CHAPTER 2 (continued)
Two hours later, Payton had completed his survey of Lexis’s applicable case law and shut down his computer. He was about to call it a night when the fouled up E‑mail message pierced his conscious. Curiosity got the better of him. Payton picked up the phone and dialed the number of his computer mentor. Matt Evanston answered on the second ring.
“Matt, it’s Steve,” Payton said.
“What can I do for Baltimore’s answer to Clarence Darrow?” Matt Evanston answered, his voice thick with sarcasm.
“Very funny. There’s something weird going on with my E‑mail, and I thought that you, being the city’s foremost expert in computers and software, might be able to shed some light on it.” Two could play the game.
“For you, I’ll be glad to give it a try,” Evanston replied.
Payton summarized his actions, and then explained how the first message had come through crystal clear while the second one was garbled beyond recognition.
“Download the file over to me,” Evanston suggested. “I’ll give it a quick look and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Matt. I’ll send it over as soon as we hang up.”
Payton returned the phone to its cradle, then, using his modem’s auto-dial feature he called Matt Evanston back on his modem line. After downloading the E‑mail message, Payton returned to his homework. A half hour later, his phone rang.
“Steve, it’s Matt. I’ve been over this several times, and I’m not sure what you’ve got there. Could be anything. Most likely it’s system garbage that somehow ended up in your mailbox instead of the trashcan. If it’s really bothering you, I’d suggest you give Janet Phillips a call.”
“Who?” Payton asked.
“Janet Phillips. She used to be with the government, testing their classified computer systems. After fifteen years, she decided to go it alone and started her own consulting company. She handles all kinds of computer security problems–both hardware and software. It sounds like this is right up her alley. Besides, she’s like a bloodhound on a scent. Once she gets going, nothing–no hardware or software problem–stands in her way.”
It sounded exactly like what Payton needed. Evanston gave him Janet Phillips’ telephone number, and wished him luck.
Payton punched in the phone number Evanston had given him. In spite of the hour, Janet’s voice was fresh and cheery. After introducing himself, he quickly explained his problem.
“Matt Evanston said that if anyone can figure out what happened, it’s you so here I am.”
“Well, Mr. Payton…”
“Please, call me Steve.”
“Most likely Matt’s right, and this monstrosity of a computer database dumped some system overhead stuff right into your mailbox. But I’ve got some time, and it certainly won’t hurt to take a quick look at it. Call me back on my modem line, and you can transfer the file right over to my computer. I’ll look it over and give you a call back as soon as I can.”
“Thanks. Mysteries always bother me. I appreciate your help.”
For the second time that evening, Payton sent the garbled E-mail message from his MacBook, across the phone lines, to someone who just might be able to make heads or tails out of it. Once Payton’s computer received the acknowledgment from Janet’s machine, Steve shut down the MacBook.
Having decided that he’d done enough damage for one day, Payton put all of his paperwork aside, turned off the lights, and headed for his bedroom.
. . . . . .
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