Can You See Me Now?
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had to be
He, meaning his agency,
things all the time.
Usually there was
no need to maintain secrecy about where those mailings came from.
sometimes, secrecy was demanded. In
the old days, couriers had been used in
But with the advent of
computers, it was possible to route a message to any number of
there were automated services.
meant was that the computer that received the message would print it,
with the envelope it would be sent in.
Both items would be routed to
a machine that would fold the message, if
needed, insert it in the envelope, and then shoot it into a vacuum tube
would take it to a mail room. It would be run through a postage machine
And the whole thing could be
done without the involvement of a single human being.
message could be generated in Richmond, Virginia, but to the person who
received it, it could be made to look like it had been mailed from
system now to mail a short message to the address his system had
the house with the sheet on the roof and the sunbathing girl in the
It was addressed to
He'd wanted to
address it to "Bikini Girl," but if somebody in the mail room saw it,
that might draw attention.
said, simply, "I do see
you now. It's just my opinion, but you'd
look a lot better without the top of that bikini."
shouldn't do this.
If anybody found out,
he'd be in trouble.
They might even jerk
his security clearance while they investigated the girl, and tried to
out if what he'd written was a code of some kind.
took a deep
breath ... and punched "send."
to show the picture to Jerry, but he decided not to.
if only he knew about the girl who was
trying to thumb her nose at a major, powerful government agency.
made up a
batch of tuna and noodles.
supplied a variety of foods to the analysts, and there was a full
He had eight hours of sleep
coming, and then
one last eight hour shift in "the office." Then
he could go home for two days and do
whatever he wanted.
He knew he'd be
assigned a different bedroom when he got back for his next rotation,
whoever replaced him would still be living in the room he was currently
But all the bedrooms were the
so it didn't matter.
All the analysts
brought a suitcase with them, with clothes for three days.
they left, they took everything from the
room except the combination TV, Radio, CD player and alarm clock
While he was doing his last
eight hours of this rotation, some faceless person would change the
the bed, and empty the trash can. His
suitcase would be waiting for him just inside the door.
took her hand off the mouse, leaned back in her chair and rubbed her
They felt dry, but she knew
that was only a
side effect of staring at a computer screen for the last three hours.
should have taken breaks, but she wanted
to get this project done.
It was the
graphics she created on her computer that brought home the bacon.
she got the current job finished, then
she could engage in her real passion.
practiced eye at the screen one last time.
It was a book cover. On
snarling dragon held an almost lifeless female form in its toothy jaws,
dripping down one of her arms.
terrain around the dragon suggested rocky, barren wastes.
stake jutting from the rock, with its
hanging manacles, was a clear reference that the girl had been held there
Never mind that, had the
dragon actually pulled her from her shackles, her hands would probably
been torn off.
But it didn't have to
mimic reality. The image communicated a dragon accepting the offered
and that was what the customer wanted.
the scales on the curled and twisting tail of the beast.
instructions had said the dragon must be
black, in an environment of burned and blasted rock.
dark colors was a lot of work.
It involved the judicious use
colors in tiny amounts.
Such as the thin
rim of sixteen different colors that edged each and every scale on the
Without those arcing lines,
would be no scales, only a dark blob in a flat shape that was supposed
to be a
the book cover critically.
have followed her first instinct and used pen and ink, with paints to
It would have taken just as
long, but it would have looked better.
Computer generated graphics
were a little sharper, though.
It didn't matter. Most
people couldn't draw more than a stick
figure, and when they saw her creations, they were almost always awed
People see graphic images by
the thousands every single day, but most of the time they just think
They don't realize someone
sat and painstakingly created the image, pixel by pixel until, like the
of the book she was working with, they asked for something in their
to be made visible.
When she gave that
to them, it almost never matched their imagination ... but it always
because it was "their" imagination that had created it.
care that people usually credited themselves with the splendor of her
They paid her, and they paid
That was what mattered. That
was what kept a roof over their heads,
and food on the table.
been kind to Riley Franklin, for the most part.
Raised in a dusty Texas
panhandle town, Riley had lived in a trailer
Her mother was a waitress,
her father was a drunk, who couldn't keep a job, and rarely looked for
There was no extra money for
allowance, or new clothes for the first day of school each year.
of her clothes came from the Goodwill
She was short for her age,
had developed, as a female, early. By
the time she was twelve, if a tape had been put around her chest, it
read 32 inches.
When she walked into the
high school building for the first time, though, the only two bras she
were sized at 36CC.
On a five foot three
frame, with a waist that measured 24 inches, and hips that swelled to
inches, she was like a miniature Barbie Doll.
She drew the boys like moths
to the flame, and all the popular girls
She had waist-long black hair
that was straight, and thick.
nose and bright eyes sat on a rounded face that never seemed to lose a
layer of baby fat.
Franklin was a babe, and she stiffened the cock of every boy who saw
And not a few of her male
teachers as well.
"economic circumstances", Riley only had one commodity to barter
with, at least in her own opinion. The
problem was, you could only lose your virginity once.
that, you were either someone's
girlfriend for life ... or a slut.
carefully hoarded the one thing she had to trade to get a boy who would
her and take care of her and take her to live in a real house, instead
rotting, ancient mobile home that shook in even a mild storm.
blamed for buying in to the fairy tales about true love.
of us do that, at least to some
There are many princesses,
very few princes.
And living happily
It's a myth. Nobody
lives happily ever after.
She would find that out just
like the rest of
us ... the hard way.
kept her legs firmly closed, most guys only took her out two or three
and then moved on to greener pastures.
Eventually, the offers
When you have a reputation
for being an ice
queen, a lot of guys don't even try.
with a lot of time on her hands. She
used that time, and those hands, to draw things. Pencils
were pretty cheap, and if you worked
things right you could get paper for free.
When you asked a teacher for
a piece of paper, they often gave you two
And, since there was little
the real world around her of any interest, she drew the things in her
saw some of her work, and encouraged her, eventually providing her with
supplies she couldn't otherwise have afforded.
When she got her hands on
paints, she was happier than she'd ever
Her talent, and the support
art teacher, got her to college, still a virgin, but working almost
to pay her way.
no man in her life to demand her time, and she wasn't in a hurry to get
She lived in housing that
students had lived in for decades, but it was still better than her
Another plus was that she had
enough to eat, and now it wasn't wrong food orders, hours old, that her
brought home from the restaurant.
important change in her life was that she now had access to computers.
and probably the best artist in the little community college, when the
that had served her so faithfully all those years malfunctioned.
was one of her professors who slipped
beneath that radar.
His name was Chuck
Peterson, and the praise he heaped on her, and the extra help he
convinced her that his other compliments were genuine, and that he
helplessly attracted to her.
"resisted" his drives, telling her how hard it was to maintain a
professional separation as he touched her shoulder, or arm, or moved
on the mouse to show her the next thing to do as beautiful images were
from literally nothing on the screen of the computer.
by the attention that convinced her he was smitten with her, and would
back, opening her legs to a man for the first time, she dismissed the
pain, sure that she'd found her prince.
That he was an accomplished
behavior after that would have convinced any woman she was the only
thing he could
He fucked her every
opportunity, and in every place he could, including at school, in the
closet, standing up and leaning against the wall. He
gave her a key to his apartment, which was
a thousand times nicer than hers, and then, every night she stayed with
rutted in her as if she were the last woman on an earth, and
the planet was up to them.
never wore a
She was sure his pleadings to
have his sons meant she would soon be married.
And, when she announced she
was, in fact, carrying his child, his
elation was unbounded.
night, after work, she came home, and his apartment was stripped clean,
empty as her hopes that she had somehow entered the wrong apartment.
hoped it was a bad dream.
Only a single thing remained
in the place
where she had become pregnant, and had such high hopes.
was a piece of scrap paper, upon which the
words "Sorry. I'm just not the father type," were written.
wasn't a bad
dream. It was a nightmare.
The administration said he'd
resigned to take care of a dying relative.
They didn't know who the
relative was, or where he had gone. He
had left no forwarding address.
and got an internship with an advertising agency. It
was only six months, but there was a
salary and commissions available. That
paid for the birth of her child, a little boy she named Curtis, after
grandfather she had met only once before he died. She
had been ten at the time, when he had sat
her on his lap, told her she was beautiful, and said he loved her.
had loved her work.
She had a knack for
bringing other people's imagination to life in her drawings.
offered to pay her way through two more
years of college, so she could get her bachelor's degree, but demanded
them four years after that.
loved her work, she didn't love doing it.
Providing graphics for the
sale of diapers, hair products, cars, and
everything else being thrust on American consumers was not her idea of
She made a counter offer. She
would work for them, and they would send
her to the individual classes she wanted to attend.
was some dickering, but in the end, she
got the education she wanted, and they got her talent for another year.
without a degree, but she did have a place to live.
grandfather had deeded her a cabin in the
mountains of Colorado and, since she was only twelve at the time, her
had been irate.
He'd left it to Riley because
he knew that if he gave it to his daughter it would have been sold for
they could get, and that money pissed away.
So he awarded it to Riley,
even though she couldn't take possession for
another six years.
He had also
established a trust which paid the property taxes, but could not be
any other purpose.
The paperwork that
went along with his gift had specified the property could not be sold
She had owned it
since she was twelve, but had never been able to go see it.
was always a sore point with her mother,
who refused to take her there, and called it a dump anyway.
first time she had seen it was when
Chuck Peterson drove her there one weekend.
It was a trip to remember,
because he wanted to "set a record for
the most number of times they could have sex in a weekend."
routed them through the Oklahoma panhandle
and New Mexico, because he also wanted to set a record for the number
they could have sex in, in a single day as well. He
fucked her before they left, of course, so
she had a load in her womb when they left.
Then he stopped at a rest
stop on highway 325 in Oklahoma, and fucked
her in the car.
325 turned into 456 when
they got into New Mexico, where it was 75 miles of remote nothingness
they got to a road that went up into Colorado.
Because it was so remote, he
stopped and, within sight of the highway,
spread a blanket and talked her into getting naked with him to do it in
sun, under the open sky.
They stopped at
a park in Colorado, where he at least took her into the bushes to use
He lay on the ground and
had her ride him, milking him for another load.
By the time they got to the
cabin, she was sperm-soaked and needed a
tumbled to the fact that the man was a sex addict, but she was young,
love for the first time in her life. She
convinced herself that this was how all couples in love acted.
were just private enough about it that
it wasn't obvious to the "uninitiated."
gotten to the cabin, she was disappointed, because it had lain empty
of a decade.
She didn't see it as a
dump, because in her opinion it beat her mother's trailer, but it also
There were animal nests here
there, and the furniture was falling apart.
That didn't matter to Chuck. He
fucked her on top of the rotting mattress on the bed - twice.
had been more to that weekend, but she
preferred not to think about that, now.
finished her schooling, and left Davidson and Associates Advertising
carve out a life of her own ... the cabin was the only place she had to
there for a while, she came to the conclusion that she was very lucky
to be on
her particular branch of the family tree.
She'd never felt that way
before, but the gift her grandfather had given
her turned out to be incredibly valuable, both literally and
The cabin wasn't much to look
at, but it had
It had been built well,
originally, and most of the needed repairs were cosmetic.
he'd bought the land long before
Colorado Springs exploded into the mountains and the amazing land
been developed by entrepreneurs, hungry for tourist dollars.
of that, she now owned forty-five
acres of gorgeous mountainside, in a place where most people were lucky
a quarter acre.
and quiet, privacy, and space to stretch her arms.
could hike her own land for hours and
never see another human being.
like taking an evening walk, especially since she had to carry Curtis
were going more than half a mile.
years of age, he loved to "go to the woods," but he was still just a
She had rigged a sort of
back pack that he could sit on, piggy back style, and carrying him had
made a simple
hike into a workout.
She was always
panting and sweaty when she returned, but it was good for her.
it was good for Curtis to get all that
fresh, mountain air, and as much exercise as he could take too.
never had a hard time getting him to take
a nap, or go to bed if they'd been on a good hike.
At the same time, all the
amenities were within ten miles, and the scenery was to die for.
Texas, she felt like she'd found The
Garden of Eden.
She didn't know what she
was going to do when it snowed. The road wasn't steep, but it wasn't
either, and based on its condition, she doubted the snow plow would
with that when it happened.
present, she was just happy to be someplace she loved, for once.
was an unusual feeling for her.
She'd never been anyplace she
didn't want to
There was no man in her life,
that was just fine.
She had her Rabbit,
and plenty of batteries.
Men were a pain
in the ass anyway.
True, the sex with
Chuck had been amazing, and sometimes she missed that.
knowing he was only using her gave the
memories a bitter aftertaste in her mind.
She rarely thought of him
Nowadays, the face of the man
in her mind as her vibrator got her to a
peak, was just an oval fuzzy shape. She
simply didn't know a man she wanted to lie under, or even be that
had to take
a waitressing job to get by at first.
She was lucky. Her
neighbor was a
crotchety old woman named Bessie Turner, who was retired and lived on
Bessie lived half a mile up
the mountain from her.
The road they
lived on, called Ruxton Avenue, went past the Pikes Peak cog railway
and then dead ended a couple of miles later.
The property her grandfather
had bought was a mile and a half above the
cog railway terminal, and Bessie's house was at the dead end.
rarely came up that far because the
city, or county, or whoever, hadn't paved it past the railway terminal.
road wasn't steep, but it was bumpy and
filled with pot holes.
Bessie was so irascible, initially, was because she was lonely.
most people, though, she was taken with
Curtis, and she offered to watch him, should Riley need to "run into
That evolved into her
becoming Curtis' regular babysitter. On
top of that, she didn't charge much.
Another boon was that it was
late spring when they moved in, so she and
Curtis were comfortable in the cabin.
She had a decent car, one
purchased from a fellow employee at Davidson
Colorado Springs had a
really good Salvation Army thrift store, and since she bought
for the whole house, they even delivered it.
The structure was
weather-beaten, and needed paint, but it was basically
There was a wood stove in it,
which was good, because she couldn't afford to fill the propane tank
than was needed to cook with.
propane heater would come in time. She
just moved forward in baby steps.
again, she drew what she wanted to draw.
good where she worked, but she wasn't making enough to fix up the
winter was coming.
suggested she deliver pizzas instead.
Colorado Springs was filled
with well off people.
When Riley asked her friend
why she wasn't
delivering pizza's herself, she said, "I don't have a car.
boyfriend brings me to work."
and was stunned.
She could make three
hundred a day in tips.
It was also hard work, and
a month she knew it would eat up her car.
The pace was furious, but it
paid so well she was able to get the cabin
ready for winter and fill the propane tank.
She wouldn't be able to paint
until next year, but at least they'd be
warm that winter.
She cut back to four
days a week, and still made enough to get by.
Her free time she used to
draw and go on hikes, with Curtis in his
Her calves became hard
write a novel came to her one day as she sifted through the stories
posted at a
site most people would have called a "porn site." It
wasn't really that at all, other than the
fact that most of the books and stories posted there were about sex.
few of them were illustrated, and those
pictures were more along the lines of "porn," but other than that,
the site was just a place to read stories by amateur authors.
good authors there, but there were a lot more that didn't fit that
At least not in her
In fact, she thought she
do a better job than them.
was a story that she wished she had lived.
It was just that simple. In
the man cared about the woman.
her to be happy, and fulfilled, because that made him
It was just a simple love
story, the story she had hoped to live some day, but had not.
drew original illustrations for the
story, making them less than pornographic, but quite titillating.
she posted it, just to see if there
would be any reaction.
People loved it. She
got emails of praise.
She got two emails from
authors who wanted to know where she got her graphics.
she told them she drew them herself,
they asked how much she'd charge per drawing to supply them.
Both said it was too
expensive, since they
were giving their stories away for free.
One of them said she should
try publishing her books, because they were
good enough to charge for.
book to a publishing house that specialized in romance novels.
want her writing, but they did want her art.
summer, she had sold thirty drawings, and commissions began trickling
On her twenty-fourth
was an established illustrator.
specialized in pen and ink drawings, exquisitely detailed, of men and
Two authors with good
sales dominated her time for those illustrations. Most
others couldn't afford those
But many were willing to pay
for a good book cover, and that's where most of her income came from.
wrote her own books, and illustrated them as well.
gave up on the publishing houses, and
went the E-book route.
At the time Bob
Jeffers discovered her, she had five books published, and had sold
copies of each to make her grin. She'd
never get rich off her books, but they were fun to write, and she was
the message to the NSA, written on a sheet, was an email from her best
She was a woman who turned
romance novels at a prodigious rate, and was a household name among
enjoyed that genre.
What she did was
simply send snippets of her novels to Riley, in which there was a
description of what was going on. Riley
provided an illustration to match.
case, the description had involved a cheerleader and the coach of the
The snippet received
girl giving the coach a blow job in the shower of the locker room at
Riley had drawn it from the
side, showing two or three inches of the man's penis protruding from
mouth. The girl's hair was wet because she was on her knees in the shower room.
The email she got back after
sent the project to the author was warm, but terse.
"Riley, I'm sorry. I owe you an apology. You did exactly what I asked you to do, but
my publisher says this would get us all arrested. My lawyer says it's perfectly legal for me to
write about a seventeen-year-old having sex with an adult, but it's considered child porn to illustrate it. I didn't
know that when I sent you the job. I asked if she could be shown from the back, but he says I can't put any
picture in the book that shows her if it illustrates any kind of sex act.
From the way he freaked out, I'm surprised some federal agency hasn't already knocked on my door.
He says they watch emails specifically for images like this. Can you believe it? Our government spies on us!
Anyway, what do we do now?"
Riley had written back a long note, the thrust of which was to suggest that the drawing be saved for another book that it could be used in, such as a book about a college cheerleader. She said she wouldn't expect payment until that happened.
surfing for information on Government surveillance programs.
happy with what she learned.
what led to the sheet she stapled to her roof.
It wasn't much, but it was
all she could do to express her feelings
toward a government that she was sure would never respect her privacy.
"protest" was intended to be left on the roof permanently.
storm would probably remove it, but until
then, she'd leave it there.
She had, in
fact, completely forgotten about it when Bob Jeffers's eyes were
it as a little white anomaly on an otherwise green and brown surface.
is easy to
imagine her astonishment, when she received an envelope, bearing no
address, and a barely legible postmark, in which the message on her sheet had
the slip of paper.
She knew exactly to
what this message referred.
she thought someone must have been able to see her protest sheet from a
somewhere, and had thought it would be cute to send her this.
thought about the idea that someone from
the NSA had actually seen her sunbathing in the back yard from a
dismissed that idea immediately. She
just couldn't believe that would actually happen.
into the back yard and did a sweep with her eyes across the deep green
went up the mountain.
She didn't see any
roads, and the trees close to her house were too tall to see anything
She looked up. Fate
put an airplane overhead at that moment,
merely a silver glint in the sky, but she decided that was it.
in an airplane had seen her sign, and
was teasing her.
they have known about her bikini? Surely
someone in a plane couldn't see a person on the ground well enough to
they were wearing a bikini or not. She
had never flown, but all one had to do was look at people at the other
the mall, a few hundred yards away and it was clear no one in a plane
tell a woman in her back yard was wearing a bikini.
... she'd have heard and seen that,
especially if it was close enough to see what she was wearing.
was back to
the local person, who somehow saw her sign, and could also see into her
Someone like that might know
laid out in a bikini.
She scanned the
Her grandfather's property
extended into the growth of trees. She'd
hiked that land dozens of times with her son strapped to her back.
never seen one bit of evidence that any
other human had ever been there. She
had gone to parks and hiked where the trails were wide and smooth.
the trails on her grandfather's land ...
her land now ... were narrow and twisting.
She had always assumed they
were made by deer or some other animal.
was a little
creepy, thinking that somebody might be out there in the woods, looking
while she tanned.
She didn't own a gun,
had never even thought about getting one before.
She'd probably shoot her own
that, whoever it was, she wasn't going to let him spook her.
show him. She'd keep living her life
exactly like she had been. If he wanted to see her boobs, he'd have to
her face to face, the little pervert.
caught him sneaking around, spying on her, she'd clean his clock and
her vibrator up his ass and turn it on high.
fact, forgotten about the missive when, a week later, she laid out
soaking up the rays on a cool day.
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