Afflictions: Part Twenty Eight

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Anastasia sat at a table, a good bit too large for one person, in the back of a crowded bar. She had a pair of sunglasses perched on top of her head, and a notebook and pen on the table. She’d been waiting for a few minutes, and was starting to get nervous. Ashley had told a few of her old colleagues and their friends that she was an ‘investigative journalist’ getting ready to write a ‘huge piece’ on Cinnistar that would ‘blow the lid right off’, so right off the bat Anastasia felt a good bit of pressure. Arte was sitting at a table across the room, and Vanessa and Ashley were waiting outside, so she didn’t need to be too concerned about her safety. She felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, and took a look. It was Vanessa.

That’s them walking in. GL.

She took a deep breath and looked up at the door. Sure enough, a group of people in polo shirts were approaching. There were three guys and a woman about Ashley’s age. Anastasia raised a hand and attracted their attention, and the group made their way to the table.

“You Elsa?” One of the men asked. He was tall and well built.

Anastasia cringed internally at her ‘secret identity’, but smiled in response. “Yes, I’m really grateful you came out here today.”

“No worries.” A different man answered. He was shorter, older, and less muscular. “I’m Hank, by the way. This is Aaron,” he gestured to the first man to speak, “This is Marquise,” he gestured to the slender black man who had yet to speak.

“And I’m Adrienne.” The woman introduced herself before Hank had the chance. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Marquise finally spoke up. “Ashley was a little vague on the details of what you were doing a piece on, but she told us she was ‘sure we’d be able to help’, so here I am. I do think I have a guess about what you’re wanting to talk about though.” The mood of the group grew more somber, seeming to be on the same page. “You want to know about the shooting, right?”

“Well, that’s definitely a part of what I’m here for, I won’t lie.” Anastasia nodded. The shooting was when Ashley got taken, so there had to be some kind of connection there. “I’m more interested in the event leading up to the shooting, to be honest. Do you recall what happened in the months before?”

The group looked slightly surprised, and thought for a moment. Aaron eventually spoke up. “It seemed to be a pretty normal time, I think. We’d finished a big project, so we had a little celebration. The owner even showed up, so I guess it was kind of a big deal.”

Hank laughed. “I remember that party. Man, Stewart was really trying to buddy up to Mr. Smith.”

“After months of us working overtime, and him going home early, we get done and he makes sure he gets all the credit.” Adrienne shrugged. “That’s Stewart for you.”

“Sorry, who is Stewart?” Anastasia was trying to make notes about what was important while listening. It definitely seemed noteworthy that they finished a big project, and that Mr. Smith was there.

“Robert Stewart is the guy over our team. I think he’s the VP of something.” Hank shrugged. “All I know is the dude is a grade-A asshole.”

“He doesn’t seem to know anything about electronics either. It makes you wonder who’s son or friend he must’ve been to get the job.” Aaron added.

“Our names are off the record right?” Marquise asked, looking around the bar. “I appreciate your project and all, but I’m not trying to lose my job here.”

“Of course, you have my word.” Anastasia nodded.

Marquise lowered his voice and leaned in. “I heard that he got the job because of some shady stuff. He didn’t even have connections with any of the execs, he just suddenly found himself the VP of wireless R&D. That’s why a lot of the other execs don’t like him.”

Anastasia was struggling keeping up, but was taking it all down. She definitely thought they were onto something: a big deadline, a party, and a shady executive. “So what exactly were you working on in the leadup to the party?”

“Well, it was honestly kind of weird.” Adrienne replied. “They were being very selective with what they told us. We were trying to make some kind of emitter for a specific frequency of radiation that wasn’t harmful. It was really an ordeal, but we figured it out eventually, and it met whatever 3 letter agency’s requirements.”

“I think it was the DSR and the EPA that gave us guidelines.” Aaron added. “It was kind of weird to have such a specific and secretive contract for someone that wasn’t the military.”

“It was some company that wanted it, I don’t remember the name though.”

“Vertech.” Marquise answered. “The companies name was Vertech.”

Anastasia took the name down. Her page of notes was turning into a real mess, but she got everything down. “Do you remember anything else?”

“This is more about the shooting than the time before, but Stewart wasn’t there on the day it happened.” Marquise looked off into the distance. “The feds investigated, and found he was definitely sick like he said, but it still doesn’t sit right with me.” He looked around once more, before producing a manila envelope. “I did a bit of digging into the guy, and I found that his only prior employer was the same company we were contracted by. Vertech. Seems weird to me, but I couldn’t really find anything on the dude. I made copies of everything I had, if it seems helpful.”

Anastasia took the envelope and began to thumb through the contents. There was a decent bit of personal history of the guy, and there was a bit of info about ‘Vertech’. She suddenly noticed something that made her heart skip a beat. Vondrasek. Marquise made a web of corporate connections to Vertech, and sure enough, far down the web, was ‘The Vondrasek Company’. There was also some company called Syngenuity which she swore she’d heard of before, but couldn’t remember where.

She tried to keep her composure, and closed up her notebook. “Thank you so much, it was a huge help.” She started to leave.

“Elsa, wait up.” Adrienne called after her, before getting in close. “If these people are connected to the shooting, then they’re dangerous. Be careful.”

Anastasia nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

She turned away and gave Arte a thumbs up. The pair left the bar, and went to the rendezvous point.

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Hello traveler! You’ve happened upon my serial, or maybe found it intentionally. If you like what you see, be sure to check out the reading guide and read the rest of the series! This may be season 3, but there’s pretty comprehensive recaps, so it’s not as if there’s an enormous backlog.

Getting some new equipment in for my studio this weekend, so I’ll most likely be focused on that. This week was generally *rough*, but it looks to be ending on a good note, so that’s about all you can ask for. My thought for this week, is that it will sure be interesting to watch my evolution as a person by reading these brief little snippits. If you’ve been reading a while, feel free to DM me on twitter if you have interesting observations. I check it weekly or so.

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