Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I keep meaning to get a car. But every time I think about looking at ads or going to a dealership, my pager goes off and I have to go into work. So I haven't done anything about it yet.

Which is not to say I haven't been doing any driving. There are a few cars we keep for this use or that; they're registered to somebody fictional and parked in various lots and garages around town.

So I'm learning how to drive in Empire City. It's not really like driving anyplace else, or at least not like anywhere else I've been. Here are the differences:

- Empire City drivers don't let anyone into their lane. They won't make room for you, and in some cases may actually speed up or slow down to block you. For no reason.

- Empire City streets are unforgiving. If you make a wrong turn, or even if you're in the wrong lane at the wrong time, you've got to go a long way to work yourself around to where you wanted to go.

- There are a lot of one-way streets, and they're often set up--especially downtown--so that you can't figure out how to get to where you're going.

- The traffic reports on the radio generally only tell you what's going on on the Race River Parkway. You need a circus to explode on some other street for it to rate a mention from Copter Chuck.

I don't know what I'd do without my map book. And the MapSquirrel website. But even they can't help me when it comes to traffic. Which brings me to yesterday.

Ingrid came down at about 5 and asked me to deliver her near Highway 12 and Masters by 6:45. This is one of the things about this job that always seemed weird to me--that my boss's girlfriend could order me around. Just one of the differences between working for a company and working for an unincorporated guy, I guess. Anyway, I said, "We'd better leave now. There'll be traffic."

She nodded.

"What?" I said.

"Hm? Nothing."

"You look like you want to say something."

"Um . . . yeah. Let's get going first."

Well, what was this? Ingrid picked up her stuff and we trooped out to the car. I pulled out onto Fourth and headed toward Portarlington; there was no point in assing around with the RRP at this time of day.

"So what's up?" I asked, slamming on the brakes as a guy pulled out of a side street ahead of me without looking.

"I just wanted to talk to you about how you're screwing up your job." I almost slammed on the brakes again.

"You too? I already had this conversation with Cruickshank."

"Move over one lane or you're gonna have to turn here."

"I'm trying, but this dorkmonger in the pickup is blocking me," I said, jiving back and forth between the brake and accelerator, trying to find a way out of the right lane.

"What did Cruickshank tell you?"

"He said Greyghost was about to fire me. Is he?"

"Maybe, yeah. What's the matter with you, anyway?"

"Nothing's the matter. I'm trying as hard as I can. I do everything the guy says. I haven't even screwed anything up, really. What the hell does he want from me?"

"I don't know. Show some life? A mind of your own? That first day you were hired, you made me carry all your crap down to the office. That was great! I mean, I thought you were an asshole, but it was great. What happened to that guy? I've heard Greyghost tell you to do all kinds of weird stuff, things no sane human should be expected to go along with, and what do you do?"

I pulled into the left-hand turning lane onto Portarlington. "I say yes, sir, and do it."


"Look, I knew when I took this job that I'd have to take orders I didn't like or didn't understand. If I wasn't ready to do that, I should've turned Greyghost down."

"You don't get it at all," she said, and stared out the window in frustration.

"You're right."

"Where are you going?"

"I want to get on the 220, so I'm taking 13th. Why?"

"Get back! Get back! There's no onramp from 13th!"

"Crap! Just a second . . . ah, hell."

"See if you can turn around someplace."

"Nah . . . I'll just hang a right and take the next major street back and see if I can hit the 220 that way."

"All right," she said. "Look. What did you think of superheroes before you took this job?"

"I don't know. Not much. Bunch of guys who wear funny suits and take the law into their own hands so they can go around beating people up."

"Right. Yes. And do you think that's a good description of Greyghost?"

Good question. "Not really. He seems, I don't know, more responsible than that."

"That's my point. That's the one thing you have to remember about Greyghost. Victor. He doesn't really trust the whole idea of superheroes."

This was new. "Should you be telling me all this?" I asked.

"You don't want my help?"

"No, it's not that, it's just . . ."

"Beat it into your head. This is the one thing you have to understand about Greyghost. Deep down, he doesn't believe in superheroes." She seemed serious.

"Then why the Christ is he one?"

She shrugged. "He's got a lot of reasoning behind it. Basically, he's got superpowers, there are supervillains out there, what do you want from the guy?"

"Yeah, but I've been doing a bit of reading about this. A lot of what supervillains do is in response to superheroes. They aren't trying to rob banks or take over the world; they're just interested in taking down superheroes. So it's a vicious circle."

She punched me in the arm. "Don't tell me! Tell Greyghost! God! He doesn't pay you to shut up!"

"What, you want me to talk him out of being a superhero? Unlikely."

"No. Listen. He's got all these doubts about this crimefighting crap. But he also knows he's got to do it. It's like an argument he's having with himself, and he can't win it. He can win an argument against you, though."

I thought about this. It sounded stupid, but I thought I saw what she was getting at. "So after all this time he doesn't trust his own thinking anymore, and he needs another perspective? Is that what you're saying?"

"Something like that."

"So why don't you do it?"

"Well, I do," she said. "But it's not the same coming from me. Anything I say, he thinks I'm just saying it to be supportive."

"That's kind of insulting of him."

"Yeah. Except I really am just saying it to be supportive. So I can't get too offended. Anyway, the way he thinks about it, your opinion has more weight because this is what you do for a living."


"He's a weird guy," Ingrid said. "Sometimes I don't get him at all."

"The thing I don't get is the mixed messages I'm getting from you and Cruickshank. You're telling me I should get in Greyghost's face about everything, and he's saying I should fade into the background and anticipate his every need."

"Is that what he told you? God. And you believed him. What a bonehead. What a pair of boneheads."

"Of course I believed him. Why shouldn't I?"

"Cruickshank's problem is that he thinks Greyghost is like him. Cruickshank knows all the angles. He's concerned about What and How and When and Who, and he's really good at dealing with things on that level. But Greyghost is also worried about Why, and Cruickshank doesn't get that at all. He thinks Greyghost wants you to be a robot because that's what he'd want."

"Well, that's--Goddamnit!"

"Can you drive at all?"

"They're not letting me in!"

"You have to be more aggressive. Grow some ovaries."

"So I should start trying to piss Greyghost off."

"No. You should start arguing with him like he's a person and not just taking everything from him. I've seen you, you know."

"Seen me what?"

"I've seen him--turn here! Left! Too late. Try going left on Caldwell at the lights--I've seen him give you the most outlandish-ass instructions any one human being has ever given another, and you're all 'yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir'. Like the time he had you hide all those ping-pong balls in that car? What the hell was that all about?"

"I don't know. I never heard."

"Aren't you curious? Aren't there other things going on around there you're curious about?"

Yeah, actually, I'm kind of curious about those guys who think I'm John Caruthers and might want to kill me. "Sure," I said.

"Well, sport, it looks to me like you've got a choice then. You can either satisfy your curiosity or you can get your ass floated out of a well-paying job. Up to you. Where are you going? This isn't Caldwell."

"But the sign--"

"Caldwell was next! This is--I don't know what this is."

"Well, never mind the 220. I think I can get to the Rasmussen from here."

"Whatever. I'm gonna be late anyway. Has anything I've said sunk in here? I'd kind of rather you didn't get fired."

"Yeah. I have to think about it, though. And thanks."

I thought about it the whole rest of the trip, and driving back. And later in the office.

So at midnight when Greyghost stalked in, I said, "I have some things I need to ask you about. Like, was that an alien in that apartment with Cole, and who's Cole, anyway? Or what that box of watches was all about? But mostly I need to know about this whole John Caruthers thing and why people might want to kill me."

He opened the door to the blue room. "Let's talk in here where we can sit down."
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