Dylan Rigby stopped in the lobby of his apartment building to check his mail, wiping sweat from his hair. It was really too hot to run, but he thought he’d catch a short one before going to work. He’d cut it in half, because even early in the morning, it was too hot. There was an envelope and some junk mail in his mailbox. He tossed the junk in the recycle can near the stairs and then frowned at the envelope. The handwriting seemed familiar. He trotted up the stairs to his 4th-floor apartment. When he looked at the envelope again while unlocking his door, he remembered seeing Alan Marquet in his cubical four days ago before he’d stepped in front of the cross-town bus. Dylan was there to ask him to coffee. Alan scowled at his computer screen, his dark brown eyes narrowed and his full lips pursed.
“Tax collector or psycho ex-girlfriend?” Dylan had asked. Alan flinched and dumped the screen.
“You got me. Women!”
“Yeah! You want to go get some coffee? You can tell me all about it.”
“Nothing to talk about.” They went to coffee and talked about nothing, which was often how they spent their breaks. Dylan remembered how distracted Alan had been. They’d gone back to work, separating at the elevator and Dylan had never seen him again.
Alerted by Alan’s handwriting, Dylan glanced at the postmark. That same day. Anxiety clawed at his chest as he closed the door and tore the envelope open.
A thumb drive and a note slid out. Alan had pulled a thumb drive out of the computer before they’d gone to coffee.
“I don’t know who else to send this to. I didn’t know what it was when I opened it and now I’m scared. Maybe I’m panicked. If I’m still alive when you get this, we’ll have a good laugh. If not … maybe your dad … I don’t know. Maybe you should just destroy it. Just don’t open it on a networked computer. Alan.”
Dylan unplugged his laptop from the power source, disabled the wireless modem and entered airplane mode, then set it on the metal book shelf that he’d designed as a partial Faraday cage. He then plugged in the thumb drive and opened the first folder on it.
Everyone in the services knew Marshall Ellerby, the head of Homeland Security. This document was a scan of a 1990 doctoral dissertation by Ellerby. As Dylan scanned through it, his throat grew tight and his stomach soured. It could be taken as a political science thesis on a multi-city nuclear attack from small-state actors or … Alan had died for this. Someone killed Alan over a freaking dissertation? Why … unless it is important and active?
He needed to tell someone, probably his dad, but … but … not now, not today. He’d learned in his training that there was safety in not attracting too much attention. He wrapped the thumb drive in a sandwich bag and buried it in the tin of coffee beans, and then he showered quickly and headed for work. Alan had panicked. He’d been acting strangely. Dylan knew that acting like nothing was unusual was the best way to handle this — and just hoped it was enough.
All rights reserved. Laurel Sliney dba Lela Markham. January 2014