Operation Bearded Clam

Originally released in Cocktail Hour’s 2013 Bearded Clam Challenge

We could do it.” Jersey stuffed a kale chip into her mouth. It wasn’t attractive, but there was no real good way to eat Kale chips. The things were crumbly, fragile, and freaking delicious. She was willing to stuff. “Couldn’t we?” She spoke with her hand over her mouth, and it came out all muffled, messy, and uncertain.

Karma muddled lemon for the martini she was making. If it weren’t for her, Jersey wouldn’t even know muddling was a thing. But she really liked the Lemon Drops Karma served, so at this point she was a vocal supporter of muddling and shaking, both required, according to Karma, to make the perfect drink.

“We could totally do it,” Karma agreed as she added the lemon and vodka to the metal shaker. “But it won’t be easy.”

“Really cool shit never is.”

Karma nodded, but didn’t answer. She poured two perfect drinks into martini glasses with sugared rims. She had that look on her face that told Jersey she was already running the code in her head. She was chasing their idea across the net. She finished her drink before she spoke again. “We should propose it to the rest of the group.”

“Yeah?” Jersey loved a good fight. And she loved to remind the world that humanity was still worth noticing, but changing a hate site’s front page to a gay pride flag was worlds away from tapping into the pocketbook of the elite rich. Those people were crazy assholes about their money.

“You having second thoughts?” Karma stopped mid login, then twisted around in her chair to face Jersey.

Jersey shrugged. She always had second thoughts. Jail was not an enticing prospect. Karma typed out a message and then read it aloud. “What do you think?”

“Should we pick a date? Like do it all at once in one big, epic event?”

“Let’s see what the others think.” The others were a group of thirty-seven kickass hackers who, like Jersey and Karma, were good enough to do some truly impressive shit without getting caught. But they’d never attempted such a large scale event before either. As far as she knew, she and Karma were the only ones who actually knew each other live and in person. She had no idea where the others even lived. They could all be two blocks over or on the other side of the earth in India or something. The reason their group worked was because they never talked about anything personal and they respected boundaries. She never tried to trace the rest and hoped they had afforded her the same courtesy.

Karma was a different story, however, they’d met in a programming class forever ago, before programming was ever considered cool. That’s how it all started. Karma dared her to hack into the school’s server and alter an entry in the school newspaper. It was so benign. No one even noticed, but she and Karma had been instantly addicted. The dares grew along with their skill level. And now, here they were contemplating something that no one would consider a harmless, adolescent prank.

“Last chance.” Karma sat poised with her finger over the enter button. She looked at Jersey with her eyebrow raised and that sexy half smile that Jersey found impossible to resist.

She nodded. “Do it.”

Karma released the message to the group, and then shut down her laptop. Then, she tackled Jersey to the bed. Jersey pulled her into a long kiss, already working to release the buttons at the front of Karma’s shirt.

Life couldn’t only be about righting society’s wrongs.

#

Recipe Exchange Message Board

5/12, 2313 Codinator said: is this shit real?
5/12, 2313 rochboss said: looks real. It’s from Karma
5/12, 2313 Jersey said: It’s real. What do you guys think?
5/13, 0259 lemonhead said: kick ass. Let’s do it.
5/13, 0315 spinctthis said: we’re all going to jail, aren’t we?
5/13, 0315 S2x said: probably. Im in.
5/13, 0712 rochboss said: Im n 2. But who the fuck came up with the name? Fucking Operation Bearded Clam. That name is bullshit. This is some inspired robin hood bullshit. Deserves a righteous name.
5/13, 0713 Jersey said: My project, my name. It stays.
5/13, 0713 rochboss said: mssg came frm karma.
5/13, 0713 Karma said: Jersey dictated. I typed.
5/13, 0714 rochboss said: fck u both. I’m still in.
5/13, 0820 ryse said: bitches be crazy. I’m totally hitting this party.

#

“Lou! Mom said get up. She doesn’t want to be late for church again.”

Lou was half awake before her brother entered her room yelling about church. According to their mom, Armageddon was near, so the more time they spent in church the better. She was about to respond when Toby ripped her pillow from beneath head, and then smacked her in the face with it. To hell with the end of the world, that little bastard was going to die today.

She chased her brother into the hall and body slammed him into the wall. It shook hard enough for the portrait of their sainted oldest sister to fall off the picture hook. It dropped to the ground, but the glass didn’t break, so that was a bonus. Toby bounced off the wall and kept running toward his own room. He almost got the door closed before Lou caught up with him the second time.

“Mom!” Toby yelled for their mother, but Lou could hear her muttering about hell children as she fussed with Rachel’s portrait in the hall. She had time. She pushed her brother onto his bed face down and then jumped on his back. He was two years younger than her, but had gone through a massive growth spurt a few months ago. She had to work hard to keep him from throwing her off.

“Listen you little puke bucket,” she bent close to his face and added as much accidental spit to her words as possible. He thrashed to get loose, so she drove her knee into his shoulder and twisted his ear with her fingers as hard as she could. He squealed but stopped struggling. “I told you to stay out of my room.”

“Mom sent me!” Toby was at that stage where everything he said came out as half whine, half yell. As far as Lou was concerned, it was all annoying.

“She told me to wake you up.” Lou twisted a little harder. “Did she tell you to sneak attack me in my sleep?”

“Lou, that’s enough. Get off your brother.” Her mom cuffed the back of her head, then grabbed her shoulder. Her family said I love you with violent affection.

“He started it, mom.” Lou stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her brother. His ear was bright red, and he rubbed at his shoulder where her knee had been.

“I don’t care who started it. Get out of this room and go get ready for church.”

Toby stuck out his tongue at her, so Lou ducked out of her mom’s reach and punched him in the arm hard enough to knock him over. Then she left. It upset their mom when they fought, but she went downright nuclear if they caused her to be late for church. Last time that happened, her mom changed the password for the wifi and refused to give it to Lou. It didn’t take Lou long to hack it, but she couldn’t let her mom know she was online. It was a pain in the ass.

“We’re leaving this house in an hour. Both of you better be ready.”

Lou kissed her mom on the cheek as she passed her and promised to be ready. Then she locked herself in her room, crossed to her desk, and logged in to her computer. She liked to check her message boards first thing to see if anything interesting was going on. She typed in her user name and password for the Recipe Exchange, a message board for extreme hackers. These guys were intense and she still couldn’t believe they let her join.

There was a new thread labeled Bearded Clam with over two hundred comments. She clicked it. The opening post was from a senior member of the group, Karma. She outlined a new group challenge and asked who wanted to participate. Lou read through it three times before she was willing to believe what it said. Then she scanned the rest of the comments. It looked like she was one of the last to chime in. Everyone so far, including rochboss, her sponsor for the group, had agreed to participate.

She looked over the original post one more time. Her hands shook as she scrolled up and for the first time in forever, her heart raced at the thought of a new hacking challenge. This was a totally kickass hack, with huge risk if they got caught. Her mom would kill her if she got arrested.

5/12, 2246 Karma said: The gap between rich and poor in our country is embarrassing. People lose their livelihood, their homes, and their dignity every day, while at the same time, the top 2% continue to mass staggering amounts of wealth. We have the power to change it. I propose the following:

Operation Bearded Clam

Objective: The redistribution of wealth from the rich bastards to the poor schmucks.
Method: Target unrepentant assholes with too much money who are guilty of crimes against humanity. Relieve them of the burden of their riches. This will in turn help them with their search for their missing souls. Transfer assets to the unlucky bastards who went bankrupt beneath the corrupt heels of corporate America.

There was a healthy amount of follow up discussion about the details, but it added up to some serious felonious hacking. They’d have to access bank accounts. That was Federal.

Lou signed out without responding. She’d think about it, come back to it later.

#

Blender kicked up his skateboard and caught it in his free hand. He was two minutes away from being late for work as he ran into the coffee shop.

“I’m here.” He panted, out of breath from the mad dash ride across town. His boss, Brenda, glared at him while he stowed his board by his locker and tied his apron into place. She was forever on his ass about something, acting like the weight of the world rested on their ability to make espresso. As if. He loved coffee, but he wasn’t completely insane either. That bitch needed a little perspective.

“You’re late.”

Blender clocked in on the computer. The time said 4:02 pm. He was scheduled for four. Shit.

“Come on, Brenda, it’s only two minutes.” He smiled his super charming smile that he knew she liked. Her expression didn’t change. “I’ll clean the machine tonight. And the bins.”

She nodded. He saw the slightest smile forming on her face as she turned, before she walked away. His job was safe for another shift, even if he had to do the two shittiest jobs ever to keep it that way. No point in putting it off. The counter was clear, so he grabbed the cleaner, and a couple of rags. He’d start with the trash bins in the dining room.

He made it through the first one when Brenda came out with her jacket and purse in hand. “I’m headed home for the night.” She was almost through the door when she turned back around and said, “And, Brandon, try to be on time tomorrow, okay?” No matter how many times he told her hated to be called Brandon, she insisted. She said that was the name his parents gave him, so it was the name she would use. She really was a bitch sometimes.

“You got it, boss.” Blender gave her a salute.

She’d been gone for less than five minutes when his buddy, Rupie, rolled up. He came in with his board under his arm. “I watched for her to leave.”

“Thanks, man, she was already pissed at me for being late. Two minutes.”

“Shit, she really needs to get laid.”

“I know, right?” Blender pulled the can out of the next trash enclosure. He was totally willing to talk to Rup while working, but that didn’t mean he was willing to be a total slacker. He was getting paid to do a job, so he’d do it. His dad had drilled that into his head hard enough for it to stick.

“So, did you decide?” Rup aimed the bottle of spray cleaner like a gun, and made “pew, pew, pew” sounds like a laser going off.

“Yep, you?”

“Nah, I’m still thinking about it. What’d you come up with?”

“Remember how my uncle was laid off two years ago?” It hadn’t been just his uncle. The manufacturing facility had closed completely and then moved their operations to China. It had been crippling for the entire town.

“Yeah, of course. That sucked.”

“Yeah, well, I did some research. The company reported record earnings that year. And the CEO doubled his own paycheck. He bought an island, an entire fucking island! And a jet.” Blender reached for the spray bottle. Rup could postpone his imaginary firefight until later.

“Didn’t your uncle lose his house?”

“Yeah, him and about three thousand other people.”

“Fuck. So who are you going after? The company or the CEO?”

“Both.” When he’d seen the message on Recipe Exchange, Blender knew immediately that he’d do it. It took longer to narrow down his target, but now he felt confident. And he was good enough to hit both at the same time. “Hell, maybe I’ll do the entire board while I’m at it. They’re all greedy fucks.”

“True. First you need to help me decide.”

Blender finished the second bin and moved to the third. “We’ll find you something, man. No worries.” He was absolutely confident. There was no shortage of rich greedy bastards to choose from.

#

“Do you ever feel guilty?” Karin sipped her sweet tea. The next time the cabana boy came around, she would order another, except this time with a little something extra to help her get through the rest of the morning. She’d agreed to meet her parents on the island as a concession. She’d had no idea they would invite the dolt sitting next to her.

“About what?” Roger sat in his lounge chair wearing shorts, a polo, and dark sunglasses. He looked at the pool like demons might spring up out of it at any moment. There was absolutely no chance in hell that she was going to get him out to the actual ocean unless it was on her daddy’s yacht. She wasn’t in the mood to listen to him kiss her daddy’s ass, so the yacht was a no go this trip.

“Having so much while others have so little.” She pulled up a news report from that morning depicting a tragic fire that had killed hundreds in the slums of Jamaica and displaced even more.

He barely gave it a glance. “They should work harder to change their circumstances.”

“Hmmm.”

She couldn’t for the life of her understand what her parents saw in him. Other than his bank account. That was impressive.

A woman wearing a sheer salmon colored sarong strolled by and paused long enough to meet Karin’s gaze and hold it. She lifted her glass in a barely perceivable toast, followed by a wink. They’d been flirting back and forth all week and she was having a hell of a time learning the woman’s name. Not that it really mattered, she supposed. She could just follow her into the nearest cabana and introduce
herself. Karin returned her smile and regretfully let her go. Her parents were due any moment.

“Do you know her name?” Karin nudged Roger. Perhaps he might prove useful after all.

“No idea, but I’ve seen her around all week. I thought you knew her.”

“That’s William Eastman’s daughter, Corina.” Karin’s mother stepped into the shaded area. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

“I heard she’s a lesbian.” Karin’s daddy joined them as well.

Karin stood and kissed both of them in greeting.

“Well that’s okay now, right? It’s popular with the young people.”

With her mother’s casual observation, Karin choked on her drink. Her father patted her on the back. As soon as she regained her composure, she reclaimed her seat. Her parents sat as well.

“What about you, dear? Have you ever tried that?” Her mother asked.

“What?” Karin’s face flushed with heat. She hoped her mother wasn’t going where she thought she was going.

“Being a lesbian.” She said it so offhandedly, like she hadn’t spent a fortune in campaign dollars with the Republican party fighting the gaying of America. Karin suspected perhaps her mother had tried it and was trying to find a way to work that into the conversation. Wouldn’t that be something?

Karin watched Corina cross the walkway on the other side of the pool. “I’m thinking about it right now.”

“What was that dear?” Her daddy looked up from his paper. He refused to make the transition to electronic news.

Her mother watched her with a small smile, but didn’t clarify on her behalf.

“Oh nothing. Daddy, did you see the news about Jamaica? Isn’t that terrible?”

“Yes, I’ve already spoken to your Uncle Adam about making a donation to relief efforts.”

That made Karin feel slightly better. At least her parents cared enough to do something, even if it was to just write a check. Tax deductable, of course.

“Roger thinks it’s their fault, that they should work harder to improve their circumstances.”

Roger sputtered and tried to speak. Her daddy beat him to it. “Well, pumpkin, that’s true to a certain degree. Men build their own fate and fortune in life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be charitable during a time of need.”
Having inherited it from his parents, her father had done nothing to build his fate or fortune. The same could be said about her mother and would be said about her. No one that she knew built their own industry. They all wanted to be seen as trailblazers in business, but none wanted to actually roll up heir sleeves to do the blazing.

“I see.” Karin collected her things. Corina was just turning the corner to head out of the pool area toward the beach. She looked back at Karin and invited her to come along with a slight tilt of her head. “I’m going for a walk by the water. I’ll be back soon.”

Roger stood to join her and she thrust her iPad into his hands. “Be a dear and hold onto this for me.”

She’d wanted to warn her parents about the plan posted on the Recipe Exchange, but decided against it. They could be victims of circumstance for once. She’d been uncertain about participating, but it seemed her people would do nothing to balance the scales on their own. Now all that was left was to select a target. Roger and his holdings were looking pretty good.

But she’d get to that later, after she introduced herself to William Eastman’s lesbian daughter, Corina.

#

Roseberg hit the keys in rapid-fire succession without blinking. The way she stared at the screen made Gillian tired. She worried about things like eye strain and induced seizures, but Roseberg never seemed to be affected.

“Any idea what the meeting is about?” Gillian didn’t expect Roseberg to answer. She wasn’t much of a gossip despite always knowing the answer. Having mad hacking skills gave her access to all the good information way before it became publicly available.

Roseberg shrugged without looking away from the screen. The motion didn’t slow her typing. She read code like the rest of them read the alphabet. “Sort of.”

She’d read a story once about computer geeks as tech-mutants. They integrated with the computer and communicated beyond just tapping keys. Watching Roseberg, she thought it was a totally plausible option.

The rest of the team shuffled into the conference room before she could ask Roseberg to clarify. They filled the rest of the seats around the table and stared at Roseberg expectantly, including the team leader. She knew Roseberg had more information than she was giving up.

Roseberg finally stopped typing and then looked up. “Oh, hi.” She was always a little clueless about the other humans in the room, further supporting the tech-mutant theory.

“You wanted us to meet?”

“Right.” Roseberg tapped a couple of keys and her computer screen shot appeared on the big screen at the front of the room. “This is going to sound weird, but something big is coming.”

It did feel a little like John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Christ. Vague and promising. Or foreboding, depending upon your place in history.

“What do you mean?” Gillian asked the question because of all of them, she was most tactful. Sometimes Roseberg required a gentle touch.

“Well, you all know that I monitor all the hacktivist groups as closely as I can. It’s not as easy as it sounds because we’re talking about a group of people who are just as good as I am.”

“Not possible.”

Roseberg smiled at the compliment, but continued as if the interruption never happened. “As soon as I get established, one of them gets curious, and the next thing you know, I get the boot. By the time I can work my way back in, they’ve moved.”

“Get to the point.” The team leader was getting antsy. He had a stack of paperwork on his desk. Mystery non-briefings probably annoyed him even more than they bothered Gillian.

“I’ve heard several references to Operation Bearded Clam lately. They’re all really excited about it, but no one is sharing details.”

“And?”

“And it’s never a good idea when people who are capable of collapsing the global economy or launching a nuclear war are that excited about something all at the same time. It’s rarely a good thing.”

“So why don’t you just ask someone?”

“It’s kinda like Fight Club. You know? The first rule of Fight Club is that we don’t talk about Fight Club? That kind of thing. I’ve tried to get the information. I get shut down every time.”

“Why don’t you just follow the cyber trail, or whatever?”

” Normally I would, but they are being super careful about covering their tracks. I’m telling you, this is big.”

They all looked toward the leader to figure out how to respond. They really had nothing to go on except Roseberg’s intuition. They all trusted her instincts, but this was far too vague to act upon.

“All right. Keep monitoring the situation, and notify us if any new information becomes available. That’s all we can do for now.”

With that, the team gathered their notes and left the room. Once again, Gillian was alone with Roseberg. She too, gathered her materials, and stood. “You’re really worried?”

“I’m flat out scared. This is big and I have no idea what it is.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Gillian patted Roseberg on the shoulder as she left the conference room. As much as she sympathized with her friend, she had real bad guys to chase down.
She didn’t have time for cyber ghosts.

#

Robin checked the screen three times. Penny transactions were not that unusual. They happened occasionally when a merchant needed to verify an account. In the last month, however, the number had tripled. She wasn’t sure what it meant, exactly, but she knew enough about covering her ass to know she needed to report it. She emailed the report to her boss and then forgot about it. She had more important things
to worry about than pennies.

#

Karma moved with a natural grace that Jersey would never possess. It colored everything she did, apparent in even the simplest moves. For example, when Jersey hunched over her keyboard, she was merely typing out code. When Karma did it, she was composing a computer-age symphony. Jersey could watch her for hours. And sometimes she did.

“I can see the wheels turning. Tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.” Karma stopped typing, and then turned in her chair to face Jersey. She hooked her arm over the back of the chair and smiled encouragingly. She found Operation Bearded Clam exhilarating, but the closer they got to Cocktail Hour, the more second thoughts Jersey had. Ironic, really, since the whole thing had originally been her idea.

Of course, she’d been high on some really awesome reefer at the time. She and Karma had split a blunt, then climbed up to the roof and star gazed. Through the bliss of marijuana haze, leveling the economic playing field in the U.S. seemed brilliant. But with a clear head, the part of her that minored in economics was freaking the hell out. What they were doing had the potential to collapse the world economy. And there was the pesky added detail of jail time.

“How do you feel about Morocco?” Jersey had poured over the list of countries that didn’t have extradition treaties with the United States. Morocco was the only one that was even remotely interesting. The rest varied from neutral to downright terrifying.

“Why? Are you planning a vacation?” Karma looked interested. That was a good start.

“Not exactly.” She took a deep breath. It was now or never. Judging by the look on Karma’s face, after all the build up, it needed to be now. She went to the dresser and pulled a manila folder out of the top drawer. Inside she had two passports and two state issued driver’s licenses. Both fake. She handed one set to Karma. “This is for you.”

Karma inspected the license first. She wouldn’t find any flaws, Jersey knew. She’d spent a small fortune on the documents, but if it kept the two of them out of jail, it was worth it. Karma set the license next to her Macbook and opened the passport. She ran her finger over the picture and mouthed the words as she read the name. “Who’s Jordan Louise?”

“You are. And I’m Thelma Martin. But you can call me Telly, for short.”

“Is this for real?”

“Yes.” Jersey dropped to her knees in front of Karma. “Say you’ll come with me.”

Karma set the passport on top of the license, and then cupped Jersey’s face in her hands. She gave her a gentle kiss that tasted of cigarette tobacco and espresso. “I don’t understand.”

Normally, Karma was the smart one. Her thoughts ran rampant without censure. She moved fluidly through subjects without hesitation. Jersey was certain that she would understand the instant she saw the falsified documents. Normal people didn’t have items like that. Fugitives did.

They weren’t on the run from the law yet, but they would be if they followed through with Operation Bearded Clam. And what choice did they have now? The idea originated with them. A good–okay, exceptional
–tech would be able to trace it. It would take a long time, but it would happen eventually. They would be found guilty even if they didn’t participate. They had inspired a cyber riot. Their only hope was to be long gone before the threads unraveled.

Thus, the documents and the bookmarked flights to Morocco on her laptop. She’d even looked at longer voyages by boat. Travel via ocean liner sounded romantic, but neither of them had been on a boat. She didn’t want to learn that they were prone to seasickness when they were a hundred miles off shore with several thousand left to travel. Flying seemed the most logical. “I think we should leave. Indefinitely.”

“To Morocco? If you want to travel, baby, let’s go to Jamaica. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

Jersey knew that. She knew all of Karma’s dreams, whispered across the pillows at night when they felt brave enough to share their secrets. Of course she’d checked Jamaica. And every other place Karma had ever mentioned. Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and so on. The answer had been the same. Extradition.

“Not to visit. I think we should move.”

Karma’s mouth fell open. “To Morocco?”
Jersey nodded. She could see realization dawning on Karma’s face, but it was clouded and distant. “Or any other country you like that doesn’t extradite.”

Karma dropped her head and played with her hands in her lap. Jersey wanted to see her eyes, but she didn’t need to see to know that they were filled with tears. Karma cried easily. If she thought something was beautiful, she cried. Sad, she cried. Happy, she cried. She felt her emotions with the volume turned all the way up until there was no choice but for them to overflow occasionally.

“I’m sorry, baby. I really am. I just don’t see any other way. I would die if they put you in jail.” Jersey took Karma’s hands in hers. It was small comfort, but she knew it was all Karma would allow in the moment. Karma, her sweet, sensitive girlfriend who loved so much she forgot that others could feel anything else. She would suffocate and shrivel in prison. Why hadn’t she thought of that before they hit send on that first message? They’d been high when she thought of it, but didn’t have that excuse for the moment they released it into the cyber world.

Karma sniffled, then straightened her shoulders and looked Jersey in the eye. “My home is with you. Here or Morocco, it doesn’t matter. If this is what you want, then I’m in.”

Jersey kissed Karma through the tears. It was a beautiful speech, but she wasn’t an idiot. Unlike her, Karma had a life here–parents, a brother. It would hurt to leave them behind. Karma slid to the floor in her arms and Jersey whispered to her, “I’m so sorry.”

#

Eric stared at his screen as the numbers counted down. His finger hovered over the enter button. He’d set his program and everything was ready to go. All he had to do was push the button. The message board
was eerily quiet. There was always posts popping up, pinging to let him know a new message was available.

But not tonight.
He imagined the whole forum poised as he was, staring at the thread labeled Operation Bearded Clam.

Who the hell came up with a twisted name like that? He was certain it was a not-so-subtle reference to sex, but since he’d never actually been with a woman, he couldn’t be sure. He hoped like hell that the action he was about to take wasn’t damning him to a first time at the hands of a tattooed prisoner named Rocko. He wiped his sweaty palms against his jeans. The fabric was rough and did little to absorb the moisture. The countdown marched on.

Cocktail Hour begins in…

30…
29…
28…
27…

It would take a while, maybe forever, for the feds to trace down every bit of code that was about to be unleashed. And he was good. Really good. They all were. There was a real chance that they would never be able to trace his code back to him. God knows he’d ran through enough firewalls, and built in so many trap doors, that it would take Alice and a bottle of her magic potion to find him at this point.

14…
13…
12…
11…

This was it. The point of no return. The sweat on his palms spread until he was pouring off perspiration from every surface of his body. His fingers shook so badly he wondered if he’d even be able to push the enter key when the countdown reached zero.

8…
7…
6…

Would his mom visit him in prison? What about graduation? If he missed the ceremony would they still issue the diploma? He worked hard to earn that, taking English three summers in a row. He hated English. The language was unreliable. Unlike code.

3…
2…
1…

Launch

Eric pushed enter, then breathed so hard he almost passed out. He thought it would be a bigger deal, setting in motion a modern day Robin Hood event. But he felt the same. His room looked the same. Confetti didn’t fall from the ceiling. His bed was still covered with the Buzz Lightyear bedspread his mom bought for him when he was seven. He wondered what the bedding was like in prison. Probably newer than his. He puffed his inhaler and focused on breathing evenly. When the fuzzy dots that preceded blacking out faded from his vision, he finally relaxed. All he could do now was wait.

#

The bus stopped short of the bus stop by a good half block, but that was pretty normal for this time of night. The driver was half asleep just like the rest of them. Sharon gathered her things before she
shuffled to the exit. She was the last passenger on board, and the driver gave her a halfhearted wave. She pulled her pepper spray from her purse as she stepped from the bus platform onto the solid concrete sidewalk. This was her least favorite part of working the swing shift. Getting off at midnight wasn’t bad until she reached her own neighborhood. The few blocks between her apartment and where the bus let her off were, at times, harrowing.

She moved quickly, taking care to watch her surroundings. Yet another street lamp had been broken. She wondered if the street kids held competitions to see who could break the most in one night. At this point, she was more amazed when one worked than when they didn’t. It appeared the city had long ago given up on fixing them. She made it safely from 15th to 19th, and clutched her purse a little tighter. The next block held a row of businesses, including a bank, and a dive bar with windows so dark people couldn’t see in or out. She had to pass in front of both in order to get to her apartment which was two blocks farther still.

She and her husband used to own a house. A nice one, with three bedrooms and a swing set in the yard for the kids to play on. Then he’d lost his job and they’d lost the house the next year. Now the kids played on an empty lot. Sometimes, they’d walk the kids to the school a few blocks over to let them play on the equipment, but half the time they’d interrupt a drug deal mid-score. A few times of that happening, they learned to watch more closely and hang back until things had finished up. When she had her kids with her, the dealers left her alone. But lately, they’d been eying her boy, sizing him up like he had something to offer their organization. She’d kill them all herself if they ever came near her baby.

The bar was quiet tonight. None of the usual noise spilled out into the street, and Sharon felt lucky. She neared the bank and noticed something moving in the shadows near the ATM. It was too uniform, like a fluttering of wings, to be another person. Still, she readied her pepper spray.

Money spewed out of the ATM slot like water from a fountain. She stared, wide-eyed and disbelieving. She almost poked herself in the eye with her pepper spray as she reached up to wipe her eyes. She was certain she must be hallucinating.

She stepped closer slowly and a twenty dollar bill drifted over and landed at her feet. She picked it up. It was definitely real. She looked around. Surely someone was coming to fix this. Banks didn’t just give out money in the middle of the night.

The screen on the ATM flashed with a message.

OPERATION BEARDED CLAM
ECONOMIC LIBERATION FOR THE 98%

It was wrong. God help her, she knew it was wrong. Still, she tucked her chin into her chest and angled her face away from the security camera. And there, she knelt in the street and scooped money into her bag. She sent a prayer to Jesus with each bill secured, one of thanks, and the next a plea for forgiveness.

The flutter of bills was broken by the sound of shouting from the bar across the street. Sharon looked up to see the drunks pouring out of the building, a human flood to match the bills from the ATM. She gathered one last scoop of twenties, then ran like hell. She didn’t want to get caught under foot when the mob reached the machine.

She’d count her bounty later, after she’d checked on her kids and woken her husband.

#

“Jane, honey, what’s in this envelope?” Robert came damn close to tripping over the bulky legal sized envelop on his way out the door to work. He didn’t have time for this kind of bullshit. His boss was a grade A prick who’d been on the rampage lately. Earlier that week, he’d fired a guy for being late to work. This wasn’t Rob’s dream job, not by a long shot. Who dreamed about delivering or slinging pizza?

But still, the tips he made on deliveries covered the cost of diapers and formula. Barely. Their paychecks combined almost covered the rest. Dream job or not, he needed it.

“What are you talking about?” Jane stepped out of the bedroom. She held Robert Jr. in one arm while she tried to fasten the buttons on her blouse with the other hand.

He waved the envelope. “This was on the front step.”

“Why?”

“I have no idea.” He set the envelope on the table and then took his son so his wife could finish getting dressed. He would never, ever understand a father who didn’t want to be a part of his child’s life. Everything in his world changed when Bobby was born. He didn’t care what he had to go without. So long as his son was cared for, that’s all he needed.

Jane buttoned her blouse, straightened her slacks, and put in her earrings before she picked up the envelope. “Did you open it?”

Rob hated when Jane used that voice with him. The one that said he should have thought of something without her having to tell him. She knew his brain didn’t work quite as well as it used to. Before his tour in Iraq, he’d been smart. Thoughts flew through his head. The VA wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong with him, but he could feel it. And Jane definitely knew it.

“Not yet. Go ahead.”

She turned the envelope over in her hands a few times, inspecting the outside. “It doesn’t say anything. There’s just a martini glass on the front.” She held it up and pointed to the picture. The glass was full with an olive on a toothpick bobbing in the liquid. He could sure go for a good martini. That sounded awesome.

She slit the top of the envelope open and looked inside. Without saying a word, she dropped onto the sofa and cupped her face in her hands. The envelope dropped to the floor and something green shuffled part way out of the opening. Jane rocked in place and cried like he’d never seen before.

He didn’t know what to do. As her husband though, he knew it was his job to do something. He dropped to the floor beside her and shifted the baby to one arm. He wrapped the other around her and whispered comforting things in her ear, like “it’ll be okay” and “everything’s fine.”

She cried so long that he was definitely going to be late for work, but he never let her go. It didn’t even occur to him to look in the envelope himself. At some point, she would stop crying and tell him what was wrong.

He was right. She stopped right around the time that Bobby started squirming. His son would only stay still for so long before he wanted to shift positions. He’d stayed still for longer than usual this time.

“What’s in the envelope, Jane?”

She scooped it off the floor and held it open to him. The inside was filled with money, one hundred dollar bills it looked like. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, “The answer to our prayers”

#

Mitchell stood in line with his bank statement clutched in one hand and his wife’s hand in the other. He hadn’t been able to stop shaking since he opened it. Layla’s fingers were turning white from him gripping too hard. He forced himself to relax and she wiggled her fingers, but she didn’t let him go. She was holding on just as tight.

They needed that money, but were both afraid it was some cruel joke. With the way things had been going, they’d no more than spend it before they got a letter from the bank saying it was a typo, and they we’re pulling the money back out of their account. Banks were tricky like that. They could put it in and take it out without you knowing about it.

“Next.” The teller called them over.

Mitch spread the paper out on the counter and smoothed it over a couple of times. He’d wrinkled it pretty badly while they were standing in line. “I’d like to talk to someone about this.”

The teller, the name plate at her station designated her Dianne, looked at it without picking it up and said, “It’s your bank statement.” She said it in that snotty service voice. The one that said she was paid to be nice, but really thought he was a pain in the ass and not worth her time. That tone used to make him angry, but Layla changed all that. She taught him to laugh through it. Later, after they’d sorted all this out, she’d make a joke and he’d let go of the little stab the teller’s tone took at his pride.

“Listen, Dianne, I’m not asking what the paper is. I want to talk to someone about what it says.” He kept his tone level while Layla squeezed his hand in encouragement.

“It says,” Dianne read the summary upside down. “That you have seventy-six thousand and change in savings. And ten dollars, twenty-two cents in checking.”

“Can you please get your boss for us?” His voice wasn’t quite as level, but he considered it a victory that he hadn’t started yelling yet. Dianne was a condescending bitch.

“I really don’t see why that’s necessary.”

Mitch took a deep breath, but before he could respond, Layla squeezed his fingers and turned her smile on for Dianne.

“Here’s the thing. We know what the form says. We just don’t know why it says it. We didn’t put the money into that account so we need to talk to someone who can help us sort that out. And since you’ve managed to alienate us as customers, we’d feel more comfortable speaking with your superior. If you don’t want to get your branch manager for us, I’m sure that I can find her on my own. I see her office right over there. We’ll just wait inside.” Layla smiled like sunshine every time. Mitchell had been caught up in that more than once and knew exactly how Dianne felt in that moment. It was downright mesmerizing.

Layla winked and scooped up the statement before Dianne responded. She blinked, shook her head, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Give me just one second.”
Layla tugged Mitchell along. He was caught up in her gravitational pull and no amount of resistance would help. They were going into that office regardless of what he, or Dianne, wanted at this point.

Dianne ran ahead of them and barely made it through the door ahead of Layla. The manager sat behind her desk, reading glasses perched on her nose as she reviewed something on her computer screen.

Layla sat in one of the high-backed leather chairs and pointed to the other. Mitchell sat as expected.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Hilden. These customers would like a word with you.” Dianne was slightly out of breath when she spoke. Layla had that effect.

“That’s fine,” Ms. Hilden looked pointedly at Dianne’s chest where a nametag would have been had she worn one. The space where Dianne’s name should have been was awkwardly empty. She’d left off her nametag that day. “Thank you.”

Dianne shuffled out. Mitchell heard her mutter “Thank God” as she rounded the corner.

“How can I help you?” Ms. Hilden lowered her glasses and set them on the desk in front of her. She had nice eyes. Not as nice as Layla’s, but nobody did.Layla looked at him expectantly. It was his turn to speak again.

“Well, ma’am, you see we received this in the mail this morning.” He offered her the bank statement. She took it and looked it over curiously. He already liked her better than Dianne. “There must be some mistake, because we didn’t make that deposit.”

There was only one deposit on the whole statement, so she wouldn’t have to guess which one.

Ms. Hilden’s face softened. She set the paper on the desk with a small smile. “You’re not the first to inquire about a deposit like that.”

“No?” Mitchell felt a wave of relief and disappointment. The bank was aware of the mistake. They could get this fixed today. But that also meant the money, tempting as it’d been, really wasn’t theirs to keep.

“I assure you, the deposit is real. It originated from an offshore account. The only name associated with the account was Operation Bearded Clam. Does that mean anything to you?”

What in the world?

“No clue.”

“Let me understand this.” Layla leaned forward in her seat and caught Ms. Hilden’s gaze. “This money is officially ours. We can spend it and you’re not going to come back in a week and say Whoops! My bad!
and take it all back?”

“No. We cannot. The deposit is not a banking error. The owner of the originating account wants you to have it.

Mitchell couldn’t catch his breath. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get any oxygen to go into his lungs. In the periphery of his consciousness, he heard someone say “Hyperventilating” and he felt Layla’s steady grip pushing his head down between his legs. The black spots at the edges of his vision receded and he heard Layla whispering in his ear, “It’s okay, just breathe, everything is okay” over and over.

As soon as he could, he grabbed hold of her hand and squeezed. She squeezed back just like every other time he’d needed her.

For the first time in a long, long time, he believed that everything really would be okay.

#

“Rona, wait!”

Rona pushed her hand through her hair and counted to ten before turning to face her boss. She was running late and getting too damned close to the daycare cutoff. She couldn’t afford the one dollar per minute rate they charged parents who arrived after six in the evening.

When she was able to breathe without shooting flames out her nostrils, she turned to face Dillon. “What’s up?”

“Do you know anything about the donation labeled Clam?”

Rona took another deep breath. She knew Dillon wasn’t helpless, but at five-forty on Friday night, she was having a hard time remembering that. “I haven’t seen it, no.”

“You need to. Now.”

Rona put her things in her car, then dutifully followed Dillon back inside. She called her husband on the way. “Can you pick up the kids?”

“Seriously? It’s almost six.” He sounded just as irritated as she felt.

“I know what time it is. That’s why I’m calling.” She loved her husband, but sometimes she wanted to hug him until he passed out. That couldn’t be normal.

He sighed, but she could hear his keys jingling in the background. “Okay. I’m on my way.”

“Thanks.”

Dillon led her to an open computer screen and pointed. “Look.”

Rona looked. Then she scrubbed her eyes with her fingers and looked again. “It has to be a typo.”

“I called the bank.”

“And?” Rona couldn’t look away. There were too many zeroes in a row.

“They said the money is really in our account.”

“That doesn’t happen.” There was a process. People who donated that much money to a not-for-profit did so publicly after filling out the required tax paperwork. They did not transfer it quietly without informing the charity ahead of time.

“It happened.”

“Five million dollars.” Rona sat heavily in the chair behind her. The wheels shifted and she rolled back. She didn’t have the wherewithal to roll forward again. She shifted her focus from the computer screen to Dillon, then back to the screen. “It has to be a mistake.”

“There’s more. According to the bank, it’s set up as an annual donation.”

Rona shook her head. That definitely couldn’t be right. Now not only were her eyes failing her, but so was her hearing. “Could you repeat that?”

“The donor set up the deposits to take place annually on this date indefinitely.” Dillon’s voice held the same disbelieving quality that Rona was feeling, like this couldn’t possibly be true. Except Dillon didn’t appear to be on the verge of passing out. Rona had black spots around the edges of her vision.

“Five million dollars?” She repeated the number dumbly.

“Yes.” Dillon nodded firmly.

This one donation solved their funding issues. They were no longer under threat of closing, of abandoning the women who needed them. “We need to celebrate.” Excitement swelled inside her and bubbled over. She was giddy with the power of five million dollars. “Let’s have a barbeque. Or a pizza party.” The kids loved pizza.

“We need to call a meeting to discuss expansion.” Dillon was far more practical than Rona, focusing on what the money meant to the business side of things, and Rona was excited about that as well, but first
she wanted to share the good news with the families housed there.

“This could mean additional beds.” Right now they were limited to twelve rooms with two to four beds each. Single women could share the rooms with two beds and the rooms with four beds were reserved for women with multiple children.

“And upgraded services.” Dillon tapped her pencil against the desk absently. It was a habit Rona recognized that signaled that her boss was deep in thought. The woman processed data faster than anyone Rona had ever met. Like the work transition program they’d been fighting to get off the ground. And maybe an additional counselor. And a daycare service. The possibilities made Rona heady.

“I don’t want to wait until Monday.” Rona wanted to start right now. This was too big to wait two days. She’d go mad thinking about it.

“You have to. Your family needs you.” Dillon smiled sardonically. She’d realized exactly what she’d been asking when she pulled Rona back into the building.

“Right.”

“First thing Monday. I’ll send out a group message right now.” Dillon pulled out her phone and started tapping the keys. As a group they communicated primarily via phone and email. Text message was reserved for the important, impromptu, and not necessarily urgent. It worked well for mass communication on short notice.

“Monday.” Rona stood. Dillon was right, her family was waiting for her. She straightened her suit and then pulled Dillon into a hug. This news was too big not to celebrate a little bit. Even if that celebration was limited to a hug between almost friends.

She headed out, dialing the phone as she walked. When her husband picked up she said, “You’ll never believe what just happened.”

#

“Somebody needs to Goddamn well explain to me where the hell my money is.”

Luis adjusted his tie and tried to think of a suitable answer for Clarence Majors. Clarence was his biggest client by far, and as his financial adviser, it was technically Luis’s job to answer these questions. Or rather, he was his biggest client until he went on an apparent black out bender and donated all his money to needy human rights charities around the country.

“Well, as I explained, sir, it appears that you have made several sizable contributions to various charities ranging from Planned Parenthood to the HRC.” Luis suspected that alcohol, drugs, and possibly some amazing pussy had been behind the money transfers. There was no other reason for Clarence to have moved such substantial amounts of money without consulting Luis first.

“I did no such thing.” Clarence’s nostril’s puffed out, his face grew even redder, and the vein in the middle of his forehead throbbed dangerously.

Luis was at a loss. Admittedly, the charities were out of keeping with Clarence’s typical right leaning politics, but it didn’t change the facts of the matter. “I’m sorry, sir, but all of these transactions originated with your login identification. No one else could have created the transactions.” Most importantly, Luis couldn’t have created them. He wanted to be very, very clear on that.

“I don’t care what that Goddamned machine says. I didn’t do this.” Clarence spoke with such conviction that Luis questioned his original theory about women and illegal substances. He had no idea where to go next. The money had been transferred out of several off shore accounts, accounts purposefully outside of US jurisdiction. They couldn’t appeal to the US government for investigation when they’d so carefully hidden the funds from the government–and Clarence’s ex-wife–in the first place. And the accounts were in countries that didn’t investigate. How you managed your money was your business and no one else’s. That was the appeal for men like Clarence.

“Sir, the transactions are very clear. There’s no room for doubt.”

Clarence shook, a fine sheen of sweat covered his skin and spittle flew from his mouth as he spoke. “You better figure this shit out, Lectrine. I don’t pay you to do nothing.”

“Sir, I’m a financial adviser, not a computer analyst. I can guide you through your financial investments, but I can’t trace and reclaim the money on transactions once they’ve been made. And I can assure you, sir, I never would have approved these transactions had I been consulted.” Luis folded his papers into his briefcase and closed his laptop. He needed get out of this room before Clarence had a stroke. Or killed someone. Either was likely and Luis didn’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity when it happened.

“Surely you can do something?” Clarence wrapped his hands into Luis’s lapels, wrinkling the tailored silk and staining it with perspiration. His anger was sliding quickly to desperation.

“Well, I might know a guy.” Luis pried Clarence’s fingers off of his suit jacket.

Ronnie, his roommate all through his undergrad years, was a wizard with a computer. Such a wizard, in fact, that he’d spent the last three years in a minimum security facility for being a little too good.

“But he won’t be cheap.”

“Anything. Just get my money back.” Clarence smoothed his hands over the damaged fabric, managing only to make matters worse.

“I’ll be in touch.” Luis took his files and fled while he had a chance. He didn’t plan to return. He may not be a computer expert, but he didn’t need to be to know that money was gone and no amount of tilting at windmills would make it come back.

#

“We need to form a committee.”

“A committee?” Jo asked the question carefully. The senator was difficult to manage at the best of times, but during times of financial difficulty, specifically his, he was completely beyond her reach.

“Yes, a committee. And a task force. The person, or persons, who perpetrated this crime, must be brought to justice.” He smacked his hand against his desk as a final end note.

He’d obviously forgotten he was alone in the room with Jo. He didn’t have an audience to appreciate his theatrics.

“But, sir, there’s no evidence that a crime has even been committed.”

The senator’s face turned red and screwed up into an ugly mask of outrage. Before he could turn loose whatever tirade he had building, a knock sounded at the door. Three men entered without waiting to be summoned.

“Good afternoon, Senator. We came right away.” The first man extended his hand. He wore a crisp, tailored suit and his black stud cuff links peeked out of his jacket sleeves.

The senator, surprisingly enough, shook his hand. More often than not, Jo had seen him turn up his nose like the hand offered somehow became invisible the moment the owner held it out. It was embarrassing for all parties, but she doubted the senator felt shameful about it even though he damn well should.

“And who exactly are you?” The Senator didn’t bother to learn the names and faces of his peers and constituents. He had people to do that for him. Specifically, Jo.

She stepped in dutifully. “Senator, let me introduce Max Caufield, acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And this is Lewis Jambre, head of the FCC. Behind him is Secretary of Treasury, Thomas Feem.” She stood slightly more erect than usual as she worked through the names. Even though the Senator was ignorant to their titles and positions of power, Jo was painfully aware. These moments brought her past into fine focus and placed it at crosshairs to where she’d climbed.

The Senator urged them all into the adjoining conference room and for once, Jo wished she could politely decline to join them. Listening to privileged men complain about how they’d been victimized struck every wrong nerve in her body. The option, unfortunately, was not hers to take.

“Tell me what you’ve got.” The senator made the demand before the other men were fully seated.

Mr. Caufield remained standing. He handed Jo a slip of paper with an IP address printed on it. “My team is waiting to be brought in via video conference.”

“Frankly, the Treasury Department does not have the resources for a full scale investigation. We are however, very concerned about the events that took place over the past week.”

Jo appreciated the Secretary of Treasury’s word choice. The Treasury had essentially no liability as the accounts targeted were all based overseas. With the exception of a few random accounts that dumped cash onto the streets in the middle of the night–brilliant, she thought–the lion’s share of the transactions took place in other countries where the U.S. held no jurisdiction. With little to no financial culpability, the Treasury Department could afford to look concerned without going into full on panic mode.

“The FCC is primarily concerned with the criminal hacking involved to pull off an operation on this level. This group is highly organized and incredibly skilled. That goes against what we know of typical hacker behavior. Frankly, we have a great deal to be frightened of here. If they can do this, they can do anything. We need to seriously evaluate the security systems in place in our secure government servers.”

Jo brought up the video conference while the men postured. It was clear by their lack of direction and zeal that they were in smoke screen mode. There was no actual expectation of recovering what was taken. That would be a bigger blow to the egos of the targeted families than the hits their bank accounts had taken. She’d checked their finances closely. None of them were in danger of hitting the streets any time soon.

“While the FBI is best positioned in terms of investigative power, we are limited by jurisdiction. Any banking violation that takes place on U.S. soil falls under our watch, but we simply do not have the authority to carry the investigation overseas.”

The video conference screen on the wall went live just as Mr. Caufield finished speaking. He looked relieved to see the screen fill with faces. Perhaps he noticed the look of absolute distaste on the senator’s face. He wasn’t impressed with anything he’d heard so far.

“Senator, may I present the taskforce assembled to investigate Operation Bearded Clam.”

Jo stifled a smile at the FBI Director’s straight faced delivery of the term bearded clam. The whole thing was ludicrous. A woman seated at a computer terminal waved and said, “Hi there, I’m Chantrel Roseberg. Mr. Caufield asked me to go over our findings so far.”

The senator grunted, but didn’t further acknowledge the greeting. Jo smiled and introduced the group of men assembled. Chantrel visibly swallowed when she finished listing the men and the appropriate accolades to go with each. It appeared she was smart enough to recognize that she’d been put smack in the firing line of some very powerful men.

“Go on, Roseberg. Tell us what you’ve learned.” Mr. Caufield gestured impatiently.

“Very good, sir. Well, you see, there’s very little to tell. Whoever did this is very good. I’ve yet to find any actual evidence of wrong doing. Typically, there is a trail of some sort that I can follow, but almost everything leads overseas where I’m not allowed to follow. And love of job and country aside, violating international computer hacking laws, while well within my ability, would land me some substantial jail time. I’m at an impasse.”

“I don’t give a good Goddamn about those laws. I want my Goddamned money back.” The senator bellowed, complete with red face and more spittle.

Jo wished she’d selected a different seat for this meeting.

For her part, Chantrel appeared unaffected. Other than her earlier reaction, she was remarkably calm in the face of such a fit. “With all due respect, Senator, I will not break the law for you. Please do not ask again.” She spoke with authority that Jo respected.

Jo smiled and made a small note on her to-do list. She needed to get to know Chantrel Roseberg better. And the senator needed to send her flowers by way of apology.

“Roseberg, tell me what you do know.”

Chantrel kept her gaze on the Senator, a signal that she wouldn’t be cowed. After a long, pregnant pause, she turned toward Mr. Caufield. “Sir, I believe I found the origins of Operation Bearded Clam.
A well established hacktivist message board called The Recipe Exchange closed down. All files and threads were erased in coordination with the launch of Operation Bearded Clam. I’m pursuing that angle now.”

“Very good, Roseberg. Keep me posted.” Mr. Caufield turned to Jo. “End the call.”

Jo gave Chantrel a small thumbs up as she hit the disconnect button. It probably went unnoticed, but she felt better for having done it. Chantrel had landed in an unenviable position by virtue of being good at her job and she’d handled herself admirably.

“So what you jackasses are telling me is that we’re fucked? It’s just gone.” The senator seemed to fully grasp the situation for the first time. “Fuck.”

Jo sent a quick text to her boyfriend. There was no way she’d make their dinner reservation now. She was in for a long night.

#

Karma laughed as she doubled down again. Blackjack was beyond Jersey. It’s not that she didn’t understand it, but it was just too simple. Karma couldn’t help herself from counting cards. She was going to get them blackballed. Cheating the casino in a country like Morocco was not a smart thing to do. Yet no matter how many times Karma promised to stop, she continued to migrate toward the tables. They drew her like a magnet. All Jersey could do was watch and wait.

Tonight was different though. Tonight Karma wasn’t counting. She was playing carelessly, making foolish bets and drinking too much. She looked happy, well-pleased with her life. On the surface, she and Jersey were young and rich. They were jet-setting Americans living a decadent life.

But beneath that lived heartache. Karma missed her family, her old life. And no matter how much Jersey tried to fill the ache, she simply wasn’t enough.

But they were safe. And free. That had to be enough for now.

Jersey placed her hand low on Karma’s back and drew her away from the tables. “Come on, I have a surprise for you.”

She led Karma out of the casino and into the night. They walked together, their hands loosely clasped and swinging between them.

“What’s my surprise?”

“I’ll show you. Be patient.”

“Tease.”

“I had to get you out of there somehow, didn’t I?” She placed a brief, tender kiss on Karma’s cheek. Everything about this woman made her heart bloom with love. She led her back to the small apartment they’d rented. The light on the landing was burned out and it was hard to see the keyhole with just the moonlight to help. She’d spoken to the landlord, but quickly learned things moved slower in Morocco. He’d listened to her, promised to fix it, and invited them over for a night of cognac and stories. The cognac had been consumed and the stories told weeks ago, but the light was still broken.

She finally got the door open and ushered Karma inside. It was dark there, too, but that had been on purpose. She guided her to the middle of the room and helped her onto the sofa, then she returned to the wall and hit the switch. It took a few minutes for Jersey’s eyes to adjust, so she knew Karma was having the same issue. She waited for realization to set in. It didn’t take long.

“Justin!” Karma squealed. A sound Jersey had rarely heard. “Oh my God. What are you doing here?”

She hugged her brother tight and all Jersey heard in response was a muffled “Jersey…”

When Karma released him and turned her face to Jersey, her eyes were filled with tears. “You did this.”

“Yes.” Jersey stood immobile at the wall, her fingers still touching the switch.

“For me.”

“Yes.” Anything for her. Jersey would sacrifice everything just for that one moment of happiness in Karma’s eyes. Karma held her gaze for a moment, her eyes shining with unshed tears and love. She turned away with a nod and pulled her brother into another long hug. The perpetual weight that Jersey had pressing on her chest eased a little with Justin’s arrival. She’d keep working on it and eventually she’d convince Karma’s parents to join them, too.

They were resistant now, but she wouldn’t give up. Not for her love of Karma.

Only then would she be able to declare Operation Bearded Clam officially over.

THE END


Copyright © 2013, Jove Belle

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, print-outs, information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. Ebooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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