Saturday, 23 March 2013

SILHOUETTES - Twenty-second instalment

SILHOUETTES - Twenty-second instalment - Chapter thirty-nine. For more information on this novel, click Here.

THIRTY-NINE

Jo was naked lying balanced with her back across the top of a large inflatable exercise ball. She had her arms reached out behind her and on the floor to steady herself while she straightened and raised each leg in turn. As the living room was the largest room in the house, whenever the boys were all out, this was where her exercise regime took place. Far better than trying to do stilted aerobics in a room the size of a large microwave oven.

She didn't panic when she heard the front door open and the sound of Bruno padding about. She did panic though when the door to the room opened and Bruno leapt in excitedly, and then behind the dog came Dave Stuart. As she tried to cover herself, she slid off the ball onto her ass. She felt her face burn and wondered if it was the same colour as the red that inflamed his as he stood open eyed, open mouthed, staring and blushing over her. Then, came in Debbie.
She looked at Jo, lying naked on the floor, Bruno trying to lick at her face, her trying to cover her boobs and mound and fend off the dog at the same time, and Dave just standing taking in all he could.

'Ok,' Debbie said, 'sorry Jo!', and then she grabbed at Dave and led him through to the kitchen. On the kitchen table were two laptops, some dirty plates, and he noticed the sink was also filled with dishes, the dog's food and water bowls were in a corner. Through the window he could see a back yard with a washing line and an assortment of t-shirts and jeans hanging to dry. He took all this in, but he only had that view of Jo naked in his head.

'Get dressed, Jo!' she cried into the living room, then, 'Bruno, here boy.'

In the kitchen she filled the kettle and plugged it in, got three clean mugs out a cupboard and put spoonfuls of coffee and sugar in each, and finding no fresh milk dug out some emergency small tubs they all had a habit of pinching from station cafes or anywhere else they were usually situated in trays begging to be pocketed.

Dave sat at the kitchen table, still dumbstruck.

'So, er,' she said, 'got a bit of an eyeful there...'

'Hm, I was trying not to look, I hardly noticed.'

'It fucking took you long enough not to notice,' came a cry from the other room.

'Don't worry,' said Debbie, looking at the aghast look on Dave. 'She'll get over it, probably pretty quickly.'

'Er,' said Dave, 'fit though.'

Debbie looked at him to see if he was joking, but he seemed serious.

'As I said, don't worry, Jo's always the first one to flash her tits at the lads after a few drinks.'

'I heard that,' said Jo, entering the kitchen, clothed this time in denim shorts and an over large t-shirt. 'And it's a damn lie,' and she gave Debbie a hard stare that lasted all of a few seconds. 'Debbie's the flasher,' she said to Dave, and smiling now, 'and you had better remove from your memory any sight of me and my cellulite.'

'He was just saying what a nice pair you had,' smirked Debbie.

Jo looked horrified.

'Look, eh,' Dave squirmed, 'I'm sorry if I embarrassed you,' he said.

'The laptops,' cried Debbie. 'Nice pair of laptops, it's a joke!'

Dave looked puzzled, Jo mystified.

'Anyway,' said Debbie, putting a mug of coffee down in front of Dave and one at the chair Jo was standing behind. 'Dave, who is an IT expert, is going to see if he can sort out our hacking problem.'

Jo sat down at the table, slid over one of the laptops and powered it up. She was all efficiency now, and Dave wondered if this was an attempt to recover from the embarrassment of being caught naked. She was gorgeous though, and that sight would be with him for a good long time.

'Did you explain the problem?' she asked Debbie.

'Thought I'd leave the nitty-gritty stuff to you.'

'Ok,' she looked at Dave, 'come here,' and she pointed to the chair next to her. He moved round and watched her key away at the computer.

'This is an example of an article I put up last week,' she clicked on a link and a page of text opened up.

'As you can see, it is pretty basic political prose, but the idea behind the piece is to promote the benefits of Scottish Independence to single parents, a group in UK society that has been demonised and made out to be scroungers and benefit fraudsters, when in reality the facts show a different story.'

'You don't have to bore him with all the details,' said Debbie, 'show him the altered post.'

Jo scowled at Debbie, 'I was just getting to that.'

'What's this?' asked Dave. When Jo had slid the laptop over to her, a cardboard folder hidden underneath was revealed, a few pages from the folder had inadvertently been shuffled enough from the cover for Dave to see the picture. It was the picture of the man who was tailing him, and the picture of the mugger on the news item of the previous night, the one who had assaulted Debbie in his haste to escape. It was the face of a man he had met in a bar after a stand-up concert a few weeks ago, and due to his being an annoying bastard, and quite the gullible type, Dave had jokingly informed him he was an alien, here as a scout to gauge the reaction of the human race for a possible intergalactic visit.

'Oh, that's for later,' said Jo, 'did you finish it, Debs?'

'Just about,' said Debbie. She had begun it shortly after Ben left this morning, printing off the picture from a screen capture taken off the TV news web cast.

'We're going to do our crime watch bit and post an article along with the picture in case any followers of the blogs know him.' Jo pushed the paper back in the folder and set it tidy in the middle of the table.

'This is the altered text,' she opened a file, and positioned the web page and the text file side by side on the screen for easy comparison.

'As you can see, key words have been changed. Names of people and political parties have been misrepresented. The whole article is meaningless and junk, and anyone happening to come across it, would think it had been written by an uneducated ten year old.'

'Who has admin access?' asked Dave.

'Only me and Debs, no one else, and we change the password every week.'

'Can I?' Dave gestured at the laptop. Jo slid it over to him.

Dave removed a USB memory stick from his pocket, plugged it into a port on the side of the computer, the screen went black for a second, then everything returned as before but for a new menu bar at the bottom of the screen. Dave clicked an option from the menu, typed a few commands in to a pop up box, and pressed return. A swivelling hourglass indicated something was happening. The screen went blank again briefly, then a traffic light icon blazed across the screen flashing the green light, stating 'Entry Acquired,' underneath, and disappeared. The admin menu for the blog was now across the top of the screen as if Jo or Debbie had logged in. He had control of the blog they were viewing now, and by a click on the menu, could switch to all of the other blogs Jo ran.

'How did you...'

'Ah,' said Dave, 'a little something of my own.' He saw Jo was ready to ask more. 'Can't say more than that,' he said emphatically. 'Don't ask.'

He clicked around the admin options, then pointed out a list of who had admin rights, both Jo and Debbie were listed, but below them was another name, Unionist845.

'What the fuck,' said Jo.

'Not an authorised admin?' asked Dave.

'No, definitely not.'

Dave clicked a few more options on the USB menu at the bottom of the screen, some fast scrolling data whizzed down a text box and disappeared, too quickly to read. A second later a summary appeared. Dave pointed and looked a bit smug.

The data meant nothing to either Jo or Debbie.

Dave explained. 'This person hacked in a few days ago, that date,' he pointed at the relevant information, 'these are the times they logged in and out, and this is the IP address, the URL, they log in from.' They both looked mystified, he explained, 'the URL, uniform resource locator, or IP address, is the point of access, or the address of the access. For example, everyone on the internet has an IP address, and every website has an IP address. Connecting one to the other in the internet is like walking from A to B, the connection being the map route that can be traced back to the source point...' he wasn't making much headway by the confused looks he was getting.

It was all meaningless to both Jo and Debbie. 'Can you stop them?' asked Jo. 'Can you trace who it is?'

'Stopping's easy,' said Dave. He clicked a few more options from the USB menu. 'Ok, that's them gone for good, that IP address is blocked forever, and I've added a small application that means any one tries to gain access from that IP address again, you will get an email. Without replying to that email granting permission, no access rights will be possible.'

'Fantastic,' said Jo, impressed.

Dave closed down the USB menu and removed the stick from the side of the laptop. 'Of course, there are other ways to gain access, so don't get too complacent.'

He tilted the laptop, peered underneath, and laughed.

'Whose password is Deb123Deb?'

Debbie blushed.

Before Jo could utter a word, he held up his hand to still her. 'There are two passwords under there,' he said, 'change them ASAP.'

He clicked open a blank web page and typed in the address bar the website of an online computer retailer, clicked a few pages on the website and came to a listing for a USB memory stick similar to the one he had used. It was priced at £5 including delivery.

'Order two of these, or more if you want to give access to anyone else. Once you get them I'll kit them out so you'll never need another password again. They have a fingerprint scanner built in, that will be the only way to access the site once I've set them up.'

'Brilliant,' said Debbie.

Jo left and came back a minute later with a credit card in hand, she went through the routine of ordering three, one each for her and Debbie, and another to be stored away in the safe in her room as a back up.

Debbie left with a basket to collect the washing from the line in the yard, expected to be dry by now.

Dave stood up to leave also. He looked at Jo a little awkwardly. She returned his gaze. There was awkwardness there, a bit, but something else too, he smiled.

'It's true,' he said.

'What? asked Jo.

'You do have a lovely pair,' he smiled again, 'honest.'

She mocked reaching over to slap him, laughing herself now.

'Got to go, call me when you get the USB's,' he said.

She was still smiling as he walked out the door. Bruno sat in the corner dreamily looking up at her.

Next instalment coming soon...

To read this novel from the start go here.

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2013 All rights reserved



Wednesday, 6 March 2013

SILHOUETTES - Twenty-first instalment

SILHOUETTES - Twenty-first instalment - Chapter thirty-eight. For more information on this novel, click Here.

THIRTY-EIGHT

Knoxville was a large town, definitely not a city, but it would be adequate for spending the night and planning. He found a multi-storey car park and drove deep inside, found a dark spot away from the direct view of the CCTV cameras, and parked up. He wiped his prints from anything he had touched, and slipped out the car, grabbing the hold-all. With a bit of luck it would lie undiscovered for a day or two, though he would be far away in under twelve hours, he hoped. It was eight in the evening, time to find a bar downtown.

He had nothing but the $30 stolen from the woman at the farmhouse. The only weapons, the kitchen knife, and the large screwdriver which he had kept. The Swiss army knife couldn't be categorised as a weapon. He also had the pack of plastic grip ties, presumably used on the farm to restrain animals when necessary. This was all he had. That was enough though. Crime was actually pretty easy, that was why it was so prevalent in society. The hard bit was getting away with it, but that is what all his training had been for, and that was entirely the purpose of this exercise.

Normally, on a mission, he could go to any cash point machine, most anywhere in the world, enter in a code, and withdraw up to a $1,000 dollars a visit. This was an arrangement the Agency had in place. It was a necessary convenience, an essential life saving convenience on occasion. This though was not permissible on the exercise. He was sure the Agency had people out searching for him, and quite possibly they were not far behind. Escape and evasion was as necessary a skill to gain as clandestine infiltration. Rules were set up for society to live by, the Agency though made up its own rules as it went along, changing and adapting to any circumstance rendered necessary. The Agency had changed a great deal since the Homeland Security legislation. It could virtually act as it liked. Protest and you were a terrorist, or a sympathiser. When Homeland Security was stated as a reason for an operation, then all kinds of opposition suddenly evaporated. No one wanted to be seen as soft on terrorism since 9-11.

After walking about a mile and a half from the multi-storey, he took a left up a dingy looking side street, the neon signs of a couple of bars had come to his attention. Across the way, cars were parked up on the sidewalk between banks of industrial waste bins belonging to the establishments along the street. The area was poorly lit, no one willingly walked along this way unless they were deliberately frequenting one or other of the bars. He walked past the first which was a lap-dancing club, and entered the next he came to which was a low rent establishment, tacky on the outside, even more decrepit inside. The eyes of every customer soaked him in as he approached the bar and took a stool. He had already been sized up and categorised as victim before he had ordered his first drink.

Situations like this he had to gauge the threats in order of probability. Three youths, wearing red scarves that marked them out as members of some local gang, one black, one white, the other of South American descent, playing pool at the back were put in first place, the door to the men's room was behind the table, he was a stranger, they would not think twice about following him in and robbing him. They would be armed with blades probably, doubtful if they carried any firearms or tasers, those would more likely be hidden in the vehicle they had arrived in.

Another possible, number two in the list of threats, was an edgy pair of junkies at the end of the bar. One had the shakes of either drink or drug withdrawal, they perhaps would follow when he left hoping to rumble him for drug or drink money.

A third attack scenario may come from a smartly dressed middle-aged man propping up the bar at the end, drinking some weird looking concoction, and airing the place with a gaze of authority. He had a cruel commanding demeanour. More likely he would call some people to wait in the street outside with his description. This would be a more likely threat perhaps if he had been better dressed and presented himself. His present circumstances may not deem it worth the while, depending on what he regarded as a reasonable score for the set up. Of the remainder of the clientèle in the bar, he didn't perceive any threats at all.

Dave ordered a Coors and decided. Discreetly under the bar, he put the pack of ties in an inside pocket of his jacket, and slid the screwdriver up a sleeve, it was far easier to conceal than the kitchen knife. He dropped the hold-all at his feet. The pool table odds of three-to-one was doable but highly risky. The potential junkies were easily doable and most probably risk free. Hanging around too long and perhaps having to face a gang of unknowns outside organised by the well dressed man, was not doable and highly risky. The pool table bunch would be the most lucrative, perhaps not financially, but in regards to accessing a vehicle with usable weapons, very appealing. He would get nothing from the junkies, except perhaps an urgent need for a medical check if he was contaminated, in a fracas, by any needles they may have about their person.

He could always move on to the next bar where he may get a better choice of pickings, but news of an easy mark stranger would get around quickly. Time was of the essence. Two minutes later his choice had been decided. A young white girl, pretty and tattooed, wearing a halter top and a pair of tight black jeans entered. The barman pointed to the pool table when seeing her enquiring gaze, she waved recognition, made her way to the pool table, her slim ass wiggling as she passed, hugged the youngest of the trio, the South American, who then grabbed his jacket from a pile in the corner, and with an exchange of farewells, the couple made their way out the bar, his arm around her like a trophy, and a sneer for everyone he passed on the way to the exit.

Dave ordered another beer. The barman eyed him suspiciously and Dave wondered if he was thinking he might be a cop. He hadn't thought of that scenario, but it didn't make any difference. The odds were now an acceptable two-to-one, he would be leaving shortly.

He waited till the two junkies had visited the men's room and returned, and until the well dressed man had ventured there and back. When he was sure it was empty of other clientèle he made his way there, he accidentally nudged the large white youth as he passed the pool table, and mumbled an apology that made him sound as if he was the worse for wear with alcohol. He got a grunt in return, and a threatening look, but nothing else.

Once inside the men's room, he checked the place out, no other exits, not surprising, though there was a longer corridor to the side before the entrance that may have been a route to a fire exit at the back. Having no definitive knowledge of the floor plan, and suspecting even if the corridor did lead to a back entrance, that in all probability it would be chained and padlocked shut, he decided he would have to leave the bar by the way he entered.

Cash and Gun
He had the screwdriver hidden up a sleeve and made a pretence of using the washbasin when he heard the door open. The black and white youths both came down the three steps. The white youth held a knife in front of him, the other stayed by the steps armed by nothing but a menacing look. Just as he was about to open his mouth, Dave's arm thrust out, grabbed the knife hand in a flash, twisted, and while he did so he levered his full weight behind his other arm and punched into the temple in the side of the youth's head, he fell to the floor instantly. The black youth had begun to move forward, Dave let go of the arm he still held, let it drop, and jerked his arm till the screwdriver slide down his palm into view. Deciding to withdraw now, the black youth began to turn but Dave leapt forward and pushed him against the door jamb, held the blade of the screwdriver up to his eye, and hauled him back towards his fallen buddy.

'Money, keys, in the sink,' he ordered, and hearing a groan from below, kicked his heel into the face of the prone youth.

'You don't know who...'

Dave pushed the blade of the screwdriver into the flesh just below the eye socket and scratched it across the skin till blood appeared.

'OK, OK!' The protesting stopped and the hands of the youth began to empty the contents of his pockets into the sink. When done, Dave rammed his head into the wall, and then again, till the youth was too stunned to fight back. Without a struggle, he forced him to the floor, he quickly bound his hands and legs with plastic ties. He had the knife in his hands now, a nasty looking stiletto with a six inch double-edged blade. In under a minute the white youth, still in a daze, was also trussed up and he ran through his pockets, one of the items was the keys of a vehicle.

Quickly, he dragged them one by one into a cubicle. No one had entered yet, though it would only be a matter of time. He was under no illusion that the rest of the clientèle knew what was going on, though they would expect him to be the victim. He used more plastic ties to truss them both together, then removed the trainers from the white youth, removed his socks, then rammed one down each of their mouths as far as he could without risking being bitten. He closed the cubicle door, he could hear their grunts but they wouldn't be audible in the bar. He quickly checked himself over, stuffed the contents of the sink into his pockets, a wallet, some powder in a plastic bag, a book of matches, he left some coins and a pack of Marlboro, then walked out the men's room, holding the screwdriver up his sleeve and the stiletto in his pocket. He headed straight to the bar, slowly, a nonchalant look for the surprised faces that stared at him, picked up his hold-all, took a swig of beer, then waved at the barman and left, leaving a ten dollar note for the drinks.

Once outside he pressed the beeper on the vehicle keys, the indicators on a late model blue panel van, with overlarge tyres and heavily tinted windows, flashed twice and he made for it. He had less than a minute, he reckoned, to get the hell away. He opened the van door put the key in the ignition, it started with a click, he shoved it into drive, and pulled into the road. As he reached the junction and began a right turn, in the door mirror he saw a crowd spilling from the bar on to the street, he heard cries of anger and rage, and then he was on the main road and driving away.

 He drove till he saw signs for a country park and he followed those till on the outskirts of Knoxville. The park was a bit of a local tourist attraction, with signs advertising 24 hour access, camping and boating facilities, fishing and hunting activities. Once he had turned into the road to the park, he was on a one lane drive which he followed till it came to a parking area overlooking a vista of hills and woodland. He parked in the shadow of some large trees right at the back. A few other cars littered the area, but none seemed occupied at the moment. At this late hour the owners were probably deep in the wood or by the lakeside camping fishing or sleeping in a hut or a tent.

A quick search of the van uncovered two hand guns, a colt .45 automatic and a snub nosed revolver, a box of cartridges for both pistols, two more knifes, a large Bowie knife and a machete, a large brown envelope containing a multitude of clear poly bags of drugs in saleable quantities. The same type as the one removed from the youth in the bar. He also found two note books, one a cryptic list of probable drug clients, the other looked like a payment book of instalments for loans or protection or rent or whatever. Slipping over the front bench seat he scouted about in the back of the van. Apart from a stained mattress on the floor, a spare wheel bolted on the side and a few tools in a metal box, there was nothing of interest. When he lifted the mattress though and saw the padlocked lid covering the newly welded compartment flush with the floor of the van, he knew he was on to something.

Taking a hammer and chisel from the metal box, he began hitting at the metal hasp, the padlock itself was reinforced steel, it would take him all night to cut through that. The hasp came away in a matter of minutes and he had the lid open. Under the cover was a concealed compartment perhaps three feet by two, and around a foot deep, it was recessed on one side and no doubt from under the van was disguised to look like a fuel tank. Inside the compartment were four sturdy cloth bags. The first he picked out and looked inside was full of drugs, the same as the stuff in the smaller bags recovered from the glove box, only this was in bulk and hadn't been cut into saleable quantities. The second cloth bag contained the same drug, but a lesser amount, this seemed to be the working bag. The third bag contained money, a great deal of money, all in rolls, many rolls, and he estimated a thousand dollars a roll, then there was perhaps near enough one-hundred thousand dollars here. He laughed to himself. Can it have been that easy? He didn't dare hope to believe it, but he pulled out the fourth bag, and sure enough, it also contained money, this time though in shrink wrapped bundles, each bundle held one-hundred dollar notes, and there looked liked one-hundred notes in each bundle. A slight panic set in, he had to get out of here. This kind of money and commodity had protection. He pulled his hold-all from the front and seeing it wouldn't do for this amount of money, he ripped the top off the mattress with a knife, tore away the cloth, put the money in the middle, and tied it up in a secure manner. One of the guns, the automatic, he put in the back of his waistband, the other and the cartridges, he put in his hold-all. The knife he kept in his hand. He pulled the side door open, the park was quiet as death. He slipped into the tree line and studied back the way to the entrance from the road. Nothing was moving, no sign of life anywhere. After a minute he found a small hollow next to a mulberry bush, he placed the hold-all and the sack of money within, covered them over with some bracken and leaves, and made his way back to the van. All was as he had left it.

The easiest way to deal with a tracker was to find it and disable it, but there was no way of knowing if additional tracking gadgets had been fitted in the van, and knowing the main purpose it was used for, it was very likely some form of electronic tracking was active. He dropped to the ground and reached underneath until he found the fuel line which he cut through easily with the bowie knife and bent to the ground. A few drops of fuel dripped but nothing substantial would fall until he had removed the filler cap to allow in air and stop the vacuum effect. As he removed the cap, he heard a roaring of engines coming down the one lane road from the highway. Speeding headlights suggested he had a minute or two to escape. He would have preferred a bit more time to set up an explosive effect, but a slow burn would do the job just the same, he could hear the fuel running freely underneath the vehicle now, a quick look showed a substantial puddle of gasoline had already formed. He took off one of his socks, put his shoe back on, reached under and soaked the sock in the gasoline. The headlights from the one lane road were almost at the park entrance now, he crept back to the tree line, took the book of matches he had pocketed, struck one and held it to the sock, when the sock caught up in flame, he threw it under the van and without a further glance or thought, about turned and ran into the trees. Behind him he heard vehicles entering the park, and he heard a swoosh and surge as the gasoline took to flame. He got to the hollow where his loot and hold-all was stored, took them both, and quickly made way deeper into the undergrowth. Ahead was darkness, behind him the sky was alight with the glow of flames, the van had really ignited now and it seemed was a burning inferno. A gunshot cracked out from the park. It wasn't aimed at him, or anywhere, more it seemed a shot in frustration at the loss of a valuable cargo of money and goods. Behind him he heard more gunshots. Losing a great deal of money and a substantial quantity of drugs had made some people very angry, he felt good about that. He could see very little of the way ahead, but he kept on slowly, steadily, cautiously, just in case he had been spotted though he was sure he was clean away. After a quarter of a mile he found a narrow track that lead off west or east. He turned west, further into the country and further away from Knoxville.

Sirens were now blaring far back in the direction he had come from. He was exhausted now, but he would keep going for a few hours more. He had to make some distance before he could relax.

Next instalment coming soon...
To read this novel from the start go here.

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2013 All rights reserved