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The End Game
The End Game 20
She said low into her mike, “Vanessa was in my dorm at Yale freshman year. I don’t want to say I knew her well—we would say hi if we saw each other, had some friends in common. I was already gearing up for law enforcement, wanted to be a cop like my dad. I would have been happy going straight into the Academy, but he insisted I get out of Nebraska, apply to Ivy League schools, see a bit of the world, make sure I really wanted this life. Yale was as far away from Nebraska as I could get, in mileage and ideology, and, wonder of wonders, I was accepted, and so I humored him and flew to New Haven.”
“Nebraska meets the Ivy League—it boggles the mind.”
“I didn’t exactly fit in at the beginning. I mean, some kids thought I was a hayseed, others thought I was dangerous because I went to the gun range every weekend.”
“What did your roommates think when you cleaned your gun in the room?”
“I was smart enough never to do that. Can you begin to imagine the rep I’d get? It took the whole first semester for them to be comfortable with me and for me to be comfortable with them. So much drinking and partying—just like home.
“Enough of my history. Let me tell you more about Vanessa Grace. When I first met her, I thought she was a princess. She was gorgeous, masses of red hair almost to her butt, guys falling all over themselves to ask her out. It seemed to me she played one against the other, and I thought she was a jerk until I realized she was very shy and didn’t have a lot of social skills. She had no clue how to deal with guys. One of our mutual friends told me she’d lived all over the world with her uncle and had been homeschooled for the most part. She’d been in a few American schools, but she was shy and had trouble fitting in.
“We finally did have a class together, Cognitive Science of Good and Evil.” She’d come out of her shell by that time, even had a boyfriend who was on the rugby team. We talked about what we were planning to do when we graduated; I told her I wanted to be a cop. She said she wanted to take the Foreign Service exam and go to work for State. Her dad was a diplomat and he’d died, as had her mother. She was raised by her uncle, who also worked in the Foreign Service. We all know what it really means.”
Mike nodded. “I wondered about her mother, but she never talked about her, said only she’d died of cancer, real young. She wanted to be like her dad and her uncle.
“Then we graduated and I went off to grad school at John Jay, and haven’t thought of her since.”
She gave him an arched eyebrow. “I don’t suppose you ever had any adjusting to do, not like I did at Yale?” A pause, then she shook her head. “Of course you didn’t. Eton, Cambridge, the Foreign Office. You fit in perfectly the whole way. And now the FBI, where you’ve been welcomed with open arms. Oh, yes, I like your scruffy beard.”
He grinned at her, touched his fingers to his bruised jaw. “Like my mom and her TV show, and you, at first I was a fish out of water, but this strange and wondrous city is becoming home. I’m enjoying it here. Good food, good peers. Everyone wants the same thing—catch the bad guys, keep terrorists from blowing anything up, and if they do, nail their asses to the floor.” He shrugged. “Do you know, I even like going to Barneys with Nigel. Do you think I’m giddy?”
“What? Giddy? About what?”
He looked embarrassed. “It was just something Nigel said to me last night when I came in half dead, clothes ready for the dustbin. He said I was giddy here in New York.”
Mike realized that, yes, Nigel was right. “Well, I do know you enjoy kicking butt,” she said, and she sent a look in Craig Swanson’s direction.
He didn’t tell her that if indeed he was giddy, she was right there with him.
The helicopter lurched to the side, then straightened again. Charlie said over the intercom, “Just making sure you guys are awake. All’s okay.”
Nicholas said, “We surely appreciate that, Charlie. Now, Mike, let me check my e-mail, see if Gray has sent me a dossier on Carl Grace, her uncle. Yes, here it is.”
“Apparently Vanessa’s dad, Paul Grace, is rather legendary in the intelligence community. He was an undercover agent in the eighties and nineties, working deep cover with the IRA in Northern Ireland. He nailed a faction of IRA bombers, then was shot dead by a wife of one of the men in the group.”
Nicholas closed the cover of the tablet. “As for his younger brother, Carl Grace, he came out of the field after he adopted Vanessa. This has got to be unusual—he became her handler after she joined the CIA.”
Mike said, “And now she’s been shot. I don’t want her to die, Nicholas, I really don’t.”
“I don’t, either. We’ll soon see.”
Charlie said, “Nearly there, folks, and only one little bump to keep you alert. I’ve been asked to patch through a call from Special Agent Savich. Please switch to channel two.”
Nicholas flipped the channel, as did Mike. “Savich? What’s wrong?”
“I just got a call from Dominion Virginia Power. They’re having trouble with their electrical grid powering Richmond. Get here as quickly as you can, Nicholas. I’m afraid an external attack is coming.”
KNIGHT TAKES D1
FBI Headquarters, Hoover Building
There were two cars waiting at the heliport, one FBI, the other CIA. Swanson gave them a small wave and went to join his compadres. “I hope they tear him a new one,” Nicholas said, and Mike spurted out a laugh at the Americanism.
“I have a feeling Ms. Finder might do some of the tearing, too, once she gets her hands on him again,” Mike said. “I know I’m not at all sad to see the last of him.”
They got into the back of a black SUV. Special Agent Dover, their driver, said, “Seat belts, folks. I’ve got to get you to the Hoover Building in ten minutes.”
As Dover ducked and dodged through the insane traffic, Nicholas said to Mike, “Sounds to me like you’d like to join Ms. Finder.”
“You bet. That jerk said I was uptight.” She turned to face him. “I am not uptight. I’m not, am I, Nicholas? I’m the furthest thing from uptight I can think of, right? I mean, I know how to party, I know how to let my hair down and hang out. Shut your mouth. If you laugh at me, I’m going to belt you.”
He swallowed the laugh. “No, Agent Caine, uptight isn’t ever something I’d ever say about you.”
“Yeah, and what would you say about me?”
“Hmmm, how about fast off the mark without a lot of thought—”
“Me, fast off the mark? What about you and Craig Swanson? You couldn’t wait to pound him. You didn’t even give it a second’s thought, did you?”
“You wanted to jump him, too. I was simply closer.”
Well, now, that was the truth. “Stop trying to make me laugh.”
Three horns honked off to their right, and Dover raised his middle finger. “Out-of-towners,” he said, and sped through a yellow light, whipping to the left to avoid a taxi.
Nicholas slid against her. He didn’t move, closed his eyes for a moment.
Mike was looking out the window. “Everything’s ready to burst into summer. Cherry blossoms are long gone.”
Nicholas moved back to his side of the SUV. “I wonder what’s happening to the power grid in Richmond.”
“No word from Savich—that’s got to be good news. Maybe it was a false alarm.”
“Like that ever happens,” Nicholas said.
Agent Dover pulled up outside the Hoover Building. “Go in this entrance. Nine minutes on the dot. Have fun with Savich, but be careful he doesn’t take you to the gym and tie your legs around your necks.” He gave them a small salute, and they went into the cavernous marble lobby to see Savich waiting for them.
“Nicholas, Mike. Great to see you. Come on, we’ll get you signed in and official, then we can go
upstairs and get started. Nothing definitive from Richmond yet. False alarm? We could get lucky, I suppose.”
Mike hadn’t spent much time with Savich herself, but she knew he was very worried. About the power grid in Richmond, sure, but something more.
They signed in, clipped visitor badges to their jackets, went through the metal detectors, then the elevator to the third floor.
Nicholas had been here before, during his training at Quantico, when Savich had needed some English background on a case. Mike hadn’t ever visited the CAU, but it immediately felt like home. Every agent in the large room stared after them, knowing something was up, something major, alert and ready to move, the lot of them, just like New York. She nodded to a couple of agents she’d worked with on other assignments. And she wondered how many of these agents had worked with the agents murdered in Bayonne at Mr. Hodges’s house.
She saw Sherlock through the huge glass window in Savich’s office. She was reading something on a tablet, her curly red hair veiling her profile. Sherlock rose and hugged both Mike and Nicholas. “It’s so good to see you two. I’m very sorry, all of us are, about the agents we lost in Bayonne.”
Savich said, “Sit down, both of you. We hope that our meeting with Mr. Grace will make us believe the CIA is finally ready to fess up, unburden their souls, and tell us everything they know about COE. But don’t count on it.”
Sherlock turned to face them. “Before we get down to business, you’re both coming to dinner tonight. And glory be, it’s lasagna night, Dillon’s specialty. Since we have plenty of room, you’ll also stay at the Savich Hotel, limitless hot water and towels aplenty.
“When I told Sean he would see you, Nicholas, he was yelling how he was going to take you down to your underwear with his new Captain Mook video game.”
“You got him the strip version of the Captain Mook game?”
Sherlock laughed. “That’s his newest slang. He wanted to say boxers, but Dillon assured him that underwear was cooler.”
Mike said, “Does the hotel also provide Cheerios?”
“Sean’s favorite,” Savich said. “Okay, then, you’re staying.”
“Thank you,” Mike said. “Oh, yes, I believe Nicholas loves oatmeal. Instant would be great for him.”
Smiles, a crack of laughter, then Savich said, “You’ll find info in your e-mails.” He handed them two manila folders. “In here you’ll see the breakdown of Richmond’s security systems. Thankfully, they did a risk assessment only three months ago. Juno did the work, and they’re one of the best cyber-firms in the U.S.”
“I’m familiar with them,” Nicholas said.
Savich said, “They beefed everything up. However, I’m thinking if there’s an attack under way, perhaps there was a worm already inside the system, put in before they made the changes.”
Nicholas frowned. “That would mean Juno didn’t do a thorough job. If the worm was already inside, then their security measures should have picked up an anomaly.”
He flipped through the information while Savich continued to explain to Mike and Sherlock, “No matter how or when, if the bug was introduced into their systems, we won’t have long to stop the attack. You’re better at this than I am, Nicholas, and you’ve already stopped them once. That makes you better equipped to deal with this than our people. So get out your laptop.”
Not two minutes later, The Who belted out “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Savich listened, punched off. “Official confirmation, the power grid’s down in Richmond. Nicholas, go.”
Nicholas quickly accessed the servers at Dominion Virginia Power and hit a solid firewall. “Okay, so far, Juno does know their stuff.” He looked up, grinned, flexed his fingers, and started to code.
Within moments he’d tuned the rest of the room out completely. The code he was bumping up against was not only sophisticated, it was familiar. He found a back door to the server, something the original company that had developed the security system had given themselves to try and stop exactly the kind of attack they were experiencing.
“Ah,” he said aloud, “here we have a line of self-written code, and wouldn’t you know it—there’s Gunther’s signature. At least I know how to disable it.” Nicholas uploaded his own worm to disengage the attack, then sat back and let it run. “That’s the best I can do by myself.”
Savich said, “First, Nicholas, tell me how Gunther did it, then I’ll call our tech team.”
Nicholas said, “This attack is a DDoS, which as you know means distributed denial-of-service, which normally only disables the company’s website and replaces it with a message, and people can’t log in. But this one, it’s very advanced. The attack vector has taken down their security grid by installing malware to allow remote control of the power system. Malware, according to the signature, purchased from our buddy Gunther Ansell. The positive here, and you can tell your tech team this, is that I didn’t see any excessive activity, a good thing. If they were trying to shut everything down, there would be more movement, the code shifting, being rewritten in an attempt to eliminate my uploads to stop it.
“They may think Gunther’s code is enough to disable the power grids, or they could be waiting for the attack to crawl through everything before they play with the lights. I put up some firewalls, hopefully to stop them before they do.”
Savich nodded. “Okay, good, let me call the team, tell them what you said.”
Sherlock said, “Nicholas, you talked to FedPol about Ansell’s death?”
“Yes. Our friend Pierre Menard was going to take over the investigation, but we haven’t heard from him in several hours.” He glanced at his screen, made a few adjustments to his code. “This isn’t exactly the same type of attack as the oil companies—it’s not downloading financial and intellectual information, but it is similar. With Gunther’s signature again, I’d say it’s probably COE.”
“Of course it’s got to be COE,” Sherlock said. “Who else could it be?”
PAWN TO H3
Mike looked at each of them in turn. “Yes, it’s COE. After Bayway, who knows what they’re after? They are trying to take down the Richmond grid for a reason. It’s up to us to figure out what that reason is.”
She picked up a paperweight off Savich’s desk, passed it from hand to hand. “What I find amazing with this escalation is that COE has lost two important members in that fire in Brooklyn—Ian McGuire, the IRA bomber, and Vanessa Grace, bomb builder and undercover CIA. And don’t forget the Middle Eastern man working with them. Who is he and what is his expertise? What is his purpose being with them? With the losses, it’s amazing they’ve continued, much less escalated.”
An agent appeared in the doorway, a manic grin on his face.
“Good news, Davis?” Sherlock asked him.
Savich said, “Agent Davis Sullivan, meet Agent Mike Caine, and you already met Nicholas Drummond. Why are you grinning like a fool?”
“Our firebug in Brooklyn. Louisa Barry identified his ass. Smart girl, she put the accelerant signature into the databases. After lots of integration and inputting data into ViCAP, she identified our firebug as one Andrew Tate, twenty-seven, first convicted of setting a string of fires around a high-end housing development under construction outside Seattle when he was only thirteen. Caused millions in damage. He went to juvie for four years, got out, then quickly went back in when some cars along a ‘peaceful protest’ route ended up on fire.
“And catch this, guys, while Tate was behind bars, he took several computer classes. The teacher marked in his record that he was amazing, a natural, outstripped him—the teacher—in weeks.
“Too bad, but this doesn’t tell us where he is now. His last known is a Seattle halfway house. He bolted on his parole in 2010, has been off the books since. I’m afraid that’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
“This is great, Davi
s,” Nicholas said, “and it explains a whole lot. I think you and Louisa not only found our firebug, we also found COE’s hacker.”
Davis tried not to look too pleased with himself, shrugged. “I gotta say, it was Agent Barry who did the heavy lifting. All I did was grab the report off the printer and look up a couple of cases.”
“Yeah, right,” Sherlock said.
“Davis,” Savich said, “I want you to get photos of our firebug out everywhere, particularly near Richmond. And again, good job.” Savich looked at each of them. “There’s something more, guys.”
“You have all our attention now, Savich,” Nicholas said. “Out with it.”
“Mike, Nicholas, have you both heard of the assassin Zahir Damari?”
“Yes,” Mike said. “He’s right up there with Carlos the Jackal, possibly even more deadly, will kill anyone for the right price. And the biggie: no one’s ever seen his real face.”
Nicholas added. “In England, we spoke of his chameleonlike ability to alter his looks, using plastic surgery and plugs and implants to change his face, allowing him to easily cross borders under false papers.”
Mike felt her heart start to pound. “I know that Interpol had an Orange Notice on his movements a few years back, thought he was gearing up for an attack in Paris. Everyone knew he’d murdered Benar Bhuttino in Qatar in 2010. Eliminating Bhuttino allowed the Arab Spring to take hold since he was no longer alive to fight against it. But again, he couldn’t be identified so how could he be found? All right, Dillon, why did you bring up Damari?”
“Better question,” Nicholas said, “who is Damari here to assassinate?” He trailed a hand over the top edge of his laptop, glanced at the screen. All was running as planned, his patch was holding. But who knew for how long? He was thankful the IT team was keeping a sharp eye on the situation.