I know all about you.
It was all too easy. You invited me in, even gave me a nice cup of tea. And a little plate of biccies. Bourbons as I remember. So very suburban. You thought I was doing you a favour and all for only £40 an hour.
I didn’t take anything when I left, and you thanked me profusely for my trouble. Promised to keep in touch in fact. You were very impressed with my work.
You were relieved to have found me you said. Discovered me through a little ad in the parish magazine. You can trust the parish magazine can’t you. Much better than sticking a pin in the small business pages of the telephone book. Don’t know who you might get.
It helps that I looked the part as well. Computer nerd chic, styled by Microsoft. I’m not sure if that phrase means much to you, but some people might use it to describe my appearance. My trainers are clean and have no logos, my jeans are well pressed, my shirt and jumper are colour coordinated. No threat there eh? Smart and professional. Somebody you can put your faith in.
Now let me tell you how it worked. I need to share the beauty of it and you won’t let on will you?
That would be wise. Remember, I do know all about you.
So, your computer went down¼only I should imagine that’s not the phrase you used. I guess you said to your wife, (and it’s normally a wife, I don’t get many ladies calling me out,) something like,
“Don’t use the computer Sue. Its got one of those bloody viruses or something. Been on it for hours and can’t get anywhere with it.”
Sue to you, Suzy to her friends, Susan when she’s being more formal. Yes, I know a lot about her as well. And a little word to the wise at this point, as I’m mentioning your wife. Keep an eye on the bills. The amount of time that woman spends online shopping, well it beggars belief. I guess all the packages normally get delivered when you’re out at work, so you don’t notice what she has been buying. I know it’s none of my business, but I don’t want you to have any more nasty surprises.
Then, when she asked you what you were going to do about it, I imagine you said, “ I think I’ll have to get a little man out.”
A little man like me. Well, you’re not going to lug the thing to a shop and pay a small fortune for it to be repaired. No, a little man will do. More discrete as well.
So, you chanced upon my advert and gave me a ring. I answered and we made the appointment. I couldn’t get to you for a day or two. I’m a very busy man, you would be surprised how many people share your problems. I suggested you unplugged the computer and perhaps popped down to the local library to use theirs in the meantime. Free internet access for one hour a day. A bargain. That appealed to you.
I arrived and you showed me to your office, your private place. Most of the men I visit have a space like that; it might be a study or a bedroom, it’s normally somewhere tucked away. Anyway, I switched on and investigated the problem. Then it was out with the usual spiel.
“You’ve got some nasty stuff on here.” I said.
And you replied with,
“I don’t know where I might have picked them up. You don’t do you.”
“It’s okay. Nothing I haven’t come across many times before. We’ll just try a few things,” I said.
Then I dazzled you with my expertise. Click, click, click. Of course, most of this is just for show but you’re not to know that are you? You trust me like you trust the dentist, or the little man who fixes your car and gravely tells you that you need an expensive new part.
Click, click, click. You hovered and then you offered me that cup of tea. You hovered some more. After about an hour, (funny how it always takes that long every time,) I pronounced the job done.
But here’s the clever part. You probably didn’t think anything of it, imagined it was all part of the service.
“If anything else goes wrong give me a call. I’ve loaded a little program that will let me access your computer remotely. Saves me having to come out here every time,” I said.
You agreed, you were grateful and you didn’t suspect a thing.
So, now I’m back home and I’ve got free access to your computer. Well, you’d have to be a saint not to be tempted to do a little eavesdropping. It’s better than the telly I can tell you. The stories I could tell. And, before long, I know which websites you visit and when you log on, the e-mails you send and to whom.
And not only you and your wife. Did you know that your lovely daughter was using your computer? Perhaps you do. Perhaps you let her use it for her schoolwork. That’s all well and good, but do you know what else she uses it for?
Nasty things those social networking sites. Maybe you’ve read about them. People pretending to be something or somebody that they are not, prowling around in cyberspace, grooming their victims. Don’t worry- I’ve been keeping an eye on her for you. In loco parentis you might say. All very innocent at the moment but you’ve got no idea of the freaks that are lurking out there. Scary isn’t it.
But look, what I’m doing is totally harmless. Nobody gets hurt and, generally speaking, you’re none the wiser. Just a bit of harmless fun.
Well, it was all harmless fun, fun for me at any rate. I thought of it as a perk of the job, that’s all. But things have changed. I’m afraid I haven’t been totally candid with you up to now. You see, I’ve been¼approached. Seems I may have been shooting my mouth off a bit. My secret is out of the bag. Don’t worry- not your secrets, not yet anyway. ( I suppose you could sue me for breach of contract, if we had one! )
I’m not stupid, I didn’t deliberately tell anybody what I was doing. You don’t really want people to know that you’re hacking into your customer’s computers. But, maybe at a party or down the pub, my tongue was loosened by alcohol and the person I told, told somebody else and¼well, you get the picture. End result: I’m busted.
There are people out there, I can’t be more precise I’m afraid, who are prepared to pay rather a lot of money for your information. Not just yours you understand, you haven’t been picked out as anybody special, but details of all my clients.
So what do I do? Take the money and betray my customers? That might be the easy option but they’re not going to leave me alone after that. I’ll be in their pocket, an accomplice to their crimes. I don’t want that and I don’t want to betray anyone. I’m in a bit of a quandary. I should refuse.
Who am I kidding! I have no choice. It’s one of those offers you can’t refuse. Does that sound too melodramatic? I don’t really know who they are. Am I the only one or am I just a little cog in the wheel of some criminal master plan? Who knows. I’m a bit out of my comfort zone here.
I’ve got till the end of the week. Then they want lists of bank details, credit card numbers, passwords¼peccadilloes. All of it. From everybody. I can’t deny that they have dangled a pretty big carrot but along with it comes a bigger stick, if you get my drift. I don’t expect any sympathy. I’ve only got myself to blame.
Why don’t I get the police involved? I suspect you’d be as keen on that as I am. They’ve got far better hackers than me working for them. Soon be able to find out what I’ve been up to. And where does that leave me? In the same boat as you. Without a paddle.
But there is one last option I’ve been weighing up. Trash the computer and disappear for a while. Shouldn’t be too difficult and my guess is that I’ll soon be forgotten. I’m not naïve enough to imagine that I’m the only one doing this.
So what I’m really saying is that I’ll be out of commission for a while. Please don’t try to contact me. But be reassured. As far as we’re both concerned, I know nothing about you.
(c) Paul Warnes
An Autumn storm stripped you.
“Is tree dying?” my daughter asked.
You were both very young.
For seventeen years I have watched over you-
watched your shadow in the streetlight
edge further abroad,
your branches stretch and brush
the walls of another home.
When you were small I cut the stake
that tethered you,
stripped away the creeping ivy
that strangled you,
tended the lacerations
that scarred you,
Raked the leaves that you shed like tears
when the cold came.
And in return, each Spring birthday,
I swam in cherry blossom scent.
I’ve watched you both grow and change
but now she’s gone- uprooted.
(c) Paul Warnes