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A Time To Speak

. . .a time to laugh. . .

Ecclesiastes 3:4a


Chapter Thirty-Four

Win

I called Sam the next evening and reached him just before he was about to call me. He had been called into his boss's office that morning because they wanted to ask him about the anonymous emails they were getting. Explaining to him what had happened with Reg, Katrina and the rest took over an hour and at the end of the conversation he was still in disbelief. He had no idea what his boss might decide to do.

Then I had to call my parents. It was one of the worst conversations I've ever had with them. My mom is tech-savvy, but my dad isn't, and it was almost impossible to explain to him what was going on with the secret Facebook groups and personal messages and screenshots of other people's conversations and all of that. I don't think he ever understood it all, even with my mom trying to explain it to him too. In the end all he really understood was that I had gotten involved with people who thought it was okay to destroy someone else's life for their own entertainment. And he and mom both realized that I had broken our informal family moratorium on talking about "Sam's troubles", as mom called it when she absolutely had to. Not just broken it—I had blown it wide open, in front of strangers, no less. They had no idea what to say.

"Can't you just tell these people to stop it?" my dad asked. "You should just tell them it's none of their business, and they ought to stop talking about it."

"They don't care, Dad," I tried to tell him. "They want to humiliate me."

"But they're hurting Sam! Don't they understand that?"

"They don't care, Dad," I repeated patiently, but that was a lie. They cared a lot—they were enjoying every second of Sam's humiliation. "The only way I can possibly make them stop is if I were to do something really mean back to them, or maybe legal action."

"You don't need to do that," my dad was quick to reply. "The Lord will make sure they get what's coming to them. You shouldn't take revenge into your own hands."

"But what about Sam? Is he just supposed to sit there and wait to see how they'll attack him next?"

"You should report them to Facebook," my mom helpfully tried to point out, as if I hadn't thought that very thing a thousand times already.

"The page against Sam isn't on Facebook. Facebook has no control over it."

"Then you should post something on Facebook. Tell the whole world what the truth is and what they did to you when you tried to defend yourself. Post your own copies of your private conversations, so people can see everything for themselves."

"I already tried, Mom." And I had. I had made several posts of that sort on Victors, but Reg and the others had immediately inundated the page with post after post of their own, always on stupid subjects, and then commented on them unendingly, keeping my posts pushed down to the bottom of the page. There were too many of them to fight back that way. I explained this to Mom.

"Couldn't the page moderators help?" she asked, and then had to explain what that meant to Dad.

"I sent them a message, and I complained to Facebook too. No answer. I'm not getting any help there."

"Well, then, get off of Facetime!" Dad was always deeply suspicious of Facetime, as he called it. "If they won't help you, then they don't deserve your business! Go get your own page."

"Dad, it doesn't work like that. You don't pay to use Facebook," I said, exasperated. The kids needed to go to bed, and this conversation had already taken more than an hour and a half. "I just need you to know what's going on so you can help Sam, okay? I love you both. I'm going to have to say good-bye now and tell you again how sorry I am."

"We love you, honey," he answered, and Mom echoed him. It gave me some comfort. No matter how awful I'd been, Mom and Dad would always be there for me. Clark too. And even Sam wasn't mad at me. He sounded resigned to whatever would happen next, and very, very sad, but he wasn't angry. I could only hope that this would all blow over soon, and that things would go back to what they had been.

With that in mind I put the kids to bed, taking the time to read an extra story with each of them, and havd a special prayer time with them both. I planned to check my email one last time and then go to bed. But to my shock there was a message in my inbox from a name I recognized immediately: Alecia Grace Harrington.

Alecia

Win,
I know you and I are not friends any more, but I thought you ought to know that Regina and the others are going after your sister-in-law's school now. Check out Forest Oak Christian School's Facebook page. I hope all is well with you.
Alecia



John

Atlanta traffic is amazing. You know you're entering a poorly planned urban area when you're ten miles outside town and the interstate is already six lanes wide, going each way, and it's bumper to bumper on a workday morning. These people really needed to grasp the idea of mass transit. But after two hours of traveling twenty-five miles an hour, I eventually made it to the General James Longstreet Library, where I took a moment to look at the plaque in his honor just outside the library entrance door.

General Longstreet had been General Robert E. Lee's right-hand man for the entire Civil War, fighting in the 1860's to keep an entire group of people enslaved forever. But here he was, being honored by the good people of Atlanta as a "visionary, courageous hero for his day," according to the inscription I was reading. He was also known for leading a "colored" regiment in New Orleans in support of the white reconstructionist government in 1874, the same government that enacted some of the worst of the Jim Crow laws imaginable later on.

Sheesh. Atlanta named an entire library for this loser, but the Disgruntled thought FCU was racist! I shook my head in disgust and went in.

Bonita wasn't hard to pick out, not even in this unfamiliar setting, thanks to the profile pics I had looked at last night. This particular library had a dozen computers arranged in a circle, all facing inward, one computer to each desk. Patrons of the library had to sign in on a clipboard at the Help Desk first, and then they were free to log onto any open computer in the circle. There was no real privacy here—anyone walking behind one of the computers could see whatever might be on that person's screen at the time and anyone who wanted to know could look on the clipboard to find out who their fellow computer users were. There was a ninety-minute limit on computer time if people were waiting to use one, but other than that, it was pretty much first-come, first served. I made a point of checking the clipboard to see who had logged in, and sure enough, there was Bonita's name, written in a large, childish scrawl that spilled onto each of the adjacent lines, crowding out the names next to hers.

Two computers were open, both of them across the circle from Bonita, whose curly red hair was the only part of her visible around the screen. I hadn't realized how short she was before. She was maybe five foot three, tops. She had some books sitting on the table top next to the computer while she worked. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, Become A Better You by Joel Osteen, and Lynn's Lurid Exploits, #32 in the Passionate Paperbacks Series.

That last book—wow. Judging by the title, it probably had more action in the first chapter than Bonita was likely to get in a year. I'm sure it was just for research.

But I was here to do a job, not to stalk Bonita, entertaining as it might be. Armed with my system admin credentials, I checked the hard drive for registry errors and did some other housekeeping, then logged onto our software site and downloaded two security patches. They had to be saved to the C drive and then scheduled to execute after regular business hours. It was supposed to be a seamless process, with none of the library patrons aware that any maintenance was occurring, but some things were outside my control. The bandwidth on this connection wasn't enough for everything being downloaded at the moment, and I could only watch in frustration as my download speed slowed to a crawl. The other patrons were having the same issue, I was sure.

"I rebuke you, demons of discouragement!" A woman's shrill voice pierced through the normal library hush, startling several others in the vicinity. Bonita, across the circle from me, was glaring angrily at the screen and talking out loud, completely oblivious to the effect she was having on others. "I cast you out, lords of disorder and delay!"

Whoa. This woman was nuts. She was seriously trying to exorcise demons from a hard drive! I thought only TV preachers were that crazy.

All around Bonita, people were turning their heads and glaring at her. An older lady from the help desk whose name tag read Rose came marching over, frowning in disapproval. She spoke to Bonita first, then waved an arm in front of her monitor to get her attention. I saw Bonita's arm come up and pull an earbud out of her ear. "What did you say?" she asked loudly, obviously annoyed by the interruption.

Rose was one of those classic southern ladies, what we call a steel magnolia, with a syrupy sweet smile and a major attitude. Bonita was not impressing her at all. "I said, you're going to have to quiet down. This is a library, not a church service, and you are being disruptive."

"You don't understand! My files won't upload! This one was going for two minutes and then it timed out!"

"No, you don't understand. If you don't quiet down you won't be uploading a thing, not one single thing, because you won't be on this computer any more."

"But I'm doing the Lord's work here, and I have a demon trying to discourage me!"

Rose must have seen it all in this library. She didn't bat an eyelash. "Honey, I don't care if Satan himself is holding you upside down on this keyboard and violating you personally. You are going to stay quiet." Her smile had grown wider and her voice even sweeter.

Bonita and Rose locked eyes, but Bonita caved almost immediately. "I'm sorry," she dared to whisper.

Rose patted her hand. "That's all right, bless your heart." Satisfied, she walked away again. I exchanged smirks with some of the others around the circle and then got back to work.

Bonita had said something about uploading files. Was she uploading files from a flash drive? As a system admin, I couldn't allow that. The library had a strict policy against anyone using outside flash drives on their machine, which I totally agreed with. It was too easy to get viruses from the damn things. But when I remoted into the machine that Bonita was on, there was no working flash drive. I saw instead that Bonita had created a file online and was trying to transfer it to Google docs. Huh. Maybe she was a little smarter than I had first thought.

Within a few minutes my downloads were finished. I updated the settings, then mirrored them all on my own approved flash drive, a procedure we followed so we would have somewhere to start if our client ever had a major data loss. It was time for me to log off, check out with the head librarian, and start driving to my next client. But I couldn't resist remoting into Bonita's machine again.

Bonita had updated her file several times in the last half hour, and now it looked like she was uploading it to an outside server. I guessed that it was going to her web hosting site, since the posts on her web site were usually made around this time each day. So whatever she was uploading right now, it was probably something she was doing for Reg, something designed to hurt Win. And I could stop it right now.

The temptation was too much. With a few quick keystrokes I took Bonita's machine off the library server mid-transmission, and then I changed its IP address just to make it more interesting. It was a cheap, underhanded trick, but it was one I'd used in the past, always with good effect. Then I started throwing all my work things into my backpack, getting ready to haul ass. It would take Bonita a minute or two to realize she was off-line and a few more minutes for her and Rose, or maybe someone else, to figure out there was a problem. By the time they realized they'd need a tech guru like me to fix it I'd be long gone, driving away like a bat out of hell, off to my next client. Bonita's computer could be fixed easily, but they would have to do it without my help. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and strode towards the entrance.

As I walked past the help desk I heard a loud, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" explode from behind me. Bonita must have just discovered my little gift. Rose looked up sharply and I smiled sweetly from behind my shaded glasses at her as I went by. "Good afternoon, ma'am," I said in my most polite voice, and went out the door without a backward glance.