I paced the white tile floors of Gail’s office, waiting for anything. Any sign of a breach of their firewall or some other technical bullshit Gail spattered out when we got here.
She couldn’t find anything in their logs about a breach, so now she was simultaneously trying to decode their firewall and hack the cameras to see if it can be done.
Eli was on the phone, in the corner, talking to his wife in Spanish. I caught a few words, not knowing much of the language myself, but enough to know he was telling her about the case.
“I got it!” Gail shouted, and rolled away from the desk on her office chair in a triumphant display of achievement.
"Got what?” I asked, coming over to her, and wheeling her back to her desk.
She gave me a sideways glare, “I hacked Disneyland. We can see all of their surveillance. Man, Eli, you were right, these guys have a ton of cameras, all over the place.” She tapped on her keys more, and the screen flicked from one feed to the next.
Eli hung up the phone and came to stand next to me, looking at the images, “Can you find the ice cream stand?” He asked.
“Dude, there are like thirty of them, I need a bit more info.” She looked at me for anything else we could use. I thought back to the conversation with my mother when I told her what was going on.
“My mother said they were not far from the East entrance.”
Gail tapped some more, “That leaves four. Anything else?”
There was nothing else I could think of. My mother knew what the plan was if anything ever happened. She didn’t need to be told.
“She had blue ice cream, I don’t know,” I said, running my hand through my hair.
Gail leaned in closer to the screens, “I think I got it. Ok, so, these four ice cream stands are in the area, but three of them have restricted view of the vendor himself. If he called and told you she was getting blue ice cream, and you called your mom after, and she said they had just got it, that would mean our guy would have had to see the vendor scooping it up. You with me?” She rambled, still clicking away.
“Yeah, Gail. What have you got?” I asked, feeling annoyed for no fault of hers.
“Well, this camera here, on stand twelve has a clear view of the vendor, the cart and the customer. If he was watching her through the cameras, this is the one he used,” She said, looking up at me.
I leaned in to look closer at the line of children and parents all waiting to buy their treat.
This is how he saw her. What Eli said is making more sense now.
Eli leaned in, looking closer at the camera, “Hey Gail. How hard would it be for someone to hack this like you just did?”
Gail sat back and let out a breath, “Not very hard really. They use a pretty simple firewall, and once a ghost feed is established, he could watch in real time, and no one would know. He would need at least some knowledge of this kind of stuff, but it doesn’t take a genius.”
I stepped back for a moment to clear my head. The idea that he was watching Lilly made my hands tremble and I felt hot suddenly.
“Any luck on Paul’s place? Did you guys find anything?” Eli asked, looking over at me.
“No. Not yet. But the techs are still busy. There is a lot of places to hide a camera these days. They can be so small, you can find them in the head of a pin. They need some more time.” Gail said, all the joking gone from her voice.
“What about the call?” I asked.
“I have a location, but it’s still wide. I’m waiting for the cell towers to narrow it down, but it came from somewhere in the Northwest District. Here, in Portland.”
“Son of a bitch!” I hit the plastic containers on a metal table, and sent them flying across the room, “That’s where I live! He’s been here all along. Living under my nose. He’s probably been watching me all this time. What the hell is he waiting for?”
Eli came over to me, his arms raised, “Easy big guy. When we find him, you can ask him, Ok? No need to destroy the nice ladies lab.”
I nodded and gave Gail an apologetic smile.
She smiled back in understanding and turned back to the computer, “If he’s in that area, I might be able to narrow down the search. Paul, I’m gonna need you on this.” She said, gesturing for me to take a seat next to her.
I calmed myself down, clicking my neck, and took a seat. “You know the area?” she asked, pulling up a map of my neighborhood.
“Yeah. As well as I can.” I said, rubbing the stubble on my face.
“Ok. Let’s get started. The call came from somewhere in this area. We know he needs power, so we can eliminate any building that is dead.” She said, tapping lightning fast. I watched the large green circle change shape, and parts of the area fall out.
“Next, we know he would need an internet connection. That means phone line.”
“What about mobile internet. Those don’t need a hard line.” Eli asked, leaning on the table on the other side of Gail.
She shook her head, “If he wants to run a live feed from Pauls house, and hack into Disneyland, he needs a hard line. Those mobile connections won’t do it, and internet cafés have way too much security on their computers, you know, to watch for illegal activity.” The map again changed, and more areas fell away.
“Ok, so that leaves all this residential area here, a few businesses, two clinics, and a hospital. We can rule out the hospital, and these clinics. They all have solid alibi’s.” She joked. She turned to me, “Any of these houses we can drop off the map?”
I pointed to a small house on a quiet street, “This one’s mine.”
Gail tapped, and the house fell away from the map.
“How many is that?” Eli asked.
“Two hundred and twenty-eight houses. Sixteen businesses. We need to narrow it down some more.”
I pushed off the table and went to the window, willing my mind to focus. “He would want to see me. Watch me and Lilly.” I mumbled.
Gail’s nails on the keys tapped in my head like rain on a tin roof. “Forty-three houses, two businesses.” I heard her say.
“You can take Hill’s Supply shop out. It's my father in laws shop.” I said, turning back to them.
Gail pushed her chair in closer, and clicked her fingers, “I’m gonna try something. No promises.” She said and did her magic.
I looked back out the window, trying as hard as I could to think back over the last five years. To notice anything out of place or strange that would stick out, but my mind filled with Addison, across the table from me, crying and terrified. Her eyes begging me to do something.
“Ok,” Gail finally said, “So I ran an algorithm through our search. Basically, it takes location data from social media, pairs that with images to see who lives where. We’re looking for anything unusual. Any houses that have no recent posts, updates, or activity in them. He can’t buy a house or facial rec would pick him up. If he is in the area, he is either staying with someone, or he made himself a permanent house guest to some poor family. Let’s add in a search perimeter here for anyone whose posts stopped or changed drastically in the last five years, and anyone who is posting about life changes like getting married or meeting a new guy… Oh! And let’s add in the whole food thing. If this guy likes to cook, and he is staying with someone, then he would want to cook for them.” She mumbled more to herself as her fingers moved with blurring speed.
I slowly made my way back to the desk and watched her work over her shoulder. The map grew smaller and smaller, and the hope in me grew higher with every moment. Could we finally be one step ahead of him? Gail turned to me and called me over.
I sat back down next to her, and she continued, “Ok, so we are down to thirteen houses. All these people have had some kind of change in their lives in the last five years. Simon and Margaret Hindley got married four years ago and had their first kid, we can scratch that, they posted more pictures of their son yesterday in the backyard. Hector and Estelle Del Reno are in Cuba now…but their neighbor is still posting pictures of their five pit bulls, means the house is looked after.”
I listened patiently as Gail narrowed down the search, one by one, dropping the houses off the map. One of the houses caught my eye. A small single level, two streets away from my house.
“Who lives here?” I asked her, pointing to the house.
She tapped some more, “Molly Daniels. She met a chef from Italy about four years ago, planning a wedding in September, still posts lots of stuff from her home, not many pictures of herself, none of the kid, or the new man, but the chef thing is kinda convenient. No priors, she owns a florist in town, and has a nine-year-old son-” She paused, and as the screens on her computer flicked from one page to another, I tried to think about the house, so close to mine, and if anything ever felt off about it.
“Yip, here we go, she has had a lot of data usage in the last four years. Way more than a single mom would need.” Gail looked at me with a smile.
“What does that mean?” Eli asked.
“This kind of usage means she would need to run at least five or six computers in her house twenty-four seven. That’s a huge spike in her data in the last four years. Even with a business and a kid on the Xbox all day, this is what an office building would pull out. Not a house.”
I flew out of my chair, pulling my phone out of my back pocket and dialed Tom.
“Captain, I think we found something. I need a warrant.” I smiled as Tom gave me the go ahead and gestured for Eli to go.
I went over to Gail, and in a move even I wasn’t expecting, I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, “You’re the best, Gail. Thank you.” I said.
She smiled shyly, “Yeah, sure. Go get this asshole, you can thank me when he’s in a body bag.”