‘We got something.’
Milo and Terri watched the screens on Theresa’s desk showing photo’s of Cathy’s killer with others.
‘Meet Eevi Mustonen.’ Theresa said. ‘Born into a successful criminal family, kept a low profile until someone killed off most of them. She disappeared only to turn up once years later. In the meantime several members of rival families had also disappeared.’
‘Nothing linking that to her, of course.’ Terri said.
‘Yes. We know little about who she works for now, except she visited several possible fronts they might own. We’re looking into those right now.’
Milo read the list. ‘I’ve heard of a couple of them. Nothing that has been on our radar though.’
‘Looks like they diversified a lot. Electronics stores, software studio, hardware dealer, garage, transportation, car dealers, builders, infrastructure, private security..’ Terri said.
‘It means they have a legitimate reason to have specialists and the right equipment at all times.’ Ahmin said behind them and yawned. ‘I’ll go get some rest now.’
‘Thanks for your help.’ Theresa said. ‘This will be a good boost to our capabilities.’
‘He tweaked our hardware and algorithms, giving about a ten percent speedup.’ she said as they watched him leave the room.
‘Nice.’ Terri said.
‘Indeed.’ Theresa said. ‘We’ll run it here as a test for a while, then we will implement it at the other sites one by one.’
‘You have more than this?’
Theresa nodded. ‘Independent clusters so we are always redundant. There’s a reason why we’re on several most wanted lists. But so far they have no idea who we are because we all look out for each other. At the slightest threat a group moves or disbands.’
‘Safety before anything.’ Milo said.
‘With people like you working for them we need to.’
‘Nothing personal because I think we can trust you, but the departments have always abused their powers for their own gain, or anyone who paid.’
He nodded. ‘True. Which is why I hoped I could prevent serious harm by being on the inside.’
‘So, did you?’ asked Terri.
‘I’m not at liberty to say.’
She smiled. ‘Thanks for what you might or might not have done then.’
‘If I had done anything, which means I’m not saying I did do something, I’d say you’re welcome.’
She chuckled. ‘Bureaucrat.’
‘Anyway, any plans on sniffing out those fronts?’ she asked Theresa.
‘Yes, we’ll start with the usual low level stuff by visiting them, see if we can get at their network or equipment.’
‘This takes me back.’ Milo said as he looked through the list once more. ‘Let’s divide the list.’
Terri, Milo, and several members visited the places on the list with pretenses like interest in buying their products, getting information, delivering messages. After that they gathered to discuss the possibilities.
‘This place has such a mess on wiring under the desk, we can replace the cheap switch they use with one of our own.’ one of the members said.
‘I saw their grid box. it’s a very old one so we can replace it under the guise of service from their provider. We have access to their systems to insert a legit order ticket.’ another said.
‘This guy collects gadgets sent by his suppliers. Easy target for a trojan.’ Terri said about her target.
The garage has its systems safely locked and offline inside the office. Good security too since they have expensive cars there, but I did see something that might be exploited if you’re willing to help me.’ Milo said, looking at Terri.
‘Sure? Or do I have to do something weird?’
‘Well, I’ll first have to find something that I need for that. I’ll get back on that.’
‘This one?’ asked Theresa, tapping on the next name on the list.
‘Runs an outdated scanner, throw a few spams at him.’
‘I suggest using a camera on this one. Her office has a large window at the back. The nextdoor roof has the right height to look down on her monitors.’
‘This one’s tricky.’ said Theresa, pointing at the hardware dealer.
‘I know these guys.’ said Ahmin. ‘I can get in easily and plant a trojan.’
‘Perfect.’ said Theresa. ‘We’ll leve it to you then.’
After they went through the list Theresa set up a plan of attack for each target. Milo talked to one of the search experts, got a portable from him and took it with him to one of the private rooms.
Terri discussed her target with Theresa, then felt like lying down for a while. When she passed the room Milo used she halted as she heard something that caught her attention.
“No way.” she thought, listened to make sure, then peeked inside to see him on a couch, looking closely at the portable screen.
‘Are you watching porn, Milo?’
He almost fell from his chair.
‘Damn..’ he said, taking a deep breath. ‘You almost gave me a heart attack.’
She grinned and sat down next to him. ‘So you are, eh?’
She was a little surprised to actually see an amateur video on the screen.
‘Yeah, but not for pleasure.’ Milo said, pausing the video. ‘It’s what I had in mind for my target.’
She raised an eyebrow.
‘When I went in there I was silent enough to get a glimpse of him watching a porn movie.’
‘Something like this?’
He nodded. ‘I thought about accidentally leaving a stick in my car since he seemed curious enough.’
‘So let me guess why you needed my help. You want to make it look like there might be something private between you and I on that stick?’
‘I asked on of the guys to help me search the massive amount on the grid. He gave me access to their search index.’
‘No wonder I saw him laughing.’
‘Because the woman in it needs to look like you, you can imagine the joke he made.’
She chuckled. ‘They will never forget.’
‘Hey, remember that it involves you too.’
She thought about that. ‘Oh yeah.’
‘Anyway, I was looking for something long enough to get a trojan to copy their data to the stick while he was busy watching the movie. And it obviously has to look like you and I. I’ve been through dozens of these now.’
She moved against him. ‘Well then, no one better than me to judge it.’ she said and resumed the video.
‘Right.’ he said, feeling conscious of her body against his while porn played on the portable.
‘He doesn’t have your eyes.’ she said after a minute, closed the video and started the next.
‘I think she lacks your liveliness.’ Milo said after a minute.
‘I can’t imagine you being so passive.’
‘I guess I’m not.’ she said and started the next video.
‘Are you that agressive?’ she asked a couple of videos later.
He shook his head. ‘I’d like to treat her gently, do things slowly to saviour the intimate feeling.’ he said and went to the next video.
‘This one then?’ Terri asked several videos later.
He nodded. ‘I’ll have to colour my hair and cut it shorter, but they look like you and I.’
‘Yeah, I think that would be how you and I would..’
They watched the movie for a while, then Milo closed it quickly. ‘So, can I ask you to pretend to be my girlfriend as we take my car there to be serviced?’
She nodded, fiddling with her fingers.
‘Good.’ he said and stood up. ‘I’ll go prepare one of their trojan sticks.’
She watched him leave the room and felt like taking a cold shower before getting some sleep.
‘Ahmin! Good to see you!’ said Kile, one of the people he spoke more often when he had a project involving the hardware they sold.
Ahmin shook his hand and followed him to the coffee corner.
‘How have you been?’ Kile asked.
‘Okay. Working on a special project right now, can’t reveal too much though but I’d like a quick estimate on some servers if you have anything that matches our need.’
They grabbed some coffee and Ahmin handed Kile a stick with calculated specs at his desk. A red warning flashed when Kile inserted the stick into his terminal.
Ahmin looked at the filename. ‘Ah, one of my development files. It must have triggered the scanner because it uses memory probing code.’
‘Okay.’ said Kile and dismissed the alert.
‘Any preference on a few large servers or plenty of smaller ones?’ Kile asked, looking over the documents.
‘Network’s not the bottleneck, so I’d like to go with a bunch of nodes. Makes it easier to tweak one without losing much running capacity.’
Kile nodded and went to work on their selection system.
‘Here.’ he said after the calculation was done. ‘This is what we’ve got.’
Ahmin looked at the hardware and nodded. ‘Nice. Then we’ve got most of the budget estimate done.’
Kile saved it to Ahmin’s stick and handed it back to him.
‘Thanks. I have no idea when and if the budget will be approved since they’re looking at a few projects.’ Ahmin said, shaking Kile’s hand.
‘Well, hardware only gets faster in time so you won’t get anything less than this. Let me know if it’s approved and I’ll give you a complete offer with the latest hardware we’ll have.’
Ahmin took a detour before coming back to the collective.
‘Here.’ he said, handing the stick to one of the members. ‘The decoy file worked. He disabled the scanner for the stick.’
‘We saw it. We’re getting data already from their mainframe. Good work.’
‘Terri and Milo gone already?’
‘Yeah. I just hope they can act well enough.’
Milo pulled up at the garage.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
Terri nodded and they got out of the car. She took his hand while they walked into the garage.
‘Good morning.’ said the cheap suit behind the desk in the office. He stood up to greet them. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Morning.’ said Milo. ‘I called earlier to bring my car in for a check-up.’
‘Right. Mr. Mullins, isn’t it?’
Milo nodded. ‘Call me Fred. This is my wife Roanna.’
‘Nice to meet you. I’m Guido.’ he said and shook their hands.
Milo noticed his eyes lingered on her and knew the trap would work.
‘Let me get the registration ready.’ Guido said and went back to his computer.
‘Did you get the camera ready?’ whispered Terri, just loud enough for Guido to hear it.
‘Yeah, it’s fully charged so we have all day to fill up another disk.’ Milo whispered, tapping her nose.
‘Mmm., can’t wait for it.’ she whipered and gave him a kiss.
Guido grabbed a tablet from his desk and returned to them, handing it to Milo. ‘Sign here. Then we’ll get started on it today and call you when we’re done. Are you sure you don’t need a loaner?’
Milo signed the tablet and handed it back. ‘No need. We weren’t planning on going anywhere today. Just spending a nice day at home.’
‘Enjoy your day then.’ he said as they left, seeing her move her hand across his behind and under his jacket to stick it in the back of his pants. Her tail wagged in rhythm with her pace. ‘Damned lucky bastard.’
He put the work order on the passanger seat and found a memory stick on the floor. He recognised the brand as a semi-professional camera brand. He looked up for a moment, then took the stick, examining it.
‘Maybe I got a little lucky too.’ he said to himself and took it to his computer to plug it in.
He opened the file browser and found a movie file called “First anniversary night”. He opened it and saw it was indeed what he thought it might have been.
‘You think he already looked at it?’ Terri asked further down the street.
‘It wouldn’t surprise me.’ Milo chuckled. ‘Imagine him sitting behind his desk, watching a movie of us going at it.’
She laughed, then smiled. ‘It means we have pulled it off.’
He nodded. ‘I hadn’t expected the kiss though. Nice touch.’
‘It was a spur of the moment thing. Just reacting like I would if we were really a couple.’ she said, then let go of him. ‘Don’t get any ideas though.’ she said and pointed at a food stall. ‘I’m hungry, treat me.’
‘Hey, I did that last time. Why don’t you treat me?’
‘Women’s privilige.’ she smirked.
‘You’re just lucky you’re cute.’ he grumbled and pulled out one of his cash cards.
They avoided going back to the collective for the day, spending it instead by watching movies and eating in low surveillance areas in the city. They were just having a drink when the call came in.
‘Your car is ready.’ Guido said. ‘Software has been updated to the latest and there was a damaged we had to replace, but nothing expensive.’
‘Thank you, we’ll be there in a while.’ Milo said. ‘By the way, did you or anyone else happen to see a memory stick lying in the car?’
‘Hmm, not that I can recall. Would you like me to have a look?’
‘Ah, no need. I might have left it somewhere else.’
‘All right. See you later then.’
Milo put away the phone. ‘Let’s see if we caught something.’
A little later they walked in, Terri holding Milo’s arm tight before going to the car.
‘Here you go.’ said Guido, handing Milo the tablet again to sign off. ‘You’re done for another year.’
‘Found it, honey!’ said Terri, holding up the stick. ‘It fell under the seat.’
‘Important things?’ Guido asked.
‘Ah, yes. Must keep those safe.’
They said goodbye to Guido and drove away to a parking garage with a level closed off for maintenance. A couple of members of the collective opened the gate to let them in, then had Terri drive the car on a sheet behind a van.
They got out and the members covered the car with another sheet.
‘Anything?’ Milo asked the woman in the back of the van.
‘Nothing. Car is clean with only the standard positioning signal coming from it.’
‘Here.’ he said and handed her the stick. ‘I hope we got something interesting.’
‘Thanks.’ she said and put it away. ‘Are you coming to us now?’
‘No, I feel like taking a long shower, so I’m going to a quiet hotel I know for the night.’
‘You?’ she asked of Terri.
‘Well, if you don’t mind, a long shower sounds great right about now so I’ll tag along.’
‘I don’t mind the company.’
The woman raised an eyebrow at him.
‘I didn’t mean the shower!’
‘Sure, we know what you’ve been watching lately.’ she said to the amusement of the other guys.
He looked at Terri for support but she snickered.
‘Whatever.’ he said and walked to the car. ‘Get in, or I’ll leave you behind.’ he said to Terri.
He parked the car at a cheap looking hotel just outside a busy part of the city.
‘They better have working plumbing here.’ said Terri, looking at the smudged entrance.
‘No worries.’ Milo said, taking the bags with the items they had bought at a nearby convenience store with him. ‘It might not look like much, but it’s comfortable and you can spend some time out of sight here.’
He selected two rooms at first but then Terri stopped him.
‘To be honest, I’d rather not be alone in a room tonight.’
He looked at the room selection. ‘How about a double bedroom then? You can shower first.’
Terri grabbed the things she needed and got into the shower while Milo unpacked the rest of their things.
He found glasses in one of the cupboards, opened up the bottle of liquor and leaned back into the couch in the middle of the room.
He had almost finished it when Terri got out of the bathroom, dressed in a long shirt and brushing her hair.
‘One for me?’ she asked.
Milo filled a glass for her and she sat down next to him, tossing the brush aside and taking a drink.
He finished his drink. ‘My turn.’
‘Good thing. You need it.’ she grinned.
He stood up. ‘At least I won’t smell like wet dog after I get out.’ he said and dodged her punch, laughing as he went into the bathroom.
When he came back he wore only the loose pants he had bought at the store. He sat down on the couch with another drink and watched her pout.
‘You sure you can stand sitting next to me?’
He grinned a little. ‘I don’t mind your scent, dry or wet. It’s kind of soothing after these last days.’
She held out her glass and he filled it again, then stared in silence at the light shining in on opposite wall for a while.
‘I wonder if they ever spend a night at a hotel like this?’
Milo let the scent of the liquor enter his nose. ‘If he’s anything like me, they did.’
Terri leaned a little against him, sipping her drink slowly.
‘At least they’d be bothered less by those disliking mixed couples than at some fancy place.’
Milo hummed in agreement.
They finished the bottle in silent thought while watching the lights on the wall.
‘Time to sleep.’ Milo said.
‘Yeah,’ she said and gave him a kiss on his cheek before standing up. ‘Thanks for letting me stay. Sweet dreams.’
‘Anytime. Sweet dreams.’
He watched her crawl into bed in one room, then crawled into his own.