Authors: Robert Stohn
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, places, events, or other locales, is purely coincidental.
During the bustling evening rush of
passengers hurriedly slipping through the congested Amsterdam Schiphol Airport,
a man seated in the corner of one of the many bistros in the terminal area,
slipped a black USB cipher drive into his laptop and powered the sleek machine
on. He watched the glowing screen in front of him as it came to life, and
carefully scanned the terminal floor from beneath his thick non-prescription
lenses. He inconspicuously tapped his finger on the black faux mustache and
beard on his face to ensure that they were securely in place. Then, navigating
his way across the keyword with the skill of an artisan, his fingers and hands
glided smoothly along as he worked his magic like a master pianist playing his
most prized concerto.
Occasionally glancing up to see that everything else in the
airport was operating smoothly and efficiently, the man focused his attention
task at hand.
Passengers quickly glided across
the airport floor under the towering ceiling of white lights slung high above
as they made their way to their destinations, all while the man carried out his
virtual attack. He appeared just like any other of the thousands of people rushing
through or waiting in the airport terminal – a busy traveler using his
laptop to check-in remotely to the office. But that’s not what he was doing. He
watched as the black USB cipher drive whirred to life, and he launched a UNIX
systems browser screen. He spent the next few minutes keying in various data
and details of his planned targets. He was starting with the Air Traffic
He pounded on the keyboard with lightning fury as the lines
of code appeared before him. The white code cast a stark contrast against the
black background of the UNIX browser screen he had launched. He focused his
attention further as he pressed enter, sending the code through the bowels of
Cyberspace. He set the timer on his phone for 27 minutes – the time it
would take for his hack to take effect. And, although nothing changed in that
instant when he hit the enter key, he knew what he had just done. He knew what
was imminently on the horizon. Air Traffic Control Systems rely on several
mainframe databases that communicate information back and forth from airplanes
in real-time. These databases are responsible for helping to guide all of the
airplanes in the sky. They help to point planes in the right direction, avert
flight paths, and keep people safe. That was all about to change.
The man opened up another UNIX browser window – this
time he was after infrastructure in the major cities around the world. He spent
several more minutes keying in data as he watched the portions of UNIX lines of
code spit out results to his commands. He was about to cripple water and power
in several major cities throughout the world. He honed in on the destinations
he was selecting as his fingers continued to glide across the keys. He knew
that it would be catastrophic, but this was only a test. He could bring cities
and governments to their knees if he wanted to. He knew that. He knew that very
well. He pressed enter and set another timer for 27 minutes.
The man then opened up a final UNIX browser window. This
time, he was after financial institutions. He typed in code with a fury,
occasionally glancing at the little black USB cipher box connected to the laptop.
He punched in code and it spit back results, line after line. He was working
with the obsession of a mad man. It was as if he was possessed as his fingers
flew across that keyboard. Occasionally, he would glance up and adjust the
horn-rimmed glasses he had on. His furious typing didn’t even catch a second
glance from airport passengers or security that were busy milling about,
completely unaware of what was about to happen. He was about to cripple the
major financial institutions in the world, and in the process, extract billions
The man kept typing away, keying in more details. This one
was more complex. He entered in several added commands, which included
elongated numbered accounts from international banks that were in his control.
The numbers corresponded to the most secrecy-shrouded banks throughout the
world. From Panama to Switzerland, he had methodically plotted towards that
moment for months, and now he was about to execute his plan. He watched the
little black USB cipher drive connected to his laptop whirring, rapidly flashing
an orange and green LED light as it went to work sending crippling ciphers
across the Web.
He knew that no one could stop him. He was hopping from one
proxy server on the Internet to the next. He was a virtual ghost. No one would
even know he existed. He had complete control, and his finger was on the
trigger. He knew the power that he held in his hands with that little black cipher
drive. He adjusted his tie and breathed in and out slowly. He stared at the
UNIX commands being spit back out at him from the various windows he had open.
25 minutes and counting.
The first window was whirring back
commands as it sent the ciphers through the Web in an orchestrated attack on
some of the Web’s most highly secured databases. He watched carefully as the
information was spewed back at him; he watched with intent as his plan
carefully unfolded before his very eyes.
He looked around, almost expecting a group of men to appear
with assault rifles all pointed in his direction, but they didn’t. He really
was a ghost. He cracked a half-witted smile as he looked up at the security
cameras in the airport terminal. They wouldn’t have even known the difference. But
the sophisticated hacker had the help of his newly acquired cipher drive, and
with it, he was going to take over the world. As the perspiration built on the
side of his face and as his fingers continued to fly across the keyboard, he
realized that nothing could stop him. No one could stop him. He was virtually
invincible, and his only weapon was a little black USB cipher drive. He looked
down at the small device connected to his laptop as the UNIX lines of code
continued to spew back at an extraordinarily fast rate, and realized the
importance of that one tiny device. With that cipher drive, he could do
anything. He could conquer the world.
And as the time wound down, he knew that the moment would
soon arrive when all hell would break loose. Cities would fall into complete
chaos, the people would
and loot, and banking
systems around the world would virtually collapse. He would be left standing at
the helm of one of the largest criminal organizations with the resources to do
anything he wanted. He would have the money and the power. The twisted,
maniacal thoughts ran through his mind as he slipped the laptop closed. The
click of the screen hitting the keyboard put a sense of silent determination
into his heart.
This is it,
This is finally it.
Jonathan Grace checked his watch
– it was a quarter past two in the morning when his work phone rang. The
incessant ringing woke him out of a half-drunken stupor. He felt around his
nightstand in the dark as he tried to pull himself together. His nerves were
fried and his senses were shot; a 12-hour drinking binge would do that to you.
And, even by alcoholics’ standards, Jonathan Grace was a force to be reckoned
with. He could throw them back with the best of them.
“Hello?” His muffled voice was sure to detract anyone who
was calling to harass him at that hour.
“Who’s asking?” No one had called him that in a long time; no
one except some of his old clients. His investigative business had all but washed
up two years ago, along with his sobriety.
“We need to meet,” said the tense voice on the other line.
“We have job for you,” he added in broken English.
“Who is this?”
“Vinnie. I’m friend of Joe,” he said in more broken English.
His thick heavy voice clung to the air like a bad stench of next-day cigarette
“Si. Si?” The voice suddenly sounded much more Italian than
it did when he first picked up the phone. Maybe he was starting to finally wake
“Okay. When?” Jonathan asked.
“Bethesda Fountain. Central Park.”
“Okay, I’ll be there,” Jonathan hummed back. He was still
trying to get his bearings.
“See you,” said the voice on the other end. And with that,
the phone clicked. Jonathan looked at it and scratched his head. He hadn’t
taken a job in ages and his thinning roster of clients was a product of his
increased efficiency in boozing. He knew he had to pull himself together. He
rummaged around in his nightstand drawer looking for something to write on. He
remembered placing a notepad in there somewhere, and began tossing out socks
and underwear until he located a pad and pen. He scribbled down some notes and
tried to jar his memory. His head was still throbbing but he had to try to do
it while it was fresh in his head.
Don Joe Cicerone
– Cicerone Family Head – Little Italy
12:00pm Central Park
– Bethesda Fountain
The next day, Jonathan could feel the effects of his
hangover. He could feel his head throbbing and his dry mouth as soon as he
opened his eyes. He was paying the price for his poor decisions, but that was
always the case. He seemed to always be paying the price; at least that’s how
the past two years had been. He tried to shake it off. He thought back to the
phone call and tried to pull himself together. He knew he needed to nurse his
hangover, and he did it like any other professional drinker would – by
pouring himself another drink. He cracked opened the near desolate fridge and
scanned the shelves – vodka, tomato juice, Worcester sauce – he had
found breakfast. He carefully blended a morning meal – a Bloody Mary it
was. He plopped a handful of ice cubes in, dashed it with some salt, and
stirred it with his pink finger. Perfection.
He gulped down hard. The concoction hit just the right spot,
but it was still to early for him to be up. It had been ages since he had woken
up early to meet a client; and early by his standards meant anything before
noon. He had become accustomed to the
as he would describe it to the few close friends he still had left. He
checked his watch – only an hour to go before the meeting. He thought
about Don Cicerone and the meeting as he surveyed the atomic bomb that had gone
off in his apartment. He scanned the empty pizza boxes, empty cans of beer, and
the kitchen sink full of dishes as he thought about the type of jobs he had
been given in the past from the Cicerone family. He was always tasked with
digging up the dirt that no one else could find. That’s why they came to him
– he used to be the best in the business.
Looking around his own apartment, he realized that he sure
didn’t feel confident anymore. In fact, he was completely out sync with
reality. He was a rusty nail in an old beat up toolbox. After throwing back the
bottle for the past couple of years, his thinning roster of clients was barely
helping edge him by in life. But he kept those few clients because that’s what
kept him going; that’s what kept the pleasure train rolling. Without them, the
river would dry up, and Jonathan would actually have to man up. He didn’t want
to face the music. He wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t remotely ready for
anything like that. No rehab. No sobriety. Nothing. All he wanted to do was get
by, and that’s just what he had been doing.
He hit the streets to a sweltering gust of heat outside his
Brooklyn apartment. New York City was ablaze with a heat wave. But it wasn’t
just any old heat wave, because the humidity made the temperature boil over
even more. It was hot and muggy out. Jonathan dressed the part in an effort to
keep cool – beige khakis, a white polo tee was in order for the day, and
a silver set of aviators to keep the glaring sun away from his very hungover
state-of-mind. He would have preferred to be indoors where he could feel the
cool breeze of the air conditioning on his face, but he had no choice. Vinnie
was waiting, and it was for Don Cicerone. He thought about the Italian mob
boss, and what he could have possibly wanted him to help him with this time. He
had been one of his best clients but after a year of not hearing from him, he
thought he had all but been forgotten.
Jonathan tried to fan his face as he dropped down below
Church Street and into the depths of the New York subway system. The hot air upstairs
was even more exaggerated down below. It was midday, so the Brooklyn subway
platform had a light passenger load. Most people were at work at that hour. As
the number five train approached, the hot gust of wind made it almost
unbearable to be down there. Coupled with the hangover he was still trying to
nurse, the blast of hot air made him feel lightheaded. He walked onto the
air-conditioned subway car and was happily greeted with a gust of cold air. He
could relax. He sat down, eyed the passengers, and tried to pull himself together.
He pulled out his phone and leafed through his messages. He
was just killing time, but he couldn’t help but think about Don Cicerone again.
The fear of working for one of the most repudiated mob families in New York was
tempered by his need for cash. Jonathan was going broke, and he needed to do
something fast. He had been burning a hole in his pocket ever since he started
binge drinking again. The subway stopped at Dyre Avenue in lower Manhattan, and
he hoofed it to transfer to the C-Train. He still had about thirty minutes to
go as he headed towards the Fulton street transfer.
When he finally arrived at the 72
he sensed some built-up anxiety. Why had they called him after so long? What
was so important that it couldn’t be discussed over the phone? Why the call at
2 o’clock in the morning? The secrecy that shrouded the job was eating at him,
and as he hoofed his way in the sweltering heat towards Bethesda Fountain in
Central Park, he rubbed the sweat off his forehead. The unbearable heat made it
difficult to be outside. The 100-plus degree weather made even the least
strenuous activity difficult. And although the brisk walk was just a short trek
through the park, it made Jonathan sweat.
When he reached the fountain, he was out of breath. He
wasn’t sure who he would be looking for because he didn’t know what Vinnie
looked like, so he sat down on the fountain’s edge. The cool mist from the
water made being by the fountain more bearable. He faced the terrace just to
the south of the fountain and wished he were standing under the protection of
it. He looked around at all the people who had filled the park that day –
it was late summer after all, and tourism in New York City was most likely
booming. He looked around to survey the other park goers and checked his watch
– 11:58am. He had made it with only minutes to spare. But where was
Jonathan checked his watch again – 12:05pm. They were
late. But, maybe he just wasn’t noticeable enough. Maybe he needed to stand up
so that they would be able to spot him. It wasn’t the first time he was meeting
someone blind on the spot, meaning he didn’t know who he was looking for. But,
they usually knew to look for him, and he figured today wouldn’t have been any
different. He checked his watch one final time – 12:08pm. They were
. Jonathan looked around one more time before
standing up to stretch when a man selling balloons approached him. He handed
him a blue balloon.
“This is for you,” said the man with balloons.
“No thank you, I really don’t want a balloon,” he barked
“Yes you do. You want this balloon. Take this balloon and
walk up through the terrace and onto the other side. Wait there for a black
town car to pick you up.” The man with the balloons walked off just as quickly
as he had appeared. He left headed north through the park, the opposite
direction Jonathan was supposed to go in.
He didn’t wait around any longer. He took the balloon,
walked through the ornately decorated Bethesda Terrace, and quickly ascended
the steps on the other side towards Terrace Drive. When he got there, he stood
and waited with his blue balloon.
like a fool holding this thing.
He watched as car after car drove by,
mostly taxis until a black town car stopped in front of him. The driver rolled
the window down.
“Get in,” said the beefy man with a triple chin.
Jonathan hopped in the backseat, and looked at the
overweight thug in the driver’s seat. He had on all black. A black suit jacket,
black dress shirt, black tie, and black pants. He looked like he was on his way
to a funeral. His overtly Italian accent meant that he was most likely new to
“Hi, so where to?” Jonathan tried to play friendly. He tried
to be nice.
“Uptown,” he said in his very thick accent.
Jonathan got the point that the man was either in no mood to
talk, or didn’t really have the vocabulary to strike up a conversation. So, he
just sat in the car, still nursing a hangover, and watched the scenery go by as
they made their way uptown. The car veered out of Central Park heading north on
Broadway. They made their way west towards the Hudson River when they hit 96
street. He still wasn’t sure where they were going, but Jonathan knew enough to
keep his mouth shut. He looked at the glum driver every now and then who had a
proclivity to keep his hand on the horn for a few seconds too long each time he
thought another car was in his way. A barrage of Italian spoken excessively
fast and foul would follow each incident.
They finally arrived at their destination at the Riverside
Clay Tennis Association. It wasn’t the strangest place they could go, but it
certainly was out of character for old Don Cicerone. They got out of the car
and walked towards a grassy tree-lined area by the water.
“Follow me,” he said again in that thick accent.
Jonathan followed the 400-plus pound Italian thug as he led
him through the serene park to a tree where two men stood amidst people lying
in the sun trying to soak up the rays and catch a tan.
“Thanks for coming,” said Don Cicerone.
“Interesting place to meet. It’s been a long time,” replied
“You look like shit.”
Jonathan ran his hand through his hair. “It was long night,”
he said meekly.
“You look worse than shit, actually. What happened to you?”
Jonathan wasn’t sure how to answer that question.
What happened to me? Life happened to me.
He had been battered and bruised by a string of experiences that left him
emotionally and financially broke, battered, and bruised. “It’s been a bad year…
a bad couple of years”
“Well, you look like a shmuck. Clean yourself up kid. You’ve
got some work to do.”
“What’s the job?” Jonathan asked.
“The most important job of your life.”
Jonathan’s interest was peaked. “Yeah?”
“I need you to locate something for me.”
“Got a name?”
“It’s not a person. It’s a USB cipher drive. A small
four-inch by one-inch square.” As the Don spoke, Jonathan surveyed the sweaty
monstrosity in front of him. It was like speaking to two people at once.
“You want me to find a hard drive for you?”
“Not just any drive you idiot,” he said. He slicked his
jet-black hair back with one of his meaty hands. Jonathan noticed the excessive
gold rings and bracelets on his hand that jingled as he moved it. “This drive
has something very valuable to me on it. Let’s just say it’s a special kind of
drive. Anyways, I need you to find it.”
“Just okay? This is important. Don’t you have any questions
Jonathan Grace wasn’t used to locating a thing; he
specialized in finding people. He used to be one of the best detectives out
there, but this task was different. He stared at Don Cicerone as he stood there
before him. His mane of chest hairs protruding from the black V-neck shirt he
“What’s on the drive?”
“Something very important to me,” barked Don Cicerone. He
started getting agitated with Jonathan.
“Okay, but look…”
“No look kid. This is very important. That drive belongs to
me and I need it back; I need it back badly. It was taken from me and if I
don’t get it back someone is going to pay. If you can’t do the job, I’ll find
someone else who can. Just say the word, kid.”
“Okay. I’ll find your drive Don Cicerone.”
“You better kid.” He handed Jonathan a yellow envelope
stuffed with one hundred dollar bills. “Here’s a 100k upfront. Should cover all
your travel costs along with a sizable retainer.”