Gail and Marla rushed from the office with Nora. They moved so fast the dispatchers strained just to see them leave. Standing before Darian, they were suddenly wishing they hadn’t eaten lunch. He held an engine control module– a large computer-chip Gail knew to be hard-wired for safety protocol deployment– with its casing removed to the bare circuit board and the myriad of transistors, resistors, and miscellanea. What made Gail want to toss her lunches was significantly smaller.
Darian had it held up by two fingers beside the heavy module. It was small, square. A pair of short prongs protruded from it, bent as if violently tossed about and wedged somewhere.
“This is it.”
Gail was almost forced to squint. Marla was already a mile ahead, “Another transistor, right? What’s the big deal?”
“It’s not on the specs,” Darian said.
“It’s not supposed to be,” Nora added.
“And judging by the lack of wear, it was put on in a recently.”
Gail’s head began to spin. Every question she thought to ask was like a dam. Thought-rapids wanted to rush in. She stammered a few words through the spinning, “Wh-what does it mean?”
Nora and Darian exchanged a look, but Marla responded. “You were right,” she said, hands on her hips. “Someone did this.”
Gail’s head shook. Her eyes fell to her feet. A hand went to her forehead, “I can’t believe it.”
Darian grimaced, “It was your suspicion.”
“I must admit to some skepticism myself,” Nora added.
Gail steadied herself on the Kenworth’s fairing, sat down against it. She took a few, deep breaths. The group shifted and reformed before her. She kept her eyes closed, mind on her breaths. She wanted to explode in a murderous rage, but it wouldn’t help. Even if she’d had someone worthy nearby, she couldn’t have let it happen. However stubborn and hot-tempered she was, this was a time for caution. She needed to be smart, above all. Flying off the handle would only complicate matters.
“Okay.” She repeated it a few times to keep calm. Her hands visibly shook, but she kept her eyes shut. “Okay.” Her voice quivered, “J-just walk me through it. What do we know?”
The trio exchanged looks, hoping to decipher which of them was least likely to incur her wrath. Nora drew the short straw. It was for the best. She was a neutral party. Given her background, she could lay everything out as factually as it was. What was more, she had a voice that could soothe long before enraging.
Nora sighed, spoke as though writing a report. “The facts, as I see them, are this: After examining the video footage, I have concluded the accident’s cause was not driver error. In addition, upon examination of the vehicle’s history, it appears to have functioned nominally through expert maintenance. Furthermore, upon inspection of the vehicle’s remnants, possible evidence of tampering was located on the Engine Control Module. When compared to a stock model of said module, the suspect chip was not found. Thus, it is conclusive the suspect chip was placed there by a third-party.”
Gail nodded, opened her eyes. She swept the other two with a look, came to a rest on Nora, “What’s the purpose of this module?”
Darian cleared his throat, “An ECM is a common component of every road-vehicle. Among other things, it’s responsible for the control and priming of safety features, triggered by various instrumentation readings– speed, brake pressure, fuel-level, etcetera– in order to better protect accident-victims or to avoid accidents entirely.”
Gail stared at her thumbs. The group sensed her mind working, allowed it. Her face was intense, brows knitted and touching over a tight jaw. “Having seen the accident footage,” she said finally, eyes darting between Darian and Nora. “Would it be possible for the ECM to be manipulated in such a way as to cause it?”
Nora eyed Darian. Admittedly, she was out of her element there. Darian knew rigs inside and out. She knew most mechanical skills through a rigorous application of discipline, deductive logic, and research.
He seemed to sense her ignorance, “I can’t say, definitively, until we can access the chip’s firmware… but my best estimate is, “yes.” Gail asked him to clarify. “Those chips were put there for a reason, and not by my crew. Likely too, when the rigs weren’t being serviced. Which means they were in the yard. You’d have seen it happening on the road during a rest-break.”
Nora was nodding along, working her deductive mind to form a theory, “It would have been at night. They might have been caught otherwise. But that also means they’d need knowledge of the usual comings and goings to ensure they had enough time to plant the chips.”
“Intimate knowledge.” Darian said with a sweeping look. Marla’s mind was working, it showed on her face. He eyed Nora again, “You think someone’s been watching the yard?”
“Or the company, yes.”
“Or they’re in the company,” Marla said finally, eyes glistening.
For a moment, Gail thought it was tears, but something insightful flared behind it. She might have overlooked it on a normal day. Today was anything but.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Darian countered. “Who here’d risk their job or their friends’ lives?”
“Why do anything malevolent?” Gail retorted. “Power.” Her nostrils flared like a bull ready to charge. She kept herself contained, “But in the business world, money is power.”
“You think someone sold us out?” Darian asked with shock.
Nora’s mental gears were turning again, “Logically, it makes the most sense. A disgruntled employee, or former employee seeking revenge.”
“No,” Marla said.
Gail agreed, “We don’t have people like that here.”
“No, what I mean is, it isn’t someone former.” The trio looked to see what she’d puzzled out. She left them in suspense to better convince them: “It’s someone hurting. Someone that needs money. Has nothing to lose. Someone who feels there’s nothing sacred left, because they’ve been betrayed, so betrayal feels right. Fitting. Someone… like Carl.”
Gail’s eyes bulged. “Jesus Christ!”
Darian stared, open mouthed. Marla’s jaw clenched, “Earlier, what he said to you–”
“I knew you’d pull through!” Gail repeated. “The son of a bitch knew it was going to happen.” She stood fast, “He planted the chips when he was sleeping here, between shifts. Then, when he saw we were getting close earlier, he took off.”
Gail moved to start jogging away, but Nora stopped her, “Wait. Gail. This is supposition. You need proof. Arrests cannot be made on hunches. OPD could never put him away for it. Any Judge in the state would overturn it.”
Gail stopped in a poise, “I can get evidence.” Nora was hesitant. Gail motioned her along. The other two followed on instinct. “We don’t have security cameras in our lot because they’re useless. No-one keeps anything in the rigs when they’re here, and any insurance claims are usually automatic for theft.” She pushed out into night, marched for the yard’s front-gate. “Not to mention rigs aren’t exactly the easiest things to drive. It was something I had to compensate for when I installed all of the dash cams. We could afford lot-surveillance, or road-cams, not both.”
“So? Where are we going?” Nora asked, oblivious. Marla and Darian kept stride, evidently aware of Gail’s bend.
She waited for cars to pass, then jogged across the road, the group in-step. “Two years ago, I filed an insurance claim for damage to our perimeter and one of our rigs. A drunk driver slammed into the fence, up-ended over the wall, bent the wrought-iron, and landed upside down on the fifth-wheel of one of our Macks. The police got involved and learned the lot here–” she said, crossing to a small, local courier company. “Has camera’s facing the road that also have views of our front-lot.”
“And you think they’ll have video footage of the tampering?”
“It’s worth asking.”
“Would Carl have known about them?” Nora asked.
“No,” Darian said, recalling the accident. “He was on a long-haul from Georgia to Oregon at the time. When he got back, it was long over.”
Gail marched for the door, “You have a badge?” Nora’s brow pinched tight over a nod. “Use it. Get them to give us the tapes.”
She nodded. Gail threw open the door, entered into a small lobby and waiting room. It looked like the front of a clinic. Gail knew the appearance to be deceiving. Behind the windowed reception-desk was a complex of accountant and employee offices spanning the distance between the building’s entrance and its sorting floor. From there, courier trucks were loaded with deliveries.
The group approached the window and the young blonde there looked up with habitual boredom. At first, Gail sensed another air-headed Brianne, but the obvious presence of a personality infected her voice with slight fear voice.
“C-can I help you?”
Gail urged Nora forward. She cleared her throat and removed a badge from her belt, held it out as her accent firmed with authority, “I’m Nora Roselle with the OPD, I need to see your supervisor.”
Five minutes later they were meeting with a balding man with coke-bottle glasses that appeared to be Walt Thacker’s long-lost, identical twin. Ten minutes later, they were in a security office watching a progress bar fill on a flash-drive’s transfer prompt. By the time they’d returned to the garage and slotted the drive into Gail’s computer, her fury had turned to determination. It spread to the others. The files transferred over to her hard drive and opened into pairs to the two angles the courier company had of Lone Wolfe’s lot.
“This could take some time,” Gail admitted, watching the near-endless loop of stationary images. The only of progress was the occasional, lone car or pigeon flitting past in the street-lights.
“Jump to the night before the Gary delivery,” Marla said. “Between midnight and three. That’s when no one was in here.”
Gail did. She doubled and tripled the playback, stopped around 1 AM when someone had slipped outside in shadow. It was difficult to tell for certain, but Gail sensed Carl’s presence. He strolled across the lot, came into sharper focus. His face was still hidden by the grainy, wide-view, but she knew it was him. He had something in his hand. His head swiveled both ways. Headlights split the darkness from one side of the road.
Nora pointed, “There, that frame.”
Gail rewound, slowed the playback. Headlights hit Carl’s face. “It’s him. I know it.”
“It’s not good enough for a court-case, but I might be able to clean it up.”
“He hasn’t done anything yet,” Darian reminded them.
Gail resumed the playback. The four poised orward to watch. The headlights hit Carl’s face again. He continued forward, suddenly ducked down. Gail’s brow furrowed, but it and her eyes quickly slacked in sheer amazement.
“That son of a bitch!” She growled, watching her car pull to the far-side of her rig as Carl hid beside it. “That son of a bitch! I was right there!”
She knew what would happen next. She watched in utter amazement at the sheer audacity the man contained. Her figure angled up from the far-side of the truck, headed for the garage. Carl’s head and body tracked her, a tool-pouch in his hand coming into focus. He watched her enter the garage, and didn’t even wait to open the rig’s door. He slipped in. Moments later he was at its side, lifting the hood.
Gail wanted to explode. She kept herself composed with planning. She was going to bury the bastard. Then, as soon as possible, M-T with him.
The playback finished and she was grabbing her jacket to head from the office. “Darian, crack the code on that chip. Nora, come with me.”
Marla rushed after them. “I’m going with.” Gail hesitated at the door, eyed her. Her face hardened, “I’ve earned the right. He killed Buddy. He almost killed you. I want him to tell us why.”
Gail studied her a moment, then relented, “Fine. Let’s go.”