Carl answers the phone, and almost drops it about five seconds later; from that alone, Marty knows this has to be an interesting call.
"It's for me, isn't it?" he says. Carl nods, looking more than a little spooked; Marty takes the phone from him, and sighs.
"What do you want, Cosmo?"
He can hear the smirk in Cosmo's voice. "How did you know it was me?"
"I couldn't think of anyone else who would terrify Carl that much on voice alone. What do you want?"
"I have reason to believe I may need your help."
Marty snorts; all things considered, he thinks that's a very mild reaction. "Right. By help, do you mean you're looking to try to screw me over again?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Marty. If I wanted to do that, you wouldn't know about it yet. I've tried to fix this by myself, but I don't have the time to follow all the leads."
"And what makes you think I do?"
"You will if I pay you to have it." Much as Marty hates to admit it, Cosmo's got a point there.
"I'm going to have to talk this over with the guys before I can give you an answer."
"Oh, I know that. But I do need your help."
Marty sighs again. "Fine. What seems to be the problem?"
"Someone has been accessing information related to the... business side of my business. I don't know who, and I don't know how, so unless it's you and that box--"
"I didn't think so," Cosmo says. "It's not really your style. I had to ask, at least. Anyway, since it's not you, I thought I might be able to get you to find out who it is."
"Why us? You know you've got a lot of damn gall, calling up like this."
"Oh, but I'm not asking you if you've rehabilitated yourself."
With anyone else, the old joke might let Marty relax. But this is Cosmo, who's gone a little crazy over the years but otherwise hasn't changed much at all, so he thinks he could be forgiven for keeping his guard up.
"I called you," Cosmo says, "because anyone else might assume the problem stems from a completely unrelated source. Granted, this could turn out to be an inside job, of sorts, but I'd rather not attract a lot of attention over that."
"Ah. So it's a problem with your front."
"Well, I'd call it a business in its own right, but if you insist on being crass, yes."
Marty rolls his eyes, even if it's only for his own benefit. "I can't make any promises. I have to run it by the other guys, and... even I don't like it that much, I can tell you that now. But we'll think about it."
"That's all I ask. I'll give you a few days to sort through it."
Cosmo hangs up before Marty can say anything else; he sighs yet again. Much as he doesn't like this in theory, it could end well on the financial front - Cosmo will definitely pay well to keep the story out of any official channels.
It's just a question of whether they'll survive to see that payoff.
None of them are comfortable with it. Crease points out a pile of potential legal complications; Mother's paranoia is probably on the right track for once, considering the trouble they had last time; Whistler doesn't want to end up stuck trying to drive again; and Carl's still pretty spooked just from answering the phone, so it's safe to say his concentration wouldn't be entirely up to par. After they get all of those concerns off their chests, silence settles in for a while.
Finally, Whistler says, "So I guess the question is, will he ever shut up if we don't do it?"
"That is the question." Marty sighs. "I kind of doubt it - he wants answers, and he wants them from someone who won't talk. The devil of it is I think he's got us on that one."
Mother snorts. "Anyone sticks a gun in my face and I'm talking. Once was more than enough."
"Well, yeah, I don't think I'd stay quiet for very long in that position myself. But... assuming for a moment there aren't any traps here, and I don't think there are if he put in the call himself, we'll probably be okay. And for the purely mercenary perspective, he's bound to pay well for the trouble."
Carl rolls his eyes. "Is that because he knows it's a lot to ask us to help him, or because he wants to make sure we stay quiet?"
"Probably some combination of the two. I think if he had time to figure it out himself, he'd be more than content to do it - not like he doesn't know how."
"Then why doesn't he make the time, Martin?"
"I don't know, Crease. I couldn't have explained how his mind worked when we were in college, and I sure as hell don't know now." Marty sighs again. "We don't have to reach a final decision now, and I doubt he'd be surprised if we either said no or put a bunch of conditions on it. But... well, that's what's up."
It would be too much to ask, he can't help thinking, for a job to come with more easy answers than difficult ones.
The monetary concerns win out, in the end. It's been a good long while since they had a really substantial job, and they could all use the cash flow. But that doesn't mean they're letting their guard down, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Fortunately, they have a couple of days even after that decision to come up with their terms. Marty keeps the list by the phone, after they've got it pinned down; he wants it right at hand, when he finally needs it.
As things work out, he gets the dubious honor of answering the phone, when Cosmo calls back. It's probably better than poor Carl getting another scare, especially since he's finally recovering from the shock of the first call.
"Been wondering when you'd call back," he says, once he knows it's Cosmo.
"Well, I thought you might need a few days to work things through, but either way you'd have an answer by now."
"We do. At least half of whatever you're planning to pay us up front, and no one tries to shoot us for any reason, and we'll do it."
Cosmo laughs a little. "Really, Marty, it's just a toy company. I don't know what kind of trouble you guys are expecting."
"That's a load of shit and you know it, Cos."
"Well, yes. But as I said last time we talked, if I wanted to get you in trouble, you wouldn't know that yet, unless you were paying rather more attention to the setup than you did last time."
That actually throws Marty off course for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"Come on, who calls you 'Marty' anymore? I would have thought having my people do it would give you enough of a hint to ask who was behind it all, but you never did."
"In my defense, I thought you were dead at the time. It's hard to ask after someone who shouldn't be in any position to care. Anyway, if it makes you feel better, assume this is us paying attention to the setup."
Cosmo sighs. "There is no setup, Marty. I'd give you my word, but you have every reason not to accept that. No one's going to shoot at any of you - if they do, they'll be answering to me. And if it takes half the money in advance for you to believe me, then by all means, you'll have it. If nothing else, know I wouldn't ask for your help lightly."
"Good, because we're definitely not giving it lightly." It does, at least, sound like Cosmo knows the guys haven't forgiven him yet, and aren't necessarily likely to ever do so, that gives Marty some hope that the job won't turn into yet another giant clusterfuck.
Three days later, the check for the first half of their payment arrives in the mail, from a completely legit account (Carl traces the account number far enough to be sure of that). Anyone signing over that much - and only meaning it as half of the total - has to be serious about keeping the people they're hiring safe.
Marty still doesn't like it, but he's a little more willing to take the leap of faith, after seeing that.
The night the check shows up, Marty decides it's time he called Liz about this. She won't be interested in helping, he knows that, but it's better than her keel-hauling him because he didn't tell her until after the fact.
After he tells her what's going on, she says, "You're not... actually doing this, are you?"
"We don't have a whole lot of choice, from a monetary standpoint. And it's not like we're going in with our eyes closed - that's... part of why I'm calling, actually."
"I'm not going to help."
Marty can't help laughing a little, if only because he saw that coming. "I'm not asking you to. I just want someone to know what's up, in case this does go pear-shaped. Carl said something about calling his girlfriend, too, and she'd be a better choice if we need backup. But... well, someone's got to call Cosmo on his bullshit, if necessary."
"True enough, I guess." Liz sighs. "Just... be careful."
"Oh, we will."
Marty thinks it helps that they can do a hell of a lot of this without going anywhere near the building; if nothing else, that severely lowers the odds they'll be shot at. But they're not letting their guard down, even with that benefit. There are still too many risks attached.
They monitor the data access on Cosmo's stuff for two weeks; everyone pitches in, since Carl's still a little skittish and they won't have inside work to do until they have answers. It's Whistler who picks up on the pattern, after three days of tuning in via Braille terminal.
"There's a sequence that keeps popping up, before the system logs the data breach," he says. "It might be an employee ID of some kind."
"Possible," Marty says. "We'll look into it."
It is an employee ID, as things turn out, but just when they're getting close enough to figure out who it is, the sequence stops turning up. So do the data breaches, which at least makes that part easier, but Marty's got a feeling they can't get out of this that easily; Cosmo's going to want to know who was sticking their nose where they shouldn't have.
Carl does finally track the ID; it belongs to someone who just put in his two weeks' notice. Mother thinks that looks fishy enough to follow up on (and for once, even Crease can't object), but that checks out just fine, almost surprisingly. There's no money missing from Cosmo's business accounts, and there's no mysterious deposits in the guy's personal accounts. There's only the data breaches to suggest that anything unusual is going on.
They have no choice but to send someone in, on the guy's last day. Marty wishes he were surprised that it ends up being him - really, there are days he wishes he didn't get all the fun stuff, mostly when it's the sort of fun that's actually excruciating pain. At least this time, he doesn't have to move at a snail's pace in a stifling hot room.
It's a small bright side, but he'll take it.
Getting to where he's going requires a lot less sneaking around, this time, since he's there on official business. Once he gets past the part where people check his ID and raise eyebrows at him, it's almost disappointingly easy. Still, no one's chasing after him with guns, and he's not crawling around in the ceiling.
The guy is packing up his office space, when Marty gets there.
"You got a minute?"
The guy looks at him warily for a moment. "That depends. What's it about?"
"Your round of 'follow the money.'"
"I didn't take anything, if that's what you want to know--"
"Oh, we already know that." Marty steps into the guy's office, and closes the door behind him. "I'm just curious as to why."
"Something I overheard at lunch a few weeks back. It got me thinking, and... I wanted to see where the money went. When I found out, I gave notice - I can't be a part of that, however indirectly."
"Why not go to the police with it?"
The guy shrugs. "I'm not sure if they'll believe me. They're probably not good enough to get through all that encryption themselves, and I couldn't exactly print off what I was seeing while I was on company time. I tried it from home once, but let me tell you, that is one ferocious firewall. I'm surprised I managed what I did."
Marty is sure Carl would understand the firewall remark, and makes a mental note to ask about it; the way the guy said it, it sounds important. "You ever thought about getting into security testing?"
"I have, actually. But I'm more of a robotics person, so unless there's a rash of computers breaking into places that I don't know about..."
"Not so far, no. Well, that's all I wanted to know. Good luck with whatever you end up doing after this."
The guy blinks a couple of times, then smiles. "Thanks."
None of them want to have a face-to-face meeting with Cosmo, so Marty makes him call their office. It may not be the most professional way to do this, but he thinks he's allowed a bit of unprofessionalism, in the face of the circumstances. Besides, he's got a few bad memories associated with Cosmo's office; if he must do this, he's going to do it on the safe kind of familiar territory.
Of course, it means he's got to deal with Cosmo on his own, but under the circumstances, he thinks he can handle it.
Cosmo doesn't bother with pleasantries, when he does finally call; Marty almost wishes he could say he was surprised. "So, what news do you have for me?"
"Your security systems are sound. If you're hoping to crack down on anything, I'd recommend you look into the break room conversation."
"Really. How interesting. Do I have to worry about the person who was poking around at the information?"
"Probably not," Marty says, glad that it's entirely true. "He seemed content to go about his business somewhere else."
"I suspect that's just as well. I'll have a few words with people about where they have their conversations."
"Maybe it'd be easier to separate the businesses."
Cosmo sighs. "You know I can't do that, Marty. The world is rarely as neat and orderly as we'd like it to be."
"But you wouldn't have to worry about this kind of thing causing you trouble."
"Be that as it may, I think it's a risk I'm stuck taking, now. Anyway, what concern is it of yours, if I get screwed over in a situation like this?"
Marty sighs. "I would've thought you couldn't misinterpret a little concern for your well-being, this time. Especially considering that's all I had in mind the first time. You're too cynical for your own good, do you know that?"
There's silence after that, and for a second he's worried that Cosmo hung up. But then he says, "I like to think it's kept me alive more often than not. In any case, you'll have the rest of your payment shortly."
"Good to know. Thank you."
It's thanks for not screwing them over, as much as anything else, and he's not sure whether his actual point there at the end got through. But he does feel better for having said it.