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Other People's Problems

Other People's Problems

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Other People's Problems

Longueur:
277 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
Sep 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781465707277
Format:
Livre

Description

Ann “Jetter” Trailey’s life has fallen off its tracks. Kicked out of college and saddled with a drug problem, she has managed to find an oasis of safety as part of a small Internet site catering to voyeurs. There, she drifts through long days putting on a sexy performance for the cameras, finding moments of joy and friendship and dreading her weekly journey into the real world to buy heroin.

But safety is fragile. The army of fans hooked on the pleasures of the Web site has grown restless. Day by day, evidence suggests the location of their house is no longer a secret. As Jetter and her friends rush to figure out what is happening, windows are broken, one woman is attacked and no one knows who to trust.

In the end, her world falls apart. Jetter’s best friend lies dead and she is alone in the world, forced to confront the mistakes she’s made and the long road back to a life she can be proud of. But Jetter has something no one else, even the police, has — a trail to follow in the form of a teenage boy who once showed up blushing at the front door of the Web site’s home. Bit by bit, she begins picking up clues and questions that bring her closer to the murderer. She encounters the people who run things in the darker corners of Miami, and discovers they have plans for the Web site and the people who live there.

In Jetter, I’ve tried to create a character who is funny and intuitive but less cynical than most fictional private eyes. Written in first-person, she approaches each situation with an open-mindedness I think readers can relate to. She encounters friends who stab her in the back, criminals searching for their own sense of belonging and help in unexpected places.
The close world of the people who inhabit the Internet site was fun to create, as well as the life Jetter finds outside its walls. It’s a quick read utilizing sharp, spare language I believe avoids many cliches of genre fiction.
The story concludes with Jetter on the verge of discovering a career path as a reporter, ready for her next mystery.

Other People’s Problems is a slightly off-center take on the private-eye novel, introducing a protagonist trying to rebuild her life as she gets tangled up in dangers she never wanted or imagined. It is humorous, a bit racy and human, with scenes of action and tension.

Sortie:
Sep 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781465707277
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

David Smith has had 30 years experience in the Electronics Industry. Before arriving at MMU he worked as an Electronics Design Engineer for ICL and Marconi. His teaching interests are focused on enabling Design and Technology students to implement microcontroller designs into their projects.


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Other People's Problems - David W Smith

PROBLEMS

PART I

One

The teenage boy at our front door stammered for just a second before finding the words he had carefully memorized. His speech was brief, but he had my attention immediately.

OK. he said. So now I know where you are.

He hitched up his baggy pants, searched my face for a second and then smiled to say this had gone exactly as he’d planned. He had been cool and efficient, standing there on the lowest concrete step.

Didn’t fool me. His eyes were full of fear, but I couldn’t blame him. When I pried back the sticky, heavy wood door, I was wearing a thin, old white T-shirt, cropped well up the belly, with a pair of black short shorts. It was not, I realized as late August heat hit the nicely air-conditioned surface of my skin, really an appropriate costume to parade out in the street. But I tend to stay inside a lot.

We don’t get many visitors here. In fact, the sound of the buzzer stunned the pair of us in the front room for a second. Bethany and I looked at each other like we’d never answered a door before.

The boy’s eyes had bugged for just an instant before he spoke. Now he avoided my gaze and tried to contain a grin. He would have a nice little tale for the boys at the corner grocery store.

As he clearly had said his piece, I found myself on the verge of a stammer. I knew what he meant, but wasn’t sure where he was going with it.

What do you want, kid? It was the best I could do.

He said nothing, but looked past me, anxious to see what was going on inside. A few seconds passed.

Go home son, I said, shutting the door, catching just a glimpse of his disappointment.

The door, swelled from the muggy weather, jammed on the doorframe. I had to smack it with my hip before it would latch.

What was that? said Beth, still resting on the couch where I had been rubbing flowery lotion on her boobs before the interruption.

They’ve found us. Have your things packed and be ready to leave in an hour, I said, sweeping past to head deeper into the house.

Bethany looked at me blankly for a second, then tilted her head back, shut her eyes and ran her own hands over her chest, sighing with impressive enthusiasm. On the pink island of couch sections positioned on lighter pink carpet, she glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

It was a very select group that is supposed to know what goes on inside this house. It certainly did not include a kid I would place at 13 or 14. For you see, our happy little homestead was many things — close, petty, supportive, touchy, argumentative and, I’m told, modestly prosperous — but the Silky Way was definitely not a family show. Our job, indeed the primary focus of our days, was to create an ideal little fantasy world for lonely guys to explore and dream how wondrous life would be if surrounded by five or six lovely women parading about in very little. For just 30 bucks a month, and a high speed connection, our customers got to watch us primp, pose, make toast, undress, argue and occasionally roll about the carpet with one another. Just typical roommates with no jobs, scads of free time, live cameras in the bathrooms and an ocean-size supply of pretty underwear.

It was not the baser side of the business. Indeed, had we gone the route everyone else seems to — cheerleaders shrieking and howling as their man-of-the-hour waves his prizewinning thingy about — we would have been extinguished quickly like almost all lights in the porn universe. But this little operation seemed to hit on a formula that worked. Sex, when it came up, was stagy and brief. In fact, most of our viewers are inclined to switch elsewhere when things heat up. They prefer our brand of kinder, gentler smut where well-lit babes drift across their computer screen, tidying the pillows on our fleet of couches. They watch for hours as we bend over gracefully to pick up CDs left on the floor, vacuum in bikinis or just run our fingers unconsciously up and down our bodies, adjusting and readjusting the lay of a thong.

There were six women living in the house right now — a full stable. I am one of three regulars, with the rest an ever-changing cast of youngsters making a brief stop on their way to the fast-money train wreck at the lucrative end of the business. When you’re bucking to strip in Tampa or make movies in the San Fernando Valley, the comparatively humble paycheck of a Web site vixen won’t content you for long. It had its advantages, however. Customers like to see you frumpy and makeup-free from time to time, drunks can’t offer you rides home from work, and you don’t have to be on the pill. In fact, you can be absolutely repulsed by sex, as long as you’ve got a few acting chops.

Like normal people, we were on task about eight hours a day, lying in the sun, fixing lunch and frolicking in the tiny swimming pool on the west side of our renovated house in a barren corner of Liberty City — Miami’s finest. Most nights we were expected to sleep at Silky Way, but we had time to ourselves, and at least part of our day before the cameras we behaved like relatively normal folk. Our guys lapped up the ordinary moments in life. They would sit for 40 minutes, watching their best girl hold the TV remote or snooze before switching to another room for something with a bit of life. It was theater of and for the absurd, but for eight months we had kept an average of more than 4,000 subscribers while most sites flamed out in no time.

It wasn’t hard work, but you had to keep the show going. Keep a smile on your face, stick your chest out and don’t miss opportunities to give one of your luscious comrades a hungry smooch. If you didn’t, Maxwell would grouse the next time he found you lounging in the camera-free zone.

It was there, our little haven of privacy, that I headed, down the straight west hallway past evenly-spaced doorways.

Camera Free wasn’t much; a long, narrow room with a beer fridge and bathroom at one end and a bank of computers, sound boards, T1 modems and whatnot cluttering everywhere else. It’s dark and windowless and there wasn’t a whole lot to entice you to linger. The table and chairs aren’t comfortable, and Maxwell tends to pick at you when he grows bored fiddling with the cameras or messing with code. Still, it had become our board room, water cooler and therapist’s couch way back in the early days.

Maxwell wasn’t in this late, which was why I headed for the back hallway that led to the zone. Svec, who never grew bored behind the scenes, was the one I needed to speak with.

You see, the kid at the front door had unnerved me. He was harmless enough — looked like a pretty nice young man in an oversized, stripy button-down with rolled up cuffs hanging to his wrists. He had soft features, Cuban or maybe Mexican, and straight hair that fell across one eye in unfashionable bangs — do boys wear long hair now? Nothing he said indicated he knew what was going on inside.

But the boy seemed to know who I was and who we were, and that could not be. You see our customers, and this is a pretty well-informed opinion, are not your normal T and A lovers who bounce from site to site, pausing long enough to find the free stuff. The Silky Way man was not embarrassed to spend time looking at naked girls on the Web. Oh no. Our guys wanted us to know them. They learned our names, discussed the twists in the half-hearted soap opera Maxwell plotted out, and professed broken hearts when one of our ducklings abandoned the nest.

Their e-mail messages had to be answered from time to time by someone pretending to be us — usually Mimi, our pride and joy — and we all attracted a new crush at least once each week. It was all rather sweet in its way. But locate us? We could not allow that to happen. I understand diddly about these cameras and computers, but I know if this kid wanted to, he could mobilize the whole army of Silky Way viewers with an address and a few key strokes. On a computer screen, obsessed fans were pathetic, disturbing and maybe just a little bit flattering. When they stand at your front door, that’s something else.

Svec wasn’t in. He was off in some corner of the house adjusting the light balance or toying with a microphone according to Mimi. I asked when he would be back. She flicked her eyes from the laptop screen a second time, just long enough to screw her expression into a Don’t Know.

Mimi Mendez, wearing lacy panties and a faded Florida State sweatshirt, sat at the circular table that was the center of our existence, her long, right leg crossed over the left at an almost impossible angle. She stared at the screen, wide-eyed, chewing on her upper lip, completely absorbed. She is 30 and beautiful, with a thick mane of streaky auburn hair, huge, chocolate brown eyes and a strong, bosomy body with caramel skin. I love to rub sun screen into the bunchy muscles on her back during her daily tanning session. The Greek chorus out in cyber land had long concluded Jetter — my on-screen alter ego — harbors a powerful, unrequited love for Mimi, which may not be all that far from the truth. Mimi, the unsung keeper of the Silky Way fantasy flame, did nothing to discourage this, writing (for me) long appreciative passages about herself in Jetter’s online diary.

How’s this sound Annie, she looked up again, appearing to notice me for the first time.

"Mimi and I had a great time this afternoon lying in the sun by the pool. She was wearing that sexy yellow bikini that makes her look so hot. I love that suit, I would steal it if my tits were big enough. Mimi keeps talking about this new guy she’s seeing. He sounds like a real morsel, but I’ll wait until she brings him by before I decide if she’s really scored, or just horny enough to take on the first man who buys her a Margarita.

Who am I to talk, though? It’s been months since I’ve had a good guy stopping by to play regularly. I’m ready to attack the next thing in pants …"

Name’s Ann, I interrupted, opening the fridge. And you look like bread dough in that suit.

I sat next to her with a bowl of grapes and began to pop them into my mouth, feeling a little guilty about abandoning Bethany on the couch. She was independent, however. A real pro. The boys would get a good show. Mimi kept typing.

Mimi was spending more time at the computer and less under the scrutiny of the cameras lately. She, above all others, was the performer who put the most effort into Silky Way, chatting with customers in her off-hours and investing her wages in the operation. To our regular viewers she was mother hen and the most aggressive seductress of the gaggle. It was Mimi who provided the shoulder to cry on when we returned from our bad (scripted) dates, and the ample breasts to make the recovery complete. When Mimi was onscreen the plot moved forward and the show was at its best.

I was not good with the word part. I can’t type, don’t like dirty words and my flights of fantasy end up sounding like mundane reality. Maxwell, after red-lighting a long passage I wrote for Bethany espousing her love for older men ("I really go crazy for men who take care of their families"), suggested I might prefer spending more time in the onscreen rooms. OK with me. I do my job well enough, and Jetter attracts her share of admirers.

I’m not beautiful. Not the way Mimi is. I’m short, with skin that doesn’t tan and I can’t grow my nails long without them turning horror-movie ragged. I do have nice wide shoulders, in my defense, and a long neck I try to emphasize by chopping my hair in a short, sloppy crop. I’m skinny and small enough not to threaten customers with complexes, and my butt looks presentable enough onscreen. For this I give thanks almost entirely to the skill of Svec, certainly not to exercise.

Shoulders and necks may not sound like our bread and butter, but as Svec puts it, guys don’t have the faintest clue what really sets their motors running. Svec is my current father figure, Silky Way’s genius tech-man and the best example of real manhood you’re going to find around here.

I’m also the only girl with really dark hair. I mean jet black. Helps to stand out a bit.

Listening to Mimi type, I grew sleepy, and let my head doze down into my arms. I vaguely registered Svec returning to his bank of computers, and wondered if he’d ask why Bethany had been left to fend for herself. Half asleep, I decided not to tell him about the boy. I couldn’t remember exactly what he had said anyway. And it probably wasn’t my problem.

In that windowless room, you could still tell the afternoon light was dying. Silently, the three of us waited for night.

Two

My bed was placed so the morning sun lit me to best advantage when I rose and greeted the day, usually around 8 a.m. or so. It was the heat coming through the tinted window that woke me this morning, settling on my shoulders where the quilt had crept away during sleep. I stretched, yawned and dutifully started my morning exercises.

This meant more stretching, rolling about, and gradually working the covers down past my knees, inch by inch revealing the human body kept modest by a mere little trifle of fabric. One of Maxwell’s mantras is that a little is much better than nothing, and I won’t argue with that. As I struck a few fetching poses, the camera above the door whirled and hummed. This meant Maxwell was in early, recording events in Camera Free. The boys would see my morning glory in sharp focus and flattering angles.

After their taste, I stumbled to the bathroom I share with Bethany, rubbing my eyes until fiery light bloomed under the balls of my hands. A night owl, she would not stir until at least 11, so the bathroom was mine. Like most mornings, I felt pretty awful, sick and congested from my brain down to my toes.

Our bathroom, straight down the hall from the kitchen, was an impressive bit of design. Two cameras kept the public informed on events in the shower and sink areas, while the toilet and personal shelves were sunk back into a generous alcove where no prying eyes could see. Predictably, the shower area was spotless and clutter-free, while bottles of assorted creams, lotions and other gunk practically spilled out of the private sector. After relieving myself, I pushed the reachable clutter aside and prepared to start the day. This meant finding my little zippered shaving bag behind a few items on the toiletry shelf, dripping sterile water and pale powder into a bent spoon contraption, and setting the whole thing to boil over a candle flame perched on the cool tile floor. While waiting, I pulled the plastic cap from a new syringe, and loosened the top on a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

For this reason, Ann Jetton Trailey of New England chooses to call the softly-lit couches and carpeted passageways of Silky Way home. Drug addiction has been part of my life for a little over a year, stemming from some character dent I’m still trying to figure out. Somehow this careful, quiet girl who likes to read became a careful, quiet drug abuser.

I still read. There were no sordid episodes — no selling my body on a bare mattress or braining old ladies for Bingo money. But I had experienced just enough of junky life to know a moment of safety was a blessing beyond all others. As a body on display to the masses, I could afford to buy the very best, cook my heroin in a luxury bathroom and see to the cleanliness of the whole operation with a level of obsession to make the crankiest nurse proud. I spent my days drifting from lounge chair to overstuffed couch, barely thinking about the men and, women (yes, a few) watching my actions. Life is easy when the performance cues are set for you.

I have thought about a lot of things in the seven or eight months I have lived here, not the least of which was leaving. But even in the fiercest throes of self loathing there was a fact I could not escape. This was safe for now.

Outside, I was just one day away from a much darker, much nastier world.

Growing antsy, I moved the spoon from the flame, and drew the liquid into the syringe. Shifting on the toilet seat, I pulled my right heel up toward my thigh and twisted my body until the ankle came into view. Dabbing it with a bit of the alcohol, biting my lower lip, I darted the needle into a vein just inside the wing of a butterfly tattoo. I never will get used to shots.

And then, a moment of purest anticipation. As the shifty, drifty warmth of the heroin pushed aside vague sickness of morning, I gathered up my toys — closing the tiny plastic bag, wiping off the spoon, and dousing it with alcohol before placing it in its own fresh sandwich bag with handy Ziploc seal. The candle would join half a dozen others melting on the back of the toilet. Finally, after stowing the zipper bag, I rolled the syringe in toilet paper. It would come with me back to the bedroom.

Thus bolstered, I stretched, stroked and posed like the pro I am through a long shower, accompanied by the whine of the camera zooming, whirring and focusing on every relevant patch of skin. Afterwards, wrapped in a giant towel, I threw on some makeup and finger-buzzed my hair. Clutching the remains of the morning’s toilette in my fist I trudged back to find a fetching getup for Jetter. It would be a big day for her. She was scheduled for a bit of lovey dovey with Jackie Finn, the newest girl. I should pick up dry cleaning and it’s my turn to captain the dinner prep.

My argument for driving such a crappy car was that I had no use for machines, didn’t like them and was just waiting for my old Honda to die so I could rid myself of it. The excuse didn’t hold up too well, as public transportation in this part of Liberty City was almost non-existent and you wouldn’t want to spend too much time waiting for a bus anyway. Truth was, with my chemical needs and driver’s insurance, I had to be careful to set aside enough money for my end of the grocery bill. We were given a small clothing allowance, and our happy little sex-and-fantasy cooperative filled most material needs. But you might be surprised how little we make.

Car repair payments terrified me. I always hated it when one of the other women asked for a ride. Sooner or later, someone was going to ask why I wasn’t getting brakes fixed that clearly needed fixing, and I wasn’t going to have a very good answer.

I was alone today, however, and in too good a mood to worry about my shrieking brakes, cracked windshield, crushed seat padding or wobbly transmission. The mugginess had withdrawn for the moment, and I was content to enjoy the warm air, taking time while I dropped by the cleaners, drug store and mega-megopolis food store. I packed milk, chicken and eggs in tight with the frozen peas and ice cream, because I had one more stop to make before retreating back behind fortress walls.

In books, nice people who take lots of drugs always buy their supplies from a kindly street character who harbors a secret concern for their well-being. This dealer would finish out the story realizing his or her dream to get out of the business. Or, of course, dead.

This was real life, however, and purchasing dope occupies the low point of even the worst day. My dealer was a Haitian named Michael who didn’t care about me or any of the sad characters knocking about in his wake. To buy from Michael, you had to know and follow the rules or you were out of luck. After fighting traffic into Coconut Grove, you had to stop near a public kiosk in a park, and note which corner the orange flier was stapled. This told you where Michael was doing business that day. Once you’ve parked — all locations were sketchy apartments divided out of houses with spaces for cars in back — you had to convince Michael you hadn’t visited in a week or so. Sounds easy, but Michael has a lousy memory and pretty weak English. You also had to let him know what you wanted without actually saying what it was you wanted.

Once inside, there was no talking. You could expect to wait a while

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