“Just put them there, dear,” Millicent's voice came dreamily through Rue's office door even as the sound of heavy shuffling feet—and even heavier parcels—landed out in the entryway of the agency.
Rue, poised himself triumphantly behind his door, hand on the knob, and waited for Millicent's companion to leave. I have her this time. Not at the library, not at home, not at her phone...
“That'll be all of it then?” A weighty male voice grumbled through the wood, pulling at Rue's curiosity. But no, the PI would wait—no use bursting in on the delivery man just to make a point. Besides, he might learn something.
“Yes, I think so. But I've got to ask—“ Millicent was in the door, the knob jarring painfully against Rue's waiting knuckles, before the detective had much of a chance to leap to safety.
As it was, the medium found Rue half-jumping, half-sprawled against the closet door, inspecting the fingernails of one hand most diligently while his free hand straightened his limp tie. He had no excuse for his awkward position and Rue found himself mumbling about needing a fresh shirt under the summer humidity, his sharp eyes darting into the front office and noting no less than five washing-machine-sized boxes sitting huddled in the middle of the floor. A burly man with a scuffled, well-loved dolly stood nearby, bemusement lighting his features.
“Rue, do you know how to hook up an old mainframe computer?” Millicent inquired innocently.
Yes. Rue did know how to hook up a mainframe such as had been delivered to his office this afternoon. Though why he was called upon to do so was not immediately made clear.
He inquired as much of Millicent who responded with an airy wave of her hand, fuchsia nail polish glinting with the movement, “Oh, that. I went calling on an old friend of mine instead of heading to the library. Figured that she'd know better how to exorcise a computer—she's a more modern sort—and she said that when we do call Stone's spirit from his machine, we'd likely have to find it a new home.”
“It's not in a machine,” Rue growled, noting the scratches that the delivery man's dolly had drawn across his wood floor (conveniently forgetting the damage he himself had done over countless years.)
“It isn't? Oh that's wonderful, Rue!” Millicent gushed, “And how did you solve it?”
“Stone is gone. There's a hacker using his accounts.” Rue's eyes were again on the disassembled mainframe taking up the lion's share of his foyer.
“Oh.” Millicent nodded. As if she knew what that even meant. She looked from Rue to the big boxy computer equipment half-blocking the route to her desk. “Well, the good news is, the guy who got me this thing says he doesn't want it back. So it looks like we've got more furniture now, Rue.”
Rue's responding smile to Millicent's brilliant one was watery at best.
At least it meant the case was back in his hands.
Time for that nap I've been dreaming of. The PI returned to his own office, slamming the door behind him. He'd deal with the large lunk of a computer later—after all, it'd still be there when he woke up.
Rue Dobbs awoke refreshed and hour later. No hangover. No bad dreams. The sensation was a strange one for all its ordinary-ness.
Screw it. Rue pulled his laptop towards him. There was no way he was going back to the library today. Public terminals or no.
The PI logged into Stone's account, first setting up a few little tricks and traps of his own. It felt good to be back behind a monitor again, teasing out a quarry.
He opened the drawer to his desk, his hand hovering over the bottle of Scotch therein for a moment. With a frown, Rue closed the drawer. No need for that today. He was cooking now.
Stone's friends—some as big and blue as his own goofy avatar, some thin, willowy and scantily underdressed—fell before Rue's quick judgment, dismissed in a few clicks of the mouse. What he was looking for was the half-finished, the ordinary... someone who had, perhaps, abandoned their wimpy, not-all-that-finanically-endowed character for Stone's.
Someone like this gal. Rue smiled his victory. Gotcha.
Now all he needed to do was try to, one, figure out who this user was and, two, come up with a way to trap 'em.
“Millicent, can you find out if Stone was, perhaps, the target of any sort of... unwanted advances... from an adult?” Rue couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth.
Arrested in the act of putting on yet more lipstick, Millicent seemed just as surprised. “Oh, Rue, you don't think...?”
“I've been through dozens of Stone's accounts. Each one seems to have been deliberately hacked by some guy, masquerading as a young woman, who's pretending to be a— oh, nevermind. It would seem that Stone had an eclectic variety of online pals and more than one seem to be taking advantage of his dormant accounts.” And siphoning money out of Stone's mother's credit cards, Rue added to himself.
Half-a-dozen tricky identities had trickled out from his investigations. Either Stone had swiss-cheese security for his accounts—letting everyone and anyone in—or he had one nasty piece-of-work acquaintance taking advantage. In Rue's professional opinion, the scumbag was likely one 55-year-old booze-hound living in his parents' basement. It would give him great pleasure to take the bastard down.
What's worse? He'd spent the afternoon avoiding the library when it turned out that their public terminals were likely the mysterious hacker's bread and butter.
“I'll get a séance together tonight, Rue,” Millicent promised.
Rue returned to his office. Oh, joy.