Well, this serial came to a natural end in this week’s installment. I was able to end it to my satisfaction and give it a subtle tie to one of my other serials as well as mix in some call backs to my third Frank Rozzani novel.
I’ve enjoyed writing this serial and look forward to putting it together with other related short stories in a super-sized book.
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.
Please enjoy this last installment of First Impressions.
What in the world was Jones up to? He gave no clues for the four digit code. He had somehow put a virus on an air-gapped server, one that was not directly connected to the Internet. Was he that good or was he bluffing?
As OutOfDate62 was contemplating these questions, the security cameras picked up movement at both the front and back doors of the abandoned bunker that used to be the basement and research facility below Kongo Fit. After the tech from that division of Kongo had gone haywire, the facility was gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the government and then left to rot. Much of the infrastructure, the wiring and security, had been left unpowered, but intact. Nothing a couple of high-powered generators couldn’t remedy.
Now, the perfect hideaway had apparently become a trap. Somehow Jones had used his hack to find the location. Of course, just because the location had been found didn’t mean that all was lost. It was time to switch to plan B.
“There’s definitely something going on down here, Mr. Jones,” Special Agent in Charge Hawthorn said as he spoke to Jonesy by phone. “There are monitors and servers along with security. Unfortunately, it looks like someone just left.”
Hawthorn had mobilized a team based on a call from Special Agent Bill O’Hearn in Syracuse, New York. Jonesy and his partner, Frank Rozzani, had worked on some high-profile cases with O’Hean and, as a result, his stock within the FBI had earned him some rapid promotions. THe rumor was that he was destined for Washington and he felt that, to some degree, he had Rozzani and Jones to thank. When Jones called him with a request to mobilize a team in Albuquerque, he made it happen without hesitation.
“Agent Hawthorne, it’s likely that our hacker has a go-tunnel somewhere in that bunker. Do you have a tablet or laptop with you?”
“Yes, we carry mini-tablets. What are you sending me?”
“I was able to get a blueprint of the lower levels of that place that Kongo had buried when the government raided the facility. It shows a level below where you are and there are two escape routes from that level to the tunnel below. It leads to a remote parking lot about 1,000 years southwest of the building.”
Jonesy sent the blueprints to the group email address that Hawthorn gave him.
“This is great Jones,” Hawthorn said after receiving the blueprint. “I’ll split up the team and send a group down each exit to the tunnel and have another head directly to the parking lot on the surface.”
“That sounds great, Agent Hawthorn. Good luck.”
“With the help you’ve provided, we don’t need much luck unless this hacker is good enough to turn invisible.’
OutOfDate62 was halfway down the tunnel to the parking lot. There was a fully-fueled van waiting that would provide transportation to an alternate site. The site had a backup to the algorithm and all of the data that had been collected up to a few days earlier. It would have to do. The light of day streamed through a small dirty glass square on the door that was at the end of the tunnel. The pitch of the tunnel had been steadily inclining toward the surface. It appeared that Jones would not end this quest and he would be deeply sorry. His friends and family would now be targets. The door hadn’t been opened in a while, but was responsive after a firm push on the handle. The daylight flooded the tunnel and temporarily blinded OutOfDate62. The van was just 50 yards away and as the master hacker closed in on it, two black sedans entered the far end of the parking lot. Thankfully, the remote start on the van worked and OutOfDate62 was behind the wheel and out of the parking lot before they could reach the van. A left turn put the van onto the access road and then on to I-25 North towards Santa Fe.
“The subject is making a run for it and headed up your way, Mr. Jones. Any ideas where?”
Jonesy looked at the information on the laptop.
“It looks like there was some kind of temporary Internet connection to the bunker under Kongo Fit, probably for backup purposes. I’ve almost found the location. Stand by.”
“Honestly, it might help, Mr. Jones, but I don’t think that van is going to outrun our vehicles. They have a little extra under the hood.”
The van strained a bit going up the foothills of the Sandia mountains. Unfortunately, the black sedans did not. They were gaining ground quickly. The turn was coming up soon and was on the downhill side of the peak. If a larger gap could be created from the pursuers, escape might be possible. The turn would have to be timed perfectly. As the van reached the apex of the peak and started down the other side, OutOfDate62 pressed the accelerator to the floor. All it took was one split second of diverted attention from the road to sneak a peak in the side view mirror to see if the gap had widened. The van drifted across the center lane going 95 miles per hour and caromed off the guardrail bouncing it back toward the other side of the highway, through the guardrail and over the 150 foot drop into the canyon below.
The van didn’t burst into flames like vehicles often due in the movies. It just ricocheted off the rocks destroying the vehicle’s integrity bit by bit with each bounce and killing the driver with a series of catastrophic injuries.
3 Days Later
“Mr. Jones, I’m not sure how to thank you,” Robert Johnston said as he sat in his office at Kongo Match.
“Well, I didn’t actually catch your hacker, but I guess the FBI helped end the hacking.”
“It was an unfortunate end, I agree. But it was an end, nonetheless.”
“So, tell me again, who was this hacker and how was she associated with Kongo?”
Johnston let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair.
“Her name was Marie Pinkerton. Her husband, Martin, worked for our Kongo AI division.”
“Ah, I’ve heard a lot about the work going on there. You said ‘worked’. DId he get fired?”
“Not exactly. He was killed in an accident.”
“What kind of accident?”
“One of our AI algorithms went haywire and saw him as a threat. He was electrocuted when power was maliciously diverted to the microwave he was using to heat up his lunch.”
“So this was revenge?”
“Yes. Marie Pinkerton was a system administrator at Kongo Match. She was a model employee on the surface, but behind the scenes she was apparently plotting to bring the company down to avenge her husband’s death.”
Jonesy pondered this for a minute.
“I can’t say I disagree with her point of view. Kongo was responsible for his death by not adequately controlling the technology it developed. Her methods though, were a bit over the top even if they were pretty brilliant.”
“That’s an interesting opinion, Mr. Jones.”
“It may not be what you expect, but it’s how I feel.”
“Well, thank you anyway. We were able to find out who was responsible.”
“Then I guess it’s mission accomplished,” Jonesy said as he rose to leave.
“I guess so,” Johnston said as he shook hands with Jonesy and watched him leave the building in his orange board shorts topped off with an Iron Man tee shirt.
Jonesy had summoned an Uber to take him back to the airport. He insisted on arranging his own transportation. He had seen and heard enough about Kongo’s technology to convince him to avoid it for a while. As he waited for the car, a familiar figure approached him.
“Counselor Sturgis. What brings you here?”
“I heard you were leaving and I thought we should talk about a couple of things before you ride off into the sunset.”
“Ah yes, your Chicago caper. Consider it forgotten. I ran a little cleanup utility and not only wiped it from the hacker’s servers, but I traced it to everywhere it existed on the Internet and the dark web. All traces of it are destroyed.”
Sturgis was taken aback.
“Why would you do that?”
“I think everyone deserves a second chance. Even though your methods are a bit unsavory, you are truly trying to do well for your clients. My methods are unorthodox as well. We are both aiming for the same goal.”
“I don’t know what to say. If there is anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I might do that someday.”
“Well, I’ll let you go. I’m sure your clients in Florida will be glad to have you back.”
“I don’t know about that, but I’ll be glad to get in some surfing. The lack of water in the high desert of the southwest makes me a bit nervous.”
Sturgis started to walk away, but Jones called after him.
“One more thing, what about your Kongo Match plaintiffs?”
“Well, it appears that, now that Kongo has found out who the culprit is, they are willing to be more than generous in settling the class action suit. The last thing they want is a big court trial with a lot of publicity. My clients have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but that’s not a problem with any of them. They’ve had enough public exposure, if you’ll pardon the pun. Oh, and I’m only taking 10% for my fee. It will still buy me a nice new car and maybe some nights when I can sleep without nightmares.”
Jonesy shook his head and laughed.
“Maybe there’s hope for you, Sturgis.”
Sturgis extended his hand and the two men engaged in a sincere handshake.
Jonesy’s Uber then arrived and he took the short trip to the Albuquerque airport and flew back home to his familiar surroundings and friends in Jacksonville with just a bit more in his private island fund. Not bad for a week’s work.