A Crowdsourced Novel
Read it here – Say what comes
“Okay Paul, thanks for the report.” Agent Stan Harris flipped the file closed and moved it to the pile at his left.
Paul’s chair scraped loudly as he stood. “Stan, there’s something I want you to see.”
“What now? Another strangled giant?”
Paul grinned. “Just peek out your door a minute.”
Harris leaned against the jamb as Paul indicated Nathaniel Boldt. He watched the kid a full three minutes. The boy sat at a folding table. An unruly mop of hair. Twisted glasses. T-shirt. Blue jeans. Beat up running shoes. Nothing on the table. No paper. No computer. No office phone. The kid was fiddling with something in his hands. Harris turned to his colleague and spoke under his breath. “All I see him doing is playing around with a cell phone.”
“Looks like that thing makes up his whole world, doesn’t it Stan?”
Harris stiffened. “Yeah.” He silently cursed. His budget didn’t have room for loafers and he didn’t like contractors sprung on him without his okay. “Is he givin’ a report or what?”
“It’s posted on your schedule.” Paul checked his watch. “About ten minutes from now. Of course, you didn’t get the memo. I doubt your computer has been on in a week.”
“Cut the clowning. I used it yesterday.”
Paul chuckled and Nate glanced up. When he turned his gaze back to his phone, Paul went on: “You turned down my requisition for a smart phone six months ago. You, my friend, are an insufferable Luddite.”
“You used that word before. I’m gonna look it up and decide whether to belt you one. Anyway, you already got a cell phone. What’s he doing with that one?”
It’s apparently direct-linked to a big bank of computers at his office.”
“Whadaya mean apparently? Can’t you tell you me more than that?”
Paul shook his head slowly. “Classified. Way above my pay grade.”
“You shittin’ me? That punk kid?”
The boy stood and walked toward them. Paul checked his watch. “Here comes your report—right on time. Can I watch?”
“Get outa here, you wannabe geek.” Paul retreated with a smile and Harris lumbered to his desk chair. The kid came in and took a seat across from him.”
Harris growled. “Did I tell you to sit?”
Nate immediately stood. “Isn’t this the scheduled time?”
“Yeah,” Harris growled. He didn’t want to admit any weakness, especially about technology—not to this kid. He studied the boy a moment. So this was the little runt everybody said was so smart. Well, he’d put that to the test. “So you’re Nathaniel Boldt.”
“Most people call me Nate.”
“So, Mr. Boldt, they tell me you keep your brains in your pocket.”
Still standing, Nate blushed and looked again at his smart phone. “It’s just a phone. You might call it a portable link—for data input and output.”
Harris scowled. “Yeah. Paul told me you got a bank of computers back at your office and he also said it’s classified.”
Nate looked away for a moment. “In a small community, rumor breeds a certain amount of mythology rather quickly.”
Harris pondered what he meant by that.
Nate paced back and forth. “Actually, I run only a few computers with a secure connection. I rent more processor power on the cloud as I need it. I mean my program is always up and running but I can multiply the capacity pretty fast.”
“All with that little gizmo?”
Nate grinned. “You think I’m just a kid with no practical experience and nothing to offer, don’t you?” He paused. “Anybody can see you’re half-right. Give me a chance to prove that you’re half-wrong. What’ve you learned so far about me? Not much, right?”
Harris shut his mouth. Not much was right—just rumor.
Nate rounded the entire office, facing each of the walls in turn. Then he lifted his phone and stroked the screen with a thumb. “I think it’s important to know as much as possible. It says here you served two terms with the Marines. Impressive. Degree in criminology. Night school while you were still full time on the police force. Graduated magna cum laude. Three formal reprimands for your temper but you don’t hold a grudge. I don’t see any pictures on the walls of your office. Two marriages. Neither took. No kids. No family. No—”
“Where you gettin’ that?” Harris almost shouted.
Nate shrugged. “It’s just what I can see in this room and your FBI file.”
“Who let you into that file?”
“Now you think I’m a hacker. You also believe I’m wasting your time. They tell me that kind of thing is bad for a relationship and I suppose that makes sense.” Nate crossed the office twice, then stopped and spoke softly. “Don’t worry about privacy. This is a secure link—I’m running my own encryption app. But to answer your question, I have clearance. I can’t tell you much about it. Can we leave it at that?”
Harris nodded. “Yeah, yeah—just do your report. Get it over with.” Then he raised his voice and thumped his desk with a huge forefinger. “And sit down.”
Nate plopped into a chair. “When I work with real sensitive stuff, I don’t do it remotely like this. But we’re not dealing with military secrets here.” He drew in a lungful of air. “Okay, here goes. You’ve got multiple murders. Some of them bazaar. You think you have a turf war going between rival mobs. Russians, Italians, Chicago, Vegas. You’ve hit a dead end and now you’re starting to re-examine all your assumptions.”
Harris scowled. That much was dead-on.
Nate went on: “Maybe it would help if I explained what I do. I put all the data I can into my program and it goes out and sources related data then kicks back possible solutions with probabilities. That’s why I link so many servers.”
Harris nodded, pretending to understand.
“The search process takes up a lot of processor power and the size of the optimizations can get out of hand. Crunching all that data takes time and my clients can’t wait forever for answers, so I rent more space as needed.” Nate stretched out his legs. “Most people I deal with worry about security when I’m on the cloud. Don’t. By the time the data goes out, it’s all numbers pointing to numeric categories. Looks like a scrambled math exercise to anybody that might peek.”
Harris didn’t have any idea what the kid was talking about. “What is it—some kinda CIA program?”
Nate blushed again. “Actually it’s my own. I call it Harvey.” Harris cocked his head in recognition and Nate went on “I see you remember the old movie. Well Harvey is always with me just like Jimmy Stewart’s rabbit friend so the name seems apt. But my pooka isn’t six feet tall. Like you said, I keep my brains in my pocket.”
Harris leaned back in his chair and it creaked under his weight. He always liked that old Harvey flick. One of his favorites.”
Nate went on: “Let’s talk about the missing man in witness protection—Frank Speck, originally Tony Ferragamo.” Nate worked his thumbs on the face of the phone. I have a large volume of data on his trip to St. Louis—way too much information. That shows definite intent on his part. In other words he blazed a trail for you to follow. But you know that. Then we have the complication of an insurance salesman named Frank Smith. Looks just like Ferragamo. You see where this is leading?”
“Just gimme the rest of it.”
Nate stroked his screen and stared at it a minute. “There’s only one solution for Ferragamo leaving the witness protection program. He informed on the Chicago Mob regarding a rather enthusiastic assassination plan.”
“I never heard nothing about no assasination plot.”
“That’s classified, too. I really don’t understand why the agencies don’t plug the holes in their data files. It’s way too easy for me to access that kind of information. At any rate, the Mob found him. I understand that doesn’t happen—not ever. You have a mole in your organization.”
“Tell me something I ain’t already thought of.”
Nate glanced at the man over the top of his glasses. “It says here that your likely conclusion is that Ferragamo used Smith just to create a distraction, then escaped.” Nate looked up again. “Is that right?”
Harris didn’t respond. That was exactly how he had it figured.
“Well, it seemed a crucial point and I wanted to nail it down, so I ran several scenarios through Harvey and ran them again but I kept coming up with the same answer. Although that theory may be true, Ferragamo didn’t take off for points unknown. He and Smith are both involved in this situation right now. I believe they’ve actually met. It appears that they’re brothers that didn’t know of each other’s existence. I know because Ferragamo found Smith on Facebook.”
“How’d you get that?”
Nate grinned. “My program crawls most every database out there but in this case I sent a request for one of your people to check out Ferragamo’s computer and Internet activity.” Nate turned away again. “I may have made the order sound more official than I can actually justify.”
“I’ll be damned.”
“I sincerely hope not, Agent Harris. That footage of the cop killing at Union Station? The guy’s built more like Ferragamo than Smith.”
“How sure are you about Ferragamo?”
“Confidence interval, let’s see—95%. Good enough for medical science.”
Harris leaned forward on his elbows and glared at Nate. “Keep talking.”
“It looks like your mole is in Washington. Here’s another bit I came across. That gravel truck in St. Louis—Smith’s prints were the only ones on the gun—just the one set.”
Harris cursed under his breath. That should’ve been reported to him.
Nate’s young voice again: “That has to happen against his will so I assume he was a captive—probably mistaken for Ferragamo, which gives us the motive. There’s a private airstrip near the murder and I linked the farm to Uomo Grasso. Harvey’s analysis makes Smith 80% probable for one of those airplane killings— his military record shows training for the way Luigi Gastroni died and I make the personal inference that he was making his escape. But little Harvey here is strangely negative on the other killing. That’s the bazaar one. No solution on that yet but there must’ve been another passenger on the plane.” Nate finally paused for breath. “It just naturally seems to point to that undercover agent on furlough for emotional involvement.”
“Yes. But I have no data to input on Harvey and get a solution. Still, if it’s true, you may have a vendetta working in the background rather than a power play. Of course, one must wonder what comes next when she reaches her goal. It will leave a vacuum. Somebody will fill it.”
Harris frowned. “You mean she takes over the Chicago mob? How can a young broad do that?”
Nate put a finger to his lips and then responded. “With a surrogate.”
“I will be damned.” The desk phone rang and Harris grabbed it. “Yeah, Paul?”
“I’ve got the city manager of Crystal Lake on the line screaming about Tatiana Fetova—the suspect’s sister.”
“So what? Deal with it.”
“You want a lawsuit with a municipality? He can take this right up the chain. I figured you had enough on your plate already.”
“Hold on, Paul.” Harris looked straight at Nate. “What you got on her?”
Nate thumbed his phone. “No really direct involvement indicated. She hasn’t given you any useful information and probably won’t. Maybe watch her—discreetly. There’s always a chance one of the parties will show up at her house again.”
“It’s a turf war.”
“I’m seeing two other possibilities. This report out of Lake Geneva is really interesting. It could be both Smith and Ferragamo with Fetova. We only have descriptions and it’s just a guess. And since you’ve lost contact we have to consider the possibility of altered appearance.”
Harris put the phone back to his face. “Paul, come in here, will you?” Then to Nate: “Who’s the mole?”
“Could be this Washington agent, Daniel Mahoney, Organized Crime Task Force. Whoa—look at that red hair.” He turned the phone toward Harris.
The big man blocked his view of the device with a huge hand. “Don’t. I already seen enough of that mug. What’s your percentage on him?”
“Only forty. Not good enough to act on.
“I will be damned.”
“I really advise you to get Mr. Smith out of that man’s hands.”
Harris slouched back in his chair and examined Nate a moment. “Where’d you learn to do this stuff?”
“Mostly my dad.”
“Your father—he with the outfit?”
Nate grinned. “His name’s Zachary. Zachary Boldt. Master machinist—I mean he works a lathe. You could say I’m his apprentice.”
Harris rubbed the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes a moment. This twenty something was about to get his Ph.D. and he says he learned most of what he knows from a tradesman? It didn’t make sense but there was something irresistible about the idea. Maybe he should cut the kid some slack. “Let me ask you a personal question, Nate. Your dad teach you computers?”
“He once told me a shotgun made a better gift.”
Harris lifted his feet to the desk and linked his fingers behind his head.
“You ever fire one, Nate? A shotgun, I mean.”
“Sure. Lots of times.”
“And a pistol?”
“You got a suit of clothes?”
“So far I haven’t found the need to wear a monkey suit if that’s what you mean.”
“A monkey suit is a tuxedo. A suit is what a man wears.”
Paul walked into the office and Harris immediately addressed him. “Would you get our friend Nate here outfitted with temporary FBI ID and a firearm? I mean now.” He leaned back further and looked at the tiles in the ceiling. “Not regulation issue—take him out and buy a piece that fits his hand—light automatic—maybe laser sites—back holster—it’ll be his first handgun so get him checked out at the firing range and make sure he can use it.” He turned to the kid. “You got money to burn, right?”
Nate lowered his gaze and grinned.
“That’s what I thought. Buy the best—okay kid? It’s your life here.”
He dropped his big feet to the floor and fished around in the drawer then leaned forward and slid a card across the desk. “When you’re checked out on firing range, go to this shop and get yourself outfitted real nice. Suit, tie, shoes—the works. Get that expensive designer stuff. I don’t want you lookin’ like a kid and I don’t want nobody takin’ you for a Fed neither.” He slid across another card. “That’s a two-for-one coupon. Use it. Show ‘em my card and they’ll get you in and out the door fast—tailoring and all. But first the gun. Gotta wear it when you get fitted for your suits. Make sure it don’t show.”
“I don’t think I—”
“Paul, have him back here by 3:00 to finish the briefing. And Nate,” he smiled at the kid. “Call me Stan. From now on you stick with me wherever I go.”
“My other clients—”
“Plenty of time for them when we finish here.”
Nate checked his phone again. “I can probably give you a week.”
“That’ll be fine.” Harris smiled at the boy. “Paul don’t stand there with your mouth hangin’ open—get our friend here ready for some real work.”
HOW TO PLAY–This is an interactive novel. Tell me what comes next. I’ll try to write it in.
1.) IT’S EASY – Just enter an idea, such as: “their jeep drives off a cliff.”
2.) KEEP IT CLEAN – In general, if it wouldn’t fly in a 60’s Bond flick, then it’s out.
3.) SHARE – When I publish the final novel, I list contributors prominently. I take you at your word that all ideas are your original thoughts.