By G.S. Mauro

Sam MacAteer, special agent of the FBI, cyber crimes unit, leaned back in his chair and loosened his tie. A steaming mug of black coffee sat next to his uncharacteristically empty inbox. His plate this morning might be empty, but his cup was full, in more ways than one.

After six months of slog, they’d won their big case. They’d traced and tracked every intrusion, download, and installation that two greedy, clever con artists had contrived, and now the bad guys were going down for a long time. There was a lot of satisfaction in that, in a job well done. If cyber crime wasn’t as interesting or as important as homicide, if his hands stayed clean and the heat of the hunt had grown cold, well—he still had his job. And he was still putting away bad guys.

After a two-week trial, the sentencing had come down last night. The other agents had gone out to celebrate. But bringing down a few con artists hadn’t seemed all that sweet to MacAteer. After all, he’d seen much bigger victories in years past—serial killers captured, rapists convicted. He was glad the con artists had been put away, but afterwards he’d picked up some Chinese on his way home, worked out for a while, and then watched a little TV. That was about as close as he got to celebrating anything these days.

“Great job on the testimony, Mac,” Brian Lozano said as he walked by MacAteer’s desk.

“You, too,” MacAteer said. Lozano was also part of San Francisco’s FBI Computer Intrusion Squad, and it had been Lozano’s schematics—the drawings that showed how the data had flowed from computer to computer, from victim to hacker—that had enabled MacAteer to get through to the jury.

The defendants had hacked into the nationwide computer system of a major retailer and then downloaded credit card account numbers of that store’s customers. The setup had been complicated—the defendants first had to compromise the company’s wireless network. They then used the network to plant a program on the store’s computer system, which then captured the credit card information and sent it to the hackers. The stolen credit card information could have been used to buy merchandise, steal identities, manufacture bogus documents—the list was almost endless.

MacAteer hadn’t been sure the jurors would understand what the scammers had done, but Lozano’s graphics had done the job. After six months of investigation and a complicated trial, the jury had sentenced the defendants to nine years for credit card fraud and conspiracy, the biggest sentence ever handed down for a computer crime case. It had been a landmark decision for the FBI and a feather in the cap for the agents who worked the case.

“Think we’ll get that bonus now?” Lozano asked with a grin. He’d been with the unit for three years and his steady joke was that if the CIS saved companies or the government so much money—in this case an estimated one hundred million dollars—then the agents should get a share.

“I heard they’re cutting the checks as we speak,” MacAteer said, playing along. He picked up his mug and took a sip of coffee. The special agent in charge would be along soon with new assignments, but until then, the office was slow and he and Lozano could take a break.

“Good. I could use the money.” Lozano fidgeted for a second. “Listen, Mac, are you doing anything Saturday night? My girlfriend’s sister is visiting from out of town for the weekend. I thought maybe the four of us could do something—go for dinner, listen to some music or something. What do you say?”

MacAteer frowned. He didn’t want anyone setting him up. At thirty and single, he sometimes felt that he was a target for people who thought he should settle down. But he hadn’t had a girlfriend in almost a year. Didn’t even really date casually. Barely went out with friends. Not since—well, not since Scott died. And he didn’t intend to start a fresh social career with Brian Lozano’s girlfriend’s sister. Not that there would be anything wrong with her. He just wasn’t interested.

“A double date? A double blind date? Thanks for the offer, Brian, but I don’t think so.”

“She’s really nice, Mac. Pretty, too. I think you’d like her. It’s not like you have to marry the woman. She lives in Phoenix, for god’s sake. It’s just an evening out.”

Lozano was probably right. It was just one night, one double date of listening to music. Saturday was a long way off. Maybe by then he’d be more in the mood. He should get out more.

But he didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to make the effort to be good company for a woman he hadn’t met, no matter how nice and pretty she was.

“Thanks, Bri, really. I appreciate the thought. But I’ve got some work to catch up on. And you like Broadway musicals.”

“You don’t like musicals?” Lozano looked incredulous. Sam thought Brian was pulling his leg. But he wasn’t sure.

“Maybe some other time.”

“We’d have fun,” Lozano said. “You could use more fun.”

Sam hated it when people said that to him. He didn’t need to have more fun. He needed things to be the way they were eight months ago.

Ariel stuck her head into David Hamborsky’s office shortly after lunch.

“The test is written,” she said. “It’s set to self-correct in four days. So if we release it Friday or Saturday, by Monday or Tuesday it will cease to function whether they catch it or not.”

Hamborsky looked up from his keyboard. “Great, thanks. Ariel. I’ll call Hunter, give him the good news.”

“When you get the go-ahead, let me know.” She stepped into the office a little further. “Can I ask you something else? Not about this.”

“Of course.” He swiveled away from his computer to face her more squarely. He’d known Ariel for so long and she was so advanced in her studies, he tended to forget that she was still very young, only twenty-two. He knew that she’d had difficulties making friends because of that. But it had been a long time since she’d asked him something because she didn’t have anyone else on campus to turn to.

“I did a little research over the summer. Something just for myself,” she said a little nervously. She stepped into the office and sat down on the tweed visitor chair.

“I’m trying to find out my biological father’s blood type.” She let her backpack slide to the floor. “I tried the local hospital and doctor’s offices, but either the records are lost or he didn’t receive treatment that required that they know his blood type. I’m not sure what to do now. Wouldn’t that information be somewhere? And how can I get it?”

“I’m not sure,” Hamborsky said. “If it’s not prying, why do you want to know? Is it for a medical reason?”

“Something like that,” Ariel said.

Hamborsky thought for a minute. “Was he in the military?” he asked suddenly. “I bet they’ve got records.”

Ariel brightened instantly. “He was!” she said excitedly. “I’ll call them.”

“I might be able to help,” Hamborsky said. “Our Congressional representative for this district is one of my former students. We’re not close, but he’ll remember me. I didn’t give him the grade he thought he deserved. In any case, it would be easy for me to give him a call.”

“I would really appreciate that,” Ariel said.

Hamborsky saw the anxious question in her eyes and knew that she wanted to ask him when he’d call.

“Let’s call his office now while you’re here. In case they need something,” he said.

“Thank you,” Ariel said, with a relieved smile.

He looked up the local number and dialed, then told the aide what he wanted. He put the phone on speaker mode so that Ariel could hear.

“We can get those records for you, no problem,” the aide said. “Ms. Bauer, I can get the ball rolling as soon as you get back to me with your father’s social security number and the branch of the service he was in. And, Professor, I’m sure the Congressman would like to talk to you about your work on the federal voting access act. He remembers his days in Berkeley so fondly. Let me give you his number in Washington.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Hamborsky agreed, taking the number and thanking the aide before he hung up.

“Thank you,” Ariel said, standing up. “And that reminds me about the code you showed me from the election project committee. You’re right—it was a mess. That ten percent variation would turn the elections into a joke. I take it that was an internal exercise for TQP Data, or something like that, right? Since you’d signed off on it months ago.”

“It must be something like that,” Hamborsky said, frowning.

When Ariel was gone, he placed another call.

“Neil? Any word from your student at TQP Data?”

“David.” Hamborsky could hear his colleague light a cigarette. “I have a call into Victor. Nothing yet.”

“Okay. Let me know as soon as possible, all right?”

“Absolutely. You know, it probably won’t amount to anything.”

“I realize that. I’m just not happy about letting this slide.”

“I understand. Well—let’s give it a day or two. We should know something by then.”

“Let’s hope so.” Hamborsky hung up feeling dissatisfied. Neil Gunderson wasn’t taking this snafu seriously enough.

Just a few more days, my friend, Gunderson thought, as he dropped the phone in its cradle. And then all your problems will be solved.

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