Man overboard, p.15

Man Overboard, page 15

 

Man Overboard
 


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  “Next, please send me the location of the bachelorette party.”

  There was only the smallest pause before Frigg sent him the required information. It was a huge relief for Odin to know that his AI was back on track and working properly.

  “Thank you,” he told her. “Now leave me alone for a while, Frigg. I need to think.”

  27

  After Ali Reynolds left, Amelia Cannon collapsed into a sagging wreck of a recliner. Devastated by the news, she was physically and mentally incapable of returning to the mundane tasks of emptying shelves and packing boxes.

  When Roger had stopped coming to see her, she hadn’t gone so far as to pronounce him cured, but she had certainly considered him mostly recovered. When she’d made the decision to close her practice and come look after her mother, Roger hadn’t been one of the patients she’d worried about. He was no longer coming in for sessions, but he’d stayed in touch. She had been overjoyed when he had sent a note telling her about his upcoming cruise and apprising her of his continued progress. In her field, having a patient express that kind of gratitude was exceedingly rare.

  When it came to suicide, Amelia Cannon was an expert. During Ali’s overview of Stu’s assessment of Roger’s situation, she had cited a suicide prevention study in which researchers analyzed language patterns to predict potential suicides. Dr. Cannon was well aware of that ongoing research. She had even encouraged the family members of successful suicide victims to participate in the study by sending along the correspondence they’d received in the months and days leading up to their loved ones’ deaths.

  She didn’t have Roger’s handwritten note with her just then. It had arrived while she was in the process of packing up her office, and she had stuck it in a box with some of her other papers. Even now it was baking in her overheated storage unit down in Phoenix. But there had been nothing about it that had alarmed her—nothing that had made her concerned for Roger’s well-being. He’d sounded proud of himself. He’d had outstanding professional success, and he was willing to share the credit for that with her—saying that her wise counsel and guidance were what had made his current success possible. Dr. Cannon had been gratified beyond words. She had saved the note—treasured it, even—because Roger had been one of her stars.

  Amelia didn’t need her case notes to remember the details of Roger’s situation, and she inventoried them now, one item at a time. It had taken months of sessions before he’d finally been willing to speak about his father’s suicide and his own suicide attempt, the one that had landed him in a mental hospital for the next ten years. It was only when Amelia had finally been able to get him to take a clear-eyed look at his overbearing mother and come to terms with her impact on his life that Roger had finally started making progress. And now he was gone.

  The good doctor sympathized with Roger’s aunt and with his friend Stu, who were evidently invested in finding some reason for his death other than its being an obvious suicide, but Amelia Cannon had no such luxury. Some time between when he wrote to her and when he boarded the ship, something had hit Roger McGeary hard enough to suck him back down into emotional quicksand, where he’d been able to see only one possible way out.

  Closing her eyes, Amelia thought about some of the rest of her patients—her failures as well as the ones she’d considered her successes, the ones who had made or were making great strides forward at the time she’d called it quits. When it all came to a head, Amelia had already been reeling under the strain of too much pressure. She hadn’t felt ready to retire completely, but she was considering cutting back on her patient load when the call came from her mother’s doctor. The cancer they’d been holding at bay had returned with a vengeance, and Emily needed looking after. Amelia was her mother’s only surviving child. There was no one else to do it.

  Then, within days of the call from the doctor, the data breach was discovered. The hired-gun IT analyst who had been hauled in after the fact to fix the problem had explained to her that it was more than an ordinary breach, where the hackers would have been expected to make off with nothing more than lists of patient names and social security numbers.

  “What exactly do you mean by ‘more than ordinary’?” Amelia had asked.

  “From what I’m seeing here, the hackers focused primarily on your patient records.”

  “Mine?” she had asked.

  He nodded. “I think it’s safe to say that they accessed and copied everything you had in your files.”

  Amelia had felt sick to her stomach. Her patients’ confidential records had carried generations of family heartaches and secrets, punctuated with Amelia’s own detailed case notes, which she personally had keyed into individual files both during and after appointments. People had entrusted her with their darkest and most painful secrets. Now, because of some kind of cyber attack, those secrets were evidently out there loose in the world?

  “How’s that even possible?” she had demanded in outrage.

  The guy had shrugged. “Your IT department screwed up. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. People are supposed to be able to think of their cloud storage system as being as secure for data as a bank is for money,” he had told her. “In this case it was more like a sieve.”

  Feeling she and her patients had been betrayed, Amelia submitted her resignation and quit the practice the next day. Now, here she was, months and hundreds of miles away, thinking regretfully of the patients she had so abruptly left behind. If Roger had realized he was in trouble, would he have tried to reach out to her if she’d still been working? And what about some of her other troubled patients? She had referred several of them to other therapists. Had they followed up? And what about the others—the ones like Roger—who had seemed to be over the hump and back on their feet? Were they all right now, or were some of them in crisis the same way Roger had been? Amelia couldn’t shake the idea that she had somehow abandoned them all, thrown them under the bus. In a way, she had used her mother’s illness as an excuse to walk away, but with her mother dead, that excuse was no longer valid.

  Amelia had been scrupulous when it came to not keeping patient information on her personal computer. The only exception had been her computerized address book. The names and addresses were there but with no designation that singled them out as patients, current or otherwise.

  Learning about Roger’s death had been a wakeup call for Amelia. These people were no longer her patients, but in a very real way, they were still her responsibility, and it was possible they were in jeopardy. Forcing herself up and out of the chair, Amelia went over to the dining room table and opened her laptop. She sat there for a long time, staring at the blank screen before she could sort out what she wanted to say:

  You’re probably surprised to hear from me after all this time, but please allow me to apologize for the abrupt way in which I took my departure. My mother was desperately ill, and it seemed to me that the best thing for all concerned was for me to make a clean break of it.

  I left behind suggestions for alternative mental health providers, and my fondest hope is that those of you who continue to need help have found therapists who are providing the care you require.

  Please drop me a line to let me know how you’re faring, and if there’s any way I can be of service, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

  Sincerely,

  Dr. Amelia Cannon

  The signature line on her e-mail stationery included a list of phone numbers—home, office, and cell. Her home and office number had both been disconnected. She erased those and left her cell number as is. If someone did need to reach her, she wanted to make it easy.

  When Amelia finished with the message, she read it through several times, then she turned to her address book and searched out the names one by one: Tom Adams, Sue Ann Beatty, Phyllis Carson, Annette Colby, Michael Eggers, Angie Folsom, Estelle Isaac, Larry Jamison, Melvin McMurtry, Karen Nelson, Leslie Phillips, and Beth Wo
rdon.

  It was coming up on mid afternoon when Amelia started sending out the messages. She addressed and sent them one at a time. The one to Karen Nelson bounced immediately with a mailer-daemon notification that meant the e-mail address was no longer valid. That gave Amelia a clutch in her gut. Had Karen canceled that e-mail account or was she dead, too, just like Roger?

  Amelia had walked away from God and placed her trust in science about the time she entered medical school. Emily Cannon, her mother, had been a lifelong believer, never losing her faith even in the face of any number of terrible losses and not through those last awful weeks and days, either.

  It made Amelia smile to think that some of her mother’s belief seemed to have taken root in her daughter’s soul. Each time Amelia pressed send, she uttered a small but silent prayer: Please be all right. Please.

  28

  A bleary-eyed Stu looked up from behind his barricade of computer monitors as Ali entered the room. “Well,” he asked. “You’re back from Carefree?”

  She nodded.

  “How’d the meeting go?”

  “Nothing much to report, I’m afraid,” Ali replied. “I met with Dr. Cannon. She was nice enough, but our conversation wasn’t exactly a two-way street. I told her what we knew, and she seemed really shaken by the news. Her mother was very ill at the time of Roger’s death. Since Dr. Cannon was in Carefree coordinating hospice care, it’s hardly surprising that she missed the story entirely. My showing up on her doorstep this morning was the first Dr. Cannon had heard about it.”

  “He saw her every week without fail for the better part of two years,” Stu said. “Did she indicate why he stopped?”

  Ali nodded. “It was evidently a mutual decision. They both seemed to feel that Roger was sufficiently recovered that he no longer needed to see her on an ongoing basis.”

  “So nothing, then, really,” Stu said, sounding exasperated. “We’re getting nowhere fast.”

  The room was awash in fast-food containers. Stu’s eyes were bloodshot and he was still dressed in yesterday’s clothes. The man was working around the clock, and it showed. As they talked, Ali tidied up some of the debris while silently being grateful for all that Cami did on a daily basis to keep the brilliant but challenging Stu on the beam.

  “Cami sent me her translations of Garza’s reports,” he continued. “According to the people he interviewed on board the ship, Roger appeared to be in good spirits and seemed to be having the time of his life. It’ll be interesting to see if Cami gets the same story, but if he did commit suicide, something must have taken a turn for the worse. I just can’t figure out what it could be.”

  “We’ll have to hope Cami can get to the bottom of it,” Ali said.

  “I was chatting about this with Lance Tucker, and he came up with an interesting idea. If there wasn’t a problem with anyone on the ship, then there might have been a problem with someone who wasn’t on board. I’m not seeing any trace of anything out of the ordinary on Roger’s devices, but Lance wondered if something might still be stored on the ship’s server. Once Cami’s on board, we’ll see if she can give us a hand. She says the first boarding times are at eleven, and I asked her to be there as close to that as possible.

  “Oh,” he added, “speaking of Cami. I did some checking on her lost luggage situation. There’s a notation on the luggage claim number that indicates someone from TSA removed her checked luggage, purportedly for further screening, but there’s nothing in the file about it being returned.”

  “So it’s gone, then.”

  “That would be my guess.”

  “She’s not going to be happy about that.” Ali glanced at her watch. “She’s probably still sleeping right now, and as far as that goes—if you expect to be on track with her when it’s time for Cami to board the ship, you should probably get some shut-eye, too.”

  “But what about . . . ?” Stu began.

  “Don’t worry,” Ali assured him. “I’ll ride herd on things here while you get some rest. I don’t know much, but I know enough that if any alarms go off or phones ring, I should come get you.”

  Much to her surprise, Stu didn’t argue. “Okay, then,” he muttered, handing over his phone and then rising from his chair to stumble wearily toward the door that led to his private quarters. “Call me if anything happens.”

  “I most certainly will,” Ali told him. “Absolutely.”

  29

  Odin was perfectly happy as he continued northbound on the 101. By mid afternoon he was beyond Gilroy and listening to his favorite musical piece, Gustav Mahler’s “Piano Quartet in A Minor.” His mother, who considered herself something of an expert when it came to classical music, always claimed that Mahler wasn’t “user friendly” in general and that the “A Minor Quartet” in particular was “a disaster.” Irene’s disdain probably accounted for Odin’s love of both the composer and the piece.

  When the sudden racket of one of Frigg’s noisy IOI messages blasted into his Bluetooth and broke up the music, Odin was instantly furious. “I told you I was not to be interrupted,” he snarled into the mic. “What the hell is this about?”

  “We’ve become aware of a new perceived threat bearing on target Beth Wordon.”

  Right, Odin thought. Sure there is.

  He knew Frigg was pissed (Did computer programs get pissed?) at him for disregarding her advice about his change of plans for the day. This was probably her coy, computerized way of trying to talk him out of it by creating a diversion.

  “What threat?” he asked.

  “An e-mail came into Ms. Wordon’s account five minutes ago just before I sent out the next text. We are currently running an assessment of this new threat. In the meantime, you may wish to read Dr. Cannon’s message in its entirety.”

  “I can’t read anything right now,” Odin told her. “I’m driving a car, for God’s sake. You want me to get pulled over? Read it to me.”

  Frigg did so:

  Dear Beth,

  You’re probably surprised to hear from me after all this time, but please allow me to apologize for the abrupt way in which I took my departure. My mother was desperately ill, and it seemed to me that the best thing for all concerned was for me to make a clean break of it.

  I left behind suggestions for alternative mental health providers, and my fondest hope is that those of you who continue to need help have found therapists who are providing the care you require.

  Please drop me a line to let me know how you’re faring, and if there’s any way I can be of service, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

  Sincerely,

  Dr. Amelia Cannon

  For a while after Frigg finished, nothing happened. “So?” Odin asked finally. “What does this have to do with the price of peanuts?”

  There was only the smallest pause before Frigg began reciting, “The pricing methodology for the peanut crop insurance program is based on a formulation of a series of factors. These factors are determined from a system of equations relating to a series of historical peanut prices relative to several pricing data sources available from the commodity markets . . .”

  “Stop, stop, stop!” Odin ordered impatiently. “I don’t want to know about peanuts. Why are you claiming that the e-mail from Dr. Cannon to Beth is considered a threat? Cannon had a whole bunch of patients. Sounds like her mother got sick and died, and now she’s eager to reboot her practice. She probably sent the same note out to all of them.”

  “We have located the source of the sending server. It’s on North Tom Darlington Drive in Carefree, Arizona, approximately 91.1 miles from the High Noon Enterprises headquarters in Cottonwood, Arizona.”

  “Come on, Frigg. Get a grip. It’s probably just a coincidence that the e-mail was sent out today.”

  “I’ve already calculated the possibilities,” Frigg replied. “There is a 99.938 percent probability that
the e-mail sent to Beth Wordon by Dr. Amelia Cannon has something to do with High Noon’s ongoing investigation into Roger McGeary’s death. Based on this information, I believe it’s necessary to abandon or postpone any and all current operations involving Ms. Wordon.”

  “And while you’ve been calculating your probabilities, I’ve been driving north and listening to Gustav Mahler. What do you think of that?”

  “Gustav Mahler, born July 7, 1860, Kalit, Bohemia, Austrian ­Empire—” Frigg began.

  In absolute frustration, Odin plucked the Bluetooth from his ear and bounced it off the minivan’s dashboard. A few minutes later, when he wanted the device again, he discovered he couldn’t reach it without actually stopping the vehicle, all of which left him even more frustrated.

  “Damn Frigg anyway!” Odin swore into the empty air. “What the hell is she thinking?”

  But the more he thought about it, the more he knew he was right. Frigg had been opposed to his sudden change of plans, and this was her way of undermining him and bringing him up short. It was time for him to teach her a lesson.

  “After all, who’s running this show?” he asked himself aloud a few minutes later. “The damned AI or the person who created her?”

  Odin pulled off at the next exit. By then he had cooled off some. Now was not the time to take Frigg offline, not when he still needed her help. He pulled into the parking lot of a defunct gas station and stopped long enough to retrieve his Bluetooth. Then he called Frigg back.

  “Your objections are duly noted,” he told her, “but we will proceed as planned. As for your concerns about High Noon? There must be some way to penetrate their network, and I want it done. If they’re investigating us, we need to be investigating them. All we have so far is public domain crap. I need to know the inside stuff, Frigg. I want you to focus all your efforts on that and nothing else.”

 
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