Read Bubble: A Thriller Online

Authors: Anders de La Motte

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

Bubble: A Thriller (5 page)

“I see. Just one moment . . .”

He began typing on his keyboard, and she suddenly noticed a little screen set discreetly into the counter.

When the man turned slightly to one side she noticed another detail. On one of his shoulders there was a slight but very familiar bulge, a thicker garment under his shirt and well-tailored suit. She’d seen it a thousand times in her work, on herself and other people. The man was wearing a bulletproof vest. She wondered whether he was armed as well.

She took a cautious step closer and leaned carefully over the counter. Her eyes slid down the line of the jacket toward the man’s hips.

“That particular deposit box has two key holders.” His voice made her jump and she straightened up unconsciously.

“Sorry?”

“You and a Henrik Pettersson. Do you know him?”

She nodded. “He’s my brother.”

“Maybe he’s the one who’s got the key and pass card?”

The idea of Henke having a deposit box seemed very odd. He didn’t exactly own anything that was valuable enough to need this sort of protection. But, on the other hand, the bill for the box hadn’t been paid, and that sounded just like him. And given the way he’d been behaving over the past few months, maybe it wasn’t impossible that he had secrets he needed to keep hidden.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Maybe . . .”

“Well, the card’s no problem,” he went on. “Because you’re one of the account holders, I can order you a new one. That would cost two hundred kronor. And you’ll also have to pay the overdue fee if you don’t want us to drill the box open.”

“Of course, no problem, just send me the bill.”

He nodded and typed something into the computer. She guessed it was a request for a new card.

“There, the card will be sent to you within the next few days. But I’m afraid I can’t help you with the key.”

“How do you mean?”

“The person who set up the contract receives all the keys. Then it’s up to him or her to distribute them. The keys are copy protected, so we can’t actually have new ones made, even if we wanted to. That’s why we have to drill boxes open if people don’t contact us.”

“B-but . . . if I’m listed as a key holder . . . ?”

“It’s not unusual for the person who sets up the agreement to list several other people under the same account, as a form of insurance. In case anything should happen to them . . .”

♦  ♦  ♦

PayTag—they were the ones behind it all. Even if he was having more and more trouble getting the pieces of the puzzle to fit together, that fact was still bombproof. PayTag had owned ACME Telecom Services, who in turn had hosted the server farm out in Kista that he had blown sky-high two years before.

The same PayTag that had wanted to buy up ArgosEye and turn all its conspirators up in their office in one of the Hötorget skyscrapers into multimillionaires, until he had pulled the plug and sent that particular ship to the bottom with all hands.

But PayTag seemed to have moved on, still swallowing up smaller companies at a feverish pace as its empire grew ever larger.

He had scraped together all manner of facts about PayTag that were sloshing around the deeper recesses of cyberspace. He had saved most of it on the USB stick that the cops had failed to find.

But losing it wouldn’t have been a total disaster, he knew most of it by heart.

He lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and then sent an almost perfect smoke ring up toward the nicotine-yellow ceiling.

1992—PayTag is founded by four dudes at an American university. The basic idea is to facilitate smooth transfers of money over the Internet. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but in purely technical terms they’re ten years too early and the software causes problems. In spite of this, venture capitalists pour money in and they are able to build a number of large server farms to handle the transactions they expect to have to deal with.

1997—After five years of figures in the red the coffers start to run dry. Following a disagreement two of the founders leave. The other two decide to change direction and in a desperate attempt to exploit their unused server farms they start hiring out space to other companies that need external backup in case their own servers go down. The guys have struck gold and clients start pouring in almost immediately.

1999—For the first time the company’s accounts show a profit, and a fairly healthy one at that, making PayTag practically unique in the IT world.

2001—
Bang!
All the air goes out of the global IT bubble, but as the need for backup is bigger than ever, PayTag still
manages to make a small profit. And oddly enough, in light of the stock market collapse new capital is available. PayTag goes on a serious shopping spree among its bankruptcy-threatened competitors and soon manages to weave itself into every aspect of the IT sector: installations, service contracts, consultancy—you name it!

2005—The company is listed on the NASDAQ index. The largest single holding belongs to a foundation that is probably linked to the two remaining founders, but various financial machinations, along the lines of those employed by Ikea, make it pretty much impossible to work out whether this is actually the case.

2009—Another landmark! IT guru and media darling Mark Black is installed as the new MD. He immediately sets to work realizing his vision—the Cloud. Clients would no longer merely use PayTag to host their critical backup, but
all
their data. Server spaces are expunged from offices around the world and instead established on the Internet—or rather, in one of PayTag’s heavily guarded gigantic server halls that are now popping up like toadstools in sparsely populated areas all over the planet.

But HP was almost certain that the Game began way before ’92, and PayTag actually seemed to have been legitimate for a good few years. Which meant that their paths must have crossed somewhere.

The Game could have been a secret source of finance that stepped in during the collapse of the IT bubble, for instance.

Or else the mysterious foundation that owned the majority of the shares could conceal something considerably more unpleasant than just a couple of greedy little Ingvar Kamprads who didn’t want to pay tax.

But the safest way to take over the company probably wasn’t through holding shares, or at least not that alone.

They would need some kind of presence on the ground, someone who would make sure that things were run the way they should be, which led him to his latest theory.

Just as he had done with ArgosEye, the Game had probably planted a trojan inside PayTag. Something or someone who looked on the surface to be an asset, but who had actually brought something lethal inside the walls. For that tactic to work, the trojan would have to be implanted at the very top of the pyramid. Which meant that there was really only one candidate . . .

Mark Black.

It was under his leadership that the company had grown to span the entire world. The Cloud and the server farms were all part of Black’s vision, and PayTag’s owners appeared to have given him a completely free hand. Celebrities and politicians alike seemed to love the smooth bastard, and the media appeared to drool over everything he did. No one seemed to have worked out who Black really was. No one except Henrik HP Pettersson.

Imagine having a little chat with Mr. Black.

Eye to eye.

Player to Player . . .

He took a last drag, then stubbed the cigarette out in an overflowing ashtray on the bedside table.

A meeting with Mark Black. That wasn’t actually such a bad idea.

♦  ♦  ♦

“Mark Black, managing director of PayTag and thus indirectly our ultimate boss, will be paying us a visit in a fortnight, as you all know . . .”

Rebecca clicked to bring up the first picture of her PowerPoint presentation. It showed about thirty people dressed in white, all wearing Guy Fawkes masks and holding banners.

“The threat level is currently deemed to be high, largely as a result of the various protests seen at previous inaugurations.”

She switched to an image of demonstrators being led away by the police.

“Black’s private plane, registration number November Six Bravo, will be landing at Bromma on June twenty-fifth at nineteen fifty-five. Kjellgren and I will pick him up in the Audi, Mrsic and Pellebergs will be waiting outside gate number one with the support vehicle. We’ll be driving straight to the Grand Hotel, where I and potentially Mrsic will accompany him to his suite. We’ll decide that once we know how things look. Black evidently isn’t keen on having too much visible security around him . . . We will be based in room 623, in the same corridor as Black’s suite, and I’ll be staying there.”

Her mouth felt suddenly dry, and she paused to take a sip of water from the glass on the table in front of her.

“Departure to the Fortress at six fifteen on the twenty-sixth. Same cars and pairings as before. The site manager and Anthea Ravel from management will be joining us . . .”

She saw a couple of the bodyguards exchange glances and went on quickly before any of them had a chance to open their mouths.

“The inauguration ceremony will begin at nine thirty, followed directly by the press conference. Any questions so far . . . ?”

None of the other six people in the little meeting room moved.

“Good,” she continued. “Lindh, you and Gudmundson will meet us on site. Have you spoken to the manager there?”

Lindh, a sinewy, suntanned man in his forties, cleared his
throat and glanced down at the little black notebook on the desk in front of him.

“Yes, it’s all sorted. Thirty journalists have replied to say they’ll be there, along with a group of local politicians, the minister of business and his entourage, and representatives from a couple of clients. Possibly a few more. No names that have set off any alarm bells so far, I should probably add. Obviously we’ve checked everyone . . .”

When the run-through was finished she took the stairs down to the floor below, said hello to a couple of faces she recognized, then slipped into Micke’s cramped little office. He was crouched over his computer and hardly looked up.

“Hi!” She leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Hi, Becca, did it all go okay?” He spun his chair around.

“Yep, we’ve got Black’s visit under control.”

“Good, the whole company seems a bit nervous. It’s a big thing, his choosing to come here so soon after the acquisition. Will you be going up to the Fortress with him?”

She nodded just as his cell started to ring.

He picked it up from the desk and looked at the screen. Then he stood up quickly.

“Sorry, I have to take this. We’ve got a crazy amount of work right now, we’re completely swamped . . .”

“No problem, I was on my way out anyway. Just thought I’d ask about the pictures . . .”

“Pictures?” He had already taken a step toward the door and put his phone to his ear.

“The ones I took on Friday, in the van. You were going to try to improve the pixelation, or whatever you call it?”

The phone went on ringing and she could feel him getting rattled by the situation.

“Oh, no, it didn’t work. Listen, I’ve really got to get this . . .”

She gave him a little wave and left the room.

“Hello . . . ? Yes, everything’s going according to plan . . .” she heard him say before the door closed behind her.

♦  ♦  ♦

He didn’t dare have a computer of his own. In his two months as an employee of ArgosEye last winter he had realized how much of a trail you left, both on the Internet and on your own hard drive. No way was he going to offer them a smorgasbord like that.

Instead he had developed a strategy where he switched between various borrowed computers at random. Short bursts where his minimal Internet footprint would be hidden by thousands of other people’s. Really, though, he ought to steer well clear of the Internet altogether. Follow the example of Erman the hermit, cut all ties to civilization, go into hiding in a cabin in the woods, and live a low-tech life way below the Game’s radar.

But he had dropped that idea pretty quickly. He was born to live on tarmac, and life in the forest would undoubtedly have finished him off. Just as it had poor Erman . . .

No, far better to play it cool, go along with it and make the most of the calm by gathering together as many pieces of the puzzle as possible. Preparing as best he could so he would be ready when they wanted an answer.

At least that was what he had thought last winter, after his meeting with the Game Master.

Fuck it. Obviously, he should have cut back on his use of the Xbox and concentrated on reality far more than he had actually done. But up to the moment when the cops kicked in his door, the complete absence of communication had almost
managed to persuade him that the meeting out in the forest had been just a bad dream. A mad fantasy conjured up by his fucked-up brain, desperate for a bit of acclaim.

Too many hours sitting with the hand controller—or his own joystick, for that matter—made it easy to lose focus.

Six months had passed since he was given the task out at that creepy pet cemetery. Six months of decent peace and quiet, and he was halfway through the period of thinking time he had been promised.

Today it was the library’s turn, at Medborgarplatsen. Tucked away in a corner where he could see everyone coming and going without their seeing him.

He plugged the little USB stick into one of the computer’s ports and waited for the files to load. Then he started the security program at the top of the list.

Scanning—please wait,
a little dialogue box said, as a timer began to rotate. It usually took about a minute to check for spyware or any signs of surveillance. He never stayed for longer than fifteen minutes, but after the developments of recent days it was probably time to cut that down even more.

He bounced one foot impatiently as he bit on a ragged fingernail. He still had six months, one hundred and eighty days to chisel out a plan, a way out, an exit strategy that could get him out of the infernal trap he had got caught up in.

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