Tor chapter 2 of 3
a short story
by Joshua Coffman
Outside the house a dog barked viciously. For a brief moment, terror
struck Troy as he realized the importance of his success in the task
ahead. He brushed it off and made his way back out of the crawlspace.
This time he noticed the spider webs lurking in the darkness.
Intricate detail in each line, precision, and a commitment to the plan. Each web was a story of craft.
That was enough introspection. His hands grasped the wooden rungs of the ladder to climb out of the shadowy depths of the house. He scrambled onto the cold gray linoleum. The walls of the hallway were a soft white and somehow reminded him of his childhood.
They were incredibly clean. In fact, everything about this whole compound struck Troy as clean. Even the stacks of ammunition in the crawlspace had been neatly organized and their markings distinct.
The light in the crawlspace flicked off and Beard came up the ladder behind Troy. At this point it was too late to ask for a reminder of Beard's name. Troy had committed to not initiating conversation with this confidential man.
Beard closed the trap door and led the way down the hallway. He pulled out a key and unlocked the deadbolt to the first room on the right. The door swung inward, and Beard stepped in, Troy close behind. The carpeting was thick and the room wide.
Bookshelves completely lined the walls. Thousands of books lined the beautiful shelves giving the room a distinct library smell. Above the bookshelves, white foam could be seen lining the walls between. In the center of the room there was a solitary lounge chair made out of fabric. Several blankets lay over the arms.
On the wall facing the door there was a stand up desk with a black laptop that was closed resting on top.
Beard walked over to the desk and pulled out a notebook from a small drawer underneath the desk space. He wrote a couple notes then set the notebook down, reached back in the drawer and pulled out a laptop battery.
Troy stood aloof as Beard put the battery into the laptop that looked just like any other laptop. There was no visible branding, but it made Troy think of the brand Lenovo for some reason. While the laptop was flipped over, Beard adjusted the hard drive to physically connect it to the laptop.
He flipped it over and started the boot process. He unencrypted the hard drive and started the operating system. Moments later, he connected the laptop to an ethernet cable that had been coiled around an arm of the desk, stretching the cable from the laptop to a port on the wall.
The bearded man took his time and seemingly followed each step of a memorized procedure. Neither of them immediately realized that one mistake had been made.
An alert message flashed on the screen and Beard reached into his jacket pocket to pull out his wallet. He pulled out a card and inserted it into a slot on the side of the laptop.
The computer flashed an "access" message. He pulled up a text messaging application. Several messages were exchanged between Beard and the invisible hands on the opposite side of the computer. Consensus. The pass off was almost complete.
Each step was retraced. No signs of problems. The battery was removed, the cables disattached, and the hard drive unconnected. Beard signed the time into the notebook and they retraced their steps out of the quiet room.
The flick of the deadbolt sounded loud now that they had adjusted to the quietness. Troy acknowledged that his work was done and made his way to the door, briefcase in hand.
Beard followed him outside, locked the door behind and they both climbed the stairs into the sunshine outside. Troy took the briefcase, threw it into the back seat of his car.
The gravel crunched under foot as Beard walked down the driveway and climbed into one of the tan SUVs. The engine roared to life, as he rolled down all of the windows to let out the stagnant hot air that had built up inside during the day.
Troy was climbing into his own truck when the sound of the banjo playing echoed out of Beard's SUV. Troy looked over at Beard, and for the first time he sensed any emotion from the man. A grin stretched across Beard's face as he reached for the volume knob in the SUV and turned the music down.
"That would be someone I would have a barbecue with." Troy thought to himself. A momentary daydream flashed across his mind of how life would play out were they not in these circumstances.
The key turned and he reversed the truck onto the driveway and out onto the asphalt. He rolled his window down and drove back toward the evergreens surrounding the compound.
Outside of the compound, Troy felt a sense of vulnerability. He wasn't sure that he was any less safe outside of the fencing, but it sure felt like it. Subconsciously, he shifted his weight to just make sure that his weapon was still holstered.