In FIREWALLS, the third and most recent release in my gritty YA BackTracker series, I was compelled to delete this scene and it broke my heart.
Well, this is that project. It reveals some splendid investigative work by both Katrina and Shrug, offers a glimpse into their evolving relationship and is washed with humour.
Beta readers of FIREWALLS, however, were more interested in wrapping up the romance between Katrina and Chad than becoming involved in a police operation that had nothing to do with any of the action before it or after it. I had to agree that as much as I loved it, throwing this scene in near the end of the book did nothing to drive the main story forward.
But here it is for you readers who love the BackTracker characters as I do--Chapters 41 and 42 in their rough, unedited form. Enjoy!
Kindle was very nervous about Shrug and Katrina working together. The Top Dogs needed someone who knew everything there was to know about computers, and those in power knew that someone was Katrina and were after him, hounding him. Absolutely not, he had told them. No, no, no, no and no. Then Shrug and Katrina had spoiled it for him.... it was, as Shrug would say, destiny.
He would not have sent her, if she had not worked out her problems with Dr. Holeman. She’d been too fragile. Today, when he had put her on the plane, she’d looked strong. She’d looked happy. She’d do okay. It wasn’t a hard mission, or a dangerous one. Just a secret one.
Someone on the inside was using the police computer systems in ways it should not be used. Katrina was to find out the ‘who’ and the ‘what’. Shrug was going to track down the ‘why’.
Down east in Ottawa, to absolutely everyone in the computer department including her boss, Katrina was simply a whiz kid computer geek– a civilian called in to install some new security features on the main system.
She could not believe the clearance they gave her on the system. Kindle had once complained that because he knew so little about computers, his people could launch missiles against Afghanistan and he wouldn’t know they were doing it. She could damn near do that, launch missiles. Scared her a bit. She made sure she guarded her clearance with her life. She was here to fix a breach, not create one.
Her boss had told her she needed that clearance to install the new security stuff. The secret bosses told she needed that clearance to attract anyone who might be interested in her– or rather her clearance. So that is how the game was to be played. She had to be interesting.
It was not three hours into her first day, when someone showed interest. He pulled a chair up to her desk, and laughed at all her jokes. Asked lots of questions about her work with IBM. He was interested. She’d been given a list of possible suspects. The name ‘Les Smith’ was right near the top. A civilian, hired to monitor security issues on the internet who did some work with the police computer system as well.
“Look, Les,” she said after about 15 minutes of conversation. “It’s been nice chatting. But I have to earn my keep here. Wouldn’t want to get in trouble on my first day at the job!”
Katrina had been forced to get him out of her office. Because if he hadn’t left the instant that he did, she would have told him to f-off. Kindle hadn’t thought about that. He had thought about her needing to get her panic attacks under control. He hadn’t thought about sending her to language school. Ah, well. Thank, God, Les left when he did.
Katrina had gone all out to make herself interesting. Tight leather mini-skirt, heels, one lacy bra strap peeping out, and complete clearance on the computers. Come and get it!
After four days it was easy for her to filter out those interested in the skirt vs those interested in the clearance. If, within ten minutes of a conversation, she didn’t hear a crafty question designed to determine just how good her computer skills were, she sent the guy away.
There was also one woman on the list of suspects. The mini-skirt probably wouldn’t do it for her, but women were good a relationships. If there was anything to it, the gal would find a way to cozy up to clearance. Katrina scoped her out. Middle aged, a little heavy but not bad. Manicured and makeup to the nines. Maybe an invitation to the spa or the gym?
Her boss was on the list, too. Way down at the bottom. She was told he was there because he was one of only a few who had the skills and clearance to do it. Not for any other reason. In the computer world, those were sometimes the only reasons one needed.
In between visits, Katrina dug into the computer. Ah, yes. Breach number one, someone gained unauthorized access to the personnel files. She would have to ponder the motive for that. That weakness was patched and a month later, someone was in and out of a top secret report on an international crime investigation, probably taking something with him. Les had been called in to trace it and fix the leak. Just two days after he reported he had it under control, the same thing happened. No one but the very elite ever knew about the third breach.
She looked at the history of problems. Looking for patterns, for signatures. She examined Les’ patch job. It was OK, it wasn’t what she would have done, but she could see how he would have come to decide to do it that way. It did do the job it was designed to. Whoever had broken in, knew their stuff. You would have to be very good at computers to figure out how to do it. You would have to have at least level two clearance, like she had back west. Or the ability to bypass clearance requirements. She’d have to check out that possibility, too.
She managed to find out what had been accessed, what had been taken, and when, during the last two breaches. It was serious stuff. Enough information had been leaked that anyone trying to avoid law enforcement, would have been very happy to have it. One of the elite who knew of the third breach had patched it. It was done the way she would have done it.
She went in further, to see what had not be touched or taken. They had not got at all the good stuff. She worked on finding out why not. She’d mention it to Shrug. Maybe whoever was doing it was holding out. More funds for more info?
It was Friday and Shrug wanted to take her to dinner that evening. A working meeting. He had booked a private booth with an internet connection. Bring whatever information she had for him.
It made Katrina think of Chad. She had almost let it go too far, that final night with him. How do you tell someone that you’ve got that hot and heavy with that you’re going away for a month and don’t even want to hear from them until you get back? She done it, but not without really, well, pissing him off.
She mailed an envelope addressed to a Prince Edward Island post office asking them to postmark the enclosed stamped card and send it out. Chad was going to think she’d seen the Green Gables. She told him on the card that she missed him. She hoped it made him feel better.
Katrina dressed down for her night out with Shrug. She doubted he would have found her heels and skirt of much interest anyways. He probably would have thought she looked extra evil.
He was dressed nicely, though. He must have been shopping. Nice sweater. She let her eyes roam over him, once, twice and then mouthed the words with him:
“Stop looking at me like that, woman,” he growled. He saw her mouthing the words with him and glared at her.
“You’re becoming all together too predictable, Shrug,” she said. “You should try changing something besides just your shirt. Nice sweater,” she added, running her eyes over him again, just for a reaction. This one she didn’t predict but probably should have.
“Fuck off, Katrina. You’re fucking crazy,” he muttered.
“Speaking of crazy,” Katrina said, “Are you and Debra going to be able to patch things up when you get back?”
“Depends on what Chad and her do while we’re gone,” he said to shut her up. It worked. She glared at him, but said not a word.
The booth was so private, that even the waiter rapped twice before coming in. Shrug ordered a bottle of wine and two glasses and said they weren’t ready yet to order the food.
“You know I don’t drink,” Katrina said when the fellow left.
“You should work at getting over that problem,” Shrug answered.
He poured them both a glass when it arrived. Katrina smelled it and swirled it. Chad always drank white wine. This was red. She stuck her finger in it to retrieve a taste.
“Don’t do that,” Shrug said crossly swatting at her hand. “You don’t go putting your finger in a glass of good wine.”
“Why not?” Katrina asked. “It gives it arthritis? It hurts its little feelings? It pisses it off? It...”
“It pisses me off,” Shrug interrupted. “What’s wrong with lifting the glass to your mouth to taste it like a normal human does?”
“All right, then” she said pulling her papers out. “Sorry I offended you.” She began talking about the case and they worked on it through dinner, patching and matching their stories together. They were getting awfully close.
“We might be able to go home from vacation early,” Shrug said. “Turn up the heat on your end and we can wrap it up.”
He didn’t know how hot she had already made it.
The second week in, she began her offence. She knocked back everyone’s clearance about four notches without telling a soul. It was enough to be an annoyance without grinding the whole department to a halt.
She sat back to see who hollered first and loudest, or, who remained silent.
Les was the first at her door. He looked at her for a moment as if he thought he’d gone in the wrong room. Katrina had traded in her skirt for a tacky lime green pant suit. She liked doing the unexpected. It kept people off balance, made them nervous, made them make mistakes.
She dropped her makeup altogether and bought some funky reading glasses. A Timex Ironman sports watch replaced the delicate gold bracelet of last week. She wore a sports bra and Reebok cross-trainers.
“Does what you’re doing have any affect on my clearance?” he was finally able to ask.
“No,” Katrina said, peering over her glasses. “It shouldn’t. Why?”
“I can’t go anywhere on my computer,” he complained. “It just comes up ‘access denied’.
“Um,” Katrina said thoughtfully. “I wonder...” she turned back to her screen. “Just a moment... Ah, well, that’s strange,” she said looking back at him suspicious and then up to her screen.
“Where were you trying to go when this happened?” She asked. She pulled her chair tight toward her desk, took her glasses off, and put her chin in her hands. She stared at him with furrowed brows.
“I was...” he started off slowly. “Trying to...” then trailed off completely. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he demanded.
“Well, I can’t tell you anything,” she said swivelling back to her screen. “But I’ll change it for you. Just don’t let it happen again.”
“Let what happen again?” he asked. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh,” she said peering around the monitor at him. “I’m really good at computers,” she said holding his eyes. “Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?”
“What does that have to with anything?” he asked suspiciously.
She just gave him a knowing look, and turned back to her computer. He shook his head and turned to leave. “Eight o’clock, the Screaming Greek,” she said. “Be there.”
“Wear your skirt,” he hollered back. She was thinking, either he’s really good at acting, or he’s innocent. Tonight would tell.
She did wear a skirt, but it was her long black one. A long sleeved white shirt. Pretty, but staid. She deemed it her accountant outfit– she was here to talk money. She was also wearing a mike to record the conversation.
He was late by ten minutes, but she didn’t let it phase her. She’d brought papers to keep her busy, as a good accountant would. She was surprised he had shown. Maybe he was a good actor? Maybe just lonely?
They made small talk. Katrina stayed clear of any talk of work, of computers. It was what was not being said that was going to make the difference– if there was a difference to be made. They ordered and ate dinner while she regaled him with half-truths about places she had travelled. He was attentive.
“So,” she said as the waiter cleared their dishes. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Nowhere near as interesting as you are,” he said.
“You know what?” she laughed. “Everyone says that! Everyone says how interesting I am.” She waited to see where he would take the conversation.
“You have an interesting job,” he said. ‘Bingo,’ Katrina was thinking.
“Interesting?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said slowly, making a minor move, the slightest hint of the potential for seduction.
“How’s it so different than yours?” she asked.
“You get to do more things,” he said.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“Well, designing a new security format, not something I’d be able to do.”
“I was checking into those two breaches, to make sure the new system covers them,” she said. “Saw your patch on the last one. Not what I would have done,” she said, explaining what was wrong with it and what she would have done. She needed him to know exactly how good she was. Her value, her possibilities.
“That wouldn’t have worked,” he challenged her.
Ah, he had caught it. The one little thing she’d left out. Now she knew his possibilities.
He explained to her the problem. When he was done, she simple looked at him and said, “Very good,” in a way that let him know he’d been tricked.
There had been a little problem with his solution, too. The more she had looked at it, the more apparent it had become. A way off, to the left side away from the action, down field, someone had tweaked things, just ever so slightly. And if someone were to know about that tweak, they could bypass Les’ patch. And, as far as she could tell, the tweak had appeared around the same time that Les’ patch went in.
Everyone has their own specific nervous habit. When she got tense, she breathed rapidly. Les scratched a place beneath his left ear.
“What do you want?” he asked her, scratch.
“For dessert?” she asked. “I love pecan pie a la mode. Please, see if they have some for me.”
“You’ve been after me all day,” he said, scratching, ignoring her request. “I want to know what’s up.”
“I can’t say,” she said, breathing faster.
“Why did you cut my clearance?” he demanded, angry at her now.
“It’s just something that kicks in,” she said evenly.
“Kicks in when?”
“I run all my checks, all my traces, if the computer detects something untoward, it automatically shuts things down. With you, I don’t know. Maybe a glitch in the software. I’m looking into it.”
“You better the fuck look into it,” he said leaning into her across the table.
Wow, if she’d known he talked like that, she would have used that word on him long ago.
“I fucking will,” she said evenly, not at all intimidated by his voice or his actions. She was scared he was going to leave, turn up the heat.
“I know what you did last summer,” she said, avoiding his gaze.
“No one knows what the fuck I did last summer,” he said trying to see her eyes. She would not let him.
She spoke to him in computerese, so he would know she knew about the tweaking. “I think that’s what the computer caught when it shut down your clearance,” she added.
“That’s not possible,” he said, scratching, still unable to get her to look at him.
She said nothing and kept her eyes on her water glass.
Funny how quickly his anger had disappeared.
“What do you want?” he asked, coming full circle to back before the pecan pie.
“I’m the best in the world,” she bragged. “In university they called me BackTracker, I can cover my tracks without a trace. Too bad you couldn’t,” she added under her breath. She continued in full voice, “I could... change things so that even the computer would be fooled.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“I’m the best in the world,” she said, finally agreeing to meet his eyes. “Which is why I was called in to set up security for the best police force in the world. The best...” she said.
“They pay me well,” she continued, trying to get money involved.
“You’re setting me up,” he said nervously.
“So far, no one else knows... what you did last summer,” she threatened. “Nobody, not a soul.”
“I should report you!” he said, turning to the offence, since his defence sucked. “Someone like you should not be designing security systems for the police!”
“You go ahead and do that, sweetie,” she said. “I’m the best in the world. I leave no tracks. You do.”
He stormed off, leaving her with the tab. “I’m only here another week,” she called after him. “Fucking idiot!” she said, angrily hunting in her purse for her Master Card.
She phoned Shrug to let him know she had almost had him, but not quite. “I didn’t get enough,” she said. “You know how it is. The microphone doesn’t pick up what isn’t said.” They talked for a while longer. Shrug had a good paper trail on him. For a net freak, he used a lot of paper. Paper was good for a jury, if it came to that. It was now an international money chase. Who bought the information and for how much?
“I told him I was here another week,” Katrina said. “I think he’ll come back. He threatened to turn me in. God, I hope that doesn’t happen, Shrug. It seems to be a pattern, every time I leave the office, I get arrested. What if he shows up wearing a wire to the next meeting? Be double bumbling it again, like last time.”
“I’ll let Kindle know,” Shrug said. “They should be able to keep that from happening.”
“Could you send someone in uniform into my office?” she asked. “Just to make him think I might be willing to turn him in if he doesn’t hurry up and pay me off?”
“Will do,” Shrug said.
She was back to her black leather mini-skirt the next day. Around mid-morning, reception called that she had someone who wanted to see her. She walked down the hall and opened the door. Shrug was standing there, in full uniform.
“Officer,” she finally managed to say. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes, your skirt is too short,” he said with utmost seriousness.
She couldn’t help it. She had to laugh– out loud, for a full minute or so.
“Oh, dear,” she said, pulling herself together. “Most men like it.”
Shrug, meanwhile, had not eased up on his scowl. “Well,” she whispered to him as he followed her to her office, “you told me to turn up the heat!”
“Katrina,” he whispered back, not taken by her humour, “that skirt is not proper.”
“Why are you getting so proper, lately?” she demanded. “I should just show up tomorrow in my chicken suit!”
“That would be preferable,” he said.
She closed the door to her office and they continued with their war of words.
“For fuck sake, Shrug. You’re a biker. How come all of a sudden skirts are too short and red wine doesn’t like fingers? Where the hell is this coming from?”
“Katrina,” he said in his slow, deep voice. “Katrina, listen to me. You are growing up, changing. Please, keep going in the same direction– older and more mature.”
“Sure, Shrug,” she fought back, not at all pleased with his words. “You’re changing too, into a senile, old, wizened, stick-in-the-mud.”
“That was a good response,” Shrug said. “Mature...”
She took her chair behind the desk, folded her arms and stared out the window. “You can leave whenever you want,” she said.
“Now is not soon enough,” he said, leaving.
Not five minutes after Shrug left, Les showed up.
“What the fuck do you want?” she growled at him, quietly– so no one else in the office could hear. She hated people who tried to intimidate her, just because she was tiny.
“7 o’clock in The Cordelia,” he said briefly, turning to go.
“No, no way!” she called after him. “I choose the place, I choose the time.”
He turned and looked at her. “No,” he answered, and walked away.
She phoned Shrug. “No, don’t go,” he said. “I’ll try to find out what’s happening.”
He sat outside The Cordelia and watched the patrons going in and out. Close to 8 o’clock Les went in. An hour later he came out, chatting with two other fellows. One, Shrug recognized from his investigation. The other, he didn’t. He snapped a series of digital photos. Maybe the other one was the missing international link.
He turned the camera over to the bosses to run through the facial recognition computer program. The face belonged to one of the suspects mentioned in the stolen report. They were closing in on the money trail. The pictures would be important for court, Les seen with the other two– proved a connection.
He phone Katrina. “We might not need your meeting,” he said, explaining what had happened.
“Give me to the end of the week,” she said. “It’s great you got the photos. If we have a tape, too, it sure helps support the elusive cyberspace trail.”
“Well, I don’t make the decisions,” Shrug said. “But I’ll pass on your sentiments. Katrina?” he said. “Let me know if you set up something with Les. I want to be there. I don’t like it that he’s bringing buddies along with him.”
“You can’t be there,” she said. “He might recognize you from the office.”
“I’ll wear my disguise,” he said.
Les showed up in her office the next morning, fuming. He closed the door behind him.
“You didn’t show last night,” he accused.
“I told you I choose the place, I choose the time,” Katrina responded. “You think you have something on me, that I should have to listen to you?” she asked.
“I happen to know you don’t work at IBM,” he said.
“Really?” she asked. “That’s what they told you?” She hoped she looked puzzled and surprised.
“Don’t act like you don’t know,” Les threatened. “You tell me what’s really going on here.”
“I don’t work for IBM?” she said shaking her head. “I think you have faulty intelligence, in more ways than one.” She picked up the phone and dialled. She could see Les was watching the numbers she punched. She had lots of contacts at IBM– one of her university pals worked there. She asked for Patty’s extension.
“Patty, I miss you,” she cooed. “I’m coming back soon, though, I promise.” She listened for a while and laughed.
“Hey, what is this that I don’t work there? Someone called there for me recently, and he was told I don’t work there. What’s that all about? Am I so top secret now I don’t make the employee list anymore?”
“A new girl in reception? I should still be on the list, Patty. I’m giving out your number for references. It doesn’t look good if you tell them I don’t work there. Come on.” She listened again for a while.
“Well, I suppose,” she conceded. “So whose extension should I be giving out, for references and stuff? Yours? Yours or Jay’s. OK. Good. Actually, Patty, that guy that I said called, he’s standing right here. Be a doll and talk to him for me. Thanks,” she held out the phone to Les.
“Tell me again, I don’t work there,” she said. Les took the phone and Patty regaled him with stories of Katrina’s expertise. He looked satisfied when he hung up.
“Deal’s off,” Katrina said, as soon as he turned his attention to her. “I don’t like people checking me. I don’t like people trying to order me around. I don’t like people bringing their buddies along on my dates. You are finished. Dead. Too bad. So sad. My cop friend is coming in...” she checked her watch. “In about... an hour? A little more...”
“I’m just going to have to find some other way to pay for the hot red mini I have my eyes on– the car not the skirt. It will be worth the pleasure of seeing you go down, down, down.” She gave him a look of extreme satisfaction.
They stared at each other, long, hard and silently.
“Where and when?” he finally asked.
“The Screaming Greek, again,” she told Shrug. “It’s open, lighting is pretty good. 7:30.”
“I’ll be there,” Shrug said.
Les was late again, she noted it as part of his pattern. Shrug wasn’t late, though. He didn’t have to wear a disguise. All he had to do was wear a wife-beater shirt to show off his biceps and his tattoos. Now he was a biker, not a cop. As simple as that.
She noticed his eyes appreciatively follow the waitress in the short skirt. “I bet he’d even let her put her finger in his wine,” she said aloud to herself.
Les finally showed and slipped into the bench across from her. “I’m not here for dinner,” she said. “You’ve fucked me around so much, I want it up front, and major, now! I have no more patience. I said 7:30 not 7:50. Do you want something from me or not?”
“Whoa,” he said. “Slow down. Traffic out there is a bitch.”
“Woman at table is bitch, too. I’m sorry you chose the wrong bitch.” She made a move to leave.
“No,” he said. “Please sit.”
“Tell me why I should,” she said, posed to push herself up.
“I’ve got what you want,” he said.
“I haven’t told you what I want,” she answered.
“A red mini, the car not the skirt,” he said, pulling out an envelope.
“I wanted two,” she said.
“It’s here,” he said. “I know what you’re worth, Back Tracker.”
She reached for the envelope.
“Not so fast,” he said quietly. “You gotta tell me what I’m getting for my money.”
“I think you are at the point where you just have to trust me,” she said, trying to prolong the conversation. Trying to get him to talk more.
“Two red minis are worth more than just trust,” he said.
“What’s in there?” she asked nodding to the envelope. “How much are we really talking here?”
He opened the envelope and rifled the bills so she could see. A quick count put it at $40,000.00.
“Give me a bill,” she said, reaching in and pulling one out. She checked it for authenticity. “Another,” she said. He passed her one. They were real bills.
“Forty grand is cutting it thin,” she said, giving him back the money. If he’d asked what she wanted, she would have told him $50,000.00
“A pair of red minis for back tracking me out of the report and the... security glitch. A matching pair,” he said, pulling another envelope out, “for getting me your clearance.” He waived the envelopes gently in front of her. Wow, bonus! She wasn’t expecting the second set of minis. Shit, this guy wanted to take over the computers. She wasn’t expecting that. She would have just loved to have stood up at that moment and said, “You’re fucking under arrest.” But she couldn’t. She didn’t know where the rest of the investigation was at. But hey, guess what, she got to take the cash for a change.
“Tomorrow, 11 am,” she said. “Done.”
“I love you, Back Tracker,” he said dropping one envelope on the table. “You get the matching set when its done.” He took the other envelope and sauntered off.
She was playing with the money when Shrug came over. “Can I buy the lady a drink?” he asked, taking Les’ spot across from her.
“A rootbeer would be nice,” she said, still fondling the cash.
“Good job he didn’t know that money is never your motive,” Shrug said.
“I like the feel of it,” she said tracing the raised ink patterns and the smooth metallic inlays on the colourful bills. “Maybe I’ll have to change my motive.”
“Better idea,” Shrug said. “If you’re going to change something, change to real beer instead of that shit.”
“What did you get on tape?” he asked.
She quoted the conversation from memory, ‘A pair of red minis for back tracking me out of the report and the... security glitch. A matching pair for getting me your clearance.’ How much better does it get?”
“Good stuff,” Shrug said.
“I couldn’t have done it without... my short skirt,” she teased.
“Fuck off, Katrina,” he said.
“The microphone is still on,” she said.
“Well, turn the fucking thing off,” he instructed.
“When are they planning to end this?” she asked, struggling with the wire.
“I’ll let them know what you have.”
“I’ve promised him my end of things, by 11 tomorrow morning,” she said, laying the tape on the table beside the cash. “Find out what they want me to do.”
“Then we can go home?” Katrina asked hopefully.
“I’ll let you know,” Shrug said, scooping up their winnings from the table.
The first thing Katrina did in the morning was disable Les’ computer. He could still use MicroSoft Word and play solitaire, but that was about it. Shrug had phoned her last night to say they would be rounding up the trio tomorrow morning. He promised her someone would be by for Les before 11:00 o’clock.
“What are doing?” Les asked, coming into her office and shutting the door. He was very nervous.
“I’m doing what I’m getting paid to do,” she answered truthfully.
“I need my computer,” he said.
She said nothing, which made him more nervous. He charged back behind her desk to see her monitor. It was turned off. He reached for her keyboard.
“Keep your fucking hands off my computer!” she said lowly and slowly. He was becoming so agitated she was scared she was going to lose control of him. She was tiny– he could strangle her in an instant.
“Sit down,” she continued slowly. “We’ll talk.” He didn’t sit, but he did stop flailing about.
“I’m working on your clearance,” she said. “I have to take away what you have, before I can give you back more.”
“That’s bullshit,” he said.
“Not with the new security system I’m installing,” she said. “No one is ever going to be able to do again what I’m doing for you today,” she said.
“Something’s not right,” he insisted. “Turn it on!” he said pointing to her computer.
“Everything was alright last night,” she said, ignoring his instructions. “Why are you flipping out now? You changed your mind or something?”
He didn’t answer. He just scratched his ear and paced her office. “If you want your money back, I’ll get it for you,” she offered. “We’ll leave it as is and I’ll report what I found,” she said, offering the bad news along with the good.
He was feeling trapped. He was getting physically aggressive. She kicked off her heels under the desk, in case she had to run. He was leaning into her across her desk, keeping his voice low but vehement. He pounded his fist in anger.
“I was told you recorded our conversation last night,” he said, glaring at her.
‘Oh no,’ Katrina thought. It had been careless of her to remove the apparatus in plain sight last night. That would never happen again.
“Is this the same person who told you I didn’t work for IBM?” she asked, introducing an element of doubt.
It wasn’t doubt that was aggravating him, though. Her comments further angered him. He started around the desk after her. She rose quickly, but backed up slowly, maintaining a distance that was just out of his reach. He halted his attack and turned back to her computer. He was trying to wake it up. Actually, Katrina’s computer was running fine, it was only her monitor that was off. He was too agitated to notice.
She was in trouble. He was both physically aggressive and he was at her keyboard. She wondered how he would respond if she took her cell phone out to call Shrug. She was scared to do anything in case it escalated his anger.
“I can show you what I’m doing on there,” she said nodding to the computer and maintaining her distance.
He had finally figured out to turn the monitor on. Now all he needed was her password and clearance card. He turned and looked at her.
“Settle down, already,” she said flippantly. “You’re scaring me.”
“Show me,” he finally said.
“Not until you move away from my desk,” she said warily. He didn’t move and neither did she. A full minute of silence passed.
“I wasn’t taping last night,” she said quietly. “You informants suck.” She took a tentative step forward.
“I want my money,” she said, taking another step. “I’m not going to have it done by 11:00 if you don’t let me back at it.”
“I’m staying to watch,” he said backing away from the computer slightly. That was not good news for Katrina. He was way too good at computers to be fooled by anything she could try to put past him. What to do now?
It was 10 o’clock, were they ever going to show up to take him? No fear. She waltzed back to her desk in her stocking feet and reclaimed her chair. He was waiting, watching to see her type her password. She did not know if it mattered that he knew it at this point. She better play it safe. It took such little time to do some big damage, like what she had done at the university so many years ago.
“I have to talk to you about something, first,” she said swivelling her chair around to face him. She tried desperately to think of something important to talk about... the university... BackTracker....
“I’ve designed BackTracker software. No one so far has been willing to pay my price.” She left it at that.
“I’m not a buyer,” he said.
“Oh,” she said, looking thoughtful. “You could have avoided all this stress with me if you’d have had Back Tracker software. Could have done it all yourself.”
He said nothing, but he looked interested.
“Powerful program,” she continued. “Erases everything that ever happened and wipes up its own tracks on its way out.”
He had calmed down. He was no longer scratching.
“User friendly,” she said. “Any operating system. Priced right.”
“We’ll talk when you’re done what you’ve been paid to do.”
She swivelled back to the monitor. 10:30. Was no one ever going to come for him? She had her fingers on the keys. She could feel him leaning in closer over her shoulder to watch the password entered.
“Actually,” she said, swinging her chair back to him so quickly she almost caught his shins with her feet. She lowered her voice, “I haven’t been paid yet to do this.”
“Show me what you have been paid for,” he said evenly
Katrina had nothing to show him. She had left everything as is for the investigators. Actually, she had to leave everything as is. The only thing she had done this morning on the computer was cancel Les’ clearance. It was just a matter of minutes before he was going to find out– everything.
She looked at the clock on the wall behind him. Glanced at her own watch. Where were they? She could not hold him off any longer. “Are you married?” she asked.
She saw the look of devastation wash his face. Everything came together for him in that moment when the inane, incongruous question was asked. She was stalling. She was waiting for someone, she had done none of what he had paid her for. She had taped him last night. She did not work for IBM. He was in big trouble.
“You fucking bitch!” he said turning from her. He jammed his hands in pockets and stared out the window.
That was a bonus to Katrina. She had been afraid she would get attacked. She would try to keep him here for them– but she wasn’t about to risk anything for it. They should have been here by now. Shrug assured her everything would be over before her 11:00 O’clock deadline. She had assumed that meant they would get here a bit earlier than 10:59.
Katrina knew exactly what Les was feeling. She had been there when Chad had finally told her that Shrug was not a biker but an undercover cop. The news kept your mind busy for a long time, rewriting history in light of the new knowledge.
For a good five minutes he stood there looking out the window. He finally turned to her.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
She just shrugged and shook her head. “It’s over,” she said.
He could not believe it. He had even phoned IBM back, checked the website for Patty’s name and position. Talked to her again. Yes, Katrina had been subcontracted to work security for the police. She was good at what she did. Her nickname was BackTracker. Thanks for calling.
“Have a seat,” Katrina offered. “We can talk.”
She remembered Chad saying to her after he’d told her about Shrug, ‘Is there anything else you want to know?’ She had felt like answering, ‘Yeah, man. I want to know what the hell the whole last year of my life means.’
Les surprised her by accepting her offer to sit. He was feeling completely defeated.
“I really did design BackTracker software,” she said, trying to find something neutral and mutual to talk about. “I didn’t have the courage to market it.”
“I’m not interested,” Les said, misinterpreting her message.
“It would be pretty ditsy of you, if you were. Considering....” Katrina ventured.
He didn’t say anything. She wanted to keep him here. Silence usually drives people away.
“I know what you’re going through,” she said. “I ran with a biker gang for a year before finding out the guy I was with was undercover.”
“Get you in trouble?” he asked, slightly interested.
“Nah,” she said. “I was only thirteen.”
“Thirteen?” Les confirmed. Katrina nodded.
“You get him in trouble?” Les asked.
“Yeah, lots of trouble,” she said smiling.
“I can well imagine.” Les sighed. “What happens here now?” he asked.
Katrina looked at the clock. It was now eleven. “Officers will be here any minute to take you in. My job’s done now.”
“What all do you have on me?” he asked.
“More than just this,” she said patting the computer.
“Shit,” he said.
When the officers did finally arrive, the first thing Katrina said to them was “Does everyone in Ottawa show up 10 minutes late for everything?”
Then she had to meet with everyone and discuss security. How does one keep it from happening again?
“It wasn’t really a problem with the software, or the system, or protocol,” Katrina told them. “It’s the human factor. I don’t know how you avoid it. You have to have at least a few people able to access everything. You choose your personnel carefully, but how do you know for sure? It’s even harder with computers,” she acknowledged.
“I don’t know with Les, but I know that often times, it is not even money that is the motive. Highly-skilled computer geeks make a mint in salaries, the money part of their lives is well taken care of. Motivation is often as simple as ‘because I could do it’ or ‘I wanted to see if I could do it.’ I don’t know how to protect against that.”
Then Shrug and Katrina were allowed to end their vacation