night.blind: 01.2.1: 14 November 2004: Mark
You only really need to know two things about Dante Nagel.
Concepts. General ideas.
07 December 2004: Mark Brand.
Lies, and insurance policies.
Of these, the lies were just vanity and the insurance policies
were more of an operating expense.
Everything about Dante was a lie. Not just the bogus cards
in his wallet or the nameless numbered accounts that transferred
imaginary electronic bread into and out of his life. He
was built, from the balls up, as a construct. A self construct,
mostly, and that's where the vanity came in. It wasn't
the sort of thing that leapt out at you, but if you could examine
this man, as we are about to do, it would probably make you
much less afraid of him.
He was 46, but said he was 38. He called himself Dante,
but his real name was Herbert D. Nigel. Nigel was too
working class for him, and 'Herb' didn't exactly inspire fear
or respect. He told people he grew up on the north side
of Chicago. Maybe a little Northwestern, maybe a little
DePaul... But he had lived about eight blocks too far
west, in Cabrini Green, and got a communications associates
at Oakton. He had a Mediterranean name, but his mother was Turkish
and his father was a regular old nigger. He knew this
because his mother used to shriek it at him from the other side
of the ashy high-rise tenemant wall, if they weren't balling.
As long as the subject has come up, Dante was a legendary womanizer.
But the truth was he rarely indulged in vice of any sort.
Deprivation breeded the purest form of useful aggression.
He just paid several well-placed mouths to utter... minor...
factual inconsistencies from time to time. Like the time
Dante had reputedly hired the services of an entire Nevada brothel
to service his current girlfriend, while he watched. Or
the time two women showed up at the ambulatory gastroenterology
unit of University on Nevada Medical complaining of severe abdominal
pains after having spent a night with him. Together.
He liked to let people think great and expansive things about
him, and made no effort to rectify, correct, or ceartainly not
"keep real". He had a reputation for being tough, irrisistable,
and direct. In reality, he had very little personal inertia.
He was a back-shooter, a poisoner, an alley sniper, a brass-knuckle
wearer. A weenie with a sharp sense of timing.
And, of course, insurance policies.
His first line of insurance policies were probably more than
he would ever need. He kept a small army of guys to have
his back as needed. Just regular guys, mostly. Janitors,
cabbies, cablemen. All paid what amounted to hail-mary-save-me
money. Dante paid their car payments, their family medical
bills, their rent, their bail, their divorce settlements.
They were happy to accept the money, but not so happy when called
on to fuck up someone who had crossed Mr. Nagel.
Don't misunderstand, the heavy-browed clunkers of the first
insurance policy were pipe-hitters and skull-breakers.
But that's not the sort of call anyone wants to answer on an
otherwise quiet Thursday evening.
Well, it wasn't exactly a call. More like a page.
The guys who accepted those just-in-time rent payments inevitably
began to hate their ominous little Motorola. But very
few dared ignore it. This was largely due to the second
His name was 867-055-9129. As far as Dante could tell,
867-055-9129 had no accent, no vocal inflection, no identifying
characteristics of any kind. He was a man( Dante was fairly
sure) and he was demonstrably effective.
Anyone who failed to promptly answer a call to action from Dante
was fired. And by fired, I mean Dante would get the man's
trendy little Motorola in a plain manila envelope a few days
later. Sometimes cracked up or smelling like gasoline,
but always in working condition. Dante also carried a
tiny GPS transmitter capsule with several chemical batteries
implanted birth-control style in the soft fascia under his left
arm. A sharp bend of one of the batteries would activate
the chemical current. This he had fortunately never needed
to use, but would summon 867-055-9129 with the utmost haste.
The only other thing Dante knew about 867-055-9129 was 125000.
That was the cost, in dollars, of one week's premium of this
particular insurance policy. It was a bargain, considering
the peace of mind it bought. Besides, it wasn’t really
Dante's money anyway. At least, not most of it.
Once you knew these two things about Dante, it really wasn't
surprising to find out he was one pisser of an HR guy.
Dante frowned at a four-inch thick manila folder.
07 December 2004: Mark Brand.
The Viewers were often too predictable for their own good.
They were an element unto themselves, as predictable and quantifiable
in their decay as Uranium. Well... Let's not use as grandiose
an analogy as Uranium.
They were as predictable as... A can of off-label vegetable
beef soup. The velocity of their talents was weighed,
and calculated. Their very caloric value was measured
in lives changed, disasters avoided, and the all-important Regime
Stability Factor. They were assigned a fairly stringent
expiration date, and (if not completely used up long before
then) were given a reasonable shelf life.
When it comes to expired Viewers, the vegetable beef soup analogy
is particularly apt. Those allowed to simmer in their
own talents long enough would eventually get the jump-and-jive.
They would flake out and start consulting runes as their foresight
waned and became less predictable.
The Viewers discovered between ages four and ten, before their
talents had time to get them in much other trouble, stood a
reasonable chance of surviving puberty. But there was
no hard and fast science to explain why middle age almost invariably
ruined the foresight. It was Dante's job not only to recognize
the signs in the young recruits, but also to recognize the signs
of imminent deconstruction in the veterans.
Fortunately these signs were obvious, even to the casual observer.
Irene Witty was discovered as a pretty young stripling of a
girl hitchhiking along a nameless Pennsylvania state highway
somewhere between Bachman Turner Overdrive and Whitesnake.
She had (in her 40 years of being Majestic-9) personally precipitated
the deaths of several persons who would, at some point, have
become security liabilities. She was, at 19, the very
angel of death.
Now, at 60, she was more like an insane Mama Cass in an off-Broadway
production of The Wizard of Oz. Her features, once beautiful
and terrible, were now bloated and saggy. She had taken
to wearing shapeless sweatsuits and any efforts at personal
hygiene had ceased. Her pod, once austere and modern,
had degenerated into utter decorative madness. She had
stripped the kleen finish off of the sheet rock and taken it
all the way down to the bare metal in places. Dante grimaced
at the thought of the climate-control hell this must play.
Some parts of her dwelling were space-age insulated, others
were bare and raw against the subterranean cold.
She had built a chair (nearly a throne) out of what appeared
to be a stack of dated copies of the Physician's Desk Reference,
glued together with some unidentifiable black muck. She
sat passing the blade of a broken butter knife ($5.85 at Crate
and Barrel, Dante had bought it for her himself) over a bowl
of marbles in milk. She had started to lose teeth lately,
and Dante thought he knew why.
Behind he was indescribable horror.
Irene had asked, in the misleading voice that she had used once
upon a time, if Dante would buy her a kitten for her birthday.
It was the policy of his superiors that even in superblack environ
containment, each Viewer was permitted a gift on their birthday,
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Halloween.
Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter were food holidays.
Each viewer was given a 3 x 5 note card and allowed to write
whatever it was that they would like for breakfast, lunch, and
dinner that day. Anything on earth that they wanted was
permissible. A bag of candy, a bottle of gin, an entire
roasted turkey (popular because leftovers were also allowed),
anything they could imagine and write on the lines.
For Christmas, Dante got to pick out gifts for each of them.
Typically he tried to pick things that would comfort or enable
them, but often he would just ask them what they wanted.
For their birthdays, however, the Viewers were allowed to ask
for anything. It was made clear to Dante by his immediate
superior that this rule was inviolate. He had bought all
sorts of bizarre things for his viewers over the years.
Porn and musical instruments were favorites, as were furniture,
art supplies, clothing... Nobody ever asked for drugs
or video games. Or music either, actually. They
were allowed unlimited access to the US Library of Congress
Music collection, as well as any downloadable recordings from
the internet. And last year, Irene had asked him for a
Naturally, Dante had bought her not only the little furball
itself, but also a litterbox and food and toys and flea collars
and... Well, you know... kitten accessories. Dante
had smuggled the soft, purring creature into the Grange (barn
cat, he thought, giddily) under his coat. Irene had squealed
with pleasure at the sight of it.
Now, in the doorway of her stinking den, Dante could see the
partially-desiccated remains of the kitten, driven into the
sheet-rock with 18g1-1/2 pink syringe needles. The slim
blue 22g5/8 needles that they used on themselves were far too
small, but the 18's they used to load the syringes were nearly
the thickness of finishing nails. The thing had been first
crucified, and then left to whimper and shiver itself to death
in shock, and then (if the arterial spray of the floor was any
indication), disemboweled while still alive
The room reeked of its weeks-dead rotting corpse. It had
taken the boys upstairs nearly a month to decide her fate.
Dante didn't blame them, she was a valuable resource, but still...
A fucking kitten corpse can make a lot of hard decisions in
a short amount of time.
He pointed at her and two men dressed in shirts and ties looking
like Wall Street rats entered the pod behind him. The
Stock Broker and the Lawyer, as Dante thought of them.
They each held silenced .22 pistols with subsonic ammo so as
not to alarm the other Viewers a few pods over. She had
just raised her eyes to them when the Stock Broker raised his
long black pointer and fired.
"Huhn!" she grunted.
The bullet had made a tiny pinhole in the fatty rolls over her
"Fucker!" She shouted, with surprising vehemence, "That
A sound like three pigeons taking off, two silenced pistols,
nineteen .22 subsonic rounds. Irene did a little shimmy
in her PDR throne, as if she was at a Baptist revival and the
spirit of the Lord Jesus had a hold of her.
"Fuh... You fucking bastards," she hissed at them through bleeding
teeth. Her jawbone had been separated and partially ripped
away by a bullet. She was staring at him maniacally.
The two white collars were starting to reload. Dante brushed
them away and drew his own pistol, a World War II Colt .45.
He had won it on GunBay at considerable cost. The bullets
were nearly finger-size, and decidedly not subsonic.
"Close the door," he said.
Later, as he washed his hands in his office's small bathroom,
he buzzed Susan to bring him Irene's file. He would have
some out-processing paperwork to do before he could go home
and try to forget the sight of the crucified kitten.
Susan was an outstanding secretary, who smiled sweetly despite
her harelip. He had thrown it in her a few times, but
too much of that sort of thing wasn't good for the chain of
command. He took out a propane blowtorch and got the good
blue flame pumping. The three-volume manila file on Irene
Witty, Viewer number 507, Codename Majestic-9, age 60, went
first to the flames, then down the bathroom sink's garbage disposal.
The upsetting kitten incident had given Dante a raging combo case
of heartburn/shits for two days. His attempts to quell it
using the usual combination of mac and cheese with ginger ale
had been ineffectual. Not even iced tea or Tums had helped,
and Dante thought few things on earth as reliable as good old
Tums. As he let out his fifth biley belch of the morning,
he bitterly considered having the café whip him up a bacon
and honey mustard sandwich with horseradish and jalapeno peppers
for lunch. If only to spite his complaining gastrointestinal
tract. The image of his guts literally dropping out of his
asshole stopped him.
Susan opened his office door quietly without knocking.
She flashed him a quick, sticky smile which faded again almost
instantly. She used to be a door-knocker, but after seeing
her marred and exquisitely vulnerable face while they screwed
enough times, Dante thought knocking was the very definition
of moot. She was meek and humble and brilliant and he
loved her for it.
He had briefly considered marrying her, but there was some sort
of nonmatrimony clause in his contract. Besides, she was
too valuable a worker to him. If he made her his wife,
there would be control issues... Ultimately, he preferred
her this way. Sometimes, however he preferred her sprawled
across his desk. It was an arrangement which, at the very
least, ensured engaging staff meetings.
"Morning," he said amiably.
"Good morning," she leafed through a paper-clipped stack of
notes, "did you have a chance to talk to Mr. Glenrock?"
"After lunch. If I go now he'll…” (yapping hand gesture)
“I'm hungry already."
"Did you try pork tenderloin?"
"Evens things out a little." It was all she would say
of the grunting, multiple-flushing stink-hut his bathroom had
been this week.
"When you talk to Mr. Glenrock, see if you can get a name out
of him. If I get that, it shouldn't take more than a day
"All right." Dante thought getting a single fact of any
sort out of the old man was a feat indeed. Arthur Glenrock
was the very picture of verbosity. His circumspect manner
was legendary and endearing to the staff of the Grange.
Dante hated the old fucker.
"Anything further on Witty?" she asked.
"No," said Dante. He thought about it for a moment, "well...
Mercifully, Susan moved right along. She shuffled a sheaf
of pink WHILE YOU WERE OUT carbons.
"Norris would like to talk to you when you get a minute."
"Mmm... No. Something about needing new 587's."
New Balance model 587 athletic shoes. Standard issue footwear
of all Viewers. Podiatrist approved.
"Where the hell has he been walking?" Dante asked, "He's not
pacing his pod at night is he?" Warning bells.
"HRTS would have picked it up. No red flags on Mr. Norris
since... well... ever." Susan shrugged.
"Send him a new pair. Size 12 and a half. And punch
up the sweep time to every ninety minutes on him. How
do you wear out sneakers?"
"No idea. Third floor wants the quantity reports for the
following; depo-epinephrine, atropine, lysergic diethylamide,
tryamcinalone, depo-B12, doxycycline, propoxyphene, glucosamine,
skelaxin, heparin... She rattled off a huge list of medications
and supplements. The Viewers were healthy for the most
part, but sitting for long periods took its toll. Hyperkyphotic
posture was a norm, from slouching, as were arthritis and venous
insufficiency in the lower extremities. Various remedies
were instantly available due to their ports. Cortisone
and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for aching tendons and
muscles, glucophage or insulin for diabetes, muscle relaxants,
diuretics, antidiuretics, immunoboosters, immunosuppressants,
antibiotics, painkillers, sleep agents, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety
meds and good old depo-LSD.
The original contingent of Grange Viewers (number: 15, survivor:1)
had quickly discovered the cognition-enhancing properties of
the diethylamide family. Other drugs were tried, of course,
but none worked as well as LSD. Some successes were associated
with naturally-occurring peyote and mescaline, but their hallucinogenic
properties were less predictable than LSD-A or LSSD (the Grange
derivatives) that could be synthesized to very reliable tolerances.
The reasonably safe Cannabanol family were also on hand, but
their effect was debatable. Amphetamines, methamphetamines,
opiates, synthetic narcotics and the 21st century psychoreactives
had little or no effect. The cocktails that the viewers
dosed themselves often contained several of these in ratios
predetermined by Third Floor C.P. (Cognition Pharmacology).
Dante's eyes glazed over at the endless parade of chemical names.
Some of the shit Third Floor C.P. sent down just had a number.
No name. It could be sterile water or gopher guts for
all Dante knew. Maybe they had come up with something
new, something to exponentially improve interneuron synapse
transmission or boost myelination or...
Susan had stopped reading and was looking at him. He stared
back at her as if to say: is that all?
"Did you get those tickets?" he asked her, rapidly changing
the subject to throw her off.
"Which tickets?" She looked puzzled.
He mimic-ed an air guitar.
"Oh yeah," she said, sweetly "I have some interesting news about
He looked at her expectantly.
"David Navarro died eight years ago of congestive heart failure."
"Fuck you," he said, incredulously.
Eight? He mouthed, silently.
"Fuck," Dante said, "All right well, here..."
He brought out his key ring.
"Check the stock for me and tell them we could probably use
some more syringes. Threes and fives. A box of each.
I'll go talk with Art Glenrock."
She grinned at him, stifled a giggle, pirouetted like a silly-headed
ten-year-old on one heel, and walked away. He could see
her trying to cover up her infectious laugh. He smiled.
It was sort of funny, after all.
"Wish me luck," he called after her.
"Goo... (giggle) good luck." She was almost to the door of her
own office, and snorting laughter through her fingers.
Her eyes were tearing.
"And get me some new fucking music to listen to!" he shouted
across the hall, now laughing himself.
"JANE SAYS!" she warbled from the other room in a marvelous
Perry Farrell titter, "I'm through with Sergi-OOOOH!"
Dante laughed, and ate a bagel.
07 December 2004: Mark Brand.
Majestic-2, or 'aught'-two as he sometimes referred to himself,
was the oldest member of their present contingent of Viewers.
His birthday was August first. No gift request put in yet.
He was mildly deaf, and thus spoke just a little too loudly for
the relative size of the room. The man was perhaps not as
talented or sightful as some of the others (12 and 17 in particular),
but his longevity was stunning. He had been a Viewer under
the supervision of the government for nearly fifty years.
For the last fifteen, Glenrock's primary directive had been to
seek out potential new Viewers to replace the retired ones.
Dante occasionally got a creeping suspicion that the old seer
had been consulted about his own placement at the Grange.
20 December 2004: Mark Brand.
In any event, Glenrock was a special case that required careful
handling. Despite Dante's thorough search for a reason
to brainhole the man, he always followed the rules and currently
exhibited none of the expiration profile characteristics.
If it had been anyone else, Dante would have just fabricated
an excuse. Glenrock was a known. And because he
was quite well known about, there was no simple way to
get rid of him. The government frowned upon wasting expensive
investments if they had not yet fallen to the level of kitten-disemboweling
Dante, who had never found much patience for codgers, curmudgeons,
or doddering granddads, dreaded the experience of conversing
A great mahogany desk with a top the size of a storm door was
immediately behind the door to Arthur Glenrock's pod.
Accompanying the enormous desk, which was considerably nicer
than the one in Dante’s own office, was a large high-backed
chair of some nondescript 1970’s origin. In actuality,
it was once a top-of-the-line executive captain’s chair that
had belonged to the man who had invented embeddable insulin
pellets for use in Type I diabetes. Glenrock, a diabetic
from birth, had somehow found out that the chair was to be auctioned
from an estate and requested it specifically. The desk
and chair were subsequent birthday presents, respectively.
Even in this, the man was hard on one’s patience. Glenrock
had positioned the desk directly behind the door so that someone
who was entering quickly or thoughtlessly would collide with
his desk. In order to enter the musty old-man pod, you
had to slide sideways through a door that only opened inward
to about thirty degrees. Dante seemed unable to remember
this fact, and opened the door a little too quickly.
His shoulder slammed painfully against the cherry finished steel
door, and it rebounded with an embarrassingly loud clang
down the otherwise quiet hallway. He heard a faked snort
from the other room, as if Glenrock had been asleep and roused
by the noise. This was not the case. Glenrock rarely
slept past 6 a.m. He just liked to take people off guard.
"This is a fire hazard, Arthur," Dante said, slipping through
the half open door, "I think I've told you this before."
"What's that?" Glenrock replied, feigning sleepy grogginess.
"The door is a fire..." Dante's eyes closed for a moment
too long to be a blink, "Never mind. I need a name."
Glenrock laboriously reached for his glasses.
“A name, eh? Well what’s in a name, Bill?”
“Dante,” Dante said, sitting down in Glenrock’s storied chair.
“Bill as in Shakespeare.”
“Tamara who?” Dante leaned forward.
“More Shakespeare, I’m afraid, Dante. You’re really not
that well read are you? The Tamara reference I’ll give
you, but you really should have picked up on the R and J.”
Dante sat back against the fart-smelling chair and sighed.
This was going to take all day.
“Tamara was a warrior queen captured by Titus Andronicus and
given over to a sort of semi-slavery. She eventually became
of some importance to the government of Rome and hatched a plan
to get some payback.”
Dante’s brain had already started to tune the man out.
“You should listen to this, you know. It’s right up your
alley. So Tamara and her wild sons, jackals the both of
them, and Aaron the Moor decide to murder or otherwise defile
Titus’s whole family.”
Dante thought he knew where this was going.
“Well old Andronicus, he wasn’t as old or foolish as Tamara
thought, and he managed to get back at her. Killed her,
in fact. But first tricked her into eating her own sons
in a pie.”
“That’s nice, Art, but I really don’t have time for th…”
“I’ve been looking in yer dammed crystal balls for you for almost
fifty years! Can’t you spare five minutes for a story
which may have some bearing on the current situation?”
“Right, right. Sorry. Continue,” Dante said.
He once more imagined doing some horrid thing to Glenrock.
It made him smile unconsciously. The older man betrayed
a moment of uncertainty. At least Dante still possessed
some amount of intimidation. With the retirement of this
babbling old idiot still postponed indefinitely by his superiors,
intimidation was more or less his only recourse.
“So… anyway… the point of the story. The point…
“ Glenrock looked at him and shook his head absently.
“Tamara and Andronicus,” Dante prompted.
“Exactly! Titus and Tamara. The point is, Titus
had the power of life and death over Tamara the whole time.
When he first encountered her, he could have just cut her throat
and burned her ashes the way he did her eldest son’s…”
Dante once again felt himself drifting off in the pointlessness
of it all.
“…he showed mercy and was repaid with the bitterest revenge.
In the end, sure, old Andronicus got back at her, but at such
cost. Such cost!”
The old man took a deep breath and blew it out.
“So I’m sure you can see the comparisons,” Glenrock said.
As it happened, Dante thought he did. The man was concerned,
on some dim level, that Dante might try to prematurely retire
him. As it happened, this was exactly the plan.
It made Dante feel slightly better about the whole meeting in
that Glenrock was not completely confident that his relative
usefulness and tenure would keep him safe. Dante didn’t
think brutal frankness would help anything.
"I wonder how relevant all of that Shakespeare stuff is these
days." Dante said, almost to himself. "Revenge seems
like such a melodramatic notion anymore. Unaffordable,
Glenrock listened with intent to this last, and nodded with
"Well, if nothing else, you're a frugal bunch. Perhaps
there's some hope for you."
This was a refrain Dante had heard before. Glenrock was
referring to Dante’s generation. An ageist to the bones,
was Arthur Glenrock.
“Well, Art, I came to discuss one name in particular.”
“I’m thinking it’s either Irene Witty or Jasper Daniels.”
“Who is Jasper Daniels?” Dante asked, knowing the answer already.
“Who indeed,” said Glenrock, “but more importantly, it’s not
Dante had been through this conversation a number of times,
and knew how it went. He put on his best face of grave
“No. I’m afraid Irene has been institutionalized.
She was having some issues. Change of life probably, or
maybe something even more serious. She’s been taken somewhere
that’s a little bit better suited to her.”
Arthur nodded conspiratorially as Dante spoke.
“I saw the little cat on the wall,” Glenrock said, lowly, “Wasn’t
right in the head, was she?”
“Crazy as a shithouse rat,” Dante replied.
Glenrock burst out into laughter.
“Frugal with your emotions, but still enamored with honesty!
Your generation’s for shit, I tell ya. For shit!”
“I’m going to use your can for a second, then I want you to
tell me about how your book is coming.”
Glenrock looked at him warily.
“Er.. Sure. Yeah! It’s over to the left.”
Dante didn’t need to be told this. The lavatory in every
pod was over to the left.
“I haven’t worked on it in a while, but it’s still bouncing
around up here.” Glenrock pointed to his temple.
“Back in a sec.”
Dante excused himself to the pitiful pisser and took a long
leak. As he did so, he took out his cell phone and hit
speed dial #2. Susan picked up the phone on the first
The name was all she needed. Even if the potential candidate’s
name was John Smith, it would still have taken only an afternoon
to track him down. Dante steeled himself for at least
another forty minutes of Glenrock’s nonsense. On second
thought, he hit the speed dial again.
“Yes?” Susan’s voice.
“Call me again in exactly thirty minutes. Wait five, then
come and get me personally.”
Dante flipped his phone shut, and considered the myriad ways
in which to end Arthur Glenrock’s life.
“Who the fuck is Wyclef Jean?” asked Dante.
10 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“Just try it, you might like it,” Susan replied.
“He’s not Canadian is he?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Come on, don’t you have anything with a decent bass line?”
Susan looked at him, her eyes stonewalling his petulance.
“All right, whatever.”
The two of them had reunited two mornings later at the window-side
table of Crackers. Crackers, aside from being possibly
the most inadvertently funny name ever borne by a Nebraska breakfast
diner, was their daily haunt. A sizzling flat top grill
served up fried eggs, bacon, English muffins, all cooked in
the same grease, for two bucks. As far as Dante was concerned,
it was the best overall consumer value in the continental United
States. Susan usually just had coffee, but once in a while
she snagged a rasher of bacon when he wasn’t looking.
He suspected it was mild anemia, or possibly just a reluctance
to fully accept the fact that greasy breakfast foods would always
taste better than carrot sticks and lemon water.
The tables were a glossy shellacked maple polished almost to
mirror sheen by repeated grease-ings and washings. He
loved how his heavy-bottomed glass slid over the surface as
if it were lubricated. He supposed in a sense, it was.
“Gone till November?” She looked at him, expectantly.
He made no motion.
Still no motion.
“Wish You Were Here?”
At this, Dante brightened.
Susan put her face between her hands and blew out a long sigh.
“You’re hopeless. I have some Yanni you might like…”
At this, Dante stuck his tongue out at her. Far from putting
up with her teasing him about music, he almost welcomed it.
It was refreshing to think about something else than the cerebral
maelstrom under the Grange shed. Even thinking to hard
for too long about how they thought was enough to give him a
The Third Floor had figured out a few things about the general
mechanisms of remote viewing, but most of the theory they went
on was from the Cold War. Before invading the U.S. in
droves in the 1990’s with the firm intention to corner the housekeeper
market, the Soviets had spent hilariously unthinkable amounts
of time, manpower, and money researching the weapon potential
of paranormal humans. Much of it was such utter bullshit
it was laughable, but there existed a fairly complete core of
historical data that was sold to the United States in the late
1990’s for five Snicker’s bars and a used Dodge Omni.
This data core (more like a “box of notebooks” to be exact),
was added to the U.S. program curriculum and that’s when the
C.P. team really started taking strides. The successes
that the under-funded Superblack U.S. remote viewing program
had scraped together up to that point stemmed mostly from lucky
combinations of drugs and trial/error. Once the Soviet
data core was deciphered, however…
Well, the drugs got better fast. The sensory integration
technology was already available, it just needed to be set up.
The people who could see found other people who could see.
The dead weight was tossed over the side. And a decade
or two later, here they sat. Beneath Hitch was a complex
with more floor space than the Sears Tower. Contained
within, minds capable of bending time and distance.
It was thought at first that the Viewers could look through
the vibrating fabric of motion, from which they could pull the
electrostatic energy that is conscious thought. Then for
a while there was a faction of C.P. that thought the pharmaceutical
re-awakening of the typically dormant 97% of the brain allowed
for a whole host of unrecognized cognitive sensory capabilities.
Then it was rumored to owe much to genetics. Then for
a while it was back to the electrostatic mechanisms. The
theory was there, especially after getting Grzigor Vlatuk’s
box of notebooks, but even people who had spent lifetimes at
physical computation were having a hard time wrapping their
expensive heads around it.
In comparison to the idea of experiencing firsthand the death
of a lone Eskimo woman who lived four thousand years before
Spanish conquest of the North American continent, getting your
balls busted about contemporary pop music was actually light
“Want some more eggs, sweetie?” the waitress asked.
“Actually, yes. Two more, more bacon, more O.J.”
The food-hooker disappeared to retrieve them.
“So, where is Mr. Daniels?”
Susan smiled and reached into a leather binder (Christmas present,
three years). From it, she withdrew a sheet of paper.
This could only mean one thing. Typical data workups of
potential viewers were inevitably pages and pages of information.
Resumes, college transcripts, tax returns, criminal records,
bank statements… This was just one sheet of paper.
“A kid?” Dante asked, warily.
“Mmm hmmm, and not just any kid.”
Dante was unequal to the photo at the bottom of the page.
Instead of a school head-shot from school photo day, the picture
was taken from the corner of an obviously cluttered house.
Instead of a person, it showed an offset image of a basinet.
“You’re shitting me,” Dante said.
“I wouldn’t do that, you’re my favorite turd,” Susan replied
reflexively. The look in Dante’s eyes startled her.
“What the fuck is Glenrock trying to pull now? There’s
no way he could know this early. He’s just trying to play
Dante fixed a glare on her that spoke of murder if the explanation
“I went there, and the baby knew I was coming.”
The look of murder faded to one of confounded disbelief.
“I took that picture. That was as close as he would let
me get. When I was getting ready to knock on the door,
he started screaming his head off. I walked away and came
back and he did the same thing again. I had to take the
picture through the window.”
Dante sat back against the cheap fake leather booth seat.
This would complicate things considerably.
“Can we get him out?”
“Not easily. He’s six weeks old, meaning he’s still breastfeeding…”
“Wet nurse,” Dante mumbled absently.
“Not that,” Susan picked up on his train of thought. “getting
him out of the house will be impossible without killing at least
the mother and probably the entire rest of the family as well.
The media never rests when a baby or mother goes missing.
She’s a hick. Practically next door. Omaha western
suburb, trailer park. Tons of family. You’ll have
to do them all or it’ll be noticed.”
“Can we switch the babies?” Dante asked, already knowing the
“After six weeks? Not a chance.”
“What about waiting a couple of years for it to grow up?
Grab him at school or something?”
Susan looked at him without replying. This suggestion
was as useless as trying to doppelgang a six week old infant.
Thin. Too thin. Dante’s supervisors were quite concerned
with the whereabouts of their assets, and the margin for unpredictable
error if left in the civilian population was far too high.
The Viewers were always obtained as quickly as possible after
their initial recognition. Procedure Inviolate.
“So it’s the whole family, then?” Dante said, to his English
Name: Jasper Edward Daniels
10 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Date of Birth: 9-29-20**
Social Security Number: 128-55-****
Home Address: 3150 W. Pearl
Elkhorn, NE 68022
Home Phone: (402) 795-****
Domicile: Prefabricated home.
Mother: Dora Elizabeth Daniels (same address)
Father: Michael James Rupert. Last known
address: 22 Hopper
Elkhorn NE 68002
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: A+
Medical history: Unremarkable for surgeries, infections
or procedures. Circumcised on 10-10-20**.
Name: Dora Elizabeth Daniels
Date of Birth:
Social Security Number:
Home Address: 3150 W. Pearl
Elkhorn, NE 68022
Home Phone: (402) 795-****
Domicile: Prefabricated home.
Mother: Nicole Ann Hanratty
Father: Henry Robert Daniels
Driver’s License: Nebraska State Issued
Employer: Waldenbooks, Inc.
Salary: $26,200 annual.
Medical Insurance: Humana HMO.
Group #: H68398-A
1 Registered Dependent.
Status: Currently on Maternity leave, unpaid.
Federal Tax Status: Current. No Penalties.
Nebraska State Tax Status: Current. No Penalties.
Siblings: 1 sister, Mary Helen Douglas (Daniels)
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: A+
Allergies: Latex, Iodine.
Tonsillectomy, age 13.
5th Metacarpal fracture, age 13.
Pregnancy Termination, age 16.
Full-term childbirth, age 24.
Highest level of education completed:
Elkhorn High School
711 Veterans Dr Box 439, Elkhorn, NE 68022
Name: Michael James Rupert
Date of Birth: 11-17-19**
Social Security Number: 335-40-****
Home Address: (Last known) 22 Hopper
Elkhorn NE 68002
Home Phone: N/A
Mother: Joy Rose McClara
Father: Omar Mohamet Rupert
Driver’s License: License revoked since
20**, following repeated DWI.
Medical Insurance: Nebraska Public Aid / Medicaid.
Federal Tax Status: No reported income for last
Nebraska Tax Status: No reported income
for last Fiscal Year.
Siblings: 2 Brothers, Edward Corwin and Omar Mohamet
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: AB
Chronic Bronchitis, ages 3-15 (repeated hospitalization)
Seizure, age 14 (no evident cause).
Seizure, age 17 (no evident cause).
Gonhorrea, age 22.
Seizure, age 23 (no evident cause)
Injuries from MVA, age 23.
-Fractured Rt. Clavicle
-Laceration over right eye.
-Laceration mid-thigh, proximal sartorius.
Highest level of education completed.
Elkhorn High School
711 Veterans Dr Box 439, Elkhorn, NE 68022
From: DANTE NAGEL, DIR. HUM. RES.
Security Clearance: SUPERBLACK, EYES ONLY.
RE: Termination of contract, IRENE L. WITTY
Facility Designation: MAJESTIC 12
File Number: MAJ-12
Beginning approximately two years status post,
Irene Witty began to exhibit marginal personality affect
changes including, but not limited to paranoia, fugues, malaise,
acute episodic dementia, schizophrenic social signifiers, and
generalized sociopathy. Due to these concerns, Irene
Witty was released from the original contract # 7690-F/MAJ-12
in order to pursue clinical treatment for one or more of these
disorders. Irene Witty underwent exit counseling and
contract termination out-processing congruent with Section 107.4.
For further correlating data on Irene Witty,
consult the General Archives.
Dante Nagel, Dir. Hum. Res.
11 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Dante remembered the desk behind the door this time. He
keyed the pod with his card, and slid soundlessly through the
door. Glenrock, who hated being taken off guard, was apparently
asleep on an overstuffed easy chair. He may have been only
shamming, or actually sleeping, but it made no difference.
Dante closed the distance in an instant just as the man’s eyes
opened. He tried to rise and Dante planted a hand hard in
his chest. A sharp shove drove him back to the chair with
an ‘oof’, and Majestic-2 looked up at the Director of Human Resources
with wild eyes. Glenrock opened his mouth as if to protest.
Dante slapped him, open-handed, across the face.
“What the fuck is this, Art?” Dante’s mouth curled into a deadly
grin of grinding teeth, “Is it suddenly O.K. to play pranks
like this on me?” He tossed the three sheets containing
the workup of Jasper Daniels and his parents onto Glenrock’s
Glenrock reached for his glasses on the bedside table.
Dante saw the move coming and bashed away Glenrock’s hand.
The spectacles went flying off into the corner of the room with
a metallic glass titter.
“You know what I’m talking about you old fuck. Did you
think this was going to be funny?”
Dante slapped him again, this time harder. Hard
enough to draw blood from his lower eyelid.
“Shut the fuck up.”
“You’re fucking with my job description,” Dante hissed, through
Glenrock opened his mouth and then shut it again, remembering
“I don’t find this the least bit amusing, Art. In fact,
from my subjective point of view, it seems… well…” Dante
was so angry he lost his adjective in the middle of the sentence.
There was a raw red moment of sheepishness while he searched
“Vindictive?” Glenrock said, in a cautious, old-man, whisper.
“…Vindictive,” Dante finished, less annoyed at Arthur than at
himself. “What the fuck am I supposed to do with a baby?”
Glenrock looked up at him, obviously fearing another lashing.
He appeared to be crying blood, and wiped at it gingerly with
a thick-knuckled finger.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, you can talk now.”
And for a wonder, Glenrock did. Though this time with
far more temerity than Dante had ever seen from him.
“You’re the coach of this team, Mr. Nagel, I’m just the talent
scout. I see what I see. I can’t see what isn’t
there and I can’t ignore what is.”
Dante took a deep breath, and eyeballed Glenrock for signs of
sarcasm or double meaning. There were none.
“If this blows up in my face, I’m going to grind you into sausage,”
“Then let’s hope it doesn’t blow up at all,” Glenrock responded,
sounding a bit less shaken.
“Have you got any more shitty little surprises for me?” Dante
pressed. His eyes stared through Glenrock’s bald head
and tried to see the man’s brains, “If the father shows up or
something at the last minute, Christ help you Art…”
Dante’s teeth ground in his set jaw, as if to further accentuate
the previous threat.
Glenrock shook his head slowly, not taking his eyes off of Dante’s
face. Dante broke the eye-lock and shifted his gaze to
the memorabilia and historic junk that adorned Glenrock’s pod.
Majestic-02 made a not-very-majestic showing of himself by becoming
visibly shaken by Dante’s maddened eyes on his treasure trove.
Dante notices this immediately and pounced.
“I can burn it all, Art. I can sterilize this pod like
the world’s biggest bucket of bleach. I’ll start with
your fucking desk for kindling, then the chair to really get
“No need,” Glenrock said, lowly.
“Fuck that,” Dante growled at him, seeing a bullying opportunity
if ever there was one, “I’ve got some matches right here in
my pocket. Maybe I’ll take a shit on this painting first.”
Dante ripped a picture at random from the wall and made as if
to wipe his ass with it.
Glenrock’s eyes went wide and the old man surged to his feet.
Dante hit him one last time. This time with a fist faster
than a bullet and harder than a cinder block. Glenrock
crumpled. Dante tossed the unshatten picture indifferently
to the floor where the glass frame cracked. He grabbed
a double handful of Arthur’s shirt and hauled him up to within
inches of his face. The old man had turned an unhealthy
“All. Right. Fucker,” Dante spat, one word at a
time, “No. More. Bullshit.”
What coughed its way into the chair by the bedroom door had
to first crawl past the broken picture frame on the tile floor.
Dante left. It took a long time for the heat in his cheeks
to recede. Later he would wonder if his outburst was warranted,
but for the moment all he could feel was the enormous pain in
the ass that this whole situation was about to precipitate.
11 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“I’m sort of excited about this,” said Susan, “I’ve always wanted
Dante and Susan walked down the cavernous aisle of the Hitch
Sam’s Club. The Sam’s Club and adjacent WalMart (they
always come in pairs) were not a part of Hitch Township, but
were actually a special, commercially-zoned district of the
hamlet of Borneo. Lower taxes, cheaper land…. who knew?
Maybe they just didn’t want the name of Hitch hitched to their
letterhead. In any case, it was very much like every other
Sam’s club. Huge shopping carts, automatic doors, yellowing
tile floors. Parking lots larger than some middle eastern
And aisles that made even big people feel small. Bright
blue and pink infant incarceration devices with names like “Pack’n’Play”
were stacked to the rafters, still wrapped in shipping tape
and sitting on pallets. As if it somehow made the shopping
experience bigger to retrieve your purchase from the
shelf with a forklift. Somehow, somewhere, an executive
with a degree in environmental psychology decided that if you
were going to sell wholesale goods in large lots, it would be
appropriate to make the customer feel as though they had just
stepped into the hidden world of bulk storage and transportation.
No tricky advertising here. No boutique-style minimalism.
It was like buying things right out of the hull of a trans-Atlantic
“What about one of these?” Susan pointed to a structure
which amounted to a padded cage with a foam rubber floor and
soft screen sides. It was apparently no longer fashionable
to refer to them as playpens.
Dante nodded. Faceless salespersons scurried into the
hive-like wall and extracted their purchase.
“Did you talk to Glenrock yet?”
“Yesterday,” Dante replied, “It went about how you’d imagine.”
Susan fished in an industrial-laundry sized hamper full of $0.99
knit baby caps. Probably made for $0.04 each in Argentina
by children who had worn them not long before. She pulled
out two. One was a tuke, the other more a balaclava.
Just in case young Mr. Daniels decided to… eh… go skiing.
She tossed them both into their rattling shopping cart.
Dante reached into an aisle cap case to retrieve a cold soda.
Susan arched her eyebrows.
“Uncle Dante needs some caffeine.”
And the odyssey continued.
Diapers. Twenty to a box. Ten boxes to a case.
Six week old babies need their diapers changed approximately
eight times a day. At this rate, two hundred diapers would
last less than a month. If Mr. Daniels turned out to be
a particularly poop-y baby, it would be even less.
Two cases. Huggies.
Diaper rash cream, skin cream, buffered baby shampoo, buffered
baby soap, eye drops, throat drops, Ibuprofen in droppers for
teething, pacifiers (all the parenting magazines and resources
referred to them insipidly as “nuk’s”), booties, glovies, a
Baby-Bjorn (Susan couldn’t resist), and one of the gilded fiberboard
Dante’s SUV was packed completely and the enormous diaper cases
had to be strapped to the top rack. It was the first time
anything had even been strapped to his roof with the factory-provided
bungee cords. The government-model Chevrolet Tahoe (black
with silver trim) was festooned with smiling baby gear in every
window and tied to the top. Dante found this much visibility
uncomfortable, but oddly camouflaging. What secret government
agent would be transporting $1500 worth of parenting equipment?
“Where are we going to put him?” Susan asked, and then before
Dante could reply, “Don’t even say Witty’s pod.”
Dante looked at her.
“Bad mojo,” she said lowly.
“It’ll be all redone…”
“She nailed a kitten to the wall.”
“You don’t need to remind me.”
“Maybe I do. You’re not seriously going to put
a baby in that room.”
Dante considered this. There was only one free pod.
He would have to find room for a wet nurse as it was.
He couldn’t exactly let Jasper stay in his quarters, and Susan
lived off-base. Suddenly, a solution occurred to him.
“No. Not a baby.”
The timeless Susan Eyebrow Arch.
“I don’t see why this is necessary, Dante,” Glenrock whined.
It was sweet music to Dante’s ears.
“Come on, Art, quit breaking my balls. Move it.”
Three soldiers with high-level clearance were efficiently moving
Glenrock’s furniture. Dante had instructed them to carefully
wrap everything so there was no damage, but Arthur was livid.
He was darting in and out of his pod like an agitated lapdog.
Inside, bark bark bark, outside, bitch bitch bitch, inside,
snarl, outside, bark bitch snarl.
From an objective point of view, Dante realized that this was
a rather juvenile bit of vengeance on his part. Not juvenile
enough to keep him from relishing it, but maybe just a little
juvenile. Glenrock didn’t quite dare openly berate Dante,
so he had focused his ire on the aides.
“If there’s anything missing or broken I’m going to be very…
do you hear me young man?... Very upset. I have
a close working relationship with your superiors and I do not
think they would be happy to hear that my…”
Dante barely heard. He was already considering how the
rest of the pod should be set up. A baby was something
new for the Grange. Not only had there never been a Majestic
class Viewer identified this young, but most of the Grange’s
other inhabitants hadn’t lived in close proximity to a baby
in years. Decades, even.
The entire pod would be stripped of its old-man-reeking surfaces
and repainted in a nice eggshell blue with white borders.
Stereotypical? Maybe. But why not? It was
the only baby he would likely ever have. Halogen lamps
to replace the fluorescents. Though the baby would be
allowed frequent trips into the sunshine and fresh air, the
basic security routines were dictated by protocol. The
infant would be spending nearly all of its life in this room.
Susan was overseeing the room transformation and installation
of Jasper down to even the most finite detail. This was
nice considering that Dante himself didn’t have to worry about
it. But not so nice because he sensed under Susan’s ostensible
practicality a very real maternal undertone. Becoming
attached emotionally to a viewer was never a particularly wise
“This belonged to a North African Princess!” Glenrock yapped
at the disinterested guards. They were toting a vanity
and mirror set that Dante didn’t remember ever seeing in Arthur’s
pod. It looked like it belonged to a 12 year old girl.
As if Dante needed another reason to dislike the man.
At the end of the day, Glenrock was shut up in the new pod (redone
with only the quickest of once-over paint jobs) and Dante could
relax a bit. It was more or less the only additional form
of revenge Dante really dared visiting on the man. Bruises
would fade, cracked picture panes could be replaced, but the
smell of dead kitten and the twisted energy of the madwoman
who had lived there before would be around for a long time.
When he returned, there was something very unexpected on his
12 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“Where did you get these?” Dante asked.
17 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“Intercepted a java field fill-out through the keywriter dongle
I put on her phone line.”
Dante gave her a puzzled look..
“I found an Earthlink bill in her garbage,” Susan said, offhand,
“Anyway, I ran the fields through the HASHISH filter and got
only about four matching websites. I ran through the password
retrieval protocols for each site using her email address and
doing my best to answer the security questions. I got
a hit the first try, it was travelocity dot com. They
have a function that lets you print the boarding passes ahead
On Dante’s desk sat two tickets from Eppley Field of Omaha,
Nebraska to Syracuse Hancock airport in New York. Price
$312 each, coach, nonstop, round-trip, seats 14D and 14F (adjacent
to each other because the plane was a newer Embraer 770, which
has only AC and DF seats in two rows of two), departure July
the third at 6:35 am, arrival at 11:56 am. Time zone crossovers
accounted for. They were registered for priority boarding.
The tickets were issued under the names Dora and Jasper Daniels.
Dante smiled for what felt like the first time in about a billion
“I know… perfect,” Susan finished, “They even pre-paid
for their car rental.”
She dropped a third paper on his desk. It was the rental
itinerary for a late model Dodge Neon. Blue. Car
“Outstanding. Where can we take them?”
“Well, first we have to find out where they’re going.
If we can get them to go through somewhere fairly rough, we
can make it look like a carjack or just a random gunshot.
We can make the baby disappear easily enough from the leftovers,
if we get enough time to toss the car a little. We should
try to just hit and grab if possible.”
“Well, we could…”
Judging by Susan’s body language, the answer was going to be
“Do a body swap.”
Dante considered this.
“Let me think about it. In the meantime, find out why
the hell they’re going there in the first place. Run the
state and local computers for criminal records of Michael Rupert.”
“Already did it. Nothing.”
“What the fuck is she going there for, then? Does she
have family there or friends?”
“She has logged onto several sites with embedded VB script message
boards, maybe I can find something there. I’ll have to
upload the entire dongle. It’ll take a few hours.”
“All right. Order yourself some takeout and get on it.
I don’t mean to keep you here past knock-off, but…”
Susan smiled. It was ok, after all, but he owed her one.
Dante found this acceptable.
“I’ll be back in a while. Will you be here?”
“I never leave.” Dante cracked another smile that felt
unfamiliar on his face.
After Susan returned to his office, he perused the manifests
of the day’s lock playlists. Even after all these years
the matrices of interconnected viewing made his head swim.
Subject, object, subjective observer, objective limited, past
perfect, present perfect, past imperfect, future probable, future
imperfect, future limited omniscient… It was like reading
the brainwaves of a frightened spider by analyzing the web weave
patterns. The manifests were sometimes images, sometimes
text, sometimes strange characters which appeared to be a cross
between Cyrillic letters and runes and once in a while were
phonetic transcripts of strange guttural audio clips.
The manifests were a sort of coded journal. A rudder,
as the old Portugese sailors used to call them. A very
secret, very vague series of sensory memories that was collected
to allow the remotes to go back over a specific day’s work and
relock the subjects if needed. Sort of like making a map
as you went along.
Dante, of course, did not have clearance to the complex keys
and neural compasses needed to decipher exactly what the patterns
meant. He studied them more as an academic pursuit than
anything. Once in a while a pattern emerged that was obvious,
but not often. Today there was nothing. A photo
of a corn broom downloaded directly from the optic nerve synapses
of Majestic-16, a text block that said I have outwalked the
furthest steady light, I am one acquainted with the night
(a snippet of poem attributed to Robert Frost), and the first
thirty seconds of a song entitled “Look Thru My Eyes” by a dead
rapper from the late 20th century named DMX. Whatever
the hell that meant.
He grew bored of staring at disjointed images and switched to
the HRTS viewing dialogue screen. He started punching
in known camera ports and brought up the surveillance cameras
from each remote’s pods. There were hundreds between the
24 pods and adjacent hallways, but his favorites were 3-1-16
and 3-1-17 (camera three, section one, area designations sixteen
and seventeen). Camera three was almost always the living
room cam, section one referred to the section of the Grange
that encompassed the 24 pods, and the area designation was a
special signifier that was specific to the section. In
the case of section one, the area designation referred to the
camera’s respective pod owner, and thus Majestic call sign.
Despite the odd sexual proclivities of Majestics 16 and 17,
their body language interplay when they just sat around talking
sometimes gave Dante clues to whatever happened to be important
to command at the moment. There was no audio feed.
They hadn’t found a way to microphone the pods adequately, and
they had not been built with that in mind. All Dante typically
got was a long, occasionally interesting, silent movie.
This particular day, neither of them were in their living rooms.
That meant that either they were eating lunch, fucking, or roaming
elsewhere. He switched to the camera thumbnail browser.
The angle browsing screen clipped off suddenly and was replaced
by camera 12, section 2-13. Section two of HRTS referred
to the entrances and exits. Area designations 1-7 were
the Grange main building and grounds, 8-11 were various elevator
and security checkpoints, and 13-15 were the surrounding landscape
Camera 12 was a membrane transmitter that was embedded in the
silage above the secondary entry point of the Grange.
It would look (to someone with 20/20 vision) like a gossamer-thin
layer of spittle or condensation, and transmitted twenty-five
images a minute from its 640 x 480 printable photo cell.
This particular camera had not fired off anything but the silo
ceiling in over eighteen months. It had limited range
and only took photos if something changed from the previous
pixel color and light values.
Six, eight, ten, sixteen, thirty two, forty, eighty photos cropped
up on his computer desktop, each in a separate window.
He scrolled through them. As he did, an enormous eyeball
slowly filled the screen. In the reflection from the liquid
surface of Milo White’s dark pupil, he could see the silo floor’s
steel hatch. It was supposed to be under a foot and a
half of rotting silage. The status light for camera 12,
section 2-13 winked from green to red. No signal.
He picked up the phone and dialed 5576.
“We have a problem.”
17 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Crackers was busy. Waitresses in black slacks made out of
cheap, pilly cotton fended their way through a room with hardly
any empty chairs. Their snow white aprons were invariably
marked with one type of breakfast-food stain or another.
Their hair was tied back sharply because someone important had
found a long black hair in their maple syrup yesterday.
They were “in the weeds,” “rocking,” and “working” their “asses
Dante’s empty plate inched away from his growling stomach, frightened.
He sipped at a not-very-clean glass of water with ice chips
floating in it.
Susan sat quietly on the other side of the table, displaying
her signature patience.
“Did you bring everything?” Dante asked, trying to get his attention
away from the bacon and eggs which had been ordered twenty five
minutes ago and still not arrived.
“Yeah,” Susan answered, “Want to look at it right now?”
“Might as well.”
Out came the expensive leather folder. This time it was
so full it strained at the binding. She took out security
reports, building diagrams, bathroom and closet locations, shift
changes, employee rosters, incident reports.
“Picking them up at Hancock will be too hard, and Omaha is even
worse. The security and unpredictability of a space that
size make tying them down to a snatch corridor effectively impossible.”
Dante nodded, leafing through the pages. This was just
procedural, there was never any seriously-entertained notion
of doing it at the airport anyway.
“We have the rental car ID from the database. The actual
plate number may change, but they rented a Dodge Neon, and that’s
pretty much what we can expect. They have reservations
at a motor lodge in Rochester, New York later the same day of
their arrival. Whatever she’s going there for, it’s going
to be in the Rochester area.”
“We don’t know why she’s going?” Dante asked.
Susan shook her head. She glanced up behind him.
He turned to greet their arriving food. He felt saliva
build behind his lower lip, threatening to become drool.
The following half a minute was filled only with the sounds
of crunching bacon, softly sipped coffee, and a busy breakfast
diner. After devouring nearly the entire meal, Dante wiped
his mouth and they continued.
“Is it the father? Is she going to make some sort of reconciliation
“As far as we can tell, Rupert is nowhere near Rochester,” Susan
“Does she have any family in New York?” Dante asked.
“None that we know of,” Susan leafed through the folder
some more, “No phone bill numbers in Rochester except
the motor lodge. Employees of the motel said she was pleasant,
but didn’t say why she was coming. Same story with the
airport and car rental agency. No clues from either one.
Emails don’t really reveal anything, but it wouldn’t help if
she was sending them from somewhere other than home.”
“Where does she work?”
“Waldenbooks. She works the register on Mondays, Tuesdays,
and Friday nights.”
“Does they have a computer there?”
“They might. I’ll have to dongle it, probably.”
“If you could.”
“And of course there’s always the old fashioned mail.
Have you checked that?”
Susan dipped into her folder and retrieved a short stack of
letters bound by a rubber band. Dante looked at them briefly.
All bills, circulars, one belated birthday card, and a ‘Have
You Seen Me?’ missing children flyer. He handed them back,
“It may not matter why she’s going there, we just need to catch
her when she’s out in the middle of nowhere. Or preferably
in some shitty neighborhood. You said something about
South Salmon Street?”
“Salina. South Salina Street radiates out from the city
center. The outer end of it is a nice residential area
and the inner end is the downtown portion of Syracuse, but in
between is about eight blocks of…” She pantomimed a gangster
walk, a homeless man, a hooker.
“That should work all right,” Dante said, “we can snipe her
from a building or at a stoplight, then snatch the kid.
Maybe even make a mockup car-jacking. So then what?
What happens after? We just leave her?”
“The difficulty with that is the records of the car seat, the
priority boarding at the airport, and the second seat name.
There is a paper trail that puts Jasper with her in that car
at the time of death. We’ll have to do damage control
during the search for him afterward.”
“Burn the car?” Dante asked.
Susan nodded. “And with another infant body in it.”
Dante sat back and considered this, munching his last scrap
of bacon. Killing was something that Dante did only rarely
and never in the outside world if he could help it. And
just for this reason: too many questions and details.
He twirled his finger, gesturing for Susan to continue.
“We snatch Jasper, tie in a corpse that we bring with us with
altered dentition, shoot it a few times, and then set the whole
thing on fire.”
Dante ran it over in his head a few times.
“So we let the local police find what looks like the remains
of Dora and Jasper Daniels burned up in their car. It’s
an out-of-town murder, no family in the immediate area to give
the investigators a hard time. Both bodies found shot
and burned. Maybe Dora’s purse stolen. Maybe an
empty bank bag or something on the passenger’s seat, burned
to a crisp but still recognizable…”
Susan sipped at her coffee.
“Too perfect?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Susan replied, with a generous smile, “The bank bag
thing is a little far fetched. If we just kill her and
leave everything it will seem more random. More believable,
“What sort of on-site support will we get?”
Susan furrowed her eyebrows in a non-optimistic way.
“There are four sleeper Level M clearance assets living in central
New York. We can activate them with just a few phone calls
through the usual intermediaries. We could order a stay-out
from the local police with our NSA contact, but that would alert
everyone above retard-level intelligence that something was
going on. It will definitely come off better if there
isn’t a whiff of anything until we come down on them.
By the time they sort it all out, they’ll realize that the resources
aren’t worth it. There were forty seven shootings and
car-related violent crimes last quarter alone in that part of
“One more out-of-towner…” Dante said.
“…One more hick from Nebraska. Even in upstate
New York, that’s out there.” Susan finished.
Dante scrutinized the check, paid for it with a government MasterCard
under the name of William Hanratty, and helped Susan into her
They walked between the young farm men, the old farm men, the
young coquettish local girls, the disapproving farmer’s wives.
One thing that Dante did love about Hitch was that everyone
minded their own fucking business. Susan chatted amiably
once they were out of Cracker’s.
“I got us tickets to Syracuse Hancock the week previous and
rented a room in a little town called Parish outside the city.
I think a week will be enough time to get everything set up.
We need to give the assets in New York at least a week’s notice
anyway so they can put together the equipment we’ll need.”
“We still don’t know why she’s going there,” Dante reminded,
“or how we’re going to get her to drive onto South Saliva Street.”
“Salina,” Susan corrected, “I’m working on that.”
Bloop Bloop. The universal remote door unlocking
sound. Dante’s SUV.
“One more thing,” Dante said.
Susan turned to face him.
“Where exactly do we get a dead six-week-old boy to swap for
Susan stopped, stared at the ground, and spoke very lowly.
Bloop Bloop. Susan’s Honda.
“The trunk of my car, in the blue Jansport backpack.”
“Welcome to Octel Voice Messaging System, (gruff male voice) ‘Harry’
can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message
after the tone.”
“Hi Harry, this is Sue again calling from Niagra Mohawk.
We’ll be running a test on your line later today. We’re
committed to bringing you excellent service at an affordable
price. Please call me back at your earliest convenience.”
“Hello, this message is for Leonard. This is Susan Amice
with AT&T Long Distance. I’m calling to let you know
about our new Friends with Benefits program. It’s only
ten cents a minute to talk to all of your friends and an amazing
five cents a minute to other friends who have this plan.
You can call anywhere in the country! Please call me back
at your earliest convenience for the details.”
Kevin Arnum? This is Officer Susan Vera from the New York
State Police. We’re calling to let you know about our
new program drive to outfit all of our officers with bullet-proof
vests and to benefit the children of police officers slain in
the line of duty. If you can help us make a difference, call
me back. The safety of New York’s highway patrolmen depends
“I’m calling for Gene Ford, this is Susan Steele from the South
Lewis High School Reunion Committee. Can you believe it’s
been ten whole years? I’m just calling to let you
know that we’re organizing a blockbuster of a reunion party
and you’re invited! We’re so excited that we can
reunite with all of our friends from South Lewis High!
Please call to reserve your table as soon as possible.
“This is Gene.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Nothing you can’t handle. We need a few things.”
“What sorts of things?”
“Oh, you know. A little of this, a little of that.
The usual stuff. Table for seven, settings for six.”
“Anything you’d like as a special on the menu?”
“Hmmm… Not at the moment. Can you change it at the
“If we have to, sure. I’ll make a whole selection.
I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”
“That’s why I always call you for my catering, Gene.”
“When can we expect you?”
“Next week sometime, I’ll call with exact times later.”
“So we’re all set then?”
“I’ll be in touch.”
17 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“Have you considered talking to Arthur Glenrock a bit more?”
29 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“It’s like talking to a refrigerator,” Dante responded, “He
just sits there and hums like a pissed off hornet. In
fact, I’m a little nervous he’ll try something else.”
“Go over my head, maybe. Try to fuck up the grab.
I don’t know. If I knew he hadn’t said anything to anyone
yet, I’d just quarantine him for a week, but it’s not really
warranted if I don’t know for sure. And if he has
already spilled it to someone else, it wouldn’t help anyway.”
Susan stood behind his office chair and rubbed his shoulders
with her slender, long fingers.
“I don’t know why he has to make it such a pissing contest.
Dog Number Two indignant after mistreatment by Dog Number One.”
“He’s just a fucker. I don’t know how else to describe
“What about the other remotes?”
“I don’t think they could lock on Jasper. I know it’s
been done, but viewers locking on viewers usually doesn’t work.
Anyway, he’s pretty young to lock on. Not much of a brain
signal. He has just about enough brainwave activity to
recognize a boob and his mother’s voice. Glenrock could
probably do it. Norris too, but…”
“I was thinking maybe Dora. We could find out why she’s
going to Rochester.”
“That’s not something I have the authority to order…” Dante
mumbled, still considering the idea. It made sense, but
it was a gamble. Stepping that far out of bounds tended
to be hazardous in this particular workplace.
“I’ll think about it. I’m sure Glenrock knows, but he
won’t tell. Not ever, I don’t think.”
Susan laced her fingers into his hair and luxuriously scratched
Susan held her tongue on the roof of her mouth for a moment
and stared at the ceiling, recalling silently.
“Her JC Penney bill is 60 days late, Jasper eats approximately
once every three hours, she gets her dry-cleaning done at Hilltops,
god knows what the woman owns that requires dry-cleaning, she
TiVo’d the last three episodes of Oprah, all reruns…”
“Ok, ok, I get it,” said Dante, “Nothing new.”
“Not really, no.”
The silence between them was, for at long moment, unbroken.
The only sound was the pleasurable scrunch of her fingernails
scratching his head.
In the closed environment of the Grange, Dante had nearly every
advantage. He controlled essentially every aspect of the
viewers’ lives, their environment, and to some extent, their
interaction. He was good at his job because he dealt largely
in the currency of predictability. In the outside world
however… It always seemed like things would get away from him.
There were an insurmountable number of variables, the sum total
of which would somehow find a way to bind his hands and make
Details. Fucking details. In the world above ground,
there were forever small, but crucial, details to be forgotten
until the moment of truth. There was some sign, some clue
that was to be fatefully overlooked. The outside world
was maddening that way, and endlessly frustrating. He
tried to stop concentrating so hard and focused on Susan’s fingernails
in his hair. He enjoyed this small service sometimes even
more than sex with her. And with the first deep breath,
he had it.
“Wait, how the hell does she afford TiVo?” Dante turned in his
chair, suddenly serious, “How does she afford airplane tickets?”
Susan looked unsure for a moment. Her forehead furrowed.
Dante looked back, expectantly. An uncomfortable moment.
He knew that feeling irritated with her was unwarranted, but
he was irritated at both of them, just the same. Neither
had thought to look that far back along the money trail.
It should have been perfectly obvious. How exactly would
an unwed mother about ten minutes away from welfare be able
to purchase $626 worth of airplane tickets? It was inexcusably
stupid to have overlooked this, and Dante was as much to blame
as she was.
“I… I don’t know.”
He turned around again to face his desk and she resumed scratching
“Find out,” he said.
29 January 2005: Mark Brand.
I got the tix. I’m soooo excited.
Cool, I can’t wait to see you.
R u sure it’s ok to bring Jasper?
Yeah, totally. What did the airline say about him?
big. I just have to get there a half hour earlier so I
Oh good. I don’t want it to be a pain in the ass.
Not at all. He likes you.
He’s never met me.
He knows how happy you make me tho.
He can feel it.
Oh. Well, good.
Ah shit, he’s up. Time for lunch.
I’d like a little lunch too.
That’s for the baby you perv.
Hey, I’m just a guy! ?
I’m so tired. I can’t wait till he sleeps all the way
through the night.
I’ll rub your feet…
I’ll rub something of yours!
Mmmm… Something of yours…
Not for another four weeks, Dr.’s orders.
Don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your while.
Sweet. All right, I’ll let you go.
OFF AT 23:33
29 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Name: Adam Robert Aaronson
Date of Birth: 10-4-19**
Social Security Number: 020-83-****
Home Address: (Last known)
2500 Plymouth Ave. S. Apt. 3B
Rochester, NY 14602
Home Phone: (585) 433-****
Mother: Charlotte Bains Davenport
Father: Robert James Aaronson
Driver’s License: NY State Driver ID NY3-3294289
Salary: $33,000/yr + bonuses.
Medical Insurance: Blue Cross / Blueshield of New
ID# 3242082243, group #P89254
Status: Single, never married.
Federal Tax Status: Current, no penalties.
Nebraska Tax Status: Current, no penalties.
Siblings: 1 brother, Lucas Aaronson
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Black
Blood Type: B-
Highest level of education completed.
State University of New York at Potsdam
Potsdam, NY 13617
31 January 2005: Mark Brand.
“She’s been chatting with this guy for weeks. We have just
a portion of it. There’s no history as far as I can tell,
they just met on some message board or another and started messaging
back and forth.”
“Did they ever call each other?”
“No. No phone records point to any 585 area code number,
though there are a few 800s. Maybe a calling card.”
“So she’s got a six week old baby with some other man, and she’s…
She’s not fucking him.”
Susan looked at Dante patiently.
“Six to eight weeks of no sex post-partum. Standard medical
advice. But would she want to? She’s taking care
of a little guy that probably never sleeps more than two hours
straight. Sex is probably the last thing on her mind.”
Dante crunched a tiny single serving pretzel with a glob of
single serving processed snack cheese on the end. The
little red plastic stick scraped the cheese out of the miniature
blister pack. The Keebler elf on the packaging dangled
upside down from the half-removed peel cover. It was as
thoughtful a pose as he could manage just now.
“So what’s she going there for,” Dante asked, ‘if she’s gotta
bring Jasper too?”
“Probably wants to imprint the baby on the new man. In
a weird sort of surrogate way. I would probably feel like
that, too, if my kid’s father had run off.”
“Why would he be so excited about it, though? He obviously
is interested in her. What’s in it for him?”
“I haven’t had a chance to see any pictures of Adam yet, but
maybe he’s just some loser who can’t get a regular girlfriend
or maybe he’s a sensitive gargoyle.”
Dante snorted, considering the idea.
“So he paid for the plane tickets, for a new mother of someone
else’s kid, and knows ahead of time he’s not getting
laid? I don’t buy it.”
“I’m not trying to sell it, it just is,” said Susan, “I can’t
think of any other good reason. I’m just guessing here.”
Dante waited till Susan looked away for a moment, at another
piece of paper in her binder, and he used the moment to furtively
lick the last of the processed cheese spread out of the snack
pack. He tossed the pensive elf into the trash.
“All right, well,” Dante reached for another package of the
pretzels and stopped himself, “the important thing is that she
travels where we want her to travel and when. What have
you got on that?”
“The four sleepers were called and activated. Callsign
Leonard failed to return the messages.” Susan placed a
half-sized manila envelope on Dante’s desk with an object in
it roughly the size of a pager. It smelled faintly of
“The other three assets are at work as we speak. Transportation
and tactical gear are being provided on the spot. We’re
still working on a ruse to get her to drive up South Salina,
but the rest is pretty clear. We’ll have a reinforced,
large-frame SUV with a covered rear storage compartment for
Jasper. Callsign Harry and I will take a position on top
of one of the buildings to spot. We’ll pull something
big like a mail truck or a garbage packer out into the street
to stop her, and you’ll walk up with one of the other assets
and obtain the kiddo. Once you’re clear, Harry and I will
pop the gas tank with a special round and you head straight
for the Thruway and back home without stopping. There
will be enough milk in the SUV for five feedings, which is pretty
much all you’ll need as long as you haul ass.”
“I’m feeding Jasper, I take it?”
“Mmm Hmmm, and changing the diapers, too, hopefully,” she smiled.
“We can cover up more or less anything that the locals find
later. Bullet holes and whatnot, but the trick is going
to be making sure no one else sees anything. Otherwise
there could be trouble.”
“This whole fucking deal is trouble,” Dante said, and he decided
to grab a second snack pack after all.
“Did you find anything else out from Glenrock?”
“No. He’s sulking still. Even the other remotes
can feel it. I just hope sulking’s all it is.”
“He’s been under communication siphon for sixty-some hours,”
shuffle of papers, “No unusual activity.”
“Somehow that worries me even more.”
She sighed at length. Susan took off her black business
glasses and turned down her collar a half inch. She crawled
into his lap.
“You worry too much, boss.”
“Maybe you can help me with that.”
“Maybe I can.”
31 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Susan sat on Dante’s bed, overlooking the packing. Dante
leafed through his relatively small closet like an autumn harvester
picking apples. A good tie here, his favorite shirt there,
two pair of pants made of a heavy cotton weave. A pullover.
Boots. Dress shoes. Socks. Two belts.
Susan stuffed the Samsonite luggage as he pulled. Hers had
been stacked neatly in the corner for hours. He envied her
A gallon kitchen storage bag filled with shaving cream, razor,
hair gel, spray deodorant. He reached for the half empty
box of condoms near the bed, but decided against it. No
need to pack something he wouldn’t use. Not this time.
“I got clearance to use Barnaby,” Susan said, as if mentioning
something as simple as finding a second set of keys. She
was holding a small black device in her hand that looked like
a cell phone.
Dante stopped packing for a moment.
It was a surprising indulgence on the part of the Grange’s overseers.
“Yeah, they just Blackberried me a minute ago.”
“What made you think of asking for her?”
“I asked for Norris, actually. They gave me Margaret instead.”
Dante grunted. Margaret Barnaby was a sixteen year old
remote that Dante had found at age eleven after Glenrock picked
up on her using her fledgling talents to cheat on standardized
scholastic benchmark tests. Her legitimacy as a viewer
was unquestioned, but she was far from the clearest windshield
on the remote viewing highway.
“We’ll be patched into her pod on site. We’re signed up
for something like three hours of coverage. Depending
on who she locks on,” Susan said.
Dante removed his service pistol from a small locker at the
foot of his closet. He replaced his beloved .45 in the
small safe and locked it again. His service pistol, chosen
for functionality and reliability over the elegance and pure
intimidation of the Colt, was a Sig Arms P220. It was
arguably the most reliable and accurate .45 caliber pistol ever
made. It could punch holes through the body of an automobile
and was still small enough to hide in a coat pocket. He
put the P220, two magazines, and a box of ammunition into a
lockable flight case. He would register it under a fake
NSA ID at the skycap.
“Have you talked to her yet?”
Susan had begun filing the edges of her toenails on his bed.
She was sitting cross-legged like an Indian.
“No. I figured you’d want to.”
“I don’t want her flaking out on us this time.”
“She won’t, I don’t think. That was a long time ago.
She’s a little more grown up now.”
“Did Rockland have anything to say about it?”
“No. I don’t know if Rockland was even here when that
“It would be in my file, probably.”
Susan didn’t reply. He glanced briefly at the white triangle
of panty peeking out from under the tent of her suit skirt.
“Well, I’ll talk to her. Any word on delays?”
“I have it on a reliable authority that our plane will be taking
off on time.”
“Have you ever flown United Airlines?”
“No,” Susan admitted.
“Hehe,” Dante giggled, “those fuckers are never on time.”
She played with her toes and said nothing. Abruptly changing
the subject, she took out a map from her folder.
“Stick this in your carry-on. Don’t want you getting lost
with Jasper in the trunk.”
“Thanks. So go over the itinerary with me one more time.”
“We’re scheduled to meet Harry, Kevin, and Gene at noon tomorrow.
They’ll take us to the staging area. We’ll go over the
specifics of Jasper and Dora with them, do a walkthrough once
maybe tomorrow night, and then on Monday… you know.”
Dante unbuttoned his shirt and hung it back up on the hanger
after sniffing reflexively at the armpit.
“You staying here tonight?”
“I have a few things to tie up before we go,” she replied, staring
at the duvet.
“All right. Maybe I’ll take a walk down to the pods and
have a little chat with Margaret.”
“Kay,” she took the cue, and stood up to leave, smoothing her
“See you tomorrow.”
She smiled sweetly, and left.
Dante flipped on the heater in his room before he left.
He always left it relatively cool when Susan visited because she
disliked sweating during sex, but he loved sleeping in dry electric
heat. He pulled over an old hoodie sweatshirt and a pair
of black martial arts pants with a drawstring in place of elastic
or button. He put his key lanyard over his head and padded
down the hall in his bare feet.
01 February 2005: Mark Brand.
The floors in the main hallway of his level were all carpeted
with thin, institutional dormitory scrabble, but they were warm
to the touch. The floors themselves were thin, and the
hot water pipes ran just underneath the surface. Dante
punched the code for the pod floors and the elevator took him
soundlessly down into the earth. As if to signify the
depth to which their futures had been buried (but in reality
to discourage bad odors or claustrophobia) the pod levels were
always kept at a cool 65 degrees. Cold enough, as Dante
currently noticed, to make walking barefoot just the slightest
Majestic-21, Margaret Barnaby, age sixteen, lived at the furthest
end of her hallway. Dante knocked softly, as it was fairly
late, but he heard her moving around immediately. She
didn’t open the door for a moment, and he was about to knock
“Just a second, I’m not decent,” came from the other side of
“It’s all right, take your time,” Dante said, reflexively.
The door opened a crack, and Margaret peeked her head around
it. Her hair was tousled as though she had been sleeping,
and she was wearing her glasses and a large set of heavy cotton
pajamas. She was perhaps five foot one and just a hair
over 200 pounds. She had been a rather dumpy girl when
Dante had found her, and her teenage years had not been kind
to her. Instead of a growth spurt and a curvaceous blossoming,
puberty had bestowed on her a discouraging myopic look and awful
complexion. Her voice was the soft lisp of a girl who
would never live to outgrow her own baby fat. It had,
rather, overgrown her. Nonetheless, she was far easier
to deal with than Glenrock.
“Can I come in?”
“Uhh, sure,” she looked unsure for a moment, “it’s a mess…”
Dante waved her off with a hand.
“No biggie. I know it’s late. I don’t mean to bother
She warmed considerably, as fat young women are wont to do,
at the show of deference to her feelings.
“That’s all right, Mr. Nagel. Just watch where you step.”
Her pod was the fever dream of every spurned, winsome teenager
ever to walk the face of the earth.
Her living space was strewn from wall to wall, floor to ceiling,
with the earmarks of angst and longing. Diaries, half-completed
watercolor paintings, copies of National Geographic magazine
cut and pasted into murals of unrealized vacations to exotic
places she would never visit, a sensible music player with a
small but treasured collection of music, a stuffed “husband”
pillow with arms that was ostensibly a portable armchair, but
was really meant to hug while you slept and maybe once in a
while throw a guilty hump on.
Strewn among this detritus was the remnants of several meals
and contraband foodstuffs smuggled with undoubtedly severe temerity
from who knows where. She blushed a bit, following his
“It was Matty’s dinner, he let me have some of his. He
didn’t eat it all…”
“It’s all right Meg.”
An even deeper blush. She hadn’t been aware that the Director
even knew her real name, let alone the nickname that the other
viewers used for her. She gave him a coke-bottle spectacle
smile. It was all she could think of to do.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you this late, Meg, I just wanted
to talk to you about working with Susan and I.”
“Oh, that,” Margaret replied, obviously relieved that this had
nothing to do with her own personal habits or life, “sure.”
“Well, I want you to know I never held Baltimore against you.
I know it wasn’t your fault. You were too young and not
well enough trained to be put into that position.”
Margaret’s eyes fell, rose to meet his, and fell again.
He didn’t want to drag this out any longer than absolutely necessary.
She began to speak.
Dante touched her fleshy shoulder with what he hoped felt like
“It’s all right. No one can plan for everything, and it
was as much my fault as it was anyone’s. But we’ve got
something important coming up on Monday and I just wanted to
go over it with you for a while so we can be clear with each
other and there won’t be any surprises.”
A look of determination crossed her young face that made Dante
feel marginally better about her being assigned to the mission.
“If anything happens differently from the plan, I want you to
have expected it. So we’re going to go over it all a few
She had forgotten all about the pizza crusts and half eaten
box of Little Debbies on the floor. This was the first
major operation she had been part of in years, and she wasn’t
about to mess it up a second time for the Director.
Four hours later, Dante left Margaret’s pod feeling much more
confident of their chances of success. Barnaby had seemed
not only interested, but very receptive to his suggestions and
the reasoning behind his plan. Hopefully not all of it
had been her sheer awe that she was about to be included in
something meaningful for only the second time in her dreary
Dante remembered, as he was falling asleep, the events that
shaped his less-than-glimmering opinion of her.
01 February 2005: Mark Brand.
“Clear, Mr. Davis.”
But it wasn’t clear.
The twelve-year-old Margaret Shelly Barnaby, recently confirmed
as Majestic-21, was floating in her negative stimulus tank.
Too shy to be totally naked, as she had begun to suspect the
other remotes of doing, she wore a one-piece bathing suit and
goggles to keep water away from her closed eyes. Her hair
was long then, and it floated around her and tickled her shoulders
as if there were seaweed in the tank with her. It was
hard to communicate. She kept trying to open her mouth
to talk and the nasal echo of her voice in the breathing apparatus
continually threatened to break the lock. Maybe it was
something like this that had distracted her from the mission
at hand. Later she wouldn’t remember what it was.
She would just remember seeing Mr.Davis’s face crumple under
the baseball bat.
Margaret struggled in her tank and whipped her head from side
to side, trying to get the image of Mr. Davis’s face out of
her head. The man wielding the baseball bat looked like
her father, a little. He was wearing what looked like
white department store boxer shorts with a crew neck t-shirt.
It was what a large man with children would sleep in.
She didn’t know who he was, but it became clear that he was
unhappy Mr. Nagel and Mr. Davis were in his house.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck,” Dante’s voice roared in her audio inputs,
It took Margaret a moment to realize that this inarticulate
sound was the whine of Mr. Davis’s vocal cords. It was
the only sound he could make with his crushed cheek and jaw.
“Clear the channel, Peacock 2,” a rational voice from some distant
Dante had ducked into a bathroom door. Around the corner,
Margaret could hear a second baseball bat swing connect.
And a third. And a fourth.
“We have a compromise situation,” said Dante, to no one in particular.
“Kill them all, Peacock 1,” said the coordinator.
“M-21, where am I looking?”
“I…” Margaret started, realizing a second later that he was
talking to her.
“Meg, what the fuck, help me out here.”
She tried to do a fancy double lock on both Dante and the man
who looked like her father. It was too hard. She
got a weird cross-talk that was like looking through a kaleidoscope
and hearing a bird song and car crash simultaneously.
She could see both of them in fragments. The baseball
bat man had retreated to the foot of a staircase at the end
of the hall.
“Stairs,” she croaked out, talking in the air mask and in her
head at the same time. It was evidently enough.
The shooting started.
BANG! Flash flash. Flash flash. The
first gunshot had popped the audio link and the only sound she
could hear was the high-pitched reverb of her own squealing
screams in the rebreather. Margaret thrashed her upper
body backward in a too-slow, dreamlike retreat from the lock.
She was still thinking of herself as actually being in the lock.
When she screamed, it was not just in her head, or even in the
suburban hallway with Dante and Frank Davis, but right there
in pod 21 under two feet of negative stimulus suspension.
Bubbles blew out of her mask and made her eyelashes flutter.
A voice filtered down from the overhead speakers in her pod’s
tank room. It was faint, but clear enough to understand.
“Majestic-21, maintain lock.”
Flash. Like a camera, but somehow hotter.
She jammed her eyes shut against the water and forced herself
to remain still. It worked, a little.
The murky, hellacious silence resolved into an image of Dante’s
hand pushing into Mr. Davis’s throat. That was where you
pushed if you were trying to figure out if someone was alive
or dead. It was a diagnosis delayed by the arrival of
a silently screaming woman in a floral nightie. There
was a moment when she was sure it was Florence Henderson from
the Brady Bunch. Mrs. Brady was carrying an enormous over-and-under
There was a big flash, and two more smaller ones. A big
one again, and then four small ones. The images that were
revealed in those instants of illumination were utterly horrid.
Meg would think later that it looked like Dante was stabbing
her with an invisible knife.
She felt something hard and rubbery between her legs and realized
that it was her oxygen hose. Trying to cartwheel backward
away from the inescapable images, she had completely inverted
herself in the tank and her legs had tangled in the hose.
To underscore this realization, the cool airflow from her respirator
suddenly cut off. A horrible blockage down the pipe had
her choking in an instant.
“Maintain lock, Majestic-21.”
Margaret wanted to say, I’m trying, but her mouth gaped
like a fish’s at the airless world her tank had become.
She sputtered out the carbon dioxide in her burning lungs and
tried to climb her air hose back up to the top of the water.
It didn’t work.
The whole incident had served ever after as a cautionary tale
against using younger viewers for delicate tactical missions.
Margaret Barnaby had nearly died that evening. She was pulled
from the tank unbreathing, and resuscitated. She had bent
the older-style air hose double and kinked off her own air supply
inadvertently. If she had died that night, it might have
been better if Dante hadn’t come home. Dante’s superiors
extended their indulgences in his performance only as far as he
kept the real asset, their viewers, alive and out of harm’s way.
Frank Davis, Susan’s predecessor, had died in the hallway of
a Baltimore townhouse. He had been beaten to death by
Edward Gibbons, an ex-minor leaguer with a vicious left-handed
batting swing. Edward and Sara Gibbons were the proud
parents of a eight year old son named Lucas Gibbons, who was
a heavily-anticipated remote viewer prospect.
Lucas was successfully extracted, but never fully recovered
from the trauma of watching his parents murdered in their own
home in the middle of the night. He was a very talented,
but sulky child. Despite showing some interest in the
form of a puppy-love crush, he was unable to win the lasting
attention of one Margaret “Meg” Barnaby. At age ten and
a half, when he began to hit the first edges of puberty, his
viewing abilities evaporated inexplicably. He was treated
quite well by the administration. A battery of diagnostic
tests were run by clinical pharmacology, as well as some more
aggressive behavioral modification protocols. Nothing
seemed to snap the young boy out of it.
After several tense meetings to decide the course of action,
Dante took the boy for a ride into the country under the auspices
of letting him go back to live with relatives because he was
no longer needed to view for the Grange.
The outward pointlessness of this little drama is misleading.
Several precedents were set by this blundering exercise.
The first was to establish the primary objective of extracting
a potential viewer, even in an obviously compromised snatch
job. Dante knew from that moment forward that even the
lowest viewer was worth more to his superiors than himself or
the lives of anyone who stood in the way. The second important
precedent was to make, whenever possible, tactical lock exercises
at least a double-viewer event. The resources that needed
to be mobilized to cover up this mistake were greater than the
admittedly scarce resource of an extra viewer.
This left them with the uncomfortable and awkward task of dealing
with Margaret. She had talent and was willing to view
for them without much coercion, but she just wasn’t much of
a worker. She had difficulty paying attention to details
and often became confused or distracted. In the end, Dante’s
superiors decided to just give her second and third tier assignments
and keep her out of the way of anything she could seriously
screw up. The embarrassment of the botched mission eventually
blew over, and she became just another one of the crew at breakfast.
Squinty-eyed, a little bit bitchy, and hungry. Not hungry
Lucas, on the other hand, was positively jubilant at the prospects
of getting out of the Grange and going back to Baltimore.
He had received letters from his family through Susan, and they
sounded like they genuinely wanted to see him again. Lucas
knew he would have some explaining to do about the two and a
half year vacation in Nebraska, but he was visibly happier just
at the mention of his discharge from the army. Dante drove
him onto the back forty acres of a large dairy farm and, as
the boy gazed out the car window, shot him in the back of the
to Human Resources, Part Two.