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Nine Months Ago

"Hey, Tennison," Miles from the next cubicle over was standing just behind Frank's left shoulder, "boss wants to see you."

Frank kept his eyes on his monitor, pretending not to hear this interruption of his work. A guitar riff escaped from the earbuds stuck into his ears, making it appear as though he was so wrapped up in the rock anthem and his work, he wasn't paying attention to anything else. His brown hair fell over his eyes, partially covering his face, allowing him to see Miles' frustrated reflection in his monitor.

"Dude, did you hear me?" Miles raised his voice. When there was still no reaction, he reached out a hand to grab Frank's arm, suddenly finding that hand caught in a vice-like grip.

"Not a good idea, dude," Frank said. "I heard you the first time. What I didn't hear was why." His voice was sharp and cold. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for a response as he removed the earbuds with his free hand.

Miles twisted his arm trying to liberate it from Frank's grasp, and gulped when his hand wouldn't move. "Uh, he didn't say. He just told me to get you." He shifted his wrist. "Look, Tennison, can I have my arm back? It's hard to code if I can't type." He laughed nervously, his eyes darting around to see if anyone else was around to help him.

Frank opened his hand, releasing the other man's wrist. "Hansen's in his office?" Miles nodded, backing away quickly towards his own desk and computer. Frank stood and pushed the hair out of his eyes. "Then I guess I shouldn't keep him waiting."

Frank knocked on the door at the end of the hall, then opened it and walked in without waiting for an invitation. Edward Hansen, a man in his fifties with graying hair and dark eyes, looked up at his entrance. "Tennison, good. Come in. Shut the door behind you. Sit." Hansen waited for the door clicked shut and Frank to sit in the chair in front of his desk before continuing. "You're probably wondering why I asked to see you." Frank nodded, keeping his face blank. "You haven't been here that long, but your work so far has been exemplary. Truthfully, you're probably the best coder we've hired in a while," he paused. "However, I need to ask you about these." He pushed a sheaf of papers across his desk towards Frank who picked them up and started leafing through them, his eyes growing wide as he examined the contents.

"I wasn't aware anything I did in my off-work hours was any of your business," Frank snapped, cheeks turning pale and eyes flashing. He continued flipping pages. "And these," he waved one of the pages in Hansen's face, "were supposed to be sealed once I turned eighteen. How the hell did you get this?" he asked, his voice brittle. He flung the papers back down on the desk, scattering them. "Fine," he fumed, "fine! I'll go clean out my damn desk so you won't need to go to the trouble of firing me." He stood, shoved the chair out of his way, and stormed to the door.

"Frank, I'm not firing you," Hansen said, standing. His voice was gentle. "I'm just looking for an explanation of why you're posting on hacker boards while you're working for a company that writes programs for government agencies." He gathered the papers into a neat pile. "Given what I've seen so far, it looks like most of what you write is theoretical, not something you've put into practice. At least not recently." He paused, smiling. "The theory's good, though."

"How do you know it's me posting those?" Frank asked, hand on the doorknob.

Hansen chuckled. "Aside from what you just said? Come on, son. You're using the name LordTennison. Give me some credit. The spelling of your last name isn't that common. Nor is your sense of humor." He paused, indicating with his hand that Frank should sit back down. "I know your colleagues seem to think you don't possess one, but I've seen flashes of it here and there." Hansen paused and sat back down. "To tell the truth, I've been keeping an eye on you, Frank, and I have to say, I'm impressed with what I've seen so far."

Frank slumped back down in the chair. "And you're not concerned about my record?" he demanded, sarcasm dripping from each word.

Hansen shook his head. "I can see why it's not something you'd mention in an interview." His eyes narrowed as he regarded his employee. "I am curious, though. What made you hack into the school's computer network?"

Frank shrugged his shoulders. "The principal didn't seem to think a foster kid could outdo his precious rich kid scholars. He decided I cheated on a test that could have gotten me a full ride to MIT, so he took my name off as a candidate. I decided grades were overrated so I changed them. Everyone's. In every subject." He smirked. "I also set about a hundred porn sites to open on his workstation as soon as he unlocked it in the morning. Let's just say he wasn't happy. He got investigated. I got freed from a hell-hole foster home and sent on an all-expense paid trip to Juvie."

This time Hansen laughed. "I admire the drive and ingenuity that showed, Frank. I should probably be concerned about your lack of respect for authority figures, though."

"You're sure you don't want me to clean out my desk?" Frank's face darkened as he asked the question.

"Possibly," Hansen replied, smiling when he saw the startled look on Frank's face, "but not in the way you mean." He leaned forward on his desk. "I have a... project I'm working on that I think you might be perfect for. Someone with your background and initiative needs a greater scope for your talents. I think I can offer that to you." He folded his hands. "Have I interested you?"

Frank tilted his head to the side, a light glinting in his brown eyes. "You've definitely intrigued me. Sir," he added as an afterthought. "What kind of work is it?"

"More coding," Hansen said evasively. "Just a different type. Let's just say it's something specialized. From what I've read in your online posts and seen of your work so far, I think it's something you'll excel at. And you'll be compensated at, say, twice your current salary? With bonuses if the work is satisfactory. What do you think?"

"I... I don't know..." Frank stammered. "I could definitely use the money, that's for sure."

Hansen smiled paternally. "Look, Frank, why don't you take rest of the afternoon off, and when you get here tomorrow, come right to me, and I'll introduce you to your new duties. If you're not sure it's what you want to do? Well, we'll see. I'm fairly sure you'll find it challenging enough to keep your interest." He stood and extended a hand. It was a both a congratulatory gesture and a dismissal.

Frank nodded, shook the proffered hand, and walked out of the office.

When he reached the local public library, Frank looked around to make sure no one was nearby then sat down on a stone bench behind a tree. He pulled out a disposable cell phone, carefully dialed a number, and held the cell up to his ear.

"Keppel's Cables. You string 'em, we sell 'em," came a tense voice on the other end.

Frank smiled. Feeling mischievous from his success with Hansen he decided to try something new. "I am in need to, vot is vord... purchasing five one-hundred meter cat-six cables. You have in stock?" he asked in a theatrical Russian accent.

The silence from the other phone lasted over a minute before he got a response. "Sorry? You want what?"

Frank couldn't help laughing. "And that's why I got picked for this assignment and not you, little brother," he gasped when he could breathe. He could hear Joe let out a long, slow, exasperated breath. "I just wish I could see the expression on your face."

"I'm so glad I can provide you with some comic relief." Joe's tone was sarcastic and his voice sounded angry. "Damn it, Frank, if you're done laughing at my expense, perhaps you'd care to explain why the hell you didn't check in last night like you were supposed to?"

"Work," Frank said, sounding slightly abashed, the laughter in his voice fading. "I didn't get in until after eleven, and I didn't want to wake you up. You weren't worried, were you?"

"Me?" Joe said, all the tension gone and just the sarcasm remaining. "I don't worry about you. Why should I worry about you being undercover for the FBI? I just love being called every half-hour by our mother and aunt from dinnertime until one in the morning wanting to know if you've contacted me yet because it's Tuesday. Really." Frank could feel his face turning red. "And now you call at three in the afternoon on a number no one's supposed to have but you, pretending to be some guy who wants cables. What am I supposed to think?" The irritation in Joe's voice rang out through the phone.

"Okay, you're right. I'm sorry," Frank apologized, "I couldn't resist. Tennison doesn't spend too much time laughing. But, Joe, I think I'm in. Hansen called me in to his office to offer me a special project."

Joe snorted. "How do you know it's not creating a really cool program to count how many pencils the IRS pushes in a year?" Frank could hear him drumming a pen on the desk as he spoke.

"Those kinds of jobs don't usually involve being handpicked by the boss," Frank responded. "Or doubling my salary." He could hear the drumming stop and Joe whistle through the handset. "Look, apologize to Mom and Aunt Gertrude for me. If this is what I think it is, the check-ins are going to be more sporadic. I'll call when I can, but..."

"I know," Joe interrupted, "Frank Tennison doesn't have a family." There was a pause of several seconds where Joe sighed. "Look, 'bro, just be careful. If this guy's hacking government sites for the highest bidder, he's dangerous."

Frank smiled into the phone, feeling a rush of affection for his brother. "Well, this is a switch. Usually I'm the one telling you not to do something stupid. I may need to mark this day on my calendar."

"Usually I'm there to watch your back." Joe snapped back. "I'm serious, Frank. Be careful. Mom and Dad are getting a little tired of those three a.m. phone calls informing them one of us is in the hospital." Frank could hear his brother pacing around the office. "Just keep your cover intact, okay?"

"I'll be careful," Frank promised. "Look, I've got to go. The library's only open until five, and since my alter ego has an attitude problem and no friends, I really need to find something to read. Tell Mom and Dad I said hello, and tell Aunt Gertrude I miss her cooking. A lot. I'll get in touch when I can." He ended the call and tucked the cell phone into his messenger bag with his laptop. Then he took a deep breath, erased any lingering emotions Frank Hardy might have felt from the phone call, and rearranged his expression.

Less than a minute later Frank Tennison got up from the bench, scowled at his watch, and walked toward the library's front doors.

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