You’re Still Breathing, Aren’t You?
Thomas Calabrese- Edward Morrison worked as a senior systems engineer for McDermott Aerospace Industries in Poway, California. He had been with the company for eleven years and was very proficient in his duties. Over a period of four days, Edward began to see unusual activities on the traffic pattern network. He also detected hidden software inside the operating system and his computer was operating at a fraction of a second slower speed than usual. Very few people would have detected these red flags, but Morrison was at the top of his game and nothing eluded his keen eyes for detail especially when it came to computer technology.
One of the top projects that McDermott Aerospace was working on was an autonomous drone operating system with vast potential. A set of objectives could be downloaded into the program and it did not matter if the environment was rapidly changing, it had the capability to make the necessary adjustments and operate for extended period of time without human control or intervention. This system would profoundly change modern warfare and China was desperate to get the technology.
Eddie was an astute and savvy individual so he wasn’t about to report what he had found without more evidence. The other issue to consider was that if China was involved and that was a distinct possibility, it could also mean that someone inside the company was cooperating with them. Due to the sophisticated tactics that hackers use to cover their tracks, it’s extremely difficult to catch them. Only 5% of cybercriminals are apprehended for their crimes which demonstrates just how challenging it is. Hackers will often use secure software such as a proxy server to hide their identity and funnel their communications through lots of different countries in order to evade detection. Technologies like Tor and encryption enable hackers to add multiple layers to mask their identity and tracking them down is laborious and takes a lot of time and investigative research.
To some, it might have seemed like a daunting task, but to Eddie, it was one more challenge to overcome and he had plenty of practice since his life had been full of them. He grew up in a low income family that struggled and worked for everything they had. His father was a hardworking construction worker who died from an unexpected heart attack when he was only five years-old and his brother Clint was three. His mother had no other choice but to work two jobs to keep from losing their home. She did her best to provide a stable and nurturing environment for her sons, but even at their young ages, Eddie and Clint realized how difficult it was for their mother to handle all the responsibilities that suddenly fell on her shoulders. The two boys were forced to grow up in a hurry and exhibited empathy far beyond their years. They helped out as much as they could by cleaning the house, cooking meals, taking care of the yard and making repairs to the best of their abilities. When they got old enough to get jobs, Eddie and Clint contributed a significant portion of their salaries to the household budget.
Eddie attended college, worked full time at Home Depot and took on the responsibility of the man of the house. When his mother had to slow down because of health reasons, the Morrison boys didn’t whine or complain, they just worked harder. Clint decided to join the Marines after high school and after finishing training he took out an allotment to send half of his military pay home every month. Eddie was promoted to assistant manager at Home Depot and continued to study for a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. It was a lot of hours, but in Eddie’s mind, failure was not an option.
Clint spent eight years in the Marine Corps before joining the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Protection Office. Jean Morrison moved to a senior community in Charleston, South Carolina to be near her sister and Eddie continued to live in the family home in Oceanside. The only person that Eddie felt comfortable telling about the breach at work was his brother and Clint responded, “Be careful big brother, take nothing for granted and keep me posted.”
“I will,” Eddie said.
Several months passed and Eddie slowly found more information which confirmed his initial suspicions, but to find out how high the breach went would take exposing his identity to the hackers. In life, some people say that luck is the residue of skill and others quip that it is better to be lucky than good. Whatever your opinion, Eddie happened to be in the right place at the right time and a fortuitous incident gave him the answer he wanted.
After staying late one evening to finish some work, Eddie left the office and while driving home he heard on the radio that Interstate 5 was backed up due to a serious accident near the Manchester Avenue exit ramp so he detoured to Pacific Coast Highway. While passing through Encinitas, Eddie recognized the sky blue Audi RS 7 sports sedan of Nathan Willis, one of the senior project managers at McDermott. He kept his distance and followed the vehicle until the driver pulled into a parking lot and stopped in front of Gelati and Pecati, an eatery on 608 South Coast Highway. Eddie found a parking spot that offered a clear view of the car, but also gave him some concealment. Nathan got out of his vehicle and nervously looked around the area before entering the building. Something did not feel right to Eddie so he reached behind the seat, took out a baseball cap and pulled it down low on his forehead. He exited his vehicle and walked over to the restaurant.
Once inside, Eddie looked for Nathan and saw him sitting in a corner booth. While keeping his face shielded with his hand, he sat down in the booth next to his co-worker. A few minutes later, several men entered and sat across from Nathan. One man slid a thick envelope across the table and Nathan handed him a smaller one. Eddie positioned his cellphone to record the conversation. The men only spoke for a few minutes and this caught Eddie slightly off guard who wanted to leave before they did. As he started to get up, the waitress walked over and stood next to him. This effectively prevented Eddie’s inconspicuous exit, “Have you decided what you want?” She asked.
This delay gave Nathan the opportunity to get out of his booth and get a good look at Eddie. He stammered, “Morrison, I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Same here, my friends Doug and Leslie told me about this place. I thought I’d give it a try,” Eddie lied, “I normally don’t come this way, but there was an accident on the freeway.”
The three men that were with Nathan did not looked pleased when they saw how Eddie’s phone was positioned on the table. In their suspicious minds it could have been used for surveillance purposes. They quickly left the eatery and Nathan stuttered, “I’ll see you at work tomorrow,” and followed them.
When they got outside, one of the men grabbed Nathan by his shirt and demanded, “Who was that guy?”
“That’s Eddie Morrison, he’s a systems engineer at McDermott,” Nathan replied, “Don’t worry about him, he doesn’t know anything, I think.”
“So you’re not sure,” Another man said.
The third man coldly commented, “There’s too much at stake to take any chances, he needs to be eliminated.”
Eddie watched Nathan and the three men talking from his seat inside the restaurant. Even though he couldn’t hear what they were saying, he was fairly certain they were angry and talking about him. That point was emphasized when Nathan Willis looked back over his shoulder as he walked to his car.
On the way home, Eddie contacted his brother about the chance meeting and Clint responded, “It’s better to err on the side of caution. I suggest that you go home and get what you need for a few days. I’m pretty sure that they won’t try anything while you are at work. They’ll make their move when you are at home or on the road.”
“I have some vacation days on the books, this is as good a time as any to take a few of them,” Eddie responded.
“I’m on my way, I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care brother,” Clint said.
The two brothers met at the Cape Rey Hilton Resort and Spa in Carlsbad and Clint said, “I was able to identify the men from the photos you sent me.”
“Don’t keep me in suspense,” Eddie said.
Clint answered, “Two of the men are from our State Department and the third guy is a Chinese operative.” Eddie did not show any surprise and Clint continued, “I’m even more concerned now that they will be coming after you because that’s an alliance made in hell.”
“Why is that?” Eddie asked
“Because that’s what I would I do,” Clint shrugged, “There is some good news, I’m the wildcard in this game and I’m ready to kill some bad people.”
“I always liked the way you kept it simple and to the point,” Eddie said.
Clint said, “It is time to bait the hook and see if the fish are biting.”
The next day, Clint used the fake identity of a FBI agent when he showed up at Nathan Willis’ office. He flashed a badge and handed Nathan a business card, “I’m Special Agent Harold Garland. Our office received an anonymous tip that a serious threat to national security exists on these premises. Do you know anything about that?”
Nathan’s face turned ashen white and he mumbled, “No…no, I don’t know anything.”
“If anything comes to mind, you’ve got my card…it’s my private number. Call me anytime, day or night. Let’s keep this conversation between us secret until I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few more people. I don’t want anybody to be forewarned.”
“Of course,” Nathan said, “I understand completely.”
Clint started to leave, stopped and added, “I’m currently interviewing supervisors and engineers, and the next person on my list is Edward Morrison. Can you tell me where I can find him?”
“He didn’t come in today,” Nathan said.
“Interesting,” Clint added this statement before he left the office, “If he’s involved, I’ll find him. I’ve got a lot of experience in these kind of cases.”
Eddie was waiting in the car when Clint returned, “How did it go?”
“I could hear his bones shaking and his mind spinning. We’ll know soon enough if he bought it.”
Back in the office, Nathan was frantic as he made a call on his cellphone, “I just got a visit from the FBI, they know about the security breach. They’re looking for Morrison, he didn’t show up for work today. He must be the one who made the call. What am I going to do?”
The voice on the other end calmly replied, “Calm down… you’re not going to do anything, we’ll take of it.”
It was late at night when the car stopped down the street from the Morrison home. The lights were on and the man in the front seat told his four cohorts, “We need to make this look like a home invasion robbery.”
The driver pulled a little closer to the house and the five men got out of the car. The man in charge said, “Torrey, Corby …you go around back. Heflin, Lewis, you’re with me. I’ll signal you when to go in.”
When the men were in position, they drew their weapons. The man in charge pressed a button on his cellphone and it sent a signal to the men in the back of the house. They prepared to break in, but found the front door and rear sliding door conveniently unlocked for them. Upon entering the house, the three man group cautiously moved down the hallway. Clint stepped out from a doorway and shot them in the back of their heads. A moment later, Eddie took out the other two assassins from his concealed position behind the curtains in the family room.
Fourteen hours later, Nathan’s wife and children left the house and drove away. When he heard the doorbell ring, he opened it and said, “What did you forget?”
It wasn’t his wife, but Eddie and Clint. They pushed their way in and shoved Nathan into a chair. Eddie said, “You need to give us everything you have.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nathan protested.
Clint put the barrel of his pistol to Nathan’s forehead, “There’s no reason to keep you alive.”
“What’s to stop you from killing me once I do?” Nathan asked.
“He makes a good point,” Eddie agreed, “As much I would like to kill you, there may be a better way to handle this. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll record your admission of guilt on my phone and keep it for insurance just in case you change your mind later.”
Clint said, “You were always better at thinking than me…what’s your plan?”
“The Communist China Party is always going to steal our technology, that’s just what they do. My plan is to give them what they want, but not exactly what they think they are getting.” Eddie put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder, “From this point forward you’ll send everything to me and I’ll change the schematics and theories. It won’t be much, just enough that it looks good on paper, but will never operate effectively once the Chinese build it.”
“How much is China paying you?” Clint asked, “I hope it was worth it.”
“Fifty thousand a month,” Nathan responded softly.
“You’re going to increase your charitable donations to that amount. I know several veterans and animal rescue organizations that could use some help,” Clint said.
“Let’s get your confession,” Eddie reiterated.
Nathan hesitated and Clint reminded him, “That’s the best deal that you’re going to get… you can work with us against the Chinese or die a slow and painful death and leave your family to live with the disgrace that you sold out your country. Eddie is giving you an option, but feel free to say no. I like killing bad people so make my day.”
“Okay,” Nathan sighed in resignation.
“Start at the beginning, when and how did the Chinese approach you?” Eddie said.
Clint encouraged Nathan with these words as he stroked his pistol, “Don’t look so sad, you’re still breathing, aren’t you?”