>Decode, Chapter 3: The Message

>Chapter 3: The Message

After downing spaghetti and coke, Veronica started a comfort movie marathon and ran the beta web development program she was supposed to test for Maddox Technology. She thought about calling her boyfriend to tell him what happened, but she’d already run through the whole story with the Lieutenant, her sister-in-law, and then her brother, and she was cooked. Jesse would have to wait.

As Veronica scanned the program folder, Maddox Felton’s last words to her before she left that afternoon came back to her. Don’t miss a thing. So she looked closer, clicking on the only odd file she noticed. A document with lines and lines of source code opened up. Veronica adjusted the laptop screen to make sure she was seeing things correctly. She followed the code, most of it unfamiliar to her. But from what little programming she knew, she could tell it was something major.

Going back to Maddox’ words, Veronica focused on the lines of code, scrolling back to the top. At first, it all looked like muck but as she concentrated, she could make sense out of some of it. And one thing that made sense was definitely a phone number. Dialing before she lost courage or came to her senses, she heard a familiar voice pick up and stuttered an introduction.

“Couldn’t you have just told me your phone number in the elevator?”

“Believe me, I would rather run a direct operation,” Maddox said. “But I can’t afford to. The more you figure out on your own, the better.”

“What do you want from me? I’m a small-time web designer.”

“You’re also intelligent and I feel I can trust you.”

“And how would know this?”

“Our lengthy conversation back in the summer. At the corporate party.”

“Right. So one conversation and you’re entrusting me with corporate secrets.”

“Not exactly. But I am entrusting you with a job I believe you can handle.”

Veronica had to admit he piqued her curiosity.

“What type of job?”

She could almost feel Maddox smirking.

“I need an inconspicuous pair of eyes and ears around. A person who others will talk around or even to.”

“You want me to spy on your employees?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“And I’m cut out for this job because…”

“Because you put people at ease. And you don’t exactly look threatening.”

Veronica bristled.

“I can look threatening!”

Maddox laughed. “In an alternate universe perhaps.”

“Fine. What about David Moore? Did he spy for you too?”

Maddox paused. “I didn’t expect that.”

“So you know?”

She thought she heard Maddox sigh on the other end.

“I saw what happened to you this afternoon.”

“You saw what happened?” Veronica pushed her laptop aside, sitting up straight on her couch.

“Don’t get excited.”

“Fine. Enlighten me as to what you were doing there then.”

“Soon enough. Just watch over that disc for the moment.”

“What am I guarding? Is it the code?”

“You’ve gotten all you’ll get for tonight. Just follow my instructions and you’ll be fine.”

“Why should I?”

“I can compensate you generously. Plus, I have connections that could help your business. Think about it.”

Veronica shut down her computer for the night and snuggled up under her sheets, wishing the nightmare to end. After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, she finally dozed off only to wake up with a start to what sounded like the floor squeaking in her living room. Veronica froze, then forced her body to move, slowly opening her bedroom door. She told herself it was nothing and peeked out, then took a step into the doorway.

Veronica and a stranger stood locked on each other in the darkness of her living room. The intruder regained his senses first, darting from the coffee table to the main entrance in a few steps. Without thinking, Veronica dashed after him, running down the concrete steps in her bare feet. The person had already fled as Veronica stood on her stoop, her breath shooting out in clouds, staring out into the dark.

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