I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 35
Mouse recognized it too, when she heard the chorus. The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down.
XMercy waived her arm frantically to stop Mouse again, who wasn’t saying a word. “Quiet! Lord, he is really good.
“I taught him that! Hee hee! Admit it, Mouse, Johnny’s got talent,” she said.
“I never said he didn’t.”
“But you didn’t want him here.”
Spencer started playing another song, stopped after several notes, and resumed again.
Mouse jumped to her feet. “No!” she shouted. “That’s MY song. You don’t get to sing that!” The wind blew her words back into her face. Down in the camper, Spencer’s voice drew deeper to places he had forgotten or never explored.
“What?” XMercy shrugged. “Don’t give me the stink eye. He learned that one on his own.”
After a bouncy ride, the narrow Brazilian-made jet thumped onto the Beckley Raleigh County runway. Bishop and two of his four computer techs had planned to take carry-on baggage, but all three were stopped by the screener after he saw the Makita drill driver. Having twenty-two webcams didn’t help things. After some fast talking, Bishop convinced the TSA personnel surrounding them that they were security consultants flying to do an installation. One of the techs was near a meltdown thinking about how close he had come to bringing weed along for the trip. All three rollaways ended up in the baggage compartment.
Bishop checked his watch on landing and again as they waited at one of the two baggage claim belts.
“You two get the bags, “he told them. “I’m going to Hertz. I’ll meet you in front at the curb.”
From the airport, they were driving together to the equipment rental, renting the cherry-picker van, then splitting up, he to Charleston, the two of them toward Mount Hope and Fayetteville.
“We’ve got this,” they reassured him. Five minutes per pole, eleven poles, not more than three minutes between installations. Less than two hours and they’d have coverage of the whole highway. Piece of cake.
“You checked the cameras?”
“They’re fine. Still in the store packaging. Hotspots are current, everything is chill.”
Nothing Bishop hated more than this laid-back confidence driven by data-pushing children who never went out into the real world. Fuck ’em all. NSA, DOD, the whole security establishment was moving their way, mostly because the people in charge didn’t know a fucking thing except, “Boy, this Kool-Aid sure tastes good!”
“How do we know they’ll sync up and stay online?”
The two twenty-somethings just looked at him. They weren’t going to explain again.
“Kip and Dale have it covered,” Nussbaum reassured Bishop before they set out. He remained skeptical.
Every one of the hotspots ran off one of three different providers. They had system backdoors for all three. Didn’t matter if they were running firewalls to their own systems; they could wrap around security software in seconds. Given two minutes, they could hack right inside, but no reason to bother.
“What about storage?”
They had already explained how each camera ran intermittent segments to a cache. Storage was a non-issue; the system architecture already accounted for that. When each segment was cached, the facial recognition software passed through it and would notify them by text message when they had a hit, automatically saving that segment and sending it to them with the camera location and a time stamp. The purpose of the cameras was not to prompt an instant response. If three cameras picked her up and then nothing more came through, Dale showed Bishop how they could extrapolate from that information that she was situated not just between Fayetteville and Mt. Hope, but within the much narrower field between those specific cameras.
“We can parse the focus-area down to a small segment within a low-density region,” Stephen had explained. “I’ll bet that a square-mile around there yields a tighter head-count than we’d get from a single mid-rise in Manhattan.”
The three rode in silence for the ten minutes it took getting from the terminal to the rental yard; while Bishop drove, the two younger men stayed on their smartphones. Bishop had to raise his voice to get them out of the car. One of them was going to have to show his driver’s license.
The only person inside the glass doors was an older version of Janis Joplin. Nobody behind the counter. Bishop tapped the edge of his credit card against the glass.
“We’re here for the cherry picker,” Bishop told the man coming in from the service area before he was through the door.
“Be right with you, sir,” he told Bishop with a quick glance up at the white hat. “Just as soon as I finish up with this here lady.” He turned to XMercy, explaining how, “I’ll do it this one time, just since I know you. But XMercy, you have got to get a valid ID. That license of yours expired more than a year ago for goodness sake.”
“You’re the best, Bobby,” XMercy laughed. “I’ll have it back before five.”
“Just as long as it’s back by eleven tomorrow will do fine. You’re all loaded up. I put in a couple ramps that will help with unloading that stump grinder. You be careful for rocks. I have to charge six dollars a tooth if you break any.”
XMercy went through the back doors out to the 4Runner. Bishop stood at the counter, fixated on the name “Frank” labeled in red lettering on the man’s shirt.
“Don’t have any cherry-pickers at this store,” Bobby told Bishop. “Have one at the Charleston Store, if it’s not out. I can check on it if you’d like to hold on.”
“Your website says you rent them here.”
Bobby shrugged. “I can’t say anything about that. I don’t have nothing to do with that stuff. It’s all supposed to run together, inventory, reservations, and all, but you know how that goes.”
“Aw hell, that’s an hour away.” Bishop still had some margin, but losing an hour was going to eat into it badly. “Fine. Check your other store.”
“Yes, sir,” Bobby agreed after looking in the system at the current yard inventories. “You can pick it up in Charleston. If you want, I can take your credit card and reserve it for you right now.”
Bishop pushed back his hat and looked down at his watch, calculating the time. They had just enough margin to get it done, leaving the cherry picker there in Beckley before the return flight.
“Fine, I’ll have it back here by three.”
“Well, I’ll have to call in on that. Each one of the shops runs independently even if we’re the same company. Maybe they can drive down and pick it up here, but that means two people to shuttle down and two rigs and gas getting back. Probably cost a hundred-fifty, something along those lines.”
Stephen and Dilip were focused on their phones, which only made Bishop angrier. Stephen was participating in an online systems integration forum while Dilip looked over bidding for something on eBay.
Bobby explained that “I have plenty of hoists, boom lifts, scissor lifts. You get a truck with a hitch and I can set you up with a lift and a towing-trailer. Fix you right up.”
Dilip held up his phone and immediately announced “They’ve got Penske, Ryder, U-Haul five minutes away.”
It was already nearly noon when Bishop pulled off the highway into Dunbar. The air was clear and warm, but he wasn’t paying attention. He had skipped breakfast, as usual, so he pulled into the Subway and practiced his lines while he ate a
Felicia Diane Reynolds had left the community college midway through the semester. Her transcripts showed incompletes in every class. It was plausible. She could have a refund coming.
He ate fast, gulping the bread down with a Morning Dew, and then got back to the rental car. He drove past the Church of the Nazarene and turned left, heading toward the river. The house was tidy, although it could have used a coat of paint. A basic one-story blue ranch with white wrought iron bars on the windows except where two A/C units hung in the window frames. A Chrysler Town and Country minivan with faded fake wood side panels sat under the carport.
Bishop parked in front, took a final sip from the plastic Mountain Dew bottle, wiped his mouth in the rearview mirror, and opened the door. He lifted the u-shaped gate latch on the thigh-high chain link fencing and walked up the concrete walkway past lines of rose bushes on both sides. He opened a clear plastic storm door, located the doorbell on the inside frame, and then let the storm door close while he waited outside.
A woman wearing a simple yellow dress with a white collar and white trim on the short sleeves answered the bell and stood behind the plastic waiting for him to speak.
“Are you Mrs. Reynolds?” he inquired politely, already recognizing her face from photos.
“And who is asking?” she wanted to know, cautiously but politely.
Bishop took a business card from his jacket pocket and offered it up to her along the opening side of the storm door, sliding it partway into the crack and waiting for her to take it from his hand. “Mrs. Reynolds, my name is Mark Burnside. I work for Asset Recovery Associates. You can see on my card. Is Felicia Diane Reynolds here in the home?”
Hearing her daughter’s name, Mrs. Reynolds stepped outside, quickly closing the solid door behind her. “Felicia isn’t living here,” she explained quietly. She looked like an older version of her daughter, sans tattoos. He noticed Mrs. Reynolds wore no makeup at all. No earrings or necklace, either. No engagement diamond. A simple gold wedding ring was her only adornment.
“Ma’am,” Bishop continued, trying to be careful not to let himself fall into a Texas accent. He rarely used the word ‘ma’am.’
“Ma’am, Asset Recovery is in the business of reuniting individuals with funds that have been escheated to the state. What that means is money that belongs to the individual but that goes unclaimed for a period of time and then is turned over to the state. At Asset Recovery, we seek to reunite the consumer with these lost or overlooked funds for which, according to state regulation, we are entitled to a percentage of the funds.”
“What does this have to do with Felicia?”
“Ma’am, am I correct that Felicia attended community college here in Dunbar? That she withdrew from her studies? Ma’am, by West Virginia law, students who withdraw from public educational institutions prior to mid-semester must receive a refund for full tuition credit. Just right here, in the greater Charleston urban area, we have over two-hundred fifty-thousand dollars in tuition funds that our young people have just left on the table, so to speak,” Bishop said.
“Fudge,” she exclaimed, then glanced anxiously back toward the door.
“Mr. Burnside, my husband, Reverend Reynolds, put out the tuition money. I’m sure it would be all right if I signed for it, seeing as it is really my husband’s money.”
“I can’t do that. I’m afraid it has to go to the individual named. You and Felicia will need to come to an arrangement when the funds are distributed.”
Mrs. Reynolds bit at her fingernail and thought it through. “How much money is there?”
Now Bishop hesitated. “I’m really not supposed to speak to anyone other than the recipient, but let me say, on the QT, that it is somewhere between nine-hundred and one-thousand.”
Mrs. Reynolds inhaled audibly then held her breath, took Bishop’s arm, and walked him across the stepping stones in front of the house over to the carport. “Is there a time limit? How long do we have to get the funds?”
“Felicia isn’t living here.”
“Her present domicile has no bearing on eligibility,” Bishop assured. “What is her current address?”
Mrs. Reynolds examined her rose beds, turned to watch a car drive past. “Mr. Burnside,” she confided painfully, “the Reverend and I, we’re estranged from our daughter.” She pursed her lips and concentrated, carefully choosing every word. “Felicia lives a different lifestyle, not like how we raised her to be. I can’t say where she lives exactly. We don’t even have a telephone number. She’s somewhere over in Fayette County is all I know, and that was eleven months ago. My little girl, she dresses like a man. Lord, she stood there, right there at our door, standing wearing Redwing work boots, old blue jeans, and a man’s tee, and she said she was living with another woman. Like she was proud of that! Mr. Burnside, that money would make a difference. I’ll put some of it aside so if Felicia comes around, I’ll give it to her. Before Jesus I swear I will. Can’t I just sign?”
Bishop checked his watch then re-read the referral and pulled up the directions to his second stop. Nussbaum’s cameras were helpful, but unless Jeffers had the pull to keep a drone hovering in wait, he damned well wanted to have a Plan B in place to pick up where the cameras left off. He thought about it for a moment, realizing that Jeffers probably did have enough pull to find a drone, but old school methods would work, too. Not everything had to depend on the machines.
Dilip drove the rental pickup towing the hoist and trailer, keeping off the interstate and driving in the far right lane, going fifteen miles per hour while Stephen watched the equipment through the back window, following the map displayed on his phone. Somehow, they had managed to burn two hours renting the truck then getting back and waiting for Bobby to hitch up the trailer and load the hoist. They drove a half-mile to a spot then quickly unpacked, attached the magnetic Dish Network logos on the doors right over the truck rental logos, and then got back in to drive the six miles out to the first utility pole.
“I am thinking,” Dilip observed while they headed north through Beckley, “we should be capable of far more comprehensive utilities.” All the technology existed. “Rather than simply installing the surveillance mechanism, we should offer a fully-integrated solution. Why not integrate cameras and facial recognition software with a remotely-controlled machine gun? That would be cool.”
Stephen caught on and appreciated the intellectual process. There were no technological impediments, but the thinking revealed why Dilip was a tech rather than a manager.
“Somebody has already gone there,” Stephen explained. “They’re way ahead of you, my friend.” He held his hand out the window, enjoying the feeling of the wind blowing through his spread fingers. “But that wouldn’t be politically correct, at least not domestically, for the same reasons that drones aren’t firing missiles at U.S. cars.”
“Um.” Dilip nodded, seeing Nussbaum’s point.
“Might be able to use explosives,” Stephen speculated. “Employing an IED allows for plausible deniability.” It would work very nearly as well. He and Dilip exchanged glances; Dilip immediately ran through systems architecture. Stephen considered market size, price resistance, the pitch, funding, first-to-market advantage, patents, competition, and exit strategies.
As they pulled onto Route 19 and the first utility pole, Stephen jumped out and directed Dilip’s driving to position the hoist directly under the pole and confirmed Wi-Fi signal strength before doing anything else. Strong red; a Wireless N source.
They opened and checked one of the cameras, removed the plastic barrier to activate the battery, then set the camera into the lift bucket along with the cordless drill driver and a package of 2.5-inch woods screws and the laser sight. They were ready to begin when both of them stood without moving, looking to the
“Don’t look at me,” Dilip told Stephen. “I did the driving. I will not be getting onto that thing.”
Reluctantly, Nussbaum climbed up onto the trailer, put one foot on the tire of the hoist and awkwardly struggled to get his skinny leg over the side. The whole hoist rocked slightly, leaving Stephen with a white-knuckled two-handed grip for dear life on the side of the bucket. After it steadied, he closed his eyes and forced himself inside.
The mechanism looked simple enough. A key-start, one orange-knobbed joystick for steering right and left, forward and reverse, a second joystick, blue-knobbed, for raising and lowering the bucket. A huge red button labeled STOP.
The hoist rumbled to life on the first turn of the key. Stephen reached nervously to grip the blue knob. Their plan was to leave the hoist on the trailer. Eleven poles, five minutes per pole, interim time between poles, turn in the hoist, turn in the truck, back to the airport.
He pressed the knob forward and the hoist lurched upward fully six inches, rocking so much that Stephen leaned back to compensate and shot his hand onto the stop button.
As he jumped away from the bucket, he saw that a couple teenagers, fifteen or sixteen, had stopped their bikes on the shoulder of the road to watch. They looked amused.
“We can’t do it from the trailer,” Stephen concluded. “The whole thing will topple over. We need to move it off the trailer and then raise it from solid ground.”
Dilip said nothing.
“Well?” Stephen asked him.
Stephen motioned toward the hoist with open arms. “It’s your turn.”