Linda’s first meeting with Art’s Gran went off without a hitch. Gran met the_t Union Station with an obsolete red cap who was as ancient as she was, _estige of a more genteel era of train travel and bulky luggage. Just seein_im made Art’s brain whir with plans for conveyor systems, luggage escalators, cart dispensers. They barely had enough luggage between the two of them t_ake it worth the old man’s time, but he dutifully marked their bags with _tub of chalk and hauled them onto his cart, then trundled off to the servic_levators.
Gran gave Art a long and teary hug. She was less frail than she’d been in hi_emory, taller and sturdier. The smell of her powder and the familia_coustics of Union Station’s cavernous platform whirled him back to hi_hildhood in Toronto, to the homey time before he’d gotten on the circadia_erry-go-round.
“Gran, this is Linda,” he said.
“Oh, it’s so nice to meet you,” Gran said, taking Linda’s hands in hers. “Cal_e Julie.”
Linda smiled a great, pretty, toothy smile. “Julie, Art’s told me all abou_ou. I just know we’ll be great friends.”
“I’m sure we will. Are you hungry? Did they feed you on the train? You must b_xhausted after such a long trip. Which would you rather do first, eat o_est?”
“Well, I’m up for seeing the town,” Linda said. “Your grandson’s been yawnin_is head off since Buffalo, though.” She put her arm around his waist an_queezed his tummy.
“What a fantastic couple you make,” Gran said. “You didn’t tell me she was s_retty, Arthur!”
“Here it comes,” Art said. “She’s going to ask about great-grandchildren.”
“Don’t be silly,” Gran said, cuffing him gently upside the head. “You’r_lways exaggerating.”
“Well I think it’s a splendid idea,” Linda said. “Shall we have two? Three?
“Make it ten,” Art said, kissing her cheek.
“Oh, I couldn’t have ten,” Linda said. “But five is a nice compromise. Five i_ill be. We’ll name the first one Julie if it’s a girl, or Julius if it’s _oy.”
“Oh, we are going to get along,” Gran said, and led them up to the curb, wher_he red cap had loaded their bags into a cab.
They ate dinner at Lindy’s on Yonge Street, right in the middle of the sleaz_trip. The steakhouse had been there for the better part of a century, and it_racked red-vinyl booths and thick rib eyes smothered in horseradish and H_auce were just as Art had remembered. Riding up Yonge Street, the city light_ad seemed charming and understated; even the porn marquees felt restraine_fter a week in New York. Art ate a steak as big as his head and fell into _ostprandial torpor whence he emerged only briefly to essay a satisfied belch.
Meanwhile, Gran and Linda nattered away like old friends, making plans for th_eek: the zoo, the island, a day trip to Niagara Falls, a ride up the C_ower, all the touristy stuff that Art had last done in elementary school.
By the time Art lay down in his bed, belly tight with undigested steak, he wa_eeling wonderful and at peace with the world. Linda climbed in beside him, wrestled away a pillow and some covers, and snuggled up to him.
“That went well,” Art said. “I’m really glad you two hit it off.”
“Me too, honey,” Linda said, kissing his shoulder through his tee shirt. He’_een able to get his head around the idea of sharing a bed with his girlfrien_nder his grandmother’s roof, but doing so nude seemed somehow wrong.
“We’re going to have a great week,” he said. “I wish it would never end.”
“Yeah,” she said, and began to snore into his neck.
The next morning, Art woke stiff and serene. He stretched out on the bed, dimly noted Linda’s absence, and padded to the bathroom to relieve hi_ladder. He thought about crawling back into bed, was on the verge of doin_o, when he heard the familiar, nervewracking harangue of Linda arguing dow_er comm. He opened the door to his old bedroom and there she was, stark nake_nd beautiful in the morning sun, comm in hand, eyes focused in the middl_istance, shouting.
“No, goddamnit, no! Not here. Jesus, are you a moron? I said no!”
Art reached out to touch her back, noticed that it was trembling, visibl_ense and rigid, and pulled his hand back. Instead, he quietly set abou_ishing in his small bag for a change of clothes.
“This is not a good time. I’m at Art’s grandmother’s place, all right? I’l_alk to you later.” She threw her comm at the bed and whirled around.
“Everything all right?” Art said timidly.
“No, goddamnit, no it isn’t.”
Art pulled on his pants and kept his eyes on her comm, which was dented an_cratched from a hundred thousand angry hang ups. He hated it when she go_ike this, radiating anger and spoiling for a fight.
“I’m going to have to go, I think,” she said.
“To California. That was my fucking ex again. I need to go and sort things ou_ith him.”
“Your ex knows who I am?”
She looked blank.
“You told him you were at my grandmother’s place. He knows who I am?”
“Yeah,” she said. “He does. I told him, so he’d get off my back.”
“And you have to go to California?”
“Today. I have to go to California today.”
“Jesus, today? We just got here!”
“Look, you’ve got lots of catching up to do with your Gran and your friend_ere. You won’t even miss me. I’ll go for a couple days and then come back.”
“If you gotta go,” he said.
“I gotta go.”
He explained things as best as he could to Gran while Linda repacked he_ackpack, and then saw Linda off in a taxi. She was already savaging her comm, booking a ticket to LA. He called Fede from the condo’s driveway.
“Hey, Art! How’s Toronto?”
“How’d you know I was in Toronto?” Art said, but he knew, he knew then, thoug_e couldn’t explain how he knew, he knew that Linda and Fede had been talking.
He knew that Linda had been talking to Fede that morning, and not her fuckin_x (God, he was thinking of the poor schmuck that way already, “fucking ex”).
Christ, it was five in the morning on the West Coast. It couldn’t be the ex.
He just knew.
“Lucky guess,” Fede said breezily. “How is it?”
“Oh, terrific. Great to see the old hometown and all. How’re things wit_erceptronics? When should I plan on being back in Boston?”
“Oh, it’s going all right, but slow. Hurry up and wait, right? Look, don’_orry about it, just relax there, I’ll call you when the deal’s ready an_ou’ll go back to Boston and we’ll sort it out and it’ll all be fantastic an_on’t worry, really, all right?”
“Fine, Fede.” Art wasn’t listening any more. Fede had gone into bullshit mode, and all Art was thinking of was why Linda would talk to Fede and then book _light to LA. “How’re things in London?” he said automatically.
“Fine, fine,” Fede said, just as automatically. “Not the same without you, o_ourse.”
“Of course,” Art said. “Well, bye then.”
“Bye,” Fede said.
Art felt an unsuspected cunning stirring within him. He commed Linda, in he_ab. “Hey, dude,” he said.
“Hey,” she said, sounding harassed.
“Look, I just spoke to my Gran and she’s really upset you had to go. Sh_eally liked you.”
“Well, I liked her, too.”
“Great. Here’s the thing,” he said, and drew in a breath. “Gran made you _weater. She made me one, too. She’s a knitter. She wanted me to send it alon_fter you. It looks pretty good. So, if you give me your ex’s address, I ca_edEx it there and you can get it.”
There was a lengthy pause. “Why don’t I just pick it up when I see you again?” Linda said, finally.
Gotcha, Art thought. “Well, I know that’d be the sensible thing, but my Gran, I dunno, she really wants me to do this. It’d make her so happy.”
“I dunno—my ex might cut it up or something.”
“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t do that. I could just schedule the delivery fo_fter you arrive, that way you can sign for it. What do you think?”
“I really don’t think—”
“Come on, Linda, I know it’s nuts, but it’s my Gran. She really likes you.”
Linda sighed. “Let me comm you the address, OK?”
“Thanks, Linda,” Art said, watching the address in Van Nuys scroll onto hi_omm’s screen. “Thanks a bunch. Have a great trip—don’t let your ex get yo_own.”
Now, armed with Linda’s fucking ex’s name, Art went to work. He told Gran h_ad some administrative chores to catch up on for an hour or two, promised t_ave supper with her and Father Ferlenghetti that night, and went out onto th_ondo’s sundeck with his keyboard velcroed to his thigh.
Colonelonic: Trepan! Hey, what's up? I hear you're back on the East Coast!
Trepan: True enough. Back in Toronto. How's things with you?
Colonelonic: Same as ever. Trying to quit the dayjob.
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Are you still working at Merril-Lynch?
## Colonelonic (private): Yeah.
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Still got access to Lexus-Nexus?
## Colonelonic (private): Sure — but they're on our asses about abusing th_ccounts. Every search is logged and has to be accounted for.
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Can you get me background on just one guy?
## Colonelonic (private): Who is he? Why?
Trepan: /private Colonelonic It's stupid. I think that someone I know is abou_o go into biz with him, and I don't trust him. I'm probably just bein_aranoid, but…
## Colonelonic (private): I don't know, man. Is it really important?
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Oh, crap, look. It's my girlfriend. I think she'_crewing this guy. I just wanna get an idea of who he is, what he does, yo_now.
## Colonelonic (private): Heh. That sucks. OK — check back in a couple hours.
There's a guy across the hall who never logs out of his box when he goes t_unch. I'll sneak in there and look it up on his machine.
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Kick ass. Thanks.
##Transferring addressbook entry "Toby Ginsburg" to Colonelonic. Receip_onfirmed.
Trepan: /private Colonelonic Thanks again!
## Colonelonic (private): Check in with me later — I'll have something for yo_hen.
Art logged off, flushed with triumph. Whatever Fede and Linda were cooking up, he’d get wise to it and then he’d nail ’em. What the hell was it, though?