I'll look in on you from time to time.
Just so you know you’re not on your own with it. Because it’s a lot to go through – I don’t know what you’re expecting.
There have always been those who would change our course. You know this. Is it so inconceivable that, behind the curtain, there are those whose job it is to work out how?
If asked, especially by someone of a legal persuasion, I’d just say it’s all cobblers. Say we made it up. That way you’re covered. It won’t take long for anyone with an ounce of gumption to realise that’s not the whole story but you’re bombproof by then and they can’t touch you.
Besides, it’s a grey area.
If you’re going to make sense of what’s about to happen here, I need you to see the big picture for yourself. See the whole filthy undertaking emerge from the pieces.
So we go back. There’s no other way. Two years, almost to the day. To the moment the world hung for a beat too long –like a murmuring heart– then appeared to keep pounding. Misdirection. Three days later the curtain had been pulled back on something millennia in-the-making.
A friendly word of warning then. These first signals may be bygones from that July but what we are dealing with won’t be held back there for long. When it begins to breach the here and now we’ll be watching the world unfurl in all its raw uncertainty. Cut with impurities of course –what isn’t?– but freshly cut. I can’t promise it’ll be safe, but that can’t be helped.
Apart from that maybe just try and enjoy it. The feeling before the pieces start to fit, the feeling when they stop fitting like you thought they did – some folks can’t handle that. Some thrive on it. Well I suppose nothing’s for everyone, is it?
That’s probably enough for now. You need to see it, then we’ll talk more. Just this: check your timelines. Places and dates, my friend.
Places and dates. You’re screwed otherwise and I can’t help you.
He snatches the tubes out of his arm and throws them to the floor at his bedside. Forces himself upright, makes a show of looking for a nurse, his clothes. Knows he’s going nowhere.
“These are all hypotheticals. Thought experiments – that's all. Please sit back.” His questioner, unmoved by the sudden commotion.
Our patient is distressed and not really sure why. This man standing over him with the clipboard is right – these are just exercises. His tantrum passes and he leans back again, frustration lingering.
“Why do you think you find this so agitating?” His interviewer still impassive, leafing back through earlier notes.
Our patient can’t summon a way to answer that without shouting. Shouting hurts. If this doctor-or-whatever would look at him while he prodded and poked the specimen it would be less maddening.
“What goes through your mind when I ask you these questions?”
Where does he start? He wishes he could show him. Bring him to his knees.
“They're... the wrong questions.” He finally ventures, exasperation in his voice.
As he’s saying it he knows it sounds petulant. Whenever he opens his mouth to explain himself it comes out bitter. He's embarrassed he lost his temper now. Wipes the little bubble of blood from his forearm and waits for the inevitable, groping follow-up.
“So what would be the right questions?”
R I N
These last moments. The culmination of her year's planning, training and investment.
She stood braced at the belay point of the fifth pitch. Daylight dropping from the low-hanging sky, leaking from its underbelly in a thousand soft places where rock pierces white fat.
Completion was bare minutes away if she could keep it together. Think slow. Use tricks.
She changed her grip on the rope and chose a meditation – the arithmetic of what this panorama, this moment had cost her. What it had cost her family.
Repeating the tally in her head, managing her breathing: the small trust fund her father had set up with the proceeds of his first patents; her savings and the last of a severance package from her gone-to-the-wall employer; the contributions from her sister (more than she could afford – god knows where she got it); the street sale in Ōkuma of what could be salvaged of her mother's furniture, clothes and jewellery.
It focused her. A paltry total in the scheme of things but they had invested all the hope they could scrape together. She had exchanged it from dollars and yen into just a few thousand yuan and put it all into her half of the equipment, travel, bribes and local guide (who had turned back a day ago, as agreed). Everything left to give was in this, so she could restore her family’s pride.
Finally here, among these summits, expectations only seemed higher.
Climbing had seduced her in her early twenties while she ascended through various American training facilities: Wyoming's clean, gaunt Tetons. Red Rock’s burned smooth Mescalito and Aeolian Wall. Nothing that had prepared her for this.
These ancient teeth were brown and lush with foliage, trailing it from their maws. Trees and creepers hung on all the way to their crowns as if they had chewed up through the woods that morning, ravenously eating their way out from an epoch of sedimentary famine. The air rich with their foggy breath.
She looked out, deliberately not down towards her lover dangling off the rope, but across the swirling vista. The wind was picking up. It was hard to separate general weather from the private microclimates that cloyed around each pillar but the pressure drop before a bruise of a system eased its weight down onto the range was unmistakable. Something she could sense since she was small.
My precious look-out, always at the window, standing watch.
Her mother’s voice in her head as if she was roped-on next to her.
So, my darling, what new weather on the horizon today?
Little Rin the Watch Girl had spent a childhood pressed up to the glass, scanning between the tracks of silver droplets for the weather fronts advancing towards them from China and Russia over the Sea of Japan.
A sudden sense of the here and now interrupted before she could answer her mom. It pricked at her skin again through the damp: the feeling that she was a long way from home and in the presence of something else. That she was trespassing and had been seen.
The enormity of this moment and her doubts getting the better of her, was all. Or perhaps to bolster her resolve she was conjuring a cloud of guardian ujigami and ancestral sorei to invisibly look on, surveil their ward and blood. They were not yet judgemental, not yet proud – only bearing witness to what she was about to achieve.
She willed them to say be strong, our daughter but the heavy air muted their support.
The gash in her upper arm was open again, the warm flower re-blooming through her sleeve while the rest of her shivered. She felt the mix in her veins change, sugar and the moment slipping away.
This was taking too long.
Use tricks. She checked the cams again, one placed to either side, anchoring her to this cold spike of rock with nylon rope and their clever gears unclenching into its cavities. No movement – the placements were solid. She was about to rehearse the checklist of protection they had left between them when she felt him on the rope again, her knees momentarily sharing some of the weight with the cams.
He was spent, she knew. They shouldn’t be here, either of them, but Tomoyuki especially.
What had this trip cost him?
He wasn't from money –his family had given him the humblest of beginnings– but he had understood poverty and its proud urban communities from an early age and had quickly learned how to exploit both. By his eighteenth birthday he controlled the unseen shanty of half the prefecture where they had grown up together. At twenty-five he had diversified internationally into the less discreet slums on the fringes of Seoul and even Taipei, expanding the rackets and leverage that had made him wealthy. Now, at thirty-seven, he owned property developments all over the Triangle – it was hard for her not to admire that rise, methods to one side. Business was one thing; it didn’t change the fact that today he was in no shape to be four-hundred metres above the woods on an ungraded route in the Wuling, three lonely days north of Zhangjia Jie’s signs of life. The both of them knew his ego should have known better.
But she had smiled and teased and let her youthfulness make the most compelling arguments, coaxed him here.
Fresh shivering jolted her back to the wall. Pain blossomed in her arm. A growing need to get this done before she lost her nerve shoved her forward.
She leaned out on the cams to peer down and watch his struggle to ascend. The long arêtes of rock drew vertiginous lines to a convergence point in the canopy and mist below – like an involuntary diving off into a different depth of focus. Her vision swam, buoyed by the new blood loss. She brought a tiny surge of adrenaline quickly under control.
Think slow. This trip had cost him only two things: a little of his pride in his own physical ability – which admittedly meant a great deal to him; and even deeper suspicion from his wife back home – who didn’t.
He could have paid for their whole adventure by himself with just the loose notes lying forgotten in a drawer in one of his numerous apartments but from the very start of their affair she had made it clear to him that she was going to pay her own way. That pride ran in her family too.
He was close to reaching her but if the last sequence of moves had been painful for her to watch, they had been excruciating for him to complete.
She could see the tell-tale tremors in his limbs: the tensile strength in his calves and arches had left him; the tendons in his forearms had burnt out, killing his grip and his confidence in his hands. He was haemorrhaging precious energy over holds that should have offered quick leverage. It was dusk and he was as high as he would go.
This would be the crux of it then – it was up to her now. Her ancestors and guardians leaned in, looked down, held their breath, expectant.
She knew too well the kind of dialogue he was having with himself. It was almost audible to her between his shallow gasping breaths:
Distant logic was telling him she had him on the rope. Fear and up-close reality were screaming at him: so what? Could her cam placements keep taking his sudden weight? Was she strong enough to haul him the rest of the way up? Lower him all the way down? They were hours from terra firma and almost out of daylight. What were you thinking, arrogant little man?
She knew well the fight that was in him, trusted he would silence the voices. I am Tomoyuki Yamamoto. Digging in, he would make himself hear his own conviction, retake control: I did not work my way up from dirt to die in this Chinese wilderness. Or similar bravado.
Sure enough she watched his force of will carry him further than his strength could sustain. He launched up for the lip of the narrow ledge she belayed from. Held it – barely. His toeholds slipped; his lower body gyrating into space.
He started shrieking, broken composure echoing off the adjacent pillars.
“Look at me.” She focused him without shouting, “look at me. Here.”
He did - the shrieking stopped; sobbing began.
“Find your feet. Then give me your hand.”
Yes. He did as he was told. Blindly, agonisingly pedalling the air until his toes caught features under the overhang, out of her sight. The effort of drawing his pelvis into the curvature of the ledge spasmed across his face. He held himself there, juddering, spine exposed to plunging nothingness.
She saw him test load-bearing on one hand and two tiptoes for a nanosecond. He could probably do it, she gambled, but only once and only very quickly.
The tremors rose into his shoulders as the dancing shakes in his legs overtook his body. Jaw set to cracking, his eyes fixed hers as he fought to keep the thin rubber of his shoes adhered to the rock below. It had to be now.
He thrust his arm up to her, his hand open, knuckles bloodied and chalky.
Be strong, our daughter.
And Rin gave him the photograph.
Something else passed between them, from her to him. Time seemed to wait for it, held back by his incomprehension. A rock tumbled past Tomoyuki’s head in slow motion, dislodged as he watched her change stance to regard him. He couldn’t help count down its lazy fall from view in his head with the American mantra of children’s games played along the fenceline of the airbase. Four Mississippi. Five...
He felt his leg stop dancing. Six. His bowels and bladder opened, panic rising uncontrollably through him. Seven. He looked up at her, met her gaze. Hope, shit and piss washed out of his arched body, the slick excrement dropping away in a sickening spiral contrail.
She wore no expression he could read. The last droplets of his dignity were still in the air somewhere far below when he looked again at the picture between his finger and thumb, the heel of his fist trying to hold his weight on the ledge. A detached, resigned part of his mind captivated now by her unmistakable transpacific genealogy smiling back at him – the cheekbones, the eyes that had been hiding in plain sight.
A toehold failed. The other followed. Then fingertips had nothing left in them.
His body reacted to the sudden release into weightlessness, flipping his evacuated stomach over and bulging out his eyes.
It was unclear to him what trick gravity and the rope performed next.
She was receding without a sound when he looked from the likeness to her face again. Quietly, quickly – a marionette yanked smoothly up and away from him while he floated in frictionless suspension. Perspective was perfectly compressing her face, accelerating her diminishing backwards up into the sky, the curtain of rock lengthening behind her.
She was already too far away for him to be sure in this light but he sensed she was still watching him. He watched her back as long as he could. The thick air expanded between them faster and faster until she was featureless high on the wall above.
Points of contact gone and forgotten. A smile in a photograph the most tangible thing left to focus on. It had all been for this. He marvelled at what she had accomplished. What she had made him feel. His fear left him like a gas seeping out the cold pores of his skin.
His unconscious worked on without him, stage-managing their final moments together on its own. It dialled everything down until only the ambient and the internal soundscapes gushed through him. He was made of whistling air, pumping blood.
That part of Tomoyuki at the controls forced his wide eyes closed just before the end. The Mississippis had almost run their course. In that dark two parting realisations swam up to meet him:
One was blunt. He regretted the fail-safes that would now be set in motion. Terrible and magnificent insurances he had never fully entertained being enacted. No matter now. Remember me how you will.
The other sharper. The knowledge he had only been in love once in his life. And that had been a lie.
AN EXTRA SECOND WAS ADDED to the world clock last night in the moment immediately preceding the month of July.
The Leap Second wrong-footed numerous organisations dependent on the precision timing of data. As it hit many places along the US Eastern Seaboard were still reeling from electrical storms that caused grids and back-up generators to go down only hours before.
Amazon Web Services, Netflix, Foursquare, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Instagram, LinkedIn and Gawker are among companies in the public eye that were affected.
Google’s “leap smear” appears to have successfully sidestepped the Leap Second by incrementally adding tiny fractions of time gradually over the course of the 24 hours before.
“This meant that when it became time to add an extra second at midnight, our clocks had already taken this into account” explained one of the company's site reliability engineers.
“Very large-scale distributed systems, like ours, demand that time be well-synchronized and expect that time always moves forwards.”
LOOKING BACK ON THIS we thought the Leap Second was going to be everything.
We were so intent on that extended moment we saw only arcs that led towards it, only plotlines it fulfilled. Like it was the one ending in the world we’d be satisfied with and we would refuse to go to sleep until it had been read to us aloud.
Naturally it doesn’t work like that – I see that now. No mean feat to grasp these things when you’re right there, caught up in it all of course. I shouldn’t be too hard on us. Plenty more of that slipperiness to come I expect.
Lovely turn of phrase though, that Google chap, don’t you think? ...Demand that time be well-synchronized and expect that time always moves forwards.
That stuck with me. Even before we crossed paths with the fellow for whom very large-scale distributed systems were something of a speciality.
G A B E
GABE’S PHONE CHIRPED at him, hungry for attention. As if commanded by the network, the morning’s second wave of cramps bit and doubled him up.
He half crouched to the pavement, hands braced on thighs, waiting for the knives and forks to finish tenderising his stomach wall. The stream of people re-flowed itself around him making sounds of mild annoyance, the commuter collective intent on getting to work.
Making a face he scanned the small park through the passers-by and checked his phone; the blinking blue halo on his map was in the far corner somewhere. He was close.
The pain easing he stood more upright, then closed the short steps to the railings around Victoria Tower Gardens –more muttering as he cut across the flow– and leaned back mercifully, out of the way. It didn’t feel like the lining was repairing itself – it felt like something was cutting and tearing its way out of him with blunted cutlery.
Forty-eight hours in –days punctuated by these little battles in his gut and in his head– he knew from previous attempts it would get worse before it got better. His phone told him he was tantalisingly close to the geo-fence. A little further and he would cross its boundary, disclosing today’s venue to his handset – where to go for the distraction from the pain in his belly he had promised himself. Returning to the Club after all this time didn’t mean he was giving in: plenty of members practiced restraint and used it only occasionally. One visit was all he needed to make him whole again.
Aches passed, he wondered if there could be something Pavlovian in the mobile trigger as he flicked between the map and the subject line of his new message:
meetings arranged - think big, everything at stake
He checked the sender: bridgeandben – an account he had been expecting to hear from, given it was July and the annual event was imminent. He scrolled through the email –
I know you're busy putting yourself through the mill but it's high time you got back on the horse.
Something is happening – will explain when I see you. Interest coming out of the woodwork – it's what we've been waiting for.
I've gone ahead and set a couple of meetings up. Big players, fascinating characters – they'll come to you. You've been highly recommended (yours truly) – only sorry I can't be there to sit in with you. Be yourself – it's very much you they need, they'll see that.
Stop wallowing, this is important – there’s a lot on the line.
Remember what we said? Well here I am, calling on you.
PS heard you've got my chairs. I was a fool – thank you.
Gabe read the email again. For the fourth time he examined the sender's address: still from bridgeandben – an account the couple used just once a year to invite the great, the good and the paranoid upper echelons of society to Bridge's birthday. Her parties were the stuff of legend and the email addresses of the elite guest list were not without value so more discretion than a blind cc was called for. Ever the entertainer, Bridge had had a secure messaging service set up, partly as a courtesy, partly to meet some recipients’ corporate policies, mainly to show off.
But this appeared to be just for Gabe. And only from Ben. The last line – the whole thing... The content was Ben but the language was off somehow. It almost sounded like him – but where his friend was both effortlessly tactless and charmingly unaccountable, this message came with apologies and the uncharacteristic intent to explain itself.
Something caught his eye and broke the reverie of the puzzle –their bright colours perhaps– or some latent proprioception for the out-of-the-ordinary that made him look up from the phone's screen.
The man and the little girl were inside the guardrails on the pedestrian island in the middle of the road. She sat on a gaudy deck chair in front of him, dressed as a tree – bundles of twigs tied around her arms and chest. He stood behind her wearing a bowler hat, putting the fluorescent sandwich board on, adjusting its wide straps on his shoulders. The people bunched around them on the island waited to cross the road, politely ignoring the valuable room they were taking up.
Behind them the three-quarter gauge model that was the Houses of Parliament filled the skyline.
The man was holding a large, squarish can –the kind garages sell to carry spare petrol or motor lubricant– but it had been brightly painted. He was unscrewing the cap; the girl was swinging her legs in the chair. She had to be twenty metres away but Gabe was convinced she was looking straight at him. Maybe that was what he had felt.
The man turned away and Gabe made out the caption, hand-painted on the back of the loud sandwich board in broad strokes of black:
corporate greed + corrupt governments = no future
A protester then, rather than a performance artist – probably moved on from the green at Parliament Square a few metres behind him where activists and malcontents traditionally laid siege to the Perpendicular Gothic building or kept vigil on its occupants.
Something about the girl held Gabe transfixed.
As the man turned back towards him Gabe saw that the can was painted with the uneven, bright logos of oil companies, recreated by a child. The front of his sandwich board began –
Rio+20 left our
The end of the slogan was obscured by the girl –she was what, three, four?– seated patiently in front of the man, scratching distractedly at one arm under the costume where her branches were itching her skin. She started to sing something, still staring at Gabe.
Gabe reached into his inside jacket pocket to feel for the blister pack. Without taking it out he ran his fingers over both faces of the strip: the foil felt smooth and unbroken, the small doses and all they stood for still sealed in their pristine bubbles.
Reassured as to what was and what wasn’t, he turned back to the unusual scene with new detachment. Not taking the tablets was inviting strangeness and uncertainty to re-enter his life. This is to be expected.
This confidence subsided almost immediately: others around him had noticed the developing spectacle.
People were pausing to watch. A man was filming the duo from the pavement, the video camera held in both hands as he watched its small tilted screen, his back to Gabe. He too had distorted logos daubed colourfully on an ill-fitting black suit.
Maybe this was happening.
The man in the sandwich board raised the upended can above his head, shaking its contents out. As the clear liquid ran off the brim of his rounded hat and splashed over them both, Gabe made out the last painted words of the high-contrast statement he was making –
children to burn
Voices went up now. Panic radiated out through the pedestrian island – starting with those closest (who could probably smell the fuel). Then hit deeper rows of people, all pushing and falling over themselves to escape the sheep pen of the temporary guardrail. Some were trapped against it. Some scissored over it to get clear. Most were clearly not sure what they were fleeing, casting about as they scrambled, looking for the threat.
Armed police were running up from the barrier at the foot of the Victoria Tower towards the commotion, each with a finger in an ear. A spotter on a roof somewhere had probably been monitoring the odd little troupe since they had been moved on.
The panic had spread to the pavement. A news crew who had set up on the grass overspill of the College Garden for a politico interview with the symbolic building in shot scrambled to reposition for whatever was causing the disturbance.
The girl was still singing –smoothing her wet hair off her face– swinging her legs, gazing at him, unfazed by the accelerant. Gabe couldn't move. Why couldn't he move?
The policemen were there, rifles tucked into chins, shouting for the man to put the can down, get on the ground, herding people behind them.
The man did put the empty can down and took a small object out from somewhere inside his clothes, underneath the boards he wore. Held it up above his head with Olympian purpose.
The policemen closed in to put him down. Surely he would drop the lighter. People who could see were screaming. Others who couldn't started.
Then it was done. He was on the ground, a policeman kneeling in his back. The man in the painted suit had his face against a building at the side of the road, his camera between a policeman's feet. The girl still singing and swinging in her chair, kindling still itchy, still fascinated with Gabe. No shots.
The scene was dismantled with astonishing efficiency. Another policeman had intercepted the news crew before they could find their vantage point. People were being moved on. Gabe and the girl had their line of sight broken and when it cleared there was just an empty pyjama-striped deck chair alone on the crossing island.
Then the car was alongside him, its front doors smoothly opening almost before it had come to a stop.
There was no remark or social alarm at this end of the street as they came for him. Concern and attention were still with the after-show cleanup of the main performance a few metres ahead.
In the time it took Gabe to become aware of its low black shape next to him, the car’s driver and passenger were already either side of him on the pavement. The rear door on his side was held open and they were up close, gesturing him, steering him inside with nothing but the gravities of their too-proximate bodyweight.
Instinctively he took a step back towards the railings and his destination – the riverside gardens and the x on his map– the only direction that remained available to him other than the leather interior.
“It's quite alright, Mr. Cole – I think you're expecting us. We'll take you to your nine fifteen with Mr. Booth.”
A hand on his arm. Unusually, the driver towered over his own six two frame, the differential leaving Gabe off-kilter.
“It's much easier if we do it like this.”
The driver's colleague now, speaking without any overt menace in his tone from behind Gabe.
Gabe considered this slowly, part of his mind still on the empty deckchair.
The man may have meant that this chauffeured pick-up service was a more convenient alternative to Gabe making his own way there (wherever there was). Gabe could choose to believe that.
Or he may have been pointing out the relative ease of Gabe just doing as he was told, rather than causing the kind of fuss that could bring vestigial attention from the nearby police and the ready-made crowd of onlookers.
Their sleek car and smiles, the calm, firm tones of their voices. They weren't government or military – something higher end.
He was coming off the pills. He was choosing the cramps and the less-defined, quicker world. This was the next logical step.
If he stayed on the kerb he would remain inconsequential. Even a visit to the Club couldn’t change that. Without this he was little more than an onlooker into other people’s dramas – both real and imagined. But if he could tell the difference between the two, then in return, inside the car waited meaning, work and purpose. Hope.
He needed this. Here was Ben offering it to him on a plate.
So why this escort and the thinly disguised coercion? Why an email not a call from his friend – why from that account? Why does this big guy want me to get in his car?
One Gabe turned, vaulted the railings awkwardly and was off into the gardens towards the pin in the map without another word. That Gabe could run and he watched himself go.
They didn't give chase but instead waited patiently for this Gabe to decide that his next life –the one whose commencement he had been wrestling himself for– was to begin wherever their black car took him.
He didn’t remember getting in; only them closing his door after him and the three of them driving calmly away, unnoticed by the dispersing walk-to-work audience.
“It was just water. Loony just had water in the can.” Somebody was muttering, thoroughly disappointed.
“WE WILL DESTROY EVERY MAUSOLEUM in the city – all of them, without exception”
A spokesperson for the Ansar Dine group, Timbuktu
The group, part of an alliance who took control of Northern Mali in March of this year, describe the shrines to Islamic saints –held sacred by Sufi Muslims– as idolatrous. Six have been smashed in the last 48 hours.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague has deemed the destruction of the mausoleums a “war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate”.
Mali's government in Bamako has also condemned the “destructive fury.”
THE DATE IS SIGNIFICANT, as you’re already aware. Other than that, odd to mention, I know but stay with me. Three things here:
The ICC’s path and ours are going to cross any number of times while we get this done, so we might as well get acquainted early. Know your enemy and all that.
Two. The Economic Community of West African States will be key. Elsewhere you’ll be hearing mainly about the East African Community and its successes as a self-contained bloc et cetera. But keep an eye on the Sahel: Africa is cracking down its spine. To the left and the right, compare and contrast, my friend. This continent is the future and it has it all.
My third, before you move on – and forget what anyone believes in; forget the when and the where for a sec (because it’s been everywhere – Europeans probably being our best example to date)...
This is about the how. This is about the real, back-to-Betsy fundamental nature that has steered and will continue to steer the track of our human history… And we don’t mess around do we, people? We go straight for identity, the cultural jugular, like thirsty bastards. You want to own someone long-term? You eat their gods and wear the bones.
S V E T L A N A
[AN EMPTY BACK SEAT. The window burr-ing closed against the sounds and the blur of heat outside. We are kerb-crawling. Then in gridlock. Stop/start glimpses of shop fronts and people from the chest down. The camera pans left onto Kathryn Utz in the adjacent seat and lingers on her face. She takes off her sunglasses to make the call. Utz is elegant, in her dark asymmetric dress and late forties. Un-corporate, she might be going to the ball rather than the office. She opens abruptly, without pleasantries. It’s 9.09am her time.]
You know this scene, Svetlana. You’ve seen the movie a hundred times.
[Kathryn pauses for the come-back. We can’t hear it but apparently it’s not bad. Rapport is a game.]
Something like that. And that’s really the best you’ve got? I’m from Queens. Is that how I sound to you...? Don’t answer that.
[To watch her minimal expressions you'd think she was detached from the conversation, intent on the street; Kathryn’s eyes flick forward, track back to our left, flick forward again in an automatic loop, profiling passing strangers by their sweating faces and how they have chosen to dress in public today – a day when wearing anything at all while beyond the reach of air-con is life- threatening vanity. It’s a tough temperature to conceal something.]
So the reason we're speaking: I need you to understand we’re joined at the hip now. I’m here and rising only as long as you’re out there and not falling on your ass. And vice versa – fates linked. You’ve heard what they’re calling us.
[No pause for Svetlana to respond this time.]
Let me explain how it is here. The corridors are crawling with ego-bruised alpha males rubbing their hands together just waiting for our little international experiment to implode so they can get back to dividing up the treasure the good old-fashioned way.
[She looks hesitant, reluctant to include the next part.]
And then there's the weather. Well it’s making everyone edgy. Nobody's saying it but they're afraid. Nobody likes being at the whim of something bigger than themselves, things above their pay-grade, outside of their control. So they compensate and take it where they can.
[A longer pause now. Silence on the other end too. Who breaks it first is important for the dynamic of what comes next. Kathryn doesn’t have to wait long for Svetlana to fill the void. Meanwhile the camera keeps staring at Utz, clinically, while she listens. It’s as if she’s a social study or the subject of a video installation found uptown on the spiral of the Guggenheim. Her eyes keep running the loop, processing the sidewalk like an algorithm. The car turns onto Avenue of the Americas. The city shimmers in the rear window, melting. A line of yellow plumes like cabs bursting into flame, polarised by the greenish glass. The camera doesn’t flinch from her face. Svetlana’s voice in her ear must have gone silent because it’s Kathryn’s turn again.]
No. Footprints in spreadsheets won’t cut it any longer. You’re not feeding your European friends paper and hard-drives now...
[Suddenly protestors are on the street beside her car, banging on the windows, chanting. They all wave copies of the same graphic placard, making us stare down the barrels of a sea of hand guns. We lose what Kathryn's saying in the commotion but it's clear to see she's launched a verbal ambush, pulling the woman on the receiving end of the call apart with professional ease. We rejoin the conversation as the protesters pass and she’s closing the assault up, switching gears again.]
...Go back to the data. Move down the list. Before it goes cold. We’re not paying for bleeding-edge tech support for you to blow it off and follow your gut at the drop of a hat. I could’ve got one of our people in if that’s what we’d wanted. Now listen. I’m going to tell you a story. Stop me if you’ve heard it –
A thief who works the subway sees his mark. She’s been crying and she’s exhausted, her head’s lolling around as the car sways. Her eyes are red, they keep half closing then she’s awake again. Easy pickings. It’s her suitcase that’s caught his attention. Expensive. It’s on her lap, her arms wrapped round it, but she’s not holding on to it tightly anymore. She’s sitting by the door – he’s leaning, opposite. At the next stop he knows the exit’s fast to the street and he can be half-way into the projects with it before she realises what’s happened. It’s practically gift-wrapped. So the train stops, he counts, and when the doors are about to close he makes his move. He’s good but it’s heavier than he imagined. It bulges on one side, the weight’s uneven. He’s not even at the stairs and he’s got it in two hands, panting, knocking into people. The train doors don’t close when they should and suddenly she’s wide awake and out on the platform –kind of unhinged– and across the crowd she fixes him with this crazy, frantic stare like he’s taken her baby not her luggage...
[Her colleague is interrupting – of course she’s heard this story before. We watch Kathryn sit back, let Svetlana summarise the punch line. Utz wants the girl to feel as if she’s stealing her thunder. There’s some kind of commotion at the other end – a loud gust of static. Utz adjusts the bud in her ear while she waits for it to pass and for the quick mind across the Atlantic to cover the ground to the point. Kathryn likes this girl even though she’s running them both out of rope.]
Good. Here’s the thing, Svetlana.
[We see her lift the dangling toggle of the hands-free mic close enough to her lips to help her investigator on the other end understand the emphasis that’s coming.]
There are motifs that appeal to us like catnip. Our brains taste something addictive between the words and we will rehearse and re-tell whatever phrases delivered that fix to everyone we meet, to catch even the scent of it again. That’s how these stories spread. How they grow and take on meaning, become more than something that might have happened. Or that might still.
Everyone eats that shit up. But not here. This agency doesn’t finance folklore for very long – whatever national itch it scratches. Do your job faster. Bring me something. Better yet. Bring me someone.
[Kathryn taps the line closed. Her sunglasses are replaced, the rear windows burr back down so she can enjoy the noise and the ferocious morning heat again.]
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