The Willow Society

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 43

Chapter 43

The voices and music faded entirely as he went down the hallway. Taylor was only vaguely aware of where in the building he was when he came across a door marked: “Conference Room 3.” For some reason that jarred his brain and a map of the mansion popped up. At the next junction a right would send him straight towards the Mayor's Office. But just as he reached that junction he heard voices.

“...don't know. Get her out of here now!“ a voice, possibly the Mayor's, said. Another voice, harder, deeper said, “Yes sir.”

Sounds of a brief struggle ensued, then stopped. Something heavy was being drug across the floor. A door began to open and Taylor darted away, careless of where he was heading, only trying to avoid whoever was coming out of that room. He dashed around a corner and down a long hallway, took a left. Found himself in front of a door which said “Mayor's Office.“ Sighing with relief, Taylor turned the handle. Nothing. He shook the door a little, but nothing changed. Looking around, breathing hard he texted Winston, “outside. open the door.“

Seconds later a text came back, “locked, can't get it open.“

Taylor only had a moment to wonder how Winston had gotten in, in the first place. Is there was a second entrance? Trying to focus, Taylor recalled the map in his head. There is a second entrance. It must be locked too, or Winston would have used it. He had to try though, it was better than just standing there, doing nothing. Peeking around the corner, Taylor saw the hallway was clear in both directions. He ran, followed his mental map until he was near the other door of the Mayor's office, outside the office of the Mayor's Chief of Staff. His phone buzzed.

He pulled it up. It was a text from Izzy. “where r u?“

Firing back quickly, Taylor typed, “helping winston. mayor's ofc."

He texted Winston again, "chief of staff's office.“ "both doors locked.“ came Winston's reply

Things were silent, no one seemed to be around. He texted Winston again. "how doors get locked?“

“dunno.” came the reply.

Sighing, Taylor inspected the door. The handle turned - it wasn't locked. Paying little attention to the office, Taylor dashed towards the unmarked door which must lead to the Mayor's Office. Vainly he tried the handle. Nothing. There was an access panel.

Shit. If only I had my iPhone. With that he might have been able to fool the access card reader, using the magnetic encoder Myth had installed. The only other option was to search the nearby desk, maybe he would get lucky and find an access card which worked. The desk was well-ordered - nothing out of place: only a small wooden name plate, a monitor, a keyboard and a calendar file were atop of the desk. Searching took seconds. Nothing. Trying the drawers, seconds more. Still nothing. Frustrated, Taylor kicked the desk. The calendar file shifted. Taylor kicked the desk angrily again. The calendar file fell to the floor with a disturbingly loud clack. The keyboard was halfway across the desktop and the monitor swayed. Now it was on the floor Taylor noticed a little white strip on the bottom of the calendar file. He reached down and picked it up. It was five numbers: 10008.

Setting the file back on the desk, no idea what date it had been opened to, so he opened it to the current date, December 16th. He went to the access panel and keyed in the five numbers.

The red light turned green and the door clicked open.

Taylor sighed with relief and dashed inside.

He made sure not to close the door all the way, afraid it might lock again. How had it locked the first time? The question was knocked out of his mind by the sight of Winston hunched behind a large mahogany desk, leaning in towards a large LED monitor, a strained expression on his face. All the lights were off save for a tiny light tucked behind Winston's ear. Where did he find that? The office was full of bookshelves, crammed with law books. He didn't bother to examine them closely.

The rest of the office was taken up by the mammoth desk and the huge carpet underneath.

“Can't get past the firewall, old boy. “ Winston said, threw his hands up in mock-disgust. “You try.“

Taylor rushed around the desk, eyes scanning the desktop as he did. Nothing unusual, it was mostly empty: only a large calendar, a container of pens and pencils, a button-covered phone, an intercom, and some kind of little panel with twelve backlit buttons. A small rectangle, the same size as an iPhone, but more irregular in shape sat next to the calendar file. Two rounded nodules bulged out of one side of the rectangle and a slightly reflective touchscreen was face up, dark. It might have been a cell phone, but someone had hacked at it, put it back together, like something Myth might have done. Taylor's eyes slid past it, focusing on the LED screen.

Winston shifted and Taylor sat down. As soon as Taylor pulled out his thumbdrive, Winston wandered over towards the door, peeked out. Taylor popped his knuckles and went to work. He saw why Winston had had such a problem. He shook his head. “What were you trying to find?“ he asked. Why had Winston ended up in the Mayor's Office? What happened to the people he was supposed to be following? The Mayor? Alexander? The security guard? But he waited to hear the answer to his first question before peppering the other boy with the rest.

"Dunno. Clues. Something. Anything, old man?“ Winston mumbled from the door. Then he peered out again. Taylor launched several programs. He also loaded a clock. It often helped for him to feel pressured. He asked his other questions. Winston turned from the door and his mouth worked silently before he finally answered, as if he were practicing his responses. He checked the door again several more times. “Um. Yeah. I lost them. Then I heard a struggle and a scream, so I ran. I lost where I was for a second, came in here. A light flashed up there..." Winston pointed up to a caged light bulb Taylor had not noticed. “And both doors locked suddenly.“ Winston shrugged.

Taylor gaped at the monitor.

Nothing was working. This is a very well protected machine.

The only option he had left was to go “hard.“ He rebooted the machine. When it came back up Taylor hammered the DEL key until a BIOS screen came up. He tried his first guess, the AMI standard four digit code. Shockingly, it worked. Grinning and looked up to tell Winston, noticed the boy gone. Taylor swore. At the least the door was still open. Inside the BIOS Taylor changed the boot order, setting the machine to boot from his thumbdrive. Less than a minute later the machine had rebooted and was running from a Linux variant on the thumbdrive. All the necessary IP info had been saved earlier at home. Configuration screens popped up and disappeared and he began to load programs, until he had a live network connection. He now appeared to be coming from the same secured IP the Mayor's machine was supposed to have. He had to be careful and make sure he left no trail. That took another few minutes of configuration.

Satisfied, Taylor sent a dump of the most frequently-accessed network folders, anything with the Mayor's name in it over the Internet. Every word document, every picture. By the time he was done adding file masks seven more minutes had passed. Winston had yet to return. The Mayor had a T3 connection, and the upload wasn't going to take long, maybe ten more minutes. There was nothing to do but wait.

His hands, unable to be still, Taylor searched around the drawers in the desk. They were all locked. He got up and peered out the door. Still no Winston. Swinging back, Taylor inspected some of the bookshelves. Another minute ticked by and he remembered the strange phone-like device on the desk. Taylor sat down and picked up the device, swiped a finger across the touchscreen, watched it come to life. Bright white letters on a black background read “WS-551 WIPER - D. Goldberg.“ Nothing else appeared on the screen. Taylor turned it around in his hands, looking for buttons, controls of some kind. Other than the two nodules, there were none; just a thin, narrow port on the opposite edge from the nodules, clearly a kludged micro USB connection. Nothing he could do made the device do anything but display that text.

He looked at the monitor. Four minutes to go. Taylor carefully set the device back down and watched, waited for its touchscreen to go dark. The only noise was the computer's whirring fan and a breeze come from the air-conditioning vent. Until a low creak came from the door, which in the exaggerated silence was horridly loud. Taylor nearly flew under the desk in fright, though it was only Winston.

“Almost done, old man?“ Winston said. “Find anything?“ Taylor shook his head, confused. What does he expect me to find? No one can datamine gigabytes of data in minutes without some idea of what to look for. “I'm dumping the network drives, documents, pictures, everything. It's almost finished. Where did you go?“ Taylor asked.

“Scoped out the hallways, everything seems quiet.“ Winston said, but he was looking nervously at the door. “Done yet?“

Taylor looked at the monitor, “Two minutes.“

Winston grimaced, “Just pull it. We gotta go. Now.“ Urgency strained Winston's voice. Obliging, Taylor pressed a few buttons so the machine rebooted, he removed his thumbdrive. It wasn't clean: the machine wouldn't boot properly without resetting the BIOS, but there was nothing to be done about it. Winston was practically hopping to leave. Just as he started to stand, Taylor fumbled his thumbdrive and it clattered to the floor. He leaned down to pick it up and when he was upright again Winston stood over the desk, staring at Taylor's hands. His face was sour, but he didn't say anything. The boys made to leave the office. Taylor hadn't taken two steps when a buzzing sounded from his pocket. Shit! The phone.

Taking it out, he saw Winston do the same. They had the same text. It was from Myth. “security swarming outside mansion.“ Winston swore.

How could Myth know what's going on outside the Mansion?

They had just run through the door out of the Mayor's Office when the caged light flashed red and the doors locked. Distant footsteps echoed from the hallways. Winston's head whipped around furiously. He lead Taylor on with a waving hand. They passed the room where Taylor had overheard voices before. Taylor had forgotten to convey what he had heard to Winston. No time now, maybe later.

Heart-thumping, Taylor hardly heard the footsteps coming from two directions. Up the hallways and behind a door to the left. Taylor bit his lip with worry as he looked to Winston for some indication what to do next. Winston's head swung in each direction, as if weighing options. After more wracking seconds of waiting he jerked his head towards the door some of the noise had emanated from. Winston started to move in that direction, Taylor hesitated, just long enough to hear the footsteps from up the hallway, very loud now, and he saw flashlight beams. Unsure and scared out of his mind, Taylor lunged behind Winston into the room.

Surprisingly, the room was empty of people, quiet and dark. He didn't know it was some learned skill of Winston's, or just innate ability, which told him the room was empty, despite the sounds. Winston was already across the room turning a door handle, gently, of the other door in the room. He slowly cracked the door open and pressed his ear to the crack. Taylor couldn't hear much at all above the blood pounding in his ears. Winston clearly heard something, his face was deadly serious. Taylor moved and Winston's hand shot up in a STOP gesture. Taylor froze. Long, drawn out seconds passed. He heard footsteps outside the door they had entered. Unsure if Winston had heard the noise he started towards the boy again and found Winston's hand grabbing the lapel of his jacket, pulling him hard towards the door Winston had been at, listening.

They ran and lights came on. Booted feet echoed enough to be clearly heard, even over the blood roaring in Taylor's ears. He didn't have time to do more than be afraid as Winston led him at a dead run down the hallway towards a set of double doors. At the last moment Winston turned to the right and they dashed into an office, Winston shutting the door behind them, with surprising gentleness. They were in a copy room.

Winston leaned in close and whispered, “If anyone stops us, pretend you're drunk. Looking for the bathroom. It's not going to work, but maybe...“ Winston sounded worried, which was all the more daunting because Winston never worried about anything. Without waiting for Taylor, Winston opened the door they had dashed through and stumbled out. Taylor was right on his heels, breathing hard from all the running and the excitement. How had Winston kept his head, how he had become so easy and capable at this? It seemed a Herculean task for a teenage boy, particularly one so rich, so privileged. Taylor wanted to think spoiled, but Winston wasn't all that spoiled. Not really.

The hallway was lit brightly and now he had calmed a bit Taylor heard loud, thumping music, distantly. We're close to the ballroom again. Taylor tried to pull up the layout of the building, but it wouldn't come, he was too turned about. Winston pulled on Taylor's arm as soon as he was out of the copy room, led him towards the double doors. They were fifteen feet from the door, the music growing louder with each step. They pushed the door.

An alarm sounded.

They were suddenly amid a crowd of gyrating kids. Once the doors opened the music drowned out the alarm. A few heads turned their way, but no one seemed to really pay much attention to them. The doors swung closed by themselves, but Taylor thought he still heard the alarm. Winston swayed, not dancing, he was pretending to be drunk. Taylor had been standing with a wide-eyed expression on his face, so he tried to follow suit. They wandered around, Winston purposefully bumping into people and laughing, Taylor feeling like an idiot, did the same.

Taylor bumped into someone and the gasp was familiar.

“Taylor!“ Izzy said, angry, relieved. He had stepped on her dress and shoe. She hopped, eyed him coolly. Winston drunkenly weaved towards them.

“Where is Lou?“ Taylor asked.

“I don't know. We got separated., We have to get out of here, now!“ Izzy said, rubbing her foot trough her dress and shoe. “You got Myth's text? A few minutes ago, seven or eight guards in blazers ran through here toward those doors you two just used.“

Taylor swore, loud enough heads around him turned.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.