Forced Perspectives – Snippet 40
“Under the bridge last night,” Vickery went on thoughtfully, “one of the ghosts said, ‘Quoth the raven.'”
Castine inhaled audibly. “Good Lord, you’re right. I forgot that.”
“I thought the next word was nevermore, like in the poem, but it might have been –“
“Egregore,” said Castine. “Maybe we should have talked to that old guy in the Dumpster.”
“I tried to, remember? And anyway, it was a popular song back then — that old guy probably rotates it with ‘Eve of Destruction’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone.'”
Castine shrugged and shook her head.
“Songs of the time,” explained Vickery. “I think I’ll stay on freeways here, 10 to the 110 to the 101.”
“Very binary sort of freeways,” Castine observed.
Vickery laughed. “I wish. Ones and zeroes. But they’re generally fractional, if not downright fractal. Sometimes there’s a lot of free wills moving along them, fast, sometimes a few, sometimes a lot but slow. It’s a bunch of unbalanced forces, fluctuating interderminism, never in equilibrium. Even without the Labyrinth to fall into anymore, they’re dicey.”
Castine was gripping the seat belt that crossed her from shoulder to hip. “You figure you’re okay driving? Fast?”
Vickery opened his mouth, then closed it. “I’d let you drive, but the old-house vision hits you too. We have to travel — if I start to sense two girls on a boat, I’ll swerve straight to the median or the shoulder.”
“That’s — not a very good plan.”
“What else is there? We’ve got to get around, and a taxi driver wouldn’t do things we might need to do.”
Castine was still holding onto the seat belt. “I wish I’d gone to Confession before we got into all this.”
Vickery got off the 101 at Highland and drove down to make a left turn on Hollywood Boulevard, and he parked in a lot off Las Palmas. Boardner’s was on Cherokee, on the other side of the parking lot. He and Castine rolled the front windows down to match the rear ones, San Francisco style, and he opened the trunk and lifted out Ragotskie’s envelope.
He handed it to Castine and tucked the car keys between the envelope and her right hand.
“Wait here by the car,” he said. “I don’t trust Supergirl absolutely. I’m going to go in and order a beer. If I don’t see any bad guys and nothing happens, I’ll come out and salute. If I’m not out in three minutes, or if I step out and make any other gesture, or if anybody seems to pay attention to me and follow me in, toss that in the car and drive away. You know how to drive evasive if you have to, and the bloody sock is in the trunk, so they can’t track you that way anymore. You remember how to get to my place outside Barstow?”
She nodded, tight-lipped.
“Go there — evasive! — and I’ll catch up when I can. The trailer key’s on the ring.”
“I’ve got a gun and I’m trained,” she said, “and we’re allies. Friends, even.”
She spread the fingers of her right hand, and the keys fell onto the asphalt.
Vickery stared at her expressionlessly for several seconds, then bent to pick up the keys.
“Okay,” he said, straightening. “Both or none it is. Allies — friends.” He gave her a grudging smile. “I won’t forget again.”
He took the envelope from her and led the way across the parking lot. “Three-sixty,” he said over his shoulder.
She was already glancing behind them and to the sides, and didn’t reply. No cars slowed or sped up as they crossed the two lanes of Cherokee, and Vickery didn’t see anybody sitting in the visible parked cars, and when he pulled open the door of Boardner’s nobody at the bar showed any special alertness as they stepped into the dim interior and made their way down the row of booths to one at the far end. Scents of gin and leather floated on the cool air.
Vickery laid the envelope on the table between them, and looked up at the waitress who had walked to the booth. He recognized her from their visit the day before.
“Today I’ll have a Kahlua and milk, please,” Castine told her. “Caffeine,” she explained to Vickery.
“Could I have the two Coorses together this time,” Vickery said. “It’s been that kind of day.”
When the waitress had smiled sympathetically and moved away, Vickery slid the contents of the envelope out on the table. He picked up a booklet that was on top and riffled through it. It was old, the staples separating from the tanned pages.
“It’s a coloring book,” he said quietly after he had flipped half of the pages, “like Ragotskie told us. Caricatures, very ’60s — Dylan, Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce.”
“He said Harlow printed one last year, and distributed it,” said Castine, peering past Vickery’s elbow at the thing. “With some picture from this old one reprinted in it.”
“They’re dumb pictures.” He flipped to the back page.
“What’s that supposed to be?” She touched the page. Printed on it was an intricate pattern of tightly curved lines.
“I don’t know,” said Vickery. “A maze?”
“No, look, there’s a figure in the middle of it. It’s a bird, like a hawk, with a human head. And it’s got a little beard like a goat.”
Vickery felt a chill along his forearms. “It looks kind of like…” he began.
And Castine finished the thought: “An Egyptian hieroglyph.” She slapped the coloring book closed, sending bits of brown paper flying. “Ragotskie said don’t stare at it!”
Vickery sat back. “Does a picture in a coloring book count as an artifact?”
Castine slid a newer-looking pamphlet out of the sheaf of papers. “This must be the one Harlowe printed up.” She opened several pages at random; it did appear to be a coloring book. “It’s published by ChakraSys,” she said, “all pictures of smiling people doing exercises or sitting on the floor eating bananas. Ah — but check out the back page.”
On the back page was the same convoluted pattern they had seen in the old coloring book, with the same human-headed hawk figure at the center of it. As soon as Vickery nodded in recognition, she closed the book.
A sheet of paper was paper-clipped to the back of the coloring book, and Castine pulled it free and laid it on the table. Several curving lines had been drawn on it, with an X close to one line.
“A map,” said Castine.
“With no orientation at all, not even an arrow to point north.”
“Well, that’s a street or highway,” said Castine, touching a double line. “The single lines are smaller streets, probably.”
Vickery shrugged and laid it aside. “It’s no use unless you already know where it is.”
The waitress walked up to their booth with a tray, and set the Kahlua-and-milk and the beers on their table.
When he had thanked her and she had walked back to the bar, Vickery said, “Ragotskie says we should figure out what went wrong with that egregore in ’68, and make it happen again now.”
“Probably Harlowe knows what went wrong then,” said Castine. She paused to take a sip of her drink, and pointed at the printout pages.
Vickery picked up the sheaf of typescript that had been under the coloring books and looked at the top page.
“‘When DeMille learned what the set technician had done,'” he read quietly, “‘he excavated a long trench and had the entire City of the Pharaoh set — walls, gates, sphinxes and all — pulled down and buried. His explanation was that he didn’t want low-budget movie companies to come in later and use his costly sets in their own films — and in fact that probably was a factor in his decision. But his main purpose in obliterating the set was to be sure of burying the perilous image.'”