Chapter 5: Jill (Part 1)
Mikhail leaves Megasys Corporation in a daze. He has been through the ringer, and the evening light gleaming off of the surrounding buildings only compounded his headache. Megasys more or less dominated everything within a few square blocks of its headquarters and it showed. As he walked the five blocks to his hotel, Mikhail thinks that they should have just renamed the town after Megasys rather than calling it Bellevue. At the very least, if the company ever found itself in dire straits it could probably keep itself afloat just be getting rid of some of the extra real estate. Finally, exhausted and his feet hurting, Mikhail reaches the lobby of the hotel he had been booked. It was a standard Hilton, nothing too fancy about it. Mikhail had been in probably a dozen such establishments since taking the job at Coyote. The most notable part of it was that it, too, bore the Megasys name - Hilton at Megasys. So prominent was the company that it seemed to serve as its own landmark. On checking in, Mikhail is relieved to find that someone had managed to communicate his loyalty program number to this hotel, a first for him having not done the booking himself. He would have to thank the travel coordinators when he got back.
As a result, his room is perhaps nicer than the average business traveler might expect. On the twenty-third floor facing the Seattle skyline, he had been given a room that ordinarily would have been out of his consideration even on a personal trip - there were simply better ways to spend the rewards points. It was clear to him that when his boss had said no expensed was to be spared - that he was to be given what he needed to be successful in Seattle - that he was not kidding. After some time and room service, Mikhail finally feels refreshed enough to try and get some rest. Before doing so, he gives in to his compulsion to check his work email one more time for the night. Though by now it was almost 10 P.M. back home in Houston, it was clear that his coworkers at Coyote Security had kept at it long after hours. It was honestly a problem in the field; practitioners were so caught up in work and so satisfied with their work that often home was an afterthought. Mikhail himself was not unfamiliar with having Matt Jones swing back by the office or give him a call around seven or eight just to tell him to go home. The threat of burnout, no matter how stubborn the individual in question, was ever-present. It was not as bad for them as it was in other aspects of the field for some reason, but Mikhail did not envy his managers for what they had to do. The people he worked with were too good, had too much of a desire to be a perfectionist and get the job done, that the company had had to specifically force its employees to take vacation in the vein of Closing Time.
And so it was that shortly after signing in to the Coyote network, Mikhail receives another email from Matt Jones reminding him to tune out and take care of himself in the field. It did nobody any good for Mikhail to burn out especially; he was regularly one of the firm’s top performers. Shortly after ten, another email lands in his inbox. Before he can answer it, the room’s phone rings. Mikhail lunges over to pick it up. Why did these things have to be so infernally loud?
“Hello?” Even now, in 2034 when it was so common most manufacturers did not even advertise it as a feature, the room phone somehow did not have caller ID.
“Mikhail, this is Matt Jones.” The voice on the other end is calm, but stern.
“Oh, hello Matt. Sorry, the phone did not tell me it was you. What are you doing up and on things so late?” Mikhail just had to rib his boss over that one.
“I am watching the news in Houston and I see one of my consultants on TV walking around a crime scene. What do you think I am doing this late?” The tone is surprisingly calm, all things considered.
Oh. Mikhail realizes then that there had been a news truck at the scene he had visited with Jill earlier. Given the shock value of the crime, he should not have been surprised that it had gone national so fast. He spends the next few minutes explaining what he had done, and what he had found. There was no point in trying to be coy about it now. He had gone off the reservation at his own initiative, even if it was the FBI who was asking. His mind started to wander, wondering what sort of consequences it might have for him. Probably this meant that going to Def Con or Black Hat this year were out for him. That made the most sense out of anything.
“Hello? Hello? Mikhail, are you still there?” His mind had drifted a little too far.
“Yes, I’m here. It has been a long day.” He bolts upright. Dozing off like that would certainly not help his case in the slightest.
“I was saying, Mikhail, that even if the client requests it, some things are just a little too big of an ask. You are still fairly junior, so I can look past it though. Just, clear it with me next time, okay?”
“Of course, Matt. I did not mean to upset anything.”
“Sleep well.” Click.
After several minutes of trying, it was clear that sleeping well was the last thing that Mikhail could manage. He kept seeing shades of the murder scene and the blood everywhere any time he tried to fall asleep, leading to him tossing and turning in a rather fruitless effort. And it had truly gotten everywhere. Mikhail notices that his shoes even had specks of dried blood on the undersides. He had not thought he had stepped in any, but with how much there was he could not be surprised. Nonetheless, he climbs out of bed and takes the shoes into the bathroom where he tries to wash it off. He hadn’t been squeamish before at the scene, but something about touching it directly as he was washing the shoes caused something to click in his mind. Sleep would not come for a while, and to try was a waste. No, he needed something to help out. He gets dressed again, including the wet shoes, and leaves the room for the hotel bar. Fortunately Coyote Security had no policy against drinking on a business trip as long as it did not become a problem.
Crossing the lobby to the bar, Mikhail is reminded again of just how standard everything about these newer hotels were. Sure, it was nice and the comfort could not be matched for a weary business traveler, but it was almost as if Mikhail could sleepwalk through it, so familiar the layout of the Hilton was. He sits at the bar and orders a craft IPA from Portland. He had been meaning to try this one, but finding it in Houston had proved a challenge. He rather enjoyed the taste, but then again he had not yet found a beer that he did not enjoy - craft brews were among his favorite things in the world, and being able to try them around the world was honestly one of the things keeping him at Coyote as long as he had been. He orders a second one so that he could keep going right as he finishes this first one, but is blissfully unaware he is no longer alone until a familiar voice speaks into his right ear.
“Hello Mikhail.” He turns.
“Special Agent Tamano, what brings you here at this hour?” He could see his new companion roll her eyes at the formality.
“Please, Jill is fine. We aren’t on the scene any more after all.” She laughs, taking a seat at the bar as she gets the bartender’s attention. “Truthfully, I had some work downtown from earlier I needed to finish. After that…well, going back to Clyde Hill does not sound very appealing to me tonight, even if it is home. I happened to find myself in the area again and figured I might find you here.”
Mikhail raises his eyebrows. “I’m sorry, Jill, but what do you mean by that?”
Her drink arrives and she takes a sip before continuing. “I could see it in your eyes back at Megasys. You aren’t handling the body well, are you?”
No, Mikhail was not. All he can do is nod. “I understand. I was like you once - they say you never forget your first homicide.” The attempt at levity falls flat.
“I just… I just can’t quite get over how savage it was. I mean, he was just a kid!” Mikhail finishes his beer.
“Yes he was, and it has been tough for me too, believe me. I know it is tough to hear it, but if it makes you feel any better nobody does that for the heck of it. There must have been some reason behind it.”
Mikhail nods. “How do you deal with it? You seem like you’ve been around for a while.”
“Well, truth be told I can’t let it get to me. I just can’t. That’s the real reason I’m here now. I am the government agent going to get to the bottom of this, and I have to be strong so the family can grieve. It’s tough. It really is. I cope by letting it drive me in the pursuit of justice. I know how these cases end. We - the FBI - we’re good at this sort of thing. Extremely good. Especially with the visibility of this case, it’s only a matter of time until we catch the guy. I shouldn’t tell you this, but he’s already on the Most Wanted List. They published a fast update tonight. That is what pushes me forward. But I understand. I talked with my superiors, and if you need to meet with a psychologist to get your mind wrapped around what happened, they will make an exception. Here or back in your home office. They will treat you as an honorary field agent for today, which gives you the help you need. All for free.” She places a friendly hand on his back. There was more she wanted to say, more at the edge of her lips, but she held back.
“Thank you, Jill. That is kind of you.” He takes another swig of beer.
“Not a problem, Mikhail.” She smiles. “Anyway, I should be getting back home. It is getting kind of late, and the traffic should be not too bad by now.”
Mikhail looks at his watch. He really should have been in bed by now. But alas, he had needed this conversation. To be fair, sleep would be much easier with a couple drinks in him - it usually was.
“You sure you’re alright to drive home?” His companion had kept right with his pace during their talk, after all. The question earned Mikhail a glare.
“Smooth one, kid. But I’ll just have the car drive me home even if I was drunk. Have a good night.” Jill turns and walks out of the bar.