Road Kill Part 15

Now we’ve come full circle. Our hero escaped Donovan only to have him reappear on the ship while he was investigating his computer backups with Mr. Athenos. What role does Donovan play in all of this? Whose side is Ben Simpson on? The answers will start emerging as we approach the conclusion of this story.

Road Kill Part 15

Donovan? What was he doing here? How did he find us?

“So, I see that Athenos has helped you find those pesky backups,” Donovan said as he looked past me at the master of the Dark Web.

“It’s as we suspected,” Athenos answered.

“Wait, so you’re in on this?” Jones said. “How is that possible?”

“Ah, Mr. Jones, I presume?” Donovan said turning to the astonished Jones. “I’ve learned a lot about you. You are a talented man.”

“You know about me? I don’t even know who the hell you are and how you’re connected to Athenos.”

I watched Jones becoming angrier. Donovan was not a man that you directed anger at without serious consequences. I made Jones aware of who we were dealing with by asking Donovan what he wanted.

“I want to have a chat with all of you about what you’ve found, but not here. Athenos is one of us. Our agency needs assets with his skills and he is paid quite handsomely to do the work we need.”

This surprised Jones, but it made sense to me. The government had long been recruiting hackers that were in trouble with the law promising them immunity and freedom in return for them working for the good guys. Athenos, however, was truly a big fish.

“They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Athenos said in an effort to justify his subterfuge.

This was big. Athenos had broken the code of the hackers and caretakers of the Deep and Dark Webs. If that information became known, he would be the scourge of the community.

“Mr. Athenos is being modest. His skills are so important to us that we agreed to set him up with this floating supercomputer and keep his front business operating along with a substantial annuity. Of course, if he had refused, we would have tied him to his anchor and dropped him in the ocean,” Donovan explained.

My head was spinning. Athenos worked for The Mother Ship. Jones didn’t know. What about Ben? I turned and looked at him and he had trouble meeting my gaze.

“They made me do it,” Ben said, reading my thoughts. “They had leverage on me and they made me do it.”

“That’s right. Mr. Simpson has been keeping me up-to-date on your progress ever since your exit from our facility. By the way, did you really think that you escaped using your own talents? We let you escape so that you could lead us to more evidence.”

Now my mind was reeling. They let me escape? Simpson was just monitoring me as I led them to more evidence? I was totally screwed. How could I be so naïve?

“Enough discussion here. We need to go somewhere else to debrief. Mr. Athenos, thank you. You are free to go. The rest of you, let’s get onto our boat, get you to your quarters, and we’ll debrief properly.”

Donovan and the two men he brought with him herded us from Athenos boat to a unmarked grey cutter. Whatever Donovan was up to, he had some funding. The cutter looked to be similar in size to what the Coast Guard used as patrol boats. It appeared to be fully crewed and well-armed.

We were escorted to small cabins on the ship and locked inside. They were not uncomfortable, but did nothing to alleviate the feeling that things had just turned bad. I understood my own fate was sealed, but I was worried about Jones and I was angry at Simpson for pretending to be on my side. I suspected him all along, but Donovan had confirmed my friend’s allegiance with those that were after me.

I sat in the cabin for what felt like several hours. There were bottles of water and various packaged food provided. It appeared they had been preparing for us for a while.

Just as I settled onto the cot and put my head back on the pillow, I heard the lock on the door being opened. The door opened and Donovan walked in.

“You know, I always considered you my best analyst and you have proven me correct. I really didn’t think you’d get as far as you did. Of course, enlisting the help of Mr. Jones was brilliant. His talents are formidable.”

I didn’t know what to say. Donovan was not exactly asking questions. He seemed quite pleased with himself.

“I do question, however, your willingness to trust Mr. Simpson so easily. Did you really think that he created that underground bunker on his own pension from the Navy? We provided that for him in return for his anticipated service. It was a shame to let him destroy it.”

I just looked down at my shoes. The game was over. I then looked up at Donovan and asked him to release Jones. I explained that I kept him removed from the content of what I had found.

“Mr. Jones committed a serious felony when he hacked into the State Department. He is not being charged, however, although I would like to use it as leverage over him to get him to join us, but he is doing good work as a civilian and should continue to do so. He is being released as we speak and will be flown back to Jacksonville.”

I was perplexed at this revelation. Donovan was letting Jones go? This seemed out of character and also seemed to convey a mixed message.

Just as I was mulling this over, there was a knock on the cabin door. Donovan opened it and Ben Simpson entered.

“Ah Ben. Thanks for joining us. I was just about to go over what happens next. Your timing is perfect.”

I looked at Ben and he gave me an apologetic expression in return.

“I really wanted to tell you I was monitoring you all along,” he said. “Donovan made it clear that I had to keep it up until we got into international waters. Being outside of U.S. jurisdiction was vital to the plan. I didn’t know what the plan was, but I didn’t want to disobey orders and face the consequences. I was also afraid that if I told you Donovan was going to meet up with us in international waters, you might be a bit reluctant to move forward.”

A bit reluctant? He was delivering me right into the hands of the people that believed I was guilty of treason. Reluctant might be an understatement. Donovan picked up on this and began to give some information.

“As I mentioned before, we let you escape from The Mother Ship. Do you know why we did that?”

I answered that I did not.

“I knew that you would do whatever you could to clear yourself of the treasonous charges that I threw at you. The fact of the matter is, I am the one who framed you. I did it for a very good reason.”

Now I was angry. I charged at Donovan, but was stopped by Simpson. I turned on him to let me go.

“Hear him out. You’ve got a choice here.”

A choice. What kind of choice? Work with Donovan or disappear in the basement of some government facility.

“Actually, you do have a choice. You can help stop a historic blunder or you can go back to your boring life as an analyst. I hope I haven’t underestimated your patriotism and your drive to do the right thing. Our efforts may fail with you, but they will definitely fail without your help.”

Now Donovan had my attention. He was hardly one to exaggerate or make false claims. I decided to sit back and let him plead his case. What he shared was unbelievable and would change my life forever.

Road Kill – Part 14

Part 14 finds our hero, Ben Simpson, and Jonesy on a boat with the mysterious Mr. Athenos. It will be interesting to see where things go now. I’m starting to see an end in sight, but not without a few more twists and turns.

Road Kill Part 14

I looked around at the equipment in the boat’s cabin and it dawned on me. Athenos had this stuff in the boat so that he could take it to international waters and not be subject to US laws. I noticed the powerful array of antennae and the dish on the roof of the bridge. This was no fishing boat. This was a floating data center.

Ben and Jones must have noticed it to.

“That’s some pretty hefty satellite communication you have. What kind of speed to you get?” Jones asked.

Athenos looked at him and smiled.

“It’s the fastest available and I have full redundancy.”

“Seems like a lot or hardware to put on your boat, how often do you take her out?” Simpson asked.

“As often as I need to,” Athenos answered in an increasingly clipped tone. “I didn’t ask you here to discuss my computing preferences. Our friend here has a problem, which he has made your problem, and I’m going to try to help unravel it.”

Athenos silenced the group with his comment. He was right of course and somehow, despite his unimposing stature, he exuded a demand for respect.

“Now let’s get down to business. The first thing we need to do is cast off the lines and take the boat out to international waters. Then we’ll get online and see who’s been messing with your backup images.”

The three of us exchanged looks. Athenos was alone on the boat, so if he meant to do us harm, we probably could handle him. Jones and Simpson went up to the deck and cast off the lines while Athenos went up to the bridge and started up the twin inboard/outboard engines.

Once we traveled the requisite 14 miles off shore, Athenos dropped anchor and we reconvened in the cabin of the boat. He began switching on monitors and three large screens came to life. Athenos turned his attention to me.

“So, what are you hoping to find?”

I explained my routine for backing up images of my laptop to the Dark Web and that this was a common practice in the intelligence community. A very strong encryption was used so that hackers were deterred from trying to compromise the files. A special key generated by a CIA supercomputer was used to encrypt the file and it could only be unencrypted by using a complementary key.

He entered some commands on one of the screens and a single prompt came up and I recognized the legendary entrance to the dark web.

“Okay, let’s see what we can find” Athenos said more to himself than to one of us.

After about ten minutes of typing and examining, he turned to me.

“Come and take a look at this. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

I looked at the screen. I saw the familiar naming convention that I used for my laptop image backups. I usually used the Julian date (YYYYMMDD format) followed by the time in military format and my initials. I always did backups at the end of each day. There were six weeks’ worth of backups following this convention. When I got to the most recent, I noticed that the backups had time stamps that were not at the end of the day. They were at various times during the night. This didn’t seem right, but I think we had found the mysterious backups that had been altered.

I found the five backups that appeared to have come from another source and told Athenos that these were the ones that we needed to trace. I had the encryption key with me on a secure thumb drive and I brought up the first faux backup with it.


That was the message I received.

I tried it again.


Frustrated, I tried the key on one of the backups I had run. It worked.

“It appears that these other backups were encrypted with a different key,” Athenos said.

I didn’t know how that was possible. In order for that to happen, someone would have had to obtain a legitimate backup of my laptop, decrypt it, augment it with the additional information, and then encrypt it with the new key. That just didn’t add up.

“Somebody really wanted to screw you over,” Athenos said stating the obvious.

I asked him if he could find out the IP address of the person who put them there, a numerical sequence that identifies computers. As he was about to answer, we could hear the sound of an approaching ship. Athenos hit a kill switch and shut down all of the equipment immediately.

“We’ve got company,” Ben said. “Stay down here. I’ll check it out.”

He took a pistol from the bag that Jones had given him to carry and climbed the stairs to the deck.

“I’m not sure where he got that,” Jones said. “I didn’t put that in the bag.”

I started to panic a bit, but Athenos seemed generally calm. He sensed my confusion over his lack of alarm.

“I don’t have anything to hide on this boat. So many people run businesses like gambling and porn sites in international waters and outside of the U.S. The authorities can’t touch anything out here, and if they do, I can do a dump of anything stored on my system from a single switch. I don’t store anything on these computers. Everything is on servers all over the world,” Athenos explained.

Jones seemed nervous. Despite his line of work with a detective, the bad guys he dealt with weren’t nearly as scary as the federal government or whoever had sailed out to greet us.

I stood up and peered out the porthole and saw the distinctive colors of a Coast Guard cutter that had pulled alongside us. We could feel the movement of someone boarding the ship. Then we could here Ben Simpson angrily exchanging words with whoever had boarded. We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from the tone, it was clear that Ben was not happy and that the other person was responding very calmly.

“What do we do?” Jones asked

I honestly didn’t know the answer, but I didn’t want to take these innocent civilians down with me. We quickly worked out our story. I coerced Jones into helping me and he took me to Athenos who was also forced to get involved. They only helped because they feared for their lives.

After a few more minutes of the one-sided angry exchange from the deck, the cabin door popped open and I could see Ben Simpsons legs descending the stairs back into the cabin.

“I just want to say that I am totally against this. Whatever happens from here is not my fault,” he said as he rejoined us in the cabin.

I then saw a familiar brand of black loafers descending the stairs beneath the pant legs of a typical dark blue suit. Then the last person that I wanted to see emerged.

“Well, well. I’m sorry to crash the party. Would you girls like to fill me in?”

It was Donovan. He had found me somehow. I was screwed.




Road Kill – Part 13

Now we are 13 parts into this story. As I look back on where we came from, we started with a low-level (or so we thought) traveling analyst who sits in the wrong seat on an airplane (autobiographical). From that point things spiral out of control for our main character who finds himself on the run with an ex-shipmate who is helpful, but less than trustworthy. Our hero has not put himself in the hands of an overachieving hacker in Florida that has helped him find out what was hidden on his computer and what the mysterious files meant. When we last left them, Jonesy, the hacker, had successfully hacked into the State Department server and our hero had discovered a disconcerting secret plot to steal oil from countries in the Middle East. Knowing these secrets could easily get him killed which is what already happened to the person who sat in the seat meant for him on the airplane. Now that you’re up to speed, please enjoy Part 13 of Road Kill.

Road Kill Part 13

I was trying to grasp what I had found. I also wondered how high the information that I found went in the U.S. government. Now that I had the information, I didn’t know what to do with it. Should I go to Donovan at The Mother Ship? Should I go to the press? I just wasn’t sure.

Ben Simpson had been hovering around me as I thought this through. Finally, his curiosity got the best of him.

“What did you find? The look on your face says it’s bad.”

I wasn’t sure if I should tell Simpson. At worst, he could be working with the people who wanted me dead to see how much I knew before finishing the job. At best, I would be putting him in even more danger than he was already in. I decided to tell him the nature of what I found without being specific.

I told him that I found something regarding foreign policy that could hurt people very high up in our government. Further, it could hurt the reputation of the U.S. around the world and change the view that other countries currently had of our country.

Simpson raised his eyebrows.

“That sounds pretty serious. The key here is knowing where to go with the information. You have to know who to trust and who not to trust. In order to do that, we have to figure out who planted the information on your computer. That will help us eliminate those that we shouldn’t trust. Maybe this trip Jones is taking us on in the morning to meet Mr. Athenos will help us find out.”

Simpson made sense. Even without knowing the information, his approach would help me identify who the enemy was. Whoever put the information on my computer wanted me to be caught or even worse, killed.

Maybe Athenos would get us there. Right now, the exhaustion that I usually experienced after intense analysis was sinking in. I needed sleep. Tomorrow was a big day. I was venturing into the unknown with a man I once thought I knew well and one that I hardly knew at all. I had no choice. Once I stretched out on the sofa, sleep came quickly.

At 5:15 A.M., the phone that Jones had given us came to life. Simpson was already up and answered it. I could only hear his end of the short conversation.

“Six. Okay. We’ll be ready.” Then to me, “Jones will be here at six. I already showered. Why don’t you jump in and take one and I’ll rustle up some food?”

After Simpson’s suggestion, it dawned on me that it had been a while since I showered. One whiff and I agreed with him that I needed one.

The hot water felt good as it brought me to life. It also gave me a few minutes to reflect. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with this scavenger hunt to meet Athenos. I tried to come up with a Plan B and quickly realized I didn’t have one. I had no money, no passport, and no one else that I could go to without putting them in danger. I even thought of Brad Rafferty who, although stationed here in Jacksonville, was currently in Pakistan doing some inspection of that country’s nuclear program.

I toweled off and put on some fresh clothes. I felt much more human. I wolfed down the scrambled eggs and bacon Simpson had cooked in the trailer’s small kitchen and washed it down with better than average coffee. Even if I couldn’t trust Ben fully, he could cook.

At six sharp we heard a car pull up to the trailer. Simpson grabbed a bag that Jones had given him and we headed out to the car. Jones was behind the wheel. His usual calm demeanor showed signs of nervousness.

“Where are we headed?” Ben asked him as he slid into the front passenger seat. I sat in the back.

“I don’t know for sure”, Jones said. “I was told to head toward Green Cove Springs. It’s a small town southwest of Jacksonville. From there, I guess we’ll get further instructions.”

“You seem nervous about that,” Ben said.

“I don’t like going into the field without my partner, Frank. I couldn’t even tell him where I was going. I told him I needed to take the day off to go check out some new products for my surf shop. He knew I was lying, but knows me well enough that there was a reason.”

“What’s in this Green Cove Springs?”

“That’s just it,” Jones said. “It’s just a small town. I don’t think it’s our final destination.”

As we headed down back roads to get to I-95 and then more back roads for the next hour, the car was ominously quiet. The silence was broken by the sound of a phone that was next to Jones.

“Jones,” he said into the flip phone. “Okay. Yes, I know where that address is. Okay, yes, then we’ll head to I-75.”

Jones closed the phone.

“We have to pick up a package in Green Cove Springs. We should be there in about five minutes.”

As we entered the small town, Jones pulled into a parking lot behind a seafood restaurant and knocked on the back door. A man wearing an apron opened the door and Jonesy exchanged some words with him. After a minute or so, the man handed him a large bundle wrapped in butcher paper and tied with string. He put it into the trunk and got back in the driver’s seat.

“What was that all about,” Simpson asked.

“Athenos asked me to stop and pick up a package on the way. Now we have to get on I-75 south which is about an hour-and-a-half away and then we have about another hour-and-a-half after that. We’re supposed to meet Athenos at 10:30.”

“Any idea where he is?” Simpson asked.

“My guess would put us somewhere north of Tampa unless he has us get off the interstate before that.”

“What’s in the package?” Ben asked.

Jones let out a sigh.

“I have no idea, but it’s probably better that we don’t know. If it’s something illegal, we can just rack that up to another thing about this adventure that will get me in trouble.”

Jones had made it clear to Ben that he wasn’t in the mood to answer additional questions, especially since he knew about the same amount about this trip as we did. We silently passed through the interior of Florida headed for Interstate 75 which would take us south along the state’s west coast.

The area surrounding the city of Ocala caused me to be somewhat puzzled. It had hills. It actually looked more like Kentucky than Florida with sprawling ranches and horses grazing behind white split rail fences. After passing through this area, we finally made it to Interstate 75 which stretched southward to Miami where it connected with Interstate 95. It was three lanes of tractor-trailers and construction that seemed to stretch on endlessly. It gave me more time to reflect.

What if this was a trap? Jones seemed convinced that this was the right thing to do, but I thought he was probably excited to meet Athenos, a legend among hackers. That may have clouded his judgement. Ben was hard to read. I alternated between completely trusting him and not trusting him at all. What if finally boiled down to, as I played endless scenarios over in my head, was that I had no other options. As long as I moved, I wasn’t standing still where I could be caught.

As we neared Tampa, the disposable flip phone came to life once again. Jones picked it up and listened.

“Okay, we’re headed there,” he said as he put down the phone. “We’re headed to Tarpon Springs, just north of Tampa. The directions I just got put us near the water. It’s outside of town in along the water near a park.”

“Is it safe?” Simpson asked.

Jones laughed.

“Is anything safe right now? There are a lot of fishing boats docked in this area, so at least there will be people around.”

As Jones maneuvered through town, we crossed a small causeway and pulled into a parking lot. Jones looked confused.

“This is the address he gave me. Let’s go in, I guess.”

I concurred with Jones’ confusion. The building we had pulled up to was a run-down bait and tackle shop. It hardly looked like the lair of a computer hacking genius.

Jones retrieved the package from the trunk and we followed him into the shop. It had a strong seafood smell and was cluttered with various fishing gear and coolers filled with bait. Live small bait fish swam in tanks near the counter in the back. A portly man with a substantial beard and a shaved head stood behind the counter.

“Are you Jones?” he said.

“I am,” Jones answered.

“Did you bring the package?”

“I did.”

Jones handed him the bundle and the man immediately opened it. Inside was tightly wrapped plastic around what appeared to be shelled oysters.

“So much for anything illegal unless stinky seafood is against the law in these parts,” Ben observed.

“They’re oysters. They make great bait in this area. We get top dollar for him and a friend in Green Cove Springs gives us the ones that are past the date for human consumption.”

“We stopped for bait?” Jones asked.

“The boss will be very appreciative. These things are like gold for sport fisherman.”

“Speaking of the boss, is he here? We are right on time,” Jones pointed out.

“He is waiting for you. Just go down to the marina to slip 23 and you’ll find him on his boat.”

We left the shop and walked toward the water. There were fishing boats and pleasure craft of all sizes docked on the water with easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. When we reached slip 23, a large cabin cruiser was parked in the spot. We could see a man bent over the access hatch in the back apparently doing some engine work. Jones cleared his throat as we approached the aft of the boat.

“Mr. Jones,” the man said. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. It’s too bad that it took a matter of national security to bring us together.”

“Athenos?” Jones asked.

“That’s one of the names I go by,” the man said as he stood and extended a hand.

Jones took the hand of the unassuming, but wiry man who appeared to be in his early 30’s. He certainly didn’t fit the Cheeto-eating, Mountain Dew-swilling stereotype of the hacker, but neither did Jones.

“Let’s go into the cabin and sort this out.”

We followed him down a short set of steps into the cabin below. The cabin was filled with state-of-the-art technology.

Athenos sat at a small table and invited us to sit as well. Once we were settled in and facing him he said, “Now, let’s figure out how to get everyone out of this pickle.”

I had no inclination of the road he would be taking us down, but if I did at the time, I might have left the boat immediately.


Road Kill – Part 12

As I write this week’s installment of Road Kill, the story is becoming much more serious for our yet-unnamed hero. He’s going to be crossing a line that there is no return from. I’m not sure how this is going to end up, but it appears he is going against some pretty high-powered people. I’m enjoying writing this story and I hope you’re enjoying reading it each week. It may turn into a book at some point, but for right now, I’m having fun with the stream-of-consciousness writing exercise that it is.

Please enjoy Road Kill Part 12

Road Kill Part 12

“You want me to hack into the State Department? Are you nuts?”

I was afraid that Clifford Jones would have this reaction. He was a renowned hacker and was known to find his way into law enforcement and financial organizations. This was a big step beyond that. I explained to him what was going on with Project OSCAR.

“So you think that someone high up in the administration is advocating the seizure of oil from a country in the Middle East, but you don’t know who, why, or if it’s anything more than just a plan?”

I explained to him that, based on the amount of traffic and communications, it was likely more than a plan. Other than that, he was correct.

“So why do you want to dig deeper into this? When you weren’t even digging, someone was trying to kill you. Now you want to dig more. That makes no sense.”

I explained to Jones why it did make sense. Someone high up in the government was about to do something that made Watergate and the Iran arms-for-hostage deal pale in comparison. We had sent our military to the Middle East many times over the past couple of decades and had never made the seizure of oil part of our operations. To start doing this now showed a fundamental change in the moral compass of the United States. We had always gone to war with the idea of liberating an area and then helping to rebuild it. Never in our recent history had we seized wealth from an area in which our military was active. This would push us more toward the methods of a place like Russia or North Korea. It pissed me off. This was not how my country was supposed to operate.

“Okay, okay. I get it,” Jones said when I stepped down from my soap box.

Apparently my loud voice and emotion had roused Ben Simpson from his nap.

“What’s this I hear about the Middle East and seizing wealth?”

I had no choice but to fill Ben in. Maybe he would talk some sense into me and prevent me from heading for the point of no return. I told him what I found and his reaction was quite the opposite.

“If this is true, we’ve got to try to stop it somehow. If we don’t, then this country takes a big step to the dark side.”

“You too,” Jones said. “I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but hacking into the State Department is a complex and risky proposition.”

“Are you saying you can’t do it,” Simpson asked.

Jones shot him a look that was enough to scare the retired naval officer.

“Of course I can do it. I’m just trying to justify it. I don’t look good in Orange and I’ve got too many plans for the future that don’t involve living in a cage at Guantanamo.”

“Point taken,” Simpson said.

Jones was convinced. Looking back, I think it was a combination of his patriotism and his need to prove that he could do it. Whatever the motivation, he was on board.

“I’m going to need to buy some pristine hardware and set up a special Internet connection that won’t give away my location. If they trace me, they need to see a different location somewhere far away in the world each time.”

All of this preparation sounded like it would take a while. I knew that we had two days before we had to go meet Mr. Athenos. I made Jones aware of my concerns with the time.

“Oh, I’ll have it set up in the morning. I’ll be into their servers before we go and I’ll destroy the hardware before we leave,” Jones said without a trace of arrogance, only sincere confidence. “You’re going to have to sit with me,” he said looking at me. “Once I get in, I won’t know what the hell I’m looking for and you’re going to have to guide me.”

“What about me?” Simpson asked.

“Since you were like Angus McGyver rigging up your little bunker, I’m going to need you to do some things to prepare for our trip to see Athenos,” Jones said. “I want to trick out the vehicle we’re going to take so that we can take some extra precautions.”

I had the feeling Jones was combining being safe with trying to get rid of Ben while we did our digging. I was fine with that.

“Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll take care of it,” Simpson said.

If he suspected he was being blocked from the investigation, he either didn’t show it or understood why. We agreed that Jones would meet us at the trailer in the morning. Now that I had his agreement to help, I suddenly felt exhaustion trying to creep in. Ben wasn’t fully awake yet and agreed some sleep would be a good idea.


I slept on the couch which was either surprisingly comfortable, or I was much more tired than I thought. I was awakened by a knock on the trailer door. Ben was already up brewing coffee in the kitchenette. He cautiously approached the door. It was Jones.

He was carrying two large cases. He set them on the small kitchen table.

“This is going to be our office today,” Jones said as he opened the first case.

I asked him if he needed help bringing in more equipment.

“This is all I need, a laptop and a satellite modem. The days of large boxes and dishes are over. The key is small equipment that is easily wiped or disposed of.”

Before setting up, Jones gave Ben a set of keys and a printout with some instructions.

“You’ll find everything you need in the trunk,” Jones said.

Ben looked over the list and nodded a few times and then walked out to the non-descript Ford Fusion that was parked near the trailer. Once he was outside and busy with Jones’s list, Jones confirmed what I suspected he was thinking.

“What’s with that guy? Do you think he can be trusted?”

I was honest with Jones. I honestly wasn’t sure. I served with Ben and we had the kind of friendship that endures when people are thrown together. Beyond that, I really didn’t know him that well other than being familiar with his proclivity to not trust authority, a strange trait in an ex-military man.

The equipment he had was generations ahead of anything I saw at The Mother Ship. Jones took almost no time in setting it up. The machine was Unix based and he entered raw commands to move around. Eventually, after about 90 minutes of poking around, he put his elbows on the table and tented his fingers. I thought he had hit a roadblock.

“No. Not a roadblock, a gate. I’ve found the State Department servers. I’m pondering what I’m about to do. I’m going to use some aggressive intrusion algorithms to get in. I think they’ll get in fairly quickly. The key is going to be to get what we need and get out quickly. By the time they know were in, I want to be gone. Once I start the algorithms, there’s no turning back.”

I was amazed at the speed in which he found the supposed classified servers. He showed me the algorithms and they were so complex, I could hardly believe my eyes. I asked him where he got them. The hacker community has a lot of geniuses, but something like this would take a team and would not likely be widely shared.

“I wrote them myself. I had a free weekend when we didn’t have a case and my girlfriend was at a conference and I got bored and wrote these just in case.”

If I were to compare what Jones was telling me, it would be the equivalent of a surgeon saying that he performed two heart transplants during his lunch hour. It was unbelievable. This man truly had some skills that would earn him admiration from the intelligence community, but would also scare the crap out of them.

Jones looked at me and typed in a series of commands. A series of 26 digits started to cycle through on the screen. After about five minutes, the first digit locked stopped cycling. About ten minutes later, the second one clicked into place.

“I’m not sure how long this will take, but I’m suspecting that it will be a while. Let’s heat up some breakfast and wait for the rest of the digits to click in. Then we’re going to have to act fast.”

Jones had brought a brown paper bag with three Styrofoam containers.

“I stopped by the Sun Dog and got three Cajun breakfast specials to go. I hope you’re hungry. You can call Simpson in. I doubt the key search will finish before we eat up.”

I called Ben in and we ate the food. It was a delicious concoction with andouille sausage, mushrooms, hot peppers and tater tots cooked into eggs. I washed it down with some coffee and felt very full and satisfied.

As we were finishing up, I noticed that there were only two digits left in the key search. Jones noticed it too.

“You better get back to tricking out our chariot,” he said to Ben in a friendly, yet clear way.

“I’m on it. It’s actually kind of fun. You’ve spared no detail. I wish you were around when I built the bunker.”

About 20 minutes after Ben left us, the last number clicked into place and the shield of the State Department appeared on the screen.

“Okay, it’s your turn. What are we looking for?”

We had administrator access to the server. This meant I had free reign to look at emails and memos that were stored. I did the obvious. I searched for files with the word OSCAR in them. I made sure the search was case sensitive. I immediately was given a list containing hundreds of files.

You might be thinking that this was way too easy. Remember, the security experts make sure that outsiders can’t get into the classified servers (so much for that plan). Once you are in, all you have to do is think like a technology illiterate user. They are going to store things so that they’re easy to find without any thought given to security.

I sorted the list of OSCAR files by date and copied those that were dated after the image on my computer to a special thumb drive that Jones had brought with him. Once that was done, Jones logged off the computer.

What he did next was both brutal and necessary. He took a small hammer from his case and destroyed both the laptop and the satellite modem. If the government tried to trace the activity back, the machines needed to be not only turned off, but nonexistent.

“Now that we’ve got those files, you’re going to have to go through them. I want to be able to explain to Athenos what we’ve got and why we need to be in the Dark Web poking around. From what I hear, he is a tough customer,” Jones said as he put the remains of the equipment back into the cases.

I told Jones it would take a while. There were at least 1,500 files.

“Well, luckily it didn’t take us long to get them. You have until tomorrow morning around this time to go through them before we hit the road. You might have an hour or two once we’re on the road, but I hope you find something before them. I’d help you, but I don’t want to get any deeper into this than I already am. I try to keep the felonies I commit to a low number if possible.”

Ben Simpson was finished with the work on the Fusion. Jones put the cases in the trunk and drove off. This left me to begin looking through the files. I sat at the small desk with the laptop and began to go back into analyst mode.

Ben had some electronics that Jones had left behind that we would be using as we traveled south tomorrow.

“Jones asked me to get familiar with these. I’m going to grab a quick shower and then get to it. It looks like you have a lot to do,” Simpson said doing his best to not fish for information.

I told him he was right, there was a lot to do and I set to work doing it.

Once I’m in analyst mode, time passes by quickly and I am oblivious to things around me. I remembered Jones stopping by with some dinner and then I noticed it had gotten dark. I was ¾ of the way through. Most if the information was memos and emails. As I plodded through the last hundred files, I finally found something that was key. It was dated just two days earlier and appeared to be a timeline. It was named ‘OSCAR Final Deployment Schedule’.

When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a systematic list of chronological tasks showing an invasion of two countries in the Middle East coupled with a schedule for tankers to sail to their ports. The first steps of this were to begin in only three months. This was what I was looking for. Now I had to figure out what to do with it. Who could be trusted? The list was pretty short at this point.

Road Kill – Part 11

Before we get to this week’s installment, I want to ask your help with something. I was having dinner with my editor this week (she’s also a dear friend of 20+ years). We were talking about the blog and about this story and she said, “Yeah, there was a huge typo in the middle of Part 10. Did you see it?”

Needless to say, I didn’t. This story is total stream of consciousness. No editing, rereading, or anything that isn’t caught in Word. So, what do I need your help with? Just this, if you see something, say something. I may eventually put this serialization into a book. I am not sensitive if you see something wrong. Go ahead and point it out. I’ll fix it like I did with the huge typo in Part 10. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Now that you know some backstory on our yet-unnamed hero, it’s time to accelerate the story again. When we last left our characters, they were hanging out in the trailer Clifford Jones put them in waiting to go off and meet Mr. Athenos, the mysterious powerful figure that curates the Deep Web. I feel like we’re getting close to some action here, but there may be some twists and turns along the way. Please enjoy this next installment.

Road Kill Part 11

Ben seemed to act a little differently after I told him about what happened when I was in Iran with Rafferty. He was a bit more businesslike and distant. I asked him what was wrong.

“I didn’t know you had that kind of experience. Some of that information you picked up in Iran might be part of the reason you’re in danger.”

I could see where he would think that. The funny thing was, I didn’t tell him everything I knew. In fact, Rafferty and I were ‘aggressively asked’ by our commander to forget what we knew and let it go. I told Simpson I didn’t think they were related. I really didn’t think they were, but until I could get a look at what was on the modified image of my computer, I wouldn’t know for sure.

As I was thinking this, there was a knock on the door. Before we could panic, Clifford Jones’ voice called out to us.

“Hey guys, it’s me. We need to strategize a bit.”

Ben looked out the window next to the door to make sure nobody was with Jones and that there wasn’t anyone coercing him into visiting us. He nodded to me and I opened the door. Jones came in carrying a laptop.

“You need to take a look at what they added to your laptop image. I didn’t look at it, and I recommend that you are the only one who does,” he said glancing at Ben.

Simpson seemed unfazed.

“That’s fine with me. I probably wouldn’t understand it without the context of what was there originally. Besides, I need some sleep. I’m still not caught up.”

The juices of my curiosity were flowing. Even though I was in trouble up to my eyeballs, I didn’t know why. I’m an analyst at heart and I needed to find out what evidence was being used to frame me.

“I’ve loaded the last four images from your laptop on this machine along with the latest decryption utilities. Why don’t you take a look at it while I’m here and make sure you’ve got what you need?”

As I looked at the laptop, I knew immediately that Jones was no amateur. He had provided me with a high-end laptop that had the four most recent manipulated images of my agency laptop. They were dated and time stamped 24 hours apart starting four days before my plane trip where I escaped death by sitting in the wrong seat. The images were encrypted, but Jones had provided me with the utilities I needed to decrypt them and analyze what evidence was being used to justify framing me.

I thanked Jones.

“Don’t thank me. Just find out what the issue is. Once you find out, do me a favor and don’t tell me. I don’t want to disappear at Guantanamo or whatever deluxe accommodation the government reserves for those that commit treason or share secrets.”

Jones seemed anxious to leave and Ben had escaped to the bedroom without any trace of curiosity. It was as if I had some type of disease that was highly contagious. I understood the concern. The more Jones and Simpson knew, the deeper they were entrenched in this situation.

Jones left the trailer and I was on my own with the laptop. As I looked at the oldest image, I noted that there were three times the files. I didn’t recognize many of them. I began the tedious task of opening and examining each file.

Most of the files appeared to be memos and emails. Most of them seemed to be routine State Department communications. Some appeared to be moderately classified with notes from sensitive meetings, but, initially, there was nothing earth shattering.

About halfway through the second image, however, I began to see communications that were flagged as top secret. Someone at my level should not have access to these items. I could see why Donovan would be concerned. They were above his pay grade as well.

I began to see a series of communications around something called Project OSCAR. The communications were cryptic, but it seemed to point to some type of action in the Middle East. Top secret projects often received random names that did not hint at what was being carried out. When the project name was in all capital letters like this one, however, it usually was some kind of descriptive acronym.

I started thinking through what Project OSCAR might be. Again, there were many references to the Middle East. It appeared that the sponsorship for this project went to the Secretary of State and maybe higher. It could be some routine diplomatic relations type effort. If that were the case, however, it wouldn’t usually be top secret and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be enough to get me locked away for knowing about it. This led me to believe that this was some kind of military or covert operations type project.

I finished looking at the oldest image and then set about comparing the newer images to see what files had been added. After I did this for all four images, I had about 50 files that were not in the first image. My analyst nature told me that I needed to look through all of these before beginning the second stage of the process during which I would try to piece together the information to discover what Project OSCAR was and why is was such a big deal.

The additional 50 files were further developments in the conversation and planning for Project OSCAR. It referred to a playbook that, upon several reviews of the backup images, was not present. This playbook seemed to be the key. It apparently held the detail behind the schedule and plan for this top secret effort.

Once I had reviewed all of the information, I decided that I would follow my usual process for putting the pieces together. In the past, I found that it was good to get away from the information for a period of time before trying to assemble the details into an overall analysis.

I was tired and pouring through this detail made me realize that I needed some rest. I decided to stretch out on the couch and try to take a nap. I drifted off.

My sleep was surprisingly deep and dreamless. I awoke feeling disoriented. It was dark in the trailer and I had to stop and think of where I was. My mind hoped that I had woken up in my apartment and that the events of the past few days were just a bad dream. Unfortunately, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the reality of my situation came crashing down on me.

After I recovered from this realization, my thoughts turned to the images of my laptop. Project OSCAR came back to me. I wondered what the acronym stood for. I began to cycle through key words in my mind; Middle East, Diplomacy, Oil, Terrorism…Oil…Oil…OIL. Could the ‘O’ in OSCAR stand for oil?

I turned on the lamp on the end table next to the sofa and grabbed the laptop. I ran a search through the laptop backup images for the word oil. As the utility searched the encrypted files, four documents popped up that had the word ‘oil’ in them.

The first three documents didn’t have anything consequential. They just listed projections of the oil output from various Middle Eastern countries. Then I looked into the fourth document and that’s when the definition of the acronym OSCAR hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s when I saw ‘Oil Seizure, Collection and Recovery (OSCAR)’. Apparently Project OSCAR was some type of effort to seize oil from Middle Eastern countries.

This had always been taboo. After two wars in the Persian Gulf, the United States had made a point of avoiding the seizure of oil from Iraq or any other country. Could Project OSCAR be some type of effort that deviated from this long-held prime directive?

I knew now what I had to do. I checked the time on the burner phone that Jones had given us. It was 5 A.M. Too early to call Jones, perhaps, but this couldn’t wait.

“Hello,” Jones’ voice answered sounding less groggy than I expected.

I told him I was sorry to bother him.

“It’s no problem. I’m just heading out to catch some early morning waves.”

I asked him if he could defer his surfing for today and come to the trailer.

“You found something? Are you sure I need to be involved in whatever it is?” Jones asked with obvious concern for his own well-being.

I told him I needed his hacking skills.

“What exactly for? I mean, isn’t that why you’re in trouble in the first place?”

I told him I would explain when he got to the trailer. I needed to ask for his help face-to-face. It was the only chance I had of succeeding. I needed more information. I was starting to believe that there were two factions at play; one that wanted me dead or worse and one that wanted to pass me information to expose some terrible plot. At this point, I thought that the latter might resolve the former. To do this, I was going to need Jones to hack into top secret State Department files. Things just escalated to the point of no return.

Road Kill – Part 10

This part of the story is going to take a turn into some backstory. It will give insight into our yet unnamed main character’s military background and his ties to Jacksonville that brought him to Jonesy.

As full disclosure, the idea for this section that shows the background of the character’s relationship with Brad Rafferty came from an early draft of Blood Orange. My editor wisely had me pull it out of the book, but I liked the story and thought it could help to give this character some substance.

Enjoy this next installment.

Road Kill – Part 10

As I sat back on the couch in the borrowed trailer, I immersed myself in the experience that I had with Brad Rafferty on our off-the-books mission in Iran five years earlier.

I began to tell Ben Simpson the story and the words came to me in a flood as I could still feel every detail.

I remembered that the heat was stifling in August in Iran. Even early in the morning, the heat hit me like a blast from a giant oven whose door had just been open. The average daily temperature was around 95 Fahrenheit this time of year, but the days we spent there were warmer than average with temperatures over 100.

The International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA had set up a task force to deal with inspections and other issues related to Iran’s nuclear program. The mission of the task force was to focus and streamline the handling of Iran’s nuclear program by concentrating experts and other resources into one dedicated team. Rafferty was in charge of one of the factions of the team and he enlisted my help as an analyst. We would be overseeing the inspection at the underground site at Fordow while we covertly tried to gather information the Iranian government wasn’t sharing with us.

The concern at this site was the significant growth of Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities. The number of centrifuges had reportedly more than doubled from 1,000 in May to over 2,000 currently. Iran had produced nearly 420 pounds of 20%-enriched uranium. This amount had increased about 320 pounds in May. The previous team discovered that only a small portion of this 20%-enriched uranium had been converted to an oxide form and transformed to fuel research reactors. Once the uranium is converted in this way, it cannot be easily enriched to weapons-grade quality. That still left a large portion of production that had not been converted. We were there to discover the status and plan for this unconverted portion.

Ben leaned forward as I told this story. For some reason I had piqued his interest.

Our team mostly consisted of nationals that came from third-world countries. Up until now, inspectors from the United States were not allowed in Iran. We were the first. Rafferty was the US lead and was allowed to bring one analyst with him. The involvement of American experts was a pilot program for this round of inspections and Rafferty immediately saw how hollow the exercise had been up until now.

Typically, the inspection teams excluded personnel from the United States, the UK, Germany, France and Canada. The inspectors were recruited from around the world and were typically individuals with no specialized knowledge of nuclear weapons. They were pulled from bureaucratic jobs that involved filling out paperwork inventory. Iran balked at the inclusion of Americans, especially from the military, but it was made clear that failure to concede on this issue would result in further trade and monetary sanctions.

“So why did they choose Fordow? That’s not one of the leading suspected sites for weaponization of nuclear material, is it?” Ben asked.

The Fordow site was chosen by the Iranians and it was soon clear to us why. The site had all appearances of being industrial in nature and not related to weaponization of nuclear materials in any way. Their official escort from the Iranian government led us around the facility and made sure that all questions were answered in a satisfactory way by the plant personnel.

“So what was your role on Raffery’s team?” Ben asked when I took a breath.

I told Ben that I was brought on board to provide Rafferty with intelligence on all of the Iranian personnel that we interacted with. Beyond this, I was also able to uncover background information on the other team members. I didn’t tell Ben this, because it was off the books. I quickly discovered that many of them were receiving suspicious supplemental funding from some source, likely the Iranian government, so that inspection findings would be favorable.

“How did the Iranians treat you?” Ben asked.

This was an interesting question. We were told at the outset of the trip that our position on the inspection team would be contentious and they might face obstacles in obtaining information. We were treated coolly by their hosts and the other team members. We knew this wasn’t going to work as we tried to gather intelligence.

That was until we met Dr. Zaafir Alam. Dr. Alam was a U.S. educated scientist that had actually spent many years working and living in the United States. His mother had taken ill and he had traveled to Iran to see her in the late 1980’s. She passed away, and, as he traveled to the airport for his return to the United States, he was detained by security and prevented from leaving the country. His background in nuclear engineering and research afforded him the ‘privilege’ of being presented with a job opportunity working for the Iranian government. He had since married, had children, and made a decent life in Iran, but we could tell he missed the United States. That’s how we bonded with him.

“Bonded how? Did this guy pass you information?” Ben pressed.

I decided at that moment to hold back on some details. My instincts told me that Ben was much more interested in what happened in Iran than I had anticipated. My penchant for holding classified information close was causing alarms to go off. I decided to go forward with a redacted version of the story so I didn’t arouse his suspicions.

I told Ben how Rafferty and Alam became frequent dinner companions. At first, their conversations were about what was happening in the U.S. and generic shop talk about the nuclear industry. Both men were afraid, justifiably so, that their dinners were under surveillance by the Iranian government. Rafferty could tell, however, that something was troubling Alam. Whenever conversation approached any topic remotely related to the inspections, Alam became uncomfortable in a way that indicated he had something heavy on his mind.

This was when I decided that it was time to leave out some detail. Rafferty was able to leverage his relationship with Alam. It happened organically and was not malicious in any way. As Rafferty relayed it to me, after about four weeks of frequent dinners, Alam rose from the table at the end of a Friday evening meal when it was time to leave. Rafferty rose as well, and they shook hands. It was an American custom, but was not unusual in Iran, especially within a business setting. This time, when they shook hands, Alam placed a slip of paper in Rafferty’s hand. It was obvious that it was not meant to be read until he was alone.

I told Simpson that Rafferty and Alam met in secret and a plan was put in place to obtain information about the Iranian nuclear program that was off the books. All he wanted in return was to gain asylum for himself and his family in the United States. Rafferty felt like we could make this happen.

“But it didn’t happen, did it?” Simpson asked.

I told Simpson that they got to Alam before we could help him reach his goal. This was essentially the truth. What I didn’t tell him was how the U.S. government had dragged their feet under the pretense of validating the data that we received from Alam and concern over his motivation. Instead of being granted asylum, he and his family were executed.  They made plans to touch base the following day and both men went their separate ways. The data we gathered couldn’t be validated and Alam lost his life needlessly. Rafferty took it hard and I was baptized by fire into the world of covert operations.

Simpson pondered my story for a minute.

“You must have been upset when Alam didn’t get rewarded for the information,” he said, obviously fishing for more.

He was right, but I didn’t allow him to see my internal reaction. He seemed about to press me for more information when the burner phone that Jones had given us chirped to life. I answered it.

“I just had visitors,” Jones said in a voice that was calm and even.

He let us know that some local federal agents had been to his office asking about recent visitors. He also let us know that he didn’t give them any information and that we were likely safe for now. His next bit of news rocked me to my core, however.

“By the way, my poking around the Deep Web has earned me an exclusive privilege. I’m going to be meeting with Mr. Athenos.”

I was confused. I hadn’t realized that the code word I had given Jones was the name of an actual person. He didn’t realize this either.

“I received an encrypted email with someone claiming to be him. He wants to meet with you, Simpson and me. I was given a time and place.”

Jones gave me the information. It would be in two days. We would drive south on Interstate 95 and would receive further instructions. Athenos indicated that he would give us what we needed. I wasn’t so sure.

Road Kill – Part 9

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?”

“I do.”

“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.




Road Kill – Part 8

Now it’s going to get interesting. I’m getting feedback from readers that they don’t trust Ben Simpson. I’m not sure I do either. His preparation in helping our yet unnamed hero seem a little bit too extensive. I’m enjoying this style of writing. The tradition of serial writing goes back to the time of Charles Dickens. I’m currently reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, the famous Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I found out that this work was originally published as a serial over 9 months in a publication of the time.

Road Kill may eventually turn into a book once it has run its course, but I don’t see an end in sight. If you’ve read my other work, especially my Frank Rozzani Detective Series, you will start to see some familiar surroundings and characters start to emerge.

Enjoy Road Kill Part 8. This is one of my most widely read blog posts, so I’m going to move to an every Friday schedule for posting new parts to the story.

Road Kill – Part 8

As I sat in the spacious front seat of the vintage Crown Victoria, I began to ponder my situation. We were heading down Interstate 95 at a legal, but aggressive speed. We were likely being searched for by Donovan and my agency along with whatever other government and private mercenaries had been enlisted. My escape from The Mother Ship screamed guilt. My fleeing with Ben Simpson implicated him as well. Now I was heading south to try to pull someone else into this web of guilt. If I was going to clear myself and those that I involved, it was going to be a difficult road. The more people I pulled in, the more risk there was of taking them all down with me on a sinking ship.

As we crossed the South Carolina border and made our way past Savannah Georgia, Ben pulled the Crown Vic off the road into one of the many travel stops.

“Gas is cheap here in Georgia. We might as well top her off,” he said

“Good idea. I need to use the bathroom.”

“Let’s get some food. There’s a Subway connected to this place. What do you want?”

“Ham and cheese for me.”

“I’ll get the gas and the sandwiches. Give the cashier this on the way in and tell him fill-up on pump 2.”

I took the crisp twenty and ten that Ben gave me, stopped by the cashier and headed to the men’s room. After I relieved myself, I looked in the mirror as I washed my hands. My artificially brown irises were surrounded by red. My eyes had dark circles under them from lack of sleep. Seeing this image in the mirror resulted in a wave of exhaustion passing through my body to the extent that I had to grab the edge of the sink.

I splashed some cold water in my face and made my way back out to the car. Ben was just finishing up pumping the gas. He tossed me the keys and headed for the travel store.

“I’ve gotta use the facilities. You can drive the rest of the way. I’ll pick up the sandwiches on my way out.”

I sat in the driver’s seat and adjusted the mirrors. As I looked in the rearview, a blue and yellow Dodge Charger with the markings of the Georgia State Patrol pulled in behind me. I saw the driver and passenger doors open. I began to panic. Could Donovan have put out a BOLO for me? The trooper from the passenger side walked up the driver side of the Crown Vic. I sunk down in the seat. As he got close to the driver door, I braced myself for him tapping on the window. I expected his partner to be coming up the other side of the car.

Instead, he was pumping gas into their cruiser. The other trooper passed the Crown Vic on his way into the store. My panic was unfounded, but also reminded me how serious the situation was.

As my breathing returned to normal, Ben returned to the car. I told him what happened.

“Donovan wouldn’t have put a BOLO out on you yet. I know him. He’s personally embarrassed that you escaped on his watch. He will send his thugs after you. He wants to make this go away. You’re making him look bad.”

“So how is he going to find me?”

“He’ll wait for you to slip up. Don’t underestimate him.”

“You make it sound hopeless.”

“Not totally. We just need to stay one step ahead. We do that now by getting back on the road.”

I maneuvered the land yacht back on to 95 south. We cruised silently for the next couple of hours and crossed the Georgia-Florida line.

“So, I haven’t asked until now. Where are we going?” Simpson asked as we passed the northern fringes of Jacksonville.

“We’re going to visit a person that I know only by reputation. He is a hacker with a reputation for being able to maneuver his way around the Dark Web like some kind of cyber Spiderman.”

“That’s saying something. You think this guy will help you?”

“I’m hoping he will. He’s kind of a friend of a friend with a reputation for helping people in trouble.”

The sun had been down for a while and it was approaching 10 P.M. I pulled off into the parking log of a Red Roof Inn.

“What are we doing?” Simpson asked.

“It’s too late to try to make contact tonight. Let’s get some rest and we’ll reach out to him tomorrow.”

“Good idea. This place is out of the way enough. Like I said, I don’t think Donovan has put out a wide net for you yet. He’s going to wait until you pop up somewhere on the grid and them move in fast.”

“So let’s stay off the grid until tomorrow.”


Simpson paid cash for a room with two double beds. We went to a retail pharmacy that was nearby and bought some travel size toiletries and toothbrushes. Then we grabbed some fast food and went back to the Motel.

I spent a couple of hours switching through the television news channels half expecting to see my face splashed across the screen as a criminal on the run. Ben fell into a deep sleep in one of the beds.

After I was satisfied that I wasn’t the most wanted man in America, I went into the bathroom, popped out my color contacts into some saline that I had bought. Brushed my teeth and crawled into the other bed. I didn’t think I would sleep, but I soon fell into a deep sleep.

My body must have reacted to the fatigue of being on the run. I woke up with a strip of sunshine filtering through the blackout drapes directly into my face. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and noticed that Ben wasn’t in the other bed.

I swung my legs onto the floor and shook the cobwebs from my mind. The clock radio showed that it was 7:30 A.M. It was time to get going. But where was Ben?

I walked to the window and carefully peered out. I saw Ben pacing in the parking lot. He was speaking on a cell phone. A cell phone. So much for staying off the grid. I opened the door to the room and he turned as saw me. He ended his call and came back toward the door.

“What the hell was that? You’re on the phone? What’s going on here Ben?

“Just relax. It’s a burner. No one can trace it. I’m just making sure that our tracks are covered, that’s all. I’ve got eyes back in Virginia. Apparently they’ve been combing the woods by my property since yesterday and they just gave up this morning. They’re just figuring out that we’re not there or they think we were killed in the cave in of the tunnel.”

I calmed down a bit, but this raised questions.

“Are you sure you can trust these ‘eyes’ of yours?”

“I’m sure. There’s a pretty extensive network of people like me that want to stay off the grid and keep the government out of our lives. We look out for each other.”

It sounded convincing, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Ben was telling me the truth. He must have picked up on my thoughts.

“Listen, I’m looking out for you. Let’s get on the road and go see your contact. We need to get online and look for the backup of your laptop images if we’re going to get out of this mess.”

I snapped back to the matter at hand. I put my contacts back in, straightened my hair, brushed my teeth and we gathered up our things and hit the road.

We traveled over the Buckman Bridge and followed the 295 loop toward the beaches area of Jacksonville. We exited on Atlantic Boulevard and followed it east to the coast and to a strip mall in the Neptune Beach area.

I parked the car a few doors down from the office that we were visiting. We walked in to the lobby and we were greeted by a friendly looking black dog.

“Who is it Lucy?” came a voice from one of the offices and then, “May I help you?”

The man was medium height with dark hair and intimidating blue eyes that indicated intelligence.

“Are you Clifford Jones?”

“No, I’m his partner, Frank. Jonesy, er, Mr. Jones should be back in a little bit. He is out getting us coffee. If you have a seat he’ll be here soon.”

We sat in the small lobby area of the office and less than three minutes later, the door opened and a figure that looked like he just finished surfing entered.

“Jonesy, these gentlemen are here to see you.”

I stood up and shook hands with Clifford Jones.

“How can I help you guys?” he asked with just a bit of trepidation.

“Mr. Athenos sent me,” I said in reply.

Jones recognized the code word at once and his face changed.

“Come into my office,” he said.

We entered and he motioned to his guest chairs and quickly closed the door behind us.

Road Kill Part 7

So, have I painted my characters into a corner? Is Ben Simpson trustworthy? How is my character, yet unnamed, going to get out of this mess? Actually, I have no clue. I will let the characters walk me down the next blind hallway of this story. Please enjoy this super-sized installment of Road Kill.

Road Kill – Part 7

Now I was really confused. Ben Simpson blew up his own house. He did it to stop the authorities from finding me, but also to protect himself. If he knew he would come under suspicion, why didn’t he kick me out into the night? I planned on asking him this question, but at the moment I was glued to watching the action on the computer screens. The agents had dropped back behind their armored vehicles. They appeared to be standing down for the moment, but I knew they were just calling for the next wave in the assault on the property.

I turned to Ben and pointed at one of the computer workstations.

“I need to get online and see if I can track down the images of my laptop.”

“You’ve been doing automated cloud backups. I’m amazed. You actually broke the rules to protect your own ass?”

“That I did. It’s a little something I may have learned from you.”

“Well, obviously you didn’t do enough to protect yourself. Go ahead. I have an untraceable IP and a dedicated ultra-high-speed connection.”

I sat down at the workstation and entered commands that would get me to the Dark Web. Luckily, and as I expected, Ben had the software needed to access this hidden area of the Internet. There was a surprising amount of integrity among those that hung out on the Dark Web. Yes, most of them were hackers and people running black markets. Reputation was everything. If you messed with someone sophisticated enough to access this last bastion of privacy, you would have the ire of thousands of hackers hunting you down to irreparably hurt you financially, professionally, and personally.

I made it to the IP address of where my laptop images were stored and I immediately panicked at what I saw. Every image prior to today was gone. There were two images from today that had a time stamp after I was registered as a ‘guest’ in the Mother Ship.

“What the hell? Where did they go?”

“I’m not surprised. Do you think Donavan’s geek squad didn’t look for a routine that backed up your drive? I’m sure most of them run them on their own laptops. There is one thing that we know now.”

“What’s that, Ben?”

“Someone is definitely out to get you. If they found the images, why not wipe them out? Why put fresh ones out there that likely implicate you further?”

I hadn’t thought of that obvious conclusion due to my anger.  Now I had even more things stacked against me. But, there was still some hope. Ben realized it the same time that I did.

“All you need to do is access the backup files that are kept of everything on the Dark Web,” he said as if reading my mind.

“That’s all. Except, you have to be a hacker with exceptional skills to access them. Their location changes constantly and only the founding fathers of the Dark Web and their trusted descendants have that kind of access and they rarely use it.”

“Do you know anyone like that?”

“Not really…except, maybe one person, but he’s going to be hard to get to.”

“Why is that?”

“He is about 700 miles away and we are stuck underground.”

“My phone line is secure. Just call him.”

“You don’t understand. What I’m asking him to do puts him in danger. If I call or email him, he won’t be able to verify it’s me. I need to talk to him in person. It’s the only way.”

“Well, that changes our plan a little bit, but either way it was going to involve running, so now we have a destination,” Simpson said as he started to unlock some cabinets.

“What are you doing?”

“If we’re going to travel, we’re going to need documents for assumed identities in case we get stopped by any authorities. We also need to change our appearances somewhat, hair color, eye color, things like that.”

“And you have the ability to create all of that stuff?”

“I always plan for a rainy day, you know that.”

There was planning for a rainy day and then planning for a biblical flood. This was the latter.

“What about our friends on the surface?” I asked.

“The door to this place is similar to the type used on bank vaults. Even if they find it in the shed, it’s going to take them hours to break through it. We have a good 4-6 hours before they get to us. Let’s get our IDs settled and then we need to get some sleep. You must be beat.”

I hadn’t thought about the last time I slept. I was on an early flight, and with the distance to the airport, I was up at 4:40 AM. I had been on an adrenaline high since the discovery of a dead Mr. Man Bun in my assigned seat on the plane. I was now running on fumes. Ben seemed to be on track with what I was thinking.

“It’s been a busy day. Let’s change your hair color and the style and put in some color contacts and take your photo for the ID. Then you and I can get some rest for a few hours.”

I was stunned. The fatigue which had now been identified as something I should be feeling, was setting in with a vengeance. I leaned over a stationary sink and massaged dark brown hair color through my blonde-going-gray hair. I then took an electric razor and, with the number 3 guard covering the blade, buzzed my newly darkened hair the best that I could. As I looked at the man in the mirror, I could still see myself, but I would look different to someone who saw me from a distance. I then put in the brown contact lenses that Ben had given me to cover my pale blue eyes.

Once my new appearance was finalized, Ben had me stand in front of a pale blue backdrop and he took my picture.

“You are now a resident of Oregon. Your name is Zachary Egan and I’ve added five years to your actual age. You look like you’ve aged at least that much.”

“Gee thanks. Is there a real Zachary Egan in Oregon?”

“There is now. I’ve added an entry to their DMV database in case someone looks it up. You’ve had a couple of speeding tickets, but nothing major.”

“Well that’s good, I guess.”

“I’m going to finish up my identity. Why don’t you go and get some rest? I’ll wake you up in a few hours and we will be on our way.”

“Won’t it be daytime? Wouldn’t it be smarter to move out while it’s dark?”

“Not really. We’ll be able to surface far enough away and get a vehicle quickly enough that they won’t be on our trail right away. In the meantime, we’re safe here.”

I was too tired to argue. Ben seemed to have an answer for every scenario. It was almost as if he had prepared for this exact situation. He was always paranoid about working in intelligence, but I had no idea how far that paranoia had progressed. I was, however, welcoming this affliction with open arms given my current predicament.

I laid down on a cot that was set up in a dark corner of Ben’s bat cave. I didn’t think I could possibly sleep, but my next memory was of being nudged awake. As I opened my eyes, I hoped that I would see my own bedroom in my own condo, and that this was all just a nightmare brought on by working too hard. No luck. I was still in Ben’s bunker.

“We need to get going. I’ve loaded some duffels for us with everything we’ll need to get us 700 miles. I put out some clothes that I think will fit you.”

Sure enough, the jeans and shirt he gave me fit well with the exception of being just a bit long. There was also a pair of hiking shoes that were a ½ size too big, but they would work in a pinch, and I was certainly in a pinch.

“How are we going to get out of here?” I asked.

I could see by the monitors, that is was full daylight on the surface.

“Not a problem. We’re going to travel horizontally for a bit before we surface. I packed some MREs so we can eat on the run.”

MREs. That took me back to survival training. On the ship, we ate quite well by military standards. I had only had the so-called ‘meals ready to eat’ in fictional situations. They actually weren’t bad.

Before I could ask how we were going to accomplish this, Ben led me to a door at the far end of the bunker away from the hatch from which we had entered. He opened the door and flipped a switch to activate emergency lighting. Beyond the door I could see a tunnel that stretched on for a very long distance.

“Seriously, Ben. Why did you feel the need to do something like this?”

“Well, you never know when some naïve former shipmate, falsely accused of treason, is going to show up with half the government chasing him. I was a Boy Scout. Always prepared.”

The answer definitely didn’t satisfy me but it would have to do for now.

I followed Ben into the tunnel. As he shut the door, he accessed a hidden keypad.

“What’s that for?”

“Covering our tracks. The entire bunker and the tunnel behind us will collapse once we’ve passed sensors that are laid out along the path. We don’t want anyone following us or even knowing we’ve been here.”

“That’s a lot of equipment and supplies you’re sacrificing in the bunker.”

“Oh well. Most of it is government surplus anyway,” he said with a wry smile.

We traveled along the tunnel for at least a half-mile. Every so often, a low rumble came from behind us as the bunker and tunnel presumably collapsed. Eventually we came to a ladder that went about fifteen feet up to a hatch. I followed Ben up the ladder and he opened the hatch. As we emerged, we appeared to be in a large barn-like structure.

Ben closed the hatch and then walked over to a vehicle that was covered with a large tarp. He pulled back the tarp revealing a large Ford Crown Victoria with Oregon license plates that appeared to be at least ten years old. He then opened the door to the building revealing a long dirt road that cut across a field. We got into the Crown Vic and when Ben turned the key, the huge Ford roared to life.

“Well, which way?” Ben asked.

I pondered one more time how willing my contact would be to help me out. It was a role of the dice, but the odds were much better than putting myself in the hands of Donovan and his minions.

“South. We’re heading south.”

“South it is,” Ben said as he put the Crown Vic into gear and pulled out onto the dirt road.

There appeared to be no living creatures in site, at least not the human kind. I hoped it would stay that way until we got where we were going.




Road Kill – Part 6

Wow, this roller coaster is taking quite a ride. It’s gone from an extremely bad business trip to a conspiracy theory. I’ve introduced this Ben Simpson character and he’s turned into someone interesting. If I had to pull a frame of reference for him, he would be similar to Gene Hackman’s character in the movie Enemy of the State.

I can’t wait to see where this goes next. I kind of know, but not really.

Please enjoy this installment. I look forward to your comments.

Road Kill – Part 6

It’s hard to explain, but my old shipmate, Ben Simpson, seemed both surprised and not surprised to see me. He let me in and then locked the doorknob, three deadbolts, and the tempered metal latch on his steel front door.

We were both in naval intelligence supporting special forces during the Global War on Terrorism that began after the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. We spent five years disseminating data and chatter. After leaving the Navy, both Ben and I were recruited for jobs working in the Mother Ship. I took the job, he didn’t.

Something about the agency spooked him. I saw it as a healthy salary, government benefits, and a job that used what I was trained to do.  In light of recent event, maybe Ben was the smart one.

“What did you screw up?”

“What do you mean?”

“Okay, tell me if I’m wrong,” Ben started, “You did something wrong. Donovan called you in. You escaped from the Mother Ship somehow, ran through the woods, caught a ride in a semi, and showed up here. Am I close?”

“Um, you are. You just left out the part where I sat in the wrong airplane seat this morning and the guy who sat in my seat was murdered.”

“Ah, so you didn’t do it.”

“Didn’t do what?”

“Whatever they are accusing you of. You didn’t do it, and now someone is trying to frame you since they couldn’t kill you.”

I was a bit dumfounded. I had forgotten about Ben’s Sherlock Holmes-like deduction capabilities. I had to step into my Doctor Watson role.

“How do you know all of this?”

“Well, your clothes, although fashionable a few years ago, are wrinkled in a way that tells me you’ve been wearing them for almost 20 hours. Your shoes are scuffed and you have burdocks on the back of your pants which tells me you ran through the woods and must have taken a direct northerly route where there are no maintained trails. The only reason you would do that would be to head toward the highway. They only reason you would do that would be to hitch a ride. You showed up here because, given the situation, I’m the only friendly in the area.”

“But how do you know where I came from and why?”

“I realized long ago that working for a dark agency is a mistake. Now maybe you believe me. You got close to someone who didn’t want you close. They tried to kill you when you were most vulnerable. When that didn’t work, they did the next best thing, which may actually be worse. They made it look like you committed treason. You know that Donovan would make sure he got you to confess to whatever was compromised even if you didn’t do it. Then you would disappear in some dark, dank hole never to see the sunrise again.”

This did not make me feel any better so I said, “That doesn’t make me feel any better, Ben.”

“It’s a serious situation, my friend. If you are being framed, you either have to find out who is doing it, or make yourself disappear before they do. Of course, if you do find out who’s behind it, you have to get someone who matters to believe you.”

I hung my head. Not much encouragement here.

“It looks like my situation is pretty hopeless then.”

“Well, not totally,” Ben said while getting up from his chair.

“What do you mean, not totally?”

“You came here. Now I’m involved.”

“What do you mean, you’re involved?”

“Man, your skills have softened since you took this government job,” Simpson said as he grabbed two large duffel bags from a deep closet off of the sitting room. “You’ve led them to my place. I’m involved. Even if you leave, they’ll take me in to interrogate me. We are now officially partners and, oh, by the way, we have to leave right now,” he finished as he tossed me a pair of hiking shoes.

“What are these?”

“Um, shoes. 11 ½ if I remember correctly.”

“Why do I need these?”

“Let me see your left shoe.”

“What? Why?”

“Your left shoe. Now. We are running out of time.”

I took off both shoes and tossed him the left one. He unsheathed a large hunting knife and went to work on the heel. After he pried it off, he tossed me a one inch square with a blinking red light.

“A tracker. How the hell did this end up in my shoe?”

“Have you ever wondered why they have a complimentary shoeshine at the Mother Ship?”

“I just thought it was a quirky benefit. Donovan likes shiny shoes.”

“When you give up your shoes to be shined, they insert one of those bad boys with a five-year battery. I’ll bet there’s one in every pair of shoes you wear.”

“So that means…,” I started.

“That means they’ll be hear any minute. Follow me.”

My mind was swirling, but Ben’s instincts were always flawless. He was right about the tracker which meant I had put him in danger. That was the last thing I wanted to do. He almost seemed to be prepared for this. I had no choice but to follow him. He led me into the kitchen and to the back door. Before we exited, he opened a hidden panel in the wall and through up a switch.

“Turning off the power?”

“Not exactly. It turns off the lights, but also electrifies just about everything metal on the house. That won’t stop them, but it will slow them down. Unfortunately, it will also piss them off. We better go.”

I assumed we were heading to a vehicle so we could speed away to some alternate location. Instead, Ben led us to an equipment shed in the far back corner of his fenced in yard. It couldn’t have been more than 8 X 10 feet.

“Picking up more equipment?” I asked.

“Not exactly. We’re heading into a little something I had built a few years back.”

“A shed? We’re going to hide in a tool shed? Is it at least armored.”

“Just watch and learn.”

Ben moved a large chest in the middle of the floor. There was a rectangular section of the wooden floor that appeared to be removable. He grabbed a crowbar and lifted it. There was a stairwell underneath that appeared to lead to a subterranean area. Ben motioned for me to head down the stairs. He flipped a switch at the top of the stairs and a series of lights began to turn on. This wasn’t just a subterranean area, Ben had his own version of the Mother Ship under his own land.

“What is this?”

“Just a little getaway,” Ben said with a wry grin. “The contractors that built it for me thought I was nuts. That appears to be not true now.”

There appeared to be living quarters, a cooking area, shelves full of food and other essential supplies, and a row of refrigerators. There was also a large bank of computer monitors that appeared to display surveillance feeds from all over Ben’s property.

“I guess we can hang out here for a while, but then what?”

“Those guys aren’t going to give up. They will eventually find this place. We need to be long gone by then. We can’t just run off blindly, though. We need to come up with a place we can go where we can get some cover and find enough help to crack this thing.”

Just as Ben was finishing up his statement, we could see multiple vehicles approaching his property. Armored paramilitary personnel, with no branch designation, began circling the house. As one of the men unlatched the gate, we could see him jump back.

“Well that zapped him a bit,” Ben said with a laugh. “It’s not lethal, but it feels like he stuck a fork in a 110 outlet. He’ll think twice about touching metal on my property again.”

As the personnel moved closer to the house, Ben moved toward one of the keyboards in front of the computer monitors. When the perimeter of personnel closed to within 30 feet of the property, Ben keyed in a quick command.

Suddenly, the whole property lit up with extremely bright floodlights and, from nowhere, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell began playing at a volume so loud that we could feel the bass vibrating through the earth above. A low rumble followed and the house imploded upon itself. The personnel fell back and, when the smoke cleared, Ben’s house was a pile of rubble.

“I guess that got their attention. The game is now officially on,” Ben said with a cackling laugh.

The explosion seemed to instill an air of increased caution in whoever was tracking me down. They fell back to their vehicles to likely call in to the Mother Ship and bring some fresh form of hell to deal with finding me.