Forced Perspectives – Snippet 23

Castine got unsteadily to her feet. “I said I could sleep on the couch.”

“You’re the guest, you get the bed. I’ll put fresh sheets on it.” He stood up and walked down the narrow hall to the shelf that served as a linen closet. Behind him he could hear Castine humming “What a Wonderful World.”


The tall windows in the bottom three floors of Clifton’s Cafeteria were outlined in red and yellow neon, and the marquee projecting out over the Broadway sidewalk held back the Los Angeles night with a white glare that was reflected in the roofs of passing cars. Looking down on the pillars and cornices from a fire-escape balcony on the fifth level of the parking structure across the street, Elisha Ragotskie thought the place looked like one of the movie palaces of the 1920s.

He stepped back through the broad window opening, into the humbler glow of widely-spaced lights in the cement ceiling. Not many cars were parked on this level yet, and he wheeled his bicycle into the shadows behind a van parked next to the north wall. It was a second-hand Schwinn ten-speed bicycle, with canvas pannier bags, that he had bought for cash twenty minutes ago at El Maestro Bicycle Shop on Main Street; only three long diagonal blocks from here, but his white shirt was still damp with sweat and he was shivering in the evening breeze that whispered through the big open windows in the street-side wall. He had thrown away the red suspenders.

He was carrying two cell phones: his Samsung and a new prepaid TracFone. By touch he pried open the back of the Samsung and took its battery out of his shirt pocket; and when he clicked the battery into place in the phone, snapped the cover shut and thumbed the phone on, the screen glowed sky blue in the shadows behind the van. When he touched the Messages icon, the top text was from Agnes — she had finally replied to his several texts.

OK, read her text from an hour ago, where? And what did you do?

He entered the words, You pick – one of our places – familiar – food, drinks — whatever you’ve heard, I can explain. Trust.

Her reply was immediate: OK — n/naka on Overland.

Sweating in spite of the cold, he tapped in, Feeling more oxidental – the Rose? The Rose was in Venice, and he knew she had been to the beach with the twins today, and wouldn’t relish driving back out there.

Occidental, you mean, came her reply. Too far. Tesse, Clifton’s, Pizzana?

He exhaled in relief, and tapped in, Pizzana sounds good and sent it; then immediately typed in, No, Clifton’s is better. Drinks at the 2nd floor bar — alone, off the record!

He had first kissed her in that mellowly lit cathedral of a bar, just a few steps from the huge redwood tree that extended up through all the floors, at a table beside a stuffed deer in a glassed-in diorama.

Agreed, came her reply. When?

I can be there in half an hour.

See you then.

He turned off the phone and leaned back against the wall, breathing hard. She might come alone, he told himself, as she agreed to. Maybe I still mean a bit more to her than oblivion does.

Agnes Loria had been a philosophy major at UCLA when Ragostskie met her, and she had already been inclined toward the pragmatic sorts of mysticism — she had progressed from the psychic training methods described in Alexandra David-Neel’s Magic and Mystery in Tibet to Guillaume Cendre-Benir’s Technomancy and the post-modern techniques of chaos magic, and claimed to have seen the future through the Burroughs method of reading random reassemblies of cut-up texts. She said the future was blurry.

They had met at the Conscious Life Expo at the LAX Hilton in February of last year. She had been standing outside by the valet parking line, smoking a cigarette — “I’ve moved past any concern for my individual body,” she had told him when he asked her about the cigarette. He had found her individual body compellingly attractive, though — she was tall, her figure willowy and athletic, and her green eyes under chestnut bangs seemed deeper and more expressive than those of anyone else he’d ever met.

He had lately moved down to Los Angeles from San Jose, along with the rest of Harlowe’s ChakraSys team, and he dropped a few hints about their work and their goal — and Agnes had seized on it. She had described their meeting as synchronicity, and within a week the two of them had moved into an Echo Park apartment together.

And at first Agnes had found him fascinating. Many of his interests were in fields new to her, and she was a voracious pupil. Poetry and painting left her baffled, but semiconductor electronics and the formal logic of computer coding excited her enormously. The only classical music she had ever heard had been snippets in movie soundtracks and advertisements, and she gratefully followed Ragotskie’s guidance into the works of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wagner…though she hadn’t cared for the austerity of Bach or Vivaldi. She told him one time that the great symphonies were superior to any literature, since they were emotional but not discernibly about people, and didn’t involve the language and vocabulary of the listener.

But she had progressed in the Singularity disciplines faster than Ragotskie himself. Ego-death, the dark night of the soul, was something she seemed to crave; unlike Ragotskie, who, despite his best efforts, still clung to a lot of affective aspects of his particular existence — especially his growing affection for the particular person who was Agnes Loria.

She had soon come to find his feelings for her, and her own feelings for him, “regressively indiv,” and a week ago she had moved out of the apartment, and wouldn’t tell him where she was staying now. She yearned to subsume herself in the Singularity, the big egregore that was taking form from the minds of the group — “gestating and gestalting,” as Harlowe put it.

Ragostskie had been resolutely willing to let his own personality be dissolved in the transcendently greater entity which would be the egregore, but he had found that he could not bear the prospect of Agnes Loria ceasing to be specifically and fascinatingly herself.

And so today he had broken ranks — and how. He had thrown away his chance at a kind of immortality, not to mention his career with ChakraSys, and possibly his life — and made himself the enemy of Simon Harlowe and probably of Agnes Loria too. And for nothing — he had used up his cyanide and lost his gun, and when he had tried to use the bloody sock pendulum to find the Castine woman again, he’d discovered that the job really called for a second person, to navigate; the necessity of pulling into a parking lot every few blocks to consult the thing had made it hopeless.

Now he shook off those uncomfortable memories and pocketed his phones and stepped out from behind the van. He crossed the cement floor and stepped over the window sill and stood again in the chilly breeze on the fire-escape balcony, looking down at the traffic on Seventh Street and the glowing façade of Clifton’s. He would recognize Agnes’ station wagon when it turned in to the parking structure entrance on the street directly below; he would recognize Harlowe’s gray Chevy Tahoe SUV, too, if it were to show up, but Harlowe would surely still be pursuing Castine and Vickery, even without the bloody sock as a pointer. And he might find them.