The Let Them Eat the Rich world was envisioned as a comic book without the drawings. Book One, The Journal of Theodora Smith, was created as a serial. Installments came out roughly every week beginning on All Souls Eve, 2016 with the publication of Chapters 1 – 3.
The story began on the WordPress Blog site https://theodorasmith.wordpress.com/ but I realized quickly that the new site did not have the reach of my established blog and so I moved the entire peice here and began posting the installments on my main blog page.
This is a serial web publication called The Journal of Theodora Smith. Our expectation is to add a new chapter to the current story once or twice a week. More established serial web publications are more ambitious. They posted 2 per week (this one was posted on Tuesday and Saturday for several years and turned out a huge story.
We expect to be a little more concise, probably 9 to 12 chapters per story, but with several stories in the Let Them Eat the Rich world. We welcome feedback (of the positive sort).
As questions come up the plan is to create an FAQ page.
The first story introduces Theodora and her mission. Future stories will be related to her mission and her acquaintances.
NOTES (minor spoiler alert)
This shit is going to be dark. We make no apology. There will be triggers. If you are easily triggered, please leave now. The (real) world is a dark and fucked-up place. It often requires us to see through the horror to find anything that is good. We believe that is a constructed reality and that realising this, we can all learn to see through the veil.
That requires hard work. This story is aimed at opening a small tear and showing you what might be on the other side. Make no mistake, this is a radical notion. We are radical thinkers. We believe that self-determination is an inalienable right belonging to all things. We believe that all things are alive. We believe that cause and effect are not mystical concepts. The world IS what we make it. But that is a huge responsibility, one normally left to others. Note that the “others” who have made the world that most people see and live in did not make a world that benefits you. It benefits them at your expense.
We also recognize that this anarchistic viewpoint is not widely understood. That opposing views will clamber to be heard. We do not care. The purpose of this story is not to sponsor debate. You may debate the truth or fiction of these ideas, but we are simply not interested. The purpose of this story is to be a beacon for those of like mind. For some it will seem natural, for others it will be a stretch. We ask that you take it as it is. Please share and comment, we will read all feedback, though no comment is published without moderation.
A note on style
When we began conceptualizing this project we wanted to use a graphic novel format. And though we encourage visual artists to draw the characters and imagine the scenes, we have neither the talent or the resources to do so at this time. But it may help to visualize the story as a comic book. Each chapter and scene was imagined as though it were constrained to a series of frames. Each chapter was designed to be under 1000 words. It should be easy to consume in small bites and easy to imagine (if your mind works that way.)
Last note about triggers
Theodora and her cohorts are not heartless psychopaths or mindless zealots. But they recognize that unimaginable violence is the normal operating procedure for the powerful and wealthy. It always has been. Our modern, first world viewpoint is that this is somehow unethical and wrong. Unfortunately, the result of thinking that we are right and righteous is not is not to make a more right and righteous world. It actually has the opposite effect, it causes us to think that violent and horrify abuse doesn’t really happen. The truth is that the powerful, wealthy and ambitious work this way, use the tools of violence and terror and hide behind a thin pretense that they do not. It is Theodora’s opinion that they can be identified and stopped. The idea that everyone in the world operates this way is a lie. She does not know who they are, but she knows they are there and aims to remove their power by any means necessary. Her particular talents and personality assure her of success.
These people are ruthless and powerful (like a tsunami powerful). In order to meet them she must understand their power. To defeat them she must outwit them. Theodora knows the ruling class have subjugated the world with violence. She has no compunction about using it against them.
I dreamed I was a huge dark bird, drifting the thermals above the world. With my raptors sight I saw the suffering and horror covering the earth below and it broke my heart; I heard her shatter. Tinkling shards fell like snow, my heart forever gone. But a monstrous power filled the void, and flushed me with towering anger. A voice poured from the raw wound where my beautiful heart once beat, and pumped its hot acid throughout my body. This screaming, silent wave of reason uncloaked the future. And as the rolling vision blossomed, I watched as the death covering our world burned away like wildfire until nothing remained but light.
When I woke, the Truth was mine and I dedicated my life to it. I was ten years old.
–The journal of Theodora Smith – May 2020 NYC
Chapter 1 Dragons
“The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
“It’s all about the fucking dragons, Mickey.” I called him Mickey; his name was Michael. I knew it annoyed him. It was part of the tension I maintained between us. Michael was like a dog. He stuck around for the promise of a treat. He’d get more attentive if he thought I might dump him. A little tension is like glue – it keeps things attached.
We were in bed. Seems like all the important stuff gets said in bed. Important stuff gets done in bed too. We had just finished a lunch break-long cunelingual session. I was smoking, he was watching my tits. I said, “You know how all those stories go, right. The dragon has been terrorizing the town for centuries. The scaly old fucker is fat and ugly.”
He took a long drag on my vape and inserted it back between my fingers. I continued, “Fat, ugly and mean as a one-eyed snake. And you know dragons right? That fat fucker has been stealing from everybody for so long, they think it’s normal. They even send a vagrant up to the cave once a year for Christmas or Beltane or some such shit, as a sacrifice to satisfy the greedy bastard’s lust with a tribute. To them it’s worthless blood, but maybe he’ll leave them enough food to make it through the winter. They’ve even made it a holiday tradition; there’s a huge pile of bones in the corner of his cave to prove it. And what do you think ‘ol Draco’s been doing with all that shit he stole? Is he spending it? Reinvesting it? Is he buying himself new caves or helping less fortunate dragons? Shit no. He’s just sitting on it, sleeping on it. He’d be fucking on it if he could get a date. But he’s a pathetic old dragon. He ain’t doin’ shit with it, Buckko, except maybe building bigger walls around himself or buying more guns and hiring armies to protect all that shit he ain’t using, Damn…”
I was sleepy, stoned and satisfied. I closed my eyes and said, “I might take a nap.”
Michael said, “Is there a point you were making, Dory? Or was that some sort of post coital deflation, like the last air escaping a tire with a hole in it?”
“Fuck you,” I said, but he was kissing me then, with his hand under my breast and his thumb on the nipple. I said, “Do you want to hear more or what?” but it came out sounding like gargling mouthwash. I broke away and repeated it. We sat back against the wall.
“You get the picture, right? The dragon is stealing all their shit. They blame it on the weather or the town council or the gods of E-CONO-ME, but even if they did realize that the hole in their bucket is living in a cave outside of town, they can never do anything about it. The only way to solve the fucking problem is to kill the fucking dragon, and it’s been there so long they’ve grown attached to it.”
He was rubbing my shoulder; I slipped under the sheets and snuggled into my pillow. He massaged my hand. Typing cramps my fingers. I moaned.
I said, “Now, to be sure, the myths have been laid-on hot and heavy for years: ‘You can’t fight anything that big. Better appease it or it’ll get worse. We’ll rise up against it when we are stronger. Quiet! You’re going to piss it off.’ Fucking lame-ass excuses.
“The old timers tell them the dragon is everyone. That he lives in the hearts of men. ‘We can’t slay the dragon without slaying ourselves,’ they say. Blaa, blaa, blaa, it’s always the same bullshit. They’re afraid, but they can’t admit it. The dragon has them trained to oppress themselves; it’s easier for him then keeping them under his claw. He works smarter not harder, knows if he eats a kid once and a while, he can sleep the rest of the time. A cow here, a sheep there. Just enough to be sure they don’t forget about him.
“Well, Mickey, the dragon ain’t some immortal beast. The biggest obstacle to slaying that motherfucker is making the decision to do it. Once decided, the doing is easy.”
Michael had disappeared and was creeping up my thigh leaving a cool wet trail. When he got to the top I grabbed his ears and repositioned him dead center. I was pretty wet and didn’t mind him going directly for my soft gooey center. I guessed lunch wasn’t over yet; even though I still had a thousand lines of code to write. It’s tough being self-employed. Besides, Michael loved my cunt, and I could never deny a man with a strong tongue.
Chapter 2 Kill the Lawyers
“The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”
–Dick the butcher.
When I was a child, I lived with Jack Cade. He wasn’t really my father, but I allowed the belief. It was easier than correcting everyone. Jack didn’t mind. He was as close to a father as I had. And though I can vaguely remember my mother, Jack is the only consistent man from my childhood.
Jack was a thief by trade and a liar by pastime. He seldom told the truth. He was not malicious in purposefully misleading everyone, he just had an active imagination. Contradictions didn’t trouble him. I went along with his fabrications because he loved me and doted on me. It made for a magical if somewhat hectic childhood. If a promise he made didn’t pan out, there was always compensation offered. I learned that life actually works this way too even though most people don’t believe it. I thought nothing of it, it was the water I swam in, if you get my drift. I learned that no one is really watching and no one is keeping score. People who get caught up in what is true and what is false miss the point entirely. What happens is all that matters.
I ate when I was hungry and had shoes on my feet. But he taught me to care for myself. Sure, we lived out of a beater Toyota Van for most of my eight year, but I was never cold or alone, and I never felt unloved. Jack Cade gave me an Internet connected computer when I was six. He showed me how to turn it on, explained the mouse and some programs and left me to it. He didn’t know the first thing about computers, but he knew an angle when he saw one. When I wasn’t helping Jack steal something, I lived in my own virtual world. I never went to school and we weren’t in one place long enough for me to make friends. I never watched TV; Jack hated drama, the artificiality of it was like a splinter in his brain. He’d say, “Fiction is for the dull. I can make up a truer story off the top of my head.” And we spent a lot of time making up stories together.
Jack wasn’t ambitious. He believed that life was lived in the moment. He had no regrets and made few plans. We were always together and I never felt like I was anywhere but the center of his world.
You may think I was deprived of a normal life. But if that meant I was deprived of daily betrayals by stupid, petty people or spared relentless bludgeoning of an education, then I didn’t miss being normal.
My playmates were Jack’s acquaintances; they just didn’t stick around long. He’d say
“It’s harder to hit a moving target – and fortune favors the smart.” He was smart and lucky. And we were a team. He never left me with anyone else, never betrayed me for sex, and never put his needs above mine. I guess we loved each other, but we never discussed it. He taught me that nothing anyone says matters. It’s what you do that counts. He made me responsible for my own thinking. And that has made me who I am.
I have a photographic memory. Actually I can even remember things that I was not aware of, long after they happen. I believe all people could do this, that nobody really forgets anything, they just choose to not remember. My brain has an advanced cataloging and retrieval ability. It’s like an instant file allocation table. As a result, I can remember everything; I don’t even need to try.
Jack also left me alone to figure out answers for myself. He took the idea of unschooling to a radical level. I guess he knew my insatiable curiosity would serve my needs. When I wanted to know how a computer program worked I looked it up. When I realized that everything ran on a set of instructions, I taught myself to code. I would decompile programs and poke around. I became a master at searching for the correct answer, reverse engineering to make maps of everything. And for someone who couldn’t believe much of what her father said, I developed a finely sharpened bullshit detector.
If I have a birth certificate I’ve never seen it. When I need identification, I make it. You’d be surprised by how little you actually need to own in order to survive. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have all I want. Jack taught me that the only difference between wants and needs is haves. I want for nothing.
By the time I was ten, I kept a daily journal, but I never learned to write on paper. By the time I was fifteen, I had access to Wells Fargo Bank and the secure municipal servers in Chicago and Minneapolis. I have access to anything I want and I never leave a trace. I was raised as a ghost. I am invisible.
Jack was killed by a hit and run when I was seventeen. But by then we didn’t see much of each other anymore. I learned of his death in a text message from the woman he was fucking at the time. I didn’t cry. Jack got everything he wanted. Why should I be sad?
The power to be completely anonymous is the greatest power a person can have; Jack Cade inspired me to this independence. He didn’t cultivate attachment. He gave me all these gifts and asked for nothing in return. Because of that he will live on in my heart forever.
Chapter 3 Truth Resistance
“Her eyes as clear as centuries…”
–Born at the Right Time, Paul Simon
“This is how it’s done, Mickey. If you want the reward you need to take the risk.”
“I thought you told me I couldn’t get caught.”
“No such thing as couldn’t, bud. Everything is a probability. I never got caught, but I can’t make claims about you.”
“Thanks a lot.”
We were breaking into a corporate mail server. From there, we’d run a little program that takes over webcams. Michael was writing a piece on sexual abuse in white collar America. And we had it on some authority that the CEO of CitiFund, a hedge manager on Hanover near Deutsche Bank named Brunner Cargill was forcing his female front line managers to give him head in order to stay employed. Not that there were many female managers at Citi – But Cargill seemed to have a good track record with them. He’d nailed five out of five.
The good authority, of course, was me, but Michael didn’t know that I already had the feeds. I have a feed on everyone, but it would be foolish to let my journalist boyfriend know that much about me. Michael would have to get the goods himself if he was going to write about it with any authority. Besides, this was only a step in my plans for him.
After he ran the bot in Citi’s email server, we’d have to wait until it replicated through every employee’s mail. That would take some time, even in the middle of Monday morning. After that it would erase itself. I showed him how to set up a digital streaming recorder in his private server we had acquired last week.
In order to hack undetected, you need to operate from behind several levels of protection. I gave him a login to an unused VM server at the colocation center of Peak10 in Nashville. Since they don’t even use half the space kept in reserve, once we had access, I talked him through setting up a hidden one and backing it up via Torrents. The people who are keeping your data safe are distributed all over the globe. Even though the file looks like an illegal copy of the latest Batman flick.
We burned our connection and wiped the VM operating system from Michael’s “borrowed” laptop. Within ten minutes the original system and files were restored and Michael returned the computer to the backpack where he’d borrowed it. I bought a refill for my Vente Pikes and we left the Starbucks on Broadway near Houston.
As we walked back to my loft, I said, “Michael, I think I have a lead on a new story for you.”
“It must be serious, you never call me Michael.”
I kicked him in the calf. He put his arm around me. A box truck, stinking of fish and diesel passed, splashing a puddle of melted black snow and ice onto the cracked sidewalk ahead of us. We sidestepped it without slowing, seasoned New Yorkers that we are. I pulled my wool cap over my ears. New York is disgusting in the summer. It is freezing, though merely unpleasant in February. When my work was done here I would go home to Seattle. At least I knew what to expect from the weather there.
We reached my place and I opened the security door with my thumbprint. The magnetic lock buzzed and snapped when we opened the reinforced steel door, relocking behind us. Michael stamped his feet on the mat in the closet sized entry room. I hung my coat in the vestibule and pushed the elevator call button. When the service elevator reached the third floor, Michael raised the overhead door. We were met by Moesha, my Russian Blue and the spreading luminescence of late afternoon winter sun making my third floor loft glow like a pearl.
“Tell me.” He was already fishing in the subzero for a beer.
I said, “It is serious. It’s big.” I paused to pet Moesha, she rubbed hair off on my leg and scooted out of sight. “Have you ever heard of Truth Resistance?” He shook his head and passed me a bottle of Magic Hat #9, already opened. He used a glass, but knew better than to dirty unnecessary dishes in my kitchen. I drank half the bottle in one tip. The air in these East coast buildings is as dry as Sonoran Desert when the heat’s on. I bet I could light the gas range by rubbing a balloon on my hair. Keeping hydrated is thirsty business.
“They are like Anonymous, but more secret and very violent. They have a manifesto calling for the death of anyone with more than a hundred million dollars. Pretty fucking radical, and even more dangerous. They are responsible for some nasty business, but nobody knows about them yet.”
“How do you know about them?”
I don’t know why this guy insists on asking such stupid fucking questions, but I answered him anyway. “Dude, I know about everyone, remember?”
“Hmmm.” He emptied his bottle into the pint glass. “Ok, if they are so secretive, how do you suggest we write anything about them?”
“You’re the writer.” I said this knowing full well that Michael, though a talented wordsmith and all around gentle lover with a particularly admirable uncut cock, didn’t have the first clue about investigative journalism. But that is why I chose him, his penis notwithstanding.
He said, “Well, I guess we’d need to interview someone, get them on the record, eh?”
He wasn’t stupid; he knew that if I brought it up I must have had a plan. I said, “I might be able to arrange that.”
His phone rang. He looked at the screen and slid his finger across it. “I gotta go, we have an editorial meeting at four.” He squeezed my ass while he kissed me, bumping his hips into mine. Was he erect? Christ, this man needs to eat less red meat. Before pulling the elevator overhead closed he said, “See what you can do. We’ll talk more tonight, eh? Maybe over some dinner?”
“I’ll get some Chicken Chow Fong. You bring the wine, make it white, tiger. See you around eight?”
The elevator rumbled down into its shaft. I opened the video frame on my phone and selected the entry cam. Michael was just going out when the image came up. After the door closed, I punched in the code to set the alarm. The entry way floor was hot now, anyone who entered unannounced would get the electrical surprise of their lives. And it would be their last surprise.
Chapter 4 The Giver of all Gifts
“The NSA and Israel wrote Stuxnet together.”
“You are aware,” I said, “that the Pandora Myth is a patriarchal inversion, right?”
He stopped dead. We were sitting on the floor around my round glass coffee table, discussing Stuxnet, the virus that ushered the age of cyberwar back in 2007. He had just made some bullshit comment about how that must have “opened Pandora’s box,” a myth implying that somehow women unleashed all the evils of the world from their vagina’s.
While he was considering a reply, I used my chopsticks to snatch the last pot sticker and toss it into my mouth. I talked around it. “`Cause if you are implying that my box is evil, dearie, your ‘ol bone will be dry and brittle before it gets anywhere near me again.” I winked and washed it down with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc. It was not screaming Eagle 2011, but it complimented nicely. We were scarfing dim-sum from Nom Wah over on Doyers like cheap candy.
“I meant no disrespect, m’lady.” Michael did a poor imitation of a sixteenth century French noble’s hat flourish and knocked his wineglass, spilling it on the rug. Damn good thing the wine didn’t cost three thousand pounds a bottle. He made a bigger mess trying to clean it up and mumbled, “Sorry.”
“Ignore it. It’s from Ikea. When it starts to smell, I’ll throw it out and buy another. I was telling you something important, ham-hands.” He knelt behind me and massaged my neck and shoulders. I nearly had this one trained. Don’t get me wrong, men aren’t mere objects; I respect them. But I also respect myself enough to make sure my partners know my needs. I leaned into him. He was erect again.
“Hmmmmm. Where was I? Oh yeah. The movie, Zero Days, wants you to believe that Stuxnet the beginning, but that’s fantasy. The majority of the manufacturing world was already using computer controlled processes long before 2007. Remember though, they ran proprietary software back then; to hack one required the source code. In the mid-nineties everything was standardized, and many even more processors became computer controlled. But it was two thousand before they connected them to Internet. Breaking in became easier; you could hack remotely rather than having to directly access a terminal. That shit is in locked rooms, you know.
“Down a little, right under my shoulder blade. Oh yeah, that’s it.” He was bumping his thighs into me, getting harder. This conversation wasn’t going to last much longer. I tried to concentrate. “But just because it wasn’t easy didn’t mean some of us didn’t know how to do it. I learned some pretty cool tricks from my old timers’ crew. These are guys started out when ten Meg hard drives were the size of Maytags. I’ll introduce you to Bellagio sometime, dude’s a trip and a half. Yeah, well.”
I realized that my panties were wet. We’d be going to bed early tonight, soon in fact. I tried to finish up. “Most governments are five years behind when it comes to cyber espionage. Guys in their parent’s basements still have more practical smarts than those NSA geeks. Remember, you got to be a military-type to get a gig like that. How many chicks like me do you think want to wear a uniform and say yes sir? Fuck that shit.”
Michael said, “I like woman in uniform…” he was under my shirt, unhooking my bra. We stood, and he kissed me a little harder than I expected. I jumped up, arms around his neck, hugging him around the waist with my thighs. He slid his mouth to my neck and nibbled beneath my ear. That’s the last I remember before the door exploded in and we were thrown against the wall.
I woke on my back in darkness with my hands and ankles zip tied. I could see a faint light on what I assumed was the ceiling. My head pounded, and my hands were numb. My stomach growled. I’d been out for several hours. I sniffed, using the echo to gauge the size of the room, it was cell. I turned my head to the wall and touched the surface with my lips. My face was bruised. The wall and the bed were cold metal.
Michael moaned nearby. I said, “Hey, you okay?”
He moaned again. “No. What the fuck, Dory? I feel like I was hit by a truck.”
A female voice said, “Good morning, Ms. Smith, Mr. Herman. I trust you are well rested.” It took a moment to understand her voice was piped in.
I said, “Fuck you. Untie me, bitch.” Michael moaned again, a commentary on my poor impulse control, I supposed. I couldn’t place the voice, but I knew her from somewhere.
She continued, “I see you are in fine spirits, Theodora. I only need to give you a short message and then you’ll be released. Mr. Carver says you should be more careful. Next time, you won’t wake up. Your friend’s death is on your head.”
I smelled gas and heard hissing. I identified the voice; it was the hostess from Nom Wah, Eileen. She always gave me extra almond cookies. I passed out.
Chapter 5 Brazilian Dreams
“Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
— Maya Angelou
I woke up in my bed. My head felt huge, I could hardly open my eyes, like a hangover from a week long binge drunk, except, I haven’t binged on alcohol since I was sixteen. The light spelled evening. I couldn’t find my phone. Trying to sit up made every muscle scream. Though my mouth felt filled with kitty litter, I didn’t dare try to find a drink. Instead, I laid still and breathed slow. The technique helps me focus on healing. I needed to escape long enough to build up some strength.
I drifted into a half dream, still aware of the pain, but one step behind it. I thought about Mr. Carver and his message, and I knew I needed to check on Michael, and survey the damage to my loft, but all of those prospects were too far away. I had slept as much as I needed so I floated on my mattress listening to my breathing, punctuated by horns on Crosby three stories below.
Images bubbled up and faded: drinking wine with Michael, the black snow and ice splashed in front of us walking back from Starbucks, Mr. Carver and his friends Faulkner and Wolfe, Mari, an escort from Abalone Group. Her face wavering before my inner vision. Mari worked for the service nights, and took classes at Columbia days. I met her by chance, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I had forged an invitation to a fundraising dinner for Sam Bastion’s reelection campaign which required a plus one to complete my cover. I picked Mari up in a rented limo; she was dressed in an indigo silk gown with candy apple red stilettos. A midnight blue page boy framed her face. I told the Abalone that she would accompany Jay Smyth, but I didn’t specify Jay’s gender. Mari was surprised when she slipped in beside me. I wore a linen button down with a Lorenzo Cana tie and a pinstripe Brooks Brother’s three piece with my ostrich boots. My hair was tied up in a twisted braid. That was before I cut it and it was very long. I told her she was perfect. She blushed.
I told Mari that I was attending to get the measure of the candidate and that when I introduced her she should distract him with her cleavage so I could get a good look at him without him noticing. “Men reveal their secrets more clearly when they don’t know you are looking at them,” I said.
“Don’t I know it,” She replied.
We had a great time. $10,000 a plate dinners are a gas, especially if you aren’t paying. I strolled around during the cocktail portion of the evening like an oil tycoon with Mari draped on my arm. She played the role like she was born to it. I glad handed Bastion and slipped a Bluetooth bug into his pocket. Mari distracted him by standing too close while I assured him of his success. He was looking at her nipples, and hardly acknowledged me.
Mari and I spent the rest of the evening after dinner hanging out in the City Club library, drinking Lagavulin and talking about her dreams. I got her number and told her we should get coffee sometime. She tried to kiss my cheek when the limo stopped to drop her, but I pressed my body to hers, held her face with both hands and kissed her long and hard before she left.
I said, “Goodnight, Mari.”
She said, “Wow,” as the doorman closed me in.
I was pleasantly buzzed for the rest of my night.
When I returned home, I activated the bug. It gave me a satisfactory GPS location and an audio link, later I would use it to break the security of Bastion’s local computer network and gain complete access. Satisfied that I was connected, I shut down my system and went to bed. I dreamed of spooning naked with Mari, my hand draped over her, fingering the delicate skin between hip and thigh. In the morning I took a cold shower; I felt teased and horny all day.
But that was not the last I saw of Mari. Some weeks later I followed Sarah Cargill to a nightclub as part of the surveillance on her husband, Citifund CEO, Brunner Cargill, but lost her on the dance floor. Heading to the ladies, I saw Mari with a client, a broad shouldered guy with a bald head. I caught her eye; we didn’t speak.
Earlier that day, on a whim, I’d gone in for a pedicure to get waxed. I was a swimmer when I was a kid, and I prefer bare legs, arms and pits. Call me old fashioned; call me colonized. It was cheaper to get The Works, essentially removing all the hair on my body in one shot. I had never gone full Brazilian before, but figured, what the hell. What could it hurt? Hair grows back, right?
Fuck me, never again. Besides the momentary pain of having the hair ripped out of my most delicate spots, raw naked pubes made me excruciatingly aware of my sex. The slight friction of my panties left me throbbing, wet and horny.
After I lost Sarah, I went to pee, and passed Mari on my way. In the bathroom I had to squeeze around a lesbian couple, lip locked with their hands up each other’s skirts. Once in the stall and relieved, I wiped, but continued rubbing, thinking I would have a quick orgasm and bolt.
The couple finished and left. I pictured their flushed faces, imagining I was one of them; my breathing grew deep and husky; this wasn’t going to take long. Just before I came, the door slammed open. I watched through the stall crack as the bald dude shoved Mari against the wall. She said, “Owe. Fuck you Simon, not so rough!”
Simon back handed her face and spun her around to the sinks, out of sight. My orgasm dissolved, I exploded out of the stall and lunged at him. He had pressed her face onto the counter, and ripped her underwear off. He gripped her hips, banging into her. I carry a rechargeable Taser the size of a disposable lighter. It’s tiny, but delivers 10,000 volts. I grabbed his shoulder, turning him away from her, and jammed it into his crotch. While he was convulsing on the filthy floor, gripping his balls with his pants around his ankles, I kicked him three times with my steel-toed Timberlines: one to the gut, one to the groin and one to the face. I heard his jaw brake.
I slipped a bug into Simon’s pocket and helped Mari wipe her bloody nose. She leaned on me and said, “Theo, you smell like vagina, and your panties are around your ankle.” I stuffed them in Simon’s mouth and left him moaning and shivering in fetal position. Mari I dropped at Mount Sinai Emergency and went home.
Michael had left a voice mail about coming over and I texted him a thumbs up. Between the adrenalin from Mari’s rape, being Brazilian hot and bothered, and my interrupted orgasm, I was energized to say the least. He didn’t want to have sex with me for a week after that.
The memory dissolved as I opened my eyes to the dusk filled room. Breathing didn’t hurt as badly. Replaying these events got my heart pumping. I almost forgot about the exploding door and being gassed in that cell. I got out of bed carefully, and peed like a racehorse. My phone was where I left it on the glass table in the living room. Any blast damage had been cleaned. There was no trace, and no wine stain on my cheap-ass Ikea rug. I checked my messages. There were several from Michael within the past few hours. Three days had passed.
Chapter 6 A Mouse and a Strawberry Mark
“Most people don’t realize that two large pieces of coral painted brown, and attached to his skull with common wood screws can make a child look like a deer.”
–Kurt Cobain, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die
I have a misshapen body. I know, I know, I should love myself. But society is completely fucked, and there’s more urgent shit to worry about. At least that’s what I tell myself. My Russian swim trainer, Bella, told me when I was a kid, “People in your society hate themselves, Theodora. They’re taught to despise their bodies.” I knew what she was talking about. Everything in my life from TVs to billboards told me my body was wrong, and that everything would be fine if I’d just buy the right deodorant, eat the right cereal, or wear the right fucking shoes. I spent my entire life trying to block that bullshit out.
Jack said I was born in the ocean, but he never said more. I was a water craving geek, and geeks like me live inside our heads; we ignore our bodies anyway. So I dealt with it by not dealing with it.
Looking in the mirror, my eye is drawn to these freakishly wide shoulders, a broad torso made to look even wider by my large breasts: a swimmer’s back exaggerated by a little waist and generous hips. “Proud mama hips,” Bella called them. And after years of swimming, my thighs and biceps are muscled and large. I look like a cartoon.
I stand there and wonder, who the hell are you? Where did you come from? My body looks alien; not the Theodora in my mind. Bella sniffed when I said these things. She’d say, “You have strong arms and legs, smooth olive skin, thick, healthy hair. You will never be a great swimmer, but great is overrated. You’re a big, fast, beautiful girl, pchelka.” I didn’t buy it, I was never anyone’s little bee.
I have too many freckles; my checks are covered with them. You don’t even see my nose and lips; melanin spots dominate. And my eyebrows are always trying to grow together into one. I’d curse out loud when I tweezed them; but it was a losing battle. I gave up. My eyes are my redeeming feature. Jack called them Seven-Up bottle green; they are large and almond shaped.
When I turn profile to the mirror, my belly sticks out too much. My hair, which grows like kudzu, needs to be cut again; the damn braid is always in my way. In this evening light I look like an unfinished charcoal sketch, distorted, out of proportion. Dark smudges for my brows and pubes, and that braid snaking over my shoulder, curling at my hip, impossible to brush out, bound so it won’t escape.
My hair is dark but not flat black like Michael’s. Even right after he shaves his face and bald head are a shadow against his pale Irish complexion; like his hair absorbs the light. Together we look interracial.
Dirty blond, that’s me, with a tinge of red. Irish? Greek? Russian? I have no idea; Jack changed the subject when I asked. I have no real birth certificate or social security number, only forgeries. During a rebellious phase, before I realized there was nothing to rebel against, that Jack would let me do anything I wanted, I shaved off my hair. Once gone I noticed a mark on the back of my head. At first I thought it was a birthmark, an oval port wine stain about the size of a lemon. But I snapped a picture with my phone and made a Photoshop enlargement. The characters look vaguely oriental, but I can’t figure out what they mean. They may be the key to my past, but so far, Internet searches lead nowhere. If Jack knew anything, he wouldn’t tell me. And since we lived such a transient life, there are no records. I remain a misshapen mystery. I have that one hidden mark and a small scar the shape of a mouse that I can’t remember getting. But, only my most intimate relations will ever get a glimpse my little mouse.
Chapter 7 Financial Alchemy
“And you’re working for no one but me”
–George Harrison, Taxman
“Let me tell you something about money, Mickey. It ain’t real. It doesn’t even exist. If you know this, you can have as much of it as you want.”
We were making breakfast. I have a flat top griddle on my stove and I take every opportunity to use it; I love that thing. We were making sausage and pancakes. Jack Cade wasn’t much of a father, but he taught me to cook – and we made most everything from scratch since we were usually broke.
“That’s bullshit,” Michael said, “you wouldn’t have your privilege if you didn’t have money. Money is power, kiddo. And you know it.”
Michael thinks I inherited my wealth. I have never told him that I use the electronic banking system to syphon money. He isn’t ready to graduate to full-blown pirate. He thinks we are just playing. I allow it, but someday soon I will raise the curtain. For now, I am laying a broad foundation, showing him a little here and a little there.
He was manning the spatula, the ham-handed fool. I said, “See the little holes on the pancakes, Mickey? That means it’s time to flip those suckers.” He dropped one half on, half off the griddle.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll clean it up.” He went in search of paper towels.
I flipped the others, checked the sausage, and salvaged the flopped one, wiping the stainless around the stovetop with a rag I keep on the warming shelf. One of Jack’s frequent odd jobs was line-cook in a busy lunch joint. He taught me to multitask on an eight burner. “Don’t hassle over it,” I called, “I got ‘em.” Michael was rooting around in the pantry.
I checked the toast in the salamander and said, “What the hell are you doing in there?”
He returned with an empty towel tube and a porcelain cream pitcher in the shape of a dairy cow. “This is cute, where’d you get it?”
I said, “Be careful with that, it’s rare.” I lied about finding it in a curiosity shop in Seattle. It was actually one of the few items that Jack gave me. I bet he found it in someone’s garbage or stole it. I said, “I don’t use it; it’s too fragile. Put it back, ‘k?”
We ate and lounged. Snow drifted by the uncurtained industrial windows near the kitchen table. The city sky looked like a dirty steel pot; the snow would probably turn to sleet in a few minutes: fucking New York winters. I poured more coffee. Michael read on his laptop. I said, “Here, give me that, have you ever heard of an ACH file?”
He folded the last pancake, poured syrup on it, and stuffed it in his mouth. Licking the excess from his fingers, he spoke around the mouthful, “Nope.”
“ACH stands for Automated Clearing House.” I opened a text file from one of my cloud drives and spun the screen toward him. “It’s just a text file.” I pointed at a line. “The funds come from here, and flow there. This is the amount, and this is the bank. The rest is a description. Files like this move all the money in the world.”
He was chewing. “Hmmm.”
I said, “You have to be a bank to upload one– but it’s easy to hack in and insert extra lines into an existing file. They upload them every night and download return files in the morning. That’s it. That’s all money is. Numbers in a text file.”
He wiped his mouth and finished the last drips of his coffee, tipping the mug over his opened mouth and smacking his lips. Michael had some peculiar, yet endearing habits. He said, “Show me.”
I lifted my sweatshirt and stuck out my tongue.
“Very nice,” he said, “but that’s not what I mean. Yeah, no, do something. Show me how money moves. For real.”
“Ok smart-ass. But I have to set things up, and it’s Sunday, so we have to wait. If you really want to see an ACH hack in action, we’ll do it Thursday when the most deposits are made. Files drop at midnight; Friday morning is the best time to withdraw funds.” He was standing behind me now with his hand inside my sweatshirt, massaging my left tit. I leaned my head back against him.
“So,” he said, “We can do it later? Good. That leaves this morning free.”
Michael is such a horn dog. That’s part of the reason I keep him around.
Making an ACH file is cake. As I told Michael, it’s just a simple processor file, like the ones the SUXNET virus infiltrated to take control of Iranian centrifuges. As long as you give the processor proper instructions, money moves. If there are insufficient funds the transaction comes back in a return file.
ACH transfers are internal bank to bank transactions, and normally banks are the only ones who use them. But banks give FedWire network access to certain non-banks. They call themselves financial services; collection agencies, check recovery firms, and the like. I have access to everyone, but these companies are easier to hack than a bank. Unfortunately, stealing from a bank is a one shot deal; you can never do it the same way again. I’d been planning a project for months that I would initiate on Thursday. Michael and I would craft a file to move small amounts from several sources. These transfers have to be masked through many accounts to avoid detection long enough cover erase our tracks. I’d to show Michael a map of the transfers, he likes graphics. ACH hacking is more art than science; it’s a slight of hand.
I told him I was busy until Thursday so I’d have enough time to get everything ready. The file we made would syphon off a few thousand micro-amounts and aggregate them in forty other accounts around the world. No one would notice, and even if they did, unauthorized debits are always refunded. The complexity makes them impossible to trace.
From there I’d shuffle them around over a couple days. Bellagio called it crossing. Eventually they will be posted in an off-shore account and withdrawn. We’d end up with ten thousand or so, but Michael would be suitably impressed. I would put his transactions my insert for the check recovery company and his tests would upload at the same time as my attack. I never burn a bridge without making it worth my while.
My project will involve much larger sums and have bigger consequences. It makes me wet just thinking about it.
Chapter 8 The Dark Tower
“The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.”
― Rita Mae Brown
Stephen King wrote about a Dark Tower in New York in book four, Wizard and Glass. Number two Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was built over the Rose to protect it. But there is a real tower in Manhattan called Titanponte and it is downtown at 33 Thomas Avenue, which is about a mile from my loft.
“I don’t think he’s in the story, Mickey.” New York City was grey and dirty as usual. Stank from the subway threatened to knock me down.
He said, “Yeah, I know. He isn’t a normal character. But I recognized the name, I just can’t remember where.”
I told him the real Dark Tower was an NSA building run by AT&T. Acronyms. When I was a kid there was a homeless guy in our neighborhood, Badger, who used to make up acronyms for us kids to use in our spy games. I hadn’t thought about him in years. I always pictured myself as James Bond, as a girl.
Badger told me that was good, that I’d be in cognito since most people are looking for a tall man with a British accent. I had to look it up; I was such a poser. Soon after that he began buying me milkshakes at McDonalds. He always sat next to me in the booth. I never thought about it at the time, but he had plenty of money to buy me drinks and snacks. It seems strange that he made out like he was homeless. Thinking back on it, I doubt he was.
I bit Badger’s earlobe off when he put his hand down the front of my jeans. Then I braced my back against the wall and shoved his skinny ass onto the floor with both of my Chuck Taylors. He was a dipshit perv, but he created cool names, I still remember the one he made for my secret spy organization: S.H.O.C.K. Secret holographic organ collection kids. Yeah, looking back on it, the guy was a little wacked; He must have had a thing for pre-pubescent pussy. I told him that if he touched me again I would find where he slept and cut his balls off. I carried a folding knife, which wasn’t very long, but it was sharp, and I used it to make my point, pun intended, by flashing it across my palm and showing him the blood running down my arm.
I only saw him once again, coming toward me on the sidewalk. He crossed the street before reaching me. I guess I scared him with all that bullshit. Back then I was a lot of talk. But I didn’t question my power, and neither did anyone else. I was fierce.
I have never told anyone about that.
Michael interrupted my thoughts. “Do you think they have something to do with each other? Like the real Dark Tower, Titanponte, is a reflection of the tower in Mid-World? That maybe, Roland is somewhere in our world, fighting the evil that threatens to eat us alive?”
“You’re a nitwit, do you know that? Ok, I’ll play along, who’s Henry Raymond Glass then.” There are a few reasons I keep Mickey around. In addition to his sensitivity and uncut sexual prowess, his brain works in a special way. I like to think of him as half in half out. He’s half in this world with the rest of the pathetic humans and half out of it, into some other, more peaceful, mindful world; that inner world where imagination rules. Michael has a dreamer’s spirit, he can see doors where most see walls. He knew who Mr. Glass was, he just didn’t realize it yet.
Michael was like a pit-bull with a shank bone when a problem found its way into his brain. I knew he was on to something. Interrupting him with a reality check just made him dig for it; and he did. While I transferred the ACH files and covered our tracks, I got a call from Mari.
“Theodora, I must see you.”
“What’s the matter? My line is encrypted, we can talk.”
“Where are you, we need to meet.”
I gave her the address of the Starbucks down the street. We didn’t need to be causing a scene at Think. I liked that place, I want to come back. On the way down the block, Michael said, “I don’t know how they are related, but they are. Henry Glass and King’s book are connected. One leads to the other. My dream left no mistake about that.”
“I remembered why I woke up.”
We walked a few steps. I almost fell for it and asked him why, but at that point Michael was just playing with me. He smiled and waited before continuing. “A man I never saw before shoved a hard cover book into my hands and pushed me backward into an elevator shaft, I fell and screamed. The book was The Dark Tower, and the dude’s name was Glass. That’s too much coincidence even for me.”
“What did he look like?”
“Black shaggy hair, wide lapelled suit. And glasses, gold wire rims.”
We ordered coffee and sat in the comfy chairs., Mari came in a few minutes later with a gust of frigid wind – a storm was blowing in. We hugged and I gave her my coffee.
“What the fuck, girl?”
“The escort service has been giving me fits since you beat the shit out of my client the other night. He was some sort of big wig. Now he claims that I set him up to rob him. The service fired me. I got thrown out of my apartment, Theo. I have nowhere to go. And someone is following me.”
This is why I avoid relationships with people. When I get close, someone always gets hurt. I said, “You can stay at my place. I have plenty of room.”
“I’ll pay you back. I’ll wait tables if I have to.”
“Bullshit. This ain’t about money, sister. Don’t sweat it. Hey, this is Michael. Michael, Mari. I think I mentioned her.” They shook hands. But Mari was distracted. She kept looking at the door.
Michael said, “Do you need to eat? You look frozen, maybe a warm cup of soup?”
Mickey has a good heart, though all the time he was talking to her he was glancing at her breasts. I know, I was thinking the same thing; Mari is beautiful. But he was right, the coffee helped the color return to her face, but her lips still looked a little blue. We got a cab back to my place. Mari could soak in my oversized tub and Mickey and I could talk a little more about his strange nightmare.
I needed to check on this asshole client. I thought after I broke his nose and tased his ass he would be smart enough to back off. It’s always the dumb, pencil dicks that cause the most hassle. Small penis, big bank account. I would have to do something about that.
While Mari soaked, I got a notification from the server we had hacked to insert the ACH files. My bot worked, though I never doubted it would. When they verified the size of the file to make sure it hadn’t been altered, which of course it had, there was an automatic routine that I planted to lie to them and cover our addition. Once checked, my program would delete itself. At midnight all sorts of money would move all over the world, and not only the paltry sums that I showed Mickey. My project was about to initiate. I am sure Mr. Carver wouldn’t see this one coming. Fuck him.