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Chapter 5 – ‘Buried Ladies’
Diego didn’t have time to deal with the body now. Besides, he had to wait until everyone was asleep before he dumped it. It would wait.
He needed the cash. He’d squirreled away a little for tonight, but he was gonna need more tomorrow to keep from getting sick and he already owed his dealer $100 bucks. That culero, Jaime. He only offered enough to keep him going for a few days. After he got rid of the body, he’d need to get more from his uncle’s people in Reynosa. He’d take her body up to that constructions site and bury her with the other putas.
Thinking about them made him hard again. Rubbing his manhood, he saw the life go out in their eyes as the strangled them. He felt the orgasm coming and went back to look at the crumpled, nearly decapitated body in the back room. He pushed the shower curtain aside and felt the hot semen spurt out, although he was careful not to let any get onto the body or the curtain. He’d come too far to get sloppy now.
Armed with the fake ID (he kinda liked the way he looked with dirty blond hair) and burner phone, Jim headed towards the airport; changing cabs a few times to make it harder if the cops started asking drivers about fares to the airport. He wore big sombrero and sunglasses Despite turning his dark brown hair to a dirty blond, he needed the hat and glasses to hide the shape of this face from security cameras. He filled his ugly straw satchel with a few clothes he’d picked up when he stopped by the hours yesterday, carefully wrapping them around his laptop to hide it’s shape from the cameras. He’d still have to remove it to go through security screening, but no sense advertising he had it with him – fit more with the tourist look he was going for.
Normally, he liked the McAllen airport with its 4 little gates, but today he worried about running into someone he knew. It was like living in a fish bowl with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. He was careful to turn his head away from the cameras as he approached the checkpoint and slouched to hide his height and build. He could have hacked into the devices, but they were being watched in real-time and an outage might shut down the airport until it was back online. So, he used old-fashioned means to beat security.
He needn’t have worried. McAllen TSA was more interested in WHAT got on the plane than WHO since this was a major channel for the drug trade. They really didn’t even notice him, only his bag. He’d planned arrival to limit the amount of time he’d spend waiting to board so, by the time he got to his gate, they were already boarding.
Onboard the plane he pulled the sombrero over his eyes and crossed his arms like he was asleep to discourage anyone from talking to him or looking closely at his face. That was the biggest problem. He could hack in an erase his image from a tape, but there wasn’t much you could do about someone’s memory except not be memorable. Once he got to Houston, he’d feel more anonymous in the big crowds.
The long flight from Houston to Reagan gave him plenty of time to figure out what to do. He couldn’t do what the cartel wanted – too many people would be in danger. But, he couldn’t just ignore their request or they’d kill Estella. They’d made that perfectly clear. The picture attached to an email showed her trussed up like a pig ready for the spit. She looked so small and vulnerable bound and gagged on a concrete floor. A newspaper next to her showed yesterday’s date to make sure he took them seriously. The newspaper headline reported the Gulf Cartel had just killed the Chief of Police. If they would do that, they’d surely kill Estella.
The meeting was going well – for Pablo, at least. The ex-navy commander couldn’t say the same. Pablo hacked into their system in just under ½ hour and was able to access confidential information, including specs for the new program they were building for the Department of Defense and social security numbers for employees, as well as bank account credentials.
A few years ago, today’s job would have landed Pablo in jail for a good long time. Instead, he was getting paid 7 figures a pop to help uncover vulnerability for his corporate clients, mostly governments agencies and contractors who needed a high level of cybersecurity. After several high-profile corporate acts of cyber snooping, such as Target losing credit card numbers for thousands of shoppers on Black Friday, his services were in even higher demand among businesses.
His business model was simple and he did no sales. Every new client was a referral. A government agency or other client hired him and his highly-skilled group of hackers to find holes in their digital security. He’d then turn over any holes he found to his team of coders who’d patch the holes. It was great doing what he loved without the threat of jail. Plus, it allowed him to live very comfortably in McLean, even though his wife spent most days burning up his credit cards. Of course, he knew what he was in for when he married Ms. Maryland who was 10 years younger. Eye candy came with a high price tag.
He smiled over at Commander John Harding, (ret.) and explained how he planned to patch the holes and quoted a figure for costs. Harding went white and his CTO was half out of his chair before dropping back. The color of his face told the whole story.
“Listen,” said Pablo, holding up his hand to stop Charlie Driver from bursting the blood vessel that popped out on his neck, “this isn’t a problem. A problem would be if a competitor found these back doors or the government found out after you delivered the program. The entire country could pay the price then. We found the problem and we’ll fix it. When I fix something it stays fixed.” At least for 6 months, it did, he thought. Then tradecraft changed; the bad guys developed new tools, and Harding would be back paying him more money to fix those problems. Most customers paid an annual fee for him to make sure their systems stayed invulnerable. He had the kind of reputation that kept customers paying without too much complaining.
His phone buzzed and he looked at the display. Normally, phones weren’t allowed in the facility, but his had private encryption on it – unbreakable and untraceable — so they allowed it in. A text from Jaime. That was weird. He hadn’t heard from his old hacking buddy in a long time and never during a workday.
“OK, just fix it,” said Harding. “When will it be done?”
“About 3 days. I think we have some code that’ll work with a few modifications. You’ll be happy with the results.”
As he left the meeting, Pablo picked up the text from Jaime.
911 Need to see you NOW.
911. This was bad.
“You look terrible, cabrón. What’s up?”
After changing planes 4 times since Houston to make it hard to track and using 3 different fake IDs plus the one he got from Diego, he was wired on coffee, no sleep, and fear. He was in the same rumpled chinos he’d worn to work yesterday, although he had changed out of the UT-RGV polo since he was trying to fit in as a tourist. Instead, he was wearing a plaid shirt. The tie was in his pocket along with most of the cash.
Jim quickly told the story of Estella’s kidnapping by the Gulf Cartel in Mexico over a secure video link. They’d kill her if he didn’t embed their worm in the DEA computer by the end of the week – 5 days. He needed help.
Wow, what a mess. He and Jamie had been hacking buddies when Jamie was still in high school. He had a real talent, but it was just a game to the pair. They never really did anything beyond seeing if they could hack in. Even then, Pablo was more interested in the challenge and learning tradecraft. He was already building a reputation as a cyber consultant. Jamie helped on a few clients before he went off to college at UT. By then Pablo had plenty of work and skilled hackers working for him. He moved his team to DC with its lucrative government contractors a few years ago. He and Jaime just drifted apart, especially after Jaime married Estella.
Pablo saw Jaime last at his wedding. Now, that was a weird event. Jaime’s mother-in-law was obviously strung out. She wore heavy makeup to hide some pretty deep scars, but the makeup also reduced the puffiness and dark circles that came with long-term drug use. Estella’s dad was jovial, greeting guests and making numerous toasts to the couple and his upcoming grandchild. He’d had a few drinks that made his ruddy face even redder. His ample belly shook every time he laughed, which he did often as he went around toasting and pounding guests on the back.
Meanwhile, Jaime’s large family looked uncomfortable in their formal attire. Fancy parties with gourmet food and top-self liquor weren’t an everyday occurrence in their lives. They obviously loved Estella and were thrilled that their son found someone who loved him as much as they did.
Pablo was a little nervous about helping Jaime because it would destroy his business if anyone ever found out. But, he loved a challenge and he owed Jaime a lot for helping him for next to nothing in those early years. He also thought he could keep his illegal activity from his clients pretty easily.
In his office, which was swept for devices every morning, and he had a connection to the dark web via a computer he never touched for anything related to client work. He’d bounce the connection through a bunch of anonymous IP addresses until it would be nearly impossible to trace back to him. Besides, if someone found him in the DEA network, he’d just say he was sniffing around for his client, which was true. DEA paid a lucrative subscription to ensure they were safe from hackers like him.
“Let’s get to work. It should be pretty straightforward to insert the worm, but it’ll take time modify it then cover our tracks on everything,” he said into his phone.