They’d shaved his head and sent him to a reform school.
Could life suck any worse? Probably. Since he was only fifteen, he had years under the system’s thumb to find out.
Hanging around in the doorway to the barracks, Troy Donavan scanned the room for his rack. The dozen bunk beds were half-full of guys with heads shaved as buzz-short as his—another victory for dear old dad, getting rid of his son’s long hair. God forbid anyone embarrass the almighty Dr. Donavan. Although, catching the illustrious doc’s son breaking into the Department of Defense’s computer system did take public embarrassment to a whole new level.
Now he’d been shuttled off to this “jail,” politely disguised as a military boarding preparatory program in the hills of North Carolina, as per his plea agreement with the judge back home in Virginia. A judge his father had bought off. Troy clenched his hand around his duffel as he resisted the urge to put his fist through a window just to get some air.
Damn it, he was proud of what he’d done. He didn’t want it swept under the rug, and he didn’t want to be hidden like some bad secret. If the decision had been left up to him, he would have gone to juvie, or prison even. But for his mom, he’d taken the deal. He would finish high school in this uptight place, but if he kept his grades up and his nose clean until he turned twenty-one, he could have his life back.
He just had to survive living here without his head exploding.
Bunk by bunk, he walked to the last row where he found Donavan, T. E. printed on a label attached to the foot of the bed. He slung his duffel bag of boring crap onto the empty bottom bed.
A foot in a spit-shined shoe swung off the top bunk, lazing. “So you’re the Robin Hood Hacker.” A sarcastic voice drifted down. “Welcome to hell.”
He hated the whole Robin Hood Hacker headline that had blazed through the news when the story first broke. It made what he did sound like a kid’s fairy tale. Which was probably more of his dad’s influence, downplaying how his teenage son had exposed corrupt crap that the government had been covering up.
“Don’t call you that…or what?” asked the smart-ass on the top bunk with a tag that read: Hughes, C. T. “You’ll steal my identity and wreck my credit, computer boy?”
Troy rocked back on his heels to check the top bunk and make sure he didn’t have the spawn of Satan sleeping above him. If so, the devil wore glasses and read the Wall Street Journal.
“Apparently you don’t know who I am.” With a snap of the page, Hughes ducked back behind his paper. “Loser.”
Screw that. Troy was a freakin’ genius, straight As, already aced the ACT and SAT. Not that his parents seemed to notice or give a damn. His older brother was the real loser—smoking weed, failing out of his second college, knocking up cheerleaders. But their old man considered those forgivable offenses. Problems one’s money could easily sweep under the rug.
Getting caught using illegal means to expose corrupt DOD contractors and a couple of congressmen was a little tougher to hide. Therefore, Troy had committed the unforgivable crime—making mommy and daddy look bad in front of their friends. Which had been his intent at the start, a lame attempt to get his parents’ attention. But once he’d realized what he’d stumbled into—the graft, the bribes, the corruption—the puzzle solver inside him hadn’t been able to stop until he’d uncovered it all.
No matter how you looked at it, he hadn’t been some Robin Hood do-gooder, damn it.
He yanked open his duffel bag full of uniforms and underwear, trying to keep his eyes off the small mirror on his locker. His shaved head might reflect the light and blind him. And since rumor had it half the guys here had also struck deals, he needed to watch his back and recon until he figured out what each of them had done to land here.
If only he had his computer. He wasn’t so good at face-to-face reads. The court-appointed shrink that evaluated him for trial said he had trouble connecting with people and lost himself in the cyberworld as a replacement. The Freud wannabe had been right.
And now he was stuck in a freaking barracks full of people. Definitely his idea of hell.
He hadn’t even been able to access a computer to research the criminal losers stuck here with him. Thanks to the judge, he was limited to supervised use of the internet for schoolwork only—in spite of the fact he could handle the academics with his eyes closed.
He dropped down to sit beside his bag. There had to be a way out of this place. The swinging foot slowed and a hand slid down.
It wasn’t a computer, but thank God it was electronic. Something to calm the part of him that was totally freaking over being unplugged. Troy didn’t even have to think twice. He palmed the game and kicked back in his bunk. Mr. Wall Street Hughes stayed quiet, no gloating. The guy might actually be legit. No agenda.
For now, Troy had found a way through the monotony. Not just because of the video game. But because there was someone else not all wrapped up tight in the rules.
Maybe his fellow juvie refugees might turn out to be not so bad after all. And if he was wrong—his thumbs flew across the keyboard, blasting through to the next level—at least he had a distraction from his first day in hell.
Hillary Wright seriously needed a distraction during her flight from D.C. to Chicago. But not if it meant sitting behind a newlywed couple intent on joining the Mile High Club.
Her cheeks puffed with a big blast of recycled air as she dropped into her window seat and made fast work of hooking up the headset. She would have preferred to watch a movie or even sitcom reruns, but that would mean keeping her eyes open with the risk of seeing the duo in front of her making out under a blanket. She just wanted to get to Chicago, where she could finally put the worst mistake of her life behind her.
Hillary switched from the best of Kenny G before it put her to sleep, clicking through the stations until she settled on a Broadway channel piping in “The Sound of Music.” Passengers pushed down the aisle, a family with a baby and a toddler, then a handful of businessmen and women, all moving past her to the cheap seats where she usually sat. But not today. Today, her first-class seat had been purchased for her by the CIA. And how crazy was that? Until this month, her knowledge of the CIA only came from television shows. Now she had to help them in order to clear her name and stay out of jail.