Forced Perspectives – Snippet 28

At least the attempted capture of Vickery in February had secured the unique copy of The Secret Garden.

He had tracked down Vickery through the man’s employer, Anita Galvan, who ran fleets of taco trucks and supernatural-evasion cars; but from her he had learned, too, of that book. When she had demanded five thousand dollars to deliver Vickery, and Harlowe had refused to pay it, she had said, Maybe it’s worth it to you since he has a book with a never-born spirit fossilized in it? It’s a daughter the eunuco never had the balls to beget. The brujas say there’s uses for such things.

Harlowe had gone away and had in fact consulted a Hispanic medium. And then he had gone back and given Galvan the five thousand dollars.

It seemed likely that Harlowe would be able to subsume the ghost of an actual person, too, into the book, blend it there with the…spirit? failed likelihood?…of the daughter Vickery never had. The resulting irrational juxtaposition of that “pair” should, it seemed to Harlowe, compellingly attract any ghosts that might otherwise be drawn into the emerging egregore, where their animate absences would psychically cripple it. The augmented book would ideally function like cadmium rods in nuclear reactors, which absorb excess neutrons and prevent meltdown.

The five thousand dollars had not been wasted, even though Vickery had got away.

And Vickery and Castine could still be the reliable communication organ of the egregore gestalt; and their “kite strings,” incorporated into it, would surely provide added strength to the whole. Ragotskie stole the bloody sock yesterday, but Harlowe had long ago covertly installed in the car of each member of the ChakraSys staff a GPS tracker, charged from the car’s battery, and Taitz and Foster were even now out following him. Their instructions were to wait until, ideally, Ragotskie located Vickery and Castine with the aid of the sock, and then kill Ragotskie and capture them.

That was admittedly a long shot — but Harlowe had taken the twins out on the boat this morning in the hope that they might themselves be able to locate the fugitive pair.

Nine months ago Lexi and Amber had sensed Vickery and Castine, but hadn’t been able to tell where they might be. But that had been when the twins were in a city, among hundreds of people whose free wills were always distorting the moment of now. Out here on the empty face of the sea, though, the chronocline plane would be pretty genuinely flat, not just the usual averaging-out of an infinity of fractal time-spikes. The five people on the boat, especially with the twins practically being one person, shouldn’t appreciably distort the flatness of local time. If the twins could determine the actual location of Vickery and Castine, it would most likely be from the psychic calm out here.

A crunching noise from the other side of the lounge now caught Harlowe’s attention. The twins had grown tired of peering out the starboard window at the ocean and had tipped up their empty cups to get the ice cubes, and were chewing them vigorously.

“Welcome little fishes in,” said one of the twins, “with gently smiling jaws!”

More Alice in Wonderland stuff. Harlowe wasn’t sure what to make of their obsession with that passage from the Lewis Carroll book; Harlowe had never been able to make any sense of the Alice books himself.

“When do we touch the two people who drove to Hell?” said the other.

“Touch?” said Harlowe. “Oh — soon. When we stop the boat. And you’ll look around then, right? See what they’re seeing, see where they are.”

“Uh huh.” The girl set her empty cup on the deck. “Uncle Simon, can we go up to the bow? We want to see what kinds of fish fly.”

Harlowe opened his mouth, but his tongue wouldn’t move. He nodded emphatically so that they’d release him, and then said, quickly, “If you put on life jackets!” Sweat had broken out on his forehead.

“Semper ubi sub ubi.” It was a joke of theirs, apparently learned from their late father: Latin for Always where under where. Ho ho.

They scampered out onto the cockpit deck, and a moment later he saw them run along the narrow side-deck past the starboard windows.

Tony was up on the fly bridge, and Harlowe sighed and picked up the intercom microphone. “Tony, see that they put on life jackets, okay?”

Tony’s reply came over the speaker: “Rightie-O.”

Rightie-O. Shit. Harlowe stood up and stretched. He could see Agnes Loria out in the cockpit, bundled up in a blue nylon parka. She was leaning against the transom and squinting into the eddying headwind, and he buttoned his wool coat and stepped out onto the broad fiberglass deck. The smell of the open sea on the wind was a pleasant change from the climate-controlled blandness inside.

He crossed the deck and stood at the rail a few feet away from Loria, and he too turned to face forward, for the rising sun over Seal Beach was directly astern.

Loria was wearing sunglasses now, but Harlowe remembered that her eyes had been red, with dark circles under them, when she had joined him for coffee in the little breakfast nook below. She had spent the night with the twins in the forward vee-berth cabin, and evidently the girls had had a couple of nightmares. At least they always had them together, he thought, and didn’t stagger them.

“They could,” Loria said now, “have made me jump over the side. In the middle of the night.” She pulled a pack of Marlboros and a lighter out of her jacket pocket and hunched over, cupping her hands around the lighter.

“Oh, don’t be melodramatic.” Harlowe frowned impatiently. “Make you walk down the hall, up the steps, through the lounge –” He waved at the white deck they were standing on, “– across the cockpit to the rail? And over?” He chuffed an exhalation and shook his head, trying to express more skepticism than he actually felt. “So okay, once they made you open a bag of tortilla chips –”

Loria had got her cigarette lit, and smoke fluttered out of her mouth as she spoke. “They were angry. Those chips went all over the place.”

He raised his hand. “– And then they made you hold their hands yesterday. Those are momentary –”



For several seconds neither of them spoke. The roar of the engines was louder out here.

“You could have Tony kill the engines any time,” Loria said. “This is as unpopulated an area as you’ll find.”

Harlowe looked out at the rippling expanse of blue sea. Loria was right. The irregular line of Catalina Island was easily ten miles away, and the mainland waterfront lay at about the same distance to the northeast. The nearest boat, a catamaran under full sail, was several miles off and tacking toward Catalina.

“Maybe Vickery and Castine drove all night,” said Loria. “Maybe they’re in Salt Lake City or San Francisco by now.” She took a long drag on the cigarette and then pitched it over her shoulder, into the boat’s spreading wake. “I don’t think Elisha could follow them all that way, just with that silly sock. You think the twins will be able to perceive them clearly enough to…I don’t know, see what they see, share their space?”

“It’s worth a try. I think our fugitive pair is partly in alignment with Lexi and Amber already.”


“Yesterday the twins caused a black hole incident at the beach, by holding hands — do you remember what that family said?”

“Uh — no.”

“You told me they were babbling about getting new clothes in Hesperia. That’s north of here, on the way to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, and it would make sense for Vickery and Castine to think of ditching the clothes they were wearing, in case we’d managed to plant radio frequency tags on them.”

“You think it was their thoughts that drunk family picked up? But if –”

“I think it’s possible. Likely, even. The twins pointed them out to us in the first place, remember — sensed them. And if it was their thoughts that the twins were picking up yesterday, it means Vickery and Castine are impinging on us, but uninitiated. They’re –” He frowned, then waved at the deck under their feet, “– they’re like a boat on an intersecting course with our luxury liner, as it were. We’ve got to get them to line up parallel — and permit boarders.”

“Or sink them?”

Harlowe shrugged, irritably. “If necessary. If possible.”

“The Vickery guy did kill Platt.”

“Who’s got time for vengeance? I hope they can still be an asset.”

“How did,” Loria began, but a yell and splash from up by the bow interrupted her — and the faint, shrill agitation at the back of Harlowe’s awareness abruptly ceased.