Hi people! So sorry this has taken so long; I've really had a hard time finding the time... No pun intended! ;-) Thanks soooooo much to all of you who reviewed - they meant so much to me and definitely motivated me to work on this, even if it took some time!
Chapter V: Hack a Deal
"Nate Ford speaking," the man mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with one hand and holding the phone to his ears with the other.
"Good morning Mr. Ford. We just wanted to notify you that your business partner is waiting for you in the lobby."
Nate didn't even notice the confused tone of her voice as he was too confused himself. He cringed as he sat up, a ringing in his head reminding him of his excursion from the night before. However, thanks to his ability to be a functional drunk, It wasn't long before he redirected his attention to the situation at hand.
"I don't have a business partner."
He could almost hear the woman chewing on her lips as she responded. "I can tell him to leave... He's insistent though, and from the looks of it you have done business with him before."
Nate took a deep breath as he thought about who could possibly want to see him. Couldn't be Schwartz right?
"I'll be right down." He hung up without waiting for a reply and threw on a decent pair of clothes, grabbing his gun and hooking it into his hip as a safety measure. Satisfied that he looked somewhat decent he headed down to the lobby and gave the lady at the front desk an inquisitive look as he approached. She gestured over to the mostly empty waiting area; the only person there was a small African American boy who sat in one of the chairs with his back in their direction. Nate looked back to the lady at the front desk with a puzzled expression on his face.
"What business person?" He asked.
She gestured for him to come closer before speaking.
"That little boy came in here and demanded to speak Nathan Ford. Of course I doubted he was working with you but he started showing me tax returns... I didn't know insurance cops hired kids."
"They don't." Nate replied cooly. "What's his name?"
"Hardison I believe."
Not recognizing the name, he glanced back over at the boy before nodding a half hazard thanks to the lady and walking over to the waiting area. As he approached he realized it was the same boy he had seen when talking to Schwartz. The one who had almost appeared to be following him. With the shock of the realization, his voice came out a bit harsher than he had intended it to.
"How can I help you?"
The boy turned to notice Nate standing beside his chair and smiled, unfazed by the man's cold voice.
"I believe it is me who can help you. It's nice to meet you Mr. Ford, I'm Alec Hardison."
The obviously confident child was around middle school age, if that, and had dark skin, big brown eyes, and short, rather dirty hair. He had a black lap top bag by his side, and had a nice silver lap top on his lap, which couldn't have been more than a few years old. As for clothing, he was dressed in relatively professional clothing: dress shirt, dress pants, a tie, and black boots. All of the clothes were worn and stained but Nate noticed several clever efforts to make the imperfections a little less noticeable, such as an old watch that covered a tear on the wrist of the shirt. Overall, it was clear that the child was attempting a professional look, and years ago Nate might have been intrigued.
Hardison set his laptop to the side and stood up to shake Nate's hand. The insurance cop, however, refused to extend his own hand, crossing both of his arms and glaring at the boy.
"How can I help you?" He repeated his earlier question. He had far to much to worry about and he knew it would only be a matter of time before he heard back from his dreaded boss - ex boss actually; Nate had meant it when he said he was done. Yes he was broke, Sam's medical costs had wiped him clean financially, but he would figure out something. Honestly, living on the streets was better than working for an old selfish gizzard, and he would do it if necessary.
Still appearing unfazed by his uninterested attitude, however, Hardison smiled proudly. "Like I said, I can help you."
"I doubt that. I don't have time for children's games." Nate turned and prepared to walk away but halted mid step as the next sentence entered his ears.
"I know where Sophie Devereaux is."
He turned back and eyed the child suspiciously. "You know Devereaux?"
"Then how can you claim that. How do you even know about her?"
Hardison chuckled as if it were obvious. "The same way I knew where you were! I used technology, Duh! And she's like one of the best grifters out there so quite a few people know about her."
Nate maintained an uninterested face as he continued to study the boy skeptically. Half of him couldn't believe the situation he was in and half of him didn't care.
"Where is she then?"
Hardison frowned, "You don't think I work for free do you? I'll tell you but there's a fee you have to pay first."
"Oh, and how much is this fee?"
"My base fee is $5,000, and my hourly fee is $1000 dollars-"
"Thousand what?" Nate asked in disbelief.
Hardison, who looked pissed off at being interrupted, scowled. Dollars! I certainly ain't talking pennies, and I'm cheap so be thankful. I provide a professional level of expertise-"
"Forget it then." Nate turned to leave. There was no way he was going to be scammed by a kid, and he didn't have the patience for this joke... Or whatever it was. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Hardison angrily crossing his arms in what appeared to be an attempt at pouting.
"You know what, your loss! Everyone thinks that just 'cause I'm a kid I'm stupid, but I ain't like the rest of my kind. I've been trained by John Martel. John Martel! Does that name not mean something to you!"
The rambling continued for a few moments before Hardison fell silent and Nate glanced upward, muttering a quiet thanks. He continued his walk over to the elevator and pushed the button, waiting for it to arrive on his floor. While he waited, he dared to glance back over to the waiting area and found Hardison focused on his lap top. He began wondering if the boy had really been telling the truth about knowing Sophie's location, and even being trained by John Martel who had been a prominent hacker. Nate, however, shrugged the thoughts away as the elevator arrived and the doors opened.
Of course he wasn't telling the truth; Sophie was a really good adult professional and Martel had passed away several years ago, probably before the boy had learned to write. What were the odds.
He stepped onto the elevator of pressed the button for his floor, then proceeded to wait for the doors to close as he drifted off in thought. A few moments later it dawned on him that the doors still had not closed, and he pushed the button meant to close the doors. After a moment of waiting he pushed it once again but nothing happened.
Frustrated, he stepped out of the elevator and inspected the doors before allowing his eyes to drift over in Hardison's direction. To his surprise he found the boy staring at him with a grin, his laptop still open and on his lap. Things quickly began to click into place and Nate looked around before storming over to the boy. As he did so he heard the elevator doors close and the vessel departed from the lobby floor.
"You did that?" The amazement in his mind almost leaked into his voice.
"Yep, it's a trick I learned when I was waiting for my dad." Hardison paused, smiling proudly. "I'm one of the best hackers in existence nowadays."
Nate ignored the boy's bragging and sat in the chair across from him, leaning close so he could speak quietly. "How exactly do you know Devereaux's location?"
"Well, it's pretty simple." Hardison pushed a few buttons on his laptop and turned it around so Nate could see the picture he had brought up. "That guy you were talking to, Schwartz, he wasn't going to help you find her."
Nate frowned as he stared at the picture in shock. Schwartz and Devereaux were sitting together in a restaurant smiling. Suddenly the events of the day before were beginning to make a lot more sense.
"They know each other..."
"Not only that, Schwartz is known for consulting other criminals on hideouts. He's got a long list of places in the city he deems safe havens. They have to pass his checklist... And I happen to know his checklist."
"So how do you know where she is?" The insurance cop repeated.
"Well, I watched her in the city camera and tracked her all the way to this side if the city." Hardison pulled up a map and gestured to it. "There are not many cameras over here, which is the way Schwartz suggested it. So after that I hacked into police car dash cams and whatever store security systems I could, and I found her car. It hasn't moved since the day she went off radar so I estimate she's within a five mile radius of the car."
Nate fought back an impressed look. "That's great, but a five mile radius is still a large area."
"Not for me." Hardison's smirk widened a bit. "Like I said, I'm one of the best out there. I kept hacking store cameras until I spotted her which means I've narrowed it down even more. It's just a matter of which building on the block she's in at this point."
"Impressive." Nate gave in, nodding at the boy. "What's the block?"
"I can't tell you that until I get paid."
"If I pay you first how do I know you will give me the information?"
"I will!" Hardison insisted.
"But how do I know that?"
The boy frowned as if he hadn't thought about that before. "Pay me half," he suggested after a few seconds.
"So I'll pay you $2,500."
Hardison shook his head. "$5,000 is my base fee. Like I as saying before I was interrupted, my hourly fee is $1,000 and hour, and I've been working on this for seven hours."
Nate raised an eyebrow. "I'm not paying you $12,000..."
"You would have paid Schwartz that..."
"Yeah well you aren't Schwartz. He had a reputation, you don't-"
"I hacked the freaking NYPD!"
"Look," Nate started in an effort to calm the riled up child down. "I'll pay you three thousand, and when you lead me to Devereaux I'll pay you the other $9,000."
"How do I know if you'll pay me?"
"I'm honest. If you research me I'm sure you'll find that there aren't too many times I've broken a deal." It was worth a try, after all, Hardison was a kid... And kids were gullible right?
Hardison shrugged. "Yeah, one of your insurance partner guys said that in an interview. I'll settle for $4,000."
So Hardison had researched him too? Nate nodded, willing to accept the deal. He was about to shake the boys hand when a sudden thought stopped him.
"$4,000 and you tell me how you faked federal documents." He proposed.
"What?" Hardison frowned in confusion.
"You showed the woman at the front desk tax returns to prove you had worked with me. How did you do that?"
"Like I said, I'm like one of the best hackers out there... I'm good." Alec shot Nate a toothy grin and held out his hand to shake. Nate sighed as he sealed the deal. The day was already off to an interesting start and he had a feeling it wasn't going to get better.
So, there's chapter 5, hopefully you all enjoyed it! Please leave a review, and if you have any ideas on where this might be going don't forget to add that in there too!