The Abduction(8)

By: Mark Gimenez

John R. Brice watched the girls skip off and merge into the stream of colorful bodies flowing toward the distant concession stand set back against the thick woods. He filled his shallow chest with the smell of popcorn riding out on the breeze and smiled. Ph.D.’s in the Algorithms Group at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Sciences aren’t given to emotion, as a general rule. Emotion had no place in the virtual world, where logical, ruthless intellect prevailed. In fact, the closest hackers came to emotion was emoticons, using ASCII characters to configure facial expressions in online communications. Virtual emotion. Real emotion belonged in that other world, that nonvirtual arena of pain and shame and smart-ass-ex-college-jocks-upgraded-to-real-estate that John Brice visited (like today) but did not inhabit.

But standing alone on a soccer field in an upscale suburb on a brilliant spring afternoon, he had to admit it: he was feeling pretty dang robust! And why shouldn’t he? For the first time in his life, he was on top of a world that was not accessible via a keyboard. In five days the IPO would hit the street and Little Johnny Brice would have his revenge—he would have it all!—everything he had dreamed of having all those lonely days and nights at Fort Bragg: two cool kids, a Range Rover, a big home, a drop-dead gorgeous wife who consented to sex twice a month (an unheard-of frequency during his premarital existence—computer geeks at MIT don’t get much sex, as another general rule), fame, fortune, respect, manhood, and maybe even love. After all those years, moving from Army base to Army base, never fitting in with the other Army brats, being bullied by brutish boys who dreamed only of following in their daddies’ bootsteps, a nerd in a soldier’s world—now, finally, the world belonged to the nerds.

Little Johnny Brice had found his place in this world.

But he had lost Gracie. Cripes. He pushed his glasses up and squinted. He spotted her golden head bobbing between the other girls when she suddenly stopped and turned back to him. The last rays of the setting sun spotlighted her perfect face, and father and daughter shared one of those rare moments in life you wouldn’t trade for the Windows source code. She smiled and waved to him. He loved her and he envied her. She was everything he had always wanted to be: confident and athletic, blonde and beautiful, social and popular, physically strong and mentally tough. She was entirely unlike him, and she was better. Often, like now, he would behold her and wonder exactly what part of her DNA he had contributed. But no matter: she was his daughter. John felt a catch in his throat and an inexplicable urge to run to her, snatch her up, and hug her again. Instead, he waved back with the phone and the moment evaporated—he had forgotten Lou.

“Shit.” He put the phone to his ear. “Sorry, dude, I had a brain fart. Look, Lou, while other kids were outside playing baseball, I was in my room hiding from bullies, hacking code, and dreaming of being a billionaire like big Bill. Thirty bucks a share makes me a billionaire—and that’s the ticket to happiness! A billion dollars buys me everything I ever wanted! … Maybe even love … Yeah, Lou, geeks need love, too.”

One hundred yards away, ensconced in a silver Lexus sedan circling the packed parking lot in search of an empty space, Elizabeth Brice was jabbing a finger into the climate-controlled air: “Truth and justice demand you acquit the defendant, a good and decent man who is not guilty of looting his bank or hiding a million dollars in an offshore account but only of falling in love with a cheap tramp—Look at her! Those aren’t even real! She’s nothing but a gold digger willing to destroy his reputation, his family, and his bank—for his money! Blame her!”

She paused and smiled at the memory.

“Guilty as sin, and they bought it—lock, stock, and pantyhose. Twelve good citizens with the mental range of a windshield wiper.”

She spotted a family of four heading to their car on the third row from the front. She followed them, hit the turn signal to warn off all competitors for this particular piece of pavement, and waited for them to stow the kids and soccer gear.

And waited.

And waited.

“Jesus Christ, get in the goddamn car!”

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