My Silver Fox Protector by Lauren Cole
“What?”I yelled over the thundering beat of the base. The lights at the club strobed around us in colorful bursts.
Olivia, one of my old high school friends I was trying to reconnect with, grabbed my arm, and leaned into my ear. “That guy is totally checking you out. You should go talk to him.”
I looked to where she was pointing. “Who, him?” I rolled my eyes. No way. He wasn’t really my type, anyway.
“Yes way.” She raised her eyebrows up and down at me with a grin. “It’s high time you had a little fun, don’t you think?”
Just then, my apple watch buzzed with a notification. “Oh, shit.” I turned towards Olivia. “I’m so sorry, I gotta jet.” This is what I got for actually leaving the house for once.
She looked at me for a moment, before registering that I was leaving. “Seriously?”
I hated that look she was giving me. It was a look I had seen from everyone I had slowly grown away from over the last few years. “Yeah, sorry. Thanks for the invite, I really appreciate it. Truly.”
“You know, you make it next to impossible to spend any time with you.” She said it with true annoyance, not playfully. It was laced with subtext, almost like ‘this is your last chance’ or ‘maybe I’m going to stop trying to be your friend because you’re making it so difficult to get close to you.’
The thing was, she wasn’t wrong. It was impossible to spend time with anyone when I was always on call twenty-four seven; tethered to my job, just waiting to sprint to my computer to resolve another security breach.
I grimaced, “I’m sorry Olivia, I really have to go. Thanks again.”
“Sure. Whatever.” She shrugged and made her way back over to the group of friends she’d invited me out with.
I was burning one of the last friendship bridges I had left.
I called an Uber, and while I waited for my driver to pick me up, I opened my phone. It was another security threat, but pretty run of the mill for me at this point. I shook my head. It would probably take me a mere ten minutes to divert it, but I couldn’t do it from my phone. Once again, I was missing out on having a life because of my job.
The Uber driver dropped me off in front of my house and I quickly made my way inside, annoyed that I hadn’t even had enough to drink to warrant taking the Uber in the first place.
I didn’t bother turning the lights on, I made a beeline straight for the fridge and grabbed an ice cold can of Diet Coke, and cracked it open. I took a sip, savoring the way the carbonation burned down my throat, and sat at the kitchen table with my laptop.
Let’s see who ruined my night.
I quickly checked through the system and quickly found the breach. I shook my head.
So sloppy. What a waste of breath.
I went to work sealing off the breach and flagged the hackers’ information up to my team leader for review. I checked the time on the microwave’s clock.
Nine minutes flat. Thank you, asshole, for making me come all the way back home for this.
I went upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, and peeled off my tight black bandage dress, and chucked my sky high heels into the closet.
I hope you had a good time. I doubt you’ll see the light of day again.
I hung the dress up in my closet and threw on a pair of soft sleeping shorts and a cami, and headed back downstairs to veg out. I went into the living room with my laptop and flicked on the TV.
I scrolled the streaming service for a moment before giving up and settling on a trashy reality show. I wasn’t really watching it anyway; it was just for background noise, the comfort of human voices. I was alone so often these days, and any attempt at social interaction was often interrupted by an event like this evening. Aside from my dad, who was overseas for work for a few months, I had a hard time keeping in touch with anyone anymore.
Being employed against your own will for the government had many downsides. One of which was that I didn’t have much of a social life. I often found myself lonely and bored.
I opened up a new browser on my computer and started online shopping.
The work I did for the agency was critical, but it was easy for me. I had to be on high alert at all times, but it was always a false start because the breaches were usually routine and easy enough to fix.
Nothing I couldn’t handle.
I searched through the Versace website and landed on a deep red evening gown. It was quite expensive, but I could easily afford it. I made more than enough money than I knew what to do with. Being paid well and hardly ever leaving the house meant I was just stockpiling paycheck after paycheck. I hardly ever went out, and after investing in my retirement portfolio, I had ample funds to do whatever the hell I wanted. The problem was, I just didn’t have the time freedom to do whatever I wanted.
I looked at the dress, and my finger hovered over the trackpad, deciding. With a plunging neckline and a plunging back, it was a showstopper, and it hugged the model in all the right places. I knew I’d never have anywhere to wear it. I added it to the cart anyway and checked out.
Why the hell not?
Hell, I could wear it around the house if I wanted. I opened a new tab and went to another online shop, and started looking at skincare. I wasn’t really a makeup girly, but I did take good care of my skin.
Suddenly, a notification flashed up on my laptop.
Another security breach.
I sat up, surprised, and opened the notification.
I quickly assessed it, and sealed off the breach, but before flagging it to my team leader, I started digging around a bit. It was definitely the same person as earlier, and they were hacking right back in.
I smiled to myself, feeling mischievous. I wasn’t supposed to dig further into the security threats. My primary job was to catch the breaches as they happened, isolate them, and send them up the chain of command so that another division could assess the individual security threat. My job was to protect the data. Simple and boring.
So very boring.
But every once in a while, I snooped anyway. I was slowly gathering information and data that I might be able to use to buy my way out of the predicament I was in. I was always on the lookout for a way out.
Besides, the agency wasn’t even using half my skill for this damn job. I suspected that they kept everyone's roles extremely isolated. No one person touched too much information, they spread it out to make us less dangerous.
I didn’t even know who my team leader was, aside from their username on the secure chat line we used. We communicated exclusively over our secure chat. We never spoke over the phone, and we’d never met in person. I had no idea if my team leader was a man or a woman, old or young.
The only person I’d actually met from the agency was Viktor, who I occasionally reported to when I’d screwed up. He was the one who had hired me in the beginning and he was there for the occasional wrist slap, and that was about it. I didn’t even know Viktor’s last name, for that matter. He was just Viktor, like the all powerful seeing Oz. Only a first name, a floating head bossing me around, despite how much I hated it.
I knew I should be grateful. Working a job that paid me super well was a generous alternative to the terrorism charges I was being faced with when they forced me into the agency. It was this or prison.
Even living in the free world, I hated how trapped I felt just the same.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard for half a second before I went for it.
I sealed off the breach and went down the rabbit hole to see who was after the information. I quickly hacked through their security wall, but before I could start digging around, I was booted out.
Hmmm. Not half bad.
I smiled to myself and cracked my knuckles.
Let’s see what you can do.
I quickly set up a trap door for the other hacker. Once they came through it, I’d be inside their computer before they knew what was happening. I’d be able to access everything on their hard drive. If they had a camera on their computer, I could even turn it on and watch them. I wasn’t sanctioned to do this kind of hacking, but if I could identify who this was, give the agency a nice big fat fish to fry, maybe it’d earn me some privileges. Perhaps a break, or some time off. Or maybe some blackmail I could store away for a rainy day. Whatever it took to secure my freedom. I was facing terrorism charges if I didn’t play their way, at this point, blackmailing someone would be cupcakes and rainbows. I didn’t like it, but over the last few years, I’d learned that no one was going to take care of me, but me.
I took a sip of my Diet Coke and waited anxiously to see if they would take the bait.
I bit my lip and smiled.
They went straight for it.
I quickly hacked into their system and traced the IP address. It looked like they were in Iran.
Suddenly, my entire computer corrupted and went black.
My skin broke out in goosebumps, and my stomach dropped.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I closed my laptop and stood up in horror, staring at it. Those little shits had set me up with their own trap door, and like an idiot, I'd walked right through it.
I grabbed my phone and opened the secure chat line with my team leader.
Analyst04: We have a problem. Respond ASAP.
I quickly sent the message off and waited for a response.
I paced around the living room. My phone dinged, and I snatched it up.
My stomach dropped once more.
The hacker was all the way in, and they messaged me via my secure chat line.
Not bad, but you got sloppy. You’ve been so successful at pushing me out the last few months, I’m quite impressed. But I am over your little games. Maybe you should sleep with the lights on tonight. It gets awfully dark on Allen Lane, don’t you think? Night night, Emma.
The hairon the back of my neck raised, and I quickly terminated the chat.
Holy fucking shit, I was in big trouble.
With my secure chat line terminated, and without my laptop working; I had no way of communicating with anyone from the agency. I had no phone number for my team leader. I had no way of getting in touch with Viktor.
Holy fucking shit. What did I get myself into? I grabbed a pocket knife and quickly pushed furniture in front of the downstairs doors, and ran upstairs and locked myself in my room. My pulse pounded in my ears as I peeked through the blinds in my room. The street was quiet, and the only noise was the soft hum of the glowing street lamp. It was after midnight and most of the lights in the other houses on the street were already off.
I knew because I had no one's information at the agency that I was highly disposable to them. As an off-book branch of the CIA, it was part of the gig. Protocol was to contact my team leader if something went south, and I prayed they would get the message and contact me.
I wasn’t supposed to contact emergency services, but at this rate, screw the rules. If someone broke in, I was calling for help. I wasn’t just going to sit her like a waiting duck to get picked off. Maybe that made me a shitty patriot, but I didn’t care. I hadn't gotten into this work honestly, anyway.
I settled into the corner farthest from my bedroom door with my phone in one hand, ready to dial emergency services, and my knife in the other hand.
Eventually my breathing evened out and as I strained, I didn’t hear any noise. I felt my eyes getting droopy as I sat there in the dark, and I tried to fight it as I felt myself getting more and more sleepy.