Ahmed: There have been new developments.
Larry: I know, I know. I was wondering how long it would take for the good news to get to you through your “sources”.
Ahmed: We wanted to be sure. We heard that Yasir had died, although at first we did not know why. We did not know if he acted alone or not. If not, other threats will materialize. So I waited to talk to you until I learned more.
Ahmed: Among other things I learned that you, Larry Lazard, were instrumental in these events.
Larry: Well, what would you do? I mean he was threatening me. Threatening Louise. Threatening hackoff. You wouldn’t just sit there, would you? You didn’t think I was going to keep hiding forever, pretending to have an affair with Rachel. It was time for me to act and I did. Surprised it took me so long, to tell the truth; I must be getting soft.
Ahmed: My friend, I am not being critical. I understand that you were threatened. I have no sympathy for Yasir and the people he worked with. They have been a threat to the Jenin Cooperative as well as to you. But it would be better if you were not involved. It would be better if you were not KNOWN to have been involved.
Larry: Who knows I’m involved? The people I worked with to do this are very discreet. I have told no one. For that matter, how do YOU know?
Ahmed: I was told by sources I cannot reveal to you, the same sources who were contacted before to act as intermediaries. Those who contacted them told these sources that they know of your involvement. And that is how I know. I was hoping you would tell me that this is not true...
Larry: The fucking guy was threatening me.
Ahmed: Please, my friend, I am not being critical. I am afraid for you. These cycles do not end with a single death. They go and on and on. Sometimes no one remembers the original offense but the killing continues. I do not wish that you be part of this.
Larry: What are you telling me? What did your “sources” say? Who’s threatening me now? By the way, how do we know that these sources really are in a position to do anything other than make threats? Maybe they just learned something and are trying to use it.
Ahmed: They anticipated that you might question their authenticity. They have sent what they call “a proof”.
Larry: That’s my Lucite! The one Yasir used to... They’re getting a lot of mileage out of stealing this and sending it back. What the fuck do they want?
Ahmed: My source says that there IS a chance to end the cycle.
Larry: Okay. What? Am I supposed to offer my first-born? You don’t sound very excited about this chance to “end the cycle”.
Ahmed: I will tell you what I was told. Then, if you allow me, I will tell you what I think.
Ahmed: I was told that the allies of Yasir were not happy with him either. They did not wish him to take such an extreme position. They did not realize all of his affiliations. He exceeded what they had authorized. In fact, they said, had you been more patient, what you had done may have been done anyway.
Larry: Great. They should give me a medal. I solved their problem.
Ahmed: In a sense they have proposed that, I am told. But they have a problem. They have two problems. One: they would not wish to have you hunt for them as you are presumably doing. They cannot end the cycle if you are going to have them killed as well. They are sure you are doing that...
Larry: Fucking right, I am. Of course I am. I will hunt down every son-of-a-bitch who was part of this and make sure they aren’t out hunting for me. That’s exactly what I’m doing.
Ahmed: But you cannot—
Larry: Why the fuck not? I do have to do that.
Ahmed: With everyone you kill, there is a wider circle of those who must take revenge. You have a Western story like that. Something about cutting the heads off a snake with too many heads and it grows more.
Larry: It’s not Western, it’s Greek, and don’t tell me fucking fables. What am I supposed to do? Wait for some buddy of Yasir’s to knock me off? Not gonna happen. What were you saying about the medal? Am I supposed to shoot myself to end the cycle? That’s not gonna happen, either. Wait! Hold the thought. Gotta take a quick crap. Something I ate. Be right back.
(The door closes twice before conversation resumes.)
Larry: Go ahead; that feels a little better.
Ahmed: My sources say that the people who speak to them are ready to offer you a deal. It is this: they will propose that you be honored for the work you’ve done in outsourcing to the Jenin Cooperative. They will not try to kill you. But they need two things in return.
Larry: My balls?
Ahmed: They need you to give a renewed contract to the Jenin Cooperative...
Larry: I would’ve done that anyway, but I won’t be blackmailed. You know that.
Ahmed: And they need you to resign as CEO of hackoff.
Larry: What? Why? What the fuck does that have to do with anything?
Ahmed: I am not clear on that either. They have told my sources that this is a gesture of good will and responsibility on your part. They need some sort of assurance that you will not continue to hunt for them. They may believe that, without the resources of hackoff, you will not be able to find them. I do not understand this.
Larry: Then why the fuck are you suggesting I do it? I’m beginning to think that you are much too close to these “sources”.
Ahmed: Please, my friend, please do not insult me.
Larry: What are you trying to get me to do?
Ahmed: I am not sure. My source has always been very reliable. If I believed all this were true, I would advise you to make the deal and accept the medal...
Larry: And give more business to your fucking co-op, that’s what you want. This is a goddamn shakedown.
Ahmed: But I do NOT believe it. I do not believe the cycle ends like this. I would not advise you to take this offer. I am not asking for more business for the Jenin Group.
Larry: You’re switching sides faster than a fucking weather vane in a windstorm. Get out! Get out of my office!
Ahmed: Mr. Larry Lazard...
Larry: Which part of “get the fuck out” don’t you understand?
The door closes. Larry burps loudly and sits down heavily. Then silence shuts the listening Lucite down. It wakens briefly as Larry apparently moves around the room. The door shuts twice but there is no sound of voices.
Now there is a knock on Dom’s door which startles both Dom and the detective. The cop brings in the pizza, the Jolt, the donuts, and a Starbucks, then leaves.
Dom’s face is quickly smeared with tomato sauce; Mark’s with cream from his confection.
“That’s better,” says Mark pushing back and burping. “Shoulda got popcorn, though, for the rest of the show. I shoulda brought the video and we could watch and listen.”
“Actually,” says Dom, “I can retrieve the video from log file. Should we go back to the beginning?”
“No, definitely not. This epic is long enough as it is without replay. Good if you could get the video for the deceased’s final scene though.”
Dom and Mark scoot their wheeled chairs away from the table and hunch in front of Dom’s computer so they can watch the small video window on Dom’s large monitor. Dom fiddles for a while but can’t get perfect sync. The audio is running a few hundred milliseconds ahead of the video but they decide just to go ahead without further tuning.
“Best for you,” says Mark, “if the about-to-be deceased doesn’t complain too much about his stomach or say he’s so sick he wants to die or something like that.”
“We already saw the video,” says Dom. “Didn’t look that way.”
“I hope it doesn’t sound that way. I really do. Be nice to have some other reason why our boy who is so tough in the last scene with Ahmed suddenly decides to blow his brains out.”
“We’ll see,” says Dom, sounding calm.
Onscreen, Larry is seated at his desk, looking dyspeptic. He looks up at a knock on his door. “Come,” he says, slightly out of synch.
Donna enters and sits on the couch away from the desk. Larry slowly gets up, pivots around the desk leaning on one hand, and sits across the corner of the coffee table from her.
“You hear anything from Dom?” Donna asks.
“He sent me an email,” says Larry. “What you’d expect. Told me I’m an asshole. That I don’t know what we owe him. The company is nothing without him … blah, blah, blah. But he’s right, too. He has done a lot. He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s right. I feel bad about insulting him into quitting. Wish I didn’t have to do that.”
“You had no choice, Lar,” says Donna. “He was closing in on figuring out that you’d hired the Palestinians to hack the customers; he already told me he’s suspicious. You know he’s gonna go off the deep end if he finds that out. That’s all we need now.”
Dom pauses the video and sound. His mouth opens, closes. “That bitch! I don’t believe it. I already told her weeks ago I knew Larry was doing that. She tells me to keep it to myself while she works on Larry. So now she tells Larry I’m ‘suspicious’? She wants him to get rid of me?”
“Why?” asks Mark. “Why does she all of a sudden want Larry to get rid of you?”
Dom thinks for a moment, then says: “Only thing I can think is she doesn’t want me to get the update done so that the Jenin Group can’t do the hack she wants ‘em to do to scare the customers. That explains something else, too.”
“She stopped me from doing the upgrade right away after she took over. What she said then made some sense; the attack wouldn’t happen until Larry gave the okay and obviously that wasn’t going to happen. She’d make sure to call it off. I believed her ... but I didn’t believe her. I was going to go ahead and do the upgrade anyway; she’d never know.”
“Why didn’t you believe her?”
“Maybe because now she was in the role of CEO. Sounded like a CEO. Sounded like Larry when he wanted to hack the customers. But now we know she always wanted to do that. Of course, she wanted to be CEO too; I guess that figures. It’s the role.”
“Look, if she wanted Larry to get rid of you, got him to do that, why did she make sure you came back, even give you a promotion?”
“That’s easy. She needed some ex-hacker in the company. Larry was gone. Besides she thought I wouldn’t do the upgrade if I believed there wouldn’t be an attack. But that doesn’t quite hold together either. What would she have done after the attack happened? I would’ve known she lied to me. I would’ve gone ballistic. She knows that.”
Mark says: “That part I can understand. You think everyone plays chess, thinks ten moves ahead. They don’t. She would’ve figured she could calm you down; didn’t have to know how. Something like blame it on Ahmed and how right you were and how glad she is to have you and shoulda listened to you and can’t you please make sure this never happens again and that bullshit. Let’s see the rest.”
“Still didn’t feel right,” says Larry. “I had to tell him something I never told him before; really had to diss him to get him mad enough to quit. Even then, he didn’t quit until I insulted him some more in staff meeting.”
Donna says: “It’s for his own good, too. You know he’s gonna be a target for anybody trying to get revenge. They already hate him. And he can’t protect himself if he doesn’t know what’s happening. And you don’t want to tell him. You can’t tell him. So what’re you gonna do?”
“I know. But it still sucks.”
“Life does that sometimes,” says Donna. “Think it was you that told me that. How’d your ‘meeting’ go?”
“Not good. Not good at all. I’m not at all sure I trust Ahmed anymore. He had some bullshit story about how Yasir’s friends suddenly want to make peace, give me a medal for what I’ve done for Palestinians or something. All I have to do is call off the hunt … oh yeah, and resign as CEO…”
“Which you’re planning to do, anyway, right? I mean that’s sleeves outta your vest.”
“Don’t push me on that, Donna, I told you I’d get outta your way, make you CEO. But don’t push it…” Larry stops and looks either puzzled or sick for a minute.
“Right,” says Donna quickly, “so what’d you say to Ahmed about this generous offer of peace?”
“So I called him on it, told him it’s bullshit.” Larry seems distracted.
“What did he say?”
“Then he switches sides, tells me he thinks it’s bullshit too. That’s too much for me, so I throw him out. I don’t know really, would’ve figure him as a friend. Think he’s a friend. But with this bullshit I don’t know and I really can’t take a chance that he helps someone get access to me. I’m not sure who my friends are anymore.”
“You sure you shouldn’t do this?” asks Donna. “I mean put aside the CEO part, that can’t be that important. You know … maybe there can be peace. Get all this over with. You sure you don’t want to give it a try?”
Larry looks very hard at Donna. “Yes,” he says deliberately. “Yes, I’m very sure. And that’s not good for you being CEO earlier than we planned. I don’t want anything to confuse them about whether I’m giving up or not; any sign of weakness and they’ll be all over me. That’s the way it is.”
“I … I understand, Larry. Like I said, forget the CEO thing. What’s important is to get everybody safely outta this. Also, maybe it’s good you get a medal. You really did do good for them. Like you did for the kids in Newark. That’s what I’m asking. You sure you just wanna tell them ‘no’? I mean you don’t even know who ‘they’ are.”
“I’m going to find out who THEY are,” says Larry separating every word from the one before it. “I am going to find out. I got lots of logs, security logs, email logs VoIP logs. They have to have someone inside helping them and I will find out who that is.”
“Like I told you this morning, nothing’s changed because of this bullshit I heard from Ahmed. Nothing. I find out who they are. I make sure they can’t do any harm. Whatever that takes. Just like Yasir.”
“Larry, you’re right,” says Donna. She squares her shoulders, faces him, smiles at him.
“What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“First, Ahmed tells me some bullshit story. I tell him it’s bullshit. Then he changes the story. Tells me not to believe it. Then you come in here. You try to talk me into doing this bullshit Ahmed already admitted is bullshit. I tell you it isn’t gonna happen. All of a sudden you’re going ‘Larry, you’re right’. I’m not sure who’s bullshitting who.” Larry’s face contorts and he rubs his stomach.
“I was testing you, Lar,” Donna says. She smiles again. “You passed.”
“What the fuck are you talking about — testing me?”
“You haven’t been yourself lately, my old friend,” she says. She rests her hand on his knee across the corner of the table. “You’ve been ... out of character.”
“What the fuck’s that mean?” he asks, but he smiles back at her, almost as if in reflex, and turns to face her more squarely.
“All that stuff about the medal you got in Newark, I was afraid that turned your head. All of a sudden, you don’t wanna go ahead with our plan to give the customers a little warning, get them to switch to monitored service.”
“I thought you were getting soft,” she says. “I don’t like soft.” She puts her hand on the inside of his knee this time. “You know that.”
He leans forward, perhaps to reach for her hand but then grimaces and rubs his stomach again.
“I mean, I’m glad to hear you being the old Larry,” she continues. “The old, hard Larry.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re glad,” he says.
“But are you sure?”
“Am I sure what?”
“Are you sure you’re not gonna go all soft on me? I mean I’m your friend; we’re in this together. I’ll stick with you; help you fight these guys, whoever, track’em down. But I gotta know you’re not gonna go soft at the last minute. That would be … I mean more than disappointing, that would be dangerous.”
“Yeah,” says Larry. “Soft is dangerous.”
“That sounds like the old Larry, but I don’t know.” Donna takes the gun from the coffee table; holds it to her head. “I bet my life,” she says, her eyes on Larry’s face. She starts to put the gun down.
Larry takes the gun from her hand before it can reach the table. “Yeah,” he says “I’m sure. I bet—”
Donna flinches as the sound of the shot reverberates. The left side of Larry’s head explodes.
“Run that again,” says Mark.
“What? I’m gonna be sick,” Dom says.
“Run it again. Just from when he takes the gun from her. She flinched too soon.”
Dom runs it again. “No she didn’t. She flinched at the sound.”
“You’re not being observant,” says Mark. “The audio’s ahead of the video…”
“Right,” says Dom. “I missed it. But I already knew.”
“Knew what you suspect.”
“What do you mean?” asks Mark. “How can you know? Do you have proof?”
“I have something,” says Dom. “I think we make a deal now. I think that’s how this game is played, Columbo.”
Mark explains that he has only limited authority. That the DA has to approve anything they agree on. That a judge has to agree as well. He tells Dom he wants two things. One is the evidence that Dom hasn’t shown him yet. The second is Dom’s testimony authenticating the tap and explaining the plot against hackoff customers. He tells Dom they won’t feel they have to file charges against him for the mushrooms because the evidence isn’t clear, he may have had a good motive and the mushrooms didn’t kill Larry. Maybe Larry did pick the bad ones himself and somehow got them into just the office sample.
But, Mark says, the hack against antihack is there. Can’t prosecute Donna for what she did without the evidence that shows the plot against antihack. And probably they’re gonna have to ask Dom to plead to something on that one because he was part of it. Should be no jail time for him on that if he’s the one turning state’s evidence but it’s hard to be sure. Also Dom’s gonna have to get a lawyer.
One more thing. Not really part of the deal, but one more thing, Mark explains. There are some people from Israel who would like to talk to Dom. It would be good if he did that.
“That’s three things, not two,” says Dom, “but that’s okay. It’s time I got credit for what I did. Also, I’m not afraid of jail anymore. No more claustrophobia. Maybe my role’s supposed to take me there. So I’m gonna show you some video now, save time. But I’m not going to tell you how I got the video. So, if we don’t have a deal, you don’t have this video to show. But you got to turn around, face away from the screen, while I bring it up.”
Mark does turn around. Dom fishes in the IP packet log for video starting an hour prior to Donna leaving Larry’s office. The first frozen frame shows Larry’s office empty. Dom tells Mark he can look and the detective swivels his chair back around and peers at the video window which is now animated.
There are boring sequences of Larry’s empty office, appearance and disappearance of Larry, a few visitors including Donna and Larry’s admin, all of which tally with what the security log showed. The camera faithfully follows what makes noise. Since there is no audio, it is hard to tell how fast the tracking is.
[note to readers: tomorrow’s episode of hackoff.com will be the last one. We will be gathering comments into a common place which you can add to and will find some way to keep comments about the end separate from others to preserve the mystery for those who haven’t finished yet. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the novel and look forward to hearing what you’ve thought of it. Also would certainly appreciate your telling a friend about hackoff.com. This link is one way to do that.]
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