Hard Boiled Test #2: Entries

Entries — entering rooms, meeting people, perception, observation, interpretation. These are disconnected and are just practice.

The rose bushes weren’t visible from the road, only after you committed yourself to walking the length of the driveway. It was this big looping thing, double entrance, central grassy semicircle in the center you could hardly throw a dollar across. The rose bushes were on the inside curve, telling people to buzz off, this grass isn’t for kids, it isn’t for picnics, it isn’t for you. It was show grass only, and doing a slap-poor job of it because like everything else in this City it wilted in the dark. Little lanterns on tall iron posts along the driveway curve lit the way. They had these stinging cyan bulbs in back, facing the grass, trying to get it to grow. One of those bulbs was out. The roses nearest the busted lamp were just sticks and thorns.

“You need to fire your gardner and hire an electrician,” I told the stooped man in the doorway. Here at the white plaster house, the light was positively painful. Near as bright as day, but with that eery shadowless quality that a thousand LEDs and plus-alby paint casts, so you can see everything but nothing looks real so you’re disconnected, floating in an image that moves with you.

The stooped man didn’t respond. Maybe he raised one of his steel-wool eyebrows, but with his wrinkly forehead and eyes squinting against the glare I certainly couldn’t tell. Maybe he was a bit synth. At his age, maybe it was the only part of his brain still ticking. Direct approach then.

“Ms. Stevens. She home? I’d like to talk with her.”

“She is not expecting you, Mr. (Sonntag|Vogelmann|Sochacki|Jankovics|Kowalski).”

I didn’t see any scanner on the door or just inside, but it was likely concealed. Even more likely, a place like this has an identity feed piping in the names and backgrounds of everyone who passes by on the street.

“Yeah, I didn’t call ahead. It’s about work. She home?” I asked stepping in like I was invited. Stoops backed up a bit and let me by, but he wasn’t too happy about it.

Inside was money, but not the grand show-off of one who had scraped himself up from a hole and now wanted to seclude himself by throwing a house between him and any visitor. Also not the regal social nexus of someone born to wealth. This was more solid, a stepping stone, a lawyer or MBA working his ass off and pulling down a salary five times what his men make, but still a salary.

The foyer had wide free-floating stairs curving upward off to the left, leading up to the private rooms. The entryway was cramped as a reception room, but it was decked out like one with two red velvet highbacked chairs with a short table between sporting a single travel magazine. Looked like real wood panelling along the walls, high ceiling and white curved plaster with no art, just a couple plants doing better than their outside cousins. The far side opened up without doors or pillars into a wide open plan, where the living room and chandeliered dining room and a couple other who-knows-what rooms were just separated from each other by a single step up or down, like some Frank Lloyd Wright neo-Japanese pastiche. Without pillars, the second floor seemed to just levitate there, resting lightly on the floor-to-ceiling seamless glass wall that circled around, framing the glittering Antipodes skyline, a faint green aurora curling above.

I first thought the skyline must be a projection. I’d been all over this City, never seen that kind of view.

I removed my hat and coat even before Stoops thought to wave me to the chairs. “Don’t worry, I got it,” I told the back of his head as I hung them on a doorside rack. He had shuffled off to a pair of wooden doors to the right, knocked twice and leaned in before there was an answer.

Iron bars had been sunk into the concrete years ago. Seawater rust bubbled out between the cracks in the orange striped paint they were coated with. They were decaying, but they did their job and no car had passed into this part of town in pretty much forever. But the road kept going, down a hill and around a corner where it was being pulled apart one teaspoon at a time with each ocean wave that came slouching in. Steam seeped from a manhole, jetting out every ten, fifteen seconds when some wave down beachside slapped against the open maw that now dangled at sealevel. The jets coincided with a bass thump, thump, the waves turning the sewer system into a mile-long tympany drum.

The buildings were rotten and every couple weeks one falls into the water or loses a wall or a few floors to the eroding, rising sea. A knot of cables and fiber overhead connected to dozens of rooms here, feeding power and data into the squaters’ hovels. They would be empty now, dead of winter, when most squaters had sold their stock and got real jobs or had figured out a way to be arrested for the duration of the dark. A man can’t live like that, keep a family like that, cold, wet, offline, never knowing if the building you called home was going to just wash away.

So these brick and steel ghosts were empty, but all wired up and waiting to tempt next summer’s crop.