When a girl like Vivian Sternwood walks into your third floor bachelor pad that doubles as your at-home laptop repair business as advertised on Craigslist, it can only mean trouble. It would be a hot one that day, a real summer scorcher—not even noon, and already I felt like a boiled New England dinner simmering in a sea of electronics.
“What can I do for you, sweetheart? Take a seat,” I said.
She was a doozy of a dame, with dangerous eyes like blue screens of death and a dark umber HP Pavilion laptop with a 640 GB hard drive she’d dropped off the day before. I’d taken her case at the recommendation of her father, the landlord, on account of my being two months behind on the rent.
“I am here to pick up my laptop that would not start up. Why else would I be here?” she said, cell phone buzzing in her purse. “And I am in a rush. Make it snappy.”
This busy bee hadn’t lost her stinger, that much was for certain. But I wasn’t about to let Vivian Sternwood ruin my picnic.
“Sure, I know the one. It was sticky, Ms. Sternwood, real sticky. Seemed someone had spilled a Frappucino on it or something at some point. Had to take a soft cloth to the motherboard. You really should be more careful. But I’ll tell you what the real problem here was: malware. Your virus protection was out of date. You really have to stay on top of that, Ms. Sternwood.”
“Please,” she cut in, “just tell me: did you reformat my hard drive?”
This girl knew her onions.
“As a matter of fact, I did. Partitioned and targeted the infected sectors. Recreated. In the end I just wiped it and reinstalled the operating system. But before you go crying murder, you should also know that I backed everything up and saved it beforehand, kid. I’m a troubleshooter from the old school. It’s all on your desktop, file name: ‘Old Desktop.’ I also took the liberty of jimmying the outer case open, had a look-see around inside. A girl like you can get an air duster at any corner store she sets her sights on, you know that?”
She feigned boredom as I went on; fiddled with her cell phone—Angry Birds, or some muck. I knew that game, alright. I also knew that the real angry bird would be her in a few minutes, when I told her what I’d dug up on her boyfriend. Eventually, her gaze wandered back up and settled right in my lap.
“There are holes in your sweatpants,” she cooed.
She was the kind of girl who was probably used to the big outfits—Geek Squad, Genius Gang—along with all the other ritzy boys and girls in button-down Polos and khaki slacks.
“At-home laptop repair is an informal ball, sweetheart. I dress accordingly,” I shot back.
“You are as pale as a dead man,” she mused. Then, reaching in her purse: “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Sure, go right ahead,” I told her, “if the big idea’s to kill me, that is. I can’t be near smoke. I have asthma something awful, kid.”
“Will that be all, then?” she yawned.
“As a matter of fact, there’s one more thing, Ms. Sternwood.”
I slid her laptop across the coffee table, along with a white envelope. She opened it and began to sort through the whole sordid stack—photographs of screenshots of the videos I’d found on her laptop’s hard drive.
“Seems your boyfriend’s a bootlegger, Ms. Sternwood. A pirate, if you will. Up to some shady business when you’re not over-shoulder. A lot of illegally obtained torrents in there you wouldn’t want your mother to see, let’s just say. A real fetishist, this boyfriend of yours. The only thing that doesn’t jibe in all this is why he’d get into this stuff when he has a girl such as yourself on his arm. “
“I did not ask you to look into any of this. I find this disturbing,” the coy kitten purred. I was just another ball of yarn for her to bat around.
“Think nothing of it, Ms. Sternwood. I admit I have a weakness for dames such as yourself. I can’t say I’m used to being tied down, but for you, a private computer repair guy could make an exception.”
“You are frightening me.”
“Now the keylogger software I hid on your computer will tail your boyfriend’s every move, so that we can keep tabs on what he’s up to; no slinking around digital back alleys via TOR nodes for this sly cat. Don’t you worry, Ms. Sternwood, we’ll catch this mug at his game.”
“I am aware of the things he downloads. We enjoy them together. I am leaving,” she said, “and I am calling the authorities.”
And just like that, she ran out the front door. I watched her through the cracked Venetians as she beat it all the way to the curb and peeled right out of the parking lot. Somehow, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last I’d hear from Vivian Sternwood.
It would be a hot day, you could bet on that. The kind of day custom made for air conditioning. But I didn’t mind. I’d learned to love the heat; thrive on it. You have no choice in a line of business like mine.
But I also knew that electronics were best kept in a cool environment free of humidity, and that the pollen count would be exceptionally high that day, doing a real number on my allergies, and so after giving it a second thought, I got up from my futon, closed the window, and turned on the air conditioner, after all.
It was a little too hot, see.