"Do you know any of them?" Noah asked.

"A few but just by reputation. I've never met any of them."


The side door to the meeting room opened, and in walked Brett. He was followed by a man who scanned the crowd as he took a step up on the platform and stood next to Brett. The man was older than Brett by about twenty years and heavier by thirty pounds. He wore a tailored black suit and a crisp white shirt with cuff links. His power red tie said he expected to be taken seriously. His hair was dark and thick and he wore it short, spiked up with hair gel. When he folded his arms, one couldn't help noticing the huge ring, set with a cluster of diamonds, and the large gold Rolex watch. The message was clear. He had money, and he wanted everyone to know it.

Brett didn't need a microphone, but he used one anyway.

"Most of you know me or have heard of me. For those who haven't, my name is Brett Keaton, and standing next to me is Fred Stiles. Once I finished the design for this software, I took it to him and he immediately got on board. He'll take care of the financial on the sale. Whoever buys this is going to set the world on fire." 

Liam continued to watch the screen, and then he said, "I'm going to run his name."

"I'll do it," Noah said. "I've got a feeling we aren't going to like what we find."

As it turned out, he was right. One phone call was all it took to know that Fred Stiles was a sleazebag. He had been involved in one shady deal after another. He'd made a lot of money fleecing the unsuspecting. Like a shark who smelled blood in the water, Stiles could sense vulnerability. He'd sweep into a distressed company, drain it of every dollar, then walk away. And all of it was legal. There had been countless complaints filed against him, but nothing ever stuck.

"Sounds like a real nice guy," Liam commented.

"That's not all," Noah said. "He's been investigated several times for his connection to organized crime. They haven't been able to pin anything on him yet, but they're pretty sure he had something to do with a couple of mob executions." After giving his report on Stiles, Noah added, "He's evidently got quite a temper."

"I'd sure love to help him lose it," Liam said.

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Allison's eyes narrowed on the jerk who had stolen her work and was now bragging about it. When Liam took hold of one of her hands, she thought he was offering her comfort and appreciated the gesture, until it dawned on her that he was holding on to her in case she tried to bolt.

The lights behind the podium dimmed as Brett continued to boast. "My software will take care of every security threat out there and some you may not even know about yet. No longer will you have to update your firewalls or your antivirus and antispyware software. Identities and passwords will be protected from hackers like never before." He picked up a remote control from the podium and turned to the screen. "Now I'll give you a peek at the product and then answer your questions."

He pushed a button, and a video appeared on the screen. Earth as seen from outer space came into view, and the shot grew closer and closer until it settled on a busy urban street with cars and people rushing about helter-skelter. An unseen announcer with a deep baritone voice said, "The world is a hectic place, and the speed at which it's changing is increasing exponentially. Information is king. Protecting that information, whether it be personal or business, has become one of the major challenges of our lifetime." The voice continued, and after a few of the security problems of the digital world were described, Brett paused the video and turned to his audience. With a self-assured and rather arrogant air, he said, "I now introduce you to the solution for every security problem you will ever face."

Some of Brett's guests leaned forward with interest. Others looked at the screen with obvious skepticism.

Brett pushed the button again. The screen came to life and what appeared to be the name of the software materialized in letters too small to read. As they moved forward, they became bigger. When the word was almost legible, the video suddenly stopped. The screen went blank. Brett pushed the button again, and then again. Nothing happened. He glanced around at the faces staring up at him and could feel the perspiration on his hands. He turned back to the screen and gave the button another stab. This time the video started again, but it wasn't exactly what Brett was expecting.

In big bold letters a message scrolled down the screen: Brett Keaton, did you really think you could steal my work and get away with it? For those of you watching, my name is Allison Trent, and I'm the creator of this program. There's a vital piece missing, but Brett isn't smart enough to know it. You're a thief, Brett, a thief and a liar and a cheat.

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