“I don’t get it.” Stef adjusted her round reading glasses and peered at the laptop screen. “These random flags keep popping up in my website code. This has to be the fifteenth time I’ve fixed this stupid thing.”
Okay, so it was probably more like the fifth. But still. I’m slipping. I must be getting old. Horrors.
“What is it this time?” Jena entered from the kitchen, digging into a container of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked with a teaspoon. Must be time to do dishes again. My turn. Stef grimaced, glaring at the offending code.
“Just the website,” she said. “Acting up again.”
Jena settled on the couch and propped her feet up against Stef, who sat Indian-style on their lumpy sofa. Stef glanced at her friend. Rough day at work if Jena had already abandoned the business suit for her tank top and fuzzy Eeyore pajama pants.
Stef had given her the Pooh-inspired pants last Christmas. Seemed appropriate. Fortunately, Jena possessed a hidden sense of ironic humor and had loved the gift. Who’s the gift-giving queen? Yup. That’s right. Me.
“No one’s supposed to have access to my website in the first place.” Stef scowled. “Someone’s hacking my site. And no matter how many times I change the password, they still manage it.”
Stupid know-it-all computer nerds. Probably some geek in a college dorm room doing it for a laugh. It didn’t impair the site’s function at all, just kept sending annoying error messages to Stef’s Inbox. Jerk. What did I ever do to you?
“What if you copied the section of code into a blank page to see what comes up?”
“Well, that’s a silly idea.” Stef snorted, even as she did what Jena suggested. Her friend had a sense about things like that.
“Wait.” Stef glared at the screen. “It’s different this time—it’s a URL—what?!”
Jena leaned forward to peer over her shoulder and burst out laughing. Of course. She was right. Because she’s always right. One of these days, maybe on my birthday, I’ll finally be right for once.
Stef shot Jena an annoyed glance for the sake of principle and entered the web address into her browser. “If this is a virus that makes my screen turn pink and be covered with mice singing Britney Spears, I’m blaming you.”
“Noted.” Jena smirked.
Stef frowned as the webpage loaded. “Dillards? What’s the point of that? This is the weirdest hacker ever.”
“Stef. It’s not just the Dillard’s website.” Jena narrowed her eyes. “It’s the ladies’ handbag section.”
No. It can’t be. Stef’s mouth fell open, and it seemed too much trouble to close it. Eser. Has to be. No one else would hack my website to send me a link to the handbag section. Double jerk.
Jena laughed again, a bemused expression flitting across her features. She leaned back. “Must be a slow day on the anti-Ghazi front.”
“That jerk.” Stef snapped her mouth shut and straightened. “Hours of work fixing that website, all those error messages. He’s probably holed up somewhere, laughing maniacally to himself.”
Devious, egotistical ex-terrorist geek. Scratch the dorm room. This is worse.
Jena raised an eyebrow, leaning back and taking a deliberate spoonful of her ice cream. She met Stef’s gaze. “Nice to know they’re still alive, I guess.”
Leave it to Jena to put a logical perspective on it. Stef sighed, setting aside her computer and snuggling under her fleece blanket. “I suppose.”
The second eyebrow joined the first, and Stef rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine. It’s a relief to know they’re okay. Even if Eser has to be a jerk-face about it.”
“Well, some people never change.” Jena shrugged.
The door slammed and Kris entered, tossing her coat over the dining room chair. She collapsed in a convenient Lazy-boy and grimaced at them. “Some people. They just have to cause trouble, you know?”
Stef smirked, swapping glances with Jena. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Pulling off her shoes, Kris curled deeper in the chair and eyed them with suspicion. “I’ve missed something.”
Stef opened her mouth, then hesitated. Should she say anything? Kris always got this wistful, pained expression when the Katiller came up, made all the worse by her brave face. Stef glanced at Jena, who nodded.
Stef turned to Kris. “Took me long enough to figure it out. A hidden message embedded in my website code by a singularly persistent and proficient hacker.”
Kris stared at her a moment, her expression changing as Stef’s meaning registered. “The Katiller?”
“Seems to be.”
Leaning back in the armchair, Kris smirked. “Eser hacked your website?”
Stef scowled. Why does everyone seem to think it’s so funny? Oh, well. It was nice to see some signs of life, know the Katiller were still safe, out there, somewhere.
Even if it had to come at the expense of her website and dignity.
Oooo. Stef leaned closer. A brilliant green handbag. The most beautiful one she’d ever seen. Except for maybe her orange one. She clicked on the link, grinning as the photos came up. Stunning. I know what’s going on my Christmas list.
She scrolled down, inspecting the reviews, and froze.
The third comment down. It didn’t make any sense. If you need a replacement for The Monstrosity, message me. GeekCentral.
Stef scowled. Oh, you think you’re so clever, do you? A quick search revealed the site mentioned and the username. She smirked. Do I have a surprise for you…
Come on, Stef. How long does it take for you to figure out one little hack? Eser stretched, back arching as vertebrae popped. He refused to look at the small, empty dialogue window in the corner of his laptop, focusing instead on the current data stream he’d hijacked from the nearby Russian military base.
At least, that was his excuse if any of his nosy brothers woke up and tried to sneak a peek at what he was doing.
Hacking into Stef’s online jewelry site the first week had been a distraction. The second week had him chuckling as he hacked the site again, imagining the particular pout Stef always got when things acted contrary to her wishes. But now—now it’s just frustrating.
A soft ping from the computer alerted Eser to—a userID name change? He frowned, pulling up GeekCentral. Someone had changed his online name to PinkFluffySingingMice. And someone with the username RememberFred had just logged into his chat page and left a message. You think you’re such a clever boy.
That could only be Stef. It had to be.
Giddy relief swept through him at the proof that she was still there, that she still remembered them–remembered him. His eyes narrowed and he let a rare grin spread over his face. Eser moved his cursor toward Stef’s username.
So that’s how you want to play, huh? Challenge accepted.
You can read more of Stef and Eser’s story in Kenan, Book 1 of the Katiller series, available at the Crosshair Press bookstore. Enjoy more character shorts from the series on the Katiller section of our blog.