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Chapter 1

The Seventh Code

by
Michael L. Piazza

"Mr. Jinson is here to see you, sir," Haley's voice came over the speaker phone.

Okay," Matt answered, "please tell him that I'll be about five more minutes with Sandy, then I'll be with him."

"Yes, sir," Haley responded. The phone clicked off.

"Do you have any idea what his problem is?" Sandy asked in a condescending, almost snide tone.

"I'm not really sure," Matt answered, turning his chair to look out the window, "could be this damned humid weather."

The weather is humid and hot with overcast skies. Rain was predicted to set in soon for the rest of the day. A sultry dread seemed to fill the office. The high for the day was predicted to be almost one hundred degrees. Mississippi is this way every August, but this summer has been one of the hottest in the last few years.

"Well," Sandy sneered, "he sure hasn't been productive on this audit. Newbies do better work than he is doing."

She tossed a skimpy work paper folder on Matt's desk. He glanced at it over his shoulder, then looked back out the window watching the people move about on the lawn of the Capitol Building across the street.

"You know," Matt said, "the Capitol sure is vacant except when the Legislature is in session. Won’t be long and the joint committees will be meeting..."

"You are avoiding the issue again and changing the subject on me," Sandy said, pushing the files towards Matt’s hand. "We need to face the fact that Herbert is not performing on this audit. Please, Mr. Petricelli, don't avoid the inevitable decision we have to make."

Matt fumbled with the file. He rubbed the edge of the papers with his thumb. Sandy was right, he was avoiding Herb's obvious poor performance.

"Jinson's been one of the best auditors I've had," Matt said, glaring at the outside of the folder, "maybe he just needs some time off, or something. I've had him doing fraud investigations for over three years now. That can get to anybody. I’m sure his behavior is just a warning sign that these fraud investigations are finally starting to get to him. Why don't we get him to take some time away and let him regain some of his..."

"Look, Mr. Petricelli," Sandy said, leaning forward in her chair, resting her arms on Matt's desk, "you hold me accountable for the production of ten auditors. I manage them well. I've only lost one to burn out in the five years I've been here, and he was over using speed pills. I know what burn out looks like and Herbert's behavior doesn't fit the bill. If you sincerely think Jinson is burning out and needs rest, then I think you're kidding yourself. What he has is a lack of interest!" Sandy stood and walked beside Matt's large executive desk and put her hands on her hips. "I really think that he just isn't interested anymore! His mind is on something else! His work is pathetic lately. He just doesn't seem to care about it, he's obviously mentally somewhere else."

There was a long pause between the two. Matt really cares for his auditors. He has a special kinship with Herbert Jinson. Herb was the first auditor that Matt hired when he became Inspector General.

Matt was appointed IG by his old college friend Governor Jack Leonard. They graduated from Ole Miss together and Matt immediately went to work in Atlanta for Author Anderson and Company. Jack stayed at Ole Miss and went to law school. They were close friends during their business school days and had kept in touch with each other in the years that followed.

Jack Leonard was elected Governor seven years ago in a narrow victory over the incumbent governor. He immediately contacted Matt who was living in Atlanta at the time, offering Matt the position of the Governor's Budget Officer. Matt was growing tired of the extensive field audits he was in charge of and eagerly accepted the challenge to work for his longtime friend and college buddy. Matt always had a desire to one day return to his home state and help clean up some of the political and economic messes that had existed for generations. Governor Leonard's offer gave Matt that chance.

Matt was the Governor’s Budget Officer for less than a year when Governor Leonard created the position of State Inspector General and appointed Matt as the acting IG. Matt was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate Oversight Committee as permanent Inspector General. During the next six years, Matt and Governor Leonard cleaned up a substantial amount of waste and abuse of state funds. Their success in Jack Leonard’s first term became the foundation for Leonard's election for a second term. Herbert Jinson was a key player in their success.

"I don't want to lose Jinson," Matt said, breaking their silence, "I know that he's in a slump right now, but he'll come out of it soon. Things like this don't last long for him. Just give it some time and you'll see."

"Sir," Sandy sighed, sitting down again, "I know you have a soft spot for Herbert. If I were in your position, I would too. But this computer investigation is way too sensitive and confidential for us to place a great deal of responsibility on someone who just isn't performing, regardless of the reason for his lack of performance. This computer fraud could blow up on us at any moment, and you know that. We suspect there may be some mighty heavy players involved in this one. Please, sir, let me replace Herb before these people slip out the back door because the auditor was `asleep at his desk.' We've got to put somebody sharp on this case quickly if we want to have any chance of catching these SOB's. Otherwise, months of beautiful background investigative work could turn into a house of cards and be blown away with one puff," Sandy said animatedly, blowing into her hands and then using them to create the image of cards falling to the ground.

Matt turned away from Sandy and looked out the window at the State Capitol building again. The two sat silent. A light rain started to fall and a rumble of distant thunder rattled the window pane. People in the courtyard outside the Capitol were scurrying to get shelter from the intensifying shower. Matt shook his head as he watched the scene. It didn’t seem like it had been six years since the first day he reported to work in the Capitol. Herb Jinson has been one of the most constant things in Matt’s term as Inspector General and his performance had begun to fall, just like the August rain. Slow and sure.

Matt stood up and walked around his desk and sat in the chair next to Sandy. She is the Audit Manager for the Office of Inspector General and does a fine job. She was a former lead auditor with the State Auditor's Office. Matt had trained her well. He generally agrees with her on most things, but there is something about this situation that Matt is yet to figure out. He didn't like arguing with her, but something just wasn't making sense to him in this case. Herbert Jinson is one of the best auditors that Matt has known in his twenty four years in audit fieldwork. Matt is intent on finding out what is disturbing Jinson and causing such poor performance. Maybe it is simply burn out. Maybe something else.

Whatever the reason for Herb's slump, Matt knows that Sandy is correct about removing Herb from the computer fraud case. It is too important for a tired, nonproducing auditor to deal with. At the same time, if Herb loses face over being pulled from the case, Matt was sure that he would lose Jinson from his staff. Matt wanted to pull Herb from the case as the absolute last option.

"Here's my deal, Sandy," he said, picking up the folder from his desk, "I'll talk with Herb and see what he says about all of this. I'll explain to him the urgency of the situation and feel him out for a response. I commit to you that by the close of business today, I will either have a good reason for his behavior, or you will have my concurrence to transfer another auditor to the project. If Herb can't, or won't get with it, then I fully agree that you will have to replace him on the computer case and move him to a special project. But if there is anything here that explains his behavior, then you must agree to go with me on it and be patient while I straighten it out."

"Agreed," she said, standing to leave. "Please call me as soon as you decide. I'll need to take action one way or another first thing in the morning. A day on this case is a long time! Tomorrow morning, then?"

"You got it," Matt answered, "action tomorrow morning. Be cordial to Herb on your way out, I don't want him to think anything is up."

"Apparently you've forgotten my reputation," she smiled, "if I am nice to him, then everybody will think something is wrong. I'll just be my usual pushy, bitchy self."

"Whatever," Matt said, trying not to smile. Sandy has a state wide reputation for being cold and demanding. Most agency heads refuse to deal with her. Several of the House Committee Chairs have demanded that she be replaced, but Matt has not given in. Matt likes it that way. Not only does it help keep law and order, but he gets to be the nice guy and go behind her and smooth the feathers she ruffles in both the executive and legislative branches. Good cop, bad cop syndrome. He played the bad cop for most of his career. He enjoys being the fixer, going behind his hard and demanding audit manager.

Matt walked through the outer office with Sandy. They said good bye and she turned and waked past the secretary's desk and passed Jinson, who was sitting in a chair staring out the window.

"Hello, Herbert," Sandy said as she opened the door to the hallway.

"Ms. Burtron," Herb replied. There was no other exchange between the two.

Matt picked up some mail from the secretary's desk and scanned it while he observed Jinson. Herb seemed to be distant just as Sandy had described. It sure appeared that Herb was somewhere else mentally. Herb had not yet acknowledged Matt's presence, which is contrary to Herb's usual pleasant and polite demeanor.

"Come on back, Herb," Matt said, forcing a pleasant tone. Herb stood and followed without responding.

After getting situated in his office, Matt began a lot of small talk about the coming football season. He talked a lot about Ole Miss and their chances of going to the Sugar Bowl in the fall. Herb has been on a lot of assignments with Matt and knows that this is Matt's way of observing people. He talks a lot about nothing and studies his subject. Herb let him continue, acting a little impatient, waiting for Matt to get to the point. Matt knew it was obvious to Herb that he was stalling, so he cut to the chase.

"Well, Herb," Matt said, "how's this computer thing going that you are working on. Sandy tells me it looks pretty hot and might include some heavy hitters..."

"Not bad," Herb interrupted, overtly patting his right forefinger on his left palm. He then moved his index finger up to his right ear and slightly rubbed his ear lobe. Matt was shocked.

When Matt first became Inspector General, he designed a series of nonverbal signs, much like those he learned in baseball in high school. He had created an entire language for the staff to use on very sensitive assignments when verbal communication could not be used. As time had passed, his sign language had been put aside for laptop computers, PDA's and more sophisticated communication devices. Matt had not used the signals himself in almost a year and had forgotten most of them. He had to think a minute to remember what the signal was that Herb had just used. Matt suddenly remembered that the finger taps indicated a wire or electronic tap. The rubbing of the ear lobe indicated a listening or recording device somewhere in the room.

Matt was stunned. He wrinkled his brow and waived his hand horizontally in front of him like a `safe' call from a baseball umpire. This was their sign language signal meaning they were in a safe place and should not worry about their conversation. Herb slowly shook his head, his expression became serious and then he emphatically tapped his finger again and then rubbed his ear. Silence ensued as Matt recoiled from their interaction.

"Are you sure about this," Matt asked cautiously, "Sandy said things are a little sensitive now, but are you sure...?"

"Yes I'm sure," Herb interrupted, reading Matt's doubt, "absolutely sure."

"Then I guess there's nothing for us to talk about," Matt said, emphasizing the word talk. He couldn't imagine how his office could be bugged. The entire office complex is electronically swept every two weeks and nothing has ever shown up. Matt stared at Herb to see if he could detect symptoms of the beginning of a mental or emotional melt down. The earlier conversation with Sandy was still large in Matt's mind. Herb seemed to be himself, but Matt was conflicted about the validity of Herb’s signal. How could the Inspector General’s Office be bugged? It seemed ludicrous!

"I'm sure Sandy has some concerns about this audit," Herb said, "she's a very involved and hands on manager. I'm sure she has noticed that I am tired..." He looked at Matt intensely. "I'm okay. Really. I'm okay. This is just a very complicated review. It’s...just very...very complex." Herb seemed to be at a loss for words. As though he wanted to say something, but guarded every syllable as it came from his mouth.

"Yeah, that’s what Sandy tells me," Matt said, feeling compassion for Herb, "I think you should take a short break. Maybe a couple of days off and get a little R&R. Everything will still be here when you get back. Audits like this can drain the best of us. Even super auditors like yourself."

Matt wasn’t sure if Herb understood what he was trying to say to him. He was genuinely concerned. Herb became very nervous and his face became intense. Herb was chewing his lip, like a kid trying to say something but just couldn't get the words out. Matt tried once again to relieve Herb’s stress.

"Look, Herb," Matt said compassionately, "I know that you've pushed hard on this one...maybe you should back off for a couple of days, take some time to spend doing something totally unrelated to computers, like golf or bowling...or even fishing. Clear your mind out some and come back fresh after..."

"You know what, Matt?" Herb interrupted, brightening, "now that you mention it, what I would really like to do is to play a round of golf with you. At the Old Airport. We haven't done that in what, almost a year? That’s what I could use more than anything else right now."

"That would be nice," Matt said, trying to control his reaction. In the past, when no other form of communication has been safe between Herb and Matt, they would go to the golf course at the Old Airport and talk in private.

The last time they played golf there, Herb told Matt about millions of dollars of contractual services funds that were being channeled into campaign contributions. No services were ever performed under the contracts so they were outright fraud. Two senators and three agency executives were tried and convicted of felony embezzlement. Matt's stomach was churning. His best auditor was telling him that his office is bugged and the only safe place to communicate is out in the woods of the golf course. Matt got the gut level feeling that Herb was in control of his faculties. He believed that Herb somehow knew that Matt’s office was being bugged. He had to believe Herb.

"I'd really like to hit the links as soon as you can," Herb said intensely, "we really need the time together. This audit has strained me a bit. I think a good game of golf would relax me. Yeah," Herb said, forcing a smile, "a golf game and a couple of days off might be just what I need right now."

Matt didn't like what he saw in Herb's eyes. Herb looked overwhelmed. Whatever he had stumbled onto was bigger than he could handle alone. Herb was known for waiting for the precise moment to call for backup. Matt has always given his staff, particularly Herb, whatever back up they have needed: FBI; State Troopers; local police; any necessary District Attorney's services; or any other type of back up. Matt became anxious to help Herb. It was evident that Herb was in over his head and had reached the point where he was needing help right away. Matt was eager to calm Herb's storm.

"Ah..." Matt stammered, scanning his calendar pretending to look for an open time. "I’m tied up until about ten tomorrow morning, and then... a meeting at three on Thursday. Other than that, you call it. I'll make the time."

"If you think you can," Herb said, becoming calmer, "tomorrow morning at eleven will be great. The sooner the better," Herb said, rubbing his temples, "are you sure you can get away on such short notice?"

"Anything for a friend," Matt said emphatically, smiling.

`Anything for a friend' is the Department’s code indicating that the person saying it will go to any length to back the other one up on a case. Matt wanted Herb to know that he has Matt's complete assistance with anything that might be needed.

Matt overtly looked around the room, lightly tapped his right finger on his left palm. He was signaling Herb to point out where the bugging device was located. If Herb could tell him where the device is, Matt would know for sure that Herb had uncovered a potentially dangerous situation. If there was no device, Matt would have to assume that Herb may be worn out, or maybe Sandy’s observation was right. He knew he must find out immediately.

Instead of signaling back, Herb said, "I'll meet you at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning at the Old Airport." Herb pulled his pen out of his shirt pocket and picked up one of Matt's business cards from the desk. "Call me at this number if anything comes up," Herb said as he wrote on the back of the card, then handed it to Matt. "Otherwise, I’ll be ready to tee off as soon as you get there. Eleven it is?"

"Sure thing," Matt said, looking at the card and then placing the card in his shirt pocket. "I will call you by ten thirty or so in the morning if I can't make it. Otherwise, tee time at eleven."

Matt was stunned as he put the card in his shirt pocket. There were no numbers on the card. Only the words `computer mouse.’ As they walked to the door, Matt shook Herb’s hand and placed his other hand on Herb's shoulder.

"We’ll play a full round tomorrow," Matt said, "maybe catch a lunch in there somewhere."

"Sounds great!" Herb said, quickly leaving Matt's office.

Matt fiddled with some papers on his desk. He knew that if Herb was right about the bugging device, then chances were that other observation devices were being used as well. Good surveillance is always accomplished by both audio and visual means. Being on the fourteenth floor wouldn’t prevent the modern, powerful digital devices from capturing his movements in detail. He could easily be observed from a short or long distance. The curtains were wide open and Matt felt very exposed. He hoped with all of his being that Herb was right about the device. But at the same time wished him to be wrong. Either result was not appealing. Matt wanted to take all precautions so he casually walked to his window and closed the curtains.

He sat down and removed the card from his pocket. He stared again at the words ‘computer mouse’ that Herb had printed on the card. He put the card back in his shirt pocket and pressed the button on the speaker phone.

"Haley," he said into the speaker, "would you get a hold of Jim Read and have him bring me the micro sensor. I'll need it tonight at the Governor's office."

"Yes, sir," Haley said, "I'll get him right away."

Jim Read is the equipment technician for the agency. He spends his time during the work day studying the latest technological developments in all segments of the electronic intelligence world. When not doing actual work, Jim lives on the Internet, seeking whatever technical information that he can get from anybody, anywhere. Jim has been very valuable in solving some otherwise mysterious cases. To Jim, most of investigative work is a `matter of mechanisms,' as he puts it.

"Mr. Petricelli," Jim said within minutes, knocking and opening the door at the same time, "Haley said you wanted this."

He brought the small detection device to Matt's desk and pulled it out of the case. He flipped a switch, pressed a button and stared at the device's small screen. Digits flashed and then the device beeped twice and the red LED on the side lit up.

"Fully charged and ready to go!" Jim said proudly, "what ya' lookin' for tonight?"

"Ah," Matt stumbled, trying to invent a reason for needing the device, "the Governor is having some...ah, out of state investors in tomorrow and wants to make sure that no one is listening to their conversations," Matt said, making up his dialogue as he went. "Wants me to browse the place to be sure," Matt said looking at the device, "can I operate this thing myself?" Lying to his staff was not something Matt liked to do, but he felt the need to guard his words just in case he was actually being listened to.

"This is the intensity knob," Jim said pointing to one of the mini controls on the device, "set this at about eight or nine and you will pick up anything in the room. Lower than that and you could miss something. Higher than that and you might pick up everything in the room, including the battery in your watch."

"Thanks," Matt said, placing the device back into its cover. "I'll get it back to you first thing tomorrow."

"Sure thing," Jim said as he disappeared through the door.

Matt studied the device and found the tiny mute switch and turned the audio off. He turned the intensity up to eight as Jim had instructed. Immediately, the detection LED started blinking. As Matt swiveled in his chair away from his computer mouse, the light dimmed and the blinking rate slowed. He turned around again and laid the device on the desk next to the mouse. The light became bright and flashed rapidly. Herb was right. There was a bug in his mouse!

Matt chuckled at the metaphorical combination, `a bug in his mouse.' It made sense to him though. The people that Herb was investigating were computer geniuses. Of course they could easily hide tiny transmitters in pieces of computer hardware. No one would know it, or think to check for it.

The phone rang startling Matt. He looked at the caller ID. It was Sandy. Matt answered it.

"Well," she pried, "do you think he's shot, or are you going to stay with your premise that he just needs a couple of days off?"

"I'm going to play golf with him tomorrow," he answered, cutting her short, "I'll let you know as soon as we get back. I'll know beyond a shadow of a doubt after spending three hours with him."

"So what do I do in the morning? You said..." she pressed.

"Nothing," Matt interrupted, "don't do anything until I get back. He admits he is tired and needs a couple of days off. I'll work it out with him and get with you as soon as I get in."

"Yes, Sir," Sandy said in a defeated tone, "I would appreciate you updating me as soon as you can after returning from you golf game."

"Will do it," Matt said, hanging up the phone.

Matt turned on the CD player on the corner of his desk. He picked up the mouse. He hoped the music would muffle the fact that he was handling the mouse. He turned the mouse over and quickly undid the two screws that were holding it together. He carefully separated the plastic pieces. He had not looked in a mouse before so he wasn't sure what it should look like, or what the small computer chips were. What he was sure about though, was that the tiny button shaped device glued to the top cover was definitely a micro transmitter. Herb was right! Matt's office conversations were being overheard and possibly recorded! It had to be related to the latest computer fraud case. He was furious.

Matt spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing all of the working papers and any documentation he could get his hands on concerning the computer case that Herb was investigating. Herb had given the case the code name "SunDancer." Herb has a knack for naming the cases with a pertinent name that no one else would understand. Matt chuckled at this one.

"What in the world could `SunDancer' mean?"

Matt laughed to himself leaving the office that night, "A bug in my damned mouse! Indeed!"

 

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