Forced Perspectives – Snippet 07

Taitz shifted uneasily. “Any luck following Castine?”

“No,” said Harlowe. “That blue car, whatever it was, simply turned in to an alley and disappeared. We had four cars circling fast around all these blocks, and up and down Beverly and Third — no sign of it.”

“We had a black hole incident here a minute ago,” said Taitz. “An old woman walked by us and said Elisha tried to poison Castine.”

Harlowe nodded, rubbing his chin. “Were you two holding hands?”

“No,” said Taitz.

“Well, you were standing close to each other, I imagine, and not moving. It’s not premature.” He raised his hand to preclude any objection. “Castine and Vickery are apparently traveling together, and,” he went on, patting a polished wooden box on the seat beside him, “we’ve got the bloody sock to see where she goes. Unless they get on a plane real quick, which isn’t likely, or that wasn’t Vickery she met, which also isn’t likely, we should have them both in the mix within the next few hours.”

“We’d better,” said Taitz. “Halloween’s only two days off, and if you haven’t got a pair of…communicators by then — do you think it’s even still possible to damp the whole show down and try for next year?”

Harlowe sat back and gave Taitz a benevolent smile. “Well, John, I tell you what. No, it’s not still possible. This thing is gonna take wing on the thirty-first whatever we do, and if we don’t have the right couple of people incorporated — our routers, our switchboard operators, our thalamus — then we’re all gonna be facets of one big cosmic imbecile. But,” and he eyed Taitz with something like cautious amusement as he went on, “if we don’t get Vickery and Castine for it, we can use the twins.”

Taitz squinted at him. “The twins? You mean your nieces?”

“I’ve had them in mind all along — lately as a fall-back. They’re a bit –”

“Crazy,” said Taitz flatly.

“Now now. They’re neurotic and deluded, but in directions that make them very suitable. I’d rather have Vickery and Castine, but the twins can do it.”

“You think everybody will…go along with that idea?” asked Taitz. “They’re all real serious about this thing.”

Harlowe’s genial expression slipped for a moment, and Taitz forced himself not to flinch at the blazing eyes in the momentarily slack face; then the serene smile was reassembled, and Harlowe said, softly, “I’m more serious than any of them, and I know more about it than any of them.”

Foster, looking out the window, had missed the momentary glare. “The twins,” he echoed wonderingly; then added, as he turned to his companions with a visible shudder, “At least Lexi and Amber want to be something besides themselves.”

Taitz sat back, still watching Harlowe. “Huh. I think we’d better find Vickery and Castine.”

Harlowe tapped the polished box on the seat. “The bloody sock has worked fine so far.”

The bloody sock. Taitz had seen Harlowe working the old white sock in the office on Sepulveda this morning, and it hadn’t so much looked bloody as just very dirty; but the brown stains on it were supposed to be Ingrid Castine’s blood, and she and Sebastian Vickery had experienced something last year — death and resurrection, according to some stories, or just a brief corporeal trip to the afterworld and back, according to others — something that made their souls oscillate irregularly, in a way normal souls did not, like a couple of Frequency Modulation radio transmitters in a world of Amplitude Modulation. And any samples of Castine’s FM blood would resonate in tune to the metaphorical transmitter, which was Castine herself, and be drawn to it.

Harlowe’s ambitious Singularity project required the participation of a nearly unique sort of pair, and, because of their crazy history, Ingrid Castine and Sebastian Vickery were ideal.

They were so desirable, in fact, that Harlowe had waited a dangerously long time in the hope of getting them. Constant monitoring of Castine had not been difficult — she worked in a government office in Washington D.C. and had an apartment in Gaithersburg — but after Elisha’s unsuccessful attempt to snatch Vickery in February, the man had effectively disappeared. The Singularity project was already in perilous gestation, but Harlowe had maddeningly postponed finding some other pair — because, it turned out, he had had his nieces in mind as an option all along. A dubious option, Taitz thought.

And then, just three days ago, Castine had placed the ad in the Los Angeles Times, and Harlowe had guessed that it was a message to Vickery, stating the time, but not the place, of a proposed meeting. The guess had been effectively confirmed when Castine booked a flight for today to Los Angeles: the city where she and Vickery had reportedly died and somehow been resurrected last year, and where Vickery had last verifiably been living. On her arrival at dawn, Castine had rented a car from Hertz at the airport…but had then unexpectedly done a fast lanes-crossing exit from the 405 freeway, shaking off the Singularity cars that had been following her, and she had not used her credit card since.

At that point the bloody sock had been the only hope of tracing her. Harlowe had bought the unsavory thing months ago from a freeway-side gypsy who claimed to have inherited it from another of that furtive tribe, and this morning Harlowe had wrapped the stiffened white sock around a stapler, for weight, and tied a string around it and, holding the free end of the string, dangled it like a pendulum over his desk.

It had consistently swung away from vertical toward the northeast.

And so four cars had set out at noon, driving up Venice Boulevard, with Harlowe right here in the Chevy Tahoe, holding the string and calling directions to Tony, the earnest young driver.

The pendulum had begun swinging more northward as they drove through Culver City, and at the Fairfax intersection the four cars had turned north; the pendulum had been tilting steadily northward then, but when they passed Melrose it had abruptly begun straining to the south, so they had all made U-turns.

And the pendulum had swung to the right, and then backward, as they passed a white Honda parked at the curb near Canter’s Delicatessen, and Taitz had recognized Ingrid Castine’s profile in the Honda as they had passed it.

Tony had managed to park the Tahoe SUV at the curb only a few spaces ahead of her, and the three other cars had sped on to find parking spaces nearby.

Castine had been an hour early for the probable 2 PM assignation, and after sitting in her car for twenty minutes she had started it again and driven south; but before Tony had been able to steer out into traffic after her, one of the men in the other cars reported that she had simply turned right on Oakwood and done a U-turn at the next street — and when she had got back to Fairfax she had turned left and found a space to park on the east side of the street, across from Canter’s. And after another fifteen minutes she had got out of her car and walked to the crosswalk.

And it had all been going as planned until Elisha got out of his surveillance car and went into the restaurant.

“Did Elisha try to poison Castine?” asked Taitz now, as the SUV crossed Third Street.

“I don’t know,” said Harlowe. “He put something in her water glass, and I knocked it over.” He opened the wooden box and lifted out the string-wrapped sock and stapler, and handed it to Taitz. “You track her for a while, my hands are shaky.”

Taitz reluctantly took hold of the bundle and unwound the string. The sock and the stapler were perceptibly warm, though the interior of the vehicle was nearly chilly; and of course the sock had never been washed, and he made a mental note to wash his hands at the earliest opportunity.

He held it up by the free end of the string, feeling both ridiculous and uneasy, and stared at it as it swung with the movement of the car. “I dunno, chief,” he said, “it seems to be swinging east more than anything else.”

“Take a left on Third Street, Tony,” said Harlowe, “and call the other drivers, tell them to catch up.”