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A Golden Opportunity

 

Horace Shoerr

WPR Publishing                             

eBook: $ 4.99  (0.5 MB) Kindle eBooks 

         

 

CHAPTER 1

The intermittent bone-chilling drizzle that had been drifting down upon the nation’s capital since midnight began again as the unmarked colorless gray delivery van pulled into the only available parking space on Gladiola Avenue. The sliding door opened and a hooded figure leaned out, carefully looking up and down the deserted street. Satisfied with the quiet emptiness, the skulker stepped cautiously onto the wet sidewalk, bringing with him a large green garbage can that had the bottom cut out. Gently placing it over the fire hydrant next to the van, Fallon Overside smiled happily, What fire hydrant, officer?

Slipping back into the van he eased the door shut before removing his cloth hood and whispering, "And you all laughed. I told you that between the rain and the hydrant under cover, no one is going to even begin thinking about a red zone."

"What about the streetlight on the corner, Oscar?" Diji Simi, the skulker’s soul mate, asked quietly, giving Fallon a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. "It’s awfully bright."

"Got it covered," Oscar Mayer, defacto leader of the group, reassured her. "Gloria, you’re up," he cued the number two in his life and small command.

"Just a sec. Doing this in the dark out here is not quite as easy as when I practiced it in the closet. But ready or not," Gloria Darling announced to her cohorts, "I’m as ready as I’ll ever be." She scooted around so she faced the double doors at the back of the van. One last squirm and she whispered anxiously, "All clear?"

"Clear. Clear. Clear," his nervous compatriots assured her, checking the street from their assigned vantage points.

"Okay, then. Here we go," she muttered, pushing open one door and flipping the toggle switch on the heavy shoebox resting in her lap.

Sighting purposefully down the long slender glass tube at her target, she anxiously held her breath. A soothing hum emanated from the sneaker holder, followed by a blink of red light and a soft ‘plop’ as the light on the pole quietly imploded. The laser pointer had done its job. The booster box, courtesy of the physics department at George Washington University, turned the low power map pointer into a one shot mini-laser powerful enough to burn through the plastic lens cover of the streetlight, effectively causing its destruction without any outward disturbance.

"Quick! Close the door. Here comes a car," Gloria warned.

"Get down. Freeze. Don’t move," they warned each other, waiting until the car drove slowly around the corner before exhaling a collective sigh of relief.

Gloria’s, "Uh-oh, Houston. We have a problem," interrupted the serenity of the moment.

"What? What? What?" the co-conspirators chattered, edging ever close to full panic.

"It’s heating up."

"What is?" Fallon asked.

"The box," Gloria answered curtly.

"How hot?" Oscar asked cautiously.

"Too damn hot," Gloria swore, dropping it on the floor.

"Hit the switch. Turn it off," Diji urged. She may have been the low man on the command totem pole, but she knew her "Booster boxes."

"I can’t find it," Gloria snarled in frustration.

"It’s the little red glowing thing," Fallon offered helpfully.

"Hurry, girl," Oscar pleaded. "It’s getting louder." He joined in as the four of them made a mountain out of a molehill. Much scrambling, kicking and swearing later, the little box was easier to see, glowing as red as the indicator light. No easier to handle though, it began to chatter like an angry squirrel defending its nuts.

The side door slid open. Four pairs of scrabbling legs frantically kicked the chattering hummer into the gutter where, joining the swift current of street debris, it bobbed along, hissing angrily, before being swept down the storm drain at the corner. Listening to the splash and furious bubbling, they leaned back instinctively as a cloud of steam shot from the opening.

"Uh, Diji, my love," Fallon asked quietly, once the door was closed. "What exactly was in that box?"

Before she could answer, there was a brilliant flash. So bright, they hunched up against the coming thunder. Hearing none, they rose as one, peering out the windows just in time to witness a gigantic belch of steam from the storm drain openings up and down the street. As one, very impressed, they lowered themselves out of sight. Breaking the reflective silence, Oscar offered a simple prayer, "Jesus, I hope no none was on the throne for that."

As the nervous laughter died down, Gloria, somewhat less than tactfully, exclaimed, "Goddamn, Diji. What the hell was that? If that thing had gone off in here, we’d all be crispy critters."

"Hey," Diji protested, "You said you wanted something to knock out a light and that’s what you got. Besides, if you’d remembered to turn off the switch, we wouldn’t have had the problem. Anyway, I think the water was the real catalyst of the ‘incident.’"

"Okay everybody," Oscar interrupted, "I don’t think we’ve been compromised—yet. But just to be on the safe side, let’s get into our cover-story positions, all right?"

Their cover being they were two couples stopping off on their way home for a little curbside loving. It sounded better than, "Officer, we are going to accost the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, forcing her to listen to our warning of an upcoming theft of gold bars from the federal repository at Fort Knox by renegade agents of the FBI."

It had started simply enough. Four computer hackers, graduate students all, having a good time enjoying a normal Saturday night game of "See who can break into the most interesting and heavily protected computer system." On this night, Gloria won hands down, shouting, "Goddamn! I’m in."

"Where? Everyone wanted to know.

"The FBI," she gloated.

"Any traps?" Diji whispered fearfully.

"No. No traps. But they are real crafty little devils," she admitted. "I had a super hard time getting … Whoa! Look at this." In an instant, four heads were ear to ear staring intently at the monitor. On the screen was a warning of impending jail time for any unauthorized access.

"Gee, Gloria. How did you get here?" Fallon asked worriedly. Jail was Number One on his short list of places not to visit.

Simi, being new to the group but with a normal fear of invading the fed’s private domain, suggested, "Gloria, maybe you ought to scoot."

"No. No way. I ran my password program and bingo! Here we are. I want to see what happens next."

What happened next was the screen went blank for a second before granting the user access to a file in progress, code-named Golden Locks, asking the user if he was ready to download the material. "Hell yes," Gloria shouted, pushing all the right buttons. With a cheep, chirp, and a tweedle, the printer on the table beside them sprang into action.

Only Oscar saw the light on their Caller ID unit, sitting next to the phone on the desk, blink.

"Arrgghh! Abort! Abort!" he screamed, diving across the desk in order to yank the phone line from the wall.

"What? What?" the others cried in unison.

"A trace. The son of a bitches had a back tracker working," he said, the worry obvious in his voice.

"Oh, God. We’re going to jail for sure," Fallon groaned. "The big house. The slammer. Hard time with a cell-mate named Tiny."

"What about me?" Diji cried in despair. "I’ll be deported."

"Hell, we’re all liable to be deport … Wait a minute, Diji. Deported to where? Connecticut? The last time I heard it was still part of the Union. We all know you wish to be one of the oppressed, but having rich parents might come in handy someday—like when you and your friends need a good lawyer."

Gloria was halfway to the front door before Oscar called out, "Anybody checked the blocker?"

"Oh, right," they said sheepishly.

"What does it say?" Diji asked in a trembling voice.

Oscar, smiling with relief, announced, "We’re good. No one got in. They tried though. Man that was close."

He nodded right along with his friends as they stared at the little beige box that in theory, would send anyone trying to back-trace their inquiry, a signal back to the tracer, displaying a number that was the tracer’s own, plus one.

"I knew it would work," Fallon said. When the laughter died down, they resumed watching the little box flash its reassuring message—"No entry. No entry."

"I wonder what set them off? Everything was going along just fine," Gloria mused.

"Excuse me, Gloria, but look. We’ve got mail," Fallon said excitedly, pointing to the tray on the printer.

"And here, too." Diji exclaimed, tapping the computer monitor. Gloria and Oscar read the printed material while Diji and Fallon read the same material off the computer monitor. Gloria’s question about what happened was forgotten as the four became engrossed with the pilfered material.

 

 

 

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