses and payouts for the apartment and her two roomies. Going back six years.
Bless her heart.
He was going to go to sleep when he remembered he’d wanted to make contact with one of his friends he hadn’t heard from in a while. A hacker chick with the Freedom World Fighters by the name of Noel. Her group had started out as a band of college students from LA who escaped together—barely—when things went south there.
They’d also barely escaped being vaporized in Barstow when one of them intercepted a military communication and they figured out what was going on. It allowed them time to boogey on down the road six hours before Barstow went boom. Ax, along with quite a few others in the hacker community, hadn’t bought the bullshit about Barstow being a “tragic accident” even before evidence started leaking out in different online forums.
Evidence that was quickly squelched by the websites suddenly getting shut down.
Now the members of the FWF were plain cheesed right the fuck off and determined to do their part to bring down the military machine in America.
They were still pretty disorganized in terms of actual on the ground logistics, though. Right now, their strength lay in electronic infiltration. They were working to build a solid case against the military for what they’d done to US citizens on US soil.
For now, they were in hiding somewhere in the vicinity of Salt Lake City.
He wasn’t sure if they’d ever have any real-life success with their lofty ambitions, because outside of the electronics arena they were as dumb as a collective box of rocks. Even though they could all probably hack into some of the most sophisticated equipment the US government could put in the air, not one of them could hot-wire a car or even change a tire to save their lives.
But they were adorable in their misguided enthusiasm. And at thirty-two, Ax was at least ten years older than the eldest one of their group of fifteen.
They were calling themselves anarchists but he wasn’t sure if they even understood what that meant. Either way, they’d been helpful to him in the past, and he liked to send things their way when possible.
Tonight he was planning on sending a little bit of MacCoin love in their direction, donating—finally—to help them out. It was the least he could do now that his own ship had come in.
Besides, keeping them focused on their cause would keep their noses miles away from what he was working on. They’d mentioned Silo’s church as a possible target once or twice because of its worldwide reach, but he’d been able to steer them back toward their lofty goals of taking down the US military.
That was fine with him. Let the government worry about them. It meant fewer people looking at him and what he was doing and more assets pointed at a red herring. Once he had squeezed Silo’s turnip dry, he would boogie out the door and not let it hit him in the ass.
Silo was toast. Or soon would be. That’s all he cared about.
He didn’t care if anyone saw his traffic logging into the discussion forum, even though he still used an anonymizer browser site to do it. There were plenty of people who frequented this particular discussion forum, including journalists and regular people. It was a very popular political discussion forum with over a hundred thousand members.
He sent Noel, who went by the username Tank, a PM via the user interface. According to her profile, she hadn’t been active on the board in several days. He wanted to troll for some more information about what was going on out west, if he could. Since they were in Salt Lake City, and that’s where the Mormon Church was headquartered, he hoped to stumble over any nuggets he could blow up into something salacious to add to his blog.
Despite his focus on Silo, he was still going after other religious organizations. All about keeping the charade intact. About giving as few clues as possible to his true agenda.
He also remembered to send Noel’s group the anonymous MacCoin donation.
By the time he logged off to go to bed, Noel still hadn’t replied.
Hope she’s okay.
He didn’t know her personally and suspected she and her group wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever achieving their goals. Still, he was kind of pulling for them.
Anything to stick it to the “man” who got them into this mess in the first place.
“Reverend Silo, it’s been nearly a month since your wife’s mysterious disappearance. Police tracked her movements to Denver, where the trail ran cold. Do you have any explanation for this?”
Hannibal Silo had spent his years in the pulpit preaching about the heat of Hell.
That wasn’t anything compared to the heat of the studio lights now blazing down on him. He’d been assured—nay, promised—that the interview would be sympathetic, a plea to the public for information, portraying him as a worried, devoted husband.
Well, that plan’s shot to hell.
Fortunately for him, he was used to thinking on his feet. The young, brassy female reporter who thought she was going to turn him into her stepping stone to what might pass for fame in this disintegrating country had another think coming.
Beyond the cameras, out of his peripheral vision, he caught sight of his assistant, Jerald Arbeid, stiffly standing with his arms crossed over his chest and slowly shaking his head back and forth.
Yes, his right-hand man had been caught off-guard, too.
He’d been slowly working toward edging Jerald into a less vulnerable position over the past several weeks. At first, Hannibal, founder of the Church of the Rising Sunset, had thought maybe Jerald was in cahoots with Mary, his missing bride.
But as their own swarm of investigators searched for Mary, it became increasingly apparent that she’d run of her own doing. She’d likely weaned herself off her medications—lord only knew how long before—and then she’d simply walked away from the church following a service one afternoon.
After she’d somehow managed to worm her way into their personal bank accounts and transfer a considerable amount of money into an offshore account.
If they thought she’d done it, it would look like she left voluntarily.
His certainty that she’d left of her own free will had settled in when the first “evidence” started appearing online. Jerald wasn’t stupid enough to implicate himself by posting audio of the two of them talking, even more proof his right-hand man was innocent.
Of this, at least.
Thus, he’d have to spin. If anyone else thought Mary had left voluntarily, it’d mean media coverage of the search would disappear…and uncomfortable questions as to why she might have left the way she did would start being asked of him more insistently than they already were.
I’ll peel it out of her flesh when I finally find her.
“My wife is not a well woman, Charlene,” he finally answered, doing his best to keep his tone somber and without a hint of patronizing the bitch. “As I and her medical team have already told the police, there is no way she could have done this on her own. Someone must have coerced her, taken advantage of her diminished, fragile mental and physical states.”
He turned from her and retook control, facing the camera. This interview was being filmed at the local affiliate but was supposed to air tomorrow morning nationwide during the network’s Sunday morning news show for the heathens who weren’t in church or tuned in to the church’s network.
“I am pleading to whoever has abducted and taken advantage of my wife to please release her. She needs around-the-clock medical care. You must know this is wrong. We don’t even know why you’ve taken her. Simply release her, anywhere safe, and we won’t prosecute you. Or tell us your demands and we’ll listen, give you a voice. Put you on TV, even. I just want my wife, the love of my life, home safely where I can take care of her.”
The little bitch wasn’t done yet. “How do you explain the evidence that’s been released on the Internet, Reverend? The audio and video tapes that purport to show you sexually abusing your wife and making some pretty outrageous plans?”
He didn’t pull his focus from the camera despite the whore’s attempts to usurp him. “I don’t understand who you are, or why you’re using my wife, or what you want, why you’ve coerced her into manufacturing false claims against me. Whatever harm you feel I’ve caused you personally, take it up with me, not Mary. Please, I beg of you. I want her home safely.”
He pulled his glasses off and looked down, fumbling in his pocket for a handkerchief as he started coughing.
Anytime now, Jerald. Do your fucking job.
Finally, as the woman started to ask him another question, Jerald dove in. “I’m sorry, the Reverend is under a severe amount of stress and his health is now at risk. I’m afraid I’m going to have to end this interview.”
“But he hasn’t answered—”
“And he doesn’t have to,” Jerald said, deflecting the blame for ending the interview early. “The police have thoroughly investigated and cleared the Reverend and his closest staff. And the so-called evidence has already been debunked.” By their own paid “experts,” but whatever.
“Isn’t it true that—”
“She’s just doing her job, son,” Hannibal said, speaking over the reporter. “I don’t mind—” He coughed again, harder, faking it.
Jerald protectively stepped in front of him. “We’re done. I’m sorry, the stress is too much for him. I was against him doing this interview due to his failing health, but—”
“I had to, Jerald,” he rasped. “We need to find her.”
“We will, sir.” He helped Hannibal to his feet and shut the mic pack off, helping him remove it.
Inside, Silo seethed. Jerald should have interrupted the bitch at the first out-of-bounds question. So far, they’d been successful at playing down the snippets of video and audio as faked.
That’s what they’d told the police, at least. He told them the video was of them in bed together, but that the audio portion had been forged.
So far, the police had believed him. They’d been married forty years and the police couldn’t come up with a single person, including his driver, housekeeping staff, or the nurses who cared for his wife, who could say they ever saw Hannibal mistreat or speak poorly to Mary. Surely a sophisticated expert could fake the audio with as much video and audio of his sermons that was available free online.
Fortunately, Hannibal had the presence of mind to remove the cameras from Mary’s bedroom and bathroom after the first police search of his home, before they conducted a more detailed sweep. And he had removed the computer hard drive with the files on it from his computer so there was nothing for them to find when he voluntarily turned it over to the authorities for them to go through.
The cameras and hard drive were currently stored in a secret compartment in the headboard of his bed. He couldn’t risk removing them yet for fear of him being seen doing so.
He was under near-constant surveillance now, if not by law enforcement then by tabloid paparazzi, who were determined to bring the famous preacher down with this “scandal.”
It also meant his Legacy Project and other plans were put on indefinite hold.
The church compounds were still being rushed to completion. That much was happening. And he still had the selected girls and their families moving in. For now, they would remain with their parents until such time it was safe for him to press forward with his plans.
I will kill that woman when I get my hands on her.
He hoped wherever Mary was that she was enjoying this debacle, because the next time she was once again in front of him, she would be able to count down the remaining minutes of her life on both hands with fingers to spare.
I should have killed her with Kite when I first thought about it.
Silo kept his cool until they were safely back in the car and underway. Keeping his expression neutral, Silo attacked. “Why the hell didn’t you jump in sooner?”
Jerald wore a grimmer look than Silo had ever seen on the man before. “Because as I told you, the more you dodge a question, the worse it looks. You’re going to have to take a couple of minor hits. I warned you not to accept this interview in the first place because of her past history. You didn’t listen to me.”
Jerald met his gaze and, for the first time, Silo thought he saw the true hint of a backbone there. “Look, sir. You know I’m loyal to you, but I’m also protecting my own skin by protecting yours. If you want my help, then you need to listen to me when I give you advice. If you don’t want my advice any longer, then transfer me to another position in the church, which I know you’re trying to do anyway. When you assigned me this role, you told me one of my jobs was protecting you. Let me do my damn job.”
Silo honestly had no reply for that. He’d thought his plans had been carefully hidden from Jerald. Hell, this didn’t even sound like the same man. Jerald’s tone sounded steely, made of stronger stuff than he ever imagined Jerald had in him in the first place. Yes, Jerald was a skillfully cunning strategist and tactician, but this was even more.
When Silo didn’t reply, Jerald continued. “I still don’t know who helped her. I looked through all the records of our personnel. No one took time off during that period who could have gone with her. Once she reached Denver, it’s like she vanished off the face of the earth. I’ve been unable to locate her there. I suspect she’s no longer in that area. My guess is whoever she’s giving those recordings to is the one helping her. Some person she reached out to without us knowing about it.”
“Any progress there?”
“Unfortunately, no. But anyone who can make several millions of dollars simply vanish into another country and hide their online identity so well is obviously very skilled. It’s not impossible to track them, because everyone slips up eventually. It will, however, requir
“Normally I would fire someone for talking to me like this.”
“Yeah? Well, normally I wouldn’t talk to you like this. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go to jail. If you’re arrested, you’d be out on bail immediately. Someone like me, I’d be locked in a basement solitary cell somewhere without bail while they try to get me to flip on you.”
“Would I what?”
“Flip on me?”
“I have a good job making good money. I don’t have to get shot at for a living. I don’t have to mingle with large crowds of people who might have Kite. I don’t have to shovel shit out of sewers. All in all? I consider myself a lucky man. If you don’t think I’m going to do everything in my power to find these people behind this and hunt them down so we can get back to business as usual, think again.”
Silo leaned his head against the seat and weighed the man’s words. He’d been preparing to quietly transfer Jerald out of his position and into a managerial slot at the St. Louis compound. Jerald knew too much.
Maybe that was the wrong tactic. Maybe he should keep the man close to him.
“Are you still planning on shuffling me off to get me out of the way?” Jerald asked. “Because if you are, do me and you both a favor and let’s just part ways amicably. I do have my pride.”
“No,” Silo grumbled. “I need you. Now more than ever.”
“Either you trust me, or you don’t.”
“I suppose I have to trust you. If you were in on this, you would have run long before now.”
“I’m being truthful.”
“Do you even know how to be truthful, Hannibal?”
Wow. This was definitely a different man than he was used to dealing with.
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
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