07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

Pages: << 1 ... 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 ... 43 >>



  10:15:10 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1969 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 11: Bad Habits

Petra fucked my brains out after that, to the point that, post-coital, I actually asked her, ?Who am I?? and followed that with, ?And who are you? And how do I get to feel that good again??


She smiled sinfully, and slid beneath my sheets.


I was sexually comatose until the evening.


And unfortunately, that's when Arnie showed up at my door. ?I've got another idea.? Words that usually led to tumescence, but I was still refractory.


It was written on his face, even before he got around to spitting it out. ?I'm going to present it to Clarence Rand myself. You inspired me, the way you took the swipe fees up to the Morgans. I'll tell him that it's something we've been working on for a while, now, something that we've only just got to a point where it's ready to be out in the wild; I?m not trying to cut you out, entirely, I just want to do it for myself.?


?I appreciate your enthusiasm. And excitement. But I have reservations. Rand's my rival for a promotion. He's not going to let anything that makes me look good get to Richard. Which means he'll steal your idea wholesale, present it as his own.?


?How's that any different from what you do??


?The difference is he wouldn't remember where the idea came from. He wouldn't try to make it right for you later. And when he beats us, he'll have all that much more incentive to cudgel us to keep us quiet about the stolen idea- that much more reason to show us both the door. He acts pleasant, pretends to listen, but he's not your friend.?


?And you are??


?I got you out from under Noakes, didn't I??


?While stealing another one of my ideas, in front of the CEO and President. Maybe you're the devil I know, but I know you're a devil. And maybe Rand isn't. Maybe you just think he's like you because you're a fucking narcissist.?


Damnit. ?You're right. I haven't been a good friend to you. I never start out to take credit for your work, but maybe you would be better off with Clarence. Maybe he'll be better at spreading the wealth, so to speak. And if that?s what you want, as your friend, I want to support you.?


He eyed me suspiciously, waiting for a second shoe to get flung at him. But when it didn't come, his face softened. ?Thanks.?


?But, you know, speaking of friendship, what are you doing tonight? Because I haven't got any plans, just way more beer than I could possibly drink without help.?


?Any Jack?? he asked.


?For anybody else? I don't know. But for you, there's a bottle in the freezer.?




?Never touch the stuff, I get enough nosebleeds as it is.?


?Then that must have been powdered sugar at the Thanksgiving party last year, and your nose must have one hell of a sweet tooth. But how about coca cola?? he asked, feigning annoyance.


?Jack and Coke? It ends up tasting alternately like watered down Jack, then watered down Coke.?


?If you mix it right, it gives it a nice kick, like a Coke for adults.?


?My friend you?re chasing a three-breasted mermaid on a rainbow bridge to Shangri-La.?


?Wouldn?t she suffocate??


?She?s in a bathtub with plenty of algae.?


?Then how am I chasing her??


?She?s being carried by magically animated lawn gnomes that never tire, using the tub as an impromptu litter.?


?But not like kitty litter, right? Cause that would be gross. And I bet lawn gnomes poop too big for their size.?


?Wow. Okay. I think that conversation?s run it?s due course. But there's a few cans in the fridge, for just such an occasion. But I'll mix it, try and preserve some of the flavor for you.?  


?I?m glad you?re willing to be Tulio to my Miguel.?


?No idea.?


?Or you could be Miguel if you want.?


?And what?s the difference??


?One?s voiced by Kevin Kline, the other by Kenneth Branagh.?


?So I can be stodgy and Southern, or stodgy and Irish. Pass. But what exactly are we talking about here??


?Road to el Dorado??


?Never saw it. And if you ever want to touch another woman you aren?t paying for the pleasure, you should never admit to seeing it, again, either.?


He scoffed. ?A man whose confident in his interests can attract a woman regardless of what those interests might be.?


?The last time you had sex with an attractive woman?




?who wasn?t mostly passed out at a party.?


?You bastard. Nine months. But that doesn?t prove anything. What about you??


?This morning. No, wait, afternoon. On that couch.?


?You?re disgusting.?


?Exactly what she said to me at the end. Though in all fairness, we?d already blasted through my usual repertoire. I was trying to get creative- and I maybe crossed the line into slightly skanky.?


?I suspect you?re a big skanky.?  


I got out the biggest glass I owned. ?Whoa,? he said. ?Am I going to share that with the entire frat??


?The night's young, and so are we. Well, me more so than you. But you?re not so old you can?t keep up.?


?After that kind of talk, you better be making the both of us a double. Because I?m going to drink you through the floorboards and under your downstairs? neighbor?s table.?


While I was mixing, he managed to get the TV on, and found National Lampoon?s European Vacation. When I gave him his drink I gave him some of the better advice of his life: ?Change it.?


?Trachtenberg?s boobies,? he said.


?I?m pretty sure she doesn?t get naked in it.?


?And I?m pretty sure it wouldn?t be the unrated version if she didn?t.?


?It?s National Lampoon, which I?m pretty sure is French for only rando girls will be naked, and only then if we didn?t cheap out and just cocktease you with the cover art.?


?Your French is merde. And dude, Buffy?s little sister.?


?Wasn?t she both really young and really obnoxious in that show??


?Buffy?s little sister.?


?Really creepy vibe you?re putting out, now.?


?Bet you fifty bucks.?


?Five shots. Loser shotguns.?


?You?re just trying to handicap me in the drinking you down a floor contest,? he said, trying to sip from his drink, and spilling some of it down his shirt.


I handed him some napkins. ?I think you?re handicapable enough without my help.?


?Not bad, though. Little too much Jack, but that?s like saying a little too much orgasm.?


I dabbed at the Coke fizz on my upper lip, ?And that?s one more thing you?ve ruined for me.? 


?If I?d known you didn?t want come on your face, I would have just finished myself on your chest.?


?The bet?? I asked.


?Five shots of what??


?Loser?s choice,? I said, to give him home, then took it away with, ?minimum thirty proof.?


?You?re an evil fucking man; but it?s a bet.? He reached forward and clinked glasses with me. The first time the Hoff came onscreen I got us a refill, and then periodically got us beers as necessary. Arnie was barely keeping his eyes open by the time the screen went black.


?That?s the credits,? I told him, ?and no Trachtenboobs.?


?Maybe we missed them earlier in the story,? he slurred, fairly hammered after his second Jack and Coke and his fourth beer. ?But wait, maybe it comes at the end of the credits. Like an Easter egg.?


?You honestly think they couldn?t convince her to take her clothes off for the movie proper, but got her to do it for an Easter egg??


Arnie looked downtrodden. ?No? but if I have to do five shots I think I?m going to projectile vomit.? His stomach made a noise like an angry, territorial dog. ?I might do that anyway.?


?Well, you?re lucky I?m a true friend, then, because I?ll lend you a wok to hork in.?  


?I need a piss, first.?


?Okay, but no purging. That?d be cheating.?


?I guarantee nothing,? he said, swaying dramatically, walking more with his hands against the walls than his feet on the floor.


While Arnie was pissing, which, when you?ve got that much beer in you, takes a while, I got his phone out of his jacket. Arnie?s got a heroin habit, and never liked to be too far from his hookup; he?s in his phone as Armand, not that that?s his name, Arnie just thinks he looks like Antonio Banderas from Interview with a Vampire, and I get the feeling Arnie?d suck his heroin right out of Armand?s balls, if that?s where it came from. I texted him an amount and the address. He texts back a price and a time. 


It takes more liquor than you think to get a full grown human being black-out drunk; and you can just about double that for somebody like Arnie who takes to drugs and alcohol like a fish to water. ?What?s your poison?? I asked him as he left the bathroom.


?Something that will rinse the stink of failure from my mouth.?


?But not vomit??


?No, well, a little, but I swallowed it, because I hadn?t quite made it to the bathroom yet.?


?Tequila, then.?


?Oh lord, not tequila.?


?Best thing I know for killing failure taste. Or anything else.?


?Ugh. Pour them. But if I die, I want ?he hated Mark more than Hitler? on my Tombstone.?


?See, I figured I?d just get pepperoni.?


?Oh, no, don?t mention spicy meats. Not if you want me to hold it all in.? 


?Unless you get to drinking I?m going to tell you about my trip to the Vancouver Sausage Fest last year. Pepperonis and?


?All right, all right,? he shoved me back from the five shots. I?d left him a lemon and a line of salt on a small plate at the end, and the promised wok right after.


He shot them down, first one, then a second, which he didn?t get clear of his mouth before his belly kicked back at him. He waved at the air, but before he could force vomit and liquor down so he could speak I said, ?Nuh-uh, old man, you?re drinking me straight to hell, remember??


He managed to swallow, then belched straight in my face. I imagine the smell was about what the smell-o-vision would have been for the scene in Raiders where Luke ends up covered in Rancor spit- or a septic pig?s dying flatulence, whichever better fits your personal experience. He managed to get the next three down without incident, but when he got the lemon wedge in his mouth he vomited again, and shoved the lemon into his mouth as a stopper to keep it from escaping. With too much pressure and nowhere else to go it shot up into his sinus, and a trickle of it poured out of his nostrils and across his hand.


He swallowed most of it, and to his credit even sucked what he could down his noise and back down his throat. I handed him a moist paper towel to clean off, and he dabbed at his face and hands. When that was done he took his wok to the couch, and quickly passed out.


  10:18:49 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 668 words  
Categories: Gitmo

Gitmo 46: Immovable Object

I?d had the hell kicked out of me. I was barely on my feet. I needed to get to the radios, to call in reinforcements so someone could look for my deputy.


I didn?t expect to find him sitting in my chair in the office, with a shotgun across his lap and his lips pressed into a radio.


?Orange cat, this is blue fox, you can disregard. The dog just scampered back home.?


?So he isn?t hurt??


?Nope. Just shirtless and sweaty. Looks like he took on the entire town. Hope he used a fistful of lube.?


?And protection,? Orange cat snickered.


I fell onto my bed. ?Where the fuck were you when all this started??


?I was taking a shit.?


?Not in the toilet??


?I backed it up. It was already a quarter inch to overflowing, and I wasn?t about to get shit all up in my jeans and my boots just because that lazy towelhead don?t make late-night housecalls. And I remember you saying you?d pepper spray my asshole of I used your toilet again?


?I said if you clogged my toilet again.?


?You know those two?re one and the same. Anyway, that?s why I was shitting in a hole.?


?That explains the first part. But the second; what happened here??


?Well, my hole wasn?t deep enough for the whole turd, so I had to do that waddle thing, again, so I didn?t get shit on my jeans. And I?m just pinching off the tail end of it, when I hear commotion, big old clang, then lots of hushed little voices. So I sneak towards the noise, wadding up TP and wiping as I scurry along. I see them carrying you to Hamdi?s, and a couple of them talk about making for the armory. I figure I?m clean as I?m getting, and pull up my britches and hurry on back to the office.?


?They?re close enough behind me that I just get the door closed when it smacks me in the backside. I back up against it, and several of them push, knowing if I don?t get it all the way closed I can?t bolt it. So we must of tug-of-warred the door for an hour before I got an advantage and locked it. Then I strolled over to the gunsafe and picked out the biggest shotty in there. I opened the door back up, and most of them dumb sandniggers are still standing around with each others cocks in their hands. So I rounded them up and put em in the cell.?


?I tried to interrogate them, get a sense to the situation, before I called into Gates for assistance, or before I decided to storm them, but they told me all kinds of shit, like you?d gone there loaded up for camel with four guns, and fuck that- four on one ain?t odds I liked.?


?But just as I was about to call in for reinforcements, power goes down. I give up, for the moment, figure I?ll have to wait for day to try and make for the truck, get to Gates that way. So I took a rest in your bed, fitful-like, real sweaty. Then I got woke up by an even bigger shit than the one sent me outside. And I figured, the way things were, it ain?t safe to be shitting in holes. So I borrowed your shitter- which is clogged, by the way. So, by then, I was shit tired and tired from shitting. Just as I was reaching for the TP, I realized we still had all the hand radios you could ever ask for, all with batteries for just such an occasion.?


?And I was just conversating with orange cat when you strolled yourself through that door.?

?Well, much as it pains me, we need to go arrest Hamdi and Mustafa, so, Annie, get your gun. And get me, one too.?

  10:14:25 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1914 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 10: Suspicion

?I don't like her,? Petra told me as I walked out to her desk. ?Something about her just makes me nervous. I wouldn't have let her in, but security have keys to everything.?


?What are you doing tonight?? The question surprised her.


?Um, I need to do laundry. Just... underthings, mostly, nothing I can't do without?? she winced, ending it like a question.


?Well, it's been a long week, and I was thinking of treating myself to a nice meal. And I hate to eat nice meals alone. And I thought it's probably been just as stressful, if not more so, for you. We deserve a night out.?


?How fancy?? she asked.


?Black dress. Preferably clingy.?


?Is this a date??


?Are you sexually harassing me, Ms. Valentino?? I deadpanned.


?No, I just want to know if I need that clean underwear or not. Crap. Um. Could you remember it so I phrased that sexier? Or at least less skankily.? I smiled at her, and went into my office.


I imagined Julie was prowling the cafeteria, so I ordered in some Thai. That display earlier must have been an attempt to fast-track my seduction. And if she and Daria wanted me one place, odds are I wanted to be elsewhere.


That was also why I asked Petra to dinner, reasonable excuse for the night. I didn't need to fend her advances off indefinitely, just the next few days.


At quitting time, there was a knock on my door. ?Come in,? I said, not looking up from my computer screen. Petra had her bag and coat on.


?You going to pick me up??


?Yes. At 6:30.?


?I'll be ready.? She smiled just a little before she turned and walked away.


I waited a few more minutes. Most of the staff had left before 5, so it didn't take long for the few stragglers to meander away. As usual, Daria and Clarence had been spending the last several hours in her office, with the door closed. As I approached it my ears perked up; I wondered if they were having sex in there, or at least, if they ever had. 


I touched the handle, nearly curious enough to yank the door open and spoil all of my carefully laid plans. Then I thought better of it, and and wrapped softly on the door. ?Come in,? Daria said.


I poked my head in, and ignored her, and looked directly at Rand. ?What're you two working on? Anything I can help with? You are my new boss. And I hate to think of you two always burning the midnight oil when I'm punching the clock at five.?


?No, that's all right, Mark. It's something Richard wanted discretion on. Specifically myself and Ms. Rheme working on it. Alone. Maybe when we get it a little further along, a little farther out of the woods, we could use you on it. We'll let you know.?


Suspicion planted.


Tonight, Barbara was going to be home. So they were going to a hotel. But they wouldn't see each other the rest of the weekend. If they were smart, they wouldn't email or text. It was going to be feel like the last sex they were ever going to have, desperate, panicked, needy, the kind of sex that feels like your entire life hangs on it. In short, some of the best sex they were ever likely to have. They didn't deserve it. But I had to give them that moment, to get to the next.


I went home, and changed, out of my charcoal suit and into something black, and some shinier shoes.


Petra lived well enough. I'd forgotten that on our floor, even the administrative assistants were highly paid. She had a condo with a view of the harbor- not a good view, but even being able to see it usually cost more.


I drove to the restaurant. It was nice enough to have valets, although I suspected that was because they had rented an ugly little section of a parking garage somewhere nearby, and didn't want their customers to know that dirty little secret.


The restaurant was cozy, more intimate than I expected from the reviews. I could hear the murmurings of others' conversations as we were led to our table by our waiter. He returned a moment later with water and a basket of stale bread.


She tried one of the slices, and spent the better part of a minute trying to chew through it before just swallowing, and nearly choking on it until she downed half her glass of water. Then she tried dipping the bread directly into the water, and took a bite. She raised an eyebrow. ?Reminds me of how I put myself through college: hot-dog eating contests.?


I raised an eyebrow at her. She turned a very deep crimson.


?I was joking,? she said, ?that was supposed to be a joke. Ew, and it was accidentally more sexual than I intended.?


?You know what you want?? I asked, opening my menu and looking down to give her an out.


?I've never been here before. What's good??


?They have pumpkin ravioli that's supposed to be excellent. Arnie suggested the place, and he would not stop talking about the lemon pepper salmon.?


?Those both sound really good.? She looked down at her dress for effect, ?but since I want to be able  fit into this thing for the walk back to the car, maybe we should share them.?




?You know, do the whole Lady and the Tramp thing.?


?Do I have to push any meat balls around with my nose??


?Totally optional.?


We folded our menus, and the waiter returned. I gave him our order, and added a bottle of red wine.


When I returned my attention to Petra I noticed she was staring into the flame of the lone candle lighting our table. Finally, she asked, ?What do you know about the Warwicks?? and looked up at me.


That raised a red flag. ?Nothing, much. The tabloid boilerplate. They bought their way onto the board with loan guarantees. Alex was recently married.?


?Yeah. That's what I thought. And he not so subtly hit on me.?


?When was this??


?Day before you moved into your new office.?


?So Warwick. Noakes. You're quite the harassment magnet.?


?Not really. But what I've seen, men of a certain... class, believe the world is laid out for them like a grand buffet, and they just have to reach out and take whatever they want.?


?But you never reported them.?


?Why? We're up in the clouds, past the glass ceiling. This is the boy's club treehouse.?




?Is only up here as payoff for a harassment suit- which is ironic, I know.?


?Daria? Don't tell me someone's been harassing her.?


?She's the exception. She's scary smart. And knows people in the police. Right combination of education, experience and inquisitoriality. But she proves the rule.?


?Don't be stupid, it's beneath you. Exceptions never prove the rule. They call rules into question. Rules with exceptions aren't rules. Maybe guidelines, but that's opening a whole other semantic can of worms.? 


?Semantic worms. Anyway, they're the two women with any power up here. There's a few women directors on the board, but there's no one else higher than a AVP, and they're already so marginalized I don't even know them by name. No, anybody who reports harassment from these rarefied climbs only finds out that it's a long drop back down to Earth- and the unemployment lines.?  


?Do you wish you could have reported them??


?Alex isn't that bad. I mean, his advances are the textbook example of unwanted, but he's only ever here for board meetings, and... he's the kind of man who likes to think he can make it with any woman. So he tries. He's like a dog, pissing on every tree in the park to prove they're all his. Ed...?


She didn't want to go on. ?You know, I can't let you start this conversation and not finish it. The liability could be huge. And...? I put my hand over hers on the table, ?if I'm not being too forward, I'd like to know. Even if, right now, we may not have the power to fix it. I'd like to know; I think it would help you, make you feel better, to tell me.?


At some point the waiter had brought our wine, and she took large gulp, rinsed it around in her mouth, then swallowed. ?Noakes was an ass. He's closer to my father's age than mine, so when he first showed an interest in me, personally, I didn't assume it was an interest in my physically. Then one day, we were eating lunch and he reached his hand up my skirt. Not stopping at the leg, or feeling things out at the knee, or even presumptuously fondling the skirt, but up my skirt. Scared the hell out of me, and he ended up with my soup in his lap.?


?After that he got weird fast. He dropped all pretense of friendliness and just started asking to be blown; not even asking to sleep with me, or sixty-nine, or something that could at least be mutually nice. He was asking me to service him; maybe that was the consolation prize he felt like I owed him for 'misleading' him for so long. But I was pretty disgusted, since he'd really milked that whole paternal thing to get close to me, so it was all even extra sleazy, so I was very certain in my terminology when I told him there was never any way.?


?But that I could have handled. Men are dogs, and do doglike things to spread their seed. It's a genetically programmed douchebag-tendency, and getting pissed about it's pretty counterproductive. But Gene Neuberger's secretary decided to go back to school. She wanted to teach, but she needed her Masters, so she was going to leave. And he was seriously looking at me for her replacement. Jameson gave me a tepid reference, but given how little anybody liked him that was probably just as well. But when Gene asked Ed about me, he went off. The crazy, sick shit he told him, my own mother wouldn't have given me the job. All lies, fabricated because I refused to put his wrinkly old cock in my mouth. It's just one of those things; the world isn't supposed to work like that. People like Ed Noakes are supposed to get hit by fucking trains with way greater frequency than they do.?


?It's because our country never really embraced commuter rail,? I said with a smile, trying to calm her down. She was nearly shaking with fury, but she looked into my eyes, and her glare softened, and she buried her hand in mine. ?There's two spots opened up above Ed and me. Ed Noakes isn't going to get either of those spots. That means I will- maybe not the CFO job, but at least VP. He'll be licking my boots, shortly enough. And I'll see to it he never fucks with your career again.?


  10:22:13 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 0 words  
Categories: Barren Mind

Barren Mind: Roulette

  10:13:11 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1791 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 09: Addictions

?How long do you have?? I asked her.


?Just shy of two years.?


?Does it get any easier??


?Incrementally. Three years is the threshold. Studies say that after three years of attending meetings, attendee stress levels are the same as a control group; after three years we?re only as stressed as normal people.?


?That?s a long time.?


?But it?s worth the wait.?


?Have you ever sponsored somebody??


?Once,? she said, with a hint of sadness. ?About a quarter of people make it to their first year. She didn?t. It?s hard. Because you connect with someone, someone who can understand those things no one else does. And when they fail, it?s hard not to take that one as your failure, it?s hard not to accept their weakness as yours.?


?Well I ask,? I swallowed for effect, ?because I feel we have a rapport. Like I know you better than I possibly could, for the few moments we?ve been talking. Like you get me.?


?That?s part of the program. We?re all here because we can get each other. Because we know those dark moments we hit, better than most other people ever could.?


?But, I know it?s asking a lot, because it?s my first time, and I?m sure that makes my odds even worse than one in four, but could you?


?Yes,? she said, ?of course. Do you think you?re ready? That you?d like to share, with the group??


?I?m scared.?


?You will be. It?s hard to ignore that little voice inside that says you?re unlovable, that if only these people knew how dark your personal darkness really was, they?d shun you, maybe chase you out of town with torches and pitchforks. But these people will surprise you. We?ve heard some heavy things here. And sometimes people react badly. But the group, as a group, are really good at keeping things in perspective. We?ve done terrible things. We?ve all thought terrible things. But we?re still standing. We?re still here. And that?s what?s important. But if you?re not ready, there?s no pressure. We?ll be here for you when you are ready. That?s what you should take away from tonight. That there are people who care, people who want you to succeed, and who are here to help you succeed.?


?Could we get coffee??


?There's stale coffee and staler snacks at the back of the room.?


?I meant someplace else.?


?Not if you want me to be your sponsor... and not if I want to stay married.?


?No, oh, sorry,? I pretend fumbled, ?I didn't mean; I'm just not comfortable here, in this place. This whole thing's just still so intimidating, and this place...?


?I understand. There's a stigma. That addicts are failures. That crap about being powerless, that only makes people want to believe we're just hedonistic animals. I felt it when I first came here... that reluctance to believe that you're as bad off as these people here, dregs of humanity that they are. And what I came to understand was that they were so much better than me. They'd been coming here weeks, months, and those special few years, longer than I had. They were so much further along their recovery, so much closer to being whole people again. I hate to get biblical on you here at the end, but I wasn't seeing the beam in my own eye.?


I feigned offense at that, and started to stand, but she squeezed my hand to keep me seated. ?But that takes time. I'm not here to rush you. I'm here to support you. And if that means a cup of coffee, I'm sure we can make that happen.?  


?There aren't as many coffee shops open this time of night as I'd have thought,? I said. Barbara was driving; I figured that would make her feel a little more at ease about being in a car with a stranger she'd just met. ?I guess maybe a bar would have coffee.? She stared at me like I'd punched Anne Frank.  ?Only kidding,? I said. ?Just trying to relieve the tension caused by driving in circles looking for an all night java stand.?


?Cafe's probably our best bet,? she said, pulling into a parking lot.


I steered us towards a circular booth in the shadows, and scooted in close enough to titilate, but not enough to creep her out. And then I didn't touch her, not even a casual glancing knee colliding under the table.


After we'd ordered coffees, she spoke. ?I'd like you to share. You can decide what, and how much, and which details.?


?I don't know what to say.?


?They always say you have to hit rock bottom before you can get help. So what happened to you to bring you here tonight??


I thought for a moment. ?I walked in on my friend shooting up with our boss. I recently got promoted, and it was my first time socializing with these people, and here he was, pushing heroin between the toes of somebody who the day before could have had us fired for not getting his coffee fast enough. Maybe he still could. But I don't know, something about that. When we were both lower level employees, shooting up on our days off, whatever. It wasn't a problem, because it wasn't interfering with our jobs. But walking in on that, it was just, it made me realize we have a problem.?


?It sounds like you have two, actually. I had a friend who did the twelve steps at codependents anonymous. It seems like you can't talk about your addiction without mentioning your friend. Is he your excuse??


?Just like your husband,? I said. I reached out and stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. She moaned softly, and shut her eyes; I wondered how long it had been since her husband touched her like that.


Then she swallowed, and took my hand in hers and brought it back down to the table. ?You're reaching out. That's good. But if you let it become another compulsion, whether it's sex, or drugs, or alcohol, that's just trading addictions. And the last thing I'd want to do is enable your addiction. Maybe I should find you another sponsor, a male sponsor.?


?I'm sorry. I think there's been. I didn't mean for it to be sexual. And please, please, don't take this the wrong way, because you're way too young for it to be the literal case, but you put me in mind of my mother. You just have a maternal quality, that calms me. I feel safe when I'm talking to you, supported. So when I touch you, it's not, it's about feeling close.?


?And connected. I get that. Connection's important. We're all connected; and knowing you can draw on those connections, for strength, and support, that's what makes the difference between somebody who makes it a year and somebody who just shows up for a few visits. Now finish your coffee. We've already been through a lot tonight. But it's a process, not a marathon. You should revel in how far you've already come, but also, know that tomorrow's another day, and there'll be struggle in that, too, but no more than you can handle.?


?One step at a time??


?Exactly. And if you need me, you'll have my number.?


She drove me back to my car, and got out and hugged me. I let it linger just a little long, and she was blushing by the time she I let her go. ?Sorry,? I told her. ?I just, I'm not used to needing people, in my life. Being connected...?


?It gets easier,? she told me, and got into her car.


I went home after that, and slept like an infant. The next morning Petra greeted me with a sour face. ?A Julie Hendricks from security insisted I let her into your office. She said she was bringing you coffee... and promised she hadn't brought a car battery or testicle clamps.?


Petra felt threatened by Julie, which was understandable. ?I'm sure it'll be fine,? I told her, and touched her shoulder.


She was sitting in the extra chair in my office, with her legs crossed. ?Julie,? I smiled as I opened the door, ?we didn't get a chance to formally meet. Mark Dane.? I put out my hand and she shook it. My chair had been deliberately moved from behind my desk, so it directly faced the one she was sitting in. I was curious enough about that that I didn't try to move it back.


There was a cup of coffee on the edge of my desk nearest me, and a complementary cup on the side nearest her. ?Thanks for the coffee,? I said, with no intention of drinking any of it. ?But I'm sure you didn't come here to serve drinks. What can I help you with??


She smiled coyly at me. The movement began in her ankle, the one that was crossed over her knee, then shuddered up her calf, to her knee, which stretched out, until I was given a very clear view up her skirt. So that had been why she moved my chair. Her skirt was short enough that there wasn't much shadow, and I was certain she wasn't wearing anything underneath it. 


?I dig the fatal attractiveness. Little before my time. And a lot before yours. But I appreciate the gesture, anyway. Unless you meant to wear underwear and didn?t intend to expose yourself, and then I?m all kinds of embarrassed. But you're not blushing. Or averting your eyes.?


She crossed the room to me, and leaned in close, putting one hand against my chest; the other dangled precariously close to my crotch, which throbbed in anticipation of a touch that never came. But she was so close to me that her breasts pressed into my shoulder, and she was kissing my ear as she whispered. ?They're in your desk.?


She spun on her heels, sexy silver stiletto pumps, and walked out of the room.


I immediately started opening drawers. She'd been through my desk. It was subtle. A few things moved from where I usually kept them. But the panties had been put in the least sensitive looking drawer, so as not to arouse my suspicions- just to arouse. I lifted them to my nose and sniffed. She hadn't just brought them wadded up in her purse; she'd worn them in. Points for dedication. And definitely F.


  10:17:28 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 500 words  
Categories: Gitmo

Gitmo 45: Lifeguard

I wasn?t thinking straight. I was dopey, trying to walk myself from the earliest moments of human history I could remember, too out of it to parse religious mythology from the record, some crap about Moses in Egypt. I thought if, maybe, I could talk myself through the course of human events to this moment, I could make sense of my shattered mind.


Of course, that was lunacy. I didn?t have the time that was going to take. If thirty hours really did pass, Hamdi was going to gut me. He had a timeline, and plenty of time to improvise before the end of it came.


Thirty hours may not seem like a lot. You can easily go that long without food, without water. But air? Three minutes, give or take. Around five, I think, you get brain damage. And honestly, that could be worse; see, for trying to murder me, they?d think about hanging Hamdi. But for waterboarding? They wouldn?t even press charges. Because if they did, then they?d be saying it was wrong. And if it was wrong, then they couldn?t do it anymore. And the our justice and defense apparatuses had already given up so much, mostly in terms of prestige, for that. What was a little brain damage for one single man?


I don?t know if I had water in my ears, or if it was because my brain was still soft, like a melting bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I barely heard it, at first. Hamdi had been taunting me for hours. He?d actually had Mustafa make him some fucking coffee so he could make the most of it, and not sleep. But this voice was different, softer, but stronger somehow. And at first I didn?t dare hope that it was friendly to me.


?This ends, Hamdi, or we end it. People see you for the shallow little powermonger you are. And they know you?ve taken this too far. We aren?t leaving. And you know it; this plan doesn?t even attempt it. It?s just one small man?s attempt at revenge. We can end this with our dignity, or we can bring the old Guantanamo back. Which do you think people want to do??


?Omar-? that was Hamdi, barely able to get in a word edgewise; it sounded like he?d already lost this argument.


?He isn?t our enemy; he?s the only thing standing between our enemy and our fragile, fragmented peace.


?We?re captives. This isn?t peace, it?s prison. And the agent of my enemy is my enemy.?


?That may be. But the next man they send, and they will send another, will be worse.?


?I?ll kill him, too.?


?And the next, worse still.?


?Then him, too.?

?I believe you would try. But your coup has failed, and this ends, now. If you want him dead, then do it. But no more of this. There is no justice in this. And no peace.?

  10:11:47 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1952 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 08: Anonymous

The next morning Rand moved his effects into Cliff's office. ?This isn't tacky, is it? I mean, I know Cliff just died, and it feels like people haven't had time to mourn for him fully.? He sighed. But he was watching me, like a snake, looking for a moment's weakness in which to pounce.


?I might not be the best person to ask.?


?Because you're a socially awkward cold fish??


?Does my reputation precede me?? I asked, forcing a smile.


?No, just thought maybe I'd found a kindred soul.?


?No, I just didn't know Cliff. He died my first day up here, didn?t show at the office that day. I never got the chance to know him.? 


?He'd have hated you. But Cliff hated everybody. Unless you were a slutty coed who couldn't spell 'sexual harassment lawsuit' with a dictionary and a whole box of crayons- and even those he only liked for as long as it took him to talk them into crawling underneath his desk to further his career.?


?He hate you??


?We didn't interact enough for him to actively hate me. More detest. But people in his divison, basically anybody who crossed the threshold over onto this third- or is it quarter now?- of the office, those he despised with perfectly honed rage. But still, people get weepy, even over dead assholes.?


?They see themselves. Nobody wants to think that they're Cliff, hateful and hated; but they wonder, they worry. They hope, even if they were horrible, that people will care when they're gone. So they try to care when even the horrible ones disappear.?


?Hmm. So will me taking over his old office interrupt their navel gazing, do you think? And maybe more importantly, should that matter??


?For some people it would always be too soon. For others, it couldn't happen fast enough. You're splitting hairs either way.?  


?That's fair.?


?Richard loves you, by the way. Called you all kinds of wonderful things. He thinks I should groom you for my vice-president spot. That presentation the other day, ostensibly about some nobody employee, but really about billions of dollars, blew him away. Sad I missed it.?


?George didn't. What did he think??


?He hated it. And hates you. But George hates everybody. He knows he'll never be CEO. Even if his brother retired, he'd never suggest him as his replacement. So he sees everybody as rivals. All of us, just nipping at his heels, all while he's incapable of moving upward. I think it's pretty damn funny, really. Guy brings down millions of dollars a year, at one of the most financially successful companies in the most successful country on the planet. But all because of his Cain and Abel bullshit he can't be happy with that, because his brother has more.? 


?Seems to be an awful lot of hate in our world.?


?Sometimes. Just depends on the people. Alice Mott, she doesn't hate anybody. She'll tear your gonads off if she feels you're trying to use her sex against her, or any other woman, but she isn't pissed about it. It's just a button she's got. And me, I don't hate anybody. There are people I don't like, but even those I hope I'm mistaken about. But one thing I'll say about hate, at least Cliff hated people because that's what made him happy. George hates people because they might threaten something he may never get a shot at, which he wouldn't even want if it didn't belong to his brother.?


?But I heard you worked your way up from the trenches, did a stint in Ops, and some nice work in Admin, too. I also started in banking myself. But I never got into all of those crazy acronyms. CDLs, CDSs. My head starts to hurt. Of course, I get the impression we don't do as much with those anymore- investors got wise to that particular house of cards game. But we get by- more than get by. Did you know that this division has actually increased profits by the highest percentage since the crash??


?But I'm kind of hoping I can put your mind at ease. I don't think Cliff was doing anything. And before he left, I'm pretty sure Neuberger was just showing up every day for the free internet access. Even Jameson, who could not have been more indiscreet, somehow knew to deal with your department discreetly.?


?New bosses, they come in and change things just to suit them. But this department, it's a runaway freight train, and the faster it goes, the more money all of us rake in. Why would I fuck with that?? 


?So I want to know what you know, and how you do things. So what can you tell me about how finance is different??


And at first blush, Rand was a good listener. Really made you feel like he wanted you to keep talking, filling the silences. Which didn?t mean he actually gave a crap about what you had to say. It was in the little things, the way his eyes glazed over, the way he stopped nodding when I?d get really specific about the minutiae in the instruments market.


I tested the theory, and worked in an anecdote about the night I spent with his wife and a Chlamydia infected Vietnamese prostitute, and next sentence I was back to complaining about how mean Presidents can be to wealth creators. What he was really saying was he didn?t care enough to listen, but he wanted me to feel like he cared enough to listen, so I?d work harder for him. And as manipulative ploys go, it wasn?t bad; it didn?t work on me, but that was because I was more familiar than most with the concepts he was rolling up hill.


After work I picked up another rental car, and got some Chinese takeout. I knew about what time Rand?s wife left, because it had to be about when he and Daria left work. But I wanted to be there early in case he was leaving a good buffer.


She didn?t leave the house until fifteen to nine. I followed her, and parked down the street from where she did. She walked straight into a church. 


You know the kind of church that meets on a Tuesday and Thursday night? The anonymous kind. I walked by the front door, and sure enough, signs for a narcotics anonymous meeting. I paused, like I was steeling myself, and walked in.


The Tuesday crowd was a little thin. That gave me ample space to sit next to Barbara Rand; I gave her a pitiful nod as I slid into the seat, and in return she gave me a comforting smile. Now why didn?t Clarence appreciate that kind of warmth?


A woman with more lunar craters in her head than teeth was up front, discussing her life after meth. It sounded even less inspiring than the brochure would have you think. But it gave me time to look at Barbara. She nodded sympathetically at the speaker, but only when it made sense. She actually cared, which was a stark distinction from her husband. 


She had silver, strung through her brunette hair, put up in a quick bun that made her look like a librarian in her after-hours. She differed from photographs. Her wrinkles were more pronounced, more heavy creases, but that was because she?d lost weight. Drugs might be bad, but that doesn?t mean they don?t make some people look good. Defiinite F.


The lady Jack O?Lantern finished up, and our guru took the stage. ?Anyone else want to share?? He waited. ?Well, it?s not as important that you come up here, not right away, and we?ve got a lot of time left tonight. So if you?d prefer, you can talk to those around you.?


I turned to Barbara. ?My name?s,? I gave her a pained expression.


?It?s all right; we?re all anonymous here, Alan.?


?You can call me Betty.?


?Well, Betty, when you call me you can call me Al.?


She laughed breathily. ?You?re too young to remember Paul Simon,? she said.


?Bless you for that,? I said to her, ?but I can?t possibly be younger than you.?


?You?re a saint for that,? she said, instinctively touching her silvering hair, and then the wrinkles at her forehead before forcing her hand down. ?How long do you have??


?It?s my first visit. I?ve done heroine with this friend I have at work, and,? I sighed.


?You don?t have to share if you?re not ready,? she told me. ?But it gets easier. It?s important to know that. At first, it?s, well, it?s really hard. Especially when you use for what you tell yourself are reasons. And those, those excuses don?t go away just because you decide to get sober.?


?What were your excuses?? I asked, moving my hand towards hers, than pulling away, like I realized it was a bad idea.


?My marriage. I didn?t- I don?t feel appreciated anymore. I don?t blame my husband, but I want him to love me. To love me the way I always loved him. But I feel like every day he?s weighing me, how much use he can get out of me, how good I am for his career, whether or not I?m worth having around.?


?If he doesn?t value you, he?s a fool. I?ve known you just a few minutes, and I see you for the caring, compassionate, and sensitive person you are. If he can?t, then it?s his deficiency, not yours.? I actually meant some of that.


?Using made me feel about myself the way I felt about him. But that isn?t healthy. It isn?t healthy to go outside myself for that. If I want to feel loved, I need to come to it myself, from a place of personal strength, and not a place of personal weakness.?


?That sounds a little different from the slogan.? I pointed to large sign with the twelve steps on it; I never had realized just how much giving up and letting God fix it was involved.


?For some people, giving the power over their addiction up to ?god? might be helpful, but? I don?t know that I?d trust any god that would do this to people. Maybe I?m too literal, but if I were powerless, I couldn?t make myself come here. I couldn?t make myself work through the steps. Do you feel powerless??


?Hopeless,? I said, looking into her eyes. She put her hand over mine. 


?That?s why I come. Because we?re not hopeless, and we?re not helpless, but it helps to know other people are struggling with the same things, that it isn?t easy for them, either. I don?t think so-called normal people can understand it; it?s different, from what they?ve experienced, and they?d rather just label us all and put us into a little box marked ?damaged? and keep us there. What about you, Al? Has your life become unmanageable??


?I find myself doing things I know are wrong, to get what I want. And I know it, and it?s like I?m watching myself do it, and I know I should stop myself, but I, I don?t.?


?It?s okay,? she said, and squeezed my hand. ?You?ve already taken the first step, realizing that you have a problem, and seeking out help. And I don?t care what the poster board says, that?s the most important step.?


  02:33:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1644 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 07: Serious

I picked up the line, and heard Daria's voice. ?Joel? How've things gone with the Dane vetting??

?Slow and steady. So far he's Mr. Clean, but every reference I call that tells me that makes me think even harder that there's something lying beneath that calm surface.?

?Well, then I've got good news, because your job's mostly done for you. I think Dane killed Cliff Pembroke.?

There was a long silence, and my heart raced. ?Shut up,? he finally said, disbelieving.

?There's evidence, circumstantial at the moment, but the confluence of events, it's enough that I convinced a friend of mine at the department to investigate it. And now that there's an ongoing investigation into Cliff's heart attack with Dane as a suspect, I can report that as part of our vetting.?

?Won't that just trace back to you, and piss the bosses off even more??

?Nope. Like I said, the confluence, it was enough that they decided to look into Cliff's death on their own- at least that's how my friend will tell the tale.?

?But what about Clarence and Ed? I mean, wouldn't they be just as likely a suspect, even more so, really, since they're more senior and at least on paper have a better shot of getting Cliff's old job.?

?But with Dane hiring a man to break into my home. He didn't want me around to look into this. This was his plan all along. They'll give Ed and Rand a cursory look over, but it's already moving fast enough that we got a hold put on Cliff's embalming, and the body's on the way over to the medical examiner right now. They usually have a pretty full plate, so it'll be a day before they can get to the body, and another day or two before they'll have any results. But I think we've got the bastard.?

?I told you we would.?

I hung up the phone, because things were about to get practically circle-jerky. And they didn't have me. Because I had nothing to do with Cliff's death. Like I said, he was a fat bastard who didn't take care of himself. All they were doing was handing Cliff's poor family insult and inconvenience- while giving themselves a black eye. My cockles couldn't have been warmer if I'd put them in the oven.

My phone rang, this time one normal ring. I picked it up; it was Petra on the intercom. ?Mr. Dane??

?Mark, please.?

?Mark, there's a 10 am meeting in the executive conference room.?

?I don't remember hearing about that.?

?I just got the call from Richard Morgan's assistant. Last minute.?

?Hmm,? I said, ?thanks Petra. Let me know when I've got five minutes.?

?Of course,? she said, and hung up.

An emergency board meeting. Had something gone wrong? Cliff's death seemed a likely candidate, but it was too early for them to have finished vetting, and far too premature for the police investigation to factor in. It didn't set right.

But I waited, and sifted through a few emails while I did.

I was one of the last people into the meeting, even though it wasn't even ten minutes til. ?Still waiting for Alice?? George asked to his brother.

?She'll get the memo.? Richard stood up, and smoothed his suit down. ?We're naming Clarence Rand acting CFO. We're still in the process of vetting candidates for the CFO position, as well as VP of finance, but we can't leave the entire department rudderless any longer, and we have every confidence that Clarence will do fine in that chair. Since he's coming over from operations, we aren't going to put him on the hot seat yet, not until we can get him oriented. Mark, would you do those honors? I know you've only been here a few days, but you'll have learned the more important ropes. And you can call on Ed's years of experience as a finance AVP if there's any experience either of you are lacking.?

That last dig at Ed was entirely intentional; I could tell by the angry glare he shot at Richard. He practically caught and rubbed it on himself.

That was one potential rival down. But, they'd elevated Rand, which meant that he was now the favorite for the position.

My cockles felt a little chilly.

But they warmed up quick, as the blood started to pump. Because things were happening too fast. Daria decided I was involved in Cliff's death and an hour later I was passed over for a promotion? No. They'd been colluding. That meant theirs wasn't just a romantic entanglement. Which was interesting.

I took my car home at quitting time, but rented a different one for the night. I picked up a hooker, gothed up, F, under normal circumstances, but I needed her for something. I explained the job to her as we drove to the morgue.

When I was done, she asked, ?So why the morgue? You some kind of freak? Cause I got nothing after this. I could come back to your place and play dead in your bed for the rest of the night.?

?I'm going there for Cliff. He was a friend, the kind his family didn't want to acknowledge. I was barred from the funeral, and when the realized I might come anyway, they decided to have him cremated, against his wishes. I just, I want a chance to say goodbye.?

?His family hates fags, huh? The sick shit I've done to straight men, and they have the balls to judge> Fucking hypocrites.? Little unpolished, perhaps, but maybe I should bump her up to M.

The doors were locked. I pounded on them, because I knew there was a night shift. He was confused, and maybe had been asleep, wearing a pair of pale green scrubs. I figured him for an intern, probably paid in sugar packets. He unlocked the door. ?What the hell, man??

?I've been trying to nail this girl for months. She's completely into the macabre. On a dare she said she'd let me have her, if I could get her into the morgue.?

He smiled. I was in. ?We can't just let anybody in here; it's private property.?

?We'll keep it quiet,? I told him, slipping him two hundred bucks.

?And quick,? he said, stepping out of the way.

?I've been thinking nothing but this for months; I'm just going to try to last more than four alligators.?

?This place is so cool,? my hooker, whose working name was Caprica, said, deliberately pushing herself into the intern as he walked. ?Could you show me around?? she asked, 'discreetly' tracing her fingers up his pant leg.

?Sure,? he said.

?Ahem,? I said, putting on my best annoyed face. ?Do you have a bathroom I could borrow??

?Sure, yeah,? he said; ?but I don't want the cleaning crew to know there were people here, so use the one downstairs.? He led us down some steps to the cold storage. ?Right here.? I walked into the bathroom but caught the door before it closed behind me.

As soon as he got her someplace quiet, she was supposed to seduce him. I'd expected more resistance when I told her the job, but she seemed to like the espionaginess of it. And I got the sneaking suspicion it wasn't the first time she'd had sex in a morgue.

Caprica wasn't cheap, and I'd prepaid for the complete package, since I couldn't know what it might take to keep the intern distracted; regardless, it seemed a steal compared to what might have needed to be plan b.

I checked three drawers before I found Cliff. He was wrapped in a body bag, but thanks to his girth, I knew it was him before I'd unzipped it, and in unison, I heard the interns pants unzipping from an office against the back wall, 

As far as I knew, Cliff had died of having a crappy diet and a lousy heart, but Clarence was working to use his death to tarnish my reputation. It presented an opportunity I couldn't pass up. The syringe I'd brought was full of potassium, a massive overdose of which states that don't want to fry their executees use. It's more humane, or at least that's the assumption. The fact that everyone who tries it dies and can't relate their experiences didn't particularly factor in.

I couldn't help but look at the needle, and wonder if one was waiting for me. If I didn't get out of here cleanly, if I were caught with the needle, it would be almost impossible to argue for my innocence. And I knew well enough that needle was only the sharp tip of an iceberg.

I picked a vein, one in his arm, and shoved the needle in. A moment later the plunger was down, and the syringe mostly empty, except for trace amounts of potassium and Cliff's clotted blood.

Then I left and came back to work in the rental; part of Caprica's wad had been for a cab home, and for one last bit of theater, telling the intern I must have realized what had happened and stormed out. 

I parked just outside the parking garage, close enough to see the entrance but not so close as to be conspicuous. Daria left first, around seven, and I followed her. They met up again, this time at a hotel, like I'd expected.

I swung my car around to Rand's home, and sure enough, his wife's yellow Mustang was there, and the house lights were on. I peaked in the window just long enough to see she was alone, watching a Golden Girls marathon. How tragic.

I waited to see what time Rand arrived home. Nine o'clock. I was glad to have my laptop with me, to get more work done while I waited; it takes hard work and perseverance to get ahead in today's competitive business world.


  05:01:31 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1733 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 06: Billions

The Morgans had an opening a little later in the day. Arnie accompanied me to lunch down in the cafeteria., but on our way, we saw Clarence Rand shake Daria's hand and go into her office. And shut the door. I didn't like that- but I also didn't have her entire office bugged. At least, not yet. 


Most of the cafeteria food seemed to be barely a step up from what they served in elementary schools in poor neighborhoods. I got in line at the bakery cart, and eyed a chocolate chip muffin. A brunette, busty, with tanned skin with possibly some African ancestry and chocolate eyes, F,  chatted me up. She made all the right kinds of noises to sound both engaged and receptive; I figured she must be Julie Hendricks.  She followed me back to the table, but excused herself when she saw Arnie there. 


?I have that effect on women,? he said, looking mournfully down into his sauer kraut. Of course, the still patchy mustache he could only partially grow even in his, I wanted to say late forties, the bulletproof glasses or the unfortunate walrus likeness that combination lent him didn't help.


I was distracted, watching Hendricks walk away. All told, it had been an aggressive sexual come on, with a likely intent to seduce the secrets out of me. Apparently, Daria was running her own miniature KGB in corporate security.


Arnie didn't have much appetite. I was the highest ranking person he'd ever talked to in the company, so the idea of jumping up a few rungs made him nervous, and sweaty. But that was fine. I didn't want the Morgans to like him. I wanted them to like me, and to try to make me happy.


George Morgan was livid by the time we got there. I wondered if any of that had to do with my seeing him sloppy drunk the night before in that same conference room. ?It's your second day on the job, and you're calling meetings with the CEO and COO?? he asked through the better part of a snarl, and in that moment he wasn't the handsome Morgan. 


?It's ballsy,? said Richard. ?Of course, if you're wasting my time, you could lose those balls and end up back in the pound with the other puppies nobody wants.?


?Aw, puppies,? Arnie said, thankfully quietly.


?Well, normally this kind of thing I'd take up with the VP, or if I'm feeling lucky, our EVP. But the normal chain of command is disrupted. I want to transfer this employee into my area of control.?


?You said this was worth billions,? Richard said, and I could tell he was getting pissed.


?I'm sure you're familiar with the FTC rule change that cut our swipe fees.?


?Fucking bureaucrats...? George said, almost reflexively.


?We lobbied to have those adjusted upwards, and got it. But we're still losing revenue. I started to wonder, in this day and age, isn't it possible to start charging fees to the customers for using those cards? People will pay $8 bucks for Netflix, or a subscription to Hulu, so why not a few dollar service charge for their cards??


?The idea was just the tiniest nugget, but I brought it to Arnie, who I've flogged shamelessly as my idea donkey as long as I've worked here. And what we found out was it was not only possible, but in many ways preferable. At $2 bucks a pop, we'd break even with what we were raking in; and at a similarly painless $3 monthly surcharge, we'd make billions.?


?Ed's idea of what to do with Arnie is to move him into some broom closet and forget about him, just keeping him in storage until there's a round of layoffs. For a man in the financial markets he has a terrible eye for potential.?


?I have ideas like this, but, without people like Arnie there to back me up, without them fleshing out those big pictures with the details that make the world work, men like us, we're nothing. And Ed, and forgive me if I'm talking out of school, here, but he's got a diamond on his hands here with Arnie, and the smartest thing he can figure to do with him is hide him away from other managers. I don't care if you want to trade, he can take whoever he wants from my department for Arnie. I feel that strongly about him.?


?It's really billions?? George asked, licking his lips instinctively.


?Arnie can go wherever you need him,? Richard said, not waiting for confirmation.


?But yes, billions,? Arnie said, ?with a B.? 


?Gentleman,? I nodded, and turned to walk, giving Arnie a good shove so he came with me, instead of continuing to stand there in mostly stunned silence.


We were most of the way back to my office before he found his voice again. ?You have ideas like that all the time?? he asked, dubious.


?I'm an AVP. If I'd told them that 'I have this employee with an idea that might work' they would have had security throw us both out of the building without hearing word one. I won't tell you it's a fair way that things work, but it's the way they do. And you're in my division, now. Which means I can start grooming you for my spot when I move up. You've more than earned that; and now we're both in a position to see that you get your due.?


?I guess. Yeah. God. I thought they were going to fire us both. But... Richard and George Morgan know who I am, now- and I think it's even kind of a positive impression I made. That's not a bad second day as an associate vice-president.?


?Day's not over.?


?Yeah, but, you can't think you can top that.?


?No, probably not. Might mix some cocoa into my coffee, which could about equal it, but never top it. We have to leave something for the encore tomorrow.?


?Seriously, I've been, the last couple days, thanks. Just thanks.? He shook my hand, but it wasn't one of those perfunctory can we get this over with handshakes,  or even one of those I'm going to squeeze you to let you know just how strong my hand is with the vague insinuation that maybe that equals some form of dominance- though aside from trying to figure out which man in the office would give the roughest handjob I can't for the life of me understand the utility of that. But what I mean is it was the most personal handshake I'd ever had, practically a hug for my fingers. I managed to wait until he'd left the room before I wiped his sweat off my palm.


I stayed late at the office, until well after 7. I wanted to get a look inside Daria's office, see if there was anything that I might be able to hide a microphone in. She was still inside, with her door closed. I couldn't think of a pretense to knock that wouldn't further arouse her suspicions, so I went down to the parking garage.


The cleaning staff were there, with a bunch of vehicles old enough to have graduated from high school, but there were two others: Daria's SUV and Clarence Rand's Corvette. It was red, and in pristine condition.


I waited in the lot, until 9, when Rand and Daria left together. I might have thought it was simply a late night, but he kissed her at her car. I followed her in mine, expecting they would end up at a motel. But she looped back, and drove to his home. 


Rand is married; she's older than him by 5 years, but still, F. Which meant, either Daria was kinkier than she let on, or Barbara was someplace else tonight. That kind of information should have come up in my research. Unless there was a reason she wouldn't be known where she was.


The next morning I arrived at work early. I needed to beat both Rand and Daria into work, because they'd likely seen my car there, and needed to believe I'd left it. Because the last thing I wanted them to suspect was that I knew, because if they thought I knew, they might get discreet. And I didn't want that. Not yet, at least.


I bumped into Daria at the coffee cart. She takes hers black, because of a lactose intolerance, body image issues and a fear of cancer. ?You left your car here overnight,? she said to me.


?Iced caramel machiato,? I said to the barista, then pretended to notice Daria and realize she'd been talking to me. ?Yeah, it didn't seem to want to start, so I called a cab. I didn't think about the cables until I got home, but this morning I cleaned them off and it started like a dream.? 


The barista handed me my cup. ?Those things'll kill you,? Daria said, smiling as she started to walk off with her coffee.


?What won't?? I asked, and smiled, though I didn't feel it. She was being pleasant to me. Either her sex with Rand had left her post-coitally euphoric- which, presuming he'd gone back to his wife at some point, the sex had been so good her euphoria had lasted until the morning, which sounded like a secret I'd like to learn about- or she thought something bad was about to happen to me. Or possibly both.


I hurried back to my office and shut the door. Had I done something wrong? Made some mistake? You can't account for every variable. But was there one that was leaving me in danger, exposed?


But she didn't pick up the phone. She had to have a call to make. She had to. One of her subordinates, maybe.


And that reminded me of Julie. How as I going to play her? I could give her the cold shoulder. I could give her the limp wrist. Or I could pump her, then pump her for information, and then pump her full of misinformation. That sounded like the most fun.


My phone rang twice, long, dashes. Outgoing call.


  05:00:09 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1813 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 05: Yo Yo

I didn't get a lot of time to gloat. I barely made it back to my office before I was summoned back to Richard's office.


I walked in on him finishing up what sounded like a lecture: ?It's your job to protect the executive staff. Mark Dane is the newest member of that staff, so it's your job to protect him. Do you think you can do that job, or should I have Alice start looking for your replacement??


He heard the door close behind me and looked up. ?Sorry to yo-yo you back in here. But uh, Daria mentioned a woman trying to make off with your executive swipe card, that you met her at the party?

This the same red haired woman I spoke with??


I thought about it a second, and for some reason I chose not to scotch her plans, whatever they were. ?No. I don't think so.?


?And can you remember anything that might help us figure out what she was after??


?Honestly the only things she seemed to be after aren't really appropriate work place conversation.?


?Well, there must have been something on this floor worth getting into. Daria??


?Despite what we tell the executive staff, they sometimes save local copies of sensitive information. And if you pull somebody's hard drive out of their computer you can pretty much just take whatever?


?Not the encryption conversation again,? he said, cutting her off. ?We tried it. And ended up locking half the finance division out of their computers for a whole day. It cost us millions.?


?I'm not; I'm just addressing things she could want on this floor. There's some original documents stored up here, but most of them have copies elsewhere. Back-ups are all in the data center.?

?Well, keep on it, and keep me appraised. And, um, that other thing,? he mimed locking his lips with a key. She nodded and left. That made me nervous.


?Anything else you need from me? Because I'm starting to worry I'm not earning my keep.?


?You made us four million dollars the last two days. At least, that's what it looks like, on paper, to the stockholders. I doubt very much that investors pay any mind to who's climbing at the AVP level of the ladder, no offense, but that's what the stock's been doing since. As for the rest of it, you'll get into your own routine soon enough. And let me worry about the prospect of you not.?


I left. I made a beeline for my office.


I had a friend down in IT who was in charge of most of the phones. He had eighteen years in the company, and was within falling distance of his retirement. And he had a bad heart. The kind that was going to cost the company a fortune in late life medical expenses if they retired him out.


They couldn't fire him for his lousy ticker, but they didn't need to. They could manufacture anything to get rid of him, find a few days he got to work late or left early, find some camera footage of him leaving with his bag looking fuller than when he arrived. At will employment was a real bitch, and everybody knew he was expendable. When it came time to have his insurance physical, I had helped him skirt.  


So when I asked him to clone the chief security officer's phone to mine, he didn't even ask why. He just did it. And I knew after that meeting she was going to be getting on the phone.


Her phone rang into my office, two long rings, like dashes, which meant an outgoing call. I waited until it stopped ringing to ease the receiver up and to my ear.


?How'd the meeting with the boss man go?? a man's voice asked.


?I've been told in no uncertain terms to back off of Dane.?


?So what are you going to do??


?How do you feel about Julie??


?She's still a little green, maybe a little overeager, but I think she can hold her own in an investigation. You thinking of handing it off to her on the quiet??


?Of course not. Richard would fire me the second he found out I asked someone to look into Dane against his wishes.?


?Got it. I'll take care of it. Just, because she's probably new enough to ask, but what kind of malfeasance we think this guy's up to??


?I think he hired somebody to break into my home and plant corporate documents.?


?Jesus. You're okay??


?Fine. Not the first time someone's invaded my personal space.?


?Did he survive the encounter??


?Only because I was a little tipsy. If I'd been my usual self, I'd have shot him before I thought to ask why he'd broken in. But with Cliff dead and the VP of finance spot vacant, Morgan wants us to turn up vetting to 11. He doesn't want us to close out another week without at least a lead candidate.?


?And what about Dane??


?He was in the running for Gene Neuberger's VP slot, which just became a promotion to Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer.?


?But you're laying off him.?


?I'm laying off the break-in at my house, and the woman he claimed as both an alibis and a thief. But I still have to vet him.?


?And if you come across something in your normal vetting??


?It might affect his promotion, or, if I was luckier than I ever actually am, get him canned. But he's squeaky- the conspicuous kind. I kind of doubt he so much as sweats.?


?But that kind of clean... it usually means something else. Something off. Maybe that's our key, right there.?


?Yeah, but only if we can find what he was hiding, or how he hid it. Until then, it's the least useful kind of accusation: I want you to fire this man because he seems too not evil.?


?Well, for right now let's just focus on finding reasons why he shouldn't get the VP or EVP jobs. There's no reason to turn this into a personal crusade... other than the fact that he sent a man into your home.?


?A rapist, Joel; I knew the arresting officer from the old days, and he ran the guy's record. He told me Jimmy Palamalu used to be a PI, but since then he's been convicted of rape, twice- he sent a rapist into my home.?


?We'll get him, Dar, we'll get him.?


?I don't know that we will.?


?If this guy's half as unstable as you think he is, he's going to make a mistake. He can win a dozen times, but we only have to win once. Then he's out of here. And if there's even a scrap of justice, in a cell.?


?Thanks. So how do we want to divvy up the vetting??


?You better take Dane,? she said, ?I might do something stupid. And... if it comes from you, there'll be less perception it's tainted.?


?Come on. You've been chief security officer here for years.?


?Yeah but Dane's one of his own, now. Rich treated me like a traitor, for attacking his inner circle. He talked to me like a child. Accused me of trying to wag the dog, or maybe the master- I don't know, his metaphor got pretty muddled. I just want to make sure we do things right. I can take Rand, um, and I think Dietta can handle Noakes.?


?He made the shortlist??


?He's in line. Which means he gets at least the cursory once-over.?


?Yeah, but he's been in line. He's just the girl you know who is just not quite pretty enough. You've slept with her friends. But you just can't get yourself that desperate, or that drunk... if you'll pardon the misogyny.?


?We can review it at your quarterly performance review.?


?Well maybe then we can review your sexual harassment.?


?What? I've never harassed you.?


?I know. And how do you think that makes me feel? What do you think that does for my self-este-?


And then my office door opened. I hit the mute button on my phone, then said, ?Okay, well, when your system's back up let me know, because I'm going to need that purchase number.? I was tense, waiting for whoever it was to come into view.


It was Arnie, nervous, a little angry. ?You left me here.,? he said flatly.


?I'm sorry, Mr. Dane, he just went right past me,? Petra tried to say around him.


?It's all right, Petra, I'll see him.?


?You left me,? he reiterated.


?It was a party,? I said wryly.


?I got woke up by the AVP of Ops, Rand.?


?So that was Clarence's office...? I said. ?It's fine. He's not even in our hierarchy,? at least not until he picked up one of the two open positions, ?and even if he wanted to mention it to the head of our department, we don't have one.?


He blinked at me, regarding me for the first time with the wide, unscrupulous eyes of a lizard. ?What I said last night, I meant it. Without you, Noakes wants to bury me in a closet someplace. You'd think somebody who's been passed up for promotion after promotion would have a little...?


?Sympathy?? I offered.


?No, I don't want that. Understanding. We've both gotten lousy shakes. We weren't promoted to a level where we were now too stupid to do our jobs... we just aren't as flashy as some people,? I noted the disdain in his eyes, as he obviously considered me one of them, ?so we never got promoted to a place where we could really be useful.?


?You're a tool, Arnie,? I told him.


?What?? he asked, suddenly fearful, and still full of piss.


?In the right hands, you're as useful as a hammer. Wielded by someone like Edward you might as well be a rolled up newspaper. I'll talk to Richard, see if I can't get you moved over to my domain.? He stood there like a statue, and I realized I was going to have to do a little better than that. I pushed the intercom button on my phone. ?Petra, would you call Richard's secretary, set up a meeting. And, uh, might make sense to put in a word with George, too.?


?The Morgans?? she asked, unbelieving, then her tone shifted. ?What should I tell them this is in regards to.? 



  07:19:31 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1740 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 04: Problem

I caught Grey sneaking out of my room at four am, scouring the darkness for her clothes. Of course, her dress never made it into the bedroom, so she was looking for some pretty well made Fiaci knock-offs. Normally, that would have made her about the perfect lay, saving me the trouble of having to shew her away in the morning. Only she was trying to leave with my billfold.


?A simple grift?? I asked her.  ?All of this work, effort, for a wallet?? She was inscrutable, though that  was certainly facilitated by the darkness. ?No, it's something in my wallet. Not money, not the cards. My keycard. For the executive floor. But if you were just here for the keycard, why did you stay for the second round? Or third??


She smiled seductively, and I figured she was back to working me. ?Just because I'm working, doesn't mean I can't enjoy my work.?


?I don't think you're 'working.' You don't strike me as somebody's subordinate.?


?Neither do you.?


?Perceptive.? I said, throwing my legs off the edge of the bed. She stared, apparently having forgotten that I was also naked.  ?Which only reinforces my first thought. You're not 'working,' at least not for anybody but yourself.?


?Didn't anyone ever tell you it's impolite to point?? she asked wryly. ?Or at least tell you you should never pull a weapon you don't plan to use.? She started to reach for me, but I countered by grabbing my wallet- not pulling it away from her, just making her escape that much more difficult. ?But that doesn't address the unspoken question.?


?What to do with you? I'm feeling sporting. Tell me what you're doing, and I'll let you go with a swat on the fanny. No cops. No corporate security.? She reacted on that second one- which was a shame, because I think I had her on the line before that.


?Except of course if my ends conflict with yours. And since I don't know what your ends might be, you're kind of asking me to give away the gingerbread cookies for free.?


?You already did that.?


?Oh, you paid for that.?


?If by paid you mean in stamina and effort, then well worth it. Unless you're trying to tell me you have an STD. In which case I'd say we used protection, from my stash.?


?We were having a perfectly civil verbal detente, and you had to ruin it by insulting me.?


?STDs are only insulting if you buy into old-world morality and mores. Sex isn't sinful, and STDs aren't the wages of that sin; they're black on the roulette wheel we all spin any time we sleep with someone.?


?You don't strike me as the game of chance kind of man. Nor as the monogamous kind.?


?You're extrapolating far beyond what you could possibly know about me. But how bout we stick with 'judge not lest ye be judged.'?


?So you've been judged in the past, and it left a scar on you. But I'm not the judgmental kind, cross my heart,? she said, crossing her arms across her breasts like the bra of the same name. ?You show me yours, and I'll show you mine.? 


?You already did that, too.?


?The offer stands. And if it'll sweeten the deal, I don't have anywhere to be this morning, I could throw down one last time, now that you've caught me.?


?Are you just living out some Catwoman fantasy of yours? Because I know an all night vinyl place.?


?We can play out your kinks some other time; I just hate to see a beautiful erection like that go to waste. But it's your call. Ready to spin that roulette wheel??




?I knew it, no fan of chance; but I think I'll take mine.? She pulled on the wallet, but my grip was stronger, so she left it in my hand and ran for the front room. In a stunning display of nude acrobatics she managed to do a handstand over my couch while grabbing her dress, and was out of the front door before I picked my jaw back up. I grabbed my shirt to cover myself with and ran to the door, in time to see the elevator doors closing behind her as she furiously tried to dress.


I glanced at my wristwatch, then called the office, specifically the extension for corporate security. It went to voice mail. ?Daria? This is Mark Dane. It's November 4th, around 5 am. I brought home a woman last night, and just a few minutes ago I caught her trying to sneak out of my apartment with my work keycard. She told me her name was Elizabeth Grey, but I'm beginning to wonder if it was an alias. Beautiful woman, red-hair, about  5'7? and 130 pounds soaking wet. I'm a bit flustered, but if you have any more specific questions about what happened, you can feel free to call me at my office number, or my secretary can put you through to my cell. Thanks.? 


That was what you call about the best damn alibis period. Ever.


But why, you might find yourself asking, might an upstanding businessman like myself need an alibis?


I know how obnoxious it is, but I have to answer your question with a question. How do you solve a problem like Daria? That works better on paper, at least until you try to sound it out- then it obviously doesn't rhyme.


But I hired someone. I respect you enough that I won?t lie and tell you he was a fallen private investigator- though he was; he was a convicted rapist, a two-strike felon who couldn?t get an honest job anymore. I wanted him to fake a break in, and plant company documents in Daria's apartment, along with a burner phone I?d been using to text out feelers with rival firms to buy said information.


He was supposed to break in while she was at the party, so the police could discover stolen secrets from her property when they came to investigate. I didn?t want her assaulted. I?m not a monster.


Only she was home, half-asleep. Richard Morgan asked her to investigate Cliff's death, talk to his doctor, the coroner, see if he had anything that might raise flags, like sudden debt or deposits.


She did at least some of that before she drank a whole bottle of cheap wine, and splayed across her couch with reruns of Two and a Half Men playing with the sound almost off- that was the kind of person I was dealing with. And she was the kind of paranoid who slept with her gun on her coffee table.


Jimmy was a two-time fuck-up, so of course he fucked up. Rather than exit quietly because things weren?t like they were supposed to be, he attempted to walk right past after jimmying her front door, then nonchalantly stroll her into her office to plant the files. Nobody's said anything to me about it, but I've got to figure, two-times convicted rapist, with a girl who had practically roofied herself unconscious, that must have been too much temptation for a man like him.


But what I can confirm is she grabbed her gun, silent, and he only knew she was holding it on him because she cocked back the hammer.


To his credit, Jimmy only used my name the one time, then clammed up. But rather than get her clean exodus from the company, I got called up first thing this morning to speak with Richard Morgan, the company CEO.


I knew him from the party, but not exactly well. I was said to be on the fast-track for VP myself, but there were layers, at least years in the company, and his President brother between us. He was smart enough not to give anything away, and just stared icily forward, and occasionally shoved that gaze of his in mine or Rheme?s direction. But after the first few times, I recognized it for what it was- not penetrating; it was a ploy, a provocation. He wanted us to sweat, because then he wouldn?t have to think hard about who he had to believe.


Which meant I had to play with kid gloves; he?d view confrontation the same as an admission of guilt. And Rheme wasn?t exactly the breaking type, which meant we were already pissing him off by not going all to pieces and saving him the thinking work.


He took in a breath, deliberately, and opened a file he never looked down at. ?Daria explains to me that the man who broke into her home claims to have done so at your behest. Why would he do that??


?Well, she insists on carrying a loaded firearm in the office, I can only presume she would have had one in her home. And at gunpoint, people will say things. I assume he?s been following you for some time. Probably knew a good deal about you and your work associates.?


?I don?t associate with you,? she said, angrily.


?But we work together, putatively. He probably got a glance at the guest list for last night, saw you'd be out of your home and took advantage. Then, when you had a gun turned on  him, he grabbed whatever other name from the list he could remember. And you reacted, didn?t you? He spat out a name- at random- and because he got some kind of reaction out of you he stuck with it. People have thought perceptive horses were psychic, based on that kind of evidence.?


?That?s enough, Mark.?


?I?m having trouble holding my tongue against this baseless assertion, Rich-?


?No, I mean you can go.? I stood up, and Rheme did, too, if only so she could keep even with my eye line to glare at me. ?Sit back down, Daria. We need to discuss some more things, like how these documents ever came to be inside your home.?


?I told you, I?ve never-?


?Some of them have your fingerprints on them. These-?


?I?m your internal security, aren?t I allowed to-? the door shut behind me, and I couldn?t help but smile.


  07:18:29 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1900 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 03: It's A Party

A younger me would have asked Petra to the party. Of course, a younger me cared more about getting laid than getting anywhere.


But she wanted to go. She hinted at as much, when we got back to the office. She told me schmoozing with the other executives sounded dull, but that if I was there maybe it'd be more interesting.


?I'm afraid I already have a plus one,? I told her.


?Oh, I wasn't,? she said, and tried not to look sad about it. 


I once heard somewhere that if you want someone to love you, open your heart; if you want them to do anything for you, close it. And that was why I didn't tell her that my plus one was Arnie Powell. I knew him from my time on the lower floor. He had a real creative mind for finance. He was one of a handful of people who had a reasonable claim to creating credit default swaps. And it was partly on the strength of his ideas that I'd risen to be an associate vice-president.


And he was still a golden goose. Just last week, as they were finalizing my promotion, he came up with an idea. The government had moved to limit swipe fees, the charge that credit and debit card transactions incur from retailers. This was good for small businesses, good for consumers, good for the economy as a whole. And bad for banks and financial institutions such as our company, which was going to lose some of its profitability.


But Arnie figured out a way around the new rules. We couldn't charge businesses any more, but if we started to charge customers a monthly $2 fee to continue using their debit and credit cards, we'd break even. I told Arnie that if $2 got us even, $3 gained us an extra 50% on top of that. Arnie tried to brush that aside; it was the first real resistance I'd ever got from him on improving one of his ideas.  


I'd intended to throw his idea to the bosses that night. I'd brought him here for the technical song and dance; I could pitch better than Nolan Ryan at the height of his game, but when it came to the details, even if they couldn't make sense of what the hell he was saying, the execs knew the difference between me spitballing numbers and him giving them the real ones.


At least, that had been the plan, anyway. Only, when I heard Alice talking, and the intermittent breaks in her voice, I knew that wasn't going to happen. ?Cliff had a heart attack. That's why he didn't show this morning. He was dead by the time his daughter found him.?


Cliff Pembroke was a fat bastard, as mean as he was drunk, and sloppier even than that. The only surprise was that Cliff hadn't dropped dead choking on a ham hock years before now. But the fact that he was in vaguely the same generation as the executive vice presidents meant their heads were jammed fully into their navels, and were going to stay there until morning or they'd crawled into a bottle, whichever came first. I could have shown them a perpetual motion blowjob machine and they still would have found fault with its inability to counteract their mortality.


I didn't see Daria, though she was supposed to be here. I didn't allow myself to worry too much; she was probably around, lurking in the shadows. 


What I did see was a red head hanging off Richard Morgan's arm. A red head ten years younger than his wife. F. She was vibrant, energetic, with warmth that made her a campfire around which all of Richard's usual hangers-on gathered instead. And he didn't give a damn. Not in the least. He seemed to tolerate her, because she kept his usual symbiotics too preoccupied to try to pick the scraps from his teeth, but he didn't even care enough to feign interest in her- which meant he wasn't planning to sleep with her later.


People drank to excess. I held the same watered-down rum and Coke in my hand, but I didn't drink it- mostly because it was watered down, but also because I didn't want any part of the revelry. And that was when Richard found me, standing in his boardroom, looking out the window. ?It's nice to see I'm not the only man who doesn't feel the need to drown his dread. The reaper takes his due, on his day. Fearing it only makes us weaker.?


He touched my shoulder. Amongst friends, and equals, it was a gesture of kindness, and care. From an employer to an employee, it was a gesture of dominance; he touched me because he could, because I wouldn't do a damned thing to stop him. ?You're the new AVP in finance, right? What was the name, Zane?? So was that.


?Dane,? I corrected him, and met his gaze full on.  


A little smile cracked from beneath his stoic visage. ?No one here is mourning Cliff. This is all self-indulgence. George is picturing himself in a coffin. Alice is obsessed with her empty home and her similarly empty womb. Allistair was worrying over his empty bed- at least he had been, until he passed out- which is more than a little ironic, given that he came with one woman and groped another. Of course, the one he came with was a groupie; as soon as he was out she wouldn't let go of my arm until she had to pee. You should take that as a lesson. At this level, everyone is out for themselves. This is a shark tank; if for a second they don't think you're one of the apex predators, you're prey.?


?I gotta say, Rich,? I could barely make out George's voice around the slur, ?this is one of your best parties, and certainly your best birthday, ever.? He wanted to come into the conference room, but the doorway was the only thing keeping him off the floor.


Richard let go of my shoulder, shuddered, and turned. ?You're only saying that because you aren't the only one who's embarrassingly drunk.?


?And you're only saying that because you aren't,? George said, chancing his feet and falling forward, and clapping his brother on the cheek harder than he'd probably intended. ?It wouldn't kill you to lighten up a little. It's a party.?


?It's a bacchanalia of fear, self-loathing, and guilt.?


?So wouldn't that make it your kind of party?? George asked.


Richard put his shoulder under George's arm. ?Some of us have to be respectable come the morning. Excuse us,? he said to me, then helped his brother out of the room.   


That made me wonder where my own wunderkind had gotten to. I found Arnie in the executive lobby conference room, shooting heroin into one of the AVPs from Adminstrative. ?Jesus, Arnie.?


?It's a party,? he slurred. ?But you got a second??


He led me out of the room, and into somebody's office. ?I need to be my own man. Look, I don't care that you've taken credit for my ideas. That's not what I'm talking about. My ideas were only so good; without you to sell them, I was ignored in my position, for years, before you came along. Thanks to you I've been noticed. But I want them to be my ideas again. You've learned a lot from me, and I think I've learned a lot from you, too. I think I can sell ideas as well as you can create them. I've thought of you as a friend for a long time, and despite the fact that I had to get ploughed to get up my nerve to say this to you, I think you know what's right, and that you'll help me get to where you are- especially now that you're in a position to help. And it might not hurt, if you started letting people know you've had a silent partner all along, somebody who didn't get as much of the glory or accolades, but maybe deserves them.? I barely heard that last little bit, because he was in the process of passing out onto a leather couch.


But that wasn't good. That was going to need to be dealt with. I looked at a a pillow on the other end of the couch, and wondered if it would work for smothering him. And had he had any heroin? People would buy that he ODed; but if he was just drinking there was no way people would swallow him suffocating in an office. But it was a stupid idea. Witnesses milling around. In God knows whose office- which might have a camera in it. Impulsiveness is never wise.


I needed to clear my head. I left the office, and walked into the stairwell. The airflow was better, there, and chilled from the roof access door.


Except I wasn't alone. That red haired woman was there, smoking. Filthy habit, but the way she sucked the air out of it, I could see the appeal in being a cigarette. At least until you thought about what was happening at the other end of it. ?Didn't I see you talking to Richard Morgan earlier?? I asked her.


?Yeah, but he's too busy cluck-clucking at his brother to have any kind of a conversation.?


?Mark,? I said, offering my hand.


?Elizabeth Grey.?


?And what do you prefer? Liz? Beth??


?Just don't call me Lisbeth. Every time, people get halfway through that name before I stop thinking they're going to call me a lesbian. I don't like stupid men. Not the same thing as being gay.?


?So what are you doing here, Ms. Grey??


?Same thing as you, looking to find myself a rich husband.?


?Think I like your odds better than mine.?


?Don't get all homophobic on me; you know what I mean. We're both of us slutting our way up the ladder. The only difference is I'm doing it literally, and from outside the whole corporate structure. But really our goals are pretty much the same.?


?You presume to know a lot about me.?


?Do I? I presume to know a decent amount about myself. I presume to extrapolate some of that to humanity as a whole. But you I don't know from the handsy old man who brought me and proceeded to drunkenly grope somebody else for a half an hour before passing out.? 


?Unrequited love??


?Unrequited lust... though with how wrinkly his hands were I can't imagine how much wrinklier his balls would have been. It's certainly no loss that I won't be rolling them around on my tongue.?


?You're certainly very...?






?Good, because I'd have punched you in the crotch if you'd called me brassy. I hate that. Or fiery. Assholes zone in on the red hair and can't seem to think of anything other than if the carpet matches the drapes.?


I raised an eyebrow.


?All you have to do is ask.?


?Well? Do they?? I smiled.


?You'll have to see for yourself.?

  05:00:01 am, by Nic Wilson   , 456 words  
Categories: Gitmo

Gitmo 44: Waterboard

In a way, I was glad when they decide to waterboard me. See, they could have gone at me with knives, torn the meat off my bones in strips, broke every tiny bone in my hands. Waterboarding is simulated drowning, which in my book trumps actual mutilation any day.


Of course, those were rational thoughts, me ramping myself up as I heard them pouring water into a bucket from the chair I was tied to in Hamdi?s tub. I was pretty sure the rag they put over my face was soaked in piss, not water, though foolish me I spent my last few seconds with access to air trying not to smell it.


And then they started pouring. You know when they say something comes as easy as breathing? We take it for granted. It?s something we go months without even thinking about. Until suddenly you?re being intentionally deprived.


I tried to keep my dignity, just sit there in the chair and pretending like I didn?t need the air, waiting for unconsciousness to take me. But my lungs told me to fuck off, and sucked as hard as they damn well could, but nothing came in, aside from a little bit of the piss-rag that touched my tongue.


Then I was hit, hard, in the stomach, and I realized there was just a little air left in my lungs at the moment I lost it. Then the rag steadied over my face again, and the water started to pour again. This time my body was too busy shuddering, from the punch, and the coldness of the water. I told myself the burning in my lungs would warm me up, and that almost made sense to my oxygen deprived brain. And then it stopped.


They pulled the rag off my head, and I gasped, deep, and even with the smell of piss in my nose it was the best tasting air I?d ever had. And I looked at the two buckets they?d been pouring over me, and they were nowhere near big enough to explain the length of time since I had my last breathe.


?We?re new to this, I admit,? Hamdi said to me. ?But we have experience on the other end. We think you should have just enough time to recover while we refill the buckets, so that you don?t die. We think.? He smiled, and I tried to punch him, but my hands were tied to the chair, so all I managed to do was yank painfully on my shoulder.


Already the first bucket was full again with water. I didn?t even have time to take one last breath before the rag was over my face again.

<< 1 ... 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 ... 43 >>