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March 2019 – New York City

Friday night,  Louis Astra and had his goons made a punching bag out of some guy who owed him money. I was made to be there to ensure he got the message.  The guy nearly died, he got the message, his family and friends got the message. I certainly got the message, the message was “…get the hell out of here!” 

So, Wednesday evening I entered The Last Shot  in a classic (not retro) 50s English cut suit with box pleat looking like James Bond.  I caught all the dancer’s eyes as I walked back stage.


“Is that real Saville Row?” Jessie from Fulham asked as she brushed a stray thread off my smoking threads.

“Lovely place, but the fellow measured a little high in the inner leg, if you know what I mean.”

The girls laughed and asked where it came from.

“This old thing!”  I joked and left them asking more.  They quizzed me and gossiped and I had a very good night, but no one else noticed.

Thursday night I flashed a Rolex that had so many jewels on it I was competing with the disco ball.  This got the attention of the bouncers who judged at a glance the worth of a guest by their accessories.

“Hey, is that genuine?”  Benny asked and I let him examine it, “Looks legit to me.  What, did someone die?”

“You know me Benny, I wouldn’t  hurt a fly.” I said and left him guessing.

Friday night I shouted a great table of hens who laughed and gawped at all the right places. They were the sort of crowd a performer always wants around. The bar staff asked had I won the lottery?  I told them (and anyone who was listening) that I was only wanting to bless the marriage as well as I feel I have been recently blessed.

By Saturday, some of staff, like Rick on sound, Jeff and Iman, a couple of backstage gaffers, came to me asking, what was going on? Where was all this money coming from?  I took them all aside and swore them to absolute secrecy in hushed tones. I have found a way to get rich quick. Of course they wanted to know what it was, as friends, as buddies in need.

“All in good time.  It wouldn’t be a sure thing if everyone knew.’

Being sworn to secrecy of course the boss heard almost instantly and before work Sunday I was in front of Mr Astra.

“I hear you’ve been doing well for yourself.”  Mr Astra said casually, working around to his topic.

“I like to think I put on a good show Mr Astra.”  I replied looking good in a Frank Sinatra knock off complete with a tight fitting checked vest and fedora.

“And I can see that you’re sense of fashion has improved.”

Now in my defence, there is nothing wrong with my fashion sense.  But the Boss’s fashion sense does tend to the Classic Rat Pack. Unfortunately for him, he was not built like Frankie or Sammy Davis.  He wasn’t even a Dean Martin on a bad day.

“Thanks boss, I like to look sharp.”  I did in my best Frankie impression, which to a native Bronx man probably wasn’t that great I’d admit. 

He didn’t even crack a smile.

“Where’s the money coming from, smart ass.”  

“Money sir?”

“Yeah, don’t give me any of your smart lip. Where are you getting the money for your clothes and bling, shouting whole tables drinks, I better not be paying for it.” He was getting cranky now, and I don’t have to act scared when he’s cranky. Now it was time the honest truth.

“Mr Astra, the only money I have is what you give me.”  Hands out, palms up almost pleading. Bullies lap it up.

“Don’t give me that bullshit Jimmy, “  He never did call me by the name I ran under at that time,  Jossep Sallivarin, too foreign for him or something, “Expensive watches, fine clothes, what’s the deal?”

He didn’t wait for me to answer but let Benny knock me about first.  Benny was a friend and he didn’t think a little thing like me could take much of a beating. He was probably right.  Still hurt like hell. The problem with violence as a way of getting information is you’re never sure if they’re telling you what you want to know or what they think you want to know.  

“I’ll tell, I’ll tell.” It’s good to be underestimated.  After a few such ‘lessons’ as the one on Friday, Mr Louis Astra as his thugs knew I was squemish about violence and blood.  They’d believe that I’d give up my mother (if I knew who she was) to save my petty skin.

“I know you will Jimmy.  Start from the beginning, how did you come by the money?”  Mr Astra asked from behind his desk, Benny gave me a seat out of friendship, how kind.

Now it was time for the bold-faced lies.  The bolder and more outlandish the better.  Enough techo-babble to make it sound legitimate without actually explaining anything and all while looking thoroughly miserable which wasn’t hard. Did I mention that Benny really hurt?  They wanted to believe in the magic of computers and hacking, they believed I was really making money hand over fist they’d seen it in the clothes, the bling and the sudden generosity. They believed everyone was as greedy as they were and they believed the words said under the vow of secrecy.  I was now just preaching to the converted.

“I hacked Livacoin’s algorithims and inserted a bot that allows me to manipulated transactions, artificially inflating or deflating prices.”  I sobbed. The boss knew he was onto the right information, I’d mentioned “prices”.

“Wha…what’s that mean in American?”  Mr Astra stood up and leaned out across his desk at me. He was so far forward I could have tweaked his nose.  I put that thought aside. Minty fresh breath rolled over me. He really is fanatical about oral hygiene.

“I  think what he’s saying is he can get inside Livacoin’s systems and change the price when he wants.”  Benny supplied helpfully. From conversations with Benny I knew he was a part-time cryptominer and spent a bit of time on the nightclub’s computer and bandwidth.

“Is that what you’re saying?”  Mr Astra turned back to me. I nodded, beaten and contrite.

“Well why didn’t you say!”  He sat back down in his chair with a thud once more assured of his dominance, “And this…changing prices…you make money out of this?”

I’d overestimated the boss.  I had to keep my head down so he didn’t see me roll my eyes.

“Mr Astra, you buy low and sell high, but you have to know when.”  Benny once more to the rescue. That’s my boy.

“Like the stockmarket?”  

Yes, exactly like the stockmarket.  I groaned but said nothing, If the stockmarket were a giant coldblooded land-bound reptile and cryptocurrency were a high soaring bird of prey.

At this time I wiped my nose on the back of my hand absentmindedly .  It came away bloodly, I hadn’t counted on that and missed part of what the boss and Benny said nexts.  It took a swift punch to the already aching ribs to snap me out.

“Answer me…aren’t all the transactions traceable?”

“All blockchains are public.”  I gasped. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on breath until that moment.  “But they’re all under pseudonyms.”

“He’s talking gibberish again, what do you make of it?”  Astra turned to Benny who had suddenly become the room’s expert on Cryptocurrency and he was enjoying his role.

“You use fake names that only the company know.” Benny nodded translating for me,   “Crypto-currencies are meant to be anonymous.”

Mr Astra leaned back, a sign he was thinking.  Fortunately for the rest of us, for how would we know otherwise.

He sat there thinking for so long I start to wonder if I’ve misjudged him.  Maybe he isn’t a greedy self-centred slob with a Napoleon complex. Maybe I’ve played my hand too hard, maybe he can read minds.

“Show me.”  he said finally.  

Nope, got him in one.

I gestured to the laptop on his desk, surely an ornament, and he turned it to face me.  I slipped a micro thumbdrive into a port and in the background installed my work of art.

“I need to get access to my bot, it will take a moment.”  I flipped the brower so it showed webpages in HTML to mask what I was doing and brought up my program from the thumb drive.  The screen cleared dramatically, a message small and insignificant appeared, cursor flashing.

“Contact established… Value?”

“I’ve bought a few thousand shares in the last few days and I’m ready to sell.  If we put a positive number here the price will go up by that much. A negative number it will go down.  What number do you want to put in?” Alway a good idea to make the mark feel like they have a choice.

“Go big or go home, right?”  Mr Astra was enjoying the show, “Why not a million.”

I glanced at Benny who was visibly whincing behind his boss’s back.

“Currency, even digital doesn’t usually move in big clean numbers like that.  A leap of a million will let those who are watching know that something is up.”

Of course, it wasn’t  as simple as putting in a number and wishing for money.  Magic requires gestures, rituals and incantations to perform.  So does a good con. To say I was enjoying myself at this point is an understatement.

“Well, what number do you suggest?”  Mr Astra asked my unbiased third party, Benny.  “You’re experienced in this stuff, what would you type?”

“Increases are usually small unless there’s a boost from media.  0.5 increase?”  

“0.5…?”  Mr Astra scoffed.

“The more money you put in the more you get out.”  I said forgetting for the moment I was suppose to be a broken character.  I was rewarded by a look that curdled my insides and I stepped away from the laptop, taking my thumbdrive with me, it’s purpose served.

Mr Astra typed 0.5 and enter.

“I’m…I’m just pulling out my phone.”  I warned the room, I didn’t need to pretend fear of reprisal if these two thought I was drawing a gun.  They watched as I pulled open my jacket and retrieved my phone. Swiping through screen I found the very professional looking Livacoin app (if I do say so myself) and tapped it.

I showed them both a screen called ‘Transactions’ that showed a continously changing date and time, an identification code and price. As I turned it to face Mr Astra the price increased by tiny increments until it was 0.5% more than when it had started.

“Now the price is up, I’d wait a day or two before selling, gaining my profit.”  I showed them the account section and the obvious sell button.

“And that’s it.”  Mr Astra looked at me blankly.  I couldn’t tell if he was dumbfounded or unimpressed.  “You skim off profits every few days or so.”

“Yes, sir.” I replied meekly, and hopefully defeated.

Mr Astra sat back in his thinking pose again and looked at Benny.

Benny shrugged.  I knew from our talks, his experience did not go far beyond mining and actually programming was a whole different magical world to him.

“He has the skills…”  Benny hedged and it made me shiver. He was hiding something, something he wasn’t sure he should tell his boss.  I kept my face downcast, this was no time to flinch.

Regardless, Mr Astra was convinced.

“Okay, this is how we proceed from here.  I’ll be taking over your little ‘bot’ from now on.  Benny here is going to go home with you and make sure that anything to do with this comes back to the club.  I’ll let you run your little scam from here as you’ve been doing, but you’re also going to do a little something for me.”

Here he allowed himself to look smug, taking the clever little nobody’s toy and making it useful.

“You’re going to start laundering money for me.  We’ll keep it simple at first, just a few hundred thou just to get started.” Pocket money it may be, but it was money that wasn’t strictly his.  I supressed a smile of victory knowing that when this all came to light he’d be more than just a few hundred thousand dollars lighter.

“Are you getting what I’m putting down?”  Mr Astra asked and I nodded. “Good, you have the night off to give what you have to Benny.  Get a good night’s rest because tomorrow, you’re working for me nine to five.”

Just the thought of a regular office job gave me the shivers.  I nearly protested, I nearly made a scene so close to getting what I wanted.  Benny fortunately picked me up by one shoulder and walked me out of the office before I could open my mouth.  

Without a word we marched down the backstairs and into Mr Astra’s own black sedan ready with driver. Benny gave my address and we sat side by side in silence all the way.  My apartment was a one bedroom cockroach motel that I had jazzed up recently with a few new toys, a PS4, new boxes and bags from some of the finer stores in town. Benny took it all in and said nothing as I packed up my laptop and anything else that looked useful. 

“Just one thing that bugs me.”  Benny finally said as I handed him a box of technology, “If you’re so clever as to work out how to scam the cryptos and make it work, how come you let yourself get caught?”

My heart stopped in my chest as I realised that Benny was smarter than he looked.  I had nothing to offer. No fancy patter, no clever joke. At that moment I felt as defeated as I was meant to be.

“I… don’t understand Benny.” 

“You would have known how everyone would talk once you started splashing the cash.  You must have known.”

And then, I said what I never thought I’d hear myself say.  

“ I just want out Benny.  I can’t be a part of things like last Friday anymore, I just can’t.”  The truth poured out of me like tears and Benny lapped it up. 

“Yeah, you never really fitted in with ‘the business’.” He said it like he was saying the inverted commas, and he put his huge meaty hand on my shoulder in what was meant as a comforting way. “I guess you never did have much future in it.”

I agreed.  It was what I’d been yelling in my sleep about for months, I didn’t belong in that world.  But when Benny said it, and showed such genuine sympathy, I knew he meant to let me down easy.  I had failed to live up to expectations and he was letting me go. I wanted to protest, I’m not a failure, and maybe Benny would have been kind and said something like, “Sure you’re not, you can do lots of things…”

“I’m sorry, Benny,”  I hung my head and kept my peace only by biting my tongue.  

“You’ll find your place, don’t worry ‘bout it.”  His hand left my shoulder and took mine. “Good bye, Joosep.”

Now I did find myself tearing up.  I loved this big guy, I loved the other performers, the stage hands and sound techs.  I loved all the guys behind the bar, the wait staff and cloak room staff. I loved my work.  After this I could never again work in this business, I had burnt my bridges.

It wasn’t too late was it? To take it all back? To say it was a funny joke?

“Good bye, Benny.”  I said and shook his hand, meaning all the good will and fidelity that simple symbol meant.

Benny nodded and left with my second best laptop and assorted peripherals.

I ran for my open window and down the fire escape.

There was nothing at my flat I wanted.  The Saville Row suit had been a loaner from a stage costumer of my acquaintance and had been handed back days before.  The watch a rental from a props store in town. My current Frankie look-a-like was mine, made of vintage second hand from thrift stores and everything else…was props.  Dressing.  Staging.

I had planned my route for months and now I ran it  like my life depended on it. Because it did. Keeping only to the alley ways, service ways and delivery roads I travelled across the city to the bus depot heading for the lockers.  There, unlocked by a key I kept in my patent leather shoes, was my real laptop, my travel swag and a ticket on the Greyhound.

While I was in WIFI I did one last task.  I activated a link I had created with my thumb drive, my work of art.  I had access to Louie Astra’s corporate and private bank accounts, confidential records, everything.  I moved across a generous severance pay to a private account of my own, made a little havoc in the files that would hopefully keep the tech boys of Astra’s busy for a while and then ran the exe file to destroy the connection completely.  With a night’s travel and what extra I had bought myself with my hacking, I could be anywhere in the world by the time he realised he’d been had. I picked up my possessions and headed for the gate and my new life. 

New Orleans, here I come.

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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