Graham Robert Scott – The Bluffs of Taulaga Malo

After he strikes out with a blonde expat, I buy him a drink to commiserate. We’re at this island coast resort in Taulaga Malo. Kind of place where young and ambitious live the good life on a dime, lasting until the money or employer patience runs dry.

Bass pounds, decibels high enough so one dancer can lean close to another and shout in their ear about how maybe they ought to go somewhere quieter. A line that maybe I’ll use, I’m winging it, but right now it sucks because if you have my background, you love the sound of the surf. South Pacific waves are rolling only about a football field away, on the other side of a wall adorned with hideous tiki masks, but they might as well be on Venus.

After making sure I’m not gay (I’m ace, but he didn’t ask that), the guy who struck out relaxes and we step out into this courtyard canopied with mosquito netting, where the bass still pounds and the surf is still invisible, but maybe we can hear each other marginally better.

I say I’m in security; he gives me a line of bull about being in computers, consulting specifically, and I encourage him through nods and polite noises to elaborate. He says he never needed much training for his job, mostly manages other guys and those guys do the actual work. Money’s good. He gets out here a couple times a year to spend some of it. Have a few meaningless encounters, he adds, watching a local woman’s ass sway by.

Out of reciprocal courtesy, mostly a reflex, he asks about my business.

Our security company’s pretty new, I say. Specialize in rapid global deployment. If a client puts us on retainer, and one of their suits gets grabbed for a ransom (this is more common than suits imagine), we’re the guys who bring him home. If there’s some industrial sabotage at a maquiladora, we put a stop to it.

That sort of thing; you know how it is, I say. Though he doesn’t.

Lot of clients? he asks.

Just started pitching.

Here?

Ah, no. Here, we’re doing a kind of beta run.

He knows the term from his business, but I can see he’s having trouble connecting it to mine. I lean in close, voice lower, conspiratorial, and he joins me halfway, a two-man huddle.

My boss’s Mom is getting on in age, I say.

He nods.

Sweet woman, I say. Kind of a mom to all of us, but has dementia, mostly short-term issues. Her son has her keeping this digital memory box. Photos and records and genealogies and stuff, so she can hold on better to the old memories that are still lingering.

He nods again, already out of polite gestures. Attempts a sympathetic look but getting bored fast.

I pretend not to notice and continue: Anyway, a month ago she got this call. Guy claiming to be from Microsoft.

Now his face goes still.

I keep talking: Dude said they traced hackers to her computer and needed authorization to do some work. You know how it is.

(This time he does.)

And, no surprise, really, I continue: Mr. Microsoft locked down all her memory box stuff, told her to pay up or she’d never see it again, which is bad enough, but the guy kept coming back to her, ran the same scam a few times before one time she remembered enough to tell her son. Who, as I said, is my boss.

The other guy, he’s still breathing, but they’re real shallow breaths.

And so that (I say, draining my plastic cup of what has all along been bottled soda water), is how we picked our beta run. Turns out these guys aren’t hard to find. We’ve been spying on them with their own computer cameras and mics for two weeks.

My drink buddy doesn’t realize he’s squeezing a cup that’s just melted ice water and some garnish.

I add, shaking my head, all amused: And the showrunners for these operations, man, they go out and spend their winnings in really habitual ways. Really wear a pattern into the rug, know what I’m saying? No operations security at all. No bodyguards either. You can walk right up to them.

The guy is really sweating now. Glancing around for, well, who knows? The police here are almost useless. The exits, far from this central courtyard.

I didn’t make those calls, he says.

We know, I reply. You don’t make the calls. You’re the showrunner.

What do you want? he says.

What do you think I want?

Christ, you freak. I can get you the lady’s money. It’s cool. Stop with the Liam Neeson act.

Let’s do this outside, I say.

We are outside.

Outside outside.

He hesitates.

Or I can pound you to pulp in front of all the hotties.

He comes along, kind of sulky. Less money also means less time with women here in low-rent paradise.

I lead him to a spot I already scoped out, a high bluff. Here, I can see the surf and my pulse slows, evens out. My doctor would approve.

The guy takes out his phone, probably to arrange some kind of fund transfer. I knock the phone out of his hand. It spins into the sea.

He stares, jaw dropped.

And now he sees the knife.

I say: Remember when you said you were in “computer consulting,” but you really meant scamming?

Yes, he squeaks.

And then I replied that I was in “security”?

He doesn’t nod this time. Just stares at my hand and quivers.

I say, Well, we were both kind of telling the truth, but we were also both kind of lying.

*

Graham Robert Scott grew up in California, resides in Texas, owns neither surfboard nor cowboy hat. His stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Nature Futures, Orca, Pulp Literature, and others. He can be found on Twitter at @graythebruce, or at https://hemicyon.wordpress.com

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