BLURB: Jack’s stressful, high-powered life leaves no time for anything except a casual friendship-with-benefits with his neighbor Henry, a laid-back, outdoors type with excellent computer skills. It’s the perfect arrangement for two men who are attracted to each other but don’t have much else in common. Then a few days before Christmas, Jack’s holiday plans are thwarted, leaving him home with just his volatile PC for company while Henry—his usual tech support—is on his way to a secluded Christmas hideaway. So what’s Jack to do when, to his horror, weird pop-ups start appearing?
I frowned at a new batch of pop-ups and stabbed at my keyboard, trying to get the little “x” to respond. Of course, I had to admit there were disadvantages to this jet-set, trouble-shooting lifestyle. Nowadays, I always seemed to be tired, or coming down with a version of the flu. Plus, working such long hours meant I didn’t have a local circle of friends. I’d lost touch with most of my school buddies, I struggled to get back home for family events, whereas Tom and Sara had more routine jobs near my parents and were always on hand. And dating… well, that was a bit hit and miss for me. More miss than hit, actually. Thank God I had some regular fun with…
“Only minutes left to claim your unique prize!”
The banner on my screen blinked and shimmered, leaving hazy spots in front of my eyes. It still wouldn’t erase. The “x” was on strike, or something, it seemed to be greyed out. I didn’t usually have this much trouble. I tried “Ctrl”, “Alt”, “Caps”, then – in frustration – all three together. I’d never been very good at technical issues, software or hardware, just good, solid hard work. That was, of course, greatly appreciated at the office, even though my boss had made some not-so-veiled comments at my last appraisal about the counter-productive effect of long hours and the short-sighted fear of never taking risks. Obviously he was covering those areas with all the Managers, not just me. The tapping of my keyboard sounded more like hammer strikes, and a nagging pain started up in my left temple. Of course, Henry was the guy for this, really, with his unruffled calm and his almost spooky skill with these damned machines, instruments of the devil that they were…
Then the pop-ups started increasing with a vengeance.
“Upgrade your cell TODAY!”
“I lost 20 pounds in a month sitting in my arm chair, and YOU CAN TOO!”
“What I’m going to do today is to reveal the secret of eternal life and unmatched health!”
“Can Snoring Kill? Surgeons say “Yes””
“Your new size tool will change everything!”
I groaned aloud. Some people needed to get a life, rather than spending their time creating havoc on the internet. These things were often amusing – but not tonight. I really didn’t have the time to navigate my way around puerile sabotage. Maybe I was more tense than I thought about Sara’s imminent baby. Or I was still brooding on my latest investigation. My client’s year end was approaching, and the financial horrors were starting to emerge from the woodwork like worms on a wet lawn. The previous accountant had left without notice, but with most of the pension fund, the computerised ledgers had been corrupted and were spewing reports in something that looked like Mandarin, and three years of unfiled tax return papers had just been found scrunched up under a pile of Stephen King thrillers in the cupboard of the downstairs toilet. Maybe that wasn’t everyone’s idea of thrill-a-minute, but it kept me fully occupied.
“Are you getting enough sun?” my mother said last time we met, peering at my eyes behind my tinted glasses.
“She means, get a life, Jack,” said Tom, smiling wryly behind her. “Or get laid,” he mouthed at me, after Mum turned away.
But I had a life, thanks. I just chose my own way to lead it. I frowned at the mess on my screen, which looked more worrying by now. I needed to call Henry, ask him to do his technical magic on it. He once tried to explain to me his particular branch of I.T. expertise but it was an alien language to me. He was obviously highly respected, though – I’d once caught a glimpse of a letter to him from the FBI. Whereas I’d have worried it was something to do with one of the complex tax avoidance schemes I investigated, Henry had smiled and said he really didn’t have the time to consult for them again at the moment. Again, he’d said.
The fan in my PC whirred loudly. There was probably time to de-frag it – or whatever Henry called those arcane rituals he performed – now I wasn’t going away. I glanced at my watch. Really, I should ring my boss, despite the late hour, and let him know I’d be in town after all over the vacation. I could follow up some of the corrupted prior year audit trails….
“A better work life balance proved to lower cholesterol and cure hypertension.”
I leaned back in my chair, unusually restless. Get laid, Tim had said. Ever since adulthood, that had been his answer to everything, a life of hedonism and chaos, at least until he met and settled down with Sara. He’d certainly taken his own share of adventure as a young man, whereas I’d always had my work, my ambition, my pragmatism. Our different attitude had always been a joke between us, but nowadays it was getting old. And anyway, I already had…
About that hypertension? I dragged my attention back to the screen, massaging the pain in my temple for a few moments, aimlessly scanning the ads blossoming all over my screen. Eternal life and unmatched health – I probably needed some insurance for them. It had been a good year for my bank balance, but I hadn’t given much thought to rest and recuperation. The workload at the office had demanded my constant attention for many months now, even though some of my colleagues thought they could get away with far less commitment. What else? My cell phone was fine, albeit an old model, not that I used it much outside work. And I didn’t think I snored much – I was sure Tom would’ve told me, the times we’d shared the spare room at Mum’s since we both left home – and weight loss? I looked down at myself. Not a problem, really. I usually forgot to eat when I was so busy.
“Every man w*ants to h-ave ultimate co+ntrol o.ver hi+s own sexual acti-vity .”
I pursed my lips. Good God. My fingers traced an imaginary cursor, filing that one alongside the “your new size tool” one. My current size tool was perfectly okay, thank you very much. As far as I knew, anyway. And the ultimate control issue? Too much information, in my opinion.
A fresh wave of pop-ups appeared, depressing me afresh. I groped on the table to find my cell phone. Henry hadn’t left for the holiday yet, had he?