Read Brain Storm Online

Authors: Richard Dooling

Tags: #Suspense

Brain Storm (7 page)

Watson punched the phone’s
END
button and felt the despair of indentured servitude mollified by the thrill of being a real, road-warrior lawyer. Pretty soon, he’d be getting twenty or thirty calls a day on his car phone from people willing to pay his hourly fee plus the tab for both ends of a cellular call, just to talk to him sooner rather than later. He had half a mind to pull over and celebrate his first day as a real lawyer by plugging his laptop into his cellular phone and sending an important legal memo back to his own desktop PC at the office via time-sensitive E-mail. To: Joseph T. Watson, Esq. From: Joseph T. Watson, Esq. Re: Important Legal Matters.

He pulled into an ATM for some cash, wincing when he read the balance, $2,489.26. Just enough to cover the automatic withdrawal for the mortgage payment, not counting any checks Sandra had written in the interim, with ten days to go until the next paycheck and two weeks to the semiannual bonus. Instead of staying in the rented two-family in South St. Louis, Sandra had insisted on overbuying in Ladue, where the schools were better and the houses bigger. Money. If he didn’t make more of it quick, she would start threatening to go back to the accounting firm. Her newest project was getting the gravel driveway paved, not in asphalt but in concrete, like the rest of the upscale neighborhood. And if she went back to work? No mother at home for the children. No wife at home for the lawyer.

Instead of hastening to his needy client’s side, Watson obeyed Arthur and the note-holder on his mortgage, and returned to the firm’s parking garage.

He snagged the latest batch of Arthur’s memos from his in-box. As usual, Arthur’s explicit verbal instructions looked slightly different when confirmed by way of his ubiquitous memos, which quaintly still arrived typed on paper, transcribed by his secretary from Dictaphone tapes.

TO
: JTWatson

FROM
: AFMahoney

RE
: US v. Whitlow

As per our discussion Friday morning, you are to provide this client with the best possible service and representation. Acquit yourself and our firm to the best of your abilities pursuant to the district court’s orders. Please explore settlement while keeping a vigilant eye on the interests of your client.

AFM

To the uninitiated, the discrepancy might seem duplicitous. The difference between “Plead him out” and “provide the best possible service and representation” was more than mere semantics. But Watson barely noticed. Arthur’s memos were simply good lawyering, five-hundred-dollar-an-hour ass-covering. Remarks, verbal instructions, comments, oral promises, spoken threats, questionable suggestions—like pressuring an associate to plead an appointed client to murder one—vanish as soon as they leave a person’s mouth. They are as insubstantial as wishes, dreams, and Freudian slips. Memories fade, people remember incorrectly. Years later, if accusations surface, or if blame needs to be apportioned in a particular matter, the first thing lawyers do is retrieve the files from storage. The files contain tangible evidence—like Arthur’s memo showing he specifically instructed his associate to vigorously represent James Whitlow, never mind his privately expressed wishes.

The last in-box memo had a yellow sticky attached that said: “See me. AFM.”

His boss seemed incongruously cheerful.

“I sent your memo on decapitations to Ben Verruca, the in-house counsel at Subliminal Solutions,” said Arthur. “He loved it. He thought your analysis of the scorekeeping similarities was right on the money.”

“Virtually the same in both games,” said Watson. “I’m glad he liked it.”

Arthur smiled. “You told me about the scorekeeping, but I’m not remembering,” he said, with a wave at the stacks of documents and correspondence on his desk.

“Of course,” said Watson. “In Greek SlaughterHouse, there’s a puckish, Till Eulenspiegel–ish prankster who follows the game protagonist from room to room in the Castle of Skulls, keeping score by stabbing
freshly decapitated heads with a pikestaff and depositing them in a seabag slung over his shoulder. After each new head is collected, the prankster turns, winks at the gamer, and paints a red hash mark on the screen with a bloody finger. It’s virtually the same in CarnageMaster, except the head collector is a satyr or faun type, with goatish horns and bedraggled hindquarters, who turns, winks at the gamer, and paints hash marks with a bloody, caprine hoof. Same pikestaff. Same seabag. Blatant rip-offs.”

“I remember now,” said Arthur. “Fine work.”

Whew. One more crisis averted in the daily triage of career-threatening disasters that erupt in the life of the lowly associate. Subliminal Solutions was a huge client, and Ben Verruca was one of Arthur’s old law school pals. For years, SS was just another also-ran in the multimedia gaming industry, with a couple hundred-thousand sellers called Tower of Torture and Anthrax Avenger. Then one Sunday in Lent, 1998, gamers all over New Mexico and Arizona witnessed what one of them decided was the Blessed Virgin Mary appear midway through Tower of Torture, version 3.11.

The site of the appearance was Hans the Headsman’s turret in the Tower of Torture, where Hans did his bloody executioner’s work, decked out in spiked and ringbolted black leather armlets, a ventilated cast-iron jockstrap with worms poking their heads through the mesh holes, and jackboots covered with scorpions and roaches. The graphics work on Hans’s upper body had won the gaming industry’s coveted Styx Award because it was so anatomically precise that, with a video driver capable of delivering 65,000 colors at a screen resolution of 1024 by 768, gamers could actually pick out the origin and insertion of every one of Hans’s bulging muscles. Phat graphics. Anyway, beginning at 12:01
A
.
M
., Mountain Time, on that fateful third Sunday of Lent, gamers also claimed to see the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the polished reflection of Hans’s dripping, bloody broadax.

The scene featured Hans, known to gamers for years, as a Headsman who approached his work so zealously he usually peeled skin off of his victims or jammed his thumbs into their eye sockets before beheading them. But in version 3.11, Hans’s workday included the task of decapitating the ravishing, nubile, buxom Princess Althea—condemned to die, alone in the tower, under Hans’s ax. When Althea bent her gorgeous head of marcelled blond locks over Hans’s chopping block, her breasts (billowing and heaving with sobs) spilled forth from the neckline
of her sackcloth garment. At this point in the program, according to the user-market surveys and the real-time, live-site studies, 37 percent of male gamers between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine clicked on the pause button and studied Althea’s lissome frame all bent over the chopping block. Survey results indicated that most of the pause-mode gamers lingered to consider whether—with Althea all bent over and due to be executed forthwith—wasn’t there a way to find a silver lining in this dark cloud of death? At screen right, a pixel’s toss from Althea’s breasts, an ad-box applet for Zap high-capacity storage drives had a click-through rate of 14 percent, yielding some 178,000 visitors to the Zap Web site from its connection with the Hans/Althea Tower of Torture scene.

It was a hot site even before the Virgin Mary sighting. Once that happened,
Cyber Hour
did a special. Then
Night On-Line.
Live footage showed what devout gamers claimed was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in the blade of Hans’s broadax, as well as supposedly actual teardrops beading up on their computer monitors, blood oozing from the seams of their joysticks, and the soothing voice of what gamers were now calling Our Lady of Multimedia, audible even though their sound systems were turned off! When the computer code was disassembled and debugged, an instruction set showed a subroutine calling the image of a feminine face, but the Subliminal Solutions programmers had remarked-out the code so that it was nonfunctional. The designers claimed they had originally planned to have the estranged head of Althea reflected in Hans’s broadax, but now the line of code was plainly inoperative.

Tower of Torture sales took off, then the mania spread to Anthrax Avenger, and later to Greek SlaughterHouse, because gamers nationwide were inspecting the blades of all the weapons for hints of other avatars and incarnations. Subliminal Solutions’s stock doubled, split three for one, then doubled again, despite a price/earnings ratio of 127 to 1. SS was now one of the hottest companies in the burgeoning multimedia gaming industry, and Arthur was perpetually anxious about losing the account because of his own dearth of technical computer expertise. Enter new law grad Watson, who was comfortable talking pixel density, dot pitch, MPEG, MMX, Ultra QuickTime for Windows, VRAM, and video drivers.

Keeping Subliminal Solutions happy was important, because keeping
Arthur happy was important. In a huge outfit like Stern, Pale—one of the biggest law firms in the country—associates like Joseph T. Watson are fair game, hirelings, who can be summoned to work for any partner, anytime, doing the most tedious research known to the profession—unless they are protected. Watson achieved protected status by working primarily for Arthur Mahoney and by doing such a good job that Arthur in turn made sure his associate’s time was not squandered doing document productions or flying to Newark to do some due diligence on a struggling fertilizer concern. Intrafirm patronage. Not that the work he did for Arthur was any more meaningful or fulfilling than flying to Newark, but it was predictable and manageable, kept him at home with his family, and involved dealing primarily with machines instead of obnoxious lawyers and demanding clients.

Arthur’s intercom beeped; he motioned for Watson to stay put.

“Yes, yes. We’re just wrapping things up. Have one of the receptionists show Dr. Palmquist back here.”

“Your appointed case,” said Mahoney, switching off his intercom as his eyebrows converged in a frown. “The Business Committee met this morning. They’re concerned about the amount of time these appointed cases are consuming. Yours came up by way of example.”

“I don’t have much choice about it now,” Watson said. “Do I?”

“Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been busy with contingency plans.”

Watson tried to think of a polite, respectful way to tell Arthur that he would prefer handling his own appointed case. And the district court’s local rules were on his side—appointments are made to individual lawyers, not firms.

Arthur smiled again. And Watson smiled back, until he realized Arthur was smiling right past him at someone standing in the doorway behind Watson’s head.

“Come in, Dr. Palmquist,” Arthur said, rising from behind his oversize desk and opening his arms.

Watson stood up and jumped in his clothes at the sight of a woman who looked as if she’d been assembled in the lobby by a team of health and beauty experts. A wife, two kids, a Catholic’s fear of adultery, and an early apprenticeship in sexual harassment litigation had endowed him with a reflexive aversion to attractive women, especially in the workplace. Back in his single days, he would have tagged this one with a field-programmable microchip tracking device, so he could chase her
down and explain his uncontrollable impulse to be with her, to know her. But those days were long gone, and those drives subordinated to hearth, home, family, spouse, God.

When he helped himself to another view during Arthur’s introduction, he was alarmed to discover that she looked even better up close. Black tresses raked around to one side and swept up in a French twist. Steel rims, sheer coral lipstick, same color on the nails. The hint of darkness under her eyes suggested sleeplessness and made him want to solve the mystery of what was keeping her up at night.

When she and Arthur pecked cheeks and talked of family friends, Watson studiously suppressed the gawking reflex and busied himself with the books and papers that had been in his lap when he stood to meet her. Then he looked past his reading materials to suede pumps, nylons somewhere between pearl and nude, hem a notch below provocative, and up, his eyes ascending the shapely lineaments of Dr. Palmquist—“Rachel,” to Arthur.

Not normally one to notice clothes, Watson kept noticing hers: The nylons, which indeed turned to nude when she moved them; a lustery blouse that heaved with competitive archetypes in full bloom. A thin, rainbow-colored mist of refracted light clung about the nylons and the sheeny blouse. He trained a gimlet eye between the lapels of a royal blue double-breasted silk suit, where the blouse was just sheer enough for him to make out the ghost of a floral motif on whatever she was wearing underneath.

Married
, he thought.
Gotta be.

“I still see Jim,” said Arthur.

“I don’t,” she said, with a shrug.

“Good,” said Arthur, taking her hand up in both of his. “It’s for the best. And things have ended as we thought they might. Remember—we predicted this?”

Watson felt a pang at all the physical contact Arthur was getting out of the deal. He was reminded of another path not taken in his undergraduate studies. He spent a semester or two absorbed in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary psychology—any epistemology that studied protohuman behavior, humans illuminated by way of monkeys, apes, lawyers, and so-called “primitive” peoples, primal motives played out on a parallel stage. He recalled a passage about male vervet monkeys he had read in a book—
How Monkeys See the World
—assigned to him by his Evolutionary Psychology and Primate Science professor, a man who
had been his idol and mentor for all of three months, until Watson found out what associate professors make a year: “Once he has entered a new group, a male interacts with other males primarily in the context of competition for access to sexually receptive females.” For young human males, Watson had concluded, the observation could be altered to advantage by changing “primarily” to “exclusively.”

He might need to see her again. She was some kind of expert in a field he might need to know a lot about. And it was fun watching Arthur—a heavy hitter who bowed to no one—fawning at the altar of physical beauty.

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