Friday, March 1, 2013
by Joe Hackett
Eric Martinez felt the hot desert breezes swirling in through his Chinese red Jaguar’s open top. He negotiated the bends of California’s Highway 117, the sticky sweat, drying in his armpits almost as soon as it had oozed out, was an old and familiar friend. To the tall, pleasant looking, fifty-four year old executive, this trip was a part of his weekly routine. He would take the six-cylinder, inline, double-overhead cam, three-point-eight litre car up to eighty or a hundred miles per hour when the busy southern California traffic permitted.
It was completely irresponsible, but he just needed to feel some kind of gut-level rush of pure, animal adrenalin once in a while. He had to deal with all the stresses and tensions that had been building up in his life. On some theoretical level, the classic machine, dating to 1965, should have been worthy of better treatment. He loved the old car, but it was his car and he could afford to fix it if he broke it, and to hell with the rest of the world.
And a man with all of his responsibilities, with all those employees, contractors, customers and clients depending on him, he needed some kind of physical outlet. Some way to blow off all the little repressed peeves. All those times when diplomacy and deference had been the only way to go, in spite of his more natural inclinations. But you couldn’t kick the clients or even the lowest employees around. Even when they were at their most perverse and you were chasing your tail around in ever-diminishing circles, just knowing the contract would be cancelled at the last possible moment. Yes, he had earned a couple of little burn-outs, a little wind in the hair, a little four-wheel-drift once in a while.
It’s not that there was no one else. But, who could be entrusted with a delicate mission such as this? It was just that the knowledge, the power that this knowledge would give them, would be too much temptation for a mere employee. It was only human nature after all, and as a younger man, Eric had seen the usefulness of studying human nature and learning to take advantage of it. The temptation to speak, to ask, to suggest; to consider, to second-guess, it would be too much. He had no room for discussion. There had been no time to consult.
His son Marc handled the actual wildlife. This was only a euphemism, but a pretty good one. For those predators which were created by Marc, were capable of life on their own once released. And they were meant to kill, figuratively speaking. Yes, they were very much meant to kill. At one time, Eric had taught Marc everything he knew about computers and software, but the student quickly surpassed the master. For years Eric had thought it all a waste of talent, but Marc had surprised him in the end.
The skunk-works was located fifteen miles out into the desert from company headquarters in Vaughn, California. Eric was a graduate of the California Institute of Technology. His son Marc had refused to go to university! But he had taught the boy computer science on his own time. With a major in mathematics and a strong talent for anything miniature and electronic, with a mind self-taught in systems analysis, Eric had written his first anti-virus program while seated at the kitchen table, providing moral support to his first wife Jo as she learned to handle a bottle.
His own attempts to change diapers, and to learn how to spoon feed Marc, lingered in his mind for a moment. He had become a father at age thirty-four, fairly mature, ready for anything, or so one would have thought. Neither one of them had been prepared to be a parent. There are some things in life no preparation can get you ready for. Every parent that ever lived, was probably scared stiff when they held their first-born kid in their arms for the very first time. It had been tough, for sure, especially watching Jo, eaten up by cancer at thirty-five. He still felt a hard kick in the guts every time he remembered the look on her face as she died…she had missed so much.
Jo had given up so much for him and Marc.
Sometimes the memories were all jumbled up together, in painfully random order.
The Jag’s tires howled through another turn, and he momentarily considered whether he should give it just a touch more throttle, and make the back end come out, but he decided instead to cool it just a little. No sense going too crazy. Just when he and his son had achieved, or were about to achieve, the dream, the vision of a lifetime.
While the company he had built over thirty years, Eritech, had a pretty good line of products, they had been having trouble competing with the big multi-national business-systems firms, and Marc, who had always been a bit of a black sheep, had been struck by an inspiration. Eric settled back in the seat and went through it in his mind again, just as he had a thousand times. He was still pretty sure that he was proud of Marc; even though the boy had practically stiff-armed him into doing it at first. He focused on driving for a moment, pulling to a complete stop, and making sure to signal properly. The last time through here, there had been a highway cop. As he turned east on Highway 210 he checked the bushes beside the sign-board, but there was no police cruiser this time.
Just as well, really, the way he felt right about now. Lately Eric had been suffering just a touch of paranoia, which he put down to a guilty conscience, a conscience just crying out loud to get caught. What was it about him that made him feel this way? Was he an honest man at heart?
Had he been sucked in by his own greed?
Marc had floored him with the idea. There was no other way to put it.
It was inspired. He had to give Marc credit for that. Eric felt the road drop away as he rounded the last rise, and saw ahead of him a series of S-turns, with the highway going down into the valley. It was not a true desert full of wind-blown sand, but merely arid, just a lot of low, rounded hillsides covered in a chaparral that was dry, tough, and burnt at the drop of a hat, or so it seemed. He’d chosen this place well. It would burn at the drop of a hat…or a match.
The building was located on what had once been an emergency-landing airstrip back when this part of the world had hummed with the training of thousands of Army pilots, more than sixty years ago? Seventy? The valley opened up into a small, dry lake bed, crusted with white salt in places. That salt was put here God knows how long ago, he thought as he pulled up to the gate. It was a barren, ancient land. He hit the remote control device clipped to the sun-shade on the upper frame of the windshield, and listened to the creaking of the old steel gate as it laboriously dragged itself open.
He could see Marc outside the small shack he affected to live in, although he owned a beautiful condo in Los Angeles. He was apparently firing up the old cast-off barbecue. A few hours spent with his only son, a steak and a couple of beers. Then he could be at the public library at Benton, or Ormondsville in forty minutes, and then be home by nine or nine-thirty tonight. Melanie, his twenty-four year old wife, his former secretary, would be all tanned up after a day by the poolside, and after a drink or two to relax, they might make an early night of it.
He pulled to a stop on the shadowed side of the house, beside Marc’s 1500-cc road hog, a big silver bastard of a bike in flaring fenders, swooping handlebars, naked demon-bitch airbrushed lovingly onto the gas tank, and gratefully climbed up and out of his own low machine, now quietly ticking in the cool-down mode. Eric’s eardrums felt funny in the strange silence, perhaps something to do with still air, or perhaps higher pressure? Or just less buffeting after the drive.
“Hey, pops,” called Marc from the side of the barbecue. “It’s going to take a while for this to burn down to the proper coals.”
Off to his right, over the low black hills, the brazen sun was subsiding into the horizon.
Sooner or later he would come looking for it anyway. There was just a tiny little bulb over the or of the trailer, and another, far-stronger, but still lonely flood light on the front of the skunk-works proper. This was a creamy-white, metal-sided shed with a pair of small windows side-by-side on the right, and a truck door on the left, and a man-sized door beside it, all on the front of the building. The only other door was on the back, strictly for emergencies. The outside of the back door was completely blank, without even a keyhole. It simply wasn’t meant for entry.
Simple as it was, the whole building and the complex of equipment had all been designed and built by Marc, Eric, and one or two trusted Eritech employees, who were really more like old-time family friends. The actual framework and siding, the bare-bones structure, had been ordered by telephone, pre-fabricated,from a well-known metal building supplier. It arrived on the back of a flatbed trailer, and it had taken about three weekends to assemble it, with a few good friends and a few barbecued steaks, a few cases of beer involved in the process. Eric had some pretty good memories of that time. Eric stood there watching his son, still with that funny little grin on his face.
“What’s so funny?” asked Marc, with a quizzical look.
Familiar with all of his father’s moods, there was something different in the air tonight.
“Oh, I don’t know, really. I had a good run out, though,” the father explained. “I think I just needed to let it all hang out…to remind myself of why we do all this, why we work so hard.”
Not having anything to say to that, Marc turned with a nod and went into the trailer to get his old man a can of Budweiser. Without a wasted motion, noted his father, as Marc was back with a cold one for him in less than twenty seconds. His son was a man of few words, but when he spoke, he usually had something worthwhile to say.
“I’ve got a really good one for you today,” Marc told his dad. “But then we have to put out a few half-baked, amateur ones.”
Eric nodded. They’d already planned all this months ago. For some reason he preferred not to talk about it right now. Maybe another thing he needed was just to enjoy being with his son for a while.
When Marc first broached the subject of creating their own viruses and freeing them into the internet, it had all sounded so nightmarish. But it was dead simple. And somehow even rather appropriate, when viewed in a certain nihilistic and morally uninhibited light.
“We have to attack our own systems, in order to make them stronger,” in Marc’s humble eloquence.
It was so much more impressive than mere rhetoric, or abstract, philosophical erudition.
“By trying one virus, and finding our own antidote for it, we prevent someone else’s successful surprise attack,” his son had explained. “It’s pre-emptive, and we control the circumstances.”
At the time, Eric had wondered why they couldn’t use a closed system, right in their own labs. But the lab wasn’t the real world. They couldn’t duplicate other people’s proprietary systems in their lab, they simply didn’t know enough about them. Although they thoroughly analyzed the more successful systems, there was no way to know how they had arrived at a given solution, or to know where they might take it in future.
Oh, yes, it all sounded so simple—and so necessary. You could even see it as being for the good of society, all societies, when you reasoned that the company was non-denominational, and not out to take sides or determine outcomes. All people had to do is subscribe to the service, a measly thirty-five bucks a year, and they would always be safe.
“Make no mistake, hacking is all about ego,” Marc had assured Eric. “If an attacker fails, if a person has a grudge, they will try one thing, and then another, until they find something that works. Their reasoning, or their reason, if you will, is of no concern to us. The justice, or the injustice of their supposed cause means nothing to us. All we have to do is learn to defend our systems, and other people’s systems, and the world will beat a path to our door.”
Marc had explained that they had to attack everyone’s systems, in order to find out what made them go, and how to fix the problems created. The truly impressive thing was that for Marc, it wasn’t about money at all. Neither did it seem to be about risk-taking, or thrill-seeking, and there was little of the soup-kitchen volunteer, no public-philanthropy thing about his son either. He did it because he had the talent, and the resolve, and the gumption. His son was the most egotistical hacker of all, or so his dad had reasoned. But what do you do with such a child?
Imagine hearing your twenty-year-old son say something like that.
It was pretty cold-blooded. Borderline psychopathic was Eric’s first impression. But he had gotten caught up in it. The sheer audacity of Marc’s plan; and yes, the admittedly commercial aspects of it. You create a virus, and then you find out how to kill that virus. Then you release that new-born electronic wildlife into the internet, shortly after you had uploaded an upgrade to your own product, of course. And after a while, no one on the planet wanted to be without anti-virus protection. They had scooped the opposition just enough times to be plausible, without being too lucky, or too good. Word of mouth gets around, and non-subscribers quickly learned their lesson. They had even joined an association, and sent junior executives to meetings, coordinating with other firms in the cooperative fight against internet chaos. Now all dear old dad had to do was to go into town, after enjoying a nice steak and a salad and a baked potato, if he knew his son’s routine. All he had to do is go into town, go on a computer at the public library, and stick in his little disc, or use the SD card or HD card, whatever feature was available on that particular machine, and fool around on the internet for a while.
It was simple, really, once you thought about it. Maybe a little too simple.
A hard hand clamped down on his left shoulder as he sat there in the dingy computer room at Ormondsville Public Library and Art Gallery. He was trying, or attempting to look like he was trying, to find an old game from the late nineties, scouring website after website. With all his attention focused on his acting, his cover, he hadn’t the foggiest notion of who had come up behind him. It was a simple, amateur mistake. It could have happened to anyone.
Eric nearly jumped out of his seat, and no amount of friendly smiles and proffered handshake seemed to be enough to get over it. He found himself shaking like a leaf, and struggled to get control of it.
“You’re Eric Martinez,” said the tall, rangy, blue-eyed stranger, a man with an air of quiet authority about him.
The man stood there tall and straight, in spite of his sixty-odd years, written in all the lines of experience upon his face, and the thinning and silvery hair visible above his cleanly shaven face.
That suit must have cost five thousand dollars, noted Eric in recognition of quality. A kind of unspoken recognition signal, if he wasn’t mistaken.
What was a player of this calibre doing in a public library? The alligator-skin boots, the pipe-stem black broadcloth pants, the black coat, the silky white shirt and the western tie, all of this suggested something deeper—Eric knew a costume when he saw one. The fact that the man was theatrically crushing the brim of a pristine white Stetson somehow put the fine point on it.
“Yes,” said Eric. “What can I do for you?”
“Hello, sir. I’m George Margolis, United States Homeland Security. I’m Director of the southwest region,” said the gentleman, squeezing his hand just hard enough, but not too hard.
Eric had been just about to hit the button to upload this week’s wildlife, a modified version of heuristic virus, one that used Boolian logic and self-animated crypto-analytical algorithms to send selected circuits into a feedback loop. This had the effect of opening every file potentially an infinite number of times, but the average private-homeowner’s desktop would crash within about eight seconds, according to Marc.
Eric stood there, unable to recall getting out of his chair.
“Oh, um. What can I do for you?” he asked again, heart racing, and with the man’s friendly but steely eyes glinting at his own.
“Can you come into the back room, for a moment of your time? It’s quite a lucky chance, running into you here,” explained George. “I remembered you from a convention. You were the keynote speaker.”
“Oh!” said Eric in some surprise, a small sense of relief flooding through him, only to be caught up short.
This man would lie with no compunction, right? And they would baby you along at first, right? In the hopes of tripping you up? Ask a few innocent questions, questions designed to form some kind of impression?
“Well,” murmured Eric, as politely and neutrally as he could. “What’s it about?”
“Please come with me and we’ll discuss a few private matters of mutual interest,” suggested the Director with a hand under his elbow.
It occurred to Eric that if this was an arrest, the Director would hardly do it himself.
“Um. Okay, okay, it’s just a lousy game, after all,” said Eric, red-faced, and gratefully so.
This wasn’t acting. He could act real, well enough. He was definitely confused.
He stepped away from the machine, but the Director halted him again. Eric’s mind was racing. He noted that his heart pounded, and that he had absolutely no idea of what to do. Yet he could remember his lawyer, Jack Ignatius, had told him once or twice what not to do…who to call? Call Jack?
‘Don’t say anything, anything at all.’ Yet that hardly seemed practical, under the present circumstances.
Reaching forward deftly, Margolis pushed the little button and ejected Eric’s HD card which was barely visible in the slot. With bated breath Eric watched in morbid fascination as the man’s hand came up and proffered it to him. Eric put it in his jacket pocket, feeling damp sweat on his palms, and a fresh river of moisture running down from his armpits inside of his shirt.
“Oh, right,” he mumbled.
The gentleman was flashing him some very-official looking identification.
He bent over the seat and quickly clicked on a couple of buttons, shutting the machine down and logging off, and then he preceded the gentleman in the indicated direction. Eric could see a door over there in a darker corner of the library, perhaps a couple of overheads had burned out, and so he headed for it, listening intently to get some clue if the man was right behind him. He was, too, and all Eric could do is go in through the opening, and follow the corridor to the right.
“What convention?” asked Eric as they entered a room about thirty feet square, with a number of long portable folding tables, and a mess of computers, and tracing equipment, which he instantly recognized, and a feeling of complete and utter dread swept over him. For a moment, Eric felt a total and disorienting nausea.
“You spoke to about sixteen hundred defense officials, at the d’Amalie Hotel in Anaheim,” Margolis said. “There’s no reason for you to remember me, of course. I was at a table with a dozen other guests. Oh, I guess it would have been December of last year.”
The Director led him over to the one good desk, a maple school desk that looked oddly out of place, even in what was obviously a temporary arrangement.
“Oh,” said Eric humbly, sinking into brown leather, the only padded and upholstered arm-type chair in the room.
Even the Director was sitting on a simple, stacking black and chrome institutional chair.
“I run your anti-virus software on my home computer, and your anti-spyware as well,” noted the Director as if for the record. “I’ve always found them to be very good products.”
Eric took a deep, slow breath, and tried to listen, to really listen, in spite of the rising sense of panic and total emotional desolation.
“So, um, er, you have no complaints, then?” mumbled Eric, totally mystified, that is to say if he wasn’t under arrest. “Are…are you renting here?”
George Margolis’ smile lit up, and he was instantly transformed, as he sat up straight and slapped himself on the knee.
“I knew you had a sense of humour,” began the Director. “Anyhow, as I recall, you have pretty high security clearance, right? Right. I’ve just verified it in any case.”
“Well, we’re not renting here,” the Director began anew. “Have you heard of the Pipeline Bomber?”
Eric shook his head in the negative.
“Oh, really? It’s been on all the news channels. Still, I guess a busy and important person like you, sir, you probably don’t get a lot of time to sit around watching TV in any case?” the smiling Director said.
“Not really,” admitted Eric.
What the hell was this all about?
“We were kind of expecting the Pipeline Bomber to show up here tonight, but he may be along tomorrow night, or the next night. Believe it or not, it has something to do with the new moon, that is to say the period of no moon…follow my drift?” asked the Director.
“No! Not really,” gasped Eric. “What are you saying?”
“We had hoped to nab the Pipeline Bomber here tonight,” explained the Director. “Oh! Sorry. But you’re not a suspect,” smiling that devastating smile again. “He likes to send an e-mail, and he always sends it between seven-thirty and eight-thirty at night. He likes to send the emergency crews scrambling, and sometimes he plants a bomb, but not always. He has some kind of crackpot political manifesto, but so far we have asked the media not to publish it.”
“Oh, right, right, right. I remember something about it now,” said Eric as if that explained just everything.
“But of course, this is not the only case on my docket right now,” added Director Margolis.
“I understand,” said Eric, although it was the furthest thing from the truth you could get.
“Anyway, it’s a lucky break for me to run into you here tonight,” said the Director. “I admire a man who does his own legwork once in a while. Well, you see me here doing it tonight, although I admit a little good press helps with the budget allocations once in a while. But essentially, I was going to call you in a few days anyway.”
His own legwork? What the blazes did that mean?
The Director spun his desktop screen around to that both he and Eric could watch at the same time. With a few deft key strokes, he cleared the screen and brought up another file.
“Take a look at this,” he told Eric. “It’s some kind of wacky new virus…”
Eric thought he was going to die right there and then. It was almost more than he could do to look at the screen as the Director showed him a series of screens, with files that had been devastated, files skewed, almost as if by an intelligent hand, the mischievous hand of a fourteen-year old prankster…Eric found it extremely difficult to breathe, as he saw line after line of code.
He sat up suddenly. Someone’s personal photos had been turned into cartoon caricatures, not destroyed, exactly, but just…weird. Just weird.
“That’s not…” he gasped, almost bellowing his relief out loud!
“It’s not the Chinese,” muttered the Director in total agreement, apparently misunderstanding Eric’s response. “There are certain calling-cards, we call them. Perhaps cultural, even.”
After a quick down-surge, a palpable sense of relief, Eric’s paranoia had come back in a renewed wave-crest, his unshakeable feeling that he was in a lot of trouble, as in hard-time in a federal penitentiary kind of trouble. Then his fears climaxed. He subsided back into the chair, drained of all response. All he could do is listen and wait for the hammer to fall. He actually felt like he was falling, and his heart was still racing in his chest. What a horrible sense of dread.
“It’s not…it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before,” with his normally strong, and smooth, confident voice coming out in something very much like a quack.
His heart seemed to be in some distress.
“Every mind leaves its imprint upon its works,” the Director explained patiently, as Eric sipped at a glass of water, grateful that a little nitro spray under the tongue had calmed his angina pains.
The Director had been slightly reassured when Eric told him, “It’s no big thing…” and that the problem was long-standing but not immediately life-threatening.
In a way it was a stroke of luck. The moment of pause had forced him to take physical stock of the situation. And maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. The man was still beating about the bushes, seemingly with no place to go.
“So what are you saying?” asked Eric in a better tone.
“Well. If we don’t recognize any of the usual minds, and if it’s no one you’ve ever run across before, then it really is a mystery, isn’t it?” Those intelligent blue eyes gleamed at him in some humour.
The Director was right, of course, Eric had run across a few ‘minds,’ as the other so eloquently put it, before. And they did have fingerprints, certain characteristic mental quirks or processes, and you very often knew who was doing it. That is to say either hacking, bugging, hitting you with viruses, or spying…whatever. The trouble was of course locating such individuals, who could cruise around using stolen hardware and wireless services purchased under fake or stolen identities. Including payment by wireless, and using accounts that were fake, stolen, or otherwise bogus and untraceable. Except using cellular tracing technology…and the place was full of such equipment, as he looked around the room again. Jesus! What is really going on around here?
“And so you see our little problem. With no idea of the identity or personality of the malefactor, with no idea of where to look, no idea of the purpose… other than to cause harm, I suppose,” the Director went on. “We can use all the help we can get on this one.”
“And it’s not the Chinese, the Russians, Al Quaeda, none of our allies or former allies, is what you’re saying,” muttered Eric, trying to desperately cover up the relief he felt at all this logical explanation. “No known personality has done anything like this before?”
“As far as we can tell,” agreed the Director. “We got it off some science-fiction website. We received a complaint. The person said it was just a little too creepy, and that they had gotten a real bad virus off of it. We check out all serious complaints. Some of those complaints are passed up and on from other agencies, it just takes some time to follow up. We are after all, very busy.”
“I see,” said Eric. “Now I understand. And you think our firm might be of some assistance to you…to the government?”
“Yes,” nodded the Director. “Anything you can tell us, anything you think of, any strange and crazy ideas, any hunches…anyone with a strange mind that you might stumble across…”
“A strange mind?” Eric chuckled, feeling comfortable for the first time in what seemed like hours.
Visibly relaxing in his chair, he thought for a half a moment.
“Let’s have another look at that thing,” he offered.
“Of course,” said Director Margolis, and he let Eric move around and take over his chair.
Eric sat there and scrolled through all the data again, staring, reading quickly and then going back and forth over it, again and again.
“Huh!” he said once or twice, as the Margolis wandered around the room, with his hands behind his back, and talking to a couple of agents, who came in and stood by the door, unobtrusively trying to get his attention.
Eric ignored the distractions as he studied the thing.
When he was younger Eric had wanted to be a doctor, and had actually learned quite a bit about medicine. This thing looked oddly like it was more organic than electronic…he was reminded of how antibodies adapted to match the invading antigens, coating them, and attracting the body’s own defense mechanisms. It was like a disease, where the body’s own antigens attacked the victim’s own cells…a disease like multiple sclerosis, or systemic lupus erythmatosus.
Finally he groaned and sat up, stretching.
“I don’t think I can really get a handle on it in a few minutes,” he told the Director, who was looking over the shoulder of one of the other agents, hunched over another terminal in the corner.
The Director nodded.
“The shit-house poet has struck again. He sent it from Bakersfield! And he’s a half-hour late,” the fellow added acidly.
The Director cussed mildly for a second or two, under his breath for the most part. Then he came back over to Eric after patting the agent on the shoulder in some sympathy.
“So what do you think? No ideas? I must say, it’s a handy weapon, if we can figure out how to make it ourselves, or even how to control it…” he said with a trace of real enthusiasm, albeit wistfully.
“God! This may have been created by aliens, for all I know,” stated Eric with no trace of facetiousness.
“Aliens?” The Director grinned. “You’re putting me on.”
“I don’t know. There’s something about his base fourteen counting system, and the codes are all wrong, they shouldn’t work at all. The whole thing is by one mind, that’s for sure. There’s some kind of message encoded in it, but I can’t tell what, maybe audio, maybe video. It’s definitely a guy. Whoever did this, is either one crazy whacko, or from some other planet, I’ll tell you that.”
“Why…why do you say that?” Margolis’ eyes were serious, he wasn’t patronizing Eric.
He was genuinely interested.
“Believe me, Eric, I value your opinion…may I call you Eric?”
“Because half of this stuff doesn’t even work. It’s either just window-dressing, camouflage, or it’s for stuff no one has, or it’s for stuff that no one has invented yet…” Eric could see the Director’s eyebrows rising up into his forehead.
“Well,” he grinned, “You asked for an opinion, and you got it.”
Eric stuck his hand out for a farewell handshake.
As the two shook hands, and the other two agents gathered up wires and began boxing equipment, Eric had almost forgotten his original purpose here tonight.
“It’s been a long day,” he told Margolis. “I guess the games can wait for another day.”
His guts thumped a little bit as he said it, but it came out okay.
“Thank you for your time. And I’ll have to pass that up the ladder,” said Margolis. “Who knows what they might think. But I value your opinion, don’t get me wrong.”
As Eric stumbled in sheer emotional exhaustion out to the parking lot, he had to marvel at his good fortune. While unable to memorize more than a little of what he had seen, the basic concepts were so stunningly original that he felt he would be able to drag them back up with a little help from Marc. As for the possibility of alien manufacture, he didn’t take it too seriously himself, but let the Homeland Security boys and girls chew on that one for a while…and in any event, he could always try the insanity defense, if any other little matters should come up.
He had a gut-level instinct that he hadn’t heard the last of Mister George-Southwest-Region-Director-Margolis.
It was a good thing he had a bolt-hole in Belize for just such an eventuality.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or presently seeking asylum in countries with no extradition treaty are purely coincidental.
Almost forgot the photo credits: Top, Dan Smith, centre, public domain, bottom, Gippslander2012.