I found Matt eating a sandwich in his bunker. He offered me half and I was tempted. I hadn’t eaten since lunch and the whole crazy scene on the train only added to the amount of energy I had burned. I snatched the sandwich from his hand and devoured it whole. Matt leaned back in his chair and looked at me with wide eyes.
“What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“I don’t know, but I’m starving.”
“Then go upstairs and grab some food.”
“That’s okay, the sandwich should hold me over for a bit.”
“Your call, man,” he said and spun around to check something on the screen, then circled back. “So what’s up? What do you need me to do, Mr. Pickleball?”
“You heard me. Word is your cruising for a beating by my favorite fiend.”
“The guy’s an asshole that’s for sure, but what did you hear?”
“Just that you and Malton are the only undefeated ones left in your class and that a showdown is brewing. His little runt sidekick is talking it up all over the place.”
“Chuck’s a shit, but it’s true, we’re supposed to play each other next week.”
“I should’ve taken pickleball just so I could beat him over the head with the paddle.”
“A lot of people would like to see that.”
“Anyway, I hope you wipe the floor with him, just watch out if you do. You know he’s got the pride of a five-year-old and he’ll definitely lash out like one.”
“I wish you would’ve connected with that first punch.”
“Anyway, welcome to the dark side,” he said, extending his arms toward his computer. “How much is your soul worth today?”
“Screw off, man. I was just wondering if you could find out something about my birth-parents.”
“And hopefully confirm they’re actually my parents.”
“That shouldn’t be hard,” he said and began typing. “You got a name?”
“Yeah, Sterling Mendoza. That’s what my father – my adoptive-father – says was my birth-father’s name.”
“Okay.” He started hitting keys and flipping through websites.
“I tried to look them up but couldn’t find anything.”
“Any reason why?”
“I guess he was brought up on treason charges then died.”
“That’s harsh,” he exclaimed, studying me quizzically. “What about your mother?”
“She disappeared a little while after.” I suddenly felt a deep pang of sadness as my adoptive-mother came to mind.
Matt danced between the keyboard and the screen for a few minutes then said, “Yep, there’s nothing substantive out there.”
“I know, that’s what I said.”
“But that’s for public view,” he replied with a mischievous wink. “This calls for a little more expert probing, so avert your eyes. I don’t want any of you innocent types getting all squeamish.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Just tap into one of the government databases.”
“What if you’re caught?”
“You mean what if ‘we’re’ caught, right?” he said, grinning. “Don’t worry, I’ve done it before and know all the backdoor tricks. They’ll never catch on. Besides, this is low-level peon stuff. They probably have guys like Malton in charge of securing these sites.”
The Social Security Administration website appeared and I grew nervous. Matt’s fingers moved swiftly across the keyboard as several black screens with white language code flashed until the sequence concluded with a sudden burst of light and it seemed as though the whole system crashed.
Just as I was about to say something, Matt held up his finger as if to say, ‘wait for it…’ Three seconds later, a normal page appeared consisting of a long list of names.
“Everyone in the country?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope,” he said and began scrolling through the list. “Let’s find Mr. Trenton Locke.” He stopped scrolling and pulled up a search frame. A moment later my name appeared with my date of birth.
“Hey, that’s me,” I exclaimed.
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Matt selected my name, which brought up another screen that showed basic information, such as the date and place of birth. That information was nothing new, but the line just below it was the one that caught my eye.
“What’s that mean?” I asked, pointing to the line that read ‘Special: Adopted’
“What do you mean, what does that mean? It means you were adopted, dumb ass.”
“Yeah, but it must lead to something else.”
Matt clicked on the word adopted and another screen appeared. We both looked at each other as if we’d found the Holy Grail.
“Bingo,” Matt said.
The name Trenton Mendoza jumped out followed by the same basic information on the previous page.
“Are those my fingerprints?” I asked, looking at the set of prints below the basic information.
“Sure looks that way, but let’s check.”
Matt duplicated the page and placed the screens side by side. He lined up both sets of fingerprints.
“They sure as hell look the same to the naked eye,” Matt exclaimed.
“I agree, but what about palm prints?”
“Those are trickier to access. They’re in a different database,” he said and wiggled his eyebrows in a conspiratorial way, then studied the screen again. “Look, it has your parents’ names on both pages.”
I noticed my adoptive-parents’ names on one page and Sterling Mendoza and Angela Mendoza on the other. Matt placed the cursor over Sterling Mendoza and turned to me.
“Are you ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I replied and swallowed. “Fire away.”
Matt clicked on the name … but nothing happened. He clicked again and the screen went blank. A moment later it reappeared with a small message plastered in front that read: ACCESS DENIED
“What the hell,” Matt stated with a mixture of excitement and anger. “Let’s try your mother.” He clicked on her name, but the same thing happened.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” I said. “Maybe you should get out of there before anything is triggered.”
“They can’t stop me. I know I can find a way around it. It’ll just take time.”
“No, Matt, that’s enough for now. At least I know they were my birth-parents.”
I patted him on the shoulder trying to encourage him to let it go. After a couple more quick attempts, he complied and shut her down.
“Looks like you’ve got some family secrets that are too important to tell,” Matt said, clearly enjoying the discovery.
“But why? What could have happened fifteen years ago that would still need to be kept secret?”
“I don’t know, buddy, but it must’ve been a doozy.” The dazed look on my face must’ve been evident because Matt stood up and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “Come on, let’s get something to eat. We can figure this all out later.”
I nodded, but was a little taken aback at his brotherly attitude. This gesture wasn’t like him. It’s not like he didn’t have it in him. I don’t mean to say that, rather he wasn’t inclined to show it that often.
I walked with him to the door and glanced back at the screen covering his wall. What secrets did that government database hold and how were they going to impact the trajectory of my life? Then I noticed a flickering blue light emanating from Matt’s secret lab and my curiosity peaked. I thought about asking, but figured he’d just give me the run around. I decided that inquiry was best left for another time.
Besides, I was hungry.