I could stand right in front of you and you wouldn't see me. That’s how good I am.
|Do you remember the scene in the original ‘Italian Job’ where the gold is hanging over the edge of the cliff and the hero needs to come up with something real fast? Right now it feels like it's that sort of moment.
Normally, I’d have to say I’m good, I’m very good. I really am. I’m so good I’m almost invisible. In fact, I could stand right in front of you and you wouldn't see me. That’s how good I am.
Who am I? I’m anyone you want me to be. I turn up, I do what needs to be done, and then I’m gone. And with luck no one notices a thing, at least until it’s too late for them to do anything about it. There’s only one rule, don’t get cocky.
It’s true they were simply asking to be taken. I’m not greedy, but it has to be worthwhile, otherwise I can’t see the point. Hundred grand, nice round figure, but not so much that it causes a problem.
You don’t want problems, not in my line of work. You don’t want anybody so pissed off that they come looking for you.
You may be thinking that how I make a living may not be entirely legitimate. I’d have to disagree with you on that, it’s entirely legitimate, it’s just not legal. And before you get all worked up consider this, ever driven a little faster than you should, or added a little something extra to the expense account? I bet you have. I’m just more honest about it.
Anyway, back to the job. The who? That was easy, one of the big corporate types, been in the papers quite a lot, you know the sort, CEO makes ten million a year while the people who have to put up with all the crap make sod all.
The where? Again easy, corporate headquarters, true you could probably do something terribly clever over the internet, but I like to stick it to them face-to-face.
Finally, the how? That’s where the artistry comes in. It’s all about layers. You start of with a new identity. Names, dates, places, that’s the static information. Next layer, you add the dynamic, the friendships and failed relationships, interests, tastes, clothing style and so on. On top of this you add mannerisms, attitudes and defining characteristics. You then analyse the needs and motivations of the character by building up a psychological profile of the person you’re creating and then look for inconsistency. Finally, and most importantly, you externalise and look at how you will appear to other people.
Who am I? I’m Ben Grant, 35 years old, and I’m the new Technical Systems Consultant. No, divorced I’m afraid, we simply grew apart, both of us concentrated on our careers too much, you know how it is. We try and keep it civilised for the sake of the children. Two, Alex and Emily, private school, just don’t get me going about the school fees! My most boring characteristic? I think you need to consider a balanced portfolio, at least 50 per cent Unit Trusts, would you like me to explain? No? I didn’t think you would. White shirt, conservative tie, classic cut suit, add a pair of glasses and there you have me. Mr Ordinary, once seen immediately forgotten. All that remains is the paperwork.
Which is much easier than you would think. Most of the time if you have an employer that will vouch for you and looks to be paying a decent salary then you will find a way into the system. First, you create a network of companies at least one of which needs to be outside whatever jurisdiction you're in, that gives you an employment history and references. Then rent a property, somewhere respectable but with a transient population, international corporate types, 'nice' people with money always coming and going. Finally, register with the utility companies and open bank accounts and so on. Just make sure you know how they do the credit checks and what the trigger levels are for the money laundering investigations. Always be five steps ahead of everyone else, it's the only way to be safe. Of course, they’ve tried to crack down on the false identities bit, but it doesn’t really amount to much, about two hours extra work actually.
Day one, main entrance, and we see a clean desk policy at work. Apparently people went around at night looking at your desk, if they didn’t like what they saw; they turfed all your possessions into a bin liner with your name on and left the lot in the main reception. Welcome to corporate life.
The next thing I noticed were the name badges, green for employees and orange for contractors. I signed in. Main reception, two staff, and three security guards, unarmed, how quaint. Four doors left, five to the right, mixture of numeric and card entry. Up the main stairs which dominated the lobby, coffee area and doors left and right.
On to the induction. If you have ever sat through one Human Resources induction you have sat through them all, everyone’s a ‘colleague,’ that sort of thing. By the end of the first coffee break I had multiple badges and memorised the key codes of four of the nearest doors.
In the afternoon I was taken to meet my boss. We soon had an understanding, make her look good and I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted.
I won’t bore you with the details, but over the next couple of months I acquired the rest of the door codes and several entry cards, learnt the times and routes of the security patrols and knew the CCTV system better than the people who made it. I made friends with the Ops staff and volunteered to provide onsite after hours support. You would be surprised at what goes on after midnight in some large companies. The next important group to get to know were the cleaners, because it’s the cleaners that have access to virtually everything. Doors that you wouldn’t have a hope of getting through during the day are often wedged open after 6 pm. The rest of the time was spent exploring the computer systems.
You can trust me when I say that there are three basic ways to break into a computer system. The first, as I’ve mentioned is the internet hack and its variant, the dodgy wireless network. The obvious drawbacks are that they know you’re coming and no matter how good you are, there is always someone better.
Next is ‘the employee unauthorised entry,’ which boils down to using an ID and password for something you shouldn’t. These people are just asking for it, earns nothing, but has three cars, takes multiple foreign holidays and lives in a house worth half a million. These people always get caught in the end; it’s just a matter of time.
And then there’s my way. I admit it’s not flash, but it’s clever, you link a test system to the main production system allowing you to access all the data and programs on the production system from the test without being traced. Or think of it another way, if you upgrade your security software, but the upgrade doesn't work, what do you do? There's always a way in. In short, if you know what to do, you’re a ghost. Then it’s just a matter of learning how and where to make the changes; it’s that which takes the time, that and deciding you are actually going to do the job.
At some point in their lives most people have fantasised about hitting the ‘wrong’ button or simply grabbing the cash and making a run for it. What makes some people commit a crime and others turn away? People who should know say it’s all to do with the genes and your parents messing you up, topped off with computer games interacting with the corrosive power of advertising. Me, it was an old film on television, Cary Grant in ‘To Catch a Thief’ one look and that was it. From then on I knew exactly what I wanted to do as a career, but if anyone asked, I said I wanted to be an accountant; they usually left me alone after that.
Decision made. Then you have to learn to lose and that's hard. Really hard. By nature people are competitive, they can't help it, whatever it is people will compete and no matter what they tell you, they want to win. Except you, sports, promotions, pay rises whatever it is, if people 'know' they can beat you, they under-estimate you and that's what you want. You go into a category and they forget all about you and that's also just what you want. The trick is to throw 'the game' without being seen to do it. When you 'win', you don't want anyone to ever know what the game was or who won it.
Next, you need strong nerves while you wait for the appointed time, never, ever, appear agitated, someone will always remember. The key is to establish a routine and then stick to it. Mine was getting the coffee and having my morning gossip to Maggie, a plain woman with glasses that could repel at 50 paces. We’d met on my second day. It hadn’t taken long to learn everything. Not that there was much to learn, wrong side of 30, never married, kept cats.
The job. After the usual mass exodus at 5 pm I waited an hour before checking in with the Ops staff. They knew I was assigned the late duty for the system upgrades and would stay out of my way. With a cheery wave and a ‘call us if you need us,’ they turned their mobiles and pagers off and disappeared. I had five hours.
I’ll spare you the techno babble and just concentrate on the highlights. First off, a quick scan program to see if there was anything hidden in main storage. To my surprise there was, someone had been here before me, but a quick look at the source code showed that I was better. I soon dealt with it. Next a quick sweep of the files to see if everything was as it should be. Finally the changes themselves, obviously you don’t type in ‘pay John Doe 100 grand now,’ instead you have to make changes to multiple files, spread over many different systems. All the while making what you have done appear logical consistent. In short, it all has to look and feel as genuine commercial transactions. It’s a real test of memory and you don’t keep notes for obvious reasons. Now you get some idea why it takes so long to prepare. All that remained was to amend the security and door logs, and that was that.
Now came the hard part, with the money gone on its merry way the temptation is to disappear immediately. But no matter what you like to think, people aren’t generally stupid. The money disappears and ‘Ben Grant’ left about the same time. I don’t think so. There was only one thing for it and that was to sit on my hands.
The following day was much like any other, morning coffee and time to catch up on the gossip, unfortunately Maggie was sick, ‘women’s problems,’ or something.
Nothing to do but tough it out to the end of the contract, then I was gone. Officially I had a new contract in New York. In reality, ‘Ben Grant’ disappeared into the ether and I headed for somewhere warm.
I don’t mind saying life is good, but then if you’ve got money it always is. Still, a morning Cappuccino and a read of the paper while sitting overlooking the sea, a light lunch, something not to energetic in the afternoon, topped of with dinner at one of the local restaurants.
Even with my guard down I saw it, saw it but didn’t realise. I was sitting in a very upmarket café when in walked a ‘blonde with legs.’ Afterwards our paths crossed a few times, but she made sure she kept her distance. As I say, I saw it, the little unconscious mannerisms that we all have that give us away, but it didn’t click. It was a mistake, I won’t use the word ‘fatal’ right now, under the circumstances I don’t think it’s wise to temp fate.
I’m sure you’ve guessed and if you have, I’d sooner prefer it if you didn’t rub it in. And if you haven’t, it’s not much consolation to say 'Maggie' wasn’t ‘Maggie’ and as for the ‘blonde with legs,’ the only thing true about her is the incredible legs.
Right now she’s standing behind me pointing a very large gun at the back of my head. She’s pissed off, very pissed off. All the work she did and I just waltzed in and took the money from under nose. She tracked me down, wasn’t sure it was me at first, had to be certain. Now she wants ‘her’ money. Say or do the wrong thing, she pulls the trigger. Of course there is a way out of this, there always is. If this were a film I would say something really clever and she would fall into my arms.
But it isn’t.
Not that I’m worried.
I’m really not.
I just need to take a moment.