Thursday, July 30, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 5

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

sally leaned back in the chair in the center of the office and glanced out the window. it was still a nice sunny day.
"why not just get her her sandwich?" jeanne d'arc asked. "i'll send robespierre out to get it."
"fine," charlotte answered.

jeanne got up and left the room. charlotte kept staring at sally. "meanwhile we'll keep going." she reached into the desk again and took out a purple box.
"what do you know about the fairweather poker game case?"
"i never heard of it," sally said. "i don't even know how to play poker."
"you never just answer just yes or no, do you? you always have to add a little something."
"i'm just trying to be helpful and keep things moving. "
"it's evidence of guilt. obvious guilt. you never heard of the fairweather poker game? it was in the news."
"how long ago? and i don't pay much attention to the news."

"you see? you give two answers when one will do. two-faced all the time."
sally didn't answer.
"let's talk about your own case, since you never heard of any others. when did you first report the letters?"
"isn't it in the file?"

"i'm asking you. what was the first letter you reported?"
"i think it was the fourth one."
"you think? what was in it?"
"you mean what did it i say?"
"what did you think i meant? what else would be in it - some instructions from your co-conspirators? some exhortations to do good for the cause?"
"where's my sandwich?"
charlotte laughed. "trying to change the subject?"
"it's not changing the subject. i already asked for it."
'the combined law enforcement agencies of the universe are getting you your sandwich. it's on its way."
'then where is it?"
"what was in the first letter?"
"i don't know - i love you baby, something like that, i can't remember exactly."
"that was in the first letter?"

sally thought for a moment. "the first letter just said "love". i thought you meant the first letter i reported."
"i said the first letter."
"this is so stupid. can't we just move along?"
"move along where? did you think you were going someplace?"
the door opened and jeanne came back in and sat down.
charlotte didn't look at her. "why didn't you report the first letters?" she asked sally.
"i just thought they were stupid."
"like this conversation we're having?"
"you said it, i didn't."

"why did you report the fourth letter? because it wasn't so stupid? did you think it was intelligent? let me read it to you. 'me love you baby you so totally beautiful. ' pretty intelligent stuff. not like my questions. "
"i thought it was getting serious. i thought i better report it."
"why didn't you report the first letter?"
jeanne spoke for the first time. "the first letter was clearly abusive. you had a duty as a citizen to report it. how is law enforcement supposed to protect the citizenry when it doesn't receive the most basic cooperation?"
"a good question, jeanne," said charlotte, "if we were dealing with a misguided victim, and not a master conspirator."
"nobody said anything before when i brought the letters in. they just thanked me for bringing them in." sally looked out the window. "detective kelly was nice."

"yes," said charlotte, "detective kelly was a nice young woman, sincerely dedicated to fighting sexism and abuse. but where is she now? who knows where she is now, while a piece of lowlife conspiratorial scum like you sits in a nice comfortable chair, looking out at a nice sunny day. and waiting for a free lunch."
the door behind charlotte opened and a thin little man entered. he wore a plain black suit and a white lace shirt, he put a small plastic bag on charlotte's desk.

"thank you, robespierre. are the travel arrangements all set?"
"yes." he looked over at sally. "we have a bag packed for her."
the little man went back out the door and closed it behind him.
"where were you when detective kelly disappeared?"
"you know where i was. i was right in your headquarters. it was just last night!"
"you must have been pretty uncomfortable."
"i slept ok."
"did you dream?" jeanne asked.
"i never dream."
charlotte held up her hand. "please, jeanne, that's enough of that. where were we?" she looked at sally. "what i meant was, it must have been uncomfortable in headquarters, not being able to communicate telepathically with your fellow conspirators. especially while detective kelly was being abducted."

"i'm not a conspirator. i don't know anything about any conspiracies."
charlotte held up the little plastic bag robespierre had left on the desk. "aren't you going to ask about your sandwich? it looks tasty."
"you'll give it to me when you're ready."
"i see we are beginning to understand each other. what do you know about the port arthur timetable case?"
"i never heard of it?"
"are you a darwinist?"
"no. i don't know anything about darwinism."
"really? nothing at all?"
"it's some religion, that's all i know."
"are you a charles darwinist or an erasmus darwinist?"

"neither. i wouldn't know the difference."
"for a master conspirator, you aren't a very good liar."
"i don't know anything about any conspiracies."
"i think you know everything about every conspiracy."
"i don't know what any of this is all about."
"really? then what do you know? what do you want?"

"i just want to go to work and then go home and watch my shows."
"and eat sandwiches."
"what else is there to eat?"
"i think you want a little something more. i think you you want to overthrow the new universal order."
"i still don't know what this is all about."
"what is it about? it's about enlightenment versus ignorance. i'm enlightenment and you are ignorance."
"i'm ignorant about you're talking about, that's for sure."
"i'm talking about the conspiracy to overthrow science and enlightenment and restore religion and magic - the conspiracy you are part of."

"religions are legal," said sally. "some of them anyway."
"do you belong to any?"
"exactly. but you are not fooling anybody."
"there are magicians all over the place."
"are you one?"
"what do you think?"

the door behind charlotte opened and robespierre came back in. he nodded to charlotte.
"you are going on a trip," charlotte told sally. "a trip so long you will need to pack. what do you think of that? you probably thought trips that long were something you only saw on shows about the old days. "
sally shrugged.
"but we can continue this conversation a little longer. that's what this is - a conversation. where you are going will be an interrogation."

the sixteenth letter, part 6

Monday, July 27, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 4

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

the goddess na vanished as quickly as she had appeared. imelda was left alone under the tree with the troll and the witch. she looked at them uncertainly.
"do you guys have names?" she asked them.
the witch smiled unpleasantly and looked at the troll. "do us guys have names?"
the troll, however, seemed friendly enough and smiled at imelda. "we can have names if you like, miss. i think i will call myself cool. i always wanted to be cool." he looked at the witch. "and she can be way. together we'll be way cool. unless she has some objection."
"no, i'm down with it, daddy-o," said the witch.
'if you don't mind me saying so,"said imelda, "both of you sound like you have already spent some time in the new city and the new universe."

"so?" the witch asked her.
'i mean, you didn't just come from the old universe with na," imelda stammered.
"and - are you going to take me back to the the old universe?"
cool the troll looked at way the witch. "i think," he said to imelda, "the time has come to belly up to the bar and put our cards on the table and let the chips fall where they may."
"way cool." agreed the witch.
"you see, the goddess has entrusted us to your care as much as she has entrusted you to ours." he looked expectantly at imelda.
"i guess that's way cool," imelda told him.
"the old universe has just about had the course, and its every denizen for itself. the goddess herself will probably have to bail out herself."

"i think that's enough explanation for now," said way,
"but what's going to happen?" imelda asked them. she turned and looked back at the lighted windows of the hospital. "can't i just walk around to the front and go back inside - like nothing happened?"
"you can if you want to," said way. "we thought the whole point was to get away from doctor varney. he's still inside, isn't he?"
"can you just walk back in?" asked cool. "how will you explain how you got outside?"
"i'll say i fell out the window."
they both laughed at that.

"we know enough about the new universe to know that no explanation that simple is ever accepted," said cool. "there will be an investigation, and then an investigation of the investigation."
"do you want that?" way asked.
'i guess not."
"then let's get going. i'm surprised nobody's been out here looking for yet."
"i just have one more question," said imelda as they started down the path into the darkness.
"can a good and beautiful princess go on a magic quest if her advisors are a troll and a witch?"
"let's find out," way told her.

a hand appeared in front of sally's face and turned off the viewer on the bench outside the office on the 138th floor. sally looked up and saw jeanne d'arc, who jerked her head towards the office door.

charlotte corday's office, or the office she was using, was spare but sunny. charlotte sat behind a plain metal desk with nothing on it. there was a closed door behind the desk. jeanne took a chair beside the desk, and sally was motioned to sit in front of charlotte in a similar chair.
there was nothing else in the office - and no guards or robots. sally sank into the chair. it was comfortable.
"all right then," said charlotte. she reached into the drawers of the desk and took out two folders, a moderately sized yellow one, and a thick green one. she opened the yellow one and took out a brown envelope with postage on it. she extracted a sheaf of about thirty pages, which she fanned to show there they were filled with writing on both sides.

"the sixteenth letter," charlotte told sally, " all 32,678 words of it. would you like to read it? after all, it is addressed to you."
"no thank you."
charlotte fanned the pages again. "the same as before. he loves you, he can't live without you, you're his dream. in exactly 32,678 words. you sure you don't want to read it?"

"i'd rather watch doctors and wives,"
"so would i. you know, we had a robot count the words. but even a robot can't read it - we had to get a machine to do that. don't you find that strange - here is this great protest against the new order on behalf of the old so called romantic ways - but no human, and not even a robot, can actually read the thing," charlotte paused, and waited for sally to answer.
"you lost me," said sally. "what's all this about a protest? i don't know anything about that."

"oh, but i think you do know something about it. i think you know everything about it."
"i don't know anything. i just got the letters. i don't even get them any more- they go straight to you."
"oh?" charlotte asked. "would you like to get them?"

"i didn't say that."
charlotte paused. "you know what happened to detective kelly?"
"oh!! you know what happened to her?"
"i know she disappeared. you know what i meant." sally stared back at charlotte. "and somebody will replace her, that's all i know."

"i'm glad you brought that up. no detectives will replace kelly and lyndon. i was going to have jeanne handle the case herself, buy then i thought, why stop there? so i am going to handle this matter myself."
"you brought me all the way out here just to tell me that?"

'no. no, i have a few other things to tell you. for starters, that you aren't fooling me for one minute. not for one minute, with all this nonsense,"
"i don't know what you are talking about."
charlotte leaned forward on the desk. "you are sending these letters yourself. you and the rest of your co-conspirators."
"conspiracy about what?" sally shifted in the chair. "i don't even know what a conspiracy is."
charlotte laughed. " you are really pushing your dumb act now." she picked the thick green folder up. "what do you know about laura poll?"

"who? i never heard of her."
"really? aren't you an american football fan?"
"you like canadian football better? or maybe real football?"
"i'm not a sports fan. these questions are getting really stupid."

jeanne d'arc laughed. charlotte shot a glance at her.
"i'm hungry," said sally.
"what did you just say?"
''i said i was hungry. i didn't get a chance to make myself a sandwich this morning. i was chatting with you, remember? i want a sandwich."
"you want a sandwich.'"
'bessie gave me half of hers but i didn't like it. there was some kind of hot sauce on it."

the sixteenth letter, part 5

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 3

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

the naples express pulled into the zurich station a few minutes early. count witte, accompanied by djug and ashvili, and colonel osbert mccutcheon, accompanied by calvin and jago, were the only passengers waiting. the conductor came down the steps of the front car to greet them.
"an empty compartment, please," colonel mccutcheon addressed him.
"oh sir, i am afraid we have none of those."
the colonel handed him a large brightly colored banknote. as the conductor examined it, the colonel produced another even more brightly colored one. "and an empty compartment for my friend, as well."
"you are too kind, colonel," count witte murmured.
as the conductor examined the banknotes, the colonel motioned to jago to step aside.
in a low voice he told him, "i want you to keep an eye out for the american woman, who may be following us. she must not get on the train with us. stay behind yourself if you have to, and follow later. but at all costs keep her off the train, do you understand?"

"but sir, she is the sister of the famous signor al capone of the black hand of chicago. " jago gave a theatrical shudder. "as you know, these black hand are most jealous of the honor of their women."
the colonel smiled indulgently. "but jago, you have dealt with the thuggee. surely the black hand are no more fearsome than the thuggee." he glanced up at the station clock, which was barely visible in the dimly lit station. "besides, the train leaves in ten minutes. our american friend may not arrive in time."
"she will arrive on time, sir," jago replied. "and as for the thuggee being a match for the black hand, let me tell you a little story."

jebadar gumm, the second or third leader of the thuggee, occupying the seat of the original jemadar ga, was a most ascetic man. but one evening, after a particularly strenuous training session and review of his troops, as he was returning to his palatial cave, he saw a maiden with a jar on her head walking by on the dusty high road, and gave a signal to his retinue to stop. he looked down at the maiden from his white horse.

"those feet, mademoiselle, should be covered with gold, not dust," he told her with a smile. he motioned to jas du, one of his twelve trusted lieutenants, to put the maid on his horse and lead it. this of course, caused the whole procession to move forward at a crawl and caused some grumbling in the tired and thirsty ranks. in addition, mutterings of "vampire" and "banshee" were distinctly heard, but were quelled by the thunderous gaze of jebadar gumm.

as the moon rose over the mountains, there was some apprehension at the jebadar's cave when the party was late.

xi, the wizened matriach, and jebadar mu, the vizier, while maintaining calm demeanors, spoke in low tones to each other.
"it can only be magic," maintained vizier mu. "the emperor's men have not shown their faces in months, and even if a few scouts get through, what can they do? what would they attempt?"

"yes," agreed the matriarch, "and if any skirmish ensued, surely a rider would have been sent ahead to warn us."
"true." the vizier stroked his beard. "but if they were waylaid at the fourth pass, a rider would have a long way round."
"you were right the first time. it can only be the winds of the night."

"still, i think i will send a couple of scouts down the trail. what harm?"
"what harm?" repeated xi. "it will show fear."
these discussions were cut short by a shout from the mouth of the cave announcing the arrival of the jebadar's party at last.
the vizier sought a word with slim vu, one of the twelve lieutenants, as he hurried scowlingly into the cave. "why the delay, brother?"
"love," was the short reply.
the source of the delay was led into the cave by jebadar gumm himself. up to this point the maiden had remained discreetly veiled and silent, and had inflamed the jebadar's brain with only her shapely feet and shaplier form.

this had caused some muffled merriment in the ranks, especially between prester john, the jolliest of the twelve companions, and fat bu. this pretty pair had amused themselves during the slow ride to the cave by speculating on whether the maid had the face of a monkey, or of a cobra, and the voice of a tiger, or of an elephant.

now, in the light of the spitting torches of the cave, she pulled back her veil, and revealed that she had translucent skin that continually changed from pale to dark and back again. she wore a small red flower in the side of her dark hair.
fresh mutterings about vampires and witches broke out through the assembled company. but jebadar gumm was too entranced to notice them or silence them.

the matriarch and the vizier were speechless, and retreated to the depths of the cave to parley. on their way xi saw jas du sitting sullenly on a carpet giving his full attention to his bowl, and accosted him.

"you, jas du, did you not have sense enough to send a rider to advise of the delay?eh?"
"the jebadar gave no order," jas du replied without looking up. "it was not for me to issue an order."
"you have a head - for the moment! you should have used it!"
jas du's eyes flashed fire.
"enough." the vizier held up his hand. "jas du is right. he received no order."

jas du's eyes lost their glow slowly as xi and vizier mu retreated to the rear chamber of the cave.
"that was neatly done, madam," said the vizier when they had settled on their cushions. "neatly done. now jas du will lead a premature mutiny, easily crushed."
he shook his head. "but then what?"
"and you played your part well," the matriarch replied. "but then what indeed? i am afraid my son shows all the signs of final madness. the more sudden the madness, the more hopeless. and this creature - this creature! from what, or where?"

although the thuggee were too much the democrats and rough warriors to have actual thrones, jebadar gumm had constucted one as best he could from his best cushions and pillows and placed the maid with the shifting skin on it.
"speak, mademoiselle, speak," he implored her, in a quavering voice previously unheard by the outlaw band. "tell me what you will."

the naples train was leaving in five minutes, and the black hand had yet to make an appearance. colonel mccutcheon, always the politest of men, especially with servants, continued listening patiently to jago's tale.
there was no sign of miss gertrude gainsworth.

the sixteenth letter, part 4


Thursday, July 23, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 2

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

sally followed charlotte into the white building. neither of them spoke. they got on an elevator and charlotte dialed the136th floor.
the 136th floor was quiet and bright. the corridors were empty. there were no guards or robots in evidence. charlotte motioned to sally to sit on a bench outside a windowless and unmarked door. charlotte went through the door without knocking or unlocking it.
there was a small viewing screen on one arm of the bench. after a few minutes of waiting, sally turned it on.

imelda and doctor varney reached the end of the corridor. doctor varney turned the knob of his office door but it didn't open.
"that's strange," he said. "i didn't think i had locked it." he put his hand in his pocket. "that's even stranger. i seem to have lost my key." he looked down at imelda. "you wouldn't happen to have it, would you, imelda?"
"i , doctor? why would i have your key?"
doctor varney looked into imelda's eyes. "but i think you do have another key, don't you, imelda."
"the key to my heart."
"oh, doctor!" imelda's left hand flew to her face. "i - i might have your key." she reached into her pocket with her right hand.
"it's not there, is it?" doctor varney smiled.

"no." she fumbled in her pocket. "but - but there is something else i don't have."
"a coin - a coin my aunt gave me. i must have dropped it back in the ward."
"that seems rather unlikely. are you afraid of me, imelda?"
"it was a coin to ward off the evil eye. my aunt was a wise woman in the village."
"but you aren't in your village. and there is no evil eye here."

imelda turned and ran back down the corridor to the ward containing the thruway disaster victims. she turned to look back once but doctor varney was not following her. he was standing outside the door, smiling.
doctor gogol looked up at imelda as she entered. doctor benway, on the other side of the room, looked over at her but turned away unconcernedly. there was no sign of the two doctors' earlier altercation.
"did you forget something?" doctor gogol asked politely.
"i think i must have dropped something. a coin."
"oh? can you describe this coin?"

"yes. one side depicts the creation of the sea and the sky by the goddess na, as sir francis drake, ferdinand magellan, lady murasaki and the emperor babar look on and applaud. na banishes snakes to the sea to become submarines and dinosaurs to the sky to become dirigibles.

victor hugo and joseph joubert huddle together in the background.

in the foreground teresa of avila flings herself into the sea.

the other side shows the god baalu attempting to hold up the sky with lighting bolts as the world ends. a dwarf, a nun, two sailors, three ballerinas and the original twelve apostles including judas mock his efforts.

a narwhal emerges from the sea attempting to rescue baalu, but he is replulsed by wallenstein and ferdinand barbarossa, wielding cutlasses." imelda paused, slightly out of breath.
"which side is heads and which side is tails?" doctor gogol asked.

"there is no heads or tails. the coin is the coin,"
"sounds like a lot of superstitious nonsense. where do you think you lost it? "

"i was attending to that group of patients over there."
doctor gogol shrugged. "go ahead and look. just don't upset the patients."

once upon a time - the writing on the little man's bandage still began - there was a beautiful young princess. she lived in a faraway castle at the edge of a faraway sea.

everybody in the kingdom loved her, because she was so good and beautiful, and they hoped that she would become queen some day. the reigning queen, her stepmother, was totally wicked and had been in a deep sleep for many years. one morning the princess went for a walk along the seawall. dark clouds were gathering in the sky. she was accompanied by her two most faithful servants, a troll and a witch.
"if she is so good, why are a troll and a witch her most faithful servants?" asked imelda.

the little man looked at her. "didn't i ask you to get me a pill half an hour ago? i never got it!" he screamed.
doctor gogol looked over. "i told you not to upset the patients." she didn't sound too upset.
"i'm sorry," imelda said. "i think i might dropped it by that window over there. i'll just look there." she walked over to the window. the patients beside it were asleep or dozing. as casually as she could, she opened the window.

it was a cool night. it was only three stories to the grounds below. in a single motion she was out the window and dropped to the ground.
a woman was standing under a tree in the shadows. she stepped forward. it was the goddess na. she put the coin in imelda's hand.
"don't lose it again."
"what about baluu?" imelda asked her.
"don't worry about him. go with them"
a troll and a witch stepped out from behind the tree.

a few drops of rain began to fall. as they did, a dot appeared on the horizon.
"at last," murmured the princess.
the troll and the witch, walking a few paces behind her, exchanged slightly raised eyebrows.
the princess walked along the shore every day hoping for news of her twin brother, prince carlo, who had been on a quest to recover the golden bullfrog, which had been stolen from the royal zoo many years before, by rebels against the kingdom who called themselves nesyites, after their leader, fesyop nesy.
ships routinely came to port, sometimes to trade, more often because they had lost their way. the princess, on seeing them on the horizon, always thought them to be bringing news of prince carlo, but on finding otherwise, was invariably gracious and helpful to those actually arriving.
the princess watched the latest ship approach as the rain fell a little harder. the troll produced a large red umbrella and held it over her. the troll himself and the witch seemed indifferent to the wind and rain.

the ship, by no means the largest the princess had ever seen, came within hailing distance and a boat was lowered and approached the sea wall.
a man in a simple naval uniform but the bearing of a captain stood in the front of the boat. a pair of elegantly dressed and coiffed ladies sat behind him, their heads covered by umbrellas held by a pair of sturdy jack tars. three other seaman and a gorilla propelled the boat with perfectly coordinated strokes of the oars.
"good morning, sir," the princess shouted into the wind. "do you bring news of prince carlo?"

the sixteenth letter, part 3