Tom and Gwen got hard to work on implementing their plan. The first phase involved hacking into Oscorp computers without their knowledge. There had been allegations of Oscorp manufacturing weapons that had been involved in genocide in Eastern Europe and Africa, but nothing had ever come of the charges. With the help of Beaker, Tom's old roommate from MIT who was a hacking genius, they were able to steal incriminating photos, military reports, and casualty statistics that proved just what kind of atrocities Oscorp had been involved in. Next, Tom joined the school newspaper, ostensibly because he loved photography. Then he made his first move. As he was walking down the hall of one of the study buildings, he made sure he 'accidentally' bumped into George Bartholomew, sending books and a file that Tom was carrying, flying into the air.
"Hey! Watch where you're going, moron!" yelled Bartholomew.
"Oh, sorry, sorry. Hey aren't you George Bartholomew? Is it true that you're going to get the internship at Oscorp?"
"Who are you? Are you that mook who has teamed up with Stacy? That was a poor career move, son."
"You know what? Could be. I am barely passing my classes. I much more enjoy investigative journalism. Are you sure that an internship at Oscorp is the best career move for you?"
"Whatever," said Bartholomew, getting up to leave.
"You didn't hear this from me, but word is that there will be a senate committee investigation into Oscorp and they'll probably lose their military contracts, putting them out of business. But anyway, I gotta run. This scoop is my ticket out of here."
"Whatever," Bartholomew said again thoughtfully. "Just watch where you're going." Tom ran off, leaving behind a file on the ground. Bartholomew was about to leave when, curiosity getting the better of him, he opened the file. Inside he found the evidence that Tom had stolen. Looking around, he put the file in his bag and ran out.
"Phase one complete," thought Tom.
Tom and Gwen's plan to gain the confidence of Dr. Connors was complex, and getting it's many moving parts into motion required a lot of concentration. But in the back of Tom's mind, he continued to think about investigating Latrell's murder. He decided that when he had a moment, he would go to Latrell's daughter's old neighbourhood and try to see if he could make some discreet inquiries. He was able to determine that one of her former neighbours was a small time drug dealer, and was always home. Surely this guy knew something. But how to get him to talk? Tom knocked on his door. "Whattya want?" someone shouted from behind the door.
"I'm looking for Marlin. I'm a friend."
The door opened a crack. "I don't know you."
"I just have some questions," said Tom wedging his foot in the door.
Marlin eyed him up and down. "You ain't no cop."
"No," said Tom, "I'm here to talk about the gospel. If you just give me two minutes, I wanted to get your opinion on a scripture from the Bible."
Marlin's face relaxed a little. "Okay."
"Do you think that this is God's will that we live with all of this suffering?"
"Man, there's always been suffering. That'll never change."
"I know, like look at this neighbourhood. Not too long ago, a kid got shot on his way home from a basketball game. He lived, but then his grandfather was shot and killed a few days later. Did you hear about that?"
"Yeah, I did," said Marlin. "Everyone heard about that. That was Prince's gang. They don't tolerate no threats to their dominance in their territory. And they're expanding. It's getting to be that there won't be no place safe for that kid."
"It's up to the God-fearing folk to protect them."
"Any idea where I might be able to find Prince? Or maybe his partner Cisco? I, uh, need to pray with them for their salvation."
"I'm not sure that you should, but yeah sure, I know where you can find them."
The pistol that Tom had swiped from Latrell's apartment felt heavy in his jacket pocket. What should he do now? At least he had some evidence. He put the gun in the glove compartment in his car and walked into the police precinct that was handling Latrell's case.
"I'd like to speak to a detective. I believe I have some information that would be useful." Tom was directed to a meeting room surrounded by windows. He waited ten minutes before a fat, white policeman wearing a shirt unbuttoned at the top and a tie waddled in.
"I'm detective Ferguson. I hear you have something for me on the Miller Murder?" Tom explained how he had learned that everything pointed to Prince's street gang. Ferguson said, "Okay kid, let's go over what you've told me. We got a daughter and her son who refuse to cooperate. You've got the word of a drug dealer who says he's heard that Prince's guys did this. And what else we got? Huh? You've been snooping around, so now you know where Prince hangs out, and what? We should go arrest him? We need evidence."
"Well… I've just provided you with a pretty good motive. Don't you go out and investigate to collect the evidence now?"
"You've got a theory, and don't you think it's one that we've already considered?"
"So you want me to bring you the evidence."
"Absolutely not! Listen kid, do us all a favour and let us do our job. If you want to be of assistance, the best thing you can do is just stay away from the whole thing, and if you are close to the family and supporting them, great. You can also encourage them to cooperate with us more and then we can get the whole case settled."
Tom left the police station frustrated. He decided to go by the neighbourhood where he knew Prince's men hung out and did their business. Maybe he could get a photo of them doing something that he could then forward to the DA, because somehow the local police didn't instil him with confidence.
Tom parked his car a few blocks away, and then went on foot and climbed a fire escape up the side of a building where he thought he might have a good vantage point to watch the comings and goings of the gangsters. Sure enough, after not too long, his patience was rewarded and he was snapping pictures of different gang members. Unfortunately in this kind of exposed environment, they were just talking to one another and he couldn't see them doing anything incriminating. Tom had been confident they he was safely enshrouded in the cover of darkness, until through his camera lens he distinctly saw Cisco point in his direction, and then say something to his cohort. "Aw, snap!" said Tom aloud.
He quickly packed up his camera and started shimmying down the fire escape as fast as he possibly could. The gangsters, for their part, had broken into a run to investigate who was spying on them. Tom hit the ground running and took off in the opposite direction with the thugs in hot pursuit. Tom suddenly broke off from the line he had been running and darted down an alley to try to get to a different street, but one of them saw him running and he wasn't able to lose them. He managed to get to another main street and ran flat out, trying to put as much distance as he could between them. When he had run a few blocks, a truck passed by, obscuring him for a moment and he took advantage to go down another alley. This one unfortunately did not connect to anything but was just a dead end. Tom hid behind a dumpster until his pursuers ran on past. They stayed close by, and he could hear them yelling at each other, as they searched up and down the street. 'This is not good,' he thought. His mind raced as he considered his options. Panicking, he quickly texted April that this was an emergency and he needed her to come pick him up, hoping that she was visiting her parents. She texted back, 'Someone better be dying.' Tom grinned, and responded, 'Matter of life and death, I swear.' "OK be there in 30.'
'I sure hope I last that long,' he thought. Time passed excruciatingly slowly. After twenty minutes, a flashlight shined down Tom's alleyway.
A voice boomed, "Come on out now. We just want to talk. But if you wait until we find you, and we will find you, there are no promises. You don't want to die do you? Then come out here." Tom held back his breath trying not to make a sound.
'I sure hope my ride is close,' he thought, and decided it was time to make his move. When the flashlight moved on, Tom snuck out, slowly and carefully, and proceeded in the opposite direction of the light. Hiding beneath a car, he texted April an intersection that was two blocks away and started slinking away slowly in the shadows. When he got to the location, she was nowhere to be seen. He tapped his phone against his leg impatiently, constantly looking around. Finally, he recognized her car approaching down the main street. Breaking into a run, he left the safety of his hiding place as fast as he had ever run in his life. Just as she slowed to a halt, he saw other figures leaving the shadows and running towards them. Tom jumped in the front seat, "Go! Go! Go!" he yelled.
As they drove away, Tom could barely breathe for ten minutes. Finally April said, "So you going to tell me what this is about, or do I have to beat it out of you like I usually do?"
"I might have made a mistake, going there tonight."
"Yeah, no kidding. What the hell were you doing there anyway?" April was starting to work herself up.
"Okay look, before you start yelling at me, let me just say that I was trying to follow your advice. I have reliable information that it was Prince's guys that shot Latrell. I went to the police like you told me to, but they weren't willing to do anything, unless I had some hard evidence. So that's what I was trying to get," he said, holding up his camera.
"Yeah right. The police told you to gather evidence?"
"No, but they also told me they weren't looking for evidence either. So what else was I supposed to do? Somebody has to bring these guys to justice." Tom looked out the window. Now he was feeling angry and frustrated with himself. He also felt stupid for making such a foolish mistake, and the fact that April had had to save him wasn't helping his bruised ego. "Maybe if the cops don't want these pictures I took, I should hand them off to a rival gang and see if they will take care of Prince and Cisco," he said bitterly. Gwen was rubbing off on him.
"You don't mean that. I thought you wanted justice for Latrell."
"Well it would be more justice than what he's getting from the cops."
"Tom, having Prince killed in a gang war is not justice. Now you're just talking about revenge."
"Well sometimes they are the same thing."
"They're never the same thing! Justice is about balance. What you're talking about is just about making yourself feel better. Okay, let's play with your scenario. What was your plan for when Prince inevitably came after you to take revenge in turn?"
Tom set his jaw, and then slowly pulled the gun out of his pocket. "I guess then he'd finally get what he deserves."
April's eyes flashed on the gleaming barrel of the pistol. Then in a split-second she looked back up at Tom and slapped him. She tried to slap him again, but the second one was weak because she was also driving. "My father would be ashamed of you, if he knew." That comment stung him deep. "Can't you see? If you want to fight the injustice in this world, you can't stoop to their level. Let me tell you, I've already learned that guys like Prince are small, small fish in a sea of sharks that keep this world such a dangerous place. There are much bigger players that keep this city flooded with drugs and corruption and produce about ten guys like Prince a day. We are basically at war, and when you stoop to their level, it's a lost battle for the good and right." April looked like every muscle in her body was tense. Then she added quietly, "And you'll just end up getting yourself killed."
Tom sat silently for a while, his heart striking him again and again. "Thanks so much for coming to get me. I don't deserve a friend like you."
"Well, maybe you've helped me a few times," she said, pursing her lips. "But one of these days we are going to be even, you hear me? Come on, you can stay at my parent's place tonight." Tom smiled.
The next day, Tom went to visit Mariah. She needed to go for a treatment that required her to stay overnight in the hospital. Tom picked her up and accompanied her into her room. "So the doctor says I am not allowed to stay with you tonight," he said.
"That's okay, I'll be alright. Thanks for coming in with me."
"I brought you a book of poems. W.H. Auden," he said. "And because I was so appalled to hear that someone like you, who's lived at the Chelsea had never listened to any Woodie Guthrie," Mariah started laughing, "I brought you an iPod with the Mermaid Avenue albums. It's Woodie Guthrie's lyrics. I think you'll really like it." He looked at her with a hint of sadness. "And don't worry about Bambino." he said, referring to her dog. "I'll walk him twice a day and feed him, is it three times a day?"
"Just feed him twice a day as well. Thanks so much. You really didn't have to do all this."
"Just try and focus on the music and remember we're working on a solution for you. Okay, sorry, I guess I have to go. Take care." He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll be back first thing tomorrow." She waved good-bye.
Tom went back to Mariah's house and took out Bambino for his walk. Then he went back to her house, and did little repairs and maintenance around. Washed up everything, cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, and repaired some wood siding that was falling down. As he was looking around, he went to her back shed. There was something big under a thick canvas cover. Curious, he pulled back the canvas to reveal a dusty but beautiful cedar canoe lying upside down across two saw horses. Tom ran his hand down the solid, cedar strip construction, remarking on the beautiful craftsmanship. "What I wouldn't give to take you out on the Allegheny," he thought.
That night, he had agreed to take M.J. out with her friends, but he was really not in the mood for banal conversation. Her friends talked a lot about design, which moderately held his interest, but mostly talked about celebrity gossip and reality TV. All that Tom had on his plate was starting to wear on him, so that he didn't do a very convincing job of feigning interest in M.J.'s prattle. Then on their way home, she finally said, "Do you think I'm stupid?"
Tom was caught off guard. He frowned. "No. No, of course I don't. Why would you say that?"
"Because you either argued with or dismissed everything I said tonight. And you were downright mean to Greg. Just because he's not going to medical school doesn't mean you have the right to treat him like he's an idiot." Tom struggled to recall what he had said that was so mean, or even exactly which one was 'Greg.' "And another thing, just because you believe that what you're doing is so much more important than the rest of us, you don't have to be such a jerk. Yes! I know! I'm not a doctor! I'm not saving people's lives! I'm not hoping to change the world like your lawyer ex-girlfriend! (And I am sick of hearing about her by the way.) I'm just an interior designer, and my biggest dream is to work for a cool furniture magazine. But that doesn't make me a moron and that doesn't make me a bad person!" M.J. looked like she was about to cry, but her blinding rage was restraining all the tears.
Tom was at a loss as to what to say. Basically he didn't want to deal with this right now, and all he really wanted to do was to go to bed. Finally he said, "Look, I'm really sorry. I was distracted tonight, but that didn't give me the right to treat you like that. Or your friends. I don't think… I mean, I think you are really smart."
"Oh yeah right!"
"No… it's true. I do think you are smart. You are smart in ways that I am totally dumb. I don't know anything about design. And I really respect you as an artist. You have an incredible eye, both in taste and for photography. I wish I could take photos like you. And you have an aesthetic grace that will allow you to do whatever you put your mind to. I have no doubt about that. So please forgive me for the way I acted tonight." Tom touched her hand, as he continued driving. M.J. said nothing. She looked like she wanted to keep fighting.
When they arrived at her apartment, Tom basically went straight into the shower. As he let the water flow over him, he rubbed his face with his palms. Then he heard the shower door open behind him. He turned around as M.J. was sliding the door behind her. She took his hand, "I accept your apology," she whispered. "You're not an easy man, but maybe I'm a bit difficult too. Will you make up with me?" They made up raucously that night until the neighbours pounded on the wall.
The next morning, Tom poured himself some coffee and said, "Sorry, babe, I won't be around today. I have to go visit Mariah in the hospital and hopefully take her home, but I don't know how long I'll be."
M.J. frowned. "That's okay, but do you mind if I ask you something? What really is the deal with you and her? Are you seriously telling me that she's just a patient to you? Is it normal for a doctor to drive their patient to their appointments, walk their dog and clean their house? I'm not a jealous person, but should I be jealous of you and her?"
"Well, the thing is; I'm not a doctor. I'm a student. She is an interesting case, and I have a vested interest in her well being and hopefully eventual recuperation. That's all."
"So you're saying your interest in her is strictly academic?"
"Well she is a human being. So I care about her, but it's not like that. Realistically I think she's too sick to have any kind of physical relationship."
M.J. smiled on hearing that. "Well in that case, I hope everything goes well today." She sat on his lap and kissed him. "Just promise not to forget about me, okay?"
He went to the hospital and picked up Mariah to take her home. When he got her to her house, he helped her walk inside where he set her up on her sofa, tucking her in with a blanket and handing her a steaming cup of herbal tea. "Okay, I've got books here for you, writing materials, TV remote. Here's Bambino. He's the happiest one to see you home. Anything else I can get for you?"
"It's perfect, thank you," she said faintly. "How can I make it up to you?"
"Well, there's one thing you could do. You could write me a poem." Tom looked at her smiling.
Mariah grinned over her steaming mug. "That could be arranged. I'll make sure that it's my finest work."
Tom chuckled. "Don't save your finest work for me. You'll be able to write very inspiring poems once you've gotten through this."
Mariah groaned a little, deep within herself. "Tom, there's something I wanted to talk to you about. This morning, before you came, the doctor met with me, and he was brutally honest, which is really unusual for him. He told me that I have two, maybe three months tops." She tried to force a smile. "So I need to tell you, now, that I really appreciate all that you've done. I can't express…" she paused, her voice cracking. She swallowed and continued, "It's hard for me to say how lucky I am to have your support." A tear rolled down her cheek, and she grabbed Tom's hand.
Tom was beside himself. He wasn't able to say anything, at first. He just gripped her hand as tight as he could, like he never wanted to let it go. Finally, with his eyes overflowing with tears, he croaked, "Don't mention it." Then he took a deep breath. He wanted a distraction. "I happened upon your cedar strip canoe in the shed. That thing is awesome. Do you still use it?"
Mariah's cracking voice laughed a little. "I use to really love the adventure and experience of canoe camping. It's addicting to be able experience the inspiration of nature in the lakes connected by portage trails where no motors are allowed. But since I've gotten sick I haven't been able to use it in a long time. And if you keep a canoe out of the water for years it develops gaps between the seams. I just haven't had the chance to soak it in water and then refinish the wood."
"I'll look into it." Tom and Mariah sat for a while, trying to talk of lighter things, such as canoeing and poetry writing. Finally Tom rose to leave. As he kissed her on the forehead, he said, "I love you." The words just seemed to tumble out of his lips. Mariah's jaw dropped in shock. Then Tom said, "Boy, that was unexpected. That's not something I usually say to people. Um…" He paused and looked at her, smiling. "I hope the shock of hearing that unexpectedly isn't too much for you, in your fragile condition. But I don't regret saying it." He continued looking into her eyes.
Mariah smiled back at him. "It was unexpected, but I think I can live with it." They continued holding hands until Tom finally had to leave.