The Willow Society

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Chapter 25

Chapter 25

It turned out Staten Island was unlike any other part of New York City Taylor had yet experienced. It was much less densely urban, more like a slightly-aged, endless suburb, rather like much of Houston and Channelview. Lots of neighborhoods, strip malls, and large supermarkets, things Taylor had gotten used to not seeing since moving to Manhattan. The streets were lit by bright sodium lights, each throwing an orange island edged by manicured lawns, hedges and the occasional tacky white fence. All of it shaded by the early evening darkness.

Stat3y3Cracker lived in one of the nicer neighborhoods they passed, at least to Taylor. Winston termed it “slummy” even though these people obviously had more money to burn than Taylor's family ever had. Outside the house Winston said, “it looks cheap, gaudy... you know, low class. Barely a wheel about a double-wide or something, old boy.“

Winston's comments kept Taylor from saying how he really felt: the house looked comfortable like a nice place to live.

“Like you've ever seen a double-wide.“ Taylor said, snickering. He held back from letting Winston see he was stung by the wealthy boy's disdain. He has no idea what it's like to want. Winston laughed and shrugged. “Got me there, old man.“

“OK. Let's go. Are you sure he's going to let us in?“ Taylor asked for the fourth time.

“Yeah,“ Winston said, a tad impatient. “He's crazy jazzed we actually believe him. You saw his messages on Facebook. He was practically begging us to come over and see the CCOM panel. If we compliment him enough he'll probably give us the SatSig codes he claims he's got.“

Which is exactly what we needed... Taylor thought. Otherwise it might be impossible for us to do what we came to do: steal all of it. And erase any copies the moron might have made.

A minute or two later the boys stood on the doorstep of the two story cookie-cutter house. Outside the house were few decorations: an American flag hung limply from a pole, a couple of pinwheel geese in the ground, and a half-coiled, half-ratted up garden hose. Nothing unusual for Taylor, but Winston commented again how white-trashy the place seemed.

Winston knocked firmly on the door once, then harder and louder the second and third times.

“ ... ming, hold the f on!“ came a deep man's voice

The door swung open and light streamed out into the crisp evening until the light was blocked by a fat, bearded man with unkempt hair and a stained white t-shirt straining against his cartoonish stomach.

No wonder he didn't have any pictures on his Facebook page. He's profile said he was twenty-two but he looked in his mid-thirties. He clutched a large can of Natural Light beer. Before he spoke he turned around and screamed violently back into the house. “No, Ma! It's not the Ching-chong delivery guy, I'm having friends over!“ The sound of distant, indistinct yelling wafted from the depths of the house. Neither Taylor, nor judging by his face, Winston, understood the words, but clearly Stat3y3 did. The fat man screamed back, “I do too have friends, Ma! And if I want to have friends over after 8 that's my effing business, now SHUT IT!“

More indistinct screaming came from inside the house and the fat man yelled back, this time at the top of his lungs, shaking his whole corpulent body as he did so. He even sloshed beer all over the doorstep and Winston's expensive sneakers. Winston mumbled under breath: I hate Staten Island.

Inside, the fat man screamed at his Ma, “We'll stay out of your stupid-ass figurine room, MA! I effing promise, now chill the f out!“

Finally the fat man turned to Winston and said as he sipped at his beer, “You guys here to check out my l33t skillz right?“ His smile was lop-sided and slobbery, Taylor was sure he must be full-on drunk.

“Totally, man. Sounds like real L33T stuff.“ Winston said, the dryness of his tone lost on the fat guy but not on Taylor.

“C'mon on then! Maybe you guys can post on Undermine and let 'em know I'm fer realz, maybe then they won't delete my threads for months at a time and Janine'll let me see her....“

“How did you get the CCOM panel?“ Taylor asked, interrupting the slurring man.

“Eh? What? Man I'm not gonna tell you all my effin' secrets, yo.“ The fat man gulped more beer, burped loudly. “M'Cory. But I go by S-Eye, who're you guys again?“

“Tay...“ Taylor started, but Winston cut him off and said, “I'm Parker. This is Lil J.“ Taylor grinned and played along, though confused. They had used Winston's Facebook account to message the guy, unless he was a complete waste he would be able to go back and see who they were, unless Winston planned to hack the guy's Facebook and erase any traces. Taylor decided he would do it himself even if Winston hadn't thought of it. It is necessary.

“Tight. Guess you guys are too n00b to have a sweet alias like mine, but that's cool, just give it time yo, you'll be effing L33T like me one day too.“ Another burp and they left the large living room into a wide, wood-paneled hallway.

The house was larger inside than it looked from the outside. It was full of old, dingy furniture; covered in doilies and afghans. A distinct smell of old-woman, potpourri, and stale beer hung about the place. As they walked past a room off the wide hallway, cordoned off with a knee-high doggy gate, S-Eye burped yet again and pointed his beer-hand towards the open doorway, saying, “watch out for Ma's Precious effin' Moments figurines 'n shit. She loves 'em. The old bat.“ The room was dark except for light washing in from the hallway and a few small lights inset into the curio cabinets. Hundreds of huge-eyed, sad-faced, little figurines of little kids dressed up like angels, dogs, saints, and a hundred other characters stared out. Winston mimed barfing behind S-Eye's back, then made to a slip off into the room, a devilish gleam in his eye. Taylor grabbed his arm, shook his head no, angrily and pulled the other boy on towards where S-Eye lead them.

Finally they made their way into what was obviously S-Eye's den. It smelled more like stale beer than old woman. Boxes of empty food cartons, some half-empty with old food, were everywhere. Crumpled up Eggo waffle containers, plastic Hot Pocket wrappers and dozens of crushed and partially crushed Chek grape soda cans made in a pile around a mini-fridge. A microwave sat atop a battered old cart next to the pile. CD's and DVD's were strewn all over every surface, including the floor. Posters covered most of the wall space: Sport Illustrated swimsuit spreads, posters for the movies Hackers and Swordfish and something with Harrison Ford on it Taylor had never heard of, and strangely a Fathead cut-out of Tonya Harding.

Who in the hell is she? Whoever she is she's scary looking.

S-Eye shifted some crap out of his way and eased his voluminous backside into a worn and ratted fabric-covered office chair. It looked like it had recently been fished out of a dumpster. A reek of mint chewing tobacco clung about it.

Winston looked at Taylor, his expression said, See what I mean? Taylor heard the other boy mumble something about Staten Island and white trash again.

“yo, check this effin' shit out, homies.“ S-Eye said waving his beer-hand at the screen in front of him.

Taylor and Winston moved closer, stood right behind S-Eye's chair, and leaned forward towards his monitor. At first it looked like meaningless text in several of the windows, dialogue boxes, and strange read-outs. S-Eye closed a few and now the boys saw a large window full of co-ordinates in rows and columns, and a diagram of the Earth.

“See? if you enter codes in here...“ S-Eye said, drunkenly missing the keyboard at first. “then enter co-ordinates here... and a effin' SatSig code here... BLIZZAM!

S-Eye made a big show of pressing the Enter key.

“I just sent a sub towards Antarctica!“ S-Eye said giggling, until he burped. He swigged his beer again, found it finished, crumpled the can and threw it towards the pile of soda cans. “You guys want a grape soda?“

Only then did Taylor notice Winston had somehow slipped away. He turned towards the door just in time to see his friend's shadow slide down the hallway, away from S-Eye's room. S-Eye grabbed Taylor's arm, in a surprisingly strong grip and pulled him close. Taylor felt the man's musty, scratchy beard press against his face.

“You wanna try?“ S-Eye breathed. Taylor pulled back hard, looking towards the exit again before saying, “Um. Sure.“

As soon as Taylor sat down a crashing sounded from back in the house. S-Eye's head jerked up like an alarm had gone off. Sounds of tinkling porcelain falling to the ground came back loud and clear.

“Oh man. Gotta go check Ma's effin' figurines. Damn dog musta got into 'em again. You guys make yerselves at home. Grape soda's in the fridge.“ S-Eye said, half mumble, still not aware Winston had run off. He waddled and weaved out of the room, mumbling under his breath as he exited, “Hate that effin' dog, yo. Ma's gonna flip her sh.... “

Taylor turned his attention to the computer, quickly grabbed his thumbdrive and attached it to the PC. A few keystrokes later he was downloading the CCOM panel, a database file labeled SatSigs and all the cookies and cache files on S-Eye's machine. As he watched the download and listened for S-Eye, Taylor marveled this buffoon had somehow accessed top secret military tech directly from the Pentagon and NSA. And did so undetected. At least initially. They knew now someone had gotten it, if only because the CCOM panel was development software and had disappeared. Does S-Eye realize what he's done? Armed with the cookies and cache data Taylor would be able to piece together how S-Eye did it.

Taylor's download finished and he was about to pop his thumbdrive out when S-Eye wobbled back into the room. The loud smacking of the fat man's drunken gait was only occasionally punctured by the low current of mutters and mumbles as he talked to himself.

“Dunno wha that was effin' about.“ S-Eye said, “Figurines smashed UP all over the floor, Ma's gonna blow her effin' wig....“

Taylor fought back a laugh. Of all the distractions Winston could have done, he chose to smash S-Eye's harridan-of-a-mother's Precious Moments figurines. Not that Taylor disapproved, in his opinion smashing Precious Moments figurines was about the only thing worth doing with them.

S-Eye sat down on the threadbare sofa next to the computer, oblivious to Taylor's drive sticking out of the front of the CPU, blinking like a beacon to Taylor. Winston returned, silent as a cat, a Cheshire grin on his face as he waved around a pair of porcelain figurines, put them in a mock smooch. Winston arched an eyebrow at Taylor, as if asking, “Did you get it?“

Taylor nodded and jerked his head towards the thumbdrive, which Winston saw right away. He grimaced.

“Well. S-Eye this is all way over my head, way cool though, but probably way illegal, right Lil J? I don't understand it. So, maybe we should jet?“

S-Eye's face fell. He stuttered through the beginnings of a reply when the sound of screaming came from the hallway. S-Eye's eyes went wide with fear and narrowed in anger as his Ma's grating voice wafted down the hallway, along with the smell of Ben-Gay and cigarettes. Taylor still couldn't make out any words in Ma's screaming, but again it made sense to S-Eye. He rumbled off the sofa and scowled as he ran into the hallway, shouting, “I didn't effin' break any of your effin' figurines MA! The effin' dog did it!“

More indistinct rumbles came from Ma, and S-Eye was gone down the hallway, screaming incoherently back at her.

Taylor turned back to the screen and pulled up a program from his thumbdrive, copied to S-Eye's hard drive and started it running. Taylor set a time in the program and the window closed itself, the program now ran undetectable in the background, steadily junking all the data on S-Eye's harddrives. Once it was done the computer would reboot and start the second wave, and everything on the computer would be toast. The process attacked the firmware of the hard drive itself, a piece of hacking wizardry Taylor was quite proud over. Taylor himself would have been hard pressed to stop it now, not to mention a drunken and clearly imbecilic S-Eye. Taylor itched to figure out how the idiot had gotten the CCOM panel and SatSig database in the first place.

“Bad ass, old boy!” Winston remarked.

Taylor eased up out of the chair and made his way into the hallway passing the Precious Moments room where S-Eye was hovered over a wildly gesticulating old woman who held on to a walker with one hand and broken half of a figurine in the other, a lit cigarette dripping ash on the carpet as she waved the figurine around. S-Eye screamed, she screamed back, but neither noticed Taylor at all. He and Winston slipped past to the front door.

Winston still had two figurines in his hands. One was a child with those huge, sad eyes dressed up in a Halloween devil's costume; the other an angel kneeling in prayer, hands clasped before its terribly Precious face. Winston held one on each of his shoulders and looked from side to side as if listening to each. He shrugged and threw both figurines back down the hallway where they smashed and broke apart loudly.

Swearing, Taylor ran out the door, behind a still giggling Winston.

Further away, down the street, Winston turned animatedly towards Taylor and said, “So did you get it all, old boy?“

“Yup, “ Taylor said, “It's on my thumbdrive now. Can't wait to get at it. Got all his cookies and cache files too.“

“What the hell did you do to his machine? I've never seen anyone hack a hard drive's firmware before.” Winston asked.

“I manipulated the error-correcting packet routine in the firmware.“ Taylor snickered. “The drives will be frying before we make it back to the ferry. He's too drunk to notice, and even if he does he couldn't stop it. Within an hour the whole thing will be scrap.“ Taylor giggled to himself now. The whole experience washed over him with a feeling of powerful strength, he understood now why Winston enjoyed his own exploits so much.

They jogged down S-Eye's street towards the main thoroughfare where they could call a cab back to the ferry.

Winston's arm went up as cab neared.

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