THINGS DONE: BAIT AND SWITCH
No sleep tonight. We couldn’t even if we wanted to.
“Think we should get her up to help us?” Langly indicates Yves, who’s in a deep sleep on one of the sofas.
“I’m not sure we should tell her anything.” I saw the murder in her eyes, and it was terrifying. Surely there has to be a better way to go about this than having her kill her own father.
“Sure we will. After we get it all cleaned up,” Frohike winks, humming happily. He’s as terrified as any of us, but when he and Langly get in the groove, they seem to get this rush of adrenaline that makes them feel happy as clams.
Me, I just get nervous. All these years, and the fear never goes away. Maybe it doesn’t for them, either, but if it doesn’t, they’re a hell of a lot better at hiding it.
Of course, we haven’t really gotten anywhere yet. Once we do start clambering around inside the catacombs, they’re going to be a lot less relaxed, of that I’m certain.
“So Byers? Ready for a trip to Whitecorps?” Langly asks me as casually as if he were asking if I’d like to head for Cancun and have a margarita.
I could use a few margaritas right now. I’d even give Langly the paper umbrellas (which he always bitches for, like any other 5-year-old).
“Are you asking me if I’m ready, or if I’m going to do it?” The difference is not one of mere semantics.
“Byers, quit sounding like some pompous ass liberal arts professor and get to work.” Frohike’s tone is teasing, but I know him better than to think he’s joking around.
“Starting the spider,” Langly announces quietly.
I hate to rain on his parade, but there have been bevies of individuals and agencies that have been trying to track Runtz for years—unsuccessfully. And if we do, then what?
We’re seriously in over our heads here.
On the other hand, that never stopped us before.
Langly works surprisingly slowly and carefully. Speed is his normal companion, but he knows that taking shortcuts tonight are going to be more than costly. They’re potentially deadly. Each web gives birth to a delicate, gossamer spider, and we release them slowly, quietly.
We keep the coffee brewing and the computers running. Silent waiting is only punctuated by the occasional instruction and a few clicks of the keyboard.
We’re taking the long way home. We know shortcuts aplenty, but that would be far too hazardous this time. It’s vital to our continued health and wellbeing, not to mention that of those around us, that we leave no footprints, not a whisper of where we’ve been.
“What’re we gonna do once we find him?” Langly asks softly. He sips his coffee purposefully, not gulping it down like he usually does.
I’m tempted to say, if we find him. Two decades and dozens of the best resources from international agencies have not been able to nail this beast. I’m really wondering if Muladharma’s faith in us is unfounded.
“I think that’s up to Muladharma and his buddies, isn’t it? We’re just search. Let someone else do rescue,” Frohike comments tersely.
“He got a plan?” Langly asks, adding a few rapidfire keystrokes.
“If he does, he hasn’t told me,” I say. “I really have no idea what he’s got in mind.”
“Well, let’s hope he doesn’t get any ideas about playing James Bond,” Frohike grumbles. “He might have been a good spy, but I don’t think he’s got much experience in the paid assassin department.”
We’ve checked Muladharma’s dossiers extensively, and, to my relief, there’s no evidence he ever killed anyone. Muladharma is treacherous enough without that attribute.
“Speaking of James Bond, do we know anything about Jimmy?” Langly pipes up.
“Only that he’s with AD’s people, and he’s safe. Supposedly.” Frohike snorts skeptically.
From what we know of AD, it’s not giving me a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside, but for now, it’s the best we can get.
We all turn silent again. Keys click softly against the backdrop of nighttime, caffeine and tension.
“How close are you?” Frohike turns to Langly after a time.
“Not there yet. You told me not to do quick and dirty. So I’m not.” Langly’s voice carries a note of irritation.
“Wow, you actually listened.”
“Fuck you, Doohickey.” But the comment carries a hint of affection, as well as the normal irritability that Frohike is so good at drawing out in Langly. It makes things feel a hair more normal.
“And you cut your hair.” Frohike’s smiling, having fun taunting Langly. This is our usual MO, and I’m enjoying it. It keeps my mind off the stakes we’re playing for.
“Yeah, well, you had bugs crawling around in yours, you might do it too. Assuming you had any.”
“Shut up, punkass.” But the corners of Frohike’s mouth are ever so slightly upturned.
“No, Frohike doesn’t have bugs. Just plenty of dandruff.” I couldn’t resist that one.
“I do NOT have dandruff!”
“Then what’s that on your shoulders? Snow?” Langly joins in.
“That’s why we need to go home. He needs Head and Shoulders.” I’m trying to do something other than worry. Hassling Frohike seems like a good antidote.
“Byers, you know you’re getting damned obnoxious?” Frohike shoots back at me.
“Getting? He always was. You just didn’t notice.” Langly sticks out his tongue at me, accompanying it with a shit-eating ‘you’re getting it now’ grin. “’Sides, Byers, when are you gonna get a new do?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your hair, man. Same old same old. You never change it.”
“He got out of the suit. I don’t think I could handle any more changes,” Frohike gives the look he always does when he has indigestion coming on.
“You could try that do you did when we had to go scoping Scully’s apartment, y’know, the one where you got it all spiked and stuff.”
I’m taking hairstyling tips from Langly??? I don’t think so. That’d be like getting fashion advice from Frohike.
“I hate mousse.” This is a fact.
“Shut up, I think we’re almost there.” Langly’s getting that glazed, mesmerized, yet agitated expression he always gets when he’s about to pull one off. Frohike and I can take a hint. Back to work.
“You’re at the firewall,” Frohike says.
“Well, fuck yeah, I’m at the first one.”
“Try something other than punching a hole in it, for a change.”
It’s an ugly firewall, too. And it’s only the first of what promises to be many.
“The military, man, they’re just so untrusting,” Langly grumbles, and we laugh. It’s a running joke with us.
“Yeah, they seem to have a little problem with us coming in and finding out some of their less than ethical plans. You think?” Frohike bounces back. “Byers, how’re you doing on Interpol?”
“I’m getting there.” Interpol is tough, but compared to Whitecorps, it’s surprisingly clean and simple. I’ll have to send down a few more spiders, but it should be a clean run. Their protocols are such that, if you have patience and some skills, it’s a doable task.
More coffee, silence, keyclicks, silence. The rhythm of our work. As lethal as this job potentially is, there is comfort in the familiar routine, banter, and habits.
“I’m through the third firewall. Lemme guess. No 24 hour McD’s around here.” Langly punctuates this with a yawn.
“You guessed correctly. I’m sure Devi won’t mind if you raid the refrigerator, though.” She’s told me time and again that’s why she makes a little extra—for about 80.
“Thanks, I’ll pass. If I see any more rice I’m gonna puke. God, I need a steak.”
“My last steak doesn’t hold my favorite memories. I think I’ll order ribs next time.” I wince as Frohike says this dryly.
We grow quiet again. The silent periods are growing longer. The sound of the keys and the drip of the coffeemaker grow more ominous. For the first time in hours, I glance at the time in the lower corner of my computer. 5.35 a.m. I can’t tell if time has flown or stopped. It seems to be doing some of both.
“We’re in.” Langly’s voice, instead of cheering in its usual victory lap, is flat and straightforward. “Let’s go play.”
“Hide and seek at 6 in the morning. My favorite,” Frohike groans.
I’m not sure I’m more afraid of what we might not find—or of what we will.
After a time, I begin to hear household noises, but they seem as if they could be a planet away. I can hear Sari, Deborah, Mel, Devi, Palin, and Muladharma at various times. They haven’t come to knock at our door. I think they’re afraid of interrupting us at a critical moment. I think this is wise on their part.
Source code first, download, escape. Downloading source code is slow and tedious, even with the state of the art equipment we have at our disposal. I’m crossing my fingers that Colombo’s electricity service, which is erratic at best, won’t ruin an entire night of work. We do have the backup generator, but that would only be good for a limited amount of time.
Devi and Sari drop off breakfast. It’s barely touched. Langly touched a nerve when he said that if he saw any more rice, he’d puke. I’m starting to feel that way myself. I wonder how long it will be before I can eat Oriental food once we return to the States.
If we can return to the States…I squelch that thought immediately. You will get home, I tell myself. You will be back in the country you love and still believe in, despite its flaws and corruption and mistreatment of its citizenry.
Because I still believe it’s the best place on Earth to be. They say travel is broadening. I think I’ve been broadened enough, thank you.
Sources downloaded, we’re running on sheer adrenaline now.
“Let’s start decrypting this stuff. See what we can learn about this asshole,” Frohike mutters, popping antacids and washing them down with his nth cup of coffee.
“Those antacids aren’t going to do you much good if you pour coffee on them,” I point out.
“Yeah, and I’m not going to be able to work through this if I’m asleep.”
“At least eat something,” I chide him.
“Byers, I’m the mother hen here. Not you. Now shut up and work.”
I almost forgot. Silly me, to think I could usurp his role, even for a moment.
There’s comfort in his crankiness.
A great deal has to have passed; lunch was brought to us, and there was the realization that eating might help us get through the task. Langly hogs the mangoes, which annoys me.
What I’d really like is breakfast at Denny’s. I keep telling myself, the sooner we get this mess straightened up, the sooner I’ll get there. I can almost taste a Grand Slam now.
“Fuck. If this doesn’t look like Monroe’s shit.” Langly shakes his head. “Either that, or my brain’s getting fried.”
“I was just thinking that.” I was having a similar, creepy sensation, and hoping my theory would be discounted. There are times when confirmation is really not what you’re looking for.
“Damned if I wasn’t on that wavelength as well.” Frohike pushes his glasses up to rub his eyes.
We’re interrupted from our mutual discovery by a rap at the door.
“Yeah?” Langly calls out. It’s probably Muladharma, checking to see how much progress we’ve made. I feel like the teacher is about to enter the room and chide me for not doing my homework.
Instead, it’s Yves.
“What is it, Yves?” Frohike asks her, a bit more roughly than I think he should have. I glare at him.
She stands there, no makeup, hair in a ponytail, dressed in a simple T-shirt and jeans. She looks about 15 years old, and a lot more vulnerable than usual. Maybe the absence of the Ferrari red lipstick and the leather clothing does that.
“I came to see if I could be of help.” Her voice lacks its usual bite. It’s almost as if she’s asking permission.
“We already know who it is, and your dad ain’t it. Not in this batch.” Langly is grouchy and tired, and it shows.
“Who are you talking about?”
We all stare at each other. Truth or dare time.
“Whitecorps.” I can barely say the name. It churns my guts, for a variety of reasons we won’t go into here.
“That’s not a who. It’s a what.” Her correction is gentle.
“Well, since you’re like the #1 graduate of the Famous School of Hackers, maybe you can look at this code and tell us who it is,” Langly sneers a bit. I shoot him a warning glance to cool it. I really don’t care that his girlfriend would like nothing better than to kick her ass to kingdom come.
I let her sit at my desk. My eyes could use the break. I’ve been wearing my glasses; contacts haven’t touched my corneas in ages. I see better with the contacts, though, and my eyes tire more quickly wearing glasses.
Then again, we’ve been up for over 24 hours, so I do have a better excuse.
She reads in silence, her face pale with alarm. Well, maybe she does know about Jack Monroe.
“It’s him,” she whispers.
“Gimme a name already,” Langly shoots at her. I’m ready to smack him.
“This is him. My father.” The word ‘father’ is spat out, like bile.
“Obviously, you’ve lost touch with your roots. This belongs to a bastard named Jack Monroe, little lady,” Frohike indicates to her.
She looks at us as if we’re all clueless, which is how she normally does, but not usually with that much fear on her features.
“No. You don’t get it. Jack Monroe is one of my father’s nommes de guerre. It’s the one he’s best known by on the otaku.”
We sit in flabbergasted silence.
“It’s him. I know his code. I know his signatures. It’s him.”
Frohike appears skeptical. “You’re sure of this, young lady?”
Instead of her usual sharp edged retort, she simply nods.
“Is he…part of Whitecorps?” I ask, reluctantly.
“He’s been known to do their dirty work for them.”
I feel my blood boil. All the incidents we’ve endured on Monroe’s account. We always suspected it wasn’t his real name, but no one, not even in the bowels of the underground world of hacking, knew who he was.
“You’re positive.” Langly presses her, but this time without the sneer.
She nods silently.
We all stare at each other.
“So now what?”
Yves stops looking young and soft and sad. Her black eyes have hardened.
“I know what I’m going to do.”
“And that is?”
“I’m going to hunt him down and kill him.”
“I don’t think so, young lady.” Frohike holds up a ‘whoa’ hand.
She thinks about that. “No, you’re right. Killing is too rapid. It’d be too much of a kindness to him.”
On that we can both agree…but I think this is the time for reason. And I think we’d better provide it.
Go To Chapter 12