Probably the worst part of the job, Rosten thought, was the behind the scenes work he was forced to do. When he had informed MI6 that he would take care of any agents who happened to find themselves behind bars he hadn't realized he would actually have to do it. Despite the fact that spies had a tendency to end up in jail, he had never actually thought that he'd see one. Not in his station and certainly not so soon. He'd only been there three weeks after all.
But today had been the most insanity filled day he'd had so far. His connections in the government had let him jump to a high ranking position. They also allowed him to bypass those pesky gun laws and restrictions. Knowing what he may or may not find himself in, Rosten preferred the feeling of the cold, hard metal at his side. The things he had seen on the battlefield and the enemies he had made meant that not having a gun would drive him crazy.
He was too paranoid. He had too many nightmares. He knew too much about war, death, and destruction.
But he also knew the government far better than his current colleagues. He had met the head of MI6-Blunt-only once in his life and it was enough. He hated the intelligence services for the simple fact that they lied too often and had too good of a poker face. Seeing Fox-Ben-again had been nice. Discovering that he had pretty much gone over to the dark side was not so nice. MI6 did a lot of horrible things to a lot of people, both good and bad. They had to. It was their job to do whatever it took to keep the country safe.
Rosten could only halfway respect it. As a soldier he understood the mentality of pushing the limits to get the job done. But, as a soldier, he found anyone who played with the proverbial line a vile being. Cub was one of those people as much as he was a victim of one of those people. No teenager had the ability or the balls to volunteer for such a job. He knew that Cub was ultimately a sensible person. But he also knew that somewhere along the way, Cub had crossed the line at least once. It was obvious. It was why Rosten had suddenly been handed the kid's file and told to make the video disappear before MI6 did.
He felt sorry for that one boy-Coswell. He had stepped onto a field he hadn't known existed and was suddenly playing a game he had never heard of with professional players. It didn't bode well for the boy. But that was another thing that had been bothering Rosten all day. Where had the video come from? Cub had let him know that Coswell hadn't made the video. So who had? And, most importantly, why bother releasing it to a school when releasing it to the press would be infinitely more damaging?
Considering the subject of the video, Rosten was led to believe that the person who had released it was an old enemy of Cub's or maybe even an enemy of the boy's dead uncle. It could simply be an enemy of MI6 (they had plenty) who had gotten lucky when such a scandal had fallen into their lap. But again, if MI6 was truly the target, the video would have been released to the press. So what was the point?
Rosten didn't believe for an instant that this was about bullying or anything similar. He'd read Cub's school file. He was a good student, a football player, was on the rowing team, and even dabbled in drama. Even on paper Rosten could tell that the kid would be popular enough to avoid the darker side of high school. Even Coswell had seemed to trust Cub on a level that Rosten would only associate with friendship.
The two boys clearly had a history, one that had ended horribly. If Rosten could figure out what that was he may be able to find the source of the video. Normally, he would have simply gotten a warrant and hacked into Coswell's email account. But this investigation was off the books and he couldn't risk getting caught doing an illegal search. MI6 wouldn't bail him out; that he had been told explicitly. There could be absolutely no connection between his work and the intelligence services. It was too much of a risk and too many breaches of security could occur. Not to mention the scandal.
With no nerdy tech guy to help him out, he would have to find his way into the boy's email account another way. He was just starting to contemplate how that would occur when his desk phone started ringing. He quickly snatched it up, glad for the distraction from a train of thought that was leading him nowhere.
"Rosten," he said and even to his own ears he sounded grumpy.
"I need a bailout."
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried his damn hardest not to snap angrily at the person on the other end. They had told him that getting such a call was supposed to be rare. Clearly their definitions of rare were vastly different. He considered buying Jones a dictionary so that she could learn the proper definition of the word.
"Location?" he asked.
Taking down the offered information before hanging up, Rosten quickly shoved through transfers. The agent on the other end would need to be brought to his own station before he could shove through a release and get whatever charges dropped, as long they had something to do with work and not play. MI6 didn't break their men out of jail for disorderly drunkenness.
It was easy to get the man transferred to Rosten's custody.
And he wasn't surprised to see who the man was either. Forced into a chair by his desk, the arrested soldier still had his hands bound by zip ties. His hair was longer than it should have been if he was on active duty. Clearly was working some sort of angle...or he wasn't working at all.
"Wolf," he greeted quietly so as not to be overheard.
"What did you do to get arrested?"
"Classified," the other man replied and Rosten barely held back an eye roll. Of course it was. When wasn't it?
"Of course it is." Turning back to his computer he began to go through all of the red tape that was keeping Wolf from being released without charges. He didn't say anything to his old training teammate and Wolf didn't say anything to him either. At least, not for close to an hour.
"I heard about your leg," Wolf said, clearly trying to offer some sort of sympathy in the only way that any of them knew how.
"Thanks," Rosten replied and they again lapsed into silence.
"How's the new job?"
The soldier turned Inspector just gave him a look. Wolf held up his hands to ward off an onslaught of verbal attacks knowing his attempt was unappreciated and ultimately unwanted.
"Just asking," he mumbled. Rosten sighed heavily.
"It's going crappy," he replied, surprising even himself with the sudden honesty. Wolf's eyebrows shot up but he didn't say anything to that. "What's your last name?"
"Alvarez," the soldier told him and Rosten began filling in all the pertinent information as he began to weed through the paperwork needed to get the man released from custody.
The next few hours went on in relative silence. Wolf only spoke when he had to answer a question and Rosten only spoke when he needed to ask one. Wolf could tell the other man was thoroughly distracted but he had no clue what he could be distracted about. Finally he just asked.
"Something got you all in twist?" Wolf asked. "Or is it just me?"
"Just a case I'm working on," Rosten gave in. As much as he knew it was a bad idea to tell Wolf anything about what was going on with Cub he really did need someone to bounce ideas off of. He couldn't think straight.
"What's it on?"
"Do you remember Cub?" he asked and he knew instantly that Wolf did, indeed, remember Cub. He could tell by the way the man's face went decidedly blank.
"What about Cub?"
"He's in some trouble," Rosten said.
"What kind of trouble? SAS trouble? Or teenaged bullshit trouble?"
"A little of both," Rosten told him and then gave him a brief outline of what had taken place over the last five days. The email, the Coswell kid, the video that could do some serious damage if left in the wrong hands. Wolf wouldn't tell anyone about it, of that Rosten was certain. The soldier took on a thoughtful look and it took him nearly two minutes to respond.
"You just need to get into Coswell's emails?" he asked.
"Yes," Rosten said. "Know anyone who can get me in."
"I can," Wolf responded. He then held up his hands which were still bound by the zip ties. "Just get me out these things." Rosten complied and soon enough Wolf was in his chair and hacking away into the kid's G-mail account. Apparently, it wasn't that difficult and Rosten paid close attention in case he ever had to do something like that again. Wolf quickly shifted through the inbox which consisted of spam mail, a party invitation, a friend request rerouted from Facebook, and then a conversation between Coswell and someone known only as 'Red'.
Do the others know what you're hiding? Do as I say and I won't tell.
Rosten stole the controls from Wolf at that point and quickly opened Coswell's reply.
What do you want?
The second message from Red had come in shortly after that and Rosten saw the video attachment at the bottom.
Send this to everyone in the school. You're so keen on destroying Alex Rider. Let's see how far you'll go.
So the target was Cub specifically and not MI6. Unfortunately, that still didn't narrow down the possibilities of where the video came from and who would send it. Coswell hadn't replied to that message and after a quick look in the kid's outbox the Inspector found that it had taken Coswell all of three minutes to work up the nerve to send that video to everyone in the school. Either the teen really did hate Cub or he had something very big that needed to be hidden. The question was, which one was it?
"Who do think Red is?" Wolf asked quietly, cutting into Rosten's thoughts.
"I'm not sure," Rosten replied a little blankly. "Do me a favor and get into Cub's account."
"It's probably protected."
"Not his personal one," Rosten replied. "MI6 doesn't send him things over the computer. That much I know." Rosten quickly gave Wolf the information he had about Cub from the kid's file and soon enough the soldier had hacked his way into that account as well. There was nothing in Cub's inbox and there was nothing of note in his outbox and saved emails either. But there was something of note in the kid's trash.
Rosten was honestly surprised the kid would let something like this be so easy to find. Either the teen was getting sloppy or he'd been in a hurry. The Inspector believed it was the latter.
The video was probably the creepiest thing Rosten had ever seen. Clearly someone was hoping to rattle Cub to his core. Why else would they send the kid a video of a murder scene?
"Is that kid really dead?" Wolf asked as the camera panned onto the teen floating in the sink and then up to the mirror where the words 'His pride killed him' were written in blood red letters. "Or is this some sort of really sick prank?"
"No," Rosten said. "I think that kid really is dead."
"What are these kids mixed up in?"
"I'm not sure," he said. "Do you have anywhere be in the next week or so?"
"Not really," Wolf replied. "Why?"
"I'm going to need your help."
He met Wolf at a cafe the next day. He had been up all night trying to piece together what they had seen in Cub's email. It had been disturbing but Rosten had seen worse. All it took was a Google search to find out what had happened in Brookland three years ago.
His name had been Cole Atkins and he had apparently been murdered. Brutally. In fact, the coroner's report Rosten dug up stated that Cole had been struck forcefully on the side of his head and then drowned. There were no defensive wounds and the coroner concluded that he had been taken by surprise and had been unconscious when he'd finally been killed. Rosten supposed that there was some small amount of mercy in that.
The investigator's report on the matter was a long winded explanation of how he'd come onto dead end after dead end. The police had spoken to Cub and all of his friends. Apparently they had all been very close to the victim and were actually suspects at one point when the head investigator caught one of the boys in a lie. Coswell had told police that none of them had seen Cole Atkins the night he'd been killed but as the investigator had pieced together the boy's last night on Earth he had found that not only had Cole and Coswell seen each other that night, they had fought. About what, nobody knew. Coswell never let on that he'd been caught in the lie and the investigator had never been able to prove that fight had actually happened. Everything was hearsay and rumors. It was a dead end investigation before it ever even began.
But whoever the murderer was, was back and looking for something. They had an end goal that went beyond getting away with murder. Rosten believed that the answer lied in the motive. But they wouldn't have a motive until they had a suspect; a real suspect.
"Where do you think we should start?" Wolf asked. Rosten was a little suspicious as to why Wolf was so willing to jump onto the investigation. He was pretty sure that it was simply because it involved Cub. Everyone was usually abnormally nosey when it came to Cub. The boy was fascinating in the best of times and a complete mystery in the worst.
"There's something going on with these boys," Rosten said. "Whoever sent Cub and Coswell those videos is either the murderer or knows who the murderer is. MI6 thinks they know too much. We have to operate under the assumption that they know exactly what they were sending out when they forced Coswell to release that video of Cub."
"Do you think this 'Red' person has contacted all of them?" Wolf asked. Rosten shrugged.
"It's possible," he replied. "I want you to keep an eye on all their accounts. I'll put you on the case as a consultant."
"Sounds good," Wolf said and took a bite of the doughnut he'd bought with his coffee. "Are you going to talk to Cub again?"
"Eventually," Rosten hedged, unwilling to make a commitment as to what he would do. He needed more information before he tried to confront anyone. He needed something real. And the last thing he wanted was to tip off Red to what they were doing. Not only could they lose a murderer but they could possibly lose the leak in MI6.
Max looked up at the building that the note had sent him to. He looked down at the piece of red parchment and sighed heavily. Red had sent him to a church. A Catholic Church. The message started to make more sense.
A place to confess.
But Max wasn't sure what it was he was supposed to confess. There was plenty to tell; in fact, he could write a book about all of bad things he'd done and let other people do. Being friends with Ryan usually meant that you were partial to an act of bullying. Even if you just stood there. And everyone in Brookland knew that Cole had been the biggest bully of them all.
But they had been friends and he had been good to them so there had been little reason for them to step outside of their comfort zone and put him in his place. Not to say that Alex had never told Cole to stop. Alex hated bullies; he'd once beaten up two bullies who had been after Tom. Cole and Alex fought all the time. It used to make Max horribly nervous that one day they would say or do something that would forever drive a wedge in their group. And it had eventually happened.
Max sighed again. He finally worked up his courage to go inside the church.
But he didn't speak to anyone. He simply sat down in one of the pews halfway down to the altar. The priest was going in and out, doing things that Max didn't really understand. After all, he had never been one for religion. What was he doing here? What was the purpose of sending him to confession? Was Red hoping that once he'd talked to a priest he'd be more willing to tell everyone what had happened with Cole? Not to mention the suicide of that one girl. The suicide they'd caused.
He shook his head vehemently. Don't go there.
"Son, are you alright?"
Max's head snapped up at the question and he looked at the priest who seemed to be legitimately concerned with what was going through the teen's head. The boy opened his mouth to say that he was fine but he couldn't get the words out. It seemed wrong to lie in here. The priest sat down in the pew in front of him and turned his body so that he could look at Max head on. The man raised his dark eyebrows at the boy expectantly.
"I'm not entirely sure why I'm here," Max told him truthfully.
"Is there anything you'd like to talk about?" the man asked. "Something on your mind?"
"I have plenty on my mind," Max said. He paused, unsure of how he should continue. "What's your name?"
"Father Reynolds," the man replied.
"I'm Max," he said and held out his hand to shake. The Father eagerly shook it but when they broke apart he looked at Max just as expectedly. Apparently, the Father expected him to divulge everything. Max wasn't sure but he was fairly certain you were only obligated to do that if you were in that little box with the screen. The confession booth, he thought it was called. Max didn't want to go in there and risk feeling claustrophobic.
"What's going through your mind, Max?"
"Is it wrong to tell a lie in order to protect someone?" Max spit out suddenly. The Father looked at him with a slightly confused expression.
"What do you mean?"
"Is a lie still bad if you only tell one to protect your friends?" he asked again not entirely sure how to say it any clearer.
"Like a white lie?"
"No," Max said. He most certainly was not worried about a little white lie. "I mean a real lie. Something bad."
"Are you in danger, son?" the priest asked and this time Max couldn't even look at him. Was he in danger? Logic would say yes. The killer was back and if Cole was killed for the reasons that Max thought then they were all in danger. But what if he was wrong? What if they were safer with Max keeping his mouth shut and instead he told people the truth? It was hard, really hard, to know what the right call was. He wished he could talk to Alex about it. Alex would know what to do.
With that thought he found the strength to finally answer the man.
"No," he said firmly and then stood. He left the Church without another word and without even deigning to look back.
Alex stared at his closet door as if he could see through the wood, past the wallpaper, into the little tin, and see the video stored on the flash drive. It was bothering him. Why would the killer film the crime scene? Why take that much a risk unless they were completely and totally insane? Was it meant to be some sort of trophy? Then why would they send it to Alex?
Nothing about anything from the last couple of years was making any sort of sense. Alex thought to back when it had first happened. When Cole had first been killed. It had been horrible and terrifying. Fingers were being pointed, rumors were started, and Alex and his friends had been under intense suspicion from everyone they knew. Cole had been a mean person; he'd been a bully. But he and Alex had been friends for such a long time that by the time Cole's true colors had started to come out it wasn't as simple as just standing up to him and making him stop.
He hadn't been some cowardly punk that Alex could beat up in a bike shed and then everything would be better. The situation was completely different. How did you deal with someone who was practically you're brother when he turned so cold and ugly? No one was even sure as to what had brought on the sudden change. After all, Cole hadn't always been cold and demeaning. He hadn't always thought himself a king. He used to be nice; compassionate even. There was no obvious event in the other boy's life that had made him so utterly damaged. Whatever secret had changed Cole, he'd taken it to the grave. Or, more likely, someone had made sure he'd taken it to the grave.
Alex went through what he knew about everything that had happened that year. They had been thirteen years old, relishing in the new found freedom that your teenaged years brought. They'd thought they had known everything about life and love and even about each other. But Alex knew deep down that while they had been extremely close-almost untouchable in their closeness-the five of them had always held something back from one another. They had all kept their little secrets and Cole had been the worst.
He had caught Cole in a lie that year. It had been small but the effect was damaging. Tom had fallen pretty hard for a new transfer student, a real pretty girl named Anita. And she had seemed interested herself; always flirty, always smiling. Alex hadn't seen Tom that excited about another person since his parents had started fighting about custody arrangements. Everyone at school had known that it was only a matter of time before Tom asked Anita to the Spring Formal. And everyone expected her to say yes.
That was until Cole had ditched them one Friday night claiming his mother was extra pissy that week and wouldn't let him go out. Alex had gone to see a movie with Jack and as the two of them walked out of the theatre the blond boy had seen Cole and Anita at the ticket booth. Holding hands.
Alex had immediately told Tom and the ensuing fight had been legendary in Brookland. Tom, Alex, and Cole never got the chance to heal their broken friendship. Anita had died six weeks later and Cole had died four months after that.
Wolf kept a constant eye on the email accounts Eagle had given him. It was simple enough. The security on personal accounts were elementary to an experienced hacker such as himself and it didn't take much to get past their passwords and inject the program he used when spying on state enemies. It would allow Wolf to pull up their computer screens anytime he wanted and watch what they doing in real time.
He sat on his worn out leather couch with the telly on mute and his laptop balanced on his thighs and watched as Cub did a Google search on the contents of a cell's cytoplasm. Clearly, this was for homework. The man took another sip of his beer and scratched at the cut on his arm. He'd gotten it in a bar fight. The same bar fight that had led to him getting arrested. He was just glad that Eagle hadn't bothered to make sure that Wolf was on duty when he'd been arrested. If his former training mate would have crossed all the t's and doted all the i's Wolf would be reporting to a hearing right about now. But Eagle had been far too distracted by what was happening with Cub and this supposed leak in MI6.
Wolf had his doubts that the leak had anything to do with MI6. The company more than likely had missed something in their cover up of the science building explosion. It made much more sense to think that the same person that had made the video of the crime scene was also the same person who had made the video of Cub blowing up school property. Which explained why the tape was only surfacing now and in such a roundabout way too. Whoever it was clearly wanted to hit Cub where it hurt the most.
Wolf thought about what he'd seen in Coswell's account. The small conversation he'd had with Red and the complete and utter lack of concern of what he was about to do to Cub. Coswell had something worth keeping a secret; so did Cub. And Wolf was willing to put money on the fact that the other two boys involved in the murder investigation were also hiding something.
Bored with Cub's biology homework, Wolf flipped over to another boy's email account. This one was named Tom Harris and he was apparently quite close to Cub if the short teen's Facebook was to be believed. There were a ridiculous amount of pictures of the two of them. Wolf could easily infer that this was Cub's closest friend, possibly his only real friend. The soldier was easily able to crack the kid's password. After all, 1-2-3-4-p-a-s-s-w-o-r-d was the worst password anyone could come up with. Wolf actually bothered to roll his eyes at it, it was so stupid.
This kid had many different emails in his inbox. Most of them were spam, a few were for online mailing lists and subscriptions, and a few others were from friends and family. Wolf didn't dare click on anything that hadn't already been opened. He didn't want the teen thinking someone had hacked the account. That would just make him want to hide things.
It took only a few minutes to find the email from Red in the trash. Apparently, none of these kids thought they really needed to cover their tracks. But since it made his job in all this easier, he didn't feel as if he should mentally scold them.
This time, Red had simply sent an article. Something on teen suicide. It didn't name anyone specifically, it was just talking about causes and statistics. Nothing was incriminating but if this Red person thought it was important enough to send it, then something must of happened. So he started up his own Google search and typed in "suicide+teen+Brookland". He got many different hits; most of them concerning teen suicides that had taken place in Brooklyn, New York. But buried on the fifth page was a little blurb of an article concerning a teenage girl from Brookland School. She had apparently jumped off of a bridge and into a creek. The creek wasn't normally dangerous; in fact, kids jumped off that bridge and into that creek all the time. Mostly on dares.
But this girl had caught it at the right time. A big storm had caused the creek to swell and she had been dragged down into the undertow for nearly three miles before finally being washed ashore. Wolf pondered that. If she had really been distraught enough to commit suicide wouldn't she have chosen something that she was sure would work. The bridge was obviously popular with the local hooligans. She'd been in the neighborhood long enough to know that she would survive that. Except when the creek was swollen and the current was too fast. That knowledge was something a long time local would know. That was something a kid who had been warned away from the creek at certain times of the year would know.
Either the girl had happened to know the danger, or someone else had sent her over the side knowing she probably wouldn't survive. Wolf found the suicide fishy. Especially since it was coming from the same person who had probably already killed another teen from the same school. Were the two connected? There was also the possibility that whoever was sending these messages was not the killer, but was trying to figure out who was. What if the killer was one of Cub's friends? Wolf was almost inclined to think it might be Cub. Who knew what the kid was capable of. He had been tough enough to make it through Brecon Beacons and all the other crap that MI6 had thrown his way.
The soldier wasn't stupid enough to think that Cub hadn't ever been pushed into hurting someone else when it meant his own survival. Was this where that coldhearted poker face had started? Wolf knew that Cub would have the foresight to send himself threatening messages as well. He would know that the second he released the video of the explosion that MI6 would become involved. But that led to the original question of who had shot the video. There was no way that Cub would have the foresight to shoot that type of video for the sole purpose of a sting operation nearly a year and a half later. The kid was good, but he wasn't Dumbledore.
Besides, based on the movement of the camera Wolf knew that a person had been holding that camera. It hadn't been mounted somewhere. So if it was Cub behind the messages he clearly wasn't behind the murder and if Cub was Red he also had a partner. But the second Wolf finished that line of thought he realized that while it would make a good story there was absolutely no proof to it. Plus, it read like fiction even in his own head.
He decided to operate under the assumption that the message was coming from outside of these three boys. Eagle had dug up another friend from the investigation but Red hadn't sent anything to him. Which wasn't to say that he wasn't getting messages. They just weren't electronically sent. Wolf made a note to keep an eye on text messages as well. If he was a blackmailer-maybe investigator-possibly murderer he would use texts. He'd be able to reach his marks much quicker. After all, everyone knew that teenagers had a weird love relationship with their mobiles.
Wolf decided that he needed to meet with Eagle again. The Inspector would know where to go from here. After all, he was actually trained for this. If they needed a sharp shooter, then Wolf would take lead.
Just so you guys know, the two men that came to Brookland at the end of the last Chapter were Fox and Eagle. Eagle is Rosten. And Wolf is now on the case. If I can manage to bring in Snake in a realistic manner I will. Thanks for all of your support and sorry it took a while to get this chapter out. Life's been busy.