CAITLIN SLEPT IN HER CAR IN A DOWNTOWN PARKING GARAGE. When businesses opened, she purchased a briefcase, then paid a visit to her bank and withdrew $300,000 in cash, a transaction that drew the attention of the bank manager. The manager made polite inquiries about her need for such an amount in cash. Scams and swindles abounded, she must be aware.
Yes, she was aware.
She faced him calmly. “We may be making another withdrawal in a few days. Let us know if this is inconvenient.” It would not be, the manager assured her.
She ate a fast-food breakfast, wolfing down something that a half an hour later, she couldn’t remember having eaten.
Highway 26 to Beaverton, meshed to savant control that kept each car a few feet behind the one in front, and then, unmeshed, onto side streets. Her destination: a run-down neighborhood with intentions to do better. Planter strips by the curbs held well-meant flowerbeds on the turn; a few houses had seen recent paint.
Kell Tobias’s had not. The former Minerva savant tender had let the yard go to weeds, but she liked that he bothered to mow them. Parking out front, she knocked on the door. No answer, though she heard music inside. After several tries, she was back in the car again, deciding to wait. Maybe he’d gone out, would be back. Her nerves started to unravel. Who else did she know who she could bribe into an act of computer piracy? No one.
Compulsively, she checked her message center. No word from Rob, but there wouldn’t be. They’d agreed not to communicate until she had a file to send him. Even encrypted, every data strand made her movements traceable. And Rob’s. He wasn’t telling her where he’d taken Mateo and Emily. Everything about the last two days felt like someone else’s life, someone who needed to hide. Someone like Titus Quinn’s sister-in-law.
A half hour passed. She’d go back to Emergent, try the hacking herself . . . no, it would take all day; she didn’t have time to waste. Kell, just come home. Sitting quietly in her car made her want to scream. Deep breaths. She’d wait until noon.
At ten minutes after, a beater of a car pulled into the driveway. Kell. With a sack of groceries. Caitlin’s heart kicked at her, hard. Propelled by adrenaline, she got out and approached him.
Kell had changed little. Still the three-day growth of beard. As skinny as ever, but a more wary look in his eyes than the old days when she’d seen him with Rob at Minerva. Then they’d been two aging savant tenders hanging out. From there, Rob had spiraled up and Kell down.
He squinted hard at her, and she had to remind him who she was. He nodded. Handing her the groceries, he stranded his code into the house lock.
Watching Kell work his data rings, she drank coffee from a stained cup. The living room wall was live with scrolled code. From time to time Kell shook his head to get the hair out of his eyes. Between Caitlin on the couch and Kell in his chair lay the briefcase containing his down payment for accessing Lamar Gelde’s files. If he failed, he kept the briefcase. If he succeeded, another similar payment in a week. It felt like a swindle to Caitlin. If her intervention succeeded, he should have a payment in the millions.
After a half-night’s sleep, Caitlin was marginally more clear-headed. Panic had receded, replaced by nagging doubt. She was operating on more instinct than proof. What would she tell the police? There’s something inside a reactor at Hanford. . . .
Kell had asked no questions. To his credit, he seemed relieved when she told him Rob knew what she was doing. Left unsaid was that if caught, they both could spend time in jail. All these considerations were pushed aside by the prospect of six hundred thousand dollars for two hours’ work.
“Holy Jesus, Lamar’s got himself a sweet piece of optics.”
What did he think, a former Minerva board director would be working off a minor optical computer? Lamar had a savant, absolutely. She wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d had a personal mSap, but that would be like using a hypersonic jet to get groceries.
Caitlin didn’t bother to comment. He wasn’t talking to her, anyway. She strolled to the window and kept watch on the street. If they’d been following her, they’d have been here by now. She just hoped that didn’t mean they were following Rob, instead.
When she turned back, Kell was frowning. “He’s pretty good,” he mumbled.
Data rings flashed; windows tiled up. Kell was mired down.
Caitlin knew better than to interrupt. She sat down, waiting, feeling the coffee cup in her hands go cold.
“Can you please hurry?” she asked, knowing how obnoxious that sounded.
An agonizing fifteen minutes later, he mumbled, “Trying something else. This should work.”
It didn’t. While Caitlin digested her stomach lining, Kell continued a single-minded and increasingly bitter struggle with Lamar’s firewalls.
From across the room she heard Kell mutter, “Okay, in.”
But the news wasn’t good. “Encrypted tighter than a virgin’s twat . . .”
She was ready to push him off the chair and have at the encryption herself.
An hour later, he finally broke through. Caitlin was facing Lamar’s file names on the wall display.
“Now it’s your turn to hurry,” he mumbled. “Get in, get out. Go.”
As the file contents ballooned onto the screen, Caitlin shook her head no.
No, not that. Not that. Keep going.
“Personnel,” she said, spying another name to try. “Open it.” Squinting up at the smart wall, she said, “Scroll to the bottom.”
He went to the end.
“How many names?”
“Exactly two thousand.”
“Scroll up to number sixteen.” He did so. She read: Caitlin Quinn.
Number seventeen, Mateo Quinn. Number eighteen, Emily Quinn.
“That file. Strand it to me. It was small enough to save onto her smart-Suit. “And print it.”
As he backed out of Lamar’s savant, he bragged, “No footprints.” Kell mopped up after himself. “I was a butterfly.”