Across the street, in the direction I was heading, was a gas station. Just beyond it was a carpet store. It was one of those stores that runs a perpetual sale. The banner in the window warned that time was running out on the current sale (but neglected to say that the next sale would undoubtedly be starting within a week). On the corner diagonally across from where I stood was a residential apartment building. Two old men were sitting on the stoop passing the time. Neither one looked remotely like an undercover agent (it was at this point that I decided I was being paranoid and could stop viewing everybody I saw as a spy).
Beside me was a restaurant; the sign above the door read “Sid’s Seafood Grill.” I realized that this must be the seafood restaurant Lisa had suggested. Judging from the store-front, it looked like a nice place. On impulse I decided to explore further. The sign in the window said it was open; I walked in.
There was a dining room off to the left and the bar was to my right. Two middle-aged men were sitting together near the middle of the bar and a young blonde-haired woman was sitting alone at the far end. The bartender was busying himself wiping glasses with a dish-cloth that looked a bit too dirty to be useful. He glanced in my direction, nodded, and went back to work on another glass. The two men were engaged in an animated conversation and didn’t notice my arrival. The woman was lost in thought, contemplating the cigarette in her hand. She wore a tight red dress and heavy make-up.
“May I help you?”
It was the maître d’ coming up beside me. It would have been odd to reply with, “no thanks, I’m just looking.” Accurate… but odd. Instead, I made a reservation for dinner for two. Why not? It might not occur to Lisa, and it would be a nuisance if we were unable to get a table.
As she took down my name I glanced into the dining room. It was early enough that all the tables were empty. The decor was pleasant, with fish netting and wooden models of fish and crabs on the walls. The tables, of which there were only a few, were covered with clean white table-clothes. The chairs had vinyl coverings. Not too formal but not too casual either. Good.
After making the reservation I headed back out the door and into the bright sunshine. I paused briefly to let my eyes adjust and then continued south on Michigan Avenue.
The sidewalks were filled with people walking this way and that. I passed a young couple walking a dog, an older couple walking a baby, and numerous individuals out for a stroll on their own. I let my mind wander as I walked. Somehow, while tinkering with electronic funds transfers between banks, I had caused a malfunction of some sort. For some reason, and this is the part that is most baffling, this caused the accusing finger to be pointed at Lisa Melinda Cryer. Why her? For four days that question had been haunting me. For four days I had monitored electronic banking messages. For four days I had eavesdropped on phone conversations. I had pursued every avenue in search of clues. Yet there was nothing extraordinary about Ms. Cryer. I had studied the electronic computer messages for funds transfers on her account until my eyes watered from staring at the computer monitor, yet I could not find anything the least bit unusual about her transactions, nothing that might suggest that hers would be singled out and handled differently from other transfers.
As a protocol cryptanalyst, I was well-equipped to recognize subtle anomalies in electronic funds transfers. While it is true that there was an anomaly associated with Ms. Cryer’s account, the vexing part was that the anomaly lay not with the transfers themselves, but rather with the manner in which the banks reacted to my interference with those transfers. For the most part, the banks had reacted in a predictable way. It was only the transfers on Ms. Cryer’s account that were seemingly mis-handled. Even more peculiar — and sinister — was the insistence by the bank executives that the blame lay with Ms. Cryer. In phone conversations with the FBI, First Chicago Trust executives clearly pointed the finger at Cryer.
My thoughts were interrupted when I came upon a park, with a large open lawn, neatly mowed, and a narrow asphalt path winding through. Trees dotted the path, some were quite tall. I found the quiet unassuming beauty of the park quite inviting and did not hesitate to redirect my stroll off the concrete sidewalk and onto the asphalt path. I eventually sat down on one of the many benches that lined the path. It seemed to be a good place to stop and kill some time while resting my feet. As I stretched out my legs and locked my fingers behind my head, I surveyed the scene before me.
Two small boys were playing catch on the lawn across the walkway from where I sat. They were young enough that merely catching the ball was a challenge and they spent most of their time chasing after the ball and picking it up off the ground. They both wore baseball caps and dirty blue-jeans. Very dirty blue-jeans. The blonde-haired boy wore an over-sized loose-fitting shirt. The other boy, a red-head, wore a shirt that looked like it may have been over-sized at one time but was now too small; it tended to ride up his stomach as he tumbled after the ball.