Charles looked up from his desk and struggled to remain nonplussed. Marsha Foster was twenty-four but looked fifteen. Her short purple hair was gelled into a half-dozen spikes. She wore ragged blue jeans, a loose fitting flower-patterned blouse and sandals. Gratefully, she didn’t have any metal piercings in her nose, lips, cheeks or ears.
Cassandra looked at Charles, winked and said, “I’ll leave you two alone.”
She shut the door of the study, and Charles got up, shook Marsha’s hand and offered her a seat.
“Uh, Ms. Foster, I’m Charles Arrington.”
“Hi, Charles. Please call me Marti.”
“Okay, Marti,” said Charles as he shuffled through the file folder Cassandra had given him.
Marti was completely at ease, but Charles fumbled with his prepared list of interview questions. Before he could ask the first, Marti said, “You’re the guy whose car was bombed, right?”
“That’s a real bummer, man. I read about it. Sorry about your wife.”
“You’re welcome. I suppose you want to hire me to help you find out who did it?”
Charles felt as if he was the interviewee. “No, I wouldn’t say that. I need someone to help me with general research on Internet.”
“Come on, Charles. You don’t need somebody like me if all you wanted was someone to help you find good deals on eBay. Look, that was a rotten thing they did. I’m all in if you want me to help you nail the bastards who bombed you.”
Charles awkwardly tried to regain control.
“Marti, uh, please tell me a little about yourself.”
“Okay, I was born and grew up in Falls Church, went to George Washington University, got a job at the ATF and was busted for poking around in some computer files I wasn’t supposed to. Now I work at a Subway in Leesburg. That’s about it.”
“What was your major at GW?”
Marti shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head. “Pre-Columbian Incan culture.”
Charles looked puzzled.
“Just kidding, Charles. You can’t take me too seriously. I majored in Computer Science. Did pretty good.
Charles recovered, “How good?”
“Top of my class. I was going to grad school but didn’t have the money. I owe almost a hundred grand for the bachelors so I went to work for the government. Good pay, good benefits, and they don’t know shit. The ATF was a good gig.”
Charles didn’t understand why, but he liked the sassy young lady with the chartreuse hair. “Why did the ATF fire you?”
“Like I said, I got into data files that were supposed to be secure?”
“Because the IT idiots there said they were secure. They blew all kinds of smoke about how well encrypted their systems were and bragged that no one could get in. Hell, it was like a red flag for me. There’s never been a firewall that can’t be compromised. So I got in, copied a file and attached it to an email to the chief-cheese-in-charge of IT. I thought they would like to someone to tell them their systems security sucked.”
Charles chuckled, “I suppose they weren’t impressed.”
“To say the least. They canned me. Boom, just like that. They said I was some sort of threat to national security. The bozos. I didn’t even read the stupid file. I didn’t give a damn. I just wanted to show them their billion dollar firewall wasn’t worth crap.”
“I suppose you aren’t using them as a reference.”
“I had to because I never worked anywhere but the ATF. I had a couple of job opportunities, but when I told the interviewer I got fired, they asked why. I told them the truth, and that was the end of that. So I’m working at the Subway. What kind of bread would you like for your foot-long meatball sandwich, sir?”
Charles went with his intuition.
“I’d like to offer you a job.”
“Great, I thought you might.”
“Yes. You need someone who knows what the hell they’re doing. Trolling on eBay is pretty heavy-duty stuff, you know,” Marti said with a wink.
“What are your fees?”
“I thought you might ask. Look, Charles, how’s this? You have a big place here. If you’ll give me room and board, buy the hardware and software I need to do your research and pay me enough to make my student loan payment, I’ll take the job.”
“How much is your loan payment?”
“Four-eighty a month.”
“How much will the hardware and software cost?”
“I made up a list in case you asked. For hardware, a Silverstone Raven RV01 processor and a couple of Dell UltraSharp U3014 monitors. And I need a bunch of software, Nmap, Wireshark and─”
“Whoa, hold on. I don’t know what all that stuff is. What’s it going to cost?
“Less than ten grand, a bargain.”
“Okay, here’s my offer. Room and lodging, the computer stuff you need and $2,000 a month.”
For the first time in the interview Marti was surprised. “No shit?”
“No shit,” said Charles. “When can you start?”
“Today. I brought my stuff in the car just in case things worked out.”
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