Young computer programmer Rob Donovan receives an emergency call from his boss at the First Malden Bank in Boston after the first successful cyberattack in American banking history scrambles thousands of account records. First Malden’s survival is on the line as furious customers and voracious reporters descend on the bank. Rob is part of the team trying to fix the damage, until the FBI charges him with the crime and brings his world crashing down. Facing prison time and the loss of his fiancée Lesley, Rob’s only chance of reclaiming his life lies in cutting through a web of mistrust and betrayal to uncover the startling truth behind the attack.
“McAllister keeps the tension high with a new surprise on every page. A master of the genre, the realism screams from every chapter.” – Gary Ryman, Author of “Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family”
Rob and Lesley sat on a bench by the Charles River Basin while seagulls wheeled lazily overhead. Pigeons squabbled and searched the paved walkway for tidbits.
The late-morning sun struggled to provide the heat it would so easily dispense during the afternoon. Lesley hugged herself to stay warm but Rob knew this was not the right moment to slide over and put an arm around her. The walk from the courthouse had been a silent affair.
Rob had never truly understood what freedom meant before. The on-again, off-again breeze felt fresher on his face than he could ever remember. The walkway stretched off into the distance along the river and he was free to walk the entire length of it if that was what he felt like doing. He could choose. No bars or guards prevented him from standing up and walking off. The simple fact of it was intoxicating.
He looked to his right, toward where the Charles River met the Atlantic. He pictured himself on the water, rowing. Long, effortless strokes that propelled him further and further east with each pull. Spray from the bow splashed on his back, soaking him, cleansing him. Freeing him. He could just keep going, never look back.
Or a quick plane ride. But to where? South America, maybe. Which countries had extradition treaties?
Right. As if.
No, in two short months he had to go back in a courtroom and face the possibility―the strong possibility it seemed―of going to prison. He felt a cold shiver shake his shoulders and run down his back.
Lesley interrupted his thoughts. “It was nice of your parents to give Mom a lift back to my place.”
“They’re heading back home to Worcester, and it was right on their way.” Rob shrugged. “And I think they could tell we wanted to be alone.”
She took a deep, raggedy breath.
“This is a nightmare,” she said without looking at him. “The whole thing. The engagement, Uncle Stan, the mess at the TV station. Even my mother. It feels like the whole world exploded and the pieces landed on us.”
“What’s wrong with your mother?”
“She’s upset,” Lesley said. “Doesn’t want me to get hurt.”
Rob felt himself deflate even more. “And she thinks I’m some big criminal.”
Lesley didn’t deny it, which was answer enough.
“Figures,” he said.
The hardening of Lesley’s jaw and the sharp flash of her eyes should have been a warning to Rob of what was to come. He was in no mood to read the signs, though, even those the size of billboards.
“It really ticks me off that everybody assumes the police are right about me,” he said. “This is hard enough without people jumping to conclusions.”
“Don’t lay your problems on her. She didn’t cause them.”
Rob scowled at her. “Oh, and I did, right?”
Her nostrils flared as she returned his glare. “You think this is easy for me?” she said. “I feel like I’m being ripped apart by chains pulling in ten different directions.”
“You’re not the one they want to throw in prison.”
“No? Yesterday the FBI accused me of being an accomplice. They asked about Monday night. Wanted to know if you used your computer while I was in the bathroom or if I helped you do it.”
Rob’s temples started to throb. “I didn’t go near the computer.”
“Somebody did, and nobody else was there.”
Rob leaned his head back, grabbed his hair with both hands and shouted at the sky.
“Great. This is just . . . perfect.”
A tiny dog happened to be walking by. It jumped and skittered away at the sound of Rob’s outburst. The elderly lady holding the leash quickened her pace and scuttled away, looking back at them over her shoulder.
Lesley crossed her arms and legs and looked away. Her foot started pumping in agitation.
“Do you think I’d create all these headaches on purpose?” Rob said. “Is that who you think I am?”
“But what? But the FBI has a fingerprint. That should be enough to wipe out everything we’ve been through together, shouldn’t it?”
She turned her head away from him. He could see her jaw working from side to side in tiny, jerky movements.
“If I really did want to mess with the bank’s computers,” he said, “why would I be stupid enough to leave behind all that evidence pointing at myself?”
Rob felt the hurt sting his eyes when she didn’t respond. He stood up abruptly, took a few steps, and stood with his back to her, arms crossed, looking toward the water but not seeing. A vast emptiness seemed to open up in his gut.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” he said.
He waited, wanting to look at her but afraid of what he might see. No answer came.
“Fine,” he said, and started to walk upriver. He had no idea where he was going, only that he didn’t want to stay where he was.
Rob felt Lesley’s hand on his elbow. He stopped and turned back to face her. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“I want more than anything to believe you,” she said. “If someone had asked me a week ago if you were capable of this sort of thing, I would have laughed in their face. But how can you explain all the stuff that FBI guy talked about in court today? It just doesn’t seem possible.”
He wrenched his arm out of her grasp.
“I shouldn’t have to explain anything,” he said. “We’re going to be married, for crying out loud. You should trust me by now.”
Lesley raised her hands in exasperation. “How can we make wedding plans with all this going on? Oh, I know, we’ll get invitations made. Ceremony at three, reception to follow, if the groom isn’t in prison, that is. And we can tell the guests about the night we slipped the ring on me and the handcuffs on you.”
“If it’s such a problem for you, maybe we shouldn’t bother.”
“Is that what you want?”
“I want someone who believes in me,” Rob shouted.
“I did,” Lesley shouted back, “and look where that got us.”
“Fine. Just forget it.”
Rob turned and started to walk away again. Something small hit his back and landed with a tinkling noise on the walkway. He swung around to see Lesley running in the opposite direction.
The diamond ring lay at his feet.
Andrew McAllister writes both fiction and non-fiction, including the relationship advice blog To Love, Honor, and Dismay. He has a psychology degree and over twenty-five years of experience in the IT industry as a professor, consultant, and software company executive. In other words he can fix your computer software . . . but only if it really wants to change. He lives with his family in New Brunswick, Canada, where he is busy working on his next project, a relationship self-help book entitled “How To End The Housework Wars So You Both Win.”
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