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Inside Job: An Undercover Billionaire Romance by Aiden Forbes (1)

Chapter 1

Katy

 

It’s a small apartment―shaped like a box, in fact―but it has two windows and a closet, and I don’t really need that much space anyway.

I can see the entire place no matter where I am in the room. Sometimes I sit on the toilet, put my feet up on the bath tub, and watch television. I mean, I don’t do it a lot, but I have done it.

My computer is balanced on a narrow, blue folding table that I picked up from Goodwill when I first left the group home. It was my first piece of furniture. My computer and that small blue table are the two only things I might not actually be able to live without.

My coffee finishes brewing, and that last exhale of steam knocks me out of my revelry. My eyes turn away from my tiny room to focus on the screen.

“Where the fuck is everyone?” I say out loud.

Two short steps, and I’m back at the desk, sitting at the wooden stool.

I fold up my body, my shoulders slouching towards the screen, and I rest my coffee—black, always strong and black—on my knees. I check the desktop clock, making sure I’m on time.

I boot the DDoS window.

Hello, I type. Anyone there?

No reply.

Assholes? Bueller? I type.

Nothing.

“Fuckers,” I mutter.

I take a sip of the coffee. The jolt of caffeine works like magic―it immediately calms me down and makes me less anxious.

I open the bank’s website again, going over the plan in my head.

“This will work,” I say out loud. “We’re ready for this.”

The chime of the DDoS chatroom sounds. I switch windows.

Hey, the message appears.

It’s from AnansiBoy, one of the other planners of this hacking mission. The two of us have worked together for years, but I can’t really tell you anything about them.

I don’t know where AnansiBoy is from, and I don’t know where the rest of the people I work with is from, either. And, more importantly, they don’t know me.

We all disguise our IP addresses and bounce our connections out of various countries in Eastern Europe. We should be impossible to find—or, more accurately, nearly impossible to find.

There’s a whole crew of us who work together to take down banks, bloated conglomerates, hedge funds, and corrupt tycoons. We take their money and channel it to employees’ bank accounts or NGOs. Kind of like a modern Robin Hood mafia.

We don’t tell each other much about ourselves, though. Take AnansiBoy for example, who is the closest I have to a friend in this world.

The only thing I know about them is that they smoke and that―I assume―they like reading African folktales. Anansi is the trickster Spider-god, after all.

Wait. Now that I’m thinking about it, I know this other thing about AnansiBoy: they’re not to be fucked with.

I’m serious. If you look at this goddamn hacker sideways, they’ll take to their computer and destroy you. They’ll erase your identity, steal every cent you have, tarnish your reputation beyond repair, and then hire someone to kick your dog.

All while whistling, if I may add.

But they’d also do all that if someone even looked at me cross-eyed. It’s like having my own personal army.

Hey, I type. What’s happening? Why is everyone late?

It’s hard not to feel occasionally paranoid and nervous in this line of work. There’s no way of knowing if anything wrong has happened to the person on the other side of the screen.

Before AnansiBoy can respond, however, the virtual room fills with people.

*shrug*, comes the reply. Everyone here now?

Looks like it, I type.

Good…let’s get these fuckers.

In my small, shitty Brooklyn apartment, I holler, whoop, and then switch screens. The rest of New York goes about their business, oblivious to the fact that there’s a small cadre of hackers attacking the Bank of the United States at this very moment.

I count down to the moment before we get in.

Three. We take down their firewalls. Two. We pick at each defense they put up to try and keep us out. One…

“Fuck yes! I’m in,” I exclaim.

I switch back to the DDoS window to tell the others. We decide to go replenish the bank accounts of people who were wiped clean by the housing crash. They won’t be filthy rich after, but a few million people will have enough for a small nest and then pay for a few years of Obamacare or whatever.

And then when that’s over, we begin transferring funds to the low-level employees the bank laid-off during the last merger. The bank had it coming. You don’t just kick out a bunch of people who have been working years to keep your goddamn building going.

Told you it’s a Robin Hood thing.

I check the clock on my laptop. The BofU’s computer security team―most of whom are sell-out ex-hackers―should be realize we’re in the system by now.

We have to move, AnansiBoy types.

I don’t reply. Instead, I attack faster and harder, moving funds into one stranger’s account after another.

Ok, time’s up, FateisFurious, AnansiBoy types. Finish them.

That’s me. That’s my screen name.

Know what else is furious? My fingers, flying across the keyboard, as I begin to shut down their site.

My last task tonight is to corrupt their databases and erase all traces of our presence―the equivalent of dousing their systems with kerosene. In a few more keystrokes, I will have lit the proverbial match that will take down their entire system.

I’m buzzing. Adrenaline is shooting through my system. I’m grinning ear to ear.

And then I hesitate.

A list of places flash in my mind suddenly—the soup kitchens, children’s homes, and shelters that fed me and took me in when I was small.

Shit. How could I not have thought of that earlier?

Should I? It’ll only be a few more seconds, and then I’ll have their accounts swimming in cash. God knows they deserve it.

But every second we spend is crucial. Shit.

I can feel the sweat dripping down my spine and between my breasts.

Are you out? AnansiBoy asks in the team’s chatroom.

Then to me, privately: Is everything ok? What the fuck is happening?

Seconds tick by.

Another message: Haven’t heard from you. What’s going on?

For a split-second, I feel it. I’m starving.

People think they know what starving means, but they don’t.

Not until you have absolutely nothing left. Not until you have to beg.

I wouldn’t be here if not for the kindness of a couple of strangers.

It’s a no-brainer, really.

I go through with my personal mission―a thank you to the people who raised me and kept me alive.

Every second counts…but so did every meal they fed me.

A minute later, and I’ve lit the match. I watch the site dissolve into pixelated nothing.

The bank has gone ka-boom.

For now.

It’s done, I type to the team.

Jesus Christ, AnansiBoy says. You trying to kill us with suspense?

Nah. Just took a little longer than I expected, I reply. But everything is done. Their system is in tatters. It will take them months, if they’re lucky, before they can get it back to any working order.

Good to know, AnansiBoy says.

And then it’s all over. The team breaks down our virtual headquarters with a promise to put up an ad on the dark web with coded information for our next attack.

Just like that, I’ve taken down a bank, stolen billions, given a good number of people a shot at survival―all before my coffee’s even gotten cold.

Grinning, I slam my fist on the table. “Take that, bitches!”

I love this: that heady feeling of being completely untouchable. Like I’m a demigod playing in the human world, causing mischief and teaching them lessons along the way.

I run both hands through my short hair. “I deserve a drink,” I declare, bending over my laptop to see out the window to the bar across the street. They’re open.

I grab a black-and-white hounds-tooth scarf that’s crumpled on the couch and then wind it around my neck. I grab my keys and wallet and shove them in my black backpack. Then I pause at the mirror to see what I look like.

My cheeks are flushed, and my hazel eyes are shining. I swipe some lipstick across my full lips and muss my hair so it looks more like sex-hair rather than bed-head.

Smirking at my own reflection, I feel fierce and powerful.

Time to get into trouble IRL.

A few minutes later, I’m holding a glass of Jameson and flipping through the jukebox selection. The bar is starting to fill with people.

Happy chatter fills the bar. Everyone has someone tonight―groups of friends or co-workers looking to drink the stress of the day away.

I watch a couple talking a few feet away from me. She’s laughing, and he can’t take his eyes off of her. They clink their glasses together before downing their drinks.

I push the buttons to keep flipping through the album choices.

The selection is barely registering, and that celebratory feeling―that extraordinary rush of the past hour―it’s gone.

Suddenly, I don’t feel victorious anymore. I just feel desperately lonely.

Sure, I just helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

But I’m alone.

What kind of a celebration is that?

Shaking my head to ward off the sudden bout of loneliness, I push a couple buttons, teeing up tracks by the Clash, Prince, Fugazi, and Elvis. Then I spin on my heel and walk back to my barstool.

I catch the bartender’s eye and extend my forefinger towards the ceiling, a signal for him to bring me another round. The bartender is giving me a single nod when I feel someone brush up next to me.

“Hey there,” he says. “Are you using this stool?”

I turn my head slightly so that I’m looking over my right shoulder at a middle-aged dude with wiry blonde hair and tortoise-shell glasses that have slid halfway down his greasy nose. He’s sporting a mustache-less goatee and a cocky smile.

I shake my head. “All yours,” I say before I turn my attention back to my drink.

“Great,” he says, as if I welcomed him into my family. He sits down with an exhausted exhale.

“Such a long day,” he says. I don’t know if he’s speaking to me or the bartender or someone else. I don’t much care. I sip from my rocks glass, enjoying the warming sensation of the whiskey as it slides down my throat.

He tries again: “I really love this place.”

He is talking to me, I realize. But I don’t want to talk to him, so I don’t say anything.

I finish the last of my drink and signal for yet another. Somewhere in the background, I hear The Clash’s Mick Jones asking if he should stay or if he should go now. I laugh under my breath, because I’m wondering the same thing.

“What did you think about the bank merger? I can’t believe those idiot Democrats don’t think…”

The guy has settled on a topic that seems to interest him: the political climate. From his continuous droning, I’ve learned that he’s an editor for some right-wing magazine―and he’s asking me questions that are none of his business.

After a few minutes of him talking and me not talking, he decides that my lack of interest in the conversation demonstrates an unbearable rudeness. No shit, dude.

I realize this might be yet another man I could drive insane today by staying quiet—assuming AnansiBoy is a guy, of course. I smile to myself, mouthing the words to the song: If I go there will be trouble / if I stay, it will be double.

The bartender and I lock eyes as the editor works himself into a sweat about special elections and taxes. The bartender pours shots of cheap bourbon for both of us. We clink glasses and shoot the liquor, while Prince sings about that time when you were mine.

I don’t think I could frustrate the creepy guy even if I tried. He’s still talking, speaking to the side of my face while I pretend he isn’t there.

I extend my finger to the air again, and the bartender gives me another drink. I’m starting to sweat now from the liquor―plus the stress of having Creepy Guy monologue into my ear.

Fugazi sings about being so tired, and I’m drunk enough to worry if the song might actually kill me by stirring me up. I’m Fugazi tonight. So tired, the sheep are all counting me.

I smile to myself at the reference―and then realize there’s no one in my life who would smile at that reference, too.

Once again, I feel incredibly lonely. The last of the day’s excitement has been completely drained from me.

Another drink has appeared in front of me, but I don’t remember ordering it. I decide that it’s time to go home.

I get up from my seat and lean against the bar. I pull out a credit card and slide it across the bar. As the bartender runs it, I take a pull from my glass.

I realize Creepy Guy has gone quiet, so I turn to see if he’s still there or if he’s gone away. My vision has started to blur, but I can see his shape: he’s still on the stool, and he looks lame and sad. I try to focus on his face.

“You could have said something,” he says, staring into his glass. “I just needed someone to talk to.”

I shrug in response, too drunk to feel anything. I slap him on the back, and the bartender brings me the bill. I give the guy a generous tip and draw a smiley face over the signature line.

Then I push my way from the bar, stumbling, as Elvis begins to sing “Jail House Rock.” I wind my scarf around my neck twice and then half-salute, half-bow to the creep and wave to the bartender. Then I throw my backpack over my shoulder and stumble towards the door, stepping outside on the sidewalk.

The cold air hits my face like a fist, and I fall against the wall, closing my eyes against the icy wind. I lean my face against the scratchy brick surface.

Just make it across the street, I tell myself. I promise I’ll let you take a nap in the lobby if you can make it.

My head falls forward, scraping my cheek. I push myself upright, bobbing and weaving, as I try to make myself walk towards my building’s entrance.

I trip off the curb, and a horn sounds. Lights flash. I realize I’ve slipped onto my knees.

The car door opens, and the pieces fall into place: I’ve stepped out on the street, blind drunk, in front of a cop car.

Oops.

I hear the officer asking a question, but I can’t understand what he’s saying.

I try to form my own words, attempt to communicate that I live across the street, but I can’t get them out.

Some small, sane part of me is protecting myself still. It knows to keep my mouth shut. Back home in my small apartment, my computer is open. All anyone would have to do is nudge my screen awake to see the chat window open, and then I would officially be in trouble.

The cop helps me to the sidewalk. I sit down and immediately slump over. The last thing I remember is hearing the officer say “drunken disorderly” into a phone.

Just in time, everything fades to black.

 

By the time I manage to crack my eyes open, I see I’m alone in a cinder block room that smells like dirt and mildew.

I push myself to a seated position, bringing my right hand to my aching temple.

Where the fuck am I?

And like a slap, it hits me.

I realize that I―a notorious hacker who, just hours earlier, brought down one of largest banks in the country―have just woken up hungover in jail.

I can’t remember much of anything—certainly nothing about what I said to the cops.

Well, fuck.

Fuck.