Abnormality #2: Migrants

Abnormality2_MIgrants

Abnormality #2: Migrants

by Tom Lichtenberg

copyright 2014 by Tom Lichtenberg

The past few weeks had been among the most hectic in the life of Bermuda Hills. Plucked out of nowhere for no discernible reason, the former housekeeper and nanny found herself on the opposite side of the country living the opposite kind of life than the one she’d always known. It was taking some getting used to. Where before she’d had to work several jobs and still budget carefully to make the rent and pay the bills, now she was settled in a luxury high-rise condo earning more in a week than she’d been taking in all year. She still had no idea why she’d been chosen for this job, or even how she was supposed to be doing it.

On the surface it seemed like ordinary work; her job was to sort through the variety of letters, postcards and emails that her boss received every day, and pick out the ones she thought might be of interest to him. She was supposed to be a mind reader, she guessed. How was she to know what would appeal to him? How was she to understand the inner workings of the strangest mind she’d ever met? Bermuda Hills was now the personal secretary to Dillon Sharif. If that name is unfamiliar to you, perhaps you would know him better as the grandson and sole heir to the billionaire founders of the world’s most powerful company, the AllDat Corporation, legal and earnest owners of every scrap of information past, present and future on the face of planet Earth, and all other humanoid-inhabited planets in perpetuity.

It was pretty overwhelming. Like everyone, she had come across the name Wilkins Sharif every now and then on the news as being one of the richest men in the world, and now here she was seeing his stern, daunting face and hearing his grumbling, imperious voice daily on the wall screen in front of her desk. Dillon might trust her judgment implicitly, but Wilkins was far from doing so yet, and seemed to be taking an inordinate interest in every tidbit of correspondence addressed to his heir and grandson. He made her read aloud nearly every single one, questioning her on its contents and her opinion before eventually agreeing with her every time. Meanwhile the face of his wife, the legendary Kintara Soh, flashed intermittently across the screen as he passed on her way to and from whoever knows where she was going. She was a slight creature with wild hair sticking straight out of her head in every direction and in every color of the rainbow, or so it seemed to Bermuda. Kintara had the face of a wise old goddess and didn’t say much, but what she did say was always direct and to the point.

‘Why’ is not important,” she had counseled Bermuda on the question of her selection for this position. “What matters now is ‘how’”.

Bermuda considered them both to be entirely other-worldly, aliens perhaps, which would go a long way towards explaining the personality of her boss. Dillon was tall and strong, very fit and certainly a handsome man with sharp, dark features and a pencil mustache which he seemed to find most compelling. He was a private sort, excessively so, always aiming for a kind of public invisibility, which he believed he could achieve through an appropriate selection of wardrobe for each occasion. Of course, to everyone else he always stood out. He was the only one who thought otherwise. Famous as he was, rich as he was, and good-looking to boot, he was the target of a million sellers of themselves. He lived in highly secure isolation, but was neither shy nor awkward nor socially inept. He simply existed on a different plane than the rest of humanity. At least that’s how Bermuda saw it.

Dillon mainly interacted with a scant handful of people, most of them women. Aside from Bermuda and his grandmother, there was his right-hand-person, a formidable woman named Bethany Rush, mainly known as the Commander. The Commander ran most of Dillon’s life, procuring and arranging for all of his material needs, as well as providing his transportation in her dual roles of driver and pilot. She was also his bodyguard and personal S.W.A.T. team all in one. She and Bermuda possessed the only other house keys to Dillon’s penthouse apartment, a fact that was none too pleasing to the other significant woman in his life, the famous actor and sensationalist, Karen Clyde.

Bermuda was not quite clear on the nature of that relationship. Karen was Dillon’s lover. This much was certain, but not a permanent partner nor a particularly trusted one (hence the key). She knew, from what Dillon had told her, that Karen was the center of a polyamorous circle. Dillon was not her only partner, though she was that to him. Bermuda pretended not to be scandalized, but she was from a time and place where such things could never happen.

She considered herself to be fairly traditional, in the sense that she had been an unmarried teenage mother who later wed a different man, a divorcée who’d subsequently hurried off to war and had the misfortune of getting blown to pieces in a high desert in the middle of nowhere halfway around the world. The last she’d heard from him was when he’d mailed her a bag of dirt, with a note explaining that apparently this was the worthless stuff that he and his buddies were wasting their entire lives for. In the meantime, her daughter had grown up and run away, determined not to become anything like her mother, words that still stung whenever Bermuda recalled them. Bermuda did not consider herself to be a bad person, or a useless person, or a “good-for-nothing nothing”, to use Sandy’s exact words. True, she had never gone to college, but she had gone back and finished high school. True, she had never been devoted to a single specialized profession and had never made even a decent living until now, but she was a competent person, capable and responsible. She was not stupid, and she was kind, and reasonable, and generous. She had done everything she could for that ungrateful child.

She’d been alone a long time now. Maybe that was one of the reasons why her boss felt an affinity, but she had a strong intuition that she would never really understand him. Still, that wasn’t her job. She only had to sort through this correspondence and try to pick out the truly interesting, truly mysterious, truly worthwhile problems from the mass of utter nonsense they mostly consisted of.

Trash!” Wilkins grunted, when she read out the letter from the woman who claimed that crop circles had spontaneously sprouted overnight in her suburban back yard.

Ridiculous,” he shouted, when she read the one from the man who claimed to be receiving graphically obscene emails from the recently deceased.

Really?” he uttered scornfully as she narrated from the postcard describing the case of the spider bite that moved up and down this woman’s body, an inch or so every hour, beginning from the bottom of her big toe and working its way up to her armpit before beginning the downward journey once again.

They’re mostly like that,” she reminded him.

Filter,” whispered Kintara as she scuttled across the screen. She had said it discretely, hoping that her husband wouldn’t hear. Bermuda got the message, but Wilkins was a consummate counter. He knew precisely how many messages there were and tallied them up as she sorted through them every morning. It would not be so easy to sneak anything past him. She only hoped that eventually she would wear him out, and he would stop being so snoopy about it. But since she had to read them anyway, she figured, she might as well be reading them out loud to him as quietly to herself.

Too many migrants,” Wilkins muttered, stroking the goat-like white chin tuft that dominated his shriveled features. Bermuda wondered if he didn’t have anything better to do, but the old folks were apparently retired as far as she could tell. There they were every morning on the screen, anxious to listen to the mail in the hopes that something appealing would turn up. At first she hadn’t understood their interest, but it was beginning to dawn on her that their only genuine concern was for the well-being of their grandson, and he only seemed to be fully himself and completely alive when he was occupied with a curious case. During the dry spells in between those he was quiet, subdued and withdrawn, and his grandparents worried about him then. What Bermuda couldn’t know was that far from being retired, the old people simply never slept. They were still working more than eighteen hours a day for the AllDat Corporation already well into their seventies. These morning sessions were merely a coffee break for them.

As for her boss, Dillon Sharif, he was a big-data detective, perhaps the best (if not the only) one in the world. The media that fawned over him liked to say he was a “database wizard”, an “information overlord”, an “associative array” (a term they clearly did not understand). He didn’t just “put two and two together”, he put “twelve and six point eight and ninety three point seven five six and eighty eight and ‘geese’ and ‘feral blind mice’ and sedimentary rocks” together in algorithms and combinations that mystified and astounded everyone and solved seemingly impossible dilemmas, not to mention proving hitherto merely speculative scientific theorems. He had originally come to public attention through a viral video in which he explained the vital correlation of particular hats, male fertility and women’s winning lottery numbers – a revelation that instantly put an end to all regional, state and national lotto and other sweepstakes games once and for all.

Ever since then people had been sending him their problems in the hopes that somehow he could magically fix them. Bermuda was constantly amazed at the things they came up with. Sometimes it really got to her, such as the letter he received from a young girl complaining that every now and then recently she would start bleeding from her sensitive regions for apparently no reason at all.

What am I supposed to do about these?” Bermuda wanted to know.

Use your discretion,” he advised, “but when you respond personally, please use your own name and the title Senior Executive Administrator, AllDat Corporation, so it won’t be coming from me.”

You just wouldn’t answer, would you?”

I would not,” he agreed.

But she would, and she did, and lately she’d been feeling more like an obvious-advice columnist than any old Executive Administrator, whatever that was.

What do you mean, too many migrants,” she asked Wilkins, after it had finally sunk in that he’d made that comment some minutes earlier in response to nothing in particular.

The spider bites,” Wilkins said. “That wasn’t the only one where things were moving around, was it? There was that one about the parked cars, and the other one about the potholes, and I think there was another, wasn’t there? All of that from just today. It’s too many moving parts at one time. Seems kind of suspicious.”

You got me,” Bermuda frowned. This was the first time that Wilkins had spotted a potential matter of interest that had escaped her attention. Well, it’s only been a few weeks, she thought, and I’m still pretty new at this game.

Let me put those together,” she said, and started looking back through the correspondence she’d already sorted that morning. She quickly found the ones he mentioned, including the “other one”, which was about a dead squirrel. It was up the road a bit one minute, then up the road a bit more the next, and so on until it had allegedly migrated more than half a block in half a day.

Unreliable witnesses?” Bermuda suggested later that morning, when she’d brought the stack upstairs and presented them to her boss.

I mean, this one thought he parked the car on Seventh Street, but when he went to look for it, he found it on Ninth instead. Doesn’t that happen to everyone? He just forgot.”

Most likely,” Dillon agreed, “and the potholes. How could someone claim for sure it’s the same exact pothole, only on the next street over, and then the next, though it’s true that from the photographs they do look remarkably similar,” he mused, inspecting the attachments.

After all,” he concluded, “potholes are not generally known to relocate.”

Spider bites look the same too,” Bermuda said, “but I’m suspecting digital manipulation here. Look, she’s twenty-four years old and sending half-naked pictures of herself. Could be one of those gold diggers you’re always worrying about.”

Hmm,” Dillon considered, examining the photos in question. ‘Half-naked’ was an overstatement. The woman was only revealing the bites, which did in fact appear to be the same bite in different spots.

These are all the moving ones?” he asked.

That’s all from today,” Bermuda nodded. “I don’t remember any from yesterday and your grandfather didn’t either.”

Very well,” he said. “Let me think about it,” and from the tone of his voice Bermuda knew it was time for her to leave. Dillon did not suffer anyone else’s presence while contemplating mysteries, except for the Commander, whose presence was virtually the same as absence to him. Bermuda left the apartment and returned to her own, knowing that the rest of the day was entirely at her disposal. It was a bright, sunny and unusually warm day in San Francisco, and she had the sudden inspiration to learn something about sailing. She smiled, and although she didn’t know it, her entire life was about to get even better.

Migrants,” Dillon said to himself, wondering why his grandfather had chosen that particular word. It wasn’t a term you heard often, and when you did, it was usually a pejorative, associated with itinerant workers, exiles who traveled far and worked hard in order to send some meager earnings back to their loved ones in impoverished, dusty small towns. It certainly wasn’t a word commonly associated with parked cars, spider bites, potholes or roadkill. His grandfather must have had something specific in mind, but if Dillon knew the old man, he was probably either laying out a clue of some sort, or else just spouting nonsense. In either case it wouldn’t be proper to ask him directly. He and the old man had a somewhat formal relationship, respectful and seemingly cool but full of unspoken affection.

Dillon considered the origins of the four queries, but saw nothing immediately in common among them. They had all come from different places; two from the Southeast United States, one from the Midwest and one from Greece (the spider bites). The time stamps were within a few hours, but that was always true for his daily correspondence. He received so many queries that he could only handle them on an immediate basis. Either they attracted his attention (or lately, his secretary’s) or they didn’t, in which case they were thrown out. He kept no records, had no filing system, maintained nothing to refer back to. He had made that a policy, so as not to get bogged down, not to make too much of a business about what after all was more of a hobby than anything else. As a billionaire dilettante, he felt quite justified in doing whatever he felt like.

He could also go wherever and whenever he liked, and he usually preferred to inspect on-site the cases he adopted. All he required was a few words to the Commander, who then took care of everything. That morning all he gave her was a name and an address in Atlanta, Georgia, and within the hour they were off. While the Commander made the necessary arrangements, Dillon set to work on the all important wardrobe selection. This he considered to be the essence of his detective style. It wasn’t a matter of “looking the part” or “fitting in” or “making a good impression” or anything like that. Dillon’s outfits were specifically chosen to give him the best possible chance for the best possible outcome. He sincerely believed that what he wore was crucial to how events would unfold. He would become the very person needed to navigate each particular situation depending on his appearance, most especially his choice of hat. He had proven it over and over again, to the point of absolute certainty, that hat-wear played a far more determinative role than anyone had hitherto imagined.

Naturally he possessed an extensive collection, occupying an entire walk-in closet in his penthouse condominium set atop fashionable Nob Hill. His clothes, on the other hand, were provided by the monthly subscription service Wearabulous, which supplied a rotating but always sufficient assortment of outfits. Dillon believed he would know precisely which set of attire would establish him as both anonymous and invisible wherever he went. He thought it crucial not to merely blend in, but to merge so completely within his environment that he was not even an afterthought to others in the vicinity. The disguises would give him an appearance of necessity, as if he were the essence of the place, not some mere interloper who had dropped in out of nowhere and didn’t belong there at all.

The Commander, who enjoyed her electric and hybrid vehicles, chose a compact, sky blue Advanta for the ride to the air field, where she escorted her boss onto his private plane, which she then flew most efficiently across the country, to a strip outside of Atlanta, where they transitioned into a bacterial-battery powered two-seater for the ride into town. She had called ahead and arranged to meet Miss Alison Moss, the retired bank president who had reported the apparently migratory potholes traveling about her largely residential neighborhood. Miss Moss greeted them warmly, and offered to show them around her pleasant mini-manse while providing tea and biscuits if they so desired, but Dillon was anxious to see these unusual holes, and so they set off at once, on foot, forming an odd triangular cluster in the otherwise pedestrian-free streets. Miss Moss was as tall a Dillon, which was striking in an older woman, for he was six foot three. She was twice his mass and formed a rather hulking figure in her elegant emerald-green dress and crown of thick white hair tied up in a bun which made her appear an even greater height. The Commander, a foot shorter and at twice as much wider, was dressed as usual in a crisp navy blue uniform with gold buttons and black cowboy boots. Her slick, short black hair made her head look something like the outermost Russian nested doll, but the severely serious expression on her face gave more the impression of an angry Lego figurine.

Dillon, to the Commander’s great surprise, was wearing a light tan linen suit, highlighted by a coagulated-blood-red bow tie, with high-top fluorescent yellow sneakers and a knitted gray woolen cap, a wardrobe which to her mind completely undid any idea of his remaining incognito. In fact she thought he looked completely ridiculous but as was her policy, she kept her thoughts to herself. Dillon need never know her opinion about anything. She was not there to consult or advise, she was only there to do whatever needed doing. Miss Moss was talking the whole time.

Yesterday morning it was right here. You can see where they patched it. They use that black dirt which hardly repairs anything. They come in a little brown truck and shovel it out the back, and then tamp on it back and forth a few times, which is not what I call “fixing”. It’s always the same two men, Hilbert and George. I swear they must have the most lenient contract with the city, for they never do a half-decent job, and yet they are called upon every occasion. I suppose they are related to somebody somewhere. It’s the only explanation! We have a lot of corruption in this town, you know. I could tell you stories. Why, when I was the president of the Fourth Fidelity I knew about all the shady goings on. Not that I would ever tell, mind you, I’m far too civic-minded to cause a scandal, besides which a wise person knows which side of the sandwich has the butter on it. Is that how it goes? Does a sandwich have sides?”

Please show us where it went next,” Dillon asked politely. He had his tablet out and was jotting down a bunch of numbers and other stuff that looked like meaningless scribbles to the Commander, but she knew that he had his own language for this kind of thing, a sort of personal encryption that no computer or security expert could ever hope to crack.

Yes, of course,” Miss Moss replied, and the threesome proceeded around the corner. Eventually she led them to all five previous of the shifty pothole’s previous locales, finally arriving at the site of the current one, where they encountered the hole’s regular companions, the aforementioned Hilbert and George. Miss Moss made introductions all around. Hilbert was the older of the two, a thick, dirt-faced man in an orange jumpsuit and grubby gloves which he kept on while shaking hands. George was a strong and smiley young man who, despite looking like he just stepped out of the shower, was the one who did all the work. He wore regular street clothes – jeans, t-shirt, running shoes – and no work gloves, but held the shovel and was just about to start in on the filling.

Could you wait just a minute, please,” Dillon asked him. “I’d like to do some measurements if you don’t mind.”

It’s nothing to me, mister,” George said, leaning on his shovel and displaying his perfect teeth.

You have a license or something?” Hilbert wanted to know. “Can’t just go measuring stuff without some paper says you can.”

A license?” Dillon stood up, turned towards Hilbert,and said, in his most calm and confident manner, “Of course I do.”

Well, okay then,” Hilbert shrugged, not even bothering to ask to see it. “Just checking, you know. A man’s job is his job.”

The Commander shook her head. It constantly amazed her how her boss was able to get away with pretty much anything without hardly even trying. It must be something about being a billionaire, she decided for the millionth time. It wasn’t like he was oozing charisma, at least not the kind she would notice, but people who didn’t even know who he was somehow fell into a habit of instant obedience.

Dillon crouched down beside the pothole and pointed a small, hand-held laser-guided gadget around its perimeter, then slowly maneuvered the thing in a downward spiral around the sides until it got to the bottom of the hole. The tool made a series of short, sharp beeps while it transmitted a set of figures to the tablet he held in his other hand. Then he stood up, switched off the gadget, put it back in his pocket, and studied the results on the tablet screen for a moment.

Y’all done yet?” Hilbert wanted to know, at which George immediately proceeded to start shoveling dirt from the back of their pickup into the hole. Dillon didn’t bother to reply. Instead he thanked Miss Moss, and started back towards the car. He walked quickly, the Commander striving to keep up by his side, while Miss Moss lagged farther and farther behind, which didn’t have any effect on her attempt to resume her babbling.

You do see they are all the same hole,” she tried to tell him, but Dillon gave no indication that he was paying her any attention. The rest of her chatter went unheard.

It’s curious,” he said to the Commander.

Is it?” she asked indifferently. She knew that he would not be listening to anything she said, so she never bothered to say much.

I need to know the precise longitude and latitude of the present location of that decaying squirrel in Chicago.” he said.

Immediately the Commander was on it. She whipped out her phone and began making inquiries, first consulting her checklist for the name and number of the correspondent who had reported the roadkill, then calling that individual and requesting the information, which the individual was unable to provide as requested but was able, after running out of his house and down the block, to give her the address in front of which the dead rodent was presently placed, and the approximate distance from the house to the point in the street where it lay. From this information, the Commander was able to calculate the data her boss needed to know.

Latitude, 41.494159, Longitude -87.751686”, she reported. “Do you need the address as well?”

Forty one and four nine four and one five nine, got it,” Dillon merely muttered in reply while he punched the number into his tablet. He stopped in the middle of the street, and fingered his pencil-thin 1940’s-style movie-star mustache.

We need to go here, and we need to hurry” he said, handing the tablet to the Commander. She tapped her phone against the top left corner of the device, and returned it to him. The coordinates had been transferred to her own device and with another tap of her finger she conveyed that data to the car.

Say goodbye to Miss Moss?” she mumbled, knowing from long experience that Dillon Sharif had already completely forgotten that person’s existence. She herself did not care at all about such formalities. Her mind remained focused on the duties at hand. They got into the car and drove off without another word to their pothole tour guide who was left shaking her head and clucking about manners.

The Commander led them swiftly and directly to the address her boss had provided, which turned out to be a fire station several blocks away. Dillon popped out of the car and strode into the office, where three on-duty firemen where lounging about, munching on chocolate raised donuts and drinking black coffee from Styrofoam cups.

I would like to report an impending calamity,” Dillon said to the nearest one, a large gruff looking man who wore a too-small, light blue railroad-engineer’s cap on top of his too-large, sweaty and balding head. The man glanced up at him.

There’s forms over there,” he snarled, jerking his head towards a yellow Formica counter jutting out along the wall. The counter contained several grubby plastic holders, none of which housed any papers, and a set of pen-holding chains which held no pens.

Dillon briefly noted the condition of that ledge, and repeated his earlier statement, adding, “this is not going to be good.”

The gruff man turned to his companions and gave them a look which made them suddenly explode in guffaws.

Okay I’ll bite. Where’s the fire?” the first man asked, turning back to Dillon. This made one of the others choke on his bite of donut and spill his coffee all over his pants leg.

Dang it!” he shouted, jumping up.

Genius,” the other one cracked.

Hey, stuff it,” the first guy said, clenching his fist and getting ready to fight.

Guys, guys,” the gruff man calmly stated, still looking directly at Dillon and lifting another donut to his mouth. “We got us a calamity to attend to, ain’t that right, mister?”

Yes,” Dillon told him, checking his watch. “In nineteen minutes from now, a very large sinkhole will open up directly beneath this station. I suggest you remove all vehicles and any important equipment right away. The damage will be extensive, but you can mitigate the loss and expense if you take immediate action.”

The fire chief still held the donut directly in front of his face as he stared at Dillon.

Who the heck is this clown?” he asked no one in particular.

Some kind of junkie?” guessed the coffee spiller.

Nut job,” volunteered the other.

Looks like a junkie,” the first one repeated. “That stupid cap.”

My name is Dillon Sharif,” he informed them, “but that is not important. What matters is that you take immediate action to avoid some rather costly damages.”

Dillon Sharif, eh? Dillon Sharif. Are we supposed to know you or something? Like you’re some kind of famous, hey, wait a minute. Dillon Sharif. I do know that name.”

Yeah, boss. That’s the guy that ruined the lottery,” said coffee spiller.

Yeah right,” said the other one. “The freaky rich guy.”

Seventeen minutes,” Dillon said, consulting his wristwatch. “This will also affect the convenience store next door. I have to go and inform them also.”

Wait a minute,” the gruff man stood up, revealing just how imposing a figure he was. He was at least six five and carried more than three hundred pounds, clearly a former football player, possibly professional considering that with all that and his age he looked to be still in excellent condition.

Let me get this straight,” he said, leaning over the desk and squinting at Dillon. “You’re telling me that a giant-ass hole is about to swallow up my station without any warning or anything. Where did you come up with that? What’s your evidence? Why should I believe you?”

Yeah,” the coffee spiller complained, “and anyhow we all liked playing the lottery. Thanks a lot for that.”

Shut up, Jenkins,” the chief commanded.

Sixteen minutes,” Dillon said. “I have to warn the convenience store.”

Get out of here,” the chief snorted, and plopped back down in his chair. He took a giant bite out of his donut and barked, with his mouth full, to no one in particular, “Did I ask you or what?”

Dillon left the station and did as he promised. The cashier at the convenience store did not recognize him or even ask him who he was. She was quite content to take an early break and clear the place out. Dillon advised her to take any precautions she felt necessary, so she stuffed all the money from the register into the pocket of her overalls, ordered the handful of customers out of the place, left after them and locked the door behind her in plenty of time.

Dillon had by then returned to the sidewalk, where the Commander was waiting by the car. At the time he predicted, the sinkhole appeared as advertised, only moments after the paramedics and police cars previously summoned by the Commander had arrived on the scene. While the fire chief and the coffee spiller were being pulled from the wreckage and loaded into an ambulance (there was no sign of the unremarkable “other guy”), Dillon and the Commander drove off towards the air strip. On the way, he had her place a call to the roadkill observer, advising him to have that creature removed before it was responsible for any more mischief.

On the flight home Dillon received a call from the talented and renowned Karen Clyde.

Where are you?” she wanted to know.

En route,” he replied “And you?”

I’m in Denver,” she said. “And I hate Denver. I could be home in two hours.”

Have you penciled me in?” Arrangements with Karen could be quite complicated. Dillon was only one of her four regular boyfriends, and her calendar was in a constant state of flux. She seemed to spend more time organizing her love life than actually living it. Three of her lovers resided in California, which simplified matters to some extent. Jasper Coleridge, the part-time celebrity chef and full-time hipster CPA, lived in Beverly Hills. Vitaly Fleschko, world heavyweight wrestling champion, also lived in SoCal. Only Joey Mangiamo, Fiat mechanic and all-around regular guy, made his home outside the state, in Brooklyn, New York. Dillon made sporadic attempts to get to know these fellows, but he was not the most sociable fellow, and didn’t really know the rules about polyamorous camaraderie, so his attempts were generally few and fairly feeble.

He recollected the one time he’d arranged an awkward, supposedly impromptu meeting with Jasper Coleridge, ostensibly a consultation about food and wine pairings, during which Dillon accumulated a great deal of quite useless information which he promptly deleted from his memory. He saw nothing in Jasper Coleridge, a man who owned dozens of pairs of sunglasses and three identical cherry-red Corvettes but who was otherwise as indistinct as a blue kite flying on a cloudless day. He made no impression but droned on and on. His dealings with the other two had so far covered a total of perhaps a dozen words and even fewer minutes, but he remained intent on doing something about it someday. It seemed like a thing to do.

I said I ‘could’ be home in two hours,” Karen sighed, “but unfortunately I can’t. I have a shoot tonight. It’s so dumb. I’m literally supposed to sit on something and twirl. It’s just an ad for a chair, but they’re paying me you wouldn’t believe how much.”

Ah, that’s too bad,” Dillon said. “I would’ve liked to be with you tonight.”

Really?” she seemed surprised. “You on a case or something?”

Karen knew that Dillon’s interest and energies hinged largely on his detecting activities. When he had no obscure and/or impossible problem to solve, he tended to sink into a discouraging apathy which extended into his love life. During those periods he spent most of his time working out on his balcony elliptical machine, scouring the AllDat Corporation’s database for unusual facts and references. His grandparents’ company not only owned but also stored all of the information in the world, so there was never any shortage, but it took a lot of effort to absorb as much as he Dillon did. His brain seemed to have an infinite capacity, while his personality waxed and waned like the moon, following the irregular yin and yang pattern of thoughtful intake and active output that characterized his existence.

If you enjoy avocados,” he told Karen, “I’d recommend you find some way to stock up, although I don’t believe they preserve very well.”

Why avocados?”

They’re about to go extinct,” he told her. “Bio-engineering won’t help. The Earth will no longer be a suitable habitat for them.”

Okay,” she said, blinking and shaking her head, a not uncommon reaction on her part to the often ridiculous things her favorite eccentric billionaire came up with.

Something important happened today,” he said. “A change that will have far-reaching effects, a slight realignment of the magnetic fields of this planet. Oh, and of Mars and Neptune as well, but that will have less impact here of course. You will see it mainly in the price of oil, in the growing cycle of certain crops, in the chemical composition of balsa and other soft woods, in the normal range of hearing of coyotes (and also wolverines, but I’m not sure there are any of those remaining), also in the basic transitive properties and the smell of freshly moved lawns. Subtle changes, it’s true, but from tomorrow on the world will not be quite the same. I know it never is, really, but I mean even more so.”

You do know that you’re not making any sense,” Karen said. “They can always make fake avocados.”

That chair won’t sell,” he said. “Your employers are wasting their money on this ad. Come home tonight.”

Karen thought about it for a moment, and then replied,

All right. Consider yourself penciled in.”

Dillon sat back and smiled, and then placed a call to his grandfather. He needed to ask the old man whom he thought should be notified about the previously undetected volcano that was about to split the state of Oklahoma in two.

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