This story is becoming more fun to write as I’m able to integrate places that I’ve traveled to, familiar characters and an underlying thread that ties it together with other stories. I’m also working on another related ‘Kongo’ story that won’t be shared until this story, No Pain-No Gain and Memories of Rachel are all compiled into a themed collection. I’m not sure what the readership will be, but it’s been a fun and useful exercise to write these tales.
On a side note, I’ve updated my Author Directory and Serial pages. You can now find all the authors I’ve interviewed over the past 3 years and the serials that I’ve written, two of which have become books this year.
Now, please enjoy Part 9 of First Impressions.
Lou Sturgis was rudely awakened from his mediation/nap by the distinctive ring tone from his Bat Phone. This was the name he gave a special cell phone that he reserved only for emergencies. Very few people had the number and, once he reached a certain threshold of people that knew it, he replaced the phone with a new number. He purchased a new phone less than a week ago, so this had to be a wrong number.
He shook his head to clear the cobwebs of sleep and retrieved the phone from his leather bag.
“I think you have the wrong number,” Sturgis said trying to sound awake and authoritative.
“I don’t think so, Mr. Sturgis,” an obviously electronically enhanced voice answered.
“Who is this?”
“You know who it is. It’s your benefactor.”
“So, you’re the two-bit hacker that’s been making my clients’ lives hell?”
“Careful now, Mr. Sturgis. You don’t want me unearthing the skeletons in your closet, do you?”
“You’ve got nothing on me, pal.”
“Really Mr. Sturgis. Would you like to talk about that weekend in Chicago in February of 1997?”
That bit of information hit Sturgis like a punch in the stomach. It only took mere seconds for him to back down.
“Okay, okay. You made your point. What do you want?”
“First, I want you to keep up the good work with your clients. This lawsuit needs to happen. The settlement that Kongo ends up paying must be unprecedented and crippling.”
“I’m good with that,” Sturgis said.
“Second, I need you to venture up to Santa Fe for some investigative work. If my suspicions are correct, there may be some barriers that need to be overcome.”
“I have an investigator for that kind of stuff. I really can’t get…”
“You’ll find a way,” the synthesized voice said, cutting off Sturgis. “I need you to do this personally. If my suspicions are correct, I’m hoping you have the right people in place to clean up the situation.”
“What kind of people?”
“We’ll get to that. Now, here is what I need you to do.”
Robert Johnston pulled into his homes on the northern outskirts of Albuquerque. His wife’s car was in the driveway. He came home early hoping that she was home. He wanted to defuse the situation with the video. He didn’t trust OutOfDate62’s word on keeping the doctored video from being released. He wanted to share the situation with his wife before she found out through other means. Once he parked the car and entered the cavernous gourmet kitchen, he knew he was probably too late. His wife was sitting at the kitchen table with a nearly empty glass of wine and a half-empty bottle.
“Well, you’re home early,” she said without looking up.
“I suppose you’ve already received something based on your tone of voice and your early wine drinking.”
Johnston knew his wife only drank socially and never this early in the day. They had been married nearly 30 years and there was little they didn’t know about each other.”
“Now that you mention it, I did get a link to a lovely video from someone named OutOfDate62. It’s very entertaining.”
Johnston’s worst fears were confirmed, but he was prepared.
“Before we talk about it, let’s take a look at the original video with audio.”
“How can that possibly help?” she asked.
“Just watch it with me. then we’ll talk.”
He fished his laptop out of his backpack and logged into his home security server. His wife poured another glass of wine and tensed as he sat next to her so they could both view the screen.
Jonesy finished setting up his elaborate digital fortress of security. He had the keys to the store under the guise of Robert Johnston’s credentials. He also had a utility he called “Hansel and Gretel”. This referred to the event in the famous story where the brother and sister leave crumbs of bread to mark their trail in the woods. The idea fails because birds eat the crumbs leaving the trail unmarked. When one searched and navigated online, a digital trail was left behind and these were referred to as breadcrumbs. It was also the term for a common navigation technique on web sites that allowed users to retrace their steps without hitting the ‘back’ button on their browser.
Jonesy’s utility reenacted the actions of the birds. All traces of where he had been were wiped out milliseconds after he accessed the areas of Kongo Match’s file storage and servers. It also blocked logging programs from recording his navigation. In the wrong hands, this utility would be deadly to any company, individual or government. Hackers could come and go without detection. That was precisely what he hoped to achieve. OutOfDate62 was a proficient hacker based on what had taken place, but Jonesy was a man on a mission and he had been challenged by someone who was obviously intimidated by him.
As he began looking in logical places for the algorithm that was being used to pirate Kongo Match customer information, he began to see the level of skill of his adversary was very high. He hoped it was not so high that he would fail to find what he was looking for.
Just as he was pondering this thought, an alert popped up on his screen from his ‘unravel’ utility. He named it this, because it was a program that did lightning fast searches looking for key ‘threads’ that could be exploited and tugged on to make connections apparent and unravel complex algorithms.
A smile spread on his face as he read the log from his utility. Perhaps he had found a flaw in the armor that OutOfDate62 had crafted.
Sturgis piloted his Cadillac northward toward Santa Fe. The instructions from his mystery caller had been very clear. He was to deliver a message to this ‘Jones’ guy in Santa Fe and come back with the certainty that the message had been internalized and the instructions were adhered to. Apparently, this Jones was some kind of super hacker/lawyer/surfer. The quick search that Strugis had done on the Internet elicited little in the way of confirmed information on him, but the rumors that recurred were impressive. Apparently, he had stopped a massive attack on an international soccer match in Miami that resulted in corruption being unearthed on the former Secretary of State. He also was supposedly half of the brain-trust of a detective agency in Jacksonville, Florida.
Whoever he was, this computer whacko wanted him off the trail and wanted drastic action taken if Jones refused. He had experienced similar situations before, but never was his own reputation and livelihood threatened. If the events of that night in Chicago were revealed, disbarment would be the least of his problems.
As he neared the address in Santa Fe that he was given, Lou Sturgis went over what he was going to say to Jones in his mind. As he rang the doorbell and heard movement behind the door, he was surprised by the face that appeared when the door swung open.
Johnston clicked on the ‘play’ icon on his laptop and the raw video from his server came to life. He carefully monitored his wife’s reaction. Luckily, she went from tense to less tense to somewhat relaxed by the time it played out.
Just as he remembered, the video showed his daughter’s friend entering his office and removing the top of her bathing suit. The part that was left out was him grabbing a blanket and covering her up while he let her down gently. Also omitted from the pirated video was her apology and his words of comfort.
“Well, that does put a different spin on it,” his wife said as the video ended. “Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“I thought about it, but then I didn’t see the upside of telling you or anyone. The girl was embarrassed. She is our daughter’s best friend and I didn’t want to ruin their friendship or your opinion of her. Young people do impulsive, sometimes reckless, things. Why ruin someone’s reputation from an incident like this. I’m glad it was me and not some man that would take advantage of the situation.”
Johnston’s wife, Emily, reached over and grasped his hand.
“Looks like I picked one of the good ones.”
“So, did I,” he said. “I just wish I had thought to erase that video.”
“Then, if there was a gap in the videos for that date, I would have been more suspicious, I suppose.”
“Very true,” Johnston admitted to his wife. “You’re also a smart one.”
“So, do you think this hacker is going to send this video to other people?”
Johnston recounted what had happened with the email and his interaction with Jones.
“You think this Jones guy can track this person down without getting caught?”
“I certainly hope so. This hacker is obviously someone with a serious axe to grind against Kongo and is now someone that doesn’t abide by their word. It looks like they want to damage the company and anyone associated with it.”
“You don’t have any clue who it might be?” Emily asked.
“I’ve racked my brain, Em. No one that is capable of this kind of malice stands out.”
“Well, let’s see what Jones comes up with, but I think we have to prepare for the worst. I’m glad we’re on the same page with this video. There isn’t anything else that could come back to bite us, is there?”
“I can’t think of anything. Let’s hope it stops with you.”
Just as they were finishing up their conversation, his wife’s cell phone chirped to life. It was their daughter, Denise. The Johnstons exchanged a look before his wife answered the phone and turned on the speaker.
“Mom, I just had something sent to me. I need to talk to you about it.”
“I’ve got your father here with me and we think we know what it is. Let’s talk about it.”