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Chapter 2

The Seventh Code

Michael L. Piazza

Matt pulled his BMW into the drive of the Old Jackson Airport. He and Herb had started playing their working golf games here at the municipal golf course three years ago. Whenever they would go to the Country Club to play, they would run into people who knew them, and who would insist on playing doubles. Invariably, they would give in, and play the game of doubles, canceling their meeting. However, they found that at the municipal course no one recognized them, and they always were able to have their private game. As a result, the municipal course had become their meeting place for high security discussions.

They had not met here for over a year. Matt looked at his watch,  anxious about what Herb was going to tell him. It was five minutes before eleven, and Matt scanned the parking lot for Herb's car. Herb was habitually fifteen to twenty minutes early, but Matt didn't see Herb's car anywhere. He was concerned because Herb is obsessively early.

Matt looped around the parking lot and decided to park facing the entrance so that he could see Herb when he arrived. He switched his engine off and turned the key to the accessory mode so he could continue to listen to music while he waited. Matt leaned back, singing along with the Eagles song Peaceful Easy Feeling. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the morning sun on his face.

After a few minutes without the air conditioner, Matt realized how hot it would be at noon. He dreaded getting out in the heat knowing he would be soaked with sweat by the fifth or sixth hole. He decided that they would not actually play the round of golf, but rather, find a shady spot, park the cart and just sit and talk. He was sure Herb would agree.

Matt had all of the files from the SunDancer case with him. Sandy was right about them, they were skimpy and poorly done. Nothing like Herb's usual impeccable working papers. Matt had studied them at home until midnight, but still couldn't fit anything together. There was too much missing information, too many things that had no legends or explanations, and a bunch of confusing tick marks. Also, there were a lot of coded printouts and computer files that Matt couldn't understand. He had a multitude of questions for Herb, and was becoming very anxious to get some answers.

Every time Matt thought about the bug in his computer mouse, the angrier he got. He intended to fry whoever had the gall to bug the Inspector General's office. He couldn't imagine who could be so brazen. He knew that since Herb was aware of the bugging device, he should have a good idea who it belonged to.

Matt was confused about how long Herb may have known about the bug, and whether Herb would have told him, if he had not been called to his office. He hoped Herb had good reasons for this strange behavior. Matt knew he would have to make a decision in the next few hours whether to allow Herb to continue on the case. Sandy was right, a day in a computer fraud case like this could turn the tide. There was no more time to waste, regardless of Herb's superior past performance. Today was the day for action.

Matt looked at his watch. It was eleven fifteen, and getting very hot in the car. He started the engine, turning the air conditioner to its highest setting. The August heat, combined with eighty percent humidity, made for a miserable wait on leather car seats. Matt fanned himself with one of the audit folders on the seat beside him.

At eleven twenty-five, he picked up his cell phone and dialed the office. This was not like Herb, being late was not in his realm. He must have called the office and canceled their game.

"Inspector General's Office," Haley said, in her old-style southern accent. She is in her early sixties, and is the epitome of the “southern belle”.  Matt loves the way she answers the phone.

"Hello, Haley, darling. Has Herb called in this morning?" Matt said sweetly.

"No, sir," she said, "I thought that you said that you and Mr. Jinson were going to be playing golf this morning."

"Yeah, well, he...," Matt stammered, "must be late. If he calls you, call me on my mobile, right away."

"Yes, sir," Haley said with a chuckle, "I will surely do it. Herbert is late, well, let me write that down, so I can chide him about it."

"You do that," Matt said, "I'll chide him a bit, myself. Thanks, Haley," Matt said, pressing the “End” button on his phone.

This definitely wasn't like Herb. Even Haley was amused that Herb was late. Matt wasn't sure whether he should be angry, or worried.

Turning his car off, he went into the snack shop. He ordered a large soft drink and a donut, and sat at the table the near the window, so he could watch the parking lot for Herb. He sipped his drink, anxiously awaiting Herb's arrival.

At twelve fifteen, Matt called all Herb’s phone numbers. He was not in his office, Haley had not heard from him, and there was no answer at his apartment. Finally, he called Herb's parent's house in Meridian, to see if they had heard from him. There was no answer.

Matt left the airport and drove to Herb’s apartment on County Line Road. County Line is one of the business commerce sections in the Jackson area. Herb’s apartment complex is across from the North Park Mall, a high end mall, catering to the upper echelon of the metropolitan area. Matt circled the apartment office area, and passed the swimming pool.

Looking at the people around the pool, he saw two college-aged girls reading, a man in his twenties sunning himself, but no Herb. Matt drove to the rear of the complex, to the building where Herb's apartment was. He scanned the entire parking lot and did not find Herb's car.

"Maybe Sandy’s right," Matt thought to himself, "maybe Herb has lost interest, and simply forgot about our golf game."

It was almost one o’clock. Leaving the apartment complex, Matt drove over to North Park Mall. He decided to have lunch at Ruby Tuesday before returning downtown to his office. Since he doesn't get out in public much, it was refreshing for him to “people-watch” at the mall. He was still conflicted about whether to be worried, or angry, about Herb. He searched his mind trying to figure where Herb may be.

The afternoon passed slowly. He toyed with the computer mouse several times, trying to decide whether to disable it, or wait to find out from Herb who it belonged to. He periodically checked with Haley to see if anyone had heard from Herb. No one had, and he was not answering his cell phone or his home phone.

"Well," Sandy said, as she pointed to the clock on Matt's wall, "the day is almost gone and no Herb. I think a `no call, no show' is a mortal sin for a professional, especially one who has been as mentally out to lunch, as Herb has been. Can I take some action now?"

"I'm still not convinced that he’s derelict," Matt said, tapping the computer mouse on his desk. "I'm sure there's a good explanation for why he didn't show up today. I'm sure that he will..."

"Mr. Perticelli," Sandy interrupted, "if you would like to hold on to your sentiments for Jinson, and want to salvage him in some fashion, I understand." Sandy sat down and looked across the desk at Matt, losing her pushy auditor way, and spoke compassionately. "I'm sure we can help Herbert...get him on another assignment, and figure out what is wrong with him. I'm as concerned about him as you are, but we must replace him on this fraud audit, and get something moving on it. You know very well, a day in the world of bits and bytes can change the entire complexion of a case. Please try to separate yourself from your friend, and look at the situation from a purely business stand..."

"Noon tomorrow," Matt said decisively, stopping Sandy in mid-speech. "If nothing turns up to the contrary by then, take all of the records from Jinson's office, and the ones that I have in here, and assign them to Talburt. Fair enough?"

There was a short silence. Sandy looked at the floor for a moment, then into Matt's eyes.

"Fair enough," Sandy sighed, standing up to leave. "I do hope that you can help Herb," she said opening the door, "it would be a shame for a man of his intelligence and ability to go to waste. Tomorrow at noon, then."

"I will call you if I haven't heard anything by eleven thirty," Matt said, rubbing his temples, "at noon, the case is off Jinson's desk."

"Thank you, sir," Sandy said, leaving, "it will work out for the best, you’ll  see."

Sandy closed the door behind her, as Matt turned in his chair and watched the flow of cars leaving the Capitol area. Jackson is a small city, but it still has five o'clock traffic. Matt decided to wait a while before leaving, he wasn't in the mood to play bumper cars, leaving the downtown area at rush hour.

He got the scanning device from his desk drawer, removed it from its case and tested it. The light flashed, and it beeped like it did yesterday, when Jim Read demonstrated it for him. He turned the volume off, and turned the intensity control to eight. He waved the scanner over the mouse, but the light did not flash. He turned the control to nine. The light didn’t flash. He turned it to ten, but still, no flash.

Quickly grabbing the screwdriver from his desk drawer, he disassembled the mouse. There was no listening device in it! Matt's heart raced, and his face tingled.

"This can’t be happening," Matt said aloud, as he tossed the mouse on his desk. "The nerve of these cowards!" he shouted, pushing his chair back. “You lousy SOBs!” Standing up, he stomped his feet and stormed out of his office.

He was livid. Driving hard and fast on I55 North, he headed to Herb's apartment. He was going to find out who was so brazen as to come and go in his office as they pleased, leaving a bug, then coming back to remove it, as they pleased. He was furious at the thought of someone coming into his office overnight and removing the listening device.

The traffic on County Line Road was fairly heavy, so Matt put his emergency blue light on his dash, and pulled into the double yellow turn lane that straddles the double lane traffic in both directions. People stared at him as he passed them in his light grey BMW, with the flashing blue light on the dash. Matt knew it looked odd, but he was tired of fooling around. He was going to get to the bottom of this mouse thing.

Double parking behind the cars in front of the building where Herb's apartment is located, he turned the engine off and flipped on his emergency flashers. He unplugged the blue light and tossed it onto the floor board. Blue flashing lights tend to draw a crowd.

Matt climbed the steps to Herb's apartment, taking two steps at a time. He rang the doorbell and knocked at the same time. No answer. He strained to look through the curtains of the kitchen window, into Herb's apartment. He could see the light of a television screen and could hear what sounded like a game show playing. He rang and knocked again, but still no answer. He tried the door but it was locked. He knocked some more.

Behind him, Matt heard the door of the apartment next door slowly open. Turning, he saw the profile of a man peeking through the cracked open door. Matt reached into his coat, and pulled out his identification wallet.

"Sir," Matt said, trying not to alarm the man standing in the doorway, "my name is Petricelli." He extended his badge so the man could read it. "Mr. Jinson works for my office, and I am trying to locate him. Have you seen him today by any chance?"

"No, I haven't," the man said opening the door some more, "I haven't seen him since this time yesterday. He is sometimes late coming in. We hear him come in as late as nine, some nights."
Matt knew that Herb likes to work late, stop by for dinner somewhere, then come home. His neighbors appeared to know him well, also.

"If you hear him when he comes in," Matt said, handing the man one of his cards, "will you give this to him, and tell him that it is urgent that I speak with him?"

"I will, Mr. Petricelli", the man said, smiling. "The Inspector General himself," the man continued, extending his hand, "that sure was great work you and Herb did on that political slush fund deal. We all were behind you and the Governor, one hundred percent!"

"Thanks," Matt said, trying to be polite, but get away, "I would appreciate you passing the word along Mr. Jinson, if you would. I really need to talk with him."

"Sure thing," the man said, waving to Matt as he raced down the side walk.

When he started the car, Matt immediately turned on his dispatch radio. In his position, he has direct channels to all police and the state troopers, so he issued an all-points bulletin for Herb's car, giving his cell phone number as the call-in reference. An APB was extreme, but Matt was angry that someone was coming and going in and out of his office, as they pleased, and Herb was the only person that could tell him who it is.

Matt entered his code into the key pad at the gate to his condominium complex, an exclusive gated community on the shore of the Barnett Reservoir. Over the years, the Reservoir area had become a resort community in the middle of Mississippi. Matt's complex is on a hill overlooking the Jackson Yacht Club. His condo is in the center of the complex, with a limited water view. He spends a lot of time at the clubhouse pool area, overlooking the lake.

Matt’s lifestyle is that of a typical middle-aged professional loner. He and his wife divorced when he lived in Atlanta, and he didn’t marry again. At his age, with the hours that he works, and the intensity that he puts into his job, he wasn't ready to risk another marriage. The probability that it would work was low. Matt's job had cost him his first marriage, and he knew the pressures of his current job would cost him another. Matt had decided when he took the Inspector General's job, that he would wait until his political career was over, before he became involved in a serious relationship.

Since being back home in Mississippi for the last six years, he’d had two `almosts' as he called them. Relationships that `almost' got serious, but he ducked out, before they did. However, on nights like these, he questioned his decision not to involve anyone else in his life. It would be wonderful if he had someone to come home to, and be with, tonight. He felt like he was alone and marooned on a deserted island.

Matt pulled in his garage. While the door was closing behind him, he slid the blue light back into its plastic case, and put it in the compartment between the seats, and flipped off the police radio. Matt looked at himself in the rear view mirror, and wondered how an auditor like himself ended up being a super cop. He sighed hard, shook his head, and slowly opened the car door, dreading going inside to an empty condo.

After a few snacks, Matt decided to go to the swimming pool area of the complex. The cool water of the pool felt good, on this hot August night. He stayed at the pool area until almost midnight, finally relaxed from going back and forth between the hot tub and the swimming pool. His cell phone had not rung, so he presumed there no was news about Herb.

Returning to his condo, Matt checked his messages, but no one had called. Tired, mentally drained, and feeling sorry for himself, he fell across his bed. After a few minutes he dozed off.

The phone was ringing, and Matt couldn't tell where it was coming from. Trying to wake up, he couldn't determine if it was his cell phone, or his home phone, that was ringing. He had no idea what time it was. He squinted his eyes to read the clock, it showed six fifteen. Peering into the living room and thru the picture window, he saw daylight. Meanwhile, the phone continued to ring.

Picking up the mobile, he pressed the send button and said hello. The phone still rang. It was his home phone that was ringing.

"Hello," Matt said sleepily, fumbling with the phone.

"Mr. Petricelli?" the caller said.

"Yes, this is him," Matt answered. He looked down, and realized that he had slept through the night in his swim suit.

"This is Roger Johns," the man said, "we met last night, outside of Herb Jinson's apartment."

"Yes," Matt said, standing up quickly, "what can I do for you?"

"Ah, Mr. Petricelli," the man stammered, "I don't think Herb came home again, last night. His cat is at his door again, and the television and everything is still going. I was getting ready to leave for work, and saw that his parking space is still empty. It is wet from the dew, so I don't think anyone parked in it all night. I hated to disturb you, but this just isn't like Herb. We don't think he's been home for a couple of days, and he wouldn’t just leave Lemon, that's his cat, out to fend for herself. He really loves that cat..."

"You did right by calling, Mr. Johns," Matt said, rubbing his face, trying to wake up, "I'll come by and check everything out, in a little while. You go on to work and I'll take care of it."

"Okay," the man said, "I've fed his cat this morning, so tell him not to feed her again."

"Will do it," Matt said, "thanks for calling."

"No, no, no!" Matt said, as he hung up the phone. "This ain't right...this just ain't right," Matt said to himself, as he dressed in a rush. He had the deep tension in the pit of his stomach that happened when things don’t make sense. Herb was responsible, and very conservative. Staying out two nights in a row was not part of Herb’s life style.

Driving out of the condominium complex, Matt looked at his watch. Only five before seven. Jim Read was an early bird, so Matt called him at home from his cell phone.

"Jim," Matt said, "what kind of alarm system does Herb have on his apartment?"

"Pretty sophisticated," Jim answered, "your average burglar would have no chance against it. Your better-than-average burglar might crack it. Why?"

"I need in his apartment, but I don't want to alert the world that I'm there."

"I can disarm it," Jim said, "when do you want in?"

"I'm headed there now," Matt replied.

"Whoa," Jim said, "give me fifteen...I'll meet you there."

Matt immediately called Major Trane of the Department of Public Safety, and explained to him that he was going to go in Herb's apartment, and that he wanted a Trooper there, just in case that there had been foul play.

"Matt," Maj. Trane said, "you need a Sheriff's Deputy there, you’re in their jurisdiction."

"I need this kept quiet, George," Matt answered, "especially if there's nothing there. I don't need the locals knowing that I'm busting into my auditor's apartment. It'll be all over the papers, before I even get to work!"

"You have a point there," Major Trane laughed.

"If there is something there, we'll call the Sheriff," Matt said, "but for now, let me go in with one of your Troopers."

"You got it," Trane said, "he's on the way."

When Matt arrived at the apartment complex, he went to the manager's office and identified himself. He told her that Mr. Jinson had gone out of town, and they needed to retrieve some papers from his apartment. She agreed to open it for him.

Jim Read was sitting in his car reading the morning paper, when Matt and the manager walked up the sidewalk. It was seven thirty, so people were out and about, leaving for work. Some looked at them with interest, but continued on their way.

Matt put his foot on the bumper of Jim's car and bounced it. Jim put down the paper he was reading, grabbed a black bag off the seat, and walked with them. As Jim was taking some equipment out of his bag, a State Trooper pulled up and got out of his car. The manager looked at Matt, then from Jim, to the Trooper.

"Is Herb in some kind of trouble?" she asked, almost in a panic.

"No, Ma’am," Matt said reassuringly, "we just need to get some papers from his apartment, and be on our way. We wouldn't want his alarm to go off and disturb the entire neighborhood, so I brought some help."

The woman settled down a bit, but acted as though she still suspected that she wasn't being told the whole story. The Trooper walked up and spoke, but stayed back a few feet. Jim clipped some wires onto the screen on the kitchen window. He turned some dials and watched the digits flash on the tiny screen of the device in his hand.

"It's not on," Jim said.

"Do what?" Matt asked.

"It's not on," Jim said shaking his head, "it's been disconnected."

"Do you mean disarmed?" Matt asked.

"No," Jim said, "disconnected. There's no circuit. There's no power and no signal. It's disconnected, unplugged, if you will."

Matt frowned, rubbing his temples. He didn't like what was building. He looked at the Trooper, and then at the manager.

"You may open the door now," Matt said.

The manager pushed the master key into the lock and turned it to the right. Looking puzzled, she turned the key back to the left, and removed it.

"It wasn't locked," she said.

"Silly me," Matt said, laughing, "I should have tried the door before I alarmed you. Thanks a lot," he said politely, walking with her to the steps, "I'm sorry we bothered you for nothing. When we leave, we'll lock up behind us."

The lady left willingly, but Matt felt like she picked up on his fear. He didn't have time to deal with her, right then. He turned to Jim and frowned.
"The door was locked last night," Matt said, "I was here right after work and tried it. Something's not right."

They entered the apartment and looked around. The foldout couch in the living area was made out into a bed. Jim walked to the television, and picked up a DVD.

"Passion Lunges," Jim said, reading the label. He picked up another and read it. "These are all porno videos," he said, looking at Matt.

"Who would have thought it?" Matt answered.

Jim walked to the bed, and picked up pop corn kernels. There were two pillows propped up against the back part of the couch.

"It looks to me," Jim said, "like our Mr. Jinson had company, and watched porno movies. Judging from some of the stains on the sheets, it seems like they had a good time. I would have never guessed that Herb was so macho."

"Well," Matt said, "you can't judge a book by its cover. We had better look around," he added, to the Trooper.

When Matt was in his early thirties, he had been assigned to an extensive fraud audit. One of the top executives of the company was involved in an elaborate embezzlement scheme. Matt went with the investigators to the man's beach house and found him dead. The man had committed suicide, and no one had known it. Matt was the first one to walk into the bedroom and find him. The coroner estimated that he’d been dead for three days. Matt’s head was pounding, as thoughts of that day raced around his head as he entered Herb's bedroom.

Much to his surprise, the room was empty, and the bed was made. They  searched the spare bedroom and the bathrooms. There was no sign of Herb, or that anyone had been there, for a couple of days. Matt was relieved, but concerned, at the same time. When he came back into the living area, Jim was inserting a DVD into the player.

"Let it be, Jim," Matt said, "we're not here to get our jollies watching porn flicks."

"I don't think these are your run-of-the-mill porn flicks," Jim said. "The titles and the story lines indicate that they are a bit different."

"And none of your damned business!" came an effeminate voice from the doorway. "Those are private property, and you have no right to touch them!" the stranger said, emotionally.

The man was in his late twenties and was wearing baggy baby blue pants and a pink silk shirt, open halfway down.

"You are a little late to find Herbie," the stranger said, "I just want to get my videos, and be on my way. Herbie doesn't care about anyone but himself, and I don't care about him anymore, either."

The Trooper shook his head slightly, looked at Matt and said, "Do you need me anymore, sir?"

"No, I think we can take it from here," Matt answered, "thanks for your assistance."

After the Trooper left, the stranger started gathering the discs off of the television. He even grabbed the one out of Jim's hand.

"I'll take this one, too," he said to Jim, "I don't think that you would appreciate it."

"Probably not," Jim answered, wiping his hand on his shirt.

"What did you mean about us being too late to find Herb?" Matt asked. "Has he gone somewhere?

"Well," the young man said, "does it look like he's here? He said he was going to take me with him, but he obviously changed his mind."

"Take you with him, where?" Matt asked.

"Away," he answered, "Herbie found a way to get a lot of money, and he promised me that we would go away. New York, Los Angeles and eventually, San Francisco. We were so tired of the closed minds in this hick state, that we were going to leave. But I guess the money went to Herbie's head, and he decided that I wasn't worthy of being his...ah friend."

"What do you mean, a lot of money," Matt pursued, "where would Herb get a lot of money?"

"From the computer, of course!" the man said, "from the computer."

Matt continued to interview the man, getting no solid information, except that his name was Roland. When the young man found out Matt's identity, he insisted that he would not answer any more questions until he had a lawyer present. Matt obtained the man's address and told him that he would be subpoenaed for a statement, and not to leave town.

"Believe me," the man said, "Herbie was my way out of this hell hole. Without him, I can't go anywhere. I'll be around when you want me, but you won't find Herbie. He's rich and long gone."

Matt told Jim to go on to the office, while he stayed and searched Herb's apartment. Under the mattress, he found a folder with several pieces of paper in it, containing some kind of computer codes, much like those in the working paper files. Matt knew he would need help figuring out what the codes meant. He was very disappointed at the thought that Herb had succumbed to the temptation to "take the money and run." It wasn't like him.

Matt stood in the doorway of Herb's apartment and looked at the couch, and then at the television. A mental image flashed in his mind, something wasn’t right.

Stepping outside and closing the door, he walked over to the kitchen window, and looked in through it, as he had done the night before. This time, he could see the end of the fold-out couch. But last night, he hadn’t been able to see it. Yet Roland had told him that he had not seen Jinson for two days. It was obvious that the couch had been rolled out after Matt had been there the night before.

Matt knew things would get worse, before they got better. Locking the door, he left the apartment, and stopped by the manager's office. He told her that no one should enter or leave Jinson's apartment, without her contacting him first, regardless of what they told her. She agreed to contact him before she let anyone in, for any reason.



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