Whitman Emerson had everything a man could want: a beautiful girlfriend, a growing recognition in literary circles, the respect of his peers, and more than enough money. Until he discovers his bank account has been depleted. A few days later he loses his job. Old friends who may have been able to help him either die, disappear or disown him. Everywhere he goes, he is watched by security cameras. Then he is arrested for child pornography.
Bourbon bottle in hand, he trudged to the door and opened it to red blinking lights of half a dozen police cars. He was pushed aside as black-suited officers forced themselves past him. Roughly grabbed by one of the officers, Whit listened as a detective recited his Miranda rights. Within moments he was handcuffed and led outside.
On the run from the law, Whit joins up a stuttering computer nerd, Rick, and his younger sister, Mary. The trio gradually put the puzzle pieces together and realize their lives and the lives of all humans have been subtly manipulated by a computer, a computer which controls all data… anywhere, from banks to hospitals to online games.
Whit Emerson looked out his wide living room window. Lake Ontario was often beautiful, sometimes soothing, and, every now and again frightfully powerful. He could stare at it for minutes at a time. Not today, though. His eyes immediately pulled back to computer printouts strewn in front of him. The sheet he picked up was usually innocuous and always annoying. But never gut wrenching.
Whit scanned down his most recent bank statement. Florist, yeah, flowers for Elizabeth. Grocery bills, a bit high, but he liked good food. Gas station. All normal, within reason. He stopped on the line tagged at seven thousand dollars. Classy Girls? A porn site most likely. The amount was not presented by a photocopy of a normal check. Apparently it was an electronic check. But, he had never signed up for the electronic check service.
Whit ‘googled’ the company and called the one contact number. His eyes popped wide open when his call was answered with a silky voice on only the second ring.
“Look, I don’t know anything about your company. I never had any transactions with you guys. There’s an error somewhere and it has to be rectified before I go to the police.”
“Sir, we can discontinue service. But I’m afraid we can’t give you back money for the months already purchased.”
He looked angrily at the offending phone. “Months? This is the first time I’ve seen you on a bank statement and I didn’t buy anything from you!”
Silence. He nodded his head up and down, a smile grew on his face. She had finally listened. He looked back at the smooth blue sheet of water which seemed to extend to infinity. A minute later, a deep male voice brought him back to the phone.
“This is the manager. We have recordings…”
For the next few minutes Whit listened to his voice, definitely his voice, as he ordered one “premium” item after another.
Titles like Tammy’s Hard Time and Bathtime 2.
“Is that your voice, sir?”
“Yes. Well, a bit like my voice. But, it wasn’t me. It couldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have the time to watch one tenth of seven thousand dollars of porn!”
“So, you admit that you watched some.”
Whit yelled into the phone. “No! I didn’t order the damn videos or watch them.”
“Is your phone number 585-555-2794?”
“Yes…” Whit answered cautiously.
“That is the phone number on record for these calls.”
Whit was quiet for a few seconds. His cell phone number! How?
“I’m… I’m still here. What time were these alleged calls made?”
“Hmm… ahh… it seems nearly all were made between noon and 1 o’clock. Let’s see… always on Tuesday and Thursday.”
Whit’s breathing was his final response. That was when he was at the gym. Every Tuesday and Thursday during his lunch hour.
He habitually carried his cell phone in his front short pocket in case he got any calls from the office. It was never out of his possession.
He hung up and tapped a few icons on his cell phone screen. His call history appeared. He scrolled down and counted eighteen calls to the same 800 number. Calls he never made. Or did he?
He bailed out his college roommate, Mark, one cold Sunday morning from an even colder county jail. The police had caught him running through the campus totally nude. Mark had blacked out and never did remember his au naturel frolicking. Could
I have blacked out during my exercise sessions and made those calls?
Whit shook his head and turned back to his computer. If I ordered this crap, it should have been downloaded to my computer. After a minute of searching, he found the video files. Whit opened one and watched the video. Pornography. Two naked women making out in a bathtub. He clicked on another one. A foreign movie popped up. He didn’t understand the title, but after watching for a few minutes, two men and a woman had taken off their clothes and were rolling and groping on a king-sized bed.
There were hundreds of files in the folder. But, how did they get there? This laptop was with him from morning till night, it was his main workstation. When he visited the gym it had always been locked up in his office. Then he heard the door click open and a voice reached him from the foyer.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Liz! Crap, if she sees me with these files…. In a moment his computer screen was back to normal. Whit grabbed his bank statement and shoved it in drawer. His girlfriend, a slim woman, with short, well-coiffed blond hair click-clacked across the tiles into the study. She leaned down and kissed him on the neck.
He smiled up at her.
“You getting some work done?” She pointed to the computer screen which showed his desktop.
“Yeah. About to write a bit.”
She gave an exaggerated frown.
“You work too much, dear.”
The woman jiggled a Victoria Secret’s bag.
“Got a surprise for you. Don’t go away.”
She kicked off her high heels, smiled over her shoulder and walked quickly into the adjacent bedroom.
Whit looked out the window again. Distracted by his problem, he realized the sun had set and the water looked sinister, an oily black had replaced the shimmering blue. Though it was comfortably warm in the condominium, he shivered. What was going on? He never ordered any pictures or videos. But it sounded like his voice making the orders on his phone. And the files were on his computer.
He heard the bedroom door open and turned toward the hallway. Liz softly padded into his study and leaned against the door frame. Clad in a diaphanous light blue nightgown barely reaching to mid-thigh, she watched him for a moment, her breathing heavy as though she had just finished a run. Whit had already decided not to tell her about his financial problem. Anytime there were difficulties with money, hers or his, she went ballistic. Throw in the pornography angle and he could probably kiss this relationship goodbye.
“Working hard, honey?” she asked in a husky voice.
Whit smiled at her and rose from the chair, more than willing to succumb to the distraction. “Not working anymore.”
The love making proceeded quickly and he forgot about his problems. In a few minutes, after Liz enjoyed a shuttering climax on top of him, she rolled away and lay beside him. Whit turned to stroke her gently, an offering of affection. Elizabeth did not return his soft caresses. She never did. After she controlled her breathing, Liz spoke intelligible words which contrasted with her grunts a minute before.
“I was at the hairdressers this morning and opened up Vogue and saw an article on how to choose a computer just for you…”
He winced. A free-lance writer, he recently wrote an article titled A Computer Just for You. He didn’t think it would ever get published and he had not told her about it.
“You got into Vogue, and didn’t tell me!”
Though she smiled when she playfully rubbed his tousled brown hair, he detected irritation. Whit knew the subject did not interest her, but she liked to paint herself as his intellectual confidant. Even to her hairdresser, apparently.
“It wasn’t an article I was really proud of. But, I did mention it to you a few weeks ago.” He looked at her nervously, hoping she would accept the excuse.
“No, dear, whenever you talk about computers you always complain about not getting it into print.”
Whit knew full well which article she was referring to. It was a thought-provoking essay on the world’s, the country’s, even his own, over-reliance on computers. If it could just get printed he knew it would be a centerpiece article. Whit had even submitted the article to the New York Times magazine section. Their editors loved it, but for some reason did not pick it up.
With his own paper, the article was shuttled all the way to the CEO and he received a flattering note from that worthy man. But the clever and insightful essay never made its way to the pages of any newspaper or magazine.
“Yeah, well, I do talk a bit about that one, but I meant when I discussed with you about how you might pick a computer…”
Elizabeth rose without speaking and walked to the bathroom. Whit stayed down. His problem returned like an angry ghost in a haunted house. It must be some horrible fraud scheme, he decided. His voice could have been spliced in and his cell phone records manipulated. As much as he was on the Internet, it would not have been difficult to surreptitiously insert the files onto his computer. That had to be what happened. Might be hard to track, let alone prove. But when the perpetrators wrote the electronic check into his bank account they made a big mistake. He had never signed on for online checking. First stop tomorrow, the bank.
I attended college at Ohio Wesleyan where I struggled with physics. Having made so many mistakes in college with physics, there weren’t too many left to make and I did quite well at graduate school at Purdue.
I worked for twenty years at Choate Rosemary Hall, an exclusive boarding school in the heart of Connecticut. More often than not, students arrived in limousines. There was a wooded area by the upper athletic fields where I would take my children for a walk. There, under a large oak tree, stories about the elves would be weaved into the surrounding forest.
Returning to my home town to help with a father struggling with Alzheimer’s, the only job open was at a prison. There I taught an entirely different clientele whose only interaction with limousines was stealing them. A year later Alfred State College hired me to teach physics. I happily taught there for over ten years. A rural, low income high school needed a physics teacher and the superintendent, a friend, begged me to help out. So, I am finishing my teaching career in a most fulfilling way… helping kids who would otherwise not have access to a qualified physics (and math) teacher.
My wife pestered me about putting to “pen” some of the stories which I had created for my children and kids. I started thinking about a young boy and a white deer, connected, yet apart. Ideas were shuffled together, characters created and the result was the Return of the White Deer. This book was published by the Martin Sisters.
Years ago I gave a lecture on evolution. What, I wondered, would be the next step? Right away I realized that silicon ‘life’ had considerable advantages over mortal man. Later this idea emerged as the exciting and disturbing story called Reap the
Whirlwind, my most recent novel.
I have many other stories inside my mind, fermenting, patiently waiting for the pen to give them breath. Perhaps someday I will even write about those elves which still inhabit the woods in the heart of Connecticut.
Robert Sells has taught physics for over forty years, but he has been a storyteller for over half a century, entertaining children, grandchildren, and students. He has written the award-winning novel, Return of the White Deer, historical fiction, and he has written Reap the Whirlwind, a thriller. His third book, The Runner and the Robbery, a young adult book, will be published by December, 2013.
He lives with his wife, Dale, in the idyllic village of Geneseo, New York with two attentive dogs who are uncritical sounding boards for his new stories. He is intrigued by poker and history, in love with Disney and writing, and amused by religion and politics.