Robert Stratford was surprised to hear his doorbell ring at 10:00 pm. Who would be calling on me at this hour? He had instructed his colleagues that he was available for any situation up until 9 p.m. Beyond that hour, was his private time, and they had all respected this directive. A sense of wariness filled him as he approached the front door of his Boise apartment. When he opened it he faced six men.
One man flashed a badge as he spoke. “Mr. Stratford? Mr. Robert Stratford?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m Robert Stratford.”
“I’m special agent Johnson from the FBI.” He gestured toward the man next to him. “This gentleman beside me is my partner, Special Agent Rawlins. These other gentlemen are with the CIA and BAFT. May we come in?”
Robert stood at the doorway smiling inward. Typical U.S. government. Everything these days is overkill. Send six men to question one. He made eye contact with agent Johnson.
“By all means,” he said, “come on in. May I ask what this is all about?”
“We think it involves national security. You have become under question during recent weeks because your company has waged an extensive advertising campaign touting new and innovative computer systems. Your ad campaign says they consist of a totally new concept that will revolutionize and render present systems obsolete overnight. This has raised some questions in government officials’ minds.”
“What kinds of questions,” Robert asked.
“We’ll talk about that later. We’d like you to accompany us back to our Washington office for some routine questioning, if you don’t mind.”
Robert’s six foot three frame came up straight and erect. “Washington is a long way from Idaho. If it’s only, routine, why do we have to go all the way back to Washington, and what if I told you I do mind?”
“We feel it will attract less attention if we were to do our query at the office. We don’t want to risk any leaks to the media, and we have tighter security there. We would prefer to do this peacefully, but if you object, we would have no choice but to place you under arrest.”
“On what charges?”
“We’ll think of something; interfering with an official government investigation, if nothing else.”
Robert couldn’t believe this. He was incredulous. So I’m now under investigation. It’s the Brian Manning thing all over again with a different agency. This government really is overstepping its constitutional bounds. Well, I can play their little cat and mouse game if that’s what they want.
He looked at Agent Johnson who continued. “We have reason to believe that someone is raiding the U.S. Government computer files. You own a company that manufactures and markets computer hardware and, software, do you not?”
“Yes, but so do many other people. Why single me out?”
“I told you, it’s because you have launched a rather extensive advertising campaign the last few weeks. A campaign touting some new sophisticated cyber concepts; concepts that are far and away ahead of anything currently on the market, are they not?”
Robert sighed, This is really none of their business. “I’m in the computer business. I want to get one step up on my competition. So, yes, I’ve launched a rather vigorous advertising campaign. What does that have to do with government files being raided?”
“To do what is being done to government files would require brain power far beyond that of anyone currently in the industry today. However, these new concepts that you are advertising clearly indicate to us that your company may have that type of brainpower. Our investigation revealed that they are your personal brainchild. That makes you a person of interest. We would simply like you to clear this matter up for us.”
“This is preposterous,” he told the agent. “Yes, my company developed some new concepts, but mainly to make computers more efficient and user friendly. In addition to that, I’ve always said security programs should be at least three generations ahead of user programs. That’s where our present efforts and research are concentrated, but we’re far from developing anything like that yet. To do what you’ re suggesting would take a computer guru who’s years ahead of his time—ahead of all the security codes in use today. I can assure you, gentlemen, I am not that guru.”
“Nevertheless,” the agent responded, “your ad campaign leads us to believe you are far ahead of the present field in computer technology. In view of that, I think it would be best if you were to come with us.” He gestured toward the door.
Robert let out an audible sigh. He realized it was an exercise in futility to argue any further. “Okay,” he said. “Give me a couple of minutes to change clothes and make a couple of phone calls.”
“No phone calls, Mr. Stratford. I think you understand why.”
“But people will wonder where I am, and you yourself said you didn’t want to bring attention to this interrogation.”
Agent Johnson thought about that for a minute. “Okay,” he said, but no mention of where you’re going, or why. We’ll be right here by your side listening.”
Ten minutes later, they walked out to an unmarked auto which whisked them off to the airport. An Air Force jet was waiting to fly them to Washington D.C.
It was a stark white room at BAFT headquarters with bright blinding lights. Robert sat a table facing Agent Stevens. Stevens headed up the BATF, and he was a known rogue elephant. He would have been very comfortable in the old Russian KGB. Stevens was perplexed. After sixteen hours of grueling interrogation, he realized Robert Stratford was making fools of them all. His evasive answers to their questions yielded nothing of any significance.
“OK, Mr. Stratford, let’s go over this again. You deny having the ability to raid government files.”
“Are you familiar with the name Titus Coppard, Mr. Stratford?” At this question, agent Stevens studied Robert’s body language and facial expressions for any sign that might expose his guilt.
He saw that Robert remained cool as ice. “I’ve heard the name, yes. He’s associated with some tax revolt group, I believe.”
“We have reason to suspect it’s something much bigger than that, and I believe you know what it is.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you. I don’t even know the man.”
“Not true, Mr. Stratford. We know that you’ve been in contact with him on several occasions. Attorney General Ramsey believes that there is some kind of revolution afoot, and that Titus Coppard may be behind it.”
Still, Robert remained calm and poker-faced. “That’s preposterous!” he said.
“Is it, Mr. Stratford? We don’t think so. The Attorney General has heard rumors that Titus Coppard has some sort of secret weapon. Would that weapon have anything to do with computers, Mr. Stratford?”
“It’s beyond me, sir. Would you explain to me how computers can be a secret weapon?”
“What if someone were to knock down the computer network? Wouldn’t that devastate the world economy and life as we know it today?”
“I suppose it might, but I know of no one in the computer industry today who is capable of getting past all of the safety gates. I certainly know I’m not capable of it.”
Robert Stratford locked eyes with Agent Stevens. Stevens’ gaze was one of almost pleading and sorrow. “Mr. Stratford, I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you leave me no choice.” He turned to one of his subordinates. “Go get Boris,” he said.
Boris Kowalski was a big brute of a man. When he entered the room, Robert Stratford sized him up. He was thankful for his pain tolerance training. He immediately realized he was going to need it.
Tune in later for episode eight. In the meantime, as an update, the proof is nearing final approval. Should go to the printers in a few days.