A male voice calls out, “Hello? Ash?”
Rose wiggles her toes against a bowling ball bag at her feet, wincing at every creak in the darkness as her weight settles against James. Stripes of light from the slats in the door are sufficient to exchange grave expressions with him; she nods as she pushes his hand away from her face, mouthing the words, “It’s okay, I’m okay. I’m okay, let go.”
There are two male voices, another one is a little deeper than the first. “The back door’s wide open, Terry. You sure no one’s here?”
Their footsteps recede into the kitchen, and Rose tries to recall exactly how they left it. A stroke of luck, the fact that James just did the dishes.
“Ash!” The first voice again, calling out the teenage girl’s name, then her brother’s. “Colin!”
James’ mouth is already right next to Rose’s ear, his whisper as quiet as a heartbeat, maybe more so. “Terry’s the dad. He’s not supposed to be here. He’s not even supposed to have a key.”
Rose cranes her neck to look at him – is he kidding? No, he looks genuinely angry with the man’s interloping, even as he hides in a closet. She tucks her chin down to her chest and snickers a little.
“Here,” says Terry, his footsteps returning from the kitchen, creaking into the computer room. “The computer’s in here. I’m going to run upstairs and double check, make sure the kids aren’t here.”
“Those have got to be her sandals,” says the deeper voice. “Could she be over at the neighbors’?”
“Just play it cool. Anyone comes in, I’ll just have to deal with it. How long you need in there, twenty minutes?”
She can see them now through the slats, a tall, dark and wavy-haired Dad in a blue, button down shirt and expensive tan slacks that somehow make his butt look good – hard to miss, when he practically presses it against the slats in the closet door. The other fellow is a short, lean guy with a shaved head, a Captain Crunch tee shirt, and a large, plastic tool box. He crouches down on one knee and peers behind the computer desk.
“Yeah, shouldn’t be any longer than that,” the smaller guy says.
“Okay, have at it.”
Terry leaves and Rose listens to him thump up the steps, calling out the kids’ names again. He’s just going to try to blarney them if they’re home and ask what he’s doing here, she thinks.
It takes a lot of focus to remain perfectly still and quiet, with just a slatted door between them and the other fellow. The air in the closet is stuffy and carries a lot of dust; Rose wrinkles her nose at it, trying to breathe in slow, steady streams of air drawn in between parted lips. Each shoe, each box, each piece of rustling fabric seems deafening as they watch the man withdraw some cable-laden equipment and a laptop from his tool box.
There’s a sudden odor – mild but distinct, like slightly sour milk. Rose cranes her neck again to glare at James. He shrugs apologetically in the dark – at least it was quiet.
Then Terry’s footsteps thump back down the stairs. “There’s no one here,” he announces. “Ashley must have left the door open by accident. You think I should close it or leave it how it is?”
“Close it,” the guy says, his voice strained as he crouches under the desk trying to plug something in to the computer tower. “Close it up – she didn’t leave it open on purpose, so she doesn’t know she left it that way, so she won’t notice that it’s closed. Won’t seem strange at all.”
There’s his butt again, right up against the cracks. Will Terry be able to smell James’ untimely fart? She has an urge to reach out and poke one of the cheeks through the slats with her pinky finger.
James tightens his fingers very slightly against her arm. Stay focused, she tells herself.
“How’s it going under there, Wade?”
A relief to Rose for some reason, learning the bald man’s name. Wade says, “Halfway done. She’s got a little bit of security on this thing, but mostly just to stop hackers. Being right here with a hard line changes everything.”
“Don’t leave any tracks,” Terry tells him.
“Yeah, right. It’s pretty hard not to leave any tracks, but you’d have to really look for them. I’m going to give you remote access – there’s no way to hide that. We’ll have to come back in a week or so, whenever you’re through with whatever, and clean up.”
“What about the keystroke thing?”
“Oh yeah, well that’s installed and there’s a kill code – you can enter the code remotely and the keystroke recorder will delete itself. She takes this thing to a tech guy, though…”
“I think we’re going to want to crash the hard drive next week, just clean the whole slate.”
“That’s cold, man.”
“You about done?”