Pulling into the parking lot, Peter was taken back to the early days of the business. Hammond Lock & Key began as a small locksmith business. It was just Peter and Amy working together to eke out a living as the business grew slowly. It wasn’t until Frank Littleton, Peter’s best friend from high school and a detective on the local police force, recommended that a victim, of a home invasion, call Peter to secure their property, that things began to change.

Peter’s inexperience with alarm systems didn’t deter him. Hammond Lock & Key already dealt with suppliers who could provide electronic alarms and locks so why not take a shot. Peter did a bit of research and with the help of one of his suppliers; he came up with an estimate. The client agreed and Hammond Security Solutions was born.

Peter was good with his hands and hard work never scared him. Paperwork however, set his teeth on edge so Amy kept the bookwork and the office in order and ensured that the finances never got out of hand. As the company grew, the task became larger and soon they had two office assistants to help with scheduling and bookwork. Peter and Amy realized quickly that they needed a system in place to ensure the proper handling of their accounts. Seeking help to find the right system, they turned to Merv Jackson, their bank manager.

“HQ,” Merv said without blinking. ‘It will do everything you want and more. The best part is that you already have it in your operating system. Every computer sold in the last five years has it embedded. Just activate the different modules by paying the monthly fee. And the best part is it’s all secure and done on-line. You can access anything from anywhere. All you need is the Internet.”

“Geez Merv, you sound like a god damned commercial. What? You get a kickback or somethin’,” Peter chided.

“Something like that,” Merv shot back. “No, not at all but I tell you everyone is using it. Hell, we use it here at the bank. Every thing’s integrated and it’s easy to use. I tell you the guys at HQ are smart. They knew what they were doing when they developed this and they knew enough to give it away. Now they’re making billions. Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t picked up on this before now.”

Peter looked at him sheepishly. “Who’s got time? I’m so busy I can’t even scratch and Amy’s doing her best but we need something better.”

HQ was even better than Merv had said. It even allowed for video integration. From anywhere in the world he could log in and watch what was going on in his operation in real time. It made things so easy he and Amy wondered how they ever got along without it.

To some, the Hammond’s success would seem meteoric. It was just the opposite. Peter and Amy Hammond worked tirelessly to build the business and after twenty years, Hammond Security became an “overnight success.” Employing ten installation technicians, three sales reps and two office staff, Peter and Amy woke up one day to realize that they really didn’t have to rush into the office that day. HQ was practically running it for them. The realization made them giddy. After all these years, would it truly be possible to take some time off?

They found themselves planning their first ever vacation. Travel brochures littered the coffee table at home and Peter spent a lot of his spare time surfing the Web for info on cruise packages. Peter studied everything he could find about cruise ships and itineraries. If a program came on T.V., he watched it, recorded it and watched it over again. He learned all he could and delved deep into the different cruise lines and packages available. They visited their travel agency almost weekly and pestered their agent to the point of distraction. He called them dream sessions.

It was on the last of these dream sessions that life changed forever. Peter and Amy sat in the travel agent’s office, excited that this was the day. They were actually going to book their trip. They would take a Caribbean cruise to Grand Cayman and Jamaica. Everything was in order, Peter handed over his credit card and with a swipe of the magnetic piece of plastic, the card machine performed its magic and the dream became reality. With handshakes and smiles all round, the Hammonds stepped out into the fresh March air.

Peter didn’t notice Amy turn away to pick up a brochure she had dropped. The wind gusted just then and Amy stepped off the curb to snatch at the fluttering paper. She never saw the pickup truck. Tires screeched, horns blared, and bystanders screamed in terror as the pickup roared by in a speeding red blur, smashing Amy’s body into the air like a rag doll, landing in a sickening heap thirty feet away. Time froze as Peter stared at the horror, taking place in front of him. Helpless and immobile he didn’t have time to act. His feet remained cemented to the pavement, as all he could do was to reach out in an impotent attempt to snatch his wife from the jaws of death. The driver never stopped.

Peter ran to the twisted, broken and bleeding body of his beloved wife. Kneeling next to her, wailing and sobbing, he held Amy’s bloody head in his arms as he peered through tear filled eyes watching the pickup fishtail as it raced away. He could do nothing, it was over in seconds, Amy was dead and Peter Hammond’s life was forever changed. He couldn’t know that fate was not through with him yet.

Amy’s death left Peter needing someone to run the office. That’s, when he found Becky. Recommended by his IT provider, Rebecca (Becky) Parsons knew things about HQ that others would probably never learn and she would prove to be a vital cog in the gears of the business. Having grown up in Seattle, Becky held a Master’s degree in Computer Science from UCLA. She had intimate knowledge of BASYS and HQ because she had designed part of the system, herself.

She had worked in the Ornomide Corp. Research and Development Center up until two years before. She’d resigned, from Ornomide, under a cloud of innuendo and accusation. Certain aspects of the HQ software were compromised and Becky was suspected of industrial espionage. A court trial meant bad news for Ornomide. Becky’s lawyer threatened to take the issue to the news media. Ornomide did not want the publicity. Bad news of any kind would drive share prices down. They would be months if not years trying to recover. In return for her resignation and her silence, Ornomide dropped the charges and gave her a severance package. She could not stay in California. She agreed to move away and she chose Pennsylvania where she settled in Briarsville.

The job at Hammond Security came out of nowhere. Becky had taken time off after the fiasco with Ornomide and was now searching for something to do. She still had part of her settlement but that wouldn’t last forever and she needed an income if only to pay the bills. Hammond Security wouldn’t have been her first choice but she liked Peter right off the bat and the fact that he had recently lost his wife made her somewhat empathetic toward him. She had lost her father only a year before and she truly missed her brother who was serving in Iraq as a Gunnery Sergeant. She took the job in spite of the fact that she was over qualified and under paid.

Becky stepped in through the back door of Hammond Security’s garage. The fifty by twenty foot garage gleamed in the brilliance of the mercury vapor lighting. Five spotless white mini-vans awaited their installation crews lined up abreast poised to attack the day’s workload. Technicians busied themselves loading materials and tools into the vans as Mike Salter sat at his desk with a confused look on his face.

“Good morning everyone” Becky said as she closed the door behind her.

Work ceased for a moment as the techs watched longingly as Becky crossed the floor. Mike too, had to stop what he was doing to admire Becky’s figure as she made her way towards him. She sure is made right, he thought as Becky approached. Becky sensed that all eyes were on her and it made her a little self-conscious. Anyone would have taken her to be a lot younger. Barely five foot six and one hundred and ten pounds, Becky could hold her own with women ten years her junior.

“Is something wrong Mike?” Becky asked as she noticed the look on his face. ”You look lost.”

“Don’t know.” Mike replied. “I’ve got to order some parts but the system won’t let me log on to our account. It keeps saying there is no such account. I can’t figure out what’s wrong.”

Becky stepped in closer to take a look. Her long auburn hair brushed Mike’s face as she leaned around him to see what was wrong. Becky typed in her login password and tried to access the supplier. The screen sat blank for a moment then displayed the message “INVALID ACCOUNT.” She tried again with the same result. Her fingers worked the keyboard with lightening speed. This was weird. None of their accounts would open.

“I’ll have to check into this Mike, has Peter looked at this?” She asked.

“No, he’s not in yet,” Mike replied.

“Strange, it’s not like him to be late. I guess he’ll be here soon. In the meantime, maybe you should get the guys out on the road. I don’t think he’ll be too pumped about everyone standing around. Can you get by with what you have for now?” She asked.

“I suppose I’ll have to.” Mike answered, “But I’m going to need those parts tomorrow for sure.”

“OK I’m sure it’s nothing serious. I’ll figure it out and place the order for you.” Becky said.

Mike agreed and set about getting the crews out for the day. Perplexed and concerned, Becky vacated Mike’s desk and moved into the front office.