How to Hack a Hacker - A.J. Sherwood



It wasn’t that the ringtone told him who was calling. It was more that only one person in the world would dare call him before he finished his coffee. Sighing, he pulled out his phone and looked at the call screen. ‘Unlisted.’ it read. It always did. It always traced back to a burner phone, too. His cyber stalker was thorough that way. Giving into the inevitable, he answered gruffly, “I haven’t had my morning coffee yet, so this better be good, K.”

“Dude, don’t blame your grouchiness on the lack of coffee. Blame it on the supermodel you agreed to go on a date with tonight.” As per usual, the male voice on the other end was a strange mix of patience, smugness, and a hint of amusement, as if he were balancing on the border of laughing outright. “Which, by the way, was one of the stupider things you’ve done this month. You are so not into her. Why did you ask her out?”

“Because she’s a beautiful woman?” Brannigan responded, already feeling his patience with this conversation evaporate. Six years he’d been getting these phone calls. Six years he’d received all sorts of little packages—usually thumb drives or encrypted emails he couldn’t trace back—each one containing information he needed. Either to give him a leg up in business or to help safeguard him from personal attack. He’d questioned it at first, of course, because who did that? Was this a scam? A trick of some sort? Bran wasn’t paying the hacker for his time and work, and he certainly didn’t know the man’s motivations. After six years, however, he’d seen the obvious: K the hacker wanted him safe and happy. Why, he didn’t know, but that much he was absolutely certain of.

“Bran my man—hey, that rhymed!—let me tell you something about yourself since you seem to be clueless. Or at least, in denial. Supermodels are not your type. Pretty, shallow people are not your type. If you go on a date with this woman, you will be bored to tears within ten minutes and calling your bodyguard to fake an emergency in order to get away within an hour.”

Brannigan rolled his eyes to the ceiling and prayed for patience. As he did so, his Head of Security, Gideon, came up and cocked his head, pointing to the phone in an elaborate ‘is that him’ gesture. Nodding sourly, Brannigan followed Gideon out of the front foyer and to his car. “Yeah? And what is my type, K?”

“Intelligent, funny people who are sincere.”

“Is that right? Then why don’t you come on a date with me?”

“Awww,” the hacker crooned, completely amused now, his voice rich with laughter, “that would be sweet if I didn’t know you’d use it to catch me. I’d totally go on a date with you, you know. I even put out on the first date—at least for you.”

“Can you blame me for trying?” Brannigan had learned to filter through the nonsensical things the other man said to keep the point of the conversation from being lost in some verbal black hole. “I’ve hired dozens of hackers over the years to catch you and have literally nothing to show for it.”

“That is because I am Batman.”

“You are not Batman. Sneaky, clever, and underhanded, is what you are.”

“Also, may I point out the fundamental flaw in your logic? The very best hackers—of which I am one—do not answer ads. We don’t need to. Everyone who responded to your ad was thereby subpar by professional standards.”

Brannigan let out a groan as he realized K was right. Damn him. Not that any of the men or women he’d hired were bad at their jobs, far from it, they just weren’t incredible. And it was incredible he needed, clearly, as he wasn’t any closer to catching K now than he had been six years ago.

He slipped into the back seat of his town car, sliding against the black leather, setting his briefcase on the other side. Gideon slid into the driver’s seat, and the car purred as it pulled away from the curb. Brannigan ignored the sight of Boston hustling around him, everyone else on their way to work, and focused on his phone call. “You think you’re that good, then? That you’ll never get caught?”

“Meh. I might, eventually. Everyone has someone that’s better than they are. I’m not an exception. But at the moment, I’m as safe as if I were on Mars. Tell me something, Bran, why are you still so hung