If Bobby Richards could see the future, he would not have agreed to take the computer hacking job that George Ray offered him that afternoon.
After dropping out of South Florida High School a year short of his graduation, Bobby spent most of his days alone in his single mother's apartment playing pirated computer games.
When he was bored, he spent the nights using the programming skills that he had developed during the past year to hack into online computers of major banks and businesses to steal their customers' email addresses. They usually fetched a good price on Nigerian scammers' websites.
While Bobby initially had doubts after reading George's online advertisement, he had responded because he knew that rush jobs usually paid well. He was right. The twenty thousand dollars that George was offering would come in handy for the muscle car that he wanted to buy.
They were sitting at a mom and pop diner in North Miami, discussing the deal.
"As I wrote you earlier in my text messages, we are a private company and we suspect that another company might have stolen our work. We simply want to make sure that we're right," George told him. "We need someone with good programming skills to take a look at some files and emails on the company's computer before they delete them."
"Once I hack in, how will I recognize your files?" Bobby asked. He was tapping his fingers nervously on the table, his brown eyes surveying George's expensive suit and tie. Bobby had imagined him to be in his twenties. However, George looked just like Bobby's grandfather. He was old, bald and skinny.
Suddenly, the sound of glass shattering on the floor next to them interrupted their conversation and made them turn to look at the young child responsible for the noise. She was sitting with her family at the table behind them. Seeing all eyes on her and the broken ketchup bottle by her feet, she started to cry loudly, causing her mother to pick her up in her arms.
They waited for the noise to die down before continuing with their talk.
"Our company's files were stolen within the past two months. So download anything that was placed on their computer during that time," George said, before adding, "After you finish with the download, you'll write me a report identifying the files and any emails that talk about those files."
"How do I know that you'll really pay me?" Bobby asked him, his fingers now playing with the small gold earring in his earlobe.
George glanced at Bobby. The whole scene seemed comical to him. Looking at Bobby's intricate dreadlocks, George felt as if he was being interviewed by a member of a youth reggae music group.
"You won't have to give me the report until I give you all of the money," George assured him. "In fact, I've even brought with me the three thousand dollars we agreed on, for you to start the work. I'll give you the rest of the money when you give me the report."
Then George opened the silver briefcase he was carrying, took out a brown leather pouch, and handed it to Bobby.
The expensive pouch caught Bobby's attention. He grabbed it from George's hands, and brought it under the table to his lap, hiding it from view. He quickly unzipped it and peered inside. The sight of the stack of the twenty-dollar bills and the cell phone brought a smile to Bobby's face. Most of the online computer hacking jobs that Bobby had done in the past had only earned him a few hundred bucks. At least I'm being paid real money this time, he thought.
A few days later, Bobby texted George to tell him that he had downloaded the files.
"You're a genius, Bobby," George texted back. "When you write the report, make sure all emails and files that you found are included."
"No problem," Bobby responded. "I'll bring the report to you next week on a disk."
"Good," George replied. "I don't want people to know what you've been doing for me. So, meet me behind the old thrift shop and I'll bring you the rest of the money."
The next meeting could not come fast enough for Bobby, who also shared George's concerns. Only very few people knew of his hacking habits and he wanted to keep it that way.
He was able to complete the report in two days, and it also included a description of another major hacking incident that Bobby discovered had taken place on the company's computer.
When the time for the meeting came, Bobby, who was running late, hopped on his bicycle with the report on a disk, and an empty backpack to carry the rest of the money.
The thrift shop was less than two miles from Bobby's apartment, in an area that was home to immigrants from the Caribbean and South America. It was getting dark, and Bobby, who was worried that George might not wait for him, decided to take a short cut.
As Bobby furiously pedaled through several neighborhoods towards his destination, makeshift shops selling illegal wares, including cigars from Cuba and lottery tickets from Mexico and Haiti, were already closing their doors for the evening.
When he finally reached the thrift shop, it was almost past the time for his meeting. The thrift shop was at the corner of an old strip mall that had already survived beyond its lifespan. The shop was the mall's only tenant.
There were no cars in the pothole-filled parking lot. As agreed, Bobby rode to the small deserted alley in the back of the building. When he reached the back of the shop, he paused by the shop's rear metal door, with his left foot on the pedal and his right foot on the ground to steady himself. He looked around but George was nowhere to be found. The nauseating smell of rotten eggs and fruits coming from the nearby overflowing commercial dumpster was so overwhelming that Bobby could hardly breathe. Once or twice, he had to swat the air with his hand to chase away annoying flies buzzing around him.
Bobby was about to leave, when a tall man with a crew cut stepped out from behind the dumpster.
His appearance surprised and frightened Bobby, who was debating whether he should speed away. What if George got sick and sent the man instead with the money?
"Where is George?" Bobby asked cautiously.
Before the man could respond, a sudden rustling noise broke the evening silence, startling Bobby. His left foot slipped off the pedal as he looked toward the trash pile.
Something was moving.
Bobby tightened his grip on the handlebars to stop them from shaking. Without warning, the thing jumped to the ground, causing Bobby's heart to skip a beat. It was a stray cat.
Bobby breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the skinny animal, and turned and looked at the man, who had ignored the commotion.
"George could not come. He sent me in his place," he said. He looked like a wrestler, with large muscles bulging under his t-shirt. He was wearing black leather gloves that seemed too small for his large hands.
Seeing that the man came empty-handed, Bobby gathered his courage and said, "I don't know you who are. I'm not giving you any report until I get the money that George promised me."
"Yes you will, Bobby," the man said, as he pulled a gun from the back of his pants and pointed it at Bobby.
Fear seized Bobby when he saw the gun. "What are you doing? It's just a report."
"So give it to me," the man ordered him. His face was expressionless and his eyes were void of any emotion.
It was an order that Bobby knew he had no choice but to obey, if he wanted to live. Terrified, with his hands trembling, Bobby removed the backpack hanging from his back, unzipped a small pocket and took out the disk.
The man grabbed the disk and looked at it quickly before looking back at Bobby, his weapon still raised at him.
"Can I go now? I promise that I won't call the police," Bobby said, fighting off his paralysis and trying not to look at the gun silencer pointed at his chest.
"Not until you tell me whether you made any other copies of this disk." The man's voice was monotone. It was as if he was reading from a bad script. Watching Bobby fidget on his bicycle, his lips curled up slightly in amusement.
"I didn't make any copies of the disk," Bobby lied. All he wanted now was to get out of there as quickly as possible. He was hoping the lie would help. It didn't.
"In that case, I don't need you anymore," the man said, before shooting Bobby three times in the chest.
The bullets shook Bobby's body violently, causing him to fall backwards awkwardly on the ground with the bicycle between his legs, tumbling and falling on his left ankle, breaking it.
Amazingly, Bobby did not feel any pain. He was lying on his back and felt wetness on his chest, but nothing else. Suddenly, he felt cold and sleepy. His eyes were closing. Under his eyelids, he could see crew cut man come and stand over him. Crew cut man was now smiling widely. When the last bullet entered Bobby's skull, he did not feel it either. He had already surrendered his life.
Once he was satisfied that Bobby was dead, crew cut man searched Bobby's pockets and took his wallet. He quickly pulled out a small bag of marijuana from his back pocket and put it in Bobby's right hand.
By the time the police found Bobby's body, crew cut man was gone, and the gun had already been dumped in a lake several miles away.