Chapter 23 – Buffer Overflow

The first explanation that occurred to me for Matti knowing my name was that Lady Liberty had contacted her, although for what purpose I was not immediately clear. Other possibilities surfaced right after, and I realized it would be premature for me to jump to any conclusion.

What I typed and sent was, “I am familiar with mister Donnell, but I need more context for your question.”

Matti snorted. “I should hope you’re familiar with him, since you’ve given him access to millions of dollars over the years.” She shared her screen with me; it showed a spreadsheet formatted as an account ledger. “Not counting the company, Hector Donnell has spent more of your money than you have. So, I will ask again, who is he?”

“He is a close friend of mine. He maintains one of my earliest server clusters at his home in Detroit,” I said, then rejoined. “How did you find out about our connection?”

The small grin on Matti’s lips was, I was learning, a significant effort for her to manage with the scales covering her face. “You put me and Georgia on your accounts, remember? The rest was basic record-keeping and a little forensic accounting.” She scoffed, “If you thought you were keeping the financial connection between you and Donnell a secret… well, you need a real accountant.” She ended with smug confidence, “And now you have one.”

I listened as best I could while she laid out some things I could do to better shield my income from scrutiny – multiple layers of holding companies, offshore numbers accounts, liquidity measures, and the like. She lost me about five minutes in, but it was twenty-five before she finished.

“So you can put these safeguards in place? And it’s all legal?” I had no qualms about illegal actions when necessary, but I wanted it to be a deliberate choice rather than ignorance on my part.

“Already on it. And, yes, it’s all legal – at least for today. Financial regulators are constantly working to close loopholes while financiers open new ones.” She shrugged. “There’s a reason you’re paying me for two weeks of continuing education a year.”

“I am?”

“You are. It’s in the revised contract. Oh! That reminds me.” She opened a document file on her screen. “Those contracts you gave us on Friday were terrible. We’re retaining Prasun Massey now, and they’ve supplied better ones. I’ll send you copies. These are what the new hires signed, and we’ll be signing a more elaborate version once the Prasun associate – Sandy, I think – finishes them.” She clicked over to her email. “Tomorrow, looks like.”

She was certainly moving forward at full steam. “Do I get to speak with these lawyers? They represent my company, after all.”

Matti shrugged. “If you want, but there’s no real need. Georgia and I know how to work with them.” She looked straight into the camera, and it felt like her gold-flecked eyes met mine, even though she had nothing to focus on. “Delphic, putting this endeavor in our hands is the single best decision you’ve ever made. Let us know what you need, or if you have any concerns… but otherwise, let us do our jobs. Okay? We’ve got this.”

I sighed to myself. It certainly seemed like they did. “Acknowledged.”

There was another shimmering glint as she nodded. “Call Georgia now. Let her know the Donnell thing turned out to be a non-issue. She had some other things to run past you.” She cut the line.

I dialed Georgia, but her line was busy; I was invited to leave a message. I didn’t bother. Even so, about a minute later, I received an instant message from her with two brief lines of text: “On a call. Urgent or can I call you back?”

Apparently my calls weren’t automatically a reason to drop everything else. “Matti said to call you. Not urgent,” I sent back.

I made a mental list of the most pressing items left to do today:

  • Follow up with Kimberly to set a time and rendezvous for dinner. We had exchanged a few casual texts since Saturday but never set firm plans.
  • Chase down Spinner and feel him out about Liberty and Whisper. I had sent him a message to call me but hadn’t heard back from him yet.
  • Talk to Fitz about making a trip out to New York. Whatever we did about the Norbergs, a little more reconnaissance wouldn’t hurt.

My morning cable installation appointments had been uneventful, other than finally recovering some of the omicron sensors I had placed around Midtown a month ago. That data would need to be analyzed to see if there really was unregistered super activity in that area or not.

That item needed to go on the longer list of matters to address, if not today, then certainly sooner rather than later:

  • Viewing my old CIA ‘friends’ to see who else, like Agent Shives in building that trap for Harmony, was violating the terms of the temporary restraining order.
  • Finally deciding whether to turn over the hospital access codes to Doc.
  • Dealing with Dr. Varilla from Eutopia and my potential health risks. I considered having a test done locally to confirm their results and consult with an independent professional, but that would mean someone else knowing that I was a super.
  • Checking in with Agent Lewis, my contact for FBI cold cases. It had been more than two weeks since I’d tackled a case from them, and he had sent an email asking after me.
  • Investigating the polar bear situation at the Detroit Zoo for Paris.
  • Trying to run down the Kowalczyks’ overseas human trafficking contacts.
  • Looking into the ‘dream realm’ that Millisec had discovered when fighting Big Joe.

I remember when I was in high school, Dad discouraged me from making lists like these, saying they never did anything for him other than wrack his nerves with the number of things left to accomplish. But Mom, like me, had always sworn by them – they provided an opportunity to prioritize and tackle tasks in order of immediacy or importance, rather than preferentially addressing some issues while ignoring others. It was admittedly a daunting list, but it at least assured me that I wouldn’t find myself bored this week.

I decided to start from the top, and pulled out my personal smartphone to make my next call.

“Well hello, Hector,” came Kimberly’s warmth over the phone. “I was hoping I’d hear from you.”

“Because we have a date tonight,” I asked. I knotted up a bit as I waited for her response.

“Yes, exactly,” she said after a short pause that was not good for my stress level. “Sorry if I become hard to hear; you caught me on the way to office hours. Mondays and Thursdays are my fullest days this semester.”

“I’m glad I didn’t call any later, then. What time are you free?”

“Six thirty.” Another short pause. “Actually, if you’re available at six, you could drop by and catch the last half hour of one of my classes. I bet you’d find it interesting.”

“Yeah? It would be okay for me to sit in?”

“It’s my lecture; I can run it however I want.” I could hear her self-satisfied smirk.

“Okay, I’ll be there!” I was too loud; my voice had raised in pitch. I took a breath to calm down. “Where would you like to go to dinner?”

“Surprise me.”

“Any allergies? Strong dislikes?”

“Not really. Well, I’m not really into what they serve at, ah, wings places? Sports bars with nothing but fried and spicy stuff?” She giggled. “I don’t think you were planning anything like that, anyway.”

“No, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.”

“The future, huh? Confident, are we?”

“I figure it’s like a job interview. You never go wrong talking like you plan to be there forever.”

“I see, I’m just a transitional girlfriend, then. Something to pad your resume before finding a career relationship.”

“You’re onto me. Send me directions to the classroom and I’ll see you at six. We’ll leave straight from the lecture to dinner?”

“See you then.”

I caught my breath for just a moment before closing my eyes and picturing a dingy office in Decatur, Georgia. It was still within normal working hours, and I was gratified to see that Timothy Fitzgerald was both dressed and sober. That had not always been the case in the past year, especially when he didn’t have active clients. Losing his job on the force had been far harder on him than he’d ever admit.

Fitz was tinkering with a small bronze casing the size of a pack of cigarettes, one of the omicron sensor units that I had sent him so he could familiarize himself with their operation. These units were twenty years ahead of anything a police department could admit to owning, taking advantage of the Doc’s latest improvements to miniturize what used to take up the space of a microwave oven. The case was open and one of the circuit boards was unmounted.

Outside the government, Fitz was the only contact I had who still used a landline telephone. I dialed his number without dropping my View and watched him press a button to answer it on speaker.

“Hey boss,” he opened without taking his eyes off the print-out of the sensor manual.

I dropped my View finally to focus on typing my responses. “Again, I would prefer Delphic. How did you know it was me?”

“I couldn’t think of anyone else that would be calling me. I’m taking apart this seven-B-thirty-nine sensor you sent me. Lots of pins on this board. Okay to replace with wires?”

“For what purpose?”

“If I can move the chips next to each other rather than stacking them, I can slip a sensor in some tighter spaces.”

I mulled it over. “Yes, but keep temperatures in mind. Very cold copper or aluminum changes conductivity more than the silver used in the pins and might throw off the reading.”

“Sure. So, why the call?”

“A case. Are you familiar with the Norbergs?”

“The New York heiresses?”

“Kelda and Harmony, yes. I would like you to go New York and see if you can find out what they’re involved in.”

He cleared his throat roughly. “They run an investment group, right? And probably some charities. Plus they’re minor celebrities, so they probably do a lot. Can you narrow it down?”

“Illicit connections to organized crime and supers.”

“That works. Isn’t one of the girls suspected to be…”

“Harmony Norberg is Lady Liberty. It is an open secret among supers.” I reminded myself that Fitz didn’t travel in these same circles.

“Oh she is?” He said it lightly, as though he were surprised to be reminded that Albany was the state capital. “Why am I investigating an established superhero?”

“Have you heard about Refraxx and the situation in Newark?” I had considered a few words before settling on ‘situation.’

“I haven’t. Should I have?”

“I will send you some background and links to news about it. A super was killed, and I suspect foul play may have been involved.”

“Really.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement of disbelief. “She runs the largest super team in the country. Or at least she has the reputation for running it. What happened?”

Technically, California Combined was larger, but I kept that to myself. “I would rather let you form your own conclusions.”

“As you say. I’ll buy a ticket for tomorrow. Talk to you then.”

“Goodbye.”

As I put together the promised data for Fitz, I decided not to mention him to Whisper for the time being. He was a useful resource for me to maintain my reputation as the omnipresent Delphic, and I had more flexibility with deploying him if I was the only one who knew he was there.

I was agonizing over whether to include the collaboration between me and Liberty to falsify NYST system records when the another audio call to Delphic came in.

“Spinner,” I began, “thank you for returning my call.”

“Uh, what now?” the Boston super asked. “I think we got our wires crossed, man. I didn’t get a message to call you.”

“It was sent early this morning.”

“Oh, well, I haven’t checked since I was called in by the DC team.” He was referring to the United States Super Team, but USST also doubled as the local team in the greater DC area. “That’s what I was callin’ you about.”

“How can I assist you?” Based on the timing, there was only one thing I could think of that this could be, and it complicated matters considerably.

“So our old friend Lamarck,” he began. The joviality was forced and uncomfortable. “The last victim of that killer we tracked down a few weeks back.”

Just as I thought. “A member of USST,” I supplied, feigning ignorance, “which is what made the death an international incident. What about him?”

“He’s alive!” Spinner dropped the news like it was a bombshell.

“Lamarck is alive? Didn’t they do an autopsy on him?” I tried to channel some of my sister’s initial skepticism as though it were my own.

“Yeah, I don’t pretend I understand it. Apparently he’s been hanging out in a hospital since he was shot, stuck in a coma and then with no memory until today.”

“That’s surprising, but also excellent news,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but… doesn’t… smell right, y’know? So Perigrine asked me a fly in and take a look. And guess what?”

“Other supers have been in the area recently?” I guessed. That fit Spinner’s abilities.

“Yep. Lamarck came with at least two other supers, just last night!” He let that sink in before adding, “and not just any two supers; the Gremlin Twins.”

This confused me. “Who are they?”

“I haven’t told you about them before? They’ve been my number one unknowns for a while now.”

“No, I do not believe we have discussed this.”

“Oh, okay. So, each power that I sense has a unique… flavor to it. That’s how I tell them apart,” he explained. “So when I see a trail for a power that I haven’t identified, I make sure to fix it in my memory. If the same trail shows up mutliple times, I give it a name as I work on making a pattern in the appearances.”

“These two supers have shown up before?”

“Four other times,” Spinner agreed. “Always together. They fly in, do something, and fly out, without anyone ever seeing them. They’re always messing with something. Gremlin Twins.” He added, “This is the first time they’ve carried another person, as far as I can tell. The other times were unauthorized access and sabotage or, in one case, stealing some file folders out of an office drawer.”

I grimaced; that last was a large part of what Doc’s associates, Glimmer and Glitch, had done for me. I arrested my typing for another minute, giving Spinner a further chance to share.

“Anyway, I was calling to ask you to take a look at the hospital files here. See if you can figure out who’s behind altering them.”

That would be a very short investigation. “I will look into it. Do you have a contact at the hospital for accessing their system?”

He cursed. “I was supposed to ask about that. Can we… hold on a sec, emergency call.”

The audio line was silent for sev3ral seconds before he came back on. “Delphic?”

“Yes, Spinner?” I sent.

“Liberty?” he asked next, and I felt a strong chill of fear.

“I copy,” the heroine said.

“Okay, go for it,” Spinner invited.

“Spinner, are you aware we kidnapped Buzz Kowalczyk and three of his men last night?”

“The Newark guys, yeah. Bad business.”

“As of four hours ago,” Liberty continued, “the four of them were isolated in cells here at New York HQ. We had guards posted and all the usual containment precautions.”

“Okay. And something happened?” Spinner prompted.

“The Kowalczyks’ attorney arrived half an hour ago. When they went retreive Buzz from his cell, they checked in on the other three,” her breathing was audible. “Buzz was there, undisturbed, but the other cells are unoccupied. His men are gone.”

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