Jack and I were doing a video call over our laptops; he was in San Francisco on business, and I was home in San Diego. “You still planning to be here for Christmas?”
“I am not canceling my flight, no matter what happens. If the client won’t let me wrap this up, she can stew until next year. I’ll see you in two days.” He leaned closer to the webcam. “We met December 21, two years ago, remember?”
As if I’d forget. “I’m planning something special for this anniversary.”
He laughed, low and dirty, and a thrill went through me. “Can’t wait.” He sat back and squinted at something over my shoulder. “What the hell is that thing on the shelf behind you?”
“Toy soldier. You know, from ‘March of the Toy Soldiers.’ The Nutcracker?”
“Yeah, Tchaikovsky. I’m familiar with it.”
“Kelly and I had lunch at Seaport Village today.” It had been fun getting together with my sister again. “She wanted advice on what to get you for Christmas. A charity was handing these out near Wyland Galleries.”
He looked hopeful. “Are you saying she bought me a painting?” He loved fabulous art.
I chuckled. “We walked past the shop. You’ll have to wait to find out what she got you.”
“You’re no fun at all.”
“Oh, you say that now, but wait until you get home.”
“Wild monkey sex?”
“And that’s just the first act.” I waggled my eyebrows.
“Such a tease, but before we unzip and engage in preliminaries, back to that wooden soldier.”
I was amused. “You’re delaying long-distance sex because of a free tree ornament?”
He ruefully shook his head. “Have I taught you nothing, padawan?”
“All the ways you can be surveilled.” He worked for a company that specialized in installing systems that prevented people from being spied on in their homes and at work.
I took the soldier off the shelf and looked for anomalies. “They were giving them away with donations over ten bucks.”
“Show it to me.”
I held it closer to the screen.
“Uh-huh. I saw them at the airport when I landed. Exact same ornament. Are you aware a camera lens can be as small as the iris in that soldier’s eye? You take it home, hang it on the tree, and it sees everything you do in the room.”
“Paranoid much?” I laughed uncomfortably. “Why would anyone care?”
“Why would they record every cellphone conversation, keep track of your social media, and mount CCTVs on every street corner? Why do you think I refuse to get Amazon’s Alexa, Facebook’s Portal, or any doorbell camera? Will, sweetie… I’m in the biz of fighting illegal surveillance, remember?”
I gazed at the soldier, suddenly tired. “It’s only going to get worse, isn’t it?” I looked up. “We’re never really going to be free again.”
“George Bush opened the door to mass surveillance after 9/11, and it’s been swinging wider ever since.”
There probably wasn’t a camera in the little tree ornament—I saw no trace of one—but I dropped it in the basket anyway. “We talked about building a cabin in the mountains once. No internet. You still interested?”
His eyes were soft and loving. “We’ll talk about it again when I get home.” His hand dipped below the edge of the screen, and I heard the distinct sound of a zipper being pulled down. “After we’re finished here, lay some tape over that webcam again, okay? You never know who’s watching.”