Going through a computer is no where near as easy as they make it seem on TV. I wish I were a detective on TV in fact, it would make things so much easier. When you’re a TV detective, you turn on the computer to find a single file open on the computer and it tells you exactly what you want to know. I would have to actually search through the stupid thing and maybe send it off to a hacker that would charge me a hundred dollars an hour to maybe see if there was anything worth looking for.
At least the first looks through it weren’t a complete bust though. She used the password remembering options on her e-mail program and browser, which meant I could get into those with ease. The problem was that even after reading all her e-mail and going through all her book marks I still had basically nothing. There was a guy named Steve, and another guy named Blaine that were trying to woo her ineffectively, but nothing much more beyond that. Reading her responses told me that they hadn’t gotten very far, and reading their messages told me why. It was so painful I almost wanted to e-mail them and give each of them a half dozen pointers, but that seemed to be a bit rude.
The IM programs didn’t have any record keeping software and trying to get into those places is a hassle that I didn’t have time for. I sighed deeply and hoped that if I called my hacker he might not charge me too far up the ass. That didn’t seem too likely though, since I already get the ‘guy who saved my life once’ discount. I looked at the phone number that John Flynn had given me for Tom Stout. I looked at the number for a while, and then thought that maybe I could save myself a few bucks.
I listened to the sound of Debbie’s keyboard clacking softly out in her chamber, like always. After a too brief period, everything was back to how it had always been. No matter what I tried to do, I ended up behind this desk work these cases. Michigan had its hooks in me, and it wouldn’t let go until I was dead. Struggling was simply going to delay the inevitable. I would be reeled into the boat sooner or later, and then I’d be gutted, skinned, and fried with a little bit of oil.
I picked up the phone and dialed the number I’d been given for Tom Stout. After a few rings, and two pleasant sounding receptionists I was patched into his line. When the phone rang I wondered if he was in, it was close enough to lunch for him to be out for the duration. The phone was picked up and I heard another pleasant voice in my ear.
“Tom Stout.” He said,
“This is Jack Collier.” I explained, always feeling dumb when starting a conversation like that. “I’m looking into the Jill Piper situation and I heard you have a problem that might be connected.”
“Yeah.” Stout said. “You might say a problem.”
“I understand those files were wiped.”
“The files weren’t wiped Mister Collier.” He said. “The hard drives with those files were stolen. We’ve lost the call and text records for about six hundred customers.”
“How can someone do that?”
“That’s something we’re looking into.” He said. “If you’ll come down here though, I think I might know a way to help you some.”
“Okay.” I said. “Where are you?”
He gave me an address in Farmington, and told me approximately the best way to get there. I told him I would be on my way and hung up. I switched off the lap top and stuck it into the bag, leaving it leaning against my desk. I told Debbie where I was going, grabbed my hat and was out the door. I got in the car and drove straight there, missing my destination only once, which is something of a record really. It’s not that finding things in Farmington is that hard, but with the traffic you can miss things if you’re not careful because the numbers are messed up down there and the traffic is heavy. You can see your spot just as it’s too late to get into the correct lane and turn.
I managed though and got into the guest lot for the Ding Dong offices. I noticed a couple of unmarked cars sitting in the lot and parked away from them. I don’t like parking the Hudson near other cars and I really don’t like parking near cops. I suppose it’s my own paranoia, since I have no actual proof that cops would deliberately swing the door so wide so as to bang the side of my car, but I also have never given them a chance.
I walked in to the reception area, which was just normal for a place in Farmington, and went to the round receptionist’s desk. I told her my name and was told to wait a moment while she called him. I stood in the office, while the sun shown in through a skylight. The light failed to fall on me, which wasn’t much of a shame because while that makes a dramatic shadow with my hat brim, I wasn’t wearing my hat at the moment.
“Mister Collier?” A man came from behind the receptionist’s desk and walked towards me with his hand out.
“That’s right.” I said taking his hand.
“Tom Stout.” He smiled and gave my hand a single brisk, business like pump. “Come to my office, that’ll be easier.”
We walked around the wall that divided the reception area from the hall and broke up the area if ever they had to defend this place tactically. I noticed a pair of guys in bad suit jackets and ugly ties talking to a couple of guys who had even worse fashion sense in shirts and ties. We walked past them without either of us giving them a glance. I was proud of Stout on that point. It’s not easy to not look at a cop when he’s questioning someone, but I can manage it when needed. Seeing Stout do it must have meant that he’d already seen them all day today.
We walked to his office and he closed the door and sat behind his desk. It wasn’t a huge office, but it was big enough for what we needed. He tapped at a computer, which caused the screen saver to switch off and display some kind of tool program. He looked at the closed door and then pointed to the chair across from him. I sat down and waited for him to start, which he clearly wanted to do.
“Some one deliberately stole the hard drives that have the Piper’s use history on them.” He started. “There are three hard drives taken and all three were where those files were stored.”
“So how do we find her?” I asked, looking at his desk and noticing a photo with two girls, one about Jill’s age.
“If she still has her cell phone, I can ping the phone.” He said moving his hands towards the computer mouse and selecting a few things on the screen. “When I do, that will tell us more or less where the phone is. It’ll take a little work to define where the phone is exactly, but I can give you a rough estimate right now.”
“Let’s do that then.” I said and watched as he hit a few of the digital buttons on the screen.
A moment later he was given something that he copied and pasted into Google. That gave us a map that he had to zoom out from for us to tell where it was. As he was typing and searching I happened to notice something on his wall. It was a child sized cape from a superman costume, which had a small yellow post it note attached. I leaned in and saw that the note read “Do not tug” and smiled to myself. I approve of such things.
“Georgia.” He said looking at the screen. “Looks like farm land outside of Atlanta.”
“Can you print all that up?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He said and hit a few more buttons. I will not say computers are a mystery to me, but I always envy a man who can make them do exactly what he wants when he wants them to.
A printer started to hum and a moment later a couple of pages came sliding out onto the tray. He grabbed a highlighter pen and began marking up the most relevant places for me before handing them over. I looked at them to make sure there was nothing more I needed, but he’d thought of everything. I would have offered him a job, but there isn’t room in my office for two and besides he’d be the boss within a week.
“Anything else that I can help with?” He asked.
“Nothing occurs to me right now.” I said. “Can you do that ping thing again? Find out if they move around?”
“So long as the phone has power.” He nodded.
“It wouldn’t be asking too much for you to do it every couple of hours while you’re here would it?”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “I can even have the computer do it for me. Give me your e-mail address and I can have it sent right to you.”
“Thanks.” I said and wrote the address down for him. “If they go much out the way, give me a call will you?”
“Sure.” He nodded.
I thanked him and left, my very first real clue in this case in my hot little hands. There was really only one thing to do with information like that, so I did it. I plugged the headset into my cellphone and dialed my client. I still find that an odd phrase, because I haven’t dialed a number on a phone since nineteen eighty-nine.
“Yes?” He answered quickly and sounded like he’d been sitting by the phone all day.
“Her cell phone has been located by the phone company in Georgia.” I said as I started the car. “Some little town outside Atlanta called… hang on.”
“It is Banbury Cross?” As my eyes fell on the words I wondered just how much trouble we all were in.
“Yes.” I said.
“I have a house there.” He told me. “Our main pepper plantation is in Banbury Cross.”
“Who’s in charge down there?”
“A guy named Cole King.” He said, his voice was shaking now. “He runs the plantation, does all the work for me.”
“Maybe I can talk to him.” I said. “Go down there on some pretense.
“I’ll tell him you’re going down there to look into the labor thing.” He spoke quickly now, making sure he got the idea out as it came. “We’ve had INS on us a few times, looking for illegals. I’ll tell him you’re down there to try and figure out why we’re being singled out.”
“Okay.” I said.
“Can you fly down there tonight?”
“I’ll drive down if it’s all the same to you.” I told him. “I might need a gun and it’s just a hassle trying to fly with them these days. I would also rather not have to try and fly back with your daughter if I have to bring her back under duress.”
“Very well.” He stated. “Will you need me to forward you expense money?”
“I can take care of it.” I told him. “I’ll go to my office, get a few things together and will start as soon as I can. They probably can expect me tomorrow I suppose.”
“I’ll call Cole and tell him then. Good day.” Piper hung up rather abruptly, but I didn’t resent him that. I assumed he’d been having a bad couple of days.
It seemed odd that she would be at her father’s place in the south, particularly since I was going on the kidnapping idea. It might have been a run away and she packed things differently than I would have expected. Maybe kids packed different things than I thought. I supposed it could be, I was getting old after all. I thought I remembered the teen years well enough though, I thought I had a handle on it. It didn’t matter though, I would have to get a few things and go south and find her.