I was doing a bit of almsgiving—okay, so it’s not technically my money, but Allah knew what I meant—when Page zoomed in to say, “She’s here.”
Of course. Deirdre McMannus always showed up when I was working. It’s an odd way to flirt, but I dug it.
Granted, Dee’s pretty hot. I dig brainy chicks anyway, and no rank amateur is going to catch up with this rodent. You’ve got to be pretty sharp to tag me, not that she’d done that, but she’d come close, closer than most cops.
Merciful Allah, a cop. What was I thinking?
A hot cop. Maybe it’s the danger? Partly danger, partly blonde curls and sexy curves, and a lot of brains. Even her rigid moral code was sexy—in an annoying way.
I faded into the ones and zeros woodwork and watched as she poked around trying to spike me. Ah, girlfriend. If you knew my plan, would you approve? “Distract her for me,” I told Page.
Page zoomed over to Dee and said, “Hi, Dee! How’s tricks?”
Okay, not the most subtle distraction he could have created. It’s my own fault. I should be more specific. I hadn’t programmed him for lying off-script. An oversight on my part.
Dee tilted her head at Page. “Mouse?”
“Yep,” Page said. “I didn’t expect to see you here...”
I watched out of the corner of my eye and went back to cracking Lactacorp. Surprisingly good money in baby formula. Also surprisingly non-mother-friendly business policies in baby formula—at least in Lactacorp, with their free samples until the mothers’ milk dried up followed by the price gouging. Sorry, Lactacorp, but it’s time for you to pay some alms. Call it a sin tax.
“Admittedly, they’re a shitty company,” Dee said, “but that doesn’t mean I can let you rob them blind.”
I sent Page a text message, and he repeated it verbatim. “The money isn’t for me.”
Dee laughed. “Oh, so you’re not interested in credits now?” Page must have taken too long to answer, because she said, “...Page?”
Like I said, Dee’s a smart woman.
What should I say? Page sent via text. Should I deny it?
I sighed and appeared next to Page. “Oh, hi, Dee,” I said, all airy nonchalance. “Is my Page pranking you?”
Page gave me a betrayed look. I ignored him.
“Nice try,” Dee said.
“Deirdre.” I made my voice as innocent and wheedling as possible, which, if you ask me, is pretty fucking innocent and wheedling. “You wouldn’t interfere with a man practicing his faith, would you?”
Dee, damn her, burst out laughing. “If rumors are true, you’re a terrible Muslim. Or is this some new faith where stealing is a sacrament?”
I am a terrible Muslim, but didn’t feel the need to waste time arguing that point. “Let me have my observances, okay?”
Dee put her hands on her shapely hips and raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Which observance are we talking about in particular?”
“Almsgiving,” I said.
Dee looked surprised, but the mocking tone vanished. “Almsgiving?”
“Sure,” I said. “Like you said, they’re a terrible company. It would be a shame if some of their profits went to homeless mothers who can’t afford their products.”
Dee wavered. “I… I…” She shook her head.
“You can help!” I said. “You can watch me and make sure I don’t keep the money! Come on, its a total kick in the pants! You’ll dig it!”
“I’d love to,” Dee said, “but I can’t.”
Sad. I sighed and tried another tack. “How about if instead I found evidence of corporate wrongdoing and gave it to you to prosecute?”
Dee smiled, long and slow. “Count me in.”
Dee and I stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder, lobbing code spikes at Lactacorp. She had a skill set very close to mine. Not exactly the same, but she hacked the bad guys, more or less.
It was hot.
I eyed what was working at what wasn’t, and calculated my next attack on their demonstrated weaknesses. Their firewall cracked right down the center, opening a tunnel inside.
“You’re good,” Dee said.
Damn straight I was, but it probably wasn’t attractive to… oh, fuck it. “Damn straight I am!”
Dee rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Come on.” She grabbed my hand, and we rushed inside together. There were some automated defenses, but I burned them before they could sound the alarm.
“Page, can you deface their website?”
“Sure!” Page said. “What do you want it to say?”
Dee was giving me a sidelong look. I ignored it. “Find a site that says ‘Tagged by China, Team Red!’ and copy the style and contents.” If Team Red insisted on advertising...
Page grinned and streaked off to do as instructed.
“I thought some of those Team Red hacks looked like your work,” Dee said. “I figured you had a student.”
I gave Dee my most innocent smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Suuuuuuure,” she said, tantalizing me with the drawn-out syllable. I ignored my hormones and headed into the file archive, a deep well surrounded by drawers of files on all sides.
I ran a search on the term “taxes” and skimmed the results. “Oh surprise,” I said. “It looks like naughty Lactacorp doesn’t pay their taxes!” I shot copies of the most damning files to Dee, who grinned and ran searches of her own. Her eyes moved from side to side as she skimmed, wiggling the fingers of her right hand… saving files, most likely.
While her search distracted her, I chiseled off a large chunk of credits and sent them to homeless women’s shelters in Egypt and India. I resisted the urge to make them in my mother’s name. Too much like signing my work, and I didn’t want to mix ego and almsgiving, dig?
Dee gave me a sidelong look. I pretended not to notice and ran another document search. “Tsk tsk, very naughty. Large contributions to political candidates. Perhaps larger than allowed?”
“Found that already,” Dee said. “They’re also cooking the books. Forensic Accounting’s going to have a great time in here!”
I gave her a sidelong look of my own, and then deliberately introduced a rounding error that funneled credits into orphanages.
Dee tilted her head at me. “Almsgiving, you say?”
“Yep,” I said. “Allah instructs us to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Dee looked like she was considering this, and then she kissed me on the cheek. Her lips burned… or maybe I was blushing. Damn it. “Thanks for your help,” she said.
“I could help again some time,” I said, hoping that it came out smooth and suave rather than puppy-eager.
Dee didn’t laugh at me. She smiled and said, “I could take you up on that.” We smiled at each other for a moment, then Dee said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” She took my hand again, and then we were out.
I looked up at Page’s site defacement and grinned. He’d found one with a graphic of a middle finger, which was a nice touch.
Dee laughed and shook her head, looking at the site defacement. “Incorrigible.”
I leaned in closer, trying to telegraph that I wanted to kiss her while giving her the opportunity to get away if she wanted to.
Dee glanced at my lips, then smiled wistfully. “I’d love to, but we’d drive each other crazy.”
I knew it! I grinned at her. “You already drive me crazy. I’m okay with that.”
Dee laughed—a kind laugh—and kissed me on the cheek again. “Let’s do this again sometime.”
“Okay,” I said, which, granted, wasn’t the smoothest thing I could say but it worked. She kissed me on the cheek again and vanished.
I checked to make sure she wasn’t watching, then beckoned Page over, and the two of us streaked off to my hideout. If only I could lure Dee to my side of the street! We’d be invincible together!
Maybe I’d tempt her next time.