Saturday, May 14, 2016

"Diamond in the Rough, Part 2" - a Winters/Casey case file

I'm a few weeks behind the cuff on this one, but part two is finally complete! If you haven't read 'Diamond in the Rough, Part 1' yet, be sure to check it out before reading this one.


The bell on the door of Diamond Brothers Coffee nearly flew off its chain as Casey and I whipped it open and charged inside. The two men we were after were pushing their way into the back of the store. One of them grabbed the edge of a wooden table and threw it behind them, blocking their path and sending coffee cups cascading across the floor. Patrons screamed.

"Around the back. Head them off," Casey commanded, hooking her thumb out the door. She sprinted after them, narrowly dodging a puddle of mocha latte.

Most people in New York simply want to be left alone; they want no business of yours, and want you to keep out of theirs. So most people will get out of your way if you're running down the street with a total hard-ass look on your face. That goes double if you have a badge.

No one stepped in my path as I darted back out the door and into the chilly March air. My coat whipped at my ankles as I ran past confused people on the sidewalk. At the end of the block I turned left down the nearest alley, where the service and delivery door to the coffee shop would be. Sure enough, as I started down the dingy corridor, a grey metal door a few dozen yards down the alley flew open and two men stumbled out, frantically trying to get away from a crazed lady copy hot on their heals.

I turned my running gate into a cautious sidle. My gun whipped up on instinct, but I didn't remove the safety. "Don't do it," I called, my voice steady. "You're under arrest for vandalism and disturbing the peace. Resisting arrest won't make it any better."

At that moment, Casey emerged from the back of the restaurant. She had her hand on her gun, too, but it hadn't yet left its holster. "You didn't even give us a chance to talk, guys. Don't you know that running is pretty much the most guilty-looking thing you can do?"

"We didn't do anything," Horatio Younger, the second victim in a series of break-ins Casey and I were investigating, stammered. He raised his pale, fish belly-colored hands. He was shaking so hard that it made his double chin tremble.

"Shut up," Frederick Watson, the other man, said. "They haven't even read us our rights yet."

"Come on, Fred, don't be like that," I said. "You and I shared a beer at last summer's community party. No sense on being uncivil."

My downstair's neighbor pressed his mouth into a thin line. "I'm not saying anything without a lawyer," he replied.

Casey and I gave each other a look. Then she whipped out her cuffs and shackled the two men together as I read them their rights.

Forty minutes later, the two men were in separate interrogation rooms. Casey and I watched Younger from behind a two-way mirror as he sat and squirmed silently in a chair, waiting for one of us to enter to begin the questioning.

"If he knows more, why didn't he say so when we first asked him about the break-in at his place?" She asked, as much to herself as to me. "What does he have to gain by withholding information? Doesn't he want us to catch whoever broke into his place?"

I studied Younger's movements. "Maybe there was something missing, but he simply didn't want us to know about it."

"Something illegal?"

"Yeah. Drugs. Arms. Clove cigarettes. Whatever."

"Then why bother reporting the break-in in the first place?" She asked. "If he's that deep down the criminal rabbit hole, it seems like he'd just try to find the culprit himself and take care of him."

I studied the shifty, terrified man again. He could barely sit still. "Look at him. He's definitely not used to being on this end of the criminal justice system, that's for sure. And he's not asked for his lawyer yet. Which shows he's willing to cooperate."

Casey nodded. "Okay. We press him gently. Seems like he's already in deeper than he wants to be. It hopefully won't take much to get him to fold."  I nodded in agreement, and the two of us left the observation room and entered the interrogation room via thumbprint scan.

No sooner had we crossed the threshold than Younger leapt out of his chair so quickly that it toppled to the floor. I braced myself as my adrenaline spiked, ready for a fight, but Younger threw himself to the floor at our feet and started sobbing.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" He wailed, gripping the hem of my pants. "I'll tell you everything I know. Just don't let me go to jail! Please! I'll never survive there! I'm too..." He choked on his words. "... gentle!"

Casey's eyebrows climbed into her scalp.

"So much for pressing him gently," I murmured.

Casey chewed carefully on her words. "Look, Mister Younger," she said. "At this point, it's pretty much up to you. Anything you can tell us is going to be helpful. Although, I've heard the District Attorney wants to get these cases over with pretty quick. There are a lot of people who no longer feel safe in their homes; and if she thinks you've got something to do with this, she's not going to offer much in the way of deals. Not for long, anyway."

So, this is how Casey wanted to play it. She was trying to warm up to him. Get him to trust her. Be the Good Cop.

I cracked my knuckles. I loved being Bad Cop.

But just as I inflated my chest, Casey sent me a glare that said, Don't you dare. 

I stuck out my lower lip in a mock pout. I never got to have any fun.

"Jesus, I'll tell you whatever you want to know!" Younger stammered. He still hadn't pulled himself from the floor, and he was now trembling so violently that he couldn't even hold his hands together in a proper pleading posture.

"Why don't you have a seat?" Casey said, kneeling and taking younger beneath the arm. The whimpering man slowly got to his feet, and my partner guided him to one of the chairs in front of the table. A moment later, Younger had composed himself; his fingers were laced together, and he stared morosely at the top of the table.

"It all started a few months ago," he began without waiting to be asked. "I was checking my social media at work." His eyes suddenly shot up and the blood drained from his face, as if he'd been caught committing some cardinal sin. "Oh god. Please don't tell my boss."

Casey sighed, and did a masterful job at not rolling her eyes. "Please continue."

Younger chewed his bottom lip for a second, then nodded. "Well, I noticed something in a sidebar on the page. You know that crowdfunding website, Flipkicker Local?"

I had no idea what a Flipkicker was, but Casey nodded. "Sure. People come up with ideas they can't finance on their own, so they make a Flipkicker page. People from all over the world can fund them, in exchange for some benefit of the product if it sees production. Flipkicker Local is for people who want to keep their investment dollars in their own neighborhood."

Nodding, Younger continued. "Well, an advertisement for one appeared on my sidebar. So I clicked, and started reading. And... and I invested. Five hundred dollars."

I blinked, startled, until I crunched the numbers and converted it to early-twenty-first-century money. It would have been about a hundred and fifty dollars in my time. Not exactly pocket change, but he hadn't broken the bank, either.

"What does this have to do with your home being burglarized, Mister Younger?" I prodded.

"I'm getting to it," he assured me. "Because, you see... everyone whose home was broken into was an investor in the same Flipkicker page."

"Even Fred Watson, the guy you were with in Diamond Brothers?" I asked.

Younger nodded.

I tightened my mouth in frustration. So I was sleeping on a lumpy hotel bed because my downstairs neighbor had decided to, what, crowd-fund some internet pyramid scheme?

Casey's spine straightened. "But we checked all their online activity. We looked for every possible connection. How could we have missed such a thing? Credit card transactions alone would have been enough to spot it."

Younger smiled. "That's what makes this Flipkicker so unique. Have you ever heard of Scour?"

"I'm a cop, Mister Younger, not an inventor. Just get on with the story," Casey huffed.

"Scour is an app. It goes on almost everything: computers. Screens. Phones. Watches. Pretty much all smart devices. Anything that can generate media of any kind." At this a strange pride entered Younger's voice, like he had been the one to discover the next Elvis. "Have you ever posted an embarrassing photo of yourself that simply wouldn't stop finding its way into your life? Even if you delete your original posts, someone always brings up the photo at holiday parties so everyone can have a good laugh?"

"Even if I had, Mister Younger, I wouldn't tell you," Casey teased. "And that's the ubiquitous nature of the internet. What goes there stays there, forever."

Younger shook his head slowly, the pride in his eyes growing. "You probably know that all media has a unique stamp on it. Photos, social media posts, even the rude comments teenagers leave on videos, are stamped. They contain GPS coordinates of the original post, log-in information, a timestamp... sometimes personal information about the poster, depending on the website or media outlet used. The Tracer app uses the information on the stamp and scours the internet - and internet connected devices - for all copies of the post. And it deletes them. All of them. Once and for all."

Casey gasped slightly. "Like... a universal delete button?"

"You take a nude selfie and send it to your boyfriend in the Bronx. But that asshole sends it to four of his buddies. Two of them post it on the internet. Before you have lunch, some creep in Albuquerque in saving your naked picture to his phone. Tracer finds all copies of the picture and deletes them in a matter of hours. Forever. The next time the creep in Albuquerque checks his phone, he'll mysteriously see his latest picture missing from his photo gallery."

"Oh my god," I marveled. "That's genius. It could change the way people use media. Hell, if it fell into the wrong hands, it could change the meaning of free speech. With the ability to delete something someone says, completely and utterly, a single phone could silence hundred of voices forever."

"You seem like a smart guy, Mister Younger," Casey prodded. "Pretend you have no moral compass and this universal delete button. What do you do first?"

"That's easy," Younger went on. "After all my funders provide me with enough money to actually make it, I delete their credit card transactions. So their money is still mine, but they have no bank records to prove they gave me anything."

"Which is why we couldn't find a connection between any of the robberies," I cursed.

"What would possess someone to burglarize the homes of everyone who backed the project?" Casey probed. "Once he'd made off with your money, why not simply disappear?"

"I've got a theory," Younger replied. Casey and I stared at him for a moment, and I hoped he wouldn't actually wait for us to ask for it. "The Flipkicker Local page has since been taken down, but I remember there were two developers' names associated with the project. While this doesn't seem like a big deal, imagine the inherent flaw with having two devices with the Scour app."

The gears in my head turned almost faster than my mouth could produce the words. "One person uses their Scour to delete the others. Then only one of them holds the power."

"Which is why you'll never see Scour in your friendly app store," Younger confirmed. "Suddenly your phone becomes a war of who can delete everyone else's Scour faster. Then the last man standing gets whatever he wants."

"So one developer betrays the other. Now he's got the only device with Scour, and he's on the lam. The other goes in search of him... looking for payback, trying to get Scour for himself, whatever." Casey rapped her fingertips on the tabletop. "He has no leads, so he starts with the most reasonable place. The homes of the investors."

"Maybe he figured one of us would have some information," Younger added. "Or maybe he thought one of us was in cahoots with him from the beginning."

"If all this is true," I interrupted, "then why did no one tell us? Seven robberies, and not one person has mentioned this connection."

Younger went a little green in the face. "We'd all been keeping in touch on the website's private message boards. Once banking transactions started disappearing and we really got a taste of what the developers had in mind for Scour, we got freaked out. We figured that, since we had funded the app, we'd be counted as accessories to whatever crimes were committed." Younger swallowed hard. "That's why we ran. We thought you'd come to arrest us for something that had been stolen or destroyed with Scour."

"And on that topic," I went on. "It's clear you and Watson met to discuss your options about how to deal with Scour. But why did you do it, of all places, at the Diamond Brothers Coffee two blocks from Police Headquarters?"

Embarrassed color returned to Younger's cheeks. "Well... Alfonzo Montgomery, I think you know him... he's one of the funders, too. And he runs a bunch of Diamond Brothers branches in the city. After all this happened with Scour, all of us who'd been tricked rallied around each other, you know... came together. And Alfonzo said that we all could have coffee for free at Diamond Brothers."

"Never underestimate a man's desire to get free coffee," I muttered.

Casey placed her palms on the table and rose from her chair, learning toward Younger. "You know what's coming next, Mister Younger," she said. "I'm going to need the names of the Scour's developers. Do you still have them?"

Younger laced his fingers together and smiled.

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