1) Unnamed Teenage Hacker Story – This is my working title for a probably YA story about a girl with extreme hacking skills. She’s a bit of an introvert, and spends most of her day in the attic of her wealthy parents’ huge estate … dressed in yesterday’s pajamas and offering questionable technical help for hire to anonymous online clients. She has to become an amateur sleuth when she discovers that bigger, better, and genuinely malicious hackers have cleaned out the online bank of which her father is the CEO. I’m not quite sure where this story is headed, but I’m having a lot of fun working with this morally ambiguous antihero.
Inspiration hit, so I sat down and wrote several pages of disjointed plot. If I know what’s good for me, I really ought to take a step back and outline this story before I go any further.
On my birth certificate, it says my name Lorraine Anne Montgomery. Add that to the list of things you can’t pick – your parents, your friends’ noses, you know the drill. Dad calls me Lori, because it’s more efficient, he says.
Online, I’m known as LorE. People who don’t pay attention to letter case (I meet quite a few in my line of work) don’t quite get it. They usually pronounce it like the name of Data’s evil twin, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (I’ve seen each and every episode at least thrice.) I guess that works too. I mean, in comparison to my sister Deanna – born five minutes earlier and the family’s pride and joy – I guess I seem a little bit evil. Deanna is as good at highlighting-and-contouring as I am at torrenting.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I was the one who leaked Doctor Who the week before its official release last Spring. You’re welcome. I’m sure we can agree it was a waste of time, whenever and however you see it.*
I have extensive knowledge of every programming language imaginable (I’m even developing my own), and I’m pretty handy with a graphics tablet. If you want a photo with your favorite celebrity, but can’t afford the price for a Comic Con ticket, I can stitch you in for about half the price. Don’t like that I have a cracked edition of Adobe CS? Three words: Go Fund Me.
I know, Malcolm Montgomery III, CEO of Montgomery Banks and my father, owns a huge, posh house and makes enough money in one hour to retire in time for supper; but due to some extraneous details not worth describing here, I have extremely limited access to any substantial assets. The remaining $600 stashed away in my secret Paypal account is being saved for more important projects than Adobe’s monthly fees.
You are probably beginning to suspect my good-kid-ness right about now.
Read on, you’ll see how good a Samaritan I’d be if I only lived in Samaria.
I was hacking my way into the online banking system, to check on those funds I technically have no access to, and having a debate with myself whether to transfer a handsome chunk of it into a more accessible platform, or just let everyone believe that Montgomery Bank’s security system is sufficient to keep slime and villainy like me out, when I noticed another presence making its way through the servers.
Next thing I knew, the widowed socialite Gloria Schoenenknofter’s trust fund was emptied before my eyes in a matter of seconds. Soon after, Dr. Ernest Lencroft’s bank account was completely cleaned out.
I had to tell someone. And since I share this domicile with the company’s CEO, I’d be remiss if I opted to notify the offshore tech support team instead.
Tonight was the night I’d tell him.
Twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, we dine together. “As a family,” my mother likes to put it. Dad comes home at five-thirty, like everyone else’s dads, and Deanna chooses the dinner menu. Mum supervises the table-setting, and makes sure the “second-best china” (as opposed to the “best china,” which we use at parties, or the “good china,” which we use when Grandmarie visits) is used. Napkins are painstakingly folded in the latest style. The silverware is arranged in perfect order, each utensil exactly one half-centimeter apart. Everything is just so.
My mum fancies herself a modern-day Audrey Hepburn, except nobody would catch her walking down a city street in the morning, dressed in her finest silks, with a pastry hanging out of her mouth. She’d lose to Slash in a round of Guitar Hero, too – and don’t ask her to sing. She does wear the fine silks, though. And like every old-fashioned aristocrat in every old-fashioned chick flick, Mum runs a tight ship … er, mansion.
If you do so much as sneeze on a bookshelf in the East Wing and you’re certain she was last seen playing Bridge out west, she’ll know. An entourage of duster-toting maids will be onto you faster than you can reply, “Bless you.”
Naturally, Mum adores Deanna. Deanna’s bedroom wouldn’t give Mum a nervous breakdown like mine does. (Trust me, there’s a sense of organization to my room: layer one is the clean clothes, layer two is my vintage Encyclopedia Britannica set, layer five is where I dump my dirty socks….)
At exactly seven o’clock, into the dining room they sailed, looking more like sisters or BFF’s – Mum with her imported French BB cream and Deanna with her radiantly blemish-free teenage skin. Dad was of course late, later than me, which makes me look good after a hard day of work in total, blissful isolation.
I had the sense to come in about half an hour early – heck, after wiping my palms on what had also been yesterday’s jeans, I even helped with the napkin-folding. One napkin takes a skilled folder about five minutes – I kept myself busy for a good twenty.
“Hey,” I said, barely looking up from my place-setting. I didn’t want to be blinding by all the bling. Deanna outshines Edward Cullen, and Mum wears enough jewelry for six queens.
“Lorraine!” Deanna can never say my name without shrieking. “You could have at least changed into a clean blouse and slacks.” She wore this navy-blue jumper with polka-dots a la 1950, which complemented her fake-tan and gold-highlighted hair. (We’re both natural brunettes, by the way.)
I made my best attempt at an elaborate, uncaring shrug, (although I suppose yesterday’s jeans and my old Nirvana shirt did look a little shabby). I wasn’t the one taking drama classes, but it got the point across. Deanna sighed – it was a tortured, drawn-out hurricane of a sigh.
“Where is your father?” Mum muttered, more to herself than us. She fanned herself with the stiff, starchy napkin I’d just folded.
Five minutes later, Malcolm Montgomery, ever the punctual meeting-goer, arrived. He still wore the suit and tie he’d worn to work, and, out of habit that Mum so detested, he still had his briefcase in one hand, and a tablet tucked under the other arm. “Sorry I’m late,” he apologized.
“Again,” Deanna muttered, but nobody seemed to hear the blessed child’s insolence.
The family rituals of forehead-kisses and awkward hugs commenced and passed, and seats were taken. The appetizer was served, and Mum led the conversation with a lengthy account of her bridge game today. Deanna, unnoticed, pigged out on salad and pigs-in-blankets. I occupied myself with liberating the little piggies from those awful-tasting blankets.
“Lori, you’re making a mess.”
“Sorry, Dad,” I replied instinctively, looking up from the buttery carnage surrounding my plate, “but puff pastry is murder to my complexion.”
Deanna looked up from her salad plate and glared. (Only I knew that her acne situation was worse than mine – last year I loaned her $200 for a tube of European foundation guaranteed to look totally invisible.) Mum frowned disapprovingly – was it of the pimples I already had? Immediately, I wished I could kick myself – these cheeky remarks were second-nature to me, and making them was not to my advantage if I needed them to believe me tonight.
Most nights, I’m either given an ultimatum that involves leaving the table early, or stumbling out on my own. Tonight, I’d have to kiss up to everyone if I was expected to stay.
“Mum, your hair looks great tonight,” I said hurriedly, gathering up the pastry flakes and placing them neatly on my plate.
Mum made an odd face I couldn’t quite read, and the room suddenly fell silent. What did I say wrong this time?
“How was school, Deanna?” Dad foraged on.
Deanna proceeded to give a lengthy narrative about a catfight with her new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, how she was running for class president, and the further drama that ensued in yesterday’s cheerleader meet. Mum nodded on empathetically, periodically offering feminine anecdotes of advice. With all that goes on in Deanna’s school, you’d think they never even had time to learn anything important.
“Sounds like you’re having fun,” Dad observed, thinking to include me. “It’s a pity, Lori, that you didn’t stay on. You could keep Deanna company.”
Deanna isn’t exactly lonely, I wanted to say, but I held back. Besides, if correspondence courses meant that I could learn whatever I want, when I want, with no annoying people to distract me, so be it.
“Think of how many friend’s you’d make,” Mum said. “And,” she added with a wink, “a boyfriend.”
Can I be perfectly honest with you? I don’t find boys to be all that interesting. Plus, most of the guys in Deanna’s school care only about pretty faces and having big muscles – brains just don’t factor in anywhere. And the nerdy, non-athletic boys take it the wrong way if a girl so much as smiles at them. Until the rest of adolescent mankind learns to get their hormones in order (AKA never), I have nothing to gain from being in their company. And yeah, I just don’t like people much in general. People are strange, whether or not you’re a stranger to them.
Filleted salmon and caviar, served on a bed of couscous and lettuce, was brought to the table just then, rescuing me from my temptation to respond cheekily yet again. I shoved a few bites into my mouth, not caring which fork I used, until I detected a lull in the conversation. I managed to take a deep breath without inhaling any fishbones in the process. It was now or never.
“Dad, someone broke into the online banking system today.”
It took approximately seven point nine seven five seconds for my father to respond. “Hm?”
I’ve learned to be patient with him. So I repeated the words verbatim, now that I had a larger fraction of his attention.
“That’s nice, dea–” He stopped mid-word, making a choking sound. “Wait, what?”
I repeated my report a third time. This time, Malcolm Montgomery set down his fork on his napkin and, for a full five minutes, he rubbed his temples as though experiencing a splitting headache.
“Lorraine, sweetheart,” he finally said, his voice weary-sounding and muffled by his hands. “I simply can’t believe this is what you’re resorting to.”
“Look,” I said defensively, poking the tablecloth for emphasis and scattering more pastry, “I just wanted to take a peek at my financial assets when I saw–”
But Dad wasn’t finished. “Telling hyperbolic stories, especially about the family business that has allowed you to live in such privilege! Lori, your mother and I have been over this with you – if you want to talk with us, if you want our attention, all you need to do is ask … with civility and decorum.”
“But I’m doing that,” I insisted, ignoring Mom and Deanna’s uncomfortable stares. “I’m trying to tell you that there’s a serious flaw in the system, of Death Star proportions, which is putting thousands of your clients at risk–”
My father’s eyes bored hawklike into mine, seeing something, someone I’m not, in my place. “I can’t listen to this nonsense. If you haven’t anything valid to contribute to the conversation, I encourage you to yield to your sister and mother.”
Your message is coming through loud and clear, Father dear. I clammed up fast, letting Deanna change the subject to something asinine and superficial like before. But that didn’t stop my desperate thoughts from banging against the confines of my mind.
If my own father wasn’t going to believe me, there was only one other person I knew who might.
I had to see Charlie.
The elevator opened its doors with a satisfying whoosh as it arrived at the 18th floor where MontBank’s executive offices reside. (Technically, it’s the 17th, due to the absence of a 13th floor. Some people are still ridiculously suspicious.)
The secretary behind the front desk was a slender, petite, middle-aged woman, about 2/5ths its size. As I approached her desk, she paused her game of Solitaire, fluffed her platinum hair, pushed her cat-eye glasses to the bridge of her nose, and looked over them at me. “Hello there. Shouldn’t you be in school?”
I ignored the question. “I’m looking for Charles Waters. Is he in today?”
Cat-eyes sighed and fiddled with her keyboard, pretending to be busy. “One moment. Let me page him.”
Charlie, who uses his mom’s surname so he doesn’t get any preferential treatment from those people in charge.
Charlie, the proud inventor of a sugar-alloy plastic that’s so unbreakable, I use it as a laptop case.
Charlie, my brother.
Well, he’s actually my half-brother. His mom met my dad when they were at Uni. Charlie was born, and when he was five, they split. Ten years of being single later, my hard-working banker father met the beautiful socialite, Sally Van Pelt, got married, and bam – enter Deanna and me.
When he was a teenager and acted out, Charlie used to call our house the halfway house, which gave my mother endless conniptions. “Let’s see,” he liked to say. “I only live here half the time, and Lorraine and Deanie are only my half-sisters.”
That isn’t to say he doesn’t like us. He even tolerates Deanna! Best of all, Charlie’s a nerd, like me, so we get along great. But he’s also a total zealot for doing the right thing. His job just so happens to be the other, brighter side of online security, but he hates it because it’s so boring and repetitive.
“Lorraine, everyone, no matter how careful they are, leaves a digital footprint – a trail of breadcrumbs, if you will. I know, you think you’re a pro at this. Just because Dad hasn’t figured it out doesn’t mean you’re totally safe. You’ve waltzed through MontBank OnLine’s security systems so many times … did it ever occur to you to look over your shoulder at who might be following you all this time?”
A sudden chill made its way up my spine as I came to the awful realization. “So this mess is all my fault…?”