What you Wish For
By Lew Gibb

     Why is it coffee smells like heaven but tastes like heated battery acid?

     Maybe a coffee shop wasn’t the best choice for this first meeting, but it seemed like a good way to impress him with my hipness and maturity. I really want a Monster but I’m lucky they sell Coke in this pretentious ‘Café.’ Like ‘Coffee Shop’ is too mundane. The cute barista with the nose-ring takes my money and I walk to a table by the window, sling my pack onto it and set the bottle down. The table’s in a corner and has a good view out the front window. I’ll spot him when he doesn’t know anyone’s looking. I want to see who he is when he’s coming to meet the long-lost daughter who tracked him down and begged him to come, just to talk. I’m even dressed up, or maybe toned down is a better way to say it. Iron Maiden t-shirt, low key for this meeting, no Eddie the Head zombie/skeleton coming at you with an axe or anything. Just a tasteful silver logo across the chest, not distorted too much since I’m kind of skinny and sadly under developed in the boob department.

     I know what he looks like from Facebook, not that I would ever have an account.  I got everything I needed without having to subject myself to the meme torrent and all those haters. Plus, their security’s shit.

     The Social Services database? That was three years of learning everything I could about hacking—the internet is an amazing tool, if you can tear yourself away from YouTube and clickbait—to get in there and find my dad. Actually, Joe’s my biological father, that’s who I’m here to meet. My real dad? The one who took me to WNBA games, so I could have strong female role models, and took me to NBA games because, let’s face it, those guys are awesome. He’ll always be the one I run to when I really need help—I’m not that much of a self-absorbed cliche of a teenager.

     Like the time in eighth grade when Serena Simpson, that stuck-up plastic bitch, threw an elbow in a pickup game and shattered my right cheekbone. Everyone standing around with their hands over their mouths, looking at the crater until I took off running, three miles to my dad’s office with tears and snot running down my face.

     But that doesn’t change what happened in ninth grade, when I went looking for my birth certificate so I could sign up for summer basketball, and found my adoption papers instead. All of a sudden, my previously perfect fourteen years of life, and my amazing parents, and my awesome grandparents, who spoil me just like they’re supposed to, are all a big lie. Maybe that’s too strong a word. More like a façade. A simulacrum—It means fake. I won a spelling-bee with it in sixth grade.

     Anyway, from that day, I started acting exactly like some TV movie teen who’s searching for her identity. But now I’m going to get answers to the questions that have been driving me crazy, fighting to get out and making me all anxious and twitchy, like I’ve drunk way too many Red Bulls during an all nighter: Who were my parents and what were they like? Which one do I look like? Where does my family come from?

     The dark reflection of someone behind me fills the window. I’m not sure it’s him because how did he get in without me seeing? I turn with a big smile on my face and put out my hand to shake. He’s standing close and I have to tilt my head back to see his face. My smile fades. There’s no trace of the smiling man from the Facebook pictures. Just a frown, and those hard grey eyes.

     His voice is low and quiet. “Adoption records are supposed to be sealed, Jenna.” When I dreamed of his first words, they didn’t sound so much like a threat. He stands with his hands on his hips, maybe six two, a little paunchy to play guard, but muscular enough. More than enough, actually. His arms and his chest stretch his t-shirt thin. A vein throbs on the side of his neck, right next to a tattoo of a claw reaching out from under his t-shirt. My mouth goes dry.

     “How did you get my name?”

      “I have a friend at the courthouse.” My voice is high and shaky. Makes me sound like I’m about ten.

     “Bullshit.” He says it without a trace of uncertainty and looms even closer, puts a hand on the table. A thin scar runs from the corner of his left eye to the angle of his square jaw. “How does a seventeen year-old know someone at the courthouse?”

     “She’s doing an internship.” I shift sideways in my chair and run into the wall. My eyes dart around the cafe. Everyone’s focused on their computers and their six-dollar coffee-milkshakes. Of course, the two people close enough to hear what he’s saying have earbuds jammed in their ears.

     His upper lip curls. He’s got a chipped incisor and a silver cap on his canine tooth. “Right. You don’t have any friends. If those nasty goth clothes don’t scare people away, your bloodshot eyes and pasty complexion will.”

     “I have lots of friends.” My voice cracks and my heart feels like it’s trying to punch its way out of my chest. I can see by his scowl he knows I’m lying. I used to have a lot of friends, from basketball, and from the neighborhood. Now, the people who know me best are acquaintances on the internet, more concerned with what I can do for them than with getting to know me. True, my classmates avoid me, but not because I’m so scary—I weigh all of one-twenty, in my clothes. They stay away because I’m such a downer. Always moaning about how I don’t know who I am or where I came from. The comment about my eyes was unfair though. I was up all night, imagining our meeting and what he would be like.

     “When I got your email last week, I did some research of my own.” He snatches a chair from the other side of the table, sets it next to me and sits leaning forward, crowding my space, with his hairy forearms resting on his knees. Thin white scars crisscross his knuckles like pale spider webs. “I know about how you got busted hacking into that game company server.”

     “What are you talking about?” I thought my mouth was dry before. Now it feels like I just ate a handful of sawdust. My heart beats faster and I fold my shaking hands in my lap. He shouldn’t have been able to get that. Juvenile records are sealed. The irony is not lost on me. So he’s got some connections too. I wish I had a connection who could get me out of this. The game company hack had just been something to test my skills before going after Social Services. Now he’s sitting here, smashing my fantasy of a happy reunion to bits.

     “I’m talking about how if you get caught hacking again, you’ll be lucky to get out of jail before it’s time to collect Social Security.” He pauses and seems to be looking at the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes. Then he just goes on, like he makes people cry all the time. “Here’s the deal,” he says, reaching across the table and grabbing my backpack with his big fist.

     “Hey,” I reach for it too late, knock over my Coke. “Give that back.” He stops me with a palm in the center of my chest, casual, like it’s nothing, and sets the pack behind his chair while his eyes shift around the room. The customers are still focused on their screens and the baristas are staring at the coffee grinder.

     “We’re going to walk out to my car. If you run or do anything to draw attention, I give your computer to the cops. I’m sure they’d be interested in what’s on it. Don’t you think?”  He looks at me with raised eyebrows.

I’m holding back a scream, clenching my teeth so hard I’m afraid they might actually break. I hardly let my own parents touch that backpack. Now he just waltzes in and grabs it? “I’m sorry I stole your information. I won’t send anymore emails or try to talk to you again.”

     “You got that right,” he says, nodding and holding my eyes with his. “Because if I ever do hear from you again, after we’re done that is, I’ll tell the police what you did. Got it?”

     I nod. Did he mean what I did before? Or what he’s about to make me do? “What do you want from me?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” He picks up my pack and starts for the door. When I don’t immediately follow, he turns back. “We don’t have all day.”

     I follow him outside. His car’s a mud-splattered, beige four-door with a rusting dent in the passenger side fender and red tape covering a broken tail light. I’m good at covering my tracks online, but I never planned for someone stealing my computer and giving it to the police. The password cracking programs alone are enough to put me in jail, my original sentence plus whatever else they decide to charge me with. Never mind my history. That thought actually gives me goose bumps. I swear if I get out of this, I won’t ever forget to purge my laptop’s memory.

     He opens the passenger door and a greasy burger wrapper tumbles into the gutter. I think about grabbing the pack and screaming. But I’m still on probation for another year, until I’m eighteen. I can’t risk it. Fuck! He’s related to me, right? He wouldn’t hurt his own daughter. I force out the breath I didn’t know I was holding and blow away all the stranger danger lectures I ever got, just like the wind blows the wrapper into the sewer drain. I get in the car. He slams the door and moves around to the driver’s side.

     When I put my hand on the seat it crunches on a dried-out piece of hamburger bun. I’m brushing the crumbs off my hand when the driver’s door opens with a squeal. I kick aside fast food bags and paper drink cups to make room for my feet. 

     “Buckle up,” he drops my pack behind the driver’s seat as he slides in. “Don’t want you getting hurt before you make me rich.”

     He drives without saying a word, heading southwest while my mind goes into overdrive, imagining all the bad things that are about to happen. First, I’m a drug addict servicing sweaty old men in a nasty hotel room. Then, in a sweltering warehouse wearing only my underwear and stuffing Ziploc bags full of white powder. When the image of him standing over me with a pair of bloody pliers pops into my head I almost hurl.

     A dark haired woman wearing huge hoop earrings and mascara eyebrows pulls even with us at a light. A Chihuahua jumps onto her lap and starts barking at me. Her jaws keep working her gum as she scoops the dog off her lap and drops it out of sight. Not even a glance at me. When the light changes, she’s blowing a bubble. It pops and she drives away.

 

      Twenty-five minutes later, we’re sitting in the empty garage of a beige house in the suburbs. He punches the remote hanging from the sunshade and the door rattles closed. He gets out, grabs the pack through the back window and heads for the door. My eyes don’t leave the backpack as I take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then let it out in a rush and yank the door handle. 

     He waves me past him into a long, narrow kitchen with big windows that look out on a dying back yard. A cheap table and four rickety chairs occupy the dining area next to a tower of pizza boxes in a corner. A trash can overflowing with empty two-liter Coke bottles blocks the sliding door.

     He pushes past me and opens a door opposite the slider. There’s a handrail and steps leading down. When I hesitate, he blows out a breath of his own.

     “Listen.” He shakes his head and looks at me with what I’m sure he thinks is reassurance but it does the exact opposite. “I’m not going to hurt you. You’re my own daughter for Christ sakes.” His forehead crinkles, maybe thinking about what that means. “It’s not like I have a torture chamber down there.”

     “Ha!” My laugh sounds more like a bark. “Of course you would say that, but so far, you haven’t been the most attentive of parents. So…" I stare at him and hug myself.

     He rolls his eyes. “You want to leave? Go ahead. I’ll be downstairs with your computer.”

     His work boots clomp down the unfinished wood stairs. I watch him until he gets to the dingy area rug at the bottom and disappears to the right. I take the stairs slow, muscles tensed to run at the first sign of trouble. The widening gap between the first floor wall and the stairs reveals his feet, then his legs, and finally the rest of him, sitting on a threadbare couch upholstered in a faded floral pattern that’s shiny with dirt and grease stains.

     The basement’s cool and smells like cement. The only things down there, besides the couch, are a cheap plastic chair and a makeshift desk made of cinderblocks and plywood with a computer so old it’s got a floppy drive sitting on it. I pull out the chair and sit across from him, then cross my arms and give him the raised eyebrows.

     He rocks back on the couch and laughs. “Funny. You actually might be related to me.” His face turns serious and he leans forward. “Here’s the deal. You’re gonna hack into a bank and steal me ten million dollars. Then I’ll let you go, with your computer.”

     I wait for the punch line, but his eyes are humorless. Cold and grey as the concrete walls.

     “What kind of hacker do you think I am? I can’t get into a bank.”

     “OK. I’ll just take your computer down to the police then.”

     My whole body goes cold and I have to swallow before I can talk. “If I can even do it, it’s going to take awhile.” 

     “Fine.”

     “I mean like, really a long time. Maybe weeks. It took me that long to get into the adoption agency. And that doesn’t even count the time I spent researching it.”

     His face is blank. “Sounds like you better get to it then.”

     “Seriously?” He does the eyebrow thing again. “You going to make me use the dinosaur here?” I shoot a glance over my shoulder and wave at the computer.

     “Just a minute.” He gets up and trots upstairs, backpack still slung over his shoulder. His muffled footsteps move back and forth. Something scrapes on the linoleum. Then his feet reappear at the top of the stairs and he clomps back down carrying one of the kitchen chairs with two pizza boxes balanced on the seat. “You hackers like pizza right?” He sets the chair down next to me and throws the boxes on the table. I can hear the dry sound of old pizza sliding on cardboard.

     “I’m not hungry.”

     “More for me.” He opens the box and pulls out a slice. It remains perfectly flat as he brings it to his mouth. Nearly half of it disappears into his face and he tears off a bite, smiling. He unslings the pack and pulls out my laptop. “Here you go.” He sets it on the table in front of me. “But I’m going to sit here and watch everything you do.”

     “That sounds like fun.” I roll my eyes, just having my computer makes me a little more confident. “Hope you have a lot of caffeine in the house. Because, hacking in real life isn’t like on TV where they run a program and crack the password in a couple minutes. It’s seriously boring.”

     “I’ll be fine.” He leans the chair back on it’s rear legs while he stuffs the rest of the slice into his face. His voice is muffled by the massive hunk of stale dough. “You just worry about what you gotta do.”

     After I open my laptop and turn it on, I ask him about the wifi network, hoping he’s dumber than he seems. He’s not. He makes me prove I don’t have a keystroke tracking program before he turns the laptop so I can’t see and enters his password.

     “Save password?” he says with a self-satisfied smile and a wink at me. “Absolutely not.” He hits the return key and spins the laptop back.

     I shake my head. “Do you know how good bank programmers are?” Laying it on a little thick because, after all, they’re only human. “And what about the FBI? Bank robberies are like, their main thing.” He does a good job of pretending to be unimpressed, but I can see it makes him think just a little bit.

     A big part of hacking, maybe the most important part, isn’t the programming. You don’t even need a computer for it. They call it social engineering, and it’s how I actually got into the Social Services computer. A lot of times, it’s way easier to talk your way into a place, or come up with some reason why you need to be somewhere you’re not supposed to be, than it is to hack in. Then you poke around, and OMG, Bob wrote his password on a sticky note and stuck it to his monitor. People are so lazy. Sure, I still had to do some serious hacking to get the information I needed, but I never would have gotten the chance without hanging around the local adoption office looking sad and waiting for a chance to steal someone’s password. I might have an idea how to make this work.

     “And then there’s the firewall. That’s the thing…”

     He holds up a palm to stop me. “I know. They keep people without accounts from even getting into the system.”

     “So.” I say. Keeping my voice calm. “It could take me weeks just to get into their system.” 

Then, his mind goes where I hoped it would. He tells me he has an account at a local bank that’s not in his name, and we can use it to get past the firewall. I’m getting the impression he’s not your average hardworking citizen. A regular guy doesn’t talk about this stuff so calmly, or come up with a plan to rob a bank less than a week after learning he’s the father of a teen hacker.

So we go through the security dance with him hiding his password—he has to read it off a piece of paper he pulls out of his wallet and I wonder if the accounts really his—and me neglecting to mention that once I have access to the system, I’ll be able to to do whatever I want. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do but I tell him I’m looking for a back door left by a disgruntled former employee, or someone who just wanted to have access where no one else does. It’s a pretty good idea actually. It might even work. Hackers are lazy too. 

     The account’s in another name. Surprise. There’s four hundred thousand dollars in it, plus deposits and checks totaling more than two million dollars over the past month. He doesn’t look like someone with that kind of money. He looks like the kind of guy who can browbeat, or physically beat, judging by the scars on his knuckles, people into doing what he wants. So, not the mastermind of whatever’s going on with the money.

      He grabs another piece of pizza and leans back, munching and staring at the screen while I work.

      His indifference gnaws at me. I stop typing and twist to face him. “Do you really not want to have anything to do with me?”

     “What?

     “Don’t you care about me at all?” Tears well in my eyes even though I’m trying to be tough.

     He frowns. “Like you want me to take you to the movies and buy you ice cream and shit?”

     “No. But couldn’t you just tell me a little about what my mom was like and what your life was like together?”

     He looks at the table for so long I think he isn’t going to answer. Then he takes a deep breath and starts to talk. “You want to know about your mom?" He waits till I nod before he goes on. “We got it on one night when we were both wasted. I didn’t even know her name. Didn’t even see her again until she tracked me down and asked me to cough up for an abortion. I’m Catholic, so I told her no way. I get involved in an abortion and I go straight to hell. So she yells at me some. I yell back at her. Then she takes off and I never hear another word ‘till you hack your way into my life. I hate to bust your little bubble, but your mother was the type of bitch who slept with any guy with a pulse once she got a few drinks in her. I guess she changed her mind about the abortion though. So there you go.” He leans back and makes a hand washing motion. “Now get back to work.”

     I’m full on crying now and punching holes in my palms with my fingernails. I yell. “She died having me you know? And you didn’t even know it!” I want to pick up the computer and smash his face.

     “Hey, how was I supposed to know.” He spreads his arms and shrugs. “You don’t even know I’m really the father. She could’ve just scribbled my name on the birth certificate.”

     “You could have helped her.”

      He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “She wanted me to help her have an abortion. If I did that, you wouldn’t even be here.”

      “But aren’t you ever curious what it would have been like?”

       He gives me a look that makes me want to crawl under the desk. “I never had kids and I never wanted any either. If you can’t get me my money, I got no use for you.”

       He’s such an asshole I can’t even think straight. “Fine. I’ll get you your money, then go on without you, like I already have for my whole life.”

       “Excellent.” He nods and crosses his arms.

      I put my shaking hands on the keyboard and try to slow my breathing.

      I spend the next few hours writing subroutines for an idea coming together in my head. I tell him I’m searching for embedded functions that lead to back doors. He’s smart enough to know about firewalls, and to keep me from getting his account password, but only serious programmers can translate code on the fly. It’s like trying to read a book written in Greek or Russian. The letters mostly look like English but the words aren’t put together the way you’re used to.

 

      When the light coming in the two small windows up by the ceiling is nearly gone, I stretch and look up at the exposed floor framing. A fly struggles in a spider web stretched between the boards. I’m making some progress but I can’t put anything on the screen to make sure it’s going to look right. Maybe I can sneak a peek later. I realize I haven’t eaten since breakfast.

I stretch my arms over my head and yawn. “I’m starving. Can we get something to eat besides stale pizza?     And maybe some Red Bull?”

      “What’s wrong with pizza?”

       “Nothing. If it’s hot, and not petrified. But I’d rather have Chinese, or Indian.”

       “Tough. You can eat the pizza or nothing.”

        “Look. You want me to get your money, and I want to get on with my life and not go to jail. I can’t do it if I’m starving and falling asleep. I’m going to be working most of the night. So I need food and caffeine.”

       “I guess I can order some takeout. We don’t have any Red Bull though. You’ll have to make do with Coke.”

       I make a face but can’t think of a good reason why the caffeine in Red Bull is better than what’s in Coke. I find an Indian restaurant online and he places an order. He hides his credit card from me while he’s typing the number. Like I’m the one who might steal from him.

       “Gotta take a leak,” he says and grabs the computer. “Don’t go anywhere.” He laughs and heads upstairs.

While he’s gone, I poke around, conscious of his footsteps moving back and forth above. I try turning the dinosaur on, but it won’t even boot up. There’s a banker’s box buried in carpet scraps under the stairs. It’s full of gallon Ziploc bags, some zip ties and a scale. I stuff a few zip ties in my underwear as water cascades through the black pipe in the corner. I’m back in my chair before his feet appear on the stairs.

 

      My eyelids feel like they’re made of sandpaper. It’s three a.m. After a quick meal of saag paneer and samosas, washed down with a liter of Coke, he cracked the whip and told me to get back to work. The caffeine spurred my creativity and I’m excited about my plan, but sitting here with this guy watching every move I make is like being in a mental straight jacket. It makes the way my parents supervised my internet use after I was busted look like day-care. If only I had joined the basketball team instead of obsessing about this asshole who shares my DNA.

      I don’t know how he’s still awake. I know he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. Earlier, I tested him, said I was coding Python when it was really Java. I even started explaining the differences between the two, but he waved his hand like he was chasing a fly and told me to get on with it. Said my explanations were making him sleepy. That’s what I’m waiting for. I need to send two emails to make everything work, but they have to be in English and if he sees them it’ll give my plan away.

      Finally, at around four, his chin starts to drop. His eyes go wide and he shifts in his chair. I keep typing and watching him out of the corner of my eye. Go to sleep. I send all my mental energy his way. You’re really sleepy. Finally, his head bobs forward. I open an email window and squeeze it down so it’s just one line at the bottom of the screen. His head snaps up and my fingers freeze on the keys until I force myself hit a hot key and keep typing in the programming window.

      A couple of minutes later, he’s out again and my fingers fly over the keys. I glance at him about once a second. Finally, I finish and hit enter a little too emphatically. His head pops up and his eyes snap open. Before he focuses on the screen, I hit two keys and the email window disappears. He looks at me and then at the screen. I keep typing like nothing happened. It takes almost ten minutes and another piece of pizza before he’s bored enough to fall asleep again. If he had a partner, I’d be screwed.

      I type as soft as I can can, but he snorts and wakes up again before I’m finished.

      He rubs his eyes as the email window blinks out of existence. “What’s that?”

      “It’s the password program. I’m modifying it to include a characters that aren’t normally used by people. A programmer would probably use them.”

      This is going to take forever.

 

      A line of empty Coke bottles mock me from the desk. Funny thing about caffeine. It’s great for keeping you up but you can’t turn it off when you want to go to sleep. I lie there on the nasty couch and close my eyes again. Between the Cokes and worrying about what I’m about to do, it’s pretty much useless trying to sleep. Joe’s upstairs, probably sleeping like a baby with my computer under his pillow. I started using his first name after he went on a rant about what a slut my mother was, and how none of it was his fault before he stormed off with the computer. At least I got the second email ready to go.

     The fact that I brought all this on myself is what’s really bothering me. Why couldn’t I just accept that I had some great adoptive parents and be happy? Why did I have to go looking for something else? I don’t even know what I thought I was going to find. Who am I? I’m me. Whoever it was that provided my genetic material doesn’t change that. I am so screwed. The parents I have should have been enough for me even if they’re not the ones I deserve, since I’m such an ingrate—another spelling bee word. Shit. Once this is over, I’m going to have a lot of making up to do.

 

      I must have eventually fallen asleep, because the next thing I know Joe’s poking me in the shoulder. I try to bat his hand away but he’s too strong and he keeps it up till I open my eyes.

He’s got the laptop under his arm and he’s smiling. “Rise and shine.”

      After a healthy breakfast of leftover Indian food, I get back to work. I got the second email ready last night and now I just have to finish the programming.

      It takes me another three hours with him breathing down my neck and asking “How much longer?” every few minutes.

      I push back from the desk and look at him.

His face scrunches up. “What do you want now?” Like he thinks I’m being so demanding, asking for food and all that Coke.

     “Actually, what you need, is somewhere to put the money once I get into the bank’s system.”

      He nods once.

     “You weren’t thinking of just putting it into your account and then going down there with a withdrawal slip. Were you?”

      “No. I was going to open an account at another bank. But I thought there would be more time." He looks at his feet for a few seconds. “How soon do we need someplace to put the money?”

       “As soon as possible. We could get the password in a few minutes or a week.” I scratch my head. How did he miss something so basic? I guess when he found out he had a hacker daughter he could exploit, he got so excited about getting the money he forgot to think about what he was going to do with it.

      I test my theory that Joe’s just a cog in the larger machine that’s laundering money through ‘his’ account. “What about transferring it into some of those other accounts?"

     For a second he looks scared. “That won’t work.” he says. “Those are my client’s accounts.”

     “OK. Don’t suppose you have a Swiss bank account?”

     His earlier confidence is gone and he looks like he’s beating himself up for blowing his chance at ten million dollars.

     “How about this?” I say. He’s hanging on every word Somehow, my expertise at hacking has made him trust that I know about banking too. “We can set up an account in the Bahamas. They’re almost as good as Switzerland, and a lot closer.”

     His face lights up like a starving man looking at a cheeseburger. “A secret account in the Bahamas.” He smiles. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.” Then he frowns. “Is it hard to do?”

     “That’s what the internet is all about.” I give him a big smile and try to sound confident. “Making things easy.”

     The look on his face when he holds up a clenched fist is the first genuine happiness I’ve seen from him since we met.

     Seriously? I’m supposed to fist-bump my kidnapper, slash deadbeat dad, because I came up with the idea of hiding his stolen money in the Bahamas. Too surreal. I put my fist up, wondering whether I got the right record at the adoption agency. Maybe my mom did just write some random guy’s name on the birth certificate.

     I remind myself not to get cocky. Just because he doesn’t know about banking doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. Besides, I’m totally making this up as I go

 

      Something pokes me in the shoulder and I open my eyes. “Jesus,”  Joe’s face is eighteen inches from mine. I’m lying on the couch—I actually slept this time.

     “Something happened with the computer.” He nods at the desk. “It just beeped.”

      I rub my eyes and sit up. After I set up the account in the Bahamas—It actually wasn’t that hard—I set the backdoor password search to run automatically and crashed on the couch. I wonder if he’s been staring at the computer this whole time. “Could you have maybe told me from a little farther away?”

     “Don’t be grumpy.” He’s smiling and bouncing up and down. “I’m about to be rich.”

      “What time is it?” My own heart is hammering away like an unbalanced washing machine.

      He looks at a Rolex knock-off on his wrist. “Almost five.” The ‘gold’ is wearing away around the bezel. “I can’t believe it took that thing all day to do find the password.”

     I stand up and stretch, then walk over and sit at the computer. My eyes feel glued shut and I have to dig chunks of grit out of the corners with my fingertips before they’ll stay open. “Let’s see what we got.”

     When I hit the enter key with my pale, trembling hands, the screen goes blank. Then a new screen pops up with various banking options listed. “Looks like we’re in.”

     Joe punches the air and jumps out of his seat. “Yes!” He does a little dance, spinning in a circle and pummeling the air like a boxer before a fight. I watch him until he calms down and puts a hand on my shoulder, leans over to look at the screen. I grit my teeth and try not to cringe. “What are you waiting for?” His breath smells like the trash can at an Indian restaurant. “Let’s do this.”

     I click a button labeled Transfer Funds then spin the computer so he can type the account and the routing numbers—he insisted on keeping these to himself—into the appropriate boxes. He spins it back and my hands shake when I hit enter. The screen flashes and I hear him suck in a breath. He holds it until the words Transfer request complete appear on the screen.

     He blows out his breath and flops into his chair. Like he just did all the work and now he’s so worn out. “When will the money be there?”

     “I’m not positive.” I lean back, letting out a long sigh and crossing my arms, trying to conceal my own excitement. “It’s a wire transfer so it should happen pretty much right away. It’s late in the day though, so maybe it won’t get done till the morning.”

      Joe grabs the computer and slides it over in front of him, logs onto the Bahamian bank’s website and checks his balance. Then jumps up and paces around the room, shaking his hands and looking like he’s warming up for something. I stare at the clock in the upper right corner of the screen. He checks the balance again, curses and paces some more.

     The sequence is repeated every thirty seconds for the next fifteen minutes until the door bell rings. Joe’s head snaps up and he stares at the ceiling. Two seconds later, it rings again, then someone starts knocking. Hard.

     I look at him with raised eyebrows. “Expecting a visit from your clients?”

     “Shit.” He says, getting up and heading for the stairs. “You stay here. And don’t say a word.”

     “No problem.” I hold my hands up, palms out, little Miss Innocent.

     As soon as he’s gone, I hit a bunch of keys and the screen goes black.

     I stand and yank the zip ties out of my underwear, I’m so nervous I drop a few, scoop them up and hurry over to the support pole in the middle of the basement. I wrap a zip tie around one wrist then thread another through it and make a loop big enough for my hand to fit through once I have my hands behind my back, on either side of the pole. I pull the loop tight and slide into a sitting position on the floor.

     Angry voices come from upstairs and Joe yells something about a warrant.

     I yell as loud as I can. “Help!”

     A booming voice. “Freeze! On the ground! Now!”

     Feet pound around upstairs and the deep voice tells Joe not to move.

     I yell again. “Down here!”

     The door bangs open and a police officer pounds down the stairs. He’s about twenty five and his eyes go huge when he sees me.

     “I got her!” he yells toward the stairs. “She’s tied to a pole.”

     “What the Hell?” Joe screams.

     The officer comes over to me. “Are you OK?" He pulls a knife from his belt and cuts the zip ties.

     “I think so.” I say, putting a little whine into my voice. “He said he was going to sell me to some friends of his in the middle east who were looking for white girls.”

     “What?” His face turns red and he helps me to my feet. I put both hands over my face and start to sob as he leads me upstairs. I’m so relieved, and I can’t stop thinking about how worried my parents must have been when I didn’t come home.

     Joe is face down by the front door and yelling that he didn’t do anything. Saying they should check my computer.

     “Shut the hell up.” The other officer yells.

     The guy who freed me pats me on the back and walks over to his partner, holds up the zip ties. “This sick bastard was going to sell her to a whorehouse in the Middle East.”

     “No fucking way.” Joe’s eyes are wide and he’s thrashing like a fish on a line. “What the fuck did you tell them Jenna?” That vein in his neck is huge. “Look at her computer. She just stole ten million dollars from a bank.”

      Neither officer is paying much attention to him. They drag him to his feet and the first one pushes him outside, still screaming for them to check my computer.

     They can check, but they won’t find anything. When Joe ran upstairs I used a wipe program to erase anything incriminating. I just needed some free time to activate it.

     The ten million dollars isn’t missing—I never hacked the bank. That would have been illegal—but his boss’ four-hundred-thousand dollars, which he himself transferred out of the account is. Like I said, the most important part of hacking is social engineering. As soon as I get a chance, I’ll send the money to some deserving orphanages.

     Once Joe’s in the car, the other officer leads me outside. My parents are there and I start to cry for real. I’m lucky they believed my email, and were able to convince the police to investigate my kidnapping. They rush forward and put their arms around me.

      Dad starts to cry. “We’re so glad you’re safe, sweetie.”

      I can’t even talk. I just keep crying on mom’s shoulder and hugging them. I’ve never felt so complete in my whole life.

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