He had no idea he was in danger until the gunman began firing. Divine Fury. Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

San Francisco
Sunday, April 18, 2004

THREE CLANGS OF an old cable car bell that someone had rescued from a city garage decades ago signaled last call at the Masonic Pub six blocks from the entrance to Golden Gate Park.  It was the signal for most of the two dozen remaining patrons scattered among the old wooden tables and bent cane chairs to settle up and head for home.

For Scott Truman, however, the triple tones meant that the most important part of his night was beginning.  It was time for him to return to his blue-walled cubicle in the offices of the University of San Francisco Medical Center a few miles away.

He wasn’t particularly dedicated to his job crunching health statistics at the hospital.  But he was extremely committed to Sonia, his girlfriend whom he had wooed for more than a year with a single-minded purpose and perseverance that had far surpassed any other endeavor he’d undertaken in his 26 years.

Their first night together had led to a month when they’d spent virtually all of their non-working time with one another.  They were so active in bed that they had to prearrange “sleeping” nights so they could catch up.  She sat in his lap while they read magazines at the laundromat.  They took turns spooning their choices from Mitchell’s Ice Cream into each other’s mouths.  He feigned injuries so he could run slower and stay near her when they jogged in the park.

Then, Sonia was gone.  Off to Australia on a one-year internship on some marine biology program.  When she didn’t call for four days, he started to panic.  She had known about the internship for months.  Had he been a vacation fling in reverse?  A home fling?

Eventually, Sonia called and explained that she’d had trouble getting a new telephone and that her employer forbid long-distance calls for personal reasons.  Truman had then made it his mission to explore all the international telephony options.

His first thought was taking advantage of an Internet-based telephone service.  But Sonia wasn’t exactly a high-tech savant and would be in the arms of some Aussie before that solution was pieced together.  How fast were the connections Down Under, anyway?  The best idea Truman had was the WATS line at work.  Until anyone said anything to him, the five hours he spent on the phone with Sonia each week were free – the best price he would ever find.  He had a vague fear of getting caught, but greater faith that the bureaucracy overseeing a $90 million budget had bigger fish to fry.  At least he hoped so.

Meanwhile, Truman kept having images in his mind of Sonia in her tiniest bikini snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with some guy who was taller, stronger and more tanned than him and with a huge knife dangling from his belt.  Calling in the early morning from California had the dual benefit of concealing his heavy use of the WATS line plus tying up Sonia’s evening hours that could otherwise be used in ways Truman tried not to consider.

It was 3:30 am when he finally said goodnight to Sonia.

Wearing an orange USC sweatshirt and gray cargo pants, Truman made his long way through the canyon maze formed by the many cubicles at the medical center.  Then, he heard the sound of something being moved…furniture, computers, a file cabinet…something.  That was strange.  He’d seen watchmen outside but never anyone inside the offices at this hour.  And, it was the weekend.

He considered just escaping then, hopefully unseen by the person who was also in the office.  But he had to walk right past where he had heard the noise.  It would seem more strange if he didn’t acknowledge whoever was there, presumably a co-worker.

He poked his head around the opening of the cubicle where he thought he’d heard the sounds.  It was one of the larger ones that belonged to a senior researcher.  Truman saw a guy with his head under the desk wearing blue pants and a gray jacket over a white T-shirt.

“Hi,” he said.  The guy was so surprised that he bashed his head against the desk before spinning around and looking up at Truman from where he sat on the floor.  Truman was glad he didn’t recognize him.  Maybe he could get out without giving his name or having to explain why he was there at this odd hour.

“I just heard you so I thought I’d look in on my way out,” said Truman.

“Oh. Yeah.  Right,” said the guy.  He looked around 40, maybe 20 pounds overweight, glasses, slightly disheveled.  “I’m…uh…uh…I’m Oscar.  Tech support.  Just trying to fix some network problems.”

“I see,” said Truman.  The guy looked a bit nerdy.  Computer jock certainly fit.  “Kind of a weird time, though.”

“Emergency,” said Oscar.  “They needed it fixed now.”

“Okay,” said Truman.  “Well, good luck.”  He turned away and resumed his walk toward the exit.

“Yeah,” he heard behind him.

Truman was relieved.  His secret – the clandestine phone calls – seemed safe.  It was strange though – some guy fixing a computer at 3:30 am on a Sunday.  If he were’t so paranoid about his phone calls, he might ask around about it on Monday.  But the next question would be why he was in the office at the odd hour.  There was no point in calling attention to himself in that way.

“Let sleeping dogs lie,” he thought to himself.

He didn’t hear Oscar fumbling desperately for the cell phone in his jacket pocket as soon as Truman turned away from him or the short conversation he had with his partner waiting outside the building.

Oscar went back to replacing the Logitech mouse connected to the computer under the desk with one that was virtually identical except for the modification he’d made to it. He had installed an extra small chip inside the plastic casing.  The next time someone entered their password, software stored in the modified mouse would have free run of the hospital computer network.  Among other functions, it created an invisible tunnel through the network firewall.  Data could flow in and out of the system and be totally invisible to the firewall and other security systems in place.  Otherwise, the mouse behaved normally and would remain in place for a couple more years until it broke or was finally replaced by a newer model.

Oscar moved the PC back into place and prepared to go downstairs and out through the doors at the medical center’s loading dock.  Meanwhile, Scott Truman arrived at his Toyota Corolla in the hospital parking garage a block away.  When he put his hand on the door handle he heard the scrape of a shoe behind him.

“Hey, Buddy,” a voice said.

Truman turned to find a handgun with an abnormally long barrel aimed at his chest.  It fired three shots, silenced so they were no louder than a man tapping his finger on a table, and sent bullets tearing through his stomach, heart and liver.

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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