This slightly longer installment was so much fun to write because it involved three intriguing characters that are emerging from this story. the first is the mysterious hacker/villain OutofDate62. We learn a bit more about the motivation of this character and the malice toward Kongo.com that drives his/her evil acts.
The second character is an old standby in my writing universe. Clifford “Jonesy” Jones. Jonesy is a brilliant Attorney/Investigator/Hacker/Surfer/Drummer that teams up with Frank Rozzani in all of my books in that series. He also made an appearance in Blood Match, the 2nd book in my Brad Rafferty series. He seemed perfect to bring into this installment of the Kongo series.
Finally, there’s attorney Lou Sturgis with his motto, “Don’t cry boo hoo, call Lou and sue”. His character was inspired by Bob Odenkirk’s masterful portrayal of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman from the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul series. Additionally, I spent about 6 months in Albuquerque on a project and the city is a perfect backdrop for Kongo. I would drive around and marvel at the creative billboards for attorneys with catchy slogans like “Hurt? Call Burt” and “Ill, Call Bill”. I couldn’t resist adding a fictional attorney like this for some type of interaction/showdown with Jonesy later in the story.
At any rate, please enjoy Part 5 of my serial, First Impressions.
OutofDate62, through a hack into the phones of those whose videos had been distributed, was monitoring the progress of the lawsuit brought about by the ambulance chaser, Lou Sturgis. Sturgis wasn’t smart enough to find the case on his own. He had received an anonymous email tipping him off to what had happened at Kongo Match before any media attention had occurred. It seemed that the victims were not anxious to air their dirty laundry in the press in action against Kongo Match. OutofDate62 suspected this might happen, but the email to Sturgis was always a backup plan.
Things were playing out nicely. The count of purloined videos was now up to 152. Sturgis had signed 80 to the suit and the number would likely hit 100 soon as peer pressure and ‘me too-ism’ sunk in as the lure of dollar signs trumped the embarrassment going public with the scenarios might bring. Between the invasion of privacy infractions and the civil damages, this suit could put a financial dent into Kongo.com, but would also irreparably damage the company’s reputation through a breach of trust with its customers. OutofDate62 knew that, even though millions had had their financial security breached by credit card companies, retail giants, banks and even the credit reporting bureaus, breaching the sanctity of their intimate moments in their private lives fired people up for retaliation like nothing else.
Kongo.com deserved it. They manipulated and discarded the worth of their customers and their employees every day. Someone needed to be held accountable. Someone needed to teach them that people were not just numbers on a bar graph. They weren’t just focus groups or commodities to be drained of their knowledge and cast-off. They would pay dearly. OutofDate62 would not be satisfied until Jack Burgess went to jail and the company was bankrupt.
Jonesy stopped by the office before taking the fifteen-minute drive to Craig Airfield to board the private jet Kongo.com had chartered for his trip to Albuquerque. He wanted to pick up a few pieces of equipment that he thought he might need once he got there. He had packed a duffel with enough board shorts, flip flops and t-shirts for four days. Anything beyond that and he would find a laundromat or a store to buy more. He suspected, however, that there might not be surf shops in the high desert of New Mexico. The weather was going to be warm during the day with cool nights. He through a hoodie in the duffel just to be sure.
He picked up some prototypical devices that he had devised for just this type of case. He was happy that he might have a chance to test them out. He had stopped by his girlfriend’s house. Dr. Holly Waters and Jonesy had been seeing each other exclusively for a while. She had been instrumental in a case that he and his partner had been working on. She loved to surf, eat and was pretty hot on top of it. Things were on the cusp of being serious. He thought, without knowing how long he would be gone, he should stop by and say a proper goodbye. She understood the nature of his work and supported his inconsistent hours and travel. She also gave him a goodbye that would not allow him to forget about her while he was gone.
He was out the door of his office in ten minutes and into his Subaru crossover for the 15-minute drive down Atlantic Boulevard to Craig field. A small executive airport on the eastern fringes of Jacksonville’s Arlington area.
He pulled into the passenger parking spot near the designated hangar. He saw the Learjet 60 with it’s twin PW300 turbofan engines. This plane would whish him from Jacksonville to Albuquerque in a little over 4 hours.
As he exited his car, one of the pilots approached him and reached for his bag.
“Mr. Jones, I presume?” the man asked as he reached for the duffel.
“I am. I can carry this. It’s all I have, and I want to access it on board if that’s okay.”
“No problem sir. I was told you are a VIP and was offering assistance.” The pilot looked at Jonesy’s attire, pink plaid board shorts, neon green flip flops and a hot pink Pink Panther vintage t-shirt and his face indicated his reconsideration of the VIP status.
“These are my flying clothes,” Jonesy replied, as if hearing the question via ESP. “I want to be easy to find if you boys can’t keep this bird in the air.”
The pilot chuckled and shook his head slightly. He was used to eccentric passengers being flown into Albuquerque by Kongo.com. Jonesy used his eccentricity as an alter-ego to mask his superhero status as an attorney, investigator and hacker.
As he boarded the plane, he was struck by the fact that he was the only passenger on this plain that could comfortably seat 12. There was a flight attendant that greeted him and asked what he preferred to eat among a choice of 15 lunch entrees. He had just eaten breakfast about two hours ago, but he could always eat. He picked a couple of relatively healthy items and picked a comfortable leather reclining seat about halfway back in the cabin over the right-hand side wing. Each seat had individual entertainment systems with noise cancelling headphones provided. Jonesy settled in for what would be a very comfortable three-hour flight.
Lou Sturgis had now signed 92 of the estimated 150+ victims of the Kongo-gate, his term, travesty. He had gathered them all at the Albuquerque Little Theater facility at 224 San Pasquale Avenue. It was a small community theater auditorium. He was friends with the creative director and was allowed to use the theater for meetings like this one during the day in exchange for legal advice. Sturgis waited in the wings of the theater as the group gathered in the center of the first 5 or 6 rows of muted orange seats. Muted orange and turquoise seemed to be the official colors of Albuquerque. They blended in with the endless sand and mountains and seemed to be included in the décor of every building to some extent.
Sturgis waited in the wings. He had chosen a navy pinstriped suit with a glowing red power tie and matching pocket square with a crisp white shirt. He wanted to exude the patriotic vibe without being blatantly obvious. Once everyone was settled, he would make his entrance.
He had scheduled the meeting for10AM. It was now 10:05 and it looked like the last stragglers had finally seated themselves. He wanted to allow them to get settled but not chat too much amongst themselves before he could address them. He queued the old stage director who instantly dimmed the house lights and focused a spotlight on the mark at center stage. Sturgis stepped out into the light and flashed his million-dollar smile.
“Welcome. Welcome to all of you,” he began as he patiently waited for the drone of muttering to quiet down and then stop. “I want to start out by thanking you all for making it in this morning. I know it may have inconvenienced some of you, but I think you will see how important it is that we all meet as we prepare to go into battle.”
“I want to take you through the facts of the case and then leave time for some questions at the end. I want to be sure that you all understand the process and are all comfortable with it moving forward.”
Actually, Sturgis wasn’t all that concerned with their comfort. He wanted to pain a picture that was attractive enough to gain their continued consent. He continued this for the next forty-five minutes by first profiling Kongo.com as an evil, big brother type company that wanted to wring every last dollar from them. He then sought to bring them together in the belief that the company had then abused them further by compromising their most intimate information in order to extort them and ruin their lives in the process. He then finished with a moving monologue about how they were all in this together and how he would not rest until Kongo.com was brought to justice and a message was sent to other companies that Americans would not stand for this type of treatment.
After his big finish, he asked that the house lights be brought up so that he could answer questions from Kongo.com’s victims. Many hands shot up immediately. Sturgis tried to assess the questioners so that he could pick the right kind of person with the right kind of question. He had carefully profiled each of the 92 victims and, with his fantastic memory for faces and names, could identify most of the questioners by name and demographic.
“You sir,” Sturgis said pointing to a 60-something man in the front row. “Mr. Jackson, I believe it is.”
“Um, yes,” the man answered, seemingly amazed that Sturgis knew him by name. “I have a question about the money. How much will we get and how much of that will you get?”
“Absolutely, Mr. Jackson. I’m sure that question is on the minds of many of you,” Sturgis answered as he smiled internally watching three-quarters of the hands go down. “My team and I have analyzed this carefully based on the assets of Kongo Match and Kongo.com along with the monetary and emotional damage done to each of you. We believe there is a substantial amount of potential damages that could be awarded bringing each of you somewhere in the seven-figure neighborhood.”
“That’s a good neighborhood,” Jackson said resulting in laughter from many in the group. “How much of that do you get?”
“Fair question, Sir. The standard fee for this is 30%. Because of the heinous nature of this, however, I’m only taking 25%. You have been brutalized enough by Kongo.com, I don’t want to kick you while you’re down.”
Sturgis mentally noted the many nodding heads. This was going just as planned. He picked another hand that went up. It was a thirty-something year old attractive women with auburn colored hair.
“Yes, you in the second row, Ms. Anderson, I believe.”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m Sarah Anderson.”
“Great. What’s your question?”
“Well, I’m concerned. If this goes to trial, I mean, if the evidence, you know, the videos, if they’re shared in court, well, I’m concerned who might see them and if all of this mess will get stirred up again.”
Sturgis nodded. This was another question he hoped would be asked. It was time to reel them all in.
“Ms. Anderson, I’m going to make a prediction.” He could see that they were on the edge of their seats with the word prediction and that this question was on all their minds. “Kongo.com knows they screwed up,” he continued. “I think this has as much chance of going to trial as I have of winning a beauty pageant.” More laughter. “Kongo.com will want minimize their exposure. They will come to the settlement table early. We just need to keep the threat of trial alive until the last minute so we can get the largest settlement possible. That is where I come in. I have extensive experience with these kinds of cases. I have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing the right moment to settle. I can almost guarantee that none of your videos will be seen in open court by a jury in the form of evidence. Kongo.com will settle and the settlement will be large and you will all be happy with how it will turn out. You have my promise on that.”
Sturgis stood tall after that last statement. He had addressed many juries and groups like this and he knew when to close the deal.
“I hope that answered all of your questions. My team and I will be getting in touch with each of you individually as the process progresses. I will keep you all in the loop and we will get through this together. Again, thank you for coming in this morning and, please, feel free to contact me with other questions that might come to mind.”
With that, Sturgis left the stage and smiled as he heard the enthusiastic applause from the group. Now all he had to do was deliver. Kongo.com was the biggest fish, by far, that he had ever gone after. His upfront investment in this case would be substantial, but the potential payday, even at 25%, would be substantial and life-changing. He left through the stage door and got into his Cadillac to head back to his office.