Eli and I strolled down Main Street for about an hour before he drove me back to the farm. He had to get back to work…and so did I. I had been out of circulation and away from the fray for too long. I needed to get plugged in again just long enough to take the temperature of the water back home. Problem was, plugging anything in…my laptop, iPad, iPhone, anything with an Internet connection, would give away my location within seconds.
I needed to get to an Internet connection. One that was nowhere near where I was right now. Time for a road trip.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to the beach, but now was as good as any to take a trip across the state line to Panama City Beach. I could be there in less than two hours. Quick change of attire, some snacks for the trip, and I was ready to hit the road. On the way out of the house, I grabbed my overnight bag, just in case.
It was a beautiful day for a drive. Too bad I wasn’t actually going to enjoy my time at the beach. I had a plan, of sorts. It was a risk, but I needed to check in and find out what was going on back home. I hadn’t been 100 percent truthful with Eli, and I was sure he knew that, too. He would figure that out soon enough, but until then, I had to play the game on a closed court.
It was shortly after lunch when I reached Panama City Beach. It had been ages since I’d been to this town, and it’d changed so much that I knew if I didn’t keep focused, I’d get lost very quickly. I had a few choices. Coffee shops that doubled at Internet cafés or hotels with business centers. Both would have desktop computers that I could erase my browsing history. I was dressed casually in nice shorts and a blouse, so I could pass as a tourist for either venue.
I finally stopped at the first hotel I came to that looked liked it might have a business center. Leaving the overnight bag in the car, I grabbed my purse and walked in the front door like any other guest staying at the hotel. I walked to the elevator with purpose, and pressed the UP button. I left my sunglasses on when the elevator doors opened on the second floor, and I stepped out. I strolled down the hall until I came to what appeared to be my room door. Digging around inside my purse, purely for the surveillance cameras at the ends of the hallway, I feigned having lost my access key, and made my way back to the elevator. Room 243.
When I got back to the front desk, I explained that not only had I lost my key for Room 243, I really needed to use the business center. The kid working the desk didn’t bother to ask for my ID or even my name after I gave him my room number. Moron. I guess some things are all about attitude. I’ve never pretended to be so confident in my entire life. But, if it got me into the business center and in front of a computer, I’d be the most confident female on the planet for the next five minutes.
Voila! The kid whipped out a room key and pointed down the hall to a special room for business travelers before asking me if I’d be willing to have a drink with him when he got off work. I told him I’d love to meet him at Harpoon Harry’s, and I was the most sincere I’d ever been when I said it.
I made my way down the hall to the business center and keyed my way inside. The room was empty, and I was in luck…for now.
Swiping the key into the card reader at the terminal brought up the computer’s desktop and started the clock. The room would probably be billed by the minute, but most hotel’s didn’t get so specific as to track exactly what was done online other than time and pages printed. I opened the browser and navigated to the numbered web address given to me by a friend of mine before I left Montgomery. He was a paid hacker. Companies paid him to hack their security systems and then fix them. There wasn’t a cooler job on Earth than the one Gabe Hackett had. I was fortunate enough to call him a friend, but he was also a tutor. I learned enough from him only to be dangerous. I left the heavy lifting to the professional.
The address Gabe gave me was secure so we could chat while I was away. He taught me how to cover my tracks…to a point. When you’re online, there will always be tracks for those looking. And I was being looked for. I didn’t have much time, and he was online.
“Hi, friend!” I typed. “How’re things back home?”
“Busy,” Gabe replied. “It’s been very hot lately, so business has been booming.”
That was our code. Temperature. If things were “hot,” it definitely wasn’t time to come home. Things were either bad or worse, depending on your point of view.
“So, what’s the story these days?” I asked, meaning if the news was front page or buried somewhere in the second section.
“Oh, you know,” he replied. “We news junkies love the front page stuff. Sex and violence sells.”
Another bad sign. I left Montgomery as front page news. Apparently I still was.
“Sounds like you have your hands full,” I typed. “You take care. Time for me to run. Chat later.”
“TKY,” Gabe signed off, shorthand for “take care of yourself.
I was no better off now than when I left the city. I took a deep breath and pocketed the room key. I wiped the computer’s cache the way Gabe taught me, and then left the business center. I walked around until I found a side exit and took it to the parking lot. I was inside my car and back on the highway in a matter of minutes.
Sorry Registration Desk Kid. You’ll be drinking at Harpoon Harry’s alone tonight. I was heading back to my hideout.