“You realize that if we take a look at what’s on it, the Client’s people are going to know about it?” Logan asked.
“But there are ways of not leaving a trail, right?” Ashley asked.
“Not so you can be sure of it,” Logan said.
He always told her that she overestimated what he could do with a computer. He was not a hacker, just a black bag man who’d taken the trouble to pick up some above-average computer skills. When he needed really heavy work done, he found someone else to do it. And even the very best of those people, as he’d reminded her on more than one occasion, were not the cyber-wizards of popular imagination—a type he insisted existed only in bad movies.
Still, if she overestimated what he could do, she also knew that he was given to playing it safe, too safe she’d think—especially around her. And especially on this job. He certainly hadn’t liked her insistence that she go into Thorn’s headquarters alone, with him all the way back at the safe house, and she was sure he now regretted his agreeing to it. And maybe he was even right to do so. Still . . .
“It’s probably the least-worst option,” Ashley said.
Logan looked unconvinced.
“All right,” he said. “Here goes.” He opened the case, took out the disc, slipped it into the terminal’s disc drive. The drive whirred and the contents popped up on a fourth screen, white text against a black background.
“There’s some pretty elementary protection against access,” Logan said. “I’m getting us past that. The real challenge is the encryption, and the protection against copying. They wanted the right people to have easy access to it, but to make it impossible for outsiders to read it. So what we’ve got now is a jumble of letters and numbers. I’ve got a way of copying the material that should minimize the risk, but we’d still end up with just that jumble.”
“Is there any way to decode this?” Ashley asked.
“Not with the equipment we have here, not any time soon,” Logan told her. “Maybe not the time the universe has, given what people are doing with codes now, and they’ve gone all out here.”
“I want to go ahead with it anyway,” Ashley said. They would have time to worry about getting it decrypted later—if they needed to. And maybe if they couldn’t, there would be some way of using even the encrypted file.
“All right. First, though, I’m letting the Client know we’ve got the goods.”
Logan brought a blog up on a fifth screen, one of those simply formatted ones given away free like e-mail accounts.
The blog’s publisher was, nominally, a young American woman living in Italy named “Teresa,” and in its latest post discussed Teresa’s recent vacation in Portugal. Under the name “Melissa” Logan left a remark about having been in Lisbon once, years earlier.
All that mattered was the code name Melissa, and the reference to a visit to the Portuguese capital.
When the Client’s people got the message and had an answer for them, it would appear there, in equally oblique fashion, as a reply from Teresa. In the meantime Ashley watched the nearly hypnotic meter on Screen Four tracking the progress of Logan’s program as it copied the disc . . .
A flicker on the screen showing Teresa’s blog drew Ashley’s glance. There had been an answer to Melissa’s comment in which Teresa talked about Monsanto Park and suggested that the only place she’d seen during her travels in the States comparable to it was Central Park in New York, how she’d gone once at noon and spent the rest of the day exploring it. She remembered the benches on Bethesda Terrace, the ones over by the lake, being a particularly nice spot to sit and relax.
The key parts of the statement were the location, and the time.
“They want to make the pick-up in the park, at Bethesda Terrace, at noon,” Ashley said.
That was a mere eight hours away. Given the time she’d need for transportation back into Manhattan they actually had more like six.
“They’re not wasting any time,” Ashley said.
“Would you, given what’s been going on?” Logan asked.
You mean with things having gone so badly, so publicly? Ashley thought. No. Not that she had the slightest sympathy.
“Will you be finished copying the disc by then?”
“I’ll get a good chunk of it, but that’s all.”
Maybe that was also part of their plan, Ashley thought. Not just minimizing the time in which she might be caught and the disc captured by Northrop or the authorities, but her opportunity to get at its contents. Maybe enough to render this whole exercise pointless. Ashley knew she didn’t know much about working with codes, but she understood that having only a portion of the encoded material to work with would make decoding it a lot harder.
Not that that was her biggest problem, given how the acquisition of the disc had gone. If Northrop’s people knew she’d be in that office, maybe they’d know that she was coming to the park too. Still, Ashley was committed to showing up at the time and place the Client’s people named, and there didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it now. And if she was walking into a risky situation she had that much more reason to be on her guard when she went, which meant getting the rest for which she was already overdue. She said goodnight to Logan and went into her bedroom, slipped under her bedcovers and closed her eyes.