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©2018 by kennysoward.com.

Code-X : Chapters One and Two

November 29, 2017

 

Chapter One

 

With the push of a button, Angie could be fifty million dollars richer.

 

Everything was in place. The target’s account information. The untraceable authorizations. Her destination accounts. All she had to do was hit “Enter” to set the complex series of transactions in motion. Ones and zeroes would do the work for her. Just one click and she’d be rich as hell.

Yet she couldn’t bring herself to pull the trigger.

There was a glitch in the program she’d written. Her gaze swam the lines and lines of computer code cascading down her screen, digital poetry flowing through liquid crystal while her brain scanned each section for mistakes. The syntax in her program would have to be perfect to move the money from the target’s Swiss bank account to one of hers here in the States.

So where was it? Where was the glitch? 

Her test runs were coming out fine—except for the occasional chunk of garbage code turning up in the log file. No matter what adjustments she made, it always came out the same.

Garbage code in the log file. What the hell?

It might be just a bit of digital feedback, or it could be something else entirely. But if it ruined her clean transfer... well, that could get her into real big trouble. That could get her ass traced by the Feds.

She used hot keys to switch to a new window, moving the beautiful waterfall of code to the back, and kicked off a debugging program to double-check her work. It would be more reliable than her tired, dry eyes.

Too much screen time these days. Not enough sleep.

Pushing herself away from the desk and surfacing from her laptop immersion, Angie blinked and settled her eyes on the picture she’d hung behind her computer setup. It featured the IT genius Maurice Moss from The IT Crowd. Moss, grinning cheekily while wearing his red beret, held up an empty glass. The caption read, “I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I’ve just finished my milk.”

Angie smirked. Milk indeed. Well, almost. She raised her mug of French roast and toasted Moss.

She'd almost finished her coffee by the time the debugging program completed. It came back clean. Her program had zero errors. Her syntax was perfect.

Another quick test run turned up that same goddamn garbage code in the log.

Was someone on to her?

She’d be fucked if she got caught, but imagine the shit she could buy if she didn’t! Once the money was properly laundered, she could get oodles of computer gear. An apartment in every major city in the world: New York, London, Shanghai, and a sweet place in Paris with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. She could eat at the best restaurants in the world and travel to them using a mode of transportation other than her own two feet. A BMW, or a Porsche. What was cooler than those? She had no clue, but she’d keep one along with each apartment.

Would a private jet be asking for too much?

It would be smarter to invest discreetly. Make the dough grow in stocks and bonds, or learn day trading. Maybe finance a clandestine group of hackers hell-bent on bringing about political and social change. Angie could be a big player in all that with fifty million dollars behind her. 

But that all sounded boring as fuck, especially if she had to do it alone. 

She laughed. So it wasn’t just the glitch that kept her from pulling the trigger. The truth was, she’d be horrible with that much money, and jail time did not sound appealing. No sir. The thought of being locked up in a cage for even a second shook her with panic. And if her family found out what she really did for a living, they’d be crushed. 

Plenty of Angie's old hacker buddies were still serving time in federal prison for conducting mega cybercrimes. Sk3lly, d0c, z10n—those dudes spent way too much time on the Dark Web, hacking the cell phones of movie stars or trying to master digital hypnosis or some other bullshit.

That was why Angie never got caught. She was never greedy. She knew her limits and kept the crimes manageable, scraping off a little here and there to pay for a nice loft apartment in low-cost Cincinnati, utilities and groceries, and spare cash to get mostly what she wanted. Good beer and computer gear: that was what life was all about. And she always tried to stuff a couple hundred bucks a month into a savings account, too. She made about as much as a halfway talented graphic artist, she figured. At least that’s what Angie told people when they asked her what she did. She even had an online portfolio to prove it. 

Risk versus reward? Fuck that. Low risk, low reward was her motto. 

Angie sighed, closed the session windows, and sat back in her chair. She wasn’t ready for that kind of hack job, anyway. Nor did she want the stress. Hell, she'd had enough excitement just from having written the program. Attempting to pull it off would probably give her a heart attack.

She stood and stretched, walked barefoot across a four-foot-wide catwalk of hardwood floor and descended the stairs dressed in just her underwear and a T-shirt. Her apartment was a two-story open loft. Thin and long, but tall. Her bedroom, computer space, and a half-bath lay on the second floor, reachable by the stairs and a series of catwalks. Everything else she needed—such as that vital substance called 'coffee'—lay on the first.

She padded through her living room, comprised of a couch and two chairs, a 32-inch TV, and some cool pieces of art, and entered the tiny kitchenette. 

Angie clicked “French Press” on her electric kettle, then ground some coffee beans, dropping four big scoops into the French press decanter. The smell excited her brain. When the water was done, she poured it over the coffee and placed the plunger on top. 

She waited three minutes, staring into the dark brew and dreaming about her Paris loft. She’d have coffee out on her patio and watch tourists gather beneath the Eiffel Tower’s legs, thinking about how great she had it and how no one could possibly touch her. But it would do no good letting those kinds of thoughts linger too long. It might tempt her into going through with the robbery next time.

Low risk, low reward.

Delicious coffee and the happily introverted life of a hacker would have to do for now. 

After three minutes (and this was the best part), Angie plunged slowly, watching the grounds collect around the filter. The smell of roasted beans wrapped around her head. She poured herself a big ten-ounce mug of java and bent down to sniff deep. 

Mmm. Good stuff.

Angie added three big teaspoons of cream (no sugar, thanks) and went back upstairs. From the top floor, she had a clear view of her entire apartment; the wooden beams, the skylight, and her bedroom and computer space between the two lengths of catwalk. 

Before she took another step, she saw it. A chill crawled up her spine and lodged itself between her shoulders.

Invader. Thief. 

Something else? 

A vaguely human shape hovered over her laptop; the shadow of a person, made from coalescing smoke. The head moved back and forth, searching for something, fingers playing at the keyboard.

Angie shut her eyes. Rubbed them. Opened them again.

It was still there. Someone had broken in. That must be it. It had always been a possibility living in the city, but still hard to believe it was happening to her. Here. Now. 

How had they gotten past her security alarms?

Bucking up her courage, she walked the first stretch of catwalk to her bedroom with a heel-heavy tread and raised her coffee, ready to throw it. If she’d caught the person anywhere else in the house, she would have run, because she didn’t care about the rest of her shit. But this was her laptop. No one fucked with her laptop

“Hey,” she called out. “Hey, fucker!”

The shadow froze in place, parts of it dispersing into the air. 

“Hey!” she called again, anger rising out of the chill between her shoulders. 

The shape slowly turned in her direction, trailing tendrils of charcoal gray. For a moment, just one moment, Angie thought this must be a dream. No one saw shit like this for real. Well, except those crazy bastards on ghost hunting shows. 

But before Angie could get a good look at its face, it vanished.

Angie plodded over to her desk where the thing had just stood. She reached out with a tentative hand, but it passed through nothing. There was no shadow, no smoke person. No signs anyone had moved things around. No sign of anyone but her.

Cold leaked into her legs, causing her knees to rattle.

She glanced over her shoulder, then peered over the rail. Nothing was moving down there, but what about the bathroom up here? Could they have gone in there?

Angie’s eyes slid to her right, past her laptop to the half-open bathroom door. It was small, just enough space to do one’s business and wash up, but certainly big enough for a person to hide in.

She sidled over, one hand held out, the other still gripping her mug to use as a weapon. Angie eased the door open and quickly flipped the light switch on, dancing back.

She blinked.

There was no one.

Holy fuck did she need some sleep.

She sighed and backed into her computer chair, curling one leg beneath her, shoulders still shaking. She held her coffee mug for a long time, relishing in its heat, until she felt well enough to get back to work.

“Remember, Angie,” she told herself, “you can’t live on three hours' sleep. You’re going to see some strange shit every now and again if you keep up like that.”

It was only 11:53PM, still way too early for bed. She'd rest tomorrow—unless she started seeing capering goblins or cackling witches, of course.

“Enough programming for one night, that’s for damn sure.”

Angie kept things light the rest of the night, checking the log files on a few of her hacking ventures, seeing what information she’d caught after casting her phishing lines into the digital sea. Some good stuff, it turned out. Access to a bank employee’s laptop, which should score her the digital keys to the bank’s computer systems. 

But damn, her fingers wouldn’t warm up. They were ice cold on her keyboard, almost numb, so she held her warm mug to thaw them out every few minutes before continuing.

Mostly, she was interested in ATM maintenance passcodes, which she often used to hack the ATM terminals. After storing those, Angie gathered a few leads on personal accounts which would bode well for her should she want to shop Amazon and redirect the shipments to the doorstep of a conveniently empty apartment building.

But she kept the amounts small. She was a skimmer, not a biter. After an hour of that, she mumbled, “Okay, enough work.” She relaxed, had a final sip of java, cold and bitter by now, sobering her against the imaginary intruder she thought she’d seen. 

But fuck if her hands weren’t still shaking. 

And her heart. That was still running rapid, too.

She glanced over her shoulder for what must have been the tenth time since she’d sat down.

Maybe she should check the apartment again. Naw; she was just being paranoid.

“But you know what old Andy Grove would say, baby? Only the paranoid survive.”

Angie snatched her cell phone up, turned on the flashlight app, and stood. She tread softly downstairs and checked the front door and all the closets, and then the bathroom and pantry. Everywhere there was a shadow, she shed some iPhone light.

 

And the more she looked, the better she felt. 

By the time she was done with all that, she was chuckling at her own stupidity. With a satisfied sigh, Angie climbed the stairs and grabbed a coverlet from her bedroom. She plopped into her computer chair, throwing the coverlet across her legs to defend against the creepy chills she was having. Then she jumped on Dragon Boards. 

Dragon Boards was a fantasy adventure game where you interacted with other players in chat rooms and on message boards. It was for those uninterested in high graphic eye candy games like World of Warcraft where you could group with twelve-year-olds with names like "puzzylvr109" and "2KrunkOrk". Dragon Boards was roleplaying done in written text. Old school. A place where she had real friends. Intelligent friends.

With no nine-to-five job or a boss to nag her, Angie Roman had endless free time. 

Ah, the benefits of a hacker’s life. 

Two of her favorite friends, the mighty paladin Darius Lexus and Mindreaver the wizard, were hunting orcs tonight, and they asked Angie to join them. She was Khaleesi, and her character rode a dragon just like her namesake. But Angie’s Khaleesi was much more a warrior than TV-Daenerys could ever be, wielding the Sword of the Unrepentant and wearing holy mithril armor as she battled the foul-toothed orcish hordes.

They fought throughout the night, raiding and slaying, causing lamentations that Conan the Barbarian would be proud of.


When the Game Master informed Khaleesi she had leveled up three times during this session, she looked at the clock and saw it was six hours later.

She typed "goodbye" to the others, because she had to go. They protested, but Angie told them to raise a tankard for her and sing her praises in the mighty Halls of the Heroes. 

They promised they would, and then Angie logged off. 


She stood and stretched, visited the bathroom, pissed to relieve her hollering kidneys, then stumbled like a zombie over the catwalk to her bed, which was just an old mattress lying on the hardwood. Angie collapsed on the squeaky springs. She covered herself with a stale sheet, turned on her side, and fell asleep to the thoughts of destroying orcs with a sword forged from code.

 

 

 

Chapter Two 

 

After sleeping and playing Dragon Boards most of Tuesday, Angie woke up Wednesday morning at 10AM sharp, feeling one hundred percent better. She’d left programming alone, focusing on killing an insane number of orcs and other evil creatures and gaining five more levels in the process. 

The shadow intruder from Monday evening seemed distant, like something she’d seen in a movie. Something that had happened to someone else, not her.

The tension in her shoulders and wrists from extended amounts of time writing computer code had melted away with the day off, and Angie's mood soared.

Life was better. 

But, like everyone else, she had work to do, even if she didn’t have a set schedule. 

First off, Angie took a shower, reveling in the heat as she washed the staleness of hibernation from her skin. Once clean, she went upstairs to her bedroom and dressed in black. Stockings, a tight skirt, a T-shirt. She stuffed her feet into combat boots, then pulled her hair behind her head and put it through an elastic hair tie, making a short ponytail. She wanted it out of her face today. 

It was October, but still warm most days, and she wondered if she’d need a jacket.

Laptop packed up, Angie went to the kitchen, picked a saucer from her cabinet, broke out a can of cat food, and forked the mess onto the dish. She unbolted the three deadlocks on her front door and pulled it open, greeted by affectionate meows and a feline form rubbing between her legs. 

Miss Trixie was a sweet neighborhood stray Angie fed whenever she could. Mottled white and brown, Miss Trixie had been a bit of a mess when she’d first come to Angie’s door last year, but since then seemed to be doing quite well. Angie had tried to keep her inside, but the rambunctious Trixie always wanted out, so they’d formed a tentative relationship based on mutual respect, and the fact that Angie had food. She was no one’s cat, Miss Trixie wanted her to know, but she still appreciated a little love now and again. 

Angie felt the exact same way, so it worked out.

Angie scooted forward, careful not to step on Trixie, and set the saucer of food down. Miss Trixie hunched in front of the bowl, eating and purring happily.

Angie stroked her back a couple of times, then locked her deadbolts and headed next door to Collective Espresso, happy to find the day's weather tolerable.

She sat at the coffee bar and said hi to Greta, the hippie barista who served Angie her usual large latte with no sugar.

“You going to Jack’s show tonight?” Greta said.

Angie's face warmed at the mention of his name, but she stifled the emotion. “Nope. I have things to do.”

Greta leaned over the bar, grinning, lip piercing and nose ring glinting in the light. “Right. I forgot you two aren’t a thing anymore.”

Angie shrugged, taking out her laptop and turning it on. “Doesn’t mean I can’t support him. We’re still friends, and I love his work. I just have shit to do.”

“Okay, then. Maybe I’ll see you there?”

“Mm.”

“Awesome.”

Angie sipped her latte and cruised Dragon Boards for the next thirty minutes until she felt vaguely human again. 

Packing up her stuff, she told Greta to say hi to Tom (her other favorite barista) when he came in later. She exited Collective Espresso, turned left on Woodward, then left again on Main Street, taking her time heading into downtown. 

Angie had visited a few cities in her life, but would always call Cincinnati home. The city had an eclectic flair that suited her, a chilled-out urban style with enough prosperity to make it a prime electronic fishing spot. There were lots of business types drawn to the big companies headquartered here. And ATMs.

Those were good fishing, too.

Over-the-Rhine was an old working-class neighborhood within the city, a sprawling urban historic district from another time. Angie had learned something of Over-the-Rhine’s rich history from Jack, who happened to be an artist as well as her ex. She’d been amazed walking with him through the city streets beneath the decorative Italianate cornices and corbels. Some were Greek Revival-era buildings, erected as long ago as the 1830s. 

New facets had been added to the unwavering brick and concrete expanse over the years. She passed Black Plastic Records, H&A Market and Convenience Store, and a decent eatery called Park and Vine, which served vegan lunches and sold fresh fruits and vegetables. Even better was the Goodfella’s Pizza and Lucy Blue Pizza, both of which she had a hard time choosing between whenever she got the craving for a pepperoni pie, which happened a lot.

As Angie strolled along the sidewalk, sunlight beat the street like an angel’s golden hammer. Angie didn’t eagerly greet people, but she did return any salutations with a simple nod and smile. A few people on Main Street knew her face, if not her name, from her occasional excursions downtown, and she made it a point not to be a rude bitch to her neighbors. 

Once she got to Fifth Street, she turned right toward Fountain Square, the city center. Bands played here throughout the summer, and in winter it transformed into an ice rink. Horse-drawn carriages offered rides, and corporate types took their lunch breaks at one of the many popular restaurants. ATM withdraws fell like rain, and folks checked bank balances on their smartphones. 

A lot of data flying around, ripe for the plucking

This was Angie’s fishing ground.

First stop was an ATM terminal she’d hacked three months ago—one of eight she frequented across the city, rotating between them to spread out the crimes. The onboard computer was always a few weeks behind on its software patches, making it a prime target for Angie. She didn’t bother blinding the ATM’s camera with her special LED light, but stepped undisguised to the machine. She placed her debit card in the slot and keyed in her pin.

It was always nerve-racking (exciting) using a stolen card, passing it off as her own, and grabbing some cash. Her plan was failsafe, mostly, but you never knew what the Feds were up to. Angie was smart enough to know she wasn’t the only person with sick hacking chops. 

The ATM accepted her pin, requesting the amount she wanted to withdraw. Instead, Angie punched in a stolen maintenance code that rewired the ATM's outdated computer brain. In this case, a simple remuneration of United States monetary bills.

Once done with the special code entry, she typed in "$10".

The machine spat out ten twenties. 

With a half-grin, she put the money in her wallet and re-typed the maintenance code, fixing the numeration back its normal state. She hit “No” when it asked if she wanted her receipt, then waited for the ATM to return her card. 

Two hundred dollars richer, Angie crossed the street to the next stop: Fountain Square itself. She found a chair amongst the bustling crowd. A band played in one corner; they weren’t shitty, even if the music was old, outdated dude rock. She pulled her laptop from her backpack, placed it on her knees, and went to work.

Her eyes picked calmly from one person to the next, sorting the crowd. She stared at each as long as necessary to absorb the information she needed, making assumptions about their lifestyles and internet browsing habits.

Here was a group of young business people, working on a project together. Probably not good marks. Over there was woman in a stiff, gray suit, pecking away at her micro-sized laptop like a bird, a half croissant stuck in her mouth. Hmm. She might be okay. And there—a young man and woman sitting on the edge of a concrete barrier erected to block traffic noise. They were a little punkish, the guy with dark, spiky hair, and the woman with a pink mop of it. Both were pretending hard not to see Angie.

Damn.


Her panic worm—that’s what she called the fluttery feeling she got in her stomach when she was nervous—did a little twist.

Angie continued picking through the crowd with a sigh, acting like it was just another regular day and she was just another regular gal stealing people’s personal information.

Angie had an eye for good marks, people with their noses buried in their cell phones or laptops. She could tell with almost one hundred percent accuracy what a person was doing just by looking at their eyes. Eyes moving back and forth and a cold, dead stare meant they were playing a game. Lowered eyes while holding a sandwich in their offhand meant they were reading an article, or checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Concerned eyes and twisted lips insinuated they might be pondering something important, like their bank account balance.

Angie glanced toward the concrete noise barrier and frowned. The two punks hadn’t moved, and her panic worm squirmed for a second or two before calming down. But oh, boy, that little fucker was awake now, and ready to dance a jig if she’d only let it. 

Angie reached into her backpack and activated a device that captured network traffic within a ten-yard radius, redirecting it to her laptop. It was a complex configuration of hardware and software Angie had perfected over the years. The device keylogged whatever the surrounding surfers typed, capturing their account IDs and passwords. Angie's careful study of the surrounding people allowed her to mentally link account information to faces.

Despite her nervousness, she chuckled when someone logged into the Ohio Bank website using the ID "muscl3man" with password "10222012". It was probably the big blond guy in the corporate suit at the table next to her. His password was likely his daughter or wife's birthday. Maybe an anniversary date. 

Angie’s application automatically logged into his bank account and waited. Angie risked a quick glance at the noise barrier and saw that the punks had moved on. They were nowhere in sight. 

Good.

Angie’s panic worm settled and she breathed a sigh of relief, feeling only slightly paranoid.

“But only the paranoid survive,” she mumbled to herself.

She spent the next ten minutes looking around until the dude named muscl3man stood to greet some workmates and then headed into Rockbottom Brewery for lunch. Half an hour passed in which Angie set up other fishing lines, then an alarm on her laptop notified her of a purchase on muscl3man’s card.

Angie calmly triggered a duplicate transaction using his account information. Ten bucks and some change funneled to one of her own bank accounts through a series of untraceable stops. To anyone looking at their statements later, it would appear they’d been double-charged, and they’d take it up with the restaurant or shop at fault, and those people would likely write it off as a computer glitch.

A few hours of doing this every other day scored her a few hundred non-taxable dollars every trip. It added up over time. Plenty to live on without being too greedy. Angie never hit the same place twice in the same month; best not to give them a repeating glitch. Better to mix it up, keep them guessing. She made the crimes look intermittent, so Johnny in the IT department would be clueless if the cops started asking questions. 

After two or three hours, Angie packed up her stuff and got an ice cream from Graeter’s. She deserved it after having her nerves shot to pieces the other day—and a little today, too. Oregon Strawberry was her favorite flavor, and she purchased two scoops in a cup and strolled away from Fountain Square with freshly sweetened and very cold lips, heading west to a Starbucks that promised more good fishing.

The only problem with today—and it killed what could have been a great day—was that those two assholes form Fountain Square were now following her. The two punks that had been leaning against the noise barrier. She caught sight of them as she was leaving Graeter’s, and now they were just a few yards behind her. 

“Motherfucker,” she muttered.

The black-haired guy was skinny, possibly Asian. The other, Pink Hair, was thick and had dark eyebrows. Angie didn’t think they were cops. She could spot those easily enough, especially the undercover ones. No, these were probably curious hacker kids who’d gleaned enough information about the infamous Khaleesi to stalk her. It happened, and it could either be flattering or annoying. 

Today, it was annoying.

She was in full agreement with her wiggling panic worm now. She’d have to lose them. 

They kept a cool distance, probably thinking Angie had another stop to make and hadn’t yet noticed them. She finished her ice cream just as a crowd of people prepared to cross on the corner of 5th Street. Her pulse picked up and her brain flew into escape mode.

As the light changed and the herd moved, Angie tossed the ice cream cup into a garbage can and ducked right, heel-toeing it up Elm, figuring she’d have fifty or a hundred yards on them before her tails realized what she’d done. 

A block up, Angie cut through the lobby parking lot of the Millennium Hotel, slicing between cars and reversing back east along 6th Street. Angie jaywalked across 6th, dodging traffic, and entered Risconi Alley.
She hustled to the end, feet beating hard on the concrete, and turned east on Morand Alley, then north again on Race Street. It was a head-spinning move that should have lost any casual tail. 

On Race Street, Angie eased up with a grin. No fucking way they could have seen that coming. Angie knew Cincinnati’s back streets and alleys better than anyone, and no two-bit hackers would catch her.

Yet when she glanced over her shoulder three blocks later, they still trailed her. A mop of spiky black hair and that damn pink again.

“Fuck me.”

This time, Pink Hair grinned at her. Angie didn’t like that grin. It was a Joker’s grin. And not the Heath Ledger Joker, either. It was the Jack Nicholson one, a grin that ran from ear to ear and said shit like you’re a dead little girl if I catch you

Her worry gave way to anger. She wanted to knock the grin off Pink Hair’s face, but not if she could get away first. Escape was still the most obvious and sensible choice.

Time to turn up the heat. 

Angie put her head down and dashed north. Careful not to venture too close to her apartment, she came to a block of abandoned, semi-renovated buildings, some still surrounded by scaffolding and flapping plastic. Here, sidewalks had been pulled up and were now covered with sewer grates or slabs of metal. On 15th Street, she picked a skinny, brown-brick apartment, and banked into an alley that would take her to its rear entrance. She got five feet into the shaded passage and then yelped when her foot caught on something. 

Angie stumbled a few more feet, then turned to see an old dude struggling in a mess of cardboard boxes. His gray hair stood out in every direction, arms and legs kicking up like an overturned turtle.

“Contusions!” the old man cried, rolling.

“Hey, watch it,” Angie said, walking backwards to the edge of a wooded area overgrown with trees and foliage debris.

The entire area behind this row of buildings was one big construction site. Half-wooded (it used to be a park), cranes and bulldozers had dug up spots for new apartments. During the off-season, it was a mess of rusted equipment and ditches. A great place to get lost in. 

She thought she had it made, but Angie’s jaw dropped when her tails jogged around the corner.

The Asian guy smiled and waved, and the bigger woman grinned even wider. A shit-eating grin if Angie ever saw one. But they were both drenched in sweat, which meant she’d at least given them a run for their money.

They hustled to catch up to her, but were forced to split apart when the old man stumbled into their path. 

The pink-haired girl tried to dodge the old dude, caught her toe on something and crashed to the ground, much to Angie's satisfaction. The Asian guy ran into the old dude’s back with an “umph.” Meanwhile, the old dude was shaking his fist at Angie, seemingly unaware of the havoc he’d caused the other two. 

Angie disappeared into the brush, crossed the construction site, and sidled up to another abandoned place somewhere in between the blocks. She moved as stealthily as she’d ever done in her life, a growing sense of dread nagging at the back of her mind.
How had she not been able to lose them?

It frustrated her, dispelling her belief that the great Khaleesi was impossible to catch.

Angie ducked into an abandoned building and made her way through an old, stripped kitchen until she found the stairs. She climbed them with care, wincing every time the wooden floorboards squealed. 

There must be a quiet room to hide in.

But while she’d not had many problems with street denizens before, there was always the chance she’d run into someone doing crack who wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion.

A glance over her shoulder told Angie no one had followed her up the stairs. Ahead, an empty bedroom beckoned, so she stepped inside.

The two tails were waiting for her, grins and all.

Angie jerked so hard she hit the wall with a grunt. Then she tensed, caught between swinging her backpack at the nearest asshole’s head and bolting.

Maybe both.

“Hey, wait!” The guy made a calming gesture with his hands. “We just want to talk.”

“Seriously, chill," Pink Hair said, retreating a step and raising her palms—bloody from the fall in the alley—to show Angie she meant no harm. Looked like she'd taken quite a tumble tripping over the old man. Blood spotted her jeans and ran down her forearm. 

Good.

“We’ve got a job for you, that’s all.”

Angie wasn’t in the mood to chill. Her feet and knees hurt from running, and her ankle stung from tripping over the old man. “You’ve got some fucking nerve following me.”

“I know, right?” the guy said, grinning like a fool.

“Look, I know we can be—” 

“If I had a gun, I’d blow your fucking heads off.” Angie’s boiling blood was getting the best of her, though she’d never shot a gun in her life, much less at a person. Still, it sounded badass.

The woman retreated another step, then smiled again, this time more genuinely. “Seriously, just hear us out. I fucked up my elbow trying to keep up with you. Give us a break. C’mon. It’s a legit job. A fucking good one.”

“A job?

“Yeah. A hacking job.”

“I don’t hack.”

“Right, and I’m dainty and never shit.”

Angie cracked a grin at that. This chick had an okay sense of humor. Angie noted a black feather tucked behind the woman’s ear. “What if I tell you I’m not interested right now, and I want to go home?”

“Fine.” The woman dropped her hands. “Go ahead. But you’d be missing out on a huge opportunity.”

“Yeah,” the guy said. “Sorry we had to be creepy about it, but we didn't have a choice. Took us forever to find you.”

“Speaking of which—how did you? You hackers?” Angie wasn’t happy about being found at all, her paranoia still pinned to high. She might think she was a great hacker, but there was always someone better.
She’d have to do a full review of her security measures when she got home

“We’re a different kind of hacker,” the skinny guy said. He looked Korean, but Angie wasn’t an expert on Asian ethnicity. The dude seemed genuine enough, though, and she supposed if they wanted to hurt her they would have done so already.

What harm would there be in listening to what they had to say? They’d figured out how to find her, and they’d gotten her attention. She was interested, despite her better judgment and her simpering, wiggling panic worm. 

“A different kind of hacker, huh? What's the job?”

“Coolest fucking job you’ll ever get,” said the woman.

“Easy money for you. Can we talk? We’ll buy you coffee, you listen, then you can accept our offer or tell us to fuck off.”

“I’ll probably tell you to fuck off.”


“Like I said, fine. Tell us to fuck off after you hear us out.”

 

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