Jonathan's house is quiet and dark, and it has been for some time now. The outside world tries to filter through, but the blinds are tight and the windows secure. The air has not been disturbed for days now, and the stench of alcohol sticks to everything.
The smooth floor tiles look dirty in the dim light, but they are wiped clean, when for a second, a brilliant shard of sunlight stabs through the blinds. There is a rattling sound, and then a window gasps open with a breath of air and a scrape.
The blinds dance again, sending sunlight shattering across the room, and a figure steps down from the windowsill. She lets the blinds fall closed behind her and then straightens, pulling her hair to the side and wrinkling her nose at the smell.
“Oh Jonathan, this doesn’t smell good at all,” Helannah says. “I was hoping I would get to trace the journey of a desperate adventurer, not to follow the drunken steps of a…” But she pauses as she steps into the kitchen, and her eyes sharpen.
The sink is full of glass bottles, piled high, some tilted and still half-full, and on the counter rests a neat pile of bottle caps. The sink itself is plugged and holding an inch of sticky brown liquid. A slow smile comes across her face, and she unplugs the sink and watches the rest of Jonathan’s alcohol slip down the drain. After a moment, she turns to face the rest of the house with a satisfied nod. “Good,” she says. “I am pleased.”
In the living room, she is further impressed to see an atlas splayed open on the side table. And then she has to take a moment to collect herself because beside the atlas is a teapot. She lets her mouth drop open. “Tea? I love tea!”
She jumps down on the carpet beside the table and beholds the tea pot as if it is a work of art. “Jonathan, you dumped your alcohol stash and then sat down with a pot of tea? You have no idea how much respect that earns you.” And then she laughs at herself and lifts the pot. It is half full, and so she pours a mug and gives it a sniff.
“And now,” she announces, “this is how a real detective dates a crime.” She composes herself long enough to take a little sip, let it linger on the tip of her tongue, and then grimace before rolling over into a laugh. “Yeah,” she says, sticking out her tongue. “I think I’d rather suck on a teabag.”
Giving the living room another quick scan, she continues her investigation. She walks softly up the stairs, listening to the wood creak beneath her careful feet. At the top, she finds the bedroom door slightly ajar at the end of the hallway. She pushes it open with a gentle palm and gazes inside.
The bedroom is a mess; the floor and bed are covered in photographs, postcards, and boxes overflowing with keep-sakes and memories; and every drawer in the dresser is pulled out. She steps inside, kneels down on the carpet, and carefully begins to look through the photos.
She grows solemn and compassionate as she looks in on someone else’s life, her eyes respectful and non-judging as the photographs display their honest humanity. But she has connections to some of the people, and emotions are relit as memories are tugged to the surface of her mind. She finds it difficult to look at Jonathan as he changes and grows from photo to photo, leaving behind the optimistic youth he once was to pursue a more rigorous personality revolving around the successes of his career.
And then she pauses, cradling a single photo in her hands. Her eyes are deep and full as she leans over the little photo, recalling anther lifetime when she had thought that love was about filling gaps. Her past self looks up at her with a blissful smile, her cheek resting on the shoulder of her partner. Jonathan is smiling too, but it is a proud smile, proud to have such a pretty girl at his side.
After a moment of thought, Helannah places the picture to the side and continues her search. It isn’t long before she matches a few key faces and names, and tracks her way to a particular set of photos on the bed. She soon finds herself wondering, out of the five friends standing on the dock in the photograph, which of them died in the accident. She guesses that more than one of them did. She knew there was a reason why Jonathan had felt the need to pull out his photographs and postcards.
She continues to organize the photos until a storyline begins to emerge. Five of Jonathan's friends enjoy a lakeside retreat with beer and fishing and summer barbecues, staying in an old rundown cottage with a wood burning stove and a lopsided outhouse. But Jonathan is missing from all of the photographs, and from the jokes written on the backs of the photos, his friends didn't let him off easy for having backed out of the trip at the last minute.
Helannah slowly nods, looking now for further details. She doesn't have much to work with, but she has a feeling she's on the right track. And now that she is sitting in Jonathan's bedroom looking through his memories, she is beginning to feel a sense of urgency. The experience has become a lot more real. The people who died now have faces in her mind. Jonathan was here himself, crying over their faces less than a week ago.
Helannah stands up and holds her emotions in a tight grip. "I'll find you soon," she says. She flips open her cell and hits a speed-dial number.
There is a long tone on the other end followed by an automated menu. “If you would like to speak with an operator, press one.” She presses seven.
The line opens on the other end, but there is only the sound of a clattering keyboard. Helannah waits, and it isn’t long before she hears a voice. Ivan is speaking, but he still hasn’t picked up the phone.
“Helannah, you’re gonna have to wait!” she hears him say from a distance. “I’ve just witnessed one of the most intense hijackings I’ve ever seen. Someone hacked the Malgrove Bank and is releasing information about its affiliation to several major corporate entities."
Helannah pauses. "So by 'wait', do you mean call back in a day or two?"
Ivan answers with a quick laugh and a flurry of keystrokes. "If you can track your man without me for a while, do what you can. I've got someone new to track, and it's not gonna be easy."
"I can manage," says Helannah.
"Good. I hope I can too. Until today, I didn't know this hacker existed. I also didn't know what he did was even possible. So as for tracking him, I'm a little out of my league."
Helannah is surprised. "You? Out of your league? Who is this guy?"
"I dunno," says Ivan. "He calls himself the Emancipator. But I gotta go. I'll hear from you soon."
Helannah hears the line go dead, and she lowers the phone from her ear. She looks back down at the photographs of the lakeside cottage. "Hold still, Jonathan. I'll be there soon," she says.