November's 21 thru 30

After three seconds it stops. Just like on the pier: I have no sense of touch. Need to leave! Watching each of my movements with care, I board an empty elevator. All feeling returns as I cross the lobby. Finally! Other than a man in a blue smock approaching, there is no hubbub. He says, “Mijnheer...?”

I stop. “Umm, Lorber.”

He hands me a paperback-sized screen and says, “de vorm seven-aught-eight-four-two-four, double-three.”

I read, declare myself a non-compensated suicide facilitator, and sign with a stylus. I hand the computer back and walk out the front doors. One-sleeve’s husk is gone.

Guess I should think of him as Fred Lindquist; his name, on the form. I watch two men in protective clothing with tanks on their backs rinse the pavement. I use the V-Sat, wait, and get in when the car arrives. Circling the block, I remove the pistol from under the front seat and zip it into an inside jacket pocket. The biohazard-men are gone when I pick up Holly.

“Did you hear the alarm earlier?” she asks.


“The briefer told us it’s to warn pedestrians that someone is jumping off the roof. They get a couple a day.”

I say, “tell me about it,” and watch her beautiful profile as she talks. Mission is, now, almost fleshed-out. …web-word spreads about ‘new-best’ everything: woman-in-red to visit, methods, places for a last meal... How to best utilize a question? …compensation for lost revenue if an establishment temporarily becomes a ‘lemming cliff’…

Ohura interrupts: construction – 32-kilometer detour – or select manual..

“Manual,” I reply.

“What?” Ish’s last expression (of ‘unbranded carrier’ fear)—crosses Holly’s face. “You ever control a sled?”

“Yes. Dan Ryan during Chicago rush hour.” I say as the accelerator presses my foot and steering responds to my fingertips.

“Oh,” she says, relaxing and turning her attention to the in-dash screen. “I forget you’re American.”

Maneuvering irregular roadway sections bordering a site containing several building-top cranes, I indicate with my chin, “unfamiliar with this.”

“The epicenter, I think,” she replies. “I’ve got our kiosk results, but don’t read until you’re off manual.”

Once available, I return to handicap automatic. Glancing toward the screen, Holly’s body posture grabs my attention. She kisses me; soft lips with a flick of tongue. I kiss back. Honeysuckle fills my nose and a left eye as green as a four-leaf clover fills my vision.

After reading our negative results—which reflects Joe has not been tested since arriving two years ago, all but confirming his virginity—the car stops and we escape the drizzle under an awning. “Never been to this part of town, where are we headed?” she asks.

“A few blocks east of the Internationaal Instituut…ahh, over there.” I point across the street at a pedestrian walkway. We hold hands.

In the afternoon, with no reflected blaze of artificial lights, the massive mirror-and-chrome block looks less imposing. Holly chooses the pizza and beer joint—Best of Both Worlds—with no coaching.

While selecting a table, an intoxicated, mustachioed-man—shorter than me by a few inches, lighter by a few kilos, and younger by several hundred years—bolts from the back and almost knocks us down. To prevent the collision, I hip-check him into an empty table, spilling most of my beer. As he climbs upright, I estimate the placement of a nonfatal windpipe-crushing blow.

In gutter-French he stammers, “Feckin bitch-all-worthless highn’-mighty, dre-serve to die. Filth-cunt!” Spittle froths in the corners of his mouth.

Silently, two waiters manhandle him away while a third apologetically brings me a fresh drink.

Holly pales.

“Just a drunk and he is gone,” I say.

With strong shock behind her eyes and over-filling her voice, she says, “we dated. Martin-something. Haven’t seen him in years. Never did anything ‘cause he always refused a joint test and, instead, showed me dodgy private print-outs.”

Her coincidence not mine. Nonetheless, I nudge the pistol. After four beers and a pizza, Holly appears relaxed. We dance a few songs. During Neunundneunzig Luftballoons the lights grow blurry streamers. Maybe just the beer? Colors fade away. No such luck. Vision closes in; disappears to gray. I pull her close and slow dance.

I savor soft kisses through two more songs. Did I overlook a signal? A waiter or busboy? Slipping Holly my wallet, I tell her to pay and meet me out front. By memory, I work my way to the WC. Empty. I piss and wash without interruption. Through a side service door, I sidle in the direction of crowd noises. At the corner, near knee height, I hear the squeak of someone twist-molding a balloon and muttering in French: ‘fuck-cunt-fuck-cunt’. I smell honeysuckle. With the barrel in contact with a sweaty mustachioed skull, the retort is muffled to door-slam proportions.

My vision snaps into focus on a crimson splash of hair-brains on the silver building. I pick up my wallet and help Holly to her feet. Choking, she stumbles over Martin-something’s torso. I lead us through the crowd. Lösch’s guidance about Gendarmerie abilities causes me to cross the street and, after two blocks, wait for a bus-train where Holly vomits in a trash receptacle. After fifteen minutes, we get off and she gasps through tears, “you saved me, Joe.”

I shush, hold her, and stroke her hair while waiting in a turnout for the car. It begins to rain. Hard.

After instructing Ohura I say, “if you can, I would like to know more.”

I hug her and stare through the windshield. She whispers, “he was waiting. Flying one-ought-five or something, not just drunk. I said he confused me with someone else. Then I ran. He grabbed me. I could see the shadows of people passing; none helped.”

“Was he a carrier?” One down.

“Wrong skin and he’d be dead already; maybe, hiding his identity? I mistakenly heard, ‘mighty oak’s never confused,’ but it was really: ‘Marty Oak’. Before—he was Ballard. I remember now.”

Oak, in Spanish, is Roble.

To Be Continued (maybe, someday)