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Chapter Ten

Bubba hurried along in his blue uniform and safety shoes and earplugs, already getting sweaty as he race-walked through two filter rooms. He trotted under the observation deck that had not been used since Philip Morris had started giving scheduled tours on small trains.

He ran and walked and ran and walked over shiny floors filled with spotless beige Hauni Protos II and G.D. Balogna making machines, computers and OSCAR units in bays where the roar and rat-a-tatting of production never ceased and there was no such thing as dirt or killing time.

Driverless, bright yellow robotic cars loaded with cases of cigarettes hummed back and forth, pausing to recharge at computerized magnets, never tiring or loitering or forming unions. Gray-uniformed maintenance workers zipped back and forth in supply carts and were careful turning corners and passing through busy intersections.

Huge spools spun cellulose too fast to see while thousands of pristine white cigarettes flowed down tracks and were fed into veins that configured them in rows of 7-6-7 for soft packs and 6-7-7 for flip-top boxes before a plunger kicked them into a pocket where they were wrapped in double-wide foil which was married to blanks that were labeled and glued on the sides and fed into big wheel drying drums and finished in cellophane and tear tape and marched single file into stacker towers where ten-packs were pushed into cartons that were carried by elevators up to exit stations with conveyor belts that eventually carried cases out of the building to awaiting trucks.

Bubba was breathless when he reached Bay 8, where he was a maker operator, or more formally, a tech 3, the highest pay grade. His responsibility was huge. He was the sole captain of a module that had been predicted to produce exactly 12,842,508 cigarettes by the end of this day's twenty-four-hour period, or 4,280,836 cigarettes during Bubba's eight-hour shift.

No module was ever unattended at Philip Morris, and Bubba's supervisor, Gig Dan, had been forced to fill in for the last half of second shift and the first sixteen minutes of third. Dan was relieved but unhappy when Bubba appeared, dripping sweat and panting.

'What in the hell has gotten into you, Bubba?' Dan said loud enough for both of them to hear through their earplugs.

'I got pulled by the cops,' Bubba bent the truth.

'And getting a ticket took four and a half hours?' Dan didn't buy it.

'He spent a long time warning me and then the radio was down or something. I'm telling you, I was pissed.

There's a lot of police bullying going on out there, Gig. It's time some of us got involved and'

'Right now, I just want you to get involved in your module, Bubba!' Gig Dan yelled above machines. 'Our goal today was fifteen million and we were some 719,164 below that even before you decided to take your time smelling the roses!'

'I wasn't" Bubba tried to protest.

'So guess what? The latest readout has us at 3,822,563.11 this shift, which is exactly 458,272.0 below what we were gonna make when we were already below what we were damn supposed to make. And why? The tipping paper's already broke twice, rejects is three times the usual because the circumference dropped below 24.5 and the weight didn't hit even close to nine hundred and the dilution was minus eight percent, and then the glue got a bubble because there was air in the line, and why? 'Because you weren't here to hand-feed five lousy cigarettes into the Sodimat. You didn't inspect the quality. You didn't check out the machines because you were too goddamn busy getting stopped by the police or whatever the hell it was you were supposedly doing!'

'Don't worry,' Bubba told him loudly. 'I'll make up the slack.'

Brazil was late, too, through no fault of his own. He had jogged in the dark from his endangered car, back to Park Avenue, and when he reached West's apartment he took a moment to settle down. He rang the bell and she wasn't the least bit warm as she let him in.

'Where have you been?' she asked, standing in front of the foyer table.

'Trying to find a deli,' Brazil said dryly.

'What for?'

'A deli, a restaurant, a bank. Anyplace I could maybe park.'

'Obviously you succeeded,' she said.

'Depends on if my car's still there after we're done.'

She oddly continued to stand in front of the table, and he sensed there was something on it she didn't want him to see.

'We're in my office. On the left, just past the bedroom.' She waited for him to go first as she continued to stand in front of the table.

Brazil was already getting a sick feeling. He didn't want to see what was on the table. He walked past the bedroom and refused to look inside. He entered West's office and didn't look around. Hammer was sitting close to the desk, reading glasses on, eyes fixed on the strange map on the computer screen.

'What were you saying to that woman in the Jeep?' Hammer asked him right off. 'The one whose parking place I took.'

'I told her she was in a garbage zone.'

'A what?' West said as she walked in.

'Where trucks pull in and out all night as they make their rounds to restaurant Dumpsters. I showed her my badge and she complied.'

'You probably shouldn't have done that,' Hammer told him. 'You got anything to drink in this house, Virginia?'

'Good stuff?'

'I'm driving my police car.'

Brazil found a chair and set it down near Hammer.

'Water and Sprite,' West said.

'What about Perrier?' Hammer asked.

'Not since the benzene scare.'

'That's ridiculous, Virginia. When chickens get avian flu, do you never eat them again?'

'Has that happened recently? I got Diet Coke.'

'Tap water is fine,' Hammer said. 'Andy, we've been sitting here talking and not getting anywhere at all. Do you have a clue as to what this is about? Please explain how fish got into COMSTAT.'

'Well, they didn't, not directly, Chief Hammer,' Brazil said. 'And I'd love some water, too,' he said to West. 'But I can get it. I can get Chief Hammer's, too, if you want. I'd be happy to.'

'I'll do it. And don't be so polite, it makes me sick.'

'I'm sorry.' Brazil was polite again.

It was awful being inside West's home and reminded that she had never invited him over, not even once since they had moved to Richmond. It was the first time he had seen her in anything but business suits or running clothes, and she was wearing the worn-out jeans that had always driven him crazy. Her gray tee shirt was made out of really soft cotton that clung to every contour of full breasts he was no longer allowed to see, much less touch. He ached all over.

'If you look at the top of the screen here.' He ran his finger across the monitor, addressing Hammer as if West had been caught up in the rapture, never to be seen again. This tells you what we're looking at is our website, because that's its address.'

'No,' Hammer said in disbelief.

' 'Fraid so,' Brazil said.

Hammer and West bent close to the screen and stared in shock at: http://www/sen__orrin__hatch__r__utah.govsen__bill_ _ 10/sen__judic__commit/dept__justice/nij/nypd__I__p ol__plaza/comstat/comp__map__center__dc/interpol/s cot__yrd/fbi/atf/ss/dea/cia/va__nat__guard/va_state__ pol/va__corn__dept/va__crim__just__serv/juv__just__s erv/va__att gen/va__gov__off/va__dept__health/va__ dept__safety/city__mang/gsa/city__hall/city__counc//ric h__pol__dept/off__pub__info/qa/rich__times__disp/ap/ upi/link_ntwk/all_rights_resrv/classfyd/asneed/othr%vyz /pub__domain.html 'Andy, I've never seen such shit as this,' Hammer exclaimed. 'Please don't tell me this is how the public accesses our website.'

'I'm afraid that's it,' Brazil told her anyway.

'How the hell do you expect anyone to remember something like that?' West asked, scowling at the screen.

Brazil ignored her. 'At least it works,' he said. 'We know that much since we've gotten some responses.'

'But why the hell is ours so goddamn complicated?'

Hammer wanted to know. 'How many responses are we going to get with an address like that?' She paused for a minute, a shadow falling over her face. 'Don't tell me Fling had something to do with this.'


'Oh God,' Hammer muttered.

'Well,' Brazil answered her, 'you wanted this ASAP, Chief Hammer. It was a matter of finding gateways to pass through en route to our website, sort of the way mail is routed here and there before it finally gets to you, or the way you may have to change planes at four different airports before you get where you need to go'

'Oh great,' West said. 'So Fling has people going to fifty different airports just to get from one end of the city to the other. He has the post office routing a letter through twenty different states just to travel two blocks.'

To give Fling a little credit, the more gateways, the more secure your system is,' Brazil said objectively.

'Ha!' West really snorted this time. 'We're safe, all right! The damn website's been up and running for a few days and we have fucking fish all over the place and are locked out of COMSTATT 'It would also seem to me,' Hammer followed the bread crumbs of what little logic there seemed to be in this dark forest, 'that the security situation is rather much the opposite of what you said, Andy. It would seem to me that the more gateways, the more possibility of outsiders getting in. Like doors in your house. The fewer the better.'

There's that side of it, too,' Brazil agreed. 'Look, to be honest, I had no idea Fling put together an address like that until it was too late.'

Hammer peered at the screen some more. Her disgust grew.

'Let me make sure I've got this straight,' she said. The first gateway to our small Richmond website is Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the judiciary committee, the patron of Senate Bill 10?'

'Yes,' Brazil replied calmly as he imagined pepper-spraying Fling and throwing him off an overpass.

'What does the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Act of 1997 have to do with our website, Andy?' Hammer demanded.

Brazil didn't have a clue.

'And from that we go through Interpol and Scotland Yard? And FBI, ATF, DBA, Secret Service and CIA gateways?'

Hammer got up abruptly and began pacing.

'And NYPD at One Police Plaza? And the Virginia governor's office? And goddamn city hall, yada, yada, yada?'

She threw up her hands in despair.

'Is there any fucking place on the earth where inquiries from the Richmond public won't land before they get to our website?' Hammer's voice rose dangerously.

Niles fled out from under the table, where he had been asleep on top of West's foot.

'Look!' Brazil could take no more. 'I had nothing to do with the Internet address, okay? All the important programming was done by NIJ's Computer Mapping Center. Fling was just supposed to come up with a very simple address.'

'And now we have fish!' Hammer exclaimed.

'We don't know that the address has anything to do with the fish getting in.' Brazil didn't believe what he was saying. 'They might have gotten in anyway, no matter how short the address.'

West got up for another Miller.

'Let's forget the address shit for a minute,' she called out from the kitchen. 'This web thing is new.'

'As new as slick-soled shoes,' Brazil said to Hammer instead of answering West.

West glared at him as she returned to the table. She hated it when he made analogies. She hated it more when he pretended she was a lamp, a chair, some mundane object he didn't notice.

'Yes, it's exactly like that,' said Hammer, who had slipped across marble and hardwood quite enough in life whenever new shoes had all-leather soles that needed to be roughed up by bricks, pavement or perhaps a serrated knife.

'So how does somebody know enough about our brand-new website to download fish?' West asked. 'I mean, come on. We all know damn well the fucking Fling address is how the fish got in.'

'That's a very good point,' said Hammer.

'The op-ed that ran Sunday a week ago. Remember? I said we were starting a web page so citizens could write in their questions, concerns, complaints, whatever. They were told the new address would be ready in a couple days and they could call HQ for it. Obviously Fling gave it out.'

That's how the fish swam in then,' West said again, gulping Miller. 'Got to be unless someone inside the department did this.'

'Sabotage. A virus,' Brazil thought out loud.

'I'm afraid that's also possible,' Hammer said. 'But saying it's not a virus or a deliberate attempt to crash the system, then there is the other thought that the fish might be a symbol, perhaps a code of some sort.'

'Probably making a joke of us, as usual,' West said. 'First we're the Ninjas, then the Ni-Jays, then the Nee-gees. Now we're fish. Maybe fish out of water, implying that everyone wants us to go home.'

'I don't think this is about us being fish out of water or fish, period,' Hammer stated.

'Maybe we're fishing for something, then.' West wouldn't let it go.

'Like what?' Brazil asked. 'And you know, if you don't mind, Chief, I think I'd like a beer.'

'I don't care.'

Brazil got up and went into the kitchen.

'Fishing for clues? For crime patterns? For hot spots?' West kept on.

'This is nonsense.' Hammer was pacing.

Niles slinked back into the dining room. Brazil was right behind him, sipping a Heineken.

'Took the good stuff,' he said politely to West. 'Hope you don't mind.'

That's Jim's good stuff, not mine.'

Brazil sat down and drained half the bottle in one swallow.

'Andy,' Hammer was thinking. 'Is there any way to trace this fish-thing?'

He cleared his throat, his cheeks burning, his heart pounding irregularly and dully.

'I doubt it,' he said.

'Let's break it down for just a minute.' Hammer stopped pacing and leaned closer to the brilliantly colored map on the screen. 'Sector 219 is outlined in flashing bold red and there are one, two, three, four, eleven bright blue fish inside it. Everywhere else we find just the usual icons.'

She looked at both of them.

'Possible this could be a warning of some sort?' she suggested.

'Fish?' Brazil thought about it. 'There are only a few fish markets in 219. No lakes or reservoirs or even many seafood restaurants except Red Lobster and Captain D's.'

'What possible illegal use could there be for fish?' Hammer explored. 'I can't imagine a black market in them, not unless there's a proposed fish bill we don't know about yet, a huge fish tax in the works and the lawsuits that would inevitably follow.'

'Hmmmm.' Brazil was willing to consider anything at this point. 'Let's just go down that path for a minute. Let's say this is going on in the Senate and no one knows about it yet. Well, since one of the primary gateways is the Senate Judiciary Committee, and saying fish is a big issue, then could it be we somehow picked up some of their coding as our data passed through?'

'I'm getting a headache,' Hammer said. 'And Virginia, would you please get your cat off my foot. He won't move. Is he dead?'

'Niles, come here.'

Chapter Nine | Southern Cross | Chapter Eleven