No Good Deed
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
On the way back home, I worked over something I’d been thinking of for some time, ever since we decided to get information from the judge. My main problem was, I didn’t know exactly how to go about it ... or at least, parts of it.
“How would I make an untraceable phone call?” I asked Jawarski and Carter as we walked into my house.
“Why? It’s too early to bring in the Feds,” she said, suspiciously.
“It’s not for calling the Feds, although we’ll need the same thing when it comes time to call them, I guess. But for now, I want to make a call to a journalist and pass them some of the information we’ve gathered so far, anonymously. Preferably a reporter at one of the local papers.”
“That’s a terrible idea. When it’s time, we can hand it over to the Feds and let them do their thing. I don’t see any reason why we should have some journalist running around, getting in the way, and maybe ruining the later investigation.”
“Because we need to roll this whole organization up, to make sure they don’t go after any of us, again. That thing with CPS shows they mean business, and I’m not going to give them another shot. You know how prosecutors work. If they don’t think they have a strong enough case, they’ll let these guys walk; and they’ll go for the easy win, offering up deals to make sure they get a few of the biggest names. I want a second bullet ready to go if we need to take another shot at these guys. A reporter just wants to dig up as much dirt as they can on a good story, and this has corruption and organized crime, it’s almost as sexy as you can get for a story. A reporter will just keep putting out the dirt until they have to be investigated. I’m not saying we give everything to the reporter now. I’m saying we prime them. Just give them enough to make them believe it’s happening, and then let them dig on their own for a while. If the feds look like they are going to balk, then we pass everything off to the reporter. If not, then the guy reports what he can find on his own and gets a little bit of a head start, while the Feds still get everything we can dig up.”
“Kid’s got a point,” Carter said.
“I thought you wanted to stay away from reporters. Isn’t there a chance they’ll start looking at you, instead?” Mom asked, having met us at the door as we came into the house.
“That’s why I want it to be anonymous.”
“I know a few guys who do that kind of work. Not the most trustworthy guys, but I’m sure we could set something up.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to go and buy one of those cash, prepaid cell phones and use that?” Mom asked.
“Sometimes, but it’s not as anonymous as you think. It takes a little longer to track down, but the police, or someone who has hooks into the department or the company that runs the cell phone, can tell you what store that phone was sold out of. They keep logs of what stores get what phones, so they know if anyone is stealing from them. They can also tell you when that particular phone was delivered to the store for sale. Then, all you have to do is go and watch any surveillance that might be in the store or around it, for people buying the phone. It’s a lot of legwork, but ‘burners’ are not as anonymous as you think they are. For it to work, you’d want to have someone barely or not at all connected to you buy it from a store at least a few hundred miles away from where you live. If it were me, I’d drive to another state and pay a bum to go in and buy it. But that takes a fair amount of time. If you’re bent on doing this soon, then finding a way to hide your number is the way to go.”
“I can do that,” Zoe said, having caught the last half of the conversation when we’d moved into the den.
“You can?” Mom asked, sounding surprised.
“Yeah. I’ve been talking to some people on a few BBSs, while I’ve been trying to learn more stuff. There are these guys I met that do phone spoofing, bouncing the signal through multiple exchanges by connecting with the computers used by the exchanges and routing the call through them, so you can’t find the actual sender. It doesn’t work everywhere since some places are just now putting their exchange on the net, but, enough have done it that it works.”
“And you’ve actually learned how to do it?”
Zoe started to answer, and then looked sideways at her mother, a guilty expression on her face.
“The cat’s out of the bag, now, so just answer him. I’ll deal with you later.”
“I’ve done it a couple of times,” she said, and then turned to her mom. “Only to see how to do it. I didn’t actually do anything, I swear.”
“Does it take long to set up?”
“No, not really.”
“Ok, let me sit down and work out what I’m going to say. I want to keep it as short as possible. Give me thirty minutes, and then we’ll call him. We’ll call the newsroom, and ask for a staff reporter. I read once they keep someone in the newsroom at all times, to answer tips like this.”
“While he does that, you and I are going to have a little conversation about what you should and should not be doing,” Mom said, gripping Zoe by the arm and leading her out of the room.
I felt bad that Zoe got in trouble. It hadn’t occurred to me that she would know anything about that kind of thing. I knew she’d been spending her free time dabbling in some very grey areas, but I didn’t realize she’d put more into practice, especially since Mom came down on her last year for her early attempts at hacking.
I sat down and worked out what I wanted to give the reporter. I knew I needed to give up a few things that could be verified, to prove my story was real. Then I’d hint that there was more if they dug for it, and that I could give more information once I was ready. But what I gave up needed to not have my name on it if at all possible, which meant the CPS investigation was out. It also meant the attempt by the MilTech executives the year before was also out. That left me with only the various people disappearing out of police custody as something obviously illegal and verifiable. I went through all the paperwork I’d been given, looking for things I could pass on if needed.
It took a little longer than she had expected to set up the call. Zoe had read only the basic ideas behind how to make untraceable calls, having predicted our need to do something like that in the future as we ran up against the Syndicate and its corrupt henchmen in the city government, but theory is different than putting it into practice. Even with Carter and Jarwarski working with her, and a brief stop for Carter to call a guy he knew for a few answers they couldn’t figure out, it took almost three hours before they said they were set up. The sun was already starting to go down. As confident as I had sounded about there being someone always manning the newsroom, I was beginning to worry we would call and get an answering machine.
“So we’re sure this is going to work?” Mom asked Carter as they finished hooking up.
“Yeah, it will work. We’ve bounced the call through a bunch of exchanges, the call will look like it originated in New York City. Your kid seems to have a sense for this kind of thing.”
Zoe beamed at the compliment, but her mother was less amused. “I’m not sure this is something I want her excelling at.”
Zoe rolled her eyes and looked at me, “So we’re calling the paper here in Alice?”
“No. I have been thinking about that, and these guys seem to be inside every group we’ve talked to. I think it’s better if we go somewhere close enough to care about the story, but big enough and far enough away to not be compromised. I was thinking Houston?”
“Which one? Houston has several. You could call the Chronicle or the Post or...”
“I don’t know, the Chronicle, I guess.”
Zoe found the number, and then looked at me, “Ready?”
“No, but go ahead and dial anyway.”
She gave me a reassuring smile as she dialed, which actually helped settle me down a little bit.
“Houston Chronicle?” a voice said when they answered.
“Hi, I’d like to talk to one of your reporters.”
“What is this regarding?”
“I have information on a story, a ... ahh ... tip, I guess.”
“Which department did you need to talk to?”
I started to respond but wasn’t sure what she was asking. Thankfully, I looked up while trying to think and saw Carter mouthing something.
“City Desk, please.”
Muzak played for several minutes while we waited. The gathered faces slowly turned from on edge and excited to bored as we listened. Finally, however, someone answered.
“City desk,” a man said, sounding a bit rushed.
“Hi. I needed to talk to a reporter.”
“And you are. What can I help you with?”
“Can I get your name?”
“Dan Figeroa,” the man said. “Can I get yours?”
I ignored that, instead saying, “I have a story for you ... well, information I guess ... that should make a good story.”
“Ok. And that information is?”
“Have you heard of the town of Alice?”
“No, should I?”
“It’s a small town about an hour east of you, kind of north of Beaumont.”
“You know this is the Houston paper, right?”
“Yes, I do. Once I explain, it should make sense why I’m calling you and not that town’s local paper.”
“Ok, I’m all ears then.”
“I guess in the simplest terms, there is a large criminal organization in Alice, that has managed to buy or get control of large parts of the government.”
“Alice doesn’t sound like a particularly large city, how big can the organization be?”
“It seems fairly large, from what I’ve learned. I know they’ve co-opted at least one county judge and a significant part of the county sheriff’s department.”
“That’s a pretty big claim. I hope you have more than just your word on it.”
“I have some I can give you now, and more information I can give you later, to back up a lot of this.”
“If you think I should chase this story, why not give me everything you have now?”
“Because these guys mean business, and I don’t want anything that can be traced back to me. At least, not until I know they’re going down for good.”
“What do you mean by ‘they mean business’?”
“They’ve shown little problem with kidnapping and attempted murder. I have people I care about, and I don’t want them being put in danger.”
“Is any of the information you have about these kidnappings or murder attempts?”
“Some, but it’s not what I’m going to give you right now.”
“Then what are you going to give me?”
“Two things. One is a list of names of people, including some police officers, who have been taken into custody, only to disappear from the jail, along with all reports of their arrests and crimes. If you were to contact the city, you would find all evidence of these people being arrested or brought to the jail completely gone. I, however, do have the name of the arresting officer in some cases and will include that. These people were arrested, booked into the jail, only to disappear out of the system and vanish from the jail with no trace. The other thing I have for you are a few pages of a ledger showing some of the books of the organization. It’s in code so it will take some effort to sift through, and it’s not everything, but it will be enough to get you started, and to show you that something very screwed up is happening in the town.”
“A few pages? The way you said that makes me think you have more than just a few pages.”
“For now, that’s all I can pass on. As soon as I am able, I’ll give you more of the evidence I’ve collected, but for now, you’ll have to do your own digging.”
“Sounds like a giant pain in the ass. Your deep throat act is making me really suspicious. Why should I jump through hoops for you?”
“Being able to show a massive criminal conspiracy that has taken over most, if not all, of a town in the US, including its law enforcement? That will be a juicy story! Your editors will love it, and you’ll get some acclaim when you break it.”
“I’m not promising anything, but send me over your information. If it checks out, I’ll look into it. How do I get hold of you?”
“For now, you don’t, I’ll call you,” I said, and hung up the phone.
“You realize all of the names we know of for the people who vanished out of the jails will at some point lead back to you?” Jawarski said after I hung up the phone.
“Not all of them. You said the report you submitted about what happened when we got Vicki back, disappeared when the guy we managed to arrest vanished out of jail.”
“Then you’re the arresting officer, now retired, and there is no word on me being involved, just you.”
“And I now work for you, how is that not leading back to you?”
“You’re in charge of a subsidiary company, I’m not actually on your corporate documents. If he wanted to, he could track back to me, but as long as my name doesn’t come up over and over, there is nothing that would flag him to look at me.”
“You know if he starts really looking into this, your name will come up over and over.”
“Maybe. Like I said, none of the reports exist, so there is nothing with my name on it.”