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Bewildering Stories

Jerry Guarino, 40 Slices of Pizza


40 Slices of Pizza
Author: Jerry Guarino
Publisher: Amazon, Nov. 29, 2012
Length: 272 pp.
ISBN: 1481099841

Operation ICU

“That’s it. Now we’ll just activate the tracker.” The guard checked the wristband for security and comfort, then had the prisoner, soon to become an outmate, the new term for criminals released under the Inmate Confinement Ubiquity program, sign the release form. “OK, you’re free to go. Stay out of trouble.” With those parting words, the former con man left the island prison and boarded the ferry for San Francisco.

It was 2015, the year San Francisco took a byte out of crime. The new prisoner release program had already been a success. While drug dealers and those convicted of violent crimes like murder and rape were kept behind bars, delinquents, white collar criminals and first time drug users were allowed to leave confinement with one qualification. Each one would have to wear an electronic monitoring wristband, a sort of virtual parole system. Their movements and locations were tracked by the massive supercomputer (affectionately nicknamed ICU).

Now in it’s fourth year, the benefits were adding up. Prison populations were cut down to match available resources so more room was made for violent offenders. The cost of maintaining non-violent prisoners was cut by 80%. Instead of feeding, housing and rehabilitating these miscreants, the money saved was transferred to public schools and teacher salaries. It was ironic that San Francisco, the iconic city of liberalism, would be the first city to install the ICU system, also known as Little Brother. The engineers from Silicon Valley had created the technology on spec from the Governor.

In 2014, thousands of cameras were installed around the Bay Area to watch out for crime, an American version of London’s security program. These cameras were automatically turned on when one of the ICU outmates were in the area. If an outmate came in contact with another known criminal, an email and text message was sent to local authorities. Even though outmates understood how the system worked, some tried to get around it.

Danny was back in his neighborhood. “Hey Danny,” said Juan a member of the Chaves gang. “They let you out?”

Danny pointed to the black wristband. “Sort of. This is supposed to keep track of where I am, but I don’t think it works.”

Juan smiled. “We’re going to hit the bodega tonight. We could use a driver. Are you in?”

Danny gave Juan a fist bump. “I’ll pick you up at midnight,” and he laughed.

But the ICU supercomputer was already tracking their location and recording their conversation through an ingenious, micro-sized audio transmitter hidden in the wristband. They notified the bodega owner to make sure he was out of the store by 9pm for safety. The police quickly installed two new cameras inside and outside of the bodega and coded them into ICU’s database. Blinking red lights confirmed their position on a digital screen in police headquarters.

Across the bay in Oakland, members of the MLK42 gang were welcoming back James, another outmate. James didn’t tell the others about the ICU wristband. “My lawyer got me out. Some screw up by the cops.” High fives all around. “Yeah, I need a score. Where’s the mailman?”

Another member updated James. “He’s over on International, by the record shop. He’s sitting in his El Camino.”

James nodded, “later” as he took the car keys from the table.

ICU heard the conversation, dispatched an unmarked vehicle to the drug dealer known as ‘the mailman’s’ location and waited. The police positioned the camera at that corner above the El Camino, focusing on the drug dealer. James pulled his car up to the El Camino, rolled down the window. The mailman rolled down his window. “James, you’re out. What can I get you?”

James handed $50 dollars over. “Some ice.” Flashes popped from the camera, sirens squealed and two patrol cars boxed in the dealer and his outmate.

“OK boys, game’s over,” said the detective as he cuffed them. “We have it all on tape.

“WTF,” said James. The mailman yelled. “You brought this on me. I’ll have your ass boy.”

Later that night, Danny rolled his car over to pick up his crew. “I have some cold ones in the cooler. Didn’t think we should take time to shop at the bodega.”

His friends laughed and got in the car. “No reason to wait. The bodega closed early tonight.” Danny parked in the alley behind the bodega and waited. He heard glass breaking, but no alarm. It would only be a matter of minutes. A flash from a camera above him went off. “Who’s there?”

Suddenly, police cars boxed them in. “Danny, so good to see you. One day out, huh? I’ll bet they missed you back at Quentin.”

The guard at the island prison shook his head. “Well Danny, that wasn’t very long. Guess you’re going to bunk here for a while.” Danny shuffled inside and held out his arm. The guard cut off the wristband. “Those damn engineers.”


July 26, 1969 - East Orange, N.J. - The huge cylindrical object hovered above the high school while dozens of people stood and watched. Tony Ramirez was on his bike next to the baseball field. “Is that a spaceship?” he said to himself. His friends had left a while ago. It reminded Tony that last Monday, NASA landed the first manned spacecraft on the moon. The spinning ship continued to hover, for what seemed like an hour, although in reality it had only been three minutes. Then the ship floated upwards, turned 180 degrees and disappeared in an instant beyond his view.

“I saw a spaceship at the school today.”

His father gave him a puzzled look. “Son, there are no such things as spaceships.”

Tony knew he couldn’t prove what he saw. “But Pop, I saw it hanging above the school.”

His mom tried to be supportive. “Maybe you saw some sort of cloud storm.”

Tony insisted. “It was real, lots of people were there.”

His parents now looked at each other with concern. “Who else was there Tony?”

Realizing he had come straight home but should have talked to someone there, Tony gave up. “Never mind.”

Tony looked in the paper the next day hoping to see a story that would verify his account. Nothing. He went down to the school to see if he could find someone who had been there. No luck. He even asked his classmates. That was a mistake.

“So, you saw a flying saucer Tony.” From that day on, his life at school was tainted by what others saw as bizarre or at the least, odd behavior. Even though Tony stopped talking about the UFO, his reputation was already finished. Being a social outcast in high school seriously limits your potential. Tony would spend the rest of his life trying to get people to listen to him.

Summer, 2019 - San Diego, California - Surfers fell off their waves, joggers stopped in mid-stride and cars crashed in the street. Five hundred feet above them, a huge cylindrical object hovered over Mission Bay. Within seconds, people pulled out their electronic devices, taking pictures, recording the spinning craft and sending texts, tweets and emails to the Internet and points outward. News people were on the scene in minutes. They set up a remote broadcast link and handed the microphone to the reporter.

“Fifty years after the first moon landing, we are seeing what appears to be another alien spacecraft hovering over Mission Bay. Even though this has become a regular occurrence recently, people are still fascinated by the crafts, wondering when they will get to see the visitors inside. Once referred to as UFOs and flying saucers, these spacecraft provide proof that Earth is not the only planet with living beings. This is Tony Ramirez reporting from KBAY. We’ll have interviews on the scene right after this.”

The Waiting Room

Amy had been in many waiting rooms. Car service centers, banks, hospitals, etc. But the strangest waiting room she had ever been to was in her doctor’s office in one of those professional suites. Amy walked up for her appointment and saw yards of heavy plastic secured around the entrance and outside windows, maybe 20 feet wide. There was a sign on the door.

Please excuse our appearance as we remodel.

We are expanding to serve you better.

An arrow pointed to the right of the door to a temporary entrance. Apparently, her doctor’s practice was doing very well.

“I’m here for my 2:30pm appointment; my name is Amy Eng.”

The medical assistant looked on her computer screen. “Here you are. I see you’re a little early. While we are remodeling, our temporary waiting room is over there.” The receptionist pointed to a small room down the hallway.

Amy walked into the room and saw office furniture that was older than she was. Plaid, orange and gray fabric over veneer oak armchairs, a black leatherette couch, a cheesy plastic table and the requisite middle class magazines, none from the 21st century. On the wall were paint by number pictures of clowns in cheap frames, an Ansel Adams photograph that looked like it was taken out of a magazine and one of those certificates proving that the doctor had actually been trained. The rug was industrial grade, tightly woven, charcoal in color with specks of yellow. There were no windows and a stale smell.

A young woman in blue scrubs came in and removed one of the chairs. Amy sat on the couch and watched. The woman returned and took another chair. Amy looked around. Then the woman came back and started removing the pictures. There was no one else in the room to commiserate with. The woman took the plastic table, the magazines and the framed certificate. Soon the only thing remaining was Amy and the leatherette couch. She didn’t mind the removal of the eyesore furnishings, the ancient magazines, the clown pictures or the certificate.

Then a man, dressed in green scrubs, came in with the woman, holding a straight back, wooden chair. “We’re going to have to take the couch. Would you mind sitting here for a moment?”

Amy acquiesced silently. She realized that this must be someone else’s office that her doctor was taking over. She looked around the room, then at her watch. Surely the doctor would be seeing her soon. “Wait a minute,” she said to herself, only slightly audibly. “Is this still a waiting room?” She looked down the hallway. “Hello, is anyone here?” No reply or for that matter any sound. Amy walked back to the receptionist’s desk. The office was vacant, without life, like something out of a French existentialist story. Then a horrible thought occurred to Amy.

She was missing.

Under the Apple Tree

“Sorry, my grandma doesn’t have a wireless signal; she has dial up.” These are two of the saddest words in the English language, along with no signal.

“No wait” said Jeff, looking at his laptop. “There are three networks showing. Must be the houses around us.” Jeff tapped the pad. “Well, two of the signals are locked, but here’s one that isn’t. It’s called apple.”

Ann knew Jeff might go a little crazy without an Internet connection. “Oh, try that,” said Ann.

Jeff tried to connect. “There, it works! Wait, it dropped.” Jeff’s facial expression mirrored the rise and fall of the connection. “Damn.”

Newlyweds Jeff and Ann had come to visit her grandmother, who couldn’t attend their wedding in San Francisco. “I’m so glad you could visit. I’m making you a special dinner.”

Ann held Jeff’s hand. “We’re happy to be here Nana.”

Jeff went through the house looking for a place where the computer would connect. He started at the basement, then the bedrooms, kitchen; he even tried from the bathrooms. No luck. The signal would catch for a minute and then drop.

Ann found him in the pantry. “Any luck dear?”

Irritated now, he was sweating from the search. “It has to be in one of these houses. I’m going outside.”

Ann looked at her watch. “OK, but we’re having dinner in thirty minutes.”

Jeff went out the back door. The hot Minnesota summer was oppressive, martins grabbing mosquitoes out of the air and the wind wheel spinning slowly colors of red, blue and green. The backyard of the house was in the middle of three other houses. “One of these must be the apple node.” Jeff held his notebook at eye level and walked around.

“Where is this router? Jeff said to himself. Tired and frustrated, he sat down on the lawn chair under an apple tree and closed his eyes. “Ping.” Suddenly, he was online! “Let’s see.” Jeff checked a couple websites. “Steady.” He checked his email. “Ah, working. Ann,” he called out. “It’s working.” No response. “Ann, I found the spot.” Jeff looked into the kitchen. The light was on and he could hear someone getting out plates and utensils. “Guess it’s time for dinner.” He took his computer into the kitchen.

“Ann? Grandma? Where are you guys?”

Two women turned around and screamed. “Get out.” Jeff didn’t recognize them. “Lisa, call 911.”

Jeff turned and left the house quickly. “I must have gone into the wrong house.” But when he got back to the yard, the other houses were gone. He checked his computer. The connection dropped again. He went back to the chair where he started. Jeff heard a police car siren in the distance, getting closer. “C’mon, faster.”

The two women were waiving the police car into their driveway, pointing to Jeff.

“OK, let’s go. There’s the node.” Jeff clicked on the network and he was online again. The siren from the police car shook the tree above him. As the police rushed toward him, something dropped into his lap. It was an apple. He held it out to the police as they handcuffed him.

“Jeff, wake up. It’s time for dinner.”

Copyright © 2012 by Jerry Guarino

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