In the Silence

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CHAPTER EIGHT

In less than another millisecond, the signal was caught in a microwave antenna on top of the eleven-story federal printing building. This was the Public Document Distribution Center, known to most as the place to write to in Pueblo, Colorado for free information. The digitized message David had just transmitted flowed through a cable down the eleven floors, plus three additional basement levels, to the bottom of the block-sized building. David's four word message: IS MR. HENDERSON THERE? flashed on a computer screen.

"We got another Code One here!" yelled Scott Thomas, as he picked up the phone. "Get me Mr. Henderson! It's another breach of security."

Across the basement floor against the south wall, a big red steel door with the words DIRECTOR OF DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS on it swung open. A big, almost obese man in a tan camel hair sport coat, short at the sleeves and tight at the stomach, hurried across the computer filled room. Mr. Henderson knocked down a female filing clerk as he rushed to Scott Thomas' desk. Weighing close to three hundred pounds, he ricocheted off several of the tightly spaced desks before he was at his destination, leaning over Scott's shoulder, reading the screen.

"Someone is able to tap into our computer lines. It could be the same person that tried last Friday night," said Scott.

"Last Friday night! Why wasn't I informed?" yelled Mr. Henderson as he spun Scott around in his chair.

"We didn't think it was important. We thought it was some kid. He couldn't even spell and said he was freezing or something," Scott answered sheepishly.

"Who is we?" yelled Mr. Henderson, louder!

Almost everyone on the floor turned and hid their heads behind their computer screens. A few employees got up from their desks and headed for cover in the restroom, breakroom or anyplace to escape the wrath that was about to fly.

"Mainly, it was myself and Tom. We were compiling some data for the Sunday morning newspaper and we received this message about somebody freezing up on a mountain. We thought it was a news story, but then the spelling was so bad we thought it was a couple of kids," Scott whimpered.

Mr. Henderson grabbed the phone off of Scott's desk, dialed, then yelled into the receiver, "Kirk, get down here immediately! We've got a security problem."

Scott began to tremble. Kirk, Mr. Henderson's right-hand man, worked one floor up, on the second basement level all by himself. His main responsibility was the huge open reel computer machines which stored and produced all the facts and statistics. His job was high security and top secret. He once had a fellow employee fired for accidentally getting off on his floor. Kirk loved the power he held within the Department of Statistics.

An elevator door opened on the same side of the floor as Mr. Henderson's office. A skinny, white-haired agent with a shoulder harness on stepped out. Kirk rapidly scanned the large open office area, his ponytail flipping from shoulder to shoulder. Immediately he noticed a lot of employees were away from their desks. Squinting his eyes to aid his poor eyesight, he could barely make out the huge frame of Mr. Henderson standing over someone still constrained to an office chair. Kirk Smith was overzealous, and Mr. Henderson used this to his advantage. Kirk pulled the nickel plated, nine millimeter handgun from his shoulder harness. While gripping the gun with both hands, he worked himself through the maze of desks toward Scott and Mr. Henderson and he pointed the gun right at Scott's head — ready for his fourth kill of the day.

"Put that thing away," said Mr. Henderson, somewhat embarrassed by Kirk's actions.

Kirk slid the weapon into the leather holster and asked, "What's the problem?"

"Someone has broken into our computer system," Mr. Henderson said while pointing at the screen.

Kirk yanked Scott from his chair and took his place. He read the words off the screen: IS MR. HENDERSON THERE? Kirk rubbed his hand on his chin while talking out loud to himself. "I installed the most sophisticated scrambling and decoding equipment; nobody could break into this data center. It must be an internal problem. I'll run a loop test and find out where our little leak is."

Kirk jumped from the chair, ran across the room, got in the elevator and went one floor up. In less than two minutes he was in his captain's chair at a console of electronic equipment and a wall of security monitors, determined to find and then destroy the person who thought he could outsmart him.

Mr. Henderson had pulled Scott into his office and waited for Kirk to call down with the informant's name. Scott sat in a chair in front of Mr. Henderson's huge wooden desk. He knew better than to offer an explanation or talk. Scott could visualize Kirk one floor above, sitting amongst all his high-tech security equipment, frothing at the mouth, ready to pounce on somebody. Scott got a knot deep down in his gut. Kirk might blame the leak on me. He has never liked me. He will probably try to pin something on me to cover his butt. Twenty years of hard work to get where I'm at could be gone. And it's in the hands of that ten-cent security cop.

From behind his desk Mr. Henderson loosened the tie from around his fat neck, pushed back the executive chair and stood. Scott's eyes followed him as he waddled across the royal red carpet and pushed a button on the dark-walnut wood paneled wall. There was a low hum as a section of the paneling lifted to reveal a built-in bar. Mr. Henderson took some ice from a bucket and put it into a short glass and then poured some scotch. Scott watched him in the mirror that lined the wall behind the bar. Mr. Henderson's ugliness was overshadowed by his power. Scott believed and shared in his goals and great vision of creating a better and stronger society. Scott worshipped him and almost felt he didn't deserve to be part of the team that Mr. Henderson had assembled over the past twenty years. Just like everyone else, he was intimidated and scared of Mr. Henderson, but falsely trusted him and would do anything for him.

The phone rang. Mr. Henderson moved back to his desk and plopped down in the chair. He picked up the phone and listened, then started to yell, "What do you mean somebody on the outside has been able to tap into our computer!"

Scott breathed a sigh of relief. I'm off the hook.

Mr. Henderson continued yelling into the mouthpiece. "Kirk, I am holding you completely responsible! I gave you over fourteen million dollars so you could get a computer system no one could get into. And now somebody has broken into it and even knows my name."

Scott sat there gloating that Kirk was the target of Henderson's wrath. This couldn't be happening to a more deserving guy. Mr. Henderson motioned for Scott to leave and as Scott did so, he left the door slightly cracked so that he could finish eavesdropping on Mr. Henderson's tirade. Not wanting to look conspicuous by leaning his ear against the door, Scott stood a few feet away and strained to hear.

"I want you to find the person who has tapped into our computer and take care of him. And don't screw up like this morning. That plane blowing up on the runway was a big mistake."

Scott couldn't believe he was hearing things right, but deep down he knew exactly what was going on. The door open and Kirk rushed out of the office and got on the elevator. Still in shock Scott went back to his desk and just there knowing he should not have listened at the door; now he knew too much.

Two minutes later the elevator doors opened again. Kirk rushed out with something in his hand and headed right for Scott. I'll deny hearing anything about the plane blowing up. I will play dumb.

Kirk pulled Scott from his chair! "Is the hacker still on line?"

Relived that he had not been caught eavesdropping, Scott answered breathlessly, "I haven't touched anything."

Kirk sat at the desk and carefully turned the computer around. He then clamped a blue signal probe around one of the cables coming out the back. He pushed two buttons on the test probe and 0000 lit up on a red display. Kirk then turned the computer back around and typed:

 

WHO WANTS MR. HENDERSON?

 

Again, in less than a millisecond this message flashed back up to the microwave dish on Mt. Antero, down the cable, and onto David's screen. Caught off guard, David read the screen and began laughing. What kind of fool do they think I am? They actually think I'd identify myself? David typed back the message:

 

JUST TELL MR. HENDERSON AN OLD FRIEND WANTS TO TALK TO HIM.

Kirk knew that he had to find out who was on the line; his career could be riding on it. He typed back:

 

JUST WAIT, A FEW MINUTES WHILE I GO GET MR. HENDERSON.

 

Kirk reached behind the computer and as he pushed a button on the test probe, the red display started to flash and count numbers. Feeling cocky and oh so smart, Kirk looked at his watch — in less than ninety seconds he could trace the connection back to his next victim.

David read the message off his screen, the just wait, a few minutes sparking his curiosity. He did not know Kirk, but there was no way he was going to be outwitted. David instantly reached up and unsnapped the modular jack from the terminal board. They think I'm stupid enough to stay on line, so that they can trace the call.

Kirk was concentrating on the test probe when the red numbers quit counting. "God damn it! They disconnected. Whoever is tapping into our system is smart enough to know that we could have pinpointed their location."

Scott was watching over Kirk's shoulder. He knew Kirk would be held responsible by Mr. Henderson for not finding the computer pirate. Scott had always been afraid of Kirk and now more than ever — especially having overheard Mr. Henderson saying something about blowing up the plane. Scott was supportive of the mission at the Department, to alter statistics and change facts, but he would never be part of killing someone.

Kirk copied down the numbers off the test probe. At least there was enough information to learn which state the hacker called from. David had no way of knowing, he was now an opponent, and at an unfair disadvantage. It would be like a chess game; but this game had lives riding on it. Kirk enjoyed the game; nobody had beat him yet.

Knowing the risk of going back on line, David folded up the computer, loaded up, and headed back down the mountain. During the forty-five minute drive back to the shop, David thought about the senator, what was on the tape, and finding out about what D.O.S. stood for. He decided none of it meant anything to him. It definitely was not worth risking the Clipper Chip over.

His thoughts turned to going to the Naval Base at San Diego where his discharge records were. Then somehow he could find a way to tap into the main computer. He'd disguise himself as a phone repairman or maybe even bribe someone for an access number. David started to entertain the idea of traveling to California for a well-deserved week off. Maybe it was meant to be. After all, Paul had given him a plane ticket to San Francisco. Despite his upbeat thoughts, David just could not fight off the sickness growing in his gut. Even his knuckles were turning white from gripping the steering wheel. The big problem was — he hated flying.

Meanwhile, those at the Department of Statistics were not going to dismiss David as easily as he had dismissed them. Kirk was back on the second basement level working out some calculations in front of a map. Scott sat idle at his desk one floor below, not sure if he should start working again on his terminal or what. Scott's career flashed through his mind. He had been with the Department since the mid-seventies. Scott's father was a judge and used his influence to get him a college deferment from the war. He graduated from Yale with a degree in Statistical Science and it was his father again who secured a position for Scott with the government. Three months after graduation, Scott was standing in front of Jack Luther Henderson's desk, about to be his assistant. There were immediate animosities. Jack hated college boys and regarded Scott as a coward. Although Jack Henderson had only served eleven months in the Press Corps, he wasn't a draft dodger.

As the Vietnam War was coming to an end, Jack Henderson's assignment in the Press Corps was to make sure that the actual POW and MIA figures were kept low. As Director of Casualty Statistics, he was to make the public think there were not that many men being lost. It was simple: just alter the numbers and/or words, control the perception. He liked holding back information as to who was actually missing in action or a prisoner of war — it made him feel like God. By manipulating a few words he could make someone a hero or simply a number. He once wrote about a solider who had pulled three men back from the front lines and then took a bullet in the back, as if he were a coward that got shot while running from the fighting. He changed the facts just because the soldier's name was Lightfoot; Jack hated Indians.

Since his appointment came directly from the White House, and no bureaucrats wanted to be tied into what he was doing, he answered to no one. Jack Henderson's one-man department should have ended with the Vietnam War, but the usual bureaucratic red tape reassigned him to an office in the United States Government Printing Building in Pueblo, Colorado. When the Free Information Bill was passed, the press offices got to be known as the Free Information Building.

Jack Henderson still had no one to answer to and knew that the position of Director of Causality Statistics would be phased out with the next administration. While in the Press Corps, he realized how much power the printed word really had. Hence, he dropped the word causality from his title and became simply Director of Statistics.

Like every other government employee, Jack knew he was on the gravy train and knew he somehow had to make it look like his position was invaluable. He started compiling data, like how many voters believed in birth control and who wanted capital punishment. Then when the governor was destined to lose reelection, Jack furnished this information to him. The governor switched his platform to supporting birth control and won his reelection. Jack had a politician in his back pocket.

Jack Henderson was a one-man office for almost two years, until Scott Thomas showed up to work under him. Jack instantly became the Director of the Department of Statistics. Although he did not like Scott, he liked his new title, the power, and being in charge. He told Scott always to call him Mr. Henderson and devised a horrendous first assignment that would keep Scott busy for years and out of his own larger plan.

Scott's first assignment was to compile the statistics on how many cars in the U.S. required metric tools for maintenance or repairs. Scott worked hard to prove himself to Mr. Henderson. But after two years of working on this project, Scott began to notice something: whenever he would send out a survey to a mechanic or garage, he got back a lot of nasty, resentful replies. It was obvious that Americans did not want to convert to the metric system. One day, still trying to curry Mr. Henderson's favor, Scott jokingly hinted that they could blackmail the auto industry by changing the statistics.

Jack Henderson enthusiastically jumped on the idea and initiated a plan. It was simple, they would use the Free Information Department to release bogus information about the benefits of converting to the metric system. Then Scott could change the statistics to show that mechanics actually wanted to convert. They could even make up some polls and have the newspapers print the results saying that the whole country wanted the metric system. If it had worked, it would have cost the auto industry billions of dollars to retool.

Over a five-year period, the three major auto makers indirectly channeled over sixty-six million dollars to the Department of Statistics. With this huge amount of funding, the Department grew from a two-desk operation to occupying the three basement floors of the Federal Press Building. Nobody within the massive Free Information Department knew what was going on below them. Ever since Mr. Henderson and Scott started extorting money, there was no need to ask for an increase in funding. Both were still on the federal payroll and they just got lost in the bureaucracy.

It was the result of Scott's first assignment that actually allowed the two-man department to become a self supporting, silent, powerful force and earned Scott Mr. Henderson's obligation and respect. After all, because of Scott, Mr. Henderson was able to filter almost two million of the sixty-six million into his own alias accounts.

Scott's career reminiscing was interrupted when the phone on his desk rang. His heart racing, he picked up the receiver. "Extension twenty-two."

"Scott, this is the switchboard. Your wife just called. She said to remind you that you promised your children that you would make it to their church play tonight."

"Thank you." Scott hung up the phone and looked at his watch. It was almost four. Weeks ago Mr. Henderson had already given him the okay to leave early on this Monday. Turning down the brightness on his computer monitor, Scott got up from his desk, grabbed his jacket, and headed for the elevator — glad that this day was over. He had just pushed the UP button for the elevator when he glanced to his right. Mr. Henderson's door was open and he was on the phone. Scott hoped the elevator would hurry before Mr. Henderson noticed him. He had been promising his two children for over a month that he would make it to their play and didn't want to be delayed.

Ding. The elevator door opened. Mr. Henderson looked over as Scott stepped in. The doors shut and Scott breathed a sign of relief as he hit the ground floor button. He was on his way to see Chad and Polly perform in their church play. He felt guilty not being able to spend more time with them but his position required working late nights after most newsrooms shut down for the day. These after-hours were when the Department could change information on the wire services without being detected.

The elevator door opened and Scott walked across the mezzanine squinting his eyes from all the light coming in through the full length windows. Working three levels underground made him feel like a mole. That was the worst part of his job, working underground. The lack of daylight made it like hell. Scott hurried to the front doors. The security guard looked at the security pass clipped to his jacket and when he pushed a button, the two sliding doors parted. Scott took a deep breath of the fresh air as he exited the building. He was not more than fifty yards from the building when he heard footsteps behind him. It was Kirk chasing him down. "Mr. Henderson wants to see you," yelled Kirk from about twenty yards back.

Scott kept walking, ignoring Kirk. He's lying. I cleared leaving early this afternoon weeks ago. As he thought about it, being terminated could be the best thing for him, especially in light of what he had heard today. At least he would be able to see more of his family. Kirk, not one to be ignored, grabbed Scott and spun him around. "I said, Mr. Henderson wants to see you. Now!"

"I okayed it with him to get off early," replied Scott, abruptly pulling out of Kirk's grip. "Have him fire me if you want. I promised Sue and my kids I'd finally make it to one of their activities."

"You fool! Do you think you can just walk from the Department? You're in as deep as us. You just don't want to admit it."

Determined to leave, Scott stood next to his car and reached into his pocket for the keys. He looked straight into Kirk's beady little blue eyes and said, "I don't care what you and Mr. Henderson are up to. I will not be part of blowing up people."

Kirk went berserk and slugged Scott with an upper cut to the stomach. Scott doubled over and Kirk rammed his head into the side of the car. Scott fell to the ground and Kirk started kicking him. Despite the blows and the pain, all Scott could think about were his children, their eyes wandering through the audience wondering why he had broken his promise and missed their play.

The door security guard saw the commotion, ran from the building to help and pulled Kirk off. "What's the problem, Mr. Smith?" Kirk looked at the guard and said, "We've got an employee here that has been stealing government property."

"Should I call the police?" asked the guard.

"Not yet, just help me get him back to my floor."

The trio returned to the building, Scott in the center with Kirk holding one arm and the guard the other. They walked across the white marble floor to the furthermost elevator. Kirk inserted a card into a slot and the elevator opened. The three got on and Kirk pushed the BASEMENT 2 button.

The doors opened onto a floor filled with huge computer tape backup machines. To the right was a console with security monitors and banks of switches. They turned to the left and Kirk led the three down a short hall. The door at the end of the hall was a restroom; the door on the left said PHONE EQUIPMENT ROOM. Directly across on the right side of the hall the lettering on the door read CLEANING SUPPLY ROOM.

Kirk unlocked the steel door on the right and switched on the light. They all walked inside the small room which was filled with mop buckets, push brooms, a floor polisher, and other cleaning tools. In the center of the room was a wooden table with a folding chair pulled up to it. "Sit," ordered Kirk. Scott did as he was told.

"Mr. Smith, do you want me to call the police now?" asked the guard.

"No, I can take care of things from here," said Kirk, guiding the guard out of the room. "Thanks for the assistance. And I will remember this, Henry. There could be a promotion coming your way." Kirk pulled the door shut and locked it.

Scott sat in the room alone, scared. All he could hear was the hum and clicking from the phone equipment right across the hall. His mind raced a million miles an hour, going from the certainty he had slipped up when he blurted out about blowing up people to the imagined consequences facing him. If only he had not listened at Mr. Henderson's door. But it was far too late; he should have gotten out of the Department when they started changing facts and statistics. Extorting money from the auto industries was just the beginning. Now the Department was controlling the way people thought, voted, and even lived. And died!

Scott gingerly got up from the chair, sore from Kirk's kicks and punches to the stomach and head. He walked to the door and tried turning the knob; it did not budge. Scott surveyed the room. It was about twenty by twenty, with no other exit, not even a window, since it was two floors underground. There was a mattress over in the back corner and next to it was a video camera sitting on a tripod. I bet that pervert Kirk brings women in here and then blackmails them with their job or something. I could tell he was trouble ten years ago when Mr. Henderson hired him to install a computer network system. Back then he worked himself into handling security for our two-man department. Now he has a whole floor of computer and security equipment, and all thanks to the first sixty-six million dollars I extorted for the Department. Now the Department of Statistics has grown to over fifty people and we almost control the country. And no matter how hard I try to deceive myself, I am part of it.

As Scott heard a key being put into the door; his heart seemed ready to burst out of his chest. There was no way out! He hated himself for being such a weak man, a coward, afraid to fight for his country years ago and still not brave enough to fight.

Kirk walked into the room and barked out the order. "Sit!"

Scott sat at the old wooden table. In walked Mr. Henderson. Kirk unfolded a chair and slid it next to the table. The chair creaked as Mr. Henderson's large buttocks more than covered the whole seat. "We've got a problem here, Scott," spewed the words from his fat face, beet red with anger.

Unable to speak, Scott couldn't help but notice the deathly smirk on Kirk's face as he stood over and behind Mr. Henderson, as if waiting for the word to put a bullet into Scott's brain. It was easy for Kirk to justify killing — just one less person to share in his world, a world where the unfit and weak would be extinguished like animals. Kirk shared the same vision that Mr. Henderson had preached to him many times behind closed doors. The two of them were getting so close to their goal. Within ten years their plan of mass euthanasia could be in full swing. The world would be a better place. Kirk would see that no person or thing would interfere now!

Dredging deep strength from within, Scott finally said, "You can kill me. I really never did believe in your philosophical views. You are playing God. To change statistics and polls are one thing. But killing is wrong!"

"Don't try to get heroic on me this far into the game. You think you're innocent. What about all that false information you put out on the wire service? Tell that to Mr. Cleaver. You were the one that made him out to be a felon hiding up in the woods in Montana. That's the only reason the ATF killed his wife and all his animals. Go tell him in prison how upright you are."

Scott let his head slump. Mr. Henderson was right. He spent every day with the guilt. He bravely looked straight into Mr. Henderson's deep set, black eyes and said, "Kill me, or I will blow the lid on what this whole raunchy Department of Statistics is all about."

Kirk pulled his chrome plated, nine millimeter from his shoulder harness, walked over behind Scott and put the barrel up against the back of Scott's head. Looking over at Mr. Henderson, he said, "You'd better get up or his brains will blow all over you."

Mr. Henderson started to get up from the table, but realized he still needed Scott's help in finding the computer hacker. "Put the gun away."

Scott, his eyes clenched, was praying feverishly, begging God for forgiveness. Realizing how close he had come to death, he started to shake. Then suddenly his face felt as though it had been caved in. Mr. Henderson had backhanded him with his massive right arm, sending Scott flying backward, the folding chair slapping shut as it hit the floor. Mr. Henderson picked up the chair, unfolded it, and set it back in front of the table. "Get up!" he yelled.

Blood was pouring from Scott's mouth. How he wished he could kick Kirk and break his neck. He'd have torn out Mr. Henderson's stone cold heart if he could but, meek by nature, he crawled back to the chair with blood all over him.

Mr. Henderson sucked the blood from his cut knuckles, showing a blood red tongue as he voiced his demands. "This is the way it is! You help us find that computer hacker and your kids will be safe. Take Tuesday off and let me know Wednesday morning if you're with us or if I should kill them. I might have Kirk make a video tape of your lovely wife Sue, just to show you I'm serious." Mr. Henderson pointed toward the mattress in the corner. Scott was more than terrified — not for himself but for his family.

 

 

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