FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID
Together, hand in hand, they strolled along the evening sidewalk, past the competing, flashing, winking, flooding pools of color created by the rotating, pulsating, jiggling, lit-up signs. This kind of neighborhood did not please him; he had seen it a million times, duplicated throughout the face of earth. It had been from such as this that he had fled, early in his life, to use his sixness as a method of getting out And now he had come back.
He did not object to the people: he saw them as trapped here, the ordinaries, who through no fault of their own had to remain. They had not invented it: they did not like it: they endured it, as he had not had to. In fact, he felt guilty, seeing their grim faces, their turned- down mouths. Jagged, unhappy mouths.
"Yes," Kathy said at last, "I think I really am falling in love with you. But it's your fault; it's your powerful magnetic field that you radiate. Did you know I can see it?"
"Gee," he said mechanically.
"It's dark velvet purple," Kathy said, grasping his hand tightly with her surprisingly strong fingers. "Very intense. Can you see mine? My magnetic aura?"
"No," he said.
"I'm surprised. I would have thought you could." She seemed calm, now; the explosive screaming episode had left, trailing after it, relative stability. An almost pseudo-epileptoid personality structure, he conjectured. That works up day after day to -
"My aura," she broke into his thoughts, "is bright red. The color of passion."
"I'm glad for you," Jason said.
Halting, she turned to peer into his face. To decipher his expression. He hoped it was appropriately opaque. "Are you mad because I lost my temper?" she inquired.
"No," he said.
"You sound mad. I think you are mad. Well, I guess only Jack understands. And Mickey."
"Mickey Quinn," he said reflexively.
"Isn't he a remarkable person?" Kathy said.
"Very." He could have told her a lot, but it was pointless. She did not really want to know; she believed she understood already.
What else do you believe, little girl? he wondered. For example, what do you believe you know about me? As little as you know about Mickey Ouinn and Arlene Howe and all the rest of them who, for you, do not in reality exist? Think what I could tell you if, for a moment, you were able to listen. But you can't listen. It would frighten you, what you might hear. And anyhow, you know everything already.
"How does it feel," he asked, "to have slept with so many famous people?"
At that she stopped short. "Do you think I slept with them because they were famous? Do you think I'm a CF, a celebrity fucker? Is that your real opinion of me?"
Like flypaper, he thought. She enmeshed him by every word he said. He could not win.
"I think," he said, "you've led an interesting life. You're an interesting person."
"And important," Kathy added.
"Yes," he said. "Important, too. In some ways the most important person I've ever encountered. It's a thrilling experience."
"Do you mean that?"
"Yes," he said emphatically, And in a peculiar, assbackward way, it was true. No one, not even Heather, had ever tied him up so completely as this. He could not endure what he found himself going through, and he could not get away. It seemed to him as if he sat behind the tiller of his custom-made unique quibble, facing a red light, green light, amber light all at once; no rational response was possible. Her irrationality made it so. The terrible power, he thought, of illogic. Of the archetypes. Operating out of the drear depths of the collective unconscious which joined him and her -a nd everyone else - together. In a knot which never could be undone, as long as they lived.
No wonder, he thought, some people, many people, long for death.
"You want to go watch a captain kirk?" Kathy asked.
"Whatever," he said, briefly.
"There's a good one on at Cinema Twelve. It's set on a planet in the Betelgeuse System, a lot like Tarberg's Planet - you know, in the Proxima System. Only in the captain kirk it's inhabited by minions of an invisible -"
"I saw it," he said. As a matter of fact, a year ago they had had Jeff Pomeroy, who played the captain kirk in the picture, on his show; they had even run a short scene: the usual flick- plugging, you-visit-us deal with Pomeroy's studio. He had not liked it then and he doubted if he would like it now. And he detested Jeff Pomeroy, both on and off the screen. And that, as far as he was concerned, was that.
"It really wasn't any good?" Kathy asked trustingly.
"Jeff Pomeroy," he said, ''as far as I'm concerned, is the itchy asshole of the world. He and those like him. His imitators."
Kathy said, "He was at Morningside for a while. I didn't get to know him, but he was there."
"I can believe it," he said, half believing it.
"Do you know what he said to me once?"
"Knowing him," Jason began, "I'd say -"
"He said I was the tamest person he ever knew. Isn't that interesting? And he saw me go into one of my mystic states - you know; when I lie down and scream - and still he said that, I think he's a very perceptive person; I really do. Don't you?"
"Yes," he said,
"Shall we go back to my room, then?" Kathy asked. "And screw like minks?"
He grunted in disbelief. Had she really said that? Turning, he tried to make out her face, but they had come to a patch between signs; all was dark for the moment. Jesus, he said to himself. I've got to get myself out of this. I've got to find my way back to my own world!
"Does my honesty bother you?" she asked.
"No," he said grimly, "Honesty never bothers me. To be a celebrity you have to be able to take it." Even that, he thought." All kinds of honesty," he said. "Your kind most of all."
"What kind is mine?" Kathy asked.
"Honest honesty," he said.
"Then you do understand me," she said.
"Yes," he said, nodding. "I really do."
"And you don't look down on me? As a little worthless person who ought to be dead?"
"No," he said, "you're a very important person. And very honest, too. One of the most honest and straightforward individuals I've ever met. I mean that; I swear to God I do. "
She patted him friendlily on the arm. "Don't get all worked up over it. Let it come naturally."
"It comes naturally," he assured her. "It really does."
"Good," Kathy said. Happily. He had, evidently, eased her worries; she felt sure of him. And on that his life depended ... or did it really? Wasn't he capitulating to her pathological reasoning? At the moment he did not really know.
"Listen," he said haltingly. "I'm going to tell you something and I want you to listen carefully. You belong in a prison for the criminally insane."
Eerily, frighteningly, she did not react; she said nothing.
"And," he said, "I'm getting as far away from you as I can." He yanked his hand loose from hers, turned, made his way off in the opposite direction. Ignoring her. Losing himself among the ordinaries who milled in both directions along the cheap, neon-lit sidewalks of this unpleasant part of town.
I've lost her, he thought, and in doing so I have probably lost my goddamn life.
Now what? He halted, looked around him. Am I carrying a microtransmitter, as she says? he asked himself. Am I giving myself away with every step I take?
Cheerful Charley, he thought, told me to look up Heather Hart. And as everybody in TV- land knows, Cheerful Charley is never wrong.
But will I live long enough, he asked himself, to reach Heather Hart? And if I do reach her and I'm bugged, won't I simply be carrying my death onto her? Like a mindless plague? And, he thought, if Al Bliss didn't know me and Bill Wolfer didn't know me, why should Heather know me? But Heather, he thought, is a six, like myself. The only other six I know. Maybe that will be the difference. If there is any difference .
He found a public phone booth, entered, shut the door against the noise of traffic, and dropped a gold quinque into the slot.
Heather Hart had several unlisted numbers. Some for business, some for personal friends, one for - to put it bluntly - lovers. He, of course, knew that number, having been to Heather what he had, and still was, he hoped.
The viewscreen lit up. He made out the changing shapes as indicating that she was taking the call on her car phone .
"Hi," Jason said.
Shading her eyes to make him out, Heather said, "Who the hell are you?" Her green eyes flashed. Her red hair dazzled.
"I don't know anybody named Jason. How'd you get this number?" Her tone was troubled but also harsh. "Get the hell off my goddamn phone!" she scowled at him from the viewscreen and said, "Who gave you this number? I want his name."
Jason said, "You told me the number six months ago. When you first had it installed. Your private of the private lines; right? Isn't that what you called it?"
"Who told you that?"
"You did. We were in Madrid. You were on location and I had me a six-day vacation half a mile from your hotel. You used to drive over in your Rolls quibble about three each afternoon. Right?"
Heather said in a chattering, staccato tone, "Are you from a magazine?"
"No," Jason said. "I'm your number one paramour."
"Are you a fan? You're a fan, a goddamn twerp fan. I'll kill you if you don't get off my phone." The sound and image died; Heather had hung up.
He inserted another quinque into the slot, redialed.
"The twerp fan again," Heather said, answering. She seemed more poised, now. Or was it resigned?
"You have one imitation tooth," Jason said. "When you're with one of your lovers you glue it into place in your mouth with a special epoxy cement that you buy at Harney's. But with me you sometimes take it out, put it in a glass with Dr. Sloom's denture foam. That's the denture cleanser you prefer. Because, you always say, it reminds you of the days when Bromo Seltzer was legal and not just black market made in somebody's basement lab, using all three bromides that Bromo Seltzer discontinued years ago when --"
"How," Heather interrupted, "did you get hold of this information?" Her face was stiff - her words brisk and direct. Her tone ... he had heard it before. Heather used it with people she detested.
"Don't use that 'I don't give a fuck' tone with me," he said angrily. "Your false tooth is a molar. You call it Andy. Right?"
"A twerp fan knows all this about me. God. My worst nightmare confirmed. What's the name of your club and how many fans are there in it and where are you from and how, God damn it, did you get hold of personal details from my private life that you have no right to know in the first place? I mean, what you're doing is illegal; it's an invasion of privacy. I'll have the pols after you if you call me once more." She reached to hang up the receiver.
"I'm a six," Jason said.
"A what? A six what? You have six legs; is that it? Or more likely six heads."
Jason said, "You're a six, too. That's what's kept us together all this time."
"I'm going to die," Heather said, ashen, now; even in the dim light of her quibble he could make out the change of color in her features. "What'll it cost me to have you leave me alone? I always knew that some twerp fan would eventually -"
"Stop calling me a twerp fan," Jason said bitingly; it infuriated him absolutely. It struck him as the ultimate in something or other; maybe a bird down, as the expression went now.
Heather said, "What do you want?"
"To meet you at Altrocci's."
"Yes, you'd know about that, too. The one place I can go without being ejaculated on by nerds who want me to sign menus that don't even belong to them." She sighed wretchedly. "Well, now that's over. I won't meet you at Altrocci's or anywhere. Keep out of my life or I'll have my prive-pols deball you and -"
"You have one private pol," Jason interrupted. "He's sixty-two years old and his name is Fred. Originally he was a sharpshooter with the Orange County Minutemen; used to pick off student jeters at Cal State Fullerton. He was good then, but he's nothing to worry about now."
"Is that so," Heather said.
"Okay, let me tell you something else that how do you think I would know. Remember Constance Ellar?"
"Yes," Heather said. "That nonentity starlet that looked like a Barbie Doll except that her head was too small and her body looked as if someone had inflated her with a CO2 cartridge, overinflated her." Her lip curled. "She was utterly damn dumb."
"Right," he agreed. "Utterly damn dumb. That's the exact word. Remember what we did to her on my show? Her first planetwide exposure, because I had to take her in a tie-in deal. Do you remember that, what we did, you and I?"
Jason said, "As a sop to us for having her on the show, her agent agreed to let her do a commercial for one of our quarter-time sponsors. We got curious as to what the product was, so before Miss Ellar showed up we opened the paper bag and discovered it was a cream for removing leg hair. God, Heather, you must -"
"I'm listening," Heather said.
Jason said, "We took the spray can of leg-hair cream out and put a spray can of FDS back in with the same ad copy, which simply read, 'Demonstrate use of product with expression of contentment and satisfaction,' and then we got the hell out of there and waited."
"Miss Ellar finally showed up, went into her dressing room, opened the paper bag, and then - and this is the part that still makes me break up - she came up to me, perfectly seriously, and said, 'Mr. Taverner, I'm sorry to bother you about this, but to demonstrate the Feminine Hygiene Deodorant Spray I'll have to take off my skirt and underpants. Right there before the TV camera.' 'So?' I said. 'So what's the problem?' And Miss Ellar said, 'I'll need a little table on which I can put my clothes. I can't just drop them on the floor; that wouldn't look right. I mean, I'll be spraying that stuff into my vagina in front of sixty million people, and when you're doing that you can't just leave your clothes lying all around you on the floor; that isn't elegant.' She really would have done it, too, right on the air, if Al Bliss hadn't -"
"It's a tasteless story."
"All the same, you thought it was pretty funny. That utterly dumb girl with her first big break ready to do that. 'Demonstrate use of product with expression of contentment and -'"
Heather hung up.
How do I make her understand? he asked himself savagely, grinding his teeth together, nearly biting off a silver filling. He hated that sensation: grinding off a piece of filling. Destroying his own body, impotently. Can't she see that my knowledge of everything about her means something important? he asked himself. Who would know these things? Obviously only someone who had been very close physically with her for some time. There could be no other explanation, and yet she had conjured up such an elaborate other reason that he couldn't penetrate through to her. And it hung directly in front of her eyes. Her six's eyes.
Once more he dropped in a coin, dialed.
"Hi again," he said, when Heather at last picked up the phone in her car. "I know that about you, too," he said. "You can't let a phone ring; that's why you have ten private numbers, each for a different purpose of your very special own."
"I have three," Heather said. "So you don't know everything."
Jason said, "I merely meant -"
"I've had enough of that today," he said sincerely. "You can't buy me off because that's not what I want. I want - listen to me, Heather - I want to find out why nobody knows me. You most of all. And since you're a six I thought you might be able to explain it. Do you have any memory of me? Look at me on the picture screen. Look!"
She peered, one eyebrow cocked. "You're young but not too young. You're good-looking. Your voice is commanding and you have no reluctance about brigging me like this. You're exactly what a twerp fan would look like, sound like, act like. Okay; are you satisfied?"
"I'm in trouble," he said. It was blatantly irrational for him to tell her this, since she had no recollection of any sort of him. But over the years he had become accustomed to laying his troubles before her - and listening to hers -- and the habit had not died. The habit ignored what he saw the reality situation to be: it cruised on under its own power.
"That's a shame," Heather said.
Jason said, "Nobody remembers me. And I have no birth certificate; I was never born, never even born! So naturally I have no ID cards except a forged set I bought from a pol fink for two thousand dollars plus one thousand for my contact. I'm carrying them around, but, God: they may have microtransmitters built into them. Even knowing that I have to keep them on me; you know why - even you up at the top, even you know how this society works. Yesterday I had thirty million viewers who would have shrieked their aggrieved heads off if a pol or a nat so much as touched me. Now I'm looking into the eyes of an FLC."
"What's an FLC?"
"Forced-labor camp." He snarled the words at her, trying to pin her down and finally nail her. "The vicious little bitch who forged my papers made me take her out to some God-forsaken broken-down wop restaurant, and while we were there, just talking, she threw herself down on the floor screaming. Psychotic screaming; she's an escapee from Morningside, by her own admission. That cost me another three hundred dollars and by now who knows? She's probably sicced the pols and nats both on me. " Pushing his self-pity gingerly a little further, he said, "They're probably monitoring this phone line right now. "
"Oh, Christ, no!" Heather shrieked and again hung up.
He had no more gold quinques. So, at this point, he gave up. That was a stupid thing to say, he realized, that about the phone lines. That would make anybody hang up. I strangled myself in my own word web, right down the old freeber. Straight down the middle. Beautifully flat at both ends, too. Like a great artificial anus.
He shoved the door of the phone booth aside and stepped out onto the busy nocturnal sidewalk ... down here, he thought acidly, in Slumsville. Down where the pol finks hang out. Jolly good show, as that classic TV muffin ad went that we studied in school, he said to himself.
It would be funny, he thought, if it were happening to someone else. But it's happening to me. No, it's not funny either way. Because there is real suffering and real death passing the time of day in the wings. Ready to come on any minute.
I wish I could have taped the phone call, plus everything Kathy said to me and me to her. In 3-D color, on videotape it would be a nice bit on my show, somewhere near the end where we run out of material occasionally. Occasionally, hell : generally. Always. For the rest of my life.
He could hear his intro now. "What can happen to a man, a good man without a pol record, a man who suddenly one day loses his ID cards and finds himself facing ...' And so forth. It would hold them, all thirty million of them. Because that was what each of them feared. "An invisible man," his intro would go, "yet a man all too conspicuous. Invisible legally; conspicuous illegally. What becomes of such a man, if he cannot replace ..." Blah blah. On and on. The hell with it. Not everything that he did or said or had happen to him got onto the show; so it went with this. Another loser, among many. Many are called, he said to himself, but few are chosen. That's what it means to be a pro. That's how I manage things, public and private. Cut your losses and run when you have to, he told himself, quoting himself from back in the good days when his first full worldwide show got piped onto the satellite grid.
I'll find another forger, he decided, one that isn't a pol informer, and get a full new set of ID cards, ones without microtransmitters. And then, evidently, I need a gun.
I should have thought of that about the time I woke up in that hotel room, he said to himself. Once, years ago, when the Reynolds syndicate had tried to buy into his show, he had learned to use - and had carried - a gun: a Barber's Hoop with a range of two miles with no loss of peak trajectory until the final thousand feet.
Kathy's "mystical trance," her screaming fit. The audio portion would carry a mature male voice saying against her screams as BG, "This is what it is to be psychotic. To be psychotic is to suffer, suffer beyond ..." And so forth. Blah blah. He inhaled a great, deep lungful of cold night air, shuddered, joined the passengers on the sea of sidewalk, his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets.
And found himself facing a queue lined up ten deep before a pol random checkpoint. One gray-clad policeman stood at the end of the line, loitering there to make sure no one doubled back in the opposite direction.
"Can't you pass it, friend?" the pol said to him as he involuntarily started to leave.
"Sure," Jason said,
"That's good," the pol said good-humoredly. "Because we've been checking here since eight this morning and we still don't have our work quota."