My laptop chirps as I save the SucroCorp report for, hopefully, the final time. Beside me, Kevin mumbles in his sleep as the sound of me closing my new HP laptop and pushing away from the desk processes in some center of his brain but doesn’t quite manage to wake him up. Approaching his side of the cobalt and white trimmed office, I step over forgotten reports and weathered hard back books long since piled in the center of the not quite managing to be small space. Slowly crouching to his left side, I firmly shake his shoulder in an attempt to startle him. From past experience, I know that he crashes hard after a long case and that shaking him lightly or whispering in his ear would prove ineffective. Kevin jerks, sending Styrofoam cups, which once contained dark pungent coffee from a machine in the back hallway, across the table and Monster cans clattering to the wooden floor.
“What time is it,” he mumbles in inquiry rubbing his glazed over green eyes and tries to straighten his black hair where his head had plopped onto his onyx and azure trimmed laptop.
“Late. Don’t worry I got the report done. Finally. We can go home,” I assure.
Honestly, I have been more than ready to go home for the past five hours, but cases involving one of Hampton’s most prestigious companies generally involved excessive overtime. More coffee than could ever be considered healthy and more dead ends than one cares to admit. It had taken us a week, roughly 200 cups of coffee, and more than one lucky break in order to find and break into the encrypted files on Roman’s’s hard-drive.
After making sure that Kevin wasn’t going to fall back asleep at his desk, I head out. I climb into my Dodge Charger and drive the barren streets back to my apartment where I collapse onto my bed with my clothes still on.
The next day, Mr. Roman is arrested. While he is being processed, I approach. I want to look this criminal in eye. I want to see the realization that he was going to spend the next five years of his life in prison. After he is done being fingerprinted he looks up and meets my eyes. However, what I expect to find there is missing. Instead, his eyes gleam and his mouth raises into a smirk that probably took him years to perfect. This is the smirk of a man who takes pleasure in firing their employees and even more pleasure in firing the ones who need the job.
“Ah. Ms. Bradbury I presume. What a pleasure to meet you. I take it, that I have you to thank for this. Too bad I won’t be here long, I would love to have a chat,” Mr. Roman greets as he wipes his ink-stained fingers off into a stark white damp cloth.
“I think you will find, Mr. Roman that you will be spending quite a bit of time in our jail. We have all the proof that we could possibly need to lock you up. You won’t be getting out of this one anytime soon,” I respond. His calmness is throwing me. Most felons at least start looking scared by the time they are brought in on charges, especially charges that offer more than fines and a few months in a low-security prison. Before many more words can be exchanged, Detective Novak leads Mr. Roman to check in his belongings.
Being brought before the chief of police makes me jittery. It doesn’t matter that I have worked under him for five years. It doesn’t matter that I have met his kids at the police barbeques and watched him grieve over his lost marriage. Every time I am called in, there is this feeling of foreboding. My hands get shaky, my heart rate increases until it pounds in my ears. My usual excitement all but disappears as I slow my walk to something near baby steps. I am always half tempted to chew my nails, a habit I got rid of when I was eight. This overwhelming panic and cluster of thoughts running through my head. What if I lost my job, screwed up evidence, or receive news that Sam has been killed in some gang shoot out. Now, reasonably I knew that none of these things has happened. I have not screwed up evidence and there is no way that Sam has been killed since I saw him roughly two hours ago.
I walk into the Chief’s office and his face is set in an angry scowl. His thick grey eyebrows are forming a crooked downwards arrow. The skin on his forehead is wrinkled more than normal and the top of his balding head is flushed an unusual shade of red and purple. However, after having known this man for years, I realize quickly that his anger and annoyance are not directed at me. Currently, he is looking through a manila folder, but as you approach his near OCD clean desk he glances at me over his Hampton’s police mug, which was a token of serving 25 years on the force.
“Chief, why have I been called in?” I question, while stepping towards one of the chairs in front of his desk and then sitting down. In response, he holds up one finger, as if to say just one moment, and I understand why when behind me the doors swing open and Sam and Kevin step into the room.
“Now, we may begin,” the chief grumbles, “I received a call this morning from the county judge. Apparently, Roman has found a way to get our key evidence kicked out. His lawyer has a file containing ‘evidence’ that we ‘framed’ him. Now, Mr. Roman’s legal team is claiming that the Hampton police force got desperate and fabricated the encrypted file and contents thereof. One can only assume that Dick has a hacker up his sleeve who has found a way to mask file trails. Basically, this case has been sent back to square one.”
“They cannot be allowed to get away with this,” Kevin snarled, while jumping out of his chair with enough force to send it flying back and crash to the floor as if a bomb had gone off in this otherwise silent moment.
“It is done. There is nothing that can be done about it Mr. Tran. Now, if you wouldn’t mind sitting down, I have a few more things to say,” Singer snaps back, while trying very hard not to snap the handle off his mugs based on how red and strained his knuckles were.
I watch as Kevin blushes and mumbles a quiet and almost stammered, “sorry, chief,” before he turns around and bends over to retrieve his chair so that he may sit back down. The whole time keeping his eyes downcast to avoid looking us in the eyes.
“What do we do now chief?” Sam speaks up for the first time.
“Well first, Mr. Wilson is to be released from custody.” In response, Sam starts to protest but the Chief fixes him with a stern gaze before continuing. “We no longer have anything to hold him on. The charges against him were removed with the claims of the department framing him. I also need to point out that, while I realize that neither Charlie nor Kevin would have falsified evidence it is now your job to find more proof of Mr. Roman’s theft. On that note, the last thing I need to say, which should go without saying, is that as of now this case is officially reopened and you three need to carry out this case from the beginning. Maybe you missed something. Good Luck.”
Back in their office, Kevin and I flop into our respective chairs and stare at the case files and books in the center of the room. I start thinking about how, normally, Kevin and I would be cleaning this pile right now in order to prepare for the next case. It was a tradition that had been established in college, where we had the tendency to collect all of our research materials in the center of the room and clean up when the project was done.
“Where should we start, Kev?” I drawl, trying to sound Texan, but failing if Kevin suddenly breaking into laughter was any indicator. Turning around in my chair, I center my laptop on my desk and start booting it up.
Behind me, I hear Kevin do the same as the sound of his processer joins the steady whir of my own. ”You heard the chief, Char, we start at the beginning and leave no stone unturned. Ha, as if we missed something. The chief knows damn well that Sam and the two of us are the best.”
“Don’t forget Cas,” I quip, while balling up a printout picture of Amy and the Eleventh doctor. Without giving any warning, I spin the chair back to facing the center of the room and launch the ball at Kev’s head. Inches before it hits him he jerks to the left, causing the ball to strike a Darth Vader poster instead. Kevin catches the ball when it bounces off and holds it up in triumph.
“You are going to have to do better than that if you actually want to hit me, Char,” Kev taunts.
Before I return to my work, I take the time to sneer at him and stick out my tongue.
For the next few hours all you can hear is the rhythmic patter of keys and the occasional tapping foot. Getting fed up with finding nothing, I lean back in the desk chair and stretch, extending my hands over my head, until the sharp crack of my popping back resonates in the nerdy office. I snatch up my wallet and messenger bag, stand up and start for the door.
“Buy me one too, would yah? I won’t make it through the day without some serious caffeine. Might as well start with the good stuff,” Kevin piped without turning away from his sleek black laptop.
“Would you prefer coffee or monster?” I asked
“What kind of question is that? Coffee of course. In what reality is it all right to start with monster? You know as well as I do that if we start with monster coffee will be less effective later,” He retorts.
“Shut up or next time you won’t get either of them. I’ll make you go get your own coffee. That is, if you can talk to that barista without stammering long enough to order. What is her name anyways, Kimberley? No… Claire, yeah that’s it,” I tease him, enjoying the way that he blushes and slumps over his laptop in embarrassment.
“Her name is Chloe, you heathen,” he groans.
“I don’t care, I’m not the one with a juvenile crush on her. The fact that you haven’t asked her out yet reminds me of that one girl, Emily, that you crushed on in middle school,” I chuckle as I leave the office to head to the nearest Starbucks. Kevin and I always spring for the good coffee at the beginning of cases even if, technically, we have been working this case for a few weeks now.
The Ocean waves lap at my bare feet as I stare out across the horizon. While contemplating taking a vacation when this case is actually over, a nearby waves carries a Styrofoam coffee cup onto the desolate shore. Even this silly mass produced cup manages to remind me of the Sucro case. I had come out here to forget my problems. To forget the world exists, if even for a moment.
I look down at my fraying Star Wars shirt, which has Yoda’s silhouette filled in with his iconic quotes, before looking behind me. Sam is approaching from the parking lot, his tie loosened and flapping in the gentle breeze, shoes dangling in his left hand leaving his feet bare. His dark blue shirt is unbuttoned at the top and his black slacks are rolled up.
“Thanks, it’s my favorite. You see, this friend of mine gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday,” I retort.
“Nice to hear this friend appreciates you,” he chuckles, sitting down beside me in the cooling sand, “But in all seriousness, what’s going on?”
“This case is killing me, Sam. I have had it. The key evidence. He was about to be locked up and then, presto he finds a way out,” I complain, snapping my fingers to emphasize ‘presto’.
“You’re taking this personally, Charlie. You have to distance yourself and not let it get to you so much. Roman isn’t Luci. We will figure this out. We always do,” he comforts.
“I can’t help it. This case and the fact that it involves SucroCorp just reminds me of him. Of what he did,” I mumble, picking at the strings at the end of my shorts.
Sam lays his hand on my shoulder and turns his head to look out over the ocean.
“I know, but you have to remember what happened and how you got through it. Remember that Kevin and I are always here for you. Heck, even Dean, who sees you as our little sister, is here for you” he says softly, as his hand shifts to my upper back offering minute comfort.
I reflect back to my senior year of college. My friends and I had been out celebrating the end of first semester finals by going to a bar. My boyfriend at the time, Luci, had spent the night making sure we were all supplied with drinks. By the end of the night, I had been susceptible due to multiple shots and cocktails. Lucian had managed to convince me that SucroCorp was actually a front for a terrorist organization. So, I had written a code that would fry their servers. Before I had woken up the next morning, Luci had stolen a copy of it. On the news later, I heard that SucroCorp had been hacked into. Three million dollars had been transferred from their accounts. Knowing who was responsible, I took my story to the police. First I had to prove my own innocence by proving the code had been copied…Wait a minute.
“Sam you are a genius. This is like college all over again. I just have to prove that the original evidence wasn’t fabricated. We don’t need new evidence to put Mr. Roman back in jail. We just have to prove that we didn’t frame him in the first place,” I ramble
I stand up and start sprinting back to my car, kicking sand into the air as I go.
“Charlie, wait! How are you going to prove that?” he shouts after me.
“Don’t know yet,” I chimed over my shoulder as I reached my car.
“Alex where are you going? It’s too late to go back to station.”
“Good point,” I grumble, before climbing into my car, “I guess this has to wait until tomorrow.
I shut the door with a final clang and buckle my seat belt. While putting the key in the ignition, I fiddle with the miniature Skyrim symbol that dangles from my key chain. As I turn the key in the ignition, I watch Sam head for his own car, probably more than ready to go home to his fiancé, Jess. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not the only one personally affected by these cases. Sam and Kevin had both known Lucas. They had both been there for me in the aftermath. Kicking the car into reverse and then drive, I peel out of the parking lot. Hopefully, my plan will work.
My converse squeak on the station floor as I skid to a halt in front of the chief’s office. Once fully stopped, I start bouncing on my heels causing my red hair to sway wildly. I quickly raise my hand and knock on the glass panned cherry stained oak double doors. Still bouncing I look around the station. Sam and Kevin give me thumbs up from where they stand near the cluster of old worn wooden desks and newer wheeled office chairs. The chief, looking confused and quite grumpy, glares down at my mere 5’6” form.
“Ms. Bradbury, wh-,” Chief Singer had time to start before I interrupted him.
“Not now, Chief. Do you still have the hard drive for the Wilson case? If so, I am going to need it, now please,” I demand
While still bouncing on my feet, I extend my hand waiting for the drive and glance back and forth between my hand, the chief, and Sam and Kevin. Chief Singer rifles through a drawer in his desk before handing me the drive. I barely give nod of thanks before I start dashing towards my office. Past two desks, sharp right, and three more desks, sharp left into a hallway. There, the second door on the right. I nearly rip my messenger bag in half as I undo the clasp and remove my laptop. The sleek purple laptop gets placed dead center, between my miniature Stargate replica and a picture of me, Sam, and Kevin from our high school graduation. I rip open a drawer and start frantically tossing out pens, pencils and assorted cords until I find the plugins necessary to hook-up the hard-drive to my laptop.
“Slow down, Char,” Kevin pleads in rasps from the doorway. When I look towards him he is bent over hands on his knees and breaths coming out in pants.
“No time,” I reply as I throw myself into my chair, open my laptop and start clacking at the keys. Behind me I hear Kevin groan and settle himself into his own chair. Sam comes in a second later with a white chocolate mocha and a blueberry iced doughnut.
“Thanks man,” I praised.
“No problem. Don’t want you to go into a caffeine withdraw now do we,” Sam mused before leaving me to my work.
Adrenaline accelerates my heart rate until I can blood rushing in my ears while I am trying to find clues as to how the files had been planted. Tapping my foot under the desk to a familiar rhythm, I start with opening the incriminating file. The file holds financials that prove Mr. Roman had been laundering money into an offshore bank account, which was listed under a false name. The bank account itself was untraceable, but having the record of the transactions was the loaded gun that put our suspect away. There are only so many ways an original file can be changed to look like a fake. While taking a sip of the coffee, I start looking for evidence that the file had been changed by a hacker after I had found it originally. Realizing how long this was going to take, I grab my IPod and put my ear buds in. I go through my playlists and hit Imagine Dragons. As It’s Time Begins to play, I open the file’s code as my foot starts to tap to the beat of the music.
After looking through all the possible contingencies, I finally discover the framing method. Ripping the cords out of the hard drive, I grab them and my laptop so that I can show my work to the chief. I pause, finish my coffee in one chug, throw the cup into the ever-growing pile beside my desk and start rushing for the chief’s office. Kevin, upon seeing my rush, starts running after me. Down the hallway, duck right, past three desks. Catch Sam’s attention and jerk my head toward the Chief’s office. Turn left and nearly run into the next two desks. As I start to slow down, I slide to stop in front of Mr. Ford’s office. I knock rapidly as hard as I can until my knuckles are white from pressure and my fingers ache.
“Come in,” he orders from inside the office.
I push open the doors and walk up to the desk plopping into the nearest chair. I shove a pencil holder out of my so that I can set my laptop down since I refuse to use the precinct’s outdated computers. Sam and Kevin follow me in. The chief looks in my direction and raises his eyebrows as he leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. When I don’t say anything he looks at the other two.
“We don’t know either, sir,” Sam shrugs.
He proceeds to sit into the chair to my left. I hear the chair to my right being pulled out and from out of the corner of my eye I watch Kevin sit and then start helping me connect the hard drive back into my computer.
“Just a minute,” I began, as I pull up the file, “There we go. I took a look at the account file, again. I realized that we didn’t need new evidence, we just needed the old evidence to be credible. So, I started looking into how the program made it look like we framed Mr. Roman.” I swivel the laptop and show them the screen. “When I started going through the code, I realized that the origin IP address had been changed to match that of my laptop. Now, only few things could cause that to happen to a file. Upon further investigation, I found a sub-routine in the file that isn’t normally there. The sub-routine was built in to change IP to that of the computer it is accessed from. If the file had been opened on Mr. Roman’s computer, nothing would have happened, but by opening it on my laptop, the origin of the file was encoded and changed to my IP. All I had to do was decode the original IP and uncover the sub-routine,” I rant.
“So, basically we can prove that Mr. Roman is a corrupt Vice President of a fortune 500 company. Excellent,” The Chief praises as he starts dialing a number on his phone. “Hello, this is Chief Bobby Singer with the Hampton police white collar crime division. I am going to send down two of my detectives, they will need an appearance with Judge Mills. The police department is looking to issue a warrant on a Mr. Richard Roman. Yes, that one. In one hour is perfect,” Chief Singer finishes and hangs up the phone. “Alright, Sam take Castiel with you to the court house and get the warrant for his arrest. Good job, Charlie. You are all dismissed,” he orders.
Later that day, Sam and Kevin return from arresting Roman. Sam leads him through the center of the station as everyone in the department watches. The crook no longer looks smug. This time his face is a blank mask and he keeps pausing his already slow pace, as if he is forgetting where he is. Sam, who is steering him through the prescient by his handcuffed wrists, keeps having to jerk his arms or nudge him forward to remind him to keep walking. As he is led in, his gaze is resolutely lock on the floor. Every officer in the den rises to their feet and stare. As Sam and Castiel reach the center of the room, the officers nod in a congratulatory salute. Roman Finally looks up and he meets my eyes with a scowl. I meet his gaze and smirk before winking.
“Well, Charlie, it looks like it is time to clean out our office for the next case,” Kevin interrupts.
“As long as you remember, it’s your turn to buy the good coffee, Kevin,” I reply, throwing my arm across his shoulders and steer him in the direction of our office.