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Chapter 19

  • They let me call Gran on my second day here. Of course, Linda had alread_alled her and briefed her on my supposed mental breakdown. I had no doub_hat she’d managed to fake hysterical anxiety well enough to convince Gra_hat I’d lost it completely; Gran was already four-fifths certain that I wa_uts.
  • “Hi, Gran,” I said.
  • “Arthur! My God, how are you?”
  • “I’m fine, Gran. It’s a big mistake is all.”
  • “A mistake? Your lady friend called me and told me what you’d done in London.
  • Arthur, you need help.”
  • “What did Linda say?”
  • “She said that you threatened to kill a coworker. She said you threatened t_ill her. That you had a knife. Oh, Arthur, I’m so worried—”
  • “It’s not true, Gran. She’s lying to you.”
  • “She told me you’d say that.”
  • “Of course she did. She and Fede—a guy I worked with in London—they’re tryin_o get rid of me. They had me locked up. I had a business deal with Fede, w_ere selling one of my ideas to a company in New Jersey. Linda talked him int_elling to some people she knows in LA instead, and they conspired to cut m_ut of the deal. When I caught them at it, they got me sent away. Let m_uess, she told you I was going to say this, too, right?”
  • “Arthur, I know—”
  • “You know that I’m a good guy. You raised me. I’m not nuts, OK? They jus_anted to get me out of the way while they did their deal. A week or two an_’ll be out again, but it will be too late. Do you believe that you know m_etter than some girl I met a month ago?”
  • “Of course I do, Arthur. But why would the hospital take you away if—”
  • “If I wasn’t crazy? I’m in here for observation—they want to find out if I’_razy. If they’re not sure, then you can’t be sure, right?”
  • “All right. Oh, I’ve been sick with worry.”
  • “I’m sorry, Gran. I need to get through this week and I’ll be free and clea_nd I’ll come back to Toronto.”
  • “I’m going to come down there to see you. Linda told me visitors weren’_llowed, is that true?”
  • “No, it’s not true.” I thought about Gran seeing me in the ward amidst th_ukers and the screamers and the droolers and the fondlers and flinched awa_rom the phone. “But if you’re going to come down, come for the hearing at th_nd of the week. There’s nothing you can do here now.”
  • “Even if I can’t help, I just want to come and see you. It was so nice whe_ou were here.”
  • “I know, I know. I’ll be coming back soon, don’t worry.”
  • If only Gran could see me now, on the infirmary examination table, in four- point restraint. Good thing she can’t.
  • A doctor looms over me. “How are you feeling, Art?”
  • “I’ve had better days,” I say, with what I hope is stark sanity and humor.
  • Aren’t crazy people incapable of humor? “I went for a walk and the door swun_hut behind me.”
  • “Well, they’ll do that,” the doctor says. “My name is Szandor,” he says, an_hakes my hand in its restraint.
  • “A pleasure to meet you,” I say. “You’re a doctor doctor, aren’t you?”
  • “An MD? Yup. There’re a couple of us around the place.”
  • “But you’re not a shrink of any description?”
  • “Nope. How’d you guess?”
  • “Bedside manner. You didn’t patronize me.”
  • Dr. Szandor tries to suppress a grin, then gives up. “We all do our bit,” h_ays. “How’d you get up on the roof without setting off your room alarm, anyway?”
  • “If I tell you how I did it, I won’t be able to repeat the trick,” I sa_okingly. He’s swabbing down my shins now with something that stings and cool_t the same time. From time to time, he takes tweezers in hand and pluck_oose some gravel or grit and plinks it into a steel tray on a rolling tabl_y his side. He’s so gentle, I hardly feel it.
  • “What, you never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality?”
  • “Is that thing still around?”
  • “Oh sure! We had a mandatory workshop on it yesterday afternoon. Those ar_lways a lot of fun.”
  • “So, you’re saying that you’ve got professional expertise in the keeping o_ecrets, huh? I suppose I could spill it for you, then.” And I do, explainin_y little hack for tricking the door into thinking that I’d left and returne_o the room.
  • “Huh—now that you explain it, it’s pretty obvious.”
  • “That’s my job—figuring out the obvious way of doing something.”
  • And we fall to talking about my job with V/DT, and the discussion branche_nto the theory and practice of UE, only slowing a little when he picks th_rud out of the scrape down my jaw and tugs through a couple of quic_titches. It occurs to me that he’s just keeping me distracted, using a highl_volved skill for placating psychopaths through small talk so that they don’_hrash while he’s knitting their bodies back together.
  • I decide that I don’t care. I get to natter on about a subject that I’m nearl_utistically fixated on, and I do it in a context where I know that I’m san_nd smart and charming and occasionally mind-blowing.
  • “… and the whole thing pays for itself through EZPass, where we collect th_ayments for the music downloaded while you’re on the road.” As I finish m_piel, I realize I’ve been keeping him distracted, standing there with th_weezers in one hand and a swab in the other.
  • “Wow!” he said. “So, when’s this all going to happen?”
  • “You’d use it, huh?”
  • “Hell, yeah! I’ve got a good twenty, thirty thousand on my car right now!
  • You’re saying I could plunder anyone else’s stereo at will, for free, and kee_t, while I’m stuck in traffic, and because I’m a—what’d you call it, a super- peer?—a super-peer, it’s all free and legal? Damn!”
  • “Well, it may be a while before you see it on the East Coast. It’ll probabl_oll out in LA first, then San Francisco, Seattle… ”
  • “What? Why?”
  • “It’s a long story,” I say. “And it ends with me on the roof of a goddamne_uthouse on Route 128 doing a one-man tribute to the Three Stooges.”