William H. Calvin, SYNCHRONIZED, the first novel in a series.. See also http://WilliamCalvin.com/bk-f/bkf1toc.htm.
This is a draft.
copyright ©1998 by William H. Calvin
Webbed Preprint Collection
William H. Calvin
University of Washington
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
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a novel of the internet era
S Y N C H R O N I Z E D
William H. Calvin
The communications technologies (satellite phones, internet, Global Positioning System) are presented as slightly more streamlined and widespread than they are in 1998. Given the rate at which they are changing, and the delays inherent in traditional publishing, this is a novel set in the present. It is followed by a sequel, UNLISTED.
End papers will have a map of Puget Sound in the front and of the Bahamas in the rear. They will be the only illustrations.
William H. Calvin has written nine nonfiction trade books on brains and evolution since 1980, including How Brains Think (Basic Books 1996), and a book on prehistoric astronomy entitled How the Shaman Stole the Moon (Bantam 1991). He is a neurophysiologist at the University of Washington.
What you are now downloading is one long (500k) file containing all chapters; if you set your browser to Work Offline, you will not need to remain connected to the internet while reading. If your web browser cannot buffer it all (WebTV has trouble), try these three files instead: Chapters 1-5 | Chapters 6-10 | Chapters 11-15
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I hate doorbells in the morning for all the usual reasons. Also because it's usually the middle of the night before the elegant solution is finally found. Don't ask me why. We joke about a wave of epiphanies sweeping around the globe, leading the dawn by a few hours, as computer wizards rise from their keyboards, congratulating themselves.
Wizards of the female persuasion seem to finish an hour sooner, closer to three o'clock than four. That's discounting, of course, the false alarms - those premature epiphanies of the more testosterone-soaked wizards, which start about midnight.
And it was only two o'clock last night when I finished my call-screening software. I pedaled my exercise bike triumphantly for an hour thereafter, to allow my brain to slow down, and then I crawled into bed, feeling thoroughly virtuous.
Technically speaking, I was awake when I heard the doorbell. Indeed, I was just starting my wake-up shower, my favorite bootstrap to higher levels of consciousness. Being in a very good mood, I only muttered pro forma curses as I stepped out of the stall and pulled on my terry-cloth bathrobe.
Uh-oh. The bathrobe was missing its belt, for some reason. I reminded myself that I gesture a lot with both hands, and the belt is an essential precaution against an abruptly plunging décolletage. This disconcerts visitors.
As I stood posed in front of the mirror contemplating the alternatives, the doorbell spoke again, more firmly than before. I could always, I supposed, pull on my bikini and pretend I was wet from the beach.
Hmm. In late October? In Seattle? At ten in the morning? Perhaps not. I found a thin robe in my closet and headed out through the living room, leaving wet footprints as I tied the robe. This better not be a salesman, I muttered, or I'll invent a version of RingControl that will selectively silence doorbells as well as telephones.
Then I saw the police uniform through the window. Great. I opened the door and lifted an eyebrow. "Good morning," I said tentatively, somewhere between a statement and a question.
"Are you feeding the cats downstairs?" asked the cheerful young officer. I relaxed instantly, and somehow slipped into fast-talking actress mode.
"I am indeed looking after Max's cats," I replied in mock exasperation, opening the door wider and smiling at the officer standing on my second floor deck. "What have they done this time?" I asked him, crossing my arms and leaning my shoulder against the door frame with a theatrical sigh. "Started shoplifting at the corner grocery? It's really only Cleopatra that plots these things, officer. Siam's quite innocent. How much do I owe the store for the potato chips?"
Ever helpful Kate, that's me - the Medicean madcap, running on at the mouth. The policeman smiled, while trying to get a word in edgewise.
"When did you last see Max Hempelman?" he asked, finally.
"A few weeks ago, when he left for Florida. Why?"
"Have you got an address for him? Know a place where we can reach him?" he persisted. "Even just a phone number?"
I suppressed a real sigh because - well, it was a big secret that I wasn't supposed to know about. I had immediately jumped to the conclusion that our esteemed county prosecuting attorney wanted some more free advice from Max. And was getting impatient with Max's travels. It was, after all, the final week of his re-election campaign. "Well, I got a postcard from Max a week ago. An absolutely lovely picture of a genuine Palm Beach swimming pool. Want to come in, while I try to find it?"
That's about when I realized that I'd forgotten to turn off the shower. I pulled my thin robe tighter in compensation for this all-too-audible shortcoming. Let him think that I showered with a companion, I thought, remembering that California bumper sticker from drought days, Don't Shower Alone!
"It's back in the kitchen," I said, a little too loudly. "That's where the old mail resides on its way to the recycling can. One of these days, I'm going to rig a chute down to the alley, so all the junk mail can go straight into the recycle. And land with a satisfying crash." My mind wasn't really in gear yet. Those were just warm-up exercises. I'm better after a shower, a glass of grapefruit juice, and a double shot of espresso. Honest.
I rummaged through the accumulation on the back of the kitchen table, laying aside the old Wall Street Journal and New York Times issues that needed tossing out. And there the postcard was, showing an unnaturally blue swimming pool, surrounded by nondescript hotel balconies totally lacking in individuality, topped by some cottony clouds that looked like overdone digital retouching to my jaundiced eye.
I looked at the flip side. "It's the `Sunrise Hotel on Route A1A,' it says here. Not his usual sort of hotel, I must say. He usually stays at the best place in town." I passed him the postcard after noting that Max hadn't written anything more than a sarcastic "Dearest Kate - Don't know what you're missing. Love, Max." Max knows my opinion of Florida. As a former New Yorker, Max was expected to like Florida. His daughter did. But he didn't.
"Postmarked October 19th? And you haven't heard anything else from him since then? No phone calls?" I shook my head, no. E-mail messages on the internet would have been far more likely, but there hadn't been any of those, either. "Know anyone else that might have heard from him?"
"Just his daughter in New York - he usually talks to her every weekend." It was beginning to penetrate my thick head. This wasn't what I had blithely assumed.
"Is she the next of kin?"
I was getting alarmed, finally. "Yes. His wife died a long time ago. Now, suppose you tell me what's going on? What's happened to Max?"
The patrolman was busy typing into his little clipboard computer, his thick black fingers just as nimble as my long white ones. "All I know is that we've got a missing-person's query from the Palm Beach P.D. A hotel got worried when he didn't check out, and left his suitcase behind in the room. Then it turns out that a boat he rented for a week wasn't returned."
Max, missing? Max, of all people?
IF MINDS CAN UNDERGO A CHANGE OF PHASE, the way that H2O goes from water to steam, that's when mine popped out of actress mode. It snapped into dead-serious mode and didn't lighten up for days.
"Well, didn't they conduct a search?" I asked indignantly, rising to my full six feet.
He squinted at the display on his clipboard and poked a key repeatedly. "Seems the Lantana cops found some kids using the sailboat."
"Lantana's just south of Palm Beach on the coastal waterway," I explained, trying to curb my rising impatience. Or was it panic?
"The kids eventually admitted that they had found it washed ashore a few days earlier. And naturally, since the kids hadn't reported finding it, no Coast Guard search was ever conducted for him," he continued, paging down through the file. "It seems to have taken a few days for all of the jurisdictions to consult one another - and then wire Seattle." He added a grimace of disapproval, as if the Seattle Police were more efficient.
"But that simply does not make sense," I said emphatically, shaking my head in disbelief. "Max knows all about boats. He's one of those absolutely careful people who never makes a stupid mistake, because he's thinking two steps ahead, all the time. Never even drinks beer when he's sailing. And he's in good health too. He may be 70, but he plays tennis twice a week, and beats most of his friends too. Certainly me."
The policeman, whose name tag read "Freeman", was tapping it all into his clipboard computer, one almost as fancy as those used by the parcel service delivery people. He took down parts of my description of Max: three inches shorter than my six feet, perhaps 165 pounds, an athletic build despite the rounded waistline, a full head of white hair, a wicked tongue, intelligent brown eyes, perpetual half-moon reading glasses, and a book in hand. Sometimes two.
"Has he ever gotten lost or confused?"
"Max Hempelman get lost? He's the least likely person I know," I said, standing up straight and pulling at my thin robe, which was sticking to wet spots. "Max always knows exactly where he is, almost intuitively. I found that out when he introduced me to piloting float planes. And, if he did get confused, he's one of those people who has a GPS chip inside his belt phone that gives a readout of his exact latitude, longitude, and altitude from triangulating on satellite signals. No, Max Hempelman is not likely to get lost - not unless he's had a stroke or something."
"Any idea why Mr. Hempelman was visiting Florida?"
"No, can't say as I do know," I said, pondering, realizing that I really ought to know the answer to that simple question. "And I know him pretty well, too. He's never mentioned any friends in Florida. He travels there on business when he can't avoid it - he's a consultant on things like mergers and takeover attempts. The last time he was in Florida, about a year ago, it was to Palm Beach for a board of directors meeting or something like that. The Breakers, as I remember."
"Is that a company?"
"No, an elegant old hotel and golf course."
"Know the name of the corporation?" Officer Freeman asked, hopefully.
"No. But it was only a temporary consulting deal, that last time. He had to make a presentation at a board meeting about checking out a merger proposal. He left as soon as he could. He really doesn't like Florida, and would never go there for a vacation."
"I'll put all this on the net," he said, tapping away. "But can you also tell me his daughter's name and address? They'll want to notify next-of-kin."
"She's still in New York," I explained, "but I don't remember whether she's changed her last name. I've never met her. She's one of those insular New Yorkers who seldom travels west of the Hudson River - probably thinks it's all like Joisy but even worse as you go farther west."
Officer Freeman smiled. I wasn't trying to entertain him, however, so much as trying to cheer myself up.
"But I probably have her name and number in a computer file. Come on into my office." It opened off the kitchen. Large computer, large-screen monitor, split keyboard, and the most comfortable office chair I could find. Bookshelves everywhere except for windows and doorways. "She sometimes takes winter vacations in Florida, but Max never visits her there," I continued. "He hates the place. Besides, if he visits her in Manhattan, he can get in his semiannual dose of art galleries at the same time."
Should I offer him some coffee? I badly wanted some myself, I realized as I touched the keyboard. But, before I could say anything, my personalized menu popped up on the screen. In a flash, it popped into the name-and-address file and found Max's daughter. As well it should: I am always customizing my own computer so that it obeys my whims, instantly. I'm trying to get it to anticipate me, but that's another story.
"Carrie Hempelman. And that address," I said, pointing at the screen, "is on the Upper East Side. Max gave the address to me about five years ago, when he was going to be in China for several months, as someone to call if I needed some more money for the remodeling on our duplex. He's always thinking ahead like that. I hope his daughter hasn't moved since then. She's got a rent-controlled apartment, so she probably hasn't."
I finally realized that I was rambling on and on. And so came to an abrupt stop. To cover my confusion, I hit the function key that autodials the phone number displayed and then picked up my desk phone. "Let's phone her," I said, purposefully. "Maybe she can clear this up."
But a machine answered in New York. I listened to the whole announcement, evidently her everyday version. Prompted by the beep, I left my name and number, adding that it was urgent that she phone me back.
I looked at the computer entry again. I didn't have her work number, or a Florida number. And I didn't remember the company for which she worked. Officer Freeman copied everything off the screen and then typed in my name and phone number, copying off the business card I gave him. To my surprise, he even copied off my internet address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and my fax number. The bureaucracy may be sluggish but it eventually adapts.
He flipped the clipboard machine shut with a neat little motion and tucked it under his arm, all in one smooth movement. "OK, it's already on its way to Florida. I told them to look around for Carrie Hempelman down there, if they couldn't find her in New York." I offered him some coffee if he had time to wait for it, but duty called.
AFTER HE LEFT, I didn't know what to do. I felt fatigue after the momentary surge of adrenaline. I finally had the presence of mind to turn off the water in the shower. I realized, after a disconnected moment, that I was going to have to wait quite a while for the hot water heater to recover.
Finally, I went back to the kitchen and made some coffee, going through the full ritual slower than usual, staring out the kitchen window at the crows in the neighbors' back yard as I ground the beans. And tapped down the espresso grind. And steamed the milk. And poured it over the double espresso.
After all that, the latté didn't even taste right.
ALL I COULD THINK to do was to hop on a plane to Palm Beach and start asking around. Surely, I realized, I wasn't thinking straight, particularly for someone used to "traveling" more quickly via the net. I needed to talk to someone about this. I was stunned, just as I had been ten years earlier when my parents were killed by a truck.
Max has always been like an uncle to me, and I felt a terrible sense of loss. I couldn't help but think of how he usually knew what book to loan me, if I was in a foul mood and needed distraction. During my breakup with my ex-husband back in graduate-school days, Max said that people change a lot during their twenties, almost as much as they do during their teens, and that people grow apart. Always think they're grown up at 20, he said, and they're always surprised upon turning 30 at how much they'd changed in a decade. Including preferences in partners. Having joined the over-thirty a few years ago, I had been feeling somewhat wiser. But now this.
So I popped open a talk window on my screen and doubled-clicked on Melanie in the macro list. Melanie Coltrain may live in Moab, Utah, but she's a net surfer by both vocation and avocation, living in the desert overlooking the Colorado River canyon while confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis. She's always got three things going at once, usually via the net. She didn't answer immediately, which probably meant that she was taking a break out in her cactus garden.
That reminded me of all my talks with Max in our shared garden, especially after my thesis advisor was disabled by a stroke. After the rearranged supervisory committee finally gave me my Ph.D. degree, Max persuaded me to strike out on my own as a computer consultant rather than taking a high-paying microserf job. When I was feeling guilty about taking off big chunks of time between jobs just to explore art, Max pointed out that resumes weren't everything. If I have too much self confidence, it's all his fault.
Melanie, too, has gotten a lot of career-development advice from Max over the years. He routinely uses her to do his economic data base searches, Securities and Exchange Commission reports, and the like. She's a self-educated black woman, an Air Force brat raised in Europe who has made a niche for herself by reading a lot. And, in recent years, exploring the net to find new friends, new interests, new business opportunities.
A window popped open, announcing "You have mail from Melanie Coltrain. Read while waiting?" Sure.
As I was digesting that, the talk window finally became alive.
Sipping the strong coffee, I was nodding agreement. And I noticed the pile of borrowed books next to my front door - books that I needed to carry back downstairs. Max has loaned me hundreds of books over the years, from his collection of a half-century of voracious reading. Damn near every wall of his apartment has a bookshelf.
I felt somewhat better, with Melanie helping. So, I thought as I dumped the coffee cup in the sink, was I tuned out when Max told me he was off to Florida, was I so wrapped up in that last consulting job that I didn't hear what he was saying? It's been known to happen.
No, I decided as I showered and got dressed. I'd even taken up jogging again to distract myself from that tedious business. I would have welcomed the opportunity to get myself thinking about a different problem, if he'd wanted to talk about it. Maybe Max really didn't want to talk about it, maybe that's why he didn't ask me to drive him to the airport.
I was officially between consulting jobs again, finishing up my RingControl product and getting back into my artistic efforts. I'd been trying to get up my courage to scrap my existing composition and take it again from the top, completely fresh this time. But today was not going to be the day for that. Not tomorrow either, not until Max was found.
I STEPPED OUTDOORS onto the upper deck and felt the Indian Summer sunshine of a late October in Seattle. Our duplex was situated on the two-story bluff overlooking Portage Bay, an outpouching of the east-west waterway through the city. Looking north across the water, we could see the university spread out on the hillside. Fifty miles behind them, to the north and east, the North Cascade Mountains created a sawtooth horizon. I automatically looked for boats on the waterway and checked to see if there was anyone tied up at the university's dock for float planes. No such distractions today.
My eye was caught instead by the hideous new physics-astronomy building, now looming like a high-rise prison over the southwest corner of the main campus, thanks to a famous architect. The neoblockhouse school of architecture, reflected in the water on quiet mornings. And to build that monster, they'd cut down some of the oldest trees on campus. My physicist friends are getting defensive, reminding everyone that they'd had no say in the selection of the architect. Fortunately, the older parts of the main campus were as nice as they come, an Olmsted Brothers layout from the turn of the century, as are some of the Seattle parks. The brothers also did Central Park in Manhattan, but I like their Seattle efforts even better.
The maples had started to turn color, thanks to a week of cool nights. But the days were warm, almost short-sleeve weather. No rain yet, I reflected, and everyone was getting nervous about next summer's water supply since the reservoirs were so low already. It's El Niño again, the experts thought. I felt doubly guilty about the two tanks of hot water, so far this morning.
Most people in Seattle even enjoyed the excellent weather of "Black Friday," the stock market crash a week ago when stocks lost almost a third of their value, repeating their performance of 1987. Enjoying the wonderful weather then seemed incongruous. The image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned had crossed my mind last weekend, as I ritually raked the leaves and the squirrels ritually hoarded the nuts. And the cats ritually chased the squirrels.
I had most of my money out of the market already, thanks to Max's cautions, but I'd worried about the panic in the market, and recalled wishing that Max hadn't just left town because I wanted to talk it over with him. In particular, I'd wanted to see what he thought about the rumors that the programmed trading of stocks by many desktop computers had triggered the panic. I'd posted some e-mail messages to Max but he hadn't replied as he usually did when he traveled, checking in every day or two with his laptop computer from some hotel-room telephone with a modem jack. He'd said when he left that he might be out of touch for awhile.
But surely, I now realized suddenly, the market crash would have meant that, wherever he was and however busy he was, he would check in with his stock market buddies, who all use the same computer conferencing system that Max and I do. And since Max was inseparable from his laptop computer, he would have surely hitched it up to the net and connected to The Conf's computer, just to see what his friends had to say about the market's erratic behavior. So, I thought, why didn't he answer even one of my messages?
Back then, I'd assumed he was just too busy, or that his laptop was busted. But with that market crash, I now realized, he'd surely have used a public terminal in a hotel lobby. Hell, he'd have just rented another laptop somewhere. I should have thought of that a week ago.
So, did Max send e-mail to anyone else? I knew how to find out; it wasn't even wizard-level maneuvers. I went back into my home office and sat down at the desktop machine, punching the T key on the menu. And soon I heard the computer beep as it made connection with the computer in California, then my automated login sequence rolled up the screen.
When did Max last log onto the system? That was "public" information, and all I had to do is to use the finger command. I tell all my friends to use the pulldown menu software, designed to make the net more bearable, but I use command-line mode myself.
Max hadn't logged in since two days before the market crash! I was stunned by the thought. Even sick in bed, Max would have communicated with his financial friends about that crash. Everyone on the streets of Palm Beach surely knew about that crash. Those television news vultures thought it exhilarating, the best thing since the last presidential assassination attempt.
He couldn't have missed hearing about it. Maybe Max is dead, I thought. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.
Elaine. Maybe Elaine knows something, I thought. I phoned her, but got the answering machine. So I tried sending her e-mail with the news. Two seconds later, I got a reply.
Now e-mail is fast, but it's not that fast. A reply in a mere two seconds means one of two things. My message couldn't have been bounced for a bad address, because my mail software isn't allowed to make mistakes like that. Sure enough, it was an automated reply.
Elaine's annual pilgrimage. I logged off the system reluctantly. I looked out the window again, staring into the distance. Max was not to be seen.
IN LESS THAN A MINUTE, something jumped up in front of my line of sight. I startled. But it was only a large cat, landing on the flower pot ledge. He then peered through the window at me. "Brrrth!" he told me in no uncertain terms.
It was Max's part-Siamese male. Siam always `talks' to people. I smiled and went out on the deck to say hello to him. He came rubbing up against my legs, giving me the old "Time for food" routine. I tried picking him up to hold him tight, but he squirmed restlessly until I finally put him down. He had his priorities.
I patted my pockets to make sure that I had my keycards, then remembered to reset my phone to ring through to my cellular belt phone. Siam followed me inside. I also checked my ring controller on the computer, to make sure it allowed all calls through.
Siam had disappeared, but came charging out of my bedroom as soon as I called him. As I walked down the outside stairs to the ground level, he kept trying to rub against my legs. It's a very disconcerting habit, especially when I'm carrying a clothes basket down to the laundry room that I share with Max. I've finally learned to feed the cats first, and then make another trip with the laundry basket.
It's hard to train cats; they do a much better job at training people.
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MAX'S APARTMENT smelled of books, with a slight overlay of cat. A smell of new leather lingered, I noticed as I was escorted down the hallway by Siam. Max likes comfortable leather sofas and recently bought a lovely Italian one, costing more money that I could possibly contemplate.
Cleopatra, Max's somewhat overweight Abyssinian female, came running out of Max's bedroom, where she had undoubtedly been sleeping on the bed. But she's all awake now, tawny and sleek and muscular, murmuring about the prospects of breakfast, moving with a purposeful quickness that would doom a mouse, should one mistakenly venture into the apartment through the little cat door in the pantry. All of those granary-guarding ancestors can be seen in Cleopatra's competent movements.
Cleopatra is also quick mentally. She has been known to get her own breakfast, even the kind that comes from the grocery store. She can open the cabinet door, pull out the right box from the top shelf, extract the little foil-lined pouch in which her favorite food comes, carry the pouch in her teeth down to the food dish, rip it open, and eat the food.
When Max told me this, I didn't believe him and regularly kidded him about it. Finally, one night when we were sipping scotch in our shared garden, Max heard something inside, listened a moment, and then beckoned me over to his kitchen window. And sure enough, there was Cleopatra, opening the box of cat food atop the kitchen counter.
Max never has been able to train Cleopatra to feed Siam while she was at it; cat-sitters are still needed when Max travels. I unlocked the bicycle padlock that I had looped through the handles on the cabinet doors. Cleopatra hasn't solved it yet. But she sometimes picks at it with the claws on her right paw. It's only been a week since I started using it, so she may just be a little slow.
ONCE SIAM AND CLEOPATRA were busy working over the morning's offerings, I wandered around the apartment, seeing Max everywhere I looked. Suddenly, I felt uneasy. Has someone been poking around this place? Is there someone here, now?
I'm not prone to sudden shivers, but I must admit that I was getting close, right then. But I certainly wasn't going to call the cops, just to help me search Max's apartment. Surely Cleopatra wouldn't have been sleeping on Max's bed if there had been a stranger in the apartment when I entered. So I held my right hand rigid, in the position to deliver a chop to the throat, and systematically looked in all the rooms and closets.
No one. At least, not now. I looked at the mail on Max's desk - is it the way I left it yesterday? I wasn't sure. I went outside and looked at all the ground-floor windows for signs of pry bars. Nothing.
Back inside, I gave up the search and returned to my original problem: Max. I looked at the books on the table next to Max's favorite chair, bookmarks in them from the Seattle bookstores. No, one had a strange bookmark that wasn't from a local bookstore - it was from Kepler's, in San Francisco. I decided that it must have been the trip where Max spent a weekend with his financial friends from the computer conference.
And he'd been reading a history of statistical thinking that he had purchased at the Harvard Coop earlier in August. I remembered picking up Max at the airport, back about then, when he came back from a quick business trip to Boston.
One tattered book on Max's reading table was a paperback, yellowed with age, and I sat down to browse through it. The book appeared to be a journalistic exposé of stock-market manipulations of the 1950s, back before computers replaced punched cards and carbon copies and long delays. Max is interested in white-collar crime. And given the fascination he'd developed for computers since getting his first one a decade ago, I guessed that he might have been thinking about white-collar crime via computer. Probably involving the stock market.
Max, too, is a consultant, mostly about economics. He is, I reflected, considerably more independent than I am, fussy about wasting his time, never taking jobs equivalent to my last one, having Elaine filter out 90 percent of the requests. He waits for good ones to come along - sometimes Max takes jobs advising big corporations fighting takeovers. He's good at that, I mused; his law training comes in handy in devising solutions - such as making it hard for takeover artists to stampede the board of directors.
And his solutions tend to be part economic; he says there's a lot of white collar feather-bedding that, while rewarding to the employees, can make the corporation unprofitable for the stockholders and ripe for takeover attempts. Conversely, some managements give themselves big bonuses as a reward for holding down employee wages - which Max considers an example of a looting mentality, not much better than lawyers that deplete an estate by creating endless amounts of legal paperwork.
After a few months of helping out on a case like that, Max refuses even nice consulting jobs for a year thereafter. Those big jobs pay well - but even for small ones, we consultants try to instill confidence in our abilities by charging large sums for our wisdom. Max likes time to think and pursue his own library projects or pro bono work. He recently spent three months helping out our local prosecuting attorney, trying to unravel a complicated insider trading scheme, engineered by a young tax accountant whose life style demanded larger and larger infusions of cash. He must have been mainlining cash, Max had quipped.
A reason for someone to search Max's apartment? Still, I had nothing more to go on than an uneasy feeling - nothing in the apartment looked disturbed, so far as I could tell. I was, I decided, a little tired and jumpy, besides being seriously worried about Max.
SO WHY, I asked myself for the third time, why didn't he tell me any details about this trip? Because he'd promised a client to tell no one?
Still, I reflected, he related what was happening in the prosecutor's office all through that insider-trading case, after swearing me to silence. A leak could have caused destruction of records, people fleeing to South America with a suitcase of money. What project of Max's could be more confidential than that? Someone's life at stake, which could be endangered by a little slip?
As I sat in Max's chair, listening to some of his favorite Bach, trying to think like Max, a twelve-pound weight landed on my right shoulder. Some cats are lap cats, but Cleopatra takes flying leaps onto a shoulder, whereupon she demands to be scratched behind the ears. I complied, absent-mindedly, staring at her face. Cleopatra's face always fascinates me: an inverted triangle, the broad upper face tapering into the narrow jaw. The large triangular ears only exaggerate the face.
"Sorry, Cleopatra," I said to the insistent cat. "But you can have this nice warm chair in compensation." The cat complained anyway when I got up, but claimed the preheated spot. I had finally decided to open all of Max's mail and listen to all of his telephone messages.
WHILE THERE WERE NO CLUES in the phone messages or the accumulated mail, Max relies mostly on e-mail for correspondence. And Max's desktop computer would know how to read that e-mail, I reasoned, because Max used exactly the same communications software as I do, at my recommendation last year.
The computer started warming up, but promptly beeped and asked for the power-up password. Oops. Fortunately, I remembered the password, having set up Max's machine for him when it was fresh out of the box. It was Cleo+Siam. I'd told him that it was too simple, and he said he'd change it later, but apparently he hadn't.
Finally, the scroll came up the screen welcoming me to The Conf - but using Max's login name instead of my own:
I asked for the mail and found more than three dozen messages piled up, awaiting Max.
May as well just start from the top, I told myself, and hit the key.
So, it's encrypted. But not using Max's public key. And they left the topic in the clear, which is bad form when security is involved. "PBI" is what Palm Beach International Airport is called on the luggage tags. I hit the return key and went on to the next message:
One of his New Yorker expatriate friends in Seattle, apparently. What's next?
Another one! And from a different person too, this time using Max's public key, which I can't decrypt because I don't know Max's pass phrase that protects the file with his private key in it.
Leslie? He or she? Well, I thought, at least I can find out more about these people from their finger files, send them e-mail. But who's next? C'est moi.
My first message to Max, unanswered because he never even saw it.
It took me another fifteen minutes to read through the rest of Max's accumulated mail and save it away to a disk that I could carry back upstairs to contemplate. But other than some routine announcements, it consisted of repeated requests for Max to please, please respond.
I wrote Max an e-mail note. It started out as an automatic matter of computer-system etiquette on my part, born of my odd jobs as a computer operator with superuser privileges who was expected to unravel account problems upon authorized request. If you have to read someone's private files, you make sure and tell them about it.
As soon as I re-read my message, I wondered if Max would ever read it. But I didn't delete it. It expressed hope. I hit the key and sent it.
I SAT THERE staring at the screen, feeling depressed, getting up the energy to log off the California conferencing machine. Whereupon the terminal beeped twice and up on the screen popped:
Someone, I realized, must have looked at the list of people logged into the California machine, using the u command. And spotted maxh as currently on-line.
Cleopatra landed on my shoulder unexpectedly, and I jumped. Pushing the cat off, I leaned forward again to the keyboard.
The screen was quiet for a few minutes, then Andre started up again, abruptly asking me for my phone number and saying he'd be in touch, probably this evening after he talked to some other people. He disconnected from the talk window.
A one-way flow of information, I observed with momentary anger. I picked up Siam, who had taken up his customary position atop the computer once it had warmed up sufficiently. I hugged him for a long time as I wandered around Max's place, feeling forlorn and trying to sort out the various strands of my unease. This time, Siam was content to be held. He even purred roughly.
I SPENT A RESTLESS AFTERNOON at Max's computer. Early on, I established a talk window to Melanie, filling her in on Max's silence during the tumultuous events of Black Friday.
The files that weren't encrypted weren't very relevant, so far as I could judge. I scanned backward through his correspondence of the last few months, just to see when the encryption starts. Finally, I got back into the August sent-mail folder and found a message to Andre that wasn't encrypted.
It was, to my surprise, all about me.
So that's how I appear to Max. What a generous, loving description.
After a distracted few minutes, I forced myself to focus: bring me into what? What was this organization that Max was trying - and apparently failed - to get me into? And does it have anything to do with his disappearance? And that last sentence of his - he was really laying it on the line, saying that he was an expert on me and that his judgment ought to suffice, for their purposes. Yet I never heard a thing, and Max must have been forbidden to discuss anything with me. What was this organization?
I forwarded Max's message to Melanie with a query, hoping that she would have a better idea. The month's worth of encrypted messages would presumably tell the story, if I could ever read them in the clear.
Unfortunately, I realized as I went for a walk around the block, the chances of cracking the encryption were very poor, even if I were to rent lots of computer time on one of the massively-parallel machines. My best bet would be to guess the password that Max had used to protect his secret.key file containing all his other passwords and cipher keys.
People and birthdays, I thought. I found his address book and started in, even tried my own name and birthday. I found his deceased.adr file of people that had been removed from the active name-and-address file, tried them too.
After an hour of frustration, I popped back into the talk window with Melanie.
Siam stirred atop the warm computer console, and I noticed that it had gotten dark outside.
I decided to phone Andre before going out for a late dinner. But neither the Gray Pages directory server nor the North American telephone listings had a phone number for him - just a net address, with no phone or postal address. The net listing didn't have its usual brief bio, so handy for avoiding the wrong-number-calls from mistaken identity. It didn't even have his public key, for sending him encrypted e-mail.
And Andre hadn't checked his e-mail since afternoon. I left a note for him anyway. Basically, I was trying to restart our conversation. I changed the CD to the next one in Max's pile. Ten minutes into it, I realized that it was Mozart's Requiem. I didn't know whether to shudder or laugh. So I left, leaving it playing, and walked down to my favorite Thai restaurant, wondering where the day had gone. And if I'd ever see Max again.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
I COULDN'T SLEEP, what with thinking about pass phrases; a half-dozen times, I had to turn on the light in order to write down an idea for a password.
The rest of the time, I worried - and realized that, for most of the crises in my life for the last decade, I'd been able to talk over things with Max. And that I couldn't do that, this time. Maybe never again.
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, I heard something. A squeaky claw-hammer sort of sound. A neighbor's door creaking? No, the high frequencies wouldn't carry so well; it had to be closer than that. The sound didn't repeat.
Any other night, I might have just forgotten about it. But I got up and, without turning on any lights, found my big three-cell aluminum flashlight. I also wrapped my belt phone around my waist, just in case. One nightgown, with classy belt.
I softly walked over to my side window, that overlooked our garden, and quietly opened it. Many a time, I'd looked for streaks of light in that garden, a sign that Max was awake and reading in the middle of the night. There was a period in my life, a few years ago, when I'd phone him on such occasions and we'd talk until dawn.
I watched quietly, but mostly I listened. Then I saw a brief streak of light on the lawn, angling right and disappearing. Someone with a flashlight, moving inside Max's apartment? It was so brief that I wasn't sure what I'd seen. Did I pick up my belt phone and call 911? Or did I make sure?
Hesitation won. I let myself out my front door, unlatching it and closing it quietly. Our remodeling contractor, Linda Leschi, had recently refitted all the doors and windows, both upstairs and downstairs. Surely Max's door hadn't made so much noise. Perhaps it had been forced, with a pry bar?
Halfway down the stairs, I could see into Max's apartment through the picture window. Nothing. I waited. It was chilly, and I hadn't wrapped up.
Then I saw the light again, in Max's office. I tiptoed back upstairs, closed my door, and then called 911.
"911 operator number six."
"Police emergency," I said quietly. "Reporting a burglary in progress."
"Is that at 2914 Boyer Avenue East?" Who's-calling displays are wonderful. The 911 operators have had them for a quarter century, long before Caller ID.
"Yes. It's a duplex. The burglary is downstairs. I'm upstairs."
"We've got some cars en route. You're Katharine Medici?"
"That's me. I saw a flashlight moving inside the apartment. It was coming from a home office in the southwest corner of the apartment. The front door is on the west side, and there's a back door on the northeast corner. And no, I can't see anyone else in the vicinity. Just whoever's inside."
"Stay very quiet, please, for your own protection. Call us back immediately if you see the burglar leave, or see anyone else waiting outside."
I quietly opened my door again. As I was about to settle down at my previous perch, halfway down the staircase, I saw someone run out of Max's office, in quite a hurry. He tripped on a cat, I could tell from the yowl and the crash landing. A second yowl suggested he'd kicked the cat, too. Damn him.
I hurried down to Max's front door and stood flat against the wall. As the burglar ran out the door, I tripped him and he fell hard. I expected that it would knock the wind out of him but he sprang up and jumped me. I poked my big flashlight into his middle. An iron stomach - he rushed me again as the flashlight clattered on the concrete. I kicked at his knee, connecting hard and collapsing him, but still he got up and kept coming. Why didn't he simply run away? At this point, I was merely defending myself.
I grabbed his out-thrust right arm, twirled around and used his own momentum to throw him over my shoulder and hip. On the way, he grabbed my good nightgown with his left hand and ripped it half off of me. Alarmed at his perseverance, I yanked back hard on his arm as he hit the ground. I could almost hear his shoulder dislocate. Then, to hurt him further, I kicked him in the groin. That doubled him up, finally, and bought me a few seconds. Maybe he was high on crack or PCP. Maybe he was considerably more skillful than I am.
I had to keep him from running away, until the cops could arrive. And I only had seconds to do something, judging from how fast the guy recovered from everything else. There was only one thing handy to tie his feet with. So I pulled off my nightgown and wrapped it around his ankles and knotted it hard, all before he realized what I was doing.
Then I stood back, out of kicking distance. As he got his breath back, he began swearing at me, very crudely. Ignoring him, I reached for my belt phone, which was now the only thing I was wearing. I hit the redial button.
"Follow-up about that burglar on Boyer," I said, keeping my eyes on him. "He's now got a broken shoulder. Better send along the paramedics.... Right, I doubt he's going anywhere. Thanks." I pretended to punch off the phone, but left the connection open, casually pointing the mouthpiece toward the burglar. Since 911 always tape-records its phone calls, the burglar might just as well talk for the record.
He verbally worked over my exposed anatomy in some detail. Some of his vocabulary was unfamiliar to me, but I figured it out from where he looked as he said it. All the while, he was twisting and turning. He described what he'd do to me with a knife, once he was released from jail. His descriptions of blood and gore were almost graphic. I'd heard of criminals trying to intimidate witnesses, but this guy was practiced, trying to squeeze as much terror into a one-minute sales pitch as he could, trying to panic me.
"Get that left hand back out where I can see it," I commanded sharply. He'd been groping behind his back, and I was worried about what might be in his right hip pocket. "Or I'll throw this flower pot at your sore shoulder. Now!"
About that time, I heard the police car stop out in front. I shouted at them. "Back here!"
It must have been quite a sight that greeted the first two cops who arrived with guns drawn - a tall, naked woman standing guard with a flower pot and trying to keep two cats with flattened ears from investigating the burglar sprawled on the ground. I was, at least, wearing a belt phone.
"He was trying to reach something in his right hip pocket," I said to the cops. "Careful with him, though, because I broke his right shoulder." The officers decided to await additional arrivals before trying to search him.
I spoke into the phone again. "Hear all that?"
Indeed the dispatcher had. "Well, mark your tape recording as evidence for his bail hearing tomorrow," I said, and punched it off. "Pardon me, gentlemen," I said to the two officers pointing their guns at my burglar. "I think that I'll go inside and put on something more suitable for the occasion."
BY THE TIME that I came back downstairs wearing jeans and a sweater, they were searching the burglar. To get my nightgown back took a while, even though a second pair of officers arrived almost instantly. Once they had enough manpower to search the guy without engaging in the usual up-against-the-wall frisking, they found a small radio in his shirt pocket, and cutting pliers in his left hip pocket. And then a spring knife and a small automatic pistol. Being right-handed, he'd kept them in his right pockets. Fortunately, I'd disabled his right arm. I hate to think what would have happened to me if I hadn't, given how determined the creep was to assault me after I tripped him.
The Medic van had arrived and, once the search was finished, the paramedics stabilized the burglar's broken shoulder with a strait jacket. One of the later-arriving police officers managed to untie my nightgown from his legs. She handed it to me, saying that it was somewhat the worse for wear.
She was right. I'd tied that knot pretty hard, before jumping back. And the rip, from when I threw him, looked fatal; it reminded me of that genre of romance novels called "bodice-rippers," though I doubt they feature creeps as bad as my real-life burglar.
Sergeant Gonzales accompanied me on a tour of Max's apartment. "You know," she said after we were out of hearing of the others, "it's generally not a good idea to tackle burglars, all by yourself. Better to let them get away than to risk injury to yourself."
"I agree," I said with a sigh. "That had been my plan, to just watch and see where he headed. But he kicked the cat, I got mad, and I was too tired to think straight. It was a major mistake, all right. I'm lucky that I didn't get hurt."
Neither Cleopatra nor Siam seemed injured; I couldn't figure out which one had tripped the burglar and then been kicked. They both continued to follow us around the apartment. So far as I could tell, only Max's home office was affected. The burglar had cut most of the cables loose from the computer tower case, only to discover that the case was bolted down to the bottom of the soundproof cabinet that Linda had made for Max. Too bad the burglar didn't try cutting the power cable as well. But then, he was nothing if not experienced in these matters.
"Burglars sure do like computers these days," Sergeant Gonzales said. "I bet we discover his car parked around here pretty close." She spoke briefly into her radio. "All cars belong to residents of the area, so far. So you think that he didn't touch anything else?"
"He didn't have time to see much of the rest of the apartment," I said, reflecting. "It's possible he'd been in the apartment before, however. When I fed the cats about noon, I wondered if something had been disturbed, but couldn't figure out what it could be. I searched all over the apartment, in all the closets and everything, without discovering anything. This guy tonight spent nearly all of his time in this office - maybe three minutes until something spooked him. He started running even before he left the office, but then tripped over a cat in the living room."
"What scared him, do you suppose?" she asked me.
"Nothing I could see. I was sure quiet. Maybe the cats made some noise that I didn't hear."
When we got back outdoors, that mystery was cleared up. The burglar had been listening to a police scanner. Another sergeant, whose last name was Kim, had been playing around with the radio taken off the burglar. "I've heard of these computer scanners," he said, passing it to Sergeant Gonzales for her to examine, "but this is the first time I've ever seen one. That's one sophisticated burglar that you caught."
He explained to me that, because scanners were so readily available, the Seattle Police avoid dispatching cars to a burglary using voice messages; instead they rely on the Motorola computers in the patrol cars, which alert the officers to a message on the display giving the address and a code for the complaint. He discovered that the burglar's little radio beeped whenever the dispatcher's computer sent a silent response code for an in-progress. The scanner was detecting the computer code, not listening to voice transmissions.
"So, what was he after?" he asked.
"Computer," Sergeant Gonzales replied. "A nice one."
"Maybe a special one, however," I said, kicking at spilled dirt from the potted plant. "He might have been trying to steal it for the information it contained, on the hard disk." I told them about Max's disappearance, repeating what I'd learned from Officer Freeman. Soon Sergeant Gonzales had brought up Max's missing-person file on her clipboard computer and both sergeants read it.
"I'll flag all this for the detectives," Sergeant Kim said. "And suggest that someone phone the Palm Beach P.D. By the way, the dispatcher told me about the string of threats that the burglar made against you, before we arrived. Intimidating a witness to a felony is a charge even more serious than burglary, and it's treated differently for bail purposes. I think it's very unlikely that this guy will make bail. You can call the deputy prosecuting attorney during business hours and talk to him yourself. But I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."
I GOT THE SHAKES almost as soon as they all left and I finished boarding up Max's front door from the inside. What a stupid thing to do, tackling a burglar like that. At least I had the satisfaction of it turning out well, but I was still, on balance, appalled that I'd made such a bad snap judgment.
I helped myself to some of Max's good single malt, and crawled into Max's bed, half dressed. I was soon joined by Cleopatra. I didn't get to sleep until just before dawn. And so I inadvertently slept late, which did nothing to improve my moodiness.
Once awake, I called Linda to come repair the door and then checked over the cats, to make sure that no late sign of injury had appeared. But they were merely hungry, as usual. After feeding them, I went back upstairs to check my e-mail, letting myself out through Max's back door.
Damn! Nothing from Andre. Yes, he had read his e-mail twice since I sent him the message last night. But he didn't reply. My anger grew. I really wanted to reach out and shake him, to compel his attention. But it looked as if I was going to have to chase him down, first.
I left a note for Melanie in e-mail, not wanting to use the priority talk window because I didn't want to explain the night's event in detail. That would just keep me from thinking about the password problem.
I did some stretches, pulled on my running outfit, and went out for a loop around the local park. A hot shower didn't help very much. Nor did the croissant and the latté. About eleven o'clock, I called the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
It's Saturday, the voice noted. Call back Monday. Finally, by mentioning Max's name, I was put through to the very busy deputy who was going to arraign my burglar. I suspect that he hadn't really noticed the name of the burglary victim before; the deputy now knew, I think, that he was going to have to tell his chief about how he handled this one.
By letting on that Max's name ought to be important to them, I'd established myself as someone who perhaps knew that Max had let the prosecuting attorney's office take credit for breaking open the white-collar-crime scandal last spring. They'd had to give the insider-trading part of it to the feds, but it turned out to be far wider in scope than that. The case had been a feather in the prosecutor's cap during his current re-election campaign; the election was only a few days away. So the deputy was being nice to me, and I actually learned a few things.
Fingerprints had identified my burglar; I promptly forgot the name and continued to call him The Creep. He only had one conviction, grand larceny via computer, in New Orleans a few years ago. But there was an outstanding warrant in Texas, for first-degree assault and two counts of intimidating a witness. So I was probably right last night, that his intense verbal assault on my person was calculated.
The deputy had talked to his counterpart in Texas, who said the creep was probably their local Mob's number two guy in computer crime, their fastest growing division after extortion. No chance of him being released on bail, none at all. Texas was starting extradition proceedings, but the county might try him locally first since the evidence was so good, for both Burglary One and Intimidating. They could probably get him for assault as well but, since I'd tripped him and started it, they'd probably leave that one out of it. I should be careful - next time something was threatening, I should lock myself in a room with a strong door and then call the cops. Yes, sir, I said.
It didn't cheer me up very much, to know that there were people like that, interested in Max's computer. And perhaps Max himself. Furthermore, the guy's friends might try again. Or perhaps target me, just for spite. As long as I was in Seattle, they knew where to find me.
I went downstairs with my power screwdriver and pulled the hard disk out of Max's computer, then gathered up all his backup tapes from the fireproof box in his pantry and hauled them upstairs to put in my under-the-rug floor safe. Linda arrived, and I told her as much as I knew, cautioning her to be careful of any visitors.
EVENTUALLY, I got tired of waiting for Andre to call - and decided that I'd catch the next plane to Palm Beach. I'd take myself out of harm's way, and I could start asking around for Max, where he was last seen.
I used my net connection to check for all flights; never mind reservations, I'd race down there and standby for no-shows. One thing soon became very clear. Even if I rushed to the airport, it was now too late to travel today - even connecting through Atlanta to the late evening flights.
Yes, I realized, I could stay overnight in Atlanta or Dallas, and get into Palm Beach before noon tomorrow. But that's only a few hours earlier than tomorrow's nonstop would get me there. And I'd sleep better in my own bed than in an airport hotel. Heavens knows I needed some sleep. Linda, who'd finished repairing Max's door and stopped in to see me about the planned silent alarm system for downstairs and upstairs, offered to stay overnight in my guest room, just to keep me company.
That decided it. I made myself a reservation on the nonstop that left the next day, just before sunrise, with Linda offering to drive me to the airport. There were only business class seats left on the 757, but I didn't hesitate to click twice on the purple purchase button. It started flashing. Turn green, damn it. The button finally changed color, glowing green and reading Confirmed. I got the seat selection map painted on my screen and frowned at the lack of a window seat. But, as I watched, a window seat opened up and I immediately double-clicked on it. Once it confirmed, I specified a Kosher lunch, on the theory that I'd get deli food that way. Then I tabbed through to the hotel listings and got myself a reservation at the same hotel that Max had stayed at.
Seeing the hotel, I thought, should tell me whether Max had stayed there by preference - or because some group had made reservations for everybody, the usual reason for getting stuck in less-than-optimal hotels. Palm Beach was not lacking in hotels meeting Max's standards - such as convenient modem jacks into which to plug his laptop. And room service at three in the morning, for when he awakens and can't get back to sleep without some milk and crackers.
The net menu doesn't yet have selections for back-up cat-feeders. So I picked up the phone and hoped that Doc Matson was carrying his belt phone today. Retirement from dentistry had brought an enthusiasm for walking five miles a day, down to a coffeehouse or bookstore, and then back. He'd surely be on his daily brisk walk at this hour, perhaps walking along Boyer Avenue at this very moment.
He was. Yes, of course he would feed the cats, even bring in my mail along with Max's. I said that I'd drop off a keycard. I explained the burglary of Max's apartment and that Linda had already repaired the door but was coming back Monday with her alarm-system installer. She'd give him a lesson. I warned Doc to look carefully before entering the apartment, and phone 911 if he had any concerns. Doc sounded like he was in a hurry to get back up to speed, with miles to go before he rests.
IT WAS STILL SPECTACULAR WEATHER for sailing, I realized when I finally took a walk around the block, with a modest breeze out of the south. And suddenly I yielded to the urge to get away from all the stress. Maybe if I concentrate on the wind and waves and sails and lines, I thought, I'll be able to think more clearly about Max's password. Since Max loved to go sailing, maybe he'd used a nautical password. Maybe something would remind me of it.
And after all the salt air, maybe I'll be able to take a nap, to make up for last night. I'll just take my belt phone. And my laptop as well. The boat will be a better place to await Andre's message, if it ever came. After reprogramming an unlabeled keycard so that it would open both Max's front door and mine, I drove by Doc's place and slipped it under his door.
The winds were fitful on the shipping canal and Lake Union, so I headed out to the salt water. While the sailboat was being lowered in the canal locks, my fingers drummed impatiently against the handle of my belt phone. What can be taking Andre so long? If he'd only supply the cipher key to the recent messages, I'd have solved half the problem - though not, alas, the shrink-wrapped half, because Max undoubtedly used his own password for his own private files.
Once I got out on Puget Sound and found a breeze, it was warm enough so that I could take off my old windbreaker. I was even, thanks to the fresh salt air, thinking about taking a nap sometime soon.
AFTER AN HOUR of tacking back and forth into the southerly breeze, I realized that everything was going well. I was falling back on good habits, and handling the boat right.
By this time, I had sailed south past the Seattle harbor, managing to cross, with minimal pitch and roll, the wakes of the giant ferries that crisscross the Sound. I was near Blake Island, which is a state park, and so I decided to go ashore and stretch my legs, see the great Native-American-style log meeting house, where the 16-nation Asian summit meeting was held back in 1993. Maybe I would even lie down under a tree, and nap a little. My belt phone had not rung. I checked its unanswered call indicator, to see if I somehow failed to notice its rumbling ring amid the distractions of sailing. No missed calls.
I set a direct course for the pier. Suddenly, it felt as if someone had stepped on the brakes. Sailboats don't have brakes. A grinding sound from the hull confirmed my suspicions.
I immediately let loose of the jib sheet and dropped the mainsail, so as not to dig myself in deeper. But I was stuck, run aground on a sand bar, well offshore from the northwest corner of the island.
I was annoyed at myself for not checking the nautical chart. And the tides. But it was no time for reflection, as I needed to get the keel off the sandbar before it dug itself in even further.
I tried standing on the bow, to tilt the boat. Then I stood on the port side, hanging out as far as I could. And starboard. And stern. I eventually realized that the optimal tactic was to climb halfway up the mast and try to swing the mast back and forth, so as to heel the boat over farther to each side. However, the keel remained stuck in the sand bar, even after I had pumped the mast back and forth a half-dozen times. I finally slid back down the mast. And tried to think of additional tactics.
A few minutes later, while standing again in the cockpit, I felt the wind shift direction. The sailboat shuddered, as if the sand's grip on the keel had changed. I contemplated setting the sails again. But the wind hadn't changed enough for me to reverse course. Intuitively, I knew that the geometry was all wrong.
In desperation, I decided to get out and push; I am, after all, as tall as the keel is deep. I stuck a hand in the water; it was considerably warmer than its usual 52F, probably because the shallow water had been heated by the sun. Tossing my belt phone below, I contemplated stripping. But I was in a hurry because the breeze was starting to fade, so I just kicked off my sandals and dropped over the side into the water. It was still damned cold, and a halter and shorts is hardly a wet suit. Still, I figured that I could stand it for several minutes.
I couldn't touch bottom, as tall as I am. I swam around to the other side of the boat and tried to touch bottom there. No luck. Even pushing myself downward from the underside of the boat, I barely touched bottom. I came back up, sputtering. Pushing it off would require a good footing, and there wasn't even a poor one.
I hauled myself back up the stern ladder and went below, dripping buckets of water everywhere. I stripped off my clothes, annoyed that I hadn't done that to start with. Rummaging around in the built-in locker, I found an old towel. It wasn't very large, and it could have been cleaner, but I managed to dry off.
I contemplated my situation. Yes, I could get a passing fishing boat to tow me off, though it would mean putting those wet clothes back on. Yet the last time that a friend was stranded in this manner, the tow managed to damage his keel. The repairs had been expensive. And I thought I'd heard rocks scraping the keel, not just sand. One mistake was bad enough, without compounding it.
And, now that I thought about it, going overboard to push was a stupid move in the first place - my second snap decision in only twelve hours that was, in retrospect, a very poor one.
Noticing my laptop, I fired it up and checked the Seattle tide predictions. The tide, alas, was low and going to get a foot lower - which meant the keel would dig another foot deeper into the sand or mud. And that's if I was lucky - if it was really a rock bottom, the sailboat would start tilting sideways instead.
It was another two hours until the low. That probably means at least five hours until the rising tide will refloat the sailboat, I calculated mentally. Which is after sunset, and I didn't bring a sweater.
Think of it as a few hours in which to sunbathe, I muttered to myself. Except that I don't like to sunbathe. Sun tans are a nuisance, besides not being good for your skin.
Still, I'm going to Florida tomorrow, I thought. Maybe I'll want to blend in with the locals, while asking around about Max. Can't look like a freshly-arrived tourist around the swimming pool. Too bad I didn't wear my bikini today.
Oops. I discovered that I had already gotten enough sun so that there would be, thanks to my halter and tennis shorts, a nice untanned border of white skin all around the edges of a bikini - lace fringe, someone called it. Even if I were to wear my tank suit, it wouldn't cover the tan-free fringe.
The solution, I realized, was a little nude sunbathing on my private floating deck, out in the Indian Summer sunshine. And the halter and shorts would dry more quickly that way, too.
I stuck my head out of the hatchway and looked around for nearby boats. Seeing none, I wrung out the wet clothing over the side and, looking around for a clothesline, tried arranging the laundry over the guardrail, forward of the cockpit.
Lacking clothespins, I soon thought better of that idea, given the breeze. Since I had dropped the mainsail, I realized that I could lay everything atop the boom. To guard against a gust of wind, I wrapped a long bungee cord around the boom to hold my clothing secure. Remembering that my old windbreaker needed a good airing, I tucked it under the bungee cord as well. Then I laid down in the cockpit on my old towel, out of sight below the railing. I put the belt phone in easy reach, still hoping that Andre would call.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
I GRADUALLY WOKE UP, puzzled by something. Strong gusts of wind had come up, out of the west, and were rocking the sailboat. I recalled where I was. And that the sailboat was stuck.
Still groggy from the sunny nap in the salt air, I quickly tried to hoist the mainsail, hoping to get free this time, with a little extra boost from the wind. The sail was binding somewhere, so I put all my weight behind a quick yank on the main halyard.
The mainsail broke free of the obstruction and finally started up the mast. However, that was because I had finally popped loose the bungee cord that I'd wrapped around the boom, securing my clothes and windbreaker - all of which went flying away, carried far out of reach on the gust of wind.
I almost dove in to rescue them, but remembered the cold water and the tidal currents. Since my sailboat doesn't have a dinghy, I concentrated on getting the sailboat loose, hoping to maneuver alongside the floating garments and retrieve them. As I again tried to rock the sailboat out of its rut, my clothes were carried farther and farther away by the wind-driven waves. From halfway up the mast, as I swung back and forth, I saw my clothes sink, one after another.
Two mistakes in a row: Now, I was not only stranded but naked.
I was also halfway up a mast, but that condition was more easily remedied.
I could not believe that this is happening to me, Kate Medici. After sitting on the floor of the cockpit for a few moments of irritated contemplation, the novelty of the situation finally began to wear off. It remained, however, irredeemably absurd.
I could always wear my belt phone, just like last night. Oh, and I've got sandals this time.
Correction, this was the third - no, the fourth - stupid mistake in a row. At least the burglar turned out well in the end, but running aground, jumping overboard, and then losing all of my clothes seemed unlikely to have silver linings. It isn't easy to shake my self confidence, but I was really wondering at this point about what stupidity I'd commit next.
Eventually, I remembered some old clothes in the locker below. My keys and billfold were, fortunately, in my computer bag. But I was not pleased with myself. I finally went below to survey the clothing situation. Perhaps there will be an old sweater too, I thought, for after dark.
BUT THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE in the locker where the towel was, except for the extra lifejackets. I'd been sure there were some old clothes and a sweater underneath those spare lifejackets. I checked the other locker, hoping for some raingear, at least. An old box of flares, the emergency beacon, and the Puget Sound charts - showing, of course, the sandbar - but no raingear. I looked under the seat cushions and the bed mattress, checked the lockers once again, even popped the access panel for the inboard engine. No clothing, anywhere.
I then remembered taking the raingear home. And thought that I'd probably taken the old clothes home to launder, too, as they were surely salty and sticky. The towel seemed to be all there was, and I tried it on for size. It was a relatively small towel. I am relatively big. The towel made a passable miniskirt.
But, I recalled, there is the life jacket. I frowned at the plunging décolletage. And the sides formed only by three straps. I pulled the adjustment straps a little tighter. No better. I tried one of the older, more utilitarian, life jackets. Better. A little daring, perhaps, but it would have to do. It'll be after dark, I thought, when I go through the locks again.
At least my strap marks weren't so obvious anymore.
A FISHING BOAT hailed me, asking if I was catching anything. No, I answered after I put on my life jacket and sat up. Discouraged, he cruised on, disappearing around Blake Island.
A sailboat with slack sails in a good breeze, going nowhere, must look a little odd, I eventually realized. The guy must have assumed that I was fishing. Though, it occurred to me, I've seldom seen anyone fishing from a serious sailboat.
Idly, I decided to mark my present position on the nautical chart, just to avoid coming so close next time. I turned on the GPS in my belt phone, and soon it read 47°32'48.0"N, 122°29'58.5"W, 0H. Within an accuracy of about two parallel parking spaces, I knew exactly where, on the surface of the earth, I was stranded, thanks to the Global Positioning System. The belt phone's indicator said that I hadn't missed any calls, so I decided to check and see if there was any e-mail awaiting me. I linked my laptop to my belt phone and dialed into my net mailbox. No e-mail.
I tried a u command and discovered that Andre was currently logged into The Conf. I tried page andre and he responded briefly, saying that he'll have to get back to me. I gave him my cellular phone number, saying cryptically that I was stranded on a sand bar and wouldn't be going anywhere for while.
In any other situation, I would have chewed out Andre by now - and probably resigned from the consulting job. But this wasn't a consulting job. And I couldn't afford to alienate Andre, for Max's sake.
When Andre finally called back on the belt phone a half-hour later, I was sitting out in the last of the late afternoon sun, having taken off the uncomfortable life jacket to use as a cushion. He asked where I was really calling from, and I explained - leaving out the news of my second major blunder of the afternoon.
He said that cellular phones weren't really secure enough, that he'd have to wait and talk with me when I was home tomorrow. I explained that I'd be on a plane to Palm Beach tomorrow morning. But how about going back to e-mail, I suggested, and using the usual Privacy Enhanced Mail features?
Andre was set up for DES encryption but not for the public key methods like RSA that allow its key to be easily delivered. No, he didn't know about the program that would have allowed him to generate a public and private key, the obvious solution. Andre was security conscious, I realized, but also set in his ways - not at all like Max.
"We need a word, something to use as our cipher key," I said, trying not to let my irritation show. "And since we don't want to give it away to anyone listening, we can't say it out loud over the phone. So, it's got to be a word, or a phrase, that describes something about Max that we both know - but most people don't. And can't look up easily."
I thought for a minute. "Did Max ever tell you about the girl who snatched stuff out of his kitchen cabinet when he wasn't looking?"
"Sure he did," chuckled Andre, sounding less strained for the first time in our conversations. "I've even had her sitting on my... Well, never mind. Yes, I know her name. That's the perfect DES key to get this started. You use that and I'll send using both names, her and the incompetent one. It'll do until you get to Palm Beach and I can get something better delivered to you."
We hung up and I logged back into the net and set my software cipher key to Cleopatra for sending, and to Cleopatra&Siam for decrypting whatever I received from Andre. After a few trials back and forth, we were successfully communicating in English once again.
It turned out that Andre had been quite busy, talking to other people about me. Background checks, I groaned - Max is missing and this guy spends a full day running a background check on me?
He tells me that my being a computer consultant had been important, that he was finally able to check me out through connections in the industry. Also, Max had apparently talked about me at some length during their San Francisco meeting several months earlier; Max wanted them to consult me about their problems because, he'd said, I was such an expert on computer systems and how people used them. At the least, Max wanted their permission for him to talk privately to me about some of the problems.
But they'd wanted to keep their secrets close, Andre said, and had emphatically vetoed consulting anyone outside the group. Now, with Max missing under suspicious circumstances, Andre wanted to talk to me about what Max might have been doing - if I would promise not to say anything to anyone else, should I not wish to join forces after hearing him out. Of course, I agreed. Scout's honor.
Sitting naked before my laptop, I was as alert as I'd ever been, waiting to see what Andre had to reveal.
But then he backed off, saying "not now," not until we could meet in person or use a more secure cipher. "Damn him!" I swore aloud.
And then Andre disconnected.
Thanks a lot, I muttered harshly. He could at least have said who he was sending. The local bicycle messenger? FedEx? His chauffeur? And how was I supposed to know who I was dealing with? Business cards are easily faked. Every airport seems to have a machine that will print up a hundred business cards for you, on the spot.
Andre is definitely not a pro, I thought. Or he's stringing me along, setting me up for another delay, buying himself another 24 hours by tantalizing me again. But why would he stall? I'm not exactly a bill collector.
Once I had cooled down a little, I recalled that a one-time pad is a very old-fashioned cipher. But a very secure cipher, the best there is - if no one manages to make an extra copy of the shared random number list. And if you never re-use the list. And provided it's truly random, rather than one of those pseudo-random lists produced by complicated computer algorithms, such as those RND commands in BASIC.
It's a standard beginner's mistake, I remembered reading in a biography, supposedly made by all cryptographers in their idealistic youth. A text encrypted using pseudo-random numbers is now a standard student exercise in beginning cryptography courses, used to demonstrate just how easily such a cipher can be broken.
Had Andre, in his enthusiasm for random-number ciphers, made the classic mistake? I'd have to run this disk - if I ever actually held it in my hands - through some tests with my crypto software toolkit.
I badly wanted to go running. I had to satisfy myself with some stretching exercises, in the confines of the cockpit.
PASSWORDS AND PASS PHRASES occurred to me, and I tried them out on Max's encrypted file of cipher keys, secret.key, which I had remembered to copy over to my laptop. No luck.
I activated the laptop link to my belt phone and opened a talk window again to Melanie.
I sat bolt upright and covered my face with my hands. It was several minutes before I answered Melanie, shaking.
I let the Web browser take me into Dartmouth's library archive and soon discovered how many times that Shakespeare used characters nicknamed "Kate."
Blushing, I tried Aaily,K,ayalaa as a password. And variants thereof. No luck. The next memorable phrase was in The Taming of the Shrew:
And, from Love's Labour Lost, I found
SHORTLY AFTER THE SUN DISAPPEARED over the Olympic Mountains, I felt the sailboat scrape the bottom in a new way. The tide was starting to float the sailboat free. It was a welcome relief, since Shakespeare was going nowhere, only making me feel awkward and disoriented, each time I tried out Melanie's strategy. A few minutes later, the boat started swinging more freely, unstuck from the bottom. I logged off the net and unfurled the jib. I managed to sail free of the sandbar with only a few more scraping sounds.
The white light at the top of the mast illuminated the tell-tale, streaming toward north. I quickly got the mainsail up. Wind out of the south meant that I could run downwind, and get home sooner.
Mine was the only sailboat left out on Puget Sound on that Saturday night, so far as I could see. I had to alter course for one of the oversized ferries, and then again for a big container ship coming in to port, but I generally managed to steer straight for the West Point lighthouse that marks the dogleg turn into Shilshole Bay.
I had a long time to think about Max, and my platonic relationship with him. I even managed, for a while, to stop thinking about all of the ways he could have drowned. I was feeling surer that Max knew too much about something, that he'd either been kidnapped or murdered because of it. I couldn't cruise the Florida waterways looking for him any better than the police or Coast Guard, but I could certainly do better at figuring out what Max knew and where it led him. So I couldn't just sit back and let the police handle the search.
When I rounded the point, I was able to set a northeasterly course. And a forest of aluminum poles appeared on my horizon, the sailboat masts populating the Shilshole Bay Marina. I could almost hear them, bonging away in the breeze like a cacophony of wind chimes.
In another few minutes, I could see the buoys marking the entry channel leading to the canal locks. Homeward bound. It is time, I decided, to switch to the less comfortable, but less revealing, life jacket. I managed not to lose either one overboard, but the second life jacket felt cold as it contacted my bare skin, reminding me of how cool it had become, with the sun below the horizon.
I tied the towel around my hips as securely as I could, and hoped that it would stay put. But the overlap was not generous. I promised myself a long hot shower. With luck, I could be home in under an hour.
MY SAILBOAT WAS, of course, on show as I passed the two restaurants at the channel entrance, with their long rows of picture windows with sunset views. I've sat there myself, many a time, remarking on the boats returning to port - along with a hundred other diners watching the same boats and saying the same things about them.
But now things were reversed, and I felt as if I were on parade and the restaurants were the reviewing stands. I knew that I was backlighted by the remains of the sunset, and was probably sailing into the reddish streak of ripple that the spectators saw. But, at these distances, I told myself firmly, it ought to be impossible to tell if a silhouetted figure is nude or not.
Once past the restaurants, I saw the traffic signal for the canal locks ahead. It was shining a bright red but, as I watched, it turned green. So, perhaps the locks were starting to load up for the uphill journey. Then I remembered the bright-as-day street lights all over the canal locks. There was no avoiding them - I couldn't exactly detour through the salmon ladder.
I hadn't seen any boats coming the other direction - indeed, very few boats at all. I dropped the main and then the jib, then turned the key to start the inboard. The night now had noise. I decided to put the fenders out, so I wouldn't have to move around later. But I almost lost my towel while bending over to position the second fender.
A round head appeared in the water alongside me, as I was trying to repair my miniskirt, and I saw a big pair of eyes gaze up at me.
"Hello, Hershel," I said fondly. "How about going and catching me a salmon for dinner? You can save me from having to eat meatloaf for another night. How about it, fellow?"
Hershel is the generic name in Seattle for any sea lion that cruises outside the locks, in order to feast on the salmon trying to find the fish ladder. The sea lion found me uninteresting. He soon disappeared, but I saw him resurface a minute later, off on the right.
The small lock's gate was open wide. I slowly entered the lock. There were, I saw, no other boats inside the box. The lock attendant, standing a story above me on the pedestrian path that goes over the top of the inner set of gates, gestured that I could have my choice of either left or right side. I drifted over to the more shadowed left side and looped a line around one of the floating cleats, trying to remain seated in my pseudoskirt. Success. I reached forward to the controls and killed the engine.
I looked back out the channel through the open gates. No other boats were in sight. That's not at all like my usual experience, of a half-dozen boats coming up the channel, trying to get aboard the elevator before the doors close. How long, I worried, would the lock attendants wait for another boat? My teeth weren't chattering, but I was getting uncomfortable. I'd never seen them run the lock for just one boat.
But they did. The bells started ringing and then the large outer gates started to swing shut. When the last crack of light disappeared and they were securely shut, the bell stopped. And the water started flowing in from unseen openings beneath the surface, welling up instead of descending in whirlpools. Going up, I increasingly left the shadow and came into the well-lit area. Fortunately, there were no spectators at this hour, just the lock attendant.
Who walked over to stand just above me. "Getting kind of cool," he said, making conversation. "Sure feels like autumn, once the sun sets."
"That it does," I agreed. "I'm sure glad that you ran the locks just for me." He's awfully young, I thought. Most of the lock attendants look as if they're retired Coast Guard or Navy personnel. Paradoxically, the U. S. Army runs the canal locks, Corps of Engineers and all that.
"No problem. Wouldn't want you to get cold," he said. He noticed?
The bell on the inner gates began to sound, interrupting our conversation, and a little red light flashed to warn anyone walking atop the gates that they are about to open. I started my inboard again, effectively ending the conversation, and the attendant walked up to the inner gate to watch it open, watched me maneuver out of the lock and into the fresh water. I waved goodbye and he waved back. As soon as I was clear of the lights and into the darkness of the wide channel, I climbed around and secured the sails. This time I just left the towel behind on the seat; I was feeling very protective of it, not wanting to lose it overboard.
It finally occurred to me that I ought to call Linda or someone else, to come down to the marina and bring me some clothes. I got her answering machine. I got Doc's, too. After three more failures, I was beginning to wonder.
The Ballard Bridge was down, with a regular stream of traffic crossing it. I got out the air horn and let off one long blast, then a short one. Yes, I could have used the phone to call the bridge tender, but tradition is very important in sailing.
I still hadn't heard the bong-bong-bong warning signals that stop the cars, before the bridge tender opens the span. Impatience. Cold impatience. I hit the air horn again. Suddenly an ambulance zipped across, lights flashing red and white.
The bridge-opening warnings finally sounded. Next time I'll phone the bridge tender, so I'll know that he knows I'm waiting - and can find out about delays.
COMING INTO THE MARINA, I looked around for people. Some of the boats had lighted windows, and I heard the sounds of a party in progress. As I maneuvered into my slip, I managed to flip the mooring line to catch the outer cleat. I pulled the stern in against the dock and cleated the line tight.
As I got up to climb forward for the other mooring line, the towel slipped again. Rather than risk losing it in the water, I tossed it back into the cockpit. Finding the forward line, I jumped to the dock and secured it. I wasted no time getting back aboard but, before ducking below deck, I had to secure the second stern line and position the sailboat in the middle of the slip.
I checked the bilge for any sign of a leak, but it seemed normal. Rearranging the towel around my hips, and tightening the life jacket once more, I grabbed my computer bag, stuck the belt phone inside it, and then locked up. Along the marina's walkways and piers, I encountered no one. The car, unfortunately, was on a well-lighted street. I walked, one hand holding my towel secure, down the street to the car, the bag slung over my shoulder atop the life jacket.
I quickly unlocked the car door. Tossing the bag into the passenger seat, I went to sit down in the driver's seat - and then discovered how much room a life jacket takes up.
I got caught when only halfway in, wedged between the steering wheel and the seat. Thrown off balance by this impediment, I twisted - and the towel fell from my hips again.
The horn was now honking, too. More seriously, I could barely breathe. From my wedged position, suspended above the seat, I grappled behind my back, searching for the seat control lever. Finally, I managed to slide the seat back. And dropped down onto the seat. Whether my gasp was from being able to breathe once again, or from the cold leather contacting so much bare skin, is hard to say.
Mistake number five, I told myself, shivering uncontrollably. Way beyond my quota.
I reached out and slammed the door shut - and, in doing so, discovered what happened to the missing towel. I tried to open the door, but the towel was jammed in the door. Worse yet, it had fouled the door latch. Thoroughly. No amount of muscle power seemed to suffice.
Mistake number six. Though, at least, the exercise served to warm me up. Redeeming virtues were starting to become important to me.
Giving up on the jammed door, I drove home very cautiously, trying to avoid any further blunders, hoping that the Seattle Police wouldn't pull me over to tell me about the towel stuck in the door and trailing on the pavement. Two other cars honked and pointed, when I was stopped at traffic signals, but I only nodded knowingly, did an "Oh, never mind about that" pantomime, then looked ahead at the red light.
Let them think that wearing a life jacket while driving is a new safety innovation imported from The Netherlands, where cars plunge into canals with some regularity.
Or a costume - a block later, a store window reminded me that I was abroad on the night of Halloween. So that's where everyone is - at Halloween parties. The costumed children, I hoped, were all in bed at this hour. Isn't there a holiday somewhere, celebrating Lady Godiva's horseback ride?
THE PARK APPEARED on my left. I was going down the home stretch now, only minutes until my hot shower. I made it into my carport without further incident. The car door was still jammed by the towel, and I was too tired to work up another sweat over it. So, I tried to climb over the gearshift into the passenger seat - but the life jacket was so bulky that I couldn't maneuver myself.
Finally, I took off my remaining "garment" and threw it with disgust into the back seat. As I climbed over into the passenger seat, I discovered that its leather wasn't preheated either.
Thoroughly exasperated by now, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Being an optimist, I laughed out loud at myself. But it was a close call.
Composing myself once again, I put on my hat and declared it my Halloween costume. I took my keycard in hand, opened the passenger door, slung my computer bag over my bare shoulder, and then carefully walked up the well-lit staircase. Nude Ascending Staircase, I thought. A work of art, am I.
THE GOOSE-BUMPS SUBSIDED. I wanted to stay under the shower until the hot water supply was exhausted, but I realized that I was also very hungry. Still dripping wet, and planning to come right back to the shower after putting in something to heat, I wrapped up in my thick terrycloth robe - and wondered again what had happened to its belt, how the laundry ate it without a trace.
My bedside phone rang. It was Linda, returning my call. She said she'd been asked for identification twice today by police officers who stopped by the duplex. She'd just gotten back from a party, but would come over with her extra crowbar in a half hour. I told her I'd be downstairs, in Max's place, by then. And would probably be there all night.
I tracked wet footprints into my kitchen and opened the refrigerator. As I stuck the leftover meatloaf into the microwave, I heard a muffled thud just behind me. I startled, a full fight-or-flight reaction. As I twirled around toward the sound, I saw someone outside the kitchen window.
As I heard another thump outside, I dived toward the light switch for the deck. The deck was bathed in light, but I couldn't see anyone from the window in the door. I cautiously edged back around to look out the kitchen window again.
And there was Siam, clawing his way atop the window ledge between the anchored flower pots. Another thud accompanied Cleopatra's arrival. They began a litany of complaints and my pulse rate began to slow. I pulled my robe shut, opened the kitchen door, and let the cats come indoors.
I found some sliced chicken in the refrigerator, hoping to pacify them until I could go downstairs. I stopped by my computer and checked the answering-machine software and the net mail. No reply from Max's daughter in New York. Nothing more from Andre. Two calls from a local reporter, but I decided not to return his calls. I checked my ring controller while I was at it.
I finally decided to let all the calls through.
The chicken scraps had disappeared by the time that the microwave beeped and I retrieved my own dinner. Cleopatra came over and insisted on sitting on my shoulder as I ate, though she was too well trained to beg for food at the table. I buried my face in her fur for a moment, holding her tight. When I got up to fix myself a pot of coffee to take downstairs with me, she had to be displaced. Soon she was contemplating the kitchen cabinets, and I spoke to her firmly. She merely shifted her attention to another cabinet. I felt that it was safe to leave her alone for a little while, since those doors are secured by strong magnetic latches. Furthermore, only canned foods were inside her chosen target cupboard. But surely the day was coming when Cleopatra would discover the corner grocery.
As I was casting off my damp bathrobe, I heard noises in my bedroom closet. This time I merely sighed, no longer alarmed.
"All right, Siam - out of there!" He looked up at me, wide-eyed, his tail twitching as he chewed on the leather laces to my hiking boots. "Out, out, damned spots! Now!"
He got the idea, scampering out of the closet with a burst of speed and then diving under the bed. But, always anxious to explore new territory, he soon followed me into the bathroom. He waited, meowing occasionally, as I returned to the shower and finished off the hot water supply. He quickly left when I turned on the hair dryer.
I dressed warmly for my trip downstairs via the outside staircase. There were many times when I wished that the internal stairway connecting the two floors hadn't been converted into storage space. I gathered up an extra keyboard cable and phone cable from my junk box, with which to repair Max's computer, and retrieved his hard disk from my floor safe. I got my passport while I was at it and decided to find Max's as well; never can tell where this search will lead.
I was about to leave my bedroom for the long night of password guessing when I heard a noise under my bed. It was Siam. And he was playing with the missing bathrobe belt.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
I HATE 757s with a passion. Well, I'd probably like one if they'd let me fly copilot, but to be a passenger is bad news, unless you're a midget. A thin midget, too, since the aisles in six-across coach class are so narrow that the usual food-service carts won't fit. I can't believe that, back in the Reagan era, the FAA actually certified those aisles as adequate for emergency evacuations. Grumble.
Fortunately, I was in business class for a change. Also, this particular 757 had been retrofitted with modem jacks, as part of the telephone-in-the-headrest features. For a price, you can now do your net surfing while cruising the stratosphere.
I sent off my e-mail, then checked the Palm Beach weather on its web page. I considered reading the news via the net, but breakfast arrived.
And it included a croissant, no less - not tasting especially French, but at least accompanied by a reasonable imitation of raspberry jam. I quickly finished breakfast and waited impatiently for the tray to be removed. My next task, once I could get the laptop back in front of me, was to see how many of Max's files the newly-found password would access.
I had browsed through Max's bookshelves at two in the morning, trying to jog my memory about what poetry Max especially liked, and attempting one thing after another. I had almost given up before Housman's "Here on the level sand / between the sea and land" caught my eye. He'd used it to create the password Hotls/btsal for access to his RSA-protected file containing all the DES keys and other passwords. My disastrous afternoon of sailing had succeeded, after all!
But at three in the morning, I had been too weary to decrypt more than two messages. So I had copied most of Max's recent files onto my laptop, saving the decrypting job for later. Then I had pulled Max's hard disk again and stuck it in my suitcase, along with his backup tapes; no point in leaving them behind in my floor safe for another burglar. I set his phone and fax to forward to my numbers in Seattle, so my computer comm package would handle them just like my own stuff.
Finally, the breakfast tray cleared away, I was able to contemplate the directory listing for Max's encrypted files. I was trying to decide where to start when the cabin attendant came over and offered me "real Seattle coffee."
"I can manage some more," I said, gratefully. I noticed that he was careful not to hold the coffee within spilling range of my laptop, keeping the cup low and then setting it down on the armrest, a foot away.
"Ah, you know the technique," I told him, "for keeping coffee off the keyboard, in the event of a bump. Thanks."
A nice man, I reflected, watching him serve someone else. Easy on the eyes, as well as competent. A little young, I registered automatically. I have no desire to be that young again - getting through my twenties was hard work.
Work. Most of Max's files with older dates were not protected at all, except by the power-up password for getting into Max's machine. But they also weren't about Chen, Asherman, Florida, or October travel. Starting in the summer, however, Max had begun encrypting some files with the usual triple-DES encryption scheme, storing the random-number keys in a secret.key file with protection by the RSA scheme.
But it was not, apparently, the encryption scheme that Max's correspondents liked to use. Andre again? They used a scheme which was much simpler. Fortunately, I found an e-mail file that had two versions, a normal one but also an encrypted one. Since I had the software tools on my laptop to compare the plaintext and the ciphertext, I could deduce the cipher key that was used to encrypt the message. While the message itself was uninteresting, I was able to read many other files from his correspondents that used the same DES key.
Many, but not all. Some files were in public key. And many of the ones from the last month weren't in either cipher system. This third system didn't succumb to my assorted cryptography skills. A month back, they had gotten serious, switching encryption methods - but not to the DES-in-a-RSA-envelope method that Max had adopted for his computer files, via Melanie's shrink-wrapped recommendation. It looked more like a top-end cipher - so said my analysis program - something like RSA atop multiple-pass DES, but with an even longer key.
Or maybe truly random numbers were used to encrypt them? I was willing to bet that my software package wasn't smart enough to tell truly random from the top-end ciphers.
BY THE TIME that the movie was half done, I had managed to learn what formed the background of Max's current interests. This was no ordinary investor's club that Max belonged to, picking their stocks amidst much discussion.
The insider-trading case in Seattle was how Max had come to join them. The e-mail from his old friend Andre Chen, who invited him to join, described the club membership as mostly retired executives and the independently wealthy, with a few academics and ex-military types, all of whom had some experience with combating stock market manipulation or insider trading abuses.
And club seemed to be a misleading term - probably, I thought, an intentionally misleading one. As the subsequent e-mail made clear, they were quietly investigating what they thought was a system of manipulating stock trading. They had a theory for how it might work: an irregular procedure of nudging the market that worked enough of the time to be profitable but was quiet enough to avoid detection by the exchanges and the regulators.
For example, someone might delay buy orders for some stocks, just enough so that a number of them finally reached the exchanges simultaneously - and thus exaggerate the buy order's effects on upwards price movement. It was a variation on an old swindle whereby brokers "held back" orders, just done (so the club thought) in a manner that would be very difficult to detect.
The orders always got through. They probably manipulated a different stock each day. The magic minute of the hour, to which the release of the delayed orders was synchronized, could be varied randomly. The delayed orders probably came from all over the country. And so, no one would ever get together to share any suspicions they might develop.
The club's suspicion was that the programmed trading was being manipulated by a virus in the desktop computers of hundreds of traders for the mutual funds and institutions. Investment managers tended to use their desktop computers for automatically monitoring the market prices and selling or buying when their private target price was met. Their modems or network cards, however, would report busy signals (thanks to the virus), wait a minute and try again - and succeed, when the right time came. Most orders would get through without any synchronization occurring - it would just be those orders which chanced to be initiated in the 15 minutes or so before the magic minute that were delayed and synchronized. And then only for one particular stock, out of thousands.
I DECIDED TO GET UP and stretch. But I realized that I'd have to carry the laptop with me, given all it contained. There had been enough time for someone to get a seat on the flight and follow me, so I carefully scanned faces as I walked down the aisle.
I'm sure that the cabin attendant who saw me take a laptop into the restroom probably thought that I was going to recharge it from the electric razor outlet, one of the reasons why some passengers don't come out again for a half hour. But I was speedy.
When I got back to my seat and stopped thinking about the faces I'd seen, I was struck by the genius of the market manipulation scheme. What would look like a minor bug in an individual computer, maybe not even worth fixing, could have this enormous effect because of synchronization of many computers. And it wouldn't take all the computers transmitting orders, but only a fraction of them. If the parasiters were to buy ten minutes before the magic minute and sell immediately after the two-point rise, it could add up to real money in short order. They could make money on the downside too, synchronizing sell orders and covering their short sales at the artificially-lowered prices. By playing the options, they could increase their leverage and their profits.
LUNCH ARRIVED, and I closed up my laptop, stashing it under my feet. Different flight attendant, also a young man. But not as interesting.
Even if there was no synchronizing virus already, the club was worried about the possibility of one. Some group could make a lot of money at other people's expense by using these software parasites - which, individually, did very little.
It required a conspiracy of parasites to have an effect via synchronization. What it required was a zeitgeber, a time signal that serves to synchronize many different things. A virus could simply monitor the stock ticker wire each morning when the exchange opened, and select the 11th and 23rd stock trade to come down the wire, whatever they happened to be, and measure the time in seconds that elapsed between those trades. Then, for that day only, the 11th stock - say, XYZ - would be the one held back to a time calculated from the interval between the 11th and 23rd trades. The parasiters, having watched the wire themselves, would know which stock to buy and sell themselves, and when to time their trades.
When I returned to reading the old files, while munching on an excellent Kosher dill pickle, I found an example of a holding-back procedure. In the particular case they were discussing, what it meant was that sell orders for stock XYZ were unaffected most of the time - but if they were placed between 27 and 42 minutes after the hour, they would be delayed until 43 minutes after the hour. The target time was 43 minutes after the hour because, that morning, the time elapsed between the 11th and 23rd trades had been 43 seconds.
If anyone tried to chase down the puzzling busy signals, the analysis pointed out, they'd promptly stop happening - because tomorrow it would be different stocks, probably ones that this person didn't buy or sell. If the person was so suspicious as to immediately try it again with another sell order for XYZ, there would be no delay because the second order wasn't given in that critical 15 minutes before the magic minute.
When the plane started its descent into West Palm, I turned off my laptop and sat back to rest my eyes. Scattered showers were predicted, with bumps on the way down, but I always keep my seatbelt snug anyway. Being used to small planes, I never mind the bumps. Some sleep would have been nice. But after no more than ten minutes, I opened my eyes and looked out the window. Puget Sound, it wasn't. There were puffy little Gulf Stream clouds, sailing along like bubbles blown out of a bubble machine I was pleased with myself, I realized; I understood far more about Max's involvements than I had 12 hours before.
Suppose, I wondered, Black Friday was just because someone got greedy and tried to synchronize many more sell orders than usual? Pushed so hard on the downside that they caused a real panic sell off by others? And so acquired an embarrassment of riches, that could lead investigators to them?
AS SOON AS I CAME out of the jetway and saw the people at the gate who were greeting the passengers arriving on my flight, I noticed a sign saying kate + andre in green block letters. The young man holding it was wearing a uniform of some sort.
Fire department. He made eye contact and held it. Do I know him? About my age, I thought - tall, dark moustache, slender build, competent-looking. Smiles with his eyes. Nisei? No, closer to Chinese-American. I walked over to him.
"I'm not sure if I'm the Kate you're looking for," I said. "The Andre I correspond with is pretty gruff and abrupt. Couldn't possibly be you."
He had an infectious grin, too. "That's my father. But never mind his bark - he's just worried these days. You're the Kate that feeds the cats?"
"Only when Max is away." I noticed that his uniform had a paramedic shoulder patch.
"So, what's the name of the other cat?" He emphasized "other" ever so slightly, speaking softly.
"Max always calls him Siam. But he's only part Siamese," I explained.
That grin again. And the soft voice. "And not smart enough to open cabinets and feed himself. Do I pass?"
I smiled and shook hands with him.
"Pleased to meet you, Kate Medici. I'm Doug Chen. I'll take you to your hotel and we can talk on the way."
We walked down the long corridor toward the escalators, me towing my suitcase and computer purse, using my belt phone to check my voicemail at home. Nothing. I punched it off and asked Doug if he had any news of Max.
No, he hadn't. He, too, had considered illness, even kidnapping and murder. He'd been investigating for days already, even before the sailboat was found. It was a long story, which he'd tell me all about in private, but the bottom line was "no trace." He steered me toward the parking lot signs. I wasn't sure whether an ambulance was going to be awaiting me or a car.
The Gulf Stream heat and humidity hit me as we walked through the sliding doors. The scattered showers we'd dodged while landing had disappeared but left the roads wet. Steam was rising from the pavement. "Back to the land of year-round air-conditioning," I commented, figuring that a little social conversation was in order, "and air that you can almost drink. It may rain a lot in Seattle, but it never has high humidity. Only high relative humidity."
"You've been to Palm Beach before, I see."
"Not for a while now. Just a spring vacation in college, thanks to a friend whose parents had a place here."
I was pleased that, despite my sleepy state at 5:30am, I had managed to plan ahead for the sticky heat. I had remembered to put on a sleeveless top. And so I took off my jacket and tossed it over my shoulder.
"Hmm," said Doug, with an appraising glance. "Skinny but strong, I see. Hand weights or a machine?"
"Hand weights, of course. But I didn't think it showed."
"Oh, if you had a little more subcutaneous fat, those well-developed biceps probably wouldn't show," Doug replied, with a self-conscious grin. "I'd better explain. When I wanted to join the fire department, I had to start working out at the gym because I'm on the slender side, as firemen go. And I couldn't believe those fifteen pound weights that some women were lifting with one hand for a dozen reps - because they didn't look strong."
"I stick to ten pounds, myself. For most exercises."
"And then," Doug continued, "in my training class of fire department recruits, a third were women - and I couldn't guess how much weight that they could carry up a ladder, even though the instructors could. Gradually, I got a lot better at noticing little things."
I guessed the rest. "Like how the sub-Q fat disguises the muscle underneath. That's interesting. When did you become a fireman?"
"A few years ago, when I got out of the Navy, determined to become a paramedic."
"You were a corpsman - or what ever they call the medics these days?"
"No, I was an electronic systems specialist," Doug said. "I joined when I was 18 for what turned out to be a four-year hitch. But I once saved a friend's life by CPR when he got electrocuted - and that impressed me a lot. Then, I started hanging out with the medics on the carrier, got myself the assignment of doing the hardware and software maintenance on their scanners. Turn that way," he said, pointing.
"And one of the docs," he continued, "taught an informal course for anyone interested. The more I learned about how the body works, the more I wanted to become a paramedic when I got out of the Navy. But in most places, you have to become a fire fighter first - and then, if you're both lucky and get good job evaluations after a year's experience on the fire trucks, the department will arrange for your paramedic training at a regional hospital or medical school."
He stopped at a Volvo and unlocked the trunk. I was already picking up my suitcase by the time he turned around to offer.
"You know how to bend from the knees, I see," he commented, as I deposited the suitcase in the trunk, alongside some heavy-duty aluminum camera cases. "Any time you want lessons in the fireman's carry, just let me know. I can have you carrying 200 pound people in no time at all."
I hope that I won't have to carry Max, I thought, soberly. Forcing my mind back to the present, I appraised the car, a white four-door sedan several years old with New York license plates. "And here I thought you were going to give me a ride in an ambulance. But this looks nice."
"Actually, you can have it - the car, I mean. That is, if you don't want to rent something different. I borrowed this one when I got down here a few days ago - I was up in Boston until then. If you want the Volvo, Dad has fixed it with the guy that owns it - he's in New York and won't be back down until Thanksgiving. I'm staying in his apartment, too. Pretty posh for a fireman."
"What were you doing in Boston?"
"Going to medical school. I was a somewhat belated undergraduate." Ah, that explained some things. I automatically registered that he must be several years younger than I am.
"Fortunately, I'm doing research this term, not taking any regular courses. When Max stopped answering his e-mail despite Black Friday, my father phoned up, more upset than I've heard him before, and twisted my arm - to come back down here and start searching."
"So, how come the uniform?" I asked, opening the passenger door after hearing the electric lock click.
"Oh, I'm actually back at my old job, in some sense," he said, buckling his seatbelt. "I used to work full-time for the Palm Beach Fire Department, you see, back before I finally went to college - that's why Dad leaned on me so hard, despite the police working on it, and despite the private detectives he's hired. I knew the paramedic supervisor would take me back for part-time work on the medic vans in this season."
He gestured at the packed parking lot. "Despite what you see now, Palm Beach is pretty dead in the summers. Whole floors of a condo may have no one around. So, they start putting on extra paramedic crews in October and November, when people start returning. When I was an undergraduate, I used to regularly work several months a year, down here. Now, I'm just on call - I cover for anyone who gets sick or has to go to a training class. So I wear my uniform all the time and wait for my belt phone to rumble."
Doug started the engine. "And it makes a good cover, for someone who has to go around asking a lot of questions. I just carry a clipboard computer, as if I were doing building inspections, and that gets me past a doorman that I don't know. Lots of the doormen and supers and hotel people remember me, back from the days when I really was doing inspections - or barging in and commandeering their elevators for the medic calls."
I admired the technique. He was doing far better than I could have hoped to do. "But you've had no luck? No sign of Max?"
"Vanished without a trace," Doug said, shaking his head. "I've drank a lot of bad coffee and suffered with a lot of cigarette smoke in shabby staff offices back in the service corridors, chatting with people about old times and recent happenings. And I have almost nothing to show for it, except for eliminating some possibilities. I've learned some other things, but nothing about Max's disappearance."
My disappointment must have showed. "Dad really wasn't holding out on you," he continued, "about news of Max, anyway. I read your e-mail exchanges and heard the tapes of his conversations with you. Yes, he wasn't telling you much about the club - I didn't know much about it until this week myself, except for giving some cryptography advice several months ago. I've been told that I can tell you everything I know - but, I suspect, we're going to need to pry some more information out of Dad and his buddies. I'm still not sure what Max and Dad were so concerned about, that led to Max coming down here. It's still pretty much on a `need to know' basis and not a candid background briefing, if you know what I mean."
I did indeed, remembering my violent reaction yesterday to Andre's backing off and hanging up. It still rankled, and I was still suspicious of Andre.
Doug stopped at the parking lot's exit gate and swiped his credit card through the slot. The barrier went up and we drove out onto the freeway lined with palm trees, angling around the end of the major east-west runway as another jet landed. I turned down his offer to start the air-conditioning and we drove along, smelling the humid, flowery air.
"Max," Doug said after the jet's roar died down, "used to visit my Dad and my step-mother at their place on Cape Cod, back before I rebelled over going to college and joined the Navy instead. I once went hiking with Max, on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, when my ship was docked in Seattle for a few days. Max's just the kind of guy that you'd like to have for a favorite uncle that visits every weekend. And goes out sailing with you."
"My sentiments exactly," I said, emotion flooding into my eyes. "Max and I have split a duplex for years now. And I can't imagine a world without him."
THE DRAWBRIDGE WAS UP on Southern Boulevard, so Doug turned off the engine and we waited amid the dozen people lining the causeway's sidewalks with fishing poles and bait buckets. "This is the inland waterway," Doug said, mimicking tour guide intonation, "separating the mainland from the long off-shore islands. It is properly called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway." He grinned at me. "But I suppose you know that already."
I nodded. I'd been absorbed in thinking about Max, grieving as I had promised myself not to do. "The waterway becomes Lake Worth to the south of here?" I asked, forcing myself to make conversation.
"Right. Misnamed, of course. It's not a lake any more than Puget Sound is a sound. Go up north from here along the waterway and you'll see West Palm Beach on the left, port and all. And, on the right, you'll see the oldest, richest part of The Palm Beach, with its little yacht harbor."
"That's all Palm Beach on the other side of the bridge?"
"Fourteen miles long, but no more than a half mile wide. Typical barrier island. Just think of Palm Beach as a long, skinny castle with a moat around it. There are only a few drawbridges from the mainland spanning the moat. I suppose, coming from Seattle, that you know all about drawbridges. And waiting for boats to clear them."
"And vice versa," I said with a grimace. "Last night, I had to sit in my sailboat, getting chilled to the bone, while waiting for a drawbridge to finally respond to my air horn. Turned out it was waiting for a medic van to come zipping through, so I couldn't even complain. I suppose that you do the same down here, radio ahead to the bridge tender?"
"We just phone - the numbers are preprogrammed so we have a button on the cellular phone, one for each bridge. Sorry that you got chilled. But I can't imagine you forgetting your sweater. That seems unlike you," Doug said with that infectious smile.
I shrugged, not wanting to get into the subject of what else I'd been missing. I was puzzling over that "seems unlike you," since he'd never met me before. He was acting rather familiar, I thought. Approach technique? Or just someone with a real intuitive capacity for friendship? Has he read Max's loving description of me in that e-mail to Andre? I was afloat in ambiguity, and fatigued enough so that it mattered.
"Or are you one of those redheads that isn't very sensitive to skin temperature. And so rarely gets chilled?" Doug asked.
I've only got one triangular patch of hair that's reddish. How does he know about it? I immediately wondered, even more disoriented, my heart rate rising. I'd heard people joke about how thorough background checks had become. Who did they talk to, anyway?
I looked sideways at Doug, trying not to give away my feelings of anger and puzzlement. But he was gazing up the waterway at the approaching tugboat. It wasn't a working tug, I saw, as it was sporting deck chairs and a polished teak stairway to the pilot house. And decorative sunbathers, wearing very little.
"You must be looking at the world through rose-colored glasses," I finally answered in a light tone of voice, patting my short hair. "It was brown, the last time I looked. Always has been."
"Oh, it still is," Doug smiled. "But not all redheads - at least the category that doctors call redheads - have red hair. There are crypto-redheads."
I raised one eyebrow in inquiry.
"It's the pattern of your freckles that tells me you're one," he explained with a grin, "not your curly brown locks. Such as those freckles that I can see down on your shoulders. Apparently some redheads can be a little idiosyncratic in sensing temperature or feeling pain. So I'm told. That's why I asked."
The bridge deck was angling back down toward the horizontal, and the drivers ahead who had left their cars were beginning to return.
"So, where's this hotel of mine?" I asked, relieved at his explanation but still wanting to change the subject. "The Sunrise Hotel where Max stayed. I thought that I'd stay there, just to try and figure out why Max would have picked it."
"It's several miles south of here. I checked it out, first thing I did. I know the manager and, it turned out, the housekeeping supervisor. I checked what they told me against what they told the cops - several sets of them, since some guy from the Lantana P.D. came over, too. I got a friend in the Palm Beach P.D. to show me the report of the investigation, where they interviewed everybody at the hotel."
Doug started to inch the car forward. "I actually found out somewhat more than the cops did, but none of it seems useful - except to reinforce my suspicion that Max wouldn't have liked the hotel. It's certainly a dump, as Palm Beach hotels go these days. Some developer will tear it down pretty soon, build some new palace with a modem jack in every phone and TVs in every bathroom."
"I thought that it looked like a dump," I said, "just from the picture postcard that Max sent me."
"You are, by the way, also welcome to the other bedroom at the condo I'm house-sitting. The place has got three bedrooms, one furnished as a library. Big place, as apartments go. If we want to set up some major computers or comm gear, it's got the spread-out space - plus a south-facing deck, so we can hit a geostationary satellite with a small dish antenna."
I'm used to sharing apartments from college days, but I was unhappy about all the mixed signals - certainly from Andre and now, seemingly, from Doug. But before I could decline the invitation, Doug pointed to the flock of pelicans flying in formation down the waterway. One, and then another, dipped down to cruise just above the water's surface, trolling for foolish fish.
"Did you ever hear the pelican rhyme?" he asked.
I smiled. And relaxed a bit.
"Oh," he continued, "I forgot to mention that the apartment has even got a medium-capacity net connection, rather than the usual modem jack. My laptop suddenly works at blazing speeds."
A T1 connection in Palm Beach? That seemed as improbable to me as, say, a Seattle-style sidewalk espresso stand amid the fishermen on the bridge. There are plenty of ISDNs and some T1's back home in lattéland, but it's also the land of software, full of people who like to work at home rather than commuting across the floating bridges.
"What I was going to suggest we do now," he said as we rumbled over the bridge's grated deck, "is to stop by the fire station, so I can see what the prospects are for getting called tomorrow. Then I propose we get dinner at a fish place down in Manalapan, one that's got some quiet booths in the back where we can talk. It's one of those places that gives you an old beeper to notify you when your table is about ready, so you can go and walk on the beach in the meantime."
I LOOKED OVER the street map of Palm Beach and the adjacent mainland towns while Doug was inside the fire station. I noted with approval that it was one of the good maps with latitude and longitude, to match up with the GPS readouts. I checked my belt phone's display, 26°42'00.7"N, 80°02'08.7"W, 0H, and scanned the fold-up map until I located myself. Thank you, triangulation satellites.
So, I was at the central fire station on South County Road - and the famous Worth Avenue was just to the north of there, a street worth of Cartier, Tiffany, Hermès, and Vuitton. I remembered that I needed a new windbreaker to replace the sunken one, but suspected that Worth Avenue didn't have real ones, only fashionable imitations at four times the price and half the waterproofing. I resolved to phone the mail-order place back in Seattle and get a new jacket expressed to me overnight.
Do it now, I told myself. I pulled out my laptop, activated the infrared link to my belt phone, and browsed the clothing catalog on the web at www.rec-eq.com to look at wind breakers. I highlighted a model, used a macro to supply my bank card information, and then was faced with the problem of a delivery address. I finally spotted the HOLD FOR PICKUP button and clicked on it, then checked for Palm Beach locations. None - Palm Beach is too expensive for storefront operations, probably. But the server supplied West Palm and Lake Worth as alternatives and, my memory recently jogged (Lake Worth is also the name of the town south of West Palm), I decided that Lake Worth would do. Overnight, thank you. Remember to bring photo identification, it said, when you pick up your merchandise.
I was beginning to remember Palm Beach. Lots of tile and stucco in various arrangements, straight out of the pages of Architectural Digest. Closely-trimmed grass and palm trees that looked as if they'd been around quite a while, with careful pruning and cleanout once a year. Decorating, design, landscaping and entertaining are taken quite seriously around here. Landscape maintenance and security guards were the town's most visible service industries, though I suspected that hairdressers and tax accountants also did quite well. I saw very few children, except for those in rental cars. The last time I visited, Cadillac and Lincoln were clearly the favorite cars driven by residents, and about the only foreign cars were Mercedes and the occasional Rolls. This time, Lexus and Volvo appeared to have become acceptable alternatives - and the odd red BMW. But rental cars of the rapidly-aging "disposable" brands were sometimes half of the cars stopped for a red light.
While there were imitations of Mediterranean architecture everywhere, no one could possibly imagine that they were in Europe, even on the more architecturally coherent streets. Looking at the map again, I spotted The Breakers, the big Italian Renaissance style resort hotel to the north of Worth Avenue. I remembered visiting it earlier, simply because its exterior was a copy of the Medici villa in Tuscany, and deciding that it obviously needed surrounding hills in order to look right. Palm Beach is very flat, very un-Mediterranean.
Hotels. Despite the ambiguity of the situation, I had subconsciously decided to put off Max's hotel for awhile and stay at Doug's borrowed condo. We simply had too much to talk about, and my comfort really had to be secondary. And that T1 net connection will make life much easier, I thought, when it comes to net surfing. I have a T1 back in Seattle, shared with Max, and am always uttering long resigned sighs when I have to use the conventional modem jacks. As I was doing on the airplane, before breakfast.
I heard the fire station's doors open behind me and the old-fashioned bong of the fire bell inside the station. Doug had explained what to do if that happened. So, I climbed over to the driver's seat (sure was a lot easier without a life jacket), started the car, and pulled out into the street, the traffic already halted by the fire signal overhead. By the time that I had driven around the oddly-shaped block, the fire engine and a medic van were far down the street, snaking around stopped traffic.
The station doors were closed again, so I again idled the Volvo where Doug left it, in the no-parking zone in front of the fire station driveway.
Doug appeared with a cheerful fireman at the side door of the station, said a few words in parting and they waved goodbye to one another. Doug climbed in on the passenger side. "Well, well, well," he said, smiling. "My ex-wife has just become an instant mother, a brand-new baby without nine months of hard labor. They've just successfully adopted. That was her new husband, seeing me off. Hadn't run into him until now."
I wanted to observe him, but he gestured me to drive south, and so I slipped into the next gap in the long line of cars driving down South County Road.
"So, I'll probably get a phone call from Janice," Doug continued, ruefully, "wondering why I didn't tell her that I was back in town. And she'll surely ask me about that beautiful redhead who was seen driving me around town in a Volvo."
"They're going to think I'm a redhead too?" My suspicions were starting to resurface. I really was stressed.
"Oops, sorry. Brown-haired crypto-redhead. Stay left at that next intersection," Doug said, pointing. "Wanting a family is one of the reasons that Janice didn't come with me to Boston a half-dozen years ago. The prospect of me being an undergraduate for a few years, then spending four years in med school, then at least four years of residency training without even a paramedic's sort of salary - it rather conflicted with what Janice wanted out of life. So, we parted friends and visit on the phone every so often. I'll have to go see this baby before leaving Florida, if we ever get any free time."
Doug picked up his belt phone and punched a few numbers. Now, that's an interesting side of him, I thought. Is he phoning Janice?
Restaurant reservations. And very specific about which booth he wanted. An hour from now? Fine with me, I nodded. Doug isn't really like his father, I thought. I was relieved.
So, Andre lives on Cape Cod, I thought as we drove along the Atlantic Ocean waterfront. On the net, you often don't know where people are located - they can be anywhere, and a cozy three-way chat session around the virtual coffee table could, in reality, involve people in Seattle, New York, and Amsterdam. Probably because of the surname, I'd just assumed that Andre was somewhere on the West Coast. I wasn't applying New England standards to our discourse. Maybe I misunderstood him at some point. I certainly made enough other stupid mistakes yesterday. What, six of them? And what was Paul Goodman's definition of stupid that I was relating to Max in e-mail? Where the ego gets in the way of reacting to a novel situation? Too much self confidence might qualify.
It was getting difficult to maintain my suspicion of Andre and Doug, though I tried to remind myself that they might have been responsible for Max's disappearance themselves. For the next day, certainly, I was surely better off sticking around Doug and learning all he knew. And he was certainly one of the most interesting men I'd met in ages.
THE ATLANTIC OCEAN BEACHES are a little different from the Pacific Ocean beaches. They have bluish-purple jellyfish washed up on the shore, with their poisonous tendrils often buried in nearby sand, so Doug advised me to watch carefully where I stepped. Since the light was starting to fail, I decided I'd leave my shoes and socks on.
Doug opened the trunk in the parking lot and striped off his uniform shirt, donned a dress shirt but omitted a tie, draped a sport coat over his shoulder. I tossed my computer purse into the trunk.
"Oops," Doug said. "If there's sensitive stuff inside that computer, you'd better keep it with you at all times."
"I must be a little tired," I replied, retrieving my purse, "to make mistakes like that." I dug Max's hard disk out of my suitcase and stuck it in the outer pocket of the computer purse. I occurred to me that Andre had disconnected yesterday before I could tell him about the burglar, so I decided to tell Doug the story when we got to the beach.
We walked across the parking lot toward the ocean. "Don't you have to check in at the restaurant and collect their antique beeper?" I asked Doug.
"No, they said they'd phone instead," he replied. "Snagged my belt phone number from their who's-calling display. They've upgraded their queuing technology! But they'll never actually eliminate the wait - people around here would think them unsuccessful, and stop coming."
At the top of the stairs to the beach, I sniffed the air. "Sure does smell different than the Pacific."
"That's because of the water temperature, I think," Doug said. "The Gulf Stream is just a few miles off shore, and that's much warmer water than anything along the West Coast. Warm water heats up the air above it, and that makes it possible for a lot of moisture to evaporate into the air. Hence, our humidity hereabouts, most unlike Seattle."
"So, that's why the Atlantic beaches smell a lot more like my shower stall at home than the Pacific beaches do. Now I know."
We walked north along the shore. The tide was out and the sand was still damp and firmly packed. I noticed that Doug was frowning and cocked an eyebrow toward him.
"I just realized," he explained, "that I potentially contaminated our booth at the restaurant. Since I used the cellular phone to make the reservation, someone who monitored the frequencies could bug the booth. Damn. So, we'll have to avoid talking business when we get there and just enjoy the good food."
"Just being cautious," I asked, glancing at him with both eyebrows raised, "or do you think we'll be subject to surveillance?"
"Dad has gotten ultra cautious in the last month or so - that's what he originally consulted me about, redoing the encryption that they were using among the club members on e-mail and for their occasional conference phone calls."
"Ah," I exclaimed with enlightenment, "that's why I couldn't break the cipher in Max's files anymore. Can't read his last month of correspondence, though I figured out the DES key for the three months before that."
"Yes, I showed Dad how easily that was done, which certainly dismayed him. But the real reason why he wanted a new cipher setup is so they weren't all using the same ciphers, so they could send private e-mail which, even if intercepted, couldn't be read by another club member."
"Good idea in general, but I gather your father was worried about a leak - via one of the members?"
"He won't say it out loud, but that's my impression. And when Max disappeared, despite the compartmentalized security in place, Dad probably started worrying that it's more than just a leak."
"That one of the members is working against the club?"
"Again, Dad isn't saying and maybe I'm stretching - but that's the assumption that I'm now going on. Most of the people in the club, and certainly the people they're trying to smoke out, have enough money to hire all the help they need. Keeping track of us might be one of their assignments."
"So, how many members of the club know about you and me? Did your father tell them?"
"That's one of the reasons he's been so conflicted about bringing you in to this. At least with me it was literally en famile, something like telling his wife. But I think that he hasn't told anyone about either you or me. He's probably breaking solemn commitments right and left, by telling us about things. I had to push him to let me read his correspondence - which I'm allowed to show you, by the way. He's awfully impressed by you."
"Or pretty desperate. So, almost no one should know what we're up to? No, I suppose that isn't right. We're both logical people to turn to - lots of people could deduce that, and just decide to keep track of us on general principles." I stepped high over a rope that defined a swimming area.
Speaking of that, I said, I caught a burglar the other night who might well describe me to his employers. It took longer to tell the story than the few minutes it had taken to happen.
Doug whistled softly when I finished. "Remind me to take you along as a bodyguard when I go shopping in Miami again. It's one big training school for the Mob. So, do you think that the Mob will retaliate against you?"
"The deputy prosecutor did suggest that I should be careful. But when I'm not in Seattle, I'm not easily found. So I'm trying not to worry. Max is quite enough to worry about."
"Still," Doug ventured, "we'd better assume that they'll eventually figure out that you're down here somewhere. Wouldn't take a genius to guess that you went where Max was last seen."
We walked along in silence, and I soon noticed some birds overhead. "Are those turkey vultures, circling around?" I asked, happy to change the topic.
"Probably black vultures. I've sometimes seen a hundred vultures at a time, circling over the Lawn and Tennis Club."
"Is that a comment on the decrepitude of their members?"
"Nope. Vultures are gregarious beasts. You seldom see less than three of them at a time - just like golfers. Some of the vultures roost in a park just behind the southern fire station. I used to watch them with binoculars as they socialized at dawn."
I heard Doug's belt phone rumble. He unclipped it from his belt buckle and answered. "Chen here.... Okay, we'll show up in ten minutes if there isn't too much tar to clean off the shoes."
"Ten minute warning. Let's head back. The restaurant is just past the parking lot. I hope their foot scrubber is working, since we've probably picked up some crude oil."
"Are there seeps off shore?"
"No, just oil tankers that illegally flush their tanks."
"So, what's our security perimeter like, Doug? Can we talk freely in the Volvo?"
"Yes. At least when we're moving in traffic. I'm sweeping the car and the apartment several times a day for bugs - there are places down in Miami where you can buy military-quality security gear, so I flew into Miami, rented a car, went shopping, and drove up here with the loot. That's what those cases are, in the Volvo's trunk - they're filled with electronics, not cameras. I've got some jamming gear, too."
"But they're no security against parabolic mikes when the windows are down," I observed, "or bouncing lasers off the car windows to pick up voice vibrations when we're parked. We're in high noise now - anyone up on one of those condo balconies with a fancy mike would get an earful of surf at the moment, drowning out our voices. But what have you done about your borrowed condo? Don't those windows vibrate with voices too? Lasers ought to be pretty good at converting that back into speech."
"I'm keeping most of the steel shutters closed - they need them for the hurricane season, and you'll notice that lots of the condo windows are still shielded. In order to use the sliding glass door that opens to the balcony, I've opened up a doorway's worth of the steel shutters. And so I've stuck some chaotic vibrators on the glass door. They keep the glass vibrating as if there was a cocktail party going on inside. So, it ought to be pretty hard for a laser bounced off the glass to pick up our conversations given the superimposed noise - just as it would be hard here on the beach, with the surf so near."
"Well, you've convinced me - actually that T1 line had already convinced me - that I'd better stay in your guest bedroom rather than at Max's hotel."
"Sorry, but I've got the guest bedroom. You'll have to make do with the master bedroom - it's even got a balcony door with chaotic vibrators, in case you happen to talk in your sleep. I was hoping you'd stay at the apartment, as we've got one hell of a lot to talk about. So, dinner tonight is going to be our respite - no business, only entertaining stories or meaningful silences."
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
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DOUG HAD GUESSED, when I'd gotten all withdrawn after dinner, that I was thinking about Max again, just as I'd done earlier on the drive from the airport.
Doug had also figured out that I'd had a very tiring three days, that it wasn't just jet lag. Upon arriving at the condo at about nine o'clock, I'd immediately wanted to discuss the apartment's security gear and the computer he'd set up - but he had firmly steered me to the master bedroom and said he'd explain it all in the morning. Or the afternoon, if I wanted to catch up on my sleep. If he was called out by the Fire Department in the morning, I'd have to make my own breakfast - and the good coffee was to be found in the refrigerator. I crashed and didn't awaken until many hours later.
I'd gotten tired of the air-conditioning in the middle of the night and opened the door to the balcony. The outside air seemed a reasonable temperature but, an hour later, the rise in the humidity caused me to dispense with the top sheet. I remembered, from my previous visit, how sticky a nightgown had seemed - but I didn't have that problem this time, thanks to the burglar. With dawn approaching, I was still awake.
Doug is probably a very nice man, I finally decided, as I laid in bed with a Gulf Stream breeze blowing across me. I got up and stood nude in the doorway, looking out at the first signs of the sunrise in the southeast, somewhere beyond the Gulf Stream. Over in The Bahamas.
The dawn breeze cooled me, relieving some of the tropical stickiness. Then I decided that I'd sleep just a little longer.
IT WAS NOON when, clad in a light robe, I finally opened the door out into the air-conditioned living room, which was 20 degrees cooler. I had smelled coffee, lying in bed. With the door open, it smelt like particularly good coffee. Can there be espresso in Florida now?
"Good morning, Kate," Doug said. He was back in uniform. "I thought that I heard sounds of activity in there, so I started breakfast. I don't know if this local coffee is going to be up to your Seattle standards, but since the apartment comes with an espresso machine, I went shopping when I got off duty and brought back the fixings for latté. Or do you prefer it made as cappucino?"
"Oh, wonderful! A double short latté, if you please," I said, looking into the kitchen. "You've been making medic runs all morning?"
"Yes, just a half-shift. Someone went home with the flu, which seems to be starting early this year. I've now told them to put me at the bottom of the call list for the next few days, so I probably won't get called again."
"I hope you didn't squeeze that whole pitcher of orange juice. Or go out and pick the oranges off the trees."
"Those ornamental oranges are terrible," Doug said. "I picked up the fresh orange juice at the deli, along with the pastry and the coffee beans. The really good local oranges don't come into season until about January. The only use that I've found for the oranges off the landscaping trees is for juggling - they're about the right heft."
I poked around the kitchen, opening cabinets, and surveying the situation. I poured myself a large glass of juice. "Well, we can certainly cook a five-course meal if we need to. Does this place come with The New York Times delivered to the door?"
"I've seen it outside other doors in the mornings. I've just been buying it at the deli - though they were sold out by the time that I got there this morning. The newsstand at the Ocean Grand will have it, across the street and down a ways."
"Today, I'll just read the Washington Post on the net. But usually I try not to read off the screen while eating breakfast, on the grounds that I spend so much of the rest of the day staring at a screen."
I looked around the apartment. A long combination living room and dining room, with three bedrooms and the kitchen opening off it. Plate glass windows with sliding doors formed all of one wall. We were on the sixth floor, evidently the top one.
I slid the door back and wandered out on to the balcony. The balcony was a long one, wrapping around a corner of the building, with views of the ocean from the south end. Lake Worth and the mainland was the view from the western leg of the balcony. Ficus and bougainvillea lined the dividing wall of the balcony, masking us off from the neighbor's balcony. Comfortable wicker lawn furniture, minus cushions, suggested some nice places to sit and read. I promised myself to look around for the missing cushions.
As I stood on the south end, looking across the street to the "ocean side," I saw some patchy rain clouds scudding past, but the pavement was dry everywhere that I could see. It was definitely shorts-and-sleeveless weather. Quite suitable for a bikini.
Doug stepped out onto the balcony and handed me one of the latté cups. "Here's your double. Is that your standard order, or is today special?"
"Today's definitely special, but I usually have doubles in the morning. Never in the evenings. Hmmm. That's pretty good latté. You must be in practice."
"Boston has Seattle-style coffee shops these days, and they're a considerable improvement on some of the traditional ones off Harvard Square. There are even sidewalk espresso carts in the Harvard Square T stop. I had to bring my apartment's kitchen up to standard. And, if I don't make coffee before leaving the apartment, I sometimes get off at Harvard Square, grab a latté, and then get back on the next subway train."
"To think that good Italian-style coffee came to Seattle long before it came to Boston!"
Doug grinned. "It ought to be a coals-to-Newcastle story, but it isn't. Why did the northernmost city in the United States turn into cappucino country, mimicking the southernmost country in Europe?"
"Nobody knows. Why is it turning into the software capital of the world? Nobody knows that, either," I said, enjoying his company.
He noticed some large birds circling overhead, wobbling on stiff wings. "More vultures, trying to find a thermal to ride."
"Well," I announced, "now fortified with the right stuff, I am going to go and get dressed, start the afternoon right. I suppose that I should wear my working bikini, rather than my dress bikini."
Actually, I put on a dress. I was still a little intimidated of Palm Beach.
DOUG POINTED AT THE CONTROLS for the home security system just inside the front door. "The usual annoy-the-neighbors piece of junk, based on ultrasound and door switches and that idiot siren. I propose we use it anyway, but I'm mostly worried about knowing that someone has broken in and looked around, so we'll know what's compromised."
"Yes," I agreed, "especially whether they've gotten inside the computers. How are we fixed for telltales? Besides, of course, the collection adhering to my hairbrush - that we can stick to the doors and keyboards."
"I went shopping - again, in Miami, where all the South Americans shop for security gear - and bought two new computers equipped with autodestruct hard drives, the ones that require a special password, and spray a corrosive acid on the hard disk surfaces if someone takes an unauthorized screwdriver to their case. I arrived at the store unannounced, paid cash, and selected them from their warehouse stack myself. Got a few autodestruct hard drives of the size that fit the usual laptop slots, and have already retrofitted my own laptop."
"I've always wanted one of those, ever since the ads started appearing," I grinned.
"Now you've got several. I've only set up one desktop, so far, but I've checked out whether the electromagnetic shielding works as advertised. It's pretty good, even without our steel shutters for another layer of shielding. I don't think anyone will be able to read decoded messages off our screens, the way you can pick off the stuff broadcast by the usual monitors and reconstruct the display in a van parked out in the alley."
"You learned all about that in the Navy?" I asked.
"Yes. We had to shield stuff anyway, to keep the different systems from interfering with each other. Those boxes in the hallway contain a second computer, just like this one, if you want to set up a separate one for yourself. Just be sure everything is properly grounded, and don't read anything sensitive on the second monitor until I can check out how much it broadcasts."
"Did you get some of those fancy firewall arrangements, for the net connections?"
"But of course, madame - as they say up on Worth Avenue," Doug grinned. "Nothing but the best. Or, at least, the quickest. Dad spent a little time persuading me that, in these circumstances, time meant a lot more than money. He also added an enormous line of credit to my bank card. He'll do that for yours, too - he seems to know the number. If we need to charter a plane, we do it. If you need an outfit from Worth Avenue for a disguise that will help you blend in with the locals, you're to go and spend five kilobucks without batting an eyelash. If we want to hire a dozen people to help, we do it."
"So, what we need, I gather, isn't wherewithal but ideas, leads to follow."
"Yes, and I hope you're good at that," Doug replied, "because I'm running out of ideas. And I haven't seen a thing useful in the reports from the people that Dad has hired."
"That's too bad."
"Yes. So, let me bring you up to date - but after we go over the security. I want you to know how to secure this place, whether for a conversation like this, or because you're going out for a walk." Doug tossed me the extra set of keys for the car and the apartment.
After we secured the apartment, we decided to go out for a drive around town, so Doug could show me where Max had stayed, the sailboat rental place, and the other places he'd already checked out. Riding down the elevator together, I noticed that there was a ground floor and a first floor, European (and New York) style. Doug showed me the mailboxes and, when the doorman finished signing for a FedEx delivery, he introduced me to the middle-aged man in the blue blazer. Doug and I managed to imply that my ex-husband was trying to locate me and that I didn't want to be found, that we'd appreciate his not answering questions from strangers about us. And to please tell us if anyone seemed to be hanging around.
OUT OF SIGHT of the doorman, Doug parked the car in a visitor's slot and got out the bug sniffer. He showed me how to check for hidden microphones and transmitters.
Driving south in the afternoon traffic, we started reviewing what we knew.
"Okay," Doug said. "We don't know that Max's disappearance has anything to do with the club's interests, but I can't imagine anything else worth investigating. Agreed?"
"Max didn't have any friends down here that he liked to visit. I assume the detective agencies have checked all the hospitals and morgues?"
"Right. As did three different police departments."
"So, I suppose he could have amnesia," I said.
"That's really pretty rare," Doug replied. "I asked around regarding that possibility before I left Boston. I think we can eliminate it. If it was just a stroke that severely disoriented him, he'd probably be in a hospital by now. Which leaves accidental death - and I gather from your e-mail to Dad that Max just isn't the kind of person to make a mistake, while out in a boat."
I nodded. "A stroke or heart attack, followed by drowning, might be possible. But I think that kidnapping or murder is the most likely thing, and surely what most needs investigating. Nothing else that Max was involved in - at least that I know about from reading most of his correspondence - seems likely. They're just not important enough for someone to risk Class A felonies. I think the club's activities are surely the key to Max's disappearance."
"I set up my computer so that you can read all of Dad's files - you'll want to read them even if I summarize them for you. But there is one other lead to discuss, which may - or may not - have something to do with Max. It's something that I found out this morning."
"How's that? I thought that you were doing medic van runs."
"We got a call to the Sunrise Hotel," Doug explained. "It's that old building on the ocean side, just in front of us," he said, pointing through the windshield. I nodded.
"We had to go up to the top floor. They're the cheapest rooms, because of the heat from the sun on the roof. I was acting as the gofer, while the regular paramedics dealt with an acute asthma attack in an elderly lady. And so I mostly wound up looking out the window. The apartment building next door isn't as tall, so I was looking down on its roof." We turned left into a parking lot about that time and I saw both buildings ahead of us. Doug pulled into a parking space but left the engine (and air-conditioning) running.
"See that television antenna up there on the roof edge?" he said, pointing. "Looks kind of fancy? It's got an antenna rotator that not only swings it around, but another one that tilts it up and down."
"Sounds like a ham radio antenna, for tracking satellites as they pass overhead," I said.
"Exactly. But I know the front end from the back end of those antennas - and this one, so help me, was pointing somewhat downward when I first saw it. Not up."
"And here I thought that underground radio stations were a mere figure of speech," I quipped.
Doug laughed. "While I was standing there, trying to figure out why anyone would want to point an antenna down, the antenna moved. It swung around to point toward our part of Palm Beach. And then the tilt changed too. While I stood there watching, that antenna was adjusted about five different times. In each case, it seemed to point at a different condo complex up north."
"Suppose someone was trying to connect with the base station of portable extension phones? And make long-distance calls at someone else's expense?"
"Could be. There are lots of people down here that use fairly old portable phones, the ones with primitive security features. But it could also have been someone listening in, not trying to dial out."
"You'd think that scanners for cellular phone frequencies would be easier. And filled with racier gossip."
"Probably. But there's another possibility," Doug said. "A lot of corporate directors spend the winter down here in Palm Beach. Eavesdroppers might have to endure listening to a lot of phone calls concerning cocktail parties - but somewhere they'll likely find a corporate director who wasn't careful when talking on a cordless phone."
I agreed. "And even if a director is careful not to mention company names, the person on the other end of the line might let slip the name of a takeover candidate, not realizing that the phone line was broadcasting all over Palm Beach."
"I've heard that speculators pay a lot of money for good tips, where they can manage to buy low before the takeover runs up the stock price."
"An interesting possibility," I said, "but what's it to do with Max? That sounds like penny-ante stuff, at least when compared to multi-billion-dollar manipulations, the sort of thing that the club seems concerned with."
"I don't know what it has to do with Max," Doug acknowledged. "But it's the first thing that makes the Sunrise Hotel special in any way. And Max stayed in a room on the sixth floor that had exactly the same view of that antenna next door - you can see it, four windows from the near corner. I got a key from the desk and had a look out its window. It was about the lousiest room in the whole dumpy hotel. So, your instincts were right, Kate."
"Did Max stay somewhere different, when he first arrived down here?" I asked, speculating. "And then move here?"
"The police checked the hotel registers, but didn't find his name anywhere. But that doesn't mean that he didn't do exactly what we're doing - borrowing an apartment from a friend. That's what many of the tourists down here are doing. You only stay at someplace like the Four Seasons if you don't have a friend to visit. Or sublet from."
"Did Max have any electronic surveillance gear? What did the police find in his room?" I asked.
"Just one suitcase full of the usual. No computer, but I'll bet Max always kept it with him."
"You're right. But just one suitcase doesn't sound like Max, unless he was planning on being gone for only a few days. Max likes clothes, likes to carry lots of different outfits along. He doesn't mind getting a skycap to help him with luggage. Suppose Max was holed up in some condo down here, and just took one suitcase over to the Sunrise for appearances sake?"
Oops, I realized. I opened up my laptop and popped over into my calendar program. When did I start feeding the cats? Doug watched, silently.
"Doug," I said, "Max left Seattle, saying he was going to Florida, on the 10th of the month. So, surely he was staying elsewhere before moving into that hotel." I leaned back in the car seat and lectured myself for another blunder. I just assumed that Max had been staying at that hotel from the beginning. I forgot to ask that patrolman who came to the door about the hotel check-in date, and he forgot to ask me about Max's departure date.
"That's an interesting possibility," Doug said. "Very interesting, indeed. There wasn't anything in the police report about checking out such a possibility. You've already checked Max's address book for Palm Beach friends?"
"There weren't any, and I checked all his entries for the 561, 407, and 305 area codes, as well. But that doesn't mean that some friend of Max's in New York doesn't have a place down here. What with call forwarding these days, Max wouldn't have necessarily needed to write down the Florida phone number - he'd just phone New York and it would ring down here."
Doug nodded. "You realize that we could run the names in Max's address book against the Palm Beach phone directory listings on the web? And maybe find some such friends?"
I mimicked applause, and then wrote it down on my laptop's pop-up memo pad. "That's a good project. Now let's think of some more."
Doug drove out of the parking lot and headed across another drawbridge to the mainland. He wanted to show me the sailboat rental place in Fort Worth.
"How about," he asked as he drove along, "running the Palm Beach listings against the Securities and Exchange Commission's list of corporate directors, to see how many of them have winter places down here?"
"I'll humor you," I said, writing it down. "SEC database, it is. Though I still can't imagine what a little cordless-phone eavesdropping for fun-and-profit is likely to have to do with Max."
"But I can imagine Max doing a little of that himself. He certainly knew how, at least by the techniques of a half-century ago. He told me about some of the old days of radio direction-finding, back in my youth when he visited for weekends. That's one of the reasons that I opted for electronics systems when I joined the Navy. Suppose Max rented the sailboat to use as a listening platform himself? Cruising up and down Lake Worth, pointing a handheld beam antenna while listening on an earplug?"
"Okay, you've convinced me. We'll probably get a hundred names to check out, but we can always hire some net surfers to help us eliminate most of them. I know the perfect net surfer, a woman in Utah that Max uses too. I'll e-mail her this afternoon and get her started. Max's address book, I'll do myself while I'm checking out the new hardware and software setups."
THE MARINA where Max rented the sailboat was several miles north of the drawbridge. They'd gotten the sailboat back from the police, so we were able to see the exact boat. It seemed to me to be about what Max would select for a few hours of day sailing, but too small for an overnight trip. The marina had bigger sailboats, but he'd stuck with the 22-footer.
The woman who managed the marina said that she'd been interviewed about that sailboat at least four times. She wasn't sure who the last guy was, but the earlier ones came in police cars or were in uniform.
It occurred to me, as we sat in the car at the marina, that we ought to go around and ask the fishermen about Max. I'd seen dozens on the bridges and along the mainland shore. Doug said there were lots of regulars; most of them are retired, living cheaply on the mainland, and fishing for food.
"But they're not likely to have been close enough to the sailboat to recognize a photo of Max," I admitted, losing my initial enthusiasm.
"I know. I think we ought to ask them about whether they noticed a sailboat that liked to stop a lot, dropping the sails and idling in just one spot - or if they saw a sailor wearing earphones, or holding a tv antenna."
"That's sure a leading question. The local newspaper will have a reporter out in no time, trying to see what's up," I pointed out.
"Of course, there's that old joke about the fisherman who fishes with rabbit-ears, those two-pronged indoor TV antennas. He ties a line to the end of each, so he can double his chances. We could ask the fishermen, in causal conversation, if they'd ever seen such a thing. If anyone had seen Max using a beam antenna, we'd get an answer like, `No, but I saw a guy using a fancy TV antenna for something, out on a boat'."
"Good idea," I said, impressed once again. "Also, you can ask if they've ever seen anyone so stupid as to fish from a sailboat. Sailboats don't very often sit there stationary like a fishing boat, for a half hour at a time - and that's what Max would have sometimes done, if he was listening with a cordless phone receiver. When sailors stop like that - when the other sailboats are enjoying a good breeze - people naturally look to see if they're fishing." I decided not to reveal the circumstances when I'd gained this deep insight regarding stationary sailboats in a good breeze.
"And I know just the guy to ask the questions for us," Doug said. "Sol Linzer is a retired arson detective, who's doing general investigative work these days. And he loves to fish, so he might know some of the regulars already. That'll save me several days of work, right there."
"What I want to do," he continued, "is to get inside that apartment building next to the Sunrise, and see if I can find out who Max was watching."
I looked up, smiling. "Going to do a fire department inspection?"
Doug scratched his head. "It would be better if I could tag along on a regular inspection. It's one thing to stop by and chat with supers and doormen, but it's another to get someone who has a master key to go around with me. They'd have to report it to their boss, then they'll expect reports."
"So, when's their next regular inspection, when the whole engine-company crew walks around the place?"
"Those aren't very often. But Palm Beach has a second inspection system that involves random visits by one or two fire inspectors, in addition to the usual visits by a whole crew. I helped set up the second system, back when I was a full-time fire fighter."
"I used to stand guard at the fire truck while everyone else walked around," Doug explained, "because I was considered good at talking to the busboys and maids when they came outside on a break. I'd manage to chat sympathetically about hurry-up-and-wait, and unreasonable bosses. I used to pretend that I smoked, and I would ask to stand downwind of their cigarette - since I, too, wasn't allowed to smoke on duty. Instant comrades."
I laughed and shook my head. "So that was your training to be a detective!"
"I suppose so. It was amazing how often I'd learn, just in passing, that they'd been involved in a big cleanup effort the day before our inspection, even though we hadn't announced the date in advance."
"A little leak, perhaps?"
"Surely. Someone has to type up those inspection schedules, months in advance. And then they lay around on clipboards. So, we suggested a second system of random checks by a single fireman, or sometimes two. It now depends on how many firefighters are on light duty, usually because of bad backs. They used to wind up doing clerical tasks, but the docs pointed out that this probably delayed their recovery, that what they needed was a lot of exercise but without heavy lifting and running. So, now they pull inspection duty. They're given a little van and they spend their days dropping in on places unexpectedly. The choice of places to visit is entirely theirs, with no advance plan lying around for someone to see. And it's a different person doing it, every few weeks."
"The virtues of randomness," I said, with mock applause. "But I'll bet you had trouble convincing the brass to forego their usual tendency to assign and schedule."
"My boss argued with them for months. Hey!" Doug exclaimed. "I'll bet I know who's doing inspections this week. Remember Big John, the guy at the central station, the husband of my ex-wife? The reason that I hadn't run into him earlier was that he was on light duty. Well, I needed to call Janice anyway," he said, reaching for the car phone.
"Hi, Toots! How's instant motherhood?" I heard a delighted squeal from the phone. And decided that it was time to absent myself. I stepped outside to stretch for a minute.
When I returned to the car a few minutes later, Doug was saying, "A redhead? Well, you shouldn't believe everything that Big John tells you."
He looked over at me with a big grin and pointed at me with an I-told-you-so shake of the head. "So, I hear he's on light duty.... His back again? What have they got him doing, inspecting? Have you got the number of his belt phone? I'll have to get him to come inspect this place where I'm staying. It must have something wrong with it.... Sure, I'll come out to dinner, but it can't be this week.... No, no, I won't tell you about her now - it's very complicated. You'll just have to wait until I come out to dinner and spoil your kid rotten."
After he hung up, Doug asked, "Shall I try to set up this surprise inspection this afternoon, and leave you to set up the net searches and read Dad's correspondence? Or do we need to discuss things some more?"
"By all means, let's accomplish something, so I'll be able to sleep with good conscience tonight."
"I fixed my computer's password file so you can read the encrypted messages that Dad gave me. I temporarily changed the password to the one that you and Dad devised over the phone." Doug punched up another number on the phone. "Hey, Big John. I hear your kid is taking afternoon naps like a champ! Sure... Did you really tell Janice that a beautiful redhead was driving me around town? ... You're sipping coffee on the boardwalk? Sit still and I'll come join you in about ten minutes. Order me a classic cappucino, and head off their tendency to sprinkle candy atop it." Click.
Doug dropped me off a half block from the condo and I walked back in the afternoon heat.
WHEN I GOT BACK UPSTAIRS, I was hot. So I changed into the bikini after all and got some orange juice out of the refrigerator.
I plugged my laptop into the T1 line when I got back upstairs and ran security diagnostics. I was still thinking about Doug's phone call to Janice. Some people have the capacity for sustaining relationships, I thought, and Doug looks like one of them.
Then I called Seattle to check my voice mail. Nothing for me or for Max. No faxes to forward, either. I called up the software that controlled which calls were forwarded, using the Who's Calling data.
Some of them knew my cellular number and could phone without forwarding, but why take chances? And while Max could surely phone me direct if he were conscious, a hospital would probably phone me in Seattle.
Remembering that tomorrow was election day, I faxed a request for an absentee ballot, giving them my FedEx account number and the storefront address in Lake Worth. Having gotten my priorities straight, I set my e-mail to forward everything to my account on The Conf. Most of the waiting e-mail was innocuous but one was appalling:
Just what I needed, to serve as a role model for stupidity. I sent a one-word reply: "Groan." After I sent it off, I decided to send a second reply expanding on it: "No, please do NOT fax the clipping." I needed to keep my head clear to think about finding Max, not react to water over the dam. Of course, that's what I'd thought when I decided not to return those two phone calls from the reporter.
To work. I composed my net-surfing request with some care:
That on the way, I finally unpacked the second desktop that Doug had bought. There's nothing like setting up a new computer to take your mind off your worries.
THE NEW LANs are known to spread like kudzu. Well, almost. Instant office, I smiled to myself. Just remove shrinkwrap, add a little water from the plant mister, and wait for them to self-organize. The next step was obviously KudzuLAN and BlackberryLAN, with volunteers springing up everywhere, looking for a device not yet taken over by the LAN.
I moved over to Doug's computer and tested our new LAN. Then I started reading Andre's old files, sitting at Doug's machine. I was particularly anxious to see what happened in the last month, the period in which my code-breaking skills had failed. Temporarily, at least, those files were now protected by the simple password, Cleopatra&Siam.
An hour later, I heard a long beep from my own machine. A little-but-noisy window had popped open in the upper right corner of my screen: Priority e-mail arriving. So, I moved back over to the other chair and clicked on my Read Now button:
Encrypted video, no less. I set the cipher key from the autodestruct disk that Doug had given me.
So, that's what Andre looks like, I said to myself. Not what I'd imagined, several days ago when I was so angry. About 70, like Max. Looks a lot like Doug, except for the white beard, which is a lot fuller than for most orientals. Maybe he had a French mother? Certainly a cosmopolitan family, probably from way back.
"Hello, Kate. I was just going to phone but Douglas said not to disturb you, when I talked to him this morning. He told me about the burglar that you caught in Max's apartment, trying to steal his computer files. That's shocking. Could you write me a short memo on what the prosecuting attorney said about this burglar and his Mob connections, that I could pass on to the club members?"
"Well, Doug will set you up to read my club correspondence for the last few months. It's terribly confidential, as you'll see, so take good care of it."
"You'll discover that your bank card has a corporate-sized credit limit as of yesterday. I want you to spend whatever's needed to find Max as quickly as possible. I got him into this. And I know he'd feel a lot better if he knew you were searching for him."
"Unfortunately, I really have no idea what he was doing in Palm Beach. He didn't even tell me that he was going, or say it was club business even after he told me the hotel name. I'm afraid that the first I knew he was in Palm Beach is when he gave me the address and phone number of that hotel, back on the 18th - he said he'd just checked in. I got brief e-mail notes from him every day after that, up until the day before Black Friday. It must have been about the 19th when he suggested that I change ciphers again, go the one-time-pad route whenever I could."
"We'll do details in e-mail, since using video will eat up our one-time cipher pretty rapidly. But do send me a brief video mail reply, if you would, so I can put a face to the words I read subsequently. Say hello to Douglas for me."
I'm not sure that I can live up to Max's supergirl description, I mused. But if I were Andre, I'd sure be feeling uncomfortable about entrusting my reputation with close friends to a complete stranger, and that's what he is doing by going outside his sworn-to-secrecy club. Which obviously vetoed my involvement earlier. So, perhaps I'd better put some work into persuading him to talk to us about his worries. And try and forget my irritation with him. And I'd certainly better change out of the bikini before replying on video.
I uncapped the little videocam built into the upper right corner of the computer monitor and clicked on the Preview Videocam button. Pretty bad lighting with those steel shutters still drawn, I judged, so I turned up the dimmer switch on the dining room wall and found myself illuminated by the chandelier over the table. I also turned on the kitchen lights so that the background Andre would see would be well lit; I wanted to show him that I was as tall as Max had described me, and that was going to mean walking toward the camera briefly.
I looked washed out, at least on that videocam, which called for some makeup. I decided to detour by going out onto the balcony, checking out the heat and humidity, spotting the Sunrise Hotel and its adjacent apartment building far south, down Ocean Boulevard. Then I slipped back into the master bedroom via its sliding glass door.
After putting on one of my long dresses with the padded shoulders, and applying some makeup, I fixed myself a cup of tea. Then I clicked on Record Video and the monitor changed to reveal the state of my makeup. Okay. I returned to the kitchen, figuring I'd edit out the first part and pretend that the e-mail manager had been set to conversational mode, automatically recording a reply when Andre's message finished playing.
"Oops, recording automatically, I see. Hello, Andre, I'm pleased to meet you, and in considerably better circumstances than when I was stranded on that sand bar the other day," I said as I walked toward the videocam, holding my cup. I sat down in front of the monitor, looking straight into it.
"You know," I said, lightly stroking my face with my free hand, "Doug would look even more like you if he'd grow a beard. He's off chasing a fresh lead - we'll tell you more about it later."
"I'm spending money on professional net-surfers at the moment, checking out some other possibilities. Doug and I each seem to have come to the same conclusion, even before comparing notes, that you're worried about a leak in your club - or worse. Do you suppose that Max, too, was worried? And came down here to Palm Beach in order to check out someone close to one of your club members?" I asked, shifting into my most polite look-'em-straight-in-the-eye manner.
"That might explain why he didn't say anything about coming here." I softened and, with an "Oh, as an afterthought" wave of my hands, asked, "Did you tell anyone about the e-mail from Max, after he checked into that hotel?"
"Well, enough of the luxury of video and back to the limitations of e-mail. I hope we'll meet face-to-face sometime soon. Preferably with Max himself getting to belatedly introduce us. Let us hope. Bye for now."
I clicked Replay & Edit, snipped out the early stuff, and watched the rest. One of my better brief performances, I decided. I encrypted it, wincing at the gigabyte of one-time-pad numbers that it ate up, and sent it off. Maybe, I hoped, it will serve to pry loose some guarded information, get Andre to think the unthinkable.
I popped up the gas gauge for the one-time-pad supply. Half-full. Or half-empty. I wondered what Doug had arranged for a secure resupply of random numbers to Andre.
ANDRE'S REQUEST FOR A SHORT MEMO reminded me to phone the prosecuting attorney's office in Seattle. The deputy was busy in court, but they'd been trying to get ahold of me. His secretary had instructions to transfer my call to the Prosecuting Attorney himself. Shortly thereafter, he came on the phone.
Had I heard anything of Max? Alas, no - but I was actively investigating Max's disappearance myself. Was I familiar, he asked, with what Max had been doing for their white-collar-crime investigation?
Yes, I said - I was the one who had suggested looking at the low-order bits in image files for text information, a suggestion that Max had passed along. The image files, mostly old E-faxes, indeed turned out to be where the true account books were hidden. The faxes looked normal, displayed, since the low-order bit contributed very little to the image quality. But a simple program to string together the bottom bit in each byte of the image served to re-create the text file or spreadsheet file. He took the opportunity to thank me. And then said that he had some bad news.
"My deputy played that tape of the burglar's threats to you at the bail hearing," he said, "and the judge was indeed impressed. But he hated to use preventive detention, especially since there was the hold from Texas that accomplished the same thing, keeping him behind bars. So the judge simply set a high bail, a quarter million."
"Yes," I said, guessing what was coming.
"Unfortunately, by the time that the hold expired at midnight, Texas had failed to come through with the legal papers," he explained. "And someone appeared at a minute after midnight with $250,000 in cash and posted bail for him. So he was released, and we didn't find out until eight hours later."
"The Texas prosecutor was furious that someone had derailed the extradition papers," he continued, "but hinted that it was because your burglar had Mob connections in a big way." I was to be very careful. He would fax me the police mug shots and description. There would be hell to pay when the media discovered all this, but they'd try to delay that day (especially considering that the election was tomorrow, I realized).
Burglars whose friends pay $250,000 to spring them are not likely to be ordinary burglars. But then I knew that already.
The fax arrived by e-mail, since I'd set my home computer to forward them that way. As I sat there contemplating it, a priority e-mail message arrived.
I was uneasy, wanting to believe it but dubious. I immediately called Doug on his cellular phone and relayed this good news neutrally.
"Kate," he said, "that doesn't sound like Dad. Don't you move until I can phone him and verify it."
I sat and waited. In ten minutes, he called back. "Kate, that message wasn't from Dad. I phoned the cops working on Max's disappearance and they're going to check out the place."
"Uh, Doug," I said, "there is another piece of news. My burglar got released on a quarter-million bail bond, probably because the Mob in Texas managed to sidetrack the extradition papers long enough for the temporary hold to expire. The prosecuting attorney is very apologetic, and has faxed me the mug shots and physical description, just so I can keep an eye open for The Creep."
"Wonderful. Well, sit tight. I'm still tied up with this fire inspection, then I'm heading up to 1999 to see what the cops found."
I immediately started to analyze how the e-mail message from Andre could have been forged. And then kicked myself: it wasn't encrypted in the special cipher, and I'd just assumed that it was and had been automatically decrypted.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to forge a return address. It takes superuser privileges on the originating computer, but there are millions of computers directly tied to the internet and so millions of possibilities. The only guarantee against this sort of thing was a private-key signature and message digest. I could see that I was going to have to start insisting on that with my correspondents, at least the ones where we weren't using a private cipher.
DOUG CALLED A GREETING as he slammed the front door. I looked up from my computer to see if he'd brought anyone along, but Doug was alone. And looking as if he'd been crawling around an attic. He also looked grim.
"Any more fake e-mail?" he asked.
"No. I should have noticed that the message wasn't encrypted, that it arrived in the clear. I was so happy at good news of Max that I got suckered in. So, as you probably know, the message could have been faked at any of a million nodes on the net where someone has superuser privileges. But we'll have to check out the possibility that someone else used Andre's account. So, what happened at 1999?"
"No one to be seen by land or sea. But they got suspicious of a car parked nearby because something in the trunk smelled. It wasn't Max, but it was a very dead body. One that had probably been there for at least a week."
"Ugh. Who was it?"
"No identification. The car belongs to a resident of the condo there, but it's someone who hasn't arrived for the season yet and the car had been sitting there all summer. The cops think that the car was broken open in order to release the trunk lid. And stash the body inside."
"Hadn't any of the condo staff noticed?"
"They'd noticed a lot of sea gulls hanging around, and actually hosed off the car because of it. But the car-wash guy smokes like a chimney and so hadn't noticed the smell that was attracting the birds. I can believe it - I saw the guy picking loose tobacco out of his mouth several times. Then he took a last drag on his cigarette and flung it away - and, in the process, managed to lose some of the skin off his lip, that was stuck to the cigarette."
"Ouch. But why lure me to the same place?" I asked, worried.
"There was a note inside the trunk lid, the first thing anyone would see when the trunk was opened. And this trunk had a remote-control opener - press the blue button on the key-chain fob, and up pops the lid. They evidently were going to watch from a distance and then pop open the trunk as you walked by, so you'd see the body. And the note."
"And get a whiff. And some insects flying out. A pop-up corpse sounds like my burglar, experienced at packing as much terror into an occasion as possible. What did the note say?" I asked.
"This is what will happen to you if you remain in Florida. The parking lot is right out on the lake shore, unlike most of the condos. My detective friend speculated that someone over in Lake Worth was watching with a telescope. And had a beam antenna hooked up to a transmitter that could pop the trunk lid."
"So this means that someone knows I'm in Palm Beach, and looking for Max. And that I would consider a message from Andre as important. What else? Could they have found out about this apartment?"
"I don't think so, or we'd have heard more directly from them. They might have hoped to follow you home from there. I was quite careful returning from there. I went over to the mainland and then, when I came back over the drawbridge, I arranged by cellular phone with the drawbridge operator - who I knew, back when - to lower the barriers just after I passed, losing anyone tailing me."
"Sounds like you've got friends in the right places. So, are these Max's kidnappers who are trying to scare me off?"
"They could be. But maybe they're hoping to find Max themselves and see you as a competitor. Like your burglar."
"So maybe it's the Mob again. Suppose The Creep is down here already? Trying to spot me?"
SHORT OF A PLATOON of Marines, I wasn't going to feel much safer than I was then, inside the apartment with Doug. I turned down Doug's offer of a stiff scotch and seized instead on the other kind of security problem, which I could at least do something about.
I explained to Doug how we were going to have to start using electronic signatures to guard against fake return addresses. Either that, or use private ciphers like the random numbers.
"Are the public-private key ciphers harder to crack?" he asked.
"They aren't inherently harder to crack than the single key ciphers like DES, just because they use a different key for encrypting than for decrypting," I explained, lapsing into cryptospeak, "but the public key for encrypting solves the problem of delivering the keys, which otherwise usually involves a trip by a trusted courier. You just publish the public key for all to see, and your correspondents use it to encrypt the plaintext they want to send you. But they can't decrypt it with the public key - unlike single-key where the same key is needed for encrypting and decrypting. Only you have the private key that's needed to decrypt."
"And for the electronic signature, you reverse the procedure?"
"For me to sign a message, my software first makes a 128-byte message digest that is very sensitive to any alteration in the text - it's like a long checksum. Then it and my public key are encrypted using my private key. The recipient, using my public key from the Gray Pages, decrypts the signature and discovers an identical copy of my public key, plus the message digest. He produces a message digest of whatever is above my signature, and sees if it matches the decrypted one. Simple?"
"Almost as good as a shared random number table," Doug said.
"Which reminds me. The random-number supply is half-empty. How do you restock?"
"We've got plenty in storage on both ends," he replied. "Dad has this thing about one-time pads being the most secure encryption. Before leaving Boston, I bought a dozen of those autodestruct hard disk drives. And recorded them in pairs. I drove down to the Cape and delivered Dad's set personally before flying down to Miami."
"So, what did you use for a random-number algorithm?" I asked, with a sinking feeling.
"I didn't. Used the real thing, white noise from outer space," Doug said, while opening a liter-sized bottle of mineral water from the refrigerator. "I pointed the microwave dish up in the vicinity of Orion, cranked up the gain, and digitized what it heard."
"Very clever," I said, relieved. "No algorithm to break. So, we're only halfway through the first of six disks. When you decide to spend money, Mr. Chen, you do it right. Well, tell me what crawl space you've been exploring."
"I look that bad, huh?" he smiled. "And you're sure dressed up for dinner. Maybe I ought to shower first, and save the big news for later?"
"You are a terrible tease. I got dressed to impress your father, by the way. I figured that his generation isn't used to women who can work professionally while wearing a bikini. Now ease off on that water bottle and open up."
"Well," he said with a chuckle, "it was no problem to get Big John to decide to drop in on the Sunrise Apartments as his next random inspection. And, of course, he invited me to come along. Didn't have to tell him anything, except for what I saw this morning from the window in the Sunrise Hotel."
He sat down the empty water bottle on the table. "So, we find the super, who's none too happy to be pulled away from his TV set, and we all head up to the roof. There were various old TV antennas up there, all with their wires snipped off. But there's this one fancy antenna rotator setup with its wires trailing off and dropping down the utility core of the building - that's a central shaft which the heat pipes and electrical conduits run up, adjacent to the elevators. The super assumes we know that he'd had to do a big cleanup of illegal wiring several years ago. Some overheated wires had started a little fire - after which, from the sounds of it, he'd gotten a very thorough inspection from the engine company."
I was shifting impatiently in my chair.
"The super pulled out a pair of pliers, proposing to cut those new wires right on the spot, in hopes that we wouldn't cite him. But we told him to hold off, that we had to inspect that utility core - which is how I got so dirty, opening access holes on each floor and looking inside the core shaft for the wires. When we got down to the 4th floor, I saw the wires disappearing alongside some pipes into an apartment. The super hasn't seen the occupant of the apartment for months, says he never gets any mail. So, when no one answers the door, he lets himself in."
"Yes? Come on, now."
"Layers of dust all over the place, but no dead bodies. No clothes in the closets, either. Just a kitchen table with an old desktop computer and some electronics gear, all hooked up to that antenna and to the phone line. Nothing very fancy - even a high school kid could have lashed up those components. I couldn't dissuade the super from applying his cutting pliers to the illegal antenna wires, so whoever was using it now knows that something has gone wrong. End of story."
I frowned and stood up. "A listening post. Sounds like someone was dialing into the computer, giving it commands about where to point the antenna, listening to conversations on portable phones, and forwarding them via the computer phone."
"That's what I thought, too. I stopped at a pay phone on the way home - by the way, we'll have to start avoiding any serious business when using our belt phones and other cellular phones - and called Sol. So, he's going to interview lots of local fishermen for us tonight and tomorrow, and get his partner to follow up on this apartment - such as seeing who shows up to repair the listening post. I stuck several telltale hairs in the door frame when we left, so we'll know if the renter has returned to the apartment."
"So, who do you suppose he was tapping?" I asked, sitting back down again.
"It really had to be multiple people, or it would have just been a fixed antenna. But the view from that roof is more limited than you might suppose, since the hotel next door blocks a lot of possibilities on the ocean side of Palm Beach. So, it's pretty likely to be condos along the lake side, a mile north or south of the Sunrise Apartments. Or the mainland."
"Did you get the name of the person renting the apartment?" I asked.
"The super mentioned the name, and I noticed the phone number while we were inspecting the setup," Doug said, fishing a scrap of paper out of his sweaty shirt pocket. "Why don't I shower and change, and then we can have a little strategy session over drinks and dinner. Unless your news won't keep that long? I'll be quick."
I waved him away. After Doug disappeared into the guest bedroom, I picked up the phone next to the sofa. I hit *67 to block the Who's-Calling and then tried dialing the phone number. The mating call of a lonely modem was heard, though it sounded a little strange. Smiling, I hung up and moved over to my computer. Maybe, I thought, if the tabletop setup is as amateurish as Doug thinks, I'll be able to talk my way into that computer. Certainly, if that were a fancier modem using the Who's Calling data, it wouldn't have even answered the phone unless the call came from the right phone number.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
I SHOUTED "EUREKA" and Doug came charging out of the bedroom, still half-dressed. He looked over my shoulder at the screen while buttoning his shirt.
"You were quite right," I said, gleefully. "It's a very simple-minded setup, using old comm software with rudimentary security. I was able to get it to dump its memory, which is going to take a little while, since that's an ancient 1200-baud modem, not a net connection. I'd almost forgotten what they sounded like. Now, what you see there," I said, pointing at the monitor, "is digitized speech. They recorded those phone calls just like voice mail. Nothing dramatic so far, just people arranging golf dates and bridge games."
"Do you want to leave it running, and get some dinner?"
"Sure, my computer will disconnect automatically when it stops sending. I figured out how to lock up my autodestruct disk, thanks to those manuals. So, we can go."
"Is there a restaurant we can walk to, several miles away? So I can get some exercise?"
"Sure, let's go over to the ocean side and hike up the beach past the golf course to that new Italian restaurant. That way we'll be able to talk. You lock the balcony doors and set the alarms while I put on my shoes."
After Doug called for reservations from a lobby pay phone, we ran across the highway during a gap in the traffic and made our way down the beach access corridor that runs between two large apartment complexes across the street. The sunset was almost over and the remaining color in the eastern sky was fading. At my suggestion, we walked up the adjacent set of beach stairs and waited a few minutes to see if anyone followed us to the beach from the condo. No one.
The black vultures were no where to be seen, though a few pelicans were flying around, offshore. The heat of the day was fading, holding promise of a mild evening and cool night. But continuing humidity. We walked up the beach, on the wet sand just above the lapping waves.
As we were avoiding a big wave, Doug's cellular rang. It was Andre, reporting back on his investigation into whether anyone could have used his e-mail account. His last login time was exactly what it should have been. So apparently the fake e-mail came from somewhere else. He urged us to be careful.
"I wonder," I said, "if we shouldn't first concentrate on the names within a mile of the Sunrise Apartments. Surely Max wouldn't have stayed in that dump unless he had something more to go on than just a suspicious antenna. He must have seen where it was pointing, and the target condos must have held some other interest for him. Surely he wasn't interested in the eavesdropping in general, not with that market manipulation prospect involving the parasites."
"I agree, we'll probably discover it's someone selling information to various brokers or con men. But maybe that will include someone with more specific interests in our direction."
"The other thing we need to do," I said, "is to find where Max was staying before he checked into the hotel. If my net-surfing fails to find someone down here that Max listed under another address or phone, I don't know what we'll do next. Show Max's picture to a lot of doormen, if the cops didn't already do it."
"I doubt they did, but I'll check with my friend again, tomorrow morning," Doug said. "They might have gotten a photo from his daughter."
"I don't think they've found her, Doug. I'll bet if they had, she'd have phoned me. She's never returned my calls. And I've tried every day. Maybe she's on vacation. And she sometimes comes to Palm Beach, though Max would always avoid visiting her here. She'll probably turn out to be in the condo next door to us!"
"Seriously, Kate," he said, "a lot of New Yorkers like her come down here, subletting apartments for a few weeks. Sometimes I think that half of Manhattan has been temporarily transplanted to the hothouse."
"That's where Max's daughter lives, incidentally. Manhattan, not the hothouse."
"The visitors' names are never on the mailboxes, and the phones also stay listed in the apartment owner's name. But the super will know most of the temporary people because of permission letters on file, even if the doormen only know them by sight. So, let's get someone to ask around for the daughter, if your leads in Manhattan run dry. Where does she work?"
"Works in an art gallery, something like that. Don't know the firm's name, and Max's phone directory doesn't have it either. Name's Carrie Hempelman, about 50 years old. She's not married. I've already made a few calls and got nowhere. She sometimes takes a winter vacation in Florida, but Max always manages to visit her in New York instead. So, maybe we should look around for her, down here." I had visions of buying all the local papers and brosing the gossip columns.
"Sol could probably ask around, just with phone calls, since he knows the supers in most cases."
"Hairdressers down here are the other place to check. Trust me on this," I quipped.
We cut across the golf course to the road. "I only had time to read the last part of Andre's e-mail correspondence," I said, "and that's filled in the picture of the last month, supplementing what I learned from reading Max's correspondence on the plane yesterday from the two months previous. Oh, remember to change that simple-minded password, Doug."
"What I don't understand," I continued, "is where their information came from, about a conspiracy of parasites. Half the time, they're just brainstorming about possibilities. But at other times, they talk of something concrete, a specific conspiracy. Particular examples of holding back orders until 43 minutes after the hour, and so on."
"I didn't see anyone referring to themselves as being a source of concrete information," Doug replied. "And Dad hasn't said. They may be playing their cards close to the chest because of a confidential source, you know."
"Oh, I agree," I said, stretching and yawning. "Particularly later in the summer, they start getting cagey. Of course, they also met face-to-face, as in the California meeting in late August. So, they have shared information that isn't necessarily going to show up in the e-mail correspondence. And neither Max nor Andre seem to have been using the computer to save their phone calls, even after they went to encrypting them by computer. The computer files are, as a historian would say, a very incomplete record of what was going on."
I AGAIN AWAKENED before sunrise, but got up and wandered out in my bathrobe. The computer screen had a priority e-mail notification popped up in the upper right corner. It was from Melanie, sent just an hour earlier at 3am Utah time. It proved to be the completed database file of 2,000 names, with a second attachment containing the macro for matching Max's address book up to the database.
Doug had gotten several additional names from Andre last night, and so I pasted them all into the macro and started it running. Then I fixed myself a latté and orange juice. And contemplated the lack of danish, a serious matter. We'd snacked late last night, while wading through months of decrypted messages, looking for specifics.
Since Doug had mentioned A.J.'s Deli on Lucerne as the source of the danish, I decided to go out for a run and bring back lots more danish. Got to build up that subcutaneous fat for the disguise, I rationalized. Oops, and it's election day. I've got to pickup my ballot.
There was no doorman on duty at that hour. I looked carefully at all the cars in the parking lot as I walked past, checking to see if anyone was watching our building. No one. I did my stretches and warmup at the edge of the parking lot and checked all the cars in the next lot south. No one.
The sidewalks were full of people out walking or running, the early morning being the best time to escape the heat and humidity combination. I ran down the highway and then up the approach to the drawbridge leading to the mainland. I saw quite a few fishermen and hoped that Doug's friend was having some luck talking to them about Max. I kept looking for my burglar.
Once past the steel grid of the drawbridge itself, it was all downhill for a few minutes. Then I was on the mainland, back to the land of real shops. Even a bookstore; I remembered hearing that the rents were so high in Palm Beach proper that bookstores couldn't survive. Except for a chain outlet with a tiny store on Worth Avenue that sells best-sellers - and little else. And at full price.
I kept my eyes open for the overnight express storefront and was soon rewarded. Yes, both packages had arrived and so, after showing my drivers license, I left wearing a somewhat superfluous windbreaker and carrying an absentee ballot.
A.J.'s was full of people, and I browsed the pastries while waiting for my number to be called. I noticed their fax number and web address; evidentally they'd deliver if you just opened a window, checked off what you wanted on their daily menu, and clicked on SEND. But in person, it looked like a long wait, so I marked my ballot. As I signed the envelope, I mused about how old fashioned it was, how the encrypted web pages could be used for voting. There was, fortunately, a little booklet of stamps in my billfold.
I ended up with a dozen danish wrapped in two equal-sized packages, which I stuck in the jacket pockets. I had one danish left out, to munch on. In one block, it was gone and I started running once again, back up the bridge, pockets full. I jogged in place at the mailbox, while I made sure that the mail would be picked up and postmarked today.
I stopped on the top of the bridge where there was a good view of the Sunrise Apartments and the lakefront side of Palm Beach. And of the waterway - Lake Worth itself. Suppose, I thought, that Max had been watching that antenna atop the Sunrise Apartments - I could barely see one, but binoculars ought to resolve it nicely - from the sailboat, and trying to see where it was pointing? If he was looking straight up its axis, but a little off to one side, he'd be able to see which combo complex it was aimed at, along the lakefront. So, he'd sail up the shore until he was seeing the topside of the antenna, backtrack until he could see the underside of the antenna. And look ashore at what building he just passed.
I DIDN'T HAVE TO POUND on the guest bedroom door to awaken Doug with the news. He was already up, wearing shorts, and greeted the sack of danish with extravagant praise. He was even happier to learn of my scheme for finding the target: get a boat and binoculars.
"But," he said after a moment's reflection, "there's a little problem with doing it today, rather than yesterday. That antenna was moving around in a search pattern. And it's dead now: the super cut the wires. So, where it's currently pointing may not be very interesting."
"Damn. I knew that I'd forgotten something. But that's surely how Max could have gone about it. He'd need to repeat his search many times, getting different results for each of the different targets."
The phone beeped, and Doug answered it while I went to heat the danish. He came in the kitchen to report that somebody had returned to the eavesdropper's apartment - Doug's telltale hairs had dropped to the floor. And someone - probably not the super - had removed the antenna from the roof, sometime in the middle of the night. The electricity meter for the apartment was still running at a rate consistent with computer power requirements. And a modem still answers at that phone number.
"Suppose he simply moved the antenna downstairs, placing it inside the apartment, fixed it to several chairs tied back to back, and pointed it out the window?" Doug speculated.
"Can you see in the window from the hotel next door?" I asked.
"Surely from the fire stairs. I'll check that out as soon as I get dressed. What else do we have to do?"
"I see my database macro has stopped running, so maybe I'll have some addresses to check out."
"Oh, and I told Sol to check out Carrie Hempelman with the supers, to see if she's a temporary sublet. But I forgot the hairdressers."
"Men. I'll do the hairdressers myself. I know just the line to take with them."
WHEN DOUG RETURNED from the hotel, I was on the phone, waving my hands, in actress mode once again.
"Ms. Hempelman wanted me to call and tell you she's delayed in getting down to Palm Beach from New York by a stopover in DeeCee, and she wants to change her appointment to two days later.... I don't know - she just shouted at me to take care of it as she was running out the door yesterday.... I don't know that, either - she made her own travel arrangements since she was using frequent-flyer credits, so our travel agent doesn't know and I don't have her phone number down there. I'm awfully sorry to impose on you, but she'll be terribly cross with me if she misses her hairdresser appointment. And I know how busy you must be at this season."
Doug handed me another danish while I was on hold.
"Oh, that's so kind of you.... That's Carrie Hempelman? Could you give me the number you've got for her, so I can make sure that new time is still all right? Oh, thank you. 8-8-1 7-4-3-9. Okay, hold everything and I'll phone her. Thanks so much."
"Six tries before I hit the right hairdresser," I reported with a grin. "So, now we've got to figure out what to say to Max's daughter. Did you have any luck?"
"Sure enough, the antenna has been erected inside the room, angled to point out the window. I watched it for quite a while and it didn't move once. So, maybe it's fixed on a single target now. That was sure a quick fix that someone did."
"Can you see where it's pointing?"
"The light's pretty bad inside the room. All I can tell is that it's pointed up in this general direction."
"Can you get inside the room again," I asked, "and sight down the axis of the antenna with your binoculars?"
"Perhaps I can think of some excuse. You cope with locating Max's daughter."
I punched in the number that the hairdresser had provided, but got no answer. "Let me see if I can find an address to go with that phone number, now that the macro tells me how to get access."
"Hmmm. Uh-oh, Doug. It's 1989 South Ocean Boulevard, probably next door to 1999. The name is Andrew Johnstone."
"Since I'm in uniform, I'll go try my clipboard act on the doorman and see if the Johnstone mail has been picked up lately, try and get an apartment number. Back in about 30 minutes, if no other opportunity presents itself."
"Be sure and ask the doorman about Max. He might have stayed there, you know, before he took that room at the dump."
"Let us hope."
I tried the number again but still no answer. I returned to the problem of boiling down the hits from the database matches to Max's address book. My three possibles reduced to one, once I sorted through the ambiguous first names. There was a Jack Andersen, listed in Max's address book as living out on Long Island, an hour out from New York City, but also showing up with an unlisted phone number in Palm Beach that wasn't in Max's book. Max's note said that the Long Island number was also unlisted. Oddly enough, I couldn't find the name in the Area Code 516 on-line directory - or at least one with an unlisted number.
I clicked on the e-mail manager:
Some e-mail arrived while I was finishing my request, so I read it.
I didn't believe it for a moment. I logged into Max's account, just to be sure. No one had logged in since I last checked it, that first day in Seattle. So the message came from elsewhere, and was therefore a fake.
I decided that he'd next try imitating me, stirring up trouble to distract me from searching. He obviously had superuser privileges on some machine hooked up to the net. So I sent a message to everyone on my address list:
And I sent a copy to Andre with a suggestion that he do the same thing.
Onwards. Unfortunately, I remembered to check my voice mail. Three messages from television producers, trying to set up interviews. They'd seen the Sunday paper. I ignored them and phoned Sol, telling him that Carrie Hempelman was probably found, but asking if he had any way of getting an address for a name with an unlisted number?
No, they didn't - or at least, not quickly. But they did have some luck with fishermen. Two, so far, remembered seeing a sailboat idling not far out from the island shore, about a week ago, while the sailor - an older man wearing a plain-colored shirt and a floppy hat - was using some sort of antenna. Go back, I said, and ask them about binoculars - and what direction he was looking in.
That would be just like Max, I thought. He'd have just the right outfit for Palm Beach cocktails, dinner, bridge, whatever - but it wouldn't occur to him to dress like a Florida tourist or yacht-club type while out sailing by himself in a small boat. He'd dress just as he did when sailing in Puget Sound.
Furthermore, Sol reported, someone else had been asking around for Max, just yesterday. It sounded, from the description, like a guy who used to be a Lantana police detective.
I was tapping my fingers impatiently, awaiting Doug's return, when up popped the priority e-mail flag.
Hmm, I thought, so anyone could have figured out where Max was staying after October 19, with just a few phone calls.
Provided, of course, that Andre was telling the truth about Max not requesting secrecy. Since I had, via Doug, Andre's own correspondence files of the period, I decided to check for myself. There was no mention of secrecy in Max's e-mail notes to Andre, which were mostly about an unrelated subject.
Suppose, I speculated, that Andre edited the file containing Max's correspondence, to eliminate the offending sentence? I decided to check that possibility by looking at my copy of Max's sent-mail folder. Oops, no I couldn't - Max had sent those messages from his laptop, and I didn't have Max's own files after October 10. So I logged into Max's account on The Conf and examined his sent-mail folder there. Yes, there was a message to Andre on that date, of about the right length, but it was encrypted in a dual-key system. So I couldn't decrypt it without Andre's half of the key. There was, however, an electronic signature that included a 128-bit "message digest" of that e-mail in the cipher appendix to the sent-mail folder. And I could use it like a checksum, to see if Andre's version of the message was edited in any way.
There were no changes. I let out a sigh of relief.
After stretching briefly on the balcony, I returned to my computer to try a little net-surfing for Hirschhorn. I browsed fedworld.gov and checked the SEC list. There was indeed a Mortimer Hirschhorn in Palm Beach. No phone number was given, but there was an address: 2910 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach FL 33480. I remembered running past that address on a driveway marker, on the way to Lake Worth and danish. It was on the west side of the street - the lake side. The eavesdropper's target?
I found that Hirschhorn was on the board of directors of four corporations, all in the securities business. Interesting. Then, since he was an author, I used the browser to hop over to locis.loc.gov, the Library of Congress list of all the books copyrighted in the United States, and found three books written by "Jack Andersen (a pseudonym)" on the strange ways of Wall Street. Under Hirschhorn, I found two more books listed - and, via his birth year listed in the author line, discovered that he was 59 years old.
To judge how widely read his books were, I went over to melyvl.berkeley.edu and went browsing through the card catalog of the entire University of California system: nine different campuses had copies of his last book, and a number had multiple copies. There were a total of 31 copies circulating. Two campus libraries currently had it on reserve for courses. I hopped over to carl.org and checked the circulation records of the Denver Public Library. He was reasonably popular there, too.
Doug returned and I quickly filled him in, before he could get a word in edgeways. "Another fake message." I showed it to him on my screen. "No one has logged into Max's account."
"So it's definitely related to Max," Doug said. "They're just trying another tactic to get you out of the way."
I agreed, and went on to fill him in on Jack's address. "Andersen's condo must be line of sight to the Sunrise Apartments," I concluded.
"The building surely is," Doug replied. "We'll have to see if his apartment is on the south side. That's a wonderful lead, Kate!"
"We seem to be on a roll! So, what gives with Carrie's place?"
Doug smiled his infectious smile. "The super wasn't in, and the doorman wasn't feeling very helpful. I couldn't see inside the locked mailboxes but they leave the magazines and packages out in big pigeonholes without even a door. And there's a nice big envelope addressed to a Carrie Hempelman, c/o Johnstone. Postmarked two days ago from New York. So surely she's down here."
"Wow! From no names and addresses, we go to progress on all fronts!"
"I propose a toast - orange juice or soda water?"
AFTER SOME REFRESHMENT, we returned to the problem of how to approach the two apartments and their occupants. Jack Andersen was the more serious problem. But, as I was about to try calling Carrie Hempelman again, Doug stopped me.
"You know," he observed, "we can't tell her over the telephone that her father has been missing for almost two weeks, if she doesn't know already. That's almost like saying he's dead. That sort of news has got to be delivered in person. We must see her, somehow, without giving it away."
"You're right, and I should have thought of that myself. Hmmm," I mused. "She'll recognize my name, so let me try to set up a social visit. But an urgent one, since I'm just passing through, et cetera." I punched in *67, followed by the hard-earned number, 881-7439.
"No answer, again," I reported. "She's probably out to lunch, somewhere fancy. Speaking of lunch, what do we have?"
"I can give you fruit salad. Sliced turkey. Potato salad from the deli. Genuine kosher dills from Brooklyn. You probably want fresh poached king salmon, instead."
"I'm not that spoiled. Some of everything, thanks."
Sipping my iced tea, I pushed the re-dial button and listened to the phone ring. It was answered on the third ring.
"Are you the Carrie Hempelman who's Max's daughter?... Oh, good. This is Kate Medici, who lives upstairs from Max in Seattle.... No, I haven't seen him - I'm in Palm Beach at the moment, just down the street from you. Since I've never managed to visit with you in New York when I'm there, I was hoping that I could say hello while I was passing through Palm Beach.... This afternoon would be best for me, if that's not a problem. Of course, of course.... Oh, lunch only if you're having some yourself. A crumb of cake would be just my speed. Okay, I'll be up in about a half hour. It'll will be nice to meet you at last. Bye now."
"She sounds a little worried," I told Doug. "I didn't want to get her started."
"What's our strategy?" he asked. "Is it better that I come with you, to give you a traditional excuse for being in Palm Beach, or is it better that the two of you have a little heart-to-heart without me?"
"My guess is the latter," I said, "but why don't you stand by, to come up to her apartment if I buzz your belt phone? My guess is that we're going to have to put her in touch with the Palm Beach police detectives that are supposedly investigating Max."
"If he came out to see Carrie while we were both still there, maybe we'd pick up some information from his questioning of her."
"Good idea. When I call you, I'll say something about `you both' coming up if I want you to phone him with the address."
"So, what information might she have?" Doug asked. "Where Max stayed before the Sunrise Hotel? When she last talked to him? If he told her what he was doing down here? Who he was going to see down here?"
Driving north, I asked Doug to take a loop around the parking lot of one of the condos, just to see if anyone followed or pulled off the road outside. No one.
CARRIE HEMPELMAN FAINTED at the news. Most women no longer "faint" at bad news, so I phoned Doug to come upstairs quickly.
Carrie revived even before Doug arrived, still wearing his paramedic uniform, and she insisted that she didn't need any help. No, she said, she had absolutely no history of heart disease. Yes, she had fainted many times before - she has low blood pressure, and suffers in the midday heat.
To keep Carrie from shooing Doug out of the room, I had to explain that I hadn't really called 911, that Doug was my friend and had been waiting in the car. For some reason, this made Carrie feel better, to think that the medic van hadn't pulled up at the front entrance with sirens going. Twice before when she'd fainted, someone had called 911 and she was embarrassed. Doug was very reassuring, explaining how many women he'd met who share Carrie's problem with fainting.
Soon, Carrie was offering him some tea and cookies, and appeared to feel entirely comfortable with him. Then she remembered that Max was missing from a sailboat and her voice caught several times. I was amazed to see yet another gentle-but-effective side of Doug, as he talked Carrie through her worries and explained why she shouldn't jump to conclusions, told her of all the cases he'd seen where things had turned out okay in the end.
"So, did Max tell you that he was coming down to Palm Beach?" he continued.
"Oh, yes," Carrie answered, cheering up. "He was staying in this apartment. I'd subletted it for six weeks, but then couldn't come down until just a few days ago. I thought he'd moved out without telling me, since I couldn't get him on the phone. But then I got down here and found all his favorite clothes, hanging neatly in the closet."
"So, what did Max say that he was going to do, down here?" I asked quietly.
"Well, Daddy really doesn't like Florida, you know, so I asked him why the change of heart. And he said that he had some business down here. He thought that it might take only a week but he was happy that he could stay here longer, if he needed to."
"Did he say what kind of business? Consulting, or something else?" Doug asked.
"I'd assumed it was just another one of his consulting trips, from his tone of voice. But he didn't seem to have a schedule, so I was wondering if he'd found a new girl friend down here. I just can't imagine Daddy missing in a sailboat. He's just too - well, competent."
"That was my first reaction, too," I explained, "and why I'm down here in Palm Beach searching for him."
"Oh, I'm so glad. That's exactly what Max would want. He's always telling me about how good you are at solving problems." Really?
Doug asked permission from me via a raised eyebrow, and said, "You know, the police have been trying to locate you as next-of-kin. If it's all right with you, I'll phone the detective who's working on the disappearance and ask him to come over."
Carrie nodded, and Doug asked if he could use the phone in the study. After he left, Carrie asked me why the police hadn't called her long ago.
"First of all," I tried to explain, "they didn't know he was missing until the Sunrise Hotel called them about his abandoned luggage. Yes, I know - he must have moved to that particular hotel for some reason other than its amenities. And then the police didn't take it very seriously until the sailboat rental people called them too. Finally, they sent someone around to see me in Seattle a few days ago, to ask for your address and phone number. But your New York phone didn't answer."
"But - oh, silly me. I must have forgotten to set the call forwarding, to transfer my calls down here. No wonder I haven't been getting any calls from New York. I never give out my number down here because it changes from year to year, since I sublet different apartments. Except, of course, I give the apartment number to the people down here, like my hairdresser."
"Yes, that's how I found you," I explained, "by phoning every hairdresser in Palm Beach with a sob-story about having to change Ms. Hempelman's appointment. You might phone your hairdresser and explain that I was a little confused. And that you'll really keep your regular appointment."
"How very clever of you," Carrie exclaimed. "If only Max knew that you were searching for him. What can I do to help?"
"We'd like to look through Max's luggage, if you don't mind." And before the police arrive. Doug was still in the study, and so I asked to see the bedroom first.
I readily identified Max's favorite suitcase, but a search of it and the clothes revealed nothing. Doug came in and said that Sergeant McDonald would arrive in about ten minutes. I suggested looking in the study, but Max seemed to have left nothing - though it was hard to tell what belonged to the apartment's owner, Johnstone, and what Max might have left in some obscure place. We finished looking in all the drawers and cabinets by the time the doorman phoned up to announce the police. I was disappointed that there were no interesting computers, electronics, or cameras that Max might have brought along on a detective expedition.
Sergeant McDonald proved to be a sandy-haired, middle-aged detective, apparently on beer-drinking terms with Doug. Doug introduced me as Max's neighbor in Seattle who had come down to investigate. Carrie explained, in more detail than really necessary, how cleverly I had tracked her down, not even knowing where in the country she was.
McDonald seemed relieved to find that the news had already been broken, and only asked questions that we had already covered. Carrie asked what the police knew, but nothing new came out. He didn't find anything more interesting in Max's belongings than I had.
The detective, putting his notebook away, then told Carrie - in what sounded, to my ear, like a verbal bit of bureaucratic boilerplate - that she could claim Max's hotel luggage from the police property room. But. The but was that it would have to be sometime when he could accompany her there and take an identifying statement. They'd have to take a picture of her with the property she's claiming, et cetera.
A meaningful look from me and Carrie asked if she could do that right away. I offered to drive her, following Sergeant McDonald back to police headquarters, and then bring her back. In the parking lot, Doug told me that he'd had a private talk with the detective about the body in the trunk. It was a computer consultant from West Palm, one with a minor criminal record. But no known Mob associations. Cause of death was still undetermined, but the time of death might have been even earlier than when Max disappeared, just from the insect collections.
Doug said he'd walk back to the condo and check in with his private investigators, see what the fishermen had to say. And that he'd e-mail Andre.
I ARRIVED BACK, carrying Max's other suitcase and looking hot. "Your police property room is cooking all the evidence. Literally. Isn't this town rich enough to afford air conditioning for the police department?"
Doug grinned. "Only in the offices. You do look a little hot. So, anything in that suitcase?"
He was, for some reason, wearing slacks and a blue blazer, with a neatly folded necktie sticking out of a pocket. That was sure a role reversal from the previous afternoon.
"Nothing interesting," I replied after I stored the suitcase in the closet. "He must have kept everything important in his briefcase, and it was probably on the sailboat with him."
"Did you get anything else out of Carrie?"
"No. It's strange," I continued, while looking in the refrigerator and taking out some grapefruit juice, "just how unlike Max she is - makes me wonder if she's who she says she is. After all, I've never even talked on the phone to Carrie before, and Max has never said much about his only child."
Doug shook his head. "She knew Max's opinions about Palm Beach. And I don't think we could have been set up - you had to work awfully hard to locate her."
"You're probably right. Maybe she's adopted. I doubt that she'll strike out on her own, searching for him. But she'll probably keep us informed, if she hears anything or thinks of anything she's forgotten."
"She certainly has great faith in you. Likely from hearing Max's opinions on the subject."
"Probably misplaced. I'm afraid, while this seems like progress, that we don't really know much more than we had guessed by last night."
"But our other guess has also panned out - the fishermen, questioned again, indeed remembered the sailor using binoculars. They thought that he was a Peeping Tom, peering in bedroom windows, and had been making jokes about it."
"That's why they probably still remember anything about the sailboat," I observed, "after two weeks have passed. Usually those sorts of memories fade in a day or two."
Doug nodded. "And he really did motor back and forth, over one stretch of water, not very far out from the lakefront shore of Palm Beach, just down the street from here. About where Jack Andersen's condo is."
"Wow! So, what about another fire department inspection? Can I come?"
"After you change into a dress. Well, I suppose you've got time to shower. We're not due for cocktails until sometime after five."
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
IN THE SHOWER, I thought of some perfect replies, ten minutes too late. I'd just stood there with my mouth agape, until Doug confessed that he'd had e-mail from Andre. Mortimer (or Jack, as Max was apparently in the habit of calling him at club meetings) had returned Andre's call and, after they discussed business, Jack asked Andre whether his son was still working in Palm Beach. Andre said that Doug was indeed down there. Then Jack had actually called Doug's belt phone.
So, we were both invited to a cocktail party, apparently as extra guests for a long-planned gathering of winter visitors to Palm Beach. In short, Doug warned me, they will mostly be people who have recently arrived from New York.
DOUG LOOKED AT MY COCKTAIL PARTY ATTIRE with approval. "You certainly don't need to make a trip to Worth Avenue. That's stunning."
"This black outfit would be a little exotic in Seattle, what with the open back and all the diagonal lacing. But I figured that it might pass in Palm Beach - for someone my age."
"It's perfect. But you'll attract all the men at the party, who will cluster around you. And keep you from playing detective."
"Well, that's part of my disguise."
"Yes, the art of minimalist disguise," I said, striking a pose. "We have a problem in dealing with Jack. He's probably on our side, but someone in the club maybe isn't - or leaks - and we don't know who. We don't want to lie to Jack if we can avoid it; he's much more likely to be an ally than not. But we need to figure out the eavesdropping angle, while keeping our options open."
Doug nodded agreement.
"So, during my long shower, I decided that you should just introduce me by my first name - and leave off any mention of Seattle, as well. After all, Jack probably heard my name mentioned at a club meeting, if Max tried to persuade them to bring me in."
"Good idea. Are you still a computer consultant? Or playing dumb?"
"I'm not sure that I'm smart enough to play dumb successfully, not without a lot of practice. And I can't hide, because I'm too tall. How about computer graphics artist? That's at least a serious hobby of mine, and I can speak the lingo with the pros if I run into a real one."
"Most of these people don't know computer consultants from computer salesmen. Better emphasize the artist part of it," advised Doug. He appraised my dress again, one eyebrow cocked. "So, you're dressed as a struggling young artist, are you?"
"You're getting warm. I can't go as your sister, because of Jack knowing your family. So I thought - with your permission, of course - that I would try clinging to you like an infatuated significant other. That way Jack will immediately classify me and not search for fancier explanations."
Doug beamed. "I'm speechless at your ruthless logic. Are we lovey-dovey enough that I get to kiss you in public?"
"Of course. We'll probably want to compare notes while looking around Jack's apartment and, given possible bugs, we'll have to do that by whispering in each other's ears. And that looks perfectly innocent if accompanied by a kiss and giggle," I said. I decided that we'd better rehearse in the elevator.
WE PLANNED TO ARRIVE EARLY so as to get some private conversation with our host, before the other guests started arriving. Even though it was walking distance, Doug suggested that we drive; he was concerned that no one know where we were staying, and that walking might give it away more easily, especially when we left the party.
He opened the trunk, rummaged through an aluminum case, and pocketed a silver ball-point pen with a digital watch display. It's actually, he explained, a broadbanded receiver that's handy for detecting bugs that broadcast, with the signal strength read from the digital display. He explained how he planed to use it, with a little help from me.
In the car, I asked, "Does Jack know about Max being missing in Palm Beach? Does he know that you know? Is he going to ask about what Andre told you?"
"Ouch, good point. Nothing's been said, so let's wait and see if he mentions Max first. Why don't I say that Dad asked me to use my influence with friends in the police department, to get them to take Max's disappearance seriously."
"Good. That would be a reasonable request for Andre to make of you, and not one that would involve you needing to know about the club. And it would be a request that you'd feel free to talk about to anyone. Qualifies on all counts. And if Jack knows about you being in school now, how are you going to explain being down here? You'll need to assume that you've been seen in uniform."
"I thought that I'd say that I'm doing a semester with no courses, just a full-time medical thesis preparation. That's even true."
"And then Jack, or someone else, is going to politely ask what your thesis topic is all about."
"It's actually about chaos theory as applied to irregular heart beats. But I'll instead say that it's about panic disorders. The paramedics see more of them than the E.R. docs ever do, because the attack is usually over before the patients get to medical attention. So, I'm working part time again as a paramedic, in order to tap into the grapevine and interview a lot of experienced paramedics. All while searching the medical literature in my off-hours. Thanks to the web, I don't have to hole up in a medical library - that's not quite true yet, but they won't know it."
"And I took some vacation from my job starting several days ago," I said, inventively, "just to come be with you. And, of course, party. I'll imply that I live with you in Boston, if anyone asks where I live, but I'll try to avoid the issue."
"This is beginning to sound nicer and nicer," Doug grinned.
Doug drove past Jack's building and continued south as far as the bank. He circled around the bank and headed back north while I turned around looking for cars following us. "Nothing," I told Doug. "May as well park."
The doorman didn't recognize Doug, out of uniform and with me on his arm. He immediately pointed us to the elevator and said that Mr. Andersen was on the sixth floor, all the way to the left.
When we finally rang Jack's doorbell, I was reflecting that the rehearsal had gone very well indeed. Doug had managed to hit the elevator's stop button with his elbow without my noticing, and so I'd begun to wonder why time seemed to pass so slowly. I snuggled up against Doug's arm and was looking at him when the door opened.
"You must be Douglas," said a fit-looking sixtyish man in a Palm Beach cocktail hour uniform. Who probably had recently changed out of a Palm Beach tennis uniform.
They shook hands, and Doug said, "And this is Kate. Kate, meet the famous Jack Andersen."
"Just Jack, please. Notorious is probably the right word, and that only among certain fans of Wall Street folklore. How do you do?"
"Hello, somewhat notorious Jack," I said, trying for my best smile.
"I like Jack much better than Mortimer, which is my real name. Entré nous. Come into my lair, fair lady. We're going to have a first-class sunset, so go straight out to the balcony and see the apartment later. I'll bring you something to drink. Everyone else will probably arrive too late to see the sunset."
And indeed the sun was reflecting a red streak across Lake Worth. As we looked, a catamaran sailed across the rippled path. I looked carefully to see if I could detect clothing on the profiles of the two crew members. I could, once the catamaran came closer to shore. Hmmm. But the sun had already set, when I'd been on the silhouetted sailboat myself.
Jack stepped out carrying two glasses of the superb scotch from the Orkney Islands. That's exactly what I'd had been hoping for, when I asked for scotch without ice. Telling hosts to omit the ice from the scotch is one of the better ways to get hosts to offer the good stuff, rather than the usual bar scotch.
The single malt was warming. As was the elevator episode. And the day had already had two successes - even though, I thought with some detachment, Max seemed no closer. I tuned out the social chat between Jack and Doug referring to Andre, and just leaned on the balcony and watched the sunset. Then we all heard the doorbell ring, and Jack excused himself.
"Hey, lover, observe that view to the south," I said to Doug. "And that pair of ten-by-fifties on the coffee table."
Doug immediately got the binoculars and looked for the window of the eavesdropper's apartment. "I can see something inside. The sun's so low that it's shining deep into the room," he whispered.
"But just for ten minutes more," I estimated, eyeing the sun and horizon. "Look quickly."
"I'm not going to be able to resolve the antenna angle with mere binocs. We need a serious telescope. And I'll bet you that Jack has one - lots of apartments in Palm Beach have them, let me tell you. Let's go wander around, arm in arm, before Jack introduces us to another guest."
We wandered around the corner of the balcony, looking inside the plate glass windows in search of a telescope. Jack's study was seen and, since the hall door itself was open, we felt free to wander in from the balcony's sliding glass door. Stashed in one corner, next to a wall-mounted world map, was a long refractor telescope with three different eyepieces mounted on one tripod leg. An obvious Christmas present, now mostly decorative.
Doug moved it to the center of the room and aimed it out the balcony door. I quickly shut the hall door and leaned against it, watching Doug switch eyepieces and maneuver the telescope. If Jack had started to open the door, I was going to make surprised-lovers' noises and say we'd be right out.
"Beautiful view of somebody's room, but not the right one. I'll have to count windows from the west corner of that floor," Doug explained, logically.
"The light is starting to fade a little. The sun's probably getting into that cloud layer on the horizon," I said, squinting a little.
"Got it! Almost missed it, because that antenna looks very different when seen straight on, rather than from the side, the way I saw it from the hotel next door. Just a simple little T. Take a look," Doug said, standing back. But leaving a friendly arm around my waist as I bent over to look, just in case anyone were to come in.
"I can't see either top or bottom of the antenna, and the profile is so symmetric that we must be seeing left and right sides equally. It must be pointing right at this apartment, Doug."
"That's what it looked like to me. Let's put the telescope back in its usual and accustomed place."
As Doug started to open the hall door, I pulled him aside and kissed him firmly. "Just to make you blush boyishly. I'm hating every minute of this, of course."
We walked out, arm-in-arm, and found Jack and his guests on the balcony. Introductions were made as the sun disappeared below the southwestern horizon, and I reclaimed my glass of single malt that I'd left by the binocs; carrying a full glass is protection against someone refilling it, the best way to stay sober. More guests arrived, interrupting get-acquainted questions, and more introductions were made. It was curiously old-fashioned in some ways, with several people actually lighting up cigarettes in the midst of a group of others who couldn't escape the fumes.
No one, I noticed, bothered to ask what sort of work I do - as if hanging onto Doug's arm were obviously my full-time occupation. I had mixed feelings about my acting success, wondering if they would have asked, even without my act. On the West Coast, someone would have asked, regardless of the camp-follower pose.
I also discovered that, in Palm Beach, they always ask "When did you come down?" as part of the conversational ritual. I found that I could answer with "Just this week," without saying where I came from - and that no one would ever inquire further into the matter, that the Greater New York area was simply assumed.
This is what, in the computer world, would be called the default assumption - it's that, unless you say something different. The social-life defaults down here, so far as I could observe, were 1) stray smoke was acceptable, 2) young women pursued men rather than careers, and 3) that you lived in New York, either "The City" or its suburbs. I didn't bother to disabuse them of their assumptions, though I did manage to position myself upwind of the smokers. One person asked if I was from "out on The Coast," so I said that I used to live there. She meant, of course, California, and probably Los Angeles at that, so I felt that I wasn't giving anything away. Seattle is not part, I am told, of the New Yorker's definition of "West Coast" for some reason.
BY THE TIME that the guests stopped arriving, I was sipping my second glass and Doug had been cornered by Jack. Doug was explaining his rebellious youth, immersed in computers and disliking school, how he loved the competence involved in being a paramedic, how he saw that he too could be an emergency room physician if he went back to school. And that if he didn't, he'd soon reach the top of the ladder of rewarding jobs in the fire department, that he'd have to become an administrator eventually. So he went to college, finally. No, his current ambition wasn't to become an E.R. doc - soon, Doug was busy explaining his panic attack project to Jack.
I was fascinated by seeing this side of Doug. But duty called. And so I, in the manner of significant others everywhere who have heard this story before, excused myself to go wandering around the apartment. As I looked back across the room, I remarked to myself on Doug's appearance - he looks like a fireman when dressed as a fireman, and he looks like a fashionable physician when dressed for a cocktail party. The lively eyes, assured manner, and well-trimmed dark moustache fit either side of him.
I took myself on a tour of the apartment, pausing and looking at the art hung on every wall. By the time I returned to sit beside Doug on the small sofa - and gave him an appreciative kiss on the ear - they were talking about Max.
"Dad asked me if I had any friends in the police department here, from my full-time fireman days," Doug explained to Jack. "Wanted me to give them a push, get them to put more effort into searching for Max. I do know the detectives involved - but they've really been at a loss for leads. Even notifying next-of-kin has been frustrating, It wasn't until today that his daughter was found. But that's all, I'm sorry to report. I think that Dad is hiring some private detectives to continue the search."
"It's really very sad," Jack said. "To think that people can disappear off the face of the earth, without a trace. And do - especially in south Florida."
Jack had to get up to play host again. I nuzzled Doug and whispered in his ear a moment later. "Agent K reporting, sir. I've located the cordless phone, on the shelf above the drinks. And its base station, in the kitchen. In case you didn't notice before, there's a regular phone in the study - which is unoccupied at the moment. Sir."
"Where's the base station in the kitchen?"
"On the wall, alongside the microwave. Terrible place to put it, but it probably works anyway, most of the time. To duty stations? Sir?" I added a light kiss.
He nodded and headed for the kitchen, carrying his full glass. I walked around the balcony and entered the study by the same door as we used before. I picked up the traditional model desk phone, and listened for the dial tone. And then pressed my thumb on the disconnect button. Then I released it to get the dial tone a second time. And repeated this again, for a third false start. Then I made "giving up" gestures, just in case anyone was watching, and hung up the phone, marched out of the room back on to the balcony. Dusk seemed to have turned to darkness. I found an uninhabited section of balcony railing and leaned over, staring at the Lake Worth waterway. Where Max was last seen.
Doug put an arm around me and whispered in my ear. "You're all tight. Did something go wrong?"
"Sorry, I was just thinking of Max again," I said, leaning against Doug in relief. "So, what happened?"
"The base station started transmitting - and stopped - exactly three times. It shouldn't have done that. So, someone has modified that base station to transmit all of Jack's phone conversations, whether they're made on the cordless phone or his desk phone or any other phone in the apartment."
"Is that difficult to do?"
"Hell, a guest at a party like this could have arrived carrying a package, swapped base stations, and left with their package. And many purses are large enough to conceal a base station."
"Do we tell Jack about it?"
"That would mean we'd have to explain ourselves. And what Dad revealed to us, that he wasn't supposed to. I suggest that we disable that particular phone."
"With a piece of paper inside the modular connector?" I asked.
"No, that leaves potentially visible evidence of fiddling. I can bend back one of those gold wires that you see inside a modular socket, so it no longer makes contact with the cable's modular plug. It's hard to figure out a problem like that. So, that particular phone will stop working, but all the others in the apartment will continue to work normally. Jack will just assume that, in the manner of old-style cordless phones, it has finally died of old age. He'll throw it out tomorrow and get a new one. Which won't transmit except when the cordless handset does."
"Excellent plan. Can you operate on it in the kitchen, or do I need to smuggle it to the bathroom under my skirt?"
Doug smiled at the thought. "I can do it with a car key without even looking, entirely by feel. As long as you come along and manage to block anyone's view."
I nibbled on Doug's ear as we discussed what microwave to buy, while admiring Jack's built-in model. While caressing my bare back with his left hand, Doug unplugged the cable with his right hand, inserted a key, and pressed it up against the ceiling of the little recess, right in the center. Then he replaced the modular plug.
"Okay, go and do your frustrated phone call act, once again," he whisper in my ear.
I disentangled myself, saying aloud that I was going to find the powder room. But I slipped into the still-empty study again, and got a dial tone three times. While doing this, I peered behind Jack's desktop computer, and saw that he had a brand-new firewall module for the net connection, the same model as Doug had bought for the condo.
Doug wasn't in the kitchen anymore but I found him at the balcony rail again.
"Success," he whispered in my ear, while kissing it. "Didn't transmit, even once."
"This is such a lovely cocktail party, Doug," I said aloud. "I could learn to like these."
I added, whispering again, "Same model firewall as you bought in Miami."
"That's also what I recommended to my Dad, months ago. So, maybe all the club got them about then, and tightened up security. Which means, hopefully, that they stopped talking on unsecured phones, just as Max and Dad did," Doug whispered, then raised his voice, "when we go out in the fishing boat tomorrow."
I nudged him, fondly. "You'll just drink too much beer and get sunburned, you know. I'll just have to protect you from yourself." I leaned over and kissed him.
"Can we leave and go for a lovers' stroll up the beach?" I whispered.
WALKING UP THE BEACH, I was having mixed emotions. My arm around Doug's waist, I was exulting over our string of successes as detectives. Crossing my arms and kicking sand a few minutes later, I was feeling guilty about another day passing without getting any closer to Max. The latter mood started to dominate as the scotch wore off (I finally drank it, just as we were leaving), and I became skeptical and a little cross.
Doug agreed that our leads weren't strongly related to Max, except for the inference that he was investigating the eavesdropping directed at Jack. Or other leaks associated with Jack.
"By the way, how did Jack know you were in Palm Beach - given that he thought you were in college now?"
"I wondered, too. But I didn't want to ask straight out. And the conversation didn't manage to return to the subject. Maybe he saw me in uniform, this last week. Or maybe someone told him. Dad might have slipped up and mentioned it."
"That's troublesome. But if Jack was really trying to hide his source, he'd have played dumb about the news that you'd given up Palm Beach for the life of a Boston undergraduate." I shrugged and then changed the subject. "So, why is the eavesdropping persisting, months after the changeover to serious encryption?"
"I still think," Doug said, "because of the lack of sophistication, that this eavesdropping was probably a stock broker running a little intelligence operation for market tips. A pro would have picked the lock on the telephone closet in the basement of the apartment building, then clipped a transmitter onto Jack's phone line at the patch panel. And, of course, that antenna was scanning multiple locations when I first saw it."
"That suggests Jack wasn't the only target," I said.
"But because Max's disappearance is associated with the eavesdropping," Doug pointed out, "we've got to assume that the parasiters also bought information from this eavesdropping entrepreneur. Or maybe Jack is now involved with them - maybe he was blackmailed using something learned by eavesdropping. And the parasiters discovered Max investigating their link to the club."
"So, the eavesdropper is our link. Or Jack. Or both," I said. "Are our detectives likely to find the guy servicing the apartment?"
"They're still watching, though they missed him on his first service call last night. They've got two people on the job now, each shift, round the clock. I think the eavesdropper will probably come out again, once a day passes without any phone calls recorded from Jack's apartment. He'll probably make a sorry-wrong-number call to Jack, just to see if his equipment will record it. When it doesn't, he'll assume that his jerry-rigged antenna slipped out of position."
"At least, if he thinks as logically as you do!"
"No, that's just routine repairman thinking. He's been using that equipment for a long time, and he probably knows how to troubleshoot it by now."
"So," I said, as we stepped around some flotsam washed up on the sand, "if we can find him, maybe we can bribe him to reveal who he is selling the tapes to."
"Good plan, Kate. You've done this sort of thing before?"
"No. Actually, I can't believe that I just said that - bribe somebody, or threaten them with exposure, either. But necessity is the mother of invention - and we've got to find Max. Exposing the parasiters is strictly secondary, in my mind. Figuring them out is just a means to an end."
"But you seem to think like a detective, just like some of the internists I've been training under. I still have to force myself to try and think of all the possible angles," Doug explained.
"Computer consulting is often a kind of detective work. Certainly my last big job was, where someone had used the e-mail software to delete other managers' e-mail."
"They got superuser privileges on the system?" Doug asked.
"Nope. A few years ago, a manager wrote the specs for the systems programmers, about how he wanted the e-mail system customized. It was supposedly all in the interests of structuring interoffice communications, to define lines of reporting and responsibility. Worked just fine. And then he left the company. Job titles changed around during the next several years as the company grew. Now there are three managers at this level where only one had been before - and one of them discovered that his privileges extended to deleting his fellow managers' unread e-mail."
"He couldn't read their mail," I continued, "but when their mutual boss would e-mail a request for reports to all the managers, he'd delete someone's copy of the message. And so he'd be on time turning in his report, when one of his fellow managers wouldn't even know there was a deadline. It got very complicated to unravel the coverup of his maneuvering. I wound up showing that four other people had been used by this guy, were made to look bad so he could look good. That was what took so long, figuring out who he'd injured."
"Suppose the club's e-mail system is secure?"
"Probably not. Crackers get superuser access all the time on systems like that, though usually only very briefly. But with good ciphers, it shouldn't matter much - unless, of course, they actually delete unread e-mail files. Still, there might have been a leakage route from before all the encrypting started in August. That might still lead us back to the parasiters," I said, cheering up. "Add that to our list of projects for tomorrow."
We turned back to retrieve the car at Jack's condo. My good mood didn't last more than a minute. "But what we really need is a lead to Max, damn it all. It could take months to unravel a parasiters' conspiracy that's really distributed around the country. If Max was kidnapped and is still alive - which we've got to assume - he might not survive that long."
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June 1998 DRAFT
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I SLEPT BADLY, as I kept getting up to readjust my mixture of outside breeze, air conditioning, and ceiling fan. Thinking about Max didn't help, either.
Shopping for a replacement nightgown, one thing that Worth Avenue ought to be good for, was going to be the least of my worries. I got up and checked email.
THEN I OVERSLEPT, which made me mad at myself again. I appeared in my robe, saying "Good morning" pleasantly but probably looking cross. Doug, reading the Times at the dinner table, got up to make me a latté. He made sympathetic noises as he steamed the milk.
I was having none of his sympathy. Max was looming in my mind and I didn't want to get distracted - that make-believe at the party had been entirely too pleasant. But it was now the fifth day since I heard that Max was missing, and I felt that I knew little more than I did after the patrolman's first visit to my Seattle apartment. Max was just getting further and further away.
I refused breakfast, but glanced at the election headlines. "He lost re-election!" I exclaimed. "My least-favorite mean-spirited senator. When I lived in Kansas, I worked hard to get rid of him but he could always buy ten times more television time than any challenger, thanks to all the lobbyists trying to keep him in power."
But my cheer didn't last long and, after flipping through the paper, I soon disappeared into the master bedroom with my mug. I reappeared in running shorts and a tank top. "Do we need more danish or juice?" I asked Doug.
"No. Run unencumbered," Doug said after an appraising look at the frown on my face. "I'll pick up some later when I go out, after I make some phone calls and send some e-mail."
AFTER MY RUN AND SHOWER, I reappeared and stood behind Doug as he concentrated on his computer screen. It showed sunrise on Mount Rainier from Seattle, the live picture you get by browsing http://www.washington.edu that was my favorite way of seeing if it was raining outside. "Sorry if I'm cross this morning. The run did me some good."
"I know you're worried," Doug reassured me, sympathetically, turning around to look at me. "But we now know who Max was interested in - the people eavesdropping on Jack. And maybe Jack himself. That's real progress. At this time yesterday, we didn't even know that Jack existed. Or that Carrie was in Palm Beach. Or how the eavesdropping was done."
"I know, I know. But, damn it, Doug," I said, still pacing, "I stand out on that lovely balcony of ours, in the middle of the night, and look out over Lake Worth all moonlit, and I think, That's where Max disappeared. Just offshore from here, probably."
I shook my head vigorously. "Almost two weeks ago, now. I want to find Max so badly that I can taste it. It tastes bitter, five days of failure to lay my hands on him. And for a week before that, I failed to register that he was missing - and I should have known, from the lack of e-mail about Black Friday!"
My voice was almost breaking. "I want to take him back home to Seattle, help him recover. I feel like I've got to go out there and make up for lost time - start interviewing people myself, find the clues that the police have missed. Shake things up."
"Kate, Kate. What we need are imaginative leads to follow up, or to get others to chase down. Come out and interview the fishermen with me, if it will help, but remember that you're the brains of this outfit. You know Max, and you know computer networks and how they can be bent. As wonderful as it was to have you help me check out the cordless phone setup at Jack's, your talents are really wasted on that sort of thing."
I looked out the balcony window for a moment, and finally sat down across the table from Doug, forcing a smile. "Message received, Doctor Chen, sir. But ideas don't come out of nothing. They're always new combinations of old things. And I need my brain stimulated a little - it's gotten soggy overnight. So, what's the plan with the fishermen? You bet I want to come along!"
"So far, in using Sol's detective agency, we haven't let our hand show - not even telling anyone except Sol that we're searching for Max. We, unlike the detectives, can make decisions on the spot about how much to reveal, if we see a line of questioning that might lead somewhere. The hazard of that sort of front-line activism is the risk of being identified and traced back to this apartment. But I do think, on balance, that one of us has to do a third interview of these fishermen."
"See, for instance, whether they noticed any other person watching Max's sailboat, any speedboat lingering about, or maneuvering near Max," I said.
"My imagination, probably like your's, runs to kidnapping by large speedboat - which are a dime a dozen along this intracoastal waterway. Just pull up alongside Max, point a gun at him, and order him to climb aboard and go below decks. Then motor down to the Lantana inlet and head out to sea. A few hours later, the speedboat anchors somewhere in the Bahamas, in a nice quiet cove. Customs inspections over there are a joke; no one would discover Max locked in a room below deck."
"Or know if he was dumped overboard, with an anchor chain tangled around his feet. Ugh. Let's go see the fishermen before they decide it's getting too hot for comfort," I said, getting up.
THE FIRST TWO FISHERMEN didn't know anything more than they'd told Sol, but the third one proved very interesting. When questioned about another boat interested in that particular sailboat, she described a large deep-sea fishing boat with a flying bridge.
But it wasn't fishing - she knew better, because they never actually dropped a line over the side, just arranged some marlin-fishing poles in the holders on the rear deck. Not, she sniffed, what you'd expect to catch in this channel.
She remembered it because of the sailboat that she had seen idling - and also not fishing - for several days. The old guy with the binoculars kept motoring back and forth along the Palm Beach lakefront. And because the two boats had, after two days, been seen together. Though only briefly. The big marlin boat had pulled alongside the sailboat for just a minute of two, and then left, heading south down the waterway under the Lake Worth drawbridge.
"Did the drawbridge open for it?" I asked, after keeping quiet up until then.
"Yeah," said the henna-haired woman in her seventies. "Finally. I think there was a little argument with the bridge tender, about whether their radio antennas were really tall enough to require a bridge opening, 'cause the marlin boat had to go around in a circle half a dozen times before the bridge opened. Somebody told me that the daytime bridge tender gets real pissed off at some of the guys whose antennas can be bent down to clear the bridge."
"So, there was a little argument by radio?" I asked.
"Probably. I've seen boats about that size circle impatiently, at least once a day. The bridge tender makes them wait, if they insist on the bridge being raised. Contest of wills. Men," she sniffed.
"Did you recognize what make and model the boat was?" asked Doug.
"Don't know those things, least not like the men do. But I'd recognize one, if I saw another go by."
"If I came back with a magazine that has lots of boat pictures in it, could you look at it with me?" Doug asked. She nodded. "Later today?"
"I'll be here until noon. Then my boyfriend picks me up."
"Tell you what, if I can't get back in time, I'll send that man who talked to you before, have him bring along some pictures. Can I bring you some picnic lunch from the deli, or a cold six-pack?"
Before we left, I asked one more question. "What did the sailboat do, after the marlin boat left?"
"Just drifted around for a while. Another hour, at least. I think it was still there when I left at noon."
BACK IN THE CAR, Doug phoned Sol with an order for three pastrami on rye, hold the mayo. And two quarts of fresh orange juice, plus two cold six-packs of Perrier. Don't forget napkins and some copies of the sailing magazines that have for-sale ads in the back, the kind with lots of color pictures of the boats.
Then he phoned the bridge tender. "Is that Bruce? Hello, again. This is Doug again. Thanks for lowering the barrier on my tail the other day. Hey, you got a minute to show my new girlfriend the view from up there, how you lift that big bridge just with the tip of your little finger? ... Great, be there in about three minutes."
We heard the latch on the sidewalk door buzz as soon as we neared it. A flight of stairs and we were in a junior-sized airport control tower.
"Hi, Bruce - meet Kate, who has this thing about drawbridges."
"I've always wanted to see a modern one," I explained while shaking hands with a thin, fussy-looking man in his fifties with an ill-fitting hairpiece. "I'm from Seattle and we have all those wonderful old drawbridges built about 1910."
"Well, they haven't changed much since then." Bruce replied. "Hydraulics in places, lot better bearings - but the principles are all still the same. What's new is that this is a double drawbridge."
"Double? Don't many drawbridges have two halves?""
"But our two halves are side by side. Look down at the deck," Bruce said. "The southern half of the bridge is for the two eastbound lanes of traffic, the northern half for the westbound lanes."
"Why not one four-lane bridge?" I asked, though suspecting the answer.
"Vibration. I have to lower them separately for the last several feet, just to avoid all the vibration that would shake the structure if they both clanged down together."
And it seemed that the southern half was always getting out of joint, causing eastbound traffic to have to detour for miles via the Manalapan drawbridge. It's many hours until the mechanics can reset things. Doug explained how Bruce and the other bridge tenders nonetheless managed to slip the medic vans through, no matter what.
"Yeah, but you guys are a pleasure, the high point of my day. Some of those speedboat guys are the low point. They think they're hot stuff. I'm always having to call the sheriff's water patrol boat about some asshole, showing off, with reckless disregard of the other boats."
"Do you get the same problem that the tenders in Seattle complain about," I asked, "the boats that are two feet short of your clearance - but want the bridge opened anyway, somebody who wants to impress his friends with his ability to command the cars to halt and a big bridge to open?"
"They've got to be ten times worse, down here in Florida. Last time I was in Seattle, I didn't see many of those big flying-bridge boats that are so common down here. Or any of those big speedboats, those guys who want the world to think that they live dangerously like the drug runners. They even dress like they imagine Mob types to dress."
I merely smiled encouragement.
"Most of those boats have antennas that can be bent over - they won't fit into a covered marina without tying down the antenna. And the ones with the stiff fiberglass rods that can't be bent, why they're mostly too short for me to have to raise the bridge, except at a really high tide. But those assholes will get on the radio and lecture me about the Navigation Act of 1928, that I'm obligated to get this latter-day obstacle out of a boat's way when they command it. They even get the year wrong."
I looked to heaven.
"But it's their word that it won't clear and, since I haven't measured their exact boat's antenna installation, I have to raise the bridge if they really insist," Bruce grumbled.
"I'll bet it sometimes takes ten minutes for you to get around to raising both halves," I smiled. I saw Doug pick up the binoculars and look at something.
"It's just what a psychologist friend of mine calls operant conditioning," Bruce said, looking pleased with himself, "so maybe they'll avoid the issue the next time. But for some of them, it's like waving a red flag at a bull. Some boats, when I see them coming, I know we're sure to argue for five minutes, and that they'll speed around in tight circles the whole time. Macho bastards. And they talk real principled, like jailhouse lawyers. Demanding, demanding. You can almost hear them pounding the steering wheel."
"Regular customers, huh?" grinned Doug.
"Some of them do it twice a week. But some, I'll remember from a month earlier. Once they've done it maybe three times, they're reliable - they'll do it every time after that. Compulsives."
"You keep a description of them, so you can report them for speeding if they race away at full throttle, after the bridge opens?" Doug asked.
"Still got your list from two weeks ago?" I asked, suddenly serious.
Bruce was not surprised. "Of course. I log those guys, because they're often reckless when they think they're too far away for me to read their registration numbers. I write down the number and the name, just as they go under the bridge." Bruce picked up his logbook and started flipping back. "What date do you want to see?"
"October 22, a Thursday." I found that my voice was tight.
"Here's the 22nd. Only one of them that day, right at 10:55 am. But I know that marlin boat - he's one of the regulars. Prissy skipper. Suave-sounding - but up tight, if you know what I mean. Don't think I've seen him since then."
"Know what he looks like?" asked Doug, writing down the boat's name and number. The Recrudescence?
"Middle-aged guy who always wears a really broad-brimmed canvas hat, of a style I haven't seen in years. So I usually can't see his face from up here, except the times when he looks up at me and gives me the finger. Wears wrap-around sunglasses like the European skiers. Gray moustache. Jowls that shake. Big, heavy guy who doesn't take care of himself. Probably have a heart attack, the way he's going," Bruce said indignantly.
"Tall?" I asked.
"Certainly big around, big bone structure. Yeah, I'd say he's at least as tall as the two of you. He's always wearing a blue blazer with that absurd hat of his. Linen pants, I'd swear, sort of cream colored instead of white. Real old-fashioned kind of guy who got set in his ways about forty years ago, when he was in his twenties. Probably complains all the time that what he wants isn't kept in stock any more by the stores, so he has to get a tailor to make it up, special."
"Some of those rich guys are real strange," Bruce continued. "Don't get me wrong. Others are real gems and smarter than most other people. But they're all kinda protected from the real world, if you know what I mean. And so, the strange ones stay strange. This guy might work, though - he's never sun-tanned like the idle rich. Rich doctor, maybe."
"Ever see anyone else on his boat? Beautiful blondes, little boys?" Doug asked.
"No, he's usually alone. Well, just that old Cuban guy that works for him. Always dresses like crew, know what I mean? Clean whites, but nothing fancy like braid," Bruce said. "A little rough-looking, compared with the skipper. Isn't buddy-buddy with him, just hired help to gaf the fish and moor the boat. So, this have anything to do with that missing guy that the cops were asking me about, whose sailboat was found by kids that kept it?"
"And delayed the Coast Guard search," I said bitterly. "I could throttle those irresponsible kids. The missing man is my next-door neighbor, Max, and we're trying to find him. What did you tell the police? They told me they weren't able to find anyone that had seen anything."
"When the Palm Beach detectives came by here a week ago, they just asked me if I'd seen the sailboat. Sure, I said, two dozen of this same model, every day. They're not tall enough to need the bridge up, so I don't get to know them individually, like those big boat guys. I told the guy from Lantana the same thing yesterday."
"So, have you ever noticed," I asked, "a big boat taking an interest in one of those sailboats? Ring a bell?"
Bruce looked out at Lake Worth. "I do remember seeing that same marlin boat idling around, up the waterway on the Palm Beach side just past those red and green channel marker buoys. Thought I recognized the boat, so I used the binocs. Big flying-bridge fishing boat, about 35 feet and twin screws, real modern lines. The idiot had a big marlin pole out the back and his hired help sat there, pretending he was fishing for marlin. In Lake Worth!"
I grimaced appropriately.
"I kept wondering when old Shaking-Jowls was going to come down here and give me trouble. But for two days, at least, he never came this way - at least, not while I was on duty, which is seven to three. Just hung around. Now, that last day, he idled around for only a half hour or so. And then he pulled up alongside a sailboat, a model like the cops were asking about. Who was also just hanging around, always on the island side of the channel. I had to raise the bridge for someone coming north about that time, as I remember, so I didn't see anything else until the marlin boat came down here and old Shaking Jowls gave me his usual five minutes of bluster."
Doug looked at me to see if I had any other questions. No, I nodded.
"Well," he said, "we'll have to pass this on to the cops. Who will undoubtedly come back down here and ask some more questions. And then, since they'll probably figure that a kidnapping occurred, the FBI will probably ask the same questions all over again. Could you phone me if you remember anything additional? That's the number for my belt phone, which will reach me anywhere at anytime."
Before we left, I said, "Bruce, please don't tell anyone about this. Not even your best friend. Kidnappers can get rid of the evidence pretty easily, from boats. Max could be killed if the kidnapper heard that he'd been noticed. The police will remind you of this, and so will the FBI. I'm asking you on behalf of Max. I'm his best friend and he's like an uncle to me. Please don't even hint about this, not to anyone."
Bruce nodded, soberly. "All right. Let me know how it all turns out."
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June 1998 DRAFT
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AS WE WALKED DOWNHILL off the bridge into Palm Beach, I was almost skipping along in my new-found enthusiasm, waving my hands and exulting over getting a description of Jowls and his boat. Doug, however, was thinking ahead.
"We've got to give the police the kidnapping, Kate. But we don't want them investigating the eavesdropping, because of Jack - and since the fishermen know we were asking originally about antennas and the like, maybe we should withhold our pastrami-on-rye-with-Perrier fan?"
"Let's get the police started on the boat registration," I replied, "and not worry until they ask. We don't really need an excuse for talking to Bruce, because questioning the bridge tender is such a logical thing to do. But we'd better warn the woman not to talk about this, if we can do it without stirring her up."
We had parked on the approach to the old bridge which, since the new bridge went into operation, serves as a fishing pier. Doug used the sun-faded pay phone to call the police. "I'm getting the detective's voice mail, which is just as well.... Hi, Doug Chen again. Kate and I have just been up to see Bruce, the tender at the Lake-Lucerne drawbridge. You're going to want to see him, because he now realizes that he probably saw a big marlin boat idling alongside the sailboat, likely kidnapping Max. Furthermore, he logged the time and boat registration, though for a different reason. Florida five-eight-niner-two Delta Tango. We cautioned Bruce about mentioning this to anyone, given the ease with which boat kidnappers can dispose of evidence, but you'll want to reinforce that. Bruce has had a lot of interactions with that particular marlin boat skipper and can give you quite a description of him. He's there until three this afternoon. By the way, a detective from Lantana talked to Bruce yesterday, so I trust you'll coordinate with them too. I'll check with you later."
I'd been thinking. "You know," I said, "this marlin boat skipper doesn't sound like a pro. Or, indeed, anyone with street smarts. Any sensible kidnapper would have avoided radioing the bridge tender - he'd have just pulled down the antenna and motored on through, hoping not to be noticed."
"That could have been doubly clever," Doug answered. "Since he was well known to the bridge tender, it would have been surprising if he hadn't gone through the ritual. Bruce, certainly, would have considered that remarkable - he'd have spent hours congratulating himself on getting this skipper to finally back down."
I frowned and nodded agreement. "You're certainly right about Bruce and his little power plays."
"But that description Bruce gave!" exclaimed Doug. "This Jowls character is a person of fixed habits - sounds like some old-fashioned doctors I know. Or maybe even a compulsive. If Bruce is even half right in his characterizations of the guy, it's one hell of a lead - even if Jowls doesn't turn out to be the registered owner of the marlin boat. First thing to do is to ask Dad about him. And maybe get Dad to ask Jack."
Doug saw Sol Linzer parking his car nearby, so we walked over and Doug introduced me to Sol. Better, we decided after explaining the news to Sol, for the woman not to be reminded of her previous conversations with Sol about eavesdropping, when the FBI finally got around to interviewing her. So I took on the job of delivering the pastrami-and-Perrier.
The woman quickly flipped through the boat magazine ads while sipping cold mineral water. She unequivocally pointed out a flying-bridge model with fancy lines. When she suggested that creditors are trying to locate the marlin boat in order to repossess it, I said it was more serious than that, to please not mention any of this except to the police, when they get around to asking her. I avoided mentioning the FBI, kidnapping, or Max.
AS WE DROVE BACK NORTH toward our condo, I started worrying about our breach of our self-imposed security.
"We talked out on that bridge walkway about the kidnapping, as if parabolic microphones didn't exist. And the same thing when Sol arrived. There were other cars parked nearby, with people sitting in them, even."
Doug agreed that we'd have to be more careful, as he waited for a traffic backup to clear. But he wanted to focus on what to do with the information about the marlin boat and Jowls.
I was using the side mirror to inspect the cars behind us.
"Doug," I said, troubled, "go on past the turnoff for our place."
"What's up?" he asked, checking all three rear-view mirrors.
"Just a Mercedes, same model and color as was parked down near the bridge, when we were talking to the fishermen. And Sol. Probably just another car. Those high-end Mercedes are as common as Fords, down here."
"I see the one you mean. Fifth car back. No license plate on the front, so it's probably a Florida registration. But it's blue, and most people down here prefer the lighter colors, to reflect some of the heat."
"We could always just continue up to Worth Avenue and go shopping," I said, attempting humor. "I still need to replace my nightgown, the one that the burglar ripped. Or maybe we could circle around the block, to see if the Mercedes will follow."
"Kate, there aren't any blocks to circle around - Palm Beach is one long strip below Sloan's Curve, with very few side roads. And they all dead end."
"Isn't that an intersection up ahead, at the traffic light?"
"That's the fire signal, for the southern station. It's just off on the right," he said. "Actually, I could take a loop around the fire station and come out heading south. Want to do that?"
"Okay," I agreed. "Let's try it."
We passed the fire station, noticing that all the garage doors are shut. Signalling the turn, Doug turned right into the employee parking lot. We were immediately hidden by the landscaping. Doug drove south to the fire station and stopped. He got out, ducked through the landscaping, and looked up the main road at the receding line of cars.
"He continued straight on," Doug reported as he climbed back in. "And no one else stopped or turned off. I accounted for each of the six cars that were behind us."
"So, maybe a false alarm. That's nicer than the alternative," I smiled nervously.
"Still," Doug said, "he could have our license number. While that doesn't match up to our condo address, he could drive through all the condo parking lots. I'll ask the doorman to keep an eye open, and try to take the license number of anyone that asks questions or cruises around. Good thing we have locked parking indoors."
BACK AT THE CONDO, I swept the apartment for bugs for the second time in the day, while Doug popped up his dictionary and searched for recrudescence. "Hmmm. Well, it's definitely a word for the Sunday crossword puzzles. It's sort of like resurrection. But not really. It means something bad, starting up all over again. As in a latent infection that flares up."
"Ugh," I said from the front hallway. "Sounds like herpes. Strange thing to name a boat. Maybe he's a true pessimist."
Doug got on the phone to Andre. "Dad? Get on the computer phone, because we'll need the cipher... Remember to set the encrypted voice mail to the conversational mode. I'll call you back via the net."
I pulled up a chair just behind Doug, so the mike would pick us both up. "Dad? Turn off your computer's speakerphone and use the handset. We're using a speakerphone but Kate just swept the apartment for bugs and we've still got the steel shutters closed."
"Okay, okay. What news is there?"
"We've found two witnesses who probably saw the kidnapping as it was taking place. And one, the bridge tender, actually recorded the marlin boat's name and registration number for another reason." We summarized what the two witnesses saw.
"So, we had to give the bridge tender to the local police, who will probably bring in the FBI and the Coast Guard," I explained, "but we avoided mentioning the first witness, the woman fishing. That's because she might recall that Sol started out asking her about electronic eavesdropping. One of these days, that could mean that the police will ask Doug all about that, and it might lead them to Jack Andersen."
"Even if they don't ask me," continued Doug, "my line of communication about the investigation is going to dry up pretty soon. No matter how grateful the Palm Beach police are, for being handed both the next-of-kin and the bridge tender, the FBI won't keep them very well informed about their own investigation. Or at least, that's the Bureau's reputation. Do your people have any top-level entré at the FBI, so you could hand this to the FBI before the Palm Beach police get around to it, and so maybe open up a dialogue?"
"That's an excellent idea, Doug. One of our members is a high-level consultant to the FBI. I'll call her right away with your marlin boat name and number and we'll get the kidnapping search started for Max. Anything else, before I do that?"
"Does the description of that marlin boat skipper sound at all familiar to you? Could it be anyone in the club?" I asked. "Or a friend of theirs?"
"Big and sixtyish," summarized Doug. "Legalistic about asserting privileges. Jowls, wrap-around sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats, not especially sun-tanned. Suave-sounding. Compulsive rituals, maybe? The sort of guy who refuses to play tennis if he runs out of clean tennis shirts, because he can't do something if he can't wear his customary uniform. Maybe gets into arguments with the maitre de, insisting he have a particular table each time?"
"I can't think of anyone, right off. I wish we had more members with Palm Beach connections. Should I call up Jack and ask him? Without mentioning where I got the information?" Andre asked. "And avoiding any mention of the kidnapping, or the surveillance of Jack's phone conversations?"
I nodded and Doug answered. "Okay by us, Dad. Why don't you make it a `What's that guy's name?' sort of inquiry. Say he mentioned some arbitrage techniques to you at some meeting that both you and Jack attended, something that wasn't club business. But you've forgotten his name, or even where he was from."
"Mention something about his compulsive rituals or linen pants," I added, "but leave off the sunglasses and the hat. They're too Florida."
"Okay, I'll get the FBI started and then phone Jack. You disconnected his phone surveillance?"
"Yes, at least the cordless-phone route. There could be other taps, of course. And in another day, our eavesdropper could conceivably set up another recording system. But he probably just thinks that Jack hasn't received or made any phone calls, so far today; Kate and I only disabled that base station last night."
After we disconnected, Doug looked at the one-time-pad gas gauge and grimaced. "At least it was only voice and not video. But it's about time to plug in the second disk of celestial harmonies from Orion."
"Do you want cut fruit for lunch," I asked while looking in the refrigerator, "or shall we have Sol bring us another picnic's worth of pastrami and Perrier?"
DOUG'S BELT PHONE rumbled. It was Sol, requesting a call back on a secure line. Doug set the apartment's phone to block the who's-calling, and phoned back. "We're going to have to get security-model belt phones, you know," he mentioned to me as he waited for the call to go through.
"Just what I need," I quipped, "another pound added to my waistline. But yes, the sooner the better. But I doubt if Worth Avenue has anything so useful in its stores."
"Hi, Sol. So, what have you got for us? ... Let me write that down." I came over and hung on Doug's shoulder, to see what name he was writing down. "Did you check the watercraft hot sheet for that number? ... Well, do that too, if you can."
"Anything on the apartment?... He'll think that the antenna has slipped. So, he'll come back and try to aim it better.... Well, let us know stat, so I can beard him when he returns to his car. Remember to run a license check on his car while I'm en route. And check the hot sheet. Phone the registration to my belt phone while I'm talking with him. Credit check, too, as soon as you have it - I've got some negotiating to do with this guy, and I want ammo."
"Kate," Doug said as he hung up the kitchen phone, "I saw that expression on your face. I said I and not we for a good reason. This isn't like interviewing the fishermen. Only one of us should expose ourselves to this guy. We don't want him to be able to describe both of us, working together. If I can't go for some reason, you go. But keep the Volvo out of his sight. Park at the hotel and walk next door."
"Good reasoning," I replied. "I can't argue with that. So, who's our marlin boat skipper, oh wise one?"
"A corporation, and its address is a lawyer in Orlando," Doug answered. "But let's see if we can find any matches. I think that I can manage the Area Code 561 on-line directory. You check Max's address book and that SEC database."
While waiting for Doug to finish his search, I had time to read my e-mail. My guess was correct - someone had indeed tried to imitate me and sent abusive e-mail to some people at the university. Two had received my warning, one wasn't in my address book and hadn't. I replied with an apology and a copy of my warning message. Still, it was good news of a sort, and I explained it to Doug when he was free. These three people weren't my usual correspondents these days, and they were all at the department where I'd gotten my Ph.D. five years ago. So the guy was guessing at targets based on public information, not my correspondence records.
Doug and I had both struck out on our database searches. We decided to ask Sol to hire some people to ask around the marinas, all along the waterway to the north of Lake Worth. Yes, the police or FBI would surely do it too, but maybe not immediately. And I wanted instant results, preferably by yesterday.
Sol said he would have to subcontract the job to a big West Palm agency. Do it, Doug said, but try not to cause any comment on the grapevine. And keep the investigation compartmentalized, so no one knows who is so interested. And paying so well. If the FBI asks Sol who's behind all the questions, it's okay to tell them - Doug doesn't want the FBI wasting time chasing shadows - but keep it quiet otherwise.
"So, why name a boat The Recrudescence?" I asked, once Doug had gotten off the phone.
"It's one of those thousand-dollar words that no one else knows," he answered. "Maybe that's the attraction. It's also vaguely medical - I heard a neurologist use the word once, regarding a flare-up of multiple sclerosis, but forgot to look up the word afterward. So maybe Bruce was right."
Then Doug's belt phone rumbled once more.
"Oh, hi, Jack," he said, raising his eyebrows at me. "Just been out with her, matter of fact, getting some sun.... Dinner? Let me ask her. Hey, lover," Doug said, raising his voice unnecessarily, "can you stand another glass of Jack's single malt? Followed by dinner there?... Tonight. We can do the Cajun place tomorrow night.... Well, Jack, that certainly wasn't hard. Oops, just a minute," he said, half-covering the mouthpiece this time. "Well, I think you look fine that way, but having nothing to wear is entirely different than wearing nothing.... Of course, you can wear the same dress." He entirely covered the mouthpiece briefly and winked at me.
I was hopelessly laughing, with my hand over my mouth.
"She'll manage somehow.... Okay, I'll tell her that. Seven it is. Bye for now."
Doug grinned. "Jack says that if he can serve you exactly the same single malt again, then you can wear exactly the same black dress, two nights in a row."
"Such a syllogism! So, what's this out-of-the-blue invitation all about, lover?" I said. "Two nights in a row?"
"What Jack said is that he was having several people over for dinner tonight. And that one of them, a woman who's a professor of economics somewhere, said - upon hearing that I'd been at the cocktail party yesterday - that she'd always wanted to meet me, since she knew Dad from something or another. Her name's Bertha Hauser, and she's only in Palm Beach for several days, so it can't be another night."
"Now, where have I heard that excuse before? You'd better call Andre and ask about her. And find out what Jack said about the marlin boat skipper."
DOUG SET UP another encrypted conversation while I tried to trace the corporation that owns the marlin boat, hoping to find a way to get a name for Jowls. I finally e-mailed Melanie, and handed her the job.
"Oh, by the way," Doug said while waiting for the connection and handshaking, "Jack said that Dad had called about some other matter, and that he'd given a `good report' of me. And, apparently in somewhat greater detail, about you as well."
"Old-boy jokes, no doubt," I grimaced, "about young love. I can hear them now. I think that this is all a plot to get me into that elevator, again. So, what are we going to do, if Sol rumbles your belt phone at dinner?"
"I'll just say that I'm on call for the medic van, though I thought that I was near the bottom of the call list. And I'll leave you to carry the conversational ball for both of us, while I go engage in a little bribery. Oh, hello, Dad."
Andre's "Here I am" on the computer speaker sounded more hearty than before, though deciphered speech wasn't, I told myself, always reliable about the timings of speech that indicate such things. Probably just my suspicious imagination.
"So, who are you going to bribe, Douglas, me boy?" Andre was sounding hearty.
"The eavesdropper. We can't exactly arrest him, or kidnap him. Eavesdropping is a rarely-prosecuted crime, even when it involves interstate commerce. So, I thought that I'd try to buy the name of his customer off him - which isn't going to do him any good after this, because he's going to have to go out of business. That's because a dozen people already know about his eavesdropping operation and someone will likely talk, sooner or later, and he'll wind up in the newspapers. Any future customers will worry that he cut a deal with the authorities, maybe is aiding in a sting operation. So, I'm going to offer to hold a going-out-of-business sale for him, buy up his inventory - with some of that small fortune in cash you gave me before I came down here. If anyone ever sees that stash, they'll be sure I'm running drugs or laundering drug money."
"He has such a fine, devious mind," I added. "They're sometimes inherited."
"Actually, Kate is even more devious than the Chens," Doug said. "She thought up that line of approach herself, last night. And she's the one that thought up passing herself off as my infatuated significant other, at Jack's party last night."
"Must have been quite an act, too," Andre said, "given the report that Jack volunteered over the phone an hour ago. He thought that the two of you were getting to the critical third stage of infatuation, shopping for home appliances. I said that Doug didn't keep me up to date on such things - but that if Jack ever had a chance to watch Kate on a dance floor, not to miss it."
Max again, I realized. A voice from.... No. Focus.
"Well, I agree about how to handle this guy, if he really does turn out to be an free-lance market tips operator," Andre continued. "Haven't heard back yet from Carolyn, about how her approach to the FBI went. Now, about this marlin boat personality you somehow uncovered. Jack claimed that it all sounded familiar - but that he couldn't put a name to him either. Maybe after he slept on it, et cetera. He sounded interested in this guy. I'm not sure he believed my excuse for asking about this compulsive guy, since he knows how busy I am, looking for Max."
"Dad, we just this minute got a phone call from Jack inviting us on the spur of the moment to dinner tonight. Jack says that a woman named Bertha Hauser is in town and wants to meet me."
"She's almost one of the club, you know - Well, I suppose you don't know, at that. She's a close friend of two members, both Jack and an investor in Colorado named Ted Offenbach. She's a business school professor in Oregon. Does economics theory for distributed networks - which is somewhat political, in her case, because she's a passionate Libertarian. Don't let her get started on the subject - she's a classic example of a fundamentalist. Thinks that a simple theory must underlie everything, that there must be rules to appeal to. But she's very knowledgeable about how small effects can synchronize, to appear more powerful than they really are."
"So, is she privy to what the club's doing?" asked Doug.
"Conceivably. In somewhat the same way, one supposes, that I've told you and Kate. She was who the club had in mind, back when they turned Max down on inviting Kate in - they didn't want any more loose associations like that, just an increasingly tight inner group, all responsible to one another. Bertha is probably okay - but then I'd say that about everybody in the club, too."
"So, she might have heard my name mentioned," I said, frowning and shifting in my chair.
"Possibly. I wouldn't be surprised if Jack or Ted told Bertha the story of Max getting turned down, as an explanation for why they couldn't share information with her, anymore."
"So, though almost no one asked me last night about what sort of work I did, I'm a lot more likely to be challenged tonight," I observed. "What's my last name, don't I live in Seattle, aren't I a computer detective of some sort? I'm willing to lie, but we'd burn bridges that way and the lie wouldn't stand up for long. What's our backup position? That I ran into Doug down here while looking for Max - and renewed an old acquaintance? They might suspect the connection, but the club still doesn't appear in the explanation. And I'd be the only one of us who would look devious."
"That might work. And you could give away your success at finding Carrie. That would distract them for a little while. You can be indignant at why the local police didn't do exactly what you did. You don't need the eavesdropping as an excuse to phone hairdressers - or interview fishermen, for that matter, if they seem to know about the FBI alert already. Yes, yes - I know Doug helped, but the longer we can keep them from thinking that Doug is also heavily involved, the longer we'll avoid club members confronting me. And the longer that happens, the longer that others will underestimate the pair of you. Another day of us looking fuzzy to others might be worth a lot, since it will take a while to get the FBI into high gear."
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
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WHEN DOUG LEFT to visit Sol, to review plans for handling the eavesdropper, I got to musing about Doug. He's much nicer than his father, and his father isn't as bad as I originally thought. I had liked Doug from the beginning, except for all my fatigue-laced confusion about the redhead business. I should have let him handle Carrie to start with - he was so kind and thoughtful. He cheered me up this morning when he saw that I was fretting. And cross. Of course, he's younger than I am. Of course, that Steven must be ten years younger than Melanie.
Taking myself firmly in hand, I sat down at the computer and tried to focus on the Max Problem. I decided to ply my talents on the e-mail security problem of a few months back, to see if there were any clues. I figured that it was the one thing remaining on our list of leads that we couldn't farm out to hired help. I had the computer dial the phone number for the general manager of The Conf, whom I've known for years.
We chatted for several minutes about the Kate imitator. Then I got down to serious business. "Hey, Sid, how would you like a free security analysis of the Old Conf machine?" I asked.
"A high-priced consultant offers me something for nothing? And for the old machine, that we put out to pasture two months ago? It's just sitting there without users, eating air conditioning. While waiting for the new machine to fail. Hmmm - this is like the fire department, wanting to burn down an abandoned building as a training exercise. Nu?"
"I won't burn a thing, honest!" I laughed. "And any changes that I inadvertently make, you can always reverse with your last backup tape. As it happens, I want to analyze a security breach that might have happened back before September. Have you still got backup tapes from July and August?"
"Sure. The new machine uses the new higher-density tapes, so we haven't overwritten the old tapes. But what's the catch? You want superuser access, I suppose."
"Yes, but I don't propose to go rummaging through your users' old mail - with one exception, and you can get permission from Andre Chen, who's backing me. It's the private conference group that he established - a dozen users or so - that I need to check out. I think that someone tried to read their mail. If I figure out how, you can plug the security loophole in the future."
"Kate, it's more than a little irregular to allow superuser status to someone who isn't a high-level employee, even for a day or so. The board of directors...."
"Sid," I interrupted, "I know exactly what you mean, and I'd say the same thing in your place. Unfortunately, I can't tell you over an open line just why this matter is so serious and urgent. So, let me put it this way - if I can't solve this problem informally and within about the next 24 hours, I'll have to give it to the FBI. It's urgent as hell and it involves major federal crimes against Conf users, not merely eavesdropping or computer cracking."
"So, the FBI will come out with search warrants. And some meshugah will try to haul off the whole computer system as evidence," Sid lamented. "And spook my users. Oy Vey! My board, if they ever find out about it, will only conclude I acted wisely in the circumstances. I'll set you up on the Old Conf machine with superuser status, using your regular password. I'll mount the backup tapes myself, right away."
"Thanks, Sid. I owe you one. Or two or three."
"Not at all, Kate. I'm sorry to hear that someone has such a serious problem, but it's nice to know you're the one handling it."
CHECKING MY E-MAIL first on the new Conf machine, I found nothing of importance; well, there were four messages from television producers who'd discovered my e-mail address, but I didn't even read their messages beyond the first lines.
Then I decided to see when the club members last checked their e-mail. Everyone had checked in the last two days - except for Ted Offenbach. He hadn't checked in for a week. Perhaps, I speculated, he was having his e-mail forwarded to another machine. So I checked for a .forward file in his subdirectory. No file. Therefore no forwarding. No .vacation.msg file either, to automatically send an e-mail reply to anyone that sends him e-mail, saying that he's out of touch for awhile. Indeed, he had no files in his directory. Hmmm. That requires a substantial housecleaning effort, since things normally just accumulate.
After I sent it off, I used the last command to check out Ted's logins for the past month. Every day, including weekends, he had read his e-mail.
I hopped over to the Old Conf machine and logged in. I tried to access the shadow password file - and yes, indeed, I had superuser status. I checked for other users currently logged in. Just Sid. And to think that a few months earlier, I'd have gotten back a hundred names or more. It's like being alone in a huge, empty office building, formerly the scene of much hard work and gossip - after everyone else had moved into the giant new office building across the street.
I could, however, restore that lifeless meeting place to a snapshot of its state taken on July 21 when they backed up the disks. That might take too long, so I only restored the subdirectories for the dozen club members.
I listed their files using ls -al, UNIXspeak for the long form of the directory command that shows the permissions for each file. And in most cases, the mailbox files were set with group read/write permissions. That's highly unusual - it means that anyone in the club could read anyone else's mail. And delete it. Or modify it.
I groaned out loud. The exceptions were Max's and Andre's mailbox files, which were set normally; only they, or a superuser, could read their mailboxes.
I restored the August 20 backup, and looked again. Now all of the mailboxes were set normally. I restored August 13, and they were all normal. But on August 6, they had the group permissions set as in July, with the ability to read one another's mail. And similarly back in June - which is as far back as the backup tapes go. Something had happened in the second week of August.
Now why, I asked myself, were Max and Andre exceptions? No one else in the group could read their mail, either before or after the second week of August. I decided to check when they established their accounts on The Conf. Many years ago. And the ten others were all established on the same date just one year ago. So, they're probably the "group" of the group permissions.
I checked the Group ID numbers for the ten and found my guess was right. Neither Andre nor Max were, technically, group members. But, of course, group membership probably wasn't being used for anything; participating in the private conference was controlled by a security checkpoint that checked user names against a list of those permitted entry. So, the operating system's group permission system had been manipulated somehow: one of the ten was probably reading the e-mail of the other nine.
I promptly looked at Andre's sent-mail file for August 10 and couldn't find any record of this message. It could, I realized, have been deleted from Andre's cumulative file after it was sent off.
The reply popped up about ten minutes later.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
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DOUG ARRIVED BACK just in time to change for dinner. As he changed, he told me that he'd talked to the Palm Beach detective in charge of the case. The most interesting thing was what he least expected. Sammy McNulty, the Lantana detective, was an ex-Lantana detective, who quit the force a month ago after a series of suspicions about selling information from official files. Sol had heard Mob connections mentioned more than once, in association with this guy. Doug had asked Sol to try and find out what McNulty was doing, who he was working for, and if he had helpers. But to make sure that the inquires couldn't be traced back to us.
That time was so short saved me from worrying for very long. In the car, Doug told me what was happening with the eavesdropper surveillance. Sol's people had installed a videocam on the hotel fire stairs, pointing into the room's window. It transmitted the picture so that the detectives could monitor it from their cars in the parking lot below. And there was a second videocam, one of the "spot on the wall" pinhole cameras, broadcasting from the hallway leading to the room. A third videocam on the roof showed the parking lot of the hotel next door, in case the suspect parked there rather than in the apartment's own parking lot where the detectives were staying.
"So, what are they going to do when they see him?" I asked.
"Phone me. If they have identified his car, they'll park their car in front of it to slow his escape. The idea is to delay him, by talking to him, until I can get there. They'll attempt to get him to show some I.D. by suggesting they are private detectives hired by the apartment building to catch thieves, saying that they know all the residents by sight and that he's not one of them. That they'll have to call the cops if he can't prove that he has a right to be there."
"And, because he goes there so rarely, he's vulnerable. Good idea."
"What we want is a solid identification, so even if he later walks away from us, we can find him again. Or give him to the FBI. They'll check the registration of whatever cars are parked just prior to spotting the guy in the apartment. And hope the two match."
"What ever happened to checking out the rental of the apartment?" I asked.
"No such person at that address in Boca. The monthly rental checks come from a lawyer. We can't ask the lawyer without alerting the suspect. Dead end."
This time in the elevator, Doug again tried to press the stop button. But it wouldn't click. That was because I had already pressed it.
Jack greeted us wearing an apron and invited us into the kitchen, where he carried on with chopping up the ingredients. It appeared that Bertha Hauser was to be the only other guest and, Jack said, she was always late. Entirely reliable.
Doug declined a drink, saying that he was on call, but I gratefully accepted a single malt. As I sipped it, I noticed that there was a new-model cordless phone beside the microwave, the kind with a cipher used between base station and handset.
"So, I just love these new-style cordless phones," I said, pointing.
"I've just had it for a day, but I like them too. Third phone this year," Jack replied. "The original one died last Spring. Its replacement only lasted a few months, and died last night. The party was too much for it."
"Did you take it back and complain?" Doug asked.
"No. It was a thank-you gift. Ted Offenbach - your father knows him, Doug - gave it to me. He'd been staying in my guest room for a few days at the time the old one failed. I thought about asking Ted where he got it, but he hasn't replied to my e-mail note to him yet from last week, so I figured that I'd just get the model that I wanted all along."
"It might have failed, you know, because it's next to your microwave," Doug observed. "That can overload the input stage of the telephone's receiver, maybe burn it out. The milspec gear we used in the Navy had input protectors, but most civilian gear doesn't."
"Ouch. I should have thought of that," Jack said, unplugging the phone and its power supply. "I guess that I'll move it to the library. Later."
Doug's belt phone rumbled audibly, and I mouthed a "Not that again" gesture.
Doug listened briefly, said "En route," punched it off, and clipped it back to his belt buckle. "Damn. Called out again. They seem to know when I'm about to sit down to a nice dinner."
"Is there a chance you'll be back?" asked Jack. "I can always stir you up a fresh batch of the noodles."
"Maybe," Doug said as he opened the door, "just maybe. The last time, I only sat around the fire station until the two regular crews returned from West Palm hospitals."
Jack and I returned to the kitchen but he refused all my offers of help. "That's like offering a ride to someone who's out for a walk," he kidded me. "Cooking is my hobby. Chopping up veggies is almost as refreshing as kneading bread dough."
"Jack, any rainy day that you want to bake bread, I want to come help you. I know some wonderful recipes. I can almost taste them." Actually, I didn't know any recipes but I knew of a Web page that linked to a lot of recipes on file.
"I think that the chamber of commerce has outlawed rainy days, but will a cloudy day suffice? Perhaps when Doug is off with the fire department?"
"You're on. I'll go shopping tomorrow for the right flours..." The doorbell rang. Firmly.
"That's Bertha's ring," Jack said, smiling.
I remained in the kitchen and heard Jack explain to Bertha that she just missed Doug by only a few minutes, that he'd been on call and gotten summoned. "Oh," a gruff voice said, "that must be who Oscar barked at. A young man ran past us in the parking lot, in quite a hurry. No one ever runs in Palm Beach, except before seven in the morning. He did look a little like Andre."
I soon saw that Oscar was a miniature poodle, carried under Bertha's right arm. Bertha proved to be a stumpy middle-aged woman of commanding disposition and shapeless dress, the kind that crowds part for.
"This is Doug's friend, Kate," Jack said in introduction. "Perhaps you'd both like to sit in the living room. I know Bertha needs a martini with a twist. Can I refill your drink, Kate?"
Oscar, put down on the sofa, immediately came over to inspect me. Oscar was obviously everyone's friend, and I rumpled his hair to his satisfaction. Jack disappeared into the kitchen, shutting the swinging door as Oscar made a beeline for it. Rebuffed, he returned to Bertha's side and solicited attention. From Bertha's remarks to Oscar, it became apparent that Oscar was only reluctantly tolerated by Jack. I wondered why Bertha continued to bring Oscar here, in that event. An assertion of power?
When Jack returned with the drinks, he pointed out a wood carving on the coffee table - a rather good one, done in the style of the coastal Indians. Jack explained that Bertha was the artist. I confessed to doing art only via computer.
"Kate," Bertha said, after Jack had returned to the kitchen and again shut Oscar out. "You're obviously from the West Coast. You wouldn't be the famous Dr. Kate Medici from Seattle, would you?"
That wasn't even subtle. "Certainly not while I'm in Palm Beach. And I doubt that I'm famous even at home in Seattle."
"Oh, but I've read your doctoral dissertation," Bertha said. And so it went. When Jack returned ten minutes later to announce dinner, he was bewildered to find Bertha and me deep in a discussion of network stability, of how large-scale stability can co-exist with small scale chaos.
He listened for several minutes, and finally got a word in edgewise. "Oscar will probably eat your dinner, if you don't come now. But, while I've got the floor, whatever are you two talking about?"
"This is wonderful, Jack," exclaimed Bertha. "She's Max's next-door neighbor. And the same Kate Medici who did that study of network stability using the Wiener kernel methods that I tried to explain to you last month. Medicean metastability, they call it now. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Probably because I didn't tell him," I admitted before Jack could answer. "I guess I'm used to lapsing into first-name-only Kate when I go to hot and humid places like Hawaii and Florida. And avoiding any mention of work - you wouldn't believe how many net connections I've wound up reconfiguring, while supposedly on vacation."
"So, have you heard anything of Max?" asked Jack as we sat down at the table. A fourth place was set for Doug.
"No, but I'm searching, as best I can. Doug's helping me look for Max as much as he can, in between getting called out for paramedic duty," I said, wondering how much I could tell them without involving Andre and the club and the FBI search. I decided to take Andre's advice and so I began to tell them a wondrously detailed version of the search for Max's daughter, even the various responses I got from the Palm Beach hairdressers. And how I finally discovered Carrie in a sublet just a mile up the street. Furthermore, Max had stayed there, before moving into the hotel. By the time that I told about inspecting Max's luggage in the police property room, dinner was almost finished.
The doorbell rang, and Doug's voice was heard in the hallway as he let himself in. He was introduced to Bertha, who sat regally with Oscar under her right arm. Jack said that the second sitting for dinner would commence in just a moment, and busied himself at the stove.
Doug said that he'd get his own beer from the wet bar in the living room, heading off further social chat with Bertha. He signaled me to follow him.
"Success, but the news will keep," he told me when we were alone. "The top priority is that Dad phoned. Ted is definitely missing under suspicious circumstances - his rental car is still sitting at the ranch, they discovered. Together with our evidence that Max was kidnapped, Dad has concluded that he simply must tell the club members about the disappearances, so they can take measures to protect themselves from being the next victim. So, he wants us to tell Jack - and Bertha as well - the bare bones. Tonight. No details about Max, just the fact that he is presumed kidnapped now. And we can admit our role in working for Dad."
"They already suspect a lot, I think," I said with a shrug. "Bertha had obviously studied up on me - asked me flat out if I wasn't the famous Dr. Kate Medici - though I might have been a surprise to Jack. So, the cat is pretty much out of the bag, as far as they are concerned. Still, we don't want to let them know where we're staying, or any details of our search methods."
Back at the table, with a fresh batch of Thai noodles in front of him, Doug started in. And then, deflecting a question from Jack about the fire department, Doug announced that I had some important news for them both.
"Andre," I began, "has decided that you both need to be told some information for your own protection, since he is worried that members of the club - and others on the periphery as Bertha has been - might be targets of kidnappers."
Jack did a genuine double-take, bewildered about who I really was, for the second time in the course of an hour. Bertha merely shut up Oscar and gave me her full attention. Even Oscar seemed to know that something had happened, as he licked his lips nervously.
"We now know that Max was kidnapped two weeks ago," I began, intentionally using a briefing-officer tone of voice, "and the FBI has begun a search - though very quietly, and we must ask you to say nothing about it to anyone. Furthermore, just today we discovered that Ted Offenbach disappeared from a guest ranch in New Mexico. He was last seen about six days ago, and his rental car is still at the ranch."
"But how? Who?" asked Jack, still disoriented.
"That's all I can tell you, just those bare facts. Undoubtedly Andre will be telling everyone by cipher, but he wanted us to deliver the message personally to you both," I said compassionately. "Two people disappearing, out of a dozen, could just be coincidence. But Andre thinks, and I agree, that we have to temporarily loosen up on the investigation's security, just so everyone can be warned."
"This is known to be kidnapping?" asked Bertha. "And not murder?"
"Might Ted just be lost in the woods, somewhere?" asked Jack.
Interesting that Bertha should phrase it as a dichotomy, I thought silently. But I also wanted to steer the conversation away from still another possibility - that Ted could have fled, having waited until a period in which he could disappear and not have it noticed for a week. The club still needs investigating for leaks, I thought, and while Ted was suspect because of the cordless phone, things could be more complicated. The amateurishness of it all still bothered me. I worried that the amateurs were false leads, planted by more sophisticated conspirators.
"We're hoping that it's not murder," I replied. "In the case of Ted, someone left a phone message with the room clerk, claiming to be Ted and saying that he had to leave the conference early. Having gotten that message slip, the conference chairman didn't worry about Ted. Since Ted's car is still there, we presume Ted himself didn't leave the message." Though, I reflected, someone could have picked up Ted.
"Could it be murder?" Jack asked, now engaged.
"Yes, but a murderer would have been taking some risk by leaving a message, rather than just walking away. Sounds like someone wanted to delay discovery by many days," Doug said, wiping his mouth with the napkin. "Otherwise, Ted's absence might have been investigated within 24 hours, after he didn't show at several conference sessions."
"Ted didn't check out of the hotel when he left?" asked Bertha.
"It's not really a hotel in the usual sense," I answered. "At least, not when I was there two years ago. It's a guest ranch, used a lot for small, intensive conferences. The organizers probably rented the whole thing and paid for everything. There aren't even room keys, this place is so remote. Rustic cabins and converted bunkhouses, that sort of thing. Lots of opportunities to take a walk in the pine forests - horse trails and old fire roads everywhere. Easy to kidnap someone using a four-wheel-drive vehicle, without ever being seen."
"It's the attempted delay of discovery," Doug added, "that is especially worrisome. No ransom messages. And one reason for delaying discovery of a second kidnapping could be planning additional kidnappings. That's why Dad is so exercised. The Mob connections are bad enough - the burglar that Kate caught in Max's apartment has turned out to be identified with the Mob in Texas." He didn't say anything about the ex-Lantana cop, our other Mob worry.
Surprisingly, we didn't have to fend off further questions. Both Bertha and Jack seemed stunned by the news. Doug repeatedly offered to escort Bertha home but she refused, saying that she couldn't possibly be a target. She disappeared into the elevator, with a subdued Oscar securely under her shoulder.
Jack was expressing concern over his friends, Max and Ted; he was only beginning to come to grips with any possible threat to himself. Doug offered to arrange for some private security to augment the doorman, but Jack was unwilling to commit yet. I said that Doug could sweep the apartment for electronic surveillance, just as a precaution, and Jack agreed to that precaution.
While Doug was getting the equipment from the car trunk, I tried to talk with Jack. But he was still disoriented about the three different versions of Kate, so far this evening, and avoided my gentle questions by hoping up to play host, offering me an after-dinner drink. He firmly turned aside my offers to help load the dishwasher. The easy comradery was gone, and my mention of baking bread went nowhere as a conversational ploy. He was wary of me. As soon as Doug returned, Jack immediately shifted his attention to Doug, going with him from room to room and asking about how the bug-sniffer worked.
When they got to the library, I joined them, asking Jack about his computer security. I explained that I knew that the members of the club shifted a few months ago to using a modern firewall to the net, using the Israeli cipher system for all of e-mail to other club members. But that I was concerned about passwords, whether they are automated.
Like Andre and Max, Jack turned out to have taken the shortcut of using an automated login script that supplied the password when asked. Even though it is a modern automated password system based on the public-and-private key principles, one where the transmitted password is never the same from one login to the next, I explained that this is protection only against wiretappers. And not against someone - a workman or a party guest - entering his library and logging on as if they were Jack, and then using his ciphers.
I offered to modify his script so that it would prompt him for his personal password that activates the Israeli changing-password subroutine and the message encryption software. And told him to be sure and use a pass phrase to create the password.
"Good idea," Jack said. "I'll fix it myself, tomorrow after I've selected a good phrase for the personal password. I'll probably have all night to think about it, anyway."
"Well," said Doug, "no bugs in your house. And I didn't see any little ants either, so you must be living right. Don't open your door to strangers. Call Kate or me if anything seems odd."
MY PRIORITY E-MAIL icon was flashing on the screen when we returned to the borrowed condo. I typed in my pass phrase (H1,dnh from the Hippocratic `First, do no harm,') to unlock the computer and decipher the message:
"Ouch," I said, hitting the table with my fist. "He blew our cover unnecessarily. I do wish he'd consulted with us about that."
"I suspect," Doug said, reading over my shoulder, "that he felt he had to justify himself for disobeying the club's very clearly stated decision not to tell you anything, last August. And he's telling them that we made the discoveries, to show how his decision produced something important. Dad can be like that."
"I don't know, Doug," I said, leaning back in my chair. "It seems to me that the eavesdropping aspect could be pretty central to why Max was snatched. Granted, we've got a partial I.D. on the suspect and his boat - so why Jowls snatched Max is less crucial than it might otherwise be."
"I'm inclined to agree with you, that the FBI should be told more," Doug replied. "The club probably has some sources to protect, likely in places like the SEC and the Department of Commerce. So, Dad may worry about opening the door too wide."
"I don't want to do anything to distract the FBI from chasing down Jowls. Okay, let's postpone the side issues. So, I'm dying to hear what happened with your eavesdropper!"
"All the preparation paid off," Doug grinned. "Driving down there, I got a phone call from Sol's office with the car license info, then in the elevator came another call with his driver's license, which matched. Fellow named Henry Symington. And some business directory information, that he'd been a stockbroker but wasn't currently employed as one. Sol's office checked the SEC database, just as I rehearsed them using your macro, and found he lost his license for shady practices. He was in the county database of legal actions, having been evicted for nonpayment of rent from a Lantana office suite. He's on the tax rolls, with a ten-year-old mortgage on a big house. So, he's pretty anchored here, can't run easily. Sol can't easily check criminal records in this state, but we did pretty well with your datasurfing macros."
"So, by the time I reached the door to the apartment where Sol and his assistant were standing talking to this guy, I knew a lot. I immediately confronted him with the apartment being rented to someone of a different name and nonexistent address. And said that a fire department inspector had discovered illegal wiring leading to an unusual antenna on the roof. So if he didn't want us to call the cops on the spot, I suggested that he invite me inside for a little serious discussion."
"Leaving Sol and his assistant outside, I went inside - and of course the antenna was quite visible, lashed to the two chairs. I said that I was now sure he was the eavesdropper for stock market tips that `everyone' had been looking for, that I'd suspected it when I heard about the shady dealings that the SEC had banned him for. That certainly startled Henry. Fortunately for him, I said, I wanted his information more than his hide. And was willing to hold a little going-out-of-business sale for him."
"He must have been relieved," I said, twisting about. "He probably was worried about trying to buy you off."
"Well, it took a lot of back and forth, but it finally came out that one of his several customers for the market tips was a middle-aged man who sounds a lot like Jowls. Didn't know his name, just had a beeper number for him. But he met him several times in a waterfront bar up in West Palm. Big, fat, with prominent jowls. Same kind of fusty personality as Bruce suggested. Henry thought he might be a hand-washing compulsive - very clean hands, as if they were scrubbed many times every day."
"Or he might be a general surgeon, who did a lot of procedures every day," I interjected, gesturing to Doug to continue.
Doug nodded. "Fussy about his beer, wouldn't let the bartender pour it. Insisted on pouring it himself, always exactly halfway up the glass. Henry said that Jowls drove a late-model Mercedes. But couldn't recall the color or license plate."
"Anyway, Jowls bought tapes of Jack's conversations - he was the only one of Henry's customers who was currently interested in Jack. And he was particularly interested in the tapes from when Jack was using his single phone line for his computer modem - that got broadcast too, back before late August when the modem was no longer heard."
"That's about when the firewall boards were distributed, wasn't it?" I speculated. "Jack must have gotten a second phone line for a dedicated net connection, and stopped using a modem on the regular telephone line."
"In any event, Henry said that Jowls had been losing interest in the modem stuff even before it stopped."
I interrupted. "Maybe he was eavesdropping to get a copy of a message before it was encoded - early on, they were encrypting things on The Conf's machine, after first uploading them in the clear. That's a classic way to crack a code or cipher, so you can read messages from other sources using the same system. I did exactly that with Max's files, to crack the club's DES key for September. Wiretapping just one member would have done it. Once Jowls's buddies had cracked the cipher, he wouldn't need Jack's in-the-clear messages any more - until the cipher was changed."
"Sounds right," Doug said. "Still, Jowls continued to be interested in Jack's unencrypted phone conversations. Paid well, never threatened Henry. Jowls was initially - several years ago - interested in market tips from other targets of Henry, but gradually his interests seemed to shift to Jack."
"Any particular subject matter?" I asked. "After all, Jack's in the investment business in a big way, whatever his club connections."
"I asked Henry about that, and he confessed as to trying to figure out what Jowls was paying so much money for, when none of his other customers were interested, even after listening to a free sample he gave them. Henry may not have known about the altered base station; when I asked him if he wondered about hearing modem signals on a cordless phone, Henry indicated that he was aware that some cordless phones had modem jacks. So someone could sit out by the swimming pool, et cetera."
"But Henry never figured out what was so interesting about Jack's conversations?"
"Apparently not. Because of Jowl's other little peculiarities, Henry was willing to believe that Jowls was also some kind of voyeur - though again, Henry couldn't figure out what was so interesting. Then he figured that Jowls might be jealous or paranoid, having had some other customers like that."
"So, is Henry likely to have Mob connections?" I asked.
"I can't judge, myself," Doug replied. "But I asked Sol, who talked with him after I left and then phoned me in the car. Sol says it's unlikely, simply because the guy doesn't seem smart enough to survive in such a competitive atmosphere. He's a middle-aged order taker who's shrewd enough in his way, but not street smart or organization smart. There's always a chance that the Mob was one of his customers, Sol says, but other than that, he'd be very surprised at a serious Mob connection. Still, as Sol pointed out, Henry might go home and tell someone about us. And that someone might pass it on."
"Well," I said, standing up and yawning, "we'd better think quick if we've got any more questions to ask Henry. Because I think we ought to give him to the FBI tomorrow. His customer is obviously the kidnapper in the marlin boat, and we can't hold back on that kind of evidence, even if it does expose Jack to the FBI."
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
THE FBI CAME TO CALL the next morning, without warning, while Doug was out. Not only had the doorman not called up to announce them, but neither of us had given out the apartment's address or phone number so far, and I was annoyed at the breach in security. Andre must have given them the apartment address, I supposed, as I led the two agents down the hallway into the computer-cluttered living room. I'd been planning to say, when the FBI called for an appointment on my belt phone, that I would drop by their West Palm offices.
The two men were obviously from the local office, and they were only interested in the kidnapping of Max. I led them through the discovery, emphasizing the old-fashioned detective work and trying to keep Doug's name out of it, so they wouldn't question him or Sol. Because I'd wondered why Max was hanging around the Sunrise Hotel area when he had a nice apartment a mile north - something that the Palm Beach police didn't realize in their earlier investigation - I'd asked the bridge tender about a sailboat that just seemed to be hanging around.
The agents seemed to treat me as just the next-door neighbor who came snooping around (they appeared to have read the missing-person's interview of me in Seattle, but not the burglary report), and they asked no questions about who helped me. Even the fishermen didn't enter into the conversation. I wasn't playing dumb with them but acting competent, as if solving problems was my line of work. As at the party, I wondered about my success at steering the conversation, suspecting that the two agents would have underestimated me in any event.
I asked about who turned out to own the marlin boat - but the agents weren't about to share any information with me. They weren't even willing to say if they had interviewed the bridge tender yet. And so, thoroughly annoyed, I put off the decision about whether to tell them about Henry, deciding to wait until Doug returned.
As they got up to leave, one of the agents asked about the computers. So I had a casual-seeming conversation with both of them, one that I routinely use to assess the level of someone's computer knowledge without making the person feel as if he's being interviewed. It became clear to me that, while they typed their reports into computers and understood the use of the usual dollar-a-minute legal databases, both were totally clueless about the net in general. Someday, presumably, I might have to explain my netsurfing for Jack and Carrie to a knowledgeable investigator, but not to those guys.
DOUG RETURNED from the airport a half hour after the agents left, about when I was getting ready to fill out the web order form for A.J.'s delivery service. He had one bit of troubling news. Bruce the bridge tender had phoned him, to say that the Lantana detective had been by again this morning, as well as the Palm Beach detectives and the FBI agents that had come yesterday. So he'd told McNulty the whole story, too, including our visit. Doug explained that McNulty was no longer a police officer, and that Bruce should immediately call the FBI and Palm Beach officers and tell them about McNulty's visit. So now we had to assume that the Mob knew about Jowls and his marlin boat. And therefore where Max might be.
Doug had gone to the airport to walk his sister Susan between gates and add to her carry-on luggage. He'd gotten up early to copy the last disk of random noise onto a dozen autodestruct disks, for distribution to the club members by courier. His sister, who runs a travel agency in Baltimore, was going to deliver the disks to club members all across the country in a marathon of courier duty.
Since the FBI might be able to get the NSA to crack the Israeli cipher the club had been using, I was happy to see the one-time-pad scheme finally implemented for the whole club. One time pads, based on noise from space, couldn't be cracked because nothing repeated: it is a key of infinite length with no orderly procedure. The Orion key, I decided to call it.
I reported briefly on the unannounced visit from the FBI agents and its implications for our apartment's security if anyone like the Mob managed to read their routine reports. McNulty had tripped over traces of us by now, just as we'd discovered him. The Mob was a serious problem and I'd finally begun to realize how lucky I was to disable the burglar, that we couldn't count on that kind of luck again. We had to assume that McNulty would eventually find our condo.
Doug agreed. "We could save this place for a mailing address, for situations like FBI interviews where we really have to turn loose of a Palm Beach address. Yet move ourselves and the computers to a different condo. What a nuisance! Not what we need to waste our time doing, either."
"But it's not just having our address floating around in the FBI's computer network," I explained while pacing the floor in front of the steel-shuttered picture windows. "I'm really worried about putting information concerning the parasite conspiracy into FBI databases. Because guys like the ones I saw would be totally clueless about how valuable the information could be. They'd just type it in. Standard Operating Procedure."
"They'd have no idea of the billions of dollars at stake" - I was really flaming by then - "which could be used to bribe low-level people with computer access, if the Mob's usual threats didn't suffice. So, I'm beginning to agree with Andre, that we limit the information and pass it only through a high-level contact that can be held responsible, in some sense, for its further distribution."
I was interrupted by my belt phone. "Hello? ... Max!"
I sagged on my knees to the sofa in relief. "Oh, Max, I've been so worried.... Yes.... Where in the Bahamas? I'm writing it down, keep on.... Same boat as kidnapped you from Lake Worth? How many crew? ... Damn! Lost the connection," I exclaimed, looking at the LED display where the who's-calling merely read OUT OF USA.
I waved off Doug's desire for a report and immediately sat down at my keyboard, typing a memo to myself about the conversation. I know very well how memories can be distorted by a subsequent conversation, and I wanted to replay it in my mind before contaminating my short-term memory with something else. Doug immediately understood and read over my shoulder, without speaking.
I leaned back to let Doug finish reading my notes, and rested my head against his shoulder in relief. "He's alive, after all this time," I sighed. "But his prospects don't look good, given how much he knows about this guy."
Doug nodded agreement, while holding my shoulders tightly. "What I wish...." He was interrupted by my belt phone, rumbling again.
I snatched it from my belt buckle, again noticing OUT OF USA on its display. "Hello? Describe the boat again, Max. How big is it? ... But.... Damn. Damn."
"I assume Max meant that his belt phone might have been left behind on the marlin boat," Doug said, reading.
"Yes, but why did he take valuable time to tell us about it? He surely doesn't want us to phone that number."
"Did it have a GPS in it?" Doug asked.
"Yes, I told you that earlier - oops, no, I told the young patrolman in Seattle about it, not you. It's the same model belt phone as mine."
My belt phone rumbled a third time and I grabbed it eagerly. "Hello? ... Where do you think you are? ... I understand, go ahead.... Stop, Max - I know exactly who you're talking about. His son hiked Mt. Rainier with you.... Disconnected again."
"Doug, he's telling us not to give this to the FBI, isn't he? And he was talking about my belt phone, there at the end, I think. And there's that earlier elaborate mention of his belt phone."
"Could he be pointing us to the GPS ping capability? Is your belt phone exactly the same model as Max's?"
"I think so. I was so taken with his that I went out a few days later and bought one exactly like it, from the same store," I said. I unbuckled the belt and passed it to Doug.
"Looks just like the military model I used to wear," Doug said presently, "except the case isn't as rugged. And yours, of course, is more decorative, with all that fancy gold-and-silver design to imitate a real belt buckle. Inside, on the other hand, it might be identical to the milspec model. With everything inside chips these days, civilian versions of electronics sometime possess the military features as undocumented extras. So, the first thing is to see if your belt phone will respond to a ping in standby mode. And spit back the GPS data."
"Ping? What do you mean? Like an airplane's transponder?"
"Yep. It's a search-and-rescue feature, at least in the milspec model that the Navy uses. If the phone receives a coded transmission from a search-and-rescue aircraft, it will power up the GPS long enough to get a fix from the satellite signals. And then it transmits the phone's current latitude, longitude, and altitude."
"I should have read the manual that came with my phone. Damn. Max just demonstrated things to me, instead. So, how do we figure out if my belt phone - and hopefully Max's - will respond to a ping?"
Doug grinned. "You get lost! Seriously, I'll call a Navy buddy of mine, who's now a civilian tech for the Coast Guard," he said, reaching for the apartment's phone. "Probably has to repair such things. Why don't you get off a note to Dad about Max - and complain to Dad about giving out our address."
While hoping that Max would phone a fourth time, I encrypted my notes and e-mailed them to Andre, adding:
ON THE WAY to the Coast Guard station up in West Palm Beach's harbor, I called my phone company using the car phone, trying to get a trace on the three calls from the Bahamas. It was a frustrating fifteen minutes, though fortunately I could snack on sandwiches from the deli. They claimed it would take days to get the information, even something as simple as the town of origin, because it was a foreign country. I was not reassured by the news that it would surely appear on my 500-number statement next month, since I paid for all calls, both incoming and outgoing.
Doug's Navy Reserve I.D. got us past the gate, and soon I was standing next to an electronics workbench while Doug's friend Kevin set up an S&R transmitter, all while telling us how much the military-model belt phones have revolutionized finding lost fliers, boaters, and skiers - at least, if they are off-duty military. The everyday use of the GPS ping was for keeping track of who was where, around a large military base. A ping doesn't ring the phone but only causes it to acknowledge - just as cellular phones all do. But with the military model, the acknowledgement may include its GPS-based location.
"No need to take your belt off, my dear Kate," Kevin said, as familiarly as a dentist. "I've turned down the transmitter power, so it'll only ping the belt phones in this room, and I've turned mine off. So, here goes."
Several seconds later, his screen showed 26°46'01.2"N, 80°02'59.7"W, 0H. "GPS is accurate to within about 10-15 meters - say, two or three parallel-parking spaces. Sometimes, it's even better if there's a local reference point. GPS was used a lot during the '91 Desert Storm invasion of Kuwait and Iraq. Now let's make sure it's your belt phone's GPS that's replying to my ping. Turn it completely off, not even standby power."
"I'm expecting a call," I explained, "so I can't turn it off for very long." Max might phone a fourth time, and so I was keeping the line free.
"Ten seconds, maximum. Trust me," Kevin said.
No response that time. Nothing from Doug's belt phone either - wrong model. But on low-power standby, my belt phone transmitted the coordinates after about a fifteen second delay. "That's because it takes time to power up the GPS," Kevin explained. "Then, more time to survey the signals from the satellites and compute the location. They update the location in only a second or two, but starting from scratch takes quite a bit longer. Since GPS is power hungry, lots of people use the low-power standby to extend battery life. You can get weeks of standby-only time, with the triple-power belts."
"What's the effective range of the ping?" I asked.
"All depends on your antenna, of course," Kevin answered. "Typically, for S&R, we use the ordinary UHF antenna on the underside of the aircraft and fly patterns at about 5,000 feet, ping about every 20 seconds."
"So the S&R unit is pretty much like a cellular phone relay station, keeping track of the phones within the cell?" I asked.
"Yes. You can set it to catalog every phone it hears, or just listen for one particular serial number. If there is a lot of interference from too many responses, we use a little handheld helical antenna, so we can point it and sort out the different signals. If we know the serial number of the unit, that helps too."
"It's also transmitted?" asked Doug, surprised.
"Sure. I just didn't display it. Here it is," he said after tapping a few keys. S/N B27HGW2K4. Doug copied it down from off the screen and asked Kevin not to mention their interest in this to anyone. We left with a copy of the ping-based search and rescue manual, on loan from Kevin.
LEAVING THE COAST GUARD STATION, we started talking about how to conduct a search and rescue mission for Max. Doug interrupted me, and told me to take a good look at the men standing on the sidewalk next to a rental car. One was, if he remembered the photograph that Sol had shown him, Sammy McNulty, the ex-Lantana cop.
The other man with him looked familiar. "My god, it's my burglar!" I gasped aloud. He saw me looking at him, and grinned.
As we turned the corner, I could see them hurriedly getting into their car. Doug turned into the truck entrance of the Coast Guard station at the end of the fence. He stopped and again talked us past the guard by showing his Navy Reserve I.D. I lifted an eyebrow, as I waited on hold.
"They're trying to follow us," Doug said. "So I'm looping through the station, hoping we'll lose them." Doug had memorized the license number and I phoned Sol, relaying it to him and explaining the situation.
When we emerged from the main entrance, their car wasn't seen. We headed west for the interstate and I asked Sol to immediately go by and talk to our doorman, to see if McNulty or The Creep had been snooping around - somewhere, they had picked us up and followed us to the Coast Guard Station, and the condo seemed the likely place, unfortunately. It meant, I observed, that we couldn't go home again.
Then we discussed what to do next, trying to ignore them for the moment. We had to find Max - and not merely find him soon, but find him first, before the Mob did.
Doug pointed out that he could buy an S&R transponder at the export electronics wholesaler in Miami. And that by looking for serial numbers close to Kate's, while flying around the Bahamas, we might be able to locate Max's phone.
"I think it's what Max might have been suggesting, too," I said, as I turned to look at Doug. "Remember that reference to Jowls not using his satellite antennas because someone could fly around and hear his transmissions?"
"Surely you're right. That, and the belt phone business, starts to hang together, make some sense. Max had a lot of time to plan those conversations, after all."
"Unfortunately, finding Max's belt phone might merely locate the marlin boat in some marina, rather than that sailing yacht they transferred Max to," I observed, "but it's the best lead we have."
Doug agreed. "Also, I don't want to give this to the FBI, not until we have a better feel for how they're going to handle things at a high level. And they couldn't mount an operation in a foreign country without involving a lot of people, including the drug enforcement types. Leaky, at best. So, let's do it ourselves."
"That's surely what Max was trying to get across," I said, waving my hands in excitement, "in those scattered references he made to belt phones, plus the pointed references to the Mob."
"The Bahamas is, of course, a big place," Doug said. "We could start by flying circles around the marinas, out to maybe sixty miles."
"Good thing that my pilot's license is current," I said, "so that I can rent a float plane."
"Now," Doug said, shaking his head, "why didn't I just assume that you're a pilot?"
"Single-engine land and sea ratings, in my billfold," I grinned. "Max got me started, years ago. It's something else that I told the policeman in Seattle, but forgot to repeat to you because I was so tired and suspicious. Well, I don't have a lot of experience in float planes, because they cost more to rent, but the differences between land and seaplanes mostly have to do with understanding sailing. And that I know from sailboats."
"Okay," Doug said emphatically, "let's do it. Today. Let's zip down to Miami for the S&R electronics - I've still got lots of cash in the money belt, since the leveraged buyout last night was only half the price that I was prepared to go. In the meantime, you rent a float plane. I'll pick up security-model belt phones for us both."
"I don't think we should return to the apartment," I said with a shudder. "McNulty or The Creep could just spot us again, and we might not be so lucky as to lose them. We've got our laptops with us, so let's just fly to the Bahamas from Miami."
"So we buy toothbrushes," Doug said. "And extra clothes. We'll also need camping gear, in case a marina hotel isn't handy. Food and water, we can pick up at a marina store. An inflatable boat with a motor, light enough to fit the luggage compartment. How about scuba gear?"
"I'm not certified, but I'm competent with a snorkel. And I've used regulators for shallow dives, about half of the certification course."
"I've got my certification card, so I can buy compressed air for both of us. I'll get two sets of scuba gear, as well as snorkels and such," Doug said, speeding south on I-95 amidst an unbelievable number of trucks and open-topped idiot buggies. I had a pencil and paper out, making lists.
TWO HOURS BEFORE SUNSET, I lifted off from Biscayne Bay and used the two-way radio to activate my international flight plan for Grand Bahama, where I'd reserved a suite in a marina hotel and gotten a seaplane dock for the night. It being the tail end of hurricane season, there was no problem in getting space. My laptop contained the satellite weather map that I downloaded and the updates to the aeronautical chart and pilot briefing that I'd gotten from the FAA's on-line pilot briefing when I filed my flight plan.
Doug pointed out the Florida coast landmarks and soon Bimini could be seen on the right window. "We're flying over the Gulf Stream right now," he shouted, "just in case you can't tell from all the bumpy air."
"Use the second headset, Doug. There's an intercom."
"All the modern conveniences," he replied in a normal voice, once the headset switch was set properly.
"This plane's got so many extras that there are a half-dozen switches which I don't recognize. Some doctor had it reserved for a week and canceled at the last minute. I've never taken a trip on quite such short notice before. Not even a suitcase. What will the hotels think of us?"
"We'll go shopping at that marina complex you picked," he said. "I picked up two of the security-model belt phones in Miami, and arranged for your calls to be transferred to one of them, starting sometime tonight if you'll phone them for verification. That way, we can safely power off your regular belt phone, and still let you receive calls from Max."
"I called back to Seattle, by the way, from the pay phone at the dock. And had the substitute cat feeder run by Max's apartment. It took him a half hour to phone me back, but he finally found the registration card for Max's belt phone."
"So you've got the serial number?"
"Yes. Close to mine. It just ends in H8 rather than K4. I also had Doc go through Max's bookshelves of travel and technical books, and he found a whole book on GPS."
"That's nice to know," he said, relaxing a little. "Feels funny, buying the equipment and leaving the country, all before even reading the S&R manual that Kevin gave us. I hope we didn't leave anything behind, in our haste." He picked up the manual and started to browse it.
I scanned the sky for other aircraft. After leaning the mixture, I noticed the engine was running a bit rough. I adjusted the mixture to enrich it a bit until the engine smoothed out. It occurred to me that the customs service at the seaplane moorage might close up shop at sunset, so I pushed the throttle in even further, and then had to trim up the elevator again. I didn't want to have to land at Freeport, just to pass through customs there and have to take off again.
There's a nice VOR bearing broadcast on 113.2 Mhz, just a matter of keeping the needle centered until seeing that bowling-ball-surrounded-by-lollipops structure in the midst of the airport at Freeport, then changing course for the marina. But I decided to use the plane's GPS instead, and so fly a straight line to the marina east of Freeport. I tuned the second navcom to Freeport Approach Control on 126.5 Mhz and checked in with them as soon as the GPS said we were about to cross 79 longitude. Soon, Grand Bahama began to fill the horizon.
The plane was slower than I was used to, probably due to the drag of the big Edo floats hanging on the struts below, much larger than on the usual float plane I rent in Seattle. Undoubtedly handy for divers. I'd noticed an anchor, stowed under the back seats between the life jackets.
The coral reefs were clearly submerged, since no white water showed above them despite the breeze. I circled the anchorage once, just because Doug wanted to see the lay of the land, lowered the flaps, and then set the plane down within easy taxiing distance of the customs dock. Once on the water, I lowered the water rudders on the back of the floats and steered with my feet. I instructed Doug on the tie-up procedure, taxied past the dock and then ran into the wind, using the water rudders to coast into the floating dock. Doug stepped ashore and held the wing strut while I, as "captain of the ship," walked down to the customs house with our passports.
Five minutes later, I returned. "No problems. We can just walk her around the floating dock, then tie up at the seaplane visitor dock over yonder."
Walking through the marina after locking up the plane, we found ourselves looking at the names of the sailing yachts moored along the walkway. But none were named The Pigeon's Nemesis.
"That's such an unlikely name," I commented. "And Max did say `something like the pigeon's nemesis'."
"Well, maybe he was trying to be cagey because of the Mob eavesdropping possibility," Doug said. "He certainly was cagey in the later phone calls. And that refusal to give his location could have been telling you that a clever person could figure it out, somehow, from the hints he'd disguised elsewhere."
"That would be like Max, all right."
"So, maybe we should pretend that this is a cross-word puzzle. What does pigeon's nemesis suggest to you?"
"Just an animal that preys on pigeons. No special meaning to Max, so far as I know. Cats?"
"Judging from big cities that have plenty of cats and plenty of pigeons," he said, "domestic cats aren't very effective predators on pigeons. About the only effective predator is a peregrine falcon. And they've been taking up residence in big cities, leaving the sidewalks below their roosts strewn with pigeon heads and feet."
"So, do you suppose it's named The Peregrine instead?" I said softly, while pulling open the door of the hotel.
"Sounds more like a boat name than The Recrudescence does, at any rate. But why would anyone name a boat for a big bird that eats little birds?"
"Maybe Jowls thinks of himself as a takeover artist. Or wants others to view him that way. I've seen some push-push-push managerial types," I said, swinging my elbows (and then feeling self-conscious), "who work hard at projecting the image of a steamroller."
"I knew some guys like that, in the Navy. They'd like the peregrine image, all right."
AFTER HE SPENT THE EVENING installing the new electronics in the float plane, Doug found me back in our suite, cross-legged on the floor and looking at maps spread across the sofa.
"Big place," I said, looking up. "What's the effective range of the ping? How high can we fly, and how wide a corridor would we sweep?"
"It sure works from the hotel to the seaplane dock, because I've been pinging your old belt phone over and over while testing the installation. We'll find out the extreme range in the morning, by leaving your belt phone somewhere remote, and then flying past it at various altitudes."
"Very clever, Doctor Chen, sir."
"The empirical method in science, you know," he quipped. "Did you check the net?"
"Yes, using a suitably circuitous routing through Bimini and London. And then I didn't learn anything worth repeating. But I started Melanie on searching for boats named The Peregrine. Do you want to go out for a real dinner, to supplement that sandwich I brought you earlier?" I asked, looking up at him.
"I was hoping you'd want to do that," Doug said, looking pleased. "We need to talk strategy. I stuck my head inside a place down the street, a restaurant equipped with two steel bands - the closest thing to a chaotic vibrator that I've heard. We'll have to whisper in each other's ears, of course."
"That sounds nice. It's been very pleasant on the previous occasions," I said, accepting a hand up.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
DOUG WAS READY to test the search method at sunrise, waking me with a cup of black coffee. "Sorry, no espresso hereabouts. Just coffee and doughnuts."
"There's some croissants and jam in the grocery sacks," I said, almost awake. "There's a serious-looking French bakery down the road that I found while shopping for toothbrushes and such. How's the weather? I keep forgetting that this is still hurricane season."
"Broken clouds at a thousand feet, 20 percent coverage - just the usual Gulf Stream stuff - and a chance of showers in the southern Bahamas. High cirrus from a storm brewing in the Sargasso Sea, but nothing serious for another day or two. Low tide is midafternoon."
"Which translates to bumpy near the surface, but maybe better at 6,000 feet," I said, sipping. "Were you up half the night, studying those charts?"
"And reading manuals. A leisurely holiday among the yachties, this isn't. It's like being in the Navy again - except, of course, for the quality of the company."
"Any overnight e-mail?"
"I thought that you'd never ask," Doug grinned. "Your friend Melanie discovered a cruising yacht named Peregrine, very much like what Max described. Massachusetts registration. And in the name of the same Florida corporation that owns the marlin boat! I asked her to search for any additional boats owned by that corporation."
"Wow! All that time with the Sunday crossword puzzle has finally paid off. Actually, what it shows is the value of writing things down before discussing them. If I hadn't written that memo to myself immediately after the first phone call, I'd have forgotten that casual qualification of Max's, that something like the pigeon's nemesis."
"But I don't see how we can use it, just yet," Doug cautioned. "Giving the Peregrine to the FBI has all the same problems as giving them Max's three phone calls. If we ask around at marinas for the Peregrine, then someone might remember the name and tell it to the next person who came around asking about someone of Jowl's description. So, I think we'll just have to look for the Peregrine ourselves."
"Still, it's nice to have a backup strategy, if the pinging fails," I reflected. "Any other e-mail?"
"From Dad, all apologetic about blowing our cover. Twice. He's arranged for a condo in Palm Beach for when we return - I think it must be the furnished demo apartment at that new luxury place on Sloan's Curve, next to Carrie's place. But I told him that commercial rentals like that simply won't do - they're too easy to discover. He wants hourly progress reports, but knows he won't get them. Money is no object, etc. I straightened out several club members by e-mail, on installing the autodestruct disks, using your Bimini-to-London method of disguising our present location."
"Susan should be delivering the last of the disks about noon today. Dad and most of the others have phones using the same DES encryption for voice as our new digital cellulars. By the way, just how secure is it?"
I sat up in bed, pulling the sheet with me, so as not to distract Doug. "The manuals say our new phones use the usual batch encryption. There are evidently three DES chips in a chain inside these things, so the first ciphertext gets encrypted itself with a different random key, and then the whole thing repeats again."
"Triply secure, huh?"
"Well, the old one-pass DES alone can probably be broken overnight by anyone with a large computer," I continued. "The Feds won't let military contractors use simple DES alone, so everyone assumes that NSA found it easy to crack."
"So, essentially any big corporation potentially has the computational wherewithal," Doug said.
"Still, triple DES should be very much harder to crack. It's said to be as secure as most anything. The main problem with DES is a secure way of distributing the keys, so they use an envelope coded using public-private."
"So, why hasn't public-private key replaced DES and the like?"
"Essentially, the chips are still too slow to handle real-time voice or video. So you only use something like RSA to send the random keys for the turn-the-crank methods like DES or IDEA that can keep up with fast data rates."
Doug grinned. "I love it when you talk dirty like that."
"I hope you realize," I said with a wicked smile, "we're probably breaking some law by carrying those new phones to the Bahamas without first getting an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Despite the fact that you can buy the same thing, made in Europe, here in the Bahamas. RSA encryption methods are considered munitions, believe it or not - just like the missiles on your Navy ships. A wonderful example of how slowly bureaucratic thinking catches up with the era of The Net, where a complete RSA encryption computer program can now be exported halfway around the world in about two seconds. Without shrink-wrap."
"I'm in ecstasy already. More!"
I smiled benignly at Doug and sipped my coffee. "I assume the FBI or NSA can eventually break the phone's encryption, and probably the Mob can do it as well. But it will take them time to do it. They'll need hours of recorded conversation, in order to make a start."
"Still," I continued, "if you want a general rule - but first, pass me another croissant and some more of that good jam - I'll give you one. We can freely discuss tactical information over the security phones - such as where we're stopping for the night. It's probably without value by the time they can decrypt it, a day or more later. But we should try to avoid mentioning longer-term strategy, names, and other info with a longer half-life. Save them for the Orion cipher e-mail. Remember that who you call can still be figured out, even if the message is encrypted, and that traffic analysis like that is quite valuable. Now - if you'll close your eyes tight, Mister Chen - I'll finally get out of bed."
E-MAIL FROM MYSELF was the last thing that I expected when I did a last check for messages before leaving the hotel room. It was the Kate Imitator again.
Experienced at frightening people, their trademark. I decided to ignore it. I was happy to see that it didn't mention Doug. Or the Bahamas. And that they seemed ignorant of the fact that they should be following us instead of trying to scare us off. Doug agreed.
I SELECTED A SMALL ISLAND with a sandy beach, and set the plane down near it. Doug informed me that, hereabouts, a small island is always called a cay for some reason, probably Spanish.
He wrapped my belt phone up in a waterproof bag as I taxied into the shore and killed the engine. Doug deposited the bag in some offshore rocks, a few feet above the waterline, trying to approximate the conditions in a boat surrounded by water. Upon returning, he turned the plane around so that it faces offshore. Swinging back into the right-hand seat, he hauled the door shut, snapped his shoulder harness, and put his headphones back on. "Mission accomplished, captain. I'll mark the cay on the aerial map."
I taxied back offshore, giving Doug a few more lessons in how to handle a float plane as I went. I took off and climbed, banking counter-clockwise, to a mile-high vantage point. "So. Does it answer the ping?"
"Of course. You would have heard me cursing before now if it didn't. Good signal strength, even with the omnidirectional antenna. Better with the helical, pointed at the cay." Doug had Max's S/N B27HGW2H8 taped above the LED display on the S&R transponder, for quick comparison.
"Okay, let's fly directly away from it and see when we lose the signal, using the omni. I'll use the plane's GPS to estimate the distance we cover," I said, pointing.
After about five miles, Doug reported loss of signal. I descended to 1,000 feet, and flew directly toward the cay. "Okay, reliable signal acquired. What's the distance?" he asked.
"Still about five miles. So, corridors about ten miles wide, without allowing for weak signals."
"It sounds to me like we could fly down the middle of most island chains in the Bahamas," Doug said. "Or maybe up one side and down the other for the wider islands, to be really sure. The boat might be out cruising, but Max did say it seemed to stay in a protected anchorage."
"Heard any other belt phones answering back?"
"I got a few when we were near the marina. It's all working properly. So, shall we just fly around the shoreline of Grand Bahama for starters? And come back for your old belt phone later?"
"Okay," I agreed. "We're going to have to stop every few hours to gas up again, so use those seaplane symbols on the Bahamas boating map as the organizing principle. And remember that I don't like to land in the dark - you can't see floating logs and the like."
"Kate, I hate to tell you this - but there aren't many floating logs in the Caribbean, except just after a hurricane. You're thinking of Puget Sound again."
"Good old lattéland was probably on my mind. We should have packed a portable espresso machine!"
"No trees," Doug continued, "but watch out for coconuts or floating clumps of crude oil. And old uplifted coral reefs, just under the surface at low tide. Which is at three this afternoon. Then, of course, there are sand bars."
"I know all about getting stranded on sand bars," I smiled ruefully. "Sometime, when we need some comic relief, I'll tell you about what happened to me on Halloween. I've never made so many absurd mistakes in my life, all packed into just one day. Maybe, if you're especially good, I'll even tell you about the costume that I ended up wearing."
Doug attempted to get me to tell the story immediately, but we spotted a large sailing yacht meeting Max's description. I descended and Doug got out the high-power binoculars. As I flew across its wake, he read the name painted on its stern. Mary Jane out of Newport. I'd thought it unlikely, just from the nude sunbathers. Sorry, folks.
After flying around the shores of Grand Bahama and finding 13 belt phones that answered the ping, but none with a serial number close to mine, we landed to refuel at West End, putting down outside and then taxiing along the dogleg entrance channel.
LEAVING DOUG to handle the refueling this time, I walked down the long pier, stretching out the kinks of almost four hours in the air, and looking at every large sailboat for Peregrine or a Massachusetts registration. Nothing.
Food vendors were found just ashore, a bazaar extending for blocks. Not crowded, because of hurricane season, but lots of natives and a few tourists, nonetheless. In happier circumstances, I would have spent hours shopping. But instead I quickly picked up enough food for six meals, plus a selection of fruit.
As I headed back toward the pier, a small poodle darted out of the crowd and barked at me, then wagged his tail vigorously in greeting. "Hello, dog," I said, smiling. "And no, you may not have any of this food."
But the dog seemed more interested in companionship. He followed me, sometimes leading me down toward the pier, sometimes following me, often just circling happily.
"So, where's your owner, little dog? Huh?"
The dog indeed kept looking behind, as if missing someone. "You look a lot like Oscar, little dog." He barked happily, once more. "You've even got the same collar. And the gray hairs around the mouth. And that slightly lopsided prancing motion. So, are you Oscar? Where's Bertha?" The dog barked twice.
I stood on tiptoe and looked around, pivoting in a complete circle. At some point, the dog darted off into the crowd. And didn't return. I again scanned the crowd for the familiar stumpy figure of Bertha Hauser, but couldn't see her or the dog.
I was about to go hunting, to make sure the dog didn't get lost, when I was chilled by the notion that Bertha might be avoiding me. It hadn't occurred to me before, because Bertha was so assertive, likely to command the crowds to part for her - or, more likely, to hail me from a distance and wait for me to come over to see her. And what would Bertha be doing on Grand Bahama, I asked myself. True, she was only supposed to be in Palm Beach for a day or two, but....
Troubled, I was about to return to the seaplane dock when it occurred to me that I didn't want anyone to know about the float plane, if they didn't know already. Anyone watching me would probably assume I was heading for a boat, of which there were hundreds tied up on the various floating docks that connected to the long walkway. I took the turn for the dinghy dock and encountered a small boy who offered to carry my sacks for me.
"Can you row a boat?" I asked him.
"Surely, madam. Would you like me to row you out to your yacht? I can swim back. My name is Robert." My god, I thought, they've got a training school for them.
"You're hired, Robert," I said, handing him both bags. I unclipped my new belt phone and called Doug, with the encryption turned on.
"Doug, I think I'm being followed," I said, lagging behind the boy so he couldn't hear me. "I'm not sure, but I want to play it safe. Do you think that you can handle the float plane, just enough to taxi it out into the harbor?"
"Sure, that's just a straight Navy problem, with no Air Force involved. Just so long as I don't have to dock it again."
"Okay, I'm taking a dinghy out to that cluster of yachts anchored over on the left side of the channel. Taxi out that way and we'll meet behind them, out of sight for anyone here in the dock area."
It turned out that the boy could borrow a friend's boat, so I didn't have to borrow a dinghy at random. This dinghy lacked life jackets and paint, but the boy rowed it with enthusiasm, and told me all about West End. I directed him to the farthest yacht in the cluster lying at anchor. "Now, Robert," I told the boy, "I want you to keep a secret. Can you do that?"
"Oh, yes, madam. What's the secret?"
"I'm not really going to get on that yacht. We're going to meet that seaplane which is taxiing in the channel, and I'm going to disappear with a very handsome man for a few hours. But I don't want anyone to know about our picnic. That's the secret."
The boy grinned knowingly, as if he'd just acquired a new slang word for his vocabulary. Oops.
"So, if anyone asks you what yacht I went to, you tell them that I went to the Fair Queen over there. Don't say anything about the float plane. Maybe when I do it tomorrow, I'll get you to row me again."
Once amid the yachts, I saw that Doug had idled the seaplane correctly, keeping it pointed into the wind. By the time we approached the seaplane, the view of the docks was entirely obscured by the yachts. I made a cutting notion with my hands, and Doug stopped the engine.
I directed Robert to hold onto the wing strut while I passed the sacks to Doug. Then I climbed into the passenger seat, waving Doug back into the pilot's seat. I gave Robert a big tip ("A little down-payment on tomorrow") and reminded him to say that I went to the Fair Queen if anyone asked - but that he should be reluctant to part with the information until they tipped him well. And to be sure to wait three days before telling his friends about this. The boy grinned and waved goodbye.
"Taxi out the entrance channel, Doug. We'll switch, once outside. I just don't want to disturb the boy's illusion about me escaping with a handsome pilot for a few hours dalliance." As I put on the headset, I noticed that Doug did indeed crack the throttle to the correct starting position before turning the key.
"So, what inspired this deviousness?" Doug asked as he taxied along the channel.
"A small poodle who looks and acts exactly like Bertha's dog," I explained, my voice tight. "No owner lets an expensive dog like that run free in a sidewalk bazaar, not without chasing it. I worry that Oscar got away from Bertha and that she didn't chase him because she didn't want me to see her. Maybe I'm just imagining that it's the same poodle, but I'm in no mood to take chances - and I'm still uncertain about Bertha. We may be only hours ahead of the competition, in searching for Max hereabouts."
Once outside the harbor entrance, Doug climbed into the back seat so that I could transfer to the left-hand seat. While he was there, he repacked my food purchases into the cooler chests. Then he squeezed back into the right-hand seat.
"I've been thinking," I said, after he plugged his headset back in, "that maybe we'd better assume that others are going to try and track us, figuring that we've got leads that they don't have. Hoping we'll lead them to Jowls."
"It's the safe assumption," Doug replied, after a moment. "And we really ought to assume they're sophisticated, that they can track our phone calls, such as the one you made to me back in West End. Maybe not instantly, and maybe they can't decrypt them, but the telco record would still serve to locate us in a general way."
"And the belt phones, being cellulars most of the time, also serve to locate us, even when we aren't actually making calls," I added. "When we get out of range of a cell, they are set to default to the expensive satellite coverage, which can't be used to locate us. Except to somewhere in the Western Hemisphere."
"Well, maybe it won't be a problem with the two new phones I bought yesterday. I registered them to Kevin and Big John. And paid big cash deposits up front - they're used to that, in Miami - so that it would not be on a bank card. And my old phone is turned off completely."
"I'm relieved that you thought of that," I said. "With waiting for another call from Max, forwarded to my new phone, I really can't turn my new one off."
"And what about the float plane?" asked Doug. "Can it be traced to you?"
"Of course. They insisted on a credit card, just like the mainland hotels do, and checked it for validity. So someone could get the airplane's registration numbers from the rental place, if they had access to the bank card query records. Or phoned around enough, like I did with the hairdressers in Palm Beach."
"So, does the transponder of this plane send an I.D.?"
"Damn!" I exploded, pounding my knee with my fist. "Fortunately, I can shut it off since we're VFR and no longer in controlled airspace. But I should have thought of that yesterday." I reached down and flipped a switch. Firmly.
"Still, since we have to refuel every few hours, all they'd have to do is to watch the seaplane docks," Doug pointed out. "There are only a dozen or so, where we're going. Assuming they know about the float plane."
I frowned for a minute. "That's a tough nut to crack. We need real avgas, and can't use boat fuel. So, it's a matter of keeping them from following us, once we leave the seaplane dock. Fortunately, there is some cloud cover arriving late this evening which ought to help - it's hard to track planes flying IFR through dense clouds if they don't have their transponder turned on. Unless they bring in military aircraft, I doubt they'll be able to track us very well from airborne radar. And we'll be able to evade ground-based radar by skimming the waves."
Doug looked at the marine charts for a while, contemplating. "Surely the Exuma Islands chain southeast of Nassau has the most shoreline and least population, just the place that I'd pick to hide myself. Why don't we try the Berry Islands en route to Nassau and then take on the Exumas later in the afternoon?"
"You're the navigator. Sounds good to me. Sir."
"Your next heading is 135 true, madam pilot."
"Okay. Now pay attention, dear student, because I'm going to teach you the rudiments of take off, just in case I faint and you have to get us out of a sticky situation."
"That's a euphemism. You already seem to know about cracking the throttle before hitting the starter. And steering with your feet to taxi. For takeoff, you want the flaps up - that big switch that looks like a flap. Pick your path, into the wind if possible, and slowly push the throttle in, all the way." The plane shuddered and leapt forward. "Now, haul the water rudders up."
"The idea is to get the floats up on the step, so the nose isn't high and you can see ahead. Then at about 40 knots or so, you gently pull back on the wheel. When you feel the floats leave the water - see how the sound changes? - then you pull back a little more. Watch that airspeed indicator, and if you hear the stall horn, or it starts dropping below 60, get the nose down by pushing the wheel in a little."
"The stall warning is that horn I hear when you land?"
"Yes, I'll demonstrate when we're up to a thousand feet," I said. "Now, tell me what all the steps are."
After Doug struggled through the takeoff sequence, I decided it was time to stall. "Suppose I climb too steeply," I said, pulling back on the wheel and watching the airspeed drop. "Eventually, it will start to stall - there's the horn - and so I push the wheel forward without turning it and wait until I pick up some airspeed before pulling back again. You have to dive a little to pick up airspeed."
THE BERRY ISLANDS were scenic and I had Doug practice turns along the way, though at a higher airspeed than usual because I didn't want to slow down to the standard cruising speed. The S&R unit stayed silent. We buzzed three more sailing yachts of the right size, without any luck. No sunbathers, either.
For hours, I'd been monitoring Nassau Approach Control on 121.0 Mhz, along with the unicom frequencies used by all the small airfields and air harbours. I hadn't filed a flight plan, and generally kept quiet. As we got to Little Whale Cay, I checked in.
"Nassau Approach, this is November Three Seven Six Five Juliet."
"Nassau Approach. Go ahead, Six Five Juliet." BBC British with a Caribbean flavoring.
"Six Five Juliet, over Little Whale Cay at three thousand, heading One Three Four magnetic, planning to loop around the eastern end of New Providence en route to the south shore."
They had us on the radar. As long as I stayed below 3,000 feet, they weren't concerned about me. If I wanted, I could switch to monitor Nassau International's tower frequency, 119.5, and the unicoms on 122.8, since the local traffic around Nassau was all I needed to worry about. The jets were landing and taking off to the southeast today, and the weather was six thousand broken, light surface winds. No problem.
We made a clockwise loop around the island, seeing all the usual cruise ships at anchor off Nassau, the big jets inbound, the occasional small planes, and lots of pleasure boats of all sizes. There was one bit of restricted airspace on the southwest corner of the island, which I had to fly below 500 feet to avoid. There were a few phones answering the ping, but none were close to Max's serial number.
Finally, I picked a seaplane harbor on the south side of the island from Nassau for refueling. "Okay, ready for your landing lesson?" I asked Doug.
"Aye aye, captain."
"Look at the waves and judge the wind direction. If there aren't whitecaps, don't worry about wind - at sea, you've got a real wide runway. Look around for other traffic - air and sea, both. Just pick a nice long runout - because you'll probably take a long distance to set it down, compared to what I take. That's the great thing about float planes - the runways can be very long and very wide and very forgiving."
I pointed to the path that would get us near the air harbour. "Get the plane lined up on the imaginary runway and pull back on the throttle, most of the way back to idle speed - but keep your hand near the throttle, since you might need to shove it back in, quickly."
I pointed to the trim wheel for the elevators. "Trim it up, so you don't have to pull the wheel back any more. Now, slowly lower the flaps 20 degrees, and then trim again for a nice steady rate of descent at about 70 knots. See? Keep her nice and level - that's the main thing. And wait for her to land herself - though it helps to bleed off some airspeed just before touchdown, by pulling back on the wheel and getting the nose up. You don't want the plane to stall until you're about a foot above the water surface. Keep the nose up and look around the side of the engine to judge your elevation."
I peered out the left window. "Be careful not to accidentally turn the wheel while you're leaning to the side - you've got to keep the wings level," I said, tapping the tilt indicator. "Watch that airspeed indicator, too - don't let it drop below 55 until you're close to the surface. Like about now. Pull back a little - notice that airspeed dropping?" The stall horn started blaring, the floats bumped several times, and then the plane settled down into the water and quickly lost speed, pushing us forward into our shoulder harnesses.
"Looks easy, when you do it," Doug said, admiringly.
"If something goes wrong while you're still in the air, just shove that throttle back in. Slowly raise the flaps, as you start to climb. Then just come back and try again. Now that we've slowed down, it's hard to steer with the rudder. So we lower the water rudders on the back of the floats." I pointed to the lever, though he knew perfectly well where it was. Routine is everything, however.
"Look for a seaplane dock, if you haven't already spotted it from the air. It will be a floating pier, one that doesn't have high pilings, just low ones that the wings will clear. And usually an oil company emblem."
"Now to dock," I continued, "you usually want to make a turn that brings you onto an upwind path parallel to the dock, then use your water rudders to bring her in. If something goes wrong, turn away from the dock and apply power, make another loop and try again - you can't do the fancy small-boat docking maneuvers."
"You mean, I can't put it in reverse?" Doug smiled at me.
"If you figure out how to do it, let me know. But there is a paddle in the back - just straddle a float and dig in, singing a Polynesian war chant." I cut the engine and the prop spun down to a stop. "Okay, out with you." Doug got out, picked up the short mooring line attached to the right float, and stepped onto the dock.
I started the refueling and suggested to Doug that he find someplace to get some cold bottles of mineral water. As he was about to leave, I asked, "Also, stop at their seaplane rental place and see if they stock a better map. Our Miami sectional doesn't cover the Bahamas below 24 latitude, and I dislike relying on the boating charts. Oh, and keep an eye open along the way for that bird."
I FINALLY BUTTONED UP the cowling after checking the oil. As I was paying for the avgas from my wad of $50 bills, I noticed Doug coming back out the pier. That was quick, I thought. But he wasn't carrying either bottles or a map, and he was walking rapidly. Peregrine, found?
"All paid? Let's take off," he said, bending to untie the mooring line. I contained my curiosity and quickly got started.
Once we were taxiing, he explained over the intercom. "Whole batch of guys, some still wearing suits, trying to charter boats in a hurry. Must have been fresh off a plane flight. Some more suits outside, fitting mag-mount antennas to rental cars. Two groups seemingly trying to outbid each other, and the owner explaining that he didn't have anything to rent - and that none of the other places do either, that all their remaining boats had been unexpectedly rented this afternoon. He kept asking them where the treasure hunt was. I didn't even get to the seaplane counter."
"Damn! That surely isn't just the Coast Guard search. News of it must have leaked and stirred up the competition, whoever they are. What did these guys look like?"
"Resourceful, if you know what I mean. Some sure fit the college-educated, lawyer-or-accountant image of the FBI. Others looked rougher. I don't think any of them were press - no cameras or notepads or makeup."
"Great," I said, bitterly. "Sounds like the Mob."
"And," Doug said, "to save the worst news until last, I think that I saw McNulty. Either that, or there's someone else around these parts who limps and has a red crew cut. He was busy rigging a mag-mount."
"Did he see you?" I asked, horrified. "Did you see my burglar, too?"
"No, just McNulty, and I don't think he saw me. I saw him through a window while listening to the guys inside, and I didn't walk anywhere near the parking lot where he was. I left to come back before he could possibly have come around the building and seen me on the walkway."
I mulled it over. "Now we'll have to worry about almost anyone, since it will surely occur to them to hire some local help, spreading a lot of money around to gather information, just like we did in Palm Beach. And a tall woman piloting a white seaplane is easy to remember, as is someone with a personality as peculiar as Jowls."
Forgetting to tutor Doug, I shoved the throttle to the firewall and soon we were airborne. I wasn't very happy as I scanned the skies for other planes, but my pilot's habits seemed to take over as they should.
"Doug," I said while trimming up the elevator tab for the third time in five minutes, "I'm worried that we've got less than a day in which to find Max. Jowls could be spotted the next time he goes into a marina for groceries or a landline connection. He went yesterday when Max phoned me, and Max said they made a trip every other day."
"And Jowls is a person of fixed habits," Doug nodded in reluctant agreement. "Of course, even if he isn't spotted, we might be - and be unable to shake someone following us. Even if we found Jowls, we'd have no lead time in which to rescue Max."
By midafternoon, we grimly approached the Exumas, a long and narrow chain of mostly small islands. Gritting my teeth from worry, I was flying at only a thousand feet to enhance signal strength. No planes were seen behind us, Doug reported, and only an occasional plane crossed our course. Making conversation, I commented that there weren't any sailboats to buzz. Indeed, hardly any boats at all.
"There's a good reason, too," Doug responded. "It's so shallow between Nassau and the
Exumas that you need a draft under six feet. And careful navigation. It's the Great Bahamas Bank.
"We can always hope that the Mob runs aground on it. I hope someone rents them a motor sailboat with a 10-foot keel."
"That's Highborne Cay up ahead," Doug said a few minutes later, "the one with the three prominent humps. Good diving, though you are advised to watch out for strong tidal currents. That's probably because it's so shallow around here - just like one of those French bays with the fast tides. There's deep water over to the left, where it changes color - Exuma Sound, it's called, a tongue of deep water coming in from the ocean. Eleuthera and Cat Islands are out there on the eastern horizon."
Sailboats and motor yachts were seen along the Exumas, but not as many as around the earlier islands. Doug kept pinging. Few cellular phones had been answering, except at New Providence and earlier at Grand Bahama.
"Pretty soon, Kate, we need to pick a stopping point for the night," he said over the intercom. "There are several places where we could call ahead for marina and hotel reservations. George Town, down on Great Exuma, would be the comfortable place. Then there's Staniel Cay, less than an hour ahead. Pretty basic accommodations, apparently."
"Yes, I saw the Staniel Cay Yacht Club in the guidebook last night," I said, brightening a bit. "Which said that you really had to like yachting, because the nightlife there only consisted of one steel band."
"Well, we got along pretty well last night, with two steel bands at a time. On to George Town and all the yachties?"
I forced myself to grin. "Some other night, Mister Chen. I think we ought to avoid stopping for long at any place with regular air service, like Great Exuma. Wherever we stop, we ought to gas up after checking in and then fly another circuit in the evening. The moon rises several hours after sunset, and I can use the moonlight for landing - you just land to the east, straight in the direction of the rising moon, so that you're landing on that silvery streak of moonlight reflected from the water's surface."
"The original street light! I never thought of it as illuminating a runway like that. Great way to watch for obstacles."
"It sometimes means, of course, that you have to taxi for a long way back to your destination. And at low speed, using the landing lights," I said. "Well, why don't you try calling Staniel Cay and see if they've got space available? Their phone number is listed...."
"Hey!" Doug exclaimed, sitting up straight. "Will you look at that!" He was pointing at the S&R display.
It was showing S/N B27HGW2H8, 24°42'55.6"N, 76°49'38.5"W, 0H. It was Max's serial number, all right.
I HAD TO STIFLE MY IMPULSE to put the nose down and descend in a hurry. I looked out my window to the left, and then popped the side window half open. It vibrated in the slipstream as I peered forward over the left float, scanning the sea below.
"A few small cays, just ahead of us," I reported while latching the window and rubbing my windblown eyes. "No sailboats visible, however. How about your side?"
"Nothing at all over here. Must be directly below us."
After the next ping, ten seconds later, the signal repeated. Identical. We were both grinning at one another. I looked down again at the cays, which were directly under our left wing. I kept our course nice and steady and boring. "You ought to be able to figure out which island it's coming from, just from having the map coordinates. Mark it and we'll come back to it later," I said with a controlled smile. "Keep pinging, just in case anyone is tracking us."
"The island has no name," Doug reported presently as he pocketed his pen, "and neither do its neighbors. But they're on the mariner's map." We discussed alternative strategies for returning to the little island; a few minutes later, we lost the signal. We continued on past the Highburn Cay Marina and speculated that it was one of Jowl's ports of call. And maybe Staniel Cay, too, farther south. The charts showed a lot of shallow water, but deeper channels were seen here and there.
"Great diving territory," Doug commented. "I saw a few diving flags flying on those boats back there. Nice coral heads, I'll bet, all along those smaller tongues of deep water. If you want to save gas while we're planning, we could just anchor along one of them and pretend we're diving."
I nodded agreement. "Pick your spot," I said, trying to jest.
"Fine," I replied, still trying to distract myself. "Now, you land it." I helped him adjust the throttle and nose angle as we descended, showed him again how the airspeed indicator should behave. "Take all the distance you want, no need to hurry. Now, start pulling back on the wheel. Harder. Still more." The stall warning started to sound and then we bumped several times and quickly slowed down. The slapping sound of the water on the floats was heard.
"A very satisfactory landing, Mister Chen. I'm happy to have you as my life insurance policy." Doug grinned.
When we were stopped, riding on the relatively calm seas, I cut the engine. The little waves caused a tinny resonance from the floats, but otherwise it was silent. "We don't really have to set the seaplane's anchor," I said, trying to think straight. "Three-quarters of a tank of gas left. Maybe three hours flying time, if we continue to fly at top speed rather than slowing down to the endurance speed."
"Well, so how are we going to approach Jowl's boat?" asked Doug. "We could just taxi up to it, but that isn't exactly subtle. We could take the little inflatable, which has a silent electric motor good for several hours. We could snorkel in, or even swim underwater."
"Or some combination of them all," I said, not very helpfully.
Doug nodded. "Also," he pointed out, "we could probably rent a diving boat from that marina, if we wanted something larger and faster than the inflatable. But we'd have to rent it before sunset."
"There's only two hours of daylight left," I observed, "so we also need a protected anchorage. I suggest that we find an island in the vicinity, someplace safe to leave the plane unattended while we camp ashore. And then approach Jowls quietly. After dark."
Doug agreed. He seemed to be thinking furiously.
"I wonder if we shouldn't check in with Andre," I thought aloud, "and see what's been happening." I checked at the display on my belt phone. "No cells hereabouts. It's got satellite coverage only. But the encryption isn't all that secure, so we'll have to avoid mentioning the boat's location. Or ours."
Doug placed the call on his belt phone, so as to leave mine free, just in case Max called again. He decided to stand outside, on the back of the float, where the antenna would have a good view of the sky. "Dad? We're where I said we were going. And we're close to Max, though this DES cipher isn't good enough for me to tell you exactly where. Before we make any more moves, Kate thought that we should check with you and see what's been happening elsewhere.... Yes... I see.... How about Ted and Bertha and Jack? ... No, you probably won't hear from us again, not until tomorrow.... Yes, I will. Bye, now."
"Dad's pipeline into the FBI investigation has gone dry," Doug reported, sticking his head in the open door. "But one of the last things mentioned was some sort of Mob feeding frenzy, sounding as if they too know that someone made billions of dollars selling short on Black Friday. And so much is at stake that the usual Mob settled territories have broken down; they're stumbling all over one another in a race for the prize."
"So, those two groups you saw back on New Providence could have been two competing Mob groups," I observed, "rather than the Feds and the Mob. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Any more about Ted? Or Bertha?"
"Bertha hasn't answered e-mail today, but that means nothing. Ted's still missing, and they now think that he might have caused himself to disappear - his bank accounts were cleaned out, as was his safety deposit box. And his last visit to the bank vault was two weeks ago, so it's starting to look like Ted might have fled, rather than being kidnapped. His 25-year-old daughter can't be found, either."
WE DECIDED to find an island near Jowl's, one that had an anchorage for the plane. But we also had the problem of staying out of sight. The return of a float plane to the vicinity might, we reasoned, cause Jowls to keep a tight watch. So we devised a plan to approach a neighboring island while staying hidden from view.
We flew into a neighboring cay, skimming the wavetops, a straight-in approach on a line so that the trees on the cay would obscure the float plane to anyone watching from Jowl Island (as we'd come to call the unnamed cay). I set down the plane and began a cautious taxi.
There was, unfortunately, an unbroken coral reef around the cay, so I taxied back out the same way as we landed, remaining out of sight. I taxied for at least a mile, until judging the distance far enough away from Jowl Island to minimize the roar of takeoff. I cringed at how much noise the engine made.
"By the way," Doug noted while plotting an approach course to a second neighboring cay, "Max's belt phone is no longer responding to my pinging."
"Wonderful. I hope that it's just a matter of the batteries being low." The unspoken worry was that the belt phone would prove to be on the marlin boat, and not the yacht to which Max was transferred, two weeks ago.
Next cay. Once below the horizon from Jowl Island, I turned onto the new approach course and flew back in. The second cay turned out to have exactly the same problem as the first, and another long taxi back out was required, with Doug twisted around, looking to see if Jowl Island peeked out from behind the cay so that I could correct my course. And again we worried, as I slowly shoved the throttle to the firewall, that the window-rattling sound of a seaplane takeoff would reach back to Jowl Island despite the favorable wind direction.
As we approached the third cay, Doug observed that it was the last cay with enough trees to block the view. But that there was another shrubby cay which we could try, approaching from the direction of the setting sun as seen from Jowl Island. I landed the plane on full flaps and cautiously taxied in, lowering the water rudders while retracting the flaps. This cay, thanks to a break in the fringing reef, proved to have a decent anchorage on its back side, out of view of Jowl Island.
I remembered the anchor under the back seat but didn't want to damage the coral reefs, as anchors are prone to do. Since it was only a hour past the low tide, I realized that it would be safe to tie the plane up near the shoreline. I taxied into the beach, killed the engine, and pulled off my headset. "Okay, let's turn it around to point out, then tie it between those offshore rocks. They'll hold the floats away from the beach. Then two more lines to the rear - we can tie to those shrubs behind the high-water line. A nice four-point suspension."
Doug nodded agreement, having been studying the anchorage himself. "And," he added, "let's attach the lines to the floats so that they can be cast off quickly, and just left behind, if we're in a hurry to leave. We can always cut them with our diving knives, but that takes more time."
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
DOUG UNPACKED THE INFLATABLE BOAT from the tail's luggage compartment. In ten minutes, the motorized pump had transformed a lump of rubber into an A-shaped dinghy. We kept the whining pump inside the plane to minimize the noise that escaped. Soon the sides were rigid enough so that Doug could install and test its little electric motor.
We unloaded the diving gear from the tie-down space behind the back seats. Frowning, I handed Doug the sack of groceries I'd unpacked from the cooler, saying that we'd better eat while there was a chance.
"Let's leave the rest of the gear in the plane," Doug said, "and go ashore with the binocs, see what we can see before sunset. Want to change into a swim suit?" Doug changed while standing on the float, while I tried to struggle into my bikini in the pilot's seat. I was not amused, and finally got out to stand on the other float.
Ashore on the shell-covered beach, we tied the inflatable up in the shallows. "We're going to have to be careful about punctures," I worried, "with all these broken shells. And it's noisy as hell, walking over them, as bad as walking on eggshells. I hope that Jowl Island doesn't have shell beaches, too."
Our island wasn't very wide, only a matter of a few groves of palm trees and some low bushes and grasses. No one seemed to have been there before us. Or at least, not since the last hurricane. Last month.
"Our very own pristine island, Kate," Doug joked. Planting the inflatable's paddle in the sand, he intoned, "In the name of the queen, I hereby christen thee Kate's Cay." He got an elbow in his ribs for his trouble, but I was smiling again. Which was probably his aim.
I surveyed Jowl Island while Doug unpacked the grocery sack. "Doug! That's a sailboat mast, in among those palms to the left! So Max's belt phone did get transferred from the marlin boat!" I hugged Doug in relief.
"I was worried about that, too," Doug said, sitting down and pulling me alongside him. "I suppose we ought to keep a low profile, just in case anyone is looking from over yonder." He took the binoculars and looked carefully, scanning the rest of Jowl Island after guessing the mast height.
"It's the right mast for a 65-foot sailboat," he said, continuing to look while munching on the sandwich that I handed him. "No tents. And certainly no dwellings. I think that their cay is just a somewhat larger version of this one. It surely must have a deeper channel, if they got that sailboat in so close."
"There's probably no fresh water on the island," I said, "so no permanent habitation. But enough shade for the sun-weary sailor."
Doug continued to scan, slowly. "Hey, I see someone! Walking down the beach, just rounding the right edge of the island, coming this way."
I took the binocs and studied him. "Looks like it might be that old Cuban guy that the bridge tender described. He's stopping here and there, as if he's looking for something. Dressed like crew, it seems to me - not shorts or a swim suit or a polo shirt, like you might expect. It's certainly not Max or Jowls. Carlos, Max called him."
"What's that he's carrying?" Doug said after another turn with the binocs. "Looks a little like a shovel. Yes, it must be. He's digging, up in the grassy area."
While I kept watch, Doug checked over the equipment - and groaned. Without explanation, he waded back out to the plane and looked in the back seat as well as the tail luggage compartment. They weren't there, either. The two handguns that Doug had borrowed yesterday from Big John were missing.
Whether they were still in the car trunk in Miami, or stolen last night at the marina on Grand Bahama, was not clear. There was a spear gun in the diving gear, but that was all in the way of weapons. Doug disconnected the spear's tether, so as to extend its range. And he examined a length of nylon line for possible use as a snare.
THE PLAN we worked out, while watching the hole being dug, was to plant one of Doug's limpet transmitters on the yacht's hull, snaking a microphone through an open porthole if possible. Then we were going to try to find a protected spot to watch from, while listening to what was going on inside. And, of course, we were going to plan a rescue accordingly. I checked my laptop: the moon, just past full, was going to rise two hours after sunset. It even gave the direction of moonrise: slightly north of east.
Capturing the kidnappers seemed improbable, given our lack of weapons. Stealing away with Max, and flying immediately to safety, seemed the only way to avoid being around when the other pursuers, whoever they were, finally arrived. Surely by morning, our lead would be gone, our use of a seaplane discovered, our escape routes iffy because of the approaching hurricane. The best thing we could do was to flee with Max, then tell the FBI what we knew and hope they could capture the kidnappers and recover their financial records.
"But, until the Mob knows that we haven't fled with the financial records," I pointed out, "we're still vulnerable. All three of us will have to stay hidden somewhere."
"Somewhere such as Hawaii," Doug suggested, "far from the scene. I have a faculty friend with a condo in Hilo that we could probably use, without leaving any traces with rental agencies, without involving any of Dad's friends. And we could travel without passports."
I agreed, moving on. "All we've got to do is to get through the next 12 hours. Let me think for awhile about a distraction, should we need one to sneak Max away."
For an hour, Carlos dug his hole. Finally, as the sun set in the southwest, he disappeared in the direction of the big sailboat.
"That's a pretty big hole," I said with a shudder, handing the binocs to Doug. "It must be the size of a grave. I think we ought to get over there, the sooner the better."
Deciding that we needed to leave a failsafe message, we called Andre and gave him our latitude, 24°42'55.6"N. Then we called him again to give him the longitude, 76°49'38.5"W, so that the phone's scrambler would be reinitialized with a different random key. Even if someone broke one of the ciphers in the next few hours, they'd still have to break the second one to get the right island. Then Doug called a third time to say that, if Andre didn't hear from us before dawn, he should give the coordinates to the FBI, along with the fact that the boat was a sailing yacht called the Peregrine, registered in Massachusetts.
We put on our diving gear in the fading light, Doug reminding me of the operation of the air regulator and pointing out the safety release for my weight belt. Initially, we planned to simply snorkel our way across the channel separating the two islands, leaving the inflatable behind as too easily spotted in the twilight. Doug's dive bag had an extra snorkel and face mask for Max to use, in case we had to escape underwater. I hoped that Max would be in good enough condition to use a snorkel.
The water was pleasantly warm, I observed as we finally waded into the Caribbean. I was very worried. Worried for Max. Worried that I'd make stupid mistakes again, just like the half dozen on Halloween. Worried for Doug, that his single-shot weapon wouldn't be enough and would only expose him to return fire, probably automatic. I was weaponless, except for the diving knife strapped to my leg. We'll have to rely on outsmarting our opponents. And surprise.
It was dark by the time we touched bottom, just off the near side of Jowl Island. Doug took off his flippers and handed them to me for safekeeping. He waded ashore to inspect the hole that we saw being dug. I kept a low profile in the shallows, glancing back at Kate's Cay to check if the plane was visible. I could hardly even see that an island was there.
"The hole is indeed the size of a grave," Doug reported upon returning to the offshore waters. "It's empty. But the shovel has been left behind, as if someone was returning to bury something. Let's swim around the right side of the island."
The far side of the island, facing the deep-water channel to the northeast, had sandy beaches rather than shell-covered beaches. I was relieved - one less worry. The water was noticeably cooler, probably because of the deep water offshore. And presumably there was a deep-water channel coming near the island, given that they'd anchored a yacht there that drew a lot.
As we snorkeled offshore around a sand spit, we suddenly saw the yacht in a relatively wide inlet, held in the middle of the channel by anchors, fore and aft. Isolated. It was surprisingly close, maybe half a city block away. Our sand spit apparently formed one side of the inlet.
A DINGHY FLOATED off its stern, bumping occasionally. "The dinghy means that everyone is aboard," I whispered into Doug's ear, "unless someone is out for a swim."
"Why don't you stay here?" he replied. "Or, better yet, sit in the shallows behind the sand spit, low enough down so that you have to sit up straight in order to see over the top and watch the yacht cabin. I'll dive, come up the channel under the yacht, and look for an open porthole."
"Let's try your waterproof binocs first, from here," I suggested, crawling ashore behind the sand spit.
"It's going to be hard to tell much, in this light," Doug said, looking anyway.
"None of the portholes are illuminated," he whispered a minute later, passing me the binocs, "so I can't tell if they're open or not. But the sliding windows for the dining area, aft of the mast, look like they're half open. That's the only place where lights are on, so maybe that's where everyone is."
Doug dug the limpet transmitter out of the dive bag that he had been towing and uncoiled its thin microphone wire. He handed me its receiver with the two earplugs. I listened while Doug tested the system once more. "Works," I nodded. Doug fished out the extra limpet, and it too passed the test.
"Be right back," he said, squeezing my hand. Wading into deeper water, he adjusted his mouthpiece and started the air flowing. Then he disappeared under the surface. I returned to watching the yacht with the binoculars. Momentarily, I saw some movement behind the rectangular windows of the galley area.
Another movement to the left attracted my attention. Someone had come out into the rear cockpit area, smoking something. Cigar, I saw as a match briefly lit a face. From the reflections of the lights on the water, I finally built up a picture of a slouched-over, somewhat potbellied man. Jowls? No, I decided, not tall or heavy enough. It had to be the Cuban hired hand, Carlos. He was looking out over the water to the north, frequently bending down to look inside the lighted cabin.
I FOUND MYSELF holding my breath, worrying that the man would see Doug. I scanned for a hand and arm along the waterline. But the light was poor. The moon would rise in another hour.
The shadowy figure eventually threw the cigar into the water, where it sizzled for a moment. He ducked down and disappeared back inside. I then saw Doug's hand rise up out of the water and stick the limpet to the hull, just under the railing overhang. His hand remained, grasping the rail, and I worried that he was stuck. But a minute later, just when I noticed some movement inside the cabin, Doug's head rose slowly from the water and he stretched his other arm high over the railing toward the window. He had timed his move to coincide with movements inside the yacht.
I immediately heard voices over the radio.
"...wondered about that. So, you tapped Jack in order to break the cipher?" The voice sounded exactly like Max's, and I felt an immense wave of relief. He was alive.
I saw Doug slowly sink below the surface, gradually removing his weight from the yacht, and then his hand disappeared as well.
"He was such a good source of stock-market tips, long before the virus came along. Jack likes to impress his beautiful friends with his knowledge of what's likely to happen next in the market." Must be Jowls. "And so I started replaying the tapes with computer sounds on them into my own modem, to read his e-mail, too. Soon, I knew all about your pitiful club of amateurs. I, too, found a computer that the parasiters had compromised at a small investment management firm - and was able to disassemble the virus. And learn the formula that determined which stocks were to be manipulated on a given day. So I bought and sold options for those stocks. Unfortunately, the Mob must have gotten their own pipeline into your operation."
"Via your people?"
"Certainly not. I think they blackmailed one of your amateurs who has a screwed-up daughter, probably mixed up with the Mob. I didn't find out about it until early October, which is why I had to accelerate my options purchases with borrowed money, before someone like you screwed up the parasiter's system."
"So, who caused Black Friday?"
"I certainly didn't. Why should I kill the goose laying the golden eggs? But because I was heavily leveraged into options at the time, the market's panic was very profitable. Hundred-fold profits, far better than selling short."
"But that makes you the market genius of all time. You probably made even more money than the parasiters themselves. You'll never have to look at another hernia or hemorrhoid again. Why should you be unhappy about it?"
"Because you amateurs want my money. The Mob wants my money. The parasiters are mad at me. The SEC, those idiots, will try to void my sales of the options contracts."
"But that money will buy you all the protection you need from the Mob or the parasiters - you could hire half of the Russian army to help Carlos guard you. The world will be grateful to you for keeping them out of mischief. And you could hire half of the lawyers on Wall Street. They've proved over and over that they can tie up the SEC in knots, and keep it tied up for years."
"Maybe. But you won't be around to see it, smart-ass."
"Who's going to finish your autobiography? You're not supposed to switch ghost writers in midstream, you know." Max didn't sound very worried; it might have been a conversation about what restaurant to pick for dinner. I remembered that Max was once a volunteer for the suicide crisis line, and had learned how to keep people talking.
Was Jowls stupid, in Goodman's sense of his ego getting in the way of dealing with certain novel situations? I hoped so. I wanted to blindside him with a novel situation of my own devising.
DOUG REAPPEARED in the dark waters behind me. He took off his headgear, then laid down close to me on the slope of the sand spit. "I untied their dinghy and towed it away. I sure hope that they don't notice that its bumping noise has stopped. But I wanted to slow them down, if they should start to chase us."
I handed Doug the second earphone and wrapped my arms around his head to whisper in his other ear. I summarized the conversation so far. "Not good," Doug admitted. "I think that I can set a snare, however, if we can just lure them both back into the cockpit. There are a lot of underwater rocks nearby, so I'll have good footing. That inlet is narrow under the surface, not anywhere as wide as it looks from here. We've got a chance."
"I've been thinking about that snare, Doug." I whispered some details in his ear, and he nodded agreement. "It's about 20 minutes until the moon rises," I continued. "And you can use hand signals to tell me whether to move right or left. Once the moon's up, I'll be able to see you without the binocs."
"I can set the snare in that length of time," Doug replied softly, "and hopefully they'll think the noise I make is just the dinghy, bumping. Suppose, however, that you need to signal me sooner, if something is about to happen inside?"
I sighed, facing the prospect. "I'll just have to start my distraction early, such as walking up the beach dripping wet and hailing the boat, asking if I can use their telephone to get a friend to pick me up. We'll just have to play it by ear." I heard the verbal fencing continue in my earphone.
Doug squeezed my shoulders tightly. "Kate, if something goes wrong, swim back to the plane and take off, then call for help. Don't wait around on this island to see what happens. They could easily shoot you. I'll bet there are assault weapons aboard that yacht. Unless your distraction works and works quickly, they'll probably come on deck carrying them. Get underwater fast."
"That goes for you, as well," I said forcefully but softly. "You know how to escape in the plane. Don't hang around and play hero if I get hurt."
I sat up to take off my fins, which joined the pile on the side of the sand spit formed by my air tanks and face mask. Then I peeled off my bikini, and stuffed it inside my face mask for safekeeping.
"Wish me luck," I said, kissing Doug firmly. "And take very good care of yourself."
"Break a leg," replied Doug, hugging me as warmly as his air regulator permitted. He held my hand until he disappeared into the dark waters.
I LOOKED AT MY WATCH. It was about 17 minutes until the first sign of moonrise, perhaps 20 until it stood atop the cloudless northeastern horizon.
I decided to take off my watch as well - it didn't fit the image. The knife on the side of my leg would be invisible, so I left it tied on, but tested the holder to make sure that the knife could be easily removed from it. I fluffed out my wet hair, as best I could, and tried to work some of the kinks out of my legs. I was covered with sand by now. Nude, but encrusted.
Whatever were the words to that Irish sea shanty? I was listening to the earphone now with only half an ear, trying to prepare myself. The art of distraction. Maximal distraction.
I kept listening, and wishing that they'd say something about Bertha, as I was still confused about whose side she was on. But Jowls was obsessed with himself and the forces gathering against him.
Jowls, I thought, sounded more suicidal than homicidal. He couldn't bear having all those Black Friday billions - being as rich as Croesus - and not being able to spend it or tell anyone about it. And he was determined that no one else should lay their hands on the billions if he couldn't. He seemed quite aware that the noose was tightening. All of the records about where the money was - they apparently were on the yacht, and Jowls wasn't going to let anyone grab them. He'd rather destroy them all. It isn't clear if "them" refers to records - or to records plus people.
I saw Doug's arm briefly, over the top of the stern. Then he appeared to be climbing up the swimmer's ladder. Each time I heard some movement in the cabin, I usually saw him move at the same time. I worried about where Carlos was. But he at least wasn't moving around near the cockpit entryway.
Max sounded as if he had been playing the immortality card, saying that he would be able to finish the autobiography even if something happened to Jowls. But it also sounded as if he had played that card before, and that it wasn't working this time. Jowls saw the club - and therefore Max - as money-grubbing competitors, not civic-minded altruists.
The northeastern horizon was brightening; it was quite clear where the moon would soon rise. I picked up the watch and looked carefully. Two minutes. Where is Doug? I picked up the binocs again. He wasn't in the cockpit or on the ladder. Then I spotted him in the water, seemingly standing on some underwater rocks, partly out of the water. I waved at him. He beckoned me forward. On stage.
I ducked back into the shallows briefly and washed off the sand that seemed to be everywhere. Then, glistening from the water, I stood up for the first time, in full view of anyone that might be looking from the yacht. I moved to the ridge of the sand spit, where I sat down on my knees and heels, fluffing my hair once more, sitting in full profile. I looked sideways at Doug.
He motioned me to move inland a bit. I repositioned myself and saw Doug make the ground-crew gesture for stop. He then turned around, watching the yacht once again, and moved into some rocks, far to the left. He ducked low in the water and soon appeared like just another protruding rock.
THE MOON FINALLY PEEKED over the horizon. It usually took two or three minutes to clear the horizon, I recalled. Wait until it's almost up, I told myself. I listened to the earphone, the only thing I was wearing except for the knife. Max was trying unsuccessfully to engage Jowls in conversation.
But Jowls simply didn't respond. For a third time. And a fourth. Max was straining to rephrase his conversational gambits. Uh-oh.
No time to wait, even if the moon was only three-quarters up. Quiet on the set, lick your lips. I drew a deep breath - and began to sing in a high ethereal voice.
It was an Irish sea-shanty from my days in a college chorus. My heart seemed to be in my constricted throat and my voice was squeaky with adrenaline. It warbled and failed occasionally before returning to a clear pitch - but that's okay, I told myself firmly. Keep it up, keep it going. I was supposed to be ethereal and ghostly, real but maybe not real, a silhouette demanding a second and third look. To anyone on the yacht, I would appear to be a nude female figure without obvious legs, wet, floating on a silvery streak of moonlight - and backlit by the moon itself.
I heard Max stop talking in mid sentence. Carlos said something in Spanish and darted out the hatchway into the cockpit. I could now see the yacht clearly, lit by the moon. Carlos was standing just behind the cockpit guardrail, straining to see me. "Un espectro!" I heard him exclaim. A ghost. "No, it's a mermaid!"
"You idiot!" bellowed Jowls in my earphone. "You superstitious sod! You're imagining things!"
"Do you not hear her singing? See, she floats on the moon!" Carlos cried, full of conviction.
I saw a face peer out the galley's window. I could hear deep breathing in the microphone there - and hoped that Jowls wouldn't notice Doug's thin wire, snaking in the open window.
Jowls bolted out the hatchway and shouldered Carlos aside, trying to get a clearer view of me. He was surely flipping back and forth between alternative interpretations: real and hallucination. I knew he'd soon consider a third possibility: hoax. Hoping to delay it, I sang louder and louder, but with every third word missing, as if a flickering auditory hallucination. I arched proudly and stretched my hair behind my head, trying to appear even more real.
Suddenly, there was a splash in the water - it was Doug's lunge backward to pull tight the loop of rope that he had laid around the top of the cockpit. Both Jowls and Carlos were thrown off balance, tumbling over the cockpit's knee-high railing.
Carlos fell overboard into the water with a reassuring splash. But Jowls managed to grab the rail. The snare went slack when Carlos fell free of it. Jowls escaped the snare before Doug could pull it tight again. Jowls hauled himself forward along the overhang, half in and half overboard. He became briefly entangled with the limpet transmitter and its microphone wire.
I was up and running, swinging my diver's weight belt, trying to appear larger than life. I saw Max in the cockpit, seemingly hobbled, but with a boathook in his hands. He was attempting to beat Jowls with it, trying to push him into the water.
"Halt!" Doug shouted at Jowls, brandishing the spear gun. "Or a spear in your side!"
But Jowls ignored him, rolling under the guardrail just forward of the mast, out of Max's reach. Once back abroad, Jowls scampered, at a speed amazing for his bulk, into the forward hatch. Doug fired the spear gun but the spear impaled itself in the hatch cover and Jowls disappeared below. I saw Carlos climb aboard over the stern. My heart lurched at the thought of automatic weapons.
"Get away!" Max shouted. "He's going to blow it!" Max threw himself into the water before Carlos could reach him. But Max immediately floundered, since his feet were taped together.
Doug swam to Max with powerful strokes from his flippers, then hauled him away from the yacht with even more powerful flips. Just as Doug approached shore, a bright flash warned him to duck back under the surface and push Max down. The double explosion rolled over them.
I staggered in the sand, losing my grip on the weight belt, and fell backward as the explosion hit. I saw the yacht split in half, just in front of the masthead, and the flames shot high. Carlos was hopelessly trapped in the fiery cockpit. Gasoline in the bilges?
MAX'S HEAD EMERGED from the water as he groped around in the shallows of the sand bar. Disoriented, he looked around. I'm still alive, he thought, blinking. All was silence, probably because of the water in his ears.
But the first thing that Max saw against the starry sky was bewildering: a nude female figure, all aglow, but with a silvery halo about her head and shoulders.
He blinked and looked again, gasping for breath. She was not only there, but she was looming toward him with outstretched arms, filling the sky and glowing even brighter. His brain dimly registered that this ambiguous creature was on a collision course with him, that he needed to react. But he was paralysed by the sight, riveted by her.
She grabbed him with both hands, pulling him to her. She fell down on her knees in the sand and embraced him, sobbing "Oh, Max, Max! I almost lost you!"
He realized, with an answering sob, that it was Kate after all.
June 1998 DRAFT Send those comments to:
June 1998 DRAFT
Send those comments to:
Clipper chip An encryption chip developed and sponsored by the U.S. government and announced by the White House in April, 1993. It is intended to replace DES in the security telephones and data networks used by government contractors, and will be available for use outside government. The Clipper chip contains an encryption algorithm called Skipjack that has a backdoor route to decryption, to be made available to law-enforcement agencies upon court order. [?]
DES Data Encryption Standard is a block cipher endorsed by the U.S. government in 1977. Originally developed at IBM, DES is the most widely used cryptosystem in the world. It can be generated by software but is often embedded in computer chips. DES operates on 64-bit blocks with a 56-bit key that is identical for encrypting and decrypting. Three-pass DES encryption ("triple DES") with three different randomly chosen keys is presently considered unbreakable, for all practical purposes. [40,53,166]
finger The internet command that is used to search for users, e.g., finger calvin@computername will locate all computer accounts at that site where Calvin is the first name, last name, or login name. That is, provided system administrators have not disabled or crippled the feature; sometimes an alternative is provided, as one can see by trying finger email@example.com or finger firstname.lastname@example.org where directories have been implemented. If the user has a file named .plan in the directory, the standard finger will also list this file in response; this is used to post the public key, as well as the usual phone and fax numbers. Sometimes a plan file is used to distribute regularly-updated files of information, e.g., typing
will get you a listing of recent earthquakes around the world. 
.forward A file in the user's directory that causes arriving e-mail to be automatically forwarded to another computer system. Typically used when you have accounts on several machines but want to read your e-mail on just one of them; you place .forward files on the other machines. 
ftp File Transfer Protocol, an ancient and awkward unix command used to transfer files from one internet computer to another. Destined to be superseded by a more user-friendly scheme, it is particularly useful at present for transferring files from servers. Sometimes an account is required, but often the server will allow "anonymous ftp" where the user replies to the login prompt with the word anonymous (actually, ftp works just as well) and then is allowed to transfer copies of any file to his own machine. For example, documents relating to the RSA cryptosystem are available by ftp rsa.com, then login as anonymous and give your e-mail address as the password. Change remote directories with the ftp command cd pub/faq and then get a directory listing with dir. Copy a file like faq.asc back to your own computer by the ftp command get faq.asc and then type quit. Actually, a Web Browser will take care of it for you.
gopher The pre-Web-browser internet command to connect to a gopher server that allows browsing of documents, e.g.,
will reveal a number of the author's books and articles for general readers. Many gophers perform finger, ftp, and telnet commands for the user; they can also manage the process of downloading binary files such as programs or images. 
GPS Global Positioning System, a system of navigation satellites that provide precisely timed signals that a receiver can compare, using transit times to locate itself in space. Readouts of latitude and longitude are good to about 100 meters, though local reference stations (a technique called Differential GPS) can achieve accuracy within 2 meters. Handheld models are popular with boaters; adding GPS capability to a cellular phone will require even less space because the phone's keypad, display and power supply can do double duty. An older system called LORAN has similar capabilities for latitude and longitude in some areas but, being ground-based, has many reception problems that make it useless at times. [5,39]
Internet The packet network, with no formal structure and minimal management, that connects many millions of computer sites around the world, and provides e-mail routing to many additional users whose computers are not literally "on the Internet" (in the sense of being able to use telnet, ftp, finger; having an Internet e-mail address does not necessarily equal "full Internet"). Some Internet sites make some of their resources freely available to anyone who connects via finger, gopher, ftp, telnet, etc.; others require accounts to be established first (typically paid via bank cards), though that can often be arranged by simply telneting in, e.g., telnet well.com and then typing newuser at the login prompt will take you to a questionnaire used to establish new accounts.
newsgroups The usenet newsgroups are usually free-for-all discussion forums, free and widely distributed; some are moderated, and some are announce-only. Relevant examples are comp.security.announce, comp.risks, sci.cipher, rec.aviation, etc. Programs called newsreaders are used to display the postings and create replies.
NSA National Security Agency, a highly secretive agency of the U.S. government created in 1952; it has huge financial and computer resources and employs a host of cryptographers. There are many rumors about NSA's ability to break popular cryptosystems like DES; there are also speculations that the NSA has secretly placed weaknesses, called trap doors, in cryptosystems such as DES. These rumors have never been proved or disproved. 
pass phrase A nonword password formed with the first letters of the words in an easily-recalled phrase, e.g., 2b,on2b from "To be, or not to be." This is used because of brute-force cracking methods, often employed on DES-encrypted password files, that test against all the words in a dictionary and a list of common proper names. 
ping A general term in communications systems, associated with testing a communications path ("Can you hear me okay in the back of the room?") and getting back a simple reply ("Yes!"). Cellular phones are regularly pinged by the local relay station that serves the cell. See also transponder. On some internet systems, there is a path-tracing command of the same name, e.g., typing ping well.com will tell you if that computer is currently connected to the internet; security programs can regularly use ping as a way of off-hours monitoring for computer theft and power failures. 
public key The basic ideas of public-key cryptography were invented in 1976 by M. Hellman, W. Diffie, and R. Merkle. RSA is the best-known such cryptosystem, with various commercial and freeware implementations. In all such systems, there are two keys, both long alphanumeric strings. The public key is widely distributed (for instance, put in the .plan file sent with a finger query) and used by others to send encrypted messages to you. [12,88]
private key Only your private key will decrypt a message encrypted with your public key. You generate the public and private keys yourself; the program randomizes the keys by using how long you take to strike keys in response to prompts on your screen. You keep the private key itself encrypted in a special file on your computer protected by a pass phrase. 
RSA The abbreviation for a particular public-key cryptosystem, the one invented at M.I.T. in 1977 by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman. RSA computer chips are available; like the software implementations of RSA, their export from the U.S. and Canada is subject to munitions licensing - even though European versions are also available. [40,166]
server A computer dedicated to file storage and distribution; it is often invisible to the user. 
signatures In addition to encrypting text, digitized speech, etc., public-key systems can be used to provide an identity-verifying "digital signature" and a checksum-like "message digest." The recipient uses your public key to decrypt the signature portion of your message, which has been encrypted with your private key; since only you possess the private key, only you could have sent a decryptable message. The digital signature, once decrypted, is found to contain the public key (for comparison with your publicly posted version of it) and a message digest of the attached document (that can be used to detect any substitutions of another document for the one originally "signed" by the sender with the digital signature).
SLIP Serial Line Internet Protocol allows a computer which must operate over phone lines to act as if directly connected to the packet-oriented internet. 
superuser Enigmatically known as <root> on a unix system, this is the computer user who has the ability to look at, and modify, any file on the computer system. The superuser therefore controls the privileges of all other users. [21,135]
telnet The internet command to remotely connect to another internet computer, e.g., telnet uwin.u.washington.edu will connect to a university information system, including phone directories and library catalogs that can be easily browsed. 
traceroute A peek-behind-the-scenes command that will show you the relay sites used by your packets as they flow between your machine and the distant one, along with transit times, e.g., traceroute isgate.is will show your net route to Iceland, along with the elapsed times in milliseconds.
transponder The most familiar transponder is the one in aircraft that, upon receiving a radar signal interrogating it, transmits an identifying code and other information such as the aircraft's altitude. GPS information can also be transmitted, allowing a fleet dispatcher to interrogate ("ping") a vehicle and receive back its current GPS readouts of latitude and longitude. As GPS chips become smaller, they will appear in notebook computers and cellular phones; some will feature the transponder capability. Linking GPS with the ping feature inherent in cellular phones, as in the search-and-rescue scheme of the novel, is a logical extension of the system used for smart identity badges. 
unix An operating system used on many, but not all, internet-connected computers, and resented for its user-unfriendly mnemonics ("UNIXspeak") - such as ls to list a directory, cat to read a file, and chmod to change file permissions.
URL Universal Resource Locator is an address format needed for Web Browsers, e.g., http://williamcalvin.com/ for my Web page.
vacation A program that, via the .forward file, causes arriving e-mail to automatically generate a reply message from the file .vacation.msg, usually to the effect that the user is temporarily out of touch with the net. 
Web The World Wide Web (WWW) is, like gopher, a distributed file system; with a Web Browser, you can browse files elsewhere. Web pages usually use hypertext rather than menus, display graphics, and can utilize digitized sound files. Lynx is a widely available text-only Web browser for the web; variants of Mosaic are more fully-featured, for those with high-speed internet connections. They'll also save you from learning all the different recipes for telnet, ftp, and gopher.
whois The internet command used to locate both people and computers, e.g., whois calvin would return users named Calvin in a special registry but also Calvin College's computer sites. Knowing a computer name, thanks to whois, one can try using finger to find a user at that site. Such relatively primitive methods will be eventually replaced by a white pages system which, due to its unreliability, will be called the Gray Pages.