ELEVEN by lanyuehua

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									       In progress manuscript for evaluation only.
Please do not distribute without the author's permission.

Not By Death Alone
             A novel of suspense.

                 By D. H. Cope

                 Length @80,000 words

   Not by death alone
Will life unmeaningful be.


Doug Francis, professor of computer science at a small university in North
Dakota, tries to save the life of a young woman shot in the back by an unknown
assailant. Than another woman, with a striking resemblance to the first, is
beaten to death. Events spiral out of control as it becomes obvious that he is
the target of an investigation by police that then places him under arrest for
both crimes. Out on bail, and running from he knows not whom, Francis buries
himself in his research – artificial life. After a car bombing and several other
violent crimes against those bent on protecting him, he discovers that it is not
he these perpetrators want, but the secret revealed by his programming in
artificial life. In taking the offensive, Francis finds himself lost in a labyrinth,
knowing neither whom to trust nor where to turn. As events continue to
unfold, he realizes that he possesses the concept that could turn modern
civilization into the Stone Age. Only by challenging logic and uncovering
deception can he save an unaware world from certain disaster. Time, however,
is not on his side.

         I woke up suddenly. The wash of sunlight from the open window nearly blinding me.
Something was wrong. I tried to remember if I’d forgotten anything. Nothing registered.
The room looked like I’d left it. The clock next to the bed read almost exactly ten. That
wasn’t it. I’d planned on getting up at ten. But something was still wrong. I didn’t move.
Except for my eyes, which played left and right looking for motion. Nothing. I visually
checked the door. Locked. That wasn’t it. I sniffed for odors. Nothing. I listened. The clock
ticked softly. Maybe a few distant sounds from outside the window. That wasn’t it. But
something was definitely wrong.
         I felt okay. No hangover. Did I drink last night? No. What had I done before I’d gone
to bed? Watched television. An old black and white movie from the fifties. The Big Knife with
Jack Palance. An actor forced to play a part. Overacted. Nothing in that for me. Was I
expecting someone? Not that I could remember. Just another day. Breakfast, shower, dressed,
and off to teach. Like always. What day was this? Tuesday. Was I sure? Yes. Something was still
wrong. But what?
         I risked sitting up in bed and taking things in from that angle. While I couldn’t
remember where everything had been, nothing struck me as strange. Had I dreamed? A
nightmare? Nothing I could remember. And I usually did. Just that feeling of oddness. As if
something was wrong. Maybe it was me. I was wrong. But how? I felt the same. Except for that
wrongness. Not so much of imminent danger. But somehow dangerous nonetheless. A threat.
Surrounding me completely.
         I stood up and looked at my face in the mirror next to the bed. Same old face. Lots of
things wrong there. But nothing unexpected. Hair unkempt. Beard stubble. Eyes slightly
bloodshot. Like every morning. Same old me. But the feeling wouldn’t go away. Something
definitely wrong here.
         I looked down at my pajamas. Same color. Looked slept in. Bare feet. Like always.
Maybe that was it. Like always. Could I have had an epiphany? Too many habits followed.
Wrong because I’d finally had it with nothing being wrong in my life. Jesus, I thought, just
the kind of thing an academic would think. Something wrong because things were right. Too
right. But something was wrong.
         That’s when it hit me. Eleven. Just a word. Eleven. Comes right after ten. Just before
twelve. Why that? Why eleven? Eleven what? I had no idea. But the word hung in my mind
like a mantra. It didn’t repeat over and over. But always there. Eleven. Like a beacon. Like
some kind of ominous prediction of the future? I must have dreamt it. But who dreams a
         I shuffled off to take a whiz. Or give a whiz as George Carlin used to say. Couldn’t take
a whiz unless someone hadn’t flushed. And who’d want to take that whiz anyway. Had to give
a whiz. Eleven. Maybe eleven whizzes. At least my sense of humor had returned. Still I opened
the bathroom door very slowly, making sure no one was waiting for me in there. No one. No
whizzes there either.
         As I fixed a light breakfast of eggs and toast, I considered the number. Eleven. One
shy of a dozen. What kinds of things come in elevens? Apollo 11 first on the moon? Eleven
players on a football team? Eleven pipers piping? Bill Gates’ Eleven Rules of Life. Things like
‘life’s unfair’ and ‘if you think your teacher is tough, wait until you meet your boss.’ Good for
undergrads at the U. Nothing in it for me. Eleven what?
         I shaved, took a shower, and dressed. Two shoes, two socks, underwear, pants,
undershirt, dress shirt, coat, two gloves. Eleven. Then my hat. Twelve. Not eleven. What the
hell was going on? A simple number I just couldn’t shake.

       I peaked out my front door before leaving the apartment. No one waiting to shoot
me. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just eleven. I tried to think of my first class. At eleven.
Damn. Intro to Artificial Intelligence. Two hundred blank stares from lower division students
having to take a course they had no interest in.
       Once outside, the winter wind almost blew me back indoors. Two feet of old snow on
the ground. Brilliant blue sky. Cold as hell. But the date was not November the eleventh, two
thousand eleven. It was December the third, two thousand ten. Nothing eleven in that. My
address was apartment three thirty four in the fifteen hundred block of Twelfth Street.
Nothing eleven there. And yet the strange feeling persisted. Something was dreadfully
wrong, and I had no idea what. Except, of course, that it might be related in some way to the
number eleven.

        North Dakota has its hot spots. A town called Rugby near the upper center of the
state, for example, is the geographical center of North America. The state also has the
World’s Largest Buffalo. Located in Jamestown, this statue is twenty-six feet high and forty-
six feet long. A man named Casselton build a fifty foot pyramid of empty oil cans believed to
be the highest such structure in the world. No one knows why. At least that I could find.
North Dakota State University houses the largest research center studying sheep in the
        And, not to be outdone by rest of the country, the state passed a bill making English
the state’s official language in 1987. Several times the legislature has attempted to change the
sate’s name to Dakota, but failed.
        The state also grows more sunflowers than any other state in the union. How they
count these is beyond me. The latest census shows about 650 thousand residents. That’s less
than twenty American cities by latest estimates and only Vermont has less people. We are
one of the few states that even in recessions has many more jobs available than people who
want to fill them.
        Of course our weather also contributes to our under population compared with the
rest of the states. While our summers couldn’t be better, our winters could hardly be worse.
The jet stream mainlined through our state giving us the first and usually most violent tastes
of its Alaskan brews before they hit Minneapolis and Chicago. The winds alone would turn
many back. The snow and ice takes care of most of the rest. And, if that weren’t enough, the
temperatures often hit well below the sixty degree below zero point. Not for the feint of
heart. But we still love it. Those of us who live here. Why. For me, it was the very fact that no
one wants to live here. No pace to keep up with. No Joneses to compete with.
        Our little college town also has several cell-hone dead spots and the rest only spotty
connections. Not the state’s fault. More likely the fact that our lack of significant population
didn’t place us very high on the various services priority lists. So we relied on old-fashioned
telephones that plugged into the wall. It made some folks very unhappy. For as the world
went on about their business, we could take advantage of constant ability to connect with
whomever we wanted to, whenever we wanted to. It also curtailed our use of computers
which, for the most part, required Ethernet connections in order to use the Internet and
email. I loved it. It gave me the kind of isolation I preferred. And it also was perfect North
Dakota. Like the old west, we relied on telephone lines strung from pole to pole just as the
telegraph had in centuries past.
        Is there any reason not to love this place?
        But we who live here do love it. While they don’t make the tourist brochures, the
incredible empty spaces, the low rolling hills, the beauty of the sunsets would attract anyone
who stopped long enough to enjoy them.

       I trudged through a snow bank next to the sidewalk to avoid slipping on the ice there
frozen over night. Slow going, but safer. Fifty feet from the steps to the computer science
building I heard her voice. Screaming. But not loud due to the dead air. I followed the sound
and saw a young woman, probably a student, running directly toward me, kicking the old
snow as she went and staggering from the exertion. I also saw someone far behind her,
turning away and then running in the opposite direction.
       “Help,” came the voice. “Help me.”
       What a way to begin the day, I thought. But turned and ran toward her anyway.

       “For God’s sake help me!” she yelled.
       I reached her just as she began to collapse, falling against me in a kind of hug as we
        “Help me . . .” and her voice trailed off.
        I lifted her up and looked in her face. A nice face. Maybe early twenties. At the same
time I noticed that my hands behind her had become suddenly sticky. And her eyes began to
fold up into her head as someone ready to pass out might do.
        “What’s going on,” I yelled at her. More to keep her awake than anything else.
        She didn’t answer.
        I could now feel her heart pumping. Wildly. Through her sticky coat. Something was
wrong. Really wrong.
        I grabbed her under her legs, picked her up, and walked as quickly as I could back
toward the building. She needed warmth, I thought. To get out of this cold dry air.
        As I held her, I looked at one of my exposed but gloved hands. Dark red. Blood.
        “Jesus,” I said. “Stay with it. Keep breathing. I’ll get help.” And I pumped my legs
harder through the snow.
        Her head lolled back as if she’d lost consciousness. Not a good sign. I looked around
for help. The man I’d seen was now gone, his footprints clear in the snow. But a couple of
students were now walking toward the building where I’d been just moments before.
        “Here,” I yelled. “Help me!”
        They heard me, stood still for a moment, and then both began running toward me and
the girl.
        “Call 911,” I yelled at one of them. The other I told to help me carry the girl. They both
obeyed. After all, I was faculty and they students. Pecking order.
        We got her up the steps and into the warm marble foyer. As the door closed behind
us, I could hear our footsteps resonate in the mausoleum-like resonance.
        They laid her down carefully into the pool of blood that had already begun puddling
beneath her.
        “Shit,” the student who’d helped me carry her in said. “She’s hurt bad. What
        “No idea,” I said. “She just called out for help.”
        By then a couple of secretaries had come over to see what they could do. One had
brought a pillow to put under the girl’s head.
        I reached out and took the young girl’s hand and felt for a pulse. Faint. Disappearing
        “Tell them we need an ambulance right now,” I yelled to no one in particular. Hoping
that the other student had reached 911 by now.
        For some strange reason, probably due to my heightened awareness from the
experience, my mind said clearly, ‘That’s one.’ I wasn’t sure I’d actually thought it. So real. As
if someone invisible next to me had said it aloud. But no one had.
        “What happened?” one of the secretaries asked.
        “No idea,” I said. “She just called for help and that’s it.
        “What’s wrong with her? To make that much blood?”
        I didn’t know the answer. Shot? Knifed?
        I sat down next to the girl and tried to rub life back into her arm. I put my hand next
to her mouth. Nothing. She was dead. Or at least close to it.
        I had no experience at this. So I grabbed her cheeks and began what I imagined to be
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Breath in, out, in, out. Nothing.
        I put my hands on her chest and pushed in and out as I’d seen so many times
paramedics do in movies. But I figured I might just be helping her heart pump more blood
out of her so I quickly stopped.

          In the distance I heard sirens coming. Would they arrive in time?
          A crowd had gathered and for whatever reason I told them to back off. She needed air.
          By the time the medics arrived, and with them the cops, I lost touch with the girl.
Herded out of the way as I should be. A bystander. Though more than that I thought as I
looked at myself. Blood. Her blood. All over my coat, my gloves, my shoes. Everywhere.
Except my hat. Maybe.
          My class began in five minutes. Just down the hall. Two hundred students would be
waiting there for me. Even now. I didn’t suffer tardiness gladly. But could I teach dressed like
this? No. Besides the cops would want to talk to me.
          I politely pulled one of the secretaries aside and asked, given the conditions, if she’d
go to my classroom and tell the students the lecture was cancelled and to keep studying for
the final. She took one look at me, nodded, and walked away.
          Eleven. The word wouldn’t go away. The minute that things had begun to settle down,
it’s all I could think of. Eleven what? Dead girls? Shootings? Crises?

       They took her away. On a stretcher. Covered completely by a blanket. Nothing to
mistake about that. She was dead. Probably died in my arms as I carried her to what I thought
was safety.
       And, of course, the cops did wish to speak to me. With my bloody clothes on. In a
private office. At length. I told him the story as well as I could remember it. Her crying out.
The man behind her and his footprints in the snow. Of my catching her and getting the two
students to help. I told them everything except ‘eleven.’ They wouldn’t know what to do
about that any more than I did.

        The day wore on. Any thoughts I may have had about teaching my other classes
evaporated. I told the story again and again to different cops. They filled out forms from my
academic file the university kept on me. That made things a bit faster. But the day had
turned to night by the time they released me to go home, change my clothes, and try and
get back to an ordinary life. Fat chance. They’d given me several cards declaring their names,
emails, phone numbers, and identification as city policemen. In case I remembered anything
else about the case.
        I had never recognized the girl. Had she been in my class? Two hundred students were
too many for me to recognize them all. They hadn’t told me her name or anything about her.
Did they actually know? Didn’t tell me that either. All I knew was that she was dead and that
I’d tried unsuccessfully to save her life.
        If I woke up tomorrow without a hangover I’d be surprised. For I raided my bottle of
Jim Beam with a vengeance. And tried to forget about the girl. And the number eleven.

         He held up his hands fisted like a boxer. But he was no boxer. The black kroma he wore
around his waist proved that. He was a lethal weapon. Bound to use any part of his body to
kill. Bokator from Cambodia. One of the deadliest of martial arts. He circled to his left as his
arms faked punches. Every move resembling one by a particular animal. From ants to
elephants. Ready to claw out a throat, break legs, sever spinal cords, dig out eyeballs, crush
legs, or one of thousands of others used to destroy opponents.
         I mirrored his stance and movements to demonstrate my own skills. Muscles relaxed.
Eyeing him with a predatory lack of emotion. Ready to kill without mercy. But I also felt like
running. After all, my own kroma, had I worn it, was red not black, making me only a skilled
novice. But I’d accepted the master’s overtures by taking the stance, so I couldn’t run now.
And a crowd had gathered, caging them in. No way to escape. All that remained was for me
to attack with an unrecognized move. If I could do so quickly enough. Otherwise the little
bout would end as fast as it had begun. And I’d be dead.
         Without warning, the master dropped to his knees and slammed his elbow upwards
towards my midsection. Luckily, I’d used the same technique before and saw it coming.
Countered by leaning back slightly and dropping to the floor. All the while hooking my legs
around the master’s arm and twisting him away onto his side. This may have taken two
seconds. Far too long in Bokator, but long enough for him to get the idea that he couldn’t just
fool around with me. At the same time, I could feel his strength of will. Far superior to my
         I leapt to my feet to gain more advantage, but as I did the master used ‘dragon whips
his tail’ with his left foot grazing my jaw. Just enough power to send me down again. But not
out. Not yet. I crawled away quickly and within seconds we were up again and taking our
boxing stances. Moving around each other as we’d begun. My teeth hurt, along with muscles I
hadn’t used in months. He looked as good as new. No sign that my clinch had done any harm.
         Before I had a chance to prepare for his next move, he stepped in close, stuck out a
pointed finger curled slightly as ‘fang,’ and hooked it behind my left clavicle. Then, with his
finger digging into my flesh, he dragged me forward into a head butt. It happened so
quickly, all I could do was react to the sudden near concussion. But some ancient instinct
took over, and I kneed him in the groin. And watched him double up in pain.
         All this was introduction. Warning shots. Both of us knew that within a minute one of
us would be ready for the hospital. Or the morgue. Such was the nature of Bokator, a military
art that took no prisoners. An art only when practiced in the studio. A fight to the death
when encountered on the streets. Like now. Abolished by the Pol Pot regime during the Viet
Nam rule of Cambodia. For fear, no doubt, that it gave power to the people to fight back
against their tyranny.
         Why I wasted my time thinking these thoughts was beyond me. For even as little time
as they took, the master had decided his next move and it caught me by surprise. He feinted
his arms outward, then crossed and scissored them over my throat. Designed to crush my
windpipe, I had precious little time to react. I protruded my fisted middle finger of my
stronger right hand, and thrust it upward into the flesh under the master’s jawbone. With
everything I had. After all, if that didn’t work, I’d be dead. It did work. The master gagged,
and I felt the scissor hold give slightly. Enough that I could dig the heal of my left shoe into
his right shin. Hard enough that the bone should have broken. It didn’t, but it clearly got his

         Once again the master fell backward. I grabbed his now choking throat hold, and
stumbled away. To stay alive. Neither of us was going to have any fun when this was over. No
matter who won. Maybe the real winner died. For theirs was the kingdom of peace, not of
pain and disfigurement.
         We paused for a second, and then returned to counterclockwise feints. The master’s
eyes no longer showed a lack of emotion. Nor even determination. They drilled through me
as if I was nothing but a momentary target. His teeth clenched. I had no idea what he’d do
next. Any part of the master’s body was a potential weapon. I could only try to give back
what I received. To cower showed weakness. And so I curled my fingers into ‘lion claws’ and
scratched the air. I imagined my entire body as a missile, ready to launch myself at the
master. All this in a split second. I barred my teeth in a savage grin and gave him glare for
         That’s when the master began giggling. Almost uncontrollably. He fell to the ground
and doubled up, his high-pitched voice piercing the previously quiet air around them. Now I
could clinch victory. Break the master’s back with a single kick. But his laughing was so
infectious it caught on. And so did those in the crowd. I fell to my knees. What a scene we
must have made. That is, if anyone had come upon us at that moment. But no one did. For this
was a Bokator class. The master’s class.
         “Pretty good, Doug,” the master said, as we calmed down from the festivities.
         “Thought you had me with the scissors.”
         “I did. You’re a dead man.”
         That sobered me. The master had pulled his punches.
         “Makes me wonder why I pay you for this humiliation.”
         “So you won’t die when you get better at it.”
         “Ah,” and helped him to his feet. Twenty years my senior, the master was still as
limber and muscular as someone half his age.
         The other students gathered around and compared notes. Each readying for their own
competition with one of the best known Bokator masters in America. Each knowing they had
little chance, even those with black kromas. For the master had the highest ranking in that
color, something attained only after a lifetime of training several hours a day. He was
learning, but even after two years had only just begun.
         Driving back to campus took ten minutes. Even on the still icy streets. Clouds had
begun to form in the distance and it looked like more snow to come. No class until three this
day. That would give me a chance to pick up my clothes from the laundry, shower, and then
change. No more blood he hoped. Except maybe his own from today’s bout with his teacher.
The workout had nearly helped me forget about ‘eleven.’ But not completely. It still hung
over me like a deadly premonition.

        “So, we’ve decided to change roles, have we?” Jackson was an on-again, off-again friend
of mine in the psych department. “I usually ask the questions. Now it’s your turn?”
        “It is,” I said. “But it’s really strange. Where can something like this come from?”
        Jackson mulled it over while he turned his pencil over and over sideways between his
        “Maybe a cigar’s just a cigar?”
        “So, eleven is just a number that somehow got fixed in my mind?”
        “A thought.”
        “So how do I get it unfixed?”
        “How about another number?”
        “Like what?”
        “Twenty two.”
        “Twenty two? Where’d that come from?”
        “Don’t know? Where’d eleven come from?”
        We locked eyes for a minute and then turned away.
        “Fat lot of help you are.”
        “Back to you. You think of a number and then ask me what it means. Not much to go
        “But then the girl.”
        “The dead one?”
        “Yes. What about that?”
        “What about that?”
        “I asked you first.”
        “No relation.”
        “Basically, yes. Happened on the same day. You correlated the two things. All there is
to it.”
        “You guys always make it sound so simple.”
        “Usually is.”
        “So that’s it?”
        Jackson gave it some thought.
        “Or you’re going nuts.”
        “You have been kind of strange the last few days.”
        “Wouldn’t you be too? If a young girl had died in your arms?”
        “They ever tell you her name?”
        “No. I’m not sure they know.”
        “Oh, they know. Get with it, Doug. Twenty first century, you know. We have television
sets and everything.”
        “Maybe you should call them and see what’s new.”
        “They’ll just ask me what business it is of mine.”
        “Suppose so.”
        We both stared somewhere else.
        “An idea, though.”

        I looked out at the dismal winter landscape from my office window three stories
above the front steps of the computer science building. Late afternoon and the sky had
completely clouded over. Light snow drifted idly down as if it had nothing better to do.
Neither did I, especially, but decided to call the cops anyway. After various electronic voices
and the office staff finished I finally connected with the man who’d interviewed me the day
of her death.
        “Patton here.”
        “Doug Francis here. The guy who carried the girl into the Computer Science building
at the U. the other day?”
        “Yeah. Okay. What can I do for you?”
        “Just checking in. I was curious if you’ve found whoever did it.”
        “What’s it to you?”
        “Funny, I just told a friend of mine you’d say that.”
        “Good for you.”
        “Okay. She died right there in front of me. I’ll live with that for the rest of my life.
Looked like a sweet kid. I’d just like to know who she was and if you’ve got the bastard yet.”
        “Yes and no.”
        “Yes and no?”
        “Yes we know her name. And no we haven’t got the bastard yet.”
        He waited. The line seemed to go dead.
        “Good. I thought I’d lost you.”
        “No such luck.”
        “So what’s her name?”
        “What’s it to you?”
        “Jesus. What’s your problem? I’ve already told . . . “
        “Okay. Her name was Julia Robbins.”
        “A student?”
        “No. A friend of a student.”
        “Damn, Francis, you’re a pest.”
        “Thanks. What’s the friend’s name?”
        “Monica Gable. As in Clark. But no relation.”
        “Thanks. Anything else you can tell me?”
        “Read it in the papers.”
        And he hung up.

        As I walked around the corner of my apartment building, something struck me as
wrong. Something there that shouldn’t be. Or maybe something not there that should be. I
couldn’t tell which. Just a hunch. But I’d become dependent on such intuitions since the day
she’d called out for help.
        The man had waited for me behind the front hedge. He should have seen the open
gate. He ran at me and doubled me over with a fist. Then jerked both hands upwards catching
my jaw. Before I knew it, I’d fallen backward onto the lawn waiting for a final assault. Trying
to catch a breath, and shaking my head to see him coming. One swift kick into his groin and
I’d equalized the playing field. Both down. Neither out.
        The man rolled to his left, catching one of my legs in a scissor hold and twisting as
hard as he could. Not a sound. Guy was a pro. And he knew Bokator. I let go and jumped to
my feet, still dizzy from his initial assault.
        The man swept his arm over the grass hoping to grab one of my feet. I stepped back a
step to avoid him and recognized my assailant. From class. Another test? Cato Fong attacking
Jacques Clouseau? I almost reached down to help him up. Then saw his eyes. The look of a
predator. Not a test.
        He grabbed the extended hand and pulled me down on top of him. Close quarters.
Easier or harder. Depended on the level of your opponent. I took a chance and ripped my
thumbnail up his stomach and chest before ramming it into his Adam’s Apple. He wasn’t
prepared for it. Nonetheless he bit me in the neck so violently I nearly gave up. Instead I
slammed his head against mine, knocking us both senseless for a second.
        The man pulled a knife then. I got up on my knees and fended him off with a few wide
arcs of my arm. Somehow he got to his feet, still keeping Doug away with the knife. I stared
at him and then he turned and ran. Why, I had no idea. He’d gotten the best of it. But I
watched him disappear around the corner and down the side street. Embarrassingly too
exhausted from the skirmish to follow him.
        A warning? A little something to keep me from investigating the girl’s death? I
remembered her name then. Julia Robbins. Not one of my students. A friend of Monica Gable.
A student of the university but not one of my student’s either.
        I brushed myself off and went inside and eventually found my apartment. Two? He
thought. Nine more to come? Or was this whole thing nonsense. One thing. That’s all. A girl’s
murder and the murderer out to make sure I didn’t talk? But that was ridiculous. I’d gotten a
good look at him. Couldn’t remember his name. But I’d just call it in and that would be the
end of the whole thing.

      Patton wasn’t happy to hear from me. But he listened nonetheless.
      “And you’re sure it was the same guy as in your class?”
      “But you can’t remember his name?”
      “Not sure I ever knew it. We never had introductions. But all you have to do is phone
the master and he’ll tell you. Give him the description I gave you.”
      “The master?”
      “The expert. The teacher there.”
      “And you’re sure about all this.”
      “I am.”
      And Patton hung up on me again.

       I spent the next few days teaching and watching the newspapers for news that the
cops had found Monica’s killer. Nothing. Even for a relatively small university town in the
middle of winter that seemed strange. And so I called Patton again.
       “Patton here.”
       “Doug Francis.”
       Dead silence.
       “Did you find the guy yet?”
       “What’s it to you?”
       “Not this again.”
       “We found him.”
       “And nothing. Had an airtight alibi. Not our man.”
       “Did you check him for the night he jumped me in front of my apartment house?”
       “Airtight alibi?”
       “Well what?”
       “Arrest him. Assault and battery.”
       “Says he didn’t do it. You say he did. What we call a he said, she said thing. Come on
down and swear out a warrant and we can send this thing to court. Otherwise, zip. Nada.
       “You took his word?”
       “No. He said he didn’t do it. You said he did. What you told me, you got the better of
it anyway.”
       “That’s it.”
       “As I said, come down and make a complaint. We’ll pull him in and make it official.
Then the lawyers take over. None of my business after that. I don’t know either one of you.”
       “But why’d he do it?”
       “Got me. Maybe he just doesn’t like you. I might just see his point.”
       “Thanks Patton.”
       “Anything else?”
       I hung up on him this time. Didn’t make them quite even. But it was a beginning.

         I sat in front of my computer and pulled up my favorite browser. Time to take
advantage of the twenty-first century. Just for the hell of it, I looked up Patton first. Twenty
years on the force. Lots of collars. From all I could see and understand, he’d been a good cop.
Maybe he’d simply gone over the edge when he’d met me.
         I tried Julia Robbins. Not much. A Face Book page with her photograph and a list of
twenty or so friends, none of whom I recognized. I looked at her face. Just as I remembered it.
Though not as stress filled here. She was beautiful. Not in the Monroe sense, but in the way
that some young women have of looking at you while seemingly right through you. That
‘gotcha’ look. Friendly. Someone you’d like to sit down for coffee with. For the rest of your
         Her short bio listed several interests. Sailing. Chemistry. Chemistry? Reading mystery
novels. Nothing much there for me. Though I didn’t really know what I was looking for. The
rest of the Robbins were guys who worked for various banks, lawyer firms, and one who
collected taxes for Uncle Sam. Nothing about her mother, father, family, relatives, loved ones,
boyfriends. Anything.
         Monica Gable proved much the same. Not quite as pretty. Dark hair. Sultry eyes.
Majoring in chemistry. Noteworthy. Fewer friends. Not much there either.
         I looked up my Bokutor studio in hopes of finding class lists. No such luck. My
assailant still had no name. I tried phoning but the place had closed for the evening. I left a
message for the master to call me when he got the chance. Maybe he’d give me a name.
Maybe not. Left several numbers where I could be reached.
         So much for twenty-first century technology. Then on a lark, I looked up the number
11. Street addresses. A few places with ‘11’ in their names. I tried ‘something special about 11.’ I
learned, after several attempts to understand that in math, 11 was the largest number without
the persistence of 1, also known as multiplicative persistence. Also discovered that many
predicted world disaster on ‘11/11/11.’ Hadn’t happened. But, what the hell. I looked up the
birthdates of each of the characters in my little mini-drama. Not one ‘11’ in the bunch.
November was not apparently a popular month to have babies.
         I tried ‘something special about eleven.’ Surprisingly the search engine produced a
different list of matches. Chapter eleven bankruptcy. Eleven dimensions in certain versions
of string theory. Not much there for me. I looked up novel titles. Quite a few books called
‘Eleven,’ but none that seemed relevant.
         I gave up. Went out to eat dinner. Tired of the same old, same old.
         Really snowing now. Several inches had fallen since I’d last been outside. Looked like
more the same coming. I chose a place nearby so I wouldn’t have to chance my trip back. A
small mom and pop about two blocks from my place. Good home cooking. Nothing fancy.
         That’s when it struck me. While I walked through the snow. I was born on the
eleventh of November. 11/11/79. Two out of three wasn’t bad. But no cigar. Or was I just
making too much out of all this. Whey did it have to be three elevens? Two would do. But
then why two? ‘You’re going over the edge, Francis,’ I reminded myself.
         The snow was going on three feet deep by the time I reached the diner. And coming
down harder. I’d have to eat fast in order to get back to my apartment before everything got
snowed in.
         I sat at my favorite table and looked around for anyone I might know. Popular place.
No one there but me and the waitress on her way to get my order.
         “Professor F,” she said as she approached. Her favorite nickname for anyone she knew.
The first letter of their last names.

         “Doris,” I replied. My favorite name of anyone I knew. Their actual name.
         “What’ll it be tonight?”
         “Usual,” I said. Meaning hamburger with fries and a cold one.
         She grimaced, no doubt counting the lesser number of days I had left in my life due to
the cholesterol levels in my order. She wrote some kind of shorthand down in her pad, gave
me a brief smile and went back to the kitchen from where she’d emerged.
         From where I sat I could see the window and through it the still increasing blizzard
that seemed to be developing. The snow piled up against the glass showed me a cross section
of yellow old versions and white new ones. Like the rings in a tree stump. A brief history of
the past few days.
         Without warning a figure suddenly appeared walking steadily from left to my right.
No coat or hat. Nothing to prevent me from seeing her face. Julia Robbins. The dead girl.
Walking through snow as if it weren’t there. Almost gliding over its surface. With nothing to
protect here from the elements. Brutal cold. The wind.
         I shook my head back and forth. This couldn’t be. I was going nuts.
         I stood up and headed for the door. As I did she began to vanish. The snow coming
down harder?
         I reached the door and pulled it open. The wind hit my face like a hammer and the
snow with it blinded me for a second. Without my coat on, I felt like a freeze-dried tomato.
But I looked around. No Julia. Not even any footprints in the snow to indicate she’d walked
along here. Of course, the snow was coming down so hard now her steps could have easily
filled in by now.
         I closed the door, needing all my strength to do so. Doris had come out to see what
was wrong. I’d ruined the floor in front.
         “What the hell?” she managed to say.
         “Thought I saw someone I knew out there,” I told her.
         “On a night like this?”
         “Yeah, well.”
         And I made my way back to my table and sat down. Doug Francis in a straight jacket.
Maybe it had eleven sleeves. Or it took the asylums entire staff of eleven to hold me down to
get it on me.
         My beer had come and I took a long deep drink of it. And tried not to look out the
front window. For fear she’d come by again. Worse yet, she just might be standing there
watching me. Wearing a light summer dress and looking like an angel. Maybe one of eleven
         But I couldn’t help myself. I looked. I shouldn’t have. She was not only back again,
wearing the same outfit, but sure enough she was looking in through the glass directly at me.
Smiling slightly. As if it were some kind of practical joke that everyone was in on except me.
         Her image began to fade again and she almost disappeared as the snow hit the window
from a gust of wind.
         Then I noticed something funny. Her image was surrounded by a kind of box. It too
faded and returned with the wind.
         And then it struck me. She wasn’t outside. I was watching a reflection of her on the
inside behind me. She was framed by a large door of some kind.
         I abruptly turned and, thank God, there she was. Standing the wide doorway to the
kitchen. Half a puzzle solved. No one outside at all. Now all I had was a dead person standing
in the doorway of a diner’s kitchen.
         “You,” I said.
         She didn’t move. I expected her to run. But she didn’t.
         Instead she smiled again.

         “I saw you looking at my image in the window,” she said. The voice different than I
remembered it the day she died. Of course, she’d been under a lot of strain then. She’d been
         “What are you doing here?” A fool question to ask.
         “I work here,” she said. Simple as that.
         “Okay,” I said, “but you’re dead.” I realized as soon as the words left my mouth that it
was a stupid thing to say. But there it was nonetheless.
         “I’m what,” she said.
         I couldn’t repeat the word. Just too stupid.
         Then I noticed the small placard pinned to the front of her dress. It read, “Dolly.” A
waitress. Doris and Dolly.
         “Dolly,” I said, unable to think of anything else at the moment.
         I gave it some thought.
         “You reminded me of someone else. Sorry.”
         “Someone dead?”
         “My God,” she said. “Who?”
         “No matter. Would you mind coming over here and sitting for a minute. I’d like to
talk with you.”
         She looked around the place. “Not exactly rush hour,” she said. And carefully, and
slowly too, walked in my direction.
         When she’d finally sat down across from me, still a little wary no doubt, I realized that
she resembled Julia Robbins, but up close the resemblance was less remarkable. She was older.
Her hair darker. She wore makeup. And the more I noticed these things the more I realized
how much I’d remembered of Julia.
         “Did you know her well?” she asked me.
         “Who?” I said, and then realized how stupid that sounded. “Oh, her.” Even stupider.
         She waited for my answer.
         “I didn’t actually know her at all. It’s just that she died in my arms.” All out in the
open now.
         “She what?”
         “Maybe you read about it? On campus a few days ago?”
         “Oh. I remember. That was you?” She looked ready to bolt for the door. Sitting next to
a possible murderer.
         “Yes. I tried to save her. Didn’t make it.”
         “You’re the professor at the U.” Not a question.
         “I am.” And I waited for her to calm down. Unsure of what to say next. An apparition
first, now real, and now sitting next to me.
         “What’s your last name?” I asked her.
         “My last name?”
         “Just curious. You look so much like her. You could be twins.”
         “Oh. Jackson.”
         “My last name. I’m Dolly Jackson.”
         “Ever know anyone named Julia Robbins?”
         “That the girl’s name?”

       I sat back in my chair, realizing that the whole episode had been a sort of Vertigo
moment, when Jimmy Stewart had met Kim Novak on the streets of San Francisco and
mistaken her for the dead wife of his former client. Great film. But just that. Not reality.
       “I’m sorry,” I told her.
       “That’s alright. It must have been quite a shock to have that happen and then to see
my reflection in the window.”
       “Can I go now?”
       Not realizing she’d felt herself a prisoner, “Of course. Again, I’m sorry.”
       “No problem,” she said, and made her way back to the kitchen.
       I left half my burger on the plate, and took my fries home with me. Figured I might
need some nourishment latter on when my heartbeat returned to normal.

        I was in Jackson’s office again. Trying to keep warm while getting my weekly dose of
offhand therapy.
        “When was your last date?” he asked me.
        “My last date? What’s that got to do with anything?”
        “You’ve been telling me about how beautifully innocent this dead girl was. That’s
        “You think I’ve got the Laura thing?”
        “Laura. She you’re last date?”
        “The movie, idiot. Laura. The one where the detective falls in love with the girl in the
painting. The dead one who turns out alive at the end.”
        “Never saw it.”
        “No what?”
        “No, I’m not having a virtual affair with a dead girl.”
        “Could’ve fooled me. It’s all we ever talk about anymore. Your fixation.”
        “Jesus. You think I’ve got a fixation? She died in my arms. That’s all. Wouldn’t that
tend to get your attention?”
        “Probably. That’s why I’m so confused by the vigor of your non-denial denial.”
        “All the President’s Men.”
        “That one I saw. Hoffman and Redford, right?”
        “Any more clues?”
        “None. Like you, I’m thinking it’s all coincidence. I wake up with a number in my head
and a girl dies in my arms the same day. Then someone tries to kill me another day. Later on.
Three different things. Unrelated.”
        He looked pensive for a moment. As if he’d had second thoughts about it. After all it’d
been his idea in the first place.
        “Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts.”
        He didn’t answer. A non-answer answer.
        “Not thinking about that. Just about the girl. Why would someone kill a young girl
like that? For what reason? I’m having trouble coming up with anything beyond the child
molestation revelation. Or a relationship gone bad. But even those seem remote.”
        “Agreed. But she’s dead nonetheless.”
        He went pensive again.
        “Now you’re getting obsessed,” I said.
        “Could be. But the whole thing smells fishy somehow. Heard anything from the cops
about it?”
        “It’s a ‘don’t call them and they won’t call me’ kind of thing.”
        “A what?”
        “No. And I won’t hear from them. Told me basically to read the papers and stay out of
        “Hmm? What’s that mean?”
        “Means hmm.”
        “The Big Sleep. Bogart.”
        “Actually Chandler.”
        Okay, Chandler then. But you’re thinking I should investigate on my own?”

       “No. I’m sure the police can do quite well without your help.”
       “Then why bring it up?”
       “Wanted to know. That’s all.”
       “Then what should I do?”
       “Get a date, Doug. How long’s it been?”
       Hell of a conversation. I pushed my chair up against the wall and left him staring out
the window. Pensive.

        Hadn’t heard anything about my assailant, so when I got to my twice-a-month
Bokutor class I found the teacher and asked him face to face. I had to describe him since I
didn’t know his name. Since the master was not actually too fluid in English this took awhile.
But he finally got it.
        “Not here anymore. Quit.”
        A lot of words from the master.
        “Do you know his name?”
        “Yes,” he said, and stopped. As if he’d answered my question.
        “What is it?”
        “Can’t tell you?”
        “Why not?” I was getting surprisingly paranoid. First Patton and now this guy.
        “Police,” he said.
        Not this again.
        “What did they say?”
        “Told me not to tell you.”
        “Why not?”
        He looked away from me for a minute. Unsure of his words.
        “They say you might hurt him.”
        “Hurt him? He jumped me for Christ’s sake. I haven’t done anything. Yet.” Adding that
last word gave me a good idea of why Patton, no doubt, had told the master to keep quiet on
the subject.
        “Okay,” I said. “Forget it. Sorry I asked.”
        He turned and we began class. Someone else’s turn to get the crap beat out of them
while we watched and learned.

        Maybe Jackson was right. Maybe I was fixated on the girl who fell into my arms that
day and then died. Jackson knew more than I about such things, after all. Of course, I had
serious doubts about the field in which he specialized.
        Yet here I was. A bright sunny afternoon. Blue sky above. Standing on the melted ice
of the sidewalk looking across the snow-strewn meadow toward where I imagined her still
calling for help.
        For a reason I couldn’t tell you, I began walking toward the spot where I thought I
could have stood while she died. The holes in the snow had long since disappeared given the
heavy snow that had fallen the day after. But most of that had melted and the dead winter
grass peaked up in spots. A lull in the storms that continually slid across North Dakota this
time of year.
        I had plenty of time. Semester break. Christmas holidays. Students all warm and snug
with their families. Me walking slowly across the meadow looking for what? Clues? How many
times had the cops wandered through here? What did I know about such things? But between
Jackson’s analysis and the cops defiant refusals to tell me anything, I couldn’t stand it
anymore. No one except me and Julia had really been involved in this. Maybe she would help
me? Or that’s at least how I rationalized why I was out here by myself looking for something.

        As I walked, two things got my attention. Instinctively I looked from side to side for
anything that might have dropped from her while I’d carried her — or while we’d, the
student and me, carried her — to the foyer of the Computer Science Building. I also noticed
that I was suddenly feeling vulnerable. As if whoever had killed her was looking right at me.
Waiting for me to find something. Waiting to put one right between my eyes.
        Had he shot her? I didn’t even know that for sure. The papers hadn’t mentioned it.
Patton sure as hell hadn’t told me anything. I’d just assumed she’d been shot. After all, he
couldn’t have thrown a knife that far.
        Now that I thought about it, was the person I saw far across the meadow actually the
perpetrator? Maybe Julia had walked further than I thought and the person who turned and
run was just a student, afraid to get involved. At that moment I realized the full extent of
what I didn’t know. Julia Robbins, friend of Monica Gable, was dead. That was about it.
        I stopped somewhere about where I imagined she’d reached me. Nothing there as far
as I could see except snow and bits of ground. Maybe it wasn’t the spot. How could I tell? I
bent over and ran my fingers through the brown and brittle blades of grass here and there.
Dirt. Small stones. Nothing shiny. No clues.
        I stood up and looked in the approximate direction where the man — or was it even a
man, could I be sure? — had stood.
        And there he was. Standing just as he had that fateful day.
        “Good God,” I said. Aloud. It wouldn’t be. Maybe a reflection from behind me? In the
window of the diner?
        I waited for him to disappear. He didn’t. He just looked directly at me, as if daring me
to come further. I didn’t. And the seconds ticked by. Very slowly.
        This is nuts, I told myself. Where was Jackson when I needed him? Fixation, he’d say.
        I blinked my eyes. Still there. Not moving. At least he didn’t have a rifle. At least not
that I could see. He could have one pointed up or down by his side and at this distance I
wouldn’t know it.
        Wait a second, I told myself. What am I doing? Was this guy following me? Or had he
stayed out here since the day it happed and waited for me to return? Through all that snow?
Not likely. This was just someone who’d happened upon the meadow, saw me looking at the
ground, and wondered what the hell I was doing out here. Or maybe it was a cop they’d
posted here to watch out for the murderer in case he returned to the scene of the crime.
        He didn’t move. Nor did I.
        “Doug?” A voice called out.
        Did I know this guy?
        “What are you doing out there?”
        Then, I realized, the sound had come from behind me. From where the guy was really
standing since I was seeing him in the mirror where she’d been that night in the diner. I
        “Yeah. What’s going on?”
        “See that guy behind me?”
        Thank God, I told myself. Not my imagination. Not a reflection.
        “Come here a second, will you?”
        “Just do it, will you?”
        And he did. Hopping gingerly from grass spot to grass spot to not ruin his shiny shoes
or his perfectly creased designer pants.
        “So. What’s up? This where it happened?”

          “So what about the guy behind you?”
          “He’s standing where the guy who murdered her stood and then ran.”
          “Don’t you think that’s a bit of a coincidence?”
          “Jesus, Doug. You’re going over the edge a bit. It’s a free meadow. Anyone can walk
here. What are the chances that it's the same person? After all this time do you really think
that . . . “ and he stopped midsentence.
          “What’s wrong?” I asked him.
          “Nothing,” he said. “Except that he’s not there anymore.”
          I turned and looked.
          And he wasn’t there.
          “Don’t you think that’s a little strange?” I asked him.
          “No. He had someplace to go, and went. That’s all.”
          “Did you see him go?”
          “I can see his footprints. Even from here. But, to answer your question, no, I didn’t see
him actually go. You suggesting he just disappeared?”
          “No. I just wondered if he ran or walked.”
          “What’s going on, Doug? You getting a bit weird on me now?”
          I was. I knew it. But I told him no.
          “Let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.”
          “What’re you doing here? It’s a holiday, Jackson.”
          He looked at me strangely.
          “Christ, Doug, you suspect me of something now?”
          That was pretty far out there and I knew it. But I didn’t answer his question.
          “Come to turn in my final grades. My computer at home is all balled up so I’ve got to
do it here. Satisfy you?”
          I felt a bit stupid.
          “Sorry,” I said. “Standing where I had when I held her dying and seeing that many
suddenly there like that . . “
          “Suddenly there?”
          “I didn’t see him when I was walking. He just seemed to appear.”
          “Like the number 11?”
          “Jesus, Jackson, am I never going to live that down?”
          “Probably not,” he said, and smiled. And we entered the building. And warmth.

         “So here’s what we have. You got out of the wrong side of bed, walked to school and
heard someone scream, tried to help her, and she died in your arms. Later on, someone jumps
you. Not connected. You may have accidently tripped him class or you’re better than he was.
Even you said that. You then saw a girl who looked like the one you tried to save. Turned out
to be a reflection in a window. And you walked into the field where the girl was killed and
saw someone who looked like her killer. Everything can be explained but the one thing.”
         “Who killed her?”
         “Right. And the cops are working on that.”
         “Are they?”
         “Slowly, I’ll admit, but some cases are more difficult than others.”
         “That’s all?”
         “Can you disagree with any of it? You’re suffering from a case of the jitters. I know
I’ve said it before, but you’re not helping anyone this way. Get a hold of yourself, before it
gets worse.”
         “But why won’t the cops release any information about this? At least to those of us
         “Don’t know. But I can imagine reasons.”
         “Maybe they think you’re a suspect.”
         “It’s a long shot. But they only have your word you saw someone out there besides the
girl. And you had her blood all over yourself.”
         “Wouldn’t I be under arrest?”
         “Not necessarily. They may be keeping an eye on you. Seeing if you do something to
give yourself away.”
         “You really think that?”
         “What, that they’re keeping an eye on you?”
         “Any of it?”
         “No. You’re a young and handsome college professor. They figure the girls are all
over you. Maybe if it turned out she was pregnant they might figure you as a potential. Or if
you were married and she was threatening to give your wife the lowdown. But no. You’re not
the type.”
         “What about eleven?”
         “Okay, now, you brought that up this time. Not me.”
         “I did.”
         “You still think about that?”
         “I don’t know what to think about any of it. I know less about things than I did before
it happened.”
         Jackson finished entering his grade lists and turned toward me, the first time he had
since we’d begun our discussion.
         “I think that you should get some rest. Get a date. It’s semester break. The holidays for
Christ sake. Enjoy your time off. Travel. Forget about it and let the cops figure it out. Seems
like I just told you all this.”
         “You did. Thanks.”
         And I left him sitting in his chair smiling smugly to himself.

       I went to my office and called Patton again. After the usual ring around with the
various protective virtual and real people he answered.
       “I know you’re sick of hearing from me, but I think I deserve to know something
about how the investigation is going. After all, she died in my arms. I’m a victim too.”
       “Francis? That you?”
       “What do you want to know?”
       “Any leads?”
       “Besides you. No.”
       “Besides me? What do you mean?” Jesus, was Jackson right?
       “I mean that you’re the only witness. You had her blood all over you. We have only
you saying you didn’t do it.”
       “And what about a motive, the weapon, the man who ran away, the fact that I did
everything I could to save her?”
       “Maybe you had a change of heart after you shot her.”
       “She was shot then?”
       “How else does she bleed like that? You told us she was in the middle of the meadow at
the time you heard her.”
       “Anything else you can tell me?”
       “We have a few leads. But so far nothing concrete.”
       “That just bullshit you tell everybody when you haven’t a clue?”
       “Am I really a suspect?”
       “If you were you’d be locked up down here. But I’m not ruling the possibility out. For
that matter, at this point I’m not ruling anything out.”
       “So you are stumped.”
       “We’ll get there. Some things take time. This looks like one of those.”
       “You having me followed?”
       “Followed? Why would you think that?”
       “Did one of your men follow me to the place where I found her today?”
       “You went back there? I told you to leave this to us. To stay out of it.”
       He’d answered my question. I hung up on him again.

        When I returned to my apartment I found five hungry looking graduate students
outside my door.
        “We’ve been waiting for almost an hour,” one of them said.
        I gave it some thought.
        “Our monthly session on the research in my lab,” I said reflexively.
        “You forgot.”
        “I did. Lots of things going on in my life right now. Sorry.” And I let them in before
they began climbing the walls in search of bugs to eat.
        Four guys, one gal, five empty stomachs. They went wherever they wanted and sat,
scrunched, laid, whatever they wanted on my furniture and waited.
        “Said I was sorry.” They stared at me.
        “What’s to eat?”
        Damn, I forgotten that too. Once a month we had dinner to let me catch up to their
latest doings on my general ideas in the computer laboratory on campus. To which they’d
receive special co-authorship on published papers in noteworthy journals. I got the ideas,
they did the work. I got the credit. Perfect. All they wanted was to be fed once a month. And,
of course, earn their salaries that came from the grants I got to support them. It was a racket
to which I wholeheartedly subscribed. Perfect example of exploitation. I would have fought
the hell out of it if it weren’t so perfect.
        I ransacked my kitchen and came up with enough non-perishable food to keep them
busy for awhile, brought it out to the living room along with a couple of can openers, and let
them at it. I returned to the kitchen for a case of beer I stored there for just such occasions.
Warm. Just like home.
        A nice gang of kids. Bright and eager. Wish I could remember their names. I’d taken
the shortest route possible. If I knew one or two names and used them, I’d embarrass the
others by not remembering theirs. I therefore preferred to remember none of their names.
        “So,” I said, when their initial flurry of hog slurping slowed slightly, “what’s up these
        One of the skinnier ones looked up at me. “So, what’s with the dead girl? Did they find
out who did it yet?”
        No time waster this one.
        “I have no idea,” I told him. Noticing as I did how threadbare and messy their clothes
looked. I never could tell whether this was a practiced look, or just that they didn’t give a
damn. “You’ll know when I know. Or so the cops tell me.”
        “That’s what they tell me.”
        “Damn cops. You a suspect?”
        “They tell me not. But you never can tell.”
        “The truth,” he said. “Happened to me once.”
        “A girl falls into your arms and dies?” I asked him.
        “No. Hit and run on a dog.”
        “Not quite the same thing.”
        “In principle it was. Cops wouldn’t tell me a thing.”
        The overall sounds of food being chomped had slowed enough by then that others
began to recognize that they were missing a conversation.

        “How’s the lab?” I asked, more to change the subject than out of actual interest.
        “We got some new results.”
        “You might say that.”
        “I did say that. What?”
        “Well, the Langton number-bots are procreating like a massive gang-bang.”
        “Okay. But . . .”
        “Still having trouble with forming one from the numerical primordial soup you’ve
given us.”
        I realized how this might sound to one not versed in artificial life studies. All it meant
really was that we were using visual robots constructed of numbers to birth similar but not
identical versions of themselves but hadn’t yet figured out how to create the magic moment
when such a ‘bot’ could naturally come about in the first place. In our little universe of
software ‘life.’
        “I’ve calculated probabilities at five times ten to the millionth power. Not good odds.”
        “We need a step by step process rather than just stewing a promising brew and hoping
for the best.”
        And on and on. They fought almost continuously. A good thing. But often got down
in no-win arguments and then obsessed over them. I was the ringmaster. Once a month
unhook them from their tangents and get them back on track.
        “Maybe the best way would be to begin with the promising soup and see if anything
develops. Then take that, and so on. Maybe the number-bot won’t appear. Ever. Maybe
something better will. Self-organization will have its way.”
        I could see the wheels turning.
        Several hours later and the beer taking its toll on them and me, we adjourned. Before
they left, I gave them one last thing to think about.
        “The number 11 mean anything to any of you?”
        “Like eleven days to Christmas?”
        “Is that right?”
        “Have no idea.”
        “Anybody know?”
        They calculated. I waited.
        “No. It’s ten days. Week from two days after tomorrow.”
        No one wanted to translate that and they left me with the mess.
        I didn’t have the heart or the stomach to deal with it at first, but after trying to watch
TV for a few minutes, the smell of tuna fish, sardines, and peanuts got to me. I dumped the
mostly empty cans in the trash, emptied what was left in the bottles, and took it all out to my
recycling bin.
        It wasn’t exactly clean, but clean enough to sleep with. As I shuffled off to bed without
undressing I considered how little we’d actually accomplished during our year together.
Thank God for the NSF funding cycle, I thought. A ridiculous way to do business. But without
them we’d all probably be out on the street having to do real work.

       The next morning I called admissions for all the data they had on one Monica Gable,
friend of one Julia Robbins. I knew the cops would have already talked to her, but hoped that
maybe, just maybe, they’d not told her to keep her mouth shut to others like me.
       I called her in the dorms, but being break I didn’t expect her to be in. Another
       “Yes?” she said, very cautiously. Or was that just me?
       “Monica Gable?”
       “Yes?” Still cautious, Maybe even more so.
       “Listen, I’m the professor who found your friend Julia and tried to save her. Doug
Francis. Professor Francis?”
       “I’m trying to find out something about her and wonder if you’d be willing to talk to
me for a few minutes. Anytime. Wherever you want.”
       She was a one-word wonder.
       “The police are keeping this whole incident close to their vest. I keep waiting for the
newspapers to tell me something. Or the Internet. But nothing goes. She died in my arms.
You might imagine how that affected me. I just need to know a little something about who
she was.”
       She thought about that for a minute. I could hear her breathing. Nothing else.
       Not going to get much out of Monica if this were the extent of her vocabulary.
       “When and where are good for you?”
       Again, breathing.
       “This afternoon at two. At the College Inn?”
       “Is it open?”
       “Why wouldn’t it be?”
       “Semester break. Lots of things close for the rest of the month.”
       “Open yesterday.”
       “Okay. What do you look like?”
       Back to one word again.
       “Because I want to be able to recognize you when I get there. Not go up to a stranger
and ask if it’s you.”
       “I’ll wear a beige coat.”
       As if that would do the trick. I let it go.
       “Okay, see you then. And thanks. I really appreciate it.”
       She hung up the phone without a good bye. Lot of that going around.

       I found her easily. She was the only one there with a beige coat. Actually, she was the
only one around. Aside from a waitress flitting her way around wiping the tables.
       She’d taken a booth. I approached her a bit cautiously and told her who I was. She
smiled cautiously and offered me a set opposite her.

        She couldn’t have looked more different than Julia. Plain, her brown hair pulled back
into a bun. Only her gray-blue eyes caught my attention. They looked like nobody was at
home. That day, or any other.
        She was drinking coffee. I motioned the waitress over and ordered the same. Not that
it looked good, or even smelled good. But I didn’t want to waste any time given the apparent
disinterest Monica had shown in my plight.
        “I’m so sorry about your loss,” I said.
        “Your friend. Julia.”
        “Oh that.”
        That? “You two were friends, no?”
        “We knew each other. Not much more than that.”
        News to me.
        “Can you tell me about her?”
        “Not much to tell. She was a cousin of sorts.”
        “Of sorts?”
        ”My stepfather’s sister’s girl.”
        I’d just doubled my knowledge about this case.
        “So you didn’t know her well.”
        “We’d met a few times. Didn’t have much in common.”
        “What kind of times?”
        “Family gatherings. That sort of thing.”
        “Why was she coming to see you?”
        “No idea. Maybe she wasn’t.”
        “She never told you she’d be coming?”
        “No. As I told the cops, it was a complete surprise to me.”
        “Any reason you can think of that she just might appear suddenly?”
        “No family issues?”
        “Always those. But neither of us was interested. I guess we had that in common.”
        My coffee arrived and we stopped talking for a minute.
        When she left, I asked “Can you tell me anything about her?”
        “Was she popular? Did she smoke? That kind of thing.”
        “Don’t know.”
        “But you must have talked about something. Noticed something about her.”
        “She talked funny.”
        “Talked funny? Like how?”
        “Used big words a lot.”
        “Like what?”
        “I don’t know really. Prosthelytize. I remember that one. She used it a lot.”
        “In what context?”
        “How’d she use it?”
        “Mostly about her parents. She told me they prosthelytized a lot.”
        “Did you ask her what she meant by that?”
        “No. I didn’t want to appear dumb.”
        “Okay. Anything else different about her?”
        “Actually, yes.”
        “She didn’t look like any of us. Nothing like her parents or mine.”

       “How so?”
       “She was beautiful. I mean really beautiful. The rest of us are okay, I guess. But normal.
Even without makeup she could be a movie star. Didn’t you notice?”
       “I guess I was a bit busy when I met her.”
       She looked down then. Maybe she cared more than she let on.
       “A beautiful girl who used big words.”
       “Anything else?”
       “She have brothers of sisters?”
       “Me what?”
       “Have brothers or sisters.”
       Back to one word answers again. Like pulling hen’s teeth.
       Change the subject. “What are you majoring in?”
       “What’s it to you?”
       Defensive. “Just curious.”
       “Nothing yet. Thinking of going into business administration maybe.”
       “Doing okay? Gradewise?”
       “I get by.”
       I took a sip of coffee. Not bad. Not good. I added some virtual sugar as I called it.
       “You’re a professor?”
       A question. A breakthrough.
       “I am.”
       “Artificial Intelligence.”
       “What’s that?”
       “We try to understand the brain by modeling its behavior with computers.”
       And it went on like this for a while. Long enough for me to figure I’d gotten what I
was going to get. It had seemed a lot when I began. Turned out not so much.

        After my meeting with Monica and a coffee, I headed back toward my apartment. For
whatever reason, I decided to take a shortcut through the football stadium. All quiet now. No
bowl game this year. Bad season for the local team. I wanted to think things over.
        I heard them first, and then saw them out of the corner of my eye. Two guys. Both
bigger than me. Taller and broader. Definitely following me. And getting closer.
        For some reason, I remembered back to a particular day in high school when I was a
freshman. Same situation. Smaller stakes. Two bigger guys, seniors. At first it scared me.
Thinking about what they could. Then I had realized there was no place to hide. That they’d
catch me no matter how fast I ran. I was toast. That made me mad. So mad that I instinctively
turned and faced them. And then, without warning, I’d attacked them. Straight on. Yelling as
I went. It wasn’t courage that drove me on. Just out of any other ideas. And, of course, I was
temporarily insane. I had no idea what I’d do if they had run directly at me in response. But
they didn’t. I’d caught them completely unaware. They didn’t have time to consult about it.
To lean on one another for support. To decide what to do. Those moments had suddenly
disappeared. Their eyes widened and I kept coming. My mind completely free of anything
except the charge. And they turned and ran. Two large guys able to do serious damage. And
I didn’t care. And so as they ran, I kept yelling and charging. And I chased them home like
two little cry babies. And I never had a problem again. The word got out. About exactly what
I wasn’t sure. Maybe they thought I was crazy. Maybe I knew all kinds of dirty tricks.
Whatever. Probably all lies to protect the reputations of the two seniors. I didn’t give a damn.
I never had any further problems.
        Now it was happening again. I could feel the adrenaline surge. I wasn’t actually
reliving my earlier experience mentally. I was reliving it physically. A kind of madness, no
doubt. And I stared directly at them. They stopped walking. I was completely outmanned. In
terms of numbers, brawn, and probably skills. Yes, I knew Bokator from Cambodia, if they
ever gave me a chance to use it. But mostly I was just mad. Something inside me had snapped.
I knew I couldn’t escape, so bring it on. Attack first. Harder, faster, but most of all first. That
gave me the advantage. Of course, none of this mattered. Some kind of DNA thing. I reverted
temporarily to my animal self, and had no choice but to follow the instinct.
        I charged. All the while yelling in as deep and guttural a voice as possible. I even said
a few words. Something about eyeballs. Thumbing out their eyeballs, I think. But it didn’t
matter. They were going to get one hell of a bundle of energy thrown in their direction.
Energy following the laws of motion, but not following any rules of engagement. Any notion
of Robert’s Rules went completely out the window. I made that clear somehow, because I
could read it in their eyes. Just as I had those years ago in high school.
        As the distance between us diminished, I could see them calculating the odds, as best
they could under the circumstances. And, luckily, they came to only one conclusion. Get the
hell out of there as fast as they could. And so they did. And I chased them relentlessly as fast
as I could. For my adrenaline, my madness, had not relented. They had good reason to run.
Every fiber of my being wanted them to stop and try me. Not due to arrogance on my part,
but revenge. I hated them so much that any ability to reason I might have had in those
moments had vanished completely. But they could run faster than me. And they did. And
before long, they disappeared into the low fog rising off the snow. And I slowed down and
finally stopped. I let the anger slowly purge from my body. My heart beat at a wild pace. I
thought for a second I might pass out. Still no fear. Not caring if I lived or died at that
moment. Only that I wreck as much havoc as I could on anything that came near me.

       Then I thought of Julia. Was she that pretty? I hadn’t noticed that in her picture. A
looker yes. Beautiful? No. Was Monica just jealous? Was I becoming obsessed? With a dead girl?
Had Jackson hit it directly on the head? And who were these two guys? Should I tell Patton
about it? Would he care? They hadn’t actually done a thing. Was I imagining their intent? All
good questions. No answers.

      When I got back to my apartment it had begun to snow again. Not heavy, but steadily
and unceasingly. Would pile up and make travel difficult. God I was lonely. Jackson was
probably right. I needed a date. I sat down and gave it some thought.

        Christmas eve, and I asked Dolly. The waitress look alike from the mom and pop diner
down the block from my apartment. The diner was closed for Christmas. And she was free.
Dolly was surprised. While this was America and theoretically not a caste system, she felt she
didn’t belong with a college professor. She having never graduated from high school with no
upward mobility to go anywhere but more of the same. I was happy to try to prove her
wrong. And she looked like Julia.
        The weather was almost balmy. In the sixties during the day, thirties at night. A storm
was on its way and set to hit around mid-afternoon Christmas day. Maybe a foot or more of
new snow. But now it was like an early spring, and we walked downtown to one of the
theaters there to see an old movie. Perfect for me. An old film buff. I couldn’t imagine she’d
be interested, but she’d smiled warmly and accepted saying it might be fun.
        As we walked together in the spring-like weather, I asked her to tell me something
about herself. Fearful of another Monica type, I’d prepared myself for the worst. I got the
opposite. Dolly was a talkaholic. She told me about her family, about growing up with her
twin sister. About how school went. The boys. Her teachers. I just listened. Some of the time
at least. As lively as her stories were, she had a droning quality to her voice that got on my
nerves quickly. So I daydreamed. And nodded every once in awhile to make her think I was
        I asked a question or two to avoid an unpleasant silence. Like, how was it to be a twin.
Or what subject she liked best in high school. But I didn’t listen to the answers. Maybe I
should have. I looked at her a lot though. I’m sure she thought I was just keeping eye contact.
But truth be known I was just looking at Julia. Imagining what it would be like if I were
walking with her instead of Dolly. Wondering what that would be like. And worrying the
more that Jackson was dead on. Fixation. On a dead girl I’d never even properly met. Who’d
died in my arms.
        The film was one of my favorites, The Maltese Falcon. Bogart acting. Huston directing
his own screenplay from a novel by Dashiell Hammett. I watched Dolly watch Bogart, Astor,
Greenstreet, and Lorre. She seemed mesmerized by it. Maybe just watching something on a
big screen in black and white. When we came to Bogart’s final lines, I couldn’t help but turn
toward the screen and watch. Astor has just tried to convince Spade to overlook her killing a

       I've no earthly reason to think I can trust you. If I do this and get away with it,
       you'll have something on me that you can use whenever you want to. Since I've
       got something on you I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't put a hole in me
       someday. All those are on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I
       won't argue about that. But look at the number of them.

        I thought I saw in tear in Dolly’s eyes for just a second. Then it disappeared. I was
indeed one screwed up dude.
        As we walked back to her place, we talked about the film. Simple things. Was it just a
film, or did it have other meanings as well. She surprised me. She’d understood it as a
metaphor for deciding between principles and desires. She didn’t use those words exactly,
but she’d caught the drift well. She’d loved Greenstreet’s character. The fat man. Of his
apparent jolly exterior while being evil at heart. I actually felt comfortable with her. Maybe
her original sandblasting of me with verbiage was just a sign of nervousness. Maybe Jackson
was right. I just needed a date.

        But as I watched her talk, I realized he’d been right about the fixation too. More than
right. Spot on. I was transfixed. Had I heard what I wanted to hear? Was I talking to Dolly or
Julia? Was I nuts? All good questions.
        We had a brief flirtation with a potential kiss when we said goodbye at her place. But
it never happened. But that time I’d become pretty depressed about myself. I knew I’d
experienced a traumatic event. But I also knew that what had happened since that fateful day
should not have produced all the rest of it. I was not a victim of fate, I was the cause of it. Like
Spade, I too had principles and desires. I’d always chosen principles. Now?

       When I arrived back at my apartment, I decided not to drink. That would have been
my usual MO. Instead, I crawled into bed early, at least for me, and thought long and hard in
the dark about everything I knew. And that’s when it hit me. Right between the eyes. Not
the whole picture exactly. But a first step in the right direction. I knew now what to do.

        First thing in the morning I called Patton. Even Christmas day he was in.
        I guess in the morning he didn’t know his name.
        “I know something you ought to know,” I told him.
        “That you Francis? I thought I told you to stay of it.”
        “You did. And I have. But it’s coming to me. I’m not going to it.”
        “What then? What do you know?”
        “I know something they want to know.”
        “What I said.”
        So what do you know?”
        “I don’t know?”
        “There’s more.”
        “More what?”
        “More to it.”
        “Jesus, Francis. Our kids are sure in good hands with you teaching them.”
        I took that in stride.
        “Don’t you want to know?”
        “Okay, who wants to know what you know but don’t know?”
        “I don’t know. Maybe the two guys after me.”
        “Two guys after you? What are you talking about?”
        Two guys came after me yesterday in the football stadium.”
        “I chased them off.”
        “In your dreams, Francis.”
        “I did. Big guys.”
        Silence. Even I could figure out what he was thinking. I actually didn’t blame him.
Sounded pretty lame to me too.
        He hung up on me. Faster on the draw this time. I hadn’t seen it coming.
        But whether he knew it or not, I was right. And so I called him back.
        “Yeah?” Still his morning voice.
        “Listen. And don’t hang up. If a guy’s going to shoot an unarmed woman in the back
at a distance, why wouldn’t he shoot the person he thought was the only witness to the
        “Or why wouldn’t he just shoot me on the streets or blow up my apartment. What’s he
got to lose? He’s already killed one person in cold blood. One more won’t matter. Instead he
sends a Bokutor student and two big farm guys. They weren’t sent to kill me. Just rough me
up. He needs me, you see. He needs to know what I know.”
        “And you don’t know you know it. Or now you know you know it, but don’t know
what it is that you know.”
        This time I hung up first.
        “Gotcha,” I said.

       It made sense to me. The first thing in this ugly mess that did. Now all I had to do was
figure out what I knew. Where to start?

        Not a lot of things to do at ten in the morning on Christmas day with a storm ready to
hit in mid-afternoon. A big snow storm. But it seemed logical to get out and about. Could be
inside for awhile. I took a walk. This time towards town.
        Everything was closed down tight. Not just for protection against burglars, but, I
imagined, to keep the blowing winds from driving snow into their places and ruining their
        Nobody on the streets. Not even on this unseasonably warm winter day. The snow had
all but disappeared, but not a car in sight. Driven or parked. I felt like the last man on earth
for a minute. The silence was absolute. No sound of kids playing, Christmas songs, or cars
honking. Just a small North Dakota university town in the middle of pretty much nowhere
celebrating with their kids. The presents being opened, put together by dear old dad, and
meals being prepared. Holiday cheer.
        That’s when I heard them coming. Behind me. I tried not to look, to only see them out
of the periphery of my vision. But they’d kept their distance and that, along with the slight
fog already rising off the street from melting snow, kept me from seeing them clearly. But I
could see that they were closing in. Walking faster than I was, and seemingly ready to
confront me again. I reminded myself of not letting my fear turn to hate like it had the last
time. To follow my teacher’s excellent advice and use my brain rather than just my brawn,
what there was of that. And so I remained calm and collected. They kept closing on me. And I
now saw, that they were not the same two that had followed me last time.
        Just the same, I turned to face them, as I had the previous two. My hate overriding my
fear, and my reasoning, in spite of my desire that it not. But I saw, almost immediately, that it
wouldn’t work this time. My two pursuers held their ground. One swung a baseball bat back
and forth like he was warming up for the big game. The other didn’t need one. His muscles
bulged out from his clothes in places I didn’t know there were places no less muscles. They
both glared at me. Willing me to come screaming at them as I had the other two. Somebody
had given my secret away, I thought.
        And so I turned and ran. Like I had promised I never would again. Since before that
day in high school. But I knew it wouldn’t work. These guys were not only strong and well
schooled, they were fast and confident. Within a minute, one of them had grabbed my belt
from behind with what I thought was a curled finger and held on slowing me down. I
thought back to my Bokator training. And, with nothing more than a notion of what I was
doing, I dug in my heels as best I could given the circumstances and rammed both my elbows
as hard as I could directly back into my pursuer. Simultaneously, I bent down at the waist
offering less of a target to him.
        Two whooshes of air. The first I imagined came from air escaping his lungs from my
blows to his stomach. The second, clearly the sounds of the bat he’d swung at my head
missing its mark. But not by much.
        He collapsed then, but didn’t let go of my belt with his finger. And so I went down
with him. Flat on the ground. Not a position of strength. My second pursuer, however, and
luckily for me, had not been as fast as the one with the bat, and had therefore been following
him. He tripped over first his playmate, and then me, creating a swirl of dirt and then the
sound like an elephant hitting and then sliding along the ground. One move. Three down.
        I was the first to my feet. The guy with the bat wasn’t getting up anytime soon. The
muscle-bound guy on the ground had already found his footing and had rearranged his
weight to stand. I had no time to lose. I lurched forward feet first, planting them both on his
chest and using as much body weight as I could behind the blow. He struggled to maintain
his balance, but couldn’t. Down he went again.

        But, of course, I was down already. I rolled sideways as my teacher had taught me, and
pulled myself to my feet again. This time hunched over to make less of a target. I hadn’t been
fast enough. He threw his body into mine with his weight behind it. My breath escaped
quickly and I came down on top of the guy with the bat. My lungs screamed for air. My body
already ached, even with the adrenaline trying to cover it.
        Vulnerable didn’t describe how I felt. My back arching against the first guy’s prone
body, and my air blown out of me, I was a perfect target. Luckily, my second pursuer had to
run out his charge, and turn to attack me again. This took precious time, and returned it to
me to regain a semblance of breath and footing.
        As he began to rush me again, I grabbed the baseball bat in both hands and, still
sitting on the ground, whirled it once around my head hoping to scare him away. It didn’t
work. He wouldn’t scare easily. I was battered and bruised from just one of his rushes, I wasn’t
prepared to take another. And so, as he arrived and aimed himself like a projectile toward me,
I timed my swing and caught him directly across the top of his head. It felt like a melon
busting against a cement sidewalk. And he dropped like a sack of sand onto the street to my
        I stood up as quickly as my body would allow me, ready for another charge. It was not
to be. His head was bleeding and he had tossed his cookies from the blast of the bat on his
scalp. He was out. For how long, I didn’t know. For even as I stood there watching, the first of
my assailants had begun to right himself. He shook his head, looked at his partner on the
ground next to him, and growled like some kind of gorilla in heat. I had no time for this. I
cold cocked him with the bat on the back of his head. I’d been taught well. Win when you
have the opportunity. Take no prisoners.
        I watched them both then, lying there with the help of a bat one of them had
thankfully brought along. I was still angry. The animal in me had not run its course. At the
same time, I was disgusted by all this waste of energy, by the pain all three of us would feel
the next day, and the pointless aggression. But mostly I was proud of myself. Once again I
had bested two to one odds. I could hold my own against the best. Well, maybe not the best,
but at least some of the biggest.
        “Bring a gun next time, Idiots.” I said to no one at all, for even I wasn’t really listening.
And I walked away. Slowly, still breathing hard with short intakes of air, and feeling the
man’s weight still seeping into my bones. I vowed to exercise more so that I could use muscle
to ward off the pain from such attacks. But then, I thought, better to avoid them in the first
place. Screw the testosterone bullshit.

         “Merry Christmas,” I said out loud to myself as I walked into my apartment. Bring on
the storm. I’m going to have a drink and a can of tuna fish. A traditional Christmas meal.
Maybe watch a football game on the TV. I smelled a bit. Probably inherited from the two
goons. And the ground I’d rolled around on. Maybe even the baseball bat I’d brought home as
a souvenir. My lone Christmas present.
         So I had a long hot shower instead and then took a couple of aspirin with my tuna and
Jim Beam. I didn’t watch any football. Not because I didn’t like football. I did. But because
there wasn’t any football on television. Those games were set for New Year’s Day, not
Christmas. They all seemed like the same thing to me.
         It began snowing right about three as predicted. I watched it all silently out of the
sky. Apparently the wind would come later. I watched it pile on the street and everything
outside my window began to disappear. The trees, the houses, the view. Everything. All
turning white. I think my eyes began to close then. Slowly. And I began to drift away to
warmer climes, where bruisers didn’t chase you and young girls didn’t get shot in the back.
         I was almost there, when my phone rang. Not my cell phone. That would have been
bad enough. But my old-fashioned home phone. The kind you plug into the wall and make
horrific sounds when someone wants to talk with you.
         “Francis,” the voice yelled at me. Patton. “Get down here now.”
         “It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake,” I said, before I realized how dumb that sounded.
         “Down here now or I’ll send a couple of boys to drag you in. They won’t be as nice to
you as I am.”
         I was still half awake and a little hung over from the Beam.
         “Okay,” I said, nothing else coming to mind.
         “By the time I exited the building the snow had built up to two feet already, and the
wind had begun to blow. Hard. I thought seriously about going inside and tell Patton to go
ahead. Send his boys. The cars they used had heaters in them. And if they could actually drive
on the uncleared roads, it’d be a lot nicer being driven than to walk. By then, however, I’d
already walked too far from my door to even see it through the blizzard, so I kept on going.
         Luckily, the station was straight down my street and on the right. All I had to do was
keep the telephone poles to my left and I’d nearly walk straight into it. If, that is, I could
keep standing in the gusting wind. But I did, and after ten or so freezing minutes, I made my
way there and inside. Looking like a snowman no doubt to those who cared.
         Before I’d made it halfway to the front desk, two guys in plainclothes nearly picked
me up and carried me through the swinging door and on back to Patton’s office. They didn’t
speak a word. I didn’t struggle. Efficiency at its finest.
         “Jesus, Francis, you look like shit.”
         I just stared at him.
         “Sit down. There.” And he pointed at the single chair in the room besides the one he
sat in. As if I had a choice.
         I sat.
         “Where were you last night?”
         “When last night?”
         “In the evening. After dinner but before bedtime.”
         “At the movies.”
         “What’d you see?”
         “Maltese Falcon. And don’t ask me about the plot. I know it by heart. Maybe even most
of the lines by now. What’s this about?”

         “At the movies? No. I was with someone.”
         “Dolly. A friend. Just a friend. Nothing more.”
         “Dolly who?”
         I realized I didn’t know her last name. “Don’t know.”
         “Just Dolly then. What’s she look like?”
         This was getting strange fast. But I described her without mentioning Julia. That
would have sounded a bit strange, even to me.
         “Like this maybe?”
         He held out an eight by ten glossy. I took a look.
         “Almost exactly, why?”
         “And you call her Dolly?”
         “That’s her name.”
         “Not this one. This one’s name is Doris.”
         “Doris? She’s the other one.”
         “The other one what?”
         “The other waitress in the mom and pop dinner about two blocks down from my
apartment. Where I met Dolly.”
         “So this is Doris then?”
         “No. Doris doesn’t look anything like this. This is Dolly.”
         “You’re not making any sense, Francis.”
         “Neither are you. This is Doris. I don’t know her last name. And we went to the movies
last night together. Just a date on Christmas eve. What’s the big deal?”
         “She’s dead.”
         That stopped me in my tracks.
         “Dolly’s dead?”
         “No. Doris is dead. This is Doris. Who’s Dolly.”
         “I don't know Doris,” I said. She’s waited on me a couple of times, but I don’t know her.
I went to the movies last night with Dolly. We walked there and back. We saw Maltese Falcon
together. I left her off in front of her apartment and went home. You’re showing me a
picture of Dolly and telling me she’s Doris?”
         “Apparently so.”
         “Jesus. What’s going on?”
         “I’ve been asking myself that since I first met you. And what’s that mark on your
         “Oh that. A couple of guys ambushed me this afternoon. One of them had a baseball
bat. I took care of them.”
         “You took care of them? Same two guys you told me tried to ambush you before and
you ran them off in the football stadium?”
         “No. Different two guys. These were much bigger and, like I say, one had a baseball
         “And these two you fought and they ran away.”
         “No. These two I clobbered over the head with the bat and left them laying on the
         “Anyone see this?”
         “Not that I know about.”
         “Maybe we should begin all over again.”
         And we did. Unfortunately, with the same result.

        “How’d she die,” I finally asked Patton.
        “Somebody beat her to death.”
        “My God. Where?”
        “Just outside her apartment. On the way inside.”
         “When did you find her?”
        “This afternoon. Early. Actually not long after I talked to you. Neighbor called it in.”
        “When did she die?”
        “Well, see, that’s the thing. The medical examiner says sometime between ten last
night and three this morning.”
        “And nobody found her before this afternoon?”
        “It’s Christmas, Francis. Everybody’s inside having good cheer. Except us, of course.
And the students are gone home. The town’s a morgue. No pun intended.”
        “When did you leave her off at her place?”
        “About eleven. Something like that.”
        “She alive then?”
        “Very funny.”
        “Well then that makes it between eleven to three. Four hours. You sure she went
        “I watched her go. Made sure the lights were on.”
        “A real gentleman.”
        No comment.
        “Now. What’s this about a baseball bat?”
        “The guys who ambushed me, or tried to, had one.”
        “ME says she could have been beaten with a baseball bat. In fact those were the first
words out his mouth to me.”
        “Then maybe they could have done it. No, not likely. They’d lost their bat.”
        “They lost it?”
        “Sort of.”
        “What, you’re telling me you took it from them? Using your jiu-jitsu?”
        “Bokutor. Had too. They could have woken up and come after me with it again.”
        “What did you do with it?”
        “Took it with me.”
        “Still have it.”
        “Not on me.”
        “But if I were to go to your apartment now, I’d find a baseball bat with a couple of
mugs blood and brains all over it.”
        “Didn’t it them that hard. No brains. Blood yes.”
        “What a night.”
        “We got two murders now. Of two girls look very much alike. One dies in your arms
while you say you’re trying to save her life. Her blood all over you. Only your word you saw
the murderer standing in a meadow. The other one gets bludgeoned to death with what looks
like a baseball bat and it just so happens you have one of those, covered in blood, in your
apartment. And you were again the last person to see her alive.”
        “Besides the one who killed her.”
        “So you say.”

         “I didn’t kill either one of them, Patton.”
         He ignored me. “Will you give me written permission to search your apartment, or do
I need to get a court order.”
         “If your guys won’t tear the place up. Sure. You’ll find the blood doesn’t match.”
         “We’ll see about that. Gordon. Get a written statement from this guy, find his place,
bring back anything you find of possible importance. And don’t forget the baseball bat.”
         Gordon placed a piece of paper in front of me and had me fill it out. With address,
phone, permission granted, and so on. And left.
         “Am I under arrest?”
         “Not sure we can avoid it, Francis. You’re the only evidence we have. In both cases.
And in terms of evidence, we have plenty. You’re crawling with it. I bet if I ask you three
more questions, I’ll find something else that would incriminate you.”
         “But you can’t believe I did this.”
         “Maybe yes, maybe no. Doesn’t matter. I got a job to do. A judge and jury make the
decisions. I just gather information and when there’s enough, off we go.”
         “So what do I do now?”
         “Just sit there and wait for them to return.”
         “You just can’t believe I’d do these things.”
         “One thing’s for sure. I can’t believe you could make up such lame alabies.”
         “They’re true.”
         “I’ve got work to do. Shut up and let me do it.”
         And I did. The room was busy. Surprising in such a small town on the Christmas night.
But that’s a cop’s life. I watched them work. Five people, plus those outside on the streets.
Inside the station, there were six desks in bad need of repair. The linoleum floor was filthy,
even split in places. No windows. We could have been in LA for all anyone would know from
in here. And the place stunk. Of sweat, old decaying food, cold coffee, cigar smoke, and, worst
of all, a strong smell of urine. Probably from the cells in the rear and down the hall. I could
only guess that. And could only hope I would be spending any time in there.

        I was half asleep by the time Gordon return with the baseball bat. It was bagged in
clear plastic, but the blood stains could easily be seen by anyone in the room.
        “Take it down to the ME. He’s waiting for it. Tell him prints, blood type, everything.
And yesterday, not tomorrow.”
        “Right.” Gordon, a man of few words.
        At that point, Patton began to read me my Miranda Rights. I couldn’t believe it. But
then, given the situation, I’d have probably done the same thing.
        I told him I understood them and waived the right to see a lawyer. He argued with me
just to make sure.
        “Anything. Anything you say, can and will be held against you in court. Understand
        “I’m innocent Patton. I hope everything is used in court.”
        “You ready to be recorded then?”
        He pulled at an old Sony cassette deck and checked the battery.
        “You know you can do that on computers now.”
        He finally turned it on, gave our names, the date, the time, the place, and that this was
my official statement and had me agree to it once again. And then we began the whole thing
from square one. Everything but the number eleven. I saw no relevance there. Only make me
sound like a nutcase. It eventually took four cassettes and about three hours in all, but it felt
good to tell them the same story and having it down for anyone to hear. I realized it didn’t
make much sense. But then, as Patton had said, it sounded to silly to be concocted. Especially
by a university professor.
        When we finished, Patton rubbed his eyes, and asked me to follow him. For a mug
shot, prints, and the usual booking. I asked him if I was going to spend the night in jail. He
answered in the affirmative. No judge was going to arraign me at this hour on Christmas.
And so, before long, I was placed in cell number one. The only prisoner. Not even an O’Henry
guy to keep me company.
        The cell looked and smelled every bit as bad as the station did. It had three walls with
a set of bars where a fourth should be. A single bed that looked at least relatively clean. A
basin against the back wall, and a toilet in the corner. No chairs. No pictures on the walls. Just
several thousand sets of initials and attempts at anatomical porn by bad artists dug into the
walls by keys, fingernails, whatever those incarcerated had on them after their arrest. They’d
taken all my stuff and made me sign for it. Where these guys had got their ammo for the
walls was beyond me.
        I lay down on the bed and wondered what the university was going to think of me
now. Not the same kind of credit a publication would bring. I was sure of that. Maybe I could
convince them it had been civil disobedience. With some members of the administration that
might be considered a plus.
        After an hour or two, someone brought be dinner. Handed it to me through a special
door through the bars. As if they feared I might attack the man. Maybe my reputation had
preceded me. Bokutor expert. Beware of the wild animal. The meal consisted of something
solid and something liquid. No idea what. Tasted like a confluence of somethings that hadn’t
any real form to start with. Calories. I ate what I could and pushed the rest aside.

        Someone had written ‘Nietzsche is dead’ with a fingernail on the wall facing me. The
first part had been blotted out with a couple of badly drawn women’s breasts. The fact that
whoever had written the second line of the joke knew how to spell Nietzsche impressed me.
High class jail. Maybe a philosophy student on a ‘drunk and disorderly.’
        “Francis?” A familiar voice. Patton. Standing outside the bars with a guest I didn’t
        “Patton,” I said. I tried to make my voice sound dejected as possible. Maybe pity would
        “This is Joe Wise. The county public defender. He’s here to represent you tomorrow
        I must have looked confused.
        “I know you told me you didn’t want a lawyer. But this guy’s good. Won’t cost you a
penny. And you’d be nuts not to have someone represent you. You don’t know shit about law.
If you don’t have a lawyer God knows what your bail’s gonna be.”
        That got my attention.
        “Besides. He’s my brother. He’s bored. Give him a chance.”
        I took a look at Joe.
        “Are you?”
        “What? His brother? Yes.”
        “No. Wise.”
        “Let me in and you’ll find out.”
        “Okay,” I said. Beaten and ready to try anything.
        Patton unlocked the door and let him in. Locked it again, as if we might both escape.
And left us alone.
        Having no chair to sit in, only the toilet with, I now noticed, no toilet seat to sit on, he
joined me on the bed.
        “So,” he began, “tell me about this thing from the beginning.”
        “The very beginning?”
        “Yes. And don’t leave a single thing out.”
        “Eleven,” I said.
        Might as well give him the whole enchilada. He’d probably hear it from his brother
anyway. And there went my evening. To his credit, he just sat on my bed and took notes,
asking questions in short bursts whenever he felt he needed more detail.
        When I’d finished, he took a deep breath.
        “This is unbelievable,” he said.
        “And you didn’t leave anything out?”
        “Nope. Not that I can think of.”
        “That’s why I figured I didn’t need a lawyer. Not good to have someone represent you
when they don’t actually believe your story.”
        “It’s not that I don’t believe your story. I just find it unbelievable.”
        I stared at him for a second. Did he actually understand what he’d just said? But he
smiled at me finally. I guess he did. Maybe he was wise after all.
        “How much money have you got?”
        “What? I thought you came free.”
        “I do. Just answer my question.”
        “On me?”
        “No. In savings, investments, that kind of thing.”
        “I don’t really know off hand. Maybe ten grand. Spread around.”

       “Can you get your hands on it?”
       “I suppose.”
       “Okay, let’s make it eight grand. That should work.”
       “What are you talking about?”
       “You’ll see.”
       And he shook my hand a left. I saw him talking to his brother and then he left. Patton
looked back at me and raised a thumb salute in my direction. Like everything was alright.
What a family.
       I tried to sleep, but my something dinner kept arguing with my lower intestines.
Some in that something just wasn’t happy down there. But I did sleep finally. Bad food, smell,
being jailed, and all. But for long I had no idea. When I awoke everything was the same as
when I’d laid down. No idea whether it was day or night. Just bright lights and people typing,
talking in acronyms, and no Patton. At least as far as I could see.

        I had no idea what time it was. My eyes weren’t good enough to see the hands on the
clock on the wall and they’d taken my watch along with everything else I had on me to keep
me from killing myself or escaping. But when the same guy showed up at my cell and pushed
something looking like breakfast through, I figured morning had arrived. The something
looked a little like eggs, same color at least. And the liquid was black. Maybe coffee. I tried
both. Vaguely familiar sensations. Afterward I pooped for the first time on a toilet without a
seat. Not without a lid, mind you. Although it didn’t have one of those either. But without a
seat. Quite a trick.
        And then I waited. And waited some more. Nietzsche was still dead, I noticed. No
major loss, I thought. I’d never been one of his fans.
        I finally saw Wise push through the low-hung swinging door and make his way back
to my cell. Maybe some action finally.
        “Holding up okay?” he asked.
        “I’m alive. My disposition hasn’t improved, nor has my smell. But basically I’m ready.”
        “Good. Now when we get in there, let me handle everything. Keep your mouth shut
unless the judge or I ask you to speak. Got that.”
        “I mean it. This is important. I know what I’m doing. Let me handle it.”
        I nodded and kept my mouth shut.
        We shot the shit for a while then, waiting for the call to come that the judge was ready
to see us. Wise told me then that the judge would act as the OR clerk. He explained that OR
stood for own recognizance. Whether I presented a risk to flee the state if they let me go
before the first hearing on the case. She’d base it on my standing in the community and the
seriousness of my crime.
        “I’m a professor,” I said as we followed Patton who’d come to take us to court.
        “In your favor,” Wise told me.
        “It’s a she?”
        “The judge? Yeah. A she from hell we call her.”
        Good news.
        When we arrived, we stood before the bench. All except Patton, that is. He sat in the
gallery. Two others I didn’t know stood next to me. On my left. Away from Wise.
        The judge had white hair, a hawk nose, and was so skinny I was fearful of blowing her
away. When she spoke, however, she sounded just fine.
        “So Mister Wise,” she said, “who have we got here today?”
        “Professor Douglas Francis, Your Honor.”
        “Charged with two counts of murder, I see.”
        “Yes, Your Honor.”
        “Serious business.”
        “Yes, Your Honor.”
        Jesus, Wise. Can’t you do better than that?
        “We don’t need a plea, but I suppose he’s innocent.”
        “Yes, Your Honor.”
        We should have just brought a recording for all the good this was doing me.
        “District Attorney Mann. What brings you out so early the day after Christmas?”
        Mann. We’re they kidding me. Wise Mann?
        “Arguing for a proper bail, Your Honor.”
        “Think it should be high, huh?”

       “Yes, Your Honor.”
       “How high?”
       “At least fifty thousand, Your Honor.”
       Fifty thousand? I’m a professor for Christ sake.
       “Seems a little high to me.”
       Mann kept his distance. Then, “Two murders, Your Honor.”
       “I realize that. You think the proof justifies that?”
       “Yes, Your Honor.”
       “What do you say Mister Wise?”

         “Your Honor, my client is a reputable science professor at the university. He’s never
done anything wrong. He gave himself up. Even walked here in the snow at our request.
Nothing here suggests any bail necessary at all.”
         She looked thoughtful for a minute, then glanced down at some papers. No doubt the
list of charges against me.
         “Mister Francis. You have anything to add to this?”
         I looked at Wise. He nodded.
         “Your Honor, I had nothing to do with either crime.” I thought of adding something
to that but thought the better of it.
         “What about the baseball bat?”
         “A couple of guys came after me with it,” I said.
         “And you bested them?”
         Bested them? “Yes, Your Honor.”
         “And took their bat away from them.”
         “Yes, Your Honor.”
         “And the first victim died in your arms?”
         “Yes, Your Honor.”
         “And you went out with the second one the night she was murdered?”
         “Yes, Your Honor.”
         “This seems like a lot more than circumstantial evidence, don’t you think?”
         I didn’t know how to answer that. ‘Yes, Your Honor,’ would just help the DA’s case.
         She didn’t wait for me to answer.
         “How did this all start, Mister Francis?”
         I looked over at Wise. He smiled. I was doing okay.
         “The number eleven, Your Honor.”
         Wise kicked me on my right ankle. Not the right answer I guessed.
         “The number eleven, Mister Francis? What does that mean?”
         “Your Honor,” Wise tried to rescue me. “Shouldn’t we wait until the hearing for this
kind of testimony?”
         “I’d like to hear what ‘eleven’ has to do with this. Bear with me, Mister Wise.”
         “Yes, Your Honor.”
         “Mister Francis?”
         “Your Honor, the day the first victim died I woke up with a strange feeling that the
number eleven was extremely important to me. That’s when it all began. Everything.”
         “And you think this has something to do with these two murders? A premonition?”
         This was going nowhere. I should have kept my mouth shut.
         “I’m not sure, Your Honor. But I suppose so.”
         “The number eleven.”
         “Yes, Your Honor.”

       “Mister Wise, I’m going to set bail at eight thousand dollars at this time. And I’m
going to ask the court to provide your client with a free psychological profile from a court
appointed psychiatrist. Do you understand this?”
       “Yes, Your Honor.”
       And that was it. I’d walked right into it. But what? Eight thousand dollars? That was
exactly the figure I told Patton I had. Was she his sister. Or more likely his mother?

        Waiting outside the court doors was a man with the words Bail Bondsman stenciled on
the front of his light gray sweater. With a form in hand. Filled out and waiting for my
        “Out of our way, Craps,” Wise said.
        “Wait, don’t I get to decide that?”
        “Only after you see the shrink. Judge’s orders.”
        He was right, of course, and we walked back to my home away from home. My single-
room cell.
        “When will that be?”
        “Soon, I hope. They’re calling her now. Depends on her schedule.”
        I shuffled inside the bars and the jailor turned the key. Not a pleasant sound. I found
my seat on the bed, sat down, and began the wait. Why had I brought up eleven? Makes me
sound crazy. But it had begun that way. That nine in the morning sudden assault on my brain.
Everything seemed to originate at that moment.
        Noon came. Or so I assumed since lunch, or what passed for it, arrived. Something
solid, something liquid. Same as last night’s dinner. Maybe different. I couldn’t tell. More
        Sometime after that, the man with the key returned, opened my jail cell door, let me
out, and took me down a long hallway. We came to a door marked 127. On an opaque glass
        “She’ll see you now.”
        “Who?” I asked.
        “Miss Dawes. The shrink.”
        “Thanks,” I said, and walked in. I should have knocked. Nothing embarrassing. She was
just polishing her nails. Some bright red color. But that’s not what got my attention. Without
question, she looked like Julia Robbins. And Dolly. Not exactly. But very similar. How could
this be? In a small town in North Dakota. Three people who looked so similar.
        “And you are Francis, I assume?”
        “Yes. Sorry for not knocking.”
        “No problem. Come on in.”
        I was already in, but assumed she meant take a seat. I did.
        I waited. She waited.
        “You’re looking at me.”
        “You look like someone I know. Actually, someones.”
        “Forget it,” I said.
        “Okay. Do you want to get started then?”
        “With the evaluation?”
        For some reason I was uncomfortable. She seemed that way too. Or was I imagining it.
Something about the eyes. I couldn’t quite figure it out. Maybe the judge was right. A good
confirmation of sanity might be a good idea at this point.
        “So, Judge Williams seems to think there may be something amiss with you. Is there?”
        “Amiss with me?”

        “Yes. Not quite balanced.”
        “To be frank, I don’t know.”
        “A good sign.”
        “A good sign?”
        “Yes. Most off-balanced people think they’re fine. Most balanced people are never
quite sure.”
        “I’ve heard that.”
        “So you could have just said that because you’d heard it before?”
        Yikes, already around in circles.
        “I suppose.”
        She wrote some things down in a spiral bound notebook on her desk.
        “You’re staring at me again, Mister Francis.”
        I wasn't used to being called ‘mister.’ Professor, yes, mister, no. But I let it pass.
        “Sorry. As I said, you look like someone I know.”
        Yikes. How did we get here so fast?
        “Just a woman.”
        “I assumed that. What woman?”
        Should I answer? We’d gotten here so fast I had no idea where to go with it.
        “One of the murder victims.”
        She remained noncommittal.
        “Which one?”
        “Both, actually.”
        She wrote some more down in her notebook. This was not going well. Even I could
        “So,” she said, “you’re telling me that I look just like both of the women that you’re
charged with murdering?”
        No way to answer that correctly. Yes, I lose. No, I lose. Or at least begin a cascade of
lies that would turn out that way.
        “Yes. But I didn’t murder them.”
        She stared me directly in the eyes. I stared back. She didn’t write anything down.
        “What did you feel when the first girl, Julia, fall into your arms dying?”
        “How to get her help. I actually didn’t even think that. I turned and called for the
nearest person I could see to help me. The snow was pretty deep. I sent the other one to call
        She paused again. And wrote more down in her notebook.
        “And the second girl?”
        “The second girl I knew. Slightly. We’d gone to the movies together. When I found
out, I couldn’t believe it. Still don’t. In a way, at least. This whole thing seems impossible.
From the beginning.”
        “Since we’re there, why not tell me about ‘eleven.’”
        “Hard to. I just woke up that morning with the number in my head. I couldn’t get it
out of my brain. That’s when everything began to go south. For some reason, my instinct tells
me they’re related in some way.”
        “I have no idea.”
        “Eleven have any special meaning in your life?”

        “Don’t know. Something happen when you were eleven years old? Do you have eleven
sisters? Those kinds of things.”
        “I had zero sisters. I don’t remember anything I could pin down to when I was eleven.
Nothing comes to mind.”
        “What’s on your mind now?”
        “The street.”
        “The street?”
        “I’d like to see it again. You know, if it’s snowing out there. What time of day it is.
Maybe go shopping for some food and visit my apartment again. Play like everything’s
normal again. At least until I can raise my bail and pay the bondsmen back.”
        “Anything else?”
        “On my mind?”
        “Not that I can think of.”
        “And you’re sure I shouldn’t be worried.”
        I let that question sink in for a minute.
        “I think you should be worried.”
        That startled her. Actually it startled me a bit.
        “You do look like them. Probably just a coincidence that they looked alike. But
someone’s out there. They think I know something. Apparently anyone fitting your general
description they interpret as a problem. If I were you, I’d get some police protection.”
        She sat back in her swivel chair and gave it some thought.
        “I shouldn’t be worried about you though?”
        “Not about me. Somehow this whole thing’s about me. But I’m not causing it. I may be
the cause, indirectly, but I’m not causing it.”
        “Do I have your word you won’t take off if they let you go?”
        “You have my word that I won’t deliberately take off.”
        “What does that mean?”
        “It means that I don’t know what’s happening. Not the least little bit. Someone might
decide to make me take off. But I wouldn’t do it deliberately.”
        “Okay. You can go.”
        “And what?”
        “Did I pass?”
        “This wasn’t a test, Mister Francis. I was just asked by the court to test whether you’d
break bail and run. I think I have enough evidence to determine that now.”
        “And what’s your determination?”
        “That, Mister Francis, you’ll have to wait for. Until I write our conversation up, think
about it, and let the court know. Then you’ll know.”
        She smiled again. Faintly. And then stood and waited for me to leave.
        I got up. Smiled back. And left. They guy, guard, whatever he was, had waited for me,
and took me back to my cell. As I walked I noticed the bail bondsman waiting patiently by
the swinging doors. Vultures ready for road kill.

         When dinner arrived, I figured that I hadn’t passed the test. I was a risk to flee town.
She figured I did it. Or at least that I feared being tossed to the wolves.
         I ate and drank my somethings in a somber mood. Thinking mostly about Julia and
Dolly. Two probably innocent young women murdered before they’d had a chance to reach
the prime of their lives. For what? Something I knew but didn’t know?
         Patton visited me once. To say hello. I told him I thought his last name was Patton.
Now I knew it was his first. Patton Wise. Wrong, he told me. Step brothers. His last name was
Patton. But not George. Jim. Jim Patton. Joe Wise, his brother, and he had the same mother,
different fathers. I wondered out loud how I could have studied artificial intelligence for so
long and be so completely out of it. He wondered that too, he told me.
         Otherwise things were pretty quiet. That is, until Patton came back, this time with the
bail bondsman, and told me I was sprung. I signed the forms, both promising not to jump bail
and for the bail itself at twenty-five percent interest compounded every day. Meaning I had
to get at paying the bondsman back the next morning or go broke.
         I finally hit the street. After dark. Clear sky. One of those nights when it seemed every
star in the universe could be seen. No wind. But damn cold. Maybe in the teens. I still had my
coats and they’d been warmed in the station. And so I was warm. All the way back to my
         By the time I got there my paranoia had risen to a level that I watched every bush for
unexpected motion. Everything was dead quiet. Day after Christmas. If memory severed, ‘the
day my love gave me a partridge in a pear tree.’
         I stood outside my apartment complex and watched for a sign of anything unusual. A
light in my window. A sign of someone waiting for me in the darkness in my outside hallway.
Nothing. All quiet on the northern front.
         I walked to my front door, waited again to see if any premonition hit me. None did.
And I keyed myself inside, happy to get home again. I turned on the lights, half expecting
the cops to have left it a mess. But everything looked just like I’d left it. Sans baseball bat, of
         I closed the door and stood there for a minute. Happy to be home. Unhappy because I
still felt vulnerable. Like something was about to happen. For a reason I knew nothing about.
But nothing did.
         I wandered around the various rooms of the apartment to check for visitors, present
or past. Still nothing. I went to the kitchen and began a pot of coffee. Poured myself a small
cup of Beam up, drank it, washed the glass, and sat down and made a shopping list. I could’ve
gone out. Maybe to the dinner down the street if it was open. But I didn’t want to visit Dolly’s
place. Make things worse. Much worse. I needed to get a steak and trimmings and have
myself a meal of something other than somethings.
         After finishing my coffee and list I rejoined my coats, went out the door, locked it,
and headed out into the long good night. I’d seen the corner market’s lights on as I’d come
home so I was pretty sure they were still open. By the time I hit the street, though, they had
gone out. Closed for the night. Christmas to New Years hours, I guess.
         “Damn,” I cursed out loud. The only other place that might be open was six blocks
away. I didn’t own a car. Better to go in a call them? Or take a chance? I tossed it around in my
mind. Warm tuna fish? Or a chance for a T-bone, spuds, and a bowl of corn?

        I spit in the air. To see whether it froze or landed in the street. It landed in the street.
Not so cold. I braced myself and headed downtown for the other store. Hoping it was still
open. That I wouldn’t have to make this stupid walk for nothing.
        Not more than ten steps into my long haul, I heard a car ambling up the street behind
me. First guess? They would drop off twelve guys with swords and hack me to death. Enough
with the small stuff.
        “Doug. That you?”
        Jackson. How’d he guess. I had a virtual tent around me. I guess I had a certain way of
        “Jackson. You’re a Godsend.” He maneuvered his car over to the curb and pushed his
passenger side door open. The light went on, revealing his smiling face beckoning me inside.
        I jumped in and closed the door.
        “Where’re you off to this time of night?”
        “Grocery store. The one downtown. I’m all out of everything. I just hope it’s open.”
        “Me too. That’s where I’m headed. Perfect timing. You should have just called me.
Been happy to pick you up at your door and taken you there.”
        “I’ve been a bit busy.”
        “Yeah. Who with?”
        “You don’t know?”
        “Know what?”
        “I was arrested.”
        “You what? For what?”
        “Two murdered women.”
        “What? This I gotta hear. When did it happen?”
        And I told him about the arrest the day before. Then we shopped. Then we took
everything to my apartment. And I told him the whole story while we cooked a feast for
lonely men. A little bit of protean and carbs, but mostly just liquor, refined sugar, and
enough chemicals to drop a horse. Before either of us knew it, we were completely crocked
and I let him use my couch and night fell on me like a piano from a window on the tenth

        When I woke the next morning my head felt like a large weather balloon filled with
tennis rackets practicing with bowling balls against the inside of my skull. I couldn’t think. I
could barely see. Worst hangover of my life so far as I could remember my life. I staggered to
the bathroom, thankful my toilet had a seat, and proceeded to lose about ten pounds of excess
weight. In about a minute and a half.
        I wandered into the kitchen. Thank God I hadn’t unplugged the coffee machine. I
poured myself four separate cups and drank them one after the other. Then back to the
bathroom. A virtual waste disposal unit. In one end. Out the other.
        I stood in the shower. Hot first, then cold. Then hot again. Anything to stop the bass
drums in my head. I vowed several times to never drink again. Anything. Ever. Even water.
        When my pulse slowed to two hundred beats per minute, and my head began to feel
like a head, I dried myself, got dressed and tried to make breakfast. Not much. Maybe a bowl
of oatmeal. That wouldn’t make me sick again. Not oatmeal.
        Somewhere in there, I remembered Jackson. On the couch in the living room. I’d made
enough noise to wake him, since I’d forgotten he was there. Apparently he’d forgotten too,
because he wasn’t there. No sign of him. Except for the extra dishes. I couldn’t have eaten all
of that by myself. I hadn’t made him up. Not like eleven. He’d probably risen before me, had
less of a hangover, and just left me alone to sleep it off. Probably.
        I cleaned up the place. At least sort of. I moved all of the dishes into the sink and
dribbled some water over them, hoping the stink would go away. And praying that by the

time I got my finances in order, the flora and fauna wouldn’t have grown so big as to walk
away with my kitchen.
         I called a guy I knew at the First National on the other side of town and told him I
needed eight thousand dollars as soon as possible. Could he back loan me that much while I
assembled it from my various investments. This was a rather big order for him since I didn’t
bank at the First National. But he agreed and told me to come see him early in the afternoon
after one. I thanked him several times and then laid back and closed my eyes.
         What a hell of a couple weeks this had been. I couldn’t even remember whether it was
actually two weeks. Probably longer. What day had it been when it started? I thought back to
waking up. To holding a dead girls in my arms. Or at least mostly dead. I didn’t know exactly
when it had happened. I had a secretary dismiss my class. The last class before the final exam.
That would have been . . . December 11.
         And I virtually stood from my sitting position in one motion. The master would have
been proud of me. December 11. Four days after Pearl Harbor day. Two weeks before
Christmas. The eleventh of December. Was that it. Had I just remembered the date. Was that
all there was? Peggy Lee sang that. Is that all there is?
         I walked over to my calendar and checked. Just to make sure. Damn. I’d been wrong. It
hadn’t been the eleventh. The tenth. No cigar. Forget it. Good guess. Good thinking. Not it.
         Depressed, I found my previous position on the couch and tried to sleep. First thing I
knew, a phone was blaring in my ear. The landline again.
         I picked it up in self-defense.
         “Doug.” My guy at First National. What time was it anyway. Five o’clock by my watch.
         “God, I’m sorry. I fell asleep.”
         “Still need the check today?”
         “Absolutely. I’ll take the bus and be there as soon as I can.”
         “I won’t be here. Quitting time. Maybe I can bring it to you. Where do you live?”
         “Here’s an idea. Drive downtown and meet me at the bail bondsman next to the police
         “Bail bondsman?”
         “I’ll explain it later. Is that too far out of your way?”
         “Nope. Actually I live not too far from there. See you in a few.”
         And we hung up. I shoved myself into my coats again and headed out the door. Made
sure to lock it. And began my trek up the street, something I was becoming quite used to at
this point.
         The sky had clouded up at this point. Another front coming in no doubt. I hoped it
would wait until I’d paid off the bondsman and could get home again.
         When I got there, my friend was waiting for me with check in hand. The bondsman, of
course, was open for business. Twenty-four hours a day. Even in a small university town.
         “Someday you’ll have to explain all of this to me.”
         “I will. Just not now. I’ve got to pay this guy off now of I’ll lose my shirt.”
         “Why the hurry?”
         “What are you charging me for interest?”
         “Four percent per year.”
         “He’s got me at twenty-five percent a day.”
         He looked like he didn’t believe me. I thanked him and sent him home to his wife and
kids. I took the check and went in to give it to the bondsman. An unhappy man. His interest
didn’t begin to accrue until the first twenty-four hours had passed. Imagine his look when I’d
beat the deadline. I signed off on the check and tore up our agreement. What a relief. Now all
I had to do was pay off my friend and wait until the court sought fit to find me innocent and
return the money to me or send me to the chair. Either way, things would work out.

        As I walked out of his office, I actually felt good. Plenty of sleep. Squared with the
police for at least the time being. Maybe things were looking up.
        I decided to look in on Patton, so I went next door.
        “You should try sleeping once in a while,” I told him while he worked at his desk.
“Give you a more even disposition.”
        “What brings you here, Francis? Kill someone else?”
        “No. I’m worried about your psychiatrist.”
        “That her name?”
        “Yes. Cassie Davis.”
        “Did she tell you to have her tailed today.”
        “No, why should she?”
        “I told her she looked enough like Julia and Dolly that now being associated with me
might put her in danger.”
        “She tell you you were nuts?”
        “I’m out on bail.”
        “You think there’s something to it?”
        “Don’t know anything you don’t. But I’d hate to not have her covered given my
warning. I’d do it.”
        He dialed his phone and barked a couple of orders into it.
        “Okay. Done. I hope you’re wrong. But either way, we’ll have a man on it. You know,
ever since that day I met you, you’ve been nothing but trouble. What’s with you anyway.”
        “Wish I knew. But I don’t.”
        Satisfied I’d done my duty, I headed for the street and home. By now the first few
flakes of white stuff had begun falling. Definitely a front passing through. Winter in the
Dakotas can be hell, I thought. God forsaken place. Why do I love it so much?
        I made it home around ten, poured myself a whisky, sat down and watched a few old
movies until I fell asleep again on the couch around three.

         In my dream, someone was chopping wood. For no damn reason I could think of. But it
went on and on and on. I had to do something to stop it. But the dream’s visual part wouldn’t
function. And so I woke up. Someone was knocking at my door. Hard, fast, and unceasingly.
Not waiting for me to answer.
         I looked at my watch. Four-thirty. A watch with hands, so I couldn’t tell morning from
night. I’d either slept for an hour and a half or for thirteen and a half hours. I doubted the
latter, but who knew. I got up off the couch and went to the door. The knocking continued. I
didn’t have a peephole so I couldn’t tell who it was. What the hell, I opened it.
         Jackson nearly fell into the room as the door fell away from his pounding fist.
         “Christ, Doug, what took you so long?”
         “Sleeping, Jackson. You know that ugly habit we all have of closing our eyes and
getting rest. Usually between the hours of midnight and maybe seven in the morning. By the
darkness outside here I suspect it’s during those hours right about now.”
         “Shut up, will you, and let me in!”
         I did. And closed the door. Cold out there. Lots of new snow.
         “What’s going on, Jackson. You look frazzled.”
         “My place has been broken into. Someone’s trashed almost everything in there.”
         “What? While you were there?”
         “No, stupid, while I was out.”
         “You were out this late?”
         “No. What would I be doing out this late? This happened earlier in the evening.”
         “And you’re just coming around now?”
         “Shut up and listen. I’ve been with the cops all evening. Going through my place.
Looking for signs of who might have done it. They just left and I came over here.”
         “I need a place to sleep. Plus, I thought two might be better than one.”
         “You didn’t want to stay there alone?”
         “Would you?”
         “Actually no. I wouldn’t. Damn. Any idea who might have done it?”
         “None. It’s crazy. They weren’t looking for something. Just destroyed almost
everything I had in there. My computers, television, everything.”
         “And took nothing?”
         “No. That’s the strange part.”
         I got a couple of beers out of the case in the kitchen and gave him one.
         “Sorry,” I said.
         “Not your fault.”
         “Maybe it was. Could have been part of this mess I’m in. The murders.”
         “How could it be?”
         “Everybody who knows me seems to be affected by this malaise. I’m beginning to feel
like Pig-Pen in Peanuts. A cloud surrounding me everywhere I go. Not just snowing on me
but on everyone associated with me.”
         He took a long drink from his can. “I can’t see that. I don’t know any reason that
someone would go after you? I don’t know anything?”
         “Neither did Julia. Or Dolly? See what that got them.”
         He took another long drink. So did I.
         “Still,” he said, leaving the word handing in the air.

        “Feel free to spend as much time as you need to here,” I said. “It’ll be some time I
imagine till things get cleaned up at your place.”
        “That’s just it, though. I’m going to have to clean it up myself.”
        “Cant you get professionals? You have insurance don’t you?”
        “Sure. But they can’t separate the wheat from the chafe. I’m going to have to sift
through everything to make sure anything salvageable is saved.”
        Two more long drinks of beer.
        “You can sleep here the rest of the night.”
        “Rest of what night. I’m too wired to sleep.”
        We decided to clean the dishes I’d left in the sink. Maybe get our minds of both our
problems. Maybe. I washed. He dried. And we both looked out the kitchen window at the
blowing snow, now clearly the worst storm of the year. At four thirty in the morning.
Nothing but the white stuff blowing against the pane and the howling winds. But at least we
got the dishes into the cupboards and the kitchen looking somewhat presentable.
        I made a pot of coffee. The good stuff. Ground the beans myself. A once a month
ordeal. But the smell filled my entire apartment. Full of good cheer. Such as we could muster.
        Back in the living room, now closing in on five in the morning, we sat back down in
silence. I hoped the electricity wouldn’t go out. The wind sounded almost dangerous outside.
Thank God for gas heating. I didn’t have a fireplace. Up shit creek without the heaters
        “Let’s talk about something different,” Jackson suddenly said.
        “Tell me what you do.”
        “I teach, Jackson. You know that.”
        “Sure. But what do you teach?”
        “Tell me about that.”
        “Good God, you don’t want to hear about pattern matching, relational databases, and
all that. I don’t even want to hear about that. At least not at this hour of the night.”
        “Okay, how about your research.”
        “I’d rather hear about yours.”
        “No you wouldn’t. Mine’s full of strange acronyms and impossible to pronounce names
of mental illnesses.”
        “So’s mine.”
        “At least yours is younger than mine.”
        “Yes. Had less time to grow tentacles. You’re more on the forefront of things.”
        “I suppose. What do you want to know?”
        “Not sure I want to know anything. Just want to talk about something other than my
house right now.”
        “Okay. Where do you want me to begin?”
        “Jesus, Francis, anywhere. The beginning, I suppose. As good a place as any.”
        So I did. I told him about the origins of artificial like studies, or A-Life as it’s called. A
few even call it AL. Friendlier. Like a tired old uncle with his feet up in front of the fireplace.
And a pipe. He smiled at the image.
        “In essence, we’re essentially talking about a computer oriented field where scientists
are trying to understand life by modeling it..”
        “Using computer graphics I imagine.”

         “Yes. But only the quick and accurate computation is absolutely necessary. The visuals
help us get grants.”
         “What does life look like then?”
         “Snowflakes, terrains, dull things, complex things. Mostly a lot of garbage that
eventually becomes ordered. Self-organizing structures. That kind of thing.”
         “And what’re you doing now?”
         “More like my graduate students. I give them problems. They solve them. Neat
arrangement. I think, they do.” Thinking back to my last meeting with the group.
         “Could whoever be after something related to you lab?”
         “Hardly. We’ve pretty much gotten nowhere. And my grants will be up at the end of
the school year. Hard to find new ones when you’ve failed with the old ones. Bleak. Besides, I
thought we weren’t going to talk about ‘whoever.’”
         “You’re right. Forget I said that. Tell me more about exactly what you’re doing.”
         “Two fold, really. First we’re trying to define life.”
         “Hasn’t someone already done that?”
         “In your dreams. Actually, almost everyone defined it. But no one can agree. We’re
trying, rather I’m trying for a bullet-proof definition. Se we can get on with things. Sort of
like ‘intelligence.’ Nobody has a definition that everyone can agree on either. Hard to study
these fields. I think we know what the artificial part means, but the second words of AI and
AL is the problem.”
         “I think we psychologists just skipped that part. Went right on studying our subjects
assuming everyone new what the basic terms meant.”
         “Lucky you.”
         “It’ll probably catch up to us sooner or later. Or maybe it’s just because we can pin our
subjects down to organs and roughly quantifiable empirical data.”
         I got us two new beers. Now it was five thirty. Just filling the tie with words.
         “So, you try to create life in a machine. Whatever life is?”
         “Right. All began with von Neumann who had the idea that we could create life-like
creatures that acted much the same as simple creatures by using relatively simple rules. Like
Conway’s Game of Life. He came later. A two0dimensional grid that acts as an automaton
beginning randomly but eventually producing life-like beings that seem to procreate.
Langton, Lindenmayer, Kaufmann, Holland, and many others followed, each adding their own
         “Hold it,” he said. “You’re inundating me with names here.”
         “See. Told you so.”
         “Yeah. But I’m more interested in what you’re doing now. Not the history.”
         “Okay. I’ve formulated an axiomatic sort of definition of life, and my crew and I are
busy, mostly they’re busy, in trying to use those rules to produce life forms in computers.”
         “Whoa. Life forms? You’re not telling me you’re playing God are you?”
         “No. Maybe ‘creating life’ is too strong. We’re modeling life from chaotic soup.”
         He took a long drank from his near empty can.
         “we set up non-linear equations we thing promising, and hope for the best. Run the
machines as fast as we can and at certain points, when some kind of order persists, we test
that order to see if it fills our definition of life.”
         “A shot in the dark then.”
         “Somewhat. Though we’ve limited our scope to a few types of equations that have
shown promise in the past.”
         “Nothing so far.”

       “In this business there is no promising. Get something that looks that way and it only
proves how far from our goals we’ve gone.”
       “What happens if you succeed?”
       “I haven’t thought that far ahead. Maybe someone will recognize our success. Maybe
not. The field is still controversial with most mainstream scientists quite skeptical. We’re
controversial, Jackson, even after all this years. On the edge.”
       I noticed I’d become excited. I’d forgotten my problems. Maybe I should return to the
lab and bury myself there. And hope all the rest of this crap would simply go away in the
meantime. Doug Francis, ostrich extraordinaire.

         We talked for a few more minutes and then Jackson fell asleep sitting up. Just as the
first sign of dull light appeared in my kitchen window. Dawn, I presumed. The third day after
Christmas. Three French Hens. Faith, hope, and love. What a trio.
         I poured myself a cup of coffee, Drank it. And considered my next move. I decided to
visit my lab. To see if my students were actually working or just enjoying vacations. I
bundled up and braved the morning air. Jackson could fend for himself if he woke while I was
         Icicles hung everywhere. Beautiful. Especially from the hibernating tree limbs. The
snow was at least three feet deep, but heavy stuff. Enough to support my weight. So it was
relatively easy trekking. For a moment or two I thought I could feel a rifle targeting my
back as I walked. Ready to put an end to my misery. No such luck. And again I realized that
for some reason, aside from a couple of attempts to beat the shit out of me, I seemed
invulnerable from the murderous stuff.

As I walked up the sidewalk to the science building, I couldn’t help but remember once again
that fateful day, however long ago it had been. When a young girl fell mortally wounded into
my arms changing my life forever. I saw a telltale light in my lab upstairs, even in the
scattered and cloud-shrouded light of the snowy day. I almost ran up the steps and into the
foyer, immediately feeling the warmth surrounding me. A great feeling. Especially in North
Dakota. In December.
        When I opened the door to the lab, I found two of my grad students working away at
computer monitors. Both assumed, I guess, that I was a third member of the group and didn’t
bother to look up from their work.
        I cleared my throat. That got their attention.
        “Doctor F.?” one of them said, somewhat surprised by my presence in what was
generally considered sanctified territory. I was the invader.
        “Where are the others?”
        “Taking a break,” the other one said. So nonchalantly it sounded truthful.
        “Mind if I kibitz?”
        “Not at all. Maybe you can help, actually.”
        And so I did. Kibitz, that is. Not sure I helped much.
        “Nothing but strange attractors?”
        “Mostly. Just groups of repeating patterns after a short burst of complex behavior.”
        “Keep at it.”
        “Seems fruitless. Weeks and weeks of this. No matter what starting arrangement we
try, random or premeditated, same old, same old.”
        “Maybe we should up the ante. Increase the number of Boolean gates.”
        “Been there. Done that. Same results.”
        My other researcher was having the same problems.
        “Seems like we’re still at square one. Must be another way to do this.”
        I thought so too. But nonlinear math had gone nowhere. L-systems were interesting
but a dead end as well. No matter what we tried we seemed dead in the water. Up to a certain
point. Promising results. And then nothing. All the theories had gone down. One by one.
Now that we had a criteria to judge the things by, nothing came close. Yet we knew it was
there. Life. At least in a virtual test tube. So close. So far.

        I made some comment about patience. Lacking any conviction. And left. Maybe a walk
in the storm would help me come up with something. No such luck.
        The snow had stacked up to four feet against the front door and the wind was flinging
it between the joints into the foyer. Cold just watching it. I climbed outside and made my
way, bent into the wind, as fast as possible toward home. Maybe Jackson could give me a hint.
At least I hadn’t been thinking about my situation.
        He was up when I got inside. Roaming around like a caged up chimpanzee.
        “Where’ve you been?” he asked me.
        “Over to the lab. Our conversation got me thinking.”
        “Any help?”
        “Not a thing. Still stuck at the beginning. How about you?”
        “Same. Zip. Nada. Nothing makes any sense. Who’d want to trash the house of a
college psychologist? My files are locked in my office at school. I don’t use my computers for
anything professional like you do. Nothing even slightly confidential or useful to anyone but
me at home.”
        “A former patient?”
        “They’re either institutionalized or rehabilitated. Can’t think of one.”
        “You call the police. See if they discovered anything. Prints? That kind of thing.”
        “No. I’ll give them time for that. They seem reoccupied with your thing.”
        “We seem to be the action in town.”
        I fixed some lunch from leftovers. Wasn’t much. But calories make the difference in
weather like this. We ate in silence.
        The phone rang. I hated the thing. Even when awake the annoying bell made my head
ache. I picked up.
        “Francis here.”
        “Patton. Can you come down here?”
        “To the station?”
        “No, to Disneyland. What do you think?”
        I ignored his sarcasm. “Why?”
        “Just come down. Will you?”
        “Okay. A few minutes.”
        I hung up on him. I think I was one ahead now.
        “Patton?” Jackson asked.
        “Yeah. Wants me to come down there.”
        “Need some company?”
        “No. I think he probably just wants to check my whereabouts while your house was
being ransacked. Thinks I may be branching out.”
        “Want me to drive you down there?”
        “You kidding? Have you seen it out there. You’re not driving anywhere. Hip deep
snow. They haven’t cleared the roads yet. When they do, you won’t be able to get out of the
        “I could walk with you.”
        “Stay here. Answer the phone if it rings. Ponder on your patients. I still think this is
something to do with you not me.”
        He nodded, and fell back onto the couch.

        I found Patton right where I left him. Maybe he slept there. I’d never heard of a wife,
kids, a girl friend. Only his brother, the public defender. Who’d gotten me off for exactly the
amount I’d told Patton I had available.
        “I’m here,” I told him. Like a schoolboy reporting to the principal’s office.
        “Have a seat.” And he pointed to the one chair opposite him.

        “I suppose you heard about Patton’s place.”
        “I did.”
        “He tell you?”
        “He did. We’re friends. Kind of.”
        “Kind of?”
        “Closest thing I can call a friend on campus. We talk every once in awhile. Maybe he’s
my unofficial councilor. Whatever.”
        “What’d he say.”
        “That his house had been ransacked. Nothing taken. But everything smashed to
pieces. Not very happy about it.”
        “You know anything?”
        “About that?”
        “Just what he told me.”
        “You don’t know who might have done it?”
        “Jesus, Patton. I may not be the perfect citizen of your fair town, but I’m not
responsible for every stinking thing that goes down around here. No. I don’t know a thing
about it.”
        “Where were you when it happened?”
        “Probably paying off my loan shark next door. Actually I don’t exactly know when it
happened, so I couldn’t really tell you.”
        He mused on that for a while.
        While he was thinking, I changed the subject.
        “Have you been keeping watch on the county psychiatrist?”
        “What business is it of yours.”
        “I’m the guy who suggested it. Remember?”
        “Okay. She’s fine. Nobody’s tried to hassle her. No suspicious characters around her
        “Glad to hear it. Anything else?”
        “No. Thanks for coming down.”
        He smiled then. Sorry for his bad temper.
        I nodded and returned to the less windy, less white day outside. Cold. In the teens for
sure. The icicles still hung from the trees. None were dripping. Frozen like brittle swords
ready to fall on the first victim that had the lack of brains to walk underneath them.
        As I walked home, I thought about my life. What was left of it. I had no idea what the
university bureaucracy would do to me when school resumed. I had tenure. Innocent until
proven guilty. But enrollment was down and times were lean. Time to cut a program and lose
a faculty in the process. Hard to know.
        But I couldn’t just sit still while the cops held a secret investigation. I knew that my
lawyer, the cop’s brother, would eventually get the scoop on me from his brother, but it was
too early for that. Not even my first hearing set. I had to do something. What?

        As I turned up my walkway, or rather the approximate location where my walkway
would have been if I could see it, I heard a snowplow off in the distance making a valiant
attempt to clear some of the muck away. I hoped he wouldn’t come this way any too soon.
What was four feet deep would become eight feet in no time. Streets clean, yes. Getting to
the street was an altogether different story.
        I found Jackson watching an old black and white movie on television. “You gotta see
this, Doug. An old Thin Man. You know, William Powell, Myrna Loy. Great stuff.”

        “Which one?”
        “The first, I think. A hoot.”
        “I’ve got to do a few things first,” I told him. And I grabbed the phone, unplugged it,
went into my bedroom, plugged it in there, and put it down. Who to call? Not many choices. I
didn’t know many people. Afraid to call Wise. As soon as he knew anything, Patton would
know. Jackson didn’t know anything. Besides he was right here.
        I laid back on my bed, rumpled sheets and all, and gave it some thought. Julia Robbins.
What did I know about her? Not a student. Friend of Doris at the diner. One dead. The other
alive. That’s about it. Not a lot. Enough to go on? No.
        How about Dolly. Worked at the diner. Knew Doris. Knew Robbins. Wasn’t dead. They
were. A link? Maybe. I leafed through the phone book. How do you look up someone if you
only know their first name? Answer? You don’t.
        I powered up my Mac. Used Google. Same problem. Zillions of women named Doris.
No last name. No nada.
        I went to my kitchen and retrieved the last three weeks of newspapers. Not a lot to
consider, given it was a weekly and this was downtime for the university. A story on Julia
Robbins. But I knew her last name. Nothing on Dolly. But something on a woman named
Doris who’d been murdered. Huh? I had a clue. How had I confused the two of them?
        I read the article. No other names. Unidentified sources only. Even Patton’s name
wasn’t there. Only that a Doris Thurman had been murdered just outside her apartment by
some unidentified person or persons wielding what the police thought might be a baseball
bat. I had somehow got the two names mixed up. Or they had put on the wrong nametags
that day. But then I’d called Dolly, Dolly. She hadn’t complained. More complications.
        I looked both names up in the phone book. I felt like a private detective. Too bad I
didn’t have a license. I could have been charging somebody a fee.
        I found a listing for Doris Thurman. Actually I found two listings for a Doris Thurman.
Same number. Same address. They’d duplicated the entry for some reason. Didn’t surprise me.
Nothing surprised me at this point.
        I dialed the number and listen to it ring. A lot softer when you’re on this end, I
thought. No body picked up. No answering machine. I let it ring about twenty times and put
the receiver down on my lap. Nothing was going right.
        “Hello? Hello?” I heard a voice at great distance. Then I realized it was coming from
the phone I’d failed to put back in its cradle.
        “Hello?” I said back.
        “Who is this?”
        “Who’s this?”
        “I’m hanging up now.”
        “Don’t. Please. This is Douglas Francis, a professor at the university. Are you Doris
        “Because I’m calling Doris Thurman. I need to talk with her.”
        “I’m her. What do you want?”
        “Do work at the diner on Main Street?”
        “Yes. Why?”
        “And you knew another waitress there.”
        Pause. Cautious now. “Yes? What do you want?”
        “Do you remember me? I came to see you about the girl you knew who died in my
arms at the university.”
        More pause. Very uncertain.
        “Okay. I remember.”
        “And I asked out the other waitress and then she got killed?”

       Longer pause yet. I was losing her. Actually I wouldn’t have blamed her for hanging
up on me. Lot of that going around anyway.
       “I’d like to talk with you, if you’d be willing.”
       “For one. Wasn’t the woman you worked with named Dolly?”
       “Dolly? Yes.”
       “Do you know her last name?”
       Not this again.
       “What is it?”
       “She related?”
       “My sister.”
       “Dolly Thurman?”
       “Actually her name was Doris too.”
       “You’re sisters with the same first names?”
       “Step sisters. Just happened that way. She changed her name to Dolly just to stop all
the confusion.”
       Hence the double listing in the phone book.
       “But she didn’t change it officially?”
       I’d forgotten about Doris. A little slow on the uptake.
       “On the record. With the Census Bureau.”
       “I don’t know. Probably not.”
       “Okay. Listen, I know it’s been a while, but I wonder if we could talk a bit more. Not
long. We could do it at the diner if you prefer.”
       “I don’t know. What about?”
       “Just anything you could tell me about either Dolly or Julia. Things you might
remember about either one that you could share with me.”
       “The police already asked me about that.”
       “I know. But they’re not sharing any information with me or the public. I’d like to
know about the murders. One of the victims died while I was trying to help her and the other
one after she and I had a date. Don’t you think I deserve to know more than nothing?”
       Long pause. Trying to crunch the numbers.
       “Maybe fore a minute or two at the diner would be okay.”
       “When do you work next?”
       “Tonight. From six to midnight.”
       “When’s it least busy?”
       “After nine thirty or so. Though it’s been empty because of the storm.”
       “I’ be there around nine thirty. And thank you so much. I deeply appreciate it.”
       She had to think that through, but she managed an ‘Okay’ before she hung up.

        When I joined Jackson in the living room again, he was watching another old movie,
The Flying Tigers with john Wayne and company. A colorized version.
        “You know that’s a B and W film that’s been computer enhanced for color, don’t you?”
        “Thought it looked a little fake,” he said. “Hey you’re smiling. What’s wrong?”
        “You never smiled before. Least not that I could tell.”
        “I took your advice.”
        “A first for everything. What advice was that?”
        “I got a date.”
        “Do tell. With whom?”
        “Doris Thurman.”
        “Who’s that. A grad student of yours?”
        “No. She works at the diner down the street.”
        “Not the Doris.”
        “The Doris?”
        “The one who knew Julia Robbins?”
        “How’d you know about that?”
        “You told me, idiot.”
        “Yes, then, the Doris.”
        “I thought Patton told you not to meddle in his investigation.”
        “Who told you that?”
        “You did. What’s going on with your memory these days?”
        “Few things on my mind.”
        “What are you up to, Francis?”
        “Just trying to find out a few things for myself. After all, I’m facing murder charges.
Two of them. I deserve to know a little about what’s going on.”
        He looked skeptically at me. Then shrugged and returned to his movie.
        I, on the other hand, got a beer and returned to my bedroom. Maybe make some more
progress. After all I had four hours before my date.
        But what? I couldn’t call the dead girls. I’d already ruled out Wise. I’d just talked with
Patton. And then Doris. Jackson was in the next room. My students were probably still at the
lab. Nothing there. District Attorney Mann, no. Nor Judge Williams. Especially not her. I
could talk to myself. Then it struck me. Why not the court psychiatrist? If nothing else,
maybe she could prescribe some good dope. Wouldn’t hurt. Of course, the cop tailing her
would undoubtedly call Patton if I chose to see her. So that was out. But I could call her. But
about what? She probably knew a lot less than I did. Maybe for some advice? She’d probably
charge me. I had to have something about the case to ask her. What?
        I thought through what we’d talked about when I last saw her. My sanity. Or lack
thereof. Then I got it. A way in at least. I’d ask her if she were alright. That I was worried
about her. That I’d told Patton to have someone watch out for her. All true. But also a stretch
for her to believe. But, what the hell.
        I looked her up in the book, before I realized I didn’t know her name. So I looked up
the police department and found a name there. Cassie Davies. Feeling lucky. Two numbers.
Work and home. Where would she be this late in the afternoon? On a day where the snow
stood half a body high. In the week between Christmas and New Year. Home. I dialed the
number. It rang twice.
        “Yes,” she said cautiously.

        “Is Cassie Davies there?” I asked.
        “Doctor Davies. Yes, I am she.”
        I am she?
        “Doctor, this is Doug Francis. You may remember we had a conversation a couple of
days ago at the police station. About my getting bail.”
        “I do.” More caution.
        “I’m calling just to make sure you’re alright.”
        “And why shouldn’t I be alright.”
        Not going the way I’d hoped.
        “Remember, we talked about the similarity between you and the two women I’m
accused of killing?”
        “Well. I’m just calling to make sure nothing’s happened.”
        “I’m fine.” Tentative.
        “I saw Patton not long after we talked, and told him to have someone watch you. I
hope he did.”
        “If he said he would, then he did. I haven’t seen anyone. But that’s the way it should be
don’t you think?”
        “Yes.” What did I think I was going to get from her anyway? This was quickly going
to hell in a hand basket.
        “If you have a second, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions. Would that be alright?”
Improvising now.
        “If I can answer them?”
        Now, what questions?

        “Do you have any ideas on how I might figure out why the number eleven seems to
mean so much to me? Suddenly. Out of the blue.”
        Silence. But I thought it a good one given I’d had nothing prepared.
        “You might try saying it out loud several times. Like a mantra. See if when you say it
some words come to you that might follow it naturally.”
        Not a bad idea.
        “Never thought of that. I’ll do it.”
        “Anything else?”
        “Could you tell me what possible motive anyone could have for murdering too women
who happen to look alike?”
        “Mister Francis. I appreciate your desire to know more about your situation. In fact, I
wish you success. But you should call my private practice office and set up an appointment.
I’d be happy to see you professionally. I don’t diagnose by phone.”
        In other words, screw you.
        “I understand. Sorry for intruding. Thanks for answering my first question.”
        “Sure,” she said, and hung up on me. I’d lost track on how often that had happened
        I set the phone back in its cradle and laid back on my bed. Good try, Doug, I told
myself. Not much there, but then there was the mantra. I tried it. Saying eleven out loud
several times. Seeing if any words seemed to follow it naturally. Or precede it either. No luck.
        I rejoined Jackson in the living room. He’d fallen asleep. In the middle of a fierce
battle on an island in the South Pacific with all the colors just a little bit off. I turned off the
TV. Six thirty. Still two hours before seeing Doris at the Diner. What to do. Detect some
more? How?

        I left a little early and caught a beautiful view of a sliver of moon in the western sky.
The storm had passed, the wind moved on, and whatever warmish air that had accumulated
during the day disappeared completely. Dead quiet. Nothing moving. The snow removal
equipment hadn’t reached main and I could no longer hear it in the distance. Run out of salt,
energy, or both. Main street was still closed to traffic and I would walk anywhere I wanted.
        The diner’s lights glowed brightly, the only ones I could see in either direction. The
place looked deserted. Of course, no cars anywhere gave me a clue.
        They had dug out a portion of the front steps so, after climbing down off the
mountain of ice and snow I could actually open the door. When I did, the difference in
pressure that had formed between the two temperatures popped and I didn’t walk in so much
as was sucked there. The place was empty. Except for Doris, of course. Standing by the
counter. Looking like she was preparing for an inquest. Deathly pale.
        I nodded in her direction. She came over and sat down across from me. I smiled. Tried
to make her feel comfortable. No such luck.
        “Doris. All I want to do is check some things you’ve told me. Okay?”
        “You’ve told me that Julia was a cousin of yours. Right?”
        “Yes. Kind of a step cousin. Or once removed. I can’t get that stuff straight.”
        “Okay. And now you told me on the phone that you’re stepfather had a daughter with
the same name as you. Doris. Right?”
        “And so you both had the same first name. And you took your stepfather’s last name.
So you were both Doris Thurman.”
        “Why didn’t you just keep your birth father’s last name. Then you’d have different
names. Rather than have her change her first name.”
        “I hated my father. He was a drunk and beat up my mom.”
        “That’s terrible. So you didn’t want to keep his name.”
        “But you are related to both of the dead girls. Right.”
        “We’re you closer to Dolly than Julia?”
        “Because she was your half sister and Julia was a distant cousin.”
        “Sure. I saw Dolly all the time. Only saw Julia once in a great while. Not the same.”
        “I understand. But you did notice the resemblance between Dolly and Julia.”
        “Sure. Hard not to.”
        “Do you have any other relatives by your stepfather? Any other step sisters, cousins,
and so on?”
        “What do you mean?”
        “Well, Dolly and Julia looked so much alike. I just wondered if there were any others
like you out there.”
        “Good question. I’m not a murderer Doris. But I’ve met someone else that looks like
Dolly and Julia. Just wondering if she might be related. She’s not going to be in any danger.
You do trust me, don’t you?”
        “I guess.”

       “Then can you tell me if you have any other relatives from your stepfather’s side that
might look like them?”
       “Yes you can tell me, or yes you have another one or more?”
       “Yes to both.”
       Finally. Like pulling teeth.
       “Can I ask you who?”
       “Meaning you won’t tell me.”

“Yes, you won’t tell me?”
        “Okay, how about this. If I ask you about someone, could you just nod yes or no about
whether their related or not?”
        She smiled then. A game. She apparently liked games.
        “Okay then. I met someone the other day at the police station. Would this person be a
psychiatrist by any chance?”
        Nod. Yes.
        “By the name of Cassie Davis?”
        “Yes.” No more nods.
        “Any more?”
        “Can you tell me why Cassie has a different last name?”
        “Yes. She was married once, but got divorced. She kept the name.”
        “You’re doing fine, Doris. Now, is there anything else you can tell me about Cassie,
Dolly, or Julia that I don’t know?” Actually, anything else she told me was guaranteed that I
didn’t know.
        “Like what?”
        “Like, were any of them involved with strange people?”
        “No they weren’t or no you can’t tell me.” Better safe than sorry.
        “They weren’t involved with strange people.”
        “Good. Now, do you know any reason why they would be murdered? Any reason
whatsoever. Forget that. Can you tell me what they were up to these days?”
        “Cassie’s working her practice and helping the police.”
        “Good. And . . .”
        “Julia, I’m not sure. Last I heard from her she was working for a publisher down south.”
        “Down south?”
        “Texas. Or Oklahoma. Somewhere down there.”
        “And how was it going for her?”
        “Don’t know. I only heard my stepfather mention it.”
        “Is your stepfather still living?”
        And your mother?”
        “In town?”
        “What do they do?”
        “They own this diner. And a couple others.”

       “Down south.”
       “In Texas or Oklahoma?”
       “Maybe. Not sure exactly.”
       “Was Julia working in one of these diners?”
       “No. A publisher. I told you that already.”
       “You did. Sorry.”
       “So, if I look up your parents in the phone book I’ll find them there?”
       “Under Thurman?”
       “Anything else you can tell me about this whole thing?”
       She thought seriously for a minute. She even stuck her tongue out of the side of her
mouth, like a twelve year old might. Took some energy.
       “Can I come back if I have other questions?”
       She thought about that.
       And she left me. Like hanging up the phone. A surprise. But not a surprise.
       While I made my way back down the street I gave some thought to the matter. Made
sense they all looked alike. All related. But why kill two members of the same extended
family in such horrible ways. Happenstance? And the changing of names. I had cleared up
some of my confusions while making other things more confusing. I needed to speak with
the parents. The grieving parents. Having lost two members of their family. In the same
small university town in North Dakota. In the snow. For no reason I could think of. Nor
apparently anyone else.

        When I arrived back at the apartment building, the lights were off. Had Jackson
wandered away? Bedded down for the night? I approached my door with some caution. Had
someone broken in and killed him? Was he related to Dolly, Doris, and Julia? Had they beaten
my apartment to a pulp as well. All good questions. And good enough to make me wary.
        I opened my front door slowly. The first thing I noticed was the smell of gas. Not
intense, but clearly present. Then I noticed that the inside temperature had fallen
dramatically. Not as low as outside, but clearly unheated. I wondered whether I should turn
on the lights. Would they ignite the gas and blow me and my home to hell and gone? I didn’t
really have a choice. Gas or no gas, I couldn’t see well enough to find the source and turn it
off. And then there was Jackson. He could be dying in here.
        I flipped the switch. The room looked almost exactly as I had left it. The TV was off.
Jackson lay on the couch looking pale. And the smell of gas was all pervasive. I ran to the
kitchen. All the burners were on full, but none were burning. I quickly turned them all off.
But that couldn’t be all. I still heard a faint hissing from the living room. I ran there and
found two of the heater gas lines detached from their metal housings. I rejoined them as
quickly and as tightly as I could and turned up the thermostat as high as I could get it. I
heard the burners ignite. Without blowing me to hell.
        I closed the door on my way over to the couch. I checked Jackson. Still breathing. But
not steadily. I ran to the bedroom where I’d used the phone in the afternoon and dialed 911. I
gave the operator my name, my address, my problem, and to get an ambulance and the police
here as soon as possible. She seemed on top of it.
        I piled some coats over Jackson. Even rubbed his face and hands with mine to make
sure to keep his blood flowing. I had no idea whether the gas or the cold posed the most
problem. But he didn’t seem close to death. At least as far as I could tell. I prayed the
professionals would get here soon.
        Was this meant for me? Had they not checked to see who was on the couch? Or didn’t
they even know what I looked like? Would this convince the cops I was innocent? I thought
these thoughts as the cops and ambulance pulled up in front of my place almost
simultaneously. Thank God the snow plows had finally cleared the streets.
        The paramedics arrived first and I pointed them toward the couch. They opened their
equipment and began working on Jackson, all the while asking me what the problem was. I
filled them in as quickly as I could.
        Then Patton arrived. He pulled me off to the side. “We’ve got to stop meeting like
this,” he said. “What’s it this time?”
        I told him how I’d found the place. How Jackson was staying with me while his place
was being watched for any return visits from whomever tore his house apart. I left out where
Id been before I came back. That would come soon enough.
        He then consulted with the paramedics who had already put Jackson on a stretcher
and prepared to take him to the ambulance and on to the hospital. Worse than I’d imagined.
The open door didn’t help the heat much, and everyone kept their winter clothes and hats on.
        Finally Patton returned and told me that Jackson was being taken to emergency as a
precaution. The paramedics thought he was probably okay. That I’d arrived just in time. A
few minutes longer and he might have died. They left me and Patton alone. And, thankfully
shut the door behind them so the place could get back to normal.
        “Whoa,” he asked, “where were you when this happened?”
        “Down the street. At the diner.”
        “Getting dinner alone. Without Jackson?”

        “He was out when I left. Watching an old movie on TV. I didn’t think anything like
this would happen.”
        “Trouble seems to follow you around, doesn’t it?”
        “Seems so,” I answered.
        “Happen to run into Doris at the diner?”
        No reason to lie. He learn about our conversation soon enough anyway.
        “Yes. We talked a bit.”
        “Her family tree.”
        “Just curious. How their could be so many look-a-likes in this town.”
        “She clear it up for you?”
        “Yes. I think so.”
        “I thought I told you to leave this up to me.”
        “You told me no to break my bail.”
        “Before that.”
        “I’m a citizen of this town, county, state, and country, Patton. I have a right to ask
questions to anyone I want regardless of what you order me to do.” I surprised myself with
the forcefulness of my reply.
        He grunted and gave me the evil eye.
        “Anything else she tell you.”
        “I now know her parent’s names. Oh, and I finally know who the psychiatrist who
interviewed me is. Cassie Davies.”
        “Well, I presumed as much. Since Doris gave you the family tree.”
        We stared at each other. Both on the same side, I guessed, but not happily so
        “You want to follow me to the hospital and we can get down to sworn statements and
the like?”
        “That’s a ways out of town. I don’t have a car. Don't imagine the buses are running.
Guarantee me a ride back?”
        “You can ride back with Jackson. I don’t think he’ll be there long.”
        “He’ll be fine then?”
        “So they tell me.”
        And we took a ride together. In a cop cruiser. With the lights blazing above us. Red,
white, and blue. Running like propellers on an old prop job. Or a helicopter blade.

       It took us half an hour to go three miles north from my apartment. The road had been
plowed and salted, but the late evening wind had blown some of the snow back onto the
roads and into dunes sometimes two feet high in places. We zigged and zagged our way
slowly over the sometimes icy blacktop. At least Patton’s car had good heating and I took
advantage of it.
       By the time we’d arrived, Jackson was standing up at the check-in counter and being
given his belongings for release. Patton sat him down with me and for the next hour or so we
corroborated one another’s stories and gave him the particulars. With apparently no actual
harm done to he or me, the apartment, of anyone else, it became less of a problem. Just an
attempted murder, I reminded him. Which I shouldn’t have done. I could never tell whether
he was with me or against me. Probably what made him a good cop.
       As promised, he drove us back to my apartment. Came in to check on things. Planted a
detective outside our door for the night, an assignment I didn’t find fair, but didn’t disagree
with, and by midnight we were both up to our eyeballs in beer and pretzels. And old movies

on TV. I pushed a few cans out to the cop guarding us, which he promptly rejected from
being on duty, but neglected to actually return to me.

        Bright and early the next morning, I built a breakfast of steak and eggs for Jackson
and me.
        “What’s the occasion?” he asked, the first words he’d spoken since before I’d found him
sprawled out on the couch suffocating and freezing to death.
        “We’re both alive.”
        “Oh. Good idea.”
        Outside through the kitchen window, the sun had risen to a blue sky and apparently
windless winter day. The streets were still empty, but I could see chimney stacks spewing
dark smoke everywhere. A world waking up after a blizzard in North Dakota. Nothing like it.
Great stuff.
        “Any idea who might have done this,” I asked him.
        “None. Except maybe a flunked student I underestimated.”
        “Kind of drastic reaction, don’t you think?”
        “I do.”
        Not much else to say. We cleaned up the dishes like an old married couple, and then
he retired back to the TV and I once again took the phone into my bedroom. Damned if I was
going to waste my time watching oldies when there was work to be done. Places to go.
        I looked up Thurman in the phone book. For a small town, they took up quite a bit of
real estate, even in the white pages. I realized I’d forgotten to get their first names from
Doris so unslept my computer and began to search for the oldest folks of that name in our
town in North Dakota. Came up with Norma and Gene. Sounded familiar somehow, but I
couldn’t place it.
        I matched the names in the phone book and dialed the number. I had no idea what I
would say, but I’d down well at that so far, why break a winning hand?
        “Hello?” A warm and friendly older woman’s voice.
        “Hello. May I speak to Gene Thurman, please?”
        “Yes, just a minute.”
        I heard her muffle the phone slightly with her hand and then, at a distance, “Gene?
Phone call.”
        From a great distance, “Who is it?” Male voice.
        “Could I tell him who’s calling please?”
        “Tell him its Doug Francis. Professor Francis from the university.”
        Again with the muffle. “It’s a Professor Francis from the university.”
        A pause. Then, “Hang up, Norma. He’s the guy out on bail for killing our girls.”
        A rustle of clothes. Then a dial tone.
        So much for that.
        I set the phone back in its cradle and then nearly fell off the bed when it rang again.
        I grabbed it quick before it could do that again.
        “Hello,” I asked. Tentatively. Half expecting Norma to be calling me back to
        “Here.” Potter.
        “Didn’t you tell me you spent the time that Jackson was getting asphyxiated that you
were with Doris at the diner.”
        “I just called her. She said she made a date to talk with you but you never showed up.”

        “What?” I tried to regroup. Why would she lie?
        “Your alibi stinks,” he said.
        “But I did see her. She told me about her relatives. The family. Why the girls all
resemble one another. Two fathers and all that.”
        “Why would she lie?”
        “I have no idea. But I swear I was with her.”
        Doesn’t cut it, Francis. Be glad that nothing actually happened to Jackson or I’d have
your butt back in that cell immediately. And slap another attempted murder charge on your
ticket. Not that after two actual ones it would make much difference.”
        “I tell you, I spent a least a half hour down there with her. She told me about Cassie.
The whole bit.”
        “Being part of the clan.”
        “What clan.”
        “The Thurman clan. What else.”
        “Now you’re losing me. But nothing new in that.”
        “You have to believe me.” A tired old line. But what else did I have?
        He hung up on me. What a day. Another one.
        I needed to make one more call.
        “Doctor Davies’ office.”
        “I’d like to make an appointment.”
        What else. I figured I could at least figure out what was going on in my brain, even if
she refused to talk to me about the case. I could use a good psychoanalysis. Or whatever
passed for one these days.
        She gave me an hour at one that afternoon. Perfect. Gave me time to clean up, talk to
Jason, have lunch. And, of course, to think about what I was going to say to her. And predict
what questions she might ask me. Probably a dead end on both counts, but worth a try

         I arrived about ten minutes early and, even though it was lunch hour, the secretary let
me sit in the warm outer office as she ate her lunch. With chopsticks no less. Since we didn’t
have any Asian restaurants in town, and she didn’t look Asian, it left me wondering exactly
what was in that bowl she was eating. And why the sticks. In North Dakota yet.
         When the secretary finally showed me into the doctor’s office, she wasn’t there. I must
have looked confused.
         “She be right with you, professor. Just have a seat. And thanks for your patience.” A
sing song voice, routinized to the point of being downright annoying.
         She arrived within a minute or two wearing a blue business suit and looking otherwise
just as she did when I last saw her, At the police station.
         “Professor Francis,” she said and extended a hand. I took it gently and said “Doctor
         She sat at her completely cleared off desk showing only a new spiral bound notebook
opened to the first blank page. After all, I was paying her one hundred dollars an hour. Worth
at least a new notebook.
         “And what can I do for you today?” Not as annoying as the flat tone of the secretary,
but damn near.
         “Trying to discover a few things about myself. Thought you could help.” From her
perspective, probably equally as drab and predictable.
         “I hope so. How shall we start.”
         So far, so boring.

         “I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in my life. You remember what I told you
when we last met?”
         “I do.”
         “Well, things have been going more or less the same. Either I’m forgetting or
imagining a lot of things, or someone’s out to set me up for something. I can’t figure out
         “Maybe some of both?”
         That caught me up short. I thought psychiatrists were supposed to ask simple
questions, not give opinions. Whatever.
         “I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me.”
         “Where shall we begin?”
         “At the beginning?”
         “Logical.” She didn’t crack a smile.
         “I woke up that day with the number ‘eleven’ on my mind. More than that, actually. It
was like an obsession, Demanding that I recognize its meaning.”
         “Have you?”
         “Not even close.”
         “Did you try what I suggested on the phone?”
         “Nothing came to mind. Goose egg.”
         “Goose egg?”
         “A big round zero.”
         “Okay. Tell me again. Don't leave anything out.”
         And so I did. The light in my eyes. Something feeling all wrong. And the number
itself. Pervading my mind and thoughts, but without any obvious or subtle meanings.
         “What did you do then?”
         “Search my place. Found nothing unusual. And tried to forget it. Went to school. Had a
class at eleven.”
         “Yeah. I thought about that too. But it was the end of the semester. Last day of classes.
Just reviewing for the final exam. Nothing special about it.”
         “Except for a young student calling out for help, running to me, and then dying in
my arms.”
         “At eleven o’clock.”
         “No. Maybe fifteen minutes before that. I always arrive early for class. To prepare.”
         “That, and then some.”
         “Did you teach the class that day?”
         “No. Had to spend some time telling the story to the cops. Took most of the rest of
the day.”
         “You mean did I predict the future in my dreams?”
         “Would you imagine that possible?”
         “No. don't believe in such nonsense. Besides, other than my class starting at eleven
and me missing it, nothing I woke up feeling predicted anything that then happened. Hardly
makes any sense, even if I did believe it.”
         She spent the next minute quietly writing in her tablet.
         “Has anything like this every happened to you before?”

        “Not even in general?”
        “You mean have I ever woken up with something on my mind?”
        “I always wake up with something on my mind.”
        “I mean something as indelible as this.”
        “I don’t remember any thing like this. Especially not the murder.”
        She wrote some more things down. Took more time at it.
        “I just can’t get over it.”
        I don’t doubt it.”
        “No. Not that. How much you look like Julia and Dolly.”
        “Dolly was my step sister. Julia my cousin.”
        “I know. But it’s still uncanny.”
        “How do you know.”
        “Doris told me last night.”
        “Doris told you?”
        “Yeah. I saw her at the diner last night. She was a bit reluctant, but she finally
admitted you four were related, however indirectly.”
        “She told you that, did she?”
        “I didn’t realize it was a secret.”
        “It wasn’t. Isn’t. It’s just that we don’t talk about it much.”
        “Why not.”
        She suddenly looked disheveled. I was asking the questions now. She wasn’t in the
habit of answering her patient’s questions.
        She coughed once. Politely.
        “Do this mean you think we are involved in all this?”
        “How could you not be? Your cousin murdered almost in my presence. Your stepsister
murdered right after I had a date with her. Your father hanging up the phone on me this
        “My father?”
        “Yes. Gene Thurman. He had your mother hang up on me. He wouldn’t even talk to
        “I didn’t know anything about these things.”
        “Does it surprise you?”
        “Doris yes. My father? I guess he knows about your arrest for the murders. I suppose I
wouldn’t blame him for thinking you were about to harass him. Wanting to avoid it.”
        “But why would he avoid me. Wouldn’t you think he’d want to find out why I did it if
he thinks I did? Or at least something about who I am?”
        She faked a cough. I’d turned the tables again. Not five minutes into our session and I
was analyzing her.
        “What do you think?” she asked. Good turnaround.
        “I think you’ve got some family. Where did your mother’s first husband go? Were you
his daughter or Gene’s.”
        Now she flushed. I’d gone too far.
        “I hardly think that’s any or your business.”
        “You’re probably right,” I said. “But then I’m kind of on the hot spot here. I’m out on
bail for two horrendous crimes I didn’t commit. Facing life in prison or the death penalty.
Your stepsister lies about my seeing her last night. Your father, if he is your father, won’t
talk to me. And you’re not helping at all.”
        Silence. Colder than it was outside. I’d definitely gone too far.
        “And someone tried to kill my closest friend last night. Know anything about that?”

        Why not, I figured. All she could do was throw me out. Save me a hundred bucks.
        “Professor Francis. I’m not used to being spoken to in this way.”
        “What way?”
        “So rudely.”
        “I’m not speaking rudely. I’m just telling you the truth. Isn’t that what we’re here for
        “Yes. But I’m supposed to be finding out your truth, not the other way around.”
        Ah. Out in the open.
        I smiled.
        She stared at me. And then stared some more. And then smiled. A short one. But I
caught it.
        “I saw that.”
        “You saw what.”
        “You smiled. Not much of one. But I caught it.”
        “You are a bugger. You know that?”
        “I do,” I said.
        “I’ve always been one. My mother used to call me that. It’s why I’ve ended up in North
Dakota. But I fooled them. I like it here.”
        She smiled again.
        “What?” I asked her.
        “I like it here too.”
        “You’re divorced?”
        “Jesus, Francis, you just won’t quit, will you?”
        “Call me Doug.”
        We both stopped and took a breath. I liked her. Not just for her looks, but because
down beneath a thin veneer, she was quite human. And probably warm, too.
        “Can we start over again?” she asked.
        “Put down out gloves, you mean?”
        “I suppose.”
        “Sure. I’d like that.”
        “Then you’re off the clock. No charge. Let’s just talk for the rest of the hour. Okay?”
        “Definitely fine with me. I spent everything I had on my bail. Wasn’t sure where I was
going to come up with the hundred bucks anyway.”
        She smiled again. A lovely smile. Cute, but not quite innocent.
        “Who starts?” I said.
        “Okay. I’m innocent. Some guys have been out to beat the shit out of me. At least
when it wasn’t snowing too bad. I did manage to hit a couple of them with their own baseball
bat. Someone tried to kill my friend Jackson last night with gas and cold. I did see Doris last
night, contrary to her denial. I spent a night in jail. But you know about that. And I haven’t a
clue what’s going on. And I’m single. Your turn.”
        I thought she might burst out laughing at that, but she held her composure. Sort of.
        “I have an advanced degree in psychiatry from the University of Texas, practice here
in North Dakota, sometimes work for the court when called upon, and I’m single too.”
        “Good. Now who goes first?”
        “With what?”
        “Trying to figure out what’s going on?”
        “I went first the last time.”
        “So you did.”
        But she didn’t follow up with anything. My turn anyway?

         “Okay. Let’s forget about eleven. That’s a non-starter. Let’s begin with who might
want to kill to young women that look like you and are relatives of yours and for what
reason. That apparently has something to do with me, but that I don’t know anything about.
You knew both of them. Maybe if you told me about them, I could go from there.”
         “I guess. Since we’re throwing the book away here anyway.”
         “We are.”
         Dolly’s easy. Dumb as a church mouse. Never done anything to anybody. She’s dated a
few times, but as pretty as she was, I think even the worst of her boyfriends couldn’t take
advantage of her. She worked in the diner and pretty much kept to herself. You must know
some of that. You went out with her.”
         “I did. And you’re right. That’s pretty much how I’d describe her. Simple, but nice to
the core. No threat to anyone. Whoever killed her didn’t have a human bone in his body. Or
else had no choice.”
         “No choice? How could that be?”
         “Don’t know. But they’re not trying to kill me. Beat the shit out of me? Kidnap me?
Yes. Murder me, no. She was somehow a thorn in their sides. Maybe she knew something she
shouldn’t have. Maybe they had to kill her. Especially when she went out with me. She
could’ve easily have spilled the beans and not even known she was doing it.”
         Cassie just shook her head back and forth.
         “Don’t agree?”
         “That’s the trouble. Everything you said fits Dolly to a tee.”
         “What about Julia?”
         “You tell me,” she said, “you’re batting a thousand so far.”
          “Not the same thing. I didn’t know Julia. Just held her in my arms as she was dying.
But I’d say she was a lot more like you. Smart. Maybe too smart. She knew too, and things
were getting tough and she didn’t like it. Maybe she was on her way to tell me, and they shot
her in the back to stop her.”
         Cassie stared at me some more. I liked it.
         “Right again. Though I don't know about the last part.”
         “I don’t either, actually. Just guessing.”
         “What about Doris?”
         “She’s got me stumped. Must be in on something too. Someone got to her last night
after I talked with her. Told her to say what she told Patton. That I hadn’t been there last
night. Make it seem like I was a liar.”
         “Makes sense, too.”
         She looked at me and nodded slightly. I was beginning to like her. A lot.
         “Your turn.”
         “My turn what?”
         “To tell me what you know.”
         “I don’t know anything more than what you told me.”
         “Yes you do.”
         “Start with your family. Ever been into anything on the illegal side?”
         “Good God, no.”
         “Your father. Let’s start with him. The first one. He your birth father?”
         She looked like she was going to turn against me then. How dare I ask her such
personal questions. Then she shrugged and gave it up.
         “Yes. I don't know much about him actually. He left us when I was about ten. Seemed
like an idiot. Don’t know why my mother married him.”
         “Then Doris is you real sister.”
         “Yes. And dolly my step sister.”

         “Did your real father beat your mother?”
         “Not that I can remember. Why?”
         “Doris told me he did.”
         “Doris said that?”
         “She did. She your older or younger sister.”
         “Then maybe she remembers stuff you don’t.”
         “Possibly. She was a favorite, too. Around them more often. Maybe she just saw them
more often.”
         “Do you believe that?”
         “He beat your mother?”
         “Then Doris is a liar.”
         She thought for a minute.
         “Why good.”
         “Means that she lied to Patton just because she could.”
         “Rather than being forced to.”
         “Where’s your real father now? What’s he do?”
         “Don’t know. When he ran away, he ran away. I haven’t heard a word about him since
he left. It’s like he never existed. Never mentioned him as we grew up. Our new father is
great. Wonderful man. I cant imagine him hanging up on you this morning.”
         “He didn’t. He asked your mother to. She did it.”
         She smiled.
         “How about Julia?”
         “Never knew much about her. She lived down south somewhere. We’d see her maybe
once every five years. And then mostly at reunions of sorts. Lots of people. Too many to
carry on any kind of conversation. She’d just be there a few minutes and then gone. Too far
removed from our family to really discuss.”
         “So she’s not really a blood relative of yours or Dolly’s.”
         “No reason except fate then for her to look so much like you two.”
         That caught her attention.
         “No. I guess not.”
         “Thinking you may not have all the answers yourself?”
         “She looked back at me in much the same way she had when she’d first entered the
room. Professional. From a long distance away.
         “I’m sorry. Pressing too much. None of my business.”
         “I understand though. You’re under the gun. Both figuratively and literally. You need
to have answers. No matter what occurs as a result.”
         Now I felt distant. Professional.
         “Why me, do you suppose?”
         “Why me. I mean, why would anyone be interested in a small town professor in North
Dakota. I haven’t done anything remarkable. Until a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing
about your family. I vaguely remember seeing Dolly and Doris at the diner when I
frequented there. Other than that, nothing. I know nothing that anyone could want to have.
If I did, I’d be happy to give it to them. I’m a professor for God’s sake. Unless we have patents,

which I don’t, or some kind of business secrets, which I don’t, se specialize in writing papers
that tell everyone everything we know. You want to know what I think. Just go on the
Internet and find everything. No trick to it.”
        She screwed up her nose in the way some people do when thinking hard and not
realizing they were doing it.
        “You told me once that you thought they might be after you for something you knew
but didn’t know you knew.”
        “I did?”
        “Maybe I had something there.”
        “Maybe you did.”
        “How about dinner tonight.”
        She shook her head to break her train of thought.
        “You know. A date? Good food. Friendly chat. Nothing more.”
        “Other plans?”
        “No, I guess not.”
        “Around seven. We could meet there.”
        “The diner?”
        “Ulterior motive?”
        “None that I know of.”
        “How about the steakhouse downtown instead.”
        “Around seven?”
        “Meet you there.”
        “You’re not going to pick me up?”
        “Don’t have a car. But, actually I can borrow one. Where do you live?”
        She told me. Our hour was up.

        When I got back to my apartment, the car was gone and so was Jackson. Damn. Four in
the afternoon. Three hours to go. Where’d the bastard go? Just when I needed his car.
        Still a little gun shy from my earlier experience, I approached my door with caution.
Some of the snow had melted but was now turning into ice. So I had to dig my heels in to get
down to sidewalk level. When I reached my door, I listened carefully for telltale signs that I
wasn’t alone. I heard voices. Not loud. But strangely interspersed with music. The TV. Jackson
had left the television on. Or someone else was watching TV in my apartment.
        To hell with it. I grabbed the doorknob and tried to turn it. Locked. Good. I found my
key and opened the door. Nothing seemed awry. The TV was on with no one watching. And a
note on the table by the couch.
        “Doug. Had to go out for a minute. Be back before six. Jackson.”
        I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Not that Jackson was okay. But that I’d still have his car
for my date with Cassie. Not that I wasn’t concerned about other things. But priorities were
        I took a long hot shower. Relaxed for a while. And then had a beer. No Jackson. His
minute had long passed. What to do? I could reach her place on foot if I started walking about
now. But what then? Walk to the restaurant. A great first date. I needed Jackson to return. I
wished I had a cell phone then. I wished he had a cell phone then. But service was so spotty
out here, it wasn’t worth the effort and expense.
        I decided to wait. I could always call a taxi. I could find some cash somewhere by then.
I had credit cards as well.
        So I finally turned off the TV and planted myself on the couch and waited. I had an
hour and a half. Surely he’d be back by then.
        As I sat I mused over what had happened during my meeting with Cassie that
afternoon. We’d pretty well settled the fact that her family was a mess. But something still
bothered me about it. Something wasn’t quite right. But I couldn’t place my finger on it. Just
like eleven. One of those things the harder to try and figure out, the worse it gets.
        Then it struck me. Not eleven. What was bothering me about Cassie. Actually about
everyone in her family. No one I had talked to about Julia or Dolly seemed very emotionally
bent out of shape over their loss. Even Dolly hadn’t been when I talked with her about Julia.
Even Cassie had taken it all in stride. Gene Thurman had registered the most emotion and I
hadn’t even spoken to him. What was that all about? How could a family, no matter the
distance of their relationship, be so calm in the light of two of their brethren being
murdered? In close proximity? Didn’t make any sense. What was worse, why hadn’t I noticed
it before this? Because they acted so normal? And because I was after information so
desperately that I hadn’t given a damn either way?
        I suddenly couldn’t get any of this out of my mind. I’d spent an hour that afternoon
talking with Cassie whose sister and cousin had both been brutally murdered. And she hadn’t
registered the slightest regret over it. Of course, she was a practice psychiatrist. Maybe she’d
trained herself not to be? Was that all there was to it? But what about Dolly? What about Doris
who’d seemed almost dulled to the point of being inhuman? Jesus, what’s with these people.
        As I thought these thoughts, Jackson came bounding in the front door. Bounding.
        “Jackson! You’re back. That was a long minute.”
        “Figurative, Doug. Figuratively speaking. What’s it matter anyway? You my mother
        “No. I’ve got another date. I need your car to pick her up.”
        “Oh. When?”

         I looked at the clock. “A half hour from now.”
         “No big deal then.”
         “You came bounding in the door.”
         “So to speak.”
         “I feel pretty good.”
         “Do I need a reason?”
         “No. But you were pretty messed up the last time I saw you. After all, someone tried
to kill you last night if memory serves.”
         “Feel better now.”
         “Any reason?”
         “Just got a note that one of my papers was accepted. Another first.”
         “Another first? I thought you had plenty of papers published.”
         “I do. But this is the journal. Top of my field. Who’s the date?”
         “Cassie Thurman. Why?”
         “Thurman. That ice bucket?”
         “You know her?”
         “What do I do for a living, Doug?”
         “And she is?”
         “I got it. Why is she an ice bucket?”
         “Won’t go out with anyone.”
         “Especially you?”
         “Right. How’d you make it work?”
         “Don’t know. Made an appointment with her. One thing led to another. Date.”
         “That’s two in two weeks, Francis. That’s a record for you.”
         “I don't see you out and about these days much?”
         “What just happened?”
         “I don't know.”
         “I came in here bounding, right?”
         “Right. Yeah. Out and about.”
         We settled that and he sat down in front of the TV again.”
         “It’s not even on, Jackson. You getting obsessed?”
         “Not as much as you.”
         “Julia lookalikes. Are you going out with one woman, or three tonight?”
         Jesus. I didn’t want to hear that.
         “Let me have your keys before I forget the date and give you a brief lesson in
         “I surrender.” He tossed me his keys.

        I left my apartment way to early, but figured I’d rather be early than late. The drive
across town was messy. Some of the puddles of melting snow had iced over. Some hadn’t.
Hard to tell which from which in the headlights. About ten miles an hour when I felt
confident. About five miles an hour when I didn’t.
        Beautiful clear night. The moon, still near the horizon, had grown a bit since I’d last
seen it. Let’s see, I thought, what was it? Oh yeah, four calling birds. The fourth day of
Christmas. The four gospels. Matthew, John, Luke, and . . . I’d forgotten. Oh yeah, Mark.
Whatever. Not my cup of tea. At least not anymore.
        I arrived at Cassie’s place about ten minutes early, and decided to wait. I kept the
engine running and the heater going as the little slice of moon slowly disappeared over the
horizon. Another beautifully clear night with no storms in sight. Around me the chimneys
pumped their winter smoke into the air. Occasionally bright little firefly sparks jumped from
the smoke, dying in the cold night air. Here and there I could see Christmas trees in various
windows with their lights blinking and tinsel sparkling. Memories from my childhood came
to mind.
        When I looked down at my watch, I realized I was late. My motto, get there early and
then wait so you’ll be late. Worked okay with classes. I doubt it worked so well on dates. But it
had been so long I’d had a traditional dinner date, I had no idea how it was done.
        She came to the door looking like an angel that’s just been turned by the devil. Like
she’d been rehearsing for days. Been getting dressed since noon. Even the lighting look
prepared. Backlighting her semi-translucent dress and revealing her body beneath. All of the
one liners from pulp fiction came to mind.
        “Holy crap,” I said aloud. Not the kind of thing I should have said, but out it came
        “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
        “Please do.”
        “Come in. I’ll just be a minute.” And she turned toward a hallway behind her. Her dress
short and neat. Her legs long and right. She looked good in blue. She looked great in blue.
        I closed the door behind me. Ashamed of my pathetic outburst and unprofessorial
thoughts. She was beautiful, and certainly not a bucket of ice. Though I had yet to prove that.
But she was gorgeous beyond my poor little brain to conceive. I decided to breathe again.
Just to stay alive. Seemed like the right thing to do.
        Her house was neat and tidy. Everything with a place and a place for everything.
        How was I going to make it through dinner. It wasn’t just the sex thing. She made me
feel like I was in high school again. Watching the girls at the dance. From a distance. In love
with every one of them. Afraid to go near them. Unlike every other boy in the place, I wasn’t
trying to get my hands on them, I was trying to imagine how I could ever even bring myself
to touch one of them.
        She returned with her purse and her blue dress buried in a few thousand overcoats.
This was North Dakota after all. And winter. She put on her hat and I wondered if I’d ever be
able to find in all of that.
        We found our way to the car. I ushered her inside. And with a little coaxing, I got it
started and off we went. Slowly. For the streets were a nightmare even in the daytime. At
night, no matter how much salt had been laid in, ice was bound to form and cause slide outs
here and there. Even with Jackson’s snow tires, it would be slow going.
        I found it easier to talk to her in the dark and knowing she was covered with inches of
protective gear.

        “Whose car?” she asked.
        “Jackson McDermott’s.”
        “Yeah. I gather you two have met.”
        “About what he said about you.”
        “That you’ve met.”
        “Nothing else.”
        “He didn’t tell you that he asked me out?”
        “I guess that came up.”
        “What did he say?”
        “Nothing much. I guess you turned him down.”
        “He’s a ass grabber.”
        “A what?”
        “You know. The kind of guy who takes liberties.”
        Jesus. Don’t women know anything about guys? What I would have given to do just
that. But I hadn’t. Maybe that’s the point.
        “Never knew that.”
        “You wouldn’t. You’re a guy.”
        “Glad you noticed.”
        I could literally hear her smiling in the car.
        When we arrived at the steakhouse, my worse fears were confirmed. A line outside.
And me not having made a reservation. Suave, Doug. First date, and you screw it up. But I
took a chance, parked the car like I knew what I was doing, and accompanied the bundle of
clothes I’d brought alone to the front of the restaurant. No one there.
        “Must have been a group reservation,” I said. I wasn’t sure she’d heard me under all of
her softwear, so I let it drift away into the night.
        I stood for a second for the maitre de to arrive. Of course he asked if we had
reservations. Why I had no idea. The people in the line had all taken their seats at the back of
the place, with no one else at any other table. But he did ask, and I told him no. He said no
matter, and I wondered why then did he ask.
        He asked me which table I liked. I asked Cassie. She liked the one in the far corner
nearest the large fireplace. Looked good to me. Private and warm.
        We stopped before we got there and removed our outer garments. Hats, coats, boots,
and so on. It took her awhile, but when she’d finished it had been worth the wait. And my
high school jumpy stomach returned. She was one hell of a woman. Beautiful in every way.
And let me count the ways.
        “This way, please,” the maitre de said, and led us to our table. In the corner by the
fireplace. A hot crackling fireplace with real wood and no gas. Thank you very much.
        And we sat down. On opposite sides of the table so we could see each other. Yikes. Try
as I might, I couldn’t avert my eyes from her décolletage. Not that her dress was particularly
low. It wasn’t. But it had buttons. And the first one was not closed. The rest were. And then
went all the way down to her waist. Jesus.
        “Eaten here before?” she asked me.
        I stumbled a bit. Where? Oh here.
        “No. But I hear it’s good.” Not bad, Doug, keep it up. No pun intended.
        “It’s the best in town. Of course, that’s not saying very much given that there’s only
five places to eat. And two of those are on campus and closed.”
        “And stink,” I added.

        “I wasn’t going to say anything,” she said. But now that you mention it.
        And we kept the banter going through out ordering and until the meal arrived. Prime
rib for all, and for all a good night.
        We’d ordered a red wine with our meal, some sort of merlot. I didn’t know didly about
wines so she ordered. Seemed fine to me. Too sweet. For a beer drinker. But what the hell.
        Then, out of the blue, she said, “My ex-husband couldn’t stand wine. He always drank
beer. Ad a pot belly to prove it.”
        I would feel myself automatically pull in my abdominal muscles. I had no idea why.
She couldn’t see below the table anyway.
        “What did he do?”
        “For a living?”
        I nodded.
        “A psychiatrist. Just like me. No. I take that back. Not just like me. He was a Freudian. I
should’ve taken that as a bad sign right off the bat.”
        I knew nothing about psychology. I knew about brains. Which part did what. But not
the details of behavior. AI didn’t cover that. At least the area of AI in which I worked.
        “How did you meet?”
        “At a conference. Where else. They say those things are baby factories.”
        “Baby factories?”
        “You know. Meet, marry, and poof, you have kids.”
        “Did you have kids?”
        “No thank God. That would have been a disaster. We were only married a couple of
years. He was on his way up the ladder and I was happy where I was. Here.”
        “Up the ladder?”
        “Books, tours, conferences, signings. That sort of thing.”
        “Did he make it?”
        “Not that I know of. We didn’t separate on good terms. Haven’t been in contact with
him for years. But I haven’t seen his name anywhere since. My guess? Not.”
        “Make you happy?”
        “Doesn’t matter either way. He has his life. I have mine. I’ve more of less crossed those
two years off my lifeline. Experience. Nothing else.”
        Harsh words coming from such a beautiful woman.
        “How about you?”
        “Ever married?”
        “Ever date?” She smiled as she said it.
        “Bad times?”
        “No. Just never met the right one. I’m pretty well entrenched in my research right
now. Though you could never tell it given my lack of work lately.”
        “To be expected, given what you’ve been through.”
        “I suppose. But I don't even seem that interested these days.”
        “Not going well?”
        “No. But that’s not it. When it doesn’t go well, that’s when I generally get going. Not
this time for some reason.”
        “Too bad. But it’ll change.”
        “How do you know?”
        “I have a certain feeling about you, Doug.”

        Yikes. That came out of the blue. A certain feeling about me. And my first name. All
in the same sentence. Thank God the waiter came by and asked if we wanted dessert. I looked
at her. She me. And I think we said yes. At least a look at the menu.
        While we waited, she saked me, “So when did you begin being a computer scientist?”
        “As a kid. I guess I liked the whole idea of codes. From simple cereal code rings, to
deciphering puzzles in books. Mensa stuff. Not that good at it, but I found it fun. At least it
didn’t intimidate me.”
        “Weren’t computers around then?”
        “Sure, but mostly mainframes. I tinkered a bit with integrated circuits, soldering and
stuff, but mostly I used pencil and paper. Until grad school. Then I had a field day with
programming languages. I learned as many of them as I could. Codes. Like eating peanuts. I
couldn’t get enough.”
        “And what’s your specialty now?”
        “Artificial life. A-Life.”
        “Well I know what the words mean. But not in context.”
        “I try to build digital life.”
        “You don’t mean for real. Do you?”
        “I’ll leave that to philosophers. We define what life is and attempt to make it happen
in a non-carbon environment.”
        “In a digital world. All the same basic kinds of fundamental aspects of life. Just
confined to a computer.”
        “That’s possible?”
        “Who knows? Consider computer viruses. They do plenty of damage, but they spread
and sort of live.”
        “Not alive though.”
        “No. But taking the general principle, they could be made to act like life. Just not the
same kind of life we’re familiar with.”
        “And you’ve defined life?”
        “I’ve made a few attempts. Hard to know if any of them are right or complete enough.
But we have a working set of laws or principles that we use.”
        “Really want to know?”
        “Maybe a general version.”
        “Well, let’s just say our digital versions do a lot of things simple life does. Procreate,
eat, excrete, develop over time. Those kinds of things.”
        “Do they learn?”
        “Yes and no. Remember we’re beginning with one-celled paramecium-like things.
Simple forms of life. They tend to learn over time rather than as individuals. Not like
        “Unless you think of the human brain as a compilation of little paramecium-like
        Wow. She was a lot brighter than your average bear. In fact, I’d never thought of
putting it quite that way. Perfect.
        “I like the metaphor.”
        “Not sure I meant it as a metaphor.”
        “Want to join my group?”
        “Your group?”

        “My research group. You know, a bunch of degree hungry doctoral students and post-
docs eager to make their names by having them appear next to mine in a major science
journal. Get a plush teaching job. Tenure. A life of leisure.”
        “I doubt you lead that.”
        “Certainly not now I don’t.”
        As she studied the dessert menu, I look at her face closely. Did I see Julia there?
Looking up at me with her barely alive body resting in my arms. Asking for help. Pleading.
Did I see Dolly there? Not at all. Nothing against her. She was special in her own way. But not
her. Julia maybe. Actually I think I just saw Cassie. To hell with you Jackson.
        “I don’t think so.”
        “Me neither. Could we just have the check please?”
        As we waited I wanted to ask her how she felt about the murders of her sister and
cousin. But I didn’t dare waste an otherwise perfect evening. I had to let that go. Of course,
what if she was in on it. What if this was just a ploy to get me to talk. But about what? Besides,
I’d be happy to talk. About anything with anybody.
        The check arrived. I used a credit card. And within a few minutes she had tucked
herself back into the armored suit and I’d started the car and picked her up at the curb.
Gentlemanly sort that I am.
        The trip back to her place was a nightmare. What would I say to her? Goodnight? Let it
be? Make a move? No. She hated that. Would’ve been Jackson’s ploy. But what? A kiss. Walk
her to the door and shake hands. So many ways. And I didn’t know any of them. Out of it.
        But we got there. We may have talked along the way, but I didn’t remember saying
anything. My mind was too busy computing the combinational possibilities.

We stopped in front of her house and I shepherded her up the steps to her front door. She
turned then and I could just see her blue eyes peering out at me from inside her multi-
layered coats. Without a heart’s beat, she grabbed my face, brought it down to hers, and
planted a nice big kiss on my lips. Hers were slightly parted. But no more than that. A
friendly good night. We stayed that way for a minute and then she drew away.
       “I enjoyed tonight,” she said.
       “So did I.”
       “Call me when you get a chance. Okay?”
       “I will.”
       And she turned, unlocked her front door, went inside, and closed and relocked it. All
my worries gone. All my hopes gone too.
       I walked back to the car. Got in. And slowly made my way back to my apartment.
Looking out for the same icy spots I’d hit on the way to her house earlier. I would call her
again. Nice evening. She was right about that.

        I parked where Jackson had left his car. Along the snow bank on Central nearest my
house. When I exited the door, I heard someone moving behind me. I could feel the anger
rise in my chest. Not again. The streetlights gave off an ice-covered hint of their normal
selves. I ran back all those sessions with my Bokutor teacher. “Don’t let your emotions control
your brain. The other way around. It’s not you against someone you hate. It is a battle won by
the best man. You’re the best man. But only if you follow the skills you’ve learned.” But was I
up to the task?
        I could barely see his face. That helped. It made him more anonymous. As far as I was
concerned I was back in the studio where we battled our classmates. Except this time I
wouldn’t hold my punches. This was for real. But not out of hate. From logic. From skills.
        I began dancing and pretending it was a boxing match. No better way to deceive your
opponent than by pretending to fight using a standard and easily bettered model. A model
with rules. The only rules I’d follow were the rules made to succeed. Everything else was a
wild card. Dancing also kept me warmer. He just stood there like a statue. Waiting for me to
stop long enough to ram his fist into my face. Their best man?
        He continued to stand still and watch me move. Convinced I suppose that I wouldn’t
make the first move. I was a gentlemen and scholar after all. He could use the dirty stuff, not
me. Little did he know.
        Without warning he leapt at me feet first. From a standing position. A remarkable feat
and with that he’d caught me off guard. He nit me in the midsection below arm level and
down I went. The air momentarily knocked out of me. I rolled quickly out of the way, but
he’d won round one. Weakened by the blow, but not ready to call it quits. Actually I was not
sure I could call it quits. He had more than intimated this was for keeps. I would quit when
        I leapt to my feet still facing him and breathing heavily. He’d hit the pavement after
his feet-first opening move, but had not felt the brunt of his actions as I had. He danced now
like I had but with his hands held low. I watched him and feinted a couple of times with my
left hand. He smiled at my moves. A malicious sneer. I’d not seen him before. Not two, but
maybe better than two.
        I turned my right shoulder to him then, inspiring a kick to my kidney. A good move
if your opponent is not expecting it. I was and turned back, grabbing his foot midair, and
twisting it as violently as I could. He tried to roll with the direction of my twist, but I had
caught him mid-stride. An awkward position. I continued the twist as hard as I could and he
went down hard. As he did. I brought my right foot directly into his crotch. He screamed
then, jerked his foot out of my grasp and doubled up in pain. No more mister nice guy for me
either, I used the heel of my other foot and drove it into his spine, mid-back, and heard a rib
break. Another scream. But before I could follow that up with a head butt, he was back on his
feet. Limping yes, but now very dangerous. He hadn’t expected any of that. And it hadn’t
made him happy.
        We began our dance again. A little less lively on both sides. I now smiled at him.
There’s a lot to looking confident. It makes your opponent think twice before making a next
move. He’d tried it on me. My turn now. He limped a bit still. My twist had done some
damage. He was far from finished. So was I.
        “Okay Francis, I guess you’ve learned a few things. But not enough.” And as he saw me
listening he brought a roundhouse kick that though I moved to miss it, grazed my forehead
and dazed me for a second. He took just that amount of time to use the head butt I’d planned
for him and rammed me square in the jaw sending me backward and onto the snow-covered

pavement again. In the middle of the street. Now I was really dazed. Groggy. I couldn’t see
him in the dark. Vulnerable to almost anything he had in mind. And he didn’t waste a second.
He brought both his knees directly into my back and I too felt a rib crack. The pain was
horrific and for a second caught me so off guard that I feared he had me then.
         But I reached into that reservoir of strength and logic I’d been well taught to save,
and rolled under him instead of away from him. That caught him by surprise. I grabbed one
of those knees that had cracked my rib with both of my hands and bit directly into one of his
kneecaps with my teeth. I then rammed my elbow into the other kneecap as hard as I could.
His leg bent the wrong way and he screamed again. Now was my time not to quit. I slammed
a fist into his nose hearing the cartilage snap, and suddenly blood gushed over my arm and
into the street. Progress.
         I jumped to my feet as fast as possible, my back so pained that I could barely stand
erect, and I kicked him as hard as I could. First in the head. Then in his stomach. Then on his
probably broken kneecap. He tried to protect himself, but no matter where he covered I
kicked somewhere else. He was too busy with his defense to make another offense. Of course,
I was tiring quickly and had as much damage as I was inflicting, Only another ten or seconds
before I would lose my advantage.
         But I lost it long before the ten seconds were up. He, like I had, grabbed my foot and
gave it an alarming twist, and I heard something give. Not a bone. Most likely a muscle or
cartilage. I yelled out and went down to the pavement with him. We struggled, each
wounded but far from being finished. I could feel the pavement and gravel dig into my skin.
We rolled over and over in a kind of death grip, neither of us willing to give up for fear the
other would take advantage.
         He growled like some kind of wild animal, and that’s when I figured I had him. In
Bokutor, growling means a loss of mind. And minds won battles. Always. But we kept rolling.
Off the pavement and into the snow piled along side the road. Cold. Brutally cold. Since we
were rolling, however, our clothes and skin constantly moved and so it didn’t pose the pain
that lying still might.
         Suddenly I had an idea. I brought my knee up into his groin again as hard as I could
while simultaneously bashing his head down into the hard ice. He didn’t know which of my
sudden moves to counter. And, in the brief instant he took to make his decision, I raised my
arms and broke the hold we had on one another. I jumped to my feet. For a second that gave
me an advantage. I hadn’t, however, planned for my knee to give. It did and down I went
again. I rolled, finally stopping five or so feet from him. And we both lay quietly for a second.
Seeing to our injuries.
         Someone had to get up first, and it was him. He stood better than I could and before I
had a chance to think of my own next move, he literally flew through the air at me. Instinct
took over and I curled my hands into fists and let him fall on them, providing more energy
from his weight than I could have ever brought with just my own muscles. He took the full
brunt of the blow and for a second I saw his eyelids go down and his pupils go up. As if he
were passing out.
         With that, I moved out from under him and slapped him in the back of his neck with
my forearm, followed by a harsh kick to his ribs with my one good foot. He groaned. Not
used to being on this end of the stick. But there was no quit in him. He rolled away and tried
to jump to his feet. I thought I had him for a second when his legs buckled, but then he
somehow gained strength from some hidden source and came at me with unexpected power.
I tried to turn my body but not fast enough. Again he caught me with a glancing but
powerful blow and broke something in my hand. I didn’t feel it. Maybe I was beyond feeling
at that point. I didn’t know.
         But I did know I had to do something and quick. I kicked him in the coccyx as he went
by. But he was smart and used the back of his hand and his knuckles to catch me in the jaw. I

heard my teeth rattle and one give way. I could also feel the blood gurgling in my mouth
from the severity of the blow. This guy was one hell of a fighter.
         Both us bleeding, stooped over, and limping, we turned to face one another yet again.
But I had one ploy left he didn’t know about. My teacher had taught me well. The dying bird
move. I said, “Let’s stop,” and moved as if falling in his direction. It was perfectly timed.
Weakness. From his perspective, the kill. I could see him wind his body into a well-oiled
machine and, standing on his one good leg, he swung a roundhouse kick aimed directly for
my head. Perfect if I hadn’t been ready for it.
         I feinted my arms outward, then crossed them and scissored him across his throat.
Designed to crush his windpipe and quite capable of doing so. He had no time to react. I
thrust my chin upward into the flesh above his throat but under his jawbone. With
everything I had. He began gagging, and I increased my scissor hold as hard as I could. And I
then dug the heal of my left shoe into his right leg, hard enough that the bone broke in
halves. He tried to get loose, but I had him. And I listened to his larynx give way, and his
throat fill up with blood. He was drowning in it. And I increased by scissor hold with all my
might. And his body relaxed suddenly. A trick? Trying to get me to give in so he could jump
me again?
         So I didn’t give in. I kept it up with every bit of energy I had left in me. I had to kill
him. I had to. At least that’s what I told myself.
         But finally I had no more left. Nothing in the tank. And so I too relaxed. If, after all
that, he could get up and beat on me. Well then, have at it. I couldn’t handle him. Even with
all my training, I had nothing left. His body lay limply next to me. I tried to find a pulse from
his arm. Nothing. Was he dead? Could it be that easy? What easy? We’d been out here for how
long? I was a bloody mess. How many bones broken? How many lost teeth?
         I looked at his face and saw movement briefly. God, I thought, I’m not up to anymore
of this. Blood poured from his mouth, and what was left of his nose. But he seemed to be
saying something. His body suddenly arched, as if in that death rattle one reads about in
novels, and I heard him whisper five words that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
         “You can destroy the world.”
         That was it. No explanation. Just that.
         I crawled back to my apartment door and knocked for Jackson to come help. And they
passed out.

        “She did this to you? My God, what a date. I take it back about her being a bucket of
        I didn’t have the energy to spar with him. He had sat me on the sofa on a sheet from
my closet and was applying various types of bandages and warm cloth to my wounds. He also
had a full bottle of Beam ready by his side that he now opened and offered to pour down my
throat. I nodded, and in and down it went. Burning all the way.
        Then everything went black. No dreams. Nothing.
        When I woke, I was lying down in what looked like a hospital bed. Three people were
standing around the bed. Jackson was there. Looking concerned. Smiling a little because my
eyes had opened. Patton was there. Looking like Patton always looked. Detached in the way
only a professional cop can look. Giving nothing away about his feelings one way or another.
And Cassie was there. She gave everything away about her feelings. She looked horrified and
concerned. And beautiful.
        And then I went under again. A black moonless night in North Dakota.
        When I emerged again from the deep, the room was empty. Bright light. Much like
that I’d seen that morning so long ago it seemed. When all I could think of was the number
eleven. What was that all about?
        A nurse came in then. Apparently notified by my change in heart rate or some other
aspect of the many gauges and dials that surround the bed. My legs hung in the air in front
of me. A long thin tube hung down by my side, no doubt hooked up to me in some way. An
        “How are we feeling this morning?”
        Ah, the ubiquitous hospital ‘we.’ I had no answer to that. I didn’t know how she felt.
And after that introduction, I wasn’t sure I cared.
        “How long?” I asked. My words came out sounding like “ow dong.” Something wrong
with my mouth.
        “Don't try and talk. You’ve lost a couple of teeth and your mouth is swollen.”
        Thanks for the tip, lady.
        But I tried it again anyway.
        “How long?” This time it seemed reasonably understandable. At least to me.
        “How long what?” A smart one.
        “Have I been here?”
        “Since last night. You a mess, hon. A real mess.”
        That was good to hear. First thing in the morning. From a nurse yet.
        “Will I live?”
        “Yes, probably.”
        Hospital rooms always seemed to have echoes. This one was no exception.
        “Legs broken?”
        “No. Banged up and immobile. But not broken. Ligament damage.”
        “What else?”
        “Not your doctor, hon. He’ll be here shortly and let you know everything your little
heart desires.”
        My little heart?
        I tried to move. But nothing seemed connect. Like I was in a straight jacket or

        “Don’t try and move, hon. Doctor’s got you wrapped up tight to let your ribs heal.
And you’re full of dope.”
        Good to know.
        Some young guy came in behind the nurse with a tray. Breakfast no doubt. Jail food.
Something solid. Something liquid. Somethings. I closed my eyes. Shouldn’t have.
        When I woke this time, Patton stood at the end of the bed. The nurse and the guy with
the food had gone. And taken away the food. Damn. I was hungry.
        “How we feeling today, hon?” Patton said. Damn. He knew just what would bother me.
        “How do you think I feel?”
        “I wouldn’t go near a mirror anytime soon.”
        “Pretty banged up?”
        “I’d say so.”
        “What about the other guy?”
        “Don’t now about him. Did you do this to yourself?”
        “He was lying in the street just outside my apartment. Bled a lot.”
        “Nothing there now. What happened?”
        “He was waiting for me when I got home last night. We fought.”
        “That much I gathered. He obviously got the best of it.”
        “Don’t think so. In fact, I think I may have killed him.”
        “Murder number three?”
        “No. Self defense.”
        “Nothing there, Francis. No sign of a struggle. No blood. Nothing.”
        I had no response to that.
        “Sure your date didn’t do this?”
        “That who it was?”
        “Yes. No, she didn’t do it. Some guy I didn’t know did it.”
        “An unknown character presumed dead. With no sign that a struggle ever occurred in
the first place. That about it?”
        “Fits the pattern.”
        “What pattern?”
        “Your pattern, Or rather lack of a pattern. Random hits. First one guy. Then two
different sets of two guys. Now we’re back to one guy. Never a sign of any of them.”
        “You think I did this to myself?”
        “I doubt that even you could do this to yourself.”
        “So what do you want from me?”
        “a little more information would help.”
        “Like why would anyone want to do this to you?”
        “Don't have any idea. Maybe someone just doesn’t like me.”
        “Not hard to imagine, Francis. But if it’s the same guy running the show, why not just
shoot you and get it over with.”
        “I have something he wants. I told you that.”
        “Don’t know. Or I’d give it to him. I have nothing particular to hide. I’d be happy to
give it up if I just knew what he wanted.”
        “Any other scenarios?”
        “Ideas? Suspicions?”

        “No. I came home. Was accosted. We fought. I came inside and left him in the street.
Dead as far as I could tell. And I passed out. Jackson fixed me up and then called 911. I’m not
sure about the last part. I mean I didn’t actually see him do it. But he must have.”
        “He did.”
        At that moment, Jackson entered the room behind Patton.
        “Ah, the prodigal son returns.”
        “What day is this?” I asked him.
        “The next day. The day after. You know, Doug. You got mashed last night.”
        “Five gold rings. The five books of the Torah.”
        “What’s he jabbering about Jackson?”
        “He’s been enumerating the twelve days of Christmas for some reason.”
        “One day at a time?”
        “Like it means something.”
        “Apparently to him it does.”
        “Stop with the third person crap,” I yelled.
        “Relax, Francis. Remember, you’re out on bail. I could easily haul your ass back into
the county jail anytime I wanted.”
        “What have I done?”
        “Disturbing the peace. In a hospital no less.”
        The nurse made her appearance.
        “What’s going on in here.”
        “Nothing. The patient’s just a bit antsy to get out of here. That’s all.”
        “Soon enough,” she said. And left.
        “Did you look outside after you brought me in last night, Jackson?”
        He chook his head. “Too busy trying to save your life, my boy.”
        Jesus. ‘Hon’ first, and now ‘my boy?’
        Cassie arrived then. Dressed in her professional outfit. But still looking amazing.
        “Doug. How do you feel?”
        “How do I look?”
        “Like you were run over by a truck.”
        “That’s about how I feel.”
        “Who did this to you?”
        “Somebody he doesn’t know.” Patton threw this in for good measure. “Says we should
have found a dead body in the street. Says that he got the better of the fight. What do you
        She ignored him. “Why would anyone do this?”
        Patton again answered. “Doesn’t know. Says he’ll give them anything they want if
they’ll just stop. Doesn’t sound to me like he got the best of anyone.”
        “Shut up, Patton,” she said. Forcibly. I tried to smile. It hurt.
        Patton looked a bit sheepish then. Like he’d never been told that before.
        “No body. No evidence. I think I’ll leave the boy alone and get some real work done at
the station.” And without a second’s delay he turned and walked out of the room. Jackson
looked at me. Then at Cassie. And followed him out the door.
        She walked to bedside, took a chair there and sat down. I tried to follow her, but my
head wouldn’t turn easily, and gave it up.
        “When can I dump this joint?” I asked her.
        “Probably sometime this afternoon. I think they’re setting it up now.”
        “Look at me. How’s that going to happen?”

        “You’ve got bruises, swelling, a couple of molars removed for free, contusions, and so
on. But essentially you’re okay. You’ll need crutches for awhile. And some painkillers. But
basically you’re good to go.”
        I wondered how she got access to all this info.
        “I read your chart.”
        Ah. She was an MD. A psychiatrist.
        “At the end of the bed.”
        “I must look like hell.”
        “Yes, Doug. You do.”
        I tried to smile again. Wasn’t sure it came off though.
        “You really don’t know who did this to you?”
        “Nope. But whoever it was, they were good at it.”
        “What do you mean?”
        “Yes. A Cambodian type of martial arts. I’m pretty good. This guy was at least as good,
if not better. I’m not sure why I got the better of him.”
        “Maybe he wasn’t used to fighting in the snow and ice in winter in North Dakota.”
        Why hadn’t I thought of that? Too obvious? Was Cassie that much smarter than me?
Probably. Or had she through it through ahead of time? After she’d told the guy when I’d be
coming come. I didn’t want to think of her as the enemy. But the circumstances fit like a
glove. Even as skimpy as they were.
        “I’ve got to go back to work now,” she said. And then, without warning, she delicately
gave me a kiss on my lips. Not like the one last night. But just a effective. Short a sweet. She
then got up and walked out of the room. I liked the way she walked. I liked everything about
her. Was that all planned? To get me to spill the beans? How could it be? I’d spill the beans to
anyone. If they’d just ask me. Suddenly I was hungry. Not for beans. For something solid. And
something liquid.
        As if she’d read my mind, the nurse entered then and placed breakfast in front of me
on a stand-alone rack. She smiled, but said nothing.
        I’d gotten my wish. Apparently the cook for the jail also had the hospital concession
too. A whole lot of something.

        True to form, about three that afternoon, if I could trust the clock on the wall, Jackson
and the nurse arrived and began to unplug me from the various tubes and hangars that kept
me in place. Neither of them spoke a word. Jackson looked like a pro. Maybe he was a
psychiatrist MD too.
        Within minutes they had rolled me to the edge of the bed and together folded me
into a wheelchair. Nothing hurt much. Probably since I’d been filled with enough dope to
drop an elephant. Everything seemed funny. The nurse. Jackson. The wheelchair. The whole
thing was a riot. Not the kind of high you get with beer. This was far better. No wonder they
outlaw the stuff. At least whatever stuff they filled me with.
        Together the rolled me out to Jackson’s car. Through the snow and over the ice we
went. Not far. As he’d parked illegally next to the door. They gently forked me into the
passenger’s door, closed it after me, and parted ways. With the window closed I couldn’t hear
what they said to one another, didn’t matter. I could have cared less.
        Jackson came around the hood, jumped in, and took off for my apartment. Clockwork.
Like he’d done it many times in the past. Maybe he had. After all, while we’d known each
other along time, I know almost nothing about him. He kept his past life well hidden behind a
questioning psychologist’s approach.
        We skidded a few times on the ice in the parking lot, but once in the street, we took a
beeline for Central and home.
        “Thanks,” I told him.
        “Not a big deal, Francis. Not a big deal. After all, you’ve been letting me stay at your
place until I can get my own figured out.”
        “How is it there?”
        “Your place? Fine, I cleaned it up a bit after you left for the hospital last night. Not
perfect, but it’ll seem just like you left it. Warm and cozy.”
        “You have the crutches?”
        “In the back seat. May take some getting used to. I’ve had to use them before a couple
of times. Hard on the underarms.”
        I couldn’t imagine him hurt enough to need crutches.
        Without a wheelchair to help him, he somehow got me into my apartment. Mostly, he
put may arm around his shoulders and hiked me inside.
        Once there, he poured us both a stiff drink.
        “Sure this is okay with the drugs I’m taking?”
        “Fine, Doug. The doctor even suggested it. Not much. Just enough to let you sleep.”
        “More sleep?” I asked as I downed the contents of the shot glass.
        “Helps you heal.”
        I remembered that word for about ten seconds. Then it all went black again. I didn’t
care. Dreamless sleep folded in around me like a heated blanket.

       When I woke this time, Jackson was once again staring at an old black and white movie
on the TV. Must be one channel that showed nothing but those kinds of films. I’d have to talk
to him about his addiction. Then again, he was the psychologist. ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ That
how it went?
       This time I hurt. All over. Especially my knees and head. I noticed that Jackson had
placed my crutches right next to me, leaned against the couch.
       “What time is it,” I asked him.
       “Dinner time,” he said, as he turned and looked at me.

        “Why didn't you put me in my bed?” I asked for no good reason I could think of.
        “Needed to keep an eye on you. And watch TV at the same time.”
        “You know you’re getting obsessed with the thing. You like this when you’re home?”
        “Don’t own a TV. Too distracting.”
        And with that bit of irony, he got up and went to the kitchen. Brought out a tray full
of food. A meal for both of us.
        “How’re you feeling?” he asked.
        “about how I look I imagine.”
        “Then you should take a couple of these and one of those.” Pointing at two
prescription bottles alongside my food.
        And we ate while the television blared in the background. Another black and white
job, this time staring Cary Grant. Ingrid Bergman. I knew the title but couldn’t remember it.
Fuzzy from the dope. A Hitchcock film. One of the really good ones.
        The food was hard to choose. My teeth hurt. The ones I had left, that is. I could feel
the missing spots in the back of my mouth. The rest seemed okay, but the gums around them
were swollen. A hard whack under my chin. An elbow. I remembered it. I’d returned the
        “Same day?” I asked him.
        “As what?”
        “As when you brought me here?”
        “Yep. Not even been twenty-four hours since you crawled into the room. Wonder
        The pills had softened my pain a little. And made me woozy again. Everything seemed
a bit on the funny side.
        “I hope this didn’t have anything to do with me,” Jackson said.
        “You? Why would it have anything to do with you?”
        “Remember. It was my place they dumped. Probably figured I’d be over here. Maybe
they thought I was you and pulled the cork before they found out.”
        “I doubt that. Remember, they’ve tried this stuff with me before. I’ve handled them
pretty well. Thought they’d send their best man. Too proud to bring anyone along with him.
And he didn't need to. This guy was good. Couple of times there I thought he had me good.
Maybe he was told to rough me up and not kill me. I didn’t give a damn. Maybe that gave me
an edge.”
        He looked at me. Obviously I’d given him something to think about.
        Eggs, toast, a great breakfast at dinnertime.
        He saw me looking over my plate.
        “They suggested this would be a good idea. No steak for a while. Your mouth can’t
handle it.”
        “No problem. I could eat breakfast any time of day or night.”
        After we ate, he got me to the bathroom and later, while he finished one movie and
began another I fell asleep again.

        This time I woke as the sun came up. I could see it rise up out of my sink in the
kitchen window. Bright as the day eleven came into my life. Apparently we were having a
respite from the trail of storms that crossed the North Dakota plains during winter. I
wondered if the snow had melted enough to clear the sidewalks. I was tiring of lying down
and waiting for the world to pass me by. I need to get up, no matter the pain, and walk
around. Outside.
        Jackson was still asleep in from the TV. A two-bit western from the forties. But at least
he’d turned off the sound.

        I took a deep breath, and without consulting my brain, I hiked myself up and,
standing on one foot, the one with the least pain, tried to work the crutches under my arms.
Not too difficult. Then I suddenly felt my leg, the one I stood on, give way, and promptly sat
back down on the couch. Making enough noise, to wake Jackson.
        “What the hell are you doing, Doug? You’re not up to this yet.”
        “Apparently not. But at least I’m sitting now, not lying down. That’s an
        “True. But you better let me help you. Where were you going?”
        “Ah. Should have guessed. Been quite a while.”
        And with that he came over and together we got me to where I needed to go and I
made my contribution to the environment.
        Six geese a-laying, I thought. The six days it took God to create the universe.
        My knees hurt a bit, but overall I felt pretty good. Considering I’d almost bought the
farm a couple of days ago.
        Jackson helped me to the kitchen table and made some pancakes. Those, with some
authentic maple syrup, and I was a new man.
        “Listen,” I said. Let’s talk about something. I’m going stir crazy.”
        “Sure. What?”
        “How about you tell me something about Freud.”
        “Sigmund? The Freud?”
        “The very one.”
        “No reason. I’ve always wondered why he was so important to matters psychological.
Now’s my chance to discover why.”
        “Okay. Austrian neurologist. Founded psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Both
dependent to some degree on verbal dialogs. Thought that virtually all human behavior was
based on sex. Expressed in terms of dreams. Loved the notions of free association and
        I stopped him there. Too much, too fast. I asked him to explain the last two.
        “Free association. I give you a word and you tell me the first thing that comes into
your mind.”
        “Okay. Snow.”
        “And I say white.”
        “Something like that. But it has to be quick, spontaneous. No thinking about it. For
example, ‘Good’ and then ‘bad.’ After awhile, patients forget what their doing. Let their guard
down. Then it gets fun. Like ‘gun’ followed by ‘me.’ See.”
        “Transference. Patients tend to transfer the analyst into someone else. Their mother,
for instance. Typically into someone important to them. Often a sexual partner. Lots of
advantages taken there, let me tell you.”
        “Got it. This how you teach these things?”
        “More or less. There’s a lot more two it. I just gave you the Reader’s digest version.”
        I thought about it for a minute.”
        “Could you analyze me?”
        “Not a therapist, Doug. They’re professionals. Years of training. I’m just a teacher of
the basic principles.”
        “So you couldn’t figure out what eleven meant?”
        “Even if I did, neither of us would know that I did. Unless it suddenly became obvious
to you.”

        “Can we try?”
        “You are bored.”
        “Just for fun?”
        “Doug. Therapy’s not a game. It’s for real. I believe it.”
        “So Cassie told me.”
        “Cassie told you that?”
        “Oops. Sorry. Treading on ice?”
        “No. Just surprised she knew anything about me. Only met her once.”
        “If you’re not a Freudian, what are you?”
        “A non-Freudian?”
        “No. I mean are there competing theories?”
        “Such as?”
        “Reich. Jung. Many others.”
        “How about Reich then?”
        “Interested in character structure. Based a lot of his work on the influences of
physical, economic, and social conditions.”
        “Ah. The rebel. A lot of his work is still controversial. Dream analysis, religion,
archetypes. The latter most notorious. Individuals inheriting things from the past. Both
Reich and Jung based their work on Freud, but highlighted certain aspects of it, or,
particularly in the case of Jung, developed other attributes in like manner.”
        “So how would a Freudian and a Jungian treat a patient differently?”
        “Freudian would get down to basics. Sex, mothers, and rock and roll. A Jungian would
center on inherited stereotypes. Cataloging what you thought based on historical models.
Mind you, this is all so general that it’s almost meaningless.”
        I nodded.
        “So what’s this really all about?”
        “Cassie told me you were a Freudian.”
        “Jesus,” he said. “That old joke.”
        I must have looked confused.
        “She meant that I was just interested in sex. Not that that’s my psychological leaning.”
        “So you aren’t a Freudian?”
        “I’m a teaching psychologist. I teach all forms of psychology. With equal fervor. What
I research has to do with much more contemporary thought. How would she know anyhow?”
        “You met.”
        “Sure. And I asked her out.”
        “She said no. simple as that. We never said a word about our professional lives. I have
no idea what she thinks. Neither do I. Nor she about me.”
        “Oh.” Weak. Probably an understatement of what I was feeling just then.

        I forced Jackson to play chess with me that night. Mostly because I was tired of
hearing the damn TV. Tired of thinking about my wounds. Of the two, possibly three dead
people. And mostly tired of thinking about my one, two, or three girlfriends, two of which
were dead, but who all looked pretty much alike. About being on bail for their murders.
About wondering about Cassie and my relationship with her. About her lacking emotion
about her dead relatives. About who was out to maim me but not kill me. And maybe about a
dozen other things that were on my mind at the moment.
        No more than three moves into our game, the table shook and several pieces tipped
over and off our table. Then a bright light, brighter than the one in my apartment, lit up the
room. And the kitchen window suddenly imploded into the kitchen throwing glass
everywhere. The dishes also shattered and fell to the floor. Then the sound. An earsplitting
explosion that I could feel through my bruised legs. The table moved several inches in the
opposite direction. All of this within but a few seconds. Maybe even one. Hard to tell.
        Jackson leaped from his chair, grabbed the phone and threw it at me, and charged into
the kitchen like a madman. I gathered my wits and dialed 911. I saw him staring in disbelieve
out the now empty window as what looked like reflections of flames on his face.
        I told the operator my name and address and asked for fire and police as soon as
possible. That a bomb had just exploded and that I didn’t know the extent of the damage or
whether it was spreading. I could hear her audibly gasp and hang up on me. I hoped that was
a good sign.
        “My car. They’ve blown up my car,” Jackson said as he rushed past me toward the door.
        I didn’t have much choice. I sat in my chair imagining what it must look like outside.
And wondering if it were spreading to nearby trees, whether it could catch the apartment
complex on fire. I was in no position to escape without Jackson’s help and he’d just left me by
myself. Sitting in front of a chessboard covered with less than a full load of turned over
        The town fire department was closer than the police and it was less than a minute
before I could see their red- white- and blue spinning lights added to those of the flames still
burning outside the kitchen window. Sirens blazed, and neighbors passed my still open door
as they went to investigate. Where had they been when I’d had to crawl on my hands and
knees to get help?
        As I sat there unable to help or do anything at all, the wind, no doubt helped along by
the heat from the fire outside, was pouring through the apartment and out the open front
door. Hell of a thing. I couldn’t let this continue. So I leaned off my chair and let myself fall
to the floor. Not fun, but not nearly as painful with the dope I had in me. I then crawled
toward the couch where my crutches lay. I grabbed them, hoisted myself upright, and began
walking on my own toward the open front door. First things first.
        Before I got there, however, Jackson came rushing in, almost bowling me over in his
        “They blew up my car!” he yelled at me.
        “They who?” I yelled right back at him.
        “They whoever. Same ones who trashed my apartment.”
        “Is it spreading?”
        “The fire?”
        “Yes. The fire.”
        “No. I think they’ve got it under control. We’re save. At least there’s that.”

         “Then close the damn door and let’s get something over the kitchen window before
we freeze to death. Neither us is dressed for this.”
         “I get something to cover it,” he said, and ran into my bedroom.”
         “A sheet wont help, Jackson. We need to board it up with a drawer or something.”
         “Good idea. You got a hammer and nails?”
         “In the kitchen.” And so he ran there and began opening drawers wildly.”
         “Next to the sink,” I said. “Pull one of the doors off the wooden cabinet in there. It
should be roughly the same size, Nail it over the window and anything that isn’t covered we
can fill with kitchen towels.”
         “Sounds like a plan.”
         I left him to it, and walked back to the couch and gently sat myself down, laying the
crutches beside me.
         Listening to the various authorities outside screaming at one another, the neighbors
gabbing away, and then Jackson pounding in the nails made my head hurt again. But slowly
the fire diminished leaving nothing but the revolving lights on the official cars to see. Then
they too wound down and things normalized a bit.
         “Got it,” Jackson said, as he re-entered the living room. “Looks like we’ll weather this
         “Just like the others,” I said.
         “What do you mean?”
         “These are not mean to kill. They’re meant to scare us. Or me. But they also bring the
police around too. Not very smart tactics.”
         I looked at him and realized my words had been lost. I think this whole thing had been
a kind of game for him until now. Even the trashing of his house. But now that he could see
the violence up close and personal, he finally realized how serious it was.
         Someone knocked on the door and then entered without being invited in. Patton.
Looking a little frazzled.
         “Francis, you’re a one man wrecking crew. Couldn’t you find a place to live about fifty
miles from here? Out in the country. On a farm. Out of my jurisdiction. I have here ten years
on this job, and in all that time I haven’t witnessed anything like this ongoing mess.”
         I just looked at him. Couldn’t deny it. Couldn’t explain it.
         “And what have you got to say, Jackson? It’s your car. Was your car anyway.”
         “Glad there wasn’t anyone in it at the time.”
         “Me too. Got insurance.”
         “Well, there’s that. Any idea who might have done it?”
         “Same goons who trashed my apartment.”
         “Thanks for the tip.”
         “You, Francis?”
         “No more ideas than he has.”
         “Any idea what caused it? Maybe it was an accident.” Jackson was reaching.
         “Pipe bomb tied to the gas tank. Classic mode used by the mafia. Either of you tied up
to them?”
         I looked at Jackson. He at me. We shook our heads.
         “I’m going outside. While I’m gone, I want you to write down everything you can
think of that might be related to this. Separately. No talking. When I get back I expect you to
be through with your statements. And sign them.”

        He left and we did. Though it was the first time I’d ever heard a cop asking questions
as we did it. Or had a stenographer taking notes. Didn’t matter. It was probably easier on
everybody this way. Legal or not.
        When Patton returned, we’d finished, he collected our single sheets with a few notes
on them and our signatures, and told us he was going to tape off the crime scene and my
apartment for the night and post a round the clock surveillance on my place until further
        I thanked him and he left. Closing the door quietly behind him. I wondered if he ever
        When everything quieted down, Jackson picked up the chess pieces from the floor and
placed them back on the board in exactly the spots where we’d left them after three moves.
        “So, you want to continue?”
        “not particularly. I’d like a beer maybe. And, frankly, I’d like to watch an old movie on
        “Now your talking.”
        “And bring the whole case out here. I feel like more than one.”
        He smiled at that.

        When I woke, I heard seven swans a-swimming. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
More like the sun melting snow off my roof and making splashes in puddles. New Year’s day.
The first day of the rest of my life. God was I tired of that little brainless epithet.
        The phone rang. A sound I dreaded. Especially since it would take me five minutes to
reach it on my crutches. Thankfully Jackson reached it first and picked up.
        “Francis? You up?”
        “I am now.”
        “Wait there. I’ll bring it to you.”
        I could hear him whipping the extension cord on the phone back and forth to clear it
from some tangle and then I come into the bedroom. Handed me the phone and left.
        “Professor Francis?” Male voice.
        “Saul Perlmutter, here. Professor in the math department.”
        “Heard your name. I don’t think we’ve met.”
        “No. And I’m sorry about calling on New Year’s.”
        “Not a problem. Dullest day of the year.”
        “I called to say that we shared a student this past semester. Buster, I think she calls
        Shared a student? Funny way to put it.
        “She’s in my lab. Yes.”
        “Good student. Anyway, after one of my classes on chaos theory, she stopped by
during my office hours and gave me a brief summary of your research and some of the
problems you’ve encountered.”
        “Yes.” A yes man was I.
        “I thought it might be useful for us to meet sometime to see if we could find some
common ground. I, too, work with non-linear math, something I think you’re familiar with.”
        “I am.” Variation of a theme.
        “I’m involved in a project that’s trying to define explicitly how to test a formula for
        “Have you heard of multivariate nonlinear regression?”
        “Sure. Standard predictive model. Straightforward.”
        “Good. First test.”
        “And RSME?”
        “Root Mean Squared Error. Sure.
        “So you’ve tried all those things in your research.”
        “First thing. But they don't work because I’m not interested in predicting results, I’m
interested in finding the formula of a non-linear beginning point from one of the sates far in
the future.”
        “That’s what she said.”
        “And, that’s why I’m calling. To tell you there’s other ways to skin this cat.”
        “I’d like to hear them.”

       “How about now?”

“New Year’s day?”
       “Why not. Dullest day of the year.”
       “I’ll be right over. Same address as in the book?”
       “If you’re referring to the telephone book. That’s it.”
       “See you in ten minutes.”
       I’d always thought biologists would be interested in my work. How could I have
missed mathematicians. Should be interesting.
       “What the hell language were you just speaking?” Jackson asked, standing in the
       “Non-linear math. No big deal.”
       “How about breakfast?”
       “Sure. I can help make it.”
       “Already made. Can’t you smell it?”
       “With my nose? But good. He’s going to be over in ten minutes.”
       We got me to the table and ate in quiet ambience. Me staring at the boarded-over
window and the broken dishes still lying all over the floor.
       “You know, Jackson, we should figure a way out of this mess, don’t you think?”
       “I do. If I had a clue as to how to being.”
       “Probably began with a non-linear equation.”
       “Trying to teach me something?”
       “Why not. Never too late.”
       “With me it is.”

       Ten minutes on the mark, with me still wiping the eggs from my mouth, the doorbell
rang and Jackson answered it.
       Perlmutter was the perfect model of a math professor. Long white beard. Wild white
hair pointing in every which direction. He introduced himself to Jackson thinking it was me.
Jackson turned and pointed towards me.
       “Saul,” I presume.
       “Yee Gods, what happened to you,” he said.
       “You should’ve seen the other guy.”
       “I think I’ll skip that. Sure you’re up to talking about our mutual problems.”
       “Absolutely. Anything to pass an otherwise wasted day.”
       I watched him take in the apartment. Especially the kitchen mess including the
boarded-up window.
       “Jackson’s car blew up last night.”
       “Oh,” he said, and kept starring.
       “And if you’re wondering, we’re not an item. Jackson’s visiting because his house is
being renovated.”
       “Un-renovated’s more like it.”
       “Looks like yours is too.”
       “You could say that. C’mon in. Coffee.”
       “No. Never tough the stuff.”
       “Water? Orange juice? I’m pretty well stocked here.”
       “Nothing. Thanks for asking.”
       “Well sit down then. I’ll be right with you.”
       And, cripple that I was, I made my way across the room to the splattered chess set and
whisked it back into its box.

         Jackson found the TV and headset and turned on the movie channel.
         Saul stared at it.
         “Long time since I’ve seen a black and white television,” he said.
         “Television’s color. Black and white movie. Apparently Jackson had become fond of
         With the prelims out of the way, I sketched out what my research group’s purpose
was and its latest problems. He listened patiently and occasionally smiled at a particularly
thorny problem.
        “Chicken or the egg, right?”
        “Begin at the bottom and hope for the best. Begin at the top and face a monument
        “That’s pretty much it.”
        “So you have a definition of life?”
        “I do. It’s pretty simple in some ways. Complex in others.”
        “Can I hear it?”
        “You really want to?”
        ”Okay. Hold on tight. You might want to take notes.”
        “Not necessary. I have a sort of photographic mind. It’s come back to me when
        “Alright then. Here goes. ‘An object’, something separate and distinct. This object
exists within an environment. It’s able to move about that environment, and can ingest
something from that environment. It can access that ingestion for advantage and excretes
the remains. It procreates in some way, and has some means of communication with other
objects. It can inherit aspects from its parents. Something biologists call crossover. Mutation
is possible during procreation, but not common. Contains a desire to continue to exist, but
must die at some point. That’s it, in a nutshell.”
        “Quite a package.”
        “Remember that the is a recipe for life, not for intelligence or for that matter any
particular life. It need not be based on carbon as we are, nor exist in an environment like we
inhabit. In short, if all these criteria are met, then the computer simulations we make are not
actually simulations. They’re the real thing.”
        “A-Life becomes just life?”
        “That’s the idea. Though not a very popular one, as testified to by the decades of
expulsion the field has encountered from the more conservative scientists around.”
        “And so you have that as a model, the end of the line of non a-life and you’re trying to
figure out the right stuff that it would the primordial soup into motion to make it.”
        “Just so.”
        “And you’re finding it as difficult as the proverbial needle in the haystack.”
        “Because there are an infinite number of different non-linear equations to draw from.”
        “Yes, again.”
        “That’s pretty much as Buster described it to me. Though it’s better to get the full
story from the horse’s mouth. No insult intended.”
        “None received.”
         “We have pretty much the same problem. As you know, non-linear equations
produced continuously changing results such that after a while, you can never predict the
formula from the results you get.”

        “Determinate, absolutely. No chance involved. It’s just that the chaotic or complex
behavior at any certain evolution except for the first few iterations, doesn’t point to any
particular equation. And hunting one down that works could take centuries, millennia, or
even infinity for all we know. There may, at least in some cases, be several different formulas
that work just as well.”
        “We figure if we can use a lot of such formulae one of them may produce a-life.”
        “But you don’t know any way to do that except by making a long list of non-linear
formulas and keep punching away at it.”
        “Worse than that, even with high speed computation, we don’t know when to give it
up. The so-called attractor could form in the step following where we gave up. So we have to
guess when we’ve passed the point where one should have formed if it was going to.”
        “Quite a mess.”
        “More than that. There’s no incremental progress. We’re never any further along than
when we began.”
        “Except that you’ve discarded a lot of formulas that haven’t proved useful.”
        “Yes, but since we didn’t know when to stop testing them, we’re not really sure they
wouldn’t work given more time.”
        “And you’re using this bottom-up technique because?”
        “Standard procedure. Top-down traditionally produces even less results than none.
Where do you go from the top when you have no idea where the bottom lies.”
        “I thought that there were numerous to check a function’s non-linearity.”
        “There are. We don[t want to test them. We want a single complete abstract formula
that would designate once for all whether any formula is non-linear or not. Without running
it through it’s paces to see what it produces. There are several formulas out there. None does
what we want to do.”
        “And when you find such a beast, what are you going to do with it?”
        “Use it to test formulas for non-linearity.”
        “Probably not. At least at first. But hell, Doug, we’re theoretical mathematicians. Don't
give a damn whether what we do has practical implications. It’s the beauty of math. That’s
        “Not sure this would be of any value to me.”
        “Well, think about this. With such a general model you could limit the number of
formulas you could test in your primordial soup maker. Even rate one group over another in
terms of possible success and limit your beginnings to just those that have promise. Might
make things a lot easier.”
        “But you haven’t got your model finished.”
        “All too true. Thought maybe we could help one another.”
        “My math is not so hot these days.”
        “Neither is my a-life. But we’ve got graduate students in common. Why not exploit
them for both our benefits.”
        Had never quite heard it put that way. Sounded good though.
        Jackson, I noticed, had fallen asleep in front of the TV again. Just as Cagney was
breaking out of prison.
        I offered my guest lunch. If he was willing to make it. He agreed.

       The phone rang just as we finished eating.
       Jackson, woken from his nap, brought it to me, happy to see we’d left him some tuna
sandwiches to eat.
       “Happy New Year!”
       “Back to you.”
       “How are you feeling?”
       “Better. I’m getting around better, and off the pain pills.”
       “Like to gobble a little with me?”
       Not sure exactly what she meant.
       “Sure. But I’m still pretty tied to home base.”
       “Couldn’t Jackson bring you by?”
       “He could if someone hadn’t blown up his car last night.”
       “What! Blew up his car?”
       “Yep. Blew in the kitchen window. Car’s more than totaled, I told.”
       “Natural causes?”
       “Not a chance. We’ve got round-the-clock surveillance now. You could come over
       “Hoping to be alone together.”
       Sounded like a wonderful oxymoron to me.
       “Me too, but it’s not going to happen. Sorry.”
       “How’s the weather outside?”
       “Big storm on its way. Should hit this evening. Biggest of the year supposedly.”
       “If you come over early, you could get back before it hits.”
       “Don’t know.”
       “We’re planning a beer and pretzel early dinner.”
       “I’ve got a turkey. Could feed three. I suppose.”
       “Around three?”
       She agreed. Be good to see her again.

       As I put the phone down, someone knocked on the door. One thing about last year’s
events. This year’s holidays were a lot more exciting.
       Jackson pulled the door open to Patton. The man who never sleeps.
       “Greetings,” he said.
       We stared at him. Saul came out of the kitchen and looked at Patton.
       “And you are?” Patton asked.
       “Saul Perlmutter. Math professor at the U.”
       “And you’re here because?”
       “Talking research with Francis here.”
       Why couldn’t people decide what to call me? Doug. Francis. I didn't care which. Just
choose one and stick to it.
       “Can we talk?” Patton asked.
       “Sure. Nothing confidential I suppose.”
       “C’mon in and join the part, then. Tuna sandwich.”
       “Eaten. Thanks.”
       “Cars gone, street cleaned up, and I’m pulling the surveillance.” Concise.

        “Okay. Any suspects?”
        “Not a one. No prints, of course. Nobody’s turned themselves in. An unsolved.”
        “What brings you around, then? New Year’s cheer?”
        “I’ve been thinking this whole thing over.”
        “What whole thing?”
        “The dead girls, your getting beaten up, Jackson’s house, the car, everything.”
        “Treating it as one case?”
        “I’m beginning to think so. Would be my preference. Thinking of it as five or six
separate ones committed by different people would be a nightmare.”
        Saul took all this in without a question. But his eyes grew wide, and it looked like most
of this was news to him.
        “So, what’s your idea?”
        “I’d like to be able to predict what’s probable for them to do next. You now. Try to
play ahead instead of just reacting.”
        Not bad thinking. For a cop.
        “You’ve come to the right place, Patton. We’ve just been talking about things like
that. Saul is a treasure trove of information for how to make lists of probabilities.”
        “I am?”
        “Sure. You’re a mathematician.”
        “well I’ve got an idea anyway.”
        “Of what you think they’ll do next?”
        “Can we sit down at least?”
        “Sure. Want a beer?”
        He just stared at me. An on duty cop? I couldn’t believe I’d asked. But it looked more
like he was considering it than challenging me on my offer. He ignored me.
        “You once told me that you thought the reason others were getting killed was
because you had something they wanted. They needed you alive. Obviously they didn’t care
too much in how alive, given the beating the other night. But nonetheless alive.”
        “I did say that.”
        “But they haven’t been escalating. They killed first. When that didn’t work, they went
backwards to attempted assault and finally car bombings. A long way from shooting a young
girl in the back. Doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, you ran out of targets.”
        “The two girls we’re hit because for some reason they were expendable?”
        “Something like that. But they posed more of a distraction, I think. Took you away
from something they wanted, even needed, you to be doing.”
        “My research.”
        “Yes. Somebody thinks you’re working on something important and wants to know
something about it. Have to keep you alive. But scare you into telling them.”
        But, I’ve told you already, there’s noting I wouldn’t tell anybody to have saved those
lives, or keep them from beating me up and rearranging Jackson’s life.”
        “True. But as you yourself have said, maybe you don't know what they think you
know. So nothing’s clear at this point? You need to figure out what possible motive someone
might want to know about your work, what you don’t know about it yourself, and then target
the kind of persons who could use that to their benefit.”
        As tongue twisting as it was, it actually made a certain kind of obvious sense. I think
everyone in the room had figured it out at one time or another. But no one had put it into
words or given it its proper dues. Patton had actually made an important point.
        “Well, Patton, I think you’ve got a real theory there.” I let it stand at that.
        He smiled.

        Then I added, “But I thought I was your number one suspect? Aren’t I out on bail or
something? For killing two people.”
        I should have left it alone.
        “You are, and that still goes. I’m here to tell you your hearing date. January sixteen,
ten in the morning.”
        “But you don’t think I did it. Be honest now.”
        “Stuff it, Francis. I work for the city, and as far as the city is concerned you’re the man.
I can conjecture all I want. No law against that. But you’re the one good for it as of now.”
        He turned to go and saw Cassie standing at the door ready to knock as he opened it.
        “Miss Thurman,” he said. Tipped his hat and kept going.
        “What was that all about?”
        “Not sure,” I said.
        “I have no idea what’s going on around here,” Saul said.
        “Who’s he?” Cassie asked.
        “Saul? Meet Cassie Davies.”
        “Pleased,” he said, and stuck out his hand. North Dakota style.
        They shook, and things began to settle down again. Cassie came in. Closed the door.
Took off her coat revealing a plain suit, not a revealing blue dress, and se all sat down.
        “So what is going on?” Saul asked.
        And we told him.

        But not before I asked them both to help Cassie with the package she’d brought along
with her. A big thing covered in aluminum foil. Most likely a turkey. Most likely done, since
it had grease marks all over it. Baked into the aluminum.
        “More in the car,” she said.
        When they disappeared out the door, she came over to me and kissed me gently on
my good cheek.

       “How are ‘we’ doing today?” she asked, aware of my dislike of that term.
       “We are going fine,” I told her. “A little bruised here and there, but I’m off the
painkillers and ready for the marathon. In a month or so. Or maybe never.”
       She smiled and helped me into a chair.
       “I have something to tell you,” she said quietly.
       “Later,” se said, just as Jackson and Saul came in carrying the rest of the meal. How
good is this? I asked myself. My life going down the toilet and yet spending time with friends
on New Year’s Day. Hell of a thing.
       Cassie went into the kitchen and stared at the covered window.
       “No sign of anything outside,” she said. “Cleaned up well.”
       “One thing they do well around here.”
       “Have a broom?”
       “For the dishes?”
       “Would help.”
       “In the closet. Jackson can do that.”
       “Maybe I’d just like to do it.”
       “Okay.” Now things were really looking up.

        The four of us sat around the kitchen table on the newly cleaned floor and ate until we
        “Happy Thanksgiving,” I said when we lifted our glasses for a toast.
        “Happy Thanksgiving,” they said, almost in unison.
        And we all told our versions of what had happened over the past couple of weeks for
Saul’s benefit. He apparently wasn’t married. Showed no sign of being missed by anyone. I
thought of asking, but didn’t want to mar the evening with yet more tragic stuff.
        “Jesus,” he said when we’d finished. “Cops have kept this under wraps well. Nothing
about it in the papers that I remember.”
        “You read the local paper?” I asked.
        “Well. Not cover to cover. Enough so I’d notice two murders though.”
        “You’d think they’d want to advertise it. Have the community give them clues,
sightings, and the like.”
        “Don’t know,” I said. “Sometimes I feel like there’s people I know who know a lot more
than I do. And they’re not telling me anything at all.”
        And the table went quiet. Maybe everyone knew more than I did. Everyone was
keeping something from me. I looked at Cassie. She knew more than I did. She’d whispered as
much to me earlier when she’d arrived. Jackson didn’t know squat as far as I was concerned.
Then again, why did someone want to scare him with his house and car muggings? I’d just
met Saul. He seemed completely out of everything. All an act? Am I getting paranoid?
        “Dessert anyone?”

        And then came the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Who could ask for anything
more? Especially on Thanksgiving New Year’s?
        By the time they’d finished cleaning up, I was camped out on the couch reading a
book on non-linear math I’d fished out of my bookcase from my graduate days. Saul was
impressed. I couldn’t say about Cassie of Jackson.
        “Thanks for the dinner Cassie. And the conversation about things. I usually spend New
Year’s alone since my wife died. So it’s great to be among friends for this one.”
        “You going, Saul?”
        “Have to. Sorry. I’ve got a few papers to review for publication, and a lot of email
catching up to do. But I’ll be in touch.”
        “Great,” I said. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about my problems. The research
ones, I mean.”
        “Sure. Nice to meet you Cassie and Jackson.”
        All the usual pleasantries and Saul left us to our chess and whatever else we could get
        “Jackson, would you go take a leak for about five minutes?” Cassie asked.
        “Give a leak,” I said. She looked confused. “There’s none left in there for him to take.”
        “What,” Jackson asked her.
        “Go, Jackson. Just a few minutes. She wants to tell me something. Private. You know
about such things.”
        “Oh,” he said. And left for the john.
        “Sorry about being blunt,” she said.
        “Blunt is the order of the day around here.”
        “This is not for idle ears.”
        “Jesus, Cassie. How long have you lived in North Dakota?”
        “Most of my life. Why?”
        “Nothing. What is it?”
        “Doris is missing.”
        “No one seems to know where she is.”
        “Since when?”
        “Since yesterday morning. Her folks are up in arms about it. They think you did it.
Your third murder. Have been bashing down Patton’s door to get him to revoke your bail.
Consider you a public menace and to set the hearing earlier.”
        “Forget about that. Where could she have gone?”
        “No where. All her friends are in town here. Far as any of knows she’s never spent a
night anywhere else. But no one seems to know where she is. Didn’t show up at her apartment
last night. Didn’t call her parents like she always does.”
        “And everyone assumes that I did it. Using crutches yet. Maybe you should take a
picture of me and take it over to them. Let them see how impossible it would be fore me to
have kidnapped her.”
        “That’s probably why Patton didn’t even mention it to you.”
        “Anyone search her place for notes?”
        “I’m sure Patton did. He’s stationed a man over there just in case.”
        “Probably the same poor guy he had over here last night. What a mess. But this one’s
not my doing. Nor the others for that matter. Except maybe for the guy who did this to me.”
And I raised my worst leg from the floor.
        “We’ve got to do something about this.”
        “Can I come out now?” Jackson.
        “Why didn’t you want Jackson to know about this?”

      “Keep it close to the vest. Remember, even I’m not supposed to know.”
      “How do you know?”
      “My folks told me. Weren’t supposed to. Just couldn’t help themselves.”
      “C’mon guys.”
      “You can come out now Jackson. John Wayne is waiting for you.”
      Cassie looked at me and then gave up.
      Jackson emerged from his prison cell and headed right for John Wayne. And sure
enough, I’d been right. A good one too. Wake of the Red Witch. Probably the best film he
ever made. An actually complex character. And in black and white.

        Cassie and I sat I the kitchen away from the TV.
        “So, what if we’re all wrong?” I said.
        “What they’re after.”
        “What if it’s not about me? Just looks that way. And what if it’s not about Jackson
either? What if it just looks that way from our perspective?”
        “So it’s about something else entirely?”
        “Yes. Maybe looking at it from a different angle would help.”
        “You start.” She smiled at that.
        “Don’t know. I was hoping you’d have a try first.”
        “I wouldn’t know where to begin. If we can’t even figure out what it might be about if
it’s centered around you, how can we figure out what’s going on when we take you out of the
        “Don’t take me out of the picture. Just move me to the sidelines with everyone else.
No longer the center attraction.”
        “The why have so many people trying to beat you up?”
        “Maybe to divert attention to what’s really happening here. It could make sense.”
        “So what are the alternatives?”
        We were whispering, but maybe Jackson could hear us anyway. I went to the door to
check. Still watching the Duke. And, of course, what if he did hear? So what?
        “What was that all about?”
        “Just checking. If he was listening, I thought he could join us. Make his own
        “So what do we do, then?”
        “Make some guesses. No matter how out there they might be.”
        “You start.”
        “Okay. Suppose you’re it.”
        “Me?” What did I do?”
        “You’re the only woman in the family not dead or kidnapped except for your mother.”
        “I don't know ‘so?’ Just taking a shot in the dark.”
        “Well, your first shot was wide of the mark.”
        “Okay. How about your father?”
        “How about him?”
        “Could he be involved in all of this?”
        “Kill his own family members? I hardly think so.”
        “Okay. Patten then.”
        “Patton’s been a cop here for a long time. Before that he lived in town all his life. He’s
always been a two shoes.”
        “Two shoes?”
        “As in ‘goody.’”
        “So what if he got himself into a jam. Been gambling on the side. Had an affair. Work
with me here.”
        {Patton? You've seen his devotion to the job. Jeez, I don[t think he ever goes home.”
        “Yeah. You give it a try.”
        “Leaving you and Jackson out of it?”

       “Who’s left?”
       “Almost everyone else in town. But of those we know, how about Doris?”
       “Doris. You kidding me. She’s too out of it to do anything. Would make no sense to
       “Me either.”
       “Then what about Joe.”
       “Joe Wise? The PD?”
       “Don't know much about him. Seems bright enough.”
       “To be the one?”
       “No. To go the straight and narrow. He’s not the type for this.”
       “How about Judge Williams or the DA. What’s his name? Mann?”
       “Not a chance.”
       “Don't know. Just met him. Doesn’t sound likely. An old math professor?”
       “I know. Sounds pretty ridiculous.”
       “It does.”
       We stopped whispering.
       “How about what rather than who? Maybe the what would tell us the who.”
       “Good idea.”
       “You start.”
       “Why me?”
       “You brought it up.”
       “Gambling debt.”
       “No casinos near by. I rather think the whole population of the state wouldn’t draw
enough money to make it worth while for anyone to set up shop here.”
       “The Internet.”
       “Possible, but not likely.”
       “Maybe it has something to do with the CIA or FBI. One of those acronym government
deals gone bad.”
       “Yeah that.”
       “In North Dakota?”
       “Okay, then let’s start with North Dakota. What’s here that anyone would want bad
enough to murder two people over?”
       We stopped to think. Uranium? Prostitution? Drugs?
       “Lots of room.”
       “There’s that.”
       “An idea. That could be worth plenty.”
       “Depending on the idea.”
       “And who has any ideas that might be worth killing people over?”
       “Yes you. You’re the one involved with artificial life.”
       “A-Life. But I’m failing at it.”
       “Maybe not failing at it as far as they’re concerned.”
       “They who?”

“Whoever wants to know what you don’t know you know.”
“Back to that again.”
“What are you guys whispering about in here?”
“We’re hypothesizing. Trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“I can’t hear the TV.”
“It’s broken?”
“No. You’re whispering too loud.”

         Cassie left before the storm kit. Jackson watched the rest of whatever by now he was
watching and hit the couch. And I went to my bed and worked on non-linear mathematics,
where, after a few runs of a particular formula it’s no longer possible to figure out the
original formula, the source, and equally impossible to predict the next output in the
sequence. And whether or not there was a formula that could predict, without testing,
whether a formula was linear or non-linear. Fun stuff. For a computer scientist.
         Somewhere during the night the wind began howling and first ice and then snow
dumped from the sky covering our little town in North Dakota. Worst of the year. Saying a
lot for this part of the globe. I made sure the thermostat had us covered for the night and
finally hit the sack around two. Early for me, but I needed the sleep.
         I rarely dreamt, but the lack of physical exercise had reversed my usual trend and I
found myself in a strange land, watching a kind of game. One side used bowling balls, trying
to knock my side down like pins in an alley. All we had was our wits to keep us from getting
hit. A nice metaphor for my life at the moment. None of the opponents were recognizable, of
course, but my side had Cassie, Jackson, and the rest of them all jumping around like live
targets for the balls. If only I could remember who they were. My opponents. Remember was
the word my mind had formed. Not recognize. I could see their faces clearly. I just couldn’t
remember who they were.
         I woke around four, sweating, and wondering why my mind had chosen the word
‘remember’ rather than recognize. Did I already know who the murderers were? But just
couldn’t place them? I checked the thermostat that I’d thankfully placed near the bed. Reset
it to slightly cooler. And tried to go to sleep again. I finally did, but dreamt no more. My
subconscious had apparently done its job. No replays. I had all the information I needed. Or,
possibly, I’d just remembered too much of what Jackson had told me about psychiatry,
psychoanalysis, and so on.
         When I woke again, it was morning. Eight maids a-milking. The beatitudes. I got up
and tried to walk on my own. Tough sledding, but I made it to the door without stumbling.
The pain was bearable and diminished as my muscles got into the swim of things. I looked
out the side window and snow at least four feet deep against the glass. I hoped it was a drift
and not the actual amount dropped last night. Of course, we’d had eight feet on the ground
before, so this was no surprise. After the buildup, it seemed minor even if it were not a drift.
But still snowing heavily. No end in sight.
         I got to the kitchen and drank a glass of water. Started some coffee. And made my
way slowly to the living room. Everything seemed fine. The TV off. The door still closed and
locked. Only one thing missing. Jackson. I checked the bathroom door. Open. No one there.
         “Jackson?” I asked the empty apartment.
         No answer.
         “Great, now he’s disappeared.” Again, out loud. Apparently everyone was slowly going
out of my life now. I wondered if the telephone lines were still up and working. I went slowly
back to my room and dialed Patton’s number. Of course he answered.
         “Yeah.” His morning voice.
         “Francis here. Jackson’s gone missing.”
         “No he hasn’t.”
         “How would you know?”
         “I’m staring at him as we speak.”
         I breathed a sigh of relief.
         “What’s he doing down there?”

        “He’s been here most of the night.”
        “When I last saw him, he was on the couch, Asleep.”
        “He disagrees.”
        “What do you mean?”
        “He tells me that he heard you and Cassie making plans to murder him last night.”
        “What? What is he talking about?”
        “Where you talking in the other room, the kitchen, last night?”
        “With her. Yeah. We were whispering. Didn’t want to disturb him.”
        “Well you apparently did. He’s down here swearing out a warrant for your arrest.”
        “He’s what?”
        “You heard me.”
        “Have you talked to Cassie about this?”
        “Just got off the phone from her.”
        “Well then you know the truth. We were just making guess as to who might be
involved that’s all. He could have joined us if he’d wanted to. He was just into watching those
old black and white jobs on TV.”
        “So Cassie told me the truth?”
        “Why wouldn’t she?”
        “Because it doesn’t jibe with your version.”
        “She says you were trying to convince her to pop Jackson, just like he says.”
        “This a joke.”
        “No. I’m sending a car out to pick you up now. This is not going to look good on your
sheet, Francis. I think the judge is going to up your bail way beyond what you can borrow.
Expect a few weeks stay in our luxurious accommodations.”
        “This makes no sense at all.”
        “You’re right about that.”
        “I’ve got to talk to Cassie.”
        “No you don’t. I won’t have you trying to intimidate witnesses. You stay there. I told
her not to answer her phone. My man will be there in a few minutes. Ten at the most. Tough
sledding out there. Wait for him and they’ll be no problem. See you in a few.”
        And he hung up on me.

        Dumbfounded couldn’t begin to describe my feelings at that point. My faith in people
suddenly reached absolute zero. I couldn’t imagine what had caused Cassie and Jackson to
make this stuff up. Or was it me? Had I actually said those things? Maybe caused by a
concussion from the fight. Or had I just woken up one day with eleven in my brain and from
then on my life had been one big Mad Universe?
        What to do? Ten minutes to make a choice. Actually, a lot less than that if I planned on
anything but waiting for my jailer to appear and take me to the dungeon. Should I run? To
where? And how? No car. No real running ability. But it was either that or wait calmly for my
        Almost without thinking I grabbed the phone and dialed the number of the leader of
my little research group. Buster. She lived in the dorms, empty now until late January. Maybe
she could help. Her phone rang twice and she picked up.
        “Buster. This is Professor Francis.”
        “Oh,” she said. Surprised. I rarely called her. And when I did it was usually to call an
emergency meeting of the group to have a talk through of some cockamamie idea that had
suddenly Crossed my mind.
        “Listen. I wonder if you’d do me a favor.”
        “I’m cooped up in my place here with a window busted. You still an RA in the dorms?”
        “Resident Assistant? Yes.”
        “And that’s where you are now?”
        “Would it be possible for you to house me for a couple of nights in one of the empty
rooms there? Just until the glass place can come and put in a new window? I’m burning lots of
calories trying to stay warm here.”
        “Sure. No problem.”
        “And could you come over and pick me up as soon as possible? I’ve turned off the heat
so I don’t waste it out the window. It’s getting very cold.”
        “See you in two,” she said.
        “Two minutes?”
        “Sure. The dorm is just down the street from you.”
        “Could you come the back way? It’s easier for me to walk down the hallways of the
apartment house than try and reach main through all that snow.”
        “No problem.”
        I wanted to add something like ‘you just saved my life,’ but I didn’t want to sound
        I grabbed a small carryon bag I used when flying, tossed in my computer and power
cord, all of my pain medication, some underwear, toothbrush, whatever else I thought I
might need, pulled on several overcoats, and headed out the door. Slowly, of course, but with
as much speed as possible given my physical condition.
        The streets had apparently been cleared and that meant that Patton’s ten minutes
might be more like four or five. I locked the door. That would give me extra time. They
wouldn’t have gotten permission to open my door yet, so it would be noon maybe before
they made sure I wasn’t home.

        I made my way out to where I said I’d meet Buster, and I found her waiting there for
me with her tailpipe coughing black smoke into the early morning cold air.
        “Thanks so much for this,” I said as I crawled into her front seat.
        “Jesus, doctor F., what happed to your face?”
        “Long story, Buster. About me and a doorknob. I’ll tell you sometime. Now let’s just
get me to the dorm and some warmth.”
        “Right,” she said, and peeled away from the curb.
        And she was right about the two minutes. One long blink and she was parking behind
the dormitory in a lot occupied by no cars whatsoever.
        “I live on the fourth floor,” she said. “Are you going to be okay with that?”
        “Why not?”
        “Well, if the rest of you looks like your face, I doubt you can walk up that many steps.”
        “No elevator?”
        “No elevator.”
        “I’ll make it. Just take me a few minutes longer. Or maybe you could find a room for
me on the first floor.”
        “No access. My job is covering the fourth floor only. You could stay in an empty room
down on one, but it would have anything in it.”
        “Like a bed?”
        “No. Empty rooms have beds, dressers, and so on. But no towels, blankets, sheets, and
so on.”
        “Actually, that would be fine. I’ve got these coats I’m wearing. They’ll be heat there?”
        “Sure. But that’s about it.”
        “Show me,” I said, as we walked slowly toward the front entrance.
        And she did. Third one down on the right. A typical two-room single. One twelve by
sixteen room whose square feet were diminished by a portable bathroom and closet. A metal
bed with springs and a mattress laid on top. Window overlooking the parking lot with a pull
curtain for privacy. As bare minimum as it gets.
        “Fine,” I told her.
        “You can lock it from the inside when your in,” she said, but it stays open when you’re
gone. I doubt anyone would steal anything. The place is dead right now. But you never know.
I’d take your stuff with you when you go out.”
        “Sounds good. I cant tell you how much I appreciate it. They should be fixing my
window soon and I can return then.”
        “As I saw, no problem. These rooms are just sitting here. Might as well put one of
them to use.”
        “I hope you’re not feeling as badly as you look,” she said.
        Gad was I still that bad?
        “”No. I’m okay. A couple more days and I’ll be good as new.”
        “Anything else?”
        “Nope. And thanks again.”
        She then took off up the stairs going two at a time. Leaving me alone with my
thoughts and my window. I looked out and saw her car. Alone. Cooling down. Heat waves
propagating up from the hood and tailpipe.
        I tried to see my apartment, but the diner blocked the way. The diner. Had they found
Doris yet? Was Doris actually missing? Or was that a lie too? I realized then how lonely I was.
And how I couldn’t trust anyone anymore. Not even Buster. How long would it take Patton to
figure out my plan and to come looking for me here. How many lies would he tell Buster?
And how long before I found myself back in that damn cell, eating my liquid and solid

        The day passed slowly. I hadn’t brought a book. No TV or radio. No board games. The
room did have Ethernet, and I plugged in my computer only to find it too wasn’t working.
With no one in dorms supposedly, the Wi-Fi didn’t work either. I had plenty of work to do
planning my spring semester classes and stuff to read stored. But nothing really to get my
mind off my current predicament. No phone, of course. And one sip of the water from the
bathroom told me that I’d soon have to go to a restaurant or a grocery to make this work.
        I chose a grocery. One I’d never visited before. Because it looked like most of the
merchandise was ten years old and unsafe. But I needed anonymity more than I needed food
at this point. I stocked up on items that had long shelf lives. With no stove to cook on, I
settled on my favorite foods, tuna fish, peanut butter, bottled water, and the like. And carried
them slowly back to my new room slowly, all the while keeping an eye out for police or so-
called friends. No one out and about. The second of January. Still recovering from the

        I ate my solitary mid-day meal while the sun slowly peaked its nose out from behind
the left-over clouds from our most recent blizzard. Not as bad as they had predicted. Thank
God. Had it been, I’d be in custody waiting to visit the judge again with my PD Joe Wise.
Instead I was in my own prison, waiting for someone to find me. Wouldn’t be hard. Connect
with Buster and come get me. Simple as that.
        As the afternoon wound down toward evening, I began to entertain options for my
current predicament. Saul. Seemed like a good man. I had no ties to him. Just someone who
called out of the blue and spent New Year’s day with me. Maybe he could help me get out of
this mess. Bright man. Straight ahead. I could call him and ask for temporary refuge. But what
would I say? What would he believe? If I told him the whole story, he wouldn’t believe it. Hell
I didn't believe it. But he seemed the only option at the moment. I’d sleep on it.
        My dinner consisted of more tuna fish and peanut butter. I read my previous class
syllabus for my spring semester course. Were I still able to teach it. Not dead or incarcerated.
I took a couple of pain pills. Not because I hurt. Because I was bored and really wanted a beer
or a shot of Beam. Neither was possible, so my second choice would have to do. I worried I
was getting in a bit deep with the stuff, and what it might be doing to my psyche, but then
what the hell.
        I drifted off around ten or so.
        Suddenly I heard a sound. In the distance and muffled, but nonetheless I had not
imagined it. Two in the morning.
        I listened carefully. Inside or out? Somewhere in the building? Or outside my door?
        Again. A voice talking. And then another voice. Answering.
        I quickly got out of bed. Had they found me already? Had Buster caved?
        I crept over to the door and looked out. No one in the hallway. I closed the door,
stuffed what was left of my groceries under the bed, filled my carryon bag with the stuff I’d
removed and headed back to the door. Looked out. Still no one there. But the talking had
        I snuck out into the hall and turned right. Away from the entrance to the building.
When I reached the end I turned left and immediately found the staircase and another
hallway with more rooms. Which way?
        I listened some more. Silence.

        Buster hadn’t thought I could climb stairs. If she had caved, then that would be my
best choice. And so I climbed, mostly crawled, my was slowly upwards to the second story.
When I arrived, I listened some more. This time I heard what seemed like the same voices,
but further away. Who’d be up at two in the morning?
        I walked down the hallway and began checking doors. One. Two. Three. And then I
struck pay dirt on the fourth try. I opened the door to a room exactly the same as the one I’d
just left. Another vacancy. Apparently the recession had hit higher education harder than I’d
        I entered and closed the door quietly. Stood in the dark and listened for the voices.
        I listened some more, trying to quiet my nerves and especially my breathing. The
haul up the stairs had been some exertion.
        Still nothing.
        Then I saw something in the darkness. Against the wall in the room. Moving.
        I prepared myself with a first Bokutor move. So did the dim image.
        A mirror.
        One scared dude, I thought. Both me and the guy in the mirror. I walked over to it
and looked in. The dim light helped. First time I’d looked in one since the fight. I had a beard.
Flecked with gray here and there. The bruises I’d gotten were not as bad as I thought.
Actually healing nicely. The beard covered the worst of them around my jaw, where I’d lost
two teeth. It was still me in there. Beaten and bowed, but still me.
        I moved my stuff to the closet, opened it’s door, and shoved it all in. And then I
climbed in after it, shutting the door behind me. Not a great deceit, but if they figured I was
on the ground floor, they might skip being so conscientious when they searched the second.
Maybe it would work. Better tried than not.
        And I waited. For the sound of voices. And my recognition of one or more of them.
Trying to decide whether or not to put up a fight. Ever battered as I still was, I could
certainly take one or two of them out. Maybe even three before I passed out from the pain.
Just to make sure, I popped another pain pill into my mouth and swallowed it dry. Not
pleasant, but better than nothing.
        While continuing to listen I fell asleep again. I woke when the light around the door
began to light up the inside of the closet.
        I listened carefully. Nothing. No voices. Just an occasional squeaking from the heaters
warming up after a night of lower temperatures. My paranoia had either saved me or lost me
a couple of days off the end of my life.
        I had a headache. No doubt the after effects of the dope I’d taken. Time for some
more, I thought. Then reconsidered. Didn't have to be a specialist to know what was
happening with that. Decided to suffer it through without.
        But no coffee. How was that going to work? I was addicted to that. But hadn’t bought
any. No way to make it here. Even instant. Nobody could drink cold instant coffee. Not
possible. I could have eaten the beans though. Should have remembered that.
        Christ, I thought. Modern man. The first thing on my mind in the morning was dope.
If not one type then another.
        I slowly got up and tried to work the kinks out of my back and legs. I felt okay in
general. My wounds were healing. On tuna and peanut butter. But I’d survived almost twenty
four hours since Patton had tried to put me away. For keeps.
        I opened my cell door, as I liked to think of it, got out my supplies, and made myself
breakfast. Tuna and peanut butter. Actually not bad. I could certainly think of worse.
        No voices. I looked out in the parking lot, No cars. Not even Buster’s. She’d apparently
gone out for breakfast. Or maybe down to the police station. Who knew?

        I accomplished my morning ablutions with some difficulty. I’d forgotten what
peanuts, in any form, could do to one’s inner plumbing. But I made things work and prepared
for another day on the lam.
        I packed my stuff including groceries and decided to find a phone. I’d give Saul a call
and see what we could work out. I hoped I hadn’t overestimated him. A lonely man. A math
professor. How could he be involved? But I’d been surprised before.
        I left my room nonchalantly, as if it were an everyday occurrence. Found the stairwell
and worked myself slowly down. Standing up the whole time. A first. At least since the
assault. When I reached the first floor, I stopped again and listened and looked. Nothing out
of the ordinary. When I walked to the front door I looked out. No cop cars. No Buster car. All
quiet. But I’d been wrong before. Took it slowly. One step at a time.
        The sun was out in full force. Bright. Almost too bright. Wished I’d packed some sun
glasses. The snow sparkled as well, adding to the glare in my eyes. Hard to see without
squinting. I found the sidewalk and headed away from downtown. No reason to invite
        No one out and about. Too cold? Or just that I was still on campus during winter
break? No students anywhere.
        Unfamiliar with this part of town even though I was but a few blocks from home, I
wandered around hoping for a likely spot for a phone. The city had removed phone booths
long ago. My only hope was some kind of business. I found one. A mom and pop dry cleaners
on Main. Small. Homey. Warm. And run by two small Asian women of advancing age. I asked
them about phones nearby and one smiled and handed me one from behind the counter. I
told her it was local and asked for a phone book. She had one of those too.
        I looked up Saul’s number, got it, and dialed. The hum of the equipment in the back of
the cleaners was loud so I nestled myself up against the front window as far as the cord would
let me and listened for the rings.
        Saul picked up after the third ring.
        “Saul Perlmutter,” he said calmly. No suspicion in his voice I could detect.
        “Saul,” I said. “This is Doug Francis.”
        “Doug,” he said, “thanks for calling. I didn’t expect it so soon.”
        “I have a couple of ideas I like to run by you if you have a moment.”
        “Sure. You want me to come by your place?”
        “No, actually, they’re working on replacing the window in the kitchen. Making a lot of
noise. Would your place be okay?”
        “Sure. When?”
        “Now be a good time?”
        “Sure. I’ll fix us some lunch.”
        “Great. Where do you live?”
        “Not too far from you. Maybe a mile.” I winced as he said it. I’d have to take four or
five pills to make it that far. But I needn’t have worried.
        “And you don't have a car. I’ll pick you up in a couple of minutes.”
        “Great. But I’m not at home.”
        “Where then?”
        “I’m at a cleaners down the street from my place. North. And I read the name of the
place backwards from inside the window.”
        “Sure. I know where that is. Be there in a second.”
        And we disconnected.
        So far so good. He seemed just as he had the day before. Open. Even eager. Too eager?
Rampant paranoia.
        I thanked the ladies and offered to pay for the use of their phone.”
        “Local?” one of them asked.

       “No bother. But next time you need your clothes pressed, come by and see us.”
       “You’ll have my lifetime business,” I told them. And left to wait outside where Saul to
see me. And, I hoped, wandering cops wouldn't see me.
       I probably looked like a beat up homeless man at this point. Standing their with a
small suitcase, face bearded and black and blue otherwise. With a small case for my
possessions. All by myself. Hell, I felt like a homeless man.
       Before I could contemplate my situation further, Saul’s car pulled up to the curb and
he opened the passenger side door without getting out.
       “Professor Francis,” he said as I crawled inside.
       “Doug,” I said.
       “Okay. Doug.”
       And we drove north to his place.

         Saul’s house, a one-story clapboard affair with plenty of front and back yard space,
looked like heaven to me compared to the dormitories and even my apartment I was used to.
He led me inside and sat me down at his dining room table. Went off to his kitchen to finish
making our meal I suspected. A menorah stood unlit on a small table near the doorway. I
didn’t know much about such things, except it had something to do with Hanukkah around
         His house was about as homey as it could be. Bookshelves everywhere. Everything
neat as a pin. Pictures of his wife, no doubt, placed here and there on the walls and a few with
small children in them. Their kids? Their grandkids? It felt like someone’s home. A lifetime of
living here. A long time since I’d seen or been in a place like this.
         “Sorry to make you wait,” he said when he came back from the kitchen.
         “Just admiring your place here,” I said. It has a certain feeling of ‘home’ to it. I love it.”
         “Thank you. I keep it this way in memory of my wife. She wouldn’t stand for me
leaving it lie . . .”
         “My place?” I finished his sentence for him.
         “Not what I was going to say.”
         “Doesn’t matter. Mine’s a dump. Never meant to be much of anything else. Here I get
the feeling for family and tradition. I miss that in some ways. Living the bachelor’s life
without ever having been married has it advantages. But as I sit here and look around, it has
many more disadvantages.
         He nodded his head as if he understood. Which he probably did.
         And then we ate. Not sure what it was we ate. But it sure beat tuna and peanut butter.
And bottled water. He even served us wine. I’d literally forgotten the taste.
         “Se,” he began when we’d finished. “You have some ideas?”
         What to say. Come clean and tell him the whole sordid story. Or continue the charade
and get back to our research? I chose the latter. At least for now. Until I could figure out
what character he played in the little melodrama that had engulfed me.
         “Is non-linearity real or fiction?”
         “That’s your idea?”
         “No. That’s my question. I need to know. Your answer will lead to my idea.”
         “Okay. Depends on what you mean by non-linearity. Essentially the word means not in
a line. So anything in an x,y coordinate system that’s not a line is non-linear. That’s real. Not
         “I’m referring to the superposition principle. A formula whose output is not directly
proportional to its input.”
         “There are other definitions as well. But now that I understand what you mean, then
yes non-linear equations do exist. They’re certainly not fiction. Why do you ask?”
         “Well. It seems to me that if the output of such equations, however chaotic they may
seem to be, is infinite. Since we can’t test an infinite number system for anything but
localized axioms and the like, doesn’t it mean that chaos cannot really be defined?”
         “Do you mean, we can never test to see if in fact a repeating pattern exists but is
simply too large for us to reasonably observe it in some way?”
         “Just so.”
         “A rather ethereal question from a pragmatist.”
         “How do you know I’m a pragmatist?” I could see he was enjoying our little bit of

        “If you’re a computer scientist, I know you’re not a theoretical mathematician.
Computer scientists like output, not theories that may or may not give output.”
        “You’re right. That was a trial balloon. Let me try something more reasonably
associated to my project then. Maybe you’ll see from that what I meant.”
        “Go on.”
        “”The second law of thermodynamics states that . . . “
        “Hold it. That’s physics.”
        “I know, but hear me out. It’s also math. Without stating the law verbatim, I’m
referring to it as order moving toward disorder.”
        “Okay. Simple enough.”
        “I can’t pump the heat from a cold volume to a hot volume. Heat will only move in
one direction, and thus the hotter volume will always transfer to the cold one without
        “So, the universe began as perfect order and irreversibly continues toward complete
        “Correct again.”
        “Yet I, and many of my colleagues begin with disorder, the soup of life, and try to
find order. It’s the basic presumption the we start from disorder and move toward disorder.”
        “Sounds like a conflict of interest. An oxymoron, yes?”
        “Sure. I think we both have the answer for that, but I’d like to hear yours.”
        “Mine’s easy. The second law of thermodynamics concerns the entire universe. The
momentary orderings that occur as a result of certain conditions in the disorder can create
order without violating the larger law of thermodynamics.”
        “That would be my response as well.”
        “So what’s the problem then?”
        “Life, at least human life, continues to try and find the order in our environment, and
I’m talking about big order here, when the second law, which we all agree is absolute,
absolutely prevents it by having the environment and even ourselves becoming ever more
        “Only on the grand scale. Not on the local one.”
        “Okay. So the little ordered digital critters my students and I are attempting to create
from non-linear mathematics or chaos do not violate any basic laws.”
        “Not anymore than you or I do.”
        “Some disorderly stuff from the nonlinear functions must be more orderly than
others. Or, put another way, some have more potential to create ordered results.”
        “For example.”
        “Polynomial equations. Any equation that has one exponent larger than the number ‘1’
could be considered non-linear. But we can fully predict what will come next in a sequence
and therefore it’s actually quite ordered, almost from the git go.”
        “Not talking about polynomials.”
        “What are we talking about?”
        “Maybe partial differential equations.”
        “Okay. Primordial soup of the first order.”
        “Exactly. Can I find one equation that would be more logical in creating an attractor
than another? And by what means could I tell that?”
        “Whoa. We’re getting into serious math here. You sure you want to go there?”
        “No. I just want to know if what I’m asking is possible. Is there some kind of method
you know of that will tell me that of the twenty equations I have, this one will have the most

likely possibility of producing a temporary bout of order or predictability before going
haywire again.”
        “Yes and no.”
        “A bit vague.”
        “On purpose. It depends on what kind of representation you use. Cellular automata?
Yes. Certain types of initial rules and conditions produce chaotic behavior with what could be
defined as ‘bouts’ of order or predictability.’ Others show it from the outset and are not of
interest to you. Just looking at a PDE or partial differential equation wouldn't probably yield
much unless you tested it by running it a few thousand million times.”
        “Then you’ve answered my question.”
        “Which was?”
        “In essence, is there anyway I can reduce the infinite number of possible equations for
producing primordial digital soup to a few with higher probability for creating temporary
chaos. Do you see why I asked the questions in the way that I did?”
        “Now I do.”
        “Now my answer is maybe. But I don’t know what that answer actually is.”
        “Big help you are.”
        “It’s not an easy question. Even though it may seem so to you.”
        “It doesn’t seem easy to me at all. I was just hoping someone could help.”
        “I could do some research. As of now I’m an old math teacher in North Dakota, mostly
out of the mainstream of contemporary theories. But I love reading the literature. Let me get
back to you.”
        Thanks. I paused for a second. Then added, “a lot!”
        “Coffee?” he asked.

        We washed the dishes in relative silence, like I imagined he and his wife must have
done for decades. When we finished, darkness had set in and we migrated to his living room.
        “Why are the police after you, Doug?”
        From left field.
        “How do you know that?”
        “They came by earlier. Before you called. Asked if I knew where you were. I told them
the truth. I didn’t.”
        “Right. Why didn’t you just call them after I called you. Easy enough to turn me in.”
        “True. But I find you and your work interesting in many ways. Besides, I couldn't
imagine you doing anything illegal.”
        “Then you don’t know me very well.”
        “You mean they were right?”
        “No. I mean that I’ve done things illegal. Mostly in my youth. But I still jaywalk now
and then.”
        “Why are they after you now?”
        What the hell. I began at the beginning and ended right where we sat. It took couple
of hours, with him asking questions that occasionally led to matters unrelated. But I got
        “So you’re now on the run, with literally everyone wither after you or lying for some
        “Sounds paranoid, I know.”
        “It does. But I believe you.”
        “So what are you going to do now?”
        “Sleep here if you’ll let me.”
        “I will. But what then?”
        “I frankly don[t have a clue.”
        “Things getting a bit chaotic?”
        “Yes, but I’m hoping my equation will end up ordered and not more disordered.”
        We talked about his family for a little while. Then get got down a sheet and blanket
from the top shelf of his hallway closet and made me a bed in his living room. And then,
lights out.

       I woke up to the sound of nine ladies dancing. Or so it seemed. Actually, some kids on
skateboards had passed the house in a furious hurry to get somewhere. The sun was bright
and the sky apparently clear. I couldn’t see it, but I couldn't imagine storm clouds gathering
with skateboarders so interested in getting out of the house.
       Saul was sitting by the front door as if he were waiting for someone. Et tu Brute? Had
everyone been hypnotized?
       “How long?” I asked him.
       “For what?”
       “For the cops to arrive?”
       “What cops?”
       “The cops you’re waiting for.”
       “I’m waiting for the mailman. He comes around this time. I still had my mail hardcopy.
Besides, the Fargo paper comes in the mail. I’ve taken it since I got here forty years ago.”
       I felt like a turncoat.
       “Sorry. I guess I’m just suspect of everyone these days.”

        “Good to be that,” he said.
        And that was it. A problem. The gone. Age has its benefits.
        “How long do you wait?”
        “For the mail? Depends. Usually not more than a half hour of so. Sometimes it’s here
before I sit down. Have to check first to make sure I’m not just waiting for something that’s
already arrived.”
        I hadn’t thought about mail in a box being important for some time. Usually just
shoveled it into the trash.
        “There is something, though.”
        “I think you have too many rules for life.”
        “How many should there be?”
        “Don’t know. Yours covered most everything. But somehow, as you spoke them to me,
some seemed too obvious and something seemed left out. Can’t really tell you what though.
Just thought you might like to know that. Give them some reconsideration.”
        “Thanks. I will.”
        And the mail came. And we ate breakfast quietly. And things clocked along like it
must have for most of the umpteen number of years he’d been on the planet.

        I was beginning to feel like myself again. Little pain. I could walk almost normally.
And my face looked almost normal. Even with a beard. Which I’d begun to like. Probably
because it made me a little less conspicuous to the powers that be. No more pain pills, I
promised myself. Take the problem by the horns. Stop letting things happen to me. Make
them happen.
        Just as I thought that, a North Dakota State Police car rambled to a stop in front of
Perlmutter’s house. Damn. I’d trusted him.
        I gather my things from the couch, stuffed them into my carryon, and headed for the
back door.
        “Where’re you going?” Saul asked.
        “Cops are here,” I said. “Time to travel.”
        “I didn’t call them,” he said. So innocently, I couldn’t imagine him lying.
        “What, then?”
        “Let’s find out before you start running.”
        “How about you talking to them and I’ll hide in your garage.”
        “Fine with me.”
        “That door out the side of the kitchen?”
        “Go for it.”
        And I did. Out the door and into darkness. Smelled like oil, gasoline, dead grass, and
wood chips. Just like my parent’s garage did when I was a kid.
        I closed the door. I was completely trapped. The big garage door was automatic. No
way for me to open it. No other way to get out but by the kitchen access and that’s where
they’d be coming for me. All I could do was wait. I couldn’t hear a thing. Not even coming
from outside. The place had insulation in all the places insulation should be. Probably would
have made a good recording studio.
        Time passed. If he’d ratted on me, he would have sent them to me by now. He must be
trying to get them on their way. Or letting them see the house. I figured it might be a good
idea to hide myself behind the car just in case they asked to see in the garage.
        Lucky I did, for not a minute passed before the door opened. I heard voices in
midsentence, and then the door closed again. I supposed they’d taken a token look after
seeing no one was in the house, and that they’d done their job.
        Several minutes passed and then Saul opened the door and said I could come out.

         “What was that all about?” I asked him.
         “Mobility, evolution, and specialization,” he said.
         “Huh?” I wasn’t at all sure I’d heard him correctly.
         “Mobility, evolution, and specialization,” he said again.
         “What does that mean?”
         “The Three Laws of Life,” he said.
         “No, I mean what did the police want?”
         “Wanted to know if you were here or not.”
         “What do you think? I told them you weren’t.”
         “And they didn’t believe you?”
         “They didn’t. Wanted to search the house. I figured that if I told them know it would
make them more suspicious. So I told them okay. I figured you’d hide in here. And if they got
too curious I could always yell ‘fire,’ or something.”
         “Don’t thank me. This is too much fun. I’m getting the sweeter end of the stick here.”
         “I’m glad you think that. Most of my other so-called friends didn’t seem to see it that
         He had no response to that.
         “They say anything else?”
         “About what?”
         “About progress in the case. Anything new happen?”
         “Nope. Just checking out my place.”
         “Three Rules of Life?”
         “You said something about the Three Rules of Life.”
         “No. The Three Laws of Life. Like the Three laws of robotic. You know. Isaac Asimov?”
         “Okay. The Three Laws of Life.”
         “Mobility, evolution, and specialization,” he said for a third time. The first time I really
heard him.
         “Don't you think that’s a bit too open ended?”
         “Well, I left off birth, death, eating, excreting, things like that. I can visualize life
without those things. Not on earth, maybe, but life nonetheless. But I can’t imagine life not
being able to move. Not being able to evolve to outwit its environment. And, though I don't
like to think it’s true, it must be. Life must specialize in some way. Genius can do many
things. But life continues because we break ourselves into specializations, little experts on
everything, so we can survive as a species.”
         “I can think of lots of life that doesn’t move.”
         “Mold, for example.”
         “It grows. Everything grows. That’s movement isn’t it?”
         “I guess it could be considered that.”
         “Anyway, think it over. Either way, you’ve got too many and you’re trying to cover so
much ground I figure somewhere in there you going to include things like murder, lying,
and things like that.”
         Jesus. Had he thought that through? The two things that were trailing after me like a
tail I never thought I had.
         “I will. Promise.”
         “Let’s eat,” he said. “I’m hungry.”

        The next morning I got up not hearing ten lords a-leaping. But they no doubt were.
Somewhere at least. I was up early, but not early enough to be Saul. We ate breakfast and I
told him that I couldn’t put him at risk for harboring a fugitive any longer. I forced him to
take a few bucks to help pay for the food I’d eaten. Told what a great guy he’d been to have
faith in me. Packed my bag, and was out the door before noon. And, of course, the sky was
clouding up. Another storm on its way no doubt. Just when it looked like it was getting nice
        I had no idea what to do. Where to go. Who to go to. Maybe I could catch a bus out of
town. No. they’d have that covered as well as the trains. No airports for a hundred miles in
every direction. Three hotels in town, but they have those covered too.
        That’s when it occurred to me. The last place they’d think I’d go was right back where
I’d started. Home. My apartment down the street. Close by. At least I could go there and see if
they had the place covered. If not, and I kept the lights off at night and didn’t leave during
the day, I might make it work. Worth a try.
        I took the back way. It felt good to be charging ahead again. Not running. My body
actually felt like itself again. No more limping. No more feeling sorry for myself. Time to
take the initiative.
        When I came around the backside of my apartment complex, I noticed him
immediately. Damn. They still had it covered. A uniform out back. Probably one out front as
well. So many police wasting their time looking for an innocent bystander. Who’d done
nothing wrong. I was right back at square one.
        Then it occurred to me that maybe I had that wrong. If I could wait until after dark, I
might be able to find an inner corridor and make my way past the guards and back inside.
Once there they’d never think to look. After all, how could I get there without the competent
crew missing me. Even more, why would I want to?
        So I found a good place to hide and, unseen, spent the rest of the day wishing I’d
stayed away until nighttime to avoid all this wasted time. The time passed slowly, but it
passed, and, shortly after dark, the cops, at least the one I could see out back, were relived by
new newcomers who were on the young side. Newbies. Rather than move around to avoid
the oncoming snow and wind, the tended toward huddling in one place, looking around once
in awhile, but without much conviction.
        Around eight, I found the right corridor, made my way down it as if it were nothing
but a routine return to my apartment, avoided either of the two cops and entered my
apartment with my key like nothing at all. I closed the door behind me quietly as I could.
Breathed a deep sigh of relief and, knowing I couldn’t turn on a light, worked my way toward
the kitchen. I knew the moves to get there.
        “Miss the old place, did you?”
        The voice was unmistakable. Patton. The son of a bitch had me figured to a tee. The
light by the couch clicked on and there he sat. Sipping a shot glass of my Beam. Damn his
hide. He couldn’t just catch me. He had to steal my liquor too.
        “Patton.” All I could think of saying.
        “Francis.” All he could think of saying, I guess.
        “I don’t have to guess while you're here.” And I put my wrists together in front of me
to make it easy for him to cuff them.
        “Oh sit down, you fool.”
        So I did.

        “How’d you know I’d come back here?”
        “Where else would you go? We knew you find a couple of places. Students. Friends like
Saul. But sooner or later you’d run out of your welcomes. This had to be the place. You’d
figure we had the buses, trains, and planes, if there were any, covered. I somehow don’t see
you as the hitch hiking type. Where else was there?”
        “I guess. Don't you want to take me in?”
        “Sure. But let’s talk a bit first. Want some of your liquor?”
        “Might as well. Before you kill the whole bottle.”
        “Just celebrating. The guys outside radioed that you were on your way. No reason to
let this stuff go to waste.”
        He poured me a shot glass full and passed it over.
        “You’re looking a lot better now. Home cooking will do that. That must have been
some fight.”
        “Who got the getter of it? Really.”
        “Only one of us walked away. Surprised you didn’t find his body.”
        “Oh we did. Just not that night.”
        “You found the guy.”
        “Yep. Dead. Just like you said.”
        “Oh great. Another murder charge.”
        “Yeah, but not on you.”
        “Why not.”
        “Someone had put a bullet in his body. Actually into his forehead.”
        “I didn’t kill him then?”
        “Nope. Not unless you can bilocate. You have a pretty good alibi for when the medics
tell me he got nailed. You sure he didn’t best you?”
        “I’m not exactly sure of anything right now.” And I drank the bourbon down in one
gulp. Then coughed.
        “Here’s the interesting part, though.”
        “What’s that? Besides the fact that I’m not implicated.”
        “He’s not from around here.”
        “He’s from the middle east somewhere. His papers, which they interestingly left on
him, said something about a ‘stan.’”
        “A ‘stan?’”
        “One of those ‘stans’ over there. You know, like Afghanistan, Turkestan, Pakistan. One
of those.”
        “You’re suggesting he’s a terrorist?”
        “Don’t know. What do you think?”
        “Would explain a few things.”
        “Like what?”
        “I don’t know. Say, listen, shouldn’t I have my lawyer present. The PD. Your brother.
        “No. I’m not here officially. Didn’t present my badge to you. Didn’t identify myself to
you. None of that stuff.”
        “Then what are you doing here?”
        “Explaining a few things to you that I thought you should know.”
        “That whoever’s doing this are terrorists?”
        “You made that assumption. Not me. What the hell would terrorists be doing here?
What do we have, or even North Dakota have, that would interest terrorists for Christ’s sake?“
        “I don’t know. Something about my work?”

        “What about your work?”
        “You’ve got me. Most of the time it fails. Even when it succeeds I can’t imagine
anyone but a few professionals being interested in it. God, I publish everything I do that’s
worthwhile. Anyone can see it. Why kill anyone over something you can have for free?”
        “Don’t ask me, Francis. How would I know? It’s your research.”
        “Well there you have it then. It must be something else.”
        “You piss anyone off lately. Ouch. I take that back. You piss everyone off. Let me put
it another way. You piss anyone off recently that I don’t know? Like maybe some guy from
the middle east?”
        “Never saw the guy before. Can I have another shot?”
        “Sure, Francis. Sure.” And he poured me another one, full to the brim.
        “Thanks.” I emptied it. Again in one gulp. Felt better going down this time.
        “So what now?” I asked.
        “Let’s still keep talking.”
        “Anything that comes to your mind.”
        “Did Jackson really tell you that Cassie and I were talking about knocking him off?”
        “No. He didn’t tell me anything at all. He wasn’t even there when I told you that.”
        “You made it up?”
        “For God’s sake why?”
        “I need you to run, Francis. I needed to see where you’d go when you thought
everyone you had confidence in had turned on you.”
        “Tow reasons, actually. I wanted to see if you would give away the someone who put
you up to all this. Or, I wanted to make you a target. See who’d follow you. Catch them. See,
either way I would win. With you in a cell, I was getting nowhere.”
        “And Cassie. She never said that . . .”
        “Nope. She doesn’t even know we had our little conversation. I knew you’d run,
Francis. After all you didn’t really have any choice.”
        “So Jackson doesn’t know anything about this then.”
        “He does now. Come on out Jackson.”
        And Jackson stepped out of my bedroom with a kind of whimpering look on his face.
        “I didn’t know anything about this until after he did it,” Jackson said. “Until he told
me. And then he made me stay out of things or he’d put me in the same cell he’d had you in.”
        “Small town sheriffs,” I said. “Damn small town cops. Think they can do anything and
get away with it.”
        “Damn right,” Patton said. “And it was a neat trick. Don't you think?”
        “Not the target part. I could’ve been killed.”
        “Not a chance, Doug. If these guys wanted to kill you, they would have done it as you
walked up to your building at the U that day so long ago. They need you. I just hoped they’d
get exasperated and kidnap you or something.”
        “You were hoping for that?”
        “Damn right. I’d follow them then, and we’d have something. Not like now. All I’ve
got is you now.”
        “Then you’re short of the mark, Patton. Way short.”
        “Tell me about it.”
        “So you’re not going to take me to jail?”
        “Why should I? You’re out on bail. You didn’t leave town.”

        “You mean I’m still a target then.”
        “Not in the way you mean it. But if you’re asking if I hope they kidnap you. Damn
right. I figure that’s about the only way this is going down. They have holed up somewhere. I
don’t have a clue where. And I don't have the manpower or the weather cooperating with me
just now. So I’m pulling the officers off you and you can just go about your business. Of
course, your court date for mid-January is still on. The hearing. Joe will keep you informed of
        “You’re not looking so bad Doug,” Jackson added.
        “No thanks to you. Why didn’t you find me and tell me he’d lied?”
        “He had me boxed in. Really. I had no idea where you were.”
        “And you didn’t want to go to jail.”
        He smiled in a kind of stupid way.
        “Isn’t there some way for me to sue you Patton? For lying to me about all this?”
        “The word of a accused murderer against a policeman of many years in good
standing? Whose brother is the public defender and therefore also your lawyer? How’s that
going to play out.”
        “And you’d lie?”
        “Of course I would. What do you think? I’m a moron?”
        “Was Saul a part of this too?”
        “No. But we made sure not to look closely in the garage. We didn’t want to find you.
Hoped you’d stay there a few more days. But no, you had to come back home. What a
        I stared at him. What a crapshoot. All that running. All of my second guessing. When I
could be working on my research. Waste of time. Damn his eyes.
        “Damn your eyes, Patton.”
        “Best you can do, Francis.”
        “Can’t you ever figure out what to call me? Francis? Doug? Doing this on purpose?”
        “Sure am, Doug.”
        And he left us then. Jackson back in my apartment. Me home. The cops leaving. The
man I’d fought dead. Not from me. But from a bullet in the forehead. Then I realized there
was one upside. Cassie hadn’t lied to him. She’d never been involved at all. I wondered then if
she’d called.
        “Did I get any calls while out was gone?”
        “Sure. Plenty of them.”
        “Plenty of them?”
        “Ten or so at least.”
        “Who were they from.”
        “That’s the strange part.”
        “They were all from the same person. I think she’s getting pissed. Thinks you don’t
want to talk wither her anymore.”

       After Patton left, I called Cassie at home. She answered immediately. One ring. I told
her I was sorry and about Patton’s little business. I was not sure she believed me at first, but
she came around. Especially when I had Jackson take the phone and verify it. So we worked
things out and agreed to see one another the next night at her place. I’d take the bus since
Jackson still didn’t have a car.
       By that time it had begun snowing again. Heavily.
       After we ate tuna from cans and had a few beers, I told Jackson that I’d had it. No
more taking a back seat in this business. I had a few skills. I’d find the guys responsible and
put an end to this business, one way or the other.
       Not sure by the time I said that whether it was me or the beer talking. But for the
moment at least, I meant it.

        Eleven Pipers Piping I thought as I awoke in my own bed for the first time and five
days. I felt good. Actually good. Ready for normal activity.
        I met Jackson at the breakfast table and we cooked the last of the eggs from our week
ago visit to the market. They’d been marked eat before two days previous, but I didn’t care. I
drank my coffee and felt my own taste of free at last. Even though I knew that my time
would be cut short by a summons for the first hearing in my double murder trial.
        As we ate, I asked Jackson, since he’d been a lot longer living here than I, where he
would hide if he didn’t want to be seen.
        “You mean in what building?”
        “Well, half the buildings in town are university property and this began when classes
were still in session. It couldn’t be there. A lot of the rest of the buildings are official
buildings like the police station, courthouse, and so on. Then there are the restaurants. Not
much room there, And then the rest of the business of which some are vacant due to the
recession, I suppose one of those would be possible. Nothing much else comes to mind.”
        “What about those businesses? Any of them out of the way? Someplace people
wouldn't normally pass by?”

“A couple. The old refinery, for example. That’s out on Old Morgan Road. An old washboard
dirt road. No one wants their shocks blown to bits. It’s full of old buckshot holes and a lot of it
has come apart at the seams. It’s eighty years old and for the thirty it’s just been sitting
        “Think someone could be hiding out there?”
        “Not likely. Heat would be a factor for sure. Unless they’ve made some serious
renovations. Even then, the roof is so full of holes that smoke or other residue from the
heating system would show themselves to the neighbors. Bring more than their share of
curiosity about that. I doubt Patton wouldn’t know about it after a day or so.”
        “What else?”
        “Old Mango’s place out on country road 57. It’s out of the way. Small. But it could hide
maybe ten people if they didn’t mind smelling one another too much.”
        “Old Mango?”
        “A tribal chief of a local tribe. Pretty interesting guy I always thought. He owed the
property before he died of old age. Ninety I think he was.”

        “Possible hideout?”
        “I guess. Pretty close quarters though. But certainly a few people get by there for
awhile. Again, though, a fire would bring attention to the place. Somebody would surely have
        “Alright. How about outside of town?”
        “How far outside?”
        “Say twenty miles. To start with.”
        “Lots of abandoned houses. Again, broken down and mostly visible from major
highways. There is the old warehouse on Siliphant.”
        “Old warehouse. Sounds promising.”
        “It’s big, but fairly new and well fenced. You could fit an army in there and no one
would notice. Too far from the main drags and other farmhouses for anyone to care.”
        “Have a name?”
        “The Old Warehouse.”
        “That its name?”
        “Yep. Its formal name. Even when it was new.”
        “What did they keep there?”
        “No idea. Most people guess old farm equipment and the like. Old tractors, trucks,
that kind of thing.”
        “Is there a way in without being seen.”
        “Lots I would guess. Haven’t been out that way in a couple of years. But its surrounded
by forests. Get to the edge of the forest in a car and then creep up on it during the day by the
army way or by night using darkness for cover.”
        “How long to get there?”
        “By car? Twenty minutes maybe.”
        “I don't think buses go that way. Unless they’ve changed their routes in the last
couple of years. Nobody goes out that way. The road dead ends and most of the farms have
given up the ghost.”
        “Sounds like a perfect spot for our visitors.”
        “If I got us a car would you come with me?”
        “And do what?”
        “Find it. Check it out.”
        “And what if that’s where they’re hiding?”
        “Then we come back and report it to Patton.”
        “What if they catch us?”
        “I don't know. Don’t let them catch us, I guess.”
        “Sleep on it Francis. I think it's the beer talking.”
        “I think it’s time to take action rather than sit on our butts. And you’re involved two.
They ransacked your house and blew up your car.”
        “True. But I’m no dumb enough to let them blow a hole through my forehead.”
        “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
        “Sleep on it, Francis.”
        Before I did I called Buster. She was in.
        “Buster. This is professor Francis.”
        “Where the hell you been. I’ve been worried.”
        “I changed places to sleep. Sorry. I didn’t have time to tell you. Say, can you talk to
the others and set up a full meeting in the lab for tomorrow afternoon at one?”
        “Jeez. I suppose so. We’re all going to be there anyway. Can I tell them what it’s

        “Just that it’s important. To be ready.”
        “Wow. Okay. You alright, Doc?”
        “I’m very alright Buster. And thanks again for putting me up, It was great of you to
do that.”
        “Not a problem. We’ll be ready at one.”
        Sleep came easily. I had a plan. Sketchy as it was, I was taking the initiative for the
first time and it felt wonderful. I hoped I’d feel the same way twenty-for hours later.

         Eleven pipers piping. This was apparently my day. Or so my prescient mind of two
weeks prior seemed to tell me. The sun was out again. A short storm.
         I got out of bed, dressed and walked calmly out to the living room. Everything fine. I
went into the kitchen. Everything fine. Except no Jackson. I tried to remember back to last
night. He was here. I would have bet on it. But not now.
         To hell with the pipers. Not a good day at all. My temporary roommate had
disappeared again. Kidnapped? Why him and not me?
         And then he walked in the front door as if nothing were wrong at all.
         “Where have you been?”
         “Jesus, Doug, you my keeper now?”
         “Where you go?”
         “Out, mom. Out.”
         “But you don’t have a car.”
         “I do now.”
         “Where’d you get a car?”
         “Rent a heap. Or something like it. That used car dealership across from the police
building. They open early. A ’56 Buick. Five bucks a day. I figure we’ll only need it today. You
can pay me back when you get your bail money back.”
         “A car, Francis. Yu know, those things with four wheels that you can drive around in.”
         “A ’56 Buick?”
         “It runs. It’ll get us to where we want to go. And back too. If we’re still alive.”
         “I need some coffee,” I said.
         “Already made and waiting.”
         “What got you up so early?” I asked him.
         “Not sure. Maybe something you said last night. Bull by the horns kind of thing. Got
me excited. Maybe we can end this thing today.”
         “Or it us.”
         “That, too.”
         I ran a couple of cups out from the coffee maker and drank mine in one steadfast
swallow. He’d ground the beans fresh. What a guy. I felt better already.
         “So we have a car, when do we leave?” He asked.
         “Christ, Jackson, give me a second to put all this together. How about some breakfast
         “Sure. But I’m anxious to hit the road as soon as possible. Get the bastards.”
         “You’re convinced they’re there?”
         “After thinking about it most of the night, I don’t see where else they could be. Off
the beaten path. Large enough. May have heat. Perfect spot. I’d choose it. If I were a criminal,
of course.”
         And so we ate some tuna and drank some more coffee. I’d be happy when my diet
changed. I like tuna, but enough is damn well enough.
         Around eight we left the apartment and, for the first time, I got a view, and a whiff, of
the ’56 Buick. Quite a sight. Dark blue at least. Not some obvious two-tone job from the late
fifties. Sat low to the ground and had a couple of cracks in the windows. But, as I found out
quickly, it worked. And didn’t make too much noise.

        I looked around before we left. No sign of Patton’s minions huddling in the corners
keeping an eye on us.
        Jackson headed out of town. He knew where he was going. I surely didn’t.
        “Shouldn’t we stop first?” I asked him.
        “For what?”
        “I don't know. Buy a gun maybe. Some ammo. Maybe a blackjack or two. Something to
defend ourselves with.”
        “Guns mean shooting, Francis. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far. I plan for a look see,
not a rendezvous. If we get anywhere close to the latter, a gun or two on our side won’t make
a different to what I imagine their firepower would be.”
        He made sense. Maybe he had spent last night thinking this all through.
        We drove out of town and into low scrub. With the belching fuel out our exhaust, I
imagined we could be seen for miles. But soon the trees upped in height and we disappeared
into a regular forest of pines. I’d lived in my little university town for several years, but had
never thought to go this way. Quite beautiful in its own way.
        “How far?” I asked.
        “Another ten minutes should put us at the end for the access road. We hide the car
and then approach on foot.”
        “You’ve been in the army, Jackson?”
        “For two years,” he said. “Not long enough to see any action. But I know a little about
what I’m doing.” And he apparently did.
        This had happened so fast that by the time we arrived, stopped the car, driven into
the forest, and parked, I was quite apprehensive.
        “I wished we had something to defend ourselves with.”
        “Think of it this way,” Francis, “violence begets violence. If we had something like
that and were caught, we represent a threat to them. They’d have to do something. Way it is
now. If they catch us, we’re not threat at all. I doubt they’ll just shoot us on sight. Especially
not you.”
        “Why not me.”
        “Because I agree with what you’ve been saying. You’re what they’re after. You got me
why they haven’t just grabbed you before this. So many opportunities. But, whatever, they
haven’t. So as long as I’m with you, I consider myself safer. At least safer than I’d feel if we
had weapons.”
        Made sense. Sort of.
        We exited the car and covered it with dead branches, leaves, and whatever else we
could find to make it less obvious. It didn’t really help, unless someone wasn’t really paying
much attention. At the same time, who’d expect a car covered in forest detritus out here in
no man’s land?
        “Okay, Doug, you take the far side of the road and I’ll take this side.”
        “Shouldn’t we stay together.”
        “We’ll still be together. Remember, though, a single target is smaller than two
separate ones.”
        I didn't much like his calling us ‘targets,’ but his idea made sense. Sort of.
        “Don’t we need a sign of some kind?”
        “You mean a secret sign that only we know?”
        “I don’t know.”
        “Doug, we can see one another. Just wave. Or silently mouth what you want to tell me.
We’ll do just fine.”

         And so we took our positions and slowly made our way north toward what I hoped
would eventually produce a building. Large enough, warm enough, and hidden enough, to
satisfy the terrorists.
         The weather cooperated. An occasional snowflake from a passing cloud, but nothing
even approaching a storm of any kind. Cold, but no real wind. The sun was bright, but we’d
worn nicely dark overcoats and, by accident or fate rather than purposeful, seemed to blend
into our surroundings. In fact, I occasionally lost connection with Jackson and then picked
him up again as he moved onward.
         We made slow progress, and as we did we noticeably slowed our pace. Or rather he
did. And I followed suit. Apparently we were near to the warehouse now, though I still
couldn’t see a thing.
         And then, without warning, I nearly stepped out of the forest into the meadow in
which sat a two-story metal warehouse, just as Jackson had described.
         Too close, I thought. They must have people surveilling the perimeter. We’d come too
far in our exuberance to get here.
         I turned toward Jackson and saw him thumbing in the direction we’d come. And then
he pushed both his hands. Palms down, towards the ground. Retreat and gain cover. His had
been the right approach all along.
         I backtracked to a large oak bush and flattened myself behind it. I could still see the
warehouse and most of the open meadow around it. I was also lying on ice. Even with my
coats on, I could feel the bitter cold against my chest.
         And we waited. To see if anything moved. If anyone gave themselves away. And we
waited some more. Ten minutes passed. Nothing. At least that I could see. Apparently the
same for Jackson as he’d made to motion towards me.
         The building looked empty. But, of course, from this distance it could have looked full
without me knowing any difference. All I wanted was some kind of motion. A shadow. A light
going on or off. A sound, however slight. But nothing suggested that the place was occupied
or that anyone was standing on guard to defend the perimeter.
         We waited for another half hour. Still nothing. A waste of time? Seemed so.
         The, out of nowhere, a motion. I was sure of it. Jackson. He was waving for me to move
a little closer. Creep up on the place. Scare them to death. But I did it. We did it. Ten more
yards of space covered and a better view of the building and surrounding open area. Still not
a sign of occupation.
         We waited. As we did, I noticed something strange. Voices. Or at least I thought as
much. Several of them in fact. Like a radio in the far distance. But no music. Couldn’t be sure
what I was hearing. But it was foreign to the forest in which we lay. Not birds, or frogs, or
God only knew what grew here in this cold.
         Jackson gave me the thumbs up sign. I returned it. Something was happening. Not to
us, but because of us. Progress? Who knew. An old radio talk show listened to by an old lone
watchman getting paid minimum wage? Or terrorists making plans to destroy the world?
And all the possibilities between those to extremes.
         I gave my shoulders an up-down motion. The universal what-the-fuck sign. Jackson
smiled and returned to look and listen. I followed him.
         Then I knew we’d hit pay dirt. A shadow clipped a lower corner of one of the windows.
I was sure of it. I looked over at Jackson. He’d clearly seen it too. The watchman stretching his
legs. Or one of the terrorists getting a better angle on us? To know us off one by one with his
long range rifle?
         Jackson mouthed something at me. Exaggerating his silent pronunciation of each
word to make himself completely understood. Problem was, no matter his ridiculous
machinations, I didn’t have the slightest idea what he wasn’t talking about. Again I gave the

universal what-the-fuck sign. He shook his head and then waved once toward the warehouse.
The universal go-get-yourself-shot sign.
         So we moved in closer. I still couldn’t see anyone guarding the place outside. The
windows were all opaque. At least to us on the outside. No way for us to see inside except for
         The voices had gotten louder though. I couldn't make out any words. But it probably
wasn’t a radio talk show. No music for commercials. And occasional long pauses. At least two
people were in there. Making the watchman less likely. If the pace were empty, who needed
two to guard it. In fact, I thought, who even needed one to guard it.
         I looked to Jackson for guidance. What to do next? He had nothing to suggest. In fact,
he looked like he’d forgotten I was there. How to get his attention if he weren’t looking? We
hadn’t covered that.
         And so I got up on one knee. That got his attention. He pushed his palms downward,
indicating I should lie back down. I didn’t. Somehow the place just didn’t seem particularly
dangerous. Not that I would have stood up and waved my hands. But I couldn’t see anyone
noticing me on one knee anymore than lying flat. Besides, the voices went uninterrupted.
Certainly if I’d been spotted there would be a pause, or a quickening, or something to
indicate a break in routine. But the patter continued as if nothing had happened.
         And we waited. Nothing changed. No more shadows. Talking continued with
intermittent breaks. And we waited some more. Closing in on eleven in the morning. Two
hours before my scheduled meeting with the grad students. I decided to take a chance.
         Without signaling Jackson, I turned and crawled my way back to a point where the
road narrowed. Once there, I lay flat on my stomach and pulled my way slowly across the
road, Inch my inch, centimeter by centimeter. It took about five minutes to make the
journey. But I figured no one could have seen me do it. Not even Jackson.
         Once across, I crawled normally up toward his position. Larger target or not, I wanted
this ridiculous non-code code to stop. We had to make some kind of logical plan. I had things
to do. Places to go. And the molasses-slow progress we were making was driving me crazy.
         I found him where he’d been before leaving my position.
         “What?” he whispered.
         “We’ve got to do it or not do it. Nothing’s going to happen unless we make it happen.”
         He nodded. “What, then?”
         “I say we go around back and creep up on the place and see what we can hear. They
don[t seem to have placed any lookouts on the meadow.”
         “Not seeing any doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”
         “Agreed. But this slowly becoming hopeless otherwise.”
         And so we backtracked further into the woods and began our way towards the rear of
the storehouse. We made as little noise as possible and every ten seconds or so, stopped to
make sure that all seemed the same as it had been. It did.
         Finally, and with plenty of scratches to prove it, we made our way approximately one
hundred and eighty degrees opposite of our first lookout position.
         Still voices. No shadows. Still no steal approach by lookouts.
         “I say we just lay on our stomachs and inch our way to a spot just under that window
there,” I said, expecting him to disagree. He didn’t. Just nodded.
         We agreed not to look up unless danger was imminent. And I would go first in single
file. After all, they wouldn’t shoot me.
         I flattened out as close to the ground as possible and began my swim across the
meadow. Maybe thirty yards between me and the building. Maybe ten minutes in full view of
anyone taking notice. It took forever. I felt like a first-time stripper in a club full of gawking
and leering men. I thought I could intuitively detect anyone watching, but that was a fallacy.

For every little movie made it felt like a thunderous and obvious action and everyone inside
could hear and see no less anyone outside. Interminable.
        But we made it. Safely. And Jackson pulled up along side me. Right under the largest
window on the backside of the building. I could hear them talking easily now. But it was
difficult to understand exactly what they were saying. The voices were muffled. Something
about the acoustics. Or the language used. I could be sure.
        We lay there for a couple of minutes to make sure we hadn’t been detected. Then I
looked at Jackson as if to say ‘what now?’ He scrunched his shoulders. He didn’t know either.
Neither of had the slightest idea why we’d come this far. We certainly wanted to know who
was here. Maybe catch a few glimpses of them for future identification. But neither of these
seemed possible. They weren’t going to make this easy on us. No one inside apparently had
any reason to come outside. And we wouldn’t want that anyway. We weren’t that
inconspicuous. If they’d opened the window above us then, it would’ve helped. But that too
would have caught us in the act. We couldn’t just turn around and crawl back the way we’d
come. Neither of us had figured we’d get this far, I thought. Now that we’re here, what to do.
        That particular problem solved itself.
        A familiar voice I couldn’t quite place bellowed above me. “Make one move and you’re
toast.” Perfect English.
        I didn’t move. Nor did Jackson, I presumed.
        “Now then, Francis, move only your head to the left sixty degrees. Slowly. Very
        He knew my name. The jig was up as they say. I felt as foolish as I had in high school
when a teacher had caught me and a girl whose man I couldn’t remember smooching behind
some curtains in the cafeteria during lunch. But the stakes were significantly larger here.
        I turned my head and found myself looking not into my enemies face, but directly
into the two barrels of a something-gauged shotgun. Jackson had told me they wouldn’t kill,
but he didn't know what he was talking about.
        I waited for the holder of the shotgun to order me to stand up or something. But he
kept quiet for a minute. As if he was weighing his options. Shoot me and get it over with, or
just kick me into submission.
        That’s when I heard the unmistakable sound of a rifle being cocked. Jesus. Was this it?
Just alike Julia, but up close and personal?
        “Say your prayers,” the man said.
        And then a monstrous ‘click,’ so loud that it seemed to deafen me. I closed my eyes
and waited for my life to end. Somehow it didn’t. No blast of gunpowder or the smell of spent
shots. No pellets banging around in my noggin. I took a deep breath. What was this all about.
        “Shit, the voice said. I forgot the load both barrels. I think the other one’s ready
though. So here it comes. I could here the trigger again, Pulling back same as before. I again
waited for the inevitable. My heart thumping faster and harder than I’d ever felt it before.
Even when the girl whose name I couldn’t remember kissed me full on the mouth those days
so long ago.
        But it didn’t come.
        “Open your eyes, Doug.”
        I did. And couldn’t believe my eyes. Patton. The sun of a bitch was just having fun
with me. Or was he. Could he be the leader of this gang? Had he been pulling the strings all
along. It sure would make sense.
        “Sit up. The both of you!” he ordered.
        We did, but apparently not fast enough.
        “Get up now. Jackson. How could you let this brainless idiot talk you into something as
fool as this?”
        Jackson was smart enough to keep quiet on the matter.

        Patton, I now noticed, was wearing his uniform. Pressed and badged. As formal as it
        “You two are pathetic. You know that? We had you pegged about an hour ago.
Thought it might be fun to see how you managed and what you were up to.”
        “Thought we might be able to accomplish something you hadn’t been able to.”
        “By crawling up to a vacant building and doing what? You’re not even armed. Thank
God. Or I would put you back behind bars.”
        “Told you so,” Jackson said, apparently speaking to me.
        “Shut up, Jackson,” Patton fired back.
        “I should take you back to your little cell, Francis, just on the principle of the thing.
But I can’t really figure out your crime here. Maybe trespassing?”
        “I give up,” I said. “But how do we know you’re not the one who’s been murdering
        And then I looked behind him. Six more fully uniformed men ready to take on the
local militia. They didn’t look like a group of terrorists to me.
        “I suppose you don’t. But what do I care? I got the munitions and you’ve got nothing.”
        Right, of course. What could I say?
        “So, what now?” I asked him.
        “Stand up!” he ordered us.
        We stood.
        “Just for your information. And to make you feel a little bit better. They were here
awhile back. But they left. We’ve been waiting for them to return. No luck. Until, of course,
you too idiots showed.”
        “When did they leave?”
        “Now that’s a bit hard to figure, Francis. Probably around the time they killed Julia
Robbins. Be my guess from the state of the place. Dust on things. Dates on food cartons.
Things like that.”
        “You just said they killed Julia.”
        “I did. Didn’t I. A lip of the tongue.”
        “You don’t believe I did it at all. Why am I out on bail then? Why are you going to
prosecute me?”
        “I told you before. You just don’t listen. I have a job to do. I take the evidence and
present it to the prosecutor. Between the two of us we figure whether we have a case or not.
Not my job to use instinct as a measure of truth. Okay? Have that down now.”
        I nodded.
        “Now. You two can do me a big favor. Stop trying to do my job for me. Get lost. Until
your court date Francis. Doug. Whatever. And Jackson, keep this guy from talking you into
things. Okay.”
        Jackson nodded. And we slinked back down the long entranceway toward the hidden
Buick. We didn’t talk much. The morning a bust, not much to say.

      “At least we know they’re getting close,” Jackson said as we headed back toward my
      “How do you figure that?”
      “Well there at least one step ahead of us.”
      “That means they’re getting close?”
      He went silent. We were both in a bad mood.

        When we got back to the apartment, I noticed that the cop was back on duty. With a
smirk on his face. I could almost hear him telling himself, “amateurs.” No big deal. In fact,
that fit our actions perfectly.
        We got inside and I noticed it was ten past noon. Just enough time for changing
clothes, eating some tuna, drinking a bit of water, and walking to my lab. Along the way I
also had to think about what great piece of wisdom I was going to tell their young minds to
solve our current dilemma. About time I figure something out.
        And so I worked on the first three of my tasks. Changing, eating, and drinking. The
rest would have to wait. Maybe until I opened my mouth. My mind was on other things now.

        Neither Jackson nor I had much to say during lunch. I let him get back to the TV
while I changed clothes. Things were improving, I thought. Maybe we were getting do to it.
Patton seemed to have things in hand as well as things could get in hand.
        I finished my ablutions and headed out the door.
        “No idea when I’ll be back,” I told Jackson as I left.
        “No worry. Take your time.”
        He looked worn out from our morning’s do. Needed some downtime.
        As I walked to the computer science building, I noticed clouds forming to the west.
Not a good sign. Another storm so quickly? Making up for the lack of punch of the last one
overnight. I wondered if my date with Cassie that night. Maybe we’d have to stay in. That
might be interesting.
        Try as I might, I couldn’t get my mind around my group meeting. What I would say
to them. I had indicated to Buster that some revelation would ensure today. All I had to do
was think of them.
        Once again I walked across the sidewalk toward the steps of the building. Where Julia
had met her fate and this whole business had begun. It now seemed like years ago. Nothing
but a memory.

        I was ten minutes early to our session, but everyone was there. Sitting as if it were a
class rather than a meeting. Under the gun.
        “Doctor F,” Buster greeted me. “We’re all ready.”
        Great. Like being thrown on a stage with no idea what the audience expected of me.
The nightmare of all performers. No matter whether comedian, cellist, or teacher. All the
same in that sense. Maybe all the same no matter what sense.
        When they finally stopped scratching, yawning, and belching, I grabbed piece of old-
fashioned chalk and a placed a mark at the top of the blackboard and another at the bottom.
At the top, next to the mark, I put the word ‘A-Life.’ At the bottom, I wrote ‘PS’ for
primordial soup. Then I drew a dotted line from top to bottom. And then a parallel dotted

line from bottom to top. On each dotted line I added a ‘V’ at one end, pointing in opposite
directions. Arrows.
        “Okay,” I said, “what have we been doing here?”
        Buster raised her hand. She earned her nickname by being the smartest of the group
and never shy in proving it.
        “We’ve been working at the bottom in order to rise to the top.”
        “Bottom up research.”
        “Yes. And why?”
        “Because the universe works that way. Time flows in that direction. Not backwards.”
        “Exactly. Makes sense doesn’t it.”
        Unsure of where I was going, everyone produced a version of a nod.
        “Okay. Called ‘bottom-up,’ right?”
        Again, nods.
        “And what kind of research does the rest of science mostly use?”
        Buster raised her hand again. Couldn’t figure out why she did this. Some form of
regression back to high school?
        “Top-down,” she said. Right again.
        “Reductionism. Works pretty good until you get down to particle physics. Then it
begins to fall apart. Right?”
        “Non-linearity.” Joe almost shouted.
        “Something to that effect. We live in a universe where complexity reigns.
Nonlinearity, even though deterministic, cannot be reverse engineered. So we’re stuck in a
kind of double bind.”
        “We know all this.” Buster again.
        “I know. But I need to say it at this point. Okay?”
        She smiled. Not quite condescendingly.
        “We’ve been trying to find the primordial soup formula that produces something
other than simple repeating sequences or chaotic messes. Right?”
        Nods again.
        “So how many primordial soup recipes are there?”
        “Millions,” Joe said.
        “An infinite number.” Buster.
        “More likely the latter. Or close to it. So here we sit, day after day, month after month,
trying the impossible. To find the needle in a haystack nearly the size of the universe. What
are the chances of finding it?”
        I watched their eyes. Confusion.
        “You saying we’ve been wasting our time? You’re the one having us do this.” Carmen,
a guy with a girl’s name. What a bunch.
        “I know,” I said. “Because that’s how it’s done. Or, rather, that’s how it’s been done.
Because the other way doesn’t seem to work either. So what else can we do?”
        I watch their faces as they mulled that over. We were getting nowhere. Was I telling
them there’s a way to skip this part and get on with it?
        “There’s another way?” Carmen asked.
        “You tell me.”
        Now I had them. They thought I had a secret. Could they figure it out?
        “Something in the middle?” Buster.
        “How would that be possible?” I asked her.
        “I don’t know.”

        “Nor do I. But how about this. What if I could compute one step down from the top
level. Just one step. What would that give us?”
        One by one I could see the lights turn on.
        “One step would give us at least some of the basic principles at work.” Jimmy tossed
that out.
        “Yes,” I said. Emphatically.
        “But how do we do that? It would be like taking a massive Conway’s game of life
layout, not knowing the rules, and then trying to figure out just how we got there.”
        “Not impossible, but no less doable than starting at the bottom.”
        “I disagree,” Buster said.
        “Why?” I asked. Smart girl.
        “Because anything that worked would be a correct previous step. Whether it was
Conway’s rules or not.”
        We all looked at her. Bingo.
        “Exactly. We don’t need to get it right. We need to get a previous step that works is
all. Conjugate the rules from that step, and work down the ladder towards the beginning.”
        “When do we know we’ve reached the beginning.”
        “Oh. When we can’t conjugate any more. Stasis. Or at least something recognizable.”
        I let them think about it for a minute. Then, “You’re going to say next that it would
mean that there’s no right way to create life. That we’d be finding just one of the ways. And I
say ‘yes,’ and you say ‘so what.’”
        Buster got up from her seat and walked to the other blackboard. She took a piece of
chalk and drew a matrix. Then she filled in four of the boxes, each surrounding a single ‘dead’
square in the middle. Perfectly symmetrical.
        “Perfect,” I said. “Now each of you figure out a set of rules that will produce that
result in one move and then build your own matrix with the plot of the filled in squares one
step previous.”
        I had them going now. Better than coffee. Everyone grabbed a sheet of paper and
began drawing and writing. It didn’t take long.
        “Easy,” Carmen said. One rule. Every filled square moves down one level. The matrix
looks the same in the previous step except each filled in area is one square above where it is
        “Works for me,” I said. “But the rule produces nothing but the same thing. A moving
group of squares moving infinitely downward.”
        “Not lifelike enough for you?
        “Then one of our problems is to discover sets of rules, say more than two, that
produce the results that Buster’s drawn here. In other words, there’s got to be a lower limit to
the number of rules we need to produce a life-like development over time. Right?”
        No one answered. They simply waded up their previous attempts and drew new
versions an another sheet of paper.
        I let them work for a while. Not that easy. Like taking a middle game of chess and
trying to figure out what the last move was without knowing it. Trying to base it on
probabilities of two good players playing the game.
        “I got one,” Joe said as he came up to the board, erased my initial drawing, drew a
matrix and then reproduced Buster’s drawing to his right. He then cleverly drew bubbles in
the two empty boxes above and below the furthest left filled box. Cleverly, he then used his

right forefinger to smudged out white spots on two of the filled in squares to indicate that
previous filled squares had occupied those.
        “Four rules. If one filled square to the left, move down and to the right. One above,
move directly to the right. One above and below, stay the same. And one to the right and
below, move to the right.”
        “That will do it, though the next question is how then will the preceding setup look?”
        “Don’t want to do that. It’s what computers are for.”
        “Right. And what do we work with?”
        “But,” Buster interrupted, “how would we know when we reach the soup?”
        “You’ll know. Complete disorder.”
        “That would mean that there are many primordial soups for lightning to strike. Since
so many versions of second steps down the ladder from life exist.”
        “Could be, Joe. Could be.”
        “So what should we do?” Joe asked.
        “If I were you, I’d program some algorithms for reverse engineering something that
doesn’t use less than a certain number of rules.”
        “But what are the initial conditions at the top?” Buster.
        “Well. Don’t you think we should use something that follows the eleven criteria I
developed to define life?”
        The proverbial light bulb went off in everyone’s head. Theirs for the obviousness of
the answer to the question. Mine to the obviousness of one word in my answer. Eleven. My
‘gotcha’ moment had been in bed the first morning of all this mess. Begin with the criteria.
Eleven of them. Had I never counted? And then work backwards by step. Being sure to
observe the complexity involved. And limit the lower end of the number of possible rules.
Eleven. I had it. We were on our way.
        “Damn,” I said aloud. “Damn,” I said again. But nobody listened to me. They were too
busy working on the puzzle I’d laid out. Too busy programming life.
        “I’ve got a stupid question,” Joe said.
        “If we can build life as the model from which we’re going to reverse engineer, haven’t
we solved the big problem? After all, it’s what we want to grow in the first place, right?”
        The place went silent.
        “Joe,” I said, “life that percolates from the soup that we find will actually have the
conditions of life in them as learned behavior. For our model we’ll be using an algorithmic
form of built in mechanisms. Like a robot. Not the real thing.”
        “But since we’re uncovering one possible process for building that robot, won’t it just
grow the same thing?”
        “We change the starting conditions. Once we have the basic elements of the
primordial soup, we fool around with the variables and the rules slightly and then grow the
real thing. The steps back up the ladder won’t be the same ones we uncovered as we went
down. Therefore, the emergent organism will be a natural one, not just an assemblage of
algorithms. See?”
        “I watched his eyes. The concept slowly sinking in.”
        “Yes,” he said. “It’s like we take a cold bucket of water and pour some hot water into it.
Artificial. Then we somehow follow each step as the whole bucket of water follows the second
law of thermodynamics and the bucket becomes entirely lukewarm. Then, without referring
to the steps we followed, we use the natural lukewarm water formula back to a more natural
condition of how the hot water was introduced.”

       “Close. Anyway you want to think of it. In the end we get a true life form that
continues to develop on its own rather than just robotically follow the predictable process we
knew it would follow in the first place.”
       Back to work. But not a wet lab. Not biology. Digital life.

        I walked back to the apartment. Trying not to think about Julia as I did. When I got
back, Jackson was still glued to the TV. He had a budding case of obsession. Or compulsion.
Never could figure out the difference. Maybe he could tell me.
        I grabbed a beer and considered what to wear for my date with Cassie. Three hours to
        I felt pretty good about how the meeting went this afternoon. I was hoping that I’d
feel as good about my date with Cassie tonight.

        “How long did you check the car out this morning?”
        “No time limit. We’re charged by the day. We get the bill when we return it. It’s not
like they’re having a run on used cars these days. I think I may have been the first renter this
        “Gotcha. Let’s keep it for a while. I’ll cover it.”
        “Yes. You will.” Back to the TV. The Postman Always Rings Twice.

        As I left the apartment, the bright sunny day had turned to an overcast early evening,
with a stiff breeze blowing in with a few lone snowflakes. Harbingers of things to come, I
        But the streets were still clear and no ice. So I made my way across town unabated. I
pulled up in front of Cassie’s place and parked. I was early, so decided I wait a few seconds to
let my heart stop pounding as I tried to imagine what she might be wearing. Or not wearing.
        Our second date. Been almost a week since the first. I hoped she didn’t mind my new
beard. I’d decided to let it grow. I figured that some of my bruises might still show around
my jaw and the beard had grown to cover that area of my face nicely.
        I looked in the mirror. Even in the dim light of the fading sun, I looked acceptable.
Especially given the last time she’d seen me. Besides, I reminded myself, looks weren’t
        And I thought about what we might talk about. Certainly not the morning’s episode
with Patton. And I didn’t think she’d be interested in my afternoon session with my grad
students. Maybe we could talk about her for a change. Less about her family. Just about her.
Seemed like a good idea. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves.
        I finally gathered my wits about me and headed for her door. I couldn’t believe how
excited I was. To see her. Maybe to kiss her again. If nothing else, to stare at her across the
table. Beautiful. Who said looks didn’t count.
        I knocked twice and waited. No immediate answer. Maybe she was still in the shower. I
knock again. This time with the ra-ta-ta-tat sign of familiarity. Why not. We knew each other.
Had even kissed. It was a friendly knock I thought.
        No answer. The lights were on. And so I rang the doorbell. I could hear it ring
throughout the house. Twice. And I waited.
        No answer. Had she forgotten? We’d just made the date yesterday. It seemed strange.
        Then it occurred to me. Doris had been kidnapped. Had Cassie met the same fate? Was
that possible?
        I tried the door. Forward of me, but it seemed the right thing to do under the
circumstances. Locked. Double locked in fact, for the knob lock gave a little and I could feel
the deadbolt above it giving no sway. Locked out.

Maybe she’d changed her mind. Didn't want to tell me. Was inside somewhere hoping I’d go
away. Given my active life of late I wouldn’t blamer her. Exciting but dangerous. Not for the
feint of heart.
        I walked around the house to the backyard. No fence. North Dakota was not a place
fond of fences. Maybe out in the pastures. But certainly not in the cities or towns. Particularly
not university towns. Who were you keeping out?
        I tried the back door. Locked. I knocked. Twice. No answer. Getting nowhere. Maybe
she was stuck somewhere. At the store. I could always imagine that true. That she’d come
home bearing gifts of meat and potatoes. For the dinner we’d share in her dining room. After
which we’d sit in her living room and neck. Neck? Still using that word these days?
        I roamed around to the front again. Wondered if I should try and find a nosy
neighbor. See if one of those had any notion where she’d be. But the houses on both sides or
hers looked empty tat the moment. No lights in the darkening night. Nothing to indicate
someone watching television or reading by candlelight. I wished then for a cell phone.
        I got back in the Buick and drove back to town. To find a phone to call her. Maybe she
was back by now. Or report her missing to the police. Would Patton even believe me? After
our antics this morning.
        Most of the day businesses had closed, so I killed two birds with one stone and drove
on to the police department. Patton was not in. A first. But, of course, I imagined him still at
the warehouse working on fingerprints or whatever cops did when they found the vacated
location of criminals.
        I borrowed a phone from one of the desk people and dialed Cassie’s place. I’d
memorized her number. No answer. I let it ring way beyond the logical time to end the call.
Still no answer. I could hear Patton saying, “So what. She’s probably escaped town by now.
Fearful of your next bumbling efforts to solve the city’s crimes.”
        Regardless, I gave a report to the front desk clerk and made sure she wrote it down
correctly. I signed it and told her it was an emergency. Another person had disappeared
recently and no one had heard from her since. We couldn’t let that happen again. She was
very careful with the report and told me the chief would get it the first thing on his return.
        I watched her cross the room and place it face up on Patton’s desk. They I turned
around, depressed as hell, and walked toward the door.
        “Wait,” I heard the clerk say. “Di you mention Cassie Davies?”
        I turned to look at her.
        “Just now in that report you made.”
        “Sure. And you wrote it down twice. I saw you.”
        “I know. But I write up so many reports I’ve trained myself to just write and not
remember anything. Too confusing otherwise.”
        “So, Cassie Davies is not missing.”
        “She isn’t?”
        “No. She’s with Patton.”
        “With Patton. What do you mean?”
        “She’s over with Patton.”
        “Over where?”
        “You know. Out at that place.”
        I immediately imagined her at some flashy restaurant having dinner with Cassie. She’d
turned me over for a cop. Damn his eyes.
        “That barn. You know the one. Way out in the boonies.”
        I did know the one.
        “Why there?”

       “I don’t know. They never tell me anything around here.”
       Probably because you wouldn’t remember. I swore at her under my breath.
       “When did this happen?”
       “About an hour or so ago. I called her myself. And she said she’d be going there as
quickly as possible.”
       Ah. An old flame rekindled. She’d either forgotten me, or swooned when he’d called.
Whichever, it meant curtains for me. Eleven pipers piping.

        I left the building and took the car out in the direction Jackson and I’d gone earlier
that day. I put the lights on bright and tried to remember the distances and different street
names we’d passed. Couldn’t remember a one of them. Too hyped for that. Both then and now.
But before long, I’d at least found the road on which the warehouse stood at the end of its
long driveway, and hoped I wouldn’t miss it in the dark.
        I didn’t miss it. But passed it and had to make a U-turn. I raced down the washboard
road until I saw the building straight ahead. I saw no reason to make my presence secret. I
was damn mad. For a lot of reasons. So I drove right on into the meadow and parked at the
front door of the place. The lights inside were full on and several uniformed cops were
ambling in and out of the place like it was a routine day at Macy’s.
        I got out of the rental and went in the door. I looked around for Patton or Cassie. Lots
of people. But neither of them. Everyone looked busy doing something. I couldn’t tell what.
Then I noticed both Patton and Cassie in the far corner of the building sitting at a table
together nursing mugs of what I presumed was coffee. I walked in their direction.
        As if he’d seen me out of the corner of his eye, and without even looking in my
direction, Patton raised his right arm and signaled to me stop with the palm of his hand. And
I did. He kept it there for a minute and then slowly lowered it. But the conversation
continued and I didn’t feel welcome to interrupt.
        I sat down in a nearby chair and waited. Like a school kid waiting to see the principal.
What a life. Well, I thought, at least one thing went right today. My meeting with the
students. Or maybe I’d overestimated that as well. Maybe if I gave it some thought, I could
change my mind.
        Patton then suddenly waved me over. I arrived just as he finished saying something I
couldn’t hear.
        “Sorry to interrupt your evening, Francis. But I had to see Cassie about something
        “None of your business, actually. But, if you must know, she was helping me figure out
who the bad guys are.”
        “Hey, guys, I’m sitting right here. I can speak for myself. You’re talking about me in
the third person. I hate that.”
        “Sorry,” I said. “Can you tell me why you broke our date?”
        “Ah,” Patton said, “down to the real reason you’re angry.”
        “Patton called me. An emergency sort of. Couldn’t not come. Remember, besides
being a psychiatrist, I’m also a member of the court. I work for the county and am on call
whenever they need me. They needed me tonight.”
        “And to answer your question directly, Francis, she’s doing a psychological profile on
the lead character in our little melodrama. You know. The one involving three murders and a
missing person?”
        “Three murders?”
        “Yeah. Julia, Monica, and some unnamed guy that you beat up but didn’t shoot in the

         “Oh. Yeah. Forgot about him. Any word on Doris?”
         “No. But thanks for asking.”
         “And we just finished. Haven’t we Patton?”
         “For now,” he said. “But I may need you later on.”
         Cassie rose from her seat and for the first time I noticed she was still wearing her
heavy coat, even though the room was quite warm. She walked over and joined me, both of us
still looking at Patton.
         “Ready?” she asked me.
         “For our date? That’s still on?”
         “Absolutely,” she said, as she wrinkled her nose at me. Christ I wished she wouldn’t do
that. Especially in public.
         “Need me for anything, Patton?”
         “You? I wish I’d never laid eyes on you Francis. Go. Get out of my sight.” I never knew
whether he was kidding or not.
         We found our way outside and approached my rental.
         “That what you’re driving these days?” she said.
         “A rental. I suppose you brought your car?”
         “No. One of Patton’s men picked me up and brought me here.”
         “Good. I’ll drive then.”
         And I took her to the rental car. Such as it was.
         She took a look at it. “I hope it’s not as beautiful inside.”
         “I’m afraid it is.”
         We got in and I turned the lights on. I’d been so busy getting somewhere when I’d
driven in it, I hadn’t had a chance to really see the inside. It was a catastrophe. The sets had
stuffing pushing out through cracks in the upholstery. Some even hanging down for the
cloth inside the roof. The cracks inside looked like splinters from bullet holes in the light
from the barn. And, of course, it smelled like old tobacco, wet dog, and three-month old gym
socks. A winner.
         “Where’d you get this gem,” she asked me.
         “Jackson. He picked it up as a rental from a downtown used car lot.
         “Not surprised. Let’s make this trip short and sweet.”
         “Where too? Same place as last time?”
         “My place.”
         My heartbeat escalated.
         “Your place?”
         Instead of answering, she opened her overcoat up. Even in the dark lighting I could
see her dress. What there was of it. Looked more like an invitation than a piece of clothing.
         I almost drove off road and into the forest.
         “I had in mind that we’d eat a nice quiet dinner at my place this evening. What do you
         “I’m all for it.” And I left it at that. Why ruin a perfectly presented invitation.

        I knew something was wrong the minute I turned onto her street. Not only were her
lights on throughout her house, but the doors looked open as well. I drove down and into her
driveway. We could both see the wreckage. Furniture strewn onto the front lawn. Windows
broken. A complete mess.
        “Jesus,” I said. “It wasn't that way an hour ago when I was here.”
        She opened her door and ran inside. I followed and found her nearly in tears over the
        “Who could’ve done this? And why?”
        “Probably the same crew who committed the murders, kidnappings, blew up Jackson’s
car. All that.”
        “But why?”
        “I don’t know. I’ve been asking that question for a few weeks now. Nothing makes any
        “Let’s see if the phone works. We’ve got to call Patton in on this.”
        I looked around for it. No where to be seen
        “C’mon, we’ll go over to my place. You can stay there for the night and tomorrow we
can get to cleaning it up.”
        “Isn’t Jackson staying with you?”
        “Yeah. Why?”
        “I can’t go wearing this. And she opened her coat again. This time in full light. The
dress or whatever you’d call it, looked painted on, with every curve of her body visible in
three dimensions. Much of it uncovered. Though not embarrassingly so. Just enough to be
        “I see your point. Check your closet and see if you can find something to change into.
Collect anything else you can find you might need. We’ll figure out arrangements when we
get there. For now, we’ve got to get you away from here. They could be out there now,
waiting to make their move.”
        “Suppose you’re right.’ And she walked into the hallway and disappeared for a minute.
I looked around me. Clearly an attempt to intimidate rather than theft. I certainly didn’t
know what she had, so I couldn’t be sure things weren’t missing, but it looked like a
premeditated attempt to destroy everything they found.
        She returned with a suitcase and a couple of purses.
        “Everything you’ll need?”
         “No. But enough for now. Let’s go. I can’t look at this anymore.”
        And we drove the rent a wreck to my apartment across town. And found Jackson
watching a movie on the TV.
        “Jesus, Francis, you should have warned me you were bringing guests home.”
        “Didn’t know it until just now. Somebody wrecked Cassie’s place. She’s staying with us
for the night.”
        I thought I saw his mouth turn to a grin slightly and the he aid, “Who?”
        “For heaven’s sake,” they didn’t leave their names. We don’t know who. Cassie’s going
to call Patton now. He’s still out at the warehouse in the forest. Where we were this morning.”
“She know about that?”
        “I’m assuming she does.”
        “Where’s she going to sleep?”
        “My room. I’ll sleep out here with you. We can work out exact arrangements after she
calls Patton.”
        “Not the way you’d hope it’d turn out?”


       When she’d finished reporting in to Patton, she returned to the front room and sat in
my chair. She taken off her coat and changed into a normal work dress. Almost unflattering
compared to what she’d worn before. Probably for the best.
       “You can take the bedroom. Jackson and I’ll make good here in the living room.”
       “But the bathroom’s in the bedroom. Ho will you . . .”
       “Not a problem. We’ll work out something. But the bedroom’s yours and that’s it.”
       She smiled. And I guessed that was it.
       Until she asked, “Did you see my car at the house?”
       “Don’t know. Where’d you park it?”
       “In the driveway. Where you parked.”
       “Well, we’ll have to count grand theft auto the their list of crimes. My guess is they
want you where they can find you.”
       “They can find me here.”
       “But they’ll have to get by two of Patton’s finest outside and go through Jackson and
me in here. We can handle ourselves.”
       “I guess you can,” she said.
       “By the way, do you have anything to eat? I’m famished.”
       “Let me introduce you to our patented gourmet kit. Coffee, beer, and tuna fish.”
       “Sounds interesting,” she said.
       And we ate the last of our supplies, Down to sticking our fingers in the cans and
slurping up the remaining juice. Nothing goes to waste in my kitchen.

        Twelve drummers drumming flashed through my mind as the sun shown in my living
room window. The twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed. Of which the last went ‘and
everlasting life.’ Did I believe in such things. No. But it made for a great English poem and an
equally fun song to sing.
        Another short but nothing storm had passed. I got up and looked out. Almost all the
snow had vanished and for the first time in a month or even two I could see extended areas of
brown grasses and evergreens without snow or icicles on them. Just like spring, though I
knew it to be far away.
        Jackson snored away in his chair in front of the TV, now soundless but still turned on
to a colorized version of Casablanca. Bogart, Bergman, and the irrepressible Claude Rains. I
turned it off. Colorized versions of black and white films missed the point entirely. Many of
these films were intentionally made in B and W, even when color of high quality was
available. What were these colorizing idiots thinking?
        I tried not to think of Cassie sleeping in my bed. Of using the same covers I’d used.
And made some coffee. Too confused to grind the beans. They’d have to suffer through more
or less routine connections with their drug of choice.
        Beyond the coffee, the pantry was empty. The cupboards were bare. The grocery was
just down the street, but I couldn’t leave them here and then have them wake and find me
gone. Another apparent kidnapping. Maybe we could all go when they rose.
        I drank my coffee slowly. Let it roll down my throat as if it held some nourishment.
Fat lot of good that would do. But I gave it a chance.
        Jackson woke first. Came in yawning and ready for a cup of the brew. I let him take a
chance like I had. He just gave me that look. I was used to it.
        Almost immediately, Cassie joined us. Dressed in her going-to-work uniform. The
minute she appeared at the door, Jackson headed for the bathroom. Long time no see.
        “How’d you sleep?” she asked me.
        “No problem,” I lied. The couch was a bumpy ride.
        “How about you?”
        “I’m going to have to find another place to bed down tonight.”
        “What’s wrong? I thought it was pretty comfortable.”
        “Not the problem,” she said. “It’s the context.”
        I didn’t follow.
        “Whose bed am I sleeping in?”
        A warm and fuzzy feeling crept up by backside.
        “But where can you go?”
        “Plenty of places, actually. Don’t think anyone’s rented Julia’s, Dolly’s, or Monica’s
place yet. After all, the memories of what happened to the previous occupant’s can’t be
        “But that you make you a target.”
        “Suppose. At the same time it might be the very last place they’d look for me. I’m also
beginning to think that I’m in your category.”
        “What’s that?”
        “Scare, but don’t annihilate. After all, they could have hit my house early and bagged
me as well as ruining my place. But they didn’t.”
        I nodded.
        “So what’s psychological profiling all about?”

       “Last night with Patton? He asks questions about a suspect or unknown person, and I,
based on previous activities give him a psychological profile of the person. As best as I can.
Like what he or she might do next.”
       “It works?”
       “Sometimes. Certainly not always. But either way he’s got something to go on at least.
Where he might not have anything without it.”
       “What did you tell him?”
       “Help him at all?”
       “Too soon to tell. We’ll know more when we catch him.”
       “You’re sure that’s going to happen?”
       “Patton always gets his man.”
       “That really the case?”
       “Most of the time. At least since I’ve been here.”
       “Breakfast,” I asked.
       “No time. Sorry. I have patients and court matters to tend to.”
       “Call me?”
       “Should I be?”
       “Who knows?”
       Then that look again.
       She bent down to where I was sitting and gave me a little hug, turned, and left.
       “What about your things?”
       “I’m all packed. My stuff’s near the door.”
       And sure enough it was. And she left as promised. And Jackson came out of the
       “Where’s she going?”
       “To work.”
       “But she took her stuff with her.”
       I realized he’d had to walk through part of the bedroom then. Must have noticed.
       “She’s staying someplace else tonight.”
       “Why? Nice to have her here.”
       “Too true. But she needs her space.”
       “What’s that mean?”
       “Don’t push it, Jackson.”
       And he didn’t.
       “We should go out for breakfast.”
       “True. Give me a second to change and pee, not necessarily in that order.”

       We drove to a place downtown that only opens for breakfast. Very popular, though I
never could figure out how they made a go of it. Could have opened for a long longer and
made a lot more money. Of course, maybe that wasn’t the point.
       We chose a table near the door and each ordered the biggest combo on the menu. I
looked around the room. Nobody I knew. Of course, some of them could know me. No
students, though, which made for a brisk light business. Our meals arrived quickly.
       “So what’s it going to be today?“ he asked.
       “No idea. What about you?”
       “Ditto. Today’s the first day the cleanup’s beginning at my place. Should be able to
move back in tomorrow sometime late in the day.
       I didn’t want him to think I didn’t enjoy his company, so left that one alone.
       “I’m glad things are getting back to normal for you.”

        “Hardly that. All they’re going to do is bad stuff in certain matching containers and
then remove and catalog all the destroyed stuff for insurance purposes. When I get there, I’ll
be facing a couple of weeks of sorting things out. But at least it will be an organized mess,
rather than just a mess.”
        I left that one alone, too. Seemed like everyone’s life was getting back to normal.
While mine continued haphazardly. I had no idea what to do next. Continue to charge ahead
blindly? Sit and wait for whatever and whoever was after me to show up on my doorstep? It
had felt so good the previous morning to find the barn. Whether it turned out okay or not,
the adventure of it had at least kept my mind off the various disasters this whole thing had
caused me and many others. And in North Dakota yet. Who says nothing happens here?

        When we returned to the apartment, Jackson decided he was tiring of old movies on
TV and was going to spend the rest of the day in his office. Preparing for his spring semester
classes and polishing up an article he’d written several months ago but had not submitted yet
for publication.
        And so he washed up and left, leaving me alone for the first time since I’d driven out
to the old warehouse in search of Cassie. A nice feeling in some ways. Being alone with not
much to remind me of my current state of affairs. No TV on. Not having to worry about
anyone else for a change.
        Suddenly I heard a sound outside my front door. Then, with a mighty crash, two large,
muscular men launched themselves into my apartment. They looked Middle Eastern — had
all the stereotypes I was momentarily ashamed to admit I’d considered. The men glanced
around, and then came after me. The first one had his hands fisted and an unpleasant look on
his face. The second wrestled with something that looked like duct tape. Strips and strips of
duct tape.
        Before I had a chance to react, the first one grabbed me by the shirt, twisted me so I
was facing away from him, and within a second or two, I felt the second one winding the duct
tape around my wrists behind my back.
        “What’s going on here,” I yelled, and then realized I did know what was going on.
They were abducting me. With duct tape no less.
        Before I could react further, the second man plastered one of his strips of tape over
my mouth, sealing it closed. They both wrapped my feet like my hands, fully rendering me
helpless. I tried to scream, to get away, but it had happened so fast and so unexpectedly, I was
caught like a rat in a trap.
        One of the men grabbed me under the arms and the other my feet, and in one swift
motion they lifted me up, carried me over to the pickup truck, and without fanfare tossed me
into the bed they’d obviously come over the rough ground for that purpose. They then
climbed into the cab, keyed the ignition, and with the growl of an unhappy engine off we
went, along with one or two explosions from the muffler to announce our departure.
        I had no idea where we were going, but I soon discovered the truck bed in which I lay
smelled of ripe manure that now covered me from head to toe, and, apparently, had softened
my landing. I tried to tear away the binds that bound my hands and feet, but they held tight.
Score one for duct tape. Another extraordinary application for the ubiquitous all-purpose
        My abductors hadn’t spoken a word as they attacked me. While I had a few scratches
from being thrown into the back of the truck, the whole operation had been as quick and
painless as one could imagine.
        I wondered then why I hadn’t acted more swiftly. I had the weapons. Elbows and
knees. Along with heads, they posed heavy artillery for a man otherwise unarmed. And, vice
versa, a crippling blow to an elbow or knew would disable an assailant. Try putting duct tape
on something with one good arm. But I hadn’t. Why? Too anxious to get this over. To see
what it was all about. Had I actually beat the two of them senseless, what would I have gained?
Nothing. This way, we were on our way. Maybe to see the one responsible for all this mess.
The one behind it all.
        We bumped onto another road, and away from town. All I could see was the road
behind. Where we’d been, not where we were going. Nor could I figure the precise direction,
as I couldn’t locate the sun in the sky, or the shadows it projected on the ground. I could see
trees occasionally, but then the North Dakota had tress to some degree in every direction.

Basically, I was just along for the ride. Unable to escape, and having no idea how far we were
going or where. I decided to relax and give it some more thought.
         Could Patton be involved in this? After all, I didn’t know that much about him. I
couldn’t believe it though. He’s a police officer for God’s sake. He couldn’t have put himself
through what he’d experienced without giving himself away. After all, I decided, I can tell
when someone’s faking it. Can’t I?
         The truck sputtered along the highway going whichever way it was going. Maybe we
were on our way back to Fargo, I thought. Then I envisioned going over the roads all the way
there in the back of this pickup. I wouldn’t like that. I could easily see myself rolling out the
back and over into the prairie, something that had to be worse than being kidnapped.
         As I mused these possibilities, we passed a sign that said, “Welcome to North Dakota.”
But we were already in North Dakota. I knew that. Then the obvious dawned on me. If we
were leaving North Dakota, the sign would read the same for those traveling in the opposite
direction. After all, I was looking backwards toward where we’d been. Logic, Francis, time for
         If we’d just left North Dakota, then we must be driving into Canada. Was that even
possible? Too little time for anything else. Montana, Minnesota, and South Dakota were just
too far away. We were now in Canada, of that much I was now sure. Of course, a lot of good
that did me.
         The truck kept piddling along, occasionally barking an explosion out its tailpipes, but
maintaining a fairly respectable speed. I couldn’t hear my captors above the noise, and I
couldn’t signal the few passing cars, even those that followed closely before they passed. For
all they could see, I was just more manure. For all I could smell, they’d be right.
         Time passed and I lost all track of details. Even fell asleep for a bit apparently. For
when I woke, the sun had moved through much of the sky toward the west and evening. The
landscape, however, had remained the same. I was cold and lone snowflakes began to settle
over my shit-covered body. Wherever we were, US of A or Canada, the weather was about to
go from bad to worse.
         Finally, we turned onto a gravel road and began what I hoped was the last leg of our
journey. Stones the tires spit out occasionally passed by overhead and once one hit me in the
side. I burrowed deeper into the manure for protection. All the while trying to figure out the
physics of how stones could curve up and over the sides of the pickup and find me.
         Unfortunately, this last leg of our journey became just another long and noisy
extension instead. How had they found me? Had I been circumspect enough to actually check
for a tail during the last few blocks home the previous night? Probably not. They could even
have just figured I’d be home and come for me after Cassie and Jackson had left. Or had they
left just to make this kidnap possible. A cover. A part in the conspiracy? My head began to
         The sun finally set and we continued onward into the night. The stars began to
disappear behind clouds. Freezing cold. Not sure how much longer I could survive out here.
Even the warmth of the manure covering me had waned.
         Finally, the car eventually slowed and, after a gradual turn, came to a stop. We’d come
hundreds of miles at minimum. Didn’t make much sense that the enemy would make their
headquarters so far away. But, out of everyone’s jurisdiction would be the perfect place. The
middle of some province in Canada. Nowhere. Perfect.
         The motor painfully quieted, but only after a volley of burps from the exhaust, and
several after-burning groans from the engine. Two doors slammed, and before long hands
grabbed my arms and legs and pulled me from my fertile resting place. They dragged me
away with me still looking backwards. One of my abductors then grabbed me around my
chest and pulled me up and over a series of steps and onto a porch. We waited there while the

other man, I assumed, pushed a doorbell. We waited some more. Finally, someone opened the
door and spoke in a language I didn’t understand and we entered the house.
         They dragged me inside through some kind of hallway and into a large wood-walled
room. I could see elbow-high bookcases lining the walls, a beautiful Peruvian throw rug, and
what appeared to be Inca artifacts placed here and there on pedestals. My whole body ached
from the ride and the constant manure smell, but the impression of age made me perk up and
pay attention. Quite a collection of antiquities. I was looking backwards again, towards the
door we’d just entered, a position with which I was now quite familiar.
         Voices again spoke in a language I didn’t understand, and the men, apparently
following instructions, shoved me into a chair, and slowly began removing my hand
restraints and uncovering my mouth. All the while the sticky goo of the duct tape ripped my
skin as they did.
         In front of me, stood a large man, a very large man. So large, in fact, it seemed
impossible to imagine him real. He was as wide as he was tall. Dressed in a kind of uniform
frilled on almost every edge with black and white trim. He smoked a large cigar and as he
stared at me rolled it between his fingers. His face, again as wide as it was high, reminded me
of Gutman in the film The Maltese Falcon.
         I had an idea. I balled my right hand into a fist and with all my might, and with every
bit of adrenaline I could produce, drove it directly into the midsection of the man trying to
release me. I not only hit my mark, but I could feel his belly cave as I struck gold. I’d caught
him unaware. He doubled over at once and I could hear the breath escape from his lungs.
         “Gotcha,” I screamed.
         However, I’d forgotten something in my zeal to escape. He hadn’t yet unwrapped my
feet. As I tried to stand, I tipped back into the chair.
         As I toppled backward, I felt a heavy blow striking low on my neck sending a surge of
pain into every muscle, joint, and organ in my body. I didn’t just sit back in the chair, but
rather collapsed there. A just end for a man without the ability to take on two skilled
abductors. I didn’t count the fat man. He’d be good only if he had a gun or sat on me.
         The pain didn’t subside, it got worse. My muscles twitched with it. I lost control of
almost everything but my bowels, which hadn’t had enough food to poop out anything at
this point.
         The fat man watched me as I wriggled and groaned. He didn’t seem to enjoy or pity
me. He just watched in silence until I regained a semblance of normalcy.
         The man I’d socked in the gut was equally paralyzed, and for that I was grateful. Even
a little proud. A professor able to give back what he took.
         “Are you ready to act civilly, now?” the fat man finally asked me in near perfect
         I nodded, my voice still quieted by the blow to my neck.
         The man I’d hit finally got up and my two abductors stood astride of me, and bowed
slightly from the hip. I presumed then, that they left the room, since they disappeared and I
heard a door close in their wake. I still couldn’t turn my head to see.
         The fat man laughed, suddenly, and the rolls of loose flesh around his waist bounced
this way and that like Jell-O.
         “I hope you don’t always smell like this,” he said.
         I had no response to that, so I just kept my mouth shut.
         “You can speak, can’t you?”
         I guess I smiled then, and he nodded and took a puff on his long thin cigar.
         “You definitely have me at a disadvantage, sir.,” I told him.
         He seemed to smile at my use of the word ‘sir’ and took another puff from his cigar.

         “I actually hate these things,” looking at the cigar. “I decided to use this one as a
counteragent to ward off the smell from the ride you just took. It is, I’m afraid, not working
very well.”
         “Not my idea,” I replied. “I’d have much preferred a different ride, or, for that matter,
staying right where I was.”
         “I can understand that, Professor Francis. But from my perspective, that wasn’t
possible. I need you here to tell me of wonders we both find incredible and irresistible, no?”
         Again, there wasn’t much in that for me, so I let it ride.
         “So why am I here, Mister . . .”
         “No need to know my name, Professor Francis, at least not yet. That may come later.
It’s irrelevant at this point.”
          “Are you the number one man in all of this?” I asked him.
         “What do you mean, Professor Francis?”
          “You know, the one pulling all the strings?”
         “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
         “Alright. Let’s start over. Why am I here?”
         “Because, you have something I want. And am going to get.”
         “Obviously not something I brought along.”
         “Oh but you did.”
         “Why have you killed so many people over this?”
         “You have quite an imagination, Professor Francis. I haven’t killed anyone.”
         “Then, had killed.”
         “Not that either.”
         “Then who did, Sir?” Again, I noticed his simple pride at being called sir. He rolled the
cigar between his fingers again, letting the smoke drift into his face to cover my smell.
         “Well now, Professor Francis, we’ve gotten down to business very quickly. I like that.”
         He looked down again at his cigar, twirled it between his fingers, and thought about
what I’d said.
         “Who do you report to Who hired you?”
         “No one has hired me. I do my own bidding, thank you. I report to no one. You just
have something I want, and I’m about to get it from you..”
         “Who told you that?”
         “I’m not at liberty to divulge that bit of information. Someday, maybe, but most
certainly not now.”
         I sat back and smelled myself. I was either getting accustomed to the odor, or it was
slowly wearing off.
         “So, Professor Francis, will I have your assistance in this matter or not?”
         “I’d gladly give you any information if I it. I’ve been through hell and back several
times now, and I don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about. I don’t have anything that
would be slightest interest to you. If I did, you’d be the first to know it.”
         “Hmmm,” he mumbled, “I’d hoped this would be easier.”
         “Listen mister whoever you are, my lips hurt from the duct tape your thugs used to
seal my mouth. My side hurts from getting blasted by a stray rock. My back hurts from
sleeping on the lumpy rear of a pickup truck, and then being slugged a man I don’t know.
But mostly my head hurts from getting the third degree from almost everyone I meet
including you. Let me repeat this one more time – I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Were I to know, I’d simply tell you.”
         “You and I both know how valuable this discovery you’ve made is. Don’t be shy about
         “I’ll wait until I can talk with the top dog,” I said.
         “I am the top dog.”

         “I think not. There’s someone else who gives the marching orders.”
         “No,” he replied, “No marching orders.”
         Gutman stared me down as I rummaged through my brain for some hint, some small
memory of what I might have missed long the way.
         “So tell what I want to know.”
         “But I can’t. I have no idea what it is.”
         “I have ways to make you tell, Professor Francis.”
         “They’ve already been tried, and they haven’t worked.”
         “I doubt that anyone has tried the ways I’m referring to.”
         “You can threaten me as much as you want. Unless there’s the threat of death behind
it, it really won’t work. You admitted it would have been stupid to kill me, and you’re not
         “Ah, but there are many other things worse than death. Believe me, the methods I
know would make you wish, many times over, that you were dead.” This line didn’t come
from The Maltese Falcon, and it quieted me. Gutman puffed again on his cigar, found it had
gone out, and spent a minute or so lighting it again.
         “Okay, sir,” I was trying my best not to call him Gutman to his face, “let’s try a
hypothetical. Let’s assume for the moment I’m telling you the truth. That I don’t know what
it is you want. What’s to stop me from just giving you anything? You’d then have to check it
out, during which time I could escape, or at the least get a respite from what you’d be
otherwise doing to me to convince me to give you the location. We could then keep playing
this game until both of us were worn out from trying. I could start now, for example, and tell
you it’s such and such. It would take you a week to study that possibility, a week in which I
could figure out many ways to make my move. This process could go on forever with
nothing gained.”
         “Professor Francis, you have a devious mind indeed.” He rolled his now lighted cigar
between his fingers again and watched its smoke curl gently upward.
         I let my hypotheses hang in the air as I watched him think it over.
         “All right, then, you have a better idea?”
         “I do,” I replied, hoping I could come up with a plan quickly enough to satisfy him. To
not send me off with his boys for what would be, I imagined, a long bout of pointless efforts.
         “Why don’t we just relax and you can simply tell me what you want to know? We
might, between us, actually piece together a plan on how to proceed more profitably than
having your guys beat the crap out of me.”
         “Not the kind of plan I particularly like, but I’ve got to admit it has merits. I’m not
fond of torture or, do I imagine, are you. If you really don’t know what I’m talking about,
then it makes sense to pool our resources, and if between them there’s a way to move
profitably forward, that would please me immeasurably.”
         Gutman didn’t wait for me, but began as if he’d looked forward to this opportunity.
“Would it surprise you, Professor Francis, that there still exists today a perfect way to drive
the contemporary world back into the Stone Age??”
         “Yes, it would surprise me. But, if it’s true, I’d bet they’d have hired you to find it.”
         “You could say that, but what would you say if I told you that I know most of what
you already know. Just not the final piece of the puzzle?”
         “Are you telling me that?”
         “I’ll let you ponder that one, Professor. But does it not make for a wonderful story, and
give you good reason to tell me what you know. You see, if it gets used, as I’m sure it will, it
would no doubt end up in someone else’s hands. And you would never profit from it.”
         “You never mentioned a profit.”
         “Got your attention?”
         “Could be. What are you offering?”

        “How about several years of full funding for your research?”
        “Why didn‘t you tell me that in the first place?”
        “I doubted you’d have accepted my offer then anymore than you would now.”
        “When you discovered what I wanted it for, you’d be displeased.”
        “You’d be willing to kill for this secret, wouldn’t you?”
        “Yes. Willing but not eager. Torture and killing are sometimes necessary, but never
optimal. Again, Professor, I didn’t murder anyone, nor did my men.”
        I gave that some thought.
        “Now you should give me your side of our bargain, Professor, as you promised me you
        I then told him of my work in A-Life. Of how it was going. Of how our research
funding was drying up and I’d probably lose the last request I’d made from the NSF. Lack of
immediate success.
        “And so,” I finished, “I’ve been given the third degree by the best interrogators
around, and I still don’t know what you want. You must realize that were I to know, I’d give it
to the first person that asked for it. It’s been nothing but trouble.”
        “I doubt you’d give it away, Professor Francis, being a well-known computer scientist
and someone of great curiosity. Somehow, though, someone thinks you have the knowledge
we require, and either they’re deceiving those of us who’re trying to find out, or you do have
that information. You may not know you have it. Have you thought about that?”
        “Yes. But I’ve considered every other possible angle, and I can only believe that those
who think I know have false information. If that’s true, then I should be able to find a clue
somewhere among my things. However, I haven’t found such a clue.”
        Gutman’s cigar had long ago stopped smoking, and he now placed it in an ashtray on
the desk behind which he now sat.
        “Well, Professor, we do have a problem here, don’t we?”
        “We do indeed, sir.”
        Gutman heaved his large bulk from the chair, splayed his puffy fingers out on the
desktop in front of him, and said, “Why don’t we give you time to wash up and put on some
clean clothes before dinner? Then we can discuss our options.” And with that he rang a small
bell on the desk, and his compadres entered the room, ushered me out, and pushed me
roughly down a long hallway. There, we turned into a small, neatly laid out bedroom, and
they left me there alone.
        I was immediately stunned by the beauty of what I saw. Carpets obviously woven by
Peruvian weavers into Indo-American designs. Apparent antiquities sitting atop almost
every sill, counter, table, or shelf in the room. A door next to the bed led to the bathroom. On
a chair to the side of this door lay a stack of neatly ironed clothes. I stripped, took a long hot
shower, put on my new duds, and lay down for a short nap which lasted longer than I

         I woke in almost total darkness. Only a sliver of light under the door provided a clue
that I hadn’t been secreted away in some closet.
         I heard voices from outside the room, again speaking a language I didn’t understand.
         After a minute or two, the door opened a bit, light shown in, and one of the two
Indians that had driven me here motioned for me to follow. I did.
         He led me into a dining room of large proportions in the center of which was a large
rectangular wood table covered with salads, meats, wine, and other obvious delicacies. As I
stood there taking it in, Gutman entered, sniffed the air, and said, “You took a shower.”
         I realized, as I continued to stare at my surroundings, I was now wearing military
         “I see your curiosity about the new clothes,” Gutman said. “Standard dress for people
in my profession. The camouflage works quite well.”
         “We eat and drink, and then we talk,” he added.
         And so we did, not speaking a word during the meal, enjoying the aromas and tastes
as much as possible, without demeaning them with words.
         When we’d both had our fill, and for Gutman that meant quite a lot, we sat back and
looked at one another. Gutman lit up another cigar and offered me one as well. I declined.
         “And so, Professor Francis, have you had an opportunity to think about our
problematic situation?”
         “Not much. I’m afraid I slept a bit longer than I expected and am only now getting
my mental legs back.”
         “I understand. But this problem won’t go away on its own. We need to put both of our
considerable weights behind it, and while I know my weight far exceeds yours, I can’t solve it
without your help.” He smiled at this reference to his size.
         “Maybe if I can’t actually present a solution,” I said, “I can at least define the problem
more concretely than we have to this point.”
         Gutman gave me a good stare as he rolled his cigar in his fingers and nodded that I
should continue.
         “You have to tell me exactly what you want to know. I can’t figure out why you didn’t
ask me that in the first place. Saved u all a lot of trouble. And a few people their lives.”
         I stopped then and let the words resonate in the large room. Gutman looked at his
cigar. My head was swimming from my last sentence, attempting to figure out if it actually
said what I’d intended it to say.
          “My not asking you what the secret is, is not an accident or idiocy on my part. The
fact is I don’t know how to ask the question. Because I have no idea what it is you have. Do
you see? Your work is special. I indeed have a use for what you will eventually give me. But I
haven’t clue whether it’s animal, vegetable, or mineral. My guess is that it’s digital. But that I
wouldn’t understand. I think if I told you my goal you’d figure out what I’m asking. But if I
did that, there’s no way you’d then ever give it to me. Do you understand?”
         “No. Not put that way. But I do believe you have no idea what I know. Just that it’s
important to your plans.”
         Again, Gutman shook his head back and forth slowly. “We’re right back where we
         I continued with my strategy, “Why don’t we call a truce in this mess. And call a
meeting with my graduate students. Maybe they could help unravel what it is you’re looking
         “No. They might help. But the fewer people involved in this the better.”
         “You mean the fewer people you’d eventually have to kill.”

        “I think this is getting us nowhere. You want to know what the secret is. But you don't
have enough information to know what it is even if I give it to you.”
        “We’re talking in circles.”
        Gutman’s cigar had gone out, and he put it in the ashtray.
        I’d run out of gas and decided to try the white wine. I poured some dry Chardonnay
into my glass and gave it a sip.
        Gutman stood quietly staring off into the distance, measuring, possibly, the odds of
making this work.
        I thought of Cassie. Did she miss me? Did she even know I was gone? I guessed she did,
given my vacant apartment. Had she called Patton into the picture to search for me? Where
was Patton? Especially when I needed him.
        Gutman finally spoke. “I think we should sleep on it,” he said. “You have a good bed, a
bathroom, and you’ll find nightclothes to wear on the stand next to the bed. You can’t escape
because we’re miles from the nearest town, even the nearest building, and we’d find you in
the morning, wandering around aimlessly. There’s really no place to hide in the Canada
highlands. There’s very little vegetation, and even the dry creek beds are not deep enough to
hide in.”
        I nodded my agreement, and we both retired to more comfortable quarters.

        After a fitful night’s sleep, I woke early enough to see the dawn’s early light, peeking
into the room from under the door
        I splashed some water over my face, dressed, and found Gutman in the dining room
sitting alone at the table, feeding himself from several bowls of various foods.
        “I apologize for beginning without you,” he mumbled, with his mouth now full of
cereal of some sort.
        “Not a problem,” I replied. “I hope the coffee’s good.”
        “The best in the world,” he said.
        I thought of Cassie again. I missed her. I wondered if she missed me by even half as
        Gutman interrupted my thoughts.
        “So, what do we do now?”
        I almost asked him ‘what?’ before I realized what he was talking about. Then I made
sure I really understood the plan I’d formulated on the fly.
        “I’m going to give you a short course in artificial life. You’re going to listen and ask
questions if you need to. I will take you right up to today without leaving anything out. You
can record me lecture on video if you want. I don’t care. Then you take it to your boss and if
he things he has what he needs, then you release me and do whatever you’re going to do and
everyone’s happy.”
        That obviously had not occurred to him.
        “You’d do this? He asked me.
        “But what confidence should I have in what you’ve told me is true?”
        “None, I suppose. Except you then take it to your experts and they can work it out
and see if it’s what you want.”
        “We have no experts. You know as well as I do that the field is very young. So very
few know what’s going on.”
        “But there are, nonetheless, others.”
        “Not enough time.”
        “There’s a deadline?”
        “For those who want the information there is.”
        “Above my pay scale.”
        “Well, not knowing what you’re going to do with the information, Let’s just say I have
no reason to lie about it.”
        He studied me
        “Give it a try?”
        And so we did. His men put up a camera and microphones. Where they got them was
beside me, but they had them nonetheless.
        And then I spent several hours going through the basics of A-Life. I left out the names
of the progenitors to avoid the ones of those still living from having to get involved as well.
It took time and Gutman had many questions. But I ended it all without any lies, with the last
meeting of our research group and my revelations to them of my latest thoughts on the

        “Maybe this will help. Thomas Ray built one of the first truly open-ended artificial life
systems. He was a biologist seduced by the potentials of computer programming. With me so
        He smiled a little, apparently not quite getting my intended insult.
        “Open ended here means that his idea involved no particular end result. Except,
maybe, surprise.”
        I let that sink in.
        “So Ray’s idea was to build an evolving system where initially simple digital creatures
would evolve into more complex creatures. He called his research Tierra. His creatures were
fairly simple lines of code that enabled what biologists called genotype and phenotype
        “You’ve lost me.”
        “Genotype gives an observer perspective from genes. DNA. Built-in processes
inherited from previous generations. Phenotype gives observers a view of actual behavior.
One’s perspective from the inside, the other the outside. If you prefer.”
        “In 1990 he tried his system. It contained a creature with instructions on how to self-
replicate, and a kind of digital soup in which to place his creature. An environment.”
        “Go ahead.”
        “He called his first such creature an Ancestor and placed it in the soup. Since the
Ancestor’s children had its instructions too, they could reproduce, and soon he had nearly
filled the environment beyond the soup with creatures. Since he included in his Ancestor a
possibility for mutation, simple random accidents, some of the offspring were different than
the parent.”
        I waited for questions, but apparently had done a good enough job so far to continue
their interest.
        “The creatures began to struggle with one another for survival. Occasionally the
mutants would survive more likely than proper descendents than the pure ancestors. As a
result, the mutants took over, they too provoking more mutants. Now he had a diverse
population of different creatures each vying for dominance. For survival. As this continued
onward, creatures developed more sophisticated was to combat other species, and so on. He
had built a Darwinian evolutionary system. Of course, I’ve off a lot of detail here. But this is a
simplified version of what became a very complex process.”
        “So what?”
        “So what that I left out the details, or so what is so important about what Ray did?”
        “Both, actually, but more the latter.”
        “Without even putting in what we call fitness tests per se, he’d created a wonderland
of unpredictable life, surviving within a container. Just like we have on earth with biological
        “And what does this have to do with your research?”
        “Everything. I’ve based what I do on Ray’s basic ideas. And many others like Holland.”
        “Yours differs how?”
        “I start in the beginning. No primordial soup. No injection of a creature. I begin from
scratch. Simple mathematical equations, called non-linear because once they produce output
they cannot be reversed engineered.”
        “Important because?”
        “Because the produce chaos. More or less like we imagine the Big Bang to have done.
In other words, Ray began his work at a point where life could have emerged. I begin at
square one. Assuming, of course, that life developed on earth and didn’t arrive pre-built from
outer space. In other words, from the basic elements of recombination of basic elements of
hydrogen and helium.”

        “But it’s very difficult to replicate a process that may have taken fourteen billion
years to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time on a computer. And, there are so many
variables that we don’t know about, we keep coming up with nothing that even resembles the
life we know of.”
        “But what.”
        “You’ve come up with a solution to this problem.”
        “How do you know that?”
        “Let’s just say I do.”
        “It hasn’t been tested.”
        “It’s being tested now.”
        “Okay. You’re right. So what. I have no idea whether it works or not.”
        “Tell me what you’ve come up with.”
        I looked around the room to see if I’d missed any way to escape this mess. None
        “I cheated.”
        “I came up with a plan to backtrack, reverse engineer if you want, a non-linear
mathematical formula from a generalized artificial life form. A model I built.”
        “And how does this help?”
        “Well it won’t prove anything special. Like this was how it worked, and so on. But it
would give us a starting point. In other words, we’ve been hacking away at thousands of non-
linear equations not knowing whether one would work better than another. And none were
working. By getting an equation we knew might work, we could try to draw from it a class of
equations that would jump start our A-Life process. From point zero.”
        “As I say, I don’t know whether it will work or not.”
        “And if it does?”
        “It will produce what I call D-Life.”
        “Digital Life. As opposed to B-Life. Biological life. As far as I’m concerned, both are
just different forms of the same things. One not more alive than the other.”
        “We’ll debate that another time.”
        “And what could your D-Life produce?”
        “Almost anything. It wouldn’t jump out of the computer screen and attack you if
that’s what you mean. But in its domain, it would possibly be able to do some serious problem
solving, or some devious criminal activity. And there’s a lot of area between those two
        “So powerful it could wipe out other computer programs?”
        “More than likely. But I have no gauges to determine that for sure. At least in
        ”So you keep it contained.”
        “We do. Ray built his creatures as computers within computers so that they couldn’t
have access to the outside world. Just shared the same CPU and memory. No escaping.”
        “And what would these little critters do if released?”
        “No doubt, if they worked as predicted, they would make every attempt possible to
dominate their environment. Unless one had some kind of advance notice, enough time to

build a superior agent of some kind, they’d simply destroy whatever intended use the larger
environment had. Make it their own. And God knows what their intent might be.”
        “But still contained in the computer?”
        “Of course. I can’t imagine it escaping that environment. It’s digital after all. No
matter how sophisticated it might seem.”
        “So destruction. But possibly another use that you can’t predict in advance.”
        “Very powerful.”
        “Could be, I suppose. But one would never use it for any other purpose than to study
environmental processes. After all, to do so would only be destruction. Scientists are not
interested in that.”
        “Except for nuclear weapons, eh.”
        “This is not a nuclear weapons. And we’re not in a world war.”
        “So you think. And times have changed.”
        In the rush of my explanation, I’d forgotten to whom I spoke. I didn’t know exactly
what he represented. But I couldn’t imagine it as constructive.
        “You’ve been very helpful, Professor Francis. Very helpful.”
        I guessed we had finished. Gutman looked both taught well and confused.
        “Where’s the code,” he asked me.
        “In the lab with my students. I’ll instruct them to give it to you as it stands.”
        “Will be able to use it?”
        “Probably not. There’s no interface. And it’s not complete. I just met with them
recently and I’m sure they’ve not had time to implement it yet.”
        “The what good is all this?”
        “I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain. I’ve told you exactly and truthfully everything I
know. It may take months or even years to discover if my predictions bear fruit of simply die
on the vine.”
        Something buzzed in his pocket then. I could hear it. He pulled out his phone and
talked briefly, once again in a language I didn’t understand.
        “We’re going to have visitors,” he said.
        “The one I imagine you’ve been waiting to meet.”
        “You’re boss?”
        “The big man.”
        “Bigger than me. At least in terms of status.”
        The time had arrived. My waiting was over. Whoever walked down that staircase
would be the mastermind behind everything that had happened to me. The twelfth disciple,
Judas Iscariot. The betrayer. Not an apostle. Cassie? Why had I thought of her first? Patton?
Not likely. Jackson. He had the inside track given his presence all along. Maybe Gene
Thurman, the father. I’d never had the chance to talk with him. Maybe Dolly? Fat chance.
She’d disappeared around the time things began to get really interesting. Buster? Joe?
Another member of my research group. Not impossible. Of course, I couldn’t completely
discount Joe Wise, though I hardly knew him. Mann the DA. Or even Judge Williams. She’d
have the requisite powers to make a lot of it happen. Actually it was a small town. Maybe they
were all in on it. Or at least some of it. A group rather than an individual? By this time I
wasn’t ready to discount the dead from rising and pronouncing their eternal life in crime.
Julia. The one I’d fallen in love with. Or so I was told. Even Dolly, her lookalike. But none of

these seemed likely given that headquarters were in Canada. Nearly a day away from our
little berg in North Dakota. Hardly a place where one could commute on a daily basis.
        The first thing I noticed was that the perpetrator was male. The hairy brownish legs
proved that. Unlikely a suntan earned in the wilds of a mid-continent province in Canada.
Unless by a sun lamp. I breathed a sigh of relief. Not Cassie. And then the rest of the body
appeared. I was stunned. Not possible, I told myself. A complete oxymoron. How could it be.
        Standing before me was none other than Saul Perlmutter. My Jewish friend. Who’d
kept me safe from the police. Given me his hope to stay in. A bed to sleep. Meals to eat.
        He smiled at me. Malevolently.
        “Surprised?” he said.
        I didn’t answer.
        “Surprised that a Jew wouldn’t or couldn’t become involved with a terrorist cell made
up of militant Muslims? Well you’d be right.”
        I stared at him. Not knowing what to say.
        “I’m not a Jew, Francis. I am Semitic. A Palestinian to be exact. But not a Jew.”
        “But your home. You had a menorah. I saw it there.”
        “You did. But you miscalculated. Not my home. Not at all my home. The real
professor Permutter in currently basking in the sun in Italy. On a sabbatical. If you’d done
your homework, you’d know that. But you didn’t/ You took me at my word. Everything you
saw in that house was real. Almost everything I told you was true. Just not all of the
assumptions you made about my religion.”
        “And you’re behind all this?
        “Mostly. Of course, we all report to someone. But I’m the top dog for this area of the
        He looked at Gutman then, who immediately bowed slightly and took a chair in the
corner of the room.
        “So now you’re looking at the top dog. I’ve heard all of the nonsense you’ve been
saying down here. I’m sick of it. You know I can kill for what I want. Now give it to me or I’ll
have you shot. Right here. Right now.”
        “But you won’t do that. You need me.”
        “I do. But not so bad as you think. After all, with you dead, no one else can get the
information either. That’s almost as good as having it. The important this is if I don’t get it,
they don’t get it.”
        “The rest of the world. That’s who.”
        “Okay. Then let me say this. I’m happy to give you what you want. I’ve always been
happy to do that. But, honest to God, yours or mine, I have no idea what you want.”
        “I believe you.”
        “Then what can I do?”
        “Pretend you’re a terrorist. Can you do that?”
        “Unlikely. But I’ll give it a try.”
        “So, if you were a terrorist, what’s the most vulnerable thing on earth?”
        “I don't think that way. Have no idea.”
        “Think that way. If you wanted to bomb the planet back into the Stone Age, what
would you need to do?”
        “Get a few nukes and start. Bombs away!”
        “But that would pollute everything. Including you. What if you weren’t suicidal?”
        “Aren’t these guys all suicidal?”
        “No. Not the smart ones. You think that Bin Laden was suicidal? You think he’s going
to wrap himself in a bomb and get blown up to get his point across? Not on your life. The
smart ones want to live the good life. They just recruit those whose lives are so destitute that

just the thought that their families might have it better if he blows himself up makes him do
        “Back to my original question, then. What’s the most vulnerable thing on earth?”
        “The White House. Bomb the White House.”
        “Not even close.”
        “I really haven’t given this much thought.”
        “For sure. But give it some now. It’s important that you do.”
        “Okay. The weather.”
        “The weather?”
        “Sure. Figure out a way to change the weather. Make it so that your enemies starve to
death in deserts and your friends, if you have any, have all the eats they want.”
        “Original. But not even close.”
        “I give up.”
        “No you don’t. Try again.”
        “Rule the seas. Commerce. Control the food and water supplies. Make them beg to
        “Not close.”
        I was getting delusional from all this talk.
        “Okay then, Doug. Here it comes.”
        “The Internet.”
        “Not sure I understand.”
        “What’s on the Internet?”
        “Lots of things. So what?”
        “Not lots of things, Doug. Everything. Everything’s on the Internet. What if it
suddenly went down? Like really down. For good. Or at least for a long time.”
        “Not sure. But it would be a mess.”
        “A mess? It would be a catastrophe. We depend on it. Everyone does. Even third world
countries. The world’s one thing now. Bound to that single entity. We buy things there. We
sell things there. We do commerce there. The banks do business there. We read our books
there. About the only thing we can’t do there is eat and sleep. And a lot of people spend so
much time on line they might as well eat and sleep there.”
        “How could someone bring it down?”
        “Some kind of ‘bot,’ I suppose.”
        “Right, but spiders, the software that surfs the web, can’t really harm it. They can
maybe bring down a certain site. But not the web itself. For that we’d need something special.
Something unique. Something no one is prepared to fight. Hasn’t even been anticipated.”
        “Catch them by surprise.”
        “Okay. Then what?”
        “Then what? Then, with everything down, whoever’s the best prepared survives as the
winner. The world’s strongest survive, Doug.”
        “But the Internet isn’t going down.”
        “Yes it is.”
        “You’re going to bring it down.”
        “Me? What are you talking about?”
        “I’m talking about A-Life. The subject you teach and research. Remember that?”

         I stared at him. It was an interesting thought. A disastrous thought. But even if it
were possible, such a thing would be years away. Probably decades. By then, the Internet
would have found ways to prevent it.
         “I know what you’re thinking, Doug. That this is all fantasy. Not possible. But it is.
And right now. Today!”
         “A-life procreates, right? It strives to survive, right. It develops immunity. Like a
virus, but a real virus, not a computer virus. It’s not artificial life, Doug. It’s really life. You’ve
proved that. Not the same kind of life as you and me. But real life nonetheless. In silico not in
vitro. Right.”
         I was astonished he knew the words. We all used them for years in A-Life. But ours was
such a small field I hadn’t considered anyone else was watching. Apparently they had been.
“It’s not a virus either. Virus infect things. Like cancer. A-life eats things. A virus gives you a
cold or the flu or worse, but it works inside up. A-Life works like you and I do. From the
outside in.”
         “And I forgot the best part about you're A-Life. It eats, Doug. It eats. Not the kind of
food we eat. It eats information. Digits. And then excretes what it doesn’t need. Everything
on the Internet is food, Doug. And what your little lifelings leave behind is chaotic and
indecipherable. Gibberish. Isn’t that right?”
         He had me there.
         “So how long do you figure it’ll take?”
         “For your little guys to turn our organized virtual world into mush.”
         “No idea. Not even sure it would work. You’d have to build an interface.”
         “I have plenty of programmers. Not a problem. How many of your gizmos would it
take to devour the whole thing in, say, a day?”
         “A billion maybe.”
         “How about one hundred billion? It’s just memory, Doug. How about a hundred billion
         “I see your point.”
         “Do you? Really. We can bring the entire world to our knees in minutes. And no way
to retaliate. Where are we after all? We’re not a country. Can’t find us on the map. We’re
everywhere. And we’ll rule everything.”
         “Thank you. I take that as a sincere compliment. It’s exactly what I am.”
         “One thing I don’t understand. Why did you have to kill for this. I was going to
publish it all in due time anyway.”
         “That’s exactly why we had to kill them. They were going to tell you about us. Before
you finished. And, we don’t want to wait until you publish. It you publish it first, then those
who wish to stop us will have time to figure out a way to kill your little buggers.”
         “I won’t do it.”
         “Do what?”
         “Do whatever it is you want me to do.”
         “You’ve already done it, Doug. You’ve already discovered the magic bullet. All that’s
left is to use it. I don’t need you anymore.”
         “Yes you do.”
         “Why’s that, dare I say?”
         “Because I can still stop them from working.”
         “I don't believe it.”
         “Believe it.”
         “But not if you’re dead.”

       “A twelfth rule.”
       “Which is?”
       “A revised form of Asimov’s three laws of robotics.”
       “How does that work? Those laws don’t cover things like the Internet.”
       “They don’t.”
       “So how did you program them differently?”
       “I didn’t.”
       “I don’t follow. Wait. I do. Genetic algorithm.”
       “You used a fitness algorithm?”
       “For this rule only. They develop the rule over time and through many generations.
Somehow they know when they’re harming their creator.”
       “But you don’t know exactly how?”
       “No. Emergence. Lots of zeros and ones. Means nothing to me.”
       “And you think they’ll protect the Internet.”
       “I know they will.”
       “You’ve tried it.”
       “On a small scale. With a local access network version. Just in case it didn’t work.
Didn’t want what you have in mind to occur accidentally.”
       “Without this twelfth rule, they’ll do what I want.”
       “Never tried it on that scale. You only get one shot so see if it works or not. I wasn’t
willing to take a chance.”
       “So now what?”
       “Nothing. You let me go and try and disappear. Your game’s up.”
       “Not yet it isn’t. We still have you.”

        Then all hell broke loose. Four men arrived. Not by the stairs. Not from above. But out
of what looked liked closets in the back of the room I’d been too busy with my captors to see.
Each was a replica of the man who’d assaulted me and nearly ended my life. All were covered
with weapons and ammunition. Ready for World War III. And each knew what to do.
        I ducked down behind the long bench on front of me. Not much protection, but made
of solid wood. Better than a couch or chair would have made. Saul, or whatever his real name
was, joined them as they took up positions around the doorway. I didn’t envy anyone trying
to come from above into this firestorm. Everyone had handguns drawn and ready to fire
except me.
        But I no longer gave a damn. I leapt to my feet suddenly and, finally using my elbow,
put the guy on my right to sleep, maybe for good. I could the vertebrae in his neck snap like
a twig in a storm might. I’d done a good job. No one ever noticed, so concentrated were they
on the stairs coming from above. I hid again, this time behind the bench and the man I’d
taken down. Uninterested in his current condition, but knowing either way he was out for
the count on this battle anyway, I eyed my next target.
        I slowly made my way over to him, and without a second lost, kneed him in the
middle of his back while simultaneously forcing my arm around his neck in a choke hold
meant to kill. Unfortunately, he automatically fired his weapon alerting everyone else, all
three of them, to the menace in their midst. They turned with weapons at the ready.
        I turned my captive around in front of me and hid my head behind his. Of course, I
didn’t have time to completely disappear and felt two bullets ram into his body, meant for
me. Of maybe not. They could have thought he was turning on them. Or maybe they didn’t
care one way or the other.
        I reached around him and grabbed his weapon. Aimed it as best I could, and put two
bullets into the man to the right of Saul. Dead center of his chest. An accident for sure. I was
not field tested in the skill of firearms. But it worked. He jerked back immediately into the
wall and slid down it leaving wide streaks of fresh blood as he did.
        Two down. Three to go. But they had weapons. I had one as well, but couldn’t risk my
lack of skills on defending myself well against one, no less three, opponents.
        That was the moment that things began to go my way. For just as they began to aim
in my direction, the force from above opened the door and began firing automatic weapons
down into the cellar. Saul was the first to catch one. Right in the neck. Full on. He bent
himself backward from the force and hit the floor like a truck had hit him. And now there
were two.
        I’m not exactly sure how the next few minutes went. Guns fired. Bodies flew through
the air. I whacked a few people with elbows and knees, and head butted someone who may
have been one of the good guys. Everyone was in plain clothes. Who’s to tell?
        But slowly the smoke from the guns cleared and I could see Patton waving his hands
in a ceasefire. I couldn’t hear anything at all. The guns firing in such a small resonant space
had deafened me completely. All I could hear really was my heart beating. So rapidly I
thought it might be all over for me as well as whomever had taken the shots lying on the
floor around me. It was a complete mess.
        And. Of course, Patton cuffed and arrested me. For what, I couldn’t hear. Maybe
disturbing the peace. Who knew? I fell back on the couch. My original position, and tried to
make heads or tails of what had just happened. It seemed the good guys had won. But then
who were the good guys? I thought I had a general idea, but having never been told about
what was going on, I couldn’t be sure.

        So I simply closed my eyes and pretended myself into a quieter and gentler place. In
the California Sierras. Camping with my father. Watching the night sky come alive after dark
with millions of stars. The Milky Way overhead. Jupiter and its moons. The Andromeda
Galaxy which at ten thousand feet you can usually find pretty easily. A fire at our feet and
some beer in hand. Life was good.
        When I opened my eyes again, Cassie was there. Kneeling on the floor and holding my
hand. Smiling. The bodies were being photographed and removed from the premises. I could
hear a bit now. People moving. Sometimes I could even make out a word or two. Patton
ordering his minions to complete their duties.
        “You okay?” she asked. For some reason I could hear her voice quite well.
        “Fine,” I said, no really knowing what I was talking about. But I couldn’t feel any pain
at the moment and couldn’t remember actually being hit by anyone. Elbows and knees, I
reminded myself.
        “What happened?”
        “We found them and you helped us take them out.”
        “We found them? You a part of all this? What have I missed?”
        “Sit back and rest for a minute. Then I’ll tell you about that.”
        And I did. Rest that is. The banging in my head was slowing down and my heart rate
seemed to be returning to a more normal pace.
        “Did you follow me?” I finally asked her.
        “Follow you? Follow you where?”
        “To Canada.”
        “Canada? What the hell are you talking about Francis. We’re just a few blocks from
where you live. What’s Canada got to do with anything?”
        I thought it over. We’d gone a very long distance. Taken most of the day. We’d past
the line over into Canada. That I remembered clearly.
        “They drove me north. I was lying in the back of a pickup. I saw a sign say ‘Now
entering the United States of America. Since I was looking backward at it, all I could imagine
was Canada. We’re way too far from any other border.”
        “And did you go through customs too?”
        I was stumped.
        “Canada’s a foreign country, Doug. You’d have to go through customs. Or else you
were on a very lonely country road. Which wouldn’t have a sigh telling you about which
country you were entering.”
        I thought it over. More than likely true. We had seemed to get there rather fast.
        “They drove you around in circles, Francis. Probably planted the sign just to confuse
        “Then where am I?”
        “Where do you think you are?”
        “Perlmutter’s house?”
        “In the basement. He never told you he had a basement, did he?”
        “But then, why would he. It’s where he hid out from us. And it wasn’t his house in the
first place.”
        “Right in front of our noses.”
        “You nose, Francis. Your nose. I didn’t live here for a couple of days. Sitting right on
top of a terrorist cell.”
        I granted him his day in the sun.
        He walked out on me then. Leaving me with the rest of the vermin.
        Cassie replaced him then. Looking a little shyly at me.
        “What’s wrong,” I asked her.

        “I think I owe you an apology.”
        “For what?”
        “For telling you some white lies.”
        “Like Julia was my sister.”
        “She wasn’t your sister?
        “Well, a close relative. But not my sister.”
        “Me actually.”
        “What? You? Are you kidding me? You were dying. I held you in my arms. Didn’t they
shoot you?”
        “No, actually, they did not.”
        “Who then?”
        “No one shot me.”
        “But I felt your blood. You weren’t breathing. I saw them take you away. With a sheet
over your head.”
        “All true. But all not true at the same time.”
        Too much new information all at once. I felt a little dizzy.
        “The whole thing was a setup. We knew you had something they wanted. We also
knew you were an academic scientist. That you’d be happy to give anyone anything. We had
to convince you of the importance of the game being played.”
        “So you acted a part.”
        “Pretty convincing, huh?”
        More than that I would say. But I didn’t tell her that.
        “But the blood?”
        “Easily faked. We got it from one of the butchers in town.”
        “Who else have you been acting.”
        “Many actually.”
        “What?” Expecting her to tell me her apparent affections for me were as false as Julia’s
        “I played her too. That’s why all three of us looked so much alike. It made things
easier than trying to use disguises which could be discovered easily.”
        “But you and Dolly are, were, are so different.”
        “All in the acting, Doug.”
        “That explains some things, though.”
        “No one seemed disturbed by their deaths. You, for instance. You’d just lost two
sisters and didn’t seem bothered in the least.”
        “I guess my acting isn’t as good as I thought.”
        “And what about the Doris-Doris thing, with Dolly as a nickname for one of them? It
seems too hard to believe.”
        “Sometimes the things that are most unbelievable are the easiest to believe.”
        “And of course Patton knew all about this.”
        “Actually it was his idea.”
        “You’ve known him a long time then. Somebody you trust.”
        “I do. And I’ve know him a very long time.”
        “Like brother and sister you might say. Actually you wouldn’t have to say ‘might.’ He
is my brother.”

        “Jesus. He’s your brother?”
        ”He is.”
        I had to pause to keep up.
        “Are Norma and Gene your parents then? Or was that fake too.”
        “Our parents died when we were very young. Both Norma and Gene are police. In on
it from the beginning.”
        “So. What else?”
        “I’m not a psychiatrist. Nor a court appointee.”
        Now she’d tell me she was a corporate lawyer. The head of a large multinational
        “I’m a spy.”
        A spy? This was nuts.
        “For whom?” I asked, and meant it.
        “Us, of course. CIA.”
        “Nothing was as it seemed then. Everything just part of a combined hit on a terror
cell in North Dakota.”
        “No. I do live here. That would have been hard to fake. I also work from here. But I’m
just now what you thought I was. That’s all.”
        “No kidding. I suppose our, whatever you call it, was also a deception.”
        “You know what I mean.”
        “Oh, the dresses. You mean those?”
        “Sort of.”
        “No. Those were not faked. My feelings for you are as real as they hopefully seemed to
you. Believe me.”
        “How do you figure I can? After all you’ve admitted to me. Remember the Cry Wolf
        “I do. But, believe it or not, everything else was necessary to achieve our goals. What
possible difference would it have made were I not to have made myself, shall we say, available
to you? It was real, Doug. Count on it.”
        “But at dinner that night in the restaurant. A bunch of lies?”
        “We talked about our lives. Nothing I said was a lie then. It’s only what I’ve been
doing professionally that was a lie. Think about it.”
        I did.
        “What other surprises are there for me?”
        “Nothing much. Except we still can’t find Doris.”
        “Not you?”
        “Did she even know who you were?”
        “Yes. She knew some of it.”
        “Probably skipped town. Scared shitless. Like I would have been.”
        “But you know Bokutor, or whatever it is.”
        “Doesn’t work real well with a cannon aimed at your chest. Martial arts are great for
combat without weapons. Can even work with weapons given close contact. But bombs and
large guns have the same effect on me as they do on you.”
        We fell silent for a minute.
        “What about the car bomb, the house ransackings, all the peripheral stuff?” I asked her.
        “Probably meant to distract our attention from you. And likely to confuse you. But we
may never know. May never even ask. After all, we’ve got them on so many other charges, we
don’t need those. Might even confuse the issue entirely.”
        “How did you find me? How did you figure out they were here?”

        “The cop out back of your place fell asleep. He woke just in time to get the license
plate of the pickup. We caught the trail finally about a hundred miles west of here. It finally
led us to Saul’s place. Took us awhile to gather a force together and to plan our assault of the
place. They’d parked two lookouts that we had to take out before we could approach the
place without having Saul alerted.”
        “What his real name?”
        “Don’t know. But it certainly isn’t Saul.”
        “So they all lived down here in the basement. Waiting until they could get me?”
        “Seems so.”
        “Why wait so long? Why try to beat the shit out me? Why not just grab me the first
day and then beat it out of me. Or whatever.”
        “Not absolutely sure. We think that one of them, an American actually, befriend one
of your graduate students and she told him that things weren’t going very well. Then,
suddenly she said they were. That provided the incentive for a change of plans.”
        “Buster implicated in this ten?”
        “No. I doubt she knew what she was doing. Flattered by the attention of the guy with
her. Quite a catch. I’ve seen him. He’s a doll.”
        “But a deadly doll.”
        “For sure. But she didn’t know that. We’ll check her out, but I doubt we’ll anything but
a young graduate student who talked about her work with an interested prospective
        “I always thought . . .”
        “That she was lesbian? Don’t think so. But you shouldn’t stereotype, Francis. Doesn’t
become you.”
        She was right, of course, so I let it pass.
        “And the Internet thing?”
        “What about it.”
        “Would that really bring the world to kits knees?”
        “Think about it. We do everything on the net these days. Think about the Arab
Spring? People everywhere can now communicate with the entire world. Send videos. No
way to hide the inhumanity any longer. World opinion can change abruptly based on blogs.
We’re still pitting country against country. But that will change soon. Even that. As we find
that our networking makes us one world. The Internet is the most powerful political tool in
history. Destroying it, would have catastrophic conclusions. I thought you knew about such
things, Francis? You being a computer scientist and all.”
        “I may still have page on one of those sites. Last time I checked it said I had no
friends. Scientists tend to be lonely folks, not much interested in social media.”
        “Seems so.”
        Having many more questions, I’d lost my will to ask them. Besides, it was time for
Patton and his boys to have at me again. Tell them my story for the umteenth time. Maybe I
could just sleep through it.

        “What? So you’re telling me there isn’t a twelfth law?” Jackson and I were getting
blasted at my apartment after the investigation wound down.
        “Nope. No twelfth law.”
        “Then you made the whole thing up.”
        “Well, actually Saul guessed it. I just thought it was a good idea and agreed with him.”
        “Good idea actually.”
        “And I didn’t bother to mention the Morris Worm.”
        “Which is?”
        “Robert Morris’s famous Internet Worm of 1988. A program that brought the Internet
to its knees by slowing it to useless speeds. Actually intended for something else. To estimate
the then current size of the net. In other words, what these guys thought was going to
destroy the net had actually been invented over twenty years ago.”
        “Then yours couldn’t actually do it?”
        “I have no idea. No one does. If my students get it to work, the current incarnation
could probably eat its way through information there. Maybe do some damage. I doubt it
would destroy it though. But who knows about the next generation?”
        “What do you mean?”
        “I’ve told my students of a way to reverse engineer a certain behavior in order to
make the program do uncertain things. So I have no idea what the next generation would
        Jackson stared at me, obviously confused.
        “You don’t want to know what it’s going to do next?” he asked.
        “We’re dealing with digital ‘life’ here. If I knew what would happen next then I
wouldn’t have life, I’d have another tool. Nothing wrong with tools, but they’re not life.”
        “You’re a scientist and you want to create something whose future actions you can’t
        “Exactly. Open ended as Thomas Ray would call it.”
        “Open ended?”
        “Just keeps on developing according to a plan that only it can predict. Actually, I take
that back. Even it cannot predict it. Just like you and me.”
        “And why are you doing this again?”
        “Some say we’re playing God. Others that we’re understand life better. Me, I think we
just love playing with fire.”
        “But it didn’t really pose the threat that these guys thought it did.”
        “No. At least I’d bet that way. We’ll see. But not with the internet, of course.”
        We each took another drink of bourbon. Matching shot for shot.
        “Oops,” Jackson said.
        “Well it probably means nothing.”
        “Well some guys came through the building a couple of months back and I told them
what you were doing.”
        “What guys?”
        “Don’t know. They said one of their sons was considering going here. Was interested
in computer science, and in particular in A-life.”
        “Well I told them about your work.”

        “I may have made it sound a bit more exotic that it actually was.”
        “You what?”
        “You now. University enrollment is way down. We’re all recruiters in a way.”
        “So what did you say?”
        “Nothing much. Just that I felt like a very large bear might one day emerge from
your office door and attempt to eat the building.”
        “Nothing wrong in that.”
        “They asked more questions. I suppose I made myself dangerous.”
        “Dangerous? How so?”
        “You. I had just knowledge about what you do to make myself dangerous.”
        “But you didn’t know anything more about my work than what we advertise in the
catalog. You couldn’t have told them much.”
        “I think it was more in the ‘way’ I said it.”
        “With plenty of gusto, I imagine.”
        He emptied another shot glass. I followed suit.
        “Yes. We need students. I told them you had some pretty powerful digital life forms
growing in there. That they could accomplish almost anything.”
        I stared at him in disbelief.
        “Until this past week, we couldn’t raise a dime in funding with what we had in there.
Just a lot of code not going anywhere much.”
        “I have a lot of faith in you, Francis.”
        “So you think those guys believed you. That it’s your fault that things got out of
        “That’s what I trying my best not to say.”
        “It’s not working.”
        “Well, how would I know those guys were terrorists?”
        “Probably weren’t. Just knew the terrorists and agreed with their point of view.”
        “Same result. Either way.”
        “You’re right.”
        I thought I’d then let him stew in his own juices. He did. And we drank ourselves into

         As I tried to sleep that night, I remembered back to what Saul, or whatever his name
was, had said about my work. As evil as he’d turned out to be, he was smart. No doubt about
that. His suggestion of the three rules might hold some merit.
         Mobility, evolution, and specialization, I thought to myself. The three laws of life. Do
all things move? Certainly they all do within themselves. Most I could think of did within
their environment as well. Although some, like bushes and trees, move very little. Evolution,
the ability to contend with changing environments and win over competing species was a no
brainer. Specialization. Not so clear. It suggests that while individuals make significant
breakthroughs, social networks take advantage of them. Could societies make great
breakthroughs as well? Maybe that had some merit. The three left out a lot of the nuts and
bolts of life. The eating, excreting, and so on. But then once you enter that arena, you were
bound to leave out thousands of other ones too. Staying away from that kind of bean
counting could offer some serious advantages. I vowed to present it to my group at our next
meeting. Maybe by then we’d have some initial results of my proposal. And I fell asleep

        The next morning I was sick. Not sick sick. Alcohol sick. Jackson was somehow
immune from all this and seemed normal. Had some kind of build-in hormone to pass the
problem through his system faster. Probably had hangovers while he slept.
        I spent the day recovering. And as evening approached, preparing for my date with
Cassie. We’d made it the night before.
        After a few more quips for Jackson about making up for lack of dates with an
overabundance of them, I used the rent-a-heap and drove to her place. It still reeked, still had
springs ready to surface from under the seat covers, but it drove nicely and got me there.
        As usual, I arrived early. A new storm was on the way and a few snowflakes drifted
down out of the night sky like they did in those glass bubbles you buy with reindeers in
them and you turn them upside down. A beautiful night with the gibbous moon lighting up
the landscape with intermittent shadows as the incoming clouds covered it periodically.
        Cassie met me at the door already stuffed in her heavy overcoat, ready for dinner. She
had cleaned her house somewhat, though clearly not completely.
        I held the door open for her. She shook her head back and forth.
        “I thought we were going out to dinner,” I said.
        She shook her head some more. Her beautiful hair flopping side to side as she did.
        It was getting cold, so I closed the door behind me.
        And then she showed me what she had in mind. By opening her coat.

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