William Gibson. Virtual light
Spellcheck: Egor Podgornov
1. The luminous flesh of giants.
The courier presses his forehead against layers of glass, argon,
high-impact plastic. He watches a gunship traverse the city's middle
distance like a hunting wasp, death slung beneath its thorax in a smooth
Hours earlier, missiles have fallen in a northern suburb; seventy-three
dead, the kill as yet unclaimed. But here the mirrored ziggurats down Lozaro
Cordenas flow with the luminous flesh of giants, shunting out the night's
barrage of dreams to the waiting avenidas-business as usual, world without
The air beyond the window touches each source of light with a faint
hepatic corona, a tint of jaundice edging imperceptibly into brownish
translucence. Fine dry flakes of fecal snow, billowing in from the sewage
flats, have lodged in the lens of night.
Closing his eyes, he centers himself in the background hiss of
climate-control. He imagines himself in Tokyo, this room in some new wing of
the old Imperial. He sees himself in the streets of Chiyoda-ku, beneath the
sighing trains. Red paper lanterns line a narrow lane.
He opens his eyes.
Mexico City is still there.
The eight empty bottles, plastic miniatures, are carefully aligned with
the edge of the coffee table: a Japanese vodka, Come Back Salmon, its name
more irritating than its lingering aftertaste.
On the screen above the console, the ptichka await him, all in a creamy
frieze. When he takes up the remote, their high sharp cheekbones twist in
the space behind his eyes. Their young men, invariably entering from behind,
wear black leather gloves.
Slavic faces, calling up unwanted fragments of a childhood: the reek of
a black canal, steel racketing steel beneath a swaying train, the high old
ceilings of an apartment overlooking a frozen park.
Twenty-eight peripheral images frame the Russians in their earnest
coupling; he glimpses figures carried from the smoke-blackened car-deck of
an Asian ferry.
He opens another of the little bottles.
Now the ptichka, their heads bobbing like well-oiled machines, swallow
their arrogant, self-absorbed boyfriends. The camera angles recall the ardor
of Soviet industrial cinema.
His gaze strays to NHK Weather. A low-pressure front is crossing
Kansas. Next to it, an eerily calm Islamic downlink ceaselessly reiterates
the name of God in a fractal-based calligraphy.
He drinks the vodka.
He watches television.
After midnight, at the intersection of Liverpool and Florencia, he
stares out at the Zona Rosa from the back of a white Lada, a nanopore Swiss
respirator chafing his freshly shaven chin.
And every passing face is masked, mouths and nostrils concealed behind
filters. Some, honoring the Day of the Dead, resemble the silver-beaded jaws
of grinning sugar-skulls. Whatever form they take, their manufacturers all
make the same dubious, obliquely comforting claims about viroids.
He's thought to escape the sameness, perhaps discover something of
beauty or passing interest, but here there are only masked faces, his fear,
An ancient American car comes creeping through the turn, out of Avenida
Chapultepec, gouts of carbon pulsing from beneath a dangling bumper. A dusty
rind of cola-colored resin and shattered mirror seals its every surface;
only the windshield is exposed, and this is black and glossy, opaque as a
blob of ink, reminding him of the gunship's lethal pod. He feels the fear
begin to accrete, seamlessly, senselessly, with absolute conviction, around
this carnival ghost, the Cadillac, this oil-burning relic in its spectral
robe of smudged mosaic silver. Why is it allowed to add its filth to the
already impossible air? Who sits inside, behind the black windshield?
Trembling, he watches the thing pass.
'That car...' He finds himself leaning forward, compulsively addressing
the broad brown neck of the driver, whose massive ear lobes somehow recall
reproduction pottery offered on the hotel's shopping channel.
'El coche,' says the driver, who wears no mask, and turning, now seems
to notice the courier for the first time. The courier sees the mirrored
Cadillac flare, once, and briefly, with the reflected ruby of a nightclub's
laser, then gone.
The driver is staring at him.
He tells the driver to return to the hotel.
He comes awake from a dream of metal voices, down the vaulted
concourses of some European airport, distant figures glimpsed in mute
rituals of departure.
Darkness. The hiss of climate-control.
The touch of cotton sheets. His telephone beneath the pillow. Sounds of
traffic, muted by the gas-filled windows. All tension, his panic, are gone.
He remembers the atrium bar. Music. Faces.
He becomes aware of an inner balance, a rare equilibrium. It is all he
knows of peace.
And, yes, the glasses are here, tucked beside his telephone. He draws
them out, opening the ear pieces with a guilty pleasure that has somehow
endured since Prague.
Very nearly a decade he has loved her, though he doesn't think of it in
those terms. But he has never bought another piece of software and the black
plastic frames have started to lose their sheen. The label on the cassette
is unreadable now, sueded white with his touch in the night. So many rooms
like this one.
He has long since come to prefer her in silence. He no longer inserts
the yellowing audio beads. He has learned to provide his own, whispering to
her as he fast-forwards through the clumsy titles and up the moonlit ragged
hiliscape of a place that is neither Hollywood nor Rio, but some soft-focus
digital approximation of both.
She is waiting for him, always, in the white house up the canyon road.
The candles. The wine. The jet-beaded dress against the matte perfection of
her skin, such whiteness, the black beads drawn smooth and cool as a snake's
belly up her tensed thigh.
Far away, beneath cotton sheets, his hands move.
Later, drifting toward sleep of a different texture, the phone beneath
his pillow chimes softly and only once.
'Confirming your reservation to San Francisco,' someone says, either a
woman or a machine. He touches a key, recording the flight number, says
goodnight, and closes his eyes on the tenuous light sifting from the dark
borders of the drapes.
Her white arms enfold him. Her blondness eternal.
2. Cruising with Gunhead.
IntenSecure had their wagons detailed every three shifts. They used
this big specialty car wash off Colby; twenty coats of hand-rubbed Wet Honey
Sienna and you didn't let it get too shabby.
That one November evening the Republic of Desire put an end to his
career in armed response, Berry Rydell had arrived there a little early.
He liked the way it smelled inside. They had this pink stuff they put
through the power-washers to get the road film off, and the smell reminded
him of a summer job he'd had in Knoxville, his last year in school. They'd
been putting condos into the shell of this big old Safeway out on Jefferson
Davis. The architects wanted the cinder block walls stripped just this one
certain way, mostly gray showing through but some old pink Safeway paint
left in the little dips and crannies. They were from Memphis and they wore
black suits and white cotton shirts. The shirts had obviously cost more than
the suits, or at least as much, and they never wore ties or undid the top
button. Rydell had figured that that was a way for architects to dress; now
he lived in L.A., he knew it was true. He'd overheard one of them explaining
to the foreman that what they were doing was exposing the integrity of the
material's passage through time. He thought that was probably bullshit, but
he sort of liked the sound of it anyway; like what happened to old people on
But what it really amounted to was getting most of this shitty old
paint off thousands and thousands of square feet of equally shitty cinder
block, and you did it with an oscillating spray-head on the end of a long
stainless handle. If you thought the foreman wasn't looking, you could aim
it at another kid, twist out a thirty-foot rooster tail of stinging rainbow,
and wash all his sunblock off. Rydell and his friends all wore this
Australian stuff that came in serious colors, so you could see where you had
and hadn't put it. Had to get your right distance on it, though, 'cause up
close those heads could take the chrome off a bumper. Rydell and Buddy
Crigger both got fired for doing that, finally, and then they walked across
Jeff Davis to a beer joint and Rydell wound up spending the night with this
girl from Key West, the first time he'd ever slept beside a woman.
Now here he was in Los Angeles, driving a six-wheeled Hotspur Hussar
with twenty coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. The Hussar was an armored Land
Rover that could do a hundred and forty on a straightaway, assuming you
could find one open and had the time to accelerate. Hernandez, his shift
super, said you couldn't trust an Englishman to build anything much bigger
than a hat, not if you wanted it to work when you needed it; he said
IntenSecure should've bought Israeli or at least Brazilian, and who needed
Ralph Lauren to design a tank anyway?
Rydell didn't know about that, but that paint job was definitely trying
too hard. He thought they probably wanted people to think of those big brown
United Parcel trucks, and at the same time they maybe hoped it would look
sort of like something you'd see in an Episcopal church. Not too much gilt
on the logo. Sort of restrained.
The people who worked in the car wash were mostly Mongolian immigrants,
recent ones who had trouble getting better jobs. They did this crazy
throat-singing thing while they worked, and he liked to hear that. He
couldn't figure out how they did it; sounded like tree-frogs, but like it
was two sounds at once.
Now they were buffing the rows of chromed nubs down the sides. Those
had been meant to support electric crowd-control grids and were just chromed
for looks. The riot-wagons in Knoxville had been electrified, but with this
drip-system that kept them wet, which was a lot nastier.
'Sign here,' said the crew boss, this quiet black kid named Anderson.
He was a medical student, days, and he always looked like he was about two
nights short of sleep.
Rydell took the pad and the light-pen and signed the signature-plate.
Anderson handed Rydell the keys.
'You ought to get you some rest,' Rydell said. Anderson grinned, wanly.
Rydell walked over to Gunhead, deactivating the door alarm.
Somebody had written that inside, 'GUNHEAD,' in green marker on the
panel above the windshield. The name stuck, but mostly because Sublett liked
it. Sublett was Texan, a refugee from some weird trailer-camp video-sect. He
said his mother had been getting ready to deed his ass to the church,
whatever that meant.
Sublett wasn't too anxious to talk about it, but Rydell had gotten the
idea that these people figured video was the Lord's preferred means of
communicating, the screen itself a kind of perpetually burning bush. 'He's
in the details,' Sublett had said once. 'You gotta watch for Him close.'
Whatever form this worship had taken, it was evident that Sublett had
absorbed more television than anyone Rydell had ever met, mostly old movies
on channels that never ran anything but. Sublett said
Gunhead was the name of a robot tank in a Japanese monster movie.
Hernandez thought Sublett had written the name on there himself. Sublett
denied it. Hernandez said take it off. Sublett ignored him. It was still
there, but Rydell knew Sublett was too law-abiding to commit any vandalism,
and anyway the ink in the marker might've killed him.
Sublett had had allergies. He went into shock from various kinds of
cleaners and solvents, so you couldn't get him to come into the car wash at
all, ever. The allergies made him light sensitive, too, so he had to wear
these mirrored contacts. What with the black IntenSecure uniform and his dry
blond hair, the contacts made him look like some kind of Kian-assed Nazi
robot. Which could get kind of complicated in the wrong store on Sunset, say
three in the morning and all you really wanted was some mineral water and a
Coke. But Rydell was always glad to have him on shift, because he was as
determinedly nonviolent a rentacop as you were likely to find. And he
probably wasn't even crazy. Both of which were definite pluses for Rydell.
As Hernandez was fond of pointing out, SoCal had stricter regulations for
who could or couldn't be a hairdresser.
Like Rydell, a lot of IntenSecure's response people were former police
officers of some kind, some were even ex-LAPD, and if the company's rules
about not carrying personal weapons on duty were any indication, his
co-workers were expected to turn up packing all manner of hardware. There
were metal detectors on the staff-room doors and Hernandez usually had a
drawer full of push-daggers, nunchuks, stunguns, knucks, boot-knives, and
whatever else the detectors had picked up. Like Friday morning at a South
Miami high school. Hernandez gave it all back after the shift, but when they
went calling, they were supposed to make do with their Glocks and the
The Glocks were standard police issue, at least twenty years old, that
IntenSecure bought by the truckload from PDs that could afford to upgrade to
caseless ammunition. If you did it by the book, you kept the Glocks in their
plastic holsters, and kept the holsters Velcroed to the wagon's central
console. When you answered a call, you pulled a holstered pistol off the
console and stuck it on the patch provided on your uniform. That was the
only time you were supposed to be out of the wagon with a gun on, when you
were actually responding.
The chunkers weren't even guns, not legally anyway, but a ten-second
burst at close range would chew somebody's face off. They were Israeli
riot-control devices, air-powered, that fired one-inch cubes of recycled
rubber. They looked like the result of a forced union between a bullpup
assault rifle and an industrial staple gun, except they were made out of
this bright yellow plastic. When you pulled the trigger, those chunks came
out in a solid stream. If you got really good with one, you could shoot
around corners; just kind of bounce them off a convenient surface. Up close,
they'd eventually cut a sheet of plywood in half, if you kept on shooting,
and they left major bruises out to about thirty yards. The theory was, you
didn't always encounter that many armed intruders, and a chunker was a lot
less likely to injure the client or the client's property. If you did
encounter an armed intruder, you had the Glock. Although the intruder was
probably running caseless through a floating breech-not part of the theory.
Nor was it part of the theory that seriously tooled-up intruders tended to
be tightened on dancer, and were thereby both inhumanly fast and clinically
There had been a lot of dancer in Knoxville, and some of it had gotten
Rydell suspended. He'd crawled into an apartment where a machinist named
Kenneth Turvey was holding his girlfriend, two little kids, and demanding to
speak to the president.
Turvey was white, skinny, hadn't bathed in a month, and had the Last
Supper tattooed on his chest. It was a very fresh tattoo; it hadn't even
scabbed over. Through a film of drying blood, Rydell could see that Jesus
didn't have any face. Neither did any of the Apostles.
'Damn it,' Turvey said, when he saw Rydell. 'I just wanna speak to the
president.' He was sitting cross-legged, naked, on his girlfriend's couch.
He had something like a piece of pipe across his lap, all wrapped with tape.
'We're trying to get her for you,' Rydell said. 'We're sorry it's
taking so long, but we have to go through channels.'
'God damn it,' Turvey said wearily, 'doesn't nobody understand I'm on a
mission from God?' He didn't sound particularly angry, just tired and put
out. Rydell could see the girlfriend through the open door of the
apartment's single bedroom. She was on her back, on the floor, and one of
her legs looked broken. He couldn't see her face. She wasn't moving at all.
Where were the kids?
'What is that thing you got there?' Rydell asked, indicating the object
across Turvey's lap.
'It's a gun,' Turvey said, 'and it's why I gotta talk to the
'Never seen a gun like that,' Rydell allowed. 'What's it shoot?'
'Grapefruit cans,' Turvey said. 'Fulla concrete.'
'Watch,' Turvey said, and brought the thing to his shoulder. It had a
sort of breech, very intricately machined, a trigger-thing like part of a
pair of vise-grip pliers, and a couple of flexible tubes. These latter ran
down, Rydell saw, to a great big canister of gas, the kind you'd need a hand
truck to move, which lay on the floor beside the couch.
There on his knees, on the girlfriend's dusty polyester carpet, he'd
watched that muzzle swing past. It was big enough to put your fist down. He
watched as Turvey took aim, back through the open bedroom door, at the
'Turvey,' he heard himself say, 'where's the goddamn kids?'
Turvey moved the vise-grip handle and punched a hole the size of a
fruit-juice can through the closet door. The kids were in there. They
must've screamed, though Rydell couldn't remember hearing it. Rydell's
lawyer later argued that he was not only deaf at this point, but in a state
of sonically induced catalepsy. Turvey's invention was only a few decibels
short of what you got with a SWAT stun-grenade. But Rydell couldn't
remember. He couldn't remember shooting Kenneth Turvey in the head, either,
or anything else at all until he woke up in the hospital. There was a woman
there from Cops in Trouble, which had been Rydell's father's favorite show,
but she said she couldn't actually talk to him until she'd spoken with his
agent. Rydell said he didn't have one. She said she knew that, but one was
going to call him.
Rydell lay there thinking about all the times he and his father had
watched Cops in Trouble. 'What kind of trouble we talking here?' he finally
The woman just smiled. 'Whatever, Berry, it'll probably be adequate.'
He squinted up at her. She was sort of good-looking. 'What's your
'Karen Mendelsohn.' She didn't look like she was from Knoxville, or
'You from Cops in Trouble?'
'What you do for 'em?'
'I'm a lawyer,' she said. Rydell couldn't recall ever actually having
met one before, but after that he wound up meeting lots more.
Gunhead's displays were featureless slabs of liquid crystal; they woke
when Rydell inserted the key, typed the security code, and ran a basic
systems check. The cameras under the rear bumper were his favorites; they
made parking really easy; you could see exactly where you were backing up.
The downlink from the Death Star wouldn't work while he was still in the car
wash, too much steel in the building, but it was Sublett's job to keep track
of all that with an ear-bead.
There was a notice posted in the staff room at IntenSecure, telling you
it was company policy not to call it that, the Death Star, but everybody did
anyway. The LAPD called it that themselves. Officially it was the Southern
California Ecosynclinical Law Enforcement Satellite.
Watching the dashboard screens, Rydell backed carefully out of the
building. Gunhead's twin ceramic engines were new enough to still be
relatively quiet; Rydell could hear the tires squish over the wet concrete
Sublett was waiting outside, his silver eyes reflecting the red of
passing taillights. Behind him, the sun was setting, the sky's colors
bespeaking more than the usual cocktail of additives. He stepped back as
Rydell reversed past him, anxious to avoid the least droplet of spray from
the tires. Rydell was anxious too; he didn't want to have to haul the Texan
to Cedars again if his allergies kicked up.
Rydell waited as Sublett pulled on a pair of disposable surgical
'Howdy,' Sublett said, climbing into his seat. He closed his door and
began to remove the gloves, gingerly peeling them into a Ziploc Baggie.
'Don't get any on you,' Rydell said, watching the care with which
Sublett treated the gloves.
'Go ahead, laugh,' Sublett said mildly. He took out a pack of
hypo-allergenic gum and popped a piece from its bubble. 'How's ol' Gunhead?'
Rydell scanned the displays, satisfied. 'Not too shabby.'
'Hope we don't have to respond to any damn' stealth houses tonight,'
Sublett said, chewing.
Stealth houses, so-called, were on Sublett's personal list of bad
calls. He said the air in them was toxic. Rydell didn't think it made any
sense, but he was tired of arguing about it. Stealth houses were bigger than
most regular houses, cost more, and Rydell figured the owners would pay
plenty to keep the air clean. Sublett maintained that anybody who built a
stealth house was paranoid to begin with, would always keep the place locked
up too tight, no air circulation, and you'd get that had toxic buildup.
If there'd been any stealth houses in Knoxville, Rydell hadn't known
about them. He thought it was an L.A. thing.
Sublett, who'd worked for IntenSecure for almost two years, mostly on
day patrol in Venice, had been the first person to even mention them to
Rydell. When Rydell finally got to answer a call to one, he couldn't believe
the place; it just went down and down, dug in beneath something that looked
almost, but not quite, like a bombed-out drycleaning plant. And it was all
peeled logs inside, white plaster, Turkish carpets, big paintings, slate
floors, furniture like he'd never seen before. But it was some kind of
tricky call; domestic violence, Rydell figured. Like the husband hit the
wife, the wife hit the button, now they were making out it was all just a
glitch. But it couldn't really be a glitch, because someone had had to hit
the button, and there hadn't been any response to the password call that
came back to them three-point-eight seconds later. She must've messed with
the phones, Rydell thought, then hit the button. He'd been been riding with
'Big George' Kechakmadze that night, and the Georgian (Tbilisi, not Atlanta)
hadn't liked it either. 'You see these people, they're subscribers, man;
nobody bleeding, you get your ass out, okay?' Big George had said, after.
But Rydell kept remembering a tension around the woman's eyes, how she held
the collar of the big white robe folded against her throat. Her husband in a
matching robe but with thick hairy legs and expensive glasses. There'd been
something wrong there but he'd never know what. Not any more than he'd ever
understand how their lives really worked, lives that looked like what you
saw on tv but weren't.
L.A. was full of mysteries, when you looked at it that way. No bottom
He'd come to like driving through it, though. Not when he had to get
anywhere in particular, but just cruising with Gunhead was okay. Now he was
turning onto La Cienega and the little green cursor on the clash was doing
'Forbidden Zone,' Sublett said. 'Herve Villechaize, Susan Iyrell,
Marie-Pascal Elfman, Viva.'
'Viva?' Rydell asked. 'Viva what?'
'When'd they make that?'
'I wasn't born yet.'
'Time on tv's all the same time, Rydell.'
'Man, I thought you were trying to get over your upbringing and all.'
Rydell de-mirrored the door-window to better watch a redheaded girl pass him
in a pink Daihatsu Sneaker with the top off. 'Anyway, I never saw that one.'
It was just that hour of evening when women in cars looked about as good, in
Los Angeles, as anything ever did. The surgeon general was trying to outlaw
convertibles; said they contributed to the skin-cancer rate.
'End game. Al Cliver, Moira Chen, George Eastman, Gordon Mitchell.
'Well, I was two,' Rydell said, 'but I didn't see that one either.'
Sublett fell silent. Rydell felt sorry for him; the Texan really didn't
know any other way to start a conversation, and his folks back home in the
trailer-camp would've seen all those films and more.
'Well,' Rydell said, trying to pick up his end, 'I was watching this
one old movie last night-'
Sublett perked up. 'Which one?'
'Dunno,' Rydell said. 'This guy's in L.A. and he's just met this girl.
Then he picks up a pay phone, 'cause it's ringing. Late at night. It's some
guy in a missile silo somewhere who knows they've just launched theirs at
the Russians. He's trying to phone his dad, or his brother, or something.
Says the world's gonna end in short order. Then the guy who answered the
phone hears these soldiers come in and shoot the guy. The guy on the phone,
Sublett closed his eyes, scanning his inner trivia-banks. 'Yeah? How's
'Dunno,' Rydell said. 'I went to sleep.'
Sublett opened his eyes. 'Who was in it?'
Sublett's blank silver eyes widened in disbelief. 'Jesus, Berry, you
shouldn't oughta watch tv, not unless you're gonna pay it attention.'
He wasn't in the hospital very long, after he shot Kenneth Turvey;
barely two days. His lawyer, Aaron Pursley himself, made the case that they
should've kept him in there longer, the better to assess the extent of his
post-traumatic shock. But Rydell hated hospitals and anyway he didn't feel
too bad; he just couldn't recall exactly what had happened. And he had Karen
Mendelsohn to help him out with things, and his new agent, Wellington Ma, to
deal with the other people from Cops in Trouble, not one of them as nice as
Karen, who had long brown hair. Wellington Ma was Chinese, lived in Los
Angeles, and Karen said his father had been in the Big Circle gang-though
she advised Rydell not to bring it up.
Wellington Ma's business card was a rectangular slice of pink synthetic
quartz, laser-engraved with his name, 'The Ma-Mariano Agency,' an address on
Beverly Boulevard, and all kinds of numbers and e-mail addresses. It arrived
by GlobEx in its own little gray suede envelope while Rydell was still in
'Looks like you could cut yourself on it,' Rydell said.
'You could, many no doubt have,' said Karen Mendelsohn, 'and if you put
it in your wallet and sit down, it shatters.'
'Then what's the point of it?'
'You're supposed to take very good care of it. You won't get another.'
Rydell never actually did meet Wellington Ma, at least not 'til quite a
while later, but Karen would bring in a little briefcase with a pair of
eyephones on a wire and Rydell could talk with him in his office in LA. It
was the sharpest telepresence rig Rydell had ever used, and it really did
look just like he was right there. He could see out the window to where
there was this lopsided pyramid the color of a Noxzema jar. He asked
Wellington Ma what that was and Ma said it was the old Design Center, but
currently it was a discount mall, and Rydell could go there when he came to
L.A., which was going to be soon.
Turvey's girlfriend, Jenni-Rae Cline, was bringing an intricately
interlocking set of separate actions against Rydell, the Department, the
City of Knoxville, and the company in Singapore that owned her apartment
building. About twenty million in total.
Rydell, having become a cop in trouble, was glad to find that Cops in
Trouble was right there for him. They'd hired Aaron Pursley, for starters,
and of course Rydell knew who he was from the show. He had that gray hair,
those blue eyes, that nose you could split kindling with, and wore jeans,
Tony Lama boots, and plain white oxford-cloth pima cotton cowboy business
shirts with Navajo-silver bob-ties. He was famous and he defended cops like
Rydell from people like Turvey's girlfriend and her lawyer.
Jenni-Rae Cline's lawyer maintained that Rydell shouldn't have been in
her apartment at all, that he'd endangered her life and her children's by so
doing, and that he'd killed Kenneth Turvey in the process, Mr. Turvey being
described as a skilled craftsman, a steady worker, a loving father-figure
for little Rambo and Kelly, a born-again Christian, a recovering addict to
4-Thiobuscaline, and the family's sole means of support.
'Recovering?' Rydell asked Karen Mendelsohn in his room in the airport
Executive Suites. She'd just shown him the fax from Jenni-Rae's lawyer.
'Apparently he'd been to a meeting that very day,' Karen said.
'What did he do there?' Rydell asked, remembering the Last Supper in
'According to our witnesses, he openly horned a tablespoon of his
substance of choice, took the podium by force, and delivered a thirty-minute
rant on President Milibank's pantyhose and the assumed current state of her
genitalia. He then exposed himself, masturbated but did not ejaculate, and
left the basement of the First Baptist Church.'
'Jesus,' Rydell said. 'And this was at one of those drug meetings, like
'It was,' Karen Mendelsohn said, 'though apparently Turvey's
performance has triggered an unfortunate sequence of relapses. We'll send in
a team of counselors, of course, to work with those who were at the
'That's nice,' Rydell said.
'Look good in court,' she said, 'in the unlikely event we ever get
'He wasn't "recovering",' Rydell said. 'Hadn't even recovered from the
last bunch he jammed up his nose.'
'Apparently true,' she said. 'But he was also a member of Adult
Survivors of Satanism, and they are starting to take an interest in this
case. Therefore, both Mr. Pursley and Mr. Ma feel it best we coast it but
soon, Berry. You and me.'
'But what about the court stuff?'
'You're on suspension from the Department, you haven't been charged
with anything yet, and your lawyer's name is Aaron-with-two-a's Pursley.
You're out of here, Berry.'
Rydell looked at her. He thought about Los Angeles on television. 'Will
I like it?'
'At first,' she said. 'At first, it'll probably like you. I know I do.'
Which was how he wound up going to bed with a lawyer- one who smelled
like a million dollars, talked dirty, slid all around, and wore underwear
from Milan, which was in Italy.
'The Kill-Fix. Cyrinda Burdette, Gudrun Weaver, Dean Mitchell, Shinobu
'Never saw it,' Rydell said, sucking the last of his grande decaf cold
capp-with-an-extra-shot from the milky ice at the bottom of his plastic
'Mama saw Cyrinda Burdette. In this mall over by Waco. Got her
autograph, too. Kept it up on the set with the prayer-hankies and her
hologram of the Reverend Wayne Falbon. She had a prayer-hanky for every damn
thing. One for the rent, one to keep the AIDS off, the TB...'
'Yeah? How'd she use 'em?'
'Kept 'em on top of the set,' Sublett explained, and finished the inch
of quadruple-distilled water left in the skinny translucent bottle. There
was only one place along this part of Sunset sold the stuff, but Rydell
didn't mind; it was next to a take-out coffee-bar, and they could park in
the lot on the corner. Fellow who ran the lot always seemed kind of glad to
'Prayer-hanky won't keep any AIDS off,' Rydell said. 'Get yourself
vaccinated, like anybody else. Get your momma vaccinated, too.' Through the
de-mirrored window, Rydell could see a street-shrine to J. D. Shapely, up
against the concrete wall that was all that was left of the building that
had stood there once. You saw a lot of them in West Hollywood. Somebody had
sprayed SHAPELY WAS A COCK-SUCKING FAGGOT in bright pink paint, the letters
three feet high, and then a big pink heart. Below that, stuck to the wall,
were postcards of Shapely and photographs of people who must've died. God
only knew how many millions had. On the pavement at the base of the wall
were dead flowers, stubs of candles, other stuff. Something about the
Rydell the creeps; they made the guy look like a cross between Elvis
and some kind of Catholic saint, skinny and with his eyes too big.
He turned to Sublett. 'Man, you still haven't got your ass vaccinated
yet, you got nothin' but stone white-trash ignorance to thank for it.'
Sublett cringed. 'That's worse than a live vaccine, man; that's a whole
'nother disease right there!'
'Sure is,' Rydell said, 'but it doesn't do anything to you. And there's
still plenty of the old kind walking around here. They oughta make it
compulsory, you ask me.'
Sublett shuddered. 'Reverend Fallon always said-'
'Screw Reverend Fallon,' Rydell said, hitting the ignition. 'Son of a
bitch just makes money selling prayer-hankies to people like your momma. You
knew that was all bullshit anyway, didn't you, otherwise why'd you come out
here?' He put Gunhead into gear and eased over into the Sunset traffic. One
thing about driving a Hotspur Hussar, people almost always let you cut in.
Sublett's head seemed to draw down between his high shoulders, giving
him the look of a worried, steel-eyed buzzard. 'Ain't all that simple,' he
said. 'It's everything I been brought up to be. Can't all be bullshit, can
Rydell, glancing over at him, took pity. 'Naw,' he said, 'I guess it
wouldn't have to be, necessarily, all of it, but it's just-'
'What they bring you all up to be, Berry?'
Rydell had to think about it. 'Republican,' he said, finally.
Karen Mendelsohn had seemed like the best of a whole string of things
Rydell felt he could get used to just fine. Like flying business-class or
having a SoCal MexAmeriBank card from Cops in Trouble.
That first time with her, in the Executive Suites in Knoxville, not
having anything with him, he'd tried to show her his certificates of
vaccination (required by the Department, else they couldn't get you
insured). She'd just laughed and said German nanotech would take care of all
of that. Then she showed Rydell this thing through the transparent top of a
gadget like a little battery-powered pressure-cooker. Rydell had heard about
them, but he hadn't ever seen one; he'd also heard they cost about as much
as a small car. He'd read somewhere how they always had to be kept at body
It looked like it might be moving a little in there. Pale, sort of
jellyfish thing. He asked her if it was true they were alive. She told him
it wasn't, exactly, but it was almost, and the rest of it was Bucky balls
and subcellular automata. And he wouldn't even know it was there, but no way
was she going to put it in in front of him.
She'd gone into the bathroom to do that. When she came back out in that
underwear, he got to learn where Milan was. And while it was true he
wouldn't have known the thing was there, he did know it was there, but
pretty soon he forgot about it, almost.
They chartered a tilt-rotor to Memphis the next morning and got on Air
Magellan to LAX. Business-class mostly meant better gizmos in the seatback
in front of you, and Rydell's immediate favorite was a telepresence set you
could tune to servo-mounted mollies on the outside of the plane. Karen hated
to use the little VirtuFax she carried around in her purse, so she'd gotten
on to her office in L.A. and had them download her morning's mail into her
seatback display. She got down to that fast, talking on the phone, sending
faxes, and leaving Rydell to ooh and ah at the views from the mollies.
The seats were bigger than when he used to fly down to Florida to see
his father, the food was better, and the drinks were free. Rydell had three
or four of those, fell asleep, and didn't wake up until somewhere over
The air was funny, at LAX, and the light was different. California was
a lot more crowded than he'd expected, and louder. There was a man there
from Cops in Trouble, holding up a piece of wrinkled white cardboard that
said MENDELSOHN in red marker, only the S was backward. Rydell smiled,
introduced himself, and shook hands with him. He seemed to like that; said
his name was Sergei. When Karen asked him where the fucking car was, he
turned bright red and said it would just take him a minute to get it. Karen
said no thanks, they'd walk to the lot with him as soon as their bags turned
up, no way was she waiting around in a zoo like this. Sergei nodded. He kept
trying to fold up the sign and put it into his jacket pocket, but it was too
big. Rydell wondered why she'd suddenly gotten bitchy like that. Tired from
the trip, maybe. He winked at Sergei, but that just seemed to make the guy
After their bags came, Karen's two black leather ones and the softside
blue Samsonite Rydell had bought with his new debit-card, he and Sergei
carried them out and across a kind of trafficloop. The air outside was about
the same, but hotter. This recording kept saying that the white spaces were
for loading and unloading only. There were all kinds of cars jockeying
around, babies crying, people leaning on piles of luggage, but Sergei knew
where they were going-over to this garage across the way.
Sergei's car was long, black, German, and looked like somebody had just
cleaned it all over with warm spit and QTips. When Rydell offered to ride
shotgun, Sergei got rattled again and hustled him into the back seat with
Karen. Which made her laugh, so Rydell felt better.
As they were pulling out of the garage, Rydell spotted two cops over by
these big stainless-steel letters that said METRO. They wore air-conditioned
helmets with clear plastic visors. They were poking at an old man with their
sticks, though it didn't look like they had them turned on. The old man's
jeans were out at the knees and he had big patches of tape on both
cheekbones, which almost always means cancer. He was SO burned, it was hard
to tell if he was white or what. A crowd of people was streaming up the
stairs behind the old man and the cops, under the METRO sign, and stepping
'Welcome to Los Angeles,' she said. 'Be glad you aren't taking the
They had dinner that night in what Karen said was Hollywood, with Aaron
Pursley himself, in a Tex-Mex restaurant on North Flores Street. It was the
best Tex-Mex food Rydell had ever had. About a month later, he tried to take
Sublett there for his birthday, maybe cheer him up with a down-home meal,
but the man out front just wouldn't let them in.
'Full up,' he said.
Rydell could see plenty of empty tables through the window. It was
early and there was hardly anybody in there. 'How 'bout those,' Rydell said,
pointing at all the empty tables.
'Reserved,' the man said.
Sublett said spicy foods weren't really such a good idea for him
What he'd come to like best, cruising with Gunhead, was getting back up
in the hills and canyons, particularly on a night with a good moon.
Sometimes you saw things up there and couldn't quite be sure you'd seen
them or not. One full-moon night Rydell had slung Gunhead around a curve and
frozen a naked woman in the headlights, the way a deer'll stop, trembling,
on a country road. Just a second she was there, long enough for Rydell to
think he'd seen that she either wore silver horns or some kind of hat with
an upturned crescent, and that she might've been Japanese, which struck him
right then as the weirdest thing about any of it.
Then she saw him-he saw her see him-and smiled. Then she was gone.
Sublett had seen her, too, but it only kicked him into some kind of
motormouthed ecstasy of religious dread, every horrormovie he'd ever seen
tumbling over into Reverend Fallon's rants about witches, devil-worshippers,
and the living power of Satan.
He'd gone through his week's supply of gum, talking nonstop, until
Rydell had finally told him to shut the fuck up.
Because now she was gone, he wanted to think about her. How she'd
looked, what she might have been doing there, and how it was she'd vanished.
With Sublett sulking in the shotgun seat, Rydell had tried to remember just
exactly how it was she'd managed to so perfectly and suddenly not be there.
And the funny thing was, he sort of remembered it two ways, which was
nothing at all like the way he still didn't really remember shooting Kenneth
Turvey, even though he'd heard production assistants and network lawyers go
over it so many times he felt like he'd seen it, or at least the Cops in
Trouble version (which never aired). One way he remembered it, she'd just
sort of gone down the slope beside the road, though whether she was running
or floating, he couldn't say. The other way he remembered, she'd
jumped-though that was such a poor word for it-up the slope above the other
side of the road, somehow clearing all that dust-silvered moonlit
vegetation, and just flat-out impossible gone, forty feet if it was five.
And did Japanese women ever have that kind of long curly hair? And
hadn't it looked like the shadowed darkness of her bush had been shaved into
something like an exclamation point?
He'd wound up buying Sublett four packs of the special gum at an
all-night Russian pharmacy on Wilshire, amazed at what the stuff cost him.
He'd seen other things, too, up the canyons, particularly when he'd
drawn a shift on deep graveyard. Mostly fires, small ones, where fires
couldn't be. And lights in the sky, sometimes, but Sublett was so full of
trailer-camp contactee shit that if Rydell saw a light now, driving, he knew
better than to mention it.
But sometimes, when he was up there, he'd think about her. He knew he
didn't know what she was, and in some funny way he didn't even care if she'd
been human or not. But he hadn't ever felt like she was bad, just different.
So now he just drove, shooting the shit with Sublett, on the night that
would turn out to be his very last night on patrol with IntenSecure. No
moon, but a rare clear sky with a few stars showing. Five minutes to their
first house check, then they'd be swinging back toward Beverly Hills.
They were talking about this chain of Japanese gyms called Body Hammer.
Body Hammer didn't offer much in the way of traditional gym culture; in fact
they went as far as possible in the opposite direction, catering mostly to
kids who liked the idea of being injected with Brazilian fetal tissue and
having their skeletons reinforced with what the ads called 'performance
Sublett said it was the Devil's work.
Rydell said it was a Tokyo franchise operation.
Gunhead said: 'Multiple homicide, hostage-taking in progress, may
involve subscriber's minor children. Benedict Canyon. You have IntenSecure
authorization to employ deadly, repeat, deadly force.'
And the dash lit up like an old-time video arcade.
The way it had worked out, Rydell hadn't actually had time to get used
to Karen Mendelsohn, business-class seats, or any of that stuff.
Karen lived, umpteen floors up, in Century City II, aka the Blob, which
looked sort of like a streamlined, semi-transparent green tit and was the
third-tallest structure in the L.A. Basin. When the light was right, you
could see almost clear through it, and make out the three giant struts that
held it up, each one so big around you could stuff an ordinary skyscraper up
it with room to spare. There were elevators up through these tripod-things,
and they ran at an angle; Rydell hadn't had time to get used to that either.
The tit had a carefully corroded copper nipple, like one of those
Chinese hats, that could've covered a couple of football fields. That was
where Karen's apartment was, under there, along with an equally pricey
hundred others, a tennis club, bars and restaurants, and a mall you had to
pay to join before you could shop there. She was right out on the edge, with
big curved windows set into the green wall.
Everything in there was different shades of white, except for her
clothes, which were always black, her suitcases, which were black, too, and
the big terry robes she liked to wear, which were the color of dry oatmeal.
Karen said it was Aggressive Retro Seventies and she was getting a
little tired of it. Rydell saw how she could be, but figured it might not be
polite to say so.
The network had gotten him a room in a West Hollywood hotel that looked
more like a regular condo-building, but he never did spend much time there.
Until the Pooky Bear thing broke in Ohio, he'd mostly been up at Karen's.
The discovery of the first thirty-five Pooky Bear victims pretty much
put paid to Rydell's career as a cop in trouble. It hadn't helped that the
officers who'd first reached the scene, Sgt. China Valdez and Cpl. Norma
Pierce, were easily the two best-looking women on the whole Cincinnati force
('balls-out telegenic,' one of the production assistants had said, though
Rydell thought it sounded weird under the circumstances). Then the count
began to rise, ultimately going right off any known or established
serial-killing scale. Then it was revealed that all the victims were
children. Then Sgt. Valdez went post-traumatic in stone bugfuck fashion,
walking into a downtown tavern and clipping both kneecaps off a known
pedophile- this amazingly repulsive character, nickname of Jellybeans, who
had absolutely no connection with the Pooky Bear murders.
Aaron Pursley was already Learing it back to Cincinnati in a plane that
had no metal in it whatsoever, Karen had locked the goggles across her eyes
and was talking nonstop to at least six people at once, and Rydell was
sitting on the edge of her big white bed, starting to get the idea that
something had changed.
When she finally took the goggles off, she just sat there, staring at a
white painting on a white wall.
'They got suspects?' Rydell asked.
Karen looked over at him like she'd never seen him before.
'Suspects? They've got confessions already...' It struck Rydell how old
she looked right then, and he wondered how old she actually was. She got up
and walked out of the room.
She came back five minutes later in a fresh black outfit. 'Pack. I
can't have you here now.' Then she was gone, no kiss, no goodbye, and that
He got up, put a television on, and saw the Pooky Bear killers for the
first time. All three of them. They looked, he thought, pretty much like
everybody else, which is how people who do that kind of shit usually do look
He was sitting there in one of her oatmeal robes when a pair of
rentacops let themselves in without knocking. Their uniforms were black and
they were wearing the same kind of black high-top SWAT-trainers that Rydell
had worn on patrol in Knoxville, the ones with the Keviar insoles in case
somebody snuck up and tried to shoot you in the bottom of the foot.
One of them was eating an apple. The other one had a stun-stick in his
'Hey, pal,' the first one said, around a mouthful of apple, 'we gotta
show you out.'
'I had a pair of shoes like that,' Rydell said. 'Made in Portland,
Oregon. Two hundred ninety-nine dollars out at CostCo.'
The one with the stick grinned. 'You gonna get packing now?'
So Rydell did, picking up anything that wasn't black, white, or oatmeal
and tossing it into his blue Samsonite.
The rentacop with the stick watched him, while the other one wandered
around, finishing his apple.
'Who you guys with?' Rydell asked.
'IntenSecure,' said the one with the stick.
'Good outfit?' Rydell was zipping up his bag.
The man shrugged.
'Outa Singapore,' the other one said, wrapping the core of his apple in
a crumpled Kleenex he'd taken from his pants pocket. 'We got all the big
buildings, gated communities, like that.' He carefully tucked the apple-core
into the breast-pocket of his crisp black uniform shirt, behind the bronze
'You got money for the Metro?' Mr. Stick asked Rydell.
'Sure,' Rydell said, thinking of his debit-card.
'Then you're better off than the majority of assholes we get to escort
out of here,' the man said.
A day later, the network pulled the plug on his MexAmeriBank card.
Hernandez might be wrong about English SWAT-wagons, Rydell found
himself thinking, punching the Hotspur Hussar into six-wheel overdrive and
feeling Gunhead suck down on pavement like a twin-engined, three-ton leech.
He'd never really stomped on that thing before.
Sublett yelped as the crash-harnesses tightened automatically, yanking
him up out of his usual slouch.
Rydell slung Gunhead up onto a verge covered in dusty ice-plant, doing
seventy past a museum-grade Bentley, and on the wrong side at that. Eyeblink
of a woman passenger's horrified face, then Sublett must have managed to
slap the red plastic plate that activated the strobes and the siren.
Straight stretch now. No cars at all. Rydell straddled the centerline
and floored it. Sublett was making a weird keening sound that synched eerily
with the rising ceramic whine of the twin Kyoceras, and it came to Rydell
that the Texan had snapped completely under the pressure of the thing, and
was Singing in Some trailer-camp tongue known only to the benighted
followers of the Rev. Fallon.
But, no, when he glanced that way, he saw Sublett, lips moving,
frantically scanning the client-data as it seethed on the dash-screens, his
eyes bugging like the silver contacts might pop right out. But while he
read, Rydell saw, he was actually loading his worn-out, secondhand Glock,
his long white fingers moving in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable, as
though he were making a sandwich or folding a newspaper.
And that was scary.
'Death Star!' Rydell yelled. It was Sublett's job to keep the bead in
his ear at all times, listening for the satellite-relayed, instantly
overriding Word of the Real Cops.
Sublett turned, snapping the magazine into his Glock, his face so pale
that it seemed to reflect the colors of the dash-display as readily as did
the blank steel rounds of his eyes.
'The help's all dead,' he said, 'an' they got the three kids in the
nursery.' He sounded like he was talking about something mildly baffling he
was seeing on television, say a badly altered version of some old, favorite
film, drastically recast for some obscure ethnic market-niche. 'Say they're
gonna kill 'em, Berry.'
'What do the fucking cops say about it?' Rydell shouted, pounding on
the padded figure-eight steering wheel in the purest rage of frustration
he'd ever felt.
Sublett touched a finger to his right ear. He looked like he was about
to scream. 'Down,' he said.
Gunhead's right front fender clipped off somebody's circa-1943
fully-galvanized Sears rural-route mailbox, no doubt acquired at great cost
on Melrose Avenue.
'They can't be fucking down,' Rydell said, 'they're the police.'
Sublett tugged the bead from his ear and offered it to Rydell.
Rydell looked down at his dash-display. Gunhead's cursor was a green
spear of destiny, whipping along a paler-green canyon road toward a chaste
white circle the size of a seddingring. In the window immediately to the
right, he could read the vital-signs data on the subscriber's three kids.
Their pulse rates were up. In the window below, there was a midicubousty
peaceful-looking infrared frame of the subscriber's front gate. It looked
solid. The read-out said it was locked and armed.
Right then, probably, was when he decided just to go for it.
A week or so later, when it had all been sorted out, Hernandez was
basically sympathetic about the whole thing. Not happy, mind you, because it
had happened over his shift, but he did say he couldn't much blame Rydell
under the circumstances.
IntenSecure had brought in a whole planeload of people from the head
office in Singapore, Rydell had heard, to keep it all out of the media and
work out some kind of settlement with the subscribers, the Schonbrunns. He
had no idea what that settlement might have finally amounted to, but he was
just as happy not to know; there was no such program as RentaCops in
Trouble, and the Schonbrunns' front gate alone had probably been worth a
couple of dozen of his paychecks.
IntenSecure could replace that gate, sure, because they'd installed it
in the first place. It had been quite a gate, too, some kind of Japanese
fiber-reinforced sheeting, thermoset to concrete, and it sure as hell had
managed to get most of that Wet Honey Sienna off Gunhead's front end.
Then there was the damage to the house itself, mostly to the
living-room windows (which he'd driven through) and the furniture (which
he'd driven over).
But there had to be something for the Schonbrunns on top of that,
Hernandez explained. Something for emotional pain, he said, pumping Rydell a
cup of old nasty coffee from the big stainless thermos behind his desk.
There was a fridge-magnet on the thermos that said I'M NOT OKAY, YOU'RE NOT
OKAY-BUT, HEY, THAT'S OKAY.
It was two weeks since the night in question, tell in the morning, and
Rydell was wearing a five-day beard, a fine-weave panama Stetson, a pair of
baggy, faded orange trunks, a KNOXVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT t-shirt that was
starting to disintegrate at the shoulder-seams, the black SWAT-trainers from
IntenSecure uniform, and an inflated transparent cast on his left arm.
'Emotional pain,' Rydell said.
Hernandez, who was very nearly as wide as his desk, passed Rydell the
coffee. 'You way lucky, all I can say.'
'I'm out a job, arm in a cast, I'm "way lucky"?'
'Seriously, man,' Hernandez said, 'you coulda killed yourself. LAPD,
they coulda greased your ass down dead. Mr. and Mrs. Schonbrunn, they been
very nice about this, considering Mrs. Schonbrunn's embarrassment and
everything. Your arm got hassled, hey, I'm sorry...' Hernandez shrugged,
enormously. 'Anyway, you not fired, man. We just can't let you drive now.
You want us put you on gated residential, no problem.'
'Retail properties? You wanna work evenings, Encino Fashion Mall?'
Hernandez narrowed his eyes. 'You seen the pussy over there?'
Hernandez sighed. 'Man, what happen with all that shit coming down on
you in Nashville?'
'Knoxville. Department came down for permanent suspension. Going in
without authorization or proper back-up.'
'And that bitch, one's suing your ass?'
'She and her son got caught sticking up a muffler shop in Johnson City,
last I heard...' Now it was Rydell's turn to shrug, except it made his
'See,' Hernandez said, beaming, 'you lucky.'
In the instant of putting Gunhead through the Schonbrunns
locked-and-armed Benedict Canyon gate, Rydell had experienced a fleeting
awareness of something very high, very puree and quite clinically empty; the
doing of the thing, the not-thinking; that weird adrenal exultation and the
losing of every more troublesome aspect of self.
And that-he later recalled remembering, as he'd fought the wheel,
slashing through a Japanese garden, across a patio, and through a membrane
of armored glass that gave way like something in a dream-had been a lot like
what he'd felt as he'd drawn his gun and pulled the trigger, emptying
Kenneth Turvey's brain-pan, and most copiously, across a seemingly infinite
expanse of white-primered wallboard that nobody had ever bothered to paint.
Rydell went over to Cedars to see Sublett.
IntenSecure had sprung for a private cubicle, the better to keep
Sublett away from any cruising minions of the media. The Texan was sitting
up in bed, chewing gum, and watching a little liquid-crystal disk-player
propped on his chest.
'Warlords of the 21st Century,' he said, when Rydell edged in, 'James
Wainwright, Annie McEnroe, Michael Beck.'
Rydell grinned. 'When'd they make it?'
'1982..' Sublett muted the audio and looked up. 'But I've seen it a
couple times already.'
'I been over at the shop seem' Hernandez, man. He says you don't have
to worry any about your job.'
Sublett looked at Rydell with his blank silver eyes. 'How 'bout yours,
Rydell's arm started to itch, inside the inflated cast. He bent over
and fished a plastic drinking-straw from the little white wastebasket beside
the bed. He poked the straw down inside the cast and wiggled it around. It
helped some. 'I'm history, over there. They won't let me drive anymore.'
Sublett was looking at the straw. 'You shouldn't ought to touch used
stuff, not in a hospital.'
'You don't have nothin' contagious, Sublett. You're one of the cleanest
motherfuckers ever lived.'
'But what you gonna do, Berry? You gotta make a living, man.'
Rydell dropped the straw back into the basket. 'Well, I don't know. But
I know I don't wanna do gated residential and I know I don't wanna do any
'What about those hackers, Berry? You figure they'll get the ones set
'Nope. Too many of 'em. Republic of Desire's been around a while. The
Feds have a list of maybe three hundred "affiliates," but there's no way to
haul 'em all in and figure out who actually did it. Not unless one of 'em
rats on somebody, which they do tend to do on a pretty regular basis.'
'But how come they'd want to do that to us anyway?'
'Hell, Sublett, how should I know?'
'Just mean,' Sublett said.
'Well, that, for sure, and Hernandez says the LAPD told him they
figured somebody wanted Mrs. Schonbrunn caught more or less with her pants
down.' Neither Sublett nor Rydell had actually seen Mrs. Schonbrunn, because
she was, as it turned out, in the nursery. Although her kids weren't, having
gone up to Washington State with their daddy to fly over the three newest
Nothing that Gunhead had logged that night, since leaving the car wash,
had been real. Someone had gotten into the Hotspur Hussar's on-board
computer and plugged a bunch of intricately crafted and utterly spurious
data into the communications bundle, cutting Rydell and Sublett off from
IntenSecure and the Death Star (which hadn't, of course, been down). Rydell
figured a few of those good ol' Mongol boys over at the car wash might know
a little bit about that.
And maybe, in that instant of weird clarity, with Gunhead's crumpled
front end still trying to climb the shredded remains of a pair of big
leather sofas, and with the memory of Kenneth Turvey's death finally real
before him, Rydell had come to the conclusion that that high crazy thing,
that rush of Going For It, was maybe something that wasn't always quite
entirely to be trusted.
'But, man,' Sublett had said, as if to himself, 'they gonna kill those
little babies.' And, with that, he'd snapped his harness open and was out of
there, Glock in hand, before Rydell could do anything at all. Rydell had had
him shut the siren and the strobes off a block away, but surely anybody in
the house was now aware that IntenSecure had arrived.
'Responding,' Rydell heard himself say, slapping a holstered Glock onto
his uniform and grabbing his chunker, which aside from its rate of fire was
probably the best thing for a shoot-out in a nursery full of kids. He kicked
the door open and jumped out, his trainers going straight through the
inch-thick glass top of a coffee-table. (Needed twelve stitches, but it
wasn't deep.) He couldn't see Sublett. He stumbled forward, cradling the
yellow bulk of the chunker, vaguely aware that there was something wrong
with his arm.
'Freeze, cocksucker!' said the biggest voice in the world, 'LAPD! Drop
that shit or we blow your ass away!' Rydell found himself the focus of an
abrupt and extraordinarily painful radiance, a light so bright that it fell
into his uncomprehending eyes like hot metal. 'You hear me, cocksucker?'
Wincing, fingers across his eyes, Rydell turned and saw the bulbous armored
nacelles of the descending gunship. The downdraft was flattening everything
in the Japanese garden that Gunhead hadn't already taken care of.
Rydell dropped the chunker.
'The pistol, too, asshole!'
Rydell grasped the Clock's handle between thumb and forefinger, It came
away, in its plastic holster, with a tiny but distinct skritch of Velcro,
somehow audible through the drumming of the helicopter's combat-muffled
He dropped the Glock and raised his arms. Or tried to. The left one was
They found Sublett fifteen feet from Gunhead. His face and hands were
swelling like bright pink toy balloons and he seemed to be suffocating,
Schonbrunn's Bosnian housekeeper having employed a product that contained
xylene and chlorinated hydrocarbons to clean some crayon-marks off a
bleached-oak end table.
'What the fuck's wrong with him?' asked one of the cops.
'He's got allergies,' Rydell said through gritted teeth; they'd cuffed
his hands behind his back and it hurt like hell. 'You gotta get him to
Sublett opened his eyes, or tried to.
Rydell remembered the name of the movie he'd seen on television.
'Miracle Mile,' he said.
Sublett squinted up at him. 'Never seen it,' Sublett said, and fainted.
Mrs. Schonbrunn had been entertaining her Polish landscape gardener
that evening. The cops found her in the nursery. Angered beyond speech, she
was cinched quite interestingly up in a couple of thousand dollars worth of
English latex, North Beach leather, and a pair of vintage Smith & Wesson
handcuffs that someone had paid to have lovingly buffed and redone in black
chrome-the gardener evidently having headed for the hills when he heard
Rydell parking Gunhead in the living room.
3. Not a nice party.
Chevette never stole things, or anyway not from other people, and
definitely not when she was pulling tags. Except this one bad Monday when
she took this total asshole's sunglasses, but that was because she just
didn't like him.
How it was, she was standing up there by this ninth-floor window, just
looking out at the bridge, past the gray shells of the big stores, when he'd
come up behind her. She'd almost managed to make out Skinner's room, there,
high up in the old cables, when the tip of a finger found her bare back.
Under Skinner's jacket, under her t-shirt, touching her.
She wore that jacket everywhere, like some kind of armor. She knew that
nanopore was the only thing to wear, riding this time of year, but she wore
Skinner's old horsehide anyway, with her bar-coded Allied badges on the
lapels. The little ball-chains on the zippers swinging as she spun to knock
that finger aside.
Bloodshot eyes. A face that looked as though it were about to melt. He
had a short little greenish cigar in his mouth but it wasn't lit. He took it
out, swirled its wet end in a small glass of clear liquor, then took a long
suck on it. Grinning at her around it. Like he knew she didn't belong here,
not at a party like this and not in any old but seriously expensive hotel up
But it had been the last tag of the day, a package for a lawyer, with
Tenderloin's trash-fires burning so close by, and around them, huddled, all
those SO terminally luckless, utterly and chemically lost. Faces aglow in
the fairy illumination of the tiny glass pipes. Eyes canceled in that
terrible and fleeting satisfaction. Shivers, that gave her, always.
Locking and arming her bike in the hollow sound of the Morrisey's
underground lot, she'd taken a service elevator to the lobby, where the
security grunts tried to brace her for the package, but there was no way.
She wouldn't deliver to anyone at all except this one very specific Mr.
Garreau in 808, as stated right here on the tag. They ran a scanner across
the bar-code on her Allied badge, x-rayed the package, put her through a
metal-detector, and waved her into an elevator lined with pink mirrors and
trimmed in bank-vault bronze.
So up she'd gone, to eight, to a corridor quiet as the floor of some
forest in a dream. She found Mr. Garreau there, his shirt-sleeves white and
his tie the color of freshly poured lead. He signed the tab without making
eye-contact; package in hand, he'd closed the door's three brass digits in
her face. She'd checked her hair in the mirror-polished italic zero. Her
tail was sticking up okay, in back, but she wasn't sure they'd got the front
right. The spikes were still too long. Wispy, sort of.
She headed back down the hail, the hardware jingling on Skinner's
jacket, her new SWAT-trainers sinking into freshly vacuumed pile the color
of rain-wet terracotta.
But when the elevator doors opened, this Japanese girl fell out. Or
near enough, Chevette grabbing her beneath both arms and propping her
against the edge of the door.
'What folks gonna ask you,' Chevette said.
'Floor nine! Big party!'
The girl's eyes were all pupil, her bangs glossy as plastic.
So Chevette, with a real glass wine-glass full of real French wine in
one hand, and the smallest sandwich she'd ever seen in the other, came to
find herself wondering how long she still had before the hotel's computer
noticed she hadn't yet left the premises. Not that they were likely to come
looking for her here, because someone had obviously put down good money to
have this kind of party.
Some really private kind, because she could see these people in a
darkened bathroom, smoking ice through a blown-glass dolphin, its smooth
curves illuminated by the fluttering bluish tongue of an industrial-strength
Not just one room, either, but lots of them, all connected up. And lots
of people, too, the men mostly gotten up in those suits with the four-button
jackets, stiff shirts with those choker collars, and no tie but a little
jeweled stud. The women wore clothes Chevette had only seen in magazines.
Rich people, had to be, and foreign, too. Though maybe rich was foreign
She'd managed to get the Japanese girl horizontal on a long green
couch, where she was snoring now, and safe enough unless somebody sat on
Looking around, Chevette had seen that she wasn't the only underdressed
local to have somehow scammed entry. The guy in the bathroom working the big
yellow Bic, for starters, but he was an extreme case. Then there were a
couple of pretty obvious Tenderloin working-girls, too, but maybe that was
no more than the accepted amount of local color for whatever this was
supposed to be.
But then this asshole's right in her face, grinning his mean-ass
drunken grin, and she's got her hand on a little folding-knife, something
else she's borrowed from Skinner. It has a hole in the blade that you can
press the tip of your thumb into and snap it open, one-handed. That blade's
under three inches, broad as a soupspoon, wickedly serrated, and ceramic.
Skinner says it's a fractal knife, its actual edge more than twice as long
as the blade itself.
'You're not enjoying yourself, I think,' he says. European, but she's
not sure which flavor. Not French or German. His jacket's leather, too, but
nothing like Skinner's. Some thin-skinned animal whose hide drapes like
heavy silk, the color of tobacco. She thinks of the smell of the
yellow-spined magazines up in Skinner's room, some so old the pictures are
only shades of gray, the way the city looks, sometimes, from the bridge.
'Doing fine 'til you showed up,' Chevette says, thinking it's probably
time to go, this guy's bad news.
'Tell me,' he says, looking appraisingly at the jacket and the t-shirt
and the bike-pants, 'what services you offer.'
'The fuck's that supposed to mean?'
'Clearly,' he says, pointing at the Tenderloin girls across the room,
'you offer something more interesting,' and he rolls his tongue wetly around
the word, 'than these two.'
'Fuck that,' Chevette says, 'I'm a messenger.'
And a funny pause crosses his face, like something's gotten past his
drunk, nudged him. Then he throws back his head and laughs like it's the
biggest joke in the world. She gets a look at a lot of very white, very
expensive-looking teeth. Rich people never have any metal in their teeth,
Skinner's told her.
'I say something funny?'
The asshole wipes his eyes.
'But we have something in common, you and I.'
'I doubt it.'
'I am a messenger,' he says, though he looks to Chevette like a
moderate hill would put him in line for a pig-valve.
'A courier,' he says, like he's reminding himself.
'So proj on,' she says, and steps around him, but just then the lights
go out, the music starts, and it's the intro to Chrome Koran's 'She God's
Girlfriend.' Chevette, who has kind of a major thing for Chrome Koran, and
cranks them on her bike whenever she needs a boost to proj on, just moves
with it now, everybody dancing, even the icers from the bathroom.
With the asshole gone, or anyway forgotten she notices how much better
these people look dancing. She finds herself opposite this girl in a leather
skirt, little black boots with jingling silver spurs. Chevette grins; the
girl grins back.
'You're from the city?' the girl asks, as 'She God's Girlfriend' el~,
and for a second Chevette thinks she's being asked if she's a municipal
messenger. The girl-woman-is older than she'd thought; late twenties maybe,
but definitely older than Chevette. Good-looking without looking like it
came out of a kit; dark eyes, dark hair cut short. 'San Francisco?'
The next tune's older than she is; that black guy who turned white, and
then his face fell in, she guesses. She looks down for her drink but they
all look alike. Her Japanese doll dances past, bangs swinging, no
recognition in her eyes as she sees Chevette.
'Cody can usually find all he needs, in San Francisco,' the woman says,
a tiredness behind her voice but at the same time you can tell she thinks
it's all pretty funny. German, Chevette thinks by her accent.
'Who?' The woman raises her eyebrows. 'Our host.' But she's still got
her wide easy grin.
'Just sort of walked in...'
'Could I only say the same!' The woman laughs.
'Then I could walk out again.'
'You don't like it?' Up close, she smells expensive. Chevette's
suddenly worried about how she must smell herself, after a day on the bike
and no shower. But the woman takes her elbow and leads her aside.
'You don't know Cody?'
'No.' Chevette sees the drunk, the asshole, through the doorway into
the next room, where the lights are still on. He's looking right at her.
'And I think maybe I should leave now, okay?'
'I't, I ,i...' you don't nave to. Please. I only envy you the option.
Chevette knows that's part of what used to be Italy. The northern part,
she thinks. 'Who's this Cody?'
'Cody likes a party. Cody likes this party. This party's been going on
for several years now. When it isn't here, it's in London, Prague, Macau...'
A boy is moving through the crowd with a tray of drinks. He doesn't look to
Chevette like he works for the hotel. His stiff white shirt's not so stiff
anymore; it's open all the way, wrinkled tails hanging loose, and she sees
he has one of those things like a little steel barbell through one nipple.
His stiff collar's popped off at the front and sticks up behind his neck
like a slipped halo. The woman takes a glass of white wine when he offers
the tray. Chevette shakes her head. There's a white saucer on the tray, with
pills and what look like twists of dancer.
The boy winks at Chevette and moves on.
'You find this strange?' The woman drinks her wine off and tosses the
empty glass over her shoulder. Chevette hears it break.
'Yeah. I guess. I mean, I just walked in...'
'Where do you live?'
'The bridge.' Watching for the reaction.
The grin widens. 'Really? It looks so... mysterious. I'd like to go
there, but there are no tours, and they say it's dangerous...'
'It's not,' Chevette says, then hesitates. 'Just don't dress up so
much, right? But it's not dangerous, not even as much as the neighborhood
around here.' Thinking of the ones around the trash-fires. 'Just don't go
out on Treasure Island. Don't try to go all the way to Oakland. Stay over on
the suspension side.'
'You like it, living there?'
'Shit, yes. 1 wouldn't live anywhere else.'
The woman smiles. 'You're very lucky then, I think.'
'Well,' Chevette says, feeling clumsy, 'I gotta go.'
'My name is Maria...'
'Chevette,' offering her hand. Almost like her own other name.
'You have a nice party, okay?'
'This is not a nice party.'
Settling the wide shoulders of Skinner's jacket, Chevette nods to the
woman Maria and begins to work her way through the crowd. Which is tighter
now by several degrees, like maybe this Cody's friends are still arriving.
More Japanese here now, she notices, all of them serious suits; their wives
or secretaries or whatever are all wearing pearls. But evidently this
doesn't prevent them getting into the spirit of the thing. It's gotten
noisier, too, as people have gotten more whacked. There's that loud constant
burr of party-noise you get when the drinks kick in, and now she wants to be
out of there all that much faster.
She finds herself stuck near the door to the bathroom where she'd seen
the icers, but it's closed now. A bunch of French people are talking French
and laughing and waving their hands around, but Chevette can hear somebody
vomiting in there. 'Coming through,' she says to a man with a bowtie and a
gray crewcut, and just pushes past him, spilling part of his drink. He says
something after her in French.
She feels really claustro now, like she does up in offices sometimes
when a receptionist makes her wait to pick something up, and she sees the
office people walking back and forth, and wonders whether it all means
anything or if they're just walking back and forth. Or maybe the wine's
gotten to her, a little, because drinking isn't something she does much, and
now she doesn't like the taste of it in the back of her throat.
And suddenly there's her drunk, her Euro with his unlit cigar, sweaty
brow too close to the dull-eyed, vaguely worried face of one of the
Tenderloin girls. He's got her backed into a corner. And everyone's jammed
so tight, this close to the door and the corridor and freedom, that Chevette
finds herself pressed up against his back for a second, not that that
interrupts whatever infinitely dreary shit he's laying down for the girl,
no, though he does jam his elbow, hard, back into Chevette's ribs to get
himself more space.
And Chevette, glancing down, sees something sticking out of a pocket in
the tobacco-colored leather.
Then it's in her hand, down the front of her bike-pants, she's out the
door, and the asshole hasn't even noticed.
In the sudden quiet of the corridor, party sounds receding as she heads
for the elevator, she wants to run. She wants to laugh, too, but now she's
starting to feel scared.
Past the party's build-up of trays, dirty glasses, plates.
Remembering the security grunts in the lobby.
The thing stuck down her pants.
Down a corridor that opens off this one, she sees the doors of a
service elevator spread wide now and welcoming. A Central Asian kid with a
paint-splattered steel cart stacked up with flat rectangles that are
television screens. He gives her a careful look as she edges in beside him.
His face is all cheekbones, bright hooded eyes, his hair shaved up high in
one of those near-vertical dos all these guys favor. He has a security badge
clipped to the front of his clean gray workshirt and a VirtuFax slung around
his neck on a red nylon cord.
'Basement,' Chevette says.
His fax buzzes. He raises it, pushes the button, peers into the
eyepiece. The thing in her bike-pants starts to feel huge. Then he drops the
fax back to his chest, blinks at her, and pushes a button marked B-6. The
doors rumble shut and Chevette closes her eyes.
She leans hack against the big quilted pads hung on the walls and
wishes she were up in Skinner's room, listening to the cables creak. The
floor there's a layer of two-by-fours laid on edge; the very top of the hump
of the cable, riding its steel saddle, sticks up through the middle, and
Skinner says there are 17,464 strands of wire in that cable. Each one is
about as thick as a pencil. You can press your ear against it and hear the
whole bridge sing, when the wind's just right.
The elevator stops at four for no reason at all. Nobody there when the
door opens. Chevette wants to press B-6 again but she makes herself wait for
the kid with the fax to do it. He does.
And B-6 is not the garage she so thoroughly wants now, but this maze of
hundred-year-old concrete tunnels, floored in cracked asphalt tile, with big
old pipes slung in iron brackets along the ceiling. She slips out while he's
fiddling with one of the wheels on his cart.
A century's-worth of padlocked walk-in freezers, fifty vacuum cleaners
charging themselves at a row of numbered stations, rolls of broadloom
stacked like logs. More people in work clothes, some in kitchen whites, but
she's trying for tag-pulling attitude and looks, she hopes, like she's
making a delivery.
She finds a narrow stairway and climbs. ,The air is hot and dead.
Motion-sensors click the lights for her at the start of each flight. She
feels the whole weight of this old building pressing down on her.
But her bike is there, on B-i, behind a column of nicked concrete.
'Back off,' it says when she's five feet away. Not loud, like a car,
but it sounds like it means it.
Under its coat of spray-on imitation rust and an artful bandaging of
silver duct-tape, the geometry of the paper-cored, carbonwrapped frame makes
Chevette's thighs tremble. She slips her left hand through the
recognition-loop behind the seat. There's a little double zik as the
particle-brakes let go, then she's up and on it.
It's never felt better, as she pumps up the oil-stained ramp and out of
4. Career opportunities.
Rydell's roommate, Kevin Tarkovsky, wore a bone through his nose and
worked in a wind-surfing boutique called Just Blow Me.
Monday morning, when Rydell told him he'd quit his job with
IntenSecure, Kevin offered to try to find him something in sales, in the
'You got an okay build, basically,' Kevin said, looking at Rydell's
bare chest and shoulders. Rydell was still wearing the orange trunks he'd
worn when he'd gone to see Hernandez. He'd borrowed them from Kevin. He'd
just taken his cast off, deflating it and crumpling it into the five-gallon
plastic paint bucket that served as a wastebasket. The bucket had a big
self-adhesive daisy on the side. 'You could work out a little more
regularly. Arid maybe get some tats. Tribal black-work.'
'Kevin, I don't know how to surf, wind-surf, anything. Hardly been in
the ocean in my life. Couple of times down Tampa Bay.' It was about ten in
the morning. Kevin had the day off work.
'Sales is about providing an experience, Berry. The customer needs
information, you provide it. But you give 'em an experience, too,' Kevin
tapped his two-inch spindle of smooth white beef-bone by way of
illustration. 'Then you sell them a new outfit.'
'But I don't have a tan.'
Kevin was the approximate color and sheen of a pair of mid-brown
Cole-Haan loafers that Rydell's aunt had given him for his fifteenth
birthday. This had nothing to do with either genetics or exposure to
unfiltered sunlight, but was the result of regular injections and a
complicated regimen of pills and lotions.
'Well,' Kevin admitted, 'you would need a tan.'
Rydell knew that Kevin didn't wind-surf, and never had, but that he did
bring home disks from the shop and play them on a goggle-set, going over the
various moves involved, and Rydell had no doubt that Kevin could provide
every bit of information a prospective buyer might desire. And that
all-important experience; with his cordovan tan, gym-tuned physique, and
that bone through his nose, he got a lot of attention. Mainly from women,
though it didn't actually seem to do that much for him.
What Kevin sold, primarily, was clothing. Expensive kind that
supposedly kept the UV and the pollutants in the water off you. He had two
whole cartons full of the stuff, stacked in their room's one closet. Rydell,
who currently didn't have much in the way of a wardrobe, was welcome to paw
through there and borrow whatever took his fancy. Which wasn't a lot, as it
turned out, because wind-surfing gear tended to be Day-Gb, black nanopore,
or mirrorflex. A few of the jazzier items had UV-sensitive JUST BLOW ME
logos that appeared on days when the ozone was in particularly shabby shape,
as Rydell had discovered the last time he'd gone to the farmers market.
He and Kevin were sharing one of two bedrooms in a sixties house in Mar
Vista, which meant Sea View but there wasn't any. Someone had rigged up a
couple of sheets of drywall down the middle of the room. On Rydell's side,
the drywall was covered with those same big self-adhesive daisies and a
collection of souvenir bumper-stickers from places like Magic Mountain,
Nissan County, Disneyland, and Skywalker Park. 1'here were two other people
sharing the house, three if you counted the Chinese girl out in the garage
(but she had her own bathroom in there).
Rydell had bought a futon with most of his first month's pay from
IntenSecure. He'd bought it at this stall in the market; they were cheaper
there, and the stall was called Futon Mouth, which Rydell thought was pretty
funny. The Futon Mouth girl had explained how you could slip the Metro guy
on the platform a twenty, then he'd let you get on the train with the
rolled-up futon, which came in a big green plastic sack that reminded Rydell
of a bodybag.
Lately, waiting to take the cast off, he'd spent a lot of time on that
futon, staring up at those bumper-stickers. He wondered if whoever had put
them there had actually bothered to go to all those places. Hernandez had
once offered him work at Nissan County. IntenSecure had the rentacop
franchise there. His parents had honeymooned at Disneyland. Skywalker Park
was up in San Francisco; it had been called Golden Gate, before, and he
remembered a couple of fairly low-key riots on television when they'd
'You on line to any of the job-search nets, Berry?'
Rydell shook his head.
'This one's on me,' Kevin said, passing Rydell the helmet. It wasn't
anything like Karen's slick little goggles; just a white plastic rig like
kids used for games. 'Put it on. I'll dial for you.'
'Well,' Rydell said, 'this is nice, Kevin, but you don't have to go to
all this trouble.'
Kevin touched the bone in his nose. 'Well, there's the rent.'
There was that. Rydell put the helmet on.
'Now,' Sonya said, just as perky as could be, 'we're showing that you
did graduate from this post-secondary training program-'
'Academy,' Rydell corrected. 'Police.'
'Yes, Berry, but we're showing that you were then employed for a total
of eighteen days, before being placed on suspension.' Sonya looked like a
cartoon of a pretty girl. No pores. No texture anywhere. Her teeth were very
white and looked like a single unit, something that could be snapped out
intact for closer inspection. But not for cleaning, because there was no
need; cartoons didn't eat. She had wonderful tits, though; she had the tits
Rydell would have drawn for her if he'd been a talented cartoonist.
'Well,' Rydell said, thinking of Turvey, 'I got into some trouble after
they assigned me to Patrol.'
Sonya nodded brightly. 'I see, Berry.' Rydell wondered what she did
see. Or what the expert system that used her as a hand-puppet could see. Or
how it saw. What did someone like Rydell look bike to an employment agency's
computer system? Not like much, he decided.
'Then you moved to Los Angeles, Berry, and we show ten weeks of
employment with the IntenSecure Corporation's residential armed-response
branch. Driver with experience of weapons.'
Rydell thought of the rocket-pods slung under the LAPD chopper.
Probably they'd had one of those CHAIN guns in there, too. 'Yep,' he agreed.
'And you've resigned your position with IntenSecure.'
Sonya beamed at Rydell as though he'd just admitted, shyly, to a
congressional appointment or a post-doctoral degree. 'Well, Berry,' she
said, 'let me put my thinking cap on for just a second!' She winked, then
closed her big cartoon eyes.
Jesus, Rydell thought. He tried to glance sideways, but Kevin's helmet
didn't have any peripherals, so there was nothing there. Just Sonya, the
empty rectangle of her desk, sketchy details suggesting an office, and the
employment agency's logo behind her on the wall. The logo made her look bike
the anchorwoman on a channel that only reported very good news.
Sonya opened her eyes. Her smile became incandescent. 'You're from the
South,' she said.
'Plantations, Berry. Magnolias. Tradition. But a certain darkness as
well. A Gothic quality. Faulkner.' Fawk? 'Huh?'
'Nightmare Folk Art, Berry. Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks.'
Kevin watched as Rydell removed the helmet and wrote an address and
telephone number on the back of last week's People. The magazine belonged to
Monica, the Chinese girl in the garage; she always got hers printed out so
there was never any mention of scandal or disaster, but with a triple
helping of celebrity romance, particularly anything to do with the British
'Something for you, Berry?' Kevin looked hopeful.
'Maybe,' Rydell said. 'This place in Sherman Oaks. I'll call 'em up,
check it out.'
Kevin fiddled with his nose-bone. 'I can give you a lift,' he said.
There was a big painting of the Rapture in the window of Nightmare Folk
Art. Rydell knew paintings like that from the sides of Christian vans parked
beside shopping centers. Lots of bloody car-wrecks and disasters, with all
the Saved souls flying up to meet Jesus, whose eyes were a little too bright
for comfort. This one was a lot more detailed than the ones he remembered.
Each one of those Saved souls had its own individual face, like it actually
represented somebody, and a few of them reminded him of famous people. But
it still looked like it had been painted by either a fifteen-year-old or an
Kevin had let him off at the corner of Sepulveda and he'd walked back
two blocks, looking for the place, past a crew in wide-brim hardhats who
were pouring the foundations for a palm tree. Rydell wondered if Ventura had
had real ones before the virus; the replacements were so popular now, people
wanted them put in everywhere.
Ventura was one of those Los Angeles streets that just went on forever.
He knew he must've driven Gunhead past Nightmare Folk Art more times than he
could count, but these streets looked completely different when you walked
them. For one thing, you were pretty much alone; for another, you could see
how cracked and dusty a lot of the buildings were. Empty spaces behind dirty
glass, with a yellowing pile of junk-mail on the floor inside and maybe a
puddle of what couldn't be rainwater, so you sort of wondered what it was.
You'd pass a couple of those, then a place selling sunglasses for six times
the rent Rydell paid for his half of the room in Mar Vista. The sunglasses
place would have some kind of rentacop inside, to buzz you in.
Nightmare Folk Art was like that, sandwiched between a dead
hair-extension franchise and some kind of failing real estate place that
sold insurance on the side. NIGHTMARE FOLK ART-SOUTHERN GOTHIC, the letters
hand-painted all lumpy and hairy, like mosquito legs in a cartoon, white on
black. But with a couple of expensive cars parked out front: a silver-gray
Range Rover, looking like Gunhead dressed up for the prom, and one of those
little antique Porsche two-seaters that always looked to
Rydell like the wind-up key had fallen off. He gave the Porsche a wide
berth; cars like that tended to have hypersensitive anti-theft systems, not
to mention hyper-aggressive.
There was a rentacop looking at him through the armored glass of the
door; not IntenSecure, but some off brand. Rydell had borrowed a pair of
pressed chinos from Kevin. They were a little tight in the waist, but they
beat hell out of the orange trunks. He had on a black IntenSecure
uniform-shirt with the patches ripped off, his Stetson, and his SWAT shoes.
He wasn't sure black really made it with khaki. He pushed the button. The
rentacop buzzed him in.
'Got an appointment with Justine Cooper,' he said, taking his
'With a client,' the rentacop said. He looked about thirty, and like he
should've been out on a farm in Kansas or somewhere. Rydell looked over and
saw a skinny woman with black hair. She was talking to a fat man who had no
hair at all. Trying to sell him something, it looked like.
'I'll wait,' Rydell said.
The farmer didn't answer. State law said he couldn't have a gun, just
the industrial-strength stunner he wore in a beat-up plastic holster, but he
probably did anyway. One of those little Russian hold-outs that chambered
some godawful overheated caliber originally intended for killing the engine
blocks of tanks. The Russians, never too safety-minded, had the market in
Rydell looked around. That ol' Rapture was big at Nightmare Folk Art,
he decided. Those kind of Christians, his father had always maintained, were
just pathetic. There the Millennium had up, come, and gone, no Rapture to
speak of, and here they were, still beating that same drum. Sublett and his
folks down in their trailer-camp in Texas, watching old movies for Reverend
Fallon-at least that had some kind of spin on it.
He tried to sneak a look, see what the lady was trying to sell to the
fat man, but she caught his eye and that wasn't good. So he worked his way
deeper into the shop, pretending to check out the merchandise. There was a
whole section of these nasty-looking spidery wreath-things, behind glass in
faded gilt frames. The wreaths looked to Rydell like they were made of
frizzy old hair. There were tiny little baby coffins, all corroded, and one
of them had been planted with ivy. There were coffee tables made out of what
Rydell supposed were tombstones, old ones, the lettering worn down so faint
you couldn't read it. He paused beside a bedstead welded together from a
bunch of those pickaninny jockey-boys it had been against the law to have on
your lawn in Knoxville. The jockey-boys had all been freshly-painted with
big, red-lipped, watermelon-eating grins. The bed was spread with a
hand-stitched quilt patterned like a Confederate flag. When he looked for a
price tag, all he found was a yellow SOLD sticker.
'Mr. Rydell? May I call you Berry?' Justine Cooper's jaw was so narrow
that it looked like she wouldn't have room for the ordinary complement of
teeth in there. Her hair was cut short, a polished brown helmet. She wore a
couple of dark, flowing things that Rydell supposed were meant to conceal
the fact that she was built more or less like a stick-insect. She didn't
sound like she was from anywhere south of anywhere, much, and there was a
visible tension strung through her, like wires.
Rydell saw the fat man walk out, pausing on the sidewalk to deactivate
the Range Rover's defenses.
'You're from Knoxville?' He noticed she was breathing deliberately,
like she was trying not to hyperventilate.
'You don't have much of an accent.'
'Well, I wish everybody felt that way.' He smiled, but she didn't smile
'Is your family from Knoxville, Mr. Rydell?'
Shit, he thought, go ahead, call me Berry. 'My father was, I guess. My
mother's people are from up around Bristol, mostly.'
Justine Cooper's dark eyes, not showing much white, were looking right
at him, but they didn't seem to be registering anything. He guessed she was
somewhere in her forties.
She gave a violent start, as though he'd goosed her.
'Ms. Cooper, what are those wreath-sort-of-things in those old frames
there?' Pointing at them.
'Memorial wreaths. Southwestern Virginia, late nineteenth, early
Good, Rydell thought, get her talking about the stock. He walked over
to the framed wreaths for a closer look. 'Looks like hair,' he said.
'It is,' she said. 'What else would it be?'
'You mean like dead people's hair?' He saw now the minute braiding, the
hair twisted up into tiny flowerlike knots. It was lusterless and no
'Mr. Rydell, I'm afraid that I may have wasted your time.' She moved
tentatively in his direction. 'When I spoke with you on the phone, I was
under the impression that you might be, well, much more of the South...'
'How do you mean, Ms. Cooper?'
'What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain
darkness as well. A Gothic quality.'
Damn. That talking head in the agency display had been playing this
shit back word for word.
'I don't suppose you've read Faulkner?' She raised one hand to brush at
something invisible, something hanging in front of her face.
There it was again. 'Nope.'
'No, I didn't think so. I'm hoping to find someone who can help to
convey that very darkness, Mr. Rydell. The mind of the South. A fever dream
'But you don't convey that to me. I'm sorry.' It looked like the
invisible cobweb had come hack.
Rydell looked at the rentacop, but he didn't seem to he listening to
any of this. Hell, he seemed to he asleep.
'Lady,' Rydell said carefully, 'I think you're crazier than a sack full
Her eyebrows shot up. 'There,' she said.
'Color, Mr. Rydell. Fire. The brooding verbal polychromes of an almost
unthinkably advanced decay.'
Rydell had to think about that. He found himself looking at the
jockey-boy bed. 'Don't you ever get any black people in here, complaining
about stuff like this?'
'On the contrary,' she said, a new edge in her tone, 'we do quite a
good business with the more affluent residents of South Central. They, at
least, have a sense of irony. I suppose they have to.'
Now he'd have to walk to whatever the nearest station was, take the
subway home, and tell Kevin Tarkovsky he hadn't been Southern enough.
The rentacop was letting him out.
'Where exactly you from, Ms. Cooper?' he asked her.
'New Hampshire,' she said.
He was on the sidewalk, the door closing behind him.
'Fucking Yankees,' he said to the Porsche roadster. It was what his
father would have said, but he had a hard time now connecting it to
One of those big articulated German cargo-rigs went by, the kind that
burned canola oil. Rydell hated those things. The exhaust smelled like fried
5. Hay problemas.
The courier's dreams are made of hot metal, shadows that scream and
run, mountains the color of concrete. They are burying the orphans on a
hillside. Plastic coffins, pale blue. Clouds in the sky. The priest's tall
hat. They do not see the first shell coming in from the concrete mountains.
It punches a hole in everything: the hillside, the sky, a blue coffin, the
A sound too vast to be any sound at all, but through it, somehow, they
hear, arriving only now, the distant festive pop-popping of the mortars,
tidy little clouds of smoke rising on the gray mountainside.
He comes upright, alone in the wide bed, trying to scream, and the
words are in a language he no longer allows himself to speak.
His head throbs. He drinks flat water from the stainless carafe on the
nightstand. The room sways, blurs, comes back into focus. He forces himself
from the bed, pads naked to the tall, old-fashioned windows. Fumbles the
heavy drapes aside. San Francisco. Dawn like tarnished silver. It is
Tuesday. Not Mexico.
In the white bathroom, wincing in the sudden light, scrubbing cold
water into his numb face. The dream recedes, but leaves a residue. He
shivers, cold tile unpleasant beneath his bare feet. The whores at the
party. I his Harwood. Decadent. The courier disapproves of decadence. His
work brings him into contact with real wealth, genuine power. He meets
people of substance. Harwood is wealth without substance. He puts out the
bathroom light and gingerly returns to his bed, favoring the ache in his
With the striped duvet drawn up to his chin, he begins to sort through
the previous evening. There are gaps. Overindulgence. He disapproves of
overindulgence. Harwood's party. The voice on the phone, instructing him to
attend. He'd already had several drinks. He sees a young girl's face. Anger,
contempt. Her short dark hair twisted up in spikes.
His eyes feel as if they are too large for their sockets. When he rubs
them, bright sick flashes of light surround him. The cold weight of the
water moves in his stomach.
He remembers sitting at the broad mahogany desk, drinking. Before the
call, before the party. He remembers the two cases open, in front of him,
identical. He keeps her in one. The other is for that with which he has been
entrusted. Expensive, but then he has no doubt that the information it
contains is very valuable. He folds the thing's graphite earpieces and snaps
the case shut. Then he touches the case that holds all her mystery, the
white house on the hillside, the release she offers. He puts the cases in
the pockets of his jacket-But now he tenses, beneath the duvet, his stomach
twisted with a surge of anxiety.
He wore the jacket to that party, much of which he cannot remember.
Ignoring the pounding of his head, he claws his way out of the bed and
finds the jacket crumpled on the floor beside a chair.
His heart is pounding.
Here. That which he must deliver. Zipped into the inner pocket. But the
outer pockets are empty.
She is gone. He roots through his other clothing. On his hands and
knees, a pulsing agony behind his eyes, he peers under the chair. Gone.
But she, at least, can be replaced, he reminds himself, still on his
knees, the jacket in his hands. He will find a dealer in that sort of
software. Recently, he now admits, he had started to suspect that she was
Thinking this, he is watching his hands unzip the inner pocket, drawing
out the case that contains his charge, their property, that which must be
delivered. He opens it.
The scuffed black plastic frames, the label on the cassette worn and
unreadable, the yellowed translucence of the audio-beads.
He hears a thin high sound emerge from the back of his throat. Very
much as he must have done, years ago, when the first shell arrived.
6. The bridge.
Careful to correctly calculate the thirty-percent tip, Yamazaki paid
the fare and struggled out of the cab's spavined rear seat. The driver, who
knew that all Japanese were wealthy, sullenly counted the torn, filthy
bills, then tossed the three five-dollar coins into a cracked Nissan County
thermos-mug taped to the faded dashboard. Yamazaki, who was not wealthy,
shouldered his bag, turned, and walked toward the bridge. As ever, it
stirred his heart to see it there, morning light aslant through all the
intricacy of its secondary construction.
The integrity of its span was rigorous as the modern program itself,
yet around this had grown another reality, intent upon its own agenda. This
had occurred piecemeal, to no set plan, employing every imaginable technique
and material. The result was something amorphous, startlingly organic. At
night, illuminated by Christmas bulbs, by recycled neon, by torchlight, it
possessed a queer medieval energy. By day, seen from a distance, it reminded
him of the ruin of England's Brighton Pier, as though viewed through some
cracked kaleidoscope of vernacular style.
Its steel bones, its stranded tendons, were lost within an accretion of
dreams: tattoo parlors, gaming arcades, dimly lit stalls stacked with
decaying magazines, sellers of fireworks, of cut bait, betting shops, sushi
bars, unlicensed pawnbrokers, herbalists, barbers, bars. Dreams of commerce,
their locations generally corresponding with the decks that had once carried
vehicular traffic; while above them, rising to the very peaks of the cable
towers, lifted the intricately suspended barrio, with its unnumbered
population and its zones of more private fantasy.
He'd first seen it by night, three weeks before. He'd stood in fog,
amid sellers of fruit and vegetables, their goods spread out on blankets.
He'd stared back into the cavern-mouth, heart pounding. Steam was rising
from the pots of soup-vendors, beneath a jagged arc of cavenged neon.
Everything ran together, blurring, melting in the fog. Telepresence had only
hinted at the magic and singularity of the thing, and he'd walked slowly
forward, into the neon maw and all that patchwork carnival of scavenged
surfaces, in perfect awe. Fairyland. Rain-silvered plywood, broken marble
from the walls of forgotten banks, corrugated plastic, polished brass,
sequins, painted canvas, mirrors, chrome gone dull and peeling in the salt
air. So many things, too much for his reeling eye, and he'd known that his
journey had not been in vain.
In all the world, surely, there was no more magnificent a Thomasson.
He entered it now, Tuesday morning, amid a now-familiar stir-the carts
of ice and fish, the clatter of a machine that made tortillas-and found his
way to a coffee shop whose interior had the texture of an ancient ferry,
dark dented varnish over plain heavy wood, as if someone had sawn it,
entire, from some tired public vessel. Which was entirely possible, he
thought, seating himself at the long counter; toward Oakland, past the
haunted island, the wingless carcass of a 747 housed the kitchens of nine
The young woman behind the counter wore tattooed bracelets in the form
of stylized indigo lizards. He asked for coffee. It arrived in thick heavy
porcelain. No two cups here were alike. He took his notebook from his bag,
flicked it on, and jotted down a brief description of the cup, of the minute
pattern of cracks in its glazed surface, like a white tile mosaic in
miniature. Sipping his coffee, he scrolled back to the previous day's notes.
The man Skinner's mind was remarkably like the bridge. Things had
accumulated there, around some armature of original purpose, until a point
of crisis had been attained and a new program had emerged. But what was that
He had asked Skinner to explain the mode of accretion resulting in the
current state of the secondary structure. What were the motivations of a
given builder, an individual builder? His notebook had recorded the man's
rambling, oblique response, transcribing and translating it.
There was this man, fishing. Snagged his tackle. Hauled up a bicycle.
All covered in barnacles. Everybody laughed. Took that bike and he built a
place to eat. Clam broth, cold cooked mussels, Mexican beer. Hung that bike
over the counter. Just three stools in there and he slung his box out about
eight feet, used Super Glue and shackles. Covered the walls inside with
postcards. Like shingles. Nights, he'd curl up behind the counter. Just
gone, one morning. Broken shackle, some splinters still stuck to the wall of
a barber shop. You could look down, see the water between your toes. See, he
slung it out too far.
Yamazaki watched steam rise from his coffee, imagining a bicycle
covered in barnacles, itself a Thomasson of considerable potency. Skinner
had seemed curious about the term, and the notebook had recorded Yamazaki's
attempt to explain its origin and the meaning of its current usage.
Thomasson was an American baseball player, very handsome, very
powerful. He went to the Yomiyuri Giants in 1981, for a large sum of money.
Then it was discovered that he could not hit the ball. The writer and
artisan Gempei Akasegawa appropriated his name to describe certain useless
and inexplicable monuments, pointless yet curiously art-like features of the
urban landscape. But the term has subsequently taken on other shades of
meaning. If you wish, I can access and translate today's definitions in our
Gendai Yogo Kisochishiki, that is, The Basic Knowledge of Modern Terms.
But Skinner-gray, unshaven, the whites of his blue eyes yellowed,
blotched with broken veins, had merely shrugged. Three of the residents who
had previously agreed to be interviewed had cited Skinner as an original,
one of the first on the bridge.
The location of his room indicated a certain status as well, though
Yamazaki wondered how many would have welcomed a chance to build atop one of
the cable towers. Before the electric lift had been installed, the climb
would have been daunting for anyone. Today, with his bad hip, the old man
was in effect an invalid, relying on his neighbors and the girl. They
brought him food, water, kept his chemical toilet in operation. The girl,
Yamazaki assumed, received shelter in return, though the relationship struck
him as deeper somehow, more complex.
But if Skinner was difficult to read because of age, personality, or
both, the girl who shared his room was opaque in that ordinary, sullen way
Yamazaki associated with young Americans. Though perhaps that was only
because he, Yamazaki, was a stranger, Japanese, and one who asked too many
He looked down the counter, taking in the early-morning profiles of the
other customers. Americans. The fact that he was actually here, drinking
coffee beside these people, still struck a chord of wonder. How
extraordinary. He wrote in his notebook, the pen ticking against the screen.
The apartment is in a tall Victorian house, built of wood and very
elaborately painted, in a district where the names of streets honor
nineteenth-century American politicians: Clay, Scott, Pierce, Jackson. This
morning, Tuesday, leaving the apartment, I noticed, on the side of the
topmost newel, indications of a vanished hinge. I suspect that this must
once have supported an infant-gate. Going along Scott in search of a cab, I
came upon a sodden postcard, face up on the sidewalk. The narrow features of
the martyr Shapely, the AIDS saint, blistered with rain. Very melancholy.
'They shouldn't oughta said that. About Godzilla, I mean.'
Yamazaki found himself blinking up at the earnest face of the girl
behind the counter.
'They shouldn't oughta said that. About Godzilla. They shouldn't oughta
laughed. We had our earthquakes here, you didn't laugh at us.'
7. See you do okay.
Hernandez followed Rydell into the kitchen of the house in Mar Vista.
He wore a sleeveless powder-blue jumpsuit and a pair of those creepy German
shower-sandals, the kind with about a thousand little nubs to massage the
soles of your feet. Rydell had never seen him out of uniform before and it
was kind of a shock. He had these big old tattoos on his upper arms; roman
numerals; gang stuff. His feet were brown and compact and sort of bearlike.
It was Tuesday morning. There was nobody else in the house. Kevin was
at Just Blow Me, and the others were out doing whatever it was they did.
Monica might've been in her place in the garage, but you never saw too much
of her anyway.
Rydell got his bag of cornflakes out of the cupboard and carefully
unrolled it. About enough for a bowl. He opened the fridge and took out a
plastic, snap-top, liter container with a strip of masking-tape across the
side. He'd written MILK EXPERIMENT on the masking-tape with a heavy marker.
'What's that?' Hernandez asked.
'Why's it say "experiment"?'
'So nobody'll drink it. I figured it out in the dorm at the Academy.'
He dumped the cornflakes in a bowl, covered them with milk, found a spoon,
and carried his breakfast to the kitchen table. The table had a trick leg,
so you had to eat without putting your elbows down.
'How's the arm?'
'Fine.' Rydell forgot about not putting his elbow down. Milk and
cornflakes slopped across the scarred white plastic of the tabletop.
'Here.' Hernandez went to the counter and tore off a fat wad of beige
'Those are whatsisname's,' Rydell said, 'and he seriously doesn't like
us to use them.'
'Towel experiment,' Hernandez said, tossing Rydell the wad.
Rydell blotted up the milk and most of the flakes. He couldn't imagine
what Hernandez was doing here, but then he'd never have imagined that
Hernandez drove a white Daihatsu Sneaker with an animated hologram of a
waterfall on the hood.
'That's a nice car out there,' Rydell said, nodding in the direction of
the carport and spooning cornflakes into his mouth.
'My daughter. Rosa's car. Been in the shop, man.'
Rydell chewed, swallowed. 'Brakes or something?'
'The fucking waterfall. Supposed to be these little animals, they come
out of the bushes and sort of look at it, the waterfall, you know?'
Hernandez leaned back against the counter, flexing his toes into the nubby
sandals. 'Some kind of, like, Costa Rican animals, you know? Ecology theme.
She's real green. Made us take out what was left of the lawn, put in all
these ground-cover things look like gray spiders. But the shop can't get
those fucking animals to show, man. We got a warranty and everything, but
it's, you know, been a pain in the ass.' He shook his head.
Rydell finished his cornflakes.
'You ever been to Costa Rica, Rydell?'
'It's fucking beautiful, man. Like Switzerland.'
'Never been there.'
'No, I mean what they do with data. Like the Swiss, what they did with
'You mean the kvens?'
'You got it. Those people smart. No army, navy, air force, just
neutral. And they take care of everybody's data.'
'Regardless what it is.'
'Hey, fucking "A" Smart people. And spend that money on ecology, man.'
Rydell carried the bowl, the spoon, the damp wad of towels, to the
sini. He rinsed the bowl and spoon, wiped them with the towels, then stuck
the towels as far down as possible behind the rest of the garbage in the bag
under the sink. Straightening up, he looked at Hernandez. 'Something I can
do for you, super?'
'Other way around.' Hernandez smiled. Somehow it wasn't reassuring. 'I
been thinking about you. Your situation. Not good. Not good, man. You never
get to be a cop now. Now you resign, I can't even hire you back on
IntenSecure to work gated residential. Maybe you get on with a regular
square-badge outfit, sit it that little pillbox in a liquor store. You wanna
'That's good, 'cause you get your ass killed, doing that. Somebody come
inthere, take your little pillbox out, man.'
'Right now I'm looking at something in retail sales.'
'No shit? Sales? 'What you sell?'
'Bedsteads made out of cast-iron jockey-boys. These pictures made out
of hundred-year-old human hair.'
Hernandez narrowed his eyes and shoved off the counter, headed for the
hung room. Rydell thought he might be leaving, but he was only starting to
pace. Rydell had seen him do this a couple of times in his office at
IntenSecure. Now he turned, just as he was about to enter the living room,
and paced hack to Rydell.
'You got this had-assed attitude sometimes, man, I dunno.
You oughta stop and think maybe I'm trying to help you a little,
right?' Back toward the living room again.
'Just tell me what you want, okay?'
Hernandez stopped, turned, sighed. 'Never been up to NoCal, right? San
Francisco? Anybody know you up there?'
'IntenSecure's licensed in NoCal, too, right? Different state,
different laws, whole different attitude, they might as well be a different
fucking country, but we've got our shit up there. More office buildings, lot
of hotels. Gated residential's not so big up there, not 'til you get out to
the edge-cities. Concord, Hacienda Business Center, like that. We got a good
piece of that, too.'
'But it's the same company. They won't hire me here, they won't hire me
'Fucking "A." Nobody talking about hiring you. What this is, there's
maybe something there for you with a guy. Works freelance. Company has
certain kinds of problems, sometime they bring in somebody. But the guy,
he's not IntenSecure. Freelance. Office up there, they got that kind of
'Wait a second. What are we talking about here? We're talking about
'Guy's a skip-tracer. You know what that is?'
'Finds people when they try to get out from under debt, blow off the
rent, like that?'
'Or take off with your kid in a custody case, whatever. But, you know,
those kinds of skips, they can mostly be handled through the net, these
days. Just keep plugging their stats into DatAmerica, eventually you gonna
find 'em. Or even,' he shrugged, you can go to the cops.'
'So what a skip-tracer mostly does-' Rydell suggested, remembering one
particular episode of Cops in Trouble he'd seen with his father.
'Is keep you from having to go to the cops.'
'Or to a licensed private detective agency.'
'You got it.' Hernandez was watching him.
Rydell walked past him, into the living room, hearing the German
shower-sandals come squishing after him across the kitchen's dull tile
floor. Someone had been smoking tobacco in there the night before. He could
smell it. It was in violation of the lease. The landlord would give them
hell about it. The landlord was a Serb immigrant who drove a
fifteen-year-old BMW, wore these weird furry Tyrolean hats, and insisted on
being called Wally. Because Wally knew that Rydell worked for IntenSecure,
he'd wanted to show him the flashlight he kept clipped under the dash in his
BMW. It was about a foot long and had a button that triggered a big shot of
capsicum gas. He'd asked Rydell if Rydell thought it was 'enough.'
Rydell had lied. Had told him that people who did, for instance, a
whole lot of dancer, they actually liked a blast or two of good capsicum.
Like it cleared their sinuses. Got their juices flowing. They got off on it.
Now Rydell looked down and saw for the first time that the living room
carpet in the house in Mar Vista was exactly the same stuff he'd crawled
across in Turvey's girlfriend's apartment in Knoxville. Maybe a little
cleaner, but the same stuff. He'd never noticed that before.
'Listen, Rydell, you don't want to take this, fine. My day off, I drive
over here, you appreciate that? You get tweaked by some hackers, you fall
for it, you push the response too hard, I can understand. But it happened,
man, it's on your file, and this is the best I can do. But listen up. You do
right by the company, maybe that gets back to Singapore.'
'My day off...'
'Man, I don't know anything about finding people-'
'You can drive. All they want. Just drive. You drive the tracer, see?
He's got his leg hassled, he can't drive. And this is, like, delicate, this
thing. Requires some smarts. I told them I thought you could do it, man. I
did that. I told them.'
Monica's copy of People was on the couch, open to a story about Gudrun
Weaver, this actress in her forties who'd just found the Lord, courtesy of
the Reverend Wayne Fallon, in time to get her picture in People. There was a
full-page picture of her on a couch in her living room, gazing raptly at a
bank of monitors, each one showing the same old movie.
Rydell saw himself on the futon from Futon Mouth, staring up at those
big stick-on flowers and bumper-stickers. 'Is it legal?'
Hernandez slapped his powder-blue thigh. It sounded like a pistol shot.
'Legal? We are talking IntenSecure Corporation here. We are talking major
shit. I am trying to help you, man. You think I would ask you to do
something fucking illegal?'
'But what's the deal, Hernandez? I just go up there and drive?'
'Fucking "A"! Drive! Mr. Warbaby say drive, you drive.'
'Warbaby. This Lucius Warbaby.'
Rydell picked up Monica's copy of People and found a picture of Gudrun
Weaver and the Reverend Wayne Fallon. Gudrun Weaver looked like an actress
in her forties. Fallon looked like a possum with hair-implants and a
'This Warbaby, Berry, he's right on top of this shit. He's a fucking
star, man. Otherwise why they hire him? You do this, you learn shit. You
still young, man. You can learn shit.'
Rydell tossed the People back onto the couch. 'Who they trying to
'Hotel theft. Somebody took something. We got the security there.
Singapore, man, they're in some kind of serious twist about it. All I know.'
Rydell stood in the warm shade of the carport, gazing down into the
shimmering depths of the animated waterfall on the hood of Hernandez's
daughter's Sneaker, mist rising through green boughs of rain forest. He'd
once seen a Harley done up so that everything that wasn't triple-chromed was
crawling, fast forward, with life-sized bugs. Scorpions, centipedes, you
'See,' Hernandez said, 'see there, where it blurs? That's supposed to
be some kind of fucking sloth, man. Some lemur, you know? Factory warranty.'
'When do they want me to go?'
'I give you this number.' Hernandez handed Rydell a torn scrap of
yellow paper. 'Call them.'
'Hey,' Hernandez said, 'I like to see you do okay. I do. I like that.'
He touched the Sneaker's hood. 'Look at this shit. Factory fucking
8. Morning after.
Chevette dreamed she was riding Folsom, a stiff sidewind threatening to
push her into oncoming. Took a left on Sixth, caught that wind at her back,
ran a red at Howard and Mission, a stale green at Market, bopped the brakes
and bunnied both sets of tracks.
Coming down in a hard lean, she headed up Nob on Taylor.
'Make it this time,' she said.
Legs pumping, the wind a strong hand in the small of her back, sky
clear and beckoning at the top of the hill, she thumbed her chain up onto
some huge-ass custom ring, too big for her derailleur, too big to fit any
frame at all, and felt the shining teeth catch, her hammering slowing to a
steady spin-but then she was losing it.
She stood up and started pounding, screaming, lactic acid slamming
through her veins. She was at the crest, lifting off- Colored light slanted
into Skinner's room through the tinted pie-wedge panes of the round window.
Two of the smaller sections of glass had fallen out; the gaps were
stuffed with pieces of rag, throwing shadows on the tattered yellow wall of
National Geographics. Skinner was sitting up in bed, wearing an old plaid
shirt, blankets and sleeping-bag pulled high up his chest. His bed was an
eightpanel oak door up on four rusty Volkswagen hubs, with a slab of foam on
top of that. Chevette slept on the floor, on a narrower piece of foam she
rolled up every morning and stuck behind a long wooden crate full of greasy
hand tools. The smell of tool grease worked its way into her sleep,
sometimes, but she didn't mind it.
She snaked her arm out into the November chill and snagged a sweater
off the seat of a paint-caked wooden stool. She pulled the sweater into her
bag and twisted into it, tugging it down over her knees. It hung to her
knees when she stood up, the neckband so stretched that she had to keep
pushing it back up on her shoulder. Skinner didn't say anything; he hardly
ever did, first thing.
She rubbed her eyes, went to the ladder bolted to the wall and climbed
the five rungs, undoing the catch on the roof-hatch without bothering to
look at it. She came up here most mornings now, started her day with the
water and then the city. Unless it was raining, or too foggy, and then it
was her turn to pump the ancient Coleman, its red-painted tank like a toy
submarine. Skinner did that, on good days, but he stayed in bed a lot when
it rained. Said it got to his hip.
She climbed out of the square hole and sat on its edge, dangling her
bare legs down into the room. Sun struggling to burn off the silvery gray.
On hot days it heated the tar on the roof's flat rectangle and you could
Skinner had showed her pictures of the La Brea pits in National
Geographic, big sad animals going down forever, down in L.A. a long time
ago. That was what tar was, asphalt, not just something they made in a
factory somewhere. He liked to know where things came from.
His jacket, the one she always wore, that had come from D. Lewis, Great
Portland Street. That was in London. Skinner liked maps. Some of the
National Geographics had maps folded into them, and all the countries were
big, single blobs of color from one side to the other. And there hadn't been
nearly as many of them. There'd been countries big as anything: Canada,
USSR, Brazil. Now there were lots of little ones where those had heen.
Skinner said America had gone that route without admitting it. Even
California had all been one big state, once.
Skinner's roof was eighteen feet by twelve. Somehow it looked smaller
than the room below, even though the walls of the room were packed solid
with Skinner's stuff. Nothing on the roof but a rusty metal wagon, a kid's
toy, with a couple of rolls of faded tarpaper stacked in it.
She looked past three cable-towers to Treasure Island. Smoke rose,
there, from a fire on the shore, where the low cantilever, cottoned down in
fog, shot off to Oakland. There was a dome-thing, up on the farthest
suspension tower, honeycombed into sections like new copper, but Skinner
said it was just Mylar, stretched over two-by-twos. They had an plink in
that, something that talked to satellites. She thought she'd go and see it
A gray gull slid by, level with her eyes.
The city looked the same as ever, the hills like sleeping animals
behind the office towers she knew by their numbers. She ought to be able to
see that hotel.
The night before grabbed her by the back of the neck.
She couldn't believe she'd done that, been that stupid. The case she'd
pulled out of that dickhead's pocket was hanging up in Skinner's jacket, on
the iron hook shaped like an elephant's head. Nothing in it but a pair of
sunglasses, expensive-looking but so dark she hadn't even been able to see
through them last night. The security grunts in the lobby had scanned her
badges when she'd gone in; as far as they knew, she'd never come back down.
Their computer would've started looking for her, eventually. If they queried
Allied, she'd say she forgot, blew the checkout off, took the service
elevator down after she'd pulled her tag at 808. No way had she been at any
party, and who'd seen her there anyway? The asshole. And maybe he'd figure
she'd done him for his glasses. Maybe he'd felt it. Mayhe he'd remember,
when he sobered up.
Skinner yelled there was coffee, but they were out of eggs.
Chevette shoved off the edge of the hole, swung down and in, catching
the top rung.
'Want any, you're gonna get 'em,' Skinner said, looking up from the
'Save me coffee.' She pulled on a pair of black cotton leggings and got
into her trainers without bothering to lace them. She opened the hatch in
the floor and climbed through, still worrying about the asshole, his
glasses, her job. Down ten steel rungs off the side of an old crane. The
cherry-picker basket waiting where she'd left it when she'd gotten back. Her
bike cabled to an upright with a couple of Radio Shack screamers for good
measure. She climbed into the waist-high yellow plastic basket and hit the
The motor whined and the big-toothed cog on the bottom let her down the
slope. Skinner called the cherry-picker his funicular. He hadn't built it,
though; a black guy named Fontaine had built it for him, when Skinner had
started to have trouble with the climb. Fontaine lived on the Oakland end,
with a couple of women and a lot of children. He took care of a lot of the
bridge's electrical stuff. He'd show up once in a while in a long tweed
overcoat, a toolbag in each hand, and he'd grease the thing and check it.
And Chevette had a number to call him at if it ever broke down completely,
but that hadn't happened yet.
It shook when it hit the bottom. She climbed out onto the wooden
walkway and went along the wall of taut milky plastic, halogen-shadows of
plants behind it and the gurgle of hydroponics. Turned the corner and down
the stairs to the noise and morning hustle of the bridge. Nigel coming
toward her with one of his carts, a new one. Making a delivery.
'Vette,' with his big goofy grin. He called her that.
'Seen the egg lady?'
'City side,' he said, meaning S.F. always, Oakland being always only
'Land. 'Good one, huh?' with a gesture of huilder's pride for his cart.
Chevette saw the hraised aluminum frame, the Taiwan-ese hubs and rims beefed
up with fat new spokes. Nigel did work for some of the other riders at
Allied, ones who still rode metal. He hadn't liked it when Chevette had gone
for a paper frame. Now she bent to run her thumb along a specially smooth
braise. 'Good one,' she agreed.
'That Jap shit delaminate on you yet?' 'No way.'
'S gonna. Bunny down too hard, it's glass.'
'Come see you when it does.'
Nigel shook his hair at her. The faded wooden fishing-plug that hung
from his left ear rattled and spun. 'Too late then.' He shoved his cart
Chevette found the egg lady and bought three, twisted up that way in
two big dry blades of grass. Magic. You hated to take it apart, it was so
perfect, and you could never get it back together or figure out how she did
it. The egg lady took the five-piece and dropped it into the little bag
around her scrawny lizard neck. She had no teeth at all, her face a nest of
wrinkles that centered into that wet slit of a mouth.
Skinner was sitting at the table when she got back. More like a shelf
than a table. He was drinking coffee out of a dented steel thermos-mug. If
you just came in and saw him like that, it didn't strike you right away how
old he was; just big, his hands, shoulders, all his bones, big. Gray hair
slicked back from his forehead's lifetime collection of scars, little dents,
a couple of black dots like tattoos, where some kind of grit had gotten into
She undid the eggs, the egg lady's magic, and put them in a plastic
bowl. Skinner heaved himself up from his creaking chair, wincing as he took
the weight with his hip. She handed him the bowl and he swung over to the
Coleman. The way he scrambled eggs, he didn't use any butter, just a little
water. Said he'd learned it from a cook on a ship. It made good eggs but the
pan was hard to clean, and that was Chevette's job. While he broke the eggs,
she went to the jacket on its hook, and took that case out.
You couldn't tell what it was made of, and that meant expensive.
Something dark gray, like the lead in a pencil, thin as the shell of one of
those eggs, but you could probably drive a truck over it. Like her bike.
She'd figured out how you opened it the night before; finger here, thumb
there, it opened. No catch or anything, no spring. No trademark, either; no
patent numbers. Inside was like black suede, but it gave like foam under
Those glasses, nested there. Big and black. Like that Orbison in the
poster stuck to Skinner's wall, black and white. Skinner said the way to put
a poster up forever was use condensed milk for the glue. Kind that came in a
can. Nothing much came in cans, anymore, but Chevette knew what he meant,
and the weird big-faced guy with the black glasses was laminated solid to
the white-painted ply of Skinner's wall.
She pulled them from the black suede, the stuff springing instantly
back to a smooth flat surface.
They bothered her. Not just that she'd stolen them, but they weighed
too much. Way too heavy for what they were, even with the big earpieces. The
frames looked as though they'd been carved from slabs of graphite. Maybe
they had, she thought; there was graphite around the paper cores in her
bike's frame, and it was Asahi Engineering.
Rattle of the spatula as Skinner swirled the eggs. She put them on.
Black. Solid black.
'Katharine Hepburn,' Skinner said.
She pulled them off. 'Huh?'
'Big glasses like that.'
She picked up the lighter he kept beside the Coleman, clicked it, held
the flame behind one lens. Nothing.
'What're they for, welding?' He put her share of the eggs in an
aluminum mess-tray stamped 1951. Set it down beside a fork and her mug of
She put the glasses on the table. 'Can't see through 'em. Just black.'
She pulled up the backless maple chair and sat, picking up the fork. She ate
her eggs. Skinner sat, eating his, looking at her. 'Soviet,' he said, after
a swallow from his thermos-mug.
'How they made sunglasses in the ol' Soviet. Had two factories for
sunglasses, one of 'em always made 'em like that. Kept right on puttin' 'em
out in the stores, nobody'd buy 'em, buy the ones from the other factory.
How the place packed it in.'
'The factory made the black glasses?'
'They stupid, or what?'
'Not that simple... Where'd you get 'em?'
She looked at her coffee. 'Found 'em.' She picked it up and drank.
'You working, today?' He pulled himself up, stuffed the front of his
shirt down into his jeans, the rusted buckle on his old leather belt held
with twisted paper clips.
'Noon to five.' She picked up the glasses, turning them. They weighed
too much for how big they were.
'Gotta get somebody up here, check the fuel cell...'
He didn't answer. She bedded the glasses in black suede, closed the
case, got up, took the dishes to the wash-basin. Looked back at the case on
She'd better toss them, she thought.
9. When diplomacy fails.
Rydell took a CalAir tilt-rotor out of Burbank into Tuesday's early
evening. The guy in San Francisco had paid for it from the other end; said
call him Freddie. No seatback fun on CalAir, and the passengers definitely
down-scale. Babies crying. Had a window seat. Down there the spread of
lights through the faint glaze of some previous passenger's hair-oil: the
Valley. Turquoise voids of a few surviving pools, lit subsurface. A dull
ache in his arm.
He closed his eyes. Saw his father at the kitchen sink of his mobile
home in Florida, washing out a glass. At that precise moment the death no
doubt already growing in him, established fact, some line crossed. Talking
about his brother, Rydell's uncle, three years younger and five years dead,
who'd once sent Rydell a t-shirt from Africa. Army stamps on the bubblepack
envelope. One of those old-timey bombers, B-5z, and WHEN DIPLOMACY FAILS.
'Is that the Coast Highway, do you think?'
Opened his eyes to the lady leaning across him to peer through the film
of hair-oil. Like Mrs. Armbruster in fifth grade; older than his father
would be now.
'I don't know,' Rydell said. 'Might be. All just looks like streets to
me. I mean,' he added, 'I'm not from here.'
She smiled at him, settling back into the grip of the narrow seat.
Completely like Mrs. Armbruster. Same weird combination of tweed,
oxford-cloth, Santa Fe blanket coat. These old ladies with their bouncy
'None of us are.' Reaching out to pat his khaki knee. 'Not these days.'
Kevin had said it was okay to keep the pants.
'Uh-huh,' Rydell said, his hand feeling desperately for the recliner
button, the little dimpled steel circle waiting to tilt him back into the
semblance of sleep. He closed his eyes.
'I'm on my way to San Francisco to assist in my late husband's transfer
to a smaller cryogenic unit,' she said. 'One that offers individual storage
modules. The trade magazines call them "boutique operations," grotesque as
that may seem.'
Rydell found the button and discovered that CalAir's seats allowed a
maximum recline of ten centimeters.
'He's been in cryo, oh, nine years now, but I've never liked to think
of his brain tumbling around in there like that. Wrapped in foil. Don't they
always make you think of baked potatoes?'
Rydell's eyes opened. He tried to think of something to say.
'Or like tennis shoes in a dryer,' she said. 'I know they're frozen
solid, but there's nothing about it that seems like any kind of rest, is
Rydell concentrated on the seatback in front of him. A plastic blank.
Gray. Not even a phone.
'These smaller places can't promise anything new in the way of an
eventual awakening, of course. But it seems to me that there's an added
degree of dignity. I think of it as dignity, in any case.'
Rydell glanced sideways. Found his gaze caught in hers: hazel eyes,
mazed there in the finest web of wrinkles.
'And I certainly won't be there if he's ever thawed, or, well, whatever
they might eventually intend to do with them. I don't believe in it. We
argued about it constantly. I thought of all those billions dead, the annual
toll in all the poor places.
'David,' I said, 'how can you contemplate this when the bulk of
humanity lives without air-conditioning?"
Rydell opened his mouth. Closed it.
'Myself, I'm a card-carrying member of Cease Upon the Midnight.'
Rydell wasn't sure what 'card-carrying' meant, but Cease Upon the
Midnight was mutual self-help euthanasia, and illegal in Tennessee. Though
they did it there anyway, and someone on the force had told him that they
left milk and cookies out for the ambulance crews. Did it eight or nine at a
time, mostly. CUTM. 'Cut 'em,' the paramedics called it. Offed themselves
with cocktails of legally prescribed drugs. No muss, no fuss. Tidiest
'Excuse me, ma'am,' Rydell said, 'but I've got to try to catch a little
'You go right ahead, young man. You do look rather tired.'
Rydell closed his eyes, put his head back, and stayed that way until he
felt the rotors tilting over into descent-mode.
'Tommy Lee Jones,' the black man said. His hair was shaped like an
upside-down flowerpot with a spiral path sculpted into the side of it. Sort
of like a Shriner's fez, but without the tassel. He was about five feet tall
and his triple-oversized shirt made him look nearly as wide. The shirt was
lemon-yellow and printed with life-size handguns, in full color, all
different kinds. He wore a huge pair of navy blue shorts that came to way
below his knees, Raiders socks, sneakers with little red lights embedded in
the edges of the soles, and a pair of round mirrored glasses with lenses the
size of five-dollar coins.
'You got the wrong guy,' Rydell said.
'No, man, you look like him.'
'Tommy Lee Jones.'
'Was an actor, man.' For a second Rydell thought this guy had to be
with Reverend Fallon. Even had those shades, like Sublett's contacts. 'You
Rydell. Ran you on Separated at Birth.'
'You Freddie?' Separated at Birth was a police program you used in
missing persons cases. You scanned a photo of the person you wanted, got
back the names of half a dozen celebrities who looked vaguely like the
subject, then went around asking people if they'd seen anybody lately who
reminded them of A, B, C... The weird thing was, it worked better than just
showing them a picture of the subject. The instructor at the Academy in
Knoxville had told Rydell's class that that was because it tapped into the
part of the brain that kept track of celebrities. Rydell had imagined that
as some kind of movie-star lobe. Did people really have those? Maybe Sublett
had a great big one. But when they'd run the program on Rydell in the
Academy, he'd come up a dead ringer for Howie Clacton, the Atlanta pitcher;
he'd didn't remember any Tommy Lee Jones. But then he hadn't thought he
looked all that much like Howie Clacton, either.
This Freddie extended a very soft hand and Rydell shook it. 'You got
luggage?' Freddie asked.
'Just this.' Hefting his Samsonite.
'That's Mr. Warbaby right over there,' Freddie said, nodding in the
direction of an exit-gate, where a uniformed chilanga was checking people's
seat-stubs before letting them out. Another black man loomed behind her,
huge, broad as this Freddie, looking twice his height.
'Uh-huh,' Freddie said, 'and best we not keep him waiting. Leg's
hurting him today and he just insisted on walking in here from the lot to
Rydell took the man in as he approached the gate, handing his stub to
the guard. He was enormous, over six feet, but the thing that struck Rydell
most was a stillness about him, that and some kind of sorrow in his face. It
was a look he'd seen on the face of a black minister his father had taken to
watching, toward the end there. You looked at that minister's face and you
felt like he'd seen every sad-ass thing there was, so maybe you could even
believe what he was saying. Or anyway Rydell's father had, maybe, at least a
'Lucius Warbaby,' taking the biggest hands Rydell had ever seen from
the deep pockets of a long olive overcoat stitched from diamond-quilted
silk, his voice pitched so far into the bass that it suggested subsonics.
Rydell looked at the proffered hand and saw he wore one of those
old-fashioned gold knuckle-duster rings, WARBABY across it in diamond-chip
Rydell shook it, fingers curled over diamond and bullion. 'Pleased to
meet you, Mr. Warbaby.'
Warbaby wore a black Stetson set dead level on his head, the brim
turned up all the way around, and glasses with heavy black frames. Clear
lenses, windowpane plain. The eyes behind those lenses were Chinese or
something; catlike, slanted, a weird goldy brown. He was leaning on one of
those adjustable canes you get at the hospital. There was a carbon brace
clamped around his left leg, big midnight-blue nylon cushions padding it.
Skinny black jeans, brand new and never washed, were tucked into spit-shined
Texas dogger boots in three shades of black.
'Juanito says you're a decent driver,' Warbaby said, as though it was
about the saddest thing he'd ever heard. Rydell hadn't ever heard anybody
call Hernandez that. 'Says you don't know the area up here...'
'Up-side of that,' Warbaby said, 'is nobody here knows you. Carry the
man's bag, Freddie.'
Freddie took Rydell's soft-side with obvious reluctance, as though it
wasn't something he'd ordinarily care to be seen with.
The hand with the knuckle-duster came down on Rydell's shoulder. Like
the ring weighed twenty pounds. 'Juanito tell you anything with regard to
what we're doing up here?'
'Said a hotel theft. Said IntenSecure was bringing you in on a kind of
'Theft, yes.' Warbaby looked like he had the moral gravity of the
universe pressing down on him and was determined to bear the brunt.
'Something missing. And all more complicated, now.'
Warbaby sighed. 'Man who's missing it, he's dead now.'
Something else in those eyes. 'Dead hozi'?' Rydell asked, as the weight
at last was taken from his shoulder. 'Hom-icide,' Warbaby said, low and
doleful but very clear.
'You're wondering about my name,' Warbaby said from the backseat of his
black Ford Patriot.
'I'm wondering where to put the key, Mr. Warbaby,' Rydell said, behind
the wheel, surveying the option-laden dash. American cars were the only cars
in the world that still bothered to physically display the instrumentation.
Maybe that was why there weren't very many of them. Like those Harleys with
'My grandmother,' Warbaby rumbled, like a tectonic plate giving up and
diving for China, 'was Vietnamese. Grandaddy, a Detroit boy. Army man.
Brought her home from Saigon, but then he didn't stick around. My daddy, his
son, he changed his name to Warbaby, see? A gesture. Sentiment.'
'Uh-huh,' Rydell said, starting the big Ford and checking out the
transmission. Saigon was where rich people went on vacation.
Four-wheel drive. Ceramic armor. Goodyear Streetsweepers you'd need a
serious gun to puncture. There was a cardboard air-freshener, shaped like a
pine-tree, hanging in front of the heater-vent.
'Now the Lucius part, well, I couldn't tell you.'
'Mr. Warbaby,' Rydell said, looking back over his shoulder, 'where you
want me to drive you to?'
A modem-bleep from the dash.
Freddie, in the plush bucket beside Rydell, whistled. 'Motherfuck,' he
said, 'that's nasty.'
Rydell swung back to watch as the fax emerged: a fat man, naked on
sheets solid with blood. Pools of it, where the brilliance of the
photographer's strobes lay frozen like faint mirages of the sun.
'What's that under his chin?' Rydell asked.
'Cuban necktie,' Freddie said.
'No, man,' Rydell's voice up an octave, 'what is that?'
'Man's tongue,' Freddie said, tearing the image from the slit and
passing it back to Warbaby.
Rydell heard the fax rattle in his hand.
'These people,' Warbaby said. 'Terrible.'
10. The modern dance.
Yamazaki sat on a low wooden stool, watching Skinner shave. Skinner sat
on the edge of his bed, scraping his face pink with a disposable razor,
rinsing the blade in a dented aluminum basin that he cradled between his
'The razor is old,' Yamazaki said. 'You do not throw it away?'
Skinner looked at him, over the plastic razor. 'Thing is, Scooter, they
just don't get any duller, after a while.' He lathered and shaved his upper
lip, then paused. Yamazaki had been 'Kawasaki' for the first several visits.
Now he was 'Scooter.' The pale old eyes regarded him neutrally, hooded under
reddish lids. Yamazaki sensed Skinner's inward laughter.
'I make you laugh?'
'Not today,' Skinner said, dropping the razor into the basin of water,
suds and gray whiskers recoiling in a display of surface tension. 'Not like
the other day, watching you chase those turds around.'
Yamazaki had spent one entire morning attempting to diagram the
sewage-collection arrangements for the group of dwellings he thought of as
comprising Skinner's 'neighborhood.' Widespread use of transparent five-inch
hose had made this quite exciting, like some game devised for children, as
he'd tried to follow the course of a given bolliis of waste from one
dwelling down past the next. The hoses swooped down through the
superstructure in graceful random arcs, bundled like ganglia, to meet below
the lower deck in a thousand-gallon holding tank. When this was full to
capacity, Skinner had explained, a mercury-switch in a float-ball triggered
a jet-pump, forcing the accumulated sewage into a three-foot pipe that
carried it into the municipal system.
He'd made a note to consider this junction as an interface between the
bridge's program and the program of the city, but extracting Skinner's story
of the bridge was obviously more important. Convinced that Skinner somehow
held the key to the bridge's existential meaning, Yamazaki had abandoned his
physical survey of secondary construction in order to spend as much time as
possible in the old man's company. Each night, in his borrowed apartment, he
would send the day's accumulation of material to Osaka University's
Department of Sociology.
Today, climbing to the lift that would carry him to Skinner's room, he
had met the girl on her way to work, descending, her shoulder through the
frame of her bicycle. She was a courier in the city.
Was it significant that Skinner shared his dwelling with one who earned
her living at the archaic intersection of information and geography? The
offices the girl rode between were electronically conterminous-in effect, a
single desktop, the map of distances obliterated by the seamless and
instantaneous nature of communication. Yet this very seamlessness, which had
rendered physical mail an expensive novelty, might as easily be viewed as
porosity, and as such created the need for the service the girl provided.
Physically transporting bits of information about a grid that consisted of
little else, she provided a degree of absolute security in the fluid
universe of data. With your memo in the girl's bag, you knew precisely where
it was; otherwise, your memo was nowhere, perhaps everywhere, in that
instant of transit.
He found her attractive, Skinner's girl, in an odd, foreign way, with
her hard white legs and her militant, upthrust tail of dark hair.
'Dreamin', Scooter?' Skinner set the basin aside, his hands trembling
slightly, and settled his shoulders against musty-looking pillows. The
white-painted plywood wall creaked faintly.
'No, Skinner-san. But you promised you would tell me about the first
night, when you decided to take the bridge...' His tone was mild, his words
deliberately chosen to irritate, to spur his subject to speech. He activated
the notebook's recording function.
'We didn't decide anything. I told you that...'
'But somehow it happened.'
'Shit happens. Happened that night. No signals, no leader, no
architects. You think it was politics. That particular dance, boy, that's
'But you have said that the people were "ready."'
'But not for anything. That's what you can't seem to get, can you? Like
the bridge was here, but I'm not saying it was waiting. See the difference?'
'You think shit.' The notebook sometimes had trouble with Skinner's
idioms. In addition, he tended to slur. An expert system in Osaka had
suggested he might have sustained a degree of neural damage, perhaps as the
result of using street drugs, or of one or more minor strokes. But Yamazaki
believed Skinner had simply been too long in proximity to whatever strange
attractor had permitted the bridge to become what it had become. 'Nobody,'
Skinner said, speaking slowly and deliberately at first, as if for emphasis,
'was using this bridge for anything. After the Little Grande came through,
Yamazaki nodded, watching the characters of Skinner's translated speech
scroll down the notebook.
'Earthquake fucked it good, Scooter. The tunnel on Treasure caved in.
Always been unstable there... First they were gonna rebuild, they said,
bottom up, but they flat-out didn't have the money. So they put chain link,
razor-wire, concrete up at both ends. Then the Germans came in, maybe two
years later, sold 'em on nanomech, how to build the new tunnel. Be cheap,
carry cars and a mag-lev. And nobody believed how fast they could do it,
once they got it legislated past the Greens. Sure, those Green biotech
lobbies, they made 'em actually grow the sections out in Nevada. Like
pumpkins, Scooter. Then they hauled 'em out here under bulk-lifters and sank
'em in the Bay. Hooked 'em up. Little tiny machines crawling around in
there, hard as diamonds; tied it all together tight, and bam, there's your
tunnel. Bridge just sat there.'
Yamazaki held his breath, expecting Skinner to lose the thread, as he
so often had before-often, Yamazaki suspected, deliberately.
'This one woman, she kept saying plant the whole thing with ivy,
Virginia creeper... Somebody else, they said tear it down before another
quake did it for 'em. But there it was. In the cities, lot of people, no
place to go. Cardboard towns in the park, if you were lucky, and they'd
brought those drip-pipes down from Portland, put 'em around the buildings.
Leaks enough water on the ground, you don't want to lay there. That's a mean
town, Portland. Invented that there...' He coughed. 'But that one night,
people just came. All kinds of stories, after, how it happened. Pissing down
rain, too. No body's idea of riot weather.'
Yamazaki imagined the two spans of the deserted bridge in the downpour,
the crowds accumulating. He watched as they climbed the wire fences, the
barricades, in such numbers that the chain link twisted, fell. They had
climbed the towers, then, more than thirty falling to their deaths. But when
the dawn came, survivors clung there, news helicopters circling them in the
gray light like patient dragonflies. He had seen this many times, watching
the tapes in Osaka. But Skinner had been there.
'Maybe a thousand people, this end. Another thousand in Oakland. And we
just started running. Cops falling back, and what were they protecting,
anyway? Mainly the crowd-orders they had, keep people from getting together
in the street. They had their choppers up in the rain, shining lights on us.
Just made it easier. I had this pair of pointy boots on. Ran up to that
'link, it was maybe fifteen feet tall. Just kicked my toes in there and
started climbing. Climb a fence like that easy, boots got a point. Up, man,
I was up that thing like I was flying. Coils of razor at the top, but people
behind me were pushing up anything; hunks of two-by-four, coats,
sleeping-bags. To lay across the wire. And I felt like... weightless...'
Yamazaki felt that he was somehow close, very close, to the heart of
'I jumped. Don't know who jumped first, but I just jumped. Out. Hit
pavement. People yelling. They'd crashed the barriers on the Oakland side,
by then. Those were lower. We could see their lights as they ran out on the
cantilever. The police 'copters and these red highway flares some of the
people had. They ran toward Treasure. Nobody out there since the Navy people
left... We ran too. Met up somewhere in the middle and this cheer went
up...' Skinner's eyes were unfocused, distant. 'After that, they were
singing, hymns and shit. Just milling around, singing. Crazy. Me and some
others, we were stoked. And we could see the cops, too, coming from both
ends. Fuck that.'
Yamazaki swallowed. 'And then?'
'We started climbing. The towers. Rungs they welded on those suckers,
see, so painters could get up there. We were climbing. Television had their
own 'copters out by then, Scooter. We were making it to world news and we
didn't know it. Guess you don't. Wouldn't've give a shit anyway. Just
climbing. But that was going out live. Was gonna make it hard for the cops,
later. And, man, people were falling off. In front of me had black tape
wrapped 'round his shoes, kept the soles on. Tape all wet, coming loose, his
feet kept slipping. Right in front of my face. His foot kept coming back off
the rung and I'd get his heel in my eye, I didn't watch it
Near to the top and both of 'em come off at once.' Skinner fell silent,
as if listening to some distant sound. Yamazaki held his breath.
'How you learn to climb, up here,' Skinner said, 'the first thing is,
you don't look down. Second thing is, you keep one hand and one foot on the
bridge all the time. This guy, he didn't know that. And those shoes of his.
He just went off, backward.
Never made a sound. Sort of... graceful.'
'But I kept climbing. Rain had quit, light was coming. Stayed.'
'How did you feel?' Yamazaki asked. Skinner blinked. 'Feel?'
'What did you do then?'
'I saw the city.'
Yamazaki rode Skinner's lift down to where stairs began, its yellow
upright cup like a piece of picnicware discarded by a giant. All around him,
now, the rattle of an evening's commerce, and from a darkened doorway came
the slap of cards, a woman's laughter, voices raised in Spanish. Sunset pink
as wine, through sheets of plastic that snapped like sails in a breeze
scented with frying foods, woodsmoke, a sweet oily drift of cannabis. Boys
in ragged leather crouched above a game whose counters were painted pebbles.
Yamazaki stopped. He stood very still, one hand on a wooden railing
daubed with hyphens of aerosol silver. Skinner's story seemed to radiate
out, through the thousand things, the unwashed smiles and the smoke of
cooking, like concentric rings of sound from some secret bell, pitched too
low for the foreign, wishful ear.
We are come not only past the century's closing, he thought, the
millennium's turning, but to the end of something else. Era? Paradigm?
Everywhere, the signs of closure.
Modernity was ending.
Here, on the bridge, it long since had.
He would walk toward Oakland now, feeling for the new thing's strange
11. Pulling tags.
Tuesday, she just wasn't on. Couldn't proj. No focus. Bunny Malatesta,
the dispatcher, could feel it, his voice a buzz in her ear.
'Chev, don't take this the wrong way, but you got like the monthlies or
'Fuck off, Bunny.'
'Hey, I just mean you're not your usual ball of fire today. All I
'Gimme a tag.'
'655 Mo, fifteenth, reception.'
Picked up, made it to 555 Cali, fifty-first floor. Pulled her tag and
back down. The day gone gray after morning's promise.
'456 Montgomery, thirty-third, reception, go freight.'
Pausing, her hand in the bike's recognition-loop. 'How come?'
'Says messengers carvin' graffiti in the passenger elevators. Go
freight or they'll toss you, be denied access, at which point Allied
terminates your employment.'
She remembered seeing Ringer's emblem carved into the inspection plate
in one of 456's passenger elevators. Fucking Ringer. He'd defaced more
elevators than anyone in history. Carried around a regular toolkit to do it
456 sent her to i EC with a carton wider than she was supposed to
accept, but that was what racks and bungles were for, and why give the
cage-drivers the trade? lunny buzzed her on her way out and gave her to
Beale, the cafeteria on the second floor. She guessed that would be a
woman's purse, done up in a plastic bag from the kitchen, and she was right.
Brown, sort of lizardskin, with a couple of green sprouts stuck in the
corners of the bag. Women left their purses, remembered, called up, got the
manager to send for a messenger. Good for a tip, usually. Ringer and some of
the others would open them up, go through the contents, find drugs
sometimes. She wouldn't do that. She thought about the sunglasses.
She couldn't get a run today. There was no routing in effect at Allied,
but sometimes you'd get a run by accident; pick up here, drop off there,
then something here. But it was rare. When you worked for Allied you rode
harder. Her record was sixteen tags in a day; like doing forty at a
She took the purse to Fulton at Masonic, got two flyers after the owner
checked to see everything was there.
'Restaurant's supposed to take it to the cops,' Chevette said. 'We
don't like to be responsible.' Blank look from the purse-lady, some kind of
secretary. Chevette pocketed the fives.
'2.98 Alabama,' Bunny said, as if offering her some pearl of great
price. 'Tone those thighs...'
Bust her ass out there to get there, then she'd pick up and do it. But
she couldn't get on top of it, today.
The asshole's sunglasses...
'For tactical reasons,' the blonde said, 'we do not currently advocate
the use of violence or sorcery against private individuals.'
Chevette had just pumped back from Alabama Street, day's last tag. The
woman on the little CNN flatscreen over the door to Bunny's pit wore
something black and stretchy pulled over her face, three triangular holes
cut in it. Blue letters at the bottom of the screen read FIONA
X-SPOKESPERSON- SOUTH ISLAND LIBERATION FRONT.
The overlit fluorescent corridor into Allied Messengers smelled of hot
styrene, laser printers, abandoned running-shoes, and stale bag lunches,
this last tugging Chevette toward memories of some unheated day-care
basement in Oregon, winter's colorless light slanting in through high dim
windows. But now the street door banged open behind her, a pair of muddy
size-eleven neon sneakers came pounding down the stairs, and Samuel Saladin
DuPree, his cheeks speckled with crusty gray commas of road-dirt, stood
grinning at her, hugely.
'Happy about something, Sammy Sal?'
Allied's best-looking thing on two wheels, no contest whatever, DuPree
was six-two of ebon electricity poured over a frame of such elegance and
strength that Chevette imagined his bones as polished metal, triple-chromed,
a quicksilver armature. Like those old movies with that big guy, the one who
went into politics, after he'd got the meat ripped off him. Thinking about
Sammy Sal's bones made most girls want him to jump theirs, but not Chevette.
He was gay, they were friends, and Chevette wasn't too sure how she felt
about all that anyway, lately.
'Fact is,' Sammy Sal said, smearing dirt from his cheek with the back
of one long hand, 'I've decided to kill Ringer. And the truth, y'know, it
makes you free...'
'Ho,' Chevette said, 'you musta pulled a tag over 456 today.'
'I did, dear, do that thing. All the way up, in a dirty freight
elevator. A slow dirty freight elevator. And why?'
'Cause Ringer's 'graved his tag in their brass, Sal, and their
'Eggs-ackly, Chevette, honey.' Sammy Sal undid the blue and white
bandanna around his neck and wiped his face with it. 'Therefore, his ass
dies screaming.' and must begin, now, to systematically sabotage the
workplace,' Fiona X said, 'or be branded an enemy of the human race.'
The door to the dispatch-pit, so thickly stapled with scheds,
sub-charts, tattered Muni regs, and faxed complaints that Chevette had no
idea what the surface underneath might look like, popped open. Bunny
extruded his scarred and unevenly shaven head, turtle-like, blinking in the
light of the corridor, and glanced up automatically, his gaze attracted by
the tone of Fiona X's sound-bite. His expression blanked at the sight of her
mask, the mental channel-zap executed in less time than it had taken him to
look her way. 'You,' he said, eyes back on Chevette, 'Chevy. In here.'
'Wait for me, Sammy Sal,' she said.
Bunny Malatesta had been a San Francisco bike messenger for thirty
years. Would be still, if his knees and back hadn't given out on him. He was
simultaneously the best and the worst thing about messing for Allied. The
best because he had a bike-map of the city hung behind his eyes, better than
anything a computer could generate. He knew every building, every door, what
the security was like. He had the mess game down, Bunny did, and, better
still, he knew the lore, all the history, the stories that made you know you
were part of something, however crazy it got, that was worth doing. He was a
legend himself, Bunny, having Krypto'd the windshields of some seven police
cars in the course of his riding career, a record that still stood. But he
was the worst for those same reasons and more, because there wasn't any
bullshitting him at all. Any other dispatcher, you could cut yourself a
little extra slack. But not Bunny. He just knew.
Chevette followed him in. He closed the door behind her. The goggles he
used for dispatching dangled around his neck, one padded eyepiece patched
with cellophane tape. There were no windows in the room and Bunny kept the
lights off when he was working. Half a dozen color monitors were arranged in
a semicircle in front of a black swivel armchair with Bunny's pink rubber
Sacro-saver backrest strapped to it like some kind of giant bulging larva.
Bunny rubbed his lower back with the heels of his hands. 'Disk's
killing me,' he said, not particularly to Chevette.
'Oughta let Sammy Sal crack it for you,' she suggested. 'He's real
'It's cracked already, sweetheart. What's wrong with it in the first
place. Now tell me what were you doin' over the Morrisey last night. And it
better be good.'
'Pulling a tag,' Chevette said, going on automatic, the way she had to
if she were going to lie and get away with it. She'd been halfway expecting
something like this, but not so soon.
She watched as Bunny took the goggles off, disconnected them, and put
them on top of one of the monitors. 'So how come you never checked back out?
They call us on it, say you went in to make a delivery, they scanned your
badges, you never come back out. Look, I tell 'em, I know she's not there
now, guys, 'cause I got her out Alabama Street on a call, okay?' He was
'Hey, Bunny,' Chevette said, 'it was my last tag, my ride was down in
the basement, I saw a freight el on its way down, jumped in. I know I'm
supposed to clock out at security, but I thought they'd have somebody on the
parking exit, you know? I get up the ramp and there's nobody, a car's going
out, so I deak under the barrier and I'm in the street. I shoulda gone back
around and done the lobby thing?'
'You know it. It's regs.'
'It was late, you know?'
Bunny sat down, wincing, in the chair with the Sacro-saver. He cupped
each knee in a big-knuckled hand and stared at her. Very un-Bunny. Like
something was really bothering him. Not just security grunts pissing because
a mess blew the check-out off.
'They wanna know when you left.'
'Maybe ten minutes after I went in. Fifteen tops. Basement in there's a
'You went in 6:32:18,' he said. 'They got that when they scanned you.
The tag, this lawyer, they talked to him, so they know you delivered.' He
still had that look.
'Bunny, what's the deal? Tell 'em I screwed up, is all.'
'You didn't go anywhere else? In the hotel?'
'Uh-uh,' she said, and felt this funny ripple move through her, like
she'd crossed some line and couldn't go back. 'I gave the guy his package,
'I don't think they're worrying about the guy's package,' Bunny said.
'Lookit, Chev,' he said, 'security guy calls, that's one thing. Sorry,
boss, won't let it happen again. But this was somebody up in the company,
IntenSecure it's called, and he called up Wilson direct.' Allied's owner.
'So I gotta make nice with Wilson and Mr. Security, I gotta have Grasso
cover for me on the board and naturally he screws everything up...'
'Bunny,' she said, 'I'm sorry.'
'Hey. You're sorry, I'm sorry, but there's some big shit rentacop
sitting behind a desk and he's putting fucking Wilson through about what
precisely did you do after you gave that lawyer his package. About what kind
of employee are you exactly, how long you mess for Allied, any criminal
record, any drug use, where you live.'
Chevette saw the asshole's black glasses, right where she'd left them.
In their case, behind Skinner's Geographics. She tried to lift them out of
there with mind-power. Right up to the tar-smelling roof and off the edge.
Put those bastards in the Bay like she should've done this morning. But no,
they were there.
'That ain't normal,' Bunny said. 'Know what I mean?'
'You tell 'em where I live, Bunny?'
'Out on the bridge,' he said, then cracked her a little sliver of grin.
'Not like you got much of an address, is it?' Now he spun himself around in
the chair and began to shut the monitors down.
'Bunny,' she said, 'what'll they do now?'
'Come and find you.' His back to her. 'Here. 'Cause they won't know
where else to go. You didn't do anything, did you, Chevy?' The back of his
skull showing gray stubble. Automatic. 'No. No... Thanks, Bunny.'
He grunted in reply, neutral, ending it, and Chevette was back in the
corridor, her heart pounding under Skinner's jacket. Up the stairs, out the
door, plotting the quickest way home, running red lights in her head, gotta
get rid of the glasses, gotta- Sammy Sal had Ringer braced up against a blue
Worry was starting to penetrate Ringer's rudimentary view of things.
'Didn't do nuthin to you, man.'
'Been carvin' your name in elevators again, Ringer.'
'But I din't do nuthin to you!'
'Cause and effect, mofo. We know it's a tough concept for you, but try:
you do shit, other shit follows. You go scratching your tag in the clients'
fancy elevators, we hassle you, man.' Sammy Sal spread the long brown
fingers of his left hand across Ringer's beat-to-shit helmet, palming it
like a basketball, and twisted, lifting, the helmet's strap digging into
Ringer's chin. 'Din't do nuthin!' Ringer gurgled.
Chevette ducked past them, heading for the bike-rack beneath the mural
portrait of Shapely. Someone had shot him in his soulful martyr's eye with a
condomful of powder blue paint, blue running all down his hallowed cheek.
'Hey,' Sammy Sal said, 'come here and help me torment this shit-heel.'
She stuck her hand through the recognition-loop and tried to pull her
handlebars out of the rack's tangle of molybdenum steel, graphite, and
aramid overwrap. The other bikes' alarms all went off at once, a frantic
chorus of ear-splitting bleats, basso digital sirennioans, and OUC extended
high-volume burst of snake-hiss Spanish profanity, cunningly mixed with
yelps of animal torment. She swung her bike around, got her toe in the clip,
and kicked for the street, almost going over as she mounted. She saw Sammy
Sal, out the corner of her eye, drop Ringer.
She saw Sammy Sal straddle his own bike, a pink and black-fleck
fat-tube with Fluoro-Rimz that ran off a hubgenerator.
Sammy Sal was coming after her. She'd never wanted company less.
She took off.
Proj. Just proj.
Like her morning dream, but scarier.
12. Eye movement.
Rydell looked at these two San Francisco cops, Svobodov and Orlovsky,
and decided that working for Warbaby had a chance of being interesting.
These guys were the real, the super-heavy thing. Homicide was colossus, any
And here he'd been in Northern California all of forty-eight minutes
and he was sitting at a counter drinking coffee with Homicide. Except they
were drinking tea. Hot tea. In glasses. Heavy on the sugar. Rydell was at
the far end, on the other side of Freddie, who was drinking milk. Then
Warbaby, with his hat still on, then Svobodov, then Orlovsky.
Svobodov was nearly as tall as Warbaby, but it all seemed to be sinew
and big knobs of bone. He had long, pale hair, combed straight back from his
rocky forehead, eyebrows to match, and skin that was tight and shiny, like
he'd stood too long in front of a fire. Orlovsky was thin and dark, with a
widow's peak, lots of hair on the backs of his fingers, and those glasses
that looked like they'd been sawn in half.
They both had that eye thing, the one that pinned you and held you and
sank right in, heavy and inert as lead.
Rydell had had a course in that at the Police Academy, but it hadn't
really taken. It was called Eye Movement Desensitization & Response, and was
taught by this retired forensic psychologist named Bagley, from Duke
University. Bagley's lectures tended to wander off into stories about serial
killers he'd processed at Duke, auto-erotic strangulation fatalities, stuff
like that. It sure passed the time between High Profile Felony Stops and
Firearms Training System Scenarios. But Rydell was usually kind of rattled
after Felony Stops, because the instructors kept asking him to take the part
of the felon. And he couldn't figure out why. So he'd have trouble
concentrating, in Eye Movement. And if he did manage to pick up anything
useful from Bagley, a session of FATSS would usually make him forget it.
FATSS was like doing Dream Walls, but with guns, real ones.
When FATSS tallied up your score, it would drag you right down the
entrance wounds, your own or the other guy's, and make the call on whether
the loser had bled to death or copped to hydrostatic shock. There were
people who went into full-blown post-traumatic heeb-jeebs after a couple of
sessions on FATSS, but Rydell always came out of it with this shit-eating
grin. It wasn't that he was violent, or didn't mind the sight of blood; it
was just that it was such a rush. And it wasn't real. So he never had
learned to throw that official hoodoo on people with his eyes. But this Lt.
Svobodov, he had the talent beaucoup, and his partner, Lt. Orlovsky, had his
own version going, nearly as effective and he did it over the sawn-off tops
of those glasses. Guy looked sort of like a werewolf anyway, which helped.
Rydell continued to check out the San Francisco Homicide look. Which
seemed to be old tan raincoats over black flak vests over white shirts and
ties. The shirts were button-down oxfords and the ties were the stripey
kind, like you were supposed to belong to a club or something. Cuffs on
their trousers and great big pebble-grain wingtips with cleated Vibram
soles. About the only people who wore shirts and ties and shoes like that
were immigrants, people who wanted it as American as it got. But layering it
up with a bullet-proof and a worn-out London Fog, he figured that was some
kind of statement. The streamlined plastic butt of an N&K didn't exactly
hurt, either, and Rydell could see one pecking out of
Svobodov's open flak vest. Couldn't remember the model number, but it
looked like the one with the magazine down the top of the barrel. Shot that
caseless ammo looked like wax crayons, plastic propellant molded around
alloy flechettes like big nails.
'If we knew what you already know, Warbaby, maybe that makes everything
more simple.' Svobodov looked around the little diner, took a pack of
Marlboros out of his raincoat.
'Illegal in this state, buddy,' the waitress said, pleased at any
opportunity to threaten somebody with the law. She had that big kind of
hair. This was one of those places you ate at if you worked graveyard at
some truly shit-ass industrial job. If your luck held, Rydell figured, you'd
get this particular waitress into the bargain.
Svobodov fixed her with a couple of thousand negative volts of Cop Eye,
tugged a black plastic badge-holder out of his flak vest, flipped it open in
her direction, and let it fall back on its nylon thong, against his chest.
Rydell noticed the click when it hit; some kind of back-up armor under the
'Those two Mormon boys from Highway Patrol come in here, you show that
to them,' she said.
Svobodov put the cigarette between his lips.
Warbaby's fist came up, clutching a lump of gold the size of a hand
He lit the Russian's cigarette with it.
'Why you have this, Warbaby?' Svobodov said, eyeing the lighter. 'You
'Anything but those Chinese Marlboros, Arkady.' Mournful as ever.
'They're fulla fiberglass.'
'American brand,' Svobodov insisted, 'licensed by maker.'
'Hasn't been a legal cigarette manufactured in this country in six
years,' Warbaby said, sounding as sad about that as anything else.
'Marl-bor-ro,' Svobodov said, taking the cigarette out of his mouth and
pointing to the lettering in front of the filter. 'When we were kids,
Warbaby, Marlboro, she was money.'
'Arkady,' Warbaby said, as though with enormous patience, 'when we were
kids, man, money was money.'
Orlovsky laughed. Svobodov shrugged. 'What you know, Warbaby?' Svobodov
said, back to business.
'Mr. Blix has been found dead, at the Morrisey. Murdered.'
'Pro job,' Orlovsky said, making it one word, projob. 'They want we
assume some bullshit ethnic angle, see?'
Svobodov squinted at Warbaby. 'We don't know that,' he said.
'The tongue,' Orlovsky said, determined. 'That's color. To throw us
off. They think we think Latin Kings.'
Svobodov sucked on his cigarette, blew smoke in the general direction
of the waitress. 'What you know, Warbaby?'
'Hans Rutger Blix, forty-three, naturalized Costa Rican.' Warbaby might
have been making the opening remarks at a funeral.
'My hairy ass,' Svobodov said, around the Marlboro.
'Warbaby,' Orlovsky said, 'we know you were working on this before this
asshole got his throat cut.'
'Asshole,' Warbaby said, like maybe the dead guy had been a close
personal friend, a lodge-brother or something. 'Man's dead, is all. That
make him an asshole?'
Svobodov sat there, puffing on his Marlboro. Stubbed it out on the
plate in front of him, beside his untouched tuna melt. 'Asshole. Believe
Warbaby sighed. 'Man had a jacket, Arkady?'
'You want his jacket,' Svobodov said, 'you tell us what you were
supposed to be doing for him. We know he talked to you.'
'We never spoke.'
'Okay,' Svobodov said. 'IntenSecure he talked to. You freelance.'
'Strictly,' Warbaby said. 'Why did he talk to IntenSecure?' 'Man lost
'Something of a personal nature.' Svobodov sighed. 'Lucius. Please.' 'A
pair of sunglasses.'
Svobodov and Orlovsky looked at each other, then back to Warbaby.
'IntenSecure brings in Lucius Warbaby because this guy loses his
'Maybe they were expensive,' Freddie offered, softly. He was studying
his reflection in the mirror behind the counter.
Orlovsky put his hairy fingers together and cracked his knuckles.
'He thought he might have lost them at a party,' Warbaby offered,
'someone might even have taken them.'
'What party?' Svobodov shifted on his stool and Rydell heard the hidden
'Party at the Morrisey.'
'Whose party?' Orlovsky, over those glasses.
'Mr. Cody Harwood's party,' Warbaby said.
'Harwood,' Svobodov said, 'Harwood...'
'Name "Pavlov" ring a bell?' Freddie said, to no one in particular.
Svobodov grunted. 'Money.'
'None of it in Marlboros, either,' Warbaby said. 'Mr. Blix went down to
Mr. Harwood's party, had a few drinks-'
'Had a BA level like they won't need to embalm,' Orlovsky said.
'Had a few drinks. Had this property in the pocket of his jacket. Next
morning, it was gone. Called security at the Morrisey. They called
IntenSecure. IntenSecure called me...'
'His phone is gone,' Svobodov said. 'They took it. Nothing to tie him
to anyone. No agenda, notebook, nothing.'
'Pro job,' Orlovsky intoned.
'The glasses,' Svobodov said. 'What kind of glasses?'
'Sunglasses,' Freddie said.
'We found these.' Svobodov took something from the side pocket of his
London Fog. A Ziploc evidence bag. He held it up. Rydell saw shards of black
plastic. 'Cheap VR. Ground into the carpet.'
'Do you know what he ran on them?' Warbaby asked.
Now it was Orlovsky's turn for show-and-tell. He produced a second
evidence bag, this one from inside his black vest. 'Looked for software,
couldn't find it. Then we x-ray him. Somebody shoved this down his throat.'
A black rectangle. The stick-on label worn and stained. 'But before they cut
'What is it?' Warbaby asked.
'McDonna,' Svobodov said.
'Huh?' Freddie was leaning across Warbaby to peer at the thing.
'Fuck chip.' It sounded to Rydell like fock cheap, but then he got it.
'Wonder if they read it all the way down? ' Freddie said, from the rear
of the Patriot. He had his feet up on the back of the front passenger seat
and the little red lights around the edges of his sneakers were spelling out
the lyrics to some song.
'Read what?' Rydell was watching Warbaby and the Russians, who were
standing beside one of the least subtle unmarked cars Rydell had ever seen:
a primer-gray whale with a cage of graphite expansion-grating protecting the
headlights and radiator. Fine rain was beading up on the Patriot's
'That porn they found down the guy's esophagus.' If Warbaby always
sounded sad, Freddie always sounded relaxed. But Warbaby sounded like he
really was sad, and Freddie's kind of relaxed sounded like he was just the
'Lotta code in a program like that. Hide all sorta good:es in the
wallpaper, y'know? Running fractal to get the skin te:ture, say, you could
mix in a lot of text...'
'You into computer stuff, Freddie?'
'I'm Mr. Warbaby's technical consultant.'
'What do you think they're talking about?'
Freddie reached up and touched one of his sneakers. The red words
vanished. 'They're having the real conversation now.'
'The deal conversation. We want what they got on Blix, the dead guy.'
'Yeah? So what we got?'
'We'?' Freddie whistled. 'You just drivin'.' He pulled his feet back
and sat up. 'But it ain't exactly classified: IntenSecure and DatAmerica
more or less the same thing.'
'No shit.' Svobodov seemed to be doing most of the talking. 'What's
'Means we tight with a bigger data-base than the police. Next time ol'
Rubadub needs him a look-see, he'll be glad he did us a favor. But tonight,
man, tonight it just burrs his Russian ass.'
Rydell remembered the time he'd gone over to 'Big George' Kechakmadze's
house for a barbecue and the man had tried to sign him up for the National
Rifle Association. 'You get a lot of Russians on the force, up here?'
'Up here? All over.'
'Kinda funny how many of those guys go into police work.'
'Think about it, man. Had 'em a whole police state, over there. Maybe
they just got a feel for it.'
Svobodov and Orlovsky climbed into the gray whale. Warbaby walked to
the Patriot, using his alloy cane. The police car rose up about six inches
on hydraulics and began to moan and shiver, rain dancing on its long hood as
Orlovsky revved the engine.
'Jesus,' Rydell said, 'they don't care who sees 'em comin', do they?'
'They want you see 'em coming,' Freddie said, obscurely, as Warbaby
opened the right rear passenger door and began the process of edging his
stiff-legged bulk into the back seat.
'Take off,' Warbaby said, slamming the door. 'Protocol. We leave
'Not that way,' Freddie said. 'That'll get us Candlestick Park. That
'Yes,' said Warbaby, 'we have business downtown.' Sad about it.
Downtown San Francisco was really something. With everything hemmed in
by hills, built up and down other hills, it gave Rydell a sense of, well, he
wasn't sure. Being somewhere. Somewhere in particular. Not that he was sure
he liked being there.
Maybe it just felt so much the opposite of L.A. and that feeling like
you were cut loose in a grid of light that just spilled out to the edge of
everything. Up here he felt like he'd come in from somewhere, these old
buildings all around and close together, nothing more modern than that one
big spikey one with the truss-thing on it (and he knew that one was old,
too). Cold damp air, steam billowing from grates in the pavement. People on
the streets, too, and not just the usual kind; people with jobs and clothes.
Kind of like Knoxville, he tried to tell himself, but it wouldn't stick.
Another strange place.
'No, man, a left, a left' Freddie thumping on the back of his seat. And
another city-grid to learn. He checked the cursor on the Patriot's dash-map,
looking for a left that would get them to this hotel, the Morrisey.
'Don't bang on Mr. Rydell's seat,' Warbaby said, a sixfoot scroll of
fax bunched in his hands, 'he's driving.' It had come in on their way here.
Rydell figured it was the jacket on Blix, the guy who'd gotten his throat
'Fassbinder,' Freddie said. 'You ever hear of this Rainer Fassbinder?'
'I'm not in a joking mood, Freddie,' Warbaby said. 'No joke. I ran
Separated at Birth on this Blix, man, scanned this stiff-shot the Russian
sent you before? Says he looks like Rainer Fassbinder. And that's when he's
dead, with his throat cut. This Fassbinder, he musta been pretty
Warbaby sighed. 'Freddie...'
'Well, German, anyway. Clicked with the nationality-'
'Mr. Blix was not German, Freddie. Says here Mr. Blix wasn't even Mr.
Blix. Now let me read. Rydell needs quiet, in order to adjust to driving in
Freddie grunted, then Rydell heard his fingers clicking over the little
computer he carried everywhere.
Rydell took the left he thought he was looking for. Combat zone. Ruins.
Fires in steel cans. Hunched dark figures, faces vampire white.
'Don't brake,' Warbaby said. 'Or accelerate.'
Something came spinning, end over end, out of the crow-shouldered
coven, splat against the windshield; clung, then fell away, leaving a smudge
of filthy yellow. Hadn't it been gray and bloody, like a loop of intestine?
Red at the intersection.
'Run the light,' Warbaby instructed. Rydell did, amid horns of protest.
The yellow stuff still there.
'Pull over. No. Right up on the sidewalk. Yes.' The Patriot's Goodyear
Streetsweepers bouncing up and over the jagged curb. 'In the glove
A light came on as Rydell opened it. Windex, a roll of gray paper
towels, and a box of throwaway surgical gloves.
'Go on,' Warbaby said. 'Nobody bother us.'
Rydell pulled a glove on, took the Windex and the towels, got out.
'Don't get any on you,' he said, thinking of Sublett. He gave the yellow
smear a good shot of Windex, wadded tip three of the towels in his gloved
hand, wiped until the glass was clean. He skinned the glove down around the
wet wad, the way they'd shown him in the Academy, but then he didn't know
what to do with it.
'Just toss it,' Warbaby said from inside. Rydell did. Then he walked
back from the car, five paces, and threw up. Wiped his mouth with a clean
towel. He got back in, shut the door, locked it, put the Windex and the
towels in the glove compartment.
'You gonna gargle with that, Rydell?'
'Shut up, Freddie,' Warbaby said. The Patriot's suspension creaked as
Warbaby leaned forward. 'Leavings from a slaughterhouse, most likely.' he
said. 'But it's good you know to take precautions.' He settled back. 'Had us
a group here once called Sword of the Pig. You ever hear of that?'
'No,' Rydell said, 'I never did.'
'They'd steal fire-extinguishers out of buildings. Re-charge them with
blood. Blood from a slaughterhouse. But they let it out, you understand,
that this blood, well, it was human. Then they'd go after the Jesus people,
when they marched, with those same extinguishers...'
'Jesus,' Rydell said.
'Exactly,' Warbaby said.
'You see that door, there?' Freddie said.
'What door?' The lobby of the Morrisey made Rydell want to whisper,
like being in church or a funeral home. The carpet was so soft, it made him
want to lie down and go to sleep.
'That black one,' Freddie said.
Rydell saw a black-lacquered rectangle, perfectly plain, not even a
knob. Now that he thought about it, it didn't match anything else in sight.
The rest of the place was polished wood, frosted bronze, panels of carved
glass. If Freddie hadn't told him it was a door, exactly, he would have
taken it for art or something, some kind of painting. 'Yeah? What about it?'
'That's a restaurant,' Freddie said, 'and it's so expensive, you can't
even go in there.'
'Well,' Rydell said, 'there's lots of those.'
'No, man,' Freddie insisted, 'I mean even if you were rich, had money
out your ass, you could not go in there. Like it's private. Japanese thing.'
They were standing around by the security desk while Warbaby talked to
somebody on a house phone. The three guys on duty at the desk wore
IntenSecure uniforms, but really fancy ones, with bronze logo-buttons on
their peaked caps.
Rydell had parked the Patriot in an underground garage, floors down in
the roots of the place. He hadn't seen anything like that before: teams of
people in chef's whites putting together a hundred plates of some skinny
kind of salad, little Sanyo vacuum-cleaners bleeping along in pastel herds,
all this back-stage stuff you'd never guess was there if you were just
standing here in the lobby.
The Executive Suites, where he'd stayed in Knoxville with Karen
Mendelsohn, had had these Korean robot bugs that cleaned up when you weren't
looking. They'd even had a special one that ate dust off the wallscreen, but
Karen hadn't been impressed. It just meant they couldn't afford people, she
Rydell watched as Warbaby turned, handing the phone to one of the guys
in the peaked caps. Warbaby gestured for Freddie and Rydell. Leaned on his
cane as they walked toward him.
'They'll take us up now,' he said. The cap Warbaby had handed the phone
to came out from behind the counter. He saw Rydell was wearing an
IntenSecure shirt with the patches ripped off, but he didn't say anything.
Rydell wondered when he was going to have a chance to buy some clothes, and
where he should go to do it. He looked at Freddie's shirt, thinking Freddie
probably wasn't the guy to ask.
'This way, sir,' the cap said to Warbaby. Freddie and Rydell followed
Warbaby across the lobby. Rydell saw how he jabbed his cane, hard, into the
carpeting, the brace on his leg ticking like a slow clock.
Sometimes, when she rode hard, when she could really proj, Chevette got
free of everything: the city, her body, even time. That was the messenger's
high, she knew, and though it felt like freedom, it was really the
melding-with, the clicking-in, that did it. The bike between her legs was
like some hyperevolved alien tail she'd somehow extruded, as though over
patient centuries; a sweet and intricate bone-machine, grown Lexan-armored
tires, near-frictionless bearings, and gas-filled shocks. She was entirely
part of the city then, one wild-ass little dot of energy and matter, and she
made her thousand choices, instant to instant, according to how the traffic
flowed, how rain glinted on the streetcar tracks, how a secretary's mahogany
hair fell like grace itself, exhausted, to the shoulders of her loden coat.
And she was starting to get that now, in spite of everything; if she
just let go, quit thinking, let her mind sink down into the machinery of
bone and gear-ring and carbon-wound Japanese paper...
But Sammy Sal swerved in beside her, bass pumping from his bike's
bone-conduction beatbox. She had to bunny the curb to keep from going over
on a BART grate. Her tires left black streaks as the particle-brakes caught,
Sammy Sal braking in tandem, his Fluoro-Rimz strobing, fading.
'Something eating you, little honey?' His hand on her arm, rough and
angry. 'Like maybe some wonder product makes you smarter, faster? Huh?'
'Let me go.'
'No way. I got you this job. You're gonna blow it, I'm gonna know why.'
He slammed his other palm on the black foam around his bars, killing the
'Please, Sammy, I gotta get up to Skinner's-'
He let go of her arm. 'Why?'
She started to cough, caught it, took three deep breaths. 'You ever
steal anything, Sammy Sal? I mean, when you were working?'
Sammy Sal looked at her. 'No,' he said, finally, 'but I been known to
fuck the clients.'
Chevette shivered. 'Not me.'
'No,' Sammy Sal said, 'but you don't pull tags all the places I do.
'Sides, you a girl.'
'But I stole something last night. From this guy's pocket, up at this
party at the Hotel Morrisey.'
Sammy Sal licked his lips. 'How come you had your hand in his pocket?
He somebody you know?'
'He was some asshole,' Chevette said.
'Oh. Him. Think I met him.'
'Gave me a hard time. It was sticking out of his pocket.' 'You sure it
was his pocket this hard time sticking out of?' 'Sammy Sal,' she said, 'this
is serious. I'm scared shitless.' He was looking at her, close. 'That it?
You scared? Stole some shit, you scared?'
'Bunny says some security guys called up Allied, even called up Wilson
and everything. Looking for me.'
'Shit,' Sammy Sal said, still studying her, 'I thought you high, on
dancer. Thought Bunny found out. Come after you, gonna chew your little
bitch ear off. You just scared?'
She looked at him. 'That's right.'
'Well,' he said, digging his fingers into the black foam, 'what you
'Scared they'll come up to Skinner's and find 'em.'
'Spy, baby? Shot? Looking, like Alice 'n' all?' He drummed his fingers
on the black foam.
'These black glasses. Like sunglasses, but you can't see through 'em.'
Sammy Sal tilted his beautiful head to one side. 'What's that mean?'
'They're just black.'
'Yeah. But just black.'
'Huh,' he said, 'you had been fucking the clients, but only just the
cute ones, like me, you'd know what those are. Tell you don't have that many
upscale boyfriends, pardon me. You date you some architects, some
brain-surgeons, you'd know what those are.' His hand came up, forefinger
flicking the corroded ball-chain that dangled from the zip.tab at the neck
of Skinner's jacket. 'Those VL glasses. Virtual light.'
She'd heard of it, but she wasn't sure what it was. 'They expensive,
'Shit, yes. 'Bout as much as a Japanese car. Not all that much more,
though. Got these little EMP-drivers around the lenses, work your optic
nerves direct. Friend of mine, he'd bring a pair home from the office where
he worked. Landscape architects.
Put 'em on, you go out walking, everything looks normal, but every
plant you see, every tree, there's this little label hanging there, what its
name is, Latin under that...'
'But they're solid black.'
'Not if you turn 'em on, they aren't. Turn 'em on, they don't even look
like sunglasses. Just make you look, I dunno, serious.' He grinned at her.
'You look too damn' serious anyway. That your problem.'
She shivered. 'Come back up to Skinner's with me, Sammy. Okay?' 'I
don't like heights, much,' he said. 'That little box blow right off the top
of that bridge, one night.'
'Please, Sammy? This thing's got me tweaking. Be okay, riding with you,
but I stop and I start thinking about it, I'm scared I'm gonna freeze up.
What'll I do? Maybe I get there and it's the cops? What'll Skinner say, the
cops come up there? Maybe I go in to work tomorrow and Bunny cans me.
What'll I do?'
Sammy Sal gave her the look he'd given her the night she'd asked him to
get her on at Allied. Then he grinned. Mean and funny. All those sharp white
teeth. 'Keep it between your legs, then. Come on, you try to keep up.'
He bongoed off the curb, his Fluoro-Rimz flaring neonwhite when he came
down pumping. He must have thumbed Play then, because she caught the bass
throbbing as she came after him through the traffic.
'You want another beer, honey?'
The woman behind the bar had an intricate black tracery along either
side of her shaven skull, down to what Yamazaki took to be her natural
hairline. The tattoo's style combined Celtic knots and cartoon
lightning-bolts. Her hair, above it, was like the pelt of some nocturnal
animal that had fed on peroxide and Vaseline. Her left ear had been randomly
pierced, perhaps a dozen times, by a single length of fine steel wire.
Ordinarily Yamazaki found this sort of display quite interesting, but now he
was lost in composition, his notebook open before him.
'No,' he said, 'thank you.'
'Don't wanna get fucked up, or what?' Her tone perfectly cheerful. He
looked up from the notebook. She was waiting.
'Yes?' 'You wanna sit here, you gotta buy something.'
She opened a bottle of Mexican beer, fragments of ice sliding down the
side as she put it down on the bar in front of him, and moved on to the
customer to his left. Yamazaki returned to his notebook.
Skinner has tried repeatedly to convey that there is no agenda here
whatever, no underlying structure. Only the bones, the bridge, the Thomasson
itself. When the Little Grande came, it was not Godzilla. Indeed, there is
no precisely equivalent myth in this place and culture (though this is
perhaps not equally true of Los Angeles). The Bomb, so long awaited, is
gone. In its place came these plagues, the slowest of cataclysms. But when
Godzilla came at last to Tokyo, we were foundering in denial and profound
despair. In all truth, we welcomed the most appalling destruction. Sensing,
even as we mourned our dead, that we were again presented with the most
astonishing of opportunities.
'That's real nice,' the man to his left said, placing his left hand on
Yamazaki's notebook. 'That's gotta be Japanese, it's so nice.' Yamazaki
looked up, smiling uncertainly, into eyes of a most peculiar emptiness.
Bright, focused, yet somehow flat.
'From Japan, yes,' Yamazaki said. The hand withdrew slowly,
caressingly, from his notebook.
'Loveless,' the man said.
'Loveless. My name.'
The eyes, very pale and wide-set, were the eyes of something watching
from beneath still water. 'Yeah. Figured it was something like that.' An
easy smile, pointed with archaic gold.
'Something Japanese. Something 'zaki, something 'zuki. Some shit like
that.' The smile growing somehow sharper. 'Drink up your Corona there, Mr.
Yamazuki.' The stranger's hand, closing hard around his wrist. 'Gettin'
15. In 1015.
There was a product called Kil'Z that Rydell had gotten to know at the
Academy. It smelled, but faintly, of some ancient hair-tonic, flowery and
cool, and you used it in situations where considerable bodily fluids had
been spilled. It was an anti-viral agent, capable of nuking HIV's,
Crimean-Congo, Mokola fever, Tarzana Dengue, and the Kansas City flu.
He smelled it now, as the IntenSecure man used a blackanodyzed passkey
to open the door into 1015.
'We'll be sure to lock it up when we go,' Warbaby said, touching the
brim of his hat with his index finger. The IntenSecure man hesitated, then
said, 'Yessir. Anything else you want?'
'No,' Warbaby said, and went into the room, Freddie on his heels.
Rydell decided the thing for him to do was follow them in. He did, closing
the door in the IntenSecure man's face. Dark. The curtains drawn. Smell of
Kil'Z. The lights came on.
Freddie's hand on the switch. Warbaby staring at a lighter patch of the
brick-colored carpet, the place where the bed must've been.
Rydell glanced around. Old-fashioned, expensive-looking. Clubby, sort
of. The walls covered in some kind of shiny, white-and-green striped stuff
like silk. Polished wooden furniture. Chairs upholstered mossy green. A big
brass lamp with a dark green shade. A faded old picture in a fat gilt frame.
Rydell went over for a closer look. A horse pulling a kind of two-wheeled
wagon-thing, just a little seat there, with a bearded man in a hat like Abe
Lincoln. 'Currier & Ives,' it said. Rydell wondered which one was the horse.
Then he saw a round, brownish-purple splotch of dried blood on the glass. It
had crackled up, the way mud does in a summer creek bed, but tiny. Hadn't
had any of that Kil'Z on it, either, by the look of it. He stepped back.
Freddie, in his big shorts and the shirt with the pictures of pistols,
had settled into one of the green chairs and was opening his laptop. Rydell
watched him reel out a little black cable and pop it into the jack beside
the telephone. He wondered if Freddie's legs got cold, wearing shorts up
here in November. He'd noticed that some black people were so far into
fashion, they'd wear clothes like there wasn't any such thing as weather.
Warbaby just stared at the place where the bed had been, looking sad as
ever. 'Well?' he said.
'I'm gettin' it, I'm gettin' it,' Freddie said, twiddling a little ball
on his laptop.
Warbaby grunted. Watching him, it looked to Rydell as though the lenses
of his black-framed glasses winked black for a second. Trick of the light.
Then Rydell got this funny feeling, because Warbaby just looked right
through him, his traveling gaze fixed on some moving something so keenly
that Rydell himself was turning to look-at nothing.
He looked back at Warbaby. Warbaby's cane came up, pointing at the
space where the bed would have been, then swung back down to the carpet.
'Want the site-data from SFPD now?' Freddie asked.
Warbaby grunted. His eyes were darting from side to side. Rydell
thought of tv documentaries about voodoo, the priests' eyes rolling when the
gods got into them.
Freddie twirled the trackball under his finger. 'Prints, hair,
skin-flakes... You know what a hotel room is.'
Rydell couldn't stand it. He stepped in front of Warbaby and looked him
in the eye. 'What the hell you doing?'
Warbaby saw him. Gave him a slow sad smile and removed his glasses.
Took a big, navy blue silk handkerchief from the side pocket of his long
coat and polished the glasses. He handed them to Rydell. 'Put them on.'
Rydell looked down at the glasses and saw that the lenses were black
'Go on,' Warbaby said.
Rydell noticed the weight as he slid them on. Pitch black. Then there
was a stutter of soft fuzzy ball-lightning, like what you saw when you
rubbed your eyes in the dark, and he was looking at Warbaby. Just behind
Warbaby, hung on some invisible wall, were words, numbers, bright yellow.
They came into focus as he looked at them, somehow losing Warbaby, and he
saw that they were forensic stats.
'Or,' Freddie said, 'you can just be here now-'
And the bed was back, sodden with blood, the man's soft, heavy corpse
splayed out like a frog. That thing beneath his chin, blue-black, bulbous.
Rydell's stomach heaved, bile rose in his throat, and then a naked
woman rolled up from another bed, in a different room, her hair like silver
in some impossible moonlight- Rydell yanked the glasses off. Freddie lay
back in the chair, shaking with silent laughter, his laptop across his
knees. 'Man,' he managed, 'you oughta seen the look you had! Put parta the
guy's porno on there from Arkady's evidence report...'
'Freddie,' Warbaby said, 'are you all that anxious to be looking for
'Nossir, Mr. Warbaby.'
'I can be hard, Freddie. You know that.'
'Yessir.' Freddie sounded worried now.
'A man died in this room. Someone bent over him on this bed,' he
gestured at the bed that wasn't there, 'cut him a new smile, and pulled his
tongue out through it. That isn't a casual homicide. You don't learn those
kinds of tricks with anatomy from watching television, Freddie.' He held out
his hand to Rydell. Rydell gave him the glasses. Their lenses were black
Freddie swallowed. 'Yessir, Mr. Warbaby. Sorry.'
'How'd you do that?' Rydell asked.
Warbaby wiped the glasses again and put them back on. They were clear
now. 'There are drivers in the frames and lenses. They affect the nerves
'It's a virtual light display,' Freddie said, eager to change the
subject. 'Anything can be digitized, you can see it there.'
'Telepresence,' Rydell said.
'Naw,' Freddie said, 'that's light. That's photons coming out and
hitting on your eye. This doesn't work like that. Mr. Warbaby walks around
and looks at stuff, he can see the data-feed at the same time. You put those
glasses on a man doesn't have eyes, optic nerve's okay, he can see the
input. That's why they built the first ones. For blind people.'
Rydell went to the drapes, pulled them apart, looked down into some
night street in this other city. People walking there, a few.
'Freddie,' Warbaby said, 'flip me that Washington girl off the
decrypted IntenSecure feed. The one works for Allied Messenger Service.'
Freddie nodded, did something with his computer.
'Yes,' Warbaby said, gazing at something only he could see, 'it's
possible. Entirely possible. Rydell,' and he removed the glasses, 'you have
a look.' Rydell let the drapes fall back, went to Warbaby, took the glasses,
put them on. Somehow he felt it would be a mistake to hesitate, even if it
meant having to look at the dead guy again.
Black into color into full face and profile of this girl. Fingerprints.
Image of her right retina blown up to the size of her head. Stats.
WASHINGTON, CHEVETTE-MARII.. Big gray eyes, long straight nose, a little
grin for the camera. Dark hair cut short and spikey, except for this crazy
ponytail stuck up from the crown of her head.
'Well,' Warbaby asked, 'what do you think?'
Rydell couldn't figure what he was being asked. Finally he just said
He heard Freddie snort, like that was a dumb thing to say.
But Warbaby said 'Good. That way you remember.'
Sammy Sal lost her, where Bryant stuttered out in that jackstraw tumble
of concrete tank-traps. Big as he was, he had no equal when it came to
riding tight; he could take turns that just weren't possible; he could bongo
and pull a three-sixty if he had to, and Chevette had seen him do it on a
bet. But she had a good idea where she'd find him.
She looked up, just as she whipped between the first of the slabs, and
the bridge seemed to look down at her, its eyes all torches and neon. She'd
seen pictures of what it had looked like, before, when they drove cars back
and forth on it all day, but she'd never quite believed them. The bridge was
what it was, and somehow always had been. Refuge, weirdness, where she
slept, home to however many and all their dreams.
She skidded past a fish-wagon, losing traction in shaved ice, in gray
guts the gulls would fight over in the morning. The fish man yelled
something after her, but she didn't catch it.
She rode on, between stalls and stands and the evening's commerce,
looking for Sammy Sal.
Found him where she thought she would, leaning on his bars beside an
espresso wagon, not even breathing hard. A Mongolian girl with cheekbones
like honey-coated chisels was running him a cup. Chevette bopped the
particle-brakes and slid in beside him. 'Thought I'd have time for a short
one,' he said, reaching for the tiny cup.
Her legs ached with trying to keep up with him. 'You better,' she said,
with a glance toward the bridge, then she gestured to the girl to run her
one. She watched the steaming puck of brown grounds thumped out, the fresh
scoop, the quick short tamp. The girl swung the handle up and twisted the
basket back into the machine.
'You know,' Sammy Sal said, ausing before a first shallow sip, 'you
shouldn't have this kind of problem. You don't need to. There's only but two
kinds of people. People can afford hotels like that, they're one kind We're
the other. Used to be, like, a middle class, people in between. But not
anymore. How you and I relate to those other people, we proj their messages
on. We get paid for it. We try nt to drip rain on the carpet. And we get by,
okay? But what happens on the interface? What happens when we touch?'
Chevette burned her mouth on espresso.
'Crime,' Sammy Sal said, 'sex. Maybe drugs.' He put his cup down on the
wagon's plywood counter. 'About covers it.
'You fuck them,' Chevette said 'You said.'
Sammy Sal shrugged. 'I like to. Trouble comes down from that, I'm up
for it. But you just went and did something, no reason. Reached through the
membrane. Let your fingers do the walking. Bad idea.'
Chevette blew on her coffee. 'I know.'
'So how you going to deal witi whatever's coming down?'
'I'm going up to Skinner's room, get those glasses, take 'em up on the
roof, and throw 'em over.'
'Then I go on the way I do, 'til somebody turns up.'
'Didn't do it. Don't know shit Never happened.'
He nodded, slow, but he was studying her. 'Uh-huh. Maybe. Maybe not.
Somebody wants those glasses back, they can lean on you real hard. Anther
way to go: we get 'em, ride back over to Allied, tell 'em how it happened.'
'Uh-huh. I'll go with you.' 'I'll lose my job.'
'You can get you another job.'
She drank the little cup off in a gulp. Wiped her mouth with the back
of her hand. 'Job's all I got, Sammy. You know that. You got it for me.'
'You got a place to sleep, up there. You got that crazy old
motherfucker took you in-' 'I feed him, Sammy Sal'
'You got your ass intact, honey. Some rich man decide to screw you
over, 'cause you took his data-glasses, maybe that ceases to be the case.'
Chevette put her empty cup down on the counter, dug in the pockets of
her jacket. Gave the girl fifteen for the two coffees and a two-dollar tip.
Squared her shoulders under Skinner's jacket, the ball-chains rattling. 'No.
Once that shit's in the Bay, nobody can prove I did anything.'
Sammy Sal sighed. 'You're an innocent.'
It sounded funny, like she didn't know you could use the word that way.
'You coming, Sammy Sal?'
'Talk to Skinner. Get between him and his magazines. That's where I
left them. Behind his magazines. Then he won't see me get them out. I'll go
up on the roof and off them.'
'Okay,' he said, 'but I say you'll just be fucking up worse.'
'I'll take the chance, okay?' She dismounted and started wheeling her
bike toward the bridge.
'I guess you will,' Sammy Sal said, but then he was off his bike, too,
and pushing it, behind her.
There'd only ever been three really good, that was to say seriously
magic, times in Chevette's life. Oue was the night Sammy Sal had told her
he'd tried to get her on at Allied, and he had. One was the day she'd paid
cash money for her bike at City Wheels, and rode right on out of there. And
there'd been the night she first met Lowell at Cognitive Dissidents-if you
could count that now as lucky.
Which was not to say that these were the times she'd been luckiest,
because those were all :imes that had been uniformly and life-threateningly
shitty, except for the part where the luck cut in.
She'd been lucky the night she'd gone over the razor-wire and out of
the Juvenile Center outside Beaverton, but that had been one deeply shitty
night. She had scars on both palms to prove it.
And she'd been very lucky the time she'd first wandered out onto the
bridge, the lower deck, her knees wobbling with a fever she'd picked up on
her way down the coast. Everything hurt her: the lights, every color, every
sound, her mind pressing out into the world like a swollen ghost. She
remembered the loose, flapping sole of her sneaker dragging over the
littered deck, how that hurt her, too, and how she had to sit down, finally,
everything up and turning, around her, the Korean man running out of his
little store to yell at her, get up, get up, not here, not here. And Not
Here had seemed like such a totally good idea, she'd gone straight there,
right over backward, and hadn't even felt her skull slam the pavement.
And that was where Skinner had found her, though he didn't remember or
maybe want to talk about it; she was never sure. She didn't think he
could've gotten her up to his room on his own; he needed he.p to get back up
there himself, with his hip and everything. But there were still days when
an energy got into him and you cculd see how strong he must've been, once,
and then he'd do things you didn't think he could do, so she'd never be
The first thing she'd seen, opening her eyes, was the round
church-window with the rags stuck into the gaps, and sun coming through it,
little dots and blobs of colors she'd never seen before, all swimming in her
fevered eye like bugs in water. Then the bone-crack time, the virus wringing
her like the old man had wrung the gray towels he wrapped her head in. When
the fever broke and rolled away, out a hundred miles it felt like, back out
to there and over the rim of sickness, her hair fell out in dry clumps,
stuck to the damp towels like some kind of dirty stuffing.
When it grew back, it came in darker, nearly black. So after that she
felt sort of like a different person. Or anyway her own person, she'd
And she'd stayed with Skinner, doing what he said to get them food and
keep things working up in his room. He'd send her down to the lower deck,
where the junk-dealers spread their stuff. Send her down with anything: a
wrench that said 'BMW' on the side, a crumbling cardboard box of those flat
black things that had played music once, a bag of plastic dinosaurs. She
never figured any of it would be worth anything, but somehow it always was.
The wrench bought a week's food, and two of the round things brought even
more. Skinner knew where old things came from, what they'd been for, and
could guess when somebody'd want them. At first she was worried that she
wouldn't get enough for the things she sold, but he didn't seem to care. If
something didn't sell, like the plastic dinosaurs, it just went back into
stock, what he called the stuff ranged around the bases of the four walls.
As she'd gotten stronger, and her new hair grew in, she'd started
ranging farther from the room on top of the tower. Not into either city, at
first, though she'd walked over to Oakland a couple of times, over the
cantilever, and looked out at it.
Things felt different over there, though she was never sure why. But
where she felt best was on the suspension bridge, all wrapped in it, all the
people hanging and hustling and doing what they did, and the way the whole
thing grew a little, changed a little, every day. There wasn't anything like
that, not that she knew of, not up in Oregon.
At first she didn't even know that it made her feel good; it was just
this weird thing, maybe the fever had left her a little crazy, but one day
she'd decided she was just happy, a little happy, and she'd have to get used
But it turned out you could be sort of happy and restless at the same
time, so she started keeping back a little of Skinner's junk-money to use to
explote the city. And that was plenty to do, for a while. She found Haight
Street and walked it all the way to the wall around Skywalker, with the
Temple of Doom and everything sticking up in there, but she didn't try to go
in. There was this long skinny park that led up to it, called the Panhandle,
and that was 5till public. Way too public, she thought, with people, mostly
old or anyway looking that way, stretched out side by side, wrapped in
silvery plastic to keep the rays off, this crinkly stuff that glittered like
those Elvis suits in a video they'd showed them sometimes, up in Beaverton.
It kind of made her think of maggots, like if somebody rolled each one up in
its own little piece of foil. They had a way of moving like that, just a
little bit, and it creeped her out.
The Haight sort of creeped her out, too, even though there were
stretches that felt almost like you were on the bridge, nobody normal in
sight and people doing things right out in public, like the cops were never
going to come at all. But she wasn't ever scared, on the bridge, maybe
because there were always people around she knew, people who lived there and
knew Skinner. But she liked looking around the Haight because there were a
lot of little shops, a lot of places that sold cheap food. She knew this
bagel place where you could buy them a day old, and Skinner said they were
better that way anyway. He said fresh bagels were the next thing to poison,
like they'd plug you up or something. He had a lot of ideas like that. Most
of the shops, she could actually go into, if she was quiet and smile a
little and kept her hands in her pockets.
One day on Haight she saw this shop called Colored People and she
couldn't figure out what it sold. There was a curtain behind the window and
a few things set out in front of that: cactus in pots, big rusty hunks of
metal, and a bunch of these little steel things, polished and bright. Rings
and things. Little rods with round balls on the ends. They were hung on the
needles of the cactus and spread out on the rusted metal. She decided she'd
open the door and just look in, because she'd seen a couple of people going
in and out and knew it wasn't locked. A big fat guy in white coveralls, with
his head all shaved, coming out, whistling, and these two tall women,
black-haired, like handsome crows, all dressed in black, going in. She just
wondered what it was.
She stuck her head in there. There was a woman with short red hair
behind a counter, and every wall covered with these bright cartoony
pictures, colors that made your eyes jump, all snakes and dragons and
everything. So many pictures it was hard to take it in, so it wasn't until
the woman said come on, don't just block the door, and Chevette had come in,
that she saw this woman wore a sleeveless flannel shirt, open all the way
down, and her front and arms all covered, solid, with those same pictures.
Now Chevette had seen tattoos in the Juvenile Center, and on the street
before that, but those were the kind you did yourself, with ink and needles,
thread and an old ballpoint. She walked over and took a good long look at
the colors exploding between the woman's breasts-which, though she was maybe
thirty, weren't as big as Chevette's-and there was an octopus there, a rose,
bolts of blue lightning, all of it tangling together, no untouched skin at
'You want something,' the woman said, 'or you just looking?'
Chevette blinked. 'No,' she heard herself say, 'but I was sort of
wondering what those little metal things are, in the window.'
The woman swung a big black book around on the counter, Like a school
binder except its covers were chrome-studded black leather. Flipped it open
and Chevette was looking at this guy's thing, a big one, just hanging there.
There were two little steel balls on either side of its wedge-shaped head.
Chevette just sort of grunted.
'Call that an amphalang,' the woman said. She started flipping through
the album. 'Barbells,' she said. 'Septum spike. Labret stud. That's a chunk
ring. This one's called a milkchurn. These are bomb weights. Surgical steel,
niobium, white gold, fourteen-carat.' She flipped it back to the jim with
the bolt, sideways through the end of it. Maybe it was a trick, Chevette
thought, a trick picture.
'That's gotta hurt,' Chevette said.
'Not as much as you'd think,' this big deep voice, 'and then it starts
to feel jus' good...'
Chevette looked up at this black guy, his big white grin, all those
teeth, a micropore filtration-mask pulled down under his chin, and that was
how she'd met Samuel Saladin DuPree.
Two days later she saw him again in Union Square, hanging with a bunch
of bike messengers. She'd already put messengers down as something to watch
for in the city. They had clothes and hair like nobody else, and bikes with
neon and light-up wheels, handlebars carved up and over like scorpion-tails.
Helmets with little radios built in. Either they were going somewhere fast
or they were just goofing, hanging, drinking coffee. He was standing there
with his legs over either side of the cross-tube of his bike, eating half a
sandwich. Music was coming out of the black-flecked pink frame, mostly bass,
and he was sort of bopping to it. She edged up to get a better look at the
bike, how it was made, the intricacy of its brakes and shifters pulling her
straight in. Beauty.
'Dang,' he said, around a mouthful of sandwich, 'dang, my am-phalang.
Where did you get those shoes?'
They were Skinner's, old canvas sneakers, too long for her so she'd
stuck some paper in the toes.
'Here.' He handed her the other half of his sandwich. 'I'm full
'Your bike,' she said, taking the sandwich.
'What about it?'
He grinned. 'Sugawara frame, Sugawara rings 'n' 'railers, Zuni
'I like the wheels,' Chevette said.
'Well,' he said, 'that's just flash. Lets some motherfucker see you
'fore he runs you over, y'know?'
Chevette touched the handlebars. Felt that music.
'Eat that sandwich,' he said. 'Look like you need it.'
She did, and she did, and that was how they got to talking.
Shouldering their bikes up the plywood stairs, Chevette telling him
about the Japanese girl, how she fell out of that elevator. How she,
Chevette, wouldn't even have been at that party if she hadn't been standing
right there, right then. Sammy grunting, his Fluoro-Rimz gone dead opal now
they weren't turning.
'Who was it throwing this do, Chev? You think to ask anybody that?'
Remembering that Maria. 'Cody. Said it was Cody's party...'
Sammy Sal stopped, his brows lifting. 'Huh. Cody Harwood?'
She shrugged, the paper bike next to weightless on her shoulder.
'You know who that is?'
'No.' Reaching the platform, putting the bike down to wheel it.
'That's some serious money. Advertising. Harwood Levine, but that was
'Well, I said it was rich.' Not paying him much attention.
'His father's company did Millbank's PR, both eleclions.'
But she was activating the recognition-loop now, not bothering with the
screamers from Radio Shack. Sammy's Fluoro-Rimz pulsed as he set his bike
down beside hers. 'I'll loop it to mine. Be okay here anyway.'
'That's what I said,' Sammy said, 'last two I bet.' He watched her pull
the loop out, twist it around his bike's frame, careful of the
pink-and-black enamel, and seal it with her thumbprint.
She headed for the yellow lift, glad to see it there, where she'd left
it, and not at the top of the track. 'Let's do this thing, okay?'
Remembering she'd meant to buy Skinner some soup from Thai Johnny's wagon,
that sweet-sour lemnon one he liked.
When she'd told Sammy she wanted to mess, wanted her own bike, he'd
gotten her this little Mexican headset taught you every Street in San
Francisco. Three days and she had it down, pretty much, even though he said
that wasn't like the map in a messenger's head. You needed to know
buildings, how to get into them, how to act, how to keep your wheels from
getting stolen. But when he'd taken her in to meet Bunny, that was magic.
Three weeks and she'd earned enough to buy her first serious bike. That
was magic, too.
Somewhere around then she started hanging out after work with a couple
of the other Allied girls, Tami Two and Alice Maybe, and that was how she'd
wound up at Cognitive Dissidents, that night she'd met Lowell.
'Nobody locks their door here,' Sammy said, on the ladder below her, as
she lifted the hatch.
Chevette closed her eyes, saw a bunch of cops (whatever that would look
like) standing around Skinner's room. Opened her eyes and stuck her head up,
eyes level with the floor.
Skinner was on his bed, his little television propped on his chest, big
old yellow toenails sticking out of holes in his lumpy gray socks. He looked
at her over the television.
'Hey,' she said, 'I brought Sammy. From work.' She climbed up, making
room for Sammy Sal's head and shoulders.
'Howdy,' Sammy Sal said.
Skinner just stared at him, colors from the little screen flicking
across his face.
'How you doin'?' Sammy Sal asked, climbing up.
'Bring anything to eat?' Skinner asked her.
'Thai Johnny'll have soup ready in a while,' she said, moving toward
the shelves, the magazines. Dumb-ass thing to say and she knew it, because
Johnny's soup was always ready; he'd started it years ago and just kept
adding to the pot.
'How you doin', Mr. Skinner?' Sammy Sal stood slightly hunched, feet
apart, holding his helmet with both hands, like a boy saying hello to his
girlfriend's father. He winked at Chevette.
'What you winkin' at, boy?' Skinner shut the set off and snapped its
screen shut. Chevette had bought it for him off a container-ship in the
Trap. He said he couldn't tell the difference anymore between the 'programs'
and the 'commercials,' whatever that meant.
'Somethin' in my eye, Mr. Skinner,' Sammy Sal said, his big feet
shifting, even more like a nervous boyfriend. Made Chevette want to laugh.
She got behind Sammy's back and reached in behind the magazines. It was
there. Into her pocket.
'You ever seen the view from up top here, Sammy?' She knew she had this
big crazy grin on, and Skinner was staring at it, trying to figure what was
happening, but she didn't care. She swung up the ladder to the roof-hatch.
'Gosh, no, Chevette, honey. Must be just breathtaking.'
'Hey,' Skinner said, as she opened the hatch, 'what's got into you?'
Then she was up and out and into one of the weird pockets of stillness
you got up there sometimes. Usually the wind made you want to lie down and
hang on, but then there were these patches when nothing moved, dead calm.
She heard Sammy Sal coming up the ladder behind her. She had the case out,
was moving toward the edge.
'Hey,' he said, 'lemme see.'
She raised the thing, winding up to throw.
He plucked it from her fingers.
'Shush.' Opening it, pulling them out. 'Huh. Nice ones...'
'Sammy!' Reaching for them. He gave her the case instead.
'See how you do this now?' Opening them, one side-piece in either hand.
'Left is aus, right's em. Just move 'em a little.' She saw how he was doing
it, in the light that spilled up through the hatch from Skinner's room.
'Here. Check it out.' He put them on her.
She was facing the city when he did it. Financial district, the Pyramid
with its brace on from the Little Grande, the hills behind that. 'Fuck a
duck,' she said, these towers blooming there, buildings bigger than
anything, a stone regular grid of them, marching in from the hills. Each one
maybe four blocks at the base, rising straight and featureless to spreading
screens like the colander she used to steam vegetables. Then Chinese writing
filled the sky. 'Sammy...'
She felt him grab her as she lost her balance.
The Chinese writing twisted into English.
'What the fuck is this?' Anything she focused on, another label lit the
sky, dense patches of technical words she didn't understand.
'How should I know,' he said. 'Let me see.' Reaching for the glasses.
'Hey,' she heard Skinner say, his voice carrying up through the hatch,
'it's Scooter. What you doin' back here?'
Sammy Sal pulled the glasses off and she was kneeling, looking down
through the hatch at that Japanese nerd who came around to see Skinner, the
college boy or social worker or whatever he was. But he looked even more
lost than usual. He looked scared. And there was somebody with him.
'Hey, Scooter,' Skinner said, 'how you doing?'
'This Mr. Loveless,' Yamazaki said. 'He ask to meet you.'
Gold flashed up at Chevette from the stranger's grin. 'Hi there,' he
said, taking his hand out of the side pocket of his long black raincoat. The
gun wasn't very big, but there was something too easy in the way he held it,
like a carpenter with a hammer. He was wearing surgical gloves. 'Why don't
you come on down here?'
17. The trap.
'How this works,' Freddie said, handing Rydell a debit-card, 'you pay
five hundred to get in, then you're credited for five hundred dollars' worth
Rydell looked at the card. Some Dutch bank. If this was how they were
going to pay him, up here, maybe it was time he asked them what he'd
actually be getting. But maybe he should wait until Freddie was in a better
Freddie said this Container City place was a good quick bet for
clothes. Regular clothes, Rydell hoped. They'd left Warbaby drinking herbal
tea in some kind of weird coffee joint because he said he needed to think.
Rydell had gone out to the Patriot while Warbaby and Freddie held a quick
'What if he wants us, wants the car?'
'He'll beep us,' Freddie said. He showed Rydell how to put the
debit-card into a machine that gave him a five-hundred-dollar Container City
magstrip and validated the parking on the Patriot. 'This way.' Freddie
pointed at a row of turnstiles.
'Aren't you gonna buy one?' Rydell asked.
'Shit, no,' Freddie said. 'I don't get my clothes off boats.' He took a
card out of his wallet and showed Rydell the IntenSecure logo.
'I thought you guys were strictly freelance.'
'Strictly but frequently,' Freddie said, feeding the card to a
turnstile. It clicked him through. Rydell fed it the magstrip and followed
'Costs people five hundred bucks just to get in here?'
'Why people call it the Trap. But that's just how they make sure the
overhead's covered. You don't come in here unless you know you're gonna drop
that much. Gives 'em a guaranteed per-cap.'
Container City turned out to be the biggest semi-roofed mall Rydell had
ever seen, if you could call something a mall that had ships parked in it,
big ones. And the five-hundred-dollar guaranteed purchase didn't seem to
have put anybody off; there were more people in here than out on the street,
it looked like. 'Hong Kong money,' Freddie said. 'Bought 'em a hunk of the
'Hey,' Rydell said, pointing at a dim, irregular outline that rose
beyond gantries and towers of floodlights, 'that's that bridge, the one
people live on.'
'Yeah,' Freddie said, giving him a funny look, 'crazy-ass people.'
Steering Rydell onto an escalator that ran up the white-painted flank of a
Rydell looked around at Container City as they rose. 'Crazier than
anything in L.A.,' he said, admiringly.
'No way,' Freddie said, 'I'm from L.A. This just a mall, man.'
Rydell bought a burgundy nylon bomber, two pairs of black jeans, socks,
underwear, and three black t-shirts. That came out to just over five
hundred. He used the debit-card to make up the difference.
'Hey,' he told Freddie, his purchases in a big yellow Container City
bag, 'that's a pretty good deal. Thanks.'
Freddie shrugged. 'Where they say those jeans made?' Rydell checked the
tag. 'African Union.'
'Slave labor,' Freddie said, 'you shouldn't buy that shit.'
'I didn't think about it. They got any food in here?'
'Food Fair, yeah...'
'You ever try this Korean pickled shit? It's hot, man...'
'I got an ulcer.' Freddie was methodically spooning plain white frozen
yogurt into his mouth with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
'Stress. That's stress-related, Freddie.'
Freddie looked at Rydell over the rim of the pink plastic yogurt cup.
'You trying to be funny?'
'No,' Rydell said. 'I just know about ulcers because they thought my
daddy had them.'
'Well, didn't he? Your "daddy"? Did he have 'em or not?'
'No,' Rydell said. 'He had stomach cancer.'
Freddie winced, put his yogurt down, rattled the ice in his paper cup
of Evian and drank some. 'Hernandez,' he said, 'he told us you were trainin'
to be a cop, some redneck place...'
'Knoxville,' Rydell said. 'I was a cop. Just not for very long.'
'I hear you, I hear you,' Freddie said, like he wanted Rydell to relax,
maybe even to like him. 'You got trained and all? Cop stuff?'
'Well, they try to give you a little bit of everything,' Rydell said.
'Crime scene investigation... Like up in that room today. I could tell they
hadn't done the Super Glue thing.'
'No. There's this chemical in Super Glue sticks to the water in a
print, see, and about ninety-eight percent of a print is water. So you've
got this little heater, for the glue? Screws into a regular light socket? So
you tape up the doors and windows with garbage bags and stuff and you leave
that little heater turned on. Leave it twenty-four hours, then you come back
and purge the room.'
'How you do that?'
'Open up the doors, windows. Then you dust. But they hadn't done that,
over at the hotel. It leaves this film all over. And a smell...' Freddie
raised his eyebrows. 'Shit. You almost kinda technical, aren't you, Rydell?'
'Mostly it's just common sense,' he said. 'Like not going to the
'At a crime scene. Don't ever use the toilet. Don't flush it. You drop
something in a toilet, the way the water goes. You ever notice how it goes
up, underneath there?' Freddie nodded.
'Well, maybe your perp flushed it after he dropped something in there.
But it doesn't always work like it's meant to, and it might be just floating
back there... You come in and flush it again, then it's gone for sure.'
'Damn,' Freddie said, 'I never knew that.'
'Common sense,' Rydell said, wiping his lips with a paper napkin.
'I think Mr. Warbaby's right about you, Rydell.'
'He says we're wasting you, just letting you drive that four-by-four.
Bein' straight with you, man, I wasn't sure, myself.' Freddie waited, like
he figured Rydell might take offense.
'You know that brace on Mr. Warbaby's leg?'
'You know that bridge, the one you noticed when we were coming up
'And Warbaby, he showed you that picture of that tough-ass messenger
'Well,' Freddy said, 'She's the one Mr. Warbaby figures took that man's
property. And she lives out on that bridge, Rydell. And that bridge, man,
that's one evil motherfucking place. Those people anarchists, antichrists,
cannibal motherfuckers out there, man...'
'I heard it was just a bunch of homeless people,' Rydell said, vaguely
recollecting some documentary he'd seen in Knoxville, 'just sort of making
'No, man,' Freddie said, 'homeless fuckers, they're on the street.
Those bridge motherfuckers, they're like king-hell satanists and shit. You
think you can just move on out there yourself? No fucking way. They'll just
let their own kind, see? Like a cult. With 'nitiations and shit.'
'Black 'nitiates,' Freddie said, leaving Rydell to decide that he
probably didn't mean it racially.
'Okay,' Rydell said, 'but what's it got to do with that brace on
'That's where he got that knee hassled,' Freddie said. 'He went out
there, knowing he was takin' his life in his hands, to try and recover this
little baby. Baby girl,' Freddie added, like he liked the ring of that.
"Cause these bridge motherfuckers, they'll do that.'
'Do what?' Rydell asked, flashing back to the Pooky Bear killings.
'They steal children,' Freddie said. 'And Mr. Warbaby and me, we can't
either of us go out there anymore, Rydell, because those motherfuckers are
on to us, you followin' me?'
'So you want me to?' Rydell asked, stuffing his folded napkin into the
oily white paper box that had held his two Kim Chee WaWa's.
'I'll let Mr. Warbaby explain it to you,' Freddie said.
They found Warbaby where they'd left him, in this dark, high-ceilinged
coffee place in what Freddie said was North Beach. He was wearing those
glasses again and Rydell wondered what he might be seeing.
Rydell had brought his blue Samsonite in from the Patriot, his bag from
Container City. He went into the bathroom to change his clothes. There was
just the one, unisex, and it really was a bathroom because it had a bathtub
in it. Not like anybody used it, because there was this mermaid painted
full-size on the inside, with a brown cigarette butted out on her stomach,
just above where the scales started.
Rydell discovered that Kevin's khakis were split up the ass. He
wondered how long he'd been walking around like that. But he hadn't noticed
it back at Container City, so he hoped it had happened in the car. He took
the IntenSecure shirt off, stuffed it into the wastebasket, put on one of
the black t-shirts. Then he unlaced his trainers and tried to figure out a
way to change pants, socks, and underwear without having to put his feet on
the floor, which was wet. He thought about doing it in the tub, but that
looked sort of scummy, too. Decided you could manage it, sort of, by
standing with your feet on the top of your sneakers, and then sort of
half-sitting on the toilet. He put everything he took off into the basket.
Wondering how much the debit-card Freddie had given him was still good for,
he transferred his wallet to the right back pocket of his new jeans. Put on
his new jacket. Washed his hands and face in a gritty trickle of water.
Combed his hair. Packed the rest of his new clothes into the Samsonite,
saving the Container City bag to keep dirty laundry in.
He wanted a shower, but he didn't know when he'd get one. Clean clothes
were the next best thing.
Warbaby looked up when Rydell got back to his table. 'Freddie's told
you a little about the bridge, has he, Rydell?'
'Says it's all baby-eatin' satanists.'
Warbaby glowered at Freddie. 'Too colorfully put, perhaps, but all too
painfully close to the truth, Mr. Rydell. Not at all a wholesome place. And
effectively outside the reach of the law. You won't find our friends
Svobodov or Orlovsky out there, for instance. Not in any official capacity.'
Rydell caught Freddie start to grin at that, but saw how it was pinched
off by Warbaby's glare.
'Freddie gave me the idea you want me to go out there, Mr. Warbaby. Go
out there and find that girl.
'Yes,' Warbaby said, gravely, 'we do. I wish that I could tell you it
won't be dangerous, but that is not the case.'
'Well... How dangerous is it, Mr. Warbaby?'
'Very,' Warbaby said.
'And that girl, she's dangerous, too?'
'Extremely,' Warbaby said, 'and all the more because she doesn't always
look it. You saw what was done to that man's throat, after all...'
'Jesus,' Rydell said, 'you think that little girl did that?'
Warbaby nodded, sadly. 'Terrible,' he said, 'these people will do
When they got out to the car, he saw that he'd parked it right in front
of this mural of J. D. Shapely wearing a black leather biker jacket and no
shirt, being carried up to heaven by half a dozen extremely fruity-looking
angels with long blond rocker hair. There were these blue, glowing coils of
DNA or something spiraling out of Shapely's stomach and attacking what
Rydell assumed was supposed to be an AIDS virus, except it looked more like
some kind of rusty armored space station with mean robot arms.
It made him think what a weird-ass thing it must've been to be that
guy. About as weird as it had ever been to be anybody, ever, he figured. But
it would be even weirder to be Shapely, and dead like that, and then have to
look at that mural.
YET HE LIVES IN US NOW, it said under the painting, in foot-high white
letters, AND THROUGH HIM DO WE LIVE.
Which was, strictly speaking, true, and Rydell had had a vaccination to
Chevette's mother had had this boyfriend once named Oakley, who drank
part-time and drove logging trucks the rest, or anyway he said he did. He
was a long-legged man with his blue eyes set a little too far apart, in a
face with those deep seams down each cheek. Which made him look, Chevette's
mother said, like a real cowboy. Chevette just thought it made him look kind
of dangerous. Which he wasn't, usually, unless he got himself around a
bottle or two of whiskey and forgot where he was or who he was with; like
particularly if he mistook Chevette for her mother, which he'd done a couple
of times, but she'd always gotten away from him and he'd always been sorry
about it afterward, bought her Ring-Dings and stuff from the Seven-Eleven.
But what Oakley did that she remembered now, looking down through the hatch
at this guy with his gun, was take her out in the woods one time and let her
shoot a pistol.
And this one had a face kind of like Oakley's, too, those eyes and
those grooves in his cheeks. Like you got from smiling a lot, the way he was
now. But it sure wasn't a smile that would ever make anybody feel good. Gold
at the corners of it.
'Now come on down here,' he said, stressing each word just the same.
'Who the fuck are you?' Skinner, sounding more interested than
The gun went off. Not very loud, but sharp, with this blue flash. She
saw the Japanese guy sit down on the floor, like his legs had gone out from
under him, and she thought the guy had shot him.
'Shut up.' Then up at Chevette, 'I told you to get down here.'
Then Sammy Sal touched her on the back of her neck, his fingertips
urging her toward the hatch before they withdrew.
The guy might not even know Sammy Sal was up here at all. Sammy Sal had
the glasses. And one thing Chevette was sure of now, this guy was no cop.
'Sorry,' the Japanese guy said, 'sorry I...'
'I'm going to shoot you in the right eye with a subsonic titanium
bullet.' Still smiling, the way he might say I'm going to buy you a
'I'm coming,' Chevette said. And he didn't shot, not her, not the
She thought she heard Sammy Sal step back acoss the roof, away from
her, but she didn't look back. She wasn't sure whether she should try to
close the hatch behind her or not. She decided not to because the guy had
only told her to come down. She'd have to reach past the edge of the hole to
get hold of the hatch and it might look to him like she was going for a gun
or something. Like in a show.
She dropped down from the bottom rung, trying to keep her hands where
he could see them.
'What were you doing up there?' Still smiling. His gun wasn't anything
like Oakley's big old Braziliai revolver; it was a little stubby square
thing made out of dill metal, the color of Skinner's old tools. A thin ring
of lighter metal around the narrow hole in the end. Like the pupil of an
'Looking at the city,' she said, not feeling scared, particularly. Not
really feeling anything, except her legs were trembling.
He glanced up, the gun staying right when it was. She didn't want him
to ask her if was she alone up here, because the answer might hang in the
air and tell him it was a lie. 'You know what I'm here for.'
Skinner was sitting up on his bed, back against the wall, looking as
wide awake as she'd ever seen him. The Japanese guy, who didn't look like
he'd been shot after all, was sitting on the floor, his skinny legs spread
out in front of him in a V.
'Well,' Skinner said, 'I'd guess money or drugs, but it happens you're
shit out of luck. Give you fifty-six dollars and a stale joint of Humbolt,
you want it.'
'Shut up.' When the automatic smile went away, it was like he didn't
have any lips. 'I'm talking to her.'
Skinner looked like he was about to say something, or maybe laugh, but
'The glasses.' Now the smile was back. He raised the gun, so that she
was looking right into the little hole. If he shoots me, she thought, he'll
still have to hunt for them.
'Hepburn,' Skinner said, with a crazy little grin, and just then
Chevette noticed that the poster of Roy Orbison had a hole in the middle of
its gray forehead. 'Down there,' she said, pointing to the hatch in the
'My bike,' hoping Sammy Sal didn't bump into that old rusty wagon in
the dark up there, make a noise.
He looked up at the roof-hatch, like he could hear what she was
'Lean up against the wall there, palms flat.' He moved in closer. 'Get
your feet apart...' The gun touched her neck. His other hand slid under
Skinner's jacket, feeling for a weapon. 'Stay that way.' He'd missed
Skinner's knife, the one with the fractal blade. She turned her head a
little and saw him wrapping something red and rubbery around one of the
Japanese guy's wrists, doing it one-handed. She thought of those gummy-worm
candies you bought out of a big plastic jar. He yanked the Japanese guy by
the red thing, dragging him across the floor to the shelf-table where she'd
eaten breakfast. He stuck one end of the red thing behind the angle-brace
that held the table up, then twisted it around the guy's other wrist. He
took another one out of his pocket arid shook it out, like a toy snake.
Reached behind Skinner with it and did something with his hand. 'You stay on
that bed, old man,' touching the gun to Skinner's temple. Skinner just
looking at him.
He came back to Chevette. 'You're climbing down a ladder. Need yours in
The thing was cool and slick and fused into itself as soon as he had it
around her wrists. Flowed together. Moved by itself. Plastic ruby bracelets,
like a kid's toy. One of those tricks with molecules.
'I'm going to watch you,' he said, with another glance up at the open
roof-hatch, 'so you just go down nice arid slow. And if you jump, or run
when you get to the bottom, I'll kill you.'
And she didn't doubt he would, if he could, but she was remembering
something Oakley had told her that day in the woods, how it was hard to hit
something if you had to shoot almost straight down at it, even harder
straight up. SD maybe the thing to do was just proj when she hit the bottom.
She'd only have to clear about six feet from the ladder to be where he
couldn't see her. But she looked at the gun's black and silver eye and it
just didn't seem like a good idea.
So she went to the hole in the floor and got down on her knees. It
wasn't easy, with her hands tied that way. He had to steady her, grabbing a
handful of Skinner's jacket, but she got her feet down on the third rung and
her fingers around the top one, and worked her way down that way. She had to
get her feet on a rung, let go of the one she was holding, snatch the next
one down before she lost her balance, do it again.
But she got to think while she was doing it, and that helped her decide
to go ahead and try to do what she had in mind. It was weird to be thinking
that way, how quiet she felt, but it wasn't the first time. She'd felt that
way in Beaverton, the night she'd gone over the wire, and that without any
more planning. And one time these truckers had tried to drag her into the
sleeper in the back; she'd made like she didn't mind, then threw a thermos
of hot coffee in one's face, kicked the other in the head, and gotten out of
there. They'd looked for her for an hour, with flashlights, while she
squatted down in river-mud and let mosquitos eat her alive. Lights searching
for her through that brush.
She got to the bottom and backed off a step, holding her bound wrists
out where he could see them if he wanted to. He came down fast, no wasted
movement, not a sound. His long coat was made of something black, some cloth
that didn't throw back the light, and she saw he was wearing black cowboy
boots. She knew he could run just fine in those, if he had to; people didn't
always think so, but you could.
'Where is it?' Gold flashing at the corners of his smile. His hair,
brushed straight back, was somewhere between brown and blond. He moved his
hand, keeping her aware of the gun. She saw his hand was starting to sweat,
spots of wetness darkening there, inside the white rubber glove.
'We gotta take the-' She stopped. The yellow lift was where she and
Sammy Sal had left it, so how had he gotten up?
Extra bits of gold. 'We took the stairs.'
They'd come up the painter's ladder, bare steel rungs, some of them
rusted through. So she wouldn't hear the lift. No wonder the Japanese guy
had looked scared. 'Well,' she said, 'you coming?'
He followed her over to the lift. She kept her eyes on the deck, so she
wouldn't forget and look up to try and find Sammy, who had to be there,
somewhere. He wouldn't have had time to get down, or else they would have
He held her shoulder again while she swung her leg over and climbed in,
then got in after her, watching her the whole time.
'This one's down,' she said, pointing at one of the levers.
She moved it a notch, another, and the engine whined beneath their
feet, gearing them down the incline. There was a patch of light at the
bottom, under a bulb caged in corroded aluminum, and she wondered what he'd
do if somebody happened to step into it just then, say Fontaine or one of
the other people who came to check the electrical stuff. Anybody. He'd shoot
them, she decided. Just pop them and roll them over into the dark. You could
see it in his face. It was right there.
He got out first, helped her over. A wind was rising and you could feel
the harmonics coming up through your soles, the bridge starting to hum like
a muffled harp. She could hear people laughing, somewhere.
'Where?' he said.
She pointed to where her bike stood, cabled to Sammy Sal's. 'The pink
and black one.'
He gestured with the gun.
'Back off,' her bike said when she was five feet from it.
'What's that?' The gun in her back.
'This other bike. Clunker with a voice-alarm. Keeps people off mine.'
She bent to thumb the tab that released Sammy Sal's bike, but she didn't
touch the recognition-loop behind the seat of her own.
'I fucking mean it, shithead,' her bike said.
'Shut it off,' he said.
She knew she had to do it in one go, flip it sideways and over, just
her thumb and forefinger on the nonconductive rubber of the tire.
But it was really just an accident that the frame hit his gun. She saw
an inch of lightning arc between her bike and the pistol, hot purple and
thick as your finger, the particle-brake capacitors in the up-tube emptying
their stored charge into the anti-theft system worked into the fake rust and
the carefully frayed silver duct-tape. He went down on his knees, eyes
unfocused, a single silver bubble of spit forming and bursting between his
half-open lips. She thought she saw steam curl from the gun in his hand.
Proj, she thought, crouching to run, but then the black thing hit him
and knocked him flat, flapping down out of the dark above them with a sound
like broken wings. A roll of tarpaper. She made out Sammy Sal then, standing
up there on a dark carbon cross-brace, his arm around an upright. She
thought she saw his white smile.
'Forgot this,' he said, and tossed something down. The glasses in their
case. Hands tied, she caught them anyway, like they knew where they wanted
to go. She'd never know why he did that.
Because the little pistol made a chewing sound then, blue pops like a
dozen backfires run together, and Sammy Sal went over backward off the
brace, just gone.
And then she was running.
Yamazaki heard gunfire, where he knelt on the floor, his wrists joined
by glistening plastic behind the rough metal brace that supported Skinner's
wall-table. Or was it only the sound of some hydraulic tool?
There was a smell in the room, high and acrid. He thought it must be
the smell of his own fear.
His eyes were level with a chipped white plate, a smear of pulped
avocado blackening on its edge.
'Told him what I had,' Skinner said, struggling to his feet, his arms
fastened behind him. 'Didn't want it. Want what they want, don't they?' The
little television slid off the edge of the bed and hit the floor, its screen
popping out on a rainbow ribbon of flat cable. 'Shit.' He swayed, wincing as
his bad hip took his weight, and Yamazaki thought he would fall. Skinner
took one step, another, leaning forward to maintain his balance.
Yamazaki strained at the plastic bonds. Yelped as he felt them tighten.
Like something alive.
'You tug, twist 'em,' Skinner said, behind him, 'bastards'll clinch up
on you. Cops used to carry those. Got made unconstitutional.' There was a
crash that shook the room and made the light flicker. Yamazaki looked over
his shoulder and saw Skinner sitting on the floor, his knees drawn half up,
leaning backward. 'There's a pair of twenty-inch bolt-cutters in here,' the
old man said, indicating a dented, rust-scarred green toolkit with his left
foot. 'That'll do it, if I can get 'em out.' Yamazaki watched as he began to
work his toes through the holes in his ragged gray socks. 'Not sure I can do
shit with 'em, once I do...' He stopped. Looked at Yamazaki. 'Better idea,
but you won't like it.'
'Look at that brace there.'
Discolored blobs of puddled welding-rod held the thing together, but it
looked sturdy enough. He counted the mismatched heads of nine screws. The
diagonal brace itself seemed to be made up of thin metal shims, lashed
together top and bottom with rusting twists of wire.
'I made that,' Skinner said. 'Those're three sections of blade off a
factory saw. Never did grind the teeth off. On top there.'
Yamazaki's fingertips moved over hidden roughness.
'Shot, Scooter. Wouldn't cut for shit. Why I used 'em.'
'I saw plastic?' Poising his wrists.
'Wait up. You start sawing on that crazy-goo, it isn't gonna like it.
Have to get through it quick or it's gonna close up right down to the bone.
I said wait...'
Yamazaki froze. He looked back.
'You're too close to the center. You cut through there, you'll have a
ring around each wrist and the suckers'll still close up. You want to go
through as close to one side as possible, get over here and get the cutter
on the other one before it does you. I'll try to get this open...' He bumped
the case with his toes. It rattled.
Yamazaki brought his face close to the red restraint. It had a faint,
medicinal smell. He took a breath, set his teeth, and sawed furiously with
his wrists. The thing began to shrink. Bands of iron, the pain hot and
impossible. He remembered
Loveless's hand around his wrist.
'Do it,' Skinner said.
The plastic parted with an absurdly loud pop, like some sound-effect in
a child's cartoon. He was free and, for an ISO instant, the rec band around
his left wrist loosened, absorbing the rest of the mass.
It tightened. He scrambled for the toolkit, amazed to see it open, as
Skinner kicked it over with his heel, spilling a hundred pieces of tooled
The bolt-cu:ter was long, clumsy, its handles wrapped in greasy blue
tape. He saw the red band narrowing, starting to sink below the level of his
flesh. Fumbled the cutter one-handed from the tangle, sank its jaws blindly
into his wrist and brought all his weight down on the uppermost handle. A
stab of pain. The detonation.
Skinner blew air out between his lips, a long low sound of relief. 'You
Yamazaki looked at his wrists. There was a deep, bluish gouge in the
left one. It was starting to bleed, but no more than he woulc have expected.
The other had been scratched by the saw. He glanced around the floor,
looking for the remains of the restraint.
'Do me,' Skinner said. 'But hook it under the plastic, okay? Try not to
take a hunk out. And do the second one fast.'
Yamazaki tested the action of the cutter, knelt behind Skinner, slid
one of the blades beneath the plastic around the old man's right wrist. The
skin translucent there, blotched and discolored, the veins swollen and
twisted. The plastic parted easily, with that same ridiculous noise,
instantly whipping itself around 5kinner's other wrist, writhing like a live
thing. He severed it before it could tighten, but this time, with the
cartoon pop, it simply vanished.
Yamazaki stared at the space where the restraint had been.
'Katey bar tie door!' Skinner roared.
'Lock the fucking hatch!'
Yamazaki scrambled across the floor on hands and knees, dropped the
hatch into place, and bolted it with a flat device of dull bronze, something
that might once have been part of a ship. 'The girl,' he said, looking back
'She can knock,' Skinner said. 'You want that dickhead with the gun
back in here?'
Yamazaki didn't. He looked up at the ceiling-hatch, the one that opened
onto the roof. Open now.
'Go up there and look for the 'mo.'
'Big fag buddy. The black one, right?'
Not knowing what or whom Skinner was talking about, Yamazaki climbed
the ladder. A gust of wind threw rain into his face as he thrust his head up
through the opening. He had the sudden intense conviction that he was high
atop some ancient ship, some black iron schooner drifting derelict on
darkened seas, its plastic sails shredded and its crew mad or dead, with
Skinner its demented captain, shouting orders from his cell below.
'There is nobody here, Skinner-san!'
The rain came down in an explosive sheet, hiding the lights of the
Yamazaki withdrew his head, feeling for the hatch, and closed it above
him. He fastened the catch, wishing it were made of stronger stuff.
He descended the ladder.
Skinner was on his feet now, swaying toward his bed. 'Shit,' he said,
'somebody's broken my tv.' He toppled forward onto the mattress.
Yamazaki knelt beside the bed. Skinner's eyes were closed, his breath
shallow and rapid. His left hand came up, fingers spread, and scratched
fitfully at the tangled thatch of white hair at the open collar of his
threadbare flannel shirt.
Yamazaki smelled the sour tang of urine above the acrid edge of
whatever explosive had propelled Loveless's bullet. He looked at Skinner's
jeans, blue gone gray with wear, wrinkles sculpted permanently, shining
faintly with grease, and saw that Skinner had wet himself.
He stood there for several minutes, uncertain of what he should do.
Finally he took a seat on the paint-splattered stool beside the little table
where he had so recently been a prisoner. He ran his fingertips over the
teeth of the saw blades. Looking down, he noticed a neat red sphere. It lay
on the floor beside his left foot.
He picked it up. A glossy marble of scarlet plastic, cool and slightly
yielding. One of the restraints, either his or Skinner's.
He sat there, watching Skinner and listening to the bridge groan in the
storm, a strange music emerging from the bundled cables. He wanted tc press
his ear against them, but some fear he couldn't name heli him from it.
Skinner woke once, or seemed to, and struggled to sit up, calling,
Yamazaki thought, for the girl.
'She isn't here,' Yamazaki said, his hand on Skinner's shoulder. 'Don't
'Hasn't been,' Skinner said. 'Twenty, thirty years. Motherfucker.
'Time. That's the total fucking mother fucker, isn't it?'
Yamazaki held the red sphere before the old man's eyes. 'Look, Skinner.
See what it became?'
'Superball,' Skinner said.
'You go and fucung bounce it, Scooter.' He closed his eyes. 'Bounce it
20. The big empty.
'Swear to God,' Nigel said, 'this shit just moved.'
Chevette, with her eyes closed, felt the blunt back of the ceramic
knife press into her wrist; there was a sound like an inner-tube letting go
when you've patched it too many times, and then that wrist was free.
'Shit. Jesus-' His hands rough and quick, Chevette's eyes opening to a
second pop, a red blur whanging back and forth around the stacked scrap.
Nigel's head following it, like the counterweighted head of a plaster dog
that Skinner had found once and sent her down to sell.
Every wall in this narrow space racked with metal, debraised sections
of old Reynolds tubing, dusty jam jars stuffed with rusting spokes. Nigel's
workshop, where he built his carts, did what shadetree fixes he could to any
bike came his way. The salmon-plug that dangled from his left ear ticked in
counterpoint to his swiveling head, then jingled as he snatched the thing in
mid-bounce. A ball of red plastic.
'Man,' he said, impressed, 'who put this on you?'
Chevette stood up and shivered, this tremor running down through her
like a live thing, the way those red bracelets had moved.
How she felt, now, was just the way she'd felt that day she'd come back
to the trailer and found her mother all packed up and gone. No message there
but a can of ravioli in a pot on the Stove, with the can-opener propped up
She hadn't eaten that ravioli and she hadn't eaten any since and she
knew she never would.
But this feeling had come, that day, and swallowed everything up inside
it, so big you couldn't really prove it was there except by an arithmetic of
absence and the memory of better days. And she'd moved around in it,
whatever it was, from one point to another, 'til she'd wound up behind that
wire in Beaverton, in a place so bad it was like a piece of broken glass to
rub against that big empty. And thereby growing aware of the thing that had
swallowed the world, though it was only just visible, and then in sidelong
glances. Not a feeling so much as a form of gas, something she could almost
smell in the back of her throat, lying chill and inert in the rooms of her
'You okay?' Nigel's greasy hair in his eyes, the red ball in his hand,
a cocktail toothpick with a spray of amber cellophane stuck in the corner of
For a long time she'd wondered if maybe the fever hadn't burned it out,
hadn't accidentally fried whatever circuit in her it fed back on. But as
she'd gotten used to the bridge, to Skinner, to messing at Allied, it had
just come to seem like the emptiness was filled with ordinary things, a
whole new world grown up in the socket of the old, one day rolling into the
next-whether she danced in Dissidents, or sat up all night talking with her
friends, or slept curled in her bag up in Skinner's room, where wind scoured
the plywood walls and the cables thrummed down into rock that drifted
(Skinner said) like the slowest sea of all.
Now that was broken.
That jumper she'd seen, a girl, hauled up and over the side of a Zodiac
with a pale plastic hook, white and limp, water running from nose and mouth.
Every hone broken or dislocated, Skinner said, if you hit just right. Ran
through the bar naked and took a header off some tourist's table nearest the
railing, out and over, tangled in Haru's Day-Gb net and imitation Japanese
fishing floats. And didn't Sammy Sal drift that way now, maybe already clear
of the dead zone that chased the fish off the years of toxic lead fallen
there from uncounted coats of paint, out into the current that sailed the
bridge's dead, people said, past Mission Rock, to wash up at the feet of the
micropored wealthy jogging the concrete coast of China Basin?
Chevette bent over and threw up, managing to get most of it into an
open, empty paint can, its lip thickly scabbed with the gray primer that
Nigel used to even out his dodgier mends.
'Hey, hey,' Nigel dancing around her, unwilling in his shy bearish way
to touch her, his big hands hovering, anxious that she was sick and worried
she'd puke over his work, something that might ultimately require the
in-depth, never-bef ore-attempted act of cleaning out, rather than up, his
narrow nest. 'Water? Want water?' Offering her the old coffee can he kept
there to quench hot metal. Oily flux afloat atop it like gas beside a dock,
and she nearly heaved again, but sat down instead.
Sammy Sal dead, maybe Skinner, too. Him and that grad student tied up
up there with the plastic worms.
He'd put the coffee can down and was offering her an open can of beer
instead. She waved it aside, coughing.
Nigel shifted, foot to foot, then turned and peered through the
triangular shard of lucite that served as his one window. It was vibrating
with the wind. 'Stormin',' he said, like he was glad to note the world
outside continuing on any recognizable course at all, however drastic.
'Stormin' down rain.'
Running from Skinner's and the gun in the killer's hand, from his eyes
and the gold in the corners of his smile, bent low for balance over her
bound hands and the case that held the asshole's glasses, Chevette had seen
all the others running, too, racing, it must have been, against the breaking
calm, the first slap of rain almost warm when it came. Skinner would've
known it was coming; hed have watched the barometer in its corny wooden case
like tw wheel of some old boat; he knew his weather, Skinner, pe:ched in his
box on the top of the bridge. Maybe the other; knew, too, but it was the
style to wait and then race it, biding out for a last sale, another smoke,
some bit of business. The hour before a storm was good for that, people
naking edgy purchases against what was ordinarily a bearahe uncertainty.
Though a few were lost, if the storm was big enough, and not always the
unestablished, the newconers lashed with their ragged baggage to whatever
freehold they might have managed on the outer structure; sometimes a whole
patchwork section would just let go, if the wind caught it right; she hadn't
seen that but there were stories. There was nothing to stop the new people
from coming in to the shelter of the decks, but they seldom did.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and took the beer from
Nigel. Took a sip. It was warm. She handed it back to him. He took the
toothpick from his mouth, started to raise the can for a swallow, thought
better of it, put it down beside his welding-torch.
'Somethin's wrong,' he said. 'I can tell.'
She massaged her wrists. Twin rings of rash coming up, pink and moist,
where the plastic had gripped her. Picked up the ceramic knife and closed it
'Yeah,' she said, 'yeah Something's wrong...'
'What's wrong, Chevette?' He shook hair out of his eyes like a worried
dog, fingers running nervously over his tools. His hands were like pali
dirty animals, capable in their mute and agile way of solvingproblems that
would have hopelessly baffled the man himself. 'That Jap shit delaminated on
you,' he decided, 'and you're pssed...'
'No,' she said, not realy hearing him.
'Steel's what you wait for a messenger bike. Weight. Big basket up
front. Not cadhoard with some crazy aramid shit wrapped around it, weghs
about as much as a sandwich.
What if you hit a b-bus? Bang into the back of it? You got more m-mass
than the b-bike, you flip over and c-crack open crack your...' His hands
twisting, trying more accurately to frame the physics of the accident he was
seeing. Chevette looked up and saw that he was trembling.
'Nigel,' she said, standing up, 'somebody just put that thing on me for
a joke, understand?'
'It moved,' he said. 'I saw it.'
'Well, not a funny joke, okay? But I knew where to come. To you, right?
And you took it off.'
Nigel shook his hair back into his eyes, shy and pleased. 'You had that
knife. Cuts good.' Then he frowned. 'You need a steel knife...'
'I know,' she said. 'I gotta go now...' Bending to pick up the paint
can. 'I'll toss this. Sorry.'
'It's a storm,' Nigel said. 'Don't go out in a storm.'
'I've got to,' she said. 'I'll be okay.' Thinking how he'd kill Nigel,
too, if he found her here. Hurt him. Scare him.
'I cut them off.' Holding up the red ball.
'Get rid of that,' she said.
'Look at this rash.'
Nigel dropped the bali like it was poison. It bounced out of sight. He
wiped his fingers down the filthy front of his t-shirt.
'Nigel, you got a screwdriver you'll give me? A flathead?'
'Mine are all worn down...' The white animals running over a shoal of
tools, happy to be hunting, while Nigel gravely watched them. 'I throw those
flathead screws away as soon as I get 'em off. Hex is how you want to go-'
'I want one that's all worn down.'
The right hand pounced, came up with its prize, blackhandled and
'That's the one,' she said, zipping up Skinner's jacket. Both hands
offered it to her, Nigel's eyes hiding behind his hair, watching. 'I... like
'I know,' she said, standing there with a paint can with vomit in it in
one hand, a screwdriver in the other. 'I know you do.'
Baffled by the patchwork of plastic that roofed the upper deck, the
rain was following waste-lines and power-cables, emerging overhead at crazy
angles, in random cascades, miniature Niagaras rushing off corrugated iron
and plywood. From the entrance to Nigel's workshop, Chevette watched an
awning collapse, gallons of silver water splashing all at once from what had
been a taut concavity, a bulging canvas bathtub that gave way with a sharp
crack, instantly becoming several yards of flapping, sodden cloth. Nothing
here was ever planned, in any overall sense, and problems of drainage were
dealt with as they emerged. Or not, more likely.
Half the lights were out, she saw, but that could be because people had
shut them down, had pulled as many plugs as possible. But then she caught
the edge of that weird pink flash you got when a transformer blew, and she
heard it boom. Out toward
Treasure. That took care of most of the remaining lights and suddenly
she stood in near darkness. There was nobody in sight, nobody at all. Just a
hundred-watt bulb in an orange plastic socket, twirling around in the wind.
She moved out into the center of the deck, trying to watch out for
fallen wires. She remembered the can in her hand and flung it sideways,
hearing it hit and roll.
She thought of her bike lying there in the rain, its capacitors
drained. Somebody was going to take it, for sure, and Sammy Sal's, too. It
was the biggest thing, the most valuable thing she'd ever owned, and she'd
earned every dollar she'd put down on the counter at City Wheels. She didn't
think about it like it was a thing, more the way she figured people thought
about horses. There were messengers who named their bikes, but Chevette
never would have done that, and somehow because she did think about it like
it was something alive.
Proj, she told herself, they'll get you if you stay here. Her back to
San Francisco, she set out toward Treasure.
They who? That one with his gun. He'd come for the glasses. Came for
the glasses and killed Sammy. Had those people sent him, the ones who called
up Bunny and Wilson the owner? Rentacops. Security guys.
The case in her pocket. Smooth. And that weird cartoon of the city,
those towers with their spreading tops. Sunflower.
'Jesus,' she said, 'where? Where'm I going?'
To Treasure, where the wolf-men and the death-cookies hung, the bad
crazies chased off the bridge to haunt the woods there? Been a Navy base
there, Skinner said, but a plague put paid to that just after the Little
Grande, something that turned your eyes to mush, then your teeth fell out.
Treasure Island fever, like maybe something crawled out of a can at that
Navy place, after the earthquake. So nobody went there now, nobody normal.
You saw their fires at night, sometimes, and smoke in the daytime, and you
walked straight over to the Oakland span, the cantilever, and the people who
lived there weren't the same, really, as the people over here in the
Or should she go back, try to get her bike? An hour's riding and the
brakes would be charged again. She saw herself just riding, maybe east,
riding forever into whatever country that was, deserts like you saw on
television, then flat green farms where big machines came marching along in
rows, doing whatever it was they did. But she remembered the road down from
Oregon, the trucks groaning past in the night like lost mad animals, and she
tried to picture herself riding down that. No, there wasn't any place out on
a road like that, nothing human-sized, and hardly ever even a light, in all
the fields of dark. Where you could walk and walk forever and never come to
anything, not even a place to sit down. A bike wouldn't get her anywhere out
Or she could go hack to Skinner's. Co up there and see- No. She shut
that down, hard.
The empty rose out of the rain-rattled shadws like a gas, and she held
her breath, not to breathe it in.
How it was, when you lost things, it was like you only knew for the
first time that you'd ever had them. Took a mother's leaving for you to know
she'd ever been there, because otherwise she was that place, everything,
like weather. And Skinner and the Coleman stove and the oil she had to drop
into the little hole to keep its leather gasket soft so the pump would work.
You didn't wake up every morning and say yes and yes to every little thing.
But little things were what it was all made of. Or just somebody to see,
there, when you woke up. Or Lowell. When she'd had Lowel.-if she could say
she ever had, and she guessed she hadn't, really-but while he'd been there,
anyway, he'd been a little like that- 'Chev? That you?'
And there he was. Lowell. Sitting up cross-legged on top of a rusty
cooler said SHRIMP across the froit, smoking a cigarette and watching rain
run off the shrimp man's awning. She hadn't seen him for three weeks now,
and the only thing she could think of was how she really must look like
total shit. That skinhead boy they called Codes was sitting up beside him,
black hood of a sweatshirt pulled up and his hands hidden in the long
sleeves. Codes hadn't ever liked her.
But Lowell, he was grinning around the glow of that cigarette. 'Well,'
he said, 'you gonna say "hi" 0: what?'
'Hi,' Chevette said.
21. Cognitive dissidents.
Rydell wasn't too sure about this whole bridge thing, and less sure
about what Freddie had had to say about it, in Food Fair and on the way back
from North Beach. He kept remembering that documentary he'd seen in
Knoxville and he was pretty sure there hadn't been anything on that about
cannibals or cults. He thought that had to be Freddie wanting him to think
that, because he, Rydell, was the one who had to go out there and get this
girl, Chevette Washington.
And now he was actually out on it, watching people hurry to get their
stuff out of the way of the weather, it looked even less like what Freddie
had said it was all about. It looked like a carnival, sort of. Or a state
fair midway, except it was roofed over, on the upper level, with crazy
little shanties, just boxes, and whole house-trailers winched up and glued
into the suspension with big gobs of adhesive, like grasshoppers in a
spider-web. You could go up and down, between the two original deck levels,
through holes they'd cut in the upper deck, all different kinds of stairs
patched in under there, plywood and welded steel, and one had an old airline
gangway, just sitting there with its tires flat.
Down on the bottom deck, once you got in past a lot of food-wagons,
there were mostly bars, the smallest ones Rydell had ever seen, some with
only four stools and not even a door, just a big shutter they could pull
down and lock.
But none of it done to any plan, not that he could see. Not like a
mall, where they plug a business into a slot and wait to see whether it
works or not. This place had just grcwn, it looked like, one thing patched
onto the next, until the whole span was wrapped in this formless mass of
stuff, and io two pieces of it matched. There was a different material
anywhere you looked, almost none of it being used for what it had originally
been intended for. He passed stalls faced with turquoise Formica, fake
brick, fragments of broken tile vorked into swirls and sunbursts and
flowers. One place, dready shuttered, was covered with green-and-copper skbs
of desoldered component-board.
He found himself grinning at it all, and at the peopli, none of them
paying him the least attention, cannibaliitic or otherwise. They looked to
be as mixed a bunch a; their building materials: all ages, races, colors,
and all & them rushing ahead of the storm that very definitely was coming
now, wind stiffening as he threaded his way past carts and old ladies
lugging straw suitcases. A little kid, staggering with his arms wrapped
around a big red fire-extinguisher, bumped into his legs. Rydell hadn't ever
seen a little kid with tattons like that. The boy said something in some
other language aid then he was gone.
Rydell stopped and got Warbaby's map out of his jacket pocket. It
showed where this girl lived and how to get up there. Right up on the roof
of the damned thing, in a little shanty stuck to the top of one of the
towers they hing the cables from.
Warbaby had beautiful handwriting, really graceful, and he'd drawn this
map out in the back of the patriot, and labelled it for Rydell. Stairs here,
then you weni along this walkway, took some kind of elevator.
Finding that first set of stairs was going to be a bitch, though,
because, now that he looked around, he saw lots of narrow little stairways
snaking up between stalls and shattered micro-bars, and no pattern to it at
all. He guessed they all led up into the same rats-nest, but there was no
guarantee they'd all connect up.
Exhaustion hit him, then, and he just wanted to know where and when he
was supposed to sleep, and what was all this bullshit about, anyway? What
had he let Hernandez get him in for?
Then the rain hit, the wind upping its velocity a couple of notches and
the locals diving seriously for cover, leaving Rydell to hunch in the angle
between a couple of old-fashioned Japanese vending-machines. The overall
structure, if you could call it that, was porous enough to let plenty of
rain in, but big enough and clumsy enough to tangle seriously with the wind.
The whole thing started creaking and popping and sort of groaning. And the
lights started going out.
He saw a burst of white sparks and a wire came down, out of that crazy
tangle. Somebody yelled, but the words were pulled away into the wind and he
couldn't make them out. He looked down and saw water rising around his SWAT
shoes. Not good, he thought: puddles, wet shoes, alternating current.
There was a fruitstand next to one of the vending-machines, knocked
together from scavenged wood like a kid's fort. But it had a sort of shelf
under it, raised up six inches, and it looked dry under there. He hunched
himself in, on top of it, with his feet up out of the water. It smelled like
overripe tangerines, but it was ninety-percent dry and the vending-machine
took most of the wind.
He zipped his jacket as high as it went, balled his fists into the
pockets, and thought about a hot bath and a dry bed. He thought about his
Futon Mouth futon, down in Mar Vista, and actually felt homesick. Jesus, he
thought, be missing those stick-on flowers next.
A canvas awning came down, its wooden braces snapping like toothpicks,
spilling maybe twenty gallons of rain. And right then was when he saw her,
Chevette Washington, right out in plain sight. Just like he was dreaming.
Not twenty feet away. Just standing there.
Rydell had sort of had this girlfriend down in Florida, after his
father had moved down there and gotten sick. Her name was Claudia Marsalis
and she was from Boston and her mother had her RV in the same park as
Rydell's father, right near Tampa Bay.
Rydell was in his first year at the Academy, but you got a couple of
breaks and his father knew ways to get a deal on plane tickets.
So Rydell would go down there on breaks and stay with his father and
sometimes at night he'd go out and ride around with Claudia Marsalis in her
mother's Lincoln, which Claudia said had been cherry when they brought it
down but now the salt was starting to get to it. Evidently up in Boston
she'd only ever taken it out on the road in the summer, so the chemicals
wouldn't eat it out. It had these blue-and-white MASS. HERITAGE plates on it
because it was a collector's item. They were the old-fashioned kind, stamped
metal, and they didn't light up from inside.
It was kind of rough, around that part of Tampa, with the street signs
all chewed up for target practice or the late-night demonstration of the
choke on somebody's shotgun. There were plenty of shotguns around to be
demonstrated, too; a few in the window-rack of every pick-up and 4X4, and
usually a couple of big old dogs. Claudia used to give Rydell a hard time
about that, about these Florida boys in gimme hats, riding around with their
guns and dogs. Rydell told her it didn't have anything to do with him, he
was from Knoxville, and people didn't drive around Knoxville with their guns
showing. Or shoot holes in street signs either, not if the Department could
help it. But Claudia was one of those people thought everything south of
D.C. was all just the same, or maybe she just pretended to to tease him.
But at night it smelled like salt and magnolia and swamp, and they'd
drive around in that Lincoln with the windows down and listen to the radio.
When it got dark you could watch the lights on ships, and on the big
bulk-lifters that went drumming past like the world's slowest UFOs. They'd
maybe get in a little listless boogy in the back seat, sometimes, but
Claudia said it just got you too sweaty in Florida and Rydell tended to
agree. It was just they were both down there and alone and there wasn't much
else to do.
One night they were listening to a country station out of Georgia and
'Me And Jesus'll Whup Your Heathen Ass' came on, this hardshell Pentecostal
Metal thing about abortion and ayatollahs and all the rest of it. Claudia
hadn't ever heard that one before and she about wet her pants, laughing. She
just couldn't believe that song. When she'd gotten hold of herself and wiped
the tears out of her eyes, she'd asked Rydell why he wanted to be a
policeman anyway? And he'd felt kind of uncomfortable about that, because it
was like she thought his going to the Academy was funny, too, as funny as
she thought that dumb-ass song was. But also because it wasn't actually
something he'd thought about, much.
The truth was, it probably had a lot to do with how he and his father
had always watched Cops in Trouble together, because that show seriously did
teach you respect. You got to see what kind of problems the police were flat
up against. Not just tooled-up slimeballs high on shit, either, but the
slimeballs' lawyers and the damn courts and everything. But if he told her
it was because of a tv show, he knew she'd just laugh at that, too. So he
thought about it a while and told her it was because he liked the idea of
being in a position to help out people when they were really in trouble.
When he'd said that, she just looked at him.
'Berry,' she said, 'you really mean that, don't you?'
'Sure,' he said, 'guess I do.'
'But Berry, when you're a cop, people are just going to lie to you.
People will think of you as the enemy. The only time they'll want to talk to
you is when they're in trouble.'
Driving, he glanced sideways at her. 'How come you know SO much about
'Because that's what my father does,' she said, end of conversation,
and she never did bring it up again. But he'd thought about that, driving
Gunhead for IntenSecure, because that was like being a top except it wasn't.
The people you were there to help didn't even give enough of a shit to lie
to you, mostly, because they were the ones paying the bill.
And here he was, out on this bridge, crawling out from under a
fruitstand to follow this girl that Warbaby and Freddie-who Rydell was
coming to decide lie didn't trust worth a rat's ass-claimed had butchered
that German or whatever he was up in that hotel. And stolen these glasses
Rydell was supposed to get back, ones like Wa:baby's. But if she'd stolen
them before, how come she'd gone back to kill the guy later? But the real
question was, what did that have to do with anything, or even with watching
Cops in Trouble all those times with his father? And the answer, he guessed,
was that he, like anybody else in his position, was just trying to make a
Solid streams of rain were coming down cut of various points in all
that jackstraw stuff upstairs, sphshing on the deck. There was a pink flash,
like lightning, off down the bridge. He thought he saw her fling something t
the side, but if he stopped to check it out he might lose her. She was
moving now, avoiding the waterfalls.
Street-surveillance technique wasn't something you got much training
in, at the Academy, not unless yu looked like such good detective material
that they streamlined you right into the Advanced CI courses. But Rydell bad
gone and bought the textbook anyway. Trouble was, because of that he knew
you pretty well needed at least one partnei to do it with, and that was
assuming you had a radio link anc some citizens going about their business
to give you a little uver. Doing it this way, how he had to do it now, about
the best you could hope for was just to sneak along behind her.
He knew it was her because of that crazy hair, that ponytail ;tuck up
in the back like one of those fat Japanese wrestlers. The wasn't fat,
though. Her legs, sticking out of a big old biker jacket that might've been
hanging in a barn for a couple of years, looked like she must work out a
lot. They were covered with some tight shiny black stuff, like Kevin's
micropore outfits from Just Blow Me, and they went down into some kind of
dark boots or high-top shoes.
Paying that much attention to her, and trying to stay out of sight in
case she turned around, he managed to walk right under one of those
waterfalls. Right down the back of his neck. Just then he heard somebody
call to her, 'Chev, that you?' and he went down on one knee in a puddle,
behind this stack of salvaged lumber, two-by-fours with soggy plaster
sticking to them. ID positive.
The waterfall behind him was making too much noise for him to hear what
was said then, but he could see them: a young guy with a black leather
jacket, a lot newer than hers, and somebody else in something black, with a
hood pulled up. They were sitting up on a cooler or something, and the guy
with the leather was dragging on a cigarette. Had his hair combed up in sort
of a crest; good trick, in that rain. The cigarette arced out and winked off
in the wet, and the guy got down from there and seemed to be talking to the
girl. The one with the black hood got down, too, moving like a spider. It
was a sweatshirt, Rydell saw, with sleeves that hung down six inches past
his hands. He looked like a floppy shadow from some old movie Rydell had
seen once, where shadows got separated from people and you had to catch them
and sew them back on. Probably Sublett could tell him what that was called.
He worked hard on not moving, kneeling there in that puddle, and then
they were moving, the two of them on either side of her and the shadow
glancing hack to check behind them. He caught a fraction of white face and a
pair of hard, careful eyes.
He counted: one, two, three. Then he got up and followed them.
He couldn't say how far they'd gone before he saw them drop, it looked
like, straight out of sight. He wiped rain from his eyes and tried to figure
it, but then he saw that they'd gone down a flight of stairs, this one cut
into the lower deck, which was the first time he'd seen that. He could hear
music as he came up on it, and see this bluish glow. Which proved to be from
this skinny little neon sign that said, in blue capital letters: COGNITIVE
He stood there for a second, hearing water sizzle off the sign's
transformer, and then he just took those stairs.
They were plywood, stapled with that sandpapery no-slip stuff, but he
almost slipped anyway. By the time he'd gotten halfway to the bottom, he
knew it was a bar, because he could smell beer and a couple of different
kinds of smoke.
And it was warm, down there. It was like walking into a steam bath. And
crowded. Somebody threw a towel at him. It was soaking wet and hit him in
the chest, but he grabbed it and rubbed at his hair and face with it, tossed
it back in the direction it had come from. Somebody else, a woman by the
sound, laughed. He went over to the bar and found an empty space at the end.
Fished in his soggy pockets for a couple of fives and clicked them down on
the counter. 'Beer,' he said, and didn't look up when somebody put one down
in front of him and swept the coins out of sight. It was one of those
brewed-in-America Japanese brands that people in places like Tampa didn't
drink much. He closed his eyes and drank about half of it at a go. As he
opened his eyes and put it down, somebody beside him said 'Tumble?'
He looked over and saw this jawless character with little pink glasses
and a little pink mouth, thinning sandy hair comhed straight back and
shining with something more than the damp in the rooni.
'What?' Rydell said.
'I said "tumble."'
'I heard you,' Rydell said.
'So? Need the service?'
'Uh, look,' Rydell said, 'all I need right now's this beer, okay?'
'Your phone,' the pink-mouthed man said. 'Or fax. Guaranteed tumble,
one month. Thirty days or your next thirty free. Unlimited long, domestic.
You need overseas, we can talk overseas. But three hundred for the basic
tumble.' All of this coming out in a buzz that reminded Rydell of the kind
of voice-chip you got in the cheapest possible type of kid's toy.
'Wait a sec,' Rydell said.
The man blinked a couple of times, behind his pink glasses.
'You talking about doing that thing to a pocket phone, right? Where you
don't have to pay the company?'
The man just looked at him.
'Well, thanks,' Rydell said, quickly. 'I appreciate it, but I just
don't have any phone on me. If I did, I'd be happy to take you up on it.'
Still looking at him. 'Thought I saw you before...' Doubt.
'Naw,' Rydell said. 'I'm from Knoxville. Just come in out of the rain.'
He decided it was time to risk turning around and checking the place out,
because the mirrors behind the bar were steamed up solid and running with
drops. He swung his shoulder around and saw that Japanese woman, the one
he'd seen that time up in the hills over Hollywood, when he'd been cruising
with Sublett. She was standing up on a little stage, naked, her long curly
hair falling around her to her waist. Rydell heard himself grunt.
'Hey,' the man was saying, 'hey...'
Rydell shook himself, a weird automatic thing, like a wet dog, but she
was still there.
'Hey. Credit.' The drone again. 'Got prohlems? Maybe just wanna see
what they've got on you? Anybody else, you got the right numbers-'
'Hey,' Rydell said, 'wait up. That woman up there?'
The pink glasses tilted.
'Who is that?' Rydell asked.
'That's a hologram,' the man said, in a completely different voice, and
'Damn,' said the bartender, behind him. 'You just set a record for
blowing off Eddie the Shit. Earned yourself a beer, my man.'
The bartender was a black guy with copper beads in his hair. He was
grinning at Rydell. 'Call him Eddie the Shit cause he ain't worth one, don't
give another. Hook your phone up to some box doesn't have a battery, push a
few buttons, pass a dead chicken over it, take your money. That's Eddie.' He
uncapped a beer and put it down beside the other one.
Rydell looked back at the Japanese woman. She hadn't moved. 'I just
came in out of the rain,' he said, all he could think to say.
'Good night for it,' the bartender said.
'Say,' Rydell said, 'that lady up there-'
'That's Josie's dancer,' the bartender said. 'You watch. She'll dance
her in a minute, soon as there's a song she likes.'
The bartender pointed. Rydell looked where he was pointing. Saw a very
fat woman in a wheelchair, her hair the color and texture of coarse steel
wool. She wore brand-new blue denim bib overalls and an XXL white
sweatshirt, and both her hands were hidden inside something that sat on her
lap like a sn÷ooth gray plastic muff. Her eyes were closed, face
expressionless. He couldn't have said for sure that she wasn't asleep.
'Hologram?' The Japanese woman hadn't moved at all. Rydell was
remembering what he'd seen, that night. l'he horned crown, all silver. Her
pubic hair, shaved like an exclamation point. This one didn't have either of
those, but it was her. It was.
'Josie's always projectin',' the bartender said, like it was something
that couldn't really be helped.
'From that thing on her lap?'
'That's the interface,' the bartender said. 'Projector's, well, there.'
He pointed. 'Top of that NEC sign.'
Rydell saw a little black gizmo clamped to the top of this Did
illuminated sign. It looked kind of like an old camera, the optical kind. He
didn't know if NEC was a beer or what. The whole wall was covered with these
signs, all different brands, md now he recognized a few of the names he
decided they were ads for old electronics companies.
He looked at the gizmo, back at the fat woman in the wheelchair, and
felt sad. Angry, too. Like he'd lost something. 'Not like I knew what I
thought it was,' he said to himself.
'Fool anybody,' said the bartender.
Rydeil thought about somebody sitting out there by that valley road.
Waiting for cars. Like he and his friends would lie under the bushes down
Jefferson Street and toss cans under people's tires. Sounded like a hubcap
had come off. See them get out and look, shake their heads. So what he'd
seen had just been a version of that, somebody playing with an expensive
'Shit,' he said, and put his mind to looking for Chevette Washington in
all this crowd. He didn't notice the beer-smell now, or the smoke, more the
wet hair and clothes and just bodies. And there she was, her and her two
friends, hunched over a little round table in a corner. The sweatshirt's
hood was down now, showing Rydell a white, stubbled head with some kind of
bat or bird tattooed Ofl the side, up where it would he hidden if the hair
grew in. It was the kind of tattoo somebody had done by hand, not the kind
you got done on a computer-driven table. Baldhead had a hard little face, in
profile, and he was wasn't talking. Chevette Washington was telling
something to the other one and not looking happy.
Then the music changed, these drums coming in, like there were millions
of them, ranked backed somehow beyond the walls, and weird waves of static
riding in on that, failing back, riding in again, and women's voices, crying
like birds, and none of it natural, the voices dopplering past like sirens
on a highway, and the drums, when you listened, made up of little snipped
bits of sound that weren't drums at all.
The Japanese woman-the hologram, Rydell reminded himself-raised her
arms and began to dance, a sort of looping shuffle, timed not to the tempo
of the drums but to the waves of static washing back and forth across the
sound, and when Rydell thought to look he saw the fat woman's eyes were
open, her hands moving inside that plastic muff.
Nobody else in the bar was paying it any attention at all, just Rydell
and the woman in the wheelchair. Rydell leaned there on the bar, watching
the hologram dance and wondering what he should do next.
Warbaby's shopping list went like this: best he got the glasses and the
girl, next best was the glasses, just the girl was definitely third, but a
must if that was all that was going.
Josie's music slid out and away for the last time and the hologram's
dance ended. There was some drunken applause from a couple of the tables,
Josie nodding her head a little like she was thanking them.
The terrible thing about it, Rydell thought, was that there Josie was,
shoehorned into that chair, and she just wasn't much good at making that
thing dance. It reminded him of this blind man in the park in Knoxville, who
sat there all day strumming an antique National guitar. There he was, blind,
had this old guitar, and he just couldn't chord for shit. Never seemed to
get any better at it, either. Didn't seem fair.
Now some people got up from a table near where Chevette Washington was
sitting. Rydell was in there quick, bringing the beer he'd won for getting
rid of Eddie the Shit. He still wasn't close enough to pick out what they
were saying, but he could try. He tried to think up ways to maybe start up a
conversation, but it seemed pretty hopeless. Not that he looked particularly
out of place, because he had the impression that most of this crowd weren't
regulars here, just a random sampling, come in out of the rain. But he just
didn't have any idea what this place was about. He couldn't figure out what
'Cognitive Dissidents' meant; it wouldn't help him figure out what the
theme, or whatever, was. And besides, whatever Chevette Washington and her
guy were discussing, it looked to be getting sort of heated.
Her guy, he thought. Something there in her body-language that said
Pissed-Off Girlfriend, and something in how hard this boy was studying to
show how little any of it bothered him, like maybe she was the Ex-All this
abruptly coming to nothing at all as every conversation died and Rydell
looked up from his beer to see Lt. Orlovsky, the vampire-looking cop from
SFPD Homicide, stepping in from the stairwell in his London Fog, some kind
of fedora that looked like it was molded from flesh-colored plastic on his
head, and those scary half-frame glasses. Orlovsky stood there, little
streams running off the hem of his rain-darkened coat and pooling around his
wingtips, while he unbuttoned the coat with one hand. Still had his black
flak vest on underneath, and now that hand came up to rest on the smooth,
injection-molded, olive-drab butt of his floating-breech H&K. Rydell looked
for the badge-case on the nylon neck-thong, but didn't see it.
The whole bar was looking at Orlovsky.
Orlovsky looked around the room, over the tops of his glasses, taking
his time, giving them all a good dose of Cop Eye. The music, some weird
hollow techie stuff that sounded like bombs going off in echo-chambers,
started to make a different kind of sense.
Rydell saw Josie the wheelchair woman looking at the Russian with an
expression Rydell couldn't process.
Spotting Chevette Washington in her corner, Orlovsky walked over to her
table, still taking his time, making the rest of the room take that same
time. His hand still on that gun.
It seemed to Rydell like the Russian just might be about to haul out
and shoot her. Sure looked like it, but what kind of cop would do that?
Now Orlovsky stopped in front of their table, just the right distance,
too far for them to reach him and far enough to allow room to pull that big
gun if he was going to.
The Boyfriend, Rydell was somehow pleased to see, looked fit to shit
himself. Baldhead looked like he'd been cast in plastic, just frozen there,
hands on the table. Between his hands, Rydell saw a pocket phone.
Orlovsky locked the girl with his full current of Eye-thing, his face
lined, gray in this light, unsmiling. He jerked the brim of the plastic
fedora, just this precise little fraction, and said 'Get up.'
Rydell looked at her and saw her trembling. There was never any
question the Russian meant her and not her friends-Boyfriend looking like he
might faint any second and Baldhead playing statue.
Chevette Washington stood up, shaky, the rickety little wooden chair
going over behind her.
'Out.' The hat-brim indicated the stairs. The hairy back of Orlovsky's
hand covered the butt of the H&K.
Rydell heard his own knees creak with tension. He was leaning forward,
gripping the edges of the table. He could feel old dried pads of gum under
The lights went out.
Much later, trying to explain to Sublett what it had been like when
Josie whipped her hologram on Orlovsky, Rydell said it looked sort of like
the special effect at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that part where
those angels or whatever they were came swirling out of that box and got all
over those Nazis.
But it had all been happening at once, for Rydell. When the lights
went, they all went, all those signs on the wall, everything, and Rydell
just tossed that table sideways, without even thinking about it, and Went
For where she'd been standing. And this ball of light had shot down,
expanding, from a point on the wall that must've marked the upper edge of
that NEC sign. It was the color of the hologram's skin, kind of honey and
ivory, all marbled through with the dark of her hair and eyes, like a
fast-forward of a satellite storm-system. All around that Russian, a
three-foot sphere around his head and shoulders, and as it spun, her eyes
and mouth, open in some silent scream, blinked by, all magnified. Each eye,
for a fraction of a second, the size of the ball itself, and the white teeth
big, too, each one long as a man's hand.
Orlovsky swatted at it, and that kept him, for some very little while,
from getting his gun out.
But it also gave off enough light to let Rydell see he was grabbing the
girl and not Boyfriend. Just sort of picking her up, forgetting everything
he'd ever been taught about comealongs and restraints, and running, best he
could, for the stairs.
Orlovsky yelled something, but it must've been in Russian.
His uncle, the one who'd gone off to Africa in the Army, used to say,
if he liked how a woman's ass moved when she walked, that it looked like two
baby bobcats in a croker sack. And that was the expression that popped into
Rydell's mind as he ran up those stairs with Chevette Washington held out in
front of him like a big bunch of groceries. But it didn't have anything to
do with sexy.
He was just lucky she didn't get an eye or break any of his ribs.
Whoever had grabbed her, she just kept kicking and punching, right up
the stairs, backward. But he had her held out so far in front of him that he
almost fell on top of her.
Then she was out on the deck, in what light there was, and looking at
some kind of plastic machine gun, the color of a kid's army toy, in the
hands of another one of these big ugly raincoat guys, this one with no hat
and his wet hair slicked back from a face with the skin on too tight.
'You drop her now, fuckhead,' this one with the gun said. Had an accent
out of an old monster movie. She barely kept to her feet when the one who
was holding her let go.
'Fuckhead,' the gun-guy said, like Pock Ed, 'you try to make move or
'War,' the one who'd grabbed her said, then doubled over, coughing.
'Baby,' he said, straightening, then winced, hugging his ribs, looking at
her. 'Jesus fuck, you got a kick on you.' Sounded American, but not West
Coast. In a cheap nylon jacket with one sleeve half ripped off at the
shoulder, white fuzzy stuff hanging out.
'You try to make a move...' And the plastic gun was pointing right at
the guy's face.
'War-baby, war-baby,' the guy said, or anyway it sounded like that,
'war-baby seilt me to get her. He's parked back out there past those
tank-ttap things, waiting for me to bring her Out.'
'Arkady...' It was the ofle in the plastic hat, coming up the stairs
behind the guy who'd grabbed her. He had a pair of night-vision glasses on,
that funny-looking center-tube poking out from beneath the brim of his hat.
He was holding up something that looked like a miniature aerosol can. He
said something in this language. Russian? He gestured with the little can,
back down the stairs.
'You use capsicum in an enclosed space like that,' said the one who'd
grabbed her, 'people'll get hurt. Get you some permanent sinus problems.'
The tight-faced man looked at him like he was something crawled out
from under a rock. 'You drive, yes?' he said, gesturing for the hat-man to
put the thing away, whatever it was.
'We had a coffee. Well, you had tea. Svobodov, right?'
Chevette caught the tight-faced man's glance at her, like he hadn't
liked her hearing his name. She wanted to tell him she'd heard it Rub-a-Dub,
how this other guy talked, so that couldn't really be it, could it?
'Why you grab her?' asked the tight-faced man, Rub-a-Dub.
'She coulda got away in the dark, couldn't she? Didn't know your
partner here had night vision. Besides, he sent me to get her. Didn't
mention you. In fact, they said you didn't come out here.'
The one with the hat was behind her now, jerking her arm up in a hold.
'Hey,' the one who'd grabbed her said, like it made things okay, 'these
men are police officers. SFPD Homicide, right?'
Rub-a-Dub whistled softly. 'Fuckhead.'
'Cops?' she asked.
Which produced a little snort of exasperation from Rub-aDub.
'Arkady, now we go. These dirthags try to spy us from below...' The
hat-man pulling off his night-glasses and dancing like he had to pee.
'Hey,' she said, 'somebody's killed Sammy. If you're cops, listen, he
killed Sammy Sal!'
'Who's Sammy?' the one in the torn jacket said.
'I work with him! At Allied. Sammy DuPree. Sammy. He got shot.'
'Who shot him?'
'Ry-dell. Shut fuck up.' Shot, Pock, Op. 'She's tellin' us she's
got-information-regarding-a-possiblehomicide, and you're telling me to shut
'Yes, I tell you shut fuck up. War-baby. He will explain.'
And her arm twisted up so she'd go with them.
Svobodov had insisted on cuffing him to Chevette Washington. They were
Beretta cuffs, just like he'd carried on patrol in Knoxville. Svobodov said
he and Orlovsky needed their hands free in case any of these bridge people
caught on they were taking the girl off.
But if they were taking her in, how come they hadn't read her any
Miranda, or even told her she was under arrest? Rydell had already decided
that if it got to court and he was called to witness, no way was he going to
perjure himself and say he'd heard any fucking Miranda. These Russians were
balls-out cowboys as far as he could see, just exactly the kind of officers
the Academy had tried hard to train Rydell not to be.
In a way, though, what they were reflected what a lot of people more or
less unconsciously expected cops to be and do, and that, this one lecturer
at the Academy had said, was because of mythology. Like what they called the
Father Mulcahy Syndrome, in barricaded hostage situations. Where somebody
took a hostage and the cops tried to decide what to do. And they'd all seen
this movie about Father Mulcahy once, so'd they'd say, yeah, I got it, I'll
get a priest, I'll get the guy's parents, I'll lay down my gun and I'll go
in there and talk him out. And he'd go in there and get his ass drilled out
real good. Because he forgot, and let himself think a movie was how you
really did it. And it could work the other way, too, SO you gradually became
how you saw cops were in.
23. Gone and done it.
movies and on television. They'd all been warned about that. But people
like Svobodov and Orlovsky, people who'd come here from other countries,
maybe that media stuff worked even stronger on them. Check how they dressed,
for one thing.
Man, he was going to have him a shower. Hot shower. He was going to
stay in there until he couldn't stand it anymore, or until the hot ran out.
Then he was going to get out and towel off and put on all brand-new, totally
dry clothes, in whatever hotel room Warbaby had got for him. He was going to
send down for a couple of club sandwiches and an ice-bucket with about
four-five of those long-neck Mexican beers like they drank in L.A. And he'd
sit there with a remote and watch some television.
Maybe see Cops in Trouble. Maybe he'd even call up Sublett, shoot the
shit, tell him about this wild-ass time up in Northern California. Sublett
always worked deep graveyard because he was light-sensitive, so if it
happened to be his night off, he'd be up watching his movies.
'Watch where you're walking-' Yanking his cuffed hand so hard he nearly
fell over. He'd been about to go one side of an upright as she was about to
go the other. 'Hey. Sorry,' he said.
She wouldn't look at him. But she just didn't look to Rydell like she'd
sit down on some guy's chest with a razor and haul his tongue out the hard
way. Well, she did have that ceramic knife, when Svobodov shook her down,
plus a pocket phone and the damn glasses everybody was after. Those looked
just like Warbaby's, and had this case. The Russians were real happy about
that, and now they were tucked away safe in the inside pocket of Svobodov's
She wasn't the right kind of scared, either, something kept telling
him. She wasn't giving off that vibe of perp fear that you got to know by
about your third day on the job. It was like victim fear, what it was, even
though she'd already flatout admitted to Orlovsky that she'd stolen those
glasses. Said she'd done that up at a party in that hotel, the night before.
But neither of the Russians had said shit about any homicide beef, or
any Blix or whatever the victim's name had been. Or even larceny. And she'd
said that about somebody killing Sammy, whoever Sammy was. Maybe Sammy was
the German. But the Russians had just dropped it, and shut Etydell up, and
now she'd clammed up except to bitch at him if he started to fall asleep on
The place was coming back to life, sort of, now that the storm had
quit, but it was God knows when in the morning and there weren't exactly a
lot of people swarming out yet to check the damage. Lights kept coming back
on, here and there, and there were a few people sweeping water off decks and
things, and a few drunks, and this guy who looked like he was on dancer,
talking to himself a mile a minute, who kept following them until Svobodov
pulled out his H&K and spun around and said he'd grease him to fucking
catfood if he didn't get his dancer ass to Oakland like yesterday, fuckhead,
and the guy did, naturally, his eyes about to bug right out of his head, and
Orlovsky laughing at him.
They came out into some more lights, about where Rydell had first laid
his eyes on Chevette Washington. Looking down to keep track of his footing,
Rydell saw she was wearing black SWAT trainers just like his. Lexan insoles.
'Hey,' he said, 'major footwear.'
And she just looked up at him like he was crazy, and he saw tears
running down her face.
And Svobodov jammed the muzzle of that H&K, hard, into the joint of
Rydell's jaw, just in front of his right ear, and said: 'Fuckhead. You don't
talk to her.'
Rydell looked at Svobodov, edgewise, down the top of the barrel. Waited
until he thought it was safe to say okay.
After that, he didn't try to say anything to her, or even look at her.
When he thought he could get away with it, he looked at Svohodov. When they
took that cuff off, he just might deck that SOfl of a hitch.
But just after the Russian had pulled the gun out of his ear, Rydell
had registered something behind him. Not registered big-time, but it clicked
for him later: this big bear of a longhair, blinking out at them, where they
stood in the light, from this little doorway looked like it wasn't more than
a foot wide.
Rydell didn't have anything special going about black people or
immigrants or anything, not like a lot of people did. In fact, that had been
one of the things that had gotten him into the Academy when he hadn't
exactly had great grades from high school. They'd run all these tests on him
and decided he wasn't racist. He wasn't, either, but not because he thought
about it particularly. He just couldn't see the point. It just made for a
lot of hassle, being that way, so why be that way? Nobody was going to go
back and live where they lived before, were they, and if they did (he
vaguely suspected) there wouldn't be any Mongolian barbecue and maybe we'd
all be listening to Pentecostal Metal and anyway the President was black.
He had to admit, though, as he and Chevette Washington walked out
between those tank-trap slabs, their cuffed wrists swinging in that stupid
prom-night unison that you get with handcuffs, that currently he was feeling
a little put upon by a few very specific blacks and immigrants. Warbaby's
tvpreacher melancholy had worn thin on him; he thought Freddie was, as his
father would have put it, a jive-ass motherfucker; Svobodov and Orlovsky,
they must be what his uncle, the one who went in the army, had meant by
And here he could see Freddie with his butt propped against the front
fender of the Patriot, bobbing his head to something on earphones, the
lyrics or whatever sliding around the edges of his sneakers, animated in red
LEDs. Must've sat out the rain in the car, because his pistol-print shirt
and his big shorts weren't even wet.
And Warbaby there in his long quilted coat, his hat jammed down level
with those VL glasses. Looked like a refrigerator, if a refrigerator could
lean on a cane.
And the Russians' gray tanker of an unmarked, pulled up nose to nose
with the Patriot, armored tires and that graphite mesh rhino-chaser
screaming Cop Car at anybody who was interested. As indeed some were, Rydell
saw, a thin crowd of bridge-people watching from various perches on the
concrete slabs and battened food-wagons. Little kids, a couple of
Mexican-looking women with hairnets like they worked in food-preparation,
some rough-looking boys in muddy workclothes and leaning on shovels and
push-brooms there. Just looking, their faces carefully neutral, the way
people's faces got when they saw cops working and were curious.
And somebody in the Russians' car, hunched down knees-up in the shotgun
The Russians closing in tight on either side of Rydell and the girl,
walking them out. Rydell could feel them responding to the presence of the
crowd. Shouldn't've left the car out there like that.
Svobodov, this close, sort of creaked when he walked, and that was the
armor under his shirt that Rydell had noticed before, back in that greasy
spoon. Svobodov was smoking one of his Marlboro cigarettes, hissing out
clouds of blue smoke. Had the gun out of sight now.
And right up to Warbaby, Freddie shining the whole scene on with a grin
that made Rydell want to kick him, but Warbaby looking sad as ever.
'Get this fucking cuff off,' Rydell said to Warbaby, raising his wrist,
Chevette Washington's coming up with it. The crowd saw the cuffs then; there
was a ripple of reaction, voices.
Warbaby looked at Svobodov. 'You get it?'
'Here.' Svobodov touched the front of his London Fog.
Warbaby nodded, looked at Chevette Washington, then at Rydell. 'Good
then.' To Orlovsky: 'Take the cuffs off.'
Orlovsky took Rydell's wrist, slid a mag-strip into the slot in the
'Get in the car,' Warbaby said to Rydell.
'They haven't read her any Miranda,' Rydell said.
'Get in the car. You're driving, remember?'
'She under arrest, Mr. Warbaby?'
Chevette Washington was holding her wrist up for Orlovsky, but he was
putting the mag-strip away.
'Rydell,' Warbaby said, 'get in the car now. We've done our part here.'
The passenger-side door of the gray car opened. A man got out. Black
cowboy boots and a long black waterproof. Sandy hair, no particular length.
He had those deep smile-creases down his cheeks, like somebody had carved
them there. Light-colored eyes.
Then he did smile, and it was about two-thirds gum and a third teeth,
with gold at the corners.
'That's him,' Chevette Washington said, in this hoarse voice, 'he
And that was when the big longhair, the one in the dirty shirt, the one
Rydell had noticed back on the bridge, plowed this bicycle square into
Svobodov's back. Not any regular bicycle, either, but this big old rusty
coaster-brake number with a heavy steel basket welded in front of the bars.
The bike and the basket probably weighed a hundred pounds between them, and
there must've been another hundred pounds of scrap metal piled up in the
basket when Svobodov got nailed. Put him face-down across the hood of the
Patriot, Freddie jumping like a scalded cat.
The longhair landed on top of Svobodov and all that junk like a bear
with rabies, grabbed him by the ears, and starting slamming his face into
the hood. Orlovsky was pulling out his H&K and Rydell saw Chevette
Washington bend down, tug something out of the top of one SWAT shoe. jab it
into Orlovsky's hack. Looked like a screwdriver. Hit whatever armor he was
wearing, but it put him off-balance as he pulled the trigger.
Nothing in the world ever sounded like caseless ammunition, at
full-auto, out of a floating breech. It wasn't the sound of a machine gun,
but a kind of ear-shattering, extended whoop.
The first burst didn't seem to hit anything, but with Chevette
Washington clawing at his gun arm, Orlovsky tried to turn it on her. Second
burst went in the general direction of the crowd. People screaming, grabbing
Warbaby's mouth was just open, like he couldn't believe it.
Rydell was behind Orlovsky when he tried to bring the gun up again,
and, well, it was just one of those times.
He side-kicked the Russian about three inches below the back of his
knee, that third burst whooping almost straight up as Orlovsky went down.
Freddie tried to grab Chevette Washington, seemed to see the
screwdriver for the first time, and just managed to bring his laptop up with
both hands. That screwdriver went right through it. Freddie yelped and
Rydell grabbed the loose cuff, the one that had been around his wrist,
and just pulled.
Opened the passenger-side door of the Patriot and hauled her right in
after him. Getting into the driver's seat, he had a grandstand view of the
longhair pounding Svobodov's bloody face into the hood, all these pieces of
rusty junk jumping each time he did it.
Rydell saw Chevette Washington's phone and the case with the VL glasses
fall out of Svobodov's flak vest. Powered down the window and reached
around. Somebody shot the longhair off Svobodov, pop, pop, pop, and Rydell,
stomping it in reverse, saw the man from the cop car swinging a little gun
around, two-handed. just like they taught you in FATSS. The back of the
Patriot slammed into something and Svohodov flew off the hood in a cloud of
rusty chain and odd lengths of pipe. Chevette Washington was trying to get
out the passenger door, so he had to hang on to the cuff and spin the wheel
one-handed, let go of her long enough to shove it into forward and tromp on
it, then grab her again.
The passenger door slammed shut as he took it straight for the man with
the big smile, who maybe got off one more before he had to get out of the
The Patriot was fishtailing in about an inch of water, and he barely
missed clipping the back of a big orange waste-hauler pulled up beside a
He caught this one crazy glimpse in the dash-mirror, out the back
window: the bridge towering up like something wrapped in seaweed, sky
graying now behind it, and Warbaby taking one stiff-legged step, another,
raising the cane straight out from his shoulder, pointing it at the Patriot
like it was a magic wand or something.
Then whatever came out of the end of Warbaby's cane took out the
Patriot's back window, and Rydell hung a right so tight it almost tipped
'Jesus,' said Chevette Washington, like somebody talking in their
sleep, 'what are you doing?'
He didn't know, but hadn't he just gone and done it?
When the lights went out, Yamazaki fumbled in the dark for his bag.
Finding it, he felt through it for his flashlight.
In the white beam, Skinner slept slack-jawed beneath the blankets and a
Yamazaki searched the several shelves above the table-ledge: small
glass jars of spices, identical jars containing steel screws, an ancient
Bakelite telephone reminding him of the origin of the verb 'to dial,' rolls
of many different kinds and colors of adhesive tape, twists of heavy copper
wire, pieces of what he took to be salt-water tackle, and, finally, a bundle
of dusty candle-stubs secured with a rotting rubber band. Selecting the
longest of these, he found a lighter beside the green campstove. Standing
the candle upright on a white saucer, he lit it. The flame fluttered and
Flashlight in hand, he moved to the window and tugged it more tightly
into its deep circular frame. Now the candle stayed lit, though the flame
pulsed and swelled in drafts he could never hope to locate. Returning to the
window, he looked out. The darkened bridge was invisible. Rain was driving
almost horizontally against the window, tiny droplets reaching his face
through cracks in the glass and corroded segments of the supporting lead. It
occurred to him that Skinner's room might be made to function as a camera
ohscura. If the church window's tiny central hull's-eye pane were removed,
and the other panes covered, an inverted image would be cast on the opposite
24. Song of the central pier.
Yamazaki knew that the central pier, the bridge's center anchorage, had
once qualified as one of the world's largest pinhole cameras. In the
structure's pitch-black interior, light shining in through a single tiny
hole had projected a huge image of the underside of the lower deck, the
nearest tower, and the surrounding bay. Now the heart of the anchorage
housed some uncounted number of the bridge's more secretive inhabitants, and
Skinner had advised him against attempting to go there. 'Nothin' like those
Mansons out in the bushes on Treasure, Scooter, but you don't want to bother
'em anyway. Okay people but they just aren't looking for anybody to drop in,
know what I mean?'
Yamazaki crossed to the smooth curve of cable that interrupted the
room's floor. Only an oval segment of it was visible, like some mathematical
formula barely breaking a topological surface in a computer representation.
He bent to touch it, the visible segment polished by other hands. Each of
the thirty-seven cables, containing four hundred and seventy-two wires, had
withstood, and withstood now, a force of some million pounds. Yamazaki felt
something, some message of vast, obscure moment, shiver up through the
relic-smooth dorsal hump. The storm, surely; the bridge itself was capable
of considerable mobility; it expanded and contracted with heat and cold; the
great steel teeth of the piers were sunk into bedrock beneath the Bay mud,
bedrock that had scarcely moved even in the Little Grande.
Godzilla. Yamazaki shivered, recalling television images of Tokyo's
fall. He had been in Paris, with his parents. Now a new city rose there, its
buildings grown, literally, floor by floor.
The candlelight showed him Skinner's little television, forgotten on
the floor. Taking it to the table, he sat on the stool and examined it.
There was no visible damage to the screen. It had simply come away from its
frame, on a short length of multicolored ribbon. He folded the ribbon into
the frame and pressed with his thumbs on either side of the screen. It
popped back into place, but would it still function? He bent to examine the
tiny controls. ON.
Lime-and-purple diagonals chased themselves across the screen, then
faded, revealing some steadycam fragment, the NHK logo displayed in the
lower left corner. '-heir-apparent to the Harwood Levine public relations
and advertising fortune, departed San Francisco this afternoon after a
rumored stay of several days, declining comment on the purpose of his
visit.' A long face, horselike yet handsome, above a raincoat's upturned
collar. A large white smile. 'Accompanying him,' mid-distance shot down an
airport corridor, the slender, dark-haired woman wrapped in something
luxurious and black, silver gleaming at the heels of her shining boots, 'was
Maria Paz, the Padanian media personality, daughter of film director Carlo
Paz-.' The woman, who looked unhappy, vanished, to be replaced by infrared
footage from New Zealand, as Japanese peace-keeping forces in armored
vehicles advanced on a rural airport. '-losses attributed to the outlawed
South Island Liberation Front, while in Wellington-' Yamazaki attempted to
change the channel, but the screen only strobed its lime-and-purple, then
framed a portrait of Shapely. A BBC docu-drama. Calm, serious, mildly
hypnotic. After two more unsuccessful attempts at locating another channel,
Yamazaki let the British voiceover blot out the wind, the groaning of the
cables, the creaking of the plywood walls. He focused his attention on the
familiar story, its outcome fixed, comforting-if only in its certainty.
James Delmore Shapely had come to the attention of the AIDS industry in
the early months of the new century. He was thirty-one years old, a
prostitute, and had been HIVpositive for twelve years. At the time of his
'discovery,' by Dr. Kim Kutnik of Atlanta, Georgia, Shapely was serving a
two hundred and fifty day prison term for soliciting. (His status as
HIV-positive, which would automatically have warranted more serious charges,
had apparently been 'glitched.') Kutnik, a researcher with the Sharman
Group, an American subsidiary of Shibata Pharmaceuticals, was sifting prison
medical data in search of individuals who had been HIV-positive for a decade
or more, were asymptomatic, and had entirely normal (or, as in Shapely's
case, above the norm) T-cell counts.
One of the Sharmar Group's research initiatives centered around the
possibility of isolating mutant strains of HIV. Arguing that viruses obey
the laws of natural selection, several Sharman biologists had proposed that
the HIV virus, in its then-current genetic format, was excessively lethal.
Allowed to range unchecked, argued the Sharman team, a virus demonstrating
ioo percent lethality must eventually bring about the extinction oF the host
organism. (Other Sharman researchers countered Fy citing the long incubation
period as contributing to the suivival of the host population.) As the BBC
writers were careful to make clear, the idea of locating nonpathogenic
strains of HIV, with a view of overpowering and neutralizing lethal strains,
had been put forward almost a decade earlier, though the 'ethical'
implications of experimentation with human subjects had impeded research.
The core observation cf the Sharman researchers dated from this earlier
work: The %irus wishes to survive, and cannot if it kills its host. The
Shariian team, of which Dr. Kutnik was a part, intended to inject
HIV-positive patients with blood extracted from individials they believed to
be infected with nonpathogenic strains of the virus. It was possible, they
believed, that the nonathogenic strain would overpower the lethal strain.
Kim KutrLik was one of seven researchers given the task of locating
HIV-positive individuals who might be harboring a nonpathogenic strain. She
elected to begin her search through a sectorof data concerned with current
inmates of state prisons who were (a) in apparent good health, and (b) had
tested HIV-positive at least a decade before. Her initial search turned up
sixty-six possibles-among them, J. D. Shapely.
Yamazaki watched as Kutnik, played by a young British actress,
recalled, from a patio in Rio, her first meeting with Shapely. 'I'd been
struck by the fact that his T-cell count that day was over i,zoo, and that
his responses to the questionnaire seemed to indicated that 'safe sex,' as
we thought of it then, was, well, not exactly a priority. He was a very
open, very outgoing, really a very innocent character, and when I asked him,
there in the prison visiting room, about oral sex, he actually blushed. Then
he laughed, and said, well, he said he 'sucked cock like it was going out of
style...' The actressKutnik looked as though she were about to blush
herself. 'Of course,' she said, 'in those days we didn't really understand
the disease's exact vectors of infection, because, grotesque as it now
seems, there had been no real research into the precise modes of
Yamazaki cut the set off. Dr. Kutnik would arrange Shapely's release
from prison as an AIDS research volunteer under Federal law. The Sharman
Group's project would be hindered by fundamentalist Christians objecting to
the injection of 'HIV-tainted' blood into the systems of terminally ill AIDS
patients. As the project foundered, Kutnik would uncover clinical data
suggesting that unprotected sex with Shapely had apparently reversed the
symptoms of several of her patients. There would be Kutnik's impassioned
resignation, the flight to Brazil with the baffled Shapely, lavish funding
against a backdrop of impending civil war, and what could only be described
as an extremely pragmatic climate for research.
But it was such a sad story.
Better to sit here by candlelight, elbows on the edge of Skinner's
table, listening for the song of the central pier.
He kept saying he was from Tennessee and he didn't need this shit. She
kept thinking she was going to die, the way he was driving, or anyway those
cops would be after them, or the one who shot Sammy. She still didn't know
what had happened, and wasn't that Nigel who'd plowed into that tight-faced
But he'd hung this right off Bryant, so she told him left on Folsom,
because if the assholes were coming, she figured she wanted the Haight, best
place she knew to get lost, and that was definitely what she intended to do,
earliest opportunity. And this Ford was just like the one Mr. Matthews
drove, ran the holding facility up in Beaverton. And she'd tried to stab
somebody with a screwdriver. She'd never done anything like that in her life
before. And she'd wrecked that black guy's computer, the one with the
haircut. And this bracelet on her left wrist, the other half flipping
around, open, on three links of chain- He reached over and grabbed the loose
cuff. Did something to it without taking his eyes off the street. He let go.
Now it was locked shut.
'Why'd you do that?'
'So you don't snag it on something, wind up cuffed to the door-handle
or a street sign-'
'Take it off.'
She rattled it at him. 'Take it off.'
'Stick it up the sleeve of your jacket. Those are Beretta
25. Without a paddle.
cuffs. Real good cuffs.' He sounded like he was sort of happy to have
something to talk about, and his driving had evened out. Brown eyes. Not
old; twenties, maybe. Cheap clothes like K-Mart stuff, all wet. Light brown
hair cut too short but not short enough. She watched a muscle in his jaw
work, like he was chewing gum, but he wasn't.
'Where we going?' she asked him.
'Fuck if I know,' he said, gunning the engine a little. 'You the one
'Who are you?'
He glanced over at her. 'Rydell. Berry Rydell.'
'Berry. Like straw. Like dingle. Hey, this a big fucking Street, lights
'So where should I'
'Okay,' he said, and hung it. 'Why?'
'The Haight. Lots of people up late, cops don't like to go there...'
'Ditch this car there?'
'Turn your back on it two seconds, it's history.'
'They got ATM's there?'
'Well, here's one...' Up over a curb, hunks of crazed safety-glass
falling out of the frame where the back window had been. She hadn't even
He dug a soggy-looking wallet out of his back pocket and started
pulling cards out of it. Three of them. 'I have to try to get some cash,' he
said. He looked at her. 'You wanna jump out of this car and run,' he
shrugged, 'then you just go for it.'
Then he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out the glasses and
Codes's phone that she'd scooped when the lights went out in Dissidents.
Because she knew from Lowell that people in trouble need a phone, most times
worse than anything. He dropped them in her lap, the asshole's glasses and
the phone. 'Yours.'
Then he got out, walked over to the ATM, and started feeding it cards.
She sat there, watching it emerge from its armor, the way they do, shy and
cautious, its cameras coming out, too, to monitor the transaction. He stood
there, drumming his fingers on the side, his mouth like he was whistling but
he wasn't making any noise. She looked down at the case and the phone and
wondered why she didn't just jump out and run, like he said.
Finally he came back, thumb-counting a fold of bills, stuck it down in
his front jeans pocket, and got in He sailed the first of his cards out the
open window at the ATM, which was pulling back into its shell like a crab.
'Don't know how they cancelled that one so quick, after you put that thing
through Freddie's laptop.' Flicked another. Then the last one. They lay in
front of the ATM as its lexan shield came trundling down, their little
holograms winging up in the machine's halogen floods.
'Somebody'll get those,' she said.
'Hope so,' he said, 'hope they get 'em and go to Mars.' Then he did
something in reverse with all four wheels and the Ford sort of jumped up and
backward, into the street, some other car swerving past them all brakes and
horn and the driver's mouth a black 0, and the part of her that was still a
messenger sort of liked it. All the times they'd cut her off. 'Shit,' he
said, jamming the gear-thing around until he got what he needed and they
The handcuff was rubbing on the rash where the red worm had been. 'You
'Security? Like from the hotel?'
'Well,' she said, 'what are you?'
Streetlight sliding across his face. Seemed like he was thinking about
it. 'Up shit creek. Without a paddle.'
26. Colored people.
The first thing Rydell saw when he got out of the Patriot, in the alley
off Haight Street, was a one-armed, one-legged man on a skateboard. This man
lay on his stomach, on the board, and propelled himself along with a curious
hitching motion that reminded Rydell of the limbs of a gigged frog. He had
his right arm and his left leg, which at least allowed for some kind of
symmetry, but there was no foot on the leg. His face, as if by some weird
osmosis, was the color of dirty concrete, and Rydell couldn't have said what
race he was. His hair, if he had any, was covered by a black knit cap, and
the rest of him was sheathed in a black, one-piece garment apparently
stitched from sections of heavy-duty rubber inner-tube. He looked up, as he
hitched past Rydell, through puddles left by the storm, headed for the mouth
of the alley, and said, or Rydell thought he said: 'You wanna talk to me?
You wanna talk to me, you better shut your fuckin' mouth...'
Rydell stood there, Samsonite dangling, and watched him go.
Then something rattled beside him. The hardware on Chevette
Washington's leather jacket. 'Come on,' she said, 'don't wanna hang around
back in here.' 'You see that?' Rydell asked, gesturing with his suitcase.
'You hang around back in here, you'll see worse than that,' she said.
Rydell looked back at the Patriot. He'd locked it and left the key
under the driver's scat, because he hadn't wanted to
make it look too easy, but he'd forgotten about that back window. He'd
never been in the position before of actively wanting a car to be stolen.
'You sure somebody'll take that?' he asked her.
'We don't get out of here, they'll take us with it.' She started
walking. Rydell followed. There was stuff painted on the brick walls as high
as anyone could reach, but it didn't look like any language he'd ever seen,
except maybe the way they wrote cuss-words in a printed cartoon.
They'd just rounded the corner, onto the sidewalk, when Rydell heard
the Patriot's engine start to rev. It gave him goosebumps, like something in
a ghost story, because there hadn't been anybody back in there at all, and
now he couldn't see the skateboard man anywhere.
'Look at the ground,' Chevette Washington said. 'Don't look up when
they go by or they'll kill us...'
Rydell concentrated on the toes of his black SWATs. 'You hang out with
'Just walk. Don't talk. Don't look.'
He heard the Patriot wheel out of the alley and draw up beside them,
pacing them. His toes were making little squelching noises, each time he
took a step, and what if the last thing you knew before you died was just
some pathetic discomfort like that, like your shoes were soaked and your
socks were wet, and you weren't ever going to get to change them?
Rydell heard the Patriot take off, the driver fighting the unfamiliar
American shift-pattern. He started to look up.
'Don't,' she said.
'Those friends of yours or what?'
'Alley pirates, Lowell calls 'em.'
'You saw him in Dissidents.'
'Not a bar. A chill.'
'Serves alcohol,' Rydell said.
'A chill. Where you hang.' 'You' who? This Lowell, he hang there?'
'No,' she said, angry.
'He your friend, Lowell? Your boyfriend?'
'You said you weren't a cop. You talk like one.'
'I'm not,' he said. 'You can ask 'em.'
'He's just somebody I used to know,' she said. 'Fine.'
She looked at the Samsonite. 'You got a gun or something, in there?'
'Dry socks. Underwear.'
She looked up at him. 'I don't get you.'
'Don't have to,' he said. 'We just walking, or you maybe know somewhere
to go? Like off this street?'
'We want to look at some flash,' she said to the fat man. He had a
couple of things through each nipple, looked like Yale locks. Kind of pulled
him down, there, and Rydell just couldn't look at them. Had on some kind of
baggy white pants with the crotch down about where the knees should've been,
and this little blue velvet vest all embroidered with gold. He was big and
soft and fat and covered with tattoos.
Rydell's uncle, the one who'd gone to Africa with the army and hadn't
come back, had had a couple of tattoos. The best one went right across his
back, this big swirly dragon with horns and sort of a goofy grin. He'd
gotten that one in Korea, eight colors and it had all been done by a
computer. He'd told Rydell how the computer had mapped his back and showed
him exactly what it was going to look like when it was done. Then he had to
lie down on this table while this robot put the tattoo on.
Rydell had imagined a robot kind of like a vacuumcleaner, but with
twisty chrome arms had needles on the end. But his uncle said it was more
like being fed through a dotmatrix printer, and he'd had to go back eight
times, one time for each color. It was a great dragon, though, and lots
brighter than the tattoos on his uncle's arms, which were American eagles
and a Harley trademark. When his uncle worked out in the backyard with
Rydell's set of Sears weights, Rydell would watch the dragon ripple.
This fat bald guy with the weights through his nipples had tattoos
everywhere except his hands and his head. Looked like he was wearing a suit
of them. They were all different, no American eagles or Harley trademarks
either, and they sort of ran together. They made Rydell feel kind of dizzy,
so he looked up at the walls, which were covered with more tattoos, like
samples for you to pick from.
'You've been here before,' the man said.
'Yeah,' Chevette Washington said, 'with Lowell. You remember Lowell?'
The fat man shrugged.
'My friend and I,' she said, 'we wanna pick something out...'
'I haven't seen your friend before,' the fat man said, perfectly nice
about it but Rydell could hear the question in his voice. He was looking at
'It's okay,' she said. 'He knows Lowell. He's a 'Land boy, too.'
'You bridge people,' the fat man said, like he liked bridge people.
'That storm was just terrible, wasn't it? I hope it didn't do you people too
much damage... We had a client last month brought in a wide-angle Cibachrome
he wanted done as a back-piece. Your whole suspension span and everything on
it. Beautiful shot but he wanted it inked just that size, and he just wasn't
broad enough...' He looked up at Rydell. 'Would've fit, on your friend
'Couldn't he get it?' she asked, and Rydell caught that instinct to
keep people talking, keep them involved.
'We're a full-service shop here at Colored People,' the fat man said.
'Lloyd put it on a graphics engine, rotated it thirty degrees, heightened
the perspective, and it's gorgeous
Now, were you interested in seeing some flash for yourself, or for your
big friend here?'
'Uh, actually,' Chevette said, 'we're looking for something for both of
us. Like, uh, matching, you know?'
The fat man smiled. 'That's romantic...'
Rydell looked at her.
'Just come this way.' The fat man sort of jingled when he walked, and
it made Rydell wince. 'May I bring you some complimentary tea?'
'Coffee?' Rydell asked hopefully.
'I'm sorry,' the fat man said, 'but Butch left at twelve and I don't
know how to operate the machine. But I can bring you some nice tea.'
'Yeah,' Chevette said, urging Rydell along with little elbow-jabs,
The fat man took them down a hallway and into a little room with a
couple of wallscreens and a leather sofa. 'I'll just get your tea,' he said,
and shuffled out, jingling.
'Why'd you say that, about matching tattoos?' Rydell was looking around
the room. Clean. Blank walls. Soft light but no shadows.
'Because he'll leave us alone while we're trying to pick one, and
'cause it'll take us so long to make up our minds.'
Rydell put his Samsonite down and sat on the couch. 'So we can stay
'Yeah, as long as we keep calling up flash.'
She picked up a little remote and turned one of the wallscreens on.
Started blipping through menus. Hi-rez close-ups of tattooed skin. The fat
man came back with a couple of big rough mugs of steaming tea on a little
tray. 'Yours is green,' he said to Chevette Washington, 'and yours is
Mormon,' he said to Rydell, 'because you did ask for coffee...'
'Urn, thanks,' Rydell said, taking the mug he was offered.
'Now you two take plenty of time,' the fat man said, 'and you want
anything, just call.' He went out, tray tucked under his arm, and closed the
door behind him.
'Mormon?' Rydell sniffed at the tea. It didn't smell much of anything.
'Aren't supposed to drink coffee. That kind of tea's got ephedrine in
'Got drugs in it?'
'It's made from a plant with something that'll keep you awake. Like
Rydell decided it was too hot to drink now anyway. Put it down on the
floor beside the couch. The girl on the wallscreen had a dragon sort of like
his uncle's, but on her left hip. Little tiny silver ring through the top
edge of her belly button.
Chevette Washington flipped it to a big sweaty biker-arm with President
Milibank's face looking out from it in shades of gray.
Rydell struggled out of his damp jacket, noticing the ripped shoulder,
the cheap white stuffing popping out. He dropped it behind the couch. 'You
got any tattoos?'
'No,' she said.
'So how come you know about this?'
'Lowell,' she said, flipping through half a dozen more images, 'he's
got a Giger.'
'"Gigger"?' Rydell opened his Samsonite, got out a pair of socks, and
started unlacing his SWAT shoes.
'This painter. Like nineteenth-century or something. Real classical.
Bio-mech. Lowell's got this Giger back-piece done off a painting called
"N.Y.C. XXIV." She said it x, x, i, v. 'It's like this city. Shaded
black-work. But he wants sleeves to go with it, so we'd come in here to look
for more Gigers to match it.'
'Why don't you sit down,' Rydell said, 'you're making my neck hurt.'
She was pacing back and forth in front of the screens. He took his wet socks
off, put them in the Container City bag, and put the dry ones on. Thought
about leaving his shoes off for a while, but what if he had to leave in a
hurry? He put them back on. He was lacing them up when she sat down beside
She unzipped her jacket and shrugged it off, the loose Beretta cuff
rattling. The sleeves of her plain black t-shirt had been scissored off and
her upper arms were smooth and pale. She reached over the end of the couch
and put the jacket down, sort of propped against the wall, the leather stiff
enough that it just stayed there, its arms slumped down, like it was asleep.
Like Rydell wished he could be. Now she had the remote in her hand.
'Hey,' Rydell said, 'that guy in the raincoat back there, the one
shot-' He was about to say the big longhair on the bicycle, but she grabbed
his wrist, the handcuff rattling.
'Sammy. He shot Sammy, up at Skinner's. He... He was after the glasses,
and Sammy had them, and-'
'Wait. Wait a sec. The glasses. Everybody wants the glasses. That guy
wants 'em, Warbaby wants 'em...'
'The big black man shot the back window out of his car I was stealing.
'You think I know what they are?'
'You don't know why people are after them?'
She gave him a look like you might give a dog that had just told you it
was a good day to spend all your money on one particular kind of lottery
'Let's start over,' Rydell suggested. 'You tell me where you got the
'Why should I?'
He thought about it. 'Because you'd be dead by now if I hadn't done the
kind of dirt-stupid shit I just did, back there.'
She thought about that. 'Okay,' she said.
Maybe there really was something in the fat man's Mormon tea, or maybe
Rydell had just crossed over into that point of tiredness where it all
flipped around for a while and you started to feel like you were more awake,
some ways, than you usually ever were. But he wound up sipping that tea and
listening to her, and when she'd get too deep into her story to remember to
keep flipping the tattoo-pictures on the wallscreen, he'd do it for her.
When you worked it around to sequential order, she was this girl from
Oregon, didn't have any family, who'd come down here and moved out on that
bridge with this old man, crazy by the sound of it, had a bad hip and needed
somebody around to help him.
Then she'd gotten her a job riding a bicycle around San Francisco,
delivering messages. Rydell knew about messengers from his foot-patrol
period in downtown Knoxville, because you had to keep ticketing them for
riding on the sidewalk, traffic violation, and they'd give you a hard time
about it. But they made pretty good money if they worked at it. This Sammy
she'd said was shot, murdered, he was another messenger, a black guy who'd
gotten her on at Allied, where she worked.
And her story of how she'd taken the glasses out of the guy's pocket at
this big drunk party she'd wandered into up in the Morrisey, that made as
much sense to him as anything. And it wasn't the kind of story people made
up. Not like the glasses crawled into her hand or anything, she just
flat-out stole them, impulse, just because the guy was in her face and
obnoxious. Nuisance crime, except they'd turned out to be valuable.
But from her description he knew her asshole up in the Morrisey had
been the same one got himself the Cuban necktie, your German-born Costa
Rican citizen who maybe wasn't either, star of that X-rated fax of Warbaby's
and the one Svobodov and Orlovsky had been investigating. If they had been.
'Shit,' he said, in the middle of something she was trying to tell him.
'Nothing. Keep talking...'
The Russians were bent, and he knew that. They were Homicide, they were
bent, and he'd bet dollars to donuts they weren't even investigating the
case. They could talk Warbaby's way onto the crime-scene, tap their
department's computer, but the rest of it had just been window-dressing, for
him, for Rydell, the hired help. And what was that that Freddie had said,
about DatAmerica and IntenSecure being basically your same company?
But Chevette Washington was on a roll of her own now, like sometimes
when people get started talking they just let it all hang out, and she was
saying how Lowell, who was the one with the hair and not the skinhead, and
who actually had, sort of, been her boyfriend for a while, was a guy who
could (you know?) get things done with computers, if you had the money, and
that sort of scared her because he was always talking about the cops and how
he didn't have to worry about them.
Rydell nodded, automatically flipping through a couple more pictures of
tattoos-lady there with these pink carnations sort of followed her
bikini-line--but really he was listening to something going around in his
own head. Like Hernandez was IntenSecure, the Morrisey was IntenSecure,
Warbaby was IntenSecure, Freddie said DatAmerica and IntenSecure were like
the same thing- '-Desire...'
Rydell blinked. Skinny guy there with J. D. Shapely all mournful on his
chest. But you'd be mournful, too, you had chest hair growing out your eyes.
'Republic. Republic of Desire.'
'Why Lowell says the COPS won't ever bother him, but I told him he was
full of shit.'
'Hackers,' Rydell said.
'You haven't heard a word I said.'
'No,' Rydell said, 'no, that's not true. Desire. Republic of. Run that
one by again, okay?'
She took the remote, blipped through a shaven head with a sun at the
very top, planets orbiting down to the top of the ears, a hand with a
screaming mouth on the palm, feet covered with blue-green creature-scales.
'I said,' she said, 'Lowell bullshits about that, how he's connected up with
this Republic of Desire, how they can do anything they feel like with
computers, so anybody messes with him is gonna get it.'
'No shit,' Rydell said. 'You ever see these guys?'
'You don't see them,' she said, 'not like live. You talk to them, on
the phone. Or like with goggles, and that's the wildest.'
'Cause they look like lobsters and shit. Or some tv star. Anything. But
I don't know why I'm telling you.'
'Because I'll nod out otherwise, then how're we gonna decide if we're
getting the creature-feet or the crotch-carnations?'
'It's your turn,' she said, and just sat there until he started
He told her how he was from Knoxville and about getting into the
Academy, about how he'd always watched Cops in Trouble and then when he'd
been a cop and gotten in trouble, it had looked like he was going to be on
the show. How they'd brought him out to Los Angeles because they didn't want
Adult Survivors of Satanism stealing their momentum, but then the Pookey
Bear murders had come along and they'd sort of lost interest, and he'd had
to get on with IntenSecure and drive Gunhead. He told her about Sublett and
living with Kevin Tarkovsky in the house in Mar Vista, and sort of skipped
over the Republic of Desire and the night he'd driven Gunhead into the
Schonbrunns' place in Benedict Canyon.
About how Hernandez had come over, just the other morning but it seemed
like years, to tell him he could come up here and drive for this Mr.
Warbaby. Then she wanted to know what it was that skip tracers did, so he
explained what it was they were supposed to do, and what it was he figured
they probably did do, and she said they sounded like bad news.
When he was done, she just looked at him. 'That's it? That's how you
got here and what you're doing?'
'Yeah,' he said, 'guess it is.'
'Jesus,' she said. Sort of shook her head. They both watched a couple
of full body-suits blip past, one of them all circuit-patterns, like they
stenciled on old-fashiohed circuit-boards. 'You got eyes,' she said, and
yawned in the middle of it, 'like two piss-holes in a snowbank.'
There was a knock at the door. It opened a crack, and somebody, not the
man who jingled when he walked, said: 'You having any luck picking a design?
Henry's gone home...'
'Well it's just so hard to decide,' Chevette Washington said, 'there's
so many of them and we want to get just the right one.'
'That's fine,' said the voice, bored. 'You just go right on looking.'
The door closed.
'Let me see those glasses,' Rydell said.
She reached over and got her jacket. Got out the case with the glasses,
the phone. Handed him the glasses. The case was made out of some dark stuff,
thin as eggshell, rigid as steel. He opened it. The glasses looked exactly
like Warbaby's. Big black frames, the lenses black now. They had a funny
heft to them, weighed more than you thought they would.
Chevette Washington had flipped open the phone's keypad.
'Hey,' Rydell said, touching her hand, 'they'll have your number for
sure. You dial out on that, or even take a call, they'll be in here in about
'Won't have this number,' she said. 'It's one of Codes's phones. I took
it off the table when the lights went out.'
'Thought you said you didn't just steal things.'
'Well,' she said, 'if Codes had it, it's stolen already. Codes trades
'em off people in the city, then Lowell gets somebody to tumble 'em, change
the numbers.' She tapped the pad, held the little phone to her ear. 'Dead,'
she said, shrugging.
'Here,' Rydell said, putting the glasses down on his lap and taking the
phone. 'Maybe it got wet, or the battery's knocked loose. What's old Codes
trade for these, anyway?' He ran his thumbnail around the back of the phone,
looking for the place where you could pry it open.
'Well,' she said, 'stuff.'
He popped the case. Saw a tightly rolled mini-Ziploc wedged in there
beside tie battery. It had pushed the contacts out of alignment. He took it
out and unrolled it. 'Stuff?'
'This type of stuff.'
He looked at her. 'If this is 4-Thiobuscaline, it's a controlled
She looked at the bag of grayish powder, then at him. 'But you aren't a
'You don't do this stuff, do you?'
'No. Well, once or twice. Lowell did, sometimes.'
'Well, just don't do any around me, because I've seen what it does.
Nice noTmal people do a couple of hits of this, they go snake-shit crazy.'
He tapped the bag. 'Enough in this to get half a dozen people fucked up like
you wouldn't believe.' He handed it to her and picked up the phone, trying
to get the battery back where it belonged.
'I'd believe it, she said. 'I saw what it did to Lowell...'
'Dial tone,' he said. 'Who you want to call?'
Thought about it, then she took the phone and flipped it shut. 'Guess
thee isn't anybody.'
'That old man have a phone?'
'No,' she sad, and her shoulders hunched. 'I'm scared they killed
him,too. 'Cause of me...'
Rydell couldn't think of anything to say to that. He was too tired to
flick the remote. Some guy's arm with a furled Confederate flag on it. Just
like home. He looked at her. She sure didn't look anywhere near as tired as
he was. That could just be being young, he thought. He sure hoped she wasn't
on any ice or dancer or anything. Maybe she was in some kind of shock,
still. Said this Sammy had been killed, two others she was worried about.
Evidently she'd known the guy plowed in Svobodov on that bicycle, but she
didn't know yet that he'd been shot. Funny what you miss seeing in a fight.
Well, he didn't see any reason to tell her, not right now.
'I'll try Fontaine,' she said, opening the phone again.
'He does Skinner's electricity and stuff.' She dialled a number, put
the phone to her ear.
His eyes closed and his head hit the back of the couch so hard it
almost woke him up.
27. After the storm.
'Smells like piss,' Skinner said, accusingly, waking Yamazaki from a
dream in which he stood beside J. D. Shapely on a great dark plane, before a
black and endless wall inscribed with the names of the dead.
Yamazaki raised his head from the table. The room in darkness. Light
through the church window.
'What are you doing here, Scooter?'
Yamazaki's buttocks and lower back ached. 'The storm,' he said, still
half in his dream.
'What storm? Where's the girl?'
'Gone,' Yamazaki said. 'Don't you remember? Loveless?'
'What are you talking about?' Skinner struggled up on one elbow,
kicking off the blankets and the sleeping-bag back, his gray-stubbled face
twisted with disgust. 'Need a bath. Dry clothes.'
'Loveless. He found me in a bar. He made me bring him here. I think he
must have followed me, earlier, when I left you-'
'Sure. Shut up, Scooter, okay?'
Yamazaki closed his mouth.
'Now we need a bunch of water. Hot. First for coffee, then some so I
can wash off. You know how to work a Coleman stove?'
'Green thing over there, red tank on the front. You go jiggle that tank
off, I'll tell you how to pump it up.'
Yamazaki stood up, wincing at the pain in his back, and stumbled toward
the green-painted metal box Skinner was pointing at. 'Gone off fucking that
no-ass greaseball boyfriend of hers again. Useless, Scooter...'
He stood on Skinner's roof, pantlegs flapping in a breeze that gave no
hint of last night's storm, looking out at the city washed in a strange iron
light, shreds of his dream still circling dimly... Shapely had spoken to
him, his voice the voice of the young Elvis Presley. He said that he had
forgiven his killers.
Yamazaki stared at Transamerica's upright thorn, bandaged with the
brace they'd applied after the Little Grande, half-hearing the dreamed
voice. They just didn't know any better, Scooter.
Skinner cursing, below, as he sponged himself with water Yamazaki had
warmed on the Coleman stove.
Yamazaki thought of his thesis advisor in Osaka.
'I don't care,' Yamasaki said, in English, San Francisco his witness.
The whole city was a Thomasson. Perhaps America itself was a Thomasson.
How could they understand this in Osaka, in Tokyo?
'Yo! On the roof!' someone called.
Yamazaki turned, saw a thin black man atop the tangle of girders that
braced the upper end of Skinner's lift. He wore a thick tweed overcoat and a
'You okay up there? How 'bout Skinner?'
Yamazaki hesitated, remembering Loveless. If Skinner or the girl had
enemies, how could he recognize them?
'Name's Fontaine,' the man said. 'Chevette called me, told me to get
over here and see if Skinner got through the blow all right. I take care of
the wiring tip here, make sure his lift's running and all.'
'He's bathing now,' Yamazaki said. 'In the storm, he became...
confused. He doesn't seem to remember.'
'Have some power for you in about another half an hour,' the man said.
'Wish I could say the same for over my end. Lost four transformers. Got us
five dead bodies, twenty injured that I know of. Skinner got coffee on?'
'Yes,' Yamazaki said.
'Do with a cup about now.'
'Yes, please,' Yamazaki said, and bowed. The black man smiled. Yamazaki
scrambled down through the hatch. 'Skinner-san! A man named Fontaine, he is
Skinner was struggling into yellowed thermal underwear. 'Useless
bastard. Still don't have any power...'
Yamazaki unlatched the hatch in the floor and hauled it open. Fontaine
eventually appeared at the bottom of the ladder, a battered canvas tool-bag
in either hand. Putting one down and slinging the other over his shoulder,
he began to climb.
Yamazaki poured the remaining coffee into the cleanest cup.
'Fuel-cell's buggered,' Skinner said, as Fontaine pushed his bag ahead
of him, through the opening. Skinner was layered now in at least three
threadbare flannel shirts, their tails pushed unevenly into the waistband of
an ancient pair of woolen Army trousers.
'We're working on it, boss,' Fontaine said, standing up and smoothing
his overcoat. 'Had us a big old storm here.'
'What Scooter says,' Skinner said.
'Well, he's not shittin' you, Skinner. Thanks.' Fontaine accepted the
steaming cup of black coffee and blew on it. He looked at Yamazaki.
'Chevette said she might not get back here for a while. Know anything about
Yamazaki looked at Skinner.
'Useless,' Skinner said. 'Gone off with that shithead again.'
'Didn't say anything about that,' Fontaine said. 'Didn't say much at
all. But if she's not going to be around, you're going to need somebody take
care of things for you.'
'Take care of myself,' Skinner said.
'I know that, boss,' Fontaine assured, 'but we got a couple of fried
servos in your lift down there. Take a few days get that going for you, the
kind of backlog we're looking at. Need you somebody go up and down the
rungs. Bring you food and all.'
'Scooter can do it,' Skinner said.
'That right?' Fontaine raised his eyebrows at Yamazaki. 'You stay up
here and take care of Mr. Skinner?'
Yamazaki thought of his borrowed flat in the tall Victorian house, its
black marble bathroom larger than his bachelor apartment in Osaka. He looked
from Fontaine to Skinner, then back. 'I would be honored, to stay with
Skinner-san, if he wishes.'
'Do what you like,' Skinner said, and began laboriously stripping the
sheets from his mattress.
'Chevette told me you might be up here,' Fontaine said. 'Some kind of
university guy...' He put his cup down on the table, bent to swing his
tool-bag up beside it. 'Said maybe you people worried about uninvited
guests.' He undid the bag's two buckles and opened it. Tools gleamed there,
rolls of insulated wire. He took out something wrapped in an oily rag,
looked to see that Skinner wasn't observing him, and tucked the thing behind
the glass jars on the shelf above the table.
'We can pretty much make sure nobody you don't know will get up here
for the next couple days,' he said to Yamazaki, lowering his voice. 'But
that's a .38 Special, six rounds of hollow-point. You use it, do me a big
favor and toss it off the side, okay? It's of, uh,' Fontaine grinned,
Yamazaki thought of Loveless. Swallowed. 'You gonna be okay up here?'
Fontaine asked. 'Yes,' Yamazaki said, 'yes, thank you.'
It was ten-thirty before they finally had to hit the street, and then
only because Laurie, who Chevette knew from that first day she'd ever come
in here, said that the manager, Benny Singh, was going to be showing up and
they couldn't stay in there anymore, particularly not with her friend asleep
like that, like he was passed out or something. Chevette said she
understood, and thanked her.
'You see Sammy Sal,' Laurie said, 'you say hi for me.'
Chevette nodded, sad, and started shaking the guy's shoulder. He
grunted and tried to brush her hand away. 'Wake up. We gotta go.'
She couldn't believe she'd told him all that stuff, but she'd just had
to tell somebody or she'd go crazy. Not that telling it had made it make any
more sense than it did before, and with this Rydell's side of it added on,
it sort of made even less.
The news that somebody had gone and murdered the asshole just didn't
seem real, but if it was, she supposed, she was in deeper shit than ever.
'Jesus...' He sat up, knuckling his eyes.
'We gotta go. Manager'll be in soon. My friend let you sleep a while.'
Chevette had been thinking about that. 'Cole, over by the Panhandle,
there's places rent rooms by the hour.'
'Not exactly,' she said. 'For people just need the bed for a little
He dug behind the couch for his jacket. 'Look at that,' he said,
sticking his fingers into the rip in the shoulder. 'Brand new last night.'
Neighborhoods that mainly operated at night had a way of looking a lot
worse in the morning. Even the beggars looked worse off this time of day,
like that guy there with those sores, the one trying to sell half a can of
spaghetti sauce. She stepped around him. Another block or two and they'd
start to hit the early crowd of day-trippers headed for Skywalker Park; more
cover in the crowd but more cops, too. She tried to remember if Skywalker's
rentacops were IntenSecure, that company Rydell talked about.
She wondered if Fontaine had gone to Skinner's like he'd said he would.
She hadn't wanted to say too much over the phone, so at first she'd just
said she was going away for a while, and would Fontaine go over and see how
Skinner was doing, and maybe this Japanese student guy who'd been hanging
around lately. But Fontaine could tell she sounded worried, so he'd sort of
pushed her about it, and she'd told him she was worried about Skinner, how
maybe there were some people gonna go up there and hassle him.
'You don't mean bridge people,' he'd said, and she'd said no, she
didn't, but that was all she could say about it. The line went quiet for a
few seconds and she could hear one of Fontaine's kids singing in the
background, one of those African songs with the weird throat-clicks. 'Okay,'
Fontaine finally said, 'I'll look into that for you.' And Chevette said
thanks, fast, and clicked off. Fontaine did a lot of favors for Skinner.
He'd never talked to Chevette about it, but he seemed to have known
Skinner all his life, or anyway as long as he'd been on the bridge.
There were a lot of people like that, and Chevette knew Fontaine could fix
it so people would watch the tower there, and the lift. Watch for strangers.
People did that for each other, on the bridge, and Fontaine was always owed
a lot of favors, because he was one of the main electricity men.
Now they were walking past this bagel place had a sort of iron cage
outside, welded out of junk, where you could sit in there at little tables
and have coffee and eat bagels, and the smell of the morning's baking about
made her faint from hunger. She was thinking maybe they'd better go in there
and get a dozen in a bag, maybe some cream cheese, take it with them, when
Rydell put his hand on her shoulder.
She turned her head and saw this big shiny white RV had just turned
onto Haight in front of them, headed their way. Like you'd see rich old
people driving back in Oregon, whole convoys of them, pulling boats on
trailers, little jeeps, motorcycles hanging off the backs like lifeboats.
They'd stop for the night in these special camps had razor-wire around them,
dogs, NO TRESSPASSING signs that really meant it.
Rydell was staring at this RV like he couldn't believe it, and now it
was pulling up right beside them, this gray-haired old lady powering down
the window and leaning out the driver's side, saying 'Young man! Excuse me,
but I'm Danica Elliott and I believe we met yesterday on the plane from
Danica Elliott was this retired lady from Altadena, that was down in
SoCal, and she'd flown up to San Francisco, she said on the same plane as
Rydell, to get her husband moved to a different cryogenic facility. Well,
not her husband, exactly, but his brain, which he'd had frozen when he died.
Chevette had heard about people doing that, but she hadn't ever
understood why they did it, and evidently Danica Elliott didn't understand
it either. But she'd come up here to throw good money after bad, she said,
and get her husband David's brain moved to this more expensive place that
would keep it on ice in its Own private little tank, and not just tumbling
around in a big tank with a hunch of other people's frozen brains, which was
where it had been before. She seemed like a really nice lady to Chevette,
but she sure could go on about this stuff, so that after a while Rydell was
just driving and nodding his head like he was listening, and Chevette, who
was navigating, was mostly paying attention to the map-display on the RV's
dash, plus keeping a lookout for police cars.
Mrs. Elliott had taken care of getting her husband's brain relocated
the night before, and she said it had made her kind of emotional, so she'd
decided to rent this RV and drive it back to Altadena, just take her time
and enjoy the trip. Trouble was, she didn't know San Francisco, and she'd
picked it up that morning at this rental place on sixth and gotten lost
looking for a freeway. Wound up driving around in the Haight, which she said
did not look at all like a safe neighborhood but was certainly very
The loose handcuff kept falling out of the sleeve of Skinner's jacket,
but Mrs. Elliott was too busy talking to notice. Rydell was driving,
Chevette was in the middle, and Mrs. Elliot was on the passenger side. The
RV was Japanese, and had these three power-adjustable buckets up front, with
headrests with speakers built in.
Mrs. Elliot had told Rydell she was lost and did he know the city and
could he drive her to where she could get on the highway to Los Angeles?
Rydell had sort of gawked at her for a minute, then shook himself and said
he'd be glad to, and this was his friend Chevette, who knew the city, and he
was Berry Rydell.
Mrs. Elliot said Chevette was a pretty name.
So here they were, headed out of San Francisco, and Chevette had a
pretty good idea that Rydell was going to try to talk Mrs. Elliott into
letting them go along with her. That was all she could think of to do,
herself, and here they were off the street and headed away from the guy
who'd shot Sammy and from that Warbaby and those Russian cops, which seemed
like a good idea to her, and aside from her stomach feeling like it was
starting to eat itself, she felt a little better.
Rydell drove past an In-and-Out Burger place and she remembered how
this boy she knew called Franklin, up in Oregon, had taken a pellet-gun over
to an In-and-Out and shot out the B and the R, so it just said IN-AND-OUT
URGE. She'd told Lowell about that, but he hadn't thought it was funny. Now
she thought about how she'd told Rydell stuff about Lowell that Lowell would
go ballistic if he ever found out about, and here Rydell was the next thing
to a cop. But it bothered her how Lowell had been, the night before. There
he was, all cool and heavy with his connections and everything, and she
tells him she's in trouble and somebody's just shot Sammy Sal and they're
gonna be after her for sure, and him and Codes just sit there, giving each
other these looks, like they like this story less by the minute, and then
the big motherfucker cop in the raincoat walks in and they're about to shit
Served her right. She hadn't had a single friend liked Lowell much, and
Skinner had hated him on sight. Said Lowell had his head so far up his ass,
he might as well just climb in after it and disappear. But she just hadn't
ever really had a boyfriend before, not like that, and he'd been so nice to
her at first. If he just hadn't started in doing that dancer, because that
brought the asshole out in him real fast, and then Codes, who hadn't ever
liked her, could get him going about how she was just a country girl. Fuck
'You know,' she said, 'I don't get something to eat soon, I think I'll
And Mrs. Elliott started making a fuss about how Rydell should stop
immediately and get something for Chevette, and how sorry she was she hadn't
thought to ask if they'd had breakfast.
'Well,' Rydell said, frowning into the rear-view, 'I really would like
to miss the, uh, lunch-hour traffic here...'
'Oh,' Mrs. Elliott said. Then she brightened. 'Chevette, dear, if
you'll just go in the back, you'll find a fridge there. I'm sure the rental
people have put a snack basket in there. They almost always do.'
Sounded fine to Chevette. She undid her harness and edged back between
her seat and Mrs. Elliott's. There was a little door there and when she went
through it the lights came on. 'Hey,' she said, 'it's a whole little house
'Enjoy!' said Mrs. Elliott.
The light stayed on when she closed the door behind her. She hadn't
ever seen the inside of one of these things before, and the first thing she
thought of was that it had nearly as much space as Skinner's room, plus it
was about ten times more comfortable. Everything was gray, gray carpet and
gray plastic and gray imitation leather. And the fridge turned out to be
this cute little thing built into a counter, with this basket in there,
wrapped up in plastic with a ribbon on it. She got the plastic off and there
was some wine, little cheeses, an apple, a pear, crackers, and a couple of
chocolate bars. There was Coke in the fridge, too, and bottled water. She
sat on the bed and ate a cheese, a bunch of crackers, a chocolate bar that
was made in France, and drank a bottle of water. Then she tried out the tv,
which had twenty-three channels on downlink.
When she was done, she put the empty bottle and the torn paper and
stuff in a little wastebasket built into the wall, cut the tv off, took off
her shoes, and lay back on the bed.
It was strange, to stretch out on a bed in a little room that was
moving, she didn't know where, and she wondered where she'd be tomorrow.
Just before she fell asleep, she remembered that she still had Codes'
hag of dancer stuck down in her pants. She'd better get rid of that. She
figured there was enough there to go to jail for.
She thought about how it made you feel, and how weird it was that
people spent all that money to feel that way.
She sure wished Lowell hadn't liked to feel that way.
She woke up when he lay down beside her, the RV moving but she knew it
must've stopped before. The lights were off.
'Who's driving?' she said.
'Mrs. Elliott. Mrs. Armbruster was this teacher I had, looked like
'Where's she driving to?'
'Los Angeles. Told her I'd take over when she got tired. Told her not
to bother waking us up when she goes through at the state line. Lady like
that, if she tells 'em she's not carrying any agricultural products, they'll
probably let her through without checking back here.'
'What if they do?'
He was close enough to her on the narrow bed that she could feel it
when he shrugged.
'How come there's Russian cops?'
'How do you mean?'
'You watch on tv, like a cop show, about half the big cops are always
Russian. Or those guys back there on the bridge. How come Russian?'
'Well,' he said, 'they kind of exaggerate that on tv, 'cause of the
Organizatsiya thing, how people like to see shows about that. But the truth
is, you get a situation where there's Russians running most of your mob
action, you'll want to get you some Russian cops...' She heard him yawn.
Felt him stretch.
'Are they all like those two came to Dissidents?'
'No,' he said. 'There's always some crooked cops, but that's just the
way it is...'
'What'll we do, when we get to Los Angeles?'
But he didn't answer, and after a while he started to snore.
29. Dead mall.
Rydell opened his eyes. Vehicle not moving.
He held his Timex up in front of his face and used the dial-light. 3:15
PM. Chevette Washington was curled up beside him in her biker jacket. Felt
like sleeping next to a piece of old luggage.
He rolled over until he could find the shade over the window beside him
and raise it a little. As dark out there as it was in here.
He'd been dreaming about Mrs. Armbruster's class, fifth grade at Oliver
North Elementary. They were about to be let out because LearningNet said
there was too much Kansas City flu around to keep the kids in Virginia and
Tennessee in school that week.
They were all wearing these molded white paper masks the nurses had
left on their seats that morning. Mrs. Armbruster had just explained the
meaning of the word pandemic. Poppy Markoff, who sat next to him and already
had tits out to here, had told Mrs. Armbruster that her daddy said the KC
flu could kill you in the time it took to walk out to the bus. Mrs.
Armbruster, wearing her own mask, the micropore kind from the drugstore,
started in about the word panic, tying that into pandemic because of the
root, but that was where Rydell woke up.
He sat up on the bed. He had a headache and the start of a cold. Kansas
City flu. Maybe Mokola fever.
'Don't panic,' he said, under his breath.
But he sort of had this feeling.
He got up and felt his way to the front. A little bit of light there,
coming from under the door. He found the handle. Eased it open a crack.
'Hey there.' Gold at the edges of a smile. Square little automatic
pointing at Rydell's eye. He'd swung the passenger-side bucket around and
tilted it back. Had his boots up on the middle seat. Had the dome-light
turned down low.
'Where's Mrs. Elliott?'
'Mrs. Elliott is gone.'
Rydell opened the door the rest of the way. 'She work for you?'
'No,' the man said. 'She's IntenSecure.'
'They put her on that plane to keep track of me?'
The man shrugged. Rydell noticed that the gun didn't move at all when
he did that. He was wearing surgical gloves, and that same long coat he'd
had on when he'd gotten out of the Russians' car, like an Australian duster
made out of black micropore.
'How'd she know to pick us up by that tattoo parlor?'
'Warbaby had to be good for something. He had a couple of people on you
'Didn't see anybody,' Rydell said.
'Weren't supposed to.'
'Tell me something,' Rydell said. 'You the one did that Blix guy, up in
The man looked at him over the barrel of the gun. That small a bore,
ordinarily, wouldn't mean much damage, so Rydell figured the ammunition
would be doctored some way. 'I don't see what it's got to do with you,' he
Rydell thought about it. 'I saw a picture of it. You just don't look
'It's my job,' he said.
Uh-huh, Rydell thought, just like running a french-fry computer. There
was a fridge and sink on the right side of the door, so he knew he couldn't
move that way. If he went left, he figured the guy'd just stitch through the
bulkhead, probably get the girl, too.
'Don't even think about it.'
'The hero thing. The cop shit.' He took his feet off the center bucket.
'Just do this. Slowly. Very. Get into the driver's seat and put your hands
on the wheel. Nine o'clock and two o'clock. Keep them there. If you don't
keep them there, I'll shoot you behind your right ear. But you won't hear
it.' He had this kind of slow, even tone, reminded Rydell of a vet talking
to a horse.
Rydell did like he was told. He couldn't see anything outside. Just
dark, and the reflections from the dome light. 'Where are we?' he asked.
'You like malls, Rydell? You got malls back in Knoxville?' Rydell
looked at him sideways.
'Eyes front, please.'
'Yeah, we got malls.'
'This one didn't do so well.'
Rydell squeezed the foam padding on the wheel.
Rydell heard him give the bulkhead a kick with the heel of one boot.
'Miss Washington! Rise and shine, Miss Washington! Do us the favor of your
Rydell heard the double thump as she startled from sleep, tried to jump
up, hit her head, fell off the bed. Then he saw her white face reflected in
the windshield, there in the doorway. Saw her see the man, the gun.
Not the screaming kind. 'You shot Sammy Sal,' she said.
'You tried to electrocute me,' the man said, like he could afford to
see the humor in it now. 'Come out here, turn around, and straddle the
central console. Very slowly. That's right. Now lean forward and brace your
hands on the seat.'
She wound up next to Rydell, her legs on either side of the instrument
console, facing backward. Like she was riding some cafe-racer.
Gave him about a two-inch difference of arc between shooting either one
of them in the head.
'I want you to take your jacket off,' he said to her, 'so you'll have
to take your hands off the seat to do that. See if you can manage to keep at
least one hand on the seat at all times. Take plenty of time.'
When she'd gotten it to where she could shrug it off her left shoulder,
it fell over against the man's legs.
'Are there any hypodermic needles in here,' he said, 'any blades,
dangerous objects of any kind?'
'No,' she said.
'How about electrical charges? You don't have a great record for that.'
'Just the asshole's glasses and a phone.'
'See, Rydell,' he said, "the asshole." How he'll be remembered.
Nameless. Another nameless asshole...' He was going through the jacket's
pockets with his free hand. Came up with the case and the phone and put them
on the RV's deep, padded dash-panel. Rydell had his head turned now and was
watching him, even though he'd been told not to. He watched the gloved hand
open the case by feel, take out the black glasses. That was the only time
those eyes left him, to check those glasses, and that took about a second.
'That's them,' Rydell said. 'You got 'em now.'
The hand put them back in their case, closed it. 'Yes.'
The smile went away. When it did, it looked like he didn't have any
lips. Then it came back, wider and steeper.
'You think you could get me a Coke out of the fridge? All the windows,
the door back there, are sealed.'
'You want a Coke?' Like she didn't believe him. 'You're gonna shoot me.
When I get up.'
'No,' he said, 'not necessarily. Because I want a Coke. My throat's a
She turned her head to look at Rydell, eyes big with fear.
'Get him his Coke,' Rydell said.
She got off the console and edged through, into the back, there, but
just by the door, where the fridge was.
'Look out the front,' he reminded Rydell. Rydell saw the fridge-light
come on, reflected there, caught a glimpse of her squatting down.
'D-diet or regular?' she said.
'Diet,' he said, 'please.'
'Classic or decaf?'
'Classic.' He made a little sound that Rydell thought might be a laugh.
'There's no glasses.'
He made the sound again. 'Can.'
'K-kinda messy,' she said, 'm-my hand's shakin'-' Rydell looked
sideways, saw him take the red can, some brown cola dripping off the side.
'Thank you. You can take your pants off now.'
'Those black ones you're wearing. Just peel them down, slow. But I like
the socks. Say we'll keep the socks.'
Rydell caught the expression on her face, reflected in the black
windshield, then saw how it went sort of blank. She bent, working the tight
'Now get back on the console. That's right. Just like you were. Let me
look at you. You want to look too, Rydell?'
Rydell turned, saw her squatting there, her bare legs smooth and
muscular, dead white in the glow of the dome-light. The man took a long
swallow of Coke, watching Rydell around the rim. He put the can down on the
dash-panel and wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. 'Not bad,
huh, Rydell?' with a nod toward Chevette Washington. 'Some potential there,
Rydell looked at him.
'Is this bothering you, Rydell?'
Rydell didn't answer.
The man made the sound that might've been a laugh. Drank some Coke.
'You think I enjoyed having to mess that shitbag up the way I did, Rydell?'
'I don't know.'
'But you think I did. I know you think I enjoyed it. And I did, I did
enjoy it. But you know what the difference is?'
'I didn't have a hard on when I did it. That's the difference.'
'Did you know him?'
'I mean like was it personal, why you did that?'
'Oh, I guess you could say I knew him. I knew him. I knew him like you
shouldn't have to know anyone, Rydell. I knew everything he did. I'd go to
sleep, nights, listening to the sound of him breathing. It got so I could
judge how many he'd had, just by his breathing.'
'He drank. Serbian. You were a policeman, weren't you?'
'Ever have to watch anybody, Rydell?'
'I never got that far.'
'It's a funny thing, watching someone. Traveling with them. They don't
know you. They don't know you're there. Oh, they guess. They assume you're
there. But they don't know who you are. Sometimes you catch them looking at
someone, in the lobby of the hotel, say, and you know they think it's you,
the one who's watching. But it never is. And as you watch them, Rydell, over
a period of months, you start to love them.'
Rydell saw a shiver go through Chevette Washington's tensed white
'But then, after a few more months, twenty flights, two dozen hotels,
well, it starts to turn itself around...'
'You don't love them?'
'No. You don't. You start to wait for them to fuck up, Rydell. You
start to wait for them to betray the trust. Because a courier's trust is a
terrible thing. A terrible thing.'
'Look at her, Rydell. She knows. Even if she's just riding confidential
papers around San Francisco, she's a courier. She's entrusted, Rydell. The
data becomes a physical thing. She carries it. Don't you carry it, baby?'
She was still as some sphinx, white fingers deep in the gray fabric of
the center bucket.
'That's what I do, Rydell. I watch them carry it. I watch them.
Sometimes people try to take it from them.' He finished the Coke. 'I kill
those people. Actually that's the best part of the job. Ever been to San
'People know how to live, there.'
'You work for those data havens,' Rydell said.
'I didn't say that. Somebody else must've said that.'
'So did he,' Rydell said. 'He was carrying those glasses to somebody,
up from Costa Rica, and she took 'em.'
'And I was glad she did. So glad. I was in the room next to his. I let
myself in through the connecting door. I introduced myself. He met Loveless.
First time. Last time.' The gun never wavered, but he began to scratch his
head with his hand in the surgical glove. Scratch it like he had fleas or
'My nom. Nom de thing.' Then a long rattle of what Rydell took to be
Spanish, but he only caught nombre de something. 'Think she's tight, Rydell?
I like it tight, myself.'
His head sort of whipped sideways, a little, when Rydell said that, and
his eyes unfocused for a second, but then they came back, clear as the
chromed rim around the muzzle of his gun. 'You know who started the havens,
'Cartels,' Rydell said, 'the Colombians.'
'That's right. They brought the first expert systems into Central
America, nineteen-eighties, to coordinate their shipping. Somebody had to go
down there and install those systems. War on drugs, Rydell. Lot of Americans
on either side, down there.'
'Well,' Rydell said, 'now we just make our own drugs up here, don't
'But they've got the havens, down there. They don't even need that drug
business. They've got what Switzerland used to have. They've got the one
place in the world to keep what people can't afford to keep anywhere else.'
'You look a little young to have helped put that together.'
'My father. You know your father, Rydell?'
'Sure.' Sort of, anyway.
'I never did. I had to have a lot of therapy, over that.'
Sure glad it worked, Rydell thought. 'Warbaby, he work for the havens?'
A sweat had broken out on the man's forehead. Now he wiped it with the
back of the hand that held the gun, but Rydell saw the gun click back into
position like it was held by a magnet.
'Turn on the headlights, Rydell. It's okay. Left hand off the wheel.'
'Cause you're dead if you don't.'
'Just do it, okay?' Sweat running into his eyes.
Rydell took his left hand off the wheel, clicked the lights,
double-clicked them to high beams. Two cones of light hit into a wall of
dead shops, dead signs, dust on plastic. The one in front of the left beam
said THE GAP.
'Why'd anybody ever call a store that?' Rydell said.
'Trying to fuck with my head, Rydell?'
'No,' Rydell said, 'it's just a weird name. Like ad those places look
like gaps, now...'
'Warbaby's just hired help, Rydell. IntenSecure brings him in when
things get too sloppy. And they do, they always do.'
They were parked in a sort of plaza, in a mall, the stores all boarded
or their windows whitewashed. Either underground or else it was roofed over.
'So she stole the glasses out of a hotel had IntenSecure security, they
brought in Warbaby?' Rydell looked at Chevette Washington. She looked like
one of those chrome things on the nose of an antique car, except she was
getting goosebumps down her thigh. Not exactly warm in here, which made
Rydell think it might be underground after all.
'Know what, Rydell?'
'You don't know shit about shit. As much as I tell you, you'll never
understand the situation. It's just too big for someone like you to
understand. You don't know how to think in those terms. IntenSecure belongs
to the company that owns the information in those glasses.'
'Singapore,' Rydell said. 'Singapore own DatAmerica, too?'
'You can't prove it, Rydell. Neither could Congress.'
'Look at those rats over there...'
'Fucking with my head...'
Rydell watched the last of the three rats vanish into the place that
had been called The Gap. In through a loose vent or something. A gap. 'Nope.
'Has it occurred to you that you wouldn't be here right now if Lucius
fucking Warbaby hadn't taken up rollerblading last month?'
'He wrecked his knee. Warbaby wrecks his knee, can't drive, you wind up
here. Think about it. What does that tell you about late-stage capitalism?'
'Tell me about what?'
'Don't they teach you anything in that police academy?'
'Sure,' Rydell said, 'lots of stuff.' Thinking: how to talk to crazy
fuckers when you're being held hostage, except he was having a hard time
remembering what they'd said. Keep 'em talking and don't argue too much,
something like that. 'How come the stuff in those glasses has everybody's
tail in a twist, anyway?'
'They're going to rebuild San Francisco. From the ground up, basically.
Like they're doing to Tokyo. They'll start by layering a grid of seventeen
complexes into the existing infrastructure. Eighty-story office/residential,
retail/residence in the base. Completely self-sufficient. Variable-pitch
parabolic reflectors, steam-generators. New buildings, man; they'll eat
their own sewage.'
'Who'll eat sewage?'
'The buildings. They're going to grow them, Rydell. Like they're doing
now in Tokyo. Like the maglev tunnel.'
'Sunflower,' Chevette Washington said, then looked like she regretted
'Somebody's been looking...' Gold teeth flashing.
'Uh, hey...' Go for that talking-to-the-armed-insane mode.
'So what's the problem? They wanna do that, let 'em.'
'The problem,' this Loveless said, starting to unbutton his shirt, 'is
that a city like San Francisco has about as much sense of where it wants to
go, of where it should go, as you do. Which is to say, very little. There
are people, millions of them, who would object to the fact that this sort of
plan even exists. Then there's the business of real estate...'
'Know the three most important considerations in any purchase of real
estate, Rydell?' Loveless's chest, hairless and artificially pigmented, was
gleaming with sweat.
'Location,' Loveless said, 'location, and location.'
'I don't get it.'
'You never will. But the people who know where to buy, the people
who've seen where the footprints of the towers fall, they will, Rydell.
They'll get it all.'
Rydell thought about it. 'You looked, huh?'
Loveless nodded. 'In Mexico City. He left them in his room. He was
never, ever supposed to do that.'
'But you weren't supposed to look either?' It just slipped out.
Loveless's skin was running with sweat now, in spite of the cool. It
was like his whole lymbic system or whatever had just let loose. Kept
blinking and wiping it back from his eyes. 'I've done my job. Did my job.
Jobs. Years. My father, too. You haven't seen how they live, down there. The
compounds. People up here have no idea what money can do, Rydell. They don't
know what real money is. They live like gods, in the compounds. Some of them
are over a hundred years old, Rydell...' There were flecks of white stuff at
the corners of Loveless' smile, and Rydell was back in Turvey's girlfriend's
apartment, looking into Turvey's eyes, and it just clicked, what she'd done.
Dumped that whole bag of dancer into the Coke she'd brought him. She
hadn't been able to pour it all in, so she'd sloshed the Coke out onto the
top of the can to wash it down, mix it around.
He had his shirt undone all the way now, the dark fabric darker with
sweat, and his face was turning red.
'Loveless-' Rydell started, no idea what he was about to say, but
Loveless screamed then, a high thin inhuman sound like a rabbit with its leg
caught in a wire, and started pounding the butt of his pistol into the tight
crotch of his jeans like there was something terrible fastened on him there,
something he had to kill. Each time the gun came down, it fired, blowing
holes in the carpeted floorboard the size of five-dollar pieces.
Chevette Washington came off that console like she was on rubber bands,
right over the top of the center bucket and into the cabin in back.
Loveless froze, quivering, like every atom in him had locked down all
at once, spinning in some tight emergency orbit. Then he smiled, like maybe
he'd killed the thing that was after his crotch, screamed again, and started
firing out through the windshield. All Rydell could remember was some
instructor telling them that an overdose of dancer made too much PCP look
like putting aspirin in a Coke. In a Coke.
And Chevette Washington, she was going just about that crazy herself,
by the sound of it, trying to beat her way out the back of the RV.
'Hundred years old, those fuckers,' Loveless said, and sort of sobbed,
ejecting the empty magazine and snapping a fresh one in, 'and they're still
'Out there,' Rydell said. 'By The Gap-'
'Svobodov,' Rydell said, guessing that might do it.
The bullets came out of the little gun like the rubber cubes out of a
chunker. By the third one, Rydell had reached over, deactivated the
door-lock, and just sort of fallen out. Landed on his back on some cans and
what felt like foam cups. Rolled.
Kept rolling 'til he hit something.
Those little bullets blowing big holes in the whitewashed glass of the
dead stores. A whole section fell away with a crash.
He could hear Chevette Washington pounding on the back door of the RV
and he wished he could get her to stop.
The shooting stopped.
'Svohodov's down, man!'
Chevette still pounding. Jesus.
'He needs an ambulance!'
On his hands and knees, up against some low tiled fountain smelled of
chlorine and dust, he saw Loveless scramble down from the driver's side, his
face and chest slick and shining. The man had been trained so deeply, it
occurred to Rydell, that it even cut through whatever the dancer was doing
to him. Because he still moved the way they taught you to move in FATSS, the
pistol out in both hands, the half-crouch, the smooth swings through
potential arcs of fire.
And Chevette, she was still trying to kick her way out through the
hexcel or whatever the back of the RV was made of. Then Loveless put a
couple of bullets into it and she all of a sudden stopped.
30. Carnival of souls.
At four o'clock Yamazaki descended the rungs he'd climbed with
Loveless, in the dark, the night before.
Fontaine had gone, twenty minutes before the power returned, taking
with him, against Skinner's protests, an enormous bundle of washing. Skinner
had spent the day sorting and re-sorting the contents of the green toolkit,
the one he'd overturned in his bid for the bolt-cutters.
Yamazaki had watched the old man's hands as they touched each tool in
turn, imagining he saw some momentary strength or purpose flow into them
there, or perhaps only memories of tasks undertaken, abandoned, completed.
'You can always sell tools,'
Skinner had mused, perhaps to Yamazaki, perhaps to himself.
'Somebody'll always buy 'em. But then you always need 'em again, exactly the
one you sold.' Yamazaki didn't know the English words for most of the tools
there, and many were completely unfamiliar. 'T-reamer,' Skinner said,
holding up his fist, a rust-brown, machined spike of steel protruding
menacingly between his second and third fingers. 'Now that's about as handy
a thing as you can have, Scooter, but most people never seen one.'
'Its purpose, Skinner-san?'
'Makes a round hole bigger. Keeps it round, too, you use it right.
Sheet-metal, mostly, but it'll do plastic, synthetics. Anything thin, fairly
rigid. Short of glass.'
'You have many tools, Skinner-san.'
'Never learned how to really use 'em, though.'
'But you built this room?'
'You ever watch a real carpenter work, Scooter?'
'Once, yes,' Yamazaki said, remembering a demonstration at a festival,
the black blades flying, the smell of cut cedar. He remembered the look of
the lumber, creamy and flawless. A tea-house was being erected, to stand for
the duration of the festival. 'Wood is very scarce in Tokyo, Skinner-san.
You would not see it thrown away, not even small scraps.'
'Not that easy to come by here,' Skinner said, rubbing the ball of his
thumb with the edge of a chisel. Did he mean in America, San Francisco, on
the bridge? 'We used to burn our scrap, before we got the power in. City
didn't like that at all. Bad for the air, Scooter. Don't do that as much,
'This is by consensus?'
'Just common sense...' Skinner put the chisel into a greasy canvas case
and tucked it carefully away in the green box.
A procession was making its way toward San Francisco, along the upper
deck, and Yamazaki instantly regretted having left his notebook in Skinner's
room. This was the first evidence he had seen here of public ritual.
In the narrow, enclosed space, it was impossible to view the procession
as anything other than a succession of participants, in their ones and twos,
but it was a procession nonetheless, and clearly funereal, perhaps memorial,
in its purpose. First came children, seven by his hasty count, one behind
the other, in ragged, ash-dusted clothing. Each child wore a mask of painted
plaster, clearly intended to represent Shapely. But there was nothing
funereal in their progress; several were skipping, delighted with the
attention they were receiving.
Yamazaki, on his way to purchase hot soup, had halted between a
bookseller's wagon and a stall hung with caged birds. He felt awkward there,
very much out of place, with the unaccustomed shape of the insulated
canister under his arm. If this was a funeral, perhaps there was some
required gesture, some attitude he might be expected to assume? He glanced
at the bookseller, a tall woman in a greasy sheepskin vest, her gray hair
bound back into a knot transfixed by two pink plastic chopsticks.
Her stock, which consisted primarily of yellowing paperbacks in various
stages of disintegration, each in a clear plastic bag, was stacked before
her on her wagon. She had been crying her wares, when she saw the children
masked as Shapely; she'd been calling out strange phrases that he supposed
were titles: 'Valley of the dolls, blood meridian, chainsaw savvy...
'Yamazaki, struck by the queer American poetry, had been on the verge of
asking after Chainsaw Savvy. Then she'd fallen silent, and he too had seen
But there was nothing in her manner now that indicated the procession
required anything more of her than whatever degree of her attention she
might choose to afford it. She was automatically counting her stock, he saw,
as she watched the children pass, her hands moving over the bagged books.
The keeper of the bird stall, a pale man with a carefully groomed black
mustache, was scratching his stomach, his expression mild and blank.
After the children came five dancers in the skeleton-suits of La Noche
de Muerte, though Yamazaki saw that several of the masks were only
half-masks, micropore respirators molded to resemble the grinning jaws of
skulls. These were teenagers, evidently, and shaking to some inner music of
plague and chaos. There was a strong erotic undercurrent, a violence, to the
black, bone-painted thighs, the white cartoon pelvises daubed on narrow
denimed buttocks. As the bonedancers passed, one fixed Yamazaki with a sharp
stare, blue adolescent eyes above the black, molded nostrils of the white
Then two tall figures, black men in an ugly beige face-paint, costumed
as surgeons, in pale green gowns and long gloves of scarlet latex. Were they
the doctors, predominantly white, who had failed to rescue so many, prior to
Shapely's advent, or did they somehow represent the Brazilian biomedical
firms who had so successfully and lucratively overseen Shapely's
transformation, the illiterate prostitute become the splendid source? And
after them, the first of the bodies, wrapped and bound in layers of milky
plastic, each one tiding a two-wheeled cart of the kind manufactured here to
transport baggage or bulk foodstuffs. The carts, temporarily equipped with
narrow pallets of plywood, were steered along, front and back, by men and
women of no special costume or demeanor, though Yamazaki noted that they
looked neither to the right nor left, and seemed to make no eye-contact with
'There's Nigel,' the bookseller said, and probably built the cart
they're taking him off on.'
'These are the victims of the storm?' Yamazaki ventured.
'Not Nigel,' the woman said, narrowing her eyes as she saw that he was
a stranger. 'Not with those holes in him...'
Seven in all, each to its cart, and then a man and a woman, in
identical paper coveralls, carrying between them a laminated lithograph of
Shapely, one of those saccharine portraits, large of eye and hollow of
cheek, that invariably left Yamazaki feeling slightly queasy.
But then a small, red, capering figure. A tailless, hornless devil,
perhaps, dancing with an enormous gun, an ancient AK-47, its bolt long gone,
the curved magazine carved from wood, and all of it dipped, once, into red
enamel, worn now by hands, by processions.
And Yamazaki knew, without asking, that the red dancer represented the
way of Shapely's going, like some terrible base stupidity waiting at the
core of things.
'Skinner-san?' The notebook ready. 'I saw a procession today. Bodies
being taken from the bridge. The dead from the Storm.'
'Can't keep 'em out here. Can't throw 'em in the water. City sticks on
that. We pass 'em over for cremation. Some people, they don't hold with
fire, they bury 'em over on Treasure. Kind of people live out on Treasure,
you kind of wonder if that makes much sense.'
'In the procession there were many references to Shapely, to his
Skinner nodded over his little television.
'Children masked as J. D. Shapely, two black men painted as white
doctors, Shapely's portrait...'
Skinner grunted. Then, distantly: 'While since I saw one of those.'
'And at the end, a small figure, red. Dancing. With an assault rifle.'
'Uh-huh.' Skinner nodded.
Yamazaki activated the notebook's transcription function.
Me, you know, I never even got it. Off him, I mean. That piece of him
in everybody now. Couldn't see the point at my age and anyway I never held
with medicine. Happened I never got the other kind either, not that I didn't
have plenty of chances.
You're too young to remember how it felt, though. Oh, I know, I know
you all think you live in all the times at once, everything recorded for
you, it's all there to play back. Digital. That's all that is, though:
playback. You still don't remember what it felt like, watching them pile up
like that. Not here so much, bad as it was, but Thailand, Africa, Brazil.
Jesus, Scooter. That thing was just romping on us. But slow, slow,
slowmotion thing. Those retroviruses are. One man told me once, and he had
the old kind, and died of it, how we'd lived in this funny little pocket of
time when a lot of people got to feel like a piece of ass wasn't going to
kill anybody, not even a woman. See, they always had to worry anyway, every
time it's a chance, get knocked up and maybe die in childbirth, die getting
rid of it, or anyway your life's not gonna be the same. But in that pocket,
there, there were pills for that, whatnot, shots for the other things, even
the ones had killed people all over hell, before. That was a time, Scooter.
So here this thing comes along, changes it back. And we're sliding up on
woo, shit's changing all over, got civil wars in Europe already and this
AIDS thing just kicking along. You know they tried to say it was the gays,
said it was the CIA, said it was the U.S. Army in some fort in Maryland.
Said it was people cornholing green monkeys. I swear to God. You know what
it was? People. Just too goddamn many of 'em, Scooter. Flying all the fuck
over everywhere and walking around back in there. Bet your ass somebody's
gonna pick up a bug or two. Every place on the damn planet just a couple of
hours from any other place. So here's poor fucking Shapely comes along, he's
got this mutant strain won't kill you. Won't do shit to you at all, 'cept it
eats the old kind for breakfast. And I don't buy any of that bullshit he was
Jesus, Scooter. Didn't think Jesus was, either.
'Any coffee left?'
'I will pump stove.'
'Put a little drop of Three-in-One in that hole by the piston-arm,
Scooter. Leather gasket in there. Keeps it soft.'
31. Driver side.
She didn't see that first bullet, but it must have hit a wire or
something, coming through, because the lights came on. She did see the
second one, or anyway the hole it blew in the leather-grain plastic.
Something inside her stopped, learning this about bullets: that one second
there isn't any hole, the next second there is. Nothing in between. You see
it happen, but you can't watch it happening.
Then she got down on her hands and her knees and started crawling.
Because she couldn't just stand there and wait for the next one. When she
got up by the door, she could see her black pants crumpled up on the floor
there, beside a set of keys on a gray, leather-grain plastic tab. There was
this smell from when he'd shot the gun into the floor. Maybe from the carpet
burning, too, because she could see that the edges of the holes were
scorched and sort of melted.
Now she could hear him yelling, somewhere outside, hoarse and hollow
and chased by echoes. Held her breath. Yelling how they (who?) did the best
PR in the world, how they'd sold Hunnis Millbank, now they'd sell Sunflower.
If she heard it right.
'Down by the door, here. Driver side.'
It was Rydell, the door on that side standing open.
'He left the keys in here,' she said.
'Think he's gone down there where the Dream Walls franchise used to
'What if he comes back?'
'Probably come back anyway, we stick around here. You crawl up there
and toss me those?'
She edged through the door and between the buckets. Saw Rydell's head
there, by the open door. Grabbed the keys and threw them sideways, without
looking. Snatched her pants and scooted backward, wondering could she maybe
fit in the fridge, if she folded her legs up?
'Why don't you lie down flat on the floor back there...' His voice from
the driver's seat.
'He's going to start shooting. When I do this-' Ignition-sound. Glass
flying from fresh holes in the windshield and she threw herself flat. The RV
lurched backward, turning tight, and she could hear him slapping the
console, trying to find some function he needed, as more bullets came, each
one distinct, a blow, like someone was swinging an invisible hammer, taking
care to keep the rhythm.
Rydell must've gotten it lined up how he needed it, then, because he
did that thing boys did, up in Oregon, with their brakes and the
She realized then that she was screaming. Not words or anything, just
Then they were in a turn that almost took them over, and she thought
how these RV's probably weren't meant to move very fast. Now they were
moving even faster, it felt like, uphill.
'Well fuck,' she heard Rydell say, in this weirdly ordinary kind of
voice, and then they hit the door, or the gate, or whatever, and it was like
the time she tried to pull this radical bongo over in Lafayette Park and
they'd had to keep explaining to her how'd she'd come down on her head, and
each time they did, she'd forget.
She was back in Skinner's room, reading National Geographic, about how
Canada split itself into five countries. Drinking cold milk out of the
carton and eating saltines. Skinner in bed with the tv, watching one of
those shows he liked about history.
He was talking about how all his life these movies of history had been
getting better and better looking. How they'd started out jumpy and black
and white, with the soldiers running around like they had ants in their
pants, and this terrible grain to them, and the sky all full of scratches.
How gradually they'd slowed down to how people really moved, and then they'd
been colorized, the grain getting finer and finer, and even the scratches
went away. And it was bullshit, he said, because every other bit of it was
an approximation, somebody's idea of how it might have looked, the result of
a particular decision, a particular button being pushed. But it was still a
hit, he said, like the first time you heard Billie Holiday without all that
crackle and tin.
Billie Holiday was probably a guy like Elvis, Chevette thought, with
spangles on his suit, but like when he was younger and not all fat.
Skinner had this thing he got on about history. How it was turning into
plastic. But she liked to show him she was listening when he told her
something, because otherwise he could go for days without saying anything.
So she looked up now, from her magazine and the picture of girls waving blue
and white flags in the Republic of Quebec, and it was her mother sitting
there, on the edge of Skinner's bed, looking beautiful and sad and kind of
tired, the way she could look after she got off work and still had all her
'He's right,' Chevette's mother said.
'About history, how they change it.'
'Everybody does that anyway, honey. Isn't any new thing. Just the
movies have caught up with memory, is all.'
Chevette started to cry.
'Chevette-Marie,' her mother said, in that singsong out of so far back,
'you've gone and hurt your head.'
'How well you say you know this guy?' she asked.
Rydell's SWAT shoe crunched on little squares of safety-glass every
time he used the brake. If he'd had time and a broom, he'd have swept it all
out. As it was, he'd had to bash out what was left of the windshield with a
piece of rusty rebar he found beside the road, otherwise Highway Patrol
would've seen the holes and hauled them over. Anyway, he had those insoles.
'I worked with him in L.A.,' he said, braking to steer around shreds of
truck-trailer tires that lay on the two-lane blacktop like the moulted skin
'I was just wondering if he'll turn out like Mrs. Elliott did. Said you
knew her too.'
'Didn't know her,' Rydell said, 'I met her, on the plane. If Sublett's
some kind of plant, then the whole world's a plot.' He shrugged. 'Then I
could start worrying about you, say.' As opposed, say, to worrying about
whether or not Loveless or Mrs. Elliot had bothered to plant a locator-bug
in this motorhome, or whether the Death Star was watching for them, right
now, and could it pick them up, out here? They said the Death Star could
read the headlines on a newspaper, or what brand and size of shoes you wore,
from a decent footprint.
Then this wooden cross seemed to pop up, in the headlights, about
twelve feet high, with TUNE IN across the horizontal and TO HIS IMMORTAL
DOWNLINK coming down the upright, and this dusty old portable tv nailed up
where Jesus's head thought to have been. Somebody'd taken a .22 to the
screen, it looked like.
'Must be getting closer,' Rydell said.
Chevette Washington sort of grunted. Then she drank some of the water
they'd gotten at the Shell station, and offered the bottle to him.
When he'd crashed out of that mall, he'd felt like they were sure to be
right by a major highway. From the outside, the mall was just this low
tumble of tan brick, windows boarded up with sheets of that really ugly
hot-pressed recyc they ran off from chopped scrap, the color of day-old
vomit. He'd gone screeching around this big empty parking lot, just a few
dead clunkers and old mattresses to get in the way, until he'd found a way
out through the chain link.
But there wasn't any highway there, just some deserted four-lane
feeder, and it looked like Loveless had put a bullet into the navigation
hardware, because the map was locked on downtown Santa Ana and just sat
there, sort of flickering. Where he was had the feel of one of those
fallen-in edge-cities, the kind of place that went down when the Euro-money
Chevette Washington was curled up by the fridge with her eyes closed,
and she wouldn't answer him. He was scared Loveless had put one through her,
too, but he knew he couldn't afford to stop until he'd put at least a little
distance between them and the mall. And he couldn't see any blood on her or
Finally he'd come to this Shell station. You could tell it had been
Shell because of the shape of the metal things up on the poles that had
supported the signs. The men's room door was ripped off the hinges; the
women's chained and padlocked.
Somebody had taken an automatic weapon to the pop machine, it looked
like. He swung the RV around to the back and saw this real old Airstream
trailer there, the same kind a neighbor of his father's had lived in down in
Tampa. There was a man there kneeling beside a hibachi, doing something with
a pot, and these two black Labradors watching him.
Rydell parked, checked to see Chevette Washington was breathing, and
got down out of the cab. He walked over to the man beside the hibachi, who'd
gotten up now and was wiping the palms of his hands on the thighs of his red
coveralls. He had on an old khaki fishing cap with about a nine-inch bill
sticking straight out. The threads on the embroidered Shell patch on his
coveralls had sort of frayed and fuzzed-out.
'You just lost,' the man said, 'or is there some kind of problem?'
Rydell figured him to be at least seventy.
'No sir, no problem, but I'm definitely lost.' Rydell looked at the
black Labs. They looked right back. 'Those dogs of yours there, they don't
look too happy to see me.'
'Don't see a lot of strangers,' the man said.
'No sir,' Rydell said, 'I don't imagine they do.'
'Got a couple of cats, too. Right now I'm feeding 'em all on dry
kibble. The cats get a bird sometimes, maybe mice. Say you're lost?'
'Yes sir, I am. I couldn't even tell you what state we're in, right
The man spat on the ground. 'Welcome to the goddamn club, son. I was
your age, it was all of this California, just like God meant it to be. Now
it's Southern, so they tell me, but you know what it really is?'
'No sir. What?'
'A lot of that same happy horseshit. Like that woman camping in the
goddamn White House.' He took the fishing cap off, exposing a couple of
silver-white cancer-scars, wiped his brow with a grease-stained
handkerchief, then pulled the cap hack on.
'Say you're lost, are you?'
'Yes sir. My map's broken.'
'Know how to read a paper one?'
'Yes sir, I do.'
'What the hell'd she do to her head?' Looking past Rydell.
Rydell turned and saw Chevette Washington leaning over the driver's
bucket, looking out at them.
'How she cuts her hair,' Rydell said.
'I'll be damned,' the man said. 'Might be sort of good-looking,
'Yes sir,' Rydell said.
'See that box of Cream o' Wheat there? Think you can stir me up a cup
of that into this water when it boils?'
'Well, I'll go find you a map to look at. Skeeter and Whitey here,
they'll just keep you company.'
PARADISE, SO. CALIFORNIA
A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
ELECTRIFIED SECURITY PERIMETER
LICENSED CHRISTIAN DAYCARE (STATE OF SO. CAL.)
327 CHANNELS ON DOWNLINK
And a taller cross rising beyond that, this one welded from rusty
railroad track, a sort of framework stuck full of old televisions, their
dead screens all looking out toward the road there.
Chevette Washington was asleep now, so she missed that.
Rydell thought about how he'd used Codes's phone to get through to
Sublett's number in L.A., and gotten this funny ring, which had nearly made
him hang up right then, but it had turned out to be call-forwarding, because
Sublett had this leave to go and stay with his mother, who was feeling kind
'You mean you're in Texas?'
'Paradise, Berry. Mom's sick 'cause she 'n' a bunch of others got moved
up here to SoCal.'
Sublett had explained where it was while Rydell looked at the Shell
'Hey,' Rydell had said, when he had a general idea where it was, 'how
about I drive over and see you?'
'Thought you had you a job up in San Francisco.'
'Well, I'll tell you about that when I get there.'
'You know they're saying I'm an apostate here?' Sublett hadn't sounded
happy about that.
'An apostate. 'Cause I showed my mom this Cronenberg film, Berry? This
Videodrome? And they said it was from the Devil.'
'I thought all those movies were supposed to have God in 'em.'
'There's movies that are clearly of the Devil, Berry. Or anyway that's
what Reverend Fallon says. Says all of Cronenberg's are.'
'He in Paradise, too?'
'Lord no,' Sublett had said, 'he's in these tunnels out on the Channel
Islands, between England and France. Can't leave there, either, because he
needs the shelter.'
'Taxes. You know who dug those same tunnels, Berry?'
'Hitler did, with slave labor.'
'I didn't know that,' Rydell had said, imagining this scary little guy
with a black mustache, standing up on a rock and cracking a big whip.
Now here came another sign, this one not nearly as professional as the
first one, just black spraypaint letters on a couple of boards.
R.U. READY FOR ETERNITY?
HE LIVES! WILL YOU?
'Watch television?' She was awake now.
'Well,' Rydell said, 'Fallonites believe God's sort of just there. On
television, I mean.'
'God's on television?'
'Yeah. Kind of like in the background or something. Sublett's mother,
she's in the church herself, but Sublett's kind of lapsed.'
'So they watch tv and pray, or what?'
'Well, I think it's more like kind of a meditation, you know? What they
mostly watch is all these old movies, and they figure if they watch enough
of them, long enough, the spirit will sort of enter into them.'
'We had Revealed Aryan Nazarenes, up in Oregon,' she said. 'First
Church of Jesus, Survivalist. As soon shoot you as look at you.'
'Bad news,' Rydell agreed, the RV cresting a little ridge there, 'those
kind of Christians...' Then he saw Paradise, down there, all lit up with
these lights on poles.
The security perimeter they advertised was just coils of razor-wire
circling maybe an acre and a half. Rydell doubted if it actually was
electrified, but he could see screamers hanging on it, every ten feet or so,
so it would be pretty effective anyway. There was a sort of
blockhouse-and-gate set-up where the road ran in, but all it seemed to he
protecting were about a dozen campers, trailers, and semi-rigs, parked on
cement beds around what looked like an old-fashioned radio tower they'd
topped with a whole cluster of satellite dishes, those little expensive ones
that looked sort of like giant gray plastic marshmallows. Somebody had
dammed a creek, to make a sort of pond for swimming, but the creek itself
looked like the kind of industrial runoff you wouldn't even find bugs
around, let alone birds.
Sure had the whole place lit up, though. He could hear the drumming of
big generators as they drove down the incline.
'Jesus,' Chevette Washington said.
Rydell pulled up by the blockhouse and powered his window down, glad it
still worked. A man in a blaze-orange fleece jacket and a matching cap came
out, carrying some kind of shotgun with a skeletal metal stock. 'Private
property,' he said, looking at where the windshield should've been. 'What
happened to your windshield there, mister?'
'Deer,' Chevette Washington said.
'Here to visit our friends, the Subletts?' Rydell said, hoping he could
distract the guard before he'd notice the bullet holes or anything.
'Expecting us, if you wanna go call 'em.'
'Can't say you much look like Christians.'
Chevette Washington sort of leaned across Rydell and gave the guard
this stare. 'I don't know about you, brother, but we're Aryan Nazarene, out
of Eugene. We wouldn't want to even come in there, say you got any mud
people, any kind of race-mixing.
Race-traitors all over, these days.'
The guard looked at her. 'You Nazarene, how come you ain't skins?'
She touched the front of her crazy haircut, the short spikey part.
'Next thing you're gonna tell me, Jesus was a Jew. Don't know what this
He looked more than maybe just a little worried, now.
'Got us some sanctified nails in the hack, here. Maybe that gives you
Rydell saw the guard hesitate, swallow.
'Hey, good buddy,' Rydell said, 'you gonna call tip ol' Sublett for us,
The man went back into the blockhouse.
'What's that about nails?' Rydell asked.
'Something Skinner told me about once,' she said. 'Scared me.'
Dora, Sublett's mother, drank Coke and Mexican vodka. Rydell had seen
people drink thai before, but never at room temperature. And the Coke was
flat, because she bought it and the vodka in these big plastic supermarket
bottles, and they looked as though they'd already lasted her a while. Rydell
decided he didn't feel like drinking anyway.
The living room of Dora's trailer had a matching couch and reclining
lounger. Dora lay back in the lounger with her feet up, for her circulation
she said, Rydell and Chevette Washington sat side by side on the couch,
which was more a loveseat, and
Sublett sat on the floor, his knees drawn up almost under his chin.
There was a lot of stuff on the walls, and on little ornamental shelves, but
it was all very clean. Rydell figured that was because of Sublett's
allergies. There sure was a lot of it, though: plaques and pictures and
figurines and things Rydell figured had to be those prayer hankies. There
was a flat type of hologram of Rev. Fallon, looking as much like a possum as
ever, but a possum that had gotten a tan and maybe had plastic surgery.
There was a life-size head of J. D. Shapely that Rydell didn't like because
the eyes seemed to follow you. Most of :he good stuff was sort of grouped
around the television, which was big and shiny but the old kind from before
they started to get real big and flat. It was on now, showing this black and
white movie, but the sound was off.
'You're sure you won't have a drink, Mr. Rydell?'
'No ma'am, thank you,' Rydell Said.
'Joel doesn't drink. He has allergies, YOU know.'
'Yes ma'am.' Rydell hadn't ever known Sublett's first name before.
Sublett was wearing brand-new white denim jeans, a white t-shirt, white
cotton socks, and disposable white paper hospital slippers.
'He was always a sensitive boy, Mr. Rydell. I remember one time he
sucked on the handle of this other boy's Big Wheel. Well, his mouth like to
'Momma,' Sublett said, 'you know the doctor said you ought to get more
sleep than you been getting.'
Mrs. Sublett sighed. 'Yes, well, Joel, I know you young people want a
chance to talk.' She peered at Chevette Washington. 'That's a shame about
your hair, honey. You're just as pretty as can be, though, and you know
it'll just grow in so nice. I tried to light the broiler on this gas range
we had, down in Galveston, that was when Joel was just a baby, he was so
sensitive, and that stove about blew up. I just had had this perm, dear and,
Chevette Washington didn't say anything.
'Momma,' Sublett said, 'now you know you've had your nice drink...'
Rydell watched Sublett lead the old woman off to bed.
'Jesus Christ,' Chevette Washington said, 'what's wrong with his eyes?'
'Just light-sensitive,' Rydell said.
'It's spooky, is what it is.'
'He wouldn't hurt a fly,' Rydell said.
Sublett came back, looked at the picture on the tv, then sighed and
shut it off. 'You know I'm not supposed to leave the trailer, Berry?'
'It's a condition of my apostasy. They say I might corrupt the
congregation by contact.' He perched on the edge of the recliner so he
wouldn't have to actually recline in it.
'I thought you'd blown Fallon off when you came out to LA.'
Sublett looked embarrassed. 'Well, she's hecn sick, Berry, so when I
came here I told 'em I was here to reconsider. Meditate on the box 'n' all.'
He wrung his long pale hands. 'Then they caught me watching Videodrome. You
ever see, uh, Deborah Harry, Rydell?' Sublett sighed and sort of quivered.
'How'd they catch you?'
'They've got it set up so they can monitor what you're watching.'
'How come they're out here anyway?'
Sublett ran his fingers back through his dry, straw-colored hair. 'Hard
to say, but I'd figure it's got something to do with Reverend Fallon's tax
problems. Most of what he does, lately, it's about that. Didn't your job in
San Francisco work out, Berry?'
'No,' Rydell said, 'it didn't.'
'You want to tell me about it?' Rydell said he did.
'I think he shot through something to do with the damned heater, too,'
Rydell said. They were back in the RV, outside the perimeter.
'I like your friend,' she said. 'I do too.'
'No, I mean he really cares about what's going to happen to you. He
'You take the bed,' he said. 'I'll sleep up front.' 'There's no
windshield. You'll freeze.'
'I'll be okay.'
'Sleep back here. We did before. It's okay.'
He woke in the dark and listened to the sound of her breathing, to the
creak of stiff old leather from the jacket spread over her shoulder.
Sublett had listened to his story, nodding sometimes, asking a question
here and there, his mirrored contacts reflecting tiny convex images of them
sitting there on that loveseat. In the end he'd just whistled softly and
said, 'Berry, it sounds to me like you're really in trouble now. Bad
Really in trouble now.
Rydell slid his hand down, brushing one of hers by accident as he did
it, and touched the bulge of his wallet in his back pocket. What money he
had was in there, but Wellington Ma's card was in there, too. Or what was
left of it. The last time he'd looked, it had broken into three pieces.
'Big trouble,' he said to the dark, and Chevette Washington lifted the
edge of her jacket and sort of snuggled in closer, her breathing never
changing, so he knew she was still asleep.
He lay there, thinking, and after a while he started to get this idea.
About the craziest idea he'd ever had.
'That boyfriend of yours,' he said to her, in the tiny kitchen of
Sublett's mother's trailer, 'that Lowell?'
'What about him?'
'Got a number we could reach him at?'
She poured milk on her cornflakes. It was the kind you mixed up from
powder. Had that thin chalky look. The only kind Sublett's mother had.
Sublett was allergic to milk. 'Why?'
'I think maybe I want to talk to him about something.'
'Something I think maybe he could help me with.'
'Lowell? Lowell's not gonna help you. Lowell doesn't give a rat's ass
'Well,' Rydell said, 'why don't you just let me talk to him.'
'If you tell him where we are, or he has it traced back through the
cd-net, he'll turn us in. Or he would if he knew anybody was after us.'
'He's just like that.' But then she gave Rydell the phone and the
'Who the fuck is this?'
'How you doin'?'
'Who gave you-'
'Don't hang up.'
He could hear Lowell draw on a cigarette. 'what did you say?' Lowell
'Orlovsky. SFPD Homicide, Lowell. That big fucker with the great big
fucking gun? Came in the bar there? You remember. Just before the lights
went out. I was over there by the bar, talking with Eddie the Shit.'
Lowell took another drag, shallower by the sound of it. 'Look, I don't
know what you-'
'You don't have to. You can just hang up right now, Lowell. But if you
do, boy, you just better kiss your ass goodbye. Because you saw Orlovsky
come in there for the girl, Lowell, didn't you? You saw him. He didn't wart
you to. He wasn't in there on any SFPD business, Lowell. He was there on his
own stick. And that's one serious bad oficer, Lowell. Serious as cancer.'
Silence. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
'Then you just listen, Lowell. Listen up. You don't listen, I'll tell
Orlovsky you saw him. I'll give him this number. I'll give him your
description, and that skinhead's, too. Tell him you been talking about him.
And you know what he'll do, Lowell? He'll come out there and shoot your ass
dead, that's what he'll do. And nobody to stop him. Homicide, Lowell. Then
he can investigate it himself, he wants to. Man's heavy, Lowell, I gotta
tell ya.' Lowell coughed, a couple of times. Cleared his throat. 'This is a
'I don't hear you laughing.'
'Okay,' Lowell said, 'say it's for real. Then that? What're you after?'
'I hear you know people can get things done. With computers and
things.' He could hear Lowell lighting a fresh cigarette.
'Well,' Lowell said, 'sort of.'
'Republic of Desire,' Rydell said. 'I need you to get them to do me a
'No names,' Lowell said, fast. 'There's scans set to pick things out of
'Them.' 'Them' okay? Need you to get them to do something for me.'
'It'll cost you,' Lowell said, 'and it won't be cheap.'
'No,' Rydell said, 'it'll cost you.'
He pressed the button that broke the connection. Give old Lowell a
little time to think about it; maybe look Orlovsky up on the Civil List, see
he was there and he was Homicide. He flipped the little phone shut and went
back into the trailer.
Sublett's mother kept the air-conditioning up about two clicks too
Sublett was sitting on the loveseat. His white clothes made him look
sort of like a painter, a plasterer or something, except he was too clean.
'You know, Berry, I'm thinking maybe I better get back to Los Angeles.'
'What about your mother?'
'Well, Mrs. Baker's here now, from Galveston? They been neighbors for
years. Mrs. Baker can watch out for her.'
'That apostate crap getting to you?'
'Sure is,' Sublett said, turning to look at the hologram of Fallon. 'I
still believe in the Lord, Berry, and I know I've seen His face in the
media, just like Reverend Fallon teaches. I have. But the rest of it, I
swear, it might as well be just a flatout hustle.' Sublett almost looked
like he might be about to cry. The silver eyes swung around, met Rydell's.
'And I been thinking about IntenSecure, Berry. What you told me last night.
I don't see how I can go hack there and work, knowing the kinds of things
they'll condone. I thought I was at least helping to protect people from a
few of the evils in this world, Berry, but now I know I'd just be working
for a company with no morals at all.'
Rydell walked over and had a closer look at the prayer-hankies. He
wondered which one of them was supposed to keep the AIDS off. 'No,' he said,
finally, 'you go back to work. You are protecting people. That part's real.
You got to make a living, Sublett.'
'What about you?'
'Well, what about me?'
'They'll just find you and kill you, Berry. You and her.'
'You, too, probably, if they knew what I'd told you. I shouldn't
ought've done that, Sublett. That's one reason Chevette and I have to get
out of here. So there won't be any hassle for you and your mom.'
'Well,' Sublett said, 'I'm not working for them anymore, Berry. But I'm
leaving here, too. I just have to.'
Rydell looked at Sublett, seeing him, somehow, in his full IntenSecure
outfit, Glock and all, and suddenly that big crazy idea-thing sort of up and
shook itself, and rolled over, revealing all these new angles. But you can't
get him involved, Rydell told himself, it just wouldn't be fair.
'Sublett,' Rydell heard himself saying, about a minute later, 'I bet I
got a career-option here you haven't ever even considered.'
'What's that?' Sublett said.
'Getting in trouble,' Rydell said.
scouring pads broom
detergent liquid sleeping bag
stove fuel oil/gasket
He sleeps now. Rice with the curry from the Thai wagon. Asks where the
girl has gone. Tell him Fontaine has heard from her but does not know where
she is or why. The pistol on the shelf. Reluctant to touch it (cold, heavy,
smelling of oil, the dark blue finish worn to silver-gray down the sides of
its muzzle, around the fluted segments of the cylinder. ('SMITH & WESSON.'
Thomasson.) Tonight he spoke again of Shapely.
How they did him like that, Scooter, that's just some sorry shit. Same
shit all over. Always some of 'em, anyway, makes you wonder how these damn
religions last so long or what started it in the first place. Could be he'll
be that himself one day, crazy fuckers out killing people for him, or
they'll say it's for him. Used to be these Crucified Jesus people, they
wouldn't talk at all except on Mondays, and that was the day they'd go and
dig one spadeful of dirt out of their grave, Scooter.
Every little while they'd get one of them thought he'd got the spirit
in him and they'd just do it, do it with these special chrome nails they all
carried, leather neck-pouch, see, it had to be unborn lambskin. Hell, you'd
have to say they were crazier than the ones got him, Scooter. Put 'em all
away, finally. Weren't any left at all, after about 1998.
34. Punching out of paradise.
'Inner Tube, honey,' Mrs. Sublett said, 'Talitha Morrow, Todd Probert,
Gary Underwood. 1996.' She was leaning back in the recliner with a damp
washcloth folded across her forehead. It was the same color blue as her
slippers, and they were terrycloth, too.
'I never saw that,' Chevette said, flipping through the pages of a
magazine all about Reverend Fallon. There was this has-been actress, Gudrun
Weaver, and she was up there hugging Fallon on a stage somewhere. If he'd
turned around, Chevette thought, his nose would've barely come up to her
breastbone. Looked like he'd had some kind of pink wax injected, all under
his skin; had the creepiest-looking hair she'd ever seen, like a really
short wig but it sort of looked like it might get up and walk off by itself.
'All about television,' Mrs. Sublett said, 'so naturally it's of
special significance to the Church.'
'What's it about?'
'Talitha Morrow is this newswoman, and Todd Probert is a bank robber.
But he's a good bank robber, because he only needs the money to pay for a
heart-transplant for his wife. Carrie Lee. Remember her? In a mature role,
honey. More like a cameo. Well, Gary Underwood is Talitha's ex, but he's
still got it for her, bad. In fact he's got-whatcha callit?-erotomania, like
it's all he ever thinks about and, honey, it's turned pure evil. First he's
sending her these chopped up Barbie dolls; sends her a dead white rabbit,
then all this fancy underwear with blood on it...'
Chevette let the old lady talk. She could just sort of tune her out,
the way she used to do with her own mother, sometimes. She wondered what it
was Rydell and Sublett were so worked up about. Up to something; whispering
in the kitchen.
She watched a fly buzz around the stuff on Mrs. Sublett's shelves. It
looked slow, like maybe the air-conditioning was too much for it.
She wondered if maybe she wasn't starting to fall for Rydell. Maybe it
was just that he'd showered and shaved and put on clean clothes from his
stupid-looking suitcase. The clothes were exactly the same as the ones he'd
been wearing before. Maybe he never wore anything else. But she had to admit
he had a cute butt in those jeans. Sublett's mother said he looked like a
young Tommy Lee Jones. Who was Tommy Lee Jones? Or maybe it was because she
had the idea somehow he was going to do something mean to Lowell. She'd
thought she was still in love with Lowell, or something anyway, but now she
didn't think so, not at all. If Lowell just hadn't started doing dancer.
She'd thought about how that Loveless had got when she'd dumped all that
dancer in his Coke. She'd asked Rydell if that was enough to have killed
him, and Rydell had said no. Said it was enough to keep him stone crazy for
a while, and when he got back together, he was going to be hurting. Then
she'd asked Rydell why Loveless had done that, banging his gun into his
crotch that way. Rydell had sort of scratched his head and said he wasn't
sure, but he thought it had something to do with what it did to your nervous
system. Said he'd heard it induced priapism, for one thing.
She'd asked him what that was. Well, he'd said, it's when the man is,
like, overstimulated. She didn't know about that, but it had given Lowell
these total brickbat boners that just didn't want to go away. And that
would've been just fine, or anyway okay, except he got all mean with it,
too, SO she'd wind up all sore and then he'd he badmouthing her in front of
these people he hung out with, like Codes. Anyway, she wasn't going to waste
any time worrying about what Rydell might have in mind for Lowell, no way.
What she did worry about was Skinner, whether he was okay, whether he was
being taken care of. She was kind of scared to try phoning Fontaine now;
every time Rydell made a call out, she worried it might get traced back or
something. And it made her sad to think about her bike. She was sure
somebody would've gotten it by now. She kind of hated to admit it, but that
was starting to make her nearly as sad as Sammy getting killed that way. And
Rydell had said he thought maybe Nigel had gotten shot, too.
'And then,' Sublett's mother was saying, 'Gary Underwood goes through
this window. And he falls on one of those fences? Kind with spikes on top.'
'Hey, Mom,' Sublett said, 'you're bending Chevette's ear.'
'Just telling her about Inner Tube,' Mrs. Sublett said, from under the
'1996,' Sublett said. 'Well, Rydell and I, we need her for something.'
Sublett gestured for her to follow him back into the kitchen.
'I don't think it's a real good idea for her to go outside, Berry,' he
said to Rydell. 'Not in the daytime.'
Rydell was sitting at the little plastic table where she'd had
breakfast. 'Well, you can't go, Sublett, because of your apostasy. And I
don't want to be in there by myself, not with my head stuck in one of those
eyephone things. His parents could walk in. He might listen.'
'Can't you just call them on the regular phone, Berry?' Sublett sounded
'No.' Rydell said, 'I can't. They just don't like that. He says they'll
at least talk to me if I call them on an eyephone rig.'
'What's the problem?' Chevette said.
'Sublett's got a friend here who's got a pair of eyephones.'
'Buddy,' Sublett said.
'Your buddy?' she asked.
'Name's Buddy,' Sublett said, 'but that VR, eyephones 'n' stuff, it's
against Church law. It's been revealed to Reverend Fallon that virtual
reality's a medium of Satan, 'cause you don't watch enough tv after you
start doing it...
'You don't believe that,' Rydell said.
'Neither does Buddy,' Sublett said, 'but his daddy'll whip his head
around if he finds that VR stuff he's got under the bed.'
'Just call him up,' Rydell said, 'tell him what I told you. Two hundred
dollars cash, plus the time and charges.'
'People'll see her,' Sublett said, his shy silver gaze bouncing in
Chevette's direction, then back to Rydell.
'What do you mean, "see" me?'
'Well, it's your haircut,' Sublett said. 'It's too unusual for 'em, I
can tell you that.'
'Now, Buddy,' Rydell said to the boy, 'I'm going to give you these two
hundred-dollar bills here. Now when'd you say your father's due back?'
'Not for another two hours,' Buddy said, his voice cracking with
nervousness. He took the money like it might have something on it. 'He's
helping pour a new pad for the fuel cells they're bringing from Phoenix on
the Church's bulk-lifter.' Buddy kept looking at Chevette. She had on a
straw sun-hat that belonged to Sublett's mother, with a big floppy brim, and
a pair of these really strange old-lady sunglasses with lemon-yellow frames
and lenses that sort of swooped up at the side. Chevette tried smiling at
him, but it didn't seem to help.
'You're friends of Joel's, right?' Buddy had a haircut that wasn't
quite skin, some kind of gadget in his mouth to straighten his teeth, and an
Adam's apple about a third the size of his head. She watched it bob up and
down. 'From L.A.?'
'That's right,' Rydell said.
'I... I wanna g-go there,' Buddy said.
'Good,' Rydell said. 'This is a step in the right direction, you just
believe it. Now you wait out there like I said, and tell Chevette here if
Buddy went out of his tiny bedroom, closing the door behind him. It
didn't look to Chevette like anybody Buddy's age lived there at all. Too
neat, with these posters of Jesus and Fallon. She felt sorry for him. It was
close and hot and she missed Sublett's mother's air-conditioning. She took
off that hat.
'Okay,' Rydell said, picking up the plastic helmet, 'you sit on the bed
here and pull the plug if we get interrupted.' Buddy had already hooked up
the jack for them. Rydell sat down on the floor and put the helmet on, so
she couldn't see his eyes.
Then he pulled on one of those gloves you use to dial with and move
stuff around in there.
She watched his index finger, in that glove, peck out something on a
pad that wasn't there. Then she listened to him talking to the telephone
company's computer about getting the time and charges after he was done.
Then his hand came up again. 'Here goes,' he said, and started punching
out this number he said Lowell had given him, his finger coming down on the
empty air. When he was done, he made a fist, sort of wiggled it around, then
lowered the gloved hand to his lap.
He just sat there for a few seconds, the helmet kind of swiveling
around like he was looking at stuff, then it stopped moving.
'Okay,' he said, his voice kind of funny, but not to her, 'but is there
Chevette felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
'Oh,' he said, the helmet turning, 'Jesus...'
35. The republic of desire.
Rydell had liked doing Dream Walls, when he was a kid in high school.
It was this Japanese franchise operation they set up in different kinds of
spaces, mostly in older malls; some were in places that had been movie
theaters, some were in old department stores. He'd gone to one once that
they'd put into an old bowling alley; made it real long and narrow and the
stuff sort of distorted on you if you tried to move it too fast.
There were a lot of different ways you could play with it, the most
popular one in Knoxville being gunfights, where you got these guns and shot
at all kinds of bad guys, and they shot back and then you got the score.
Sort of like FATSS at the Academy, but only about half the rez. And none of
the, well, color.
But the one Rydell had liked most was where you just went in and sort
of sculpted things out of nothing, out of that cloud of pixels or polygons
or whatever they were, and you could see what other people were doing at the
same time, and maybe even put your stuff together with theirs, if you both
wanted to. He'd been kind of self-conscious about it, because it seemed like
something that mostly girls did. And the girls were always doing these
unicorns and rainbows and things, and Rydell liked to do cars, kind of
dream-cars, like he was some designer in Japan somewhere and he could build
anything he wanted. You could get these full-color printouts when you were
done, or a cassette, if you'd animated it. There'd always be a couple of
girls down at the far end, doing plastic surgery on pictures of themselves,
fiddling around with their faces and hair, and they'd get printouts of those
if they did one they really liked.
Rydell would be up closer to the entrance, molding these grids of green
light around a frame he'd drawn, and laying color and texture over that to
see how different ones looked. But what he remembered when he clicked into
the Republic of Desire's eyephone-space was the sense you got, doing that,
of what the space around Dream Walls was like. And it was a weird thing,
because if you looked up from what you were doing, there really wasn't
anything there; nothing in particular, anyway. But when you were doing it,
designing your car or whatever, you could get this funny sense that you were
leaning out, over the edge of the world, and the space beyond that sort of
fell away, forever.
And you felt like you weren't standing on the floor of an old movie
theater or a bowling alley, but on some kind of plain, or maybe a pane of
glass, and you felt like it just stretched away behind you, miles and miles,
with no real end.
So when he went from looking at the phone company's logo to being right
out there on that glassy plain, he just said 'Oh,' because he could see its
edges, and see that it hung there, level, and around and above it this cloud
or fog or sky that was no color and every color at once, just sort of
And then these figures were there, bigger than skyscrapers, bigger than
anything, their chests about even with the edges of the plain, so that
Rydell got to feel like a bug, or a little toy.
One of them was a dinosaur, this sort of T. Rex job with the short
front legs, except they ended in something a lot more like hands. One was a
sort of statue, it looked like, or more like some freak natural formation,
all shot through with cracks and fissures, but it was shaped like a
wide-faced man with dreadlocks, the face relaxed and the lids half-closed.
But all stone and moss, the dreadlocks somehow stacked from whole mountains
Then he looked and saw the third one there, and just said
This was a figure, too, and just as big, but all made up of television,
these moving images winding and writhing together, and barely, it seemed,
able to hold the form they took: something that might either have been a man
or a woman. It hurt his eyes, to try to look too close at any one part of
it. It was like trying to watch a million channels at once, and this noise
was rushing off it like a waterfall off rocks, a sort of hiss that somehow
wasn't a sound at all.
'Welcome to the Republic,' said the dinosaur, its voice the voice of
some beautiful woman. It smiled, the ivory of its teeth carved into whole
temples. Rydell tried to look at the carvings; they got really clear for a
second, and then something happened.
'You don't have a third the bandwidth you need,' the dreadlocked
mountain said, its voice about what you'd expect from a mountain. 'You're in
'We could turn off the emulator,' the thing made of television
suggested, its voice modulating up out of the waterfall-hiss.
'Don't bother,' said the dinosaur. 'I don't think this is going to be
much of a conversation.'
'Your name,' said the mountain.
'Social Security,' said the dinosaur, sounding bored, and for some
reason Rydell thought about his father, how he'd always gone on about what
that had used to mean, and what it meant now.
'Name and number,' said the mountain, 'or we're gone.'
'Rydell, Stephen Berry,' and then the string of digits. He'd barely
gotten the last one out when the dinosaur said 'Former policeman, I see.'
'Oh dear,' said the mountain, who kept reminding Rydell of something.
'Well,' said the dinosaur, 'pretty permanently former, by the look of
it. Worked for IntenSecure after that.'
'A sting,' said the mountain, and brought a hand up to point at Rydell,
except it was this giant granite lobster-claw, crusted with lichen. It
seemed to fill half the sky, like the side of a space ship. 'The narrow end
of the wedge?'
'They don't come much narrower, if you ask me,' the storm of television
said. 'You seem to have gotten our Lowell's undivided attention, Rydell. And
he wouldn't even tell us what your name was.'
'Doesn't know it,' Rydell said.
'Don't know his ass from a hole in the ground, hee haw,' said the
mountain, lowering the claw, its voice a sampled parody of Rydell's. Rydell
tried to get a good look at its eyes; got a flash of still blue pools,
waving ferns, some kind of tan rodent hopping away, before the focus
slipped. 'People like Lowell imagine we need them more than they need us.'
'State your business, Stephen Berry,' said the dinosaur.
'There was something happened, up Benedict Canyon-'
'Yes, yes,' said the dinosaur, 'you were the driver. What does it have
to do with us?'
That was when it dawned on Rydell that the dinosaur, or all of them,
could probably see all the records there were on him, right then, anywhere.
It gave him a funny feeling. 'You're looking at all my stuff,' he said.
'And it's not very interesting,' said the dinosaur. 'Benedict Canyon?'
'You did that,' Rydell said.
The mountain raised its eyebrows. Windblown scrub shifting, rocks
tumbling down. But just on the edge of Rydell's vision. 'For what it's
worth, that was not us, not exactly. We would've gone a more elegant route.'
'But why did YOU do it?'
'Well,' said the dinosaur, 'to the extent that anyone did it, or caused
it to be done, I imagine you might look to the lady's husband, who I see has
since filed for divorce. On very solid grounds, it seems.'
'Like he set her up? With the gardener and everything?'
'Lowell has some serious explaining to do, I think,' the mountain said.
'You haven't told us what it is you want, Mr. Rydell.' This from the
'A job like that. Done. I need you to do one of those. For me.'
'Lowell,' the mountain said, and shook its dreadlocked head. Cascades
of shale in Rydell's peripheral vision. Dust rising on a distant slope.
'That sort of thing is dangerous,' the dinosaur said. 'Dangerous things
are very expensive. You don't have any money, Rydell.'
'How about if Lowell pays you for it?'
'Lowell,' from that vast blank face twisting with images, 'owes us.'
'Okay,' Rydell said, 'I hear you. And I think I know somebody else
might pay you.' He wasn't even sure if that was bullshit or not. 'But you're
going to have to listen to me. Hear the story.'
'No,' the mountain said, and Rydell remembered who it was he figured
the thing was supposed to look like, that guy you saw on the history shows
sometimes, the one who'd invented eyephones or something, 'and if Lowell
thinks he's the only pimp out there, he might have to think again.'
And then they were fading, breaking up into those paisley fractal
things, and Rydell knew he was losing them.
'Wait,' he said. 'Any of you live in San Francisco?'
The dinosaur came flickering back. 'What if we did?'
'Well,' Rydell said, 'do you like it?'
'Why do you ask?'
'Because it's all going to change. They're going to do it like they're
'Tokyo?' The television-storm, coming back now as this big ball, like
that hologram in Cognitive Dissidents. 'Who told you that?' Now the mountain
was back, too. 'There's not a lot of slack, for us, in Tokyo, now...'
'Tell us,' the dinosaur said.
So Rydell did.
She had the hat back on, when he took the helmet off, but she was
holding those sunglasses in her hand. Just looking at him.
'I don't think I made sense of much of that,' she said. She'd only been
able to hear his side of it, but it had been mostly him talking, there at
the end. 'But I think you're flat fucking crazy.'
'I probably am,' he said.
Then he got the time and charges on the call. It came to just about all
the money he had left.
'I don't see why they had to put the damn thing through Paris,' he
She just put those glasses back on and slowly shook her head.
36. Notebook (2).
The city in sunlight, from the roof of this box atop the tower. The
hatch open. Sound of Skinner sorting and resorting his belongings. A
cardboard box, slowly filling with objects I will take below, to the sellers
of things, their goods spread on blankets, on greasy squares of ancient
canvas. Osaka far away. The wind brings sounds of hammering, song. Skinner,
this morning, asking if I had seen the pike in the Steiner Aquarium.
- He doesn't move, Scooter.
Sure that's all Fontaine said? But he'd found her bike? That's no good.
Wouldn't go this long without that. Cost an arm and a fucking leg, that
thing. Made of paper, inside. Japanese construction-paper, what's it called?
Useless, Scooter. Shit, it's your language. Forgetting it faster than we
are... Tube of that paper, then they wrap it with aramyd or something. No,
she wouldn't leave that. Day she brought it home, three hours down there
spraying this fake rust on it, believe that? Fake rust, Scooter. And
wrapping it with old rags, innertubes, anything. So it wouldn't look new.
Well, it makes more sense than just locking it, it really does. Know how you
break a Kryptonite lock, Scooter? With a Volvo jack. Volvo jack fits right
in there, like it was made for it. Give it a shove or two, zingo. But they
never use 'em anymore, those locks. Some people still carry 'em, though. One
of those up 'side the head, you'll notice it... I just found her one day.
They wanted to cart her down to the end, let the city have her. Said she'd
be dead before they got her off anyway. Told 'em they could fuck off into
the air. Got her up here. I could still do that. Why? Hell. Because. See
people dying, you just walk by like it was television?
37. Century city.
Chevette didn't know what to think about Los Angeles.
She thought those palm trees were weird, though. On the way in,
Sublett's electric car had pulled up behind this big white trailer-rig with
A-LIFE INSTALLATIONS, NANOTRONIC VEGETATION across the back of it, and the
heads of these fake palm trees sticking out, all wrapped in plastic.
She'd seen it all on tv once, with Skinner, how they were putting in
these trees to replace the ones the virus had killed, some Mexican virus.
They were kind of like the Bay maglev, or like what Rydell and Sublett said
that that Sunflower company was going to do in San Francisco; these things
that kind of grew, but only because they were made up of all these little
tiny machines. One show she'd seen with Skinner, they'd talked about how
these new trees were designed so that all kinds of birds and rats and things
could nest in them, just like the ones that had died. Skinner told her that
he'd run a Jeep into a real palm tree, in L.A., once, and about ten rats had
fallen out, landed on the hood and just sort of stood there, until they got
scared and ran away.
It sure didn't feel like San Francisco. She felt kind of two ways about
it. Like it was just this bunch of stuff, all spread out pretty much at
random, and then like it was this really big place, with mountains somewhere
back there, and all this energy flowing around in it, lighting things up.
Maybe that was because they'd got there at night.
Sublett had this little white Eurocar called a Montxo. She knew that
because she'd had to look at the logo on the dash all the way from Paradise.
Sublett said it rhymed with poncho. It was built in Barcelona and you just
plugged it into the house-current and left it until it was charged. It
wouldn't do much more than forty on a highway, but Sublett didn't like to
drive anything else because of his allergies. She said he was lucky they had
electric cars; he'd told her all about how he was worried about the
electromagnetic fields and cancer and stuff.
They'd left his mother with this Mrs. Baker, watching Spacehunter on
the tv. They were both real excited about that because they said it was
Molly Ringwald's first film. They'd get excited about just about anything,
like that, and Chevette never had any idea who they were talking about.
Rydell was just spending more and more time on the phone, and they'd
had to stop and buy fresh batteries twice, Sublett paying.
It kind of bothered her that he didn't give her any more attention. And
they'd slept on the same bed again, in the room at the motel, but nothing
had happened, even though Sublett had slept out in the Montxo, with the
seats tilted back.
All Rydell ever did now was talk to those Republic of Desire people
Lowell knew, but on the regular phone, and try to leave messages on
somebody's voicemail. Mr. Mom or something. Ma. But he didn't think anybody
was getting them, so he'd called up the Desire people and gone on and on
about the whole story, everything that happened to them, and they'd recorded
it and they were supposed to put it in this Mr. Ma's voicemail. Rydell said
they were going to stuff it there, so there wasn't any other mail. Said that
ought to get his attention.
When they'd got to L.A. and got a room in a motel, Chevette had been
kind of excited, because she'd always wanted to do that. Because her mother
had always seemed to have real good times when she went to motels. Well, it
had turned out to be sort of like a trailer camp without the trailers, with
these little concrete buildings divided up into smaller rooms, and there
were foreign people cooking barbecues down in what had been the swimming
pool. Sublett had gotten really upset about that, how he couldn't handle the
hydrocarbons and everything, but Rydell had said it was just for the one
night. Then Rydell had gone over to the foreign people and talked to them a
little, and came back and said they were Tibetans. They made a good
barbecue, too, but Sublett just ate this drugstore food he'd brought with
him, bottled water and these yellow bars looked like soap, and went out to
sleep in his Montxo.
Now here she was, walking into this place called Century City II, and
trying to look like she was there to pull a tag. It was this kind of green,
tit-shaped thing up on these three legs that ran up through it. You could
see where they went because the walls were some kind of glass, mostly, and
you could see through. It was about the biggest thing around; you could see
it forever. Rydell called it the Blob.
It was real upscale, too, kind of like China Basin, with those same
kind of people, like you mostly saw in the financial district, or in malls,
or when you were pulling tags.
Well, she had her badges on, and she'd had a good shower at the motel,
but the place was starting to creep her out anyway. All these trees in
there, up all through this sort of giant, hollow leg, and everything under
this weird filtered light came in through the sides. And here she was
standing on this escalator, about a mile long, just going up and up, and
around her all these people who must've belonged there. There were
elevators, Rydell said, up the other two legs, and they ran at an angle,
like the lift up to Skinner's. But Sublett's friend had said there were more
IntenSecure people watching those, usually.
She knew that Sublett was behind her, somewhere, or anyway that was how
they'd worked it out before Rydell dropped them off at the entrance. She'd
asked him where he was going then, and he'd just said he had to go and
borrow a flashlight. She was starting to really like him. It sort of
bothered her. She wondered what he'd be like if he wasn't in a situation
like this. She wondered what she'd be like if she wasn't in a situation like
He and Sublett had both worked for the company that did security for
this building, IntenSecure, and Sublett had called up a friend of his and
asked him questions about how tight it was. The way he'd put it, it was like
he wanted a new job with the company. But he and Rydell had worked it out
that she could get in, particularly if he was following her to keep track.
What bothered her about Sublett was that he was acting sort of like he
was committing suicide or something. Once he'd gotten with the program,
Rydell's plan, it was like he felt cut loose from things. Kept talking about
his apostasy and these movies he liked, and somebody called Cronenberg. Had
this weird calm like somebody who knew for sure he was going to die; like
he'd sort of made peace with it, except he'd still get upset about his
Green light. Rising up through it.
They'd made her up this package at the motel. What it had in it was the
glasses. Addressed to Karen Mendelsohn.
She closed her eyes, told herself Bunny Malatesta would bongo on her
head if she didn't make the tag, and pushed the button.
'Yes?' It was one of those computers.
'Allied Messenger, for Karen Mendelsohn.'
'She's gotta sign for it.'
'Authorized to barcode-'
'Her hand. Gotta see her hand. Do it. You know?'
Silence. 'Nature of delivery?'
'You think I open them or what?'
'Nature of delivery?'
'Well,' Chevette said, 'it says "Probate Court," it's from San
Francisco, and you don't open the door, Mr. Wizard, it's on the next plane
'Wait, please,' said the computer.
Chevette looked at the potted plants beside the door. They were big,
looked real, and she knew Sublett was standing behind them, but she couldn't
see him. Somebody had put a cigarette out on one, between its roots.
The door open, a crack. 'Yes?'
'What is it?'
'Allied Messenger, San Francisco. You wanna sign for this?' Except
there was nothing, no tag, to sign.
'What it says.'
The door opened a little more. Dark-haired woman in a long pale
terrycloth robe. Chevette saw her check the badges on Skinner's jacket. 'I
don't understand,' Karen Medelsohn said. 'We do everything via GlobEx.'
'They're too slow,' Chevette said, as Sublett stepped around the plant,
wearing this black uniform. Chevette saw herself reflected in his contacts,
sort of bent out at the middle.
'Ms. Mendelsohn,' he said, 'afraid we've got us a security emergency,
Karen Mendelsohn was looking at him. 'Emergency?'
'Nothing to worry about,' Sublett said. He put his hand on Chevette's
shoulder and guided her in, past Karen Mendelsohn. 'Situation's under
control. Appreciate your co-operation.'
38. Miracle mile.
'Wally' Divac, Rydell's Serbian landlord, hadn't really wanted to loan
Rydell his flashlight, but Rydell had lied and promised he'd get him
something a lot better, over at IntenSecure, and bring it along when he
brought the flashlight back. Maybe one of those telescoping batons with the
wireless laser-tips, he said; something serious, anyway, professional and
maybe quasi-illegal. Wally was sort of a cop-groupie. Liked to feel he was
in with the force. Like a lot of people, he didn't much distinguish between
the real PD and a company like IntenSecure. He had one of those armed
response signs in his front yard, too, but Rydell was glad to see it wasn't
IntenSecure. Wally couldn't quite afford that kind of service, just like his
car was second-hand, though he would've told you it was previously owned,
like the first guy was just some flunky who'd had the job of breaking it in
But he owned this house, where he lived, with the baby-blue plastic
siding that looked sort of like painted wood, and one of those fake lawns
that looked realer than AstroTurf. And he had the house in Mar Vista and a
couple of others. His sister had come over here in 1994, and then he'd come
himself, to get away from all the trouble over there. Never regretted it.
Said this was a fine country except they let in too many immigrants.
'What's that you're driving?' he'd asked, from the steps of the
renovated Craftsman two blocks ahove Mel rose.
'A Montxo,' Rydell said. 'From Barcelona. Electric.'
'You live in America,' he'd said, his gray hair plastered neatly back
from his pitted forehead. 'Why you drive that?' His BMW, immaculate, reposed
in the driveway; he'd had to spend five minutes disarming it to get the
flashlight out for Rydell. Rydell had remembered the time in Knoxville,
Christmas day, when the Narcotics team's new walkie-talkies had triggered
every car-alarm in a ten-mile radius.
'Well,' Rydell said, 'it's real good for the environment.'
'It's bad for your country,' Wally said. 'Image thing. An American
should drive some car to feel proud of. Bavarian car. At least Japanese.'
'I'll get this back to you, Wally.' Holding up the big black
'And something else. You said.'
'Don't worry about it.'
'When you pay rent on Mar Vista?'
'Kevin'll take care of it.' Getting into the tiny Montxo and starting
up the flywheel. It sat there, rocking slightly on its shocks, while the
wheel got up to speed.
Wally waved, shrugged, then backed into his house and closed the door.
Rydell hadn't ever seen him not wear that Tyrolean hat before.
Rydell looked at the flashlight, figuring out where the safety was. It
wasn't much, but he felt like he had to have something. And it was
nonlethal. Guns weren't that hard to buy, on the street, but he didn't
really want to have to have one around today. You did a different kind of
time, if there was a gun involved.
Then he'd driven back toward the Blob, taking it real easy at
intersections and trying to keep to the streets that had designated lanes
for electric vehicles. He got Chevette's phone out and hit redial for the
node-number in Utah, the one Godeater had given him, back in Paradise.
God-eater was the one who looked like the mountain, or so he said. Rydell
had asked him what kind of a name that was. He'd said he was a full-blood
Blood Indian. Rydell sort of doubted it.
None of their voices were real, even; it was all digital stuff.
God-eater could just as well be a woman, or three different people, or all
three of the ones he'd seen there might've been just one person. He thought
about the woman in the wheelchair in Cognitive Dissidents. It could be her.
It could be anybody. That was the spooky thing about these hackers. He heard
the node-number ringing, in Utah. God-eater always picked up on five, in
'Paradise,' Rydell said.
'We have your goods in place, Richard. One little whoops and a push.'
'You get me a price yet?' The light changed. Somebody was honking,
pissed-off at the Montxo's inability to do anything like accelerate.
'Fifty,' God-eater said.
Fifty thousand dollars. Rydell winced. 'Okay,' he said, 'fair enough.'
'Better be,' God-eater said. 'We can make you pretty miserable in
prison, even. In fact, we can make you really miserable in prison. The
baseline starts lower, in there.'
I'll bet you got lots of friends there, too, Rydell thought. 'How long
you estimate the response-time, from when I call?' God-eater burped, long
and deliberate. 'Quick. Ten, fifteen max. We've got it slotted the way we
talked about. Your friends're gonna shit themselves. But really, you don't
wanna be in the way. This'll be like something you never saw before. This
new unit they just got set up.'
'I hope so,' Rydell said, and broke the connection.
He gave the parking-attendant Karen's apartment number. After this, it
really wasn't going to matter much. He had the flashlight stuck down in the
back of his jeans, under the zoo denim jacket Buddy had loaned him. It was
probably Buddy's father's. He'd told Buddy he'd help him find a place when
he got to L.A. He sort of hoped Buddy never did try that, because he
imagined kids like Buddy made it about a block from the bus station before
some really fast urban predator got them, just a blur of wheels and teeth
and no more Buddy to speak of. But then again you had to think about what it
would be like to be him, Buddy, back there in his three-by six-foot bedroom
in that trailer, with those posters of Fallon and Jesus, sneaking that VR
when his daddy wasn't looking. If you didn't at least try to get out, what
would you wind up feeling like? And that was why you had to give it to
Sublett, because he'd gotten out of that, allergies and all.
But he was worried about Sublett. Pretty crazy to be worried about
anybody, in a situation like this, but Sublett acted like he was already
dead or something. Just moving from one thing to the next, like it didn't
matter. The only thing that got any kind of rise out of him was his
And Chevette, too, Chevette Washington, except what worried him there
was the white skin of her back, just above the waist of those black
bike-pants, when she was curled on the bed beside him. How he keptwanting to
touch it. And how her tits stuck out against her t-shirt when she'd sit up
in the morning, and those little dark twists of hair under her arms. And
right now, walking up to this terracotta coffee-module near the base of the
escalator, the rectangular head of Wally's pepper-spray flashlight digging
into his spine, he knew he might never get another chance. He could be dead,
in half an hour, or on his way to prison.
He ordered a latte with a double shot, paid for it with just about the
last of his money, and looked at his Timex. Ten 'till three. When he'd
called Warbaby's personal portable from the motel, the night before, he'd
told him three.
God-eater had gotten him that number. God-eater could get you any
number at all.
Warbaby had sounded really sad to hear from him.
Disappointed, like. 'We never expected this of you, Rydell.'
'Sorry, Mr. Warbaby. Those fucking Russians. And that cowboy fucker,
that Loveless. Got on my case.'
'There's no need for obscenity. Who gave you this number?'
'I had it from Hernandez, before.' Silence.
'I got the glasses, Mr. Warbaby.'
'Where are you?'
Chevette Washington watching him, from the bed. 'In Los Angeles. I
figured I'd better get as far away from those Russians as I could.'
A pause. Maybe Warbaby had put his hand over the phone. Then, 'Well, I
suppose I can understand your behavior, although I can't say I approve...'
'Can you come down here and get them, Mr. Warbaby? And just sort of
call it even?'
A longer pause. 'Well, Rydell,' sadly, 'I wouldn't want you to forget
how disappointed I am in you, but, yes, I could do that.'
'But just you and Freddie, right? Nobody else.'
'Of course,' Warbaby had said. Rydell imagined him looking at Freddie,
who'd be tap-tapping away on some new laptop, getting the call traced. To a
cell-node in Oakland, and then to a tumbled number.
'You be down here tomorrow, Mr. Warbaby. I'll call you at your same
number, tell you where to come. Three o'clock. Sharp.'
'I think you've made the right decision, Rydell,' Warbaby had said.
'I hope so,' Rydell had said, then clicked off.
Now he looked at his Timex. Took a sip of coffee. Three o'clock. Sharp.
He put the coffee down on the counter and got the phone out. Started
punching in Warbaby's number.
It took them twenty minutes to get there. They came in two cars, from
opposite directions; Warbaby and Freddie in a black Lincoln with a white
satellite-dish on top, Freddie driving it, then Svobodov and Orlovsky in a
metallic-gray Lada sedan that Rydell took for a rental.
He watched them meet up, the four of them, then walk in, onto the plaza
under the Blob, past those kinetic sculptures, heading for the nearest
elevator, Warbaby looking sad as ever and leaning on that cane. Warbaby had
his same olive coat on, his Stetson, Freddie was wearing a big shirt with a
lot of pink in it, had a laptop under his arm, and the Russians from
Homicide had these gray suits on, about the color and texture of the Lada
they were driving.
He gave it a while to see if Loveless was going to turn up, then
started keying in that number in Utah.
'Please, Jesus,' he said, counting the rings.
'Your latte okay?' The Central Asian kid in the coffee-module, looking
'It's fine,' Rydell said, as God-eater picked up.
'Nixon. They're here. Four but not Smiley.'
'Your two Russians, Warbaby, and his jockey?'
'But not the other one?'
'Don't see him...'
'His description's in the package anyway. Okay, Rydell. Let's do it.'
Rydell stuck the phone in his jacket pocket, turned, and headed,
walking fast, for the escalator. The boy in the coffeemodule probably
thought there was something wrong with that lane.
God-eater and his friends, if they weren't just one person, say some
demented old lady up in the Oakland hills with a couple of million dollars'
worth of equipment and a terminally bad attitude, had struck Rydell as being
almost uniquely full of shit. There was nothing, if you believed them, they
couldn't do. But if they were all that powerful, how come they had to hide
that way, and make money doing crimes?
Rydell had gotten a couple of lectures on computer crime at the
Academy, but it had been pretty dry. The history of it, how hackers used to
be just these smart-ass kids dicking with the phone companies. Basically,
the visiting Fed had said, any crime that was what once had been called
white-collar was going to be computer crime anyway, now, because people in
offices did everything with computers. But there were other crimes you could
still call computer crimes in the old sense, because they usually involved
professional criminals, and these criminals still thought of themselves as
hackers. The public, the Fed had told them, still tended to think of hackers
as some kind of romantic bullshit thing, sort of like kids moving the
Merry pranksters. In the old days, he said, lots of people still didn't
know there was an outhouse there to be moved, not until they wound up in the
shit. Rydell's class laughed dutifully. But not today, the Fed said; your
modern hacker was about as romantic as a hit man from some ice posse or an
enforcer with a dancer combine. And a lot harder to catch, although if you
could get one and lean on him, you could usually count on landing a few
more. But they were set up mostly in these cells, the cells building up
larger groups, so that the most you could ever pop, usually, were the
members of a single cell; they just didn't know who the members of the other
cells were, and they made a point of not finding out.
God-eater and his friends, however many of them there were or weren't,
must've been a cell like that, one of however many units in what they called
the Republic of Desire. And if they were really going to go ahead and do the
thing for him, he figured there were three reasons: they hated the idea of
San Francisco getting rebuilt because they liked an infrastructure with a
lot of holes in it, they were charging him good money-money he didn't
have-and they'd figured out a way to do something that nobody had ever done
before. And it was that last one that had really seemed to get them going,
once they'd decided to help him out.
And now, climbing the escalator, up through all these kinds of people
who lived or worked up here, forcing himself not to break into a run, Rydell
found it hard to believe that God-eater and them were doing what they'd said
they could do. And if they weren't, well, he was just fucked.
No, he told himself, they were. They had to be. Somewhere in Utah a
dish was turning, targeted out toward the coast, toward the California sky.
And out of it, fed in from wherever God-eater and his friends were, were
coming these packages, no, packets, of signals. Packets, God-eater called
And somewhere, high above the Blob, up over the whole L.A. Basin, was
the Death Star.
Rydell dodged past a silver-haired man in tennis whites and ran up the
escalator. Came out under the copper tit. People going in and out of that
little mall there. A fountain with water sliding down big ragged sheets of
green glass. And there went the Russians, their wide gray backs heading
toward the white walls of the complex where Karen's apartment was. He
couldn't see Warbaby or Freddie.
3:32. 'Shit,' he said, knowing it hadn't worked, that God-eater had
fucked him, that he'd doomed Chevette Washington and Sublett and even Karen
Mendelsohn and it was one more time he'd just gone for it, been wrong, and
the last fucking time at that.
And then these things came through a long gap in the glass, just south
of where the handball-courts were, and he hadn't ever seen anything like
them. There were a bunch of them, maybe ten or a dozen, and they were black.
They hardly made any sound at all, and they were sort of floating. Just
skimming along. The players on the courts stopped to watch them.
They were helicopters, but too small to carry anybody. Smaller than the
smallest micro-light. Kind of dish-shaped. French Aerospatiale
gun-platforms, the kind you saw on the news from Mexico City, and he guessed
they were under the control of ECCCS, the Emergency Command Control
Communications System, who ran the Death Star. One of them swung by, about
twenty feet over his head, and he saw the clustered tubes of some kind of
gun or rocket-launcher.
'Damn,' Rydell said, looking up at the future of armed response.
'POLICE EMERGENCY. REMAIN CALM.'
A woman started screaming, from somewhere over by the mall, over and
over, like something mechanical.
And mostly they did, all those faces; faces of the residents of this
high country, their jawlines firm, their soft clothes fluttering in the
Rydell started running.
He ran past Svobodov and Orlovsky, who were looking at the three
helicopters that were much lower now, and so clearly edging in on them. The
Russians' mouths were open and Orlovsky's half-frame glasses looked like
they were about to fall off.
'ON YOUR FACES. NOW. OR WE FIRE.'
But the residents, slender and mainly blond, stood unmoved, watching,
with racquets in their hands, or dark glossy paper bags from the mall.
Watching the helicopters. Watching Rydell as he ran past them, their eyes
mildly curious and curiously hard.
He ran past Freddie, who was flat down on the granite payers, doing
what the helicopters said, his hands above his head and his laptop between
Then he saw Warbaby, slouched back on a cast-iron bench like he'd been
sitting there forever, just watching life go by. Warbaby saw him, too.
His cane was beside him, propped on the bench. He picked it up, lazy
and deliberate, and Rydell was sure he was about to get blown away.
But Warbaby, looking sad as ever, just brought the cane up to the brim
of his Stetson, like some kind of salute.
'DROP THAT CANE.'
The amplified voice of a SWAT cop, bunkered down in the hardened
sublevels of City Hall East, working his little Aerospatiale through a
telepresence rig. Warbaby shrugged, slowly, and tossed the cane away.
Rydell kept running, right through the open gates and up to Karen
Mendelsohn's door. Which was half-open, Karen and Chevette Washington both
there, their eyes about to pop out of their heads.
'Inside!' he yelled.
They just gaped at him.
There were a bunch of big plants beside the door, in a terracotta pot
about as high as his waist. He saw Loveless step around it, raising his
little gun; Loveless had on a silvery sportscoat and his left arm was in a
sling; his face was studded with micropore dressings that weren't quite the
right shade, so he looked like he had leprosy or something. He was smiling
'No!' Chevette Washington screamed, 'you murdering little fuck!'
Loveless brought the gun around, about a foot from her head, and Rydell
saw the smile vanish. Without it, he noticed, Loveless sort of looked like
he didn't have any lips.
'REMAIN CALM,' the helicopters reminded them all, as Rydell brought tip
Loveless never even managed to pull the trigger, which you had to admit
was kind of impressive. What that capsicum did, it was kind of like when
Sublett got an allergic reaction, but a lot worse, and a lot quicker.
'You crazy, crazy motherfucker,' Karen Mendelsohn kept saying, her eyes
swollen up like she'd walked through a swarm of hornets. She and Chevette
had both caught the edges of that pepper-spray, and Sublett was so worried
about the residue that he'd gone into a closet in Karen's bedroom and
wouldn't come out. 'You crazy, outrageous motherfucker. Do you know what
Rydell just sat there, in one of her white Retro Aggressive armchairs,
listening to those helicopters yelling outside. Later on, when it all came
out, they'd find out that the Republic of Desire had set Warbaby and them up
as these bomb-building mercenaries working for the Sonoran Separatist Front,
with enough high explosives stored in Karen's place to blow that nipple off
the tit and clear to Malibu. And they'd also worked in this hostage-taking
scenario, to guarantee the SWAT guys made a soft entry, if they had to. But
when the real live Counterterrorism Squad got in there, it would've been
pretty hairy, at least if Karen hadn't been a lawyer for Cops in Trouble.
Those were some angry cops, and getting angrier, at first, but then
Pursley's people seemed to have their ways to calm them down.
But the funny thing was, they, the LAPD, never would, ever, admit to it
that anybody had hacked the Death Star. They kept saying it had been phoned
in. And they stuck to that, too; it was so important to them, evidently,
that they were willing, finally, to let a lot of the rest of it just go.
But when he was sitting there, listening to Karen, and gradually
getting the idea that, yeah, he was the kind of crazy motherfucker she
liked, he kept thinking about Nightmare Folk Art, and whatever that woman's
name was, over there, and hoping she was coping okay, because God-eater had
needed an L.A. number to stick into his fake data-packet, a number where the
tip-off was supposed to have come from. And Rydell hadn't wanted to give
them Kevin's number, and then he'd found the Nightmare number in his wallet,
on part of a People cover, so he'd given God-eater that.
And then Chevette came over, with her face all swollen from the
capsicum, and asked him if it was working or were they totally fucked? And
he said it was, and they weren't, and then the cops came in and it wasn't
okay, but then Aaron Pursley turned up with about as many other lawyers as
there were cops, and then Wellington Ma, in a navy blazer with gold buttons.
So Rydell finally got to meet him.
'Always a pleasure to meet a client in person,' Wellington Ma said,
shaking his hand.
'Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ma,' Rydell said.
'I won't ask you what you did to my voice-mail,' Wellington Ma said,
'but I hope you won't do it again. Your story, though, is fascinating.'
Rydell remembered God-eater and that fifty thousand, and hoped Ma and
Karen and them weren't going to be pissed about that. But he didn't think
so, because Aaron Pursley had already said, twice, how it was going to be
bigger than the Pookey Bear thing, and Karen kept saying how telegenic
Chevette was, and about the youth angle, and how Chrome Koran would fall all
over themselves to do the music.
And Wellington Ma had signed up Chevette, and Sublett, too, but he'd
had to pass the papers back into that closet because Sublett still wouldn't
Rydell could tell from what Karen said that Chevette had told her
pretty much the whole story while she and Sublett had kept her there, and
kept her from hitting any IntenSecure panic-buttons. And Karen, evidently,
knew all about those VL glasses and how to get them to play things back, SO
she'd spent most of the time doing that, and now she knew all about
Sunflower or whatever it was called. And she kept telling Pursley that there
was a dynamite angle here because they could implicate Cody fucking Harwood,
if they played their cards right, and was he ever due for it, the bastard.
Rydell hadn't ever even had a chance to see that stuff, on the glasses.
'Mr. Pursley?' Rydell kind of edged over to him.
'What happens now?'
'Well,' Pursley said, tugging at the skin beneath his nose, 'you and
your two friends here are about to be arrested and taken into custody.'
Pursley looked at his big gold watch. It was set with diamonds around
the dial, and had a big lump of turquoise on either side. 'In about five
minutes. We're arranging to have the first press-conference around six. That
suit you, or would you rather eat first? We can have the caterers bring you
'But we're being arrested.'
'Bail, Berry. You've heard of bail? You'll all be out tomorrow
morning.' Pursley beamed at him.
'Are we going to be okay, Mr. Pursley?'
'Berry,' Pursley said, 'you're in trouble, son. A cop. And an honest
one. In trouble. In deep, spectacular, and, please, I have to say this,
clearly heroic shit.' He clapped Rydell on the shoulder. 'Cops in Trouble is
here for you, boy, and, let me assure you, we are all of us going to make
out just fine on this.'
Chevette said jail sounded just fine to her, but please could she call
somebody in San Francisco named Fontaine?
'You can call anybody you want, honey,' Karen said, dabbing at
Chevette's eyes with a tissue. 'They'll record it all, but we'll get a copy,
too. What was the name of your friend, the black man, the one who was shot?'
'Sammy Sal,' Chevette said.
Karen looked at Pursley. 'We'd better get Jackson Gale,' she said.
Rydell wondered what for, because Jackson Gale was this new young black guy
who acted in made-for-tv movies.
Then Chevette came over and hugged him, all of her pressing up against
him, and just sort of looking up at him from under that crazy-ass haircut.
And he liked that, even if her eyes were all red and her nose was running.
39. Celebration on a gray day.
On Saturday, the fifteenth of November, the morning after his fourth
night with Skinner, Yamazaki, wearing an enormous, cape-like plaid jacket,
much mended and smelling of candle-grease, descended in the yellow lift to
do business with the dealers in artifacts. He brought with him a cardboard
carton containing several large fragments of petrified wood, the left antler
of a buck deer, fifteen compact discs, a Victorian promotional novelty in
the shape of a fluted china mug, embossed with the letters 'OXO,' and a
damp-swollen copy of The Columbia Literary History of the United States.
The sellers were laying out their goods, the morning iron-gray and
clammy, and he was grateful for the borrowed jacket, its pockets silted with
ancient sawdust and tiny, nameless bits of hardware. He had been curious
about the correct manner in which to approach them, but they took the
initiative, clustering around him, Skinner's name on their lips.
The petrified wood brought the best price, then the mug, then eight of
the compact discs. It all went, finally, except for the literary history,
which was badly mildewed. He placed this, its blue boards warping in the
salt air, atop a mound of trash.
With the money folded in his hand, he went looking for the old woman
who sold eggs. Also, they needed coffee.
He was in sight of the place that roasted and ground coffee when he saw
Fontaine coming through the morning bustle, the collar of his long tweed
coat turned up against the fog.
'How's the old man doing, Scooter?'
'He asks more frequently after the girl...' 'She's in jail down in
L.A.,' Fontaine said. 'Jail?'
'Out on bail this morning, or that's what she said last night. I was on
my way over to bring you this.' He took a phone from his pocket and handed
it to Yamazaki. 'She has that number. Just don't go making too many calls
home, you hear?'
Yamazaki blinked. 'No. I understand...'
'I don't know what she's been up to since that damned storm hit, but
I've been too busy to bother thinking about it. We got the power back but
I've still got an injury case nobody's bothered to claim yet. Fished him out
of what was left of somebody's greenhouse, Wednesday morning. Sort of down
under your place, there, actually. Don't know if he hit his head or what,
but he just keeps coming around a little, then fading off. Vital signs okay,
no broken bones. Got a burn along his side could be from a bullet, some kind
of hot-shoe load...'
'You would not take him to a hospital?'
'No,' Fontaine said, 'we don't do that unless they ask us to, or unless
they're gonna die otherwise. Lot of us have good reason not to go to places
like that, get checked out on computers and all.'
'Ah,' Yamazaki said, with what he hoped was tact.
'Ah so,' Fontaine said. 'Some kids probably found him first, took his
wallet if he had one. But he's a big healthy brother and somebody'll
recognize him eventually. Hard not to, with that bolt through his johnson.'
'Yes,' Yamazaki said, failing to understand this last, 'and I still
have your pistol.' Fontaine looked around. 'Well, if you feel like you don't
need it, just chuck it for me. But I'll need that phone back, sometime. How
long you gonna be staying out here, anyway?'
'I... I do not know.' And it was true.
'You be down here this afternoon, see the parade?'
'November fifteenth. It's Shapely's birthday. Something to see. Sort of
Mardi Gras feel to it. Lot of the younger people take their clothes off, but
I don't know about this weather. Well, see you around. Say hi to Skinner.'
'Hi, yes,' Yamazaki said, smiling, as Fontaine went on his way, the
rainbow of his crocheted cap bobbing above the heads of the crowd.
Yamazaki walked toward the coffee-vendor, remembering the funeral
procession, the dancing scarlet figure with its red-painted rifle. The
symbol of Shapely's going.
Shapely's murder, some said sacrifice, had taken place in Salt Lake
City. His seven killers, heavily armed fundamentalists, members of a white
racist sect driven underground in the months following the assault on the
airport, were still imprisoned in Utah, though two of them had subsequently
died of AIDS, possibly contracted in prison, steadfastly refusing the viral
strain patented in Shapely's name.
They had remained silent during the trial, their leader stating only
that the disease was God's vengeance on sinners and the unclean. Lean men
with shaven heads and blank, implacable eyes, they were God's gunmen, and
would stare, as such, from all the tapes of history, forever.
But Shapely had been very wealthy when he had died, Yamazaki thought,
joining the line for coffee. Perhaps he had even been happy. He had seen the
product of his blood reverse the course of darkness. There were other
plagues abroad now, but the live vaccine bred from Shapely's variant had
saved uncounted millions.
Yamazaki promised himself that he would observe Shapely's birthday
parade. He would remember to bring his notebook.
He stood in the smell of fresh-ground coffee, awaiting his turn.
This book owes a very special debt to Paolo Polledri, founding Curator
of Architecture and Design, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Mr.
Polledri commissioned, for the 1990 exhibition Visionary San Francisco, a
work of fiction which became the short story 'Skinner's Room,' and also
arranged for me to collaborate with the architects Ming Fung and Craig
Hodgetts, whose redrawn map of the city (though I redrew it once again)
provided me with Skywalker Park, the Trap, and the Sunflower towers.
(From another work commissioned for this exhibition, Richard
Rodriguez's powerful 'Sodom: Reflections on a Stereotype,' I appropriated
Yamazaki's borrowed Victorian and the sense of its melancholy.)
The term Virtual Light was coined by scientist Stephen Beck to describe
a form of instrumentation that produces 'optical sensations directly in the
eye without the use of photons' (Mondo 2000).
Rydell's Los Angeles owes much to my reading of Mike Davis's City of
Quartz, perhaps most particularly in his observations regarding the
privatization of public space.
I am indebted to Markus, aka Fur, one of the editors of Mercury Rising,
published by and for the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association, who
kindly provided a complete file of hack issues and then didn't hear from me
for a year or SO (sorry).
Mercury Rising exists 'to inform, amuse, piss off, and otherwise
reinforce' the messenger community. It provided me with Chevette
Washington's workplace and a good deal of her character. Proj on!
Thanks, too, to the following, all of whom provided crucial assistance,
the right fragment at the right time, or artistic support: Laurie Anderson,
Cotty Chubb, Samuel Delany, Richard Dorsett, Brian Eno, Deborah Harry,
Richard Kadrey, Mark Laidlaw, Tom Maddox, Pat Murphy, Richard Piellisch,
John Shirley, Chris Stein, Bruce Sterling, Roger Trilling, Bruce Wagner,
Special thanks to Martha Millard, my literary agent, ever understanding
of the long haul.
And to Deb, Graeme, and Claire, with love, for putting up with the time
I spent in the basement.
Vancouver, B.C. January 1993
Sogho Ishii, the Japanese director, introduced me to Kowloon Walled
City via the photographs of Ryuji Miyamoto. It was Ishiisan's idea that we
should make a science fiction movie there. We never did, but the Walled City
continued to haunt me, though I knew no more about it than I could gather
from Miyamoto's stunning images, which eventually provided most of the
texture for the Bridge in my novel Virtual Light.
Architect Ken Vineberg drew my attention to an article about the Walled
City in Architectural Reviews, where I first learned of City of Darkness,
the splendid record assembled by Greg Girard and Ian Lambrot (Watermark,
London, 1993). From London, John Jarrold very kindly arranged for me to
receive a copy.
Anything I know of the toecutting business, I owe to the criminal
memoirs of Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read (Chopper from the inside, Sly Ink,
Australia, 1991). Mr. Read is a great deal scarier than Blackwell, and has
even fewer ears.
Karl Taro Greenfeld's Speed Tribes (HarperCollins, New York, 1994)
richly fed my dreams of Laney's jet lag.
Stephen P. ("Plausibility") Brown rode shotgun on the work in progress
for many months, commenting daily, sometimes more often, and always with a
fine forbearance, as I faxed him a bewildering flurry of disconnected
fragments he was somehow expected to interpret as "progress." His constant
encouragement and seemingly endless patience were absolutely essential to
this book's completion.
My publishers, on both sides of the Atlantic, also demonstrated great
patience, and I thank them.