J. J. Hanna © 2023
5:45 AM. As usual, I was right on time. But for the first time in a long time, Amanda wasn't the one who greeted me. That didn't bode well. For as good as this coffee shop was at giving me exactly what I wanted exactly how I wanted it, that had been a struggle whenever Amanda wasn't there.
"Good morning, what can we get started for you today?" a male voice greeted.
"Good morning—is Amanda in today?"
"Not yet, sorry. What can we get for you?"
I sighed. Today I could really use Amanda's friendly face. Plus, no one else made my drink just right, they all stopped when it was still too cold. "I'll have a large hot chocolate, extra, extra hot—as hot as you can make it and then some. With a stopper and a sleeve."
"Great! We'll see you up here at the window."
I followed the cars around the building, trying not to let my mood dip into grumpiness. I already knew my drink wasn't going to be hot enough. It never was. The woman in the car behind me caught my eye as she leaned out of her car to speak to the box. The bright pink steering wheel cover was enough to draw anyone's eye, but her platinum blonde hair was cut in a blunt bob, quite striking for her facial features.
She looked familiar somehow, but I couldn't quite place it. It was curious though. It made me wonder how many people passed through this coffee shop and how many I knew in one capacity or another. I never expected to recognize anyone, but for every ten civilians on the road, I couldn't help expecting there was at least one criminal. Petty crimes and misdemeanors or worse, the number of people I passed on my way to work who were speeding or cutting people off was enough to fill every holding cell in the compound and then more.
By 5:48 I had my hot chocolate in my hand. I could feel through the cup that it wasn't hot enough. But I didn't want to fight it today. "Does Amanda work today?" I asked the man in the window. His name tag read Andrew. I hadn't ever seen him before. He must have been new.
"I'm not allowed to give that information," he said, glancing over his shoulder toward his shift supervisor.
"Hi Olivia," Sally said. "You know we can't give out information about worker schedules. You'll just have to come back and check later," she said with a wink. Then she turned back to the screen ahead of her, talking through the microphone at her mouth. "You got it, George. We'll see you down here."
I sighed. "Thanks." I drove away from the window, sitting in the parking lot for a moment, debating going inside to have them fix it. I was late. I didn't really have time. But if Amanda was there, she'd make it perfectly. Don't be so silly, Olivia. Everyone needs days off. Maybe you could ask Amanda to warn you when she'll be gone next time.
I pulled into the exit line after a large black SUV, following the car out for quite a few turns before we parted ways. Now that was a driver I could get behind. No speeding, no cutting people off, and always used his turn signal. Maybe there was some good in the world.
When I arrived at work, I quickly moved through security and settled at my desk. 6:02. I was late. I hated being late. But I hated even more that there had been no forward progress on the Metgov hacking event. Most other task forces were calling it a loss. Not me. There was something familiar about it to me. I could have sworn it was connected to a string of other cyber crimes that had popped up recently. I just had to find the connection.
I ran over what I knew. Metgov had a system that required two hackers working in tandem, one from the site and one remote. In order to get in, they'd need to be coordinating their attacks—one to ease the virtual door open, and the other to move the money. The system was too sophisticated to do both at the same time. My team hadn't found anyone suspicious in the security footage, so we'd begun looking into every employee at Metgov. Janitors who seemed overqualified, IT team members who had been passed over for promotions, everything that would give someone motive.
Then we looked for similarities to other recent attacks in the patterns lingering in the code itself. That's what helped the system to catch on. There had been a slew of other attacks recently on companies of similar net worths to Metgov. Carion Electronics, for example, had been hit hard only a few days ago. And the attack pattern was nearly identical. There had to be a connection point between the two companies.
I sipped my hot chocolate and immediately set it down, disappointed. It was absolutely lukewarm. I'd gotten distracted in my work as I was prone to do, but if Amanda had made it, this wouldn't have been so much of an impact. On a whim, I looked up Amanda's address and, using her full name, looked through her social media. She usually posted something every day. And today's post was missing.
What had the new barista said? She wasn't in yet. She was supposed to be at work today. I knew it was a misuse of resources, but I couldn't let it rest. It was likely she'd overslept. But what if she hadn't? What if something had happened to her?
I felt ridiculous running her photo through facial recognition to look for a location with street cameras, traffic cameras, and other security systems I was tapped into. I felt less ridiculous when I get a hit from the army cover base only a mile north.
What was she doing there? More to the point, what was the woman behind me in line for the drive-through doing there, scanning a security badge and driving through the gate with that fluffy pink steering wheel cover?
It was a distraction. I shouldn't question it. I knew that. But I did feel I needed to ask my commissioner to make a call to follow up on it. Amanda had been the closest thing I had to a friend for the last few years. I couldn't let her disappearance go unquestioned.
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 life 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.