The Reset Manifesto
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
Rebecca said, “Peter always had such an eclectic group of people around him.”
“What do you mean?” Charles asked.
Peter was his older brother, but they had never been all that close after leaving home. After Peter had gone off to the university, the only times he returned home were holidays. Once Peter had a full time job, even the holiday visits came to an end.
Of course, Charles had been busy as well. First it was a law school, then years spent as a clerk, time spent developing a reputation as a prosecutor before becoming a judge. There was talk of him being a candidate for the Supreme Court. He had far greater responsibilities than Peter and he was able to make time for family.
Although Peter ran a small Internet order business, it seemed to him that his brother always had an excuse for not being able to visit. It was the holiday seasons and he had to stay around the office to process orders. He had to travel off to some exotic location to check out a new product line. He had to stay around to negotiate something or another. There was an investment possibility that he had to pursue. There were a hundred excuses why he couldn’t come by for a visit.
“He knew politicians, business leaders, artists, authors, scientists, and religious leaders.”
George said, “I remember that author who used to stop by for a visit. I never understood how she came to know Dad. What did Dad have to do with writers?”
“You’re thinking of Ann Randal.”
Perking up on hearing the name of the authoress, Charles said, “Ann Randal? She always claimed that her series, Revolution in the Tranton System, was a result of having met Dr. Bowlings.”
Patricia said, “Her series really captured the mood in this country right through the time of riots.”
Peter decided that the biggest problem with waiting to meet someone at a coffee shop was drinking too much coffee, and the subsequent trips to the restroom that it produced. He returned from the restroom and glanced around the room hoping to spot his quarry. Disappointed, he went over to the table he had staked out. He looked down at the half cup of coffee that remained, wondering if he could actually finish it.
He picked up the novel he was reading with a sigh. It was a printed book; one of those fading relics of literature printed on paper with a hardback cover and produced by one of the largest publishers of Science Fiction. He much preferred eBooks, but this particular copy was a gift; one that was necessary in this situation. He settled in to read a page, upon finishing each page he took a quick glance around and then went on to read the next one. He’d been there long enough that the manager was getting nervous. Peter took another sip of his coffee, only now it was tepid and bitter. There was a slight film of oil floating on the coffee, perfectly natural for it to be there, but not quite so tasty.
About the time he was ready to give up, the woman he had been waiting for finally arrived. He watched her head over to the counter and order her coffee. She was a very attractive woman with a shapely figure, but her best feature was her long brown hair that came down to the middle of her back and the bangs that were cut straight just above her eyebrows. He could see why she had the troubles she had. Intelligent and attractive, that was a very compelling combination.
He watched her complete the transaction and head over to the condiments. She grabbed one of the cup sleeves and a napkin before heading over to a small table with two chairs. She took a sip of her coffee through the lid, and wrinkled her face when the hot liquid burned her mouth. She put the cup down and then unpacked her laptop. It took her a full minute to arrange things just so.
Peter went over to her table and sat in the second chair. Seeing him approach, her hand slipped down into her purse. He smiled. She didn’t.
“You won’t need that mace,” Peter said in a conversational tone of voice.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“You’re right. It is better to be safe than sorry, particularly when you have a stalker who has been making strange calls to you in the middle of the night.”
The mace made its appearance.
“The gentleman — I use that term loosely — who has been stalking you received a tweet sent from your Twitter account that you were visiting a small bar in Manhattan for a business meeting.”
“I don’t have a Twitter account.”
“I know, but he doesn’t know that. He was greeted on his arrival there by a rather large and mean individual. I have been assured that your stalking problem is ended.”
“It seems to me that I’ve traded one stalker for another.”
Peter laughed. “Appearances can be deceiving. I am somewhat of a fan of your work, but the large individual who rid you of a problem is a huge fan of yours.”
He held up the hardcover book and said, “I promised to get an autographed copy of this book for him. I’d appreciate it if you would sign it for him.”
“Look, all I want to do is enjoy my coffee while reading my email. I have a book signing two weeks from now at the Soho Book Market. Either you or your friend can get in line there and I’ll sign the book.”
“I know all about your meet-the-author session at the bookstore. It’s the Manhattan Book Market where the signing is taking place, not the Soho Book Market. You also have a book signing in Philadelphia in three days. There is a professor of political science who teaches in a university in the area that you need to meet.”
“He can get in line like everyone else if he wants to meet me.”
Peter shook his head and said, “He doesn’t want or need to meet you. In fact, I’d be quite surprised if he even knew who you are. You need to meet him.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. The man is a genius. If you want your series, Revolution in the Tranton, to be successful, then you need to sit down and talk to him.”
“It’s not a series.”
“I know. I’ve seen the outline and read the first two chapters. You are definitely thinking too small. You can’t possibly build up that sense of social pressures that would trigger a revolution as you describe in your outline in two chapters. Get real.
“I know you’re trying to capture what is happening in this country today. Look around you. The current political crisis has been building for decades. You have the people storming the capital without any kind of plan in place for solving the problems of the world, yet in one chapter you have a whole new system put into place.
“I hate to tell you this, but the world doesn’t work that way.”
“Oh. You work for my publisher?”
“No. I have an acquaintance who works in the IT department there. Actually, he’s the head of it. He owed me a favor for getting his university tuition paid in full for two years, and for getting him the job at your publisher. He installed a little script on one of the servers there that periodically combs through submitted manuscripts looking for stories that meet certain criteria of interest to me. It identified your manuscript and put me on the list of external marketing reviewers for it.
“They sent me a copy of your manuscript, I read it, felt it had potential, and well ... here we are.”
“That sounds illegal.”
“If it makes you feel any better, just look at it like I recommended me for the job, but did so without talking to anyone.”
She stared at him wondering if she should send him packing or listen to what he had to say. One thing was sure: she was definitely going to talk to the publisher about what he had done.
“Miss Ann Randal, the American system is broken. It’s corrupt, and it’s broken. It’s tottering on the brink of bankruptcy. The people in this country are on the verge of losing their collective temper. The symptoms are all there. We’ve had the Tea Party, March on Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Anonymous. Violence is on the rise. None of those movements have changed anything except to increase the feeling of impotence amongst the American people.
“This isn’t a problem that can be solved by waving a magic wand. It is going to require a plan; a plan that can take us from this point to a position of stability. It is going to take a great deal of care to maneuver the country through the upcoming years. One slip, one mistake, and it will turn into a third-world country.
“You have a great talent as a writer. You excel at writing about the emotional and the social, but you know almost nothing about the political. Your well-meaning attempt to provide a lasting social commentary will fail if you don’t get a handle on the political side of the story.
“You need to capture the anger that builds when people start realizing they live under a one-party system that wears two masks; masks which hide the interlocking stranglehold of banking, the ‘so called’ political parties, the mega-wealthy, and big business. You need to capture the outrage that follows when people recognize the full extent of the lies that flow from the power brokers to the masses with the pretext of ‘helping us’ when they are, in fact, robbing us blind. You have to expose the contempt with which the average person is held by the elite.
“A great story can be written about the working innards of corruption if the appropriate care is taken. You have that talent. You can weave a story in which the elite get wealthier and bolder; the masses get poorer and angrier; and the situation ever more fragile. You can capture it with the kind of clarity that will reach out and grab the reader by the heart, by the throat, and by the mind.
“That story will be the first in your series. It will end with the country on the verge of collapse.”
She said, “It seems to me that you have it all mapped out. Why don’t you write the story?”
Peter shrugged his shoulders negligently and answered, “I would if I had the ability, but story telling is not my forte. I am a tool user. I use tools to solve complex problems. Sometimes I wield a scalpel and sometimes I use a sledgehammer. The gentleman who took care of your stalker is a sledgehammer. He has all of the subtlety of a mad elephant.
“To be brutally honest, I’m here to use you to implement part of my solution to a dire problem. I’m praying that I’ve found an extremely fine pair of tweezers in you. I’m hoping that you can reach into a knotted mass and extract the one thread capable of creating order out of chaos.
“And what will you get in return? I can give you a lot. Would you like access to the most powerful research tool that you can possibly imagine? How about collaborating with one of the most brilliant political minds in the country? Maybe you’d enjoy having a conduit to an expert on any subject matter you need to learn about.”
“Prove that you can provide me with all of that.”
Knowing full well that she’d refuse, he said, “Open your email program. I’ll send you a link.”
Waving a finger at him, she replied, “I can’t receive email on this computer. It doesn’t have an internet card. Nothing goes out of my machine except what I want to go out. Nothing comes in that I don’t want in. This machine is Nike net only. The only files that get on this machine have passed through a one use only virtual machine that scrubs any binary that might be incorporated in a file. I deal with plain text only.”
Peter smiled knowing that she had no idea just how much she had told him. There were only a handful of guys in the world who were that paranoid. Only two lived in this country. Peter was one of the two. The other one of them, Samson, came from the same town in which she had spent her childhood.
One of the things Peter had worried about was letting her loose with his program. There were a number of very powerful people who were on his do-not-search list only because they had people who scoured the Internet removing all references possible to them. They were connected to publishers who wouldn’t print a word about them unless it came from them directly.
Do you think you know who is the richest man in the world? You just read a list naming them, right? Sorry, but the richest men in the world don’t appear on that list; and if there is a list containing them, the entry detailing their wealth is empty. The ones on the widely published lists of the wealthy are the nouveau riche (new money) and the vieux riche (old money), but there’s a third group, who fall outside of both those categories. One could call that group the dynastique riche (dynastic money). These are families like the Rothschilds, who (with branches of the family in France, Great Britain, Austria, and Naples) control more than a trillion dollars.
Having Samson take over an instance of his system would put a buffer between him and trouble. If anyone could keep Ann from getting in over her head, it would be Samson. After all, Samson had written some of the programs incorporated into his system.
Direct contact with Samson could be an issue, but he had known the day would come when he would have to meet with one of the hacker elite face to face. There were too many powerful people who were able to hide too many of their activities from the world at large. A lot of those activities had to be brought to light if there were to be any substantive changes in the world.
Coming to a decision that it was time to expand his operation, he said, “That explains why I couldn’t find anyone who had managed to hack into any of your systems. If anything about you impressed me, it was that. I knew that you had to have found a good guy to set up your systems, and that you maintain security discipline.”
“Most people don’t realize just how dangerous the Internet is. My father was a victim of identity theft and it nearly ruined him. He’s never really recovered from it.”
“You’re lucky to have Samson taking care of your machines. He’s very good at what he does. From what I’ve heard of him, he’s a big fan of yours.”
Her eyebrows climbed up high enough to be hidden by her bangs. No one knew about Samson except for a very elite few. He had been the boy next door and had come to her father’s help when his identity had been stolen. They were friends, not lovers, but she valued his friendship immensely.
“You know Samson?”
Peter answered, “I know of Alan Barton, known only as Samson among the hacker elite. We’ve never met, but what you described is a Samson trademark. He’s a big fan of single-run virtual machines. He’s willing to accept the overhead of only storing encrypted files. He’s a fanatic about scrubbing files. He won’t load a binary on a machine unless he’s compiled it himself from source code. He won’t compile source code until it has undergone extensive automated analysis. He’s about as paranoid as they come.”
“Does he know you?”
“I seriously doubt it. My IT guys are even more paranoid.”
Peter knew that no matter how careful he was about his real-world identity, there was an incredible amount of information existing on the Internet about him that could be accessed with great ease. You could control what you advertised about yourself, but there was nothing you could do about what others posted about you. It was even worse than that. Schools, banks, and businesses all stored information about everyone with whom they had a business relationship. None of them were safe from hackers. Every link a person followed on the internet was tracked, correlated, and subject to analysis. A handful of companies held that information. None of them, despite reputations to the contrary, were safe from hackers.
It wasn’t the real world identity that had to be protected. It was the secret identity that one used to traverse the back alleys of the Internet, the Darknet, that had to be jealously protected. The secret persona never did business with a bank, attended schools, or bought and sold things. It lived in the shadows providing its real world owner information that others wanted to protect from people like him. It adopted and dropped identities with extreme frequency. It borrowed identities and created them when necessary.
“You never did introduce yourself.”
“I’m Peter Moore.”
“It’s nice to meet you Peter Moore. Do you have a middle name?”
“Kevin. Would you like a social security number to go with that?”
“Sorry, but I have to say no. Samson will have to work for that one.”
“You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
Peter opened his backpack and pulled out a tablet. With just a few touches on the screen he had access to a program that connected to his secret server. Then he went through the actual process of connecting with the server. It wasn’t a direct connection, but one that went through a dozen encrypted hops. Each hop was selected at random from a list of servers. Even then, the connections would be periodically rerouted even as data was being exchanged. The purpose of all that wasn’t even to protect the data. That was impossible. Anything that went into computer memory could be monitored. The real purpose was to complicate the process of identifying the two terminal ends of the connection.
He asked, “Is there anyone you would like to know about?”
“Try someone else,” Peter said.
“Baron David René de Rothschild.”
What a magnificent answer! She had taken him completely by surprise with that one. With her mind she was exactly the kind of woman with whom he could fall in love. Add in her good looks and it was a miracle he wasn’t drooling all over her.
He tapped on the screen for a bit making sure to hit the query filters that would avoid attracting attention from any of the hundreds of IT people who took care of the Rothschild empire. He was about to submit the query when he realized that he was being stupid. Queries about Baron David René de Rothschild would hit locations that would sound alarms all around the world. That was inevitable.
He would run a lesser query and allow Samson to assist her in making a fuller search in the future. Samson would know that it had to be done slowly, a few probes here and there a day. A massive barrage of queries would set off alarms.
Looking up at her, he said, “It will take about thirty minutes to set up the search.”
“Why so long?”
“Gathering information about Baron David René de Rothschild is a billion times more difficult than gathering personal information about the President, and at least a hundred times more dangerous.”
A tool user has an interesting mindset that differs from most folks. Everyone realizes that you can’t gouge a nice square cut through a piece of wood with a fingernail. It requires a special kind of tool to achieve that. A craftsman, a kind of highly trained tool user, will collect a number of tools and select the proper one to use to accomplish a specific task. He knows which tool to use and how to use it to best effect. A master craftsman learns how to create tools as needed, such as a pantograph to trace, a jig to repeatedly create identical products, and templates that allow one to create products with precision.
As Peter had said about himself, he was a tool user. In fact, he was a master craftsman who had a secret. There were simple tools, there were automated tools, and there were intelligent tools. He knew when to choose which kind of tool to use. In this case, he chose an automated tool. A simple tool would have been too direct and an intelligent tool would have been too slow. He couldn’t have created that tool to save his life, but he had long ago found the proper intelligent tool to create it for him. In an irony of ironies, the intelligent tool he had found was none other than Samson.
He backed out and brought up the program developed by Samson. Samson had called it a trawler, a variant of a mobile aglet. As far as Peter knew, it was a one-of-a-kind program. Did he understand how it worked? Not at all. Did he know how to use it? Yes, he did. He put it to work.
“I’ve started the search,” Peter said. Feeling the effects of all of the coffee that he had consumed while waiting for her to arrive, he said, “If you’ll excuse me for a minute ... Nature calls.”
“Go ahead, I’ll just wait here.”
Peter headed off to the bathroom to empty his bladder. He carried his tablet with him. It made it rather awkward to hold it and use the urinal at the same time, but the tablet had become a security liability. He’d have to destroy it after it returned the result of this search.
He returned to the table to find Ann returning her cell phone to her purse. She looked at him and said, “Samson did a quick search about you. You’re a student at the University of Pennsylvania and currently working for Dr. Bowlings. He was rather concerned by what happened after that.”
“IvanNoobie sent him a message to back off.”
“He shouldn’t have done that. Now Samson is going to be curious.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Peter Moore.”
She gave him one of those looks.
He held out the tablet and said, “The results of our search are coming in.”
“Let me look at it.”
Ann Randal watched the data slowly scroll by. To say that she fascinated by what she was seeing would be an understatement. At one time she had planned on having a main character in her book patterned after Baron David René de Rothschild. However, the amount of material about the man on the Internet was minuscule. Now she was reading details about all of the holding companies that he controlled along with the companies they controlled. In addition, the names of other people associated with the upper levels of those companies showed up, with details about their relationship to the Baron. There were links to every national leader in the world.
“My God! I had no idea how powerful he is.”
“If you follow all of the links from him, you’ll find that anyone who is anyone is connected by no more than two degrees of separation. He can reach out and touch anyone who controls more than ten million dollars with a single telephone call.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve been tracing who other powerful people are linked to. It’s easier to find information about who deals with him than about him, yet they all have a little note that ties them to him. Pulling all of that together, you get a very interesting picture of who he is.”
“He’s one of a handful of billionaires who doesn’t appear on any list of billionaires. I find that ... disturbing,” Peter said.
“I can see why.”
“Will you visit Professor Bowlings?”
“Yes. I can incorporate so much more information in my book with a tool like that.”
“Excellent! Now, give me the tablet so that I can erase everything,” Peter said.
Reluctantly, she handed him the tablet. He exited from the programs. The downloaded information was still on it for the moment, but he’d take care of that soon enough. He had one more thing to do. He composed an email to one of Samson’s accounts. The subject line was, ‘SHA-256(x) = ‘TheWorldNeedsWhiteHatHackers’ Solve for x given any private key y.’ The body contained an invitation to meet in Alexandria, Virginia. He sent it from his IvanNoobie account. He turned off the tablet.
Holding up the book, he said, “I’d really appreciate it if you would sign this. The guy is a very big fan of yours and he would be eternally grateful.”
“Who should I make it out for?”
“You say he’s solved my stalker problem?”
“Definitely. The guy isn’t dead or bleeding, but he’s definitely terrified.”
She wrote a nice little note thanking George for making her feel safer and then signed it. Peter smiled upon reading it. George would definitely appreciate it. He fished a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out for her to take.
“This is his name and number. You should call him if you ever get scared. A brilliant and attractive woman like you should have a guardian angel on call.”
“Can I trust him?”
“I suggest that you investigate him once I hand off full access to my research tool to you. I’ll let you decide if you can trust him or not.”
Thirty minutes later, Peter walked into a small computer store which advertised custom computers and computer repairs. The guy at the counter asked, “What can I do for you?”
Holding up the tablet, Peter answered, “I need to nuke this.”
The guy held out a hand.
“I said that I need to nuke it.”
The guy chuckled. “Come on in back. I’ll let you drop it in the degausser yourself.”
It only took a minute for the degausser to destroy the tablet. There wasn’t much to see. He put it into a drawer, pushed a button, it took a little time to charge, and then there was a muffled popping noise. Peter took the tablet out and tried to turn it on. It was dead, dead, dead with no chance of resurrection.
“I’ve got a shredder if you want to completely destroy it.”
“I was about to ask about that.”
Peter watched the machine gobble up his tablet and spit out little pieces of plastic, silicon, and metal. The machine itself looked like an oversized paper shredder except that the teeth on it were larger and harder. The electronics had been fried and now it was mangled into tiny pieces.
“Is that a disintegrator?”
“You are one paranoid individual, aren’t you?”
“And you’re not?”
The guy looked around sheepishly, as if he had been caught with his hand in a cookie jar. He said, “That’s a disintegrator.”
“Let’s toss the bits and pieces into it,” Peter said.
They watched the machine slice and dice the remains of the tablet until it was impossible to tell what kind of device the remaining flakes even came from.
“Nope. The real life identities of a number of the elite, including HashMaster.”
The man looked startled and then said, “HashMaster? He’s batshit crazy.”
“Yep. I’ve always wondered how he picked that handle.”
“I have no idea,” the man said looking at him out of the corner of his eye.
“That machine does a pretty good job of chopping that stuff up.”
“Yes, it does. Most of the men who come in here wanting that kind of treatment for their hard drives usually have child porn on them. Some of the stupid ones will hand it over to me. They get treated to a nice long stay in jail after I turn it over to LE. I hate those bastards.”
“I know what you mean. There are some people who just don’t deserve to be running loose,” Peter said.
The machine came to a stop. The sudden silence was startling.
Satisfied that no one was going to reconstruct his device, he asked, “How much?”
Peter pulled out his wallet and removed a hundred dollar bill. He handed it over. The man took it and put it into his pocket. There would be no receipts for this transaction. Peter headed towards the door, then came to a stop.
“How did you come up with the handle, HashMaster?”
The man looked at Peter with a face like he’d been sucking on a lemon. He had assumed that Peter was just name dropping earlier. He answered, “I was the only one in my data structures class to get a perfect grade on a hash table assignment. One of my classmates called me that. I liked it.”
“That makes sense. Keep wearing the white hat.”
“Always have and always will.”
“And stay out of politics.”
“No can do. Who the f•©k are you?”
“I have a little puzzle for you to solve. SHA-256(x) = ‘TheWorldNeedsWhiteHatHackers’ Solve for x given any private key y.”
SHA-256 is an encryption algorithm that turns a simple string into a hash value that is 256 bits long, which, when rendered as ASCII text, produces a string that is 32 characters long. The value produced by the algorithm depends upon private keys which are different from machine to machine. Thus, the same string will have different SHA-256 values depending upon the machine which does the encrypting. Having TheWorldNeedsWhiteHatHackers appearing in a field containing an encrypted password was the kind of random result that raised eyebrows. The fact that it appeared in database after database did more than raise eyebrows. It was a direct challenge to people who were used to defeating challenges like that with ease, but none of them had managed it yet.
The man suddenly had an expression on his face like someone had kicked him in the groin out of the clear blue sky. He had lost more sleep than was worth mentioning trying to figure out the answer to that question. Only a few people in the world were even aware of the problem.
He said, “A lot of very smart people have been trying to solve that one ever since it started appearing in encrypted databases!”
“I know. Stay out of politics.”
“We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
Peter looked at him knowing that one day in the future he would be calling on the man in a completely different capacity, one related to this exchange. That particular group had a role to play that was far greater than any of them could imagine. While membership in that group was informal and basically self-declared, the group itself was amazingly effective.
“One day, Samson will contact you. Listen to him. Please.”
“Are you Samson?”
“No. When he contacts you, pay attention to what he says.”
“No one ignores Samson.”
“I have to leave now. There’s an important errand I must run.”
Peter did not have that much experience driving a car through insane traffic, and insane was the only way to describe what he was experiencing. He couldn’t get over how New Yorkers drove. It seemed to him that they’d turn a street into five lanes even if it was only four lanes wide. People double parked their cars and trucks stopped in the street to make deliveries to the small stores lining the streets, thereby creating choke points in the traffic. Taxi cabs moved from lane to lane without apparent regard for the car that was already occupying it.
He thought the regular streets were bad until he got onto Grand Central Parkway. In addition to the overly aggressive drivers, there was the poor quality of the road. It seemed to him that it had potholes the size of the Grand Canyon. Occasionally, a car would swerve to avoid one of the larger pits and that would cause traffic in all of the lanes to go crazy. It made him sick to his stomach to think that he was paying a toll to drive on such a poor roadway.
It seemed to him that if a company could pay a half a billion dollars to get its name on a football stadium that the city where that stadium is located should be able to afford to fix its streets. One might think it was unfair to compare a company paying a team owner to advertise on the stadium with a city fixing streets, but the problem was that the city used taxpayer money to build the stadium. Taxes went up, moneys were shunted over to the project, and the owner of the team gets all of the benefit of tax breaks and a new stadium? Somehow, that didn’t seem right to Peter. Shouldn’t the city get the income for advertising until the bonds are paid off?
Die hard sports fans might consider him un-American for thinking that sports teams should have to pay their own way without taxpayer involvement. His argument was that the professional teams were not charities, but were there to make a profit. It’s strange when people dismiss the idea of a free market economy when it is for their entertainment. They allow themselves to be fleeced like sheep. Those kinds of upside-down rationales were all part and parcel of the corruption loose in the country.
His car hit another pothole that nearly tore the steering wheel out of his hand. Despite the poor quality of the road, he was getting passed left and right. A jacked up truck, obviously rigged for cross country use, didn’t seem to have much of a problem with the poor quality of the road. Peter figured he should have rented one of those rather than the sedan. He hit another pothole. He was ready to swear that it had jarred the front-end of the car out of alignment. A car near him was driving along with a front wheel wobbling like it was about to fall off. The driver still pushed it up to sixty despite the fact that his steering wheel had to be vibrating so much that he could barely hold it.
Peter was thankful to finally get off the highway and onto the city streets. The nature of the neighborhoods here was a lot different than those back in Queens. It wasn’t that the buildings seemed to be in worse shape. There was just this subtle atmosphere of quiet despair, sullen anger, and distrust. There was a name for that: poverty.
Every election year, the people of this neighborhood were promised the most. Between elections, they received the least. The population density was high, but there were no businesses nearby which could hire them. Those with jobs had to travel outside the neighborhood on poor quality public transportation that took them to neighborhoods that were either industrial or a stark contrast of affluence to where they lived.
He turned off the main road. The quality of the buildings got worse. The mood of the people had a harsher edge to it. He then became aware of something that had almost passed his notice. It was the cars that were parked along the streets. They weren’t old clunkers that barely ran. The distribution of age differences among the cars was about the same as in the more affluent areas he had driven through, but averaged a couple of years older. They didn’t look to be in disrepair. There was poverty here, but it wasn’t impoverished.
There were people of all ages out and walking around. The youngest looked and acted like young kids everywhere. There was a brightness and eagerness to them. Those who were in their teens seemed to have attitudes that spanned youthful energy all of the way to sullen anger. Those in their early twenties seemed more muted in attitude of the teenagers. It was as if they had settled into an attitude, but had lost the energy to show it quite so much. The middle aged seemed tired and beaten. The elderly manifested a bone deep tiredness and moved stiffly.
He spotted someone who he recognized from his research. He had searched for a special kind of person and only a handful of names in the country popped up. Even among that small list, Martin Phillips was unique. He was a college educated gang leader with a degree in social studies. He had graduated magna cum laude. Although he wasn’t prepared to meet with Martin, this was a chance that he couldn’t pass up.
There wasn’t any parking available along the street, so he pulled over and double parked like so many New Yorkers did. His action was immediately noticed by Martin Phillips and the small crew that was gathered around him. Peter got out of his car and pulled out his backpack. Every eye was on him as if they were trying to size him up. What was a small little white guy like him doing in a neighborhood like this? Was he a cop? The tension among the group increased when he headed in their direction.
“Martin Phillips, I want to talk to you.”
“What the f•©k do you want?” one of the men around Phillips asked.
Several of the group moved to block Peter. There was a bit of consternation at the fact that the little white guy didn’t appear to be intimidated by them. That meant one thing – he had to be a cop.
“Martin Phillips graduate, Magna Cum Laude, from George Washington University with an honors thesis entitled,” Peter tried to remember the exact title of the thesis, “Economics of Crime: Help or Hindrance in the Inner City.”
“Ghetto. Help or Hindrance in the Ghetto,” Martin said.
“My apologies, I was not prepared to meet you at this time. Sometimes my memory is not as perfect as I would like.”
“I’ll admit it is an awkward title, but the reasoning in my thesis is solid,” Martin said with more than a little pride in his voice.
“That’s what put you at the top of my list of special people,” Peter said. “However, I did not expect to involve you for at least another two years. Running into you like this was just too fortunate to ignore.”
“What do you want?”
“We need to talk.”
“F•©k! He’s not a cop. He’s a hit man.”
Giving him a look that should have withered him where he stood, Peter said, “Franklin Jones! Don’t be a fool.”
He would have been all over Peter except Martin had grabbed his arm and held him back. The little guy intrigued him and he wanted to hear what he had to say. It was the first time that anyone had ever greeted him with a recognition of his greatest success in life. The respect it showed had to be acknowledged.
Interrupting him, Peter said, “As second in command, you should have moved people in to protect Martin rather than flap your mouth like an idiot.”
Incensed, Franklin moved in ready to kill the white asshole. He might have done something stupid, but a little guy like him wasn’t going to rub his nose in it.
“Knock it off, Frankie. He’s right and you know it. I’ll talk to the man.”
“Aren’t you curious about the fact that he knows your name?”
Peter and Martin moved off to the side, staying within sight of the others, but far enough away that no one could listen in on the conversation. It was an animated discussion, despite being held in soft tones. Martin’s initial reaction was one of disbelief, but as the conversation continued he became increasingly more interested and involved. By the time it was over, Martin was the one who extended a hand for a handshake.
When they returned to the group, Martin said, “Frankie, go with him. He’s to be protected at all costs. No one is to harm him.”
“Me? Why me?”
“People know you. They’ll listen to you.”
Peter drove off with Franklin in the passenger seat. The man didn’t look happy at all with being there. Still, Martin was the boss and what he ordered was done.
“It’s a rental. I don’t own a car.”
“Where are we going?”
“I’m paying off a debt.”
“You came into this neighborhood to pay off a debt?”
“Yes. My honor demands it. The man I owe did something far greater than he realizes.”
“What did he do?”
“What kind of favor?”
“One that meant a lot to me.”
“Talking to you is like talking to one of those Buddhist wise guys. Can’t you answer a simple question?”
Peter laughed. The address that he was going to was just ahead and there was a parking spot. He pulled into it and parked the car.
“You’re going in there?”
“You’re crazy even for a white guy. This has got to be the worst place in the entire area.”
“I didn’t choose where he lived,” Peter said.
“A white guy could get killed in there.”
“I can take care of myself,” Peter said.
Still laughing, Franklin walked beside him as they approached the building. Peter was carrying his backpack as always. Upon reaching the door, Peter held it open for the other to enter. He could tell that Franklin was not happy about going into the building.
“I’m going up to the fourth floor. You can visit your mother, if you’d like. I’ll come get you when I’m done.”
With his head swiveling to look at Peter, Franklin walked into the door jam. He backed up while rubbing his shoulder and staring at Peter.
Peter said, “That’s how I take care of myself. I use my brain and what I know.”
“You know things you shouldn’t know.”
“That’s the kind of knowledge that is most effective.”
Ignoring the trash that littered the floor, Peter knocked on the door of apartment 416. He could hear kids shouting that someone was at the door and a man answering them. He waited patiently. A big burly man answered the door with a glower on his face.
Peter held up the book and said, “Mr. Ackerman, with the compliments of Miss Randal. She appreciates what you did for her.”
The expression on the man’s face turned emotional, as if tears were about to flow. He reached out and took the book reverently.
“It was my pleasure,” George answered. He looked at the book and, in a soft voice, added, “It’s her newest one, too. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.”
Peter held up an envelope and said, “This is my personal thanks.”
“What is it?”
“A gift certificate to Toys R Us. Christmas is coming and I heard that Santa Claus needs a helping hand.”
Looking over his shoulder into the apartment, he said, “Thank you.”
“There’s also an address in there for a job in a tire store. It’s not a great job and the pay is lousy, but it was all I could arrange on such short notice.”
“That’s okay. There’s nothing I need more than a job. I’ll be happy with a shitty job for shitty pay.”
“Mr. Ackerman, you don’t know what you did, but I can tell you one thing. You saved the life of one of the ten most important people in the country. Miss Randal is a national treasure.”
“You’re right to call her a national treasure. I was just returning the favor. She saved me at the darkest time of my life. I don’t know if I would have had the strength and fortitude to live if it wasn’t for her book. It wasn’t even my book. It belonged to Sergeant Wells who died in the explosion.”
“Those days are behind you, now. You’ve done your duty to God and Country,” Peter said. “I perhaps overstepped my bounds, but I gave her your name and telephone number. I told her to call you if she’s ever in trouble. Please help her if you can.”
“Sir, I will do my best for her.”
“I’m sure you will, and I’m confident that your best will be more than enough. It always has been in the past. Good luck.”
“Thanks for everything.”
Peter turned and walked away. George Ackerman watched him until he disappeared down the stairs. He looked at the book and the envelope. Only five minutes of work and he received a treasure, a job, and a Christmas for his kids. He didn’t even know the name of the man who made it all possible.
Two floors down, Peter stopped in front of an apartment door and knocked. It was opened by an older woman. She was in her late thirties, but had that worn out jaded manner of a career waitress. Too many hours on her feet, and having to deal with an excess of surly customers had left their mark on her. She stared at him as if he was the oddest thing she’d ever seen.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Jones.”
She called over her shoulder, “There’s a white boy at the door.”
“Let him in.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
He entered the apartment. It was exceptionally neat and clean in contrast to the hallways of the building. A large display on the wall caught his attention. He went over to the display and studied it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who collects spoons before.”
“My granddaddy was in the Navy. He picked them up in his travels. My daddy joined the Navy when he was old enough, and continued the tradition. I’m all that’s left of the family and inherited them.”
“Hong Kong. Singapore. Your grandfather must have been stationed in the Pacific.”
“Judging by the newer spoons, your father must have been stationed in Europe.”
“He was lucky he didn’t have to go to Vietnam.”
“That was before his time.”
“My error,” Peter said. “If I recall correctly, I saw an interesting silver spoon on display in an antique shop several months ago. I believe it was from China and was made around 1900 or so. The handle of the spoon is an ornate dragon body. The bowl of the spoon was its tongue. If it is still available, I’ll send it to you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Your son is going to be doing me a favor. Let’s just say that it is part of returning the favor.”
“What the f•©k am I going to do for you?”
“Franklin James Jones! Watch your language!”
“Would you like some coffee and cake?”
“I would love some.”
“Have a seat over there on the couch. I’ll be right back.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
When she had stepped out of the room, Franklin, speaking softly, asked, “What the f•©k am I going to do for you?”
“Franklin James Jones! Watch your language!”
“My mother has that same psychic ability to know what I’m saying.”
If looks could kill, Peter would have died. He smiled back at Franklin. Franklin was about to say something when his mother returned with a mug of coffee in one hand and a plate with a slice of two-tiered chocolate cake in the other.
“I’m afraid that it came out of a box rather than being store bought.”
“My mother always made cake out of the box. She’d make two tiers, just like you did. She’d cut the rounded top off the bottom tier. Then she’d put frosting on that little half rounded piece and give it to me. I loved that.”
“Franklin used to love when I would do that. He’d stand there in the kitchen just waiting for me to start frosting the cake.”
Both Peter and Mrs. Jones should have been dead, based on the looks Franklin was giving them.
Peter asked, “Do you know who Dabney Montgomery was?”
Franklin asked, “Who is he?”
Mrs. Jones answered, “He was the bodyguard for Reverend Martin Luther King.”
“That’s right,” Peter said.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m answering Franklin’s question. You see, Mrs. Jones ... Martin Phillips is going to be as famous one day as Reverend King and Franklin is going to be his bodyguard.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Reverend King had a dream. Martin is going to deliver it.”
“You haven’t been smoking any of that crack Martin is selling, have you?”
Peter laughed and answered, “No, ma’am. The future of millions of black people depends on what Martin chooses to do over the next couple of years. He’s given me his word that he’ll do what I asked. I trust his word.”
“His word is golden,” Franklin said.
Edited by Morgan
Edited By TeNderLoin