Going to California

Life by the Valley — 9.2

“Welcome back,” I said to Tom. He’d been out at our Hong Kong office with a bunch of Brits and other ex-pat security consultants. “How was it?”

“Quite nice,” he said with gravelly sincerity. “Big work for big customers, drinking most every evening then back on the case by morning. Man, the Kroll people out there really can put it away — all night and three times a day as well. Not sure how they stay alive, eating so little.”

“You feeling okay?”

“Bit of the old jet lag, but actually, if you must know I’m slightly pissed off. My bloody boss backed away from his promise to let me buy a right fancy spectrometer. Before I left, not two weeks back, he said I could get one, now he won’t even bloody talk about it. Not like we don’t have money coming in — I helped see to that in Hong Kong.” He shot a coy glance. “Know what you can do with a proper spectrometer?”

“No, what?”

“If you spend about ten grand and know how to use it, you can sweep for bugs.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Evidently it’s huge here in Silicon Valley,” Tom said. “Taher once told me that while he was at Netscape, they used to sweep for bugs once a month and they’d regularly find at least one — from Microsoft, they presumed, though sometimes there’d be several different makes, from different sources. They’d pull them out once a month, usually from the boardroom, right before a board meeting, only to find more next month.”

“Jeez,” I said. “I wonder if the spies showing up to collect the tapes ever bumped into each other.”

“That’s not how it’s done, mate. The recorders are somewhere else, the bugs just radio off to some other location. That’s how you can spot them with a radio spectrometer. Heavy, unexpected source of radio waves in a lamp, or an electrical socket? It’s probably a little packet of evil kit.”

“That’s messed up.”

“That’s business. Anyway, it seemed like a decent service to be able to offer. Maybe even try it out here in the office.”

I blanched.

“What?” he asked. Then he laughed. “Oh, you are a right paranoid bastard.”

“It makes sense,” I said.

“Not everything that makes sense is real, mate. The JFK assassination nuts —”

“Do not get me started about the JFK assassination.”

“Okay, the moon landing nutters — please tell me you believe in the moon landing.”

“I want to believe.”

“Those people have some bent logic on their side, but they’re sure it makes sense.”

He looked at me for a moment. “Anything happen while I was out?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“That’s a little strange, but only a little. He smiled, shaking his head slowly. Now you’ve got me going.”

“Sorry, man.”

He shrugged. “Well, I’ll leave you to your psychosis. I have a secure server to build for a client.”

Later that day, I caught Phil.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

He turned away from his laptop and faced me straight on, palms flat on his desktop. “Had a buddy in town. Old SAS mate. He got drunk, completely smashed, and tore off away from us, me and these two girls, and we were like, ‘Wait!’ Because he only just landed, he didn’t know his way around. I got to some Palo Alto cops and I told them the story, who he was and who I was and how to bring him home when they found him, and they did, they found him not forty-five minutes later, hiding behind a redwood tree over by Stanford. They shined a light over at him and said, ‘Sir, please step away out from behind the tree.’ And he said, ‘Okay, okay officer.’ And they said, ‘Do you know where you are?’ And he said, ‘No, you got me, I don’t,’ and they said, ‘Is your name,’ and then they said his name, and he said, ‘Yeah!’ And they said, ‘Did you just arrive here in the States a few hours ago?’ And his eyes got huge and he said, ‘Yeah!’ And they said, ‘Are you staying with a man named Phil, at,’ and then they said my address, and he stumbled toward them near tears and said, ‘You American cops are top notch! You know everything!’ So they took him home and that was that, all sorted.”

“That is crazy,” I said.

“It is. He had no idea how they knew all that shit.”

“Talked to Tom.”

“Tom’s back? Oh, of course he is.”

“His boss won’t let him buy a radio spectrometer. First he would, now he wouldn’t.”

Phil nodded. “The whole place is bugged now,” he said.

“This place.”

“Here. Some of it. Not right here, probably. Doesn’t matter, though — they can’t afford the staff to check anything the bugs might be picking up in any case.”

“Who?” I asked

“Kroll,” he said. “The main office, the detectives.”

“Why?”

And he told me. It all made sense, in a terrible sort of way. If it hadn’t, I’m not sure what I would have done.

That night, I saw Jim, and I told him.

“It’s all come down to the trouble with Elves and Dwarves,” I said.

“What?”

I took a deep breath, and I explained what I knew.

Standard

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