J. J. Hanna © 2024
Things were spiraling out of control, and I hadn’t orchestrated the spiral. It’s one thing to witness a storm from the safety of the eye. It’s completely fine, and preferred, truly, to watch the world unravel when you’re the one who caused the chaos. But when the chaos finds you and flips your world upside down, it is far less comfortable.
And as the metaphorical waves came crashing down, I found myself running disaster survival plans in my mind, weighing the costs of my actions, and my own willingness to sacrifice in the name of safety. When you’ve been the kingpin for as long as I have, you get used to getting what you want, when you want it, at whatever the cost to others. And I had let myself get comfortable.
You see, in my pursuit of notoriety, I had also become unwilling to let go of life’s minor comforts. And I had settled into a routine, which was the most dangerous thing a criminal such as myself could do.
When you have a routine, two things happen. First, your actions become predictable and standard. Everyone around you always knows when and how to expect you. They know what sets you off and what pushes you over the edge. But that also has a more practical impact. My daily routine put me at Amanda’s coffee shop at routine times every single day. That put me on the map when I was supposed to be off grid.
Second, strangers take notice when your routine breaks. If you show up to the same place, at the same time, in a predictable rhythm, and then you stop showing up to that place at that time, the strangers who share that timeslot with you in public spaces may, if they make a habit of paying attention, notice that your table, your seat on the bus, your desk, or your chair is empty. They will notice your absence even if they can’t place it.
This is how I knew immediately that Amanda hadn’t been in the coffee shop when I’d gone to check on her. She had broken from her routine. And that had caused me to break from mine.
Which meant that now, as I fumbled with the butterfly effect that one change caused, I had plans I needed to enact.
Those plans started with sending our newest hire right where the law would look for him. And those plans had to end with me sacrificing the barista I’d come to care for.
It’s infuriating how proximity leads to care. The way humans are wired to bond with those creatures around them—be it other humans or animals or even trees, constant proximity always seemed to lead to an emotional attachment. And in crime, emotional ties were the thing that got you caught. Always. Emotions are motive. That’s why we’d always contracted out someone unconnected to do the work for our clients. But there must have been a link found between our clients, us, and that coffee shop, or Amanda wouldn’t be sitting in an interrogation room facing questions she had no answers for. For her sake, I hoped it wasn’t a bad interrogation room.
But if she was with the law, then I needed to stay far away. I had initially been concerned that she’d been taken by a competitor of mine looking for an edge on me. I must be slipping if that had actually nearly worked.
But the law wouldn’t hurt Amanda. They might disrupt her life, but they wouldn’t cause her harm she couldn’t bounce back from. She was safe enough. And I needed to cut ties.
Axel’s name popped up on my burner phone. I answered and waited for him to speak first. “It’s done. Everything is set.”
“Good work. Move to phase two.”
Axel hung up and I turned my attention back to the screen in front of me and to the security feeds of Adam Jenkins’ apartment. In less than twenty-four hours, Denver PD and the FBI would breach that apartment and find enough evidence to arrest and convict Adam as the sole hacker involved in the Metgov data breach. Despite his efforts to remove any incriminating evidence—swapping the hard drive was a good effort, but it wouldn’t be enough with the evidence Axel was planting on that computer.
Begrudgingly, I began looking up other coffee shops I could visit to get my favorite drink. The thought occurred to me that if Amanda lost her job over this whole debacle I could follow her to her new shop, but I promptly shut it down. No connections. No through lines. Or all of this would be for nothing.
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.