Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Heather Sanford's phone was ringing, ringing, ringing. She was in a deep sleep, and at first she thought she was dreaming. She'd missed a lot of sleep in the last few days, and was out like a light bulb. Finally, she realized that it really was the phone. She had to clamber over John's sleeping body to reach it; her weight pressing on top of him woke him a little, and he groaned.
Finally, she made it to the phone. "Yes?" she answered, looking at the clock. 2:10 AM! Who could be calling at this hour on a Tuesday morning?
The reply came in a squeaky voice, obviously faked. "Is this Heather Sanford?" the funny sounding voice said.
"Yes it is," she said, wondering what was going on. A crank call, probably; she'd had some of those.
"The code words you need are ELAD and SIRRAH," the squeaky voice said. "That's E-L-A-D and S-I-R-R-A-H. Dale and Harris, backwards." There was a click as the phone hung up.
"Thank you," Heather said into the dead phone. She was still half asleep, still needing to comprehend what she'd heard.
Suddenly, it hit her. She sprang from the bed, still naked, and raced to the laptop to boot it up. While it was in the boot cycle, she grabbed a robe, plugged the phone line into the modem, and then sat down. It took a minute to access the mainframe in California, and enter her own access code. She tried to open the directory she thought was McMullens, and when the computer asked for the code word, she typed, "ELAD".
"ACCESS DENIED" flashed back on her screen.
Could the squeaky voice have been wrong? She tried once again, this time using "SIRRAH" for the code word. Instantly, a list of file names began to creep across the liquid crystal readout of the laptop.
"All right!" she yelled, grabbing a disk to start downloading the files.
"What's happening?" John said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"The code words," she said excitedly. "They think they're being cute, using the other's first names backwards for access codes."
"But how ... that phone call?"
"Yeah," she said. "That phone call."
"Who was it?" John said, getting to his feet, and grabbing a bathrobe.
"I don't know," Heather said. "A man, I think. Maybe a younger man, but he was trying to disguise his voice."
"Maybe," Heather said. "Maybe not. It had to come from Mike, somehow or other."
"You know," John said thoughtfully. "His buddy, Mark Gravengood, knows a lot about computers. Maybe he knows somebody that knows something about hacking them."
"Mark Gravengood?" Heather said. "The man who... ?"
"Yeah," John said. "Maybe he felt sorry about what happened back there before Christmas."
"Remind me to never say a bad word about dog mushers again," Heather said. "My God, look at that!"
The words were flashing across the screen of the laptop too quickly to comprehend all of them, but from the bits and pieces they could catch, it was interesting material, indeed. There were things there they could use.
While they were waiting, Heather got dressed. It was clear that her night was over with. It took a while to download the directory, but it all fit onto one disk. She opened the other directory, the big one, with the "ELAD" codeword. "God, even the filenames are interesting," John said as they rolled by. "Sure would like to see what's in that one tagged "SWISS".
"We'll know before long," Heather said, looking at the size of the directory. There wasn't a lot of time, and there was a lot there. She knew that Harper usually had a cup of coffee or two with McMullen before he accessed the mainframe. Say, ten California time before he'd get around to turning on the terminal. That would be one, here. Damn the slow modem! There'd be just enough time to download the whole directory before Harper entered it, just enough time if she kept right at it. She set the laptop to downloading, and turned to the 286, booting it up. She took the disk with the "SIRRAH" directory, and stuck it into the drive. Where to start? There really wasn't a lot left on it, but just at random, she started with one tagged "SHIP".
It took only a few seconds reading the words on the screen to get the meaning. "Those bastards," she said. "Look what they're planning on doing to my whale project! They're fucking it all up, just to run another scam!"