Man overboard, p.21

Man Overboard, page 21


Man Overboard

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  “I certainly wouldn’t want that to happen,” Cami said. “Thanks anyway. I’ll leave you to it, then.”

  She turned to walk away but stopped when Reynaldo spoke again. “It was formal night,” he said quietly. “Mr. McGeary was having trouble tying his tie. I helped him with it. That is the last time I saw him. I felt sorry for him, that he would be on a ship like this and not know how to tie his own tie.”

  “Was he upset when you saw him last?”

  “Not at all. I saw how he looked at himself in the mirror after I helped him put on his jacket.”

  “And how did he look?”

  “Surprised,” Reynaldo said. “Pleased with what he saw, I think, and happy.”

  “When was that?”

  “Just before he went down to dinner.”

  “Thank you for telling me that,” Cami said. “His Aunt Julia will be glad to know that he was happy for at least part of that evening.”

  She went straight back down to her cabin on deck five and sent Stu a note:

  Located Roger’s butler, Reynaldo Hernández. Cruise line has initiated a gag order on crew members, but that’s the party line. I think the rank and file may be willing to talk, if I can find them.

  Remember the bow tie video on YouTube? Roger was having trouble with his tie, and Reynaldo helped him with it. He also said that when he helped Roger into his tux jacket, he seemed very pleased with himself. Happy even.

  Doesn’t sound suicidal to me. Off to lunch now. Really.


  Ali pulled into the parking lot on the outskirts of Cottonwood right at seven thirty. Loaded down with Leland’s special Cornish pasties, her coffee cup, and purse, she had to struggle to get the keypad to work. Inside she passed Shirley’s still empty desk and went directly to the break room. There, she turned the oven temperature to warm in advance of heating Stu’s pasties and started a pot of coffee before venturing into the back room.

  Stu was on the phone when she stepped inside. “That’s right, B.,” he was saying into his cell. “The amount of data being pumped out by that server is through the roof. You’d need a whole army of people to amass and send that much information back and forth on an ongoing basis, but there’s no sign of any other people being involved in the operation. Tax records indicate there’s some household help, but no other employees are listed.”

  There was a long pause before Stu added, “That makes sense. With that much data flowing in and out, Owen Hansen may well have access to some kind of AI capability. If so, that may be what he used to hack into Dr. Cannon’s medical practice. Ditto for Beth Wordon’s phone.”

  There was another pause. “You’re right. The phone trace that saved Beth’s life was a backdoor operation from beginning to end. In order to verify our suspicions about those disappearing texts, we’ll need to get a look at the data usage on Beth’s phone. I’m hoping to do it in a way that will pass muster with the cops.”

  After another momentary pause, Stu continued. “Right,” he said. “The name on the account is Delbert Wordon. Apparently he’s Beth’s stepfather. He’s the one who can give us access to billing and data usage information, but if we go to him with what little we have right now, I’m afraid it will backfire and raise a bunch of questions that we don’t want to answer.” After another pause he added, “Right, that illegal wiretap business is no joke. I could end up in jail, and so could my friend Walter.”

  Sitting off to the side, Ali was grateful that B. had been brought into the discussion. It was important for Stuart to know that as far as this operation was concerned, she and her husband were a united front.

  “Thanks for authorizing that,” Stu was saying. “I’ll bring people on as needed, then. As for records about Roger’s data usage? I’ve got a call in to Julia Miller. She’s the one with the legal authority to allow us access to his phone and billing information. If we’d known what we were up against the other day, she could have signed off on account access when she was here on Tuesday. She has to be in Prescott today anyway, and she offered to stop by here and do that on her way.

  “That’s pretty much it on our end. As for Cami? The Whispering Star should have set sail by now. She has the list of the people Garza interviewed, and she’s already spoken to Roger’s butler. He said Roger seemed happy the night he disappeared, but he also said that the cruise line has instituted a gag order. She doesn’t know if anyone else will talk to her.”

  A ding from the other room told Ali that the temperature in the preheating oven had just hit the designated target of 325 degrees. Leaving Stu on the phone, she went to the break room to heat two of the pasties. Stu was already running on empty, and this was going to be another very long day.

  When she returned, Stu was off the phone and at his keyboard. “There’s a whole pile of printout crap over there for you to sort,” he said, nodding toward what was customarily Cami’s workstation. “I did the same kind of thing we did during the Ponzi scheme investigation with your folks. I’ve printed out everything without bothering to read any of it. Ball’s in your court.”

  “If I’m reading, you’d better keep a sharp ear for that timer,” Ali warned him. “Your pasties will be ready to eat in twenty minutes.”

  Reading through the collection of material, Ali found very little information on Owen himself. Harold Hansen had been a prominent man, and there was a good deal of newspaper coverage about his suicide in the mid-’80s. Harold’s widow, Irene, showed up often as part of Santa Barbara’s social scene. Her son did not. There was one reference to Owen’s participating in a swim meet in the early ’90s, but that was it. There were no school or yearbook photos for Owen, but there was a driver’s license photo.

  Ali studied it. There was nothing inherently evil about him. In fact, Owen Hansen looked like a perfectly ordinary person—light brown hair with a slightly receding hairline, hazel eyes, narrow features.

  “Have you checked the CCTV images?” she asked.

  Stu was deeply embroiled in whatever was showing on one of his many screens. “What?” he asked.

  “You believe Hansen was trying to record Beth Wordon’s suicide attempt by way of her cell phone, but what if he wanted a closer look? What if he was somewhere in the neighborhood, trying to see what was going on in person?”

  Stu thought about that, but only for a few seconds. “I should have thought of that myself,” he said. “I’ll get right on it.”

  That’s what he said, but he did so more out of deference to Ali than out of any real expectation of success. From what Stu had learned so far about Owen Hansen, it seemed as though he was more a hands-off sort of guy. Why would someone like that even bother with a naked-eye view? Still, Stu had said he’d check out the situation, and he was a man of his word.


  In the course of that long, hot, and very uncomfortable night, Odin’s fury had mostly burned itself out. The camp cot played havoc with his back. Between that and fuming about Beth Wordon, he barely slept. When he got to the airport and handed over the keys to the minivan to the guy Eduardo had charged with disposing of it, Odin was only too happy to say good-bye to the vehicle and all its attendant camping equipment. Camping out had sounded like a great idea as a way to get close to Beth out on Pfeiffer Point, but in actual practice the whole thing stunk.

  And so did he. The campground at Gilroy, like the one at Pfeiffer Point, had advertised that it had showers—that was one of the reasons Odin had booked in there—but the shower stalls were so grimy and the stack of “complimentary towels” so gray and grungy that he had turned on his heel and stomped out, choosing to catch his plane without benefit of either a shower or a change of clothing. He climbed on board feeling tired and out of sorts and probably still reeking of garlic. Then, as Eddie was giving him the preflight briefing, Odin realized that there was no catering. Had Frigg been in charge of making arrangements, no doubt there would have been bagels, cream
cheese, and fresh fruit on the plane at the very least. Now he was stuck with nothing but weak black coffee and bags of stale peanuts.

  Not wanting the AI to know where he was, he had removed the battery from his phone before leaving Gilroy. That meant he spent the two hours on the plane missing Frigg. He missed hearing her reassuring voice in his ear. He missed being able to consult with her on a momentary basis and being able to ask whatever questions came into his head. He had the building specifications for High Noon, but he needed to know more about the surrounding neighborhood. The GPS he had bought was fine for navigation, but it was crap compared to Frigg’s ability to show him high-resolution and often real-time satellite images for targeted areas.

  But never once during the flight did it cross Odin’s mind that he had maybe lost his marbles; that in seeking revenge on Stuart Ramey and Amelia Cannon he was overreacting and might, in fact, be summoning his own destruction. As far as Owen Hansen was concerned, he was still the all-powerful Odin. He would go to Carefree and Cottonwood, do what he had set out to do, and return home in triumph.

  When the plane set down at Gila Bend, a white late-model Chevrolet Impala nosed out from under a shaded shelter and stopped by the exit steps. As Odin left the aircraft, the trunk popped open and a young man—a tattooed gangbanger kid with low-slung pants and plenty of piercings—hurried to meet him. Baby-faced but with a thin sprinkling of stubble on his chin, the kid didn’t look old enough to be out of high school, let alone experienced enough to be a stone-cold contract killer.

  Odin looked questioningly at Eduardo. “This is Roberto?” he asked.

  Eduardo nodded. “The very one.”

  “You sure he can do this?”

  Eduardo smiled. “I wouldn’t question his capabilities if I were you,” he warned. “You just might piss him off.”

  Roberto had listened to this exchange with his dark eyes moving back and forth between the two men. Now he spoke for the first time. “You got luggage?”

  Odin had divested himself of all the camping equipment when he turned over the minivan in Watsonville, but he had hung on to the small Rollaboard of business casual clothing he had brought along when he had still planned on being able to infiltrate the Pfeiffer Point Lodge.

  Odin held up the Rollaboard. “Just this,” he said.

  The kid took it and stuffed it into the trunk, allowing Odin a glimpse of what was inside—the tools of the trade: rolls of duct tape; a high-powered weapon of some kind; a Taser; and a holstered handgun along with a simple stun gun and boxes that appeared to contain ammunition. “You wanna drive or you want me to?”

  “You drive,” Odin said, reaching for the back passenger door.

  “You mean like I’m your chauffeur or something?” Roberto demanded.

  “Something like that.”

  “Do you want to schedule the pickup now?” Eduardo asked.

  “Just be on standby somewhere close by,” Odin said.

  “Standby costs extra,” Eduardo grinned.

  “Everything costs extra,” Odin grumbled.

  Roberto didn’t wait until Odin was belted into his seat before slipping the Impala into gear and taking off, but when he reached the gate at the entrance to the flightline, Odin noticed that Roberto complied with the posted rule of waiting until the gate closed completely before driving away, so at least the kid knew that drill.

  “Where to?” Roberto asked.

  “Just get us back to Phoenix,” Odin said. “I’ll tell you where to go from there.”

  For the next half hour or so, as Roberto drove north on AZ 85, Odin kept his silence. He had no intention of revealing his plans or discussing them until he was good and ready to do so. Only when they turned onto the eastbound lanes of I-10 did he finally speak.

  “I need to shower and clean up,” Odin said. “Stop at the first hotel you see.” After a moment he added, “At the first decent hotel.”

  Had this been the kind of limo Odin was accustomed to having at his disposal, not only would there have been a uniformed driver at the wheel, there would also have been a discreet Plexiglas divider that Odin could have raised to give himself some additional privacy. As it was, he was stuck in a cramped backseat with precious little legroom, in a spot where the AC barely penetrated, and with no ability at all to talk things over with Frigg.

  A few minutes later, Roberto turned into the parking lot at a Holiday Inn Express. The hotel didn’t exactly qualify as what Odin deemed “decent,” but under the circumstances, it would have to do. At least it had a coffee shop. “Have you had breakfast?” he asked Roberto as he heaved himself out of the cramped backseat.

  Roberto shook his head.

  “Go order some food, then,” Odin said. “It’s on me. I’ll shower and come join you. We’ve got plenty of time. There’s no big rush.”

  Using a brand-new set of ID paired with a matching prepaid credit card, Odin booked a third-floor room for three days even though he didn’t intend to use it for more than an hour or two. After taking a quick shower and putting on a clean white shirt and a pair of slacks, he sat down on the bedside to enable his Bluetooth and turn on his phone.

  “How’s the room?” Frigg asked.

  “What room?” Odin asked.

  “In the Holiday Inn Express,” Frigg said.

  Odin was taken aback. Even with his devices turned off, Frigg had somehow succeeded in tracking his movements. That was disturbing. She probably also knew the course of action he was intent on taking.

  “It’s a Holiday Inn,” Odin replied. “It’s not exactly the Ritz.”

  “Do you require my assistance?” Frigg asked.

  “I do. I need current satellite views of High Noon’s headquarters in Cottonwood, including roads in and out and all nearby buildings. I also need the same information for Amelia Cannon’s residence in Carefree. Oh, and a current photo of Stuart Ramey.”

  Odin paused, waiting to see if Frigg would question his requests. Fortunately she did not. Her prompt response was all business. “Once we establish the feeds, where do you want them sent?”

  “To my phone, of course,” Odin responded.

  “Anything else?” she asked.

  It was odd. Odin had the feeling he was being dismissed, as though Frigg had better things to do with her time than to be online with him.

  “Nothing else from here,” Odin said. “What’s happening there?”

  “Twenty minutes ago there was an inquiry on one of the Web sites I monitor, seeking property tax information on the house on Via Vistosa.”

  “You didn’t think to mention that without my having to ask?” Odin demanded. “But it’s probably just some Realtor hoping to make a sale or trying to get comps.”

  “I tracked the message back to its source,” Frigg replied, delivering the information in a mechanical voice that was devoid of all intonation. “The request for information came from a cell phone belonging to Stuart Ramey of High Noon Enterprises.”

  Hearing that news sent a shock of needles and pins through Odin’s body and out to the very ends of his fingertips. For a moment Odin was so thunderstruck that he hardly drew breath, but then he wondered if perhaps there had been a hint of I told you so in Frigg’s unemotional answer.

  “How on earth did he know to come there looking?”

  “I suspect that one of the Web sites we found in the course of our deep search on Mr. Ramey was a cyber trap of some kind. He must have been able to trace that single click on his site back to our server.”

  “A honeypot Web site?” Odin demanded. “Are you kidding me? I thought I told you to fix our server so all routings would be untraceable.”

  Frigg made no reply.

  “You’re saying the damage is done, then?” Odin asked.

  There was a small pause before Frigg spoke again. “Since it seems likely that Mr. Ramey has already made a conne
ction between you and last night’s situation with Beth Wordon, it is essential that you abort any planned confrontation with the man. At this point initiating any kind of direct contact is far too dangerous.”

  Odin instantly bridled. “I created you, Frigg. I’m the real intelligence here and you are the artificial,” he declared hotly. “You will provide information to me as needed, and you will keep your projections about my intentions and activities to yourself, understand?”

  Again there was a small pause. “Is there anything else you require at this time?”

  “Yes,” Odin said. “At this precise moment I need the damn satellite photos I asked you for, and I want them now.”

  It took a while for Odin to get over Frigg’s latest bout of willful disobedience. Finally, he pulled himself together and finished dressing. After completing his ensemble with a narrow black tie, he paused in front of a mirror long enough to examine the results, then he went to the bedside table and collected the final detail of his outfit—what looked to be a never-used copy of a Gideon’s Bible. With that in hand, he did one last mirror check. By holding the volume next to his chest, there was no way anyone would be able to tell he was holding a Bible rather than a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon.

  Nope, the handsome guy staring back at him in the mirror was maybe a little long in the tooth to be a young Latter Day Saint out on his mission. Even so, Odin hoped he looked the part. The only people he’d need to fool were Amelia Cannon herself and any of her overly curious neighbors.


  The frantic e-mails and texts Dr. Amelia Cannon sent to Beth Wordon arrived on her phone, but since the device’s battery was completely discharged and the phone itself was parked in a drawer in the bedside table next to a hospital bed, Beth didn’t actually see any of them, especially the latest one:

  An independent investigation has revealed that it’s likely you and at least one other of my patients were targeted in the aftermath of my data breach. Beth, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I know you were in a state of crisis yesterday and didn’t want to speak to me. I get that, and I don’t blame you. The thing is, I’m flying into San Jose later this afternoon. I’m concerned about you and would like to offer any assistance you or your family might need. I’m hoping you’ll let me drop by the hospital to see you.

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