A LITTLE REBELLION NOW AND THEN
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If you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart.
If you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.
I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
The page was loading at about one pixel per minute. I kept hammering the mouse button knowing it would do no good, but I needed to punish something. Either I needed a new computer or Google did. Then something weird happened that forced me to stare and blink. A black rectangle opened in the center of the page, and there was something being typed across it. It closed in a second and I didn’t get a chance to see what it said. Finally the page loaded and I had control again. It was definitely a “WTF” moment. Lately I’d been having a lot of them.
I selected and copied the text of an opinion by the Fourth Circuit Court on the president’s latest attempt to sneak another amnesty around Congress, pasted it into a Word document and saved it with the rest of the research I’d been doing for the manuscript I was currently flogging. Then I donned my discipline hat, and focused on the next twenty-five hundred words. At quitting time, I saved it and made a copy on two thumb drives. After that, it was wine time and the FOX news. It was a slow day—only one truck bombing in Baghdad, and not a single beheading.
Roger arrived at six. I let him into the foyer and stood on my toes to kiss him. He was a head taller than me, which is good because I rarely noticed the bald spot on the crown of his head. That, the gray temples and fine crow’s-feet, was the only concession to age that he’d made since we met in school. I’m too generous. He may have added a few inches around the midsection, but I’m no one to talk. We hadn’t been together all that time. We were an item for several years, and I fully expected to marry the bastard, but he had this thing about commitment—and other women.
“Help yourself to a drink,” I said.
“I always do.” He poured a generous two fingers of scotch from the decanter, and refreshed my chardonnay. “There’s nothing cooking. Did I forget that it’s my night to cook?”
“No, we’re going out for a change.”
“Okay. Any place special?”
“Not really. We’ll take the trolley to the Gaslight District and pick some place that isn’t crowded.”
“Sounds good. How was your day?”
“Fine, except something weird happened.”
I took a sip of wine and thought about how to describe it. “I was waiting for a webpage that was taking forever to load, and a little black window opened in the middle of the screen. Somebody was typing something on it.”
“Probably just an ad loading.”
“No, this was different. What do you call that window where you go to get your IP address?”
“Yeah, that’s it. This looked like the command prompt.”
“And you didn’t open it by mistake?”
“I don’t know how to open it.”
“You didn’t see it before or after that?”
“Hmm, well, let’s open it and see.” He rose and carried his drink to the computer desk. Without sitting he entered ‘Command prompt’ in the start menu search box, and the little window opened in the center of the screen. Ghostly fingers were typing something after ‘C/Users/Kate>’, but the window closed before either of us could read it. “Well, that was odd.”
“It’s downright spooky. Do you think somebody has hacked my computer?”
“You’ve got anti-malware, don’t you?”
“Of course I do—the best. I subscribe to that Russian outfit.”
“Did you ever give somebody remote access to your computer?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like when you give the guy in India control of your computer because you can’t figure out how to get something to work.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, my dear, it looks like somebody has access to your computer, and they don’t want you to see what they’re doing.”
That gave me a chill. “That’s pretty creepy. What should I do?”
“Turn it off and don’t use it.”
“You do know that I use that computer to make my living?”
“Hell, Kate, if you never wrote another word in your life, you’d die a rich woman.”
“That’s not the point. I’m a compulsive writer.”
“You’re ’pulsive, all right.”
“What do you mean ’pulsive’?”
“Com, im and re.”
I punched him in the shoulder. “Get out of the way and let me shut it down.” I took the chair and clicked the ‘Start’ button, then the ‘Shutdown’ button. The screen went blue, and the loopy little dots started whirling. A few seconds later the last screen refreshed. “Crap,” I said, “I’ll try again.” I got the same result.
“Try the task manager,” Roger said.
“Control, alt, delete.”
“Oh, yeah.” The task manager window opened, and I manually closed all the running programs, but the shutdown button never appeared.
He said, “So, push the power button. All your data is saved, and the programs closed.”
I did, and in a moment, the screen went black. “What am I going to do?”
“I’ll make a call in the morning, and get you the number of a guy who can figure it out.”
“Okay, let’s eat.”
After a heavy meal and much wine, we wobbled back to the condo. Roger took me by the elbow and tried to steer me directly into the bedroom. “Whoa, stud, I’m way too full to let you play trampoline tonight. You’ll have to wait until morning.”
“I figured as much. That was your evil plan all along, wasn’t it?”
“Hey, why is there a light in the office?” I looked around the jamb and saw the screen saver on the monitor. “Didn’t I do a hard shutdown?”
“I saw you do it.”
“Well, the frigging thing turned itself back on.”
“Pull the plug, or the damn thing might kill us in our sleep.”
“This is getting scary,” I said, and crawled on my knees under the desk. I groped for the power cord behind the tower and wiggled it until it came free. I listened to the fan whir to a halt. “Okay, the beast is dead.”
“If it plugs itself back in, I’m going to shoot it.”
“That’s what I’d do. Now, how can you be too full after we walked all the way from the trolley stop—uphill?”
Roger still had the libido he had twenty years ago—or thought he did. He swore he didn’t take pills for it. Me? I was content to surrender to the sexual vacuum of post-menopause, but he would get so morose, I’d have to humor him. “We walked five blocks. Forget it. If you get the geek’s number in the morning, I’ll do you a favor.”
In the morning with the favor behind me, and Roger contented again, he called somebody and wrote a number on the pad by the phone. After he showered and was out the door, I dialed it. A sleepy voice said, “Yeello.”
I said, “Hello, is this the computer service?”
“Who wants to know?”
“My name is Kate Baker. Do you work on computers?”
“Hardware or software?”
“Soft, I guess. I think I’ve been hacked.”
“Hundred dollars an hour. Starts when I leave home. Where are you?”
“You’re in luck. Only take me an hour to get there. What’s your address?”
I gave him the address, ended the call and made sure my revolver was loaded. An hour later the doorbell rang. He wasn’t as grungy looking as I expected.
He said, “Hi, I’m Nick. You got any coffee?”
“Is espresso okay?”
“Great. Make it a double. Where’s the computer?”
I showed him. “I had to unplug it. It came back on by itself.”
“Huh. Give me a few minutes of quiet.” He began to crawl under the desk.
“I’ll get your coffee.” When I sat the cup by his elbow, he was engrossed in a black screen crowded with white characters. They were gibberish to me. “What’s all that?”
“Shh.” He took a small, noisy sip of the thick coffee, and said, “Have you checked your bank accounts since this happened?”
“Oh, shit. I didn’t think of that.”
“Well, duh. What other reason would somebody want to hack a rich lady who writes dirty books?”
“I don’t write dirty books.”
“Get out of the way and let me check my accounts.”
“If they got into your accounts, it’s way too late now. Don’t you have a phone or tablet you can use to check them on?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll be right back.” I ran to the bedroom and looked at my bank accounts and investments on my phone. Everything was intact.
When I returned to the office and told him, he said, “So, for what other reason would somebody hack you?”
“So, I’m definitely hacked?”
“Yeah, by the best. Maybe to steal your next book?”
“That’s not very likely. I’ve got a copyright.”
“So, if you don’t write porn, what do you call it?”
“So, who do you make fun of?”
“Anybody who deserves it. Mainly the government.”
“Well, I’d say we’re definitely dealing with a government here.”
“Oh, shit. Whose government?”
“No way to tell. They’re using the TOR browser. IP address is in the middle of the ocean, but if I were to guess, I’d say it’s ours.”
“So, how do I get rid of them?”
Nick sat back and cradled the cup in both hands. He belched lightly, and said, “I don’t think you can.”
I felt a jolt. “What?”
“Look, if you get a new computer, router, IP address, email account, new phone number and change your name, they’ll just find you again. For whatever reason, somebody is watching you.”
“You think my phone’s tapped?”
He made a disgusted face. “Everybody’s phone’s tapped, but somebody is paying attention to you. They’re listening to your calls, reading your email and spying on your browsing habits. You ever look at porn?”
“That probably wouldn’t interest them anyway. What do you do online?”
“I follow political events, and do research for my novels.”
“Well, you got somebody pissed.”
“What do you think they want?”
“I’d say to shut you up.”
When I got rid of young Nick, I opened the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. In the very back the folders were yellow and brittle. What I wanted was still there. It was a tabloid size newspaper. The masthead proclaimed it ‘The Toad.’ As I read the nearly fifty-year-old article, I became Katie again—it was still Katie Baker. I retook my maiden name after my divorce.
May 2, 1970
May was balmy in Cleveland that Saturday night. Roger took me to a bar to listen to music and drink beer. Roger was old enough to order the hard stuff. I had to settle for three-two beer, but when I drained half of my glass, he’d pour his beer into it, and go get another. The band made up for dubious talent with volume, and it was impossible to talk except during their breaks.
In the relative quiet, Roger asked, “Do you have enough money for the next edition?”
“Yeah, barely. Wally says since his connection got busted he hasn’t been able to score.” Wally was the silent backer of The Toad. He taught law at Case Western Reserve and sold dope on the side. He used the money from dealing to fund our underground newspaper.
The band adjourned to the bar, and the club’s owner mounted the stage. He adjusted the singer’s microphone and motioned for silence. “Listen up, people. WMMS just announced that the protesters against sending troops to Cambodia set fire to the ROTC building on the Kent State Campus.”
A cheer erupted in the crowded bar. I didn’t hesitate to join the clapping and whistling.
The owner waited for the noise to settle. “They plan another protest tomorrow at noon, if anybody can get down there to join them. Governor Rhodes called out the National Guard, so they need all the support they can get. Smash the state!” He raised his fist as he quit the stage and the noise level spiked again.
“I’ve got to go cover that,” I shouted in Roger’s ear. “Will you drive me, or do I have to hitchhike?”
“I’ll take you. We can spend the night with my cousin, Bill, in Akron.”
“Is he still living with that crazy bitch?”
“Wanda? Yeah, as far as I know.”
“Great. Bring your stash. I don’t want to be conscious when I’m around her.”
We left after the next set and strolled along Coventry Road. Cleveland Heights buzzed on the warm Saturday night. Record Revolution was packed, and Jimi Hendrix pulsed from the open entrance of the head shop next door. I hesitated on the corner and looked at the traffic. “Narks everywhere tonight,” I said.
“Regular pigs, too. They’re uptight about Kent.”
“Let’s get off the street.”
Roger’s apartment on Lancashire Road was around the corner, and a few doors west of Record Revolution—he was a regular customer. His second story unit was tiny. To increase rental income, landlords in the area partitioned the once spacious apartments. Roger had a sitting room furnished with a second hand couch and a beanbag chair, a closet of a kitchen that he never used, a bathroom with a ball and claw tub retrofitted with a showerhead, and a bedroom that almost accommodated his double bed and nightstand. House rules forbade any color on the walls, so he plastered them with posters of rock bands and psychedelic art. The first things he did was pull the chain on his black light and push the switch on the lava lamp on the crate he used for an end table.
“What do you want to hear?” I asked as I leafed through the stack of albums leaning against the wall.
“Strange Days,” he said while rolling a joint on the coffee table.
“Why don’t you just bolt that to your turntable, and sell the rest of these?”
“’Cause I like to hear both sides.”
“While we’re in Akron, let’s find Snoddy and try to score some hash.” I preferred hash to pot, and my geeky friend, Snoddy, could find it no matter how dry things got. He was the kind of freak who only owned one pair of jeans, and I swore, if you could dissolve the cotton, you’d have an ounce of hash. I took a chest-full of smoke and held it.
“You got any money?” he asked. I shook my head. “Then I’ll have to go see my mom in the morning.”
I coughed and had to exhale. “Will she give you some?”
“If Dad’s not there.”
“Good, that means I can sleep late.” The mysterious music slowed as the dope expanded in my brain. Roger took me by the hand, and led me to his bed.
Sunday morning was bright and clear. While Roger went to beg money from his mother, I showered and made a cup of his terrible instant coffee, which I drank while I combed the knots from my hair. It was getting a little ratty at the ends, and I wondered if I trusted Roger to trim it. His bullshit story netted him ten dollars, which was just enough for a gram of hash.
“Do you have gas money?” I asked.
“I’ve got five bucks, and we’re going to have to eat.”
“Then we’ll have to swing by Wally’s. He’ll give me an advance on expenses.”
Wally answered the door in his underpants. “About damned time you surfaced. Did you hear what happened last night?”
I said, “Cool it, Wally. We’re on our way to Kent right now, but we need gas money.”
He gave me a five, and we started on the fifty mile drive to the little college town that was on fire over Nixon’s escalating the war that everybody hated. Guardsmen in Jeeps and armored personnel carriers lolled and shot the shit in front of public buildings until we were out of town. They were no older than us, but they looked thuggish and dull, the kind of guys we called ‘straights’ because they hated our lifestyle, and didn’t get stoned.
I said, “Shit, the pigs are everywhere.”
“What if we can’t get into Kent?”
“I wish I had real press credentials.”
When we arrived, Roger parked on Main Street close to the campus. Most of the shops were boarded, and some had been smudged by fire. I stashed my notebook and camera in my big leather bag with a macramé strap, and we approached the campus through a residential neighborhood hoping to find a way into it without meeting any cops.
No luck. “Let’s see some ID,” the cop demanded.
“We went to breakfast. You don’t need ID to eat breakfast. As far as I know, this is still a free country,” I said kind of bitchy.
“You’re not getting on campus without student ID,” he said.
Roger said, “You can’t keep us out of our dorms. That’s where we live.”
“Prove you’re students.”
I said, “Let me in alone, and I’ll come back with our ID.” Roger gave me a shitty look, but I was the journalist. He could wait for me.
“No, dice, girl. Turn around and beat it.”
I gave him my most indignant look. “Hey, Adolph, we’re a couple of students trying to get back to our dorms so we can study. What’s your problem?”
A guy on a bicycle approached from the opposite direction. He said, “It’s okay, officer. She’s in my English class, and he’s in ROTC.”
The cop looked suspicious and confused. He waved us onto the campus with a disgusted look. I said, “Thanks, man,” to the stranger, and we walked away from the cop. “They hire the best and the brightest, don’t they?” Roger's shoulder length hair sure didn't make him look like the ROTC type.
Roger said, “Good thing for us.”
Things were pretty weird on Sunday. The National Guard had Jeeps and armored personnel carriers all over the campus, but they mingled with some of the kids. They were particularly attracted to the braless girls. Leaflets were everywhere that declared a state of emergency, and outlawed any outdoor gatherings, whether peaceful or otherwise. The most persistent rumor was that there would be an organized protest at noon Monday.
Somebody announced a press conference was on TV, given by our asshole governor, James Rhodes. Roger and I went into a dorm to see it. Rhodes was in rare form, banging on the table, saying everyone in Ohio was in danger and that the Weather Underground and Students for a Democratic Society were supplying guns to the protesters. I went back outside, and found one of the organizers. He was familiar with The Toad, and agreed to answer some questions.
“Bullshit,” he said, “there are exactly zero members of the Weather Underground here, and if there are any SDS on this campus, I don’t know about them.”
I asked, “Do you have anything planned for tonight?”
“Not that I know about.”
I thanked him, and said to Roger, “Do you want to go to Bill’s, and come back tomorrow?”
“This is your trip. I’m only the driver.”
“It’s kind of boring here. If we hear about something happening, we can always come back.”
Monday the protesters were on the Commons—about an even mix of guys and girls. The soldiers had already given up on tear gas because of the wind and the guys who just threw the canisters back at them. They also threw rocks. An officer in a Jeep bellowed through a bullhorn as he read the Ohio Riot Act. That was a formality that meant anybody could be arrested if they didn’t disperse. We’d all heard it before.
I began snapping pictures and noticed a group of guardsmen separated themselves from the rest and appeared to be discussing something. One of them knelt on one knee and panned his rifle across the crowd, then he stood and walked away from the others. He headed for a building on the edge of the Commons.
I said, “Follow that guy. He’s up to something.” I kept taking pictures of him as he entered the building. It had a plaque by the door that said it was Johnson Hall. A few moments later I saw him again on the roof. His head and arms appeared above the parapet without his helmet. He aimed his gun over the heads of the milling guardsmen and he fired one shot. Immediately the soldiers wheeled toward the protesters fifty or sixty feet from them. The front line dropped to one knee and commenced firing. Those behind them fired over the heads of the kneeling shooters. The cacophony lasted forever, although later witnesses said it was fifteen seconds.
Roger dragged me to the grass and covered me. By the time I crawled from under him, the only sound was the thumping of helicopter rotors and screaming. Faintly, in the distance we could hear sirens.
“Let’s get the hell outta here before they seal the place,” Roger said.
We began running, and in the ensuing chaos, managed to get off campus.
“I’ve got to call Wally,” I said.
“He can get David and Debbie started on a special edition.”
I found a phone booth and dropped a dime into the slot. Instead of a dial tone, I heard, “Due to the declaration of martial law, phone service has been suspended until further notice.” I felt my insides drop as the recorded message repeated.
Watch for the release of A Little Rebellion Now and Then at all your favorite eBook retailers.