Today, we have a short excerpt from Christopher Farnsworth‘s latest thriller, Hunt You Down. The second novel in the author’s John Smith series, it is published in the UK by Zaffre today. Here’s the synopsis:
John Smith is no ordinary gun for hire.
Smith is a man of rare gifts, and he knows your every thought…
Hired to track down a shooter targeting the rich and famous, Smith must complete his mission before another attack takes place. But when a website on the dark net is found to have connections to the murders, Smith realises that taking down a shadowy figure who has weaponised the internet will prove more difficult than he first thought.
And no matter how hard he tries, this criminal mastermind continues to remain one step ahead.
Moffatt is one of five different sysadmins running Downvote. He’s been on the board for over a year, which makes him a veteran. He posted all the time, talked about his computer skills, suggested fixes and upgrades for the site on the message boards. Godwin recruited him by an encrypted email to start doing some of that work, then gradually gave him more responsibility, and more access.
But it came with a warning too. Not long after he gave Moffatt the access codes to Downvote’s secure server, he sent an email with a video clip. I can see it in Moffett’s mind clearly: a skinny kid in a black T-shirt, getting beaten by two big guys wearing biker gear. The clip had been edited to show only the highlights. They used chains, their fists, and boots. In the end, the kid was little more than a stain on the floor.
“That’s what happened to the last person who betrayed me,” Godwin typed in an instant message to Moffett. “Just keep that in mind.”
And he has. It is as vivid now as the day he first saw it. Moffatt is pretty sure he’s a dead man because we’ve gotten in here and cracked his laptop.
“How does he get bikers to stomp people for him?” I ask, and Moffatt is completely freaked out now. He’s got no idea how I can see what was in his head, so he jumps to a much more rational conclusion.
“You guys are feds, aren’t you?” he says. “I want witness protection. I want a new identity. And security! For me and my family!”
Sara looks at me. I shrug. Anything that will keep him talking — and thinking — is good.
“Why don’t you tell me what you have to offer,” I say, kneeling down to face him, “and then we’ll see what we can do?”
“He’s an actual criminal,” Moffett hisses. “I mean, I thought he was just in it for the fun and games, but he has a whole bunch of Dark Net sites out there. He moves drugs, money, fake IDs, all kinds of stuff. That’s how he gets the bikers. He pays them in meth.”
“And you’ve got proof of him doing this?” Sara asks, shifting effortlessly into cop mode. She’s enjoying this. She loves watching Law & Order marathons on cable.
Moffett laughs, almost hysterically. <are you kidding?> <idiot> “Of course not! He moves everything through other people! He sends the drugs via FedEx! The bikers have never met him! Hell, I’ve never met him! We do everything over chat and message boards.”
“So you put together the site’s leaderboard. You keep track of the totals. You update it periodically. And you keep the site secure. Monitor the message boards, make sure nobody is making anything too public.”
He nods, but just barely.
“Does any of the money go through you?” Sara asks. <maybe we can track the funds>
“No,” Moffett says. “It all goes through Bankster. Totally encrypted.”
“The PayPal of the black market,” I say to Sara. “So glad someone invented that.”
She makes a face at me. <shut up>
“So does Godwin pay you for your work, at least?” she asks.
“No,” he says. He keeps his face blank. But I get a flash image from his mind of a priority mail envelope, delivered every other Tuesday. Packed with cash. Even better than Bankster.
I give him a hard look. He shrinks down farther.
“Well. A little. It’s mostly a volunteer effort.” <did it for free at first>
<people need to be taught a lesson>
This is what’s really baffling to me. And though we don’t actually need to know, I ask him the question anyway: “Why?”
That stops him cold. He blinks. “Why what?”
“Why make this site? Why Downvote? Why invest all the time and money and effort?”
“Because otherwise they would just get away with it,” he says, like he’s talking to a four-year-old.
“Get away with what?”
Again, he looks at me like I’m from another planet. But now there’s an added layer of contempt.
“Everything,” he says.