“Come on, where is it?” Dan Boker was hunched over the dresser’s top drawer and pawing through its contents. When he couldn’t find the object in question, he began grabbing handfuls of socks and underwear and proceeded to toss the garments over his shoulder. “Fuck! Where the fuck is it!”
Chelsea came into the bedroom holding Clive. From his mother’s arms, the baby looked stupidly at his father while the man worked himself into a frenzy.
“Why are you yelling?” Chelsea asked.
He glanced at her then returned his attention back to the dresser. “Did you move it?”
“What do you mean?”
“The memory stick. The red USB drive I put in here. Did you move it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well it didn’t fucking move on its own.”
“Hey, you wanna not curse in front of your son?”
He looked over again and seemed to realize for the first time that Clive was present. “Yeah, alright. Sorry. Listen, was there anyone else over here this week? It was in here on Tuesday, so anytime between then and now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Stop asking me that,” he said, then took a deep breath to calm himself. “Sorry. I mean, did anyone come in the house this week besides you, me, and the baby.”
“No. Well, just Aiden.”
“Shultz? Ben’s kid?”
“Yeah, he watched Clive for a few minutes on Wednesday while I ran to the store. Why are you getting so worked up?”
Dan shook his head, “Oh God.” He closed the dresser drawer and walked past Chelsea into the hall. Clive’s bewildered eyes followed him.
“Where are you going?” Chelsea called after him.
“Daniel, please don’t,” she said, but the front door was already swinging shut behind him.
Chelsea and Clive watched from the front window as Dan moved across the lawn muttering something to himself and shaking his head. He scaled the porch steps of the Shultz’, flung open the screen door, and rapped his knuckled on the wooden one. A few seconds passed with no answer, then he closed the screen and rang the bell a few times. Wendy opened the door a few moments later and looked at him through the screen.
Her head tilted. “Dan?”
“Hey, Wendy. Sorry to bother you, but Aiden wouldn’t happen to be home would he?”
“No, actually he’s not. What’s this about?”
“Oh, I just needed to ask him something. Chelsea…” Dan’s voice trailed off and he looked down and to the left. His eyes bugged out then he snapped back into focus and returned his gaze to Wendy through the screen. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”
Ben Shultz appeared behind his wife. “Dan? Hey, how goes it.”
“Ben. Hi. I was just asking Wendy… Well, the thing is, and I know this must seem… odd, or, whatever… But I just need to ask Aiden something. Do you know when he’ll be back?”
Ben and Wendy looked at one another with an almost identical look of perturbation.
“He’s at a friend’s right now,” Ben said as he edged himself in front of Wendy. He stepped through the screen door and onto the porch so that he and Dan faced each other. “I’m not sure when he’ll be home. So what’s this about, Dan?”
“It’s probably nothing, and…I wouldn’t ever accuse your son of anything without any proof…Anyway, will you just tell him I stopped by? I just need to ask him something.”
“Just tell him I stopped by?” Before Ben could say another word, Dan turned and left the porch and jogged back the way he had come. When he came into the house, Chelsea and Clive were in the kitchen. The baby was seated in his high chair grabbing handfuls of Cheerios from a plastic bowl and shoveling them into his mouth. Chelsea was simultaneously stirring something in a pot on the stove andwatching on the small countertop TV as Presidential hopeful, Anthony Simon, spoke about healthcare reform. Chelsea turned to look at her husband when she heard his footsteps on the linoleum.
“You don’t actually think Aiden went through your sock drawer.”
“Listen,” he glanced over to the TV for a moment then took a deep breath and looked at Chelsea. “Did you move it? I won’t be mad, but you have to tell me. Okay? You have to tell me.”
“No. I don’t even know what memory chip you’re even talking about. What’s so important about it?”
Dan stared at his wife as if she were some kind of abstract painting. “What have I told you a million times?”
“Well maybe if it’s such a secret, you should’ve put it someplace else. Those people at Votech can give you important things but they can’t give you a safe or something to put them in?”
“It’s not from the people at Votech. It’s something for some freelance work I’m doing.”
“Well if it’s such a secret, those people you’re doing freelance work for should give you a safe.”
When he could find no retort, he closed his eyes and took another deep breath. When he opened them, Chelsea had turned away from him and was again stirring the pot.
“Will you just let me know if Aiden Shultz calls, or if he comes over?” he said. Then he turned and went back down the hall to the bedroom. He closed the door behind him and the phone began to ring in the kitchen. When it stopped ringing, he opened the door back up and stuck his head out into the hall. He could hear Chelsea talking.
“…I don’t know. It’s about something with his work… Yeah. I’m really sorry, Wendy.He’s just been really stressed lately… Yeah… I know, he can definitely come off as… I guess kind of weird, but it’s part of his charm ha ha… Yeah… Tell Aiden not to worry about it… Yeah… Hey, yeah, we should! You know, there’s this great brunch place over on Berkeley, ‘The Golden Egg,’ it’s called. Yeah… they have this amazing breakfast skillet that…”
Dan closed the door again. He shuffled over to the bed and sat down. Through the closed door he could still hear Chelsea’s muffled voice as the she talked to Wendy Shultz at his own expense. His eyes went over to the dresser and to the small mountain of socks and underwear on the carpet in front of it. Athought struck him and he got off the bed and fell down onto his knees before the garment pile. He picked up each sock and each pair of underwear and felt their insides for the USB stick. When it failed to turn up, he went back into the drawer and checked the socks and underwear he hadn’t taken out. Nothing.
He backed away from the dresser and sat down on the floor next to the pile. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, holding the air in for five mental Mississippis before exhaling. As his heartrate slowed, an internal pep talk began to take place in his head.
Okay, so the worst possible thing has happened, which means things can’t get any worse.
He nodded to himself in agreement with this strangely optimistic thought.
If no one took it, then it can’t have gone too far. Chelsea doesn’t realize how important it is, but she was never one for pranks,so she wouldn’t take it just to fuck with you. And of course you don’t have to worry about Clive, as the boy wouldn’t’ve been able to reach the top drawer anyway. So, okay, two feasible possibilities:
- No one, save for Steve, the higher up, and myself, know the information that’s on it, so no one would be looking to steal it for its contents. But someone – Aiden Shultz or someone else – could’ve taken it for no reason other than to fuck with you, or simply because they wanted a USB drive.
- I’m seriously misremembering where I put it.
If option 1 were correct, it would mean the USB could be virtually anywhere, so he needed, for the sake of everything,to see option 2 as being the only possible answer to the problem. But if option 2 was correct, then where on God’s green Earth could he have put the USB if not in the top drawer of the dresser? The car maybe? Maybe it fell out of his pocket on the way from the car to the dresser and he only imagined putting it in the dresser because that’s what he was intent on doing. Yeah, he saw himself doing it – pictured himself completing the act – but he never actually acted. Strange, and potentially indicative of some early stage mental illness, but not impossible. He stood and went out into the hall and was met by a pleasant odor in the air.
“Smells good, Chels,” he said, walking through the kitchen towards the door that opened into the garage. He felt hopeful that the lost object would be in his grasp within the next three minutes or so, and the prospect made him flash Chelsea an inane smile as he passed by her.
“Did you find it?” she asked, but the garage door was already swinging shut behind him.
He flicked on the light and went around to the front passenger side of his car. He looked in the glove box first, then in the middle console, under the seats and in their crevices. He then checked the trunk, and every wheel well. When it became clear that it wasn’t anywhere near the vehicle, he could feel his heartrate start to ramp up again. There was no other specific place he could think of to search, and he would need time to scour every inch of the house and, if it wasn’t there, on and beneath the pier as well. But time wasn’t something he had much of, as it was already – he looked down at his watch – 6:14. His palms went down onto the hood of the car for support and he began to hyperventilate.
The whole assignment seemed so easy on Tuesday, which made sense, because it fucking should’ve been. Steve told him that their Votech office had been contacted by a certain “political” higher up, and that Dan, being one of their veteran IT guys, was chosen to carry out a very specific duty which would have big implications not only for the company, but for his own career to boot. He was told not to ask any questions, and that upon successful completion of the task, there would be a big promotion waiting for him. New office and head of the IT department big. No more nine to five grind for Danny boy; he would be making his own hours with a group of people working directly under him to do the heavy lifting. According to Steve, he had vouched for Dan to this “political” higher up, saying that Dan was the most reliableguy they had at Votech. A guy who would certainly see the big picture and who would do the job right.
And so feeling both greatly appreciatedand zealous for the opportunity to prove himself, Dan left the office to where the scheduled drop-off would be: Cadence Pier. He took a seat on the fourth bench to the right from the end of the pier, just as instructed, and waited and watched as the gulls flew overhead and the waves crested atop the water. A few minutes passed and the blonde woman sat down next to him, just as Steve had foretold.
She turned towards him, “Nice day, huh?”
He gave a response to this specific question using the specific phrase given to him by Steve, “Yeah, still feels like summer.”
Upon hearing these words, the woman reached into her purse and pulled out the red USB and handed it to him. He immediately put it in his pocket and the woman said, “Wait for the call on your landline, it’ll be either Thursday or Friday before seven. They’ll tell you when to do it and which ones to use.” Then she was gone and he waited there on the bench for ten minutes, just as instructed, before going home. The first thing he did when he came in the house was walk to the bedroom and put the USB in the top drawer of the dresser. Yeah, his memory of doing this was so clear there could be no other answer as to where it could be. So how come it wasn’t there? Where the fuck was it?
He took his palms off the car’s hood and used them to cover his face. Defeated groans escaped from his throat while his head shook slowly back and forth.
The worst part of all was that no one else would be taking the blame for this. Steve might get reamed for suggesting him, but the failure of the task itself rested on Dan and Dan alone. But Christ, how could he be so careless as to put it in the unlocked drawer and not check on it at least once since Tuesday? Fucking stupid! They hadn’t called yesterday, and because they hadn’t called, he hadn’t checked to make sure the USB was still there. If he had only looked he would’ve found that it wasn’t there, and he could’ve had a full day to track it down.But given that today was Friday at – he checked his watch – at 6:18, he now had, at most, forty-one minutes before he would need to have the USB in his hand and ready to go.
He took a breath. Maybe it was okay though. She said they’d be calling either yesterday or today “before seven.” Those were her exact words. But what ifshe meant seven AM? Neither the blonde woman nor Steve said anything about whether this call would be coming in the morning or at night. Yeah, that actually made sense. It was already getting pretty late in the day, and this was the kind of thing that would definitely have a bigger impact if done in the morning. More people would see it throughout the day as opposed to at night, and it would have a full work day to marinate in the minds of the American people. Of course, it had to be in the morning. So if they hadn’t called yet, maybethat meant that instead of calling, they would call the whole thing off and not call him ever. Maybe they changed their strategy entirely and didn’t need his services after all. His breathing relaxed a little more. Yeah, if they were going to call, they would’ve done it already. Now he could still find the lost USB, and it should be no problem because his head was a bit clearer and he wasn’t racing the clock anymore. There was still time. Plenty of time to…
He looked up. Chelsea was standing in the doorway ofthe garage with the phone in her hand.
“For you,” she said, holding the device out to him, “something for work.”
In the space of a second, Dan’s mind played out a scenario wherein he jumped in his car and backed out through the closed garage door as Chelsea looked on in horror. He floored it out of the neighborhood, and out of town. All the way out of the state. He hit as many ATMs as he could on the way, emptying his account to have some cash on hand so he could disappear. He shaved his head in a gas station bathroom, got color contacts, and procured a full set of documents that confirmed his new identity. He went into the desert. Built a shack. No, the woods. Yeah, built a cabin in the forest where no one would ever find him. Lived to old age in nature with no landline and no USB and no goddamn “political” higher upsaround for miles.
Reality came hurtling back at him and he tilted his head and looked at his wife as if she were an abstract painting, “Thanks babe, how long till dinner?”
She eyeballed him as if he himself were an abstract painting. “About five minutes.”
He grabbed the phone from her and placed his hand on the mouthpiece, “Great, be in in a sec.”
She went back inside and he put the receiver up to his ear.
The man’s voice on the other end was garbled, as if it spoke with the aid of an electrolarynx. “Yeah, I’d like to place an order for take-out,” it said.
“I… do you have the right number?”
“Yes. I’d like to place an order for take-out. Are you ready for my order?”
Dan’s stomach dropped. “Yeah, okay. What can I get you?”
“I’d like the number nine, the number fifteen, and the number twenty-nine. You need me to repeat that?”
“No. No, that’s okay. Nine, fifteen, twenty-nine. How soon do you need that?”
“Fifteen minutes from right now. 6:35 on the dot. Don’t be late.”
The line went dead.
Dan stood there in the garage amidst the mingling smells of dried gasoline and oil and old cardboard boxes. The phone was still up to his ear and the dial tone seemed to be laughing at him. One long drone of joy at what was easily his biggest fuck up to date.
Nine, fifteen, twenty-nine. From memory, Dan knew which pictures these particular numbers corresponded to. Nine and fifteen were lower quality images, but there was no mistaking their content. They showed Anthony Simon, about ten years younger but almost certainly him,wearing a leather chest harness, down on his knees, and getting a mouthful of some Bangkokian transvestite’s manhood.
And if anyone questioned the validity of these two pictures, (which, of course they would)number twenty-nine was sure to quash any doubt, as it was the clearest of all the thirty-six damning photos that were on the USB drive. With photographic precision, it showedthe same Bangkokian transvestite giving it to Simon from behind while Simon’s face, donning a variety of expressions that suggested too many emotions to count, was seen in crystal 4K clarity.
The photos were all timestamped with a date that could easily be cross referenced with the trip to Bangkok that Simon had publicly taken ten years prior, and once they were out – uploaded to a variety of specific message boards and news outlets by Dan – his presidential campaign, along with his entire political career, would be dead and buried.
“Well, fuck me,” Dan said, and went back inside.
To rapturous applause, Simon was finishing his speech on the countertop TV. Chelsea was watching him and nodding slightly.
She glanced at Dan as he came in then looked back at the smiling, charismatic Simon. “I like this guy,” she said, “He definitely doesn’t seem like the average republican.”
“Nope,” Dan said as he took a seat at the table.
“And he’s got some real traction behind him. I really think he’s got a chance.”
“A bit dodgy on gay marriage, but he’s probably just trying to appeal more to the far far right by not saying that he condones it,” she said and opened a cup of applesauce that sheset on the table.
“Yeah, probably.” Dan looked at Clive who sat across from him, the child’s small uncoordinated hands gripped a sippy cup of juice that were working hard to bring the container to his lips.
Chelsea ladled beef stew into two big bowls, turned off the countertop TV, then came over to join her husband and son.
“Did you find that chip yet?” she said.
For the first time that evening she looked at him with some sympathy, “It’s not your fault, honey. I told you, just tell Steve that if these things are so important, they need to give you a better place to store them if you need to bring them home.”
He opened his mouth to tell her again that the USB was for freelance work, but he saw no point and conceded with a head nod.
Everything was fine. Someone else could leak the photos. Yeah.The so-called “political higher up” would have a backup plan; would have to have one. They couldn’t entrust the entire fate of the leak to one man. Men were fallible. Mistakes happened. And if it was so important, they would have a contingency in place. Yeah, and on the off chance they called back, he would just explain the situation. Or no, he could lie, say the USB got corrupted and he couldn’t get the photos off it. But hopefully he wouldn’t have to lie. If they didn’t call back and the pictures showed up online anyway, he should have nothing to worry about. Everything was fine.
He ate his beef stew and told Chelsea how good it was. And he wasn’t just saying that. She was a good cook. Great even. Everything was fine. He looked at his son who was being fed applesauce with a plastic spoon by Chelsea. She was alternating giving Clive a spoonful of his food, then giving herself a spoonful of stew. Everything was fine. Six minutes passed. Dan finished his stew and got a second bowl. He ate slower now, and seven minutes passed. Everything was fine. He took his now empty bowl to the sink and began to rinse it out. Clive laughed at a funny face Chelsea was making. The boy had a perfect laugh. Not a hint of disingenuousness in it. Everything was fine. Dan came back to the table and sat down. He looked at his watch. 6:35. Clive was still laughing. Chelsea asked Dan what he wanted to do the coming weekend and he said he didn’t know. She suggested they go to Avery Cider Mill for a hay ride and to get cider and donuts. Dan said that would be fun, and he wasn’t just saying that. It would be fun, and Clive would look adorable in flannel, and they could get some pictures of him near some pumpkins or something. He looked at his watch again. 6:37. Everything was fine. He made a funny face at Clive who began to laugh even harder than before, to the point of sounding crazed. This made Dan laugh just as hard and Chelsea couldn’t help but join in. Now they were all laughing. The happy Boker family, sitting at the table on a Friday night at 6:38 PM and laughing just for the hell of it. In the other room, the phone started ringing but no one seemed to care, or maybe it was they couldn’t hear it over the sound of their laughter, and everything was just fine.
About two-hundred and fifty feet away, two thirteen-year-old boys sat wide eyed in front of a computer monitor.
“These people are total freaks,” Aiden Shultz said.
Eric, Aiden’s best friend, looked over Aiden’s shoulder In shock. It was as if he had never seen anything remotely pornographic before in his life.“Sick,”he said in reference to photo number eleven. “Why would you let anyone… oh my god, ew.” He pointed to the USB jutting out of the computer, “They just had that lying around and you just took it?”
“Yeah. Well, sort of. I was babysitting for them on Wednesday andI saw that the baby had it in his hand. So I took it from him and I guess I just threw it in my pocket. I found it when I got home and was gonna give it back, but Iwanted to see what was on it first. Definitely not giving it back now. They’ll know I was looking at it.”
“Holy shit, is this the guy?” Eric asked, pointing to a degraded Anthony Simon in photo fourteen, “You know you could totally blackmail him with this. Like threaten to send them to his wife if he doesn’t give you some money or something.”
“You mean is this my neighbor?”
“No, that’s not Dan. I don’t know who that is. Just some random gay porn, I guess.”
A knocking came upon the closed bedroom door. Aiden quickly X’d out of the photos and a second later Wendy poked her head in.
“Hey guys, dinner in five,” she said.
“Thanks mom,” Aiden said.
Wendy went out into the hall for a moment before turning around andsticking her head back in.
“Hey, Aid, do you know why Dan Boker might want to talk with you?”
“What? No, why?”
“I don’t know, he came by a little bit ago and said he wanted to ask you something. Mrs. Boker said it was nothing, but he just seemed kind of weird about it.”
“He said something about not accusing you of anything, but he wanted to ask you something.”
“No clue,” Aiden said.
Wendy eyeballed her son for a moment as if he were a straight forward, very unabstract painting of a landscape or something. Then she smiled, seemingly satisfied with the answer. “Hm, well, dinner in five,” she said, and was gone again.
Aiden was adept at playing innocent, and even more so at playing dumb. He knew that as long as Dan never laid eyes on the red USB again, there was not a jury in the land that could convicthim of thievery. He looked over at Eric and smiled before highlighting the thirty-six files and dragging them into the trash bin on his desktop. He right clicked on the trash bin icon and emptied its contents, then he removed the USB, snapped it it two, and tossed the now useless plastic in a nearby garbage can.
“Dude, seriously, we got some fucking freaks living next door,” Aiden said, then both boys headed downstairs for dinner.
If you enjoyed The Leak, leave a comment and let Jacob know.
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