Prose Header


by Robert H. Prestridge

Part 1 and Part 2
appeared in issue 269.
part 3 of 4

An extended version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” began to play on the stereo in the crowded restaurant. It was Friday morning, and every Friday morning, before we began our shift, Jack and I met at this place for breakfast.

Jack finished his meal and looked at me.

“I’m glad I’m here in Seattle,” he said. “LA doesn’t have the kind of coffee they have here.”

I was staring off into space, not really paying attention to Jack, but able to see him in my peripheral view.

He snapped his fingers. “Earth to Farinelli,” he said. “Earth to Farinelli. Are you there, Farinelli?”

I looked at him. “Yeah, I’m here, Jack.”

“What’s the matter with you, Farinelli? You see a ghost or something?”

Jack grinned; when the guy smiled, he really did light up the room. He was about to light an after-breakfast joint.

“No,” I said, wagging my finger. “You’ll get the munchies.”

“Oh, all right,” he said, putting the joint back into its pack. “What’s eating you, Farinelli?”

“She came by last night.”

Jack motioned at a waitress. “Who came by last night?”

“Who do you think, Jack?”

Jack’s eyes widened. “Did you nail her this time?”

Well, she had nailed me, but that wasn’t the kind of nailing Jack was talking about; I shook my head no.

“What’s the story?”

I told Jack the story, everything except the watching of The Godfather; I was afraid that he might report that to the censors at the Meme Unit, not to be mean, but to protect me.

“Lucky she didn’t literally tear your head off,” Jack said, and I wasn’t sure which one he meant. “What were you doing sleeping with a window open anyway? You know it’s against regs.”

“I like fresh air. Is it a crime to like fresh air?”

“No, but it is against regs,” Jack said. “You know we’re potential targets, don’t you? We get infected, we could really screw up the whole department. What do you think would occur if that happened, Farinelli? I’ll tell you what: It would be complete and utter chaos. Seattle as we know it would end. Then other cities would fall.”

He grimaced. “It’s what we feared back in my pre-Resurrection days, you know, with the communists. Fortunately the USSR collapsed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around back then to see it. Anyway, I won’t tell Captain Morgan or anyone else what happened. But I do wish you had called me, Farinelli. Maybe it was hanging out in the streets all night.”

“With no clothes on, Jack? I doubt it.”

“Good point, Farinelli. Speaking of a woman who isn’t going to be wearing any clothes this evening.”

A red-headed waitress gave us our check. Jack gave her some pay-up chips, told her to keep the change and asked for her number. The waitress smiled, wrote it down on his palmcom and hurried off to another table.

What a dog, I thought.

Jack winked at me. “Take Five” ended abruptly.

We went to our morning meeting with Captain Morgan. After the meeting, Jack and I spent some time on our reports, met with other agents within the MU and then attended meetings about the meme and the meme’s 3PM (which stood for potential meaning, potential method and potential message).

And after that, Jack pulled me aside in the hallway. “I have a plan,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Tonight,” he said, meaning he would tell me that evening.

When our shift ended, Jack drove us around downtown Seattle to make it look as if we were on patrol.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked.

“How would you like to become roommates?”


“Christ, do I have to spell out everything, Farinelli?” he said. “This meme, Abandon, or whatever its name is, found out where you lived. It attacked you-”

“It didn’t attack me-”

“Whatever, Farinelli. It made illicit and illegal contact with you.” Jack shook his dark, crew-cutted head, obviously disgusted at the thought of sexual congress between a human and a meme. “You and I are going to stake out your place tonight.”

“What about your waitress?”

Jack grinned. “She’ll have to wait for me, the way they all do.”

We went to Jack’s place, where he changed into casual clothes (a red Malcolm X dashiki, jeans and sandals) and where he got stoned before the stakeout.

Back at my place, Jack made himself at home by sinking down into my favorite chair and turning on the EC. The EC asked Jack what he wanted to hear, and Jack told it: “Oye Como Va,” as played by Tito Puente.

“I’m hungry,” Jack said, no longer stoned, as I watched Puente’s lively drum beat hop happily across the room. “What do you have here, Farinelli?”

“Not much,” I said. “I’ll go to the Greek-Italian market around the corner.”

“Get me a gyro,” Jack said. “Extra heavy on the lamb.”

I went to the market. After the gyros were ready, I paid and headed out the door.

A light, blue wind came by. On a nearby pole, a sooty-feeling raven cawed at me. I cringed, and adjusted my earplugs.

The raven cawed again.

“Screw you,” I told it, bag in hand, heading back to my place. “Why don’t you mind your own goddamn business?”

The raven cawed.

“Asshole,” I muttered.

I shouldn’t have ignored the raven; when I realized it had been warning me, it was too late.

I felt a something hit my leg, and I sank, dropping the bag of gyros and yanking a dart from my hip. But by then, it was too late: the dart’s drug was causing my head to spin.

I collapsed into the gutter.

I felt a vehicle stopping in the street, felt its crunchy wheels when someone hit the brake, felt figures rushing out of the vehicle, which idled in G minor.

Felt them carrying me to the back of the vehicle, and felt them put me in.

I had never taken opium, but from what my great-grandfather had told me, this was what it must have felt like; I chuckled in C major.

The last thing I remember seeing was the raven on the sidewalk, near the bag of spilled gyros, cawing and bobbing its head up and down, as if laughing, as if mocking.

* * *

When I awoke, I was alone, sitting gagged, bound and upright in a bolted-down chair.

My cell, or whatever the hell it was, was musty and dank. I could tell it was evening, and from the sounds from the outside, I could tell it was somewhere far from Seattle; from the scent and vibrations, I was guessing I was somewhere near the Cascade Mountains, if not in them.

My leg ached, not only in the spot where the dart had hit, but where they had removed my ID chip. Now the MU wouldn’t be able to find me.

And my head was swimming; they’d taken my specially made sunglasses, earplugs and noseplugs; everything was literally assaulting my senses.

The door to the cell or whatever it was opened, and a light came on.

Cefalu stepped inside, lit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He reached down and undid the gag around my mouth.

“No use in yelling,” the burly man said. “No one can hear you, Agent Farinelli. And no one can help you.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Cefalu? You know you’re not going to get away with it.”

He chuckled, and then took a long drag off the cigar. He blew smoke in my face. I coughed, having smelled burning tobacco only once before, and that in a crime lab.

Cefalu guffawed in F-flat minor.

“This is vintage shit,” he said, holding up the cigar in the light, studying it the way a gemologist might study a newly unearthed ruby. “It’s Cuban. My old man got it years ago in Vancouver before you guys nailed his ass.”

Cefalu’s father had been a smuggler of tobacco and outlawed medicines. When customs agents had caught him, he’d refused to be captured and had committed suicide by blowing his brains out with a plasma gun.

“Why are you doing this?” I said.

“I’ll let her tell you why.”


“You know who I’m talking about.”

I did; I coughed; the acrid cigar smoke was making my eyes and nose water.

Wilma Friedrichs poked her head into the room. “Hello, Agent Farinelli,” she said amiably. To Cefalu: “She’s ready for him.”

“Well, bring her in.”

Wilma Friedrichs made a face.

“You know she won’t come in here with the smell of that thing in here.”

She meant the cigar, of course.

“Oh, all right,” the burly man said. “Let’s do it in the woods.”

Cefalu exited, slamming the door behind him.

The MU had taught me what to do in case I was captured. I knew I could face torture. But for whatever reason, I didn’t believe that they had torture in mind for me; they had something far worse.

I struggled against my bonds, to no avail, and gave up after a few minutes.

When the door to the cell opened, Wilma Friedrichs and several others, all wearing brown robes, entered the room. I winced because of how sharp the robes sounded in F major.

They undid my bonds, and led me outside. I had been right; I was somewhere in the Cascades, in a forest, a symphony screaming in D major, colored a brilliant neon green. A light rain had stopped falling, and I could taste the sweet drops through smell; the wet forest felt like emeralds and tasted like silky moss.

“My glasses,” I said, blinded by the sensorial assault against my vision. “I need my glasses.”

“Give him his glasses,” Friedrichs said to someone.

“What if he-”

“Just give him his glasses.”

Someone placed them on me. Now I could see more easily.

It was twilight, and the group was leading me somewhere deep inside a forest. Someone nudged me with a plasma gun to move faster.

Friedrichs walked at my side; I didn’t see Cefalu anywhere.

“He didn’t answer my question,” I said to her, referring to Cefalu. “Why did you bring me here?”

Friedrichs chuckled. “Oh, you might as well know,” she said. “You’re one of us.”

I wished I’d had my earplugs and noseplugs; my aural, olfactorial and gustatorial senses would go into overload in a few moments. These people were exposing me to the risk of permanent psychosis.

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said, angry. “And I’m not one of you. I’m an agent with the Seattle Meme Unit. And I have to warn you, what you’ve done is a felony, and if they catch you-”

“I know, I know,” Friedrichs said. “They’ll give us death. Don’t you think we don’t know that? You fail to ask the most important questions.”

“And what are those?”

“Why are we in the Underground?” she said. “Why are we willing to risk our lives for mere principles?”

I snorted. “Principles? What principles? All you want to do is upset Equilibrium and bring Chaos into the picture and subsequently destroy our society.”

“Doesn’t it bother you, Agent Farinelli, that one place in the world is just like the next?”

“No, not at all,” I replied, shaking my head. “Why the hell would anyone want to live the way they did before the AW?”

Billions had died around the world; out of my mom’s family, who lived in Hong Kong, only one relative, my third cousin, had survived. And half of my dad’s family, including my dad, had perished in the riots that struck Seattle and every city and town in the world.

“Memes can also be used as tools for good,” Friedrichs said.

“That’s what the memes said when they chose to personify themselves. But what appeared to be good, like Patriotism and Nationalism, turned out to be quite evil. In other words, you can’t trust a meme, no matter how innocent it looks. Memes are vile and evil and will always be so.”

My head was literally swimming; I stumbled off the path and dropped to my knees.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

It was Friedrichs.

“I need my earplugs-”

“I’m sorry, Agent Farinelli-”

“Give me my goddamn earplugs!” I screamed.

I heaved, vomiting yellow-blackish bile onto a fern. Not too far away, on the trail, I heard Friedrichs speaking with the others in hushed tones. Overhead, in the canopy of the rainforest, birds chirped one at another.

I heard someone coming towards me, and I presumed it was Friedrichs.

I was right; I felt her hand on my shoulder.

“Here,” she said, handing me my noseplugs. “We can’t let you have everything, you know. But you can have these.”

“Thanks,” I replied, quickly inserting my noseplugs; this is what I had hoped for; my olfactorial and gustatorial senses were far more powerful than my aural; had I said I wanted my noseplugs, they would have given me my earplugs instead.

I took a few breaths, feeling my strength returning to me.

“You all right now?” Friedrichs asked.

I nodded.

“Let’s go,” one of the others said, plasma gun aimed at me.

I stood and followed Friedrichs. The one with the plasma gun followed me.

We arrived at an opening in the forest, in the middle of which burned a fire. Friedrichs motioned at men, who, like her, were wearing brown robes. The men disappeared into the rainforest. Friedrichs and the other women surrounded me.

Friedrichs smiled at me. “Take off your clothes,” she said.


“Take off your clothes, Agent Farinelli.”


“Just do it.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Right here, of course.”

I cleared my throat. “Why can’t I-”

“That’s not the way it’s done. Now take off your clothes or we’ll do it for you.”

I undressed; the women took my clothing from me, piece by piece.

After I finished undressing, the women painted my light-brown face and body white, forcing me to remove my protecting hands when it came time to paint the lower part of my body. All the while, Friedrichs watched, her lips twisted slightly into a wry smile. I felt my face turning red.

“Nice,” she said, looking down, eyes widening.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Please do, Agent Farinelli.”

Friedrichs handed me a robe. “Put this on,” she said.

I put on the brown robe. The women surrounded me and led me towards the fire.

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2007 by Robert H. Prestridge

Home Page