Chapter seven – Finding out
We left for the Town Hall bright and early in the morning, before the fire-fighter personnel would return to the station. It was only a short walk, and before I knew it I was facing the same man-boy from a month earlier.
‘I’ve already told you a month ago, and I’ll tell you again: we don’t just let everyone in our file room!’ he sneered the second he saw me. ‘You don’t have the authorisation to open even one of those files, so I don’t see any reason why I should let you… in… the…’
‘Why, good morning, Anton,’ Julian said with a low voice, stepping into sight. ‘Fancy seeing you here.’
‘OH MY PLUMBOB! Mister Marquet!’ he yelled. ‘I wasn’t- I mean, I didn’t see you there, sir!’
‘I believe you can see me perfectly clear now, though, yes?’
‘Y- yes, sir!’
‘Good. Now then, you are going to give the both of us full access to the town’s missing sim files. I think you’ve kept this lady waiting long enough.’
I couldn’t help but smile as I saw the guy named Anton get redder and redder.
‘But I can’t…’ he muttered, ‘I can’t just let anyone… part of my contract agreements… if they found out…’
‘Oh, but they won’t find out, now will they?’ Julian said. ‘Especially since there is no need to let them know in the first place. I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. You are going to give me the key and passwords for the missing sim files – just those files, I don’t need the rest. Catherine and I will then search until we find what we need, and then we’ll leave again. No need to tell anyone. Don’t you agree?’
‘I… I understand.’
He ducked behind his desk and came back up with a small key in his hands, which he gave to Julian.
‘Thank you very much,’ Julian said, before turning around. ‘Come on, Catherine.’
We left poor Anton alone and headed for the file room. Julian was grinning the whole way.
‘Oh, I just love doing that,’ he chuckled.
‘Tell me, Julian,’ I raid while following him through the door, ‘are you some kind of big, powerful political figure? Or maybe a criminal lord in disguise? There’s no way that guy would have reacted like that if you aren’t.’
‘You tell me your history and I’ll tell you mine,’ he grinned. ‘No, really, don’t worry. My family holds quite some influence in Bridgeport, but it’s nothing shady. They’re just all very much into politics and stuff like that. Things that bore me to death, but because of it I do get to pull off little tricks like this, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.’
I decided to leave it at that, and a few seconds later we were out of the hallway and standing in the file room. It was much, much bigger than I imagined.
Rows and rows of shelves were neatly lined up and seemed to go on forever. They all had books and file reports in them. Some belonged to entire families, some were about one sim specifically. At the far end of the room, I saw an old-fashioned crime board standing against the wall.
‘Come on. The most recent missing files are over there.’
Julian was already halfway the room when I was done gazing around in amazement. I quickly ran after him, yelling: ‘Hey! Wait up!’
I followed Julian through the file room all the way to the back wall, where the old crime board was.
‘This is where they keep the missing sim files,’ Julian explained. ‘They’re put through using that computer, and then they get printed and stored in the bookshelves. They keep missing reports here for about a month, and then add them to the shelves behind us.’
‘I see,’ I nodded. ‘So, how are we going to go at this?’
‘Simple. I’ll take the computer to look at any files that haven’t been put through yet, and you search for your face in the files on the bookshelves.’
And so, we began. Julian installed himself behind the computer screen…
While I got started with the book shelve that was most to the left. I didn’t know at which letter to start, so I figured I should just begin at A and work my way through from there.
And so we worked…
And dug through the files one by one. Time went by incredibly slowly, and so did digging through the reports of dozens of missing people. I thought I only had to look through the files of Bridgeport, but then I realised I may have come from another town on a business trip or holiday and so our research pile got even bigger. And my face just didn’t show up.
‘Anything yet?’ I asked hours later, while returning from the vending machine in the hallway for the seventh time. My pocket money was gone from all the drinks and Julian had taken off his jacket because of the warmth.
‘No… ah, well-‘
‘Well, there’s something weird,’ Julian said, rubbing his chin in thought. ‘I can look at all of the files up until eight weeks ago, and everything from two weeks after that. But there’s nothing in between.’
‘Doesn’t that just mean that there were no reported missings?’
‘No, if there are no missings, they file that there’s no one missing that week.’ Julian frowned. ‘But those two files are just empty.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I honestly don’t have a clue,’ Julian grinned. ‘Hacking has never been a hobby of mine. But I know someone who does it for a living.’
He took out his phone and dialled a number. I was once again amazed by the connections he had.
‘Yeah, it’s me. Remember that favour you owed me? I’m going to ask you for that today.’
There was some mumbling on the other side of the phone, after which Julian retreated to his screen again.
‘He’s going to break in for me,’ Julian explained.
‘Why? We have access, don’t we?’
‘Anton only gave me the password to one section of the whole thing. I can’t ask him for the rest, that’s pushing it too far. But this way it should work, too…’
He put in a tiny cable from his phone to the computer, and within seconds files were opening and closing again without Julian doing anything.
‘Your friend is fast,’ I smiled.
‘Yes, he is- ah, what have we got here?’
All of a sudden, the mouse on the screen pulled something from the file that we thought was empty. It was a picture of a newspaper, and the big, red letters across the front made clear that whatever happened, was big news. I came a bit closer to the desk and looked at the screen.
There was… something oddly familiar about that man…
‘Who is that?’ I asked. Julian froze for a second, and then turned around, facing me with surprise on his face.
‘Wait, you don’t know who he is?’
‘I don’t remember anything, did you forget?’
‘Ah… my bad. It’s just a bit weird. I pretty much grew up with him.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked curiously.
‘My mum, she was his personal assistant until about five years ago, when she got promoted. She took me to his office lot of times as a kid.’
‘But who is that, really?’ I asked again.
‘His name is Bryce Moon – he’s part of our ministry.’
‘I didn’t even know something happened to him,’ Julian muttered with regret in his voice. ‘They were good friends, Bryce and my mum.’
He got lost in thought, not noticing I had completely frozen where I stood. My eyes were practically glued to the face on the screen and then everything turned dark. Images forced itself out from the depths of my mind to the surface.
‘I was talking to you, and you didn’t respond at all,’ Julian said. He had turned around fully now, blocking the newspaper file from view.
‘I’m sorry. What were you saying?’
‘That article doesn’t belong in a missing sim file. I don’t know if they messed up their desk work or if someone deliberately hid that from the computers, but that article hasn’t even been in any newspapers. It’s too much of a coincidence that we find this while looking for you… you look pale, Cathy. Are you all right?’
‘Are you sure?’
I nodded. Julian looked back at the man on the screen once more, and frowned. His eyes looked sad. Then he shook his head and clicked the file away.
‘I don’t think we’ll get any further from these files,’ Julian said eventually. ‘But my dad and siblings should know something… I’ll go visit them and fish around for information. They won’t talk when there’s someone with me, though, so for now, you should go to a friend for now… somewhere you’ll be safe…’
I couldn’t help it. I had to ask.
‘Yeah?’ he said, turning away from the screen immediately.
‘Why are you doing so much for me?’ I asked. ‘You don’t even know me. Plumbob, I don’t even know me.’
I didn’t want to ask that question. I’d been holding it back for days, pretty much from the moment he asked me out to dinner for the first time. But it just slipped my mouth, and I was afraid of what the answer would be.
Julian came closer and gazed into my eyes. His were like two smoldering pieces of coal, heating me up from the inside, all the way to my heart. Why didn’t I notice his eyes before?
‘Now that you mention it… I wonder why.’
‘Will you be all right on your own?’
‘Take care until I get back, Catherine. I’ll call you as soon as I know more.’
He gently caressed my hand, holding it for over ten seconds before finally letting go and heading for the exit. I really wanted to follow him… follow him and let him take me far away from everything, like he had done when we slept at the firehouse. Start life all over again, with Julian there to watch over me… but I couldn’t do that. Not yet, not while forgotten people were still showing up in my dreams. Not until I found out who those two children were… and what they had to do with me.
But it felt good that there was someone to stand by me on the way.
I was ready to leave the file room when I realised the computer was still turned on. I turned around and sat myself in front of it, moving my finger towards the off-switch.
I reached for the button…
With a single ‘pling’, the screen changed again on its own and Julian’s hacker friend started to type.
‘Did some digging on the net – arson was shunned because they couldn’t find suspect. Politican’s murder with no suspect would look bad.’
So there actually was a suspect in the case. This was new information. I wondered whether or not to tell the hacker that I wasn’t Julian, but then curiosity got the best of me. I clicked on the chat and started to type back.
‘Did you find anything else?’
‘Yeah. Got a cam record of the house. Bringing it up here now.’
A video of the household! Maybe if I saw them, I would remember. Eagerly, I waited until the download screen was complete and bowed a little bit closer to the screen when the file came up.
Oh… my… plumbob.
That… that was…