This week, I bring in a familiar character from both my Frank Rozzani and Brad Rafferty series. He is a genius hacker/attorney and sometime drummer that has a reputation that is well-deserved that makes him much sought after.
Throwing him into the mix of this story creates a bridge in my book and short story universe that connects my works. It’s also fun to fall into writing for an old, familiar character.
I hope you enjoy the developments in this installment of First Impressions
The swells were unusually high off Jacksonville Beach. At five feet, the surfing was still sedate, but more challenging than usual. As the sun made its final escape from the ocean horizon to the east, a blonde-haired figure stood on his long board with knees bent enjoying his last trip on the waves before heading into the office. It was going to be a relatively quiet day of catching up on paperwork, going over the books for his surf shop and checking through his finances. His business partner was on vacation with his kids. As a result, this breezy day seemed like a good one to knock off early, pick up his girlfriend, and get in some late afternoon surfing and maybe have a picnic on the beach.
When he was busy with a case, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, the financial success of the business allowed selectivity among cases and resulted in relaxing lulls conducive to things like surfing and picnics.
As he stowed his board in the bed of his new pickup and brushed the sand from his feet and legs, he could hear the chirp of his cell phone. A call at 8AM couldn’t be good news in terms of the relaxing day he had planned, but hey, maybe it was just his business partner checking in or some other random call.
“Jones,” he said.
“Um, Mr. Jones, I hope I’m not disturbing you. I know it’s early there.”
“Not too early. I’ve been surfing for two hours. As to whether you’re disturbing me, that depends on who you are and what you want.”
“Of course. I’m sorry. This is Bob Johnston. I’m the CIO for Kongo Match.”
“Wow. This is really something. I thought I already told you guys no.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“I’m sorry. No to what?”
“I don’t want a job. I don’t care how much it pays. I’m not interested in working for a corporate giant. I’m perfectly happy with what I’m doing. I’m not interested in AI or any other aspect of Kongo.com.”
“This isn’t related to offering you a job…well, not exactly. It’s about needing your services of as part of your company.”
“Okay. Now I’m the one that’s confused. You guys have the most sophisticated IT resources of any company in the world. Why would you need my mom and pop shop?”
“I think you’re underestimating yourself, Mr. Jones. Word has gotten around about your work within your own company and with the government. I think your skills are something we don’t have and, in this situation, something we desperately need.”
“I’m not sure I can help you. We’ve got a pretty full case load at the moment,” Jones lied.
“I can guarantee you triple your normal fees. Just hear me out and see if it’s something you can fit into your schedule.”
Clifford “Jonesy” Jones laughed to himself. Triple his normal fees. His company didn’t exactly have normal fees. On a typical case, he and his partner might receive nothing or they might receive a finder fee worth much more than anything they could charge for their services. They selected their cases based on the need of the client or on their own interest in what the case involved. Money was not a motivation, but he would hear Johnson out. If Kongo was this desperate, it might be an interesting situation.
“Okay. Tell me your situation. I’ll see if we have some billable hours to help you out if I think we’ll be effective.”
Johnston went through the scenario with Jones leaving out none of the details. He wasn’t sure if Keller would be happy about that without a signed non-disclosure agreement, but he had to roll the dice. Jones had a strong reputation, not only as a hacker, but as a guy with impeccable ethics. If he didn’t take the work, from what Johnston heard about him, he could be trusted to keep the situation confidential.
“Holy crap,” Jones said when Johnston was finished. “I thought meeting someone in a bar was risky. This takes it to a whole new level.”
“So, what do you think, Mr. Jones? Can you help me out?”
Jonesy went over the possibilities in his mind. Someone either currently or formerly inside of Kongo had it in for the company. Although nothing was in the news, he had heard about a couple of other incidents in their AI and Fitness divisions that were urban legend. Maybe those occurrences were more factual than he thought. This could be a juicy case and he could learn something about this behemoth of a company. Of course, there was always the money. He would have to pick a nice juicy fee to triple. His retirement to that private island near Costa Rica that he had his eye on would be that much closer.
“I think we might be able to fit you in our schedule,” he finally answered. “What’s your timetable?”
“That’s great, Mr. Jones,” Johnston said, sounding relieved. “The timetable is pretty aggressive. This is an urgent situation.”
“I’ll bet it is. Send me the information you have, and I’ll start looking into it.”
“Actually, I have a private jet on standby for you at Craig Airfield. It’s ready to bring you here to Albuquerque. It can take off as soon as you can get there.”
“Hmmm…I’ll have to shuffle a couple of things and get things in order here. I can be at the airport in about two hours.”
What Jonesy meant was that he needed to eat breakfast, shower, and throw some clean clothes in a bag. He’d also have to let his girlfriend know that their afternoon surfing date was postponed. Other than that, he was ready.
“That’s great. I’ll let the pilots know. I’ll meet you when you get here. I really appreciate this.”
“I’ll see you in Albuquerque.”
Jonesy disconnected the call and walked over to the Sun Dog, a local eatery owned by his good friend Samuel “Fat Sam” Monreaux.
Since Martin Donovan and his date, Danielle were recorded in the throws of passion and the video was shared with everyone they knew, life had been miserable for both of them. Like John and Meredith, both had found their jobs in jeopardy and faced embarrassment from the exposure from family, friends, coworkers and even casual acquaintances. The videos of both couples along with several others secretly recorded by the rogue algorithm, had gone viral. They were reluctant recipients of unwanted celebrity status even being followed by the gossip show, TMZ.
There was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Their videos would live on the Internet forever. Martin had contacted an attorney to see if there was some way to put an injunction in place to have the videos removed, but quickly realized that the expense of doing so would not erase the memories of those that had viewed them.
After this ill-fated attempt to secure legal action, Martin, Danielle, John and Meredith received individual calls from a New Mexico attorney. His name was Lou Sturgis. He told each of the victims that Kongo had deep pockets and, if they all got on board in a class action suit, they could realize a very substantial settlement, of which he would only take 40%, and it would help ease their pain. At first, most of the of the Kongo Match victims refused the offer seeing Lou Sturgis as the proverbial ambulance chaser. This was further reinforced by viewing the videos of his local commercials in New Mexico. They showed a forty-something man with capped teeth in an expensive designer suit making a pitch. Regardless of the target of his commercials, those in nursing homes, those wronged by drug companies, doctors or other corporate entities, he always ended with his catchphrase; Don’t cry boo hoo. Call Lou and sue.
Lou, however, was not just an amateur. He had gone up against big companies and had won big settlements for himself and his clients. After some legwork and persistence, Lou started signing clients for a class actions suit against Kongo Match and its parent company Kongo.com. Martin and Danielle decided there would be strength in signing on together. They also decided to keep seeing each other as there was no point in being cautious at this point. It took a bit more convincing, but John eventually signed on to the suit and convinced a reluctant Meredith to sign on as well convincing her of the benefit of an alliance.
The day the suit was filed, the brain trust of attorneys hired by Kongo.com’s general counsel, Tom Fulton, was already at work deciding on the best path to take. This brainstorming resulted in a strategy that Tom would need to discuss with the Kongo.com and Kongo Match CEOs. He wasn’t relishing the message he had to deliver.
As he waited in the executive conference room on the 25th floor of Kongo.com headquarters, Fulton tried to focus on the beautiful panorama of the Sandia Mountains that was spread before him through the floor to ceiling windows. Jonathan Keller had traveled across town from the Kongo Match headquarters and, along with Jack Burgess, the overall Kongo.com CEO, the three sat down to talk strategy.
“First, let me say that we’ve looked over the facts in this situation and the news is not great,” Fulton began, trying to set expectations. Someone that either works for Kongo Match or used to work there is being very aggressive and malicious. There actions are criminal in every way, but without a likely culprit, we are not in good shape. In fact, because the recording and distribution of these videos appears to be coming from within the company, it puts both the subsidiary and the parent companies on the hook.”
“When you say, on the hook, what exactly does that mean,” Burgess asked.
“It means that there can be criminal charges against the IT management of Kongo Match. Beyond that, however, the potential civil penalties could be massive. The attorney that filed the class action suit, Lou Sturgis, is known for going after deep pockets and winning.”
“You mean the sleazy guy on the billboard,” Bob Keller chimed in. “You can’t be serious.”
“He may have a certain sleaze factor,” Fulton admitted. “He wins, though and Kongo.com is like a career making fish that he would like to land.”
“Let’s cut to the chase,” Burgess said, growing impatient. “What’s our best course of action.”
“The best, hell, the only course of action is to find out who is behind this and then go public and make sure he or she is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That may not end the class action suit, but it will show good faith by Kongo.com in finding out who was responsible.”
“What if we can’t do that?” Burgess asked.
“Then get ready to pay big civil penalties and answer to a disgruntled board. It could be a major, potentially fatal blow to, not only Kongo Match, but Kongo.com overall.”
“And what if we go to court?” Burgess asked.
“We will lose. It’s as simple as that,” Fulton said. “Find out who is responsible, or the company will suffer.”
“Bob, can this guy you’re bringing in from Florida get to the bottom of this?” Burgess asked the Kongo Match CIO.
“If he can’t, no one can. This guy is the best in the business,” Bob Keller said, hoping that his words were true and that Clifford “Jonesy” Jones was as skilled as everyone had told him.