The Great Hacker Heist
A short story by Claude Nougat
“When I woke up, everything in the house was stolen!” The woman sobbed. “Everything!” she wailed. The lines around her mouth and on her forehead were so deep that her face looked like a Greek mask of grief. The husband didn’t seem to share in her pain. He just kept patting her hand, like a father might do to calm an excitable daughter, and murmuring “my poor darling…”
The policeman squared his shoulders and settled his beer belly in the armchair, reflecting that he was facing a bizarre trio: a hysterical middle-aged wife, a much older, apparently unruffled husband, and a third rather enigmatic person, a young lawyer with close cropped hair and a know-it-all smile. So far the lawyer hadn’t said a word, beyond introducing himself and his clients.
“Ma’am, I need to understand what happened…” said the policeman, his hand raised towards the computer’s touch screen. The morning sunshine hit his eyes, and he got up to pull the curtains.
The woman complied, without waiting for the policeman to return to his computer. “They took everything!” she said, her tinny voice rising to a crescendo. “My paintings, my carpets, my new white leather sofa. A beautiful sofa, top of the line, it cost me a bomb! And the newly installed aquarium. I hadn’t even had time to buy fish for it. And the billiards table that doubles as a dining table when covered up. All gone in one night. I tell you, they took everything!”
“You mean the whole house was empty?” said the policeman, sitting down. He tapped the screen of the computer and with a graceful wave of the hand, he called up the standard form for depositions.
The woman nodded, wiping her tears. “Empty. All seven rooms of the house: totally empty. They didn’t leave one piece of furniture behind. Just the dog. My poor Muffy. He was there, all alone, walking around in the empty rooms. He was moaning, his eyes drooped, his ears too, he looked so sad…” And she started crying again.
The policeman sighed. He hated it when women cried like this. It made it so difficult to take their deposition down. “Was the dog hurt?” he asked.
“No…no, I don’t think so.”
“And he didn’t bark in the night?”
“No. He never barks at strangers.”
“I’ve trained him not to!” said the woman with pride.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have,” grumbled the policeman. People were really stupid. If it didn’t bark, why did they keep a dog for? “Look, Lady, let’s start from the beginning,” he said. “Let’s go at it, one step at a time. Let me ask you. When, to the best of you knowledge, did this theft happen?”
“Ok, last night, that means Thursday October 12, 2020." He tapped the date on the screen. "But let’s try to pinpoint the time. When did you go to bed?”
“I didn’t look but I usually go late, after my husband. At what time did you go to bed, darling?” she asked, turning to her husband.
“Oh, I was tired and I went around ten, as usual,” he said. The policeman wondered why he looked so grim. “But darling, you never come up with me,” he added, looking yet more sombre, almost accusing. “You always stay all evening in front of your computer!”
“No, I don’t!”
“Yes, you do. You must have come up around midnight,” he replied. “That’s what you usually do. But I didn’t hear you. Who knows. You might have come in even later than that.”
“Yes, Officer, he’s right, my husband’s right. I have to admit it: I’m a computer addict!” she said, with a winning smile, perhaps designed to assuage her husband’s bad mood. “I…I don’t know at what time I went to bed.”
“Right. Okay. Let’s put in 12 pm,” said the policeman, entering the time with a tap on the screen. “Did you notice anything strange, out of the ordinary?”
“Nothing.” Her bright blue eyes looked straight at the policeman and he was certain she was telling the truth. Then he noticed yet another tear pearling in the corner of her eye and he hurried on with his questions. “Did you hear anything, any strange noises? Anything woke you up?” he asked.
She shook her head and brought out some paper tissue to dab at her eyes.
“You mean they carried out all that damn furniture out and you heard nothing?” he said, perplexed. Amazing how soundly people manage to sleep. His own sleep was very light – at his age, he was near retirement, he had this problem with peeing. Nobody could ever have emptied his house during the night without him noticing it.
She shook her head again and dabbed at her eyes some more. With all that dabbing, her eyes were becoming very red.
“I can’t believe it! A billiards table and a sofa, these are big, heavy things!”
“ I know,” she sighed. “And they even took my new Jacuzzi whirlpool! And the bathroom mirrors! I spent more on that bathroom than on anything else in the house!”
“They walked off with a Jacuzzi? You don’t say!” The policeman stared at her, and at the husband and their accompanying lawyer. This really was most unusual. Fun even. He’d heard of a lot of house robberies in his time, but never one which involved unscrewing and unplugging a Jacuzzi. What with all the pipes and the electricity to cut off and the tub to carry through the door. And a whirlpool Jacuzzi had to be a damn big tub. Phenomenal. “I’ve never heard of such a heist. These were true professionals!” he exclaimed, and a hint of admiration could be detected in his voice. “How could you have heard nothing at all?”
She shook her head once more but all of a sudden she looked guilty. Ah, thought the policeman, here we come. Here’s the explanation.
“I did make a mistake”, she said. “I left my computer on.”
“Your computer was on?” The policeman looked at her aghast. What did that have to do with anything? Yet both her husband and the lawyer were shaking their heads knowingly. As if the computer was the thing that explained it all. That was weird.
“Yes,” she said. “It was on. I forgot to turn it off. I never forget, but last night I forgot. My fault.”
“Ma’am, I wouldn’t worry so much about it. I sometimes forget to turn off this office computer at night, and it’s still running in the morning when I come back. And nothing’s happened.”
“Lucky you!” she said, and started to cry some more.
“But Ma’am, there’s something I don’t understand. If they took everything away, how come they didn’t take your computer?”
“Of course they didn’t. That would have been impossible.”
“Impossible? What do you mean?” roared the policeman. These guys were pulling his leg and he had enough of it.
“Officer, please, let me explain,” said the lawyer. He had a soothing manner and it took all his diplomacy and tact to calm the policeman. “Mrs. Johnson is a member of DHC, the Dream House Community, a game on Facebook…”
“Dream House? Never heard of it,” grumbled the policeman.
“Naturally you’ve heard of Facebook, haven’t you?” said the lawyer, and seeing him nod, he continued. “There is a group on Facebook that plays at building their dream house. A big group actually, some fifty million people across the world. They put their dream house up with the help of virtual architects and interior designers. They plan it so that their dream house is perfect, with everything they love and dream of having, including pets. Some have cats, others have dogs, or even cheetahs, pumas and baby tigers. Nice, since they’re virtual, they don’t eat you up or mess your house.”
“Naturally,” said the policeman, who hated to look stupid or uninformed.
“And all the furniture people need for their dream house is acquired in virtual shops,” said the lawyer, not noticing the interruption. “All the knick knacks, paintings, sculptures, curtains, rugs, everything. And some of that antique or contemporary art can be quite expensive. Because Dream House Community members have to pay for it.”
“Not quite” said Mrs. Johnson. “One does make money when friends come and visit the house. They have to pay an entrance fee. Quite a few people visited mine,” she added proudly. “But I never earned enough. In the end, I had to put in my own money. I spent two hundred dollars to furnish my dream house! I want that money back!”
The policeman looked confused. “So you have come for a two hundred dollar theft?”
“Either the money or you find my furniture!” said Mrs. Johnson.
“Find virtual furniture?” said the policeman, hesitant. His hand tapped nervously on the computer’s screen. Noticing that it caused the screen to waver and blur, he took it quickly away. He couldn’t think of any deposition form that would fit that kind of robbery. Good thing he was retiring next year – this was fast becoming an impossible job.
“Officer, it’s quite simple,” said the lawyer. “A hacker got into my client’s computer – somehow broke down the access code and password – and took away all the furnishings from her dream house.”
“Not a password,” said Mrs. Johnson. “It’s just an access code from my computer.”
“Yes, but the point is this: the hacker got into your computer and damaged your dream house,” said the lawyer. Then, turning to the policeman, he added: “I wanted you to observe how upset my client is. That is why I let her talk to you and explain what happened from her point of view. Because this is more than a simple robbery. You can appreciate, I’m sure, how profoundly hurt she is. This is emotional damage and we are going to sue the electronics game company that is responsible for the Dream House Community.”
“I don’t want to know anything about that or hear what you plan to do!” said the policeman. “I shall limit myself to taking down Mrs. Johnson’s deposition.”
“Thank you, Officer, that is all we ask for!” said the lawyer. “A simple deposition. Then we will ask for the ITA, the International Telecommunications Authority, to launch a full investigation into the matter!”
Mrs. Johnson nodded, smiling on this bright young man, a friend of her daughter’s. Without him, she would never have known how to navigate her way through the legal maze of Internet.
* * *
Three months later, the clever young lawyer called on Mrs Johnson to give her the results of the investigation. She invited him in for a cup of tea. She was alone as her husband was out on a Google consultancy in China, and not due home before another week.
“Have they found my furniture? And the Jacuzzi?” she said, an eager look on her face. It occurred to the lawyer that she had the round face of a baby, a grown-up one, with few wrinkles unless she smiled too broadly or cried. Everything was round about her: arms, tummy, legs, ankles. Her curly, blond hair and china blue eyes added to the childish look. Now she smiled at him, and the lines were deep around her mouth.
“I’m sorry. I’ve got bad news for you,” he said.
“Bad news? Oh, my God!” The lines around her mouth pointed downwards.
“Yes, all the furnishings were deleted.”
“Oh my God!” She put her hand in front of her mouth and the lawyer was grateful for that: at least, it hid some of those deep-set lines. “You mean nothing was found? Nothing at all? Not one small mirror?”
“And the electronics game company…Will they pay me back?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Why not? That’s unfair. They should pay! They should make a more secure game, one that cannot be broken into! That’s their responsibility!”
“Your dream house was not broken into. They were able to verify that!”
“Not broken into!What do you mean?”
“The house furnishings were deleted from your own computer. No one broke into your access code.”
“You mean they think I did it myself? That’s nonsense. That’s impossible!”
On cue, and just as the lawyer feared, she started to cry. She spilled half her tea cup on the floor but didn’t notice it. “But the hacker…Do they know who the hacker was?” she said. “The vile person who did that to me?”
The lawyer shook his head.
“You mean they don’t know who did it?”
“I’m afraid not,” mumbled the lawyer.
“They can’t find him? How is that possible? What kind of rotten investigation was this? What’s this world coming to!” And she wailed, dropping the rest of the tea onto the floor.
The lawyer remained silent, drinking his tea without spilling a single drop. How could he tell her that the investigators had become convinced that only one person could have done it : her own husband. He had the opportunity – the computer had been left running – and the motive. He could sympathize with the old man. Poor guy, seeing his wife, night after night, stuck in front of the computer, wandering around and around in her dream house, instead of coming to bed with him…
Do you like it? Can you guess where I got the idea from?No, not from the article below but I attached it all the same: it's a great compilation of memorable heists!