Chapter Twenty Five
Back at our apartment, I ask Dasha, “Everything okay in the kitchen? Our lunch was perfect.”
Dasha, “I turn around two plate, presentation no gud. I show chef and Mariella. Ees okay, boy is new.”
Amaya, “What was wrong?”
“Roast biff ees too much gravy, dreep over side of sandwich, also one oyster fall out of sandwich on plate. I say every plate must be peerfect, it ees our way.”
Amaya, “Gee, Dasha, the place is busy, an oyster fell off the sandwich on the plate…”
“Eemaya, you haf to always be perfect just to walk to deli, none of us can lif home wizout peerfect looking or you make fuss. Why not sandwich peerfect?”
Amaya giggles, “Busted. You are, of course, correct. I have decided to change the staff uniforms. Our restaurant is Ultra Violet. I am changing the shirts to violet, dark, not sissy, from the off white we use now. Only the dinner crew, lunch stays the same.”
“Ees gud idea, more sheek.”
Amaya giggles again, “Chic, close enough for a reformed Communist.”
Dasha is immune to Amaya’s pokes, “Dahfoney, I will chee now, you will come.”
Everyone goes back to work, I go upstairs first to check on Daria and Eloise, “Did you have lunch?”
Eloise is grinding something, big safety goggles on her skinny face, Daria says, “Powerbar and tea, busy.”
Good enough, back downstairs to join Dasha in the meditation loft. We go into qi meditation for an hour.
Dasha, “Enough, now we keek dummy, then tea.”
A half hour of banging away, work up a sweat, shower and meet in the kitchen.
“What’s for snacks?”
Dasha, “Cookie, small sweet, we haf Japanese. Tonight we will make steak filet, gahrlik mash potato, wiz vegetable for Janah, beeg salad, we have avocado, romaine, vinaigrette or blue chizz.”
“Sounds good. Hot fudge sundaes will finish them off.”
Tea time, today Chloe and Amaya provide light entertainment, Nikko plays a song and sings. Eloise tears up, she has no idea what they are singing, it’s in Japanese, but the emotion is in the sound. The twins don’t do emotion, still, it’s clear the music soothes them, particularly Daria. Dasha is easier-going, don’t mistake that for easy going, not when it comes to our family, not unless you want a shortened life span.
“Why don’t you check out entertainment offerings, a movie or TV show for after dinner?”
She’s flipping though Netflix, “What ees Lie to Me?’ she asks, then reads me the description.
“Sounds interesting, I’ve heard of it, none of us ever watched it.”
Six thirty, Amaya’s tending bar. I lay out nuts, crackers and cheeses, our cocktail hour runs from a half hour to an hour, it’s open time, they might be on IPads, talking or watching the news, it isn’t structured. Mostly it’s all of that at once.
Tonight, Daria and Eloise have our new toys ready. There are nine of us, five necklaces, four rings. They sip cocktails and nibble, play with the devices, then we plug in the thumb drives. Cool. Pictures are crisp from any distance, audio picks up from ten yards, video zooms to what we focus on. Best of all, like Google Glass, it’s voice activated. We can tell it to zoom in, out, take a photo, record audio, stop, start. Google Glass didn’t work out, which seemed obvious to me. The tech was cool enough, nobody wanted to wear the thing in public, it was dorky and irritated people.
Daria, “We will enhance audio to become listening device, needs more work. We created chain to hold pendant in place. Ring must be pointed like camera, otherwise voice activated. We tried a bracelet, pendant and ring work better.”
Janah, “This is terrific, has Susan seen the finished product?”
“We sent her video and audio, photos. We made one for her, Daphne can bring it tomorrow.”
Nikko is still recording, then she plays it back, “Wow, I don’t even have to talk loud, can almost whisper, it still understands.”
“We will also make it obey your voice only, no interference from other people talking, maybe a month. But then you cannot share device, it will only respond to you.”
Zi, “That’s amazing, I think a toast, to Daria, Eloise and Sis, cheers, well done.”
Glasses raise, “Well done!”
Dinner is different from cocktails. All the tech disappears and we enjoy the meal, sometimes lots of chatter, other times we just eat. There’s not a conversation rule, just how it falls out from night to night. Tonight there’s chatter, we don’t play with our new toys, but we talk about how they might be used.
Nikko, “I think it’s obvious, but they are just for Society work, I don’t want to go around recording daily life or business meetings.”
Janah, “Still good to remind ourselves, this isn’t for privacy invasion, enough of that with mobile phones. Susan can use hers for travel if she wishes, it takes good video and she doesn’t have to hold a camera to her eye. We might also want to record something on our walks, or if there’s an incident where a recording might help and we don’t have to fiddle with a phone.”
“True, just use good sense. It’s already annoying, people pointing cell phones at people without permission.”
Amaya, “They do that with Chloe, even though there are a million photos of her on the website. She has to wear hats and sunglasses most of the time.”
Chloe, “It’s not so bad, I’m used to it.”
“Well, anyway, let’s not become one of them,” I point my ring at Amaya, “Smile.”
She flips me off.
We watch Lie To Me, not bad, Janah thinks the techniques are accurate, and the show reminds viewers every action that ‘tells’ a lie is not always associated with a lie. It’s a probability, requiring further investigation. It’s TV though, it doesn’t stop the characters from leaping to overly-confident conclusions. The pacing is good, not a lot of flab or filler, we decide to follow the series and see how it grows or fades.
Chapter Twenty Six
It’s early, Janah and I are at our private office in one of our Chinatown properties. It has a separate entrance, only a stairwell to the parking lot, there are no windows.
A metal door leads to an interior hallway, in case we have to quietly disappear, but it stays double bolted from the inside. The office is for meetings with people who don’t want to be recognized. There’s a desk, a round conference table, half dozen chairs, a sofa, sink, small refrigerator with a few cans of soda, coffee pot.
The buzzer buzzes, camera shows the Mayor and a bodyguard, Janah taps the button, the ground floor door cracks open, when they’re in the stairwell, the door clicks shut.
“Mr. Mayor, Harv, good morning, coffee?”
Mayor, “That would be great.”
I look at Harv, he says, “I’m good.”
We sit at the table, we each pull a fat Doughnut Plant from the box, Harv doesn’t pass on that, Janah asks, “How can we help you?”
Mayor, “Don’t know if you can, it’s not something I can handle directly, not without further implicating myself.”
Janah, “Not blackmail.”
Mayor’s shoulders shrug, “How you know that?”
Janah, “You aren’t a philanderer, you don’t have a secret gay life, you aren’t in need of money, don’t take bribes, don’t use city funds or campaign contributions for personal use, haven’t even sent women photos of your privates. Best I can tell, you’re not really a politician or you’d be into one or more of those things.”
He laughs, “Oh, I’m not a saint, it’s politics, I have to accept that there are negotiations to everything. But, no, I don’t do any of that stuff. Nobody wants to see my body parts.”
“But something you did do has gone sour and if the public finds out, you get thrown to the media wolves.”
“Yep, and they love it when a public figure can be made to look bad, nobody writes articles about how I don’t steal city money, or I’m loyal to my wife, or I don’t hand out city jobs to friends and relatives.”
“So, someplace along the line, you got into a deal, real estate project, business interest that started legitimate, then wasn’t.”
“Jesus, Janah, I coulda phoned this in.”
“It’s not so hard.”
“I put up a bit of cash for a start-up, just a whim. Was about two, three years before I ran for office. I’m a silent partner, I don’t go to meetings, have no say in the operation of the company. In New York, there is no requirement for a politician to report outside business interests, so I didn’t.”
“Still, if the business got shady, fraud, embezzlement, you show up as a part owner. The obvious take will be what did you know and when, and if you didn’t know you should have.”
“Yep, they’ll just make implications with no regard for the facts, and I helped by not paying attention. I’ve gotten back my original investment, I get my ten percent of profits, that’s all the ownership I have. They made apps. I don’t know an app from first base, but my kids said it was cool, so I took a piece. At the time, it was only twenty five grand. The first app caught on, some kind of news feed, then they made a simple game, interactive with whoever else is plugged in. That did well too. That’s when I got past the original investment, and another hundred grand so far.”
“What did they branch out into? The problem.”
“Online gambling, poker, like that. It’s not legal, it’s not illegal, New York law hasn’t caught up to the current reality. I severed my ties with them anyway.”
“So what’s the problem, sounds like public relations, you announce what you did originally, when you found out the business had branched into a murky area, you got out. Seems more honorable than anything else.”
“Except the poker is fraudulent. They have the game rigged so that players aren’t playing other players, they just think they are. The game looks entirely real but the edge is to the fake players. They let the outsiders win, then one of the fakes has his turn, that one disappears, or loses for a while, but another one starts winning. They did it smart, a few bucks from this game, a few more from another. What it amounts to is there’s a two percent house edge, on top of the cut they take for running the site. All they need is lots of regular players, like Vegas or Atlantic City.”
“Slick, I assume more than a few poker sites have done the same, probably most of them. The cards are dealt by a computer, doesn’t take much expertise to have them dealt in your favor. Still, why not just out them, you would be a hero of honesty.”
“Except I found out from a reporter, a poker player. He turned loose a hacker and poker expert, and together they figured out the scam. He told Harv about it.”
“Ah, and the reporter doesn’t know you had a piece of the business. He goes live and you go dead. If you out them now, it looks like you did it out to cover your tracks.”
“Okay, who’s the lawyer for the company? There’s always a lawyer. He’s got the incorporation documents and your name on them. If you have a copy, that would be good. Then who’s the reporter? I need the name of the company and the principals. You received checks from them, yes?”
“I need your bank account number, where you deposited the checks, if the money was wired, same thing. Incorporation documents were filed with the state, probably the city. You signed things.”
“Okay, we can’t fix that, I think it’s okay though, I have some ideas.”
“What ideas, if it goes bad, it looks like Watergate.”
“If you wanted to go public, you could have, but you’re stuck with the reporter.”
He shrugs, sighs, “I hate this crap. I made an innocent investment of a few bucks, now I’m Nixon.”
“Nixon tried to cover it up, you didn't, not yet anyway. Think it over, your alternative is to go to the reporter, tell him your story, and if he thinks the operation is a scam, you want to make sure it’s busted.”
“Come on, Janah, nobody’s gonna go for that. It’s gonna look like I found out about the story and got scared.”
“Just want you to think over alternatives. I'm thinking of a way for you to be upfront rather than appearing to be hiding.”
“If you pull it off, I’m home free. If I do the other, I’m cooked. Do what you can, if it comes out anyway, I’m no worse off...unless they pitch it as a cover-up.”
“That can’t happen. This meeting never took place, anything we do won’t have your fingerprints on it, you or your staff didn’t hire anybody to do anything, there was no money exchanged, nobody but Harv knows we are involved. I know him, you know him, he isn’t saying jack. Reporter says he talked to Harv, okay, Harv talks to a lot of people, he doesn’t recall a two bit poker scam. It was bullshit in a casual conversation.”
Mayor, “That’s why he’s here, he got the info, and he’s loyal.”
Harv finally speaks, “Not to mention, I got a good job, my boss didn’t do anything wrong, he’s a good Mayor. I pal with reporters for just this kind of thing, feed them some harmless political story, they buy me a drink, tell me about their day.”
Chapter Twenty Seven
Two days later, Black calls, "Guy named Harv called, gave me the reporter's number, I gave him the message, he wants to meet."
Janah, "No meetings, we've already hacked the site, it's a scam."
"Don't waste time, do you? How's it work?"
"Two players at any game are ghosts, they play for the house, but you can't tell that from the outside. Daria calculated the odds of the ghosts drawing the cards they do at slightly better than random, two or three percent in favor of one ghost or the other. That would be insignificant if it was distributed across all players, but it isn't. Always the ghosts."
"How do you tell a ghost player from a real one?"
"That was the simple part. The ghosts don't have any credit card on file, when they lose, they lose nothing, when they win it goes to an account ultimately attached to the house. In the forty eight hours we tracked the action, the house took in fifty grand from the ghost accounts."
Black, "You have it documented in something besides columns of data? Something a reporter could write about in an understandable way?"
"The math side would take a bit of explaining, the actual mathematics. People will get that the software is rigged without an explanation of statistics. The scam becomes obvious because of the ghosts, we can show those players don't have real accounts, and we can show the real players do. We have to be careful, we have their credit card information. A couple of players use bitcoins, which are more difficult to track, but the amount is tiny compared to credit cards."
"I see it. Just evidence there are fake players is enough to bring down the site."
"Exactly. Tell the reporter to be on the lookout for an e-mail with the subject 'poker scam.' I presume you're just a voice on the phone."
"He has no idea who I am, the phone you gave me blocks everything."
Janah, "Okay, call and tell him about the e-mail, it won't do him any good to reply to it, doesn't go anyplace. After you talk to him, call me so I know he's on the lookout for the message, then we send him documentation, he does whatever he does. You destroy the phone, you're out of it."
Black calls in an hour, "Message delivered."
"Okay, stick the phone under your size fifteens, make sure the sim card is destroyed, or just take it out and flush it. Guess we'll be seeing how the Mayor comes out on it."
They disconnect, Janah sends the e-mail, calls Harv and fills him in on the fraud.
Harv, "Sheesh, seems almost too easy."
"It's just a matter of getting enough real players. Their computer controls who gets what cards until there's decent money in the pot. They let real players win the bigger pots, the ghosts have folded by then. The ghosts don't win big, but they lose less. If we weren't inside the system, nobody would ever figure it out, the ghosts are real people, just work for the poker site. Change a screen name, you're somebody else. New York has dithered on regulation and it's created an opportunity to fleece the suckers. What’s your take on the reporter?"
Harv, "He was grateful for the chance to talk to the Mayor. We didn't ask him to slant anything one way or the other, but he'll have a hard time saying we tried to cover up. The Mayor wouldn't have gone along with a cover up, having you to consult was helpful. He trusts you to talk straight, you aren't political, you don't need favors. The most complicated thing Murakami Sylk has asked for is a zoning change to build free schools and that was a layup. Then you take a bunch of foster kids and give them year round care, education and boarding. You have a lot of friends down here."
"And we're going to keep it friendly by trying to help our city, not take from it. They did give us a bit of tax relief on redeveloped property."
Harv, "Nikko took less than was offered, and the sales taxes from businesses that wouldn't have been started and income taxes from people with jobs more than covers it. Your family has been generous in ways the public has no clue about."
"It's how Nikko runs our business. We could make a few percentage points more, it's less important than having people employed, small businesses making a buck. Our city with a bit more revenue."
Harv, "Wish everyone thought like you."
"We'll see what happens in the press, good or bad, the Mayor needs to stick with the facts, some jerk columnist will try and boost readership by innuendo, I suggest he laugh hard and keep circling back to the sequence of events. There's nowhere to go with this that can stick to him."
Chapter Twenty Eight
As so it is. The story hit the paper, the reporter was, if not gushing, at least fair about the Mayor. All the documents supported him, he even listed his original investment and every check he received subsequently. As he said, the last check was three months prior to the formation of the online site. He withdrew from participation before the site even went live. There was no way to connect him to online gambling, much less a scam.
Sometimes it pays to lay your cards on the table.
Janah answers her phone, "Afternoon Mr. Mayor. How's things downtown?"
Mayor, "Much as my opponents want to hang me out, they got no hooks, they're starting to look stupidly vindictive. My people tell me their own supporters are on their ass to lay off. I've been approached by the party about the Governor's race in two years. I'd say I owe you, but you don't do owe, so thank you. I appreciate the ear, and the help. You got me a pass by making me see the advantage of going on offense. I thought it might bite me, but it didn't."
"If you go for Governor, it will be the first contribution we've ever made for an office higher than Mayor. One we will happily break our policy for."
"I suppose getting you to vote is out of the question."
"Don't press your luck."
He laughs, "How do I return favors for people who never ask for any?"
"By staying in bounds. I know politics is a crap business, I admire you ability to rise above most of the back scratching. We have no problem with the realities, just as long as the balance is in favor of regular citizens and nothing goes in your pocket but your salary. Give us that, you have no other obligation."
"My word. Thanks you Janah, thank your family for me. Whoever did the data collection is some sorta genius. Our tech guys were amazed."
"The NSA does this stuff all the time, we just borrowed some of their protocols and added a couple of twists."
Mayor laughs again, "You gotta good sense of humor, it's like a joke, right?"
"Enjoyed talking with you, sir. I'm sure you have things to do, we appreciate the call."
She disconnects, Daria is in the NSA database all the time. What the Mayor doesn't know is we are authorized to be in it, don't need to hack anything, might be more fun though.