Can You See Me Now?

by Lubrican

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Chapter Two

He had to be careful. He, meaning his agency, mailed things all the time. Usually there was no need to maintain secrecy about where those mailings came from. But sometimes, secrecy was demanded. In the old days, couriers had been used in those situations. But with the advent of computers, it was possible to route a message to any number of locations where there were automated services. What that meant was that the computer that received the message would print it, along 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 that would take it to a mail room. It would be run through a postage machine there, and mailed. And the whole thing could be done without the involvement of a single human being.

The original 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 Alexandria, Egypt.

Bob used that system now to mail a short message to the address his system had identified for the house with the sheet on the roof and the sunbathing girl in the back yard. It was addressed to "occupant". He'd wanted to address it to "Bikini Girl," but if somebody in the mail room saw it, that might draw attention.

The message 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."

He knew he 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 figure out if what he'd written was a code of some kind.

But he couldn't resist.

He took a deep breath ... and punched "send."

He'd intended to show the picture to Jerry, but he decided not to. Better if only he knew about the girl who was trying to thumb her nose at a major, powerful government agency.

He made up a batch of tuna and noodles. The agency supplied a variety of foods to the analysts, and there was a full kitchen. 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, because whoever replaced him would still be living in the room he was currently in. But all the bedrooms were the same, so it didn't matter. All the analysts brought a suitcase with them, with clothes for three days. When they left, they took everything from the room except the combination TV, Radio, CD player and alarm clock supplied by the agency. While he was doing his last eight hours of this rotation, some faceless person would change the sheets on the bed, and empty the trash can. His suitcase would be waiting for him just inside the door.

Such was his life.

Riley Franklin took her hand off the mouse, leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. They felt dry, but she knew that was only a side effect of staring at a computer screen for the last three hours. She 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. Once she got the current job finished, then she could engage in her real passion.

She cast a practiced eye at the screen one last time. It was a book cover. On it, a snarling dragon held an almost lifeless female form in its toothy jaws, blood dripping down one of her arms. The terrain around the dragon suggested rocky, barren wastes. The stake jutting from the rock, with its hanging manacles, was a clear reference that the girl had been held there against her will. Never mind that, had the dragon actually pulled her from her shackles, her hands would probably have been torn off. But it didn't have to mimic reality. The image communicated a dragon accepting the offered sacrifice, and that was what the customer wanted.

She examined the scales on the curled and twisting tail of the beast. The instructions had said the dragon must be black, in an environment of burned and blasted rock. Delineating dark colors was a lot of work. It involved the judicious use of lighter colors in tiny amounts. Such as the thin rim of sixteen different colors that edged each and every scale on the dragon's body. Without those arcing lines, there would be no scales, only a dark blob in a flat shape that was supposed to be a moving dragon.

She looked at the book cover critically. She should have followed her first instinct and used pen and ink, with paints to fill in the color. It would have taken just as long, but it would have looked better. Computer generated graphics were a little sharper, though.

She sighed. 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 by the complexity. People see graphic images by the thousands every single day, but most of the time they just think they're photographs. They don't realize someone sat and painstakingly created the image, pixel by pixel until, like the author of the book she was working with, they asked for something in their imagination to be made visible. When she gave that to them, it almost never matched their imagination ... but it always awed them, because it was "their" imagination that had created it.

Riley didn't care that people usually credited themselves with the splendor of her art work. They paid her, and they paid her well. That was what mattered. That was what kept a roof over their heads, and food on the table.

Life hadn't been kind to Riley Franklin, for the most part. Raised in a dusty Texas panhandle town, Riley had lived in a trailer court. Her mother was a waitress, and her father was a drunk, who couldn't keep a job, and rarely looked for one. There was no extra money for an allowance, or new clothes for the first day of school each year. Most of her clothes came from the Goodwill store. She was short for her age, but had developed, as a female, early. By the time she was twelve, if a tape had been put around her chest, it would have read 32 inches. When she walked into the high school building for the first time, though, the only two bras she owned were sized at 36CC. On a five foot three frame, with a waist that measured 24 inches, and hips that swelled to 32 inches, she was like a miniature Barbie Doll. She drew the boys like moths to the flame, and all the popular girls hated her. She had waist-long black hair that was straight, and thick. Her pug nose and bright eyes sat on a rounded face that never seemed to lose a thin layer of baby fat.

In short, Riley Franklin was a babe, and she stiffened the cock of every boy who saw her. And not a few of her male teachers as well.

Based on her "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. After that, you were either someone's girlfriend for life ... or a slut.

So she carefully hoarded the one thing she had to trade to get a boy who would love her and take care of her and take her to live in a real house, instead of a rotting, ancient mobile home that shook in even a mild storm.

She cannot be blamed for buying in to the fairy tales about true love. Most of us do that, at least to some degree. There are many princesses, but very few princes. And living happily ever after? It's a myth. Nobody lives happily ever after. She would find that out just like the rest of us ... the hard way.

Because she kept her legs firmly closed, most guys only took her out two or three times, and then moved on to greener pastures. Eventually, the offers stopped altogether. When you have a reputation for being an ice queen, a lot of guys don't even try.

That left Riley 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 or three. And, since there was little in the real world around her of any interest, she drew the things in her imagination.

An art teacher 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 been. Her talent, and the support of that art teacher, got her to college, still a virgin, but working almost full time to pay her way.

Still, she had no man in her life to demand her time, and she wasn't in a hurry to get a degree. She lived in housing that other students had lived in for decades, but it was still better than her mother's trailer. Another plus was that she had enough to eat, and now it wasn't wrong food orders, hours old, that her mother brought home from the restaurant.

But the most important change in her life was that she now had access to computers.

She was twenty, and probably the best artist in the little community college, when the radar that had served her so faithfully all those years malfunctioned. It 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 offered, convinced her that his other compliments were genuine, and that he really was helplessly attracted to her. He "resisted" his drives, telling her how hard it was to maintain a professional separation as he touched her shoulder, or arm, or moved her hand on the mouse to show her the next thing to do as beautiful images were created from literally nothing on the screen of the computer.

She was dazzled by the attention that convinced her he was smitten with her, and would love her forever.

When she lay back, opening her legs to a man for the first time, she dismissed the initial pain, sure that she'd found her prince. That he was an accomplished lover helped.

Chuck's behavior after that would have convinced any woman she was the only thing he could think about. He fucked her every opportunity, and in every place he could, including at school, in the janitor's 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 him, rutted in her as if she were the last woman on an earth, and repopulation of the planet was up to them.

He never wore a condom. 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.

Until, one night, after work, she came home, and his apartment was stripped clean, as empty as her hopes that she had somehow entered the wrong apartment. She hoped it was a bad dream. Only a single thing remained in the place where she had become pregnant, and had such high hopes. It was a piece of scrap paper, upon which the words "Sorry. I'm just not the father type," were written.

It wasn't a bad dream. It was a nightmare. He was gone. 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.

She lucked out 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 the 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.

The ad agency had loved her work. She had a knack for bringing other people's imagination to life in her drawings. They offered to pay her way through two more years of college, so she could get her bachelor's degree, but demanded she give them four years after that. While they 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 fun. She made a counter offer. She would work for them, and they would send her to the individual classes she wanted to attend. There was some dickering, but in the end, she got the education she wanted, and they got her talent for another year.

She left Texas without a degree, but she did have a place to live. Her grandfather had deeded her a cabin in the mountains of Colorado and, since she was only twelve at the time, her mother 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 whatever 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 used for any other purpose. The paperwork that went along with his gift had specified the property could not be sold until she was twenty-one. She had owned it since she was twelve, but had never been able to go see it. It was always a sore point with her mother, who refused to take her there, and called it a dump anyway.

The 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." He routed them through the Oklahoma panhandle and New Mexico, because he also wanted to set a record for the number of States 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 until 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 the sun, under the open sky. They stopped at a park in Colorado, where he at least took her into the bushes to use the blanket again. 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 shower.

She should have tumbled to the fact that the man was a sex addict, but she was young, and in love for the first time in her life. She convinced herself that this was how all couples in love acted. They were just private enough about it that it wasn't obvious to the "uninitiated."

When they'd gotten to the cabin, she was disappointed, because it had lain empty for most of a decade. She didn't see it as a dump, because in her opinion it beat her mother's trailer, but it also wasn't a home. There were animal nests here and 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. There had been more to that weekend, but she preferred not to think about that, now.

But when she finished her schooling, and left Davidson and Associates Advertising Agency to carve out a life of her own ... the cabin was the only place she had to go to.

After being 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 figuratively. The cabin wasn't much to look at, but it had great potential. It had been built well, originally, and most of the needed repairs were cosmetic. Further, he'd bought the land long before Colorado Springs exploded into the mountains and the amazing land features had been developed by entrepreneurs, hungry for tourist dollars. Because of that, she now owned forty-five acres of gorgeous mountainside, in a place where most people were lucky to own a quarter acre.

She had peace and quiet, privacy, and space to stretch her arms. She could hike her own land for hours and never see another human being. It wasn't like taking an evening walk, especially since she had to carry Curtis if they were going more than half a mile. At four years of age, he loved to "go to the woods," but he was still just a little boy. 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. And it was good for Curtis to get all that fresh, mountain air, and as much exercise as he could take too. She never had a hard time getting him to take a nap, or go to bed if they'd been on a good hike.

So they had great privacy. At the same time, all the amenities were within ten miles, and the scenery was to die for. After 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 flat either, and based on its condition, she doubted the snow plow would come up that far.

She would deal with that when it happened. At the present, she was just happy to be someplace she loved, for once. It was an unusual feeling for her. She'd never been anyplace she didn't want to leave. There was no man in her life, but 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. But knowing he was only using her gave the memories a bitter aftertaste in her mind. She rarely thought of him anymore. 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 intimate with.

She 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 Social Security. 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 terminal, 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. Tourists rarely came up that far because the city, or county, or whoever, hadn't paved it past the railway terminal. The road wasn't steep, but it was bumpy and filled with pot holes.

One reason Bessie was so irascible, initially, was because she was lonely. Like most people, though, she was taken with Curtis, and she offered to watch him, should Riley need to "run into town or whatever." 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 and Associates. Colorado Springs had a really good Salvation Army thrift store, and since she bought everything there for the whole house, they even delivered it. The structure was weather-beaten, and needed paint, but it was basically sound. There was a wood stove in it, which was good, because she couldn't afford to fill the propane tank with more than was needed to cook with. Using the propane heater would come in time. She just moved forward in baby steps.

And, once again, she drew what she wanted to draw.

The tips were good where she worked, but she wasn't making enough to fix up the cabin, and winter was coming. Another waitress 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. My boyfriend brings me to work."

She tried it, and was stunned. She could make three hundred a day in tips. It was crazy. It was also hard work, and within 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 'papoose board'. Her calves became hard as steel.

The idea to 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. A 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.

There were some good authors there, but there were a lot more that didn't fit that classification. At least not in her opinion. In fact, she thought she could do a better job than them.

What she wrote was a story that she wished she had lived. It was just that simple. In it, the man cared about the woman. He wanted her to be happy, and fulfilled, because that made him happy and fulfilled. It was just a simple love story, the story she had hoped to live some day, but had not. She drew original illustrations for the story, making them less than pornographic, but quite titillating. Then she posted it, just to see if there would be any reaction.

She was stunned. People loved it. She got emails of praise.

So she wrote another one. She got two emails from authors who wanted to know where she got her graphics. When she told them she drew them herself, they asked how much she'd charge per drawing to supply them. Neither bought anything. 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.

She sent her book to a publishing house that specialized in romance novels.

They didn't want her writing, but they did want her art.

By the next summer, she had sold thirty drawings, and commissions began trickling in for more. On her twenty-fourth birthday, she was an established illustrator. She specialized in pen and ink drawings, exquisitely detailed, of men and women in erotic situations. Two authors with good sales dominated her time for those illustrations. Most others couldn't afford those drawings. But many were willing to pay for a good book cover, and that's where most of her income came from.

Meanwhile, she wrote her own books, and illustrated them as well. She 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 enough copies of each to make her grin. She'd never get rich off her books, but they were fun to write, and she was proud of them.

What had precipitated the message to the NSA, written on a sheet, was an email from her best customer. She was a woman who turned out romance novels at a prodigious rate, and was a household name among those who enjoyed that genre. What she did was simply send snippets of her novels to Riley, in which there was a worded description of what was going on. Riley provided an illustration to match.

In the latest case, the description had involved a cheerleader and the coach of the football team. The snippet received described the girl giving the coach a blow job in the shower of the locker room at school. Riley had drawn it from the side, showing two or three inches of the man's penis protruding from the girl's mouth. The girl's hair was wet because she was on her knees in the shower room. The email she got back after she 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.

Then she went surfing for information on Government surveillance programs.

She wasn't happy with what she learned.

And that was 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.

Her "protest" was intended to be left on the roof permanently. A 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 attracted to it as a little white anomaly on an otherwise green and brown surface.

It is easy to imagine her astonishment, when she received an envelope, bearing no return address, and a barely legible postmark, in which the message on her sheet had been responded to.

Riley stared at the slip of paper. She knew exactly to what this message referred. At first, she thought someone must have been able to see her protest sheet from a road somewhere, and had thought it would be cute to send her this. She thought about the idea that someone from the NSA had actually seen her sunbathing in the back yard from a satellite, but dismissed that idea immediately. She just couldn't believe that would actually happen.

She went out into the back yard and did a sweep with her eyes across the deep green that went up the mountain. She didn't see any roads, and the trees close to her house were too tall to see anything nearby. She looked up. Fate put an airplane overhead at that moment, merely a silver glint in the sky, but she decided that was it. Someone in an airplane had seen her sign, and was teasing her.

But how would they have known about her bikini? Surely someone in a plane couldn't see a person on the ground well enough to know if they were wearing a bikini or not. She had never flown, but all one had to do was look at people at the other end of the mall, a few hundred yards away and it was clear no one in a plane could tell a woman in her back yard was wearing a bikini.

Helicopter? No ... she'd have heard and seen that, especially if it was close enough to see what she was wearing.

She was back to the local person, who somehow saw her sign, and could also see into her back yard. Someone like that might know she laid out in a bikini. She scanned the woods again. 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. She'd 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. But 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.

It was a little creepy, thinking that somebody might be out there in the woods, looking at her while she tanned. She didn't own a gun, had never even thought about getting one before.

She did now.

She snorted. She'd probably shoot her own foot.

She decided that, whoever it was, she wasn't going to let him spook her. She'd show him. She'd keep living her life exactly like she had been. If he wanted to see her boobs, he'd have to talk to her face to face, the little pervert.

And if she caught him sneaking around, spying on her, she'd clean his clock and then stick her vibrator up his ass and turn it on high.

She had, in fact, forgotten about the missive when, a week later, she laid out again, soaking up the rays on a cool day.

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