Doing Something by Cole Parker

A sixteen year old boy faces major life changes, ones he hates,
and there isn’t anything he can do about them but make the best of it.

Chapter 9

I get home to find Dad waiting for me in the kitchen.

“Sit down, Troy, I have to talk to you.”

His voice is strange.  Nothing like the way he’s been sounding recently.  He manages to sound tired, tense, strangely focused and upset all at the same time.  I sit down, wondering what’s up, my heart speeding up because of the atmosphere he’s creating.

“I didn’t want to have this talk now,” he says.  “I’m not ready.  But from what I saw in the paper today…” 

He trails off and is silent for a moment, then refocuses on me.  “In the paper, there was a report of a little girl going missing.”  He stops to clear his throat.  “She is six, not as young as Carly.  Not where we used to live, either, but in a city close to Kinnessa.  The paper said the police have notified all other police forces in a radius of 300 miles to be on the lookout for the girl, and they will be assigning a special taskforce to the case.”

It’s upsetting that another girl is missing.  It brings back memories of how I’d felt when this had first happened to us.  The pain has never completely gone away, and I don’t think it ever will.  But I don’t understand why Dad is speaking like this, as though this case—this girl—affects us in some way.

Dad sighs, then answers my unspoken question.  “Part of what policemen do in investigations is review similar cases, looking for patterns or links.  So, they’ll be reopening the files on our case.  They’ll see we left the city.  They’ll be curious about why, and almost certainly take another look at us; they’ll track us down here.  It’s part of their routine.” 

He runs his hands through his hair and stares at me for a moment.  His eyes have a deep, troubled look.

“A missing child’s parents are frequently involved in a disappearance, so we’re always suspected.  I’m sure it’s why Detective Martinez was trying so hard to rile me.  He wanted me angry, hoping I’d blurt out something incriminating.  He didn’t care about how I was feeling; that wasn’t his job.  He stepped over the line, but he probably felt it was doing his job, that whatever he was doing was justified.”

“He was an asshole,” I snap, his name bringing back angry memories.

Dad gets a wry grimace on his face but keeps going with what he’d started.  “Troy, I have to tell you what I’ve been doing and why being investigated again could be bad for me.  I haven’t told you about this before for a couple of reasons, but mainly because what I’m doing is illegal, and I haven’t wanted you involved.”

He stops for a second, trying to read my eyes, probably, I guess, to see how I am going to react to what he’s just said.  I just look back at him, not knowing what to think or say.  My father is an honest person, as honest as anyone I know.  Breaking the law isn’t something I can even begin to imagine him doing. 

I wait for him to continue.  I don’t know what to think at this point.  His pause stretches on.  He’s probably just gathering his thoughts, but the silence is unsettling.

He’s finally ready.  “You know how we all suffered when Carly went missing.  It hurt you, it hurt your mom so much that eventually she couldn’t handle it.  It hurt me, too, dreadfully.  I’ve never felt such hurt, such pain, in my life.  I didn’t know what to do.  I tried to keep working but I had no ability to concentrate on my job.  All my thoughts were with Carly.

“I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, and I couldn’t get over the fact she was gone, she’d been taken from me, from us.  It wouldn’t leave me.  Finally, I decided the only way I could keep from falling apart, totally falling apart, was to do something productive.  I had to make some effort to find Carly.  I had to be trying.  Had to be doing something.”

He stops, then stands up and gets himself some water.  My head is spinning.  He’s talking about what I lived through, but I hadn’t known any of this, any of the emotions he was struggling with.  My dad is a very self-contained man, an unflappable man who doesn’t always show what he’s feeling.  We’d always been close, we’d always been happy together and I always felt his approval and support, but there’d always been a reserve that was part of his personality.  He’d never been the excitable, flamboyant type.  What he’s telling me, that he almost had an emotional breakdown, well, I never saw that.  I saw him looking unfocused, vague, distracted, sort of out of it.  But what he’s saying is he was close to flying off the tracks, being emotionally distraught.  That’s about the opposite of what I’d observed.  I’d seen him withdraw, pull into himself.  I never saw the emotional upheaval inside.

He sits down again and sets his glass on the table.  “I decided I was going to spend my time looking for Carly.  I only knew one way to do that.  I’m only really good at one thing: computers.  So, if I was going to look for her, I’d do it using my computer.

“The police had conducted a thorough investigation.  They’d talked to the people who’d been in the park the day when Carly was there and then disappeared.  They’d found out who everyone was by cross-referencing all their interviews.  They talked to everyone who was there: those who had physical involvement with her, those who remembered seeing her, and then even just the people who were in the park but claimed no knowledge of Carly at all.  In all, they spoke to everyone.  So, by doing that, because she’d been in the park and that was where she disappeared from, they felt they must have included the person in their interviews who’d actually taken Carly.  But, with all that, they didn’t find anyone suspicious, or even turn up any leads.  No one saw her being taken.  No one saw her leaving with anyone.  No one had any idea what had happened.”

His voice got harder.  “She didn’t walk away from the park by herself, just go through the gate and walk off.  She wouldn't have done that.  She didn’t.  That didn’t happen.  Someone either came in and took her away, or was already in the park and took her out.  That’s what happened, even if no one saw it.”

He stops to shake his head, and his shoulders slump just a bit.  “Of course, someone was lying.  They had to be, and maybe more than one.  But still, the police drew a complete blank.”

I knew much of this, but hearing it from Dad’s perspective and all in one piece rather than what I’d overheard in bits and pieces made it more stark, more real somehow.  It was upsetting Dad, too, bringing it to life again.  I could hear it in his voice.

“They spent a lot of time with Mrs. Banner.  She was the most obvious suspect as she was in charge of Carly.  Carly trusted her and would have done whatever she told her to, and so Mrs. Banner would have had the easiest time kidnapping her.  She could have taken her and done something with her, perhaps given her to someone else.  So Mrs. Banner was questioned multiple times, and her story checked and rechecked.  But the lady was shell-shocked by the disappearance, by the responsibility she felt, the guilt in not seeing what happened to Carly.  And she was with Mrs. Stewart all the time she was there, and was with her when Mrs. Banner started worrying about where Carly was.  Ultimately, the police learned nothing from her that was any help at all.  They came around to accepting that she’d had nothing to do with it.  No one could have faked the anguish she was feeling.

“Myself, I agree with them.  I’m sure she is innocent, and I feel sorry for her.  Losing Carly destroyed her almost as much as it did our family.”

I reflect on what Dad has said.  I didn’t know Mrs. Banner well, just that she took care of Carly.  She never had any responsibility for me.  But I was home sometimes when she was sitting for Carly.  She seemed a nice, friendly woman, slightly past middle-aged, a little plump.  She always looked really happy when she was watching and involving herself with Carly, and Carly obviously liked her.  Mrs. Banner was always bragging about how wonderful Carly was.  I believed she loved her.  She came by to see Mom twice after Carly went missing, and I saw how she was affected by it.  I could not believe she was involved in Carly’s disappearance then.  I still can’t.

Dad picks up his glass and drinks half the water in it before continuing.  When he’s ready, he goes on.  “But someone in that park had to be involved, even if they were able to fool the police. Someone knew or saw something, and someone there had taken Carly.  That someone may have had a partner.  My idea was to learn who all these people were and then do an investigation the police couldn’t do, one they weren’t allowed to do.  I wanted to get access to all their computers.  I wanted to see if I could find some mention, some trace, some something that showed a link to Carly.”

He stops and drops his face into both hands and rubs it.  Then he takes several really deep breaths before going on.

“There were problems with my doing this.  One, I’m not a hacker—knew nothing about it, really—and two, it was illegal to do what I was wanting to do.  I could justify the latter to myself without a problem.  If I could find Carly, I didn’t care at all if I used illegal means to do so.  So legality wasn’t an issue for me.  Knowing how to do what I wanted to do was an issue.  But I had a solution for that problem.”

He smiles at me for the first time.  “You know I was head of IT for my company.  One of the things I had to create, way back when I first got the job, was a solid security system to keep the company’s data protected from hackers.  I knew something about security but not enough to design and install a state-of-the art system.  But I did have an idea of what to do.  In business, if you want to solve a problem, one way to do it is to hire a consultant or an employee who can answer your needs.  And that’s what I did.  I hired a security guru.” 

He looks at me then, expecting for a response.  I don’t think I give him much of one.  I’m too busy absorbing all this.

“It was at the beginning when we were just setting up the department.  I’d hired all my technical people personally.  They all became my colleagues.  They, like all technical computer geeks, spent a lot of time online.  They were well acquainted with the computer world they were part of.  I told each of them: I wanted to talk to a first-class hacker, one of the ‘good’ kind.  There are good and bad hackers, and I wanted to stay well away from the second type.  A couple of guys knew the email addresses of people who knew people who knew the kind of man was looking for.  It wasn’t easy to hook up with anyone—I discovered that hackers aren’t comfortable being known directly by anyone they don’t know already.  But through perseverance and knowing people, I finally made contact.  I discovered that hackers tend to know other hackers.  So I eventually had the email addresses of a very few possibilities.

“What I wanted was someone really up to date and knowledgeable but someone who was basically honest and wanted to leave the ‘dark side’.  I got to talk to a few of these guys on the internet, and I related well to one of them.  After I felt comfortable with him, and he with me, I met him.  We had lunch and got acquainted.  After that, we met again several times.  I told him I was looking to hire a security person for our systems at work.  He was interested.  We met several times more, I got to where I felt I could trust him, and I ended up hiring him.  This was a few years ago.  Since then, he has become my closest friend at work.”

“You hired a hacker?” I asked, very surprised.  My father, getting involved with someone like that?  More than weird.  That wasn’t who my father was!

Dad smiles.  “It was one of the smartest things I ever did.  He’s been great, for me and the company.  He was the one I talked to after I’d decided I was going to look for Carly.  I told him what I needed to do—use my computer skills and knowledge to somehow find her—and that my initial plan was to hack into the police-department files to discover who the people were who were at the park that day, read about how their interviews had gone, get as much information about them as I could, and then hack into their computers.

“He told me that if I was caught, I’d be in trouble.  I told him I hoped I didn’t get caught, but finding Carly was more important than that, and if there was a risk, that was OK as long as the risk was manageable.”

Dad looks up at me.

“You were my major worry.  You’re my responsibility; I had to think about what would happen to you if I got caught.  I weighed my options.  I had to find Carly, but I couldn’t just forget about you.  So, I did something.  I asked Mr. Gooding if there’d be room for you in his home if anything happened to me.”

He stops and smiles at me, perhaps meaning it to be a pregnant pause.  I am too rapt by what he’s saying and by what he might be suggesting to react at all, and certainly don’t have the time to think it through.  So, lacking any signal from me, he simply continues.  “He said yes.”

I finally react and sit up straight, my head spinning.  Does Dad know about Chase and me?  He couldn’t!  But Mr. Gooding is Chase’s father.  It takes a second for me to realize this doesn’t mean he knows anything other than we are best friends.  While I’d like to take a moment to think about this, I can’t.  He’s going on.

“So I talked to my friend, and he told me police computers are tough to hack into.  He said departments usually have case files pretty well protected because they’re the basis of legal proceedings and must be protected from being hacked into willy-nilly, or the information they contain won’t be useful in court.  He also said that they have lots of less-well-protected files, like administrative files, procedural files, index files, all sorts of stuff.  And that maybe I could find a list of the people who were interviewed or investigated, even if getting into the interview files themselves might be too risky or impossible.

“That was one track to follow.  He thought it was doable and explained to me in detail how to hack the police-department system with very little chance of being detected.  He even asked me if I wanted him to do it for me.  I told him no.  It was my problem, my risk to take.

“The next part, he said, was more difficult.  Not impossible, just more difficult.  Because what I wanted to do was somehow invade the computers of as many of those people who were at the park as I could.

“He said that was tricky.  I asked about sending them an email with an attachment containing a Trojan-horse sort of program that would infiltrate their computer and then let me read their emails.  He said these days most people had security that made it difficult to do this undetected, but that he knew someone who probably would be able to write something for me that would allow me to do what I wanted to do.  He’d have to contact him and see.

“While we were waiting for the response from his hacker friend, I went for broke.  I hacked into the police-department computers.  What my friend had told me actually worked.  I got in, undetected!  Then I tried exploring.  It was better that my colleague/friend didn’t know I was doing this.  He didn’t want any part of anything that I was doing on my own.  While he’d been willing to do it himself, he said if I was doing it, it was possible I’d screw up, and he didn’t want to involve himself in that risk; he said he’d gone straight and liked knowing he wasn’t about to be arrested.

I found I couldn’t get into the actual case files; they were too well protected.  I spent some time looking around—they have thousands of files—but eventually I found one thing I was hoping for: a list of the people in the park that day that wasn’t protected past the point I couldn’t open it.  I copied the list to my computer.  It had names, addresses, phone numbers and, most important to me, email addresses.”

I’ve been listening carefully to all this, and now, for the first time, I hear something that I find questionable.  So, I stop him.

“Dad,” I say, “I’ve read that not everyone has an email address.  Old people, homeless people, a lot of people who don’t speak English.  There are lots of people—thousands of people—who aren’t on the net.”

He smiles.  “You’re probably right about that, Troy.  But all the people who were in the park that day and on the witness list did.  Maybe it’s because most of them were nannies or babysitters and had to be accessible, or maybe I was just lucky.”

He continues on.  “Now, if my man’s hacker friend came through, it would be up to me to figure out a way to get these people to open an attachment from someone they didn’t know.”

I interrupt him.  Something has been nagging at me.  I finally have to ask.  “Dad?”  He stops, and I hesitate but then just blurt it out.  “All this you’re saying.  It’s all about finding Carly.  But, but…”  I hate saying this, we’ve never even spoken of it, but I have to ask.  “You’re talking as if she’s alive—like you’re sure she’s alive.  I thought… I’ve thought…”  I stop.  My throat is tight, and I don’t want to continue.  But he knows what I’m asking.

Dad doesn’t look shocked.  He looks determined.  But his voice doesn’t sound as determined as much as it does desperate.  “Troy, we have to believe she’s alive.  If she’s dead, I can’t help her.  If she’s dead, it doesn’t matter if I’m looking, but if she’s alive... well, I have to look.  It’s what’s keeping me sane.  So I can’t let myself think she might be dead.  I can’t!”

He stops and drops his eyes to the table for a moment.  When he raises them and speaks again, his voice is stronger.  “There are a lot of sound reasons to assume she’s alive.  If she’s dead, then she was almost certainly taken just for sex: some crazy person saw her, wanted her for that, and took her.  But if that happened, she’d probably have been found by now.  Those people almost always just dispose of the body afterwards, and then it’s found.  Those crimes do happen, but more often, when someone Carly’s age or younger is stolen, it’s because someone wants a child.  Carly was… Carly is  beautiful—and young—and that’s what these people usually want.  It’s almost always a woman who’s desperate for a child, although sometimes a man will take a little girl to give to a woman like that.  But I think in this case, it was a woman.  I think Carly would have been more likely to go with a woman than a strange man.  There were a lot more women at the park that day.  Very few men.”

He shakes his head.  “No, I simply won’t believe she’s dead.  I’m going to keep working, and I’m going to find her.  Allowing myself to think she’s dead would destroy me.  I couldn’t stay the course; I’d let those doubts undermine what I’m doing.  It’s one of the reasons we had to move.  I had to get away from all the comments I was hearing, all the sympathy, all the speculations.  I needed to focus on what I’m doing, without anyone dissuading or distracting me.”

He pauses for a brief moment, then states, “I am going to find her.”

He stops and takes another drink of water.  The pause lengthens, and then I ask him, “Why are you telling me this now?” 

He sets the glass down.  “Because I think the police will come.  If they come with a search warrant, they’ll want to get into my room.  They might even take my computer; yours, too.  They’ll certainly question you as well as me.  I don’t want you telling them that you don’t know what I’m doing in there.  It sounds too suspicious.  It would also make them more eager to go through my computer.”

He gets a funny look on his face.  “It’s a dilemma.  Do I tell you what’s going on and make you a party to illegal activity, actually an accomplice, or leave you in the dark where you quite unknowingly could make things worse?  I think it’s better if you know.  When there wasn’t much chance of anyone coming out here, I thought it best that you didn’t know.  I didn’t want you getting false hopes, and I didn’t want you to know I was doing something illegal and then having you involved in it.  But things are different now with that new girl going missing, and I’ve had to rethink all this.  I’ve decided you deserve to know what I’m doing.”

I have to think about everything he is telling me when I have the time to do so.  Right now, however, I have another thought that is worrisome.  “Dad?  If they do take your computer, they’ll know about the hacking, won’t they?  They can open your files and trace what you’ve been doing.  They can find that list of people.”

“No,” he says, “I’ve taken care of that.  There are online services, like Microsoft’s Cloud, that allow you to store all your files and apps with them.  I’ve also got a system where everything I do is automatically uploaded as I do it.  I added a solid-state drive to my computer that allows me to completely clean my data and temporary files in seconds including my links to the Cloud.  It’ll take me almost no time at all to make what I’ve been doing invisible to anyone, and with the room locked, I’ll easily have that much time.  Whoever comes will be on a fishing expedition and won’t be racing the clock to get to my computer.”

“So, if I’m here and they knock, what should I do, give you some signal or something?  Delay them?”

He smiles and lays a hand on my arm.  “I really don’t want you involved any more than you have to be.  As it is, I’m asking you to lie to them.  I’ve developed a cover story.  When they ask you what I spend my time doing, and someone will surely ask that, you need to tell them I’m writing about what happened to Carly, what it did to all of our lives.  That explains me being in that room all the time, about having information about her disappearance on the computer, about having some physical files in the room.  I’ve left selected things like that to be found and have written an outline for a story and copied some newspaper articles.  I’ll also tell them I’m writing about the abduction, too—either a book or a long magazine article, I haven’t decided, but writing is getting the horror of it out of my system, giving me some perspective on it. 

“Again, I don’t see them being terribly aggressive in searching the place or questioning me.  And I need very little time to cover up what I’m really doing.  I guess, instead of a signal, if they come to the door and announce themselves, ask them to please wait outside and you’ll get me, then come and knock on my door, four quick knocks.  That’ll tell me they’re here.  Then call to me to come to the door, and I’ll answer that I’ll be right there, then begin the wiping process.  I’ll leave the door unlocked when I come out to make the room less suspicious.  I don’t see where we’ll have a problem unless they send the storm troopers with sledgehammers, and they have no reason to do that.”

This is an awful lot to take in.  I think for a moment, then ask, “Just where are you in your search?  Did you find a way to get into the computers of those people on the list?”

He nods.  When he talks about what’s he’s done, there’s more life in his voice.  He knows and likes computers; he feels he has some control over what’s happening when he’s working with them.  Much more so than when he’s dealing with people.

“There were some problems the hacker pointed out to me.  Some people have Windows PCs and some people have Macs. They’re different; you can’t write one Trojan that will work on both. And Macs are harder to break into because they don’t allow executable programs to be installed that way. But the guy thought about it, then asked me, ‘What program is on every computer, whether it’s a PC or a Mac?’  Of course, that was easy: it’s the Adobe Acrobat Reader.  It’s written in a pseudo-code that’s exactly the same on both a Windows PC and a Mac.

“So the hacker guy wrote some code that would give me access to their machines without anyone knowing.  It allowed me get into their files and their email.  All I had to do was figure out a way to get them to open the file I was going to send them.  I had to think hard about that because most people now are aware they shouldn’t open any attachments coming from people they don’t know.  It took awhile, but I figured it out.  Every one of them has opened the file.  I have access to the computers of everyone on that list.”

“How did you do that, get them to open that file?”  I’d been thinking about this since he’d mentioned it, and I had no idea what would entice all those people to open a suspicious attachment.

“I put a picture of Carly in a pdf file that included the code he’d fashioned to infect that Acrobat Reader pseudo-code.  It works perfectly.  It sits there in the background watching for email, no matter if they use Outlook or Thunderbird or Gmail or Hotmail or whatever.

He gets a funny sort of grin on his face that has no vestige of humor in it, then repeats himself.  “I sent them a picture of Carly.  I figured if they saw her picture in an attachment they’d all be curious, as they’d all been questioned about that day in the park and shown pictures of her.  I made it look like it had come from the police, without actually saying so.  Every single person opened it, and the code was hidden in the attachment.”

“And have you found anything?”

“Not yet, but there’s an awful lot to look through.  I read all their mail, both in the inboxes and sent boxes.  I look for any mention of a girl or anything that could be a codeword for her.  I had to go back to well before she was taken, thinking maybe someone was planning it and had a partner.  But I don’t expect to find anything that way.  I don’t think this was a conspiracy.  I think someone has her and hope that at some point they’ll say something, like they’ve adopted a daughter.  Or a relative’s child is staying with them.  Or something of that nature.”

I’m disappointed, but my father doesn’t seem to be.  Of course, he’s on a quest, and I doubt he’ll allow himself to be disappointed.  Certainly not yet.  He hasn’t been at it long enough for that to happen.

I’m also excited.  I’d thought Carly was probably dead.  I hadn’t considered someone taking her because they wanted a perfect little girl.

Carly wasn’t perfect.  She got angry sometimes, and she couldn’t say her Rs well, and sometimes she got so deeply into what she was playing that she forgot she was supposed to be potty trained.  But thinking about all that makes me start to tear up, and so I stop.

She is alive.  Dad said so, and Dad’s really smart.  Maybe he’d just convinced himself because he could not bear thinking otherwise, but he’s reasoned it out, and it makes sense.  I am going to start believing it, too.

I make stew for dinner.  Dad’s mostly back the way I’ve always known him to be.  He isn’t keeping secrets from me any longer, and I guess that makes a difference.  He’d felt he was on his search alone.  Now I am involved.  I think that makes him feel better.   I haven’t pooh-poohed his search and his belief, not at all.  That probably has helped, too.  He doesn’t want anyone trying to dissuade him from what he’s doing.  He needs to thoroughly believe she’s alive and he can find her.  I’m not about to do question that.

I feel like telling him I’m gay.  He’s told me a huge secret.  I feel I should do the same.  I feel very close to him right now.  I feel like it would be OK.  But I don’t.  I’m confused.  About Chase, and about Lindsey.  And he’s focused on Carly.  It’s best if I wait.

The stew comes out great.  I hope Dad tastes it.  He eats it without saying much—perhaps he’s talked out—gives me an apologetic shrug, and goes back to his workroom.  The search for Carly has resumed.

--- --- {} --- ---

I wash the dishes, then go upstairs and lie on my bed.  I have a lot to think about.  Carly may be alive, and Dad thinks she is.  Of course he wants her to be, but, he thinks she is, too.  If he thinks she is, I should think that, too.

Dad may know I’m gay.  I’ve never thought that before.  The thing is, I’m not entirely sure I am gay, anymore.  I’m not sure I’m still in love with Chase, either.


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