A Darker Horse

by Matt Slaybaugh

1,000 words
2018 (I think)

The speaker crackles and says, "Apologies for the circumstances. You understand how privacy is paramount. You've shown you have the skill to erase digital histories and now I need you to erase another. With utmost discretion. I'm prepared to triple your rate."

Finn smiles. "I'm all yours."

#

Across town, Big Eddie waves Henry in. "A very private individual we've worked with before asked for you. Said you were discreet." He gives an address for the drop-off point.

"Don't write it down. Remember it. They're paranoid; I don't care. It's not my job to care. In fact, it's my job to not care. Don't leave the neighborhood until it's done. They have your pager."

#

Finn finishes the first half of the job and calls the pager.

Minutes later, Henry knocks on the door. "Here for pickup."

Finn looks through the peephole, Henry shows his license, and she opens.

"Want to come in? I just made some tea."

Henry drains his glass and sets it on a coaster. "Thanks. Do you have the package?"

Finn hands it over. "So... who is this guy?"

"No clue." Henry gives a little wave and trots down the steps. Finn closes the door and decides to investigate Henry Malone.

#

Henry jogs to the store, walks to the counter, and shows the envelope to the guy at the register, who nods and takes it. "Be back in two hours. Pickup for you then."

#

Finn pores through documents online and learns of Big Eddie, how he helped Henry with an arrest, co-signed the mortgage on Henry's mother's house.

There's a knock on the door. Henry again.

"Hey. Sorry. I know it's late, but I didn't know how else to get a hold of you. They're going to get back with a message in a couple hours, and trust me, they won't want us to wait until tomorrow."

He turns to leave and she calls after him. "Well, where are you going now? You may as well snooze on the couch."

He grins. "I'll grab some food. Call it and I'll pick up. What do you want?"

Finn smiles. "Pizza?"

#

Two hours later Henry returns with the second envelope.

Finn reads the reply. "I told him that I can only erase online files, not paper. He wrote back that he'll take care of erasing everything else."

Henry squints his eyes. "What is it you do for him?"

She tears up the paper and flushes it. "I 'depresent' people. Many, MANY people, have done things online that could hurt them if people found out: Teachers who want removed every photo of them at a party'; businessmen who want all their comments taken down from... 'naughty' websites. This particular customer seems to have been a bit naughtier than most."

Finn returns to her computer. And Henry finishes the pizza.

"Did you know a guy named 'Filippe Hartz?' or 'Danny Boyd?'"

Henry swallows. "Yeah. Though I haven't seen them in a while."

"They're dead."

"What?"

"They were running tripped packages, poisoning anyone who opened them. Those two got too curious."

"Who sent them?"

"I have a guess."

"Eddie said I had a reputation for being discreet."

"It saved your life."

Finn finishes and writes a reply and Henry runs it to the store.

#

Henry meets Carl, a runner with a different company, coming out of the corner store.

"Hey Carl, what've you got there?"

"Seriously? I can't talk about that."

Henry leans in. "It's that one rich guy though, right? The only one who doesn't address the envelopes."

Carl chuckles. "I know a job for him is coming because I get an advance bonus of $50. He tries to be anonymous and that just makes him stand out even more."

Henry laughs. "Advance bonus? I should work for you guys!"

Henry hangs back and follows Carl to an apartment nearby and notices shadows moving in the window.

Henry texts the address to Finn. While he returns to her place, she checks online and sees the apartment belongs to a hacker she's met online before, someone named 'Siphon'.

"He's good, but look; he bragged on a forum that he was hired to double-check the work of another hacker."

"That must be you!"

"The mystery man wants to know that he's getting what he's paid for."

Henry naps on the couch while Finn works, uneasy and extra careful, disturbed by the text and images she's finding.

She recognizes the face in the photos, a politician named John Whitney, running for Congress.

#

Finn feels sick about what she's seen, but is finally done. Henry runs a final message.

Finn wonders what Siphon thought of her work and looks for him online. But there's no trace of him now.

Henry runs to Siphon's apartment but it's empty. He runs past the corner store, but it's closed. He then heads to Eddie's and asks about Carl.

"Didn't you hear? Carl's missing. His mom called the police."

Henry runs to Finn's apartment but stops short when he sees two men loitering by the front door. He sneaks around to the back, climbs through a window into the laundry room, and runs up the stairwell.

"We've got to go. Now."

Finn grabs her laptop and phone and they leave through the alley.

Finn is breathless by the time they reach Henry's but they see a suspicious man in the lobby, so turn and race to Big Eddie's where he's opening up for the day.

They show him the evidence and tell him everything. He makes some calls and Finn goes online.

"Can you reverse the changes you made?"

"No. But I can do worse than that."

Finn posts photos and creates transcripts using Whitney's name and face, recreates online personas.

Within hours, the media goes crazy. By mid-morning, John Whitney announces he won't seek office.

Eddie hands Henry $1,500. "Maybe leave town for a while."

Finn reaches over and tugs Henry's sleeve. "I've always wanted to go to Alaska."

END