"You must reach the top!" These inane words rang in my head as I raced up the winding staircase, hearing my heart's pounding drown out the howling storm outside. I really needed to get in better shape for these reoccurring emergencies; you'd think living in a lighthouse I'd have done all the necessary body maintentance. As usual, the blasted rotation motor was on the fritz, and I needed to go up and crank it manually for any ships lost in the storm. The staircase seemed endless as I jumped over a few missing planks and snagged a gold coin, and the lighthouse alarm's chiming was incessant and ... then I realized it was my phone ringing and woke up.

I yawned, awake but not quite alert. What a stupid dream. Mario in Erectile Dysfunction Land, Part 1. As I unwillingly left the comfort of my bed for my chilly apartment and blearily trudged to the kitchen, I briefly thought about what Freud would have had to say about my dream about a lighthouse that didn't work. Fortunately I knew that particular aspect of my ego was just fine, since I had it turned off a few months ago for a case, and never bothered to go in for reversal. Silly Freud, you are no match for modern brainworks. I should really lay off the retro gaming, though. I shook my head bemusedly and picked up the persistent caller, glancing at the clock.

I grunted "Yeah?" into the phone, figuring that was all the early hour deserved. As usual, I left my visual off; you never know who might be calling. "I would like to speak to Mr. --- regarding a case," the caller was a primly dressed man in his 30s; a small, pursed mouth and a slight, probably unconscious frown gave him a disapproving look. It was an expression that should have been licensed as a deadly weapon (Disapproval, Grade A, Single Target, Considerable Psychic Anguish - 300 bucks a year) if it wasn't for his eyes. They were small, watery - which made him blink a lot - and occasionally darting side to side; his face as a whole made him the poster boy for Webster 1913's Ode to Guilt. I learned a long time ago not to judge clients by their appearances - it was really what was in their heads that counted - but old habits died hard, and you could still gain at least some ideas in only a few seconds' worth of contact. For example, there was the simple fact that he didn't have his twitch fixed. Although there could have been a number of causes (too poor, too practical, or the problem was beyond the skill of bodychoppers), each one had to be considered. A small fact could solve the case for you sometimes.

"Go on, I'm listening," I replied. I listened as he explained; it sounded like a standard cleanjob, perhaps even simple enough so that a dive wouldn't be necessary. The only detail I didn't really like was the motive; the guy's profile, which has finally downloaded, made him out to be your regular working class contractor, with the usual string of successful jobs and an occasional early dismissal due to project cancellation - nothing unusual, so why would anyone bother infecting him? Sure, it could've just been a case of a random spamming, but in my experience these were more rare than MicroNorton Media would have you think.

"I'm not really taking cleanjobs at the moment," I replied after deliberating for a while. I reached out to terminate the call when the man softly said "That's not the impression I got." I paused; was this just a ploy to keep me talking or actually something pertinent? "Oh?" I tossed out. "Well, it appears that you, ah, node..." he trailed off, seeming embarassed as his Grade A Disapproval bored into me, even despite my vid being off. I sighed, switching the visual on. This guy had to be a bit above the average if he could not only figure out who I was on 'thing, but also bother to look there in the first place. It implied disconcerting insight. "Very well; we will talk in my office at 8:30 tomorrow morning." I disconnected, feeling satisfied that I got the last word in, despite the fact that the Disapproval was still there, a glowing afterimage behind my eyes. Damn him anyway.

January 12, 2004 | February 1, 2004 | TCB