That frozen day, the father glowered at his son hunched over the laptop in the kitchen. “This is no way to earn a living.”
The teenager leaned further into his screen dancing with code.
“You’re not even dressed. How is this right?”
The keyboard clacked in answer.
“Look at me. I deserve that. You would not have this house, that laptop. Any damn technology if not for me.” The father’s crooked forefinger jabbed towards the back window rimmed with winter. “Every day I was out there. There! In the cold. In the heat. Day and night with my tools. Crowbar, screwdriver, baseball bat. Picking locks. Breaking doors. Bashing heads. Long hours. Many, many people looking to bash my head in, too. Do you hear me?”
The son nodded incidentally.
The father reached for the laptop and the son deftly pulled it out of his reach.
“I should crush it. It’s taught you nothing about the world. Nothing about what it takes to survive. Typing on a keyboard, trying to steal from miles away. Continents away. You learn nothing about crime unless you look your victim in the eye. Like choking a man you’ve never seen take a single breath. Before you take it away…forever.”
The son set his laptop to the side. “Really, papa. This again? The good old days? When robbing people was hard work. When criminals had to earn it. I’ve heard that playlist before. But I know you’ve never bashed in anyone’s head, let alone strangle them. I know you and your pals are nothing but petty criminals. Like me.”
He turned the laptop, so his father could see. “I’m a dime a dozen. Like thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, out there hustling on the web. That’s where commerce lives now, so that’s where crime lives now. I’m a flea, a louse, a tick, trying to latch on and suck a few drops before the greedy beast notices and tries to crush me. I’m not noble. You’re not. We’re just part of the underbelly, the part of the circle of life we’d rather move past.”
The father looked beyond his son, out the window, to the bare trees, the dirty piled snow, a sky without definition. “It’s what I know. What do I have to give you then?”
The son followed his father’s gaze and closed the laptop. “Papa. You gave me reality. An understanding that this world is not just. That I have to take what I want. My crimes, my tools, are different than yours. I know you wanted a better life for me. These tools give it to me.”
“But I have no part in that kind of life. Your virtual world. I can teach you nothing there. For a father that’s worse than criminal. Worse than doing time.”
A strong gust scoured the piled snow and rattled the windows. “Winter is a kind of prison,” the son remarked. “What do criminals in prison do?’
The father scoffed. “Brag. Brag about what they did. What they’ll do when they get out. Bigger and badder crimes. Bragging is how crooks dream. About good old times and how to get them back. Like you said, we’re a dime a dozen.”
“Exactly the point I’m hoping you see, papa. A dime a dozen. Doesn’t sound like much, but how many dozens are in a billion? In seven billion? That’s a Switzerland of dimes. A massive fortune in small change ripe for pickpocketing. Virtually. For my generation, the big score is no more. It’s about milking the long tail.”
“Milking a tail?”
“Stealing almost microscopic amounts over a very long time from millions and millions of accounts. It adds up. Like your stories of taking tiny nips from your dad’s bottle of Scotch when you were my age. He never noticed the “angel’s breath” you sipped. You weren’t greedy, so you slipped under the radar. That’s what you taught me.”
“None of this is right. None of this makes sense.” The father went to the window and stared out. “But what can one do?” He cocked his head as if listening to something. A microsecond later the furnace coughed into life and warm air pushed into the kitchen.
Both father and son shivered.