You Don’t Exist

You Don’t Exist

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Karen E. Olson is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy this excerpt from Olson’s suspense novel Hidden (2015).

*     *     *

I lift the lid to expose the pristine keyboard, the dark screen. My fingers dance across the letters, the numbers. They bounce slightly under my touch, as if cringing. Like they know.

I rummage around in the box and find a power cord. There is no manual. I can’t stop touching it. I cannot help myself.

I am sitting at the table, staring at the blank screen, when he comes in. He doesn’t knock; he doesn’t ring the bell. I hear the door creak open, then slam. Heavy footsteps in the mudroom.

“What do you think?” he asks from behind me, his breath tickling the back of my neck.

I do not turn around. “It’s beautiful,” I say.

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“Turn it on.”

“No.”

He laughs, comes around the side of the table and sits across from me, the laptop between us. “It’s not going to bite.”

“You have no idea.” I am clutching the power cord in my hand so tightly it’s made an indentation in my palm. I have been struggling with this for an hour. I need a twelve-step program.

“It’s like riding a bike.”

“I fell off that bike, remember?”

He leans back in his chair and stares at me. “You have to get back on.”

This is what I expected when I first saw him here on the island. When he first told me his name.

“I’ve got a job for you.” His voice is low, curling around each word like a snake.

I have not heard those words in a long time, and something moves through me: revulsion followed by a clammy fear, and then the adrenaline of desire sticks in my throat. Not desire for him—the desire to do what he wants, to get that rush again, to feel that power. I force it down, force myself to lift my hand and put the power adapter on the table, close the laptop. I get up and push my chair in.

“No,” I say simply, going to the kitchen. I can’t let him see my face. I know he’ll see it there. I pour myself a brandy, my hand shaking slightly, spilling a few drops on the counter.

His hand reaches around me, takes Steve’s glass from last night out of the dish drainer and sets it down next to mine. “I’ll take one, too.”

I pour it, and we drink.

“Good stuff,” he says, draining his glass.

I nod, trying to ignore his hand that’s settled on my back, his fingers that are gently rubbing my spine. I wriggle away from his touch and back up against the counter.

“I’m done with all that. Anyway, I haven’t touched a computer in fifteen years.”

“Excuses, excuses.”

“I don’t have an Internet connection.” I am grabbing at straws, but he’s right about making excuses. An Internet connection is as easy as sitting in a coffee shop with wireless. I may not have owned a computer in fifteen years, but I do know about wireless. “Even if I did, how do I know it would be secure?”

He leans back in his chair and gives me a long, slow smile. “There are ways.”

I know. But I let him tell me anyway. I am leading him on. Despite everything in me that’s saying no,
I want to know what the job is.

“Virtual private network. It’s not the way it used to be, when we had dial-up. It wasn’t as secure then—you know that. But it’s changed, like everything about the Internet. Now it’s usually for companies to let their employees work remotely, but anyone can use it, too, and be virtually invisible. It’s how the Chinese can get on Facebook.” He sees my expression. “Social media. You hook up with old high school friends—”

“I saw the movie,” I say curtly, but I’m still thinking about VPN. How it reroutes the IP address so no one can trace where you are and logs are cleared every twenty-four hours. “What about subpoenas?” I know about how the law works. How someone can get caught.

“There’s no data retention law here in the States.” There is something in his expression, though, that I can’t read.

“What?”

He sighs. “Some surveillance. Some server raids.”

That’s how it happened before. He knows what I’m thinking.

“It’s not the same. It’s safer,” he says again. “You were doing your thing during the dark ages, and see what you were able to do. It’s easier now, you won’t believe it.”

“If it’s so easy, why do you need me? Why don’t you do it yourself?”

He snorts. “You know I can’t. Besides, you don’t exist, remember? No one can trace it to you…”

*     *     *

Hidden
by Karen E. Olson
Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | RJ Julia

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts Karen E. Olson in the Ives Main Library.

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