In a rush of enthusiasm across August/September I have finished the first draft of the second Silver Path novella. I’m sitting on it now for a few weeks before I start polishing and its off to the editor (Zoe Markham) in November. The story just took off after a little outlining and didn’t exactly write itself but there was a momentum which i enjoyed enormously. Number three is half way outlined already. I’m on a roll!
The complexities of the mythology have resolved themselves with the realization of an end game and a pivotal moment. Sheesh, were those two things a relief when they finally came. I now know where I’m going and there’s a quiet confidence in that. Anyway, another excerpt below to keep the interest up.
2017 – PARK HYATT HOTEL – CIRCULAR QUAY, SYDNEY
Billy Rohl undid the button of his best suit jacket and sat, enjoying the plump cushioning of the very expensive chair.
“Detective,” said Malcolm Ricci, signalling a waiter. “What can I get you?”
“Ah … Scotch, neat, please.” The order was taken.
Billy placed a thin manila folder on the marble coffee table, nudging it towards Ricci who looked down his nose at it. “And this is?”
“Justice, I hope, Malcolm.”
Ricci was mildly affronted at the familiarity but picked up the folder and quickly read the contents of the single sheet of expensive paper within. His eyebrows rose unconsciously.
The waiter returned with Billy’s drink and a fresh one for Ricci.
He drinks champagne at lunchtime, Billy noted.
Replacing the folder, Ricci said, “What strings are attached to this?”
Billy sipped his whiskey, then answered, “None. We felt an obligation. Our system can’t do anything much about the contractor. How many life sentences can one person serve? We’d rather turn our attention to the person who hired her; and his intermediaries.”
Malcolm sipped his champagne, calculating. “Idris al-Madini,” he said simply.
“Yes, we know. Tangentially, Robert Preston. We can’t touch either of them at the moment, although Preston is feeling the pressure.”
“Criminal Intelligence task-force. There’s quite the buzz in there at the moment. They’re hitting sixes. The pollies are very pleased.”
Malcolm sniffed derisively. “Howard Sales is a prat. I wouldn’t mind having this drink with Peter Nguyen, though.”
“Ha,” said Billy. “You’ll need to have something substantial to trade before that happens.”
Both men sipped their drinks, again.
“On a personal note,” said Billy, “please extend my condolences to Mr Russo. I believe he valued Evie and I respected her despite sitting on opposite sides of the table. Her death was unnecessary; sloppy policy.” He finished his drink, stood and left.
Ricci watched him go. After five minutes he was joined by Patrick Russo. Two minders hovered several metres away.
“Interesting,” said Patrick, picking up the sheet from the folder and holding it to the light. He put it down and photographed the page with his phone. “Burn that before you leave here. It seems benign but I’m not taking chances.”
“Yes, sir. What do you make of this? There must be strings attached.”
Patrick considered the question, having listened in on the conversation via Malcolm’s phone. “This move is too subtle for Nguyen, who we know is involved. And William Rohl is only the messenger; a sharp one but … No, there’s someone else pulling strings here. Someone very sharp. We need to find out who.
“In the meantime, let’s be obvious and take out Urquhart. Make it nasty; I want to send that message also. Let Robert Preston know we expect compensation from him since it was one of his crew who arranged the hit, even if he wasn’t consulted. See if you can set up a meeting. This place would be ideal but anywhere secure will do.”
Ricci nodded. “I’ll start both those tasks this afternoon. Tagging Rohl has not produced results yet. He knows he’s being followed.”
“Keep doing it regardless. He may slip up.”
Russo stood and Ricci joined him. “Can I offer you a lift back to your office, Mal?”
“Why, yes. That’d be very convenient.”
One of the minders was already on his phone calling the car.
Billy Rohl and his three-man tail were strolling leisurely back towards the cruise ship terminal with Billy connected to his phone by ear bud and in some form of conversation. In reality he was simultaneously watching the front of the hotel from the pen camera he’d planted in the stone wall opposite and the nano-chip tracker in the sheet of paper he’d left with Ricci.
Malcolm and Russo appeared on the camera as a saloon car pulled up at the porte cochere. Ricci took out the paper and using a lighter burned it, dropping the residue onto the roadway.
“Fuck,” said Billy under his breath. “That was quick.” But seeing Russo was enlightening. The man was hands-on here. Very unusual. The car drove off and Billy dialed up Marnie Benson to update her.
Russo received the call just before arriving at his holdings. He directed the driver to a service entrance and walked the short distance to the basement server farm under the complex, one of his minders in tow. Harrison met him there and took him to his office.
“How bad, John?”
“Very.” They both sat. “I’ve spent the last few days investigating and there’s no doubt we’ve been totally compromised. I mean everything, the whole set-up.” Harrison was starting to get shrill and Russo shifted in his chair turning his full attention to the man. The scrutiny worked.
“Sorry,” said Harrison. “It’s just …”
Russo grinned, grimly. “I can only imagine. Chapter and verse, John. But without techno babble elaboration.”
“Yes, sir. OK … after the last attempt we had the system rebuilt. I’m convinced the contractors embedded a drip-feed scavenger function in the software. I can’t go looking specifically ‘cos that will certainly set off alarms. The proof is in the fine detail but essentially, we’re processing a lot more data than we should, which means copies are being made deep in the stacks.
“Then, the kicker is the fibre node outside on Smith Street. The telecom techs have been there three times in two weeks. We monitor their work schedules and these are all unscheduled and the contractors, when you look closely, well, some of them are packing. That node must have a data cache. Those things can be detected if they transmit so they’re there to download it.
“We’ve been set up.”
Russo said nothing. He was looking at Harrison but not seeing him, his mind churning. This explained a lot, most notably how easily the West Australian police had shut down Brandt.
Harrison held his tongue, waiting.
“Are our backup servers secure?”
“Ah, you won’t like it, sir.”
“Regardless. This is what I pay you so well for, John.”
“Yeah, well, OK. We can run on the backups for six months maximum once a new connection point is established; two weeks for that. I’ve already scouted a likely point of entry. But we’ll have no duplication. Everything in the backups will become prime data, no copies. I’ll set up a slow leak server but real time copies won’t happen. That’s high risk; if we had a crash …
“Anyway, while all that is happening, we need to rebuild the system, and, sir, I strongly recommend we do it off site. I can’t guarantee integrity if we try to rebuild anywhere near here. That’s going to cost about twenty-five million, minimum. Something closer to thirty is likely.”
Russo pulled a mobile phone out of his inner jacket pocket and started typing. Harrison noted the size and thickness of the device. Is that one of those compact satellite phones, he wondered.
Harrison’s mobile, sitting on his desk, pinged.
“I’ve sent you,” said Russo, “a very confidential contact. Call him. Don’t be put off by the accent. He runs a parallel system facility which is fed from our static archives. The two of you need to come up with a way to bring that asset into play. I’ll expect a proposal within a week, John.”
“You knew this would happen?” asked Harrison, slightly stunned.
“I knew it was possible and planned accordingly.”
He signaled to the minder. “Casey, call Malcolm and relay what has happened here. I want him to start silent tracking of the contractors who compromised us.”
“Yes, Boss.” The man stepped out and started making the call on his mobile.
Russo stood. “Thank you, John. I recommend you take an hour, get a coffee or something and try to relax. You’re going to be flat out for the next week.”
Russo left the office and stood off a little from his minder while he spoke to Malcolm Ricci.
So, he mused, we are up against someone exceptional. Murphy’s Law, of course. Whoever this was, plus Evie’s death, plus Robert Preston, plus Idris al-Madini. All at once.
“Casey,” he said to the minder.
“Very quietly, contact Jeremy Duporth and brief him. I need intell on our new hunter. Indicate some urgency but don’t push; you know Jeremy …”
The man grinned. “Subtlety is my middle name, Boss.”
Russo raised a skeptical eyebrow at one of his most trusted employees then pulled out his mobile again and started making calls. All his senior lieutenants needed to put their heads together and sort this out. It was going to be a late night. The last call he made was to his wife to let her know he wouldn’t be home till after midnight. Movie night with their grandchildren would have to wait.