In a climate as harsh as that of Montana and Wyoming it’s tough to maintain paved highways to every community. That said, the dirt roads that link so many of our settlements run through some beautiful terrain. I mention this only because with no time constraints I was on my way to Laramie from Lakewood and decided on a scenic route.
Unsurprisingly, I got lost. The occasional homestead was visible in a far valley. Otherwise the landscape remained unpopulated. A freight train crossed the road at one point, its ninety or more trucks grinding slowly along, its driver invisible and unseeing. There was no cause for panic. I trusted to a general sense of direction to choose which of the occasional forks in the road would be right. My only concern was the black line of a serious thunderstorm rising from the west across my line of travel.
Then the road descended into a tiny enclave of buildings and a junction on the edge of the settlement. There was a dilapidated grain store, a couple of empty looking barns, a water tower and a large, very weird, square two storey building constructed, by its appearance, in brushed aluminium with alternate black and silver panels. There were no windows, only an entrance door with a glass panel. No vehicles were visible. The options at the crossroads did not offer any clues as to Laramie’s direction, even in approximate geographic terms.
There were no windows, only an entrance door with a glass panel.
I stopped outside the entrance of the strange building that had the only possibility of occupation. A low-pitched hum came from the interior. There was no bell, but inside I could see some kind of reception area. I tried the door handle and it clicked open. There were no signs or chairs or any clue as to what this place was, or to whom it was a place of business, if it was a place of business at all. The silence was absolute, accentuated by the low hum. There was a magazine on what might have been a reception counter. It was an old copy of a farming journal.
‘Anyone in?’ I called.
There was a sound of feet on stairs. A door at the far end of the room opened abruptly and a woman appeared: ‘Who the hell are you and what do you want?’ Her tone was hostile, but it was her appearance that stalled a coherent response. She was coiffured and dressed as if for Fifth Avenue: beautifully styled hair, smart business suit, crisp white blouse, small but clearly expensive earrings. ‘How did you get in?’ she added in the gap of my silence.
‘The door was open, I’m lost.’
She snorted in derision. ‘I told that retard, always lock the door.’ More calmly she asked, ‘Whaddya mean, lost?’
‘I’m going to Laramie’ I said
‘Where from?’ The tone was still suspicious.
‘Lakewood, so what’s wrong with the interstate?’
I explained my lack of urgency and liking for scenery.
‘What kind of business are you that gives you that kind of leisure?’ she asked in a more friendly way.
I told her I was an antique and art dealer and she seemed to relax.
‘Is there any money in it?’
‘I eat OK.’
She laughed and walked over to the external door. ‘So you want me to show you the road to Laramie…?’ Outside it was black. The thunderclouds hung low over us. A sheet of lightning swept across the hills, there was a deafening rumble of thunder, and then the rain came as if from some celestial fire hose. She shut the door as the rain thrashed against it.
‘I guess I have a house guest,’ she said. She was right. For the next few hours the roads would be, if not impassable, highly dangerous.
We introduced ourselves. ‘I’m Bobbi Goldberg,’ she said. ‘I own this place.’
She showed me up to the spacious second floor, which was furnished like a classy apartment. A kitchen was at one end and a lounge area and fireplace with real gas flames at the other. There was a bed in the middle and the bathroom through another door. Bobbi had relaxed. She poured us both bourbon on the rocks and we settled down at the corners of the huge sofa. She told me she only spent a few weeks of the year at what she called ‘the facility’. The rest of the time she had a resident manager whose job it was to maintain and troubleshoot. The ‘facility’ was a mainframe.
‘We have a select group of client servers,’ she said, ‘and we handle their processing needs.’
‘Which are what – in general terms?’ I asked.
‘Business stuff,’ she said crisply. ‘Not porn, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
Outside the rain beat on the building and the thunder rolled. We had another drink and discussed the state of the economy and the prospects for a Republican presidency. Suddenly, Bobbi said, ‘Thinking of pornography, do you buy porny art?’
‘Only if it’s good.’
‘Yeah,’ she said reflectively. Then: ‘If I said I felt really horny, would that bother you?’
I looked at her in a considered way and told her it wouldn’t bother me at all.
‘If I said I felt really horny, would that bother you?’
So we had a pretty good time I believe. Bobbi was energetic and definitely in command. Notwithstanding my having to go from a cold start, her pragmatism and highly toned and tuned body took any diffidence I might have had out of the situation. She was of course a girls-on-top kind of person, whichever service she demanded of me. We went a couple of rounds and fell amiably asleep, if not in each other’s arms, at least facing each other.
Sometime in the small hours her cell rang. She was alert immediately. Her responses after her initial ‘What the hell?’ were mainly of the ‘Uh-huh’ sort. Then she said: ‘OK, stay where you are, I’ll be with you before midday.’ I had figured out this was getting up time and had my pants on before she finished the call.
‘Make us some coffee,’ Bobbi said. ‘I have a few things to do. We’re out of here in an hour.’
She dressed fast in jeans and sweater and threw some clothes in a bag. Then she was gone downstairs. I made the coffee and found a couple of Danishes in the refrigerator and put them in the microwave to take the chill off. About five a.m., Bobbi reappeared. ‘It’s stopped raining,’ she said. I gave her the coffee. She ignored the Danish. ‘What are you driving?’
‘A GMC, four wheel drive.’
‘Good, we’ll use yours.’
Downstairs was a collection of cardboard storage boxes. ‘Let’s get these loaded,’ Bobbi ordered. It had stopped raining but the ground was a swamp. By the time we had finished, our legs were muddied to the knees. I got into the SUV and Bobbi vanished into the building. Then the lights went out and the humming stopped. She climbed in beside me. ‘Go baby, fork left.’
It was barely light. The dirt roads were slippery going. I took things as fast as I thought the truck could handle but as Bobbi helpfully said, ‘Losing it takes up time.’ Then we hit the highway and we both relaxed a little.
‘So what’s the scoop?’ I asked.
There was a pause. ‘Let’s just say, the IRS don’t approve of folk keeping their financial affairs secret. My facility helps my clients maintain their privacy. These people have auditors and accountants and lawyers. I’m just here to process the numbers in a quiet way.’
‘So what’s gone wrong?’
‘OK Ken, against my principles I’ll trust you a little — maybe because you are an art geek or maybe because I had a nice time fucking you. Someone could be a whistle blower, either hacked or leaked access to one of our servers. So the IRS now has the mainframe address. They are not dummies. The call was from my facility manager. He had the tip off from the breached server’s main client. I mean, I’ve obscured or damaged as much of the system as I can but it’ll only slow them down. They’ll get to me faster by checking out my fucking Porsche at the site.’
We made it into Laramie and found the Sunrise Motel on the west edge of town. I pulled in to the courtyard and said, ‘So how’s it going to pan out?’
Bobbi looked at me and smiling said, ‘I’ve done the numbers. I’m going to get canned for running the laundry and then I’ll do a deal and turn in all the guys behind the servers and the IRS will give me a multi-million reward cheque. Two years inside max.’ She saw my face. ‘Seriously baby, it’s that big. There are precedents, think Panama.’
A guy I assumed to be Bobbi’s facility manager came up to the truck and Bobbi gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, ‘Thanks, Ken’. They unloaded the boxes and took them to a van parked nearby. The man walked over to me and pulled a small packet from his windcheater.
‘Goldberg says thanks’ he said. I peeked inside the envelope. There was certainly enough to buy a decent breakfast and maybe the restaurant as a side.