Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 7

Chapter 7
Moving On

Early-May, 1986
For my final month of employment at Xeno, I was given the rather humiliating assignment of training my own replacement, Shelly, a 19-year old computer science undergrad recently hired at half my hourly pay. This was typical of management's new “Resource Consolidation Policy”. But aside from that, I was, ironically, a casualty of computer automation, since many of the more complex operations on the Unisys mainframe could now be performed by lesser-skilled employees (and fewer of them). Nonetheless, Xeno, before booting me to the curb, wanted to suck out the contents of my brain: In order to assist the intelligent but ill-prepared Shelly, I had to write a “cheat book”, a user manual breaking-down, in intricate detail, every process and keystroke needed to perform System Administrator duties on the Unisys most efficiently. When I finally completed the two-inch thick manual, the instructions therein were dumbed-down enough to teach a high-school dropout to do my former job.
But all the workplace aggravation couldn't dampen my excitement over ServerComp, a brand-new corporation in which I held a 10% stake (albeit without a vote in corporate decision-making, as I discovered later). I didn't even consider the offer of $10,000 to sell my shares back to the corporation. Two days after refusing that offer, I found out that Allen Paulsen, a high-level executive at Microno Software, had just purchased the last available 2 ½ % block of shares for $60,000.
Overcome with an unrealistic sense of grandeur, I had congratulated myself for getting in step with the rapid advance of computer technology. In reality, though, I was merely a silent partner in a risky venture whose technology I barely fathomed. ServerComp's internet node was scheduled to go “live” to the public in less than a month, but it would take a lot of time - if ever - before we could realize any return on our original investment. To make matters worse, we still lacked sufficient capital, as most of it was budgeted for an expensive advertising campaign in magazines that catered to PC/Mac enthusiasts. However, without effective advertising, we'd be out of business within a year anyway.

* * *
Five days had elapsed since I last heard from Tina, since the day after Sharon's party, and she was apparently ignoring my phone calls and messages. On Friday evening, I hung-up the phone and asked Angie, “Has Tina gotten a hold of you lately? Every time I call her apartment, all I get is her answering machine.”
“Same here. I did talk to her when she was at work - Tuesday night, I think - but she was real busy. I haven't heard from her since.”
“Okay. I just tried calling the hotel, but it's almost impossible to get through tonight. Fuck it, she won't have time for chit-chat anyway.” Next morning, still getting no response from her, we drove down to Sea-Tac to see if she was all right. At her apartment building, her aged Toyota Corolla was parked in its assigned space, so we went upstairs. We rang the doorbell and called-out her name for a minute before she finally came to the door, which then creaked opened as far as the latched security chain allowed. It was nearly 1pm but judging by her dazed expression, we had obviously awakened her from a dead sleep. “Well, are you gonna invite us in or what?” I jokingly asked.
She coughed into her fist and replied with a husky voice, “Yeah, come on in.”
As we entered, Angie said, “Sweetie, are you sick? You sure look it.”
Tina, dressed only in a pink terrycloth robe, smoothed back her short Afro 'doo and yawned, “Naw, I'm ah-ight.”
The glass coffee table in the darkened living room was cluttered with empty Michelob bottles, broken potato chips and remnants of pizza crust. Even more surprising was the faint odor of stale cigarette smoke. I couldn't recall the last time her apartment looked anything less than spotless. Although this caused me concern, I tried to make light of it: “Looks like you've been on a three-day drunk, Amazon.”
“Anybody got a cigarette? I'm dyin' for one.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief. “You've taken up smoking?” She's the one who always made me brush my nicotine-tinged teeth for 15 minutes before letting me kiss her. “Now I know something's wrong.”
She sank down in a plush armchair and took amateurishly shallow puffs on a one of Angie's long brown cigarettes. “I got fuckin' fired, that's what's wrong.”
“Oh no,” Angie groaned in sympathy. “You? I can't believe that! When did it happen?”
“Couple-a days ago. I wasn't fired, exactly - encouraged to resign is more like it. The manager told me that if I cooperated with the cops and quit without causin' a scene, he'd write me a really good letter of recommendation.” She gestured to a beer-stained business envelope on the table. Then she chuckled without humor and said, “Sheeit, I got about 20 bucks in the bank, still owe this month's rent and part of last month's, and yesterday I found out that by quitting my job, I ain't eligible for fuckin' Unemployment!”
I patted her slender shoulder and said, “Now don't get all depressed about your bills - we got you covered. Anyway, I'm sure you'll find a job in no time - ”
Angie: “But what did the cops have to do with it?”
Tina: “Aw, well, they claimed there were crimes goin'-on inside the hotel - mostly when I was workin' the front desk.”
“Let me guess,” I interjected. “A.J. was involved in it.”
“Yeah, no shit.” According to what Tina told me next, Hilton Hotel Security had been cooperating with a Sheriff's Office investigation of A.J., pertaining to crimes allegedly committed there. It took little time for the police to link her with A.J., since some of Hilton's security guards, not to mention her co-workers, were already aware of their on-again off-again relationship. Then Tina said bitterly, “I loved my job and wanted to work there forever. I had no fuckin' idea what A.J. was up to, and if I did, I would never stand for it!”
“What, exactly, was he accused of doing?” I asked, although I already knew or had deduced many of the details, of which I had no inclination to share with her at this moment.
“Drugs - what else. You know I ain't got nothin' to do with fuckin' dope! And then the cops asked me if he ever brought young chicks there - underage chicks. You think I would put up with that pervert shit?” Her rhetorical question sounded a bit on the defensive side, and I couldn't help wondering if she knew more than she let on. But as I had never known her to lie about anything, she deserved the benefit of the doubt. I still remembered the time that she called A.J. a child molester right to his face, in reaction to his illicit dalliance with Marta.
Angie, who was half-sitting on the arm of Tina's chair, abruptly changed the subject. “Me and Denny were talking the other day - we want you to live with us.”
Tina thoughtfully exhaled a stream of smoke and then replied, “Last time you guys asked me to move-in with you, I made some long speech about not wantin' to give-up my independence. I'd feel like a fuckin' leech if I move-in with you now.”
I said, “Oh, screw that b-s, Amazon. We love you, and we want you with us.” Angie's caressing hand reached out for Tina's.
Her cat-like brown eyes shining with tears, Tina said, almost inaudibly, “Me too.” Then she added, with a wan smile, “At least yer not livin' in that nasty-ass trailer anymore.”

* * *
Within a few days of Tina moving into our apartment, some of our neighbors became keenly curious about the unusual trio who lived next door. I tried not to encourage the attractive middle-age married couple down the hall, who had hinted broadly that they too were in an open relationship. The cute 18-year old girls who shared an apartment nearby now gave me huge smiles whenever we happened to run into each other. Having lived there only a very short time, I merely responded with a tight smile and friendly nod.
As Tina settled into her new home, she told me a little more about the police interrogation she had undergone: “...And the cops showed me surveillance photos of two Asian dudes - I could tell they were taken in the hotel parking lot. I did recognize one of them in particular, from when they checked-in at the desk. He had dead, glassy black eyes like Jaws or somethin', like he'd just as soon cut yer throat as lookatcha. After I looked at the photos, this asshole detective started talkin' some stupid shit about how I supposedly let these guys register under fake names, like I'm part of some conspiracy. Hell, both of them paid cash up-front, so what do I care what names they used?”
“So, these guys were tied-up with A.J. somehow,” I presumed.
Tina shrugged her shoulders. “I wouldn't know, and the cops weren't sayin'.”
A few days later, while eating lunch in the Xeno cafeteria, I glanced at a discarded newspaper on the table and took notice of this article:
Victim ID'ed in Nightclub Drive-by Shooting
A man shot and killed outside a downtown Seattle club early Saturday morning has been identified as Anthony Davis of South Seattle...Davis, age 36, was released on bond from the Prince County Jail on May 10th, three days prior to being gunned-down in front of The Joint, a popular nightclub featuring recorded hip-hop music...The club has been the scene a string of violent incidents dating back to 1984...Davis, reportedly a top lieutenant in the BWM street gang, was arrested on drug charges last April 3rd during a Sheriff's Office sweep of residences rented or owned by BWM gang members. Davis was already wanted on an outstanding warrant in Snohomish County for his alleged participation in a drive-by shooting in Everett, but that charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence...
As the initial shock of learning about Davis' death faded, I thought it strange that he had been let out of jail at all - the court had originally denied him bail since he was considered a serious flight risk. But now it seemed he had cut some sort of deal with the County Prosecutor. If that was true, it very well could have been the reason behind his murder.
There had been many shootings, stabbings and brawls at The Joint over the years, so I had barely taken notice of this latest incident. From what little I remembered of the initial report, the victim had been machine-gunned by a man on a motorcycle. The shooter had worn a visor-ed helmet and unremarkable clothing, making identification impossible.
Certain Asian gangs favored the utilization of assassins on 'cycles, although there was no evidence of it in this case, merely my own speculation based upon Davis' apparent link to Asian gangsters. Was it only coincidental that soon before he was bailed-out, local and federal law enforcement began making a nuisance of themselves to the major heroin smugglers and human traffickers on the West Coast?

Copyright 2014 by K.D. Bishop

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 6

Chapter 6
Computer Game

Late-April 1986
The illegal sex video I had turned-over to Detective Jameson began an investigation which now appeared to have pried open a large can of criminal worms. Evidence gathered during a police raid of a BWM gang stash-house, two months later, quickly led to subsequent raids of other properties in the Seattle area. While searching those gang-financed apartments and houses, police found residing in one house additional Chinese girls, some of them underage - none spoke more than a few words of English and all were undocumented. Arrested at the scene were two adult women, who were, curiously enough, Chinese-Canadians from the Vancouver, British Columbia area. Both were now sitting in Prince County Jail, charged with conspiracy to promote prostitution. That same day at yet another gang property, several runaway/homeless teen girls, presumably American citizens, were placed under protective custody. All this was a triumph for Sheriff Nuttingham and his hitherto demoralized deputies, since the flurry of publicity from these stunning arrests had pushed the unwelcome Grand Jury-probe out of the headlines. I could only laugh ruefully upon the realization that my uncharacteristic act of good citizenship had probably helped to ensure Nuttingham's re-election come November.

Within days of that police operation (coincidentally or not), US Customs and the US Department of Immigration conducted surprise inspections at container facilities located at seaports all along the West Coast. To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Customs officials at the Port of Seattle had seized scores of kilos of China White which were hidden inside counterfeit merchandise. Of greater interest was what had been found on cargo ships moored at the California ports of Long Beach and Oakland: The Feds had discovered nearly 100 Chinese citizens who had fled crushing rural poverty only to sell themselves into lives of indentured servitude in the United States - all for the chance for a better life in the distant future. They all had been found crammed inside 40-foot containers, having survived (or died) in horrid living conditions during their interminable voyage from Hong Kong.

* * *
While the public and the news media were in an uproar about the cruelty of human trafficking, I received the not unexpected bad news: My position at Xeno was to be eliminated along with 300 others, effective June 1st, in six weeks. I felt sorrier for my affected co-workers than I did for myself, though, since I had a good chunk of money in the bank - thanks to my parsimonious habits. So what the hell am I gonna do now? It was cold comfort knowing I could always accept the as-yet unspecified job offered through MJ Recruiters - a job I would never be allowed to discuss with anyone.

A few days after the ax fell, Joey, a young computer programmer, visited my cubicle. He too was losing his job. Joey, who was well-paid but usually flat broke, was always regaling coworkers with pie-in-the-sky money-making schemes. "Denny! How's it hangin'? Hey, have you heard? Herb, myself, and some other friends are starting a business. Herb thinks it can't miss."

Busily editing a new technical manual, I muttered distractedly, "What is it this time, Joey - Amway distributorships?"

He waved his pudgy hands at me. "No wait man - this is for real! We're gonna start an online service provider like Compuserve and Prodigy - hell, why slave for a corporation when we can do the exact same thing for ourselves. This damned lay-off kinda threw a monkey wrench into our plans, though."

I stopped typing and said, "Let me guess - you don't have enough money to get it off the ground, right?" I tried to conceal my interest but it wasn't easy.

"Heh-heh - you're a real psychic, Denny. Seriously, though, I was wondering if you'd like to invest 5,000-dollars in our start-up company.”

"You software developers make tons of bucks, compared to me. Doesn't Herb have five grand? I thought he was loaded."

"You know how it is. Everybody's still in a state of shock - and mortgaged to the rafters, of course. Shit, I had to trade-in my fuckin' Jag XJ to scrape up a few more thousand for the business - we're calling it ServerComp, by the way. The thing is, Denny, that I need the five grand soon so I can close a deal on some office space. The school district used it as a data center, but it's up for lease."

"Why is it so important to use that place for an office? Hell, run the business out of your garage like Milt Gaines and Steve Workman did, back in the seventies." Gaines and Workman were the co-founders of the rapidly expanding Microno Software Corporation based in Redmond, Washington.

"It's kinda technical to explain it in the King's English you use to write those tech manuals of yours, but that building is already wired with a T3 data connection, which means that a helluva lot of remote users can be logged-in at the time time through a single phone line. It's not cheap to set-up something like that from scratch. Now, if we don't get it together in a hurry, the dollars just don't add up. But if I can swing that lease by the end of the month, we could eventually expand the data network capacity to thousands of connections simultaneously!"

"Hmm, no kidding. That reminds me of when I was in the military, when I worked with a big government computer network called ARAPNET."

Joey's hands clapped together resoundingly. "Exactly! But now it's called the In-ter-net - like in that movie, War Games."

"I never did get around to seeing that movie," I said idly, suddenly feeling five years behind the times - my job skills obsolete at the ripe age of 27.

Joey continued, "Anyway, you can send data all over the country or play computer games - tap into university research material, even. Ron Oldham down in Experimental Research told me that in a few years anyone will be able to send and receive video and audio anywhere in the world with a PC and modem. By the way, Ron's one of the investors. He gave me and Herb the idea for the business, in fact. He runs an online message board and chat room as a hobby."
"Well let me think about it for a day or two. I know it's only five grand, but I'll be out on my ass in a few weeks, so - "

Joey's beady eyes suddenly looked desperate. "If you invest now, you'll get a 10 percent share of the business. My lawyer can set it up. Here, let me give you his card."

I asked, "How much capital have you raised?"

"About 50 grand of working capital, and we already have most of the hardware. We're gonna network PCs in such a way that they function like one big computer."

After making the rounds in the office and speaking with several co-workers who were investing in ServerComp, I decided to take the plunge. The start-up's investors - the ones who had not received a termination notice - were programmers and systems analysts, mostly single people with disposable income, so I thought they might stand a chance. At the end of the day, I peeked over the wall of Joey's cubicle: "All right, Joey, it's a deal. Five grand for 10 percent." We shook hands. "I've been meaning to get in on the money-making end of the computer racket anyway." After work that day, at the office of Joey's lawyer, I signed papers and handed over a $5,000 personal check. I now owned 10 shares of currently worthless preferred stock in ServerComp, LLC.

Next day, I accepted an invitation to a party taking place this coming Saturday night, at a condo shared by Sharon and Amy, attractive young Admin Assistants whose cubicles abutted mine. Amy joked that the party was in celebration of the fact that she had managed to hang onto her job. From what she had told me on a previous occasion, Sharon's father was well-to-do, paying most of his daughter's living expenses, and that she herself paid merely a token rent to Sharon.
Later, I asked Tina to accompany Angie and me to the party, and she agreed. On Saturday afternoon, she asked me. How many women will be there?"

"I don't know - probably a lot," I replied.

"In that case, I'll dress nice."

One hour before the party: Angie was dressed in her heavy-metal uniform: feathered blonde hair, black spandex halter and pants, black spike heels. A leopard-print mini-dress clung to Tina's curves. I took one look at her and playfully suggested, "Amazon, I think we should skip the party." I tickled her ribcage and she slapped my hand away.

"Forget-choo, mister. I ain't spendin' a Saturday night all bored out of my skull." On the way to the party, she grumbled, "Ten bucks says I'll be the only Negro in the joint."

Sharon's twentieth-floor condo offered a superb view of the sinuous, 20-mile long Lake Washington and of the cold, monolithic Seattle skyline. As it turned out, I should have taken Tina's bet: At the party were Oscar and Merlin, two black men who worked in Xeno's Information Services Department. Unfortunately for Tina they were every bit as nerdy as white dudes such as I, and they constantly talked about computers, a tedious topic for party conversation. Merlin, who was a fellow ServerComp investor, was lucky enough to have retained his programmer job at Xeno. Tina, as the only black woman in attendance, tried flirting with Oscar and Merlin but quickly became disillusioned and wandered away from them. I then overheard snippets of Oscar lecturing to a circle of acquaintances: "System architecture...HTML...digital blah blah network..."

I was flabbergasted to see software mogul Milt Gaines arriving at the party. Later, when I asked Sharon how he happened to be here, she informed me that her father was an early investor of Gaines' Microno Software, and from that relationship she and Gaines had become friends.

Joey showed up at the party, and I said to him: "Joey, you're a hard one to get a hold of - "

"Hey, Big Guy - hang on, I'll be right back. I need to talk to somebody...Mister Gaines, what a pleasure..."

Joey struck up a long conversation with Gaines, and afterward he walked back to me to say: "Great news, Denny! I just sold Gaines a two-and-a-half percent share for 30 grand! Man, things are falling right into place now! The value of our stock's just about doubled - See? I ain't ripping you off, buddy!"

Soon, Gaines waved goodbye to Sharon and departed. I grabbed Angie by the shoulders. "Ange, I'm in business with Milt Gaines!"

"Who's he, Den?"

Tina walked over to us. "Was that that Gaines guy? He's one rich muthafucka."

"Yeah, and he just invested in our company. I just made a several thousand bucks – on paper, that is."

"I love you, Herc," Tina joked.

By 1am the party had loosened up. As Led Zeppelin shook the living room walls, Sharon and others were snorting and smoking cocaine in her bedroom. Sexy Sharon was wearing a short, pink negligee and a long, see-through robe. The fun was spoiled by a cop who called upstairs on the intercom and ordered us to turn the music down. Then most of the guests started going home.

By 2am only a handful of guests remained. Amorous Angie rubbed her spandex on me. "Angie, knock it off - you wanna start something?" I glanced into the bedroom, where Sharon and Merlin were kissing each other deeply while rolling around in bed.

Tina had been sleeping in a chair since she had drunk six Michelobs in the past four hours. I shook her shoulder and said, "Amazon, wake up. We oughta leave soon."

"Hercules, maybe I do love ya, ha-ha," she said with a giggle, and then nodded out again.

Angie's hands were roaming my chest. I hissed, "Sweetheart, I think you're inciting an orgy." Amy and her neighbor, Ed, were getting cozy, whispering and touching hands.

After grappling with Angie on the carpet for a few minutes, I realized that my lips and tongue were getting numb. Angie hadn't used cocaine in weeks (to my knowledge), so I didn't think it was such a big deal. I smacked my tingling lips and said, "Now I know why you're so fwisky - I mean, frisky"

"Aw, Den, it's a party."

"I think the party's over. It sure got quiet all of a sudden." Amy and Ed had disappeared, so I got up and looked into Sharon's room. "Good night - oops." She was now puffing on Merlin's rigid penis. Angie snuck up behind me and goosed my rear. "Wait til we get home, Angie, please!"

I finally roused Tina. Pulling her arms, I groused, "Get up - we're going home to bed! You're in no condition for an orgy, are you. Tsk-tsk - must be getting old." With Tina draped over my shoulder, I carried her to the car.

After getting home at 3am, a bleary-eyed Tina sat down on the sofa and proceeded to keel over into unconsciousness. Angie chortled, "Heh-heh – I gotcha all to myself tonight, Denny!"

Removing Tina's shoes, I said, "Now Angie, you know what happens when you're this loaded - you'll fall asleep in ten minutes."

Angie stuck out her little ass and slowly peeled down her tight, black spandex capris. "I wanna fuck," she purred like Lauren Bacall, her eyes half-lidded.

"Well, I'll race you to bed, then." She was virtually naked when she skipped past me.

Angie sprang into bed and, on all fours, sensuously swiveled her slim hips. "Not bad for 24, huh."

"Nice ass, baby," I hissed lecherously while dropping my pants.

Between kisses on my chest, she sighed, "I-love-you-I-love-you-O-Den-do-you-love-me?"

"Gawd, I love you Angie."

Now she was kissing my stomach and throttling my rod. "Den, do you love me as much as you love Tina?"
I sighed in exasperation. "You are stoned. Angie, you fell in love with her before I ever did, remember? I love you, sweetie. Now shut-up and keep...doing...that.

Copyright 2014 by K.D. Bishop