Moose Wesler "Green House." Acrylic and collage, 1990. 44” x 38” https://www.doodlecity.com/#/paintings/
Note: If you are reading on your phone, try turning it sideways.
“FYL,” Megan says, wrinkling her nose.
Bill climbs in and the ancient Tesla Sky pops up from the yard, hovers over the cabin. He takes her out of auto for a moment to circle the little pool of the east branch of the Not-Telling River in Forget-About-Fishing-Here, Maine. He scans for and either sights a nice salmon, or he sights a not-going-to-fish-this-morning, it’s-always-the-days-you-don’t-fish-when-the-best-fishing-would-have-transpired regret mirage salmon. Either way, it’s gone when he looks again. He slips Queen, his drone, into auto. Ascends the overcast August workday.
Reaches snoozing altitude. Finishes the breakfast shake Megan handed him at the cabin door (coffee ice cream, banana, pecans--fat and refined sugar are back in--something about mitochondrial rna), closes his eyes. The crime scene is three hundred miles away in Somerville, Massachusetts. Bill has an hour. He tilts back the magnobucket, closes his eyes. Dozes the doze of the woken-early.
Dreams about Megan. Because why? Because Bill is wired that way.
Amorogamy (sexual fidelity to those whom one has already loved) replaced monogamy in his grandmother Hannah's time. When he was a teenager, Bill remembers his grandmother telling him about her early married days--that she and Henry loved only each other. Proud of it, as if the boys she had known and the girls her husband had dated before their marriage were inconsequential, had become unlovable, or had never existed at all. Bill has a lot of Grandma Hannah in him.
In Bill’s parents’ Frank and Beth’s time, marriage still sputtered along. By then monogamy was looked upon with the suspicion afforded other pre-Delightenment philosophies, forms of government, faiths. Married people--monos as they were called behind their backs--were accepted but one didn't mix with them, and one prayed one's child didn't fall in with their children. They were understood to be making their way through the world as best they could, living partial lives. It was very much as if they had pledged their love to God and gone behind stone walls. They did much good in society and seemed almost happy in their way, their families moving about in archaic ritual.
Bill spent grade school next to Megan because of last names (Baker, Burke). She was also the girl not next door but across the street and three houses down in their Maryland suburb. Together, they weathered the full blast of the anti-marriage propaganda that came faster and thicker throughout their young time. Why the anti-marriage 骚动? Perhaps, the wise speculate--Bill is oblivious to this and other vital questions of his time--because human culture requires two anti-campaigns in any period of history. Just before Bill and Megan were born, the air was let out of the clean energy movement. The arrival of solar, ocean, wind, nukes and--hello!--cold fusion, really put paid to dirty electrons. That left recycling and anti-marriage for people to harangue each other about.
When Bill was seven-and-a-half and Megan already eight, she passed a note to her friend Penny saying she liked Bill--this was second grade, Miss Alexander’s class. Bill was given to understand that some token of his feelings for Megan (he liked her) was expected. Via Penny, Bill gifted Megan a five-flavor (Schisandra chinensis) berry cupcake from his lunchbox. That was pretty much the last time they weren’t a couple, not counting graduate school.
Numerous wise ones opine that Link was the real टर्मिनेटर of monogamous marriage. But Link didn’t get going until Megan and Bill had Mo and little Esther, and by then whatever monogamous impulses Bill had (one is not speaking about Megan right now) were hard-baked into him.
Still and all, one would not be farfetched to wonder if Link plays a destabilizing role for many couples. Why? Cause a person's waking as well as dreaming life is infiltrated with images of old lovers. Not only images, also sensations and maybe most effectively, scents. Sure, a person can turn off these options. But Link folks change up the nology all the time on the sly, in cooperation with the Department of Home Is Safe and the good folks of the ICD (International Commercial Directorate). Long and short of it, before a husband can say Jack Robinson, his first serious girlfriend’s lips are on his and her perfume (Obsession) is on his pillow. He awakens to her current address and GBTWYOB (Get Back To Where You Once Belonged) request.
Others who get paid to know things about culture and change assert that Freecare (day- and night-) , which make it simple for everyone to travel for work or leisure, is the thing that stressed marriage and monogamy past the bending point. As if conceding or counter-exemplifying this, when Bill and Megan had Mo, they stayed home. Everybody told them they were crazy not to get away to other cities and continents at least a few days a week to see earlier lovers or perhaps even each other in a new light. Told them being “free” was the only responsible course of action they could follow, if they were serious about keeping their breed agreement strong (Megan and Bill were married, but only three people knew that, besides the two of them. No point looking for trouble or, more than trouble, really long conversations in which one side had an immovable point-of-view they wanted to graft into one’s head.) Mo would be fine, everyone told them, whether asked or not--Mo’s psychological and cognitive development would benefit in that critical first two years--if only his parents would leave town, meet up with ecst-s to make love, exercise, reminisce. Especially exercise. All this was well-established anecdotally, scientifically.
It was as if Bill and Megan didn’t hear a word that was spoken to them, as if they lived in another time and place altogether. They stayed home, in a preview of coming nuttiness. They did errands. Bill mowed the lawn (the Baker-Burkes lived in a Detroit townhouse then). He used an antique internal combustion two-stroke steel mowing device he had resurrected in his historical tool shop. No floating laser-guided Deere Lawn Above for Bill. Megan cooked--using flame. They remained politely nanny-and-danny-less, despite throngs of qualified young and old women and men paid by guv and ready to care for Mo and then little Esther. If they had a dinar for every early development aide who came to their door, was invited in for as long as they liked, and then ushered back out again with polite waves and yes-of-course-we-wills. Eventually, the professional callers became infrequent and the Baker-Burkes, who hand-cleaned their own house (Bill had built something called a vacuum cleaner) experimented with letting both kids crawl and toddle indoors without clearhelmets, gravity-catcher harnesses, or derm-gloves on their little hands. People thought they were a curious pair. But people had no real idea what was going on inside 14 Cumberland Street, or the official callers would have become rather insistent.
WTF! One digresses! Bill’s dream…
He and Megan are in their twenties again, Megan barely a hundred-twenty-something, and the Sky is brand new--not a scratch on her. They’re making love like in their first twenties, Megan astride Bill in the magnobucket, her eyes locked on his, slow rocking. Very slow. Taking them both there. Serious and not at all serious at the same time. In his dream, Megan had the dark-brown-with-auburn hair of youth. Her dark eyes were her Mumbai mother's, her asymmetrical smile her Galway father's.
Sex with Megan? Magdalen, Kurukulla and Rati! No way Bill can trade up or even sideways. Monogamy was, AIW, thrust upon him. Not a bad way to wake up. Again.
Queen eases to ninety. Noses into the North Shore air jam, crawling up and down just below cloud to find gospace. OK Shack, News, Bill thinks. But forgets to think GPR (Global Public Radio) so he hears that graduate (sometime not that long after Bill and Megan finished their doctorates, graduation from even college began to lose its luster, eventually becoming something of a black mark on one’s resume) Lester Ackerson spouting off about how the Scandinavians are not going to control both Houses and will be swept by the Euro-Persians in next month’s NowLection. Right, three billion people are going to text a pro-work president, Michel Bruchard, into the FlightHouse, so they can lose Obamacare (v. 111) and the right to strike individually, all in one go.
Finally gets GPR but a woman Bill’s great-grand-daughter’s age is “asking” whether earth-cooling is caused by guv low-orbit reflective ion distribution. Yes.
Bill thinks OK Shack, Live music, closest, and nods to what sounds like a kid practicing what shehe (pronounced Sheehy) thinks sounds like Chopin. (Why Shack? Shortening of Radio Shack, the tech dino that looked to be extinct before a self-taught, natch, programmer Lilly Печеников came along, bought, revived and renamed the company Shack, which then swallowed the other behemoths. Company slogan? “Shack Is Back.”) Twenty-miles southwest an improviser on a built electric something-or-other made of thick metal. Then over Winchester a woman with an acoustic, covering Johnny Cash with kids in the background. Bill locks that one. She’s got something. Some anons practice with a couple thousand auditors all around the planet and never know it. They like it that way. Or maybe they don’t know or wouldn’t like it. He doesn’t know. Still sleepy.
The house is crime-ballooned, the yellow airlock extending from just inside the white picket fence up over the three-story antique like a parachute, landed but not yet settled. Or a yellow circus tent. Or an onion dome atop a Russian church. Minispeaks whisper forensics zone, please respect just audibly, which in no way stops the good people of Somerville from literally pushing their noses into the yellow fabric.
“Nothing to document here, people,” a patrolman says. Bill puts on his suit and makes his way through the airlock.
“Julie. Are you why I’m here?”
“Bill,” Julie answers. “Late.”
“I guess you’re not then.”
She gestures with her head to a man Bill has never seen before, which is saying something. Unless they’re young, he’s worked with them, either before, after, or between his two retreats.
“This way,” Fred says, leading Bill further into the house.
The victim is in a modified बच्चे की मुद्रा--the kind of modification that occurs when one’s heart stops. They say yoga is more about breath than form, but heart function is also critical. Looking at him in perpetual child's pose, Bill feels sympathetic pain in his knees and lower back. The man is dead, Bill reminds himself. If he is to be buried and not cremated, he thinks, let him first be arranged in shavasana.
“You here, Elvis?” Julie knows about his death thoughts. Her voice is kind, despite the nickname. She touches his arm.
Elvis. He hasn’t been called that since Detroit and the sideburns, which were ironic (the 80s and 90s), then iconic (the 00s and 10s), when his face was well enough known that people were always asking him where they knew him from. Perhaps the news, Bill wanted to tell them. Perhaps the holo series based on him. But how to say this? And there was something intriguing about another person asking one to help herhim untangle herhis own memories. (Pronounced in one twisty syllable, hĕrĭm, hĕrĭs). Soon after the sideburns, Elvis left the building (Central Office of the Bureau, Souan-Catawban Region), the job. That was Bill’s first retreat. Retiring in the absence of definitive aging or death turns out to be an unsustainable choice for most, just as employment is for many throughout their lives. Retreat is a way to pause.
“Murder. Thought we were done with that,” Fred says, meaning, Not really. “Six years, five months, twelve days and--” He consults his thone, wide bracelet under the blazer sleeve “--nine hours. Not a bad run.”
Bill doesn’t look at him. Thinking who is this Fred and what is he doing here? Bill knows why he and Julie are here.
Oh, couple things, both related to EEGs. One: thone = thought + phone. Turned out to be pretty straightforward, at least to Lilly Печеников. Individuals produce identifiable waves when they think, for instance, I better text my breed agreement partner to let herhim know I’m running late. Thone learns and does that. Two, the last murder thing. Every time there isn’t another murder for a calendar year, journalists bloggers barbers sociologists and optimists start using the phrase last murder. True, all folks with a history or proclivity for violence have minders--small flying watchers with the capacity to sense changes in skin temperature, eye movement, perspiration, muscle tension, facial expression, use of swears, and brain waves--all indicative of the possible imminent enactment of a violent impulse. These ever-present and very small devices can in tech time tranquilize the subject to the degree necessary--not knocking herhim out, like in the early days, with a tiny dart of serious sedative, but just mellowing herhim out with a breath of mild med. Actual weapons are immediately identified and intercepted. Household implements, knives and such, but also rocks and two-by-fours, are always observed by the minders as they are handled, in the presence of groups of folks. Violence is diplomatically diffused, usually with a burst of light and an ABBA song. This works most all the time. Until about thirty-four hours ago, here in this performance artist’s livingroom.
Because that’s who the downward-facing, almost praying man, is--a performance artist whose work Bill remembers hearing, reading about, or experiencing. James Albright, Jason Amarillo, Johann Anderson--Bill remembers the first name starting with J, the surname with A--has not only died but been pushed out of the state of being alive.
“Pacemaker hack,” Fred says. “Only caught it because, well, Jerry Applebaum is dead. Otherwise, the perfect crime.”
Bill meets his eyes. What is the perfect murder? One where the victim is still alive. Sexual abuse, personality domination. Who is this Fred, who understands so much but has never crossed Bill’s path before?
“You’re a tracer.” Bill says. “Backwalking the hack.”
“Writer,” Fred says, removing his glove and extending his hand. “I predicted it.”
Fred, Bill and Julie wait for the pizza to cool. Francesca’s.
They left the house and walked through what passes for heat in the mid-Algic nowadays, cooler every year. Julie still acts like an ecst-, pointedly dismissing Bill as if they had been lovers, which they haven’t. Julie still carries a torch for Bill, or rather the smoking resentment of the torch she used to carry. Why is it that an unrequited lover feels loving gives herhim the right to resent? A kind of superiority?
“Not criminology. Fiction,” Fred tells them. “The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Has to be fiction if it’s going to be all that.”
Bill delicately asks the usual about whether anyone outside the man’s family would have heard of his work. Turns out he was somebody at some point, traditional ebook readership in the respectable five digits before changing tracks.
“Journalism for a spell. Lit professor, don’t ask. Ran a spa with my breedlove. Don’t recommend that. But recently”--recently covered a range of intervals nowadays, from weeks to decades--"started writing novels again. Never short stories. Just can’t get into anything that length. Like to feel my way into a thing and then stay there for a while. Capiche?”
Bill doesn’t. It seems that Fred, who is now 副会长 in the Bureau, had a typically variegated career. No one his and Bill’s age had been one thing, except, well, Bill. Even Bill has left now and then to go fishing, once for thirty-eight years, and so could be said to have sidelined as a fishing guide, except that he only guides friends and spends money doing it.
Yeah, Fred is three or four professions in, average mobility. Apparently thinking that a couple of dicks have a feeling about the difference between writing short stories and novels. Bill looks what he intends as interested.
“I mean, stories are what you tell folks on foil rides to Europe. They make a good howdy-do. Notions get simple. Characters are ‘characters.’”
Julie doesn’t pretend to listen to this. Instead goes fork and knife with cooling blow, averting upper-palate burn, curtailing wait time. Bill feels that tingle when she purses and blows. ‘You know how to whistle, don’t you?’
“But a novel or better yet, a series. That’s when things get real. Worlds emerge that are tricky. Characters have limitations, depths like real people. So I embraced my pop side and wrote a detective series. With a little magic realism thrown in--couldn’t help myself. Decided to set my shoot-em-up in Colombia--kind of Raymond Chandler meets Garcia Marquez.” He raises his eyebrows and Bill does the nod, as if he KWtF Fred’s talking about. Gives the man encouragement to keep the flow going. Why? Bill likes to know who he’s working with. He needs to know who he’s working for.
“For research I rode citizen with a pair of detectives in Bogota. Wrote three novels. They did all right.” This, Bill understands, means they did very well. This means if Bill didn’t live under a rock in Maine, like a stonefly, he would know Fred’s name. Explains how Fred got to play detective--trading on that name. “Next thing I knew I was applying to the Bureau. And voilà.”
Not quite and voilà, Bill thinks. And voilà explains why Fred is there, okay. A person of exceptional intelligence puts a decade or two into understanding the criminal mind, then decides to go pro. But that would put him under Bill and Julie, who have equal grade due to Bill’s fishing years. Bill raises a slice, folding for Gaussian strength, nibbles. Hot, but no longer a burn risk.
“Who stopped his heart?” Julie asks, as if none of this male preening is happening.
“Rival?” Fred suggests, popping an entire pickled pepper into his mouth. “Critic?” Chews, without grimace or sweat, as if it had been a grape. Then summarizes what he’s got from Gore and MoreGore, guv’s “secure” system.
Jerry Applebaum began as a plain vanilla actor, not a star but a decent-sized planet. Then directed, wrote. Zen-ed out for a while, raised children and grandchildren before coming back as a fringe artist--not fringe-fringe, more inde +. Had money, a name, done with the mainstream so went for the small informed audience--his projects interweaving theater, tech, music of a kind, dance, holo. Drew a couple hundred experiencers at most, a few thousand live-and-remote combined. In other words, total numbers a fraction of one-day numbers when he had been a studio holoman, usually the hero, occasionally the villain.
Bill goes for a second slice, finds Julie’s fingers instead. His hand momentarily on hers, he thinks about how it might have been. Nice, he concludes, slowly removing his hand. He takes a smaller slice. Monogamy.
“From what I read this morning,” Fred says, “Maybe a couple thousand grammatically challenged serious followers. Typical for the kind of work Applebaum was doing. Maybe a hundred experiencers with so much time on their hands they uploaded mocks to HoloTube.”
A moment here. Gore? Yeah, Al. Historians of science give it to him--most influential early recognizer and promoter of the power of connected computing. That along with being the Jeremiah of global warming making him easily the most important statesman of his century.
“Not all haters. Equal numbers of fans telling him he’s the Michelangelo of the New Light Movement. Stage door Bettys posting tactile first-person hook-lookups. No death threats that wouldn’t make you or me smile. Just Monday morning dramaturgy.”
The shock of coming from the cabin, just Megan and Tex-Mex, into the world of folks is tough. Finding equipoise in the triangle of collegial power that is two partners under a third is giving Bill the heebie jeebies. Feels like a Masonic eye stuck in a pyramid. So he walks.
The squares of this stretch of Somerville--Teele, Powderhouse, Magoun--are not squares or circles but intersections, with the exception of Powderhouse, which is a roundabout, as circles are called roundabout Somerville. The bike jams even midafternoon make walking complicated. Bill just can’t get used to the walking lanes, clearly marked and sensibly oriented. Bikes powered and gyroed or just pedaled--singles, sidecars, four-person fambikes--crowd the foot lanes. That as much as anything pushed Bill rural. Rollers have too much political clout. Pedestrians confined to certain parts of certain routes until it was either the air or the woods as far as Bill was concerned. Urban cars are of course history except in Holland, where pent-up vehicle lust created a late counter-movement. Amsterdam the last place on earth where a person can still hear an engine.
Who would want to kill a performance artist? Who would want to kill at all? Killers, Bill thinks. This is a familiar loop but one he retreads thoughtfully. Killing not for most people. Take fly fishermen. Mostly meat-eating guys and vegetarian women, to start with. But also, they don’t like to kill things, especially beautiful fish. Hungry, and without options, they will kill the trout or salmon with only a moment’s hesitation. But given a can of Dinty Moore tofu stew, to say nothing of a hamburger, most fisherpeople would much prefer to set fish free, after reviving herhim and maybe taking a few 3Ds, auto-proportioning turned off so they can up the dimensions a few percent for printing or projecting in the den.
There are killers, there are hunters. In the world of abundance, in which wealth as a work incentive is carefully managed, hunger is a luxury like muscle fatigue without joint injury, like desire without overfamiliarity. Artist-on-artist violence is not as rare as once thought. Artists delve the primitive and touch their real feelings on the daily. In some this innoculates. They know what they want and feel, and contain it better than say your businessperson or teacher. In nine to twelve percent (+/- factors include type of artist, age, substance use) artists enact feelings more unreservedly. They love new friends, attack rivals and critics, sometimes with more than words. They protect loved ones, discover subgenres, observe nuances, create newness. They share this status of elevated risk for enactment with new parents, athletes, and law enforcement professionals, all of whom live a circle closer to unfiltered emotion and experience than for instance ocean power engineers or transportation programmers. So Fred will put a team of humans and machine sabuesos on the trail of Applebaum’s collaborators, his troupe of musicians, dancers, scene sculptors and electronicists. Also his directors and actors from his first phase, the ones who rode his coattails to recognition, the ones who didn’t, and those whose coattails and Oscar gowns he rode to fame. But Bill’s here. He might as well do a first drop-in interview.
Bill reaches Ball “Square” and steps nimbly aside as a man on a pedal-powered sitback crosses into the walker’s lane to get around a man stopping at the yellow light. Yell? Document? Ignore, Bill decides.
Crosses north and enters one of the design-arts cooperatives. He asks a man in his studio kitchen cutting frozen pastry on a lathe where Kazoo Mountain Forum is. The man indicates up and east, so Bill takes the stairs, pausing to let an old gal in a full walk unit glide down. Only her hands and lack of neurologic integrity give her away. In the Forum, where Jerry worked with his troupe, Bills finds a teenage probably girl and a woman combing a glossy fur surface of softly undulating railroad tie.
“Hi,” the teenager says.
“Sup,” the woman says.
“Nice.” Bill indicates the biosculpture.
“Gross,” the teen says. Girl.
“Derek,” the woman tells him.
“No, this is Derek. He’s the hero of--” and just like that she’s crying. The girl stops combing Derek and puts her arms around the woman. “He was working on. Derek was supposed to be. I was the one who.”
The girl soothing her calls her Frances. Tells her to hush, it will be all right, as if she is the adult, Frances the child. They all settle into a kind of circle on their knees, Frances’ head on the girl’s, then Bill’s shoulder. Bill weeps why? For Frances? Not for Jerry. In the age when one doesn’t die very often, one’s loses few friends and relatives. Bill is old enough to have lost both of his parents. He loved his mother very much--his father, meh. Time for Bill has been measured in generations--his children, their children, their children’s children and so on. His dogs he remembers all the way back to Ricky Ricardo, a small shepherd collie mix who met Bill on his way home from school.
Bill holds Frances and weeps because human and connects with certain people at once, while certain grandchildren are formally important to him but not easily reachable. The Abrahamic religions Judeo-Christian-Islamic would seem to characterize the situation of a patriarch with a tribe of in Bill’s case fifty-three direct descendants, but no, it is the Buddhist feeling of no-self, all people one family, that grows as time passes. Bill resonates more deeply each decade with sorrow and bliss, while at the same time not sweating the details of genetic fraction in those whose feelings he is sharing. In this he is typical of his generations.
At some point the three of them are sitting not kneeling and the girl is talking on her thone. (There was a long period which social dissectionists have not been able to account for during which especially teenagers were the most literate faction in history. Willingly, no fiercely, communicating with each other using written language. It was during this enigmatic moment that the acronymic vocabulary blossomed and mainstreamed. This gave way suddenly and as inexplicably as it had come to the traditional reliance of the teenager on spoken language, and sullen silence, depending on whom they were speaking to.)
“He really liked to be here,” Frances says. She is still weeping but smiling now too. A sunshower. “He loved getting everybody to make up crazy shit. He isn’t--he wasn’t particularly concerned about what art means. If it’s interesting to you, it means something, is the deal.”
“How many of --”
“Always changing. Twenty-two now,” she says. She’s a bit of an interrupting cow (Knock-knock. Who’s th-- Moo.) which may be related to the shock, but probably not. Also a self-contradictor.
“Were you working on--”
“We have--” tears, smile--”We had a gig next month. A big one I mean. We always have gigs. Except not this next two weeks. We’re gearing up a new thang. He called our things thangs. Derek was the middle of it. The people upstairs in Intelligent Life made Derek.”
“No. Biological. No consciousness or senses, but real muscles and he eats and poops.” Nasty, Bill thinks. They started out making meat at labfarms--fair enough, no conscious animals to kill. But the artists couldn’t keep their hands off the tech and started sculpting. Just nasty. Call me a Luddite, Bill tells himself and occasionally others, but a pet needs to have consciousness. A moving sculpture is a mobile or a robotic object, end of story.
“Love. What happens to love when a person stops hearing what another person is saying, cause they think they know what they’re going to say. Is that intimacy or usurpation?”
“Derek was the--”
“Symbol of the old Jerry? Cause he had good hair? Cause we all snuggle him and rely on him emotionally? That was part of it. But we,” indicates the absent troupe, “took it different places. Derek is something different for each of us. For me he’s God.”
? Bill communicates.
“Benevolent. Warm and brown. Doesn’t say much.”
“Interesting.” Interesting covers a lot of ellipses, Bill finds. Interestingly put, covers the rest.
“Jerry thought so.” Tears, smiling--really wide smiling. Beautiful teeth, her own first probably. “The working title changed from Derek and the Dominator to Waiting for Derek just last week.”
Then head down, sobbing on Bill’s knee, actually making his leg damp through the fabric. Bill strokes Frances’ hair, weeping. Thinking this is twice today people with a background in old and new books assume he’s in on literary jokes slash allusions. Is there something on his face he wonders that makes people think he knows about literature? Why does no one assume he knows about soft hackle fishing?
“Were you and Jerry--”
“Off and on, after he and Barbara resolved.” Frances looks over her shoulder in a way that places Barbara firmly in Jerry's past. The woman Jerry had children with. Jerry and Barbara had a standard breed agreement, she tells Bill--cohabitation during the thirty years (although more frequently these days children stay at home into their forties, or leave only to come back) of their offspring’s childhoods and I-and-Is (integration and individuations). Followed by an automatic resolution, with an option to recommit. “After that Jerry and I lived together for a while. We were together during the Snow.”
The snow--that was when people began to take global cooling seriously. Until that double winter, it was only rational people. A lot of couples didn’t make it through the Snow, or just barely made it. There was a population surge in the northern hemisphere, though many of the children were born out of breedlock.
“Commander Ruiz hates Derek,” the girl says. So she has been listening the whole time, while talking, no surprise. She goes back to her thone conversation.
“Tim’s cat,” Frances says. “Performs with us. Comes onstage and chooses what we’re going to do--pieces, order, cast.”
“How?” Bill realizes that if he limits his questions to monosyllables, he can ask them.
“Commander Ruiz uses a mouse pretty well. No stage fright at all. Jennifer projects a 3d-grid and Commander Ruiz whacks the mouse around which is really a cursor. Get it? Mouse? Anyway, where the mouse icon lands determines that night’s thang. Like (4,2,6) means show order 4 with sound element 2 and projection element 6.”
“Beth?” Frances says, looking over at the girl on the thone. “No. Jerry didn’t want another family.” Bill’s knee gets too damp for her and she switches to the other one. They are sitting and lying quietly now, just the two of them. As if they were oldest of friends. Bill trickles peace love and understanding through his palm onto her cheek and from there to her heart.
“I’m Jerry’s granddaughter’s best friend,” Beth whispers, turning to them. “Rita is Jerry’s granddaughter,” Beth says. “Do you want to talk to her? She’s upset. She’s.” She hands Bill her device.
Then they are in the weeping circle again, not kneeling this time but in a kind of dog pile. Rita just a voice and small sad face looking up at Bill from Beth’s screen.
“Who do you like for it?” Megan asks. The sun is just rising, bringing out ribbons of silver in Megan's hair. How beautiful she is, his combo India-Ireland girl. Behind her, upstream, the new day's sunlight sparkles. Tex-Mex, four-year-old blue-heeler, watches the water.
“Someone Jerry worked with recently or not. Technical know-how.”
“Artistic control. Revenge. Love.”
“That narrows it down. Next step?”
“Make time. Nap.”
“Back to Somerville to creep up on a few improvisers.”
Megan is a psychotherapist and fighter. She started out an engineer, then raised Mo and Esther, part of the time with Bill after his retreat. When the kids were semi-grown she went to work with her old mentor in his materials lab. Sustainability had run its course in building and the emphasis was on VGTS (very good temporary solutions). Tents replaced heavy materials. The Population Contraction which as anticipated followed quickly on the heels of universal education was in turn followed by the lawns-to-lands movement in which the remaining relatively educated affluent population spread itself across vast areas not controlled by the International Nature Conservancy. Until folks realized they were very lonely out there. Megan hit it just right during the tents-and-drones era, making a fortune by solving a couple pieces of the TRI (transparency rigidity insulation) riddle that preoccupied large tent architects and engineers for a generation and a half. Turned out only one in 93-to-135 adults (+/- factors include religious belief, willingness to speak out loud to pets, and capacity for self-generated daily weekly monthly and seasonal projects) were able to withstand a living density of less than one person per acre for longer than one week per month. Souls returned to town. The low-scraper movement, which had pretty much eliminated the need for weight-bearing construction during that period, yielded to the antique craze, which included traditional skyscrapers in the megatropoles as well as family dwellings renovated in brick stone and wood. Megan wasn’t interested in that so she took a hard left double career turn and became a psychotherapist and a fighter.
She picked up a remote doctorate from the University of Millinocket before branching out with her typical experiential learning approach. She loved the interpretive schools, especially psychoanalysis. But one of her mentors led her to understand that many psychoanalysts were caught in an intellectual spider’s web, with ancestor worship in the middle plucking the strands. She swam over to the humanistic schools for a few years and Bill watched with interest as she became more generous with herself and everyone else. After that she got into cognitive-behavior approaches and she started conditioning mainly herself into new calmer ways of spending the day and night, and also the family members and animals. Through all but the first ten years she had her own clients. Bill was concerned about the effect this learn-as-you-go approach might have on the people coming to Megan for help. She told Bill each therapist had to construct herhis own ideas based on the interactions shehe had with therapists and teachers clients and whatever writings they came across, that this process was never finished, and that her clients might gain from her at one phase in her own learning more than they would at a later phase.
In much the same way, and simultaneously, Megan started out at a plain vanilla capoeira dojo, partly because she was in love with the roda chief mestre Benecio but that’s a story for another time. Partly because she didn’t know anything about fighting and capoeira looked like breakdancing. After she was seven years into it, and an acknowledged prodigy though not of the child variety, she began traveling everywhere to work with master teachers. Then one spring in Montreal she understood she herself was a master. She had non-deliberately created a new fighting form, sneaky. Sneaky incorporated the kun chababb or wrestling side of Cambodian kbach kun boran, the weight catching and throwing techniques of Maharashtran malla-yuddha, and the strike and block skills of the Pak Dirdjo style of Indonesian pencak silat.
At the height of her double new career, her घर in Montreal had eleven hundred students, including an elite unit of Mounties. Her psychotherapy practice was largely virtual, but for years she spent Tuesdays and Wednesdays seeing clients in Augusta. Nowadays she’s down to Wednesdays in Augusta, an average of three virtual sessions a day with clients from everywhere in the world in which either English or Marathi is spoken. The Sneaky घर in Montreal is run by two मुख्य मुलकी अधिकारी from the original dozen proteges, with Megan coming in now and then to teach or watch fights. It’s good but Megan’s ready for a change. Bill recognizes the signs from her earlier career veers--crankiness on Sunday evenings, less appreciation for Bill’s contributions to domestic life, and a little bit of a roving eye when wrestling handsome men or women or speaking at psychotherapy gatherings.
“I’ll practice,” Bill says.
“Right.” Because Bill never practices. He just gets his ass whupped. By many standards, he is an adept. But Megan is not many standards. In truth he finds that coming off a day of fishing gives him his best movement when they spar, which surprises neither of them. Fishing is sneaky.
Bill resists the urge to make small talk. Relationships on the scale of time now common has made couples like Bill and Megan whether married or not cohabit gently. Megan and Bill share breaths in the sunny room.
Water. The way it moves. The sounds it makes.
Clouds like mountains.
August. The air two hours after dawn sits on the edge of warm, but the water is snowmelt against his knees through cloth. Tex-Mex’s nod indicates the other riffle, the one right under Bill’s nose. It’s not that Bill thinks Tex-Mex can see trout under there or salmon. It’s that Tex-Mex would kind of like to swim down and sniff around.
After the magic first cast, which yielded a cheerful brookie, it got quiet. Bill’s been looking for that first guy’s fraternity brothers but Tex-Mex is saying, No go, Bill. They went out for brunch. Try right under your feet. Okay, Bill says, flipping the dun hackle under his rod tip and kazam! There’s Mrs. Salmon, not so much running with the fly as sashaying out midstream before trotting back and allowing herself to be netted and released with a flash of pink freckles.
Where to now? Bill asks. Let’s try upstream of Cannonball Rock, Tex-Mex tells him. Bill speaks outloud, Tex-Mex, being a dog, does not. Bill moves in toward the bank, reaching with the ski pole to find what he’s going to trip on next. He pushes against the current which butts him like an affectionate calf.
The sun is blue.
“You think I killed him because I could have.”
“It had crossed my mind.”
“I told Jerry he should let me shield him,” Jennifer says.
Jennifer is Jennifer Drake Tenny, effects wizard for Jerry’s troupe, currently Wah-yeep! but formerly Pi-yap! back when Jennifer joined. She was Drake Tenny then, but while Jerry’s group evolved toward thang-ness--leaving behind theater and embracing mixed media--Jennifer moved from maleness to femaleness, going full anatomical and bearing a son, Drake Jr., now napping.
“How much do you understand about med hacks?” Jennifer asks.
“Pretend I’m an idiot,” Bill says, and tries the poker face. To his relief Jennifer smiles first. When folks see Detective Baker at their front door, many understand that this is one of his well-documented surprise visits. Some are horrified about the state of their homes, clothes, or face projection, which they haven’t activated yet for the day. Bill sees them trying to decide whether to just flip the switch. If they do, he pretends he doesn’t now know what they really look like. It’s a kind of intelligence test. Jennifer was cool, not switching on, inviting him in, but giving nothing away except to tell Bill politely to speak softly since there’s a baby in the next room, napping. Breedmate? Not home. Now that Bill has played the pretend-I’m-an-idiot card, Jennifer has let him all the way or mostly all the way in, with that smile.
“All right. Supposed there’s no overwritable code in a pacemaker, because if there was, someone could hack in and kill the person it’s in.”
“There is code.”
“Of course. Learning is continuous. Pacemakers get better. But they’re evaluated and upgraded hands-on.”
“Who knows how to write them?”
“δ-level physicians. Probably a bunch of device pilots who they sub their work to, signing off on the scrips, in Europe. Those people will work for dirhams.”
“That’s not who hacked the stop.”
“No. They’d be relocated and singing kumbaya by now. Excuse me,” Jennifer says. No need really. They both hear Drake Jr. gnap-graflooping, or whatever he’s saying that means I’m awake. Jennifer is exaggerating, but only slightly. If the trace was as simple as that, a medical professional remotely offing a client, shehe would have been apprehended. The psych eval would have begun to yield that mysterious diagnosis slash answer as to why a person would make another person not alive, namely, who knows? And the perp would be placed far from the associations of herhis life up until this time, in a community that would understand that shehe might be dangerous except for the minder only a few vertical feet away. Several to many years of probe-ation would pass, the murderer constantly evaluated by the minder. And herhis psychobiological functions both conscious and un would be periodically studied by the rehabilitation committee. And shehe would be given full freedom with ordinary oversight. But that isn’t happening, because Bill didn’t get a call on Sunday. He got his ass handed to him out on the deck by Megan, had chili for dinner, but he didn’t get a call saying he didn’t have to come to work on Monday. What is happening is that Jennifer is nursing Drake Jr., who is acting like he hasn’t eaten in a week.
“Well, I know it’s not me,” Jennifer says. “Jerry was not a genius, I want to be clear about that.” She weeps a little anyway. Why is everybody always smiling when they weep about Jerry? Bill wonders, not weeping himself yet. Nursing a baby might have something to do with it this time. He remembers Megan became dreamily moody nursing Mo and Esther, laughing at nothing, crying at everything. Sleep deprivation. “He was very clever and funny. Sometimes he had really tired ideas. Problem was he made them seem interesting cause he had so much fun creating. That made a smokescreen until it settled, three four months into a thang, maybe a dozen performances, no one could figure out what was wheat and what was chaff.”
“So someone stopped his heart.”
“Wait. Aren’t you supposed to wait? In the show, Morgan always waits while the poor slob he’s interviewing talks about his heirloom tomatoes or his broken shoelaces, and that’s your method, right? At some point I--the blabbermouth--reveal the critical piece of the puzzle that shehe holds--maybe not the murderer, but the fact that the murderer liked really spicy Szechwan noodles or slept in a union suit, and this leads Morgan, I mean you, to the killer, who works in the kitchen of the mountain restau.”
Bill nods. True, Morgan Andron (shortened from Andronikashvili), the more handsome, shorter man slash actor (taller with holo stretchification) they had found to play Bill during the score of years his serial had run, had let people go on a bit. It was his MO and it filled airtime--win win.
“Not a genius but a collaborator. Do you know what I mean? Not a creator, not a producer, director, choreographer. He got people’s juices flowing and we made stuff. Stuff we didn’t know we were going to make. Material that came out of us, out of me, surprising us right down to our toes. It was--”
Jennifer is doing the silent sob, her body rocking as with hiccups. Drake Jr. sucks like his life depends on it. Strange to be embracing a nursing woman. Even from the side on a couch with an uncomfortable downward slope to it which, twisting to get his arm over Jennifer’s shoulders, which isn’t making Bill’s lower back happy at all, titanium fiber rebuild or not. Morgan didn’t spend too many episodes, as far as Bill can remember, side-hugging nursing women while they wept. Perhaps Bill, who got a fat consultant’s fee and spent more than a few boondoggles in Beijingwood with and without Megan, didn’t emphasize this soothe-the-weeping technique of witness connection. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made very good holovision.
“Whoever did stop him,” Jennifer manages, letting Bill mop at her eyes with the clean nursing cloth she has on her shoulder, “should pay. Not just go to Iceland or wherever and learn to be nice. Shehe should--”
Bill waits. Jennifer regains control of her breathing. That baby is loud, Bill thinks. Drake Jr. pauses, sighs, then gets right back into the suckling. Jennifer smiles despite herself.
“Die?” Bill offers.
“Ow. Ow... Ow.”
The first two are strikes, to the left lower ribs and right upper thigh. The third is when he actually bounces, in the sense of landing and then rising slightly into the air before landing again, on his left hip and forearm. This is the result of suddenly having one’s legs placed into the air beside one by one’s wife slash mestre’s spoon sweep.
The porch has a little give to it, and hasn’t dried out to splinter danger yet. GTFU! Tex-Mex orders and Bill pops into his squat, feeling pretty neato about it. He is feeling pretty good all around.
He and Megan circle in the twilight. Bap! He taps the side of her face. Schwop! goes his left forearm strike moving her up and over maybe four inches across the deck. Nice, Tex-Mex gives him, circling to a spot with a better view, under the bug light, and leaning forward to see Bill’s next-- Oops! A little flash of white--vestibulo-ocular reflex?--accompanies what must have been the meat of Megan’s right hand just above his jaw. He didn’t see it coming or going. Okay.
Umn. Nice feel as he gets half-a-knuckle deep in her belly with his punch. Her eyes light up. Oh, shit.
“Accept the gift,” she says, yanking him up. It is a nice one, big red ribbon wrapped around it and him when she caught him with two knee strikes (he remembers her shifting her weight, and then it seemed she was sinking through--not possible--the cedar planks only to emerge--c’mon, Bill, solid matter--in the space next to him and then the knee, such a sharp little knee--gifted him the double incision--that’s what it felt like--in two areas between rectus abdominis and kidney. Then the Pancha Ganapati present itself. Why did it feel like his lungs suddenly collapsed? He has the memory, dream, that Megan stepped through--through, Bill? really?--his body and then wrapped her legs around him until she had squeezed him out, like a freezer pop, before releasing him to the ground. The pain was green, it was orange, and it was red. It lit him up and made him so un-asleep.
They make love in the moonlight. Megan prepares him as if she were an itamae. He rises from the mat. He turns. She bends like a bow. They create a little piece of time. Its name is moon joy.
“I’m over you, Bill,” Julie says. “I’ve been over you a hundred times, and each time I reach the same conclusion, which is that I’m over you.”
Bill says nothing and attempts to look like a man with no preconceptions or even conceptions.
“Which is why whenever they assign us to a case, I say sure," Megan says. "I don’t say anything, which means sure.”
Bill blinks, because not blinking for too long is a statement. On the other hand, blinking emphatically is also a statement.
“I’d say you’ve been avoiding me except I know you haven’t. You did phase one, the famous Baker strolls the crime area, letting his mind wander too. Then you did a couple of the well-known surprise visits to people who aren’t suspects and one or two who are. Now is when you conscientiously meet with the partner, and listen attentively--oh what a good listener you are, Bill--to what I’ve come up with using conventional search methods, including--you’ll never guess--data. Also, conferring with other professionals who are themselves beating the bushes and eliminating possibilities.”
Bill does the open then close mouth, shrug thing, as if to say, Hey you’re not being fair here, or accurate. She is though.
“Now--ta da!--I tell you my tentative conclusions and you diplomatically let me know I’m off track.”
Intrigued silence to indicate that her conclusions are what he’s been waiting for. Which they are. They are on Beacon Hill Island in the Iroquois Central Building, looking toward what was Boston Harbor way back when, then Back Bay, and is now Boston Harbor again.
“Being a woman and all and obsessed with love, I naturally focused on the breedmate Barbara, the post-resolution younger woman Frances, and--you don’t know this, so listen up--Frances’ replacement Raspberry--yes, it’s a stage name, but she’s not in the troupe.”
The striper fishing is great but that involves getting in a boat, which Bill dislikes because if you wade too far you fall over the side into deep water. Or surfcasting which either involves a surfcasting rod and Bill doesn’t like the feel of any rod stiffer or heavier than his 6-weight. You can fly fish from a rock or wading from the beach but this doesn’t feel very realistic as far as catching fish goes, though it happens. Plus incoming tide, slippery rocks and shifting sand can kill you dead.
“Barbara didn’t much like Jerry not re-upping after the youngest daughter’s thirtieth birthday. Guess Jerry hadn’t done the usual promising to leave as soon as the kids were individualized slash integrated. No, he’d been real happy, Barbara was sure, making his little thangs, Barbara right there in the troupe with some solos, and sticking tight to amorogamy. Granted the man had an order of magnitude more ecst-s than non-celebs. But Barbara got the lioness’ share of him and felt she had given him all a man could want plus lots of leash to be free or whatever it is men want--not you, of course, you just want Megan Megan Megan except you send out mixed signals like a teenager until the healthy woman who spends way more time with you then your breedlove ends up as confused as if someone blindfolded her, spun her around, took off the blindfold and said, Pin the Tail on the Love Object. But we’re not going to get into that here and, as I mentioned, I’m so over you. Where was I?”
Does he lead girls on? Bill wonders. He’s always thought that his fantasies are undetectable, that whatever interest he has in stepping out is just a whispering wind, enough to tremble aspen leaves but not bend even a high twig. To hear Julie tell it, his thoughts and okay images are more like sudden gusts which flatten field grass and knock off the odd branch.
“So yeah. Barbara thought she was his lifelove but it turned out Jerry wasn’t a big communicator. Ironic right? All that multimedia and whatever, helping other people say complicated stuff? The man can’t or doesn’t cowboy up and tell his woman he’s planning another mid-life move to another not younger woman, in this case. No, he had to go be with his oh-so-mature new woman, a mother of course, who else would know how to take care of all his little boy man needs? I guess if any of this sounds familiar and the shoe fits that’s just something for you to wear and think about if you ever get some therapy so you can stop driving women into dark places. But oh, that’s right, Megan is a therapist and so you either don’t need or aren’t allowed insight, I can’t remember.”
A river can small down all the way to tiny creek, and Bill remains captivated. He’s caught trout the size of minnows that made him laugh with joy, the way they split the water going for a wooly bugger half their length. But an ocean, even the edges of one, holds little interest for him. Why is that? And why hasn’t he gotten a decade or two of therapy? All he’s ever had was mandated after incidents at work. Megan says he’ll know if and when he wants to look inside.
“But Barbara didn’t off him. In fact, you guessed it, she’s now or was his main ecst-, and given that they were in Yip-yap! or whatever it’s called, she feels quite connected to him. BTW what’s with pronouncing thing thang and then combining it with every possible word for instance everythang and is that really supposed to be funny? I mean I know the man was exceptional but that’s just juvenile. Anyway, Raspberry was cool about letting Jerry be with all his old loves, and she isn’t exactly Miss Lonelyhearts in that regard herself. Plus she’s not in the troupe so when they did tourthang shit now I’m doing it--when he was out on tour, why not let Jerry be with Frances? was her feeling. In effect Raspberry and Frances shared him, with a little Barbara side dish. The troupe tours about half the year. Fine, they are grownup women and it was their decision and everybody’s needs were met. No one was forced to work in close proximity to a man who obviously loves her but doesn’t know how to live it. Fuck it, I didn’t mean to say that.”
Bill doesn’t love Julie. He sure would like to be more than friends, though. And if he was more than friends for say five minutes or one night, whichever came first, he has no doubt he would love her then. He knows without ever having been with another woman that for him making love and loving are derived from the same word, love. He knows that his tendency toward affection and empathy together with his fascination with female slash Megan’s anatomy make him the world’s worse polyamorous type. Or would. Julie is similar in that she has had a really hard time loving anyone else because she loves Bill. The difference is, and Bill thinks this may be more true of women than men--she loves Bill before or maybe he should say without doing him. Men or Bill is more literal and since he hasn’t loved Julie, he doesn’t love Julie. Which makes it pretty important not to make love to Julie. She understands all that and it’s part of why she loves him.
“So Frances didn’t actually have motive, or if she did she loved him too much to notice. Frances was with Jerry on the road six months a year, and says that was plenty. Kind of believe her. And Raspberry was the woman he came home to, a grandmother but still all that in the sack, I’m guessing, and able to handle life the way a mature woman can, even if her name is Raspberry. That leaves Barbara. I took a page out of your book and just showed up at her place. She was expecting us so the element of surprise was relative. She admitted that for a long time she was not on the list of ecsts-s Jerry could bed. She said she knew she had no real reason to be upset with him and yes she still loved him but he had left her, call it a non-recommitment all you want, and for years she couldn’t get past that. But then she just wanted to sleep with him or nap with him I guess it was a daytime thing so she did. Plus she’s in love with a new guy who has nothing to do with theater, holos, synthetic memory. In fact, believe it or not, the man isn’t an artist at all. She says she gets to be the creative one. I don’t even know if she told me what he does do. Something in the real world. Seems to work for her.”
“I don’t know who killed him,” Julie says.
“So let me get this straight,” Fred says. “You don’t use bait, cause that would be too easy.”
“Yes and no,” Bill tells him. “Mostly yes.”
“Another slice?” Megan asks.
Megan makes pie that reduces or elevates men to boys, and women who make pies to tight-lipped acknowledgement. She has described to Bill the interaction of lard and flour, the need not to over combine, what happens to the hydrophobic and philic layers during resting and baking. Alchemy. Today is raspberry and blueberry.
It was Megan’s idea to pie Fred out at the cabin. She knew that if Bill wanted to find out who Fred is, and what he wants, disorienting him, putting him in the river for a while, and then giving him hot food and pie, was sure to open him up.
“See,” Megan tells Fred now, “bait works on the level of smell in the water. But the fly works on the level of visual deception, trompe l’oeil.”
“Probably not so much if you fall down and scare the fish.”
“Amuse,” Megan tells him. “And they don’t necessarily connect what the clumsy bear cub in the shallows is doing with what drops out of the sky onto the surface looking like an egg-laying caddis fly. Or bounces down the rocks looking like a nymph just getting its footing.”
Fred does and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. What’s interesting to Bill is seeing how the normally put-together writer-turned-detective doesn’t really need meaning in the strict everyday sense. He’s still adrenalized from stumbling over rocks, tripping, getting a stream of cold water into his britches. He’s still transformed by the experience of catching that first fish, a yearling salmon who cleared water three times, giving Fred that knowledge of contacting alien life here on earth. Then getting back to the cabin, oblivious to Tex-Mex who was watching him squish along in the wet waders and saying to Bill, Tell me again why you brought this guy up here? Because for Tex-Mex, fishing is work and learners are more or less welcome, depending on their degree of dog. Some beginners are high-level water dogs even if they don’t look like it and have no experience with streams. Tex-Mex welcomes these learners and teaches them. Others, like Fred, get the I’m-just-a-dog treatment.
Fred, after a shower and back in warm clothes, was still buzzing from that splash and catch day. Then he tucked into Megan’s venison stew, her dinner rolls, now the pie.
“While we’re on the subject of art, explain to us again why Jerry couldn’t have been killed by defectech.”
One must explain. The singularity turned out to be a multiplicity, diseases finding cures, organs swapped for mechanicals or new-growns, cellular obsolescence giving way piecemeal to not a fountain of youth but little trickles of extremely prolonged middle age. Tech interwove bio, and the lifespans, first just a few, then a few more, stumbled past the point of decline into stasis. Bill, being of the first generations to let go of mortality, had to grapple with the surprisingly hard truth that it does not all have to end, that life does not need to be valued because it will soon be over, that love really can be eternal, even while it gets tedious to have the same debate about the proper way to make a bed (Megan obsessed with hospital corners and foot snugness, Bill with freedom of foot movement). Murder has become more heinous in strictly proportional terms. All people have far more value, not just the young. The number of babies has slowed AIW to a crawl, as have the number of deaths from natural causes or LTBs (life threatening bugs). There was the famous OS failure when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had gone heavily into LPB (life prolonging biotechnology) pushed an update prematurely. The surprise “free” version killed as many people, adjusted for relative population size, as the flu pandemic of 1918.
“The tracers work both ends toward the middle,” Fred says, toying with his pie. The ice cream has melted into a pool and he’s pressing the berries and crust into that pool. “They look at the event. In this case, not a technical failure but a clean stop. Backup and double backup neatly aborted. That’s at the device end.” He takes a bite and slowly closes his eyes. He opens them as if waking. Legally he shouldn’t be telling Megan any of this.
“What’s the other end they go looking for?” Megan says. “Coffee?”
Fred mms and slides his cup forward.
“They go the other way,” he says. “Look for the signaling end.”
“Buried. Way up high,” Fred sighs, “in the middle of the sky.”
“So they don’t know. You don’t know.”
“We don’t know who killed Jerry.”
“Writers don’t always know when they are awake,” Megan tells Bill. “They know when something seems true. But that thing could be a dream. They’re more concerned about the trueness than the realness.”
“That’s what you figured out about Fred?”
“Yes,” Megan says. They are on the deck on the mat. Stars pepper the sky. Cloud wisps like feather boas.
“Does he want me to not figure out this one?”
“He wants to be with you in your thoughts. He wants to be you when you figure it out.”
“Writers like to be other people.”
The next morning Bill slips out before hosting duties commence. Tex-Mex takes him downstream and around the eddy to the wides, where Bill works his way across. It’s almost a good route at this flow but there’s the one spot where Bill slows and then stops, tapping with the pole like a blind man. Don’t be a gatinho, Tex-Mex tells him and heads back up to swim across, up to where clockwise-from-above eddy current will propel him instead of fighting him. Bill mumbles and steps, twisting, slipping, his heart in his mouth as he moon-bounces three feet downstream, reaches with a boot toe, finds purchase and keeps the waterline just under his wader tops at armpit height. Oh yeah and he’s holding his five-weight out front and high like a divining rod or dowser.
As suddenly as he wasn’t, he’s back on good rock and progresses to the east bank as Tex-Mex trots into view and sits. Don’t bellyache about almost taking on sea, Tex-Mex says. I swam up to my eyeballs and I don’t have on an underlayer. Tex-Mex can be a little bit of a moufette in the morning. Where to? Bill asks. Shelf, Tex-Mex says, taking the woods trail.
He and Tex-Mex stand in shade. Across the river, the sun overexposes turbulent water and white cedars. Bill has the breeze so casts high upstream. When the soft hackle touches down it travels at the speed of river so that it only fishes for a second before dangling in the current, looking entirely unnatural in its defiance. The magic first cast is without fish. The almost magic second cast finds a good one. As if the big brookie needed a minute to wake up and say Sorry I wasn’t quite ready for that magic first cast but now I am. Then moving at the speed of fish (an impossible speed, like a food-seeking torpedo) pounds the little scrap of down and thread during the half-second of its kayak ride along the rapid between one granite nose and one granite hipbone protruding just inside the shadow line.
Nice, Tex-Mex says. Let him run. Bill does, easing the drag, following the brookie’s flight with his dowser tip till the fish resolves into still water on the near bank. Then brings him in a bit--wash, rinse repeat twice, deploy net. Settle down, big fella, Bill says. Gives him a minute to regain his self-esteem, returns him to his morning.
So much for imitating nature, Tex-Mex comments when Bill fields the first one’s slightly less handsome cousin, basically the same fish with a slightly more surly underlip, who went vertical after the dangling-in-the-trough hackle, which was doing what no insect or bait could do but was nonetheless tauntingly okay, no mandatory, to go after. IOW the line was straight downstream and the fly was bouncing on the surface of the river like a slaloming water skier doing tricks in Pensacola. Surly came up from the depths Moby Dick style, grabbed the fly and carried him fully three feet toward the sun, Apollo Mission launch style.
Fish are smart until they’re not, Bill answers. Predictable and rational until crazy with lust for that dancing color against the light.
Takeaway, Tex-Mex says. Fish are people too.
“I have nothing against artistic vision,” Jason says. “But there comes a point.”
He and Bill are at Market Basket on Somerville Ave. Bill was just creeping up on the man at his condo, a renovated church (Karmically okay? Not so much.) when Jason walked out with his old lady shopping cart. So this was a grocery shopping interview.
“Let them know you care, is all I’m saying. Give them themes. Show them preparation.”
Bill actually does have an idea what Jason is talking about. The troupe is not the one big happy family they present to the media. Consecutive interviews have yielded a map of a multi-media troupe divided or at least aesthetically polarized against itself. One one side and it’s the bigger side are those more improvisational folks, the ones always looking for inspiration each time they perform and open to variation. One the other, smaller side are the more traditional let’s-do-the-same-basic-thing-or-thang-with-only-minor-variation type folks. Jerry had been one hundred percent over-prepare-and-deliver-polished-product in his first career as holo-lead man at NFL Studios (football went the way of boxing--the NFL bought Disney). He (over?) compensated in his post-fatherhood comeback as a groovy multimedia tribal leader, in love with process, okay with ambiguity, always a big flirt with the random and unanticipated performance outcome. Bill knows institutional and personal tension and this Jason Rubenstein was Bill is going to guess two years from schism-walk-away-invite-troupe-members-to-join-new-troupe type rebellion.
“You’re director of Wah-yeep!?”
“Artistic director. Everyone chooses herhis own title, job description, and salary.”
“Interesting,” Bill says, thinking, Salary? “Who chose the group name?”
“Lee Armistadh. But he didn’t kill Jerry. Nobody killed Jerry. Jerry died of a tech failure. Go after the device makers or docs.”
“As artistic director, aren’t you running the troupe now?”
“Please don’t say that,” Jason says. He’s looking at all the varieties and sizes of yogurt, always a challenging time. Here Bill is asking him to admit that he’s in charge. “You know how we got that name?”
? Bill emanates.
“From a mime. Never really with the troupe. Just a highly paid intern.”
“The intern gave himself--”
“Four thousand dinars a month. Came up with Wah-yeep! Terrible. But it caught on.”
“How long did he--”
“Jerry loved sentences like The thing is is.” People interrupt for many reasons. Sometimes they just don’t want to hear what anyone, or at least the person they are speaking with, has to say. Sometimes they are filled with an emotion, and it has to emerge immediately.
“And well I can’t think of any other of those kinds of sentences with two words in a row right now, but the point is Jerry thought two words in a row was funny, along with sounds spoken emphatically that have no known meaning. He also liked threes--repeated shapes, phrases of movement, lines of verse. Really didn’t like fours at all. Unless he could turn them into two twos.” Jason heads off past the sour cream, nodding to himself. He looks calmer now that he’s gotten his yogurts--one big one, for staple. Couple boutique ones for treats.
“You have a new name in mind?”
“I do, actually.” They are in the pasta zone. “The Jerry Applebaum Troupe.”
Bill telegraphs understanding and sympathy with Jason’s POV--using stillness and eye-widen when Jason turns his way.
“I like clarity and simplicity. I like communication. And I think it’s an appropriate tribute.”
Mild confusion, this time. The double palm forward gesture, eyebrows maybe fifty percent knit. To give Jason the chance to tell him that he is a bold person in his own way, and a loyal one.
“I know. What was I--what am I--doing with Jerry? Mr. Far-Out? Mr. Let’s-See-What-Happens?”
Bill does the slightest of Maharashtrian head bobbles.
“Not far-out far-out. Just not linear narrative anymore.” He chooses this and that and then three primavera rotinis. “And did you see I mean hear that? I miss him. Still using his say-it-twice words. I never used to say things like far-out far-out. What’s wrong with very far-out? He was just out enough to keep me interested. Or he let me make the troupe, when I was inner-circle, we (sometimes, not always, nothing was ever always) decided to have an inner-circle who beamed that’s what Jerry called it a direction for our process--in other words, a couple people or even just one who was in charge of a particular piece, would be the inner circle and beam out ideas, through whatever means including telepathy which, by the way, Jerry not only believed in but used-- Jerry let me be Mr. Normal and keep things understandable and rehearsed. Not always so spontaneous that even the best material disappeared from rehearsal to rehearsal or practice as we call them because Huangdi help us if we admit we’re intentionally repeating ourselves with a word that means do it again the same way on purpose--rehearsal, I mean. He let me lead, or co-lead, or heavily influence. And my beaming could be in the form of pretty specific even written instructions. So...what? Jerry needed me but I needed him too or I’d get stuck trying to perfect little things. The man was right that doing the same thing over and over is a chore. Play, concert, musical, whatever. Multimedia is no different. After the first dozen successful performances.”
He rolls his eyes. He rolls his cart. Heads for produce.
“That’s why we made holos. The set is hell. If I eat another catered lab-burger or tired salad. But you make the holo one scene at a time and then it goes to the lab for a year and bingo--a holo. No repetition for the performer even if the movie goes into continuous play in AKLs.”
Continuous play is the new standard for a hit. It means that a given holo song or book is always being experienced by ten thousand souls somewhere around the globe (gold) or one hundred thousand (platinum). EG the new Bond holo might go platinum for a month or so, then settle into gold, giving Broccoli University for the Motion Narrative Arts another production lab and maybe an endowed chair. Speaking of broccoli, Jason grabs a broccutabaga and a bag of Brussel Vidalias. “So when Jerry and I unretreated, we knew we wanted to do live performance but we didn’t want to turn into repeaters. We wanted to have it be new each time. It was beautiful for a long time--we feel it. Our thangsters feel it, which is why they follow us on tour. Did you know there’s some of them who have been on the road near us for sixteen years without missing a show, in those crazy drones of theirs? Still,” Jason says, looking at the banamangoes, never ripe, or almost never, but one has to squeeze one just in case. “But it doesn’t hurt to keep a record of a few elements of the performance that gel. Just keep them in mind when you go out there.”
They head for the ice cream tank. Jason settles back on his heels, as if he must now decide the fate of the free world. “There’s always that balance in art,” he says, “between innovative and put-offish. I have nothing against your boutique audience of ten thousand, but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional hundred thousand. And you don’t get that by doing a show once perfectly, then four times shabby. You get it by doing a show five times just about right.” He goes for vanilla (half gallon--staple) and two pints, Earthly Hash and Caribou Tracks (treats). The man is nothing if not methodical.
“Jerry just couldn’t let us get there.”
“Mainstream. He’d been there done that. He had fourteen holos in perpetual”--continuous experiencing by at least a thousand souls for at least twenty years--"the comped suites, the restaus feeding his whole свита for a signed 3D of him and the owner to float off the wall. He wasn’t just tired of it.” They roll out of the store, radiochecker clearing them with a hum, Jason’s thone telling him how much he spent and saved, and babbling on about things he forgot to buy and might need, on sale just for him because of his 97 years as a loyal customer. “He hated it. He just wanted to be left alone to make art with thirty close friends for an intimate audience of ten or twelve thousand, then get back on the drone and chill.” Does Bill detect a note of sarcasm? No, he decides.
“But what about the rest of the troupe?” Jason asks, pausing, looking his age suddenly, maybe it’s the cart. His skin is young, he hasn’t lost any height. His muscle tone is that of the actor he is, working out five days a week, eating more or less right. Wouldn’t know if you didn’t know which joints are refab--hips, knees, probably dominant shoulder, heels, lower back. It’s that expression of sadness. “Not me. The ambitious young ones. Who’ve got bills to pay and want to be famous. Not mainstream famous but small pond famous. Jerry, for all his generosity, for all his we-are-a-family spirit, wouldn’t go there.”
Jason shakes his head and walks off, one cart wheel squeaking.
“I’m looking for Tim.”
“I know that,” Julie says.
“Walk with me.” They are in Union Square, looking out over the water. The morning sun is as bright as it gets now.
“Tim is the dance guy,” Bill says.
“He calls himself the bitch, but I think in another multimedia troupe where people don’t each give herhimself herhis own titles and job descriptions, he’d be the choreographer.”
“Everybody was at his house at the ToD.”
“Most of them,” Julie says.
They head for the pedestrian path, along the water. Joggers pass them, a danny or possibly an old dad with a stroller. A woman of a certain age whips by Julie, then all the joggers, flaunting her powered prostheses or maybe just enjoying the speed.
“So if one of the troupe stopped his heart, shehe did it during drinks and apps, or maybe just after dinner was served.”
“Yes,” Bill says.
“And you haven’t talked to Tim yet?”
“Twice,” Julie says. “I think he’s starting to trust me.”
“He have something to say?”
“He’s a chatterbox. Yeah. I don’t know what.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know either.”
“Cut that shit out, Bill. I’m not one of your wide-eyed followers. Any more. I think he knows.”
Bill stops. Julie keeps walking for a dozen steps, then stops too. Her sleeveless blouse picks up a dozen colors in the sunlight. Her auburn again hair brushes her shoulders.
“How’s everything up in the cabin, Bill? Idyllic?”
Bill starts walking again.
“Megan’s working a lot.”
“Dispensing wisdom? Kicking black-belted butts?”
“Tell her I said hey.”
Bill nods. Julie and Megan are friends. Never even tries to figure that one out.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about my lonely life?”
Bill carefully does not vary the cadence of his steps.
“Not lonely, Bill. I’m seeing--no, I’m with someone. Who sees me.”
Bill turns to look into her hazel eyes.
Despite himself, Bill takes a shorter stride, as if the information tripped him.
“I thought he was--”
Mercer is their old partner, really Bill’s, then Julie’s. Here’s a list of his attributes as a human in general: grandfather, medium-height and muscular, smart, impatient fisherman, understands team sports, handsome. Here’s a list of his positive attributes as a fellow law-enforcement officer: tough, loyal, quick moving, fearless before bureaucracy, good sharer of information. Here’s a list of his negative attributes from the point of view of a lover or a close enough friend: drinker, good but biting sense of humor, low self-esteem leading to moodiness and emotional inconsistency; unwillingness or perhaps inability to compromise on issues of planning days or longer periods. Oh, really jealous.
“Mercer? You shouldn't--"
"No," Julie says. "You really think I would date Mercer? Come on, Bill."
Why is she smiling? Because he cares, Bill realizes. Because he reacted like a ecst-. Or a lover.
“She’s going to drop by later,” Bill tells Tim. Tim shrugs, turns and walks up a flight of stairs. Bill pauses a minute, then walks into the old house, closes and locks the door, and heads up. There’s no sign of Tim when he gets to the landing. A living room is full of piles of vinyl record albums, dishes, clothes, stacks of drawings that look like architecture for something other than buildings or code. Cups, tea pots, press pots, parts of musical instruments, paint brushes, drum sticks, things that could be used as drums. Amplifiers, pickups, electronic instruments, motion and biologic wands, readers, bows. Sheet music, pill bottles, guitar picks, smoking devices. Books, ereaders, projectors, headsets. Grasses and herbs in jars. Pillows, cats, a shnauzer. Lotions, massage tables. Three Wah-yeeps! --Katy, Duncan, Sarah, not counting Commander Ruiz, the tabby. Two other people not in the troupe--Ophelia, Tiger (they introduce themselves--maybe a couple).
Bill keeps going up.
“Why don’t you love her?” Tim asks.
“We work together.”
Tim indicates his house, the people in it, with a sustained gesture of his left hand. Bill understands this means Tim loves, in both the emotional and physical sense, one or more of the folks he works with.
“I’m with my lifelove," Bill adds.
“Julie says Megan is cool with it.”
Interesting, Bill thinks. Interesting that his partner is talking about her relationship with Bill, with Tim. Interesting too that Julie thinks that Megan would be cool with it if he and Julie got together.
Nice view. First there’s the rooftop garden itself--the usual array of household vegetables, fruits, and growteins in tanks and ponics--pheasant, bison, emu, foie gras, shark, baloney, salmon. Tomatoes, carroquashes, avocados, celerugala, cukes, radishyams, potonions. Appayas, leycheepeachees, watermelons.
“Interesting,” he says.
“You want to, right?”
“Why the bitch?”
“All right. You don’t want to talk about it.” Tim squints, takes a drag. Pure water vapor. Lot of ex-smokers have started steaming. Something to do with the hands. Like white tea. Calming and good for elasticity of the bronchi. Like a handheld steam room. "Julie said that you weren’t going to talk about it. How long you and Megan been a pair?”
Tim raises his eyebrows. Exhales.
“I call myself the bitch. They call me Tim. You ever been in a rehearsal?”
“Oliver Twist. Sixth grade.”
“Did you waste a lot of time? People FOADL? No one with a plan, or no one following it?”
“No. Mr. Billings was in charge.”
“The bitch,” Tim says. Squint, steam. “There’s always a bitch. I stepped up.”
“Jerry?” Tim laughs, a clear open sound, long and pure, not at all the sound Bill was expecting. Tim almost flicks his butt off the rooftop, then realizes: (a) it’s a vape, not a butt; (b) he’s not a teenager, and hasn’t been for some time. “Jerry…” He’s at it again, bent over for a minute. “Jerry the bitch.”
Bill waits politely. He knew Jerry was not the bitch. But now he knows Tim had nothing to do with stopping his heart.
“What about Jason.”
Suddenly Tim isn’t laughing. He straightens up. “Jason.” He shakes his head. Contemplating perhaps a troupe with Jason at the helm. Jason who’s self-title was Artistic Director. “No, not the bitch,” Tim says softly, walking over to give a cantorange a look. “I guess I’d call Jason more the fuckwad.”
The fly looks like a folded up moth on a screen door. It floats above the bank in the shadow. Hero cast, even Tex-Mex sitting up, one of those casts when Bill’s arm shoulder back assert their intelligence and suddenly sixty feet of line leader tippet are hanging like suspense in thin air. The dry touches down with a space-capsule-on-parachute perfection, odds defied, nine inches from the bank, beneath overhanging canary grass. The drift is so natural that nature itself puts on a jealous pout. Tex-Mex rises fully as if he’s watching a holo over top a tricked out poodle in a dog holo theater.
Time takes a break. Gone with a Gone Fishing sign on the time door.
Bill sits at the table. Megan is working with a patient in her sound-proofed office, but the door is open. They are both laughing, and damned if Bill can tell that the man is somewhere else, only his projected image and voice in the room with his wife.
Through the kitchen window, sunlight and dusty trees. Siesta.
“They make their own choices,” the man says.
“It’s almost as if they are independent human beings," Megan answers.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think I didn’t have complete control over their lives.”
“Well, say you did. What would you make Jamie do tonight?”
Suddenly Bill knows. Jerry was killed by someone who loved him. With a little help from nature.
“I think we know,” Bill says.
“I don’t know,” Julie says.
“I sort of know,” Fred says.
They are back on Beacon Hill Island. It’s overcast and this makes it seem later than early afternoon.
“They were at Tim’s house. Someone stopped Jerry’s heart.”
“Tim knows who did it, but he didn’t do it, and he won’t tell me,” Julie says. “I’ve told him that makes him an accessory. He says he loves accessories.”
The office boats look cozy along the wharves. The lights in the windows are faint in the daylight--disorienting, like daytime moon.
“Who’s your prime?” Fred asks Julie.
“Frances.” She places her thone on the desk and it projects Frances, pacing and talking.
“I don’t mind him sleeping with other women. No I mind but I deal with it. I have my ecst-s- and--” she looks in both directions, as if this will keep her secret secret, even though she is being recorded with her own permission--”I’m seeing someone.”
“Not an ecst-?”
“No. I met him in Montreal three weeks ago. He’s young--” this could mean any number of things--”and he’s crazy about me. He’s blowing up my thone. I think Jerry knew.”
“Why do you--”
“It’s nothing he said,” Frances keeps right on. “But when we got back to Somerville and were getting off FlyThang”--tour drone--"he just gave me a peck on the lips and said, See you soon, and went home. Like I was his…”
Julie patiently waits, off-holo.
“Breedlove. So no I didn’t care that he was home with Raspberry. I mean I cared but I could handle it.”
Julie skips forward to herself, saying, “At the party--”
“It was just our usual Friday sabbathang. Jerry loved lighting candles and saying this blessing he made up, different each time, using stuff from what he had read that day or listened to, or something he heard someone else say, even animal sounds, especially slowed down bird songs. He was very observant, as he called it. He made everybody sit and observe for like ten minutes and then say whatever they saw heard felt or for extra credit smelled. Anything except thought. He called it orthodoxy.”
“He was la--”
“He never came on time. Sometimes he was super early which was funny cause then he was really pissed off when anyone else was late on those days though he didn’t say anything and he tried not to show it. You could tell though cause his lip twitched.”
“Yeah. But usually he was really late and so he was late as usual.”
“She didn’t do it,” Julie says, popping the thone back in her pocket.
“But she’s your primary.”
“Yup,” Julie says. For a minute it looks like she is going to leave it at that. “Blame Elvis. He’s got me thinking all paradoxical and mysterious. Like she did it, but I know she didn’t. You happy?” She looks at Bill.
He is. For quite a while he’s been trying to tell Julie to let go, see where things lead. She’s getting the idea.
“Someone created a designer.” Bill lets the word hang there. Designer is a program on the banned list. Reverse engineering of mood but also metabolics, sleep simulators, uppers, downers, hallucinogens. Alice was the first big one, an EEG reverse stimulator that seemed like good fun. You could fill a room with signal and everyone dancing would be dreaming, together, though not exactly the same dream. The metabolics were irresistible to artists on tour, who had to be full of energy until midnight, and back on the drones in the morning. Best way to sleep? Have your breath, your heart rate, slow down as soon as you are in your bed. Particularly dangerous in combination with whatever else you had popped or sipped during the evening. Unclear what the side-effects and long-term consequences of use are, but popular. Designers spread in waves, dealers selling the official darkGore product, customers making even more dangerous hacks that they share or sell.
“Negatory,” Julie says. “Jerry was clean.”
“Yes. But not everybody in Wah-yeep! was. Not by a long shot,” Fred says.
“So you think--”
“Someone at that party turned him down remotely,” Fred tells them. “Maybe a notch too far without meaning to. Maybe as a joke. Maybe as a favor. Maybe just to get him to stop what he was doing and get himself over to sabbath.”
“Frances,” Bill says. “She downs.”
“She told you?”
“You’ve heard her. How do you think she does, after a performance, or when Jerry’s with Raspberry, and it’s time to go to bed?” Bill turns to the window. People are walking away from the office boats, looking about the size of carpenter ants. “What do you think she hears when she lies down to sleep?”
They all think about this.
“Moo?” asks Julie.
“This is the scene where I tell you who killed Jerry, right?”
“Yes,” Bill tells Tim. They are sitting at Dunkin’ Union Donuts, the original store. There’s a plaque explaining that this first of the giant fanchise, 22,316 around the world, was simply called Union Square Donuts before it grew, swallowed Dunkin’ Donuts, and exploded. They still have their quaint 2D logo and original offerings, including the maple bacon donut Bill is having, now made with local artisanal stem pork, and their trademark brioche dough.
“Like if this was a holo, you’d already know but you’d want to hear it from me.”
“I like you better than that guy who played you, BTW. He always looked like he was trying to be deep. Not you.”
Not deep or not trying? Bill waits.
“Julie said you’d come at me like this, all friendly, with food involved.”
“You doing the silent thing? Like a musician creating space that I’m going to fill with a solo. You’ve seen me dance, right? I’m like you. Comfortable presence but then--boom--I hit you with some crazy three-technique mashup. I’ve studied everything. Name a style.”
“Yup.” He sips his mate-chinno.
“Your lifemate is normal. She likes Julie. Julie’s into you. You spit juice like a teenager.” (Definition: to flirt, derivation unknown, Boston area.) "Why don’t you take a chance on more love? Julie says Megan says you’re afraid of change.”
“OK, fine. Here’s what I know. Enough that I didn’t and don’t want to tell you cause Frances didn’t do it and if you decide she did, it’s going to wreck her. She’s a talker and that can make me just leave rehearsal and go for walks, but I love her not that way but I love her and she’s thang people. She doesn’t deserve to be relocated and probe-ated. She couldn’t handle it. She can barely handle Malden.”
Bill waits. Tim has another bite of his sea-salt bourbon caramel. Then he has to destickify his lips and fingers, which he does without losing much of the glaze to paper product.
“You know she grams, right?” (Definition, in this context: to run illegal designer programs to regulate one’s own metabolism/mood states.)
“She went down at sabbathang that night. How do I know? She didn’t stop talking but she took it down a couple notches. And there’s that look, right? Like hi, I’m in here, and I’m awake, but I’m also with the fairies.”
Bill nods. Has a sip of coffee.
“She hasn’t seen Jerry in a week since tour. He’s been with Raspberry. Hell, Raspberry might be with him when he shows up. Raspberry’s cool, Frances is cool, they’ve even equilateraled” (a triad in which each of three lovers shares status and decision-making--nice in theory) “but Frances needs ritardando. So she goes into my room, goes to her world on my puter, and uses my ShackRack to simulate.”
The yeasty dough smell soothes. Kom, behind the counter, comes over to refill Bill’s cup.
“Thank one,” Bill says. He and Kom go back--to Kim, before that Tom, and now here, neither gender--one. Kom looks good. Bill thinks Kom’s found one’s place.
“You know each other?”
“Yeah. Megan and I come to Somerville. A couple of our kids and so forth went to Tufts. Two are there now.” Seven--Esther, Mo’s daughter Beth. Beth’s son Huynh. Mo’s other daughter Cindy’s daughter Nenet. So on. It’s no shame to want to be on a campus with other twenty to forty-year-olds. Bill refuses to look at it that way. Some twenteens just don’t like to study and work virtually, in the larger community, even though yes this allows more focus, a richer interaction with the working world, and so forth. There’s a still a place for campus learning, even for the gifted.
“So now I cut to the chase. I tell you that she killed Bill using my puter. And is lying to you.”
“No, cause you know that is isn’t true."
“Obatala damn it! This is what happened. You can take it or leave it. I don’t care if it screws up your series finale.”
Bill finished the last piece of near-bacon. He still has some maple sugar.
“Puter slept. Jerry doesn’t show up. Everybody leaves. I go to check my mail before bed. I don’t have a thone. I use my puter and not very often. I’m a dinosaur like you.”
Bill thinks of himself as selective. He has the latest thone, but he’ll be damned if he’ll use a nano-fly to catch a trout, its smooth surface turning velcro with a thousand tiny hooks adhering to the trout’s mouth before shehe can spit it out. Tech is supposed to enhance. You have to know when it’s just too effective in the wrong way, or ineffective at the wrong time.
“...There’s Frances’ world still projecting. And you know what I see?”
“What?” Bill says, popping that last bite of his doughnut in, but not licking his fingers yet.
“Designer. New one--Mollify. Triple play--feel, deal, and reel.” (Combo program affecting mood, metabolism, dreams). “It’s target was Jerry. What a laugh, I thought. That Frances. She got some tweaked ware so she can manipulate her honey. Twisted, cause he’s straight, but funny, since she loves him and can’t get enough of him. Then I saw the pulse-scale. It’s down in the red no-fly zone. Then I see. It’s not down. It’s zero.”
Bill licks his fingers solemnly. Tim finishes his mate-chinno and licks away his foamstache.
“I know,” Tim says. “Lame, right? Cause you know and I know Frances doesn’t even know. She might have made him the target. Maybe tweeked his metabolics to get him ready for a night out, or just cause she was pissed at him for being with Raspberry. That would be about it. But she didn’t. Cause if she had, she would have freaked when she heard what happened. And when I talked to her, when you talked to her, she would have told us. She tells me, anyone, everything.”
True dat, Bill thinks. They look out the window at the bikejam. They can almost feel the tension through the glass. Spoke rage--pissed off commuters “flipping off” as they call it other bikers by sticking usually pumps into their spokes--has been filling the emergency rooms of all the cities.
“No. Why would they use my puter? Frances only used it cause her designer was hidden somewhere in her world and she’s too smart to pull it up on her thone. Plus she knows how paranoid I am, and that my machine is as close to private as you get outside of corporates.”
A moment here. Privacy has won. Sure, government monitors what it likes and can, but officially all communication is private. No lasering of conversations, no de-encryption of banking, no scanning text, no face or voice recognition. And of course no imaging of public or private places, except imaging by individuals for herhis own use. This was the result of a coalition of corporate and criminal interests, both of which supported the WCLU in its campaigns to make walls vision-proof again, make the sound of voices too quiet to be heard by people far away, and to make the bedroom a sex zone again, rendering sex bunkers obsolete. It took a while but it happened.
“So no, it was just Frances," Tim says. "So two questions ruin this as the final scene.”
“Why was there a zero setting for heart?”
“Yeah. What kind of twisted hack eater-of-mindful-creatures would build that in?”
“Who,” Tim says, finishing off his stache with the back of his hand, “zeroed Jerry?”
Bill starts minutely forward on his square black pillow before reminding himself: (a) this is Megan’s घर; (b) the fellow who just picked Megan up and looks to be about to throw her out a window is not a person Bill could effectively protect Megan from, seeing as how Bill isn’t carrying his elephant gun; (c) this is a demonstration, not a fight to the death; and (d) Megan is sneaky.
He’s been in Montreal since Friday evening. Thought about going home but Megan said come up, they’d have Sunday together and everybody at the घर, especially Eliza, missed him. Eliza is next to him now, looking pretty sharp in her fighting pjs and eyeshadow. Is it true? What Tim said Julie said Megan said? Does Megan want him to try to fly polyamorous at this late date? Isn’t that like trying to teach Tex-Mex to bird? We all know how that went, when Bill’s friend Dave brought his German wirehaired pointer Linda up and took Bill and Tex-Mex into the woods and Tex-Mex was like Well, Hello, Linda! I see you have quite a thing for the flying dinosaurs! How’s about you and I leave these boys to play with their cameras (shooting birds is illegal) out here in the bush and mosey on down to the river. I’ll show you my smelly things collection and tell you about the salmonidae family.
“Tee-hee,” Eliza says, squeezing Bill’s knee. It is funny to watch the guy--a Limalama grandmaster, Osovale Hanipale--try to figure out how to detach Megan from his back. He could flop onto it/her but: (a) he might kill her if he landed on her, which is rude, and then of course her students would kill him; (b) he can’t reach her, so his options are limited; and (c) it’s a demo, so if he waits a couple seconds, she’ll climb somewhere else without strangling him, kicking his kidneys bloody, or reaching around to gouge out his eyes. Still, Megan plays to the crowd with a little love tap on the side of Osovale’s right cheekbone before spiraling down to his feet and skipping away.
Look here, Bill thinks. Isn’t that Eliza’s hand still on his knee--pretty little thing, isn’t it? He’s seen that hand spar. Hard to believe, looking at it now, that it could probably reach inside a person from the front, snatch herhis heart and hold it up for its owner to see its final beats. Tex-Mex took Linda to the river. No bird dog, but a dog, happily mating when opportunities arise. Why isn’t Bill a dog? Men are, or once were supposed to be, all about maximizing genetic space by mating not indiscriminately but enthusiastically and not worrying overmuch about the raising of the live young. Somehow Bill didn’t get the memo. He also forgot not to raise the live young, day by day, year by year, in his first six year mini-retreat. That had been interesting for Megan, sharing decision-making, space, with Bill. That was when they realized they really were secretly and truly married. She loved him or she might have given to Bill what Mr. Hanipale is receiving now, an almost harried series of chops and chopstick-like pokes to the abdomen and neck. The best defense, Bill thinks, is to confuse one’s opponent, preferably without confusing oneself. He places his hand not directly atop but slantwise at approximately thirty-degrees north-northeast on Eliza’s. She sighs, her long back minutely arching in the pjs. Bill shifts on his pillow, is what Bill does.
“He got his,” Megan says. They’re window shopping. Retail worldwide is subsidized by guv the way farming and the arts once were. Hard to imagine a world without shops but there’s no economic function to them. Half of them order their merchandize droned in from the nearest warehouses while the customer goes to another shop or for tea, keeping only the displays on hand. Even then, without the subsidies, the owners wouldn’t be able to pay employees or make “profit.”
“Looked like he was beating a rug.”
Megan laughs. Fighting, even a demo, makes her girlish. Bill can’t keep his eyes off her.
“I bet it did.”
They walk into a boutique and Megan pulls a few skirts and blouses into the dressing room.
“You were having a good time,” she says through the door.
“I held hands with Eliza.”
“I saw that. Plus she told me. How did that feel?”
Megan comes out and does a walk and turn.
“Your green,” Bill tells her. “Not your length.” He’s always been her consultant for clothes. She doesn’t really know what she thinks about clothes unless they work it out together. Kind of like him with the rest of life.
“Honey,” Bill says when they’re out walking again. “Do you want me to do something.”
“With another woman?”
“I don’t know. There was a time I did.”
They find a store with the kind of treats Tex-Mex loves. That would be the edible kind. They always bring him something, the way each of them always brought something--sometimes just a candy bar--for Mo and Esther, when shehe returned from a trip.
“What if I’m too old?” Bill asks her.
“You used to be,” Megan says, threading her arm through his. “Now you’re just scared.”
“Jason gave Frances the designer,” Fred says. “That’s the part I predicted. In the second of my Bogota series, there’s this guy--”
Julie raises a hand. They are in the back room of The Bell in Hand, a tavern in mainland Boston. Ambient details include dark wood of great age, dim lighting by old resistor light bulbs--energy suckers and heat generators, but pretty. Also smells--beer, vape, fryolator. Julie and Fred have Aeronauts in front of them, Bill cranberry juice.
“K,” Fred says. “Jason knew Frances grammed. So he gave her a copy of Mollify. He told her that she could target other people--with their consent. Or if she could get them to sit still in front of the ShackRack for a while, without their consent.”
“Tim’s house,” Bill says. Fred nods.
“What?” Julie asks. Bill explains about Tim’s thonelessness, his puter set-up, Julie’s use of it at parties.
“Did Frances tell you she added Jerry to her Mollify? So she could tweak him remotely?”
“No. And she didn’t tell Jerry,” Fred says. “Had she, Jerry would have asked, possibly not so politely--Jerry could get pretty prickly, from what I understand, when his sacred cows--non-hierarchical creativity, the importance of cooking eggplant for a long time, were questioned--to please un-target him. So if she ever tweaked Jerry, she must have micro-tweaked him secretly.”
“Until that night,” Bill and Julie both say. “Jinx,” they both say.”
“Julie Lambert Camfield William Shelby Baker.”
“You two done?” Fred asks.
“So who zeroed him?” Julie asks. “You know?”
“No one at Tim’s.”
“Not true,” Bill says. “Well, kind of true.”
“Cut the shit, Elvis,” Julie says.
Scallops, clams, haddock. Onion rings. All ocean farmed, except the rings, which came from Lincoln, mostly farmland again, the folks having moved further out--way out--or in. Vegaquarians wouldn’t touch this, but the three detectives dig in. How much consciousness does a clam have? How to find out? Bill has tried lab haddock and scallops. Nobody has a made a go of lab clams. No market, black or white. Either people eat the clam real, or they’re just not interested.
“You’re saying a cat killed Jerry?”
“Not just any cat,” Fred answers for Bill. “Commander Ruiz is a member of Wah-yeep! Tim had him on tour and trained him to come on stage and chose things during performances--order, number of performers, even lighting and costumes in real time. It was part of the indeterminacy thang that Jerry often played with. The rest of the troupe consider indeterminacy one of the ten VSS (very strong suggestions) of the Applebaum weltanschauung. You see--”
Julie raises a scallop.
“Paw,” Bill says. “On pointing device.”
“You don’t mean--” Julie double dips in the cocktail sauce.
“So let me get this straight,” Julie says, sitting back. Fred takes a couple scallops while she’s distracted. She’s been two-for-one-ing him. “Months, maybe a year ago, Jason gave Frances the program so she could sleep, and maybe get revved up for sex. He also told her how she could use it on Jerry. Was Jason pissed at Jerry? He knew Jerry was pure as the driven snow when it came to drugs and grams. And he knew Mollify was dangerous.”
“Frustrated,” Fred says. “Second in command. Always the worker bee, never the queen. Unconsciously, he may have--”
Julie holds up a ring.
“Then, the night of the murder, or are we calling it homicide now--negligent, feline, whatever--Frances uses the program on herself, leaves the computer on, and a cat switches it onto Jerry, then zeros his heart rate by…” She closes her eyes, either picturing the scene or just enjoying the ring, which is one of those thick ones from near the middle of the onion, and has only now reached perfect eating temperature,.
“Commander Ruiz pounced on the mouse," Bill says. "Or maybe moved it slowly around, following the cursor, and clicking it. He does it in performance.”
“No arrests. No trial.”
“No,” Bill says. The skylight is opalescent. Predawn. “We sent different people from Traffic Control to speak to Jason and Frances, and scrub their devices. They don’t know, and the people who were sent don’t know, it has anything to do with a death. They just think their designers were traced.”
“So that’s it?”
“Jason and Frances will be monitored so they don’t start using again.”
“And Jerry?” Megan’s voice is hoarse when she wakes, until she has her green tea in the morning. Bill likes that.
“Jerry is at peace. He has been laid to rest.”
True. Bill attended his funeral, at Mount Auburn cemetery, two mornings after Tim discovered his body. Jewish burial--simple wooden casket, Jerry inside in a cotton shroud. In comfortable शवासन. Silent observance, broken only by weeping, murmuring, and laughter.