2017 - Stump’s America
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Roberto Figueroa stopped the stolen Nissan Tsuru taxi on the bank of the Rio Grande under cover of darkness. He looked north across the river at Texas and what he hoped would be a new life. The cartel had taken everything from him; his business; his savings; his car. Now they were threatening his and his family’s lives. Mexico was no longer safe for them; they had no choice but to run for the border.
He knew of people who had made it to America and started new lives. He saw their joyful posts on social media; new cars and big houses; healthy children going to good schools. Roberto wanted nothing more than to provide for his family and for his children to grow up happy. He felt like less of a man that he was having to escape his home country; but the situation had become beyond his control.
Roberto pulled a rope out of the trunk. He tied one end around his waist. Next he tied it to the waist of his son Oscar, a solemn 4 year old who idolized his father. Oscar was big for his age; but still a tiny little nothing compared to the raging Rio Grande. Once Oscar was secured to the rope, Roberto reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn and flattened beer bottle cap.
“Take this for luck, hijo. It’s always kept me safe,” he lied. He’d been holding that bottle cap for many years; since he quit drinking to save his marriage. At the time, Roberto thought it would be the hardest thing he’d ever have to do. Since he’d quit he’d been blessed with a thriving business and two beautiful children. Everything had been going well until he’d bought himself a flashy BMW. Once the cartel saw him driving that around; they never left him alone. They taxed his business to death. If he didn’t pay for their “protection,” they would destroy his property and kidnap his employees. “Help your sister, Oscar.”
Oscar’s twin sister Monserrat was struggling with the rope. Her mother Vanessa Figueroa took it from her hands, “Here, let me, hija. This rope will keep us safe from being separated.” She carefully pulled it around Monserrat’s middle; making sure it wasn’t too tight. Then she put the end of the rope around herself. Her daughter was looking doubtfully from the rope to the roiling river, then back up at her mother. Vanessa reached around her own neck and took off her prized shark tooth necklace. She put the necklace around her daughter’s neck, careful not to tangle it in her wild curly hair. “You have always had the heart of a lion, my dearest. Now you have the tooth of a shark. We will be safe, I promise.”
Now that they were all connected by the rope, Roberto pulled an inflated inner tube from the open trunk. He put the inner tube over top of the twins, so they were encircled by it. “Whatever you do, don’t let go of this tube. It will keep you afloat no matter what happens.” They left the still running taxi behind with the trunk and doors still open; it had served it’s purpose. They shuffled down the bank to the rushing black water.
It wasn’t an ideal time of year to cross the Rio Grande, as it was spring and the water was fast. But the cartel did not care. Roberto’s hand was forced. He led his young family to the water’s edge. He walked in up to his waist; the water was frigid. He took a deep breath and said, “it’s really not too bad” to reassure everyone. They looked dubious, but followed him in. The buoyant tube kept the children afloat. Their eyes were like big blue saucers; full of fear and doubt. Roberto and Vanessa held onto the tube and pushed it and the children out into the deep, fast water. They were committed now.
The inky black water pushed them along parallel to the bank. Roberto watched the taxi disappear behind them as he and Vanessa kicked as hard as they could across the strong current of the river. He turned his head around to look to the north bank and their new life. It was shrouded in mist and darkness; but he knew it was there. God helps those who help themselves, he told himself, and he kicked with everything he had.
The children hugged each other in the semi-reassuring confines of the inner tube. Their teeth chattered as they tried to kick and help their parents propel the flimsy craft across the wide expanse of the river. Roberto had chosen this spot to cross because it showed as fairly narrow on the map. But what looked like a simple crossing on paper was in fact a surging torrent of spring runoff. The mountains had gotten lots of snow this winter, so the Rio swelled it’s banks and the water was full of flotsam.
As they reached the middle of the river they were hit by a large tree that was being pushed downstream by the strong current. Fortunately they were moving nearly as fast as it, so they were unhurt. Roberto got his feet on the log and pushed them away from it and towards the Texan side. He was starting to feel optimistic; they were only a few hundred feet from America. This was going to work. He could feel it.
The family kicked and kicked, and got slowly closer to the opposite bank. Roberto thought about what he would do in America. He would find a job as fast as he could. He didn’t care what; so long as he could feed his family. He just needed a start. Eventually he’d be able to start up another landscaping business and rebuild their lives. All he needed was a chance. He imagined the pride he would feel when he hired his first American employee.
As they neared the Texas side of the river, a powerful spotlight blinded them. A voice on a bullhorn shouted at them from behind the light, “You are entering the USA illegally and will be placed under arrest!.” A Zodiac inflatable came roaring towards them and rough hands pulled them into the boat. Light reflected off badges and weapons. The voice taunted them, “you’ll live to regret this amigo.”
The boat docked and they were shuffled onto dry land. The rope was cut off of them while guns were pointed at their heads. The children were yanked out of the inner tube and dragged away. Vanessa screamed and Roberto tried to grab for their children; receiving a rifle butt to the jaw for his trouble. His world went black.
He came to hours later. He and Vanessa were locked in a cell with dozens of other hopeless looking illegal immigrants. Oscar and Monserrat were nowhere to be seen. Questions to the guards about their children were met with stony stares and silence. Roberto felt total regret. He’d been trying to save his family, now he’d lost them.
“Your requests for asylum are denied and you have been found guilty of illegally entering America. You are sentenced to being deported back to your home country,” the judge’s gavel fell and the sound was like a shot to Vanessa and Roberto’s hearts.
“Your honour, what about our children?” Vanessa asked while holding back tears.
“Your children have been taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in accordance with the policies of the Stump administration. Let this be a lesson to you for coming here illegally.”
Vanessa and Roberto stared at the impassive judge in horror.
In short order they were loaded onto a bus with many other convicted illegal immigrants and driven back to the Mexican border. The bus stopped after crossing a bridge over the Rio Grande and dumped them all off.
A uniformed Border Guard shouted at the group, “If any of you are thinking of trying to enter the US illegally again, you should know there’s more than a good chance that you get shot for trying. Our new president Donald Stump doesn’t want you here, and doesn’t much care how we keep you out.”
Roberto hugged Vanessa close. “I’m so sorry Vanessa, I’ve ruined us.” The cartel had taken away all his material possessions. Now Stump’s America had taken away his children.
“Don’t lose hope, my love. You are a good father. This is not your fault.”
Monserrat and Oscar were placed on a bus full of other children that had been taken from illegal immigrants. It was a special bus outfitted with child safety seats expressly for this purpose. They were driven to Karnes County Residential Center where they would be held in a warehouse style facility until a sponsor family could be found to take them.
Monserrat and Oscar looked different from many of the other Mexican and Central American children surrounding them. They had blue eyes and blonde hair, just like their mother Vanessa. This isn’t uncommon in Mexico City where they had been born; as there is much Spanish blood still in that area dating back to the Spanish occupation of Mexico in the 1500’s. This marked the children out among their peers in the Residential Centre. Some of the other children attempted to bully them; but Oscar had none of it. He may have only been 4 years old; but he was already walking on his hind legs.
It didn’t take long for a sponsor to come along that wanted to give them a home. A roly-poly white couple from Arizona took them. Marjorie Saunders; the matriarch of the family, was a huge fan of the show Toddlers and Tiaras, and she had stars in her eyes the second she looked at Monserrat.
When they got home to Phoenix, Marjorie decided the kids needed new American sounding names. With no thought to the irony, she chose to name them after Britain’s newest Prince and Princess, Harry and Megan Markle. So now Oscar was known as Harry, and Monserrat was called Markle. The kids took this in stride, as the bewildering changes in their lives had made them numb.
They missed their parents terribly, and often woke up crying. They constantly had nightmares about the night they were stolen from Roberto and Vanessa. Marjorie and her husband Bob tried to be understanding, but it bothered them.
They decided to get the kids enrolled in different activities to take their mind off things. For Harry, they decided on karate class; which he took to like a duck to water. The discipline seemed to appeal to him, and the exercise wore him out so that he slept through the night, clutching his father’s bottle cap.
For Markle though, it would be the toddler beauty pageant circuit that Marjorie had always dreamed of competing in. This would have mixed results. Markle enjoyed playing dress up as much as any little girl, but the extremes of Marjorie’s ambitions for her would eventually take it to disturbing places.
At these pageants Marjorie would put heavy makeup on Markle, and dress her in princess costumes; or whatever costume the event required. There would be many photographers at these pageants. Markle soon made a name for herself for playing up to the cameras. She loved having her picture taken. Marjorie was delighted when photographers offered to pay for private photo shoots with her little model. Soon there were pictures of Markle all over the web in all manner of costumes and poses.
It didn’t take long at all for her to gain the attention of the dark web; a place where pedophiles and child pornographers roam free. Once there, Markle’s pretty face was soon photoshopped onto naked bodies. This would placate the perverts for a while; but eventually they’d come looking for her in the flesh. Marjorie and Bob were oblivious; they were just happy to have a little money maker under their roof...
“The strong will prey on the weak, I would argue, is the central lesson the bible teaches us, those that read it with sober eyes. God cops to genocide in the first testament, and then kills his own son to atone for his sins in the “new” testament. It’s violent and fucked up; and that’s what I kinda like about it.”
The words issued forth from Maurice “Boaty” Godslawe in a high pitched nasally wheeze. He had a lot of opinions about the bible. He recognized its cover-to-cover repression of women as inherently useful to his taste for other people’s children. Women were easily manipulated for Boaty as he happened to be tremendously rich, and powerful. He was the owner of Trillium Farm Pictures, the Oscar winningest production company in history. He was worth a few billion dollars.
He was the worst possible person anyone could meet that genuinely wanted to earn an Oscar in a big budget picture, especially young women. That is, unless that woman wanted sex with the lumpy old man with the sweaty potato face. In that case, she had a chance at the dangling part. Boaty milked these women’s desperation for fame and fortune for all it was worth; from demanding naked massages to straight up forcing himself on the near defenseless young women. Boaty was a walking cesspool of humanity, and we haven’t even gotten into the outright gruesome parts yet; as this story gets much darker.
When a very rich and powerful man gets bored; he can indulge his worst desires. Boaty Godslawe had grown bored of raping young potential starlets. He found the younger a woman was, the more it excited him. For most men in their fifties, eighteen years old is the hard limit for actual sex. But for Boaty, this was more of a suggestion than a rule. Boaty was above rules.
When you ride in your stretch Cadillac Escalade to your private jet; you are in a different world than the 99%. When you invite people into that world, they will want to become a part of it; even if you are a sweaty old potato. This gives an otherwise repellent individual enormous social power over his chosen “friends.”
“You know, boss, some people would say love is the central lesson of the bible.” This came from Boaty’s Chief of Security, Daft Peter. DP was a very large man. He stood six feet four inches with wide shoulders and close cropped dark hair. He was pale white with piercing blue eyes. Daft Peter had been born into an Amish family and had had his nose buried in a bible from age eight to twenty two; when he was kicked out of the religion for losing his virginity to a prominent congregation member’s wife. He’d never looked back. He loved technology and sin, and now, at the ripe old age of forty two, he no longer gave a fuck. He’d earned the affectionate nickname Daft Peter because of all the outlandish schemes he’d managed to pull off in Boaty’s service.
“People that would say love is the central lesson of the bible obviously haven’t read the actual bible. In the Old Testament, you’ve got the Noah and the Ark story. But think about that story; it’s totally messed up. God floods the whole world on purpose because why? Because people have anal sex? Why? How is killing all humans but one family a reasonable response to being disappointed in your children’s behaviour? This is psychosis, not love. This is not an act of love. It’s a story of power over weakness. God had the power, and he fucked everybody’s shit up. The bible is not a book of love, it is psychotic. That’s what’s fun about it.” Godslawe grunt laughed at his own observation, a distinctly pig like affectation.
“Which leads us to your favourite observation about Noah’s Ark…” intoned Daft Paul, who had heard this monologue many times before.
“If God only allowed a small group of eight people to survive the flood, and most of those eight people were family members; then incest would have been required for several generations to replenish the earth. This means that God is more comfortable with incest than anal sex. I love this guy, what an interesting set of morals Jehovah has.”
Daft Peter rolled his eyes and spoke into his Jackal X smartphone, “Bring us around the front of the plane; Boaty likes to see it from the front as we get out of the limo.” They were riding in the back of Godslawe’s stretch Cadillac Escalade limousine, a giant gleaming black slab of luxury. The interior was all black leather and grey suede, with a TV screen separating the front seats from the back, so that the back was always private. The interior was studded with hidden cameras, as Boaty enjoyed recording his conquests. Likewise was his private jet outfitted with hidden cameras, and a couple different rooms in his house and office. On his boat some of the cameras are out in the open, as they’d used it to shoot an actual televised reality show for a few seasons.
Boaty had footage of nearly every actress, actor, and child in Hollywood as a result of the parties he threw on his boat and at his home. Everyone came to kiss the ring of the king and queen maker. Godslawe’s name on a production ensured Oscar contention, and a Best Actor or Best Actress nomination could make you a millionaire. He had a couple trusted staff members that edited the camera feeds into a daily digest so that Boaty could observe the women and children and determine who was vulnerable to his proclivities.
But even all that access to young starlets gets boring for a crusty old billionaire, because Boaty’s true passion was the dark web. All that Oscar bullshit was really to finance his dark web website operation, specializing in child pornography and compromising pictures of high-profile people.
Godslawe’s power didn’t just come from being famous and wealthy; it came from having vast quantities of kompromat on people he deemed potential and real enemies, and those who shared his immoral passions. The term Kompromat comes from Russian politics. Kompromat is short for "compromising material,” any damaging information about a politician or other public figure used to create negative publicity, for blackmail, or for ensuring loyalty. Boaty Godslawe was the king of kompromat.
If Godslawe didn’t like you, you were dead in Hollywood. If you threw yourself off a building; no one would show up to take a picture of the splat. This also gave the otherwise repellent Boaty Godslawe an inordinate amount of power over normally level headed women and actors, as they needed to please him; stay in his good graces; at any price.
Some of the rapes may have even looked consensual, but the power imbalance was such that they almost never were. Boaty thought nothing of grabbing a woman by the back of the head and pulling her down to his crotch, if they had the nearest hint of privacy. It was referred to as a “pulling a Boaty” by the women who survived the ordeal with humour intact; and straight up rape by the women who didn’t consent, which was nearly all of them. The women who feared the professional repercussions of calling rape on the biggest feature film producer in Hollywood tended to keep their mouths shut mostly. They’d seen how accusers got blacklisted.
Godslawe was Teflon; neither criminal or civil lawsuits touched him. He had compromising pictures of several mayors, the chief of police, his state representative and the empowered side of Congress. Nobody wanted to cross Godslawe.
Maurice Godslawe was also a devoted family man. He had two children of his own, who he spoiled without repentance. The younger one was six, and the older sixteen -- a boy and a girl respectively. Jack, his six-year-old wanted for nothing, having two nannies and a live-in chef. The girl Natalie got a bright orange Lamborghini Huracan for her sweet sixteen party.
His wife of twenty-four years had long made peace with Boaty’s philandering, living the life of extreme luxury was like a drug that made infidelity an annoying detail, instead of a relationship-ending crime. She was a former actress who met Godslawe fresh out of film school at UCLA. Deborah was a classic Mexican beauty, standing tall and regal. She was at least five feet ten, with delicate shoulders swept back, large breasts and an eternally narrow waist. Her hair was jet black and long, same as her eyelashes. Any sane man would have gotten on his knees to thank God to have such a beautiful woman in his life; but Boaty treated her with contempt now that her eyes were showing a hint of crow’s feet in her early forties.
“You look like shit,” Boaty stated flatly to the statuesque Deborah, who was greeting him as he arrived in the private jet. She was wearing Lululemon pants that hugged her body tightly, and a running jacket. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
“You are muy late, amigo. I went for a jog on the runway.” She gave Boaty a kiss on the cheek and then gracefully floated to her favourite seat on the jet. Godslawe was pissed, the rule was to dress sexy on the private jet. This trip to Vegas was already getting off to a bad start.
Godslawe stayed at the back of the plane away from Deborah. He sat across from Daft Peter; who had set up his Jackal brand laptop. It was sleek and aluminum, with a 17-inch display. “Whatcha looking up? Anything interesting?” Boaty asked conspiratorially.
“Remember those twins I showed you from the dark web yesterday? The eight -year-old pageant winner, the blue-eyed blond Mexican twins? I’m using artificial intelligence to scrape every picture of them online on the regular and dark web, then using machine learning to separate the fakes from the real ones.”
“You’ve been busy, that’s what I like to see.” Boaty grunted.
“It would appear that they are refugees from Mexico. They’ve been sponsored by a couple in Phoenix for the last 4 years. The “dad” works at a motorcycle dealership as an accountant. The “mom” doesn’t work because they are making so much off pageants and photographers shooting the twins.” Daft Peter’s voice was flat. He wasn’t interested in children sexually himself; but Boaty paid him crazy money. Daft Peter figured Boaty would be the same with or without him, so why not make a few bucks?
“Interesting. Has the AI picked up any genuine CP?” Boaty used the acronym for Child Pornography so as not to offend the ears of his long-suffering wife, should she overhear over the roar of the jet’s engines. They all belted in as the jet rocketed towards the end of the runway.
"None so far. But the number of fakes tells you how popular these kids are.” DP had an eye for talent on the dark web.
“Ok, as soon as we touchdown in Vegas, I want you to take the jet to Phoenix and get eyes on these kids. If they are refugees we can basically do what we want once we deal with the sponsoring ‘parents.’” Boaty made air quotes over parents to indicate his derision. "See where they shop, what they do, figure out their secrets. Get me some leverage and we’ll have those kids for the Boaty Boaty Bang Bang."
The Boaty Boaty Bang Bang
The Boaty Boaty Bang Bang was Maurice Godslawe’s personal superyacht, which he kept out in international waters off the coast of LA. He got to it by helicopter. Deborah and the children were banned from the Boaty Boaty Bang Bang as Godslawe treated it as his own personal island dedicated to his own pleasure. He had a staff of eight managing the boat. They tended the engines, the cooking, the cleaning, the water toys, the helicopters, the guests, and the... kids. Boaty Boaty Bang Bang had a rotating cast of children staying on it at any given time. Uncle Boaty was a dream come true; free daycare on a superyacht. What could go wrong?
Lots could and did go wrong. Parents would be plied with booze and drugs; children separated off to be distracted with finger painting and rape. They would drug the children too; everyone’s memory would be foggy the next day and unsure of what had happened. There was a convoy of helicopters flying wealthy pedo-tourists to and from Boaty Boaty Bang Bang on any given weekend.
The superyacht was legend on TOR, the dark web browser. It was formerly used as a set for the 2019 MTV season of Boaty Boaty Bang Bang, a reality series featuring swimsuit clad teenagers lip synching Taylor Swift songs and playing beach blanket bingo. Now that the show was over and the boat was paid for, it made a perfect villain’s lair. It was more practical than a volcano hideout, after all. All those leftover cameras made it very easy to create and distribute child pornography on the dark web. It’s almost like that’s what it was built for in the first place.
Boaty did indeed view himself and his team (he called them a team) as villains. While he firmly believed that the bible endorses strength over weakness; he knows normal people don’t like sex with children. He wished he was like those people; being a pedophile was exhausting. You generally can’t just ask a child out on a date, like you would an adult. You have to account for the whole family; you have to co-op them to your cause, then you have to fly them in a helicopter to your superyacht playpen where you would drug everybody and rape their children.
When Boaty would complain about the cost of the Boaty Boaty Bang Bang endeavour, Daft Peter would say, "It’s the only way; short of a white van and free candy.”
Boat would wheeze out his grunt laugh that came out like an oink. “This is a hell of a hobby we’ve got here, eh Peter?” Daft Peter would grin and not say anything. He didn’t view this as his hobby, only as a job. If he worked for the government, he would do what they say. He worked for Boaty Godslawe because the money was obscene, far beyond anything he’d ever earned before.
So far he hadn’t seen any children permanently physically hurt from the abuse that went on; however he did know that Boaty had fantasized about killing children. This worried Daft Peter on a technical level, not a moral level. Actually killing children would bring significantly more heat than the Bill Cosby routine of drugging and raping that had so much deniability built into it. People get real riled up when children die; of this Daft Peter was certain. He would keep an eye on Boaty as best he could, and have the rest of the staff watch him otherwise.
Sex with children was considered normal on the Boaty Boaty Bang Bang, but they were to step in if it looked like the child could die. These sketchy instructions were delivered without blinking to a staff heavily invested in maintaining the gravy train. They were all grossly overpaid. Several were pedophiles themselves; the rest rationalized looking the other way.
To get an invitation to Boaty Boaty Bang Bang hopeful child predators were required to send Boaty a video of themselves abusing a child via the dark web. This ensured everyone was bound to silence to protect themselves. Kompromat is hard currency among pedophiles.
Of course Godslawe charged exorbitant sums to these sex tourists. He was providing children who were the cream of the Hollywood crop after all. This was far from a back alley in a third world country. The profits he made from this side hustle rivalled some of his more successful movies; and it was tax free.
Former president of the United States of America, Chico O’banion, stared in disbelief at Abraham Bennett, the CEO of the world’s number one tech company, Jackal. They were in Abraham’s office on the Jackal One Campus, a large oval shaped structure that housed over twenty thousand of Jackal’s top engineers. Bennett’s office was on the top floor with a huge window overlooking the inner oval shaped courtyard of Jackal One. He made no pretense of absorbing the outside world; his focus was one hundred percent on making the next better Jackal product.
At least it usually was. There was this one particular issue that really bothered him, and only the former president seemed like the right person to broach it.
“Is this meeting being recorded in any way, Abe?” President O’banion knew plutonium when he heard it.
“No, it isn’t Mr. President. But you of all people should see the necessity of a plan like this. The dark web is full of active child pornographers; actively exploiting children sexually for fame and fortune. For whatever reason, no government agency has been able to put a dent in the millions of dark web child porn consumers. Sure, they catch the odd dummy with an officer impersonating an underage person, but that’s a finger in an exploding dyke; to torture a metaphor. We need to send a message to this community that they will not be tolerated. This is not a free speech argument; this is a human rights issue.” Abraham Bennett was passionate about two things; the ultimate in high end technology and empowering young people. He’d had a troubled childhood himself, growing up in a series of foster homes until getting a scholarship to Harvard straight out of high school, back in the seventies.
“You can’t just go around killing American citizens without due process, Abe. I sympathize with your desire to protect children, but you’re going off the deep end.” Chico O’banion hated pedophiles as much or more than any father; but he saw holes in the legality of this plan.
“We collect vast amounts of evidence on the accused. Our new artificial intelligence, “Icarus” can scan the dark web and home in on illicit content. With enough content, identification can be up to one hundred percent accurate. Some of these guys are very prolific. We have mountains of evidence to prove their guilt. For some reason, we can’t find prosecutors under this administration that want to take on these cases. The justice system is failing these children to a criminal degree. Something needs to be done. Jackal has the technology, the money, and the will to see this through.” Abraham had dreamt of doing something like this since he was a teenager. He knew the powerlessness felt by a child being abused. He had always wanted to do something to end the cycle.
Bennett continued, “When you became president in ‘08, you inherited two ground wars and an ongoing war on terror. You set up secret drone air bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. You authorized the killing of thousands of foreign nationals in the name of protecting the safety of Americans. All I’m asking is for these proven serial child rapists be treated with the same venom. We aren’t suspicious these men are dirty; we know it. They are social terrorists in our midst; and there are thousands of them. We need to put a chill on this community of human garbage.” Abraham stopped and waited for President Chico O’banion to respond.
Chico exhaled loudly. He crossed his arms and stared back at Bennett with wide eyes.
“When I was a young boy in New Mexico, I had a friend named Tommy. He confided in me that his uncle had abused him sexually. Nothing ever happened to the uncle. Tommy went on to become an alcoholic who eventually got arrested for beating his wife. I can’t help but think that much of Tommy’s adult problems have roots in the injustice he suffered. I remember feeling helpless when he told me. He said his parents had told him not to talk to anyone about it, as it would embarrass the family name. It became about him being a threat to the family rather than the uncle. So you have my heart on this issue. I recognize the millions of child predators on the dark web as probably the biggest single criminal threat to children the world has ever seen.” O’banion fell silent and thoughtful.
“Let me sleep on it, Abe. I was expecting you to show me a new smartphone or something today; I wasn’t expecting this big budget vigilante type stuff. I agree you have a point that something has to give on this issue. I just have to give it some thought”. Chico rarely made snap decisions; he was given to pondering things carefully before delivering a verdict.
Abraham Bennett gave Chico his personal mobile phone number and a thumb drive. “This has our top ten most wanted on it so far. Check them out; you might recognize a few names”.
O’banion took the card and thumb drive with even wider eyes. “You’re already picking targets?”
“Icarus went live a week ago. These are just the worst of the worst, we’ll get to the plain old dirtbags later.”
Laying the Trap
Daft Peter had already started his Phoenix operation before the jet even landed. He had a private investigator hired and on his way to surveil the Saunders’ residence. He told the P.I. that the Saunders owed his employer a significant amount of money and seemed to be ready to cut and run. He instructed him to observe their house and then follow Marjorie anywhere she might go.
The P.I. had a honey trap on staff. The honey trap was a beautiful young woman who specialized in tricking men into infidelity in order to give the wives grounds for divorce. Frankly, most men didn’t need much tricking; once they laid eyes on Michelle their wedding vows faded into a distant memory. She never actually slept with them, just made them think she would. She’d have them meet her at a specific time and place, where the wife would be with divorce papers ready to serve. Michelle took pride in her work; she felt she made a difference.
Daft Peter hadn’t decided if Michelle would get a date with Bob Saunders or not. His hunch was that the key was Marjorie anyway; she was the one taking Markle to all the pageants and photo shoots. Marjorie had a taste for the limelight and DP had an idea how to use that against her.
Soon after the plane landed Daft Peter rented a black Cadillac Escalade just like the one he drove in Los Angeles. It was like a little brother to Boaty’s bloated limousine. Peter used to drive Hondas, but since he’d started work for Godslawe anything less than an Escalade felt intolerable. He knew he could never go back to a Honda Accord and flying commercial flights. So he better earn his keep; which meant getting these blond Mexican twins to the Boaty Boaty Bang Bang.
That meant getting Marjorie and Bob onside. He had to gain their trust and get the family to Los Angeles. He’d done this many times before; usually with actual parents. Daft Peter figured this would be an easy one considering Harry and Markle’s circumstances as refugees. Marjorie had already tipped her hand as being morally flexible judging by the suggestive pictures she’d allowed to be taken of Markle already. Most real mom’s would have objected to what he’d seen on the web, dark or otherwise.
The private investigator called to give Peter an update. “Bob Saunders has just arrived home with a Little Caesar’s pizza. Maybe they are broke, ha!” The PI was a jovial fellow named David McKinnon. He found the private investigation business pretty stressful and liked to keep the mood light generally. “I think the whole family is home right now; it being dinner time and all. Do you want me to knock on the door?.”
“No, just sit tight and watch. If the wife leaves, follow her, otherwise just keep your eyes on the house. You’re doing a great job. Call me if anything happens.”
Daft Peter guided the lumbering SUV to Cotter Motorsports, the motorcycle dealership that Bob Saunders did the accounting for in Phoenix. He just wanted to get a feel for the man. He figured he earned between sixty and eighty thousand dollars a year. Comfortable, but not wealthy. Having little Markle bringing in a few extra thousand a month was probably pretty significant for their bottom line. The store was closed already. It sold Kawasakis and Polaris’ off road and water toys. Daft Peter figured that an accountant at a store like this was probably bored of power toys; if he played with them at all. What was Bob’s passion? What got Bob hot and bothered? Would Michelle be useful?
Peter returned to the Cadillac and headed for the Four Seasons. Time for a top shelf whiskey and some plotting. Daft Peter enjoyed plotting. Like Boaty, he viewed himself as a villain as well. When your job is providing other people’s children for the lecherous whims of your boss and his friends, you know you aren’t the good guy. But Peter was already a millionaire since starting with Boaty three years prior. If he kept this up he’d be a multimillionaire many times over.
Daft Peter was single with no kids of his own. Once he saw the full extent of Boaty’s lifestyle; he knew he could never have children. Since getting kicked out of the Amish faith with extreme prejudice, he had become an atheist. All the bible knowledge still rattled around in his brain, but it just made him more cynical about life. In his heart he felt that Boaty was right about the strong dominating the weak. This was just the natural order of things; regardless of your interpretation of the bible. So it made sense to be strong.
While sipping a double shot of Crown Royal on ice, he pulled out his Jackal X smartphone and activated the voice assistant. “Pageants in Phoenix” he said quietly into the microphone. The phone immediately googled the phrase and displayed a calendar of pageant events in the greater Phoenix area. To his delight he saw that there was a taping of Toddlers and Tiaras happening the next night in town. There was a pageant for very young girls happening that they were covering for the show. There was approximately zero chance that Marjorie would be missing this event.
A plan started to formulate in Daft Peter’s mind as he swigged back the last of the burning liquor. He made his way to the hotel’s gym. Time to pump some iron to get his head straight. The Saunder’s wouldn’t know what hit them. They literally won’t know, he thought with unkind glee. This was going to be easy.
The pageant was bedlam. Children everywhere, screaming mothers trying to corral screaming toddlers; lipstick and rouge being applied with proverbial trowels. Daft Peter had arrived early to assess the situation. He found these events painful to view; and he’d been to many. He didn’t especially like children himself. He viewed them as dirty little creatures full of malice and mock tears. He’d seen enough tantrums to make him glad he wasn’t a father.
Peter selected a seat in the back row of the theatre that gave him a view of not only the stage but the whole auditorium. It also kept him away from the cameras, which he liked to avoid as a professional consideration. He knew his height and stature tended to get noticed, so he hunched down in the seat and pulled a baseball cap down low on his head.
Then he saw Markle enter the auditorium followed by Harry and Marjorie. Bob hadn’t come. Daft Peter knew that Bob wasn’t coming because David the private investigator had called him the second Marjorie and the kids left the house. DP told him to stay at the house and watch Bob, see what he did when he was alone. Peter knew where Marjorie and the kids were going, so there was no need to follow.
Markle and Harry were different from most of the other children who bounced and ran around like little hellions. Markle and Harry were calm and focused. They sat in the chairs Marjorie found for them. Markle’s makeup appeared to be already done; she looked like a miniature glamour model; her eight year old features expertly embellished with lipstick and eyeshadow. Marjorie fussed over her cheeks a little, adding some colour, then taking it away. Markle was her little masterpiece.
Once the pageant started it went through all the typical tropes of these events. Daft Peter was bored stiff watching overly made up child after child get up on the stage and flounce around to soulless pop songs. The MC made an effort to talk to the children in the manner of a real pageant; asking them questions to draw out their personalities for the judges; a row of rotund individuals near the front of the theatre.
Finally it was Markle’s turn. She confidently jumped onto the stage to the opening strains of the latest James Bond theme song. She was wearing a tutu and really did look adorable. She was wearing ballet slippers and was actually able to do some charitable pirouettes and toe walking. She made finger guns and shot the judges, blowing the “smoke” away with each shot. She was clearly comfortable with the eyes of the whole theatre on her; she was a born performer. She ended her routine with a flying karate kick that she had learned from her brother When the MC came out to talk to her, he asked her a seemingly innocuous question, “If you could have any wish you wanted come true, what would it be, Markle?”
Without missing a beat, Markle said, “I would wish for my real mom and dad to come live with me and my brother.”
This caught the MC off guard, he’d been expecting the usual wish for a pony or trip to Hogwarts; this little slice of reality didn’t really jive with the Toddlers and Tiaras brand. Markle was shuffled off stage and she rejoined Marjorie and Harry in the audience. Harry gave her a hug and Marjorie touched up her makeup again. If Markle’s wish to be with her real parents bothered her, Marjorie didn’t let it show.
After the pageant was over everyone made a mad dash for the doors. Markle hadn’t won, but Marjorie had a phalanx of photographers around her planning photoshoots with the diminutive model anyway. Markle was internet famous.
Daft Peter waited by the exit. He took off the ball cap and smoothed his dark hair. It was time to set the trap. He straightened his tie and put on his most ingratiating grin.
As Marjorie and the twins walked up to the exit Peter stepped in front of them with business card in hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Saunders. My name is Peter Webster. I work for Trillium Farm Pictures; you may have heard of us.”
Marjorie eyes bugged out as she looked at the crisp business card and then up and down at this tall drink of water. She had heard of Trillium Farm, who hadn’t? “Are you kidding? My favourite movie of all time is Where Doves Cry, that was one of yours, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed it was, we won three Oscars for that one, including Best Actress. I’ll bet you’d like to be an actress when you grow up, hey Markle?” Daft Peter beamed down at Markle with his most innocent smile.
She looked up at the large, well dressed man. Something about him made her uneasy, but she was used to men leering at her already. She figured he was another photographer that would want to take pictures of her in her bathing suit or something; these guys were a dime a dozen. She didn’t answer him, but gave him her most professional smile anyways.
Peter forged forward, “I’ll get straight to the point. I’m here scouting for a new reality show pilot we are casting for. It’s called Born for the Limelight. We will be picking out one family to follow for an entire season of pre-teen beauty pageants…”
“You mean something like Toddlers and Tiaras?” Marjorie was wide-eyed and breathless.
“Similar to that show, but more upscale. We want to document how these pageants can lead to a career in acting or the performing arts. We will follow one family each season. I think you should all come to Los Angeles for a screen test. I think Markle is a born entertainer, this could be a big chance for all of you. If you get selected, the pay is considerable.” Daft Peter set the hook just right for Marjorie to bite.
“I’ll have to talk to my husband of course, but it sounds wonderful!” She was nearly hyperventilating; but fighting to maintain her composure. “When would you need us in Los Angeles?”
"Well, tomorrow if possible. You all could come back with me in the morning on our private jet.”
Marjorie nearly fainted at “private jet.” This was the big time. Her dreams were coming true.
Jackal: Think Hard
Richard “Short Round” Little answered the next call in the never ending queue of well healed clients with technical issues with their Jackal products. Short Round specialized in recovering data from damaged hard drives. He worked in a department called CPU Tier 2, standing for Central Processing Unit. That’s the beating heart of the computer, and Short Round could usually bring a hard drive back to life in one way or another. He’d earned his nickname from his famous love of Indiana Jones movies.
“Yes sir, turn it off for 30 seconds then turn it back on and log in if you can.” Richard took his job seriously. The data his customers were trying to recover were usually family pictures, but every once in a while you’d get a commercial customer who loses their entire movie project, until a hero like Short Round stepped up.
He imagined himself as a hero, like a tow truck driver on the information superhighway. But really he just liked the steady pay cheque and option of as many overtime hours as he could do.
“Okay, now that it’s restarted and you’ve logged in, tell me what seems to be the problem.”
“Ever since that last operating system update, I can’t access my hard drive.” The voice on the phone was high pitched and nasally. Richard noted the name on the case file that CPU Tier 1 had created before kicking it up to him: Maurice Godslawe of Trillium Farm Pictures. Richard recognized the name; this was a big fish. Better do a good job.
Short Round engaged his computer’s machine learning capability to analyze Boaty’s 2009 seventeen inch Jackal Book Pro over the internet. It threw off a code that he’s never seen before. It was called a Red Ticket corruption, and the Artificial Intelligence suggested referring the case to Central Processing Unit Tier 3.
Richard had never heard of a CPU Tier 3. He’d been quite proud of the fact that he was the last person the customer had to deal with when it came time to repairing this kind of thing. This bugged him that he wasn’t going to be the hero here, like usual. Some Tier 3 guy was going to get his credit. Didn’t seem right.
"I’m going to have to refer you to CPU Tier 3, sir.” Short Round spoke robotically; he was pissed. “Please hold while I get them on the phone.”
Richard stared at the phone number. He recognized the La Jolla, California prefix; his hometown. He turned and caught the eye of his supervisor Hajime Uragame, a squat little Japanese woman who waddled over when Short Round waves at her.
“What have ya got, Richard?”
“Have you ever heard of CPU Tier 3?” Short Round asked with a pained sound in his voice.
Hajime looked shocked. “Tier 3? I’ve never heard of it. What are you looking at in the Knowledge base?”
Richard pointed at his screen. “It says this is a Red Ticket Corruption requiring the assistance of CPU Tier 3. I thought I was in the last tier. I WANT TO BE IN TIER 3! I’m supposed to be the hero here. This pisses me off.”
Hajime looked dubious. “Better call the number, hero. Boaty Godslawe could have you fired if he wants; he spends a lot of money on Jackal computers. The man is a legend.”
“Alright,” Short round says in exasperation. “Hello, Tier 3?” he asks when a woman with a Chinese accent answers.
“Yes, this is Mary Mary of CPU Tier 3, how can I help you Richard?.” Mary Mary was a Taiwanese woman in her late thirties. She was actually the first Field Support Officer Jackal had ever hired. It was her job to send specialists to their customers to analyze the computer in person. This was a new department Short Round learned as he looked at the date on the article with the CPU Tier 3 phone number in it, it was March 6, 2021; the previous day.
“Well I’m guessing you’re kind of new at this; but I’ve got a Red Ticket Corruption event for you to solve.” Short Round spoke with the spice of sarcasm in his voice.
“Oh my, that is a serious situation, is Mr. Godslawe on the phone still?” Mary Mary’s accent made her words clipped but friendly.
“Yes, he’s quite agitated about his predicament. Normally I can solve anything; but apparently a Red Ticket Corruption event can only be solved by CPU Tier 3, so here you go; this is Mr. Godslawe: Hello Mr. Godslawe, I have Mary Mary of CPU Tier 3 on the line; she’s going to take over from me now. Mary Mary; he’s all yours.” Richard did his best to sound professional, but inside he wanted to shout obscenities at the top of his lungs. What kind of name was Mary Mary anyway?
“Thank you, Richard. Hello, Mr. Godslawe, we’re all big fans of you and Trillium Farms here at Jackal Computer Systems, and we’d like to go the extra mile to fix your hard drive for you. We’d like to send one of our specialists to you to analyze the drive-in person. We have a 99% success rate in these matters if we have access to the computer. When is good for you this week sir?”
Short Round had stayed on the line to hear her spiel. He was impressed, Tier 3 made actual house calls? Usually they would tell people with this issue to bring the device into their nearest Jackal store or reseller. Going to these rich customers would be much more interesting than sitting around a call centre all day. Richard resolved that he would get into CPU Tier 3, somehow.
“This is a major pain in the ass, you know, Mary Mary. This new operating system is hot bullshit. Everything was fine until the last update.” Godslawe was nearly shouting into the phone.
“I understand your frustration, Mr. Godslawe. In your situation I’m sure I’d feel exactly the same. Let me send you one of our best specialists this Friday to resolve your issue, is one pm convenient for you?” Mary Mary intoned musically.
"Sure, have them meet me at “Grub” on Scrimshaw Avenue at lunch time Friday. If they can fix this; maybe I stay with Jackal Computers; otherwise and I’m going to have to take a hard look at Softromic. This is too mission critical to fuck around."
This gave Mary Mary two days to choose and hire her first Field Analyst and send him on the very first Red Ticket Corruption assignment. Since Red Ticket was the newly chosen code for child pornography, she knew this was going to be sensitive. CPU Tier 3 wasn’t really about fixing computers; it was about ending the cycle of child sexual abuse.
“Okay, twelve pm Friday it is, at Grub on Seward, you’ve got it. And Mr. Godslawe, lunch will be on us of course.”
“Fine, see you then.”
Mary Mary smiled to herself. The big fish had swallowed the hook.
Mary Mary checked Short Round’s stats on the company intranet; he was considered among the best, and he lived close enough to drive to work. Mary Mary called Hajime Uragame to tell her Short Round had a chance in the big leagues.
Richard got a call from Mary Mary later that day. She was actually calling from her electric Volvo Wagon, which she was driving her twin boys home from the daycare center in. Short Round had been warned to expect the call, but was not warned about the interview questions.
In her clipped staccato accent, Mary Mary grilled him on a number of subjects. “I know you are good with computers; which we need you for. But the position may have occasional extra requirements. Have you ever fired a gun, Richard?”
Short Round rolled his eyes. Seriously? “I’ve played a lot of first person shooters, and I got my shooting badge in Boy Scouts, but I don’t like guns, generally”.
“Mmmhmm, and how do you feel about capital punishment?” Mary Mary asked while shoveling Gold Fish crackers at her boys and navigating through Los Angeles traffic.
Richard had no idea where these questions were going, but he answered truthfully. “It’s a tough call, I think it’s wrong to kill in general; but sometimes people do really terrible things. So, I guess in some circumstances yes, I support capital punishment”.
“What kind of circumstances warrants killing someone, Richard?” Mary Mary stopped what she was doing to listen to his response.
“Anyone who kills or rapes children, I guess. Kills or rapes anyone, really. Especially when they do it more than once. Repeat offenders of the killing and rapey kind; those guys deserve to die. But you need ironclad proof of their guilt; otherwise you might kill an innocent man.”
Mary Mary smiled. “I need you to start work tomorrow. I’ll text you the address, be there by 11 AM.
The Man for the Job
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Matthew “Angel” Angelino surveyed his basement grow operation. The proud marijuana plants reached almost to the ceiling, nearly touching the bright LED lighting system. This crop was almost ready to cut down. He figured he’d get close to five pounds off this crop. Back in 2018, when he’d moved back to Vancouver (after quitting his job with the Central Intelligence Agency in the States); weed had been fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars per pound; the money had been good. But now that marijuana had been legal in Canada for three years, it was down to less than $500 per pound wholesale. You really had to open a storefront and sell retail to make a go of it in the pot business these days.
Angel had no interest in opening a storefront and talking to the general public all day long. The thing that had attracted him to the marijuana business in the first place was the fact that it could be a one man show. After twenty-one years in the CIA, he’d had enough of humanity. He wanted to be alone.
Matthew had been present for the Bush Administration’s torture programs. He’d worked in the field at various “black sites” that dotted the globe. At these so-called black sites he specialized in “distressed interrogations.” He was an expert at water-boarding and distress positions. He was well versed in hurting those viewed as enemies of the American government. He’d never enjoyed his job and had gradually come to the conclusion that torture doesn’t work reliably. It was very good for extracting confessions, but people would confess to literally anything once they genuinely felt themselves being drowned to the point of passing out, then being revived for the same treatment over and over again. “Yes sir, I did whatever you said, please stop killing me” was about as valuable a statement as you were going to get through torture. The confessions generally got the people accused incarcerated indefinitely at secret prisons.
This bothered Angel’s conscience now, at the age of forty-four years old. As a young man, he’d rationalized that he was acting in his adopted country’s best interests, but in his middle years he was distinctly disillusioned about the state of America; and his part in incarcerating otherwise innocent people. The karma of the situation weighed heavily on him.
Matthew Angelino had started smoking marijuana after he left the Central Intelligence Agency. He’d been having trouble sleeping; waking up with nightmares from his past had become a nightly problem. The weed calmed his mind and allowed him to sleep through the night. Angel was grateful that the solution to his night terror was a natural plant he could grow himself. He was suspicious of solutions that came in pill form.
He was a healthy eater for the most part; but three years of smoking pot had resulted in a modest spare tire on his otherwise tall frame. Angel was six foot two inches tall and weighed in around two hundred pounds. He wore a full beard and was dressed in a University of British Columbia t-shirt and grubby jeans. His hair was dirty blonde, close cropped on the sides and the back, with the top longer and parted on the left. His arms, neck, hands and torso and feet were free of any tattoos that could be used to identify him.
He was fourth generation Canadian Italian and estranged from much of his family. Many of them were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had never approved of him since he left for Los Angeles to be an actor in the mid-nineties. Then when he’d joined the military after finding acting a tough go, they completely wrote him off. To this day his own mother and grandmother ignored his existence.
Angel enjoyed the solitude of his large basement grow room. He was running a full hydroponics operation that he had designed himself from off the shelf parts. He’d started growing with dirt in buckets first; which is a more forgiving system for beginners. A hydroponic system was much more efficient when run properly. Run improperly, an entire crop can be destroyed in a day or two. Matthew enjoyed the challenge of keeping his plants healthy and happy.
He played music in the grow room at all times, mostly hard rock when he was there, and classical when he had to leave. His plants were being coddled and loved. His hands, which had been used for so much suffering and blood; turned out to have remarkably green thumbs. Those thumbs might have to get a day job, he thought to himself ruefully, while sipping on a black coffee.
Just then the doorbell rang.
Angel answered the front door after carefully closing and locking the basement door and switching on the charcoal filter to get rid of the pungent smell of ripe pot plants. It kind of worked, but the smell was still pretty distinct as the door wafted open. Standing there were a man and woman, both looking to be in their mid-thirties and very well dressed. Angel assumed they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Look, I’m not interested in your religion, please put me on your “Do not call” list and never come back here again” he slammed the door and turned for the kitchen, where a sandwich wasn’t making itself.
They knocked on the door again. Angel angrily threw the it open and bellowed, “Get the fuck off my property!” and then noticed the man was holding up a business card that said “Abraham Bennett, CEO, Jackal Computer Systems.” Angel looked at the guy holding the card; this wasn’t Abraham, a very famous figure on the world stage.
“This is my boss’ business card; he’s sent me to offer you a job with Jackal. We want you to fly down to LA with us on the company jet to interview with a new division within the company that can use your skill set in a humane and world bettering way,” the words tumbled out of Maxwell Johnson’s mouth as fast as he could say them. He knew he’d only get one chance with a guy like "Angel" Angelino.
Angel was stunned. He’d unplugged from society with extreme prejudice over the last three years. His own family didn’t know where he lived, let alone his former employers. How had they found him? If you Googled his name you got virtually nothing except some mentions of his past acting in a couple TV shows in the nineties. He was supposed to be hard to find. He took the card from Maxwell, a Caucasian man with longish blonde hair and blue eyes. Angel figured he was of Eastern European descent judging by his features. Gina, his female partner, was Puerto Rican.
“How did you find me?” Angel was genuinely curious.
“The phone in your pocket, sir.”
Angel pulled out his trusty Jackal flip phone. It was a throwback design that paid homage to the pre-smartphone era. Angel liked it for its simplicity; he’d had it about three years. He wasn’t into computers in general and didn’t own any other than the flip phone he always carried.
“What? This thing has a GPS?” Angel was pissed.
“It says so right in the instructions when you activate the phone, sir.” Maxwell was worried where this was going. If Angel was going to have a big problem with a GPS in his flip phone; then he might not respond well to the job offer that was about to be laid out for him.
Angel looked annoyed. “What’s the job then?”
“I can’t go into details here and now; but I can say we will make it worth your while just to come down and listen to our pitch. I have a check for five thousand dollars Canadian right here if you say yes.”
Matthew looked at his thumbs. Five grand was more than double what he’d make off this crop, which represented nearly two months’ work. What could it hurt to go down and listen to what they had to say?
“When do we leave?”
Angel went upstairs for a quick shower and change of clothes to something more businesslike, then followed Maxwell and Gina back to YVR, Vancouver’s famous airport.
Matthew preferred to drive himself in his personal car; a five-year-old Chevrolet SS. The large black sedan had a snarling V8 engine and manual six speed transmission. Angel had removed the SS emblems for the much lower valued Malibu badges; a car the SS resembled. The SS was a fearsome rear drive muscle sedan; the Malibu was a dorky front drive V6. But the cars looked nearly interchangeable side by side. Angel liked the lower profile of the Malibu badges; he wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself.
He followed Gina and Maxwell in their electric Volvo sedan. Angel had heard that that particular model could literally drive itself. As in; you entered your destination in the GPS system, and the car just gets you there. While this capability amazed him, Angel couldn’t imagine using it. It bugged him when a car switched its own gears, let alone drove itself. Angel liked the feeling of having control that driving a sport sedan with a manual transmission gave him. Anything less was impure as far as he was concerned.
At the airport they were waved onto the apron to drive up right next to a gleaming aluminum small private jet; waiting with its door open. The sun was setting in the west over the Pacific Ocean. Much of what Angel could see was in black relief against the sunset.
The jet glowed like a highly polished one-piece ingot of aluminum; no actual paint on its very light metal. Angel was impressed; he’d flown on many different military and civilian commercial jets, but this one was first Honda Jet he’d ever flown on before. Gina and Maxwell lead him up into the plane. The interior was sparse yet functional. Large comfortable seats facing each other in the manner of a limousine.
It was mostly empty of passengers except for a pilot, co-pilot/flight attendant, and the three of them. Angel was given a double rye and Seven; his usual drink, without being asked what he wanted. He sampled the cold beverage and tasted very expensive rye whiskey. He was starting to think he could get used to the private jet lifestyle.
Angel was tired from his day of tending crops and fell asleep right away; as he always did on airplanes.
Maxwell and Gina exchanged a look after seeing Matthew Angelino was out like a light. The drink he’d accepted without a thought had been laced with a flavourless cocktail of Ambien and sodium pentathol, sleeping pills and truth serum. By the time they got to Los Angeles, he would be well rested and as honest as Abraham Lincoln.
Angel in Los Angeles
Angel sat in the back of the Tesla Model S P100D that was silently driving through Inglewood on its way to Hollywood, home of CPU Tier 3. The silence of the electric motor made him feel uneasy. All he could hear was wind rushing by and the drum of the tires on the pavement. It was eerie.
He recognized a few landmarks from the days he lived in Los Angeles, back in the nineties. The Capitol Records building; the Chinese Theatre; Hollywood Boulevard. He’d thought he was going to be a famous actor back then. He'd played in a few TV pilots, had a couple parts that lasted a couple seasons; but never broke through. When he saw that he was getting passed over for the parts he wanted, he decided to switch his focus to joining the US military. He needed a pay cheque and a purpose, so if it wasn’t acting than dammit it would be soldiering.
It turned out he was a much better soldier than actor. He flew through basic training and was offered a spot in the Green Berets if he could pass the physical test. That physical test nearly killed him, but he passed. He did a few years with the GB, but soon got drafted into the Central Intelligence Agency; where he’d served out the rest of his official career.
He was discharged with honour in the spring of 2017, when he decided to quit when President Donald Stump indicated he wanted to bring torture back. Angel was all full up on half drowning motherfuckers, he didn’t want a return to that CIA. The outfit had improved itself under the O’banion Administration; left behind its savage Bush era persona. Matthew Angelino left when he saw the backslide start.
Angel pulled out his Jackal flip phone and called Lana Chang, his on again off again girlfriend in Vancouver. He didn’t know when he’d be getting back exactly and he needed someone to water his basement full of plants. She had a full time job she took very seriously. She wasn’t always supportive when it came to his current method of making a living. She’d been after him to give up the grow operation business and get back into a real job.
“I know you hate my plants, but I need you to water them while I’m down in LA on a job interview. I promise this will be the last crop if this interview goes well.” Angel was hopeful.
“I’m very busy at work, you know? I’m glad to hear you’re interviewing for a real job. Pot is for losers, I always tell you that.” Lana had strong opinions about marijuana.
Matthew Angelino ground his teeth, “Can you just please water them? I’ll give you half the take on this crop if you do.”
“You think I need your money? Ask someone else.”
“There is no one else.” Angel had done a very bad job of cultivating any friendships since leaving the CIA. He was an introvert through and through. He had pursued Lana Chang because she was beautiful and semi-unattainable; but he had enjoyed the company of cannabis plants for most of the last four years.
“You are ridiculous.”
“No, you are ridiculous.” This was their thing, constant smirking arguments that could go on and on until they both fell asleep.
“Good luck with your job interview, tough guy,” and she hung up.
Angel had no idea if she would water the damn plants.
The car pulled into the extreme far end of a film studio lot and drove into a large mostly empty warehouse. It parked in front of what appeared to be a giant semi-truck and trailer combination, all in jet black, with dark grey accents. It was a tough looking Mack truck. The trailer was polished aluminum with doors built into each side near the front of the trailer, with electric stairs that extended when key holder’s neared.
Angel was about to pull open the passenger side trailer door when the whole side of the trailer started pivoting upward, like a wing on a giant bird. Both sides lifted so that you could see the interior and right through to the other side. In the back of the trailer was a car. Angel was surprised to see the car was identical to his. Right down to the manual transmission. Ahead of that was a mechanic shop and then what seemed to be office space, with many monitors showing multiple camera feeds. It looked like a mobile command centre of some kind, with state-of-the-art Jackal Computers everywhere he looked.
Standing next to the Silver Chevy SS (with badges swapped for Malibu badges) was Abraham Bennett, the very famous CEO of Jackal Computers. He was tall, thin, white, and gay. He was smiling his well-known warm smile at Angel as the truck trailer’s “wings” came to rest in a “wings up” position. “I like a dramatic entrance,” Abraham joked as he walked to the top of the stairs where Angelino was pulling himself up, with Maxwell and Gina behind him.
Abraham held his hand out to shake Angel’s. Angel looked at his hand with disbelief for a second too long, then shook it. He couldn’t believe he was actually meeting Abraham Bennett, patriarch of the Jackal Computer company. Matthew despised computers; but even he knew who Bennett was. “It’s an honour, sir, an honour.” Momentarily he forgot the strange circumstances they were meeting each other in and he blurted out a totally honest observation, “I didn’t know the Jackal Flip Phone had built in GPS.” He immediately regretted saying it. He was somewhat sensitive about just how computer illiterate he was.
Abraham looked at Angel with a faint hint of pity. “You don’t like technology very much, do you Mr. Angelino?” The old man’s blue eyes bored holes in Angel’s skull.
Angel looked apologetic and continued honestly, “It’s true, I’m not a computer guy at all. My skills are all hands on, not sitting behind a desk. I really can’t see what a computer company would want with me. I’m afraid you’re wasting your time.”
Abraham smiled broadly. “I have plenty of people with vast computer skills, but I don’t have a single employee with your experience and skill set. Did you work with the CIA in the past, Mr. Angelino?”
Again, Angel answered honestly, “Yes, from 1997 until 2017 sir. And call me Angel if you like.”
“What did you do for the CIA during the Bush Administration?” Bennett seemed to know the answers to what he was asking; but was getting confirmation from Angel.
“I worked in Enhanced Interrogation during the Bush years. Lots of water boarding and stress positions and false confessions. It wasn’t a very good time.” Matthew looked at the floor while he remembered the extremes they’d gone to back then, with so little to show for it.
“And what did you do during the O’banion Administration, Angel?”
This question perked him up. "I spent most of the O’banion era picking targets for Hellfire bombs shot from drones.”
“So you went from hurting people for the government to killing people for the government.” Abraham was looking at Angel over the top of his expensive bifocal lenses. “You seem to feel that was an improvement.”
Angels tone was mournful. “Dead men don’t suffer. The confessions I extracted via torture resulted in the false imprisonment of hundreds of foreign nationals. Those guys are still rotting in secret jails all over the world. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, I made sure only people who were actual threats to America were killed by hellfire missiles. I accounted for collateral damage and avoided shooting up weddings and funerals; which became popular around then. It was a bloody business, but honest."
Abraham looked bemused by Angel’s sense of morality; he’d rather kill a man without trial, than falsely imprison a man after an interrogation. On a certain level it made sense to Abraham, but it was so cold-blooded that it gave him chills.
“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Bennett?” Angel asked earnestly. “If that’s the part of my background you’re most interested in, what the hell do you want with me?”
“Actually, we’re more interested in what you did the last few years before you quit during the beginning of the Stump administration.”
“That definitely was the most satisfying assignment of my CIA career. I was a Field Supervisor, creating my own intelligence channels across most of Asia, under diplomatic cover. I was producing actual intelligence; real spycraft type stuff, on a daily basis. I didn’t have to kill or choke anybody; only talk to them. It was satisfying work.” Angel was ambivalent about violence; it had its place but should be avoided in general to maintain dignity and peace.
“So you want me to a be a corporate spy for Jackal?” Angel asked in a slightly disappointed tone.
“Not really, but kind of. The position we want to hire you for has never existed before. It is a product of our times; a desire to protect the interests of our users; and the right thing to do. But it’s all quite honestly above my pay grade, so I think for the rest of this interview should be conducted by the creator of Central Processing Unit Tier 3. Barry, are you around? You really must meet Mr. Angelino.”
From some back-office region of the trailer appeared Chico O'banion, former two term president of the United States of America. He smiled his famous smile and put his hand out to shake Angel’s. Matthew’s mind froze in recognition of his former boss.
President Chico O'banion
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Angelino. May I call you Angel?” the president asked while shaking Matthew’s hand.
“Of course, Mr. President, it’s an honour. I certainly wasn’t expecting to meet you during an interview for a job with a computer company.” The sodium pentathol was still driving Angel’s hyper honesty.
O’banion laughed. “No, I bet you weren’t. You and I have never met, but I remember reading your work during the daily Intelligence Briefing in the latter part of my presidency. I was always impressed with your thoroughness and clear-eyed perspective on the intelligence you gathered. I understand you picked hellfire targets during the beginning, from on the ground. That was dangerous work. I appreciate your service to the country, soldier.”
"What’s going on here, Mr. President? Am I being drafted back into the service?” Angels stomach had butterflies flying about furiously. He really preferred basement gardening to working for the kleptocratic Stump administration.
“In spirit, sort of. I’m not the actual president of the United States anymore of course; Donald Stump is. So my connections to the CIA, NSA, FBI, the Justice System, and the Armed Forces are all informal; as well as deep and strong. What we are doing here with CPU Tier 3 is something that for some reason, none of those agencies have solved. One can only assume that under the Stump administration, there is no political will to end organized pedophilia, judging by the sorts of candidates he endorses.” The words sounded ugly when said in the comforting tones of the former president.
Angel’s eye brows shot up. “Wait, you want me to chase down pedophiles?” Matthew snorted. "When? Where? Sign me up.”
Angel’s first wife Molly had had a terrible childhood full of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather starting at six years old and progressing into her teens. It had thoroughly hurt her mentally; causing the relationship to falter. She hated her stepfather but didn’t want to publicly accuse him because she didn’t want to ruin the name of her little brother, who may or may not have also been abused. This led to depression for Angel, as he wanted nothing more than to strangle his ex-wife’s stepfather to death. Except he’d be prime suspect number one if the old man died once Molly told her story.
Angel had much unresolved anger towards pedophiles as a result, to put things mildly. Angel could waterboard a child rapist all day long while drinking coffee and eating the odd sandwich. These truly were the scum of the earth.
Angel had gotten evidence on dozens of high level political types who had paid for access to children while building his Eastern Europe, Central, South, and East Asian intelligence network. He’d always dreamed of busting and/or killing these people. He knew for a fact that serial pedophiles came from all walks of life and culture and religion. He knew that most of these guys straight up got away with it.
The former president smiled at Angel’s apparent eagerness. “Let me tell you a story you might not know; In 2014, the FBI wanted to arrest twenty-eight-year-old Eric Eoin Marques of Ireland. He was considered at the time to be the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet. His company, Freedom Hosting, was wanted for four charges linked to dark web images described as being extremely violent, graphic, and depicting the rape and torture of pre-pubescent children. But the Irish wouldn’t extradite him to the US because he supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome. Despite the fact that he has plead guilty to the Irish government on charges of distributing and advertising child pornography, the Director of Public Prosecutions has declined to bring proceedings against him in Ireland. The Irish government had closed rank on the world’s most prolific child pornographer in history to that point. That’s juice. He straight up admitted to it, and they still don’t want him to face consequences. Why, because of Asperger’s Syndrome? I’m pretty sure pedophilia is not a typical symptom of Asperger’s. So what’s the deal?”
“He has kompromat on likely dozens or more of Ireland’s elite. If he burns, so do they. I’m guessing here, Ireland was outside my scope.” Angel was pretty sure he was right.
“Good guess. He is of course back in business now, stronger and larger, with hundreds of thousands of members, fully accessible from the TOR network. I’ll tell you that was a Pandora’s Box that we paid DARPA to open for us. I rue the day, for real. TOR has been a huge mistake in retrospect. It’s allowing society’s deviants to profit from their crimes.” The president looked introspective and unhappy.
“If it were possible to identify all the child pornographers using computers in the world, would you rather kill them or incarcerate them?” President O’banion looked at the ground as he asked this.
Angel was taken aback by the question.
“I guess that would have to be determined in a case by case manner. Many of these guys deserve a bullet in the brain, no doubt. But I’ve got to believe some are possible to rehabilitate. Otherwise it means a high stack of bodies.”
O’banion nodded his head. “Here’s the thing. CPU Tier 3 is an experimental clandestine group within Jackal that will specialize in the identification of and secret prosecution of those who victimize those weaker than themselves; whether they be children, young people, or women of any age; anyone really. We want to effect positive change in this sphere, but we have to do it with great discretion. Some of the men you will have to face in this job have much power and influence. Jackal can’t tolerate any blame for your actions; as this could hurt their stock price and curb demand for their products. We don’t want to kill the golden goose that lays the guilty pedophile eggs, do we?”
“So how is Jackal identifying child pornographers?” Angel was hooked. This was sounding like it might be more interesting than solitary basement gardening.
“Good question. Jackal recently introduced a new free operating system for their Jack and iJack lines of computers. This new OS was called Icarus. Icarus came with a bunch of handy new features that has made it popular with most customers. But it also came with a secret feature that will help you with your new job. During the update to Icarus, the system uses artificial intelligence to sweep all hard drives connected to the computer; looking for child pornography. It especially pays attention to the encrypted part of the hard drive. The machine learning has cataloged millions of videos and still pictures; and can generally tell the difference between freshly made child porn and clips that have been floating around the dark web for decades. When this kind of content is found on these drives, Icarus quarantines the drive from use, making it impossible for the user to access the illicit content and prompting an eventual “Siren” call to CPU Tier 3, where the call will be taken by Mary Mary here…”
A beautiful Asian woman came out from behind O’banion and held her hand out to shake Angel’s.
Mary Mary why you buggin’?
“Mr. Angelino, I’ve read so much about you, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” Mary Mary’s English was clipped but easy to understand. Her tone was friendly.
“Mary Mary will be your Field Support Officer; your contact for all things Jackal related. Her office will be on this tractor trailer, as is yours and Richard Little’s.” said Obannion.
Mary Mary picked up the story “This truck and trailer is in a different place each night, and is equipped for sleeping, if necessary. There is an “always on” satellite internet connection between your new (but old fashioned) Chevrolet SS and this command centre. This tactical command centre is bulletproof with the wings down and is equipped for “in motion” vehicle loading for the SS. Eventually you will share the support of this command support vehicle with multiple other mounted CPU Tier 3 agents; of which you will be the first, should you accept the job.
Mary Mary continued, "We can even launch multiple drone helicopters from the roof of this trailer, so we have eyes in the sky if we really need it. The mechanical shop aboard is equipped to do everything possible to be done to your SS should you feel the need to modify it for the task. You can do the work yourself or we can provide a GM certified technician to modify and maintain the car for you. Should you want to upgrade to something newer, we totally understand. We want you to be comfortable."
“Yeah, ah, no. This car is perfect. I can make this work.” Angel was already adding a supercharger to the car’s V8 engine in his mind. If Jackal was paying for gas, might as well burn lots.
Mary Mary said, “You know there are literal self-driving cars now, right? We could get you one of those if you want.”
Angel scoffed. “It will probably make sense to have a self-driving car in the fleet for tactical reasons, but for myself I feel safer in a vehicle I control, not some bit of software. High tech is only so trustworthy these days.”
She smiled and shook her head. She couldn’t understand why such a smart man would want to drive such an old-fashioned car. Mary Mary drove the biggest electric station wagon Volvo made. She wished it had self-driving tech, but it didn’t. She had to steer her vehicle each day; like a peasant. Angel was right; they should have a brand-new electric Volvo self-driving car. Preferably a wagon, she executive decided. Her eyebrow raised as a grin crept over her face. “I think we’ll get along fine, Mr. Angelino,” Mary Mary gave Angel her card and contact information.
“CPU Tier 3 has a large budget for vehicles, travel, and operations that would rival most medium-sized countries. We are starting small this week, but we will need to get started and scale up quickly because Icarus has uncovered thousands of Red Ticket Corruptions. These are ongoing crimes that aren’t being solved and dealt with. How soon would you like to get started, Mr. Angelino?”
“Right away if you want. I got a fantastic sleep on the flight down; I’m ready to go. Who’s Richard Little?” Angel asked, looking at the office door with the name on it.
“Oh, he will be your technical liaison for Jackal Computer related issues. He’s fully trained in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to fix any problem you could have with a Jack Pro or iJack computer. He’s on his way here. He lives with his parents down in La Jolla Beach, so it’s a long drive. Today will be his first day with CPU Tier 3 as well. He comes highly recommended from CPU Tier 2. I think that’s him now.”
Angel looked towards the entrance to the warehouse and saw an electric white 2018 Nissan Leaf silently glide into the warehouse, sidling to a stop next to Maxwell and Gina’s Tesla. A very excited Richard “Short Round” Little jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran towards the sweetest looking truck and trailer he’d ever seen. This was like something out of a Marvel movie.
A small drone leapt from the top of the trailer and fixated on and orbited Short Round as he walked up to the trailer. Mary Mary called him up the steps as the little drone followed him, pointing its tiny camera at him without a flinch.
The back of Short Round’s head filled all the monitors as he walked into the main control room with everyone else. This was embarrassing for him, but he played it straight. “Is this CPU Tier 3? Cause if not, me and the back of my head are going to get the hell out of here.” At this point, Richard noticed that Abraham Bennett and Chico O’banion were both standing in the room talking to each other.
“President O’banion! Abraham Bennett! This is like meeting Stan Lee times a million.” Short Round ran up to shake hands with the president and CEO of Jackal. He pumped their arms as they basically ignored him. He was like a small dog nipping at the heels of a couple bigger dogs.
“Richard, over here, I’m Mary Mary, your superior for this operation. Leave Abraham and Barry alone and go log yourself into the system. We start your new job today. Why don’t you tell Mr. Angelino here about the case that made you call CPU Tier 3 yesterday?
“Well, it was another problem with an encrypted drive freezing up. I deal with a dozen or more of those per day normally, except this one got identified as a Red Ticket Corruption and recommended I call CPU Tier 3, a tier I didn’t even know existed. I was choked because I like to be the hero that solves the client’s problem. But then I wished I was in CPU Tier 3, and here I am.” Short Round grinned his incandescent grin when he finished.
Mary Mary responded, “I checked your stats after we spoke on the phone yesterday; you know your job well, and you have an ingratiating style that makes the clients like you. Now we will see how brave you are,” she raised her brow theatrically again.
“Why? Why do I have to be brave?” Richard sounded genuinely worried. He’d been sweating bullets over what kind of data would lead to a Red Ticket Corruption. He was guessing it wasn’t good. Mary Mary had asked him some very worrying questions the previous evening.
“You will be the first Field Analyst to meet with Boaty Godslawe in person. I hear he’s quite a handful, watch yourself. You will be meeting him at Grub Restaurant on Scrimshaw Street. Angel will provide cover and protection in the restaurant. You need to complete the examination of his computer in person to determine if it really does contain child pornography. If it does, Mr. Angelino will intervene then or later, depending on his judgement. Boaty appears to be a kingpin character like that fellow in Ireland, except with more billionaire. Regrettably, he is a big fan of Jackal computers. That hard drive he called you about, Richard, is the ninety-sixth he’s had go into siren mode since Icarus has swept through his system. This man is distributing from the biggest collection of child pornography ever collected in history.”
“Great, so I’m having lunch with a pedophile tomorrow?” Short Round had reluctance bathing his features.
“Quite likely, yes. A very famous and powerful pedophile. I hear the Texas Burger is the best thing on the menu at Grub. You will need to connect to his Jack Book Pro via USB and apply the Icarus artificial intelligence to it directly. This will determine if Boaty is an at-fault participant in the illicit videos on his hard drive. If the ticket changes to purple or black, inform Mr. Angelino as soon as you can.” Mary Mary had faith Short Round could do this. “Purple means he’s a guilty participant in child porn and a black ticket means someone dies."
Richard’s mouth hangs open. “So this guy has over 90 terabytes of child porn in his possession, and he’s meeting me to solve just one of them?”
"He’s only called about the one hard drive so far, the rest are just non-functional and he’s sitting on them without saying anything to us.”
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