Demoting Halder

A Short Story

by Andy Oram

As he snatched up his phone, Allen caught notice of the index rating on the screen and saw that Mona stood at 2,440. This struck him as odd, because it was highly unusual to add fifteen percent to one’s index in just two weeks. But putting the thought aside, he pressed the answer button.

“Hey.”

“Just called to tell you that Wellthought PR got the Loews account,” Mona said. “Their authority index should go up at least five thousand when the news goes live. Isn’t Wellthought the place where you’re interviewing?”

“My second interview with them, an hour and a half from now. How do you hear stuff like this?”

“Lawyer friend.”

Mona’s cageyness always bothered Allen, no matter how accustomed he had become to moving in circles where any shred of information came at a premium. Her high index also irked him. His had easily exceed hers in the days when he had a job, but unemployment had gradually whittled away his advantage.

“Halder?” he guessed.

“Yes, and I’m glad you asked, because that was a big favor he did you.”

“Seems like he thought he was doing you a favor, not me.”

“But won’t it be useful in your interview?”

“Not really,” said Allen testily. “It’s distracting, to tell the truth. I’ve got the experience, the skills, and the personality for this job, and I’ll drive my own bargain.”

“Well, sorry then,” she said testily.

“I gotta get going, I’ll call you afterward.”

As he headed down the steps, he couldn’t resist checking Steven Halder’s index. It stood at 11,520, and his firm Dretzler, Halder & Torelli rated a stunning 126,300. Allen deduced that the boost to Mona’s index must have stemmed somehow from her association with Halder; this was something to check into further. Even more than the everyday citizen, Allen treated dissecting indices and tracing the reasons for their rise and fall as an obsession. It was the foundation of his PR work and the rationale for much of his waking behavior besides. But now he had to put his phone away and run for the M50.

He climbed the steps of the bus slowly and paused before the camera. In its lens he could see his reflection. When he lost his job, he had signed up for the MTA tracking program and allowed them to photograph him straight on, at the same angle as he now appeared in the camera, a 38-year-old who was still youthful and energetic, with well-coiffured hair and inquisitive eyes. The MTA didn’t seem to consider that most of the people who would allow themselves to be tracked would also probably lack the income to buy the products being foisted on them by the resultant advertising.

He wondered how many more people in the world now knew that he was heading across town west, and would soon learn that he would take the subway to 57th and Eighth Avenue, the offices of Wellthought Public Relations. And would know he was engaged on some kind of official business, dressed as he was in a dark Hilfiger Suit.

Once he entered the Wellthought office, all doubt and distraction fell away. The absolute professional, he aced the interview with detailed accounts of his research into social tracking. They were impressed with his trick for making his interest level appear high during meetings: to think silently about how he might reuse each insight or phrase uttered by his companions. That he was performing the same trick on his interviewers at that very moment just enchanted them even more. He didn’t tell them some of the darker secrets behind keeping those interpersonal monitors reading a high interest level: forms of internal mockery.

He did reveal to them a research insight from his professor at NYU, the noted Flora Lugona, who pointed out that registering a consistently high interest on the interpersonal monitor would raise the interlocutor’s index on the vectors of effectiveness and respect, an unwarranted boost to give merely out of politeness. Lugona established through rigorous measurements that the optimal interest level would start around 40 percent at the beginning of the meeting and increase gradually to the end. Although the results cemented her reputation as the doyenne of social tracking, they had not penetrated much into industry.

Nobody at his job interviews ever asked him about the theory of social tracking and analysis, because these things were taken for granted as naturally as the presence of traffic in New York City. But everything Allen did sprang from the understanding of indices conveyed by his NYU teachers, and particularly Flora. Occasionally he let bits of these ideas drop in an interview.

The indices were first of all an economy, because people traded things for points, hoarded them, and did the other things they did in money economies. The indices were also normative, meaning that your index went up when you did something of which other people approved, and went down when you did something that they frowned upon.

Most interesting, however, was the fact that the indices were democratizing. That’s because, although you might succeed in keeping some activity known to relatively few people, their assessment would ultimately influence some vector of your index and the rest of the world would assess you on it. And this led to the interesting observation by Flora that a modern information society was unimaginable without the network of mood-indicating devices, cameras, instant reports, and other accoutrements of social tracking and analysis. One could think up an alternative world—say, where people exchanged preferences just with friends or put online only the things they wanted to share—but it was theoretically and practically untenable.

He impressed them so much at Wellthought that he actually left with a contract in his pocket, and texted Mona. She called just before he got to the subway.

“Hey.”

“Do you think you got the job?”

“Sure did, at $126,000 a year.”

“I’ll have to check your index.”

“Won’t show an effect yet. It won’t officially be announced until Monday. At that point you’ll have to evaluate whether it’s worth listening to me more than Steven Halder.”

He was testing her, and she didn’t react well. “I happen think you’re being unfair to Steven,” she said, her pitch rising. “There’s a lot you can learn from people with an inside track. He’s pals with Bloomberg, don’t forget that.”

“And what does Bloomberg know?”

“Quite a lot, actually. Bloomberg Professional Services supposedly signed up three and a half million subscribers for news and advertisements. And they track every single one of them.”

“Well, neither Bloomberg nor Halder is going to tell me how to conduct an interview.”

“You know, Allen, you don’t like to listen to anybody. Are you faking it every time you have a conversation?”

The battle was now joined. “I think I’ve been straightforward with you, Mona, and you’re the one always holding back.”

“Because you don’t take it well. I try to tell you things that are both true and valuable, and you always react negatively. I guess I’d better learn my lesson and stop trying.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” His tone held just the right touch of sarcasm. He had entered into the argument in an unserious, boisterous mood and had never expected it to take such a consequential term, but his interview had filled him with self-importance and he would not back down.

“And Halder is a gentleman. He talks to me and listens to me.”

“I’m sure he’s weighing what every word is worth.”

“Allen, I’ve had enough now. Good luck with your job. Call me sometime and we’ll have lunch.”

“Sorry for not being the boyfriend of your dreams. Actually,” and here Allen took a breath, for the first time since some point far earlier in the argument, “I really am sorry.”

“Me too, Allen.” Mona sounded kind but unyielding. “I didn’t mean everything I said. But I really do compare you with Halder, often, and not just your public indices. I think we should be apart for a while.”

For a while he stood there, phone in hand, at the top of the stairs to the subway. His perception of the streets of Manhattan, and all its residents’ strivings for public recognition, faded from view as a feeling swelled within him of mourning for Mona, for her tender encounters and long, thoughtful conversations and smart put-downs of mutual acquaintances. After quite some time—he couldn’t tell how long—he became aware again of people passing by him on the stairs, the honking cars, the sunbeams shining down at changing angles through clouds and tall city buildings. And suddenly his thoughts changed from Mona to Steven Halder.

Who would help him get the details of Halder’s success? PR firms had numerous investigatory arms, but he wasn’t working at Wellthought yet. He couldn’t afford to contact an expert at social status in the field of law. But then a memory from the past popped into his mind. It had been years since he had crossed paths with her at NYU, and they had been mere acquaintances, but he knew she still lived on the Lower East Side. And he realized that if he went to her, he should do so quietly, leaving as little trail as possible. This would be nearly impossible in Manhattan. The first decision, of course, was to evade the unwinking eye of the MTA.

He started down Eighth Avenue, which had fewer storefront cameras than Broadway. Only the sun, poised in the midpoint of the sky as he headed South, could take note of him. As he approached Hudson, billboards showing the average neighborhood rents and indices declined, and he began to fear that his own index wouldn’t keep up. To avoid being an anomaly, he quickly moved eastward, circumnavigated Washington Square Park (which was replete with surveillance cameras), and continued two blocks further east so he could head down the relatively featureless Mercer Street. As the indices on the billboards around him increased, he was afraid again that he would start to stand out, so he slunk back to the anonymity of Broadway. Finally he took Bleecker and turned right on Elizabeth Street, where he descended the stairs to the basement level of one of the many brick townhouses to ring the bell.

Jeanie Choy was there. Letting him into her foyer, she said, “Good thing my doorway viewer identified you, Allen. In that suit, I would think somebody was here from a three-letter agency.”

“I don’t bear any greetings from them.”

“It was nice of you to drop by.” She was not at all disconcerted at having a fellow grad student pop up a decade after their graduation. “What’s the news?”

He briefly filled her in on his career. Because of the pain he still felt over Mona, he avoided any mention of her while declaring his purpose in coming. “I’m in a tussle with a powerful lawyer named Steven Halder. There’s only one way I know out of my predicament. And I think you can help.”

“With a statistics background, I can help?”

“I know how you use those statistics. I think if I put my head together with yours, I can get what I want.”

“And that is?”

“Demoting Halder.”

He hadn’t expected to ask that. All during his walk, he had thought only of finding out what lay behind Halder’s success and learning more about the undercurrents of the indexing system. The request came from somewhere of which he was not aware. Jeanie just kept her gaze on him with those fiery, dark eyes that he remembered from NYU days. He brusquely pushed ahead, adding, “Would $2,500 be a reasonable payment?”

“Fine,” She said. “I’ll need to gather the right data. Are you on Bloomberg Professional?” Allen snorted. She insisted, “That’s the cheapest way to find out about social networks in professional fields. I’m going to sign you up. I’ll also spin up a bunch of cloud instances so we can trawl social networks and crunch the stats.”

“Can I sign up for Bloomberg with my professional ID? I want to isolate the effects as much as possible.”

“Sure. All that will happen is that they’ll track the email and postings on your account, and serve up ads.”

“I’ll go for it.”

Jeanie swiveled around to her monitor and her thin frame took on the supple form of a heron about to take flight. Her hands rolled virtuosically across the keys while her right heel jiggled on her carpet as if pumping up the computer with more power. Allen just observed her. She wasted no energy on words until she needed to ask him something: “How do you want to target Halder? Through career, personal dealings, political connections?”

“I think we should look at the list of clients at Dretzler and see whether we can tie him to anything shady.”

Instantly, Jeanie pointed to a window listing Dretzler clients. “You couldn’t have gotten this without Bloomberg. The blue names are the ones that Halder had some dealings with. That’s most of them, because he’s a senior partner.”

“Are they former clients as well as current ones?”

Jeanie started typing again with an unforgiving clatter. “I’ll link each one to dates of first and last public filings. We won’t be able to know what private advice Dretzler gave them.”

Allen scrolled slowly through the list, and now that they were back to human time instead of computer time, Jeanie grew more loquacious. “Halder’s a tough target to take down, Allen. His index has a good balance among all vectors, especially effectiveness, sympathy, and knowledgeability.”

“Not so much on trust.”

“Don’t kid yourself. He’s got a high index all around.”

“The farther he can fall,” snarled Allen. “Hey look, Bronx Parking is on the list. They built the garages for the new Yankee Stadium. We can capitalize on that mess.”

“Anyone from there get indicted? Any ethics, any corruption issues?”

“You probably couldn’t accuse them of anything outside of bad city planning on one end of the spectrum or bad fiscal management at the other, but they’re vulnerable—that’s the point.”

“What would you say about Halder?”

Allen started to type on his phone.

Bronx Parking mess - Halder knew? #yankeestadium

“Too confident,” Jeanie. “You don’t have anything real to go on. You have to be suggestive.”

Allen tried again.

Halder represented Bronx Parking - ask him about defaulting #yankeestadium

“This isn’t taking the right direction,” said Jeanie. “First let’s find the heavy influencers who we want to post accusations. Then we’ll find out the words that tend to make them sit up and take notice. On board?”

“Sure. Check Gary Brambel, who’s with the Bronx Times, big blogger. And Gloria Craft is a former city councilor who a lot of people pay attention to.”

“We’ll feed them into my social network analysis as seeds for the dot-vectors to find the biggest connectors. There may be superconnectors you’ve never heard of who get instant attention when they post.” Jeanie moved closer to her 24-inch monitor; this was clearly the part of the research that really grabbed her passion. And though she didn’t smile when she pulled up her visualization (at NYU, Allen remember that she never smiled), the results clearly gave her pleasure. “Murray Pelwitz, ever heard of him?”

“I think so…a DA at one point, probably in private practice now.”

“Right, and the person whose posts have the biggest impact in the New York political scene, especially in the legal community, and I think we’re trying to reach those people. He’s on three closed forums for lawyers only and two forums open to the public. I’m registering fake accounts on the two open ones now, but Pelwitz isn’t going to pay attention to a newbie without a reputation. We’ve got to find someone strongly connected to Pelwitz, and someone you can influence.”

“That sounds even harder than finding Pelwitz.”

“We’ll do it. I have a list of traits commonly correlated to ties between people, and I’m running a Jaccard index between Pelwitz and each candidate. I’ve already uncovered two lawyers who work in the same building as he does on 42nd Street, but those are weak connections in the absence of some emotional tie.” Jeanie’s left hand was bouncing from mouse to keyboard and back to mouse with unshakable assurance. “I’m highlighting the people Pelwitz reposts most often. He doesn’t always name them (probably too proud) but a Levenshtein distance measurement clearly identifies the strings his postings have in common with postings that come slightly earlier from other people. I’m saving all these strings for further processing—you’ll see why in a second. First I’ve got to find the strong connections among his influencers.”

“They’re not all strong connections?”

“No, and if you want to guarantee fast action, you need someone who’s really a close friend.” Jeanie stopped mousing and clapped her hands in satisfaction. “Got it! A lawyer named Jack Dunne graduated from UNC law school in the same class as Pelwitz and worked with him at Connor in North Carolina for at least a year.”

“Wow.”

“Now I’ll explain why I saved all those postings. We’re going to find out what prompts Dunne to post. We actually have to do three frequency analyses on the text: the words that goad Dunne into posting, the words most likely to get Pelwitz to pick up on Dunne’s postings, and—this is really what we’re after—the words most likely to get other people to repost what Pelwitz puts out. I’m also weighting the distances heavily by time, because we want words that cause postings to be picked up fast.” She was typing furiously again. “Impropriety! Put that in your posting.”

Allen entered “impropriety” into his phone and waited.

“Investigation. Was there any investigation of Bronx Parking?”

“Not that I know of.”

“We want to get investigate or investigation into your post. Try asking for one.”

Allen typed:

City hall should investigate Steven Halder impropriety re Bronx Parking

“But I don’t know about any impropriety,” he complained.

“Add a question mark, then,” she said, looking at his screen. “And throw in a URL. That always gets people to check the posting. Anything, some old newspaper article about the case.”

Allen moved words around, lengthened, shortened, and finally came up with:

Impropriety? #shalder #dretzlerpealetorelli involvement w/Bronx Parking defaults? who at city hall investigate http://nydn.us/qsZzcM #yankee

“That,” he said, screwing up his mouth and scanning the posting back and forth, “is completely incomprehensible.”

“But it has all the right trigger words,” answered Jeanie. “It offers everything to the imagination and nothing firm to criticize. Give me just a minute now. I’m going to pull up timelines for Halder’s index and Dretzler’s index. I’ll also set up triggers for New York people and institutions whose indices move quickly up or down. What other people do you want to influence?”

“The budget office, the Inspector General…”

“Think bigger. State attorney general, FBI.”

“Sure.”

Jeanie turned her chair fully to face Allen. “One more thing,” she said. “We really have to keep Halder from rebutting your accusation. He’ll see it eventually, and I’m sure he knows how to fight these things. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes—if we can keep him from responding for just a little time, we can do significant damage.”

“Hmmm…” It seemed like a daunting task, because Allen knew well the strategy of allowing alerts to interrupt at any time, and was sure someone at Halder’s level of influence would have alerts set up in the same way. But one person might be able to distract Halder for ten minutes.

“Can you run some correlations on that list of Dretzler clients? Can we find any with connections of any type to rainforest destruction?”

“Hey, you can do that with Google. I’ll just set up a script.” Jeanie tapped a couple dozen keys.

“Has to be something from several years ago, because Mona would already know of anything recent.”

“Mona?”

“Someone we know in common. Not a useful discussion to have right now.”

Jeanie accepted his evasion and turned to the screen. “Shell Oil had a relationship with Dretzler in 2006.”

“Bingo. I’m going to send a quick text. Are you ready to start the attack?”

“I have your message right here in a text box. I just have to post it the two forums I signed up for.”

“Gotta do this first.” Allen texted Mona, Better ask Steven his connection with Shell Oil and whether they fixed their rainforest problem. To Jeanie he explained, “Mona’s rabid over rainforest preservation. I’m sure the very mention of an oil company will set her off. Give her about thirty seconds, and we’ll have her on the phone with Halder. And my bet is that no matter what excuse he can offer, she’ll keep him on there for a while.”

They paused. Whatever was happening outside their basement studio was an unknown. Somewhere, he hoped, Mona and Halder were starting a conversation. Under his breath he uttered, “Mona, get on the fucking phone.”

It seemed like an hour had passed when finally Jeanie said, “Thirty seconds are up.” Allen took one last look at the message in which every character had been crafted and recrafted. “Go ahead,” he breathed. Jeanie pasted it into the two forums and pressed the Send button.

“Two repostings. Four repostings. Nothing from Dunne or Pelwitz yet,” Jeanie muttered. One window on her screen showed postings from various social networks and forums mentioning Halder, Dretzler, the city comptroller, and other institutions. Another window was exquisitely laid out with multicolored trend lines for the sympathy, trust, and effectiveness indices for the various actors. Jennie continued her running commentary on the trends showing up on the screen. “This was the best group to post to because repostings peak at 6.33 minutes. In other groups it can take half an hour to reach peak. Finally! Dunne reposted it. Good, Pelwitz has it up too. Now it’s gone viral.”

Allen squinted at the postings mentioning Halder, most of which took a few words of his and embellished it with speculation. He grinned maliciously. “Hey, did you know that Halder helped Bronx Parking go Chapter 11?” he chuckled out with his finger on the offending post. “They never went Chapter 11. And look down here: his firm is known for successfully covering up fraud. Interesting concept, to be known for a successful cover-up. Where do those idiots get these ideas?”

“That’s what happens when a negative posting goes viral.”

“Irresponsible twits.”

“Does Halder post his status any place?” mused Jeanie.

“Nobody in his high position is going to say what he’s doing from minute to minute.”

“But there are people who need to know whether they can reach him.” Jeanie pursued her scheme aggressively. “Doesn’t he attend conferences and head panels? I bet somewhere, in some forum you can join without special privileges, he posts his status.”

“I never tried to track him,” Allen said. “I just started today.”

“Look, there’s an online forum about the new borough president’s office regulations this week, and anyone claiming to be a lawyer can join without presenting credentials.”

Before Allen could say anything she had a fake account up, navigated to the list of participants, and pulled up Steven Halder as “On the phone.”

“Wow,” he said. “Now if only Mona can keep him there.”

They both fell silent and stared at the squiggles, the indices of the main actors poised tantalizingly high on the Y axis. And they began to exchange sharp glances as first Dretzler, then Halder, began to decline.

“I’m going to check fast-raising and fast-declining indexes in the metro area,” Jeanie declared. “Open-ended rumors like this tend to draw in a lot of players.” She typed a bit, pulled up charts, jumped from one screen to the next. “Noticeable increase in index for Independent Budget Office. Some decline for NYU. Know any connection there?”

“Can’t think of one, but they’re enormous.”

“Interesting that your own index is rising, Allen. You’re being mentioned as the source of some comments on the wisdom of funding the parking garage.”

“Oh, I just wrote some articles in the Bronx Times over the PR issues a couple years ago.”

“They’re coming up in postings. They’re doing well for you, Allen.”

“I never expected to profit from this prank.”

She put his index on the graph along with the indexes for Halder and for Dretzler, Halder & Torelli. He was far below them, but the gap was visibly narrowing.

“The momentum won’t keep up on its own, though,” warned Jeanie.

“Hmmm…can we get Dretzler to respond?”

“Oh, they responded right away and denied everything. I don’t see how we can touch them.”

“Maybe we can, maybe we can. If we needle them enough…”

“I’ll fire up a few more fake accounts. What do you have in mind?”

Indeed, Dretzler staff had instantly put out mild postings disavowing knowledge of any investigation, but these were too bloodless to staunch the outpouring of speculation.

“Let’s see, Dretzler had a minor spat with the comptroller, Thompson, a few years ago. Now if I can tie that in…” Allen started typing into one of Jeanie’s accounts.

Bill Thompson criticized stadium deal two years ago - Dretzler, Halder said nothing - time for FBI attention?

Allen clenched his teeth as he pressed the Send button. “Not very logical, but it’s the best I can think up.”

Once again they checked Halder’s index, which was leveling out again after a long slide. And then: a new posting straight from the legal division of Dretzler.

Dretzler has always responded promptly to all Comptroller requests for information and has cooperated with FBI investigations.

Jeanie clapped with satisfaction while keeping her mouth taut, while Allen whooped and choked back laughter at the beauty of the Dretzler’s dilemma, forced to ward off vague doubts with a vague posting that could only stoke them. Halder’s status still read “On the phone.” It had been only seven minutes since the posting with which Jeanie had launched the whole affair.

“Let’s add some of the people we mentioned to our main graph,” Jeanie said. NYU, the comptroller’s office, Bill Thompson, and the FBI went up along with Allen, Halder, and Dretzler. She added Wellthought also.

“Wellthought seems to be suffering in all this,” she warned. “Did you intend to drag in your new employer?”

“Hell, no. How could they get tarred by what we’re doing—just because they’re in real estate? How about my old employer, Kreth Communications?”

“Yep, they’re both in free fall. Looks like they had some ties in the Bronx.”

“Damn! The new Yankee Stadium was such a big project, everybody got touched. What can we do to save Wellthought?”

“Stay out of this, Allen. You’ll inadvertently reveal your role in the rumor and you won’t save anybody.”

“Kreth’s a good company too, even though they laid me off,” ruminated Allen. “They don’t deserve this.”

“NYU is still taking a hit too, particularly their public relations program.”

“Hey, that’s where I got my Masters!” Allen exclaimed in alarm.

“But your index is doing great,” Jeanie said. She had added NYU to the graph that showed Allen’s climbing index, and Halder’s falling one. “Some professors at NYU are getting a drubbing—look at this list.”

Allen’s heart seemed to stumble for moment. “Flora Lugona’s getting hurt! That’s not fair.”

“I can try correlating her with the other institutions to see why.”

Allen tossed his head back against the faded wallpaper, eyes closed. Something seemed to thud heavily inside his head. “Don’t bother,” he said. “I don’t want to know any more. She was my mentor. More than that. She gave me the perspective that made me successful in the field.”

“Let’s concentrate on our main targets,” said Jeanie. “The peripheral ones will recover someday.”

“How can you promise me that?” he spat out, and then uttered under his breath, “Mona, get off the fucking phone.”

“Allen, your high index won’t last forever either. But it’s sure on the incline today.” Then, suddenly, she whipped her head toward another part of the screen, and the back of her slender hand clapped onto her mouth. He could not tell why, and as he took his eyes of the screen to glance at the reddening Jeanie, for a moment they both stopped breathing. “Allen!” she said with labored breath. “You’ve demoted the FBI.”

The thudding that he felt before was intensifying, and he felt lost in a whirl of impressions. He tried to hold on to his seat, convinced that it was tilting, and then brought his hand to his feverish forehead and then his chest. He thought Jeanie was saying more but could not hear her. The garish colors on the screen were rushing toward him, and he wanted nothing more than to turn them off, to have an end to the colors and the declining lines and the messages that came and came and came, and he couldn’t read the screens but he couldn’t dismiss the horror of them from his sight. Jeanie was shaking him.

“Allen, stop it! Breathe, breathe!” she was shouting.

“Make it stop,” he croaked.

“Allen, just relax, you don’t have to do anything anymore. I’ll get you some kava tea.”

“What?”

“Can I leave you here a moment? Are you safe?”

“I want it to stop—to just stop.”

Jeanie tried to speak in a more sympathetic tone. “You’ll be fine, Allen, take it easy. Nothing went wrong. Everything is the way you wanted.”

“Can we do anything to fix everybody, put them back where they were originally?”

“You would have to go online as yourself and admit to the whole incident. And even then, you’ve humiliated all the parties involved, so their indices wouldn’t recover.”

He looked down, his breath rushing and seeming to expel all his energy into the cramped room. “OK,” he said, and she knew he was no longer in medical danger.

Finally a message from Halder appeared.

Accusations of FBI investigation total bullshit, you’ll hear from me, perps.

Allen began to feel a bit of a grin, even as his body was still in shock. “He’s pissed. I can imagine that what he’s saying in private is even saucier.”

“You triumphed, Allen. His sympathy index has nearly vanished, his trust index is at 20% of its former high, his effectiveness index is at 36% of where it was. They will never be anywhere near where you saw them earlier today. And look how high your index is.”

Allen turned his gaze back, not without a bit of fear, at the screens. The lines and numbers flashed back at him accusingly.

“Steven knows I’m behind the attack. He and Mona won’t ever speak together again, I bet, but they can piece together what happened.”

“I wouldn’t worry about recriminations. Dretzler and the FBI are better off doing nothing, and they’ll block anything Steven wants to do to you.”

“I don’t even care.” Allen leapt up as if he had suddenly caught a whiff of a toxin. “Let me write you a check. Ten thousand dollars, you earned it.”

“You don’t have to be generous, Allen. We agreed on twenty-five hundred, that’s enough.”

“No, no, no, no…it’s fine, I have a new job.”

“Aren’t you worried about the bashing they took during our little cyberwarfare?”

“Oh, that’s public relations for you,” Allen mumbled. “Don’t talk about it, you deserve the money.” He slapped a check down and turned to her front door.

“Stay for some kava; I think you need it.”

“No, no, but thanks for everything.”

The humid, sooty air outside the apartment provided no salve for Allen. He pulled himself up the stairs by its railing to the pavement, then placed one foot before the other, heading toward Bleecker. With each step he struggled to come to terms with the person he had found himself to be today.

His mind was still in turmoil to clear as he headed east on Bleecker and turned left on Bowery. A message arrived on his phone, and as he pulled it out the Wellthought contract came along out of his pocket. Depositing the contract into a nearby trash barrel, he glanced at the screen and saw an ad from Bloomberg Professional Services for cutlery at Sur La Table. He remembered that he had frequently thrown dinner parties when he was at the top of his form at Kreth Communications.

Allen let loose a giggle, and then sharp bursts of laughter. He put the cell phone away, clapped his hands on his thighs, and allowed boisterous guffaws to erupt from his mouth. While people pushed by him on both sides, totally ignoring him, he stood convulsed in giddiness, there at the corner of Bowery and East Third Street, just laughing and laughing.

January 19, 2012


Disclaimer: Although certain real people, institutions, and events appear in this story, it is a work of fiction and is not meant to reflect on any real events.

Copyright © 2012

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Demoting Halder by Andy Oram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.praxagora.com.