8.22.2011

Rocky's Wild Ride

Meet Raquelle the Otter, aka "Rocky". She is our frisbee team's mascot and dear friend. This is the story of her dastardly kidnapping and daring rescue; a tale of high-stakes internet detectivery and good old-fashioned breaking and entering; of intrigue, deceit, betrayal and redemption.










Sunday

Someone covertly steals Rocky, our team's plush pink otter mascot, from our sideline during the finals. We were on such a high from winning the tournament that I forgot to make sure she got home safe. As I'm driving home, I think "Hmm, I wonder who has Rocky", assuming K-na or Micah or another teammate picked her up to take her home.


Monday

A few OnTheRockstars get emails and facebook messages from "Stolen Otter" on facebook. There is a picture of Rocky bound and blindfolded against an anonymous blue cloth. There are some demands:

Dearest OTR,
Congratulations on winning your tournament!
btw I stole your otter.

Please know that the last thing I want to do is harm a pretty little pink hair on her body. However, returning Rocky to safety will come at a price.
I have 4 simple demands that will return Rocky to you in good health. Please take a picture of these demands and post them on this page to prove you are serious about her return. They are the following:

1) Have everyone on OTR friend request me.
2) A picture of Pumba wearing a dress. (Heels as well if you can find them in his size.)
3) Brett wearing the t-shirt that will be provided for him at the DUDE tournament on Saturday for no shorter length than one point.
4) Have K-Na perform a "K-Nasty rap" and post the Youtube link on this page. (Rocky will be returned faster if she looks ghetto. We're talking bandaid under the eye status.)

These are my demands. You have one week to complete.
Once all photos and videos are posted on facebook, I will have Rocky the Otter dropped off at a specified location. I will send you a message of where and when.
Thank you for your cooperation.

Do not contact the authorities or Rocky gets it.

- The Otter Thief

We assume it's someone from our friendly rival San Diego team Milkshake. I immediately suspect Karen and Paul, with possible involvement from Lemos, Bunk, Tracey, Aiza, or Darin. There is an initial flurry of emails to our mailing list as we try to wrap our heads around what has happened, and try to get everyone to friend the proper page on facebook to satisfy the first demand.


Tuesday

I whip up an online trap for the culprits. It has two phases:

Phase 1) Find a cute otter picture on google image search, post it to an innocuous web server that I control, and send a link to the picture to the Stolen Otter facebook account. Whoever logs into that account will click on that link, accessing my web server, and leaving behind a log of their IP address.

Phase 2) Knowing that the thieves are very likely registered on the DUDE website, alter the site to keep logs of IP addresses in conjunction with DUDE user accounts. In this way I can identify the DUDE user for each IP that connects to that site.

After this code is in place, I just have to wait for the otter thieves to 1) click on the link I sent them and 2) check the DUDE site for their team schedule or other info. If they do both of those from the same computer, each will have the same IP address and I can cross reference them and see who they are!
This is not a foolproof scheme, but it's a place to start.


Tuesday Night

I get home from DUDE around midnight. I check the online logs from both phases. There are not one, but TWO hits on the cute otter picture I sent to the Stolen Otter account. One of the IP addresses also accessed the DUDE site a little earlier in the day! That means I can track otter thief number 1. It turns out to be.... Jason Bunk.

The other IP address that accessed the cute otter picture does NOT access DUDE, so I can't directly find out who it is. I can find out who owns the IP address, but it is just part of a large chunk of IPs owned by Cox. Without access to Cox's servers, there's no way for me to find out which of their customers was using this IP at that time.

However there was some other information I was able to glean from the second, unknown IP address. First of all, it was accessed from a normal desktop browser - not one on a mobile phone. And secondly, the unknown IP accessed the cute otter picture around 9pm. I was at DUDE all night, and I know that certain people were there all night and had no way to access a computer at 9. Because of this, Karen and Lemos get crossed off the short list of suspects.

Bunk has pictures of his apartment posted on facebook, along with the address. Pictures of the outside, the inside, and the surrounding area. I can tell the whole layout of the apartment based on all of this, and can tell which windows are his and where each room is as easily as if I were standing in his apartment. I decide to swing by the next day and see if I can sneak in a window. At this point I'm pretty sure I know exactly where Rocky is. I'm convinced because of the IP data, and because it "feels" like it could be Bunk's doing. I assume the other unknown IP address is Paul, because he seems like the next likely suspect. I'm psyched. It's 3am and I can barely sleep because I'm so excited to break into Bunk's.


Wednesday

I wake up and check the Stolen Otter facebook page. There is a new profile photo, showing Rocky perched precariously over a boiling pot of water. I take special notice of the style of stove and of the surrounding faux-wood countertop. I save a copy of the pictures in case they are later deleted. And in fact, someone does try to hide a little more detail later by changing the picture to the bottom picture below - cutting out the counter out.




I check the images of Bunk's apartment, and compare the stove there with the stove in the profile picture. It's NOT a match. At this point I'm a little deflated. I was so sure it was Bunk, but clearly that was someone else's stove. There was at the very least one more accomplice, and I was no closer to figuring out who that was. I held off on the sting operation I had planned.


Wednesday Night

Talking at Porter's with Kief, Becky, Phil, Zeff after DUDE. We start talking about me raiding Paul's place the next day, possibly bringing Suzanne with me to climb through the doggy door. Becky is taking K-na's dog that night and for all of Thursday, and she offers to call Paul/Roberta to see if their dogs are available for a playdate, or more importantly whether Paul and Roberta themselves will be home that day.


Thursday

I get notified from Becky that Paul and Roberta are in fact gone for the day, at work. I cruise over to their place to scope it out. I'm walking around their neighborhood for a few minutes before I find their place. I'm pretending to talk on the phone, walking up and down the same street, the same few driveways, for way too long if anyone in the neighborhood is actually paying attention. I'm peeking over fences, creeping through back yards. I'm basically being so sketchy.

Finally, I find their place. I freeze for a moment because the front door is actually wide open. Crap, what if they are home? How do I explain my visit? I get to the front door and the heavy duty screen/security door is closed and locked. As soon as I get within a few feet of it, their dogs start barking wildly at me. So I walk over to the side yard, and they come out the doggy door. As soon as I reach out my hand to pet them, they shut up and start licking me. Maybe it was my soothing tones, or familiar smell, who knows. At this point I feel that I've already been around too long - I don't want to climb in the doggy door in case anyone in the neighborhood has already taken notice of me.

So I can't get in, but I peer through the front door into the kitchen. I can't see the stove, but the countertop I can see is tile - not faux-wood - and I decide the otter is probably not there anyways. I leave.


Friday

Time is running out. The demands made by the otter thieves are supposed to all come out Saturday at the DUDE tournament. I've all but exhausted my options for how to try to get Rocky back on my own. Up until now I've been doing most of the legwork myself, not knowing who to trust. K-na and Micah, surely. But I had been so paranoid that I thought anyone else - even a teammate - could be in on it, just for the fun of it.

I check for more activity on the cute otter picture, and there has been a new hit since Wednesday. This new IP did NOT access the DUDE web page, so I can't tell directly who it is. But the whois on it comes back as being owned by MedImpact. This is more promising than just being an anonymous Cox IP like the last one.

I look up MedImpact online. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google. At this point I decide I need help if this thing is going to go down. I bring the rest of the team into the fold via our team's mailing list, asking who we know that works at MedImpact. OnTheRockstars jump to action. Pebbles and Whitey were all over the internet with me, looking for clues, coming up with ideas. I go through the list of 400+ employees that LinkedIn knows at MedImpact, and don't find anyone I recognize. But LinkedIn says Sharon knows someone that works there. I briefly suspect Sharon of being in on the kidnapping (like I said, paranoid) and I text her to get more info or to smoke her out. She tells me the name of her contact at MedImpact. I look him up on Facebook and he and I have two mutual friends: Sharon (expected) and Roberta (unexpected!!) Sharon tells me that the place Roberta works had their servers co-located with MedImpact's recently. Therefore it's entirely likely that Roberta checked the Stolen Otter facebook account from work and it showed up as MedImpact in my server logs. Awesome! We now know with reasonable certainty that both Bunk and Roberta are involved. But the question remains: whose stove is in the picture?!


Action

I spring into action. Kief and I had previously fleshed out a plan for what to do if I found Rocky. I needed to be able to send Milkshake a message.

It's arts and crafts time. I pack a few screwdrivers, an exacto knife, sharpies, and rope with me. I cut out some little Master Shake hands. I go to Von's, buy bendy straws. I go to a cheap-o mexican place and get a big old styrofoam cup (and a bacon burrito, naturally). Then I put it all together into a Master Shake replica that I can swap out with Rocky once I find her, which I WILL do, today.

First stop: Back to Paul and Roberta's. Last time I was there I didn't actually see the stove, and Roberta's newly verified involvement via the IP trace means I need to be actually see her stove to be sure. I check with our email list to see if anyone knows if Paul or Roberta are home. Alicia comes back with this gem:

I have it on good authority that they are both at work today. and also, that their dogs are easily distracted by ham.

So this time I go back, feed the dogs some ham (c'mon, we've all seen heist movies before), crawl in through the doggy door, and search their apartment. The stove is not a match, and there is no otter to be found.

Next: to Bunk's! Maybe he got a new stove since the reference picture I saw on facebook. It's worth a shot. I get there, but there are so many people around, and his place is pretty out in the open, so I can't get in. I can't even see in the windows. I leave, still thinking Rocky could possibly be inside.

Then: To the Lemos Pad! His roommates let me in. I'm making conversation with his roommates and making my way casually towards the kitchen. It's past noon and one of his roommates is cooking eggs on the stove. The stove, which is not a match. I excuse myself to leave. On my way out, one of his roommates says "I'll tell Scott you stopped by." I turn around and say "You know what? Don't. This was going to be a surprise." I flash him a disarming grin and walk out.

Lastly: To Karen's. Yes, she had an alibi for not being available to check the Stolen Otter facebook account at 9pm on Tuesday, but I still can't rule out her stove until I see it. I email the list to get her address. Alisha responds again:

I have it on good authority that Karen also likes ham

I giggle. Pebbles comes through with Karen's address. I can't get into her house, but I can peek in the windows and see her stove. She's clean.

The whole team has been following my progress on the mailing list, and providing motivation and help. They've been emailing me addresses for these houses, offering to call people's workplace to make sure they are at work (and not at home). Now I have to head home and have to face facts that, again, I'm out of options.


Out of Nowhere, Drewbop!

Who even knew Drewbop was still on the OTR mailing list? Not me. With one simple email, Drewbop reinvigorates the search:

Bunk has moved in the past couple months. Facebook pic might be his old one.

I check the uploaded date on Bunk's house pictures. They were uploaded about a year ago. That means that if Bunk moved recently, the pictures I had been using for his place are way out of date. That means that he lives somewhere else now. That means.... that I almost broke into some random person's apartment earlier today. Wow.

It also means we need Bunk's new address. Now I'm SURE Rocky is at Bunk's. It all makes sense. I start texting anyone who knows Bunk. Griffin, Molly, Drew, but no one has his new address. Surely people on Milkshake have it, but I can't ask them. We try Facebook and LinkedIn again. I text Sharon to try to get her to tell Bunk she has a job in mind for him and to ask for his resume. She doesn't respond in time so we bail on that idea. Jamie suggests getting a fellow alumni from his school to look it up in their alumni database. I assume that he doesn't keep his alumni association updated, and we don't know another alum anyways, so we bail on that idea.

Time to get serious. I text Maddie.

I need a big favor ASAP. Do you know Jason Bunk enough to text him and ask for his address so you can send him a postcard?

Within 10 minutes I have Bunk's current address in PB. It's getting late in the afternoon. There's a party later that night that I know Bunk will be at, so the backup plan is to try to get his keys from him at the party and then go back to his house. But first, I want to try to get in there NOW.


Calling for backup

I scout out Bunk's place online, but can't come up with much. Google maps doesn't really show it since it's off the street a little bit. I don't know if he's home, and there are just a lot of unknowns at this point. I need help. An accomplice. I call up Philthy.

me: "Hey, what are you doing this afternoon"
phil: "Oh, I'm just about to..."
me: "Nope. No you're not. You're coming with me to break into Bunk's house to find my otter."

And he jumps at the chance. This is why Phil and I are friends. We toss around some slightly off kilter ideas about how to see if he's home without giving ourselves away. Phil suggests throwing tennis balls at his door while hiding across the street. We think about asking a passing stranger to knock for us. We consider simply overpowering Bunk if he answers the door. Or maybe we could have someone make an excuse to come over before the party, and leave the bathroom window unlocked before leaving. I try to get Maddie to find out if he's home, but Bunk is not answering texts. K-na tries to text him about the party and what he is doing until then, but no answer to that either. So Phil and I agree to meet up near Bunk's place, at Von's, and walk over and go from there with very little of a plan in mind.

We get to Bunk's, and find his apartment building behind a vacant house with a For Rent sign. On our way back, we stop at his mailbox and find out he has a roommate, and we get his name. We walk into his apartment's courtyard and locate his door, but don't stay long enough to arouse suspicion or let ourselves be seen. We walk away, trying to hatch a plan. We go to Jamba Juice to mull over our options. As I'm ordering a delicious banana berry smoothie, Phil snaps his fingers, clearly with an equally delicious idea: Let's order a pizza.


Let's Order a Pizza

I told him I wasn't that hungry, and he told me I was missing the point: we can order a pizza and have it delivered to Bunk. That way we can see if he's home without giving ourselves away. Brilliant! We hammer out the specifics, and put the plan into action. We specifically didn't order a bacon pizza so as not to give my involvement away.

So we go back over to his place and wait. Just two sketchy guys waiting in front of someone's house, on the street, in broad daylight. You know, no big deal. After about 10 minutes a neighbor comes out and approaches us. We say we're interested in renting the house in front, the one with the For Rent sign, and ask him all sorts of questions about it. We're so smooth. The only problem is, now this guy has answered all our questions and we ahve no real excuse to stick around, but we still have to wait somewhere for the pizza. So we loop around to the alley behind Bunk's.

Just two sketchy guys waiting behind someone's house, in the alley, in broad daylight. You know, no big deal. People are coming and going, eying us but not approaching us. I'm a little nervous at this point. I think about canceling the pizza order and just trying the backup plan for the party that night.

Just then, the pizza delivery pulls up. She's a mid-40's mexican woman in a Papa John's uniform. I ask her if she'll do us a favor. We're trying to play a prank on our friend, but we don't know if he's home or not. I tell her to go up there with the pizza: if no one is home, then great, come back down. But if someone does answer, they'll be confused about not ordering a pizza, so just pretend you have the wrong apartment and come back down. Meanwhile, my friend and I will hide behind this tree so we can watch who comes to the door. Not sketchy at all, right? Well the delivery woman totally goes for it. She goes up, and nobody is home. So we pay her, take the pizza, and send her on her way. With nobody home, it's time to break the fuck in and get Rocky back.


Breaking the Fuck In

It's an upstairs apartment. We bring the pizza and go up the exterior stairs. I try the door; it's locked with a deadbolt. Phil tries the one window we have access to, above the stairs. The screen pries off with a little effort and the window, unlocked, easily slides open. Phil boosts me into the window. I dodge the large flat screen TV which is just inside the window, and I'm in. Phil closes the window behind me and I go to work inside while he tries to look inconspicuous outside.

I run into the kitchen to check out the stove. The image of poor Rocky suspended over a pot of boiling water was burned into my memory at this point. I recognized the stove immediately. THIS WAS THE RIGHT PLACE. I search the kitchen for Rocky. Not there. Around the corner to the bedroom, and I immediately see her on the bed. JACKPOT. Grab Rocky. She's safe. Now the fun part.

I put a pot of water on the stove and get out the Master Shake replica I made. I tie it up, shove a knife through its head, and leave it suspended over the pot of water for Bunk to discover. BOOM.


And that's how you prank a prankster.



2 comments:

ace said...

looks like alisha was blowing this case wide open left and right!!!

what an epic adventure!

Maddie said...

Always good to have an accomplice on the other side of the country.