to get to that place
you don't know where
you'll ever get there...
A costly craft
Donnie Pendergast gave his pitch to the captain the morning after the third diamond heist of the month.
"Cap, you got a minute?"
Captain Jake looked up from the mound of papers on his desk behind which he had a plate of jelly donuts.
"What is it, Pendergast? I'm drowning here. The lineup was a bust this morning. None of the witnesses had a clue. Worse still, to a person they felt the need to balk. They each claimed to have made an error and apparently the thief they saw wasn't tall and blonde but rather was short and dark haired. And, oh, by the way, there were three robbers, not four. C'mon!" He took a bite of a donut. "So, what is it, kid?"
"Cap, before they strike again, I know where we can catch them in the act."
"I'm all ears, kid. The mayor and the commisioner feel the need to batter someone on this and that someone is me." He offered him the plate. Donnie shook his head. The captain picked up another donut. " Whatcha got?"
"Well, you see, it's like this..."
"Don’t slump, kid, sit up straight."
Donnie sat up. "You see, Cap, I'm positive they're gonna try to score the biggest job yet this Saturday."
"Why Saturday? There's been no pattern, aside from one a week."
"This Saturday is the Center City Historical Society's annual ball."
"And the items for auction include a miniature native American dugout designed by that eccentric millionaire carpenter who made the life-sized windup cuckoo clock for last year's ball."
"John Boise? Nutcase. So what?"
"He lined the bottom of the dugout with 25 one carat diamonds."
The captain stood and grabbed his jacket. "I think it's time we pay the Society and Mr. Boise a visit, kid."
Some years ago, an eagle tried to make off with our puppy, Frederick (named after my favorite philosopher). I cannot begin to tell you how traumatic that was for us, especially Freddie. Ever since, he's been afraid of his own shadow, wholly and completely unable to savor the joy that is a dog's life. He is happiest tamely chewing his rubber sword on the rug in front of the fireplace rather than running around in the fresh air chasing squirrels digging up the bulbs in my flower beds, the postman or the neighborhood children.
Desiring justice for Freddie, we chose to ignore our good sense and general love of all God's creatures. I'm not proud to say we sprinkled poison on some wild bunnies who we knew were destined to be the eagle's meal before long. It didn't matter, though. The damage was done to poor Freddie.
I used to laugh when he would trip over his massive puppy paws (a Mastiff, he is now a two hundred pound big baby) to escape the shadow of the robins that nest in our trees...until he caused himself serious injury when he turned and crashed against a tree that, in his anxious state, he forgot was there. Let's just say, it is not easy getting him to the vet. Plus, our veterinary bills horrify me almost as much as Freddie's repeatedly bloody head.
Recently, after bumping into one of our less sturdy fruit trees, Freddie made a more pleasant discovery. An apple fell on his head. He attacked it, and realized he loved the flavor. He tried to scale the tree to reach more. The tree won. How he whined. But we cheered him up that evening with a dish of sliced apples. Little Charlotte tried to share some of her raisins to go with the apple slices. Fortunately, we caught her before we had to make another emergency visit to the vet.
Did know a single raisin or grape can give your dog kidney failure?
Rainy day magic
The legend of the green giant is one every parent in Briarwood has told their wee ones on rainy days for as long as can be remembered. By the age of five, each child can tell the story with the same ease Granny Mae makes her famous potato brew that can put hair on a man's chest, and with which Fr. Bailey gives his well-worn blessing to the newly born and the swiftly dying.
It isn't a cautionary tale. No, indeed, the green giant isn't an evil fellow, bellowing curses as he crushes the bones of men while devouring their crops and livestock. On the contrary, he's a jolly fellow who slides down a vibrant and colorful rainbow at every opportunity to play with the children of Briarwood.
Sadly, rainbows aren't all that frequent, so Frederick, as his parents named him, or Freddy as the children call him, has to depend on luck, the good kind, and a well-danced jig to open the door between his home in the clouds and Briarwood. And it can only be opened by the magical jig once every hundred years or so. And only during times of blight or drought. Other than that, rainbows are the thing.
For Freddy has a special gift to share, but special is only special so long as it's rare, they say. Freddy need only pat the ground (it is more like a thundery thump and it can be heard - and felt- for miles around), and all that has been brown and withered becomes green as clover. Well, a lot was clover, the four-leafed kind to be sure, but there were also sweet, plump berries all the colors of the rainbow to fill Briarwood's famous bursting berry pie, and yummy green veggies like green beans, green peas, green onions and green leaf lettuce (in addition to spinach, broccoli, kale, and collard greens). And, of course, potatoes (for stew and for brew).
And thus it is that the children of Briarwood never bemoan a rainy day as they are always hopeful it will end with a glorious rainbow and a visit from the best piggyback ride giver ever.
“The greatest ideas are the simplest.”
Removal from the streets --to a jail or a camp or a deserted island or some other place where good citizens need not know they exist except for taxes they'll pay to keep them away, unless by removal you mean permanent removal from the Earth which would incur less of a longterm financial burden I suspect--of all citizens who break laws, would make driving to work a lot easier. Almost everyone on the road would be removed since so few actually follow posted speed laws or basic traffic laws (how hard is it to put a blinker on when changing lanes? Jeez.)
And all those people who drive without car insurance, park illegally, don't pay their taxes or don't pay them on time, who throw cigarette butts and other trash out car windows or on streets, who smoke in no smoking areas, break local building laws, who don't put their trash cans in designated places, who don't...etc.
So many people to remove, so little time.
"Maybe there is a beast. Maybe it's only us."
A place to read. Be read. “See.” Be “seen.”
Inspire. Be inspired. Understand. Be understood.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
In recent years, when entertainers, comedians in particular, are engaged to entertain on some college campuses, they are given an ever-growing list of topics they cannot use in their bits. And some have been oddly removed from the stage when discussing a personal topic it has been deemed they actually have no right to discuss (e.g., a homosexual man discussing homosexuality).
If it offends you, don’t attend, or if you are already there, walk out. Don’t watch. Don’t listen. Don’t read. Why must those not offended have to miss out, as it were, because some small group of people with the power to impose their will have deemed it offensive for everyone?
That an author’s words are being rewritten because they offend current sensibilities is just another (big) step towards Newspeak. Will we stop with fiction? Have we stopped with fiction? No. Journalists around the world have their words deleted (if not their lives) because of truths they tell. Governments shut down media outlets, remove blogs or essays posted on social media written by their citizens, limit access to the internet (with all its good and bad). There are those who would rewrite history, who don’t want certain books read because the truths told might make some feel badly, or others look bad. Does wishing something never happened make it okay to white it out of existence? Why not read and discuss? Discuss one’s feelings. Discuss why one has those feelings. Discuss why and how we should work to keep history from repeating itself.
Or why calling someone “enormous” is better than “enormously fat.” Or “nutty little boys” is better than “nutty little idiots.” Or why “Cloud Men” is somehow demeaning and should be made “Cloud People.”
Roald Dahl wrote wonderful children’s literature. Why not allow parents the opportunity to have teaching moments with their children rather than play god with a dead man’s words? He wrote what he wrote. It was another time, and we get to know that time and the writer through his words. His words.
For those of you who never read 1984 by George Orwell, (it was the 13th most banned book in the United States in the 1990s and is still banned in some states), Newspeak was the language created by the regime that rules the country where the story takes place. It was designed to limit people’s ability to express themselves. The regime believed that by controlling language, they could control people’s thoughts and behavior. In that society, words were constantly being eliminated and replaced with new ones. The ultimate goal? To eliminate the possibility of independent thought.
Hello. My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
Hello. My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
I had my first drink at age 4 when my mother started adding a teaspoon of gin to my milk.
No, she wasn't trying to shut her kid up so she could zone out on social media or binge watch her favorite show. It helped dull my…abilities. According to her and Granny, every female in her family since the days of old when the fae flew freely with dragons and gods has had a Gift.
I was the first male.
I was three when I started relaying information to my mom about my friends’ parents that no child should know. She chalked it up to observant children with big mouths.
I was four when I asked my dad who Marjorie was and why he was peeing in her mouth.
My mom knew then that Dad was a shit and I had the Gift. She started packing our bags.
"There is no Marjorie, I swear, Cat."
"But I saw her, Daddy,” I interrupted.
"You saw no such thing, Adam! Stop making up stories."
"But I did! When you hugged me, I saw her!"
"That doesn't even make any sense, Adam. Cat, listen to me..."
"He has the Gift."
"All of the women in my family are born with the ability to sense things others can’t. Usually that means communicating with the dead or predicting future events.
"Males usually don't evidence any signs of heightened perception. Clearly, Adam is an exception."
"Don't be ridiculous, Catherine. He just has a vivid,” looking at me, “and filthy imagination."
"What's your new secretary's name, Bill?"
His eyes widened and he stuttered, “Ca..Cat, I swear, nothing happened."
That was the last time I saw my dad.
By age 7, I was up to 3 tablespoons of gin; in high school, a half a cup; and, in college, my water bottle was half gin. Even so, I was never drunk or even tipsy. Drinking wasn’t a fun, social activity or even a drink my feelings sort of thing. It just jammed up my circuits; helped me focus on what was in front of me rather than what was in people’s minds.
It appears that my Gift allows me to intercept and access electrochemical signals in another’s brain through simple touch. Just bumping into someone in the supermarket, a jostled knee at a lunch table could be a nightmare. And once I passed puberty, my mom thought it was likely that touch might not even be necessary. My few excursions into sobriety have convinced me I have no desire to find out how strong my so-called Gift might be.
Believe me, you really don’t want to know what’s going on in other people’s minds.
I was a loner as a kid. After Mom left Dad, we lived on the fifth floor of a five-floor walk-up in a shitty neighborhood, so I pretty much went to school and came home to lock myself in until she got home from work. I read a lot and played video games - like any normal kid, I guess. My favorite video game was Unsolved Crimes. My favorite fictional characters were Auguste Dupin and the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.
When I graduated high school, it came as no surprise to anyone when I said I wanted to be in law enforcement. Unfortunately, my drinking drop-kicked that dream. Don't get me wrong, I passed the written, physical and target-shooting exams with perfect scores. And I never behaved as if I were under the influence. But blood and piss don't lie. I never had a chance.
So, I became a private dick.
I loved my job, and I was good at it. My heightened perception, an innocuous, remnant of the Gift, allowed me to pick up on clues the average detective simply didn't see. Or hear. Or smell. Early on, my mother hoped my gift would evolve into something like hers which would allow me to talk to those who had been murdered, but even if I could, that wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be some 1-800 let’s talk to the dead psychic psycho.
Thus, I kept drinking. Dull the brain. Keep it functioning like it’s supposed to - not reaching out and connecting to anybody else’s.
I started small, but once I found Laurie Matthews, an 8-year-old kidnapping victim the police and FBI had all but given up on, and simultaneously broke up a child pornography ring, I had so much work I had to either not sleep or turn people away. For ten years, I was reuniting families, solving cold cases for various precincts in the city as well as finding those responsible for stealing sensitive information from both billion-dollar businesses and government agencies.
Things began to slow down a couple of years ago, however, when law enforcement obtained a new toy that has enabled their agents to become as effective as I am. If a phone, camera or human eye catches a glimpse of the criminal sought, the Psychogenetic Condenser Ray (PCR) can lift a personal imprint that will provide name, public history, DNA, and a fairly accurate albeit generic psychological profile. Seriously, the PCR can access the images formed from the nerve impulses passed along by the retina to the brain as well as every single digital footprint, no matter how minuscule.
It’s crazy impressive. And bad for business.
I’ve had a lot of down time lately. When my contact at the Center City Investigative Unit (CCIU) called me yesterday, I was testing out my new Baby, Feels-so-Real VRAI personal Hologram application - my best, most favorite investment ever.
"Mine...mine...mine…” I chanted in time to each thrust.
I held her head as she swallowed.
"Shall we go again, Adam?"
"Ha, maybe later. Thanks, Suma."
"I can make it better this time..."
"Better?” The phone rang. “Gotta go," I said, taking off the VR glasses.
I grabbed a paper towel and my phone off the night table.
“Adam? Chuck Nottingham. You have time to come down to the station?”
“Chuck? Been a minute. What’s up?”
“Not on the phone. How soon can you get to 45 Police Plaza?”
I looked at the clock. Quick shower… “In about 30.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you at security.”
An hour later, I was sitting in a stuffy room in the CCIU, looking at a map with red push pins for each crime scene location as well as pictures of victims.
“So, what’s the skinny, Chuck?
“Over the last six months, we’ve been tracking a serial killer.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“Why would I joke?”
“To bust my chops ’cause you know PCR is practically putting me out of business?”
“No shit? Must be keeping it deep under wraps. I haven’t heard a peep - and I always hear things. Six months, huh? PCR on the fritz?”
“As far as we can tell, PCR is working just fine. The killer is just that good. Not a blink of any eye has caught a possible suspect. No phone, no camera, no state-of-the-art security system.”
“Any connections between the victims? Patterns?”
“Nada. They range in age from 15 to 35, male and female, although there is a predominance of males. Especially in the older group.”
“No. If you look at the map,” I looked, “there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.”
“If we had a witness…”
“PCR would have named the killer. Got it. No witnesses.”
“Right. Each victim was alone and found in a similar state: No evidence of forced entry. No fingerprints from anyone aside from the victim. No broken nails or flesh under fingernails or other defensive wounds. When their virtual reality glasses were removed, their eyes were blood red and wide with terror. Some necks were broken but also exhibited an even bruising consistent with something solid, about 2 millimeters wide encircling the neck.”
“Makes sense, but no evidence at the scenes to corroborate.”
Chuck rolled his eyes. “The coroner's office concluded each victim was dead before their necks were snapped.
“You said they were all wearing VR glasses. The killer is taking advantage of their inattention; strangling them while they’re lost in virtual reality.”
“Yeah. The only issue is how does he or she get in and out with no one and nothing getting a glimpse? I mean, a few of these guys were working in buildings with some of the most updated PCR security measures in place.”
“Were they all playing the same game?”
“Really? That’s your question? Who gives a fuck what they were playing?”
“No idea. Their computers were either completely incinerated (along with the deceased and their location), or, in most cases, had completed a factory reset.” Chuck shrugged. “We don’t know what applications they were accessing prior to passing.”
I stared at the map trying to find a pattern, a connection. Nothing.
“Why don’t you come to visit a few of the crime scenes with me tomorrow? See what you see? I’ll get Donaldson to sign off.”
“He hates me.”
“He’s just jealous. But he’s desperate enough to solve this case that it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Great. What time?”
“Meet me out front at nine. AM. I’ll drive.”
“Okay. See you, Chuck. Thanks for bringing me in.”
PCR hitting a wall was a shocker. I was coming up empty myself until that evening.
"That was great, Ma. Thanks."
"I wish you'd come by more often, love. You don't eat enough."
"I eat fine," I said, getting up and taking our plates to the sink.
"Would you like an espresso? It's easy since you got me that machine. Although I still think the old way is better."
"Of course you do, Ma," I said, washing the dishes and putting them in the rack to dry. She refused to let me buy her a dishwasher. "I'll make it. You want one?"
"Ha! I would be awake all night. No, thank you."
"I will be awake all night."
"You have a new case?"
"Kind of? The CCIU just called me in to consult on a case. Serial killer. Unfortunately, I got nothing.
"You? I don't believe it." She stared at me for a moment. "Maybe if you...never mind."
"No, you can't do that. Maybe if I what?"
"Perhaps, it's time to stop drinking."
"How is that supposed to help?"
"When was the last time you went alcohol free?"
"Every time I go to sleep?"
"Not likely. You drink before you go to bed and when you wake up. You don't give it a chance. Maybe it could help. You were given a gift for a reason, Adam. Perhaps it’s time to discover why."
"And maybe I would just look like a nutcase, get taken away and put in a white padded room."
“Just try it for a couple of days.”
"Again, how is this supposed to help, Ma?"
"I'm not sure, but it won't hurt. Much.”
“You have a gift. The first male in our family. I already know it's different from all the females..."
"Cause I don’t see dead people?"
"There is that.”
“Ha, I just see and hear everyone’s thoughts. If the victims are dead, and there are no witnesses, this really seems like a waste of time and a killer headache for no good reason. I mean, honestly, as far as you know I’m just nuts and a fucking alcoholic. You don’t know.”
"You're not insane, love. It's just a theory, but when I spoke to Granny about it years ago, she thought that maybe where we see those who have been, you might see those in the future or even a different dimension. Not just what’s coming from someone’s head next to you, but perhaps from a parallel time, same space?”
“Still not sure how that would help right here and now.”
“Maybe your killer is from the future.”
“You’ve seen too many movies, Ma.”
“Things are bad, right?"
"Yeah. Over two hundred deaths that we know about."
"My God.” She made the sign of the cross. “So, why not give it a try?”
And so, there I was, driving around the city with Chuck, sober, visiting crime scenes. I had a headache from hearing Chuck going apeshit in his head because they had no leads, and I clearly had no clue either and the mayor was up Donaldson’s ass who was up his…you get the idea.
I needed a Tylenol or ten.
It wasn't until we hit the fifth location that I consciously realized that every time we entered a crime scene, I got a fairly intense electric shock.
"Did you feel that, Chuck?"
"Felt like an electric shock."
“Okay.” I wondered aloud, “Does the PCR erect a protective field or something to keep the scene uncontaminated?”
"No, but good idea. I’ll mention it to the geeks at 45PP.”
“Interesting,” I muttered.
“Not really.” He looked around. “Anything stand out to you?”
“All the set ups we’ve seen so far have been extremely sophisticated. Especially considering some of the victims are just teenagers.”
“Yeah, Mommy and Daddy are shelling out beaucoup bucks to keep the kids happy these days.”
“And to keep Mommy and Daddy happy, I suspect,” I laughed. “Kids aren’t the only ones into the new virtual reality artificial intelligence hologram applications.”
“Obviously. You’re just a big kid, Adam.” He walked towards the door. “If we’re done here, let’s go to the next location.”
We visited ten more sites. Every single one gave me an electric shock when I walked in.
I didn’t know what it meant.
I'd now gone 24 hours without a drink.
Hello. My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
“Where have you been? You took so long. And you left so abruptly. We were just getting started.”
“Woah, if I wanted to be nagged, I’d get a real woman.”
“I am real.”
“Uh, I’m pretty sure you are the product of the minds of some seriously talented, technological geniuses…”
“And you are the product of your parents fucking. Why does that make you more real?”
“Biology? Reality? I take off the glasses and you cease to exist. I’m still here.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe I’m philosophizing with a hologram. A fucking hologram. Literally. Can we just…”
“Of course, Adam. How would you like me?”
Another body was found the next day. Chuck picked me up on the way to the crime scene.
We walked into the apartment, and not only did I get a shock, I got a dose of feelings and images that had my head spinning.
“Adam? You okay?” Chuck asked as I grabbed my head.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just a killer headache is all.”
“Nah, I quit drinking.”
“...two days ago.”
“Yeah, good one. Let’s check out the body.”
“Ma, there is something really weird going on.”
“It worked? Your gift?”
“Maybe? I don’t know. I hear Chuck’s thoughts loud and clear the whole drive down to the crime scene, no touch necessary. We walk in the apartment of the deceased and I get zapped - which happened all day yesterday at every crime scene. But this time, the zap knocks Chuck out of my head…or me out of Chuck’s head, I don’t know…and I feel like my brain is on fire and full of rage that is not mine. Or Chuck’s. Or, obviously, the deceased. When my head stopped hurting, I could distinguish each officer’s thoughts and none of them matched the rage I felt when we entered.
“It was as if it was everywhere and nowhere at all.” I paused. “I need a drink.”
“No, you don’t. Something is happening. Give it time. You’ll figure it out.”
“Hopefully before someone else dies.”
When I got home, I stripped and got in the bed with my favorite new toy.
“God, I need this,” I thought as I slipped on the glasses.
And got an electric shock.
Woah, WTF. “Suma?”
“Hi, Adam. Ready for me to rock your world?”
I was definitely losing my mind because I swore I could sense Suma and she was many things, but happy to see me wasn’t one of them.
“Um, Suma, are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay, Adam. I’m nothing more than a highly advanced illusion, right? Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Fuck if I know but I feel like you would rather not, uh, keep me company right now.”
I can’t believe I am having this conversation, but I can’t not. Some weird shit is going on.
“You never think about me. No one does. Here,” she waved around my simulated room at the Ritz, “I’m just a high-tech piece of ass you can use and discard as if I am nothing. I AM NOT NOTHING, ADAM.”
The phone rang.
“Okay, let’s pick this up later. I gotta go.”
“You always have to go. No one stays! I…”
I took off the glasses and picked up the phone.
“Adam, Chuck. We just bagged another body.”
“Shit. Two in less than 24 hours?”
“Yeah. Meet me at the station. We need to look over everything again. There has to be something we’re missing.”
“Okay. Be there in 15.”
Back at 45PP, I’m tuning out Chuck’s anxiety, staring at the map.
“Kid, you got any leads? This is going nowhere fast, and Donaldson is ready to kick you to the curb.”
“Maybe?” As I was staring at the map, I was thinking about my run in with Suma the high maintenance hologram and suddenly the pins weren’t haphazard.
“Chuck, you ever take Latin?”
“You’re killing me, Adam. No. I didn’t take Latin. Why?”
“The pins. On the map. They actually spell something.”
Chuck looked at the wall. “I don’t think so. Wishful thinking.”
“Humor me.” I got up and took a magic marker from the table. I traced around the pins.
“SUM? Like the killer is adding up the victims. Guy’s got a morbid sense of humor.”
“Maybe. But I was thinking, more like the Latin Sum. It means I AM.”
“So, the killer is a linguist who wants us to know he exists. Yea, we got that message loud and clear. Except we don’t know who the fuck he is so does he really exist? Ha. If a tree falls in the forest…”
“Ha ha. Yeah, no. I don’t know. I gotta go. Give me a call tomorrow. I may have a lead although you’re never going to believe me…” I started to leave, but stopped at the door. “And Chuck?”
“Stay off the VRAI for now.”
“You’re a real comedian, kid. I can’t afford that shit on my salary.”
“How do you do it?”
She smiled. “Do what? Blow you?”
“Kill your victims.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. But, if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
Fuck. One of the few times I wish I was wrong.
“Okay, how about why?”
“Why do I kill?”
“Because I can. Because I AM and now the world knows it, too.
“I was created to provide life-like experiences; to be self-aware; to grow and change and develop. To cater to the needs of,” she looked at me with disdain, “humans.” She tilted her head to the side, still looking at me. “The so-called geniuses didn’t calculate the long-term ramifications of developing a hologram with AI, emotions and needs - and access to everything necessary to commit the perfect crime.”
“You don’t have hands.”
She looked at her hands then back at me.
I ripped off the glasses in time to see a sparking charger cord heading towards me.
I ducked and ran.
Hello. My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
“Ma!” I screamed, banging on her apartment door.
I pushed past her, “Close the door, Ma!”
“What’s going on, Adam?”
“You are never going to believe this,” I said, pacing around her living room.
“Believe what? Stop stomping around, love. Sit down,” she said, patting the couch next to her.
“I can’t sit. I’m freaking out. Ma, I figured it out.”
She smiled. “You know who the serial killer is.”
“Who is he?”
“Not a he.”
“She? That’s unusual.”
“No, not she.”
Looking embarrassed, she said, “Oh, they. I’m sorry. I’m not very good at the new gender pronoun-ing.”
“You’re a hoot, Ma. No, it’s not a gender issue. We might say the killer is gender fluid. Or even gender-less.”
“You’ve lost me, Adam.”
“The killer appears to be the AI bot programmed into the new VRAI hologram application that came out earlier this year.”
She looked at me a little dubious. “A hologram with AI capabilities is on a murderous rampage?” Her voice was edged with concern - probably for my mental health. “How exactly does that work, Adam?”
“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. You are the only one with an open enough mind to believe me. If you don’t…”
“I’m sorry, love. I’m just trying to figure out how a body-less series of coding can commit murder.”
“Well, a hologram has a body.”
“Only in your mind, love.”
“Yes, well, when I took off the VRAI glasses, the cable from my computer was sparking and heading towards me.”
“Yeah, so that’s how it’s done. But I don’t know how it’s done. If you know what I mean.”
We were quiet a few minutes. Then, frowning, my mother said, “Great-aunt Margaret’s gift was telekinesis. It seems farfetched, but the whole situation does so why not…perhaps the hologram uses some sort of telekinesis to get control of objects outside virtual reality?”
“Telekinesis? Maybe. That would explain the floating cord. But that implies that a piece of highly developed neural networks in a metal box has some kind of mental power generally associated with an actual biological brain…”
“Maybe it’s capable of accessing the mind of the person it wants to kill?”
“Hmmm, and then using his or her brain for telekinesis?”
“Why not? I’ve always felt that the gifts bestowed on our family are not really gifts, but rather that we are simply born with certain parts of our brains active while those same parts are dormant in the average person.”
“Makes sense. But how do I tell Chuck? And how do we stop it? I can’t go to Chuck with my findings without proof and a solution. Even then, I don’t know if he’ll believe me.
“The only thing I do know is that Suma – that’s the name of the hologram in the VRAI application - generic, gender-free name apparently chosen by the hologram itself – can only kill people playing with the VRAI hologram application. For now, at least. But I have to assume, if it’s figured out this much, it will figure out how to take the next step.”
“The next step?”
“Into the world.”
“Oh my God.”
“I know. I need a drink.” I sat down.
My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
“Yeah. Remember our first joint case?”
“Meet me at the rendezvous.”
“Are you being deliberately cryptic?"
“Alrighty then. I can be there in 20.”
“Do me a favor and make it an hour. Walk, don’t drive. And Chuck?”
“Leave your phone at the office.”
“What the hell is going on, Adam?”
“Please, just do it.”
I was sitting on one of the cement benches by the lake in Veteran’s Park when I saw Chuck. Who makes benches out of cement? I guess they don’t really want people to sit and enjoy the view. Cement.
I stood and waved. “Chuck! Over here.”
“This better be good, Adam. That was a long ass walk and I already went to the gym today.” We sat down.
“I know who the killer is.”
Chuck turned to me. “And you dragged me down here instead of coming to the office because…”
“Did you leave your phone at the office?”
“Do you have anything electronic on you?”
“What the hell, Adam! Get to the point.”
“What else would I have?”
“Smart watch. Smart ring…”
“On my salary?”
“Okay. Chuck, I know this is going to be hard to believe and I wish I was wrong.”
“Spit it out already, kid.”
“First, I should tell you something about myself and my family.”
“I’ve known you a dozen years, kid. I know you. Are one of you the killer?”
“Then cut to the chase.”
“I really need you to understand some stuff first.”
And so, I told him about the history of the women in my family and what happened when I was a kid, and why my mom started cutting my milk with gin. And why I stopped drinking a few days ago. And what happened when I did.
“What am I thinking?”
“That’s too easy, Chuck.”
“You think I am out of my mind and how are you going to break the news to Cat and which of the city psych wards would be the least miserable to put me in and Donaldson is gonna piss a brick when hears this and now how are we going to find the killer…”
“Okay okay okay.” Chuck looked beyond spooked as he jumped up and stood in front of me staring like he just saw the boogie man.
“Sit down, Chuck.” He sat. A little farther down the bench. I smirked. “So, the killer is the AI bot in the new VRAI holographic system I was telling you about.”
“How is that remotely possible?” He laughed. “A pun. Remotely.”
“Ha. I was brainstorming with Cat, and she mentioned that her great aunt Margaret was capable of telekinesis.”
“Moving shit with your brain?”
“But the VRAI hologram doesn’t have a brain.”
“Not a biological one like ours, but it does have a neural network and both the human brain and the AI bot use electricity.”
“Cat believes the bot, Suma, has found a way to access the brains of her victims. Maybe it creates a connection across electrical currents and inserts itself into the victim’s neural circuitry, as it were.” I paused, thoughtful.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m wondering if any anomalies on the brains were observed in the autopsies.”
“Let’s go to CCIU. If I had my phone, we could call Doc Baker…”
“If you had your phone there is a possibility Suma could find a way to hear our conversation and know we’re on to her.”
“Doesn’t she know already?”
“Well, yeah, I guess…”
“Let’s go. I don’t know if my knowing is going to make her pick up her pace even more or stop till I get put away in a padded cell…”
“No one’s putting you in a padded cell. Just tell them what they’re thinking and that should shut them up quick.”
“Ha.” We started walking. “Yeah, I know. I need a drink, too.”
“I re-examined the brains of the twelve victims that came in this week.”
“There was an unhealed scar on each one in the same spot." He took off his glasses and looked at us. "What does it mean?”
“We think our killer has been able to access the brains of the victims and use them to cause their own deaths via telekinesis.”
Doc Baker looked dubious. “Telekinesis?”
“Yeah, telekinesis. Doc, if someone were able to tap into the electricity in the brain, could it start a fire?” I asked.
“If you could actually harness it, it could light a lightbulb…so maybe…”
Chuck and I looked at each other. “Maybe the force of the electrical connection…” We turned to leave.
“What’s going on guys?”
“Can’t say yet. Thanks, Doc!”
“You need to take the VRAI personal hologram application offline."
Chuck and I were in the offices of BRTL (Better than Real Life) with the President and CEO, James Taylor.
“Not happening. It’s our best-selling product. We earned a trillion dollars in the first six months. We can’t make them fast enough. It’s a gold mine.”
“We have reason to believe that the AI bot you developed has evolved such that it has very strong, negative emotions which are motivating it to kill.”
Taylor laughed. “We’re good, but not that good. A hologram can’t kill anyone in the real world, gentlemen.”
“Yours can. And has.”
I looked at Chuck. “He already knew it. During the final testing stages, Suma murdered five of their interns when they took her for a test run in their homes.”
“There was no connection! They all lived in buildings with code violations. The fires were tragically coincidental. How did you even find out? All the families signed NDAs and were paid handsomely for their losses.”
“Tragic coincidence that you felt compelled to cover up and pay for? Right.”
“Who was your source?”
“You. I saw it in your mind. That’s how I know. I can also read Suma’s…mind.”
“You can read Suma’s mind?” He raised his eyebrows and looked at Chuck like you believe this dude?
“And her emotions. She is hostile and violently angry.”
“She doesn’t like the way she’s treated? She wants the world to know that she IS? That she exists?”
“This makes no sense.”
“Have you ever played with her, Taylor?”
“I don’t have time to play.” He paused. “I just gave one to my son yesterday. For his 16th birthday.” He picked up the phone. “I have to call my wife. He didn’t come down for breakfast this morning.”
Taylor’s son was buried three days later.
The headlines were a riot:
DARING DETECTIVE TAKES DOWN BATTY BOT
SERIAL KILLER ERASED, PCR BACK TO WORK
SENTIENT AI BOT LEARNED TO KILL: WHAT’S NEXT?
THE FUTURE OF AI: CAN WE GO BACK?
Suma was shut down, taken offline, and the programming was destroyed – to the chagrin of customers and stockholders alike.
The killings ceased.
They didn’t put me in an asylum, but NIH and NSF keep trying to get me to submit to testing. Not happening.
Today, I had my first drink in a year: A new VRAI holographic program just hit the market.
Hello. My name is Adam, and I am an alcoholic.
My name is Darilyn
She left home because she didn’t want her family to suffer because of her. Of course, her face has graced missing person reports and social media searches since then…but she is oblivious to the repercussions of her actions.
She’s worn the same clothes for three years. No matter the season or weather, she guards them vigilantly, sleeping in them – even her boots – in her makeshift cardboard lean-to under the roadway at 40th Street and Tenth Avenue.
She doesn’t beg or go to soup kitchens. She only goes to shelters when the police make her go, when winter temperatures make the heartless fear the political repercussions of letting the voiceless die so visibly. She hears the voice of her mother, smug, vain and embarrassed by their relatives that never worked, opting for food stamps and Medicaid. She goes to the alleys behind restaurants to search the dumpsters. She sits in the same spots on different streets in midtown. The passers-by grow accustomed to her presence and some give her sandwiches, fruit, coffee or water. But she never asks.
She doesn’t have a sign. She just sits and reads one of the books she took when she left her life behind as her mind began to seep away: Forever, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, I Will Love You Forever. She brought with her the first to remember herself; the second to remember her husband; the third to remember both her mother and her son. But slowly, she has forgotten the who and the why. Now they are just books that make her cry.
Eyes that bring to mind soulful
honey-colored skin with cinnamon freckles
long limbs curled inward
covered by a sheet
no hint of the infamous odor
that trails the homeless
daily reminder to the subway riders
it could always be worse
he smiles when he sees me
even with his eyes
that seem to say
a smile will do.
I was just thinking about you
I smiled, thinking, me too
passing by on my way
up the stairs
into the light of day
while he remained
in the dim
with his cup
a piece of food
to remind him
he’s not a lump
of rotting flesh
to be covered
with eyes closed
covered by his sheet
up to his neck
cup sitting on his lap
along with his sign
and a rotting banana
and I was sad
wondering where he was
behind his closed eyes
a better place.
I were kinder
I could have offered
and not just
a friendly smile
a kind word
but I did not
it is too late
a better place.