Sophisticated sweep tools would unpack and decode the data formats used by the global Internet providers, and built-in filters would analyze the content and select information for poaching, directing them into a buffer for three to five days of perusal before it was turned over to open up storage space. And because data collected by the IC overseas was largely unregulated, there was a massive collection of content and metadata from U.S. citizens, including email addresses of the sender and receiver, video, audio, and photos. So anytime you sent data over the Internet, people you never intended to receive this information would in fact get it. And what would they do with it? Well, you’d never know until they knocked on your door one day and pushed their badges in your face and told you that your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was officially over.
Puller bent low over the map on his computer and studied the possibilities.
Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Virginia, Maryland. If he really wanted to be all-inclusive he could add in the states of Texas, Washington, and Arizona. That was the footprint, at least the most obvious one, of the IC’s guts. One thing he knew he would not be doing—staying in Kansas.
He set that particular problem aside for the moment and refocused on the man in his cell. He had a sketch of him, but a sketch had no value in tracking him down. You couldn’t run a sketch effectively through a database.
Or could you?
He left his room, walked to his truck, and drove off.
Two hours later he was back in his motel room with several things: a Samsung Galaxy tablet with built-in camera, glossy paper, a color printer/scanner, and a few boxes of art-related materials.
He unwrapped these tools and set about his task of turning a sketch into something more substantial. He needed to turn it into a face. A face with color and texture and points that a digital scan would better recognize.
It was dark outside when he’d finished the picture. He was so hungry he walked to a nearby McDonald’s and gobbled down a Big Mac and large fries, plus a giant diet Coke to counterbalance the fat and sodium he’d just ingested, before going back to his room and moving on to the second part of his task.
He took a picture of his drawing with the Galaxy tablet and downloaded it to the printer. He loaded the printer with the glossy photo paper and printed out a picture. He examined it closely under the light.
Then he took a snapshot of the glossy print with his tablet camera. He downloaded that photo from the tablet to his laptop and brought it up on the screen. It looked more like a photograph now, the pixel images stark against the glossy background. Then he started to work on the photo, adding color to the skin, hair, and eyes. When he was done he sat back and studied it again. Again, he was satisfied.
But the proof of how good it was would come in the next step.
Using the software on his laptop, he hacked into the first database and ran the photo through the files held there. It took thirty minutes but he did not get a hit. He spent the rest of the night running it through every database he could break into.
It was four o’clock in the morning when he conceded defeat. For now.
The unknown man would remain unknown. Again, for now
He was running a risk doing this. Access to the databases was monitored. Even though he had hacked in through a back door, there would be indications of the breach. They might try to track it back to him. They might succeed. If he had learned one thing spending most of his adult life in the cyber world, it was that there would always be someone better than you coming down the pixel path. There were fourteen-year-old amateur hackers and Xbox players out there whose skill would rival the very best the NSA had. It was just the way this area worked. If your brain was wired that way, you could do pretty much anything. And if you were fearless, as most kids were, you could hack into the Pentagon or Swiss bank accounts. It was all right there for the taking, because pretty much everyone was connected to the digital universe somehow.
Puller slumped back on his bed, his belly grumbling as it still digested his fast-food dinner. He had to sleep because he had to be well rested and on top of his game from here on. But his thoughts dwelled on the man.
He had been someone. And knowing who that someone was would lead to someone or something else. The man had come to the prison for a specific purpose.
Fortunately for Robert Puller, that specific purpose had not been carried out.
Because, he thought, I’m still alive.
THE LIGHTS POPPED on, bright and harsh and direct. Puller and Knox blinked to adjust to this and then waited as the door was opened and the body rolled out on a metal freezer bed.
The military medical examiner was a man in his fifties with graying hair, a trim build, and large muscular hands. He looked a little put out because Puller’s call had caused him to climb out of his bunk, get dressed, and show up here.
He held a clipboard in one of those hands as he slid down the sheet with the other, revealing the body of a tall man in his thirties with close-cropped hair, a chiseled physique, and no facial hair. Puller noted the Y-incision already carved in the man’s chest and the suture tracks that had sewn this massive postmortem cut back together, with the organs placed neatly in the chest cavity.
“Cause of death?” asked Puller.
The ME pointed to the base of the neck. “In laymen’s terms, a broken neck.”
“Manner of death?” asked Puller.
“Someone broke it.”
“So he didn’t fall, hit his head?”
“No. It wasn’t a compression injury with vertebrae collapsing on each other that you would associate with a fall like that. Nor was it an injury you would see in a hanging where the vertebrae are separated vertically. Here it seems that the neck was snapped horizontally.”
Puller looked instantly intrigued by this observation. “Horizontal? Side to side?” He held up his hands like he was gripping a head and then pulled one hand to the right and one to the left. “Like that?”
The ME considered this. “Yeah, pretty close. How’d you figure that?”
“Any other wounds?”
“None that I could find, and I looked for a long time.”
Puller looked down at the body, going over it inch by inch, starting at the head and moving to the feet. He bent closer and examined the forearms a second time.
“What do you think those are?” he asked.
The ME looked where Puller was pointing. There were three slight indentations in the skin. They were uniform and evenly spaced.
“I noted those. It might have been an article of clothing or something else he was wearing that made those impressions. Or he might have even been bound somehow, although I’m not sure how that could have been the case. He certainly wasn’t found tied up in the cell.”
“What clothes did he have on?”
“Jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and canvas boat shoes.”
“So he walked into a max-security military prison dressed like that?” said Knox. “Are you kidding?”
“My job is to check the body and make my report on the cause, time, and manner of death,” replied the ME, stifling a yawn. “You guys get to play Sherlock Holmes.”
“And what was the TOD?” asked Puller.
“They called me in right when they found the body. He’d been dead at most two hours.”
“You got an ID on him yet?” asked Puller.
“Nothing popped on the fingerprints or facial recognition databases, and they usually do for those in the ranks. I took a dental impression and also DNA samples. They’ll be sent up to AFDIL i
n Dover,” he said, referring to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab.