**A/N: Time for another run at V&E! I hope you guys enjoy the brand new chapter one
“Remind me why I’m hacking into a police database again?”
“Because getting fired didn’t make me any less of a nosey reporter, and I have curiosities that need to be satisfied.”
“Oh, yeah, no. That totally makes sense. More than enough reason to risk spending the rest of both of our lives in a federal prison.”
Elias payne snorted as he lowered himself into the desk chair at his best friend’s side. He released the handle on his dog’s harnesss and drew his hand back to his lap. The humor on his face fell away as he stared at Jesse Jordan’s green blinking cursor on her laptop screen. “I need to know what happened to my dad once and for all. I’ve tried talking to the cops here, and the last thing they wanna do is talk to me about it. They always act like I’m out to get them or something. There’s only one who’s willing to chat about it, but only if I let him take me out to dinner.”
“It’s okay to do that, you know. And hey, maybe you’ll find that he’s a super nice guy too.”
Elias shook his head. “I’m pretty sure he wants more than dinner, JJ. I’m not ready for that.”
JJ nodded. “That’s okay. So… on the database side of things… if the police believed the crash wasn’t an accident, it would’ve been investigated further, and you’d definitely know about it. They ruled it an accident almost immediately after the crash, didn’t they?”
“I… I don’t know. I never knew much about the investigation. I remember the police talked to me in the hospital, but I don’t really remember much about what they asked or what I said. I need to see the report on that, if it ever led to a suspect, if it made them suspicious of the accident story. I need to know if even one cop on the force had any inkling that something was fishy about it all. I need to know anything they knew before I start from scratch again.”
After a moment, JJ nodded. “How long has it been?”
“Fifteen years. Sixteen next March.”
“Jesus. Fifteen years being told you’re crazy for thinking someone intentionally made you guys crash. I can’t even imagine, Elias.”
“You get used to it after a while.” Elias offered a little chuckle. “But still… I’d like to know if I really am crazy. I need to know.”
JJ nodded. She reached up to pull her dirty blonde hair into a ponytail, split it in half and gave either side a quick tug to tighten it against her scalp. Fingers interlocked and hands stretched toward her laptop, she smiled at Elias. “Let’s get to hacking.”
Elias had printed off his dad’s case file the exact moment JJ had brought it up on her computer. He’d paced the length of JJ’s home office for what felt like an eternity before the last page finished printing. Now he sat on the couch, a thin stack of warm paper in his hands.
“So… what do you think you’re hoping to find in there, exactly?”
“I don’t know. A starting point? Any tiny piece of information I don’t already know? Christ, at this point, I’d even take knowing they’d considered the crash suspicious for half a second. I’ll take just about anything I can get.”
JJ nodded. She clasped her hands between her knees and cleared her throat. “What if… none of that is in there?”
“Die a little more inside and keep looking, I guess?” Elias suggested. “I know the ‘accident’ wasn’t an accident. I was there, you know? But it’s always been like you’re the only one who believes me, sometimes more than I even believe myself. So I need proof that I’m right, once and for all. Dad deserves justice, even if no one else wants to give it to him.”
“Okay,” JJ said, her voice soft. “No matter what’s in that case file, I’ve got your back. If we have something to go off of in there, I’ll be right by your side while we follow the lead. If there’s nothing and we have to keep looking for something else, I’ll hack into just about anything you need me to. I’ve got you, Elias.”
Elias offered a smile, though holding his father’s case file in his hand made it more difficult than usual. “I know you do. Thank you, JJ. It means the world to me.”
“I know. You’re my family, Elias. Blood or not, it doesn’t matter. Any battle you want me to fight with you, I will.” JJ laid her hand on the stack of paper. “This one included.”
Elias gave JJ’s hand a tight squeeze, and after she moved it, he finally forced himself to look at the first page. His dad’s picture sat at the top right corner of the page. Though his stepmother had taken down every picture of his dad shortly after his death, he recognized the one they had used for the file. It had been taken at one of the last charity events his dad had attended before Elias’s mom had died. They had cropped the picture down to only show his head and shoulders, but Elias could still picture the rest of the light gray suit vest he had worn over a white button-up. The diagnoal striped black and white tie tucked into the four-buttoned vest. The thin gold chain that had gone from the top button to the pocket watch tucked into the vest’s pocket.
“Wonder if she kept the pocket watch,” Elias mumbled.
He glanced up at JJ. “Sorry. Just, umm, this picture. I know you can only really see his face, but he’s got a vest on, a pocket watch tucked into the pocket. I wonder if my stepmom kept the watch.”
“Do you think you could ask her?”
“Probably. But I don’t know if she’d remember for sure. Or how happy she’d be that I asked. She never really liked talking about Dad after he passed.” That had been a difficult thing for Elias to deal with after his dad’s passing. But, like with most things that occurred in his life, starting with his dad dying, he had managed through it. Somehow, managing took less energy and effort than blowing up or complaining. Shoving it all down in the bottle and twisting on the cap was so much easier.
“Do you know what she did with all of his things?”
“I honestly have no idea. I remember looking for all of it a few times when I was a kid. I checked the basement and the attic. Her home office, dad’s home office. I even snuck into the master bedroom a time or two. But I never found anything.”
“Maybe it’s all in a storage unit.”
Elias looked up at the ceiling. “I never thought of that.”
“There are only a couple in town. I’m sure I can find out if she’s registered with one of them pretty fast.”
“You’re going to hack into their databases, is what you mean,” Elias said, turning just enough to meet JJ’s eyes.
She smiled. “Something like that.”
Elias couldn’t help but roll his eyes, a small smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “You would’ve made a great career criminal, JJ.”
“Oh, believe me, I know.” She stood up from the couch, hands already working to pull her hair back into her hacking ponytail. “You don’t have to go through the file by yourself, okay? But I do totally want to find out where she’s keeping your dad’s things. You deserve them way more than they deserve to be locked up in some dusty shed.”
“I’ll be okay. And… thank you.” Elias chuckled, shaking his head. “Again.”
“Hey, this hacking is way more fun that the security shit I do at work.”
“Someday, your hacking skills will make some underground rebellion very happy.”
JJ flashed a grin and held up both hands, fingers crossed. “Here’s hoping.”
Elias watched her walk back to her office before he let his gaze wander back to the stack of papers in his hands. Admittedly, though the stack was thin, there was still more there than he’d expected there to be. Based on how many times he’d been told he was crazy over the years, he’d expected nothing more than a page or two of half-assed, lackluster investigative work. But in his hands, he held at least twenty pages worth of something.
And twenty pages of something was so much more than he ever could’ve dreamed of. There had to be something there.
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