The solid and prolonged beep from Mick’s rig notifies him that it has completed its tedious task. He inhales the long breath that always comes at the end of an interrupted nap. A bent Us Weekly open to a spread of subversively obtained Scarlett Johansson photos rests on his chest. He lifts his head from the pillow and gazes across the dark room, beyond a crusty keyboard and two weeks’ worth of empty beer cans, to the monitor on his desk. He already knows what to expect, and he debates internally whether it justifies getting up from the bed. It could wait until morning.
The monitor displays the normal windows taskbar and start menu, the messy jumble of icons filling the desktop, and a big black command window with a silver title bar across the top that displays the name Bruteforz v1.382.454. Below the title bar is a long list of glowing green lines of text output. From Mick’s place on the bed the lines are illegible, each appearing as a tiny and identical blurry green dash. He doesn’t need to read them to know the contents. Each line starts with the word Attempting followed by one of one hundred celebrity email addresses, followed by one of five hundred common passwords, followed by the word FAIL. It goes on for fifty thousand lines, not even fifty of which actually fit on the screen. Mick squints for something he thinks is unlikely. He shakes his head and looks again. One line is longer than all the others.
“Huh,” he says aloud, as he rolls off the bed and tosses the Us Weekly to the floor. He steps over a stained pair of sweatpants and a rolled up bag of Cheetos to get to his desk chair, where he flops down against the cheap plastic cushion. He looks back at the Cheetos and scoops the bag up from the floor before turning back to the monitor to verify what he spotted from the bed.
One line is longer than all the others because it ends in SUCCESS. SUCCESS is three characters longer than FAIL.
“One just on this screen?” he says. “Fuckin’ A.” The results are promising. If the one thousandth of the batch that he happens to be looking at contains one success then the probability of others in the rest of the batch is very high.
Who is it? He looks to the left for the email address associated with the login. Emily Ratajkowski? Meh. She’s a great looking girl, but shy she is not. Everybody with a dick and an internet connection has seen her tits already. Not exactly A-list either. He’ll check into that later. Better to start with the big money.
Mick reaches for the mouse and scrolls up through all the output lines. He used one of those 100 sexiest women lists from some lad mag site as a base for the girls, and so they aren’t in alphabetical order. He scrolls straight to the top.
Number one is no good. She’s smart enough to use a caret or something in her password. That Harvard education is really showing.
Mick scrolls down to number two, and number two is ripe. Brittany Perkins is America’s sweetheart. She’s tall, blond, busty with a great butt, but still wholesome enough to seem like the girl next door, and she never takes it off for the camera. She showed a little side boob in the cinematic turd that was Jack Reacharound, but that doesn’t count for shit. She’s exactly the kind that makes the wallets come out and the search rankings climb high—with the right kind of photographic catalyst.
He flips over to iCloud and punches in her address and password: iloveyou. It has no numbers, no caps, and no other characters. Hilarious.
He’s in her account without a hiccup, but there isn’t much that can go wrong when you know the password. His eyes go right to the images tab. She has over 9,000 images on her iCloud account. Christ. These Hollywood bitches can’t go thirty minutes without snapping a damn selfie. Wading through Brittany alone will take hours. Going through all of them could take days. The problem with that is other hackers are out there using the same exploit to do exactly what Mick is doing. When more than one person knows a secret, it doesn’t stay secret very long. Once it gets out, the exploit will be patched and the window will be closed for all of them.
The ingenious thing that separates Mick from every other swinging dick is that he wrote a python script that will go out and grab all of the photos from all of the accounts he can now access and store them locally. That way he can quickly blow the lid off the whole thing, fuck over the competition, and then have his own exclusive library of celebrities’ private titty pics to do with as he pleases. It’s a scheme that would impress even Mark Zuckerberg. He fires up his secondary rig, one with a set of rotational drives that have far more storage capacity than the solid state machine he typically works on, to run the script.
As he’s waiting for the other machine to boot, he opens up Brittany’s images and unrolls the bag of Cheetos. It’ll only take a few hours to download everything—not nearly enough time for Apple to patch the exploit. Mick has this clinched. He’s just dicking around now.
The whole first folder is shit—complete shit. It’s all pictures of Brittany’s baby niece’s birthday party. Fuck that. Baby pics haven’t drawn real money since the 90s, and it’s not even her baby. The next folder is full of artsy photos she took in the park. Brittany Perkins is into photography. No shock there. It’s all the rage with these hipster twenty-somethings. Mick flips through the shots anyway as he shovels Cheetos into his mouth. There are some flowers, an empty swing in black and white, a long shadow from an old tree, a bunch more that Mick gives zero fucks about. Moving on.
He finally starts getting warm with the third folder. It’s a set of pictures of Brittany on vacation with her action co-star, Rex Octane (given name Leroy Finkle), on a beach Mick thinks is in Jamaica. It’s someplace a lot nicer than his shitty studio apartment in Valencia. He knows that for sure.
Right away it starts off with a selfie taken in a full-length mirror wearing a tiny white string bikini in the open front room of what Mick can only guess is a very expensive luxury bungalow. Some wicker furniture is visible behind her, along with a miniature palm tree, and the standard giant-size plasma TV. The outfit and location are a real good indication things will get better very shortly.
The next shots are of Brittany and Rex having lunch at a boardwalk cafe. She has a see-through shirt over the bikini, which is a step in the wrong direction for Mick’s purposes. Somebody else must have taken the photos–a stranger probably, as he hasn’t seen any sign of anyone else with them. They must be older pictures too. Brittany hooked up with Octane while they were doing the press tour for Reacharound. The movie bombed hard and they split not long after. Mick skips through the pics until he sees the backdrop of the bungalow again.
The next photo has all the numbers except the Powerball. Brittany’s on the couch, on her knees, touching her breasts for her cameraman. Mick always thought Rex was a secret queer, as that’s the prevailing rumor around town, but what he’s seeing here would indicate otherwise. This is getting good.
In the next photo, Brittany’s fingers have worked their way into those white bikini bottoms. It’s pretty lurid, but it’s not quite scandalous. Scandalous is what Mick needs.
He flips to the next shot and strikes gold.
“Jackpot,” Mick says.
This one is downright explicit. Brittany stands in front of the same mirror from the earlier bikini shot, but this time the bikini top is on the floor. The bottom is midway down her thighs. One hand holds the panties in place and the other rubs her chest suggestively. Her clean shaven lady parts are visible from two angles because of the mirror behind her reflecting all of her backside. This picture has tits. It has pussy. It has her face in frame. It might as well be a license to print money.
He reaches for his phone, plugged in on his desk, and knocks over several beer cans as he snatches it up. He runs down the contact list for Randy Miller and touches the name. It’s go time. Seconds are precious with something like this.
As he’s waiting for Randy to pick up, he wheels his mouse to zoom in on Brittany’s butt in the mirror. The photo resolution is pretty good. They’re making those cell phone cameras better and better. Then he notes something he missed until now, for obvious reasons. The photographer is visible in the mirror, and although his face is blocked by the camera, he is a much larger man than the famously short Rex Octane.
“Look who’s been a naughty girl,” Mick says. Octane might be a sissy after all.
“This better be good,” Randy answers with his standard warm greeting. “It’s 3 in the fucking morning.”
“Oh, it’s good,” Mick says. “I hit the motherload here.”
“You got the audio of that Illuminati guy chewing out the president?”
“No. This is real. How much would you pay for explicit photos of Brittany Perkins?”
“Uh. More than a bit. How explicit?”
“Send them to my email and I’ll take a look.”
“You think I’m a clown, Randy? The second this hits your vermin infested magazine’s email server is the second it leaks all over the damn web. I show you this in person and you can have the files when I have a check in my hands.”
“Alright, where are you?”
“I’m on Jose Cuervo’s private isle, enjoying a piña colada and watching the sunset. Where do you think I am?”
“Okay. I’m in Valencia. I’ll come to you.”
“You’re in Valencia? Does Angela know of your whereabouts at this hour?”
“Hardy har har, dickhead. I’ll see you in fifteen.”
Mick chuckles as he sets the phone down next to his keyboard. He leans over to the secondary machine and copies the txt file containing the password successes as an array for the python script to pick up. Then he just double clicks to start the script and the machine begins pulling images. It doesn’t need much, if any, supervision. He goes back to the fun part.
The next picture is Brittany fully nude on the wicker couch in the bungalow. It makes Mick wish he had a little more time alone before Randy gets here. He shrugs. There will be plenty of time for that later. Mick clicks the next button and flips to the next photo in the slideshow. This one is Brittany in the shower, no doubt washing herself off after whatever dirty dirty things she did with her mystery man. She holds a pink-handled Bic safety razor in her hand and waves at the camera with the other.
Mick collects another handful of Cheetos in his hand and drops one on the way to his mouth. It tumbles to the shadowy realm that is the floor of his room. He leans to search for the missing Cheeto and finds it near his bare toes under the desk. He contemplates the five second rule, but then remembers he hasn’t vacuumed this carpet in at least six months. He tosses the Cheeto into the waste basket to his right and turns back to the computer.
Brittany Perkins’ deathly white face fills the screen, glaring at him with oozing red eyes. Her screaming mouth drools blood down her chin and chest.
Mick shrieks, dropping the bag of Cheetos on the floor. “What the fuck?!” he says. Is this some kind of joke? Is she doing photo shoots for Fangoria now? Then it occurs to him that he didn’t actually click the mouse for the next picture…
His eyes move to the picture’s filename at the top of the screen: 63GTHxz.jpg. The last three letters confirm his error. A jpg image cannot be animated. It didn’t move on its own. He must have rolled the mouse wheel by accident when he turned away.
He looks back to the vile image in front of him with jaded skepticism and shakes his head. He clicks for the next image. This one is from farther away, and Mick can see Brittany’s entire naked body propped against the wall of the bungalow, covered in blood and surrounded by a smear of it all over the floor. A mass of dangling red tissue dangles from her shoulder and it takes Mick a few seconds of grim examination to recognize it as an empty glove of skin. Her left arm is without flesh. Mick cringes at the exposed muscle and sinew. He doubts it could be a latex appliance because it is too thin for her actual arm to fit inside. It could be a digital creation, but it would be the best Photoshop job he has ever seen—better than anything he has seen from the studios with which he works.
The next photo is like the last, but her entire upper half has been degloved. The hair on Mick’s neck stands on end as his skepticism is turned to horror by the sheer improbability that this is fake. No one does this. No one spends tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours planning a hoax of such grand design and then puts it in a private photo album for none to see. No. There is a far more rational explanation; someone murdered Brittany Perkins. They killed her. They skinned her like an animal and they took photographs of the whole thing. Mick scans up and down in disgust. He sees the flayed fingers of her left hand placed suggestively on her bearded genitals. The sick fuck even put her in poses.
The next shot depicts the natural conclusion—Brittany’s flayed corpse lying by itself on the floor, raw red tissue glistening with a bloody sheen. The folded pile of empty skin sits next to her body, a mass of gore soaked tissue that would be unidentifiable if he hadn’t seen it removed in the last several pictures.
There is one more photo of her curled up against the wall holding her cell phone in her ooze and blood coated right hand. Mick picks up his own phone again without looking away from the screen. He dials Randy a second time. The wait for Randy to pick up seems non-existent because his mind his racing so fast.
“Jesus, I’m almost there,” Randy says.
“I think…” Mick says. “I think somebody murdered Brittany Perkins.”
“What?” Randy says.
“There’s a picture. I mean, there’s a set of pictures… of someone killing her. They killed her.”
“Tonight?” The disbelief in Randy’s voice is abundant.
“No. In Jamaica or something. She was on vacation with Octane and somebody killed her—some guy she was with.”
“What the hell are you smoking, man?”
“Nothing. I’m telling you, this is real! I think I should call the cops or something.”
“You’re losing your mind. Brittany Perkins was on the Tonight Show like two hours ago. I got some shots of her getting in the limo a little after six, so unless somebody murdered her after dinner tonight, you’re getting taken for a ride.”
“Look, just get here, okay?”
“I’ll be at the building in a minute.”
Randy must be wrong. There’s no way. Mick knows what he’s seeing. He looks back at the clock. It’s 3:34. The local affiliate rebroadcasts the Tonight Show every night at 3. He spins in his chair and finds the TV remote on the floor behind him. He plucks it up from the carpet and punches the power button down while pointing it at the little Samsung flat screen on his dresser. The TV powers on and fades to a nature show about ducks, where it sits for a few seconds while Mick enters the number 4 and waits for it to change to KNBC.
The channel flips and there she is: Brittany Perkins, alive and well in a little black dress. She sits in the grey puffy chair next to Jimmy Fallon’s desk in front of the familiar city backdrop. She slaps Jimmy in the shoulder and giggles at a joke he just made.
How? Could it be someone else in the picture? Someone who looks just like her? Could they have replaced her like Paul McCartney? Mick taps her name into a Google image search. He pulls up a slew of bikini photos in seconds, intending to compare them with the girl in his pictures. He’ll look at every inch, every mole, every wrinkle if he must. He knows what he saw. He KNOWS it.
It’s stupid to trust the Maxim spreads and Cosmo covers. Those are airbrushed to hell and back. Instead, he chooses a very high resolution paparazzi shot of Brittany by the side of a pool in Vegas. From it, he identifies a constellation of brown spots near her left shoulder. He spends the next ten minutes clicking back and forth from picture to picture and what he finds bothers him even more.
The spots are there. Even on her shed skin, as it dangles like an empty sleeve from her shoulder, the spots are there. The implications are maddening. They wouldn’t have made the fake so perfect—they COULDN’T have. Not with latex or Photoshop or anything Mick can imagine would anyone include such miniscule and perfect details.
He leans back in his chair, exasperated, confused, frightened. He gazes frustratingly at the last picture in the set, the one of her red corpse holding her phone in hand and curled in a fetal position. He balls his fist as he asks himself the question: how? How did they do it? Then he glimpses a detail he missed before: enohPi. The little collection of backward letters is exposed between the fingers of her dead hand as it grasps the cell phone.
The picture was taken in a mirror.
He clicks back to the last image before that one and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, though what they assemble is an image of raving insanity. He clicks again and confirms the horror he suspected. He clicks again.
One by one, he makes his way back to the start of the photo set and then starts over from the beginning—the true beginning. He watches as Brittany Perkins begins as a slimy red corpse. He watches as she stretches into her legs like a pair of tights. He watches as she pulls her upper half on and turns the phone around to take a smiling photo of her own bloody face. He watches her shave away her fuzzy landing strip in the shower while an unknown person takes pictures, and this time he notices the orange tint in the water around her feet. Then he watches her put on her white bikini before they go out to meet Rex for brunch at a seaside café. There’s a doggy bag with the café’s logo on it on a table behind her as she takes one final selfie back at the bungalow.
“It’s impossible,” Mick says.
“What is?” Randy asks from the other room. He must have let himself in when Mick didn’t come to the door.
“You have to see this!” Mick shouts. “It’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever-”
He stops when he sees her standing in the door frame, a svelte shadow against the backdrop of his living room lights. It’s Brittany Perkins in her little black dress.
“Look who’s been a naughty boy,” Brittany says. She has Randy’s voice.
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