A youngster with closely cropped hair and a pierced nose strolled through Canary Wharf. He’d just paid off a taxi and was looking for the apartment he’d booked using some super new app. It was the latest thing that summer, and so far only a handful of tech-minded geeks in the States and the UK had tried it out. Timothy Anderson was one of them. But he wasn’t just a tech fan. He was one of those who thought new tech up.
He had recently turned nineteen but his reputation as a data analyst and new media wizard had already suffered a setback in Canada. After a year of working for the Liberal Party he had decided to hand in his notice. For what seemed one awfully long year he’d tried to convince the ruling party’s functionaries of the need to adopt modern ways of managing social media, because, as he repeated often enough, that was where future elections would be decided.
But the Canadian Liberals were too conservative for him.
He had few qualms about chomping data which the law didn’t give him much justification to use, though there actually weren’t any laws governing this area yet. But the head of the party’s election team followed the logic that Canadians wouldn’t be too comfortable with the idea of someone siphoning off their data and cooking up an election campaign with it.
So he’d called a halt to the whole project.
This timid approach had enraged Timothy Anderson: „Why did you hire me if you won’t let me do the work? They’ve been testing and using these methods in America, while we’re stuck in the bill-sticker’s era!“
Once he realized he was never going to change their minds, he’d thrown in the towel. He’d left for London on the invite of one Roy who worked for the British Liberal Democrat Party. Unlike its Canadian counterpart, this small, centrist party had seen better days. “How many Lib-Dems MPs can you get in a taxi? All of them!” went the old joke.
But they had maybe some appetite for trying new ways of doing things. Timothy had had enough in Canada and gladly took up the invitation. He needed a breakthrough. The unique project he had in his head needed a testing ground. He hoped this time it would happen.
At school, he’d been a timid chubby kid behind glasses. He was the kind of kid who fascinates bullies wherever he goes. He had to change schools several times and once he was even bullied by a teacher. Timothy’s parents soon realized it wasn’t just their son’s autism that people found irritating, it was also his keen intellect. When, at the age of sixteen, he announced he was leaving high school and wouldn’t graduate, they accepted his decision with some sympathy.
He spent the majority of his time at his computer anyway. He was fascinated by data and the ways it was possible to acquire, store, sort, analyze and put it to unforeseen use.
His classmates and friends had grown used to the fact that Tim was just the sort of crazy guy who rarely leaves the house, and whose life mainly involves soft drinks and online forums about data analysis. Not that he had many friends — the only time he spent among the living was with local politicians. He never went out for a drink — he preferred to avoid crowds — and liked his own company. Despite his now adult, slim and attractive appearance, only in front of his flickering monitor did he feel truly free.
He tapped in the code at the entrance to the apartment. It was an old house, but well-kept and the apartment was renovated in luxurious style. He unpacked and opened his diary. He had five months to get it done. He didn’t have the money for it to take longer. He needed to find a job, preferably in the data business. While working, he intended to finish his dissertation and complete his studies. Data was on the verge of becoming the world’s hottest commodity, and he wanted to be there when it did.
* * *
The bell at street level of an unremarkable seven-storey building with a glass facade bore the words ECS Communications in tiny letters. He climbed to the third floor, handed his resume to the receptionist and was shown into a room for applicants. He was early and the first candidate to arrive. So far he’d only come across job offers he regarded as below him. Data analysis was a valued skill, but not in politics. In logistics it certainly was, but in election campaigns? Not a chance.
„Take a seat, Tim.“ Timothy Anderson turned round, but there was no one there. The voice was coming out of a tiny speaker above the desk. Otherwise he was alone in the test room.
He approached the desk on which a computer monitor stood. Next to the keyboard was a set of instructions for the test. He unfolded the sheet of A4 and quickly scanned what he had to do — personal info, then the test, finally a confidentiality clause to sign. Nothing too complicated.
He sat down, clicked in the middle of the screen, and the test launched automatically. It was fairly easy stuff and he was done well before the time limit had expired. He also filled in a contact form, so that they could let him know if he’d got the job, which, knowing his luck, wouldn’t happen. But this would be his dream job. Political analyst dealing with social media… he couldn’t think of anything better. He just knew it was the right job for him.
An hour later he was sitting in a vegan restaurant in Canary Wharf waiting for Roy. He was wondering why he’d even applied for the job, when his original intention was to work for the Lib Dems. But to ignore an ad that suited his qualifications down to the ground would have been an unforgivable mistake.
„I’m not late, am I?“ said Roy as he tried to force the white fox terrier he took everywhere with him under the table. „Come on, Dickie, you little rascal, down.“ The two men hugged.
Tim smiled, attempting to stroke the dog around his ankles, but Dickie was in no mood for strangers and gave a low growl. Tim quickly pulled his hand away and rested it on the table.
„You, late? You’d have to have a personality transplant. My god, am I glad to be here! How are you doing?“
„What should we have? Who pissed you off this time?“ boomed Roy, elated to see his friend. Timothy told him all about how he’d unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Canadian Liberals to run their election campaign based on data analysis, and how he was looking out for something similar in London.
„I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it’s the same here.“
Roy was a political analyst with the Liberals, a party that only just made it into parliament at every general election, Though they were there just making up the numbers, their manifesto was usually the most finely-tuned of all the parties.
„Really?“ exclaimed Tim sulkily, scanning the menu for something substantial. He was hungry. „I’ll have the Peanut Ginger Chickpea Curry.“
„I’ll have the Briam. And two ginger beers. No shit. They are so behind the times. They don’t even know social media even exists. The last company to give a presentation on how they could offer them hundreds of Facebook accounts was promptly shown the door. According to them, they’re not a bunch of teenagers.“
Jesus fucking Christ, thought Tim, but instead just uttered: „I also have a presentation.“
„Yeah, all of us have presentations these days. Ten, twenty, thirty — ten slides, twenty minutes, thirty points. Who doesn’t?“
„I have it in Tableau,“ said Timothy, slightly put out.
„You can have it etched in stone. They still won’t get it. It’s all come too quick for them.“
„Do they know Obama’s team made us of it?“
„Yes, but none of them will admit they don’t understand the shit. And have you any idea how much you have to pay someone who does understand it? They can’t even afford to hire a consultant. And without a consultant, heaven knows what pig in a poke someone would sell them. My goodness, isn’t it ironic? The only party that deserves to use this stuff and they refuse to be helped.“
„Yeah, tell me about it. But I…“
„No offense, Timmy. I know you’re the best. But how can I explain it to them? I‘ve no idea, I really don’t.“
They had lunch, then they sat back and talked about the “old days” when they would meet on gaming forums. It was a sunny day, the streets buzzing with people, couples drank in bars, audiences tittered in theatres, and within the walls of the old city’s banking houses, new Russian money flowed as freely as champagne on the Titanic. Just another day in the life of the world’s second city.
* * *
From time to time Serge himself called. He was used to her, and never wanted any other prostitute. He took care of Borya’s human trafficking business activities in London, but the work was taking its toll on him. He often called her up in such a drunken stupor, he was only just capable of speech.
She would listen patiently, tossing in the odd neutral question so he could continue to complain, get it all off his chest and even break down in tears. That was just the way he was. When he got so drunk that he just lay on the sofa or fell on the floor, she would throw a duvet over him and leave quietly.
It was part and parcel of her “profession”. She understood that many of her clients needed someone to talk to much more than just sex. They didn’t really regard her as a person, and they felt strangely safe in her company. But she also knew what fate awaited her if she repeated anything she heard. She learnt to forget what they told her.
But now someone was asking her to do the exact opposite. Now she was expected to remember everything — names, people, faces, little details. Posting reports for Grigory’s people had put ten years on her. She’d also began to experience poor health. A bad psychological state had begun to affect her physical well-being. She felt she wouldn’t last long like this.
„What’s on your mind?“ Serge had once asked her, noticing her worried expression. They were lying on the bed smoking. She made no reply, just waved her hand dismissively.
It was after dark and she didn’t want to talk. She gazed at the white-blue clouds of smoke that left their mouths and swirled towards the apartment’s huge window, beyond which black clouds were gathering over the Thames.
„I know the feeling,“ he said. „I often think what would have happened had I stayed with my dad in his furniture shop. He probably would have gone bankrupt — he was a bit stubborn, wouldn’t pay protection money. But perhaps I would have persuaded him otherwise. We’d have paid up and lived a quiet life. I might have found a wife, settled down… this often crosses my mind.“
She nodded and stroked his hair. „You shouldn’t worry so much,“ she said, flicking the ash from the end of her cigarette.
„Come closer,“ he whispered, vulnerable and tender all of a sudden. She was about to undress, but he gestured for her to stop. He pulled back the duvet and gestured for her to get in beside him. „I just want to feel your warm body next to mine,“ he said and covered them both with the duvet.
She stroked him until he fell asleep.