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Amy wished she could go back in time. Not way back. It wasn't as ifshe wanted to sip ouzo with Aristotle or tell Lincoln to duck. Lessthan a fortnight would suffice. Just far enough to avert thecomputer nightmare she'd been living.
Amy was the computer information systems director at Bailey, Gaslow& Heinz, the premier law firm in the Rocky Mountains. It was her jobto keep confidential information flowing freely and securely betweenthe firm's offices in Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake City, Washington,London, and Moscow. Day in and day out, she had the power to bringtwo hundred attorneys groveling to their knees. And she had theprivilege of hearing them scream. Simultaneously. Ather.
As if I created the virus, she thought, thinking of what she wishedshe had said to one accusatory partner. He was miles behind her now,but she was still thinking about it. Driving alone on the highwaywas a great place to put things exactly as they should havebeen.
It had taken almost a week to purge the entire system, workingeighteen-hour days, traveling to six different offices. She hadeveryone up and running in some capacity within the firsttwenty-four hours, and she ultimately salvaged over 95 percent ofthe stored data. Still, it wasn't a pleasant experience to have totell a half-dozen unlucky lawyers that, like Humpty Dumpty, theircomputers and everything on them were DOA.
It was a little-known fact, but Amy had witnessed it firsthand:Lawyers do cry.
A sudden rattle in the dashboard snagged Amy's attention. Her oldFord pickup truck had plenty of squeaks and pings. Each wasdifferent, and she knew them all, like a mother who could sensewhether her baby's cry meant feed me, change me, or please getGrandma out of my face. This particular noise was more of aclunk--an easy problem to diagnose, since torrid hot air wassuddenly blowing out of the air conditioning vents. Amy switched offthe A-C and tried rolling down the window. It jammed. Perfect.Ninety-two degrees outside, her truck was spewing dragon's breath,and the damn window refused to budge. It was an old saw in Coloradothat people visited for the winters but moved there for the summers.They obviously didn't mean this.
I'm melting, she thought, borrowing from The Wizard ofOz.
She grabbed the Rocky Mountain News from the floor and fannedherself for relief. The week-old paper marked the day she had senther daughter off to visit her ex-husband for the week, so that shecould devote all her energy to the computer crisis. Six straightdays away from Taylor was a new record, one she hoped would never bebroken. Even dead tired, she couldn't wait to see her.
Amy was driving an oven on wheels by the time she reached the CloverLeaf Apartments, a boring collection of old two-story red brickbuildings. It was a far cry from the cachet Boulder addresses thatpushed the average price of a home to more than a quarter-milliondollars. The Clover Leaf was government-subsidized housing, aneyesore to anyone but penurious students and the fixed-incomeelderly. Landscaping was minimal. Baked asphalt was plentiful. Amyhad seen warehouse districts with more architectural flair. It wasas if the builder had decided that nothing man-made could ever be asbeautiful as the jagged mountaintops in the distance, so why bothereven trying? Even so, there was a four-year waiting list just to getin.
A jolt from a speed bump launched her to the roof. The truck skiddedto a halt in the first available parking space, and Amy jumped out.After a minute or two, the redness in her face faded to pink. Shewas looking like herself again. Amy wasn't one to flaunt it, but shecould easily turn heads. Her ex-husband used to say it was the longlegs and full lips. But it was much more than that. Amy gave off acertain energy whenever she moved, whenever she smiled, whenever shelooked through those big gray-blue eyes. Her grandmother had alwayssaid she had her mother's boundless energy--and Gram wouldknow.
Amy's mother had died tragically twenty years ago, when Amy was justeight. Her father had passed away even earlier. Gram had essentiallyraised her. She knew Amy; she'd even seen the warning signs in her
ex-husband before Amy had. Four years ago, Amy was a young mothertrying to balance a marriage, a newborn, and graduate studies inastronomy. Her daughter and coursework left little time forTed--meaning too little time to keep an eye on him. He found anotherwoman. After the divorce, she moved in with Gram, who helped withTaylor. Good jobs weren't easy to find in Boulder, a haven fortalented and educated young professionals who wanted thequintessential Colorado lifestyle. Amy would have loved to stickwith astronomy, but money was tight, and a graduate degree inastronomy wouldn't change that. Even her computer job hadn't changedthat. Her paycheck barely covered the basic living expenses for thethree of them. Anything left over was stashed away for law school,which was coming in September.
For Amy, a career in law was an economic decision, not an emotionalone. She was certain she'd meet plenty of classmates just likeher--art historians, English literature majors, and dozens more whohad abandoned all hope of finding work in the field theyloved.
Amy just wished there were another way.
Amy whirled at the sound of her daughter's voice. She was wearingher favorite pink dress and red tennis shoes. The left half of hervery blonde hair was in a pigtail. The other flowed in the breeze,another lost barrette. She peeled down the walkway and leaped intoAmy's arms.
"I missed you so much," said Amy, squeezing her daughtertightly.
Taylor laughed, then made a face. "Eww, you're allwet."
Amy wiped away the sweat she'd transferred from her cheek toTaylor's. "Mommy's truck has a little fever."
"Gram says you should just sell that heap of junk."
"Never," said Amy. Her mother used to own that heap of junk. It wasabout the only thing she'd managed to come away with in the divorce.That, and her daughter. She lowered Taylor to the ground. "So, howis your dad?"
"Fine. He promised to come visit us."
"Uh-huh. He said he'll come see you and me at theparty."
"Our party. For when you gradgy-ate law school and when I gradgy-atehigh school."
Amy blinked twice, ignoring the sting. "He actually saidthat?"
"Law school takes a long time, huh, Mommy?"
"Not that long, sweetheart. It'll be over before we knowit."
Gram came up from behind them, nearly panting as she spoke. "I havenever seen a four-year-old run that fast."
Taylor giggled. Gram welcomed Amy back with a smile, then grimaced."For goodness sakes, you're an absolute stick. Have you been livingon nothing but caffeine again?"
"No, I swear I tried taking a little coffee with it thistime."
"Get inside and let me fix you something to eat."
Amy was too tired to think about food. "I'll just throw somethingquick in the microwave."
"Microwave," Gram scoffed. "I may be old, but it's not like I haveto rub two sticks together to heat up a late lunch. By the timeyou're out of the shower, I'll have a nice hot meal waiting foryou."
Along with a month's supply of fat and calories, thought Amy. Gramwas from the old school of everything, including diet. "Okay," shesaid as she grabbed her suitcase from the back of the truck. "Let'sgo inside."
The threesome walked hand in hand across the parking lot, withTaylor swinging like a monkey between them.
"Home again, Mommy's home again!" said Taylor in a singsongvoice.
Amy inserted the key and opened the door. Home was a simpletwo-bedroom, one-bath apartment. The main living area was acombination living room, dining room, and playroom. Gram sometimessaid "the girls" had turned it into one big storage room. Bicyclesand Rollerblades cluttered the small entrance; the small ones wereTaylor's, the big ones were Amy's. There was an old couch andmatching armchair, typical renter's furniture. An old pine wall unitheld books, a few plants, and a small television. To the right was acloset-size kitchen, more of a kitchenette.
Amy dropped her suitcase at the door.
"Let me get started in the kitchen," said Gram.
"I help!" Taylor shouted.
"Wash your hands first," said Amy.
Taylor dashed toward the bathroom. Gram followed. "Your mail's onthe table, Amy. Along with your phone messages." She disappeareddown the hall, right on Taylor's heels.
Amy crossed the room to the table. A week's worth of mail wasstacked neatly in piles: personal, bills, and junk. The biggeststack was bills, some of them second notices. The personal mailwasn't personal at all--mostly that computer-generated junk writtenin preprinted script to make it look like a letter from an oldfriend. In the bona fide junk pile, a package caught her eye. Therewas no return address on it. No postage or postmark, either. Itappeared to have been hand-delivered, possibly by a private courierservice. For its size, it seemed heavy.
Curious, she tore away the brown paper wrapping, revealing a boxbearing a picture of a Crock-Pot. She shook it. It didn't feel likea Crock-Pot. It felt like something more solid was inside, as if thebox had been filled with cement. The ends had been retaped, too,suggesting the Crock-Pot had been replaced with something else. Sheslit the duct tape with her key and opened the flaps. A thickplastic lining encased the contents, some kind of waterproof bagwith a zipper. There was no note or card, nothing to reveal theidentity of the sender. She unzipped the bag, thenfroze.
"Oh my God."
Benjamin Franklin was staring back at her, many times over.Hundred-dollar bills. Stacks of them. She removed one bundle, thenanother, laying them side by side on the table. Her hands shook asshe counted the bills in one stack. Fifty per stack. Fortystacks.
Buy the book
She lowered herself into the chair, staring at the money in quietdisbelief. Someone--an anonymous someone--had sent her two hundredthousand dollars.
And she had no idea why.