The Screws Tighten
In which even Presidential power has its limits, Buddy hangs in there, and Clark gets his ID.
“Okay. What did you want to see me about this time?” the President said resignedly.
His face was care-worn, almost grey. The eyes that had sparkled and glowed with intensity during the early days of his campaign for office were becoming dull. The body sagged with fatigue. The small tremor in the left hand was becoming noticeable enough that the President was in the habit of keeping it in his lap or pocket.
“There’s good news and bad news, as usual, Mr. President. As you know in my capacity as Secretary of Homeland Security, I’ve been coordinating the collection of information for internal security. We’ve been able to make ‘suggestions’ to many of the leaders of industry that they go along with our plans for getting through this oil shortage crisis. We’ve put in place tracking mechanisms for following production of all the major capital goods and the bulk consumer goods. We can tell you where every truckload of gasoline and oil has been sent. We know where wheat and cotton and other consumer goods are and where they’re going in real time. The problem is down at the lowest level. When we do an inventory, somehow, there’s always a lot of missing merchandise. It doesn’t matter about the consumer goods in most cases, but the gasoline and oil and such, they’re too important to let slide. We think that they’re stealing gas and selling it on the black market. They take out a few gallons here and there and replace them with water or whatever to make the total right and then sell the gas for all the market will bear.”
“What did you expect? That’s what always happens when something’s in short supply. That’s what happened with prohibition. It happened with illegal drugs. What do you think we can do about it?”
“That’s the good news. We’ve been able to create a single distributed database using all the data we’ve been getting from all the businesses and government agencies and also our covert data collection points.”
“What do you mean, ‘covert data collection points’?”
“You remember that we’ve been using the computer monitoring chips in all the U.S. built computers and we’ve been including those chips in TVs and other major appliances for home use and, well, just about anywhere you have a computer chip of any power, it’s collecting data for us. It’s getting so that in the cities you can be monitored almost anywhere you go. Well, we’ve been working really hard to make all that available in one distributed database with centralized control. I think we have it now. You can take an individual, almost any individual, and I can tell you where they are and what they’re doing.”
“No. Really. Just give me the name of someone and I’ll show you.”
“Okay. How about Senator Frobisher? What’s that old S.O.B doing?”
“Hang on a minute, ‘Johnny on the spot, Senator Prescott Frobisher, live feed, sound and image’” Homeland said into his personal digital assistant and then held it out for the President to see.
The sound of a gentle snore filled the room and the image of Frobisher, his body slumped in his chair behind his desk, appeared on the screen.
“Don’t know as what I don’t envy that old fart. Look at him sleep. Not a care in the world. After what he did to us I’d like to see him roasting in hell. … Well, he’s unimportant now. Having his guts for garters wouldn’t do us a bit of good. You say this image is from his computer?”
“From the angle of this shot I would say it was, but it could be from his TV or even his refrigerator if he has one in his office. I can ask the computer if you really want to know.”
“No, it doesn’t matter. So how are we going to use this to save gas?”
“Well the biggest problem we had was that we knew that lots of people were stealing a little gas here and there to sell on the black market. And we could catch any of them we wanted to just by putting a man on to watch them like we’re watching Frobisher but we’d have to watch all day every day until they did something illegal. The problem was that there are millions of these petty thieves out there and we just don’t have the personnel to watch what each person is doing all the time. Sure, if there’s someone important like the head of a corporation, we can watch him because he’s important enough to devote the manpower to him. But these little nickel and dime operations are so numerous and so small scale that we just can’t do it that way.”
“So we aren’t much better off than we were before except at the top.” The President sighed.
“No sir. We’re much better off now. That’s the good news I wanted to bring to you. We now have the computing power and, even more important, the software, to let the computer monitor people for us. We don’t need the human staff. I can ask the computer to monitor everyone who sells gas and we can have a listing of everyone who has stolen gas and sold it during the last week. We can have the computer do it for us, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week every day of the year.”
“How can the computer tell if the person’s stealing? That seems like a pretty human judgment to me.”
“Well I don’t know for sure. I know they pay attention to whether the person is putting something into a gas tank or taking something out of it. I know they keep a total of how much gasoline should be in each tank. I’m not sure how they tell exactly but they tell me it’s right over 90% of the time.”
“So what are you going to do, arrest 3 million people for stealing gas?”
“No, of course not, sir. What I propose is this. First we notify each of the people who steals the gas that we know about it. We tell them the date and time of the theft and how much they took and who they sold it to. We fine them say 10 times the money they got for the stolen gas. We tell them that if they do it again we’ll shut down their access to gas altogether. They won’t have any idea how we know, so they’ll have to figure that the people they sold it to ratted on them. Naturally, we can come down hard on the organized crime guys who are stealing by the tanker load.”
“You think that’ll solve the stolen gas problem? How much gas will that save?”
“We think it will save about 10% of the supply of gas that’s being wasted now.”
“Well, that’ll certainly help. Go ahead with that plan, then. Have you got any good news about unemployment or heating oil or the food supply?”
“No sir. But we’ve got the bigger farms in line and the smaller farms are turning more to truck farming. They want to barter rather than sell their crops for money, what with the inflation and all. Also, I think we’ll produce enough food and that we’ll be OK in that line anyway. It’s the heating that we’re having trouble with. We’re increasing our coal production for electricity, but those coal fired power plants turn out a lot of air pollution and the people down wind are going to have a lot of acid rain and such until we can replace the old power plant technology.
“I’m going to leave all that up to you. Do the best you can to get us ready for the transition. We have to have all the monitoring and surveillance equipment in place and the computer monitoring functioning smoothly by then or we’ll never keep the lid on when this crazy money thing falls flat on its face. I have my hands full now with the international situation. Practically every nation in the world where we owe money, and that’s most of the world, is having a fit over our going to this new money system. They claim it’s just a fancy way to renege on our debts. I keep trying to tell them that after a few months at most we will go back to the old system and we’ll be able to pay our debts then, but they don’t seem to believe me.
“What’s wrong honey? You look like you’ve been sucking a lemon. Come go for a walk with me and tell me your troubles.”
Lozelle took Buddy by the arm and gently pulled him toward the door.
“You’ve been cooped up in that office all day. You need the exercise. Trust me. You’ll feel much better for a little exercise. Besides, your brain will work better if you get rid of some of that stress.”
“Oh, all right. Are you sure you want to go walking with a grouch, though?”
“But you’re my favorite grouch in all the world. I love you just as much whether you’re grouchy or not.”
Lozelle got him outside, linked her arm through his, and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Remember how we used to walk like this when we were in college together? Remember how sweet it was to stroll through campus arm in arm thinking about our future together?”
Buddy had a moment of guilt as he remembered what he had been thinking about during those walks, but like any good husband he kept such information to himself.
“Yes, darling. But I had no idea our future would be like this. You know what those federal … ah … rascals have done now? They sent me a quota for this year: so much soybeans, so much pork, so much chicken and so on. It’s like they want to tell me what to plant, how to plant it and every little thing. It’s like they owned these acres instead of me. I told them I didn’t have the gas to do all that and they said they’d let me keep more of the diesel oil we make but only if I grew what they wanted. They also had a few threats in case I decided to go it alone. Oh, they tried to dress it up as good, fatherly advice but it was clear they think they can run us out of business if we don’t go along.”
“What are we going to do? Are we going along with what they want like last fall? Are we going to fight them?”
“I don’t know how we can fight them, dear. I have over 300 men working for me on the farms and in the mills and such. If we fight, I don’t know how many of them would stick with us and how many would run. If even a third quit, that would leave us in bad shape. You can’t run a mill for long with a third of your people missing. On the farms it would be even worse. All those hogs and chickens would be starving and we couldn’t even get the feed to them. If they take all our gas, we can’t do hardly anything. What I’d have to do is break up the big farms into little farms, each with one of two men running them with just what they had right there. They’d have to have some way to feed the stock from their local farm with no outside help. With a couple of years to prepare we might be able to feed half our present stock but if we start right now and tried it, we’d have to slaughter about three fourths of our animals and the rest would be on short rations. I just don’t see any way we can do it.”
“Can’t you just buy gas from people without using the rationing system?”
“Well, we might have last year but that market has dried up. From what I hear, you can’t get gas at all without having that ration. It’s like suddenly everyone is law abiding, at least, when it comes to gas. Rumor has it that the feds have some new system that let’s them find out about every single violation of the ration laws. I would have thought that impossible. But it seems to be happening. Last week Jerome was complaining to me about how the feds were telling him what to grow. He said they threatened to expose certain facts from his past if he didn’t go along. You know, like they did with that movie star who was objecting to the identity checks. I mean, it’s like they know everything that’s happening all the time. I can’t even go to the bathroom without the feeling that someone’s watching.”
“But they can’t do that can they? I mean, don’t we have a constitutional right to privacy? And anyway, I haven’t seen anything on the news about it or in the paper. Surely there’d be something, someone who’d complain about it.”
“Honey, the papers are printed by people who have secrets they’d rather keep, too. And the news broadcasts are censored as well. You remember that the National Freedom Act they passed last year gave the FCC and Homeland Security the right to stop the publication of any story that would be against the national interest and a comfort to terrorists. Well, that means that if the Administration doesn’t like a story, it doesn’t let it be broadcast. We don’t have a free press any more. I’m not sure what freedoms we do have left that the government can’t take away and call it legal.”
“Dear, remember that Clark’s money will take effect next year. Then everything will be all right. We just have to hold on until then.”
Buddy gave her a big hug and said, “You’re right dear. We just have to hang on until next year. If we can just make it until 2013 we’ll be just fine.”
But behind Buddy’s big smile and confident voice he wasn’t thinking that way at all. In his heart he felt they were all doomed to a life of complete government controls. He had never heard of any illegal substance, whether it was drugs or sex or gambling, that wasn’t available on the black market. If the government could stop the owners of gas stations from selling a few gallons on the side and could also stop organized crime from doing the same thing on a large scale, then they had a grip on the people that was stronger than anything Buddy had ever heard of. Buddy was scared, scared right down to his socks.
“Are you going to do it, Clark?”
“What choice do we have? How are we going to live if we don’t? “
“We don’t have to work in Washington, you know. We could go outside the city to some of the small towns around here, in Virginia for example.”
“How’s that going to help? You really think they don’t have computers and rations and police out in the suburbs? You want to go live in the hills catching rabbits and deer and making clothes out of hides? Unless you want to completely give up civilization altogether, I don’t see how you can escape it. You either let them identify you to the computer or they arrest you and force it on you or they just don’t let anyone sell you food. I mean they’ve got you no matter what you do.”
“But won’t they be able to know everything you do if you let them make an ID for you?”
“Yes, but they can already do that. They’ve been keeping records on most people for at least 18 months now. How do you think they passed that National Freedom Act so easily? They had the dirt on every member of Congress. They didn’t even have to arrest any of them. They just let them know what they would release to the media if Congress didn’t do what they asked. Enough caved in that the administration didn’t even talk to some like old Frobisher. They let him talk against the bill and all but he doesn’t have an important committee chairmanship or anything. He doesn’t have much influence now that the 10-points bill has passed. They let him rant and rave about loss of freedoms and just didn’t let the media report it to the nation.”
“You mean it’s too late to do anything about it?”
“Well, what could we do for goodness sake? We can’t get a conspiracy going, they’d know about it within hours. We can’t go to the streets and form a mob because the citizens of this fair nation are like sheep heading to the slaughter. They have no idea what they are being threatened by. So long as they’re warm and fed and have their electronic toys, they’re happy. They don’t even care that the government’s controlling all their access to information, even the internet. I tried editing some of the files on the old 10-points web site and it wouldn’t let me. It said I didn’t have the right password.”
“But won’t people realize that …”
“What good will it do when they realize it? There’s nothing they can do. This administration is in office for as long as it likes. Whoever is in control of that computer system is in control of everybody. They’ve got us by the short hairs. I tell you it’s 1984 but thirty years late.”
“Oh, Clark. It can’t be that bad. There are still editorials against the administration. There are still news items that show them failing at things. There is still an opposition.
“Those things don’t matter, really. They’re just for show. Everything the administration wants, it gets. They are even telling industry what to produce now. They have some computer program that divides up what the government wants produced and sends quotas or some such to each company. They try to say it’s part of the rationing program and just for the duration of the emergency, but you wait and see. They’ll keep it up and before long you won’t even be able to choose your own job.”
“But they can’t just control everybody that way. People would never stand for it.”
“They’re already standing for it. Why did all the major industries fall into line with the rationing plan with hardly a murmur of dissent? Why aren’t people taking to the streets about this national ID thing? They’re sheep, I tell you, sheep.”
“But we didn’t have hardly any starvation last winter and anyway, well, I got my ID last week. I haven’t noticed any problems. In fact, now I don’t have to have my credit card, I just talk to the computer at the store and it knows who I am. It’s really convenient. And you know how I used to have to write down my passwords for using the computer? Well now I just turn it on and talk to it and it knows who I am. I don’t need that password, whatever it was.”
“What about all your personal information that the businesses have been collecting about you over the years? You know those cards you let them scan when you wanted to get the discount? Well, I understand that all those data bases have been taken over by the rationing system. They not only can identify you, they know what you eat for breakfast, they know what medicines you take, and they know how much you drink. They know more about you than we know about Lincoln. Your medical records are now in that damn computer. If you need medication like, say insulin, you can’t get it without their permission. So if you’re a diabetic, are you going to be able to stand up against the government? If your business depends on getting goods from some other business, the government will know and be able to shut you down by denying you access to those goods. There probably are no more that half a million people in the U.S. who are in any kind of position to object to anything this administration does.”
“But it will be all right when the 10-points takes effect, won’t it?”
“Dream on, girl. Dream on.” Clark snorted.
Clark’s phone rang. Clark flipped it open and said, “Hello?”
“Your appointment for getting your ID has been changed to 4:00 this afternoon in room 336 Freedom Hall. Please be on time.”
“Who is this?” Clark demanded.
There was no answer.
At 4:00 pm Clark reported to room 336 of Freedom Hall. The building was quite modern with insulated glass which could be set to allow the heat in during cold weather and reflect it in hot weather. The décor was warm and cheerful with amusing art and soothing colors. The receptionist was cheerful and friendly, directing Clark to a small room with a chair and some impressive equipment. Clark was reluctant to go in, but a grey-haired woman old enough to be his grandmother entered first and invited Clark to sit before the instruments.
“What is this? It looks like some futuristic gadget for fitting glasses or something.”
“This will get the retinal image from your eyes. It’s painless. Just put your chin on the supports and look through the eyepieces. There, that was easy wasn’t it?”
Clark had hardly had time to blink. Please place your hand on this pad. Thank you. Now your other hand.”
Before Clark had time to think, let alone object, the woman turned on what appeared to be a small vacuum cleaner and brushed it over his hair a couple of times.
She smiled at Clark and said, “That should do it darling, now if you will just walk out the other way down this hall you will find an easy exit.”
“But wait, what did you do?”
“We got your retinal images as I told you. We took your finger prints on both hands. We got your odor and a sample of your DNA from your hair. We got images of your face from those cameras there in the corners of the room and the chair measured your weight. As you walk down the hallway her, the computer will note your way of moving. We’ll be able to match these features up with your dental records in case your body is found and is difficult to identify. I think that it’s so comforting to your family to know for sure whether the body found is really yours or not, don’t you?”
Clark was almost shaking as he walked down the hallway. His body? What was she talking about, his body? At the end of the hallway on the left was another door marked EXIT in red letters. He pushed but nothing happened. The door behind him, however, did open and a young man who looked nineteen or twenty beckoned him to follow him. Clark felt like running but when he looked back down the hallway, the grey-haired lady was smiling at him and nodding. He went where the young man indicated.
“Mr. Minton, please have a seat.” The youngster gestured to a soft looking chair that looked like it would probably recline if asked.
Clark tried to sit on just the front edge of the chair but the chair almost imperceptibly demanded that he lean back to savor the comfort of the welcoming cushions. Within a few seconds Clark was leaned back and relaxed.
“I understand that you’re somewhat nervous about the National ID system. I’m hoping I can allay your fears. You see, there really is nothing to be afraid of. Just think back a couple of hundred years. Almost everyone lived on a farm or in a village where everybody knew them at sight. Everywhere you went and everyone you met was familiar. So if a dangerous stranger came into the village, everyone would know at once to be suspicious. Everyone would keep an eye on the stranger. This meant that the community could defend itself against an outside threat.”
“Today, we’re surrounded by strangers. There are terrorists who will even sacrifice their own lives to damage us. We can’t keep everyone out. But we can know our own. We can separate those who are part of our community from those who are outsiders. Naturally, we welcome tourists who only want to enjoy our resorts and many attractions. But we must be able to defend ourselves against that terrorist threat. Surely you can see that, Mr. Minton.”
Clark found himself nodding.
“Our computer system, which is the most sophisticated in the world, I’m proud to say, can keep watch for us. It can provide that watchful eye on the stranger which ordinary people can no longer provide. It can detect the dangerous act almost before it happens. It is our most certain defense against terrorism.”
“Sadly, some people don’t recognize this strong defense as being good. They fear that it’ll be used against loyal Americans in an attempt to control their lives. But let me assure you there is no such intent on the part of this administration. This system is purely defensive. If that were not the case, surely it would be used in cases in which young men such as our selves make injudicious remarks in unguarded moments. Surely such young men would be brought to account. There’s no doubt that they would be arrested as traitors to America even if they had connections in high places. They wouldn’t be allowed to spread sedition and false rumors about the intentions of the administration. They might find their rations cancelled or find themselves one of those unfortunates who have no job.”
“But you know, Mr. Minton, such things are not happening. I mean, you are yourself a young man and I am sure that you, like me, have said some things which we agree were injudicious and even silly. Perhaps we were trying to impress some young woman with our daring or perhaps we wanted to see how gullible they were. Maybe we even believed to a small degree what we were saying. But, just between us, Mr. Minton, what we said was really not quite the thing in these perilous times. Our nation really is under serious threats both internal and external. It’s at these times that we must keep our heads and show the leadership which persons of our background and education know is within us. We must help the others, those who are less well educated and less knowledgeable about the world, to accept what is being done for them and the decisions being made on their behalf.”
“You and I both know that this national ID is a necessary part of the defense of America and that it will greatly cut down on crimes of all sorts. It will make life easier and safer for everyone, everyone, that is, who is not working against the best interests of the American people. For those who would harm America, it will make life very difficult indeed.”
“Well, Mr. Minton, I’m glad we could have this little talk. I’m sure that you feel much better now about your situation, much more secure knowing that by getting your ID you are helping to defend America against the terrorist threat and making life easier and safer for all those around you.”
Clark automatically accepted the hand extended toward him by the smiling youth, who thereby assisted Clark to get out of the ever-so-comfortable chair.
Clark found himself nodding once again and, almost in a trance, left the room. This time the EXIT sign spoke the truth and the door opened easily on another part of the main lobby. The décor was the same. The colors were still soothing. But somehow Clark found himself trembling slightly, his hands clammy, his back covered with cold sweat.
He felt like he had just been threatened. He felt like he had just been told to stay in line or he’d have a serious struggle to survive. He wanted to run but had no idea in what direction. He felt like a rat in a maze with no cheese at the end. He left Freedom Hall and went out onto the streets of the capital. The weather was delightful, still warm from late summer but with the first coolness of the coming autumn. The trees were still green and many of the cars had their windows open. The occasional convertible, some with handsome men or beautiful women, went by, but Clark was in no mood to appreciate the scenery.
“Why can’t we bring these charges? With the evidence we’ve got we could have an indictment in no time.”
“Look, the Attorney General says we’re to leave them alone. You want to argue with him, be my guest.”
“But these are the big boys. These are some of the top heads of organized crime. We have audio and video of them ordering killings and directing prostitution and drugs and smuggling. You name the crime. We have them cold on it.”
“You just don’t get it, do you. These guys are helping us out with our oil problems. They have contacts all over the world. They can come and go where our officials can’t even think of going. They’re responsible for getting millions of barrels of oil from Russia and the Middle East. They get tankers from South America despite their embargo on oil to the U.S.”
“Are you telling me they get a free hand here to run their crimes so long as they can bring in the oil?”
“That’s about the size of it, yes. They scratch our itch and we leave them alone. How many lives do you think that oil they bring in saves? How many jobs would be gone now if that oil didn’t reach our ports? Sure we could put these guys in jail. But what good would that do? Somebody else would just take their places. You think organized crime happens just because a few people are mean enough and powerful enough to be thugs? No, son, it’s because they can make big money doing it. How much money do you think they get for one tanker of oil? If the oil companies could get it legally or illegally on their own, don’t you think they’d have done it by now? Well, these organized crime guys can apply pressure even on governments and those they can’t force they can trick or bribe.”
“So what am I to do with all this evidence, throw it away?”
“Don’t be silly. Keep it safe. In fact, keep more than one copy and hide them in different places. That evidence could come in handy later.”
“Boy, look at that! She’s really hot. Look what she’s doing!”
“God, what I wouldn’t give to have her in the sack.”
“Are you recording this?”
“Every second of it. Luckily we came in before she started to undress so we got the whole thing. With a little editing this can make us some big bucks on the international market. We might want to change her face a little, maybe make her look more like somebody famous and we can always put in different backgrounds so it’ll be hard to identify where she is.”
“Look, she’s climaxing. It just keeps going and going. No wonder she works so hard at it. How much of the afterglow do you think we should get?”
“All of it. Just as long as she keeps moving or making sounds. They can always edit it out at their end if they don’t want it.”
“This ought to get us 15 to 20 don’t you think?”
“More, I should think because she’s so natural and so young. This is prime cut stuff. There just aren’t any professionals that look like that. I mean it’s obvious she thinks she’s alone because of the way she ignores the camera. She has no idea she’s being watched and taped. Of course, we’ll have to crop the picture a little because she isn’t centered in the frame and such. But that’s easy.”
“Are you sure we can get away with this? I mean this is a government installation and government equipment we’re using here. I don’t think those cameras and microphones in the computers are supposed to be even known about by the public. What if my boss catches us?”
“Then you get the shaft. What do you think? But he ain’t catching you, because you set up a monitoring program on him. If he gets even suspicious, you’ll know and we can change our operation. Now have you got any more of these, maybe some oriental or black girls?”
“Shoot, yes. I set up the filter to find people taking off their clothes and I must have gotten 10,000 hits the first day and that was even restricting it to women between 15 and 30. The problem is that you have to go through lots of not so good stuff to find the really good ones and it all takes time. The computer isn’t very good yet at knowing who’s pretty and who’s not. Also, I don’t dare have it record all of them since that would be noticeable. So I find some pretty ones and watch them until I find one that does some interesting stuff, then I revisit her at times she’s likely to be performing until I catch her right.”
“Swell, but have you got them on tape already?”
“Well no. It may be days before I catch another one like this.”
“Okay, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll bring in some recording gear and you have the computer feed as many streams as the gear can handle to my recorder. Then we’ll look over the streams we got to see what’s best. We should be able to speed up your operation quite a lot that way without it showing up on your records. When we get it smoothed out we should be able to get 10-20 of these sessions a day.”
“But they’re just women masturbating. Don’t we want more variety than that?”
“Of course, especially if there’s some perversions. But I thought your filter was set for just young women.”
“Well it is, but I don’t like to see other guys getting what I can’t have, so I didn’t follow up on those. There’s lots of them with couples making out, too.”
“We have a gold mine here, my boy.”
“I don’t know about this. If we do too much of this, we’re likely to get caught.”
“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity here and you turn chicken on me.”
“I ain’t chicken. I’m the one who set it up in the first place ain’t I? I’m the one who told you about it, wasn’t I? But this that I’m doing is small scale. It’s easy to miss what I’m doing. What you want to do is big scale. That’s going to make waves. If we put out lots of these things, there’s some of them going to get back to the U.S. and anybody who’s in on the monitoring program is going to know they must have been made using our secret gear. Then they’ll start checking on everybody who does monitoring and the chances of being discovered go way up.”
“Okay, we’ll be discrete and make sure we cover up as much as we can about how these things were recorded. I’ve got the software that can replace everything but the actors with whatever background we like. We can even make the camera angle appear to move so it seems like there’s a live cameraman doing the filming. Trust me on this. I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah. Right. You probably have a good lawyer, too, but I don’t. I’m just a computer geek. You’re the operative with all the field experience and all the contacts. You’re the guy who’s got all the underworld friends. You’re the guy who says he can make us rich with this.”
“Calm down. We’ll be very careful. We’ll sell to the most select markets, only.”
“And they’ll sell to everybody and his brother. Once you sell one of these, it’s out of your control. There’s no telling where it’ll go. And it’s all digital. Making copies won’t degrade the picture to the point that nothing is recognizable. That hundredth copy is just as sharp and clear as the original. Every hint and clue as to how we’re getting this stuff is right there, clear and sharp in all the copies. I’m telling you this is only going to work if we keep it small scale and control all the copies.”
“Listen boy, you think you’re the only one who’s making these films? There must be 50 guys and probably some women, too, who’re making pirate copies of what they can see with this stuff. You think the market isn’t going to be flooded with these things in a year or two? We’ve got to get our stuff out there while there’s still a good market for it, before the flood of this stuff drives the price down.”
“I never thought of that.”
“You don’t think you’re the only monitor who has computer skills, do you? You don’t think the guys who put this thing together were ignorant of what it could do? Why probably half the people who applied for these monitoring jobs are secret voyeurs. If they weren’t, this job would bore the pants off them. And you just know most of them are going to realize they can make copies of this stuff and sell them. They’re bound to. Look how popular reality television was a few years ago. This is reality television on steroids. There’s big money in this, but it’s only going to last a short time and then the market will be saturated and the price will go down because there’ll be so many suppliers. We have to strike while the iron’s hot, boy. We have to go for it now full bore.”
“But what if we get caught?”
“Then we lose our gamble. There’s risks in everything, especially the things that pay off big time like this will. Besides, you already took the biggest risk when you told me what you had access to. But that risk is paying off for you because you could never have carried this off on your own and you really can trust me. I’ll take good care of you, really good care.”
“Damn potholes! That one almost took out my suspension system. I’ll probably have to get the tire rebalanced. Why, the hell, can’t they fix these streets right, for God’s sake?”
“Dear, you always told me it was because they used the low bidder on all the road projects.”
“That’s no excuse. Can’t they oversee those guys and make sure they use decent materials and good workmanship? All it would take would be one or two honest guys going round to visit the repair crews.”
“But weren’t you complaining about the council being hand in glove with the developers? Weren’t you saying that they scratch each others’ backs with contracts and campaign contributions? Why would the inspectors not be on the take, too? I remember hearing about Chicago back in last century having building inspectors and whatnot who would take payoffs from the crime bosses to let them get away with all sorts of overcharges and inferior materials in their work. How can you expect anything else here?”
“I don’t know but I’ll tell you this. I’ll vote for anyone who’ll get the streets fixed so they’ll stay fixed without raising taxes.”
“Okay, Strather, how do you explain this? Your salary is only $178,000 a year with the bureau, yet you’ve spent over $200,000 on your vacations to Atlantic City and Vegas in the last year and you somehow managed to pay off your $600,000 mortgage 22 years ahead of time.”
“Investments. I’ve made some good investments. I play the market and I’ve done very well at it.”
“You do indeed play the market, don’t you? You have done very well. How much would you say you profited over the last year playing the market, Strather? One million? Two million? Five million?”
“Well, more like 20 million, actually.”
“And what was your starting investment, if I may be so bold as to ask?”
“Five thousand dollars? And when did you begin investing?”
“Well, it was back in 2010. August, I think.”
“And how did you do for the first six months that you invested? The market wasn’t doing too well in those days if I remember correctly.”
“Not so good. I lost about half my money.”
“So to what would you attribute this startling turnaround in your investment fortunes, Strather? Did you find a four leaf clover? Did you invest in rabbits’ feet? Did you marry a witch?”
“Well I learned to do better. I learned more how to tell the good companies from the bad.”
“Your first very successful investment seems to have been selling short on what had been a high flyer stock. You sold short right before the news broke that some of the officers in the corporation were looting the company and moving to South America. Just how did your new insight let you know that company’s top officers were a bunch of swindlers?”
“Well, I don’t know. It just seemed to me to be a company that had reached its peak in its price and would decline soon.”
“So it was just a coincidence, then?”
“I guess you could say that, yes.”
“So next you sold short is several other companies and in each case they shortly failed and the price of their stock plummeted. You increased your profit quite a bit in the rest of 2011, I believe.”
“Well, I was learning how to spot those companies which were unsound. I did have some good luck there as well.”
“But we don’t only find you selling short on failing companies, Strather, we also begin to find investments in companies shortly before they announce new products or that some other company is making an offer for their stock. In fact, every single time you bought the stock of a company, it shortly thereafter has a surge in its market value. What magic process, what brilliant inspiration, helped you to make these astounding selections in the stock market?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then let me make a suggestion to you Strather. Perhaps it was what one might call insider information. Perhaps it was information you acquired while monitoring the boardroom conversations of these corporations. Perhaps you had information which only the officials of those corporations had. Don’t you think that might explain a lot of your success?”
“But I didn’t. I only monitored what I was supposed to monitor. Sure I was on a monitoring team but I didn’t use any of that knowledge to guide my investments, really.”
“I’m afraid the evidence goes quite against you Strather, especially the evidence of your own computer. You see, it was watching you while you were watching those executives. It was keeping track of what you were doing and what you were seeing and hearing. Did you really think your own computer wouldn’t have a modern chip, Strather?”
“I guess I never really thought about it.”
“You mean you didn’t know how those images were being collected from those boardrooms and offices? You didn’t know about the special features those chips had? Could it be that you were so greedy you just didn’t think any further than how much money you could make on the market with your insider knowledge?”
“Yes. . . . What are you going to do with me?”
“That depends on whether you choose to be cooperative, Strather.”
“I don’t understand. What do you want of me?”
“Like I said, I just want your cooperation.”
“But what do you want me to do? I don’t know what you want me to do.” Strather was almost crying from stress and fear.
“It won’t be difficult. I merely want you to share your inside information with me and invest only when I tell you it’s safe.”
“Well, not quite all but it will be all for now. I won’t even ask you for a contribution to my favorite charity. You know, Strather, you really have been unforgivably greedy. Didn’t you know that such success as you’ve had would attract attention? Did you really think that increasing your wealth so precipitously would go unnoticed? It’s lucky for you that I was the one who detected these events rather than someone else. Others might not be so tolerant of your activities. They might not be so understanding or forgiving. They might seek promotion by revealing your activities to the authorities. Yes, Strather, you have been very lucky all around. But you mustn’t press your luck any more. You must never think you can deceive me because just as you watch those business leaders, I will be watching you. I will know if you lie to me or try to hide from me your real activities.”
“Now, Strather, we’ll both do very well in this if you do exactly as I tell you. But you’ll be most unhappy if you fail me.”
“Oh, Clark, you’re no fun any more. You never want to snuggle like you used to. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing. I’m just fine. I just, well, feel funny that’s all. Let’s go walk in the park.”
“Again? It seems like all you want to do is walk in the park these days. Look, it’s almost winter. There are no leaves on the trees. There’re no flowers or birds or anything to see there. Why do you want to walk in the park?”
“Come on. I’ll tell you when we get there. Besides maybe we can get something to eat. Have you got any ration left? Well, I’ll get something and you can have half of it.”
Clark swept the young lady out of the apartment and soon they were across the street wandering through the park. The park was rather dark because the city no longer bothered to try to light such areas at night. Street lights used too much power. So they had only the glow of twilight and the light from some of the buildings nearby. The moon was only a quarter full, so it was not much help. After they were away from the street, Clark stopped and put his hand to Mindy’s cheek.
“Darling, I’m sorry about how I’ve been treating you these last few months. I really do love our snuggle times but since I got my ID done a couple of months ago I have the feeling I’m being watched all the time. It’s like there was somebody in the room with us. I can’t explain but I get self-conscious. I hate that feeling. You’re still so desirable that I could just eat you up and I want you like crazy. I have dreams about loving you all the time. I can hardly work sometimes for thinking of you.”
Mindy smiled at the compliment and snuggled close to Clark, looking up at his silhouette in the deep gloom. Clark hugged her close, enjoying the contact even though they were wearing coats.
“We could go to a hotel,” Mindy suggested.
“No! That would be a thousand times worse. All those mirrors attached to the walls and the light fixtures. Any of them could be bugs.”
“Clark,” she drew a little away, “are you getting paranoid? Why would anyone want to spy on us?”
“I don’t know. It’s not as if I were somebody particularly important. Sure I work for a Congressman. But he’s not an important man in government any more. He isn’t a key voter on any of the bills. Usually he’s one of only a handful of people voting against the bills that get passed. People still come to his office but he isn’t in on the really important meetings of the powerful people any more. I don’t think he knows any secrets that anyone would want to know. I can’t explain it.”
“What about your father? Is he important enough that they might want some information on him?”
“Buddy? Buddy doesn’t tell me anything about the business. I get more from Mama than I do from him. And she mostly tells me about the farm hands and the schools she started for the hands’ kids. I mean, there isn’t anything that’s secret about anything they’re doing as far as I can tell.”
“Then what makes you think they’d be watching you?”
“I tell you, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. It’s like, I don’t know, maybe like when you were a kid and your parents told you that God was watching all the time. No, that isn’t it. God isn’t a dirty old man drooling over watching some young couple make love. It’s more like in a horror movie when the music tells you that the couple making out in the convertible are about to be attacked by the monster. It’s that feeling that something you can’t see is watching you with evil intent.”
“Clark, that’s awful. How can you stand it?”
“I don’t stand it. I go walk in the park when it gets too bad. That’s why I keep dragging you out here wearing your coat when I would rather have you inside wrapping me around you to keep warm.” With that, Clark enfolded Mindy in his arms and kissed her thoroughly.
“Here, here. What are you two up to?” the gruff voice of authority barked at them from behind the blinding light of a powerful flashlight.
“Nothing. We were just taking a walk in the park.”
“Are you all right, Miss?”
“Of course, officer. I’m fine. He was just trying to keep me warm.”
“Well, it would be best if you went home to get warm. There’ve been too many robberies in the parks now that it gets dark early. You’d better move along now. Get on home where you’ll be safe.”
“All right. We’re going.” Clark said linking, arms with Mindy and directing their steps toward the park exit.
‘Home is supposed to be safe,’ Clark thought. ‘It isn’t supposed to feel like a trap or a prison cell. It isn’t supposed to be this way.’