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Chapter 9

  • It was nearly dawn before they finally made their way out of the polic_tation and back into the street. After identifying Les from an online rogues’ gallery, Art had spent the next six hours sitting on a hard bench, chordin_esultorily on his thigh, doing some housekeeping.
  • This business of being an agent-provocateur was complicated in the extreme, though it had sounded like a good idea when he was living in San Francisco an_ating every inch of the city, from the alleged pizza to the fucking!
  • drivers!—in New York, the theory went, drivers used their horns by way o_houting “Ole!” as in, “Ole! You changed lanes!” “Ole! You cut me off!” “Ole!
  • You’re driving on the sidewalk!” while in San Francisco, a honking horn meant, “I wish you were dead. Have a nice day. Dude.”
  • And the body language was all screwed up out west. Art believed that you_ntire unconscious affect was determined by your upbringing. You learned ho_o stand, how to hold your face in repose, how to gesture, from the adult_round you while you were growing up. The Pacific Standard Tribe always seeme_ little bovine to him, their facial muscles long conditioned to relax into _ind of spacey, gullible senescence.
  • Beauty, too. Your local definition of attractive and ugly was conditioned b_he people around you at puberty. There was a Pacific “look” that wa_ndefinably off. Hard to say what it was, just that when he went out to a ba_r got stuck on a crowded train, the girls just didn’t seem all tha_ttractive to him. Objectively, he could recognize their prettiness, but i_idn’t stir him the way the girls cruising the Chelsea Antiques Market o_ounging around Harvard Square could.
  • He’d always felt at a slight angle to reality in California, something tha_as reinforced by his continuous efforts in the Tribe, from chatting an_aming until the sun rose, dragging his caffeine-deficient ass around to hi_lients in a kind of fog before going home, catching a nap and hopping bac_nline at 3 or 4 when the high-octane NYC early risers were practicing work- avoidance and clattering around with their comms.
  • Gradually, he penetrated deeper into the Tribe, getting invites into privat_hannels, intimate environments where he found himself spilling the mos_rivate details of his life. The Tribe stuck together, finding work for eac_ther, offering advice, and it was only a matter of time before someon_ffered him a gig.
  • That was Fede, who practically invented Tribal agent-provocateurs. He’d bee_orking for McKinsey, systematically undermining their GMT-based clients wit_lausibly terrible advice, creating Achilles’ heels that their East-coas_ompetitors could exploit. The entire European trust-architecture for rela_etworks had been ceded by Virgin/Deutsche Telekom to a scrappy band of AT&_abs refugees whose New Jersey headquarters hosted all the cellular reputatio_ata that Euros’ comms consulted when they were routing their calls. Th_ersey clients had funneled a nice chunk of the proceeds to Fede’s account i_he form of rigged winnings from an offshore casino that the Tribe used t_aunder its money.
  • Now V/DT was striking back, angling for a government contract i_assachusetts, a fat bit of pork for managing payments to rightsholders whos_edia was assessed at the MassPike’s tollbooths. Rights-societies were _abulous opportunity to skim and launder and spindle money in plenty, an_irgin’s massive repertoire combined with Deutsche Telekom’s Teutoni_ttention to detail was a tough combination to beat. Needless to say, th_oute 128-based Tribalists who had the existing contract needed an edge, an_ould pay handsomely for it.
  • London nights seemed like a step up from San Francisco mornings to Art—instea_f getting up at 4AM to get NYC, he could sleep in and chat them up throug_he night. The Euro sensibility, with its many nap-breaks, statutory holiday_nd extended vacations seemed ideally suited to a double agent’s life.
  • But Art hadn’t counted on the Tribalists’ hands-on approach to his work. The_bsessively grepped his daily feed of spreadsheets, whiteboard-output, memo_nd conversation reports for any of ten thousand hot keywords, querying hi_or deeper detail on trivial, half-remembered bullshit sessions with th_/DT’s user experience engineers. His comm buzzed and blipped at all hours, and his payoff was dependent on his prompt response. They were running hi_agged.
  • Four hours in the police station gave Art ample opportunity to catch up on th_acklog of finicky queries. Since the accident, he’d been distracted an_ardy, and had begun to invent his responses, since it all seemed so trivia_o him anyway.
  • Fede had sent him about a thousand nagging notes reminding him to generate _ew key and phone with the fingerprint. Christ. Fede had been with McKinse_or most of his adult life, and he was superparanoid about being exposed an_isgraced in their ranks. Art’s experience with the other McKinsey peopl_round the office suggested that the notion of any of those overpaid buzzword- slingers sniffing their traffic was about as likely as a lightning strike.
  • Heaving a dramatic sigh for his own benefit, he began the lengthy process o_enerating enough randomness to seed the key, mashing the keyboard, whisperin_onsense syllables, and pointing the comm’s camera lens at arbitrary corner_f the police station. After ten minutes of crypto-Tourette’s, the com_nnounced that he’d been sufficiently random and prompted him for _assphrase. Jesus. What a pain in the ass. He struggled to recall all th_ords to the theme song from a CBC sitcom he’d watched as a kid, and then hi_omm went into a full-on churn as it laboriously re-ciphered all of his store_iles with the new key, leaving Art to login while he waited.
  • Trepan: Afternoon!
  • Colonelonic: Hey, Trepan. How's it going?
  • Trepan: Foul. I'm stuck at a copshop in London with my thumb up my ass. I go_ugged.
  • Colonelonic: Yikes! You OK?
  • Ballgravy: Shit!
  • Trepan: Oh, I'm fine — just bored. They didn't hurt me. I commed 999 whil_hey were running their game and showed it to them when they got ready to d_he deed, so they took off.
  • ##Colonelonic laughs
  • Ballgravy: Britain==ass. Lon-dong.
  • Colonelonic: Sweet!
  • Trepan: Thanks. Now if the cops would only finish the paperwork…
  • Colonelonic: What are you doing in London, anyway?
  • Ballgravy: Ass ass ass
  • Colonelonic: Shut up, Bgravy
  • Ballgravy: Blow me
  • Trepan: What's wrong with you, Ballgravy? We're having a grown-up conversatio_ere
  • Ballgravy: Just don't like Brits.
  • Trepan: What, all of them?
  • Ballgravy: Whatever — all the ones I've met have been tight-ass pricks
  • ##Colonelonic: (private) He's just a troll, ignore him
  • /private Colonelonic: Watch this
  • Trepan: How many?
  • Ballgravy: How many what?
  • Trepan: Have you met?
  • Ballgravy: Enough
  • Trepan: > 100?
  • Ballgravy: No
  • Trepan: > 50?
  • Ballgravy: No
  • Trepan: > 10?
  • Ballgravy: Around 10
  • Trepan: Where are you from?
  • Ballgravy: Queens
  • Trepan: Well, you're not going to believe this, but you're the tenth perso_rom Queens I've met — and you're all morons who pick fights with strangers i_hat-rooms
  • Colonelonic: Queens==ass
  • Trepan: Ass ass ass
  • Ballgravy: Fuck you both
  • ##Ballgravy has left channel #EST.chatter
  • Colonelonic: Nicely done
  • Colonelonic: He's been boring me stupid for the past hour, following me fro_hannel to channel
  • Colonelonic: What are you doing in London, anyway?
  • Trepan: Like I said, waiting for the cops
  • Colonelonic: But why are you there in the first place
  • Trepan: /private Colonelonic It's a work thing. For EST.
  • ##Colonelonic: (private) No shit?
  • Trepan: /private Colonelonic Yeah. Can't really say much more, you understand
  • ##Colonelonic: (private) Cool! Any more jobs? One more day at Merril-Lynch an_'m gonna kill someone
  • Trepan: /private Colonelonic Sorry, no. There must be some perks though.
  • ##Colonelonic: (private) I can pick fights with strangers in chat rooms! Also, I get to play with Lexus-Nexus all I want
  • Trepan: /private Colonelonic That's pretty rad, anyway
  • ##Ballgravy has joined channel #EST.chatter
  • Ballgravy: Homos
  • Trepan: Oh Christ, are you back again, Queens?
  • Colonelonic: I've gotta go anyway
  • Trepan: See ya
  • ##Colonelonic has left channel #EST.chatter
  • ##Trepan has left channel #EST.chatter
  • Art stood up and blinked. He approached the desk sergeant and asked if h_hought it would be much longer. The sergeant fiddled with a comm for _oment, then said, “Oh, we’re quite done with you sir, thank you.” Ar_epressed a vituperative response, counted three, then thanked the cop.
  • He commed Linda.
  • “What’s up?”
  • “They say we’re free to go. I think they’ve been just keeping us here fo_hits and giggles. Can you believe that?”
  • “Whatever—I’ve been having a nice chat with Constable McGivens. Constable, i_t all right if we go now?”
  • There was some distant, English rumbling, then Linda giggled. “All right, then. Thank you so much, officer!
  • “Art? I’ll meet you at the front doors, all right?”
  • “That’s great,” Art said. He stretched. His ass was numb, his head throbbed, and he wanted to strangle Linda.
  • She emerged into the dawn blinking and grinning, and surprised him with _ong, full-body hug. “Sorry I was so snappish before,” she said. “I was jus_cared. The cops say that you were quite brave. Thank you.”
  • Art’s adrenals dry-fired as he tried to work up a good angry head of steam, then he gave up. “It’s all right.”
  • “Let’s go get some breakfast, OK?”