“Well-written, character-driven thriller”
Computer hacker Tina Adler discovers that her true enemy could be someone terrifyingly close to home in this cunningly-plotted tale of identity and suspense.
Framed for ordering a hit on mobster Tony DeMarco, Tina Adler is forced to re-enter the shadowy world of computer hacking she thought she’d left behind. In order to clear her name, she reluctantly joins an FBI team led by her old flame, Zeke Chapman, tasked with scouring the deep web to unearth DeMarco’s darkest secrets.
The trail will lead Tina to the person who framed her – but it may also reveal other secrets, secrets she would rather not know. DeMarco may, in fact, be the least of Tina’s worries. Could her true enemy be someone much closer to home?
About the Author
Karen E. Olson is the award-winning author of the Annie Seymour and Tattoo Shop cozy mystery series. She has won the Sara Anne Freed Memorial Award, was a finalist for the Gumshoe Award, and nominated for a Shamus Award. She lives in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
The Nicole Jones series
By Karen E Olson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Karen E Olson
All rights reserved.
My name is Tina Adler, and I am an addict.
My addiction is not defined as such by the experts, although I could write an entire chapter on it and then some. There is no twelve-step program, no church basements with pots of coffee and fellow addicts with whom to share stories. No coins to mark sobriety, no common prayer.
The only thing I have is time. One day, one hour, one minute that I count without using.
I'm not naïve enough to think that I won't relapse. I did once before, and I will again.
Maybe even today.
I am escorted into a cold, concrete room, a metal table and two chairs in the middle. A big mirror adorns one wall, but I'm not stupid. They're watching me. The door slams shut behind me. I circle the table, running my fingers along its edges, sidestepping the chairs.
The laptop sits in the center of the table. It's open, the screen dark. I wiggle my fingers before making two fists. I will not touch it.
It's been thirty-four days since I handed over my laptop. Since I've been online. Thirty-four days, ten hours, and thirteen minutes, according to my watch. Yes, I've been keeping track. It keeps my mind occupied. I count seconds, minutes, my head spinning with the distraction.
I continue to walk in circles around the table, my eyes glued to the laptop, as though it's a mirage in the desert and if I look away, it will disappear. I want to feel the keys underneath my fingers, the power surging through me.
The door swings open, startling me, and my heart beats faster.
He comes in, closing the door behind him.
'I'm Agent Tilman. Please sit.' He holds a folder with papers in it. How old-fashioned – just like my old-fashioned wristwatch. He indicates the chair next to me and, without waiting, he plops down in the other one across from me. His rumpled suit makes me wonder if he's slept in it, if he's been here all night.
He waves his hand again, silently telling me that I should sit, but I keep standing. If I sit, it means I'm here for the long haul. If they're going to put me away, they might as well just do it. It's not as though I haven't been preparing mentally for this for a long time.
I don't ask if I need a lawyer. Maybe I do, but I don't have one, and I don't know where I would find one. If I tell them this, they'll probably send me a young, overworked, underpaid public defender.
'I'm sorry for the inconvenience,' he says, as though he does not hear my heart pounding inside my chest. 'We felt it would be better to do this here, rather than at your place of business. Less public.'
They were waiting at the bike shop when I rode up this morning, anxious to make a pot of coffee and start my day. It's slow this time of year – there aren't as many tourists – but we do repairs, and I have three bikes that need tune-ups. They showed me their badges and said that the shop owners – Beth and Roger Connors – were already at the station. 'Just routine,' they said casually, as though having FBI show up at the door was an everyday thing. 'Just a few questions.'
Agent Tilman frowns. 'Please sit, Ms White. This shouldn't take long.'
For a second, I forget my alias, forget that he believes I'm Helen White, and then I mentally shake myself. I am so tense that I'm afraid I'll break in half if I sit, but I don't want to disobey, so I do as I'm told. The chair squeaks against the floor as I slide it out, and I settle into it, my arms folded across my chest.
'Do you recognize this laptop?' he asks, and again my eyes are drawn to it.
There's nothing special about it. 'Not really. Should I?'
'It was in the office at the bike shop where you work.'
I'm not sure where he's going with this. 'And?'
'Do you use this laptop?'
My heart quickens even more. 'No.' I've been clean for thirty-four days. I should get a coin for that.
'You've never used this laptop?' His voice is a low timbre, and his eyes meet mine.
We stare at each other like this for a few moments, and finally I give in. 'No. I don't know what you're looking for here.' I will myself to stay calm, to keep my voice steady. Agent Tilman clearly thinks I'm connected somehow to this laptop.
I begin to wonder if I should find myself a lawyer.
'Do you know who does use this laptop?'
I shrug, trying to appear nonchalant. 'Beth and Roger. It's their shop. Their laptop.'
'You've seen them use it?'
I am trying not to stare at the laptop, wondering what is going on.
'Sure. It's usually in the back office, but I am normally in the shop. I don't have anything to do with running the business. I do tours sometimes, but mostly I fix the bikes.' I realize I'm talking too fast, protesting too much, giving him answers to questions he hasn't asked.
'So you have seen them use it, Ms White?'
Without thinking, I ask, 'Did someone use this laptop for something illegal?'
Immediately, I regret my question, but he doesn't seem fazed by it.
'That's what we're trying to determine.'
I can't help myself. I start picking apart the possibilities that would lead the FBI to it: child pornography, illegal drugs or weapons, human trafficking. I wonder about Beth and Roger. I can't see them involved in anything like that. They seem too normal. But then again, I seem normal, too.
If the FBI were investigating something, they must have traced the IP address. If I were the culprit, I'd make sure that no one would be able to trace me, so I would reroute the IP address through a VPN. I wonder if this is what's happened. If someone has done just that, and Beth and Roger are innocent in whatever crime is connected to this laptop. I open my mouth to tell Agent Tilman this, but then shut it again. I don't want to show my cards. He can't know what I know. He can't know that I know anything about rerouting IP addresses. That I have skills that go beyond repairing bicycles.
'Besides Beth and Roger Connors, have you seen anyone else using this laptop?' he asks, pulling me out of my thoughts.
'I really can't say for sure who has used it and who hasn't. I know I haven't.'
'Do you have your own laptop, Ms White?'
'No.' I say it quickly, definitively, because it's true.
One of his eyebrows rises above the other. 'No? You don't own a laptop? What about a desktop computer? A tablet?' Agent Tilman's tone has gotten frosty. He doesn't believe me.
'I don't even have a smartphone, Agent Tilman.'
'That's unusual in this day and age.'
Maybe I should have lied. Because it is unusual. I quickly say, 'I don't want the distraction in my life. I lead a very simple life.' I pause. 'What exactly did you find on that laptop?'
He narrows his eyes and purses his lips, and for a second I don't think he's going to tell me. But when he finally does, a chill runs through me because I may not be able to escape this time.CHAPTER 2
'Do you know who Tony DeMarco is?' Agent Tilman is asking.
I shake myself out of my thoughts and try to concentrate. I can't possibly admit it. That I do know him. That Tony DeMarco was my father's business associate, that his testimony is what sealed my father's fate and his death in prison. That I stole from him and he tried to have me killed almost two years ago. That he offered me a job hacking for him.
'I've heard of him,' I say vaguely. 'Someone tried to kill him?'
Agent Tilman nods, all the while watching me. I resist the urge to cringe under his stare. 'He's going to live,' he tells me, as though I am concerned about Tony DeMarco's well-being. 'But whoever put out the hit on him may go after him again.'
There is probably no shortage of people who want to kill Tony DeMarco, but the more pressing question is: 'You think that this laptop is somehow involved?'
'We know it is. Whoever put the hit out definitely had access to it.'
I can't help but be curious about this. I consider again how easy it would be to reroute the IP address, although now something else strikes me, something that should have occurred to me as soon as he told me about Tony DeMarco.
It's as though my brain is on a time delay.
Why would someone conveniently either use this particular laptop or reroute the IP address here, where I live? When he is putting out a hit on Tony DeMarco, who is so connected to me in so many ways?
There is no coincidence. Someone knows that I'm here; he wants me to be revealed. He wants me to pay for his crime.
My fingers itch to pull that laptop toward me, to begin a search, to delve deep into it to find out who is doing this. Instead, I fold my hands tightly in my lap and try to concentrate on Agent Tilman, although I keep the laptop in my peripheral vision.
'Why don't you have a laptop, Ms White?'
We are back to this. I can't tell him about my addiction, although one of his colleagues knows it all too well.
FBI Agent Zeke Chapman. He knows I'm here. He knows where I live, where I work.
'No. I told you, I don't have a computer.' I look him straight in the eye when I say it.
Agent Tilman finally seems satisfied with my answer. 'Do you know whether Beth or Roger Connors knows Tony DeMarco?'
I give a short laugh before I can stop myself. 'No,' I say. 'I doubt it, anyway.' I have to backtrack. 'They are very honest people.'
'Honest is an interesting word to use.'
'That's what they are.' I hear belligerence in my tone, and I regret it immediately when his eyebrow rises.
'That's exactly what they say about you,' he says.
I am pleased to hear it. But it's not going to get me out of here.
'What do you know about Jerry McNamara?'
The question throws me for a second, but I see where he's going with it, and it's definitely to my advantage. It's as though a beam of light has penetrated the darkness. 'Jerry set up the new wireless network at the bike shop. I don't really know him.' Could Jerry have done this? I don't see any sort of motive; Jerry is a local guy and any possible connection to Tony DeMarco would be slim at best. But I'm willing to play along, throw suspicion around so it doesn't come back at me.
'He knows computers,' Agent Tilman states simply.
I shrug nonchalantly. 'He does.' My eyes stray back to the laptop. With a few keystrokes I could find out who'd been inside.
Agent Tilman stands. 'Thank you, Ms White.' He picks up the laptop, and his expression tells me that he expects me to get up and follow him out. 'If we have more questions, how can we reach you?'
I give him the phone number at the house, since I don't have a cell phone.
I don't see Beth or Roger or Jerry as I am led through the corridor and out through the front. I pass two police officers who stop talking as they watch me leave. I wonder how they feel about lending their interrogation rooms to the FBI, whether they are involved at all in the investigation, or if the FBI commandeered the whole case. I tend to think the latter.
I turn down the offer of a ride and walk back to the shop, my head spinning. I can't help but think that I've dodged a bullet. My identity, for now, is still under wraps; the FBI thinks I am Helen White, bike shop employee and computer Luddite. I can only hope that they don't go digging. If they do, they will find that Helen White doesn't really exist, that she has no history before the last few months here in Falmouth.
All it will take is a photograph. Do you know this woman?
Lines will be drawn; they will come after me.
What I need to do is disappear. It will make them look at me more closely and they will make the connection sooner, but I can't take a chance and stay. I am not safe.
No one is at the shop when I arrive. I don't bother to go inside. I unlock my bike from the rack out front and head for home.CHAPTER 3
I push open the back door and step inside the mudroom. I hang my bike helmet on the hook on the back of the door and slip off my sneakers, heading into the kitchen. The house is still, yet I am not at all startled to see Agent Zeke Chapman sitting on the couch, leafing through a magazine, waiting for me.
'How'd it go?' he asks lightly, as though his being here is completely natural.
The last time I saw him, I gave him my laptop and told him to leave. I never wanted to see him again.
'Maybe you should just tell them to arrest me,' I say. 'I don't know why you haven't.'
Zeke sighs. He closes the magazine, leans over, and puts it on the table. 'No one's going to arrest you, Tina.' He has still not looked at me.
I roll my eyes. 'Why not?'
'You're innocent, aren't you?' I hear a tinge of doubt in his voice, doubt that I actually am innocent. And now he does look at me; his eyes meet mine and he knows.
I am capable of it. And maybe in another time, another place, I would have done it. Or at least thought about it. Conceived a way to do it. But would I have gone through with it? There is no way of knowing.
'Tony DeMarco has more reason to put a hit on me than the other way around.' Sixteen years ago, I stole ten million dollars from bank accounts online, two million of which was Tony DeMarco's money. Because of that crime, I have been living off the grid all these years. 'Anyway, I gave you my laptop. I haven't had one since.' I am not lying about this, and somehow he senses it. But ...
'This was put in motion before I saw you. Before you gave me your laptop.'
I try not to let him see that his words startle me. This is why he doubts me. Why there is a question in his eyes.
'So, then, why don't you arrest me?' Something changes in his expression, and it dawns on me. 'You don't have any way to prove it was me, do you?'
He shakes his head. 'It's more complicated than you think.'
I glare at him, and it comes out before I can stop myself: 'Then why don't you find Tracker and have him help you? Why don't you arrest Tracker? Bring him in for questioning? Maybe he is the one who did it. He is just as capable as I am.'
I do not know for sure that no one knows his true identity. That Agent Zeke Chapman is a hacker called Tracker, and he has been hiding online behind that screen name for over twenty years. Tracker was my best friend and he helped me steal that money, but I only found out a month ago who he really is.
'Tina, is there any way you would consider helping us find out who put the hit out on DeMarco?'
I spent two months trying to get inside Tony DeMarco's deep web site to find proof of illegal activity so that the FBI could arrest him. I remind Zeke of this and add, 'You don't give a rat's ass about Tony DeMarco, and if he dies, you would not lose sleep over it.'
He grins and holds up his hands. 'Guilty as charged.'
'So, then, why do you want to find out who put out the hit?'
He looks visibly uncomfortable, then says something completely unexpected. 'That laptop at the bike shop? It's yours.'
I don't understand.
He sees my confusion. 'It's not physically your laptop. But someone hacked into it and uploaded your data into it.'
I still don't understand. I don't have any data. I say as much.
'It's data from that laptop you had last summer.'
My heart quickens. A shadow had infiltrated my laptop with a remote access Trojan and demanded two million bitcoins in ransom, threatening my friends' lives if I didn't pay up. I transferred the bitcoins, but we were unable to trace them – or trace the ransom demand back to DeMarco, even though we were convinced he was behind it.
Zeke continues. 'The messages about the ransom are on the laptop we found in the bike shop. There were other files on it, too. Software that would allow you to get into the deep web. Software that someone like you would know about.'
Someone like me – or like him. It must be Tor – The Onion Router. The federal government set it up for its own purposes; however, anyone who wants to be anonymous uses it, not just for selling drugs and guns or human trafficking or hiring hits, but journalists protecting sources, whistleblowers. It's easy to download.
'But the laptop can't have anything that directly leads to me,' I say. 'Otherwise that Agent Tilman would have arrested me instead of just asking me questions. Right?'
Zeke nods. 'The moment I saw what was on the laptop, I knew it was targeting you. Whoever is doing it also knows your screen names, the ones you use in the chat rooms. I couldn't get to you before the FBI did, but they don't know who you are, so I figured you'd be fine.'
I almost laugh. I'm not fine. 'Why didn't you tell them? About me, I mean?'
I am afraid of what he's going to say, and my fears are confirmed.
'I want you to help me find out who's doing this.'
Although I know it's for my own benefit, I am still uncertain about teaming up with him. It's not so much about the FBI, but it's him. Zeke Chapman is Tracker, my long-time online partner. I'd harbored fantasies about Tracker, who he was, what his life was like. I'd idolized him; he was my mentor. But this man sitting across from me – he is not even remotely part of that fantasy.
Excerpted from Betrayed by Karen E Olson. Copyright © 2016 Karen E Olson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excitement, intrigue and keep you guessing story line. Book three is as great as the previous books, started and had to finish it in one day.
Computer hacker Tina Adler has been living under assumed names and off the grid for years. Many years ago, with the help of hacker "Tracker" she stole millions of dollars for one of her father's enemies. That man, Tony DeMarco, has never forgotten what she did. Someone knows where she is and who she is. DeMarco was ambushed and shot .. and someone is framing Tina for that act. In order to clear her name, she must join FBI Agent Zeke Chapman who's main job is to search out DeMarco's deepest secrets. And someone has put out a hit on both of them. Not being computer savvy, I found this interesting and entertaining. I do think the author did a good job keeping computer language down to a level where I understood most of it. The characters are enjoyable and I liked the way they interacted. There is lots of suspense, as hackers work mostly behind the smokescreen of a computer ... and they are rarely who they seem to be. They all seem to be very secretive. This is third in a series and does well as a stand alone. There is enough backstory that I didn't feel I was missing a whole lot. As always, I do recommend starting at the beginning just to pick up all those delicious details that make a good book even better. Warning ... while there is a definite ending, there is also a huge cliff hanger.