Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 10]

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I arrive at Magnolia’s a few minutes early to find Molly had already shown up. As expected, the place is packed with the usual clientele; it’s mostly populated by tourists that yearn for a taste of authentic Austin cuisine, or something close to it. I made sure to put down a reservation (under Molly’s name) beforehand so that there would be a spot for us when we got there. In what could only be described as a very stiff form of crowd gliding, I finally make it to the booth and was sitting across from her.

Molly, you could say, bared a striking resemblance to a younger Zooey Deschanel, who ran away from home and joined an anarchist biker gang instead of becoming a famous model or actress. Though, in actuality, Molly went to MIT and became one of the most successful black hat hacker’s and I.D fixers of the southwest, which despite their illegalities, are far more marketable than anything that pays over 150,000 dollars in taxable income. Like myself, her kind are rare and in high demand.

“Hi,” I say, perhaps a bit too sheepishly as I sat down across from her. She didn’t look happy.

“I called you on your burner, Logan.” She said, her eyes wide, eyebrows raised, and head nodding in full condescension mode. “Five times.”

“I had to ditch it.” I shrug.

“I’m getting really fucking tired of that excuse,” She says this while looking at the window and refusing to make eye contact with me. She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Can’t even get you on the DW or crypto-chat.”

“You-know-who monitors that traffic really closely nowadays.”

I’m about to lean in to say something else, but a waitress comes to ask us what we’re ordering, and Molly and I say “coffee” in unison and wait for the waitress to leave. I pick up where I left off.

“I don’t like using the Deep Web,” I whisper, leaning in.

“I got people who can set all of that up for you,” She says with tired patience. “The Snowden files aside, the NSA has little interest in what we’re doing here. It’s the FBI we have to worry about and they don’t bother keeping tabs on our operations. They’re too busy trying to catch Muslims.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I don’t trust your people,”

“Yeah? Well I don’t trust you, either,” For the first time, she actually looks into my eyes and it’s with definite hostility. I know where the conversation is going to go now and I can’t stop it from happening. I was never good at breaking bad news.

“Now,” The word trails off across Molly’s lips with the kind of sardonic, vocal-frying that seemed to be her signature speech pattern when demands or ultimatums were about to be made. “I had a guy disappear on me last week and somebody in your network told me that you were the last person that he talked to. Now where is he? Have you been keeping tabs on him?”

I let the question sit there for over a minute. Every conversational scenario played out in my head, like I had it played out in the car. There was nothing I could say that could make me look better or soften the blow. It wasn’t even worth it to lie outright.

“How important was he to you?”

The waitress returns with our coffee and I slowly pick it up and take a sip. It’s bitter.

“What happened to him?” For the first time I see that she’s actually nervous. For a moment I’m glad that the conversation has shifted in my favor. Her voice is shaking slightly as she speaks.

“He’s gone, Mol.” I put the cup down. “I don’t know what else to tell you. I tried to warn him away. You know what I do for a living; do you think those guys are fucking around?”

Her face seems to well up as I tell her this. Her anger has evaporated into something that might amount to grief if this was the first time I saw her have it. She grows pale and looks down at her coffee.

“Do I really know who you are or what you do for a living?” She whispers and looks up at me. “Mr. Logan: the club promoter, the private investigator, the grocery store cashier. How much bullshit do I have to dig up before I know who I’m dealing with?”

“If I’m telling you what happened to your guy after you’ve gotten that far in figuring out who I am, then you know that you need to stop.” I stare at her, waiting for that sentence to sink it in until it sticks. “You just sent some guy to investigate me after I told you not to?”

“You did the same thing with me,” She tries to match my stare, but she shudders and looks down. “Like you said yourself when we first met: it’s nice to know the people that I’m working with.”

“You know enough that we can work as partners as a go between for our current employer.” I pull out a wad of cash and lay down a twenty on the table. “So, does Mr. Westridge want to see me tonight?”

“Yes,” The word sounds bitten off as she takes out a folded piece of paper from her coat pocket and passes it to me.

“So your other guy came through with the dossier I asked for?”

“He’s using an overseas dead drop. Working through a torrent client. Tell West that he’ll only have one chance to download and decrypt the file. If he fucks up both then the dead drop will disappear.” Molly reaches for a cigarette and then puts it back into her pocket. “The paper has the password and the cypher that can get him access.”

I take the slip and pocket it into my suit. I look down, knowing that there’s nothing else I can say, but I try anyway.

“Look, Molly, I’m sorry about what happened,” It comes out a bit shakier than I would’ve liked. “It wasn’t my call to make.”

“Are you?” She asks.

“It was either me or him; and if they decided it was me then you wouldn’t be here right now. You’d be where he is and I wouldn’t be far behind.”

“How am I supposed to believe that?” Her question sounds accusatory.

“You just have to trust me on this.” I can’t think of anything else to say.

“Yeah? Just like you trust me, huh?” She looks away, wiping her cheek.

“Molly, they don’t see things the way you and I do. To them this is just business.”

Molly continues to look out the window. Says nothing.

“Please, Molly, I can’t just–”

“No. Stop talking. We’re done. And take your fucking twenty and my finders fee with you.”

I take a deep breath and get up from the booth and leave her there with the two coffees. The twenty dollar bill folding over into triangles in my right hand. I stop and finish the intricate design until I get a small origami crane out of the small labor. President Jackson’s face looks something out of a Picasso painting. A mess of folds over water marks, over more folds showing the depiction of the white house. Somehow one of Jackson’s eyes ends up at the head of the dollar crane and I become acutely aware of the restaurant’s camera that’s perched at the entrance and I keep moving out the door and into my car. Time to pay Westridge a visit.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

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