Habitat for Redemption (part 6)
“Hrrrmmm… This is interustin,” Duo drawled to himself as he scanned the bank account's activity.
“Who are all these people? Heero, what in the hell are you up to? Looks like I may need Relena's help on this one… Oi. Hope she doesn't kill me.”
He flipped the com unit on and punched in Relena's code.
The shrill wail of the com unit broke Relena out of her daydream. With a disappointed sigh, she set her book down on the table beside her comfy chair, and walked over to her desk. Fixing her most patented pleasant smile upon her face, she flipped the switch and opened the call. Duo's face smiled at her from the screen.
“Duo! What are you doing? It's got to be close to midnight there!”
“Heya Ojosan! Sorry to bug you. Yah, it's late, but I couldn't sleep… Ummm… 'Lena? I know I promised… but something's come up and-“
“No. Absolutely not. You promised you were going to relax. You can't get out of it that easily!”
“Hear me out! I am more grateful than you could possibly imagine for this vacation, Ojosan, believe me! See... oh damn… may as well spill the whole crock of beans…” Duo said, hesitating as he exhaled sharply.
“What?” Relena asked warily, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I ummm… I went to one of our old safehouses. It's this cabin up in the mountains that Heero and I found once, and-“
“I hardly find that to be a relaxing location, Duo,” she scolded.
“Yah, yah, yah. I knew you'd say that… But I found something. Here, in the cabin. From Heero.”
The words sank in quickly, making her heart quiver.
“It was a note he musta scribbled to himself back during the war… You know how we used to hack into Oz banks and filch their cash? Then we'd stash it all in our own accounts? You know, the whole reason I still don't have a 'real job'?”
She nodded in reply.
“Well, Heero was such an awesome hacker, he had dozens of small fortunes stashed all over the world and the colonies… This note I just found, it was one of those bank accounts… And it's been active since shortly after he vanished!”
“Really? You've already tracked it that far? What a breakthrough!” she gasped, smiling widely.
“Yeah… But I think I'm gonna need your help on the rest of I for a bit… You see, it's been active, but in a weird way. Real regular, like clockwork, every few weeks, he'll make a withdrawal of a quarter of a million dollars. But it's always in someone else's name. And he never uses the same name twice.”
“And you need my help how?” she asked suspiciously.
Duo sighed explosively, his bangs blowing out from his forehead as he exhaled.
“Could you, um, unlock my account? When I checked my e-mail a day or two ago, I noticed you had me fire-walled from most of my resources shortly after I got here. I need my access back, Lena. Please? I know I'm supposed to be relaxin' and all that, but trust me. If you give me back my access, my vacation will be a hundred times more relaxing.”
“Oh? And how is that, oh Braided one?”
“Cos. If you give me back my access, and I track him down, then when I get back to my vacation I'll either, A) have him with me and I'll be TONS more relaxed, or B) needing some down time to piece myself back together after he tells me to fuck off and die.”
“Don't even consider that possibility, Duo!” she hissed vehemently.
“I don't wanna, but-“
“No. It's not an option. We'll get him back, Duo. One way or the other, we'll get him back.”
Duo chuckled tiredly.
“Now THAT'S the Relena I remember from the war!”
She shook her head and tried not to smile, but against Duo Maxwell, there wasn't a saint alive that could hold out.
“Okay. Okay. Give me ten minutes, and you'll have your access back. All right?”
“Sugoi! Yer the best, 'Lena!”
“The things I let you talk me into. Duo, just do me a favor and give me a call in a week or so, and let me know how it goes, okay?”
“What, yer not going to be there beside me when I go to track him down?” Duo asked incredulously.
She gave him a gentle, secretive little smile before she answered him softly.
“You need to find him on your own, Duo. That way, maybe you can find yourself, too.”
Duo frowned at her.
“You sure pick weird times to go all philosophical on me, Ojosan.”
“Ten minutes, Duo. I'll be expecting your call. Don't forget.”
Before he could make any patented Maxwell retorts, she severed the connection. She leaned forward, pillowing her head in her hands and took a few deep, cleansing breaths. Once she'd sufficiently calmed herself, she logged onto her computer and made a few quick entries, and then sat back to watch the electronic wizard do its magic.
“I hope you're ready for this, Duo. This may be the toughest fight you've ever faced.”
With that fatalistic remark, she flipped off the computer and returned to her abandoned chair by the fire to continue reading.
Somehow, the tales of the tortured lovers of A Midsummer Night's Dream just couldn't hold her attention anymore.
Duo giggled gleefully as he started hacking into fresh databases, tracking down all of the names Heero had used to make his withdrawals. After a few minutes, a pattern started to emerge, making Duo frown.
These names weren't aliases. They were real people. Real families. They existed. And they had all actually received the monies that had been withdrawn from this account.
Could he be mistaken? Could Heero have transferred the cash in this account to another one, and someone else had happened along and opened their account, only to be assigned this random number?
Duo hacked back into the bank and traced all the account activity from the instant it was created (from this very location, Duo thought to himself with a twinge of wicked humor). There it was, plain as day. This account had never been transferred, closed, or altered until the first withdrawal was made almost three years ago.
Maybe Heero had forgotten about the account, and someone else had come along and hacked into it.
Duo shook his head at that thought. There was no way anyone could come along and hack away what Heero had rightfully stolen. Even Duo could do no more than access the account enough to research and view it. Not even his computer skills could alter it in any way. Heero's own installed security protocols saw to that.
Then what in the hell was going on with all that money? Why on earth would he be simply giving it away? Granted, they had both appropriated enough wealth to be able to live comfortably off of any ONE of their myriad of accounts, but it seemed terribly out of character for the ex-Wing pilot to simply give the excess away. That was more Duo's style.
“Well, no help for it. Guess I'm going to have to do some good, old-fashioned detective type work. Time for this flat-foot to hit the beat,” he said with a grin.
Within a few short hours, he'd researched as much as he could about the most recent five recipients of Heero's money, and had already booked himself a morning flight to the first person on his list.
“Look out world. Here I come.”
Samantha Winters sighed happily as she finished washing the dishes in the sink. She had a dishwasher, but for now, she didn't permit herself the luxury of using it. She needed the solid feel of the water and the soap against her skin to prove to her that this was all real. As corny as it sounded, she needed the physical connection to the sink.
:MY sink. MY dishwasher. My kitchen. MY house! Oh God, thank you! I'm not sure what we've done to deserve this, but we are grateful!: she thought to herself as she finished drying the last dish.
The tolling of the doorbell startled her out of her thoughts. Tidily setting the towel aside, she went to the door and opened it.
“Hi! Um, I found this guy at the park. He seemed to need a little help navigating back home,” the man standing on her doorstep, holding her youngest son, said cheerfully.
“Oh. Thank you. We're new to the neighborhood, and I'm afraid Timothy doesn't quite know his way around yet,” she replied, reaching out to take her son from the strange man.
He smiled at her charmingly, his blue-violet eyes sparkling good-naturedly. She found herself responding to the easy good cheer this young man seemed to exude, and smiled in return.
“No problem. Actually, it was rather fortuitous. You're Miss Samantha Winters, right?”
Her smile started to fade as she nodded suspiciously.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was kinda wondering if I could take up a few minutes of your time. I have some questions I was hoping you could help me answer.”
“I- I'm not sure…”
His cheerful look turned pleading; she didnt miss the true flash of desperation in his eyes before he tried to mask it.
“Just a few minutes. If you don't want to answer them, then you can kick me out on my duff… Please?”
“Very well, Mister….”
“Very well, Mr. Maxwell. Come in.”
“Thanks,” he replied with a grateful smile.
She noted his appreciative, appraising glance as he stepped around her into her home. Her chest swelled with gratitude, hope, and pride at the thought.
:MY home! Ours!:
“This is a very nice home, Miss Winters.”
“Thank you. We just moved in. We wouldnt be here if it weren't for Habitat.”
She turned and set her son down, shooing him off to the play-room before she led Mr. Maxwell to the dining room.
“Yes, please. That'd be great.”
She returned to the dining room a minute or two later with two steaming mugs. Mr. Maxwell was admiring her beautifully built-in china hutch.
“Gorgeous, isn't it? Kenji did such a magnificent job on it.”
“The carpenter who built it. Such a nice young lad.”
“Ah. It's really cool. I don't think I've seen craftsmanship like that before. He was pretty talented.”
“Yes. Yes he was. Well, Mr. Maxwell. I doubt you came here to discuss my cabinetry with me, so what can I help you with?”
He smiled at her, pausing to take a sip of the coffee before he spoke again.
“You've recently come into a very large sum of money, is that true?”
“Yes,” she answered warily.
“Do you have any idea where it might have come from, Miss Winters?”
“No. Oh dear. It's drug money, or blood money or something bad, isn't it?” she asked, every possible horrible scenario playing itself before her eyes.
Her visitor seemed to see some of her inner discomfort, for he held up a calming hand quickly and gave her another of those utterly charming and disarming smiles.
“No! No, not at all!”
“Then what? Are you looking for a hand-out?” she snapped waspishly, trying her damnedest to not let that smile get to her.
“No! God, no. I got more than enough of my own, thank you. I'm sorry. I guess I got off to a bad start… Lemme start over.
“I'm here, because a few years ago, a very close friend of mine vanished. I've done just about everything I could to try and find him, but I haven't found any leads… Until now. You see, the money you just got came from one of my friend's bank accounts. I was kinda hoping he might have contacted you in some way. Do you have any idea why you may have gotten it?”
“The money? No. I- Well, when I first got it, I assumed it had something to do with the Habitat Company. But when I talked to their lawyer, he assured me that they had nothing to do with it. I have NO idea where it came from, or why we got it, but I'm grateful we did.”
“You've never heard of Habitat?”
He shook his head and sipped at his coffee.
“It's a group of construction professionals who travel all over building homes for needy families. They built this home for my family.”
“Wow. That's great!”
“You don't know the half of it, Mr. Maxwell.
“You see, my husband was killed back in the war…”
“How?” he asked gently, his eyes telling her that she didn't have to answer.
“He was an Alliance soldier. He just ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a Gundam attack,” she answered sadly.
She was glancing down at her own mug at the time, so she missed the flash of guilt and self-loathing in her visitor's eyes.
“I- I'm sorry.”
She glanced up at him sharply, noting the stricken expression in the back of her mind.
“It's all right. It's been four years. I can be objective about it now. I'll admit, I was angry and bitter when it happened, but now? Well, I guess getting back on my feet has had a lot to do with healing that part of me,” she answered, indicating the new home they were sitting in with a wave of her hand.
“It was tough raising three boys by myself… They were angry and sad at having lost their father. They had no role model. And with the collapse of the Alliance, we lost all of our income. I couldn't make ends meet. We had to sell our house, and by the end of the war, we were living in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in a part of town so dangerous, I couldn't even let my children play in the hallways.
“We were still there a little over two months ago. Until this lawyer showed up and asked me to come with him. I figured it was my landlord's lawyer, because I was late with rent, and I'd already been served with the eviction papers. I was hoping to do something, anything to keep from getting tossed out on the street with my children, so I went with him.
“He brought me here, only there was no house yet. He told me that he'd been sent by Habitat, and that my family had been chosen to receive their next project home. He just wanted to show me the site they'd picked, and make sure it was all right with me. While he was explaining all this, an architect showed up and started showing me all these plans for houses, wanting me to pick my favorite.
“I was shocked… I thought it was all a cruel joke, so I went along with it and picked out this design. The crew was on the site by the end of the afternoon, building permits in hand, and breaking ground. It was amazing.
“They finished this place in just a couple of weeks. And none of it was pre-fab. It was all hand-crafted by some of the best craftsmen I've ever met. Like Kenji.
“He's about your age, and already an accredited Master Carpenter. He did all the woodwork here. It was amazing! And their foreman, Dutch? You couldn't ask for a nicer, more courteous man to work with. They worked a miracle here, Mr. Maxwell. They saved my family.”
“Incredible. You didn't even know you were being considered?”
“No. Not at all. They even helped us move. Did you know that the next TEN YEARS of my property taxes have been pain in full? And there was no expense for this home at all? Nothing? At the time, I thought it was the best gift we'd ever gotten.
“I was close. Less than a week after they left, another lawyer contacted me. I thought it might have been more Habitat paperwork, so I went to his office.
“Imagine my surprise when, after I sign a few documents, he hands me a check for $250,000. Free and clear. Taxes paid and nothing owed. From an anonymous donor. It was the fresh start we needed. And I still have no idea why we were chosen. To be honest, I'm not sure I care.
“All I know is that it saved us. It saved my family.”
Her visitor's eyes had grown thoughtful and he glanced away, taking in the fine wood grains and deep earth tones of the woodwork in the dining room. There was something about his pensive gaze that twisted her heart, egging her to comfort him.
“I'm sorry. I wish I could have been more help.”
His gaze snapped back to her, and his eyes cleared a bit.
“Nah. You were a lot of help. Don't worry about it,” he answered with a grin.
“Could you do me a favor, Mr. Maxwell?”
“Sure. Name it.”
“When you find your friend… could you thank him for us?”
He smiled as he stood up.
“Of course. I'd be happy to, Miss Winter. Thanks for letting me take up your time.”
“Of course. I- I wish you luck. I don't think you'll really need it, Mr. Maxwell, but I wish you luck all the same,” she said as she followed him to the door.
“I appreciate it, Miss Winter. And thanks. You really have been a lot of help. Enjoy your new home. I'll make sure to thank him for you… but somehow, I think he already knows.”
She smiled at the young man as he walked out her door. She watched him walk down the sidewalk until he vanished around the corner, and then she shut the door.
Somehow, she felt both energized, and drained by the encounter. Despite what he'd said, she didn't feel very helpful at all, and she'd desperately wanted to be able to help the young man. He'd tried to hide it, but she'd seen such pain and loneliness in his eyes.
Unbidden, an image of Kenji as he painstakingly worked on her home sprang to mind. His eyes had held the same longing, the same sadness, the same empty loneliness. She sighed sadly. Such nice young men. Too young to be so sad.
:They're both looking for something they urgently need. I hope they both find it.:
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