Maps in a mirror, p.29

Maps in a Mirror, page 29


Maps in a Mirror

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  I learned all kinds of joyful information, all of it trivial, all of it vital. I never know which of the threads I grasp are going to make connections deep within the lumens of my brightest caves. But I never before had the chance to wander unmolested through a person’s own house when searching for his P-word. I saw the notes his children brought home from school, the magazines his family received, and more and more I began to see that Jesse H. Hunt barely touched his family at any point. He stood like a waterbug on the surface of life, without ever getting his feet wet. He could die, and if nobody tripped over the corpse it would be weeks before they noticed. And yet this was not because he did not care. It was because he was so very very careful. He examined everything, but through the wrong end of the microscope, so that it all became very small and far away. I was a sad little boy by the end of that night, and I whispered to Microfed that he should practice pissing in male faces, because that’s the only way he would ever sink a hook into his daddy’s face.

  “What if he wants to take you home?” Dogwalker asked me, and I said, “No way he would, nobody does that,” but Dogwalker made sure I had a place to go all the same, and sure enough, it was Doggy who got voltage and me who went limp. I ended up riding in a beak-rat buggy, a genuine made-in-America rattletrap station wagon, and he took me to the for-sale house where Mama Pimple was waiting crossly for me and made Mr. Hunt go away because he kept me out too late. Then when the door was closed Mama Pimple giggled her gig and chuckled her chuck, and Walker himself wandered out of the back room and said, “That’s one less favor you owe me, Mama Pimple,” and she said, “No, my dear boyoh, that’s one more favor you owe me” and then they kissed a deep passionate kiss if you can believe it. Did you imagine anybody ever kissed Mama Pimple that way? Dogwalker is a boyful of shocks.

  “Did you get all you needed?” he asks me.

  “I have P-words dancing upward,” says I, “and I’ll have a name for you tomorrow in my sleep.”

  “Hold onto it and don’t tell me,” says Dogwalker. “I don’t want to hear a name until after we have his finger.”

  That magical day was only hours away, because the girl—whose name I never knew and whose face I never saw—was to cast her spell over Mr. Fed the very next day. As Dogwalker said, this was no job for lingeree. The girl did not dress pretty and pretended to be lacking in the social graces, but she was a good little clerical who was going through a most distressing period in her private life, because she had undergone a premature hysterectomy, poor lass, or so she told Mr. Fed, and here she was losing her womanhood and she had never really felt like a woman at all. But he was so kind to her, for weeks he had been so kind, and Dogwalker told me afterward how he locked the door of his office for just a few minutes, and held her and kissed her to make her feel womanly, and once his fingers had all made their little impressions on the thin electrified plastic microcoating all over her lovely naked back and breasts, she began to cry and most gratefully informed him that she did not want him to be unfaithful to his wife for her sake, that he had already given her such a much of a lovely gift by being so kind and understanding, and she felt better thinking that a man like him could bear to touch her knowing she was defemmed inside, and now she thought she had the confidence to go on. A very convincing act, and one calculated to get his hot naked handprints without giving him a crisis of conscience that might change his face and give him a whole new set of possible Ps.

  The microsheet got all his fingers from several angles, and so Walker was able to dummy out a finger mask for our inside man within a single night. Right index. I looked at it most skeptically, I fear, because I had my doubts already dancing in the little lightpoints of my inmost mind. “Just one finger?”

  “All we get is one shot,” said Dogwalker. “One single try.”

  “But if he makes a mistake, if my first password isn’t right, then he could use the middle finger on the second try.”

  “Tell me, my vertical pricket, whether you think Jesse H. Hunt is the sort of burr oak rat who makes mistakes?”

  To which I had to answer that he was not, and yet I had my misgivings and my misgivings all had to do with needing a second finger, and yet I am vertical, not horizontal, which means that I can see the present as deep as you please but the future’s not mine to see, que sera, sera.

  From what Doggy told me, I tried to imagine Mr. Fed’s reaction to this nubile flesh that he had pressed. If he had poked as well as peeked, I think it would have changed his P-word, but when she told him that she would not want to compromise his uncompromising virtue, it reinforced him as a most regular or even regulation fellow and his name remained pronouncedly the same, and his P-word also did not change. “InvictusXYZrwr,” quoth I to Dogwalker, for that was his veritable password, I knew it with more certainty than I had ever had before.

  “Where in hell did you come up with that?” says he.

  “If I knew how I did it, Walker, I’d never miss at all,” says I. “I don’t even know if it’s in the goo or in the zoo. All the facts go down, and it all gets mixed around, and up come all these dancing P-words, little pieces of P.”

  “Yeah but you don’t just make it up, what does it mean?”

  “Invictus is an old poem in a frame stuck in his bureau drawer, which his mama gave him when he was still a little fed-to-be. XYZ is his idea of randomizing, and rwr is the first U.S. President that he admired. I don’t know why he chose these words now. Six weeks ago he was using a different P-word with a lot of numbers in it, and six weeks from now he’ll change again, but right now—”

  “Sixty percent sure?” asked Doggy.

  “I give no percents this time,” says I. “I’ve never roamed through the bathroom of my subject before. But this or give me an assectomy, I’ve never been more sure.”

  Now that he had the P-word, the inside guy began to wear his magic finger every day, looking for a chance to be alone in Mr. Fed’s office. He had already created the preliminary files, like any routine green card requests, and buried them within his work area. All he needed was to go in, sign on as Mr. Fed, and then if the system accepted his name and P-word and finger, he could call up the files, approve them, and be gone within a minute. But he had to have that minute.

  And on that wonderful magical day he had it. Mr. Fed had a meeting and his secretary sprung a leak a day early, and in went Inside Man with a perfectly legitimate note to leave for Hunt. He sat before the terminal, typed name and P-word and laid down his phony finger, and the machine spread wide its lovely legs and bid him enter. He had the files processed in forty seconds, laying down his finger for each green, then signed off and went on out. No sign, no sound that anything was wrong. As sweet as summertime, as smooth as ice, and all we had to do was sit and wait for green cards to come in the mail.

  “Who you going to sell them to?” says I.

  “I offer them to no one till I have clean greens in my hand,” says he. Because Dogwalker is careful. What happened was not because he was not careful.

  Every day we walked to the ten places where the envelopes were supposed to come. We knew they wouldn’t be there for a week—the wheels of government grind exceeding slow, for good or ill. Every day we checked with Inside Man, whose name and face I have already given you, much good it will do, since both are no doubt different by now. He told us every time that all was the same, nothing was changed, and he was telling the truth, for the fed was most lugubrious and palatial and gave no leaks that anything was wrong. Even Mr. Hunt himself did not know that aught was amiss in his little kingdom.

  Yet even with no sign that I could name, I was jumpy every morning and sleepless every night. “You walk like you got to use the toilet,” says Walker to me, and it is verily so. Something is wrong, I say to myself, something is most deeply wrong, but I cannot find the name for it even though I know, and so I say nothing, or I lie to myself and try to invent a reason for my fear. “It’s my big chance,” says I. “To be twenty percent of rich.”

Rich,” says he, “not just a fifth.”

  “Then you’ll be double rich.”

  And he just grins at me, being the strong and silent type.

  “But then why don’t you sell nine,” says I, “and keep the other green? Then you’ll have the money to pay for it, and the green to go where you want in all the world.”

  But he just laughs at me and says, “Silly boy, my dear sweet pinheaded lightbrained little friend. If someone sees a pimp like me passing a green, he’ll tell a fed, because he’ll know there’s been a mistake. Greens don’t go to boys like me.”

  “But you won’t be dressed like a pimp,” says I, “and you won’t stay in pimp hotels.”

  “I’m a low-class pimp,” he says again, “and so however I dress that day, that’s just the way pimps dress. And whatever hotel I go to, that’s a low-class pimp hotel until I leave.”

  “Pimping isn’t some disease,” says I. “It isn’t in your gonads and it isn’t in your genes. If your daddy was a Kroc and your mama was an Iacocca, you wouldn’t be a pimp.”

  “The hell I wouldn’t,” says he. “I’d just be a high-class pimp, like my mama and my daddy. Who do you think gets green cards? You can’t sell no virgins on the street.”

  I thought that he was wrong and I still do. If anybody could go from low to high in a week, its Dogwalker. He could be anything and do anything, and that’s the truth. Or almost anything. If he could do anything then his story would have a different ending. But it was not his fault. Unless you blame pigs because they can’t fly. I was the vertical one, wasn’t I? I should have named my suspicions and we wouldn’t have passed those greens.

  I held them in my hands, there in his little room, all ten of them when he spilled them on the bed. To celebrate he jumped up so high he smacked his head on the ceiling again and again, which made them ceiling tiles dance and flip over and spill dust all over the room. “I flashed just one, a single one,” says he, “and a cool million was what he said, and then I said what if ten? And he laughs and says fill in the check yourself.”

  “We should test them,” says I.

  “We can’t test them,” he says. “The only way to test it is to use it, and if you use it then your print and face are in its memory forever and so we could never sell it.”

  “Then sell one, and make sure it’s clean.”

  “A package deal,” he says. “If I sell one, and they think I got more by I’m holding out to raise the price, then I may not live to collect for the other nine, because I might have an accident and lose these little babies. I sell all ten tonight at once, and then I’m out of the green card business for life.”

  But more than ever that night I am afraid, he’s out selling those greens to those sweet gentlebodies who are commonly referred to as Organic Crime, and there I am on his bed, shivering and dreaming because I know that something will go most deeply wrong but I still don’t know what and I still don’t know why. I keep telling myself, You’re only afraid because nothing could ever go so right for you, you can’t believe that anything could ever make you rich and safe. I say this stuff so much that I believe that I believe it, but I don’t really, not down deep, and so I shiver again and finally I cry, because after all my body still believes I’m nine, and nine-year-olds have tear ducts very easy of access, no password required. Well he comes in late that night, and I’m asleep he thinks, and so he walks quiet instead of dancing, but I can hear the dancing in his little sounds, I know he has the money all safely in the bank, and so when he leans over to make sure if I’m asleep, I say, “Could I borrow a hundred thou?”

  So he slaps me and he laughs and dances and sings, and I try to go along, you bet I do, I know I should be happy, but then at the end he says, “You just can’t take it, can you? You just can’t handle it,” and then I cry all over again, and he just puts his arm around me like a movie dad and gives me play-punches on the head and says, “I’m gonna marry me a wife, I am, maybe even Mama Pimple herself, and we’ll adopt you and have a little spielberg family in Summerfield, with a riding mower on a real grass lawn.”

  “I’m older than you or Mama Pimple,” says I, but he just laughs. Laughs and hugs me until he thinks that I’m all right. Don’t go home, he says to me that night, but home I got to go, because I know I’ll cry again, from fear or something, anyway, and I don’t want him to think his cure wasn’t permanent. “No thanks,” says I, but he just laughs at me. “Stay here and cry all you want to, Goo Boy, but don’t go home tonight. I don’t want to be alone tonight, and sure as hell you don’t either.” And so I slept between his sheets, like with a brother, him punching and tickling and pinching and telling dirty jokes about his whores, the most good and natural night I spent in all my life, with a true friend, which I know you don’t believe, snickering and nickering and ickering your filthy little thoughts, there was no holes plugged that night because nobody was out to take pleasure from nobody else, just Dogwalker being happy and wanting me not to be so sad.

  And after he was asleep, I wanted so bad to know who it was he sold them to, so I could call them up and say, “Don’t use those greens, cause they aren’t clean. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but the feds are onto this, I know they are, and if you use those cards they’ll nail your fingers to your face.” But if I called would they believe me? They were careful too. Why else did it take a week? They had one of their nothing goons use a card to make sure it had no squeaks or leaks, and it came up clean. Only then did they give the cards to seven big boys, with two held in reserve. Even Organic Crime, the All-seeing Eye, passed those cards same as we did.

  I think maybe Dogwalker was a little bit vertical too. I think he knew same as me that something was wrong with this. That’s why he kept checking back with the inside man, cause he didn’t trust how good it was. That’s why he didn’t spend any of his share. We’d sit there eating the same old schlock, out of his cut from some leg job or my piece from a data wipe, and every now and then he’d say, “Rich man’s food sure tastes good.” Or maybe even though he wasn’t vertical he still thought maybe I was right when I thought something was wrong. Whatever he thought, though, it just kept getting worse and worse for me, until the morning when we went to see the inside man and the inside man was gone.

  Gone clean. Gone like he never existed. His apartment for rent, cleaned out floor to ceiling. A phone call to the fed, and he was on vacation, which meant they had him, he wasn’t just moved to another house with his newfound wealth. We stood there in his empty place, his shabby empty hovel that was ten times better than anywhere we ever lived, and Doggy says to me, real quiet, he says, “What was it? What did I do wrong? I thought I was like Hunt, I thought I never made a single mistake in this job, in this one job.”

  And that was it, right then I knew. Not a week before, not when it would do any good. Right then I finally knew it all, knew what Hunt had done. Jesse Hunt never made mistakes. But he was also so paranoid that he haired his bureau to see if the babysitter stole from him. So even though he would never accidentally enter the wrong P-word, he was just the kind who would do it on purpose. “He doublefingered every time,” I says to Dog. “He’s so damn careful he does his password wrong the first time every time, and then comes in on his second finger.”

  “So one time he comes in on the first try, so what?” He says this because he doesn’t know computers like I do, being half-glass myself.

  “The system knew the pattern, that’s what. Jesse H. is so precise he never changed a bit, so when we came in on the first try, that set off alarms. It’s my fault, Dog, I knew how crazy paranoidical he is, I knew that something was wrong, but not till this minute I didn’t know what it was. I should have known it when I got his password, I should have known, I’m sorry, you never should have gotten me into this, I’m sorry, you should have listened to me when I told you something was wrong, I should have known, I’m sorry.”

  What I done to Doggy that I never meant to do. What I done to him! Anytime, I could have thought of
it, it was all there inside my glassy little head, but no, I didn’t think of it till after it was way too late. And maybe it’s because I didn’t want to think of it, maybe it’s because I really wanted to be wrong about the green cards, but however it flew, I did what I do, which is to say I’m not the pontiff in his fancy chair, by which I mean I can’t be smarter than myself.

  Right away he called the gentlebens of Ossified Crime to warn them, but I was already plugged into the library sucking news as fast as I could and so I knew it wouldn’t do no good, cause they got all seven of the big boys and their nitwit taster, too, locked up good and tight for card fraud.

  And what they said on the phone to Dogwalker made things real clear. “We’re dead,” says Doggy.

  “Give them time to cool,” says I.

  “They’ll never cool,” says he. “There’s no chance, they’ll never forgive this even if they know the whole truth, because look at the names they gave the cards to, it’s like they got them for their biggest boys on the borderline, the habibs who bribe presidents of little countries and rake off cash from octopods like Shell and ITT and every now and then kill somebody and walk away clean. Now they’re sitting there in jail with the whole life story of the organization in their brains, so they don’t care if we meant to do it or not. They’re hurting, and the only way they know to make the hurt go away is to pass it on to somebody else. And that’s us. They want to make us hurt, and hurt real bad, and for a long long time.”

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