Hacker – Chapter Twenty-Three

NOT EDITED

Chapter Twenty-Three

Sunday: March 18, 2029
1:13 AM; SAN DIEGO, THE PITMAN ESTATE, OFFICE

Bo pushed the chair back under Jamal’s desk. Much like at the station, it had taken him much longer to fix the server than he was willing to admit, and the ‘fix’ wasn’t something he was certain of. At this point, it was merely hoping he’d done his job successfully.

Bo rested his hands on the back of the desk chair, bowing his head as he closed his eyes. He wasn’t so much tired as he was exhausted, and he knew that was just in his head. Mentally, emotionally, he was worn down. The relaxed state he had been in yesterday morning and into the late afternoon was long gone, replaced with… whatever foggy feeling swarmed his head and body now.

The kids had gone to bed nearly as soon as they arrived at the estate, and Bo and Jensen had come straight up to the office. An hour or so ago, Bo had noticed Jensen had fallen asleep on the couch, like any normal person would after sacrificing the quality of their sleep for several nights in order to assure their husband didn’t harm himself.

Bo let out a breath, forcing his eyes open as he lifted his head. His gaze landed on the younger man, still sprawled out on the couch, one hand touching the floor. Bo considered waking him, but even he knew that would be selfish.

Instead, he pushed away from the chair and headed out of the room, flipping off the light as he walked through the doorway. He headed down the hall and down the stairs. He knew the gym was in the basement. He figured he could run a couple miles on the treadmill and grab a shower afterward. If he was lucky, he could manage at least an hour of sleep afterward.

If not, at least he had given it a shot.

3:01 AM; SAN DIEGO, THE PITMAN ESTATE, BASEMENT, GYM

Jensen stood in the doorway of Jamal’s in-home gym, arms crossed over his chest. He leaned against the doorframe, eyes on his husband’s back as the blonde drove a fist into the boxing bag hanging from the ceiling. Jensen wasn’t sure how long Bo had been at the bag or how long he’d been working out in general, but he knew the older man was exhausted. He could see it in Bo’s movements, in the way he held himself.

“Eli.”

Bo lifted his head, pressing a hand to the bag to stop it from swinging back into him. “Yeah?”

“How long you been down here?”

“What time is it?”

“Three.”

“About two hours,” Bo said.

“You should grab a shower and come to bed,” Jensen said.

“I’m fine.”

“Eli.” Jensen cleared his throat. “Come here, babe.”

With a sigh, Bo stepped away from the bag. He snagged his shirt from the bench and pulled it over his head. He turned, hesitating for only a moment before crossing the room. “I’m gross and sweaty,” he warned.

“Don’t care,” Jensen mumbled. Hooking an arm around the blonde’s shoulders, he pulled him to his chest. “This could be considered unhealthy, Eli. Were you boxing the whole time?”

“Basically ran a marathon.” Bo wrapped his arms around Jensen, closing his eyes. “Then did some push ups… then boxing.”

“Jesus Christ, Eli.”

“I know.”

Jensen rubbed a small, soothing circle between Bo’s shoulders. “Let’s get your hands unwrapped, okay? Then we’ll take a quick shower and go to bed. You need to sleep. Like, actually sleep.”

“Yeah,” Bo said quietly. “Sure, Jens. Let’s, umm, let’s do that.”

4:36 AM; SAN DIEGO, THE PITMAN ESTATE, GUEST BEDROOM

Bo opened his eyes as Jensen’s arm tightened around his chest. Bo shifted, tucking his chin to his chest long enough to look down at Jensen’s watch. Just under an hour of sleep. Lovely, Bo thought.

He closed his eyes, his jaw tense. Was this what it would be like when he took over for Jamal? Sleepless nights, miserable days, living life in a fog? Would he and his family be in constant danger because he was stupid enough to accept Jamal’s offer?

Bo knew Jamal had lost his wife and his kids. He knew that was because of a drug dealer, someone Jamal had busted in narcotics. It was a crime related to his job as a cop, not his job with the mob. Bo knew Jamal had lost several of his men in the past, some to deals gone wrong, some to something as common as a car accident.

Bo just wasn’t sure which one had been more dangerous for Jamal. Since joining forces with the Lucchese family again, had he lost anyone he loved in a mob-related incident? Or had the Lucchese family done their promised job of keeping his loved ones safe?

Bo let out a quiet sigh, opening his eyes once more. He had quite a few questions that needed answering, obviously. Would Jamal be awake? Or would that be just another example of what an insensitive, uncaring asshole Bo could be?

He figured the second option was his best bet. Waking an old, already injured Jamal would be nearly cruel. Bo would just… stare at the wall for a few more hours before getting on with his day.

8:40 AM; UNITED STATES, UNKNOWN LOCATION

The Hacker stared at their computer screen, arms crossed over their chest. They had been able to get into two different servers the day before, both of which had had at least some form of dirt on Bo Austen.

Today, they were boxed out of both of them.

They scoffed, leaning back in their desk chair. To say they were surprised was an understatement. They had never personally met Bo Austen, and, truthfully, they knew next to nothing about the forensic analyst, save for all the dirt they’d managed to scrape together from the servers.

They hadn’t known he would be able to figure out where that information had come from, or that he would be able to close them out of getting anything more on him.

“Impressive,” they murmured, moving a hand up to cover their mouth. Maybe some of the dirt had been… wrong. Would a depressed, suicidal, unstable mind be able to close them out of two different servers that quickly?

They grunted, leaning forward in their chair. They pulled out the little shelf their keyboard sat on and opened a new tab. When they had dug into Bo Austen, they had only search for the bad things he had done. They had never gone out of their way to find anything good, anything impressive, anything about his daily life.

So when they searched the blonde’s name, they were rather surprised at everything that popped up on their screen.

BO AUSTEN, FORENSICS’ VERY OWN KATHY BAKER
BO AUSTEN SET TO TAKE OVER FOR JAMAL PITMAN IN 2030
BO AUSTEN, HOW MUCH IS HE REALLY WORTH?
WHAT BO AUSTEN SAYS ABOUT SERIAL KILLERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

They frowned, scrolling through page after page of articles about the little forensics nerd. He was a leader in the advancement in the field. He had written an article for a forensics magazine and, according to several bitter news sources, he had denied to write several others. He had turned down countless interviews, claiming that fame wasn’t for him.

He had paid off several funeral services, donated money to parks and charities throughout the years. He had money in stocks, money in technology. The man was married to a former bodyguard, current police sergeant, and had a family, two houses, two jobs. He was a success.

The Hacker leaned back again, dropping their hands to their lap. Maybe convincing Bo Austen-Taylor to throw himself off a roof wouldn’t be quite as easy as they had once assumed.

They couldn’t help but see that as some sort of tragedy.

10:02 AM; SAN DIEGO, THE PITMAN ESTATE, KITCHEN

“I thought you were on strict bed rest for the day.”

Jamal glanced back at Bo over his shoulder, offering an innocent smile. “Why, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Bo rolled his eyes, gingerly crossing his arms over his chest. To say he was sore from his workout earlier that morning was an understatement. He had overexerted himself, no doubt about it, and he was certainly paying for it now. “Does Frank know you’re up?”

“Yep.”

“I thought his job was to keep you in bed.”

“His job’s whatever I tell him his job is. And currently, his job is helping the girls with the horses and the stables,” Jamal said. He turned, grunting as he leaned back against the counter, a coffee mug in his hand. “Coffee?”

Bo lifted his shoulders. “Coffee could be nice,” he said quietly.

“Mm.” Jamal reached back and pulled open the cupboard, grabbing a mug. “A little birdie tells me you worked a little too hard in the gym this morning. How many miles did you manage?”

“Nine. Felt like two little, though. I normally run faster than that.”

“You’ve been skipping out on the gym, Bo. It’s reasonable that you’d lose a little bit of your usual flair,” Jamal said. He cleared his throat, leaning to the side ever so slightly as he watched Bo pour himself a cup of coffee. “How’d you sleep?”

“Managed about an hour.”

“Jesus Christ, Bo.”

“I know. Not doing so great this weekend,” Bo admitted. He retreated to the island, lifting himself onto it. He held his coffee mug to his chest, letting out a sigh. “What’re your great plans for the day?”

Jamal held up a cell phone. “Waiting for the phone to ring and hope our little queen gives us the address to the hive.”

Bo nodded. “Right,” he said quietly. “Jamal?”

“Mmhmm?”

“In general, is this depressing, miserable fog I’m in going to me every day for the rest of my life? I mean… because I’m going to take over for you?”

“No. You’ll have a team of people more than willing to help you at all hours, Bo.”

“What about my family?”

“The same people who are helping you will always make sure your family is safe, Bo. Nothing happens to you or them before I’m dead, and I’ve got shit in place to make sure that standard is upheld long after my death, as well,” Jamal said.

Bo grimaced. “I’d like to not talk about your death, Pitman.”

“Sure, kiddo. My bad.” Jamal cleared his throat. “Your kids seem cautious of Mekhi.”

“Well, he is a giant.”

“Mm.” Jamal chuckled. “Yes, there is that.”

“Jamal?”

“Yeah?”

“Since… Ever since your wife died and you joined the family again, have you lost anyone close to you? Anyone you considered family?” Bo asked.

Jamal glanced up briefly, shaking his head. “Not in anything related to my job or affiliations, no,” he said. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

“Yes, and rightfully so,” Bo said. “You know… in case you’ve forgotten about the open threat on my life.”

“That’s meant to hurt me, not you. No one except for your brother has ever threatened to hurt your family to get to you,” Jamal said. “I know you’re worried that this is what it will always be like, but it won’t. Not every single day is marked by fear and terror and looking over your shoulder. Your guards, your men? They are on the lookout for those dangers, and when they find one, they alert you of it. They alert you again when the threat’s eliminated. They know what they’re doing, and ninety-nine of hundred days, you’re in no real danger, even if there’s an active threat,” Jamal said.

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Bo let out a breath, his shoulders slumping. “What’re you going to do when I take over for you? Do you have something planned? Are you just going to stay here?”

“I have a little… Oh, let’s call it a vacation. I have things to do elsewhere for a little while. I’ll be back here to annoy the shit out of you afterward,” Jamal said, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“Never in a lifetime, Jamal. Annoy all you want to,” Bo assured. “I was going to talk to Mister Lawrence to warn him about Wilkinson, but I don’t know if that’s something I can handle at the present moment. I was wondering if you could ask Wayne or Nicole to speak to Wilkinson instead, maybe… get him to join their, uh, support group.”

“Are you sure that’s where you want him?” Jamal asked. “Because I think my gun and I know a much better place to keep him.”

“I’m sure, Jamal.” Bo sighed, staring at his coffee cup. It needed creamer and sugar before he was willing to go anywhere near it, but he figured that could wait. “Mekhi says Wilkinson and Lawrence are dating. That’s… what made my decision for me. If it were Jensen and me, and someone had the option to kill me or send me away to a serial killer support group, I’d sure hope they’d give me the chance to join the group before killing me and taking me from my family.”

“But if they weren’t dating…?”

“Leave them alone, Jamal.”

Jamal offered a smile. “Of course, kiddo. I won’t lay a single finger on them,” he promised. He nodded toward the refrigerator. “Why don’t you add some creamer to that and head on outside? I think the girls were planning on riding the horses. Being outside in the open might help you… adjust to the day. Maybe you’ll feel a little better.”

“I’ll wait until Jensen’s up.” Bo cleared his throat. “Are the boys still asleep?”

“Yeah, they were when I came downstairs, anyway.” Jamal pushed himself away from the counter, a hand touching his chest briefly. “Go wake up your husband and go outside. The sun’s good for you, kiddo. Take advantage of that.”

“Sure, Jamal,” Bo murmured. He reached out and squeezed Jamal’s hand as soon as the older man held it out to him. “I love you.”

Jamal smiled. “Love you, too, kiddo.”


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