It took only 5 minutes to get to Brian’s brownstone.
“Oh, this is nice,” Susan said. “Let me guess, your flat is the top and there is no elevator.”
“No,” said Brian. “I’m only on 4. But you’re right about the elevator.”
They walked up to the front door where Brian produced a key and unlocked it, allowing Susan to enter first. Then they started the climb up to the fourth floor.
“How long have you lived here?” Susan asked.
“A few years. I move from another smaller flat in the Heights,” Brian replied.
“Do you have to carry your bike up and down every day?” she asked.
“No, it’s in the basement storage,” he replied. “That was one of the reasons I chose this place.”
They arrived at 4. There were two apartments on this floor. Brian opened the door on the right and flipped on the light.
“It’s not much, but I really like it” he said.
“Yeah, this is nice,” Susan said looking around.
The apartment had a fairly large main room, with a small kitchen tucked into one corner. A bedroom door was apparent on one side and there were several windows. Along the wall, next to the bedroom door, was a decent-sized desk with a computer monitor and printer. Near the desk in the corner was a flat screen TV mounted on the wall. A sofa sat in the middle of the room facing a fireplace, TV and two windows.
“So, make yourself at home,” Brian said. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Yes, that would be great” replied Susan.
Brian said, “I have some beer, Heineken, I think. I also have some Scotch and bourbon and I think I have a bottle of Merlot.”
“Well, let’s stick with beer,” Susan replied.
“You got it” Brian said as he walked over to the kitchen, opened the fridge and grabbed a couple of beers. He popped the tops barehanded setting the tops on the counter. He walked over to Susan, who was still walking around, checking out the apartment. He handed her a bottle and she took it.
“Thank you,” she said, then took a sip from the bottle.
“So, the suspense is killing me,” Brian said. He sat down on one end of the sofa. “Would you care to share?”
By now Brian had eliminated her involvement with the mob, since she just didn’t seem the type, plus she had been recognized by someone he knew. And since she was a reporter, she must have tracked him down from the bank robbery. But how?
Susan took another drink and sat down on the other end of the sofa.
“Brian, I know you are the guy who stopped the bank robbery” she blurted out. She stopped to read his reaction. He looked a little confused.
“Bank robbery?” Brian lied, thinking his best defense was to try and deflect if she pushed it. “Oh yeah, I heard about that.”
“Would you like me to show you some video. Some video of you in action. It’s clearly you,” she said with a smile and raised eyebrows.
“OK, I was there. I’ve taken some first aid training, so I thought I would help those people,” he said, shrugging a little. Hopefully, this was enough to deflect the questions he didn’t want to answer.
“Brian,” she said with a pause, “I have video of you engaging these bank robbers, heaving a trash can lid, among other things, and even taking the gun from one of the thugs and knocking him down.” She sat and waited for a response.
“Sooo, maybe I did step in after they shot the cops. I had to do something,” he said, still avoiding the truth. “But I don’t want to be a hero. I don’t want to comment publicly about this.”
“Brian,” Susan said, leaning in a bit. “What you did was more like on a superhero scale. It was amazing and unbelievable. It’s a huge story and the whole town is talking about it.”
“So you’ve tracked me down because you want the story,” Brian said standing and turning. He took a sip from his bottle.
Susan stood up and walked over to Brian, touching his arm and turning to face him.
“I tracked you down because I want the truth. And, if there’s a story and you’re willing to share it, I’ll help you tell it,” she said, looking him in the eyes.
“There is no story,” Brian replied. “Well, at least not one I’m not willing to tell,” he said backing up a step and turning toward the window. He looked out for a moment, then turned toward her.
“How did you track me down?” he asked.
“Well, like I said, the whole town is talking about this,” she said. “That includes the police. I have a friend on the force who helped me.”
“But I gave them mostly bogus information, including a Manhattan address,” he said, looking confused.
“Brian, they tracked your cell phone,” she said.
“Dammit!” Brian exclaimed. “I knew I shouldn’t have made that phone call. But that little girl was all alone, so I had to call her mother.”
Brian took another drink.
“But I don’t even have that phone on me. How did you find me?” he asked.
“My friend on the force said they had staked out a storage facility. I did, too. Only I spotted you first. As you were leaving, I made a guess about which way you might travel, so I took a chance and put myself in a spot I thought you might pass” she said, looking a bit proud.
“Sounds like you would make a pretty good detective,” Brian replied. “So they have my cell and storage location. I’ll have to stay away for a while.”
“Well, I wanted to tell you this. And I wanted to meet you to learn more about you and what kind of person you are,” she said, moving around to look him in the eyes again. “But you must know, the cops really want to talk to you. They think you might even be involved.”
“What!” Brian exclaimed, stepping back a step. “That’s crazy. Why would they think that?”
“Well, since you gave them bogus information, they just really want to get to the bottom of this — of everything that happened, every amazing thing you did,” she said.
“They should just be glad I did it and leave it at that,” Brian replied. “My story is no one else’s business.”
Susan looked at him reassuringly. “Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I understand. It’s your life and you don’t want to share it, and certainly, don’t want it turned upside down. Really, I understand.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to meet them. But they are spending resources to track you down, just so they can talk about it. Keep that in mind. After all, what you did was miraculous. And heroic.”
Brian took another drink. “I’m not a hero and I don’t want to be treated as one.”
Susan took her hand off his shoulder and stepped back a little. “You do realize why everyone is awestruck — right?”
“Eh, maybe” he replied.
“Brian, you were shot, you threw a cement barrier like it was a cardboard box, you yanked a gun out of a guy’s hand and hit him with it,” she said looking amazed. “It was truly miraculous. How did you do it all?”
“Well, you’ve seen the video,” he replied. “I just did it. Nothing special.”
“Nothing special?! How can you say that?” she replied in surprise.
“It was nothing special for me,” he replied. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Ok,” Susan replied. “I’ll talk to my friend. Maybe she can convince them to let it go. But it may take a while to cool down.”
“Thanks,” replied Brian, taking another long swig from the bottle.
“No problem,” she said. “I just felt like you really should know that they’re looking for you. But I see you’re a great guy who just wants his privacy. And, I won’t mention my fabulous detective work and our meeting to my bosses, who are also chomping at the bit for your story.”
“Thanks, again,” said Brian.
Looking around the apartment, Susan noticed a small table near the kitchen. It contained a dozen or so framed pictures. Some looked recent and some looked a bit old. A few looked to be taken on a black and white movie set in period clothing. Brian was in most of them and looked relatively the same in each. Most of the photos were of Brian and different women, though a few contained guys, as well.
“Who are the people in these photos?” Susan asked. “Are they family?”
Brian looked over at the photos. “No,” he replied. “They’re people I’ve cared about over the years.”
Susan walked closer to the photos and pointed at one of Brian with a much older woman.
“The woman in this photo — who is she? She looks like she could be your mother,” Susan said.
“No, my mother died a long, long time ago,” Brian responded. “I don’t have a photo of her.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Susan replied.
“No problem, it was a long time ago,” Brian said.
“How did she die?” Susan asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“It was an accident. A shipwreck, actually,” Brian replied. “My brother and I were rescued. But I never saw my mother again.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry to hear that,” Susan replied. “Where does your brother live?”
“Actually, he’s dead, too,” Brian said.
“Oh, wow. I’m really sorry. I just keep asking all the wrong questions,” replied Susan.
“It’s no big deal” Brian replied. “It’s been a while, so I’m over it.”
“Who is the latest person to make your collection of photos of people you care about?” asked Susan.
“Um, that would be the woman in front, right, in the silver frame,” Brian replied. “We were together for a long time. Unfortunately, she passed away two summers ago.”
“Oh, Brian, I’m so sorry to keep asking you about the people who have passed in your life,” she said.
“It’s OK. I’m used to it” he replied. “Nothing lasts forever.”
“That’s a depressing way to look at life,” Susan replied.
“Well, it’s the truth, at least the way I see it,” he said. “There’s more to it, but I’d rather not go into it. I’m actually planning to leave this place soon. The change should be really good for me if it works out like I hope.”
“Oh, where are you going?” Susan asked.
“I’m sure it’s a place you’ve never been,” Brian replied. “But I’d rather not say. Maybe, one day, I’ll tell you, as I get closer to a departure date.”
“Ok, is it someplace abroad?” Susan pushed on a bit.
“Well, it’s definitely not in the United States” he replied. “But you’ll have to wait.”
“Oh, OK,” she replied. “I’m just glad to hear that you plan to talk to me again.” She smiled. “Do you know when you’re leaving?”
“No, I need some things before I can go,” he replied. “And some of them are going to take a little while.”
“Like that car?” Susan asked.
“Uh, yeah,” he replied. “The car is going to take a little while. And I have a few other projects, too.”
Susan smiled and said, “At least we have a little time to get to know each other.” She took another long swig from her bottle. “So tell me, what color is your car?”
“It will be blue” he replied. “Or maybe black. I can’t decide. What is your favorite color for a car?”
“For a car like that, I would go with black or even red” she replied. “How much work do you have to do on this Mustang?”
“Hmm,” Brian said, taking a sip of beer. “Probably a couple of months, if I really focus on it.”
“Oh, okay. Not very long,” Susan said, then drank from her bottle. “Is it going to be one of those tricked-out, super-fast cars?”
“Well, she’ll fly, for certain,” Brian replied.
“And you’ll take me for a ride before you go — right?” Susan asked with a smile.
“Of course,” Brian replied, which was likely a lie.
“Great!” Susan replied. She clinked her bottle to his. “It’s a date.” Then she downed the rest of her beer. Brian did the same.
“You want another?” Brian asked.
“Sure” she replied. “Or, should I go? I know it’s getting late.”
“No. Stay as long as you like,” he replied, with a little smile. Then he walked to the kitchen and retrieved two more beers from the refrigerator. He popped the tops and handed one to Susan, who was now sitting on the sofa again. He sat down at the other end, turning to face her.
“Thanks,” she replied. “So, I know you said everything you did to stop the bank robbery, was no big deal for you. But I’m dying to know how it felt to get shot, and walk away.”
“What? What do you mean?” Brian replied.
“You were shot, like five times,” she said. “But yet, you saved the day and now look as if nothing happened.”
“Oh, well, they just kind of grazed me,” he said, hoping again to deflect the question with a little lie.
“Brian,” she said, again looking him in the eye. “I can show you some video. They knocked you back a bit. And then you jumped out of the way. It’s quite obvious that you were struck several times.”
“Susan,” he said, looking her in the eyes, “someday, maybe I can explain it. But, the point is, I didn’t get hurt and acted as a good Samaritan to stop those guys and help a few folks.”
“Good Samaritan?” Susan replied. “That was more like superhero!”
“I’m not a superhero!” Brian exclaimed. “That’s not who I am.”
“Ok, ok,” she replied, putting a hand on his. “It’s just so miraculous.”
She looked at his face. He looked a bit frustrated, but also looked as if he did not want to talk about it. She continued to hold his hand.
“Have you ever done anything like this before?” she asked.
“Well, nothing exactly like this,” he replied. “But, yeah, I’ve stepped in a time or two to help a stranger in need or to defend someone.”
“Oh,” she replied. “Anything recently?”
“No, not really,” he said, thinking about hundreds of events, where he stepped in to help. Purse snatching, attempted muggings and various little rescues around town. He even pulled someone from the Hudson a couple of years ago. “Nothing that made the news, anyway. But little things, here and there. I rescued a little girl’s cat a few weeks ago.”
He grinned a bit and looked at Susan.
“Oh, how sweet,” she replied and smiled back. “Have you ever considered seeking out those in need? You know, victims of crimes? Putting your ability to more good use?”
“No,” he replied. “I’m not the hero type. There’s a lot of shit happening in this city, and I step in occasionally, but it’s not my job to do anything about crime. I have a lot of time on my hands, but nothing like that.”
“And you never considered working in law enforcement?”
“No, that’s not something I would ever consider. It’s not me and I’m not a big fan of uniforms. Or guns.”
“I see,” she replied, sort of nodding. She stood up again and started walking around. It was getting really late.
“Brian, I should probably go,” she said turning to look at him. “It’s getting really late and I never meant to take this much of your time.”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “It’s been really fun — a really interesting night. You’re right though, it is late.”
He hesitated, thought for a few seconds.
“Why don’t you crash here?” he said, looking at her sincerely. “You can sleep in the bedroom and have complete privacy. I’ll stay out here. I have a little work to do and can sleep on the sofa.”
“Hmm,” she said, thinking for a few seconds. “I don’t want to impose, but it would be great if I didn’t have to venture out this late. Unless I had a good Samaritan to escort me.”
She smiled, looking him in the eyes.
“I can escort you home if you prefer,” he replied. “I don’t have an extra toothbrush, but you can borrow a shirt, shorts or anything else you want.”
“Oh, I have a toothbrush,” she replied.
“Oh? OK,” Brian said, shrugging his shoulders a bit.
“I never want to do an interview with bad breath,” she said with a smile. “And I certainly don’t want to go on camera with something stuck in my teeth.”
“Uh, yeah, I see,” he said. “Well, the bedroom is right over here. I even put fresh sheets on today.”
Brian walked over to the bedroom and flipped on the light. He walked over to a dresser, opened a drawer and pulled out a big t-shirt and some cotton gym shorts, laying them on them bed.
“Excuse me, I’m just going to use the bathroom and then it’s all yours,” he said.
“Oh, OK, take your time,” she replied. She walked around the bedroom to look at the few odds and ends on his dresser. Two more photos were on top, similar to the others, along with some change and a pen. On the nightstand was a small lamp and a paperback book. She walked over and sat on the bed. The book was “Robinson Crusoe” and appeared to have a bookmark about a fourth of the way in.
The toilet flushed and the sink ran for a minute, then Brian opened the bathroom door and walked out.
“OK,” he said, “that’s it for me. I’ll leave you to it, and see you in the morning. Is there anything I can get you?”
“Could I have a glass of water, please?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course. Be right back,” he replied and walked out, closing the bedroom door.
He walked over to the kitchen, pulled a glass out of the cabinet and filled it with bottled water from the fridge. As he was walking back to the bedroom, he stopped by the desk and moved a book from the corner, over to cover some papers. “She doesn’t need to see those,” he thought.
He knocked on the door. Susan opened it. She had changed into the t-shirt.
“Here you go,” he said, offering the water.
“Thank you,” she replied, taking a sip.
“Are you, like, a late sleeper or an early bird?” Brian asked. “I don’t have to be anywhere early, so it doesn’t matter to me.”
“Actually, I’ll probably be up a little early” she replied. “I’ll need to get back to my place to freshen up a bit before my first meeting.”
“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Coffee drinker?”
“Um, yeah, sure” she replied. “But I don’t want to be any trouble. I can grab some on the way out.”
“Oh, I’ll have some. Just want to make sure to put on a little extra” he said, smiling.
“Ok,” she said. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Brian replied.
He closed the door and stood for a minute, staring at it. “What a night,” he thought. “I have to assess this whole evening, and what’s to come tomorrow.”
He walked over to the kitchen, opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Jameson, then a glass, putting it on the counter. He removed the top from the bottle and filled the glass with a few ounces of whiskey. Then, he returned the bottle to the cabinet and turned off the kitchen light. Then he walked back over to the bedroom and turned off the apartment light. There was enough light coming into the room from outside that he could easily make his way over to the window. He looked out into the street and took a long sip from the glass.
“So, the cops want me for questions,” he thought. “Why send a reporter if they were already staking out my storage? Who is this friend of hers on the force that gave her this tip? And why? What is their motivation?”
He turned around and walked over to the sofa and sat, propping his feet on the table. He took another sip. “This reporter, maybe she sees this as a big break for her, so she’s playing it carefully to get me to open up. Maybe her friend is a junior detective, trying to get another angle on me before her seniors get the credit for bringing me in. It doesn’t make sense yet. Gotta be careful with this one.”
He took another drink, then leaned back and dropped his head back. “I gotta use another phone, put that one on ice for a while.”
He stood up, walked over to the desk. He noticed the light seeping out from under the bedroom door. “Is she still up, or just likes to sleep with the light on? Can’t blame her, sleeping in a strange guy’s place.”
He turned on the desk lamp and sat down, sitting his drink next to a computer keyboard. He tapped the keyboard and the screen lit up, asking for a password. He typed on the keyboard and logged in. In the browser, he typed “Susan” and paused. “I don’t even know her last name. Did she mention it?” he thought.
He typed “ABC7” after her name and tapped the enter key. A Google search appeared and he scanned the results. He viewed a few of the pages that appeared and, not seeing her photo, went back to the results. On the fourth page he clicked, her picture appeared and Brian paused to read the news story.
“So your name is Susan Davis,” he thought. Then, clicking her name in the byline, a list of other stories she had reported appeared. “Nothing much, just your basic reporting. I don’t even see the robbery listed. My story is probably a big opportunity for her if she gets it. But she won’t.”
Brian downed the last of the whiskey and put the glass back down. He reached around the back of the computer and unplugged the ethernet cable. Then, he opened a drawer and pulled out a small MiFi and turned it on. While waiting for it to establish a connection, he logged out then back in using another login name and password. Once a green light appeared on the MiFI, he clicked the wifi icon and chose the MiFi with the SSID “Nerdville”, entering a password to connect. Next, he tapped a Safari icon and a Yahoo Finance page appeared. He clicked the location field and typed “superprox.it” and hit the Enter key. A moment later, a web page in Italian and English appeared, requesting a login or signup. Brian logged in.
With a proxy in place, he was okay to access other resources without worrying, too much, about being traced. He really didn’t have much to worry about since the next site was another pseudo-proxy for sending text messages. He logged into it and then pulled a mobile SIM card out of a desk drawer. He entered a code into the website from the Post-it note he pulled out with the SIM. He was greeted with a small dialog box waiting for a phone number. He entered the number and pressed the tab key to move the cursor to the text message field. He typed “John here. Lost my phone. I will call you using this number to confirm our meeting”. He hit the enter key and waited. He didn’t expect a reply this late, but he got one. “OK” read the response.
Brian closed the browser window and pressed a few keys to log out. He put the SIM card in his wallet, wrapped in the Post-it note. Then, he stood up, pocketed his wallet and walked over to the sofa and sat down. Then, he shifted, leaning back against the arm of the sofa, facing the computer. He watched the screensaver for a moment, which was currently a slow-moving star pattern.
“Ok,” he thought, “everything is moving forward — got the cash, now I have to get the package. But how is my new friend going to factor into it all? She’s not going to go away, she wants to know more. She’s patiently digging for a story. But, I don’t want her snooping around or getting caught up in any of the mess I may create.”
Brian closed his eyes. “I just have to play it cool,” he thought, “since she’s a link to the authorities, this might actually help me stay a step ahead of them if something goes a bit sideways. Keep her close, but not too close.”
He heard the bedroom door open slightly. He kept his eyes shut. The sound of the door opening was fairly quiet, but he could tell Susan was trying to keep it that way. He opened his eyes enough to tell she was moving into the room, trying to stay quiet. Through the blurry slit in his eye, he could tell she had moved over to his desk. Her back was facing him and she was slightly bent over looking at the papers on his desk. “Of course,” he thought, “she’s snooping, just as I thought she might.” He opened his eyes and took the opportunity to notice the shape of her legs and backside, as it peeked out from under the shirt. “Pink panties, of course,” he thought, “very nice.”
He continued to watch as she tapped the keyboard and the screen illuminated prompting for a login. She hit the enter key and the computer responded with a tone of a squawking bird. She turned to look at Brian just as he closed his eyes again. She turned back to the computer and sat down, looking around at the other stuff on the desk. She opened the top drawer where Brian had reached for the SIM. She looked carefully at the various electrical computer components and cables. Seeing nothing nefarious or otherwise curious, she closed the drawer. And wiggled the mouse on the computer. “Hmm,” she said under her breath. She entered the word “password” in the password field and enter. Bird squawk.
Brian finally said, “Can I help you?”
Susan turned slowly, “Oh, I’m sorry. Uh, I was just trying to check my email. My phone died,” she said.
“Oh,” Brian said. “I can log you in, or I can probably hook you up with a charger.”
Susan replied, “Oh okay. Sure.”
Brian rose and walked over to the computer. “Or, you can use the Mac,” he said. Then, he leaned over her and grabbed the mouse. Next, he clicked an icon to log in as a different user. He typed “blasius” as the user and entered a password and hit the enter key. The OS desktop appeared and he clicked the WiFi icon, changing to a router called “bldg”. The icon blinked a bit and finally solidified. Next, Brian clicked the Safari icon, which opened to a Yahoo news page.
“There ya go,” he said. “You know how to do the rest, right?”
“Uh, yeah, sure” she replied. She grabbed the mouse and clicked the location bar. She typed and ended up with a Gmail login page. She entered “susandavisnyc” and a password, then her mail appeared. Brian stepped back a bit to give her some privacy. He did notice that her mail looked to be already “read” as he turned away.
Sitting on the sofa, he said, “Everything okay?”
“Oh yeah, just had this weird feeling that I had missed something earlier” she replied, “but it’s nothing.”
“Good” Brian replied. “Glad you didn’t miss anything important,” he said as he stood and walked over to the desk. He opened the drawer and pulled out a charging cable for her phone. “Here’s a cable for you to charge your phone,” he said, handing her the cable.
She took the cable and stood up. “Thanks, I’ll go plug it in,” she said, getting up and walking into the bedroom. Brian took another glimpse at her legs as she walked away. She turned and stood behind the door a bit. “Good night. Thank you, again” she said, closing the door.
“Good night,” he replied. He reached over to the keyboard and logged out to the screen saver, then walked back over to the sofa to lie down and plan his next move.