Home > Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(2)

Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(2)
Author: Jay Crownover

I’d never had the opportunity to meet Snowden Stark before he came looking for me, but I knew all about him. Everyone in the digital underground did, and not because he was tied into some shady business dealings with Race Hartman and Nassir Gates, the undisputed golden king and dark knight of the Point. The two of them ruled this broken kingdom and it was no secret that Stark was their tech wizard. He was the one who made magic happen. Even before he sold his soul to the highest bidder, he’d been into some questionable practices behind his keyboard. It was rumored that he was the one who had hacked the state’s police database and sent the names, addresses, and mug shots of each and every possible sex offender to all the parents in the Point. Not the registered, supposedly rehabilitated pedophiles, but the ones who had gotten away with their crimes. The ones who hadn’t managed to get caught yet.

The watch list was long and terrifying. The list made its ways through schools and was talked about for weeks on the news. People were torn between fury at the invasion of privacy, since the names on the list belonged to people never convicted, and relief that the bad guys had names and faces before they could offend, or offend again. It was always trial by fire in the Point and nobody was really innocent until proven guilty. They were always guilty, and most of the time, they didn’t get caught. There was little the police could do without solid proof and witnesses. Stark didn’t operate that way. No one seemed too concerned when the people on that list started dropping like flies. Vigilante justice was nothing new in the Point. In fact, it was often the only kind of justice this place saw. Sure, some of the people with their name on Stark’s hit list left town and disappeared on their own, but it was common knowledge that most of them were run out of town by Nassir, and those who didn’t want to go disappeared another way. A more permanent and bloody way that involved shallow graves dug under the moonlight.

My favorite Stark story floating around was the one where he’d grounded an entire fleet of aircraft when his airline lost his luggage and proved less than helpful when it came to locating it. He jacked their entire system for two days, only relenting when his bags showed up in pristine condition. Of course, no one could ever prove it was him, but Twitter and the dark corner of the web—the figurative watercooler for hackers—were flooded with speculation. Everyone was impressed by him, and a little scared. Even the guys who made the Darknet . . . well . . . dark.

When he was a teenager, he supposedly hacked the un-hackable Department of Defense, just to prove he could. I heard he ended up in a federal prison for a year or so for that little act of defiance, but no one could actually verify it because he’d disappeared and any records that might have proved it ceased to exist. Years later, when he came back to the Point, the rumors about his time away and illegal acts were less outrageous, but no less persistent.

He hacked his college’s sexual assault complaint database and released the names of all the attackers who were never brought to justice. Everyone who had been named over the years, but had been excused or had their stories swept under the rug by both the school and law enforcement, was put on blast. Their faces were plastered on digital billboards and scrolled across the bottom of the news ticker bar. Their crimes spelled out in excruciating detail for the entire Point to see. It was another digital hit list, and once again, the eyes of Lady Justice remained blindfolded when the people behind the names started disappearing and turning up in the county morgues.

It was clear Stark didn’t like it when justice was overlooked and he didn’t mind a challenge. He had contacts on the Darknet, and some were digital versions of the men who ran the Point. Through cyberspace, they sold humans, sex, drugs, guns, murder . . . anything illegal and unsavory. Stark didn’t approve of some of the more chilling reasons people trolled the dark recesses of the Internet so he went out of his way to shut them down. Chat rooms dedicated to child pornography and pedophilia were annihilated and sites dedicated to human trafficking were mercilessly shut down. He was a one man wrecking ball and no one tried to stop him.

I was hoping both of those things would work in my favor as I prepared to beg and plead with him to pull my ass out of the proverbial fire.

I knocked on his door this time . . . like a normal person.

I shifted uneasily in my well-worn combat boots and ran my sweaty palms down the front of my freshly washed cargo pants. I made an effort to clean up before coming to see him. I didn’t want to show up unwashed and filthy, like I normally was. I needed him to take me seriously, and I figured if he were distracted by my smell and ratty hair, it would be counterintuitive to my endgame. Since I slept on the streets and in shelters most of the time, it paid off to be gross and unapproachable, but Stark didn’t live wild like I did. In fact, aside from his dealings with Race and Nassir, he didn’t have much to do with the Point. His only connection to this place was his longstanding friendship with Race. They went to high school together before Stark was taken away by men in dark suits with serious expressions. He seemed insulated from the violence and vitriol that came out of the place I called home. From what I knew, he kept his heavily tattooed hands clean of actual blood, just dabbling in digital carnage and warfare. I had no idea if he really knew what it was like out there in the real world, but I needed him to get a clue real quick. I needed him to understand that messing with someone’s life online had very real consequences. I still had no idea how my identity had been leaked to the guys looking for me, but they knew exactly who I was, and I knew what they could do with that knowledge. That’s why I was scared, standing on his doorstep, shaking, and willing to do whatever it took to guarantee his help.

I was lifting my hand to knock again when the door was suddenly flung open. Of course he knew I was there. When I broke in weeks ago, I’d had to bypass a security system that rivaled the NSA’s. He had cameras everywhere. He saw everything and everyone that was trying to get close. It wasn’t a simple case of breaking and entering; I’d had to work my way inside the labyrinth and was lucky I made it out in one piece.

I let out a yelp as my momentum pitched me forward, hands landing against rock-hard muscle as I braced myself against his chest. It was easy to forget how big he was. Massive all around. Tall, strong, and covered from his neck down in colorful, bold tattoos. His dark hair was cut short, showing off the multiple silver and diamond studs that dotted his ears and the tiny scar that curved across his temple, which left a startling straight line of white on his scalp. He had what looked like a barcode of some kind inked behind his ear and I wanted to ask him what it meant.

He didn’t look like any kind of geek—computer or otherwise. He looked like a brawler, a leg breaker, a leviathan. He looked like a beast, except for those dark, thick-framed glasses that sat over his slate-colored eyes. They were undoubtedly out of place with his fierce expression and intimidating appearance. They didn’t belong with the nearly shaved head and the tattoos. His eyes were narrowed at me under lowered brows. His mouth was in a hard, flat line as he grabbed my upper arms and purposely set me away from him. His hands were rough, calloused, and abrasive, but his hold was gentle. He crossed those massive arms over his broad chest once I had my balance, muscles popping and flexing with the smallest movement. It was annoying that he was so impressive to look at. I already had a semi-crush on him for his magnificent brain and the lure of his rumored sense of honor. I liked that he wanted to right wrongs, that he looked out for those who were constantly overlooked. It wasn’t fair that he was ridiculously hot on top of being the smartest guy I had ever encountered, willingly or not. I didn’t want to like him, and I really, really didn’t want to need him.

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