The Axel Higgenbottom Files Volume Three: The Violet Incident

June 18, 2014
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I’m in the middle of a levelheaded discussion with Solomon, who doesn’t seem to understand that my laptop is not a pedestal from which he can observe his adoring subjects, when my dad knocks twice and opens my door.
“Axel, you got a letter,” he says in his melodious voice. My father is a tenor in an orchestral choir, which is where he met my mom. They travel a lot for performances around the country, but they’re home most of the time.
“A letter?” I repeat. I’m not usually a fan of redundancies, but I’ve been paperless for three years. The snail mail stopped trickling in soon afterwards. I shouldn’t be getting a letter. My father passes me the envelope. I glance at it once and pass it right back to him.
“Will you read it to me?” I ask him.
“Oh, right … ahem … sure.” While my mother deals with my blindness by relentlessly coddling me, my father hasn’t quite figured out how to treat me. It would probably be easier for him if I was totally blind, but as it is the fire I caused only left me partially blind.
“’Axel,’” he begins. “’You are invited to the personal home of Violet Dunhart at four o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday the eighth for tea and to discuss an important business proposition. No RSVP is required. Sincerely, Violet Dunhart.’”
I raise an eyebrow curiously. “Is it alright if I go?” I ask.
“Yeah, sure.” He hands me back the letter and leaves the room singing something in Latin about how fate is like the moon.
I look over at Solomon’s dark smudge. He meows inquisitively. “Don’t meow at me; I’m just as clueless as you are about this. And you don’t even know who Violet Dunhart is.”
Violet Dunhart is the wealthy young daughter of a Wall Street billionaire. She’s already following in her mother’s footsteps and is very astute when it comes to which shares to buy and sell. I’ve flown her private jet twice as part of the requirements to obtain my now useless pilot’s license. I still remember what New York looks like from above.
But reminiscing about my days above the clouds is not going to help me solve this mystery. Why is Violet contacting me now? I sent out a mass email a while ago to all of my regular clients that I would no longer be able to fly them. I hate it when I can’t logically figure something out. Oh, vita destabilis.
* * *
I wake up on Saturday and quickly change my sheets like every morning. I’ve woken up in a puddle of sweat since the fire, and the nightmares have only gotten worse. No matter, though, today is the day I visit Violet Dunhart, and I don’t have room for anything else.
I hire a car to take me to her house. It wouldn’t do to arrive at an important business meeting and have my mother kiss my cheek on the way in.
When we finally arrive, there’s a man so bald I can actually see the light reflecting off his forehead to escort me into Violet’s not so humble home. It’s a huge mansion with far more rooms than a single woman could ever use on a regular basis, but if the fact that I don’t choke on dust but the sharp chemical odor of cleaning products when we enter is any indication, it’s spotless. I’m led to a spacious room where what I’m pretty sure is Ms. Dunhart is currently in the process of trying to find a way to sit on her leather chair comfortably but with her feet still on the floor. If I’m remembering correctly, she’s a very petite woman who is shorter than I was when I was thirteen, which was, sadly for her, before my growth spurt.
It’s a hot Colorado afternoon, but she still has a fire roaring in the fireplace. I’m careful to sit as far away from it as I can.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Dunhart,” I say politely.
“And to you, Axel. Care for some tea?” she asks me softly. Even her voice is small. “I just had some American Russian Tea flown in from South Carolina.”
I bite back a grimace. “No thank you on the Russian tea. Do you have Pu-erh?”
“Yes, I have Xiaguan Jin Si.”
“Jin Si? That was only made in 2004!” I say excitedly. “I haven’t had any since I was eleven! I’d love some.”
Using small, concise motions she delicately pours a glass of piping hot water and adds the rare gold ribbon tea. After it steeps, she filters it into a porcelain tea cup.
“Now tell me Ms. Dunhart, why is it that you’ve contacted me? I sent a mass email out right after I went blind. I can’t fly.” I take a long, slow, luxuriating sip of the Jin Si. It’s beautiful.
“Please, call me Violet.” She takes a sip of her own tea. “I don’t need you to fly me anywhere. For this endeavor, I am in need of your brain.”
“I’m not going to live long without it,” I inform her.
She chuckles daintily. “Allow me to explain. I was sitting up one night, checking my investments, when I an idea struck me. What if someone were to create a machine, possibly using…oh, what’s the word? Allusions? Allegories?”
“Algorithms?” I suggest.
“Yes, algorithms! Using algorithms, someone could create a machine that could predict the fluctuating patterns of the stock market! With such a computer, my hedge fund could make billions!”
I don’t like the way she’s using the words “machine” and “computer” as if they are interchangeable, which they aren’t. “And you think I can create something like that?” I ask.
“Axel, you have a 180 IQ. That’s a full 20 points higher than Einstein’s. I’m positive you can do it.”
“I can do it. In fact, the thought of such a computer program has crossed my mind more than once. But I won’t do it. Something like that could cause the whole global economy to collapse.” I want to put down my tea cup defiantly, but it’s far too delicious to waste on making a statement. I take a rude, slurping sip instead.
“Come on, Axel. I’ve already contacted several other people and companies. None of them have any idea how to make such a thing, but at least they were willing. You’re my last hope.”
“I’m sorry Violet, but only you and your hedge fund would gain from it, the rest of the world could very well suffer.”
“Candace’s cheerleading team suffered at that competition, but you still got her kicked off the squad.”
This time I do put my teacup down. “You’ve been watching me?”
“Axel, you’re not only a criminal, but a genius. Most government agencies are watching you.”
I glare at her. She shifts uncomfortably. My glares are rarely ever ineffective. “That was not the same. One team lost a competition, the whole world didn’t crumble. You know what happens when economies collapse – Civil unrest, social chaos, law and order go out the window. If the global economy suffers a depression because of your future monopoly, we could be thrown into a third World War.”
“You’re misunderstanding me,” she pleads. “I don’t want control over the whole shebang, just the Big Board.”
“Oh, that’s much better.” I pick up my tea again. “Once you own everything and the US economy crumbles, our enemies will probably step in to help and everything will be fine.”
“You’re being difficult.”
“I’m not exactly known for being facile.” I wonder briefly if I could sneak some tea leaves into my pocket, but discard the idea. She’s not the blind one in this situation.
“What if I told you I could make it worth your while? Maybe a percentage of my earnings.”
“I can get money on my own. “ I have no more need for money, anyway, my mother will never let me leave Wanton now.
“This was my last resort,” she says as she leans back into her chair, finally giving up on her losing battle with her shortness and allowing her feet to rise up off the floor. “But what if I said I could give you the one thing you desire most?”
She couldn’t.
“That’s right, Axel, I can give you your sight back.”
She could?
“Impossible, my condition is uncorrectable.”
“Maybe according to your silly Wanton doctors, but I can hire a team of the most skilled eye surgeons.” She can! “In return, all you have to do is write me my algorithms. After that, you can wash your hands of me. Anything that happens afterwards would be entirely the fault of my hedge fund.”
I actually consider it for a second or two before saying, “I’m sorry, Ms. Dunhart, but I can’t help you with this. “ I sense her eyes narrowing. Why do I get the feeling that by saying that, I just got myself into a lot of trouble?
“Fine then. I would offer you some Jin Si to take home, but now I don’t feel like it. Please leave immediately.”
“No need to be impolite, Ms. Dunhart. It’s just business. I will be willing to help you with other things in the future, if you’ll still consider me.” I say as I stand up, feeling for my knapsack. I leave her steaming more than her tea.
* * *
Leaving a greedy millionaire in the dust is never a good idea, especially if you were her last hope and drank her expensive tea. Violet’s influence stretches far from her hedge fund, and it’s not long before all my business deals start falling through. Every last one of them. It’s not exactly hard to connect the dots. Now I have to take time out of my busy schedule – well, not so busy anymore - to put her in her place. Wonderful.
It’s not long before a plan sparks to life in my brain. I pick up my smartphone and recite a number to the voice-recognition software.
“Hello?” comes a gruff voice from the other end of the line.
“Braxton, it’s Axel, the person to whom you owe your idle mornings.”
I hear a snort as if Braxton is spitting. “What do you want Stinkenbottom?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief. The time for compensation has come. You have a little sister right?”
“You keep Daisy out of this; it has nothing to do with her. Besides, she couldn’t hurt a fly – not quite the person someone like you could need.”
“Actually, you just described the exact kind of person I need. And you don’t have to worry, she and I will both benefit from this.”
There’s a long pause on his side of the phone. “I’m listening.”
* * *
“Okay, Daisy, when whoever answers the door turns away for money, just stick this device on the inside of the door as near to the lock as you can.” I hand her the flat, circular gadget I made in 6 minutes and 9 seconds, a full 33 seconds longer than my best time, but still good for a person doing most of the work by touch. The blond girl inspects the device as if she were trying to figure out the best way of eating it.
“Alright,” she says. “But how do you know they’re going to buy my cookies?”
“Because Ms. Dunhart is very wealthy, and religiously takes tea every afternoon.”
“Why do you need cookies to drink tea? My mommy drinks tea with dinner, but she’s on a diet so she can’t buy my cookies.”
“Tea isn’t just drinking; it often involves eating sandwiches and cookies.”
“It’s traditional.”
“Charles the Second of England’s wife Catherine of Braganza introduced it when she came to court in 1662.”
“Daisy, stop asking questions,” Braxton, who has been grumbling to himself off to the side, cuts in. His tone is very gentle when he talks to his sister. “Now go up and ring the doorbell.” He bends over and straightens her brown vest. “Remember to smile. You got those cute dimples, use ‘em to your advantage. And don’t be afraid to bat those beautiful eyelashes, okay?”
She grins so wide up at him that even I can see her teeth. “Okay, Braxy.” She skips up the long drive and stands in front of the imposing door.
“Braxy?” I ask him.
“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” he says without looking at me.
“Scout’s honor.”
We watch in silence as the door is opened by the shiny bald man. We can’t hear what’s being said, but as the man turns away, Daisy quickly reaches her hand around the door and hopefully successfully presses the adhesive near the lock. By the time he turns back, Daisy is already back to where she was. I imagine her hands are clasped behind her back and she’s batting her eyelashes so much she’ll need ice later. She grins at him one last time, and runs back to us.
“Braxy! Braxy! He bought four boxes!”
“I saw, Daisy, way to go!” He picks her up and she buries her head in his shoulder. He turns to me and says, “See you, Stinckenbottom. Or hopefully not.”
“Bye, Braxy,” I smirk. I can feel his glare rather than see it.
We go our separate ways without another word.
* * *
Despite getting lost three times on the way home –street signs all look the same now – I make it back with plenty of time left to prepare for tonight. I double check my software, carefully stow my laptop into its travel case, and charge my phone longer than is good for it – all before dinner.
With nothing left to occupy my time, not even checking on my business deals since Violet ruined them all; I’m stuck with simply waiting.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate waiting?
* * *
The best time for making trouble.
Not that what I’m doing is trouble, of course. If anything, it’s justice being served. Violet had no right to sabotage my business deals. There wasn’t even anything shady about them; mostly just technology companies asking to buy my patents. By doing what she did, Violet didn’t just ruin my business; she quite possibly set a whole lot of others back. I haven’t received a professional email all week. That’s probably a new record!
I run over the plan in my head as I walk along the darkened streets of Wanton, tripping over litter and running into stubby little mailboxes more often than I’d like to admit. At night, the fuzzy blobs of color I’ve grown accustomed to seeing dissolve and morph into one big cloud of foggy obstacles. The dim streetlights don’t help much. In fact, the slanted shadows they cause seem to make it worse. I try not to squint. I know in my head that it won’t help, but my eyes have minds of their own.
My feet are aching and I’m bruised eight different ways by the time I finally arrive at Violet’s mansion at 0100 hours. I walk confidently through the gates and up the lavishly flowered sidewalk to the front door. Violet is one of those few millionaires who isn’t paranoid, which has come in handy more than once in the past.
I pull out my phone and whisper a command into the microphone. It begins to run an app that’s not exactly legal and the electric lock on the door clicks open. As I soundlessly pull open the heavy door, I feel for my as of yet unnamed device that Daisy attached and peel it off. Next, I slip off my shoes and put them in the knapsack with my laptop. Squinting desperately in the bleary dark, I pad in my sock feet across the grand foyer. I don’t dare turn on a light for fear of drawing attention or leaving fingerprints.
I hesitate when I reach the door to Violet’s office. It’s not a windowed door; I have no way of knowing if she’s in there now, working late. Or if a maid is cleaning, preparing for tomorrow. I slide a pair of gloves out of my pack and onto my hands. The door screams on its hinges as I ease it open. I cringe at the awful sound it makes. I peek my head around the corner, and breathe out a sigh of relief. Empty. At least as far as I can tell.
I don’t know why I’m so nervous. I’ve never felt this way before. My palms are sweating and my heart is racing. I can practically feel the blood pulsing through my veins. My mouth is suddenly dry. I’ve got to get ahold of myself.
I sit down on Violet’s ergonomic desk chair and boot up her fancy desk top. The blue glow illuminates my face. As it loads, I pull out my laptop and pop a software disk into the DVD slot. Using a VGI cable, I attach my computer to hers and run the program. It takes longer than I expected, and I’m practically twitching by the time the results pop up.
The software is designed to invade the computer’s memory and show a list of the most frequently typed combinations of key strokes. If Violet doesn’t change her password very often, every time she uses her computer, she types in the same password. I can’t see the results, but I can see where the letters are. So I do what any blind person would, and copy/paste.
I’m in by my third try.
Luckily, Violet doesn’t close out her windows when she shuts down her computer, and also has it set to come on where she left off. A few clicks and a lot of squinting and guessing later, I’m in her banking account. She has Google Chrome remember her passwords, too. Amateur mistake, Violet, you’re far too trusting, I think to myself as I finish the task I set out to do. She has accounts in six different banks, and though my gloved fingers stumble over the keys, my mission is complete in minutes. I quick hack to her email sets my work in stone, and I’m shutting down her computer an hour after I booted it up.
I leave everything as close as a blind person can get to how I found it. Hopefully, the computer will cool down before anyone comes to use it and the only evidence that I was ever here will be gradually resettling dust.
With justice served, I turn to leave.
And freeze in my tracks.
Footsteps. Coming this way. Footsteps coming this way very quickly, and very loudly. In the middle of the night, there are only two reasons why someone wouldn’t be worried about making noise. Either you live alone, or you’re rushing somewhere. With the thumping sound getting closer by the second, I’m inclined to believe that someone is hurrying in my direction. Logically, I can conclude that I’ve been discovered, but I can still hope that the sound has nothing whatsoever to do with me.
My usual calm abandons me and I frantically whip my head around, trying to find a suitable hiding spot. I curse my foggy vision and the overbearing darkness and dart behind the heavy curtains. It’s not a very good hiding spot, and I barely have the time to lean on the window sill and lift my socked feet off the ground before the door is wrenched open.
“They’re selling how many shares tomorrow?” I hear Violet’s voice. I don’t hear a response, but she gasps dramatically. At least I have one consolation – she’s alone. “This is amazing! That company is always bragging about how it doesn’t have shareholders. They must be in deep financial trouble…” She continues, but I tune her out. The squeak of her chair tells me she’s sitting at her desk. I hear a barely noticeable click-click-click of her typing in a password. She doesn’t seem suspicious at all that her computer came to life so quickly.
I hold my breath as I shift my weight slightly to look at the window, confident that I’ll be discovered at any moment and turned into the police. As a repeat offender, I won’t get away with a few lousy hours of community service – I’ll be sent to prison. And you can bet I won’t be treated as a minor, either.
I inspect the window carefully, quietly. It’s unlocked, but the place where the window meets the sill has been painted over. Many, many times. Getting it open will be time consuming, strenuous, and loud. Escaping this situation undetected requires three things I don’t have – time, a sound proof area, and upper body strength.
Violet yawns on the other side of the curtain. “I don’t know why I came rushing down here, the NYSE doesn’t open until nine-thirty. Thanks for the tip off, I’m going to go back to bed.”
The chair squeaks again, the door quickly follows. I wait an agonizing sixty seconds before oh so slowly lowering my feet to the floor and gently pulling back the curtain. The room is once again dark and empty.
I make my escape through the front door in total silence. I don’t even stop to put my shoes on until I reach the safety of the dimly lit road.
* * *
At 9:32 the next morning, I get a call from an angry Violet.
“What did you do, Axel?” she hisses.
“I do a lot of things, Ms. Dunhart, to what are you referring?”
“You know exactly to what I am referring! All my bank accounts are frozen, the passwords changed! I can’t even find the confirmation email!”
“A mystery indeed. Perhaps you accidentally marked it as spam and deleted it forever. But I’m sure you can find all of the passwords and unfreeze your accounts easily. If, of course, you have a little help. And I happen to know precisely how to uncover these lost passwords.”
“Tell me,” she growls.
I smile deviously. “You can’t get something for nothing, you know. I’ll need compensation for my services.”
I can tell she’s starting to catch on to my double talk. “Perhaps…I could provide several business contacts for you. I’m sure there are a lot of technology companies that would be interested in your innovations.”
“I think that will be acceptable.”
“We should meet in person to discuss this further.”
“At your home I presume?”
I can sense the gears turning in her head as she processes this, or maybe the feeling I’m getting is just her checking her schedule. “No...” she says finally. “I’m visiting the factory on Third Street this afternoon. It would be the most convenient for me if you came there. We’ll talk after my meeting, say around three?”
“I’ll be there.” I end the call.
* * *
I don’t know why I actually show up. I started having doubts during community service. Why would Violet be going to the factory? She’s an investor, not just for the Big Board, so she could be thinking about putting money into it.
The building is huge and hot. I feel my forehead break out into a sweat the moment I pull open the door. The sound hit me long before the smell of body odor and overheating metal, a roaring whirring thunder of moving machinery. This is where most of Wanton’s population works. Hundreds of people tend to chewy fruit snacks traveling slowly down the conveyer belt.
I walk up to a desk. Hopefully it has a secretary behind it.
“I’m meeting Violet Dunhart here; do you know where she is?”
“She’s on the line, probably near the mixer,” says a monotonous female voice. “I’ll get you a visitor’s pass.”
“Thanks.” I take the pass and wander to the line.
The sound gets louder as I get closer to the moving parts. I pass dozens of hair-netted people before finally getting to the mixer, a huge bowl constantly filling with high fructose corn syrup and dyes in different vibrant colors. I’m not standing there long before I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around, look down, and see Violet looking up at me.
“My passwords?”
“My contacts?”
She whips out her phone and says, “I’ll email them now.”
I whip out my own phone. “I’ll see what I can do from here.”
After only a few seconds of tapping on our respective devices, she waves her hand around like she’s trying to swat a fly. “I can’t concentrate here. Follow me, we’ll go someplace quieter.” She turns on her heel without waiting for a response. I follow behind her obediently.
We arrive at an inconspicuous door a few yards later, still staring at our phones. She opens the door and gestures for me to enter first, which is odd because she’s the lady; I’m supposed to be holding the door for her. Do the rules change with a blind person?
The second my feet cross the threshold, the door slams shut behind me. I twist around at the sudden sound. I’m alone in the small, dark room. I search for the door handle calmly. When I find it, I’m not surprised to find it locked.
“Violet, let me out of here. You’re being childish,” I say with my usual composure.
The door shakes as she kicks it. “I may not have the evidence to get you arrested, but I’m certainly not going to let you get away with what you’ve done. No one, and I mean no one, gets away with sabotaging Violet Dunhart. I’ll let you out the moment my bank accounts unfreeze. Oh, and you won’t be getting any contracts for a while, Axel.” I can hear the crazed tone in her voice. Violet Dunhart has completely and utterly lost it.
I was not expecting this.
Her heels click on the other side of the door as she walks away. She planned this well – the door locks from the outside, and no one would be able to hear me banging on the door with all the noise from the machines. I turn a slow 360. I’m in a supply closet full of what I’m sure are mops and brooms, but they could also be wigs on manikins. No one will be coming here until tonight when the janitor arrives to clean. I check my phone. No service. Nicely done.
I sit down criss-cross on the floor, but I don’t email Violet her passwords. Not yet. There has to be a way out here other than the door.
No sooner does the thought cross my mind than the door opens. The light makes me squint.
It’s Her. What is She doing her?
“What are you doing here?”
She takes a step into the room. “Don’t close the-” The door clicks shut behind Her. I leave the rest of my sentence unspoken. “Now we’re both trapped here,” I inform Her.
“Trapped?” She tugs on the handle. It rattles, but doesn’t move. “What did you do?” She yells at me.
“I didn’t do anything.” I explain to Her what happened with Violet.
“Well, email her the passwords, you criminal!”
“No chance. These patents were my fallback. If I give up on them, all I have is my inheritance. And contrary to what you may believe, I’m not a murderer.”
She falls to the ground and for the first time I notice something off about Her. I didn’t see it before – She was standing too far away – but Her hair isn’t in its usual high ponytail, it falls flat over Her shoulders. Getting kicked off the squad must have really depressed Her. Good. Losing my eyesight depressed me.
“What are you doing here?” I ask again.
“School field trip. I saw you and got suspicious. I figured you must be trying to ruin my life again if you were breaking the restraining order.”
“Not everything I do is about you, you know.”
She rolls Her eyes as She digs into Her purse. “Since we’re stuck here until your stubbornness wears off, you want a granola bar?” She hands me a rectangle packet the crinkles in my hand.
I rip open the wrapper and take a bite. I didn’t realize how hungry I was. “Thank you.” I cough into my elbow. “Very much.”
“You’re welcome,” She says reluctantly. “You gonna get us out of here now?”
I cough again as I take another bite. “No.”
“Are you okay? You’re coughing.”
“I think so…What’s in these?” I hold up the granola wrapper.
“Umm…I don’t know. Oats, sugar I guess, oranges-“
I splutter, spitting out the half-chewed mush in my mouth. “I’m allergic to oranges.”
“What?” I sense her eyes going wide as her voice raises an octave. “How bad?”
I start to wheeze. “Pretty badly. My airways will close in a minute.” I wiggle to lie down flat on my back and put my knapsack under my feet to elevate them.
“What do I do?” She sounds more panicked than I am.
“Epinephrine…would be nice… but we’re… locked in a closet.” I take as many deep breaths as I can as I feel my throat tightening. My chest feels heavy, like a huge weight has settled on my straining lungs. The dark room spins.
And suddenly I’m back in the fire. I can feel the heat of flames licking at my skin as I struggle for oxygen; smell the musty scent of smoke. My calm abandons me and I panic. I’m barely aware of my muscles jerking as I struggle to sit up. I feel the urge to run. I have to move. I can’t stay here! I’ll be killed by the roaring blaze. But I can’t move. Hands are holding me down. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!
* * *

I wake up in a hospital, surrounded by blinking and beeping machinery. At first, I don’t know what I’m doing here. But then I remember the closet, the granola, and Her. How did we get out? I have no idea.

“I climbed the shelves after you passed out. Near the ceiling, I got a signal and called 911,” She says. She’s sitting in a chair next to my bed.

I must have said that out loud.

“Listen, Axel, I’ve been thinking. How about we call off the whole revenge duel? I saved your life today, and as much as I hate to admit it, you saved mine in the fire.”

“I wasn’t aware we were having a ‘revenge duel’ as you put it. You’ve never retaliated.”

“Yeah…well…I was planning something. But now can it just be even Steven?”

“I see no reason why not. For me, it has been for a while.”

“Good.” She stands up. “I’m happy you’re still alive.” And with that, Candace leaves the room. I can just barely make out her arms reaching up to pull her hair back into a ponytail.

I lay there for a few minutes by myself. A nurse comes in once to check on me, but leaves soon after. And then the door slams inward and my mother scurries in, arms already stretched wide to hug me.

“Axel baby!” she says. “Are you okay? This is the second time you’ve been in the hospital in three months! But at least this time there aren’t any police officers waiting outside the room…Police officers aren’t going to come, are they?”

“No, Mom. I hate community service, it’s not like I’m going to get caught again.”

She considers my word choice for a moment, but settles on saying, “Scoot over.” I obligingly make room on the thin mattress and she lies down next to me. I lift my head automatically and she slips her arm under my neck. “You know you’re not supposed to eat oranges, I just don’t know what got into you.”

“Blindness, Mom, I couldn’t read the wrapper.”

“That’s no excuse, you could have died!”

“But I didn’t. Can we just forget it?”

“I’ll forgive, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

“Close enough.”

I’m discharged an hour later since my life is clearly no longer in jeopardy. I check my email when I get home, and I have dozens from technology companies like Google and Verizon. I smile to myself as I email Violet a list of her passwords. At least she knows when she’s been beaten. I wonder what that feels like.

Violet Dunhart sat on her ergonomic desk chair, frantically trying to pick up the pieces of her broken investments. A man with dark hair and gray eyes stands behind her.

“He’s smart,” said the man.

“Too smart for his own good,” Violet agreed. “Whatever you’re thinking, forget it. You can’t get the better of Axel Higgenbottom. Trust me, I know from experience.”

“I don’t want to get the better of him; I want to have the best of him.”

“What do you mean? You’re going to hire him? He’d never work for you.”

“We’ll see about that.”

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