by Robert H. Prestridge
For Glendy and Janice
Table of Contents
Part 2 appears
in this issue.
part 1 of 4
“This is the city, Los Angeles. My name is Friday. I carry a badge.”
Jack Webb scowled.
“This is not Los Angeles,” he said. “And your name’s not Friday. Would you cut it out, Farinelli?”
Well, Jack was right. This wasn’t Los Angeles, it was Seattle. And my name was not Friday. It was Farinelli. Joe Farinelli.
And like Joe Friday, I carried a badge. I was an agent with the Seattle Meme Unit.
Jack, who was driving the unmarked cruiser, shook his head as he turned the vehicle southward onto 5th Avenue.
“You’re a regular comedian, aren’t you, Farinelli?”
“It’s been a long day. And I’m bored.”
I think what really bothered him was that his first time around, in his pre-Resurrection days, he had never made it as a stand-up comedian along the lines of Henny Youngman, Jack Benny and Milton Berle. Somehow, though, he had ended up becoming a DJ and then had ended up in television and the movies. Needless to say, the Dragnet thing had stuck with him to a certain extent.
Unfortunately, though, Resurrection hadn’t done anything for Jack’s sense of humor: He’s so tight-lipped sometimes that I wondered if he had a perpetually bad case of hemorrhoids.
Don’t get me wrong: I liked Jack a lot. He generally had a nice orangeish hue about him. If he were a musical key, it was A major. And speaking of music, he liked jazz, my favorite style of music. I loved Gershwin because when I see his music played before my eyes, it comes out in nice indigos, blues and pinks, my favorite colors: they feel smooth, like the finest of silks, against my face.
See it played? Smooth against my face?
That’s right, I’m a synesthete. Unlike Jack, I don’t need weed or anything else to alter my consciousness. That’s what makes me good at hunting memes: I perceive things that others never can.
I see and feel music, hear colors and tactile sensations and have an assortment of other mixed-up senses. Nine tends to dance and vibrate in front of my eyes, three winks at me and eight likes to tumble about in space. I’m not particularly fond of four or five: there’s something about them that you can’t trust. For the most part, I get alone with zero, one, two, six and seven.
“I could use Chinese food tonight,” he said.
“Well, we’re going to the ID, aren’t we?”
“Damn straight we are, Farinelli.”
We arrived at the ID ten minutes later, and Jack parked the unmarked underneath a bridge. The bright reds and yellows of Chinese art and calligraphy screeched so loudly that I had to put in my ear plugs.
“Don’t push ’em in too far,” Jack said as we walked to the Top Gun. “You never know when one of them might be lurking about.”
By them, Jack meant a meme.
“I don’t know why red would do that to anyone,” Jack said. “It’s my favorite color.”
“You’ve told me that a thousand times before, Jack.”
“Do you think they sell weed there?” he asked, nodding his dark, crew-cut head at a small mom and pop place.
Jack walked like a hurried penguin with a corncob shoved up its ass.
He just as quickly came out of the store, looking disappointed. A light rain began to fall.
“Only one left,” Jack said, showing me a Panama Red he took from his suit jacket. “What am I going to do, Farinelli?”
“I’m hungry,” I said. “Let’s go eat. You can get some weed later.”
We went to the Top Gun, where a hostess seated us in a special room, the smokers’ section.
Mind you, you couldn’t smoke tobacco there. Not any longer. It’s a felony to posses — let alone smoke — tobacco anywhere.
And Christ help anyone if they lit tobacco in front of Jack; he would have them slammed up against a wall and cuffed faster than Aunt Jemima would scream without the pancakes.
We ordered our meals — Jack, Peking duck, and me, the kung pao shrimp — and then Jack lit up and took a deep drag off the joint. He held the smoke in his lungs a few seconds, then exhaled. I removed my earplugs.
“God, that feels great,” he said. “I tell ya, Farinelli, there’s nothing better than a Panama Red at the end of a long day.”
I nodded. It had been a helluva long day. We’d captured almost all of the memes. There was a rumor that one was lurking about 145th Street and Aurora Avenue. I hoped we wouldn’t have to stay there too long tonight; perhaps we could catch the goddamn meme and I, for once, could get to bed before one a.m.
Jack took another hit off the joint while we waited for our food. A waitress stopped and asked if she could have a drag. Jack handed her the joint. She took a drag, handed the joint back and Jack said that it would cost her, winking at her. She winked back.
I knew where she was going to spend the evening.
“Ruckee me!” he said, pulling back the outer corners of his eyes so that he looked Asiatic.
I sighed. “You know, Jack, my mom’s Chinese. And even if she wasn’t, I’d still find that offensive.”
Jack guffawed. “Oh, so solly,” Jack said as he crossed his eyes and then stuck his tongue out at me. “You know, Joe, I think we could nail this goddamn meme if you could just learn to relax.”
He called me Joe whenever he was stoned.
“Who can relax with you around?” I said. “One of us has got to be the serious one.”
“Don’t you remember?” he said, red-eyed, giggling, jabbing the joint. “You’re the regular comedian!”
Jack howled and slapped the table.
I rolled my eyes, then cringed; a waitress had walked by, and the sound of her surgical hose rubbing against her polyester pants was like hearing the sound of fingernails on a chalk board. I quickly re-inserted my earplugs.
The sensation passed. Jack was still hooting. He glowed yellowish-orange.
“Very funny, Jack,” I said. “Food’s here. Let’s eat, then get a move out.”
Jack saved the roach for later, and we dug into our meals. He must have had a major case of the munchies because he finished his dinner in no time at all and then attempted to dig into mine. I threatened to poke him in the eye with a chop stick if he even so much as thought about stealing another prawn from me.
As I ate, he looked around like a forlorn dog. A woman hurried off somewhere, I presumed to the restroom, and Jack leaped up and ran over to her table. Before I could do anything, Jack was leaning over her table, frenziedly stuffing her food into his mouth. I finished and dragged him away from the woman’s table, where he’d left nothing behind.
We passed the woman on the way out; she raised her eyes, obviously surprised to see how Jack looked, his mouth smeared with cherry sauce, pork bits and rice.
I handed a cashier three pay-up chips, Jack got the waitress’s number and off we went.
I drove the unmarked cruiser this time; a now clean-faced Jack was slumped in his seat, looking at the lights of the Aurora Avenue Bridge as we crossed it. I knew he was out of it, but that was OK; he wouldn’t be out of it too much longer.
We neared the 145th Street exit.
“It was last seen at the Half-Moon Motel,” I said, remembering what Captain Morgan had said at that afternoon’s meeting. “It seems it’s working the low-lifes again. As you know, once the meme does its work there, the low-lifes will pass it on up the social ladder.”
I shuddered; a vile meme from Texas had somehow infiltrated and infected the White House; our country — no, the world — couldn’t afford something like that ever again.
Jack mumbled something, sounding groggy.
“Are the cops going to get me, Joe?”
I threw a packet of pills at him.
“No, not these!” he yelled.
“Time to get off your high and come back down to the real world, Jack.”
He groaned; I knew he didn’t want to take one of the pills, but just wanted to spend the rest of the evening relaxing on his downy-soft trip in lala land.
“Come on, Jack. Take the pill. Don’t make me force you to take it like I had to last night, pal.”
“I have cottonmouth,” he whined. “Joe, I have-”
“Just take the goddamn pill, Jack!”
“Right, right, the pill,” he said, and then he fumbled with the pills, spilling a few until he finally got one into his mouth. A few seconds passed. “All right, Farinelli, let’s do it.”
We arrived at the Half-Moon Motel. Jack led the way to the front office.
The clerk was a real low-life, the kind that would never leave Aurora Avenue. And besides being a low-life, he was smooth.
But the clerk wasn’t smooth enough for me. His words hung in the air like dispersing ink in water, a sure sign that he was lying.
Jack tapped the image again. “You sure you haven’t seen this meme?” he said to the clerk. “Just remember, fella, it’s a felony if you’re found harboring one intentionally.”
“I haven’t seen nothin’,” the clerk said, rubbing a hand through his thick, greasy hair. “Haven’t seen a meme in a long time, so-”
I reached across the counter and grabbed his soiled sweatshirt and pulled him forward.
“Look, asshole,” I said, “last meme we had here in Seattle started a riot, got me? Over 2,000 people died. I know you’re lying because you’re as transparent to me as glass is to water. Now, where’s the meme!”
“OK, OK,” he said, raising his hands. I released him. “I think there might be a meme in 116.”
“Think?” I said. “Right.”
Jack nodded at me. It was time to work our mojo, as he liked to say.
Standing off to the side, I aimed my plasma gun at the door to Room 116. Jack stood against the wall, his plasma gun drawn.
“Police!” I yelled. “Meme Unit! Open up!”
I heard something scurrying inside the room. I kicked in the door and rushed in, wheeling around in case the meme leaped out from behind the door.
Jack stepped out of the bathroom.
“It went through the window!” he yelled.
“I’ll take the alley!” I replied. “Go get the car!”
“Covering ya, Farinelli!”
I ran through an alley, following the trail of the meme, silvery, fish-like shapes that hung in the air a few seconds before evaporating. The pounding of my thick-soled shoes on the pavement tasted like hard candy. I breathed harder, feeling a second wind coming on. I continued to follow the trail, which led from one alley to the next.
“You can’t get away!” I yelled. “You might as well stop now!”
I knew, of course, that the meme wouldn’t stop.
The meme’s trail appeared on a residential street. My second wind had come, and I was running faster. The silvery, fish-like shapes were lingering longer in the air, which meant I was nearing my prey.
“I’ve almost got it!” I yelled into my palmcom.
“I’m about a block away!” Jack said. “I’ll run parallel-”
“No, stay with me!” I said as I turned a rain-slickened corner.
The meme had entered an alley, and was losing ground.
It was a dead-end alley. I looked around, panting, ready to blow away anything that dared to move.
“Come out,” I said.
By law, I had to read it its last constitutional rites, a litany that would take me five minutes to recite. However, because I was exhausted, I intended to commit street justice: just do the execution and get it over with.
The meme stepped out from behind a large, green dumpster that trembled in B-flat major.
It was female, all right, that was very clear. The rasping sounds it was making as it breathed came off in E-flat major, what I find a pleasant key because I like light blue; most memes are in minor keys or worse, are simply discordant.
Its eyes were an intense, cobalt blue. And its scent was sweet.
She reminded me of...
Enough, I told myself.
“Raise your hands,” I said.
I heard the unmarked cruiser coming down the alley. I decided to wait for Jack.
And then I heard a something rustling to the side.
I spun around.
“What’s going on here?” an old man, sacks of garbage in hand, said.
I turned; the meme had almost finished scrambling over the top of the fence.
I fired, and the blast from the plasma gun tore away a chunk of the fence. Angry, I fired again, blowing a hole in the center of the fence.
I ran up to the hole and looked out; no trail, nothing; the meme was long gone.
The unmarked cruiser arrived. Jack hopped out of it.
“You OK, Farinelli?” he said.
The old man grinned.
“Hey, aren’t you-”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said, obviously annoyed. “I’m him.”
I shook my head.
“I screwed up,” I said. “I let it get away.”
Jack looked at the old man.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a joint I could bum off of you, would you?” Jack said.
* * *
Captain Morgan didn’t look too pleased. She was definitely in D-sharp-minor.
Behind Captain Morgan’s desk was a plaque bearing the emblem and motto of Meme Units around the world: a balanced scale with the words EQUILIBRIUM AT ALL COSTS, CHAOS AT NONE beneath it.
“From what our informants are saying, this could be the deadliest meme we’ve ever seen,” she said. “And I have to say, Agent Farinelli, that I’m very disappointed in your performance.”
I felt disappointed, too. Very much so. Why didn’t I just kill the goddamn thing when I had the chance? I asked myself, just as I had asked myself that same questions dozens of times that sleepless night.
At least they’d taken care of the motel clerk; they’d caught him at a Denny’s; from what I heard, he was now on his way to southern Tasmania for LTD — long-term detention.
The captain looked at Jack, who sighed.
“I’m just as much to blame as Farinelli here,” he said to the captain. “Two or three seconds more-”
The captain slammed her fist down onto his desk. I was glad she did, because I was beginning to nod off.
“We don’t have seconds, gentlemen!” she said. “This is a precision operation! How many times do I have to tell you!”
Jack looked down at the floor, just as I did. The captain was right; this was a precision business. Failure to capture a meme could mean the destruction of society. Ours was the most serious, and potentially the deadliest, of all police work.
“Go on, get out of here,” Captain Morgan said, sounding disgusted. “The next time I see you, it had better be in the morgue when the meme is lying on a cold slab, covered with a white sheet and with an ID tag around its big toe.”
Copyright © 2007 by Robert H. Prestridge