When Kris Storm, the new manager of an elite cybersecurity team at Illuminate, a global internet powerhouse, receives an order to sift through web traffic to further the presidential ambitions of the mayor of New York, she stomps out the door in protest. But her staunch belief in the protection of an individual’s right to privacy is tested when her boss abruptly shuts down the project a few weeks later. By then, a disturbing trail of terrorist activity, albeit circumstantial, has emerged: Brighton Beach, Russian jingoism, freedom fighters, liquid explosives, jihad, Boston Marathon. Now, Kris must decide whether to dig deeper, or stay constitutionally safe on the sidelines. Her hesitancy, however, costs valuable time. When Kris and her partner, street savvy FBI agent Jim Bright, finally identify the bombers and their target, Yankee Stadium, they must race to the Bronx. Will they arrive in time to prevent the carnage? Who is really behind the plot? Angry and now brimming with patriotic fervor, Kris plunges undercover as a hacker among the bright lights and party beaches of the Adriatic Sea to smoke out a global gang of cybercriminals.
From Edward Snowden’s revelations about our own government’s surveillance activities to the financial data breaches perpetrated by Russian hackers to the European Union’s sanctions against Google, cybersecurity arouses passionate controversy worldwide. The Fourth Amendment combines a multidimensional view of the issues with a compelling cast of characters to create a rollicking, contemporary thriller.
PROLOGUE – JUNE 12
“Let’s go Yankees,” twenty year old Anatoly Turken wisecracked. Standing in the compact kitchen of the cramped two bedroom apartment that he still shared with his parents in the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, he anchored a sixteen ounce water bottle, displaying the familiar Poland Springs label, to the countertop with his left hand. Slowly, very slowly, he poured a clear, viscous liquid from a bright red container into a funnel that emptied into it. The spicy aroma of tonight’s dinner, roast chicken, garlic potatoes and borscht, normally would have distracted Anatoly, he adored his mother and her cooking, but not today. Anatoly’s blue eyes burned with the intensity of a true believer, while his hands, calloused from hours hoisting heavy crates on the loading dock of his father’s furniture store, never faltered. The work had sculpted Anatoly’s wiry, six foot frame, stretching taut his sleeveless, black Brooklyn Nets tank top. Mikhail Prokhorov – oligarch, politician, athlete, playboy, and owner of the Nets – was his idol. When the Poland Springs bottle was full, Anatoly screwed the green plastic cap on tightly, pushed down the drinking spout, fitted the plastic cover on top, and resealed it with clear plastic wrap. He grabbed a blue floral dish towel from the rack next to the sink and dried the sweat from his hands. The squeals of children splashing in the gushing fire hydrant rose from the street through the kitchen’s lone window, open wide to provide some minimal respite from the June heat wave. Anatoly rubbed his head, blond hair trimmed so tightly that he could appear bald at times, and surveyed his handiwork. He had assembled four Poland Springs bottles, all similarly filled, in a neat row.
Vladimir Unchkin, two years younger than Anatoly, nodded approvingly, as he usually did whenever in Anatoly’s company. Vladimir was a full head shorter than Anatoly and much thinner. His gray “Brooklyn Basketball” tee shirt, another variation of Nets’ merchandise, hung loosely on his frame, while his baggy jeans sagged to reveal red boxers and an occasional glimpse of his butt crack. Vladimir’s mother had died of cancer two years ago, and his father was still drinking away his grief. Not surprisingly, Vladimir frequently rang the Turken doorbell near dinner time. Peeking through a shaggy mop of brown hair, his green eyes flickered between the bottles and the chicken roasting in the oven.
“What time does the game start? Do you think we can eat before we go?” he asked in rapid fire succession.
“I can’t fucking believe that you are thinking about food,” Anatoly replied, turning to stare down at his young friend. “Today is Russia Day – Independence Day for our country. Mr. Nakitov wants us to make a statement that the whole world will notice.”
“What’s for dinner? Can’t we eat first?” Vladimir persisted.
Anatoly just sneered in reply. “Help me load up,” he said, picking up one of the two blue and white pinstriped backpacks on the tiled floor. He grabbed a yellow bath towel from a stack on the counter, laid it flat, and then placed one of the bottles in the center. Then he gingerly wrapped the towel around the bottle and placed it in the first pack. Anatoly exhaled loudly when the bottle was at rest. “Two in each pack. We need to take them on the subway to the stadium,” he explained.
“Where did you get the stuff?”
“Never mind where I got it. We used it last night and it works,” Anatoly replied, feathering the second bottle into position.
“Sidney’s Cleaners?” Vladimir asked incredulously.
“Sidney’s causing trouble again. We did the job at 2AM so no one would get hurt. Mr. Nakitov just wanted to send a warning.”
“Shit,” Vladimir mumbled.
“I researched it all on-line too – FreedomFighters.IO. It’s based in the Middle East.” Anatoly added proudly.
“They got websites for this?”
“Mudak, the Internet’s not just porn, you know.”
“I like porn. Did you see the video of that pixie gymnast doing her balance beam split on the Ukrainian hockey player?” When his question did not elicit a response, Vladimir added, “She really curved his stick,” laughing at his own well-worn tagline.
“Your brain is porn-fried. ” Anatoly reached into a brown cardboard box and pulled out two coils of spaghetti thin yellow wire, each with a silver blasting cap, the size of a cigarette, on one end and an orange plug on the other. “These are detonators. I bought them on-line too,” he bragged.
“No. On the FreedomFighters’ site. They label everything as mining supplies and ship all over the world.” Anatoly returned the detonators to the box. “Let’s finish up,” he said.
Vladimir reached for a towel with his left hand and a bottle with his right.
“No!” Anatoly screeched, recoiling a half step back from the counter. “Medlenno, slowly – one step at a time.” He locked his fingers around Vladimir’s right hand and returned the explosive-laden bottle to its place. “Just go to the stairs and look out for my mom. She should be coming home from Aunt Volga’s soon. I’ll finish up here,” Anatoly said, heart still pounding from his friend’s carelessness.
“OK,” Vladimir said, shuffling away.
Anatoly’s searing eyes followed Vladimir out of the kitchen before he returned to work. After storing the two loaded packs in the hall closet, Anatoly flopped down on the overstuffed living room couch to watch TV. Within five minutes, he heard the intercom ring from the lobby, Vladimir’s signal of his mother’s return.
“Watching TV? Don’t you have anything better to do?” Anatoly’s mother, Ariana, said as she bustled through the living room. She had been pretty but was starting to show the mileage of a hard life – graying hair, thickening waist, and worry lines encircling her eyes. Her grandfather had fought the Nazis at Stalingrad, and survived, but then had the poor judgment to agitate for more freedoms in Russia. Stalin had rewarded him with a one-way ticket to Siberia and his descendants had been out of favor with the Soviet government ever since. Ariana had immigrated to America with her parents when she was ten years old and never looked back.
“Hi ma,” Anatoly replied without turning around.
“Your cousin Joseph goes to school at night now, you know.”
“We’re going to the Yankee game tonight.”
“That’s in the Bronx.”
“Yeah, mom, we’re taking the subway.”
“Dinner’s almost ready. You should eat first.”
“I’m not hungry. I’m watching the news,” Anatoly replied, still fixed on the television where a reporter solemnly noted the escalating military situation in the Ukraine. A snippet of a video of the Russian President addressing the Russian parliament flashed on the screen.
“I’m hungry, Mrs. Turken,” Vladimir chipped in as he followed Anatoly’s mom into the kitchen.
Ariana fastened a blue apron around her once-white sleeveless sundress and grabbed two potholders to protect her hands as she removed the chicken from the oven. “Set the table. Get the milk. I can’t do it all myself,” she said, although she often did exactly that. Anatoly was her only child and she had always doted on him.
The pleasing smells from the kitchen finally lured Anatoly away from the TV. “We’ve got to eat fast, Mom,” he said, sitting down at the faux marble table in the front foyer that served as the family’s dining room.
“Never a problem with this one,” Ariana replied, nodding towards Vladimir who had already filled his plate. “Here, eat,” she said passing the chicken to Anatoly.
“What about dad?”
“He’s working late. I’ll fix him something when he gets home.”
“He’s always working,” Anatoly said, adding a large spoonful of potatoes to his plate. “What does he have to show for it? Mr. Nakitov just bought a new Mercedes. He’s got a penthouse apartment. Everyone in the neighborhood respects him.”
“I don’t want to hear about that gangster at my table.”
“He’s a businessman, mom, and a war hero. A new Russian.”
“The new Russians are just like the old Russians. Stalin, Brezhnev, Putin – they are all the same.” Ariana’s frustration bubbled to the surface. Countless times, she had described the realities of life in their homeland to her son, but he persisted with his fairy tales.
“You’ll see. Putin will make the Rodina great again.” And I will restore our family name after all these years, Anatoly thought, but dared not say aloud. Instead, he started to hum the Russian national anthem.
“Enough of that nonsense. Your country is right here. It’s called America. Now eat or you’ll be hungry at the game.” Ariana rose and began to clean up while the boys finished their meals. She wrapped two pieces of chicken in cellophane and headed to the hall closet. “I’ll put these in your packs for later.”
Anatoly spit up a mouthful of the purple borscht as he lurched to head off his mother. “I’ll take them,” he said. “Come on, Vladimir, let’s go. We don’t want to miss the first pitch.” He picked up both packs and held one out to Vladimir. Vladimir looked longingly at the leftovers on the table, but knew that he had to go. He sidled to the door, slowly placed the pack over his shoulder, and followed his friend downstairs.
Once they were on the street, Anatoly put his pack on the ground and pulled out two red baseball caps with the interlocking NY logo of the New York Yankees. He put one on his head, brim forward but cocked to the right, and then handed the second one to his friend. “Wear this,” he demanded.
“Because we’re supposed to. That’s why.” Vladimir did not need any further explanation.
Walking down the street, the boys had to dodge a gauntlet of youngsters darting in and out of the cold spray from the fire hydrant. Anatoly shifted his pack to his right shoulder, away from hydrant, and picked up his pace. Vladimir struggled, but stayed two steps behind until he heard a familiar voice.
“Vlad, Vlad – where are you going?” his ten year old brother, Nikolai, chirped. He was standing in front of the hydrant’s stream, soaked and smiling. “You need to cool off,” Nikolai said, jamming both hands into the mouth of the hydrant, trying to redirect the gusher to reach his big brother. Vlad jumped away from the curb, crossing his feet and almost tripping over the pack. He had to reach out with his free hand to steady himself on a metal pole bearing a streetlamp and a New York City sign with a red letter warning: No Parking, Tuesday and Friday, 9-11AM.
“Come here,” Vladimir squealed once he had regained his balance. Nikolai dutifully trotted over, the water dripping off his clothes and puddling at his feet. Vladimir hugged him. The cold water was refreshing. “Be good,” he whispered. “Look after dad.” Nikolai just shrugged, pulling away quickly to dunk himself once again in the hydrant spray.
Anatoly surveyed the fraternal scene with an air of indifference. “Let’s go,” he said impatiently. He had planned their route carefully: the B train to Grand Street in Lower Manhattan then a transfer to the D express that would take them to the Yankee Stadium stop at 161st Street in the Bronx. The Brighton Beach station was located high above the avenue, suspended just below the elevated tracks. Anatoly ran interference for Vladimir as they climbed the narrow stairway, jostling against the tide of commuters returning from the day’s work in the city. He cradled the backpack in both hands, tucked his shoulder, and barged upward. Once through the turnstiles, the boys had to climb another set of stairs to the platform for trains into Manhattan. They were virtually alone here. Vladimir peered down the tracks but could not see a train approaching. He stepped back to sit down on a bench, backpack on his lap. Anatoly remained standing, pacing back and forth. Both were sweating profusely from the heat, the crowd, and their payload. They watched a local pull in on the far track, heading to Coney Island, before their train to the city finally arrived. Since Brighton Beach was the terminus of the B line in Brooklyn, the car was empty. The boys sat next to each other near the center door, staring straight ahead, the seriousness of their mission finally sinking in.
Kings Highway. Newkirk Plaza. Church Avenue. Prospect Park. The train rolled through the various neighborhoods comprising the bulk of Brooklyn. To the outsider, Brooklyn might appear homogeneous, the fourth most populous city in the United States in its own right, but residents knew well that the borough was a polyglot of ethnicities, religions and economics. Russians, Jews, Indians and Chinese; blacks and whites; young families, struggling artists, and wealthy hipsters each had their own territory. Anatoly and Vladimir had ridden the subway to the city many times but had never ventured into the neighborhoods below the elevated tracks. They squeezed closer together as the car steadily filled with passengers. Three thickly bearded Hasidic men, dressed in traditional garb, sweat-stained white shirts open at the collar, grasped the rail above their heads. A black teenager, earbuds firmly in place and head bopping to his own beat, dropped down next to Vladimir, but Vlad’s attention was on the two twenty-something women sitting across the aisle. They were obviously dressed for a night out. The blonde wore tight black shorts and matching platform heels, while her dark-haired friend had squeezed into a white jersey that provided little cover for her cupcake-sized breasts. Vladimir stared intently as they jiggled with every lurch of the subway car until Anatoly’s sharp elbow broke his reverie. “We change at the next stop,” he said. Vladimir’s gaze remained on the girls as he followed Anatoly off the train at Grand Street, but they continued to chat away, oblivious to his departure.
“They were hot,” Anatoly admitted nodding back towards the train as its doors closed behind them.
“Definitely.” Vladimir stammered.
“We will have all the hot girls we want after tonight. They love soldiers.”
“They will suck your chlen like it was a giant lollipop.” Anatoly said playfully. Vlad’s eyes widened as he savored the possibility of pleasures that had only existed in his wettest dreams before tonight. Anatoly offered his fist and Vladimir bumped it with his own, sealing their pact for the evening.
The D train arrived quickly and was only half full, so the boys were able to find seats next to each other again. The subway, now submerged beneath the streets of Manhattan, gained passengers at every stop. Business executives and tourists shuffled in and out, while a boisterous coterie of fellow Yankee fans steadily crowded in. By the time the train left the 125th street station, its last stop in Manhattan before heading into the Bronx, it was packed like a giant jigsaw puzzle, arms stretching up to grab handrails, legs staking out territory, and butts bumping against butts. The train’s air conditioning, taxed to its limit, kept the temperature in the car bearable, although the air was thick with the dank odor of massed summertime humanity. Anatoly, holding his backpack securely in his lap, motioned for Vlad to do the same. Vladimir obediently followed instructions, lifting his pack from between his legs on the floor. At last, the train arrived at their destination, 161st Street in the Bronx, home of the New York Yankees. Almost the entire train emptied here, its passengers lining up to ascend from the underground station to the streets surrounding the new Yankee Stadium, shimmering in the twilight over the urban landscape.
In 2009, New York City had demolished the original Stadium, built in 1923, replacing it with a modern edifice at a cost of $1.5 billion, the most expensive stadium ever built at the time. Its white facade, encompassing 11,000 pieces of Indiana limestone, towered 140 feet capped by a replica of the original frieze of archways and balustrades encircling the upper levels of the grandstand. The stadium’s lights atop the frieze beckoned the boys like candles on a birthday cake.
“How many people will be here tonight?” Vlad asked.
“Fifty thousand – it’s a big game,” Anatoly replied, steering them towards the park just across the street. His friend, jostled by the surging crowd, could barely keep up.
“One dollar water – one dollar water,” the Latino youth with a pock-marked face shouted, holding up a dripping wet Poland Springs bottle that he had just pulled from the ice-filled cooler at his feet. “Five dollars in the stadium,” he added.
Anatoly hustled by but Vlad grabbed his shoulder from behind. “They look just like ours,” he said.
“Of course, you idiot, Anatoly replied. “That’s why I used the Poland Springs bottles. The cops and stadium security guys are so used to seeing these bottles that they will never even notice ours.” He sat down on a bench in the park. “Now we have to unpack our toys and ditch the towels.” Anatoly opened his pack, gingerly unwound the towel from the first bottle, and placed it on the ground at his feet. He repeated the task with the second bottle and then put both back in his pack. “Slowly. Very slowly,” he admonished Vladimir. When Vlad was done, the boys joined the throng heading towards the stadium entrance.
Bill Jones followed the boys with sniper’s eyes from his wheelchair a few feet away. Their bright red baseball caps stood out in a sea of Yankee blue and gray. Having grown up ten blocks from the Stadium in an apartment building on the Grand Concourse, Bill had always been a rabid Yankee fan. He could even afford to buy a ticket at the old stadium especially before the team started winning and all the suits and suites took over. The team built the new stadium for them, not the ordinary fan, Bill and his buddies on the Concourse would grumble jealously when they sat on the front stoop of their building, drinking Bud and listening to John Sterling call the game on the radio. Now, Bill often panhandled outside of Yankee Stadium on game days, usually floating in a pleasant fog of painkillers, booze and weed. Bill liked being part of the swelling, boisterous crowd and could always use the extra bucks. He wore his favorite dark blue Yankee T-shirt, sporting Mickey Mantle’s name and number 7 on the back, and a traditional Yankee cap, also dark blue with the interlocking NY logo. He would be laughed off the Concourse if he showed up with one of those red ones. Gray shorts and a thin, blue pinstriped blanket covered Bill’s midsection and what was left of his legs. A thick beard and weathered black skin camouflaged the jagged scar on his cheek.
Bill had tried a variety of approaches to asking for money, but found that honesty was the most profitable so he had pinned his sniper’s medals to a hand-lettered, cardboard sign on his lap, reading “War Vet Needs Beer Money”. In fact, he was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Watching the boys slip away, Bill’s thoughts drifted back to a patrol in Baghdad ten years ago. He was walking down a dusty street when he noticed two teenagers working on the engine of a beat up automobile, a black Mercedes sedan. He was young and stupid then, so he and his partner approached, looking to help. The teens sprinted away into an adjacent building. Bill could still hear the explosion and feel the burning shrapnel bite into his legs. But, as he told himself often, he was the lucky one, returning to the States in the hospital section of the military transport while his partner came back in a body bag. Bill snapped back to reality as he heard the rattle of loose change in his cup.
Anatoly stopped on the fringe of the plaza fronting the stadium. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and handed it to Vlad. “Take a photo,” he said.
“With the stadium in the background?” Vlad asked incredulously.
Anatoly just nodded and smiled while his friend dutifully snapped the picture. He then tapped to send a SnapChat and jammed the phone back into his pocket. Vlad started to move towards the stadium, but Anatoly remained still. He swung his pack around slowly, unzipped a side compartment and pulled out a sealed envelope. Ripping it open, he found another cell phone and a set of instructions, written in Russian. Anatoly read them slowly and then read them a second time while Vlad looked on, unsure of what his friend was doing.
“A clean phone to get instructions from the boss,” Anatoly said, as he turned on the new phone and waited for service to connect. Then, he keyed in a ten digit phone number in the address line and the code “2.23.1922” as the body of his text message. It was the date of the first celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day, honoring veterans of the Red Army. He waited two long minutes, before the reply, “6”, came in. Anatoly looked up and saw Gate 6 right ahead of them. He pointed Vlad towards the line heading to the security check there.
Twenty fans were on the queue ahead of them. The boys waited nervously, shuffling their feet and trying to peer ahead to see the nature of the search. They need not have worried much.
“What’s in the pack?” the security officer asked.
“Water – it’s hot tonight, man” Anatoly replied, taking out a Poland Springs bottle.
“Don’t I know it. What about your pockets?”
Anatoly pulled out his keys, wallet and phone, even turning it on to show his lock-screen, the picture Vlad had just taken in front of the stadium. The officer waved him through. Vlad followed quickly behind. They flashed their tickets at the turnstile where an usher scanned the bar codes.
At last, they were inside. The Great Hall, a broad, high ceilinged concourse, beckoned. Vlad looked in awe at its scale, huge photos of past Yankee greats adorning the walls down one side, and banks of escalators, elevators and stairs leading to the seats on the other. Shops hawking expensive Yankee merchandise cluttered the plaza.
“Yankee pigs,” Anatoly muttered, as he pulled the secure phone from his pack and texted the next code, “6.12.1990”, to the mystery destination. The inaugural Russia Day, June 12, 1990, marked the dissolution of the old Soviet Union and the beginning of the Russian Federation. “100” came the reply. Anatoly scanned the signs in front of them, and pointed Vlad towards the ramp to Section 100.
When the boys passed a men’s room, Vlad tugged on Anatoly’s arm. “I’ve got to go,” he said, pushing through the door before Anatoly had time to reply. Anatoly waited outside, surveying the crowd and thinking scornfully of his friend’s weakness.
“Your buddy’s not doing too well,” a bald stranger, flab spilling out from both sides of his Yankee tank top, said to Anatoly. Poking Anatoly’s pack, he added, “He’s puking all over the men’s room. Someone’s going to have to clean it up.”
Anatoly jerked around, knocking the man’s hand away from the pack but not even bothering to reply. He half ran into the bathroom. He had to get Vlad out of there before security arrived. A father holding the hand of a small boy pointed him to the second stall, where Vlad was on his knees bent over the toilet bowl. No other men even turned around from the urinals on the opposite wall. Anatoly grimaced as he saw the remnants of his mom’s chicken and borscht in the bowl and on the floor. He leaned over his friend’s shoulder and said, “We have to go.” Vlad just grunted and dry heaved. Anatoly grabbed Vlad’s pack off the floor with one hand, and yanked Vlad’s shoulder with the other. “Now,” he said, dragging Vlad up and towards the door.
“Here, man – clean him up,” someone said, handing Anatoly a handful of paper towels. Once out of the men’s room, Anatoly pushed Vlad to a corner and handed him the towels. Vlad curled on the floor and Anatoly sat down next to him
“What happened?” he said.
“I can’t do it,” Vlad sputtered, wiping the dribble from the corner of his mouth. “I can’t pull the trigger. I just want to go home.” He was almost crying now.
Anatoly wanted to slap his friend, but couldn’t attract any more attention from the crowd swirling towards the seats. Fortunately, no one stopped. “We are not going to pull any triggers,” Anatoly whispered.
“I left the detonators home. We are just delivering the bottles – nothing else. I didn’t pull the trigger at Sidney’s last night either.”
“Yes. Let’s go. We’re late.”
Vladimir shuddered with relief and slowly staggered back to his feet. Anatoly pointed the way towards Section 100. They could see the outfield grass, glowing in the stadium’s lights, as they walked. At the top of Section 100 ramp, a vendor with a blue-pinstriped Yankee apron and a red Yankee hat waited, swiveling impatiently to look in both directions. The vendor was tall and stocky with sawdust colored hair, snaking out from underneath his hat in a ponytail, and a square jaw that appeared to sit directly on top of his powerfully muscled shoulders. He held a tray of a dozen Poland Spring bottles.
Anatoly tipped his own red Yankee cap, knelt down to remove the bottles from his pack, and added them to the tray. He motioned for Vladimir to do the same. The exchange took only a few seconds. When it was complete, the vendor returned the salute, turned towards home plate and walked away.
“Did you see his right hand. He was missing the last two fingers,” Anatoly said.
Vlad just trembled.
“Probably lost them in the struggle. A real geroy.”
“I want to go home now,” Vlad finally replied. Anatoly nodded, pointing back towards the exit. They tossed their now empty backpacks in a trash bin on the way out.
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