The trick is going to be maintaining an attitude of complete nonchalance. It will be the middle of the day and that means any neighbor or passerby might see me at any moment. If they see me sneaking glances to each side and wearing a dark hoodie over my head they’ll be tipped off immediately that something is wrong. If, on the other hand, I am seen striding up to the door like I owned the place they will just think I am some out-of-town uncle that has come for a visit. Hopefully they will think that anyway. There’s no denying that there is a very real danger in all of this. But then again, if there wasn’t real danger it wouldn’t be so appealing in the first place, now would it?
And so here I am, driving up to 17462 Oak Lane right at noon. It’s such a quiet, ideal sunny day and I park smack in the middle of their driveway like I don’t have a care in the world. I allow myself one more glance down either side of the street and take a steeling breath. It’s now or never.
I don’t remember deciding to pull the trigger, but suddenly I’m hearing the sound of my door opening and the feel of my feet strolling down the cement. I fish in my pocket for my make-shift key, scraping my finger along its teeth to vent my anxiety. Though I’ve forced a mask of calmness over my face my heart is racing as though I’ve just run ten miles. My hand is trembling as I lift the key out and slowly insert it into the lock.
Click! The lock opens with perfect ease. I exhale a deep sigh as I push my way through the front door and bolt the door behind me. I close my eyes and strain my ears, listening for any sound of movement within, though I already know that I’m alone. I remind myself that I’ve been far too thorough in my research to be caught by surprise by anything, and so the key goes back into my pocket and the latex gloves come out. I suit up each hand and scan the house again, taking in the scene.
It’s a small, one-story affair. Several decades old, and you can see it in the dated wallpaper and siding. Even so, it’s been well-cleaned and well-cared for. There’s pictures along the wall, faces I’m already well-familiar with. I stroll casually past the entrance area and into the living room. There’s a light on the blu-ray player beneath the tv and I walk over and press the eject button, curious to see what the last movie they watched last night was.
Way of the Dragon.
An involuntary memory forces its way into my mind.
“But why would Chuck Norris choose a role where he gets beat?” I’m asking.
“Well, you gotta remember this was before Walker, Texas Ranger,” Dad is explaining. “He wasn’t such a big star yet, so he was gonna do whatever role he could.”
I shake my head. “It’s weird.”
“I do like how he looks in this one,” Dad grinned. “Without his beard on he’s pretty similar to me, don’t you think?”
“But he’s the badguy here!”
“Naw, Dad, you’re Bruce Lee!”
Dad laughs. It isn’t particularly mirthful. “And how can you tell me who I am, kid, when you can’t even tell me who you are or what you want to do?”
He’s jabbing his thumb at the summer camp brochures on the table. He brought them home for me to choose where I want to head out to this weekend.
“I just–none of them sound like the sort of things I want to do,” I say slowly, not wanting to retread this argument.
“Oh yeah? And what does sound like the sort of thing you want to do?”
“I’d rather just be with you this summer!” I suggest brightly. “We could just watch movies like this all day.”
“I told you, I have to go on a trip of my own this summer.”
“I could come with you,” I say quietly.
His face turns cold. He doesn’t try to explain, he just speaks with a grim finality in his voice. “No. You couldn’t.”
My throat is tight and the blood is pumping in my ears. I’m spinning on the spot, looking for something. I hadn’t though of what, exactly, but I know it when I see it. One of those family pictures is on the mantle, a small piece of them smiling out on a grassy hill in a dark wooden frame. I don’t look at it so much as through it. I grip it with my hands and hold it a little lower than my chest, staring dead ahead as my arms twist. Long, slow, but powerful. The wood creaks, the glass cracks, and at last the whole thing gives way and bursts apart with a snap. I let go and the various pieces clatter to the floor.
Believe it or not, never in all my planning did I ask myself what I was going to be doing once I got in here. I don’t need their money or valuables, I don’t particularly care to trash the place any more than the one picture I’ve broken. Whenever I hack people I don’t ever drain their bank accounts or sell their information. I just enjoy the sense of knowing them.
I guess that was my general intention here, too, but now I want to do a little bit more. I want to take a memento, and also I want to scare these people. I want them to know I was here and have them fear what I might have done, though I won’t have done anything at all. I’ve already broken their picture, but I scour the surroundings for something else. Something big, something prominent, something personal. Something that has been placed very deliberately, something that couldn’t have just fallen down and rolled under the sofa. Something that the absence of will immediately stand out like a sore thumb.
And then I see it. There’s a nanny cam staring directly at me from the mantle.
How did I miss it when I came in here? How did I not prepare for this? I really didn’t think that they would have one.
I don’t know…I guess I just wanted them not to. So much so that I felt they couldn’t possibly. Stupid as it sounds, I’m completely frozen in space for a moment. The only movement is my hand slowly raising to touch my open, exposed face. I didn’t want anyone to suspect me as I entered the place, but why not keep a mask in my pocket to wear once I had closed the front door?!
My instinct is to seize the camera and smash it to pieces, as well as any computer or tablet in this home it might be streaming data to. But with it’s sleek, angular, gray-and-white design I can tell this is a modern device, one that no doubt supports motion-tracking and automated alerts pushed to a user’s phone.
They already know that I’m here.
I manage to break the spell I’m under and scramble for the front door. As I wrench the doorknob and swing the door open I see the policeman stepping out of his car. He hadn’t had his sirens on, evidently intending to catch me unawares. The man is startled by my sudden appearance, and I instinctively slam the door back shut.
I pelt to the back of the house, roving my eyes in search of a door out the back. There, in the kitchen. I lunge for it, twisting the knob before realizing that the bolt is still holding it fast.
I fumble with the lock, hearing myself crying as my chest heaves with fear. I finally jerk the door open just as I hear the front door being flung open with a smash.
Needless to say I ignore the commanding voice calling from behind as I sprint out of the house and across the small yard to the six-foot chainlink fence separating their property from the neighbors’ place. I don’t try to fit my toes in the narrow gaps, instead just kicking forwards and upwards as I half-pull half-roll myself over the fence, getting a few scrapes in the process.
They’ve already seen your face! And you’ve left your car back there!
None of that matters. I’ll figure it out later. Somehow.
I hear the heavy footsteps behind me but refuse to look over my shoulder. The more I see the officer more real he’ll be. I hear the clatter of him scrambling over the fence as I sprint around the neighbor’s house to their front-yard, exiting onto the next street and peeling off to the right.
It’s still an ideal, sunny day in modern suburbia and I feel myself cowering like a wild animal at being so exposed out in the open. My legs are shaking, threatening to turn into molten jelly at any moment.
“Please!” I wheeze out between sobs. “Pleeeease!”
I just have to get past this. I just have to get clear. If it takes everything I’ve got, I just have to escape. I’ll be able to work it all out after that, I’ll tackle each problem systematically and one-at-a-time. But I just have to lose this cop.
The click of a clasp being unbuttoned.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!”
It honestly never even occurs to me whether he might be lying. I just feel a pure and violent terror seize my chest, gripping my heart like I’ve never experienced before. I throw my hands up in the air and spin on the spot, my voice breaking and warbling as I splutter out my pleas.
“I’ll stop, I’ll stop! Just please don’t–“
He doesn’t slow one bit in his run. Officer Daley’s name badge fills my vision as he goes horizontal and t-bone’s me right in the chest. The top of his head catches my jaw and I see a stream of blood curving through the air in slow motion as I become weightless in space. He’s knocked more wind out of my lungs than I ever knew could fit in there, and so there is no noise to the crying my throat is trying to make. I spin backwards, hurtling towards the pavement, anticipating the impact that cannot be denied.
“Alright then, Dad” I say slowly, trying to keep the trembling out of my voice. “You tell me. Where should I go this summer?”
“Naw kid, that’s not for me to choose.”
“Sure it is. You want me to go, so you can decide where.”
“You gotta decide what you want for yourself.”
“But only from what you decide I can choose from?”
Both our voices have been getting louder and faster. Half in anger, half in exasperation. The tension of unspoken truths mounting. Finally Dad stops to knead his brow heavily.
“This summer is going to be hard on all of us, Terry. I’m sorry. Really I am. But I’ve got to figure stuff out, and I need to do that alone. I need to…well…find out who I am.”
I’m quiet, staring blankly through the floor. “You know Dad, you were right earlier. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be either.”
“Hey, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that–“
“No, it’s alright. It’s true…. Dad, can you do me one thing before you go?”
“Who am I?”
“C’mon, that’s not fair. I just said, I’m still trying to figure out who I am, I’m not the person to tell you about yourself.”
“But you’re my dad. Just tell me what you think even if you don’t know. You don’t have to be right. I just need to know what you think.”
The tears were streaming from my eyes then, too. Dad was frowning, shaking his head at the responsibility.
“I will. Okay? Let me get myself sorted out and then when I come back I’ll tell you. It’ll be something you can look forward to when I return.”
I rub the tears away with my grubby hand. “Daddy… I love you, y’know?”
“Sure, kid. I know you do.”
You may crush me as hard as you wish, Officer Daley.
As I suggested on Monday, unreliable narrators have the power to divulge as much from what they aren’t saying as what they are. I tried to craft Phisherman so that observant readers would be able to realize that not everything was adding up with our narrator. My hope then was that they would start reading between the lines to extract the missing pieces, and picking up on little clues.
There were things like his obsession with consuming other peoples’ identities, his unwillingness to define his own, and his negative perspective of men. All of these were supposed to tease that he bore some wound related to a father figure and his own role in life. Although the full details of that wounding would have been impossible to predict exactly, hopefully when finally witnessed it felt consistent with what had been suggested before. The ways his father left him will hopefully match up with the personality we see in him now.
Also, a week before Monday, I posted about how characters can be portrayed as one-dimensional villains at the outset, and then given a sympathetic backstory to evolve them later on. Obviously Jake (or should we call him Terry?) is doing something horrible when fate finally catches up to him, and he is deserving of all the legal action that is sure to follow.
And yet I do hope he also comes across as pitiable. I hope that the readers feel that the way he has become makes sense, even if it cannot be justified. This is actually an essential groundwork for any time a villain in a story is meant to become a hero. Once a character is understood, they are also redeemable.
It was in reaching this point of inflection that I ultimately decided the story was ready to close. I knew that Terry was stuck in an unhealthy rut at the outset of this story, and I wanted to get him to where he finally had a choice again. In this story we see him hitting rock bottom and what will follow could be either a spiraling demise or the beginnings of turning over a new leaf. Either way, that would be another story in and of itself, the story of the hacker “Jake” has reached its end.
Even so, I’m sure there are those that would rather have had the story go further into what happens next for Terry. This brings up a common question in writing a story: when exactly should it end? I’ll explore this question in my post on Monday. Come back then to chime in with your own takes on the matter, I’ll see you there.