God alone knows how long it might have gone on if it hadn't been for the ants. I didn't know it was ants -- I thought it was termites.
There was a row of bushes across the front of the house and right up against it and for ten years I had done nothing to them but trim them. One day I noticed that the head patterns of the sprinkler heads in the front yard seemed to be weak and figuring that I had a leak in the system I went looking for it. There was one head under the bushes and I got down and pushed the bushes out of the way to look at it. I noticed that the wood trim around the base of the house looked rotten and I ran a fingernail across it and a large chunk just fell away exposing what looked like burrows or little tunnels. Shit! Termites!
I finished checking the sprinkler heads and found one that the ground seemed soft around and then I noticed the indentation in the head. It looked as if one of the tines on the machine they used to aerate the yard had hit on the head. I dug around it and found that the connection between the PVC pipe and the riser was cracked. I repaired it, tested the system and saw that I now had good spray patterns. I put my tools away, had lunch and then started checking out the rest of the house for termites.
I was down in the basement pulling down insulation and checking the sill plates when I found it. (Sill plates are what they call the wood on top of the concrete wall of the basement - it is the transition point between the basement and the framing of the house.) It was a little black box about six inches, by four inches and was about three inches thick. It had a small on/off switch on one side and a glowing green light on the front and it was attached to the phone line.
I stood there on the ladder and stared at it. I had read enough spy novels and seen enough movies and TV shows to suspect that what I was looking at was a phone tap, but the thought seemed ridiculous. Who in the hell would be taping my phone? Who would be interested in the phone conversations of an aircraft mechanic? Or those of a secretary which is what my wife Amanda was.
I carefully put everything back where I found it and then went upstairs to use the phone to call Terminex and set up an appointment for them to come out and look at my termite problem. Then I got in my car and drove to the 7-11 about eight miles from the house and used the pay phone to call a friend. Hal was an avionics tech I worked with and he ran a small electronics business on the side. I told him what I had found and he agreed to come look at it the next day.
Hat night when Mandy got home I had dinner ready and while we ate I debated telling her about what I'd found, but decided not to since she was by nature a worrier. I decided to wait until I had more information before telling her about it.
Another factor in my decision was that this was our hard time of the year. The airline I worked for had rotating shifts; four months of midnights, four months of afternoons and four months of days. I was in the last quarter of my graveyard turn, eleven-thirty at night until eight in the morning, and the grave shift was hard on us. Days was always good and swing shift - three to eleven-thirty - wasn't bad because I was always home at night to sleep with Mandy and be there in the morning when she woke up, but graves was the killer. We only saw each other from the time she got home around six-thirty until I had to leave for work at ten forty-five and she would already be gone to work when I got home in the morning. It was always a bad time for us, but the pay was very good, the benefits superb and you just could not beat the airline pass privileges. Still, she spent four months a year alone in bed and it wasn't easy on her. No sense in giving her something to worry about as she lay in that bed alone trying to sleep.
The next morning Hal followed me home and I showed him the small black box. He told me that it was a 'broadcast' sending unit and that it transmitted what it heard to a receiver.
"It only has a range of about three hundred yards."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that the unit it is sending to has to be fairly close to here. You seen any strange vans or vehicles parked close by lately?"
"None that I'm aware of."
"You get along okay with your neighbors?"
"No problems with any of them in the nine years I've been here. Why?"
"The receiving unit has to be somewhere close. If there are no strange cars in the neighborhood then it has to be either in a neighbor's house or garage or right here in this house. Any place in the house that you never go?"
"Not that I can think of. I don't spend a lot of time in either of the spare bedrooms, but I do occasionally go into them."
"Let's go look at them."
We were in the closet of one of the spare bedrooms when he pointed up at the ceiling and asked, "What's that?"
I looked up and saw the hatch into the attic and told him what it was.
"Go up much?"
"Last time was maybe six years ago. I went up and put insulation batts down on top of the blown in insulation and then planked over them. I was going to use the area for storage, but it was a pain trying to move things up through that two foot by two foot hole so I gave up on the idea."
"Let's take a look up there."
I kept an eight foot fiberglass ladder in the upstairs utility closet for changing light bulbs and cleaning the blades of the ceiling fan in the master bedroom and I went and got it and we went up into the attic. I saw it as soon as my head went through the hatch. It looked like a lap top computer sitting on the planking. I pulled myself up into the attic and Hal followed me. As soon as he saw the device he said:
"Sweet fucking Jesus!"
"You know what it is?"
He walked over to it, knelt down and took a close look at it. "I've never seen one before, but I've read about them. Completely digital, lithium battery operated and stores up to one hundred and twenty hours of digital audio and visual. The battery is supposed to last three hundred hours. It has a small screen for viewing and has USB ports you can connect to to download audio and video onto CDs or DVDs. This brings up a major question. What kind of serious shit are you and your wife into?"
"Nothing that I know of. Why?"
"Because this thing costs around twenty thousand dollars and to the best of my knowledge only the government has them. But even more serious is what this means to you."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Who knows that you never come up here? Who knows you keep a ladder in the utility closet? Who has access when you aren't home?"
I was stunned by the implications of what he'd just said. There was only one answer and that was my wife Mandy. Hal saw it sink in and said:
All I could do was shrug my shoulders as I tried to get my mind around all that it meant.
"Let's take a look through the rest of the house, but first let me see if I can disable this thing."
He picked it up, took a real close look at it and pushed on something and the battery pack slid out. He set it aside and said:
"Now it won't record everything we do."
It took a little over two hours to go through the house and Hal found eight battery operated mini cams that recorded audio and visual. He kept saying "Wow" every time he found one.
"These are state of the art Rob. There is a good thirty to thirty-five grand worth of stuff here."
There were two in the living room, one each in the dining room and family room, one in my basement workshop and three in the master bedroom. I asked him if he could help me try and find out what was going on and he said he would try.
The next morning while Hal was doing some work in the house the man from Terminex showed up and checked out the house. Turns out that it was carpenter ants instead of termites. He outlined a program for getting rid of them and keeping them away and I signed up and he left.
The first thing that Hal did when he got to the house was go up into the attic and take the battery out of the receiving unit so none of the cameras would record him as he went to work. He put a recorder on the phone lines and then set up voice activated tape recorders and mini cams in the bedroom and living room. Then he placed a mini cam in a corner of the attic and aimed it to cover the receiver.
The last thing he did was check out my pick up truck. He found a GPS locator inside the rear frame in a place where I would never spot it unless I happened to walk under it while it was up on a hoist getting a grease job or an oil change and even then it wasn't likely that I would spot it unless I was looking for it.
He also found a voice activated tape recorder under my seat. It was up in the spring wires so I wouldn't notice it when I was cleaning the truck interior.
"Heavy shit Rob! I think you are going to need some professional help. Let's wait and see what we can find out from what we planted today. You need to be careful man. Anything you say or do in the house is being watched and listened to and everything you say in your truck is being recorded."
That night when Mandy got home from work I had dinner ready and on the table, but it was a quiet meal. All I had were questions I couldn't ask and I was actually afraid to open my mouth for fear of what might come out. I sat there thinking, "What the hell are you into Mandy? What the hell is going on?" Sitting and eating quietly is not the way I usually am and Mandy of course noticed it.
"Something wrong honey? You seem like your mind might be somewhere else."
"Just got the grave shift blues. I can't wait for the change to swings."
.... There is more of this story ...