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

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 9]

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After checking my car for the third time for any bugs, I got inside my SUV and slam the door, taking several deep breathes. In the rear-view mirror I see myself in my usual blazer suit with matching tie. I adjust the cufflinks of my button-up and look into the back seat where most of my life has been packed away in a hurry. I see piles of button-up shirts folded and wrapped in machine plastic, along with piles of papers and disks filled with the kind the material that might make a district prosecutor really happy to get their hands on. The empty plastic trays of what was once pre-made sushi wraps from H-E-B are a nice touch to the mess I had created for myself. The trunk is filled with nothing but suitcases.

I take another breath and dial a number from memory and wait. The dial tone is deafening.

“Logan?” it’s Kim again.

“Hi, Kim,” I say, already feeling miserable.

“You’re cutting it pretty close,” says Kim, “five more minutes and you’d be on my shit list with the rest of your family.”

“I’m on a lot of people’s shit lists right now, so it’s a long line,” I say, trying my hand at embracing gallows humor, “the vultures would be gnawing on my bones before you’d get your dig in.”

“Feeling suicidal?” her question feels more curious than anything approaching concern.

“Maybe…” I let the answer linger, not too sure whether I want Kim to feel sorry for me or probing her to see what she knows so far.

“Wouldn’t have anything to do with the two murders that happened last night?” she asks.

I find my subconscious has opted for the latter.

“What murders?” I ask, feeling nervous.

“One at the Austonian and there was another that happened in a hotel off of Oltorf,” she says, “the FBI has reason to believe that your family was involved.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know,” I tell her.

“Logan, you need to open up to me,” says Kim, already getting pissed, “you’re dodging me again.”

“No, I can’t,” I tell her.

There’s a pause on the line.

“You were there weren’t you?” Kim says.

I don’t say anything.

“Who was the victim, Logan?” she asks me.

I say nothing.

“Logan, you will not be safe if you do not tell me who they were,” Kim says, she’s slowing her speech now, “if they know that you are talking to me, they will kill you.”

“I’m going to find out for you,” I say.

“You witnessed it?” asks Kim.

“I didn’t know who they were, but I’m going to find out tonight,” I tell her.

“Where are you right now,” asks Kim, “I need to find you right now.”

“I’m sorry Kim,” I tell her, “but I have to go.”

“No!” she screams, “tell me where you are now!”

“I’m sorry Kim,” I whisper, and I hang up the phone.

I slowly placed the keys into the ignition of my care and slowly start the car. It purrs to live in the dark, barely lit parking lot of the hotel and with a sigh of relief, I’m off to the Magnolia Café on South Congress.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 5]

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The body was burning on top of the roof of the Austonian. The flames lapping up around the body the way flames hug a piece of coal: it looks as if it’s barely touching it, yet it begins to turn a darker shade of black and begins to turn to ash under the flames. I stood, if you could even call it standing, watching the body. My knees bent and my arms resting over them in shock. I probably looked like a scared dwarf to the six other people in the room. I had talked to this person, this man now turning into ash, on the phone less than an hour ago and now he was gone. The smoke drifted through an open glass sky light above. I noticed that we were actually still inside, but the canopy covering the entire top of the building was made entirely of glass. I watched the flames travel towards the early morning sky. The city of Austin was waking up. I could see the sunrise coming over the river near downtown. I slouched there, in complete awe (was it even awe at the time?) in my pointed, tanned leather shoes and my brown leather jacket over a black button up. A night clubbing, making connections, finalizing deals; and now I was looking at a dead body, wondering what would come next.

“This is going to get cleaned up,” Says a woman. “We called the right people and they’re on their way. I want to make sure that the alibi we go with is going to stick if we have to talk to any lawyers.”

Someone else starts talking and I’m already tuning the conversation out. One of the men looks at me strangely and my vision begins to blur. Maybe I was crying at the time. I’m told to take a Xanex and I’m whisked away into a limo heading somewhere. I stare out the window, wondering what I have done and…

I’m awake. The alarm on my phone buzzes incessantly in my ear, like a hornet trapped inside a thin mason jar. I look up at the ceiling and remember about the meeting with Molly tonight. I had gone to bed at around noon and had slept for almost seven hours. Those were the hours most of my clients kept anyway and I wasn’t complaining; especially if they didn’t care about me wanting to meet them at restaurants or the hotel lobby of wherever I decided to stay that night. I was in a pretty shitty situation that no one needed to know about. Let them draw any conclusions that they want to. I was still an independent contractor, working mostly with the law firm that my parents ran. Their work was starting to make the news. Not about them specifically, but those in “the business” knew what was really going on, so they probably understood why I wanted to distance myself from the whole thing. However, I had other reasons for being away from the scandal that was beginning to take shape in the Metro and State section of the Austin-American Statesmen. I wanted to be discrete; I wanted to be away from people I knew; and this was as close as I was going to get.

While the city itself tried to keep its soul intact, I was trying to disappear. Austin, like most ‘recession-proof’ cities, was going through a rather painful expansion. New faces, new enclaves, new businesses, all of these were things that helped me keep a low profile in the aftermath. In the end, night club promotion and P.I work were the only steady paychecks where you could drift through being remembered and forgotten in a span of anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I had lost my soul already and now I was trying to be anonymous. I couldn’t go home or visit the usual corporate offices during the day, afraid that a reporter or someone that I knew would be there waiting. Nightmares of thin, black clad, covert assassins killing me in my hotel room woke me in my sweat soaked sheets in rented rooms all over the city. My mother and father were still working behind the scenes; covering up what had really happened, but I had since stopped coming to meetings. I couldn’t be a part of the charade anymore. I had allowed myself to be caught up a dark, political realm that I couldn’t begin to understand. To my parent’s credit, they tried to keep me in the dark as much as possible, but their handlers had other ideas. People like my parents were hard to find; and I suppose it made sense to bring me in and be trained in a job that could bring in a large salary, but couldn’t be revealed or talked about to friends or acquaintances. This time, though, I had had enough and had decided to go rogue; but leaving the city was too risky. I couldn’t completely leave the reservation. Not unless I wanted to see my mother and father in the local obituaries. Whether they deserved it or not didn’t matter. It’d only serve as another boil on the already festering body that was my guilty conscience. I didn’t whistle blow, I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t go to the local news stations. I stayed hidden. My parents handlers, despite me up and disappearing, didn’t seem to mind the arrangement (though I’m sure my mother and father took great pains to assure them that I wasn’t a threat), but the ‘family business’ was back to being a two-person operation now and no one was happy.

You can find the other chapters here on the Austin By Night page.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 1]

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We need to talk. NOW.

That was the text message I received just a few hours earlier after I heard the verdict come down at the local courthouse. Twenty counts of first degree murder, ten counts of conspiracy, and over fifty counts of fraud towards a single man. And what came of it? Not a single conviction.

After hearing the news via text message by the same person, followed by the the insistence that I meet with them “NOW,” I spent the next few hours wandering the Austin Hike and Bike Trail and North Congress Avenue. I tried to ignore my phone’s constant buzzing from unknown numbers belonging to God-knows-who, until I finally just decided to remove the battery to stop the calls. I watched the sun go down behind the downtown skyline as made one last lap up Congress towards the capital building. Night fall came at 8p.m. It was August.

The black limo came around the corner and followed me down west 11th street. The limo slowly moved past me until the rear was in pace with my walk. I continued to ignore it even as the tinted window rolled down. It was a woman wearing shades and a black suit.

“Get in,” she ordered.

I stopped and turned to look at her. I was still wearing my shades, even though it was dark, I could recognize the woman sitting in the backseat of the limo. Her name was Kim, at least that’s what she was calling herself. I was hoping that by wearing the shades they would’ve rendered me invisible by now, but no such luck.

“Do I have a choice?” I asked.

“You didn’t answer your phone,” said Kim, obviously angry.

“It wasn’t safe to use my phone,” I told her evenly, “they probably have it tapped by now.”

“We can talk about that later,” she said, “get in.”

I looked around and saw a trash can just a few feet away. I took out my smart phone and plugged a fire-wire app’ into the phone’s charge port and hit the kill button. I dropped the phone into the trash can, trusting that the hard drive and cell data would be burned to ashes by the time it hit the bottom, and entered the limousine. The ride started just as soon as I was sitting across from her inside leather interior of the limo and had closed the door next to me.

“Nice to see the FBI’s using our tax dollars wisely,” I said looking around the interior, “you get surround sound in this thing?”

“Logan, I’m going to need you to cut the bullshit,” she said, “you need us now more than ever.”

I looked out the window as we rounded a corner.

“Look, I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but we needed more evidence,” said Kim, “The Bureau is having a hard time trusting you as an informant.”

“It’s not easy narcing on my own family,” I said, continuing to look out the window.

“There’s no one else your father trusts, but you,” Kim said, “he was able to hide behind his business associates this time, but we can still get him with tax fraud if we need to.”

I turned to look at her.

“His business associates?” I asked, surprised by the phrase.

“Alleged,” she corrected.

“Whatever. They, along with my dad, own the fucking governor,”

“But they don’t own the Lieutenant-Governor or the Attorney-General,” said Kim, “you can’t back out of this, Logan. Your father, your whole family, is going start selling each other out the closer we get to nailing them. But that won’t matter in the end because they’re all going to go to prison for life and so will you if you don’t continue to cooperate.”

I looked out the window again. It was becoming too claustrophobic in here.

“Stop the limo,” I whispered, “I want out.”

“Logan,” Kim took off her shades and looked at me, she almost looked scared. It was the first time I ever saw her look anywhere close to being afraid, “please, don’t screw yourself over like this.”

“Why me?” I asked her.

She looked away and leaned back in her seat. She closed her eyes hard and opened them again.

“You didn’t know anything,” she said, “your family kept a lot of secrets from you, Logan. Out of any potential informants we could get, you were top on the list.”

“Was that your estimation?” I asked, “or did your analysts in Quantico make that call?”

Kim didn’t say anything for a long time.

“Stop the limo,” said Kim, yelling to the front towards the driver.

“Nice to know you’re thinking of me,” I said as I got out of the vehicle.

Kim grabbed my arm before I was halfway out.

“Get a new phone,” Kim said, “contact me within twenty-four hours or I’m going to assume you told your family about this meeting.”

“In twenty-four hours I might be dead,” I told her.

“If that gets you to work faster, then that’ll work for both of us,” she said.

I got out of the limo and watched it slowly make its way down the boulevard and round the corner. The sky was pitch black above me and not a single car could be seen on the street. It was eerily quiet as I took out a spare phone from my suit pocket and dialed for a cab.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser