I.

Burning into my retinas were the bright whites of the curved CRT monitor. Curtains closed, I tried to focus on the conversation.

“i don’t know, i’m awful shy (^ω^*) u know that,” I typed using my left hand while struggling to tear open a protein bar held between my teeth with the right one. Beneath the beats of my Moe music, I could hear the shrill screams of my downstairs neighbors. I kicked up the volume and kept working. “maybe u should go 1st.”

Another hundred dollars and I could buy a screen from this decade.

“Well, it is not so often I talk to such a pretty girl. I do not want to ruin it. You are very special to me.” The guy typing that was the latest sucker I’d found to catfish. A Pakistani pervert with a large bank account and a small dick.

“oooh, you’re so sweet! (✿◠‿◠)” I was playing the long game. Trying to get this loser to send me some money for “lingerie” in exchange for a picture of my imaginary underage pussy. Being the 24-year-old man that I am, I used pictures acquired through less than legal avenues to really sell the whole show. Can’t say I was proud of what I did; then again, I wasn’t ashamed of it, either. Using child porn to scam pedophiles may fall into a moral gray area, but it didn’t keep me up at night.

As my playlist ended, I heard a knock at the door. Leaving a “brb, my daddy is calling me @[email protected],” I got up and went towards the entrance to my apartment.

Unlatching the two locks I had installed myself, I opened the door to see a familiar face: Arthur Wei, delivery guy and former classmate. Dressed in a neat n’ tidy white dress shirt and black slacks, he held in his hands a watermelon-sized bag of takeout.

“The fuck, dude? I’ve been knocking on your door for like ten minutes! I would’ve left already if it wasn’t for the fact that this is $65 worth of food. What were you doing? Jerking off?”

“I was working, Artie. I have a very sensitive clientele and I can’t just up and—”

“Do you have the money?”

“Yeah, come on in and I’ll find it for you.”

“Are you kidding? Your apartment smells like dirty feet. Just look at it; it’s disgusting.”

I craned my head backwards to see the room I had just come from. Sure, there were some piles of clothes on the floor, a few bags of trash, an empty water bottle or five, and a few Mason jars full of what could be either sweet tea or bodily fluids, but it wasn’t that bad. I had air conditioning.

“Well, if you don’t want the money, that’s fine. I’ll just take the—” I reached out to grab the bag, only for Artie to pull it away. “—food.”

“Okay, let’s make it quick.” He stepped inside and immediately looked up. Three apple-sized water stains adorned the ceiling.

“Afraid it’s gonna fall down?”

“Just get the money, man.”

After grabbing three twenties and a ten from the lockbox in my closet, I turned around to find Artie sitting on my mattress and reading a volume from my manga collection.

“I thought you were in a hurry.”

“Nah, they’ll buzz me when there’s another order.” He pointed to a Blackberry-looking device on his belt. “Not a lot of people order lunch. It usually only gets busy after four.”

“Alright, well, here’s the cash.” I dropped it on the bed next to him. “Your mom make the chicken today? It’s so tender when she does.”

“Nah, May made it.” Artie whispered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “It’s shit.”

“Your sister is working there again? Why didn’t she bring the food? I would’ve loved to see her.”

“Yeah, I bet you would’ve.” He glared at me. “Not a chance in hell I’d let her bring food to a pervert like you.”

“Hey, I’m not a pervert. I just have refined fetishes. And May loves me.”

“She has bad taste.”

“Well, taste is subjective. Anyways, I gotta get back to work, Artie. These noodles are killer.”

“Yeah, I made those. Mind if I get some?”

“Nah, just get yourself a bowl. Above the sink over there.”

“You have any water bottles?”

“Nah, just drink from the tap.”

“Fuck that.” After Artie grabbed his bowl, he saw me giving some more bullshit lines to Kahlil, the Paki pedo. “This is your job? Talking to people on Facebook? May said you were a hacker.”

“I am a hacker. I hack people.”

“You mean you’re a con artist, a fucking scammer. Real cool, dude.”

“I prefer the way I say it.”

“Of course, your way doesn’t sound nearly as lame as the reality of what you actually do. So who’s this ugly idiot you’re scamming?”

“Khalil Khalid Khawaja. He’s rich. Like private plane, silk toilet paper-rich.”

“So what does he do?”

“What does he do? Not much. I’m guessing he’s autistic or something. Look at his profile page, posing with action figures in one picture, then a Bugatti in the next. Far as the money goes, he gets that from his brother, who in turn got it from their father. His brother runs some sort of shipping business, I think. He told me before, but I wasn’t paying attention.”

“So how do you get anything out of this? What are you doing?”

“I pretend to be a nubile young babe and idiots like this send me money, gift cards, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.”

“Why?”

“Well, they’re thirsty as fuck and most of them think we’ll meet at some point. I maintain that illusion. The illusion is key. You’d be amazed at how far you can get with a couple fake profile pictures and an imagination. Most of these guys are too stupid to know how to reverse search an image, but I’m still careful. I use that site where idiots upload selfies so they can see what they’d look like if they were a Hieronymus Bosch painting made of dogs, to collect profile pics which aren’t traceable. The pictures people upload, the unaltered ones, stay on the site forever and search engines don’t pick them up. You’d think people would be suspicious of a teenage girl messaging them out of the blue, but only two have ever suspected anything. Best people to scam are those who will ‘like’ porno pages on their public profiles. Guys like that lack common sense.”

“Two of them, huh…” Artie seemed to be thinking pretty hard while slurping his noodles. “So how many people, not counting those two, have you scammed?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve got a folder with details on all of them here. I create a little document where I save personal information and pictures, so I don’t accidentally say something wrong while chatting. Let’s see. Okay, so I’ve got 117 morons here, minus the two who caught on and Khalil, and that’s 114.”

“You’ve scammed a hundred and fourteen people!? Are you kidding? How much money have you made from this?”

“Well, this is just the catfishing. I’ve got some other games I play, too. As far as money goes, I make enough to pay my bills if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You’re a horrible human being, dude.”

“Hey, these aren’t some cherub faced 12-year-olds I’m ripping off. They’re adults. If they wanna give away their money to strangers, what’s the problem? It’s a win-win situation. They think a girl likes them, and I get their money. Everybody is happy.”

“BEEP-BEEP!” Artie’s device buzzed and beeped at the same time.

“Shit, I gotta go. You wanna, I don’t know, catch that movie that’s coming out this weekend?”

“What, the Disney shit?”

“Well, I mean, it’s not really Disney just because they’re owned by Disney.”

“I’d rather give my cash directly to the federal government and fund Waco 2.0 than give money to the Mouse. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Okay, I was just being nice and May was hoping you’d come, but alright.”
“Wait, May is gon—”

“Too late, prick!” Artie shouted as he slammed the door shut.

With that, I wrapped up my convo with Khalid and put the leftover takeout in the fridge, only to find that I was all out of soda. I grabbed my blue rain-jacket from the closet, slipped on my slippers and Ray-Bans, then headed outside. Even with the sunglasses, the noon light was disorienting.

The complex I lived in, called the Orange Palm, was pretty typical for a lowrent Southern California apartment complex. Shaped like a Spanish Cloister made of stucco, it had two floors and a pool in the center. Three poorly placed palm trees dripped fronds, tree bark, and bird shit into the water several times a month.

I was walking down the stairs, my apartment being on the second floor, when Makis Papadimitropoulos, the Greek owner, manager, janitor, and handyman of the Orange Palm, ran into me. He was a balding overweight man, but whatever hair he lacked on his head, his chest and hands certainly made up for. That day, he was wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt with a wife-beater underneath.

“Will! My Number One Guy! How are you doing today?”

“Well—” Before I could continue with what would have been a series of complaints about water temperature, noisy neighbors, and more, he cut me off.

“Good! I’m glad you’re doing well, Will. I need your help with the Internet again; these bastards are ripping me off!”

Makis, if I’m being honest, was a decent guy. He truly loved the Orange Palm, and wanted to make the lives of his tenants as enjoyable as he possibly could. Sometimes I felt for him; other times I remembered that his good nature was a valuable resource to be mined.

“What’s the problem this time?”

“They say the band, uh, the band something is too much!” The bandwidth; it probably had something to do with me torrenting a terabyte of Japanese pornography.

“Sounds fishy to me, Makis. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Will! You are my Number One Guy!”

I continued on to the vending machine next to the pool, beneath one of the trees. Either the heat or the exercise I’d gotten from walking roughly 30 feet had me sweating. Staring at the selection of sodas. I realized I’d forgotten to grab my money. I turned towards the pool to see if anyone was sunbathing or swimming that could lend me a dollar or two. I was hoping for that Latina MILF, Mrs. Rodriguez, who held yoga lessons in her room. Unfortunately, the only soul there was Pharaoh, an out-of-shape black dude with a penchant for Speedos and the only person in the complex lazier than me. An older guy, he couldn’t quite decide whether he hated the 21st century or loved it.

“Yo, Pharaoh!”

He slowly moved the newspaper off his face and opened his eyes even slower. He waited for me to continue.

“You got a dollar I can borrow for a soda?”

He moved both his hands to his goatee and started stroking. “Well that depends, my brother. You got what I asked for?”

“Yeah, finished downloading last night. Just transferring to the DVDs, so you can actually watch it all.”

“Well, damn, man, that’s what I wanted to hear! Here’s a dollar. You enjoy your soda pop now and don’t forget to bring me those movies.” He was moving his shoulders and gyrating his hips while holding out the bill.

I walked up and tried to keep his lower half out of my line of sight. “I’ll bring them to you before sunset, Pharaoh.” Not owning a computer, he did things the old-fashioned way. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I offered to help him out. It also doesn’t hurt to have the neighbors on your good side when the cops come knocking.

Back in my apartment, I sipped on Dr. Pepper and checked my various inboxes. A few dweebs from my previous jobs were sending me death/rape threats for cutting off contact with them after taking their money, while my current personality, a Miss Maybelline Jones, had just been given a very generous gift from Mr. Khajawa. $1,000 in the form of a Visa gift card. The soda came spewing out of my mouth. That was it; that would have me set for at least the next two months. Tomorrow, I would order my new monitor, along with whatever else I wanted from Ali-Way and Amazon.

With that, I turned off my computer for the day, but not before deleting Maybelline Jones from the Internet. Artie was a bit of a bitch, but he got me thinking that maybe, at the very least, I shouldn’t be fucking with genuine retards like Kahlil.

Drawing back the curtains and opening up my front window, I realized the money wasn’t the only blessing I’d be receiving. Mrs. Rodriguez had a student that day. So I sat back, grabbed the binoculars, drank my drink, and enjoyed the spandex.

***

For all installments of “Cyber Punk,” click here.