27. Following Backwards

He was several blocks away before he thought of the car. Then he explained to himself: I didn't want to get back in the car anyway. Driving isn't getting anywhere; it's not really moving; it's staying in one place inside movement. And I have to keep moving. I want to stay ahead of it ...

He could explain the voice too. His earbugs had cut in for a moment. "Fucking neo-Nazi" was (conceivably) the sort of thing the President, or some red-faced governor, would say. His earbugs were malfunctioning. He had to get them removed.

Billie. He couldn't go to Bruce—he'd been over that already. He couldn't trust Bruce. No, not that exactly ...

His thoughts were thick-fingered and out of focus; but there wasn't time to peel them apart or make them clear. He couldn't go to Bruce. But Billie was a doctor too.

He didn't know which way he'd come. He had no idea where he was. He couldn't backtrack. A cab, then.

He looked up the empty street. Everything seemed to shimmer malevolently under the streetlights, which had just come on; every object vibrated slightly with an ominous intensity. His eyes couldn't stick to anything. Nothing could stick here; action couldn't get a toe-hold. Nothing would ever happen here; the street was empty; no cab would ever come his way.

He looked the other way, down the street. There was a cab.

He walked past it, then back, eyeing it from the far sidewalk. Then he hustled across before it could drive away, and yanked open the passenger-side door.

"Are you following me?"

"Not to the best of my knowledge," drawled the cabbie, lifting his cap from his eyes. "Why? You want me to follow you?"

"Following me backwards, I mean," Drew muttered. "From the future." He realized that he wasn't expressing himself well.

"That ...," said the cabbie, "'ll cost you extra."

He decided that the cabbie had not been reading his thoughts, that his presence here was just a coincidence. He got in.

"I'm going to the morgue."

"That's a new one. Not feeling too well, eh?"

"I have business there."

"Alright, alright. You got more I can go on?"

"It's in the Highlands somewhere. I don't know the address. Don't you have InMap?"

"Sure, sure. Right here. Punch it in for me, would you? I'll drive."

What was this? Punch it in yourself, asshole. If I'd sat in the back seat, you'd have no choice but to look up the address yourself. So he wanted Drew to be the one to operate the device for some reason. But why?


He wasn't going to fall for it. He took out his PDR.

"Billie? It's ..." He glanced sidelong at the cabbie. "It's me again," he said. "What's your address? I'm coming by."

He stood outside the building and waited till the cab was out of sight. If they were watching him, they'd have to send someone else now. He knew this guy's face.

She'd called him Friday. She'd escaped on Saturday.

So it was possible. It was possible she'd checked into a hotel on Sunday.

The receptionist had been expecting him. He led him down the hall to Billie's office. She wasn't there. He led him down the hall to the examination room. She wasn't there.

"Must be in back. Shit—that's my phone. Never fails. Quiet all day, then ... Do you know the way?"


What am I doing here? He looked at his PDR. He called the office. Telerude didn't answer.

He called Moonie's desk. "Meghan Moon here."

"Moonie, it's Drew."

There was a pause, almost imperceptible. "Hi, Drew."

"Are you recording this?"

"I don't know. You want me to? You got a big fashion scoop?"

"I'm at the morgue."

"Okay. I bite. Is this a joke?"

"Never mind. The reason I called—who the hell wrote this article and put my name on it?"

Silence. "What article?"

"This hotel room suicide article in today's. I didn't write it but it's got my byline."

"Oh Christ." She blew a fart through her lips. "They edit everybody beyond recognition. You know that."

"I mean I didn't even write anything. The whole thing, none of it was me. I was going to, I was supposed to, but ... I didn't file anything, and now here it is. I didn't even start it. So who wrote it?"

"I don't know," she said. "I'm not on city anymore."

"Another thing. It's almost exactly the same as what Casey wrote in the Argonaut. Almost word for word. So what's going on?"

"Where are you?"

"What does that have to do with anything? Why do people keep asking me these irrelevant questions? Is this some kind of test?"

"I mean, are you really at the morgue? Or are you nearby, or what?"

"I'm really at the morgue. Why?"

"Maybe we should go someplace and talk about this."

"What do you know?"

"I told them I didn't like it."

"Moonie! Who's writing my fucking articles?"

"I don't know. Nobody. Everybody. Whoever. Hold on. I'm switching to sill."

Chris, she continued, for one. Kenneth. The copy editors. Me. For a while.

"What are you talking about?"

They meant well. It's not how it looks. Christ, what am I saying. It is how it looks. That's why I wanted a transfer. Drew, they ... Shit. I didn't think it was right, behind your back like that, but it's a fine line, it happens to everybody, but I thought ... Shit. It was just when your stories were bad. We stitched them up. I didn't know they were ... I never wrote a complete story, not from scratch.

"When my stories were bad? What the fuck was wrong with my stories?"

See, this is why I wanted to talk to you in person.

Drew hung up.

Billie was watching him. Leaning against the wall, arms crossed, her bottom lip furrowed in an expression of sardonic compassion.

"Trouble in paradise?"

He realized, then, that he loved her.

She led him to the back, into the cool sterile steel room with its numbered drawers like oversized safety deposit boxes. And a drain in the middle of the floor.

She was talking, because he wasn't. He let her voice mesmerize him, carry him along. It was like the reassuring gurgle of an eaves-trough outside his window, letting him know that he was safe and snug in bed.

"I'm flattered, actually," she was saying. "You've never shown so much interest in my work before. A woman could blush. Number one seventy-five, here's our girl."

"Wait," he said.

She looked at him inquisitively, but did not stop what she was doing. With her eyes on him, she yanked on the handle; and the stretcher rolled smoothly out on its tracks.

"No, but wait. That's not really why I came."


He said nothing. He looked away.

"Oh my," she said. "A woman could blush."

"My earbugs," he said, remembering suddenly. "They're all fucked-out. They've been doing some weird things. It's driving me nutbats. Can you take them out?"

She laughed; every note of it was distinct, and transmitted a distinct message, but in a language infinitely richer than English.

"You don't want me to do that, you want an electronics-shop geek. If you don't deactivate them with some little gadget first the warranty's void."

"I don't care about the warranty."

"Well," she said. "If you're sure. Okay. Hop up there."

He looked at the stainless steel table with horror.

"No, alright, let's get you a chair. Slip you into something more comfortable, like the room next door."

She shone a light in his ear. He could hear her breathing, feel the warmth of her fingers on his cheek.

"I should have three hands," she murmured, and popped the flashlight in her mouth. Her teeth clacked against the plastic. It was the most intimate sound imaginable.

"That girl in there," he said.

She removed the flashlight to say, "Just for a minute, thilenthio. It's not in there deep, but I sure would hate to puncture your eardrum with a pair of tweezers."


He was still for a moment, but when she approached his ear again he could suddenly feel it, a heavy sharp object poised just beside his head and bearing down on him; he could feel it hanging in the air like a cone of screaming silence, as if he had already been deafened. He flinched.

"Sorry. It makes me nervous."

"No no, I'm sorry. I work too much with cadavers. Forgot for a second that people tend to get antsy when you start poking around in their ears or their eyes or their mouths. Thank God I'm not a dentist. Highest suicide rate of any profession."

He pulled away. "Why'd you say that?"

She shrugged. "The queen of useless trivia. Here, rest your head against the wall. And think of something pleasant."

Then she reached into the blackness inside his skull and pulled out an impossibly large piece of him. Then she did it again from the other side.

"Did you get it all?"

She showed him. Two tiny silver centipedes, no bigger than a child's fingernail clipping.

"They really do look like bugs."

He thought he saw a bit of blood or pink flesh still attached to one of them.

He listened. His ears were ringing, or buzzing. Faint oceanic waves of churning white noise, rising and falling, waxing and waning. And then, though it was still there, he stopped noticing it.

"I think I crushed this one," she said. "Probably beyond repair or salvage, I fear."

He took the tweezers from her and carefully crushed the other one.

"Boof," said Billie. "The end."

"That girl in there," he began.

"Right," she said. "Next things next."

She showed him. They went next door and she showed him. She pulled back the sheet and showed him.

"Wait," he said.

She looked at him inquisitively, but did not stop what she was doing. With her eyes on him, she yanked on the handle; and the table rolled out smoothly on its rails.

"Wait," he said. "Do you have a printer? I need to print some things out. I need to print some photos I took ..."

"Wait," he said.