Zeus and Io - Books 1 and 2
Copyright 2012,2013 by Harry Carton
Zeus / Harvey
I awoke at about 3:30, and didn't ring the front desk to collect my Keno strike. How weird would that have been? "Hello, I know I won big at a game that's nearly impossible to win big at, so send up my money right away." I don't think so.
So I clicked on the TV to the sports channel, and checked my phone for messages from Io. There was an email, and when I decrypted it, I found that she'd arranged for a completely new identity, and where did I want the packages with the papers sent? I replied that I'd be back in Throckmorton after a two day stay here. I sent my home address – which I never tell anyone – and asked her to overnight the stuff to me.
The Chief interrupted me: "Send it to General Delivery, in Austin. Use the Lee Roberts ID." He wouldn't answer any questions. So I erased the previous information, and sent the info the Chief had provided. Really, I thought I ought to just let him talk to her – I wasn't really necessary to this interaction at all. That got him active again. "Wise ass."
I'd had a small brainstorm while sleeping, and since Io seemed to be able to do anything electronically – and she seemed willing to do so – I asked if she could set me up with an offshore account somewhere safe. Two offshore accounts in different countries would be better.
How could she be so accomplished a hacker? She said she could tap the microwave towers that tracked my mobile phone and stop my GPS information from getting out. NOBODY does that. I knew that, in this day and age, there were very advanced hackers who could do amazing things. If Io could do that, get into the Social Security databases, plant documents for a false identity – and do it so rapidly – what else could she do?
More to the point, was it safe for me to take advantage of her abilities? What if 'she' was really a team of hackers, and when I told her that I was going to a casino, some weeks back, they set me up for some kind of scam? That would fit the facts: she couldn't have me picked up until after I scored at the casino, hence the warning. When I went to use the identity she'd provided, THAT was when I'd get nailed. And my money would just disappear when I sent it to the offshore account that SHE provided.
The Master Chief broke into my ruminations. "You're letting the paranoia take over, L.T. Remember that she didn't offer you an identity, you asked for one. And you just now asked about the offshore bank account, she didn't even have a chance to provide that. Besides, I trust her. I've never gotten a bad vibe from anything she's said or done. Trust her, L.T."
My hand reached for the titanium plate and tapped it in an unconscious gesture – tink tink tink. What he said seemed right. But I was coming to rely on her, and it was so fast. What did I really know about her? I fired up the internet on my mobile again.
She'd sent me some emails; I could get IP addresses off them and poke around. After some initial looking, the IP trail led to a lot of cutouts, some of which I couldn't get past. That just proved that I wasn't some super-hacker, hell, I couldn't get past MY false IP trail either. The straight 'return address' of the three emails led to three very different locations. One in Indonesia, one in Toronto, and one at CERN, the Swiss/French ultra-scientific atom smasher. She'd said she was in London. So she must have a way of picking up her mail from different email sites – that was easy enough. Even I could do that. I'd have to hack into the servers in Indonesia, Toronto and CERN and see what the forwarding address was; I had no idea how to do that. I wasn't a hacker, just a busted up former SEAL who was now treading water in a very deep ocean.
I Googled 'Io'. That led nowhere quick. Three quarters of a billion hits for Io. 'Io hacker' gave only eleven million hits, but I didn't think Io would advertise herself on the net. I could search all the computers in London. That's likely to take only a few years or maybe decades, even if I had the skills – which I didn't.
No. I'd either have to have faith in this particular version of a higher power or not. The Chief trusted her, and I guess I did too. I'd already broken several of my self-protection rules with her. Hell, I'd even told her where and when I would be two days from now. That could be a disaster.
And by the way: did the Chief get 'vibes' about everybody I met? Did he really test everyone? How did that work anyway?
If I thought I could have a private think session without him knowing about it, I was crazier than I already knew I was. "Of course I get a vibe from everybody. You get a subconscious feeling about everybody too, you just don't think about it. I, on the other hand, have nothing to do but gather these feelings and think about them. It gets boring rattling around in your empty head, you know. Mostly I hang out in the part that was damaged by the IED. You don't use that anymore, L.T. It's not dead, like the docs said; it's just that the connections that lead to it were broken. Good thing you've got plenty of room in this brain of yours. Now stop asking such stupid questions. I swear, if there was an award for over thinking in simple situations, you'd win it. Now hurry up and go collect your money."
'Simple situations' – riiiiiiiight. I was putting my life in the hands of some girl I met in a game where you kill imaginary monsters, and I didn't know much about her at all. I was taking the 'advice' of the man who lived in my head. Plus, I was crazy, I knew that. 'Simple situations.' HAH!
The room phone rang. Must be the wake up call. I picked up the phone and was told that I needed to see the Keno hostess at my earliest convenience, so I packed up my Keno receipts and made my way down to the casino. Surprise! I found out that I had won a million dollars. They wanted to take my picture, but I demurred, saying that a picture would only attract people claiming to be related, asking for some of my money. The casino insisted, but so did I. In the end, my insisting was stronger than theirs and I didn't have a picture taken.
I went to see the cashier and took back a receipt for approximately $700,000 – taxes were a bitch. Over at money central, I spoke with a host this time. He was a short, rather portly man, in a vest that matched the casino colors: deep purple, it seemed, was their attempt to be more royal. He was pleased to see I already had a SSN on file. Harry Benjamin was now a multi-hundred-thousandaire. I didn't want to take any money out, but I'd be back later with further instructions; I did take $10,000 in $50 chips, added that to my paltry chip total from this morning and wandered over to lose some at the craps table. The receipt went into a button down pocket of my cowboy shirt and I eyed the nearby people closely. After all, I'd had a hell of a time to get this money, and I didn't want to 'accidentally' lose the receipt to a pickpocket or thief, even though the money gnome said they'd need my ID when I came back.
Finding a seat at a relatively deserted end of a craps table was easy to do at 4:00 in the afternoon on a weekday. As soon as I put my ten grand on the chip rack in front of me, I started to attract some interest. A nice looking blonde with an overall tawny look came right over and stood nearby. She was tall, slender and had all the right kind of curves. She made quite an appearance in a deep blue dress that matched her eyes. I tossed a chip on the Pass line, and looked at her. "Hon," I said in my best OKC drawl, "You're not showin' enough skin to be working for the casino."
She laughed and gave me an appraising look. "Oh, I'm working all right. Just not for the casino."
I appraised her right back. "Well that's clear enough. Thanks for that. Just so you know: I pay for good service, but I get right ornery if I catch anybody taking my money."
She placed a hand on my bicep, it was warm and friendly as she leaned in to speak softly in my ear. "I can provide extremely good service. If you want to be careful of your chips, you want to keep an eye on that tall, skinny, craggy fellow coming this way right now."
"Really," I said keeping it light, but resting my hand on the chips. "Name's Harry, by the way. You need a drink?"
"I'm Carmel. And I don't need a drink unless you want me to have one." It came out in a soft southern drawl. She continued to smile at me.
"Cut the crap, Carmel. I don't need you to do anything you don't want to do," I said. "Well, with maybe one or two major exceptions." It had been a while for me, and I was deciding whether or not to take her up on the offer. I was still engaging in this light banter with her, while keeping an eye on the craggy fellow.
"Oh, I don't think I'll have any problems wanting to find out what those exceptions are." Her voice was like warm honey.
I slid a hand around to the side of her waist. "We'll talk about those exceptions later. Right now, let's lose some money." I gestured to a drink bunny with my free hand; she came right over. "Just bring me a club soda and..." I lowered my voice so it could barely be heard " ... get a security guy over here right away."
The craggy guy mistook my attention for lack of attention – I had one hand on Carmel, one hand signaling the drink bunny and I was slightly turned away from him. The table attendants were not paying us any mind. He reached for my rack of chips. Without looking I reacted: my non-Carmel hand came down on his, trapping it on my chip rack. "That's not nice, fella. Those are my chips." I said it loud enough and the motion was sudden enough that I attracted the attention of all sorts of people – including the table attendants. Security was there in a few seconds.
I explained – all the time maintaining a grip on the guy's hand that was near my chips. I purposely did not use any of the pressure points in the back of the hand that would have brought Mr. Craggy to his knees; Harry Benjamin of OKC wouldn't have known about them. Security – there were two of them now – took over from me, and asked the blonde at my side if she had seen anything. She backed my story, without ever letting go of my bicep. That felt nice. I noticed that she was clear about not coming close to the chips. That was nice, too, but in a different way.
Security made the craggy fellow disappear, and I concentrated on Carmel and the craps. I got the dice and I asked her if I was lucky or not – ostensibly asking if I should bet on Pass or Don't Pass, whether the shooter would win or lose. The first time, she answered, "I don't know anything about dice, but you're going to be very lucky later." I laughed. She laughed. One of the table attendants laughed too. I took another swig of my club soda, explaining that I didn't intend to be drunk later on, as that might mean missing out on my luck.
It was very nice. I took her out to dinner – well not "out" but in one of the better casino restaurants, and then we went up to my room to explore the 'exceptions.' She was exceptional about dealing with those exceptions. About midnight, I told her that I didn't want her to stay, but that I was going to be at the hotel for a couple of days, and what were her plans for tomorrow. "I can make you my plans for tomorrow, if you like," she said. I admitted that I would indeed like. Nothing so crass as fee for services was discussed, but I did tip her $1500, and pointed out that she was right: I did get very lucky. "See you tomorrow about 3?" she purred.
"I'll probably be at the pool, so bring a suit and something nicer for later on," I said. She smiled enigmatically while she was getting dressed, scooping the thirty chips into her bag, blew me a kiss and walked out the door.
If I'm not a cliché in this hotel – big winner, first thing he does is get a hooker – I'm at least blending in nicely.
I was tired and exhilarated. For the first time in a long time, I thought about Io, my monster-killing, fake-ID-getting hacker friend who occasionally sent me warning messages. That was a simple basis for a friendship, right? I popped open the mobile and sent an encrypted email to the address in CERN: "Any further news about who sent the message ordering the hit on me?" I assumed it was a hit because I just felt like coddling my paranoid obsession after keeping it in check all night.
Then I went about my evening rituals: from a night time shower, to a shave at the end of the day, to metal wedges in the door, to Velcro sneakers. I was all set and ready to enjoy my sleep for another night. Neither the Chief nor Io had anything to say about threats tonight, and I slept not like a baby – awake every two hours, hungry and wet – but sleeping the sleep of the virtuous and rich. Well, one out of two isn't so bad.
For the next day and a half I played around with Carmel. Counting the final bonus, I wound up spending over $7,000 for my time with her. She was worth every cent, and I took a phone number for 'next time.' I dropped another $20,000 or so at the tables, so the casino would not be so upset with me. Besides, I promised to come back real soon to play craps with more of their money, and I cashed in the balance of the chips in my pocket – about $14,000. The rest I sent along to the bank in the Caymans that Io had prepared for me. Then I sent an email to the Cayman bank to forward $500,000 to a bank in the Isle of Man – another banking haven that I didn't even know about pre-Io.
Communications with Io were intermittent. She told me that the hit was ordered by an organization named 5225 in Manassas, VA. There seemed to be little else she could tell me. Most of their activity was centered around trying to get to terrorists, and they were singularly unsuccessful at it. The FBI and Homeland Security got there first. So what did they want with me? Io sent me a copy of the email they'd sent out, and I couldn't even call it a hit any more. I was to be 'acquired.' She said she didn't like that word. I liked it a whole hell of a lot less – it was ME they were going to 'acquire.' She helped me follow the Alpha Team – that was what they called it – to the Dallas area, and then to Throckmorton! How the hell did they know about Throckmorton?
I was a little reluctant to leave Carmel, if the truth be told. She was the first woman I'd been with since – I couldn't even remember. My ex-wife, maybe. But she was a working girl and I couldn't build a relationship with a prostitute based on my false ID; to say she had a history was a wild understatement – she didn't have a history, she had a present, and most likely a future in her chosen profession. So I kissed her farewell, and kissed the casino bye-bye. Harry Benjamin had a good time winning some money, but he had to get back to OKC for a meeting on Friday, and here it was Thursday noon already.
I eased out of the parking lot after looking around for the men in black sunglasses. Failing to find them, I headed for the back roads to Texarkana, a small town that straddles the Texas/Arkansas border about 75 miles almost due north of Shreveport. That gave me enough time on simple roads to see if I was being followed. I thought I was, 'cause a dark blue Ford sedan pulled out and stayed behind me for twenty-five minutes, but it eventually turned off and the road behind – and in front – was clear for as far as I could see. Route 71 was only moderately crowded on a Thursday, midday, but it was all local traffic and heavy trucks.
Eventually, the peaceful city of Texarkana appeared on the horizon, and I got back on President Eisenhower's Interstate system. Country music filled the cab with its lyrics full of wronged lovers, dying dogs, pickup trucks and the ever-present yowl of hound-dog guitars. I began to be hypnotized by the dotted white lines, and my mind drifted off again.
It was Christmas 2008, and I was moving – again – to Throckmorton, Texas. Why? Because the Chief said I'd finally stay there for a while. I had been homeless since leaving Walter Reed many years before. Homeless but not living on the streets and not indigent, thanks to the Chief's pointing me at small wins in the Lotto. I visited every city from Boston to Tacoma. I even stopped at Winslow, Arizona to see if there was "a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me." That old song reverberated in my head for several 'whiles.' No girls, for me that day, anyway.
They couldn't really track me, except for the GPS in my head, because I didn't stay in one place for very long. I acquired the K-bar knife as soon as I left the prison of Walter Reed, at a gun and knife show in southern Pennsylvania. I was going to see Carolyn, just to let her know that I survived – no thanks to her. But the Chief talked me out of it: "If you want to go to the looney bin for a nice long stay, you show up at your ex's place, wearing a knife and saying 'See? I made it.' And getting her real scared. She picked someone else to be with. Fuck her. You're better off without her. And you get something into your head: You wish her well, and you're glad to be rid of her. IN THAT ORDER. Got that L.T.? You wish her well." Eventually, I did wish her well, and I was glad to be rid of her.
Several anonymous short-term hotel rooms flashed through my mind. In each, I could see – as clearly as the IED explosion that plagued me – my nightly ritual, the routine I went through every night. EVERY NIGHT. And two nights ago at the Motel 6, I had to get a fucking phone call to alert me to danger. What the hell good were all my precautions, if a girl in London could tell I was under threat, and I couldn't.
My eyes teared up. I couldn't see clearly any more...
BLAAAATTT!! It was the horn from the truck in the next lane as I drifted over the line. I jerked the wheel back, slowed down, pulled over and stopped. I was crying. I looked down at my hands ... they were shaking. I'd really have to think about this, and I didn't want to do my thinking on the side of I-30.
After thirty seconds or so of the radio blasting "Out in the West Texas town of El Paso / I fell in love with a Mexican girl" and so on, I focused on the old song and I stopped thinking about the danger I had been in and my reliance on an unknown person from the internet. 'Cause when I thought about that, my hands shook. So I postponed thinking about that; I'd do that later. Voluntary procrastination can be a wonderful thing.
So, I pointed my truck down I-30 toward Dallas, and eventually Throckmorton. It was about a six hour drive in terms of pure distance, I'd left at noon, so I figured I'd get home at 10:00 p.m. or so, depending on a twenty mile stretch of I-30 that ran right through downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth. Foat Wuth as Harry Benjamin would say.
I got to the outskirts of Throckmorton at 8:30 as it turned out. The traffic gods had been kind, and I made it through DFW with no incident greater than having to piss at an inconvenient time. I didn't want to get off the Interstate and tempt the gods, so I held it. My eyeballs were floating by the time I got to a truck stop on the outbound side of Ft. Worth. Carolyn would never have made it.
Coming home from Williamsport, Pa. To Syracuse, NY. There were no Interstate highways that covered that route. Williamsport – home of the Little League World Series. Carolyn and I had gone down for a folk festival and were driving home to our run down apartment near Syracuse University. We'd had some beers, of course, at the festival, and Carolyn just couldn't hold her water. It was late at night and most gas stations were closed – apparently in that part of Pennsylvania, no one needs gas or 'other services' late at night... "It's either the front of this beetle or I'm going out behind that bush. Stop the car!!" she ordered. So, to save the exquisite faux leather upholstery in my VW, I stopped the car while she went out and watered the bush.
When we got home, it was close enough to Monday morning that there was no sense in going to bed – not to sleep anyway. So we made love for the rest of the night. Had to pass the time before class, right? Only now it was Carmel's face and body beneath me.
That jolted me right out of my reverie, let me tell you.
Anyway, when I got to Throckmorton and turned down the dirt road that led to my double-wide, I stopped about 200 yards away. I could see a light on inside the mobile home. It wasn't mine, it was rented from the fellow who owned the surrounding ranch. It was close to the road, though, so I got phone, cable tv and internet, and electric from the lines that ran down the road. There was no cell service out here.
But through the window I could see a light on. I know I had not left a light on. Fuck. They were after me again, and I didn't even know why. How could they have gotten here before me? The ID I had used didn't point here. They had never even seen my truck and couldn't have tracked the plates, so how did they get here? Maybe they could track me to Throckmorton, but to this double-wide in the middle of nowhere? Unlikely. I could just leave, but I wanted my laptop. And there was Sonny too.
I went half a mile up the road, and parked next to a dilapidated line shack. It was used by the ranch hands who would check the fences, mostly in winter when the days were short. I guess they used to stay in the double-wide until I rented it some five years ago. In the twilight, I put on my old SEAL boots – not the same ones, so I guess they were 'imitation boots like the SEALs used to wear, ordered online' – and ran through the open prairie back toward the mobile home. I had the magnum in the small of my back and the K-bar sheathed on my belt – left side for a quick, cross the body draw.
About 300 yards from the target, ol' Sonny found me. Sonny was an old cattle and sheep herder, a border collie who was now beyond his working years. He'd adopted me about a year after I moved in here. No telling how old he was, but he had a sprinkling of grey in his muzzle. He was smart as a whip. He got smarter when I went to the folks on the ranch and asked about him. They showed me all his hand signal commands, told me about the verbal commands. I spent some time teaching him a few commands that were not on the 'sheep herder' list. He would never be a protection dog – too old and too small for that – but he was a hell of a good scout dog. I'd left him on his own with only some of those 'automatic feeder/waterers' while I was gone.
I kept him near me as we approached the target; he could see better than me in the near dark and he could smell anything coming our way. We got up to the mobile home, I pulled the knife and looked in the window. I didn't see anybody, but the light in the kitchen area was on and a chair was out of place. From the bluish flicker coming from the bedroom, I could see the TV was on. That meant there was somebody in there.