Masks 19: Part 6

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Masks XIX:

A Disturbance of the Peace

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Six

Two days later we were again at Gordo's office, but this time at his invitation.

Gordo had managed to arrange a meeting with Teresa Huang. It would be her and two of her lieutenants, plus Gordo, Sally and me in a neutral setting, all arranged by Gordo. The meeting was purely Gordo's idea, something he had arranged after I had discussed what we had learned - well, some of it - with him by phone. I got the distinct impression that he had set up the meeting as much for his benefit as ours.

We arrived at the restaurant a bit early, but our opposites were already in the private dining room Gordo had hired. We didn't actually eat anything; in fact, none of the restaurant staff came in once the doors were closed. I had the distinct feeling this wasn't the first such meeting to be held here. Huang was younger than I expected, but with a hard, professional edge which was no surprise. Her two goons were body guards, like Sally, but I don't think they were supers. Sally and I also played bodyguard - with me in a generic thug form - and let Gordo do the talking. However, we had gone over multiple points we wanted covered ahead of time, so Gordo was representing all of our interests.

The meeting was very tense, but cordial. Her bodyguards stood a couple of paces back from her, alert but not participating. Sally and I mimicked them. Huang wanted to know what was going on as much as we did, and her curiosity was honest. Because the meeting involved a discussion of illegal activities on Huang's part I won't go into any details, but she fervently denied any connection to the murders or the attack on the law office. She claimed the men who had committed the latter crime sometimes worked for her, but not exclusively, since she rarely needed muscle in her dealings.

As we walked away after the meeting Sally edged up to me.

"Was she telling the truth?"

"Yes. At least, as she knew it. Oh, she was more than ready to blame Harvek for the whole mess, though just because she hates him, not because she has any evidence. However, she definitely was not involved in the murders or the attack on the law office or the missing bodies..."

"That was my evaluation, as well," said Gordo, nodding.

He, of course, knew about my empathy. Which was probably why he wanted me at the meeting. Gordo wasn't doing me a favor; he was doing himself a favor, and helping me in the process. Gordo is, above all else, a merchant of information and obligations.

"So," I said, with a sigh. "What next?"

"I assume you're speaking rhetorically," said Gordo, with a slight smile.

"Oh, I don't have any ideas right now," I said, nodding. "However, I'm sure I'll think of something."

* * *

Actually, I already had. I just wasn't sure, yet, if I wanted Gordo involved in what I planned to do next. Back at our suite, Lorraine and Sandy were supposedly resting after playing tourist. We had even brought back a bunch of cheap souvenirs of various Seattle attractions. However, I kept worrying the problem.

"We need what's on Harvek's office computer," I said, slowly, coming up with the plan as I spoke. "His personal computer might be better, but getting into his office will actually be easier than getting into his home."

"Why not go after his home computer?" said Sally, smirking.

I realized she was likely envisioning me as Harvek's new French maid or something.

"Let's save that for a last resort," I said, rolling my eyes.

"What's the plan, then? Get another court order?"

"Nope," I said, grinning. "This time we do go there ourselves. We just don't break in."

"But I'm good at breaking in!" said Sally, grinning and cracking her knuckles.

"The best con is one where the mark doesn't know it happened."

I actually rubbed my hands together and smiled. The plan was starting to jell in my brain, and it felt like a good one. It felt right.

"Well, that's your area of expertise. What do you have in mind? By the way, you're breaking character."

"Most folks think offices are secure," I said, now pacing around our suite, though making an attempt to be more ladylike. "However, since people are always coming and going we can take advantage of that - both the assumption and the traffic - to get in by doing something which happens only occasionally - so new faces won't be a surprise - but often enough to not be considered suspicious."

"So, not janitorial service?"

"No, we'd either have to imitate real cleaners or somehow replace them, maybe as temporary staff. Either approach could easily trip us up. No, maybe plumbers, or painters..."

"Painters would be more likely to get into Harvek's actual office."

"Let me do some checking..."

"Then we steal his computer? Or what?"

"I have a device which can break into a computer - as long as it's on - and copy everything on it, leaving no trace."

I reached into my laptop bag and pulled the gadget out. It looked pretty innocuous, like a standard USB external hard drive. I plugged it into my laptop to top up the charge. I expected to be using it pretty heavily within a day or two.

"How do you even have such a thing?!"

"I know a gadgeteer who owed me a favor. I brought the thing along in case we needed to get into someone's computer system. As it turns out, we do."

"So what does it do?"

"If there's a WiFi or Bluetooth connection this gadget will make a clone of a computer's hard drive onto a large-capacity solid state drive already in it."

"What if there's no WiFi or Bluetooth?"

"Then we have to plug it in. I'd prefer not to physically access anything in Harvek's office, so let's hope for a wireless connection. Once we have Harvek's drive copied we go somewhere safe, pull out the drive from this and mail it to the gadgeteer."

"So we sneak into their offices and try to make a connection from the next floor or whatever?"

"Nope. We go in openly. Though we'll need a little help for that."

* * *

"I'm trusting you not to let this get back to me," said Gordo. Not as a warning or a plea, but in recognition of my expected level of competence.

"No guarantees," I said, seriously, "but we'll be extra careful."

"Good enough," he said, smiling.

Gordo had no idea why we wanted a van and painters' equipment. He didn't want to know. He'd probably figure everything out eventually, but that would be long after we finished, of course.

I had learned that Harvek liked to have his office redecorated on a whim a couple of times a year. Sometimes he had the place emptied, remodeled and refurnished, but more often he just liked a different paint color. Sometimes he only had the ceiling changed. We could have pretended to be movers, taken everything out of the office - which would have been a normal prelude to a major redecoration - and scanned his computer at our leisure, but that would have meant bringing in more people. So, painters it was.

When doing research on the operation, I learned that Harvek had left town for an early weekend - despite the police requesting that he stay - the day before and his office would be empty for at least the next few days. A perfect opportunity for some redecorating. Now the only question was whether Sally's acting was up to the task. I drilled her carefully. She was obviously a bit irritated at this (well, obviously to someone with empathy; she has a pretty good poker face) but acting the part of a painter was well outside her area of expertise. I figured that as long as she wasn't closely questioned by security we would be okay. Even if we had to do some actual painting.

Getting past building security the next morning was easy. We had a valid work order - though the actual work described on it was a complete fiction. We wheeled the cart with our dropcloths, cans of paint and so forth into a cargo elevator, helpfully pointed out to us by one of the guards. On the appropriate floor we showed the same papers to the receptionist. She helpfully showed us to the proper office. The whole time Sally kept quiet, as coached. One of the classic mistakes of a beginner was saying too much, and she was following the training I had given her. Once we started work she confined her communications to in-character questions and responses to me.

We propped the hallway door open, wheeled our cart inside and started work. Only, I kept getting calls on my smart phone.

These were actually from the gadget, which was hidden on the cart. First it reported multiple contacts over the local high capacity Wi-Fi network. With a little guidance from me it focused its attention on the device named SHARVEK. It was close by, and the signal strength was very strong. I wasn't surprised that Harvek's computer was on; in fact, I was counting on that. This was standard in businesses, so messages, updates and automatic backups wouldn't be delayed because someone had turned their machine off while the user was on vacation, or whatever. Accessing the machine took only seconds; cracking or bypassing (don't ask me exactly what it did; something the gadgeteer who built it designed it to do is all I know) the individual computer's security and gaining full access not much longer.

Sally and I took our time laying the dropcloths around the office, covering all the furniture and carpet, including the computer. I made sure there was enough ventilation for the computer to avoid overheating. Then I took my time opening a can of paint and comparing the contents to a color swatch, adding a dash of something, stirring and comparing, repeat potentially endlessly. The gadget actually notified me - via smart phone - that it was finished well before we ran out of stalling tactics. As it happened, we timed things pretty well. I mentioned to Sally that the name plate on the desk wasn't that on the work order - which was my cue to her that the gadget was finished - and was about to go ask the secretary why when some assistant manager barged in, almost tripping on a dropcloth.

"What is the meaning of this?!" he demanded.

"Just painting the office," I said, calmly, with a touch of puzzlement.

"I wasn't informed of any such operations!"

"We have a work order..." I said, walking towards him as I fumbled around in one of the large pockets of the white coveralls I was wearing. I pulled out the wrinkled, folded paper. Which was not the one I had shown to the guards and secretary. "Here."

He looked it over. I don't know if it was because he was so upset with us, but he missed it the first time. However, to give him credit, he tried again. Then got it on the third perusal.

"This work order is for this office number, but in Tower A! This is Tower B!"

"Oh..."

"Get your stuff and get out of here!"

"Well, it wasn't just us," I said, plaintively, as I capped the paint can and then with Sally began folding the dropcloths. "The security staff and... And at least we haven't started painting yet..."

"Just... get out."

* * *

"Whew!" was all Sally said, and that only once we had everything back in the van and took our positions on the front bench seat. She looked like she wanted to say more, but held her tongue.

We drove away, taking our time. Of course, we didn't go to Tower A. Instead, we drove around downtown for a bit. It took us over two hours to return to where we had borrowed the equipment. Much of that time required to make certain we weren't followed back to the shop. That whole time neither of us mentioned anything about our real purpose, instead rarely saying anything. I know, all that was almost certainly an unnecessary precaution, but we had the time and the gas and - frankly - needed a bit of downtime to relax from the pretense involved in the con. Yes, even me.

We walked separate paths to a nearby Multi-Mart and did a little shopping, then ducked into the appropriate restrooms. After a quick change of appearance - mostly clothes and makeup for Sally - we sauntered out, still separately.

We next went individually to a business supply store, where I bought an envelope and some padding and Sally got a flashlight. Then we went to a nearby park. We finally reunited at a secluded bench, something obviously set up for trysts. There I padded the drive with anti-static bubble wrap, and put it into the also padded envelope, which I then addressed. It was a standard pouch of the type used to mail electronic items. Then we went to a UPS store and paid for overnight shipping.

Still as a couple we walked calmly through the park, gazing deeply into each other's eyes - which took little acting on our parts. We spent the rest of the day on what was basically an extended date, before finally getting back to our suite - once more as aunt and niece - about an hour after dark.

* * *

"I don't know where you got that clone," said Defrag, "but somebody really didn't want unauthorized people to read it. Even airgapped it caused problems. There were two different phone home apps on it."

We were at an Internet cafe, Sally crowded into a private booth with me, communicating with the gadgeteer over a secure Internet connection, three days after mailing the package. The connection was video as well as sound. He insisted. I had only changed back to Larry - my first time being my base self since leaving for the airport - once we had the door closed.

"Which I assume you overcame."

"Oh, yeah," he said, grinning. He was lean and pale and rather unkempt, but knew his business. "Turns out that while they had good security software it was all known - if very expensive - commercial stuff. As promised, I didn't read any of the information. I just made sure it was all safe and copied it before wiping the original. All done in an EMP shielded lab."

The airgapping and EMP shielding were probably unnecessary for our purposes, but that was how he liked to work and he'd gotten the job done.

"You're already finished?" I said, pretty sure he was.

"Already sent you that copy of what I got, shipped it this morning, overnight to that UPS box in Seattle you told me to use," he said, smugly. Then he sighed, and shook his head in disapproval. "This guy didn't actually have a lot on his machine. Besides the OS, there wasn't even a gigabyte. It was a top-of-the-line commercial office system, too. Probably just used to write memos, read and send e-mail and such. What a waste."

"Thank you very much," I said, meaning it. "The check is in the mail."

He laughed, knowing very well he would get his money as usual via PayPal.

* * *

We decided to just take the rest of the day off. Despite the occasional break, Sally and I had been working pretty hard the past week, with some of that work being pretty nerve wracking, and I figured a little relaxation would do us both some good. Yes, we rented a room for a few hours, too.

The next day the package with the USB memory stick was there when we checked. We quickly took it back to our suite. There we each copied all the data onto our laptops, then began exploring.

"Whoa..." said Sally, some time later.

"Something?"

"Very something. I found his journal."

I dropped what I was doing and hurried over.

"It was in a hidden folder, and the file is labelled Recipes.rtf," she said, leaning a bit to one side to let me see the screen and pointing.

"I see it," I said, noting the file location.

We both focused on our own copy of that file for the next several hours, eating lunch and supper in our suite and actually staying up late.

"Okay, so much of this is in code phrases that it's often hard to understand," I said, leaning back, yawning and stretching. "However, a large amount of those code phrases are puns - and not very clever ones - and rephrasings. He called those sap gloves 'soap gloves.'"

"Wait, he actually mentions them?"

"Yeah. He repeatedly notes - in entries going back several years - that they hit like supers' fists, aren't illegal, and could be used to frame someone super strong."

"Bastard."

"Oog," I said, rubbing my eyes and giving my head a vigorous shake. "Well, I am not getting much more done tonight. Let's go to bed and start again in the morning."

"Don't forget to put out the DO NOT DISTURB sign," said Sally, with a tired smile. "I have a feeling both of us will be sleeping late tomorrow."

"Especially you, Miss Slug-A-Bed," I said, smiling back.

* * *

The next morning Sally and I spent hours discussing what to do with the information we had uncovered. It finally boiled down to putting the decision off on someone else.

"Do we make an anonymous present to the police?" she said. "Take it to Ernest? What?"

"We don't know enough about the local situation to know what the cops will do with it," I said, uncertainly. "I don't know enough about what attorneys do with such information to want to burden Shaw with it. So..."

"Yeah. We ask Ernest. He knows the local situation better than we do and can probably ask someone where he works about what an attorney would have to do with such information."

As it turned out, getting another appointment was easy. He wanted to talk to us again, anyway, and pretty urgently. I copied the incriminating files onto another memory stick and set out.

* * *

"Okay, what I'm seeing is pretty damning, but it's still all circumstantial," said Ernest, with a sigh, after he went over what we had uncovered. "Now, I'm focussing on connecting him with the murders, here. For other crimes there's a huge amount of material which could easily result in an indictment."

"What if we, instead of trying to get him for the murders, leak the financial stuff to the FTC?" I said. "I know some folks there who just love to investigate the top half percent. They can uncover the connection to the murders - and maybe some other crimes - in the process."

"That is not a bad idea," said Ernest, looking impressed. "I'll talk to Gary, who reports on financial stuff. Nothing firm; I'll just ask about whom to leak information to. We'll consider more than the feds, too; I know folks with the state and city who have been trying to get something on Harvek for years."

"Will that actually be enough?" said Sally.

"No guarantees," I said, with a shrug. "Though even if one avenue doesn't go through the others should."

"Meanwhile, Doro's attorney can use some of this - along with some other materials we've uncovered - to raise further doubt about her involvement in the murders," said Ernest. He grinned at us, looking rather feral. "With luck, she'll be out of prison before she's out of the hospital."



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