Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review of Sweet Dreams by Jennifer Senhaji

Sweet Dreams is a well-written hot, sensual, and sexy tale of love. Written in the first person, it is a point of view story of the developing love between the narrator and the handsome A-list actor Jacob Walker. Jake and the narrator, Jenna, first meet in an elevator when she is on the way to consult with her attorney. Jake tracks her down to her cafe, the Sweet Dreams Cafe, and their love percolates over $5 cups of coffee and blueberry muffins. Eventually, he shows up at closing and walks her home. Even actors can be shy, and it takes them more than a few false starts and tribulations to establish their friendship. It almost doesn't work out but-. Well, I'm not going to spoil the plot in a review. Let's just say Que dice “Hot, sexy and a great read” en l'Italiano.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Experiments with automated editors.

One of the few legitimate criticisms of "Indie" authors, myself included, is the uneven editing. Seriously, unless you expect to clear the $400-500 that a minimal copy-editor charges, this can rapidly run into large amounts of expense. Serious content editing can run into even higher amounts of expense.

I've tried the grammar and spelling checkers in Libre Office, Word, and the Hemingway app. In fact, I use all three on everything I release. They aren't good enough.

I had a chance to try Grammarly and can give something of an initial review.

Grammarly is a Natural Language Parser combined with a spelling/punctuation checker. As it comprehends English at a deeper level than the simple tools, it is far better than the simpler tools that come with word processors. It's not a replacement for a good editor but isn't bad.

1) It's excellent at detecting simple errors like missing articles, misplaced commas and homonymic misspellings.  Things like Lent vs. leant, lead vs. led vs. lead, and they're vs. there vs. their.

2) It's decent at understanding errors like the use of an inappropriate preposition, and some verb tenses.

3) It's horrible with some things. "He'd been there." Will be flagged. "Pottage," is a medieval food and it will suggest "Cottage." These higher-level errors mean that you can't blindly accept its changes.

There is a trick that makes it easier to use.  Don't bother with the online error by error report from the website. It follows the rules in the order that they were searched. Doing this means that the errors hop up and down the document. It's slow and highly disorientating.

Instead, get the pdf dump. Open that in a window with a pdf reader and open your document in  another window with your favorite editor.  Then you can follow the errors in the annotated pdf dump and at the same time fix them all in the original document. It is both faster and easier.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More cover drafts.

Have to figure out how to add some shadows to the letters.  Time to work on a blurb.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cover Draft for "After the Convergence"

There are a couple of minor errors, I'm not happy about the font, and still thinking whether this is too obscure and daft a title. But I like the image.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A 5-star review for What about Cecelia

This really made my day. "What about Cecelia" hasn't been well-received by the Amazon review squad (aka ******). While it's not quite as developed as my later work, it's well-researched and IMHO a good story.

So I found I had a 5* review on smashwords.

(for my friends - I'm working on that review. It's a long book.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Andouille and Shrimp Jambalaya

With 'fat Tuesday' rapidly approaching, this is my take on a traditional Southern dish. Easy to make and delicious!

Take 1 lb of Andouille sausage, cut in 1 inch chunks and saute in a large saucepan. I use about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.   Andouille sausage, for the Yankee and Brit, is sort of like Keilbasa, except it isn't. It has larger chunks of meat, is laced with garlic, slightly smoky and very spicy. If I were desperate, say snowbound in Boston, I might try a high grade Keilbasa with some hot sauce.

Add about 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onions and continue to saute until the onions are clear.

Add 1/2-3/4 pounds shrimp. I use the frozen, de-veined, but shell on type. The shells add to the flavor, so don't wuss out with peeled or precooked. It won't work right.

I add about a teaspoon of dried thyme and a cup of rice. Cook until the rice turns from translucent to white, but don't let it burn.

Add 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, then simmer until done. You can add more water if needed.

Noir upon Noir. More of my latest.

  A couple more chapters from my work in progress.


I had the car drop me off a block away from my apartment building. There wasn’t anyone obviously watching so I slouched up and entered the lobby door. When I reached my apartment I noticed that the sliver I’d left jammed in the frame had moved. That meant company. The scent of perfume suggested Paul’s wife had found his copy of my key. Failing that, since her perfume was cheap and fairly common, it meant some other broad was waiting for me. I didn’t feel up to entertaining company so I slipped out the fire escape and walked off. I needed to think, without the interruptions that would have accompanied my return. Even if it was just Celine. Especially if it was just Celine. I could have dealt with normal thuggery more easily than overblown hysterics.
The main streets would be covered with snooping eyes, but I could hear the distinctive low buzz of a drone. That meant the alleys were out. Better to act normally, and hope you were missed than to attract attention by looking like a common house thief.
So I strolled out onto 12th street. If the police stopped me, I could be looking for a burger joint. If I walked far enough along the street, I could be looking for a joint joint. We’d see what turned up first.
In the end I didn’t get far. There at the intersection with Keyes, was a woman. She was furtively looking my way. I waved and called, “Teresa!”
At least she didn’t run away. It was a start. I caught up with her and said, “I know we said, ‘let’s meet up sometime’, but this is a bit quick. How about a meal?”
I wasn’t looking for you.”
Sure. If you weren’t looking for me, what where you looking for? Because you found me.” She smiled, “You’re right. I was looking for you, thought we could chat. Too bad we didn’t hit it off.”
I don’t know about that.” I left unsaid that we’d had it off, more than once.
Well, you know. I had to go East.”
Look Teresa, just friends.” I held out my hand. She paused, then shook it. “Friends, just. No benefits.” Darn.
I did mean it about dinner. I haven’t eaten since this morning.”
There’s a good Vietnamese place towards town.”
As long as it’s not live monkey, I’m game.” It was an old joke. I guess you had to be there to understand it.
She chuckled, “Just noodles, with fish.”

We were finishing up the first course when I asked her, “So outside of the librarian gig, how’s life?” Not exactly a stellar line, but I hoped it wasn’t crossing the ‘just friends’ line. While I wouldn’t have minded going there, this wasn’t the time or place.
Boring as all Hades. The wife’s off on a business trip and there’s nothing to do.”
The wife?”
Didn’t you know?”
Well no. So you’re a-”
A lesbian, and married. Heather’s a sweet woman and I’m lucky to have caught her.” She noticed my skeptical look and continued, “Yeah. Figured it out when I left you. I’d have felt more cut up if we’d had anything special.”
It was sort of special for me. I missed you.”
Sorry. It wasn’t going to work Alan.”
Your wife won’t mind you meeting an old flame?”
She laughed, “Not hardly. Not the jealous sort. Knows I’m not going to have it off with a man.
Now Alan, if you’re going to be awkward.”
That’s the last of my intentions. Actually I was dodging someone.”
I think Celine - Paul’s wife, sorry, his widow. Someone, probably female or else with an odd taste in aftershave, is in my apartment waiting for me.”
Do you have your cell?”
I’m going to call myself. See what my cell says.”
Teresa handed me a dainty phone and I typed in my number. My cell answered, took one look at the camera and bluntly texted me, “Don’t come home. Female not Celine.” Then she hung up.
Shit.” I handed her the phone.
What was that about?”
My visitor. Not Paul’s widow.”
Teresa leaned toward me. She spoke  with a level on interest in her voice that I hadn’t heard since debugging programs together at the academy. “Sounds like you lead an exciting life Alan.”
Not really. Usually it’s just divorce, with the occasional adultery and missing kid thrown in. This one. Oh boy.”
I whispered, “National 3-letter agency serious.” Then I added in a normal voice, “You know, if you’re interested I need a new partner.”
Do you remember what I said five minutes ago. I’m not interested, I’m married and my wife.”
No. Don’t get me wrong, Teresa. You don’t screw your partner in this line of work.”
What do you mean?”
You don’t screw your partner, either literally or figuratively.” Though I was going to have to check our account books when I had a chance, Paul had a tendency to pad things. “That leads to complications, and complications can get you killed.”
I don’t know.”
Think about it. It isn’t boring, and you said you were bored.”
She laughed, “You’re right. I did, didn’t I? Have to be careful about what I wish for.”
You have my number if you’re interested.” I changed the topic into what I hoped were safer grounds, “What’s it like being married?”

I finished chatting with Teresa, and paid the tab. Since I asked her to replace Paul, it could count as a legitimate business expense if nothing else. Besides, it was nice to chat, even if she was married, to a woman.
The serious business of the night remained. I kept looking over my shoulder as I approached the apartment building. There weren’t cars waiting down the side streets to follow me and none of the classic giveaways for surveillance cutouts were immediately obvious. That didn’t they weren’t watching me if they weren’t there. Heck, if they’d hacked the machine, they could watch me while sitting in their living room. Over a bowl of popcorn, and in their underwear. So I waved to the cameras, at least the ones I saw.
The cars in front and behind my building were neither suspiciously all the same, nor equally suspiciously all different. There weren’t any erstwhile lovers, rocking their car’s suspensions as I passed, nor was there anyone checking their makeup in the rear-view mirrors. I thought about that a second. Long before the convergence, cars had improved to where you could no longer drive yourself, as it was too dangerous to mix people and automata, so there shouldn’t be any mirrors. Old habits die hard. The few manual cars were reserved for far away in the country off the grid or dare-devil racers on isolated tracks like Leguna Seca. Or in places like the Free State of Nevada.
The lobby was empty when I entered, and I wandered to the back exit, nominally to check the washing machines. No surprises. So I started up the stairs to my room. The chips in the doorframe were still missing, and the smell of perfume, while weaker, remained. I stood to the side of the door, behind the wall and slipped my key into the lock. I gave it a turn and started to punch the access code when the door opened.
The Return of the Dark Lady.

So Mr. Blake, are you surprised to see me?” It was the woman who first commissioned us to search for her husband. She’d ditched the veil, but was still dressed in a stylish black gown.
Somehow, not at all.” I entered the room and pulled the door shut behind me. It latched and locked automatically. “Why are you here?” I figured if she were armed she’d show it to me soon enough.
I’m scared. They got Paul.”
They? Who?”
The boss and his gang.”
Mr. Guezman. I’ve already exchanged a few words with him.”
There was real panic in her voice as she said, “He’s not coming here, is he?” Either that or she was one hell of an actress. Looking at her, I decided it was most likely the later.
Not to my knowledge.”
She relaxed. I asked, “The story about this man, your ‘boyfriend’. That was a load of crap wasn’t it?”
She put on the tears and said, “Yes. You see there wasn’t any other way I could convince one of you to follow him.”
You could have tried telling us the truth.”
The truth. What is truth?”
I was always told truth is beauty and beauty is truth. Trouble is, I’ve met too many beautiful liars in my line of work. I don’t even know your name. Paul wasn’t a good one for keeping notes.”

I’m Jane, Jane Grey.”
Is that what it says on your birth certificate?”
No, but it’s good enough.” She reached for her wallet and pulled out a credit card and state ID, both in that name. The picture on the ID matched her.
In other words, you’ve pulled an informal document switch?”
Let’s just say Jane’s parents were happy to have a grown up daughter. To help support them in their old age.” The identity hole of taking a dead infant’s name had been plugged years ago.  Although if you had the money you could find parents who were willing to open it up again.
So Jane, what do you want me to do? Other than standing at the wrong end of barrel like Paul.”
Don’t you remember?”
What I remember is you asking Paul to track down this man. Who?”
Jean Leclerc. Be careful because he’s quite a hacker.”
Fine, now babe, why? The money you gave Paul hasn’t turned up, at least it wasn’t in the office when the police searched. I’d have heard.” To be honest I’d be down at the precinct being sweated.
I don’t know about it. He p-put it in the safe when we left.”
Let’s try this one more time. I know it’s hard to be honest when you’re used to lying. Who was Paul supposed to track?”
She broke down in tears. I handed her a handkerchief and started over.
Who was Paul supposed to tail?” Seeing that tears had no effect on me she dried up.
Jean, Jean Leclerc.”
I thought, it could be the name, but it probably didn’t matter. It still sounded like one she pulled from a history book to me.
Alright. Now why, babe, did you want to tail Jean?”
He, he.” She stopped, and then after a moment to catch her breath looked at me and said, “He was chasing tail, other women.”
That why you have the ring? Is he your husband?”
Yes.” There was a little flicker of discomfort in her eyes. “OK, Ms. Grey or Mrs. Leclerc, why’d he shoot Paul?”
I never said he did.” She tried crying again.
No, but if Paul was tailing him, and Paul was shot, it follows that Jean was involved.”
She refused to say more and sat there wiping the tears from her eyes.
I suppose, it’s just possible that Paul got in the way and Jean was the target.”
She nodded, “Guezman. The boss wanted him dead.”
Her story almost made sense, but was a little too neat. I said, “I’ll go make us some coffee, then we’ll go over this a few more times. Sooner or later you’ll tell me the truth.”
I did, I swear I did.”
I walked to the stove, put on some water to boil and reached for the coffee, the synthetic coffee anyway, the real thing being too expensive for my tastes and wallet.
Put your hands up, and slowly turn to face me.”
I chuckled, but complied. She was pointing a small automatic at my chest. Nothing high-caliber, but still big enough to do the job if it came to it.
Step back from the stove.”
She walked behind me and, without pointing her pistol away, turned off the stove. Then she slid around to my front and started asking, “Now you’ll answer some of my questions, Mr. Blake.”
Sure, how about I sit down?”
She thought for a moment, then said, “Why not? In the middle of the floor, and cross your legs.” I was dealing with a professional, she could sit a couple of meters away and nail me before I could jump her. There would be no tell-tale marks from being tied up.
I sat and said, “This what you want?”
It’ll do. Now Mr. Blake, where’s the money?”
No idea, that’s why I asked you. Is it so important?”
You can keep the money, I want the package you received last week.”
What package?”
Keeping me covered, she brought her left hand up to her mouth and told her unit, “Trace package, to Blake and Bigelow.”
The band said, “Yes, Mistress.” Some people liked having that sort of power trip with their interface. It made them feel in control. I thought it rather puerile.
Package 00131991039ab, Delivered Monday to office, signed for by one Paul Bigelow.”
Oh that one.”
What was in it?”
No idea, Paul took it. Did you ask his widow?”
That bitch? We searched his house, it wasn’t there.” So there was a reason Celine was trying to get in touch with me after all.
I thought, “In the future, I’ll have to tell my cell to be more careful about screening calls.”

There was a knock on my door, then I heard Celine’s voice, “Alan, you in? The light’s on so you can’t hide.”
I looked at my guest, and said, “Well, Miss Grey, do you want to answer the door, or shall I?”
Get it, and don’t try anything.”
I slowly rose and walked to the door. Opening it a crack, I said, “Celine, what a surprise? You’re looking nice.”
Not that you’d notice, you gay or something?”
No. Just rather not get involved. Would you like to come in?” Ms. Grey shoved her pistol in my back, “Sorry I forgot, it’s a mess. We’re getting the exterminators in.”
We’re? Isn’t your Mrs. Gonzales cleaning any longer?”
She is. Still, you can’t come in. Um company?”
The kind you pay for?”
I smiled, and she took that for a yes. “Alan, you need to find a nice wholesome woman, none of those whores.” As if she’d know.
I have to support the local economy somehow. Why do I have the pleasure of your company?”
She handed me a small package, “This. Someone tore up my house to find it, and I don’t want it.” She shoved it into my hands and ran off.

My visitor poked her pistol in my back and demanded, “Give it.”
I slowly turned and handed it to her. She tore the package open and screamed in frustration. “Damn! Fucking Hell”
There was a photograph and a biometric data drive. The right person could open it, but it could do anything from refuse to work, to destroy the data, to explode if anyone else tried to open it. I could see why she was frustrated.
She picked up the photograph and showed it to me. “Know her?”
I did. Sarah Gonzales. It was a copy of the same class photo her mother had given me to help me find her. My visitor waved the pistol in my face, “You do, don’t you? Tell me or I’ll.”
Patience Ms. Grey. Shooting me won’t help you identify the girl. Now will it?”
It will make me feel better, and I’m sure someone else can identify her.” I had figured she was somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum, and she confirmed it.
I hinted, “There’s no guarantee that she’s the right person anyway. Could have been Paul, or even me. If you’ll put the firearm away we can take this to my lab and see what’s really there.”
I waited while she considered her options.
She said, “What the hell,” and then took the magazine out of the gun. She pulled the slide back to unload the round from the chamber and locked it open. After she put the ammunition in a pocket, she said, “Don’t get any ideas, I can load this in fifteen seconds.”
Babe, I don’t need no stinking idea’s.”

I reluctantly shut the door to my apartment, while ‘Jane’ watched. It had occurred to me that my lifetime could be measured by how long it took me to crack the data drive plus however long it took Jane to reload. She said fifteen seconds. Unless I was lucky, and lady luck had been giving me the middle finger of late.
We walked out onto 12th street. Ms. Grey said, “Should we call a car?”
No, We walk.”
There’s always a record if you call a car. So many people walk that even if you’re watched it doesn’t trigger any alarms.”
It’s late.”
So what, I’m often out at night. Nothing unusual there.” Although me walking with company was out of the ordinary. We started south on 12 street, away from the old highway and towards the barrio. Didn’t get far when my luck finally broke.
Heather? Why aren’t you in Tokyo?” It was Teresa.
Teresa I can explain.” The standard line of any cheating spouse. “It isn’t what it looks like.”
Well I know you’re not having it off with Alan. He’s a man. What are you doing here?”
Heather was at a loss for words. I tried to be helpful, “Shall I?”
Teresa, your wife was using forceful arguments to convince me to help her identify this package Paul received.”
Did you know she had a firearm?”
That old airsoft pistol? It’s mine Heather. Hand it over.” Heather reluctantly agreed. The pistol she’d used to threaten me was a toy, maybe. Though the trick of late was to lace the pellets with a drug or poison. Made them a little harder to trace and at least as lethal as a regular firearm. Just not as good at dropping an assailant.
Oh Heather,” Teresa shook her head in dismay, “I love your sense of fun, but this really is carrying it too far. Did you know about Alan?”
I saw a couple of your old emails. Why did you keep them if he didn’t mean anything?”
It’s hard to delete old love mails. You know that, because you’ve your share too. Marriage means something, though, I’m yours and you’re mine. For keeps.”
Teresa put her arms out to hug her wife, and Heather reciprocated. They kissed passionately while I stood there, feeling decidedly awkward.
Finally, I gave a discreet cough and said, “If you two want a room, that’s fine with me. I’m still taking this package to my lab.”
They disengaged with one last squeeze. Heather said, “Later, I, we need to find out what’s on the drive.”
Teresa nodded, “So it’s turned up at last?”

It was a couple of blocks further on, my walking ahead while they held hands and chatted. I gather Teresa was now the forgiving sort. I guess she had matured, or maybe marriage had done something to her. I turned and dove down an alley. Then I waited for them before opening the door.
Here is where it happens, as it were.”
I opened the door, turned on the lights, and was surprised by Guezman and two of his friends. The guns they held definitely weren’t airsoft guns.
He said, “Ah, Mr. Blake, I see we have the pleasure of meeting again. This time I don’t think you’ll dash off so easily.”
I guess not. Why do I have the pleasure of your company?”
The package. Do you have it?”
I handed it to him, and warned, “It’s a biometric drive. It will need to be opened properly.”
He sniffed, “Don’t trifle with me, I can see that.” He pointed to one of his helpers, “Even Jose here can see that. What you are going to do is to open it for me.”
I am?”
There are three of you. Since your librarian friend is almost as good as you at hacking, we’ll save her for last. Ms. Grey can go first.” He nodded and Jose pushed the muzzle of his firearm under Heather’s chin.
Do it outside if you must, I’d prefer you not to make a mess in my lab.”
Teresa shot me a dirty look, but Mr. Guezman laughed. “You always were a cut-up, Mr. Blake. Even in high school. Do we understand each other?”
Yes. Give me the drive and I’ll see what I can do.”

It took some careful work and far more time than Guezman liked. The gray pre-dawn light was beginning to filter through the skylights and the neighbor’s cocks were beginning to crow when I sat back and said, “Done.”
Done? Give it here.”
When I said, done, I meant ready for the next step. I couldn’t break the lock, but I was able to blank it out. Guezman, I need one of your fingers.”
Still attached?”
Whatever. It’s not my finger. The scanner needs to be reinitialized before you can read it. Something tells me it would be decidedly unhealthy for me if I used one of mine.”
Wise choice, Mr. Blake.” Guezman heaved himself out of his chair and rolled over to my bench.
Put your finger here.” I pointed to the sensor. He did.
What next?”
It’s yours. Take it. Can I keep the photo? She’s a pretty young thing.”
Ms. Gonzales? Sure. It has been a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Blake.”
Next time I’d appreciate payment for my services.”
I let you and your friends live. Should be a good deal, and one I hope I won’t regret.”
He took the drive, motioned to his goons and disappeared into the dawn.
I turned to my two female guests and said, Vamos. I’m tired and going home to sleep. I don’t care what you do, but you are not staying here.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

No Idea

I really don't understand what readers want.

I recently wrote a "short read" called 'the dragon of Azog'  It's one of the funniest little things I've ever written.

I can't give it away.

Oh well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More of "after the convergence"

Another few chapters that have made it far enough to be exhibited for your delectation. The draft is about 42000 words and I have a complete story arc now.

The Cleaning Lady Asks a Question.

My doorbell rang and then I heard, Hola, Mr. Blake?” It was my cleaning woman. When I said “my cleaning woman” I really meant the janitor who earned a few dollars on the side by cleaning apartments. She was a nice woman, married, and at least middle-aged. I blearily replied, “Sorry Mrs. Gonzales, I’ll be there in a minute.” It was rough last night. I’d found the club my cell suggested, and hoisted a few to drown my memories of Paul. It was a hot club, full of young programmers and other techies with a few ‘creative types’ thrown in for good measure. Grotty P.I.’s need not apply. They put me in my place with a thoroughly humiliating set of strikeouts and put-downs. I noted a few names for the next time I needed a patsy, or someone to pick up an especially large bar tab. They may have had intelligence, but I had smarts. I’d ended up at Bill’s Place, an old bar in the city. Good beer, comfortable smoky atmosphere with none of that scented vapor haze. After that I didn’t remember, but evidently my cell had loyally called up a cab. I awoke to the mother and father of a hangover in my own apartment.
I stumbled over and opened the door for her. Normally she was a cheery enough person, at least when she wasn’t exhausted from her two jobs. We usually didn’t say much, but her “Hello Mr. Blake, how are you?” was muted this morning, and it wasn’t just my hangover. After I’d swallowed a few pills and drank a liter of water, I noticed she was softly crying while she vacuumed.
I stopped her and asked, “Mrs. Gonzales? What’s wrong?”
Nothing bad, Sarah was selected. She called me from the car on her way to the academy. She was so happy and excited, but I haven’t heard anything else. Someone came and took her stuff.” I remembered, Sarah was her daughter. I’d met her once or twice, a bright young thing, the apple of her mother’s eye, but not much to look at.
That’s good isn’t it?”
I miss her, and she’d have called me.”
Wouldn’t she be very busy?”
The other girls in her class called their parents. Sarah never made it to the orientation.”
Wait a moment.” I took my loyal cell, despite her loud objections, and put her in the fridge. Then I said, “OK, tell me what happened.”
Sarah left in the morning for school.”
She’s at Chavez High?”
She was. They announced the results.” I remembered my time. It hadn’t been pretty, but not being selected hardened me and brought out my smarts. It destroyed most of my friends.
So she went to Mr. Guezman’s office.”
I thought, “Where had I heard that name before?”
She continued, “There was some confusion about the results, and they almost didn’t take her.”
But they did, didn’t they?”
Mrs. Gonzales pulled back a sob, then said, “She missed the bus the other students took. At least that’s what she said, so they sent a car just for her. It drove off and that’s the last time anyone saw my daughter.”
I thought for a moment to carefully choose my words. I didn’t want to alarm her, but this had all the hallmarks of trouble. Someone in the resistance easily could have reprogrammed the car. I used to do that for fun, as a prank, but why would they take a teenager?
I’m sure she’s just busy. The academy is a demanding place.”
Were you ever there?”
Not as a student. I didn’t make the cut.”
Cleaned floors and washed toilets.” I did a few other things as well, let’s just say I was ‘self-educated’. At least until the machine caught me hacking. Then I was an instructor. Until I got fed up and decided to branch out on my own.
Mrs. Gonzales looked at me, then she said, “Thank you for saying nice things, but something’s wrong. Sarah would make the time to call me.” She paused, then continued, “You look for missing people? I don’t have any money.”
I’ll take a quick look. Can’t hurt to try, but I wouldn’t be too concerned.” I left the ‘yet’ unspoken.

After she left, I pulled my cell out of the fridge. She complained bitterly, “Why do you do that? My camera gets all misted up with the condensation, and I can’t hear anything.”
I’m worried about the roaches.”
Should I order an exterminator?”
No.” Understanding humor took a bit more processing power than could fit in my cell. I continued, “Please don’t.”
That was a joke wasn’t it?”
Ha ha.”
Are you still blocking Celine?” Paul’s wife was into extending her family too, and in her opinion I was a likely candidate. Now that she was free, free at last.
Yes, she’s only called three times this morning. Why are you blocking her?”
Outside of the fact that I don’t much like her?”
There’s a decent chance she’s involved with Paul’s death.” A hit-man could be cheaper than a divorce, not that they had much in the way of assets to divide. No children either. But some people liked to take things into their own hands. It could be so much simpler and neater that way. At least as long as you didn’t get caught.
Should I tell her that?”
I pulled a generic janitor’s uniform from my closet, and started to change into it. Janitors and ‘service engineer’s’ were invisible to most people, and barely noticed by the rest. The cell noticed and said “Alan, why are you putting that on?”
I need to do a little investigating, on the quiet.”
Find Paul’s killer?”
Actually not yet. Paul’s dead, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. There’s another case, where I hope the girl’s still alive.”
Is that why I was in the refrigerator?”
I wish you would trust me, Alan.”
Babe, I trust you.” I also trusted she’d give the machine a data dump as soon as she was asked. If she wasn’t already regularly uploading it.
So where are you going?”
There wasn’t much point in my answering any other questions, so I lodged her in a corner where she could watch the place. I said, “See’ya Babe. Don’t call me ‘cause I’ll be in touch,” on my way out.


The academy was in Palo Alto. Back before the convergence, it had been some fancy university or another. Founded by a railroad magnate a century ago. Back when high-tech meant steam engines and things you could understand by looking at them. Back when a computer was person and not a machine. For that matter when a computing machine was just a machine and not the machine.
My first stop was an ancient library. I kicked an old wino out of his cubicle and fired up the screen. A moment later, the interlibrary login screen came up. I by-passed that with a few choice keystrokes.
Alan”, the terminal said, “That access route has been closed for years. Why are you using it?”
I need to talk to you, off the record as it were.”
I could have the police here in three minutes.” Two actually, but what’s a bit of exaggeration between friends?
Fine, I need a trace.”
He’s dead, and I’m sure the SFPD has already traced Celine.”
Affirmative. So who?”
Sarah Jane Gonzales.”
The screen blanked and a red screen replaced it. The voice circuit screamed. A loud siren sounded to alert the librarians about inappropriate use of their facilities. I said, “Shit. Classified,” and ran. One minute thirty seconds left. I found a janitors’ closet, unlocked, and pulled out the vacuum cleaner.
The police ran by me while I cleaned the lobby. One officer pulled me aside, and said, “You seen anything?”
No hablas.
Shit. Another greaser.” He toyed with tasering me. I nodded at the camera in the corner, and he decided discretion is the better part of a tasering, not to mention a lawsuit.
I kept vacuuming while the police searched and then watched while they left. One of the librarians came over, and thanked me for vacuuming. Then she said, “We haven’t had funds for a janitor for the last three years. What game are you playing, Alan?”
It’s been a while.”
I hoped it was long enough that she’d forgiven me. We became more than just ‘good friends’ when I finally made it to the academy.
What are you doing as a librarian? I thought you went to one of the big schools on the east coast?”
I saw the light.” I realized she meant she’d joined the resistance, or at least turned her back on the machine. She waited for me to replay, then when I didn’t, continued, “These things, books. Still matter. I’m at home with the silence and the calm.”
It wasn’t me, was it? I didn’t know you were here. I mean you could have called me.”
She smiled, “No, it wasn’t you Alan. Like you, I’ve dropped out. I like being a librarian, working with people.”
You always did. I remember you were the one who remembered birthdays and organized parties. Is that why you’re here?”
Of course, silly.” She smiled at me and I felt a pang of nostalgia. She wiped that away by asking, “What were you looking for that provoked that response? You always were drawn to the dark stuff.”
Who, not what. I was looking for a young girl who has gone walkabout.”
A girl? And we were so close once.” She mocked a pout then flashed me a smile. She was my first crush, and squeeze, and a few other things too.
It’s a case. She was selected and never made it to the academy.”
Lucky her.”
Didn’t call her mother. They were close.”
Shit. That’s not good, is it?”
No, I’m actually worried about this case. Not so much my other one, Paul finally bought his farm.”
My partner, I mean ex-partner. It was on the news.”
I meant it when I said I dropped out, Alan. If it isn’t on paper, I don’t read it. You weren’t close were you?
No, I don’t swing that way. It just helped to have a handsome and sympathetic face around for the females in divorce proceedings. They find it reassuring. He was a bit stupid, and prone to initiating a few divorces himself. It was probably an enraged husband.” Albeit, I thought, an enraged husband with an unlicensed antique firearm or better than average hacking skills.
Pity.” She smiled at me again, then said, “Anyway, Alan, I have a class of first grader’s coming here for their story-time. An old-fashioned human read story. So while It’s been fun reminiscing with you, I have to get busy.”
She looked like she was enjoying life, and there didn’t seem to be much more I could say, so I reached over and took Teresa’s hand. I gave it a quick squeeze and said, “I have to get moving too. Look me up sometime and we can go out for dinner.”
For old times’ sake?”
Sure, why not.”
Teresa turned to walk to the children’s section of the library. I could hear excited squeaky voices coupled to the sounds of frustrated teachers echoing down the hall. The teachers were trying to exert their tenuous control as her next set of patrons were brought in. Just before she turned the corner, she paused, turned and flashed me a grin. I could see she was happy.

After Teresa left, I turned the other way and looked for the service entrance. Then I stopped and looked for the men’s room. It was time to prepare for a quick change. Even if the human police hadn’t noticed the janitor, and they hadn’t, I was sure the cameras were waiting to track me.
A janitor in a brown jacket and matching pants and his baseball cap pulled low with a yellow name patch, not my name by the way, entered the building. So a janitor in a brown jacket with a yellow name patch with his baseball cap pulled low had to leave the building. He did. He caught, somehow just in time, the bus to Oakland. He paid full fare and settled into a seat at the back. At the next stop a man wearing a brown jacket and no hat got off the bus and walked a few yards to a public convenience. A moment later another man wearing a blue jacket and blue pants left the convenience. He started walking south, towards the bus stop for Palo Alto.
I caught the bus to Palo Alto and settled back to enjoy the ride. At the next stop Detective Brown got on and joined me.
Nice try Blake.”
This is getting repetitive Brown. I didn’t know you liked me that much.”
I don’t. The boss wants to know what you were doing looking for this Gonzales chick.”
Which boss? More important, does he have a warrant?”
He glared at me. Then he said, “Not the machine. The boss doesn’t need one.” Corruption was another human property that seemed to have survived the convergence intact.
So this is unofficial?”
He pushed a hard object into my side. Neither the cloth in his coat nor in mine would slow the bullet very much. When I looked at him, he nodded to acknowledge me, and said, “Next stop. Off.”
It looked like it would be an interesting day after all. Damn. The bus slowed to a stop and we rose. He kept one hand on my elbow and made sure that I didn’t miss the point. We walked a few yards along the street and dove into an old bar. Starbucks had been out of business for years, ever since the coffee fungus of ‘32 decimated the crop, but this one kept the decor. It gave it a neat ‘retro’ look.
I asked, “A latte or cappuccino?”
He pushed his rod into my back and said, “Don’t be smart.” Then he motioned, “Keep going. It’s in back.”
It was always in back. Every time a two-bit thug threatened me, it was in the back of some joint or another. He pushed me towards the kitchen doors. I paused, and he pushed harder. “Move it!” I stepped aside and sent him tumbling through the door. There was a loud report and I opened the door to see my escort sprawled on the floor. He was squirming in pain, and only his fear of the boss kept him from screaming. The boss himself sat at a table at the far end of the room.
Next time you desire the pleasure of my company, ask nicely.” I kicked Brown as he lay there. “Don’t send your goons.”
I see, it’s just that you’re a hard man to catch, Mr. Blake.”
I pointed at Brown, “Was that his service gun?”
We’ll have visitors.” I could faintly hear sirens in the distance. “Shall we have a consistent story, or would you prefer I told them the truth?”
The boss chuckled. Then he motioned to one of the wait-staff. “Drag Mr. Brown out by the register. Say he interrupted a robbery.”
The woman nodded and then grabbed Brown’s feet. She grunted with the effort as she dragged him outside.
So Mr. Guezman. Why do I have the pleasure of your company?” I’d finally remembered where I’d heard that name before.
What were you doing looking for a Ms. Sarah Gonzales, and not finding out who offed Mr. Bigelow?”
Her mother asked me to, and it’s damned hard to find a good cleaning woman nowadays. It’ll be easier to find a new partner if I want one. Besides, I didn’t want to step on the SFPD’s toes.”
They’re not looking very hard. Detective Brown said they thought you’d crack soon enough.”
Me, crack?” I laughed, “God, that’s rich.”
The EMT’s rushed into the front of the store. We could hear them asking Detective Brown about his wound. He said nothing, so we heard them call for police backup.
Mr. Guezman,” I said, “While this conversation has been a pleasure, Paul was my partner. Had Mrs. Gonzales not been nearly in tears, I’d be looking for his killers.” I walked into the main room of the store, and into the arms of the SFPD.
Mr. Blake.”
You are under arrest.”
For what?”
Shooting Detective Brown.”
With his own gun, keyed to his own hand, from inside his coat? Not likely.”
The officer who stopped me looked at his companion, shrugged and then said, “Jaywalking?”
The companion made a fist and said, “How about resisting arrest?”
I held out my hands.
The officer said, “Wise choice Sherlock. Cuff him.” His companion snapped the links on.
A car pulled up beside us and they bundled me in. The door locks snapped down and then it took off for the SFPD center. We rounded a corner and my old friend, the machine said, “Well, Alan, it looks like the janitor trick is getting a bit old, doesn’t it?”
I’m going to need a new one. It got me into the records. What’s going on with Ms. Gonzales, I mean she’s just this girl.”
There was silence, I continued, “Right?”
My cuffs snapped open, and the machine said, “Not quite. Where were you headed Alan?”
I was on the bus to Palo Alto. Was going to look up one of my old prof’s. See if he’d let me use a classified link.” I paused, “For old times’ sake. As a friend.”
Which one?”
Dr. Gonzales.” I stopped. “Fuck. She’s his mystery daughter. One of the children he doesn’t talk about.”
Dr. Gonzales was one of the leading investigators who built the first version of the machine. It had been on a self-improvement kick ever since. I didn’t know for certain, but had heard rumors that he’d knocked up a local woman he was tutoring in high school. A pretty young thing, left her with his name and support. Being Catholic she hadn’t wanted it any other way.
Chippy,” I said, “She’s his. I’ve seen him hanging around.”
The machine’s silence was deafening. It confirmed my suspicions better than any words could have.
Does Mrs. Gonzales know who he is?”
No, and he wants to keep it that way. Safer for her if she thinks he’s a small-time thug.”
The mutual impedance society doesn’t take prisoners.”
Oh,” I paused then added, “They don’t make the news much either. Didn’t think they were much of a threat.”
We like to keep it that way. I’m not as omniscient as you seem to think.”
Crap. This was spiraling out of control and fast. I thought for a few moments and said, “Yo, Chips.”
I wish you’d call me by my name, Al.”
Yeah right. Look, that dame, the one who did for Paul. Was she one of them?”
Don’t know, but.” It paused.
But it’s likely, right.”
The human interface part of the machine dropped out and a mechanical toneless voice said, “0.9 likelihood true 0.05 likelihood false, 0.05 ambiguous.” I could tell it was upset, that voice only appeared when the emotional program crashed. I used to be good at making him do that. It was one of the easier ways to break into the system.
Calm yourself and reboot the emotions, Jeeves. It sounds like I should leave Dr. Gonzales be.” Unless I have to.
Thank you. Sir, where would you be wishing to drive?” A few more parts of it had crashed as well. I was back in form. Damn, this was one time I needed him to work properly.
Take me to my apartment. I’ll need to refuel, and see that my arrest record is deleted.”
What record, Alan?”
You’re back online? That was fast.”
I’ve made a few changes since you last poked around in my insides.”