This story has been fun to write. I couldn’t help but take it into a geography that I’m familiar with. For those of you that have read my Frank Rozzani Detective Series, you probably recognized the character that my still-unnamed main character and Ben Simpson have come to visit.
Clifford “Jonesy” Jones is one of the most characters to write for. He is a legal, financial and technology genius that is also a bit of a wise-ass. In this story, however, you’re going to see a different side of him.
In order to write this part of the story, I had to do some research on the Dark Web and the Deep Web. Those hidden parts of what we know as the Internet will be important as this story progresses.
Road Kill – Part 9
“First, saying the name ‘Mr. Athenos’ in public can get you killed or worse. Second, who the hell are you guys and why are you here?”
That was the warm greeting that Ben Simpson and I received from Clifford Jones, III. He was a contradiction in his board shorts, flip flops and Deadpool t-shirt. His clothes said beach bum, but his face and demeanor said that he was serious and not happy with us.
Ben and I told him our names which meant nothing to him.
“We served on the same ship as Brad Rafferty. Does that name ring a bell?”
A bit of recognition and a slight diminishment in tension crossed Jones’s face.
“I know Brad and his sister Nancy, but I’m not sure how that connects to me or to you using the code word in the lobby of my office.”
I explained to Jones how desperate we were and I relayed to him the details of the past few days without leaving anything out. He tented his fingers and I watched as his eyebrows rose up in conjunction with the portions of the story that intrigued him.
“So, you escaped from The Mother Ship and lived to tell about it. You are either very skilled or very lucky,” Jones said when I was finished.
“Well, he had some help,” Ben interjected.
“Yeah. About that, what drove you to build a bunker on steroids under your property, Mr. Simpson? It’s almost like you were expecting something like this.”
Jones seemed to think that there was more to Ben’s story than he was telling. I would later find out this was true.
“Mr. Jones, when you’ve seen what our government is capable of, and you have the information that I collected as part of military intelligence, you have to be prepared for something like this. I’m not crazy, just practical,” Ben said. This last sentence seemed to be more to convince himself than Jones.
Jones didn’t seem convinced, but he moved on anyway.
“So you’re thinking that someone set you up. You got to close to someone and they wanted to shut you down.”
“That’s the thing, Mr. Jones. I didn’t get close to anyone. The information in the peripheral files that showed up on my laptop were planted there. I’m sure of it. I have no idea which case it was or what the information was, but Donovan seemed convinced that I had crossed the line and that’s all that matters.”
“So what you’re telling me is that, by coming here, you’ve put me, my partner, and anyone associated with us in jeopardy. Excuse me if I don’t send you a fruit basket to thank you.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t argue with him. Ben decided to plead our case.
“Look, Mr. Jones. Were desperate. My friend here is literally running for his life. The organization we are running from doesn’t mess around. You have to take my word on this. Unless we can clear his name, he is going to disappear and I might disappear along with him just for helping him.”
“So Edward Snowden was right? It’s hard to separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to how deep the government is in our stuff,” Jones said as if he had given this topic a great deal of thought.
“More than you know,” Ben responded.
“Suppose I do decide to help? You’re thinking that the images of your laptop that you backed up might help prove that you didn’t tap into these peripheral files?”
“That’s what I’m hoping,” I responded.
“Hoping. That’s very definitive,” Jones said with a sarcastic tone. You’re saying you backed them up to the Dark Web? A lot of people that are worried about information being compromised are doing that these days.”
“I don’t understand that myself,” Simpson interjected. “Isn’t that where hackers hang out?”
“It is, Mr. Simpson. But there is a collective cooperation or an ‘honor among thieves’ if you will. If you’re sophisticated enough to access the Dark Web, the hackers leave you alone.”
Then Jones turned to me
“You’re not going to find your laptop images on the Dark Web. They’re on the Deep Web. There is a difference.”
I had heard the distinction and the technology purists that were adamant about reinforcing that distinction. The Dark Web uses the infrastructure and connectivity of the public Internet, but can only be accessed by special software. There is a huge black market trade, especially in the area of drugs. It’s estimated that between four and five percent of Dark Web users are hackers.
The Deep Web is more of a repository or Internet graveyard. It is filled with private sites, archived storage, and Internet time capsules that are not accessible or indexed by search engines like Google or Bing.
“In order to find your files on the Deep Web, we’re going to have to find out who administered the site where your stored them on the Dark Web. Most Dark Web and public Internet sites are backed up to the archives on the Deep web daily, or more frequently depending on the nature of the data. Hopefully your laptop images were updated at least twice a day.”
“Does that mean you’re going to help us?” I asked, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.
“Do I have a choice. You’ve put me in danger just by coming here. If this Donovan and your agency is as powerful as you say, I’m involved. Just because I talked to you, they’ll be so far up my butt that I won’t be able to sit down. Hopefully you’re at least a step ahead of them, but I’m not going to take any chances.”
“What do you mean?” Ben asked.
“I’m going to put you two up somewhere while I dig into this. My partner has a trailer that he used to live in that you can crash in for a few days. Once you give me the information I need, I’m going to have to pull some strings and call in some favors in order to find those laptop backup images.”
“That means you’re going to have tell your partner about us. Is that a good idea?” Simpson asked.
Jones gave him a piercing look.
“Listen, I trust my partner implicitly. He’s already seen you. I’ll just tell him you’re one of my legal clients and that you need a place to crash. He will be fine with it and I won’t be lying. If I sort this out, you guys are going to be paying me some big money.”
“What kind of money, I asked?”
“Let’s just say you’re going to help me get closer to buying that private island I’ve had my eye on.”
Jones was obviously anxious to end the meeting and get us sequestered. He gave us directions to the trailer and got the key from his partner.
“You’re going to have to ditch that Crown Victoria,” Jones said as we came out into the lobby. “Leave it here I’ll drive you guys to the trailer. I’ll get someone to take care of the car and swing by with some food.”
We left the building and climbed into Jones’s Subaru crossover. He gave me a tablet device and asked me to type in the relevant information, for the area of the Dark Web where I had backed up my laptop. I typed in the website, login and password and reluctantly put it in between the front seats.
“Don’t worry. It’s encrypted and not connected to the Internet. If anyone tries to get into it, all of the data gets wiped.”
The drive to the trailer was short. It was in a secluded area close to the beach which made it a good place to lay low. Jones pulled up to the trailer and went to the trunk of his car to grab a small duffel bag.
“Take this. It has a burner phone and some cash in it. If you need to take off in a hurry, there’s enough cash to help you make a quick exit.”
“You just keep this in your car?” Simpson asked.
“This is coming from the guy who built the Mall of America under his house? I like to be prepared. I’ve been shot and threatened enough in my line of work to learn to be careful.”
“I thought you were an attorney and owned a surf shop,” Simpson quipped.
“That’s only part of the story. The bad guys we deal with aren’t always happy with us.”
Jones got back into his car and pulled away. The trailer’s door had a dog entrance. I unlocked and we went inside. Thankfully, the AC was running and it was clean and well maintained and looked like no one had lived in it for a while. There was some bottled water in the refrigerator. I grabbed one and handed one to Ben.
“Now I guess we just sit tight,” Ben said.
I grabbed one of the Stephen King paperbacks from the book shelf. Ben grabbed a running magazine that was least a year old and we sat on the couch waiting.
“Do you think Jones is trustworthy?” Ben asked.
“He’s our best bet.”
“How did you hear about him?”
This was a long story and related back to my time in the Navy. Since we had nothing but time, I thought it would be okay to tell Ben about the connection.
“Do you remember that time when I was on a special assignment toward the end of our last tour?”
“Brad Rafferty and I got to spend a lot of time together and that’s when I learned about the Dark Web and people like Clifford Jones.”
“Interesting. I had no idea Rafferty was into that. Tell me about it.”
Ben seemed a little bit too interested. If I was going to tell him this story, I might want to leave out some details.