I’m awakened by a knock on the door. I roll over, bury my head in the pillow, hoping whoever it is will just go away. But the knocking continues. It’s incessant. I roll out of bed, grab my phone, and trudge to the door.

I look through the peephole. Standing on my doorstep is a young man in his mid-twenties, wearing a dark blue sweatshirt, zipped to the top, hood pulled over a ball cap. He wears dark sunglasses, even though the morning sun is just beginning to break. He looks around nervously, and then wraps his knuckles on the door again.

My brother.

I sigh as I shake my head and open the door. “Richael, what’re you doing here?”

“It’s Ren, and are you kidding me, bro?” he says, as he pushes past me into the apartment. “You asked me to come, remember?”

“Yeah, but that was over a month ago. And I haven’t from you since. What took so long?”

He looks at me as if I’m crazy for asking. “I had to make sure the coast was clear. You know?”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “Is that why you’re dressed like Zac Efron on a Starbucks run?”

“You can never be too careful,” he says as he pulls down his hood and takes off his cap and sunglasses.

With my father’s piercing blue eyes and my mother’s wavy sandy brown hair, he’d fit right in here with the beachgoers. If he wasn’t so damn pale, that is.

“Well, at any rate, it’s good to see you. Coffee?”

“Black. Strong. Leave a little room for sugar,” he says as he slides his backpack off, opens it, and pulls out a laptop.

I head into the kitchen to brew a pot. “Hey, look, I appreciate you coming all this way.” I call out to him, “but you’re too late. The magazine went under.”

“That’s convenient,” he says from the other room as he clacks away on his keyboard.

“How so?”

“Bro, you’re writing a story about a super hot tech company, a guy who works there hands you some encrypted info, he winds up dead, then the magazine that was going to publish the story folds? Suspect.”

“Not everything is a conspiracy, little brother.

“Isn’t it, though?”

All I can do is laugh. “Whatever. Hey, if you need wifi, the password is—”

“I’m already on it.”

“Right,” I say as I pour a mug for each of us and walk back into the study.

“Nice laptop,” I say, as I put down his coffee and the sugar bowl. “What brand is that, Alienware?”

“Yeah, the 18 is a beast,” he says as he spoons heaping teaspoon after heaping teaspoon of sugar into his coffee. “32 gigs of RAM, fourth gen Intel Core i7 processor. It has a base speed of 2.7 gigahertz but can overclock up to 4.3.” He takes a healthy swig of his coffee, frowns, and adds another teaspoon of sugar to it. “You have the flash drive?”

“Right here,” I say as I grab it off the counter.

He stares at me as I hand it to him. “You just leave it out in the open? For anyone to see?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t get many visitors, but yeah, why?”

He shakes his head as he pops the flashdrive into his souped-up laptop. “Okay, let’s take a look,” he says.

Watching an actual hacker is nowhere near as exciting or ridiculous as it is in the movies. No vigorous typing or punching of the keys. No big red “DENIED” warning or animated character laughing at him.

I begin to open the shades to let some sun in.

“Dude! I’m working here,” he says not looking up from his screen.

He returns to talking to himself, shaking his head.

Bored, I grab my phone and scroll through my social feeds. After 20 minutes or so of catching up on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, he says, “All right. I’m in.”

“Already?” I say, amazed.

“Yeah,” he says. “It wasn’t that hard.”

“How’d you do it?”

“Well, flash drives like this SanDisk use AES 256-bit hardware encryption,” he says, “which is supposedly the highest of security standards. Good enough for any and all sensitive government data.”

“I’m with you so far…”

“The system is virtually impossible to crack, so you have to attack the password entry mechanism, which contains a fatal flaw.”

“Go on…”

“During a successful authorisation procedure the program will, regardless of the password, send the same character string to the drive after performing various crypto-ops.”


“So I wrote a script for the password entry program that sends the appropriate string to the drive, ignoring the password entered, which gave me immediate access to all the data on the drive.”

“Aaand… you lost me…”

“Don’t worry about the details. Just be thankful you have a genius for a brother,” he says with a smile.

“Indeed. Who knew all those summers spent indoors at computer camp would pay off, huh, Ren?”

His smile turns wry. He downs the remainder of his sugar coffee and holds out his mug.

I grab it and head into the kitchen to fill it up, leaving plenty of room this time for sugar.

“So what’s on it?” I say as I hand him his refill.

“That, I’m not sure,” he says. “I’m going to need some time with it to poke around.”

“All right,” I say. “I’m going to order in some chicken and waffles from Bru’s.”

“Nice,” he says, with a wide grin. “Get some avocado fries for me, too.”

“Will do,” I say, as I place the order online.

The minutes pass as I watch him work. I smile to myself. There’s something special about brothers. They’ve seen you at your best—and worst. They’ve shared moments with you no other human being on the planet has and—

“Gonna take a piss,” he says as he gets up from the desk and shoves me out of the way. “Don’t fucking touch anything.”

Ah, brothers.

The food arrives twenty minutes later. I take it to the kitchen, drop it on the table, and walk over to the bathroom. “You can come out now,” I say. Delivery guy’s gone.”

Starving, we dig in.

“Man, that’s good,” he says, in between handfuls of fries.


“They have a couple of Southern breakfast joints out in Portland, but nothing like this.”

“You’re living in Portland now?”

“In a small town, just outside of it, actually. It’s basically farmland, but the local comm company provides one gig broadband for, like, a hundred bucks a month.”

I nod, appreciative of him letting me into his world.

We eat in silence for a bit, enjoying the comfort and familiarity of not having to say anything.

“You still talk to Courtney?” he asks.

“It’s been a while,” I say, pouring the last of the syrup over my chicken.

“She’s in Austin now.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say, feeling a bit sheepish. “I follow her bakery on Instagram.”

“Bro…” he says with a accusatory look.

“I know. I know.  It’s just–

“No one blames you, you know, for—”

“Thanks, man. Anyway, I’m seeing someone out here. Alaina. We’ve been on a few dates, and it’s going well. She’s great. Ma would’ve liked her at least.”

He doesn’t reply, just shovels a half a waffle into his mouth.

“She was friends with David,” I say. “The guy who gave me the flash drive.”

“Interesting,” he says, as he looks at me. “How good of friends?”

“Good, I guess. I mean, I don’t really know.”

“You said he was in the IT department?”



“Why is that interesting?”

“He seems to have had access to a lot of info, bro. He definitely wasn’t the dude they called when Laura from accounting needed to update her PC, that’s for sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m still not sure what he gave you,” he says, as he stuffs the last of the fries into his mouth. “There are a lotta folders with tons of what appear to be financial docs. I need to cross-reference them with some databases. Can’t do it here, though.” He wipes his mouth and stands up. “Thanks for breakfast.”

“Sure thing. Hey, you wanna get outta here?” I say, as I follow him into the study. “Head to the beach and rent some beach cruisers and ride up and down the boardwalk, like we did when we were kids?”

“Maybe another time. I gotta go, bro. I’m on the 1:00 Express.

“Oh, I say, caught off guard by his sudden departure.

“Okay, if I take this with me?” he says as he pulls the flash drive out of his laptop.

“Yeah. Sure,” I say.

He packs his bag and puts his “disguise” back on.

“Well, I’ll at least walk with you to the—”

“Better if I go alone,” he says as he heads for the door. “You can never be too careful, bro.”

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