There are a series of A-frame houses on a California hillside overlooking Stinson Beach. The houses were built for practicality by rich hippies and ecologists and various other people with sufficient funds and some imagination. The A-frames, almost hidden by erratic foliage, seem a sign of Descartian sanity on a hillside, blending raggedly into a perfect diagonal of beach. Nestled above that beach, where it curves into that hillside, sits one particular house.
The sun, glinting off the windowed front of it, reflected the ocean up to Sandy’s eyes, hovering above in a helicopter. She could almost make out the refractory windows, but not quite. She was too stunned, especially with the chloroform still in her system.
“Where am I?” she mumbled in the direction of her unknown pilot, whom she fancied as some kind of high-tech angel.
“Above Stinson Beach on your way to the Llama’s west coast retreat,” the pilot replied, pointing with a look of pure benevolence. “That A-frame, there.”
”Who’s the Llama? ”
The pilot smiled, humility wreaking havoc with his features, as he said, “God only knows.”
Sandy didn’t pursue it. Instead, she allowed herself to become mesmerized by white coastline against that inexpressible hillside. Descending, she could see iridescent waves against a sparkly, mica-filled beach. Sandy wanted to believe that she really was going to meet God at the A-frame. Such an idea would force her, with her existential dogma, to believe she was no longer in control of her destiny. The helicopter was, she decided, a hint in that direction. Surveying the beauty around her, she thought it might even be advantageous to abdicate her will in favor of whatever cosmic fluke had landed her in this paradise. Reality had become more than she could comprehend from the narrow matrix of her switchboard. Tears, tears of real feeling, sniffles and a headache alerted her to the presence of her physicality. The dead did not cry. That she was sure of. Perhaps it was allergies, or…
“Is this some kind of power play? My being kidnapped and all?” she asked to the pilot, who bore little resemblance, on second glance, to her idea of a celestial being.
The pilot seemed perplexed. “Power? That’s energy in organic and inorganic substances on the Earth, left over from the Big Bang. Depending on what you think is true, any theory you adopt will be serviceable. Differences depend solely on the environment in which it is adopted.”
Sandy could not believe such inanities existed in paradise. Before she could clear her mind for some type of escape strategy, the pilot leaned over, confidentially indicating the horizon line below.
“There are no accidents,” he said cryptically.
Some propagandist, Sandy thought, searching the floor for her belongings. She was only able to locate a pair of men’s sunglasses, which definitely weren’t hers. She put them on to shield herself from the pilot, as well as the sun. In this way, she noted a square of a platform off the triangular roof of the A-frame. Practical solar heating panels pointed to places on the hillside for a possible escape. It might be crazy to perform unrehearsed physical feats, but she decided to try. Stinson Beach, if she guessed correctly, was in California. It was a feasible state to get lost in.
The helicopter dropped to the platform. Before Sandy could scramble, the pilot suddenly removed her glasses and held another soft handkerchief over her nose. Her eyes burned once again. Then, there was nothing.
The Llama sat on a large, flat cushion, watching what looked like an empty television set. He held a manila file on his lap and contemplated the dull gray field on the screen until he felt relaxed enough to grasp the subtle gradations that formed the logo of the Denotational Church. The dotted line of the highway within the circle always made him feel like a cosmic tracker. He drew enough confidence from the image to consider the contents of the folder. In it was a charged secret that linked both Sandy and the AG, and brought to question the foundations of the Denotational Church. Nature had denied his theory with an instance of universal duality. It appeared that “fragmentation,” which he had always considered a psychological problem of modern society, occurred in nature as a mystery. The Llama formulated the problem in the following slogan: EVERY ENTITY THAT EXISTS CONTAINS ITS ANTITHESIS WHICH IS ENDOWED WITH AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE FORCE.
“Fragmentation” was beyond a bad mental habit. Denotation was powerless as a path to resolving such opposites. If the AG were one aspect of the phenomenon, Sandy was definitely the other — a doppelganger, in effect. The relation between the two had been established beyond a doubt by his research staff. But the synthesis, the way to wisdom, was way beyond his grasp. The Llama knew his problem was fairly ancient. Even in Tibet, the mysteries of opposites had infinite precedents. Denotation was a decent idea — a way to externalize emotional logic, in a case by case system. Generalized solutions became larger than individual psychology. But Denotational technique was impotent in the face of a crisis like the PHOENIX. He had kidnapped Sandy, but he hadn’t succeeded in muting her destructive force. The AG had done that job with no support systems. What was her method?
The Llama stared moodily at the screen until the gradations of dots unified into a smooth, opaque field. Each electrical dot was indistinct, yet essential in the pattern; an electrical cog. Vain with the success of his Denotational enterprises, was he just another kind of cog, ignorant of anything but administration? He was efficient at that chore with extensive influence. Members of the church, highly placed in City Hall, would see themselves disgraced, careers in ruins, before they would allow the arrest of the AG for the PHOENIX. His teletype had confirmed the press would back-out, an informational black-out regarding her identity and whereabouts. Only Wayne Niebold, his renegade disciple, was aware of the AG’s true identity, as well as the Llama’s deficits, and he was at large on the streets of the East Village. For all his common sense of survival, the Llama would see Wayne prosper as his own man. He could not arrest him for a “wash” no matter what the consequences to his own operation. A real desire to become a genuine spiritual leader had arisen in the Llama. He would strive to make the dictatorial structure of the church a viable path to wisdom.
This alteration of his mission, not so far from his grasp, was tabled by the immediate problem of what to do with Sandy. The woman was murderous — monomaniacal, nihilistic, amoral, and dangerous, at the least. What could he expect from her, and how should he dispose of her?
Opening the file in his lap, he considered Sandy’s mandala-shaped map of the PHOENIX operation. He had obtained the Xerox with some trouble. It was worth the effort. Despite its destructive intention, the Llama had to admire the beauty in its not-so-random structure. He could even admit an affinity to a mind with such an aesthetic. The Llama knew he would merely offer Sandy guidance, remind her of her proclivities and potentials, and provide a haven for her to decide future direction. He would also heartily suggest a “wash” as a condition for the haven he was offering. He had carefully noted the distinction between Sandy’s power urge and his own. Conquest, not mere influence and facility, were on her mind.
The Llama knew his course and felt its uncertainty. He turned off the set, full of paradoxes, and decided to take a walk among the erratic foliage that so reflected his inner turmoil. Not the smallest factor was the fact that Sandy’s horrible success with the PHOENIX had meant the failure of the opening of his own drive-in missions. Yet he had scooped Sandy from the scene of her triumph into anonymity.
Sandy found herself on a futon facing a window the length of a wall. On the other side of it was a hill and a blue, moving shape she recognized as the ocean. If she was being detained for deportation, they sure had upgraded the facilities. Deciding this was unlikely, she recalled the helicopter ride and wondered what kind of freak had abducted her from midtown in the middle of a crisis?
A powerful one, she thought, before she caught sight of a short, square man making his way down the nearby hill. My keeper, she thought with a touch of sarcasm insufficient to cover her fear of a captor with an organizational facility superior to her own. Obviously, she had misjudged the impact of her operation. She had, she realized, used simple father revolt, her primal reaction to her father’s throwing her out of his house, as a catalyst for political action. Maybe, she speculated, her operation had transcended the usual Freudian clichés and achieved real significance! That was an essential thing to find out. Survival had never been much of a consideration, more catch-as-can. She would think about it now.
Cagily, she noted her surroundings. Sandy didn’t like the A-frame. Set-in steps led to a loft sleeping area. Otherwise, the multi-functional living room was wide-open, stuffed with more futons, mats, and too-sinkable pillows. Very New Age, she thought, made uneasy by that style under the best of conditions.
Not acknowledging Sandy’s presence, the short man entered the A-frame and formally removed his shoes. He seated himself contemplatively on a large cushion before what looked like a blank TV screen. Sandy was not sure if this procedure ruled life at the A-Frame.
”We’re here to discuss business, correct?” she said, pacing the floor to establish a stride. When the Llama did not respond, she wished she had her video-cam for emotional grounding. It was an excellent device in quirky social confrontations.
”I want a helicopter out of here,” she began again. “Can we make some kind of arrangement?”
The Llama turned on the set and smiled as another kind of gray surface filled the screen.
Frustrated by this form of silent intimidation, Sandy fantasized the confident vision of the Anarchist destroying Wall Street with his laser. Maybe she had achieved enough notoriety to rate prison in an A-frame. Stinson Beach wasn’t a cattle boat, and this maniac, whoever he was, seemed to be a peaceable sort and the only one around. With some concentration, she should be able to reduce his advantage and negotiate an escape with the information at hand.
She remembered the pilot had said he was the “Llama.” The closest she had ever come to meeting a holy man was a Skinnerian whose lectures on “the behavioral nature of man” she had taped at Cooper Union. She conjured up fragments from that lecture series: THEMES- -Autonomy, dignity and the good. How those attitudes would have to be destroyed if man were to survive on his already overcrowded planet. How man must discard years of romantic, archaic beliefs in the virtues of a consumer driven man society whose products were frustration and violence. Most of the series did not make behavioral sense to Sandy. It had seemed merely an excuse for an outpouring of passion disguised as purification. Bored, she had caught the lecturer’s face on tape, zooming in on the creased V’s of his eyebrows, lips, nose, and chin. Mechanistically raving about “old conditioning,” he had paused to meet the eye of her video-cam, then down to her breasts below it. She had left the lecture hall feeling that there were no real holy men, no matter how possessed they were. She had later noted from a copy of “The Lives of the Saints,” that a holy man was, in the best sense, a man capable of order. The book, she reminded herself, had never said incapable of desire.
Should she seduce the Llama? A glance at his square ascetic face discouraged this idea. Great logic and formality were important in a person capable of extended celibacy. She had ignored these controlling factors in her verbal approach, breaching his rules of conduct. Bowing, she spoke to the Llama with an exaggerated restraint.
“I am going to ask you a series of questions. You can answer or not, as you like. First, how did I get here and why? Who are you? When do I get out of here? Was the PHOENIX penultimate?” (Thinking, strategically, that he might answer the last one first)
The Llama did not change his expression, acting as if he were unfamiliar with her language.
“I ran an operation, a nihilistic act of terrorism, to point out larger acts less obvious to the eye and often sanctioned by institutions and organizations. Was my design effective?”
“The city moves forward,” said the Llama, yawning and changing his position to lie prone before the television set.
“Were you in sympathy with the Food for Vendettas message you saw on your set?”
“The city has no memory. Not even your Bowery.”
Sandy realized he hinted at a knowledge of her past. Silently, she stood on the edge of his futon in front of the screen, waiting…
“Most things only have meaning in context. Your event does not, in any general or specific sense, have a context. It is an act outside of nature so no triumph is possible. Only self-delusion and destruction.”
“When will I be deported?”
“You have abilities that will be more useful to me out of prison. May I make a suggestion? I can purge you of your patterns in a procedure called a “wash,” a common requirement for criminal initiates new to the Denotational Church.”
“Oh?” said Sandy, smiling politely, though confused by this obtuse suggestion.
The Llama pointed to the blank screen of his television set. “Care for some internal scrutiny on this question?”
The Llama raised his robe indifferently to the level of his knees. His calves bore the marks of a mosquito banquet. “I am unused to the insect population of Stinson Beach. Perhaps you are luckier–you are a practical existentialist?”
“Not in any mystical sense,” Sandy said, taken aback at this assessment. “A personal nihilist would be more correct.”
“Whose mission has affected a whole city.”
Sandy did not want to appear as if his information interested her. “Just a few hundred on my job. I’m a switchboard operator. I work the boards like any pavement pounder.”
“I believe the intention of the PHOENIX is similar to my own goals…”
“I gather my operation was successful,” Sandy interrupted abruptly, walking to the door of the A-frame, “so what’s the point of listening to you?”
“If only to meet your sister,” the Llama said, lying face-down on the mat. “Through introspection, some Denotational members have been known to develop an inverse of themselves in their choice of love object or friend. Humans are capable of psychic mitosis, you know. The modeling is exact enough for delusion, but the personality remains intact.”
Could he mean it literally about the sister thing, Sandy wondered. “What do you know about me and why?”
The Llama handed Sandy the manila envelope he had placed under a pillow.
“After we have established the identity of your family, you will be in a better position to bargain for a life worth living,” the Llama said, too sanctimoniously for Sandy’s taste.
She seated herself on the futon and opened the file suspiciously.
The Llama opened the windows of the A-frame to experience the immediacy of ocean and beachfront. He acknowledged the taste of salt in his mouth and his shared affinity with Sandy’s lust for conquest. He realized that his posturing was that of an administrator with no concrete ideology. All he had was his Denotational stance. Situational relativity seemed an arbitrary premise to him now, though before it had been truth itself. The AG seemed to embody nature’s refutation of his posture. Sandy was his polemical daughter, and somehow the two were related. By reconciling this contradiction with his Denotational stance, perhaps he could form a philosophy to guide America into the next millennium. In a contradictory way, the Llama decided this notion meant the abandonment of his grandiosity. No longer would he subliminally seek his name high on banners and tabloid headlines. By acknowledging the divinely eccentric AG, he and Sandy would conquer the fierce dogma of individualism.
While the Llama was deciding such ponderous issues, Sandy was shivering from the cold air and the surprising information in her folder. Her constitution was ill-prepared for nature and the resolution of her disturbed childhood. Fact or fabrication, it mattered little. The AG was a person who was only understood in context. Everyone knew a different AG.
The Llama noticed her behavior and smiled reassuringly. “You will get used to the air very soon. Now, tell me about the AG.”
“She is an innocent. I met her on the Bowery and found her to be useful. She doesn’t notice being manipulated and… Does she know I’ve been taken?”
“Of course,” Sandy said in some relief at the odd perk of conscience that made her wish to spare the AG‘s feelings of natural concern. Sandy took from the file a photograph of a work-worn faded blonde woman seated at a pedal-driven sewing machine.
“This is my mother,” she said, more as a fact than a question. She had seen the strange machine on the island of her birth. There was something of herself in the squareness of the seamstress’ body; the controlled pose of her hands, the straight, determined lines of her seams. She also saw about the woman’s eyes, in their round shape, if not the faded green color, something of the AG; an impression borne out by the delicate limbs in the horribly plain, no-color dress. Sandy studied the photograph, wondering about the genetic break-down of traits linked and traits acquired. She wanted to read a personality profile on the seamstress and as much exact information on her life as possible. Luckily, the file was most extensive, since without a doubt, this woman was the missing half of her family.
“You went to a lot of trouble.”
“My staff actually. It was important, considering I am in the business of understanding spiritual phenomenon. Your sister is one aspect of it and…”
“I’m the flip side,” Sandy said, wondering where the interview with this madman would lead.
“The Phoenix seems to have been a deadly try at synthesis.”
“What about catharsis? As good a conjecture to me. What do you want?”
“You can go back to New York if you like. I’m not holding you here. I originally thought my abduction would sabotage your operation and preserve my own. That’s been proven absurd. You can do as you like. It’s to your advantage to remain here, but you decide. I merely ask that you hear me out.”
Sandy considered the Llama’s offer and the miles of clean beach. She could be out the door and down the beach, negotiating a ride to the city and another American underground. A new name, another identity; a black-market green card? What were her possible options? How long would it be before she was caught, before she attempted another violent act? This one would have no pretense to political purpose. It would be personal in the way the Llama had inferred. She would be a fraud as her dad had been. She would be repeating his alienation in her own destiny.
The Llama spoke softly. ”The screen is a good agent for thought.”
Sandy sat on the futon before the Llama’s television screen and contemplated the gray field. She had destroyed the city’s peace of mind to duplicate her own inner chaos. She had destroyed the AG’s love and life with the Anarchist. She had probably destroyed Wayne’s future, and maybe the Anarchist himself. What was she but an agent of destruction?
The Llama’s voice interrupted her gray searchings. Sandy felt that he was more than her captor. He had revealed to her the secret of her birth—a real liberator.
“You are bargaining for peace,” the Llama said. ”That commodity is my stock in trade. I will absorb your organization into my own and, you will receive a lifetime tenure here at the A-frame with a guaranteed non-anxiety clause.”
“What does that include?”
“A reorganization and daily review of your life priorities. Peace as the actuality of continual regroupings.”
“What do you want in return?”
”You will have to undergo a ‘wash’ that I will carefully arrange in accordance with your denotational profile.”
WASH frightened Sandy. She would not bargain for a brainwash. A mental static screen was imposed between herself and the persuasive Llama. It helped her resist the depth his thought was penetrating, without examination, into her consciousness. She contemplated his gray field with an indifferent concentration, almost impossible as his voice intoned…
“You feel detached and ineffectual in your relationship to a society with superficial, self-serving priorities. You’ve decided to engineer its demise and your own, jolting yourself from the fashionable stance of disaffection. Using the remnants of what was at one time considered alternative culture, you strove to gain a foothold in the historical rising tides of one city. Fortunately, your plan was not as devastating as you had envisioned.”
“Only a stunt,” she said, as she shaped in her mind the rhetoric of her existential catechism.
“I was concerned with process, not result,” she said, searching.
The Llama felt relieved that he had succeeded in penetrating her static. The batteries of resistance were running down. Soon his polemical daughter, a prodigal, would be coming home.
The Llama put his arm around Sandy, kneeling.
”I promise you will be yourself, but in a superior form.”
“I trust you,” Sandy said, meaning it for the first time in her life, feeling she could place her personality and total psyche in the care of the squarely-built, bald man.
The Llama assumed that the “wash” would make a disciple of Sandy. A more standardized, less sophisticated mode of thought would benefit her and render her useful to the Church as well.
The Llama knelt and placed both his arms around her in a ritual embrace. Gazing at the screen were two heads. Four arms intertwined in the dying light of a sun setting over an ocean as calm as this human Shiva. The Llama made a mental note that, if she wished, he would set the “wash” at the earliest possible time.
Sandy lay down on the foam rubber mattress of the unrolled futon unfrightened that her personality would be destroyed. “Altered” was the term the Llama had used. “How” was the question. Which part would be irrevocably changed, and in what way? Her “wash” instructions, issued by the Llama, indicated that this could not be predicted. Sandy thought that perhaps some traits designated as “antisocial” had a positive flipside. The same hypersensitivity that led to her paranoid delusions and megalomania had also made her a great recorder of the passing scene. Maybe aggression was linked with an unusual appetite for experiencing the intensity of life? Would a “wash” diminish that capacity? It’s a truism, Sandy decided, that the characteristics that make a great explorer, make a poor colonist. Great warriors rarely make decent governors.
Sandy was genuinely frightened of losing her individuality. She was also leery of losing her newfound identity as the worldly sister of the AG. She combed her memory for a story of someone she knew or had read about who had successfully experimented with identity changes. She thought of an underground actress of her acquaintance. She had grown up in a Connecticut suburb, lived in Arizona with a lawyer before her divorce, and moved to New York’s bohemian fringes. Sandy saw her in an avant-garde production, though she thought such theater collectives guilty of the worst kind of class hypocrisy — pretensions to a proletariat they had only vicarious knowledge of. The actress supposedly had transcended her sexuality by playing a woman playing a man playing a woman. Sandy noticed that the collective had shorn her long, rich, auburn hair. She thought the acting was as amazing as her friend’s crew cut. She moved with a stiff, nervous tension full of the dynamics of emotional suppression. She held a twist in her mouth as she dry-humped a woman playing a horse. The production was appallingly lacking in substance, Sandy had thought, especially at the ticket price of ten dollars that she had been lucky enough to avoid.
After, at a bar, her role-carryover irritated Sandy. The booming, authoritative voice never did click back to her friend’s rich, rolling tones. The actress’s change lasted little longer than the part. It had been a long dream where she transcended her skin. Sandy had performed that kind of transcendence through the PHOENIX, her waking dream of revenge. Still, she remained the same. She had not tampered with her identity any more than a “wash” would.
This matter settled, Sandy decided to follow the instruction in the booklet which said to visualize familiar surroundings. Sandy visualized her switchboard, allowing herself to drift into unconsciousness. Sleep, like a drug, filled Sandy with too welcome relief, she had avoided many nights into the PHOENIX.
The dream was tribal, her reoccurring theme. She was a Cro-Magnon creature painting a mural on a cave wall with a porcupine quill brush and berry dyes. The brush was too thick to delineate gazelles. She loosened the gut, selecting one quill. Dipping repeatedly, she painted delicate legs and hooves. The scene took shape. A herd of gazelle were chased by a herd of buffalo. The buffalo were chased by a herd of hunters with flat spear points.
A yell! A rough group of Cro-Magnon men entered sloughing a carcass on the packed dirt floor. One tore a limb, denuding the raw meat from the bone. It was a gazelle limb. Horrified, she lifted the carcass to throw it into a pot of boiling water when the seamstress appeared out of the frame of a large snapshot. The frame disappeared and the seamstress magically made the animal whole. The gazelle scampered out of the hole of the cave past the surprised horde of men. They turned to Sandy, each bearing the face of her father, sorrowful at her defection. The seamstress put her arm around Sandy and inner life fused between them. Together they imposed their will on the horde of fishermen, making clear their familial connection. The men’s faces became that of the Llama; then one Llama showing them politely to the entrance of the cave. Sandy turned to ask the seamstress where they were and found she was looking into the benevolent face of the AG. Sandy, the Llama, and the AG surveyed a lush plain full of the green grass so reminiscent of the hill surrounding the A-frame. The AG found the edge of another snapshot and said to Sandy, ”See you later. I’ll be on another plane.”
Sandy accepted what she didn’t know and quietly watched the frame disappear before asking the Llama, “And what of the Anarchist?”
“He is no longer,” the Llama said.
Sandy had purposely omitted his existence from her consciousness since she did not want to know what happened to him. She woke herself up to find that she was not on the futon. A drab green paint on four walls absorbed the institutional light of a concave overhead fixture. Several men in beige uniforms that looked vaguely military indicated that Sandy could take a seat at their table. She found she could not identify their uniforms at a closer range and had no recourse but to pick up the paper in front of her. Sandy felt stark fear as she read: DEPORTATION PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ALEXIS STANIFRAZ BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Outside this room, formerly a tool shed painted green to camouflage nicely in the hills, stood the Llama. Through the one-way mirror, he was able to observe Sandy’s preliminary reactions and note them carefully on the form entitled WASH, which he had designed so long ago.
In the Shadow of Federal Hall
The Anarchist’s blindness was a practical horror for Wayne Niebold in the choking hours that followed the dust dump. Gently leading the Anarchist to the shelter of Federal Hall, he stopped to rest and examined the Anarchist’s eyes. There was no involuntary blinking of his eyelids, no pupil movement, and his retina was burnt white throughout. The Anarchist, in pain, muttered randomly about how he was dead and was this hell and arguing angrily with himself that he had fulfilled his purpose, his destiny even, and didn’t deserve to be damned.
The horror for Wayne was that he could not answer. Repeatedly, he tapped letters into the Anarchist’s palm, hoping he might get the idea that Wayne was still with him in this life. Unfortunately, the Anarchist had never learned to sign.
“Why is someone tickling my hand, yet saying nothing. Is this some cruel tease I can’t understand or some hidden meaning I should know?”
“YES, YES BELIEVE THIS!” Wayne tapped exultantly.
“I tell you nemesis has been visiting me and saying to hell with your damned purpose. You have outlived it.”
Wayne watched sprays of dust thickly whip down Wall Street on the breezes of the nearby ocean. Howling, yes, he thought, winds make a sound like that. HOWLING!!! he tapped into the Anarchist’s hand, leading him into the rotunda of Federal Hall.
Convenient, Wayne thought, almost too convenient that no one locked this.
“Wanna die?” Wayne read on the lips of a boy walking out of a shadow with an outstretched knife in one hand and a black box in the other. “Say one word and…”
Wayne made his deaf-mute sign and the boy laughed, “Wrong party. Yes, I’m a survivalist, and if this is the end of the world–this part of it is mine!”
“I’m not dead?” the Anarchist asked.
Before the boy could react to the Anarchist, Wayne pointed to his own eyes. He opened them blankly and passed a hand over them to indicate a state of blindness.
The boy looked the strange pair up and down a second, laughing with a mixture of pity and contempt.
“Youse bums been fighting between you? Looks like you need some new clothes, but you’re broke, right?”
Wayne, looking at the Anarchist’s rags, realized how the boy might have assumed he was a derelict. It was a second before the idea penetrated that inadvertently, he was wearing the same disguise.
“Youse is harmless, I can see that. If you stay that way, I don’t mind you hanging here until I tell you to get lost. It’s creepy in here alone, know what I mean?”
Wayne smiled, deciding the boy must be about sixteen.
“Auxiliary power,” the boy said, largely mouthing the words for Wayne. “Come on over and see this thing. We’re in an emergency situation they said about a half hour ago, no joke!”
The tough guy kid showed Wayne the way through the darkly echoing rotunda. Wayne followed, leading the Anarchist to a basement office, where a television was bolted high into the ceiling. On the screen was the Anarchist’s cornucopia poster with the words: FOOD FOR VENDETTAS. A man, identified by a makeshift cardboard sign as DUNCAN MCKENZIE, talked with some confidence and misplaced hype.
“Aux powers unite! I am the exclusive coordinator between the Vendettas units and the city services who are coordinating to remove the dust in our midst. I’m not usually on this side of the biz, but I connected, through my capacity as a network clearinghouse man, with the fabulous savior of our city. I am not at liberty to reveal her identity, but it’s out that a woman is responsible. I can say that. I can also say that the criminals responsible for this crisis will be apprehended in due course. But, right now, we’re working to get rid of all that dust, clear the thoroughfares, and get moving again. ‘Food for Vendettas,’ in case any of you missed this part, was founded by an anarchist who ran an east village co-op…”
”Look at that jerk,” the boy said, “he’s got the floor and don’t know what to do with it. Man, if I had done this gig, you’d know about it. None of this protected name shit…I’d want…”
“She did it, didn’t she?” the Anarchist said. “The AG. It’s her who’s saving the City.”
“What do you know?” the boy asked the Anarchist.
Wayne tapped into the boy’s hand to create a distraction and find a way to obtain a pencil, possibly.
“Away! You queer!” the boy said. “What do you know, old man?”
Wayne tried the drawer of the watchman’s desk and found a few notepads and pencil stubs. He took one set.
NOTHING. HE’S CRAZY, Wayne wrote and passed it along. HE’S HARMLESS, BUT YOU SHOULD LEAVE HIM ALONE.
“Why? Might have some fun provoked!”
The Anarchist smiled from memory. “Just a woman I know.”
“Must be desperate to be with you,” the boy said, moving his chair up from the Anarchist’s to Wayne’s.
“Are you queer?”
NO. A HISTORY FREAK, Wayne wrote, pausing from his scribbling of Duncan’s editorial about the catastrophe and how the authorities were moving to normalize the city. When Duncan came to Sandy’s speech, Wayne took it down, much annoyed with its pretensions. Wayne decided that later he would give Duncan a little editorial competition. He would record his version of the events with all the wit and experience he could recall or invent. Making notes didn’t bind him to any ideology now, not the Llama’s or Sandy’s or the Anarchist’s. Nor was he tied to the specific purpose of news. He was entirely free except for the imposition of time and accuracy. Hell, each sequence of the PHOENIX was history. Anyone could tell a story, but this one would be uniquely his. There was yet time, with the network arteries clogged, to write a great piece on the miracle that had rescued the city, called the AG.
The boy held out a joint to Wayne, “Smoke? Could use some in this weather.” He turned down the sound as Wayne took some of the joint into his lungs, ”Don’t mind if I turn this down, right?”
Wayne laughed at the idea and wrote, SAME TO ME. I JUST WANT TO GET THE OLD GUY HOME TO HIS OLD LADY. KNOW WHAT I MEAN?
The boy laughed in friendship, “Well, good luck, man. Don’t have to worry about cops looking for you tonight.”
Wayne led the reluctant Anarchist out of the rotunda. He was as tired as the Anarchist but thought it important to return to the loft and the AG.
Progress was slow along the river. Wayne felt it was the best course, though the cold hurt and chapped his skin through the ripped shoulder of his jacket. His skin itched from flapping shreds of cloth, especially where his pants had ceased to cover his calves. One look at the Anarchist aroused enough pity that he almost forgot his own troubles. The Anarchist was clutching the piece of cloth Wayne had handed him for his mouth and nose and was trying to breathe through it. He was bravely ignoring the fine particles that had settled in the creases of his face and were layering his beard. Wayne knew he looked equally pathetic; two mongrels searching for their hole.
At least, Wayne thought, the Anarchist had been a believer, trying to fulfill his destiny with an act that made him a part of a larger process–something large enough to stop the printing of the daily news. Wayne thought of the enormity of intention and how it had made both of them Sandy’s dupe. The Anarchist had paid for his misdirected idealism, aiming too high with lack of precision. He had paid literally. Lack of insight had cost him his eyes in an age without conscience.
The Anarchist, for his part, hoped that Wayne would lead him home. Wayne led him to a place where the concrete sidewalk became wood ties. He felt Wayne’s hands steadying him so that he wouldn’t fall in the odd places where the ties narrowed to steps, then a half-step, then a rope ladder, and a small fall onto a boat bottom. The Anarchist felt the square-bottomed, upward slope of a rowboat. The lap of the waves against the dull wood put him to sleep. He knew he was finally going home.
Red /green, red/green- -the lights on the board lit with the constant monotony of Christmas lights. The AG stood for a break and stretched her cramped muscles, walking to the window where she could see the Pan-Am Building directly below her.
Streetlights were alive on Third Avenue and Forty-Second Street! Maybe, the AG speculated, on the other side of the Pan-Am Building and all over the city as well. She could see men uncovering the necks and bases of the lamps. Trashcans, encased by dust, were being unearthed by the steady burrowing of bulldozers. It was not unlike a snowy Saturday night, later after the shoppers have gone home, when the midtown area of the city is silent but for the steady clank of machinery moving intrepid snow. The AG felt as if some dire emotion had been exorcised from the city, leaving a new kind of joy, a new knowledge in the night air.
She, the AG, had done more than intuit the situation. She had taken charge! She allowed herself a quick flush of elation before the return of responsibility and failure. She had perceived and reacted, ably managed the crisis. But she had experienced no intimations of the Anarchist’s fate, nothing but a painfully sharp light in her mind’s eye extinguished before the immediate problem of handling the phone-lines. The insight had been suppressed for the necessity of plugging cords into the clogged arteries of urban vitality. It constituted some kind of sacrifice.
Buzz, buzz…an angry green light reminded her, who needed no reminding, that her mission was not ended.
“AG. It’s Duncan from the clearinghouse. Aux circuits are in operation. The test patterns are going off soon, and I’ll make Sandy’s broadcast. You better be going.”
“Look, with Sandy missing, you make a great fall guy. Split if you can. I won’t give your identity away even though I was supposed to have exclusive rights to the story.”
“That’s nice of you, but journalists aren’t noted for kindness.”
“AG, I don’t have any idea what those initials stand for.”
“I mean your real name, you must have a…”
The AG ignored the idea and unplugged after wishing Duncan a happy broadcast. She thought perhaps it was time for her to leave Ad-A-Live headquarters. She wondered if she were, indeed, in some danger from the police. The idea hadn’t occurred to her. In fact, she didn’t have an inkling about anything in the outside world except going home to her Anarchist. Still, a new fear made her imagine her loft surrounded by police. Would she be hustled into a car, handcuffed on its roof, and taken to some headquarters for questioning? Did such realities follow the patterns of television? The AG wished she had one now. She would have to remember to observe TV rituals for procedures that mirrored real life. Since her second sight was failing, she would have to find a new way to live in the world.
Forgetting the miracle of her organization in the crisis, the triumph that should have given her confidence, the AG felt like a criminal for the first time in her life. She wondered if there was anything in Sandy’s desk that might be of later use to herr. In the top drawer she found a plastic marketing sack. In the middle drawer she found Sandy’s pivotal collage and propped it up on the switchboard, unaware of its meaning.
The AG simply found the thing horrifying. Jagged angles of model’s flesh blended with chrome car bodies. Sky roofs mocking the dense claustrophobia of the composition made the AG short of breath. She disliked the paper surface of Sandy’s world. It was oily magazine stock filled with perfectly shot nightmare imagery. She exposed the cardboard back of the collage and with purposeful thought opened the third drawer for utilitarian goods.
Underneath a mound of plastic coffee spoons and stirrers and clear packets of napkins and sugar, she found a square object inside a plastic sack. The AG turned down the buzzer on the board, thinking it might be a momentous find, since it was hidden so well.
Inside the sack were Sandy’s tape recorder and a small stack of tapes. Mechanical objects had never been a part of her life, but the AG thought the procedure might not be too difficult. She opened the clear window of the cassette player, placed a cassette into it, and closed the lid. Easy enough, now if I can just figure out how to work the buttons. What did the gesture of playing a tape look like?
The AG recalled, with some difficulty, an image of Sandy playing the tape. She had pressed two fingers simultaneously on two buttons. Were the two keys adjacent? No. There was one in-between. The AG pressed “Play” and “Start” vigorously. Unexpectedly, the voice that greeted her was her own. She recognized the baby-like gurgle so characteristic of her pleasurable sleep of former days. The AG felt acute embarrassment, a hot flush checked by Sandy’s impatient voice.
“Alpha-level. Nothing discernible can break that flow. She seems to operate on a low level of experience and comprehension. The AG as a subject is unintelligible but very reactive to auditory and tactile stimuli. Since she is so suggestible, she can be easily manipulated. To what advantage I haven’t yet determined. The Anarchist, however, is a coherent sleeper. Fragments of stories and a repressed Irish are tantalizing aspects of his subconscious mind. They could be significant clues to his behavior, ideology, and the proper means for altering or interfering with his chosen routes….”
With much absorption, the AG listened to the rest of the tape. Then she lined up the rest of the boxes of tapes and checked the sides until she found the markings she was looking for. Dates, months and months of tapes. Where, the AG wondered, had she hidden the microphone?
BETRAYAL. Sandy’s calculated purpose, her malicious intent, was awesome to the AG. Sandy’s assessment of her own perception had been too accurate. The AG had had intimations of the existence of the PHOENIX, but had been powerless to act on them. The second sight had given her a cosmic fatalism and sense of the infinite that made her unable to interfere with the destiny she foresaw. She could offer aid to accident victims and animals, but not prevent their troubles any more than she could have stopped the PHOENIX. If she had been able to synthesize her instinctual feelings on a conscious level, she might have averted the terror that had afflicted her city. This had been within her powers, but she had become lost within the instinctual overview, that realm from which she drew her inner sanctuary.
The AG walked again to the window of the Pan-Am building and peered out into the night. Sandy’s collage had accurately represented the landscape she had long been blind to. The depths of Sandy’s self-interest, the depths of her betrayal of the AG’s love, made a deep wound in her psyche. She wondered if she cared to leave Ad-A-Live for her “safety.” Staring down at the city with new, somber thoughts on the useless nature of human life, she was only dimly aware of a faint buzzing from her board.
Sense of mission was enough to carry her back to the switchboard. She found her hand reach for the cord, her fingers curved around it, though her mind was still absorbing the stark shock of BETRAYAL. Was it necessary to hate someone to betray them, she wondered. Was it just a kind of extreme self-interest? Was it an emotional form of cold steel, something akin to the jagged sunroofs in car ads? What were the ethereal aspects of this evil?
Sitting in Sandy’s chair, the AG thought, I was her friend. I will answer the line.
“AG?” a voice said.
It sounded like and unlike the Anarchist. She took a chance.
“You’re a brave girl to save the city.”
“Did you want to destroy it?” the AG asked, realizing she had to know the depth of his involvement with Sandy.
“To destroy to save was Sandy’s idea. I wanted to enlighten just a small part of it.” The Anarchist said enlighten with a harsh twist of bitterness that seemed as foreign as his voice.
“Are you all right? You sound tired, what is wrong? Tell me!”
“Soon enough,” said the Anarchist with a stiffness that loosened her emotions.
“Do you love me, miss me? Will everything be okay?”
“Come soon,” the Anarchist said in the same manner, “my love.”
The AG replaced the cord into a hole on the switchboard. She opened the plastic sack and dropped the box of tapes and the recorder into it. Sandy’s collage followed the tapes. The AG looked at the simple but frightening design and knew it probably revealed more than police were trained to read. Psychiatrists would generalize about it from other cases, the kind of speculative defilement the AG wouldn’t wish on a fellow human, even Sandy. Sandy’s betrayal had been a less objective invasion of privacy.
The AG closed the sack and propped the map of the mandala-shaped operation on the switchboard. The police would appreciate the true value of that kind of strategy. Then the AG put on her dust suit. She did not bother to hook up the diving tank. There would be no need. The streets were clear now.