Billy slumped against the hood in his best “James Dean’s bad posture” pose while Doogie strode directly toward the tree. The bear at the tree’s base got up, stretched, gave a massive toothy yawn (a warning?), and let Doogie pass.
Moving slowly, so the squirrels could see, Doogie extracted from his backpack the most pathetic electronic disappointment Billy had seen in years.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Billy shouted.
“It has its place.” Doogie responded calmly. He was used to being mocked for his choices in electronics. At the university, he was electronically heretical. His phone was an Android Trackphone. (He kept several “burner phones” on stock as well; using them for the sake of privacy.) “Pay as you go” phones mystified students with elaborate data plans. More to the point, Doogie was largely off-grid but his fellow students couldn’t take a dump without using the “free time” to post from an iPhone to Facebook.
Doogie knew this to be true because he’d tested it. Shortly after entering college, Doogie, following a fleeting interest in epidemiology, had whipped up an analysis of georeferenced Facebook posts cross referenced to a map of every shitter on campus. Initially he’d hoped to help humanity by identifying group instances of food poisoning. He’d eventually abandoned the idea. Public welfare or not, having a complete record of every campus bowel movement was a cross for someone else to carry. The point was, Doogie was well aware of what could be correlated, inferred, and derived from cell phones. He was not about to let metadata associate him with white collar criminal squirrels.
He tied a length of p-cord to a battered Alphasmart Neo2, typed something on the ample keyboard, and hurled it up and over the branch where the squirrels were waiting.
“An Alphasmart?” Billy whined. “Are you trying to embarrass me?” The Alphasmart, a moronic little teaching device, was long obsolete. It ran on AA batteries, couldn’t think its way out of a paper bag, link to wifi, or support any serious word processing software. It was more a calculator than a computer. They were popular on e-bay with pretentious fiction writers, irrelevant bloggers, and other fools who’d barely evolved beyond crayons. They repulsed Billy. Even the squirrels had an iPhone and they lived in a tree! (The irony that he had an iPhone and lived in a car escaped him.) Like most Americans, Billy was disturbed by Doogie’s insistence in using “just the right amount” of technology. The proper American approach to technology was to use all possible technology. Billy’s pencils were always mechanical.
The squirrels read the crude LCD screen on the battered device. “Hunters can track iPhone. Type on this device instead.”
The squirrels, who had never used a physical keyboard, were impressed by the tactile feel. They were only dimly aware an iPhone’s interface was a touchscreen facsimile of a physical keyboard.
Also, Doogie’s choice in vocabulary (selected after careful consideration) had stuck a cord. He had intended to imply risk and menace. He suspected ‘hunter’ would resonate to a game animal whereas ‘law enforcement’ would mean nothing to them.
“What do you mean hunters?” The squirrels responded. When they finished typing Doogie fed the rope hand over hand and the device descended to his level.
“NSA. Do not use iPhone again until you understand what NSA is. They will kill you.” It was a risky opening gambit. Would the squirrels, like most college students and virtually all college professors, reject information they didn’t want to hear? It was Doogie’s experience that people found it easier to dismiss uncomfortable knowledge as incorrect rather than ponder the alternative; in this case that powerful unseen forces are out to get you.
The squirrels were more clear thinking than college students though. “Turning off iPhone. Explain NSA.”
Excellent! The hook was set! Billy had been negotiating as a form of transportation. In one exchange Doogie had vaulted their value from “drivers” to “protection”. He typed quickly, before they had time to reconsider their nervousness. “NSA monitors all your $$.” Doogie remembered the squirrels used $ instead of dollar. Another indication of their internet only knowledge base. “NSA can track iPhone.” He added.
“Can NSA locate iPhone anywhere? Can NSA explode tree?” The squirrels asked.
That was odd. Doogie indicated assent; along with assurance that the dumb, low-tech, stand-alone, obsolete, Alphasmart NEO was safe from NSA incursion. He sent the device aloft again.
The response from the squirrels was much longer this time; and disturbing.
Doogie paused and waved Billy over. “Do you still have that handheld GPS?” He asked. Billy, in preparation for “bugging out” after “the shit hit the fan” had all sorts of camping equipment in his trunk.
“Yeah. So? You don’t have to get paranoid about that, it’s a receiver only.” Billy wasn’t a fan of Doogie’s fear of the NSA. Everyone with half a brain knew NSA spying was a diversion. It was the Federal Reserve that would ruin everything.
“When’s the last time you updated the Google earth imagery?” Doogie asked, ignoring Billy’s impatience.
“Tuesday. I update everything within a few hundred miles weekly.” Billy was proud of this.
“Get it out and scan everything for as far as…” Doogie paused. “…as far as a squirrel can walk in a day.”
Billy wasn’t happy about this, the tiny GPS screen was for navigation, not sightseeing.
“What am I looking for?”
Doogie grimaced. “I don’t want you to freak out. I just want to see if we can corroborate the squirrel’s story.”
“And I’m looking for what? A pile of acorns?”
“A missile strike.”
Billy held Doogie’s gaze a long time. “You’re shitting me.”
“Improbable things happen all the time. Better safe than sorry.”
Doogie explained to the squirrels that his colleague was examining navigational aids in search of the dreaded NSA hunters. Perhaps they and their bear would like breakfast in the meantime? For the squirrels, he produced a half pound of sunflower seeds, for the bear a five-pound bag of dogfood.
Billy’s search was slow. By mutual agreement nobody was willing to turn on a laptop and the handheld GPS wasn’t particularly good at searching aerial imagery. Doogie munched a stale éclair he’d bought at the gas station and weighed his options. He had a special present for Billy. He would deploy it should his partner (the only person present with a driver’s license) get jittery.
“I found it!” Billy shouted.
He passed the GPS to Doogie who examined the smudge in the satellite overlay. It could be many things, a small lightning strike for example, but it was almost certainly sign of an explosion. If a missile had taken out a quarter acre of forest, this is precisely what one would expect to see. He shrugged.
“The image collaborates the squirrel’s story. It gives me an opening to explain to them what risks they’ve exposed themselves to and why they should retain our services in protection from the NSA.” Doogie grinned.
“Us? Protect them from the NSA? Are you mental!” Billy fumed.
Doogie shrugged again while Billy glared at the GPS and fiddled with the display. “Wait. There’s more.” Billy announced. He’d manipulated the tiny GPS to show a patch of swamp grass near the strike zone. He handed it back to Doogie.
“IT IS ON MOTHERFU…” Billy stopped himself from reading the whole thing. Who stomps epithets into swamp grass? “It seems our friends,” he glanced at the animals who’d forgotten everything save the food, “have quite a story to tell.”
Billy nervously scanned the horizon. Cruise missiles? NSA? Swamp grass messages? Fuck this!
He turned to Doogie, the words on his lips, he was done. Nobody smart becomes an enemy of the state for an Uber tip!
Before Billy could speak, Doogie played his card. He shoved a beer in Billy’s hands. It was cold. Billy realized he was thirsty.
“What’s this?” Billy asked.
“Courage. Drink up.” Doogie smiled reassuringly. “I bought it at the gas station last night. There’s a cooler with ice in your trunk. Two six packs. Bottles of microbrew for you. Cans of Miller for the bear.”
Billy’s objections, his concerns, his worries, were forgotten. He popped the cap off with a Swiss army knife and took a long swig. There’s something epic about drinking beer for breakfast! He considered the situation. His car was filthy. Doogie was a mad genius who’d stashed a dufflebag loaded with something in the trunk. A bear was taking a dump less than 30 yards away. He was already getting used to having the beast in the vicinity. The squirrels we’re lesbian, activist, criminals, that had somehow avoided an air strike. Someone nearby had communicated loud and clear that they were in no mood to put up with the NSA’s shit. Everything around him was hard core.
Billy, was finally amid his tribe. He was a goddamned bad ass too and they all belonged together. It felt… right.
He rooted around in the cooler and grabbed two more beers. That first beer had gone down rather nicely. He popped open his bottle and tossed a can of cheap swill to the bear. It chomped into the aluminum and chugged its contents like a battle-hardened fraternity pledge.
“You still in?” Doogie inquired.
“Yeah! Let’s be bad guys.”
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