Authors: Joseph Rogers
A Tale of Two Hit Men
Copyright 2014 by Joseph P. Rogers
All rights reserved
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.
The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another, and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
The Assassin Strikes
In the conference rooms of a hotel in New York City, a biotechnology conference neared the conclusion of the afternoon's scheduled activities. Biotechnology companies presented their latest products in order to persuade potential investors to purchase stock in their companies.
In the hotel's auditorium, Douglas Neldt addressed a crowded room. “Recent advances in technology have made it possible for us to develop this wonderful artificial intelligence program. Our team of programmers has been working on this biotechnology software for almost three years. When we demonstrate our Intelligent Agency program tomorrow morning, I guarantee that you will be amazed. The program can create a perfect three-dimensional replication of every virus that exists or has ever existed. It can then show the best way to destroy that virus. The Intelligent Agency program will save millions of lives every year.”
A murmur went through the crowd upon hearing such a grandiose claim. One man in the upper balcony of the auditorium, though, was barely listening to the speech. From where he had been standing at the back of the room, he moved inconspicuously into a projection room that was not being used that afternoon.
He set his briefcase on the shelf next to the video projector, opened the case, and began to snap together the parts of his rifle. Working with a calm efficiency, he quickly assembled the rifle. Each rifle part made a decisive clicking sound that assured him that the part was firmly in place.
The man in the dark projection room rested his elbow on the ledge as he looked through the scope and took careful aim with the rifle. He focused the crosshairs on
Neldt’s forehead. The man only planned to take one shot and wanted to be certain that shot would be fatal.
Neldt continued with his speech. “This program will provide our nation with a great defense against biological weapons. In this age of terrorism, this is especially important. If the terrorists attack us with a doomsday virus, Intelligent Agency can provide a cure. If the terrorists attack us with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Intelligent Agency can design a drug that will kill the bacteria.
“The artificial intelligence of this program is truly amazing. The program has the capability to improve itself
; if it’s presented with some viral agent that it doesn’t recognize, the program will adapt itself so that it’s able to understand this new virus and determine the best way to destroy it. Intelligent Agency will probably grow in ways that we have not imagined. I’m certain that we can expect some surprises.”
Hearing this last comment, the man paused before firing. He grinned slightly. Here is your first surprise, he thought as he squeezed the trigger.
The gunshot resounded through the auditorium. Douglas Neldt fell straight back as the bullet penetrated the center of his forehead. As he toppled backwards, Neldt knocked over the American flag behind the podium.
Pandemonium erupted, and the assassin used the chaos to his advantage. He slipped out the projection room's back door. Once in the hallway he easily merged in with the crowd fleeing from the auditorium, and he successfully escaped from the scene of his crime.
David Hummel and Sam Troutman arrived at the scene of the shooting less than fifteen minutes after the assassination occurred.
The two FBI agents were a study in contrast. David was only five foot five inches tall while Sam, being six foot three inches tall, towered over his partner.
David felt that Sam looked down upon him in more ways than one. David had never
traveled outside of the United States; Sam had traveled throughout the world and was considered one of the FBI’s experts on the Middle East and Europe.
Although he was not a world traveler, within his active mind, David had journeyed along many fascinating roads. He was fairly certain that he was the only FBI agent with a bachelor’s degree in astronomy.
Astronomy was proving to be a lifelong hobby rather than a vocation; for various reasons, after receiving his astronomy degree, he had gone on to Notre Dame Law School and then joined the FBI after graduating.
David was also a chess champion; he had won several regional tournaments and was constantly trying to improve his game by reading chess strategy books.
As they stood in the lobby of the hotel, the cell phones of the two FBI agents rang almost simultaneously. The ringtones of the two phones harmonized smoothly, causing both men to laugh.
Their smiles soon disappeared, though, upon hearing the news from their callers. A few minutes ago there had been a series of explosions in the offices of Douglas
Neldt’s biotechnology software company. The offices had been almost completely destroyed and most of the employees had been killed by the explosions and subsequent fires.
“This definitely seems to be the work of terrorists,” David said. “They must to be trying to put an end to that anti-viral computer program.”
“It seems likely that all copies of the program have vanished in blood and fire,” Sam said.
“Blood and fire,” David echoed.
After speaking to many persons who had been in the auditorium, David and Sam selected Rebecca Wright as the person who could provide the most illumination on the case. Rebecca, a
computer programmer at Neldt’s company, was a tall, red-headed young woman.
They led Rebecca away from the television cameras and aggressive reporters.
“I like to think that the FBI helps to bring order out of chaos,” David said as they walked out of the crowded hallway. “It should be more peaceful up there.” They went up to the skywalk that extended over the street between the convention center and the hotel.
Along the skywalk's glass walls were some cushioned benches. Rebecca and the two men sat down on one of these benches.
“Oh, it's good to be able to relax for a while!” Rebecca declared with a sigh. “I can't believe this is really happening.”
“Did you know Douglas
Neldt well?” Sam asked.
“Not especially well. Two years ago he recruited me for his company while I was doing graduate work in computer simulations of viruses and bacteria. He would occasionally meet with our programming team. He was always nice and polite, but he wasn’t much for chit-chat with employees.”
“I see,” Sam said.
“We are working on the assumption that terrorists are responsible for the assassination and the bombing at your company,” David said. “I hope that your company has some backup copies of that anti-viral computer program stored off-site somewhere. It would certainly be tragic if the terrorists succeeded today.”
“Yes, it would be tragic. The project has been seriously damaged, but we should be able to continue our work. It will take us a few months, though, to get back to the point where we were before today’s events.” She raised her laptop computer so that the men could see it better. “I have a lot of the key files on this computer. My laptop computer, of course, isn’t powerful enough to run the full version of the Intelligent Agency biotechnology software. However, there’s a company in St. Louis that also has an almost complete comprehensive backup copy of our Intelligent Agency program.”
“What company?” David inquired, somewhat surprised.
“Sandhaven Software Solutions.”
The two agents spoke with Rebecca for several more minutes, then after verifying her contact information, told her that she could go home.
After she departed, David studied his notes, contemplating what they had learned since arriving at the hotel. Sam, who was by nature more reticent than David, also remained silent, absorbed in his own thoughts.
David finally broke the silence. “I don’t understand why the assassin shot Douglas Neldt here in front of an audience. The assassin could have killed him somewhere else with much less risk of being captured. Douglas Neldt did not have a bodyguard; he was not a famous person.”
“Perhaps he would have been famous someday if his Intelligent Agency program lived up to its glory,” Sam interjected.
David continued to flip through his pages of notes. “But the assassin could have shot him at the supermarket or in front of his home. Anywhere but here would have been so much simpler.”
“I guess that we’ll have to catch the assassin so that we can ask him,” Sam said, then added with a hint of disdain in his voice, “You’re not going to find your answers in those papers.”
“You never know,” David replied with a rueful grin. He knew that Sam, who considered himself a man of action, considered David to be a bookworm and was not impressed by David’s scholarly approach to their work.
Then, as if some sudden epiphany had occurred, David looked up from the papers, his eyes wide. “The assassination was carried out in a dramatic manner in order to send a message.”
“Don’t continue this project. Don’t attempt to restart the project.”
“You might be correct about that,” Sam acknowledged. “In fact, I can’t think of any other explanation. And blowing up Neldt’s company certainly reinforced that message.”
They headed back toward the projection booth in the auditorium in order to search for any clues that might have been overlooked.
At dusk the next day, Rebecca Wright disembarked from the commuter train and walked onto a tree-lined street of the quiet suburb. I might miss all the oak trees and lovely scenery if I move downtown, she debated with herself.
Her apartment building was located about a quarter-mile from the train station. Rebecca glanced over her shoulder occasionally as she walked at a somewhat brisker pace than usual. All day she had felt like she was being watched, although she had not actually seen anyone following her.
Rebecca carried a briefcase containing her laptop computer. Until a few months ago she had used a padded leather carrying case for transporting the computer, but she decided that the carrying case made it too obvious to potential thieves that an expensive computer was inside. Therefore, she purchased a briefcase in order to give the appearance that she was only carrying papers.
Rebecca walked past the tennis courts and up one flight of steps onto the walkway that led to her apartment. Once again she looked back to make certain that no one was following her.
She unlocked her apartment door, stepped inside, and shut the door behind her. As soon as Rebecca flicked on the light switch, she was grabbed from behind.
A hand tightly clasped over her mouth made it impossible for her to shout for help. Rebecca tried to hit the attacker with her briefcase, but he was behind her, making it difficult for her to reach him.
Then she felt a knife enter her back and pierce her heart. She collapsed dead to the floor, never having seen the face of her murderer.
The man removed the knife from his victim, used a tablecloth to wipe the blood off the blade, and placed the knife back in the sheath in his jacket.
After picking up the briefcase, he placed it on the table and snapped it open. He took out the laptop computer.
The man then completed his search of the apartment, a search that he had begun before Rebecca had returned home. About five minutes after the murder, the man departed from the apartment, taking with him some of her papers and her computer.