Forced Perspectives – Snippet 24

But with any luck Castine and Vickery would elude Harlowe — Harlowe had certainly lost what he liked to call the elephant of surprise, and those two seemed adept at running and hiding — and then Ragotskie’s clumsy attempts at assassination would have accomplished his purpose after all, without his having to kill anybody. The egregore would fail without the IMPs, and Agnes would surely be able to free herself from it then, and remain the precious individual that she had always been — even though she’d have preferred it otherwise.

In order to emerge as a rational, self-consistent entity, the egregore would need to incorporate a reciprocating pair of special people — what Harlowe fancifully referred to as a couple of IMPs. IMP was an acronym for Interface Message Processor, which, in the early days of computers, was a kind of mini-computer that allowed many different sorts of computers to function together as a single network, and maximized internet communications. Routers served the purpose now.

The various minds that would constitute the emerging egregore would need to be able to function together as facets of a single entity, pulses that could be applied anywhere in the system at any time. The structure, the entity, would need IMPs.

Castine and Vickery would have been ideal. Their psychic foundations had been shifted by whatever it was that happened to them last year — Harlowe’s man Foster said they died and came back from the afterlife — and it had left them insecurely moored in now. Unlike normal people, Castine and Vickery were at least potentially in several moments at once, like figures in a time-lapse photograph. Integrated together into the egregore, they might very well have been able to operate across several seconds simultaneously, anticipate thought-signals that hadn’t even been sent yet, and make the egregore’s mentation instantaneous.

Ragotskie wished them well in their continued evasion of Simon Harlowe.

A car that looked like Agnes’ station wagon swung into view on the street below, and the breath caught in Ragotskie’s throat — but the car drove on past the parking entrance, and before it disappeared around the Seventh Street corner he saw that it was white, not yellow.

She might not appear at all, he thought. She might simply have called Harlowe and told him to find me at Clifton’s and deal with me.

But five minutes later a yellow station wagon slowed directly below, and it disappeared into the parking structure entrance. Ragotskie waited until he could hear the car’s tires squealing on the polished cement as it rounded the turns from one level up to the next, and then he hurried back to crouch beside the bicycle, between the van and the wall.

Soon he heard the rumbling of a car engine echoing on this level, and after a few seconds it switched off and he heard a door clank open. He raised his head enough to see through the van’s side windows, and it was Agnes, alone, closing the door of her car.

Ragotskie had to force himself not to stand up and speak to her.

She looked toward the fire escape, then turned and scanned the several parked cars; Ragotskie ducked down before her gaze swept the van. He heard her walk to the elevator in the far corner, and after a few seconds he heard the elevator doors open and then close.

She was about twenty minutes early.

Ragotskie stood up. He was actually considering wheeling his bicycle back into the elevator and going down to meet her at the restaurant after all — he had bought a cable and lock at El Maestro, and could secure the bicycle to a lamp post — when he heard another car coming up the ramps.

He hesitated, then crouched behind the van again.

The engine noise expanded out of the ramp tunnel, and then a car idled to a halt on this level, and this time he heard two doors open and close, and the unmistakable knock of Harlowe’s cowboy boot heels.

“He won’t be here for a while yet,” came Harlowe’s well remembered voice. “Taitz, wait here, you know his car — watch this level and the ones immediately below and above, and taser him if he shows up. Foster, you come with me.”

Ragotskie heard footsteps knock across the cement floor in the direction of the elevator, and soon he heard its doors open and close again. He managed, an inch at a time, to shift his feet and sit down without making a sound. After a while he was wrinkling his nose at the scent of cigarette smoke on the breeze that found its way to the space behind the van.

Ragotskie imagined Taitz standing out there in the middle of the floor, or leaning against the balcony rail with his back to the street, the olive-green windbreaker tight across his shoulders, his narrow eyes watching the ramps and the stairs and the elevator doors. His right hand might be in his pocket, holding the pistol-grip of the taser.

Ragotskie shivered as he recalled breaking the window of Harlowe’s SUV and stealing the wooden box with the bloody sock in it. Taitz must certainly be angry.

By his estimation ten minutes passed before Taitz moved to the stairs; and the scuff of his footsteps was diminishing downward.

When Ragotskie judged that Taitz had reached the bottom of the stairs and was looking around at the cars and the ramp on that level, he quickly pulled out both of his phones, and he tapped the number of the TracFone burner phone into his Samsung; sweat made rainbow sparkles on the screen. When the burner phone jingled, he hastily swiped the screen to open the connection, then stepped out from behind the van and hurried across the floor to Agnes’ car.

It was locked, but he scuttled around and crouched by the front bumper, and he held both phones in one hand while he groped under the bumper — whispering curses — until he found the magnetic box that contained a spare key.

His breath was rushing in and out through his open mouth as he scrambled to his feet, and he had to stab the key at the door lock twice before it rattled in; and as he turned it, the sound of the lock post snapping up was immediately followed by the tap of footsteps on the stairs.

Ragotskie levered open the car door and dropped the TracFone burner into the map pocket, then eased the door shut and darted back to his refuge in the shadows behind the van. Sweat ran into his eyes, and the effort of keeping his breath slow and shallow made his throat ache. Planting the phone had been a risky move, but, with a call in progress, it was a good microphone — Agnes always used the Waze app on an iPad to know what route to take when she was going anywhere, and he hoped to overhear the Waze voice’s directions as it guided her to wherever she was living now.

The soft tap of shoes had reached this level, and moved out across the floor.

A sudden thought made Ragotskie’s ears ring — in his haste a few moments ago, he had left the empty magnetic box on the cement floor by the right from tire of Agnes’ car.

But the cool breeze again carried the smell of cigarette smoke. Ragotskie let his muscles relax, very slowly.

And he jumped when he heard Taitz’s voice say, loudly, “What?” For several seconds Ragotskie just held his breath, and even closed his eyes; then Taitz said, “He probably saw you guys.” Evidently Taitz’ phone had been set to vibrate, so there had been no ringtone for Ragotskie to hear. “He would have called her if he was just delayed…yeah, ten more minutes.”