Saturday, July 26, 2008

So We Reach the End... Almost

I've just posted the final chapter of Under the Amoral Bridge. It took long enough but I think it's said what I've wanted it to say. This isn't the end, however. Later this week, I plan to add an epilogue to the story, just a little bit to tie up the loose ends. I'm also not done with the character of Artemis Bridge. I've got some interesting things planned with this character. Check back every once in a while to hear about what I'll be doing with this blog novel as well as future installments of this character's adventures.

Thank you for reading and make sure to keep up with my regular blog, The Game of Angst.


Chapter 14

August 31, 2028
6:16 p.m.

The boiling afternoon sun was slowly sinking below the horizon as Bridge pulled Angela’s rental into the guest garage of the downtown Chronosoft Civil Administration complex. Much of the massive, multi-building complex was still under construction, as an addition to the existing Chronosoft corporate headquarters. The crossover walkway between two of the buildings would not be finished for another six months, its skeletal framework casting eerie shadows on the ground. The building housing Thames’ office was attached to the garage, its shiny exterior mostly completed though the upper six or so floors were still empty shells in need of final touch-ups. Another massive building that would eventually house all of the LGL’s offices was nothing more than a girder skeleton projecting out of a dusty pit. Despite the late hour, hundreds of construction workers still toiled in the oppressive heat, Spanish curses mixed with English orders echoing from all areas. The droning, beeping blare of the warning claxons on heavy machinery dominated the scene. The sounds invaded the car as Bridge rolled down his window to the guard, who checked his credentials and directed Bridge to his parking place in excruciating detail. Security was excruciatingly tight.

Bridge parked and prepared the car, removing all traces of anything he would need from the vehicle. He didn’t expect to return to the vehicle no matter what happened. The walk to Thames’ office was a long one, avoiding areas yet to be built and passing through multiple security checkpoints. Bridge was at least encouraged by the fact that Thames really was an entertainment division executive. Whatever political operation Bridge had been recruited into, it was at least being carried out far enough away from the elections division to be plausibly denied. Bridge admired the subterfuge.

Of course, he was made to wait outside the executive’s office. It was a trick Bridge had used to his advantage many times. Despite the time frame Thames had set, he would be the one who would be calling the shots and setting the timetable. Thames would believe himself to be in control, and that was exploitable. Bridge shrugged and sat, watching the receptionist with a bemused smile that masked his nervousness. After a five-minute wait, one of Paulie’s goons from this morning opened the office door and motioned Bridge in with a grunt. Bridge got up slowly, calmly taking his time in crossing the office.

"Come in, Mr. Bridge," Thames said, self-satisfied smugness dripping from his perfectly shaped mouth. Bridge really hated this guy now, but hid his disgust under a smarmy smile. "Sorry our meeting can’t be under more congenial circumstances, but you understand." He motioned to a chair in front of the oversized desk but Bridge preferred to remain standing. The office was a model in overcompensation. Opulent white leather couches flanked the desk on both sides, a gigantic wall screen covered one wall and the desk was so large, it could serve two comfortably. The tiny chair Bridge had been directed to was dwarfed by the desk’s girth, and Bridge assumed its position was meant to intimidate those who sat there. The wall screen ran a constant slideshow of various successful Chronosoft Entertainment properties. Thames sat behind the desk, leaning back comfortably in an almost throne-like office chair, its white leather so gaudy Bridge felt nauseous. Paulie’s goons flanked either side of the desk in front of the floor-to-ceiling window. Paulie stood to the side of one of the couches, overseeing Angela, who sat cowed but openly hostile. The drug had worn off, and Bridge could see the mixture of fire and fear in her eyes.

"You all right, baby?" Bridge asked. She said nothing, only nodding with her jaw clenched so tight her teeth must have hurt. Bridge nodded back and winked at her, which only made her squint her eyes even tighter. Turning his attention back to the smug douchebag in front of him, he said, "All right, jackhole, shall we do this thing?"

Thames looked offended. "Now, Mr. Bridge, is there really any need for hostility? I apologize for the violence, but you’ve been somewhat reluctant to comply. I mean, just look at what your friends did to Paulie over there." Paulie smiled the toothy grin of a predator. "We didn’t want this kind of business, but then we chose badly on the front end. Kira’s reputation as hardcore was vastly overinflated."

"He was a nice kid, you cocksucker!" Angela blurted. "If you’d come to me for this, I’d have given you somebody I knew could handle it. But you suits never fucking learn do you? You think everybody is just some replaceable…" Bridge cut her off with a wave of his arm.

"She got a point, you know. Hell, I’d have gotten you a better guy if you’d just come to me first. It’s what I do."

Thames just shrugged. "Lesson learned, then. Have you done what we asked?"

"The leak? It’s all set and ready to go." Bridge pulled out a bizchip. "All I have to do is activate this and we’re off." Thames tried to remain calm as he reached over the desk to grasp the chip, but his desperation showed through in his hurried motions. Bridge pulled the chip back. "Not so fast, there, Skippy. We’ve still got some unfinished business to discuss."

Paulie grabbed Angela by the throat, pulling her up off the couch with brutal strength. "There ain’t no unfinished business here, Cupcake. Give the man the card and get on with it."

Thames was quick to chastise the heavy. "No, no, Paulie, no need for that. We don’t want to get blood on my Persian there." He stared back at Bridge with bemused accommodation as Paulie released Angela. She gave the footballer a petulant slap on the ass and a look to curl the wallpaper. "What unfinished business exactly, Mr. Bridge?"

"Curiosity, mostly. See, I’ve been trying to figure this thing out. Here you’ve got an election, probably one of the biggest local elections in the country what with the Los Angeles LGL kind of being held up as the model for the entire national LGL program, right?" Thames nodded. "And your guy is throwing it. He’s purposefully set himself up to lose this election. I don’t doubt the peculiar virtual tastes he demonstrated for the recording are a regular thing for him, but he knew he was being recorded. He did it willingly, and you set the whole thing up for him. He didn’t have very good things to say about you, by the way. Thought you were a bit too inexperienced for this sort of thing."

"His opinion really isn’t relevant," Thames responded with mild annoyance.

"Yeah, I bet it isn’t. What does he get out of it? What he did isn’t illegal, but there aren’t many people who want play-date pedophiles running their city. This gets out, especially this close to the election, and the only thing people will think of in the voting booth is whether to pick the good-looking anti-corporate crusader or the fatass pedobear. His career is finished."

"Indeed. Mr. Sunderland is well aware of his situation. But as you’ve pointed out, he’s done nothing illegal. He can retire to some out of the way place to do whatever he wishes. His name will be mud, but if he can take a few months’ public roasting, his future is assured. He’ll never have to work again. With the fickle nature of the public, the story might not even last one news cycle. He retires rich, which is really all he cared about. He wasn’t exactly a willing civil servant in the first place."

"So why pick him? Was he always going to be a fall guy?"

Thames seemed to mull this over for a moment, as if trying to decide just how much he should bother to tell Bridge. He could have stopped at any time, but as he began to speak again, Bridge knew he couldn’t resist. He was damn proud of whatever this plan was and he couldn’t resist a good brag. "Of course. Despite what our press relations department is saying publicly, the LGL is not exactly popular with the masses. Selling the concept was always going to be difficult, no matter how bad the riots were. We needed someone to be ‘our guy,’ the corporate mouthpiece.""And you needed the opposite," Bridge finished both his thought and Thames’s at the same time. "You needed a protagonist, a hero for the masses, the crusader against the big bad corporation. Your movie needed a good guy."

Thames nodded enthusiastically. The executive was thoroughly impressed with himself.

"Exactly. That’s the trick we’ve learned about democracy, you see. Democracy is inherently chaotic, with the will of the people often easily swayed by all sorts of externalities, things like fear and pride and greed. But if you can control those externalities, manipulate those factors, democracy is imminently controllable."

"But if you wanted Soto for mayor, why not just fudge the votes? You control the voting machines, the voting process, all of it. Why not just control the count?"

"Too easy to track. Besides, the masses have spent decades mistrusting the counts anyway. While it puts our chosen man into position, it makes people suspicious of his administration. Did he really win? Was it just some shenanigans behind the scenes? However, if you infect his opponent with scandal, if you make the choice between candidates the choice between good and evil, the masses will be behind him completely. They’ll give him more leeway to do things they’d never support otherwise." Thames was excited now, leaning forward across the desk with the smile of a child displaying his refrigerator masterpiece. "You see, control isn’t enough. Controlling the masses overtly just creates ill will. An iron glove is resented. You have to give the masses the illusion of control. Let them think they’ve made the choice you want them to make and you can lead them anywhere you wish. They will follow you gladly. By the time anyone really figures out your game, it won’t matter because they’ve already given you what you wanted."

"And Soto? He’s in on it?"

"Certainly. Who do you think is building this complex?" Thames pointed out the window at the
massive frame of the construction next door. "He stands to make a lot of money from this deal, through all sorts of proxies, of course. He deserves an Oscar for his turn as the working man’s hero in this little picture but he’s hardly a saint. The things he did during the riots could land him in jail for life."

"All of which disappears if he just goes along with this little game?" Thames nodded again.

"It’s the Algebra of Need, Mr. Bridge," the smarmy suit replied.

"William Burroughs. Nice. A bit before your time, though isn’t it?"

"And yours. I’m impressed. I didn’t realize you were that well-read."

"You’d be amazed what I’ve read, Mr. Thames. And me? Why involve me?"

"Your connections. Once Kira went off the reservation, we had to find some way to get to him, and your connection with Angela was the best we could find on short notice. She’s not exactly easy for someone like me to approach."

"Yeah, I have a douchebag detector installed," Angela said. "Artie’s is broken."

"Does that satisfy your curiosity, Mr. Bridge? No more useless questions then?" Bridge shook his head. "Then will you please do what we’ve asked? I have eight o’clock dinner reservations at Spago."

Bridge held out the bizchip. "If you’d care to do the honors?"

Thames reached for the card quickly, but a thought stopped him cold. He put up his hands as if the card was a gun. "No, that’s all I need is for you to capture my fingerprints on the transaction and use it against me."

Bridge frowned. "Really? I get that little trust? Fine, I’ll do it myself." He grabbed the bizchip with his other hand, activating the program that started the leak. "Besides, if I really wanted your fingerprints on this operation, I have more than enough DNA off of your other cards to do what I would need." Thames face sank a bit. "Don’t worry, I didn’t. I hate blackmail. It’s more trouble than it’s worth."

"So it’s done then?"

Bridge nodded. "Give it six hours, and every body who's anybody in the underground news, blogging and political scene will have published, dissected and bloviated on the video at length. It should hit the morning news cycle like a freight train, just in time for the masses’ morning coffee before going off to the voting booths."

"Well if that’s all…" Thames began, throwing a glance towards Paulie, who nodded knowingly.

"Not so fast," Bridge interrupted. Paulie’s hand, which had been moving towards his jacket, stopped suddenly. "You got your leak. But with a situation such as we find ourselves in here, I couldn’t take the chance that your boy Paulie over here wouldn’t just whack the two of us once you got what you wanted. So I gave myself a little insurance."

Thames’ jaw set and he asked through clenched teeth, "What kind of insurance?"

Bridge threw the bizchip down on the desk, where it began to immediately smoke and dissolve. "Don’t worry, you got your untraceable leak. The leak contained a little something something, a little extra if you will. A very well-hidden trojan."

The pompous executive’s faced dropped, his eyes narrowing in a burning glance. "What does it do?" Thames’ voice was laced with angry impatience.

"Nothing much. It just attacks the voting machines, the election commission’s network. Those voting counts you don’t want to manipulate? I just did."

"Those counts are secured…" Thames’ voice trailed off as he started to realize the implications.

"Seriously? You’re going to count on the machines you yourself claim can be manipulated easily. You’re going to count on those things’ security? You said it yourself, manipulating the ballots are too easy to track, and as soon as the press gets wind those counts are suspect, there goes your election. If the process itself isn’t trusted, neither is your candidate."

Thames had the look of shocked defeat plastered across his mug. All trace of his former smugness was gone. "That kind of hack would take more than you’ve got," he said, but his confidence was shaky.

Bridge smiled. "You’re right." He motioned to Angela, who quickly got up to join him. "But I know a guy." Bridge’s smile got even wider, an infuriatingly toothy grin. He began to back away towards the door. Paulie looked towards Thames for orders then back at Bridge and back at the executive again, unsure of what to do. "Now I see I’ve confused the Limey Ape over here, but I’m sure you get the gist of what I’m telling you."

"What do you want?"

"I’m pretty cheap, actually. You let us go, alive and leave us that way for three months. Three months is all I ask. Keep the ape off me for that long, and you’ll get the code to clear this whole thing up."

"Three months? We need that election settled tomorrow night."

"And I need to keep breathing for three months. This isn’t a negotiation, Mr. Thames. Three months. Or you can just kill us now and sort out the counts when you get them sorted out. Do we have a deal?"

Thames pondered it for only a second, before agreeing with a sigh. "We have a deal."

"Smart man." He turned around, ushering Angela out the door quickly, then paused. Bridge turned back to Thames and said, "You know, you could have saved us all some time if you’d just come to me in the beginning. Shit, I don’t give a fuck if you elect Mickey Goddamn Mouse if you pay me enough to set the whole thing up. But you had to get cute. You had to fuck with me. You had to fuck with her. You want something from me you come at me straight up. Maybe next time you’ll know better than to fuck with me.""Don’t cross the Bridge?" Thames asked with sarcastic amusement.

"Not unless you’re willing to pay the toll," Bridge responded all too aware how corny that sounded. "Now fuck off, you cunt." Bridge slammed the door behind him.

"Let’s not dawdle, my dear," Bridge said to Angela. He led her away from the elevators and down the stairs. "No, no, we’re not taking the car. It won’t be useable anyway."

"What did you do to my rental?"

"Yeah, it’s not your rental anymore. Thames just bought himself a soon-to-be burned out husk of a rental sedan," Bridge said with a smile. They almost ran down the stairs and out the back, cutting across side streets to catch a bus that almost left them at the curb. Bridge had his escape route all planned. The car would have combusted right about the time they reached the street, and as they boarded the bus, he could already hear the wailing screech of the garage’s fire alarm.
"He is going to be so pissed," she said with that mischievous grin. "Especially after you fucked up his election."

"Oh that. Well, not exactly."

"What do you mean? That’s what you bought our lives with, what do you mean not exactly?"

"Well, I didn’t technically hack the ballot. It’s sure going to look like I tried, and it’ll take them months to figure out that nothing was altered. Months and months and millions of dollars and most importantly, all that trust they were hoping Soto would have as mayor. Whoever gets elected tomorrow, it’ll be a clean count, at least as far as my efforts are concerned. But damn is it going to be painful to figure that out." Bridge was beaming.

"You risked our lives on a bluff?" He nodded vigorously. "You motherfucker. You absolute cocksucker. That is the most brilliant hack I’ve ever seen."

"Ain’t it though? See, there’s some use to being a manipulative cocksucker."

Her dour scowl dissolved into a lascivious grin. "I’ve got a use for you when we get home, you rat bastard." She gave him a long kiss. When she had detached herself, she looked around the bus with an embarrassed self-consciousness. "Tomorrow, we look for a new place."

"We?" He arched an eyebrow at her.

"You just put us on the shit list of the biggest LGL on the West Coast. We’re joined at the hip, you and me. Might be a good idea if we disappear off their radar for a bit." Bridge nodded agreement and leaned back into his seat. Three months wasn’t a long time, but it would have to do.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chapter 13

August 31, 2028
6:23 a.m.

"You want me to do what?" The indignant surprise in Gina Danton’s voice made Bridge cringe a bit despite himself. Bridge sat with the CLED patrolman in her personal car, parked in the deserted parking lot behind the MacArthur Park subway station. Trash blew by the car as a dusty wind picked up from the direction of Westlake Avenue. The parking lot was deserted at this early hour. A few pedestrians came and went on the streets, but none took notice of the parked auto. Bridge had insisted she not roll up in a CLED vehicle. He threw a few nervous glances towards the subway station, where some of the gang members who ran the subway kept a lookout for anyone brave enough to enter the station. They certainly noticed the car, but were polite enough to act like they weren’t watching its occupant’s every move.

"I need you to bail Aristotle out of jail," Bridge repeated patiently.

"I heard you the first time. I just wanted to make sure you had actually lost your mind and it wasn’t me losing my hearing." Danton really was a looker out of uniform. Her silky blonde hair flowed over her shoulders, a much sexier do than the tight bun she sported on duty. A little makeup did wonders for her already attractive face, and civvy attire flattered her tight curves and well-toned body much better than the uniform. But no matter how she was dressed, the hardness of her character infused her every word. It wasn’t just the job that made her an ice queen. She was just naturally tough, a stoic core of stone wrapped in a pretty shell. "You realize that just talking about pulling favors as simple as fixing a ticket can get us both arrested by IA, right?"

"I do realize that. Look, we both know that no matter how many changes the suits force on you, police work hasn’t really changed. Without a smoking gun, you need one bad guy to drop dime on the other bad guys. You trade favors for that kind of information all the time. That’s the way it’s done."

"What are you telling me, Bridge? Are you ready to drop dime?" Bridge said nothing, letting the rather unkempt state of his person tell her all she needed to know about his level of desperation. "I don’t think you understand just how much these Chronosoft guys have changed things. We got more paperwork than ever before, and every single nano-penny is counted, tracked, stamped and audited. Believe it or not, those suits have actually improved the place. We still got some of the old asshole Neanderthals trying to keep up business as usual, but the writing’s on the wall. That old school skull cracking alpha male bullshit is out. I’d almost say the place is professional. I may not like the suits, but they have cleaned that place up."

"And the one thing suits understand is the art of the deal," Bridge said with a crooked grin. "They know dollars and cents, and they know public relations. And big busts make good public relations. All they’ve got to do is release a guy who doesn’t even have a record."

"Aristotle’s got a record."

It was Bridge’s turn to be surprised. "Marcus? Marcus has a record?"

"Oh yeah. I guess you didn’t interview him all that well, but then you probably don’t believe in background checks, do you? No, he’s got priors, most of it petty assault, low-level gang shit. That’s why I was kind of glad he hooked up with you. I thought you’d keep him out of that shit." Her disappointment was smeared across her face. Bridge had let her down, and he hadn’t even known it.

"Huh, I never knew. He didn’t talk about it."

"He was always smarter than that. But once you got that stink on you, going legit is hard. Nobody reputable wants to hire you."

"I hired him."

"See what I mean? Nobody reputable." She was only half-joking, but Bridge mocked offense just the same. They didn’t call him the Amoral Bridge for nothing. "You put him through college and I THOUGHT you’d keep him from getting in fights. Now you got him arrested again. What did he do?"

"Saved my goddamn life," Bridge mumbled ruefully. "It’s a minor beef, unless they embellish it. All he did was streak the hotel after the mayor’s speech, set off a false fire alarm. Oh and he stumbled over some guards that were in my way. He could always say it was a frat pledge thing."

Danton just buried her head in her hands with a disgusted sigh. "Goddamnit, Bridge, the fucking mayor? Could you get him in any more trouble? Can I at least ask why?"

"Not if you want to help him," Bridge replied. "The less you know about why he did what he did, the better."

Danton mulled it over for a minute, leaning over to rest her chin on the steering wheel. "Look at those two," she said, pointing out the subway guards. "Do they really think I don’t know what they’re doing? I’d bust their asses myself if I had probable. People ought to be able to use the goddamn subways." Her rambling seemed to be to no one in particular, a distracted lilt to her voice that masked her internal struggle. Finally, she came to a conclusion.

"What are you offering me?"

Bridge clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Something juicy. Two days from now, there’s going to be a big-time hold up, and I know who's going to pull it off."

"And how exactly do you know this?" Bridge’s smile told her she didn’t want to know. "Because you’re going to set up the score, of course. Fine, fine, go on."

"Remember that guy whose boys were giving me the beatdown the other night outside the Glitter?"

"Sharver? You’re gonna give me Sharver? He’s not exactly film at 11 material."

"He’s big enough for what I’m getting in return. Now do you want him or not?"

She nodded reluctantly. Bridge began to spill the beans, giving the entire setup for Nicky’s proposed heist. He had already lined up the hacker replacement Nicky had so violently requested. Of course, the hacker was dead. Bridge had used the ID of the one that had tried to assassinate him. But Nicky didn’t know that, and there was no reason to sell one of Angela’s guys down the river when a little creative running had given Bridge the opportunity to set Nicky up. Bridge would get rid of one troublesome contact, and if he got lucky, he’d do it without Nicky knowing who had set him up. And even if Nicky did find out, Bridge would deal with that problem when it came up.

Aristotle would be safe. Now Bridge just had to do the same for Angela.

Bridge’s next meeting was much more difficult to arrange than his morning’s rendezvous with Gina Danton. It only took him three hours to set up, because he was just that good, but it was a close run thing. In the end, he’d had to come clean about the danger Angela was in, and it was only because of Angela’s reputation among the LA hackers that Bridge even had a chance. One didn’t just meet Michael Freeman these days, not in the flesh.

Freeman was a legend, an icon of the LA hacker scene from the good old days. He was the old man of the movement. He’d been living on the net since before there were even interface jacks. He was the magic man, the boy genius who had done more hacks before his fifteenth birthday than most runners manage in their entire careers. More importantly, he’d lasted through those difficult teen years without ever getting caught, transitioning from keyboards to interface jacks seamlessly while doing massive hacks that others only dreamed about. Though never prosecuted, many believed him to be behind the great 2021 Traffic Riot, a mega hack that caused all the traffic lights in the Los Angeles County area to malfunction at the same time, resulting in mass chaos. His legend had since grown to the point that only he could tell the difference between fact and the fictitious hyperbole of the GlobalNet rumor mill. A hacker’s best advertisement was his reputation, and Freeman’s reputation was beyond reproach.

Freeman had mostly retired from the public hacking scene during Bridge’s early career. Everyone knew him, of course. His NetID had the same sort of cache as Timothy Leary among the drug culture. He could walk among hackers half his age and be revered as a god, despite the fact that he’d been working full-time for the Chronosoft Corporation for four years. Any other hacker who’d made the switch to regular nine-to-fiver would be labeled a sell-out, but not Michael Freeman. If anything, his reputation was a challenge to all the foolhardy runners out there, a bullseye painted on the Chronosoft databanks. If a hacker could pierce their security, it would mean they had bested Michael Fucking Freeman, god of hackers. Not that anyone ever did, of course. Freeman was just that good.

Bridge had one advantage over other runners wishing an audience with Freeman. He knew Angela. And he also knew that Angela had hired Freeman many times for jobs his corporate bosses would not have cleared. He could pick and choose the jobs, and Angela offered him the most challenging. Freeman liked Angela, or at least she thought he did. Bridge gambled that she was correct in her assumption, that Freeman would like her enough to help her out of a jam, even if that jam involved going up against Chronosoft.

Bridge found himself seated at a kitchen table in Freeman’s downtown apartment. The late August sun made searing shapes on the worn linoleum of Freeman’s kitchen. Unlike other runners, Freeman kept a meticulous home, every single object in its proper place. Bridge marveled at the order. It was painfully neat, everything lined up as if the owner had measured the distance between each object down to the millimeter, all arranged according to some intricately deranged plan.

"I hope I didn’t wake you up," Bridge began as his coffee cooled.

Freeman shrugged it off. "I don’t sleep much these days. The eggheads have me on some stuff I can’t talk about." Freeman had the waxy skin of most crèche hackers, but his eyes lacked the telltale bags.

"They need help finding a distribution channel?" Bridge asked without thinking. Deals like that were just a reflex at this point. Hooking up a black market distribution deal for cutting edge pharmas was big-time money. He had already started tallying percentages in his head when he caught a glimpse of Freeman’s scowl.

"What happened to Angela, Bridge?" Freeman could not disguise his distaste for Bridge. They had met only once, and Freeman had not shown him much respect. Maybe it was the fact that his breakup with Angela had been ugly, maybe it was Bridge’s line of work, or maybe he just didn’t like ex-hackers. But that disdain had not changed. Freeman’s elongated face punctuated by a scraggly goatee had disgust written all over it. "What did you get her into?"

"Whoa, whoa, I tried to keep her out of it. As a matter of fact, I told her specifically not to show up at the place. If she’d just stayed away, they wouldn’t have been able to track me back to her apartment."

"Yeah, and you know Angela has always listened to what you said." Freeman laughed, but his smile was cold and humorless. "Maybe you should explain what you were doing." Bridge sighed and relayed the whole story from start to finish. Freeman listened stoically, occasionally sipping his coffee and interrupting Bridge for clarification. "So you stumble across this recording, try to sell it and almost get yourself killed, and you expected Angela would just stay out of all that? Surely you aren’t that dumb."

"Hey, I offered her a slice, and she didn’t want to touch it. I thought she’d stay as far away from it as she possibly could, see if I could get myself capped trying to move the goods so she could laugh."

"Except you were in trouble, man. You got yourself into a big pile of trouble and it still surprises you that she came to your rescue. You really don’t know her very well at all, do you?" He finished off a cup of coffee, and poured himself another from the carafe on the table.

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? What do you think I mean? I talked to her when you guys split up. You think she just jumped into bed with that fuckhead from Korea, don’t you? Hell no. That girl was tore up. The only reason she ever got with that Kim guy was because of his connections. She’s been playing him from the getty. She’s been holding a candle for you since the minute you left."

Bridge looked up from his cup quickly. "What? No, no, no. She threw ME out, didn’t want me anywhere near her. Hell, she barely let me use any of her stable."

"If she really hated you like you thought, you think she’d have kept hooking you up? She treats those hackers like her children, and yet she hands them off to you for whatever shit you get them involved in. She’s still looking out for you, whether you know it or not."

Bridge mulled it over. Maybe Freeman was right. Angela certainly had every opportunity to cut ties with Bridge any time she wished, and yet she hadn’t. And now, she’d gotten herself in the thick of this mess over his objections, all because he’d put himself in a dangerous situation that would require rescue. "Shit, Freeman, she’s a woman. I’m never going to be sure how she feels, and right now, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. These assholes have kidnapped her and I have to give them what they want."

"A leak? That’s it?" Bridge nodded. "Seems like a lot of trouble for a leak. So why call me? Leaks are script kiddie territory. It’s not exactly a challenge. And who’s to say they’ll give her up even if you do what they say?"

Bridge smiled that smile, the one he used when he was working. It was the smile of supreme confidence, of the schemer putting his scheme into action. "That’s where you come in. I got a plan." Bridge laid it all out for Freeman. The middle-aged hacker began to smile with each sentence, his smile getting bigger as the plan took shape. By the time Bridge was done, Freeman was positively beaming, his eyes twitching from side to side as he began to work out the details in his mind.

"I’m in," said Freeman. Bridge leaned back with a satisfied smile that hid the nervousness bubbling in the pit of his stomach.



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