32. The Ill-Loom

"These are not my tee aitch."


"That's what she wrote on the wall of the hotel room. These are not my th. Tee aitch. These are not my tee aitch." He scribbled it on a piece of paper.


"T.H. What's that, do you think?"

"Fucks me."

"Could be an acronym. Or maybe she didn't finish ..."

"Well," Drew muttered, "it was written in blood."

"Shitchrist. Her dying words? I wish I knew ... T.H.-something. Things? Thumbs? Not much fits. Thumb-prints? Were there fingerprints on the wall? Maybe she was trying to say she was ... I wonder."

"Tea's here," said Sally, arranging the tray on the foot locker that served as coffee table.

An echo came rolling down one of the corridors of Drew's mind. "Don't look," he heard himself saying.


"Try 'don't look.' As a password."

"With or without an apostrophe?"

"With, without, both, whatever."

Mike typed. "Nope." He had a stroke of inspiration, tried again, was disappointed. "Well, it's not 'look don't' or 'don't look' spelled backwards either."

"This is stupid."

"Why are you learning this stuff?" asked Sally. She was pointing at the drawing of squiggles that Drew had taken from the wall of the hospital.

"What do you mean?" said Drew.

"Because I thought for certain you must have microphones for making transcripts—is this the right word? Is it for your job?"

"I don't know what it is. She—my friend drew it."

"Oh," she said. "That's funny. Because to me it looks somewhat sort of like old shortcut-writing, short-form, uh ..."

"Shorthand?" Drew sat down next to her.

Mike came away from the HDR. "What does it say?"

"I don't know." She studied it skeptically. "It's a long time ago since I learned it in English school. We all thought it was very useless for the curriculum." She shook her head. "Also this could be different of style. There are some different kinds."

"You've got to remember," Mike said.

Drew squeezed her knee.

"Can't we ... look it up with a search?"

Drew and Mike looked at each other.

Five minutes later, they had printed off the shorthand system that seemed to best match Miranda's squiggles, and soon after, Sally had written down the phonemes represented by them.

I M     N o T     K R A Z E

TH     i L OO M     R     G A N i NG

P OW R     O V R     TH    S K I     O SH N

S T o P     TH     P R e S

P E R S     N O Z     H OW

I     e M     N o T     K R A Z E

"Over the ski?" said Mike.

"That's a long I: sky. Over the sky."

"Over the sky ocean?"

"I don't know."

"What about the eye-loom. What's the eye-loom."

"That's a short I."

"Okay, well what the hell is the ill-loom."

Drew's cancer was throbbing. "I gotta go," he said.

"What, right now?"

"I got some things I gotta do."

"Hey, wait!"

The Illuminati, said Miranda.

I know, said Drew. And you're crazy.


Fuck out of it, Miranda. The Illuminati? You're joking. That's comic book stuff. Science-fiction stuff. Straight from the nutbat stack. You know how many crazies write me every week to warn me about the Illuminati? The Illuminati are secretly scheming to overtake all the world governments and form a fundamentalist religious New World Order. The Illuminati have secretly purchased 475 of the Fortune 500 corporations. The Illuminati are secretly conspiring with adoption agencies to convert unwanted children into food. The Illuminati are secretly influencing the most powerful men and women in the world by remote control. The Illuminati are secretly plotting to wipe out eighty percent of the world's population so they will have the planet's resources all to themselves. The Illuminati are secretly evacuating to space stations. The Illuminati are a race of super-intelligent extraterrestrial spores who are corrupting the human intellect and undermining the human genome by slowly poisoning us through mushrooms. The Illuminati are bogeymen. The Illuminati, Miranda, are a joke.

What if they're not?

Signal and noise, Drew. What if all that noise is only drowning out the signal?

Mike caught up to him in the hallway. "Here." He handed him a disposable card-phone and a little ball of aluminum foil.

"What's this?"

Mike grinned, then tried to conceal his self-satisfaction behind a mask of alert caution; warily, he looked up and down the hallway.

"The new laws," he said in a low voice, like someone delivering a memorized communiqué, "have made it a lot easier to commit people to institutions, as you know. However. When I was doing research for my book I discovered a loophole. Little known fact: the symptoms of amphetamine psychosis are basically indistinguishable from bona fide schizophrenia."

"Great," said Drew.

"What that means," said Mike, catching Drew's gaze and holding it, "is that they can't, cannot diagnose schizophrenia in someone who is ostensibly in the throes of amphetamine psychosis."

Drew peeled back a corner of the foil. White powder. "What is this, coke?"

"They can throw you in jail for possession and intoxication," said Mike gleefully, "but they can't throw you in the nuthouse. If they try it, you tell them: Sorry motherfuckers, I'm only coked to the fucking gills here, man!"

"Well," said Drew. "Thanks."

Mike shrugged, sheepish now. "Anyway, that's why I keep it around. Just in case. Well, that—and to help me finish a novel, occasionally."

The elevator arrived, and inquired politely: Ding?