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Chapter 15 - April 5-7, 2003 - Episode 10

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After sounds that may be a dish breaking and a chair falling, the display on Dom’s computer indicates that the Lucite shut down after a period of silence. Dom and Mark look across the table at each other.

“I don’t fucking believe it,” says Mark.

“Neither do I. I should’ve known, but I never figured out all the games she was playing. Larry’s working nights. She tells me he’s doing that as part of the hack and to keep an eye on me. I believe that because he won’t let me do an update which is, I figure, because he doesn’t want me to stop the hack with the update even though I haven’t told him I even KNOW there’s a hack because Donna talked me out of it. But he’s working to figure a way to stop Yasir’s attack — which is much worse than what I think Larry is up to — and he’s only stopping me because he doesn’t want me to trigger Yasir’s attack by doing an update of the customers. Of course, he’s too much of an asshole to tell me the truth, to admit how he gave the source code to the Palestinians and got us in all this trouble to begin with. And even though he KNOWS I did ‘Gotcha’ he doesn’t really like to admit I’m a better hacker than him. If he told me, if he’d only told me…”

“But then,” says Mark, “it’s not even clear that there was a ‘Yasir hack’ at all, or it’s just something that Donna and Francis invented to keep Larry from canceling the Jenin Group’s project to scare the hackoff customers. As my grandmother used to say: ‘Oy!’” Mark rubs his eyes. “I don’t know how you do it. I’m falling asleep even in the middle of this soap opera and we haven’t even come to the end yet. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to sleep?”

“What I need to do is eat,” says Dom. “When I’m tired, I eat. Energy!  Keeps me going.”

“Yeah,” says Mark. “Yeah.  I guess I do the same. Okay. We gotta send someone out for some food.  Like popcorn at the movies.” He laughs.

“There are people in the NOC — Network Operations Center. If nothing bad is going on...” He glances at his screen. “Nothing bad is going on so someone could go out.”

“I’ll send a cop,” says Mark. “We don’t want our food getting mugged this time of night. Even if Giuliani did make the streets safe.” Again he laughs out loud at his joke. “We’ll send out to Krispy Kreme, get some real gooey energy….”

 “Doesn’t work for me.”

“Look, you want Starbucks, cop’ll stop at Starbucks, too. Don’t blame you for not wanting to drink that Krispy Kreme coffee…”

“Coffee’s not the answer. Doesn’t do enough. What I need’s Jolt and a pizza with pepperoni and extra cheese. That’s what keeps me going.”

“No mushrooms on that?” asks Mark. He starts to laugh again, then doesn’t.

Dom’s face slams shut.

“Look,” says Mark. “Meant to be a joke. Bad timing. Answer one question for me, then you get your pizza and Jolt, I get my donuts and coffee.”

Dom is impassive.

“Why would you poison the deceased?”

“I didn’t say I poisoned Larry,” says Dom. “You can’t poison a ‘deceased’, anyway. You ought to stop saying that. It’s stupid. You gotta be alive to get poisoned.”

“You’re not listening as well as you usually do,” says Mark. “Probably need that pizza bad. What I said was ‘why WOULD you poison the deceas…’ Okay: Larry. This is a hypothetical question. Let me spell it out. The video shows you handled the mushroom jar and a mysterious baggie, which could be interpreted to suggest that you poisoned Larry. So suppose that you know the jury knows you did it. They might convict you of attempted murder. Now you gotta give ‘em some explanation why you didn’t mean to kill him — you told me you don’t kill, and I believe you, but why should they believe you? Your prints are on the mushrooms and all. Why did you give him poison mushrooms if you didn’t mean to kill him — hypothetically, of course? Why WOULD you give him poison mushrooms except to kill him?”

Dom’s eyes twitch from side to side as if the alternatives facing him were pinned to spatial coordinates. Finally, he decides: “Okay, hypothetically, I have a problem. I’m trying to save all the customers by doing an upgrade. Larry’s here every night stopping me from doing an upgrade. Originally, it’s because he wants to hack the customers. Later, because he wants to stop them from getting hurt, but I don’t know that. I have to protect them. They trust me to protect them. They’re MY customers. They bought hackoff protection because they believed I could protect them. So I gotta do it. Like you gotta arrest evil-doers. Now Larry got me to quit so I have no time to waste, gotta do the upgrade. It’s my role. I HAVE TO PROTECT THEM.” And he stops.

“Go on,” says Mark after a pause.

“So … I mean hypothetically, of course …  I need Larry to be out of the office for a while. He’s tough. Something really has to knock him on his ass to get him outta there. One way, though, is if he’s sick, really sick, and knows he has to get treatment right away or he’ll die. I wouldn’t mess around with an infectious disease, no telling who gets hurt. But I remember what he told me about these mushrooms, back when we were still talking. How it’s really hard to tell the good ones from the poison ones. Louise says that’s why he hunts them, the thrill of it. Playing it close to the line.

“If you look on the Internet, it says if you eat these Death Caps and don’t get treatment right away your liver dies and you die. Obviously, Larry knows that, too, and he knows what the initial symptoms are. So, if he ate some, he wouldn’t die, he’d get treated. He’d be really pissed off that he screwed up and picked the wrong mushrooms, but he wouldn’t let that kill him. He’d go to the hospital and get treated. This is all hypothetical, though.”

“Yeah, I get it,” says Mark. “It’s not a bad story. If you ever had to tell a story, I’d go with that. It sounds true…”

“It’s hypothetical,” repeats Dom. “Can’t be either true or false if it’s hypothetical. That’s basic logic.”

“Right. You’re still not listening good, though. I didn’t say it WAS true, I said it SOUNDS true. Much more important, really. I mean the jury — if this ever were at a jury — they know Larry dissed you really bad and you quit. Hard to believe that wouldn’t have anything to do with feeding him poison mushrooms — with making him think he poisoned himself. It’s sort of a hack, in a sense, getting a guy to eat poison mushrooms he’ll think he picked himself. Jury might think it’s too much of a coincidence that he gets this treatment the night of the day he insulted you into quitting. Could be revenge.”

Dom shakes his head, not meeting Mark’s eyes. “Not revenge. Not that he didn’t deserve that. Not that it wouldn’t be good for him to think he poisoned himself. But not a coincidence, either. Once he got me to quit and once I found out that he’d made up the whole thing about the cops closing in on me for ‘Gotcha’, then I knew … would’ve known ... I had to work fast before I lost all access and get the users protected. So you could say there was reason why I’d act that same day. Good reason: for the users, not revenge and not a coincidence.”

“Okay,” says Mark. “This is helpful…”

“You said it was all hypothetical. I didn’t tell you anything.  I….”

“It’s okay, Dom,” says Mark kindly. “I didn’t trick you. It’s helpful to you, trust me. Maybe I did trick you a little to tell the truth. But it’s for your own good, really.”

“That’s hard to swallow,” says Dom, shoulders slumped.

“Like mush…” Mark starts and then stops. “Look, I’m sorry. Another bad joke. I’m tired. I’m gonna go tell the cop what to get. Small, medium or large with pepperoni? Diet or regular Jolt?”

“Large,” says Dom. “I’ve been up a long time. And there’s no such thing as diet Jolt. ...Thanks.”

Mark is out of the room a long time. It takes him just a few minutes to give the takeout orders to the cop but he spends a lot of time on his cell phone with an assistant DA. The assistant DA has more details on a call that came to the DA herself from the mayor’s office, relating a discussion His Honor the Mayor had with someone in Israeli intelligence who is using this informal channel to request both lenient treatment for Dom Montain and further access to him, since he is apparently aware of some holes in Israeli cyber-security. He also may have further intelligence regarding planned terrorist activities.  And, although the DA herself doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Israeli security, that not being her problem, she does desire to be cooperative with the mayor who can be her problem as well as a help or a hindrance to her career. So it would be useful to work something out as far as this particular suspect is concerned.

However, the assistant DA is quick to add, one cannot bring a plea bargain into municipal court in New York City on the grounds that said plea bargain is in the best interests of some foreign country, even if that country happens to be Israel, which isn’t all that foreign. There does have to be an element in that bargain that is of direct benefit to municipal justice, safe streets, and the good voters of this great city. One does have some prosecutorial discretion, of course, and could possibly use that discretion to determine which charges are actually bought.

Mark says some unkind things about the DA, the mayor, and other politicians that go bump in the night. He then explores some options with the assistant DA, who tells him which of these options may or may not work and promises that she will remember none of this discussion come the next day.

Left to himself, Dom reviews the video of this entry into Larry’s office, his pacing, his time in front of the mushroom jar with his back to the camera, the baggie in his pocket, and the jar in his hand clearly being shaken. He watches this twice; each time he backs up a little further into Donna’s exit from Larry’s office, which precedes Dom’s entrance. Then he freezes the camera on Donna, turning from the side table to the door. He stands and hits the side of his head with his palm. He starts to back up even further but hears Mark reentering and toggles back to the window controlling the audio tap in the Lucite which had been on his screen when the detective left.

“Sorry to take so long,” says Mark. “Stuff should be here pretty soon. It’s amazing how fast you can make a pickup in New York when you don’t have to worry about where you park.”

“Thanks,” says Dom. “Ready to listen to the next installment or are you too hungry?”

“Roll it,” says Mark. “I can’t wait.”

They hear a few words between Francis Langhorne and an unidentified voice. Then the same unidentified voice, which has a Middle Eastern accent and a tone of authority gives someone, presumably a cabbie, an address that Mark remembers as belonging to Ahmed’s apartment.

The Lucite hears the car door close, a sound of walking up steps, a muffled door bell ring, and then a greeting in a language neither Dom nor Mark understands. Despite the language, Dom and Mark agree that the new voice is Ahmed. They surmise that the other voice is Ahmed’s uncle delivering the Lucite as planned by Francis and Donna. The uncle, if that’s who he is, does most of the talking. Familiar names frequently emerge from the unfamiliar language: “Larry Lazard”, most often; “hackoff.com”, somewhat less frequently; “Rachel Roth”, a couple of times. They are not sure whether they hear Yasir’s name since they are not sure how it would be pronounced in Arabic or whatever the men are speaking.

The voices are apparently arguing. Ahmed sounds as if he is protesting. The uncle sounds as if he is reassuring, then commanding. Ahmed’s voice subsides. The uncle delivers several short soliloquies; Ahmed gives what sounds like a half-hearted assent. Dom and Mark agree that they may be construing more than the voices convey. There is clearly a leave-taking. The door closes; muffled footsteps quickly recede out of audible range. There is now a sound of possible pacing.

Ahmed is talking to Larry Lazard, apparently on the phone. He makes an appointment for that evening to discuss “new developments”.

Other than doors closing, there is silence until the Lucite records Ahmed instructing a cabbie to take him to hackoff’s address. After elevator sounds, the Lucite records Larry and Ahmed greeting each other as yet another door closes. 

Larry sounds happy, almost ebullient. Ahmed sounds very tired and dispirited.


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