Zimmerman’s Algorithm Excerpt

Thr. Feb. 12

Detective Gideon Malcolm sat at his desk, looking over the details of a search warrant when he heard Raphael’s voice from behind him.

“Someone here call for an FBI Agent?”

Gideon turned around. Before he was quite aware of what he was saying he said, “What are you doing here?”

Raphael frowned. “So, Bro, the reason you called me on the phone rather than the District Liaison is because you didn’twant me involved.”

Gideon shook his head and stood up. “Come on, you know that’s not what I meant.”

“You know, if you don’t want me here, I can just pack up and—”

Gideon grabbed Raphael’s arm. “Come here you bastard.”

Gideon pulled him forward and the two joined an embrace that was half hug and half wrestling match. After they broke up Gideon said. “You could have warned me you were coming. I thought you were assigned to New York.”

“I was— am. But your call gave me an excuse to come down and visit. I mean I haven’t seen you since. . .”

“I know,” Gideon said, the smile slipping on his face. Not since dad died.He stood there for a few moments, unsure exactly what to say. For some reason, his older brother’s presence here, now, made him uneasy. “So where are the rest?” Gideon asked.

“Ahh. . .” Now it was Raphael’s turn to look uneasy.

“Come on, I told you what I needed on the phone. I called you because I thought I’d get a hearing and less inter-agency bullshit.”

Raphael motioned to Gideon’s chair and said. “Well there’s good news and bad news.”

Gideon felt his heart sinking as he settled back into the chair.

Raphael perched on the edge of the desk. “Here’s the bad news. There isno one else. The lead you have is not enough for the Agency to commit any resources. There aren’t enough agents to go around, and there are already fifty or so working other angles of this Daedalus case.”

Gideon shook is head. “I didn’t know why I bothered thinking they might be more help than my own department. Sorry I wasted your time—”

“You’re forgetting the good news.”

“Yeah, what?”

“You got me.” Raphael smiled at him. “I couldn’t pull you a team, like you wanted, but I did get permission come down here myself as an official Bureau observer.”

“Observing what?”

“What you got?”

Gideon picked up the warrant. “Like I told you over the phone, what I have is an informant named Lionel, and an address.”

Raphael nodded. “And you’re wondering why the Bureau is reluctant to spend manpower on the word of a two-bit crackhead?”

Gideon chuckled and shook his head, “No, Rafe, I’ve already went through this with my Captain. Why did you think I called you and not the District Liaison? I am sort of curious why you came down— everyone else seems convinced that this isn’t going to go anywhere.”

“You have to admit, the Daedalus theft seems out of your guy’s league.”

Gideon nodded. “In Captain Davis’ words, ‘He probably saw the damn thing on Nightline.’ So why areyou here?”

“You seem convinced the lead’s genuine.”

Gideon picked up the warrant and grabbed his overcoat. “I know this much, Lionel might be a small-time street-level dealer, but so much illegal shit happens around him that he’s never had to make up tips before. He’s getting the same consideration from me if he’s telling me about a fifty-million dollar computer or if he’s telling me who jacked a car last week.”

Raphael slapped him on the back as he slipped on his coat. “The sameconsideration?”

Gideon looked at his brother and gave him an embarrassed half grin. “Ok, I gave the boy an extra fifty.”

Raphael laughed, “Bro, you been conned.”

“So they tell me,” He started walking past the other desks and said. “Come on, let’s get some dinner. I want to get on this stakeout by nine.”


As midnight approached, Gideon and Raphael sat in a ten year old Dodge sedan about half a block away from an empty office building just the District side of the Maryland border. Most major city police departments had newer cars for their detectives, but most major cities weren’t in the constant financial crisis DC was.

Gideon sat in the driver’s seat, pointing a pair of binoculars at the building. They’d kept a low profile by shutting the car off, so the only heat in the car came from the open thermos of stale coffee that sat on the seat between them. It didn’t do much, because they’d opened the windows to keep the windshield from fogging up.

“It’s five past midnight,” Raphael said, “When do we give up on this thing?”

“Give it time.”

“We’ve given it five hours already.”

For just a moment, Gideon felt an irrational surge of resentment toward Rafe. It was as if he, along with everyone else he’d contacted just couldn’t believe that good ol’ Gideon Malcolm would ever get close to something this big. It wasn’t just that they believed— Rafe believed— that his contacts were small time. They were convinced that Gideon was small-time.

It seemed that he was permanently a step behind his brother. His brother could hack it as a Fed where Gideon washed out during training. The ghost of that failure seemed to follow him everywhere.

Damn it,Gideon though, stay focused.If something happened and he missed it, that would be much worse than nothing happening at all. He sighed and resumed looking for some sign of anythingunusual.

A gentle drifting of snow didn’t do much to change the basic character of the neighborhood. The street was lined with empty storefronts, and the offices stared down at them with blind glassless windows. Even the liquor store next to them was boarded up. Gideon’s Dodge might have been as beat-up as any DC cop-car, but here it was exceptional— one of few cars parked on the street that looked like it ran.

Gideon tried to understand why Raphael wanted to give up the stakeout. If he thought logically about it, he had to admit that he himself had trouble imagining what anybody would be doing stashing fifty million worth of computer hardware in thisneighborhood.

Raphael seemed to read his mind. “I told you, you’ve been conned.”

Yeah, your little brother was had by a “two-bit crackhead.”It was easy enough to believe that. But this had gone far enough that he didn’t want to admit it. “Lionel hasn’t steered me wrong in five years.”

“Even drugged-out scumbags are mistaken occasionally.”

More likely, perhaps, than your little brother being right about something?“Maybe these guys made us,” Gideon said, staring at the building which remained as silent and unremarkable as ever.

“You’re still convinced that there’s something to the story from this Lionel guy?”

“There’s supposed to be a pickup. The guy Lionel heard this from someone who’s supposed to hijack a refrigerated semi and meet the guys with the Daedalus. Here. Maybe something queered the deal.”

Outside, the wind whistled through the nearly empty streets, carrying the smell of urine and spilled beer. A single car drove by them, the bass shaking the shocks on the Dodge.

“Today’s the day for it,” Raphael said. “It just became Friday the thirteenth.”

Gideon turned to him, lowering his binoculars. He felt a small chill, almost an evil premonition. “You’re not becoming superstitious on me, are you?”

“What, me? Never?” Raphael reached out and knocked twice on the dashboard.

Gideon returned to looking out his binoculars. The uneasy feeling didn’t recede, he hadn’t realized it was the thirteenth until Raphael had mentioned it. For all he thought that Lionel had fed him a real lead, he had a strong urge to give in and abandon the stakeout.

After all, he did have to admit that Rafe was right. What they were watching for was wayout of Lionel’s sphere of operation. Lionel was a street-level punk, the kind of guy who could tell you who sold junk to some OD in the morgue, or who was fencing TV’s from the Holiday Inn. Raphael wasn’t the first one to question why Gideon believed Lionel knew what he was talking about.

“He’s not creative enough to make something like this up.” Gideon whispered to himself.

“What’s that?” Raphael asked.

“I said, let’s wait a little while and see if the guy with the truck shows up. It was supposed to be Thursday night. If he doesn’t, we can serve the warrant and see if there’s anything in there after all.”

“Be great if there was something in there, wouldn’t it?”

Gideon looked at Rafe. If there was any sarcasm there, it didn’t show. But that wouldn’t have been like Rafe anyway. The irritating thing was, Rafe was proud of him. Proud he’d made the fore, even prouder when he’d made detective— even if DC robbery was not a glamorous assignment.

Never once was Rafe ever intentionally condescending to him. He was probably genuinely excited about the possibility of Lionel’s tip actually panning out. The theft of the Daedalus was big news— the high-tech robbery of the century. Any cops— and any Feds— involved in its recovery would get an immediate boost to their careers.

Gideon wondered if it might all be wishful thinking on his part. Maybe Rafe was right and he had let himself be conned. The Daedalus theft had gotten enough airtime that Lionel— or the driver he was friends with— probably had seen enough of it to invent the story. Gideon wondered if, right now, Lionel was drinking, smoking, or shooting up the fifty bucks that he’d given him, having a good stoned laugh at his expense.

“Have you ever seen one?” Raphael asked.

“A Daedalus?”

“Uh huh.”

Gideon shrugged. And kept watching through the binoculars. “Just the pictures in the news, like everyone else. Oversize filing cabinet mated with an air-conditioning unit.”

“Can’t be disconnected from external power for more than twenty hours, or the chips fry— right?”

“Something like that. Lionel said that the guy was bringing a refrigerated trailer.”

“That’s how they hijacked it in the first place.”

Gideon knew that Rafe was saying that Lionel would have known to add that detail. Everyone with a TV would know that the Daedalus couldn’t last long without its massive cooling unit.

Nightlinehad gone into depth explaining the peculiarities of the Daedalus. The processors in the thing were made from a high-grade ceramic superconductor, as near room temperature as anyone had been able to get them— but they still needed to be kept at an inhumanly low temperature— minus twenty Fahrenheit. The computer itself was about the size of a stack of four briefcases. The rest of the thousand-pound machine were refrigeration units and a backup power supply.

Twenty-five of the things had been built to date. They were the most powerful supercomputers ever built. They made a Sun Workstation or a Cray look like a pocket calculator.

And if anyone let the cooling system go, it would become a fifty-million-dollar paperweight.

“When you got the warrant for this stakeout, did you get one for Con Ed?” Raphael asked.

Obviously, if the computer was here, the thieves had to have it plugged in somewhere. Gideon had known that and had checked it out as soon as he heard from Lionel. “It didn’t amount to anything, all they have is the meter reading from about six months ago.”

“Six months?”

Gideon nodded. “The building’s empty. They cut off the power back in August.”

“What’s that, then?” Raphael said. Gideon lowered his binoculars and looked at him. Raphael pointed toward the front of the building.

“What’s what?” Gideon asked.

“By the front,” he said.

Gideon raised his binoculars again, and turned away from the parking area where he had been concentrating most of his attention. The place was an old brick structure, and the windows and front doors were boarded over with graffiti-clad plywood. The streetlights washed the stairs to the front, so it was hard to make out the small light that hung in the alcove just above the boarded-up entrance. Knowing where to look, though, Gideon could see a small cage set in the upper part of the doorway’s arch. Inside it, a dim yellow light glowed. The bulb was almost lost in the sodium glow of the streetlight, but it was obviously lit.

“Good eyes.”

“Power’s supposed to be cut?” Raphael asked.

Supposedto be.” Gideon nodded. “Now do you believe we’ve got something here?”

“Something,” Raphael said. “Though your informant probably handed you a meth lab.”

Gideon hated to admit it, but his brother was probably right. He usually wasabout things like this. Irritating, but that was one of the reasons Rafe was the FBI agent and Gideon was just a District cop. The more Gideon looked at this old building, the more he wondered why someone would stash a supercomputer here.

But somethingwas going on here.

Gideon set down his binoculars. “Ok, let’s forget the truck. It probably isn’t coming.” He picked up the radio and called in his location and told the dispatcher that he was going in to serve a warrant on an abandoned building.

When he put the microphone down, Raphael asked, “Aren’t you going to call in some backup?”

“As everyone points out, this is probably nothing. I haven’t seen any sign of activity in there for the past three hours. I call for backup now I’ll get my ass reamed for wasting city resources.”

“Uh huh,” Raphael got out and drew his gun.

Gideon got out on his side and looked at Raphael, “Observer, huh?”

He grinned and said, “Haven’t been in the field in three years, nice to get the blood pumping again.”

Gideon shook his head and pulled out a Mag-lite from under his seat and drew his own weapon.

They walked slowly up to the building, Gideon watched the dead windows for any sign of movement, but nothing stirred inside, and no other lights showed inside the structure.

Raphael actually took the lead by a few steps. “I wonder if that light out front is on a different meter.”

Gideon shrugged. “Drug-dealers hijack power all the time, someone could have wired a single room in this place, and didn’t realize the front light was on the same circuit.”

“So you do think we’ve got a meth lab now?”

“I don’t know what we have.” Gideon grinned at Raphael. “But we do have a warrant.”

The building loomed over them as they approached. It was a five-story structure of red brick, the windows set into pointed arches. On the first two stories, the windows were boarded over with plywood. From there on down, the building was almost solid graffiti.

They reached one corner of the building and one spray-paint logo stood out. Gideon noted it in passing. It was a red Hebrew character, “?0.” Since when do we have Jewish street gangs tagging walls?

“We’ve been here for hours,” Raphael whispered, his breath fogging in the cold air. “Maybe your truck pulled up around back.”

Gideon followed Raphael as he ducked into an alley next to the building. The narrow passage was piled with trash and smelled like overripe sewage. They had to step over broken bottles, empty six-packs, used condoms, and someone’s old spare tire.

They emerged where the parking lot’s weed-shot asphalt wrapped around the building. Gideon noticed that most of the debris was pushed off to the side of the building back here. There wasn’t any truck, but there was a crumbling concrete ramp down into the side of the building. It ended in a rolling garage door.

Gideon looked at the garage door, and looked at Raphael. “Could we’ve missed a truck?”

Raphael looked down to where the lot curved around the building. street. “I thought you had the entrance covered?”

Gideon nodded. He had. There was no way they could’ve missed a truck showing up.

The lot behind the building was bordered on two sides by neighbor buildings. The fourth side, opposite their building, was a vacant lot hiding behind a rusty chain-link fence. A streetlight on a utility pole cast the whole back lot with an artificial glow, making it look like a stage set.

“There’s only the one way back here,” Gideon said. “Maybe it was already here when we arrived. It’s got to be a bitch moving that thing.”

“Would it take more than five hours?”

Raphael was right about that point. Reportedly the thieves who hijacked the Daedalus had taken less than fifteen minutes to move the computer into their truck. Upon reflection. Gideon doubted that the transaction Lionel had told him about would take much longer.

“Come on,” Raphael said, slipping down the ramp, toward the garage door. Gideon followed, feeling the press of claustrophobia as they walked down the ramp, deeper into the trench it made in the ground.

When they reached the point where the bottom flattened out before the garage door, the ground to either side was above eye-level. They couldn’t see anyone approach from the street now.

Raphael was kneeling near the bottom of the garage door. There was about a two-foot-tall gap because the door hadn’t rolled all the way to the ground. Probably from someone forcing the old mechanism. The place was probably a haven to homeless squatters, or junkies, who’d forced the door open.

“After you,” Raphael said, “You have the flashlight.”

Gideon knelt next to the gap and whispered, “Seems quiet enough.” Gideon crouched down, preparing to slip under the door. “Watch my back.”

“Sure thing,” Raphael whispered in a puff of fog.

Raphael crouched down next to him so he could cover the interior of the garage as Gideon slipped under the door. Gideon, turned on his flashlight, rolled across the oil-stained concrete under the garage door, and stood up

The place was cavernous, and what Gideon saw of it was empty. Unfortunately, the door was at the end of a short hall, and the walls to either side managed to cut off the view of more than a third of the garage to either side. There could very well be a truck parked down here, out of view.

Raphael rolled in after him, standing up and covering what was visible of the garage with his automatic. They both stayed still as Gideon moved the Mag-lite to illuminate the garage in front of them.

The floor was at basement level, and the ceiling must have reached above the first floor. Streetlights filtered in from an unseen window, so everything outside the flashlight beam was illuminated in a pale yellow the color of urine. It was diffuse enough to reach the ceiling, and the far walls.

Directly opposite them was a gaping maw that was apparently for a freight elevator. He could see dangling cables caught in the flashlight beam.

Gideon started inching along the left wall, down the corridor toward the main room. Raphael followed. Each step brought more of the garage into view as he swept the flashlight beam back and forth.

The first thing Gideon noticed was a catwalk hugged the wall at about the first floor height. Windows were set into the wall just above the catwalk, streetlights shining through gaps in the wood boarding them over. A small forklift, a Bobcat, was parked by the wall, under the catwalk. Unlike the rest of the place, it looked new and in working order.

Even after seeing the forklift, Gideon felt his breath catch the moment the Daedalus came into view.

It sat a few feet away from the forklift, sitting on a heavy-duty pallet. It was stainless steel, built like a tall five-drawer filing cabinet, cooling vents coming out of the sides. One of the bottom “drawers” had been pulled out, revealing it as just a thin metal panel. Cables led out of the exposed interior of the machine and snaked around the pallet up to a few gray electrical boxes on the wall. Gideon could feel the hot dry exhaust from the machine on his face as he looked at it. He could hear the thing’s cooling system humming to itself.

The thing was actually here.

He could hear Raphael saying something, and from the tone, his brother was more surprised than he was. Raphael had taken a few steps away from the wall, toward the machine. Gideon took a half-step to follow him—

A spotlight blasted from the left side of the garage. Raphael’s shadow stretched all the way to the Daedalus. Raphael was past the corner, near the center of the floor. Raphael, washed in white light, spun around, bringing his automatic to bear. He yelled at the people behind the light, “FBI, free—”

A dull thudding sound filled the room, the noise like an air-hammer striking mud. Raphael fell backward, his head a bloody mess. Gideon’s instincts took over and he hugged the corner, reaching around and firing at the spotlight.

The cover the wall provided wasn’t enough. He heard several more of the dull hammer-blows. The corner of the wall blew apart, spraying Gideon with concrete shrapnel. A shot slammed into his shoulder, and his hand spasmed, letting his gun fly into the garage. He tried to duck away, but another shot, or a piece of shrapnel, sliced into his leg. It suddenly couldn’t support him and he fell to the ground. He couldn’t get his arms down to protect himself, and his head struck the concrete with the full force of his fall.

He blacked out a few moments.

He blinked and the garage was fully lit and filled with men in black jumpsuits and body-armor. They ringed him and Raphael. One was staring at Gideon’s belt. Gideon’s badge was visible where his overcoat had fallen open. One of the men in black said, “Fuck, they’re cops.”

Gideon’s vision was blurred and half focused. He might have blacked out again. When he opened his eyes again one of the men was looking closely at him, and Gideon could feel fingers on his neck. “This one’s still alive.”

Gideon heard the sound of a walkie-talkie from somewhere else in the room. A muffled radio voice said, “the operation is compromised. Move to our fall-back position. All unexposed units are being extracted.”

Someone responded, “we copy that.”

Past the man leaning over him, he could see the others removing silencers from the compact sub-machine-guns they carried.

Before he blacked out again. He heard the tearing sound of Velcro. He could just see someone peeling a piece of black fabric from the back of his neighbor’s jacket. It revealed bright yellow letters, “US TREASURY.”

The last thing Gideon was conscious of was the sound of approaching sirens.

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