Runaway Smart Home E2

Female hacker with computers


When a missing person turns the life of a family upside down, local authorities mobilize a manhunt.

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Periscopic Subterfuge


Using smartphone technology, Heather decides to Gaslight the duplicitous wife. First, the shopping lists that the smart refrigerator compiles include the names of suitors. Then family movie night watchlist queues become prurient.

As the mother and two children sit in theater chairs, the daughter, Julie is impressed with the “upgrade” in viewing choices. They now include the mother’s salacious private entertainment.

“Oh, mother, you don’t have to explain. Just consider it part of our education,” Julie recommends.

In a panic, Margo begins issuing frantic voice commands to the entertainment unit, “Delete! Delete! Delete!” She then turns to her children and apologizes.

Without an explanation, she stresses, “I have no idea where those movies came from. I’m sorry you saw that. Let’s watch a comedy.”

When her husband phones to say he’s running late, the ringtone is a short loop of Margo’s expressions of passion.

Julie then asks, “Mother? What’s going on in your spare time? Maybe we should send the young boy to bed and have a woman-to-woman talk.”

“Nathan, give me a kiss and go play video games in your room.”

When the two females are sitting alone, Margo stares into the curious eyes of her daughter, but can’t bring herself to confess. Assuming the exposures were personal gaffes, she deflects.

“I don’t know how these things are happening. Perhaps our WiFi network is crossed with someone else’s. Tomorrow I’ll phone a technician to fix everything.”

Days after the technician runs diagnostics, the danger rises to a new level. Julie is missing.

Hacking Complications

Heather is in as much a state of panic as the family. With all her surveillance, how did she miss an abduction? For one thing, she has been focusing more on the mother than the children.

This new development significantly complicates her blackmail scheme. Because of her illegal hacking, Heather is the only person with enough information to identify the potential kidnapper.

Now she switches roles to become a bounty hunter who receives inevitable reward money. But she must do so without revealing her crimes, becoming a target of suspicion for the kidnapping, because of her surveillance.

Local Authorities

Police arriving at the Thatcher home collect statements from family members and request access to camera footage. Heather sees real-time events unfolding that could incriminate her. She calms her anxiety with the understanding that local authorities are not savvy enough to discover the technology backdoor she’s created.

Though Heather wants to maintain her illegal surveillance, it’s time for her chemotherapy appointment. This requires at least three hours of quiet isolation.

She uses the time to review, in her mind, possible scenarios. Could the father have devised a scheme to collect insurance money? Maybe there’s a threat buried within sibling arguments. Perhaps this is a scheme to silence Julie’s knowledge of her mother’s affair.

Meanwhile, the police are canvassing the neighborhood and interviewing friends. Detectives, frustrated with the absence of ransom demands, begin reviewing footage of visitors. A familiar face frequently pops up. On occasions, the delivery man enters the home. So a detective interviews Margo.

“Mrs. Thatcher, first, I want to assure you that this case is receiving top priority in order to bring your daughter home. Can you tell me if there were any recent arguments or developments that may have prompted Julie to leave?”

The mother decides to omit Julie’s reaction to the movie-night debacle. “There’s nothing I can think of.”

“Take a look here. Do you recognize the delivery man in this video—or also this one? He seems to come by often.”

Relieved that the visitor is not her libertine, she replies, “His cap is concealing his face in all the images.”

“Yes, it’s as though he knows where the cameras are and avoids them. Are you aware that he has entered your residence on several occasions?”

“No. Perhaps Julie had him place packages in the kitchen or needed to get money for a tip.”

“Most delivery persons receive monetary tips through an app. During the times when he gains access, his visits last upwards of an hour.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that Julie may know her abductor.”

“Take a look at this last video footage of her. She appears to be leaving with a full backpack. Sorry to ask you again. Do you have any idea where she might be going?”

“If I knew where she was, I wouldn’t have phoned the police.”

“Oh, I understand. We’re all very tense. But I need to show you another video. Can you identify the man here? It appears that he receives remote access.”

“That’s my son’s soccer coach. He came by—to explain the schedule for the new season.”

“How often is that necessary? I ask because he appears to have a regular schedule. Is there any chance he was visiting Julie?”

“Officer, that’s not possible, and let me just say, I appreciate your discretion regarding the coach.”

“I understand, ma’am. We are not here to embarrass anyone. We just want information to find your daughter.”

“What I can say is that she is wearing a foot prosthesis. She has several. I will provide brochures for each of them. Some are cosmetic. Others enhance mobility.”

In a public statement, police circulate the news that Julie has a prosthetic foot. “We are asking the public who may have seen this young female walking with a distinctive gait to contact our tip line.”

Later that day, the police receive another massive clue. Subway passengers report a woman whose foot got trapped in the door, and lost her prosthesis. Her male companion had more concern than she did.

Police officers descend on the area and locate the prosthetic foot in a New York City subway. The serial number matches the one that Julie owns. Patrol units widen their search to destinations along that subway route. The public receives notifications on their smartphones with Julie’s description.

Everyone thinks they are getting closer to finding her, but each lead becomes a dead end. Now, local authorities believe that the couple may have left the state. With the clock ticking through the crucial first 48 hours, the FBI takes over interstate investigation.


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