Heidi, Geek Girl Detective

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Chapter 5: Hinterlands

Despite my distrusting nature, I found myself flying high from Rusty’s offer. It took me a good night’s sleep to realize that he hadn’t actually promised me anything. Of course, that was probably what he wanted. It was the best I could expect from him. I knew that he rewarded those who were loyal to him. That’s how Warren got so far despite his obvious deficiencies. Why not me?

I was far enough ahead in my projects to waste a minute or two checking if any more details had surfaced on Alicia’s death. My mouse skated around the pad as I clicked through the various local newspaper archives on the web. Not much in the P-I or the Times beyond the short blurb that I read the other morning. However, one of the quirky independent rags had a “Police Beat” column with a paragraph that was possibly relevant.

Yesterday morning, a fisherman found the body of a woman floating in Elliot Bay. The fisherman called police at 6:10am to report the body below Pier 57. Officer Richards reports the body had probably been in the water for several days. A plastic numbered badge was found on the woman. The badge identified a local business which was contacted to confirm her identity. Police have not yet ruled the woman’s death a homicide as medical examiners have not found any obvious signs of violence.

So they found her PRB badge. They must have called us to trace the number and that’s how the rumor ball started rolling. In my monitor, I caught a reflection of movement behind me. I whipped around and saw Mitch headed somewhere in a hurry. I waved at him to wait.

He didn’t even break stride as he hustled by. “Lee’s just been uninstalled. Already escorted out of the building.”

If I wanted any of the spoils, I needed to move too. I closed my web browser and headed after him. Lee worked at desktop support, which was on the far side of our floor. Up ahead, I saw Mitch skirt aside for Wes. He was coming towards me pushing an office chair down the hallway.

He raised a shoulder in a half-shrug and scooted the chair around me. “Mine’s been broken for the past few months. Besides, you’re just jealous.”

I flattened against the wall so he could pass. He was probably right. Now Mitch had a real head start on me. I wasn’t in the mood for grave robbing today.

Lee came on board just as I was moving up from the help-desk to Warren’s group. I’d occasionally worked with her on various user problems. The last time I saw her was down at Alicia’s desk.

Mitch trotted out of her cube carrying a stapler. “Not much left,” he added as he departed.

He was right. The chair and white-board were already gone. I checked her drawers but I found nothing but paperclips and technical manuals. A coffee-stained mouse pad sat lonely on the desk. The computer and phone were dormant, waiting for the next victim.

A scraping sound behind me made me turn. Wes was already on his way back, pushing a different chair towards me. It had a broken wheel that dragged on the floor leaving a little line in the carpet. He acknowledged me with an eyebrow raise and motioned to the cubicle with his chin. I stepped aside and he put his old chair into Lee’s cubicle.

“Why did she get let go?” I asked.

He glanced at me sideways and raised a finger to his pursed lips. I silently mouthed “What?”

His whispered, “Security thing.”

———

Back at my desk, I found that asshair Roger loitering around. A bright yellow laminated rectangle hung from a black cord around his neck. In one-inch black letters were the words: “Visitor: No Escort Required.” He must have been pretty proud of that.

I figured that I might as well greet him. “Roger. Haven’t seen you since Saturday.”

He bobbed his head and said something about how well it went.

Before I could stop myself, my mouth spat out something non-team-workish: “Yeah, you made me stay late while the test ran long.”

He lips twisted into a smarmy half-smile, “Well, think of all the overtime pay you were earning.”

I was salaried. Only first-level techs got overtime. I wasted an entire Saturday night standing around in case something blew up. Nothing blew up.

I nudged him aside and slid into my cubicle. I could only assume that he needed something from me. Again.

“Actually Dee, I need to talk to you about next Saturday.”

Dee? Did he just call me that? “What about Saturday?”

“Lemme buy you a cup a coffee and we can discuss it.”

There were several people on this planet that could attest to the joy I got from a good chocolate fix. He was obviously not one of them. “Make that a cup of cocoa,” I said as I stood up.

On the ride down he asked me if I had cut my hair. “Nope, just didn’t tie it up today. I actually woke up on time this morning.”

He leaned back on the elevator wall. “Not a morning person? I understand that.” He rolled his head around on his shoulders, loudly cracking his neck vertebrae.

The elevator door opened and we trotted over to Coffeeguy’s stand. I ordered my usual and Roger got a triple Americano without room. As Roger cupped his drink, he announced, “I hate it when there’s milk in my coffee. It’s just wrong. Nothing but cow mucus.”

I paused in mid-sip on that thought. Mucus? Who mentions bodily fluids in daily conversation? He must do well with the ladies. “So I assumed we were working this weekend. What are we doing this time?”

Roger tried to pay with his corporate gold AMEX but Coffeeguy shook his head. Cash only. Roger asked for a receipt and pulled out a roll of bills from his pocket. “We’re fixing the account logging audit issue.”

He peeled off a fifty. Coffeeguy shook his head again. “Don’t have enough change for that.”

As Roger fidgeted with his roll of bills, I asked, “MYZRE account lookup auditing? That’s a lot of new code. Do we have enough time?”

He finally produced two ones and gave them to Coffeeguy. Now he was just short two bucks plus tip. He shook his head and he explained with a hint of patronizing, “Just a matter of writing the report module and adding checksums.”

“What do you mean?”

He forgot about the rest of the money and folded his arms. “The system records every lookup, it just doesn’t do it as an audit function.”

“An audit function?”

Roger shoved his hand in his pocket, apparently digging for coinage. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t give me that. You mean the data is already there?”

Hands still rooting around in his pockets. “Yes. Anyone with admin access privileges can get the data directly from the database.”

“But it’s not in the audit report?”

Someone else came up behind us and Coffeeguy leaned to the side to hear their order. Roger, oblivious to the logjam he’d created, explained more, “No, it’s not. Because the report does have a checksum. You know, mathematically sealed as tamperproof.”

I handed Coffeeguy a five and stepped aside. “I know what a checksum is.”

“Well, the data isn’t a viable audit record unless it’s check-summed. So it was never put in the audit report. We’re fixing that.”

“Oh.”

Coffeeguy placed a receipt on the counter, which Roger pocketed.

———

I was scraping the bottom of the underwear drawer, so Petey and I headed to the neighborhood Laundromat. Two baskets overflowing with grungy clothes were piled up in the back of my Jetta as we tootled off the six blocks to Gypsy Launderette, open twenty-four/seven. It was a weeknight, so it was a little crowded but like I said, we needed to do laundry.

Peter and I each grabbed a washer and stuffed in the clothes. The manual labor gave me time to reflect on Rusty’s offer. It seemed like a real chance to go somewhere with my career. The chance that I’d been waiting for since forever. The bummer was that I’d have to work with a corporate stiff like Rusty.

Well, he did do a lot for PRB. He was brought onboard from one of those big international accounting firms just a few months before I joined. One of the first things he did was modernize most of the bank. I heard that the PRB Comptroller didn’t like the switch from tangible paper to ghostly bytes and left because of it. After that, more computers and more techies came into Puget Regional bank.

As time went on, he built a cult of personality. I never bought into it, but many of the senior techs sure got all hot and hard over it. Warren was one of those who jealously hogged any chance he got to shine in Rusty’s eyes. Whatever. Rusty just seemed like another one of those phony-baloney MBA jerks I saw parade around during the dot-com days.

Peter’s slamming down the washer lid jolted me out of my head-trip. I popped the quarters into the holding grooves and ka-chunked it closed. My washer started up and I handed the bag of quarters to Peter, who started his as well. He looked at me playfully and offered me a quarter for my thoughts.

“Just thinking about work. Rusty’s dangling a huge promotion in front of me.”

Peter’s eyes widened and bless him, he didn’t seem jealous. I nodded and smiled as he took it in. He leaned forward and rubbed my shoulders as he whispered in my ear, “Guess what? They extended my contract job for another three months. We’re finally on our way.”

“That’s great.”

“Well, it’s still a contract, but hey, it’s something.”

Peter and I sat on the little bench in front of the washers, like it was our fireplace. He put his arm around me. “Dangling huh? So I guess that Rusty guy really likes you.”

I leaned into him and enjoyed his warmth. “I guess. No matter what he plans to do, he always makes it seem like he’s about invade Normandy or something. Regardless of how it turns out, it’s like he’s pulled off this grand victory. He definitely has a talent for making himself look good.”

“Hey those kinda guys, they make the whole company look good at the same time.”

I turned to face the chugging washers as I answered, “Guess so.”

“I think Rusty knows good talent when he sees it.” He gently poked me in the tummy.

“Hasn’t always been the case.”

“You mean like those dragon guys he brings in?”

“Dragoon, as in goon squad. Usually PRB contracts with them to do all the sexy implementations. Regular folks like me get stuck with maintenance and user support.”

“Babe, hired guns get trained for that kind of special stuff.”

“Still sucks. We never get to do anything except fix messes.”

“Price you pay for having stable employment. The goon guys probably never know where their next contract is coming from.”

“I feel like that sometimes.”

“Could be worse.” He said with a squeeze.

“Yeah, I know.” I closed my eyes. “I just remembered feeling this uneasy when we were all at E-telligentsia. Just before Davis...” I let the words trail off and became lost in brooding.

It was after we closed our second round of financing. Everyone was pretty nuts. We finally felt like we were going to become dot-com millionaires. We’d be one of those success stories that filled the trade rags. It was the time of my life. I had a great job, a bright future and I was in love. Then the old Heidi suspicious nature kicked in. Too bad I was right.

Peter could read my mind. By now, he knew the look on my face and knew better than to resist. Even though he’s heard the story a dozen times, he knew I needed to go through it again. Softly, he asked, “So what was Davis stealing?”

“He wasn’t exactly stealing. Just using his position in purchasing to run all of our equipment orders through his side business.” Peter looked at me with a cocked eyebrow. I quickly added, “with a hefty markup. I guess it was stealing—in a way.”

I had come across an invoice for fifty grand of software upgrades that should have been covered under maintenance. I thought I was being heroic by bringing it to his attention, figured the cost savings would net me a promotion. Davis just dismissed me out of hand. He said there were changes in the contract and I should get back to my servers. Like a dope, I obeyed.

What could I say? Davis was one of the owners of the company and I was just a dot-commie serf. When the other owners found out—let’s just say they weren’t happy. With the market starting to tank, it just wasn’t a good time for an internal power struggle or a public scandal. So the other owners sucked it up as well. They bought out his shares and released him.

In the end, Davis had siphoned away nearly a quarter million. Whether it caused our downfall, I’ll never know. Maybe he knew we were heading for a cliff and decided to steal his own golden parachute. In any case, the company didn’t last more than a month or so after that.

Peter shook my shoulders playfully as he said, “Hey, Leon tells me that Davis spent some of his cash on a set of plugs.”

I couldn’t help but giggle. “Sounds like a real improvement over that ratty toup he always wore. It always flopped around in front.”

With that, Peter, put a hand to the top of his head and leaned over towards me. He wiggled his fingers in front of his face and snarled in a great Karloff imitation “Be-vare da Toupee of doom!”

My giggling became outright laughter. The dread had evaporated for now. Peter always knew how to make me feel better.

———

It had been another day of moronic meetings, so I decided to take a detour on the way home. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was still after five. I was in a rundown section of Rainer Valley. Not the finest real estate that Seattle had to offer, but home to quite a few. Most of the nearby businesses were closing down and the taverns were lighting up.

I double-checked the lock on the Jetta before I tread carefully out of the parking lot. Well, parking lot was being pretty generous. It was more like a rough patch of dirt alongside a deserted construction site, surrounded by crumbly apartment buildings. I stepped over some weeds peppered with beer cans at the edge of the lot.

The apartment I was looking for was only a block or so away. I passed by an open door for a restaurant. A dense smell of something nutty-and-spicy-and-meaty washed over me. There were a lot of ethnic eateries here. A car cruised down the road, stereo blasting. The bass on their sound system sounded like a running dryer full of tennis shoes.

I rechecked the slip of paper in my hand. The account mailing address for Thomas Lyons should have been right at this building. It looked like he was on the third floor, suite 306. I was standing in front of a small photocopy shop.

They were still open, so I headed inside to take a peek. The outer area was about the size of my living room, somewhat small. Dead ahead was a counter manned by a sleepy teenager with an orangish bottle-tan and oily hair. He was wearing a faded nylon wind-breaker with a Mariners logo. On the counter in front of him lay a magazine full of pictures of luxury cars. One wall of the lobby was a giant grid of little metal mailboxes. So the address wasn’t an apartment after all.

I scanned the mailboxes and located number 306. Each mailbox had a little brass frame with a semi-transparent window the size of a matchbook. I peered through and saw that box 306 was empty. Oh well, it wasn’t like I had the key to get in.

The other wall held a giant corkboard full of tacked up notices and advertisements. Most of them appeared to be written in foreign scripts like Chinese and Cyrillic. By the corkboard, there was an old coin-operated Xerox machine in the corner with a lot of scuffs and scratches.

Behind the counter, I saw another copier deep inside the shop. This one was a high-speed duplexing color model with an attached graphics workstation. We had one just like it back at PRB. It was seriously expensive. I mean the thing cost as much as a new car. No, as a new Porsche.

The clerk had put down his magazine and was now staring at me. I smiled at him and jabbed my thumb in the direction of the boxes. “My friend asked me to check her mail. She’s away.”

Almost immediately, the clerk asked, in mangled English: “Which box you look?”

I blinked a few times before answering, “Three Oh Six”

He pulled a plastic binder out from under the counter and flipped through worn pages.

I shrugged, “Oh, it’s okay. I can see there’s no mail in there.”

He flipped a few pages. “Box empty, closed already.”

I took a step toward the counter to get a closer look at that binder and asked, “Closed? Someone closed the box?”

His unfocused stare unnerved me. “Yes. Box can rent for you.”

“No thanks. Who closed the box? When?”

The kid finally cracked a smile. “Box closed already but still some rent monies to pay.”

Oh I got it. “How much rent monies? Five dollars?”

He tilted his head and widened the smile. “Ten dollars.”

I extracted two fives out of my wallet, my cocoa-fund for the rest of the month. I hoped it was worth it.

I slid the bills on the counter. While his fake-tanned hand collected them, I snuck a peek at the binder page. It was just a big grid of mailbox numbers with phone numbers and dates typed in after them. Judging from the dates, it looked like they indicated when the rent was due. On the line for box 306, the closing date and phone number had been scratched out with a blue pen. A new phone number was written next to the scratches—also in the same blue ink. I caught only the last few digits. The clerk pulled the binder back and put it under the desk. He gave me a salty look.

I responded with my question again, “So who closed the box?”

“Owner of box close it. Last week.”

Well that would be a neat trick. “The owner of the box? Thomas Lyons closed the box? Two days ago?”

“I guess.” He said with a shrug.

“Don’t you keep records of who rents these boxes? Full names and things like that?”

He leaned back and folded his arms, “Records employees only.”

I started to ask another question when he continued, “You rent box today?”

I shook my head. He motioned to the door, “I closing soon, thank you.”

I wasn’t getting any more outta this guy. I depleted my precious cocoa fund for essentially nothing. I was no master of deception and intrigue. Just a snoop. A bad one, at that.

As I headed out the door, the neon sign in the window went dark. I glanced back through the outside window and saw that the clerk was already on the phone. He peered at me and smiled.

I headed back to my car. Thankfully it was still there.

———

The following day was typical—meeting, meeting, meeting. I finally got a few minutes of rest to catch up and do some real work. I scanned through my list of waiting e-mail. The first message made my stomach shrivel.

From: lex8@GLENDA.NET

To: h.hoffman@PUGETREGIONBANK.COM

Subject: Please call me when you get time.

It’s Alexy, Alicia’s cousin.

Alexy had a Glenda.net account? Interesting. A phone number was listed. I examined his business card from the other day. Yep, same phone number. Then I realized that the digits on his phone number were familiar. This could have been the same number written in the book back at that mailbox place. I wish I could have gotten a better look at that binder. I wondered if he was going to threaten me because I had uncovered...what? Surely Alexy wasn’t having an affair with Alicia. That would be gross. Maybe they were up to some other kinds of monkey business? Families do share bank accounts all the time. I could be seeing things that aren’t there. I dialed.

It rang twice before Alexy answered with a cheery “Hello.”

“It’s Heidi, I got your e-mail.”

“Oh, hey. How’s it going?”

“Fine. Listen, I’m at work...”

He laughed. “I was calling you about side-work.”

“Yeah.” I remembered our conversation in that parking lot. Alicia’s shiny luxuries all boxed up and sitting there, waiting to be taken away. The image of her sad mother made me shudder.

“I have associates needing computer work done. You are interested?”

I rotated in my chair and checked my six—no one around. I still took care to make my side of the conversation sufficiently non-descript. There were ears everywhere at PRB. “Yes, but you know I work full time.”

He gave me a short raspy chuckle before he answered, “Don’t worry, we pay cash. We’re all friends here.”

Despite the clanging alarm bell in my head, I still agreed to do it. With the mailbox a dead end, I didn’t have any more ideas on how to go further with Alicia. If I kept it simple and quiet, no one would find out. I’d probably just uncover that Alicia was doing some moonlighting as well.

“Okay, sounds fine.”

“I call later with details?”

I gave him my home e-mail address and told him to use that. He laughed. “Yes, easier for everyone involved. Then he hung up.

I noticed my voice-mail light was on. Someone called when I was on with Alexy. I checked the message and it was Rubin. He wanted to me to come to his office, right away. Since I owed him several times over, I didn’t hesitate.

———

Rubin’s serious look lightened when I came through the door. The mysterious blonde lawyer woman sat at his meeting table. Her neatly creased dark pants suit drew a sharp contrast to my rumpled polo and cargo pants. A huge black purse hung at the side of her chair.

Rubin extended a hand toward the woman. “Tracy, this is Heidi Hoffman, our best troubleshooter.” He shot me a look and added, “She’s completely trustworthy.”

Tracy and I shook hands. Her grip was surprisingly weak, almost limp. Rubin continued, “And this is Special Agent Tracy Martins.” The words echoed in my head as I spotted the black metal rectangle of a gun peeking out of the top of her purse. No wonder her purse was so big.

“Pleased to meet you.” She smiled while lowering her head slightly, “You can let go of my hand now.”

I pulled my hand back with a start, my eyes still on her purse. She followed my gaze and shrugged. “We’re not supposed to do that, but it’s so darned heavy.”

“Oh.” I answered like little girl.

I jumped as I felt the warm pressure of a hand on my shoulder. It was Rubin. “Relax and sit down.” I sat next to Tracy. Rubin took a seat across from her. I felt a little squeezed between the two rather serious expressions.

Rubin must have sensed my apprehension and smiled. “Heidi doesn’t have explicit security duties, but she does excellent technical analysis for me.”

Tracy nodded and looked at me. “I work with the white collar squad at the Bureau and—-

“Bureau, like the Federal Bureau?”

“Of Investigation, yes, the FBI.” She paused a second and added, “It’s just a job. My squad investigates fraud and embezzlement. Mostly I go through records and file court documents. Nothing exciting, I’m just a lawyer for the government.” She laughed a little.

I nodded, not knowing what to say. She continued, “I’m here working with Rubin on a case. We think you can help.”

I wanted to ask her why she had to have a gun to go through documents. Rather than ask something naive, I simply responded “Oh, okay.”

Rubin looked me in the eye. “It’s important that the things we say or do in this room, do not leave this room. If you think that might be difficult for you—you don’t have to do this.”

A pinch of dread prompted me to ask, “Does Warren know about this?”

Tracy snapped out a fast query, “Warren?”

“Warren’s her manager.” Rubin turned back to me. “I asked him if I could get your help for a few hours on a special project. He said that you had plenty of time to spare.”

Plenty of time to spare? I supposed Warren thought that I didn’t need sleep. Tracy lifted a fat folder and chilled me with her expression. “I need to look up the access history for these accounts. We have reason to believe they may be tied to our bad guy.”

Bad guy? She continued, “All of these accounts have been identified as victims of identity theft and are customers at PRB.”

Rubin added, “The customers have already been contacted and given us their versions of their account history. We need to compare it to what’s on the computer.”

Identity theft was the computer scare story of the year. “So, someone hacked in and stole these people’s account information?”

The corners of Rubin’s mouth tugged up with a flick and then fell. “Not necessarily. More likely someone got a hold of a checkbook or old bank statements. Most identity thieves are pretty low-tech.”

Tracy concurred with a nod. “All these guys need to do is get enough information to impersonate you on paper. A name and social security number are enough.”

Sounded like standard account data. I didn’t realize that such mundane information could be so devastating.

Rubin pointed at the folder. “It should be pretty easy for you to do. Normally I get this data myself over MYZRE, but with the Apollo project—-”

“Those screens are all under construction, but I can run the queries manually.” I finished for him.

“Wait. Miser?” Tracy looked confused, “What’s miser?”

My turn on the podium. “M-Y-Z-R-E. Our main computerized accounting system, it tracks the financial systems in the bank.”

Tracy raised her hands in surrender, smiling as she got the joke, “The miser counts the money. You computer people are funny.”

Rubin shook his head, chuckling as well. “We’ll get into the details later. Glad you two understand each other.”

———

As usual, I worked late. Besides catching up on all the extra support calls, I had to make a dent in my project to-do items. Tracy and I planned to meet first thing Monday and go over her case. I wondered if she could help me with Alicia. It’d be nice to have a professional deal with it. Of course, if there were embezzlers at our bank, it’s possible that Alicia was one of them. It could explain a lot about what she was doing with Alexy and that mailbox. And how she could afford all those toys for her late husband. Whoa, maybe there was something to that theory.

Since I got home so late, the entire tenant lot at my building was full. I ended up parking at the nearby townhouse lot. I walked the half-block home. Mercifully, it wasn’t raining.

Opening the door into my darkened apartment, I realized Peter must still be at a gig. He told me his band was playing at a little tavern on Mercer Island. Probably wouldn’t be home until midnight.

I tossed a can of tomato soup into the big measuring cup that served as my bowl and nuked it for three. While it heated, I fired up my home computer and checked my personal e-mail.

There was a message from Linden. Sis finally remembered which of my e-mail accounts she was supposed to use. She was reminding me about the family get together this summer. This year it’s going to be in Montana at the cabin. How exciting—“not a computer within a hundred miles”—just the family for entertainment. I wondered if I’d be able to survive it.

Linden also mentioned that I’d better show up this time, and I needed to bring my beau for everyone to meet. That’s her word, beau, not mine. Hard to believe we’re even related.

I clacked out a response telling her that we’d try to make it, but no promises—the economy and all, blah, blah, blah. The microwave dinged and I grabbed my steaming soup and a spoon. Warm and tangy, it was the first relaxing meal I’d enjoyed today. I headed back to the computer to close my e-mail program when I noticed a new message had come in. It was from Lex8@glenda.net. The subject read “Computer job”, which had a junk-mail ring to it, but I knew it wasn’t. I opened the mail and read:

Heidi. It is me, Alexy. You told me to mail you at home tonight about job, so here I am. My business friend needs Internet set up at office. We can do job next few days after work if is okay with you?

I thought about Alicia, the embezzling and the mailbox. Then slurped a few more spoonfuls of salty red thickness and thought some more.

I tapped back a reply:

Sounds fine. How about Thursday after seven, if that’s not too late? I live in West Seattle but I can drive to meet you somewhere.

Maybe I could get to the bottom of this Alicia thing. If it turned out to be something scary, I’d give it to the Feds. I sucked on the spoon as I stared at the screen. There was one more thing I could check while I waited for his reply.

E-mail systems automatically record the unique network address of the computer sending them. That address is usually not shown, but the data is there, if you know where to look. I clicked on the reveal options button. The IP address of the computer that sent Alexy’s mail displayed as 224.18.35.7.

I opened the copied e-mail from Alicia’s home account and checked the message from alik3techer.ru. The originating IP address was 224.18.35.62. It was different, but close. Very close.

I dumped the rest of the soup and rinsed out the cup. I wasn’t hungry anymore. As I was shelving the cup, my computer bonged with Alexy’s reply.

Fine by me. Office is near West Seattle. Meet me at coffee shop on Fauntleroy and California.

The soup moved uneasily in my stomach. I might be getting to the bottom of this mystery a little too fast. There was one other thing to check. When I was in Rubin’s office, I was so flustered by the whole FBI thing that I didn’t remember to check the cabinet for the hard-drive. It was probably still locked. It was a pretty basic office cabinet, though. I could probably get it open in a few minutes. Snooping through the head of security’s locked cabinet was probably a violation of the employee handbook. To say the least.

Plus I’d be betraying one of the only friends I had there. What was I thinking? All because I thought he might have Alicia’s hard-drive? Might—no, there was no might about it. I’d never seen computer parts in Rubin’s office before, much less locked in his cabinet. What was he hiding? Could he have been the one who went to the mailbox and impersonated Alicia’s husband?

The doorknob suddenly rattled and unlocked. I spastically jerked in my chair and rolled away from the computer. The door opened and Peter appeared, backpack and guitar slung over his shoulder.

“Hey babe. I got a ride home from the show. How was work? You look like you had a bad day.”
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