A SCANNER DARKLY -- CHAPTER 11
The store had an old wooden quality, with a more modern sign but many little brass doodads in the windows of a lock type: funky ornate mailboxes, trippy doorknobs made to resemble human heads, great fake black iron keys. He entered, into semi-gloom. Like a doper's place, he thought, appreciating the irony.
At a counter where two huge key-grinding machines loomed up, plus thousands of key blanks dangling from racks, a plump elderly lady greeting him. "Yes, sir? Good morning."
Arctor said, "I'm here ...
Ihr Instrumente freilich spottet mein,
... to pay for a check of mine which the bank returned. It's for twenty dollars, I believe."
"Oh." The lady amiably lifted out a locked metal file, searched for the key to it, then discovered the file wasn't locked. She opened it and found the check right away, with a note attached. "Mr. Arctor?"
"Yes," he said, his money already out.
"Yes, twenty dollars." Detaching the note from the check, she began laboriously writing on the note, indicating that he had shown up and purchased the check back.
"I'm sorry about this," he told her, "but by mistake I wrote the check on a now closed account rather than my active one."
"Umm," the lady said, smiling as she wrote.
"Also," he said, "I'd appreciate it if you'd tell your husband, who called me the other day --"
"My brother Carl," the lady said, "actually." She glanced over her shoulder. "If Carl spoke to you" ... she gestured, smiling. "He gets overwrought sometimes about checks ... I apologize if he spoke ... you know."
"Tell him," Arctor said, his speech memorized, "that when he called I was distraught myself, and I apologize for that, too."
"I believe he did say something about that, yes." She laid out his check; he gave her twenty dollars.
"Any extra charge?" Arctor said.
"No extra charge."
"I was distraught," he said, glancing briefly at the check and then putting it away in his pocket, "because a friend of mine had just passed on unexpectedly."
"Oh dear," the lady said.
Arctor, lingering, said, "He choked to death alone, in his room; on a piece of meat. No one heard him."
"Do you know, Mr. Arctor, that more deaths from that happen than people realize? I read that when you are dining with a friend, and he or she does not speak for a period of time but just sits there, you should lean forward and ask him if he can talk? Because he may not be able to; he may be strangling and can't tell you."
"Yes," Arctor said. "Thanks. That's true. And thanks about the check."
"I'm sorry about your friend," the lady said.
"Yes," he said. "He was about the best friend I had."
"That is so dreadful," the lady said. "How old was he, Mr. Arctor?"
"In his early thirties," Arctor said, which was true: Luckman was thirty-two.
"Oh, how terrible. I'll tell Carl. And thank you for coming all the way down here."
"Thank you," Arctor said. "And thank Mr. Englesohn too, for me. Thank you both so much." He departed, finding himself back out on the warm morning sidewalk, blinking in the bright light and foul air.
He phoned for a cab, and on the journey back to his house sat advising himself as to how well he had gotten out of this net of Barris's with no real overly bad scene. Could have been a lot worse, he pointed out to himself. The check was still there. And I didn't have to confront the dude himself.
He got out the check to see how closely Barris had been able to approximate his handwriting. Yes, it was a dead account; he recognized the color of the check right away, an entirely closed one, and the bank had stamped it ACCOUNT CLOSED. No wonder the locksmith had gone bananas. And then, studying the check as he rode along, Arctor saw that the handwriting was his.
Not anything like Barris's. A perfect forgery. He would never have known it wasn't his, except that he remembered not having written it.
My God, he thought, how many of these has Barris done by now? Maybe he's embezzled me out of half I've got.
Barris, he thought, is a genius. On the other hand, it's probably a tracing reproduction or anyhow mechanically done. But I never made a check out to Englesohn Locksmith, so how could it be a transfer forgery? This is a unique check. I'll turn it over to the department graphologists, he decided, and let them figure out how it was done. Maybe just practice, practice, practice.
As to the mushroom jazz -- He thought, I'll just walk up to him and say people told me he's been trying to sell them mushroom hits. And to knock it off. I got feedback from somebody worried, as they should be.
But, he thought, these items are only random indications of what he's up to, discovered on the first replay. They only represent samples of what I'm up against. Christ knows what else he's done: he's got all the time in the world to loaf around and read reference books and dream up plots and intrigues and conspiracies and so forth ... Maybe, he thought abruptly, I better have a trace run on my phone right away to see if it's tapped. Barris has a box of electronic hardware, and even Sony, for example, makes and sells an induction coil that can be used as a phone-tapping device. The phone probably is. It probably has been for quite a while.
I mean, he thought, in addition to my own recent -- necessary -- phone tap.
Again he studied the check as the cab jiggled along, and all at once he thought, What if I made it out myself? What if Arctor wrote this? I think I did, he thought; I think the motherfucking dingey Arctor himself wrote this check, very fast -- the letters slanted -- because for some reason he was in a hurry; he dashed it off, got the wrong blank check, and afterward forgot all about it, forgot the incident entirely.
Forget, he thought, the time Arctor ...
Was grinsest du mir, hohler Schadel, her?
... oozed out of that huge dope happening in Santa Ana, where he met that little blond chick with odd teeth, long blond hair, and a big ass, but so energetic and friendly... he couldn't get his car started; he was wired up to his nose. He kept having trouble -- there was so much dope dropped and shot and snorted that night, it went on almost until dawn. So much Substance D, and very Primo. Very very Primo. His stuff.
Leaning forward, he said, "Pull over at that Shell station. I'll get out there."
He got out, paid the cab driver, then entered the pay phone, looked up the locksmith's number, phoned him.
The old lady answered. "Englesohn Locksmith, good --"
"This is Mr. Arctor again, I'm sorry to bother you. What address do you have for the call, the service call for which my check was made out?"
"Well, let me see. Just a moment, Mr. Arctor." Bumping of the phone as she set it down.
Distant muffled man's voice: "Who is it? That Arctor?"
"Yes, Carl, but don't say anything, please. He came in just now --"
"Let me talk to him."
Pause. Then the old lady again. "Well, I have this address, Mr. Arctor." She read off his home address.
"That's where your brother was called out to? To make the key?"
"Wait a moment. Carl? Do you remember where you went in the truck to make the key for Mr. Arctor?"
Distant man's rumble: "On Katella."
"Not his home?"
"Somewhere on Katella, Mr. Arctor. In Anaheim. No, wait -- Carl says it was in Santa Ana, on Main. Does that --"
"Thanks," he said and hung up. Santa Ana. Main. That's where the fucking dope party was, and I must have turned in thirty names and as many license plates that night; that was not your standard party. A big shipment had arrived from Mexico; the buyers were splitting and, as usual with buyers, sampling as they split. Half of them now probably have been busted by buy agents sent out ... Wow, he thought: I still remember -- or never will correctly remember -- that night.
But that still doesn't excuse Barris from impersonating Arctor with malice aforethought on that phone call coming in. Except that, by the evidence, Barris had made it up on the spot -- improvised. Shit, maybe Barris was wired the other night and did what a lot of dudes do when they're wired: just sort of groove with what's happening. Arctor wrote the check for a certainty; Barris just happened to pick up the phone. Thought, in his charred head, that it was a cool gag. Being irresponsible only, nothing more.
And, he reflected as he dialed Yellow Cab again, Arctor has not been very responsible in making good on that check over this prolonged period. Whose fault is that? Getting it out once more, he examined the date on the check. A month and a half. Jesus, talk about irresponsibility! Arctor could wind up inside looking out, for that; it's God's mercy that nutty Carl didn't go to the D.A. already. Probably his sweet old sister restrained him.
Arctor, he decided, better get his ass in gear; he's done a few dingey things himself I didn't know about until now. Barris isn't the only one or perhaps even the primary one. For one thing, there is still to be explained the cause of Barris's intense, concerted malice toward Arctor; a man doesn't set out over a long period of time to burn somebody for no reason. And Barris isn't trying to burn anybody else, not, say, Luckman or Charles Freck or Donna Hawthorne; he helped get Jerry Fabin to the federal clinic more than anyone else, and he's kind to all the animals in the house.
One time Arctor had been going to send one of the dogs -- what the hell was the little black one's name, Popo or something? -- to the pound to be destroyed, she couldn't be trained, and Barris had spent hours, in fact days, with Popo, gently training her and talking with her until she calmed down and could be trained and so didn't have to go be snuffed. If Barris had general malice toward all, he wouldn't do numbers, good numbers, like that.
"Yellow Cab," the phone said.
He gave the address of the Shell station.
And if Carl the locksmith had pegged Arctor as a heavy doper, he pondered as he lounged around moodily waiting for the cab, it isn't Barris's fault; when Carl must've pulled up in his truck at 5 A.M. to make a key for Arctor's Olds, Arctor probably was walking on Jell-O sidewalks and up walls and batting off fisheyes and every other kind of good dope-trip thing. Carl drew his conclusions then. As Carl ground the new key, Arctor probably floated around upside down or bounced about on his head, talking sideways. No wonder Carl had not been amused.
In fact, he speculated, maybe Barris is trying to cover up for Arctor's increasing fuckups. Arctor is no longer keeping his vehicle in safe condition, as he once did, he's been hanging paper, not deliberately but because his goddamn brain is slushed from dope. But, if anything, that's worse. Barris is doing what he can; that's a possibility. Only, his brain, too, is slushed. All their brains are ...
Dem Wurme gleich' ich, der den Staub durchwuhlt,
... slushed and mutually interacting in a slushed way. It's the slushed leading the slushed. And right into doom.
Maybe, he conjectured, Arctor cut the wires and bent the wires and created all the shorts in his cephscope. In the middle of the night. But for what reason?
That would be a difficult one: why? But with slushed brains anything was possible, any variety of twisted -- like the wires themselves -- motives. He'd seen it, during his undercover law-enforcement work, many, many, times. This tragedy was not new to him; this would be, in their computer files, just one more case. This was the phase ahead of the journey to the federal clinic, as with Jerry Fabin.
All these guys walked one game board, stood now in different squares various distances from the goal, and would reach it at several times. But all, eventually, would reach it: the federal clinics.
It was inscribed in their neural tissue. Or what remained of it. Nothing could halt it or turn it back now.
And, he had begun to believe, for Bob Arctor most of all. It was his intuition, just beginning, not dependent on anything Barris was doing. A new, professional insight.
And also, his superiors at the Orange County Sheriff's Office had decided to focus on Bob Arctor; they no doubt had reasons which he knew nothing about. Perhaps these facts confirmed one another: their growing interest in Arctor -- after all, it had cost the department a bundle to install the holo-scanners in Arctor's house, and to pay him to analyze the print-outs, as well as others higher up to pass judgment on what he periodically turned over -- this fitted in with Barris's unusual attention toward Arctor, both having selected Arctor as a Primo target. But what had he seen himself in Arctor's conduct that struck him as unusual? Firsthand, not dependent on these two interests?
As the taxi drove along, he reflected that he would have to watch awhile to come across anything, more than likely; it would not disclose itself to the monitors in a day. He would have to be patient; he would have to resign himself to a long-term scrutiny and to put himself in a space where he was willing to wait.
Once he saw something on the holo-scanners, however, some enigmatic or suspicious behavior on Arctor's part, then a three-point fix would exist on him, a third verification of the others' interests. Certainly this would be a confirm. It would justify the expense and time of everyone's interest.
I wonder what Barris knows that we don't know, he wondered. Maybe we should haul him in and ask him. But-- better to obtain material developed independently from Barris; otherwise it would be a duplication of what Barris, whoever he was or represented, had.
And then he thought, What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor; he's a good person. He's up to nothing. At least nothing unsavory. In fact, he thought, he works for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, covertly. Which is probably ...
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
... why Barris is after him.
But, he thought, that wouldn't explain why the Orange County Sheriff's office is after him -- especially to the extent of installing all those holos and assigning a full-time agent to watch and report on him. That wouldn't account for that.
It does not compute, he thought. More, a lot more, is going down in that house, that run-down rubble-filled house with its weed-patch backyard and cat box that never gets emptied and animals walking on the kitchen table and garbage spilling over that no one ever takes out.
What a waste, he thought, of a truly good house. So much could be done with it. A family, children, and a woman, could live there. It was designed for that: three bedrooms. Such a waste; such a fucking waste! They ought to take it away from him, he thought; enter the situation and foreclose. Maybe they will. And put it to better use; that house yearns for that. That house has seen so much better days, long ago. Those days could return. If another kind of person had it and kept it up.
The yard especially, he thought, as the cab pulled into the newspaper-splattered driveway.
He paid the driver, got out his door key, and entered the house.
Immediately he felt something watching: the holo-scanners on him. As soon as he crossed his own threshold. Alone -- no one but him in the house. Untrue! Him and the scanners, insidious and invisible, that watched him and recorded. Everything he did. Everything he uttered.
Like the scrawls on the wall when you're peeing in a public urinal, he thought. SMILE! YOU'RE ON CANDID CAMERA! I am, he thought, as soon as I enter this house. It's eerie. He did not like it. He felt self-conscious; the sensation had grown since the first day, when they'd arrived home -- the "dog-shit day," as he thought of it, couldn't keep from thinking of it. Each day the experience of the scanners had grown.
"Nobody home, I guess," he stated aloud as usual, and was aware that the scanners had picked that up. But he had to take care always: he wasn't supposed to know they were there. Like an actor before a movie camera, he decided, you act like the camera doesn't exist or else you blow it. It's all over.
And for this shit there are no take-two's.
What you get instead is wipeout. I mean, what I get. Not the people behind the scanners but me.
What I ought to do, he thought, to get out of this, is sell the house; it's run down anyway. But ... I love this house. No way!
It's my house.
Nobody can drive me out.
For whatever reasons they would or do want to.
Assuming there's a "they" at all.
Which may just be my imagination, the "they" watching me. Paranoia. Or rather the "it." The depersonalized it.
Whatever it is that's watching, it is not a human.
Not by my standards, anyhow. Not what I'd recognize.
As silly as this is, he thought, it's frightening. Something is being done to me and by a mere thing, here in my own house. Before my very eyes.
Within something's very eyes; within the sight of some thing. Which, unlike little dark-eyed Donna, does not ever blink. What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube- type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me -- into us -- clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.
From the living-room bookcase he took down a volume at random; it turned out to be, he discovered, The Picture Book of Sexual Love. Opening at random, he perceived a page -- which showed a man nibbling happily at a chick's right tit, and the chick sighing -- and said aloud, as if reading to himself from the book, as if quoting from some famous old-time double-dome philosopher, which he was not:
"Any given man sees only a tiny portion of the total truth, and very often, in fact almost ...
Weh! steck' ich in dem Kerker noch?
... perpetually, he deliberately deceives himself about that little precious fragment as well. A portion of him turns against him and acts like another person, defeating him from inside. A man inside a man. Which is no man at all."
Nodding, as if moved by the wisdom of the nonexisting written words on that page, he closed the large redbound, gold-stamped Picture Book of Sexual Love and restored it to the shelf. I hope the scanners don't zoom in on the cover of this book, he thought, and blow my shuck.
Charles Freck, becoming progressively more and more depressed by what was happening to everybody he knew, decided finally to off himself. There was no problem, in the circles where he hung out, in putting an end to yourself; you just bought into a large quantity of reds and took them with some cheap wine, late at night, with the phone off the hook so no one would interrupt you.
The planning part had to do with the artifacts you wanted found on you by later archeologists. So they'd know from which stratum you came. And also could piece together where your head had been at the time you did it.
He spent several days deciding on the artifacts. Much longer than he had spent deciding to kill himself, and approximately the same time required to get that many reds. He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict the system and achieve something by his death, over and above what the death itself achieved.
Actually, he was not as sure in his mind what the death achieved as what the two artifacts achieved; but anyhow it all added up, and he began to make ready, like an animal sensing its time has come and acting out its instinctive programming, laid down by nature, when its inevitable end was near.
At the last moment (as end-time closed in on him) he changed his mind on a decisive issue and decided to drink the reds down with a connoisseur wine instead of Ripple or Thunderbird, so he set off on one last drive, over to Trader Joe's, which specialized in fine wines, and bought a bottle of 1971 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, which set him back almost thirty dollars -- all he had.
Back home again, he uncorked the wine, let it breathe, drank a few glasses of it, spent a few minutes contemplating his favorite page of The Illustrated Picture Book of Sex, which showed the girl on top, then placed the plastic bag of reds beside his bed, lay down with the Ayn Rand book and unfinished protest letter to Exxon, tried to think of something meaningful but could not, although he kept remembering the girl being on top, and then, with a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, gulped down all the reds at once. After that, the deed being done, he lay back, the Ayn Rand book and letter on his chest, and waited.
However, he had been burned. The capsules were not barbiturates, as represented. They were some kind of kinky psychedelics, of a type he had never dropped before, probably a mixture, and new on the market. Instead of quietly suffocating, Charles Freck began to hallucinate. Well, he thought philosophically, this is the story of my life. Always ripped off. He had to face the fact -- considering how many of the capsules he had swallowed -- that he was in for some trip.
The next thing he knew, a creature from between dimensions was standing beside his bed looking down at him disapprovingly.
The creature had many eyes, all over it, ultra-modern expensive-looking clothing, and rose up eight feet high. Also, it carried an enormous scroll.
"You're going to read me my sins," Charles Freck said.
The creature nodded and unsealed the scroll.
Freck said, lying helpless on his bed, "and it's going to take a hundred thousand hours."
Fixing its many compound eyes on him, the creature from between dimensions said, "We are no longer in the mundane universe. Lower-plane categories of material existence such as 'space' and 'time' no longer apply to you. You have been elevated to the transcendent realm. Your sins will be read to you ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list will never end."
Know your dealer, Charles Freck thought, and wished he could take back the last half-hour of his life.
A thousand years later he was still lying there on his bed with the Ayn Rand book and the letter to Exxon on his chest, listening to them read his sins to him. They had gotten up to the first grade, when he was six years old.
Ten thousand years later they had reached the sixth grade.
The year he had discovered masturbation.
He shut his eyes, but he could still see the multi-eyed, eight-foot-high being with its endless scroll reading on and on.
"And next --" it was saying.
Charles Freck thought, At least I got a good wine.