Deep In Clowns - CH5
Back in the car, Brad merged with the traffic on Federal and headed north. Where you would expect to find a radio, Brad's Civic had a reasonably sized screen neatly customized into the dashboard. Just below this was a small slot where he slid his cell phone in, docking it with the vehicle's system. The screen lit up with a map that highlighted the path he would need to take in order to meet up with Lieutenant Dunberry. It was a neighborhood that Brad wasn't familiar with and he wondered what sort of problem they must have run into that the script kiddies couldn't figure out.
Script kiddies was how he thought of the computer forensics of the police department. It was a term he had borrowed from the hacking community. The term derisively described the untalented but curious teenage hackers who were curious enough to find programs that could sniff out vulnerable systems on the net but weren't smart enough to find and take advantage of these vulnerabilities on their own.
The term neatly applied to the departments forensics team. For the most part they had a standard set of programs that they ran against a captured computer. The good news was that most crooks weren't very sophisticated, so this approach generated good results 80% of time. The other 20% of the time the computer was considered a loss for whatever investigation was underway.
The address and Dunberry's comments made Brad believe that he would be visiting a crime scene. This was a new approach, he had never been asked to come in so early. Generally he got called in after the Script Kiddies had worked on the machines for a few days or sometimes even weeks. He had completely forgotten about the morning's events at this point. He excelled at compartmentalization, the ability to completely focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Sarah, his girlfriend, had introduced the term to him. She had explained to him that to her this wasn't an endearing trait and that it probably explained the "off again" part of their "on again, off again" relationships. Sarah didn't appreciate being compartmentalized, which felt a lot like being ignored if you were a person.
Before he arrived at the address, Brad could see the flashing red and blue lights on several patrol cars. The neighborhood was a bit run down but not lost to the urban blight that affected other neighborhoods close to downtown. It also wasn't one of the yuppie neighborhoods that had been taken over by the Volvo crowd during the housing boom in the late 90s. This neighborhood's streets were lined with old pickups and an assortment of inexpensive or run down cars. Approaching the scene, he saw at least five patrol cars pulled into the driveway and lined up on both sides of the street, which was no longer passable. Parking wasn't too hard to find given the hour and he pulled into an empty slot a few doors down from all of the flashing lights. His stomach did a bit of a flip-flop as he pulled his cell phone from its cradle and placed it into a leather holster on his hip. Brad got out of the car and circled to the trunk from which he withdrew a small leather backpack.
A small crowd had started to assemble at the edge of the police tape that had been strategically wrapped around a couple of trees and tied off on bushes at the edge of the house. His stomach did another flip-flop as he approached the tape. Brad reached for the tape and ducked beneath it, catching the eye of one of the uniformed officers. The man didn't look happy that Brad had entered his domain but fortunately decided that Brad wasn't much of a threat. He did, however, hold up his hand directing Brad to stop.
"Lieutenant Dunberry", was about all Brad could manage as his heart rate jumped up about 20 beats per minute.
The officer was too far away to hear Brad and directed, "Step behind the tape." The man's voice was clear and authoritative, adding to Brad's stress.
"Uh," Brad starting to stammer a little, "Lieutenant Dunberry asked me to come over." He was able to get the second sentence out quite a bit louder. The officer apparently heard him and this time pointed to the front door. Reaching the front door Brad could see a number of officers in his way. He asked the first one who would make eye contact with him where he could find Dunberry. It was at this point his nose was assaulted with smells, pungent, acrid, putrid, awful. He immediately felt the queasiness return. "Eff", he murmured involuntarily.
"Lieutenant Dunberry, your guy is here." The man he had been addressing had turned and was yelling towards the back of the house. Brad saw Dunberry turn and start towards him, making his way into the front room which served as both foyer and living room. Brad followed Dunberry's eyes as they looked over into the main area. Enough people had moved that Brad was now able to see what Dunberry was looking at and the queasiness that Brad had been feeling exploded throughout his body. On a couch and a chair amongst innumerable pizza boxes, empty beer cans, and other sorts of trash were a couple of bloated bodies, blackened and disfigured by decomposition. Regardless of having skipped lunch, Brad's body felt compelled to completely evacuate the contents of his stomach in a most violent way. Having not cleared the door jam by more than a couple of feet, he was able to push himself past one of the officers, barely making it to the grass. He leaned over as his body continued it's unsuppressed purge.
"Crap Brad, I should have warned you." Dunberry sounded genuinely sincere. "It happens to everyone the first time they see it this bad." Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a small greenish saucer that you might keep lip balm in. "Here, this will help." Dunberry, without much warning opened the little jar and placed a good bit of the greasy material on his fingers and swabbed it none too gently into Brad's nose.
Brad's nose shifted from the nauseating smell of decomposing flesh to that of mentholatum, which in turn started to burn where it had been applied. Instinctively he reached up to clear it out, but one look up in to Dunberry's face told him that a little burning would be a small price to pay. "Eff, Dunberry," dropping politeness as well as his title. "What happened?"
"Honestly we don't know, we got a report about the smell from a neighbor. Best we can figure, it is some sort of drug deal gone bad." Dunberry explained.
Brad was glad they were in the front yard having the conversation but chose to move over a bit from his contribution to the lawn. The Mentholatum was doing quite a number on his olfactory, but the images of the bloated bodies were still there. It appeared, however, that his stomach was satisfied with his sacrifice and he began to regain his equilibrium. "So what do you need me for?"
At this point a couple of black coroner's vans pulled up, backing into the yard where the men were standing. Moving out of the way even further, Brad positioned his body so that he wasn't looking at the front door. He had no desire to see the bodies come out, even though he supposed they would be in bags.
"Thing is, we didn't find any drugs, and we found something else really strange. I wanted you to have a chance to look at it before our boys did anything." Focusing on Dunberry's words, he was trying to imagine what he could possibly be talking about. "I think you just need to see for yourself."
Brad nodded, not really that interested in going back in the house, but it sounded interesting and important. As they turned he saw a couple of men unloading a metal gurney from one of the vans, rolling it over to the front door and maneuvering it into the hallway. It barely fit in the front door given the position of the furniture and other junk. The two men waited silently as the technicians presumably loaded at least one of the bodies into a bag and then rolled it back out to the van.
"We can get past them, just don't look when we go in, you will be fine." Dunberry was trying to be convincing and only succeeding somewhat. As they entered the front door, Brad couldn't help himself as he scanned to where the bodies had been. Indeed one of the bodies had been removed, but the other man's body was lying at a grotesque angle. The smell once again hit his nose, but this time Dunberry's remedy provided enough protection to deflect the brunt of the wave. Brad felt the queasiness, but this time it was manageable. It crossed his mind that he should be disappointed to be so quickly used to the idea of a dead body and the putrid smell. He turned his head to Dunberry and followed the man down a narrow hallway. Reaching a kitchen, Dunberry turned to a doorway that lead to stairs going down and proceeded down them. A fresh wave of smell caught the men, Brad could guess what they would run into.
At the bottom of the stairs Brad had expected to see a corpse, but instead he saw that the basement was considerably smaller than the house's footprint would suggest. Boxes and junk littered the area, but no corpse. Then he saw it, there was light seeping around what if completely closed would have been a row of shelving, instead it was a doorway. He imagined that if closed, it would be impossible to tell that there was any door at all.
"Ok, this is a bit grim in here, so brace yourself. Don't worry, you're gonna be ok." Dunberry reassured for the third or fourth time.
"Let's just shut them down and pack them out. This is our turf, he can't stop us, it is not his deal." A younger male voice carried through the doorway.
A slightly deeper voice answered, "ah, let's just see what he's got, this is pretty heavy duty."
Dunberry pushed past some clutter into the room, "don't eff with me on this Carter, I think this might be a bit out of your league." Brad internally winced. That wasn't going to help.
"Bull! Morris 4.3 is the best software out there for this, we just need to get the CPUs over to the lab." Again the younger male voice, pitched slightly higher this time, was clearly offended by Dunberry's insult. Brad knew that Morris 4.3 was the latest in law enforcement software for invading a captured computer. If the owners of the computers hadn't gotten too crazy, Carter was probably right. Stepping into the room behind Dunberry, Brad saw another corpse laying across a keyboard, this one was not anywhere near as blackened, although the smell was all there. The differential in temperature in the room caught his attention, and he estimated it to be close to 60 degrees. He wondered if the air quality was also controlled. It would have been obvious if not for the corpse's fumes.
The room was considerably different than the rest of the house. Instead of litter every where this room was immaculate. The operator, now dead, was sitting at a console in front of a keyboard. The three screens and keyboards that were lined up on a laminate surface had all been similarly riddled with bullets rendering them useless. Brad scanned the area quickly not finding what he was looking for. "Where is the rack?"
The deeper voiced technician spoke up immediately, "That's the odd thing. They either didn't know to look for it or didn't find it. Not like it was really hidden." The man was in his early thirties, black hair and too skinny, not your average cop. Brad guessed he had been told that at least once before. The black haired man pushed open a panel that, while not obvious, wasn't overly well concealed either. Behind the door, the four of them crowded into a 8 x 10 room that had a couple of metal computer racks bolted to the floor. Brad recognized the racks as the type typically used in larger computer data centers. Nineteen inches wide and ceiling height, these were loaded with expensive equipment, Brad quickly estimated sixty to seventy thousand dollars of hardware, probably more depending on how it was configured. He quickly turned his attention to the communications equipment that was on top of one of the racks, it was lit up like a Christmas tree on Christmas morning. The lights were flashing madly. Whatever they were looking at it was still operating and by the look of things it was going to town.
Carter, wanting to make sure to regain the upper hand, restated what Brad had already figured out. "All these computers are running full out, we checked to see if there was an internet connection, but no DSL or Cable hookup here."
"What about a hardline?" Brad didn't care about the pissing match and was genuinely interested in figuring out what they were looking at. The smell and images of dead bodies were already driven from his mind.
"Uh, geez, hadn't thought about that." Blotchy red started to fill in on the younger man's neck. "I suppose that's possible."
"I would guess, they have a private contract with somebody big, what do you bet this house is conveniently located near a trunk?" Brad had already guessed the answer. Aside from being well concealed this mini data center was hooked very near to a main artery of the internet, possibly directly connected to a main trunk. It was the same reason he had chosen the location of his home, most people didn't realize that location really does matter. It was just like a river, the closer to the main branch of the river the more water you had available. Brad had also phrased the question in a way that would help the techs save a little face. They saw the idea posed as a question, it would be easy to agree with it. Carter grabbed at the lifeline.
"Sounds about right, why would anyone need to be that hooked up?" Carter offered a bit more amiably.
"Heh, you guys are the experts, probably have to get into the boxes to figure it out, though." Brad was now in his element, Carter just needed a bit of respect, this was a game he knew well, it was one of the reasons his consulting firm was able to attract talent. "Since I am here, do you mind if i do a little tracing on the outgoing packets?"
"How you gonna do that?" Carter looked skeptically back Brad.
"Mind if I show you?" Brad didn't want to lose the ground he had made up.
"OK, as long as you are under contract. He is contracted, right Lieutenant?" Carter's voice now edgy again.
Dunberry didn't say anything. He just nodded his head and looked back, clearly a bit annoyed. Brad took this as a sign that he could go ahead, so he pulled off his backpack and grabbed a keyboard from it, connecting it to his cellphone. He also brought out a small box, roughly the size of a paperback book, and connected it to the cellphone as well.
"What the heck is that?" Carter couldn't restrain his curiousity.
"Ah, it's cool," Brad said proudly, "There aren't a lot of them around, but it is a full up Linux g-phone, I have some wicked programming on my portable drive that can sniff out what this communications switch is saying. It will inject itself into the switch and copy every packet onto the drive in real time. It is crazy cool. We will be able to see everything that is coming in and going out."
"No crap," Carter sounded pretty impressed.
"Yeah, I will send you a copy of all of the data so you can feed it back into whatever you have for this." Brad knew they wouldn't have any software that could interpret the packets. He himself wasn't really expecting to get much data out of the packets, it would no doubt be highly encrypted, and without a passkey, virtually unbreakable. What he could get from the packets was a decent trace on where they had come from and where they were going to.
"Yeah, make sure you do," Carter responded a bit too optimistically.
Brad started typing on the keyboard and his phone's screen lit up. After a couple of moments he grabbed a cable from his bag and strung it to one of the many devices in one of the racks. A display on the cell phone's screen showed data pouring into the device. "Holy Crap! There is a ton of data moving around here." Brad couldn't imagine how much data was being moved, impressed by the sheer volume of it all.
Just then, all the lights in the racks shut off, the computers drives griding to a halt with a high pitched whine.
"Crap, I didn't think that would happen." Carter said sheepishly. Brad had been focused on the little device not noticing that Carter had positioned himself in front of the rack. He had pulled one of the keyboards that were attached to the rack out and had apparently been typing something.
"What the Eff?" Dunberry demanded.
"I was just trying to login on this station and poof, it all shut off." Carter sounded considerably more apologetic than he actually looked.
"Turn it back on!" Dunberry demanded again.
Carter and his partner started pushing buttons and flipping switches, but nothing was happening.
"Deadman's switch." Brad said mostly to himself.
Dunberry looked at him and asked, "What's that?"
Brad, this time more assertively, "I said Deadman's switch, it seems like something triggered a meltdown. We need to open the boxes up to see what's going on." Carter and his partner now punching buttons, moving cables and trying the rack-mounted keyboard. A small amount of smoke started to curl from behind the rack being pulled up in to ventilation system.
"Just great! Effing just Great!" Dunberry sounded seriously pissed off.
Carter responded, "Sorry Lieutenant we have smoke, you guys are gonna have to clear out. I am calling the bomb squad."
"What", Dunberry turned on the younger man, " are you nuts!? I want Maunikey to take a look at this crap." A quick check of Dunberry's face showed that it was starting to show a deepening red.
"Outta my hands, where there is smoke there is fire. It is in the procedures." Carter seemed unfazed by what appeared to be the start of a tirade. As Dunberry took a breath to respond, Carter flipped open his phone and dialed, placing a finger in the ear didn't have a phone next to it. "Yeah, this is Carter with Tech Forensics, we have a problem."
The look on Dunberry's face told the story, he had just lost control of the scene. "You effing jackass Carter! There is no need for that."
"Look, I have no interest in blowing up, bomb squad is on there way and we have been directed to evacuate the building." Carter tried to deliver the news straight, but a small smirk escaped at the corner of his mouth.
Dunberry turned back to Brad, "You get anything? Tell me you got something!"
"Not sure, I need to take it back to my shop and crunch on it, we definitely got some data", Brad responded sounding fairly distracted..
"OK, this is a huge priority, three DBs and a bunch of hardware. There is gonna be some heat on this one."
Carter interjected into their conversation, "We gotta move, bomb squad was very clear about it."
Dunberry in the lead, the four men worked their way out of the basement and up the stairs, apparently word had already made it to the rest of the people working in the house as they were also filing out rapidly. As they cleared the front door, Carter grabbed Brad's shoulder saying, "Hey, send me whatever you get, OK?"
"Yeah, sure, I will send it over first thing tomorrow, the g-phone is transmitting the data to my system at home as we speak."
Looking back at 2012 house projects
4 years ago