I would like to once again thank my editor Bechgen, for putting forth the time and energy required to correct this work. It is our hope that through our combined efforts can bring you a story that is for the most part free of errors and enjoyable to read. – Double_entendre.
Have you ever wondered if your life was preplanned long before you were ever born, or does it simply fall into place randomly by a series of choices that either you or someone else makes that directly or indirectly effects the outcome of your existence? That is a question that has pretty much plagued mankind since the beginning of time, and yet we still have not been able to reach a consensus on the answer. My name is Ryan Foster, and like everyone else, I have formed my own opinion on the subject, but instead of sharing it with you directly, I ask instead that you read my story, and from there you can decide for yourself what you believe to be true.
I am an only child from a working class family. My parents, Henry and Virginia Foster, both held down jobs, while I of course went to school. Although I never really considered myself much of a brain, I did manage to hold my own when it came to classroom work. There was one area, however, that I truly excelled in, and that was computers. My initiation into the world of keyboards and mice came in the form of a scrawny nine year old boy whose parents had recently moved in next door to my own. Jimmy Lance and I took an instant liking to each other, and he became my best friend for the entire seven years that we were neighbors.
Jimmy's dad Walter was a major computer geek, and from an early age taught his son everything he could about the wonders of technology. Jimmy started to relay some of his father's wisdom back onto me, and we were both amazed at how quickly I picked up on it. Mr. Lance, who secretly always wanted to be a teacher but chose the life of professional instead due to its monetary rewards, loved the fact that he now had two eager pupils in which to pass on his vast array of knowledge. As our skill level advanced he made us both take an oath that we would never use what we were taught for evil purposes. It was after we took this pledge that things really started to get interesting.
Five years into my friendship with the Lance's, tragedy struck on my end when we suddenly lost my mother in an automobile accident. My heart was in torment, and Jimmy, bless his soul, knew that what I really needed was a distraction to keep my mind off of my trouble. He graciously talked his dad into stepping up our lessons to more advanced levels.
By the time that Jimmy's family had to move away, which although following far behind my mother's death was still the second worse day of my life to date, I was able to do things with computers that most people couldn't even dream about. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and without Jimmy being there to help occupy my free time I desperately needed to find something else to do. My father and I argued relentlessly about me getting a part time job. Dad feared that once I got a taste of what it was like to have a steady income, college would lose some its appeal. He complained that too many kids take time off from their schooling in order to either "find themselves" or save up money, and then life gets in the way preventing them from ever returning to their education. In all actuality I don't think my dad minded the fact that I wanted to work, but it was the paycheck he was scared I'd get hooked on. We finally managed to reach a compromise when I suggested that I look into some volunteer work for the summer and reminded him how good stuff like that would look on college admittance applications.
One would think that the offer of free labor would be in very high demand, especially with the declining economy. The truth of the matter was that there were really not that many opportunities to choose from. In the end there was one detail, that although well below my skill level, was still somewhat worthy of inquiring about. It seemed that with budget cuts the state needed someone to upgrade software on a few of their older computers. The work itself would actually be of no challenge to someone like me whatsoever, but the real shocker was that the PC's they wanted worked on just happened to be located in a medium security women's prison.
I debated with myself as to whether or not I should even apply for the position, but figured I could at least go through the interview process and then see what they had to say.
Naturally I sailed right past the computer portion of their examination, but the hoops they made me jump through in order to pass their extensive security background started to make me question as to whether this shit was really even worth messing with. Evidently I must have met their quota, because they did offer me the job, and that's when the second shoe fell. I learned that if I took the position I would actually be working with a real live inmate. What the fuck was I getting myself into?
In the end it was my sense of loss and sheer boredom that convinced me to go through with it, though I did feel a little better when they assured me that the woman I would be working with was incarcerated for a white collar crime and I would essentially not be in any real danger. "Famous last words"
Melody Farnsworth was not exactly the most pleasant woman I have ever come into contact with. To be honest, she was an absolute bitch from the moment we said hello, obviously blaming the world for her lot in life. I would come to realize much later, however, that she really did have good reason to feel this way. Our work was long and boring, as we had to upgrade the operating systems on over 70 computers. Since they didn't want any leftover residue from the previous version to potentially cause problems down the road, we had to dump each hard drive and start from scratch. This was a slow process and would have given us ample time to engage in conversation. Unfortunately it became abundantly apparent early on that Melody had no desire to talk to me.
It was about a week into our assignment when Melody came across her first problem machine.
"This damn thing just won't work," she complained.
"What seems to be the problem?" I asked.
"I keep getting this damn blue screen," she said.
"Here, why don't we switch computers?" I suggested.
"What makes you think that you can do any better, genius?," she asked.
"All I can do is to try," I replied smiling.
"Fine," she relented. "I was getting sick of that piece of shit anyway," she said.
The problem was easy to resolve, and I had it fixed in a matter of minutes.
"It seems to be loading fine now," I told her.
"How did you do that?" she asked in amazement.
"These older machines sometimes don't respond very well with their hardware components. I ended up just changing a few IRQ's in the bios. It seems to like this configuration much better," I explained.
"You really are pretty good at this kind of stuff. So when are you going to start quizzing me about the money?" she wanted to know.
"What money?" I asked totally confused by her question.
"You don't have to play dumb with me. You are not the first spy they have sent in to try and get me to crack. I will tell you what I told them, I am innocent, and have no idea where all that cash disappeared to," she stated.
"You'll have to forgive me, but I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about," I told her.
"Yeah, right, do you honestly think that I am going to believe some kid just happens to volunteer to work in a women's prison installing software on his summer break from school for no good reason. Face facts, you are after the money just like everybody else. The problem is I don't have it, and I have no idea who does," Melody said.
"I still don't have a clue as to what money you're referring to, but the reason that I am volunteering this summer is that my mother died last year, and my best friend for the past six years just recently moved half way around the country. I am trying to find something to occupy my mind so that I am not constantly dwelling on it," I explained as a tear rolled down my cheek.
"You are telling the truth, aren't you? I figured that they would have told you all about me before having you start working here," she said.
"All I was told about you is that you were pretty good with computers, the crime you were convicted of was white collar, and I would essentially be in no danger while helping you," I admitted.
"Everything you just said is correct, but the truth is I really am innocent. I don't have any idea what happened to the money," she told me.
"First of all Melody, I still don't know what money you are referring to, and secondly, I believe you," I replied honestly.
"I am talking about the eighty-seven million dollars that suddenly disappeared from the accounts I was managing at the investment firm I used to work for," she said, while watching my face to gauge my reaction.
"Wow! That certainly is some huge hunk of change," I replied, totally shocked by the figure she just quoted.
"You really had no idea about the money?" she asked in wonderment.
"No ma'am, I didn't," I replied.
"You said you believed I was innocent, do you still feel that way now that you know what I was convicted of?" she asked.
"I'm sure of it," I replied, staring her straight in the eye.
"How can you possibly be so certain, we barely know each other?" Melody asked.
"Mom was always a bit psychic. She even predicted that she would die young and tried to prepare dad and me for it, but neither one of us wanted to believe her. She always said that I had a touch of the gift myself, though it was nowhere near as well developed as hers. She was able to teach me how to look into someone's soul to find the truth. I know you are not guilty, just as sure as I know my own name is Ryan Foster, and although it may take some time, I am going to prove it and get you out of here," I assured her.
"Don't make promises you can't keep," was her quick reply.
"I never do. My father taught me a man's word is his oath," I stated.
"You're just a boy," was her flippant response.
"Be that as it may, I am still going to get you out of here," I told her.
"Whatever," she replied, not believing I would actually do it. "Why don't we talk about something else," she suggested.
So from that point on Melody and I started to share general aspects of our life with one another. The two of us actually had many things in common. I learned that she was an only child, and that both of her parents were deceased. She had to struggle through her accounting degree on mainly part time jobs and student loans. It was her proficiency and excellent grades that landed her the job at Barkers investment firm. She said that at this point she thought that her luck had actually started to turn around. She got a promotion and was finally earning a decent salary. She'd even met a guy and started having aspirations about becoming a wife and mother. That is when her life fell apart. Somehow her passwords were used to steal massive amounts of money from client accounts she had sole access to. The funds, which totaled just over $87 million, were never recovered, and since she wouldn't return the money she was given the maximum sentence allowed by the state.
"Can you believe it? I have to stay in this hell hole for fifty fucking years. My life is ruined," she said, wiping away the tears with her shirt.
"I won't let you stay in here for that long. No matter what it takes, I will find a way to prove your innocents," I stated with as much conviction as I could muster.
"I know you mean well, but there is really nothing you can do. Please stop making promises you can't keep," she said.
"A man's word is his bond," I told her as I was leaving. "See you on Monday," I said.
The first thing I did when I got home that night was to look up everything I could about her case. Since I truly believed that Melody was innocent, then it only stands to reason that someone had to of set her up. My job was to find the person, or more likely persons, responsible for doing so. I started comprising a list of anyone that was either directly or indirectly involved in Melody's life during that time period. I remembered creating a family tree for my genealogy class, and used that same method for linking my suspects together.
When it was time for work on Monday, I decided to keep Melody in the dark about what I was doing. I wanted to hear her story, but was afraid she would get the impression that I was just after the money again. That was definitely not my motivation.
As our friendship grew more intense, I had to always walk a fine line between trying to ascertain as much information as I could without making her feel like I was milking her for the story. I felt so sad to learn that basically everyone in Melody's life had abandoned her. I vowed that I would always be there for her, no matter what the outcome of my investigation revealed.
As the weeks passed, it became clear to both of us that our time working together would soon be over. I made the suggestion that she could add my name to her list of preapproved visitors, so that I could still see her after our job was finished.
"Ryan, I don't think it's healthy of you to be spending time with me instead of trying to find friends your own age," she said.
"Don't you think it should be my decision as to whom I choose to spend time with?" I asked her.
"Not when you're obviously becoming too attached for your own good," Melody stated.
"I thought we were friends?" I asked her.
"I can't afford to have friends at this stage of my life," she replied.
"Everybody needs friends," I assured her.
"Well, not me, and I especially don't need some lovesick teenager drooling all over the place. The girls already accuse me of robbing the cradle, as it is," Melody told me.
"Look, I won't deny that I find you attractive, but I have never once said or done anything that was even remotely out of line," I argued.
"You don't have to, when desire is written all over your face," she challenged.
"I don't think I'm such a bad guy," I said defensively.
"That is part of the problem, you're not a guy, you're just a kid," she told me.
"Maybe so, but I am the kid that's going to get you out of here," I stated with conviction.
"Would you just stop saying that, we both know it's never going to happen," she yelled, causing the guards to look our way.
"Look, I give you my word I am working on getting you set free, it will just take a little more time, that's all," I tried to convince her.
"Do you really expect me to have any faith in some schoolboy?" she asked.
"I'm not your average school boy," I told her.
"Fine, if you're so fucking gifted, then you won't have any problems finishing the rest of this shit by yourself, because I quit!" she exclaimed as she bellowed for the guard to take her back to her cell.
Although I pleaded with her not to go Melody refused to relent, leaving the remainder of our work for me to deal with on my own. I of course completely understood where she was coming from. I knew it was stupid to keep bringing up the fact that I was working on getting her released, but I was just so desperate to give her some degree of hope that I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut. Now she won't even talk to me.
It didn't take long to for me to finish up our little project, and then I once again found myself with too much time on my hands. Rather than sit around being bitter about it, I decided to focus all of my energy into solving Melody's case. I knew she was still angry with me, but that didn't mean I could go back on my promise to help her, even if as she had suggested I really was just a lovesick schoolboy.
I had it in the back of my mind that there was probably more than one person responsible for framing Melody. I tried to do what they showed on TV, and put myself in the mindset of the criminal. I focused on how I would go about pulling off such a crime, while deflecting the blame onto someone else. It wasn't always easy for me to get my head around this form of debauchery, as I actually started feeling guilty at times over my own thought process. I had to treat this as a type of game before I could get fully immersed in my goal to unravel the perfect crime.
After reviewing all of the facts, I felt compelled to focus mainly on her ex-boyfriend Harvey Wallace as my primary suspect. I really don't know what drew me to him exactly, except that whenever Melody would speak of their relationship, I would get the distinct impression that things weren't quite as wonderful as she made them out to be. There was just something about her description of the man that didn't fit with my profile of what a loving boyfriend was supposed to be. I just hoped that I wasn't allowing my jealousy of him to cloud my better judgment.
It took almost no time to track down old Harvey's whereabouts, and once I did, I started to gather a pretty substantial amount of circumstantial evidence against the man. I knew that nothing I had discovered so far would be enough to overturn her conviction, but I at least felt I was making some sort of progress in that direction. For it to happen, though, I would surely have to recover the missing $87 million. Only then would I have enough leverage to get the justice department to reopen the case.
As luck, or perhaps maybe fate, would have it, Harvey's current address showed that he lived in the same city as my Aunt Linda on my mother's side. When I brought up that I wanted to go for a visit, Dad was all for the idea. He was never really crazy about the fact that I was working in a women's prison to begin with, and when I started discussing my friendship with Melody I could tell he was starting to get concerned about how close we were becoming. To avoid arguments, I basically stopped mentioning her to him all together. I know he was thinking that this trip would help get my mind off of her, but if he even suspected what my real motives were for going, I'm am sure that the shit would have most definitely hit the fan.
In all actuality it was really great to see Aunt Linda again, and since she and her husband both worked the day shift, I was pretty much left to my own devices until they arrived back home sometime after six P.M. each night. I quickly found Harvey's place of residence, and for nearly two weeks straight I stalked him relentlessly, desperately hoping that he would eventually slip up and possibly lead me to where he stashed the stolen loot. It was nearing the end of my stay with Aunt Linda that I suddenly hit pay dirt. I was tailing Harvey on the subway, when I noticed him removing what looked like to be a laptop case out of a locker. He then proceeded to the nearest McDonalds where he ordered lunch. I watched him take out his laptop and log onto their free WIFI connection. I quickly booted up my own laptop and hacked into his system through their non-secured line. Did I mention before that the advanced lessons Mr. Lance had taught Jimmy and me was in the field of computer hacking? Walter showed us the basics, but it was through my own skill and determination that I advanced to the level I am today, which by the way is damn good, if I do say so myself. As I sat there letting my PC record everything the bastard was doing, I knew that I finally had the son of a bitch right where I wanted him. Now it was time to call in the big guns.
I am sure the representative from Barkers investment firm was curious as to why I made an appointment to see him, especially after I requested that not only their attorney, one of their claim adjusters, and their best IT man be present in the meeting, but also I wanted the top man in charge of building the case against Melody to be there as well.