Taharrush Games

The tears started when Google automatically translated the second foreign word to “games.” Did she want to search with her original spelling instead? Games were Scrabble, chess or baseball, she thought. Not the horror that she’d lived.

It all came back, as it had so many times since that joy-sucking night.

In this, her first year of semi-retirement, she’d celebrated May Day in Budapest, watched SinterKlass arrive in early December with the Dutch in Amsterdam, and made it home in time for Christmas with her son and family. It had been a great year. What better way to celebrate its passing than another trip, another party? She had planned some book research in the old European city of Cologne in January. Why not fly in early for New Year’s Eve? Her family had kisses and hugs and a loving send-off for Grandma at the airport, and suddenly, she was in Germany.

Even though it was New Year’s Eve, she hadn’t planned to stay out late. She could always watch the fireworks at midnight from the hotel if she cared to stay up that long. Near the hotel, the streets were warmly lit by the leftover Christmas lights, full of happy families, couples and party goers. It was every bit the party she expected. She found it hard to leave, kept telling herself she’d stay out just a little bit longer before calling it a night.

She’d been watching one of the big screens in the square, cameras close up on a Euro-pop band that made up for its lack of skill with loud enthusiasm, so she didn’t notice a change in the crowd. Before she could react, the laughing, dark-bearded young man she’d seen in the corner of her eye moved in close.

Too close.

She took a step back. There was someone behind her, too, holding her by the coat. Her eyes were still on dark-beard’s face when he moved in. “Oma,” he sneered. She felt his hand between her legs. Hard and rough.

“No!” She cried out in fear and pain.

She pulled and twisted, finally creating some distance between herself and her attacker, losing her coat to the man holding her from behind. More rough laughter, one more lunging advance. The attacker grabbed the neckline of her red silk holiday blouse, tearing it from neck to hem.

They ricocheted away, taking their own separate paths through the crowd, calling to each other like blackbirds in a field.

The crowd was looking at her now but she couldn’t read their faces. She fought down shame. Not just because of the brutal exposure of too much old skin, her underwear stark white in the night. She’d suddenly realized that she’d fed her attackers with her fear. She’d let it show.

Wrapping the shreds of her blouse around her, moving back toward her hotel, she found her coat on the ground. Wet and muddied, it still covered a lot.

She stopped at the first policemen she saw. “Ich… Ich bin…” She stopped. She didn’t know the words in German to tell him what happened. She didn’t know the words in any language.

He looked at her muddied coat, scraps of red silk hanging below it and pointed back over her shoulder. His look had some kindness in it but even more, resignation, maybe some sorrow, too. When she paused in confusion, he turned her ever so gently. She’d walked right past a brightly lit police station, just fifty feet back. Even from here she could see a dozen women inside talking to the officers on duty or waiting their turn. On her way to join them, she hesitated. It was the woman bleeding into a wad of tissues from a streaming wound to the face that turned her again.

She wasn’t really hurt. Her room and credit cards were still in her coat pocket, though they’d taken the twenty Euro bill. That was nothing.

She’d slipped past the doorman to her room and finished the rest of the trip, a sort of automaton, taking her cues from the faces of people around her. The attendants look relaxed; this flight won’t crash and burn.

There had been no one to talk to. Her son would only worry more. She didn’t want to test his courage as well as her own, and she would travel again. She didn’t have the words for it anyway.  When in Germany, she’d watched BBC and CNN compulsively, hoping that more information would help her make sense of it, but the arrests started only after she was home. Everyone was having a hard time making sense of it.

Today, back at home and reading the latest news, she’d found the words. Taharrush Gamea: games, a sport of young men, observed in Muslim countries everywhere.

She would let herself cry now, cry more, as her world got smaller and harder to comprehend.

Social Engineering

The Microsoft Lounge at Black Hat Europe was easy to find.  Living the way I did on this and that, doing a lot of things to pick up a euro, I’d worked shows here before.  It had been a while.  I had new skills now.  The show floor setup at the Amsterdam RAI was typical, easy to figure out, areas for vendors’ presentations, demos and a centrally located lounge.  Central, to keep attendees in the hall.   Always sponsored by some company with deep pockets.

Taking off my coat, I analyzed the seating in the lounge.  Most of the high tables were filled with solitary men, heads down, typing away on their laptops.  Across from the coffee counter and the line of men waiting for their afternoon caffeine fix, the section with living room seating was more sparsely occupied.

That informal setup suited my purpose better, anyway.  I chose one end of a black, leather-like couch across a granite colored coffee table from two matching chairs.  Two more chairs, one at either end of the table, completed the arrangement.  A woman with long white hair sat in one of the end chairs, at the far end of the table from me, looking intently at her Android phone, oblivious to her surroundings.

I should be engaged in some activity, too.  I pulled out the show brochure while I waited.

It didn’t take too long. A slender young man with thinning blond hair plopped his computer bag on the boulder-like table between us. Collapsing deeply into the chair across from me, he took out his handheld.

The show badges that everyone was wearing on wide ribbons around their necks were bigger than my purse so it was easy to see his name.  People were careful with personal information at Black Hat Europe, it catered to hackers, but everyone still had a name of some sort on their badge.

A bonus, his badge was color coded and if that wasn’t enough, SPEAKER was spelled out on a bright red ribbon hanging from it.  This was going very well.  I knew immediately what my next move would be.

“Excuse me,” I said, moving slightly forward on the couch, closing the distance between us but not too much, not too soon.  This request needed a modest smile.  “Is there any way you can get me into your session?”  I asked him. “I didn’t pay for a full pass.  See, I, I really don’t know much about this stuff.  I told this guy I know that I’d come to the conference and get the information for him.”

Still bending slightly over the table, I turned my face slightly to look up at him.  Fortunately, even with him sprawled in that low chair, I’m petite enough to pull it off.

He looked up from his handheld and faced my wide blue eyes. I tried to mirror what I saw.  An honest, open face, sincere.  A sap.  Don’t think that now.  You’ll blow it if it shows on your face.

He’s the most attractive man I’ve ever met and I’ll hold that thought.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve already finished my session.  Are you interested in cryptography?”

I blinked and turned my face away a bit, feigning slight shyness.  Too bad I couldn’t blush on cue.

“I really don’t know any of this stuff but this guy I know had to work, so…” If I could get him to finish that thought for me, I’d know we were making progress.

I paused, smoothing my blond hair back over my ear, showing the full line of my chin in three quarters.  One of my most attractive angles or so I’d been told.  Still trying to look as if he towered over me.  Skills I’d honed years ago set to a new purpose.

“Here’s my card.”  He said, pulling himself out of the depths of his chair, leaning forward over the table.  Crossing more distance between us.

Even better!  I hid my surprise.

First step accomplished.  I had a real name, his Company name and telephone number and he knew nothing about me.