The Associate

Chapter 37

Nigel's latest workstation had been hastily assembled on a fine mahogany desk in the center of the sitting room in a spacious suite at the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue. The computer was a sixteen-by-twenty-inch exact replica of the ten models on the eighteenth floor. The monitor, too, was a perfect match. Next to it was an ominous navy blue box the size of a larger laptop.

As Nigel proudly went through a detailed description of the various cords and cables, the spaghetti, as he called it, Bennie and Kyle watched without a word. There was a power cord, audio, monitor, and printing cables. "Audio, Kyle? Do we have noise from these bad little boys?"

"No, no audio," Kyle replied, and Nigel carefully rolled up the audio cable and put it away. He bent low behind the computer and pointed to the magic spot. "Here we are, Kyle, the promised land, the USB port. Almost hidden, but I know it's there because I have a contact with Fargo. It has to be there, trust me."

Kyle grunted but said nothing.

"Here's the plan, Kyle," he said excitedly, thoroughly enthralled by his work. From his neat little hacker's high-tech tool kit he produced two small devices, identical in shape and length, three-quarters of an inch wide and about an inch and a half long. "This is the wireless USB transmitter, hot off the press, state of the art, not yet available to the public, no sir," he said, then quickly plugged it into the port that was under the power inlet. Once it was inserted, about a half an inch could be seen. "You plug it in just so, and, presto, we're in business. It's virtually invisible." He waved the other and explained, "And this little bugger is the USB receiver that goes in the blue box there. With me, Kyle?"

"Got it."

"The blue box goes inside your briefcase. You park the briefcase on the floor, directly under the computer, flip a switch, and the docs get themselves downloaded in a jiffy."

"How fast?"

"Sixty megabytes per second, about a thousand documents, assuming you get the receiver within three meters of the transmitter, which should be easy. The closer, the better, Kyle. Are you with me?"

"Hell no," Kyle said as he sat in the chair in front of the monitor. "I'm supposed to somehow reach behind the computer, plug in the transmitter, leave it there, download, et cetera, while there are other people in the room and the video cameras are watching. How, exactly, do I pull that off?"

"Drop a pen," Bennie said. "Spill some coffee. Throw some papers around. Create a diversion. Go when the place is empty, and keep your back to the camera."

Kyle was shaking his head. "It's too risky. These people are not stupid, you know. There's a security tech on duty in a room next door. Name's Gant."

"But does he work sixteen hours a day?"

"I don't know when he works. That's the point. You never know who's in there watching."

"We know security, Kyle, and the grunts who are paid to watch closed-circuit screens all day are usually half-asleep. It's terribly boring work."

"This is not a coffee room, Bennie. I'm supposed to be working in there. Stealing may be a priority for you boys, but the firm expects me to be plowing through the documents. I'll have a project due and a partner waiting on it."

Nigel charged in. "It could be over in two hours, Kyle, assuming you can find the documents quickly."

Bennie shook off all concerns. "Priority one is the air-breathing engines that Trylon and Bartin developed together. The technology is so sophisticated that the Pentagon is still orgasmic. Priority two is the fuel mix. Do a search for 'cryogenic hydrogen fuel' and follow it up with one for 'scramjet'." There should be a ton of research in the files. Priority three is called 'waveriders'." Do a search. These are aerodynamic designs used to increase the B-10's lift-to-drag ratio. Here's a memo." Bennie handed over a two-page summary.

"Any of this sound familiar, Kyle?" Nigel pleaded.


"It's there," Bennie insisted. "It's the heart of the research, the crux of the lawsuit, and you can find it, Kyle."

"Oh, thank you."

For practice, Nigel withdrew the transmitter and handed it to Kyle. "Let's see you do it." Kyle slowly got to his feet, leaned over the computer, shoved away some cables, and with some effort finally managed to insert the transmitter into the USB port. He sat down and said, "There's no way."

"Of course there is," Bennie scoffed. "Use your brain."

"It's dead."

Nigel bounced around to the blue box. "The software is some of my home brew. When you have inserted the transmitter, you reach down and flip this little switch, and the script automatically locates the computer and begins downloading the database. It will happen very quickly, Kyle, and if you like, you can take a break, leave the room, go for a pee, act like nothing at all is happening, and all the while my little gizmo is sucking up the documents."

"Bloody brilliant," Kyle said.

Bennie produced a black Bally briefcase identical to Kyle's, a stand-up model with a short leather flap that latched on one side. There were three compartments, with the middle one padded for a laptop. The substitute was complete with a few scuff marks and Kyle's Scully & Pershing business card firmly in the leather tag. "You'll use this," he said as Nigel carefully lifted the blue box and placed it in the center compartment of the briefcase. "When you unzip this divide," Nigel said, "the receiver will already be in place. If for some reason you need to abort, just close the case and punch this button, and it locks automatically."


"Just in case, Kyle."

"Let me get this straight. Something goes wrong, somebody notices me, maybe some alarm goes off in a supercomputer we know nothing about as soon as I start dickering with the database, and your plan is then for me to lock the flap on the briefcase, grab the transmitter that's almost hidden, and then do what? Sprint from the room like a shoplifter who's been caught? Where do I go, Nigel? Any help here, Bennie?"

"Relax, Kyle," Bennie said with a fake smile. "This is a piece of cake. You'll do fine."

"No alarms, Kyle," Nigel said. "My software is too good for that. Trust me."

"Would you please stop saying that?"

Kyle walked to a window and looked out at the Manhattan skyline. It was almost 9:30 on Tuesday night. He had not eaten since he and Tabor had enjoyed a fifteen-minute lunch in the firm cafeteria at 11:30.

Hunger, though, was only a minor concern on a long, sad list.

"Are you ready, Kyle?" Bennie called from across the room. Not a question, but a challenge.

"As ready as I'll ever be," he answered without turning around.


"As soon as possible. I want to get it over with. I'll stop by the room a few times tomorrow, check the traffic. My best guess is that it'll be about eight tomorrow night, late in the day but with enough time to download, assuming I don't get shot."

"Any questions about the equipment, Kyle?" Nigel asked.

Kyle walked stiffly back to the workstation and stared at the machines. He finally shrugged and said, "No, it's pretty straightforward."

"Super. One last thing, Kyle. The blue box has a wireless signal so that I know precisely when you're downloading."

"Why is that necessary?"

"Monitoring. We'll be very close by."

Another shrug. "Whatever."

The blue box was still in the center compartment, with Nigel handling it as if it were a bomb. Kyle then added the materials from his own briefcase, and when he grabbed the handle and lifted it off the table, he was surprised at the weight.

"A bit heavier, Kyle?" Nigel quizzed, watching every move.

"Yes, quite a bit."

"Not to worry. We've reinforced the bottom of the Bally. It's not going to drop out as you're walking along Broad Street."

"I like the other one better. When do I get it back?"

"Soon, Kyle, soon."

Kyle pulled on his trench coat and made his way to the door. Bennie followed and said, "Good luck, Kyle. It's all come down to this. We believe in you."

"Go to hell," Kyle said, and left the room.

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