Absolute Data Corrupts Absolutely
Economic inequality and persistent surveillance push Oakland to the brink of civil war
“Can I buy you a drink?” Graham slid onto the worn bar stool.
Richard looked up blearily from the tumbler in front of him. It took a moment before his eyes focused. He frowned in recognition.
“What’s your name again?” His words were ever-so-slightly slurred.
“Graham.” He looked around the bar. The place was tucked into an alley in the wealthy bedroom community of Sausalito. The salty smell of the marina across the road filtered in whenever patrons opened the door. Grime covered all available surfaces, classic rock blared from an ancient sound system, and old fishing gear had been hung up on the walls.
Graham held up two fingers to the grizzled bartender. “Two Macallan 25s, neat.”
The old man poured the whiskeys and pushed them across the bar without comment.
“Thanks,” said Richard, finishing the last of his previous drink before taking a swig of the Macallan.
“Hell of a day,” said Graham.
Richard snorted. “You can say that again.”
Silence stretched between them as they sipped on the scotch.
“Un-fucking-believable,” said Richard, shaking his head. “Un-fucking-believable.”
“I must admit, I was shocked to see you walking out of Cumulus as I was walking in. Huian told me you had been let go.”
“That bitch,” said Richard, slamming a palm on the bar. The bartender gave them a look. “That arrogant, fussy little bitch. Riding her high horse, thinking she knows better than anyone else. Trying to tell me how to negotiate an acquisition. Me. I was doing deals when she was nothing but a nerdy Chinese twat in high school algebra. Someone should teach her a goddamn lesson.”
Graham repressed a grin. This was going to be even easier than he had anticipated. He was fairly certain that Huian Li had blazed through advanced algebra in elementary school. He also knew that her parents were Chinese Indonesian, not from mainland China. Huian herself had been born and raised in Palo Alto. But once the racism started flowing, all you needed to do was smile and nod.
“Firing me. All because of motherfucking Tectonix.” Richard swallowed the last of the glass. “Martín Sanchez is a goddamn wetback. He’s going to come back to the table crying, you mark my words. Then she’ll see the value of someone who actually knows how to buy a damn company. She’ll come crying back to me. I’ll let her suck my dick and then tell her to fuck off.”
Graham raised a finger and the bartender poured another slug. He could imagine few things less likely than Huian Li sucking anyone’s dick, much less Richard’s. Despite the various quiet contributions Richard had made to marginally legal white-power groups, Graham hadn’t anticipated that he had so much boiling right below the surface. If anything, he was surprised that Richard had hung onto his position for as long as he had. Losing him now would likely be a net benefit for Cumulus. It would definitely be a net benefit for Graham.
“I personally added billions in enterprise value to Cumulus,” said Richard. “Billions. And this is how I’m thanked for it. Can you believe it?”
Graham grunted and sipped his drink. The whiskey was smooth and balanced. Richard’s ego, less so.
“I am going to fuck Cumulus so bad, the bitch won’t know what hit her.”
“I could help you there,” said Graham. It was time to close.
Richard looked up, startled at the interruption. “What?”
“I said, I could help you there.” He looked straight into Richard’s red-tinged eyes, holding his gaze steady.
“But,” said Richard, his face twisting into a scowl. “You… you still work for Cumulus.”
“I work for myself.” Truer than this idiot could understand.
Richard guffawed and leaned back on his stool, drawing another look from the bartender.
“I like your attitude,” he said, throwing an arm around Graham’s shoulder. “That sounds about right. But how would you actually help me?”
People always asked the wrong questions. They were so interested in their own goals that they didn’t stop to consider what those around them might be working toward. If someone offered Graham unsolicited help, he didn’t ask how, he asked why.
“Well,” said Graham, “relationships are the world’s fundamental currency. Engineering-minded people like Huian just don’t fully appreciate their value. But you understand how important relationships are.”
“This isn’t my first time around the block,” said Graham. “I’ve had friends move from one executive position to the next. But when they move from company to company, their relationships and experience travel with them. Am I right?”
Richard nodded again.
“Occasionally, they bring… assets along with them when they leave. Not stealing, of course. Just contact information, critical notes, strategic insights, insider details, that kind of stuff. Sometimes, they keep that kind of information stashed off-network, just in case. Just to help them remember exactly what went on behind the scenes. You never know when that kind of information might come in handy, right?”
Richard stared at Graham for a long moment. His eyes were suddenly sharp beneath the film of alcohol. He rubbed a thumb along the line of his jaw.
“You’re one sneaky son of a bitch,” said Richard.
“All I’m asking you to do,” said Graham, “is consider what this sneaky son of a bitch might be able to accomplish with a treasure trove of information like that.”
Graham raised his tumbler. The amber liquid seemed to glow from within in the low light. The bell on the door tinkled as a regular stumbled home. Jimmy Page ripped through “Stairway to Heaven.” The bartender wiped down a table in the corner. Richard chewed on the inside of his cheek and drummed his fingers against the edge of the bar.
Then he raised his own glass and clinked it against Graham’s.
“Fuck it,” said Richard. “You better put it to good use.”
They both shot the rest of the whiskey.
A notification appeared in Graham’s contact lens display. Richard Huntman was giving him access to a private folder.
Eliot Peper writes fast-paced, deeply-researched stories with diverse casts that explore the intersection of technology and society. His first three books constitute the Uncommon Series, which has attracted a cult following in Silicon Valley and is the #1 top-rated financial thriller on Amazon (think Panama Papers). He is currently working on his fifth novel.