If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, and Part 24.
Geoffrey took another pull at the bottle of beer, holding the cold liquid in his mouth for a beat before swallowing. He set the bottle down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, wincing as his still-unshaven beard cut tiny scratches into the skin below his knuckles.
His new laptop only showed it was 46% done the data crawl he had instructed it to do, so he took another pull from the beer bottle and leaned back. The progress bar updated to 49% while he wondered why every single desk chair in every hotel room he could remember being in had to be so uncomfortable.
It was only when he glanced around the room, looking for where he'd set down Carson's envelope, that he realised most of the illumination was coming from the laptop screen. He sighed, got up, and closed the curtains before turning on the lights. There had been a lot of delays, from the overly-helpful clerk in the electronics shop he'd got the laptop in, to taking longer than he'd expected to load the "hacker's kit on a thumb drive" that Pepper had made for him and which he kept on his keyring. The computer itself had come pre-loaded with all sorts of spammy nonsense claiming to be "helpful productivity tools". Some nightmare concocted by the three witches of marketing, legal, and the anti-piracy lobby, he was sure. Just getting to the BIOS long enough to tell the machine to boot from USB had been a much bigger pain than necessary. Pepper would have lost patience and grabbed the gear from him after the first two tries, had she been there.
He spotted the envelope on the bed and flopped beside it onto the mattress. The weariness held him down like a physical force. He'd have to be careful not to fall asleep.
At least he was reasonably certain he knew where she was now — in one of the wards on the hospital strip on University Avenue, and not in intensive care as he'd feared. He didn't know all of the medical shorthand and Ministry of Health billing codes he'd seen in the file, but he'd made out enough to know that while the list of injuries was distressingly long, none of them were in and of themselves likely to be fatal. No brain bleed, nothing ruptured that couldn't heal. She'd have to stay in maybe a week, he figured, remembering past hospital visits of other colleagues. In for a week and then another three or four weeks of having to take it easy. They weren't allowing visitors, probably because she was listed as an assault victim, but the data crawl would tell him how to get around that.
Now that he was sitting still for so long, his own injuries were flaring up. Nothing that bad — bruises, scrapes, and it felt like he'd torn one of the long muscles over his ribs.
Geoffrey shook his head and willed himself back into paying attention. He sat upright, snatched the envelope up, and slid one thumb under the flap to force the seal open.
The glue hadn't adhered completely, and the flap lifted up with a slight crackling noise.
Geoffrey didn't bother reading the text first. Instead, he flipped the letter so the blank back of the paper was facing him, and held it up to the light. He raised his eyebrows. The watermark was there after all, and the paper seemed to be of the right weight and texture.
He flipped the paper right-side up and scanned the letter. They'd used his middle name, which had been buried for ID purposes for so long it felt strange even to him to read it. The letter repeated what Carson had told him, and included some details about how to check his pension details on-line. He snorted, and supposed it would be useful for completing verification at least.
His body protested when he made himself get up from the bed, but he didn't want to fall asleep until the data crawl was finished and he could gather the rest of the details he needed.
The progress bar had jumped ahead a little bit, but still only said 67%.
Geoffrey sat down heavily in the uncomfortable desk chair. He would have loved to do something, anything, on the computer to keep himself awake, but he didn't want to waste bandwidth while the crawl was in progress, and he worried that even a solitaire game would steal enough CPU time and RAM to slow things down.
He propped his elbows on the desk and held his head up with his hands, trying to think of what else he could get done while he waited. He'd already emptied the strongbox from the apartment of all the ID he could possibly need.
Someone was pounding on the door. Geoffrey lifted his head from his hands with a start. Sunlight was escaping past the edges of the curtains, and the computer's screen announced the data crawl was at a solid 100% completion.
He swore under his breath, jumped up from the desk chair, and opened the door just as he realised he should have checked the peephole first to see who it was.
The creature in the doorway had a red, raw, lopsided face, and glared at him wetly out of its less-swollen eye. It leaned heavily on a crutch held in place by its unbandaged hand, and even just standing still was enough of a strain to make it tremble with effort.
Geoffrey just gaped.
"You look like shit," the creature said with Pepper's voice. It reached into the pocket of the doctor's coat it was wearing and pulled out an envelope just like the one Geoffrey had inspected earlier. "You gonna let me in and tell me what the hell this is, or do I have to kick the door down?"
To be continued...