Today's Reading

Waking, she stumbles out of the cab into predawn fog and the smell of the sea; the hotel, beige and sterile, is entirely devoid of a sense of place. This quiet hour, she thinks, of fatigue poison, suicide, ghosts.

There's a guard in a little booth by the concrete planters that keep anyone from driving too close to the hotel; he ignores her, and at first she thinks he's breaking down his rifle but then sees that he's watching television on its display. She has a vision of rounds raining down on the hotel while the indifferent guard flips
channels.

Although she is not a gun person, at all, she recognizes the guard's rifle, an anti-armor Heckler & Koch, the same weapon used on the virtual battlefields of her most recent contract; she'd spent a week trying to persuade the house AI of a Santa Monica defense firm to take an interest in a tactical simulation, and then, interest taken, to make its army win. Surprisingly, the simulation was beautiful, with the bright arcs of missiles, the airborne drones like flocks of easily startled birds, the strike zones of the weapons satellites
like cloud shadows scudding over the hills.

In the empty lobby the lights are dimmed. Her phone shows her the way through the corridors.

Her room is the color of the dry grass in the hills. She checks mail on her phone. Inevitably, there's a reminder from her agent about her meeting at Water and Power Capital Management in now alarmingly few hours. She drops the phone on the floor.

She looks out the window—there's a sense of glittering immanence, of menace, almost, over the salt flats—then regrets not brushing her teeth as she shrugs out of her clothes and falls into bed, glad of the silence and of the guard, out front with his gun, keeping the world at a distance.


5

Working


The concrete is still cooling under Kern's back when the moon starts to set. Under the faded sky the favelas' rooftops are a plain of undulating shadow, fractured by the glowing faults of the alleys and the streets. Lifting his head, he sees the Bay and across it the firelight flaring among Oakland's ruined towers. The wind brings cooking oil, sewage, the sea. Ear to the concrete, he hears music's muted subterranean pulse.

His phone chimes as a text arrives. Phone framed on pale night, the message one word: Working? The sender is anonymized, but only Lares has the new number. Tempting just to lie there, and watch the night progress, but his restlessness is growing, so he texts back Yes, and an instant later gets another message with an image of the night's mark and his latest GPS.

Corded muscle on the stranger's arms, billowing thunderheads tattooed on his shoulders, a studied gangster's gravitas. Another text: Touch him up and bring his phone to me. He memorizes the GPS, then deletes all. Springing to his feet, he stretches through the moment's dizziness and then lopes off across the rooftops.

A vertical plane of light rises from a wide fissure in the concrete before him. He starts to sprint and as the fear rises he launches himself from the edge, floating, for a moment, and in the light rising from the street below he casts a skyward shadow, and then the balconies of the far wall are rushing toward him, then the shock of impact in his palms, knees and soles, his eyes just inches from the stratified concrete, and then once again he's pushed off into the air.

He lands running, stumbles, jogs off the last of his momentum, unscathed, euphoric, though the descent is easy, on these surfaces, if you commit yourself, which he's done now many times. (The first time, when he'd only seen it done in videos, it had taken an hour to work up to the jump). As he wasn't hurt, he won't be hurt, and for tonight he is invincible.

The pulse of the music is louder on the street. It's a carnival night, which he likes, for the shattering music and the fires and the strobe lights that make a strange country of the favela's familiar mazes, and because there will be crowds, mostly drunk, making it easy for him to fade away. Lares, who is particular about words, says it's not technically carnival, but more like this floating world, which Kern first thought referred to the levels flooded by the Bay—he's found basements where you can hear the tide race—but it turned out to be Japanese; he forgot the details but retains a sense of lantern light and sake jars, of hot water clattering into tubs, of ragged samurai walking through the cold mud singing, and as the bass vibrates in his bones he's floating over the surface of things, exultant and detached as he closes on his victim.

Dank corridors with closed doors, mulched paper squelching underfoot, reek of urine. A family place—mothers had their children piss in the throughways to keep the working girls away. An old man with a too-wide grin, dressed as though for church, calls out to him, full of unctuous concern—is he entirely well—is he hungry, perhaps? Kern shakes his head just perceptibly and the old man laughs, says he's sorry, he hadn't recognized him, would never have spoken so to a resident of such standing. Go with him and you'd get a meal, fall asleep, wake up in a brothel. It didn't seem fair, kids making it this far just to be picked off by a pimp who seemed to think that it was funny. The gang kids hated people like that, caught them and hurt them whenever they could, prone, afterwards, to sentimental monologues on sisters disappeared.

A momentary silence, shocking in its suddenness, ringing in his ears. It passes, as he moves on, but there are places like that, here and there, islands of quiet, implied by the ways that shape warps sound. They move, as people build, and he imagines the silences projected from high above, like spotlights roaming the
surface of the city.


This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
...

What our readers think...

Contact Us Anytime!

Facebook | Twitter