Archive for March, 2005

I can …

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

… hear you ask yourself, “Why is he writing this blog when it could compromise his hiding place?” It’s because I think it’s important to to write it all down and somehow validate my new life by confessing the old. Confession has long been a tool of the Church and of psychoanalysts, a tool intended to straighten out the guilty. I really fell in to this serious mess as a result of a few minor sins that people perpetrate on a daily basis with impunity, and these mistakes took place at widely spaced moments.

  • When I defied the company firewall in order to participate in that forum;
  • When I accepted a bogus reference to get a job;
  • When I lent Melancthe, whom I trusted and to whom I owed a favour, my username and password.

Of course, this is the essence of tragedy. One little frailty is followed by another and another until the victim is sucked into an impossible situation.

Sir Walter Scott: “Oh what a wicked web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Thanks a bunch, Walt. Where were you last year?

And now I’ll…

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

… bring you up to date with my situation.

The Making of a Fugitive – Episode Four
By September 2004, I was the key witness to the involvement of Shimrod in a proposed bank fraud. I had lost my job and reputation. I was in a miserable, leaky witness protection programme that had plainly not protected the other witness.

The Bank was rid of Melancthe and me, they had appointed a new security manager, and they were hoping to forget it all. It would suit their book if Shimrod never came to trial. Bad publicity.

The police were still voraciously keen, and utterly determined to prosecute, especially after Melancthe’s suspicious demise, so there was no chance I’d be off the hook. Trial set for July 2005.

It was about this time that my mother’s inheritance came through. I had been so preoccupied with my own troubles, I had hardly thought about it, but the sale of the family home in Surrey turned out to result in a large sum of money, even after Inheritance Tax. Witness protection had effectively removed my former life, no loose ends.

I’m not going into detail about what I did next, because it might leave a bit of a trail for someone to follow. In summary, after a few intermediate transactions involving “brass plate” companies based in Northern Cyprus, I am now the senior director of a little Athens company which was up for sale with virtually no assets, but a respectable reputation. Together with legal and accountancy fees it cost me some nine percent of my wealth. My money is in a bank account under the company’s name, but I am the sole signatory now.

I still have my own passport, but I call myself something different now, and different from my witness protection identity. My little Greek company sends money as director’s fees every month into the local bank here, I have a credit card in the company’s name, the company owns my house and boat. In due course, I dare say I shall be paying tax in Greece, but my sleeping partner in the company – a reasonably-priced lawyer – will deal with that. I’m feeling a lot safer than I did in Glasgow.

It’s my hope that no-one can find me now. Will the police be looking? You’d better believe it. They are probably dragging The Clyde at this very moment. Will I go back for the trial? I doubt it. I value my skin too much to care whether Shimrod goes free or not.

Very lazy …

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

… for a couple of days. I have been amazed, however, to discover that if I put a tiny piece of ham on the terrace, my lizard will eat it. It also seems to appreciate a little water in a saucer. I am amazed. I suspect, though, that it was already tamed by the previous resident in my house. It is so apparently unafraid that I am astonished.

As I sat…

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

…on my “terrace” (a South-West-facing slab of concrete outside the house) this morning, a large green-grey lizard appeared and set about sunning itself. I say “large” because I am used to Surrey’s little sand lizards which are only a few inches long. This one was at least nine inches from nose to tail. It seemed unafraid, ignoring the noises I made turning the pages of my book, but I didn’t get up for the camera, though I wanted to, because of the Nature Study version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which, simply stated, is “Any attempt to photograph wildlife will result in the wildlife not being there when the camera is available”. Wildlife photographers have to camp out for months on a termite mound with a loaded and aimed and focussed camera in order to capture 2.7 seconds of screen time. The camera I’m using is one of these throwaway plastic jobs, which would probably not produce a particularly fine image, anyway. And I’d have to get it developed and scanned. I must get a real digital camera – the instant gratification of taking a photo and seeing the result immediately has spoilt me for old-fashioned photography.

The lizard, which I arbitrarily labelled as male, remained where he was, however, even when I went into the house and returned with a drink. I wonder if you can tame a lizard? Must check on Google. Wonder if you can disguise a camera as a drink? I finally decided to fetch the camera, and, sure enough, he was gone when I returned.

A view of the track to my house
This is the consolation prize. The estate agent’s version of the view from the edge of my property – no lizard.

And so the history…

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

… continues.

The Making of a Fugitive – Episode Three
So here we are. Fired from one job and prosecuted for hacking, I was now in the middle of another potential outrage, this one being much more serious. I have to say that I gave little thought to Melancthe in what followed. As far as I was concerned, she had placed me in a very difficult situation. What had seemed like generosity and a spot of innocent rule-flouting to get me a job had evolved into a plot to involve me in some serious felony. According to Melancthe’s frenzied outpourings, I had turned out to be the answer to a prolonged attempt to penetrate The Lyonesse Bank’s systems.

By the morning, I knew what I had to do. I had to stop it all right here. It wasn’t too late. Unfortunately, the Bank would not be able to deal sensibly with this kind of threat. Their own security would be uppermost in their minds, and they’d be keen for the story not to get out. There have been innumerable bank frauds that never saw the light of day, for fear that customers would lose confidence. The Bank, I was certain, would do very little other than hold an internal investigation. I would lose out again, and probably never again work in computing. The only solution was to go to the police, presenting myself as the hero of the hour, and tell them everything.

This proved easier than I expected. The police unit in charge of my previous case was easily contactable. I called in sick to the Bank and spilled the beans to the police the same day. At first, they didn’t believe me. I had no proof, after all. Once they began to believe me, they had this brilliant idea. Melancthe and I should continue with the deception, drag it out as long as we could, the police would make it all right with the Bank, and we should find out as much as possible about the gang, and get as much proof as possible, so they could be arrested and charged. And once again I was totally trapped. I couldn’t persuade them it was a really dumb idea. At least Melancthe wasn’t thrown to the dogs by this plan, and we kept our jobs for the time being. Further, we were promised (separate) witness protection programmes afterwards. Oh, yes.

Well, you’ve seen it on television. Intrepid computing wizard and karate champion cracks a few passwords and saves civilisation as we know it. It wasn’t quite like that. We were being pressed by Shimrod, and his boss, whom we met secretly. We collected the gang’s names and email addresses and car number plates and other trivia. We spun it out as long as we could. We kept inventing reasons why the security at the bank was so hard to penetrate. For a while I kept them happy by allowing them external access to an artificial mock-up system that gave them the illusion that they were making progress. In a way, I was helped by the fact that my widowed mother died in the middle of it all, so that I had an excuse for weeks of funeral arrangements, lawyers, probate, grieving aunts and uncles wondering about the will.

By the end of three nightmare months, I had made very little progress for the police. We knew Shimrod and we had met his boss. We had email addresses for several co-conspirators based in various European countries – the men who would actually move and conceal the money. The strain of the deception got to us and Melancthe and I detested each other by the end.

Eventually, the trap was sprung. Only Shimrod was actually arrested. His boss disappeared. None of the foreign-based conspirators were found, as far as I know.

As a chief witness, I was spirited away to sunny Glasgow for my own protection, where they had obtained a job of mind-numbing monotony for me. Data checking. Great. Melancthe went elsewhere, I don’t know where. We were to be concealed until the trial began.

The caper was obviously much more complicated than that, and some day I may write a book, but right now I can barely bring myself to think about it. I never had much faith in these witness protection programmes, but it was a bit of a shock just a fortnight later to see Melancthe’s face all over the television news as the victim of a mysterious murder in a public park in York. You probably remember it. (Note: I have cut and pasted the news page in that link. You won’t be able to find the original)

Nikos …

Friday, March 25th, 2005

… tells me that quite a few deluded heathen tourists imagine it is Easter weekend. The Orthodox Easter isn’t until the beginning of May. He doesn’t object, however, to the increase in trade from the pale masses of (mostly) Brits, and even provides traditional hard-boiled eggs, delicately dyed in hues from saffron to maroon by wrapping them in onion skins held in place with rubber bands before boiling them.

This morning I was actually still at breakfast in my pyjamas when the cleaning team arrived. I have to confess it was nearly ten o’clock. One of the ramshackle Japanese pickups that do sterling service in the islands arrived, driven by a cheerful middle-aged man with terminal designer stubble. Eleni, carrying a vast bag, and her mother, clutching a baby, climbed out before the pickup rushed away honking without obvious reason. Eleni is a plump girl of around twenty with a sunny disposition and no English, dressed in floral frock with a heavy sweater. Her mother, encased in black, looks at least seventy, and smiles only reluctantly.

I retreated to my bedroom to dress in shorts and shirt, and emerged to discover Eleni unloading my clean clothes from her bag onto the table. Mother’s duties appeared to be foreman, child-minder and chaperone, as she occupied the bench seat by the window, issuing curt orders to Eleni, juggling the sweet-natured baby, and glancing suspiciously at me. I made my apologies, picked up my book (Kazantzakis’ Freedom and Death – one of the few readable offerings from the local “supermarket”) and rode down to Nikos’ to complete my breakfast with a cup of coffee (Greek, metrio) and a glass of water.

I’m afraid I …

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

… missed my journal yesterday. When I got home after more boat-scraping, Eleni had obviously been and done her stuff. No-one locks their doors around here, but I lock my laptop up in a little cupboard when I’m out. Nearly every piece of clothing I possess had been confiscated, and I had some difficulty finding something to wear for the evening. Strangely, every single electrical socket in the house was switched off and had a plug in it. It seems to be a case of “Thurber’s Aunt” an affliction in which the sufferer worries about electricity leaking all over the house if the sockets are not filled. When I tried to use the gas cooker later, I discovered that the supply valve had been closed. Still, the house was spotless – some of the floors were still wet – and there were a few wild flowers in a tumbler on the bedroom window sill. My books had been carefully lined up in size order on the bookshelf. It took me a while to discover that even the book from my bedside had been tidied back. My shoes had been cleaned, for heaven’s sake, and there was a welcome odour of cleaning materials to replace the stuffy atmosphere I’ve been accumulating all year. I don’t know if I’m going to be equal to the task of living up to such diligence.

Today, the end of the paint stripping. Alexis doesn’t need me tomorrow. I can’t say I’m sorry. He says he’s going to start using the epoxy potions to seal the hull. I looked up the products on the internet, and at last I understand. Apparently, the seams and holes are sealed with various epoxy pastes, the outside of the hull is sealed with epoxy and then painted with epoxy paint, so that the timbers are no longer constantly waterlogged in use. The inside, however, is painted with a “breathing” substance, which means that the wood can dry out. I keep meaning to show a photo of the boat. Sorry.

There’s a …

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

… spot of scandal in today’s journal. Nikos confided to me that my prospective maid Eleni is an unmarried mother, and the father was an unidentified tourist. Apparently no-one refers to it. Eleni’s mother (the sister of Pope Soutsos) looks after the baby. Of course, this being Greece, the fact that I was informed ‘confidentially’ and that no-one refers to it means that absolutely everyone knows. In England, unmarried motherhood is very common. In Greece, only 4% of babies are illegitimate, and one suspects that in the islands and small village communities, the incidence is even lower.

The boat is now almost back to the raw wood on the outside of the hull. There’s just the tricky bits still to do. I really thought we were nearly finished with this, but Alexis insists that we have to strip the paint off the inside, too! I really wonder if I need a boat this much, or whether I should go out and buy a rubber dinghy if I want to mess about in boats, but I can’t let Alexis down. I am his only customer right now, and I’m learning a bit of Greek from him while we merrily scrape away. It’s much better than what I was recently doing in Glasgow – data checking – yechh! Even fumes of stripper and blowlamp are better fare than that. Some sections of paint just come straight off in a long streamer that wraps around your arm and permanently colours your clothes. Others require considerable force and dedication to even chip them, and barked knuckles are the norm. With all this fresh air and sun, I’m beginning to get a nice tan, so that’s something.

Looking forward to Nikos’ Chicken in Lemon tonight. My appetite can’t wait. I’m all washed and changed. In a minute, I shall get on my little motor bike and freewheel down to the village, which is a couple of miles down the hill, and pass the time with an Ouzo or two. Bliss.

I think …

Monday, March 21st, 2005

… that’s enough about my background story for now. I’ll pick it up later this week when I’ve got time.

In real life, we’re still scraping paint off this confounded boat. I hope it’s going to be worth it. Still it’s nice to be working in the fresh air, albeit a fresh air tainted with flakes of undoubtedly toxic lead-based paint and various noxious paint-stripping chemicals. Thank heavens for a half gale most of the time. Alexis is really feeling the cold. To me, after England, this is blissful weather.

This stripping of paint is a novelty to the fishermen at the harbour. The traditional method of boat restoration is to stuff the cracks with tarred rope and put another few layers of paint on top.

I met the village “Pope” for the first time yesterday. Stove-pipe hat and black robes. Vast physical bulk, intimidating full beard. He actually sought me out at Nikos’. He speaks good English in a surprisingly high voice, and I realised that he reminded me of Demis Roussos – now I’m showing my age. His manner was courteous and confident. Fortunately, he did not want to discuss theology with me, but rather to propose his niece, Eleni, to clean my house and do my laundry. I had mentioned the cleaning problem to Nikos last week. Pope Soutsos negotiated her hours and pay in a very businesslike fashion, and we sealed the deal in lemonade. There’s a relief. Now all I need is a gardener. So far I’ve only had the offer of a hungry donkey. And this is why.

A view of my house

This is a very merciful photograph of my house. It conveys a certain charm without revealing the festoons of cable and plastic piping that supply me with electricity, telephone and water. The interior will soon be fit to visit if Eleni does her job. It’s primitive, but I am very happy here. Incidentally, the photo is from the estate agent’s details. It’s actually a lot greener now than it was when the photo was taken.

I can’t …

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

… leave you hanging.

The Making of a Fugitive – Episode Two
Melancthe worked in the back office of a large commercial bank, in some clerical capacity. I shall refer to it as “The Bank of Lyonesse”. When she heard of my problems in getting another job, she suggested that it would be easy to get into The Lyonesse as a software engineer. “But,” I objected, “I don’t have any references.”

“Leave that to me,” she said, “Write me a true reference for yourself that describes your work and experience without mentioning your employer and I’ll see what I can do. I have contacts.” I did so.

A week later, Melancthe turned up with an application form for her bank, and gave me the name, address, email and telephone number of a referee – let us call him Shimrod – from another major bank. “Shimrod really exists. He’s a friend of mine.” Melancthe told me, “If you nominate him as one referee and they check with him, he will back up your experience. Nominate me as the second referee. It’s easy.”

It was easy. Within a month, I was a trusted member of The Lyonesse’s Wholesale Finance Division, Computing Department. I was deeply grateful to Melancthe, and showed it, so that when she phoned me up one evening I was honour bound to help her. “I’m stuck at work here,” she said, “And my password has stopped working – I think I screwed it up when I changed it this morning. Could you lend me yours so I can get this done? I need to fix this and I don’t want to call in my boss.” I am not a total idiot. I knew this was a rash thing to do, but why should I suspect Melancthe when she’d helped me so much?. I gave her the id and password – a password that was much more powerful than Melancthe’s own, giving access to the deepest recesses of the bank’s servers, and first thing next morning, I changed it. I did more than just change the password. I traced as much as I could of what she had done the previous night, and, you’ve guessed it, sitting in the centre of the bank’s trusted systems was a keystroke logger. Definition for the morbidly curious here.

The article may give you a clue about the possible uses of key loggers.

I did not hesitate. I disabled the logger. Then I wondered who to tell. I wasn’t exactly in a strong position here, as the accomplice of the criminal, a criminal I had used as a referee, who had also arranged another false reference. What’s more, I was a convicted “hacker”. I was pretty sure that if I told the bank, they’d fire me and suppress the whole thing, and then I’d never get another job. So I told no-one. And I didn’t talk to Melancthe.

Of course, I knew Melancthe would know I’d killed her logger, and I really didn’t know how she’d react. I thought she herself was sufficiently vulnerable to be very cautious in pressing the matter. She’d had a go, I’d foiled her. End of story. Stalemate. And no more cosy Pacman sessions together, either.

She arrived at my flat at half past six, hysterical with fear and screaming that I had to help her. The criminal gang she was working for were making threats. She was as good as dead if the logger didn’t work. What did we care if the bank was robbed? Anyway, when it was over we’d both be so rich we could disappear and live a new life together. I couldn’t talk sense to her. She fell asleep still sobbing and begging and I made reassuring noises.

But that is not why I’m a fugitive. The robbery never took place.