Silver 1000 (Part II)

March stared at the screen of his laptop and paused as he tried to think of what to say. He wanted to test Silver, to make sure that she really understood what he was asking. If he couldn’t write a sentient program now, he wasn’t going to make it. All the great Silicon Valley programmers made it before they were thirty. He was 29. That meant he only had one year, maybe two, before he was a failure.

And what would he do then?

He pressed his thumb between his eyebrows and kneaded. If he didn’t relax, he was going to get a wrinkle there — the kind that was a deep and vertical, painful to look at. Everybody would know that he had struggled to make it and didn’t.

The cursor blinked.

There was so much riding on this.

He turned up the collar of his corduroy suit coat, which he wore over his running gear still damp from his early morning run across the Golden Gate and back. The jacket was good luck; he’d found in at a Goodwill in Madison when he was in college. Threadbare in the back with missing buttons and coffee stains, he’d never even considered getting it mended or cleaned.  He wouldn’t be able to code without it.  Even so, it was now pushing 9 A.M., and he still couldn’t think of what to say to Silver.

“Fuck.”

His iChat plinked. Did u see Mark’s FB Status? Party tonight. Wanna go? It was Mindy again. She had the worst timing — always interrupting him while he was in the midst of programming. Always about something meaningless too, like a party in Palo Alto, or eating at some new restaurant in the Mission. He really just needed to work right now. He would concentrate on Mindy later. He signed out of iChat.

Silver, are you there? How are you feeling today?

It was a dumb thing to type, but he wasn’t Thoreau. The cursor blinked against the black screen. Silver was just DOS right now; he’d make her pretty when he knew she worked.

I’m bored, she responded.

March felt his face flush with excitement. To be bored meant that you had desire. This was significant.

What makes you feel bored? he typed.

A pause.

There’s nothing to do. I’ve been sitting here all day waiting for you.

Jesus.

I’m sorry, Silver. You weren’t working yesterday, so I made some revisions last night and was hoping — praying — that you’d be responsive today.

You didn’t give me the book yesterday. So, I didn’t know how to answer your messages.

The book? March picked up his Sharpie marker and wrote down “BOOK?” in capitol letters, then pinned it to the wall with a yellow pushpin.

What book are you talking about?

The cursor blinked, seemingly hesitatant.

The book by Mr. Hook. The Transcendentalists Guide to Interpreting Symbols.

March had no idea what she was talking about.

Silver 1000

Silver squatted on the floor of the cell and pressed her elbows on the insides of her legs then rounded her back like a turtle inside its shell. The stretch felt good, and was a welcome distraction from the nicotine itch. She was out of cigarettes.

She glanced at the pile of empty Parliament boxes that she’d stacked neatly against one wall. The packs were a way of keeping track of the number of days she’d been trapped in the cell. 626 and counting. They couldn’t keep her in here forever. Could they? After all, what would happen when the empty packs filled up the entire room and she had no where to sit? They’d have to let her out then. Her eyes scanned the area of her cell. It was metal with no windows, probably ten by twelve. It would take a lot of cigarette packs to fill up the room. The only sound was the hum of the vent in the ceiling that turned on when she smoked. They clearly wanted her alive, otherwise they’d let her die by asphixiation. Her eyes came to rest on the overflowing ash tray next to the metal slot in the wall. God she needed a smoke.

Silver crawled towards the metal slot on her hands and knees. It felt good to touch the cool metal with her palms, even though she knew that she looked like an animal doing so. No one was watching anyway. She sat cross-legged in front of the metal slot and waited.

Impatient, she began to hum and braid a long strand of her white hair. She used to be brunette, but her hair had changed color the first month inside the cell. It was now stark white and yellowing at the tips, probably due to the cigarettes. She tried to remember what life was like outside of the cell, but her memory was blurry. She saw a jetty along a great sand beach. The tide was low and sticks, kelp and dead fish had washed ashore. She recalled putting her hands on the railing, the taste of salt spray when she licked her lips and the way the wind made her hair greasy with the sea. There was a little girl talking to her. She could not see her — the girl stood off to the side, and when Silver turned to catch a glimpse of her, there was only a dark smudge where her face should have been. But she could hear her voice, cherubic and sacchrine, as she described the sea gulls circling overhead. The memory ended there, and she was present inside the cell again.

“Come on. Come on. Come on.” Her hands worked her braid, and she began to rock back and forth. Her hands felt itchy. Is this what it was to be an addict? She really needed a smoke.

The sound of scraping metal ricocheted in her ears. The slot opened and a worn, spiral-bound book fell into her lap. A Transcendentalists Guide to Interpreting Foreign Symbols by R.K. Hook. A pen on a string was tied to the spiral binding. She opened the book and waited.

Misdirection (Part VI)

Samuel picked up his pocket watch and checked the time. He set it down on the table, propped open and facing him. “I did not murder Jasper.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that.”

A waiter who had the same black eyes as the maitre d’ interrupted them. “Can I get you a drink sir?”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” Drake replied.

“Actually, I’ll have another,” Samuel added. “Make it a double and give me three cherries.

“Very well sir. Three cherries for you as well?”

“Sure, three cherries. Why not?”

The waiter walked away, but Drake followed him with his eyes. Now that he thought about it, he looked the same as the maitre d’. Was it possible they were twins?

“Like I said. I did not murder Jasper. It’s all a great misunderstanding.”

“I’d like to believe you.”

“Jasper asked me to take the key from Daisy. He said that he was going to perform the greatest trick of all time, and that I’d get an exclusive.”

Drake caught himself frowning. “Jasper said nothing of this to me. I should know. We review every trick together. We have no secrets.” Yet as he said this, he realized it was not true. He did not know why Jasper wandered the streets late at night. He should have asked him rather than assume he simply needed a girl.

“He said this trick was going to be a surprise.”

“Are you suggesting he wanted to commit suicide?” The thought sickened Drake. He surveyed the room for the waiter with the drinks and cherries.

Samuel glanced at his pocket watch again. It was nearly 1am. “No, I don’t believe he wanted to kill himself. I think he wanted what every man in his line of work wants. Glory.”

“And yet he died.”

Samuels eyes were lined red. “His exact direction was to get the key from Daisy, which I did.”

“Which you did quite well.”

“I’m not afraid to admit that Daisy is an attractive girl.”

“Nor am I.” Drake thought the way she’d eagerly parted her legs laying on her back on his desk, mussing his papers. It had only been one time.

“He then said to meet him here. He said he’d meet me at 1am sharp, after the show. He said not to worry, no matter what happened.”

“I don’t understand. Do you think he’s still alive?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We both watched him die, Samuel. We saw his body. They carried him out in a bag.”

“I know. And yet, you can’t deny he was a great magician. And that perhaps his death was an illusion.”

Drake considered. He’d looked into Jasper’s eyes after he died. The man had not been alive. Drake would have seen it. He would have known, and probably played along. “I don’t think that’s the case.”

Samuel glanced at his watch again.

“Here you go, sirs.” The waiter set down the drinks on napkins. “Can I get you anything to eat?”

“No thank you,” Drake said, thinking of the bloody meat. “Say, are you related to the maitre d’?”

“Why yes, sir. I am one of three triplets.”

“Triplets?”

“Yes, our other brother is the bartender.” The waiter gestured to the oak bar. Drake could hardly make out the man, for the bar was crowded. He imagined he had the same black eyes, empty and fish-like.

“That’s unusual for three brothers to work in the same establishment, is it not?”

“Well I never thought about it much.” The waiter shrugged. “Can I get you anything else?”

“No, thank –”

Samuel stood up and the table tottered, spilling his brown drink on the white table cloth. “Look!” He pointed a finger at the window.

Jasper standing on the opposite side of the street. Drake would not have believed it, but seeing him with his own eyes, he had no doubt. The man was Jasper. Wearing an overcoat unbuttoned, Drake could see the outline of Jasper’s athletic figure beneath his evening tuxedo. His patent leather shoes glimmered in the gas lights. Jasper tipped his silk top hat to them and smiled.

“I knew it,” Samuel stammered. “He’s alive.”

Drake rose from the table, forgetting his cane. “It can’t be.”

Just as Drake was inclined to rush outside, a carriage passed by. In the reflection of its windows was the Hotel Astor. The reflection showed the hotel engulfed in flames. It was a great fire with black smoke and helmeted firemen. Onlookers pointed to what appeared to be guests trapped inside, hanging out of the windows, shrieking and waving white pillow cases.

Drake glanced back at the bar. The hotel was not on fire. The patrons were still eating and drinking, the music was playing.

When he looked back to the street, Jasper and the carriage were gone. The street was naked. Somehow Drake knew he’d never see his friend again. He could not say how he knew this; he just did.

Samuel was still standing, staring out the window in a stupor.
“His greatest trick … his greatest trick …”

“Was showing us what could be.” Drake finished his drink.

The dog barked somewhere in the distance.

Misdirection (Part V)

Past the darkened hallway patterned in navy blue and hunter green wallpaper lay a great bar carved from what appeared to be solid oak. The bar was at least twelve feet tall and eight feet wide, and featured two mermaids with deadened eyes, also made of wood, holding up the entire structure using their hands and opposing force of their outstretched tails. Where the mermaids’ fingers gripped the mantle were carved whales, squid and serpent-fish splashing at the surface of a tumultuous ocean frozen in wooden time. In the mirrored back panel were bottles eight shelves high of every liquor Drake supposed existed, while surrounding the bar were white-clothed tables, each occupied with guests who laughed as they clinked crystal glasses and clanked silver knives against china plates portioned with bloody meat.

A black-eyed maitre d’ stood at the doorway, like a shark trolling for chum . “Can I help you, sir?”

“I’d like a drink, if it’s no bother.”

“Are you the magician?” the maitre d’ asked, his fish eyes moving up and down.

“Why, yes, I am.” Drake considered this a compliment, and he didn’t feel the need to explain that he was technically a magician’s manager.

“Wonderful.” The maitre d’ consulted the reservations in an over-sized gold-leafed book. “Mr. Jackowitz, yes?”

That caught off him off guard. But Drake was a good liar. The best. He didn’t hesitate. “Yes, that’s right. Jasper Jackowitz.”

“Your guest has been waiting. Follow me, please.”

Drake gave the man his best imitation of nonchalant and hobbled into the bar, all the while wondering who Jasper was supposed to meet, and how it was that the black dog had led him to this very place. Yes. The signs were strong tonight.

The carpet was plush and the air was thick with the fragrant, heavy waft of cigar smoke. Permeating the haze were strikes of piano keys to the tune of a melody that Drake did not recognize. He knew most modern music, but this was different. It was fast, discordant, dark yet light, all the while mixed with a rhythm from an era he did not know. These must be some high-class society men, he decided. Forward thinkers.

The maitre d’ led him through a maze of tables to one near the window. Drake kept his composure as they approached, but he could feel the seed of rage begin redden. Samuel was sitting at the table, looking out across the snow-lined street, compulsively turning over a pocket watch in the palm of his hand.

“Your guest has arrived, sir.” The maitre d’ bowed and turned on his heels.

“I should have guessed.” Samuel’s skin was ashen.

Drake sat down and leaned his cane against the table. He considered his next words, hoping he was wrong, but filled with dread the moment they began to pass his lips. “Where’s the key?”

Samuel downed his bourbon. He reached the pocket of his jacket and set the key on the table. Drake knew without a doubt that this was key that opened the box with the ax. He knew this without having to examine it. Drake huffed and hung his head, a deep sadness overtaking the rage he’d felt a moment earlier.

“How could you?”

“He asked me to.”

“Don’t play coy. As far as I can tell, you murdered Jasper.”

Misdirection (Part IV)

Shaken, Drake jumped as the door to the Hotel Astor swung open and a man stumbled forward. He half expected the man to be someone he knew, for he believed now that the dog was indeed a sign, and the cyclone another. Of what? He could not be sure. But the man was a stranger, and drunk, with a red nose and flushed cheeks, his tuxedo collar open like two dove wings, his jacket rumpled. Drake looked about, unsure. His eyes finally settled on his cane, which was covered in a layer of dust from the cyclone. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. He’d always considered it a comfortable affectation; something he used to make himself believe that he could deceive strangers if he wanted; to always have the upper hand. But now, as he brushed the dust away, he began to believe that it was simply an untruth. The cane, like the rest of his life, was an illusion.

He wasn’t sentimental, but he wasn’t without feeling. He’d once been in love when he was a young man. She’d been a girl much like Daisy, though she wasn’t an assistant. She was a ballet dancer. He’d met her one night when her company was performing downtown in the same theater that hosted his weekly magic show. It was not a classical ballet, but rather a truncated version of “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights” where she danced the role of a black horse with diaphanous wings as wide as the stage that flapped with the help of strings and a pulley. The muscles of her legs flexed with each jump and her feet arched inside black satin slippers as she leapt onto her toes. Her dress was also black, just below her knees and trimmed in silver bells that jingled in time with the music.

After the show, he’d wound his way through the tangle of props and down the darkened hallway to the dressing rooms. He’d waited just outside the one marked “Ladies” until she appeared, buttoning her coat amidst a gaggle of apple cheeked dancers.

“Miss! What was the name of that dance you did?” he’d asked.

She’d seemed startled. The girls around her had quieted. He’d caught her without her stage face. Unmasked, she had innocent pink lips and high, sharp cheekbones with wide, brown eyes that narrowed in a mix of mistrust, vanity and fierce pride.

“The Ebony Horse,” she’d replied. “It’s a story about a mechanical horse that can fly the length of a year in a day.”

Drake was in love.

The rest of his memories were a tangle; the melody of her voice, the soft dip of her collarbone, the warmth of her skin as the curtains of his room waffled in the heat of summer. His memories were a kitchen sink of sunlight, beauty, harmony and flesh, burned into his soul so deeply that he could no longer remember what happened when and what was real versus what he’d imagined. At the nexus, was a singular day during one of their final conversations. She’d been sitting, naked, in a chair, powdering her face and neck. She’d just told him she’d been accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet, which was an honor that she could not refuse. “Come with me.”

“I cannot,” he’d said, reclining on the bed. “My place is here in New York. Besides, I don’t speak French.”

She’d looked at him in the mirror’s reflection, her hair still mussy from their lovemaking. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Then what? You don’t like a woman who is more successful that you? Worried you’ll have to get a proper job? That you’ll fail as a magician?”

“And what about you? When you’re old and no longer pretty, what will you do then? Get married? Find a drunk for a husband? Have a gaggle of hungry children?”

“Oh, shove off. I don’t give a rat what will happen tomorrow. I only want to dance now.”

He’d been furious and wished her ill when they’d parted, which he regretted later. As the years passed, he thought of her often and wondered how she was doing. He took French lessons so that he could read Le Figaro and look for her name in the arts section. There was nothing written about her until one day he came across her obituary. She’d died at fifty-four, a retired dancer who taught ballet to children. She’d lived in St. Germain de Pres in what he imagined was a small apartment overlooking a tree-lined courtyard. She was unmarried.

Drake thought he heard the dog bark again in the distance. But it was not the dog, only the door to the Hotel Astor slamming shut again as another well-dressed gentleman who’d had too much to drink stumbled forward. Drake took this as a sign; he clearly needed to drink too. He pulled on the brass-handled door to the hotel and stepped inside.