Authors: Douglas E. Richards
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adventure, #Fantasy
came the immediate reply.
what would you do if you were still determined to get journals you needed?”
considered. “I’d put up relays,” he responded after only a few seconds of
thought. “I’d break through firewalls and shanghai any number of
Internet-connected computers around the world, using them as relays, routing
the incoming journals through a tangled web of these before it reached me. With
enough relays, I’d be virtually untraceable.”
considered. “And what if you didn’t want searchers to even have the
satisfaction of knowing you were out there and receiving the journals,” he
said. “Even if you
untraceable. What if you wanted the world to
think you really had vanished—that you might be dead even?”
answered almost immediately. “In that case, I’d just hack into the journals and
the subscriptions. Then there would be no subscriber record in the
databases for experts to find. And you wouldn’t have to pay for it either,” he
noted. “In fact, now that I think about it, that’s the best reason of all to do
it this way.”
To save an identity.”
eyes narrowed. “I see,” he said as Griffin’s meaning registered. “Because the
only way to
an online subscription is by using a credit card.”
said Griffin. “So if those searching for you uncovered your purchase, even if
you, the false identity you used would be blown.”
Suppose she did steal the subscriptions. Could you track such a theft?”
gazed at the ceiling as he considered the various facets of the problem. “I
think so,” he said finally.
on, Matt,” chided Desh. “Someone with
prodigious talent? Should be
a snap for you.”
take that as a challenge,” said Griffin.
said Desh, determination burning in his eyes. “Because that’s exactly the way I
Griffin worked on the problem for an hour while Desh looked on patiently. As it
neared lunchtime, Desh offered to go for takeout, an offer that Griffin readily
accepted. Desh returned thirty-five minutes later carrying a paper sack
containing a number of white, garden-variety Chinese takeout boxes and knocked
on the door.
hurriedly undid the locks and opened the door with a broad,
cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his bearded face. “I did it,” he announced
said Desh, handing him the bag of Chinese food and shutting the door behind
him. “What did you find?” he asked eagerly.
were right about her. She’s good. Very good.”
sat down at his desk chair and set the bag of food on the floor beside him. “If
she really does have a background in biology rather than computers, I think
she’s earned rookie of the year honors.”
lifted the large wicker chair with one arm and moved it a few feet back so it
was facing Griffin. Desh sat down, his eyes locked intently on the giant as he
turns out that all three journals have a number of, ah . . .
subscribers, shall we say, that they don’t know about. Somehow, considering the
nature of these journals, that surprised me.”
think readers of such scholarly journals would engage in petty theft?”
surprises me anymore,” said Desh cynically. “So how did you sort through them
to find her?” he pressed, not allowing the discussion to become sidetracked.
of the journals were being siphoned to the same e-mail address as of about ten
months ago. No other stolen subscriptions among the three journals had the same
work,” said Desh appreciatively. “Now tell me the bad news.”
makes you think there is any?”
be this easy.”
smiled. “You’re right, as it turns out. It’s a dead end. She’s more sophisticated
than I had guessed. The e-mailed journals are routed through an impenetrable maze
of computers. Even someone better than me—if such a person existed,” he added,
grinning, “wouldn’t be able to trace through all the relays to find her
frowned. “At least we know she’s still alive.”
still keeping up on the latest research,” added Griffin.
nodded at the bag of food. “Dig in,” he offered.
went to the kitchen and returned with large plastic forks and the biggest cardboard
plates Desh had ever seen, with a cheerful, orange-and-yellow floral pattern
printed on each one. He handed a fork and plate to Desh, and dumped two full
containers of cashew chicken along with a container of white rice on his plate.
Desh slopped half a box of beef broccoli onto his own plate with some rice, and
began picking at it, while Griffin shoveled the food into his giant maw as
rapidly as he had navigated the Web.
done a nice job, Matt,” said Desh. “We’ve made faster progress than I expected.
But this is about where I thought we’d end up.”
any ideas of where to go from here?”
nodded thoughtfully. “As a matter of fact, yes. We can’t trace her through all
her relays, but can we use them to
raised his eyebrows. “Interesting thought.”
It would be easy. Just name your message and I’ll send it,” he offered
held up a hand. “Not just yet,” he said. “I’d like to ping her first. Send in
some tracking software that she’ll detect and defeat.”
she knows someone’s out there turning over this particular rock looking for
sure that’s a good idea? It gives her a warning. Also, it’s in her best
interest to have as much information as possible about whoever is pursuing her.
If I were her, I’d trace the ping back to us.”
what I’m counting on,” said Desh with a thin smile. He rose and lifted his
black laptop off the corner of Griffin’s desk. “I want you to set everything up
on my laptop, so when she does trace the ping, she traces it back to me.” He
paused. “Assuming she doesn’t already know my identity and that I’m after her. I
wouldn’t rule that out,” he added warily. “Set up software that will watch for
a breach and record everything possible about its source. I also want you to
plant a tracer, so if she does invade my computer, it can latch on and follow
the breadcrumb trail back to her.”
be expecting that. I’ll try to plant a red herring for her to find and then a
more subtle tracking program, but I suspect I won’t fool her.” Griffin
shrugged. “Worth a try though,” he acknowledged.
didn’t expect a tracer to work either. This wasn’t his real plan. What he
hadn’t told Griffin was that he planned to imbed information on his computer
for Kira Miller to find, indicating he was closing in on her. Perhaps he could
force her hand. If she really thought he was skilled enough at pursuit to be
dangerous to her, perhaps she would take the bait and come after
was the best strategy he had been able to come up with on the long drive from
North Carolina. If you can’t bring the mountain to Mohamed . . .
handed his laptop to Griffin and watched carefully as the giant worked his
magic, downloading software and setting traps on his system.
ten minutes into the exercise a troubled look came over Griffin’s face. He
glanced at Desh but said nothing for several more minutes as he worked the
mouse and keyboard. Finally, he stopped what he was doing and met Desh’s eyes
worriedly. “I’m afraid your plan’s not going to work,” he said grimly.
tilted his head in confusion. “Why not?”
you were right. She does know you’re after her.”
in the world do you know that?”
she’s already paid a visit to your computer,” explained Griffin evenly. “Last
felt his stomach clench. “You’re positive?”
afraid so. I confirmed it twice. She got through your firewall and invaded your
computer. And she downloaded everything she needs.”
do you mean by ‘everything’?”
mean everything. She has a copy of it all. Your hard drive, your e-mail logs—everything.”
Griffin looked back at the computer monitor and shook his head in disbelief. “She
may just be as good as me, after all,” he said with just a hint of admiration
creeping into his voice.
Griffin performed computer forensics on Desh’s laptop for several hours, but in
the end was unable to come up with a single lead. Kira Miller had worn the
computer equivalent of gloves for this theft, leaving no fingerprints or DNA
behind to help give them a direction in which to search for her.
Griffin did discover she had created a backdoor entrance for herself: one that
would make future journeys into his laptop’s inner sanctum to retrieve this and
other data routine, regardless of any added security.
suspicions were certainly warranted. There
a leak in USASOC—wide
enough to steer a supertanker through. Whether this was due to a mole or
otherwise was unclear, but it was the only way to explain how Kira Miller had
known about Desh being put on the operation practically before he had known
himself. She had been one step ahead of him before he had even
step, which was very troubling. If Griffin had not been placing sophisticated
tracking software on his computer, Desh would never have known it had been
Miller must have invaded the computers of all of Desh’s predecessors, only they
had never discovered the intrusion. If they would have, Connelly would have
warned him. Given her access to their computers, it was little wonder they had
failed to find her. Not hard to avoid being caught when those searching for you
were—quite literally—telegraphing their every move.
knew he had almost been caught with his pants down. But he had been lucky. Once
discovered, Kira Miller’s computer invasion played right into his hands. He
wanted to lead her to his computer and plant false information: now he had the
perfect conduit for this, one that was above suspicion. He instructed Griffin
to leave the backdoor entrance alone.
while Desh continued his search for her, he would be planning the specifics of
his trap. He knew he needed to be patient. She would never believe he had
closed in on her in only a day or two, so he would need to wait a while longer.
And the more progress he made prior to setting his trap the better. The closer
he got to her, the more clues he uncovered, the more convincingly he could
craft his misinformation.
returned to his high-rise apartment in the heart of Washington. He had chosen
it almost entirely on the basis of its location and premium fitness center. While
his daily workouts couldn’t compare to his regime while still with Delta, they
still managed to keep him in excellent shape.
upscale, the apartment was a bit cramped. Not that he cared. Being single, he
didn’t need much room, and he traveled much of the time on protection
assignments, anyway. Saving money while he determined what new course his life
would take was more important than additional square footage. His apartment was
tidy, but he had been too busy and too numb to personalize it in any way. His
taste in art was eclectic, from the reality bending, impossible constructions
of Escher, to the surrealism of Dali, to the serene, impressionistic work of
Monet. Yet his framed reproductions of favorite works by these artists remained
entombed in brown paper in his closet, a telling sign that his spirit had been
sapped and he had slipped into a steady depression. Even more telling, he loved
books beyond all else, and had collected many thousands over the years: but
while being surrounded by shelf upon shelf of his favorites in their myriad of
colors brought him great pleasure, he had yet to unbox them.
had read him perfectly. Even before Iran he had been contemplating leaving the
military, struggling mightily with the decision. On the one hand, he had found
friendship and camaraderie in Delta, and the importance of what he was doing
could not be overstated. His work had saved thousands upon thousands of
innocents from horrible suffering and death from dirty bombs, nerve toxins,
train derailments, and the like, including children who were in some cases the
principal targets of planned attacks, unconscionable as this was. Many Westerners
were still blissfully unaware that the future of progressive society was
anything but assured. Desh had been on the front lines and seen the fanaticism
that threatened to turn the world’s clock back a thousand years. He was helping
to defeat a rigid and destructive ideology. It was a fire that was blazing
across the world that, if left unchecked, would surely consume civilization.
he had also dreamed of settling down one day. Of becoming a father. Of raising
a family. And if he remained in Delta, this was impossible. He was always on
the move, being called away overseas on missions about which he couldn’t
discuss with anyone—including a future wife. Being married was the sharing of
two lives, and he would be unable to hold up his end of the bargain. And if he
did have children, each time he left his family would wonder if this would be
the time Daddy wouldn’t be coming back—or be coming back inside a body bag, in
pieces—leaving his children fatherless. What kind of life would this be for
them? The answer: no life at all. He had refused to even consider it.
now he had no excuse not to pursue a wife or family. He was no longer in the
military and soon wouldn’t even be involved in something as dangerous as
executive protection. He had wallowed in self-pity long enough. Desh made a vow
to himself: once he finished this final mission, he would find a way to get
beyond what had happened in Iran and get on with his life.
rummaged through his near empty refrigerator and found just enough leftover
food to cobble together a dinner. He then spent several hours re-familiarizing
himself with the contents of his laptop and the thousands of e-mails in his
log. He needed to know the full extent of the data to which Kira Miller now had
he sat down in a comfortable chair in his living room and began reading the
dossier on his quarry yet again. He knew he would probably read it dozens of
times before this was over. And each time, as he learned more and more about
her, he would bring a slightly different perspective to the material and would
glean fresh insights.
cell phone began vibrating, an unwelcome intrusion. He reached into his pocket,
removed it, and examined the screen. It was a text message from Matt Griffin:
key discovery 4u. visit me asap. don't call.
computers, walls, phones: all might have ears.
message drove Desh to a heightened state of awareness within seconds. Griffin
had found something important and had reason to believe Kira had breached more
than just Desh's computer. Maybe Griffin was being overly cautious, maybe not,
but Desh approved. He had liked the friendly hacker from the start, and the man
had already demonstrated that his glowing reputation was well deserved.
it was time to find out if his computer expert had truly earned his pay.
armed himself as usual, threw on an oxford shirt and windbreaker, and rushed to
Griffin’s apartment, his mind racing almost as fast as his armored Suburban. The
traffic was light, but even so the trip should have taken forty-five minutes. He
made it in just over thirty.
felt butterflies in his stomach as he strode briskly through the short, musty
corridor of Griffin’s building, anxious to learn what the giant had uncovered. He
passed several doors until he came to number 14D. He rapped once on the door
and waited, staring at the peephole to help Griffin make a quick
waited for Griffin to disengage the deadbolt and chain as he had done before,
but instead the handle began to turn. Years in the field had trained his subconscious
to set off alarms when it encountered anything unexpected, no matter how small,
even before his conscious mind could reason out why. He instantly became
hyper-alert, just as a woman emerged from behind the door with a gun aimed at
moving forward in anticipation of trouble, Desh lashed out with his right arm
to knock the gun lose, and at the same time threw his body sideways to offer a
smaller target. But even as he lunged, he realized the woman had anticipated
this move, and had begun backpedaling rapidly. She fired as she moved
backwards, but despite her rapid retreat, she was forced to jerk her arm aside
to avoid Desh’s vicious blow.
the gun had contained bullets, Desh would have won the day. Despite her quick
action and reflexes, he had interfered with her aim enough that the shot only
hit his leg, and even injured in this way he would have been on his attacker in
an instant, easily able to overpower her.
she hadn’t fired bullets. She had fired electricity.
a stun gun, a hit to the leg was just as effective as a hit to the chest. Instead
of bullets, two electrode darts had leapt from her gun and stuck like Velcro to
Desh’s pants, discharging their massive electric payload in an instant. The
electricity completely overwhelmed the tiny electrical signals his brain was
sending to control his muscles, causing him to convulse and collapse to the
floor, disoriented and paralyzed.
the instant his assailant had emerged from behind the door, he had known she
could only be one person: Kira Miller.
vague realization came across Desh’s addled mind that he was now sprawled on
the floor, completely and utterly helpless, while one of the most dangerous
women in the world stood calmly over him.