CyberSpiracy (Thriller, YA, Fiction)

"CyberSpiracy is an entertaining, fast-paced read with a main character that is quirky without sacrificing relatability and who, through her intelligence and skills, embodies the overall message that girls can do anything, from coding to singing to running a country. It's a commendable message and something that as a reader and woman I really appreciate." - Indie Book Club

"CyberSpiracy is stellar. I see the movie in my mind when I think about his story line and unforgettable characters. I cannot recommend this author more highly. This man can write." — Toni K Pacini, Author ~ Poet ~ Storyteller~ Speaker 

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1. Pink Paradise

Hacking computers can end your life. Permanently. So can stupid crushes. I survived cause I have a friend in the highest place, and she mega owes me. Besides living through it, I know all the details from the top-secret Fibbie report classified by Federal Executive Order 13927. The girls and boys from the Federal Bureau interviewed everyone who knew anything. They also grabbed recordings that anybody made out of sheer stupidity or to cover their butt.

I know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So if you want to hear the story, raise your right hand. Cross your heart and hope to die.

It all began on a dark and warm (in my room) October day. I rarely go outside.

I love my room. It's safe—the way hacker girls like it. At least, I think so. I don't know many hacker girls. Actually, none besides me. More precisely, I met none in real life. Online, girly profile pics, avatars, or handles prove nothing but earn mega mean comments. Many hacker boys look down or despise us. Girls can't hack. Or code. So they say.

Don't get me wrong. I have many hacker friends, and we get along just fine. None have been to my room, natch. Being guys, they'd probably find it weird. And girlish.

Others have “Don't Enter” signs taped to their doors, but I'm not a kid anymore. Some let my five foot one and a quarter inches and my hot-pink ponytail fool them.

But this year, I celebrated my Sweet Sixteen by starting college. Virtually. MIT lets me take all the computer science courses online thanks to my parents' generous donation. My family can afford it. In Virginia, the Allertons go back forever. Like Jamestown forever. Don't get me started. Yes, the settlers began to leave, but the supply fleet arrived just in time. Trust me. Father told me his father's story mega million times. But I digress.

[Check the colony's history]

My door has Hello Kitty stickers all over it. Nothing wrong with that. They're pink, cute, and tell Mommy where my room is. I don't have any other visitors. Not even Father (smiley face 😘).

The room has windows, but I always keep the heavy curtains closed. Bright light wakes me up in the morning. Besides, too much snooping going on with all the cameras and stuff. I don't need anyone taking pix of my screens. Not while I'm surfing dark places.

My three monitors give me all the light I need. Mommy bought me a prototype laptop with foldout panels so I can have the class notes, assignments, and an editor up at the same time—at least that's what I told her. Hacking takes center stage with multiple windows full of Python and JavaScript code to take over a website. The left screen shows social media feeds from sixteen separate accounts I created. Don't want to make it too easy on the Fibbies while I'm keeping up with what happens on the Net. On the right, I monitor the important apps, my voice changer, streaming news, and the Katy Perry channel (#GirlPower).

[ Leia the Laptop]

So that October day, Vice President Sarah Drummel probably again bashed her fav target North Korea during her campaign speech. I had muted her to sing along to “I Kissed a Girl,” but Mommy interrupted me with a knock.

[Experience the Song]

Edith is a gorgeous Southern belle in a business suit, if you can wrap your head around that. I can see why Father wanted her on his arm. But don't underestimate Mommy. Her name's really Editta, but as head of Intercomm, one of Richmond's (and Virginia's) leading communications companies, she'd rather not show her Italian roots. She had enough grief about her ethnic name in school. Kids are kids, but my proud Granny Ita can trace her lineage all the way back to the Renaissance and insisted on keeping the names from the old country.

Mommy opened the door partway. “Lasagna's waiting.” She played on my Garfield-like addiction to her pasta casserole loaded with tomato sauce.

Always happened when I sang my fav tunes while coding something mega important. “Can I eat in my room? I'm in the middle of homework.”

“As much as you love it, that computer is not your family.”

“Five minutes. Pretty please.” I know she's a softy.

“I'll keep it warm, babycakes.”

Mommy closed the door, and I could have finished the song and the program, or so I thought. My fingers flew across the keyboard, but a group chat popped up with cartoon avatars for Master Leg0, DEFCON0, and FlashM. We were as close as hackers get, but that didn't mean we showed each other our real faces. Their wisecracks about my pink hair would have never ended. If they'd talk to me at all.

Fortunately, hackers are camera-shy, even the good ones that protect us from evil. We prefer showing pix from cartoons or fantasy epics. Once video chat becomes the thing, I'll have to get a rad visual effects program.

In a voice I synthesized from the movie, Leia announced, “Chat from Lego.” Yes, I named my laptop after the Star Wars princess (#MegaGirlPower).

I donned my wireless headset so Leia could understand me better. Plus no hidden microphones could eavesdrops on what anybody told me. Okay, maybe I'm paranoid, but that doesn't mean the Fibbies aren't out to get us hackers. Ditto the Secret Service. Or the NSA. Or the IRS. Never mind cybercriminals in Russia, China, or the European Union. It's a cyberjungle out there. And, vitally, the headset made me one of the boys. “Answer chat.”

Leg0 lived close to me, near the Department of Defense in Arlington and across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. He loved showing us video of his room full of things built from Lego electronics kits, like futuristic buildings, flying cars, jet planes, robots. Calling him fanatical missed the point. His parents didn't have a Pentagon budget to buy him laptop prototypes, so he'd scrounged together multiple computers, monitors, and many other hacker gadgets including a converter to tap into the RG-6 TV distribution coax cable that ran haphazardly across his desk and through the wall to the outside.

[Virginia Maps]

His high-pitched, child-like voice was more hyper than usual. “I've done it. Check my private channel, guys. Decrypted live video of Russian bombers in our airspace courtesy of the Pentagon.”

I brought up the Darknet website that he hosted at home, and, no kidding, it showed two Russian TU-95 bombers from the point of view of a trailing F-22 fighter. Weird, in the age of jets, to see huge planes with propellers, but they still ferried nuclear bombs around for the Russian Federation. The running timestamp proved his boast. He did it—hacked our Defense Department's encrypted battlefield live streams coming in from all over the world. Every military intelligence service would kill for that capability, literally.

“Rad, man.” DEFCON0 was older. As you could tell from his handle, short for DEFense readiness CONdition 0, a made-up alert state beyond thermonuclear war, he loved shooter games. He ranked in the Call of Duty World League. “How did you get into the Pentagon?”

“Didn't have to. Took it right off the satellite feed. Untraceable.”

Online, I'm Cowabunga Dude, a surfer's nickname with a nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I picked a cartoon version of Michelangelo's grinning face as my avatar, natch. “Mega.”

[Cowabunga's Avatar]

“I know a vlog that will pay heavy Bitcoin for an exclusive. Can you say new accelerator board?” Leg0 had cryptocurrency signs in his voice. What happened to his previous high-minded view about these bomber intrusions into our airspace? Act tough and let the Russians know who's boss. Reveal the truth to force our military brass to take a stand.

“So mega-mega, Lego, I'm jealous.” When I spoke, two different dancing waveforms filled the black windows of my voice changer app. To the boys, I sounded like a hunk.

“Mjolnir Twenty-One, stand by for orders.” The distorted audio from the Pentagon feed suggested an Air Force general barking at a speakerphone. So rad that we could also listen in on the mega secret convo in the Sitch Room.

2. Mega-Situation Room

Sarah Drummel entered the White House Situation Room unacknowledged. Nothing unusual that nobody paid attention to her, but still aggravating after four years. Vice presidents throughout history had received no respect for their limited role in the US government, often relegated to waiting for their bosses to die. Add in the lack of female representation among general and flag officers, and she had to fight twice as hard to gain any credibility in national security matters. Only since she had to shoulder the burden of a presidential candidate had she even received briefings, almost exclusively from male analysts.

All the Joint Chiefs of Staff and most of the political members of the National Security Council sat around the huge table, at its head the empty chair of President McCable. He awaited surgery for a heart condition. His incapacity led to her first time in this inner sanctum of power.

The big screen against one wall showed the feed with the TU-95 bombers. Smaller screens displayed maps with the flight route along the north coast of Alaska and tables of data from and about the aircraft involved on both sides.

Her knuckles touching the soft wool of her suit, she angled her arms at her sides and took a power stance in front of the heavy double door. “What happened to standing for the commander in chief?”

All attendees stood.

The difference one word made. As vice president, she had no constitutional military responsibilities whatsoever. Lose the prefix, and everyone jumped as high as she commanded. Four years of humiliation finally paid off. She sat down in the President's chair.

The men retook their seats.

With a military mission on the agenda, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs turned to her. “Madam Vice President, this is a routine—”

“President! Until ex-President McCable comes out of surgery, I'm in charge.” What a delight for her to correct the past injustices.

“Yes, Madam President.”


“This is another routine incursion by Russian bombers. The fighters will escort them out of our air space.”

Drummel tapped her fingers. Everybody knew McCable had picked her to garner the women's vote. She delivered, and since then had spent more time twiddling thumbs than most of her predecessors—common gossip in Washington. The President's failing health saved her from continuing to wait idly in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the periphery of the real seat of power. A show of strong and confident leadership would convince the men in the room that she belonged here forever. “How many this year?”

“Dozens. It's routine. They merely want to provoke a—”

“How many engines does that thing need to fly?”


Typical condescending male. At least, she had everyone's attention. Time to take a stand for women in government and everywhere else. “You heard me.”

The look on the Chairman's face, priceless. Shown up by a female commander in chief, he beat a retreat back to his old-boys network and looked to the Chief of Staff, US Air Force for an answer.

The graying man in a dark-blue dress uniform stared down and played with his brass buttons. “A Bear bomber can stay airborne with two engines, but—”

“Shoot out one.” Her opportunity to show her military mettle honed through watching hours and hours of war movies in her office. The top actresses would claw each other's eyes out to play the leading lady when Hollywood filmed the biopic of one Sarah June Drummel.

The Chairman objected. “Madam President, there's a high risk—”

She knew why she had strenuously opposed the appointment of that coward as principal military adviser to the President, but McCable ignored her. Tragic for her that word of her disapproval had leaked. Soon it would no longer matter that the Chairman held a grudge. She made sure he got the message. “We need to show these Russkies that I will not tolerate this kindergarten behavior once I'm President.” 

“If you win in two weeks.”

“Or McCable dies today.” The only real benefit of her job, the constitutionally guaranteed line of succession. She had the guts, and now the power, to shake up career military brass who preferred to keep their cushy jobs rather than deal with real problems.

Stunned silence best described their reaction. High and mighty men avoided each other's eyes to escape shouldering responsibility. The Chief of Staff of the Army sank so low in his seat he threatened to vanish completely. Cowards. No question why God had preordained her rise as their boss.

“With such an aggressive act, we could be provoking World War III.” The Chairman regained his posture.

“We?” Thanks to the regular security briefings, she no longer had to rely on journalists snooping out details of the Russkies' belligerent behavior. “How often have their planes thumped ours this year? Isn't that an aggressive act, flying by so close we can feel their jets' wash?”

“Well, yes, but they've been doing that throughout the Cold War.”

“And after sixty years, I'm ordering an end to their childish games right now.”

The Chairman nodded to the Air Force chief. “So ordered.”

He pressed the talk button on the center phone console. “Mjolnir Twenty-One, disable one engine on one of the intruders.”

Accompanied by radio static, the pilot's voice sounded from the console. “Please confirm, sir. You want me to target an engine on the bandit?”

Did all these recalcitrant men deliberately sabotage her efforts, or were they truly this dense? She rose, leaned across, and slammed her hand on the table. “Molnir Twenty-One, this is your commander in chief. Fry one of those engines. This is an order.”

“Roger, ma'am.”

At least, the military chain of command worked in her favor. Crosshairs appeared on the video feed. The Image zoomed in on a turboprop engine of the bomber.

“Moving in. Mjolnir Twenty-Two, stay back.”

Bright tracer rounds streamed toward the target. Flames engulfed the propeller. Smoke billowed. A dark object dropped out of sight. Drummel folded her arms. What glorious success in her first battle. The military would learn to respect her. And bringing the Russkies to heel would play well with her base. It might even cement her election victory.

Mjolnir Twenty-One confirmed the visuals. “Target hit. Falling back.”

The image zoomed out. A bright flash engulfed the two bombers. The feed went dark. A soft crackle of static provided the only soundtrack.

The camera must have failed. How could the unimaginable become reality? Impossible. Never would she have ordered an attack if she had reckoned with such stupidity among Russian air force generals. Never. Drummel stared down the center console. All the power it bestowed upon her mere moments ago had vaporized in a flash.

Everyone gaped at the big black screen or a smaller one with satellite video showing flaming debris raining down from dissipating smoke.

The Chairman gave a quizzical look to the staff sitting in the second row.

A young captain removed her earbud. “I'm sorry, sir, all signals lost from both aircraft, including the…” Her voice cracked. “…transponders.”

Arms flailing, the Air Force chief jumped up. “This is madness. What maniac sends live nukes on an incursion into our airspace?”

A valid question that absolved her. Russian imbeciles killed their aircrews and two American pilots.

Not her fault.

Chin up. Drummel stiffened her shoulders and surveyed the men in the round.

Those eyes no longer glued to the blank screen pierced the armor of her competence and questioned her judgment.

Not her fault.

These men had to understand that she made the only decision possible under the circumstances. She wouldn't take the fall for Russian ineptitude. Certainly not this close to her election.

She had to keep a lid on the deaths for two weeks. Fortunately, national security trumped all other concerns, including relatives and reporters' right to know. “The Russkies will keep their mouths shut. This … incursion is Code Word classified. You'll have an executive order within the hour.”

The Chairman raised his hand. “PNSN, Berkeley, the Prep Commission, they'll all know. You can't hide a nuclear explosion, even in remote Alaska.”

No man would rain on her parade. “This is a national security matter. Deal with it.”

With a spirited shove, Drummel pushed back the large chair, rose, and strutted to the door. She'd shown the men her abilities and shut their mouths. Victory called. They had better not fail her in the next two weeks. Or else.

"I absolutely love that the protagonist is a young woman who kicks ass in the world of computer coding and has a hand in saving the free world by making sure that democracy stays intact while falling in love, These stories are an important and empowering voice that deserve to be added to the landscape of the Young Adult canvas." — Valerie J Runyan, Author, Quandaries of Love

CyberFurry (Thriller, YA, Fiction)

CyberFurry Cover

1. High Afternoon

Surviving my shoot-out required good posture. I took my usual stance, feet shoulder width apart, hand at the ready next to the tan holster. High Afternoon. Okay, I made up that phrase, because we can't duel at High Noon like in that old black-and-white movie. Not as easy to fight as in the Old West. We have law and order here in Richmond, Commonwealth of Virginia, a part of the Old South. 

[High Noon Scenes]

I know, I know. Guns and I don't mix. But last time I saved the world, this mega creep fired twelve shots at me. TWELVE. And I could do nothing. NOTHING. Better safe than mega sorry. No. Terra sorry!


To pretty up the ew, I dressed the part of a cowgirl. Right down to the hat. Not one with a giant crown like a Cattleman or Carlsbad. My five foot one and a quarter inches could drown in those.


The kids I dueled with only know me by my handle, my hacker name, Cowabunga Dude. But like any lady, I wear a petite, flat Gaucho hat. Matching my hot pink ponytails, natch (as in “naturally”—when you code programs all day, you obvi save characters whenever possible). Had to settle for a Halloween-costume version in a paler color, but it came with cute white lace strung around the brim. Perfect for my white-and-blush dress. Hello Kitty couldn't stand prouder herding cats.


No way around the ugly rawhide pouch and belt, however. Standard issue. Made things fair. Even Gigasploit with all his daddy’s money couldn't buy a win. Better for us two girls already handicapped by going against boys raised on horrible first-person shooters. Bad enough that with the long belt the holster hung low on my right hip no matter how high I pulled the other side. Got used to it.


Focus. Flexing my fingers warmed them up for the showdown. My pinky joint crackled from the tension.


Gig acted out his best Lone Ranger impression in a blue shirt, red hanky around his neck, and a white Stetson—a real one. No mask. He probably wanted to wear it. Age fifteen, he was the baby of the Ad Astra Hacker Club. Okay, I come in second with only a year and two months (precisely 6.627% of my life) on him. But the rest of our members weren't that childish. Most played hooky from college (me included).


I know. I joined a hacker group in real life. Me. With boys. IRL. But surviving a hellfire missile in my secret mission for POTUS, the President of the United States, built courage. I could take on anyone. Almost.


Fair fight. Gig and I stood equally tall. Not that size mattered here.


I waited for the signal, ready to snatch the black grip. Had a rep—as in reputation—to lose. Everybody’s eyes bore into my back. Maybe sweat ran down Gig's face too. My gaze fixed on the area that counted.


 Our fearless leader, M0sc0wb0y, handled the formalities with a Russian accent. “Ready.”


The howling theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly haunted my head. I'd studied all the famous onscreen duels. One shot. One chance. One win. All or nothing.

[Experience the Song]



Calm down. Cold air filled my lungs and quenched the flames. Free your mind and your body will follow. Blankness took over.




Quick draw. Point. Hold my breath. Pull the trigger. Yank the plastic pistol down to increase my chance of hitting something.


Two laser beams shot across the smooth concrete of the loading dock. Almost simultaneous beeps announced both hits. The different angles of the light told the tale. The wannabe Lone Ranger next to me had chickened out. Aimed for the safe area—and a low score. Victory.


Standing tall like Mommy taught me, I blew imaginary smoke from the tip of the bar code scanner. “Deputy Marshal Kitty Earp always gets her mango.” My markswomanship rivaled the Old West lawman famous for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but I couldn't really call myself “Wyatt.” 

[Wyatt Earp]

I handed the gun to M0sc0wb0y. His finger caressed the back of my hand. Just a light touch. Accidental perhaps. Sparks raced up my arm and caused a jerky withdrawal. Involuntarily. Perhaps.


He checked the displays. “Gig's peachy, but CD nailed the mango again.”


We didn't shoot each other. Totally uncool. And dangerous. A laser in the eye could cause mega damage. This place had industrial-strength scanners. They could hit the top pallet on a four-level rack if they'd fit in this one-story building. Some manager bought a wet dream of expansion.


When we discovered the soup kitchen closed after lunch, we kinda invited ourselves in. A worn-out lock on a skylight helped, so technically we didn't commit breaking and entering. We just borrowed the space for fun and games in person rather than only meeting online. It also let us take advantage of their inventory in the warehouse behind the storefront, but only for target practice. No stealing from those in need. Or bothering anybody.


Most of the square building held long metal racks and huge refrigerators full of foodstuff. A few windows let us see outside—and allowed passersby to snoop. Fortunately, a lawn separated us from the street. Plus, we stayed as far in the back as possible, where the aroma of oregano, garlic, and cornmeal summoned Mommy’s Italian-American aura to watch over me.


Separated by the customary twenty short paces, each shooter faced a pyramid of stacked fruit cans with barcodes showing. Edges, including the seven-can base, consisted of pineapple topped with a solitary mango. Peaches made up the inner triangle with a single cherry center. The heart gave the second most points, twenty, since a bad aim might still hit another fruit. Only the best risked shooting the surrounding air by targeting the head for thirty. Those hitting the non-vital skin earned a measly five.


Dragone, our second in command and official scorekeeper, added the results on his tablet computer. The legendary creature in his handle hinted at his Chinese heritage. He competed with me for best fashion sense. His tight black slacks and ankle booties would fit in at any hip New York City nightclub.


“Cowabunga leads by fifteen.” The app he'd coded showed the tally, complete with colored fruit symbols for every hit making up the score.


Ad Astra Hacker Club

 Laser Canned Tournament

 1. Cowabunga Dude   255   🥭🥭🥭🥭🥭🥭🥭🥭🍑🍍

 2. M0sc0wb0y           240   🥭🥭🥭🥭🥭🍒🍒🍒🍒🍑

 3. Dragone          225   🥭🥭🥭🥭🍒🍒🍒🍒🍒🍍

 4. Gigasploit          205   🥭🥭🥭🍒🍒🍒🍒🍒🍑🍍

[Full Chart]

No surprise who led the rankings. I learned from the best Spaghetti Westerns. That, and a lot of practice.


Time to visit my babies. “I need a break.” A table held my laptop bag and a small, tubular pet carrier. Don't leave home without them. In front sat my white, double-walled plastic tumbler decorated with Hello Kitty stickers. Amazing how each duel parched my throat. I toasted and chugged the water like a fine barrel-aged whisky. Tasted the same to me in my imagination. Didn't know much about hard drinks. 

[On the Table]

My fan club of boys surrounded me and complimented my score. Not sure how they really meant it. Both girls in the club got a lot of attention.


Gig sidled up to M0sc0wb0y behind my back. They didn't get why I hung out in front of the huge refrigerators with polished steel doors. A paranoid girl needs her mirrors, and not just to check her mascara. The tongue-tied boys usually expressed their admiration with thumbs up or other gestures, but I could also eavesdrop by turning my head slightly.


“Moscow.” Gigasploit’s hushed words barely covered the nervous cracking of his knuckles.


“What's up, Gig?” In preparation for the next duel, our leader wiped a scanner pistol clean with a blue microfiber rag he brought from home. More hygienic. And left no fingerprints. Just saying.


“Er, are you two, er, is she…”


“I wish. CD had some bad experiences with boys.” The scanner joined its twin on the table. “Are you interested?”


Even in the fuzzy reflection, Gig’s red-faced silence could compete with the pale tomatoes left to ripen next to him.


M0sc0wb0y pointed at my fan club. “Line starts there.”


It’s complicated. I really liked our glorious leader. Tall. Smart. Debonair (learned that from a romance novel). And so much older than me. Twenty-two. He had no idea MIT accepted me into their computer science program at only sixteen. With a generous donation from my parents, I could take all my courses online. No more bullying. Middle and high schoolers don't like the smartest girl in class.


Police sirens invaded my non-romance, making my shoulders jerk. Visible through the glass door of the store, a black sport utility vehicle with flashing lights stopped at the curb. Suddenly the temperature inside reached boiling point. Two stereotypes in suits and sunglasses sat in front. Seen it before. Federal Bureau of Investigation. If the Fibbies only knew that they'd cornered kids playing fruity games.


“Code Red! Code Red!” Dragone alerted all delinquents at the top of his lungs.


Everybody rushed for their designated door or window. Leave it to our general to have planned out the most efficient escape for a dozen hackers trapped in this building.


M0sc0wb0y’s hot hand pulled me toward our way out.


“Wait. My babies!” I broke free and snatched the laptop bag and pet carrier. Clutching them close, I followed my knight in shining leather jacket to the side door.


A glance out the small window showed the deadly flaw in his plan. He'd assigned us an exit next to the front entrance, close to his BMW.  Fifteen long steps in the line of sight of the two agents coming from the SUV. My punishment for his brain fog from many all-nighters hacking away at something. He wouldn't tell.  And I'd never find out once we have separate cells. Not to mention, Mommy having a heart attack when she got the news.


M0sc0w pulled out his remote starter. Seriously? Outrun the Fibbies and race them in his Bimmer (Don't get me started—purists like him only call the motorcycles “Beamers”)? Sweat seeped through my dress before my feet even took a step.


Rattling noises came from the other side of the dry wall. Not much protection against real bullets.


Lucky break. Instead of smashing the locked glass door, the incompetent agents disappeared around the corner. No backup to guard our escape route. Yay.


We bolted into the open. Ten steps to go.




The backdoor of the SUV swung open. Trapped. The Fibbies had hidden backup. “Cowabunga Dude.” A familiar voice shouted my name.


All that drama for nothing. My heart went from hundred to zero in 1.4 seconds. He still did that to me. “Derek?” Could my relationships get any more complicated, please? My first crush shall remain banished from my mind. Then came Derek. Digital Media Director turned staffer to POTUS. And married. 'Nuff said. I know how to pick 'em.


To the deafening sound of my heart pounding in my ears, he leaped from the SUV and came over, my maybe-boyfriend eyeing him with suspicion. Lovely. A jealousy drama where neither of the two knew the tingles that swept through me each time I saw them. Someday I'll tell one of them. Perhaps.


Derek deserved a jab to his ribs.


As a Southern belle, I only elbowed out a polite nudge. “You! Mega heart-attack.”


“I'm sorry. It's an emergency.” Once again, his crisis became my problem, with the two men now facing each other. Derek, veteran of many political fights, hid his emotions behind a stone façade, despite our fearless leader's eyes launching deep, penetrating scans into him.


Maybe an introduction could wipe away the awkwardness. “My, er, friend Moscowboy, leader of our hacker club.” I then turned to my maybe-boyfriend. “Derek and I fought in the trenches of the presidential campaign.” Too early in our relationship for more details.


Dragone’s Acura and two other cars sped out of the side street and off in different directions. From a safe distance, a handful of kids on bikes and skateboards watched.


“Can we talk?” Derek pointed to the SUV.


I signaled M0sc0wb0y to stay back and took the remaining seven steps to my doom.


Derek slammed the door shut. “The President asked for you.” His eau de cologne filled the small space. Pungent with a note of bergamot, like a fresh, hot cup of Earl Grey tea spiced with lemon.


“Heidi? Why?” Risking my life for my country once ought to suffice. Even among best friends forever.


“It’s so top-secret, those guys will smuggle us into the White House.” His thumb pointed through the darkened rear window at the agents trotting back to the car.


“Just like that?”


“You didn't answer your phone.”


“No pockets.” I pointed at my dress. Even my moronic hero had to see women’s reality.


“You're old enough for something more ... adult.”


Or maybe not. “Pink isn't just a color. It's an attitude.” And my boys found my clothes sexy.


“Not tonight. I brought you an evening gown. Size two, right?” Something long and burgundy in a clear dry-cleaning bag lay on the leather seat next to him.


“A gown?” Obvi sexy didn't count tonight.


“It's the White House.”


True. Mommy would expect me to show decorum in the Prez's home. But. “Last time I helped you, bombs and hellfire came down on me.” Some things a girl doesn't forget. Or forgive. Even for chocolates. Which he failed to bring, natch.


“No comparison. It's all computer forensics work. Perfectly safe.”


“I don't know.” My prior sheroics earned me half a night’s stay at a luxury hotel. Nothing more. Other than the friendship of my idol Katy Perry. Even so.


“Heidi promised a pair of glasses as reward.”


“I don't need glasses.”


“Very special glasses.”


Charmer. Curiosity wouldn't kill this KatyCat. But I couldn't abandon Heidi in her hour of need (#BFF). On my terms, though. I earned it. So I held up the pet carrier by its handle. Guinea pig eyes stared through the nylon mesh. “Katy has to come along. She goes frantic without me. Separation anxiety.”




Pink pet carrier, $15. Purple hair highlight, $6. Red-faced Derek, priceless.