Devil's Workshop

Devil's Workshop

by Marietta G. Cobb

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Overview

Software designer Falco Phoenix, a retired Navy Seal officer, envisions himself as an Internet hero who can clean up the infamous Devil's Workshop chat room one case at a time. The FBI hires him to lure Marcus Banyan, a cyber thug, from behind his computer screen into the streets. A womanizing stalker and flesh peddler, Banyan poses a real danger to women.

Phoenix's task is to train two female FBI computer programmers, Shiloh Stanfield and Hannah Dewitt, to help flush Banyan out and bring him to justice. They're joined by Parah Fraze, a freelance investigative reporter, who has been working undercover for two years on her own. The team undergoes extensive training to prepare for what could be a dangerous mission.

But the training may not be enough to protect the women. The vicious Banyan will stop at nothing to make anyone and everyone pay for interfering with his slaving business.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450252553
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/17/2010
Pages: 268
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Marietta G . Cobb was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey. In August of 1995, she relocated her family to Marietta, Georgia. While residing in Georgia, she earned diplomas in creative and freelance writing. She is also the author of Strong Child. Cobb has three children.

Read an Excerpt

DEVIL'S WORKSHOP


By Marietta G. Cobb

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Marietta G. Cobb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-5255-3


Chapter One

Falco's Home Office, Louisville, June 19

As Falco sat at his desk staring at his monitor, surprised that America Online didn't have a program in place to take care of Internet harassers, the telephone rang. He twisted his torso to reach across the nightstand for the caller ID.

Looking at the telephone number, he smiled. "What's up, man?" he said.

An image of his old navy buddy appeared on the LCD display, but he waited for the caller to speak. The men hadn't seen each other in person for six years, but they still occasionally called each other to touch base.

"Hey, man," Alex Hawk said. "How's life treating you?"

For several months, Falco had thought about rejoining the navy. Even though he had a bona fide computer consulting business, he missed military life.

Falco grinned. "Designing software is interesting, but after a while, it gets boring as hell. By the way, I was going to call you later."

"What's up?" Alex asked.

After retiring, Alex had opened a martial arts dojo in Brooklyn, New York. If Falco called on anyone for assistance with his plans, it would definitely be Alex. "I don't have all my ducks lined up yet, but if my plans work out, it'll definitely bring some excitement to both our lives."

Knowing Alex the way he did, Falco could almost see the excitement course through his body. "When can you come and kick back for a while? Is your new facility still under construction? When is the completion date?"

"Do you think the Bluegrass can handle two old navy chums?" said Alex jokingly. "It's been a while since I had a vacation."

Over the years the state of Kentucky had come to be known as the Bluegrass State. It seemed strange to hear a city slicker like Alex using the colloquial term. "When? I'll let Hazel know, so she can line you up a few dates."

"Hazel? Did that woman ever get you to the altar?" Falco had always been pretty tight-lipped about his personal life, and when he didn't respond immediately, Alex changed his discussion to reflect his own itinerary. "I'm waiting for a new overseer to start in two days. After that, I'm free for a while."

Falco threw his head back and chortled loudly. "She's dragging her feet about marrying me."

During their tenure in the military, Falco had told Alex about his involvement with Hazel, but he hadn't mentioned why they'd never married. Hazel had refused to accept his marriage proposal because she knew he hadn't put his wanderlust and adventuring ways behind him.

"Do your students run five miles at three in the morning in full combat gear?"

Alex chuckled loudly. He was taken aback by the question. "Hell no! Those kids would probably kick my ass for real."

Falco recalled how all the new recruits used to refer to the now retired forty-two-year-old drill instructor as "Old Iron Pants." He had a broad forehead, thick, wide lips that were usually puckered together in a worrier's frown, and a short afro hairstyle that was neatly trimmed each weekend. His well-defined 225-pound body was buffed to perfection from many hours doing his detailed, choreographed patterns of movements, known as katas.

"No way," Falco exclaimed. "You must be getting old for real."

Without warning, Falco changed the tone of the conversation. "I got a business proposition for you. It's not going to be like the old days, but it's exciting all the same."

He knew that Alex's disciplinary techniques would be very useful in training his pending workforce. Having the right people in place would ensure Falco's ability to rid the Internet of its new breed of cyber thugs.

"Oh? What kind of proposition?"

"I'm organizing a team for my new mission, Operation Phoenix." Falco paused for a minute to let the information sink in. "I've been hunkered down for weeks checking out the target."

"What mission? Did you re-up or something? Where?"

Alex's eyes lit up with excitement, and Falco grinned widely. He knew he had his friend's full attention.

"We've never been more at home anywhere than off the beaten path."

Alex knew whatever Falco had planned would definitely be exciting and perhaps perilous. "Will there be any chicks involved? It's important for me to keep my lady-killer skills in place."

Both men laughed boisterously. Falco figured that, like him, Alex was recalling the many women who had tried, unsuccessfully, to tame the young drill sergeant. It wasn't that women weren't interested in Falco as well; he had disappointed many a friend of one of Alex's conquests. It was just that he had often preferred to go home early and read the latest letter from Hazel.

Falco stopped laughing long enough to say, "Yes, but who they are and what they look like will be a mystery for now." Falco didn't wait for his friend's response. "How are your computer skills?"

Again, Falco forged on without a response. "The target is unknown to me at this time, but as soon as I create enough havoc for him, he'll come out of hiding. Once he rears his head, I'm going to shoot it off his shoulders." Falco had been a SEAL sniper.

"Sign me up," Alex said.

A blinking red light told Falco a call was coming in to his emergency line, a number only a few had access to. "I got to run," he told his pal, promising to e-mail instructions soon.

He accepted the call, and Edwin Miles's faced popped up on the LCD screen. Edwin resembled an old college law professor, and his five-foot-fourinch stature didn't take anything away from his giant-sized personality.

Falco pressed a button, allowing his own camera to send a video feed to the recipient. "Hello, Senior Chief. How have you been?"

"I'm up to my skivvies in paper work," said Edwin. "How's civilian life treating you?"

"I'm bored out of my skull," said Falco, "but I'm coping."

After retiring from the military, Edwin Miles joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His new post dealt with Internet complaints. Over the past twelve months, Internet violence had increased 200 percent. His workforce lacked that killer instinct and didn't know how to execute their orders like his former navy crew. "I have a job proposal for you."

Edwin explained that he was the new director of operations for a special Internet investigations unit. The unit had been investigating several missing persons' cases that were linked to online predation. Recently, Edwin's team had honed in on a specific group of cyberspace personalities who they suspected might be linked to the disappearances in question and, possibly, many more. Edwin had been mulling over asking former navy personnel to train his newly graduated agents. His team's first assignment was just around the corner, and they weren't ready yet. "I'm at my wit's end," he confided.

Falco sat straight up in his chair. Suddenly, he realized his workforce was in his grasp. All he had to do was accept the position and the rest would be history. "Cyberspace? Where's the base of operation?"

"Atlanta, Georgia. Do you know how to get in touch with Alex Hawk?" Edwin had known Falco and Alex long enough to recognize the assets they would be to his new unit.

Once Falco accepted Edwin's offer and agreed to contact Alex right away, Edwin explained the mission. "We're going to rid the Internet of these bad guys. Let me give you the basics first. I've already placed some of my employees in the chat room these thugs like to frequent."

Edwin explained that the women's real names were expunged from their personnel files and new identities were created for them. He created his agents' online handles to look similar to those belonging to women who had been victimized. Most of the online names had some form of a sexual or erotic connotation in them. Whenever Hannah or Shiloh entered a chat room, they were instructed to use their new online handles. Hannah became known as Softnwet and Shiloh as Cum4me.

Falco's heart pounded. "Chat room? Which one?"

"It's called Devil's Workshop, believe it or not," Edwin said. "Go figure."

Falco tried to contain his reaction. He felt like screaming, partially in triumph, partially in anger. He knew that punk Banyan was involved in something deadly, that the man was a real danger to women. Until now, though, he hadn't known exactly what.

"We think these guys are flesh peddlers, man," Edwin added softly.

For the first time, Falco had a complete picture of what Banyan had been doing offline. He had heard of human trafficking. Traffickers lured, tricked, or coerced-and sometimes straight out kidnapped-their victims and sold them like items. The buyers, often from different countries, forced their new "purchases" into involuntary servitude and varying forms of prostitution. He'd read that human trafficking was currently the fastest-growing criminal industry.

"Some dude using your name pops in the site from time to time and challenges the guys we're zeroing in on. That's partially what made me think of you." Edwin paused for a couple of minutes. "There's one more person you need to know about," Edwin said. "Parah Fraze is an investigative reporter in Atlanta-pretty experienced, seems to have a knack for getting her story no matter what it takes."

Edwin explained that Parah had written a feature piece awhile back about an offline bash in Atlanta, from which two women had been kidnapped but had escaped. The women, too scared to talk at first, had eventually told Parah what they knew.

"Here's where it gets interesting," Edwin continued. "Seems Parah has a personal reason for getting into this investigation. The twin daughters of a close friend attended a different offline bash hosted by the members of this chat room. Only these two girls weren't so lucky."

"The girls are still missing?" Falco felt butterflies in his stomach.

"Yes." Edwin paused before continuing. "She has been working undercover for two years looking for them-as a lone ranger, if you will. She knows a lot. So, when she approached me about working with my agents as a consultant, I hired her instantly."

Not wanting to show too much enthusiasm, Falco kept his thoughts focused on bringing Banyan down. The best thing about the job offer: it would help kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. He would have the law enforcement and his workforce in place to help him to legally bring Banyan out of hiding.

Massaging his beard, Edwin explained that his former secretary on base, Sabrina Flynn, was now the police spokesperson in Atlanta. "She'll be working closely with my team, and she's sent me a thick dossier on our mark."

Falco agreed to call Alex and meet Edwin in Atlanta that weekend, and Edwin said he'd fax over bios on his employees, along with the dossier.

After straightening the mountain of papers, Edwin placed them in the fax machine outgoing feeder tray. "This unit is composed of female recruits fresh out the FBI academy. They will need to be trained on Internet protocol, and their martial arts knowledge could stand being kicked up a couple of notches."

Both men clearly understood that a traditional training was inadequate for today's times, but Falco and Alex were highly skilled in guerilla warfare techniques.

Falco knew how to crack encryption codes, and his military training would be very valuable to this type of operation. "Females? How many?"

Edwin smiled. "Two right now. More will be added if needed. All the recruits have a common bond for being in this unit."

Falco asked quietly. "What's that?"

In a short monotone, Edwin replied, "A missing family member."

Falco shook his head in agreement. He knew a common thread always kept an operation in place, because everyone would have a stake in the outcome. "Do these ladies have what it takes to lure the unsuspecting perpetrators?"

"Your job is to get them prepared, because nothing can be left to chance.

The pair hung up, and ten minutes later, pages began to spill from Falco's antiquated fax. He scanned the pictures of the two agents. This was not what he'd had in mind when he'd pictured his workforce. However, Falco realized why the women had been recruited for this job. The agents were clearly bigger women who were strong and fit, in addition to being beautiful.

Shiloh Stanfield was a thirty-five-year-old firearms specialist who had worked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and she had a degree in criminal justice. Being an agent, she formerly worked for a drug task force in Atlanta, Georgia. She grew up in a rough neighborhood, where drugs flowed like water on the streets and she saw many family members fall into lives of crime and addiction. Shiloh weighed in at 190 pounds and was five foot ten inches in her stocking feet.

Hannah Dewitt, criminal psychologist turned fashion designer, was a thirty-seven-year-old single mother who changed careers because she wanted to spend more time with her son and daughter. She stood five foot eight inches and weighed in at 185 pounds. Even though she was a heavyset woman, Hannah wore her own designer line of full-figure clothing.

Both women had degrees in computer programming. They were both well educated and worked in high-powered professions.

Just then a cover letter dropped down in the tray. It was marked in bold print "Classified." As the incoming documents slowly filled up the fax tray, Falco realized that the man he had been tracking was about to be revealed to him.

He had seen other pictures that Banyan he had posted on his online profile. As he'd expected, the online photos were not of the real Banyan. He had discovered that many men in the Devil's Workshop used other men's photos to help them make a love connection. In the dossier, Falco found different pictures of the real Banyan. It seemed the man liked disguises.

As he thumbed through, he noticed that Banyan stood six foot four inches tall, and weighed in at 225 pounds. He had a medium brown complexion with an average-size bald head, but it was his piercing hazel eyes that exuded unadulterated evilness. His dark brown Spanish-style mustache wasn't able to hide the slight cleft in his top lip. Even with all his disguises, his intense gaze and cleft lip were features that never changed.

According to the dossier, Banyan often visited other chat rooms, where he used different online handles and pretended to be a southern gentleman in order to seduce the lonely and vulnerable big women with promises of glamour, money, or help in furthering their education. When pleasantries didn't work, he would instantly resort to verbal abuse to achieve his objective.

Laying Banyan's file down, Falco spread the photos of his target and his new workforce out on his desk. This job was definitely going to have some interesting characters. "Alex will be in hog heaven dealing with this crowd," he said aloud.

Falco left a message with Alex, instructing his friend to meet him at Hartsville International Airport on Saturday at 1400 hours.

Chapter Two

Louisville to Atlanta, Georgia, June 22

There was a womanizing stalker loose on the Internet, and Falco was certain the FBI was profiling the right man. Falco had suspected that Banyan's crimes went beyond the merciless words he used in the Devil's Workshop. Now he had proof. Even better, he knew at least some of Banyan's other identities. In fact, he was sure he'd seen at least one of those online handles in the Devil's Workshop. It disgusted Falco that Banyan often played mister nice guy to lure woman to meet him only to turn into a monster as soon as he had them in his clutches. Finally, he would have a chance to do something about it.

As Falco climbed into his '57 canary yellow Chevrolet pickup truck, he recalled Banyan's eyes and the photo where he was dressed up like he was in Mary Poppins. Shaking his head, Falco grunted. Those two missing women must've thought that Banyan was stuck in a British time warp.

Just the thought of seeing his nemesis's face solidified his determination in bringing him to justice.

As he rumbled toward the highway in the half-ton shortbed, Falco thought about the women he'd meet on this job. He never considered himself as being a lady's man, but Falco knew he could pull any woman he set his sights on. Hazel held his heart in check though.

Being a common country boy who loved wearing blue jeans and bib overalls, Falco had an unassuming personality. He also knew how to dress when he needed or wanted to. And he was aware of the effect he had on women when he donned a slicker style over his lean, six-foot-two frame. In either case, no one would ever believe he could be a ruthless adversary when someone made him angry.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from DEVIL'S WORKSHOP by Marietta G. Cobb Copyright © 2010 by Marietta G. Cobb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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