First Do No Harm: Part Three

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher B. Wright
TriHealth, 2AM

The one thing they aren’t doing is wearing all black.

CB is wearing his trench coat, old blue jeans, his favorite boots and a black Minor Threat t-shirt that’s unraveling around the collar. Jenny is wearing dark blue slacks, a button-up shirt, tennis shoes, and a light windbreaker with large inside pockets. They don’t look like cat burglars. This is important, CB explains, because people who dress like cat burglars tend to get picked up by the police on the grounds that they look like they’re about to steal something.

“I’m tired,” Jenny complains.

“That won’t last,” CB says. “In a minute you’ll be running on adrenaline. And terror. Which makes more adrenaline. You’ll be fine.”

“I don’t understand why we have to do all this covert stuff at night.”

CB turns to face Jenny. “Do you really not understand that?”

“Fine,” Jenny snaps. “I would prefer not to understand it because it makes it easier to wish I was asleep in my bed.”

“You wanted to come along,” CB says. “And unfortunately for you, you convinced me you’ll be useful.”

They’re standing in front of the restaurant where CB spied on TriHealth’s service area. This part of uptown is mostly deserted at 2AM, and all the businesses on the block are closed. That was four days ago, and CB has spent most nights getting familiar with police patrol routes in the area. Police will definitely stop two people standing around this part of the city at 2AM. CB wants to avoid that.

“So what’s the plan?” Jenny whispers more out of nervousness than any need for stealth at the moment.

“We go in and find a computer. Then you search for anything interesting.”

“Yes, I’m familiar with the broad strokes,” Jenny says. “I was hoping you had something more specific in mind.”

“Well…” CB pulls out one of the badges from his trench coat pocket. “This will probably get us through the service entrance door.”

“And what about security?” Jenny asks.

CB shrugs. “What about security?”

“Right… well, if I were designing a security system I would set it up so it notified the security desk any time a card accessed one of the doors during off hours. Especially the service area. Especially at two in the morning.”

CB nods. “Yeah, probably.”

“Can you whammy the door so it won’t do that?”

CB shakes his head. “Not exactly. That’s a little too specific. But what will happen instead is bound to be interesting. Come on.”

CB starts walking across the street. Jenny hurries to keep up with him. The closer they get to the building, the more exposed she feels. “Shouldn’t we be a little… you know… stealthier?”

“Not really,” CB says. “Hold on a moment.” He stops at the service door and looks around. A minute later he nods to himself.

“What?”

“Just the one camera,” he says, pointing above them. “And that one just went out. Very mysteriously.”

Jenny looks at the camera. “It’s not a very good model.”

“That’s why it was so easy to break,” CB says. He swipes the ID card through a slot to the right of the door, pulls it open, then begins to walk along the side of the building to the front entrance. “Come on, Jenny. You don’t want to be here when they show up.”

Jenny follows CB, frowning in confusion. “Why was the camera so average? You said their security was top notch.”

“Inside,” CB says. “I’m pretty sure you’ll be impressed. Thing is, though, this city notices things. Expensive security cameras set up outside, around the building? Every player in this city would suddenly want to know what was so damn important to a health insurance company that they needed to spend that kind of money on security. Especially since they’ve already got an Uptown location, which means they’re on the ‘special client’ list.”

“Security through obscurity is a terrible defense,” Jenny said.

“Depends on what you’re using it for,” CB says. “Anyway, the external cameras aren’t a defense exactly. They’re more like a con. But trust me, you’ll be impressed.”

The lobby is lit at night, though dimly. CB and Jenny are pressed up against the last stretch of concrete before the long line of full-length windows leading to the double doors. CB peers around the edge and can see the security desk. It’s manned.

“OK,” CB says, “hold on a minute.”

He focuses on the figure sitting behind the desk, winks, then presses back against the wall.

“What did you do?” Jenny whispers.

“I hexed him.”

“But what did you do?” Jenny sounds exasperated.

“We’ll find out in a second…”

Through the glass they can hear the muted jingle of keys, and the rapid pounding of feet on tile as someone runs past them. CB risks a look, then laughs softly.

“He had to use the little security guard’s room. Come on, we don’t have a lot of time.” CB runs to the revolving doors, slides the access card through the electronic key, then pushes his way through.

The lobby is dimly lit. CB walks over to the security station. “All yours, Jenny.”

“Thank you.” Jenny ducks around the back of the desk and slides into the seat. “Wow. I see what you mean. Very expensive stuff here. I’m not familiar with the brands, but the design is solid. IR and thermal sensors on the cameras, digital recording of images… I’ve got the whole ground floor here. Monitors everywhere.”

“Where are the other guards?” CB asks. He fingers the half-filled pack of cigarettes in his pocket nervously.

“Looks like they’re still investigating the mysterious camera outage,” Jenny says. “The ones I can see, anyway—the cameras only cover this floor. They have the back door propped open and one guy is setting up a stepladder. OK, I’m getting started.”

Jenny looks down at the security desk. It’s a series of touchscreen monitors with a few clear spaces where the guard on duty can place physical objects—like the dirty coffee mug half filled with the bitterest, strongest coffee she has ever smelled.

“No wonder he had to go,” she mutters.

“What’s that?” CB looks at her questioningly. “Did you do it yet?”

“No,” Jenny says. “Hold on.”

She reaches into one of her pockets and pulls out a USB drive. There’s a USB port right under the desk, and when she inserts the drive one of the touchscreens flashes a warning message. She nods, pulls out the USB drive, then pulls out her smartphone.

“This will take a little longer.” She attaches her smartphone to one of her specialized tethers, then plugs the other end of the tether into the USB port.

CB watches Jenny work. He’s familiar with the general process of breaking computer security—that is how he got access to the FCPD’s network, after all—but what she’s doing is way over his head. It’s like watching Robert work, he thinks—she has that same look of concentration that makes her oblivious to everything else going on around her.

He glances back toward the direction of the hallway leading to the elevators and—he assumes—to the bathrooms. He wonders how much time they have left. “What are you doing, exactly?”

“Breaking the law.” Jenny’s voice is dry. “It won’t take as long as I thought. Their security system is nice, but someone’s a little lax with the patching. Give me your key card.”

CB hurries back to the security desk and hands her the key card.

Jenny takes the card and swipes it in a slot at the security desk. One of the screens updates to show the card and the access it has.

“I’m adding privileges now,” she says.

“Can you give it everything?” CB asks hopefully.

Jenny shakes her head. “Not from here. I can give it more, though. Also, I made it invisible. No more calling the front desk every time it’s used.”

She hands back the card to CB, who looks at it appreciatively.

“One more thing,” she says, and starts messing with her smartphone.

“What are you doing now?” CB’s gaze wanders nervously wanders back to the hallway.

“You’ll like it,” Jenny says. “Trust me.”

“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of time,” CB says. “That guard won’t be out of action forever, and I want to—”

He falls silent as he hears the echo of footsteps coming down the hall. Jenny’s eyes widen.

“Receptionist’s desk,” CB whispers. “Now!”

They throw themselves behind the receptionist’s desk just as the guard rounds the corner. A few seconds later they hear footsteps and the jingle of keys travel past them, and a few seconds after that they hear the creaking of a chair as the guard settles back into his post.

CB motions for Jenny to follow him. Jenny holds up her hand, and motions for him to wait.

CB frowns, but waits.

Jenny pulls out her smartphone again, navigates through a few settings menus, then presses something on the screen. She nods once, satisfied, then types something into her screen and turns it around for CB to read.

Cameras won’t see us now.

CB raises an eyebrow. Jenny nods. CB grins, then on his hands and knees he crawls along the length of the receptionist’s desk toward the hall. There’s a little swinging door at the end that opens without making a sound. CB creeps out and around the corner as fast as he can. Jenny follows close behind.

“Let’s get to the elevators,” Jenny whispers.

“No elevators,” CB says. “They ding. We use the stairs.”

They make their way quickly down the short, wide, hallway and find the stairwell right next to the elevators at the far end. CB swipes the stairwell door with his access card. The light blinks green, and the door clicks open. They both hurry into the stairwell and close the door behind them.

“Well,” Jenny says in a more normal tone, “you were right about the adrenaline. And the terror. And the more adrenaline.”

“Want to tell me why the cameras can’t see us?” CB asks.

Jenny grins and taps the smartphone in her jacket pocket. “Found the network the cameras were operating on. Wireless. Encrypted, but that security station let me figure out how to hook in. So I taught the cameras to recognize my phone. Whenever they sense it they’ll go back 30 seconds in their surveillance archives and play that image in a continuous loop. We can go pretty much anywhere in the building without anyone seeing us on camera. Even if they’re paying attention.”

“Nice work.” CB is impressed. “In that case, let’s get to Recordkeeping.”

“Where’s that?” Jenny asked.

“Seventh floor.” CB starts climbing.

“How do you know that?” Jenny sounds unhappy at the thought of climbing all those stairs.

“There was a directory posted next to the elevators,” CB says.

“And what were you going to do if I hadn’t messed with the cameras?” Jenny asks.

“Don’t know, to be honest.” CB takes the stairs two at a time, forcing Jenny to climb faster. “Try to whammy them one by one, I guess. Improvise. That only works for a little while, though. Your idea is better.”

By the time they reach the seventh floor, Jenny is completely out of breath. CB doesn’t look winded. He opens the door just a bit and peers through. Then he opens it wider, and sticks his head out.

“Empty,” he says. He steps into the hall.

Holding her smart phone out in front of her like a crucifix in a vampire movie, she follows suit.

They walk into a cube farm—low half-cubes cluster around little floor communities, separated by long, wide aisles. CB stands in the middle of the room and looks around, frowning.

“What’s wrong?” Jenny asks.

CB sighs. “I don’t know where to start looking,” he admits.

Jenny points to one of the private offices at the far end of the room. “People who work in private offices tend to have better access. And they’re usually pretty clueless about security.”

The door is locked, but CB jimmies the lock quickly. The office is fancy, obviously for an executive of some sort. The carpeting is thick and expensive, tasteful reproductions of famous art hangs from the walls, and a heavy oak desk sits in the middle of the room. On the desk is a flat screen computer monitor.

CB closes the door behind them and gestures to the computer. “All yours,” he says, and plops down on one of the chairs.

“The managers in Recordkeeping do well here,” Jenny observes. She powers up the computer. It boots quickly. “Gimmie a sec while I log in.”

She attaches her phone to the computer’s USB port and runs something. A minute later the login screen disappears, replaced by the desktop.

“I think I have the records database application open,” Jenny says. “Tell me what I’m looking for.”

“Insurance policy records.” CB rattles off a policy number, and Jenny types it in.

“Who is this guy?” Jenny asks.

CB gets out of his chair and walks around the desk so he can look at the monitor over her shoulder. The policy profile shows a picture of a middle-aged man with a mustache. He looks for the name on the policy.

“That’s one of the first victims of the Farraday City serial killer I was telling you about.”

“I’m saving this to my phone,” Jenny says. “Actually, right now I’m saving just about anything I can find to my phone. Assume that whatever we look at now, we’ll have a copy to look at later.”

“OK,” CB says. “Let’s try more numbers.”

He gives Jenny number after number. Each result returns a policy with a picture, and CB confirms that they’re all victims of the serial killer.

“How do you remember all those numbers?” Jenny asks. “Is it from your days with the Guardians?”

“Well. Yes. But I developed the skill earlier than that,” CB says.

“When?”

CB hesitates. “The old days,” he says finally. “When I was a villain. You tend not to want to leave written records when you’re actively breaking the law. We need to figure out what these policy holders have in common.”

“They’re dead,” Jenny says.

“Other than that. Uh… search for the primary care physician for each policy holder. Is that on file?”

“Yeah, it’s on file. Hold on.” A few seconds later, Jenny clucks in irritation. “Sort of a mixed bag. Three of the victims had exactly the same doctor, but the others have different primary physicians listed.”

Jenny types a few more commands into the computer, then raises her eyebrows in surprise. “The doctors are all on the same network.”

“Yeah,” CB says. “TriHealth, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be on file.”

“No,” Jenny says, “that’s not what I mean. I mean medical group. A third of the doctors even work in the same building. Hold on a moment.”

Jenny types, then waits, then types, and finally smiles in grim satisfaction.

“CB, all the victims had primary care physicians that were members of the same medical network. There are two clinics, a private hospital, and four doctor’s offices that operate under an umbrella corporation called OmegaHealth.”

“I don’t think they were listed in Travers’ appendices,” CB says.

“I don’t remember them. I’ve never heard of them before. But every single victim had a primary care physician in that medical network, and—”

At that moment the computer shuts down.

What the hell?

A note of concern creeps into CB’s voice. “Jenny? What happened?”

“Don’t know,” Jenny says. She reaches for the power button and pushes it. Nothing happens. “I think I triggered something. I think we might be in trouble.”

Off in the distance they hear the elevator ding.

“Ah,” CB says. “I thought things had been going too well. Nice to know my instincts are still in top form.”

“What do we do?” Jenny asks, panic tinging her voice.

CB reaches into his trench coat pocket and pulls out his half-filled pack of cigarettes. “I expect we’re going to fight. Then we’re going to run. If we’re lucky, we’re going to fight a little and run a lot. If we’re unlucky, it’ll be the other way around…”

Comments

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Love it!

Typo: with hsi access card

Fixed!

Thanks for catching it.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

I can't help but inject my

I can't help but inject my own cube farm into the mental picture of this fight scene :D Love the story btw!

Few more typos

"CB runs to the revolving doors, slides the access card through the electronic key, they pushes their way through." -- should be "then pushes", not "they".

"We can go pretty much anywhere in the building without the anyone seeing us on camera" -- should be "without anyone", not "without the anyone".

"They walk in to a cube farm" -- should probably be "into" rather than "in to".

Fixed +1

I'm going further on the revolving doors edit--not only should "they" be "then" but I shouldn't be using "their" because I'm just describing what CB is doing. While it's implied that Jenny is following I'm not specifically including her so "pushes their way through" is awkward.

Edits added. Thanks!

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.