Dark Web (DARC Ops Book 2)

BOOK: Dark Web (DARC Ops Book 2)
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Dark Web
DARC Ops Book 2
Jamie Garrett
Wild Owl Press
Copyright and Disclaimer

T
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

C
opyright
© 2016 by Jamie Garrett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. All requests should be forwarded to
[email protected]
.

C
over design
by
The Final Wrap
.

Editing by Jennifer Harshman,
Harshman Services
.

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onnect with me on Facebook
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http://facebook.com/JamieGarrettBooks

C
lick
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Glossary

H
acker
:
In mainstream media, a person who gains access to a computer system in order to access information and/or cause damage. Originally (and gaining in popularity again) it meant someone who was a highly skilled computer expert, and usually involved in a hacker community or subculture.

A
ir walled
/Air gapped:
A security measure used to ensure a computer is physically isolated from potentially unsecure networks, such as the public internet or another network (for example, a local network in an office).

B
lack Hat
:
Internet slang referring to a computer hacker or security expert who does not play by the rules. Also called crackers, or dark-side hackers, they are people who attempt to find computer security vulnerabilities and exploit them, usually for personal or financial gain, along with other malicious reasons.

G
rey Hat
:
A computer hacker or security expert who may sometimes skirt the edge of the law or certain ethical standards, but does not have the malicious intent of a black hat.

W
hite Hat
:
Internet slang referring to an ethical computer hacker or security expert. They may be hired by other companies to break into their computers and networks to test their security and vulnerabilities to a real attack.

D
oxxed
:
To ‘dox’ someone is to search for and publish private or identifying information about someone online, usually (but not always) with malicious intent. For example publicly sharing anything from an individual’s credit card information to private sex tapes.

H
oney pot
:
Traditionally a honey pot is a decoy computer system used for trapping hackers or spammers. Honey pots are setup to purposefully engage and deceive hackers, and identify those responsible for malicious activity. The term has also been used to describe spies or hackers (usually female) who use their looks and skills to break into secure networks or facilities (for example: stealing someone’s keycard or convincing them to tell them their password).

M
RAP
:
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected; a vehicle that is designed specifically to withstand an IED attack and ambushes.

D
EFCON
:
Started in 1992, DEFCON is the world’s longest running and largest underground hacking conference. Held annually in Las Vegas, attendees include computer security professionals, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, researches, students and hackers. The event includes speakers on computer hack and cracking related subjects, and hacking wargames social events and contests.

D
arkCoin
:
DarkCoin (renamed Dash in March 2015) is an open-source currency similar to Bitcoin but completely anonymous. It’s operated by the first decentralized autonomous organization.

1
Carly

T
hey rolled
into town around 6 p.m., barely on time for their sound check at Changez Niteclub—Salt Lake City’s festering, beer-stank hovel of live punk music. In that way it was really no different than the rest. Just another night, another dive bar, another stop in The Dotties’ I-80 tour of the western states. And like usual, they were greeted by cranky, hungover staff. First was the guy who opened the rear alley-facing door, who had a faint trace of white powder in his mustache, and who pretended like he didn’t know anything and was too busy and annoyed to bother. He was most likely the owner. Next was the girl sitting atop the bar, pouring cheap vodka into premium bottles through a large plastic funnel. Between pours, she pointed to the stage, mumbling something about hurrying up and setting up already. And to not prop open the rear door when bringing in their gear. Too many flies.

While providing a break from the monotony of the interstate, places like Changez also gave Carly an opportunity to regret that she’d let herself become a musician. She contemplated this while untangling a ball of patch cords. It always happened like that—the careful untangling of her guitar cords pre-show with a solemn promise to store them properly in the future. And then the future comes half drunk and chaotic, their show ending in a big, sloppy hurry to pile all their shit in their van as fast as possible.

Carly thought about that, too, already growing envious of her future self’s ability to escape the current rattrap of a gig. Maybe by then she’d figure out a more permanent escape, something beyond a vanload of instruments, gear, and illicit drugs.

“Okay girls, when you’re ready. . . .”

The sound check at Changez served more as a formality than function, the guy behind the sound board listening for a whole 30 seconds before lazily waving his hand in a “cut it” sign. He hadn’t once touched the dials. Nor had he even looked at them. Instead, and with a face marked with a certain dull hatred, he rotated his head ever so slightly to glance at someone behind the bar. Yup, speakers still work.

Carly leaned her Fender bass into its stand and stepped off the stage—rather, stepped down a single carpeted step posing as a stage. The next challenge was to somehow navigate an exit through last night’s unswept shards of beer bottles. She walked carefully, her head down so she’d spot any larger shards before they pierced the bottom of her boot. It was always a little unnerving to see unfiltered sunlight on the black floor of a nightclub, its golden beams reflecting majestically off the candied spackle of beer and glass. Everywhere else, aside from the stage and bar, was pitch dark. And she was thankful for that.

“Hey, you can’t use that door,” called a voice from the darkness. “Go out back.”

She ignored it.

Outside, in the cool late-day shade of the alley, Carly braced herself for the phone calls she’d been trying to avoid for over four hundred miles of interstate. Four hundred miles of extra weight on top of everything else in an already overloaded van, including a slew of maxed-out credit cards. It was now time, right there amid the deep-fried-grease stench of a downtown Salt Lake City alley, to finally start addressing things one by one.

First, an offer that sounded too good to be true.

“I got your message,” Carly spoke into her cell phone. “All six of them.”

“Well, this guy’s been hounding me,” came the voice of an old internet friend and one-time business contact. Back in the good ol’ days, he’d supplied her with a long set of lucrative contracts—with a slight commission, of course. “He’s got something big lined up, Carly. And I know you need the money.”

“You didn’t tell him that I’m retired?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I figured it was worth coming out of retirement for. He’s saying fifty grand.”

“And yet, I’m still saying no.”

“He said he can negotiate higher, if that’s what it takes.”

“You mean you’re gonna lower your cut?” Carly watched a nature scene unfold before her in the alley—a pigeon hobbling across the closed lid of a recycle bin.

“Yeah,” he said, “sliding to you.”

“No thanks.”

“What?”

“Tell him thanks,” she said, “but no thanks.”

“You sure?”

Carly watched the pigeon as it pecked at something in a crumbled-up fast-food wrapper—maybe some old bread. The poor thing was taking whatever it could get. “Yeah, I’m sure,” she said. “And can you do me a favor? Can you stop calling me about this kind of stuff?”

There was a sigh on the other end of the line.

“I thought I told you about that,” she said. The pigeon was looking straight at her.

“Alright, Carly. So you’re still in retirement. Alright.”

“Until I say otherwise,” she said. “That means it comes from me to you. Not the other way around.”

“Alright,” he said, finally sounding defeated. “You doing okay out there? How’s everything going otherwise?”

“It’s going great,” she lied. “And you can call anytime if you just want to chat and catch up, you know, like friends do.”

She heard laughter on the other end. And then he told her to take care. And then a cold little goodbye.

Their work relationship went way back, but it was really nothing to get sentimental about. These days that voice offered nothing but trouble, and was maybe even deserving of its number getting permanently blocked.

Standing in that alley and watching an injured bird try to eek out its own existence, Carly began to wonder how difficult it would be to break away for good, if she could live with that last phone call being the final contact between her and her old life. The bird suddenly fluttered and then took off, flying away. Yes. She could.

Now alone in the alley, Carly took a deep breath in preparation for the next call. It was to her current employer.

Maybe he had some good news?

She could really use some good news. . . .

“Hey, Dom,” she said, fighting back a creeping shakiness in her voice. “We just got off the road. We’re in Salt Lake City.”

“Oh . . . cool,” said Dom, sounding decidedly nonplussed about the news. “How’s, uh . . . how’s it all going?”

A net loss so far. A renewed distrust in humanity. An exploration of American pastoral tedium. Through the truck stop shithole towns of Wyoming, they’d barely made gas money.

All in all, it was going about how she’d expected, so she spared him the details.

Dom sounded relieved, moving on to more important matters, like, “We had another meeting, so it’s a good thing you called today,” and, “I think they’ve made their decision. And I think you know what that is.”

Yes, she had an idea. They’d left a few hints before she set out on tour, furtive glances in an elevator back in Fort Collins, everything sad and suggestive.

“I’m sorry, Carly.”

They were sorry. So sorry. But they’d have to let her go.

“I’m sorry,” he said again into the void of Carly’s silence. “I could get into the rationale, the numbers, if you’d like. But the main takeaway is that it’s no one’s fault and we hate doing this, Carly. We really do.”

He didn’t need to get into the numbers.

Carly reckoned they were heading for a nationwide depression, regardless of what the talking heads on TV were allowed to report. She knew the abysmal figures of her marketing firm’s first quarter, and how it mirrored that of their competitors. And how that mirrored every other industry.

Marketing budgets would be the first to go, if senior management around the country still expected to see their bonuses. Dom said as much, referring ever so quietly to their own company’s management. Carly could hear the fear in his voice. He’d be next.

Yes, the rocker chick had a job.
Had
a job, a normal 9–5er, building websites for an internet marketing agency back in Colorado. The music thing, an all-girl punk-rock trio, was supposed to be a hobby. And trips like these were supposed to at least pay for themselves.

“Guess what?” said a voice behind her. “It looks like they’re not doing the flat rate anymore. Just cover.”

“Smart move,” said Carly, sighing as she slid her phone into the tight front pocket of her black, knee-holed jeans. She turned to face the lead guitarist and singer for The Dotties, Megan, a cute little butch girl she’d known since high school. Someone who grew up to be a professional dog groomer—and who was still currently employed.

“So how do we look for door count?” asked Megan. “You did Twitter and Facebook and everything?” It was her usual assumption that Carly, who wrote code for marketers, was an expert marketer herself.

“Yeah,” said Carly. “I sent out some stuff.”

Megan stared at her for a moment. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Liar.”

Carly sighed. Why was it always up to her? “Well, wouldn’t it make sense for the social-media addict to handle the social media?”

“Okay. So let’s put up a pic on Instagram,” said Megan, brushing dog hair off her black tank top. “Wanna take one of me? We can do it right now.”

Carly looked around at her bleak surroundings. “Sure. What dumpster do you wanna—?”

“Not in the fucking alley. Come on, let’s go out front.”

She had just lost her job. She wasn’t in the mood to go out front.

“Come on,” Megan urged. “We gotta do
something
.”

She
did
do something. She Facebooked. . . . She tweeted. . . . Right?

Or was that yesterday for Rock Springs?

Was she really just fired?

“Alright,” said Carly with mock optimism. “Let’s do something.”

They walked along the graffitied rear wall of the nightclub, avoiding puddles of trash water on their way. As she passed one of the large metal dumpsters, Carly heard a scuffling sound emanating from within. She held absolutely no desire to find the source.

Megan didn’t seem to notice any of it. “Maybe I can stand in front of their sign or something.”

“Do they even have a sign?”

“Yeah,” Megan said. “Don’t they?”

They turned down another alley, one that was slightly less disgusting, and it brought them to the busy street in front of Changez. They stood there, on a curb on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City, where a gray-zone mix of gentrification and urban decay provided a sufficiently punk milieu.

Carly scanned the building’s facade and noticed that they indeed had a sign—an old-fashioned neon monstrosity that spelled out a single word: POPS.

Megan viewed it with disgust. “
Pops
?
What the hell is Pops?”

Pops was probably a bar that could afford their own unique signage. A music venue that still offered a well-calibrated PA system plus a happy, competent sound mixer. The owner might’ve still been a cokehead. That was almost certain. But at least he had the right fucking sign hanging out front.

“Well,” said Carly, “I know what Pops
isn’t
.”

“You sure it’s not some cool marketing thing? Like it’s so cool it’s got a secret name? I mean, it’s called
Changez
.
Maybe the name is always changing? Like a secret, like, um. . . .” There she went again, thinking Carly was a marketing guru with all the answers. “Do you still think we should take a photo?”

“Hell no,” said Carly. She at least knew that answer.

“Well, what the fuck?”

Carly’s attention wandered past her befuddled bandmate and over to a woman who approached on the sidewalk. The woman was looking at her, smiling. Carly smiled back awkwardly and said, “Hi.”

Maybe a fan. She was dressed like it.

“Heyyy,” the woman replied. She looked to be in her late twenties and wore thick, black-framed glasses. An air of medicated studiousness, with a hipster’s denim jacket atop tight, red corduroy.

Megan spun around, greeting her impulsively. “Hey, can I ask you a quick question? What’s this bar called?”

“Uh, Changez?” the woman said with a chuckle.

“Are you asking, or are you sure?”

“It’s Changez. I’m sure.”

Megan smirked. “Then what’s with the sign?”

“I know,” said the woman as she pointed to a tiny white placard above the door, which read the bar’s new name. “There’s the new sign. It’s totally confusing, right?”

“Wait,” said Megan. “So why leave this old one up?”

The woman shrugged. “Cuz it looks cool?”

“Well, thanks,” Carly laughed. “We’re not from here, so—”

“Yeah, I know. You’re The Dotties, right?”

“Yep,” said Megan with a grin. “Are you coming to see us play?”

“Uh, no.”

Carly watched Megan’s smile evaporate in the twilight.

“Well, maybe,” the woman corrected herself. “Maybe I will later. But I’m actually here for an interview.”

“Ohhh.” A memory jolted into Carly’s consciousness, an email exchange with someone named Simone, a journalist for a local underground magazine. Contact was made somewhere within the haze that was Laramie, Wyoming.

“I should have reminded you,” said Simone. “It’s probably tough to remember, being on the road and everything.”

“Yeah,” said Megan, fishing a cigarette out of her pocket. “It’s super tough.”

“So maybe we can get into all that. Do you still have time for some questions?”

“Of course,” said Carly, trying to offset Megan’s doom and gloom with a diplomatic smile. “We’ll go inside, okay?” It was probably a good thing that Megan and her cigarette wouldn’t be able to join them just yet. Her negativity would reflect in the interview and that would be bad for marketing and shit. Carly rolled her eyes and followed Simone inside.

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