As forceful as his hangover allowed him, Jonathan shook off Matt’s hand. He got up, pushed past Victoria and hurried to the door, but before he reached it a monkey-suited guy closed it and shielded it like he was a Swiss Guard. At the same time the lights dimmed and what was left was the eerie glow of hundreds of laptops. Jonathan stepped closer to the door.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” the guard said. He flicked a look over Jonathan’s shoulder to where Matt and Victoria sat, and smiled. “We’re about to begin.”

Jonathan flopped into the nearest chair. What the fuck… He leered at Matt and Victoria. They sat erect, watching the podium, seemingly unimpressed by his attempt to leave. It was the alertness in Matt Turing’s posture that warned Jonathan that the man was aware of his every move.

Except for the ceaseless keyboard clicking, the conference room went quiet. Lisa Wheeler climbed the stage.

“Colleagues.” Her voice filled the room and drowned out the tapping of keys. A shiver ran up Jonathan’s spine, but this time it felt like it lifted the tightness in his chest and made him breathe easier. He squared his shoulder. Neither Matt Turing nor Victoria Walter could keep him here. Whatever movie they had, they would claim it was Dallas Bard in it. He was Jonathan Groen. Not Dallas Bard. No one could tie this to him. As soon as the doors would open, he would run. Grab his bike and disappear. He studied the woman on stage, listened to her voice.

Or he would stay.

Not let himself scare by their cheap blackmail. Like he had intended last night. Find out what’s going on. Find the story. The scoop. And get back at them in writing. Get back at Anna in writing. Get back at the world in writing. If he could find the story behind this all, expose whatever was going on, he could revenge himself. Because there was story to this all and he was going to find it. He was journalist, a goddamned journalist. He would show the world he was a killer one, too.

“Not five minutes ago,” Lisa Wheeler said. “I shared an elevator ride with…”

Jonathan straightened up at her words. Keyboards were silenced.

“I shared an elevator ride with…” Lisa repeated. The falsetto was gone from her voice and what was left was an alto full of suspense. The tension in the room rose. “Dallas Bard.” She whispered the name in the microphone.

No one touched his laptop.

“Dallas Bard,” she continued. “The man of whom they say he will change our lives forever. The man who is said to have found our holy grail, the holy grail of the Internet. I know he is not scheduled to speak, but I do hope he will raise a corner of the veil for us. I hope he will shed some light on his pioneering algorithm, an algorithm so mind-blowing that even the mere thought of it brings back the riveting and electrifying vibes of the early days of the Internet. With Dallas Bard and his compression algorithm everything is possible. Everything!”

The audience turned as one and hundreds of laptop-lit faces stared at Jonathan. A loud applause rolled through the room, not for Lisa but for him, Dallas Bard. Jonathan tried to avoid the inquisitive stares by looking at Lisa, who stood applauding. She nodded at him, a reassuring smile across her face. If he wanted to find out more, he should brace himself for this kind of attention. He should play the game and shed Jonathan Groen. He should become Dallas Bard. Edgy from the persisting applause and the staring looks he lowered his gaze and studied the white half moons of his nails. He would become Dallas Bard.

Lisa tapped the mike and cleared her throat. “Let’s not make Dallas feel too uncomfortable,” she said, and she smiled again. “Let’s give him some space. Okay? Leaves me nothing but to wish you all a successful and informative meeting. Grant, the stage is yours.”

A thirty-something guy took over the mike. “Thank you, Lisa,” he said. “Welcome, people. I agree with Lisa. Let’s restrain ourselves and not jump Dallas.”

The room sniggered.

The man went on introducing a horde of speakers about a myriad of unfamiliar technical subjects. Jonathan threw a covert look at Matt and his heart instantly missed a beat. Matt was the only one who hadn’t turned back to the stage, instead his eyes locked on Jonathan, without blinking, a small smile played around his lips.


digital data flow through optical wire