How far could society fall without data? Account balances, property lines, government ID records — if it all vanished, if everyone’s scorecard reset to zero, how might the world look?
The Blind Mice are going to show us.
Molly McGill is fighting it. Her teenage son has come downstairs in a T-shirt from these “hacktivists” dominating the news. Her daughter’s bus is canceled — too many stoplights out — and school is in the opposite direction of the temp job she’s supposed to be starting this morning. She is twice-divorced; her P.I. business, McGill Investigators, is on the rocks; what kind of life is this for a woman a mere twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD?
Then the doorbell rings.
It’s Quaid Rafferty, the charming — but disgraced — former governor of Massachusetts, and his plainspoken partner, Durwood Oak Jones. The guys have an assignment for Molly. It sounds risky, but the pay sure beats switchboard work.
They need her to infiltrate the Blind Mice.
Danger, romance, intrigue, action for miles — whatever you read, Anarchy of the Mice is coming for you.
The first I ever heard of the Blind Mice was from my fourteen-year-old son, Zach. I was scrambling to get him and his sister ready for school, stepping over dolls and skater magazines, thinking ahead to the temp job I was starting in about an hour, when Zach came slumping downstairs in a suspiciously plain T-shirt.
“Turn around,” I said. “Let’s see the back.”
He scowled but did comply. The clothing check was mandatory after that vomiting-skull sweatshirt he’d slipped out the door in last month.
Okay. No drugs, profanity, or bodily fluids being expelled.
But there was something. An abstract computer-ish symbol. A mouse? Possibly the nose, eyes, and whiskers of a mouse?
Printed underneath was, Nibble, nibble. Until the whole sick scam rots through.
I checked the clock: 7:38. Seven minutes before we absolutely had to be out the door, and I still hadn’t cleaned up the grape juice spill, dealt with my Frizz City hair, or checked the furnace. For twenty minutes, I’d been hearing ker-klacks, which my heart said was construction outside but my head worried could be the failing heater.
How bad did I want to let Zach’s shirt slide?
“Is that supposed to be a mouse?” I said. “Like an angry mouse?”
“The Blind Mice,” my son replied. “Maybe you’ve heard, they’re overthrowing the corporatocracy?”
His eyes bulged teen sarcasm underneath those bangs he refuses to get cut.
“Wait,” I said, “that group that’s attacking big companies’ websites and factories?”
“Government too.” He drew his face back ominously. “Anyone who’s part of the scam.”
“And you’re wearing their shirt?”
I would’ve dearly loved to engage Zach in a serious discussion of socioeconomic justice—I did my master’s thesis on the psychology of labor devaluation in communities—except we needed to go. In five minutes.
“What if Principal Broadhead sees that?” I said. “Go change.”
“Zach McGill, that shirt promotes domestic terrorism. You’ll get kicked out of school.”
“Like half my friends wear it, Mom.” He thrust his hands into his pockets.
Ugh. I had stepped in parenting quicksand. I’d issued a rash order and Zach had refused, and now I could either make him change, starting a blow-out fight and virtually guaranteeing I’d be late my first day on the job at First Mutual, or back down and erode my authority.
“Wear a jacket,” I said—a poor attempt to limit the erosion, but the best I could do. “And don’t let your great-grandmother see that shirt.”
Speaking of, I could hear Granny’s slippers padding around upstairs. She was into her morning routine, and would shortly—at the denture-rinsing phase—be shouting down that her sink was draining slow again; why hadn’t the damn plumber come yet?
Because I hadn’t paid one. McGill Investigators, the PI business of which I was the founder and sole employee (yes, I realized the plural name was misleading), had just gone belly-up. Hence the temp job.
Karen, my six-year-old, was seated cheerily beside her doll in front of orange juice and an Eggo Waffle.
“Mommy!” she announced. “I get to ride to school with you today!”
The doll’s lips looked sticky—OJ?—and the cat was eyeing Karen’s waffle across the table.
“Honey, weren’t you going to ride the bus today?” I asked, shooing the cat, wiping the doll with a dishrag.
Karen shook her head. “Bus isn’t running. I get to ride in the Prius, in Mommy’s Prius!”
I felt simultaneous joy that Karen loved our new car—well, new to us: 120K miles as a rental, but it was a hybrid—and despair because I really couldn’t take her. School was in the complete opposite direction of New Jersey Transit. Even if I took the turnpike, which I loathed, I would miss my train.
Fighting to address Karen calmly in a time crunch, I said, “Are you sure the bus isn’t running?”
I asked how she knew.
“Bus driver said, ‘If the stoplights are blinking again in the morning, I ain’t taking you.’” She walked to the window and pointed. “See?”
I joined her at the window, ignoring the driver’s grammatical example for the moment. Up and down my street, traffic lights flashed yellow.
“Blind Mice, playa!” Zach puffed his chest. “Nibble, nibble.”
The lights had gone out every morning this week at rush hour. On Monday, the news had reported a bald eagle flew into a substation. On Tuesday, they’d said the outages were lingering for unknown reasons. I hadn’t seen the news yesterday.
Did Zach know the Blind Mice were involved? Or was he just being obnoxious?
“Great,” I muttered. “Bus won’t run because stoplights are out, but I’m free to risk our lives driving to school.”
Karen gazed up at me, her eyes green like mine and trembling. A mirror of my stress.
Pull it together, Molly.
“Don’t worry,” I corrected myself. “I’ll take you. I will. Let me just figure a few things out.”
Trying not to visualize myself walking into First Mutual forty-five minutes late, I took a breath. I patted through my purse for keys, sifting through rumpled Kleenex and receipts and granola-bar halves. Granny had made her way downstairs and was reading aloud from a bill-collection notice. Zach was texting, undoubtedly to friends about his lame mom. I felt air on my toes and looked down: a hole in my hose.
I’d picked out my cutest work sandals, but somehow I doubted the look would hold up with toes poking out like mini-wieners.
I wished I could shut my eyes, whisper some spell, and wake up in a different universe.
Then the doorbell rang.
Quaid Rafferty waited on the McGills’ front porch with a winning smile. It had been ten months since he’d seen Molly, and he was eager to reconnect.
Inside, there sounded a crash (pulled-over coatrack?), a smack (skateboard hitting wall?), and muffled cross-voices.
Quaid fixed the lay of his sport coat lapels and kept waiting. His partner, Durwood Oak Jones, stood two paces back with his dog. Durwood wasn’t saying anything, but Quaid could feel the West Virginian’s disapproval—it pulsed from his blue jeans and cowboy hat.
Quaid twisted from the door. “School morning, right? I’m sure she’ll be out shortly.”
Durwood remained silent. He was on record saying they’d be better off with a more accomplished operative like Kitty Ravensdale or Sigrada the Serpent, but Quaid believed in Molly. He’d argued that McGill, a relative amateur, was just what they needed: a fresh-faced idealist.
Now he focused on the door—and was pleased to hear the dead bolt turn within. He was less pleased when he saw the face that appeared in the door glass.
“Why, color me damned!” began the septuagenarian, yanking open the screen door. “The louse returns. Whorehouses all kick you out?”
Quaid strained to keep smiling. “How are you this fine morning, Eunice?”
Her face stormed over. “What’re you here for?”
“We’re hoping for a word with Molly if she’s around.” He opened his shoulders to give her a full view of his party, which included Durwood and Sue-Ann, his aged bluetick coonhound.
They made for an admittedly odd sight. Quaid and Durwood shared the same vital stats, six one and 180-something pounds, but God himself couldn’t have created two more different molds. Quaid in a sport coat with suntanned wrists and mussed-just-so blond hair. Durwood removing his hat and casting steel-colored eyes humbly about, jeans pulled down over his boots’ piping. And Sue with her mottled coat, rasping like any breath could be her last.
Eunice stabbed a finger toward Durwood. “He can come in—him I respect. But you need to turn right around. My granddaughter wants nothing to do with cads like you.”
Behind her, a voice called, “Granny, I can handle this.”
Eunice ignored this. “You’re a no-good man. I know it, my granddaughter knows it.” Veins showed through the chicken-y skin of her neck. “Go on, hop a flight back to Vegas and all your whores!”
Before Quaid could counter these aspersions, Molly appeared.
His heart chirped in his chest. Molly was a little discombobulated, bending to put on a sandal, a kid’s jacket tucked under one elbow—but those dimples, that curvy body…even in the worst domestic throes, she could’ve charmed slime off a senator.
He said, “Can’t you beat a seventy-four-year-old woman to the door?”
Molly slipped on the second sandal. “Can we please just not? It’s been a crazy morning.”
“I know the type.” Quaid smacked his hands together. “So hey, we have a job for you.”
“You’re a little late—McGill Investigators went out of business. I have a real job starting in less than an hour.”
“Reception,” she said. “Three months with First Mutual.”
“Temp work?” Quaid asked.
“I was supposed to start with the board of psychological examiners, but the position fell through.”
“Funding ran out. The governor disbanded the board.”
“So First Mutual…?”
Molly’s eyes, big and leprechaun green, fell. “It’s temp work, yeah.”
“You’re criminally overqualified for that, McGill,” Quaid said. “Hear us out. Please.”
She snapped her arms over her chest but didn’t stop Quaid as he breezed into the living room followed by Durwood and Sue-Ann, who wore no leash but kept a perfect twenty-inch heel by her master.
Two kids poked their heads around the kitchen doorframe. Quaid waggled his fingers playfully at the girl.
Molly said, “Zach, Karen—please wait upstairs. I’m speaking with these men.”
The boy argued he should be able to stay; upstairs sucked; wasn’t she the one who said they had to leave, like, immedia—
“This is not a negotiation,” Molly said in a new tone.
They went upstairs.
She sighed. “Now they’ll be late for school. I’m officially the worst mother ever.”
Quaid glanced around the living room. The floor was clutter free, but toys jammed the shelves of the coffee table. Stray fibers stuck up from the carpet, which had faded beige from its original yellow or ivory.
“No, you’re an excellent mother,” Quaid said. “You do what you believe is best for your children, which is why you’re going to accept our proposition.”
The most effective means of winning a person over, Quaid had learned as governor of Massachusetts and in prior political capacities, was to identify their objective and articulate how your proposal brought it closer. Part two was always trickier.
He continued, “American Dynamics is the client, and they have deep pockets. If you help us pull this off, all your money troubles go poof.”
A glint pierced Molly’s skepticism. “Okay. I’m listening.”
“You’ve heard of the Blind Mice, these anarchist hackers?”
“I—well, yes, a little. Zach has their T-shirt.”
Quaid, having met the boy on a few occasions, wasn’t shocked by the information. “Here’s the deal. We need someone to infiltrate them.”
Molly blinked twice.
Durwood spoke up, “You’d be great, Moll. You’re young. Personable. People trust you.”
Molly’s eyes were grapefruits. “What did you call them, ‘anarchist hackers’? How would I infiltrate them? I just started paying bills online.”
“No tech knowledge required,” Quaid said. “We have a plan.”
He gave her the nickel summary. The Blind Mice had singled out twelve corporate targets, “the Despicable Dozen,” and American Dynamics topped the list. In recent months, AmDye had seen its websites crashed, its factories slowed by computer glitches, internal documents leaked, the CEO’s home
egged repeatedly. Government agencies from the FBI to NYPD were pursuing the Mice, but the company was troubled by the lack of progress and so had hired Third Chance Enterprises to take them down.
“Now if I accept,” Molly said, narrowing her eyes, “does that mean I’m officially part of Third Chance Enterprises?”
Quaid exhaled at length. Durwood shook his head with an irked air—he hated the name, and considered Quaid’s branding efforts foolish.
“Oh, Durwood and I have been at this freelance operative thing awhile.” Quaid smoothed his sport coat lapels. “Most cases we can handle between the two of us.”
“But not this one.”
“Right. Durwood’s a whiz with prosthetics, but even he can’t bring this”—Quaid indicated his own ruggedly handsome but undeniably middle-aged face—“back to twenty-five.”
Molly’s eyes turned inward. Quaid’s instincts told him she was thinking of her children.
She said, “Sounds dangerous.”
“Nah.” He spread his arms, wide and forthright. “You’re working with the best here: the top small-force, private-arms outfit in the Western world. Very minimal danger.”
Like the politician he’d once been, Quaid delivered this line of questionable veracity with full sincerity.
Then he turned to his partner. “Right, Wood? She won’t have a thing to worry about. We’d limit her involvement to safe situations.”
Durwood thinned his lips. “Do the best we could.”
This response, typical of the soldier he’d once been, was unhelpful.
Molly said, “Who takes care of my kids if something happens, if the Blind Mice sniff me out? Would I have to commit actual crimes?”
“Unlikely? I’ll tell you what’s unlikely, getting hired someplace, anyplace, with a felony conviction on your application…”
As she thundered away, Quaid wondered if Durwood might not have been right in preferring a pro. The few times they’d used Molly McGill before had been secondary: posing as a gate agent during the foiled Delta hijacking, later as an archivist for the American embassy in Rome. They’d only pulled her into Rome because of her language skills—she spoke six fluently.
“…also, I have to say,” she continued, and from the edge in her voice, Quaid knew just where they were headed, “I find it curious that I don’t hear from you for ten months, and then you need my help, and all of a sudden, I matter. All of a sudden, you’re on my doorstep.”
“I apologize,” Quaid said. “The Dubai job ran long, then that Guadeloupean resort got hit by a second hurricane. We got busy. I should’ve called.”
Molly’s face cooled a shade, and Quaid saw that he hadn’t lost her.
Before either could say more, a heavy ker-klack sounded outside.
“What’s the racket?” Quaid asked. He peeked out the window at his and Durwood’s Vanagon, which looked no more beat-up than usual.
“It’s been going on all morning,” Molly said. “I figured it was construction.”
Quaid said, “Construction in this economy?”
He looked to Durwood.
“I’ll check ’er out.” The ex-soldier turned for the door. Sue-Ann, heaving herself laboriously off the carpet, scuffled after.
Alone now with Molly, Quaid walked several paces in. He doubled his sport coat over his forearm and passed a hand through his hair, using a foyer mirror to confirm the curlicues that graced his temples on his best days.
This was where it had to happen. Quaid’s behavior toward Molly had been less than gallant, and that was an issue. Still, there were sound arguments at his disposal. He could play the money angle. He could talk about making the world safer for Molly’s children. He could point out that she was meant for greater things, appealing to her sense of adventure, framing the job as an escape from the hamster wheel and entrée to a bright world of heroes and villains.
He believed in the job. Now he just needed her to believe too.
Durwood walked north. Sue-Ann gimped along after, favoring her bum hip. Paws echoed bootheels like sparrows answering blackbirds. They found their noise at the sixth house on the left.
A crew of three men was working outside a small home. Two-story like Molly’s. The owner had tacked an addition onto one side, prefab sunroom. The men were working where the sunroom met the main structure. Dislodging nails, jackhammering between fiberglass and brick.
Tossing panels onto a stack.
“Pardon,” Durwood called. “Who you boys working for?”
One man pointed to his earmuffs. The others paid Durwood no mind whatsoever. Heavyset men. Big stomachs and muscles.
Durwood walked closer. “Those corner boards’re getting beat up. Y’all got a permit I could see?”
The three continued to ignore him.
The addition was poorly done to begin with, the cornice already sagging. Shoddy craftsmanship. That didn’t mean the owners deserved to have it stolen for scrap.
The jackhammer was plugged into an outside GFI. Durwood caught its cord with his bootheel.
“The hell?” said the operator as his juice cut.
Durwood said, “You’re thieves. You’re stealing fiberglass.”
The men denied nothing.
One said, “Call the cops. See if they come.”
Sue-Ann bared her gums.
Durwood said, “I don’t believe we need to involve law enforcement,” and turned back south for the Vanagon.
Crime like this—callous, brash—was a sign of the times. People were sore about this “new economy,” how well the rich were making out. Groups like the Blind Mice thought it gave them a right to practice lawlessness.
Lawlessness, Durwood knew, was like a plague. Left unchecked, it spread. Even now, besides this sunroom dismantling, Durwood saw a half dozen offenses in plain sight. Low-stakes gambling on a porch. Coaxials looped across half the neighborhood roofs: cable splicing. A Rottweiler roaming off leash.
Each stuck in Durwood’s craw.
He walked a half block to the Vanagon. He hunted around inside, boots clattering the bare metal floor. Pushed aside Stinger missiles in titanium casings. Squinted past crates of frag grenades in the bulkhead he’d jiggered himself from ponderosa pine.
Here she was—a pressurized tin of black ops epoxy. Set quick enough to repel a flash air strike, strong enough to hold a bridge. Durwood had purchased it for the Dubai job. According to his supplier, Yakov, the stuff smelled like cinnamon when it dried. Something to do with chemistry.
Durwood removed the tin from its box and brushed off the pink Styrofoam packing Yakov favored. Then allowed Sue a moment to ease herself down to the curb before they started back north.
Passing Molly’s house, Durwood glimpsed her through the living room window. She was listening to Quaid, fingers pressed to her forehead.
Quaid was lying. Which was nothing new, Quaid stretching the truth to a woman. But these lies involved Molly’s safety. Fact was, they knew very little of the Blind Mice. Their capabilities, their willingness to harm innocents. The leader, Josiah, was a reckless troublemaker. He spewed his nonsense on Twitter, announcing targets ahead of time, talking about his own penis.
The heavyset men were back at it. One on the roof. The other two around back of the sunroom, digging up the slab.
Durwood set down the epoxy. The men glanced over but kept jackhammering. They would not be the first, nor last, to underestimate this son of an Appalachian coal miner.
The air compressor was set up on the lawn. Durwood found the main pressure valve and cranked its throat full open.
The man on the roof had his ratchet come roaring out of his hands. He slid down the grade, nose rubbing vinyl shingles, and landed in petunias.
Back on his feet, the man swore.
“Mind your language,” Durwood said. “There’s families in the neighborhood.”
The other two hustled over, shovels at their shoulders. The widest of the three circled to Durwood’s backside.
Sue-Ann coiled her old bones to strike. Ugliness roiled Durwood’s gut.
Big Man punched first. Durwood caught his fist, torqued his arm behind his back. The next man swung his shovel. Durwood charged underneath and speared his chest. The man wheezed sharply, his lung likely punctured.
The third man got hold of Durwood’s bootheel, smashed his elbow into the hollow of Durwood’s knee. Durwood scissored the opposite leg across the man’s throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched. He felt the man’s Adam’s apple wriggling between his legs. A black core in Durwood yearned to squeeze.
The hostiles came again, and Durwood whipped them again. Automatically, in a series of beats as natural to him as chirping to a katydid. The men’s faces changed from angry to scared to incredulous. Finally, they stayed down.
“Now y’all are helping fix that sunroom.” Durwood nodded to the epoxy tin. “Mix six to one, then paste ’er on quick.”
Luckily, he’d caught the thieves early, and the repair was uncomplicated. Clamp, glue, drill. The epoxy should increase the R-value on the sunroom ten, fifteen, units. Good for a few bucks off the gas bill in winter, anyhow.
Durwood did much of the work himself. He enjoyed the panels’ weight, the strength of a well-formed joint. His muscles felt free and easy as if he were home ridding the sorghum fields of johnsongrass.
Done, he let the thieves go.
He turned back south toward Molly’s house. Sue-Ann scrabbled alongside.
“Well, ole girl?” he said. “Let’s see how Quaid made out.”
I stood on my front porch watching the Vanagon rumble down Sycamore. My toes tingled, my heart was tossing itself against the walls of my chest, and I was pretty sure my nose had gone berserk. How else could I be smelling cinnamon?
Quaid Rafferty’s last words played over and over in my head: We need you.
For twenty minutes, after Durwood had taken his dog to investigate ker-klacks, Quaid had given me the hard sell. The money would be big-time. I had the perfect skills for the assignment: guts, grace under fire, that youthful je ne sais quoi. Wasn’t I always saying I ought to be putting my psychology skills to better use? Well, here it was: understanding these young people’s outrage would be a major component of the job.
Some people will anticipate your words and mumble along. Quaid did something similar but with feelings, cringing at my credit issues, brightening with whole-face joy at Karen’s reading progress—which I was afraid would suffer if I got busy and didn’t keep up her nightly practice.
He was pitching me, yes. But he genuinely cared what was happening in my life.
I didn’t know how to think about Quaid, how to even fix him in my brain. He and Durwood were so far outside any normal frame of reference. Were they even real? Did I imagine them?
Their biographies were epic. Quaid the twice-elected (once-impeached) governor of Massachusetts who now battled villains across the globe and lived at Caesars Palace. Durwood a legend of the Marine Corps, discharged after defying his commanding officer and wiping out an entire Qaeda cell to avenge the death of his wife.
I’d met them during my own unreal adventure—the end of my second marriage, which had unraveled in tragedy in the backwoods of West Virginia.
They’d recruited me for three missions since. Each was like a huge, brilliant dream—the kind that’s so vital and packed with life that you hang on after you wake up, clutching backward into sleep to stay inside.
Granny said, “That man’s trouble. If you have any sense in that stubborn head of yours, you’ll steer clear.”
I stepped back into the living room, the Vanagon long gone, and allowed my eyes to close. Granny didn’t know the half of it. She had huffed off to watch her judge shows on TV before the guys had even mentioned the Blind Mice.
No, she meant a more conventional trouble.
“I’ve learned,” I said. “If I take this job, it won’t be for romance. I’d be doing it for me. For the family.”
As if cued by the word “family,” a peal of laughter sounded upstairs.
My eyes zoomed to the clock. It was 8:20. Zach would be lucky to make first hour, let alone homeroom. In a single swipe, I scooped up the Prius keys and both jackets. My purse whorled off my shoulder like some supermom prop.
“Leaving now!” I called up the stairwell. “Here we go, kids—laces tied, backpacks zipped.”
Zach trudged down, leaning his weight into the rail. Karen followed with sunny-careful steps. I sped through the last items on my list—tossed a towel over the grape juice, sloshed water onto the roast, considered my appearance in the microwave door, and just frowned, beyond caring.
Halfway across the porch, Granny’s fingers closed around my wrist.
“Promise me,” she said, “that you will not associate with Quaid Rafferty. Promise me you won’t have one single thing to do with that lowlife.”
I looked past her to the kitchen, where the cat was kinking herself to retch Eggo Waffle onto the linoleum.
“I’m sorry, Granny.” I patted her hand, freeing myself. “It’s something I have to do.”
Excerpt from Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.
Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.