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Pamela Ebel: Hacked Off!

Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2023

Hacked Off!


By Pamela Ebel


July 4, 2019


The Embarcadero, Pier 23 Parking Lot


 San Francisco 5:00 a.m.


Alexi Gorev had never considered himself in danger because of his job as a computer hacker for the Russian cybergroup Evil Corp. So, he was completely surprised when the darts hit him.

As Gorev’s breathing stopped a gloved hand reached down, removed the darts from his chest and arm and walked quietly from the garage.

July 4, 2019

Cerberus Cyber Security, Market Street

San Francisco 6:30 a.m.

“Good morning, Ms. Vale. You are in earlier than usual I see. Think that is going to get you moved up in the pecking order maybe? Think the boss might show up this early and realize you need a better office? A better view? Something better than what I have just because you’re a woman and have a law degree?”

Steve Laxle glared at Claudia Vale as he stood at her office door. He had opposed her hiring based on his belief that women couldn’t do the type of security work Cerberus engaged in as one of the FBI’s private sector partners. 

“Good morning, Steve. I am just about to get into the assignment on the latest hack of bank accounts over in Marin County. I wanted a little quiet time to assess the chatter we picked up between the Kremlin and their main hacking unit in Evil Corp.”

“Who gave you that assignment? I sure as hell didn’t. I was planning on starting on it tomorrow.”

“I got a call from Special Agent Bricker over at FBI headquarters yesterday. You had already left for the day. He told me to get on the assignment as soon as they started to send the encrypted messages over. I started last night, I had some personal business I had to take care of earlier this morning. When it was finished, I came here to keep working on the assignment.”

“Personal business before 6:00 a.m.? Really? We will just see about this. Hold off on any more work until I speak with Bricker.”

As Laxle stormed out Claudia turned and picked up the photo of her aunt Paula who had died of a heart attack when her entire savings had been stolen in a local hacking scheme a few months earlier.

After four months of law enforcement officials at all levels failing to capture or get any leads on the hackers, Claudia had used her security clearance to do some sleuthing of her own, finding an ‘off the grid money mule operation’ skimming thousands from their employers in the Russian government. She had approached Laxle with great expectations and excitement.

“Steve, I think I have a lead on some local hackers who might be responsible for that bank account hack back in January. I put together a brief for you.”

She had placed her information on his desk.

“Ms. Vale, just because you have a last name like the reporter that had Batman all a flutter, doesn’t make you a crime fighter in the real world. I have bigger issues.”

He had pushed the brief back to her, turned to his computer, ending the conversation. So, she had returned to her office and clicked into the Russian chatter about missing money and dug deeper.

Finally, two weeks ago she had discovered the identities of the four men responsible for the hack. She tried again.

“Steve, I think I have narrowed down the list of Russian Nationals on the January hack. Should we send this over to Bricker? He’s been looking for the connection.”

“It’s like I keep telling you MS, VALE! I decide what we send and when we send it over to the FBI.”

Realizing her situation Claudia had returned to her office and planted anonymous information into the FBI’s data system to indicate that Evil Corp. had received orders from the Kremlin to eliminate the ‘off-grid skimmers’ in the usual manner. As she knew they would, the Bureau assumed that meant using some type of poison. Then she waited for their call.

Laxle appeared at her office door again. “Bricker says you told him you didn’t know where I was yesterday when he called. I told everyone I was calling it a day.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me telling the head of the local Bureau office that you had gone home for the day at 2:30 in the afternoon, Steve.”

Claudia attempted to look contrite as he stomped out. She rose to make sure he was gone and closed her door. Sitting back down, she touched her aunt’s photo as she picked up the phone and made a dinner reservation.

“Pay Back Time, Aunt Paula!”

July 4, 2019

Cliff House Restaurant

San Francisco 6:00 p.m.

Kori Litov sipped his vodka martini at the Cliff House bar and listened as a local newscaster reported on another citizen death from an apparent overdose of some form of barbiturate. The reporter stood in front of the Pier 23 Parking Lot.

 “The still unidentified man was found by a cleaning crew in that parking garage this morning about 6:00 a.m. The coroner on scene said that man had a couple of needle marks.”

Litov thought of calling his friend and co-worker Alexi Gorev, who parked his car in that garage, to see if he knew the guy, but decided another martini and then a walk down on the Seal Rocks would be more fun. He was also distracted by the lovely black-haired beauty that he had been visiting with.

“I love your accent. Where did you say you were from?”

She smiled at Litov, who was feeling the effects of the third martini.

“I didn’t say. But I am from Moscow.”

“OOH! A Russian! I have always wanted to meet a real Russian.”

She smiled slowly. “It’s stuffy in here. How about a walk on Seal Rocks?”

“My favorite place here in this city! Yes! Let us walk!”

Litov walked unsteadily onto the slippery rocks as the waves crashed up toward him

Between the wind and the barking of the seals he didn’t hear the footsteps behind him and didn’t feel the sharp jab of the dart into his arm.

July 6, 2019

The Haight Apartments

San Francisco 7:30 p.m.

Maxsim Turashev and Igor Kaspersky sat in their apartment drinking shots of vodka and listening to the news reports that two Russian Nationals had been found dead two days before. The Coroner had released the cause of death of both men as an overdose of barbiturates, delivered into the skin tissue.

“I think someone has found our ‘Money Mule’ Igor. You know that Litov and Gorev didn’t use drugs. Our government uses poisons to get rid of people. The Kremlin knows everything going on here through Evil Corp. We’ve worked for the cartel for three years with no trouble until you started shifting funds into the hidden money laundering account.”

“We don’t know what our friends did in their spare time. Maybe they used the extra money for drugs, or women, or whatever. But one thing we can’t do is look worried or do anything different in case we are being watched. If someone asks, we didn’t know anything about anything. Do you understand?”

“Yeah! But look, we have a big bank roll now. It’s about $500,000 each! Let’s head to the island. We could live nice. When the heat is over, maybe we could relocate somewhere else and start ‘money mule’ again. Right now, I don’t think it’s safe to keep going.”

“You are such a worrier. We’re just two more young bachelor geeks working in Silicon Valley. If we try to leave, they will know we did something wrong. Besides, the hacking is easy. Americans are so gullible. They believe anything if you are polite and smile while you pick their pockets and computers.”

Igor poured another shot of vodka and stared out the window as their new neighbor walked up the stairs to the apartments. He smiled as he remembered how scared and upset she had been when he ran the hacking program that shut down her home lap top.

“I mean really, where else would we find such gullible people like this woman next door? After I froze her computer, she fell for the line about accessing her debit card to protect the funds we hadn’t really ‘taken’. We got a nice $12,000 from her and didn’t have to leave the apartment. We can ride the hidden mule a bit more. We just have to act natural.”

 Claudia Vale entered the apartment she had rented next to the remaining two hackers responsible for the theft of her aunt’s savings account. The apartment had become available when she sent the previous occupant an anonymous tip that his ex-wife had discovered his address and was planning to serve him with suit for back child support.

She had used an alias and a black wig and glasses to disguise her blond hair when renting the apartment and then let the Russians hack her computer to make sure she had the right actors. After making a quick visit to the area around the Sather Gates in Berkley, Claudia set her final plan in motion.

Now, hearing the remaining Russians’ laughter, she took the bottle of Mamont Vodka and two shot glasses out of the freezer and placed them in a liquor store paper bag, freshened her lipstick, checked to be sure the hall was clear and knocked on their door.

“Ms. Smith, what a surprise!”

Maxsim offered his best ‘fox in the hen house’ smile.

“We haven’t been properly introduced yet. I’m Julie Smith. The manager said my neighbors were from Russia and I wanted to give you a gift to start what I hope will be a long, fruitful friendship.”

She took the bottle and shot glasses out of the bag and held them up.

“Mamont! We have not seen that here in the states. What a great gift. Please come in and have a toast with us.”

Maxsim grabbed the bottle and glasses and stepped aside to let her enter the apartment. She watched as Igor took the bottle, placed it on the dining table and pulled the cork out.

“I’m afraid I can’t join you in a toast tonight. I have an ear infection and antibiotics and alcohol don’t mix. But I will be done with the prescription tomorrow. Perhaps I can return to toast then?”

Igor was already pouring the vodka into two extra-large shot glasses.

“That would be wonderful. If there is any left!”

She slipped her hand into the paper bag and waited as the two men lifted their glasses.

“Za Zda ro’ vye! To Your Health!”

 They shouted loudly and downed the vodka. They both took another shot, then began to cough and choke. As the three-minute mark approached Maxsim and Igor had fallen to the floor in respiratory distress. In fifteen minutes the two men lie silently side by side.

Claudia removed her hand from the bag, picked up the vodka bottle and shot glasses and slipped them into it. They joined the empty vial of barbiturates she had purchased easily from a vendor at the Sather Gates.  She reached into her pocket and pulled out a mini-bottle of champagne and raised it over them.

“To Your Health Indeed!”

She drank quickly and placed that bottle in the paper bag, opened the door, checked to be sure there was no one in the hall and took the elevator to the empty lobby. At the corner of Haight and Ashbury she dropped the bag into an incinerator the Italian restaurant operated 24/7 and watched as everything melted and disappeared into the pile of ashes. The tranquilizer gun now slept with the fish at the bottom of the bay.

Back at her building Claudia noted that the neighbors’ place was deathly quiet. She packed her computer and the few belongings she had brought in a carpet bag, swept the apartment clean, as the FBI had trained her to do, and exited the deserted lobby. She stepped into an alley and removed the wig and glasses, placed them in a bag, and stopped at the incinerator one more time. 

She caught a bus to her car and returned to her office at Cerberus. She emailed FBI Special Agent Bricker the information she had uncovered on the hidden “money mule” hacking operation, (leaving out the names of the four Russians) and included a copy of her original report. She imagined Steve explaining how he had failed to follow up.

She returned to her own apartment. Sitting at her desk Claudia smiled, as she read the framed quote on the wall above it:

Vengeance must be Profound and Absolute!

In her bedroom, Claudia Vale turned off the lights and slept well for the first time in ages.

Pamela Ebel has been published in Shotgun Honey, The BOULD AWARDS 2020 Anthology, as well other venues. Her poetry has appeared in the Delta Poetry Review. A native of California, she now concentrates on tales from her original home state and tales from the highways of the South. She also knows, like the Ancient Greeks and the Irish, that as a southern writer you can’t outrun your blood.

She has turned to writing full time as of 2020, obviously either perfect or bizarre timing, and this will be her fifth career. She lives in Metairie, Louisiana, with her husband and two cats.

Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

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