The Program Ch. 04byewebie©
Wow... I never thought it would take this long to get the next chapter up. My apologies to all who were waiting. Things got a little out of hand with my real job and still no lottery win, sad. But, things have cleared up a bit, so I should have a bit more time to write for the next little while. Yay!
Now, I wrote this chapter in pieces, so I hope it flows as well as I think it does. But it's nice and long (my thanks to you for waiting). Let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy it!
Thanks for reading!
The hardwood floor hit harder than Taylor expected and she grunted as her shoulder became reacquainted with her sternum. It didn't help that Wilson landed on top of her. She sucked in a difficult breath as her eyes welled. "Damnit, Wilson!" she coughed when she found her voice, pushing at his shoulders to wiggle out from beneath him. A constant spatter of bullets tore into her couch and she moved to grab the cordless phone from the coffee table. The phone exploded before she could reach it. She shrieked and snapped her hand back.
Wilson's arm wrapped around her waist, dragging her back down into the shelter of the thickest part of the couch. "Do you have a death wish or something?!"
"Where's your gun?"
He tilted his head toward the coat rack where his suit jacket was hanging. "Not that it'll help, but where's yours?"
She frowned, jumping slightly as a puff of cotton exploded through the couch. "Bedroom."
"Under your pillow, eh?" He laughed. It may have been a bit of an inappropriate response, but he'd been shot at before and this was almost ridiculous.
"Bite your tongue," she hissed. "Where's your phone?"
"With my gun."
"Well that's great," she snapped, her eyes darting around the room, looking for her cell phone or any sort of helpful tool.
Wilson frowned when she stared at the food and raised a brow. "You can't possibly be hungry."
"Can you reach the soy sauce without losing a finger?" She shot a look over her shoulder as he snatched the full bottle from the table.
"Dare I ask?"
"No. Just do me a favour. Roll over and play dead."
"Better ideas? None? Didn't think so. Now roll over and play dead. Just make sure that damn sniper sees you fall, but be out of his sights once you're down."
Wilson glared at her for a moment. She was certifiable. But he didn't have any good ideas. "Fine." He inched forward and waited for another bullet to pass through the couch. He lurched forward, his arms passing over his head in a wave and caught himself against the floor. "That work?" he asked quietly, inching back. He slipped between her and the couch, keeping low, making sure his feet didn't stick out from behind their shield.
"Brilliant. Don't move." Taylor pulled the lid off the bottle. Wilson's phone began to ring in his coat. "I think that one's going to voicemail," she muttered. With the next round of bullets, Taylor poured the soy sauce onto the floor slowly, letting the dressing form a pool that spread out into the centre of the room.
Wilson blinked. Maybe it did look a little like blood. "You are either absolutely insane or ridiculously brilliant," Wilson murmured.
"Shush!" Taylor's face twisted into something of a grimace as she listened for any more shots.
They lay on the floor for a good five minutes before daring to move. There were no more bullets, but neither of them wanted to risk exposure yet. Wilson's phone finally stopped ringing and a new ring startled them both. "Is that your phone?"
Taylor nodded. "It must have fallen under the couch."
Wilson's eyes narrowed and he glared down at her where she laid huddled on the floor. "You have to be kidding me." He dug under the now destroyed piece of furniture, producing her cell with an angry frown. "It was there the whole time?"
"Apparently." She took it from him. "James." The expression on her face changed as she smiled bitterly and her voice became saccharine sweet. "Oh hi, Patrick. You did, did you? No, I'm well aware that we have a problem. How? Oh, I don't know, maybe because I'm huddled behind my BULLET RIDDEN COUCH!" Wilson winced. When she was this angry, she was not someone to trifle with. Her voice dropped back to a softer level, "No, the only reason I'm alive is that the fucker thinks I'm dead. No, I won't go check! Yes, that would be lovely. Oooh, a whole team? Really, Patrick? How sweet. You do that."
She shot a glance at Wilson. "No he's not dead. Actually, he's here with me. Do me a favour and make it seem like the team is reporting to a murder scene. I think being dead will be easier than being alive right now. Yeah. No. Where the fuck do you think I'm gonna go? Fine. Just make it quick."
When she hung up the phone and turned, Wilson's face was only inches from her own. She started. "Don't do that."
He grinned, caught her chin in his palm and kissed her hard. "Don't move," he murmured against her lips. "You're supposed to be dead."
"You're going to be dead," she growled.
It was an empty threat and they both knew it. Wilson chuckled and kissed her again. "How long did Patrick say it would be?"
Taylor sucked in a breath as his hand snaked into the folds of her robe. "What are you doing?"
He grinned and continued to caress her bare skin. "Maybe I'm celebrating being alive after such a dangerous, near death experience," he whispered, kissing the exposed skin of her neck.
"Well, stop it," she swatted at his hands. "You're the one who said you didn't want to do this anymore."
He propped himself up on his elbow and smiled. "Alright then, we still need to finish our talk."
Taylor groaned and wrinkled her nose. She seemed to contemplate it for a moment, then she frowned. "No, I don't think so. Get off of me, you lug." And she gave him shove that knocked him clean off of her.
Bill woke with a start, still exhausted and completely disoriented. The knock on the door repeated and he managed to croak out, "Yeah?"
Larson stuck his head in the room. "Sorry, kid. Shit's about to get heavy out here and I think you might want to get up now."
"What the heck time is it?" Bill asked, more tired than angry.
"Just after five." Larson paused and looked down the hall before glancing back at Bill. "James is on the war path, and I'm not entirely sure you should still be in bed when she gets here. Just some honest advice. Up and at 'em."
When the door closed again, Bill fumbled for the light. He winced as it flicked on. He was still exhausted. With a groan, he pushed himself out of bed and jammed his feet into his shoes. From here on out, he was going to go with self-employment. No job was worth this shit. He headed toward the kitchen. Coffee, he needed coffee.
Two minutes of struggling with the pot and he was ready to give up and go back to bed, or maybe he'd risk the instant coffee in that rather old looking container. But the door slammed open and Taylor stormed in, tossing a duffel bag into the corner and setting a small carrier and coffee holder on the counter. "I don't give a fuck what you want, Patrick!" she yelled over her shoulder.
Bill opened his mouth, but nothing came to mind. She was obviously upset about something and the tone in her voice seemed wholly unnatural based on the Taylor he knew. But rather than making her unattractive, the anger seemed to make her glow. Her dark hair contrasted sharply with the pallor of her skin, and the emotion had brought a heated flush to her cheeks. His eyes flicked down momentarily and he couldn't help but realize that pantsuits fitted to a woman like Taylor were probably the cause of most workplace affairs. Maybe self-employment was overrated.
She eyed Bill for a moment. "Don't do that," she muttered, pulling the instant coffee out of his hand and tossing it back in the cupboard.
An unassuming man who Bill could only describe as average height and normal build followed Taylor into the room. Bill placed him somewhere near fifty, and in a neat, grey, pinstriped suit and glasses, Bill thought the man looked like an accountant. His voice was mellow and calming in spite of Taylor's tone, "James, you can't just leave the cat in the offices, that's a terrible idea and you know it."
Taylor spun around. "Lexis isn't staying here, you're taking her home with you."
"What? No." Patrick adjusted his glasses. "The last time I did that, you almost didn't get her back, I won't let my daughter grow attached to her again."
Taylor frowned. "Gee, Patrick, how about I leave her at my place and you can stop by and feed her until I go home." Bill stepped back. He could feel the anger radiating like heat off of Taylor. "Oh, yeah, that's right. My apartment was SHOT TO PIECES!"
"What?" Bill flinched. He hadn't meant to say anything. He was better off not seen and not heard. Taylor turned on him, her eyes flashing green. Damn, Bill thought, his stomach clenched involuntarily, though whether it was from fear or attraction, he couldn't quite say. Colour slowly crept up his face.
Taylor seemed to deflate when she took in his dishevelled appearance. Patrick cleared his throat and Taylor sighed heavily. "Morgan Patrick, Bill Martin. Patrick is my boss," she stepped back allowing the two men to shake hands.
"Mr. Martin, I'm sorry for all this. And let me apologise for the rather sharp tongue on my officer, here." Patrick's voice couldn't hide the teasing nature of his statement, and Bill instantly liked the man. Taylor narrowed her eyes angrily at Patrick. "You know, James, he looks an awful lot like..."
She stepped between them. "Enough, Patrick." She turned to Bill and pressed a warm Starbuck's cup into his hand and turned him toward one of the doors. "Fresh brewed. Showers are through there. I need you awake and working in half an hour."
Bill half expected her to pat him on the butt on his way out of the room. He took a sip of the coffee and smiled, "I can do that."
Taylor paced the conference room like a caged beast. It bothered her that Patrick was so calm. No, it actually pissed her off. "James, grab a seat," he said carefully.
"You grab a seat," she snapped back. When Patrick chuckled at her, she fixed him with her best withering stare. Maybe she could make him burst into flames in that chair.
"Taylor," he cleared his throat, shifting in the chair. "Please sit."
"I think better on my feet," she muttered.
"You're making me dizzy."
"Wouldn't want to do that," she was practically snarling. She needed to go for a run and blow off some of this pent up aggression before she actually offended Patrick. "Not like you've had a bad night."
"Taylor," he said more firmly. "Stop it."
She turned to face him and saw the contrite expression on his face. For someone so exacting as Patrick, he looked ruffled. She noticed that his shirt was wrinkled, his tie was just off centre, and there were dark circles under his eyes. She sighed, "Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry," he said evenly. "This never should have happened."
"How the fuck did this happen? NCS files are supposed to be impenetrable." She flopped into one of the chairs and drummed her fingers on the table.
"That's the problem. We don't know. This has never happened before. I need you to work on it."
She looked up suddenly. "Don't we have a whole department that does that sort of thing?"
Patrick nodded slowly. "But we can't let news of this get out. Plus, and I hate to blame other people, if someone made a mistake that opened us to this hack, I'd bet on it being one of the guys down there. Our officers are too careful to do anything so stupid."
Taylor resumed drumming her fingers on the table. "Why me?"
"I trust you."
"I'm going to need full access here, Patrick."
"I trust you."
She furrowed her brow. "Yeah, I don't know if I want that responsibility. You know what you're asking me to do?"
Patrick rose and smiled gently. "Taylor, you're the best we have up here. There is no other choice. And frankly, there's almost no way you could be further invested in the company."
"That's a nice way of saying I have no life," she snorted.
Patrick turned her chair to face him and rested his hands on her shoulders. "Taylor, I love you like you're one of my own. You know that. Like the violent, foul-mouthed daughter I never had."
"Three days with Claire and I'll have her swearing like a sailor."
Patrick rolled his eyes. "No."
She sighed. "Fine. I need the entire network off line. Absolutely no access outside of this building. I'll be as fast as I can. Send a warning to the international offices and route them through Interpol. I need three terminals with unrestricted access, let's put them in this room. I'm going to have Martin work with me on this. I need Wilson as a runner. And that can be the extent of it. You, me, Martin, Wilson. It stays in this office."
"You sure about Martin?"
Taylor nodded. "The man is a boy scout. And I need his experience. I've been out of the tech business for the past few years."
"Fine. He's in."
"Anything in your file you want to warn me about before I store it away in my bedtime reading file, Sir?"
Patrick smiled and gave her shoulders a squeeze. "That's my girl."
Wilson spun slowly in the chair, "What do you want me to do again?"
Taylor glanced up from the keyboard and shot him a grin. "You're supposed to entertain me, be my moral support, and make sure I don't run out of coffee."
"Coffee will stunt your growth. Oh, wait, too late," he smirked as she shot him a dirty look. He glanced down as he felt something brush against his leg and scooped up Lexis. "I see Patrick is letting you keep this little thing here."
"Actually," Patrick said from the doorway. "I'm going to take the fur-ball home with me tonight. I have Mr. Martin with me and I've briefed him on the situation if you want to get started."
"Already on it, boss." Taylor gestured Bill to one of the terminals with a tilt of her head. "I'm tracing back all the access to my file. Eventually I'll find one that doesn't belong."
"How long is that going to take?" Patrick asked.
Taylor stopped typing for a moment and turned to face him. "That all depends."
"Well, how careful the hackers were, if they were destructive, how much was accessed, and whether you want me to clean the system first or ID the files accessed first." She glanced at Bill. "We could split the work and get through it faster that way, but it'll take an hour or two at bare minimum. Then however long it takes to gird up the security to prevent it from happening again."
Patrick adjusted his glasses and smoothed his tie. "You know we can't be offline too long. Just get it done as fast as you can however you can."
"Aye aye, Captain." Taylor spun back to the terminal and her fingers punched keys as data flashed across the screen.
"And Wilson," Patrick eyed his officer. "I know neither of you slept much last night, but keep her sharp."
"Y'sir." He grinned at Taylor. "Hear that," he swatted her thigh. "Stay sharp or you answer to me."
Taylor grumbled, "Go to hell, Wilson."
"Still sharp, sir," Wilson told Patrick. Patrick rolled his eyes.
"Hey, boy scout." Taylor leaned around her computer screen.
"Yeah?" Bill had watched the exchange with growing curiosity and confusion.
"I'm already elbows deep in the files themselves. I've started a program trace on that terminal. Do me a favour and figure out how the hell they got in?"
Bill's eyes grew wide. He was a good programmer, and security and firewall was his specialty, but this system was above and beyond his experience. "Really?"
Taylor grinned. "You're better at it than I am. Get cracking."
"Ok," he said hesitantly, taking a moment to familiarise himself with the system. "Here goes nothing."
"Oh, and Wilson?" Taylor lifter her mug and shook it. "I'm empty. Splash of milk, two sugars."
Wilson groaned and pushed out of the chair. "Fine," he snatched the mug. "But Lexis is coming with me." Wilson stomped from the room with the small cat draped over one shoulder. He'd probably come back with that horrid instant coffee from the kitchen, or maybe worse, some of Patrick's sludge. But sending Wilson kept her from losing her place. Taylor let page after page of information fly by as she followed the line of commands that had opened the NCS profiles.
"If everything is under control here," Patrick waited for a nod from Bill. "Then I'll leave you to it."
"Oh fuck me," Taylor whispered, the colour draining from her face. "Wilson!" she shouted.
"What's wrong?" Patrick was at her side in a matter of moments. She pointed to the screen. "Taylor, I have no idea what I'm looking at."
"This," she pointed to the screen, "is my list of the information hacked last night. I'm not done, but..." Wilson returned to lean over her other shoulder and looked at the screen. "This," her finger tapped under one of the names, "is Wilson's personal profile."
"What?" Wilson watched as a stream of information ran across the screen.
"Danny," Taylor whispered.
Wilson froze. "Why would they..."
Patrick gave him a shove toward the door. "Go, I'll have a team at your back in five minutes."
Wilson was out the door before Bill could formulate an appropriate question, and he watched as Patrick stormed neatly out of the room. "Taylor, what's wrong?"
"Pick up," she muttered into the phone. "Pick up, pick up, pick up." She shook her head as she cradled the receiver to her ear. Bill could hear as the call connected. "Danny?" Taylor shot out of her seat. "Danny, hi, no, where are you right now?" A small flush of colour filled her cheeks as she visibly relaxed. "I need you to stay there. Do you understand me? No, Danny, I'll explain later. I need you to lock your door and stay away from the windows. Josh will be there in a few minutes. Do not open the door for anyone else. Clear?"
Taylor ran a hand through her hair. "Good. Just, be careful. I'll see you soon." Taylor choked out a laugh. "No, you're right. This is terrible. I've got to give Josh a call. Don't answer your phone after this. And..." Taylor trailed off as the voice on the phone piped up. She laughed again. "Right, got it. See you soon."
As the call disconnected, she was already punching in a new number. "Wilson. She's in the offices." She paused. "No, I told her that. No, no, yes, Wilson, listen. Door is locked, she's not going to open it for anyone but you. Just floor it, ok?" The corner of Taylor's mouth pulled into a small grin. "Yeah, yeah. I'm on it. Be safe."
She dropped the phone into the cradle and sat back down, massaging her temples with her fingertips. Bill waited for her to sigh before finally opening his mouth. "Who's Danny?"
Taylor glanced up; she'd forgotten he was there. She straightened and glanced at her computer screen before answering him. "Danny is a friend of mine. She works for one of the NPOs on the hill. Because she's political, she's got a file too. And they hacked it."
"So," Bill furrowed his brow. "Then, she has to come here?"
"Better safe than sorry," Taylor gave a shrug. "Anyway. Wilson will be there in about a minute, given how fast he drives. And he'd rather cut off his own arm than let someone hurt Danny."
Bill's brow furrowed as he contemplated what Taylor had said. Strange that Wilson seems to be the one that's so protective of one of Taylor's friends. "Do I have a file?"
Taylor laughed, stopping suddenly as he frowned. "No, why would you have a file?"
"I don't know," he muttered.
"Listen, Boy Scout, you're cleaner than a new bottle of bleach. You don't have a file, though, you probably will when we're done here."
"Anyone in your file that you'll have to go get?"
She frowned and looked back at her screen. "No."
Wilson stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. "Damnit, Danny, the office will run without you for the rest of the day."