This is the second chapter of Masterpiece, published above.
The threat is taking shape
The vinyl disk is still playing. The “Dance of the Hours” is at the last moments of the hours of the night. In the next hour or so, I will see Beth again... this is the only thing that counts.
I left the office, and drive by myself to the City centre. The weather was pleasant considering we are in the middle of winter now; the sky is of a clear blue, there still is some frost at roadside, and the grass fields are still all whitish, but sun is rapidly taking care of that. I arrived on a pay-on-foot parking, left the car there, and walked to our preferred snack bar, which was facing the Thames. Beth wasn’t there yet, but I was there ten minutes ahead of the time of the appointment. So, I seated at a table, right beside the shop windows, and ordered and paid a brunch for two. It was a busy morning in London; a lot of persons were walking outside. The shop had brownish wooden walls, lot of mirrors printed with advertisements from the sixties, and two large candelabra light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, projecting an amber light over the tables. The aroma of fried eggs and the cooked beans was very pleasant. There were other customers seated in the shop; dressed in business suites, they were talking of investments and interest rates. My hearth stated to beat faster as the moment of the arrival of Beth was approaching. Few seconds later, the door opened, and Beth entered; she was dressed wonderfully. I stood up with my jaws open, possibly looking like a very stupid man. Her eyes of the colour of seawater, her hairs like a golden cloud in the blue sky, her soave face recalling the angels I was talking in my youth... she worn two long earrings with a blue and white stone at the end, that I bought her in a travel in Southern Europe, the golden necklace adorned with Celtic symbols we bought in Edinburgh when we just were boyfriends. The clear brown fur coat and the boots we bought during our marriage trip to Italy... well, she wasn’t visually showing any sign of refusal, rather the collection of so many dressing items with a common shared story among us was surely a good sign, but it had a somewhat disturbing meaning. And Beth seemed to have read my mind, as usual. While I was starting to say hello to her, she watched the time on her wristwatch. It was a cellular phone in a wristwatch casing of a famous brand. Few months ago, I had ordered some personalised version of that cell-phone wristwatch, to include a broadband spectrum analyser, basically a sophisticated bug detector, able to detect the most sophisticate listening devices. After looking at the time, Beth turned her wrist so I could see the screen of the watch: two distinct red lines. It meant two transmitting audio-video devices, slightly out of 2.4 GHz band the with digital encrypted modulation. The most expensive and sophisticate type, that you cannot buy from a spy shop on the Internet.
“Good morning Al” Beth said with a sweet voice. I approached her and we kissed on the cheeks, like two old friends. “We are watched” she whispered in my left ear, and “I know you’ve been framed” in my right ear. She removed the fur coat and placed it on the shoulder of her chair. We seated at the table, and we now we were watching in the eyes.
The meaning of our love was born from the fact that, while watching ourselves in the eyes, it sparked a sharing of our thoughts; later, we learned that those thoughts were real and synchronised, and not a result of wild fantasies, as it more commonly happens in other couples. I think it is the most important reason why we decided to share everything, to get married, and to build a venture of unlimited proportion. We knew that, even if separated, we were acting like a single body. And this is why the decision of separating, from Beth, was so destructive for myself. It is one of the few things that, truly, I cannot understand or accept. Now, with all her whispering in my ears, Beth basically told me that she was playing a part. Good. I want that part to be short as possible. And, as usual, I decided to trust her, and that made me feel much better.
“Beth you don’t know how glad I am to see you today. I wasn’t expecting you wanted to separate from me, especially after our big commercial success. Can you tell me some more?” I used a dire tone of voice, without any emotional accent. “My dear”, answered Beth, while looking deeply in my eyes, “I believe to have lost faith in you. I will be happy to have you as my commercial partner in the venture we created, but I don’t think it is the case to remain united as a couple. I want to think by myself. I’m not going to ask for divorce right now, but I will be living at my parent’s house... or better, with my parents in the house I just bought for them and myself. It is not far from our old house, it is within the range of sight of the binoculars in a good clear day...” “So you just bought an house somewhere on the beach...” I said. “Yes”, she replied, but it doesn’t have the magnificent glass walls facing the sea of our old house, where now you are living, I suppose.” “I am living there, Beth, but I don’t feel any good if you aren’t there with me.” “Al I am aware of your discomfort, but if I don’t regain the trust in yourself, I can’t forgive you of your betrayal with that woman.” Ok, we were playing a full game for the distant unsolicited audience now. I pulled my Smartphone from my pocket, pretending to be receiving a call. I pressed a couple of virtual buttons on the screen, and something started to happen. My phone was permanently connected to the Internet, as many smart phones are. Since I was sure the packets flow leaving my phone was under control, and I cannot fit an hardware encryptor in it, I used an app that received and decoded the streams of the audio-video listening devices placed in the shop, although it not decrypted them. The flow was compressed and stored in the memory of the phone, so it was ready for a later analysis. I wanted to discover who placed the bug. In my youth, I had a company trading in computer security, may be those guys weren’t aware of this old specialty of mine.
“Sorry, it was an unsolicited call, Beth”. “It is hard for me to say, but my meeting with Katie Donovan wasn’t what appears from those pictures. Don’t seems strange to you all of this? I haven’t cheated on you, trust me. Tell me what I can do to convince that I haven’t cheated on you, and I will be happy to do it. I will not feel in peace with myself until I have cleared this inconvenience with you...” She looked at me, without any reply.
I kept silent. The waiter brought our brunches, gammons with egg, jacked potato with beans, and some roast with mash. And two big cups of vin-brulee for drink. We had our brunch not speaking much; Beth was explaining me how her new house was made, her efforts to find the right furniture, the new wall decorations, and how her parents were worried from the fact that she split; but they were overall satisfied of their new location. Beth could have bought for her the most expensive lodging in Central London, with an army of secretaries and attendants... but she bought a new big house to her parents, and reserved one room to her. Money haven’t changed her. She told me of some new customers in Germany, who wanted to decommission some carbon-fuelled metal forgery plants, and to migrate to the manufacturing of high tech alloys. She told me that in few days she would have send me the data to feed in the supercomputer for the necessary number crunching; I answered that the equipment and the software are and will always be available to her, and that I expect to see her often in our headquarters.
At the end of the brunch, when the waiter had cleaned the table and I paid the bill, I asked her: “Beth, I want you to be back at home as soon as possible. I can’t really live without you; my life is practically suspended until you are back. Do you plan to return our home, living together?” “No.” Was the dry answer. She continued: “I don’t know if I can regain the trust I once had for you. I need to go now. Keep in touch.” And she stood up, and I followed her to the parking space, where we, once again, we kissed on the cheek. “I love you” I whispered in her ear. “Me too”, she whispered in mine.
I was so overwhelmed that I preferred to go home, rather than return to the office. It was early afternoon, the sky was clear, and a south-westernly wind was agitating the sea, with the promise of a cold night. I was, once again, walking between the glass wall and the fireplace. Not all hope are lost; at the end, Beth told me, albeit silently, that she still loves me. But I have a gut feeling: we engaged in a too powerful business and, until we clear all its obscure sides, I never get her back. Even if she says that she loves me. And, time was, to be back in combat. I connected my smartphone to the computer, and downloaded the sniffed streams from the listening devices in the pub. I have a dedicated optic fibre connection between my house and the supercomputers at the headquarters, and over this data pipe I run two layers of tunnelled encryption; plus, a data stream of fake information is constantly flowing over the pipe, so nobody can even spot if it is being used or not. I am pretty confident over this circuit; not that I really needed it – until now maybe- but it has been a proof-of-concept design, and now I am glad to have it. The supercomputer decrypted the streams, so I was able to see myself and Beth that were talking in the pub. The two hidden camera send the packet data over the cellular phone network, mimicking a smartphone, to a server located in... Central London. I opened the public RIPE database on the Internet, and that address was assigned to “Money Form Inc.”. Jaw dropped. It is the “small” British equity firm that consolidates all the “monster sized” equity firms controlled by Katie Donovan.
I run upstairs, in the bedroom, where I left the baggage upon my return from New York. I opened the trolley, and pulled out the documents holder, and walked downstairs again. I opened the zip and pulled out Katie’s business card, where she had manually annotated her personal cell phone number. Without losing a second, I dialled her number. After the third ring, she answered the call. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, as it is seven ‘o clock in the morning at her place now. “I bet you are Alistair” she said. “Good morning Kate... yes, it is me, Al. Sorry if I wake you up...” “No, I was already awake since awhile. How are you?” “Well... I don’t know. My wife dumped me because she received some pictures from our very private meeting at the Plaza in New York last week. Have you seen those?” “Yes” she said. “I have been shown them. They come to me as a total surprise and, I must tell you, I did whatever was in my power to cut them out of any possible distribution circuit and I hope I have been successful.” “Kate, from what I can say, I don’t’ know how, but you achieved it.” “Good” she said, and continued: “Now, if you and your wife would be so kind to avoid distributing them...” “Kate” I said, “even if Beth has dumped me, I just saw her; be sure that we are not the persons in search of this type of glamour...” “Good” she answered. And continued, to my surprise, saying: “Why you called me?” “Kate, you know how much I appreciate you as person, and as professional trader. May be you know why I called you. Few hours ago I met my wife at the pub: she asked to see me, to tell me in person that she wanted to split. Well, I have feeling, substantiated from a data trace, that you have seen everything...” “Al, where are you now?”, she replied. “At my home on the beach, just south of London; why?” Because I don’t want to talk anymore over the phone. I own a small detached house in Chelsea, were I am now. Totally anonymous. Do you mind to have dinner together?” If this story will continue for few more days, I am bound to became a fat person. I usually eat once a day, while this would be the third time I eat today. “I’m glad to dine with you Kate” I replied; she answered: “Me too” and she gave me her address, of an area that I know too well. “See you at six” I said. “An hug” she replied, and closed the conversation.
This is becoming complicate to me. Katie implicitly admitted that she was prying on me and possibly, on Beth. The fact that the data flow was addressed directly to her headquarters means that she bypassed any official security agency, and she is conducting the intelligence directly. She may have somebody in her team that she do not trust. The way she conducted the spying action on me created her a cost of a million pounds of equipment, between the terminals, the encryptors, the communication infrastructure, and the servers. I feel scared. I haven’t realised yet the size of their hidden business, but if she can spare a million quid for a curiosity, I may well be very worried. And I am without protection. I picked the phone, to send a text to Beth. “Southern Bell two, red lines. Daily tonight.” I bet everybody to decode our own disguised business language. Beth will read it in this way: SB2,RL.DT, which means: “Short Blondie is doing it again. She placed the two bugs. I have dinner tonight”. At least she knows what I’m doing. She is the only person I trust. And if I misplaced my trust in this story, I will be better damned. Shortly, I received a text back from Beth, a simple “R”, for Roger, received.
And, I kept thinking. What Katie may want from me? Why she doesn’t contact Beth? May it really be a fascination story, where she want to play the venetian game? May she want to use me for a personal revenge? Does she want to play God to some extent? I don’t know, I need more information. And I have a couple of hours to relax now.
I sat on the coach in front of the fireplace. The sun was close to the horizon and is about to setting down in an explosion of colours. I picked the powerful binoculars from a shelve close to the large window, and started to watch the many ships heading South, to enter the Mediterranean Sea via the strait of Gibraltar. In the ancient world, here there were the Hercules columns, to mean the end of the known world. When Ulysses navigated his boats thru here, his sailors where scared to death; Ulysses then pronounced his famous words, also cited from Dante in the twenty-sixth Canto of the Hell: “You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of virtue and knowledge.” I will have to remind it to the Short Blonde, as my feeling is that she is acting rather brutally. I placed the binoculars back on the shelf, and for about an hour, I slept of a dreamless sleep. I want Beth.
It were five o’clock when I recovered my senses. Not even the time for a shower. I dressed causal for that night. I drove to Chelsea, it took me about fifty minutes, inclusive of the time to buy a rose from a roadside florist. I found her home and, surprisingly, a free parking space close to it. Maybe the neighbourhood is all gone shopping, or to the pub all at the same time? Don’t know. I picked the pink rose from the back seat, walked to her home, and rang the bell. Katie was dressed with a black, gold-lined silk dress, with a sophisticate hairdressing and a delicate gold-ish makeup, a ring with a large diamond on her left ring finger, and a heavy necklace ending with an eight-point star, made of pure gold. In the warm lighting of her house, the diamond seemed to emit sparks of flame. I was impressed, as I never seen such a big diamond before. And her earrings.. two large emeralds. She started to smile when I wasn’t able to recover my dropped jaw; only then I sobered again, and I said: “You’re beautiful...! and by the way, good evening, Katie. This rose is for you...” She took the rose, smelled it, and placed it in a small amphora on a table placed at the entrance of the home. “Follow me”, she said, and we walked to her dining room. In the room it was a triumph of artistic masterpieces, old paintings, the list would be long. Katie had a very delicate taste in furnishing his living place; why adapt to something, if you can have the best? “This room is wonderful, Katie. You keep surprising me all the way...” “Al, almost nobody has ever entered this home to date. I consider it an honour to have the possibility to share my personal place with you.. and I have the highest consideration of yourself, you know. And this is why I wanted you to see a Katie that nobody else has ever seen... not even my former husband. And not only in my visual presentation. I believe we have something very deep to share.”
We seated on two cushioned chairs, that were dating to the French reign of Louis XIV, around a rectangular table of the same provenience, and they looked like just minted. “Kate” I said, “can I ask you a personal question? “Tonight is all about personal...” she replied. “You know well that my wife just left me. I feel confused, as I lost my most important anchor point. Sorry if I ask, I know I may sound like a cavemen, but... Do you want to build a relationship with me? I like you to an extreme point, I shouldn’t confess it, but I believe there are few things of myself that you aren’t aware of. I like you physically, and for your drive and your ability to be always in control. Both of us have some very important aims in life, that potentially can influence the life of millions of persons. Our roads could well converge for long time, should the occasion arise... as it may be at this time. But... I believe we wowed our inner selves to something very different: myself, I aimed to a profound justice, you to a profound affirmation of Mother Nature. And I don’t know to what extent: the Assyrian goddess if which you wear the symbol around your neck, was not appreciative of any man at all...!” I felt very heated, as I wasn’t expecting to blow out so vehemently. When I saw the eight-pointed star, the Ishtar symbol that Katie had on her neck, I felt sincerely scared. I stood up, walked around the table, and went to seat on the sofa. I wasn’t able to continue to speak. “Al”, said Katie with a very soft voice, “I can’t explain how much I appreciate your inborn sincerity. You don’t fancy-dress your thoughts; you shoot them out! I want be at your par. The necklace you see, is not the result of an elaborate inner belief, as you may have thought. In a trip to the Middle East many years ago, I went to an open market, where they were selling gold for cheap. I bought the necklace because I liked it and the price was very convenient; later, only when I investigated its provenience, I learned about the myth of the cruel Ishtar. I still liked it; but it doesn’t mean that I feel to be the personification of an ancient goddess... I understand that you are scared from the extension on my practical potentialities, of which today you tasted a sample.”
“Katie, I apologise if I just acted rudely” I said, and continued: “I am in a situation where I have lost my most important references and I feel a bit confused. I am trying to gain control again, but at the same time, I am extremely diffident. I apologise for the story of your necklace.” “don’t say sorry Al, I fully understand. If you listen to me carefully, I will wipe out all your doubt. Once you will be aware of the situation, you will feel much more comfortable; may be not in control, but surely, you will be much quieter.” “Thank you Katie, please go ahead”.
“At this point, I have to disclose something about myself. I am officially in charge of the Money Form Inc., which is a rather inconspicuous equity firm. My firm is an umbrella for the major firms that controls the most important technology companies on the planet. I take all the strategically important decisions, like on the type of investments, when they have to compete or to cooperate, and so on. So far, I used the “Mother Nature” method you told about, where the aim is to equilibrate the strengths on the playing field, just like Mother Nature does. This is different from justice: in Nature, when a predator eats a family of small deer pets, there is no justice, but there is equilibrium at the end. I hope you understand this. If you try to put any amount of justice or fairness in any game of equilibrium, the system, sooner or later, will fail.”
“Yes, Kate, I do understand it” I said, melancholically. “Good”, she replied, and continued: “Now, I have an homologous in this field of control. I am sure you never heard of him, since he is another grey personality. The name is Benny Sachs, he has my same age, but his field of interest is the primary industry: power generation, metal forgeries, mineral extraction, and so on. For years, we have coexisted pacifically, sometime exchanging information and favours. For three weeks, we have even been lovers, but it was bound not to work. Now, something is happening: he is trying to destroy my empire, as he is trying to expand into the high tech world. Initially, I thought was impossible, but he confirmed it to me over a video call two months ago. He also said the reason that made him to change his mind: it has been your forecast methodology.” “What?” I exclaimed. “You haven’t listened the best part, Al. Hang to the sofa. He hired your wife, and few minutes later, I hired you...”
I tried not to lose my senses. While the game is more clear now, the possibility of a viable solution looks improbable. Why Beth decided to part from me, even if she let me understand that she just pretended it? Who is going to win between these two mad guys? What are Katie’s plans? How she will try to appeal me?
“Al?” “Yes?” I replied, coming back from my state of semi-hypnosis. “It is like I am reading your mind now...” “Very good, Kate... sometime I am too lazy even to speak, so your ability come in my help!” She stood up from the chair, and come to seat on the sofa, to the my right side. Oh oh, situation already seen before. In this very moment, Benny will be telling your wife the same words I am telling you. He is asking Beth for a solution, not to overtake my activities. He will ask a solution in the name of justice, not equilibrium. I don’t know what arguments he is using with Beth, but I am sure that he will convince her to unlock the power of your forecasting system for aims that are different from the investment planning.” I said: “What other purposes you think our systems could be used for?” She replied: “Do you know why me and Benny never really fought a war? Because we are aware that a single mistake would trigger an avalanche that, at the end, would destroy all our operations. So we preferred to coexist, to cooperate sometime, rather than taking the risk of disappearing as controlling entities.”
“Yes Kate, I do follow you on this, but I don’t grasp why our system has changed the rules of the game...” “It is rather simple....” and she stopped talking, while started to stare at the vacuum. After two good minutes, she said to me: “Do you want to hug me? I feel lost...” and without too much thinking, and with some unexpected decisiveness, I placed my right arm over her shoulder, while with the hand I was caressing her cheek... I felt her much like my little sister. In this more friendly setup, she started to say: “Al, myself from one side, and Benny from his side, we hacked your systems almost completely...” I was about to react violently, but I decided it would have been really stupid. If she decided to confess it, after having asked for physical confidence, it means that there is more, and more heavy to come. “Yes”, I simply said, while keeping caressing her face. “Hope you understand, as you understand the fact that both of us, before hiring you and your wife, kept both of you under surveillance.” She confessed also the spying in the pub... at least, she is being honest and open. “I have a question, Kate” I said, while I was touching her hairs, involuntarily destroying all her hairdressing job. “If, I don’t know how, you copied my software from my secure computers, why you need me, and Mr. Sachs needs my wife?” It is simple, Al”, she said, and continued: “The software in inflexible as it is written, it produces a very good investment planning. None of the best programmers I have at my disposal has really understood how the core of the software works, and nobody has been able to modify it successfully: many of the programming routines inside your software make no sense at all, but they produces good results nonetheless. If I keep trying, I am sure that I can crack your software methodology, but it would take time, may be too much because you are really innovative. I prefer to hire you, pay you any sum you may want to ask, and have you at my flank, which make me feel better... please believe me.” “I do, Kate”, I replied, and continued: “If you were able to crack my software, would me and you be here, in this same setup, with you asking to hire me?” “Yes, and it is not a lie. I haven’t’ told you yet because we need your software to be modified. Once I will, you will understand why I really need you: not for the software, but for your way of seeing things that, by looking at your work, is totally unconventional: you are, without being fully aware of it, the real force of the Mother Nature.” “Thank you for your appreciation Katie. I feel flattered, and warmly received from you; but please, keep updating me. What modification you need to the software? Actually, how you got a copy? Things like this that I need to know...” “Sure”, she said, and continued: “As I was saying before, any confrontation between me and Benny would be surely destructive for one of us; this why we never countered each other. Now, you software is capable of carefully output an investment plan over two – three decades, and the effect are verifiable at any moment. What I like to have from you is a modification: make some long term investments, and output the result... basically, the opposite of what you are doing now...” I said: “So you can simulate... what?” “To be short, Al” she said decisively, and I felt her body become very tense, “I need to simulate a business war with Bennie, and achieve a victory. May take few years, but I will be finally able to sleep in peace.”
Should get as far away as possible from this woman? Once again, my instinct told me to remain in control, and not to react based on my feelings. I said: “Kate, if you start a war, he will retaliate!” “Al”, she said, “in all these years I have proposed, and achieved, a mutual pact of coexistence. He tried at any possible occasion to annihilate me, instead. I would have never started a war, to me was fine if each of us had its own turf. He is dreaming of being an Emperor, not me.” She moved her head from my shoulder, watched me in the eyes while she took my right hand in her hands: “Help me please...” I said: “How you had access to the software?” She replied: “In the last three months, did you noted something different in the building where your headquarters are?” “Not really” I replied, but continued: “Nothing evident... three months ago the administrator of the building sent on early retirement all the old lazy cleaning ladies, and hired a squad of young male workers; we all thought was a real achievement, because since then the building is shining at any time of the day and the night...” Katie told me, this time with some fun in her voice: “Those younger men are retired Marines from a former assault squad, and the chief of the janitors is a former Marine colonel of a SWAT team. They had no problem to open the safe in your office, and copy the backup of your source code.” “I want to keep calm” I said. “Do you suspect that Mr. Sachs did some similar action?” “Al, I had your cleaning ladies replaced by a team of former Marines after he had a Russian teams of specialist thieves copying the same information from your office...”. “Ok, I will help you. But we need to define the situation for Beth. Tell me what you believe she is going thru now...” “I’ll be glad, Al. I know how important you consider your wife important and, if you ask me, I will help you to claim her back. My most sincere suggestion would be different; I would live this as a moment of freedom and creation, enjoying your inner self, may be together if you like... but I will respect your intention at any given time.”
Katie Donovan was offering herself on a silver plate. She firstly presented herself as Ishtar, and when I felt scared to death from this approach, she changed herself in a modern George Amandine Sand, the French inspiring lover of many artists of the middle nineteenth century, to include Chopin and Flaubert. And yes, I always thought that she inspired them very well. And I don’t want to decide on this now. Maybe never. I want my Beth back.
“Al, we have been talking a lot, more than one hour now. I think it is time to have dinner. Do you want something pre-made, or we go for a good restaurant tonight?” I said: “I prefer to stay here. If we go in public, I will have to hide my emotions, and I feel very emotional now. Plus, I feel good with you.” “Thanks Al... Ah, I forgot. I have something for you.” From a pocket in her dress, she pulled a paper ticket, and gave it to me. It was a series of one number, two passcodes and a website name. “Al, the first is the account number. The second and third are the read-only and operative passcodes of an offshore bank account. There are, to start, one billion pounds, what I make in eight hours of my job, more or less. Please change the codes as soon you can...”
I had a difficulty breathing. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, how to react anyhow. The answer come from Katie herself, that was looking at me smiling. “These are peanuts for you, right?” It was the smartest answer I could conceive. And, at the same time, I realised that she wasn’t expecting a show of English-ness from my side... and yes, I braced her at her waist, lifted her from the floor, and we turned around together for three or four times... my mind was running some deep processes on the ramifications of this payment, but why not show some genuine happiness? She has been very generous. And, before placing her on the floor, I kissed her on the lips. At that moment, I felt much more natural and in tune with the world.
“Katie, thank you... but there are so many other details to define and clarify...” I said. “We will” she answered, and continued: “DO we want to move in the kitchen?” “Let’s go”, I replied. The kitchen was ample, with an aisle at the centre, American style. It was a typical kitchen that you would have find in an old farm house, but with all the modern utilities. The furniture were of some massive oak, and the floor was made of marble tiles, showing a bucolic scenery. The walls were of a glossy light pink colour, with various pictures hang to them. “It is ok for you a double cheeseburger and some roasted potatoes? “Sure, and... much better that what I would have had at my home now.” Katie pulled some hamburgers from the fridge, placed them in the microwave. She also placed the potato in a strange appliance, that peeled them and cut them in even pieces. The potatoes ended up into another microwave oven. I saw a music player on one of the working surface, and I turned it on: “Look around you all you’ll see are sympathetic lies / stroll around the grounds until you feel at home...” It was “Mrs. Robinson” from the Beatles! Katie said: “I love the Beatles. There are all their songs on that player... leave it on, please...” and, in the meantime, she placed the half-cooked potatoes in a pan, and the hamburgers into another, while cutting open some large bread baps. I kept listening the music “When you’ve got to choose / every way you look at it, you lose...”, while Katie rapidly completed the lunch, cutting some tomato and a green salad. She placed everything on the centre aisle, and I pulled some soft drinks from the fridge. We sat down, and we begun to eat. The music player changed tune, this time were the Abba, with “Dancing Queen”: “You are in the mood for a dance / and when you get the chance...”
This time, I started to talk. The easy money, the music, the attitude of Katie, all played a part in making me feel high. My inner “alarm panel” had all its light flashing of a bright red, but I was handling that, and it was not perceivable from the outside. “Katie, I have a billion of reasons to help you with your plan. My only priority is to reconcile with Beth; I need to be honest with you: while I am really happy of your offer, if that will endanger my future with Beth, I will have to say no...” “Al”, she said very patiently. “You heard the Beatles. You choose, you lose. Things are not so simple and linear. Not even myself have the full picture of all possible ramification. It is a game of ability mixed with some chance. In theory, like the game of chess, more move you are ahead of your adversary, more possibility you have to win the game which, in this case, is to beat Bennie in the investment game... but now I am falling in your territory, right?” “Yeah” I said, unconvinced, and continued: “Together, the game theory, the nested stochastic modelling, and the theory of the knots can remove the randomness from the long term investments because, at the end, everybody needs the same thing to survive and live well. The enormous mass of people and the long period of application helps to make very precise forecasts, if you can produce an algorithm that correctly “guess” the interlocks between changing needs of the people over time... it is like a strand of DNA that replicates into proteins. There is no decisional process in my algorithms, as there are no decision that are totally right, or totally wrong: every decision always produces a small error and, over the long period, this error always become dominant. The investment plans have a main theme, but they are full of “sensing” side businesses, of a size that can correct any deviation caused by any unforeseen circumstance. If you use this process backwards, by applying it to a current development plan, as you have correctly guessed, you will immediately spot any “hidden” ramification or purpose built in it. I imagine you have all the data from Mr. Sachs; I will feed them in my computers tomorrow, after modifying the software to work upside down...”
“Al, there is a little problem. Now we need to speak of Beth, and then we will come back to your supercomputers. She is in a similar situation with Mr. Sachs, just like you are with me. I would speak of a situation of symmetry. She has been told a story just like I told it to you, and she has been convinced to operate in favour of Mr. Sachs. I can only imagine what she has been told; plus there is a difference between me and Bennie: he has no problem to act dishonestly, while I try to avoid it as much as I can. What I want to tell you is Bennie knew that Beth has to ask you to do a software sun, as she doesn’t’ t operate the computers. I am receiving the updates by the minute, and your software centre has just been raided by a team of specialist. My “Marine - Janitors” team left them free to operate, but they are documenting every action.... and yes, they left in this very moment”. She pulled her phone out of the pocket, and send a text to somebody: “Stream, please”. And she finished off the last potato in her plate. I was tired of dropping my jaw today, so – very unnaturally – I eat the last piece of the cheeseburger, sipped the drink, and very adamantly, I asked Katie: “Are you receiving updates? From where? How?” She pointed at the her earrings. Knowing it, I watched them very carefully, and I identified a 2.4 MHz receiver, outputting to an induction loop; evidently, she had a little samarium magnet in the ear canal. She pulled a small laptop computer from a drawer of the table-aisle, turned on, and we waited for it to boot. She opened the browser and typed a private IP address, and the video of the raid appeared, with an unusual high definition. Each in its own viewport, all the monitors of my computer were visible; in other viewports, the faces of the raiders were shown. Somebody rebooted the servers with an Unix stick, after defeating the hardware security switches. They copied the password files, and then made an image of all hard drives. Somebody else used a device to open my safe and quickly duplicated, with a dedicated copier, all my backup tapes. At the end of the operation, they connected the hard drives to a device and modified all the logs, and restarted the computers. In less than one hour, they left my centre, leaving no physical or software evidence of their intervention.
“Beth doesn’t know it yet”, Katie said to me. “She will not be told of the copy-raid you just seen unless, when she will ask you help, you will tell “no” to her request... this is only an insurance for Bennie. I think that, by the night, they will have an exact copy of your computer centre up and running at their place. And if you tell Beth, he will have confirmation of the contact between me and you. The situation can get complicated very easily.”. I was trying to avoid a mental saturation, and keep prioritising the situations correctly. I replied to Katie: “The situation is only partially symmetrical. Beth dumped me, I didn’t dumped her. And I am the only one to have full access to the right equipment for the job, until recently at least. And, in any case, I am the only one that can tailor the software to start the financial war simulation.. Am I right?” “Yes you are, Al”, said Katie, while placing the dishes to be cleaned in the sink. “i’m still wondering how Bennie is planning to convince you to provide him with the modified software. I am under the impression that now your software is being scrutinised from some Indian or Russian company to find out if they can proceed without your intervention. Can I have your qualified opinion on this? Will they achieve anything and, if yes, how long will take for them to verify the results?”
“I appreciate your business attitude, and your friendship, for asking it to me after having paid. Kate, in a different situation, I would have given you everything without a penny; your attitude is very similar to Beth in this respect. I have to tell you that I have some small secrets, too. One day, depending on how this venture will proceed, I may share. My secrets are on the logical structure of the software, about many conundrums hiding in plain sight. You have my word, give them twenty-four hours before they fell in a profound state of desperation and hopelessness.”. She walked close to me, placed her head in my shoulder, and said, half-jokingly: “Tell me your most important secret... now!” “No problem in that. The secret is in the way the reasoning is conducted. I should cite you Descartes, Cantor, Russell, and many other philosophers and mathematician from the past, but I think I could do without it. When your mind setup a reasoning line, it relates the objects with a system called “Cartesian Square”; the most simple example is when you take a deck of cards that have been shuffled, and want to separate it in clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts. Computers follows the same logical process. Secondly, when you start arguing and try to deduce something, another mechanism kicks in, and it is called “Theory of orders”, which applies three laws to the way you process your thoughts: the reflexivity, the anti – symmetry, and transitivity. All the logical passages are conducted under the rules of the pragmatic theory of the sets, and the theory of the orders is just one of the eleven axioms of this theory. Well, I have found a mistake both in the theory of the sets and the theory of the orders. Kate, I doubt I can tell you everything by using ordinary words, but here is the secret: when you conduct any reasoning, you tend to nest the results one into another, in order to build a bigger picture. If the level of nesting is more than three for any given element, you will fail the result, even if it looks logically correct; it is wrong even if you have the burning proof that it is correct, because that proof is caused from a perceptive error. If you want to improve your reasoning of at least ten times, never mix objects and concepts in the same line of thoughts. I have achieved mathematically a level of precision which is one thousand times higher, this is why my forecasts works so well. TO do this, I reinvented the theory of reasoning on a total different base, which is not understandable by anyone, even in presence of clear evidences, unless you have a particular mind, a mind that do not identify itself with its products.” Katie was staring at me with an unidentifiable attitude, when she said: “You owe me this...” and kissed me passionately. I didn’t refused, and participated, somewhat confused... When she decided to stop, she said: “I know that you have no words; I am not her to confound you Al, it just happen that I like you, but I want to respect your loyalty to Beth. I feel her to be my friend too, even if she is working for my worst enemy. I wanted to follow my inner equilibrium, this is why kissed. In few words, you summarised what it has been the soundtrack of my entire life. One day, if this story goes well, I’ll buy an house close to you and Beth, and we will be happy neighbours: you inspire me with every single word. I don’t mind about being physical possessive or passionate... that is just a irrelevant corollary, which lost importance sometime ago... after Alexander the Great? Yes, you right, Kate. Just like the Earth lost importance after Copernicus... but we gained an entire Universe in exchange.” I was turning poetical, which is the indicator that the passion is taking over, and I don’t want to. Katie poured some more petrol on the fire, when she asked me: “Al, why sometime you call me Kate, instead of Katie which is my real name?” “It is a bad night for the lovers in denial tonight”, I said, and continued: “Kate was the name of my first girlfriend when I was a kid. I like to call you in this way, I think it is a sort of involuntary slip of the tongue”. I was half-embarrassed, while Katie was looking at me with a mischievous look. Sincerity above all...
Katie was about to leave the kitchen. She told me: “Al, there are two operative indications that I want to give you. First, I wouldn’t use anymore the equipment at your headquarters, until you do not investigate the extent of the manumissions. I can tell my squad to seal off everything and to remain vigilant...”. I answered: “In principle, I would agree Katie, but where I can work to modify the software? I need a specialist supercomputer to conduct all the runs...” “Well” she said, that it is not a problem. I upgraded my cellar lately, with the latest Cray computers....” I walked to the wall, and symbolically banged the head against it for three times. “I guess I can have some Beaujolais instead of my usual cheap beer while I am programming, then?” “Yes, the Beaujolais, the Cabernet Savignon, the Frizzantino D’Adda, some Barolo, the Chateau Margaux and so on, of the best years”, she said, and continued: “You have to contact Beth...” “Yes I know” I replied, “it is something I’ll do as soon I’m back home tonight. Can I ask you another question Katie?” “Sure” she replied. “What about the communication I have with Beth?” I asked, and she replied: “I feel the need to be utmost sincere with you. Myself and Bennie are aware of the link between your home and the headquarters, and the fish thank you use over the Internet. The pressurised water hose where you run the optical fibre between your house and the headquarters has two holes: one is mine, the other is Bennie....” How is possible that I didn’t recorded the pressure fall when you drilled an hole in it?” She said: “Because somebody designed a specific equipment for it. A needle containing the necessary photo sensor , and made of a special alloy, is shot into the hose while it is at liquid nitrogen temperature; as soon it gets into the metal, it immediately expand to seal the hole. Very high tech, sorry...” “Don’t be sorry Kate, it is the game that goes this way. And what about the sigh-thank equipment?” I said. “Of course, since you use high level encryption over one thousands bits, both over the house link and the fish-tank, a standard supercomputer is not enough to decode the stream in reasonable time. My workers uses, when necessary, a supercomputer located in Dallas, able of hundreds of petaflops. It is a cryogenic prototype. The problem with your encryption is to know when you use it, so we record that specific stream of data, since from the stream itself it is not possible to detect the usage. On average, it takes a week before I can hear what you said to Beth, and I guess Bennie follows the same schedule or a bit longer, since he uses a slightly lesser supercomputer.” I approached Katie, and I caressed the back of her head. “Thank you Katie, to be so sincere with me. I feel sad, and stupid, but... thanks.” “Don’t feel stupid, Al” she said. Just consider that you provided yourself with a very good security, but it has not been enough anymore once you confronted with people on an unlimited budget.” “You right” I said, “Again, thanks Katie”.
Suddenly, Katie seemed to stare at the vacuum, not seeing me anymore. Then I recalled about her ear induction loop. “Al”, she said. “Do you have a personal security team? I replied: “No, I never needed one. What it is going on?” “There are at least five cars that deployed on your return route to home. My security personnel has their plate numbers, but they don’t know they are traced. This means that somebody, other than myself, has put you under surveillance, or he want to attempt something of miserable nature. Until we discover who is doing it, can I ask you to stay here? I have some extra room, and some male clothes that you can use. You can spend some time setting up the supercomputers in the cellars for the future software runs...” “Ok” I simply said to her. “Do I need to feel like a fly in the cobweb?” “Not at all, Al. I think that you, by now, will have well perceived my targets. We will share all successes together, and I will shield you and Beth to the maximum extent, in case of failure. Let relax now for awhile, and after that you can call Beth securely. My communication team is preparing the link.”
And she walked outside the kitchen, and turned off the light. For a second or two, we were in the complete dark, then she turned the light on into another room. Dropped the jaw, again...