The Improbability Volumes – Day 3

See DISCLAIMERS.


WHO IS THE FALCON?

Three weeks later, Denna was holed up in a cheap studio flat on the outskirts of Paris, frustrated and restless.

Foster ran his team like a guerilla unit. As much as possible, while staying within the bounds of the laws they served, they mirrored the tactics of their enemies. When their flight landed in Paris, they’d all gone their separate ways.

After several days in a non-descript motel, Denna had found herself more private lodging in an old apartment building in a lower-income neighborhood. Most of the residents were elderly, or overworked, with no time or inclination to pay much attention to Denna. The nearest store was a twenty minute walk towards town, and Denna could work undisturbed for days at a time.

Every three days, Foster’s team met in a dilapidated warehouse, or at least what seemed like one on the outside. Each member updated the team on their progress with their assignments, and then all information was re-assessed as part of the greater whole. Since they were making no progress against Renault himself, their new goal was to capture the Falcon and coerce him into turning against his master.

Denna’s assignment was to solidify their evidence against the Falcon.

Albert Roux, the scar-faced man they’d all watched at the New York meet, was the most likely candidate. According to Ellis’ informant, Roux was a ruthless, sadistic man, and he was always at Renault’s side. Yet, for all the atrocities he was rumored to have committed, there was no evidence to connect him to a single one of the Falcon murders.

She poured over the details of his life, immersed in his dark violent history, trying to find the one piece that would give her team an edge.

Denna was often distracted by the puzzle of the lone woman at the botched meet. She was certain she’d seen the woman before, but the threads of that tapestry were too loose for her to form any kind of pattern. The only thing that came to mind was something about a former coworker, Mike Davies, and the taste of bourbon, but she couldn’t make sense of that tiny clue.

Years ago, Denna and Mike had worked together for six months at DARPA while she had helped oversee a joint effort to develop and implement some state of the art technologies at the National Counterterrorism Center. Mike had led the DARPA team, and they’d parted on good terms at the end of the contract, but she hadn’t spoken to him in years.

What did Mike have to do with some criminal underling of Renault’s?

It took days for her to put it together, whispers of her memories interrupting her at odd hours while she dug through more information on Roux. Lying on her bed, she stared at the ceiling, remembering those days in Ballston. She and Mike had worked well together but their interaction had been strictly business hours and professional for the first four months. They’d only started socializing after –

Denna leapt from where she lay on her bed and activated the displays on her desk.

She and Mike had attended a security conference in Louisville, Kentucky. After the day’s sessions, they’d hit the hotel bar for a cocktail, along with a crowd of other attendees. In the back of the room, one of presenters had kept mostly to herself, sharing drinks with what looked like an assistant. Denna had only noticed them because the presenter had been the only woman on stage all day.

The assistant in her memory made Denna tremble with anticipation.

Web searches led to the security conference archive of presentations. Image searches led to the presenter, an information security specialist named Augusta King. The name turned out to be a dead-end and most likely an alias, since it was the married name of the legendary mathematician Ada Lovelace. Denna would have smiled if her goal weren’t so serious.

Denna was forced to search by the woman’s face alone, and it took awhile before the assistant appeared in any of the images, and another half hour before Denna found one with a resolution high enough to be usable.

There. An image of the two women walking through an airport security station, both with dark hair and similar builds. That solved the biggest part of the puzzle. The assistant was the woman Denna was really looking for.

Now, Denna drew ever closer to her quarry. She had to go back to the drawing board with this new face, using the airport security image to try to find the woman’s identity.  Her passport and drivers’ license went nowhere – another alias, no doubt, which was impressive considering the protocols for obtaining those identifications. Whoever she was, she was well connected.

The woman didn’t show up in any of the criminal databases, which meant another deep image search that took almost another day, but ultimately, Denna found the truth about Renault’s mysterious associate.

Her name was Katja Mannis.

***

The next day, she shared her new information with the team. Foster was pleased that she’d labelled their new player, though he demanded more progress on the Roux front. His persistence couldn’t dim her satisfaction, though, and after their meeting, she treated herself to a hot meal in a decent restaurant. That night, she rested in the deep, dreamless sleep of the just.

All the information Denna could find about Mannis was added to the growing database of information about Renault. Now that the puzzle was solved, Denna returned to her main task. Find a link between Roux and the Falcon’s murders.

It was dirty, gruesome work.

For the next several weeks, Denna combed through all the evidence of each murder attributed to the Falcon. Nineteen case files in all. [FIX: add murder descriptions. A few brutal, but mostly crafty murders that suit the victim’s particular crime. All of the victims were criminals who crossed Renault.]

The Falcon had a calling card – a stylized falcon head, sprayed in ink that would only be revealed in UV light. In every case, the Falcon’s stencil had been left somewhere on the scene – sometimes on the bodies themselves – but there was no trace of Roux. Not one piece of evidence – no fibers, no DNA, nothing. It was as if he was invisible, or possessed some kind of magic.

Unlike some of Renault’s other associates, there was a complete dossier on Roux. The middle of three children to working class parents, Roux had stared as a low-level dealer and worked his way up Renault’s organization. He’d barely finished high school, and never attended university. Nothing in his history gave any indication of the kind of genius who could leave zero trace of nineteen murders.

Denna tossed a mechanical pencil onto her makeshift desk in frustration. Albert Roux could not be this smart.

She sighed, pulling at her hair, and decided to go for a walk.

The beauty of Paris in early summer had found its way to even this neighborhood. [Lower income neighborhood outside Paris] had once held a booming factory industry, but decades later, most of the area had fallen into ruin.

She wasn’t quite out of everything, but perhaps a supply run would help clear her head. Anything to give her some insight into what she was doing wrong.

Denna walked the long streets toward the small grocery a mile up the road. Surprisingly, there were a few people out doing the same thing, and she was glad that pulling her hood over her hair had become a habit. Not that anyone seemed to notice her at all.

She was a block from the store when the question crossed her mind.

What if Roux wasn’t the Falcon?

Denna stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Someone bumped into her, cursed and kept walking past her, but she didn’t move.

Perhaps the base assumption was incorrect. If so, of course the data wouldn’t match. It couldn’t. It wasn’t that Roux was smart enough to cover his tracks. It was possible that they were never his tracks in the first place.

She needed to start over.

Denna turned around and headed back the way she’d come. If she was wrong, she’d lose a few days parsing data, but if she was right…

If she was right, it would reveal the best lead they’d had in months.

Starting over meant low-tech. With an old mechanical pencil and piece of paper, Denna mapped out an algorithm that would search all of Renault’s known associates to determine who could have committed every one of the Falcon’s murders.

She tried to find a few shortcuts, but each attempt had the potential of missing something, which she couldn’t afford at this stage. She had to be sure, which meant she had to look at the bigger picture.

Finally, Denna decided to do a stripped down, cold analysis of the entire data set. Back on her systems, she removed Renault’s name from the list since it was common knowledge that he never got his hands dirty, but expanded the same list to include every one of his known associates over the last decade. It was eighty-seven names long,

Then, she prepared a completely new dataset request. Denna set her search terms: every recorded location of everyone on that list for the last five years.

It would take days to get all the data for a set that large.

Denna didn’t want to, but she would wait.

It only took a day and a half, but that was still longer than she’d hoped. The resulting file was huge, and she hated to admit it to herself,  but the bigger, the better.  Her hands trembled as she keyed in the new search parameters: eighty-seven people over five years in the environs of twenty specific locations. She executed the search across the new dataset.

Denna stared at the screen while the program ran. She could have tried to distract herself with some other task, but nothing else mattered. She could get out of the apartment, go get some air, finish the aborted supply run – but she wanted to be right here when the results came in. Finally, she was reduced to pacing, looking at the display every few minutes to see if it had finished.

The results might end up being a handful of names, and Roux might be one of them, but it would at least give her something better to work with. She hoped.

It was maddening, but she prayed it would work.

The program finished. The results returned. Denna stared at the screen, shocked to see only one name. She sat down, bashing her knee into the edge of the table leg, but ignored the pain. She was afraid that she’d entered the command wrong, but it was correct. She ran the program again, but got the same result.

Denna even cross-checked the results with individual searches of each location, but her original results had been correct.

Of all the people on the list, only Katja Mannis had been in the vicinity of every last murder.

Katja Mannis was the Falcon.


All rights reserved. Don’t snag anything if you don’t want me to come find you. ~VB

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