Underground Vampire, page 5
When the household wanted secure communications and access to worldwide television programming, they’d answered the upstairs call by adding antennas to the roof capable of snagging signals from everywhere. Snug in their cave undisturbed, the trogs interfaced with the grid, dancing in and out of data, leaching funds as needed, punishing miscreants and generally living lives less connected to society either Human or Vampire than to the constructs they found in code.
Enamored of data, they developed the predicted interface allowing them to jack wet brains into the net living the future, surfing perpetual waves of data.
Stepping carefully across the boards in her spiky heels, she noted that several of the Vampires sported sockets from shaved skulls connected to the omnipresent boxes of equipment that served as furniture. Spotting a monitor and keyboard, she sat at a console and typed in ‘hello’ on a screen with what she thought was dos interface. She hit ‘enter’ and waited. She still found it unsettling talking to them through a monitor and keyboard when she could see their bodies strewn about the cave, cables and tubes jacked to skulls.
Instant acknowledgment cascaded down the monitor faster than she could read as the permanently connected community signed back. She was one of the few the trogs talked to under the rubric of call and response since they made the decision to live as a collective mind. Information whirled across the screen in data spools until order was enforced and ‘WELCOME’ appeared on the screen. The letters appeared one after another in the fashion of Marat/Sade, a comment on the stupidity of classic communication and the kind of scorn she expected from the collective.
In response she slowly typed “FUCK Y.” Before she got to “O” her screen filled with a torrent of abuse until she burst out laughing and typed “BEHAVE or I WILL UNPLUG EVERY ONE OF YOU.”
Serene cherry blossoms drifted across the screen.
“Just stopped by to say Hi.”
“No one stops by the Mansion.”
“True,” she replied, “She called.”
Complex mathematics ordered into probability equations scrolled for longer than she liked, then “Danger Will Robinson Danger” shrieked as B9 wriggled robot arms down the plastic hall fleeing images of the Queen they’d grabbed somehow.
As they’d gone deeper into individual sublimation their communication skills suffered, at least when they were limited to language, she thought.
“What do you see?”
All around her walls and halls burst into vivid color mostly reds and oranges with violet purple spikes and undulating waves of symbols.
“When you can put it in English or French let me know.”
“Could you keep an eye on things? I think Oliver is back.”
“Yes, he is.”
“So NO TECH, he barely registers.”
‘How is the mind?’ she asked. Arabella didn’t understand the extent that they’d managed to blend to one consciousness but accepted the proposition as true. Their explanation was a bit like when the physics people and philosophers discussed the singularity, comprehension breaking down several light years short of home.
The cave went black, the movie vanished as the wooden sword went in, the data streams collapsed into points that merged into a single violet singularity that Hiroshima’d into infinitesimal images splattering floor, walls, ceiling and, she noticed, her. Standing, she walked to the nearest wall and, squinting, saw images of fragments. Bits and pieces, shards with scratches, nibbled by vermin, burnt in fires, rotted in cellars, cuneiform, Chinese characters readable by a solitary scholar sitting alone in Beijing, pottery inscribed with the names of heroes dead long before Troy, all of it incomprehensible. On her arm she saw bits that reminded her of Finkelstein’s basement; stretching her arms above her head she reached through millennia of history to the stick etched with marks by the first woman.
“We collated every bit and scrap of writing in every museum and library, the universities and private collections, even in the Vatican into our data.”
“When we have joined every bit we will know everything.”
“We are able to reconcile every fragment with every other fragment. We will have a complete record of all the knowledge of man, a data base searchable by us.”
“You should talk to Finkelstein.”
“We are. He digitized his collection for us; in return we allow him to search our database for his purposes.”
“And, of course, you know what he knows.”
“We know what everyone knows.”
“Are you people crazy???”
“They will track you down.”
“Never happen; we no longer exist anywhere.”
“This is what you do now??????”
“We want to hasten certain transitions and believe they will trigger a decision point.”
The plastic sheets were glowing again; images, numbers and text flashed across in complex rhythms faster than she could comprehend.
“Is that you? What is this stuff?” Leaning over, she ran her fingers over the nearest sheet. It felt liquid, not like plastic but alive somehow, like she’d lightly pressed a lover’s skin.
“Organic polymers don’t touch.”
“Sorry; did I hurt it?”
“What are you trying to accomplish.”
Violent colors surged throughout the cave, leaping from sheet to sheet until the colors coalesced to a blinding white.
Squinting, she typed, “That hurts.”
Immediately the intensity lessened.
“We are hastening the end.”
“Yes, it may be.”
“Watch over me and any sign of Oliver.”
The screens dissolved and, as she looked, mundane sheets of plastic hung as room dividers. Vague shapes of reclining bodies connected to tubes and cables ghosted the blurry depths.
Her wave on the way out was ignored.
Trudging in the night drizzle, Ortega thought a great way to celebrate the first day of his brand new demotion would be to drink. Transferred from robbery/homicide to nowhere, he was alone in the rain walking a beat. They hadn’t put it like that when they ordered him in and gave him his new assignment, avoiding a union beef he figured, but he was walking down the street, at night, in the rain, alone.
Drinking on duty was frowned upon, but hell’s bells, thought Ortega, first day or actually first night of his transfer deserved memories and no one offered to buy so he might as well buck up and get used to the situation. Walking from Pioneer Square, putting the revitalized City behind him, into the bums and bars part of town to “get a taste of the neighborhood,” as the Lieutenant suggested when he pushed him out the door. Judging by the smell wafting out of the alleys, there were only a couple of words to accurately describe the taste. Now, he was using his talents to sniff out, that’s what the Lieutenant actually said, sniff out any Asian involvement in organized criminal activity occurring at the street level. They hadn’t put him back in a uniform, but had made sure he understood that he wasn’t undercover and wasn’t really functioning as a detective, since they weren’t assigning him a case.
He was just there to see what he could see about the lay of the land. Very important and necessary and something headquarters had been meaning to get to when they found the right person, which coincidentally they just discovered to be Detective Jesus Ortega, Jesse to his friends. Friends seemed to be in short supply at the station.
All he had to do was keep clean and do his time.
Ortega scrunched his shoulders up into his raincoat to keep the drizzle from the back of his neck. Tall and dark with thick black hair combed back on each side of his face he had the best of his Mexican father and black Irish mother. Trudging down the sidewalk he thought that if it had been
A product of Southside Catholic, the oldest all-boy high school in Seattle, he’d grown up white. He’d never really felt different until he’d joined SPD, where the old line culture judged on race. No matter what he said or did, he was a Mexican to the Department, helping them meet quotas a poster boy for integration. In the station he was spic, wetback or beaner, depending on the situation. He’d given up trying to explain as the old timers would never change and the young guys easily adopted casual racism to justify cowboy justice required for acceptance.
It had all worked out until he had broken Keenan’s nose with a hard right hand over a remark about his sister, which led to the hearing where he’d said yes sir, there are some racist elements in the station, which led to an internal investigation where he had eaten his words on the advice of a soon to retire sergeant who told him, “If you want to make a career at SPD, you tell them you misspoke and that you’ve never been mistreated at SPD, which is a goddamn lie and we know it’s a goddamn lie and they know it’s a goddamn lie, and then they will punish you, not for lying, but for making the department look bad. They’ll assign you to some crap dead end job, which you will happily do for as long as it takes, maybe years, to prove they can trust you to keep your mouth shut; then they’ll move you back. Or, you quit now, right now, today, and find a job somewhere else, some other state, there’s a whole bunch of them out there, they’re all over the place. That’s the SPD way.”
Which was why Jesse Ortega was walking down skid row at night in the rain looking for indicia of suspicious Asian drug gang activity, whatever the hell that was, but at least he was still a detective. The real pisser in all this was he didn’t even have a sister; he’d just had enough. The only bright spot was that it was worth it to spread Keenan’s alcoholic Irish nose across his pasty white face. He could tell the brass admired the damage when the bastard got up to testify at the hearing. That’s one thing you could count on with SPD, if you’re gonna get physical, do it for real.
The neon sign outside Blue Anchor Bar and Grill blinked blue and red in the grimy drizzle promising a drink and, hopefully, suspicious Asians. A mainstay of the downtown drinking landscape, it had been rebuilt after the Great Seattle Fire, serving men come to rebuild the city, dreamers and schemers going to Alaska, longshoremen and stevedores and, today, a mixed bag of hard and serious drinkers. It was a boilermaker place where a workingman could get an honest ounce of whiskey with a beer for a decent price. They didn’t serve mixed drinks. Any woman ducking in alone was presumed to be working, which was alright so long as she ordered something from the bar, even if it was coffee.
Inside, an old Jew worked the bar wearing a tweedy looking suit with a paisley necktie knotted in a clumsy double Windsor at his stringy neck. A white apron optimistically protected the suit with long ties wrapped around his skinny waist and looped in the front into a tidy little bow rather like the cravat on a traveling preacher man. The apron fell almost to the cuffs of his trousers above the serviceable brown wingtip shoes, practical support for long shifts. He was wiry thin and probably went a hundred thirty-five with the suit, the tie and the wingtips, one twenty-five in his boxers. Thinning, wavy grey hair sat on a well domed head, and wire spectacles filled the space between his straight nose, hard grey eyes and hairy eyebrows.
“Gimme a draft,” said Ortega, walking past the gleaming Rock-Ola shuffleboard table stretching down the left wall of the bar.
Two guys were standing at the far end of the table. The big Indian-looking guy wearing blue jeans and a real nice Pendleton over a black t-shirt casually started a blue weight on the right side of the table with his thumb on top of the weight and his fingers gliding on the edge. The weight didn’t look like it had enough to make it to the foul line, let alone twenty-two feet, but it kept creeping down the polished maple till it kissed the red disc sitting at the deuce off the board, caroming gently into the deep right corner, a gorgeous three. His opponent, a white guy with cheap tattoos under a tatty Sonics sweatshirt said, “Crap, not again, you are so lucky,” and waved to the bar pointing at the Indian.
Ortega reckoned that was one Indian who rarely paid for beer.
As he walked by, the Indian said, “Table’s open, care for a game?”
“No thanks,” said Ortega, “You’re too lucky for me.”
“I’ve still got the table,” whined the white guy, slapping dollar bills onto the table, “These say your luck just run out.”
“Well let’s just find out, shall we,” said the big Indian.
Ortega moved on down, pacing himself in the mirrored back bar on the right, passing black and white photographs hanging on the wall to his left. Stopping, he turned and looked at the images. They were in plain, black, dollar store frames, the glass fronts stained brown from years of cigarette smoke tinting the pasty faces yellow. The first was a picture of a hockey team called the Metropolitans, the next were two cops buttoned up in old style patrolman blues. Neither was smiling; they stared straight into the lens as if the unknown photographer was stealing their souls. But for the old style clothes, they could be images of cops sitting in the station today, mused Ortega, turning as the barkeep clattered a drink onto the bar.
Stepping up to the clean polished bar, he pulled cash from his front pocket and straddled the bar stool, “What were the Metropolitans?”
“Your money’s no good here.”
Didn’t order that,” said Ortega, pointing at the shot sitting on the bar next to the schooner.
“Forty years I been tending bar, and finally you come in and tell me how to do my job,” stated the Jew without sarcasm, “what took you so long?”
Ortega said nothing, picked up the shot glass, sniffing at the contents.
“Whiskey,” said Ortega, giving him cop eye, which produced no reaction.
“Rye,” agreed the barkeep, matching his emotion.
Ortega put the whiskey down in one swallow, set the shot glass on the bar, picked up the beer and extinguished the fire in his belly. He carefully placed the schooner into the exact center of the coaster.
“Done that before,” observed the Jew, “haven’t you?”
“Celebration,” replied Ortega.
“You’re not Irish, not even white,” opined the bartender, inspecting him like he was a bug pinned to a board, “but you’re a cop so it must be you.”
“What are you talking about, old man?”
“Turn around, you see those men? They came the last time; now you walk through the door, you must be the one.”
“Trust me, I’m not anybody. Just putting in my time till I can get my job back.”
“No going back after what’s going to happen.”
Turning around, he leaned his back against the bar, “what about them, who are they?” nodding his head at the two cops.
“Brothers; they walked the beat down here their whole career,” the Jew pointing with a liver spotted finger, “refused promotion outta here.”
“Yeah, why’d they do that?”
“Liked it down here; they ran the neighborhood, did alright for themselves, kept the peace.”
“Those days are over, this is the modern SPD.”
“Sure,” said the old Jew, “whatever you say.”
“What happened to them?”
“They stood up, that’s what happened.”
Jesse contemplated the photos and went back to his drink, unsure what it meant but whatever it was about, it wasn’t about Asian gang activity.
“Now you come walking in, you even drink the way they did.”
“I didn’t order this; you gave it to me, remember?” objected Ortega trying to make sense out of the old man’s rambling.
“Doesn’t make any d
Ortega drank the last of his beer and said, “Why don’t you give me another while we talk; say, you know anything about Asian gangs around here?”
Muttering, “Asian gangs” under his breath, the bartender walked down the bar to the pulls to refill the schooner. Ortega spun the stool to get a better look at the long gone cops and noticed something written in pencil at the bottom of each photo. Getting up, he bent to squint at the faded printing and finally jotted each name and rank down in his notebook before returning to his stool.
“When did all this happen?” he asked, eyes on the second rye in the barkeep’s hand.
“My great grandfather was still running the bar and my grandfather was just helping out, so it was over a hundred years ago,” the barkeep said, setting drink on the coaster.
Ortega sipped the rest of the rye, happy that he wasn’t drinking on duty now that he was actually gathering information. Pleased at the way his first night on the new assignment was starting, he picked up the second beer. “What happened to them?”
“Don’t talk about it out loud; words are powerful; numbers have meanings, some benign, others neutral, and many dangerous; you must be careful, it’s not something to say out loud. Look it up; you’re a detective, the records are somewhere; you go look it up but don’t read it out loud, you understand? Don’t say the words, just read to yourself. It’s too dangerous. Then come back here and we will talk.”
“I can read without moving my lips,” said Ortega, “so I should be safe.”
“Good, you do that,” said the Jew, oblivious to his sarcasm, “you do that.”
Ortega finished his beer and sat at the counter. “What about the Asians? They ever come in here?”