CHAPTER ONE

February 21, 2010

OBJECT IN MIRROR IS CLOSER THAN IT APPEARS

by Benjamin Galonni

Too much of anything, even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.
William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk,
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Code. It was all code.

Not HTML code (though it was that as well; double meanings abound everywhere in this world), but it was code nonetheless. Many ISPs didn’t even offer access to newsgroups anymore. There were too many people trading copyrighted material; too many naughty pictures floating about ruining what was, in some peoples’ eyes, the souls of those who downloaded and uploaded them.

Even the pair’s screen names were pure unadulterated bullshit. The only two souls still using the long forgotten alt.books.preservation.discussion newsgroup were no book dealers in the real sense.

During the cold war, they’d have been called spies, agents, spooks, assets, or some other more apt and less obvious euphemism. All they really did was watch, so ‘watchers’ was probably more accurate. Now that they were employed by the private sector and entirely unsure where the money was really coming from, they could have been Chinese spies, MK Ultra, or just a pair of butt cheeks in someone’s sad idea of a joke.

Still, they pushed on with the dedication that only madmen are capable of. Bookkeeper69 and BN_Clerk_90210 kept in touch and the latter reported whatever he deemed appropriate (which was nearly everything) to the former. To read their correspondence (which very few did given the subject lines and locale), one would think them a pair of doddering bookstore owners or collectors who conferred from time to time over a period of years.

On April 1st, 2011, (the irony not lost on Bookkeeper69) the message had a different tone, however. To the outside observer, it would seem like excitement (which of course it was). However, it was nothing like joy and something much more akin to panic.

——————

From: BN_Clerk_90210@beagle.net.com (Jerry Hendersen)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <776@Beagle.Net.COM>
Date: Fri, 1 Apr 11 00:01:55 GMT
Organization: Fisher of Men Bookshop, Murray Hill NJ

Hey-ho! Need some advice.

Found an old edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets sitting next to a newer one. Old one appears to have had some restoration done to it via the newer one. Yet am concerned about the condition of the older book should the newer one be lost.
Please help!

Jerry H.

——————

From: Bookkeeper69@central.city.com (Alan Crumley)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Re: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <201@central.city.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Apr 11 11:15:35 GMT
Organization: Society of Young and Old Readers Alike, Omaha

Hello, Jerry. Long time no talk!

First, “Don’t Panic”! Next and most obviously, keep the newer one safe. Don’t worry about the old one’s condition! As long as the new one is okay, the old one can be restored again and again.

Got it?

Alan

——————

From: BN_Clerk_90210@beagle.net.com (Jerry Hendersen)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Re: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <1268@Beagle.Net.COM>
Date: Sun, 3 Apr 11 10:57:04 GMT
Organization: Fisher of Men Bookshop, Murray Hill NJ

Alan! To my rescue once again!

I see what you’re saying. Problem is, the old edition has apparently inadvertently wound up on the book mobile somehow. Cannot locate it at present.

Jer

——————

From: Bookkeeper69@central.city.com (Alan Crumley)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Re: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <205@central.city.com>
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 11 04:27:44 GMT
Organization: Society of Young and Old Readers Alike, Omaha

Jer,

Like the song says, if you love somebody, set them free. The book will eventually wend its way back home to you. If you preserve the newer version then I assure you the old one will be fine, you’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, the whole world will be fine.

Can you hear me now? LOL!

Alan

——————

From: BN_Clerk_90210@beagle.net.com (Jerry Hendersen)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Re: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <1305@Beagle.Net.COM>
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 11 07:21:36 GMT
Organization: Fisher of Men Bookshop, Murray Hill NJ

What if something happens to the new edition?

——————

From: Bookkeeper69@central.city.com (Alan Crumley)
Newsgroups: alt.books.preservation.discussion
Subject: Re: Old Bard Edition Discovered – Advice Requested
Message-ID: <211@central.city.com>
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 11 08:55:35 GMT
Expires: Sat, 1 Jan 12 00:00:00 -0500
Organization: Society of Young and Old Readers Alike, Omaha

Then I suggest you start reading fucking Revelations!

——————

That was the last communique between the two in that newsgroup.

The waitress, a very pretty young Czech lady by the name of Maria (if her name tag was to be believed) swung by a lone man’s table.

“Can I get you anything else, sir?”

She leaned over to take the empty coffee cup as she said it, barely thrusting her left breast in such a subtle manner that only someone really looking for it would notice. If the man did, he gave no outward indication whatsoever. He closed the web browser he’d been using to read the messages between the book dealers and returned the machine to its default setting to await the next user in the cybercafe.

“No, thanks. I’m good.”

Though far from perfect, his accent was passable even though it still contained just a hint of his North Dakotan heritage.

He stacked several Euros carefully on the table, got up and only watched out of the corner of his eye as Maria—sad because she knew she’d be alone that night—gathered them up, dropped them in her apron pocket, and wiped off the table. The man did spare a backward glance to see her shape, but it was only for a short thrill. He knew that, for now at least, his real raison d’etre was safe.

He smiled grimly as he recalled some of his old nicknames his colleagues had given him: Demolition Man (though he never actually blew anything up, it was more in jest), Bulldozer (after knocking a door down once when his lockpick broke), Mad Dog 2020 (a joke about his middling eyesight), and of course, Casanova (for reasons obvious to his friends and enemies alike).

There was only one he dared not think about because it scared him far more than it did the bookkeepers. He used every trick he could think of to distract himself from even walking near that great black, leafless husk of a tree in the dark forest of his mind. He probably should have taken Maria up on her half-halfhearted offer as a distraction if nothing else, but his being belonged to something else entirely. Some new, young ideal or meme whose very life meant hope, happiness, peace, justice and love.

But like any coin, once flipped whether by chance, friends, enemies, fate or the motherfucking Universe itself, it would mean something else entirely. There would be no justice for those responsible, only slow, methodical destruction centimeter by centimeter. There would be no peace, only war. There would be no love and no happiness for anyone whether they were guilty (the absolute last to die) or innocent (mercifully the first). There would be no hope, and that would be the most dangerous thing imaginable or unimaginable.

There was an old half-faded advertisement billboard along the walk to his flat which was in a quieter area of Prague. It depicted a young boy cleaning his ears with cotton thingies on little plastic sticks with a smile on his face that resembled the Mona Lisa‘s. Ordinarily the man would see the child’s smiling face and feel good about it recalling some happier time. This time, however, he only saw a demon poking out its own ear drums so it couldn’t hear the screams of the innocent, damned and anyone and everything in between.

He turned away from the face and headed into the liquor store. It was time to think only happy thoughts and drown the others; to trust that nothing bad would or even could befall something so beautiful and that everything would be just fine. It had to be that way.

It had fucking better be that way, said something deep down in some crevice of his soul where he dare not look.

“I’m drinking for two tonight,” was all he said as he pointed to the bottles.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.