“See? We’re alone,” Cora said, and grabbed Iris by the hand, ready to drag her upstairs into her Dad’s study. “They won’t be here for hours.”
“I don’t know, Cora. I’m not sure I want to…”
“Are you kidding me? It’s so cool to see how the sausage gets made. All the cool deals and projects! And so much drama! Yesterday, I read a memo by the secretary of foreign affairs where he used the f-word four times. He’s a Mormon!”
“Seriously, Cora, you’re such a fucking nerd. Who cares? Can’t we just binge Californication again?”
“You’re just jealous because your Dad’s only a consul, not the ambassador. Also, Duchovny is older than my dad. I don’t get how you’re so into him.”
“Shut up he’s hot. Can’t you do this with one of your German friends? Laura would be way into this.”
“If we got caught, that would constitute an international incident. You and me, we’re American citizens. So it’s just… I don’t know… breaking and entering?”
“Persuasive,” Iris said, deadpan.
“And by the way:” Cora continued, undeterred, “Having all this correspondence on his home computer, with that weak-ass password, is basically an all-out invitation.”
“Okay,” she said. “But only because you’re so excited about it. You do realize that it is inevitable that you will end up with a political science degree. You’ll become one of them”
Iris raised her arms like a zombie, crossing her eyes as she groaned the last words. Cora smiled.
“Politics is literally the most important thing in the world, and most people never get to look inside. We’re lucky, you and I.”
“Sure, whatever,” Iris scoffed, but finally followed after Cora up the stairs into the Ambassador’s office. “What could possibly go wrong?”
“Famous last words,” Cora said, and booted up her father’s desktop PC.
Iris was scrutinizing the picture frames that were scattered through the library that filled most of the wall in front of the desk. It made for a great backdrop for the frequent video conferences and occasional televised interviews that Cora’s father was part of.
There he was, shaking hands at photo-ops, all carefully groomed and showing his perfectly choreographed smile.
“Your dad should have become a CEO,” Iris said, brow furrowed, “those pcitures are all with business leaders, not statespeople.
“Representing American interests means economical interests as well…”Cora said with a shrug, “at least, that’s what he says. Apparently the parties are much nicer, too. People try to buy him all the time, and I think he enjoys the attention.”
“Can they buy him? What does he cost?”
“Fuck you, Iris” Cora said, but with a smile. She knew she was joking.
“Holy shit, that one with Zuckerberg! Why would you frame that?! He’s so fucking creepy. “
“Yeah. With you on that,” Cora said, “Come on, we’re good to go.”
Iris sat herself down on the edge of the massive oak desk and watched Cora enter a password, fiddle with her smartphone, enter something else, and just like that, the computer was unlocked.
“He used his private email for the two-factor restore. It took me some snooping to find out–”
“I wasn’t asking,” Iris said, stopping Cora before she could elaborate. “You’re very smart. You hacked his PC. Cool. What do you want to show me?”
“Look here: There’s a report on an experimental fusion test reactor they want to build a twin of in the states. Look at those pictures! I can’t believe they have a graphics design team for their classified pitches!”
Iris had to admit it looked very spacey and futuristic, but it really wasn’t something she really knew much about or really cared for.
“Anything about backroom deals with car companies?”
“Oh, are you in for someth–”
There was a sudden noise from downstairs. They both jumped, and Cora was already out of her chair before Iris had even turned her head. She peeked out the door, listening intently. There was a long pause. Then, she relaxed, opened the door a little bit wider, and -- with a deep sigh -- she let in the cat.
“Hey, Otis,” Iris said with a relieved smile, and made a tutting sound. Otis walked straight past her and placed himself in a spot of sunlight on top of the deep leather armchair that stood next to the window.
“Fuck you,” Iris pouted, then sat down in the Ambassador’s office chair. “I don’t care about you either.” She pulled the computer keyboard towards herself, looking mischievous.
“Hey,” Cora protested. “I thought you didn’t want to?”
“You changed my mind. Let’s see…” Iris murmured, fingers hovering over the keyboard. After a moment of thought, she grinned and typed into the search field.
“Let’s search for ‘payment’ in the subjects”, she said, looking self-righteous. “and see what kind of completely legal, over-the-board dealings our government has.”
“There’s only one?” Iris said, looking very surprised and disappointed.
“HA!” Cora said, “There you go, you old cynic!”
“Shut up,” Iris said, looking suddenly deeply worried. All blood seemed to have drained from her face. “This says… ‘Payment for Simone.”
“What?!” Cora said as her insides turned to ice.
“It’s dated from 20 years ago,” Iris said, and clicked on the attachment. A document opened, asking for a password.
Cora shoved her aside and grabbed the keyboard. She typed in something. The document unlocked.
“Fuck, Dad, stop using the same password for everything,” she cursed desperately under her breath.
They both read the file in shocked silence. It was all laid open clearly and explicitly, to make sure that both involved parties would be able to use it as leverage over the other. Mutually assured destruction. There were pictures attached. They opened them. They had to. They had to see proof of what it said.
simone_01.jpg showed Cora’s mom, naked, standing in a featureless room. simone_02.jpg showed her on the floor, legs spread. There were ten more pictures after that, each one somehow worse than the one before.
Cora made a noise that broke Iris’s heart.
“Cora,” Iris said, taking her friend’s hand. They looked at each other. Cora’s lips were quivering. Her hand was as cold as ice. There was a long, terrible pause as they tried to process what they had just learned. Neither of them noticed the little light on the web cam blinking on.
“What the fuck,” Cora said finally. Her eyes were glistening with tears. “What the fuck? What the fuck?!”
She took a step away from the desk, fingers pushed against her temples, pacing up and down. “We have to find out who this Beatrice is,” she said, anger and fear warring in her shaky voice. “How she got those pictures; what the fuck all of this means. A slave? Trigger phrases? What the fuck?!”
Iris’s voice had become tiny.
“Simone… your mom… does she… does she even know?”