A SCANNER DARKLY
On his way over to Bob Arctor's house, where a bunch of heads could usually be found for a mellow turned-on time, Charles Freck worked out a gag to put ol' Barris on, to pay him back for the spleen jive at the Fiddler's Three restaurant that day. In his head, as he skillfully avoided the radar traps that the police kept everywhere (the police radar vans checking out drivers usually took the disguise of old raunchy VW vans, painted dull brown, driven by bearded freaks; when he saw such vans he slowed), he ran a preview fantasy number of his put-on:
FRECK: (Casually) I bought a methedrine plant today.
BARRIS: (With a snotty expression on his face) Methedrine is a benny, like speed; it's crank, it's crystal, it's amphetamine, it's made synthetically in a lab. So it isn't organic, like pot. There's no such thing as a methedrine plant like there is a pot plant.
FRECK: (Springing the punch line on him) I mean I inherited forty thousand from an uncle and purchased a plant hidden in this dude's garage where he makes methedrine. I mean, he's got a factory there where he manufactures meth. Plant in the sense of --
He couldn't get it phrased exactly right as he drove, because part of his mind stayed on the vehicles around him and the lights; but he knew when he got to Bob's house he'd lay it on Barris super good. And, especially if a bunch of people were there, Barris would rise to the bait and be visible to everyone flat-out as a clear and evident asshole. And that would super pay him back, because Barris, worse than anybody else, couldn't stand to be made fun of.
When he pulled up he found Barris outdoors working on Bob Arctor's car. The hood was up, and both Barris and Arctor stood together with a pile of car tools.
"Hey, man," Freck said, slamming his door and sauntering casually over. "Barris," he said right off in a cool way, putting his hand on Barris's shoulder to attract his attention.
"Later," Barris growled. He had his repair clothes on; grease and like that covered the already dirty fabric.
Freck said, "I bought a methedrine plant today."
With an impatient scowl, Barris said, "How big?"
"What do you mean?"
"How big a plant?"
"Well," Freck said, wondering how to go on.
"How much'd you pay for it?" Arctor said, also greasy from the car repair. They had the carb off, Freck saw, air filter, hoses, and all.
Freck said, "About ten bucks."
"Jim could have gotten it for you cheaper," Arctor said, resuming his labors. "Couldn't you, Jim?"
"They're practically giving meth plants away," Barris said.
"This is a whole fucking garage!" Freck protested. "A factory! It turns out a million tabs a day -- the pill-rolling machinery and everything. Everything!"
"All that cost ten dollars?" Barris said, grinning widely.
"Where's it located?" Arctor said.
"Not around here," Freck said uneasily. "Hey, tuck it, you guys."
Pausing in his work -- Barris did a lot of pausing in his work, whether anyone was talking to him or not -- Barris said, "You know, Freck, if you drop or shoot too much meth you start talking like Donald Duck."
"So?" Freck said.
"Then nobody can understand you," Barris said.
Arctor said, "What'd you say, Barris? I couldn't understand you."
His face dancing with merriment, Barris made his voice sound like Donald Duck's. Freck and Arctor grinned and enjoyed it. Barris went on and on, gesturing finally at the carburetor.
"What about the carburetor?" Arctor said, not smiling now.
Barris, in his regular voice, but still grinning widely, said, "You've got a bent choke shaft. The whole carb should be rebuilt. Otherwise the choke's going to shut on you while you're driving along the freeway and then you'll find your motor is flooded and dead and some asshole will rear-end you. And possibly in addition that raw gas washing down the cylinder walls -- if it goes on long enough -- will wash the lubrication away, so your cylinders will be scored and permanently damaged. And then you'll need them rebored."
"Why is the choke rod bent?" Arctor asked.
Shrugging, Barris resumed taking apart the carb, he did not answer. He left that up to Arctor and to Charles Freck, who knew nothing about engines, especially complex repairs like this.
Coming out of the house, Luckman, wearing a snazzy shirt and tight high-style Levi jeans, carrying a book and wearing shades, said, "I phoned and they're checking to see what a rebuilt carb will set you back for this car. They'll phone in a while, so I left the front door open."
Barris said, "You could put a four-barrel on instead of this two, while you're at it. But you'd have to put on a new manifold. We could pick up a used one for not very much."
"It would idle too high," Luckman said, "with like a Rochester tour-barrel -- is that what you mean? And it wouldn't shift properly. It wouldn't upshift."
"The idling jets could be replaced with smaller jets," Barris said, "that would compensate. And with a tach he could watch his rpms, so it didn't over-rev. He'd know by the tach when it wasn't upshifting. Usually just backing off on the gas pedal causes it to upshift if the automatic linkage to the transmission doesn't do it. I know where we can get a tach, too. In fact, I have one."
"Yeah," Luckman said, "well, it he tromped down heavy on the step-down passing gear to get a lot of torque suddenly in an emergency on the freeway, it'd downshift and rev up so high it'd blow the head gasket or worse, a lot worse. Blow up the whole engine."
Barris, patiently, said, "He'd see the tach needle jump and he'd back right off."
"While passing?" Luckman said. "Halfway past a fucking big semi? Shit, he'd have to keep barreling on, high revs or not; he'd have to blow up the engine rather than back off, because if he backed off he'd never get around what he was trying to pass."
"Momentum," Barris said. "In a car this heavy, momentum would carry him on by even it he backed off."
"What about uphill?" Luckman said. "Momentum doesn't carry you very far uphill when you're passing."
To Arctor, Barris said, "What does this car ..." He bent to see what make it was. "This ..." His lips moved. "Olds."
"It weighs about a thousand pounds," Arctor said. Charles Freck saw him wink toward Luckman.
"You're right, then," Barris agreed. "There wouldn't be much inertia mass at that light weight. Or would there?" He groped for a pen and something to write on. "A thousand pounds traveling at eighty miles an hour builds up force equal to --"
"That's a thousand pounds," Arctor put in, "with the passengers in it and with a full tank of gas and a big carton of bricks in the trunk. "
"How many passengers?" Luckman said, deadpan.
"Is that six in back," Luckman said, "and six in --"
"No," Arctor said, "that's eleven in back and the driver sitting alone in front. So, you see, so there will be more weight on the rear wheels for more traction. So it won't fishtail."
Barris glanced alertly up. "This car fishtails?"
"Unless you get eleven people riding in the back," Arctor said.
"Be better, then, to lead the trunk with sacks of sand," Barris said. "Three two-hundred-pound sacks of sand. Then the passengers could be distributed more evenly and they would be more comfortable."
"What about one six-hundred-pound box of gold in the trunk?" Luckman asked him. "Instead of three two hundred --"
"Will you lay off?" Barris said. "I'm trying to calculate the inertial force of this car traveling at eighty miles an hour."
"It won't go eighty," Arctor said. "It's got a dead cylinder. I meant to tell you. It threw a rod last night, on my way home from the 7-11."
"Then why are we pulling the carb?" Barris demanded. "We have to pull the whole head for that. In fact, much more. In fact, you may have a cracked block. Well, that's why it won't start."
"Won't your car start?" Freck asked Bob Arctor.
"It won't start," Luckman said, "because we pulled the carb off."
Puzzled, Barris said, "Why'd we pull the carb? I forget."
"To get all the springs and little dinky parts replaced," Arctor said. "So it won't fuck up again and nearly kill us. The Union station mechanic advised us to."
"If you bastards wouldn't rappity-rap on," Barris said, "like a lot of speed freaks, I could complete my computations and tell you how this particular car with its weight would handle with a four-barrel Rochester carb, modified naturally with smaller idling jets." He was genuinely sore now. "So SHUT UP!"
Luckman opened the book he was carrying. He puffed up, then, to much larger than usual; his great chest swelled, and so did his biceps. "Barris, I'm going to read to you." He began to read from the book, in a particularly fluent way. "'He to whom it is given to see Christ more real than any other reality ...'"
"What?" Barris said.
Luckman continued reading. "' ... than any other reality in the World, Christ everywhere present and everywhere growing more great, Christ the final determination and plasmatic Principle of the Universe --'"
"What is that?" Arctor said.
"Chardin. Teilhard de Chardin."
"Jeez, Luckman," Arctor said.
"' ... that man indeed lives in a zone where no multiplicity can distress him and which is nevertheless the most active workshop of universal fulfilment.'" Luckman shut the book.
With a high degree of apprehension, Charles Freck moved in between Barris and Luckman. "Cool it, you guys."
"Get out of the way, Freck," Luckman said, bringing back his right arm, low, for a vast sweeping haymaker at Barris. "Come on, Barris, I'm going to coldcock you into tomorrow, for talking to your betters like that."
With a bleat of wild, appealing terror, Barris dropped his felt pen and pad of paper and scuttled off erratically toward the open front door of the house, yelling back as he ran, "I hear the phone about the rebuilt carb."
They watched him go.
"I was just kidding him," Luckman said, rubbing his lower lip.
"What if he gets his gun and silencer?" Freck said, his nervousness off the scale entirely. He moved by degrees in the direction of his own parked car, to drop swiftly behind it if Barris reappeared firing.
"Come on," Arctor said to Luckman; they fell back together into their car work, while Freck loitered apprehensively by his own vehicle, wondering why he had decided to bop over here today. It had no mellow quality today, here, none at all, as it usually did. He had sensed the bad vibes under the kidding right from the start. What's the motherfuck wrong? he wondered, and got back somberly into his own car, to start it up.
Are things going to get heavy and bad here too, he wondered, like they did at Jerry Fabin's house during the last few weeks with him? It used to be mellow here, he thought, everybody kicking back and turning on, grooving to acid rock, especially the Stones. Donna sitting here in her leather jacket and boots, filling caps, Luckman rolling joints and telling about the seminar he planned to give at UCLA in dope-smoking and joint-rolling, and how someday he'd suddenly roll the perfect joint and it would be placed under glass and helium back at Constitution Hall, as part of American history with those other items of similar importance. When I look back, he thought, even to when Jim Barris and I were sitting at the Fiddler's, the other day ... it was better even then. Jerry began it, he thought; that's what's coming down here, that there which carried off Jerry. How can days and happenings and moments so good become so quickly ugly, and for no reason, for no real reason? Just -- change. With nothing causing it.
"I'm splitting," he said to Luckman and Arctor, who were watching him rev up.
"No, stay, hey, man," Luckman said with a warm smile. "We need you. You're a brother."
"Naw, I'm cutting out."
From the house Barris appeared cautiously. He carried a hammer. "It was a wrong number," he shouted, advancing with great caution, halting and peering like a crab-thing in a drive-in movie.
"What's the hammer for?" Luckman said.
Arctor said, "To fix the engine."
"Thought I would bring it with me," Barris explained as he returned gingerly to the Olds, "since I was indoors and noticed it."
"The most dangerous kind of person," Arctor said, "is one who is afraid of his own shadow." That was the last Freck heard as he drove away; he pondered over what Arctor meant, if he meant him, Charles Freck. He felt shame. But shit, he thought, why stick around when it's such a super bummer? Where's the chicken in that? Don't never participate in no bad scenes, he reminded himself; that was his motto in life. So he drove away now, without looking back. Let them snuff each other, he thought. Who needs them? But he felt bad, really bad, to leave them and to have witnessed the darkening change, and he wondered again why, and what it signified, but then it occurred to him that maybe things would go the other way again and get better, and that cheered him. In fact, it caused him to roll a short fantasy number in his head as he drove along avoiding invisible police cars:
THERE THEY ALL SAT AS BEFORE.
Even people who were either dead or burned out, like Jerry Fabin. They all sat here and there in a sort of clear white light, which wasn't daylight but better light than that, a kind of sea which lay beneath them and above them as well.
Donna and a couple other chicks looked so foxy -- they had on halters and hot pants, or tank tops with no bras. He could hear music although he could not quite distinguish what track it was from what LP. Maybe Hendrix! he thought. Yeah, an old Hendrix track, or now all at once it was J.J. All of them: Jim Croce, and J.J., but especially Hendrix. "Before I die," Hendrix was murmuring, "let me live my life as I want to," and then immediately the fantasy number blew up because he had forgotten both that Hendrix was dead and how Hendrix and also Joplin had died, not to mention Croce. Hendrix and J.J. OD'ing on smack, both of them, two neat cool fine people like that, two outrageous humans, and he remembered how he'd heard that Janis's manager had only allowed her a couple hundred bucks now and then; she couldn't have the rest, all that she earned, because of her junk habit. And then he heard in his head her song "All Is Loneliness," and he began to cry. And in that condition drove on toward home.
In his living room, sitting with his friends and attempting to determine whether he needed a new carb, a rebuilt carb, or a modification carb-and-manifold, Robert Arctor sensed the silent constant scrutiny, the electronic presence, of the holo-scanners. And felt good about it.
"You look mellow," Luckman said. "Putting out a hundred bucks wouldn't make me mellow."
"I decided to cruise along the street until I come across an Olds like mine," Arctor explained, "and then unbolt their carb and pay nothing. Like everyone else we know."
"Especially Donna," Barris said in agreement. "I wish she hadn't been in here the other day while we were gone. Donna steals everything she can carry, and if she can't carry it she phones up her rip-off gang buddies and they show up and carry it off for her."
"I'll tell you a story I heard about Donna, Luckman said. "One time, see, Donna put a quarter into one of those automatic stamp machines that operate off a coil of stamps, and the machine was dingey and just kept cranking out stamps. Finally she had a marketbasket full. It still kept cranking them out. Ultimately she had like -- she and her rip-off friends counted them -- over eighteen thousand U.S. fifteen-cent stamps. Well, that was cool, except what was Donna Hawthorne going to do with them? She never wrote a letter in her life, except to her lawyer to sue some guy who burned her in a dope deal."
"Donna does that?" Arctor said. "She has an attorney to use in a default on an illegal transaction? How can she do that?"
"She just probably says the dude owes her bread."
"Imagine getting an angry pay-up-or-go-to-court letter from an attorney about a dope deal," Arctor said, marveling at Donna, as he frequently did.
"Anyhow," Luckman continued, "there she was with a marketbasket full of at least eighteen thousand U .S. fifteen-cent stamps, and what the hell to do with them? You can't sell them back to the Post Office. Anyhow, when the P.O. came to service the machine they'd know it went dingey, and anyone who showed up at a window with all those fifteen-cent stamps, especially a coil of them -- shit, they'd flash on it; in fact, they'd be waiting for Donna, right? So she thought about it -- after of course she'd loaded the coil of stamps into her MG and drove off -- and then she phoned up more of those rip-off freaks she works with and had them drive over with a jackhammer of some kind, water-cooled and water-silenced, a real kinky special one which, Christ, they ripped off, too, and they dug the stamp machine loose from the concrete in the middle of the night and carried it to her place in the back of a Ford Ranchero. Which they also probably ripped off. For the stamps."
"You mean she sold the stamps?" Arctor said, marveling. "From a vending machine? One by one?"
"They remounted -- this is what I heard, anyhow -- they relocated the U.S. stamp machine at a busy intersection where a lot of people pass by, but back out of sight where no mail truck would spot it, and they put it back in operation."
"They would have been wiser just to knock over the coin box," Barris said.
"So they were selling stamps, then," Luckman said, "for like a few weeks until the machine ran out, like it naturally had to eventually. And what the fuck next? I can imagine Donna's brain working on that during those weeks, that peasant-thrift brain ... her family is peasant stock from some European country. Anyhow, by the time it ran out of its coil, Donna had decided to convert it over to soft drinks, which are from the P.O. -- they're really guarded. And you go into the bucket forever for that."
"Is this true?" Barris said.
"Is what true?" Luckman said.
Barris said, "That girl is disturbed. She should be forcibly committed. Do you realize that all our taxes were raised by her stealing those stamps?" He sounded angry again.
"Write the government and tell them," Luckman said, his face cold with distaste for Barris. "Ask Donna for a stamp to mail it; she'll sell you one."
"At full price," Barris said, equally mad.
The holos, Arctor thought, will have miles and miles of this on their expensive tapes. Not miles and miles of dead tape but miles and miles of tripped out tape.
It was not what went on while Robert Arctor sat before a holo-scanner that mattered so much, he considered; it was what took place -- at least for him ... for whom? ... for Fred -- while Bob Arctor was elsewhere or asleep and others were within scanning range. So I should split, he thought, as I planned it out, leaving these guys, and sending other people I know over here. I should make my house super-accessible from now on.
And then a dreadful, ugly thought rose inside him. Suppose when I play the tapes back I see Donna when she's in here -- opening a window with a spoon or knife blade -- and slipping in and destroying my possessions and stealing. Another Donna: the chick as she really is, or anyhow as she is when I can't see her. The philosophical "when a tree falls in the forest" number. What is Donna like when no one is around to watch her?
Does, he wondered, the gentle lovely shrewd and very kind, superkind girl transform herself instantly into something sly? Will I see a change which will blow my mind? Donna or Luckman, anyone I care about. Like your pet cat or dog when you're out of the house ... the cat empties a pillowcase and starts stuffing your valuables in it: electric clock and bedside radio, shaver, all it can stuff in before you get back: another cat entirely while you're gone, ripping you off and pawning it all, or lighting up your joints, or walking on the ceiling, or phoning people long distance ... God knows. A nightmare, a weird other world beyond the mirror, a terror city reverse thing, with unrecognizable entities creeping about; Donna crawling on all fours, eating from the animals' dishes ... any kind of psychedelic wild trip, unfathomable and horrid.
Hell, he thought; for that matter, maybe Bob Arctor rises up in the night from deep sleep and does trips like that. Has sexual relations with the wall. Or mysterious freaks show up who he's never seen before, a whole bunch of them, with special heads that swivel all the way around, like owls'. And the audio-scanners will pick up the far-out demented conspiracies hatched out by him and them to blow up the men's room at the Standard station by filling the toilet with plastic explosives for God knows what brain-charred purpose. Maybe this sort of stuff goes on every night while he just imagines he's asleep -- and is gone by day.
Bob Arctor, he speculated, may learn more new information about himself than he is ready for, more than he will about Donna in her little leather jacket, and Luckman in his fancy duds, and even Barris -- maybe when nobody's around Jim Barris merely goes to sleep. And sleeps until they reappear.
But he doubted it. More likely Barris whipped out a hidden transmitter from the mess and chaos of his room -- which, like all the other rooms in the house, had now for the first time come under twenty-four-hour scanning -- and sent a cryptic signal to the other bunch of cryptic motherfuckers with whom he currently conspired for whatever people like him or them conspired for. Another branch, Bob Arctor reflected, of the authorities.
On the other hand, Hank and those guys downtown would not be too happy if Bob Arctor left his house, now that the monitors had been expensively and elaborately installed, and was never seen again: never showed up on any of the tape. He could not therefore take off in order to fulfill his personal surveillance plans at the expense of theirs. After all, it was their money.
In the script being filmed, he would at all times have to be the star actor. Actor, Arctor, he thought. Bob the Actor who is being hunted; he who is the El Primo huntee.
They say you never recognize your own voice when you first hear it played back on tape. And when you see yourself on video tape, or like this, in a 3-D hologram, you don't recognize yourself visually either. You imagined you were a tall fat man with black hair, and instead you're a tiny thin woman with no hair at all ... is that it? I'm sure I'll recognize Bob Arctor, he thought, if by nothing else than by the clothes he wears or by a process of elimination. What isn't Barris or Luckman and lives here must be Bob Arctor. Unless it's one of the dogs or cats. I'll try to keep my professional eye trained on something which walks upright.
"Barris," he said, "I'm going out to see if I can score some beans." Then he pretended to remember he had no car; he got that sort of expression. "Luckman," he said, "is your Falcon running?"
"No," Luckman said thoughtfully, after consideration, "I don't think so."
"Can I borrow your car, Jim?" Arctor asked Barris.
"I wonder ... if you can handle my car," Barris said.
This always arose as a defense when anyone tried to borrow Barris's car, because Barris had had secret unspecified modifications done on it, in its
(d) rear end
(e) drive train
(f) electrical system
(g) front end and steering
(h) as well as clock, cigar lighter, ashtray, glove compartment. In particular the glove compartment. Barris kept it locked always. The radio, too, had been cunningly changed (never explained how or why). If you tuned one station you got only one-minute-apart blips. All the push-buttons brought in a single transmission that made no sense, and, oddly, there was never any rock played over it. Sometimes when they were accompanying Barris on a buy and Barris parked and got out of the car, leaving them, he turned the particular station on in a special fashion very loud. If they changed it while he was gone he became incoherent and refused to speak on the trip back or ever to explain. He had not explained yet. Probably when set to that frequency his radio transmitted
(a) to the authorities.
(b) to a private paramilitary political organization.
(c) to the Syndicate.
(d) to extraterrestrials of higher intelligence.
"By that I mean," Barris said, "it will cruise at --"
"Aw fuck!" Luckman broke in harshly. "It's an ordinary six-cylinder motor, you humper. When we park in it downtown L.A. the parking-lot jockey drives it. So why can't Bob? You asshole."
Now, Bob Arctor had a few devices too, a few covert modifications built into his own car radio. But he didn't talk about them. Actually, it was Fred who had. Or anyhow somebody had, and they did a few things a little like what Barris claimed his several electronic assists did, and then on the other hand they did not.
For example, every law-enforcement vehicle emits a particular full-spectrum interference which sounds on ordinary car radios like a failure in the spark-suppressors of that vehicle. As if the police car's ignition is faulty. However, Bob Arctor, as a peace officer, had been allocated a gadget which, when he had mounted it within his car radio, told him a great deal, whereas the noises told other people -- most other people -- no information at all. These other people did not even recognize the static as information-bearing. First of all, the different subsounds told Bob Arctor how close the law-enforcement vehicle was to his own and, next, what variety of department it represented: city or county, Highway Patrol, or federal, whatever. He, too, picked up the one-minute-apart blips which acted as a time check for a parked vehicle; those in the parked vehicle could determine how many minutes they had waited without any obvious arm gestures. This was useful, for instance, when they had agreed to hit a house in exactly three minutes. The zt zt zt on their car radio told them precisely when three minutes had passed.
He knew, too, about the AM station that played the top-ten-type tunes on and on plus an enormous amount of DJ chatter in between, which sometimes was not chatter, in a sense. If that station had been tuned to, and the racket of it filled your car, anyone casually overhearing it would hear a conventional pop music station and typical boring DJ talk, and either not hang around at all or flash on in any way to the fact that the so-called DJ suddenly, in exactly the same muted chatty style of voice in which he said, "Now here's a number for Phil and Jane, a new Cat Stevens tune called --" occasionally said something more like "Vehicle blue will proceed a mile north to Bastanchury and the other units will --" and so on. He had never -- with all the many dudes and chicks who rode with him, even when he had been obliged to keep tuned to police info-instruct, such as when a major bust was going down or any big action was in progress which might involve him -- had anyone notice. Or if they noticed, they probably thought they were personally spaced and paranoid and forgot it.
And also he knew about the many unmarked police vehicles like old Chevys jacked up in the back with loud (illegal) pipes and racing stripes, with wild-looking hip types driving them erratically at high speed -- he knew from what his radio emitted in the way of the special information-carrying station at all frequencies when one buzzed him or shot past. He knew to ignore.
Also, when he pushed the bar that supposedly switched from AM to FM on his car radio, a station on a particular frequency groaned out indefinite Muzak-type music, but this noise being transmitted to his car was filtered out, unscrambled, by the microphone-transmitter within his radio, so that whatever was said by those in his car at the time was picked up by his equipment and broadcast to the authorities; but this one funky station playing away, no matter how loud, was not received by them and did not interfere at all; the grid eliminated it.
What Barris claimed to have did bear a certain resemblance to what he, Bob Arctor, as an undercover law-enforcement officer did have in his own car radio; but beyond that, in regard to other modifications such as suspension, engine, transmission, etc., there had been no alterations whatsoever. That would be uncool and obvious. And secondly, millions of car freaks could make equally hairy modifications in their cars, so he simply had gotten allocation for a fairly potent mill for his wheels and let it go at that. Any high-powered vehicle can overtake and leave behind any other. Barris was full of shit about that; a Ferrari has suspension and handling and steering that no "special secret modifications" can match, so the hell with it. And cops can't drive sports cars, even cheap ones. Let alone Ferraris. Ultimately it is the driver's skill that decides it all.
He did have one other law-enforcement allocation, though. Very unusual tires. They had more than steel bands inside, like Michelin had introduced years ago in their X types. These were all metal and wore out fast, but they had advantages in speed and acceleration. Their disadvantage was their cost, but he got them free, from his allocation service, which was not a Dr. Pepper machine like the money one. This worked fine, but he could get allocations only when absolutely necessary. The tires he put on himself, when no one was watching. As he had put in the radio alterations.
The only fear about the radio was not detection by someone snooping, such as Barris, but simple theft. Its added devices made it expensive to replace if it got ripped off; he would have to talk fast.
Naturally, too, he carried a gun hidden in his car. Barris in all his lurid acid-trip, spaced-out fantasies would never have designed its hiding place, where it actually was. Barris would have directed there to be an exotic spot of concealment for it, like in the steering column, in a hollow chamber. Or inside the gas tank, hanging down on a wire like the shipment of coke in the classic flick Easy Rider, that place as a stash place, incidentally, being about the worst spot on a hog. Every law-enforcement officer who had caught the film had flashed right away on what clever psychiatrist types had elaborately figured out: that the two bikers wanted to get caught and if possible killed. His gun, in his car, was in the glove compartment.
The pseudo-clever stuff that Barris continually alluded to about his own vehicle probably bore some resemblance to reality, the reality of Arctor's own modified car, because many of the radio gimmicks which Arctor carried were SOP and had been demonstrated on late-night TV, on network talk shows, by electronic experts who had helped design them, or read about them in trade journals, or seen them, or gotten fired from police labs and harbored a grudge. So the average citizen (or, as Barris always said in his quasi-educated lofty way, the typical average citizen) knew by now that no black-and-white ran the risk of pulling over a fast-moving souped-up, racing-striped '57 Chevy with what appeared to be a wild teen-ager spaced out behind the wheel on Coors beer -- and then finding he'd halted an undercover nark vehicle in hot pursuit of its quarry. So the typical average citizen these days knew how and why all those nark vehicles as they roared along, scaring old ladies and straights into indignation and letter-writing, continually signaled their identity back and forth to one another and their peers ... what difference did it make? But what would make a difference -- a dreadful one -- would be if the punks, the hot-rodders, the bikers, and especially the dealers and runners and pushers, managed to build and incorporate into their own similar cars such sophisticated devices.
They could then whiz right on by. With impunity.
"I'll walk, then," Arctor said, which was what he had wanted to do anyhow; he had set up both Barris and Luckman. He had to walk.
"Where you going?" Luckman said.
"Donna's." Getting to her place on foot was almost impossible; saying this ensured neither man accompanying him. He put on his coat and set off toward the front door. "See you guys later."
"My car --" Barris continued by way of more copout.
"If I tried to drive your car," Arctor said, "I'd press the wrong button and it'd float up over the Greater L.A. downtown area like the Goodyear blimp, and they'd have me dumping borate on oil-well fires."
"I'm glad you can appreciate my position," Barris was muttering as Arctor shut the door.
Seated before the hologram cube of Monitor Two, Fred in his scramble suit watched impassively as the hologram changed continually before his eyes. In the safe apartment other watchers watched other holograms from other source points, mostly playbacks. Fred, however, watched a live hologram unfolding; it recorded, but he had by-passed the stored tape to pick up the transmission at the instant it emanated from Bob Arctor's allegedly run-down house.
Within the hologram, in broad-band color, with high resolution, sat Barris and Luckman. In the best chair in the living room, Barris sat bent over a hash pipe he had been putting together for days. His face had become a mask of concentration as he wound white string around and around the bowl of the pipe. At the coffee table Luckman hunched over a Swanson's chicken TV dinner, eating in big clumsy mouthfuls while he watched a western on TV. Four beer cans -- empties -- lay squashed by his mighty fist on the table; now he reached for a fifth half-full can, knocked it over, spilled it, grabbed it, and cursed. At the curse, Barris peered up, regarded him like Mime in Siegfried, then resumed work.
Fred continued to watch.
"Fucking late-night TV," Luckman gargled, his mouth full of food, and then suddenly he dropped his spoon and leaped staggering to his feet, tottered, spun toward Barris, both hands raised, gesturing, saying nothing, his mouth open and half-chewed food spilling from it onto his clothes, onto the floor. The cats ran forward eagerly.
Barris halted in his hash-pipe making, gazed up at hapless Luckman. In a frenzy, now gargling horrid noises, Luckman with one hand swept the coffee table bare of beer cans and food; everything clattered down. The cats sped off, terrified. Still, Barris sat gazing fixedly at him. Luckman lurched a few steps toward the kitchen; the scanner there, on its cube before Fred's horrified eyes, picked up Luckman as he groped blindly in the kitchen semidarkness for a glass, tried to turn on the faucet and fill it with water. At the monitor, Fred jumped up; transfixed, on Monitor Two he saw Barris, still seated, return to painstakingly winding string around and around the bowl of his hash pipe. Barris did not look up again; Monitor Two showed him again intently at work.
The aud tapes clashed out great breaking, tearing sounds of agony: human strangling and the furious din of objects hitting the floor as Luckman hurled pots and pans and dishes and flatware about in an attempt to attract Barris's attention. Barris, amid the noise, continued methodically at his hash pipe and did not look up again.
In the kitchen, on Monitor One, Luckman fell to the floor all at once, not slowly, onto his knees, but completely, with a sodden thump, and lay spread-eagled. Barris continued winding the string of his hash pipe, and now a small snide smile appeared on his face, at the corners of his mouth.
On his feet, Fred stared in shock, galvanized and paralyzed simultaneously. He reached for the police phone beside the monitor, halted, still watched.
For several minutes Luckman lay on the kitchen floor without moving as Barris wound and wound the string, Barris bent over like an intent old lady knitting, smiling to himself, smiling on and on, and rocking a trifle; then abruptly Barris tossed the hash pipe away, stood up, gazed acutely at Luckman's form on the kitchen floor, the broken water glass beside him, all the debris and pans and broken plates, and then Barris's face suddenly reacted with mock dismay. Barris tore off his shades, his eyes widened grotesquely, he flapped his arms in helpless fright, he ran about a little here and there, then scuttled toward Luckman, paused a few feet from him, ran back, panting now.
He's building up his act, Fred realized. He's getting his panic-and-discovery act together. Like he just came onto the scene. Barris, on the cube of Monitor Two, twisted about, gasped in grief, his face dark red, and then he hobbled to the phone, yanked it up, dropped it, picked it up with trembling fingers ... he has just discovered that Luckman, alone in the kitchen, has choked to death on a piece of food, Fred realized; with no one there to hear him or help him. And now Barris is frantically trying to summon help. Too late.
Into the phone, Barris was saying in a weird, high-pitched slow voice, "Operator, is it called the inhalator squad or the resuscitation squad?"
"Sir," the phone tab squawked from its speaker by Fred, "is there someone unable to breathe? Do you wish --"
"It, I believe, is a cardiac arrest," Barris was saying now in his low, urgent, professional-type, calm voice into the phone, a voice deadly with awareness of peril and gravity and the running out of time. "Either that or involuntary aspiration of a bolus within the --"
"What is the address, sir?" the operator broke in.
"The address," Barris said, "let's see, the address is --"
Fred, aloud, standing, said, "Christ."
Suddenly Luckman, lying stretched out on the floor, heaved convulsively. He shuddered and then barfed up the material obstructing his throat, thrashed about, and opened his eyes, which stared in swollen confusion.
"Uh, he appears to be all right now," Barris said smoothly into the phone. "Thank you; no assistance is needed after all." He rapidly hung the phone up.
"Jeez," Luckman muttered thickly as he sat up. "Fuck." He wheezed noisily, coughing and struggling for air.
"You okay?" Barris asked, in tones of concern.
"I must have gagged. Did I pass out?"
"Not exactly. You did go into an altered state of consciousness, though. For a few seconds. Probably an alpha state."
"God! I soiled myself!" Unsteadily, swaying with weakness, Luckman managed to get himself to his feet and stood rocking back and forth dizzily, holding on to the wall for support. "I'm really getting degenerate," he muttered in disgust. "Like an old wino." He headed toward the sink to wash himself, his steps uncertain.
Watching all this, Fred felt the fear drain from him. The man would be okay. But Barris! What sort of person was he? Luckman had recovered despite him. What a freak, he thought. What a kinky freak. Where's his head at, just to stand idle like that?
"A guy could cash in that way," Luckman said as he splashed water on himself at the sink.
"I got a really strong physical constitution," Luckman said, gulping water from a cup. "What were you doing while I was lying there? Jacking off?"
"You saw me on the phone," Barris said. "Summoning the paramedics. I moved into action at --"
"Balls," Luckman said sourly, and went on gulping down fresh clean water. "I know what you'd do if I dropped dead -- you'd rip off my stash. You'd even go through my pockets."
"It's amazing," Barris said, "the limitation of the human anatomy, the fact that food and air must share a common passage. So that the risk of --"
Silently, Luckman gave him the finger.
A screech of brakes. A horn. Bob Arctor looked swiftly up at the night traffic. A sports car, engine running, by the curb; inside it, a girl waving at him.
"Christ," he said again. He strode toward the curb.
Opening the door of her MG, Donna said, "Did I scare you? I passed you on my way to your place and then I flashed on it that it was you truckin' along, so I made a U-turn and came back. Get in."
Silently he got in and shut the car door.
"Why are you out roaming around?" Donna said. "Because of your car? It's still not fixed?"
"I just did a freaky number," Bob Arctor said. "Not like a fantasy trip. Just ..." He shuddered.
Donna said, "I have your stuff."
"What?" he said.
"A thousand tabs of death."
"Death?" he echoed.
"Yeah, high-grade death. I better drive." She shifted into low, took off and out onto the street; almost at once she was driving along too fast. Donna always drove too fast, and tailgated, but expertly.
"That fucking Barris!" he said. "You know how he works? He doesn't kill anybody he wants dead; he just hangs around until a situation arises where they die. And he just sits there while they die. In fact, he sets them up to die while he stays out of it. But I'm not sure how. Anyhow, he arranges to allow them to fucking die." He lapsed into silence then, brooding to himself. "Like," he said, "Barris wouldn't wire plastic explosives into the ignition system of your car. What he'd do --"
"Do you have the money?" Donna said. "For the stuff? It's really Primo, and I need the money right now. I have to have it tonight because I have to pick up some other things."
"Sure." He had it in his wallet.
"I don't like Barris," Donna said as she drove, "and I don't trust him. You know, he's crazy. And when you're around him you're crazy too. And then when you're not around him you're okay. You're crazy right now."
"I am?" he said, startled.
"Yes," Donna said calmly.
"Well," he said. "Jesus." He did not know what to say to that. Especially since Donna was never wrong.
"Hey," Donna said with enthusiasm, "could you take me to a rock concert? At the Anaheim Stadium next week? Could you?"
"Right on," he said mechanically. And then it flashed on him what Donna had said -- asking him to take her out. "Alll riiiight!" he said, pleased; life flowed back into him. Once again, the little dark- haired chick whom he loved so much had restored him to caring. "Which night?"
"It's Sunday afternoon. I'm going to bring some of that oily dark hash and get really loaded. They won't know the difference; there'll be thousands of heads there." She glanced at him, critically. "But you've got to wear something neat, not those funky clothes you sometimes put on. I mean --" Her voice softened. "I want you to look foxy because you are foxy."
"Okay," he said, charmed.
"I'm taking us to my place," Donna said as she shot along through the night in her little car, "and you do have the money and you will give it to me, and then we'll drop a few of the tabs and kick back and get really mellow, and maybe you'd like to buy us a fifth of Southern Comfort and we can get bombed as well."
"Oh wow," he said, with sincerity.
"What I really genuinely want to do tonight," Donna said as she shifted down and swiveled the car onto her own street and into her driveway, "is go to a drive-in movie. I bought a paper and read what's on, but I couldn't find anything good except at the Torrance Drive-in, but it's already started. It started at five-thirty. Bummer."
He examined his watch. "Then we've missed --"
"No, we could still see most of it." She shot him a warm smile as she stopped the car and shut off the engine. "It's all the Planet of the Apes pictures, all eleven of them; they run from 7:30 P.M. all the way through to 8 A.M. tomorrow morning. I'll go to work directly from the drive-in, so I'll have to change now. We'll sit there at the movie. loaded and drinking Southern Comfort all night. Wow, can you dig it?" She peered at him hopefully.
"All right," he echoed.
"Yeah yeah yeah. " Donna hopped out and came around to help him open his little door. "When did you last see all the Planet of the Apes pictures? I saw most of them earlier this year, but then I got sick toward the last ones and had to split. It was a ham sandwich they vended me there at the drive-in. That really made me mad; I missed the last picture, where they reveal that all the famous people in history like Lincoln and Nero were secretly apes and running all human history from the start. That's why I want to go back now so bad." She lowered her voice as they walked toward her front door. "They burned me by vending that ham sandwich, so what I did -- don't rat on me -- the next time we went to the drive-in, the one in La Habra, I stuck a bent coin in the slot and a couple more in other vending machines for good measure. Me and Larry Talling -- you remember Larry, I was going with him? -- bent a whole bunch of quarters and fifty-cent pieces using his vise and a big wrench. I made sure all the vending machines were owned by the same firm, of course, and then we fucked up a bunch of them, practically all of them, if the truth were known." She unlocked her front door with her key, slowly and gravely, in the dim light.
"It is not good policy to burn you, Donna," he said as they entered her small neat place.
"Don't step on the shag carpet," Donna said.
"Where'll I step, then?"
"Stand still, or on the newspapers."
"Now don't give me a lot of heavy shit about having to walk on the newspapers. Do you know how much it cost me to get my carpet shampooed?" She stood unbuttoning her jacket.
"Thrift," he said, taking off his own coat. "French peasant thrift. Do you ever throw anything away? Do you keep pieces of string too short for any --"
"Someday," Donna said, shaking her long black hair back as she slid out of her leather jacket, "I'm going to get married and I'll need all that, that I've put away. When you get married you need everything there is. Like, we saw this big mirror in the yard next door; it took three of us over an hour to get it over the fence. Someday --"
"How much of what you've got put away did you buy," he asked, "and how much did you steal?"
"Buy?" She studied his face uncertainly. "What do you mean by buy?"
"Like when you buy dope," he said. "A dope deal. Like now." He got out his wallet. "I give you money, right?"
Donna nodded, watching him obediently (actually, more out of politeness) but with dignity. With a certain reserve.
"And then you hand me a bunch of dope for it," he said, holding out the bills. "What I mean by buy is an extension into the greater world of human business transactions of what we have present now, with us, as dope deals."
"I think I see," she said, her large dark eyes placid but alert. She was willing to learn.
"How many -- like when you ripped off that Coca-Cola truck you were tailgating that day -- how many bottles of Coke did you rip off? How many crates?"
"A month's worth," Donna said. "For me and my friends."
He glared at her reprovingly.
"It's a form of barter," she said.
"'What do --" He started to laugh. "What do you give back?"
"I give of myself."
Now he laughed out loud. "To who? To the driver of the truck, who probably had to make good --"
"The Coca-Cola Company is a capitalist monopoly. No one else can make Coke but them, like the phone company does when you want to phone someone. They're all capitalist monopolies. Do you know" -- her dark eyes flashed -- "that the formula for Coca-Cola is a carefully guarded secret handed down through the ages, known only to a few persons all in the same family, and when the last of them dies that's memorized the formula, there will be no more Coke? So there's a backup written formula in a safe somewhere," she added meditatively. "I wonder where," she ruminated to herself, her eyes flickering.
"You and your rip-off friends will never find the Coca-Cola formula, not in a million years."
"WHO THE FUCK WANTS TO MANUFACTURE COKE ANYHOW WHEN YOU CAN RIP IT OFF THEIR TRUCKS? They've got a lot of trucks. You see them driving constantly, real slow. I tailgate them every chance I get; it makes them mad." She smiled a secret, cunning, lovely little impish smile at him, as if trying to beguile him into her strange reality, where she tailgated and tailgated a slow truck and got madder and madder and more impatient and then, when it pulled off, instead of shooting on by like other drivers would, she pulled off too, and stole everything the truck had on it. Not so much because she was a thief or even for revenge but because by the time it finally pulled off she had looked at the crates of Coke so long that she had figured out what she could do with all of them. Her impatience had returned to ingenuity. She had loaded her car -- not the MG but the larger Camaro she had been driving then, before she had totaled it -- with crates and crates of Coke, and then for a month she and all her jerk friends had drunk all the free Coke they wanted to, and then after that --
She had turned the empties back in at different stores for the deposits.
"What'd you do with the bottle caps?" he once asked her. "Wrap them in muslin and store them away in your cedar chest?"
"I threw them away," Donna said glumly. "There's nothing you can do with Coke bottle caps. There's no contests or anything anymore." Now she disappeared into the other room, returned presently with several polyethylene bags. "You wanta count these?" she inquired. "There's a thousand for sure. I weighed them on my gram scale before I paid for them."
"It's okay," he said. He accepted the bags and she accepted the money and he thought, Donna, once more I could send you up, but I probably never will no matter what you do even if you do it to me, because there is something wonderful and full of life about you and sweet and I would never destroy it. I don't understand it, but there it is.
"Could I have ten?" she asked.
"Ten? Ten tabs back? Sure." He opened one of the bags -- it was hard to untie, but he had the skill -- and counted her out precisely ten. And then ten for himself. And retied the bag. And then carried all the bags to his coat in the closet.
"You know what they do in cassette-tape stores now?" Donna said energetically when he returned. The ten tabs were nowhere in sight; she had already stashed them. "Regarding tapes?"
"They arrest you," he said, "if you steal them."
"They always did that. Now what they do -- you know when you carry an LP or a tape to the counter and the clerk removes the little price tag that's gummed on? Well, guess what. Guess what I found out almost the hard way." She threw herself down in a chair, grinning in anticipation, and brought forth a foil-wrapped tiny cube, which he identified as a fragment of hash even before she unwrapped it. "That isn't only a gummed-on price sticker. There's also a tiny fragment of some kind of alloy in it, and if that sticker isn't removed by the clerk at the counter, and you try to get out through the door with it, then an alarm goes off."
"How did you find out almost the hard way?"
"Some teenybopper tried to walk out with one under her coat ahead of me and the alarm went off and they grabbed her and the pigs came."
"How many did you have under your coat?"
"Did you also have dope in your car?" he said. "Because once they got you for the tape rip-off,' they'd impound your car, because you'd be downtown looking out, and the car would be routinely towed away and then they'd find the dope and send you up for that, too. I'll bet that wasn't locally, either; I'll bet you did that where --" He had started to say, Where you don't know anybody in law enforcement who would intervene. But he could not say that, because he meant himself; were Donna ever busted, at least where he had any pull, he would work his ass off to help her. But he could do nothing, say, up in L.A. County. And if it ever happened, which eventually it would, there it would happen: too far off for him to hear or help. He had a scenario start rolling in his head then, a horror fantasy: Donna, much like Luckman, dying with no one hearing or caring or doing anything; they might hear, but they, like Barris, would remain impassive and inert until for her it was all over. She would not literally die, as Luckman had -- had? He meant might. But she, being an addict to Substance D, would not only be in jail but she would have to withdraw, cold turkey. And since she was dealing, not just using -- and there was a rap for theft as well -- she would be in for a while, and a lot of other things, dreadful things, would happen to her. So when she came back out she would be a different Donna. The soft, careful expression that he dug so much, the warmth -- that would be altered into God knew what, anyhow something empty and too much used. Donna translated into a thing; and so it went, for all of them someday, but for Donna, he hoped, far and away beyond his own lifetime. And not where he couldn't help.
"Spunky," he said to her now, unhappily, "without Spooky."
"What's that?" After a moment she understood. "Oh, that T A therapy. But when I do hash ..." She had gotten out her very own little round ceramic hash pipe, like a sand dollar, which she had made herself, and was lighting it. "Then I'm Sleepy." Gazing up at him, bright-eyed and happy, she laughed and extended to him the precious hash pipe. "I'll supercharge you," she declared. "Sit down."
As he seated himself, she rose to her feet, stood puffing the hash pipe into lively activity, then waddled at him, bent, and as he opened his mouth -- like a baby bird, he thought, as he always thought when she did this -- she exhaled great gray forceful jets of hash smoke into him, filling him with her own hot and bold and incorrigible energy, which was at the same time a pacifying agent that relaxed and mellowed them both out together: she who supercharged and Bob Arctor who received.
"I love you, Donna," he said. This supercharging, this was the substitute for sexual relations with her that he got, and maybe it was better; it was worth so much; it was so intimate, and very strange viewed that way, because first she could put something inside him, and then, if she wanted, he put something into her. An even exchange, back and forth, until the hash ran out.
"Yeah, I can dig it, your being in love with me," she said, chuckled, sat down beside him, grinning, to take a hit from the hash pipe now, for herself.