|UNHACKABLE HEART: Glenn -- HUNT GHOSTS|
Tessa glared toward the house. "Oh I want to hunt ghosts, Glenn."
No sooner had he leaned over and kissed her mouth, than he was spinning gravel out of the driveway. "You've made me very happy, Tessa."
"Wow. I wasn't even trying to."
He laughed. "Some people never come clean."
"Clear out the filth from the back of their closets. Those closets where people hide their skeletons and such."
He tapped one finger against her forehead. "Tell me your secrets and I'll tell you mine." That thick calloused finger tapped above the swell of her right breast, above the word hacker, above her heart. "If you are done with him, then lay it down to me. Or are you still his victim? Brokenhearted . . . how are you gonna heal from that? How are you gonna trust again?"
"I probably won't, Glenn. I do not want to talk about this. Taboo, got it?"
"It was once a hotly debated topic."
"Back when I had to put up perimeter surveillance? I'm unlikely to forget that in this lifetime. Why do you want to talk about this? It only makes me angry."
"You have some real privacy issues."
"I can thank you for that in part too?"
"What if," Glenn caught her hand in his, "once upon a time a woman smiled at the cameras because she didn't see them? She jammed and danced and smoked dope and chatted and laughed. What if she then had multiple intruders going through her personal things, stealing everything of value? What if the ones who weren't hired guns picked her because she appealed to them? What if, God help her, she made them mad too?"
After he sliced so close to the mark, she growled. "What if the door was wide open? What if having any protection, virus or firewall, was prohibited like from the Gestapo? What if brute force was not necessary? The doors weren't locked out there in the country. If they were . . . I saw a man come through the floor to ceiling window. Not a shadow, not a ghost, but a man."
He seemed to be holding his breath, waiting for her to continue.
"What if you had multiple people happening to hire guns at the same time? What if you didn't know it was coming, desperate from hearing the trapdoor slam shut behind you? What if you didn't have to smash your way in, the door was open, front door, backdoor, no brute force needed."
"Brute force is one of your specialties now, Tessa, am I right about that?"
"You can't think I'm going to answer that? Talk is for losers."
"I believe it might take a thief or a cryptologist, Tessa, to make it past all your encrypted security of a sub-seven legend. Do you still have an unhackable heart?"
"Believe it; that is my number one priority, bud, always."
"So you do run a constant test environment. Of course a penetration tester would. Have you ever tried it, Tessa? To see if you could get close to a man without shutting down your mental firewall and heart encryption?"
"Men always want me to shut it off, but there is too much vulnerability that way," she admitted softly. "I don't trust people. I don't want anyone mucking around in my emotions. Do you think I'm crazy?" She was mad at herself for asking.
"Like a fox." Glenn pulled into the hotel. "Will you tell me one more thing before you go check in?"
Maybe, she thought, but only continued to stare at his handsome face.
He shocked her by plucking her shirt in the middle where it said hacker and popping it back at her chest. "So why didn't you say anything, defend yourself, when Sam's attorney told the judge you were a hacker? No irreconcilable differences back then in this state, it had to get down and dirty. And it surely looked like a bad thing for you, spelled out to the judge like a hacker is all that is bad in the cyberworld. It sounded like you were a cracker stealing identities or something equally heinous. You didn't say a word in defense."
She grabbed hold of the door handle. "Because that's how badly I wanted away from him. Freedom, at any cost, other than my life."
He caught her arm when she swung open the door. "Wait. How did you go through all that and several years and still not be divorced from him? It was declared in court. It was in the records. I was there in the back of the courtroom with quite the little crowd, hearing the gavel come down declaring the dissolution of marriage."
"I answered your one personal question."
She shut the door after he shook his head, muttering, "One."
Tessa walked around to his side and waited for him to roll down his window. "Thanks for everything, Glenn." She leaned forward to kiss his cheek. The heat of the summer night mixed with his male scent. She kissed him back when he turned his head.
When she finally lifted her head and heaved out breaths like she had run from her dead car carrying all six laptops, she panted. "Whew! Danger! Step away from the nice landscaper and hunter of ghosts. Goodnight, Glenn. Call me when you are ready to return to the house."
"Just like that? Goodnight?"
She grinned. "Wanna come in and shoot people in the head?"
"I thought you'd never ask." He pulled a gray cowboy hat down low on his forehead, before grabbing three laptop bags off one of her shoulders.
Thirty minutes later in her hotel room, Glenn leaned against pillows on one bed and Tessa leaned against the pillows on the other bed. Both held a laptop and mouse. He cheated, she told him, by hearing the sounds on her map. After she had moved to the other bed, his digital player stood there and waited for her player to shoot him. She ran to plant the bomb instead. Then she camped and waited for him to come defuse it.
His cell rang and he fished it out of his pocket. "Reston."
While he listened and she tried not too, the other team ran through the hallway toward the bomb. She hoped his call wasn't important because in the background guns fired like a warzone, the tick of the bomb kept up a steady beat, the dang noisy game announced, "Headshot. Killing Spree! Terrorists win!"
Tessa laughed, pushed her laptop aside, and jumped on the mattress beside him. She leaned into the ear without the phone and whispered, "I win."
He shut his phone on her second bounce and slid his arms around her waist. "If you say so."
Three fast knocks, thwump thwump thwump, bumped from the connecting door to her room.
"Oh no." Tessa jumped off the bed, no longer laughing, and reached into a laptop bag. She pulled out a gun.
"Whoa, Tessa." Glenn grabbed it out of her hand. "Give me that." He walked to the connecting hotel door and opened it.
Dazed, it took her a minute to snap her mouth shut.
Cole stood there leaning in the doorway, grinning at her. "Nice gun. I wanna play too. You can choose the map."
"What are you doing here, walking in from the connecting door I might add?"
"You might, yeah, you probably would add that. That's my room." He hitched his thumb behind him. "Where did you think I was staying?"
"I didn't consider the possibility at all!"
"Glenn, have you told her nothing?" Cole complained.
"And put myself in-between her sights?" Glenn snorted. "Come on, Tessa, let's play. We'll be on the same team so you don't shoot me again." He elbowed Cole who was getting out one of her laptops. "She cheats."
"I do not!"
"Hax mods, I know," Cole said to Glenn as if she hadn't spoken. "I play with her often."
"Get your hands off my laptop," she demanded, realizing she made it sound as serious as if he had his hand on her zipper.
"Or you'll shoot me?" Cole inquired.
Glenn elbowed her this time. "Relax, babe. He's friend not foe."
She held out her hand to him. "Give me my gun back."
"Come take it," Glenn taunted her.
She plopped back against the pillows and said, "My rules. My map. You dudes are so dead." It might not have been the most gracious way to invite Cole to play on one of her laptops, but coming from her, it was practically an engraved invitation.
When she dropped down into the game, all the normal rules were broken, laws of gravity, running speed, jumping ability. A sweet modification. Networks were like video games, where the rules could be used in ways never intended by the programmer, where rules could be bent until barely recognized. Too bad keeping a little privacy wasn't so easy.
She laughed again and again, when she shot first one and then the other in the head.
"Make me," she retorted.
And just like that, the gravity in the game grew so strong that her player could barely lift the bomb to plant it. She perked up and turned the gravity to null again. But when the crouching footsteps came near where she camped, the players were invisible.
They were both there, both invisible, both firing at her. It happened in the blink of her eye. And then she was miffed big-time as her gamer's body fell over with massive shots to the head, to the heart.
"Stop cheating," she said to both of them. "Hacks." Not sure which one was tweaking the code.
"Make me," sounded from two different sets of male voices at the same time.
The round started again but she was already remoting into her other laptop machines, taking away the control of their mouse, taking away any control at all, reading the open box of gaming code, to see which of them had done what. "Nasty break," she muttered and shot them both in the head.
"Now that was fun," Cole admitted. "Can I have control back now, so we can move on to say . . . a non-gaming server?"
"Which one?" she asked, disgusted to even inquire.
"Follow me and see if you can keep up."
She snorted. "I don't follow people around. They try to follow me." She executed a tiny piece of code on his machine, lurking in the background, running silently, watching and waiting. She did not realize that she blew softly on her screen.
Cole clicked the lid closed on the laptop. "She really does blow on her digital footprints to erase them. Controller laptops? Is that how you stay ahead of the game, pen tester? Do you really have pixiedust?"
She pointed from Cole to the door. "I am not comfortable having two men in my room. Please leave."
Glenn shook his head. "She was comfortable when she was winning. Way to go, Stone."
"Me?" Cole slapped one hand over his chest. "You're the one who laid out a honeypot and made us invisible."
A slow red crept up Glenn's face until it touched his blond roots. "Thanks for that."
Cole pounded him on the back. "No. Good job. She nibbled at it. I have sent email to all the dozens she keeps, but she won't bite on the oscilloscope."
Tessa snorted now. "Land on knowledge to hack the heart? Do you think I'm that stupid?"
Glenn stared at his fingernails. "You bought one on Ebay. Got quite the steal on an oscilloscope."
Cole lowered his face to hers. "I think you know how to do it, yes. I think you practice and practice in a test environment so there is no one quicker or slicker for the job. I think you couldn't stay away from trouble if it came with a red flashing alarm."
Ouch, he'd nailed her without laying a hand on her. How did he know so much about her? She could triangulate the position based on the radio signal alone. She'd run test after test to check distance and frequency.
Glenn slid his hand over hers.
"I think," Cole continued, "that you were considering taking out the electricity for your big tryout. That would work, but it's been done by me long ago. If you assassinate say, a man with great power in a foreign country, stop him dead in his tracks? That hasn't been done. You would be secured a slot at the top for the job that you want, to protect and to defend people with medical implants. You would settle it for good with you as part of the cyber CT team."
"How do you know anything about that?" she whispered.
Cole held up index finger and thumb with only a slight gap between them. "Cause I'm just a little better than you are. Been doing it a lot longer. It takes an accomplished cracker to teach security to an up-and-coming noble elite. Why don't you let me show you some things, make sure you blow away the competition?"
"What are you?" she demanded. "A damn cyber narc?"
"Ouch," Glenn grimaced. "Stop, Tess, or he'll be bleeding all over your room."
Cole strode to the doorway of the connecting room. He paused before going through. "Do you work hard at being so insulting?"
An echo from the past skittered across her memories.
Cole nodded once. "I am he who has protected you for years."
Don't go in there. Don't go in there. Don't go in there. She recalled the loudest time in her life when God had placed thoughts in her head, an urging in her spirit. And what had she done? She'd gone in there and really stirred it up until it was deliver or die time. She didn't own a real or cyber gun at that time. She didn't know how to shoot.
Glenn added, "We were two people who changed while whatever went down with you, went down. And then, Tessa, we've prayed for you every day."
She shivered. "You blessed the house."
"Yes," Glenn nodded. "I'm sorry. I was skeptical at best despite what I'd seen. I had no idea it would whip the evil inside that house into a frenzy. It was my first foray into the darkness."
Glenn continued, "It's gonna take more than me, babe. A dozen dudes from ghost hunting clubs across the prairie. I have a friend who will come. Be prepared, Tessa. He's a demonologist."
Tessa exhaled one quick breath, the desire to turn and run from this path burning into her soul. "It'll get really dangerous then, Glenn. They don't want to leave. I don't want them chased out where they follow me."
He agreed. "Neither do I. Can you do this, Tessa? All the way, hardcore, bump in the night. Or do you only want part of the collecting evidence to help me prove my theory?"
"I want to dump it and run. I want to make it so the next owner will be happy there. I don't know. I want it finished. What will it take, Glenn?"
What will he tell her?
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