For all her expertise with using them, and the myriad ways she incorporated them into her act, Tam spent a fair amount of time hating computers.
“Fine! Then this is how I’m going to fix you!” she said and dropped a live wire onto the exposed circuit board in front of her.
Electronics are capable of amazing feats. Dealing with 120 volts of alternating current grounding itself out across components that were only meant to handle 5 volts of direct current however is not one of those feats.
“Can I get you a fan? And perhaps a fire extinguisher?” Jim Baughsley asked.
“Yes to the fan, no to the extinguisher,” Tam said. “The bios on this thing was so infected that burning is almost to good for it.”
“Should I be worried?” Jim asked, carrying a small battery powered fan over to blow the smoke coming off the motherboard up into the fume hood that hung over Tam’s bench.
“Probably,” Tam said and then sighed. “Or not. It’s just frustrating dealing with a machine that was hacked this badly.”
“I’m going to guess it was Jimmy B’s fault?” Jim asked.
Tam laughed. It was a safe bet. Of all of the Baughsley’s, poor Jimmy B was the most likely to render an electronic device non-operational within five minutes of interacting with it. It wasn’t that he was technologically illiterate, or that he meant to destroy whatever gadgets he got his hands on, he was just a weirdness magnet of sorts. Electronic devices simply malfunctioned in the most bizarre manners possible when he was around. Fortunately his area of expertise was logistics, and as long as he was working on that his telephone and computer were relatively well behaved. Ask him to play a Words With Friends game though and you’d wind up with nothing but Gaelic words all showing up in a mix of Hiragana and Sanskrit.
“Nope,” Tam said. “This one was all me.”
Confession is good for the soul, or so they say. Jim’s startled look may not have erased her frustration but it was good for a chuckle.
“I’m trying to decide if panic or absolute terror is the right response here,” he said. Tam was almost the opposite of Jimmy B. She didn’t have technical problems. She was the one everyone else came to for a fix when they were having technical problems.
“A little from column A, a little from column B,” Tam said. “I suppose the real people to blame are the ones with a lot better security than they should reasonably have.”
“Oh, were you still looking for the backers that Larson guy was working with?” Jim asked. He handed Tam a glass of water with a lemon wedge in it before sitting down on the opposite side of the computer bench. “I don’t think any of us expected them to be that much of a problem to track down, did we?”
“Charlene mentioned that I should be careful, which I was, just not quite careful enough,” Tam said, leaning back and enjoying the freshly squeezed lemon water while it was still cold. “I managed to track back some of the payments Larson made after his last scheme. It looks like they were on him right away and got their money back plus interest.”
“But it didn’t end there?” Jim asked.
“It did not,” Tam said. “He didn’t make any more payments to them but there was a trail of correspondence with a Mr. Judicar of the PrimaLux Group that continued on up till the day we took Larson down.”
“I’m going to guess that Mr. Judicar was the one with the unreasonable amount of security?” Jim asked. He wasn’t “a computer guy” but he was always willing to listen to Tam’s explanations of what she was working on, even when some of it probably went over his head.
“The PrimaLux Group in general is guarded against cyber-intrusion via some very nasty countermeasures,” Tam said. “Nasty in this context meaning probably illegal. Hence the bonfire. I couldn’t risk whatever ate this machine getting into the rest of our network.”
“Should we talk to James in case there’s anything a bit…” Jim waved his fingers around like he was casting a spell. Jim was a mechanic by trade, and while he performed a lot of other functions for the Second Chance Club, he had never entirely warmed to the more esoteric aspects of the job which his coworker James was proficient in.
The same was not true of Tam. As the group’s resident magician, she found it amusing how little overlap her work had with James’ actual magic but she wasn’t one to let professional pride stop her from being conversant with what he brought to the team.
“There’s no need,” James said as he joined them. “Ms. Le’s containment circle was top notch.”
“There was something mystical that tried to get in along with the boot record virus then?” Tam asked. It was too late to make any repairs but she looked at the circle of silver dust her ex-computer rested inside. The geometric swirls she’d carefully blown the dust into still held all of their original precisely specified dimensions.
“Yes, a Storm Class Gremlin,” James said, nodding at the circle as he inspected it as well. “Nasty in the wrong hands, but burning its receptacle as you’ve done disperses it harmlessly enough.”
“Well, we’ve got a name at least,” Tam said, leaning back from the bench and watching the still burning motherboard sizzle. “Problem is they know we’re looking for them now.”
“I would guess they will rather regret if they come looking for you in return?” James asked. Despite his training in the arcane arts, James was as interested in Tam’s form of wizardry and she was in his, so he had an inkling of the kinds of things Tam’s cyber defenses would do to an unwitting intruder.
“I’m honestly hoping they will,” Tam said a flicker of delight washing over her face. “Other duty calls though?”
“Indeed, A new letter has arrived,” James said, producing a set of copies from his breast pocket.
“A local job?” Jim asked, scanning the single paged document.
“I don’t believe so,” James said.
“I’ll get your bike ready then,” Jim said, turning to Tam. “I’ve got the muffler modifications all set, just need to finish the installation.”
“And just like that, my day got a bit brighter!” Tam said, extinguishing the motherboard at last and collecting her things to get ready for the meeting.
Anna and Val were already in the meeting room by the time Tam arrived. Anna was engrossed in the paperwork that JB had supplied for them. The packets were always informative but usually served more as a recap of the meetings details than required reading.
Val, taking that notion to heart, was sinking free throws from her seat with a foam basketball and a hoop that was affixed to the wall beside the projection screen. Tam watched her take a trio of shot at the hoop without missing a single one.
“Have any luck?” Val asked as Tam took the seat next to her.
“We’ll call it mixed results,” Tam said. “On the upside, I found the public facing company of Larson’s backers. On the downside, they bricked my computer. So a point for each of us?”
“Sounds more exciting than hacking should be,” Val said, catching her foam basketball and turning to back to the table.
“Yeah, if literal flames enter the picture something is going very wrong,” Tam said, sliding an iced tea over to Val.
“Or perhaps quite right,” Anna said, looking up from her papers.
“Is there something in there about the PrimaLux Group?” Tam asked.
“No, this is about our current assignment,” Anna said. “Triggering a strong response can be good though. For most people it is a warning. For us? It is bait.”
“Perhaps there’s more connection here than there appears to be,” Charlene said, speaking over the conference line. In the background, a cheerful chanting sound was dimly audible. Tam couldn’t place the language but thought it sounded vaguely like a bit of Swahili that she was familiar with. “This assignment involves an unexpectedly strong response as well.”
“What are we looking at with this one?” Val asked, as she began to go through the dossier in front of her.
“We have received a letter from a Sera Williams,” Anna said. “Sera’s sister is missing.”
“That’s never a good sign,” Val said. “How long has it been since someone last saw her?”
“A month,” Anna said. “Sera writes that she was the last one to see Jenny, her sister, before she disappeared.”
“That’s long enough for the police to be on the case,” Tam said. “Clearly they haven’t found her but have they turned up anything?”
“Very little,” JB said, passing out a new set of papers, copies of the official police file. “I spoke with the detective assigned to her case and there’s been no new leads since the initial investigation of her apartment three weeks ago.”
“The detective’s a club member I take it?” Tam asked.
“Not officially, but I’ve worked with her in the past,” JB said. “She’s glad we’re looking into this. All too often this sort of case goes nowhere for them.”
“Looks like Jenny left basically everything behind,” Val said, skimming through the police papers. “Is this a missing person’s case or a homicide?”
“That’s the first thing you’ll need to discover,” Charlene said. “Especially since there is more than one life at stake.”
Tam turned her attention to the original dossier but Val noticed the relevant detail first.
“She has a two month old daughter?” Val asked, anger coloring her words than she normally allowed.
“Yes. Meg Williams, who is also missing,” Charlene said.
“There were signs of a break-in at her apartment,” Anna said, flipping to a page in the police files. “Also blood traces on the carpet near the door, but none of it matched either Jenny or Megs.”
“So, Jenny is on the run then?” Tam asked. “That’s not necessarily that much of a challenge to sort out.”
“Depends on why she’s on the run,” Val said. “And from who.”
“Yeah. That brings up a good point. What’s the story with the father?” Tam asked, scanning to find any notes on him.
That he would turn out to be the culprit was an all too likely scenario but for a change it didn’t turn out to be the case.
“Deceased,” Anna said. “Lewis Lakes. He was a building contractor up until six months ago when he was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of pancreatic cancer. He passed away five weeks ago at St. Edmunds.”
“I don’t like the timeline on this,” Val said.
“You think someone was looking for Lewis and came after Jenny when Lewis wasn’t available anymore?” Tam asked.
“That fits the details we have so far,” Anna said. “Which means this will need to be a two pronged operation.”
“We need to track down where Jenny went,” Val said. “Which is going to be hampered by the fact that she’s got a one month head start on us.”
“And we need to find out what Lewis was into and why some scared his widow away from her own home when she’s got a two month old to care for,” Tam said. Ideas for how to pin that down started bubbling up faster than she could write them down.
“I have a private plane reservation to bring you into Atlanta as soon as you’re ready,” Jimmy B said. “If there’s anything you’ll need for in the base of operations there just let me know. I’m setting you up a suite downtown and a mobile surveillance center.”
“I’ll be going along as well,” JB said. “If you need a contact with the Atlanta PD or the FBI branch in Georgia, I can facilitate for you.”
“What about my bike?” Tam asked.
“It’ll be on the plane before you’ll be,” James said.
“Excellent. If we are all set then, let’s go rescue a runaway,” Anna said.