The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 11

Sausalito, California

January 2020


“It seems they’re more concerned about money than morality.” While watering my deck plants, we appreciate the abundance of jasmine, rosemary, fuchsia, and other flora blooming in the sunshine. The air is perfumed with a blend of sweet and exotic scents.

We enjoy a glass of ginger iced tea; the Sausalito Harbor shimmering in the background. A subtle tang of fresh salt air fills my senses while a soft sea breeze stirs the leaves of my lemon tree. Winter in Northern California!

Julie pinches a sprig of rosemary, bringing the aromatic herb to her nose. “Sean assured me he had no part in the masked orgy. It was a team of VC guys. The CIA’s own venture capital he’s been lured into while kickstarting his startup, Dazzle!”

My hand lingers with the watering can over my deck garden. “In-Q-Tel?”

“Yes, either them or techies funded by them brought the drugs and ornate masks, using sex as power to get entrepreneurs into their funding streams,” Julie answered. “I heard the Q refers to the fictional character who makes spy gadgets for James Bond.”

My manicured fingers went to my chin, “Hmm… not surprising. The fictional Bond is into seductive escapism. Perhaps Q represents modern remote-controlled surveillance machines. Too bad Sean warned us not to go near that room. Caryssa got to see the live porn show!” I joke.

In truth, I couldn’t be happier. The nude expo in the spa was enough for me.

“Caryssa wasn’t happy to stumble into the corporate theatre act. It got personal for her when she saw an old boyfriend doing sex acts in the corner with two women that were not his wife.”

“Oh my! She mentioned nothing about that on the way out,” I put the watering can on my deck railing.

“I think she didn’t want to ruin the moment of you giving her that amazing Picassoesque painting of her child,” Julie suggested.

“Maybe.” I watch bees buzzing around my lavender. It made me happy to see nature still alive despite climate change. “What are you getting yourself into, Jules?”

“I’m not into any of that masquerade stuff—nor is Sean. Although—”

I glance at Julie, waiting. “Although, what?”

“He’s into the undercover money that funds much of Silicon Valley and high-tech today—including Saudi Arabian capital and top-secret military contracts. It kills me inside because it doesn’t fit with his human kindness. I—”

No more fussing with my deck garden. My full attention went to Julie. “Go ahead, finish.”

“I love him.”

“I know you do, and you know what? It’s so obvious he’s in love with you too, Jules.”

“I love him. Not some of the ways he makes money. But after coming so close to getting killed I learned to separate the two because… the high-tech sector has wrapped itself so tightly around the industry Eisenhower warned us of, it blindsided him.”

Her comment reminded me of something Caryssa said eleven years ago when she first met Sean in the city while gathering with former Silicon Valley colleagues. Sean had told her that the tech sector was cozying up to the Pentagon, and it was beyond his control. Caryssa had urged Sean, “Get out while you can!”

“So, does this mean your hawkish viewpoints have been completely squashed?” I asked.

“I never had hawkish viewpoints!” Julie insisted. She tossed the sprig of rosemary over my railing with an angry burst of pride. “I was simply honoring how my father made a living!”

I rolled my eyes. “Come on, Jules! No need to get defensive. You’ve already admitted the sanctification of WWII helped build up America’s self-destructive militaristic market that nearly got us killed in a coffee—”

“Enough! Okay—I get it, Julie interrupted. “Sorry. It’s just that… the two men I love most, my dad and my boyfriend, have earned money from the ’war effort.’ It breaks my heart. They are good souls pulled into well-paid jobs spilling out blood money in order to survive unfettered capitalism.”

I gathered Julie in my arms, berating myself. How could I question her political viewpoints at a moment she’s expressing her deep love for Sean? “I’m sorry, my bad,” I said.

My tabletop mini zen garden calmed the air. Three lit candles surrounded by air plants and a pile of black stones on colored sand brought balance to the conversation. The Golden Gate Bridge gleamed its fiery magnificence in the afternoon light.

Julie added a few drops of lavender oil into the sand. “No need to apologize Anna. I understand. I remember you saying that the French don’t exalt WWII as Americans do—that you see it as the horror it was beyond the Germans dropping bombs over your home city of Paris. It’s hard sometimes for me to step back from my dad’s legacy—his way of making a living building ’Liberty’ ships.”

Maudire la guerre!” I exclaimed. ’Curse the war.’ I referred to the inscription at war memorials in my homeland France.

I can still remember my uncle pushing back on having my Dad’s coffin wrapped in the French flag after he was killed in Vietnam. “I will NOT mention my kid brother was enlisted in the army during his eulogy! We will have the tribute honor him as a person; the amazing, gentle, humorous soul he was, not be an accolade to the military-industrial complex that killed him!” he had insisted.

Uncle Marceau was a man before his time, and I’ll be forever grateful. Because of him, I can remember daddy as the man he was, without being covered in a stiff uniform or flamboyant flag.

Julie’s placed her hand on her heart, a look of concern on her face. “The more I read, the more I grasp that we almost got shot in the Golden Gate Grind because of our nation’s militarization gone unchecked, not ‘mental illness’. Blaming it on the latter seems like blaming a wound on the band-aid. A cover-up.”

Amazing how having your bird killed by a federal agent, your innocent brother accused of being a terrorist, and escaping a barrage of bullets in a charming upscale café can open the mind.

I looked into Julie’s pale blue eyes, noticing her creamy unlined skin and strawberry-blonde tendrils that made her look a decade younger than her early sixties. “Caryssa and I have been trying to say that for a while; corporations run our country, not people. Profit is everything. Sean is a good man caught up in in a dehumanized system masquerading behind humanitarian deeds.”

The thought occurred to me that if anyone overheard our conversation, they’d think, “What? Two women living in affluent Sausalito complaining about global capitalism. While sipping gourmet tea on a deck surrounded by the beauty of the San Francisco Bay. While skiing the French Alps and Lake Tahoe Mountains?

Julie said, “I wish certain venture capitalists want to improve rather than disrupt the world. Funny thing is, Sean knows this but can’t escape it. The Matrix has him.”

I poured a fresh glass of iced tea for Julie. “Computer networks and artificial intelligence have connected everything—our homes, personal spaces, our children’s schools, even our brains got plugged into machines.”

A beautiful sunset cast orange and pink fingers across the hills and bay. The day was so clear, I could see colorful houseboats bobbing and sailboats gliding into the wind.

“I think humanity—in a sense— is living in a simulated virtual reality,” Julie said.

“Hell yes. Including all the Facebooking and twitting tweedle-dee-tweets of the Twitterati, we can’t escape, “I said. “I try to stay away from it all but it’s impossible. I see it suck my fifteen-year-old grandson into a virtual hole.”

“The computer-simulated world captured him too” Julie adjusted the bistro umbrella to block the sun’s rays from her eyes.

“Not if I can help it,” I said.

“You can’t help it. The digital mutiny has all of us! Even Sean’s tech-billionaire buddies discuss inventing ways to escape the simulated universe. They’re convinced we’re ruled by an army of machines,” Julie said. “Imagine that, my hillbilly boyfriend hanging with the likes of Elon Musk.”

“A hillbilly in a designer blazer now, with a six-million-dollar pad,” I mentioned.

“Yes, but he hauled his first truck of coal in the eighth grade with his dad. He saved every penny, using it to go off to college. Sean has worked hard to get where he is—that’s why he’s so afraid of losing a deal or that next round of funding.” Julie sipped her iced tea.

“We certainly can’t accuse him of being lazy. The bunch of them seem to work around the clock. Including on some shady deals. I overheard someone talk at the party about the Utah Data Center. He referred to it as a spy operation—”

“Yes! It’s no secret even though its ‘top secret’ like every intelligence project. It’s the huge NSA Spy Center built to capture the world’s communications—zipped through underground cables and undersea networks. All our personal emails, phone calls, Google searches get saved there.” Julie glanced at her cell phone screen, “I’m sure my device is bugged.”

“Of course, it is. All our devices and internet activities are tracked. I’ve heard about that data center—it’s five times the size of the US. Capitol—and designed to ’protect the nation from terrorism,’ I said in a mocking tone. “I don’t see how gathering information about Grandma’s bra size; if kids have a learning disability or what we like to eat can carry out such a mission.”

“The spy network already knows who took part in the sex orgy at Sean’s party. They’re target marketed to take control of their tech-innovations and money. What do you think the hidden meaning is behind all those masks?” asked Julie.

I pointed a finger toward the sky as if I referred to the war cloud. “Sex; class distinction and hiding the identity of the tech-elite involved in this underground operation. It’s covered up as a civic duty.”

“At least metaphorically… I’ve overheard Sean’s VC friends say to him, “'If you want to stay wealthy Coleman, better stick with Pentagon and NSA contracts, otherwise you’ll slide down the financial hole to nowhere.’”

“I think our nation itself is sliding down a slick hill of greedy shit,” I said. “Teens are shot regularly in high schools because of the self-indulgence of gun makers and our forever glorification of military violence.”

The sound of Jazz floated up from the bay, where it sparkled like a restless reflection of the early night sky and the stack of houses below on my hill. I had a vision of the woman whose house slid down the hill in a climate-change-induced mudslide and chased the thought away.

I turn my face toward the beautiful harbor and watch the sailboats. The sun feels wonderful on my face. “Hey, listen to the words to the song playing, what great timing!” I said.

Julie smiled. “Being born and raised in this pretty city by the bay, it’s one of my favorites,” she responded. We remained silent for the duration of the song “Sausalito” by George Duke.

Julie's hand flew to her necklace, “By the way, I’ve given Sean an ultimatum. I know he loves me.” The solitaire diamond sparkled in the sunshine with a thousand shards of light. She seemed to notice my eyes on the necklace, and said, “It’s an heirloom handed down through generations on Sean’s mother’s side of the family.”

“It means a lot to him—you mean a lot to him,” I said.

A soft light suffused her face and her eyes glistened with tears. “Anna… I’ve never loved anyone so much in my life. Sean… he’s gentle and kind. Yet strong and charismatic. And he listens to me. Really listens.

I simply nodded and smiled.

“He’s called me twice and I need to call him back, hold on a minute please.” Julie walked into my loft and I could hear her voice. She was yelling, in a caring, cautious way:

“Sean, if you don’t get out of covert military contracts and use your technology for disaster recovery as you initially intended, I’d be too scared to stay with you. I love you too much to see you or our nation destroyed over the unsavory business. Sean! Don’t hang up… Sean! Argggg!”

Julie walked back out to the deck, wringing her hands. “I’m going to have to let him chill a bit, then I’ll text him. He said he’s trying to relax in his hot tub and hung up on me!”

It amazed me, Julie’s audacity. “Love is always a risk, Jules. But it’s a beautiful risk. A worthy risk.”

Julie poured herself more tea. “I’m taking a big risk of losing him. But I told him I’d consider leaving him if he’s involved in any unsustainable processing of rare earth or military contracts.”

“It seems every technology starts out with benign purposes until it’s sucked into shadow operations. Take this iPhone, for instance.” I held up my phone. “The iPhone is a hip, harmless, helpful product, right? Until it’s not when it spies on us.”

“You sound like Caryssa with her warning of the roots of the ’almighty semiconductor chip,” Julie laughed. “I don’t want to break up with him, but Anna, he’s into scary shit—it’s like the Mafia or something when you get into CIA funding.”

“You’re singing to the choir.”

We sat out on my deck for another hour, with the sun setting over Sausalito harbor while sipping tea and more Jazz and Blues floated up from the house below.

Julie was staring at the screen of her phone, half listening. “Why didn’t I hear my phone ringing, I have several texts and a call; from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, of all places. Hold on a minute.” She walked into the house, poised to listen to her messages.

I had a bad feeling about this. I had a worse feeling when I heard Julie scream: “Oh my God, Anna! Sean’s been shot!”

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