Five Weeks Ago
Brody immediately recognised her voice with its beautiful French accent. Fuck. He couldn’t believe his bad luck. What the hell was Mel doing here, of all places?
He turned around slowly, forcing a wide grin across his face. She was sitting in the reception area of the law firm head office he had just been about to social engineer his way into; his latest pentest assignment. Dressed in a navy jumpsuit with a Domino’s pizza logo he’d had embroidered onto the chest, he had completed the imposture by carrying in four large flat cardboard boxes containing pizzas. It was a sure-fire way to blag it past any security-conscious receptionist.
He pivoted away from the reception desk — he couldn’t continue now — and walked over to the waiting area where Mel was sitting, pulling the boxes up to cover the Domino’s logo.
“Well, this is a pleasant coincidence,” he said, as amiably as he could make it. She stood as he neared. Leaning forward to give her a kiss, he awkwardly clutched the pizza boxes to his chest. She hesitated, looking him up and down suspiciously, but stood on tiptoes and accepted the peck on her lips.
They had been together for three weeks now and Brody was utterly smitten. Whenever they were apart, his thoughts frequently drifted to her; either reminiscing over their last date or anticipating the next. They saw each other every few days; working around her care home shifts and the weekends she usually spent protesting for animal rights with her activist friends. Occasionally, she stayed over at Brody’s apartment and so he had been forced to introduce her to Leroy and his boyfriend Danny. His friends were pleased to see Brody so obviously happy, and particularly delighted that the cause of his happiness was because of someone in the real world rather than the virtual.
Leroy’s favourite rant involved Brody’s proclivity to prioritise relationships built electronically rather than through interaction with real humans. Brody didn’t see the problem, citing Leroy as the exception that disproved the rule. Online, Brody went by the moniker Fingal and had forged friendships and acquaintances with fellow computer hackers from all over the world. He was very active in the hacker forums, always aiming to strengthen his elite hacker status by sharing code, blogging or exposing unknown Advanced Persistent Threats that he’d identified during his pentesting assignments. APTs were crafted by nefarious ‘black hat’ hackers, often members of mafia-funded cyber-gangs, whose aim was to surreptitiously install them on corporate networks, where they ran undetected, replicating themselves and sending back intellectual property which the hackers could then sell on or ransom. One Russian mafia-backed cyber-gang had even put up a large bounty for any information that led to the unmasking of Fingal in the real world and, for that reason, Brody took extensive efforts to conceal his trail online. Over the years, Brody had worked hard to maintain Fingal’s infamy; always ensuring a clear line of delineation between his online and offline worlds.
Spurred on by Mel having met Leroy in his offline world, she had then set up a night out with Joyce, her closest friend in London, and her fiancé Neil. By weekday, Joyce was a lawyer and Neil an accountant. By weekend, both were fellow activists, Mel having first met Joyce three years before at a rally in London. Despite his dismay at being stuck with three activists for the evening, Brody had cheered up the moment Mel had casually introduced him as her boyfriend. It was the first reference to them as an official couple and his mood brightened completely, even outlasting the inevitable boring conversations about drug companies and their immoral use of animals in research.
The only downer was that as their relationship started to become serious, Brody felt ever more guilty about his dishonesty to Mel regarding his online and offline lives. He was stuck in the lie with no obvious way out, reinforcing it that evening whenever Joyce or Neil led the conversation towards him and his background.
“What are you doing ’ere?” Mel asked, suspicion still lining her face. “I thought you were in Brussels, scouting locations.”
He thought quickly. “We finished a day earlier than planned. I just got back in on the Eurostar a couple of hours ago. I was going to surprise you later, but obviously that’s ruined now.” He gave her a sad look and then asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for Joyce to come down. As it is one of my days off, we decided to — how you say — do lunch.”
“Joyce works here?” Brody couldn’t believe the coincidence. Mel had introduced her friend as a lawyer, but it had never occurred to Brody that she would be on the payroll of the exact same law firm on which he was being paid to carry out a pentest.
Mel furrowed her brow. “But what are you doing ’ere, Brody? And what is with the pizzas?”
Brody continued improvising. “I was just getting provisions for the second unit location team. We’re in the middle of some long negotiations between our lawyers and the lawyers who represent the owners of Tower Bridge. We want to film an action scene with some boat stunts under the bridge, but they’re concerned about potential damage to it from any explosions. I think it’s going to be a long day.” He shrugged. “Didn’t realise our lawyers were from the same firm that Joyce worked for.”
Mel studied him, dubiously. “Brody, why are you meeting with lawyers wearing a jumpsuit?”
Yes, that was a good question. Why was he wearing a jumpsuit? The truth was that he was dressed to look like a pizza deliveryman. But he could hardly say that.
“I accidentally spilled a load of coffee over my business suit earlier. This was the only clean thing anyone here could find for me — one of the cleaner’s overalls.”
She didn’t look convinced. He wouldn’t have been either. Brody spotted movement in the reflection of the large windows behind Mel. The lift doors were gliding open and Joyce began to walk out. He had to move quickly.
“Damn!” he exclaimed. “I forgot the drinks. Look, I’d better pop back out and get them.” He headed for the glass revolving doors that exited back onto the street. “I’ll call you later. We’ll go out for dinner.”
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Social EngineerMystery / Thriller
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