Maps in a mirror, p.30

Maps in a Mirror, page 30

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  I never saw Dog so scared. That’s the only reason we went to the feds ourselves. We didn’t ever want to stool, but we needed their protection plan, it was our only hope. So we offered to testify how we did it, not even for immunity, just so they’d change our faces and put us in a safe jail somewhere to work off the sentence and come out alive, you know? That’s all we wanted.

  But the feds, they laughed at us. They had the inside guy, see, and he was going to get immunity for testifying. “We don’t need you,” they says to us, “and we don’t care if you go to jail or not. It was the big guys we wanted.”

  “If you let us walk,” says Doggy, “then they’ll think we set them up.”

  “Make us laugh,” says the feds. “Us work with street poots like you? They know that we don’t stoop so low.”

  “They bought from us,” says Doggy. “If we’re big enough for them, we’re big enough for the dongs.”

  “Do you believe this?” says one fed to his identical junior officer. “These jollies are begging us to take them into jail. Well listen tight, my jolly boys, maybe we don’t want to add you to the taxpayers’ expense account, did you think of that? Besides, all we’d give you is time, but on the street, those boys will give you time and a half, and it won’t cost us a dime.”

  So what could we do? Doggy just looks like somebody sucked out six pints, he’s so white. On the way out of the fedhouse, he says, “Now we’re going to find out what it’s like to die.”

  And I says to him, “Walker, they stuck no gun in your mouth yet, they shove no shiv in your eye. We still breathing, we got legs, so let’s walk out of here.”

  “Walk!” he says. “You walk out of G-boro, glasshead, and you bump into trees.”

  “So what?” says I. “I can plug in and pull out all the data we want about how to live in the woods. Lots of empty land out there. Where do you think the marijuana grows?”

  “I’m a city boy,” he says. “I’m a city boy.” Now we’re standing out in front, and he’s looking around. “In the city I got a chance, I know the city.”

  “Maybe in New York or Dallas,” says I, “but G-boro’s just too small, not even half a million people, you can’t lose yourself deep enough here.”

  “Yeah well,” he says, still looking around. “It’s none of your business now anyway, Goo Boy. They aren’t blaming you, they’re blaming me.”

  “But it’s my fault,” says I, “and I’m staying with you to tell them so.”

  “You think they’re going to stop and listen?” says he.

  “I’ll let them shoot me up with speakeasy so they know I’m telling the truth.”

  “It’s nobody’s fault,” says he. “And I don’t give a twelve-inch poker whose fault it is anyway. You’re clean, but if you stay with me you’ll get all muddy, too. I don’t need you around, and you sure as hell don’t need me. Job’s over. Done. Get lost.”

  But I couldn’t do that. The same way he couldn’t go on walking dogs, I couldn’t just run off and leave him to eat my mistake. “They know I was your P-word man,” says I. “They’ll be after me, too.”

  “Maybe for a while, Goo Boy. But you transfer your twenty percent into Bobby Joe’s Face Shop, so they aren’t looking for you to get a refund, and then stay quiet for a week and they’ll forget all about you.”

  He’s right but I don’t care. “I was in for twenty percent of rich,” says I. “So I’m in for fifty percent of trouble.”

  All of a sudden he sees what he’s looking for. “There they are, Goo Boy, the dorks they sent to hit me. In that Mercedes.” I look but all I see are electrics. Then his hand is on my back and he gives me a shove that takes me right off the portico and into the bushes, and by the time I crawl out, Doggy’s nowhere in sight. For about a minute I’m pissed about getting scratched up in the plants, until I realize he was getting me out of the way, so I wouldn’t get shot down or hacked up or lased out, whatever it is they planned to do to him to get even.

  I was safe enough, right? I should’ve walked away, I should’ve ducked right out of the city. I didn’t even have to refund the money. I had enough to go clear out of the country and live the rest of my life where even Occipital Crime couldn’t find me.

  And I thought about it. I stayed the night in Mama Pimple’s flophouse because I knew somebody would be watching my own place. All that night I thought about places I could go. Australia. New Zealand. Or even a foreign place, I could afford a good vocabulary crystal so picking up a new language would be easy.

  But in the morning I couldn’t do it. Mama Pimple didn’t exactly ask me but she looked so worried and all I could say was, “He pushed me into the bushes and I don’t know where he is.”

  And she just nods at me and goes back to fixing breakfast. Her hands are shaking she’s so upset. Because she knows that Dogwalker doesn’t stand a chance against Orphan Crime.

  “I’m sorry,” says I.

  “What can you do?” she says. “When they want you, they get you. If the feds don’t give you a new face, you can’t hide.”

  “What if they didn’t want him?” says I.

  She laughs at me. “The story’s all over the street. The arrests were in the news, and now everybody knows the big boys are looking for Walker. They want him so bad the whole street can smell it.”

  “What if they knew it wasn’t his fault?” says I. “What if they knew it was an accident? A mistake?”

  Then Mama Pimple squints at me—not many people can tell when she’s squinting, but I can—and she says, “Only one boy can tell them that so they’ll believe it.”

  “Sure, I know,” says I.

  “And if that boy walks in and says, Let me tell you why you don’t want to hurt my friend Dogwalker—”

  “Nobody said life was safe,” I says. “Besides, what could they do to me that’s worse than what already happened to me when I was nine?”

  She comes over and just puts her hand on my head, just lets her hand lie there for a few minutes, and I know what I’ve got to do.

  So I did it. Went to Fat Jack’s and told him I wanted to talk to Junior Mint about Dogwalker, and it wasn’t thirty seconds before I was hustled on out into the alley and driven somewhere with my face mashed into the floor of the car so I couldn’t tell where it was. Idiots didn’t know that somebody as vertical as me can tell the number of wheel revolutions and the exact trajectory of every curve. I could’ve drawn a freehand map of where they took me. But if I let them know that, I’d never come home, and since there was a good chance I’d end up dosed with speakeasy, I went ahead and erased the memory. Good thing I did—that was the first thing they asked me as soon as they had the drug in me.

  Gave me a grown-up dose, they did, so I practically told them my whole life story and my opinion of them and everybody and everything else, so the whole session took hours, felt like forever, but at the end they knew, they absolutely knew that Dogwalker was straight with them, and when it was over and I was coming up so I had some control over what I said, I asked them, I begged them, Let Dogwalker live. Just let him go. He’ll give back the money, and I’ll give back mine, just let him go.

  “OK,” says the guy.

  I didn’t believe it.

  “No, you can believe me, we’ll let him go.”

  “You got him?”

  “Picked him up before you even came in. It wasn’t hard.”

  “And you didn’t kill him?”

  “Kill him? We had to get the money back first, didn’t we, so we needed him alive till morning, and then you came in, and your little story changed our minds, it really did, you made us feel all sloppy and sorry for that poor old pimp.”

  For a few seconds there I actually believed that it was going to be all right. But then I knew from the way they looked, from the way they acted, I knew the same way I know about passwords.

  They brought in Dogwalker and handed me a book. Dogwalker was very quiet and stiff and he didn’t look like he recognized me at all. I didn’t even have to
look at the book to know what it was. They scooped out his brain and replaced it with glass, like me only way over the line, way way over, there was nothing of Dogwalker left inside his head, just glass pipe and goo. The book was a User’s Manual, with all the instructions about how to program him and control him.

  I looked at him and he was Dogwalker, the same face, the same hair, everything. Then he moved or talked and he was dead, he was somebody else living in Dogwalker’s body. And I says to them, “Why? Why didn’t you just kill him, if you were going to do this?”

  “This one was too big,” says the guy. “Everybody in G-boro knew what happened, everybody in the whole country, everybody in the world. Even if it was a mistake, we couldn’t let it go. No hard feelings, Goo Boy. He is alive. And so are you. And you both stay that way, as long as you follow a few simple rules. Since he’s over the line, he has to have an owner, and you’re it. You can use him however you want—rent out data storage, pimp him as a jig or a jaw—but he stays with you always. Every day, he’s on the street here in G-boro, so we can bring people here and show them what happens to boys who make mistakes. You can even keep your cut from the job, so you don’t have to scramble at all if you don’t want to. That’s how much we like you, Goo Boy. But if he leaves this town or doesn’t come out, even one single solitary day, you’ll be very sorry for the last six hours of your life. Do you understand?”

  I understood. I took him with me. I bought this place, these clothes, and that’s how it’s been ever since. That’s why we go out on the street every day. I read the whole manual, and I figure there’s maybe ten percent of Dogwalker left inside. The part that’s Dogwalker can’t ever get to the surface, can’t even talk or move or anything like that, can’t ever remember or even consciously think. But maybe he can still wander around inside what used to be his head, maybe he can sample the data stored in all that goo. Maybe someday he’ll even run across this story and he’ll know what happened to him, and he’ll know that I tried to save him.

  In the meantime this is my last will and testament. See, I have us doing all kinds of research on Orgasmic Crime, so that someday I’ll know enough to reach inside the system and unplug it. Unplug it all, and make those bastards lose everything, the way they took everything away from Dogwalker. Trouble is, some places there ain’t no way to look without leaving tracks. Goo is as goo do, I always say. I’ll find out I’m not as good as I think I am when somebody comes along and puts a hot steel putz in my face. Knock my brains out when it comes. But there’s this, lying in a few hundred places in the system. Three days after I don’t lay down my code in a certain program in a certain place, this story pops into view. The fact you’re reading this means I’m dead.

  Or it means I paid them back, and so I quit suppressing this because I don’t care anymore. So maybe this is my swan song, and maybe this is my victory song. You’ll never know, will you, mate?

  But you’ll wonder. I like that. You wondering about us, whoever you are, you thinking about old Goo Boy and Dogwalker, you guessing whether the fangs who scooped Doggy’s skull and turned him into self-propelled property paid for it down to the very last delicious little drop.

  And in the meantime, I’ve got this goo machine to take care of. Only ten percent a man, he is, but then I’m only forty percent myself. All added up together we make only half a human. But that’s the half that counts. That’s the half that still wants things. The goo in me and the goo in him is all just light pipes and electricity. Data without desire. Lightspeed trash. But I have some desires left, just a few, and maybe so does Dogwalker, even fewer. And we’ll get what we want. Every speck. Every sparkle. Believe it.

  BUT WE TRY NOT TO ACT LIKE IT

  There was no line. Hiram Cloward commented on it to the pointy-faced man behind the counter. “There’s no line.”

  “This is the complaint department. We pride ourselves on having few complaints.” The pointy-faced man had a prim little smile that irritated Hiram. “What’s the matter with your television?”

  “It shows nothing but soaps, that’s what’s the matter. And asinine gothics.”

  “Well—that’s programming, sir, not mechanical at all.”

  “It’s mechanical. I can’t turn the damn set off.”

  “What’s your name and social security number?”

  “Hiram Cloward. AFD-XX-15800-NH3.”

  “Address?”

  “ARF-487-U7b.”

  “That’s singles, sir. Of course you can’t turn off your set.”

  “You mean because I’m not married I can’t turn off my television?”

  “According to congressionally authorized scientific studies carried out over a three-year period from 1989 to 1991, it is imperative that persons living alone have the constant companionship of their television sets.”

  “I like solitude. I also like silence.”

  “But the Congress passed a law, sir, and we can’t disobey the law—”

  “Can’t I talk to somebody intelligent?”

  The pointy-faced man flared a moment, his eyes burning. But he instantly regained his composure, and said in measured tones, “As a matter of fact, as soon as any complainant becomes offensive or hostile, we immediately refer them to section A-6.”

  “What’s that, the hit squad?”

  “It’s behind that door.”

  And Hiram followed the pointing finger to the glass door at the far end of the waiting room. Inside was an office, which was filled with comfortable, homey knickknacks, several chairs, a desk, and a man so offensively nordic that even Hitler would have resented him. “Hello,” the Aryan said, warmly.

  “Hi.”

  “Please, sit down.” Hiram sat, the courtesy and warmth making him feel even more resentful—did they think they could fool him into believing he was not being grossly imposed upon?

  “So you don’t like something about your programming,” said the Aryan.

  “Your programming, you mean. It sure as hell isn’t mine. I don’t know why Bell Television thinks it has the right to impose its idea of fun and entertainment on me twenty-four hours a day, but I’m fed up with it. It was bad enough when there was some variety, but for the last two months I’ve been getting nothing but soaps and gothics.”

  “It took you two months to notice?”

  “I try to ignore the set. I like to read. You can bet that if I had more than my stinking little pension from our loving government, I could pay to have a room where there wasn’t a TV so I could have some peace.”

  “I really can’t help your financial situation. And the law’s the law.”

  “Is that all I’m going to hear from you? The law? I could have heard that from the pointy-faced jerk out there.”

  “Mr. Cloward, looking at your records, I can certainly see that soaps and gothics are not appropriate for you.”

  “They aren’t appropriate,” Hiram said, “for anyone with an IQ over eight.”

  The Aryan nodded. “You feel that people who enjoy soaps and gothics aren’t the intellectual equals of people who don’t.”

  “Damn right. I have a Ph.D. in literature, for heaven’s sake!”

  The Aryan was all sympathy. “Of course you don’t like soaps! I’m sure it’s a mistake. We try not to make mistakes, but we’re only human—except the computers, of course.” It was a joke, but Hiram didn’t laugh. The Aryan kept up the small talk as he looked at the computer terminal that he could see and Hiram could not. “We may be the only television company in town, you know, but—”

  “But you try not to act like it.”

  “Yes. Ha. Well, you must have heard our advertising.”

  “Constantly.”

  “Well, let’s see now. Hiram Cloward, Ph.D. Nebraska 1981. English literature, twentieth century, with a minor in Russian literature. Dissertation on Dostoevski’s influence on English-language novelists. A near-perfect class attendance record, and a reputation for arrogance and competence.”

  “How much do you know about me?”<
br />
  “Only the standard consumer research data. But we do have a bit of a problem.”

  Hiram waited, but the Aryan merely punched a button, leaned back, and looked at Hiram. His eyes were kindly and warm and intense. It made Hiram uncomfortable.

  “Mr. Cloward.”

  “Yes?”

  “You are unemployed.”

  “Not willingly.”

  “Few people are willingly unemployed, Mr. Cloward. But you have no job. You also have no family. You also have no friends.”

  “That’s consumer research? What, only people with friends buy Rice Krispies?”

  “As a matter of fact, Rice Krispies are favored by solitary people. We have to know who is more likely to be receptive to advertising, and we direct our programming accordingly.”

  Hiram remembered that he ate Rice Krispies for breakfast almost every morning. He vowed on the spot to switch to something else. Quaker Oats, for instance. Surely they were more gregarious.

  “You understand the importance of the Selective Programming Broadcast Act of 1985, yes?”

  “Yes.”

  “It was deemed unfair by the Supreme Court for all programming to be geared to the majority. Minorities were being slighted. And so Bell Television was given the assignment of preparing an individually selected broadcast system so that each individual, in his own home, would have the programming perfect for him.”

  “I know all this.”

  “I must go over it again anyway, Mr. Cloward, because I’m going to have to help you understand why there can be no change in your programming.”

  Hiram stiffened in his chair, his hands flexing. “I knew you bastards wouldn’t change.”

  “Mr. Cloward, we bastards would be delighted to change. But we are very closely regulated by the government to provide the most healthful programming for every American citizen. Now, I will continue my review.”

  “I’ll just go home, if you don’t mind.”

 
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