Cloud Noir

short fiction by Ken Goldstein

"It’s kind of like LinkedIn, but for wise guys.”

I looked at him the way I usually do, eyes squinted, mouth puckered like I just ate a fucking lemon. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but this kid always gets me like that. All the kids. Fuck them. Think they know so fucking much just because they have a computer in every fucking pocket.

Like I said, I looked at him, “What the fuck you talkin’ about?”

“The web site idea. It’ll be kind of like a LinkedIn, but the for the kinds of jobs we do. You can list your specialties, look for work in your field, recommend co-workers. Like I could endorse you for whacking people.”

“Can I endorse you for being a fucking rat?”

This time he paused like I was the one talking another fucking language. He finally realized what I meant and got a bit of a scared look in his eyes. “No, I mean, yeah, but no, no, it won’t be like that. It’s all password protected, moved through untraceable servers, special encryption keys, not just anybody can see it. Anyway, it’s just an idea. I got lots of ideas, this is just one of ‘em.”

We were out of our element anyway. Well, out of my element at least. We usually work the east side of San Jose, maybe up to Milipitas or down to Gilroy, but we generally don’t have much business up in the fuckin’ Peninsula boonies.

We were at Buck’s in Woodside waiting for our mark. It was some place for rich folks to eat over-priced burgers and booze and pretend they were slumming it in a western café. That is, if you knew of any western cafés with boxes of software displayed on the walls along with the wagon wheels. Anyway, the burger was expensive, but big and juicy, the onion rings were salty, and they kept the Jack and Cokes flowing, so it was okay to kill a little time. Okay, except for Randy and his fucking ideas.

“Why can’t you just concentrate on the job we got to do here tonight? Huh?” How the fuck had I drawn the short straw to take this punk out on his first big hit? How the fuck had he even gotten to the point where he was ready to be made when he looked like he was still young enough to have his mommy wiping his ass twice a day? Oh, right, his fucking ideas. He was “transformative.” Gonna shake up the way we do business, but first he had to prove himself by the book just this once before he could move into the executive suite.

Me? I was gonna make my retirement stash the old fashioned way. Wait till a really juicy, high profile hit, turn informer, go into witness protection, write my memoirs, then sell the film rights to Marty Scorsese.

“I’m good for tonight,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing, easy, mechanical. It’s old style. Analog.”


“Yeah, I’ll spell it out for you, ana-fucking-log.” I should have smacked him, but least I was having some effect on the kid, getting through to him on some level. I let it slide. “If our organization wants to remain dominant we need to go digital. Cause a lot more havoc that way. A bullet in the face gets a job done, but then what? Kill their digital lives and you have them dancing to your songs forever. That’s how you collect a debt.”

Kid had a point, and the bosses ear, so I drank my whiskey and cola, and nodded like I was following along. “So give me a fucking example.”

“Okay,” he said, getting a little happier, less tense. That was my job here, keep him loose and lucid and help him get the job done. “Like that punk in New York the cops shot up. He was selling loose cigarettes. You break up cartons of cigarettes and sell them as singles to other punks and losers who can’t afford a whole pack. Fine, there’s a market there, you avoid the taxman, great. It’s just petty crime. Small time. Analog. That’s why he’s a punk, he just wasn’t going digital.

“Now what I would have done, I wouldn’t have been messing with individual cigarettes. Too labor intensive. Time consuming. Not efficient. What I would have done is come up with an iPhone app. People sign up and indicate whether they have a smoke to spare or if they need one. GPS tells the app where they are, brings them together. It all happens in the cloud. Magic.”

“So where’s my fucking take then, if the app does all that? If it’s all ‘in the fucking clouds’?”

“Cloud, not clouds, and the take is on auto-pilot. First they give us a buck-ninety-nine for the app, then a dime rolls in each time they need a smoke. Multiply that by the thousands while we’re sitting here sipping our cocktails. If that punk in New York had done that he’d be raking in the cash. He’d be on the cover of every magazine as the hero who disrupted the tobacco market. Instead he’s wasted by the cops.”

“Yeah, well, if it’s the punk I think you’re talkin’ about he still wouldn’t be able to get a fucking taxi.”

He laughed and clanked his glass against mine. “You got that right.” He drank. I didn’t.

I looked calmly toward the door and his eyes followed mine. He gulped, then drank again. It was our mark: Jason Calloway. This year’s wunderkind on the technical circuit, but a deadbeat to the wrong people all the same.

There was no more conversation while we waited for Calloway to eat his dinner, and none while we quietly followed him out of Buck’s, got in our car and followed him up King’s Road to his hillside mansion.

I had to give the kid another point for insisting on using his car. It was a little cramped in his Prius, but the roar of my ’69 GTO’s engines would have definitely drawn a bit of attention out there behind Calloway’s Tesla S.

Getting in was easier than expected, almost too easy. Calloway had hesitated in the driveway to do some deep breathing exercises in the cool night air before heading to the door. Just enough deep breaths for us to come up behind him, give him a nudge with each of our guns, and quietly let him know it was the wrong time to cause a fuss.

“It’s okay, remain calm,” he told us. “I’m sure we can work this all out.” His hands shook only slightly as he unlocked the door and ushered us into the home.

Once inside I was done whispering. “You got Sid’s fucking money? You got two-hundred K here? Cash! Now!”

“Well, not cash. Not right here. It’s all tied up in the business.” Right. The business. And the fucking Tesla and the fucking Lambo parked next to it and so on. We already knew we’d be repossessing the cars as payment once he was dead. The truck was already on its way and just waiting down the hill for our signal. Giving him a chance to pay first was just a formality.

“Well we got business too,” I said, showing him my gun. I glanced at Randy: that was his cue.

“Right,” Randy spit out. “Your business is our business. Sid’s money built it!” Amateurish, but this was his first big hit. I let the dialog stand.

Calloway laughed. “You think that bit of chump change built anything? That barely got me to the door. I still had to grovel and beg to the asshole VC’s on Sand Hill for the real money.”

“Then why didn’t you pay Sid back from that? Don’t we have a better position on your debt, being first and all?” Randy was going off-script, but it seemed appropriate.

“Look, you seem like a smart kid. You look like you know how the modern world works. Do you really think they’d let me pay you directly with their money? It’s got to be cycled through first, go through the rinse. The SEC watches these things very closely.”

Randy paused, then, “But now. It’s been some time, right? It’s not so much, it’s got to clean by now, right? Just the two-hundred K?” I didn’t like how he phrased it as a question instead of a demand.

“Come on, kid. Grow up. You think the Sand Hill types don’t have their own muscle leaning on me? And for much higher stakes than what I owe Sid. Just tell him to be patient. Once we IPO I’ll pay him double.”

Randy looked at me as if I gave a fuck about any IPO, let alone knew what the fuck it meant. I slowly shook my head no. He hesitated, his gun no longer aimed at Calloway’s head, but slowly drifting toward the floor.

Calloway went on, “And you, kid. Maybe it could pay off for you too, if you play your cards right.” Oh, fuck of fucks, here it fucking comes. “You have any new ideas? I could help you out, get something off the ground. I’m in a good position here.”

This was not going stand. I looked at Randy and gestured with my still ready pistol. “Just shoot the fucker already and let’s get the fuck out of here!”

Randy looked at me, then back to Calloway. “Well, I have this one app I’m working on. Really disruptive. It would take jobs like the one Frank and I are on here, and put them out to bid.” Great, he fucking told Calloway my name.

“Go on,” says Calloway, smiling now, “So, like, if I wanted to get rid of, Frank is it? If I wanted to get rid of Frank, I could just open the app, put in my maximum price, see who’s nearby and let them bid it down to who’ll do him the cheapest?”

“Something like that, yeah!” Randy’s getting a hard-on for Calloway and I’m thinking I might just have to finish them each, but I promised the boss to remain patient.

“Come on Randy. Stay professional,” I told him. “You know Sid said he’d pay for your app thing once you finished this job.”

“Hey, Frank,” Randy turned to me, “Do you have a favorite app, Frank?”

“Yeah, I like the fucking hot wings at Hooters. Now shoot this asshole and I’ll buy you some.”

Randy started to raise his gun like he couldn’t decide where to aim it. Just then Calloway’s phone rang. Randy looked down at the caller ID and whispered a single syllable in awe and reverence, “Woz!”

I heard the click of his trigger and saw the flash coming my way.


© Copyright Ken Goldstein