J. J. Hanna © 2024
I had been inside for three weeks. That wasn’t exactly a change from my normal routine—it’s not like I kept a strict gym schedule. But I was getting restless and I hadn’t heard anything more from Avalon.
I needed to do something other than play endless rounds of Call of Duty. If I died in that game one more time… No. I got up from my computer and stretched, acutely aware of the passage of time. Something had to change. Even a quick trip to get some decent espresso would be enough of a change. At least, that’s what I hoped.
I pulled on a hoodie and slipped on my sandals before I got in my old beater car and got on the road. If I went through the drive through it would almost be like I’d never left my house, wouldn’t it?
As I drove, my ringing cell phone caught my attention. The number was hidden. I let it go to voicemail. No one important ever called that phone, and I didn’t feel like out scamming a scam caller at the moment. Doing one job for Avalon had pulled the wind out of my sails. Hacking wasn’t fun anymore, not when they had that much leverage and the perfect fall guy. And I’d walked right into it. How could I have been so stupid? I mean, momentary lapses of judgment were normal. But this… I should have known better.
I groaned as I rounded the corner and laid eyes on the coffee shop. The drive through line was wrapped around the building and into the parking lot. The shots would be bad by the time I got to the window at that rate.
I sat in the parking lot for a moment, debating how much it was worth the risk. It was such a minor pleasure. But I’d been denied those pleasures for the last few weeks, destined instead to sit in paranoia and anxiety and wait.
I hated waiting.
And I was not going to wait in that drive through line.
I pulled into an actual parking spot and headed through the front doors, joining the line of people standing to talk to the barista at the counter. I hoped for a moment to see Amanda. She always had a way of bringing sunshine into cloudy days. But it didn’t seem she was working today. My phone rang again. Now that was weird. Another blocked number.
My stomach flipped. What if it’s Avalon? I answered, trying to sound more calm than I felt.
“I don’t like it when I get sent to voicemail.”
“I don’t like answering the phone,” I admitted. “Who is this?”
“There’s been a development. Your services are required.”
I stepped forward with the line. “So soon? I thought there was a break period.”
“Things have changed.” There was a pause. “Where are you?”
“Does it matter?” I got to the front of the line. “Just a quad shot please.”
“You idiot,” Avalon’s voice played into my ear.
“Thank you,” I told the barista as I paid.
“Sir? What’s a good name for you?”
“Max,” I said. That wasn’t a good name. I didn’t even know if I’d recognize that it was supposed to be my drink. But it was the first name that came to mind, and she shouldn’t have to ask me how to spell it.
“We’ll have that down at the end of the bar,” she said, but her voice softened as I walked away from her. The customer service faux chipper tone returned as the next customer stepped up.
“You just couldn’t help yourself,” Avalon said. “How is Sally?”
I blinked. “Sally?”
“The barista you just spoke to.”
I tried not to be suspicious as I looked back toward the barista. Sure enough, there on her name tag was the simple name: Sally. “How did you…”
“Because, idiot. That’s the development. Wait for your coffee as usual. And leave the shop through the side door. Keep your head turned to the right until you’re past the building threshold. Return to your apartment and await further instructions. And do not, under any circumstances, return to that coffee shop.”
“Oh, believe me. I know. They’re the best. They’re also the only connection point between the two of us.”
“It’s a coffee shop—a public space.”
“A public space with cops and FBI as regulars.”
“Quad shot for Max!” the barista at the end of the bar called.
I swallowed my nerves and grabbed my espresso, muttered a quick, “Thank you,” and headed out the side door as Avalon had instructed. “I’ll be back at my apartment in ten minutes,” I said into the phone. “Be smart. Make it twenty. Take a loop around the block and make sure no one is following you. That shop has had eyes on it all day.”
I took a breath and got back in my car, anxiously pulling back onto the road. “Wait. Should I be going back to my apartment at all? That’s the first place anyone would look for me.”
“Go back to your apartment, Adam. Trust the plan.”
A shiver ran down my spine when he used my name. How much did this stranger know about me? “What, exactly, is the plan?”
Avalon hung up. That did nothing to ease my anxiety. Pulling into my apartment complex and finding everything as it was, however, that helped. I downed my espresso and grabbed my screwdriver. Avalon wanted me here, so here I was. But that didn’t mean I had to leave incriminating evidence lying around. I opened up my computer’s casing and disconnected the hard drive. Everything important enough to keep I had access to in other ways. But if they did show up, and they did seize my computer, they likely wouldn’t look for anything else. And they definitely wouldn’t pay attention to a sealed package.
I swapped out the hard drive for a new one and put the old hard drive in the old product packaging. Then I resealed the shrink wrap using my iron and put it back among my backup computer parts. They might question why I had so many backup pieces, but they weren’t likely to try to read the information. Hiding things in plain sight.
Go back to your apartment and await further instruction. Right. More waiting. I hated waiting.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in any way. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events is unintended by the author.
J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her making YouTube videos and Online Courses about the publishing industry. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna and @jjhannaacademy to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up-to-date news on all things publishing. She also runs a freelance marketing business to help authors achieve their own goals. Learn more or hire her at Hanna Book Solutions.