Chapter 15 - April 5-7, 2003 - Episode 6Listen to podcast
“Let’s change the subject for a minute... Why did you let Larry take the blame for ‘Gotcha’? Why did he want to take the blame?”
“I … I don’t know what you mean.”
“Of course you do. You did ‘Gotcha’, not Larry. It doesn’t take much to figure that out. ‘Gotcha’ is your MO written in spades. It’s like the hack you told me about at Caltech. It has a backdoor like everything you do. I’ve suspected you did it for some time, and you confirmed it in your email when you said ‘it would be impossible for me to learn anything from the author of Gotcha’ or something like that. You can’t stand anyone thinking that Larry was a good enough hacker to do ‘Gotcha’. You’ve been wanting to tell me the truth about this since we first talked. Why don’t you tell me now?” Mark is extremely calm and has a friendly smile while he says all this.
Dom is almost smiling himself and wiggles slightly in his seat as he says, “Yeah, Larry did take credit for ‘Gotcha’. It was the best I’d done up until then, but Larry took credit for it. He could never have done it. And I let him, that’s true — I let him take the credit.”
“Why?” asks Mark with the minimum possible intensity and no body movement.
“I was afraid. I was afraid that I was going to be arrested and go to jail. I couldn’t stand that. I have … I HAD claustrophobia. I couldn’t go to jail. I couldn’t go where there are no computers. And I couldn’t be locked in. I was too afraid.”
“You don’t have claustrophobia now?”
“Didn’t I just crawl in through a pipe?” says Dom proudly. “Didn’t I just crawl in through a very dark pipe? I used to have to pretend to be my avatar ultramole just to get into an elevator. Now, I — Dom Montain — I can crawl through a dark pipe if I have to. Don’t like it but I can do it.”
“What cured you?”
“I want to hear that story someday,” says Mark. “I really do. But tell me, why did Larry want to take the blame ... the credit for ‘Gotcha’?”
“He saw the career possibilities. That kind of game he played very well. He figured out that there was going to be huge fear about hacking and that he could take on the character of the foremost authority and have a great consulting business if he took credit for ‘Gotcha’ because it was such a good hack and because it was more a warning than an actual attack. He was right. He figured all that out. He wasn’t afraid to go to jail like I was. And he tricked me.”
“Yeah.” Dom looks miserable again but his breathing is in control. He rubs his bleary eyes and smears more dirt on his face. “Yeah, Larry made me believe that I was about to be caught. That the cops were closing in. He scared me. But it wasn’t true. No one was closing in except Larry. He pinged my computer system — made me think the cops where closing in, so I thought I was going to be caught. Then, when I was so afraid I’d go to jail — my claustrophobia and all — Larry says he knows what’s going on; that the police have told him about their investigation and that they are about to catch me no matter what he does to protect me. And when I’m most scared, he says he’ll take the rap. I was almost grateful to him, I was so scared. He tells me the truth, he appears to be very sincere, how he wants to jump start his security consulting career. And he says, after he gets out of jail, he’ll start a company and I can be CTO and I’ll be King of the Hackers because I’ll be the good guy that protects everyone else from hackers.”
“It’s the truth,” says Dom. “It is the truth. I don’t mind telling you that part because you can’t arrest me for ‘Gotcha'. Statute of limitations and all, I checked. And it’s time I get credit for what I did.”
“How did you find out that Larry tricked you, that the police really weren’t closing in?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
Mark shrugs. “So, Larry figured out that you were doing ‘Gotcha’ and then tricked you into thinking there was a police attack and then took the blame … or credit… for what you did. I don’t want to piss you off or anything, but it seems he sort of won that game pretty fair by hacker rules. I mean if he went to jail for what you did…”
“You don’t get it,” says Dom. “You don’t get it at all…”
Silence from Mark.
“If Larry out-hacked me, right, that would be fair. But he didn’t; he just violated my confidence.”
“What do you mean?”
“One night while I was doing ‘Gotcha and Larry didn’t know it, he took me out to dinner; he did that sometimes. We liked each other; he knew what I could do. He got me drunk. He was always trying to buy me a drink but I didn’t drink and I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t want anything fucking up my brain. Some reason, maybe because I was more tired than usual, maybe because ‘Gotcha’ was getting to be such a big thing and I couldn’t tell anybody, I did take a drink. It didn’t do anything so I had another. Pretty soon I was drunk; I was sick. I don’t remember after that. Larry took me home; I woke up in my bed in a pool of puke and my head hurt. I couldn’t program all morning.
“So, this is the thing,” Dom continues. “I didn’t remember what I said or what I did when I was drunk. And the next day Larry just laughed about it and said no big deal, we’d have to go out again and tie one on. Just laughed at me a little, but it was okay because it was friendly. But it turns out when I was drunk I told him everything about ‘Gotcha’, even how my alarms worked. So it’s not like he outhacked me and figured it all out and spoofed me that the cops were coming. He got me drunk and then he took advantage of what I told him. He didn’t figure out a fucking thing. Then he taunted me about it.”
Upset now, he stands. He unbuttons two buttons at the top of his shirt leaving dirt marks where he touches the shirt front. “He fucking taunted me. That’s why I quit.” Now Dom goes over to the window and looks out, as if trying to see past his reflection into the darkness.
“When did he taunt you?”
“When did Larry taunt you?” asks Mark.
“I told you,” says Dom. “He taunted me on March 31; he taunted me and told me how he’d gotten me drunk and I told him everything. How he’d fooled me into thinking the cops were about to get me but it was only him setting off my alarms. Up ‘til then I’d always been grateful to Larry for saving me from going to jail. I mean, I knew he was an asshole, and I knew he had his own reasons for doing it and all that, but I also thought he’d helped me and stood up for me. I owed him for that. But, no. It wasn’t that. He just got me drunk and took advantage of me and laughed at me because I was running, even though no one was chasing me. He said I was stupid and naïve. So I quit. No way I could stay at hackoff after that.”
“You told me before that you quit at staff meeting; other witnesses said the same thing.”
“I did. I just ran out of the office when Larry told me all this shit. I had to think about it. I didn’t want to quit because … because it’s my company — I helped make it — and because I gotta protect the customers from Larry’s hack. So I try to control myself. But then he starts laying on me in staff meeting. And now I have this new perspective how he never was my friend, how he tricked me from the beginning, then I lost it and quit — for real.”
“Is that why you put poison mushrooms in his mushroom jar?”
“I didn’t say I did that. You’re trying to trick me.”
“Dom, I have the video. I SAW you put the mushrooms in the jar.”
“No you didn’t.” Dom’s back at the table, leaning on the back of the chair he’d been sitting in. He meets Mark’s gaze. “I saw the video. You saw me shake the mushroom jar. Big deal; I was in the office; I was mad; I was impatient and I picked up his fucking mushroom jar and shook it. You’re not gonna go to court with that.”
“You did more than shake the jar, Dom. You took a plastic baggie out of your pocket. You juggled the baggie and the jar and you put the baggie back in your pocket. And now, you’ve just given me a pretty good motive. You found out how he tricked you when you thought he was your friend. Then he dissed you and he told you you were stupid. Plenty of people have been killed for a lot less than that.”
“Larry killed himself, you saw him in the video. We both saw him. I didn’t kill him; I wouldn’t kill anyone.”
“Right,” says Mark. “Charge would be attempted murder since the deceased took it on himself to administer the coup de grace. Although, I’ll tell you, a prosecutor might say that he killed himself because he was hallucinating from the mushrooms. Might still go for murder one…”
“They weren’t hallucinatory ‘shrooms. It was in the paper; they weren’t hallucinatory.”
“So I’m thinking,” says Mark who doesn’t appear to have heard Dom, “I’m thinking it would be a lot better for you if we could figure out why Larry would want to shoot himself. Was it something Ahmed told him? Something Donna told him? Or was it those mushrooms churning his gut?”
“I’ve got to think,” says Dom. “I get to think.” He sits down and puts his head in his arms on the table. The muscles twitching in his forearms make it very clear that he is awake.
Mark, on the other hand, appears to be asleep as he sits with his head slumped and his eyes closed.