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I canÕt quite say what drove me there. Except that I was bored, as I said, with just playing with the thrid all day. And, also, I did it mostly just to brag. Luxury does that to you: it makes you want things that are unnecessary, like telling your good fortune to someone who doesnÕt really care about you. So I drew on a hooded cape that Keeps had given me, and took a few buses, and found Trudy Judy at her usual walk, leaning against one blank wall and staring straight across the alley at another. Trudy was a straight Judy Garland who was the closest thing I used to have for a friend. Unless I can count Alexi.
After the shock and laughter at seeing each other, I took her to TyroneÕs for lunch.
"Byron Keeps!" She said again, shaking her head, talking around the drinking straw in her mouth. "Unbelievable. And heÕs set you up! How was he, though?"
For some reason I didnÕt tell her about Alexi. Or about where I lived. And that saved my life. "Not bad," I said. "Better than most."
"ThatÕs not saying much, girl," Judy said, stuffing a french fry in her mouth.
"Remember the Pale Geek." It was our name for a notoriously hesitant but ever returning John, a regular trick I had in the Flicker. He had made me feel bad.
Judy laughed. "What happened to him? He stopped coming round."
"Oh, I robbed him."
"He deserved it. He made me feel like a vr rig peripheral. HeÕd get all worked up with the vr porn, then come find me. He send me through acrobatics, Ōturn this way, turn that, bend over, use this.Õ A bad case."
"The virpo is never enough like the real flesh, the real flesh is never enough like the virpo," Judy chanted.
"Right. So, eventually he got nuts. Found me one night and paid me twice usual just to come to his place--"
"Right. And in this filthy geeky hovel, he had set up his vr rig and he wanted to wear it, project his click and drag commands on a two-d screen, and have me read up there on them what I was supposed to do. He wouldnÕt even be looking at me." I made a face. "I waited till he was all wired up, then put the dickplug back on his rig, took his wallet, and walked out. I doubt he even noticed."
We laughed. I glanced out the window. Twice lucky, I was. For there was Stick, across the street, waiting for a break in the traffic.
"Stick," I whispered. Judy started to speak but I put a bill on the table and ran out the back door. A bus was waiting at the next corner, and I leapt on just as Stick kicked open the dinerÕs back door. He ran for the bus and then, just like half the foot-chase scenes youÕve seen in cop movies, the bus doors slid closed between us, just before he got to me.
He hammered his fist on the glass.
"IÕm going to find you and kill you, you bitch!" He scratched at the seam of the door, trying to get some grip on it.
The bus pulled away, and his chipped black fingernails scraped hideously as he was left behind.
I paced my apartment for a day. It was Judy, of course. It had to be. And she had gone to the bathroom when we first came in to the diner. She must have called him. I donÕt think Stick would ever find the apartment, but how long would I have it? And would I have to stay inside, never going out?
What movie was this like? IÕd seen one like this, I know. What had the protagonist done? I couldnÕt remember.
History repeats itself: Marilyn outlasts Madonna.
KeepsÕs men pick me up one morning, and take me back to the CheopÕs suite. Alexi isnÕt with them. On the way over, the driver tells me how unusual it is that Keeps set me up for life, how much he must like me. They take me upstairs, and for a week I do the same routine over again.
Then back to my room.
I worry again about Stick, and try to distract myself with the thrid, but IÕve had a thought these last few days. IÕve been depressed, pacing my cubicle, re-running scenes from my autobiography-in-progress again and again. It lacks something. WeÕre all just looking to get inside a story, to get virtual, but somehow when you make the story yourself it is a disappointment. Was it that I needed someone else, maybe a whole team, to get some objective virtuality?
But maybe even when someone else makes it, maybe even when you land in a full proj movie, the movie isnÕt enough. Maybe when you look at yourself long and hard enough, you donÕt recognize anything. You donÕt find yourself there.
Is that why the first Marilyn wasted away?
Finally I canÕt stand it anymore. I wait until Tuesday morning, but early, when I know Judy will be in her coffin. I call her. I apologize for leaving her alone with Stick. She tries not to sound surprised that I seem not to have figured out that it was her that pegged me for Stick.
"Trudy, can you come see me? IÕm bored. Come today: IÕll set the doors to admit one visitor at 1:00 p.m."
"OK," she says.
"One," I repeat. I give her directions.
Alexi arrives every day at one thirty.
The knock at my door is soft. ItÕs 1:17. I almost donÕt answer it. What if he kills me, straight out, before Alexi arrives? But I have to end it. Shaking, unable to even fake a smile, I open the door.
Alexi is late. Stick has beaten me blue, and tied me to the bed, and started to cut me before I see Alexi, eyes open in horror, standing in the doorway to my bedroom. Stick rants threats, and Alexi, not even hearing him, steps forward, backing Stick into a corner, brushes aside the knives Stick waves, and then breaks his arms. Then he methodically sets out to break lots of parts of Stick. ItÕs like -- what? RosselliniÕs Open City? But before anyone promises to grind Alexi to dust, he lifts StickÕs broken and tortured body and tosses it off the balcony.
I wake up later in a cheap clinic, alone, wrapped in white gauze rusted brown with caked blood.
Weeks pass. Alexi does not visit.
In moody despair, I write another scene for my autobiography: I try writing the conclusion. You can write the conclusion first. Then you know what you are working towards.
Camera follows a garbage truck as it squeezes down a narrow street in the blinding, slum streets of the Flickering District. It whines to a stop, and a GARBAGEMAN jumps out of the back door. He grabs a can that sits before a porno-thrid venue, and heaves it up on the back door of the truck, dumping clods of damp tissues into the cache-basin. The name over the door behind him is "Young Thomas."
As GARBAGEMAN sets the can back down he sees blond hair on the ground, spread around the corner. Craning his neck forward, he looks around the corner, into a dark alley; the camera follows, slowly easing around the GARBAGEMANÕs shoulder and revealing that a MARILYN lies on the ground there. The GARBAGEMAN pulls a rod out of his pocket and points it at the MARILYN: it is an image dispeller -- one of those official, municipal ones, the kind that overrides any grid and can delete any thrid image, even public message ones. He pushes the button once, twice. Nothing happens.
The other garbageman, the DRIVER, gets out of the truck. He stands beside the GARBAGEMAN, scratching his head with a filthy gloved hand.
They get back on the truck and drive to the next stop, a dozen meters ahead.
Too sneeringly sentimental? I thought that IÕd get something from seeing my death, some Tom Sawyer satisfaction, but I canÕt bring myself to make it unrealistically pleasant. Even the first Marilyn didnÕt die pleasantly. I sampled garbagemen from some bad movies, and had my thrid play the scene a dozen times. It doesnÕt move me. ItÕs just a trashy image laying among images of trash.
But I keep at it, because I had this idea: maybe I am too virtual. There is a myth down in the alleys of the Flickering District, a legend that you can get so virtual that the stories start falling apart. You can get so inside the movies that you canÕt see the plot for the stories. ThatÕs what we call it: "canÕt see the plot for the stories." Sort of Cronenberg.
So I thought: I could write a story, a deeper story, that got everything clear. Bottom level, real universal truth kind of stuff. Something that had my autobiography, and all my thoughts, and all the things IÕve done and seen. High concept. And maybe also other peopleÕs thoughts. I would start small, but maybe build up to a big thing where all the stories fit. Eventually I might make some sense of things -- I mean, my things -- in this movie or screenplay or vr short, or whatever it would be.
So far it isnÕt working.
But this is only the first draft.
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