Yep, it’s a novel now. I’m still retooling the outline, since “novel” means a very different approach to the main characters’ relationship than you’d use in an “erotic short series.” Namely, in a short story the MCs have to be doin’ hot sexin’ by the end of 12k words. Whereas in a novel, you want (well, I do) a slow build before they CLASH LIKE TITANS IN THE NIGHT. Through trial and error in the sales department, I’ve learned that either way, you have to hook the audience with hot sexin’ in the Amazon “Look Inside” excerpt. Some novels just don’t lend themselves to that, but this one does!
So I am pretty sure you can look for this one in May. My goal before my week’s vacation in May is another Adam Vance novel, and this one, and of course stepfuckers galore as long as they’ve got life in them, creatively and commercially. As always, I swear I won’t keep just phoning them in when the story reaches the end of its natural life. But I still have fresh ideas for Nick and Kyle, and between Rick Steves’ guide and the DK guide that’s coming in the mail today, well, I’ll be researching things to do in Switzerland in winter 🙂
Anyway…here’s a tantalizing taste of what’s coming…
The slap was hard. Harder than it had ever been. The nerves in Marc’s face sang a high-pitched song, the physical and emotional shock rippling through his body, straight to his groin.
“I said, worship my fucking boots.”
Marc hated this. Feet were gross, ugly, weird, and boots were dirty and tasted nasty. But that was the turn on, wasn’t it? The turn on was that Ryan loved it – not having his boots licked, but knowing that Marc hated it…and would do it anyway.
“Yes sir,” he whispered. “Sorry, sir.”
He did as he was told, running his tongue over the black leather. Ryan sat up in his chair, grabbed Marc’s head, and pushed the toe of the boot into his mouth. “I didn’t tell you to say hello to it. I told you to fucking make love to it.”
Marc’s mouth filled with boot. He hated it… hated it so much that his cock throbbed. Ryan loved this shit. Marc looked up, and sure enough, his master was kneading his swelling hardon through his jeans.
An eyebrow lifted on Ryan’s brutally handsome face. “You want this? You want my fucking dick in you?”
Marc could only nod, not daring to take his mouth off the boot. He would do anything, lower himself ever further, to get that big long fat perfect tool of Ryan’s down his throat, up his ass…
Ryan unbuckled his black leather belt, letting it hang down over his crotch. “Come up here and get what you need.”
Marc knew what he meant. Not what he wanted, what was under the swollen fabric, but what he needed…what he deserved. He crawled up between Ryan’s legs, his face inches from that massive crotch.
Ryan put his big hand on top of Marc’s head to hold it steady. With the other, he grabbed the belt where it left his belt loop, six inches of leather flapping free.
“Close your eyes,” Ryan commanded. As soon as Marc did, the leather hit his face, the smooth side smacking one cheek, the rough side slapping the other. Not hard, at first. Ryan liked to tease him, torment him, give him just a little pain, then a little more, then a little more…
Being a sub wasn’t really about submission, Marc knew. Being a sub was a contest. How much could your dom dish out, and how much could you take? Who would be the master, in the end – the one who gave the most pain, or the one who took it?
He hated the music, too, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson and other loud heavy rock he didn’t recognize. But Ryan loved that shit. Ryan got hard listening to Marilyn Manson telling him that “we’re all stars now in the dope show.” Marc was coming to like that song, too – another thing Ryan had done to him against his will.
The moment was shattered by a ringing phone. “What the fuck!” Ryan shouted, throwing Marc to the floor. “You left your fucking phone on!”
Marc knew that was the worst offense, the one that immediately ended the session. Only the ring wasn’t his normal tone, which had been turned off.
“It’s my emergency ring, sir.”
Ryan unclenched his hands. “Right, shit. Sorry, man.”
“No worries,” Marc said. The session was over now, regardless. He fished the phone out of his pants. Sure enough, it was Wendy, his cybersecurity chief.
“This is Marc.”
“Sir, we have a situation.”
“Wendy,” Marc said, watching regretfully as Ryan redid his belt, “a situation is something that happens between 8 and 5. This had better be a crisis.”
“It is, sir. We’ve had a system breach.”
“What system?” Marc took the glass of water that Ryan handed him and drank deeply, washing away the taste of boot and belt.
“The code library.”
He put the phone on speaker and started getting dressed. “Breach as in what, script kiddie screwing around, or as in North Korea and we’re fucked?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“The code library, Wendy. Did they get anything?”
“All we know now is that there was an intrusion. We silo’d the servers, so if they injected any malware it hasn’t left the room. We can fail over to the backup system but we can’t be sure yet that wasn’t compromised as well, it all depends on when this happened, what they did…”
“Leave the failover offline,” Marc said, taking out his wallet and counting out twenty hundred dollar bills. “We have clean new hard drives in the warehouse, right?” He tried to hand them to Ryan, who waved it away and mouthed, that’s too much.
“Yes, sir. But getting them up and running with the OS, all the software, the existing code, testing everything, scanning it all for issues…that will take some time. It’ll put the project back weeks, at least.”
“I know. Keep it all offline, give everything to Forensics to analyze. Then burn them.”
“Law enforcement will probably want those…”
“Oh, no no no. We are not involving law enforcement. That means involving the media, that means getting the board of directors up my ass. This is internal, understood?”
“Yes, sir, absolutely.”
“Hold on a minute.” He muted the phone and turned to Ryan, waving the stack of bills at him again. “This is for the night. It’s not your fault I have to ditch a half-hour into it.”
Ryan smiled. “Dude. You’re my best customer. Shit happens. Serious shit, from the sound of it.” He pulled two bills out of the stack. “That’ll pay for your time tonight.”
“Thanks, Ryan. See you next time.” He didn’t have to say anything about the confidentiality of what he’d just heard. Ryan was one of New York’s top escorts, and he’d kept secrets far more shocking and damaging than this one. Still. The only thing worse than the world finding out that Marc Julian got his ass beat so hard that the red welts took three days to disappear, would be having the world know that his company had been hacked.
Ryan saw him out, and he took the phone off mute as he walked briskly out of the building. “So what’s the worst case scenario. I think I know, but I want to hear it from you.”
She took a breath. “Worst case is they stole the code for the traffic project.”
“That is the worst case.” He got into the waiting Town Car. “I’ll be there in five minutes.” He hung up and leaned forward to speak to the driver.
“Punch it, please. If you get me there in four minutes, there’s an extra hundred in it for you.”
Four and a half minutes later, pulling up in front of Freedom Tower, he handed the driver a bill anyway. He nodded distractedly to the evening security staff and took the elevator to the 80th floor.
Wendy was waiting for him at the door. It was eleven at night, and the office would usually be dead at this time – Marc was a stickler for making his people go home and have lives after dark. Tonight it was a hive. The whole cybersecurity team was here, his key managers, his PR team…
He nodded. It had all happened exactly as it should have, in a case like this, without his having to raise a finger.
Marcus Julian had attained success, not only as a brilliant programmer, but as a visionary one – a man who could see to the heart of both problems and solutions, coming up with the kind of things that made other people say, “I should have thought of that. It’s so obvious!” But they were things that were only obvious after Marc had made them so.
But it wasn’t his genius that had got him to a net worth estimated by Forbes at twelve billion dollars. No, it was his ability to pick good people. Reliable, competent people who didn’t need micromanaging. Who hardly needed managing at all, other than when he gave them direction. People who freed him to think, to plan, to dream and create the Next Great Thing.
The traffic project was one of those obvious, elegant solutions of his. It was a simple four-node network of sensors, each of them mounted on one of the traffic lights at a four way stop. The sensors controlled the lights, flipping them quickly from red to green and back again as needed to accommodate traffic flow. There would be no more cars sitting at red lights, their drivers fuming as the other direction’s lights stayed “green for nobody.” Coming up with a solution took someone who was both impatient at a needless red light, and who could direct that frustration into a fix.
The idea was simple. Easy to steal. As soon as he patented it, imitators around the world would come up with their own versions. The difference wasn’t the idea, it was the execution. If they had Marc’s code, the algorithm that made his system work better than anyone else’s ever would… then he and his idea and Imperat Software itself were in deep, deep shit.
His core team was assembled in the big conference room. “Okay,” he said, taking the seat at the head of the table. “China?”
“Possibly,” said Warren, his Chief Intelligence Officer. His “other CIO” was responsible for keeping Marc tuned into the big picture around the world – developments in their industry, rumors, gossip, and of course trends in corporate espionage.
The Chinese stole everything. They would break into tech companies to steal interoffice memos about potluck lunches, if they thought it would tell them something that would give them a competitive advantage. Though you could hardly call it “competition” when the other guy was always fixing the race in his favor. And stealing trade secrets? China’s entire industrial economy was practically based on it.
Wendy pushed a piece of paper across the table. “Here’s my resignation, sir. I’m sorry I didn’t…”
He snatched it up and crumpled it, throwing it over his shoulder. “Don’t be a dumbfuck. Was this some script kiddie who could just walk into our systems?”
“Was it an exploitation of some incredibly loose security feature?”
“No,” Marcus nodded. “It was, as Colbert would say, a formidable opponent. I know that, Wendy, because I know that nobody has ever penetrated our system ever before, thanks to you. Now.” His bright green eyes bored into hers, holding her gaze.
“Your job is not to fall on your sword. Your job is to draw it. And find me a head out there. And cut it off and bring it to me on a platter.”
Wendy smiled, and Marc knew she was relishing the task. She stood up. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll start on that right now.”
“Okay. Media. We’re nice and leak-proof around here. Any murmurs?” he asked Kathleen, his VP of Public Relations.
“On Gizmodo, someone’s submitted a tip about the top echelon of Imperat’s management showing up at work at 11 pm on a Friday night. The night editor texted me for a comment, about ten minutes ago.”
“And your answer?” Like all his managers, Kathleen had the autonomy to act now and get approval later.
“I told him we were doing an emergency drill. He was dubious as to why we’d do that on a Friday night. I told him that the worst possible time for a drill was also the best – when people aren’t expecting it.”
Marc nodded. “Fine. That’s the story, everyone please spread that. Cal?” he said to his director of “meatspace” security.
Cal knew the question in Marc’s head. “The tip has to have come from a Freedom Tower employee, working tonight, who knows us by sight. I’ll work on shutting that down.”
Marc nodded. “Shut it all the way down.” Whoever had tipped off Gizmodo would be unable to find employment for a long time to come.
“So, what next?” Marc asked his team. “We’re going to lose a lot of time waiting for the…” He broke off as Wendy reentered the room.
“I think I have someone who can help. He’s…um… unorthodox.”
“Aren’t we all, around here?” Marc asked. The team laughed, a genuine laugh of acknowledgement. People came to work for Imperat who didn’t fit in at other companies. People who were easily bored, who didn’t want to do the same thing every day, who didn’t want to work to a clock, or sit in a cubicle, or wait for orders before taking action. People like Marc, in short.
“And he’s a convicted felon.”
“Cybercrime. Running an underground information economy, let’s put it that way. Financial data, company data, personal data, but… not just anyone’s. Certain people’s. Like the Krom Brothers.”
“So he’s Lisbeth Salander, basically.”
She blushed. “Well, he has a little more charm than that.”
“I can see that,” he teased her. “Fine. Bring him in for a meet.”
Marc had another asset that had helped him to get his billions. He was one of those people who could function on a few hours’ sleep a night. Five hours was ideal, and while four was cutting it close, he could manage. This night he’d had no sleep at all, and he felt it about 5 a.m.
He wasn’t much for the trappings of power, so his corner office wasn’t the usual CEO’s expression of wealth and might. It was about the size of a nice living room, large enough for a small group of visitors and, most importantly, a comfortable couch for napping.
Marc set the alarm on his phone for 20 minutes after sending out a Do Not Disturb message to the staff for the same amount of time. He’d sleep for 15, maybe 18, and rarely needed the alarm. But, you never knew.
He woke up seventeen minutes later, his eyes half opening to a shape in front of him. A man was squatting down in front of him, looking at him intently. A very, very good looking man in a very expensive suit, but admittedly a bit outrageous – grey pinstripes, black shirt, and white tie. He had thick dark hair, combed back, with a hint of rebellious curl to it that was only suppressed by lots of product.
The stranger’s dark green eyes suddenly sparkled, one corner of his mouth lifting into a knowing smile. He had a few days’ worth of five o’clock shadow, sculpted into something between “I’m growing a beard” and “I didn’t bother to shave.” The look in his eyes told Marc that he enjoyed having the option of saying that either one was true, as the feeling took him.
Wendy burst into the office. “Marc, I’m sorry, I told him to wait…”
Marc blinked. “So it was the Mafia, I see.”
The stranger’s eyebrows lifted. “The Mafia?”
“From your suit, it’s clear who robbed us last night. I assume you’re here to collect the ransom.”
The man laughed instantly, a rich warm laugh. Marc was a sucker for that kind of laugh. The kind that spoke volumes about a man’s intelligence, his sense of humor, his quickness of mind.
The man extended his hand. “Mr. Julian, I’m Jesse Dillinger.”
Still prone on the couch, Marc took his hand. He knew hands, too. The kind that were big from nature, the kind that were big from the gym, and this kind – that thick gnarly texture that came from hard physical labor from a young age. Marc’s own hands were gym-strong, the skin soft from indoor life and expensive moisturizers.
Jesse’s touch threw him. This was some Hollywood mogul’s idea of a hacker, Chris Hemsworth or the like. Great hackers were never this good-looking; they didn’t get up from the computer often enough to develop a grip like that. Or a jawline like that. Or skin like that…
He shook himself. No. This was business. Don’t shit where you eat. Not that he would want to have anything to do with a convicted criminal anyway, other than…well, what they needed a criminal for.
Marc rewrote the code in his head, took up the whole subroutine that had cataloged Jesse’s eyes, his grip, his laugh. Delete, he sent the command.
Jesse’s face changed as he saw Marc’s change, too. He was, Marc saw, doing exactly the same thing. Turning it off, shutting out everything that didn’t apply here, now, to this.
“Okay,” Jesse said. “My fee is $10,000 a day. Another $5,000 a day for my team.”
“Well,” Jesse said, “I’m not actually allowed to touch a computer. Terms of my parole. So I’m here to do analysis, problem solving, and delegate any software tasks to them. Like you, I hire good people whom I trust. So it’s not an issue.”
Looking at Jesse, Marc spoke to Wendy. “Wendy, what do I get for my money?”
“You get the best, Marc. Jesse comes well recommended by Charles Corbin.”
“He was a client of yours?”
“I never discuss my clients,” Jesse replied.
It was starting to feel like a staring match, but Marc wouldn’t back down. He had found that if he made someone look him in the face, in the eyes, long enough, if there was something false there, sooner or later the force of his gaze would crack the mask.
The problem this time was that there seemed to be a bug in his code. The subroutine he’d deleted kept popping back up, with its own logic – IF gorgeous THEN drool. Jesse’s eyes were so bright, so clear, the mark of a healthy, happy and smart man. Tying off this attraction, pushing his sense data away from the physical and towards the intellectual realm, was becoming difficult.
OK, he told himself. The bug exists. Denial does not solve problems. The bug is simple. He’s the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen.
The acknowledgement took away some of the power that Jesse’s face had over him. He was able to wipe away the troubling error of his attraction, and now he could just see who was in there. Was this someone he could add to his list, his very short list in this world, of people he could trust?
Jesse’s eyes didn’t waver. They met his, they…joined his. He was one of Marc’s kind, the competent, the dependable, the unbullshittable.
But that didn’t mean he was a good person. Lots of bad people were good at what they did. Jesse was a convicted felon, Marc had to remind himself.
He always had to make fast decisions. He decided that he didn’t have much choice. He had to trust Jesse – as far as he could throw him, for now. No more than that.
“Well. Let’s talk about what you can do for me, and we’ll see.”
It was strange to Marc, working with someone who didn’t have a computer in front of him. Instead, Jesse’s assistant had brought in a whiteboard and an easel with a flip chart.
“So let’s start at the beginning,” Jesse said briskly. “Your greatest enemy isn’t the cold malevolent hacker. Wendy,” he nodded at her, “has that covered very well from what I’ve seen.”
Wendy looked at her phone. “I gotta go to Forensics, we’ve got more info on the intrusion.”
Marc waved her out. “Go. Let me know what you find.”
“Did you hear that story about the Syrian government’s hackers?” Jesse asked him.
“Yes, the ones who posed as sexy women online to dupe the Syrian rebels into giving up secrets.”
Jesse nodded. “The hackers flirted with them on Skype, got them to reveal what kind of device they were on, and then sent a sexy photo.”
“That, when clicked, downloaded the appropriate malware for their device,” Marc concluded. “Is that a possibility here?”
Jesse wrote SOCIAL ENGINEERING on the whiteboard. “It is. That’s your greatest enemy – the sweet charming grifter who makes people feel safe, then steals their secrets.”
“That sounds like you.”
Jesse laughed that rich golden laugh again, making Marc shiver below the belt. Shit, I shouldn’t have said that.
“It takes a thief to catch a thief,” Jesse said. “A con to catch a con. You’re not the security risk here, I can see.”
“Why’s that?” Marc asked, already knowing the answer.
Jesse looked at Marc, intently. “You’re the suspicious type. Which is good. That’s what I need to do for you – make all your people into the suspicious types. You hire the independent, the freethinkers, the rule breakers. And that’s great for creativity. But it’s terrible for security.”
“It’s worth the risk. Rule-following drones never made a new thing in their lives.”
“No argument from me. I actually followed your example when I started my own company.”
Jesse nodded. “You said to the Wall Street Journal, um…” He looked off and squinted as if trying to remember something. “ ‘I don’t hire Orderly Marchers. I don’t give a shit about your college GPA or your extracurriculars or your volunteer work. I’m not looking for people who’ve spent their whole lives learning how to game a system, how to take a test, how to look good on paper.’”
“That’s verbatim, congratulations. You’ve done your homework.”
Jesse’s face was serious now. “Yes. I keep up with the news. And you’re an interesting case study. So I was prepared when Wendy called me.”
He paused, looking intently at Marc. His eyes, Marc thought, shit, they were so bright and beautiful… Delete! Delete!
“You need outside help, and you hate that. It wasn’t natural for you, trusting people. It takes you a long time to really trust them. You never micromanaged your hires, but you watched them, closely, for some time, didn’t you?”
“I feel like I’m being profiled. Like a serial killer.”
Jesse nodded. “You are. I’m profiling you to prove to you what I can do.”
“You ever heard of Sturgeon’s Revelation?”
“Yes,” Jesse said, smiling.
“‘Ninety percent of everything is crap.’ He was talking about art, and commercial goods, but I’d include people in that. Ten percent are competent. Of that ten percent, one percent are great at what they do. The rest are deadwood, filler, drudges.”
“No argument from me.”
Marc took a sip of coffee. “So. Enlighten me. Tell me why you and your team are not part of the ninety percent.”
“We’re part of the one percent. The best. I have a very good team of technicians, and they will track down your culprit. These are people who’ve worked for Mandiant, for the NSA, for companies you’ve never heard of because, like mine, they don’t issue public papers on security or attend public conferences or have owners who blog.”
“But you’re a public figure. You went to prison.”
There it was, the tell that Marc looked for when assessing someone. Just a flicker in Jesse’s eyes, a blink, a…glazed look on his face, a blip in the charm. A powerful memory.
Then he was back. “Yes, I did. But, I’m not a public figure anymore. Nobody who writes ‘true cybercrime’ articles for WIRED cares ‘whatever happened to’ Jesse Dillinger. And when they do care, I dissuade them from caring any longer. Nowadays, I handle situations like this. You don’t want it publicized, and neither do I. You’re a private corporation, and you don’t have the level of transparency that a public one would have.”
“Yeah, I have VC to answer to, but no public stockholders.”
“Which is perfect. Venture capitalists don’t want bad publicity either.”
“So…if you can’t touch a computer, what do you do for me for your 10k a day?”
Jesse went back to the whiteboard and wrote THE HUMAN EQUATION.
“That’s the other part of any technological equation. The human equation. I’m good with people.”
“Yeah I can see that. You’re very…Don Draper.”
Jesse laughed, delighted. “Okay. Exactly. A con man. That’s right. What I’m going to do is try and con your people, using social engineering. See who’s vulnerable. See who fell for something they don’t even remember when your security guy asks them about what caused the intrusion.”
“So you basically con your way through my organization, finding weak links.”
“And I have no way of knowing if you’ll take what you’ve learned, turn around, and tear my company to bits, do I. You’ve done it before.” Details were coming back to Marc now, bits and pieces from the news, how many years ago? There had been so many “hacker trials” lately.
Marc could see the tension behind Jesse’s smile – the flicker was held back this time. “Yes. I have destroyed companies. With good reason. If you have something to hide, something that might make me want to destroy yours, you’d better fire me now.”
Marc’s eyes widened. He wanted to ask more questions about that. But something told him to leave it be. There was an anger there, behind the smile, behind the charm.
“I don’t believe I do, no. No secret handshakes with Darth Vader or anything like that.”
Marc tapped his chin, thinking. Jesse waited patiently. It didn’t take long.
“Okay. You’re hired.”
“Great. Your first duty is to get some sleep. I’m going to make some calls, get my people in here.”
Marc stifled a yawn. “Fine. Wendy will get them badges and all that. I’ll talk to you in a few hours.”
Jesse nodded, turning as he walked out, so his face was in profile. “Sweet dreams.”
“Thanks,” Marc said. He had a feeling they would be.