STATE OF BETRAYAL: A Virgil Jones Mystery (Detective Virgil Jones Mystery Series Book 2)

State of Betrayal

A Virgil Jones Novel

 

Book 2 of the
Virgil Jones Mystery Series

 

by

 

Thomas Scott

 

 

 

 

 

For my father,
Richard, who taught me how to be a man, and my dear late mother, Judy, who never
let me lose sight of the boy I’ll always be. What a wonderful combination of
gifts. Who could possibly ask for more? Thank you both. This one’s for you. God
bless.

 

 

1

__________

 

I
t
was the season of baked asphalt, dry hardpan backyards and boiled over tempers
that flared red long after the sun would journey below the horizon. So much
change for so many—that summer of heat and Boots—though Virgil
Jones knew full well the one name they would never call him again,
Boot
,
was a part of his past now. But the heat barreled on, an oppressive undertow
that became the undoing of so many, the death of an unfortunate few.

Virgil was on patrol driving south
on U.S. 31 about halfway between Kokomo and Indianapolis. He had the air conditioner
set to maximum and that kept the temperature in his cruiser at about eighty
degrees. A heat wave had stalled out over the middle of the country a few days
ago and if you were outside for more than five minutes, even in the shade, the
humidity landed on you like a water balloon tossed from a second-story balcony.
It was so bad you could see the air. The blacktop a half-mile out shimmered in
the heat and Virgil thought it looked as though at any moment he might drive
headlong into a pool of Mercury.

His shift was scheduled to end in
less than half an hour and he was only a mile away from the convenience store
when he got the radio call of two males engaged in a verbal argument that
threatened to turn into something much worse. He hit the switch for the light
bar then punched the gas petal and when he did, the Police Interceptor engine
in his Crown Victoria responded with ease. Traffic in the immediate area was
light and he ran his speed up to over one hundred miles per hour, the tires
gliding across the greasy, heat-soaked asphalt. He would be on scene in less
than forty seconds. If he would have glanced at himself just then in the rear-view
mirror he’d have seen the smile on his face.

The convenience store sat along an
access road just off the highway. The entrance was at the far end of the lot
and Virgil was forced to drive past the store along the perimeter road before
he could turn back into the parking area. The cause of the altercation was
clear. Two vehicles—one a clean, dark blue, mid-sized sedan, the other a
dull red and rusted pickup—sat nose to tail, the rear bumper of the
pickup firmly embedded into the headlight of the sedan. Two white males stood
just to the side of the damaged vehicles. Virgil tried not to draw any conclusions
as to which vehicle belonged to each driver, though it seemed obvious. One of
the men wore a pair of cutoff jeans and a sleeveless shirt, the other a
business suit. There were two small children in the cab of the pickup, their
hands and faces pressed against the rear window, their expressions a mixture of
both fear and familiarity. A small crowd had gather around the front door of
the convenience store but no one was making any sort of attempt to curtail a
situation that was rapidly escalating out of control. The men, both red faced
and angry pointed their fingers at each other but their words were lost to the road
noise and air-conditioning of Virgil’s squad car.

Then, in an instant, it went from
full throttle to fuck it when business suit shoved sleeveless in the chest and
knocked him to the ground before walking away. Virgil burped his siren to get
their attention, but at the same time sleeveless jumped up, reached into the
bed of his pickup and pulled out a piece of steel rebar. He hesitated for just
a moment but the look on his face left little doubt about his intentions or his
state of mind. Business suit faced Virgil as he approached, his back to his
adversary, unaware of what was about to take place against his person and even
though Virgil pointed at him and hit the siren again as a warning it had no
effect.

Virgil braked to a stop just as
sleeveless swung the rebar and hit business suit across the backs of his
thighs. The suit dropped to his knees and his jaw unhinged with shock and pain.
Virgil jumped out of the car, un-holstered his weapon and pointed it at
sleeveless. “Drop the bar. Do it now. No, no, don’t even think about it. Just
drop it.”

Sleeveless looked at him, but he
was too far gone by then, the flat of his eyes a sign of what was to come. He
raised the piece of rebar high above his head, his yellow teeth bared, the
tendons of his tattooed arms as tight as leaf springs and when he stood up on
his toes and started to swing the bar again he left Virgil no choice at all. He
fired two shots and they both hit their target. Sleeveless was dead before he
hit the ground.

Virgil wasn’t smiling anymore.

That was twenty years ago and it
was the only time he’d ever fired his weapon as a police officer. It was also
his first day out of training—no longer a Boot—riding solo as an
Indiana State Trooper.

 

__________

 

 

The man Virgil shot
and killed was named James Pope. The two children in the truck with him were
his five year-old twins, a boy, Nicholas, and his sister, Nichole. James Pope
had just abducted his children from his ex-wife’s house only minutes before the
altercation in the parking lot that led to his death. Virgil never knew what
happened to the twins after that day, but he did get a thank-you card in the
mail from their mother a few weeks after the shooting. Virgil had hopes that
the children would somehow grow up trouble-free, even though they had witnessed
the death of their father at the hands of a police officer. When the thank-you
card arrived in the mail from their mother, Virgil’s hope died just as quick as
James Pope did. It’s one thing to be glad you’re rid of someone. But it’s
something else when carry such hatred in your heart that you send a note of
thanks to the man who killed your ex-husband. Virgil thought the Pope twins were
in for a rough ride. He threw the note in the trash and got on with his life.

 

 

 

2

__________

 

N
icholas
Pope sat in the darkness of his office, his face illuminated by the dim glow of
his computer monitor. Pope was a programmer for the state’s lottery, though the
job description was something of a sore spot for him.  He was not a
programmer. Programmers were about one step up from the I.T. guy who kept Excel
from crashing every time someone tried to recover a missing file. No, Pope was
a coder and a damned good one at that. The distinction was important to him.
Programmers and coders did share some similarities—Nicky would grant you
that—but it was a bit like comparing a couple of house painters with
artists like Renoir, or Monet. They all used paints and brushes, but that was
about as far as anyone could extend the comparison. Guys with names like Billie
Bob and Monty D. painted houses, but they could hardly be called artists. They
were simple laborers. Coders on the other hand, just like Renoir, or Monet,
were true artists. One little splash of color here, one little bit of binary
there and well, it made all the difference…whether anyone else noticed or not.

So. Nicholas Pope was a coder who
was, at the moment, working on a scheduled update for the algorithm that was
the basis for the random number generator, or RNG, for the state's lottery
system. Gone were the days of numbered Ping-Pong balls floating about on puffs
of air until they popped into a tube on live TV. Everything was digital now,
including how the winning numbers were picked. The lottery's RNG algorithm
served two primary functions. The first was to pick a total of six numbers at
random between 1 and 48 whenever someone bought a lottery ticket and used the
‘quick pick’ method instead of playing numbers they’d decided upon themselves.
The second purpose of the RNG algorithm was to pick the six winning numbers
every time there was a drawing and in the case of the state of Indiana, that
was every Wednesday and Saturday.

The RNG algorithm was one of the
most complex algorithms that Nicky had ever seen, layer after layer of
intricate code that every now and again made someone wealthy beyond their
wildest dreams. Nicky was fascinated with RNG’s, especially the one he now had
access to. The lottery used a true RNG, one that worked by capturing background
ambient noise from a variety of ever-changing sources—street traffic,
wind, aircraft flying overhead, footsteps and voices in the hallways—then
converted those noises into a pattern. Once the pattern was established, it was
output and converted into a string code that the system used as the key, or
seed, that ran the algorithm. If the key kept changing, as it would with random
background ambient noise, then the numbers would always be truly random. Even
if they did happen to repeat—though that had never happened and as far as
Nicky could tell, never would—they were still random and that’s what mattered.

Near the end of his shift, Nicky
made note of his place in the program and began to back his way out of the
layers of code that converted the noise into its sequential string. He was
almost out when he found what he was looking for. Found it by dumb luck. It was
right there and had been all along. He’d simply missed it. It was hidden, but
not all that well. It was, he thought, a little like hiding a tree in the
forest.

He double-checked to make sure what
he’d found was the right section and when he was sure, he pulled the thumb
drive from his pocket and uploaded his own little bit of binary code into the sequential
string generator section of the program. He wasn’t worried about being traced
by the security measures the lottery had in place. He’d been logged in the
entire time under his boss’s username and password, two little items he’d
copied from her phone over eight weeks ago after a particularly feisty night of
drinking and well…feistiness. He logged out of the terminal and once clear of
the building he took out his cell and called his twin sister, Nichole. “We’re
in,” he said.

“You’re sure?” she asked him.

“Oh yeah, no doubt about it.”

“Will it work?”

“Of course it will work. I designed
it. Hey, Sis?”

“Yeah?”

“We’re doing it aren’t we? After
all this time, we’re going to make them pay.”

“You bet your ass they’re going to
pay, baby brother. They’re going to pay big time.”

“Hey, a minute and a half hardly
makes me your baby brother.”

“Be careful, Nicky. Sometimes I
think you don’t know what we’re up against here.”

“No worries, Sis. I'll see you in
an hour.”

They still had some work to do, but
they were almost ready. Almost there.

 

__________

 

 

Nichole
went to her fridge,
pulled out two Buds—the liquid kind—and
handed one to her brother. “What about Pearson? Maybe we should let that go.”

“Little late for that. Besides, the
plan is already in place. Pearson is going to pay for what he did to our
family.”

Their plan had evolved over the
years. It started out as nothing more than a childhood fantasy—a way to
get even with Pearson for the altercation he started that eventually led to
their father’s death by an Indiana State Trooper. Shortly after the Pope twins
turned seventeen their mother died and that was when they began to understand a
few things, the biggest of which was that they were on their own. They had no
other family so they made a promise to themselves; they would take care of each
other no matter what came their way.

And that’s what they did. Nichole
had proven herself to be quite the little thief, a talent she discovered in
short order after their mother died. They had to eat, after all. She became a
master shoplifter, which, Nichole discovered, required a good deal of acting.
You couldn’t look suspicious if you were about to steal something, no matter
how big or small said something might be. You had to
act
normal. You had
to
act
like you belonged where you were, doing whatever it was that you
were doing. Nichole discovered she was good at it…the acting. She could act
like a punk or a princess…a young socialite, or a homeless teen. Her biggest
score had been their most elaborate one to date, not counting what they were
doing now. She went to the mall, stole the most expensive dress she could
find—with matching shoes, of course—then went to one of the more
exclusive college graduation parties in nearby Carmel, Indiana. Nicky had
hacked into the guest list, added her name and once she was inside she used the
list of probable passwords Nicky had given her and cracked the safe hidden in
the parents bedroom closet. That score alone netted them almost fifty grand,
mostly in cash and Canadian Maple Leaf coins.

Of course that wouldn’t have been
possible if Nicky hadn’t become such an expert coder and hacker over the years,
a skill he picked up on the internet as he began to track Pearson’s every move.
It wasn’t long before he’d found and built backdoors into virtually every area
of Pearson’s digital life, from bank records, to utility bills, personal and
professional email accounts, cell phone records and texts, employment records,
the works. When Pearson became the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Nicky followed
him—electronically speaking—right into the second most powerful
position in the state.

And that’s when things got
interesting.

The Pope twins began to understand
just how corrupt and manipulative Pearson really was. They had accumulated massive
amounts of data on him. They had proof of bribery, falsification of official
state records, evidence that demonstrated election fraud and extortion. The
problem though wasn’t in the acquisition of the data. The problem was what to
do with it. They couldn’t just hand it over to the cops and say, “See…here’s a
bad man. Arrest him please and oh by the way, it’s really all about payback for
our father. You see…” That wouldn’t work. They’d be the ones locked up for
theft, spying and whatever else the prosecution could think of. They understood
that whatever they were going to do, they would have to do it themselves, just
like they always had. Which wasn’t to say they didn’t have a little help along
the way.

Nicky hacked his way into the
credit agencies, created a dozen false identities—all with excellent
credit—then bought passports and driver’s licenses that would stand up to
not only human inspection, but machine inspection as well. Those had cost them
dearly, but they were worth every penny.

“What is it?” Nichole asked.

“I guess I just realized that if
our plan doesn’t work, it won’t be long before I’m broke and alone in a foreign
country.”

“Don’t you worry, Nicky. Everything
is going to work out just fine. The code is in place, we’ve got Pearson by the
short hairs and we are all about to be richer than Jesus H. Christ himself.
That is, if your little bit of code works.”

“That little bit of code as you
call it took me over two years to perfect.”

“But what if your boss gets one of
the other coders to dig around and root out your program?”

“They’d never find it.”

“But how do you know? For sure, I
mean.”

Nicky sat down on the sofa. “It’s
sort of complicated, but the bottom line is this: They won’t be able to find it
because it’s not in the main system. It’s buried deep in a tiny subroutine that
overrides the security measures at the point of sale. Remember, we don’t want
or even need control of the main system. Just the printer that generates the
ticket.”

“And that instruction comes from
the configured play slip you gave me?”

“Yep. Go get it and I’ll show you.”

Nichole went to her bedroom, got
the slip and handed it to her brother. “See here,” he said as he pointed to the
slip. Every play slip has five boards you can play. Most people don’t play that
many, but some do. Anyway, see how every board has forty-eight spaces?”

“Yeah. So what?”

“You’re supposed to pick six
numbers for each board that you want to play. Take a look at the slip. I’ve
played six numbers on each board except the last one. On that one, I’ve played
eight. Not just any eight either. I’ve got the system set up to bypass the
security measures at the point of sale, no matter where that might be. When the
bypass occurs, the program will compile, the code within the algorithm will run
and the nifty little printer they’ve got behind every gas station and grocery
store counter in the state will print out a post-dated ticket with any numbers
we want, which in our case happens to be the six numbers on the last board.”

“Jesus, Nicky, that’s a lot of
money we’re talking about. I hope you’re right.”

It was a lot of money, if you
consider just a shade over three hundred million dollars a lot of money. And
who wouldn’t? It was the single largest jackpot in the state’s history. Week
after week not one single person had hit all six numbers, then the momentum
started to build. When the amount hit fifty million people started to notice.
When the amount rose to one hundred and fifty million, people started lining up
at gas stations, grocery stores, mini-marts and anywhere else a lottery ticket
could be purchased. When it hit a quarter of a billion, people started showing
up from out of state, buying tickets instead of paying their bills. Then, when
it went to three hundred million dollars, the almost unimaginable happened. One
person hit all six numbers and won the single largest jackpot in the history of
the Indiana lottery.

Except that person never came
forward to claim the prize.

At first, the media coverage was
almost nonstop. Who was the winner? Why hadn’t they come forward? When would
they claim the prize? But after a few days of speculation, the media got bored,
the losers got pissed and the story began to fade away. There was some thought
that the winner—the real winner—had lost the ticket. Or maybe
they’d passed away, lost it to a house fire, or flood, or some other disaster. 
Theories of what happened to the ticket were almost as numerous as the jackpot
amount, but no amount of supposition produced the winning ticket or its holder.
Now, with less than two weeks left before the six-month deadline to claim the
prize, the money, if left unclaimed, would quietly go back to the state, just
like all other unclaimed payouts.

“Oh I’m right. In a matter of days
you and I are going to be filthy rich, retired and trying to figure out how to
spend the interest on hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“It doesn’t seem real.”

Nicky laughed. “I know what you
mean. But believe me, it will seem real enough when you check your account
balances. Listen, I have to ask, just to make myself feel better…you know what
to do with that play slip right?”

“I do.”

“Tell me.”

She rolled her eyes a little, then
told him.

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