Monday, March 1, 2010
In PA Brown’s LA Bytes,Los Angeles' Ste. Anne's Medical Center has been hacked by a brilliant, malicious cracker. Christopher Bellamere has been hired to find out who is behind the break in. When tampered medical records nearly kill Homicide Detective David Eric Laine, the stakes go up and Chris goes after the cracker with all his skills.
Publisher: MLR Press, LLC (February 25, 2010)
Monday, 10:55 am Ste Anne's Medical Center, Rowena Avenue, Silver Lake, Los Angeles
Christopher Bellamere studied the traffic on Hyperion Avenue, eight stories below. A blanket of brown smog lay over the nearby Golden State Freeway. Behind him, Terry Corwin, the network manager at Ste. Anne's, fiddled with his Blackberry and carried on whispered conversations with himself. Terry was the anxious type.
"What are you saying?" Terry asked him. "Please don't tell me what I think you're telling me. I know I saw some anomalies, but they only started last night. You gotta be wrong."
"I'm not. You were right in your initial assessment." Chris pivoted to face him. Terry wore a custom made suit Chris recognized as a Dolce and Gabbana. Chris remembered him from CalTech where he'd been more of a T-shirt and ripped jeans kind of guy. He never had that kind of taste -- or discretionary funds. Chris was glad he'd worn his newest Versace to this meet. He hated to be upstaged. Still, he felt bad for the news he had to deliver.
"You were hacked. By someone who knew what they were doing."
"A virus? Trojan?--"
"Nothing I've ever seen. It's got enough of a unique signature to suggest it was written just for your system."
Terry shoved his glasses up his nose. "Who?"
"Don't know that," Chris said. "Whoever it was, they're good. Covered their tracks well."
"But you were able to spot them?"
"They're not that good." Chris held up his hand to forestall Terry's next question. "There's more. The attack came from inside your network. And my guess is, it's still occurring."
Terry slumped into one of the swivel chairs crowding the oak and brass table. He stared down at the report Chris had given him earlier. "How much damage?"
"Hard to say at this point."
"Any indication our patient records were compromised?"
"That will take more time to determine."
"How much time?"
"Can't say at this point."
Terry swelled up like an angry cat. "When can you say? I need answers on this fast. We have an audit coming up, otherwise I wouldn't have called you in. I'd have taken care of it myself."
"I'll need at least two more days."
"I'm good with that, but I'll have to clear it with management. And they're not likely to be as accommodating."
Chris nodded. He'd expected that. He gathered his laptop and tucked it into his carrying case. He'd make himself scarce while Terry argued with the suits about the catastrophe that had hit on Terry's watch.
Terry held up his hand.
"Don't go yet." His fingers fluttered over his tie after hanging up. "We need to talk. Let's go to my office. I've got some decent coffee. You can fill me in on how you're going to approach this so I have something more concrete to take upstairs."
Chris glanced at his watch. David would be done at the doctor's downstairs in about twenty minutes. He had time. "Sure."
He followed Terry out to the elevator. They didn't speak on the short ride down to the second floor. Terry's office mirrored his attire. His dark cherry veneer desk was clutter-free except for an IBM laptop and a picture of his wife, Cathy. They had no kids as far as Chris knew. Terry and he hadn't done much socializing over the years. He hadn't been invited to the wedding and hadn't invited Terry to his, either.
On a sideboard was a drip coffee pot, an assortment of free trade coffees and the usual mix of large and small mugs. "What's your flavor?" Terry asked, holding up the coffee filter.
Chris nodded and looked around the small office. The walls were covered in framed certificates that spoke of Terry's long years in the industry. He'd been a real go-getter at CalTech. That drive apparently hadn't left him. There were several O'Keeffe prints showcasing New Mexico. Under the certificates and prints, something he never would have expected, an acoustic guitar with the patina of long use leaning against the wall.
Terry followed Chris's gaze. "I took it up about a year ago. Play some jazz and blues."
Chris approached the instrument. He didn't touch it, but he did notice half the dozen photos taken at small clubs on the wall above the guitar. In each one Terry was part of a trio of musicians. In them, he had eschewed his suit in favor of jeans, a T-shirt and a neon headband.
"Where do you play?"
Terry grinned. "Around town, did a couple of gigs in San Francisco." His frown returned. "Just what did you find in our system?"
Chris continued to stare at the images. You thought you knew a guy. "Besides the signs of file activity you mean? Password cracking tools. Some pretty sophisticated stuff. It can be deconstructed, which might point to who wrote it, but I'll need time to do it."
Terry opened his briefcase and drew out several pages which he handed to Chris. "This is what your final contract will look like. Check it over, let me know if you have any problems with it."
Chris skimmed the contents quickly. It looked like a standard boilerplate non-disclosure work-for-hire four-week contract. He'd signed a similar, shorter one for the initial assessment. No unusual term that would limit his ability to do his job or bind him up afterward.
"Take it home," Terry said. "Read it over. Have your lawyer vet it."
Chris held out his hand. They shook. "I'll let you know tomorrow." He glanced at the guitar one more time. For some reason it intrigued him. "Let me know when your next gig is. I'll bring David. He loves jazz."
Terry nodded, he seemed too preoccupied to pay attention. Chris could tell his mind was already back on his computer problems. Chris stuffed the contract into his laptop case. He strode across the dove gray carpet toward the elevator. Once inside, he pulled out his Blackberry. No messages. At least he wasn't late picking up his husband. David hated tardiness.
David's doctor had an office in a building attached to the main hospital. David, who hated needles, was due to get his allergy shot. Chris made the appointment for him, knowing David would avoid it as long as he was left to his own devices.
The receptionist showed him into a small consulting room off the main waiting room.
David scowled up at him. "They're not here yet. We have to wait."
The fierce look on David's face didn't faze him. He dropped into an uncomfortable chair beside his husband of ten months. "Who's not here?"
"The pharmacy." David's scowl deepened. "And my shot."
Chris rolled his eyes. "You mean I get to watch the tough as nails homicide detective take his medicine? Think of all the good that comes of it -- you won't be sniffling and carrying on when the animals jump on you. And we'll save a fortune on Kleenex. You're always after us to save, right?"
"Right, a fifty dollar bottle of wine is acceptable, but a two dollar box of Kleenex isn't?"
Chris grinned. After several seconds, David followed suit. The smile lifted his dour face and reminded Chris of why he loved this man.
One of the clinic nurses bustled in. A diminutive Korean, she smiled when she saw Chris and glanced at their joined hands. "Come to comfort the patient?"
Everyone, it seemed, knew about David's aversion to needles. David quickly disengaged his hand from Chris's.
David refused to watch as she uncapped the syringe and swabbed his arm with alcohol. He winced as she deftly slid the needle into his arm and depressed the plunger. She covered the puncture mark with a circular Band-Aid.
David rubbed the spot. The nurse deposited the used syringe in a sharps container and left the room.
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?--" He waited for David to stand. Chris reached for his arm, carefully avoiding the injection site. David shook his head. Suddenly he blinked and swallowed convulsively.
David wheezed, struggling to catch his breath. His face went rigid. Lips pressed together, his eyes unfocused.
His entire body stiffened. He drew in a convulsive breath, then struggled to draw another. His face blanched as he clawed at his throat.
David arched forward and spewed out a stream of vomit across his jean clad legs and the tile floor beside the bed. Before he could take a breath, he repeated the action. The room filled with the sour stench.
Chris's stomach rolled over at the smell. He darted toward the door.
"I'll find the doctor," he said. He emerged in a waiting room full of expectant patients. Several of them turned startled eyes on him.
"Where's the doctor?" he shouted.
In the room behind him metal crashed and David's guttural cry was abruptly cut off.
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