For those who missed Part one, catch it here.
Jane Darwin wasn’t afraid of the dark. But she wasn’t comfortable today. Something wasn’t right.
She’d grown up in a family with two other boys; in their family there was never room for fear. As a child she was intelligent; she had a deep love for numbers. She’d associate a thing to remember with a particular number, and could keep track of a hundred different things simultaneously. No one understood her system except for her. She grew up to be attractive, drawing attention from boys in her neighborhood. But to her they were just numbers. Random numbers. After completing her education via a scholarship from MIT, she moved back to her family home upstate. After a few days of settling in, she received an unexpected phone call one Saturday morning. It was from Langley. She had been chosen from a group of people; picked from across the country to take part in an experiment. They had been impressed with her research on true random number generators and their implications on cyber security. She accepted, and within months inducted into the CIA as a security analyst. She’d been with the CIA for six years now.
Today she was chosen for a special assignment. She was to meet with a contact at the Ritz, verify a package that the contact would bring, and exchange it for a sum of money. There would be no cover today; they couldn’t risk tipping off the bad guys. No guns lest she might be checked. No bugs or transmitters as she could be screened. She was on her own today.
She was chosen for the assignment because she was the only one qualified to verify the package, and she brought in a certain lady-like charm into the equation. Add to that the training in hand-to-hand combat she’d mastered staying with the CIA. She could take care of herself.
She arrived at the hotel at nine. A table was reserved in her name; she checked in her jacket, came over and made herself comfortable. The waiter came over and she ordered herself a drink. She had to stay focused tonight, so she ordered a glass of wine and sipped it slowly. She was early; she liked making sure she knew her surroundings well and had her exits covered.
The contact walked in at nine thirty, surrounded by a bunch of suits. He gestured to them to make themselves invisible, and they did just that. He walked towards her and took a seat at their table. They had privacy; the table was well concealed from the rest of the restaurant by an ornate curtain. He took out his package. She did not know of the contents, just knew that she had to verify some numbers. It was a hard fiber suitcase, fitted with a device at the center generating numbers every thirty seconds. It was not her business to know what the device was used for; but she recognized the numbers. She could recognize her algorithm anywhere. She nodded, and pulled out a packet of her own and handed it over to him. He pulled out the contents and counted the money, twice. Once satisfied, he got up, acknowledged her and walked away. Within seconds she could see the suits follow him out of the hotel.
So far so good. She paid for her drink, leaving some extra money for the waiter who smiled profusely at the generous tip. She collected her jacket and walked out with the suit case.
She had to walk a few blocks towards the square where she had parked her car. She was always prepared for the worst; she had parked away from the rendezvous point, right in the middle of a crowded area where there would be people at all times.
But she wasn’t comfortable today. Something wasn’t right. She felt like she was being followed.
She turned into a dark alley, hoping to find cover so that she would wait and watch her follower. But no one came. “Just a figment of your imagination, Jane”, she said to herself. She started walking forward, and found herself on the other side of the square.
Her eyes were drawn to the large clock right in the middle on the square. She looked at the numbers on the dial and immediately found herself lost. She was curious, what was the device she was holding in her hands being used for? Her algorithm was commonly used for generating one-time passwords. Now this could be used anywhere; authorizing bank transactions, or for use with digital safes, or as launch codes to a nuclear missile. The applications were endless, and she was proud her algorithm made it all possible.
She heard a car door slam, and instinctively looked at the clock. It showed the time, quarter past ten. She had no time to react; a large hand covered her face and mouth and she was being dragged back into the dark alley she just emerged from. It happened so fast that no one seemed to have noticed. She held on to the suitcase for dear life, what was in there was more valuable that her own life. She tried to free herself from her captors and for a moment succeeded, but felt a sharp pain on her shoulder where the blow landed. Everything went dark, and her last vision was of a man running towards her from the end they had just entered. Then the lights went out.
She woke up the next day, in a dark, damp room. She opened her eyes and was afraid of what she saw. It was the same man who she saw running in towards her, now asleep on an arm chair next to her. He was freakishly large, his white t-shirt barely able to cover his body that was rippling with muscles. She screamed, and the man woke up and put a hand on her mouth to shut her up. “Quiet”, he whispered, still clutching her mouth in his grip. She quieted down, but tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m going to release you now, promise me you will not scream”, he said. She nodded, looking back helplessly. He let go.
“Do you know who those guys were that were dragging you away?” he asked. She was clueless, she hadn’t seen her attackers. She hadn’t known if it was one guy or many. But she realized that this man had saved her life.
“Thank you”, she said, “You saved my life. Who are you?”
“My name is Jack”, he answered.
“I’m Jane”, she replied.
The next few minutes were spent in silence. They looked into each others’ eyes, and found comfort. After what seemed like five minutes, she broke the silence.
“Do you spend all of your time at the gym?” she asked, curious about his exceptional physique.
“It’s a long story, some other time. Right now, tell me what this is”, he asked, pulling up the suitcase she was carrying. She heaved a sigh of relief knowing it was safe and within sight.
“I don’t know, but glad I didn’t lose it. Whatever it is, it’s real important”, she replied.
“Have a look at this as well”, he said, pulling out an ID card. “One of your attackers dropped it while running for his life.”
She picked it up and her jaw dropped. She recognized the man from a briefing few months ago. This man was associated with an organization responsible for death and destruction across major cities in the world. She recalled because she had assigned him a number, and she’d recognize those eyes anywhere.
Her heart sank. She was kidnapped by terrorists. And now there was this man who claimed he had just saved her life. Should she trust him?
To be continued…