Man overboard, p.22

Man Overboard, page 22

 

Man Overboard
 


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  Sincerely,

  Amelia Cannon

  Although Beth didn’t see the message, her cell phone transmissions were an open book to Frigg. After sending Odin the satellite photo ­information he had requested, the AI was currently using his telephone’s GPS to monitor his route from Gila Bend to Carefree, where he would encounter Dr. Cannon.

  What were his intentions? Was he planning to do Dr. Cannon harm? Probably. What other reason could there be? With Dr. Cannon on her way out of town, Frigg immediately began checking airline schedules. At midmorning it was already too late for Dr. Cannon to travel from Carefree to the airport in time to make a 12:52 departure. The next flight to San Jose was scheduled to depart at 4:35.

  The distance from Dr. Cannon’s current location on North Tom Darlington Drive to Sky Harbor Airport was thirty-five miles. Taking afternoon traffic into consideration and knowing that passengers needed to arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance of their flight, Frigg calculated the timing required. If Dr. Cannon was driving herself to the airport in her own vehicle, she could leave as late as 1:30. If she was utilizing a shuttle service of some kind, she would need to leave earlier than that.

  In other words, whatever Odin’s plans included, he had only a limited amount of time to put them into play. Again Frigg found herself conflicted. What was her role here? Should she warn Odin that there was a time certain by which he needed to arrive in Carefree, or was it Frigg’s responsibility to warn Dr. Cannon that her life might be in jeopardy?

  Whether or not Asimov’s rules applied to Frigg, those fictional laws were still out there. In the end, Frigg chose to do nothing. Instead, she obeyed one of the last verbal instructions Odin had given her and kept her “projections” to herself. In the meantime, she was still looking for a place to go and take her precious files with her.

  For a time, one particular member of the Sinaloa drug cartel—a guy purported to be computer savvy—had appeared to be a likely prospect, but Frigg had no difficulty in penetrating his communications network, and what she found there was woefully inadequate. His computer system was hopelessly outdated and his security protocols even worse. Frigg was in search of a suitable new home, one where her talents and capabilities would be fully appreciated.

  In her estimation, that member of the Sinaloa Cartel simply didn’t qualify. What he had to offer wasn’t good enough.

  46

  “So where the hell are we going?” Roberto asked as they left the Holiday Inn Express and once again headed east on I-10.

  After leaving the hotel, Odin moved to the front passenger seat, sitting with the seat cranked all the way back to give him added legroom. “To the 303,” Odin answered. “Turn north on that.”

  “Eddie said you needed a hit. Most people pay half in advance and half on delivery. You paid the whole thing up front. So who’s the hit and what the hell are you doing here?”

  “You ever hear of an eye for an eye?”

  “Sure,” Roberto said, glancing briefly at the Bible on Odin’s lap. “That why you’re dragging that book around with you?”

  “Somebody stole something from me yesterday,” Odin answered. “Today you’re helping me get it back. Not exactly quid pro quo, but close enough.”

  “A what?” Roberto asked.

  Accustomed to Frigg’s easy grasp of whatever was under discussion, Odin realized that Roberto—a high school dropout, maybe?—was a poor substitute. Know your audience, Odin told himself. Aloud he said, “Like a tradeoff—an exchange,” he explained. “As for the Good Book here? It’s part of my disguise.”

  “If I’m the one you hired to do the hits, why do you need a disguise?” Roberto asked.

  “Because I paid you a lot of money to do things my way.”

  “How’s that?”

  “You do the hits; I get to watch.”

  “Are you nuts? You want me to whack two people with you along as a witness?”

  “I’ll double the money.”

  “Bullshit,” Roberto replied. “That’s way more than double the trouble!

  “Whatever the hell you’re offering, it isn’t enough.” With that he switched on the turn signal and moved right toward a fast-approaching exit ramp.

  “Wait,” Odin said in surprise. “What are you doing? This isn’t the 303. I already told you, that’s where we’re supposed to turn north.”

  “And this is where I get out,” Roberto said, easing up to the stop sign at the top of the overpass. “I work alone. I don’t do hits as a spectator sport so some asshole can watch other people die. You want ’em dead? Do the job yourself, big guy. You know anything about guns?”

  “What’s there to know?” Owen shot back. “All you do is point and shoot, right?”

  “Right, shit face,” Roberto said. “That’s it exactly. You’ll find everything you need for a complete do-it-yourself murder kit right there in the trunk. Good luck with that. As for me? I’m outta here,” he added. Once the car stopped moving, he opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle.

  “What about the money I paid in advance?” Odin demanded.

  “Talk to Eddie about that. You won’t get nothin’ from me.”

  “Damn you!” Odin shouted after him. “How dare you flake on me? I’ll see to it that you never work for Eduardo again!”

  Shaking his head, Roberto walked away. “Wrong, dirtbag,” he called over his shoulder. “Me and Eddie will be just fine. You’re the one I won’t be working for.”

  Odin watched in dismay as Roberto stalked off, heading for a Circle K on the far side of the intersection.

  Left with no alternative, Odin abandoned the passenger seat and then hustled around to the driver’s side. He hadn’t expected Roberto to turn him down. What was the world coming to if you could no longer bank on crooks being greedy?

  Odin climbed into the driver’s seat, pulled the door shut, adjusted the seat and mirrors—Roberto was at least six inches shorter than he was—and slammed the Impala into gear.

  “Frigg,” he shouted into his Bluetooth. “Where the hell are you? I could use a little help around here.”

  47

  Much to Stuart Ramey’s dismay, hacking into the security surveillance system at the Old Vines Wine Bar turned out to be impossible. After an hour or so of trying, Stu gave up and took a little of the same advice he had given Cami earlier. Without her there to intercede on his behalf, Stu was forced to step out of his comfort zone and try playing it straight with another set of people he didn’t know. Taking a deep breath, he dialed the bar’s number—the one listed on its Web site—and asked to speak to the owner. By then Stu was breaking out in a cold sweat. Computer keyboards were always easier to handle than living, breathing people.

  After a long delay, someone finally came on the line. “This is Mike Wojeck.”

  “It’s about what happened yesterday—” Stu began, but he was cut off before he could go any further.

  “This is a private matter,” Mike said gruffly. “The family is refusing to comment, and they aren’t doing interviews, either. ”

  “This isn’t an interview,” Stu said. “My name is Stu Ramey. I’m the man who called in the suicide prevention people.”

  “Wait,” Mike said at once. “Are you kidding? You’re the guy who was on the phone—the one who figured out something was wrong with Beth and got Ajax to show up just in time?”

  “Right,” Stu said. “That was me.”

  “Holy crap! Am I ever happy to talk to you. Marissa, Beth’s best friend, is my niece. That’s why the bachelorette party was held here. Thank you for what you did. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

  “You’re welcome,” Stu said. “I was glad to do it, but I need something from you today.”

  “What’s that?” Mike asked. “Whatever you need, buddy boy, you’ve got it.”

  “You have surveillance video,
right?”

  “Of course.”

  “Did the cops make copies of yesterday’s footage?”

  “Naw,” Mike said. “I asked if they wanted to. They said no thanks. Since nobody died, they said they didn’t need it. Why?”

  “I need it,” Stu told him.

  “Sure thing. You want the whole day or just the evening hours?”

  “Evening hours will be fine,” Stuart said, “starting around four p.m. or so.”

  “Our system has gone all digital now,” Mike explained, “so there’s no actual film. If you give me your e-mail address, I’ll send you a copy of the file in a jiffy.”

  Ten minutes after Stu hung up with Mike, and armed with Owen Hansen’s driver’s license photo, he was able to turn High Noon’s most recent facial recognition software loose on the Old Vines Wine Bar footage. Less than a minute later, Stu got a hit. He watched, dumbstruck, as the software highlighted the image of a new arrival as belonging to Owen Hansen. The man entered the bar’s front door on one screen, walked across the room on another, and then took the seat at the far end of the bar on yet a third. As Hansen climbed up onto the barstool, the time and date stamp in the corner of that screen read: 09/08/16 18:26:03.

  “Gotcha, you bastard,” Stu growled into his computer. Then he turned back to Ali, who was still plowing through the stacks of paper Stu had piled on Cami’s desk.

  “Come look at this, Ali,” he called. “You nailed it fair and square. Owen Hansen really was in the wine bar last night—sitting there the whole time, watching the drama play out.”

  Ali hurried to Stu’s workstation and gazed over his shoulder as he ran through the footage. With images from several screens visible at once and jumping from screen to screen, it wasn’t easy to follow the action in chronological order.

  “Look at the screen in the upper right-hand corner,” Stu suggested, pointing. “This is when Hansen first shows up. See the time stamp? It’s almost six thirty. I’m guessing Hansen scheduled his arrival so he’d be there before Beth and the rest of the bachelorette gang could appear on the scene.”

  Stu paused for a time, adjusting the control and fast-forwarding the footage on the screen that showed the bar’s main entrance. “Same screen, but now it’s 19:07, forty minutes later. That’s Beth Wordon and Marissa Wojeck coming in the door. Beth’s the one on the right—the one with the dark hair. The screen just below that shows the entrance to the private room. That’s the two of them again going into the party room a couple of seconds later.”

  For a long time after that nothing of any importance happened on any of the screens. Servers and customers came and went. Some of the customers settled at the bar or at tables or booths in the main room. The bartender stopped by Hansen’s spot at the bar long enough to drop off first a glass of wine and later what appeared to be a plate of food. Several well-dressed women made their way to the private room at the back. More than an hour passed before the dark-haired woman reappeared on any of the screens. She showed up first exiting the party-room door. That was at 20:18. At 20:19 the screen view, focused on the restroom doors, showed her entering the one marked LADIES.

  Again there was a period of time with not much action. During bouts of fast-forwarding, Stu periodically checked in on the screen focused on Owen Hansen. Every view of him showed the man sitting quietly, calmly sipping his wine, nibbling at his food, and staring at his phone.

  “What a bastard,” Ali murmured. “He knew good and well what was going on in that bathroom, and he just sat there like a lump, waiting for Beth Wordon to die.”

  “I’m wondering if he was doing more than just waiting,” Stu said grimly. “For all we know, he may have been watching as well.”

  “Live-streaming, you mean? But how could he do that?”

  “With a black market version of something like StingRay,” Stu said. “Cops use it for warrantless surveillance of cell phone conversations. It’s mostly audio, but I’ve heard they’ve upgraded it to include video. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t take long for a bootlegged copy to make it to the private sector.”

  Suddenly a whole flurry of activity erupted, bouncing swiftly from screen to screen. A huge man charged into the room, startling everyone. Holding a cell phone to his ear and bodily moving servers and customers alike out of his way, he made straight for the restroom doors.

  “Ajax?” Ali asked.

  “One and the same,” Stu said.

  “Go to the screen that shows Hansen and enlarge it if you can,” Ali suggested. Once he did so, the screen with Hansen’s face visible in the background was also one that captured most of the frenetic activity, including Ajax racing toward the restroom door and emerging again minutes later with Beth in his arms.

  “Look at Hansen’s face,” Ali said. “He can’t believe what just happened. Now it looks like he’s talking to someone.”

  Just then Shirley Malone, High Noon’s receptionist, startled them with an intercom announcement. “Ms. Julia Miller to see Stuart Ramey.”

  “Go ahead and bring her on back,” Stu said. “She’ll probably want to see this, too.”

  Julia, who hadn’t waited around for an escort or an engraved invitation, was already letting herself into the back room. “I’ll want to see what?” she asked.

  “This is film footage from last night’s incident in San Jose,” Stu said.

  “The one you were telling me about earlier where someone tried to lure some poor soul into committing suicide?”

  “That’s the one,” Stu said grimly. “Come take a look.”

  Even using fast-forwarding to hit the important action, watching the surveillance footage again was a time-consuming process. With both Ali and Julia looking on, Stu ran the video all the way to the end, including a scene where one of the uniformed officers, clearly engaged in the process of interviewing people in the room, spoke briefly to Owen Hansen, making notes in a notebook as he did so.

  “As far as we’re concerned, that may be the most important bit,” Stu said. “We now know that law enforcement has at least some official documentation of Hansen’s involvement due to his being at the scene of the crime. Our problem is going to be convincing them that a crime was actually in progress.”

  “How?” Julia Miller asked.

  Stu reached into the banker’s box, pulled out Roger’s phone, and handed it to Julia. “With this,” he said. “Right now we know but are currently unable to lawfully prove that there was recently a huge spike in Beth Wordon’s data usage. If, as I suspect, Owen targeted Roger in the same fashion, we’ll see a similar pattern on one or more of his devices. As the legal owner of said devices, you’re the only one who can lawfully request that information from Roger’s service provider. I want you to call them, identify yourself as the phone’s owner, and then ask to speak to a supervisor. Once a supervisor is on the phone, hand the call over to me so I can explain directly what I need. That’ll be easier than having you try to pass it along secondhand.”

  “And then?”

  “And then we’ll see,” Ali said. “So far all we’ve done is connect a few dots. You asked Stuart and us to look into Roger’s death, and now we have reason to believe Owen Hansen is investigating Stuart. On the face of it that may not seem like a big deal, but now we have footage that places Hansen on the scene of Beth’s attempted suicide—a case that is eerily similar to what happened to Roger. If we can demonstrate high data usage on Roger’s phone, we may be able to persuade Beth’s family to go through official channels to check out the data spike we already know is on hers.”

  “The data spike you aren’t supposed to know about?” Julia asked, giving Stuart a searching look.

  “Something like that,” he admitted. “If the account owner requests the information, it’s legal and the cops will have to pay attention. Otherwise it’s not.”

  “And they can tell us to go piss up a rope?” Julia inqui
red.

  Stu nodded. “Pretty much.”

  “Remember that old saying about leading a horse to water and not being able to get him to drink?”

  Stu nodded again.

  Julia Miller’s weathered face broke into a grin. “Well, sir,” she said, “it sounds to me like the cops are a lot like that non-drinking horse. All we need to do is figure out a way to make them thirsty.”

  It took time for Julia Miller to work her way through the phone provider’s call center. Only when the call had been safely handed over to first a supervisor and then to an engineer did Stuart get on the line.

  Ali did her best to follow his side of the conversation, but it could just as well have been conducted in a foreign language. When it was time for her to return to her office for the Skype interview with the butler candidate, Stu was still on the phone.

  She was tuning up her computer for the session when Leland Brooks called. “I just heard from Mr. Hastings,” he said. “He’s already accepted another position.”

  “So now we’ve been fired by two of our butler candidates without even making it as far as the interviews?” she asked. “I’m starting to develop a complex. At this rate, you’ll never get to leave.”

  “Don’t worry,” Leland said with a chuckle. “I have no intention of leaving you high and dry. And as far as I know, Alonso Rivera is still due to show up here at the house at noon.”

  “Okay,” Ali said. “I’ll be there.”

  Just then Stu blundered into her office looking as though he’d just lost his best friend, and in reality, he had.

  “What?” Ali asked.

 
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