Paranoia (041 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


I stayed late that evening.

By seven-thirty, eight, the place was empty. Even the diehard workaholics worked from home at night, logging back on to the Trion network, so there was no need to stay late at the office anymore. By nine o'clock, there was no one in sight. The overhead fluorescent lights stayed on, faintly flickering. The floor-to-ceiling windows looked black from some angles; from other angles you could see the city spread out before you, lights twinkling, headlights streaking by noiselessly.

I sat at my cubicle and started poking around the Trion internal Web site.

If Wyatt wanted to know who'd been hired in to some kind of "skunkworks" that had been started some time in the last two years, I figured I should try to find out who Trion had hired in the last two years or so. That was as good a start as any. There were all sorts of ways to search the employee database, but the problem was, I didn't really know exactly who or what I was looking for.

After a while, I figured it out: the employee number. Every Trion employee gets a number. A lower number means you were hired earlier on. So after looking at a bunch of different, random employee bios, I began to see the range of numbers of people who'd started working here two years ago. Luckily (for my purposes anyway), Trion had been in a real slow period, so there weren't that many. I came up with a list of a few hundred new hires—new being within the last two years—and downloaded all the names and their bios to a CD. So that was a start at least.

Trion had its own, proprietary instant-messaging service called InstaMail. It worked just like Yahoo Messenger or America Online's Instant Messenger—you could keep a "buddy list" that told you when colleagues were online and when they weren't. I noticed that Nora Sommers was logged in. She wasn't here, but she was online, which meant she was working from home.

Which was good, because that meant I could now attempt to break into her office without the risk of her showing up unannounced.

The thought of doing it made my guts clench like a fist, but I knew I had no choice. Arnold Meacham wanted tangible results, like yesterday. Nora Sommers, I knew, was on several Trion new product–marketing committees. Maybe she'd have information on any new products or new technology Trion was secretly developing. At the very least it was worth a close look.

The most likely place where she'd keep this information would be on her computer, in her office.

The plaque on the door said N. SOMMERS. I summoned up the nerve to try the doorknob. It was locked. That didn't entirely surprise me, since she kept sensitive HR records there. I could see right through the plate glass into her darkened office, all of ten feet by ten feet. There was not much in it, and it was, of course, fanatically neat.

I knew there had to be a key somewhere in her admin's desk. Strictly speaking, her administrative assistant—a large, broad-beamed, tough woman of around thirty named Lisa McAuliffe—wasn't only hers. Nominally, Lisa worked for all of Nora's unit, including me. Only VPs got their own admins; that was Trion policy. But that was just a formality. I'd already figured out that Lisa McAuliffe worked for Nora and resented anybody who got in the way.

Lisa wore her hair really short, almost in a crew cut, and wore overalls or painters' pants. You wouldn't think Nora, who always dressed fashionably and femme, would have an admin like Lisa McAuliffe. But Lisa was fiercely loyal to Nora; she reserved her few smiles for Nora and scared the bejesus out of everyone else.

Lisa was a cat person. Her cubicle was cluttered with dozens of cat things: Garfield dolls, Catbert figurines, that sort of thing. I looked around, saw no one, and began to pull open her desk drawers. After a few minutes I found the key ring hidden on the soil of her fluorescent light–compatible plant, inside a plastic paper clip holder. I took a deep breath, took the key ring—it must have had twenty keys on it—and began trying the keys, one by one. The sixth key opened Nora's door.

I flipped on the lights, sat down at Nora's desk, and powered up her computer.

In case anyone happened to come by unexpectedly, I was prepared. Arnold Meacham had pumped me full of strategies—go on the offensive, ask them questions—but what were the odds that a cleaning person, who spoke Portuguese or Spanish and no English, was going to figure out that I was in somebody else's office? So I focused on the task at hand.

The task at hand, unfortunately, wasn't so easy. USER NAME/PASSWORD blinked on the screen. Shit. Password-protected: I should have expected it. I typed in NSOMMERS; that was standard. Then I typed NSOMMERS in the password space. Seventy percent of people, I'd been taught, make their password the same as their user name.

But not Nora.

I had a feeling that Nora wasn't the sort of person who wrote down her passwords on a Post-it note in a desk drawer or something, but I had to make sure. I checked the usual places—under the mouse pad, under the keyboard, in back of the computer, in the desk drawers, but nothing. So I'd have to wing it.

I tried just SOMMERS; I tried her birth date, tried the first and last seven digits of her Social Security number, her employee number. A whole range of combinations. DENIED. After the tenth try, I stopped. Each attempt was logged, I had to assume. Ten attempts was already too many. People generally didn't fumble more than two or three times.

This was not good.

But there were other ways to crack the password. I'd gone through hours of training on that, and they'd supplied me with some equipment that was almost idiot-proof. I wasn't a computer hacker or anything, but I was decent at computers—enough to get into a world of trouble back at Wyatt, right?—and the stuff they gave me was ridiculously easy to install.

Basically, it was a device called a "keystroke logger." These things secretly record every keystroke a computer's user makes.

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