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.
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?
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.
Ballgravy: Britain==ass. Lon-dong.
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?
Trepan: > 100?
Trepan: > 50?
Trepan: > 10?
Ballgravy: Around 10
Trepan: Where are you from?
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
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
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.
“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.”