His phone buzzed on the glass coffee table, flashing a number Alec didn't recognize. It wasn't in his contact list. He answered with restraint, trying to hide his anxiety.
"Who is this?"
"Mr Black, it's Sonya Borger. Are you still employed at KXT Industrial?"
"Ah, hello Mrs Borger. No, I'm currently not collaborating with them anymore. Is there a problem with the equipment?"
"No, no problem. My friend wants to instal the system as well, and I thought I would recommend you for the job."
"Ah, thank you, but I'm no longer providing services in your town."
"That's a shame. Where are you working now?"
Alec held his breath for a moment, and consciously made an effort not to change the tone of his voice. He carefully chose his words, while glancing at the floor.
"Wherever there is work to be had. Good day."
"Good day, Mr Black."
He taped the screen, and with a flick of the wrist tossed his phone on the sofa. Alec sighed, pinched his nose as he relived the events from a few weeks back; that miserable January night, the pitch-black street, the muddy parking space, that stupid long, narrow hallway through which he had to go every single day. Wasted hours, hardly any work to be had. Alec knew his skills were wasted working for a company who refused to provide quality equipment to him. The man took pride in his work, had the skills to back it up, but was forced to work extra hard: lack of staff, hazardous environments, profit hungry leadership. He quit that night, stormed out of the building, and drove back to his hometown.
Alec got up, and made an espresso. He packed the fine coffee forcefully, and tossed the measure into the sink. He frowned, placed clenched fists on the counter, while his cup slowly filled. The rich, bitter taste lingered on his tongue. He washed it down with a glass of water, then reached for his phone, and opened the call logs.
That's the third person calling this week. Same story, asking about my workplace.
Alec checked his photo folder, and smirked looking at a picture of puppies.
This guy thought I would buy puppies from him. I worked on that project a year ago. Probably said to himself : hey I bet that tech guy likes puppies.
Alec realized he was texted the picture recently.
A few days after I quit.
The man frowned, and tensed his shoulders. He stood up, and checked the call registry again.
The pictures, the calls, all on the same day of the week. Roughly the same time, before twelve pm.
He checked the call from Mrs Borger, it matched the pattern.
I never once received a call from these people before I quit.
Alec's face turned gray, he frowned, and clenched his teeth as a wave of heat slowly rose across his chest, and vented through his shirt's neckline.
He's making them call me.
The man swiftly opened up the puppy picture again, and stared at it intensely.
A hidden message? he pondered while standing there, his back arched, face buried into the screen. He tapped out, and Googled "stranger sends puppies picture". Scrolling through the entries he came across an article on Spyware. As he read the entry his stomach tightened, his hand forcefully squeezed the phone. Alec felt unrest processing information, making connections between recent events in his life. He browsed for an antivirus, bought a year subscription, and ran the program. Sure enough, corrupted files were found on his device, including the puppy photo.
Goddammit! I should've guessed.
Alec pondered what data was fed to his former employer. His calls, messages, emails, location, everything. Anger slowly boiled inside him as he felt the urge to strangle the prick. He threw his phone, cracking a glass door. Cursing, and knocking over a chair, Alec punched the drywall. He sank on the couch exhaling in frustration, and tilted his head back. With shut eyes he slowly formed scenario after scenario. The man visualized the outcome of each. Talking to the police, a lawyer, calling up people, even directly confronting the guy who sent the picture to get a confession.
How dare he! After all my good work for his company. That rotten. Wait, my work.
Alec swiftly got up, and retrieved his phone. He looked up the number, and dialed it. Tension rose as the voice assistant redirected him from office to office. Finally a human picked up
“Finance department, this is Jannet, how may I help you?”
“Hello Jannet, this is Alec Black. I’m calling regarding my tax filing. Would you be so kind as to tell me if there were any re-uploads after my submission? ”
“Mr Balck, why do you request this?”
“I fear that someone fraudulently might have done so in my name.”
“I see. Please hold.”
After a few minutes of elevator music
“Mr Black, I need to verify your personal information.”
“Yes, ask away.”
“Could you tell me the last four digits of your-”
“Five, two, seven, three.”
“And the answer you wrote down to the designated question?”
“25bftx1.” Silence fell, then after a moment her voice rang in a cheerful tone
“Hello, Mr. Black. Let me see what I have here. You submitted the document on the 16th of january this year.”
“And you modified it on the 25th.”
Alec stood silent. He sighed
“It wasn’t you then who made the alterations, Mr. Black?”
“No, Jannet, it wasn’t me.”
“I see, well sir in that case please report to our department tomorrow. I shall file a complaint to the authorities. I suggest you do the same.”
“Thank you, Jannet. Your help is much appreciated.”
“Don’t worry sir, well straighten this thing out.Come tomorrow at nine am. Have a nice day.”
“You too Jannet. Thanks again.”
Alec’s voice was steady and low. He didn't want to betray the rage that gurgled in the back of his throat. With a fixed gaze, eyeing the drywall, he sat his phone down on the coffee table. He pondered what his next step would be. His mind recalled bad memories from the workplace, his employer’s fat stupid face, annoying voice and condescending tone, criticising his work without having the least amount of knowledge for the craft. Alec hated the man. How dare he? How dare he come after him? After all the hard work he put in? After all the bullshit he had to put up with? He made that stupid fat bastard rich in the past two years, signing exclusivly with his firm. And now, hacking his accounts, stalking him, forging official documents?!
I will get you for this. I’ll show you what’s what. He spoke the words out loud, calm, flat, with a brooding expression on his face. His palms stood still resting face down on the sofa. He breathed in deeply, slowly, eyes still fixed on the wall. The man tried to steady himself and logically went through a list of places his data might have been altered. The bank, post office, even scheduled job interviews could have been tainted.
Alec called his bank and informed them about what happened. They blocked his account until the situation was remedied. He then called the post office asking if his information was updated. It would seem his PO box address was modified from his online account. He filed a complaint over the phone and set up a meeting with post officials.
The police station was left, but Alec felt spent. He'd been pacing around the living room, making calls, trying to mend his life. Someone else was responsible for his distress and that enraged him immensely. What started as a calm morning dragged into an afternoon of stress and struggle. Alec had enough. His whole day was wasted, his mind frantically wondering while his body suffered the slow poisoning of hatred. Dressed in jeans and a winter jacket he walked the busy streets. The police station was just a few blocks away. Alec made slow progress weaving through the crowd, looking straight forward with a blank face. His thoughts gnawed at him.
"So what now?"
"Well sir, now we'll refer this to the proper department and they'll look into it."
"What about KXT Industrial?"
"We can't just assume they are responsible without proof, Mr Black. A connection has to be made."
"I understand. But please be aware that this man is trying to ruin my life; I think you can sympathize with that?"
"I understand your frustration sir, and I promise that your complaint will receive proper attention."
"It's more that frustration, officer. Going after someone the way he did it implies he's serious about screwing up my life. He wants to ruin me."
"Calm down sir, try to relax."
Alec stared at his boots for a brief moment, got up, and shook the man's hand. He left the police station and wandered into a coffee shop. He hadn't eaten all day, his body ached all over. Getting hot coffee in his system and a sandwich would bring a world of good to him.
I know what you're trying to do, bastard. The body can take only so much stress before it starts to decompose. It's all consuming. The pain, the anger. Enough of it can drive a man to do reckless things. Haha no need for murder, when you can have the victim take its own life.
Alec stared at his empty plate, conversing with himself. Rage built up again, wave after wave.
That's your plan you fat shit? Make me kill myself? You have no idea who you're messing with!
The man stormed out of the café and jogged home.
You brought this on yourself!
He entered the kitchen, got a chef's knife, and grabbed his car keys.
You want me dead huh? I'll show you dead!
Just as he opened his driver's door, Alec heard a familiar voice.
"Hey honey. Where are you going?"
He jerked his head, eyeing his wife. Her face was light and happy. His was frozen in shock.
"Where are you going with my knife?"
"It lost its edge. I was taking it to a professional sharpener."
"Oh honey, that's so thoughtful of you."
"Yeah well, wouldn't want you struggling with dinner."
"Haha, charming as always."
She gave him a kiss, and wrapped her hands around his neck.
"I'm in the mood for fish. Let's go out tonight."
"Sure honey, let me just put this back."
Later, inside the restaurant Alec, and his wife were enjoying dinner.
"You're awfully quiet tonight. Something on your mind?"
"Oh, it's nothing. I'm sorry, how was your day?"
"I almost finished my report. The big meeting is coming up. All executives must attend. God, I hope all goes well."
"Don't worry honey, you always pulled through with flying colors."
"Thank you, you're so sweet. Can't take all the merit; you too had a role in my career.”
"Me? How's that?"
"Remember how disorganized I used to be? And how stressed out I'd get with my exams?"
"A few words of encouragement."
"Oh stop! You'd stay up all night with me and study. And how you would use different high liners and post-it notes to organize my writing. Remember the time you almost failed your exam because you were too busy helping me."
"Hey at least I learned about Ancient Greek politics."
"Haha, yeah your physics professor was really impressed."
Alec laughed, his face lit up, a wild smile stretching from ear to ear. He touched her hand and kissed her soft lips.
"Oh my gosh!"
"That good huh?"
"Haha, no silly. He kicked; here, give me your hand. Do you feel it?"
"Wow, what a soccer player!"
"He takes after you, team-captain Alec Black of the Patriotic Wolfpack. Remember your glory days?"
Her words triggered something. Alec drifted for a moment into today's events. Her words overlapped with his rekindled anger.
"Yeah, those were the days," then with a low and sad voice added "he does take after me, doesn't he..."