Littler Brother 2
The building had a doorman, in a red overcoat with gold brocade, and he touched his cap and called Nate, "Mr Nate" and welcomed us all there. The place was spotless and smelled of furniture polish.
I tried not to gawp at what must have been a couple million bucks' worth of condo."My dad," he explained. "He was an investment banker.
Lots of life insurance. He died when I was 14 and we got it all.
They'd been divorced for years, but he left my mom as beneficiary."From the floor-to-ceiling window, you could see a stunning view of the other side of Nob Hill, all the way down to Fisherman's Wharf, to the ugly stub of the Bay Bridge, the crowd of cranes and trucks.
Through the mist, I could just make out Treasure Island. Looking down all that way, it gave me a crazy urge to jump.I got online with his Xbox and a huge plasma screen in the living room.
He showed me how many open WiFi networks were visible from his high vantage point — twenty, thirty of them. This was a good spot to be an Xnetter.There was a lot of email in my M1k3y account.
20,000 new messages since Ange and I had left her place that morning. Lots of it was from the press, asking for followup interviews, but most of it was from the Xnetters, people who'd seen the Guardian story and wanted to tell me that they'd do anything to help me, anything I needed.That did it.
Tears started to roll down my cheeks.Nate and Liam exchanged glances. I tried to stop, but it was no good.
I was sobbing now. Nate went to an oak book-case on one wall and swung a bar out of one of its shelves, revealing gleaming rows of bottles.
He poured me a shot of something golden brown and brought it to me."Rare Irish whiskey," he said. "Mom's favorite."It tasted like fire, like gold.
I sipped at it, trying not to choke. I didn't really like hard liquor, but this was different.
I took several deep breaths."Thanks, Nate," I said. He looked like I'd just pinned a medal on him.
He was a good kid."All right," I said, and picked up the keyboard. The two boys watched in fascination as I paged through my mail on the gigantic screen.What I was looking for, first and foremost, was email from Ange.
There was a chance that she'd just gotten away. There was always that chance.I was an idiot to even hope.
There was nothing from her. I started going through the mail as fast as I could, picking apart the press requests, the fan mail, the hate mail, the spam...And that's when I found it: a letter from Zeb."It wasn't nice to wake up this morning and find the letter that I thought you would destroy in the pages of the newspaper.
Not nice at all. Made me feel — hunted."But I've come to understand why you did it.
I don't know if I can approve of your tactics, but it's easy to see that your motives were sound."If you're reading this, that means that there's a good chance you've gone underground.
It's not easy. I've been learning that.
I've been learning a lot more."I can help you. I should do that for you.
You're doing what you can for me. (Even if you're not doing it with my permission.)"Reply if you get this, if you're on the run and alone.
Or reply if you're in custody, being run by our friends on Gitmo, looking for a way to make the pain stop. If they've got you, you'll do what they tell you.
I know that. I'll take that risk."For you, M1k3y.""Wooooah," Liam breathed.
"Duuuuude." I wanted to smack him. I turned to say something awful and cutting to him, but he was staring at me with eyes as big as saucers, looking like he wanted to drop to his knees and worship me."Can I just say," Nate said, "can I just say that it is the biggest honor of my entire life to help you? Can I just say that?"I was blushing now.
There was nothing for it. These two were totally star-struck, even though I wasn't any kind of star, not in my own mind at least."Can you guys —" I swallowed.
"Can I have some privacy here?"They slunk out of the room like bad puppies and I felt like a tool. I typed fast."I got away, Zeb.
And I'm on the run. I need all the help I can get.
I want to end this now." I remembered to take Masha's phone out of my pocket and tickle it to keep it from going to sleep.They let me use the shower, gave me a change of clothes, a new backpack with half their earthquake kit in it — energy bars, medicine, hot and cold packs, and an old sleeping-bag.
They even slipped a spare Xbox Universal already loaded with ParanoidXbox on it into there. That was a nice touch.
I had to draw the line at a flaregun.I kept on checking my email to see if Zeb had replied. I answered the fan mail.
I answered the mail from the press. I deleted the hate mail.
I was half-expecting to see something from Masha, but chances were she was halfway to LA by now, her fingers hurt, and in no position to type. I tickled her phone again.They encouraged me to take a nap and for a brief, shameful moment, I got all paranoid like maybe these guys were thinking of turning me in once I was asleep.
Which was idiotic — they could have turned me in just as easily when I was awake. I just couldn't compute the fact that they thought so much of me.
I had known, intellectually, that there were people who would follow M1k3y. I'd met some of those people that morning, shouting BITE BITE BITE and vamping it up at Civic Center.
But these two were more personal. They were just nice, goofy guys, they coulda been any of my friends back in the days before the Xnet, just two pals who palled around having teenage adventures.
They'd volunteered to join an army, my army. I had a responsibility to them.
Left to themselves, they'd get caught, it was only a matter of time. They were too trusting."Guys, listen to me for a second.
I have something serious I need to talk to you about."They almost stood at attention. It would have been funny if it wasn't so scary."Here's the thing.
Now that you've helped me, it's really dangerous. If you get caught, I'll get caught.
They'll get anything you know out of you —" I held up my hand to forestall their protests. "No, stop.
You haven't been through it. Everyone talks.
Everyone breaks. If you're ever caught, you tell them everything, right away, as fast as you can, as much as you can.
They'll get it all eventually anyway. That's how they work."But you won't get caught, and here's why: you're not jammers anymore.
You are retired from active duty. You're a —" I fished in my memory for vocabulary words culled from spy thrillers — "you're a sleeper cell.
Stand down. Go back to being normal kids.
One way or another, I'm going to break this thing, break it wide open, end it. Or it will get me, finally, do me in.
If you don't hear from me within 72 hours, assume that they got me. Do whatever you want then.
But for the next three days — and forever, if I do what I'm trying to do — stand down. Will you promise me that?"They promised with all solemnity.
I let them talk me into napping, but made them swear to rouse me once an hour. I'd have to tickle Masha's phone and I wanted to know as soon as Zeb got back in touch with me.#The rendezvous was on a BART car, which made me nervous.
They're full of cameras. But Zeb knew what he was doing.
He had me meet him in the last car of a certain train departing from Powell Street Station, at a time when that car was filled with the press of bodies. He sidled up to me in the crowd, and the good commuters of San Francisco cleared a space for him, the hollow that always surrounds homeless people."Nice to see you again," he muttered, facing into the doorway.
Looking into the dark glass, I could see that there was no one close enough to eavesdrop — not without some kind of high-efficiency mic rig, and if they knew enough to show up here with one of those, we were dead anyway."You too, brother," I said.