The door swings open as I lift my hand towards the door bell. How convenient. A dimly lit corridor stretches out in front of me, with an elevator door at the end. The walls are lined with pictures of staff members. I casually study them as I walk by, and can't help but smirk as I notice Hot Bid hiding in the background of every single picture. This guy is dedicated.
The elevator door slides open as I approach. I get in and the elevator automatically takes me down to the actual headquarters.
A familiar voice greets me as I step into TL HQ's ornate hallway. The New Zealand accent is unmistakable.
“Hello, Cow. Glad you could make it on such short notice.”
“Hi, Plexa.” I give him a brief, deferential nod. “What seems to be the problem today?”
“Walk with me.”
As we're walking, I can't help but marvel at the extravagant decorations and ornaments. I think the Titanic looked very similar to this place: a mix between narrow steel corridors and big rooms that look as if they're being used to hoard stolen treasure. At least they're putting that ad revenue to good use.
“So, Cow, have you heard about the recent troll trouble we've been having?” he asks.
“I happened to read about it in the paper on the way here. He seems awfully... resilient.”
Plexa nods and replies, “Yes, it's quite astounding. We've taken him down at least twelve times now and he just keeps popping up in new shells.”
I knit my brows. “He keeps popping up? How the hell does he get past Rich's PBU detectors?”
Right at that moment, we happen to pass by Rich's office. The air is heavy with the smell of electricity. The tiny hairs on my arms stand on end, like miniature antennae startled by a sudden sound. Through a small window in the heavy, bolted door, I catch a glimpse of the Cyber Wizard himself. His hands are typing away on separate keyboards, hooked up to separate monitors. His fingers are moving much too fast for me to follow. What a madman.
Plexa must have caught the worried look on my face. “Scary thought, right? A troll clever enough to sneak past Rich's defenses is a formidable opponent indeed.”
We enter Plexa's office, which is just down the hall from Rich's. He takes place behind his large mahogany desk and motions me to sit in a very comfortable-looking, upholstered chair. Plexa seems almost dwarfed by the large desk and by the imposing, ceiling-high, wall-to-wall bookcase behind him. Opening one of his desk drawers, he pulls out a plate of fresh waffles, covered in whipped cream. They're still warm, I can see the steam rising.
“Care for some waffles?” he asks cordially. I try to hide my utter confusion and amazement, and politely decline. I'm still stuffed from breakfast.
“Your loss!” he says, with a big smile. “If there's anything better in this world than waffles, I don't even want to know about it.” He gulps down a waffle, visibly loving every bite of it, and leans back in his chair.
“That sure hit the spot. Anyway, back to business. This troll, Cow, this troll is making people feel uneasy. We can't have that. It makes them paranoid. We've been dealing with a lot more fights recently, because people constantly assume they're being trolled as soon as someone disagrees with them. We get dozens of calls every day of random citizens suspecting each other of being the troll we're after. Things are getting out of hand and it's costing us a lot of time and manpower. This troll is winning. He's owning us. He's making a mockery out of the entire system. It's unacceptable, damnit!”
In seconds, Plexa's demeanor shifted from friendly administrator to agitated police chief. I've rarely seen him this upset.
“I understand, Plexa. I'll look into it right away.” I get up from my seat. “Got any idea of where might be a good place to start looking?”
Plexa thinks for a few seconds before answering. “I would start with the hospital. A few of the victims are still being treated there. The latest victim they brought in is Kiett.” He shakes his head. “Poor girl.”
I freeze for a moment. “Kiett? As in, the staff member? As in, Hot Bid's sister?”
“Wow. If this guy can get to Kiett, then nobody is safe. How is Hot Bid taking it?”
He shrugs. “I don't know. Not well, I would assume. Haven't seen him in a couple of days.”
“Weird”, I reply. “I get the feeling this is going to be one complicated case. Better get a move on.”
Plexa gives me a firm handshake. “Good luck, Cow. I'm counting on you. Hunt this guy down.”
I quickly make my way back to the elevator and on to the streets of TL. The sky is still gray, the sun blocked out by menacing clouds. I sure hope talking to the victims can get me some good leads, because I have no idea what I would do otherwise. I need to get lucky. Better get my ass to that hospital.
– TO BE CONTINUED –