CLICK : Part 41 - Power And Paranoia.
The four us us stayed at the waterfall for a little over a week, before moving on. Deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Further and further from the trappings of the modern world. No phones, no internet, no stores. We lived off the land as far as we were able. Hunting, fishing and trapping most of what we ate. Penny undergoing a crash course. Andy and I had received some training in the necessary skills. From Crystal of course. She became our teacher as well as our leader. She'd always been my boss, I would never have it any other way. The enormous trust we had in one another grew. Stronger and stronger each day. So close we never had arguments, we only ever had discussions or debates. No room for an ego in our quartet. No need for a name for out gang. We were all family.
We'd had the talk before we left town. We'd had many talks. All the details teased out from each of us. Penny had the least to divulge of course. She hadn't been involved. Crystal had the most. One afternoon she told us of the random threats, warnings and pictures she'd received throughout her life. Since she'd escaped from those who'd intended to rape, torture and murder her for their entertainment. Unable to escape from beneath their shadow. The strength of character involved, in order for her to survive, is impossible to quantify. I don't know that I could have done as well as she did. I know I would have exploded, acted out. Lashed out like the child I'd once been. There would have been extreme violence. Thoughtless and untargeted.
Then one evening she told us of her ordeal. Of what she remembered of her escape. When she explained about the guilt she had over the anonymous girl she left behind, tears were shed. Each one a flood of acid flowing over me. Penny and Andy felt her pain no less I believe.
At the Yakima Reservation we had our council of war. I told them of the preparations I'd made. I had a presentation prepared. Each step marked out. I'd been active since the day those four men came to intimidate a lone woman. I'd recruited staff you could say. Heather and Wesley, her boyfriend, being the main ones. They were both hackers. Wesley, an autistic savant, had spent months analysing data. Building up a picture of what we were up against. Rich, powerful people who knew they were above the law. Indulging their perverted lusts, without fear of consequence.
I had the outlines after 3 years. Now it was a case of the coloring in as I put it. In that time Crys had received five further taunts. Each of which provided information before it vanished. Except this time those emails and images didn't really vanish. They'd been captured and analysed by two of the sharpest minds on the planet. The originators of those warnings, unaware of the clues they were giving away. Unable to understand their strengths were their weaknesses. They'd been getting away with murder and rape for so long they believed they were untouchable. Their network was made up of people who had no other links. Each cell independent and not knowing what any of the others were doing. many of those who worked for them didn't even know what they were doing or why they did it. Even those at the very apex didn't know more than a small proportion of what was happening. Now I knew far more than they did.
What I also knew was that at some point they'd need to do something more permanent. Crystal was a loose end which needed tying off. At some point they'd either decide sufficient time had passed to remove any chance of her murder being linked to her abduction, or something would happen to spook them. Being all powerful leads to a certain type of paranoia. The fear that they could be interrupted. Lose what they already had. It happens to all dictators. The more they have, the more they can lose. What if those they thought of as their closest allies should turn against them? It was bound to happen. The dictator judges people on what he'd do. Which is more or less anything to keep what they already had. Including turning on their closest allies. A form of self defence is how they would view this. A preemptive strike. Acting against their potential foe before he had even thought of acting against them.
A potent mixture of arrogance and fear would pervade the structure they'd built. The greatest danger being from within, rather than without. The dread of being seen as the weakest link, combined with the constant need to search for the weakest link. Trusting no one, because no one could trust them. That's not to say there wouldn't be loyal soldiers working for these masters. Those who believed in their depraved cause. Crystal and I had met at least four of them. men who had the delusion they were powerful due to their proximity to power. Unaware they were simply disposable tools.
How should I put this? I told my friends I would be using the nuclear option. Going medieval on their asses. The scorched earth policy? There was nothing I wouldn't do, and no one I wouldn't do it to. There would be no rules, no morals and no ethics. Nothing was off the table. There are those who would say that using the same methods as our enemies, would make us as bad as them. Firstly, so what. If they know we're as bad as them it will give them pause for thought. Secondly, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Finally, they started this, we were going to finish it. The hunters becoming the hunted? No. Verminous, parasitic, scavengers being exterminated. You could say, I don't play nice. The monster that came down from those mountains was about to go into a feeding frenzy.
I knew, Crystal and the others knew, something would trigger them. If not soon, then eventually. The only question was should we act or react. The answer to which depended on them. I was not prepared to wait much longer. I was not prepared for the love of my life to live her days constantly looking over her shoulder. As far as all of us were concerned, the sooner the better.
Their latest provocation had arrived a few days before we left. A new message in Crystal's inbox. One she hadn't opened. Thanks to Heather and Wesley that was. Whoever was sending them had set them up so that the email account only had to be open before they'd display for a few seconds before being wiped. They thought they were pretty clever and sophisticated. They were kids playing with matches compared to Heather and Wesley. It didn't open. It didn't display. Instead it sat there being intimately examined. Its origin traced through multiple VPN's and encryptions across 3 continents and 7 countries. Instead of the melancholy all their previous messages had caused Crystal, this one produced a knowing smile. And a little celebration. We finally had enough pieces of the jigsaw.
The warm weather held until early September. Almost twelve weeks after we'd set out, the four of us returned. Still taking our time. meandering along no specific route. At the time it certainly didn't seem like a stroke of luck. It felt like an annoying misfortune. The Cherokee's starter motor jammed so badly Crystal couldn't fix it with the tire iron. No matter how many times she hit the damn thing. Her little quirk proved most fortunate for us. It was a question I'd asked only after Crystal and I became lovers. Why had she never fixed the starter motor? The answer said a lot about human nature. Always being aware it might not start first time gave her time to think. If she had a real problem with no easy solution having to hit the damn thing took her mind off it. Usually long enough for a solution to emerge. More than once I'd been that difficult problem. In a sense, that faulty starter motor was responsible for her allowing me to stay with her.
Rather than looking at it as a misfortune, we began to view it as a stroke of luck. There we were, a couple of hours from home, with the opportunity to return incognito. We could have stayed with the vehicle while it was being repaired, but we were so close to our destination it didn't seem worth it. There was nowhere to hire a car. We'd have had to use traceable ID to do so anyway. So we bought another Cherokee off the garage carrying out the work. I'm glad it was Crystal who suggested it, I wouldn't have dared do anything that could be seen as me coming between her and that Jeep. It held a deep sentimental value. Even though almost every part of it had been replaced at some point. The tinted windows on the new one could turn out to be useful. Possibly they did.
We were about to drive into a shit storm, not of our making. It's only an educated guess on our part, but we think an article in a magazine precipitated the ensuing events. Back when Crystal had been making those play houses, she'd constructed one for a property developer's son. It was a pirate ship. They'd moved to California a couple of months previously and the new owners of the home had taken a liking to it. They'd had it refurbished along with the house, which had made it into a magazine and its online equivalent. This had drawn the attention of other wealthy homeowners, and as a consequence of their inquiries Crystal gained some publicity. An old picture of her, from her days working at the bar, was prominently displayed. Some rich people were looking for her to design and build similar constructions. We assume that the possibility she could earn a certain amount of fame, alarmed someone.
It could have been some old perverts hormones kicking in for all I know. The why doesn't really matter. All that mattered was the dice had been rolled.