Excerpt: Identity Theft by Laura Lee

My new novel is called Identity Theft. When a bored young man working in a rock star’s office is put in charge of the celebrity’s social media, he decides to flirt with a fan in the guise of his boss. He sets of a chain of events he cannot control.

For the next three days I will be posting excerpts from the book– the chapters which introduce the three main characters.  I hope that you will enjoy them and consider buying the book. I plan to independently publish Identity Theft and I am taking advance orders to fund its creation. (More on this at the end.)

Identity Theft by Laura Lee

“For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”-James 1:24.

The Tyranny of 800 Numbers

“This call may be monitored…”

When she saw the 800 number on the caller ID, Candi had not wanted to pick up the phone, but she had been through the routine long enough to know that the only way to stop them from harassing you was to talk to them. She had just come home from work and was still dressed in a green fitted blazer and matching slacks. The outfit had looked much better in the catalog on the size 2 model than on her size 12 frame. She plopped down on the couch, kicked off her uncomfortable high heel shoes, and waited to be connected to a human being.

“Hello, my name is Susan,” said the caller.

“Your name is not Susan,” Candi wanted to say. “How is the weather in Bangalore?” She didn’t say that, though. She sat and waited for “Susan” to finish her script.

“I am calling in regards to your Capital One card. Your payment of $105 is five days late. Can you make that payment today to bring your account current?”

She wanted to say, “If I could, don’t you think I would have?” There was really no point in saying anything like that. In harried moods, she had tried. It just made the call last longer.

“No,” she said.

“When will you be able to make that payment?”

“August 5th,” she said with a tone of certainty. She didn’t know if she would be able to make the payment then, but the woman on the line didn’t care about that. She just needed to plug a date into the computer. Once the right boxes were checked, Capital One would leave her alone for a while.

Candi understood that “Susan”’s boss– the bank–didn’t really care either. They were thrilled her payment was late because it meant they could charge her late fees and jack up her rates. So everyone was happy. They just had to do this little bit of theater from time to time. Sometimes it amazed her to think they hired someone half a world away for this charade. Years of computer science and the space program had to happen in order for a woman in India to bully an office worker in suburban San Diego about a $100 payment that was five days late.

As she confirmed her address and phone number with the caller, Candi played with her shoulder-length, brown hair. She half-consciously examined each strand checking for split ends and light color. She had found a couple of grays that morning. She tried to convince herself they had actually been blonde hairs. Age 29 was far too early to start finding grays.

When Susan’s computer form was filled out and everyone had played their roles, Candi unplugged the phone from the wall. She wasn’t in the mood to act out that particular bit of Kabuki again today.

She turned on the television and let it play in the background as she heated up her dinner– leftover Little Caesar’s Pizza. ($5 for a large.) They key to reheating pizza without making the dough gummy is to put it in the oven and not the microwave. Candi set the oven to 450, pulled out a baking sheet, covered it with a roll of aluminum foil and plopped two slices on top but she tossed the tray into the oven before it had a chance to preheat.

Candi didn’t have a kitchen exactly. It was more of a food-making area. Her apartment consisted three rooms. The front room, in which she was standing, was a combination living, dining, kitchen space. The oven and refrigerator were in the back corner a few steps from the television and couch. Her bedroom was just behind the kitchenette through a doorway. If you needed the bathroom, you had to walk through the bedroom to get there. The bathroom, curiously, was almost as large as the living room.

The odd layout was the result of how it had been constructed. Hers was the only permanent building in the center of a trailer park. The single-story house had presumably belonged to the landlords at one point. They moved out and divided it into two apartments by boarding up two doorways (one in the living room, one in the bath) with plywood.

On the other side of the living room plywood was a woman in her seventies who lived with her adult son, an Amway salesman who was always trying to convince Candi to take a spot beneath him in the sales pyramid. The old woman was almost deaf, so she kept the volume of the television on full. The plywood did little to absorb the sound waves. Even if Candi been somehow unable to hear every word of the programs, she would have been able to spot the comedies. The neighbor woman was easily amused and was constantly responding with a full-throated “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” The other quirk about Candi’s place was that if she didn’t keep the front door locked, people were always walking straight in without knocking. They assumed it was the rental office.

Candi had moved into this unglamorous space after losing her condo after the housing bubble burst. She had managed to sell it at a loss, and get out from her underwater mortgage without suffering the indignity of foreclosure, but she had never quite recovered from it all.

As she waited for the oven to heat up, Candi took two beers out of the fridge. She drank one in a couple of gulps, as if downing a glass of water. The first beer was just to stop her from feeling like a raw nerve. It would be up to the second beer to make her relax.

On the television, a reporter was making a serious face in a cut-away from an interview with a transgender woman. The woman looked about as feminine as anyone else Candi saw on the street. “I was never comfortable in my body,” she said. “I wasn’t comfortable in the role society assigned me based on my gender.”

Candi wondered in a vague way how she knew she was not transgender. She, too, often felt uncomfortable with the body she’d been given. It didn’t quite represent what she believed she was on the inside. She also found herself uncomfortable much of the time in the role society assigned her based on her gender. Yet, she was quite clear for some reason that she was, in fact, a woman– she just wasn’t all that good at it.

Candi picked up the remote control and flipped through the channels until she came to a cooking competition. The televised food made her hungry. She pulled the pizza out of the oven before it was completely warm. She put two pieces of the lukewarm pizza on a plate and sat down to eat in front of the TV. On the screen was a commercial for Life Lock, a company that protects its customers against identity theft. She wondered if they could perform their work in reverse. She woke up every day longing to have her credit history stolen. So far no takers.

A pile of mail was sitting on the sofa where she had dropped it as she came through the door. She ran her fingers over the pink envelope that sat on top. It was a cancellation notice from her auto insurance company. Candi Tavris. At least they spelled the name right. Half the time some data entry person “corrected” the spelling of her last name to “Travis.”

She had never much liked her name. As a kid, she’d wanted to be called Daphne after the character on Scooby Doo. At that time her first name was spelled with the more standard “y.” When she got to junior high school she had decided she wanted to sound more grown up. She asked her friends to start calling her “Candace.” They did, but they did it in a sing-song tone to make fun of her pretension. So she gave up on being “Candace” and decided to give “Candy” a new spelling instead. As a grown woman “Candi” struck her as a porn star name, up there with Bambi and Trixie. The tentacles of bureaucracy had her now though. The computers knew her as Candi, and that’s who she had to be.

Underneath the pink envelope Candi found a notice that she had been pre-approved for a Platinum Visa card– reserved exclusively for elite people like her.

She remembered when she was working her way through college as a waitress. There was a guy she liked who worked in the kitchen. He was sandy-haired, cute, funny. She had never been the one guys hit on– that was her younger sister Jackie’s role– and his attentions actually made her look forward to clocking in at Applebee’s. Then one day her potential new boyfriend told her, “If anyone calls looking for me, I’m not here.” He was hiding from creditors, which could mean only one thing: He was a loser. When he finally got up the nerve to ask her out, she turned him down flat. She later learned that he had gone on to invent some video game. Made a million dollars before the age of 30.

She had no idea how she had gotten to this place– in debt and living in the one house in a trailer park. That was not supposed to be her fate. As a teenager she had been the smart one, the responsible one. Jackie was popular and pretty, but Candi was serious, studious, and expected to excel. Jackie was voted best dressed and best smile in the school yearbook but Candi took home all of the academic awards and accolades.

She had done what she was supposed to. She went to college, got a degree, got a decent job. If she’d splashed out on shoes or purses, gone of vacations, bought a big screen TV, at least she’d have something to show for her debt. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember where the money had gone. Student loans, car payments, gas to get to her job. Somehow the powers that be had made going into debt seem like the responsible thing to do. “You have to build up your credit,” they said. So she carried a revolving balance. Then she needed dental work, so she carried a little more. The car broke down and she put that on the card. Buying a condo, the banker had explained, was not going into debt– it was an investment. She could afford something just a bit out of her price range. It would pay off down the line because housing prices and her wages could only go up.

Meanwhile Jackie had dropped out of college in her sophomore year. She married an executive at Boeing and lived in a huge custom built-home. It was actually featured in a design magazine. With no children, Jackie’s main occupation, from what Candi could tell, was shopping.

Candi worked in the packaging department of a technology company. She didn’t actually pack things, she sat at a computer tracking inventory and placing orders to make sure there were the right number and kind of packages to contain all of the kinds of things they shipped. When people ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, they never answer something like that.

When the economy blew up, the aftershocks rocked her employer. “Downsizing.” They hadn’t actually used this word at the informational meeting where they lowered the boom. They brought in a cheerful human resources woman in a perfect suit. She reminded Candi of the models at the annual technology conventions.

“It’s a challenging time, but an exciting one,” Smiley Spokesmodel said. Candi imagined her gliding around on a circular platform modeling some virtual reality goggles. She used the word “competitiveness” the word “opportunity” the word “empowerment” and the word “change.” Then she pulled out a chart with corporate’s concept of a new staff organization. “The Way Forward” was the header.

The chart did not include her position.

“This is just a proposal right now,” Smiley Spokesmodel said. “This may not be what it looks like, but there will be changes.”

Candi wondered whose job it had been to design the “Way Forward” chart and select the colors. Did a “transition expert” suggest that the turquoise would be calming? How much had she been paid? It was a simple design; only a few colors and lines to make it clear that she was no longer needed and all the work she’d done over the years for them meant nothing.

Candi imagined herself turning up the speed on the technology show platform, sending Smiley Spokesmodel flying into a bank of computer screens.

Overnight the mood at work was completely transformed. Someone came up with the expression BTM for “before the meeting.” For example: “I had been working on a big proposal BTM but now I can’t be bothered.” From there ATM came naturally. For example: “I’ve been having a hard time sleeping ATM.”

The first “exciting changes” happened a month later. One Friday at 3 PM a dozen people were handed letters outlining the details of their severance packages. The were told to clean out their desks as a couple of guys with “Security” t-shirts looked on. No one tried to punch the boss, trash the office or make a scene. There was no shouting or crying. There was, instead, an appalling quiet as those who had been spared gazed on the blank faces of the condemned. None of them were yet able to process the emotional overload of how drastically their lives had changed.

Candi’s co-worker Lydia made a show of faxing out resumes on the office copier. Lydia was in her mid-40s. She was full figured and had short hair, blonde, but with the tell-tale texture of hair that had been dyed. She was gregarious and gossipy. She had no trouble speaking her mind.

“I am going to sit at my desk and update my resume for an hour and then I’m going to fax five copies out on the office fax machine. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

No one tried to stop her. Soon most of the office had joined in the ritual in their own, more quiet, ways. Each fax was a small protest. Symbolic, but useless. Candi felt like a giraffe on a battlefield. The hunters were coming. She had no place to hide.

She had written her letter of resignation– three times. In it she explained that she had too much pride to stay there and play their game, to serve them on their terms and to wait for them to determine her fate. She never delivered it. That was the worst part of being in debt. Pride was a luxury item now, out of her reach like caviar and champagne. She had to stay in that toxic environment as long as she possibly could to avoid going under completely.

Candi turned the TV off and picked up a set of headphones real ones, not those little iPod ear buds. (When she played music out loud it bothered the Whoop Whoop Whoop lady.) She plugged the headphone into the jack on her laptop and clicked on a playlist with the title “Work Antidote.” It was full of her favorite songs, most of which were by the 80s pop star Blast. The music reminded her that there was something still alive inside her even if the world seemed intent on shutting it down. I am not my credit score. I am musical, I am sensual, I am alive.

I AM.

Through the headphones the sound was centered right behind her eyes, as if it emanated from her own mind. She took a deep breath and let the music fill up the space in her head where the worry was normally contained. Candi could not explain why Blast intrigued her so much. She was not the right age to be his fan. She did not grow up watching his videos on MTV, so she couldn’t feel nostalgia for them. She had discovered his entire back catalog at once after Lydia posted one of his videos in her Facebook stream. (Candi was “friends” with most of the people she worked with.) Something about Blast sparked her imagination from the moment she laid eyes on him.

The fact that she had come a bit too late to experience him in his prime made him all the more special to her. It meant he belonged, in a sense, to her alone. She did not have to share him with a whole generation. He was like a perfectly polished gem that she had discovered by accident in a thrift shop.

Blast, she felt, was a man out of his own time too. He was lumped in with the “artists of the 80s” simply because that’s when he happened to have had his greatest fame. The 80s synth-pop virus only affected a couple of his songs. His sound was all his own, and it was as contemporary as anything she heard streaming today. Most of the songs were not about love and heartbreak. They were a call to action rallying the listeners to create a new society, a new world.

And, of course, Blast was sexy. On stage, when he moved, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. He had flowing red hair, a square jaw and high cheekbones made all the more prominent by the liberal application of stage make up, dark eye liner, war paint. His broad shoulders were accentuated by a slim waist. He clothed this body in tight leather slacks paired with colonial military jackets. He was tough, masculine, powerful and yet he didn’t appear to take his “Blast” character all that seriously. In every video you could catch a self-depreciating grin– beautiful, wide. He smiled with his entire face.

Candi sat down in front of her computer and opened the folder with her collection of Blast pictures. His face had the calming effect of a drug. When she looked at him she forgot to think about Capital One, or how she was about to lose her job or how she managed to miss out on what she was supposed to be doing with her life.

Next she went to YouTube hoping someone had uploaded something new, rescued another interview from a Betamax tape. When she didn’t find any, she clicked on a familiar clip, a concert video from when Blast was young.

Her favorite part of this particular concert video clip was not not his music at all. It was a single gesture in the pause between songs. As the audience cheered, he stopped and smiled to himself, taking it all in. His eyes fell to the floor. Then he raised his left hand and ran it through his hair. That was it. That was the moment. A simple, unconscious gesture. It was the real man shining through. She scrolled back and watched it over and over. She wanted to run her own fingers through that hair.

The motion made visible all the freckles on his arm too. He was a redhead, so of course he had freckles, but with the stage make up you never saw them. She wondered if he noticed the freckles when he was making tea and he picked up a mug or was he as unconscious of his body as she was most of the time of her own? She wondered if the freckles covered his whole body or if there was somewhere that they stopped. If they did stop– where?

She clicked “replay” to watch the video again. In her mind, she moved Blast out of the video, off the stage and placed him right in front of her. When he saw her approaching, he slung his guitar to his side. He smiled that amazing smile and glanced at his feet, but only for a moment. His eyes met hers. She reached up and stroked his hair. Then she ran her hands along the coarse seam of his leather trousers until it came to rest in the warmth of his inner thigh.

——–

I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Identity Theft by Laura Lee. Would you like to read more? Please visit Pubslush and place an order. The funding levels I have chosen correspond to the cover price of the book, so you will not only get an autographed book at the regular cover price, your order now will allow the book to be produced to professional quality. You will make its production possible. I am pleased to say that as of today the project is 24% funded, but it has a long way to go. Pubslush is an all or nothing crowdfunding platform, so if the campaign fails to reach its goal I will not receive any funding. You will not need to make a payment unless the campaign is successful. It is set to wrap up in 16 days.

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