Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Solution Nassau part 6

Mark went down to the lobby and wandered over to the touristy shopping mall adjoining the hotel. He browsed the $30 T-shirt selection and $80 hoodie sweaters advertising "ATLANTIS, Paradise Island". He purchased a set of clothes to get him through the next few days and walked over to the casino. It was still early in the morning for casino action and the place was mostly empty.  Mark headed over toward the cashier's cage.
The large slot machine near the entrance that Mark had played earlier was making a lot of cheerful music. A tourist lady with white hair stood at a distance from the machine and took a picture of the machine with her cell phone. Mark approached her.
"Hello ma'am," he said in greeting.
The lady turned and sat down at a nearby slot machine. She put several quarters into the machine and pressed the SPIN button.
Mark approached her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Excuse me," he began.
The lady jumped up and spilled her bucket of quarters everywhere. She started shrieking.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," said Mark. He held out his hand to quiet the lady down. A security guard approached quickly.
"What's going on here?" asked the security guard, eyeing Mark.
"Nothing, sir. I just wanted to ask this lady a question," said Mark.
"A question?" asked the security guard.
"Yes, I..." he bent over to help pick up some quarters for the lady. She saw him trying to help and bumped him rudely with her shoulder. She continued picking up quarters and putting them into her bucket.
Mark continued. "I was here yesterday and I think this lady took a picture of the machine I won on. I just wanted to ask her nicely if she still had that photo of me. I don't have any pictures of me winning the machine. I want to send it to my mom," he lied.
The old lady stood up. She looked carefully at Mark and frowned. "I don't remember you, son," she said.
"You took a picture of the same machine just now," said Mark. "I thought it was you, that's all. Can we check your pictures?"
The lady shook her head. "It's true I'm taking pictures of the machines. I hear them play their music and I take a picture to see if they're lucky or not. But I don't remember anyone playing that machine. And I don't recognise you," she said.
"Ma'am, we can't have you take photos inside the casino. That is against our policies," the guard said.
"Fiddlesticks to you and your policies," said the white haired tourist. "I'm 78 years old and I don't take instructions from the like of you or anyone else."
"Can I just see some of those pictures? Please?" pleaded Mark.
"Well, sure, I guess. But not if I get in trouble from the blue suits," said the lady. She jerked her thumb at the guard.
"We're okay, sir," said Mark. "You can go now. Thank you for your time."
The security guard left casting glances back at the pair often.
"You seem nice enough," said the tourist to Mark. "But you gave me a scare just now, appearing out of nowhere." She took out her phone.
"No problem, ma'am," said Mark. He walked around to look over her shoulder as she operated her phone.
"That's one I just took," said the lady. A picture of the big slot machine with huge wheels was prominently featured, if not completely centred. The wheels displayed BAR-7-7. The lady swiped left. There was a photo of an elderly man looking at the fa├žade of the Atlantis hotel. "That's George," she explained. She swiped backward through several versions of George. She stopped on one sequence of an old man in a leather gimp suit, skin sagging in very bad places. Across his mouth a red ball was fastened in place by black leather straps. "George was being bad," the lady explained.
Mark waved his hand to move to the next picture.
George was being whipped, suspended, and stretched by bars in what appeared to be a hotel room for the next few photographs that slid by. "He was very bad," the lady said and smiled. Mark kept waving his hands, _move on._
"Ah, here," said the lady. She showed her phone to Mark. In the background Mark could see the big slot machine with the huge wheels set to 7-7-7. A yellow light was brightly lit on top, frozen mid-blink. Off to one side, was a blurry see-through version of someone like Mark.
Mark pointed at himself. "Who's that?" he asked.
The lady squinted and raised her glasses above her forehead. "I can't tell. Probably a tourist."
"I think that's me," Mark said. "But why is it blurry?"
"The camera's always moving," said the tourist plainly. "My hands aren't steady."
"So why wouldn't the background blur as well?" Mark asked.
"I don't know. I'm not a physics professor," the old lady complained.
"Any other pictures?" Mark asked.
The lady nodded and slid the screen back one more picture. It showed the same scene with a waitress frozen mid-step walking in between the camera and the slot machine. She was walking outward from the camera, from observer right-to-left.
"Who's that?" asked Mark excitedly, pointing. "That's the waitress who robbed me!" he said.
"What waitress? Robbed who?" asked the lady.
"Her," said Mark. "She was the waitress who came up to me after I won some money and she robbed me I'm pretty sure."
The old lady frowned. "Can't be," said the tourist. "The waitresses don't come in this early. The slot machine always rings in the morning and early afternoon. I've been tracking it. Plus, the waitresses here wear orange. It's the company colours. This lady is wearing a blue outfit."
Mark looked closer. The woman was indeed wearing a blue skirt and top one-piece. She was carrying a tray, but it could easily be a portfolio or a suitcase. Off to the observer right, next to the slot machine was a faded Mark character. It was definitely him, but translucent. Mark could see right through his hoodie and the logo to see the wall and a stool behind him. The faded Mark character was smiling like a Cheshire cat.
"Holy shit," Mark said.
"Watch your language. Didn't your parents raise you right?" asked the tourist. She turned off her phone and stormed off.
Mark turned his attention to the casino cage. He spotted the large man behind the window and approached.
"Hello, sir, I wonder if you can help me?" Mark asked.
"Certainly sir," answered the man.
"I won some money from the slot machine over there," here Mark pointed, "and I wanted to know who the waitress was who I met. I wanted to give her a tip," Mark lied.
The large man nodded. "I remember. You took your money in a bag. Ha!" he said. Mark nodded impatiently. "Well, now, I wish I could help you but we have a lot of waitresses. Was she off duty?"
"No," answered Mark. "She wore a blue outfit."
The large man shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, son. Our waitresses don't come on until at least 3:30 pm. And we all wear orange outfits. As you can see," the man said and displayed his orange uniform.
"No, I'm certain she was a waitress. She brought me some drinks on a tray... and..."
The large man was trying not to laugh. "I'm sorry, son. Happens all the time. I'm sure you think she was a waitress. Ha! I'm sorry. Totally unprofessional. I'm sorry."
Mark tried to continue. "Well, then, she's a thief operating on your premises. She stole me my money. You're responsible."
The large man held up his hands. "Whoa, now son. We're not responsible for anything you do on your own time. We try to keep undesirables out, but they might slip through. As for losing your money, that's on you. Unless this happened on our casino grounds, you're on your own. We guarantee your safety on our property, but can't guarantee it once you're outside."
Mark seethed. "Don't you have some security footage or something?" he asked.
"Sure we do. We could fill out a police report. And I'm sure we'll investigate it thoroughly. But you'll have to stick around for the results. And you're going to be liable for the money if we can't recover any of it. You'll also pay taxes for any winnings."
"Taxes?" Mark cried.
"Oh yes, son," said the large man. "You still owe taxes. I hope you have enough to cover the bill Uncle Sam is going to send you when we file our paperwork."
"I'll fill out a police report, I guess," said Mark. "Let's hope we can find this thief. I'll be here for a few days then I'm going to Washington D.C." said Mark.
"To visit Uncle Sam?" laughed the large man. "Sorry. Just a joke. Let me get the paperwork."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Solution Nassau part 5

Mark dialed down to the front desk. "Mister Julian Thorne, please," he said. He waited a while. Finally he spoke, "Hey dad. What? Yeah. It's me. Stop yelling. Okay. I know. Fuck your mother," he cursed and slammed the phone down.
Mark tried to salvage as much of his clothes as he could and searched around in the woman's luggage for anything he might possibly wear. The only thing he could find was a teal green hoodie four sizes too large. He gave up trying to be presentable and left the room.
Down at the lounge in the hotel lobby, his father was standing near a pillar. He scowled as Mark approached.
"You're a disgusting mess. We were supposed to meet yesterday. What happened to you?" he asked.
Mark raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "I arrived late yesterday but then I got robbed," he began. His father looked concerned so his story was working. "Some waitress saw me open my wallet and I think she got her friends to roll me. I was out cold until this morning on the beach."
Julian frowned. "That may be true," he said. "But it could also be true that you partied all day and night then got drunk and realised you were supposed to give me the data we asked you to collect."
Mark reached into his hoodie pockets instinctively to indicate he was searching for something. "That's the thing... They rolled me and I think they stole my flash drive as well."
"You lost the data?" Julian thundered. The bartender and concierge looked up and stared at the two men. Julian tried to lower his voice. "Why didn't you put it in your luggage and keep it safe?" he asked.
"I was trying to keep it safe," Mark lied and didn't have to struggle much to have tears water up under his eyelids. "It doesn't matter anyway," he said. "I think I lost my luggage too. That fucking limo driver probably stole my bags."
"Son... Why... For Christ sake..." stuttered Julian. He took a deep breath. "I've put up with a lot of incompetence from you, son," he said. "I got you into LYU. I went to LYU when I was your age. I got into LYU on my own academic accomplishments. I didn't get a free ride from my father like you did. I raised myself up by my bootstraps so that when dad died, I inherited the money I deserved. Unlike you, I should think. Unless you straighten out..."
Mark stood in a contrite pose.
Julian continued, "When I was your age, I had to fight. We didn't have it easy back then. I had to earn my place in the world. When I got into LYU, the other kids thought I must have used race or affirmative action to get in. I didn't. I used my head and worked my tail to the bone. I had seen white people before I got to LYU, but I never knew there were so many of them. I had to fight!" Julian raised his fist. "Anyway, I was too soft on you. I never pushed you hard enough like my father did. It's my fault. I made you soft."
"I'm not soft," Mark said. "Honest, dad, I had the flash drive and I got rolled. It was at the casino, and they must have it on cameras. I can recognise the waitress and we can find out where my stuff is. I lost my passport, my clothes... She knows what happened and who did it."
"Maybe," said Julian. "She's not working alone, though. The whole staff probably has a network of thieves they work with. Never mind about the data, they'll never know what to do with it. The results are all scientific data no one will be able to understand. There's nothing incriminating in it anyway."
"Then why did you make me steal it?" Mark asked. "You said it was going to ruin our company."
"I thought it might. I've been talking to Mathiason. We don't think it's the manufacturing process or the materials. It could be worse than that."
"Worse?"
"Much worse. The universe is telling us that it's breaking down before our eyes. We don't have any hope of understanding it, much less stopping it."
"I don't get it."
Julian sighed. "Did you hear about the cruise ship?"
"Which cruise ship?"
"You were supposed to be on it in less than four hours."
"Oh shit, I forgot," Mark said.
"Never mind. The ship never arrived. It's been missing at sea. Like the damn Bermuda triangle is acting up or something."
"Missing? I... That can't be. I saw it yesterday when I came in."
Julian shook his head. "No, it's all over the news. The ship left Bermuda two days ago. The GPS track on the map starts to look like Morse code after a while. Then it just stops about 85 miles northwest of here. It's been spotted a few times by search planes, but they circle around and it's gone."
"How many people were on board?" Mark asked.
"A couple thousand. Listen, we make nearly every piece of electronics on that ship. They'll blame us. But we already talked with Samantha Griffen and the folks at CERN. It's a fundamental change in the laws of nature that are taking place. We're going to have to adopt a new version of reality from now on."
"That's nonsense," said Mark. "You can't change reality."
Julian laughed. "Ha, good one son. We change reality every day. Humans built this hotel and resort out of sand. We dig holes and build highways and shoot rockets into space. 'We can't change reality.' Good one, son. Good one indeed."
Mark said, "That's not what I meant. We can't alter physics just by wishing it so. The parameters of our existence are so fine tuned that any small changes will destroy our way of life, much less the whole planet. Heck, the whole solar system couldn't exist. Our galaxy could collapse."
"Well, believe it. It's here. And we're just beginning to see the effects. We had some guys at the NSA move the Hubble and we've seen the effects of the tests we wanted Griffen to check out. Our solid state materials have been giving us bad data for five years and now we know why."
"That's crazy, dad."
"I know. Hey, listen. I'm sorry I was so hard on you. I'm sorry you got mugged. Why don't you enjoy yourself here for a few days until you can get your passport at the embassy? I have to leave to meet the board. We're going to be subpoenaed by a congressional oversight committee soon. I need to prepare with the lawyers."
"I still can't believe it's as bad as you're saying. It must be a mistake."
"There's no mistake. Even if there is, we are still going down for liability or product safety or something."
"I need some clothes," Mark said abruptly.
Julian nodded. He pulled out a black American Express card from his wallet. "Here, get yourself some stuff and stay out of trouble if you can." Mark took the card. Julian continued, "You should visit your mom. She wants to see you and you can't avoid her forever."
"No thanks," Mark said.
"You haven't seen her for a long time and you don't want to visit her and find out it's too late."
"I'll visit her when she's dead to pay my respects. That way I can get it all over in one shot in a single trip."
Julian frowned. "I don't know why you two didn't get along. Anyway. Take care, son."
"I will," said Mark. "Hey, are you going to Washington D.C.?"
"Yes, probably. Next week."
"I'll go with you," Mark said.
"Okay, son. That will be good. You can see how it's done, learn the ropes. Maybe you'll own the place one day," his father joked.
Mark nodded. They parted and Mark arranged with the concierge to send up a personal shopper to Mark's room. Up in his room, Mark got an inspiration and called Samantha on the hotel phone. He heard a gangster rap song refrain start playing from somewhere inside the luggage in his room. He hung up.
"Fuck me," he said.
He dialed his own phone number. It went immediately to voicemail. He hung up.
"Fuck me," he said again.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Solution Nassau part 4

Mark woke up in the grass spread eagle. He looked into the sky and saw the Orion constellation perfectly mirroring his own posture on the grass. An airplane as small as two blinking lights travelled a straight line between Sirius and Orion's feet. Mark tried to sit up and fainted back onto the grass. Opening his eyes again, he saw the same lights, now flying past Sirius, blink twice and stutter back to the same spot in the sky behind Sirius. Then the lights blinked twice more and stuttered forward on the other side of Sirius. The sky seemed to be lightening where his feet pointed, but as he sat up one more time he saw more stars than before. The real stars stayed in one position in the sky while the fake stars danced and turned in tight circles. He pulled up his legs and fell forward to crawl on all fours.
The grass was well-manicured and he wasn't too far from a line of trees. He thought he must be on a golf course. The rush of blood in his ears was replaced by the swell and ebb of a beach somewhere in front of him. He crawled to the rough between some palm trees and sat on his haunches like a dog. He stared for a while at the white sand and dark water. The sky was an infinite shades of blue, from lightest in front of him at the rim of the sky and ocean, then darkest directly behind him. The lighter shades of blue imperceptibly pushed up the darker shades higher in the sky.
Turning to look behind him, Mark could align himself with some landmarks. He was familiar with a beach on the east side of Paradise Island and there was a golf course he had played on business trips with his father. He was lucky enough to get his bearings and guess he was somewhere near the tee on the fifth hole. He had gotten a six on this hole, and that was only by cheating. He had teed up the ball twice on the green during his approach.
Mark stopped crawling around and leaned his back against a palm tree. His mouth was full of the tastes of bile, copper, and acetone. He reached his hand to the back of his head and felt a golf-ball-sized knot. His hand was covered with something sticky and gritty. He shook out the front of his hair and sprayed sand all over his lap. He tried to swallow and choked up hot tears and more swirling stars. He fell over on his shoulder because it was easier than sitting up. He let his tears water the grass. He passed in and out of consciousness until the sky became layers of bright pink and deep red.
He was able to stand up precariously as he used the palm tree for support. He wandered over to the golf path and spotted a foursome getting out of a cart. He raised his hand in a greeting. He noticed the sleeve of his hoodie was filthy and ripped to the elbow. He could see brown spots splattered down his left side. The four golfers noticed him and waved warily in response. As Mark drew closer, they all laughed.
"Tough night, huh?" one golfer asked.
"Hey, uh," began Mark uncertainly. "Can I get a ride to the clubhouse or something?"
"Sure, buddy," said another golfer. "Geez, you got banged up. You had way too much fun!"
All the golfers laughed and offered high fives to Mark. Mark accepted two but couldn't take any more. He bent over and pressed his hands to his knees.
"Whoah," said the first golfer. "All right, all right."
The third golfer pressed the service button in the cart and said, "I called the greens keeper. They'll be out here in a minute."
Mark managed to stand up and said, "Okay, thanks guys. I'll sit on that bench." He pointed near the tee. "You guys go have fun. Don't worry about me."
"We won't," said the first golfer, and they laughed. The golfers argued over who was going to tee off first as Mark stumbled over to a bench.
The greens keeper showed up a few minutes after the foursome had moved on. Mark was embarrassed by the weary look he got from the large black man.
"I'm sorry," Mark said. "I had a little too much to drink... You know..."
"I know, son. We see all kinds here," the large man said. "You get yourself into the cart and I'll take you back. Where are you staying?"
"The Atlantis," Mark said. "I checked in yesterday," he lied.
"Okay, we'll get you back there in one piece then."
Mark passed from embarrassment to relief as he followed a smoothly greased chain of infrastructure that was used to dealing with drunk and wayward tourists. Back at the hotel lobby with an ice pack and a bottle of water, he tried to smooth-talk the lobby clerk.
"Mark Thorne," he said. "I was supposed to check in yesterday when I arrived, but I got... um... drunk." He tried to smile.
"Yes, Mister Thorne," said the clerk testily. "I see your reservation and you did check in, but I'll need to see some identification. Your luggage is still waiting down here to be claimed."
"Yeah, that's the problem," Mark said. "I had my passport on me and can't find it." Mark patted his jeans and hoodie with one hand as if he was searching for something. He thought of something. "The casino cashiers know me. I stopped over there yesterday afternoon."
The front desk clerk looked bleakly at Mark. "The casino is run by a different company," she explained. "I need to speak with my manager. But he's won't be in until ten. Perhaps you'd like to take some breakfast while you wait?"
"Sure," Mark said although he didn't want to eat. "Breakfast was created by corporations designed to make you spend money on food," he said. He grinned broadly and chuckled even though it hurt a lot to do so.
The clerk didn't seem to notice. She was already absorbed in typing into her computer intently.
"Fuck me," mumbled Mark as he tried to find some place to hide in the lobby where the front desk clerk couldn't see him.
After a lengthy wait and several visits to the bathroom to wash up in increments, Mark was able to meet the manager who believed his story and gave him a room key to go to his room. His luggage was sent up by a porter. He took a much needed shower and examined the bump on the back of his head as best as he could.
As he came out of the shower wrapped in a towel, he saw his luggage sitting on a stand by the television. He jiggled the lock and couldn't open it. "Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me," he repeated. He stormed around the hotel room looking for anything to break or pick the lock. He tried using the television remote, a three-ring binder, and a hotel pen to twist the hasp. Finally, he realised an idea and looked in the closet. He used the pointed end of the iron to twist the aluminum zipper tabs so they broke. He pulled opened the suitcase front flap and saw a pile of women's clothing.
"Fuck me in the asshole twice then shit on my head and piss in my ear," he said.

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