Going to California

From the beginning — 3

My new employer, I found out quickly, was actually more of a general security company, or at least it was trying to become one. In addition to being your classic international detective agency, they also owned a popular corporate drug-testing company as well as an organization that did background checks, mostly for employers. But it didn’t stop there.

We also built armored cars — though not the kind that banks use. Well, maybe that kind, too, I don’t know, but they were specifically great at armoring normal cars in a way that you couldn’t tell from the outside that they were armored. For example, I was told that they’d made the Lexus that Bill Gates drove. I hate to think of what their suspensions must have been like, supporting that much armor. My once-and-former-and-now-once-again boss, Geoffrey Cooper, managed to visit the factory once, where he saw a stack of doors waiting to be attached. They were so heavy that the stack of them was unshiftable. But once mounted on precision hinges, the solidly armored car doors would open and close with nearly no effort, even if I’m not sure you’d want your leg to get caught by one.

Someone from our office — maybe it was Geof, I don’t recall — saw a customer walking up and down the line and shaking all the hands that built the car that had protected her and her family from a missile attack.

Like everyone I’d already met at my new job, the woman who was ran our office was sharp and tireless. She was the kind of person who liked to meet people in her office by walking around to stand in front of her desk, leaning back against it only slightly.

“So you know a lot about web sites,” she asked me.

“I’ve been doing it since 1993,” I said. “A lot of people know more than me, but I think I know enough.”

“So they tell me. And you’re a graphic designer — Photoshop, the whole bit?”

“I got a degree in it. I’ve probably logged more flight time in Photoshop and in Quark than in any other programs, outside of text editors. I’ve converted a old-style paste-up shop into a digital pre-press production.”

She made an extremely subtle wave with one hand, which I took to mean that we were done talking about that.

“I can draw,” I offered.

“And write, I hear.”

“I should be good enough.”

“Could you write marketing copy?”


She narrowed her eyes at me.

“I’m from Texas, too, you know,” she told me.

She was the first transplant I’d met who I hadn’t known back home. “Really? Where?”


“I spent the last twelve years in Austin.”

“I know,” she snapped, adding, “Nice place.”

“I liked it.”

“What I’m saying is, in Texas, we know from bullshit.”

I agreed that I knew what she was saying.

“Also,” she said, “you’re a geek — no offense.”

“None taken. I’m a geek about the things I’m a geek about. There’s a lot I don’t know.”

“But you do know a lot, in a lot of different areas. One of our corporate groups does security training. Is there any training you’d like?”

“Like what?”

“The course on anti-terrorist driving techniques is popular.”

“I can imagine.”

She smiled. “What they do is they drive you around, while another car follows you. The instructor demonstrates a number of techniques for shaking or discouraging someone who’s following you. Then they put you behind the wheel. You have to figure out who’s following you, and you have to lose them.” She beamed. “And the car they use, is—wait, you’re a hacker, too, right?”

Impressive, I thought. You got my guard down. Yes, we Texans know from bullshit, sometimes.

“I’ve been following computer security, sometimes with more attention and sometimes with less, for about 16 years.”

“And you’re 30 years old.”

I nodded. “I was more of an informal computer security researcher. I did know real hackers, so I knew enough to know not to call myself one.”

“You’re here, so you know enough.” I certainly knew enough to recognize flattery by that point.

She leaned further back against her desk. “You can design magazines and fonts; you can write; you know about marketing and you know about databases.” I didn’t actually know that much about databases at the time, but there wasn’t room to correct her. “You draw, and you code.” She gestured back and forth in the space between us. “You communicate,” she said. Then she smirked. “And you’re at least a little bit of a hacker.”

Without turning my head I glanced quickly around, paranoid, as if someone might be hiding behind an office plant who I wouldn’t want to speak in front of.

She looked me up and down. “Say I believe it. How did this happen?”

“It’s a long story,” I told her. Ultimately I guess it turned out not to matter, since I’ve been with the company now in one form or another for fourteen years. But you have a trustworthy face. I’ll tell you.



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