Heidi, Geek Girl Detective

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Summer finally arrived in Seattle and the rain stopped for a good long while. The sky was a startling bright blue and the big yellow thing gleamed through from above. The white-capped waves of the Sound twinkled with sunlight. Seagulls whirled through the air above like great white kites, their shrieks echoing across the water. I’ve been told that our cold and rain are the price we pay for such stunningly gorgeous summers.

I pushed through the crowds of tourists and squinting locals on the waterfront. The sidewalk was a maze of tables laden with jewelry, t-shirts and handicrafts. Up ahead, an overweight clown made balloon animals for two kids in matching red windbreakers. Off in the distance a ferry blew its horn as it steered into Coleman dock. I headed off the sidewalk and along the pier over the water.

My new brown leather boots made little thudding noises along the heavy timbers of the wharf. Even if she was still unemployed, a girl’s gotta reward herself for a job well done. The rules of karma demanded it.

A two-story rustic building of restaurants and tourist attractions spanned the length of the pier. Walking alongside it, I followed my reflection in the giant plate glass windows. An intricately carved carousel filled one of the rooms of the pier-side arcade. The gold-painted wooden horses resting in the quiet merry-go-round brought up the corners of my mouth. The sun’s glare in the glass dazzled me, so I moved on. It was a day shimmering with promise.

At the end of the pier, I sauntered out onto a deck filled with tables and great red striped umbrellas. Busboys in white aprons flitted around the tables, refilling water and fetching tartar sauce and ketchup for the waiting diners. Tourist and local alike swiveled their heads about following the tugboats and ferries. I spotted him at a nearby table, his smile as bright as everything else today.

As I took my seat, I noticed a steaming mug of hot cocoa was waiting on the table. Good old Rubin must have ordered it for me. I greeted him with a slight apology, “Sorry I’m late, I had to take the bus.”

Rubin shifted in his seat to orient himself to me, carefully readjusting the tight canary yellow fabric framing his brown skin. It must be officially summer—Rubin was wearing short-sleeves. His brow wrinkled with concern as he asked, “The bus?”

I drew a long sip from the mug. The chocolate was rich and a little creamy, just the way I liked it. I shrugged as I answered, “Someone poured sand into the tank of my Jetta.”

Rubin deepened the grooves in his forehead in a worried frown. I was grateful for the sympathy, but at this point, there wasn’t much fear left in me. “Well, my address was on the system at PRB, you know.”

He nodded glumly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Just one more casualty in cleaning up this ugly mess. So long old girl, you served me well. I shrugged at my lunch date, “So, how’ve you been?”

I got a big squared jawed grin in response. “I’m doing well, thank you. I start the new job next week. Insurance investigations. Although, I’m just running a squad of younger guys who do the real work. Mostly desk duty for us old farts.”

“Oh right, big guy. You’re going to miss brawling in the lobby.”

His eyes creased shut as he laughed. My comment was probably pretty close to the truth.

He opened his eyes and smiled at me. I nodded and added, “Yup, it’s gonna be hard to be out of the center of action.”

“Well...” His eyes glazed over for a second, “I’m still fending off reporters. They call me at home all the time. I’ve unplugged the phone until they get bored with me.”

I nodded. I knew how he felt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t unplug my phone. I didn’t know if the next call was a job callback. Although so far, it had just been reporters.

One of the big blabs in my group had leaked that Puget Regional Bank got hacked and everyone’s accounts were on the Internet. Leave it to the press to get the wrong story and then blow it completely out of proportion. Nonetheless, with PRB being audited up the wazoo, the negative press was the final straw. The bank’s been closed for several weeks now, pending either a buyout or dissolution. And yeah, more unemployed people got dumped into the packed job market of Washington State. Life continued to be a bitch.

Rubin took a sourdough roll from the basket on the table and speared it with a knife. While he applied a thick layer of butter, I said, “I’d heard that Warren and Mitch were opening a computer store down in Renton.”

Rubin nodded and raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah, it sounds entertaining to watch. I’d love to see how they like managing their own business.”

Rubin chuckled to himself and added, “I heard Wes went to work for another bank.”

“Really? Would any bank want someone with the taint of banking scandal on them?”

Rubin shrugged and I realized that I hadn’t asked the obvious question. “Hey, did you catch hell? I mean from the Feds for your part in the cover-up?”

He looked down for a second and paused his roll shellacking. It seemed like a guilty look. Rightly so.

“No ma’am. In addition to my statement about...” He lowered his voice, “the vice president, I had also kept detailed records on his actions.”

“Just in case?”

Another guilty nod. “I had also sent a memo to Rusty officially protesting not reporting Alicia’s crimes. And I cc-ed a copy of it into Alicia’s personnel file. The Feds were satisfied that I had done my sufficient duty. At least to the letter of the law.”

I agreed in silence. It was a cop-out and we both knew it.

He continued. “It seemed whatever you did convinced the Feds that the man they wanted was at the top.”

“I suppose you did what you could. Since Rusty cut himself a deal with the US Attorney, I guess it was enough for you to do your sufficient duty.”

“Heidi. I’m sorry that...”

“Look, I’m just glad that none of us has to testify. Nice and simple for everyone involved.” Feeling a little sweaty, I wiped my hands on the linen napkin. I didn’t want to be angry at him, but I just couldn’t let it go either.

Rubin took a bite of his buttered roll and chewed for a few seconds, swallowing carefully. Then he looked at me. “Depends on how you define simple. I saw in the papers that the Ballard Marina Dining room burned down.”

I just smiled. I was done confiding things to Rubin for while. When Tracy told me that Mr. Constantine Hartford was now in Federal protection, I figured he’d sold out his own family to avoid prison. Fine. The fire happened just a few days after I sent a rather informative e-mail to the Glenda.net boys. I thought they might like to know the identity of the mysterious Kostya. Besides, he might get lonely in witness protection. Maybe he’d appreciate a few more mobsters gunning for his ass. Have fun, Mr. Bigshot.

A few of my thoughts spilled out of my mouth, “Too bad he got a deal, though. I was really looking forward to seeing that little piggy roast in court.”

Rubin finished the bun with his second bite and swigged a long drink from his ice water before answering. “For Alicia?”


With a sad knowing smile, Rubin explained, “I suspected that her death might not have been suicide. I had hoped to lead the FBI to the right conclusion. I just didn’t want you involved. Too darned dangerous.”

“Rubin...that drive...you sat on a key piece of evidence.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’d thought about letting you look it and explain the technical stuff to me. But when things got rough, I changed my mind.”

“I see.” It was strange to see Rubin fumbling for words. Not knowing what else to say, I took a sip from my cocoa.

He continued, “I knew Rusty had some dirty dealings, I just didn’t realize how dirty. And by the way, it was interesting how you ended up getting your hands on the drive after all.”

I looked at him, eyebrows up. “I didn’t even give Tracy the details on how I got the drive. How did...oh, I never reverted my access privileges, did I?”

“My badge inventory report showed an additional card-key allowed into my office. Yours. Did you hack that system as well?”

“Hey, hacked? Come on.” Then in a you-should-have-known-better manner, I added. “Besides, someone had to do something.”

“I know what you’re thinking.” He leaned back and squinted into the sun. “And you’re right. I should have been the one to stand up to Rusty. Turn him in. I just didn’t know how to touch him.”

I couldn’t help but soften a bit at his admission. But I wasn’t going to get all forgiving and stuff just yet.

He raised his hand to block the glare of the sun. “And I have a family.”

“Next time, tell me.”

Witnessing Rubin’s churning shame was making me feel awkward to the point where I began to get nauseous. I knew he deserved it but still...I turned my head and pretended to watch the ferry chugging out across Elliott Bay. I didn’t want to look at him.

I thought of the others instead. The others who weren’t so lucky to feel guilt or shame.

With my head turned away from him, Rubin couldn’t see me mouth a silent goodbye to Alicia. And then to Alexy. No one’s getting away with this kind of crap on my watch again. Never again.

Looking back at Rubin, I felt a small amount of pity at his weakness. I still hadn’t figured out how long it would take me to fully trust him again.

Maybe never.

I guess that’s just the way it was going to be for me from now on. With everyone. I just gave him the friendly smile that I’d recently learned to fake so well. “Anyway, I’m glad it turned out okay. I’m still unemployed though.”

On cue, the waiter finally appeared to take our order. Rubin pointed with his hand in a pistol shape and winked as he announced, “Don’t forget that lunch is on me. Anything you want. The prawn sandwich is quite good.”

“Ugh, pass.” Talk about bad memories. “Halibut and chips, please.”

Rubin ordered the same, with a cup of clam chowder on the side.

The waiter skittered off. Rubin turned back to me and asked, “How’s Peter, did he ever get a job?”

I shrugged, “Dunno. We broke up over a month ago.”

Rubin’s eyebrows fell and he mumbled a soft, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, really. Wasn’t going to work out anyway. We were on different paths—wanted different things. We just weren’t right for each other. Unfortunately, it took a moment of supreme stupidity on his part to communicate that to me, but it’s better this way. Now we’re both free to do what we want to do. Now I...”

My words trailed off and Rubin smiled his fatherly smile. “And? What do you want to do?”

Ah, that was the big question. When I’d split from PR Bank, they cashed out my vacation and sick time. I never used much of either, so it was enough to live on for a few months. But what did I want to do when I grew up?

“I’ve been thinking. Thinking about something a hacker buddy said.”

Rubin frowned, but just a little. I finished my statement, “He said if I wanted to free-lance, all I needed is a bit of a rep, which I’ve really got now.”

Rubin nodded. I continued, “And some good contacts—like you.”

The frown became a smile as he added, “And a certain FBI agent.”

Heck, maybe even a few more on the other side of the law as well. “You know, Rubin, the future is wide open for me.”

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