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The monitors flickered as the power went out and backup generators engaged, and I crouched in the dark, hidden room, unable to look away from the frightening display. Screaming, blood, curses. It all rang in my ears, echoed in my head, and the visual tattooed itself in my mind, never to be forgotten.
Fear overwhelmed me, and I ran. Down a hidden flight of stairs, through a secret tunnel, and out into the silent night. I ran until my legs gave out, and I found a hiding place, somewhere that they would never find me. I was cold, so cold, and I kept seeing death, over and over. But the sounds were overridden by one statement, the voice of my father. Hide in plain sight.
I was alone. And as terrifying as that was for a child, it was preferable to the nightmare I’d run from.
Interrupted from my dream, at precisely 1:04 a.m., the monitor on my nightstand sounded, a quiet but obvious whimper from one of the children, and I quietly crawled out of the bed, tiptoeing down the hall toward the twins’ room. I stopped to check on the two of them, both just as deep in the throes of sleep as their father, and I headed straight for their closet.
I had counted my blessings that Corbin never questioned why I was so dead set on this house when we’d moved to Richmond, nor had he made any bones about a few ‘renovations’ I requested that delayed our move-in by a couple of weeks. I’d asked for new granite countertops and a couple of other miscellaneous upgrades, on paper, and I’d added a bit of a structural change that wasn’t on the record books.
I don’t think I could have explained it if I’d tried. But as I pulled a lever behind the faux wall at the back of the twins’ closet, opening the panic room, 'I' understood my request perfectly, and that’s what mattered. Always be prepared, my late father had taught me. It was one of many lessons I applied in my life on a daily basis.
These high-tech monitors gave me comfort, whereas the alarm was just a precaution that couldn’t be ignored but didn’t help my piece of mind. It was too easy to cut the wires to a generic, everyday alarm system, but my state-of-the-art security system hidden in these walls couldn’t be destroyed unless someone found this room. It was all wireless, and the power lines went straight into the ground, through the internal walls, and nothing could be accessed without entering the hidden space or tearing down the inside of the house.
I’d come in here for a specific reason, and I would be fast about that business. But first, I checked the bank account, as well as the GPS tracking system that told me where Corbin had been all day. It wasn’t that I expected my husband to do something untoward or shady. He was open and honest with me, and I didn’t doubt his loyalty. But my late father had also repeated another covenant – Never completely trust anyone.
I lived by Randall Carpenter’s code.
He’d stopped for coffee on the way to work and paid $4.27 for whatever he’d ordered, and otherwise, he’d been nowhere else but his office today. I smiled, glad that my husband was as trustworthy as anyone could be. As a software engineer for the CIA, most people would expect no less, but I knew better. Even the good guys turned bad all the time. There was always a driving force to bring out the evil in people. I had seen the proof with my own eyes.
The thought made me shiver, my parents’ screams of protest as they died echoing through my head for the second time that day.
I turned to another computer, this one reporting on the people I was tracking so closely. I hadn’t seen anything come through in months, which concerned me because a crime ring like theirs wouldn’t lie low for so long. That meant there had been something going on to which I wasn’t attuned, but tonight, my phone had alerted me to action.
I checked the camera that showed my room; Corbin was still sleeping soundly, rolled onto his stomach and likely snoring with his mouth open. It gave me time to trace the ping and connect to the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and Interpol. I may have been on the payroll of the CIA, but I would send the information to any and all agencies that could make something happen. I wanted the people I was tracking locked in a bunker with no windows and no doors for the rest of their lives…or dead.
I checked the monitor and made sure Corbin still hadn’t twitched, and I compiled the information into an encoded file and sent it along the secure connection to the government agencies. They had the proof they needed, including transaction information, IP addresses, locations, and the date. From there, they would be able to arrest one or more of the members of the Cybercrime ring. It was the first real victory for me, with decades of work involved, and I silently cheered. It looked like I might finally get the ball rolling and see justice served.
Once the confirmation of receipt came through, I shut everything down, save for the security system, closed the room, and headed back to bed. I lay down beside Corbin and looked at the back of his head, amazed that he loved me as much as I loved him. I hadn’t exactly been given prime examples of how to attract a man, and I certainly hadn’t counted on finding someone who could look past all my quirks and my need for control. Our romance had been anything but storybook, and to be completely honest, I’d started it with deception. But today, there were no lies between us, only classified information we couldn’t share.
We’d met senior year at MIT, and I was floored to meet someone as attractive he was with a level of intelligence that actually challenged my own in some ways. I’d tested off the charts long ago, hell I could have graduated MIT at age fourteen, but I’d learned to hide it, remaining the ghost and hiding in plain sight just like my father instructed. But with Corbin, I knew I could mostly be myself, so I’d hacked into the school database, tracing all the information on him I could get my hands on and making sure his background came up squeaky clean. He was an only child, a bit spoiled, having been handed new cars and plenty of allowance money, and he’d had a trust fund as well. But he was also a genius and had received the same scholarship to MIT that she had.
A week later, the ‘random’ partners assigned for a class project in the 400-level information technology class we shared paired the two of us together, and it seemed that being flirtatious and staring into Corbin’s translucent green eyes until he smiled shyly and blushed a bit did the trick. He asked me out, and after a short time, I discovered the domineering side of him which wasn’t present in his daily life. It gave us the perfect exchange, since I was always one to be in control and needed the relief at times.
He proposed two months before college graduation, and we were married the following September. We were both intent on landing a job at the CIA; with my history, I really didn’t fit the profile for anything else, and they’d had their eyes on me for nearly ten years already. Besides, I wasn’t sure a psychological evaluation that would be required for any other job my studies qualified me for would return favorably, and that would blacklist me. No, I was determined to follow the path that had been laid out for me by the people who had been my first influences.
As far as Corbin was concerned, I suggested him as a recruit, his intelligence and drive to perform making him the prime candidate for the job. With my backing, he was a shoe-in, no questions asked.
Our careers took off, and I’d insisted on waiting to have kids, though I’d already determined this house would be perfect for a family. After three years, it was time, and the twins had changed a lot of things.
Now, they were four, and I was settled into my lifestyle. Most people were still figuring out their paths at 29 years old, and here I was with a family, a career, and a beautiful and extremely secure house. I did as I was taught, engaging people as if I were the typical mom, working part time at a normal home office. While Corbin still worked long shifts from 7 a.m. until at least 5 p.m., I’d changed my hours with the birth of the twins, only working from 9 to 3, with the occasional trip into the panic room at any and all hours of the night.
To the average observer, neither of us set off alarms, and most of my children’s playmates’ parents assumed I sold antiques on Ebay or did medical billing or some other home-based business. I let them believe it because I never knew if someone else was playing a role much like I was, and I didn’t want to be noticed or singled out in any way. It wouldn’t serve my purpose at all.
It proved better for me to work from home anyway. I could have worked at any field office, but being that visible would have compromised my ability to remain a ghost, which was far more important to me than accolades. So, I was paid as if I were a consultant, under a different name. For the CIA, I was Kresley Martin, not Tess Foster. I had ID and everything to match the assumed name, and the paychecks were rerouted on a regular basis through several unnamed accounts around the world until they hit my joint account with Corbin.
I couldn’t become a spectacle; there were too many people who would come for me the minute anyone took notice of my existence, and now, so many years later, I still didn’t know what they wanted. To protect my family, I was willing to do just about anything, and that meant being absolutely nobody special, so that I could lead a life outside of work. My kids needed normalcy, and so did my husband, even if Corbin was a little closer to knowing the truth about my life than the kids. I wanted friends, and I wanted my children to socialize, I wanted to take them to the zoo and to the movies.
And that was how we would continue to live. I would continue hiding in plain sight and not draw attention to myself or my particular genius or skill set. I was just a normal wife and mother.
I’d made a huge first step in removing the threat to my life tonight, and it allowed me to sleep better than I had in months. After tonight, I was on the road to a real normal life and my heart leapt in joy.
As I entered my office the next morning to check my email, I clicked and opened the first one and there was just one sentence that made my breath catch in my throat.
Last night was a terrible mistake for you.
I put a tracer on the email instantly, and as I waited for results, my breath came faster, and my heart pounded. I felt violated, a sentiment I’d avoided for nearly twenty years...not finding anything I tried a different approach, isolating the time and date on the email and tracking any IP address that had pinged my connection within five minutes of that time, but still I found nothing.
Ready to panic, I got up and locked the door, just in case one of the kids tried to slip in as they did from time to time. I was invisible, untraceable. I knew plenty of people who could have leveled such a threat, but without leaving a single clue behind?
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Hide in Plain Sight - Look for it October 23rd!