Chapter 4: Liaison (Part 3)

Outside the house, the crowd has only grown. Mikhail notices that a silver Toyota sedan is parked just beyond the caution tape. The street was seriously getting crowded by now, and there was a uniformed officer talking to the driver of the sedan. The officer waves Mikhail and Jill over. The driver is introduced as a Mrs. Tien Dang, the owner of the home that they had just emerged from. Apparently on arriving at her job at the Port of Seattle, Tien had been informed that the police had converged outside her house. It had taken a while with the evening traffic, but finally she had made it home on the verge of tears. She had been demanding over and over to see her son, Hanh, and had indicated to the officer that the broken window had been her son’s room. Hanh had not answered his phone or the house phone despite her attempts to reach him several times on the way home, and she was fearing the worst. Telling the officer who had been talking with Tien the bad news fell on Mikhail; apparently the two of them had been the first ones to actually go into the room while other officers on the scene processed the mountain of other evidence presented. The officer, fluent in Vietnamese and English, had to relay the news to Tien who became rather inconsolable. Jill and Mikhail can do nothing other than return to their car and head back to Megasys headquarters. Thankfully, by now the Seattle Field Office of the FBI had mobilized and gotten a team of veteran investigators out to Clyde Hill. It had taken a while, but a federal judge had helped convince the chiefs of police in Seattle and Clyde Hill to hand off responsibility for this case to the FBI while allowing their respective officers to continue to work with the feds. Jill has a few words with the newly arrived agent about what she and Mikhail had seen thus far, including the USB drive and the file on the computer.; To Mikhail’s dismay, this exchange involved handing over the drive itself so that it could be properly accounted for in the investigation. He had wanted the glory of being able to return it to the company, but rules were rules, and it was a point that Jill had made clear that she did not want to be crossed on. She also makes clear that she wants to talk to Tien herself as soon as she can, but allowing her to have space to grieve was important as per bureau policy. Jill wanted it to be clear that there was not going to be an adversarial interview - Tien was not a suspect at the current stage of the investigation - but she wanted to know more about what had happened, her son, and the things found that may have led to his death. Moreover, Jill knew that as a mother these sorts of situations were outright unthinkable. She knew at least a piece of what the woman was going through in terms of her feelings. The news would want a statement, to be sure, as well. Jill was not particularly concerned with that angle, though she knew it would have to be done and yes, because of her standing in the Seattle office she would have to be named lead agent on it. The two finally climb into the car for the long drive back to Megasys, and Mikhail pulls out his own phone. Somehow, during that whole time at the crime scene he had neglected to notice the variety of messages that had come in. One of which was from his colleague back in Houston; apparently that hash had shown up on a dark web site notorious for the black market trade in stolen data. He relays this information to Jill, who immediately pulls off the highway to inform the investigators of this development. That would complicate things a bit, to be sure, and it solidified in her mind that this was definitely a case for the FBI to be on. Somehow, in some way, the murder was linked to the hack. But how?! “I don’t get it.” She admits, after a long period of silence while the car gilded forward on automatic. “The kid did not look like a hacker. And yet, you said the file was as definitively linked as it could possibly be.” Mikhail turns toward her. “That has been bothering me too. Whoever hacked Megasys was no amateur. Sure, looks can be deceiving, but something does not quite fit for me here. It certainly would not be unheard of for a teenager to be able to pull something like that off, but I have no idea. Is it possible? Absolutely. But I think I will have to let the professionals figure it out.” Mikhail remains silent for the remainder of the drive back. It is enough of a departure from his demeanor on the ride over to the crime scene that Jill almost asks how he is feeling. And yet, she recognizes that he could just use some space to process what he had seen. It had been decades before, almost lost to the mists of time, but she, too, remembered her first body. She had had nightmares about it for weeks. It was hard enough on her that she had had to take the time to speak with one of the bureau’s psychologists before going back into the field. Looking back, her first was nowhere near as bad as the one that she had just seen Mikhail witness. She would give him time and space that he needed. Perhaps there was even a way to get the FBI to allow him access to the resources she had. She had never had to even think of asking, never mind learning what the process for such a thing was. It was technically because he was working on FBI business, but fundamentally he was a civilian. Still, was Jill starting to think of Mikhail in the same way as she might a fellow agent assigned to work with her on a case? He was just a civilian! Odds were as soon as the two split up back at the Megasys office they would not cross each other’s path again. Maybe when the case went to trial he would be brought back as an expert, but that was different. Court was nothing like actually being out doing field work, that much she knew. It was, in fact, the primary reason Jill Tamano had not progressed up the bureau’s rankings as of yet; she just enjoyed field work too much. The time would come when she could no longer keep up with the physical fitness standards or the demands of working out in the field, but she would be dragged into a desk job kicking and screaming. The Bureau Charger rumbles to a halt outside the same glass atrium Mikhail had arrived at earlier that day, now gleaming in the setting sun. Jill and Mikhail walk back into the building, where they are informed that the war room was still in operation and Mikhail was needed back there when he could. Jill walks him to the elevator and waits with the consultant. “Well, this is probably it. You be sure and take care of yourself, okay? That was a tough scene.” Mikhail nods, and the door to the elevator opens. He is still mentally trying to get past what he had seen. Whoever had killed that kid, and yes, he still was a kid, had not been subtle about it. There was no accident to his death. It was a very clear and brutal attack. Whoever had done it had wanted to make a statement. “Thank you. I will try.” Mikhail mutters without looking at Jill as he steps into the elevator. There was still work to be done, and plenty of it. For both of them. Jill had a long night ahead of her back at the Bureau office writing up her formal investigative notes and generally trying to make sense of it all. She had taken this case on as a cyber attack, a technical thing that would give her experience handling crimes that were only becoming more common, then the murder as well? Special Agent Jill Tamano did not believe in coincidences; she had been a field agent for far too long for that. Especially that drive the consultant pulled from the dead guy’s computer. It was so obviously linked, but how? Following up with the school would be a priority. It was common for every student to be monitored with chips in their ID cards, and doubly so in a district like Clyde Hill. Anything that school system wanted, it got - she knew that one from experience. It should therefore be fairly easy to figure out whether the kid was in school at the time. Was that a good alibi for a hacker? How could she know? And then there was the matter of the killer - no murder weapon at the scene, just a lot of blood and several vicious stab wounds, many of which seemed to almost go clean through the kid’s body. And then the kid’s mom, too. What was her name? Tien? She might have some insight into the whole thing. Parents always do. That is, if Jill could get her to talk. She fortunately never had to personally deal with the trauma of losing a kid, but she had met enough people in her line of work who had to have an appreciation of the living hell Tien’s life must have just become. Jill gets back in her car and drives off to go back to work. The office was not her favorite place to be, but hopefully it would not be very long tonight. Mikhail, for his part, needs a drink. He had been fine outside and with the FBI agent, but the second the elevator leaves the ground floor he feels it become a lot smaller than it was. He would be spending a while looking up how to deal with this mess of feelings he had. That, Mikhail had to admit, was one of the things he was glad for having not made the police force. Insulated as he was from the real world by having his focus on computers, Mikhail often did not give much thought to the way people could be. It was a mean and painful death, of that much he was sure. He emerges from the elevator to find Scott Mitchell waiting for him. “Do you have it?” His arms are crossed, impatient. Mikhail had been gone much longer than perhaps anyone had expected. “I’m sorry, Scott… what do I have?” Mikhail shakes himself out of his glaze. Back to the real world. “The answer, Mikhail.” He is stunned. Scott had wanted him to bring back a definitive answer, and that would have been useful. His mind flashes back to the thumb drive. “Well, we did see a Megasys branded thumb drive. It appeared to have some sort of serial number on it.” “A serial number? What was it?” Mikhail gives him the number he had read off the device, and Scott’s expression immediately shifts to be full of concern. “Are you absolutely certain about that number?” Mikhail shows him the photo he had taken. “Okay. We are going to have to get out in front of this. Thank you Mikhail, that is enough for tonight. Be back here bright and early to continue tomorrow. Good work.” Mikhail goes back into the conference room to grab his things. His hotel was nearby, but he was not entirely sure he could sleep well tonight.

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About Charles Herrera
John Doe's true identity is unknown. Maybe he is a successful blogger or writer. Nobody knows it.