The Novel of Financial Deception
Enters Its Third Year Online
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Casing Wal-Mart
Miller Risk Advisors

Rigged Chapter 13



Ross M. Miller
Posted July 22, 2004

I reviewed everything that was said in the Aquarium on my walk back to the hotel. I felt that Ken had made it a point not to lie to me, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t withholding important information. I knew, for example, that Ken wasn’t just hanging around Oxford, he was there as a Rhodes Scholar. Such an omission might just be patrician understatement, but it could also be an indication that Ken felt no need to be entirely open with me.

As for the relative hiring practices of The Lowell Group and GFF, and its pension fund in particular, the differences were greater than Ken was willing to admit. While women were still scarce in the upper reaches of the hive, several reported directly to Joe Conway at the pension fund. For professional women who lived in Scarsdale and wanted to juggle job and family, White Plains was a more practical place to work than Manhattan.

With the wind whipping off the water, it was getting cold as well as dark. My fellow pedestrians consisted of little more than the occasional jogger and dog walker. Just before I turned to cross the bridge that led to the hotel, I looked back at the Boston skyline in which the round building where I had spent the better part of the afternoon was still front and center.

Then it hit me. Alaska was a silo.

To stay under the hive’s radar, I made sure that Alaska generated just enough income from its patent portfolio to cover its cost of operations along with an extremely generous bonus pool plus amenities that at one time would have been considered lavish. Some patents, like Randy’s big one, were given away. Others were simply never licensed. Several of our patents were infringed upon, but legal action was selectively taken.

Alaska, if operated as a profit-making business, could easily be worth more than The Lowell Group. It was a safe bet that any new owner would, over time, do to the place what GFF did to its Research Lab; however, it would have no trouble netting billions from Alaska's patents in the process. If the hive ever looked closely enough, they would see this. Roland must have known, but did anyone else? I thought through the implications during the remainder of my walk.

The hotel was really jumping upon my return—conventioneers who wore their name badges with no shame seemed to be everywhere. My elevator was full, but at least I had the news on the elevator’s video monitors to distract me while it stopped at nearly every floor. No stock quotes, no GFF news. The world was as I had left it.

Zero had not yet returned with the equipment necessary for getting at the data on Karen’s backup drive and there was no indication of where Tara had gone. Randy, however, had left a note that read: “Swimming with the Seals.” I found it next to one of our many phones, all of whose red message lights flashed throughout the dark suite in slow unison.

We had two messages. The first was from the hotel’s general manager inviting us to a private cocktail hour with him. The second was from Roland requesting that I call him. I dialed into GFF’s telecommunications system and had Alice track him down for me.

Roland sounded serious. “How did it go this afternoon?” he asked straight out.

“We’re making progress and we’ll be back there tomorrow.” I saw no reason to tell Roland about Ken, his suspicions, the Aquarium, or the penguins. Moreover, I knew that it was better to surprise Roland with good news than to disappoint him and so I did not mention that we had gotten two hundred gigabytes of data out of Lowell.

“I’ll be back in Boston tomorrow,” Roland said. “A car will pick you up from Lowell when we need you. Perhaps you can join us for lunch. Hopefully, you’ll be onto something by then.” Except for Mike (to whom few rules applied), it was GFF executive etiquette never to tell anyone to do anything; instead, the desired course of action—even if everybody knew it was impossible to achieve—was merely suggested. Finally, since Roland was not one to refer to himself in the plural, there was no telling who would be with him.

The only response that I could give Roland was: “We’ll do our best.”

“Just remember, do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of things. Do it fast. And don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”

“Message received.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow. Gotta go.” Click.

It was time to go down and check in with Randy. In my rush to the stairs, I saw Zero ambling down the hall with a bellhop in tow. Zero had the look of a triumphant soldier and the bellhop was toting the spoils of war—two large boxes and several smaller ones.

“You wanted servers, I’ve got servers,” Zero greeted me.

“Great. I just spoke with Roland and he’s getting impatient. Do you need my help setting things up?”

“No thanks,” Zero half-laughed. “I can manage. Everything should be up in an hour.”

“I’m going to fetch Randy and you can keep you eyes peeled for Tara. We have a long night ahead of us.”

I turned into the stairwell, vaulted down the dozen or so flights of stairs to the health club, and found Randy lapping the pool. He had set several records at USC and came within a hair of qualifying for the Olympics. He was doing the backstroke and saw me as soon as I opened the door to the pool area. Before I could walk to the end of his lane, he swam there and popped out of the water.

“I’m practicing seal turns,” Randy said, heading over to get a bottle of juice and a towel. “That’s about all this pool is good for. Next time, try getting a bigger pool.”

“What next time?” I said. Randy had a point—the pool was almost exactly the same size as the abode for the Aquarium’s seals. “Just don’t practice drying yourself off like a seal,” I said, looking first at the puddle forming near Randy’s distinctive feet and then at my suit, which I never had the time to swap for something more casual.

“Why don’t you join me for a shvitz?

“When did you start speaking Yiddish?”

“Yiddish? I thought it was Sanskrit. Anyway, hang out in Hollywood long enough and you pick up a lot of things.”

“I’ll join you,” I said. “But on one condition.”

“And that is . . .”

“You don’t do the monologue from Your Friends & Neighbors. This isn’t an audition.”

“But you never know who’s listening.”

“My point exactly.”

It was getting close to seven o’clock and the attendant was the only other person around. I got a key from her and we headed into the men’s locker room. Randy fiddled with the steam room’s controls while I undressed and hung my clothes in the full-length locker assigned to me.

I quickly gave Randy an account of my rendezvous with Ken that included the frequent eruptions from the incipient penguin orgy. I intentionally omitted any mention of silos or of how I thought Alaska might figure into things and referred to nothing by name just in case someone was listening.

I had just begun to sweat when Randy said, “I go for penguins. You should have brought some back to shvitz with us. I hear that penguins are excellent poached.”

I snapped my towel at Randy in an effort to wipe the Cheshire cat expression from his face, but he only snapped back at me harder.

“On a more serious note,” I said, “Zero has returned with the goods. By the way, where’s Tara? I last saw her with you.”

“She was down here with me and left just before you got here. Four ounces of Lycra-laced nylon can stretch pretty thin. She had an idea or two and went upstairs to grind out some computations.”

“I suspect that she’ll be grinding a lot more before we’re done here.”

By this point, we were both perspiring freely and I was so stoked by the events of the day that I was beyond relaxation. It was time to shower, get dressed, and go back to work.

I was buttoning up my shirt when Randy said to me, “You know, this is really turning out to be a real gas.”

“If you think that this is a gas, just wait.”

Fresh from our showers, Randy and I hurried back upstairs. Our first stop was Zero’s suite to see how he was doing. As we entered, Randy said, “If you had brought back a penguin, at least you’d have somewhere to keep him.”

Oblivious to this remark, Zero launched into a status report. “The first server is up. The backup drive is mounted and I’m copying it to the server’s hard drive.”

“Superb,” I said, “when you’re done, you can move them into my suite, network the machines together, and have everything copied over onto the mirror server while we’re eating dinner. Have you looked at the backup yet?”

“A bit. The main encryption key that Karen gave me works fine for getting access to the disk itself, but I don’t have the password necessary to open the databases. Without that, the disk is a very expensive doorstop.”

“Do you have her number?” I asked. “Why don’t you give her a call?”

“I’ve not only got her number, I have the PIN for her voice mail.”

“You don’t say?” Nothing Zero did surprised me. The only way that he could secure everything in Alaska was to be aware of any conceivable way to break into our systems, voice mail included.

“Yes, it’s 7673283. I used her phone to make a call while she went off to deal with some crisis. It’s one of those phones with a redial capability and when I was making a call I just happened to see the last number she entered. The better systems are programmed to stop recording the numbers once a connection is made, but not Lowell’s.”

“Well, I strongly advise against going into her voice mailbox. There are some lines that I’d rather not cross without a very good reason. But we can still call her.”

Zero’s call was forwarded to Lowell’s help desk where no one was authorized to give him the password.

“I’m sure that they can find Karen—page her or something. Do you want me to I say that it’s urgent?” Zero asked while the help desk put him on hold.

“Not yet. Just leave a message to have Karen get back to us.”

Randy cast me an admiring gaze and said, “Classic Sun Tzu.” He knew that I was counting on Karen not to return the call today. Then, her group would go into tomorrow’s meeting thinking that because she hadn’t given us the password that we were unable to get at the data.

“I guess that we can just crack the password,” Randy said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?”

“Not a thing in the world,” I said. “She gave us the backup and permission to use it. Why don’t you enter her voice mail PIN? She should know better than to recycle her passwords, but it’s worth a try.”

Zero keyed in 7673283. Invalid password.

“There’s something strange about this number.” Zero said.

“Well,” I said, “we know it’s not prime.”

Zero brought up a new window on the server while the copying process continued. He re-entered the number, and nonchalantly said, “That’s it—roseate or rosebud.”

“Huh?” I said.

“On a telephone keypad, the numbers spell out either roseate or rosebud.”

“I’m putting my money on rosebud.” Randy said.

Randy was right. Although Karen had enough sense not to use rosebud directly, Zero fired up a program that tried all logical variants and the winner was “rosebud1941.”

“How long did that take?” I asked.

“A little under six seconds,” Zero answered. “If we had to try every reasonable password without narrowing it down first, it could have taken minutes. Or hours, if Karen is smarter than she seems, which I doubt.”

“Amazing,” I said. “ With the first password cracker I wrote for my Trash-80or was it my VIC-20I was lucky to get anywhere in under an hour.”

“Ancient history aside,” said Zero, “the real problems lie ahead—Lowell’s sloppiness won’t help us when it comes to making sense of their data.”

“Be thankful that we don’t have to figure out what rosebud means,” Randy said with both eyes on the door. “But you’re right, Zero, we can’t count on such smooth sledding the rest of the way.”

Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to