Authors: Julie Moffett
No One to Trust
By Julie Moffett
SWFG: Single, White, Female, Geek.
That’s me, Lexi Carmichael, a reformed hacker who was gainfully employed by the National Security Agency. But a series of extraordinary events led me to leave government life behind for a fresh start with a brand-new company and an incredibly sexy boss, Finn Shaughnessy. It may not be kosher to have the hots for your boss, but he seems to have the hots for me, too. If only things didn’t get so complicated…
Darren Greening, a genius researcher from Flow Technologies (our first client!) is missing, and his bosses think I’m involved. And they aren’t the only ones—the man who nearly snapped my neck in the parking garage thinks so, too.
Now I’m caught in the middle of a complex and dangerous case. I’ll have to use all my geek skills and a little help from my friends to solve the mystery of Darren’s disappearance before Neck-Snapping-Man makes a return visit…
I feel as though it was just last week I was attending 2010 conferences and telling authors and readers who were wondering what was next for Carina Press, “we’ve only been publishing books for four months, give us time” and now, here it is, a year later. Carina Press has been bringing you quality romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more for over twelve months. This just boggles my mind.
But though we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary (with champagne and chocolate, of course) we’re not slowing down. Every week brings something new for us, and we continue to look for ways to grow, expand and improve. This summer, we’ll continue to bring you new genres, new authors and new niches—and we plan to publish the unexpected for years to come.
So whether you’re reading this in the middle of a summer heat wave, looking to escape from the hot summer nights and sultry afternoons, or whether you’re reading this in the dead of winter, searching for a respite from the cold, months after I’ve written it, you can be assured that our promise to take you on new adventures, bring you great stories and discover new talent remains the same.
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
This book is dedicated to my family because they’ve always stood beside me no matter what and encouraged me to follow my dreams. Thank you for being my pillars of strength. I love you guys so much! oxoxox
Thanks go out first and foremost to my mom, Donna B. Moffett, and my sister, Sandy M. Parks, for their brainstorming, suggestions and beta reading of this manuscript. Thanks also to Carina Press for taking a chance on this series and to my amazing editor, Alissa Davis, who helped make this a significantly better novel. Lastly, a shout out to all my fans and friends, especially my Kubasaki High School classmates, who support, promote and cheer me on. There’s no place like the Rock!
When I was seven my older brother Rock gave me a camera for Christmas. The science of photography fascinated me—the angles, depth and lighting. But I was more interested in how the camera worked than in what I was pointing it at. Fast-forward a few years and here I am, a twenty-five-year-old, single, white, geek girl who can’t take a decent picture of anything.
I’m also a semi-reformed computer hacker, a numbers whiz and a girl with a photographic memory. The whole photographic memory thing is totally overrated, though. Every human has the physiological capability. Most people just don’t have the film.
Lucky for me, I’ve got the film, but I’m also stuck with a geeky reputation.
Counter to the stereotypical image, I don’t wear thick glasses held together by duct tape and I no longer own a pair of high-water pants. On the other hand, I’m no Miss America—just your basic tall, skinny girl with no curves and long brown hair. I double-majored in mathematics and computer science and have zero social skills. These days I’m employed by X-Corp Global Intelligence and Security, as Director of Information Security or InfoSec for short. It sounds impressive and maybe it is, but I’m so fresh in the job, I can’t be sure yet.
This morning the top company brass, including me, had an important client meeting. Actually, it was our
client meeting, which made it all the more significant, not to mention nerve-racking. At a few minutes before ten, I grabbed a cup of coffee and my laptop, heading into the conference room. One of the cofounders of X-Corp, Ben Steinhouser, was already sitting at the table looking over some papers, his bifocals practically hanging off the edge of his pudgy nose. He used to work at the National Security Agency, or the NSA, just like I did and is a living legend among hackers, programmers and cryptanalysts. He is brilliant, difficult and unconventional, but by his sheer genius, he commands everyone’s respect. He intimidates the hell out of me, even if I try to pretend he doesn’t. When I first met him, I reverently called him “Mr. Steinhouser.” He glared at me and told me if I called him that again, he’d fire me. I’m still not sure if he was kidding.
“Hey, Ben.” I tried not to wince as I called him by his first name. It’s not easy to pretend to be comfortable when you’re nervous as hell.
Ben glanced up at me and I’m pretty sure my knees knocked together. “You’re punctual. That’s an admirable quality in an employee. Did you have a chance to look over the materials on Flow Technologies?”
Apparently not the type for small talk. Me neither, although a simple “good morning” would have been nice.
I nodded. Why did I need to be here? My job as InfoSec Director required mostly identifying and assessing threats, vulnerabilities and attacks on our clients’ networks and then implementing plans to either mitigate or eliminate these threats. Client acquisition was not in my job description and frankly, I liked it that way. Not much of a people person.
“Do we know why they are seeking our services?”
“Not yet. But I presume we shall shortly find out.” He jerked his head toward the door as Finn Shaughnessy led a group of three men into the room.
Finn is the other cofounder of X-Corp. Sexy, Irish and an all-around decent guy, he lured me from the NSA with the promise of manager responsibility, more freedom in my work than the government could offer and a higher paycheck. My history with Finn is complex and includes handcuffs, a bed and no sex.
Ben and I stood while Finn seated the group. Before we’d taken our seats, Finn’s gorgeous secretary, Glinda McBain, brought the guests coffee and danishes and then vanished. We all stared at each other until Finn began the introductions.
He looked at our visitors. “I’d like to introduce you to our staff. This is the cofounder of X-Corp, Ben Steinhouser. And this is our Director of Information Security, Lexi Carmichael. Lexi, Ben, meet Niles Foreman, Randall Tryosi and Lawrence Delaney of Flow Technologies.”
I smiled and tried to look like I belonged. Why were they staring at me and ignoring Ben?
We all shook hands politely and then sat down. I opened up my laptop as Finn leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers.
“So, how can X-Corp help Flow Technologies?”
Niles Foreman, apparently the leader of the trio, leaned forward on the table, his eyes narrowing. He was a very thin man with silver hair and a hard, angular face, dressed in an impeccable three-piece navy suit and gold tie.
“I must be assured that anything spoken about here today will be kept in the strictest confidence.” For some strange reason he looked pointedly at me. I wasn’t sure whether it indicated a lack of conviction in me because I was young, female or both. His focused gaze made me so nervous I had to discreetly wipe my hands three times on my slacks to keep my fingers from slipping off the keys.
Perhaps Finn noticed. He tapped his pen on the table, drawing attention back to himself. “Confidentiality is a given. Now, how can we help you?”
Niles flicked an imaginary piece of lint off his lapel. “I suppose it would be prudent to give you a little background on Flow Technologies. Two young men, Darren Greening and Michael Hart, founded the company just over two years ago. They had some revolutionary ideas about how to use nanotechnology to produce an alternate energy source. We liked what we saw and came aboard with significant capital to see these ideas actualized.”
Niles paused and took a sip of his coffee. The danishes sat in the middle of the table untouched, although I was having a serious fantasy about leaping across the table and snagging the cherry one.
“It became fairly clear from the beginning that most of the original ideas were coming from Darren, whereas Michael was better at the practicality and production of the science. Since at this point we were dealing only in ideas, it became obvious that in order to protect our investment we needed to take out an insurance policy on the most valuable asset the company had—Darren Greening.”
I blinked in surprise. I’d never heard of such a thing, but looking at it from a coldly, calculating business view, it made sense.
If Finn was surprised by the revelation, he didn’t show it. Then again, he was a lawyer by training.
“But you didn’t take out an insurance policy on Michael Hart?” he asked.
Niles shook his head. “No. It wasn’t necessary. To be brutally honest, Michael was replaceable in the bigger scheme of things. Darren was not.”
“Unfortunately, while it was a sound business decision, it wasn’t a popular move,” Randall Tryosi stepped in. “The two men came to us. They thought we were trying to drive a wedge between them. They were quite unhappy with our decision and didn’t want to have anything to do with an insurance policy of any kind. Regardless, we overruled them.”
Niles crossed his hands on the table. “To say they had even an inkling of how to run a business is an overstatement. But the call was ours and we insisted. The company bought an insurance policy for Darren.”
Finn wrote something down on his pad of paper. “And the insurance policy was worth how much?”
“Twenty-five million dollars.”
That was one hell of an insurance policy. I studied the three men from Flow, not sure where they were going with all this. How did it tie in to computer security?
Finn was apparently wondering the same thing. “So, what happened?”
“The two men finally resumed their work. Their initial experiments were wildly successful, and frankly, the potential we could see for their work was breathtaking.”
Ben Steinhouser finally spoke up. “Exactly what kind of experiments are we talking about here?”
“Energy replacement,” Niles answered. “Frankly, the prospects of energy-related nanotechnology are staggering. The science could make solar energy widely available to the masses, replace gasoline in cars with liquid methanol and make oil virtually obsolete.”
I hadn’t realized energy-related nanotechnology was that far along, but then if it wasn’t computers, it wasn’t on my radar.
“And this applies to your problems with Darren how?” Finn asked.
“Do you know that the U.S. government buys forty percent of the world’s oil?” Niles’s voice rose slightly. “One-third of America’s deficit is due to our dependency on foreign oil. Oil is also the underlying reason we meddle in the affairs of the people of the Middle East, why people hate us, join terrorist groups, attack us and force us to spend billions encouraging peace and democracy in the region. This is not to mention the money we spend combating pollution and environmental disasters. Oil is the root of a national, financial drain on this country, and if we don’t do something to change it, oil will eventually be the nation’s downfall.”
It was a pretty dramatic statement, but I couldn’t think of a single reason to disagree with him. That kind of scared me. Especially because some days, just the fact that Dunkin’ Donuts was out of blueberry muffins was my biggest worry. Now I realized, in the big scope of things, a national disaster could be just around the corner.
“Obviously something happened,” Finn said.
Niles nodded. “Less than six months after we came aboard, Michael Hart was killed in an unfortunate car accident. It was a horrid blow to all of us, especially Darren. He was inconsolable. But the work had to go on. In order to protect the company, we bought out Michael’s share and brought in a new man to replace him. Darren was devastated and completely unable to concentrate. We had some bitter arguments and it was quite a difficult time.” He sighed. “I should mention that Darren is young, and as many geniuses are, emotionally unstable.”
“Did he eventually recover?” Ben asked.
“A few months later,” Lawrence Delaney, the third of the men, chimed in. “Thanks to Michael’s father. He convinced Darren that Michael would want him to continue his work. So, to our great relief, he finally did.”
“But to our dismay, things got worse, not better, for the company,” Niles said. “Somehow word leaked out about Darren’s progress on the energy nanotechnology and we began to fear for his life.”
“Fear for his life?” Finn’s normally impassive face showed a hint of surprise. “Why would you fear for his life?”
Niles laughed. “Do you have any idea how many people would like to see Darren’s energy nanotechnology buried? Oil-rich countries for starters. What do you think would happen to the sheiks if the U.S. no longer needs their products? What would happen to the oil executives who would lose their incomes, positions and privileges if such a science is perfected? This is not to mention car manufacturers, gas-station owners and so on. You understand where I am going with this. Darren’s ideas threaten extremely powerful groups around the world.”
“Are you suggesting that Michael Hart’s death was not an accident?” Ben asked.
Niles shrugged. “We don’t know for sure. But we decided that just in case, we needed to take extra precautions with Darren.”
I frowned into my coffee cup. Frankly, it seemed like these investors were way more worried about protecting their money than the life or mental health of a kid. I guess that’s standard operating procedure in the cutthroat business world of today, but it somehow made me feel unclean.
“So what kind of extra precautions did you take with Darren?” I asked.
“Bodyguards, extra security at his apartment,” Randall answered. “But it was of no use.”
Finn raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“Because he vanished a week ago.”
For a moment, no one spoke. Finn regained his composure first. “Do you think he was kidnapped?”
“To this point, we have received no ransom note.”
“Did you go to the police?”
Niles shook his head. “No, and for many reasons. We don’t want to put the company at risk. We have no desire to go public and spook any potential investors. Also, we aren’t certain Darren disappeared under suspicious circumstances.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he left us a note of sorts.” Niles pulled a piece of paper out of his briefcase and put it on the table.
For a moment, Ben, Finn and I just looked at each other, wondering if this conversation could get any odder. Then we stared at the paper.
“Are you sure it’s from Darren?” Finn inquired.
Niles nodded. “It’s in his handwriting. Of course, we have no idea whether or not he wrote this under duress.”
“So what does it say?” Ben sounded rather annoyed. I guess he wondered if we were all going to sit and stare at the note all day. He doesn’t suffer fools easily and this trio from Flow Technologies seemed to be taking an awfully long time to get to the bottom line.
Niles slid the paper toward Finn. “We wondered if you might help with that.”
Finn took one look at the paper and frowned, pushing it toward Ben. Ben studied it for a full minute or so and then slid it down to me.
“What do you think, Lexi?”
Puzzled, I took the paper and saw why Finn had given it to Ben, and why Ben had studied it for so long. It was several lines of handwritten text—all in code. I recognized this one from my Cryptanalysis 101 course at Georgetown.
“It’s the Navajo code used by the U.S. in World War II. That’s pretty weird.” I looked up at Ben who nodded at me in approval.
Finn turned to Niles. “Lexi is an expert cryptanalyst.”
I erupted into a coughing fit, both embarrassed and flattered by his assessment of my capabilities. “Um, technically I’m not an expert.”
Niles shifted in his seat. “So, can you read it or not?”
“Yes. But not without the reference. If you wait a minute, I’ll be right back with it.”
I walked back to my office, pulled down one of my reference books on code breaking and carried it back to the conference room.
“It’ll take me a few minutes.” I jotted some notes on my pad.
Hooray! I wouldn’t abjectly humiliate myself in front of X-Corp’s first client. This would be an easy code to break, not only because the Navajo code was useless since it had been revealed and anyone could do exactly what I did, go get the reference book and crack it in minutes. But also because it was glaringly apparent an amateur had written it. At the very least a professional would have tried to make the code somewhat difficult by doing what the Navajos had done—add extra letters to the Navajo words to act as substitutes for each of the six commonest letters in the English language—
e, t, a, o, i
But whoever had written this code hadn’t even bothered with the substitutes.