Chapter 11 Five Minutes to Flush

Bash Banks’ POV

I met up with Rico downtown the night before about the “progress” I made on getting Cypher’s technology for him. Tim and I had grown “closer”, and he was very forthcoming with information on what management discussed regarding the issues and bugs with the application and what they were doing to address the problems.

“Do you have what I need?” Rico asked me.
“No, but I’m getting close,” I tried to reassure him.


“Maybe I was wrong about you, Bash. Maybe it’s best if you were to stay on at Jupiter and the let the chips fall where they may,” said Rico. Behind his dark tinted shades, I could see his eyes; it felt as if they were piercing through me.


“No, you weren’t wrong; I need more time.”


“You have seventy-two hours,” replied Rico and walked off.

*****************************

After my conversation with Rico, I could think of nothing else. I was invited to Tim’s house this weekend; I’d never been there before. If I were going to get a look at Cypher’s full software, I would need access to Tim’s personal computer, which I knew he worked on.

The best-guaranteed means I would get that access was to write sophisticated code for a kernel-mode rootkit. I won’t get into the intricate details, basically, the rootkit I create, I can save to a USB and upload it to Tim’s computer. I would be able to see all his internal files, every system, application, correspondence; in other words everything.


The code I’m writing isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and if I want my kit to go undetected, it had to be darn near perfect. Tim doesn’t have the skills and know-how to find such a sophisticated program within his internal system. It won’t destroy his files, just give me the information I needed.


I had worked around the clock in my home office to make this all happen. I even called out from work to make sure I had the program completed in time.  I’d shed too much blood, sweat, and tears over the years to just throw away opportunity after opportunity for people who were less qualified than I was, people who didn’t have my talents. This is where it ends.

******************************


Tim had invited GG and me over for a backyard BBQ this weekend. I’m told Kaden and Charles from work were also going to be there as well. While I wasn’t looking forward to breaking bread with them after spending five days a week together, I had to get access to Tim’s home computer to upload the rootkit I created. It was the only way I would be able to get full access to Cypher’s files undetected. I had written some pretty complicated code; even Tim would know nothing about. It’s not anything that would necessarily hurt him, but I had to what I had to do, Rico made no secret of that.

I told GG not to worry; that we would not have to stay too long, but she said she looked forward to meeting more of my coworkers and she liked Cheyanne and Tim. I still don’t understand how or why.

Tim and Cheyanne lived in Jones Landing, a small city halfway between San Myshuno and Willow Creek. Their house sat on a quiet street lined by single-story homes with nicely kept yards and green cut grass. It was a little warmer than usual for this time of year. The neighborhoods kids were running around shooting each other with Bazooka blasters. It was rare you even saw kids outside the home; usually, they were glued to some video game or computer, much different than how I grew up.


Cheyanne swung the front door open only seconds after I rung the bell. “Hey Bash and GG! Thank you for coming!” she exclaimed and leaned over to embrace us in a tight hug.


“It’s so nice to see you too. I brought some dessert, it’s from a Brazilian bakery,” said GG. Cheyanne gasped. “Oh thank you! This was lovely of you. Please come out back; everyone’s outside.”

We walked through the living room which drew on Cheyanne’s artsy aesthetic. The best I can describe it is as bohemium meets shabby chic meets contemporary.

When Tim first told me where he lived, I was surprised it was in Jones Landing. I knew he didn’t live in San Myshuno, but I assumed he had a condo in some high rise in downtown New Crest. What I’ve found out about Tim over the course of the last couple of weeks during our new found “friendship” is that he doesn’t have expensive taste. He’s preppy, and he comes from money, but he’s rather simple, basic, and not very cultured.


We were greeted by Charles and his wife, Jessica, and Kaden and his girlfriend June. I had seen them at a company picnic in the past but never bothered to greet them formally.

“Bash! It’s super of you to come! Did you find the place okay?” asked Tim, turning around from the grill.
“Yes, my GPS found it easily. Uh, nice house. I thought for some reason you lived in the city.” Tim was carefully flipping burgers and what looked like some tofu vegetable kabobs over the coals.


“Nope, I’m afraid not. Maybe you’re thinking of when I first moved out here. I used to live in New Crest, but once I met Cheyanne, we found a nice little place and decided to mover here. I already work in the biggest and busiest city in the region. I don’t like to deal with the hustle and bustle when I’m away from the office,” he laughed.


Personally, I preferred the city life. There was nothing better than living in Art of The City. Uptown, where Rico lived, was the most expensive borough, but my area had the best attractions, and a lot of young professionals lived there. I could do my shopping, visit my tailor, catch a show, grab dinner, all within a five-block radius.


I glanced over at GG conversing with June, Jessica, and Cheyanne. They were just as enamored with her as Cheyanne was on their first meeting. They were all pretty casually dressed in their backyard hipster fashions or tanks and cut off shorts, a vast difference to GG’s designer short length halter dress. It was worthy of a more upscale terrace wine tasting, but that’s how she is. One of the things I loved about GG was her impeccable style.


Cheyanne wasn’t kidding when she said she grew her own food. Their yard was mainly a garden with rows of carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, wild strawberries, and apple and lemon trees.

I looked around, everyone was engrossed in conversation about the warmer weather, what we’d all be doing on next vacations, and about a thousand other mundane topics.

Now was a good as time as any for me to put my play into action. When I asked Cheyanne where the bathroom was, she directed me down the hall to the first door on the right.


I reentered the house, carefully shutting the glass door behind me. I peered over my shoulder, Tim was occupied on the grill, and Cheyanne was tending to everyone, making sure they had enough lemonade and cucumber water.


I headed down the main toward the backrooms. I stopped at the first room on my right. The door was slightly ajar.

I peeked inside and could see Tim’s backpack he brought with him to work every day, a guitar, and an old camera I knew Tim liked to use for his photography.


I took a deep breath and pulled out the USB flash drive with the rootkit. I quickly walked over to Tim’s computer, which to my benefit was on. There was no screensaver needing a passcode that I could easily crack, just a view of the desktop. I scoffed. Tim sat on multi-million dollar software like Cypher but didn’t take the proper precautions to secure it.


I inserted the drive and waiting for the kit to upload. I wouldn’t be able to see all of Cypher and all of Tim’s files until I went home. I wasn’t interested in any personal files he had on there, but my mission was clear: if I wanted Rico to bring me along, I would have to get Cypher for him. Technically no one was “stealing” the information, for whoever Rico was consulting with on a takeover, everything that belonged to Jupiter would belong to the company who took over. I didn’t know all the details of it, but I’m familiar enough with how takeovers work.


I only had about five minutes for the kernel to install and flush out any trace that it was there in the first place. Waiting for the time to pass, seemed like the longest five minutes of my life.

Finally, the kit installed and I ran another clandestine program to remove any signs that it was on the pc. I designed a program so crafty, that if the kernel was detected, you could not tell where the source generated. There are all kinds of ways one could get a rootkit on their pc, and most people don’t even know about it.


Fucking Rutgers, number 45 on the top schools for computer science. UPenn, number 15, you see the difference? Tim if you can’t even be smart enough to secure your shit, you need to pack it up because you’re not capable of playing this game. Leave it to us grown men, and not little boys.


Mission accomplished. I slipped out of Tim’s office and easily as I slipped in and headed back outside. I could let Tanner know I had what his boss needed. Now, all I had to do was wait on Rico.

*******************************

There wasn’t a lot I could do once my mom invited GG over a Sunday cookout. She had answered my cell the other day when my mom called. She then struck up a ten-minute conversation with GG and insisted that the family would love to meet her.

I wasn’t quite ready to take GG around my parents and siblings. I hadn’t brought a girl home in quite a few years. GG had asked if my family would have an issue with her not being black. I told her they wouldn’t. My immediate family doesn’t really care about interracial relationships one way or another. The only thing my mom has said to me was never to think women who aren’t black were better for merely being non-black. Yes, I have individual preferences, I like what I like, but I don’t agree with degrading women who looked like my mother, sisters, aunts, and cousins.

GG is from a wealthy family in Brazil; her father was a prominent man in Rio. Her family is well-to-do and educated. A part of me is dreading her seeing where my family lives and the simple lives they have. I don’t believe GG is the type to look down her nose at anyone, even still I’d rather waited to take her to Oasis.

I unlocked the front door to my parent’s house and led GG to the backyard. I could smell greens and hammocks cooking on the stove, the smoke from the coals, and about twenty other aromas simultaneously coming from the kitchen and yard.

“Bash, why were you saying you didn’t like your family’s house? It’s nice. The way you described your neighborhood, you made it seem like a favela, which it is far from,” said GG, looking around the living room and dining area.

I opened the glass doors leading to the backyard. My nephew Drayvari and my niece Daisha were running around and played on the jungle gym my parents had set up for them.

Lorenzo and my dad were over on the grill; my mother was arranging the food on two outdoor foldout tables and bringing dishes over to the picnic tables.

Michelle and Usher were having a dance face-off to the music blasting from the stereo, while Cassie laughed and filmed them on her phone. “I don’t know Usher; I think Chelley got you beat!”

“Uncle Bash!” yelled Daisha as she ran over to and gave me a tight hug. She looked up at GG and blushed.

“Hey short-stuff. GG, this is my niece, Daisha.”

GG smiled, bending down. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you! You’re just as pretty as your uncle told me you were!”

Daisha giggled. “Thank you. I like your outfit,” she replied, shyly.


My mom whirled around, a grin spreading across her face. She crossed the yard and warmly embraced GG. “I finally have a face to a name. Welcome, baby. You sure are a pretty thing!” exclaimed Mom. Now, it was GG’s turn to blush.

“Thank you, Mrs. Banks. Your home is beautiful. I’ve seen pictures of you, and I’ve told Bash his mom looks like she could pass for his sister. I brought dessert, I hope that’s okay. It’s a Brazilian cake called Bolo Frapê da Tia Dorian, or Coconut Frapê Cake,” said GG.


“Hmm, it smells delicious, honey. Thank you so much. Come and meet the rest of the family. Don’t worry; it’s not a big family cookout, just our family, no cousins, aunts, uncles. We didn’t want to scare you!” laughed Mom.


“Oh no, I’m used to having a big family. Brazilians have big family parties,” replied GG. “Good, you’ll fit right in in the future then. Everyone, come and meet, Giavanna, Bash’s new girlfriend. That’s Orvel, Bash’s daddy, Cassie my oldest, Usher my youngest boy, Michelle the baby and my grandkids Dray and Daisha. That’s their daddy Lorenzo,” said Mom. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and approached GG and me.


“Welcome to our home, GG. We’re glad you could come,” said Dad.

“Thank you, Mr. Banks, it’s a pleasure to be here.”

Cassie, Lorenzo, Usher, and Michelle exchanged pleasantries with GG. She asked Mom if she could help her with anything. “No, baby, we’re good. ‘Food’s almost done, just come and sit. Bash, get the girl something to drink,” replied Mom as she ushered us to the sitting area of more foldout lawn furniture.


I realized I had been holding my breath because I wasn’t sure how my family would respond to GG nor her to them. But GG was always gracious and had a way of making people feel welcome and at ease.

I don’t think anyone was more shocked than I was when she struck up a conversation with my father about his career in construction.

How Dad could drone on about the science behind dry-walling and carpentry was beyond me. GG was genuinely interested and kept asking more questions. My father was eating the attention right up.


“It fascinates me to learn how things are built. I’m a lover of architecture. Brazil is home to some of the most beautiful structures in the world like the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura or the Theatro Municipal located in Cinelândia. Many of our famous buildings were constructed during the colonial period,” said GG.

“I just follow the architects and planners designs,” replied Dad. He was trying to appear modest.


“But you’re the one who puts everything together, that’s incredible,” said GG, pointedly. Dad looked very pleased that GG could recognize his “importance” when it came to installing drywall or hammer a nail through a two by four.


A short while later, Mom called us over to eat. Michelle was fascinated by GG’s tales of living in Brazil. Even though she left Rio when she was a kid, she often went back at least two to three times a year.


“I’ve always wanted to visit Rio, especially after watching the Olympics. Once I graduate high school, I want to go all sorts of places before I start college,” said Michelle, excitedly.


“Oh, you would love Rio! It’s the most beautiful place on earth. We can go to Ipanema, Sugar Loaf mountain and a lot of cool non-tourist spots only us locals know about,” winked GG.


The rest of the afternoon went on pretty much the same. Cassie and Lorenzo didn’t have too much to say to GG, but they’re naturally standoffish with people they’ve recently met, but they were cordial. Usher made a point to tell me how fine GG was and he needed to get like me, so he could “bag” a baddie too.

Mom and Michelle were eager to know about South America and GG was interested in Mom’s work as a community outreach worker at the Southeast Springs Youth and Family Center. She detailed some of the plans those in our neighborhood were trying to implement to protect the youth from falling into the gangs that have seen a resurgence in recent years.


As much as GG seemed to like my family, there was a part of me that still felt embarrassed by their lot. When my mom insisted I bring her again, I couldn’t deflect before GG happily accepted the invitation.


Overall, the cookout didn’t go over as badly as I’d thought it would, but that didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t in a rush to bring GG back to my old neighborhood.

**************************

I let Rico know I had what he needed, he directed me to meet with this associate, Tanner the following night in Belltown, an upscale downtown neighborhood. I suppose Rico didn’t want to get his hands dirty by accepting any device or correspondence from me himself.

I donned a black hoodie, sweats and hopped in the subway to meet up with Tanner. He was standing on Bell street just as Rico told me he would. I had spoken with Tanner in the past, not never at great lengths. He was the tech whiz at Thomas Global Strategies and would know exactly what to do with the USB device with Cypher’s program on it.


“This is great, Bash. Our partners will be very pleased,” said Tanner.
“What happens next?” I asked.


Tanner looked down at the device in his hand for a moment before glancing back up. “Watch the markets.”

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Chapter 10 How I Operate, How I Win

Bash Banks’ POV:

(some language)

It’s been two weeks since I met up with Rico at Georgio’s. I had agreed to come on board and be part of whatever plan he was devising for Jupiter. I thought something would’ve happened by now, but I’ve had no indication of the doom and gloom of Jupiter’s demise thus far.

The company status quo continues. The pissy whiny liberal arts brats with their third rate degrees, but just so happened to land a job in tech because daddy was in the same country club with the VP. The insufferable hipsters and neckbeards who spent too many years in their mothers’ basements with delusions that they were worth more than the package of condoms their parents should have used because they can write a few lines of code.

A sea of ass-kissers surrounded me, all lined up with their lips out ready for Timothy to unbutton his dockers and bend over. Lather on the chapstick boys, because all that butt licking you’re doing is going to give you blisters.

What was worse than anything, my team, Tim’s team moved to another level in the building. What I liked about my old space was that our area was small, now we shared a floor with some of the analysts and other developers who were working on Cypher and other applications. Not only was I reporting directly to Tim’s incompetent ass, but I also had to put up with a bunch of imbeciles who greeted me each morning with some word or phrase black people stopped using six months ago, that they just looked up on Urban Dictionary.

Charles Ridley told me one morning when I came in that my blazer/trouser combo was “on fleek.” I guess that was meant to impress me. I don’t even pretend to like these muthafuckas. He knew he messed up by my “get the fuck out my face before I sock you in it” expression and hasn’t tried that shit again.

I was sitting at my desk, not getting much work done. My mind was preoccupied with this Rico deal and how much I utterly loathed coming here each day. On top of that, I’ve been working overtime like crazy, a lot of us has. I’ve barely had a social life over the last couple of weeks.
I noticed it had gotten quiet in my area.

“Hey Bash, we’re waiting on you!” called Charles.

I turned around in my chair and glanced at my watch. Shit, it was time for our weekly meeting with Tim in his new supersized cubicle, complete with a small glass table and four hard plastic Ikea worthy chairs.

I got up and made the short walk to the opposite side of our office where Tim now sits.

I didn’t bother to apologize for my tardiness and plumped down in my seat across from Tim.

“Bash, how’s it going?” asked Tim in his annoying cheerful too early in the morning way. His bright blue eyes crinkled in the corners as his smile stretched from ear to ear.

I nodded. “Fine.” I didn’t offer anything more than that. I was over this already, and I had only been here less than two hours.
I listened for the next fifteen minutes while Tim droned on about how honored he was to be part of such a great team made up of the brightest minds at Jupiter. Charles, Leo, and Adam hung onto every word and vigorously nodded their heads; probably in the same rhythmic motion if Tim were to pull out his tiny pecker and told them to suck it.

Eventually, Tim got out his own ass, and we began to discuss some of the bug issues with the Cypher framework. The more the conversation went on and the questions Tim asked, the more I realized he really didn’t know shit about the barest of essentials when it came to our top application. I looked at Charles, Leo, and Adam and wondered if they were thinking the same thing. From the robotic Pavlovian dogs’ looks of admiration on their faces, it didn’t seem so. If they thought what I was, they were doing an excellent job of covering it up.

I didn’t volunteer anything in the meeting, no input, even when asked. I had nothing to say. Oh, I could definitely say a lot, but it wasn’t worth the hassle. The meeting eventually concluded, and I was the first one up and headed toward my desk. It was still too early for lunch. I thought about calling GG and seeing if she wanted to meet me across the street at noon, but I most likely wouldn’t have time. I would probably end up eating at my desk again while I attempted to get through my bug reports as I had not touched them all day.

All I could do right now was wait and hope on Rico. Once Jupiter goes down like the Titanic, I’ll have my black ass on the first lifeboat out of here.

******************

My communication with Rico had been scarce at best. He advised it was best to limit our communication. I heard my phone ring in the middle of the night. It was after one. I knew Rico kept late hours on the weekend, but his call was most unexpected. I had to pretend that I wasn’t dead to the world just thirty seconds before his call. GG, who was sleeping next to me softly murmured and turned over, but she didn’t completely wake up.

Rico said that the information I had provided him with had been helpful, but it wasn’t enough for the type of “leverage” he needed. Rico hasn’t specified what he needed; he only says “everything.” Well, when it comes to an application like Cypher “everything” is an inclusive term, and that includes a lot. I had a feeling Rico was testing me yet again to see if I would pull through without him having to goad me in the right direction. He indicated that the sensitive information that was most imperative was privy only to those above my pay grade.

Yes, I do have access to internal and protected intellectual property and information, source code, and bugs but it was limited. I didn’t have firsthand knowledge about the more severe bugs and stabilization efforts for the application being addressed by the senior developers and upper management.

What I needed was access to the very foundation of Cypher’s mainframe; not just it’s vulnerabilities. It’s important to know how well it would do once it goes to market, if it will be readily accessible for the majority of users on various operating system platforms and if Cypher could easily be integrated with other applications. Unfortunately, even though I have more education, general knowledge, and I know what the fuck I’m doing, Tim as a senior developer was privy to that information.

The last thing Rico said to me was “I’ll get what I need somewhere, somehow. It would be most beneficial for you if you obtain that information for me. Because if I have to take other avenues, something, I don’t want to do after you agreed to come aboard, well that’s me doing your work for you. Yes, there is a way to get the intel you’ve yet to provide. But I don’t want to go that route, because it means I’ll have to call in a favor and it gives that person a degree of leverage over me, and that’s not how I operate; that’s not how I win.

I hated to admit that Rico’s call had left me a bit restless and I didn’t get much sleep after that. Thankfully it was Saturday. Jupiter wanted everyone to work this weekend, but I’ve already been working sixty hour weeks, and I wasn’t in the mindset to deal with those fuckers on a Saturday. I had to figure something out to get Rico what he needed, and it had to be soon.

********************

I was at New Crest City Center Galleria with GG. After our initial hookup, I wasn’t sure where this “thing” was going to go. I hadn’t been in a committed relationship in years, and I enjoyed the hassle-free lifestyle of not being tied down to one woman. There was something about GG that made me forget all of that and I wanted to explore whatever was between us.

Except for the last two weeks and me working sixty hours, she and I have spent practically every day together. GG either comes over and spends the night, or I stay at her place. We occasionally meet for lunch since our buildings are next to each other downtown. Often we grab drinks together in the same bar we first met. Now those same Bobby Pedigrees get sick when they see her with me. I love seeing the self-righteous, smug look fall off their ugly ass faces. Giavanna was easily the most beautiful woman who worked in the area, and she’s truly the most beautiful woman I’ve met. If I were Bobby and Chad, I would be mad too.

I bemoaned my work dilemma to GG. She agreed that it wasn’t right for me to continue to get passed over for promotion after promotion, but she’s claimed in the past that I should be more open to gaining “work friends.”

GG didn’t know about the deal I made with Rico. She knew I wasn’t happy at Jupiter. I wouldn’t tell her anything about it until it was assured, as of yet, I had no idea where Rico and his partners were at regarding taking the company.

“It’s hard to get ahead in that environment. The guy I report to directly is a complete idiot,” I said. We quietly walked through the gallery. The courtyard of the City Center was full of people at tables, going into the shops and bars, and eating at outside restaurants. GG was quiet and just listened as I went on about my most recent meeting with Tim and our team.

“He doesn’t know some of the basic processes we have implemented, yet he has more access than I do, and he’s getting paid more than me,” I complained.

“I know, it isn’t right. But Bash, we’ve talked about this before. I know how much you hate your co-workers, I could tell you didn’t think too highly of them the first time I saw you with them at the bar. And if I, a stranger could pick up vibes, I’m sure the people you work with every day can pick it up too. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” said GG. She leaned in a bit and stroked my arm. I guided her toward a bench near the water fountain gardens.

“What you have to understand baby, is that I’m a black man. Things work differently for me than they do for you and the men in the positions of power.”

“How so?” she asked. We stopped for a moment, and I turned to look at her. “Look, it doesn’t matter that I have degrees from UPenn and MIT. I already have a strike against me because of the color of my skin,” I replied.

“And what, you don’t think I face discrimination as an ethnically mixed Brazilian? Most of the people I work with, including the women think of me as some exotic beauty from a third world country. Either they think I’m some sex freak who spent her days lying around naked on Ipanema Beach or they think we all live in Favelas. Nevermind that my family was rich in Brazil and my parents still have money and were successful when we moved here,” sighed GG.

I never really thought of her as a victim of discrimination. Misogyny was a given, especially in her line of work as a financial analyst. Even still, GG had the complexion for protection. She wasn’t a blue-blooded blonde hair all-American girl, but she had it easier than women like my mom and sisters.

“Look, Bash, I’m not saying your feelings aren’t validated, I know how intelligent and talented you are. The truth of the matter is, in the corporate world, you have to play by the rules until you’re in a position to change the rules. Don’t burn bridges. Now, from what I’ve seen Tim seems very likable even you said he wasn’t as bad as some of the ass-lickers in the company. He is your lead now, and he likes you. Why not extend an olive branch? What’s the harm in making new friends in higher places? You’re going to have to deal with Tim anyway, might as well get all you can out of what could be a beneficial friendship for you,” advised GG.


I opened my mouth in protest and remembered my brief conversation with Rico. As much as I hated to have to do it, I would have to get close to Tim. He’s very trusting and honest, but naive. He’ll most likely begin revealing things to me I would otherwise not have the privilege of knowing.

Okay, I will do it GG’s way, and I’ll extend that olive branch. I’ll do whatever I have to complete my mission. The Jupiter train was nearing a full stop, and I wanted to make my transition to something of greater importance.

*******************

The following weekend, I did something I never thought I’d do; I invited Tim and his girlfriend, Cheyanne out for lunch with GG and I.

It was bad enough I had to deal with Tim’s over the top cheery attitude at work, now I had to spend a portion of my Saturday with him. My weekends were my time to get away from the shit Tim and everyone else at work represented. Me, allowing him into my personal time and space wasn’t something I was eager to do. But I knew I had to get the right kind of leverage for Rico. As he said, he could acquire it without my help, but I realized he was testing me, to see if I was up to the task and worth the risk of bringing me into his inner-fold.

There’s no one in Rico’s circle that doesn’t offer some benefit to him or contributes to his goals in some way. He was helping me out of a situation and giving me the opportunity to step into a better one. Yes, Rico helps people, but you better believe sooner or later, he’ll come to collect the debt.

GG and I met up with Tim and Cheyanne at The Mighty Oyster, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront. I don’t know what I was expecting when I met Tim’s girlfriend, aside from the same shade of blonde hair, their styles were completely different. She was one of those artsy hipsters, while Tim dressed more Abercrombie & Fitch.

“Hey, Bash! This is great, meeting up like this. I want to introduce you to my girlfriend, Cheyanne,” Tim brightly greeted me.

“Hello, Cheyanne, it’s good to meet you,” I said and extended my hand. Cheyanne’s eyes lit up, and instead of taking my hand, she hugged me. “Hi! I’m happy to know you, Bash. Tim has told me so many good things about you,” she gushed.

I was a little surprised to hear that and was taken aback by her forward and warm demeanor. “Tim, Cheyanne, I’d like you to meet GG, my lady,” I said, turning toward GG.

GG graciously smiled and offered her hand, which Tim shook, but Cheyanne hugged her as well.

“Wow, you are drop-dead gorgeous!” exclaimed Cheyanne. GG blushed. “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you both.”

We were shown to our table and browsed our menu. GG decided to go vegetarian and ordered tofu chicken salad platter. “Are you a vegetarian? I am too! But there’s not a lot to choose from on this menu. I think I’ll get the tofu chicken platter too,” said Cheyanne to GG.
“I’m not a complete vegetarian, but I often go without meat several days a week,” she replied.

“So, GG. Bash tells me you’re from Brazil? When did you move to the states?” asked Tim. When I initially extended that olive branch, I gave little details about GG to Tim. He would meet her soon enough, and I knew it would be a painful experience. At least GG had my back and decided to come and support me. She’s much better at putting people at ease within social settings.

“I was ten years old when my family and I moved here from Rio de Janeiro. I went to university in New York, but most of my family lives in Willow Creek,” replied GG.

“That is amazing. I swear every woman I’ve seen from Brazil is beautiful! You’re no exception at all. What part of Rio are you from?” asked Cheyanne. She was hanging onto GG’s every word. She’s made a new fan.

“São Conrado. It’s an old neighborhood in the South Zone.”

Cheyanne’s eyes grew big. “Wow, is that the same area located right next to Favela da Rocinha?” asked.

GG drew a breath. Speaking of the Rocinha Favela isn’t something she often liked to do, and it was part of the reason her family wanted to move from the city. “Yes,” she nodded.

“I can’t imagine. Have you ever been to one? A favela?” asked Tim.

GG took a long swig of her Moscato. “No. Girls like me, where I was raised and based on who my family is, shouldn’t go to the favelas.”

Although she hid it well, I could tell this line of questioning was making GG uncomfortable, but she remained gracious. I decided to switch gears a bit. “So, uh Cheyanne, was is it exactly that you do?” I asked.

“Oh, I am a freelance graphic illustrator. I know, it’s weird that Tim and I are together. I’m the least techy person I know. I know graphics and all that stuff, but I know nothing of programming,” laughed Cheyanne.

GG and I learned through her babbling that Cheyanne graduated from Sarah Lawrence, she composts, collects rainwater for drinking and bathing, and she grows her own food. Typical.

“You know, GG I have such a good team at work, and your guy here is one of the smartest people at the company. Bash is such an asset. I’m fortunate to have him on my team,” Tim enthused.

GG looked at me and smiled. “Yes, he’s like an encyclopedia. I am not very techy either, so if I have questions about computers, I just call Bash and let him handle everything,” she giggled.

Tim and I didn’t discuss work too much, other than him mentioning some of the future projects for Cypher he was eager to start on. He told me he hoped I would be fully on board once we go to launch and build on the application soon. I told Tim he could count on it. Surely, it would be a slower climb than I would want, and I have to play Tim just right. I can’t push anything on him. I seriously doubt I would arouse suspicion from Tim, but others would be watching.

*********************

After lunch, we split the bill. I paid for myself, and GG and Tim took care of his and Cheyanne’s portion. They said they would love it we could go hiking with them in a couple of weeks. I saw the look of panic on GG’s face and knew almost certainly it was out of the question. I didn’t commit to anything, but I told Tim that it sounded like a good time and we’ll talk about it soon.

GG and I said goodbye and headed toward the boardwalk near the parking lot where my car was. “Well, that’s two and a half hours of my life I’ll never get back,” I sighed.

“I mean, they were a little Donnie and Marie, but I thought they were cute,” she laughed.
“Cute? Are you serious? Well, I guess you can add Cheyanne to your growing list of fans. She’s mesmerized by you,” I said, dryly.

GG shrugged. “She was adorable. But, now that I have formally met one of your co-workers, and I don’t mean at the bar during happy hour, maybe I’ll meet more people.” GG was hinting at wanting to meet my family in Oasis. As much as I loved being with her, GG was the one bright spot in my life, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to taint that by bringing her to my old neighborhood and introduce her to some of the most unambitious people I knew who thrived on mediocrity. No, I would put that off for a long as I could.

Chapter 1.1 The Games Begin

Sebastian “Bash” Banks POV:
FROM JOHN SCHOENFELD, VICE PRESIDENT
TO: CC DAVID MCKINLEY CEO, ROBERT WAKEFIELD CFO
BCC JUPITER WORKS ASSOCIATES
Good Morning Team,
It is my pleasure to announce that Timothy Reynolds is our new Senior Software Developer. Tim brings a wealth of knowledge in software design and development. As a member of our team for the past two years, we have been more than happy to have his insight and expertise on our internal systems and the new innovative applications we have created here at Jupiter. Let’s all say congratulations to Tim.

I closed the email that sent to us from our company’s vice president announcing that the promotion I had been working my ass off for the past six months had gone to someone else. I opened the email back up and moved it to the trash. It was such bullshit. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I have seen this same thing happen two other times since I have worked here. Somehow guys who haven’t been here longer than me or don’t have as much experience and education as I do, somehow keep getting these promotions. Of course, sometimes it is nepotism, but mostly it’s the fact that they have the complexion for protection and I don’t.

Tim had started at our company, Jupiter Works only two years ago as a junior software developer. He went to fucking Rutgers, which was like number 45 on the top 50 best schools for computer science, undergrad. I went to UPenn, number 15, not to mention I had my masters from MIT, specifically a Master of Science program in Computation for design and optimization. Tim not only just went to Rutgers and didn’t have a post-graduate degree but also waitlisted. Who the hell gets waitlisted for Rutgers? Of course, his daddy who was friends with the dean of admissions made a call, and a small donation and Tim was able to move right in, taking a more deserving person’s spot no doubt. You see, how unfair that is? My black ass got into school on my merits.

I silently sat at my desk for a moment. I could feel my anger rising. I took a deep breath and slowing exhaled through my nose, trying to calm myself. I glanced at the clock; it was barely three, still too far away from five and my escape.
I could hear some of my co-workers laughing and congratulating Tim on his undeserved promotion. Tim and I worked on the same team, and now his ass will have seniority over me.

I was about to get up and head to the bathroom when I sensed Tim making his way over to my desk. It’s not that Tim was a bad guy; he was friendly, not pretentious like some of these other assholes, but he was annoying. He and some of the other guys were always asking me to join them for a beer after work. I accepted their invitations some of the time. Most of the time, however, I declined, making up some excuse for needing to go home and work. Usually, I was lying because it was bad enough working them every day. The last thing I wanted to do was pretend to like their asses outside of work.

“Hey, Bash! How’s it going, Bro?” asked Tim, as he strutted up to my desk with a slight bounce in his step. He grinned from ear to ear. “Eh, man congrats on the new promotion,” I said, trying to keep my voice upbeat and force a smile. “Ah, thanks! I couldn’t have done it without you and some of the other guys. You’ve helped me out so much since I’ve been here.” Yeah, no shit. I practically trained this guy, and hate he gets a sizeable raise and a lead position.

“The guys were going to grab a drink downstairs after work, you should come along,” said Tim. I held in a sigh, the last thing I wanted to do was grab a beer with these frat boys once five o’clock rolled around. I usually work late, sometimes past eight. But it was a Friday; therefore if I tried to get out of it, they would just keep badgering me. “Yeah, sure,” I reluctantly agreed. “Awesome. Try not to work too hard, we only have a couple of hours left!” said Tim and walked off to talk to some of the other ass kissers that were too eager to get in his face and congratulate him.

It’s not that I wanted to stay late on a Friday, but I could think of so many other things I wanted to do once I left this place. I could go to the gym, I could grab something to eat, and there were so many other things way more appealing than heading down to a bar. I would only stay two hours max, and then I was free-free to salvage the rest of my weekend. I had dinner with my family on Sunday, which is something I don’t look forward to doing. My only free day would be Saturday. I needed to make the most of it because Monday would come around again too soon.

**********************************************************

Every Sunday, my parents have dinner at their house in the old neighborhood where I grew up. I hated coming here and did everything I could to avoid it. The old ramblers with spotty yards, patches of dry grass and dirt. The old beat up cars blocking the whole sidewalk. The fences encased small homes that were half bent downward, rusted, and neglected. The weeds and dandelions grew out the cracks of the sidewalk that had long seen its better days. The paint on the homes was worn and weathered, peeling off the siding; rusted storm pipes and leaves stacked in the gutters that no one bothered to climb up and clear out.

You could find the usual suspects sitting around on stoops drinking forties and playing their music much too loud. Any number of half-dressed children who were badly in need of a bath ran around the yard cursing along to the lyrics while their parents and the other adults around them laughed and filmed them with an iPhone they no doubt were financing or received through the homie hookup. They did this, all so they could post videos on Instagram, like the fact that their kids were cursing like full-grown men was something to be proud about.

I’m a black man, but I hate niggas. And nothing but niggas occupied my family’s neighborhood, and if I never got out of here and got an education, all I would ever be is another nigga slanging and hanging out; not doing shit for myself and blaming the white man for my failures and lack of opportunities. If I could make it out, there was no other reason any other black male in America could not make it out.


I pulled up to the curb outside my parents’ house and sat in my car, dreading on opening the door and entering the house to a permeating smell of greens, gumbo, and fried fish. I looked down at the top I chose to wear. Dammit, all that shitty ass grease is going to get into my clothes, and I’ll have to send not only my shirt but my trousers to the cleaners. I don’t know how many times I have implored my mother to cook normal food, not all that salted up, greasy, fatty chitlin’ circuit shit.

I glanced across the street through my car window and could see our neighbors staring at me. I don’t know if these were the same thugs that moved here about a year ago or a whole new crop of Section 8 dwellers. I got out my car, keeping their gaze as the young thugged out guys watched me. They seemed to be salivating seeing my new seventy-five thousand dollar Mercedes-Benz. I shut the door and hit the alarm.

I walked up to the front door and could hear my father’s booming voice coming from inside. I took one last deep breath and knocked on the door. My younger sister, Michelle answered the door. “Hey Bash,” she said, opening the door just wide enough to let me in. “Eh, Baby, why ain’t you come outside?” a shout came from one of the young thugs from across the street. I glanced down at my sister, whose face had gotten red from embarrassment. “You know those thugs?” I asked. “No, not really. One of them goes to my school,” answered Michelle, shrugging.

Michelle was a sophomore in high school and made outstanding grades. She was a good student and usually didn’t my parents any trouble. Michelle is well-liked and attractive. What I never liked was the attention she received from the jailbird types across the street. Whenever I came here I tried to encourage Michelle to stay on track and keep up her grades so she could get into a good school. Other than me, no one in our family encouraged her to go to college. If anything our older sister Cassie and our mother have told her she go to hair school. Why the hell is that black women always want to push the younger girls in their family to doing hair? Or some other meaningless ain’t shit job.They never told her to do nails or own a beauty store because other people had that shit on lock. Black folk always throwing their money on stupid shit. Sending the money away from the community all so they can wear hair that belonged to someone else.


I saw my father glance out the window toward my new car. Orvel Banks was a big man with a tall hovering stature. Most people look at him and would easily be intimidated by his size and presence. As a kid, his presence scared me and I feared him, for knowing if I stepped out of line at any given time he could crush me with one paw. Yes, a paw, because a bear was what my father reminded me of. He wasn’t abusive nor did he barely whoop us; that was left up to my mother. Dad feared that if we did something that truly enraged him, he’d seriously hurt us with a belt or extension cord. Because of that, he allowed our mother to be the main disciplinarian.


Dad had worked in construction for thirty years. Construction workers, the people who put nails through wood, drywall, lay down plaster and poured cement. All he is; is a glorified handyman. Got a plumbing problem? He can fix that, need your car worked on? No problem, call Dad. What about a new fence? My father could do it. If scrubbing toilets and washing dishes was considered women’s domestic work, then plunging, fixing the garbage disposal, and raking leaves were Dad’s domestic duties, which he did so masterfully.


I can remember being ten years old; I was at a grocery store with my father. He had to pick up a few groceries that day because my mother had gotten injured at work and couldn’t drive. On the conveyer belt were bread, milk, cheese, rice, eggs, apple juice, collard greens, and several packs of cheap hot dogs and lunch meat. Dad gave the cashier his debit card after she ran it, the payment didn’t go through. “Run it again, please,” said Dad. The cashier slid it again, and it was declined once more for insufficient funds. I looked at the total price on the register; the total amount was $23.01.


I glanced back and the line growing behind us, as the people waiting grew more impatient. Dad wasn’t one to be easily stirred, was flurried as he searched through his wallet for any cash. Finally, he pulled out a five and three crumpled one dollar bills. Some of the other people waiting in line started to grumble about us taking too long. “Damn, nigga if you ain’t got the money, get cho’ ass out the line!” a man yelled. Dad turned and glared at the younger man with a wife beater on, cornrows and a toothpick in his mouth. He didn’t respond him, but his stare was enough of a warning to shut anyone up who was thinking of lodging any more complaints at my father. Dad ended up putting back a few of the items, and only kept what his eight dollars could afford; I’d never been so embarrassed in my life. I wasn’t angry that someone had called Dad out. I felt pissed at him for not being able to afford $23.01 on groceries. I vowed then and there, never to be in a position of powerlessness. I promised never to slave away at a dead end job with barely two nickels to rub together. That would never be me.


I watched the expression on his face; the disapproving look in his eye. I knew what he was thinking, but he chose to remain quiet. “That’s my new Mercedes, Dad,” I said. “Yeah, obviously.”

 

I impatiently waited for him to offer more commentary than a two-word answer. After a long silence, I proceeded to tell him about all the special features of the car. The horsepower, handling, system, and about a dozen more exclusive features one could expect in a luxury vehicle. “Does it fly?” asked Dad, sarcastically. Lorenzo, my sister’s live-in boyfriend had been sitting on the couch and began to laugh. I glared at him.

“Is that supposed to be funny?” the question was to my dad, but I looked in Lorenzo’s direction. “A new car was necessary, especially when you barely had the other one for long,” replied Dad.

“Because I wanted a new car and I trade them in every two years. Is that a crime?”
“Bash, do what you want with your money, that’s up to you. I have always told you growing up to save for a rainy day,” said Dad. I scoffed.

“Yeah right. How is it then; that we always had rainy days growing up, but you never had any money saved?”

Before my father could answer, my mother walked into the living room. “Hey, Baby. You made it this time. The last two Sundays, we ain’t seen you.”

“Sorry, Mama. I’ve been busy with work, and I was recently out of town on a business trip,” I answered. It was half true. I was on a business trip two weeks ago but got back on a Saturday night. I didn’t want to deal with my family the next day, so I told my mother I was still out of town. Last week I didn’t come and lied to her that I was sick. I could only stomach coming here once or twice a month, and even then that could be too much.

My mom said she could tell that something was bothering me by the look on my face. I didn’t feel like getting into the details of the problems at work, nor did I want everyone to overhear that I had once again, getting passed over for a promotion. My father would tell me to quit complaining, and my mother would say I should be thankful for having a job. My family was happy with mediocrity and they expected I would I would accept it all the same. I don’t and I never could. “Let me get back in this kitchen so that I can finish up this food,” said Mom, as she turned around and walked out of the room.


I sat on the couch, with my little brother, Usher. He, my father, and Lorenzo were watching Sunday football. The San Myshuno Panthers were playing an away game. You could hear the faint sound of starting quarterback, Colin Stone calling the snap: Blue 82! Blue 82! Hut Hut!”
I glanced back down at my tablet, not interested in watching the game. It’s not that I didn’t like football; I just hated watching with my brother and Lorenzo, who could be quite obnoxious whenever the Panther’s offense was on the field.


“Bash, can’t your job hook us up with some tickets, yo?” asked Usher. “Tickets to what?” I asked, not looking up from my tablet. “Man, to see the Panthers!”  I shook my head, annoyed. “I don’t know, Usher. Usually, you have to sign up long before the season starts. I haven’t gone to any game since last season.”


“Dang, Bash you got a job with all these perks and making bank. You don’t even get nothing from them. You hustling backward,” laughed Usher. “Well, quit skipping school, get a degree and then maybe you can get a nice job with fringe benefits one day too instead of begging me for shit.” “Watch your mouth, Bash,” warned Dad, sternly.


After another hour passed by, dinner was ready, finally. I went over and sat down at the table. The sight of fried catfish, heaps of collard greens smothered over hammocks, mac n cheese, cornbread, and soggy green beans made my stomach turn. Growing up, I enjoyed my mother’s cooking, but I don’t eat like this in my everyday life. I want to keep my arteries clear and unclogged. I watched as my father piled his plate with food; a heart attack waiting to happen. One of these days, he’s going to keel over right here at the table; probably with a chicken wing in his hand.

My sister, Cassie was the oldest child. She brought a plate over to Lorenzo and fixed her kids theirs before she sat down and began eating. Cassie and Lorenzo had been together off and on since high school. They had two kids, lived together, but weren’t married. Up until a few months ago, they’d been living here because for the third time three years they couldn’t afford to pay their rent. Thanks to the US federal government, Cassie was recently approved for Section 8, which allowed her, Lorenzo and their kids to move into a three-bedroom house just five blocks away on the taxpayer’s dime. God bless America. Only here could someone not do shit all day but post to Facebook about “slaying” and showing off some homey hookup Jordans she got her kids so she could “stunt” on her “haters.”

Lorenzo worked; at times. He never graduated high school but went to work with my dad in construction. Work wasn’t always steady for him, and Cassie often had to ask either our parents or me for money to pay the bills. I had long ago put an end to Cassie’s begging me for money and trying to guilt me into paying her rent or other expenses simply because of my income. I couldn’t give two shits whether or not her lights were cut off.


I sat quietly, eating my food as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to give it time for my taste buds to adjust to mounds of grease, salt, and fat that covered every morsel. I zoned out the conversation around me; as it was the same thing week to week. My mom was gossiping about her sisters and their trifling kids, my sister blaming the illegal immigrants for the state cutting the number of food stamps she gets each month, and Dad giving mundane details from the previous week job site he dry-walled. Michelle stayed on her phone talking to her friends over social media, and Usher took a selfie and after selfie, sending off each one to the two or three girlfriends he kept. It was his junior year in high school, and he was going nowhere fast. Usher thought he would be a rapper and his skills would as he claimed: “make more bank than you Bash!”

Usher was cocky and boorish, and unfortunately; not very bright. Whenever I told him to get a college degree, I meant community college; goodness knows he’d never make it a state school let alone a top-tier school like me. My little brother thought he’d be the next Drake. I’ve told him many times, the main reason Drake is so accepted by many is that he’s biracial. That’s why he’s able to get away with having ghostwriters and stealing everyone’s culture for his latest hit. The most Usher could hope to be is a Soundcloud rapper. That’s as far as he’d ever go.


I started to think of an excuse I could give my mother for not coming next week for dinner. There were only so many times I could tell her I had to work or that I was on another business trip. It took everything for me to come here and stomach the mindless chatter, the complacent mindset, and disregard for me and my ambition. I’ve tried countless times over the years to get my family to see that there was life outside of this neighborhood and that they didn’t need to settle for these dead-end jobs that pay pennies. But they all seemed too satisfied with the way things were, and after a while, it would just be me alone in a room talking to myself; no one there to hear me, no one there to care.

Check out the biography of Bash and other main characters here.

Author’s Note: It just should be noted that I am aware, some may not like the representation of Bash’s older sister Cassie (who isn’t a main character) being on gov’t assistance. Often we see these images presented with the face of black women when that is not the case as statistics show others get more gov’t help than blacks. As you can see, while Bash’s family is working class, his parents do own their own home and have jobs. I would never look down on my own people, but I wanted to make a story based on the reality of many people. You will see that there are well to do black people in this story and in my past stories. I have characters from all social classes. The truth of the matter is, when I was very young, my mother had to get assistance for us even though she worked, my father wasn’t around. The fact is a lot of people (White, Black, Latino, Asian) in this country are classified as “working poor” they have jobs, but can’t afford the basic necessities of life.  Some characters and storylines will not sit well with all people who read it, and that is fine. I’ve always said there would be things people may not like, but I wanted to write a story that in some ways reflected some of my past experiences and those around me or people I’ve known and those who I come up with in my head. Thanks for reading and I’m always open to feedback.

 

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