The Insiders (The Insiders Trilogy #1) by Tijan

She softened. “I know, honey.”

I heard the but coming …

“But,” she said, “he owns the bowling alley. You could bowl there for free every weekend.” She was off. We were embarking in Chrissy Hayes’s fantasyland. Sometimes I was allowed to visit. “You could bring all your friends every Friday night—or hey! You could help rewrite his computer system. I bet he’d take you on as his personal IT department.”

This was what we were talking about? Here?

My mom was dating Chad Haskell so I could have free bowling Friday nights?

I rubbed at my forehead. A headache was coming. Chad Haskell’s influence had invaded Chrissy Hayes. Chrady. That’s the name for both of them.

She should just go by Chrady now.

Chrady turned toward Detective Bright. “Do you know about my daughter? She was awarded all of these prestigious scholarships, and she got into Hawking. She’s going there for graduate school.”

“Actually…” Detective Bright waved for Chrissy to take the last empty seat by me, as we all sat. Her tone turned businesslike. “That’s why you’re here.”

Consider the mic dropped.

The guys who tried to kidnap me, the cops being so insistent and pushy, the fact that my mom was already in an interview room and not at the police station—everything started piecing together.

My mom was wrecked, but was sighing about a delusion that would never happen.

She was worried, but she wasn’t confused.

I frowned, mulling it over. “Those guys wanted me for a reason.” I didn’t know if I dared look to the side, but … “I don’t remember the whole thing, but they mentioned my father.”

Chrissy sucked in some air.

And I was tense. I was so tense. What did that mean?

I looked now. “They mentioned my dad.”

She wasn’t looking at me. That told me a whole lot, maybe too much.

My voice dropped low. “You said he was in the military, that he died overseas.”

She mashed her lips together. That was it.

My stomach flipped over, knotting. I kept on. “You had Barney tell me about him. Pike. Masteron.” There were others too, all friends of my mom at the VFW. And I was replaying some of those times when they told stories about him, all the shifting in the seats. All the looks they gave each other, not knowing I saw it too. The small tugs at their mouths, like they were uncomfortable, or how they watched my mom when she was in the room with all of us.

How she told me his name wouldn’t be in any computer database because he would be in classified files.

How he was estranged from his family.

How there were no pictures of him because she said she destroyed them in a fit of rage one time while she was grieving him.

She had a flag folded up in a display case.

Detective Bright sat back on her chair, drawing our attention. She folded her arms over her chest. She was eyeing my mom, her head turned almost sideways, then let her arms drop. “You’re very smart, Bailey.”

Before I had a second to digest that statement, she pushed forward. “You were brought here because those men didn’t want you to work on some software code. They tried to kidnap you.” She paused.

I was doing the math.

Bright was silent. One second.

A kidnapping attempt.

Bright’s eyes shifted, staying on my mother.

They mentioned my father.

Chrissy’s head lowered, her gaze falling to her lap. Bright pursed her lips together once again, in disapproval.

We were at Phoenix Tech.

“Why are we here again?” My voice was hoarse. “Why not the police station? Why not somewhere else?”

Bright was waiting. She knew I was putting it together.

All those scholarships.

The way my brain worked.

Only 2 to 15 percent of all children have a photographic memory, and an even lower percentage retain it into adulthood, but I had it. And I knew one other person who had it. His face and name were plastered everywhere—websites, magazine covers, documentaries.

He had dark hair that, in a small group of photographs, looked like it had a bluish tint to it. The details might have been missed. But I was savvy with the computer, and he was my childhood idol growing up. I was obsessed with learning as many facts about him as I could—another computer genius who worked with the government and ran a Fortune 500 empire that specialized in computer security.

There was a lock unlocking.