Chapter Eight

Carys went to an accounting client's store to work on books Thursday morning. When she returned to the house after noon, Mrs. Carmichael called out, "Carys! There's a package for you. It's on the table in the dining room."

"A package? I'm not expecting anything."

"Well, it's there, dear."

"Okay, thanks." She took off her boots and walked into the dining room. The package was a large Priority Mail box. She pulled the strip to open the box. Inside, protected by bubble wrap, was a large envelope and a small, heavy bundle also wrapped in bubbles. She tore the tape off the bubble wrap and removed a small disk drive. Setting the disk drive on the table, she opened the envelope and removed the sheets of paper it contained. She read the top sheet:

Dear Carys. This is all that's left of the real me. One way or another, the real me is going to die. I don't know for certain, as I leave this for someone to send it to you, what will become of me. I place this in your hands to hold or to use. Please remember me. Love, Kathy

Carys looked at the other sheets of paper. They were poems, Kathy's poems. Most she had never seen.

Carys felt stunned. She yanked a chair out from the table and fell into it, putting her head down on the cool surface.

"Carys? Carys!" Mrs. Carmichael came in from the kitchen, wiping her hands. "Carys, what is it?"

"It's from Kathy," she mumbled.

"What? I can barely understand you. Kathy? You, mean...? Oh!" Mrs. Carmichael dropped her towel, putting her hands to her mouth.

Carys looked up. "It's the disk drive from her laptop. Jami will know what to do with it. I hope it's okay. I don't understand this." Carys picked up the letter and handed it to Mrs. Carmichael, who pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.

"Oh, this is something, isn't it? How long has it been?"

"More than a month. It makes no sense."

"Why not?"

"To do this, send me the disk. Does this confirm that her death was no accident? It took time to do this. I don't get it."

"Maybe Jami will have some ideas when she gets home," said Mrs. Carmichael.

"She'll be able to see what's on the disk," said Carys.

When Jami came home, Carys was waiting for her, sitting midway up the stairs.

"Jami?"

"What is it Car? Is something wrong?" She dropped her backpack on the floor and went to sit by Carys.

"I don't know. I received a package today, with a letter and some poems."

"Yes?"

"From Kathy."

"From Kathy! What do you mean? How?"

Carys showed Jami the letter and the disk. "Can you...?"

"Yes," said Jami, taking the disk from Carys. "I can put it in the desk computer and make a copy. Then we'll put it back in this package."

"Huh?"

"I'll make an exact copy of the disk without leaving any traces. We should preserve this just as it is."

"Why, Jami?"

"Just being cautious. This probably means that her death wasn't an accident. If her parents figure out she sent this to you, they might want to get their hands on it."

Carys frowned. "How would they know?"

Jami shook her head. "I don't know, but I don't like this. That last post she made doesn't fit with this. It took time to do this, and planning. But why was it mailed after more than a month? Who mailed it?"

"I don't know," said Carys, "it makes no sense."

"Remember that post? The reference to doing some of her friend's feel-good? It sounded like she might not have been home. She may have been in a panic, trying to get rid of things she didn't want her parents to find. Maybe her friend mailed it, eventually. Whoever it was may have been in quite a panic themselves after Kathy died."

"I suppose so, but why not just leave it with her friend?"

"No clue, as we don't know who the friend is," said Jami.

"This just seems very creepy," Carys looked at the disk.

"Yes." Jami grimaced. "There's no telling what's on that disk unless we look at it. It could be unpleasant."

"And if I call the police?"

"They'll take it and we likely never will know what was on it. They'd take the poems, too."

Carys thought for a moment. "Then let's make a copy, of everything."

Jami handed the disk back to Carys. "Put this by the desk computer. I need to get my pack and change."

Carys sat in the desk chair while Jami changed.

"Go ahead and shut down," said Jami, taking off the clothes she wore for work at the mall. Carys started the shutdown.

Once the computer was powered off, Jami opened up the case, fiddled with cables and Kathy's disk, took a new disk from a box in the closet, hooked that up, then powered the computer on again. She sat down, typed a few commands. "Okay. The copy is going. This will take a little while. I'll fix something to eat while you keep an eye on this. Yell if it starts printing any error messages."

Carys sat on the bed, staring at the computer, while Jami fussed about in the kitchen. She came back into the bedroom to check on the copy.

"How much longer?" asked Carys.

Jami looked at the screen. "Not much." They both watched until Jami said, "It's done." She shut the computer down again, removed Kathy's disk, tidied up the cables and closed the case. Then she powered on the computer.

"I need to get dinner in the oven, then I'll be back," said Jami. She left Carys watching the computer boot up, put dinner in the oven, and returned to the bedroom.

"Okay," said Jami, typing a few commands, "it looks like the copy went okay. There's quite a lot here, most of 160 gig. That's way more than a basic Windows installation, even with Office. Either she installed a lot of extra software, or games, or downloaded a bunch of stuff. Did she have a digital camera? Could be photos."

"I don't know," said Carys.

Jami typed another command. "Yep. That's a typical set of top-level directories for Windows." She turned to look at Carys. "Do you want to look any further at this point?"

Carys gnawed on her lip. "No, I think we'd better not. We need to think about this, and I need to call Tam."

"See if she can come over," said Jami. "I made a big casserole. I'll go fix some rolls."

* * *

Tam had been about to leave campus. She took a bus going the other way and come over soon after Carys called her. They were seated around the computer, listening to Jami explain what they were seeing.

"Again, this is a Linux box. Kathy had Windows on her laptop, of course. So we're not seeing things the way she saw them. These are the names of the files. We can look at individual files, but there may be meaning in the way she had her system set up that we're not seeing."

"You can't just put this disk in a Windows system?" asked Tam.

"Well, sort of. And I will, if we really want to look at this in detail, but you can't actually boot this disk without the hardware it was in—Kathy's laptop—or Windows will complain and ask for the installation key, which we do not have. And anyway, that would change a lot of time stamps on files and perhaps make it more difficult to figure some things out."

"So this is maybe like having Kathy's diary, or journal?" asked Carys.

"Probably, if she used this as the place to record her secret thoughts. But there's more, a lot more, that isn't necessarily apparent."

"Like what?" asked Tam.

"On the assumption that Kathy simply removed this disk from her laptop and didn't clean it up or purge things first, I can find a lot of information about web sites she visited, online groups she belonged to, probably her logins and maybe even her passwords for many things."

Tam looked at Jami. "Really?"

Jami nodded. "Really. Unless she deliberately removed such information, or was more careful than most people know how to be and kept lists of logins and passwords in her head or written down somewhere on paper."

"I don't think Kathy would trust a paper list, for fear her parents would get hold of it," said Carys.

"Probably not," agreed Jami. "So my guess is that all of that is still here, in bookmarks and cookies."

"Well," said Carys, "Kathy sent this to me for a reason. Are you willing to look at this?"

Jami paused, drumming her fingers lightly on the keycaps. "I'm willing, but I didn't know Kathy very well. Was she technically savvy enough to realize just how much information I can probably get out of this? Did she want us to know everything about her online life? This is more than just being mailed her journal, it's like going into her room and searching it, including the trash. That's what we need your help with, Tam."

"Whoa." Tam looked at Jami, then at Carys. "How about it Carys? You knew her better than either of us."

Carys thought for a moment. "I don't know. No one I know knew her very well. Kathy didn't feel free to talk about who she really was."

"Why would she think her laptop was safe?" wondered Tam.

"Good question. Crystal might know. Do you think it's okay if I tell her about this?" asked Carys.

Tam shook her head. "I just don't know, guys. There are certainly ethical issues. There may be legal issues. We can ask the counselor at the next group meeting, but I dunno. I'm worried that we may be playing with fire here."

"How about we continue the discussion in the kitchen, with food?" asked Jami.

"I'm all for that," said Tam. "Should you shut that down or something?" Tam pointed at the screen. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to that disk."

"Actually, Tam, that's a copy," said Jami.

"The original disk is in the box, on the bed." Carys looked in that direction.

"I could take that to my parent's house," said Jami. "They have a fireproof filing cabinet where I keep backups."

"Let's go eat," said Tam.

Jami dished out food. They sat at the kitchen table and ate in silence for a few moments. Tam mopped up some sauce with a roll. "I think we need legal advice. What I fear most is that there may be something on that disk that Kathy would not want most people to know, and that we may not be able to keep private, once people find out you have the disk. Her parents are going to want it. The police are going to want it. And I don't know that they can't force you to hand it over."

"Right," said Carys. "I guess that's the first question. Do we have the right, and the ability, to keep this private. If not, I'm thinking we should simply destroy it. Kathy trusted me with this. I have to take that seriously."

Tam nodded, chewing quickly to free her mouth. "I agree, absolutely. That's the first thing to find out. Then if, and only if, you can control what you find out, should you look to see what's on that disk. That might raise other questions I cannot even conceive of at this point, but it's moot if you don't have the power to control the information on that disk."

"You mean the legal power," said Carys.

"You can't stop the signal," said Jami.

"Hey, guys," said Tam, shaking her head. "This is the real world, not some science fiction western."

"It's a real world in which Kathy may have been driven by her parents to kill herself," said Jami, softly.

"Do you trust anyone in power in this country today?" asked Carys.

Tam stared at her plate. "No."

Carys put a hand on Tam's arm. "If you want to leave here tonight and forget about the disk, that's okay. We just asked you over for dinner."

Tam looked up, put a hand on top of Carys's hand. "No, Carys. I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I walked out and left you to decide this on your own. Although ultimately it is your decision, because Kathy sent the disk to you. And if this affects the two of you, well, it affects me."

"Right," nodded Carys and Jami. Thanks Tam. Let's all sleep on this."

* * *

Tam called Jami's cell at half past six the next morning. "Jami, I know you're usually up by this time. Are you?"

Jami pulled the covers back up and rolled over to look at Carys, who had one eye open. "I am. Carys is still drooling on the pillow, though."

"Am not! Is that Tam? Hi, sweetie." Carys snuggled into Jami's side and closed her eyes again.

"So why the early morning call, Tam?"

"I've been thinking about the problem of Kathy's disk. It seems clear to me that we have the moral right, the moral obligation, to honor Kathy's wish. The problem there, as you mentioned last night, is whether she realized what might actually be on the disk.

"That a computer is involved does not seem to me to make this task fundamentally different than that of any literary executor entrusted with confidences in correspondence and private notes. There's been many the case when a person's literary estate contained potentially damaging information.

"There's a legal question about whether Kathy, at her age, and perhaps in her state of mind, did in fact give that authority to Carys. I'm afraid this may come down to a question of legal versus moral authority."

"Yeh," sighed Jami, "I've pretty much reached that conclusion myself. But how do we proceed?"

"I'll come over again this evening and we can talk more."

* * *

Tam had called to say she was on her way, with gifts, and would like Carys and Jami to meet her at the bus stop.

"What is all this stuff, Tam?" Carys was carrying a box and Jami and Tam each had shopping bags.

"When I told my mom this morning that I was headed over here again this evening, she insisted I swing by the house and pick up a couple of things to take with me. Which turned out to be all this. Alex helped me carry them to the bus, but I wanted help on the other end."

"Alex?" asked Jami.

"My kid sister, Alexis. I'm closer to her than to my other two sisters."

"Is this actually a rice cooker?" asked Carys, reading the box she was carrying.

"It is. We were given that as a gift and decided it was such a good idea that we bought a larger one. So that's been sitting in the pantry for a while. The shopping bags have rice, the heavy one, vegetables, and a couple kinds of sauce."

"Awesome!" said Jami. "We have some lovely tofu that I've been trying to get Carys to allow me to fix. We're eating it tonight."

"You really like to cook, don't you Jami?"

"She likes to eat, and I'm a peanut butter and jelly sandwich kind of chef," said Carys.

"I'll help get things started," said Tam. "Then we need to talk."

Once they reached the apartment, Tam and Jami started preparing dinner, fixed tea, then sat at the table.

"A cup of jasmine rice takes about forty-five minutes in that cooker," said Tam. "Once it's done, we'll fix everything else."

"First off," said Carys, "I've heard from Crystal about those two guys who caused trouble for us at the Mall. One of them is indeed Linda's younger brother Carl. The other one is a friend of Carl. Crystal said to watch out for them, especially Carl.

"I asked her why, but Crystal said she'd rather not spread rumors. I didn't push it. She's still pretty upset about Kathy. She seems to have withdrawn a bit, if you know what I mean."

"Things may be a bit tense among the queer kids at the high school, I guess," said Tam. "I'll ask Alex what the atmosphere is like."

"Your sister?" asked Jami. "Is she queer?"

"Well, she's in the GSA. She says it's because of me. But I have a feeling there's more to it than that."

"Because of you?"

"Jami," said Carys, "if people at the high school know about Tam, her sisters are going to get grief by association, like it or not."

"Oh, right."

"Mainly Alex," said Tam, "because she's the march to her own drummer type of kid. Alia and Alanis, her older sisters, are ostentatiously heterosexual and normal. They're both good kids and fine with me, at least at home, but they would never join the GSA."

Jami took a deep breath, let it out slowly.

"I'm okay, Jami," said Tam. "I've had it easier than a lot of trans people, easier than most, I'm sure. Now that I have you two as close friends, it makes it much easier to stand everything else."

"That kind of brings us to the next thing we need to discuss," said Carys. "Do we continue to deal with this latest thing about Kathy by ourselves, or should we include Zoe? She knows about Kathy's final post."

"What scares me," said Jami, "is that there seem to be other people involved with this whole mess. The friend Kathy mentioned in her post. Whoever sent Carys the poems and the disk, who may or may not be the same person. And those guys at the mall. They knew who you were, and that comment about driving too fast. If that's part of this, then now Alyssa has been caught up in it, too."

"Yeh," said Carys. "If this was just about me, if Kathy had sent me the poems and the disk by herself, it'd be different. But what if this whole thing blows up in our faces even more?"

"I trust Zoe," said Jami.

"But do we involve her?" said Tam.

"I think we have to," said Carys. "I don't know enough. I don't have the kinds of contacts that Zoe has."

"Then let's approach it the way you two did with me," said Tam. "Tell her the minimum and give her a chance to walk away if she doesn't want to be involved."

"Okay, I'll contact her," said Carys.

The rice cooker played a little tune to indicate that the rice was ready.

"No more gloomy talk tonight," said Jami. "Food and companionship only, okay?"

Carys and Tam eagerly agreed.