Copyright © William Gibson Ent. Ltd., 2010

The moral right of the author has been asserted

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental

All rights reserved

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-0-14-196570-3

Contents

1. CABINET

2. EDGE CITY

3. SLUT’S WOOL

4. PARADOXICAL ANTAGONIST

5. THIN ON THE GROUND

6. AFTER THE GYRATORY

7. A HERF GUN IN FRITH STREET

8. CURETTAGE

9. FUCKSTICK

10. EIGENBLICH

11. UNPACKING

12. COMPLIANCE TOOL

13. MUSKRAT

14. YELLOW HELMET

15. THE DROP

16. HONOR BAR

17. HOMUNCULI

18. 140

19. PRESENCES

20. AUGMENTED

21. MINUS ONE

22. FOLEY

23. MEREDITH

24. HUNCH

25. TINFOIL

26. MOTHER RUSSIA

27. JAPANESE BASEBALL

28. WHITE PEAR TEA

29. SHIVER

30. SIGHTING

31. SECRET MACHINERIES

32. POST-ACUTE

33. BURJ

34. THE ORDER FLOW

35. DONGLE

36. VINEGAR AND BROWN PAPER

37. AJAY

38. GETTING HOTTER

39. THE NUMBER

40. ENIGMA ROTORS

41. GEAR-QUEER

42. ELVIS, GRACELAND

43. ICHINOMIYA

44. THE VERBALS

45. SHRAPNEL, SUPERSONIC

46. TORTOISESHELL AND PINSTRIPES

47. IN THE CUISINART ATRIUM

48. SHOTGUN

49. GREAT MARLBOROUGH

50. BANK-MONUMENT

51. SOMEONE

52. THE MATTER IN GREATER DETAIL

53. CRICKET

54. AIR GLOW

55. MR. WILSON

56. ALWAYS IS GENIUS

57. SOMETHING OFF THE SHELF

58. DOUCHE BAGGAGE

59. THE ART OF THE THING

60. RAY

61. FACIAL RECOGNITION

62. WAKING

63. CURLY STAYS, SLOW FOOD

64. THREAT MANAGEMENT

65. LEOPARD SKIN IN MINIATURE

66. ZIP

67. A CRUSHED MOUSE

68. HAND-EYE

69. THE GIFTING SUITE

70. DAZZLE

71. THE UGLY T-SHIRT

72. SMITHFIELD

73. THE PATCHWORK BOYFRIEND

74. MAP, TERRITORY

75. DOWN THE DARKNETS

76. GONE-AWAY GIRL

77. GREEN SCREEN

78. EL LISSITZKY

79. DUNGEON MASTER

80. FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE

81. ON SITE

82. LONDON EYE

83. PLEASE GO

84. NEW ONE

85. TO GET A HANDLE ON IT

86. DOILIES

87. THE OTHER SIDE

THANKS:

To Susan Allison,my editor

1. CABINET

Inchmale hailed a cab for her, the kind that had always been black, when she’d first known this city.

Pearlescent silver, this one. Glyphed in Prussian blue, advertising something German, banking services or business software; a smoother simulacrum of its black ancestors, its faux-leather upholstery a shade of orthopedic fawn.

“Their money’s heavy,” he said, dropping a loose warm mass of pound coins into her hand. “Buys many whores.” The coins still retained the body heat of the fruit machine from which he’d deftly wrung them, almost in passing, on their way out of the King’s Something.

“Whose money?”

“My countrymen’s. Freely given.”

“I don’t need this.” Trying to hand it back.

“For the cab.” Giving the driver the address in Portman Square.

“Oh Reg,” she said, “it wasn’t that bad. I had it in money markets, most of it.”

“Bad as anything else. Call him.”

“No.”

“Call him,” he repeated, wrapped in Japanese herringbone Gore-Tex, multiply flapped and counterintuitively buckled.

He closed the cab’s door.

She watched him through the rear window as the cab pulled away. Stout and bearded, he turned now in Greek Street, a few minutes past midnight, to rejoin his stubborn protégé, Clammy of the Bollards. Back to the studio, to take up their lucrative creative struggle.

She sat back, noticing nothing at all until they passed Selfridges, the driver taking a right.

The club, only a few years old, was on the north side of Portman Square. Getting out, she paid and generously tipped the driver, anxious to be rid of Inchmale’s winnings.

Cabinet, so called; of Curiosities, unspoken. Inchmale had become a member shortly after they, the three surviving members of the Curfew, had licensed the rights to “Hard to Be One” to a Chinese automobile manufacturer. Having already produced one Bollards album in Los Angeles, and with Clammy wanting to record the next in London, Inchmale had argued that joining Cabinet would ultimately prove cheaper than a hotel. And it had, she supposed, but only if you were talking about a very expensive hotel.

She was staying there now as a paying guest. Given the state of money markets, whatever those were, and the conversations she’d been having with her accountant in New York, she knew that she should be looking for more modestly priced accommodations.

A peculiarly narrow place, however expensive, Cabinet occupied half the vertical mass of an eighteenth-century townhouse, one whose façade reminded her of the face of someone starting to fall asleep on the subway. It shared a richly but soberly paneled foyer with whatever occupied the other, westernmost, half of the building, and she’d formed a vague conviction that this must be a foundation of some kind, perhaps philanthropic in nature, or dedicated to the advancement of peace in the Middle East, however eventual. Something hushed, in any case, as it appeared to have no visitors at all.

There was nothing, on façade or door, to indicate what that might be, no more than there was anything to indicate that Cabinet was Cabinet.

She’d seen those famously identical, silver-pelted Icelandic twins in the lounge, the first time she’d gone there, both of them drinking red wine from pint glasses, something Inchmale dubbed an Irish affectation. They weren’t members, he’d made a point of noting. Cabinet’s members, in the performing arts, were somewhat less than stellar, and she assumed that that suited Inchmale just about as well as it suited her.

It was the decor that had sold Inchmale, he said, and very likely it had been. Both he and it were arguably mad.

Pushing open the door, through which one might have ridden a horse without having to duck to clear the lintel, she was greeted by Robert, a large and comfortingly chalk-striped young man whose primary task was to mind the entrance without particularly seeming to.

“Good evening, Miss Henry.”

“Good evening, Robert.”

The decorators had kept it down, here, which was to say that they hadn’t really gone publicly, ragingly, batshit insane. There was a huge, ornately carved desk, with something vaguely pornographic going on amid mahogany vines and grape clusters, at which sat one or another of the club’s employees, young men for the most part, often wearing tortoiseshell spectacles of the sort she suspected of having been carved from actual turtles.

Beyond the desk’s agreeably archaic mulch of paperwork twined a symmetrically opposed pair of marble stairways, leading to the floor above; that floor being bisected, as was everything above this foyer, into twin realms of presumed philanthropic mystery and Cabinet. From the Cabinet side, now, down the stairs with the widdershins twist, cascaded the sound of earnest communal drinking, laughter and loud conversation bouncing sharply off unevenly translucent stone, marbled in shades of aged honey, petroleum jelly, and nicotine. The damaged edges of individual steps had been repaired with tidy rectangular inserts of less inspired stuff, pallid and mundane, which she was careful never to step on.

A tortoise-framed young man, seated at the desk, passed her the room key without being asked.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Henry.”

Beyond the archway separating the stairways, the floor plan gave evidence of hesitation. Indicating, she guessed, some awkwardness inherent in the halving of the building’s original purpose. She pressed a worn but regularly polished brass button, to call down the oldest elevator she’d ever seen, even in London. The size of a small, shallow closet, wider than it was deep, it took its time, descending its elongated cage of black-enameled steel.

To her right, in shadow, illuminated from within by an Edwardian museum fixture, stood a vitrine displaying taxidermy. Game birds, mostly; a pheasant, several quail, others she couldn’t put a name to, all mounted as though caught in motion, crossing a sward of faded billiard-felt. All somewhat the worse for wear, though no more than might be expected for their probable age. Behind them, anthropomorphically upright, forelimbs outstretched in the manner of a cartoon somnambulist, came a moth-eaten ferret. Its teeth, which struck her as unrealistically large, she suspected of being wooden, and painted. Certainly its lips were painted, if not actually rouged, lending it a sinisterly festive air, like someone you’d dread running into at a Christmas party. Inchmale, on first pointing it out to her, had suggested she adopt it as a totem, her spirit beast. He claimed that he already had, subsequently discovering he could magically herniate the disks of unsuspecting music executives at will, causing them to suffer excruciating pain and a profound sense of helplessness.

The lift arrived. She’d been a guest here long enough to have mastered the intricacies of the articulated steel gate. Resisting an urge to nod to the ferret, she entered and ascended, slowly, to the third floor.

Here the narrow hallways, walls painted a very dark green, twisted confusingly. The route to her room involved opening several of what she assumed were fire doors, as they were very thick, heavy, and self-closing. The short sections of corridor, between, were hung with small watercolors, landscapes, unpeopled, each one featuring a distant folly. The very same distant folly, she’d noticed, regardless of the scene or region depicted. She refused to give Inchmale the satisfaction he’d derive from her asking about these, so hadn’t. Something too thoroughly liminal about them. Best not addressed. Life sufficiently complicated as it was.

The key, attached to a weighty brass ferrule sprouting thick soft tassels of braided maroon silk, turned smoothly in the lock’s brick-sized mass. Admitting her to Number Four, and the concentrated impact of Cabinet’s designers’ peculiarity, theatrically revealed when she prodded the mother-of-pearl dot set into an otherwise homely gutta-percha button.

Too tall, somehow, though she imagined that to be the result of a larger room having been divided, however cunningly. The bathroom, she suspected, might actually be larger than the bedroom, if that weren’t some illusion.

They’d run with that tallness, employing a white, custom-printed wallpaper, decorated with ornate cartouches in glossy black. These were comprised, if you looked more closely, of enlarged bits of anatomical drawings of bugs. Scimitar mandibles, spiky elongated limbs, the delicate wings (she imagined) of mayflies. The two largest pieces of furniture in the room were the bed, its massive frame covered entirely in slabs of scrimshawed walrus ivory, with the enormous, staunchly ecclesiastic-looking lower jawbone of a right whale, fastened to the wall at its head, and a birdcage, so large she might have crouched in it herself, suspended from the ceiling. The cage was stacked with books, and fitted, inside, with minimalist Swiss halogen fixtures, each tiny bulb focused on one or another of Number Four’s resident artifacts. And not just prop books, Inchmale had proudly pointed out. Fiction or non-, they all seemed to be about England, and so far she’d read parts of Dame Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics and most of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male.

She took off her coat, putting it on a stuffed, satin-covered hanger in the wardrobe, and sat on the edge of the bed to untie her shoes. The Piblokto Madness bed, Inchmale called it. “Intense hysteria,” she recited now, from memory, “depression, coprophagia, insensitivity to cold, echolalia.” She kicked her shoes in the direction of the wardrobe’s open door. “Hold the coprophagia,” she added. Cabin fever, this culture-bound, arctic condition. Possibly dietary in origin. Linked to vitamin A toxicity. Inchmale was full of this sort of information, never more so than when he was in the studio. Give Clammy a whole hod of vitamin A, she’d suggested, he looks like he could use it.

Her gaze fell on three unopened brown cartons, stacked to the left of the wardrobe. These contained shrink-wrapped copies of the British edition of a book she’d written in hotel rooms, though none as peculiarly memorable as this one. She’d begun just after the Chinese car commercial money had come in. She’d gone to Staples, West Hollywood, and bought three flimsy Chinese-made folding tables, to lay the manuscript and its many illustrations out on, in her corner suite at the Marmont. That seemed a long time ago, and she didn’t know what she’d do with these copies. The cartons of her copies of the American edition, she now remembered, were still in the luggage room of the Tribeca Grand.

“Echolalia,” she said, and stood, removing her sweater, which she folded and put in a chest-high drawer in the wardrobe, beside a small silk land mine of potpourri. If she didn’t touch it, she knew, she wouldn’t have to smell it. Putting on an off-white Cabinet robe, more velour than terry but somehow just missing whatever it was that made her so unfond of velour bathrobes. Men, particularly, looked fundamentally untrustworthy in them.

The room phone began to ring. It was a collage, its massive nautical-looking handset of rubber-coated bronze resting in a leather-padded cradle atop a cubical box of brass-cornered rosewood. Its ring was mechanical, tiny, as though you were hearing an old-fashioned bicycle bell far off down a quiet street. She stared hard, willing it to silence.

“Intense hysteria,” she said.

It continued to ring.

Three steps and her hand was on it.

It was as absurdly heavy as ever.

“Coprophagia.” Briskly, as if announcing a busy department in a large hospital.

“Hollis,” he said, “hello.”

She looked down at the handset, heavy as an old hammer and nearly as battered. Its thick cord, luxuriously cased in woven burgundy silk, resting against her bare forearm.

“Hollis?”

“Hello, Hubertus.”

She pictured herself driving the handset through brittle antique rosewood, crushing the aged electro-mechanical cricket within. Too late now. It had already fallen silent.

“I saw Reg,” he said.

“I know.”

“I told him to ask you to call.”

“I didn’t,” she said.

“Good to hear your voice,” he said.

“It’s late.”

“A good night’s sleep, then,” heartily. “I’ll be by in the morning, for breakfast. We’re driving back tonight. Pamela and I.”

“Where are you?”

“Manchester.”

She saw herself taking an early cab to Paddington, the street in front of Cabinet deserted. Catching the Heathrow Express. Flying somewhere. Another phone ringing, in another room. His voice.

“Manchester?”

“Norwegian black metal,” he said, flatly. She pictured Scandinavian folk jewelry, then self-corrected: the musical genre. “Reg said I might find it interesting.”

Good for him, she thought, Inchmale’s subclinical sadism sometimes finding a deserving target.

“I was planning on sleeping in,” she said, if only to be difficult. She knew now that it was going to be impossible to avoid him.

“Eleven, then,” he said. “Looking forward to it.”

“Good night. Hubertus.”

“Good night.” He hung up.

She put the handset down. Careful of the hidden cricket. Not its fault.

Nor hers.

Nor even his, probably. Whatever he was.

2. EDGE CITY

Milgrim considered the dog-headed angels in Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.

Their heads, rendered slightly less than three-quarter scale, appeared to have been cast from the sort of plaster once used to produce worryingly detailed wall-decorations: pirates, Mexicans, turbaned Arabs. There would almost certainly be examples of those here as well, he thought, in the most thoroughgoing trove of roadside American souvenir kitsch he’d ever seen.

Their bodies, apparently humanoid under white satin and sequins, were long, Modigliani-slender, perilously upright, paws crossed piously in the manner of medieval effigies. Their wings were the wings of Christmas ornaments, writ larger than would suit the average tree.

They were intended, he decided, with half a dozen of assorted breed facing him now, from behind glass, to sentimentally honor deceased pets.

Hands in trouser pockets, he quickly swung his gaze to a broader but generally no less peculiar visual complexity, noting as he did a great many items featuring Confederate-flag motifs. Mugs, magnets, ashtrays, statuettes. He considered a knee-high jockey boy, proffering a small round tray rather than the traditional ring. Its head and hands were a startling Martian green (so as not to give the traditional offense, he assumed). There were also energetically artificial orchids, coconuts carved to suggest the features of some generically indigenous race, and prepackaged collections of rocks and minerals. It was like being on the bottom of a Coney Island grab-it game, one in which the eclectically ungrabbed had been accumulating for decades. He looked up, imagining a giant, three-pronged claw, agent of stark removal, but there was only a large and heavily varnished shark, suspended overhead like the fuselage of a small plane.

How old did a place like this have to be, in America, to have “gay” in its name? Some percentage of the stock here, he judged, had been manufactured in Occupied Japan.

Half an hour earlier, across North Ocean Boulevard, he’d watched harshly tonsured child-soldiers, clad in skateboarding outfits still showing factory creases, ogling Chinese-made orc-killing blades, spiked and serrated like the jaws of extinct predators. The seller’s stand had been hung with Mardi Gras beads, Confederate-flag beach towels, unauthorized Harley-Davidson memorabilia. He’d wondered how many young men had enjoyed an afternoon in Myrtle Beach as a final treat, before heading ultimately for whatever theater of war, wind whipping sand along the Grand Strand and the boardwalk.

In the amusement arcades, he judged, some of the machines were older than he was. And some of his own angels, not the better ones, spoke of an ancient and deeply impacted drug culture, ground down into the carnival grime of the place, interstitial and immortal; sun-damaged skin, tattoos unreadable, eyes that peered from faces suggestive of gas-station taxidermy.

He was meeting someone here.

They were supposed to be alone. He himself wasn’t, really. Somewhere nearby, Oliver Sleight would be watching a Milgrim-cursor on a website, on the screen of his Neo phone, identical to Milgrim’s own. He’d given Milgrim the Neo on that first flight from Basel to Heathrow, stressing the necessity of keeping it with him at all times, and turned on, except when aboard commercial flights.

He moved, now, away from the dog-headed angels, the shadow of the shark. Past articles of an ostensibly more natural history: starfish, sand dollars, sea horses, conchs. He climbed a short flight of broad stairs, from the boardwalk level, toward North Ocean Boulevard. Until he found himself, eye-to-navel, with the stomach of a young, very pregnant woman, her elastic-paneled jeans chemically distressed in ways that suggested baroquely improbable patterns of wear. The taut pink T-shirt revealed her protruding navel in a way he found alarmingly suggestive of a single giant breast.

“You’d better be him,” she said, then bit her lower lip. Blond, a face he’d forget as soon as he looked away. Large dark eyes.

“I’m meeting someone,” he said, careful to maintain eye contact, uncomfortably aware that he was actually addressing the navel, or nipple, directly in front of his mouth.

Her eyes grew larger. “You aren’t foreign, are you?”

“New York,” Milgrim admitted, assuming that might all too easily qualify.

“I don’t want him getting in any trouble,” she said, at once softly and fiercely.

“None of us does,” he instantly assured her. “No need. At all.” His attempted smile felt like something forced from a flexible squeezetoy. “And you are … ?

“Seven or eight months,” she said, in awe at her own gravidity. “He’s not here. He didn’t like this, here.”

“None of us does,” he said, then wondered if that was the right thing to say.

“You got GPS?”

“Yes,” said Milgrim. Actually, according to Sleight, their Neos had two kinds, American and Russian, the American being notoriously political, and prone to unreliability in the vicinity of sensitive sites.

“He’ll be there in an hour,” she said, passing Milgrim a faintly damp slip of folded paper. “You better get started. And you better be alone.”

Milgrim took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but if it means driving, I won’t be able to go alone. I don’t have a license. My friend will have to drive me. It’s a white Ford Taurus X.”

She stared at him. Blinked. “Didn’t they just fuck Ford up, when they went to giving them f-names?”

He swallowed.

“My mother had a Freestyle. Transmission’s a total piece of shit. Get that computer wet, car won’t move at all. Gotta disconnect it first. Brakes wore out about two weeks off the lot. They always made that squealing noise anyway.” But she seemed comforted, in this, as if by the recollection of something maternal, familiar.

“Right as rain,” he said, surprising himself with an expression he might never have used before. He pocketed the slip of paper without looking at it. “Could you do something for me, please?” he asked her belly. “Could you call him, now, and let him know my friend will be driving?”

Lower lip worked its way back under her front teeth.

“My friend has the money,” Milgrim said. “No trouble.”

>

“And she called him?” asked Sleight, behind the wheel of the Taurus X, from the center of a goatee he occasionally trimmed with the aid of a size-adjustable guide, held between his teeth.

“She indicated she would,” Milgrim said.

“Indicated.”

They were headed inland, toward the town of Conway, through a landscape that reminded Milgrim of driving somewhere near Los Angeles, to a destination you wouldn’t be particularly anxious to reach. This abundantly laned highway, lapped by the lots of outlet malls, a Home Depot the size of a cruise ship, theme restaurants. Though interstitial detritus still spoke stubbornly of maritime activity and the farming of tobacco. Fables from before the Anaheiming. Milgrim concentrated on these leftovers, finding them centering. A lot offering garden mulch. A four-store strip mall with two pawnshops. A fireworks emporium with its own batting cage. Loans on your auto title. Serried ranks of unpainted concrete garden statuary.

“Was that a twelve-step program you were in, in Basel?” asked Sleight.

“I don’t think so,” said Milgrim, assuming Sleight was referring to the number of times his blood had been changed.

>

“How close will those numbers put us to where he wants us?” Milgrim asked. Sleight, back in Myrtle Beach, had tapped coordinates from the pregnant girl’s note into his phone, which now rested on his lap.

“Close enough,” Sleight said. “Looks like that’s it now, off to the right.”

They were well through Conway, or in any case through the malled-over fringes of whatever Conway was. Buildings were thinning out, the landscape revealing more of the lineaments of an extinct agriculture.

Sleight slowed, swung right, onto spread gravel, a crushed limestone, pale gray. “Money’s under your seat,” he said. They were rolling, with a smooth, even crunch of tires in gravel, toward a long, one-story, white-painted clapboard structure, overhung with a roof that lacked a porch beneath it. Rural roadside architecture of some previous day, plain but sturdy. Four smallish rectangular front windows had been modernized with plate glass.

Milgrim had the cardboard tube for the tracing paper upright between his thighs, two sticks of graphite wrapped in a Kleenex in the right side pocket of his chinos. There was half of a fresh five-foot sheet of foam-core illustration board in the back seat, in case he needed a flat surface to work on. Holding the bright red tube with his knees, he bent forward, fishing under the seat, and found a metallic-blue vinyl envelope with a molded integral zipper and three binder-holes. It contained enough bundled hundreds to give it the heft of a good-sized paperback dictionary.

Gravel-crunch ceased as they halted, not quite in front of the building. Milgrim saw a primitive rectangular sign on two weather-grayed uprights, rain-stained and faded, unreadable except for FAMILY, in pale blue italic serif caps. There were no other vehicles in the irregularly shaped gravel lot.

He opened the door, got out, stood, the red tube in his left hand. He considered, then uncapped it, drawing out the furled tracing paper. He propped the red tube against the passenger seat, picked up the money, and closed the door. A scroll of semitranslucent white paper was less threatening.

Cars passed on the highway. He walked the fifteen feet to the sign, his shoes crunching loudly on the gravel. Above the blue italic FAMILY, he made out EDGE CITY in what little remained of a peeling red; below it, RESTAURANT. At the bottom, to the left, had once been painted, in black, the childlike silhouettes of three houses, though like the red, sun and rain had largely erased them. To the right, in a different blue than FAMILY, was painted what he took to be a semi-abstract representation of hills, possibly of lakes. He guessed that this place was on or near the town’s official outskirts, hence the name.

Someone, within the silent, apparently closed building, rapped sharply, once, on plate glass, perhaps with a ring.

Milgrim went obediently to the front door, the tracing paper upheld in one hand like a modest scepter, the vinyl envelope held against his side with the other.

The door opened inward, revealing a football player with an Eighties porn haircut. Or someone built like one. A tall, long-legged young man with exceptionally powerful-looking shoulders. He stepped back, gesturing for Milgrim to enter.

“Hello,” said Milgrim, stepping into warm unmoving air, mixed scents of industrial-strength disinfectant and years of cooking. “I have your money.” Indicating the plastic envelope. A place unused, though ready to be used. Mothballed, Edge City, like a B-52 in the desert. He saw the empty glass head of a gum machine, on its stand of wrinkle-finished brown pipe.

“Put it on the counter,” the young man said. He wore pale blue jeans and a black T-shirt, both of which looked as though they might contain a percentage of Spandex, and heavy-looking black athletic shoes. Milgrim noted a narrow, rectangular, unusually positioned pocket, quite far down on the right side-seam. A stainless steel clip held some large folding knife firmly there.

Milgrim did as he was told, noting the chrome and the turquoise leatherette of the row of floor-mounted stools in front of the counter, which was topped with worn turquoise Formica. He partially unfurled the paper. “I’ll need to make tracings,” he explained. “It’s the best way to capture the detail. I’ll take photographs first.”

“Who’s in the car?”

“My friend.”

“Why can’t you drive?”

“DUI,” said Milgrim, and it was true, at least in some philosophical sense.

Silently, the young man rounded an empty glass display-case that would once have contained cigarettes and candy. When he was opposite Milgrim, he reached beneath the counter and drew out something in a crumpled white plastic bag. He dropped this on the counter and swept the plastic envelope toward the far end, giving the impression that his body, highly trained, was doing these things of its own accord, while he himself continued to survey from some interior distance.

Milgrim opened the bag and took out a pair of folded, unpressed trousers. They were the coppery beige shade he knew as coyote brown. Unfolding them, he lay them out flat along the Formica, took the camera from his jacket pocket, and began to photograph them, using the flash. He took six shots of the front, then turned them over and took six of the back. He took one photograph each of the four cargo pockets. He put the camera down, turned the pants inside out, and photographed them again. Pocketing the camera, he arranged them, still inside out, more neatly on the counter, spread the first of the four sheets of paper over them, and began, with one of the graphite sticks, to make his rubbing.

He liked doing this. There was something inherently satisfying about it. He’d been sent to Hackney, to a tailor who did alterations, to spend an afternoon learning how to do it properly, and it pleased him, somehow, that this was a time-honored means of stealing information. It was like making a rubbing of a tombstone, or a bronze in a cathedral. The medium-hard graphite, if correctly applied, captured every detail of seam and stitching, all a sample-maker would need to reproduce the garment, as well as providing for reconstruction of the pattern.

While he worked, the young man opened the envelope, unpacked the bundled hundreds, and silently counted them. “Needs a gusset,” he said as he finished.

“Pardon?” Milgrim paused, the fingers of his right hand covered with graphite dust.

“Gusset,” the young man said, reloading the blue envelope. “Inner thighs. They bind, if you’re rappelling.”

“Thanks,” Milgrim said, showing graphite-smudged fingers. “Would you mind turning them over for me? I don’t want to get this on them.”

>

“Delta to Atlanta,” Sleight said, handing Milgrim a ticket envelope. He was back in the very annoying suit he’d forgone for Myrtle Beach, the one with the freakishly short trousers.

“Business?”

“Coach,” said Sleight, his satisfaction entirely evident. He passed Milgrim a second envelope. “British Midland to Heathrow.”

“Coach?”

Sleight frowned. “Business.”

Milgrim smiled.

“He’ll want you in a meeting, straight off the plane.”

Milgrim nodded. “Bye,” he said. He tucked the red tube beneath his arm and headed for check-in, his bag in his other hand, walking directly beneath a very large South Carolina state flag, oddly Islamic with its palm tree and crescent moon.

3. SLUT’S WOOL

She woke to gray light around multiple layers of curtains and drapes. Lay staring up at a dim anamorphic view of the repeated insectoid cartouche, smaller and more distorted the closer to the ceiling. Shelves with objects, Wunderkammer stuff. Variously sized heads of marble, ivory, ormolu. The blank round bottom of the caged library.

She checked her watch. Shortly after nine.

She got out of bed, in her XXL Bollards T-shirt, put on the not-velour robe, and entered the bathroom, a tall deep cove of off-white tile. Turning on the enormous shower required as much effort as ever. A Victorian monster, its original taps were hulking knots of plated brass. Horizontal four-inch nickel-plate pipes caged you on three sides, handy for warming towels. Within these were slung sheets of inch-thick beveled glass, contemporary replacements. The original showerhead, mounted directly overhead, was thirty inches in diameter. Getting out of the robe and T-shirt, she put on a disposable cap, stepped in, and lathered up with Cabinet’s artisanal soap, smelling faintly of cucumber.

She kept a picture of this shower on her iPhone. It reminded her of H. G. Wells’s time machine. It had probably been in use when he began the serial that would become his first novel.

Toweling off, applying moisturizer, she listened to BBC through an ornate bronze grate. Nothing of catastrophic import since she’d last listened, though nothing particularly positive either. Early-twenty-first-century quotidian, death-spiral subtexts kept well down in the mix.

She took off the shower cap and shook her head, hair retaining residual stylist’s mojo from the salon in Selfridges. She liked to eat lunch in Selfridges’ food hall, escaping through its back door before the communal trance of shopping put her under. Though that was all it was likely to do, in a department store. She was more vulnerable to smaller places, and in London that could be very dangerous. The Japanese jeans she was pulling on now, for instance. Fruit of a place around the corner from Inchmale’s studio, the week before. Zen emptiness, bowls with shards of pure solidified indigo, like blue-black glass. The handsome, older, Japanese shopkeeper, in her Waiting for Godot outfit.

You’ll have to watch that now, she advised herself. Money.

Brushing her teeth, she noticed the vinyl Blue Ant figurine on the marble sinktop, amid her lotions and makeup. You let me down, she thought to the jaunty ant, its four arms akimbo. Aside from a few pieces of jewelry, it was one of the few things she owned that she’d had since she’d first known Hubertus Bigend. She’d tried abandoning it, at least once, but somehow it was still with her. She’d thought she’d left it in the penthouse he kept in Vancouver, but it had been in her bag when she’d arrived in New York. She’d come, however vaguely, to imagine it as a sort of inverse charm. A cartoon rendition of the trademark of his agency, she’d let it serve as a secret symbol of her unwillingness to have anything further to do with him.

She’d trusted it to keep him away.

She really hadn’t had that much other property to replace, she reminded herself, swishing mouthwash. The dot-com bubble and an ill-advised foray into retailing vinyl records had seen to that, well before he’d found her. She wasn’t quite that badly off now, but if she’d understood her accountant correctly she’d lost nearly fifty percent of her net worth when the market had gone down. And this time she hadn’t done anything to cause it. No start-up shares, no quixotic record store in Brooklyn.

Everything she owned, currently, was here in this room. Aside from devalued money market shares, and some boxes of American author’s copies, back in the Tribeca Grand. She spat mouthwash into the marble sink.

Inchmale didn’t mind Bigend, not the way she did, but Inchmale, as formidably bright as she knew him to be, was also gifted with a useful crudeness of mind, an inbuilt psychic callus. He found Bigend interesting. Possibly he found him creepy, too, though for Inchmale, interesting and creepy were broadly overlapping categories. He didn’t, she guessed, find Bigend that utter an anomaly. An overly wealthy, dangerously curious fiddler with the world’s hidden architectures.

There was no way, she knew, to tell an entity like Bigend that you wanted nothing to do with him. That would simply bring you more firmly to his attention. She’d had her time in Bigend’s employ; while brief, it had been entirely too eventful. She’d put it behind her, and gone on with her book project, which had grown quite naturally out of what she’d been doing (or had thought she’d been doing) for Bigend.

Although, she reminded herself, fastening her bra and pulling on a T-shirt, the money she’d seen reduced by almost half had come to her via Blue Ant. There was that. She pulled a sheer black mohair sweater over the T-shirt, smoothed it over her hips, and pushed up the sleeves. She sat on the edge of the bed, to put on her shoes. Then back into the bathroom for makeup.

Purse, iPhone, key with its tassel.

Out, then, and past the identical follies in their different landscapes. To press the button and wait for the lift. She put her face close to the iron cage, to see the lift rise toward her, atop it some complex electromechanical Tesla-node no designer had even had to fake up, the real deal, whatever function it might serve. And decked, she always noted with a certain satisfaction, with a bit of frank slut’s wool, the only actual dust she’d yet seen in Cabinet. Even a few errant cigarette butts, the English being beasts that way.

And down, to the floor above the paneled foyer, where the night’s boozing and networking had left no evidence, and the serving staff, reassuringly immune to the long room’s decor, were about their morning business. She made her way to the rear, taking a seat at a place for two, beneath what might originally have been a gun rack in parquetry, but which now held half a dozen narwhale tusks.

The Italian girl brought her a pot of coffee, unbidden, with a smaller one of steamed milk, and the Times.

She was starting her second cup, Times unread, when she saw Hubertus Bigend mount the stairhead, down the full length of the long room, wrapped in a wide, putty-colored trench coat.

He was the ultimate in velour-robe types, and might just as well have been wearing one now as he swept toward her through the drawing room, unknotting the coat’s belt as he came, pawing back its Crimean lapels, and revealing the only International Klein Blue suit she’d ever seen. He somehow managed always to give her the impression, seeing him again, that he’d grown visibly larger, though without gaining any particular weight. Simply bigger. Perhaps, she thought, as if he grew somehow closer.

As he did now, breakfasting Cabineteers cringing as he passed, less in fear of his vast trailing coat and its dangerously swinging belt than out of awareness that he didn’t see them.

“Hollis,” he said. “You look magnificent.” She rose, to be air-kissed. Up close, he always seemed too full of blood, by several extra quarts at least. Rosy as a pig. Warmer than a normal person. Scented with some ancient European barber-splash.

“Hardly,” she said. “Look at you. Look at your suit.”

“Mr. Fish,” he said, shrugging out of the trench coat with a rattle of grenade-loops and lanyard-anchors. His shirt was palest gold, the silk tie knit in an almost matching shade.

“He’s very good,” she said.

“He’s not dead,” said Bigend, smiling, settling himself in the armchair opposite.

“Dead?” She took her seat.

“Apparently not. Just impossible to find. I found his cutter,” he said. “In Savile Row.”

“That’s Klein Blue, isn’t it?”

“Of course.”

“It looks radioactive. In a suit.”

“It unsettles people,” he said.

“I hope you didn’t wear it for me.”

“Not at all.” He smiled. “I wore it because I enjoy it.”

“Coffee?”

“Black.”

She signaled to the Italian girl. “How was the black metal?”

“Tremolo picking,” he said, perhaps slightly fretfully. “Double-kick drumming. Reg thinks something’s there.” He tilted his head slightly. “Do you?”

“I don’t keep up.” Adding milk to her coffee.

The Italian girl returned for their breakfast order. Hollis asked for oatmeal with fruit, Bigend for the full English.

“I loved your book,” he said. “I thought the reception was quite gratifying. Particularly the piece in Vogue.”

“ ‘Old rock singer publishes book of pictures’?”

“No, really. It was very good.” He tidied the trench coat, which he’d draped across the arm of his chair. “Working on something else now?”

She sipped her coffee.

“You want to follow that up,” he said.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Barring scandal,” he said, “society is reluctant to let someone who’s become famous for one thing become famous for another.”

“I’m not trying to become famous.”

“You already are.”

“Was. Briefly. And in quite a small way.”

“A degree of undeniable celebrity,” he said, like a doctor offering a particularly obvious diagnosis.

They sat silently, then, Hollis pretending to glance over the first few pages of the Times, until the Italian girl and an equally pretty and dark-haired boy arrived, bearing breakfast on dark wooden trays with brass handles. They arranged these on the low coffee table and retreated, Bigend studying the sway of the girl’s hips. “I adore the full English,” he said. “The offal. Blood pudding. The beans. The bacon. Were you here before they invented food?” he asked. “You must have been.”

“I was,” she admitted. “I was very young.”

“Even then,” he said, “the full English was a thing of genius.” He was slicing a sausage that looked like haggis, but boiled in the stomach of a small animal, something on the order of a koala. “There’s something you could help us out with,” he said, and put a slice of sausage in his mouth.

“Us.”

He chewed, nodded, swallowed. “We aren’t just an advertising agency. I’m sure you know that. We do brand vision transmission, trend forecasting, vendor management, youth market recon, strategic planning in general.”

“Why didn’t that commercial ever come out, the one they paid us all the money to use ‘Hard to Be One’ in?”

He dabbed a torn toast-finger into the runny yellow eye of a fried egg, bit off half of it, chewed, swallowed, wiped his lips with his napkin. “Do you care?”

“That was a lot of money.”

“That was China,” he said. “The vehicle the ad was for hasn’t made it to roll-out. Won’t.”

“Why not?”

“There were problems with the design. Fundamental ones. Their government decided that that wasn’t the vehicle with which China should enter the world market. Particularly not in the light of the various tainted food product scandals. And whatnot.”

“Was it that bad?”

“Fully.” He forked baked beans adroitly onto toast. “They didn’t need your song, in the end,” he said, “and, as far we know, the executives in charge of the project are all still very much alive. Quite an optimal outcome for all concerned.” He started on his bacon. She ate her oatmeal and fruit, watching him. He ate quickly, methodically topping up whatever metabolism kept him firing on those extra cylinders. She’d never seen him tired, or jet-lagged. He seemed to exist in his own personal time zone.

He finished before she did, wiping the white plate clean with a final half-triangle of golden Cabinet toast.

“Brand vision transmission,” he said.

“Yes?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Narrative. Consumers don’t buy products, so much as narratives.”

“That’s old,” she said. “It must be, because I’ve heard it before.” She took a sip of cooled coffee.

“To some extent, an idea like that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Designers are taught to invent characters, with narratives, who they then design products for, or around. Standard procedure. There are similar procedures in branding generally, in the invention of new products, new companies, of all kinds.”

“So it works?”

“Oh, it works,” he said, “but because it does, it’s become de facto. Once you have a way in which things are done, the edge migrates. Goes elsewhere.”

“Where?”

“That’s where you come in,” he said.

“I do not.”

He smiled. He had, as ever, a great many very white teeth.

“You have bacon in your teeth,” she said, though he didn’t.

Covering his mouth with the white linen napkin, he tried to find the nonexistent bacon shard. Lowering it, he grimaced widely.

She pretended to peer. “I think you got it,” she said, doubtfully. “And I’m not interested in your proposition.”

“You’re a bohemian,” he said, folding the napkin and putting it on the tray, beside his plate.

“What does that mean?”

“You’ve scarcely ever held a salaried position. You’re freelance. Have always been freelance. You’ve accumulated no real property.”

“Not entirely through want of trying.”

“No,” he said, “but when you do try, your heart’s scarcely in it. I’m a bohemian myself.”

“Hubertus, you’re easily the richest person I’ve ever met.” This was, she knew as she said it, not literally true, but anyone she’d met who might have been wealthier than Bigend had tended to be comparatively dull. He was easily the most problematic rich person she’d yet encountered.

“It’s a by-product,” he said, carefully. “And one of the things it’s a by-product of is my fundamental disinterest in wealth.”

And, really, she knew that she believed him, at least about that. It was true, and it did things to his capacity for risk-taking. It was what made him, she knew from experience, so peculiarly dangerous to be around.

“My mother was a bohemian,” he said.

“Phaedra,” she remembered, somehow.

“I made her old age as comfortable as possible. That isn’t always the case, with bohemians.”

“That was good of you.”

“Reg is quite the model of the successful bohemian, isn’t he?”

“I suppose he is.”

“He’s always working on something, Reg. Always. Always something new.” He looked at her, across the heavy silver pots. “Are you?”

And he had her, then, she knew. Looking somehow straight into her. “No,” she said, there being nothing else really to say.

“You should be,” he said. “The secret, of course, is that it doesn’t really matter what it is. Whatever you do, because you are an artist, will bring you to the next thing of your own. That’s what happened the last time, isn’t it? You wrote your book.”

“But you were lying to me,” she said. “You pretended you had a magazine, and that I was writing for it.”

“I did, potentially, have a magazine. I had staff.”

“One person!”

“Two,” he said, “counting you.”

“I can’t work that way,” she told him. “I won’t.”

“It won’t be that way. This is entirely less … speculative.”

“Wasn’t the NSA or someone tapping your phone, reading your e-mail?”

“But now we know that they were doing that to everyone.” He loosened his pale golden tie. “We didn’t, then.”

“You did,” she said. “You’d guessed. Or found out.”

“Someone,” he said, “is developing what may prove to be a somewhat new way to transmit brand vision.”

“You sound guarded in your appreciation.”

“A certain genuinely provocative use of negative space,” he said, sounding still less pleased.

“Who?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t been able to find out. I feel that someone has read and understood my playbook. And may possibly be extending it.”

“Then send Pamela,” she said. “She understands all that. Or someone else. You have a small army of people who understand all that. You must.”

“But that’s exactly it. Because they ‘understand all that,’ they won’t find the edge. They won’t find the new. And worse, they’ll trample on it, inadvertently crush it, beneath a certain mediocrity inherent in professional competence.” He dabbed his lips with the folded napkin, though they didn’t seem to need it. “I need a wild card. I need you.”

He sat back, then, and regarded her in exactly the way he’d regarded the tidy and receding ass of the Italian girl, though in this case, she knew, it had nothing at all to do with sex.

“Dear God,” she said, entirely without expecting to, and simultaneously wishing she were very small. Small enough to curl up in the slut’s wool that crowned the steampunk lift, between those few cork-colored filter tips.

“Does ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ mean anything to you?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

He smiled, obviously pleased.

4. PARADOXICAL ANTAGONIST

With the red cardboard tube tucked carefully in beside him, under the thin British Midlands blanket, Milgrim lay awake in the darkened cabin of his flight to Heathrow.

He’d taken his pills about fifteen minutes earlier, after some calculations on the back cover of the in-flight magazine. Time-zone transitions could be tricky, in terms of dosing schedules, particularly when you weren’t allowed to know exactly what it was you were taking. Whatever the doctors in Basel provided, he never saw it in its original factory form, so had no way of figuring out what it might be. This was intentional, they had explained to him, and necessary to his treatment. Everything was repackaged, in variously sized featureless white gelatin capsules, which he was forbidden to open.

He’d pushed the empty white bubble-pack, with its tiny, precisely handwritten notations of date and hour, in purple ink, far down into the seatback pocket. It would remain on the plane, at Heathrow. Nothing to be carried through customs.

His passport lay against his chest, beneath his shirt, in a Faraday pouch protecting the information on its resident RFID tag. RFID snooping was an obsession of Sleight’s. Radio-frequency identification tags. They were in lots of things, evidently, and definitely in every recent U.S. passport. Sleight himself was quite fond of RFID snooping, which Milgrim supposed was one reason he worried about it. You could sit in a hotel lobby and remotely collect information from the passports of American businessmen. The Faraday pouch, which blocked all radio signals, made this impossible.

Milgrim’s Neo phone was another example of Sleight’s obsession with security or, as Milgrim supposed, control. It had an almost unimaginably tiny on-screen keyboard, one that could only be operated with a stylus. Milgrim’s hand-eye coordination was quite good, according to the clinic, but he still had to concentrate like a jeweler when he needed to send a message. More annoyingly, Sleight had set it to lock its screen after thirty seconds of idle, requiring Milgrim to enter his password if he stopped to think for longer than twenty-nine seconds. When he’d complained about this, Sleight explained that it gave potential attackers only a thirty-second window to get in and read the phone, and that admin privileges were in any case out of the question.

The Neo, Milgrim gathered, was less a phone than a sort of tabula rasa, one which Sleight could field-update, without Milgrim’s knowledge or consent, installing or deleting applications as he saw fit. It was also prone to something Sleight called “kernel panic,” which caused it to freeze and need to be restarted, a condition Milgrim himself had been instantly inclined to identify with.

Lately, though, Milgrim didn’t panic quite as easily. When he did, he seemed to restart of his own accord. It was, his cognitive therapist at the clinic had explained, a by-product of doing other things, rather than something one could train oneself to do in and of itself. Milgrim preferred to regard that by-product obliquely, in brief sidelong glances, else it somehow stop being produced. The biggest thing he was doing, in terms of the by-product of reduced anxiety, the therapist had explained, was to no longer take benzos on as constant a basis as possible.

He no longer took them at all, apparently, having undergone a very gradual withdrawal at the clinic. He wasn’t sure when he’d actually stopped having any, as the unmarked capsules had made it impossible to know. And he’d taken lots of capsules, many of them containing food supplements of various kinds, the clinic having some obscure naturopathic basis which he’d put down to basic Swissness. Though in other ways the treatment had been quite aggressive, involving everything from repeated massive blood transfusions to the use of a substance they called a “paradoxical antagonist.” This latter produced exceptionally peculiar dreams, in which Milgrim was stalked by an actual Paradoxical Antagonist, a shadowy figure he somehow associated with the colors in 1950s American advertising illustrations. Perky.

He missed his cognitive therapist. He’d been delighted to be able to speak Russian with such a beautifully educated woman. Somehow he couldn’t imagine having transacted all of that in English.

He’d stayed eight months, in the clinic, longer than any of the other clients. All of whom, when opportunity had afforded, had quietly asked the name of his firm. Milgrim had replied variously, at first, though always naming some iconic brand from his youth: Coca-Cola, General Motors, Kodak. Their eyes had widened, hearing this. Toward the end of this stay, he’d switched to Enron. Their eyes had narrowed. This had partly been the result of his therapist’s having ordered him to use the internet to familiarize himself with the events of the previous decade. He had, as she’d quite rightly pointed out, missed all of that.

>

He dreams this in the tall white room, its floor of limed oak. Tall windows. Beyond them, snow is falling. The world outside is utterly quiet, depthless. The light is without direction.

“Where did you learn your Russian, Mr. Milgrim?”

“Columbia. The university.”

Her white face. Black hair matte, center-parted, drawn back tight.

“You described your previous situation as one of literal captivity. This was after Columbia?”

“Yes.”

“How do you see your current situation as differing from that?”

“Do I see it as captivity?”

“Yes.”

“Not in the same way.”

“Do you understand why they would be willing to pay the very considerable fees required to keep you here?”

“No. Do you?”

“Not at all. Do you understand the nature of doctor-patient confidentiality, in my profession?”

“You aren’t supposed to tell anyone what I tell you?”

“Exactly. Do you imagine I would?”

“I don’t know.”

“I would not. When I agreed to come here, to work with you, I made that absolutely clear. I am here for you, Mr. Milgrim. I am not here for them.”

“That’s good.”

“But because I am here for you, Mr. Milgrim, I am also concerned for you. It is as though you are being born. Do you understand?”

“No.”

“You were incomplete when they brought you here. You are somewhat less incomplete now, but your recovery is necessarily a complexly organic process. If you are very fortunate, it will continue for the rest of your life. ‘Recovery’ is perhaps a deceptive word for this. You are recovering some aspects of yourself, certainly, but the more important things are things you’ve never previously possessed. Primary aspects of development. You have been stunted, in certain ways. Now you have been given an opportunity to grow.”

“But that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Good, yes. Comfortable? Not always.”

>

At Heathrow there was a tall black man, head immaculately shaven, holding a clipboard against his chest. On it, in medium-nib red Sharpie, someone had written “mILgRIm.”

“Milgrim,” Milgrim said.

“Urine test,” the man said. “This way.”

Refusing to submit to random testing would have been a deal-breaker. They’d been very clear about that, from the start. He would have minded it less if they’d managed to collect the samples at less awkward times, but he supposed that was the point.

The man removed Milgrim’s red name from his clipboard as he led him into an obviously preselected public restroom, crumpling it and thrusting it into his black overcoat.

“This way,” walking briskly down a row of those seriously private British toilet-caves. Not cubicles, or stalls, but actual narrow little closets, with real doors. This was usually the first cultural difference Milgrim noticed here. Englishmen must experience American public toilets as remarkably semicommunal, he guessed. The man gestured him into a vacant toilet-room, glanced back the way they’d come, then quickly stepped in, closing the door behind him, locked it, and handed Milgrim a plastic sandwich bag containing a blue-topped sample bottle. Milgrim propped the red cardboard tube, carefully, in a corner.

They had to watch, Milgrim knew. Otherwise, you might switch containers, palm off someone else’s clean urine. Or even use, he’d read in New York tabloids, a special prosthetic penis.

Milgrim removed the bottle from the bag, tore off the paper seal, removed the blue lid, and filled it, the phrase “without further ceremony” coming to mind. He capped it, placed it in the bag, and passed it over, in such a way that the man wouldn’t have to experience the warmth of his fresh urine. He’d gotten quite good at this. The man dropped it into a small brown paper bag, which he folded and stuffed into his coat pocket. Milgrim turned and finished urinating, as the man unlocked the door and stepped out.

When Milgrim emerged, the man was washing his hands, fluorescent lights reflecting off the impressive dome of his skull.

“How’s the weather?” Milgrim asked, soaping his own hands from a touch-free dispenser, the cardboard tube resting on the water-flecked faux-granite counter.

“Raining,” said the man, drying his hands.

When Milgrim had washed and dried his own hands, he used the damp paper towels to wipe the bottom plastic cap of his tube.

“Where are we going?”

“Soho,” the man said.

Milgrim followed him out, his overnight bag slung over one shoulder, the tube tucked under the opposite arm.

Then he remembered the Neo.

When he turned it on, it began to ring.

5. THIN ON THE GROUND

And when she’d watched him, from her chair, the collar of his coat popped like a vampire’s cape, finally descend the stairs to Cabinet’s foyer, dropping further out of sight with each step, she put her head back against slippery brocade and gazed at the spiraled lances of the narwhale tusks, in their ornate rack.

Then she sat up and asked for a white coffee, a cup rather than a pot. The breakfast crowd had mostly gone, leaving only Hollis and a pair of darkly suited Russian men who looked like extras from that Cronenberg film.

She got out her iPhone and Googled “Gabriel Hounds.”

By the time her coffee arrived, she’d determined that The Gabriel Hounds was the title of a novel by Mary Stewart, had been the title of at least one CD, and had been or was the name of at least one band.

Everything, she knew, had already been the title of a CD, just as everything had already been the name of a band. This was why bands, for the past twenty years or so, had mostly had such unmemorable names, almost as though they’d come to pride themselves on it.

But the original Gabriel Hounds, it appeared, were folklore, legend. Dogs heard coursing, however faintly, high up in the windy night. Cousins it seemed to the Wild Hunt. This was Inchmale territory, definitely, and there were even weirder variants. Some involving hounds with human heads, or hounds with the heads of human infants. This had to do with the belief that the Gabriel Hounds were hunting the souls of children who’d died unbaptized. Christian tacked over pagan, she guessed. And the hounds seemed to have originally been “ratchets,” an old word for dogs that hunt by scent. Gabriel Ratchets. Sometimes “gabble ratchets.” Inchmaleian totally. He’d name the right band the Gabble Ratchets instantly.

“Left for you, Miss Henry.” The Italian girl, holding out a glossy paper carrier bag, yellow, unmarked.

“Thank you.” Hollis put the iPhone down and accepted the bag. It had been stapled shut, she saw, and she envisioned the oversized brass stapler atop the pornographic desk, its business end the head of a turbaned Turk. A pair of identical business cards, multiply stapled, held the two handles together. PAMELA MAINWARING, BLUE ANT.

She pulled off the cards and tugged the bag open, staples tearing through the glossy paper.

A very heavy denim shirt. She took it out and spread it across her lap. No, a jacket. The denim darker than the thighs of her Japanese jeans, bordering on black. And it smelled of that indigo, strongly, an earthy jungle scent familiar from the shop where she’d found her jeans. The metal buttons, the rivet kind, were dead black, nonreflective, oddly powdery-looking.

No exterior signage. The label, inside, below the back of the collar, was undyed leather, thick as most belts. On it had been branded not a name but the vague and vaguely disturbing outline of what she took to be a baby-headed dog. The branding iron appeared to have been twisted from a single length of fine wire, then heated, pressed down unevenly into the leather, which was singed in places. Centered directly beneath this, sewn under the bottom edge of the leather patch, was a small folded tab of white woven ribbon, machine-embroidered with three crisp, round black dots, arranged in a triangle. Indicating size?

Her gaze was drawn back to the brand of the hound, with its almost featureless kewpie head.

>

“Twenty-ounce,” the handsomely graying professor of denim pronounced, the Gabriel Hounds jacket spread before her on a foot-thick slab of polished hardwood, atop what Hollis guessed had been the cast-iron legs of a factory lathe. “Slubby.”

“Slubby?”

Running her hand lightly over the jacket’s sleeve. “This roughness. In the weave.”

“Is this Japanese denim?”

The woman raised her eyebrows. She was dressed, today, in a tweed that looked as if the brambles had been left in, khaki laundered so often as to be of no particular color, oxford cloth so coarse it seemed handloomed, and at least two tattered paisley cravats of peculiar but differing widths. “Americans forget how to make denim like this. Maybe loomed in Japan. Maybe not. Where did you find it?”

“It belongs to a friend.”

“You like it?”

“I haven’t tried it on.”

“No?” The woman moved behind Hollis, helping her remove her coat. She picked up the jacket and helped Hollis into it.

Hollis saw herself in the mirror. Straightened. Smiled. “That’s not bad,” she said. She turned up the collar. “I haven’t worn one of these for at least twenty years.”

“Fit is very good,” the woman said. She touched Hollis’s back with both hands, just below her shoulders. “By-swing shoulders. Inside, elastic ribbons, pull it into shape. This detail is from HD Lee mechanic jacket, early Fifties.”

“If the fabric is Japanese, would it have to have been made in Japan?”

“Possible. Build-quality, detailing, are best, but … Japan? Tunisia? Even California.”

“You don’t know where I could find another like it? Or more of this brand?” She didn’t, somehow, want to name it.

Their eyes met, in the mirror. “You know ‘secret brand’? You understand?”

“I think so,” she said, doubtfully.

“This is very secret brand,” the woman said. “I cannot help you.”

“But you have,” Hollis said, “thank you,” suddenly wanting to be out of the beautifully spare little shop, the musky pong of indigo, “thank you very much.” She pulled her coat on, over the Gabriel Hounds jacket. “Thank you. Goodbye.”

Outside, in Upper James Street, a boy was hurrying past, a hemisphere of thin black wool pulled down level with his eyes. All black, save for his white, blotchily unshaven face and the pavement-smudged white sole-edges of his black shoes.

“Clammy,” she said, reflexively, as he passed her.

“Fucking hell,” hissed Clammy, in his recently and somewhat oddly acquired West Hollywood American, and shuddered, as if from some sudden massive release of coiled tension. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for denim,” she said, then had to point back at the shop, having no idea what it was called, discovering simultaneously that it apparently had no sign. “Gabriel Hounds. They don’t have any.”

Clammy’s eyebrows might have gone up, beneath his black beanie.

“Like this,” she said, tugging at the unbuttoned denim jacket beneath her coat.

His eyes narrowed. “Where’d you get that?”

“A friend.”

“Next to fucking impossible to find,” pronounced Clammy, gravely. As if suddenly taking her, to her amazement and for the first time, seriously.

“Time for a coffee?”

Clammy shivered. “I’m fucking ill,” he said, and sniffled noisily. “Had to get out of the studio.”

“Herbal tea. And something I have for your immune system.”

“Were you Reg’s girl, in the band? My mate says you were.”

“Never,” she said, firmly. “Neither symbolically nor biblically.”

Blank.

“They always think the singer must be fucking the guitarist,” she clarified.

Clammy smirked, through his cold. “Tabloids said that about me ’n’ Arfur.”

“Exactly,” she said. “A Canadian-made, ginseng-based patent medicine. Herbal tea chaser. Can’t hurt.”

Clammy, snuffling, nodded his consent.

>

She hoped he really did have a virus. Otherwise, he was in the early onset of heroin withdrawal. But probably a cold, plus the very considerable stress inherent in working in the studio with Inchmale.

She’d gotten him to swallow five capsules of Cold-FX, taking three herself as a prophylactic measure. It usually didn’t seem to do anything, once symptoms were advanced, but the promise of it had gotten him around the corner and into the Starbucks on Golden Square, and she hoped he was prone to the placebo effect. She was herself, according to Inchmale, who was an adamant and outspoken Cold-FX denier. “You have to keep taking them,” she said to Clammy, placing the white plastic bottle beside his steaming paper cup of chamomile. “Ignore the instructions. Take three, three times a day.”

He shrugged. “Where’d you say you got the Hounds?”

“It belongs to someone I know.”

“Where’d they get it, then?”

“I don’t know. Someone told me it was a ‘secret brand.’ ”

“Not when you know,” he said. “Just very hard to find. Thin on the fucking ground, your Gabriel Hounds.”

“Is he starting to talk about rerecording the bed tracks?” She guessed that if she tried to change the subject, he might resist, and she could go along with that, not seem too interested.

Clammy shivered. Nodded.

“Has he talked about doing it in Tucson?”

Clammy frowned, forehead masked behind black cashmere. “Last night.” He peered out, through plate glass, at Golden Square, deserted in the rain.

“There’s a place there,” she said. “One of his secrets. Do it. If he wants to go back later for the overdubs, do it.”

“So why’s he breaking my balls now, remixing?”

“It’s his process,” she said.

Clammy rolled his eyes, to heaven or his black cap, then back to her. “You ask your friend where they got the Hounds?”

“Not yet,” she said.

He turned on his stool, swung his leg out from beneath the counter. “Hounds,” he said. The jeans he wore were black, very narrow. “Twenty-ounce,” he said. “Brutal heavy.”

“Slubby?”

“You blind?”

“Where did you find them?”

“Melbourne. Girl I met, knew where and when.”

“A store?”

“Never in shops,” he said. “Except secondhand, and that’s not likely.”

“I tried Google,” she said. “A Mary Stewart book, a band, CD by someone else …”

“Go further, on Google, and there’s eBay,” he said.

“Hounds on eBay?”

“All fake. Almost all. Chinese fakes.”

“The Chinese are faking it?”

“Chinese are faking everything,” Clammy said. “You get a real Hounds piece on eBay, someone makes an offer high enough to stop it. Never seen an auction for real Hounds run off.”

“It’s an Australian brand?”

He looked disgusted, which was how he’d looked in whatever few previous brief conversations they’d had. “Fuck no,” he said, “it’s Hounds.”

“Tell me about it, Clammy,” she said. “I need to know.”

6. AFTER THE GYRATORY

The Neo’s plastic case reminded Milgrim of one of those electronic stud-finders they sold in hardware stores, its shape simultaneously simple and clumsy, awkward against his ear.

“Gussets?” demanded Rausch, on the Neo.

“He said they needed them. One in each inner thigh.”

“What are they?”

“An extra piece of material, between two seams. Usually triangular.”

“How do you know that?”

Milgrim considered. “I like details,” he said.

“What did he look like?”

“Football player,” Milgrim said. “With a sort of mullet.”

“A what?”

“I have to go,” Milgrim said. “We’re at the Hanger Lane Gyratory System.”

“Wha—”

Milgrim clicked off.

Pocketing the Neo, he brought himself more upright, feeling the Jankel-armored, four-doored, short-bedded Toyota Hilux’s ferocious engine-transplant gather itself for their plunge into England’s most famously intimidating roundabout, seven lanes of fiercely determined traffic.

According to Aldous, the Hilux’s other driver, this route from Heathrow, decidedly nonoptimal, was part of his job requirement, meant to maintain certain skills one was otherwise unable to practice in London traffic.

Braced for the discomfort of rapid acceleration on run-flat tires, from a standing stop, Milgrim glanced down, to his right, glimpsing the pinstriped thigh of the driver in the adjacent lane, and missed seeing the light change.

Then they were in it, fully gyratory, the driver expertly and repeatedly inserting the Hilux’s secretly massive but oddly skittish bulk sideways, it seemed, into absurdly tiny lane-change gaps.

Milgrim had no idea why he’d come to enjoy this so much. Prior to his stay in Basel, he’d have kept his eyes shut for the whole thing; if he’d been expecting it, he’d have upped his medication. But now, grinning, he sat with the red cardboard tube upright between his legs, holding it with the fingertips of both hands, as though it were a joystick.

Then they were out of it. He sighed, deeply if mysteriously satisfied, and felt the driver’s glance.

This driver wasn’t as talkative as Aldous, but that might have something to do with the urine test. Aldous had never had to administer the urine test, or drive back to London with a vial cooling in his overcoat pocket.

Aldous had told Milgrim all about the Toyota Hilux, about the Jankel armor and the bulletproof glass and the run-flats. “Cartel grade,” Aldous had assured him, and unusual for London, at least as far as a silver-gray pickup truck went. Milgrim hadn’t asked why these particular features had been deemed necessary, but he suspected that that might be a sensitive area.

Eventually, now, after a much less entertaining stretch of the journey, it became Euston Road, and the beginnings of his idea of actual London.

Like entering a game, a layout, something flat and mazed, arbitrarily but fractally constructed from beautifully detailed but somehow unreal buildings, its order perhaps shuffled since the last time he’d been here. The pixels that comprised it were familiar, but it remained only provisionally mapped, a protean territory, a box of tricks, some possibly even benign.

The run-flats were nasty on mixed pavement, worse on cobbles. He sat back and held on to the red cardboard tube as the driver began taking an endless series of corners, keeping roughly parallel, Milgrim guessed, to Tottenham Court Road. Headed for the heart of town, and Soho.

>

Rausch, his translucently short black hair looking like something sprayed from a nozzle, was waiting for them in front of Blue Ant, the driver having phoned ahead as they’d crept along through the traffic on Beak Street. Rausch held a magazine above his head, to ward off the drizzle. He looked characteristically disheveled, but in his own peculiar way. Everything about his personal presentation was intended to convey an effortless concision, but nothing quite did. His tight black suit was wrinkled, bagged at the knees, and in extending his arm above his head to hold the magazine, he’d untucked one side of his white shirt. His glasses, whose frames came equipped with their own squint, would be in need of cleaning.

“Thanks,” Milgrim said when the driver pushed a button, unlocking the passenger-side door. The driver said nothing. They were behind a black cab, not quite there yet.

When Milgrim opened the door, it swung out with an alarming, weight-driven velocity, to be stopped by a short pair of heavy nylon straps that prevented it from tearing itself off its hinges. He climbed down, with the red tube and his bag, briefly glimpsing the red tank of fire-extinguishing foam beneath the passenger seat, and tried to bump the door shut with his shoulder. “Ouch,” he said. He put the bag down, tucked the tube under his arm, and used the other hand to heave the armored door shut.

Rausch was bending to pick up his bag.

“He’s got the pee,” Milgrim said, indicating the truck.

Rausch straightened, grimacing fastidiously. “Yes. He takes it to the lab.”

Milgrim nodded, looking around at the pedestrian traffic, which tended to interest him in Soho.

“They’re waiting,” said Rausch.

Milgrim followed him into Blue Ant, Rausch holding a security badge over a metal plate to unlock the door, a single sheet of greenish two-inch-thick glass.

The lobby here suggested some combination of extremely expensive private art school and government defense establishment, though when he thought about it, he’d never been in either. There was a massive central chandelier, constructed from thousands of pairs of discarded prescription eyeglasses, that contributed very handsomely to the art school part, but the Pentagon part (or would it be Whitehall?) was harder to pin down. Half a dozen large plasma screens constantly showed the latest house product, mostly European and Japanese automobile commercials with production budgets dwarfing those of many feature films, while beneath these moved people wearing badges like the one Rausch had used to open the door. These were worn around the neck, on lanyards in various shades, some bearing the repeated logos of various brands or projects. There was a smell of exceptionally good coffee.

Milgrim looked obediently at a large red plus sign, on the wall behind the security counter, while an automated camera moved lazily behind a small square window, like something in a very technical reptile house. He was shortly presented with a large square photograph of himself, very low in resolution, on a hideous chartreuse lanyard minus any branding. As always, he suspected that this was at least partially intended to serve as a high-visibility target, should the need arise. He put it on. “Coffee,” he said.

“No,” said Rausch, “they’re waiting,” but Milgrim was already on his way to the lobby’s cappuccino station, the source of that fine aroma.

“Piccolo, please,” said Milgrim to the blond barista, her hair only slightly longer than Rausch’s.

“He’s waiting,” said Rausch, beside him, tensely stressing the first syllable of “waiting.”

“He’ll expect me to be able to talk,” said Milgrim, watching the girl expertly draw the shot. She foamed milk, then poured an elaborate Valentine’s heart into the waiting shot in Milgrim’s white cup. “Thank you,” he said.

Rausch fumed silently in the elevator to the fourth floor, while Milgrim was mainly concerned with keeping his cup and saucer level and undisturbed.

The doors slid aside, revealing Pamela Mainwaring. Looking, Milgrim thought, like some very tasteful pornographer’s idea of “mature,” her blond hair magnificently banged.

“Welcome back,” she said, ignoring Rausch. “How was South Carolina?”

“Fine,” said Milgrim, who held the red cardboard tube in his right hand, the piccolo in his left. He raised the tube slightly. “Got it.”

“Very good,” she said. “Come in.”

Milgrim followed her into a longish room with a long central table. Bigend was seated at the table’s far end, a window behind him. He looked like something that had gone wrong on a computer screen, but then Milgrim realized that that was the suit he was wearing, in a weirdly electric cobalt blue.

“If you don’t mind,” Pamela said, taking the red cardboard tube and handing it on to Milgrim’s favorite in Bigend’s clothing design team, a French girl, today in a plaid kilt and cashmere pullover. “And the photographs?”

“In my bag,” Milgrim said.

While his bag was placed on the table and opened, motorized shades tracked silently shut across the window behind Bigend. Overhead, fixtures came on, illuminating the table, where Milgrim’s tracings were being carefully unfurled. He’d remembered to leave his camera atop his clothes, and now it was being passed from hand to hand, up the table.

“Your medication,” said Pamela, handing him a fresh bubble-pack.

“Now, then,” said Bigend, rising, “be seated.”

Milgrim took the chair to the right of Pamela’s. They were extremely fine workstation chairs, either Swiss or Italian, and he had to restrain himself from fiddling with the various knobs and levers projecting from beneath the seat.

“I see the Bundeswehr NATO pattern,” someone said. “The legs are pure 501.”

“But not the box,” said the girl in kilt and cashmere. The box, he had learned, was everything, in a pair of jeans, above the top of the leg. “The two small pleats are absent, the rise lower.”

“The photographs,” said Bigend, from behind her chair. A plasma screen, above the window he’d been sitting in front of, flared turquoise, around coppery coyote brown, the Formica counter in Edge City Family Restaurant making itself known in this darkened room in central London.

“Knee pads,” said a young man, American. “Absent. No pockets for them.”

“We hear they have a new pad-retention system,” said the French girl, with a surgeon’s seriousness. “But I don’t see that here.”

They watched, then, silently, while Milgrim’s photographs cycled.

“How tactical are they?” asked Bigend as the first photograph reappeared. “Are we looking at a prototype for a Department of Defense contract?”

A silence. Then: “Streetwear.” The French girl, much more confident than the others. “If these are for the military, it isn’t the American military.”

“He said they needed gussets,” said Milgrim.

“What?” asked Bigend, softly.

“He said they were too tight in the thighs. For rappelling.”

“Really,” said Bigend. “That’s good. That’s very good.”

Milgrim allowed himself a first careful sip of his coffee.

7. A HERF GUN IN FRITH STREET

Bigend was telling a story, over drinks in a crowded Frith Street tapas place Hollis suspected she’d been to before. A story about someone using something called a “herf” gun, high-energy radio frequency, in Moscow, to erase someone else’s stored data, in a drive in an adjacent building, on the opposite side of a party wall. So far the best thing about it was that Bigend kept using the British expression “party wall,” and she’d always found it mildly if inexplicably comical. The herf gun, he was explaining now, the electromagnetic radiation device, was the size of a backpack, putting out a sixteen-megawatt pulse, and she suddenly found herself afraid, boys being boys, of some punch-line involving accidentally baked internal organs. “Were any animals harmed, Hubertus,” she interrupted, “in the making of this anecdote?”

“I like animals,” said Milgrim, the American Bigend had introduced at Blue Ant, sounding as though he were more than mildly surprised to discover that he did. He seemed to have only the one name.

After Clammy had decided to go back to the studio, her white plastic bottle of Cold-FX wedged precariously into a back pocket of his Hounds, departing the Golden Square Starbucks during an unexpected burst of weak but thoroughly welcome sunlight, Hollis had gone out to stand for a few moments amid the puddles in Golden Square, before walking (aimlessly, she’d pretended to herself) back up Upper James to Beak Street. Turning right, crossing the first intersection on her side of Beak, she’d found Blue Ant exactly where she remembered it, while simultaneously realizing that she’d been hoping it somehow wouldn’t be there.

When she’d pressed the annunciator button, a square pattern of small round holes had said hello. “Hollis Henry, for Hubertus.” Was she expected? “Not at all, no.”

A handsome, bearded child, in a corduroy sports coat considerably older than he was, had opened the thick glass door almost immediately. “I’m Jacob,” he’d said. “We’re just trying to find him.” He’d offered his hand.

“Hollis,” she’d said.

“Come in, please. I’m a huge fan of The Curfew.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you like coffee, while you wait?” He’d indicated a sort of guardhouse, diagonally striped in artfully battered yellow and black paint, in which a girl with very short blond hair was polishing an espresso maker that looked set to win at Le Mans. “They sent three men from Turin, to install the machine.”

“Shouldn’t I be being photographed?” she’d asked him. Inchmale hadn’t liked Blue Ant’s new security measures at all when they’d last come here, to sign contracts. But then the phone in Jacob’s right hand had played the opening chords of “Box 1 of 1,” one of her least favorite Curfew songs. She’d pretended not to notice. “In the lobby,” he’d said to the phone.

“Have you been with Blue Ant long?” she’d asked.

“Two years now. I actually worked on your commercial. We were gutted when it fell through. Do you know Damien?” She didn’t. “The director. Gutted, absolutely.” But then Bigend had appeared, in his very blue suit, shoulder-draped in the bivouac-tent yardage of the trench coat, and accompanied by Pamela Mainwaring and a nondescript but unshaven man in a thin cotton sportscoat and wrinkled slacks, a black nylon bag slung over his shoulder. “This is Milgrim,” Bigend had said, then “Hollis Henry” to the man, who’d said “Hello,” but scarcely anything since.

“What kinds of animals?” she asked him now, in a still more naked bid to derail Bigend’s narrative.

Milgrim winced. “Dogs,” he said, quickly, as though surprised in some guilty pleasure.

“You like dogs?” She was sure that Bigend had been paying whatever lowlife had been wielding that herf gun, though he’d never come right out and tell you that, unless he had some specific reason to.

“I met a very nice dog in Basel,” Milgrim said, “at …” A micro-expression of anxiety. “At a friend’s.”

“Your friend’s dog?”

“Yes,” said Milgrim, nodding once, tightly, before taking a sip of his Coke. “You could have used a spark coil generator instead,” he said to Bigend, blinking, “made from a VCR tuner. They’re smaller.”

“Who told you that?” asked Bigend, suddenly differently focused.

“A … roommate?” Milgrim extended an index finger, to touch his stack of tiny, elongated white china tapas dishes, as if needing to assure himself that they were there. “He worried about things like that. Out loud. They made him angry.” He looked apologetically at Hollis.

“I see,” said Bigend, although Hollis certainly didn’t.

Now Milgrim took a pharmacist’s folded white bubble-pack from an inside jacket pocket, flattened it, and frowned with concentration. All of the pills, Hollis saw, were white as well, white capsules, though of differing sizes. He carefully pushed three of them through the foil backing, put them in his mouth, and washed them down with a swig of Coke.

“You must be exhausted, Milgrim,” said Pamela, seated beside Hollis. “You’re on east coast time.”

“Not too bad,” Milgrim said, putting the bubble-pack away. There was a curious lack of definition to his features, Hollis thought, something adolescent, though she guessed he was in his thirties. He struck her as unused to inhabiting his own face, somehow. As amazed to find himself who he was as to find himself here in Frith Street, eating oysters and calamari and dry shaved ham.

“Aldous will take you back to the hotel,” Pamela said. Aldous, Hollis guessed, was one of the two black men who’d walked over with them from Blue Ant, carrying long, furled umbrellas with beautifully lacquered cane handles. They were waiting outside now, a few feet apart, silently, keeping an eye on Bigend through the window.

“Where is it?” Milgrim asked.

“Covent Garden,” said Pamela.

“I like that one,” he said. He folded his napkin, put it beside the white china tower. He looked at Hollis. “Nice meeting you.” He nodded, first to Pamela, then to Bigend. “Thanks for dinner.” Then he pushed back his chair, bent to pick up his bag, stood up, shouldering the bag, and walked out of the restaurant.

“Where did you find him?” Hollis asked, watching Milgrim, through the window, speak to the one she supposed was Aldous.

“In Vancouver,” Bigend said, “a few weeks after you were there.”

“What does he do?”

“Translation,” Bigend said, “simultaneous and written. Russian. Brilliant with idioms.”

“Is he … well?” She didn’t know how else to put it.

“Convalescing,” said Bigend.

“Recovering,” said Pamela. “He translates for you?”

“Yes. Though we’re beginning to see that he may actually be more useful in other areas.”

“Other areas?”

“Good eye for detail,” said Bigend. “We have him looking at clothing.”

“Doesn’t look like a fashion plate.”

“That’s an advantage, actually,” said Bigend.

“Did he notice your suit?”

“He didn’t say,” said Bigend, glancing down at an International Klein Blue lapel of Early Carnaby proportions. He looked up, pointedly, at her Hounds jacket. “Have you learned anything?” He rolled a piece of the dry, translucent Spanish ham, waiting for her answer. His hand fed the ham to his mouth carefully, as if afraid of being bitten. He chewed.

“It’s what the Japanese call a secret brand,” Hollis said. “Only more so. This may or may not have been made in Japan. No regular retail outlets, no catalog, no web presence aside from a few cryptic mentions on fashion blogs. And eBay. Chinese pirates have started to fake it, but only badly, the minimal gesture. If a genuine piece turns up on eBay, someone will make an offer that induces the seller to stop the auction.” Turning to Pamela. “Where did you get this jacket?”

“We advertised. On fashion fora, mainly. Eventually we found a dealer, in Amsterdam, and met his price. He ordinarily deals in unworn examples of anonymously designed mid-twentieth-century workwear.”

“He does?”

“Not unlike rare stamps, apparently, except that you can wear them. A segment of his clientele appreciates Gabriel Hounds, though they’re a minority among what we take to be the brand’s demographic. We’re guessing active global brand-awareness, meaning people who’ll go to very considerable trouble to find it, tops out at no more than a few thousand.”

“Where did the dealer in Amsterdam get his?”

“He claimed to have bought it as part of a lot of vintage new old stock, from a picker, without having known what it was. Said he’d assumed they were otaku-grade Japanese reproductions of vintage, and that he could probably resell them easily enough.”

“A picker?”

“Someone who looks for things to sell to dealers. He said that the picker was German, and a stranger. A cash transaction. Claimed not to recall a name.”

“It can’t be that big a secret,” Hollis said. “I’ve found two people since breakfast who knew at least as much about it as I’ve told you.”

“And they are?” Bigend leaned forward.

“The Japanese woman at a very pricey specialist shop not far from Blue Ant.”

“Ah,” he said, his disappointment obvious. “And?”

“A young man, who bought a pair of jeans in Melbourne.”

“Really,” said Bigend, brightening. “And did he tell you who he bought them from?”

Hollis picked up a slice of the glassine ham, rolled it, dipped it in olive oil. “No. But I think he will.”

8. CURETTAGE

Milgrim, cleaning his teeth in the brightly but flatteringly lit bath room of his small but determinedly upscale hotel room, thought about Hollis Henry, the woman Bigend had brought along to the restaurant. She hadn’t seemed to be part of Blue Ant, and she’d also seemed somehow familiar. Milgrim’s memory of the past decade or so was porous, unreliable as to sequence, but he didn’t think they’d met before. But still, somehow familiar. He switched tips on the mini-brush he was using between his upper rear molars, opting for a conical configuration. He would let Hollis Henry settle down into the mix. In the morning he might find he knew who she was. If not, there was the lobby’s complimentary MacBook, in every way preferable to trying to Google on the Neo. Pleasant enough, Hollis Henry, at least if you weren’t Bigend. She wasn’t entirely pleased with Bigend. He’d gotten that much on the walk to Frith Street.

He switched to a different tool, one that held taut, half-inch lengths of floss between disposable U-shaped bits of plastic. They’d fixed his teeth, in Basel, and had sent him several times to a periodontal specialist. Curettage. Nasty, but now he felt like he had a new mouth, if a very high-maintenance one. The best thing about having had all that done, aside from getting a new mouth, was that he’d gotten to see a little bit of Basel, going out for the treatments. Otherwise, he’d stayed in the clinic, per his agreement.

Finishing with the floss, he brushed his teeth with the battery-powered brush, then rinsed with water from a bottle whose deep-blue glass reminded him of Bigend’s suit. Pantone 286, he’d told Milgrim, but not quite. The thing Bigend most seemed to enjoy about the shade, other than the fact that it annoyed people, was that it couldn’t quite be re-created on most computer monitors.

He was out of his mouthwash, which contained something they used in tap water on airplanes. You were only allowed to take a little bit of liquid with you on the plane, and he didn’t check luggage. He’d been rationing the last of that mouthwash, in Myrtle Beach. He’d ask someone at Blue Ant. They had people who seemed able to find anything, who had doing that as a job description.

He put out the bathroom lights, and stood beside the bed, undressing. The room had slightly too much furniture, including a dressmaker’s dummy that had been re-covered with the same brown and tan material as the armchair. He considered putting his pants in the trouser press, but decided against it. He’d shop tomorrow. A chain called Hackett. Like an upscale Banana Republic but with pretensions he knew he didn’t understand. He was turning down the bed when the Neo rang, emulating the mechanical bell on an old telephone. That would be Sleight.

“Leave the phone in your room tomorrow,” Sleight said. “Turned on, on the charger.” He sounded annoyed.

“How are you, Oliver?”

“The company that makes these things has gone out of business,” Sleight said. “So we need to do some reprogramming tomorrow.” He hung up.

“Good night,” Milgrim said, looking at the Neo in his hand. He put it on the bedside table, climbed into bed in his underwear, and pulled the covers to his chin. He turned out the light. Lay there running his tongue over the backs of his teeth. The room was slightly too warm, and he was aware, somehow, of the dressmaker’s dummy.

And listened to, or at any rate sensed, the background frequency that was London. A different white noise.

9. FUCKSTICK

When she opened Cabinet’s front door, pinstriped Robert was not there to help her with it.

Due, she saw immediately, to the jackbooted advent of Heidi Hyde, once the Curfew’s drummer, in whose assorted luggage Robert was now draped, clearly terrified, back in the lift-grotto, next to the vitrine housing Inchmale’s magic ferret. Heidi, beside him, was fully as tall and possibly as broad at the shoulders. Unmistakably hers, that direly magnificent raptorial profile, and just as unmistakably furious.

“Was she expected?” Hollis quietly asked whichever tortoise-framed boy was on the desk.

“No,” he said, just as quietly, passing her the key to her room. “Mr. Inchmale phoned, minutes ago, to alert us.” Eyes wide behind the brown frames. He had something of the affect, beneath his hotelman’s game-face, of a tornado survivor.

“It’ll be okay,” Hollis assured him.

“What’s wrong with this fucking thing?” Heidi demanded, loudly.

“It gets confused,” Hollis said, walking up to them, with a nod and reassuring smile for Robert.

“Miss Henry.” Robert looked pale.

“You mustn’t press it more than once,” Hollis said to Heidi. “Takes it longer to make up its mind.”

“Fuck,” said Heidi, from some bottomless pit of frustration, causing Robert to wince. Her hair was dyed goth black, signaling the warpath, and Hollis guessed she’d done it herself.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” Hollis said.

“Neither did I,” said Heidi, grimly. Then: “It’s fuckstick.”

At which Hollis understood that Heidi’s unlikely sub-Hollywood marriage was over. Heidi’s exes lost their names, at termination, to be known henceforth only by this blanket designation.

“Sorry to hear that,” Hollis said.

“Running a pyramid scheme,” Heidi said as the lift arrived. “What the fuck is this?”

“The elevator.” Hollis opened the articulated gate, gesturing Heidi in.

“Please, go ahead,” Robert said. “I’ll bring your bags.”

“Get in the fucking elevator,” commanded Heidi. “Get. In.” She backed him into the lift with sheer enraged presence. Hollis nipped in after him, raising the brass-hinged mahogany bench against the back wall for more room.

Heidi, up close, smelled of sweat, airport rage, and musty leather. She was wearing a jacket that Hollis remembered from their touring days. Once black, its seams were worn the color of dirty parchment.

Robert managed to push a button. They started up, the lift complaining audibly at the weight.

“Fucking thing’s going to kill us all,” said Heidi, as if finding the idea not entirely unattractive.

“What room is Heidi in?” Hollis asked him.

“Next to yours.”

“Good,” said Hollis, with more enthusiasm than she felt. That would be the one with the yellow silk chaise longue. She’d never understood the theme. Not that she understood the theme of her own, but she sensed it had one. The room with the yellow chaise longue seemed to be about spies, sad ones, in some very British sense, and seedy political scandal. And reflexology.

Hollis opened the gate, when the lift finally reached their floor, then held the various fire doors for Heidi and the heavily burdened Robert. Heidi seethed her way through the windowless green mini-hallways, body language conveying a universal dissatisfaction. Hollis saw that Robert had Heidi’s room key tucked for safekeeping between two fingers. She took it from him, its tassels moss green.

“You’re right next to me,” she said to Heidi, unlocking and opening the door. She shooed Heidi in, thinking of bulls, china shops. “Just put everything down,” she said to Robert, quietly. “I’ll take care of the rest.” She relieved him of two amazingly heavy cardboard cartons, each about the size required to contain a human head. He began immediately to unsling Heidi’s various luggage. She slipped him a five-pound note.

“Thank you, Miss Henry.”

“Thank you, Robert.” She closed the door in his relieved face.

“What,” demanded Heidi, “the fuck is this?”

“Your room,” said Hollis, who was arranging the luggage along a wall. “It’s a private club that Inchmale joined.”

“A club for what? What’s that?” Indicating a large framed silkscreen that Hollis herself found one of the least peculiar articles of decor.

“A Warhol. I think.” Had Warhol covered the Profumo scandal?

“I should have fucking known Inchmale would come up with something like this. Where is he?”

“Not here,” Hollis said. “He rented a house in Hampstead, when Angelina and the baby came from Argentina.”

Heidi hefted a wide-based crystal decanter, unstoppered it, sniffed. “Whiskey,” she said.

“The clear one’s gin,” Hollis advised, “not water.”

Heidi splashed three fingers of Cabinet Scotch into a highball glass, drank it off at a go, shuddered, set the decanter down and flicked the crystal stopper back into its neck with a dangerously sharp click. She had a spooky gift for aiming things; had never lost a game of darts in her life, but didn’t play darts, just threw them.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Hollis asked.

Heidi shrugged out of her leather jacket, tossed it aside, and pulled her black T-shirt off, revealing an olive-drab bra that looked as combat-ready as any bra Hollis had ever seen.

“Nice bra.”

“Israeli,” said Heidi. She looked around, taking in the contents of the room. “Jesus Christ,” she said. “The wallpaper’s like Hendrix’s pants.”

“I think it’s satin.” Vertically striped, in green, burgundy, ecru, and black.

“What I fucking said,” said Heidi, giving her Israeli army bra a tug, and sat down on the yellow silk chaise longue. “Why did we stop smoking?”

“Because it was bad for us.”

Heidi sighed, explosively. “He’s in jail,” she said, “fuckstick. No bond. He was doing something with other people’s money.”

“I thought that’s what producers do.”

“Not like that, it isn’t.”

“Are you in any trouble yourself?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve got a prenup thicker than fuckstick’s long. It’s his problem. I just needed to get the fuck out of Dodge.”

“I never understood why you married him.”

“It was an experiment. What about you? What are you doing here?”

“Working for Hubertus Bigend,” Hollis said, noting just how little she enjoyed saying it.

Heidi’s eyes widened. “Fuck me. That asshole? You couldn’t stand him. Creeped you totally out. Why?”

“I guess I need the money.”

“How bad did the crash do you?”

“About half.”

Heidi nodded. “Did everybody about half. Unless you had somebody like fuckstick doing your investing for you.”

“And you didn’t?”

“Are you kidding? Separation of church and fucking state. Always. I never thought he had any sense that way anyway. Other people did, though. Know what?”

“What?”

“The salt of the fucking earth never tells you it’s the salt of the fucking earth. People who get scammed, they’re all people who don’t know that.”

“I think I’ll have a whiskey.”

“Be my guest,” said Heidi. Then smiled. “Good to fucking see you.” And started to cry.

10. EIGENBLICH

Milgrim woke, took his medication, showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, dressed, and left the Neo charging but turned on. The U.K. plug-adaptor was larger than the phone’s charger. Keeping the dressmaker’s dummy out of his field of vision, he left the room.

In the silent Japanese elevator, descending three floors, he considered pausing to Google Hollis Henry on the lobby MacBook, but someone was using it when he got there.

He wasn’t always entirely comfortable with the lobby here, what there was of it. He felt like he might look as though he were here to steal something, though aside from his wrinkled post-flight clothing he was fairly certain he didn’t. And really, he thought, stepping out into Monmouth Street and tentative sunlight, he wouldn’t. Had no reason to. Three hundred pounds in a plain manila envelope in the inside pocket of his jacket, and nothing, today, telling him what he needed to do with it. Still a novel situation, to a man of his history.

Addictions, he thought, turning right, toward Seven Dials’ namesake obelisk, started out like magical pets, pocket monsters. They did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn’t seen, were fun. But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you. Eventually, they were making your most crucial life-decisions. And they were, his therapist in Basel had said, less intelligent than goldfish.

He went to Caffè Nero, a tastier alternate-reality Starbucks, crowded now. He ordered a latte and a croissant, the latter shipped frozen from France, baked here. He approved of that. Saw a small round table being vacated by a woman in a pinstriped suit and swiftly occupied it, looking out at the Vidal Sassoon, across the little roundabout, where young hairdressers were going in to work.

Eating his croissant, he wondered what Bigend might be up to with designer combat pants. He was a good listener, careful to not let people know it, but Bigend’s motives and modus eluded him. They could seem almost aggressively random.

Military contracting was essentially recession-proof, according to Bigend, and particularly so in America. That was a part of it, and perhaps even the core of it. Recession-proofing. And Bigend seemed centered on one area of military contracting, the one in which, Milgrim supposed, Blue Ant’s strategic skill set was most applicable. Blue Ant was learning everything it could, and very quickly, about the contracting, design, and manufacture of military clothing. Which seemed, from what Milgrim had seen so far, to be a very lively business.

And Milgrim, for whatever reason or lack of one, was along for the ride. That was what Myrtle Beach had been about.

Volunteer armies, the French girl had said, the one who’d worn the plaid kilt at yesterday’s meeting, in an earlier PowerPoint presentation that Milgrim had found quite interesting, required volunteers, the bulk of them young men. Who might otherwise be, for instance, skateboarding, or at least wearing clothing suggestive of skateboarding. And male streetwear generally, over the past fifty years or so, she said, had been more heavily influenced by the design of military clothing than by anything else. The bulk of the underlying design code of the twenty-first-century male street was the code of the previous midcentury’s military wear, most of it American. The rest of it was work wear, most of that American as well, whose manufacture had coevolved with the manufacture of military clothing, sharing elements of the same design code, and team sportswear.

But now, according to the French girl, that had reversed itself. The military needed clothing that would appeal to those it needed to recruit. Every American service branch, she said, illustrating each with a PowerPoint slide, had its own distinctive pattern of camouflage. The Marine Corps, she said, had made quite a point of patenting theirs (up close, Milgrim had found it too jazzy).

There was a law in America that prohibited the manufacture of American military clothing abroad.

And that was where Bigend, Milgrim knew, hoped to come in. Things that were manufactured in America didn’t necessarily have to be designed there. Outerwear and sporting-goods manufacturers, along with a few specialist uniform manufacturers, competed for contracts to manufacture clothing for the U.S. military, but that clothing had previously been designed by the U.S. military. Who now, the French girl had said, somewhat breathlessly, as though she were closing in on a small animal in some forest clearing, clearly lacked the newly requisite design skills to do that. Having invented so much of contemporary masculine cool in the midcentury, they found themselves competing with their own historical product, reiterated as streetwear. They needed help, the French girl had said, her mouse clicks summoning a closing flurry of images, and they knew it.

He sipped his latte, looking out, watching people pass, wondering if he could see the French girl’s thesis proven in the garments of this morning’s pedestrians. If you thought of it as a kind of pervasive subtext, he decided, you could.

“Excuse me. Would you mind if I shared the table?”

Milgrim looked up at this smiling American, ethnically Chinese, in her black sweatshirt, a small plain gold cross, gold-chained, worn atop it, one white plastic barrette visible, as some unsleeping module of addict street-alertness, hardwired to his very core, crisply announced: cop.

He blinked. “Of course. You’re welcome.” Feeling muscles in his thighs bunching, tight, readying themselves for the dash out the door. Malfunction, he told the module. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Flashback: His limbic brain was grooved for this, like the tracks of the wheels of Conestoga wagons, worn ankle-deep in sandstone.

She put her sacklike white pleather purse on the table, her plastic-lidded pale blue Caffè Nero cup beside it, pulled out the chair opposite him, and sat. Smiled.

Embroidered in white, on the black sweatshirt, were the crescent moon and palm tree of the South Carolina state flag, a bit larger than one of Ralph Lauren’s polo ponies. Milgrim’s buried module instantly extruded an entire DEW line of arcane cop-sensing apparatus.

Paranoia, his therapist had told him, was too much information. He had that now as the woman dipped into her purse, brought up a matte silver phone, opened it, and furrowed her brow. “Messages,” she said.

Milgrim looking straight into the infinitely deep black pupil that was the phone’s camera. “Uh-oh,” she said, “I see I have to run. Thanks anyway!” And up, purse under her arm, and out into Seven Dials.

Leaving her drink.

Milgrim picked it up. Empty. The white lid smudged with a dark lipstick she hadn’t been wearing.

Through the window he saw her pass an overflowing trash canister, from which she’d likely plucked this cup for her prop. Quickly crossing the intersection, toward Sassoon. Vanishing around a corner.

He stood, straightening his jacket, and walked out, not looking around. Back up Monmouth Street, toward his hotel. As he neared it, he crossed Monmouth diagonally, still moving at a calculatedly casual pace, and entered a sort of brick tunnel that led to Neal’s Yard, a courtyard gotten up as a kind of New Age mini-Disneyland. He bolted through this so quickly that people looked after him. Out into Shorts Garden, another street.

Purposeful pace now, but nothing to attract attention.

All the while aware of his addiction, awakened by the flood of stress chemicals, urgently advising him that something to take the edge off would be a very good idea indeed. It was, some newer part of him thought, amazed, like having a Nazi tank buried in your back yard. Grown over with grass and dandelions, but then you noticed its engine was still idling.

Not today, he told the Nazis in their buried tank, heading for Covent Garden tube station through an encyclopedic anthology of young people’s shoe stores, spring’s sneakers tinted like jelly beans.

Not good, another part of him was saying, not good.

As much as he wished to appear relaxed, the usual crew of beggars, floating in solution on the pavement in front of the station, faded at his approach. They saw something. He had again become as they were.

He saw Covent Garden as if from a great height, the crowd in Long Acre drawing back from him like magnetized iron filings.

Take the stairs, advised the autonomic pilot. He did, head down, never looking back, a unit in the spiral human chain.

Next he’d take the first train to Leicester Square, the shortest journey in the entire system. Then back, without exiting, having assured himself he wasn’t being followed. He knew how to do that, but then there were all these cameras, in their smoked acrylic spheres, like knockoff Courrèges light fixtures. There were cameras literally everywhere, in London. So far, he’d managed not to think about them. He remembered Bigend saying they were a symptom of autoimmune disease, the state’s protective mechanisms ’roiding up into something actively destructive, chronic; watchful eyes, eroding the healthy function of that which they ostensibly protected.

Did anyone protect him now?

He took himself through what one did in order to determine that one wasn’t being followed. While he did so, he anticipated his immediate return to this station. Imagined his ascent in the elevator’s dead air, where a dead voice would repeatedly advise him to have his ticket or pass ready.

He would be calmer, then.

Then restart the day, as planned. Go to Hackett in King Street, buy pants and a shirt.

Not good, said the other voice, causing his shoulders to narrow, bone and sinew tightening almost audibly.

Not good.

11. UNPACKING

Heidi’s room looked like the aftermath of a not-very-successful airplane bombing. Something that blew open every suitcase in the luggage compartment without bringing the plane down. Hollis had seen this many times before, touring with the Curfew, and took it to be a survival mechanism, a means of denying the soulless suction of sequential hotel rooms. She’d never actually seen Heidi distribute her things, nest-build. She guessed it was unconscious, accomplished in the course of an instinctive trance, like a dog walking tight circles in grass before it lay down to sleep. She was impressed now, to see how effectively Heidi had created her own space, pushing back whatever it was that Cabinet’s designers had intended the room to express.

“Fuck,” said Heidi, ponderously, apparently having slept, or passed out, in her Israeli army bra. Hollis, who had taken the key with her when she’d left, saw that there was barely a finger of whiskey left in the decanter. Heidi didn’t drink often, but when she did, she did. She lay now under a wrinkled pile of laundry, including, Hollis saw, several magenta linen table napkins and a cheap Mexican beach towel striped like a serape. Apparently Heidi had dumped the contents of the laundry hopper at Chez Fuckstick into one of her bags, departing, then pulled it out here. It was this she’d slept under, not Cabinet’s bedclothes.

“Breakfast?” Hollis began picking up and sorting the things on the bed. There was a large freezer-bag full of small, sharp-looking tools, fine-tipped brushes, tiny tins of paint, bits of white plastic. As if Heidi had adopted a twelve-year-old boy. “What’s this?”

“Therapy,” Heidi croaked, then made a sound like a vulture about to bring up something too putrid to digest, but Hollis had heard it before. She thought she remembered who Heidi had learned it from, a supernaturally pale German keyboardist with prematurely aged tattoos, their outlines blurred like felt pen on toilet paper. She put the bag and its mysterious contents on the dresser and picked up the phone, French, early twentieth century, but covered entirely in garishly reptilian Moroccan beading, like the business end of a hookah in the Grand Bazaar. “Pot of coffee, black, two cups,” she said to the room service voice, “rack of dry toast, large orange juice. Thanks.” She removed an ancient Ramones T-shirt from what was then revealed as a foot-tall white china reflexology model, an ear, complexly mapped in red. She put the T-shirt back, arranging it so that the band’s logo was optimally displayed.

“What about you?” asked Heidi, from beneath her laundry.

“What about me?”

“Men,” said Heidi.

“None,” said Hollis.

“What about the performance artist. Jumped off skyscrapers wearing that flying-squirrel suit. He was okay. Hot, too. Darrell?”

“Garreth,” said Hollis, probably for the first time in over a year, not wanting to.

“Is that why you’re here? He was English.”

“No,” said Hollis. “I mean yes, he was, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“You met him in Canada. Bigend introduce you? I didn’t meet him till later.”

“No,” Hollis said, dreading Heidi’s skill at this other, more painful unpacking. “They never met.”

“You don’t do jocks,” said Heidi.

“He was different,” said Hollis.

“They all are,” said Heidi.

“Was fuckstick?”

“No,” said Heidi. “Not that way. That was me, trying to be different. He was as undifferent as you can get, but he was somebody else’s undifferent. I just had this feeling that I could step into somebody else’s shoes. Put all the tour stuff in boxes. Shop at malls. Drive a car I’d never have thought of driving. Get a fucking break, you know? Time-out.”

“You didn’t seem very happy with it, when I saw you in L.A.”

“He turned out to be a closet creative. I married a tax lawyer. He started trying to produce. Indie stuff. He was starting to mention directing.”

“And he’s in jail now?”

“No bond. We had the FBI in the office. Wearing those jackets with ‘FBI’ on the back. They looked really good. Great look for a small production. But he couldn’t be on the set.”

“But you’re okay, legally?”

“I had Inchmale’s lawyer, in New York. I won’t even lose the share of his legitimate property I’m entitled to as the ex. Should they leave him any, which is unlikely. But seriously, fuck it.”

Breakfast arrived, Hollis taking the tray from the Italian girl at the door, with a wink. Tip her later.

Heidi batted her way out of the laundry pile. Sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on an enormous hockey jersey which Hollis, born without the gene for following team sports, recalled as having belonged to someone quite famous. Heidi definitely did jocks, though only if they were sufficiently crazy. Drumming for the Curfew, she’d had a spectacularly bad string of boxers, however good it might have been for publicity. She’d put one of them out cold with a single punch, at a pre-Oscars party. Very frequently now, Hollis was grateful for having had a pre-YouTube career.

“I never got what he did, Garret,” said Heidi, pouring herself half a cup of coffee, then topping it up with what remained in the whiskey decanter.

“Garreth. Do you think that’s a good idea?”

Heidi shrugged, her shoulders almost lost within the jersey. “You know me. Get this down and I’m good for six months of mineral water. Actually what I need now’s a gym. Serious one. What did he do?”

“I’m not sure I could explain that,” Hollis said, pouring her own coffee. “But I made a very firm agreement never to try.”

“Crook?”

“No,” said Hollis, “though some of what he did involved breaking laws. You know Banksy, the graffiti artist?”

“Yeah?”

“He liked Banksy. Identified with him. They’re both from Bristol.”

“But he wasn’t a graffiti artist.”

“I think he thought he was. Just not with paint.”

“With what?”

“History,” said Hollis.

Heidi looked unconvinced.

“He worked with an older man, someone with a lot of resources. The old man decided what should be done, what the gesture would be, then Garreth worked out the best way to do it. And not get caught. Dramaturge to the old man’s playwright, sort of, but sometimes actor as well.”

“So what was the problem?”

“Scary. Not that I didn’t approve of what they were doing. But it was scarier than Bigend’s stuff. I need the world to have a surface, the same surface everyone sees. I don’t like feeling like I’m always about to fall through, into something else. Look what happened to you.”

Heidi picked up a triangle of dry toast, considering it the way a potential suicide might consider a razor. “You said they weren’t crooks.”

“They broke laws, but they weren’t crooks. But by the very nature of what they did, they constantly made enemies. He came to L.A., we hung out. I was starting the book. He went back to Europe. Saw him again when I was over here to sign the car contract.”

“I got a proxy.” Biting off a corner of toast, chewing it dubiously.

“I wanted to be here.” Hollis smiled. “Then he came back with me, to New York. He wasn’t working. But then they were gearing up again. It was the run-up to Obama’s election. They were getting ready to do something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. If I did, and kept my promise, I couldn’t tell you anyway. I just got really busy with the book. He wasn’t around as much. Then he just wasn’t around.”

“Miss him?”

Hollis shrugged.

“You’re a difficult fit, you know that?”

Hollis nodded.

“Must make it harder.” Heidi got up, carried her whiskey and coffee into the bathroom, and splashed it into the sink. She came back and poured herself more coffee. “Feel like you’re on hold?”

“Definitely.”

“No good,” said Heidi. “Call him. See what’s up. Work through it.”

“No.”

“Got a number?”

“For emergencies. Only.”

“What kind?”

“Only if having known them ever got me into trouble.”

“Use it anyway.”

“No.”

“Pathetic,” said Heidi. “What the fuck is that?” She was staring into the bathroom.

“Your shower.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Wait’ll you see mine. What’s in those two boxes?” Pointing, where she’d put them down after taking them from Robert the night before. Hoping to change the topic. “A pair of concrete blocks?”

“Ashes,” Heidi said, “cremains.”

“Whose?”

“Jimmy’s.” The Curfew’s bass player. “There was nobody to claim them. He always said he wanted to be buried in Cornwall, remember?”

“No,” said Hollis. “Why Cornwall?”

“Fuck if I know. Maybe he’d decided it was the opposite of Kansas.”

“That’s a lot of ashes.”

“My mom’s too.”

“Your mother’s?”

“I never got around to doing anything with them. They were in the basement, with my tour stuff. I couldn’t leave ’em there with fuckstick, could I? I’ll take ’em both to Cornwall. Jimmy never had a mother anyway.”

“Okay,” said Hollis, unable to think of anything else to say.

“Where the fuck is Cornwall?”

“I can show you. On a map.”

“I need a fucking shower,” said Heidi.

12. COMPLIANCE TOOL

Bigend’s office, when Milgrim was finally ushered in, was windowless and surprisingly small. Perhaps it wasn’t that specifically his office, Milgrim thought. It didn’t look like an office anyone actually worked in.

The Swedish boy who’d brought Milgrim in put a gray folder on the teak desk and left silently. There was nothing else on the desk except a shotgun, one that appeared to have been made from solidified Pepto-Bismol.

“What’s that?” Milgrim asked.

“The maquette for one of the early takes on a collaboration between Taser and Mossberg, the shotgun manufacturer.” Bigend was wearing disposable plastic gloves, the kind that came on a roll, like cheap sandwich bags. “A compliance tool.”

“Compliance tool?”

“That’s what they call it,” said Bigend, picking the thing up with one hand and turning it, so that Milgrim could see it from various angles. It looked weightless. Hollow, some sort of resin. “I have it because I’m trying to decide whether a collaboration like this is the equivalent of Roberto Cavalli designing a trench coat for H&M.”

“I’ve been made,” said Milgrim.

“Made?” Bigend looked up.

“A cop took my picture this morning.”

“A cop? What kind?”

“A Chinese-American missionary-looking one. Her sweatshirt was embroidered with the South Carolina state flag.”

“Sit down,” said Bigend.

Milgrim sat, his Hackett shopping bag on his lap.

“How do you know she was a cop?” Bigend removed the glove-baggies, crumpled them.

“I just did. Do. Not necessarily in the sense of a law enforcement officer, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“You’ve been shopping,” said Bigend, looked at the Hackett bag. “What did you buy?”

“Pants,” said Milgrim, “a shirt.”

“Ralph Lauren shops at Hackett, I’m told,” said Bigend. “That’s an extremely complex piece of information, conceptually. Whether it’s true or not.” He smiled. “Do you like to shop there?”

“I don’t understand it,” Milgrim said, “but I like their pants. Some of their plainer shirts.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“The English football thing.”

“How so?”

“Are they serious about that, Hackett?”

“Exactly what I value in you. You go effortlessly to the core.”

“But are they?”

“Some would maintain that a double negative amounts to a positive. Where did this person take your picture?”

“Coffee place near the hotel. Seven Dials.”

“And you have informed—?”

“You.”

“Don’t mention this to anyone else. Except Pamela. I’ll inform her.”

“Not Oliver?”

“No,” said Bigend, “definitely not Oliver. Have you spoken with him today?”

“He had me leave my phone in the room, charging and turned on. He said that he needed to reprogram it. I haven’t gone back there yet.”

Bigend stared at the pink shotgun.

“Why is it that pink?” asked Milgrim.

“Output from a 3-D printer. I don’t know why they use pink. Seems to be the default shade. Those phones are an Oliver project. When you use one, you aren’t to consider it secure, whether for voice, text, or e-mail. But since this is England, really, you aren’t to consider any phone secure. Understood?”

“You don’t trust Oliver?”

“I don’t,” said Bigend. “What I want you to do, now, is to go about your business, as though you hadn’t noticed being photographed. Simply that.”

“What is my business?” asked Milgrim.

“Did you like Hollis Henry?”

“She seemed … familiar?”

“She was a singer. In a band. The Curfew.”

Milgrim remembered a large silvery black-and-white photograph. A poster. A younger Hollis Henry with her knee up, her foot on something. A tweed miniskirt, that seemed mostly to have unraveled, drawn taut. Where had he seen that?

“You’ll be working with her,” said Bigend. “A different project.”

“Translating?”

“I doubt it. This one is apparel-based as well.”

“Back in Vancouver,” Milgrim began, then stopped.

“Yes?”

“I found a woman’s purse. There was quite a lot of money in it. A phone. A wallet with cards. Keys. I put the purse and the wallet and the cards and the keys in a mailbox. I kept the money and the phone. You started phoning. I didn’t know you. We started talking.”

“Yes,” said Bigend.

“That’s why I’m here today, isn’t it?

“It is,” said Bigend.

“Whose phone was that?”

“Do you remember that there was something else in that purse? A black plastic unit, roughly twice the size of the phone?”

Milgrim did now. He nodded.

“That was a scrambler. It belonged to me. The person whose purse you found was an employee of mine. I wanted to know who had her phone. That was why I tried the number.”

“Why did you keep phoning back?”

“Because I became curious about you. And because you kept answering. Because we began to have a conversation that led eventually to our meeting, and, as you say, to your being here today.”

“Did it cost more to have me here today than …” Milgrim thought about it. “More than the Toyota Hilux?” He felt as though his therapist were watching him.

Bigend’s head tilted slightly. “I’m not certain, but it probably did. Why?”

“That’s my question,” said Milgrim. “Why?”

“Because I knew about the clinic in Basel. It’s highly controversial, very expensive. I was curious as to whether or not it would work, with you.”

“Why?” asked Milgrim.

“Because,” Bigend said, “I’m a curious person, and can afford to satisfy my curiosity. The doctors who examined you in Vancouver were not optimistic, to put it mildly. I like a challenge. And even in the condition I found you in, in Vancouver, you were an exceptional translator. Later”—and Bigend smiled—“it became evident that you have an interesting eye for a number of things.”

“I’d be dead now, wouldn’t I?”

“My understanding is that you probably would be, if you’d been withdrawn from the drug too quickly,” Bigend said.

“Then what do I owe you?”

Bigend reached for the shotgun, as though he were about to tap it with his finger, then caught himself. “Not your life,” he said. “That’s a by-product. Of my curiosity.”

“All that money?”

“The cost of my curiosity.”

Milgrim’s eyes stung.

“This is not a situation in which you’re required to thank me,” Bigend said. “I hope you understand that.”

Milgrim swallowed. “Yes,” he said.

“I do want you to work with Hollis on this other project,” Bigend said. “Then we’ll see.”

“See what?”

“What we see,” said Bigend, reaching across the shotgun for the gray folder. “Go back to the hotel. We’ll phone you.”

Milgrim stood, lowering the Hackett bag, which had been covering the startled-looking digital portrait of himself he wore around his neck, on its lanyard of chartreuse nylon.

“Why are you wearing that?”

“It’s required,” said Milgrim. “I don’t work here.”

“Remind me to fix that,” said Bigend, opening the gray folder, which contained a thick sheaf of what appeared to be clippings from Japanese magazines.

Milgrim, who was already closing the door behind him, said nothing.

13. MUSKRAT

They ate muskrat,” Heidi said as they walked in gritty sunlight to Selfridges, for her appointment with Hollis’s stylist, “but only on Fridays.”

“Who?”

“Belgians. Got the church to say it was okay, because muskrats live in the water. Like fish.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s in the Larousse Gastronomique,” said Heidi. “Look it up. Or just look at your boy. You can see he’s had some.”

Hollis’s iPhone rang as they were nearing Oxford Street. She looked at the screen. Blue Ant.

“Hello?”

“Hubertus.”

“You eat muskrat, Fridays?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m defending you from a racial slur.”

“Where are you?”

“On my way to Selfridges with a friend. She’s getting her hair cut.” Getting Heidi the last-minute appointment had required epic stylist-suckery, but Hollis was a firm believer in the therapeutic power of the right haircut. And Heidi, for her part, now seemed neither hungover nor jet-lagged.

“What are you doing while she does that?” asked Bigend.

Hollis debated telling Bigend she was getting a cut herself, but it didn’t seem worth it. “What do you have in mind?”

“The friend we had tapas with,” he said. “I want you two to talk.”

The translator, the one who liked dogs. “Why?”

“That will emerge. Talk while your friend has her hair cut. I’ll have Aldous run him over now. Where shall he meet you?”

“The food hall, I suppose,” said Hollis. “Patisserie.”

He hung up.

“Shit,” said Hollis.

“Muskrat,” said Heidi, pulling Hollis in beside her and taking on the remorseless afternoon pedestrian-flow of Oxford Street like a broad-shouldered icebreaker, homing on Selfridges. “You really are working for him.”

“I am that,” said Hollis.

>

“Hollis?”

She looked up. “Milgrim,” she said, remembering his name, which Bigend had been unwilling to use over the phone. He’d shaved, and looked rested. “I’m having a salad. Would you like something?”

“Do they have croissants?”

“I’m sure they do.” There was something she found deeply peculiar about his affect, even in this brief an exchange. He seemed genuinely mild, amiable, but also singularly alert, in some skewed way, as if there were something else looking out, around corners, swift and peripheral.

“I think I’ll have one,” he said, quite seriously, and she watched him walk to the nearby counter. He wore darker trousers today, the same thin cotton sportscoat.

He returned with his white tray. A croissant, a small rectangular slice of some compacted meat product in a pastry shell, and a cup of black coffee.

“You’re a Russian translator, Mr. Milgrim?” she asked as he put down the tray and took a seat.

“Just Milgrim,” he said. “I’m not Russian.”

“But a translator of Russian?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you do that for Hubertus? For Blue Ant?”

“I’m not a Blue Ant employee. I suppose I’m freelance. I’ve done some translation for Hubertus. Mostly literary.” He looked hungrily at his tray.

“Please,” she said, picking up her salad fork. “Go ahead. We can talk afterward.”

“I missed lunch,” he said. “I have to eat, with my medication.”

“Hubertus mentioned you were recovering from something.”

“Drugs,” he said. “I’m an addict. Recovering.” And the peripheral thing was right there, peering around some inner angle, taking her measure.

“Which ones?”

“Prescription tranquillizers. That sounds respectable, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose it does,” she said, “although I don’t imagine it makes it any easier.”

“It doesn’t,” he said, “but I hadn’t had a prescription for anything for quite a long time. I was a street addict.” He cut a neat slice from one end of his cold meat tart.

“I had a friend who was a heroin addict,” she said. “He died.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He began to eat.

“It was years ago.” She picked at her salad.

“What do you do for Hubertus?” he asked

“I’m freelance as well,” she said. “But I’m not sure what I do. Not yet.”

“He’s like that,” he said. Something caught his attention, across the hall. “Foliage green, those pants.”

“Whose?”

“He’s gone. Do you know coyote brown?”

“Who?”

“It was the fashionable shade in U.S. military equipment. Foliage green is newer, trending. Alpha green was up briefly, but foliage green is on top now.”

“U.S. military equipment comes in fashion shades?”

“It certainly does,” said Milgrim. “Hubertus doesn’t talk with you about that?”

“No.”

He was still trying to find the pants he’d glimpsed, in the distance. “It’s not a shade you’ll see much of this year, commercially. Next year, probably. I don’t even know the Pantone number.” He brought his attention back to his meat tart. Quickly finished it. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not very good with new people. At first.”

“I wouldn’t say that. You get right down to things, it seems to me.”

“That’s what he says,” said Milgrim, blinking, and she guessed he meant Bigend. “I saw your picture,” he said. “A poster of you. I think on St. Mark’s Place. A used record store.”

“That’s a very old picture.”

Milgrim nodded, tore his croissant in half, began to butter it.

“Does he talk to you about denim?”

Milgrim looked up, mouth full of croissant, shook his head.

“Gabriel Hounds?”

Milgrim swallowed. “Who?”

“It’s a very secretive jeans line. That seems to be what I do, for Hubertus.”

“But what do you do?”

“I investigate it. I try to find out where it comes from. Who makes it. Why people like it.”

“Why do people like it?”

“Possibly because it’s almost impossible to find.”

“Is that it?” asked Milgrim, looking at her jacket.

“Yes.”

“Well made. But it’s not military.”

“Not that I know of. Why is he interested in fashion, now?”

“He isn’t. In any ordinary sense. That I know of.” And the obliquely-looking-out thing was there again, around that interior corner, and she felt its intelligence. “Do you know there’s a trade show specifically for manufacturers who hope to produce equipment for the Marine Corps?”

“I didn’t. Have you been?”

“No,” said Milgrim, “I missed it. It’s in South Carolina. I was just there. In South Carolina.”

“What is it, exactly, that you do, for Hubertus, around clothing? Are you a designer? A marketer?”

“No,” said Milgrim. “I notice things. I’m good with detail. I didn’t know that. It was something he pointed out to me, in Vancouver.”

“Did you stay with him? In that penthouse?”

Milgrim nodded.

“In the room with the maglev bed?”

“No,” Milgrim said, “I had a small room. I needed … focus.” He finished the last of his croissant, took a sip of coffee. “I was, I think the word is ‘institutionalized’? I wasn’t comfortable with too much space. Too many options. Then he sent me to Basel.”

“Switzerland?”

“To begin my recovery. If you don’t mind me asking, why are you working for him now?”

“I ask myself that,” she said. “It’s not the first time, and after the first time, I certainly didn’t want there to be a second time. But it proved weirdly lucrative, that first time, in a very roundabout way, a way that had nothing to do with what I was supposedly doing for him. Then I lost a lot of that money in the crash, hadn’t found anything else I wanted to do, and suddenly he was insisting I do this. I’m not entirely comfortable with it.”

“I know.”

“You do?”

“I can tell,” said Milgrim.

“Why are you working for him?”

“I need a job,” said Milgrim. “And because … he paid for the clinic, in Basel. My recovery.”

“He sent you to detox?”

“It was very expensive,” he said. “More than an armored truck. Cartel grade.” He straightened his knife and fork on the white plate, amid crumbs. “It’s confusing,” he said. “Now he wants me to work with you.” He looked up from the plate, both elements of his oddly fragmented self seeming for the first time to see her simultaneously. “Why don’t you sing?”

“Because I don’t sing,” she said.

“But you were famous. You must have been. There was a poster.”

“That’s not really what it’s about,” she said.

“It just seems it might be easier. For you, I mean.”

“It wouldn’t,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

14. YELLOW HELMET

In Shaftsbury Avenue, on the way back to Milgrim’s hotel, through light rain, a dispatch rider on a dirty gray motorcycle caught up with the Hilux at a pedestrian crossing. Aldous powered down the window on the passenger side, squeegeeing raindrops from the bulletproof glass, as the helmeted rider took an envelope from his jacket and passed it to Milgrim, his glove like a Kevlar-armored robot hand. The window slid back up as the bike pulled away between the lanes of traffic ahead of them, the rider’s yellow helmet dwindling steadily. The back of it was marred, as if mauled by the swipe of some great paw, revealing a white substrate.

He looked down at the envelope. MILGRIM, centered, in a cartoonist’s loose caps, pm lower right. Pamela. It felt empty, or almost so, as he opened it. A limp transparent ring-binder sleeve, containing the inkjet image of his cop from Caffè Nero. Though not in Caffè Nero, here. Behind her, nicely in focus, Gay Dolphin Gift Cove’s dog-headed angels. And there the sweatshirt had been red, though he could make out the same white moon-and-palm logo. A different colorway. Had Sleight taken this? It appeared to be a candid shot. He imagined her sleeping, back in the coach compartment of his British Midlands flight.

The cab filled with the opening chords of Toots and the Maytals’ “Draw Your Brakes.” “Aldous,” said Aldous, to his iPhone. “Certainly.” He passed it to Milgrim.

“You see,” said Bigend.

“That’s her,” said Milgrim. “When I was there?”

Remembering Bigend’s advice about telephones, he didn’t ask where the image had been found, or how. “More or less,” said Bigend, and hung up, Milgrim returning the iPhone to Aldous’s large, waiting, beautifully manicured hand.

15. THE DROP

Fitzroy,” Clammy said, on her iPhone. She was staring up at the round bottom of Number Four’s birdcage, having left a freshly coiffed Heidi in Selfridges, preparing to test for residual viability in several of fuckstick’s credit cards.

“Fitzroy?”

“This neighborhood,” Clammy said, “Melbourne. ’Round Brunswick Street. Rose Street, off Brunswick. Rose Street’s got this artists’ market. Mere took me. Meredith. Ol’ George knew her.”

That would be “Olduvai” George, the Bollards’ brilliant, virtually forehead-free keyboardist, whom Inchmale said had more brains in his little finger than the rest of them put together. An even No. 2 crop that looked like a very tight fur hat. Like one of Clammy’s black cashmere beanies, except he couldn’t take it off. Massive jaw and cheekbones, permanent glossy black stubble, huge deep-set intelligent eyes.

“First thing I saw was her Hounds, girls’ Hounds,” Clammy continued.

“Looked good?”

“Hit it in a minute.”

Meaning, she thought, that he hadn’t, but would’ve. In theory at least. “And you had Hounds in common?”

“Wanted to,” Clammy said, “worst way. I’d seen that pillock Burton in a pair. Fat ass.” The transition from “arse” not yet quite bridged. Burton, whose fat ass she thought she’d heard cited before, did something in a band Clammy detested. The intensity of loathing one professional musician could manifest for another had been one of her least favorite things about the business. She’d bypassed it, she supposed, by generally avoiding the company of professional musicians. They weren’t all like that, by any means, she knew, but better safe than sorry.

“So you admired her jeans?”

“Made it known,” Clammy said, “that I knew what they were.”

“And?”

“She asked me if I’d like a pair. Told me she knew of a drop.”

“Drop?”

“A shipment.”

“Where from?”

“Didn’t want to ask,” he said, gravely. “Wanted me Hounds. Next day, she said. Said she’d take me.”

It was growing dark outside, taking Number Four with it. The bottom of the birdcage hung above her, the shadow of a mothership, discoidal, like solidified dusk. Waiting to radiate some energy, carve her with crop circles perhaps. She became momentarily aware of a susurrus, the sea of London traffic. The fingers of her free hand on the scrimshawed walrus-ivory of the Piblokto Madness bed. “And?”

“The others, they figured we were hooking up. ’Cept George. He knew her.”

“Where from?”

“Cordwainers. London College of Fashion. She’d studied shoe design. Had two seasons of her own line. Went back to Melbourne after that, making belts and purses. Serious girl, George said.”

“He was at Cordwainers?”

“Fucking Oxford, George. Seeing another Cordwainers girl, friend of hers.”

Hollis realized that she was framing all of this, visualizing it, in a Melbourne that had almost nothing to do with any actual city. They’d played Melbourne and Sydney twice each, touring, and each time she’d been so jet-lagged, and so embroiled with band politics, that she’d scarcely registered either place. Her Melbourne was a collage, a mash-up, like a Canadianized Los Angeles, Anglo-Colonial Victorian amid a terraformed sprawl of suburbs. All of the larger trees in Los Angeles, Inchmale had told her, were Australian. She supposed the ones in Melbourne were as well. The city in which she was imagining Clammy now wasn’t real. A stand-in, something patched together from what little she had available. She felt a sudden, intense urge to go there. Not to whatever the real Melbourne might be, but to this sunny and approximate sham. “And she got them for you?” she asked Clammy.

“Came in the morning. Drove me to Brunswick Street. Eggs and bacon in a vegan lesbian café bar.”

“Vegan bacon?”

“Open-minded. We talked about Hounds. I got the idea she’d met someone here, London, when she’d been at Cordwainers, who was in on the start of Hounds.”

“It started here?”

“Didn’t say that. But someone here had known something about it, early stages.”

The bottom of the cage was perfectly dark now, the insectoid wallpaper dimly floral. “We have a deal,” she reminded him.

“We do,” he agreed, “but there may be less to it than you’re expecting, now I’ve had time to think about it.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”

“So breakfast, and we talk, then we hit the market. I’d thought it would be more like the clothes end of Portobello, or Camden Lock. But it was more artists, craftsy stuff. Japanese prints, paintings, jewelry. Things the sellers had made.”

“When was this?”

“Last March. Still hot. People had been lining up, for Hounds, while we ate. Market’s not very big. Mere leads me straight to this queue, inside, I’d say twenty people, more after us. Out in a yard. I’m thinking, That’s not for us, but she says it is, we have to queue too.”

“What were the other people like, waiting?”

“Focused,” he said. “No chatting. And they all seemed to be alone. Trying to look casual, like.”

“Male? Female?”

“More male.”

“Age?”

“Mixed.”

She wondered what that meant, to Clammy.

“And they were waiting for … ?”

“There was a table, in under this old beach umbrella. We were in the sun, getting hotter. He’s sitting under there behind the table.”

“He?”

“White. Maybe thirty. American.”

She guessed Clammy might be unable to estimate age accurately, over about twenty or so. “How do you know?”

“Spoke with him, didn’t I, when I got up there.”

“What about?”

“Shrinkage,” Clammy said. “Sizing. Hounds are sized to shrink to the label size. Just under, in the waist, then that stretches a little. True sizes, no vanity sizing.”

“Anything else?”

“He’d only sell me the one pair. Had three in my size. Showed him the readies. Said he couldn’t. One to a customer. Kept things moving. ’Nother twenty, thirty people behind us.”

“What was he like?”

“Reddish hair, freckles. A white shirt I wondered about.”

“Why?”

“If it might be Hounds. Simple, like, but then not so simple. Like Hounds. He had his cash folded in one hand. No coins. Cash only.”

“How much?”

“Two hundred Australian.”

“Was he alone?”

“Two Aussie girls. Friends of Mere’s. It was actually their pitch he was using. Sell Mere’s belts, T’s they print, jewelry.”

“Names?”

“Nah. Mere’d know.”

“She’s in Melbourne?”

“Nah. Paris.”

She let the darkness of the mothership’s hull fill her field of vision. “Paris?”

“What I said.”

“Do you know how to reach her?”

“She’s at some vintage clothing fair. Two days. Starts tomorrow. Ol’ George is there with her. Inchmale’s pissed that he left while we’re in studio.”

“I need to meet her. Tomorrow or the next day. Can you arrange that?”

“Remember our agreement?”

“Absolutely. Get on it now. Call me back.”

“ ’Kay,” said Clammy, and was gone, the iPhone suddenly inert, empty.

16. HONOR BAR

She was waiting for Milgrim when he got back to his hotel. On the upholstered bench where they kept their complementary MacBook leashed, on the left side of the crossbar of the T-shaped lobby, opposite the desk.

He hadn’t seen her there as he asked the Canadian girl for his room key. “Someone’s waiting for you, Mr. Milgrim.”

“Mr. Milgrim?”

He turned. She was still seated there, just closing the MacBook, in the black sweatshirt. Flanked on the bench by her large white purse and a larger Waterstone’s bag. She stood, slinging the purse over her right shoulder and picking up the Waterstone’s bag. She must have had the card out, ready, because he saw it in her right hand as she approached him.

“Winnie Whitaker, Mr. Milgrim.” Handing him the card. Badge-like emblem in gold foil, upper left corner. WINNIE TUNG WHITAKER. He blinked. SPECIAL AGENT. Looking past that, desperately seeking escape, into the Waterstone’s shopping bag, where he saw at least two Paddington Bear fuzzy toys, with their iconic yellow hats. Then back to the card. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL. DEFENSE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE SERVICE. “DCIS,” pronouncing the individual letters of the acronym, then pronouncing it again as “dee sis,” stress on the first.

“You took my picture,” Milgrim said, sadly.

“Yes, I did. I need to have a talk with you, Mr. Milgrim. Is there somewhere more private?”

“My room’s very small,” he said. Which was true, though as he said it he realized there was absolutely nothing in his room that he had to keep her from finding. “The honor bar,” he said, “just up the stairs here.”

“Thank you,” she said, and gestured with the Waterstone’s bag for him to lead the way.

“Have you been waiting long?” he asked as he started up the stairs, hearing his own voice as though it belonged to a robot.

“Over an hour, but I got to tweet my kids,” she said.

Milgrim didn’t know what that meant, and had never fully taken the measure of the honor bar, and wasn’t sure how many rooms it might actually consist of. The one they entered now was like one of those educational display corners in a Ralph Lauren flagship store, meant to suggest how some semimythical other half had lived, but cranked up, here, into something else entirely, metastasized, spookily hyper-real.

“Wow,” she said appreciatively as he looked down at the card, hoping it would have become something else entirely. “Like the Ritz-Carlton on steroids. But in miniature, sort of.” She put her bag of Paddingtons carefully down on a leather hassock.

“Can I offer you a drink?” asked Milgrim’s robotically level voice. He looked down at the horrible card again, then tucked it into the breast pocket of his jacket.

“Do they have a beer?”

“I’m sure they do.” With some difficulty he located a paneled-in refrigerator, its door covered in red mahogany. “What would you like?”

She peered into the cold matte-silver interior. “I don’t know any of those.”

“A Beck’s,” suggested his robot. “Not the one they have in America.”

“And yourself?”

“I don’t drink alcohol,” he said, passing her a bottle of Beck’s and choosing a canned soft drink at random. She opened it, using something sterling, with a thick haft of deer antler for a handle, and took a swig directly from the bottle.

“Why did you take my picture?” Milgrim asked, unexpectedly bypassing his robot voice and sounding like a completely different person, the one you automatically and immediately arrest.

“I’m obsessive,” she said.

Milgrim blinked, shuddered.

“Basically,” she said, “I collect things. In accordion files, mostly. Pieces of paper. Photographs. Sometimes I put them on the wall, in my office. I have a booking shot of you, from a narcotics arrest in New York, 1997.”

“I wasn’t charged,” Milgrim said.

“No,” she agreed, “you weren’t.” She took a sip of Beck’s. “And I have a copy of your passport photograph, which of course is much more recent. But this morning, following you, I decided I’d be talking to you this afternoon. So I wanted to get a picture of you before I did. In situ, sort of. Actually, though, I really am obsessive about pictures. I’m not sure now whether I decided I’d talk to you this afternoon, first, or whether I just decided to take your picture, which would mean I’d be talking to you this afternoon.” She smiled. “Don’t you want your drink?”

Milgrim looked down at the small can, popped the top, and poured something yellowish and carbonated into a highball glass.

“Let’s sit down,” she said, and settled into a leather club chair. Milgrim took the one opposite her.

“What have I done?”

“I’m not psychic,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“Well,” she said, “you haven’t filed income tax for about a decade. But maybe you haven’t been earning enough to need to file.”

“I don’t think I have,” Milgrim said.

“But you’re employed now?”

“On a sort of honorarium basis,” Milgrim said, apologetically. “Plus expenses.”

“Some serious expenses,” she said, looking around the honor bar. “By this ad agency, Blue Ant?”

“Not formally, no,” said Milgrim, not liking the way that sounded. “I work for the founder and CEO.” “CEO,” he realized, having said this, had started to sound somehow sleazy.

She nodded, making eye contact again. “You don’t seem to have left much of a trail, Mr. Milgrim. Columbia? Slavic languages? Translation? Some government work?”

“Yes.”

“Zero history, as far as ChoicePoint is concerned. Means you haven’t even had a credit card for ten years. Means no address history. If I had to guess, Mr. Milgrim, I’d say you’ve had a problem with drugs.”

“Well,” said Milgrim, “yes.”

“You don’t look to me like you’ve got a problem with drugs now,” she said.

“I don’t?”

“No. You look like you’ve got a set of reflexes left over from having had a problem with drugs. And like you may have a problem with the company you’re keeping. But that’s what I’m here to talk with you about.”

Milgrim took a sip of whatever was in his glass. Some corrosively bitter Italian lemon soda. His eyes teared.

“Why did you go to Myrtle Beach, Mr. Milgrim? Did you know the man you met with there?”

“His pants.”

“His pants?”

“I made tracings,” Milgrim said. “I photographed them. He was paid for that.”

“Do you know how much?”

“No,” said Milgrim. “Thousands.” He made a thumb-and-forefinger gesture unconsciously indicating a certain thickness of hundred-dollar bills. “Say ten, tops?”

“And were they Department of Defense property, these pants?” she asked, looking at him very directly.

“I hope not,” Milgrim said, out of a deep and sudden misery.

She took a longer swallow of her beer. Continued to look at him that way. Someone chuckled in one of the honor bar’s adjoining rooms, from behind drawn French doors of that same red mahogany. The chuckle seemed to match the decor.

“I can tell you they weren’t,” she said.

Milgrim swallowed, painfully hard. “They weren’t?”

“But they’d like to be. That could be a problem. Tell me about the man who let you see them.”

“He had a mullet,” Milgrim said, “and he was wearing Blackie Collins Toters.”

“He was wearing—?”

“Toters,” Milgrim said. “I Googled them. They have Cordura Plus pocket linings, for guns and things. And outside pockets for knives or flashlights.”

“Oh,” she said, smiling briefly, “sure.”

“Sleight said he was special … something?”

“I’m sure he thinks he is.”

“Forces? Had been?”

“Sleight,” she said, “Oliver. British national, resident in Canada. Works for Blue Ant.”

“Yes,” said Milgrim, imagining Sleight’s picture on her wall. “Otherwise, he said almost nothing. Said they needed gussets.”

“Gussets?”

“The pants.” Then, remembering: “Blue Ant’s smartest design analyst thinks they aren’t military. Thinks they’re streetwear. I think she was right.”

“Why?”

“Coyote brown.” He shrugged. “Last year. Iraq.”

“I was in Iraq,” she said. “Three months. In the Green Zone. I got tired of that color too.”

Milgrim could think of nothing to say. “Was it dangerous?” asked his robot.

“They had a Cinnabon,” she said. “I missed my kids.” She finished her beer, and put the bottle down on a cut-glass coaster with a frilled sterling lip. “That was his wife you met, in the gift shop. He’s been in Iraq too. First in an elite unit, then later as a contractor.”

“I was afraid of him,” Milgrim said.

“I imagine he’s fairly dysfunctional,” she said, as though that wasn’t something warranting any surprise. “What is it with that Toyota?”

“The Hilux?”

“What local cooperation I have is via the FBI’s legal attaché here. The Brits were willing to follow you from the airport, and to let me know where you were staying. But they’re curious about the truck.”

“It’s Bigend’s,” Milgrim said. “It has armor fitted by a firm named Jankel, special engine, tires that keep going if they’re shot up.” He didn’t say cartel grade.

“Is that really his name?”

“The French pronunciation would be ‘Bayh-jhan,’ I think. But he seems to favor the other.”

“Why would he need a truck like that?”

“He doesn’t need to need it. He just needs to be curious about it.”

“Must be nice.”

“I don’t know if I’d describe him that way,” Milgrim said. “But he’s definitely curious.”

“And extremely well connected here. When my Brits ran the registration, I got the feeling, they decided that a tail from the airport and the name of your hotel was about all I’d be getting. Though that might have been all I’d have gotten anyway. But they did ask about the truck.”

“There aren’t that many genuinely eccentric rich people,” Milgrim said. “Evidently. Not even here.”

“Couldn’t prove it by me.”

“No,” Milgrim agreed, and took a tiny, careful sip of his bitter lemon pop.

“Why did they want the specs on those pants?”

“They’re interested in military contracts,” Milgrim said. “Designing. The actual clothing and equipment has to be manufactured in the United States. There’s a law.”

“No kidding,” she said.

“That’s what I’ve been told.”

“No,” she said, “I mean no kidding that they’re looking at contracting?”

“None,” said Milgrim. “They are. It’s a major current project.”

“Fucking hilarious,” she said.

Milgrim looked at his lemon pop, confused.

“Do you have a phone number?”

“I do,” said Milgrim, fishing the Neo from his jacket and showing it to her. “But it’s on this, and Bigend says it’s tapped.”

“Skip that, then. I arrested a serious shitbird who had one of those.”

Milgrim shuddered.

“Not because he had it. Something else. Do you have an e-mail address?”

“A Blue Ant address.”

“How about a Twitter account?”

“A what?”

“Sign up for one,” she said. “As Gay Dolphin Two, all caps, no spaces. Numeral two. From the laptop in the lobby. As soon as you finish your drink. Make your updates private. I’ll ask to follow you. I’ll be Gay Dolphin One. Allow me to follow you, refuse anybody else. It’ll mostly be porn bots anyway.”

“Porn bots? What is it?”

“It’s how I talk to my kids. You’ll register. That will be how we keep in touch. Let’s try to keep you out of trouble.”

Milgrim winced.

“You don’t want to leave town without letting me know. Or change hotels.”

“I have to go where they send me,” Milgrim said. “It’s what I do.”

“Perfect. I’ll be in touch.” She stood. “Thanks for the beer. Don’t forget about that registration. Gay Dolphin Two. Numeral two. All caps. No spaces.”

When she was gone, he continued to sit there, in the club chair. He took her card from his pocket. Held it without looking at it. Fingers on its sharp edges.

“No spaces,” his robot said.

17. HOMUNCULI

She found Heidi in Cabinet’s bar, monochromatically resplendent in a sort of post-holocaust drum majorette jacket, cut from several different shades and textures of almost-black.

“Fuckstick’s cards worked?”

“Two did,” said Heidi, raising a steaming glass of clear liquid in a highball glass. Her fresh-cut hair had been reblackened, likewise in several shades, and she seemed to have hit the makeup counter as well.

“What’s that?” Hollis asked, indicating the glass.

“Water,” Heidi said, and sipped.

“Want to go to Paris with me, tomorrow morning?”

“What for?”

“My day job. There’s a vintage clothing fair. I may have found someone who knows what Bigend wants me to find out. Part of it, anyway.”

“How did you find them?”

“I think she’s dating the keyboard player from the Bollards.”

“Small world,” said Heidi. “And he’s the only cute one. Rest are homunculuses.”

“Homunculi.”

“Little douche bags,” Heidi countercorrected. “I’ll pass. Throat’s bothering me. Fucking planes.”

“No, Eurostar.”

“I mean the one I came over on. When are you back?”

“Day after tomorrow, if I can find her tomorrow. I guess I’ll take Milgrim, then.”

“How was he?”

“Profoundly. Fucking. Peculiar.” Hollis blew gently on the thin tan island of foam afloat in her half pint of Guinness, to see it move, then drank some. Always a mysterious beverage to her. Unsure why she’d asked for it. She liked the way it looked more than how it tasted. How would it taste, she wondered, if it tasted the way she thought it looked? No idea. “Though maybe not in such a bad way. Not his fault Bigend found him. We know how that is.”

“Robert’s found me a gym. Old school. East side.”

“End. Not side.”

“He’s cute.”

“Don’t you dare. ‘No civilians,’ remember? If you’d stuck with the rule, you wouldn’t have to be divorcing fuckstick.”

“Look at you. Motherfucker’s on YouTube, jumping off skyscrapers in a flying-squirrel suit.”

“But it was your rule, remember? Not mine. After the boxers, you stuck with musicians.”

“Homunculuses,” Heidi said, nodding, “douche bags.”

“I could’ve told you that,” Hollis said.

“You did.”

The bar’s level of early-evening drinking-crowd noise tilted, suddenly. Hollis looked up and saw the Icelandic twins, their identical frosty pelts aglitter. Behind them, somehow worryingly avuncular, loomed Bigend.

“Shit,” said Hollis.

“I’m out of here,” said Heidi, putting down her water and standing, giving her shoulders an irritated shrug within her new jacket.

Hollis rose too, half-pint in hand. “I’ll have to speak with him,” she said. “About Paris.”

“You’re the one with the job.”

“Hollis,” said Bigend. “And Heidi. Delighted.”

“Mr. Bellend,” said Heidi.

“Allow me to introduce Eydis and Fridrika Brandsdottir. Hollis Henry and Heidi Hyde.”

Eydis and Fridrika smiled identically, in eerie unison. “A pleasure,” said one. “Yes,” said the other.

“I’m leaving,” said Heidi, and did, men turning to follow her with their eyes as she strode off through the bar.

“She isn’t feeling well,” said Hollis. “The flight’s affected her throat.”

“She is a singer?” asked either Eydis or Fridrika.

“A drummer,” said the other.

“May I speak with you for a moment, Hubertus?” Hollis turned to the twins. “Please excuse me. Take these seats.”

As they settled in the armchairs that Hollis and Heidi had vacated, Hollis stepped closer to Bigend. He’d forgone the blue suit this evening, and wore one in some peculiarly light-absorbing black fabric that somehow looked as though it didn’t have a surface. More like an absence, an opening into something else, antimatter paired with mohair. “I hadn’t known Heidi was here,” he said.

“We’re all surprised. But I wanted to tell you that I’m going to Paris tomorrow, to try to speak with someone who may know something about Hounds. I thought I’d take Milgrim.”

“You got along?”

“Well enough, considering.”

“I’ll have Pamela e-mail you in a few minutes. She can handle any reservations.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll keep track of expenses. But I don’t want to give up my room here, so I’ll keep it and you can cover that.”

“I already am,” Bigend said, “plus incidentals. Can you tell me anything about Paris?”

“I may have found someone who was involved with whatever the beginning of Hounds was. ‘May.’ That’s all I know. And it may not be true. I’ll call you from there. Anyway, you’ve got company.” Smiling in the direction of Eydis and Fridrika, now coiled like slender silvery arctic mammals in their matching armchairs. “Good night.”

18. 140

The Neo rang while he was still trying to grasp Twitter. He was registered, now, as GAYDOLPHIN2. No followers, following no one. Whatever that meant. And his updates, whatever those were, were protected.

The harsh faux-mechanical ring tone had attracted the attention of the girl at the desk. He smiled anxiously, apologetically, from his seat on the leather-padded laptop-tethering bench, and answered it, the Neo awkward against his ear. “Yes?”

“Milgrim?”

“Speaking.”

“Hollis. How are you?”

“Well,” said Milgrim, automatically. “How are you?”

“Wondering if you’re up for Paris tomorrow. We’d take an early Eurostar.”

“What’s that?”

“The train,” she said. “Chunnel. It’s quicker.”

“What for?” Sounding, he thought, like a suspicious child.

“I’ve found someone we need to try to speak with. She’s there tomorrow, and the day after. After that, I don’t know.”

“Will we be gone long?”

“Overnight, if we’re lucky. Seven-thirty out of St. Pancras. I’ll arrange for someone from Blue Ant to pick you up at the hotel.”

“Does Hubertus know?”

“Yes. I just ran into him.”

“All right,” he said. “Thank you.”

“I’ll have the car phone your room.”

“Thank you.”

Milgrim put the Neo away and went back to webmail and Twitter. He’d just heard from Twitter, asking whether he was willing to have GAYDOLPHIN1 follow him. He was. And now he’d have to tell her about Paris. In bursts of a hundred and forty character spaces, apparently.

As he was finishing this, someone called CyndiBrown32 asked whether he was willing to have her follow him.

Remembering Winnie’s instructions, he wasn’t. He closed Twitter and logged out of webmail. Closed the MacBook.

“Good night, Mr. Milgrim,” said the girl at the desk as he went to the elevator.

He felt as though something new and entirely too large was attempting to fit within him. He’d shifted allegiances, or acquired a new one. Or was he simply more afraid of Winnie than he was of Bigend? Or was it that he was afraid of the possibility of the absence of Bigend?

“Institutionalized,” he said to the brushed stainless interior of the Hitachi elevator as its door closed.

He’d gone from where he’d been before, somewhere he thought of as being extremely small, and very hard, to this wider space, to his not-quite-job running errands for Bigend, but suddenly that seemed not so wide. This succession of rooms, in hotels he never chose. Simple missions, involving travel. Urine tests. Always another bubble-pack.

Reminded of his medication, he calculated. He had enough for two nights away. Whatever it was.

The door opened on the third-floor hallway.

Take your medicine. Clean your teeth. Pack for Paris.

When had he last been in Paris? It felt as though he never had. Someone else had been, in his early twenties. That mysterious previous iteration his therapist in Basel had been so relentlessly interested in. A younger, hypothetical self. Before things had started to go not so well, then worse, then much worse, though by then he’d arranged to be absent much of the time. As much of the time as possible.

“Quit staring,” he said to the dressmaker’s dummy as he stepped into his room. “I wish I had a book.” It had been quite a while since he’d found anything to read for pleasure. Nothing since the start of his recovery, really. There were a few expensively bound and weirdly neutered bookazines here, rearranged daily by the housekeepers, but he knew from glancing through them that these were bland advertisements for being wealthy, wealthy and deeply, witheringly unimaginative.

He’d look for a book in Paris.

Reading, his therapist had suggested, had likely been his first drug.

19. PRESENCES

Tossing makeup and toiletries into a bag, she noticed that the Blue Ant figurine wasn’t there on the counter, her failed employment-avoidance totem. Moved by the housecleaners in yesterday’s tidy, she supposed, but unlike them. She zipped the makeup bag. Checked her hair in the mirror. A voice with a BBC register was flowing smoothly, meaninglessly, from the ornate wall-grid.

Out past the steamy glass slabs and nickel-plate bumpers of the H. G. Wells shower, multiply towel-draped now.

Glancing around Number Four in hope of finding something she might have forgotten to pack, she saw the three unopened cartons of the British edition of her book. Remembering Milgrim, when she’d first met him, on their walk to the tapas place, expressing interest. Bigend, of course, had brought it up. Milgrim had seemed taken, for a few seconds, with the idea that she’d written a book.

She should take him one, she decided.

She wrestled a ridiculously heavy carton onto the unmade bed and used the foil-ripper on the room’s Victorian corkscrew to slit the transparent plastic tape. Releasing a bookstore smell as she opened the carton, but not a good one. Dry, chemical. And there they were, square and individually shrink-wrapped, Presences, by Hollis Henry. She took one off the top, slid it into the side pocket of her roll-aboard.

Then out, through liminal green hallways, lift, and down, to the coffee-smelling foyer, where a tortoise-spectacled young man presented her with a tall white coffee in a crisp white paper cup, lidded with white plastic, and offered her a Cabinet umbrella.

“Is the car here?”

“Yes,” he said.

“I won’t need an umbrella, thanks.”

He carried the roll-aboard out for her and put it in the popped trunk of a black BMW, piloted by the bearded young man who’d admitted her to Blue Ant.

“Jacob,” this one said, smiling. He wore a waxed cotton motorcycle jacket. It lent him a sort of post-apocalyptic élan, she thought, this rainy morning. Props should’ve given him a Sten gun, or some other weapon looking equally like plumbing.

“Of course,” she said. “Thank you for picking me up.”

“Traffic’s not terrible,” opening her door for her.

“We’re meeting Mr. Milgrim?” As he slid in behind the wheel, she noted his wireless earpiece.

“All sorted. Been picked up. Ready for Paris?”

“I hope so,” she said as he pulled away from the curb.

Then Gloucester Place. Had she been walking, she’d have taken Baker Street instead, which she’d dreamed of as a child, and which retained, even at this stage of supposed adulthood, a certain small sharp sense of disappointment. Though perhaps game was afoot in Paris, she thought, and now merely a rather long subway ride from here.

In the traffic of Marylebone Road, stopping and starting, she kept noticing a dispatch rider, armored in samurai plastics, the back of his yellow helmet scarred as if something feline and huge had swatted him and almost missed, his clumsy-looking fiberglass fairing mended with peeling silver tape. He seemed to keep passing them, somehow, rolling forward between lanes. She’d never understood how that worked here.

“I hope I can find Milgrim at the station.”

“No fear,” said Jacob. “They’ll bring him to you.”

>

Sky-blue steel-girdered vastness. Towering volume of sound. Pigeons looking unconfused, about their pigeon business. Nobody did train stations like the Europeans, and the British, she thought, best of all. Faith in infrastructure, coupled with a necessity-driven gift for retrofitting.

One of Bigend’s lanky, elegant drivers, hand to earpiece, hove toward her steadily through the crowd, Milgrim in tow like a Sunday rowboat. Gazing around like a child, Milgrim, his face lit with a boy’s delight in the blue-girdered drama, the Dinky Toy grandeur of the great station.

One of the wheels of her roll-aboard began to click as she headed in their direction.

20. AUGMENTED

Milgrim glanced up from the square, glossy pages of Presences: Locative Art in America, and saw that Hollis was reading too. Something clothbound, black, no jacket.

They were somewhere under the Channel now, seated in Business Premier, which had wifi and a croissant breakfast. Or not wifi, but something cellular, requiring what she’d called a “dongle,” and had plugged into the edge of her MacBook for him. He’d borrowed it earlier, a weirdly thin one called an Air, and gone to Twitter, to see if Winnie had said anything, but she hadn’t. “Going through Kent now,” he’d written, then erased it. Then he’d tried “Hollis Henry” on Google and found her Wikipedia entry. Which had made for an odd read, as she was seated just opposite him, across the table, though she couldn’t see what he was looking at. Though now they were in the tunnel, there was no phone either.

She’d been described, in a retrospective piece written in 2004, as having looked, when she performed, like “a weaponized version of Françoise Hardy.” He wasn’t sure he could see it, exactly, and he’d also Googled Françoise Hardy to make the direct comparison. Françoise Hardy was more conventionally pretty, he thought, and he wasn’t sure what “weaponized” was supposed to mean, in that context. He supposed the writer had been trying to capture something of whatever she’d projected in live performance.

Hollis didn’t look like Milgrim’s idea of a rock singer, to the extent that he had one. She looked like someone who had a job that allowed you to wear what you wanted to the office. Which she did have, he supposed, with Bigend.

When he was finished with her computer, she’d offered him this copy of the book she’d written. “I’m afraid it’s mostly pictures,” she’d said, unzipping a side pocket on her black suitcase and pulling out a glossy, shrink-wrapped slab. The cover was a color photograph of tall nude statues of several very slender, small-breasted women, with identical helmet-like haircuts and matching bracelets, rising out of what seemed to be a rather small flower bed. They were made of something like solidified mercury, perfectly mirroring everything around them. The back cover was the same image, but minus the heroically erotic liqui-chrome statuary, which made it possible to read a sign they had concealed: Château Marmont.

“That’s a memorial to Helmut Newton,” she’d said. “He lived there, part of the time.”

“The back is ‘before’?” Milgrim had asked.

“No,” she’d said, “that’s what you see, there, unaugmented. The front’s what you see augmented. Construct’s tied to the GPS grid. To see it, you have to go there, use augmented reality.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” Milgrim had said, looking at the back, then the front.

“When I wrote the book, there was no commercial hardware. People were building their own. Now it’s all iPhone apps. Lots of work, back then, trying to render the pieces effectively. We had to take high-rez photographs of the site, from as many angles as you can, then marry them to whatever that exact angle on the construct would look like, then choose from those.”

“Did you do that yourself?’

“I chose, but Alberto did the photography and the imaging. That Newton memorial is one of his own pieces, but he rendered all of the others.” She pushed a strand of hair back from her eye. “Locative art probably started in London, and there’s a lot of it, but I haven’t seen much of it there. I decided to stick to American artists. Less to bite off, but also because it all has some peculiarly literal sense of place. I thought I had a marginally better chance of understanding it there.”

“You must know a lot about art.”

“I don’t. I stumbled on this stuff. Well, that’s not true. Bigend suggested I look at it. Though at the time I had no idea it was him doing the suggesting.”

He’d worked the corner of his thumbnail under the shrink-wrap. “Thank you,” he’d said, “it looks very interesting.”

Now she closed the black book, saw him looking at her. Smiled.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

“Rogue Male. Geoffrey Household. It’s about a man who tried to assassinate Hitler, or someone who’s exactly like Hitler.”

“Is it good?”

“Very good, though it really seems to be about wriggling down into the heart of the British countryside. Third act all seems to take place inside a hedgerow, down a badger hole.”

“I like your book. Like people were able to freeze their dreams, leave them places, and you could go there and see them, if you knew how.”

“Thank you,” she said, putting Rogue Male down on the table, without bothering to mark her place.

“Have you seen them all, yourself?”

“Yes, I have.”

“What’s your favorite?”

“River Phoenix, on the sidewalk. It was the first I saw. I never went back. Never saw it again. It made such a powerful impression. I suppose it was really why I decided to try to do a book, that impression.”

Milgrim closed Presences. He put it on the table, opposite Rogue Male. “Who are we going to see in Paris?”

“Meredith Overton. Studied at Cordwainers, shoe design, leather. She lives in Melbourne. Or did. She’s in Paris for the Salon du Vintage, selling something. She’s with a keyboard player named George, who’s in a band called the Bollards. Do you know them?”

“No,” said Milgrim.

“I know another Bollard, plus the man who’s currently producing their music.”

“She knows about Gabriel Hounds?”

“My other Bollard says she knew someone in London, when she was at Cordwainers, who knew someone involved in Hounds getting started.”

“It started in London?”

“I don’t know. Clammy met her in Melbourne. She was wearing Hounds, he wanted Hounds. She knew of Hounds locally. Some would be sold at a sort of art fair. He went with her and bought jeans. Says there was an American man there, selling them.”

“Why do you think she’ll talk to us?”

“I don’t,” she said. “But we can try.”

“Why do people care? Why do you think Bigend does?”

“He thinks someone’s copying some of his weirder marketing strategies,” she said, “improving on them.”

“And you think people want this brand because they can’t have it?”

“In part.”

“Drugs are valuable because you can’t get them without breaking the law,” Milgrim said.

“I thought they were valuable because they worked.”

“They have to work,” said Milgrim, “but the market value is about prohibition. Often they cost next to nothing to make. That’s what it all runs on. They work, you need them, they’re prohibited.”

“How did you get out of that, Milgrim?”

“They changed my blood. Replaced it. And while they were doing that, they were reducing the dose. And there was a paradoxical antagonist.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure,” said Milgrim. “Another drug. And cognitive therapy.”

“That sounds terrible,” she said.

“I liked the therapy,” Milgrim said. He could feel his passport against his chest, tucked safely into its Faraday pouch.

Rainy French countryside leapt on the carriage’s windows, hurtling, as if a switch had been thrown.

21. MINUS ONE

Foliage green,” she heard Milgrim say, flatly, as she paid the driver with euros she’d gotten from an ATM in the Gare du Nord.

She turned. “What?”

He was half out of the cab, clutching his bag. “That department store, Oxford Street,” he said. “Foliage green pants. Same man, just walked in. Where we’re going.” That sharp, nervy thing fully present now, the mildly confused semiconvalescent gone entirely. He looked as though he were sniffing the air.

“Keep the change,” she said to the driver, shooing Milgrim out of the way and pulling her roll-aboard after her. She closed the door and the cab pulled away, leaving them on the sidewalk. “Are you sure?”

“Someone’s watching us.”

“Bigend?”

“Don’t know. You go in.”

“What will you do?”

“I’ll see.”

“Are you sure?”

“Let me borrow me your computer.”

Hollis bent, unzipped the side of her bag, and pulled out her Mac. He tucked it under his arm, like a clipboard. She saw that vagueness returning, the blinking mildness. He’s cloaking himself, she thought, then wondered what that meant.

“You go in now,” he said, “please.”

“Euros,” she said, passing him some bills.

She turned and wheeled her bag across the pavement, into the crowd around the venue’s entrance. Was Milgrim imagining things? Possibly, though there was Bigend’s penchant for attracting the most unwanted forms of attention, then following whatever followers turned up. Exactly what Milgrim claimed to be about to do. She looked back, expecting to see him, but he was gone.

She paid an entrance fee of five euros to a Japanese girl and was asked to check her bag.

A cobbled courtyard was visible through arches. Young women there were smoking cigarettes, making it look at once natural and profoundly attractive.

The Salon du Vintage itself was being held within the retrofitted seventeenth-century building to which the courtyard belonged, a previous decade’s idea of sleek modernity smoothly folded into its fabric.

Every second or third person in her field of vision was Japanese, and many were moving in approximately one direction. She went with them, up a minimalist stairway of pale Scandinavian wood, emerging into the first of two very large bright rooms, chandeliers glittering above carefully arranged racks of clothing, glass-topped display tables and pieces of period furniture.

This year’s iteration of the Salon du Vintage was devoted to the Eighties, she knew from having Googled it. She always found it peculiar to encounter a time she had actually lived through rendered as a period. It made her wonder whether she was living through another one, and if so, what it would be called. The first decades of the current century hadn’t yet acquired any very solid nomenclature, it seemed to her. Seeing relatively recent period clothing, particularly, gave her an odd feeling. She guessed that she unconsciously revised the fashion of her own past, turning it into something more contemporary. It was never quite as she remembered it. Shoulders tended to be peculiar, hems and waistlines not where she expected them to be.

Not that her own Eighties had been anything like Gaultier, Mugler, Alaïa and Montana, which she was now gathering was the version mainly being presented here.

She checked the handwritten price tag on a mulberry wool Mugler jacket. If Heidi were here, she decided, and were into this sort of thing, which she wasn’t, fuckstick’s remaining credit cards could probably be flatlined in an hour, with the resulting swag still fitting easily in a single cab.

She looked up, then, and winced at herself, in Anton Corbijn’s 1996 portrait, enlarged and dry-mounted, suspended with transparent fishing line above the rack of Mugler. Anachronism, she thought. Not even her era.

Eager to escape the portrait, she declined an offer to try the Mugler on. Turning away, she brought out her iPhone. Bigend seemed to pick up before his phone had had a chance to ring.

“Do you have someone else here, Hubertus?”

“No,” he said. “Should I?”

“You didn’t have someone watching us, in Selfridges?”

“No.”

“Milgrim thinks he’s seen someone, someone he saw there.”

“Always a possibility, I suppose. Paris office hasn’t been told you’re there. Would you like some company?”

“No. Just checking.”

“Do you have anything for me?”

“Not yet. Just got here. Thanks.” She hung up before he could say goodbye. Stood there with her arm cocked, phone at ear-level, suddenly aware of the iconic nature of her unconscious pose. Some very considerable part of the gestural language of public places, that had once belonged to cigarettes, now belonged to phones. Human figures, a block down the street, in postures utterly familiar, were no longer smoking. The woman in Corbijn’s portrait had never seen that.

The number Clammy had given her the night before rang several times before it was answered. “Yes?”

“George? It’s Hollis Henry. We met at Cabinet, when Reg was still there.”

“Yes,” he said. “Clammy rang. You’re needing to speak with Mere.”

“I’d like to, yes.”

“And you’re here?”

“Yes.”

“Afraid it’s not possible.” George sounded much more like a young barrister than the Bollards’ keyboard player.

“She doesn’t want to discuss it?”

“Not at all.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“No, really,” he said, “not at all. She’s closing a deal on the Chanel she brought from Melbourne. Tokyo dealers. Taken her out to lunch. Left me minding the shop.”

Hollis held the iPhone away as she sighed with relief, then returned it to her ear. “She wouldn’t mind talking with me, then?”

“Not at all. Loves your music. Mother’s a great fan. Where are you?”

“Second floor. Not far from the stairs.”

“Did you see they’ve a picture of you there?”

“Yes,” she said, “I noticed.”

“We’re at the very back. I’ll look out for you.”

“Thanks.” She walked on, passing a display of denim work clothing she doubted was Eighties. All of it older than its dealer, she guessed, and she judged him to be in his forties. He watched her sharply as she passed; the Hounds jacket, she thought.

She found Olduvai George beyond an archipelago of transparent inflatable orange furniture which didn’t look Eighties to her either. He was smiling, natty and attractively simian, in jeans and a khaki raincoat.

“How are you?”

“Well, thanks,” she said, shaking his hand. “How are you?”

“Haven’t had a nibble since the Tokyo mob took Mere away. I don’t think I have the retail gene.”

Oxford, Inchmale had said of George, when she’d pressed him the night before. Balliol, graduated with a starred first PPE. Which she supposed she remembered perfectly now, because she had absolutely no idea what it might mean, other than that George was assumed to be monstrously overeducated for present employment. “And please don’t tell anyone,” Inchmale had added.

“Good thing you don’t need it,” she said, considering eight very petite, identically cut Chanel suits, displayed on austere charcoal-gray dress forms, that seemed to be the whole of Meredith Overton’s stock. All cut from some thick fabric that resembled a highly magnified houndstooth check, in color combinations on the order of hot orange and mustard. She vaguely remembered oven mitts made of a similar material, similarly thick. She’d actually seen suits like this worn to very good effect once, but only once, and in Cannes. It had all depended, she’d thought at the time, on the way in which the two pieces resolutely refused to conform to the body. Now she saw that each garment had been threaded through with a slender steel cable, coated in transparent plastic. “Are they very valuable?”

“Hoping so. She found them in an estate sale in Sydney. They were made in the early Eighties, for the wife of a very successful property developer. Couture, exclusive fabrics. The sellers had no idea, but in order to do really well with them, it’s either here, now, or Tokyo. And the significant Japanese buyers are all here, today, and Paris adds a certain symbolic leverage. They were made here.”

“She was tiny,” Hollis said, reaching out to touch a fabric-covered button, but stopping.

“Would you like to see a photograph of her wearing one?”

“Really?”

“Mere found them in the papers, in Australian city glossies. Even a bit of video.”

“No, thanks,” Hollis said, the eight brightly suited dress forms feeling suddenly like tomb statuary, power objects, the fetishes of a departed shamaness, occultly cocked and ready.

“There are handbags too, purses. Like new. She has them here but decided not to display them. Because they’re a bit more affordable, she’d just have to show them repeatedly. Doesn’t want them pawed over by the punters.”

“Did Clammy tell you what I’m after, George?”

“Not exactly, but now you’re here, I’m guessing it’s about your jacket.”

It felt odd, hearing someone outside of Bigend’s circle, other than Clammy, reference Hounds. “How much do you know about that?”

“No more than Clammy, I imagine. She’s very closely held, Mere is. Business like this is more about keeping secrets than advertising.”

“How’s that?”

“There aren’t that many serious buyers. Quite a few serious dealers, though.”

She’d liked him, when they’d met at Cabinet, and found she liked him now. “Clammy says that Mere knew someone, when she was at that footwear college in London,” she said, deciding to trust him. As usual, she surprised herself in this, but once in, you rolled with it. “Someone associated with Gabriel Hounds.”

“That may be,” George said, smiling. The proportions of his skull were oddly reversed, jaw and cheekbones massive, brows heavy, forehead scarcely the width of two fingers, between a unibrow and his densely caplike haircut. “But best I don’t speak of it.”

“How long have you been together?”

“Bit before Clammy met her in Melbourne. Well, that’s not true, but I already fancied her. She claims it wasn’t mutual at all then, but I have my doubts.” He smiled.

“She’s living back in London? Here?”

“Melbourne.”

“That’s seriously long-distance.”

“It is.” He frowned. “Inchmale,” he said, “while I have you.”

“Yes?’

“He’s certainly hard on Clammy, mixing the bed tracks. I’ve stayed well out of it.”

“Yes?”

“Can you give me any advice? Anything that might make working with him easier?”

“You’ll be going to Arizona soon,” she said. “Tucson. There’s a very small studio there, owner’s Inchmale’s favorite engineer. They’ll do some initially very alarming things to your London bed tracks. Let them. Then you’ll basically rerecord the entire album. But very quickly, almost painlessly, and I imagine you’ll be extremely pleased with the result. I’ve already told Clammy that, but I’m not sure it got through.”

“He didn’t do that on the first album he produced for us, and we were a lot closer to Tucson then.”

“You weren’t there yet. In terms of his process. You are now. Or almost, I’d say.”

“Thanks,” he said, “that’s good to know.”

“Call me, if you’re getting exasperated. You will. Clammy will, in any case. But you’ve jumped with him, and if you let him, he’ll land on his feet, and the album with him. He’s not very diplomatic at the best of times, and he gets less so, the further into the process you go with him. Any idea when Mere will be back?”

He consulted a very large wristwatch, the color of a child’s toy fire engine. “Going on an hour now,” he said, “but I’ve really no idea. Wish she’d get back myself. I’m dying for coffee.”

“Café in the courtyard?”

“Indeed. Large black?”

“You got it,” she said.

“You can take the lift,” he said, pointing.

“Thanks.”

It was German, with a brushed stainless interior, the philosophical opposite of Cabinet’s, but not much larger. She pushed 1, but when it passed 0, she realized that she’d pushed -1.

The door opened on a dim, blue-lit void, and utter silence.

She stepped out.

Ancient stone groins, receding toward the street, illuminated by concealed disco floodlights, dialed down low. A small impromptu corral of what she took to be spare Salon du Vintage gear, on the bare stone floor, dwarfed by the arches. Folding chrome sample racks, a few dress forms looking Dali-esque in this light.

All quite wonderfully unexpected.

And then, at the far end of the blue arches, descending stairs, a figure. As described by Milgrim. The short-brimmed cap, short black jacket, zipped up tight.

He saw her.

She stepped back into the elevator, pressing 0.

22. FOLEY

Milgrim, with Hollis’s laptop clamped firmly under his arm, bag over the other shoulder, walked rapidly along a smaller street, away from the one where her vintage clothing fair was being held.

He needed wifi. He regretted not borrowing the red dongle.

Now he neared a place called Bless, at first mistaking it for a bar. No, a place that sold clothing, he saw. There might be someone in there, he supposed, glancing in the window, who would either know about or pretend to know about Hollis’s phantom jeans line.

He kept walking, simultaneously conducting an imaginary exchange with his therapist, one in which they sorted out what he was feeling. Having worked very hard to avoid feeling much of anything, for most of his adult life, recognizing even the simplest of his emotions could require remedial effort.

Angry, he decided. He was angry, though he didn’t yet know who or what at. If Winnie Tung Whitaker, Special Agent, had sent the man in the foliage green pants, and hadn’t told him, he thought he’d be angry with her. Disappointed, anyway. That wouldn’t be getting off on the right foot, in what he thought of as a new professional relationship. Or perhaps, his therapist suggested, he was angry with himself. That would be more complicated, less amenable to self-analysis, but more familiar.

Better to be angry with the man in the foliage green pants, he thought. Mr. Foliage Green. Foley. He didn’t feel kindly disposed toward Foley. Though he had absolutely no idea who Foley might be, what he was up to, or whether Foley was following him, Hollis, or the both of them. If Foley wasn’t working for or with Winnie, he might be working for Blue Ant, or for Bigend more privately, or, given Bigend’s apparent new attitude toward Sleight, for Sleight. Or none of the above. He might be some entirely new part of the equation.

“But is there an equation?” he asked himself, or his therapist. Though she now seemed not to be answering.

Rue du Temple, a wall plaque informed him at the corner, on a building looking as though it had been drawn by Dr. Seuss. A larger street, Temple. He turned right. Past an ornate, Victorian-looking Chinese restaurant. Discovering a smoke shop that also offered coffee, its official, spindle-shaped, red-lit Tabac sign presenting nicotine-lack as a medical emergency. Without slowing, he entered.

“Wifi?”

“Oui.”

“Espresso, please.” Taking a place at the authentically nonreflective zinc counter. There was a faint but definite smell of cigarette smoke, though no one was smoking. Indeed, he was the only customer here.

His therapist had suspected that his inability with Romance languages was too thorough, too tidily complete, thus somehow emotionally based, but they had been unable get to the bottom of it.

Obtaining the password (“dutemple”) from the counterman, he logged on to Twitter, his password there a transliteration of the Russian for “gay dolphin,” the Cyrillic loosely rendered in approximation on the Roman keyboard.

Her “Whr R U now?” had been sent “about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck.”

“Paris,” typed Milgrim, “man following us, seen yesterday in London. Is he yours?” He clicked the update button. Sipped at his espresso. Refreshed the window.

“Describe,” this less than five seconds ago via TweetDeck.

“White, very short hair, sunglasses, twenties, medium height, athletic.” He updated. Watched people passing, through the window.

Refreshed the window. Nothing but a short URL, sent forty seconds before from TweetDeck, whatever that was. He clicked on it. And there was Foley, wearing what might be the olive-drab version of the black jacket, with a black knit skullcap rather than the forage cap. Oddly, his eyes were concealed by a black Photoshopped rectangle, as in antique porn.

Milgrim glanced at the page’s header and the image’s caption, something about “elite operator’s equipment.” He concentrated on the photograph, assuring himself that this was in fact his man. “Yes,” he wrote, “who is he?” and updated.

When he refreshed, her reply was thirty seconds old. “Never mind & try not 2 let hm no ur on hm,” she’d written.

Know, he thought, then typed “Bigend?”

“When U back”

“Hollis thinks we’re back tomorrow.”

“Ur lucky ur in paris out”

“Over,” he wrote, though he wasn’t sure that was right. Her telegraphese was infectious. He saved the URL of the elite operator’s page to bookmarks, then logged out of Twitter, out of his webmail, and closed the computer. His Neo began to ring, its archaic dial-phone tone filling the tobacco shop. The man behind the counter was frowning.

“Yes?”

“You’re lucky to be in Paris.” It was Pamela Mainwaring. “Not ours.”

His first thought was that she’d somehow been watching his Twitter exchange with Winnie. “Not?”

“She rang us. Definitely not. Be lovely to have a snap from Paris.”

Hollis. Pamela’s call constrained now by Bigend’s suspicion of Sleight and the Neo. “I’ll try,” Milgrim said.

“Enjoy,” she said, and hung up.

Milgrim hoisted his bag to the zinc counter, unzipped it, found his camera. He loaded it with a fresh card, Blue Ant having kept the one he’d used in Myrtle Beach. They always did. He checked the batteries, then put the camera in his jacket pocket. He put Hollis’s laptop in his bag and zipped it shut. Leaving a few small coins on the zinc counter, he left the shop and headed back to the Salon du Vintage, walking quickly again.

Was he still angry? he wondered. He was calmer now, he decided. He knew he wouldn’t be telling Bigend about Winnie. Not if he could help it, anyway.

It was warmer, the cloud burning away. Paris seemed slightly unreal, the way London always did when he first arrived. How peculiar, that these places had always existed back-to-back, as close together and as separate as the two sides of a coin, yet wormholed now by a fast train and twenty-some miles of tunnel.

At the Salon du Vintage, after paying five euros admission, he checked his bag, something he never liked doing. He’d stolen enough checked luggage himself to know this arrangement as easy pickings. On the other hand, he’d be more mobile without it. He smiled at the Japanese girl, pocketed his bag check, and entered.

He was more at home in the world of objects, his therapist said, than the world of people. The Salon du Vintage, he assured himself, was about objects. Wishing to become the person the Salon du Vintage would want him to be, hence somehow less visible, he climbed a handsomely renovated stairway to the second floor.

The first thing he saw there was that poster of a younger Hollis, looking at once nervy and naughty. This was not the actual poster, he judged, but an amateurish reproduction, oversized and lacking in detail. He wondered what it would be like for her, seeing that.

He had left relatively few images himself over the past decade or so, and probably Winnie had seen most of those. Had them ready, perhaps, to e-mail to someone she wanted to be able to recognize him. Most of those had been taken by the police, and he wondered whether he’d recognize them himself. He’d certainly recognize the one she’d taken in the Caffè Nero in Seven Dials, and that would be the one she’d use.

The young man in the forage cap and foliage green pants, his black jacket still zipped, emerged from a side aisle of racks, his attention captured by a darting shoal of young Japanese girls. He’d removed his mirrored wraparound sunglasses. Milgrim stepped sideways, behind a mannequin in a delirious photo-print dress, keeping his man in sight over its massively padded shoulder, and wondered what he should do. If Foley didn’t already know he was here, and saw him, he’d be recognized from Selfridges. If not, he supposed, from South Carolina. Winnie had been there, watching him, and someone, he’d assumed Sleight, had photographed her there. Should he tell her about that? He flagged it for consideration. Foley was walking away now, toward the rear of the building. Milgrim remembered the man with the mullet, in the mothballed restaurant. Foley didn’t have that, Milgrim decided, whatever that had been, and it was a very good thing. He stepped from behind the Gaultier and followed, ready to simply keep walking if he was discovered. If Foley didn’t notice him, that would be a plus, but the main thing was for Milgrim not to be thought to be following him. His hand in his jacket pocket, on his camera.

Now it was Foley’s turn to step sideways, behind a neon-clad mannequin. Milgrim turned, toward a nearby display of costume jewelry, conveniently finding Foley reflected, distantly, in the seller’s mirror.

A red-haired girl offered to help him, in French.

“No,” said Milgrim, “thank you,” seeing Foley, in the mirror, step from behind his mannequin. He turned, pressing the button that extruded the camera’s optics, raised it, and snapped two pictures of Foley’s receding back. The red-haired girl was looking at him. He smiled and walked on, pocketing the camera.

23. MEREDITH

Maybe Milgrim was the one who was hallucinating here, she thought, as she climbed the Scandinavian stairway again, a tall paper cup of quadruple-shot Americain held gingerly in either hand. The coffee was steaming hot; if Milgrim’s possibly imaginary stalker suddenly manifested, she thought, she could hurl the contents of both cups.

Whatever that had been, down in the deserted blue-lit disco, if it had been anything at all, it now seemed like some random frame-splice from someone else’s movie: Milgrim’s, Bigend’s, anyone but hers. But she’d avoid that elevator, just in case, and she were still on the lookout for vaguely Nazi caps.

Milgrim had issues, clearly. Was in fact deeply peculiar. She scarcely knew him. He might well be seeing things. He looked, pretty much constantly, as though he were seeing things.

She carefully kept the blow-up of the Corbijn portrait out of her field of vision as she reached the second floor and the Salon du Vintage. Keeping her mind off the basement as well, she wondered exactly when coffee had gone walkabout in France. When she’d first been here, drinking coffee hadn’t been a pedestrian activity. One either sat to do it, in cafés or restaurants, or stood, at bars or on railway platforms, and drank from sturdy vessels, china or glass, themselves made in France. Had Starbucks brought the takeaway cup? she wondered. She doubted it. They hadn’t really had the time. More likely McDonald’s.

Her antique denim dealer, intense and ponytailed, was busy with a customer, laying out a pair of ancient dungarees that seemed to have more holes than fabric. He looked as though he should have supplemental lenses hinged to the edges of his rimless rectangular spectacles. He didn’t see her pass.

And here, past the inflatable orange furniture, came a funeral, and Olduvai George marching jauntily along beside it, smiling.

Four Japanese men in dark suits, unsmiling, a black coffin or body bag slung between them.

They passed her, but not George. Delighted, he took one of the coffees. “Thank you very much.”

“Sugar?”

“No, thank you.” He sipped hungrily.

“Who were they?” Looking over her shoulder as the four bore their somber burden out of sight, down the stairs.

He lowered the cup, wiped his mouth with the back of his startlingly furred hand. “Mere’s buyer’s minders. The Chanel’s in that bag, all of it, packed with archival tissue. And there’s Mere,” he added, “with the buyer.”

And two more black-suited minders. The buyer, she thought at first, was a twelve-year-old boy, costumed like a child in some archaic comic strip: tight, silky-looking yellow shorts to midthigh, a red-and-green-striped long-sleeved jersey, a yellow beanie, yellow boots like oversized baby shoes. He looked sour, petulant. And then she saw the hint of five-o’clock shadow, the jowls. He was talking with a slender young woman in jeans and a white shirt.

“Designer,” George said, after another eager swallow. “Harajuku. Fabulous collection.”

“Of Chanel?”

“Everything, apparently. I’m guessing it’s gone well for Mere.”

“How can you tell?”

“He’s still alive.”

The dress forms, she saw, were bare and gray.

Now the designer turned, flanked by the two remaining suits, and walked toward them.

They watched him pass.

“Are the people who buy Chanel all like that?” she asked.

“Never sold any before. Time you met Mere.”

He led her past the orange bubble-furniture.

Meredith Overton was stroking the horizontal screen of an iPhone, pinching up virtual bits of information. Ash-blond, wide gray eyes. She looked up at them. “It’s in the bank, in Melbourne. Direct transfer.”

“Did well, I take it?” George was smiling broadly.

“Very.”

“Congratulations,” said Hollis.

“Hollis Henry,” said George.

“Meredith Overton,” taking Hollis’s hand. “Mere. Pleased to meet you.” Hollis guessed that her jeans were Hounds, slender and too long, worn rucked rather than rolled, and a man’s rumpled white oxford shirt, though it fit too well to really be a man’s.

“They didn’t want the purses,” Meredith said. “Just the couture. But I’ve backup buyers for those, dealers here at the fair.” She pocketed her phone.

Hollis, out of the corner of her eyes, saw Milgrim pass them. He carried a small camera at his side, and seemed to be looking at nothing in particular. She ignored him. “Thank you for being willing to see me,” she said to Meredith. “I suppose you know what it’s about.”

“Bloody Clammy,” said Meredith, but not uncheerfully. “You’re after Hounds, aren’t you?”

“Not so much the product as its maker,” Hollis said, watching Meredith’s expression.

“You wouldn’t be the first.” Meredith smiled. “But there isn’t much I can tell you.”

“Would you like a coffee?” Offering Meredith her own cup. “I haven’t touched it.”

“No, thank you.”

“Hollis has been extremely helpful,” George said, “about Inchmale.”

“Horrid man,” said Meredith, to Hollis.

“He is that,” Hollis agreed. “Prides himself.”

“I’m less anxious, now,” said George, though Hollis found it difficult to imagine him anxious at all. “Hollis understands Reg’s process from experience. She puts things into perspective.”

Meredith took Hollis’s cup now, and sipped gingerly from the slot in the plastic lid. Wrinkled her nose. “Black,” she said.

“Sugar if you want it.”

“You’re really leaning on me now, aren’t you,” Meredith said to George.

“I am,” said George. “And I’ve waited until you’re in a very good mood.

“If that little shit hadn’t met my price,” Meredith said, “I wouldn’t be.”

“True,” said George, “but he did.”

“I think he wears them himself,” said Meredith. “Not that I think he’s gay. That would make it okay, actually. He insisted on all the documentation, everything we’d collected on their original owner. Something about that’s left me wanting a shower.” She took another sip of hot black coffee and handed the cup back to Hollis. “You want to know who designs the Gabriel Hounds.”

“I do,” said Hollis.

“Nice jacket.”

“A gift,” Hollis said, which was at least technically true.

“You’d have a hard time finding one now. They haven’t done them for a few seasons. Not that they have seasons in the ordinary sense.”

“No?” Studiously avoiding the matter of who “they” were.

“When they remake the jackets, if they ever do, they’ll be exactly the same, cut from exactly the same pattern. The fabric might be different, but only an otaku could tell.” She began to collect the slender security cables that had secured the Chanel suits to their dress forms, until she held them in one hand like a strange bouquet, or a steel flail.

“I don’t think I understand,” Hollis said.

“It’s about atemporality. About opting out of the industrialization of novelty. It’s about deeper code.”

Reminding Hollis of something Milgrim might have said, but she’d forgotten exactly what. She looked around, wondering if he was still in sight. He wasn’t.

“Lose something?”

“I’m here with someone. But never mind. Please.”

“I’m not sure I should help you with this. Probably I shouldn’t. And actually, I can’t.”

“You can’t?”

“Because I’m no longer in the loop. Because they’ve gotten that much harder to find, since I took Clammy to buy his jeans in Melbourne.”

“But you could tell me what you do know.” Hollis saw that George had busied himself collapsing the chrome stands of the dress forms, closing up shop.

“Were you ever a model?”

“No,” said Hollis.

“I was,” said Meredith, “for two years. I had a booker who loved using me. That’s the key, really, your booker. New York, L.A., all over western Europe, home to Australia for more work, back to New York, back here. Intensely nomadic. George says more so than being in a band. You can cope, when you’re seventeen, even when you’ve no money. Almost literally no money. I lived here, one winter, in a monthly-rent hotel room with three other girls. Hot plate, tiny fridge. Eighty euros a week ‘pocket money.’ That was what they called it. That was to live on. I couldn’t afford an Orange Card for the Métro. I walked everywhere. I was in Vogue, but I couldn’t afford to buy a copy. Fees were almost entirely eaten up before the checks found me, and the checks were always late. That’s the way it works, if you’re just another foot soldier, which is what I was. I slept on couches in New York, the floor of an apartment with no electricity in Milan. It became apparent to me that the industry was grossly, baroquely dysfunctional.”

“Modeling?”

“Fashion. The people I met who I most got on with, aside from some of the other girls, were stylists, people who finessed little bits of trim for the shoots, adjusted things, sourced antiques, props. Some of them had been to very good art schools, and it had put them off, profoundly. They didn’t want to be what they’d been groomed to be, and really it’s the nature of that system that not that many people can, ever. But they came out with brilliant skill sets for being stylists. And art school had made them masters of a kind of systems analysis. Extremely good at figuring out how an industry really runs, what the real products are. Which they did constantly, without really being that aware of doing it. And I listened to them. And all of them were pickers.”

Hollis nodded, remembering Pamela explaining the term.

“Constantly finding things. Value in rubbish. That ability to distinguish one thing from another. The eye for detail. And knowing where to sell it on, of course. I began to acquire that, watching, listening. Loved that, really. Meanwhile, I wore out runners, walking.”

“Here?”

“All over. Lot of Milan. Listening to stylists absently lecture on the fundamental dysfunction of the fashion industry. What my friends and I were going through as models was just a reflection of something bigger, broader. Everyone was waiting for their check. The whole industry wobbles along, really, like a shopping cart with a missing wheel. You can only keep it moving if you lean on it a certain way and keep pushing, but if you stop, it tips over. Season to season, show to show, you keep it moving.”

Which reminded Hollis of a Curfew tour, though she didn’t say so. She took a sip of the unsweetened Americain, which was cooling, and listened.

“My grandmother died, I’m the only grandchild, she left a bit of money. My booker was leaving the agency, getting out of the business. I applied to Cordwainers College, London College of Fashion, accessories and footwear. Done with modeling. It was the runners.”

“Sneakers?”

“The ones I wore out walking. The ugliest ones were best for walking, the best-looking fell apart. The stylists would talk about them, because I’d show up in them, at shoots. Talk about how the business worked. The factories in China, Vietnam. The big companies. And I’d started to imagine ones that weren’t ugly at all, that didn’t fall apart. But somehow,” and she smiled ruefully, “untainted by fashion. I’d started doing drawings. Very bad ones. But I’d already decided that I really wanted to understand shoes, their history, how they work, before I tried to do anything. Not that conscious a decision, but a decision. So I applied to Cordwainers, was accepted, moved to London. Or rather, simply stopped moving. In London. I may just have been enamored of the idea of waking up in the same town every day, but I had my mission, the mystery runners that I couldn’t quite imagine.”

“And you made them, in the end?”

“Two seasons. We couldn’t get away from that structure. But that was only after I’d graduated. I could still make you quite a smashing pair of shoes, with my own hands, though the finishing would never get past my tutor there. But they did teach us everything. Exhaustively.”

“Sneakers?”

“Not the sole-molding or the vulcanization, but I could still cut and sew your uppers. We used a lot of elk for our line. Very thick, supple. Lovely.” She looked down at the security cables in her hand. “My second year, there, I met someone, a boy, Danny. American. From Chicago. Not at Cordwainers but he knew all my friends there. Skater. Well, not that he skated much. An entrepreneur, that way, but nothing too repulsive. Made films for some of the American companies. We lived together. Hackney. He had Hounds,” Meredith said, looking up from the cables, “before there were Hounds.”

“Yes?”

“He had a jacket quite a lot like yours, but made of a sort of canvas, off-white, plain brass buttons. Always in need of a good wash. Perfectly simple, but it was one of those things that everyone immediately wanted or, failing that, wanted the name of a designer, a brand. He’d laugh at them. Tell them it was no-name. Tell them it was ‘fucking real, not fashion.’ That a friend of his in Chicago had made it.”

“Chicago?”

“Chicago. Where he was from.”

“His friend was a designer?”

“He never called her that.”

“Her?”

“That was no-name too. He wouldn’t tell me her name. He never did.” Looking Hollis firmly in the eye. “I don’t think she’d been a girlfriend. She was older, I guessed. And more a hobbyist than a designer, from what he said. He said she did things more out of a sense of what she didn’t like than what she did, if that makes any sense. And she was very good. Very. But what I got from it, really, was that I was on the right track, with what I was designing, my shoes. On a track, anyway.”

“What was your track?”

“Things that weren’t tied to the present moment. Not to any moment, really, so not retro either.”

“What happened to your line?” Hollis asked.

“Business happened. Business as usual. We weren’t able to invent a new business model. Our backing wasn’t sufficient to carry us through that routine dysfunction. We crashed and burned. There might be a warehouse full of our last season in Seattle. If I could find it, get my hands on it, the eBay sales would be worth more money than we ever saw from the line.”

George held open a battered Galeries Lafayette bag and Mere thrust the security cables into it.

“Can I offer you dinner?” Hollis asked.

“Where are you staying?” George asked her.

“St. Germain. By the Odéon Métro.”

“I know a place,” said George. “I’ll make reservations for eight.”

“Meredith?”

Meredith considered Hollis. Then nodded.

“For four, please,” Hollis said.

24. HUNCH

Milgrim sat at a table in the courtyard’s busy café, camera in his lap, cycling through his four shots of Foley.

The two from behind might be useful if you wanted to send someone to follow him. The quarter profile, against a glare of Eighties color, was actually less useful. Could be anyone. Had women’s clothing actually been that bright, in the Eighties?

But this one, which he’d shot blind, by reaching around, behind a hennaed German girl, was excellent. The girl had given him a dirty look, for getting too close. He’d smelled her perfume; something pointedly inorganic. The scent of coolly focused concentration, perhaps. “Sorry,” he’d said, and stepped back, palming the little camera, wondering if he’d captured Foley, who now had vanished again.

He’d looked down, summoned the image. And had found Foley, zoomed, in tight focus, crookedly off-center in the frame. He’d seen how Foley’s sunglasses had left slight tan lines, recalling the porn rectangle he’d worn on the link Winnie had sent. The cap’s short bill effectively concealed his forehead, cutting out a good deal of emotional information. His features were smooth, as if untouched by experience, and confident, a confidence that Milgrim suspected he might not entirely be feeling. Something he’d try to project, regardless of the situation.

With the camera semiconcealed in his right hand, Milgrim had moved on, scanning the busy Salon for Foley. He’d soon found him, but simultaneously had found Hollis, who was listening intently to a younger woman in jeans and a white shirt. Hollis had seen him, he was certain. Milgrim, focused on Foley’s receding back, had ignored her, avoiding eye-connect. When Foley had descended the stairs, Milgrim had followed, then had watched as Foley left the building.

He’d gone into the courtyard, ordered an espresso, and settled down to study his photographs.

Now he turned the camera off, opened the little hatch on the bottom and removed the blue card, the size of a postage stamp. When had he last used an actual postage stamp? He couldn’t remember. It gave him a strange feeling to even think of one. He reached down, hiked the cuff of his new pants, and slipped the card quite far down into his sock, which he then pulled up, allowing his cuff to fall back into place.

He was not a methodical man by nature, his therapist had said, but the constant ongoing state of emergency imposed by his active addiction had shown him the practical advantages of method, which had then become habit.

He took an unused card from the inside pocket of his jacket and extracted it, with the usual difficulty, from its cardboard backing. He inserted it, closed the hatch, and slipped the camera into the side pocket of his jacket.

The Neo rang, from a different pocket. He brought it out. It looked even uglier than usual.

“Yes?”

“Just checking your phone,” Sleight said, unconvincingly. “We’re having trouble with the whole system.” Sleight had always spoken of the Neos as a system, but Milgrim had met no one else, other than Sleight, who had one.

“Seems to be working,” Milgrim said.

“How are things?”

Sleight had never made it a secret that he was able to track Milgrim with the Neo, but only referred to it obliquely, if at all. The subtext, now, being that he knew Milgrim was in Paris. Knew that Milgrim was in this courtyard of this building, perhaps, given that extra overlay of Russian GPS.

When their relationship had begun, Milgrim had been unwilling to question anything. Sleight had set the terms, in every way, and so it had been.

“It’s raining,” said Milgrim, looking up at blue sky, bright clouds.

A silence lengthened.

He was trying to force Sleight to admit to knowing his location, but he didn’t know why. It was something to do with the anger he’d felt, was probably still feeling. Was that a good thing?

“How’s New York?” Milgrim asked, losing his nerve.

“Toronto,” said Sleight, “getting hot. See you.” He was gone.

Milgrim looked at the Neo. Something was unfolding within him. Like a brochure, he thought, rather than the butterfly he imagined to be the more common image. An unpleasant brochure, the sort that lays out symptoms all too clearly.

Why had Sleight actually called? Had he really needed to check Milgrim’s phone? Did a brief moment of live voice provide Sleight with the opportunity to manipulate the Neo in some way that he couldn’t, otherwise?

If Milgrim spoke now, he wondered for the very first time, would Sleight hear him?

It suddenly seemed entirely likely to him that Sleight could.

He sat back in his white-enameled aluminum chair, aware again of that emotion he supposed was anger. He could feel the Faraday pouch, containing his passport, slung on its cord, under his shirt. Blocking radio waves. Preventing the RFID in his U.S. passport from being read.

He looked at the Neo.

Without consciously making any decision, he undid the top button of his shirt, fished the pouch out, opened it, and slid the Neo in with his passport. He tucked it back into his shirt and buttoned up.

The pouch was bulkier now, visible under his shirt.

He finished his espresso, which had cooled, and was bitter, and left some coins on the small square receipt. He stood up, buttoned his jacket over the slight bulge of the pouch, and reentered the Salon du Vintage. Still scanning for Foley, who for all he knew had returned.

He took his time, making his way up the stairs, and then stood for a while, looking up at the blowup of Hollis’s poster. Then he undid his top button again, drew out the pouch, opened it, and removed the Neo, which rang immediately.

“Hello?” As he tucked the pouch back in with his free hand.

“Were you on an elevator?”

“It was filled with Japanese girls,” Milgrim said, watching one pass. “Only three floors, here, but I couldn’t get off.”

“Just checking,” said Sleight, neutrally, and hung up.

Milgrim looked at the Neo, Sleight’s extension, wondering for the first time if it was really off when he turned it off. Perhaps it needed its batteries removed for that. Though, come to think it, Sleight forbade that. Or its two cards, which Milgrim was also forbidden to remove.

Sleight had noticed it going into the Faraday pouch. Milgrim had been briefly invisible, as he’d sometimes gathered he was in elevators, for similar reasons.

Given everything else Sleight had said he could do with the Neo, having it function as a bug actually seemed like a very modest capacity. And it would help explain why they’d bothered with the thing at all, cranky as it was. He’d been carrying around a wire. Would Bigend have known about that? Milgrim wondered.

Sleight had given him the Neo on their flight from Basel to London, at the end of Milgrim’s treatment. He’d had it with him constantly, since then. Except, he remembered, yesterday, when Sleight had ordered him to leave it in his room. When Winnie had taken his picture. When he’d gone to Blue Ant to tell Bigend about that, and Bigend had suggested he no longer trusted Sleight. When he’d gone to the department store to have lunch with Hollis, then back to his hotel, where Winnie had been waiting. So Sleight had missed all of that, missed it because, if he was telling the truth, the company that made the Neo had gone bankrupt. “Lucky,” said Milgrim, then winced, imagining Sleight, Bluetoothed, somewhere, hearing him. But if Foley was Sleight’s, which was only one possibility, how had Foley known to find them at the department store? Perhaps he was following Hollis instead? But then, he reminded himself, Foley was someone else who had his picture on Winnie’s wall.

The Neo rang in his hand.

“Yes?”

“Where are you?” Hollis. “I saw you walk past.”

“Can you meet me? By the entrance, downstairs.”

“Are you up here?”

“Downstairs.”

“On my way,” she said.

“Good,” he said, and clicked off. Resisting the impulse to whistle for Sleight’s benefit, he put his phone in his jacket pocket, then removed his jacket, wrapped it several times around the phone, tucked the resulting bundle under his arm, and headed for the stairs.

25. TINFOIL

Hollis found Milgrim giving his jacket to the Japanese girl at the bag check. “I’m finished,” she said. “We can go now, if you’re ready.”

Milgrim turned, took her hand, and led her away from the bag check.

“Is something wrong?”

“My phone,” said Milgrim, releasing her hand on the far side of the entranceway. “They’re listening through it.”

Tinfoil hats, people whose fillings broadcast thought-control messages. “ ‘They’ who?”

“Sleight. Bigend doesn’t trust him.”

“Neither do I.” She never had. And now that she thought of Sleight, Milgrim didn’t sound quite as automatically crazy. That was the trouble with Bigendland. People did things like that. The ones like Sleight did, anyway. Then again, Milgrim might just be crazy.

Or on drugs. What if he’d slipped? Gone back on whatever it was they’d gotten him off of in Switzerland? Where was the semi-absent character she’d met over tapas? He looked worked up, a little sweaty, maybe angry about something. He looked more like someone in particular, anyway, she realized, and that was what had been missing before. The lack of that was what had made him simultaneously so peculiar and so forgettable. She was looking into the eyes of someone experiencing the anxiety of sudden arrival. But Milgrim’s arrival, she somehow knew, was from within. But all because he thought he’d seen someone? Though someone, she reminded herself, she’d thought she’d seen too, in the basement. “I saw him,” she said. “Maybe.”

“Where?” Milgrim stepped back, allowing a pair of spryly geriatric American men to pass, headed for the stairs.

They looked to Hollis like aged hair-metal rockers in expensive mufti, and seemed to be talking golf. Did they collect vintage Chanel? “Downstairs,” she said. “I pushed the wrong button in the elevator. Then he came down the stairs. I think.”

“What did you do?”

“Got back in the elevator. Up. Didn’t see him again, but I was busy.”

“He’s here,” Milgrim said.

“You saw him?”

“I took his picture. Pamela wants it. I could show you, but the card’s not in my camera.”

“He’s here now?” She looked around.

“I saw him go out,” glancing toward the entrance. “Doesn’t mean he hasn’t come back.”

“I asked Bigend. He said they didn’t have anyone watching us.”

“Do you believe him?”

“Depends how much it matters to him. But we’ve got bad history, that way, between us. If he bullshits me again, and I find out about it, I’m gone. He understands that.” She looked Milgrim in the eye. “You aren’t high on anything, are you?”

“No.”

“You seem different. I’m worried about you.”

“I’m in recovery,” said Milgrim. “I’m supposed to be different. If I were high, I wouldn’t be different.”

“You seem angry.”

“Not with you.”

“But you weren’t angry, before.”

“It wasn’t allowed,” he said, and she heard his amazement, as if in saying this he’d discovered something about himself he’d never known before. He swallowed. “I want to find out if Sleight’s telling him where I am. I think I know how to do that.”

“What did Bigend say about Sleight?”

“He warned me to be careful of the Neo.”

“What’s that?”

“My phone. The brand. They’re bankrupt now.”

“Who is?”

“The company who made it. Sleight always knows where I am. The phone tells him. But I’ve known that.”

“You have?”

“I thought Bigend wanted him to. Did want him to, probably. It wasn’t a secret.”

“You think he listens through it?”

“He made me leave it in the hotel, yesterday. Charging. He does that when he wants to reprogram it, add or subtract applications.”

“I thought he was in New York.”

“He programs it from wherever he is.”

“Is he listening now?”

“It’s in my jacket. Over there.” He pointed at the bag check. “I shouldn’t leave it there for long.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Did Blue Ant make the hotel reservations?”

“I did.”

“By phone?”

“Through the hotel’s website. I didn’t tell anyone where we’d be. What do you want to do?”

“We’ll get a cab. You get in first, tell the driver Galeries Lafayette. Sleight won’t hear. Then I’ll get in. Don’t say anything about Galeries Lafayette, or about the hotel. Then I’ll block the GPS.”

“How?”

“I have a way. I’ve already tried it. He thought I was in an elevator.”

“Then what?”

“I’ll get out at Galeries Lafayette, you’ll go on, I’ll unblock my phone. And see if Foley comes to find me.”

“Who’s Foley?”

“Foliage green pants.”

“But what if someone’s here, and they just follow the cab?”

“That’s a lot of people. If they have a lot of people, there’s nothing we can do. They’ll follow you too.” He shrugged. “Where are we staying?”

“It’s called the Odéon. So is the street. And it’s by Odéon Métro. Easy to remember. Your room is on my credit card, and I’ve paid for one night. We have an eight o’clock dinner reservation, near the hotel. In my name.”

“We do?”

“With Meredith and George. I learned something, upstairs, but I think we might learn more, tonight.”

Milgrim blinked. “You want me there?”

“We’re working together, aren’t we?”

He nodded.

“Place called Les Éditeurs. George says you can see it from the hotel.”

“Eight,” said Milgrim. “When I get my jacket, don’t forget the phone’s in it. Sleight. Listening. When we get a cab, you get in first, tell the driver Galeries Lafayette.”

“Why there?”

“It’s big. Department stores are good.”

“They are?”

“For losing people.” He was at the counter now, giving the girl his ticket. She passed him his jacket and his black bag. Hollis presented hers and the girl wheeled her roll-aboard out.

“Merci,” said Hollis.

Milgrim had put his jacket on and was already headed out the door.

26. MOTHER RUSSIA

Kleenex?” Milgrim asked as the cab turned right, into what he recognized as the Rue du Temple. “My sinuses are bothering me,” he added, for Sleight’s benefit.

Hollis, seated to his left, behind the driver, produced a pack from her purse.

“Thanks.” He removed three tissues, handed the pack back, unfolded one, spread it across his knees, and took the Neo from his pocket. He showed it to her, presenting it from different angles, which made him feel something like a conjurer, though he was none too certain about what his trick might be.

The cab turned left, into another street, one that doubled back at a sharp angle. He imagined Sleight watching a cursor represent this on a screen. It seemed unlikely, though he couldn’t understand why that should be. He knew that Sleight did things like that, constantly. Sleight could be watching on the screen of his own Neo.

Milgrim lay the Neo on the Kleenex, resting it in the valley between his knees, opened the other two sheets, and began to carefully polish it. When he was finished, he remembered having idly removed the back, on the flight to Atlanta. Now he opened it again, rubbing down the inside of the battery cover and the exposed face of the battery, then replacing it. When he’d finished rubbing down the outside, he carefully folded the first tissue around it and slipped it into his pocket. He crumpled the other two and wiped his palms with them.

“Have you been in Paris before?” Hollis asked.

She seemed relaxed, her purse on her lap, the dark collar of the denim jacket turned up. “Once,” he said, “when I was just out of Columbia. For a month, with another graduate. We sublet an apartment.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“It was nice, to be here with someone.”

She looked out the window, as if remembering something, then looked back at him. “Were you in love?”

“No.”

“A couple?”

“Yes,” he said, though it seemed strange to say it.

“It didn’t work, for you?”

“I wasn’t available,” he said. “I didn’t know that, but I wasn’t, really. I learned that in Basel.” He remembered Sleight, their hypothetical listener. He pointed at the pocket that held his tissue-wrapped Neo.

“Sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay.”

They took a right, then left again, at an intersection where he glimpsed a sign for the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis Métro, and into heavier traffic.

They rode in silence for a few minutes. Then he undid the top button of his shirt and drew out the Faraday pouch.

“What’s that?”

“Métro station,” he said, for Sleight, then touched his index finger to his lips.

She nodded.

He opened the pouch, inserted the Neo, then closed it. “It blocks radio signals. Like when you’re in an elevator. If he was listening, he can’t hear us now. And he just lost track of where we are.”

“Why do you have it?”

“He gave it to me,” he said. “It’s for my passport. He’s worried someone will read the microchip.”

“Do they do that?”

“People like Sleight do.”

“How does it work?”

“It has metallic fibers. When I tested it, before, he lost me. Thought I was in an elevator.”

“But if it’s that easy,” she said, “why did he give it to you?”

“He insisted on it,” said Milgrim. “I think he really does worry about the chip-reading thing. It’s something he’s done himself.”

“But he gave you your means of avoiding surveillance, right there.”

“When I put it in the pouch, before, that was the first time I did something that I knew he wouldn’t want me to do. I wasn’t well, when I met him. He worked for Bigend and I did what I was told.”

She looked at him. Then nodded. “I understand.”

“But Sleight,” he said, “really liked it, having someone who’d do exactly what he said.”

“He would, yes.”

“I don’t think he imagined I’d ever get to the point where I’d use the pouch on the Neo. He would’ve enjoyed being able to count on that.”

“What will you do at Galeries Lafayette?”

“Wait till you’re gone, then take it out of the pouch. Then see who turns up.”

“But what if someone’s following us now, the old-fashioned way?”

“Have the driver take you to a Métro station. Do you know the Métro?”

“More or less.”

“If you’re clever, you can probably lose anyone who might try to follow you.”

“We’re here.”

He saw that they were in Boulevard Haussmann, the driver signaling to pull over.

“Take care of yourself,” she said. “If that was him I saw in the basement, I didn’t like the look of him.”

“I didn’t get the feeling that he was that good, at the Salon,” he said, checking that the strap of his bag was securely over his shoulder.

“Good?”

“Scary.”

He opened the door before the cab had fully come to a halt. The driver said something in irritated French. “Sorry,” he said as they stopped, and slipped out, closing the door behind him.

From the curb he looked back, saw Hollis smiling, telling the driver something. The cab pulled back into traffic.

He quickly entered Galeries Lafayette and walked on, until he was beneath the center of the soaring mercantile mosque-dome of stained glass. He stood there, looking up, briefly experiencing the reflexive country-mouse awe the architect had intended to induce. A cross between Grand Central and the atrium of the Brown Palace, Denver, structures aimed heroically into futures that had never really happened. Wide balconies ringed every level, rising toward the dome. Beyond them he could see the tops of racks of clothing, rather than any audience, but if there had been an audience, he, Milgrim, would have been standing in exactly the spot where the fat lady would ultimately sing.

He drew the Faraday pouch out, on its cord, and removed the Neo, exposing it to whatever intricate soup of signals existed here. Within its childish-looking shroud of Kleenex, it began to ring.

Sleight had arranged things so that it was impossible to turn the ring off, but Milgrim thumbed the volume down, all the way, and put it into his side jacket pocket. It vibrated a few times, then quit. He took it out again, opened the Kleenex to check the time, careful not to touch it, then put it back.

He had whatever remained of his three hundred pounds, unchanged, the euros Hollis had given, plus another thin fold of euros remaining from his Basel pocket money. He decided to invest in his own future, one much more immediate than the one the founders of Galeries Lafayette had imagined.

He found his way into the men’s store, a separate building next door, and selected a pair of black French briefs, then a pair of black cotton-blend crew socks, paying for them with almost all of his Basel money. The euro bills reminded him, obscurely, of Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland, where his mother had taken him as a child.

The Neo began to vibrate again, in his pocket. He let it, trying to imagine the look on Sleight’s face. But Sleight knew where he was, and quite possibly had heard the cashier’s side of the socks-and-underwear transaction, which Milgrim for his part had conducted nonverbally, with soft apologetic grunts. The Kleenex, he hoped, was muffling things a bit, though he supposed it didn’t really matter.

He went back into the main store and rode escalators, into realms of lingerie, sportswear, little black dresses. If he were sure how much time he had, he thought, he’d look for the furniture department. The furniture departments of large department stores were oases of calm, usually. He’d often found them soothing. They were also very good places in which to determine whether or not you were being followed. But he really didn’t think that he was being followed, that way.

He walked through a grove of Ralph Lauren, then a thinner one of Hilfiger, to a balustrade overlooking the central atrium. Looking down, he saw Foley crossing from the direction of Boulevard Haussmann. Take off the cap, he thought. A professional would have done that, at least, and removed the black jacket as well.

When Foley reached almost the exact spot where Milgrim himself had paused to look up, he paused as well, just as Milgrim had, taking in the dome. Milgrim stepped back, knowing Foley would scan the balustrades next, which indeed he did.

You know I’m here, Milgrim thought, but you don’t know exactly where. He saw Foley speak. To Sleight, he imagined, via a headset.

A moment later, Milgrim was alone in an elevator, pressing the button for the top floor, his improv module kicking in. Open to opportunity.

The elevator stopped at the next floor. The door slid open, and was quickly held by a thick arm in charcoal gray, the arm of a large man.

“It’s a shame you no longer live here in the city,” said a tall blonde, in Russian, to another young woman beside her, equally tall, equally blond. The second blonde rolled a massive pram or stroller into the elevator, some sort of luxury baby-transporter on three bulbous wheels, a thing made apparently of carbon-fiber and sharkskin, everything a gray like the bodyguard’s suit.

“It’s shit in the suburbs,” replied the pram-driver, in Russian, setting the thing’s hand brake with a flick of her finger. “A villa. Two hours. Dogs. Guards. Shit.”

The bodyguard stepped in, eyeing Milgrim darkly. Milgrim backed up, as far as possible, a handrail digging painfully into his spine, and looked down at the floor. The door closed and the elevator began to rise. Milgrim stole a look at the two women, instantly regretting it for the attention it cost him from their looming guardian. He looked back down. The mega-stroller looked like something from the cabin of a very expensive airplane, perhaps the drinks trolley. Whatever infant it held was entirely concealed by a sharkskin cowl or fairing, probably bulletproof. “Surely he can’t have lost that much,” said the first blonde.

“It was all heavily leveraged,” said the pram-driver.

“What does that mean?”

“That we have no Paris apartment, and shop in Galeries Lafayette,” said the pram-driver, bitterly.

Milgrim, who hadn’t heard Russian since leaving Basel, felt a peculiar enchantment, in spite of the sullen presence of their guard, and the handrail in his back. The elevator stopped, the door opened, and a tall Parisian teenager stepped in. As the door closed, Milgrim noted the guard’s focus on the girl, no less sullen but absolute. Slender, brunette, she looked from Milgrim to the two Russian women with a sort of benign disdain, ignoring the guard.

When the elevator stopped again, and the door opened, Milgrim took the Neo from his jacket pocket and tucked it into a sharkskin pocket on the front of the super-pram, feeling it fall into the company of what he guessed were toys, tins of balm or perhaps caviar, or whatever else one needed for an infant oligarch. Doing it, as a pickpocket had once advised him, as if it were not only the expected but the only thing to do. He looked up at the guard, whose eyes were still locked on the brunette. Who turned, then, gazelle-like and justifiably bored, and stepped out, past the guard, as the pram-driver flicked the brake switch off and dragged the thing back out of the elevator like a parts cart in a tank factory.

The guard noticed Milgrim again, but stepped quickly out of the elevator, unwilling to lose sight of his charges.

Milgrim remained where he was as the door closed and the elevator rose again.

“Dogs,” he said, to Sleight, who could no longer hear him. “Guards.”

27. JAPANESE BASEBALL

How’s Paris?” The image that came up for Heidi’s call, on the iPhone, was a decade old, black-and-white, gritty. Jimmy’s white Fender bass, out of focus in the foreground.

“I don’t know,” Hollis said. She was in Sèvres-Babylone, walking between platforms, her bag’s trick wheel ticking steadily, like a personal metronome. She had decided to give Milgrim’s worries the benefit of the doubt, taking a random course through the Métro, short hops, line changes, abrupt reversals. If anyone was following her, she hadn’t noticed them. But it was crowded now, tiring, and she’d just decided to head for Odéon, and the hotel, when Heidi called. “I think I’ve found something, but someone may have found me.”

“Meaning?”

“Milgrim thought he saw someone, here, who he’d seen in London. At Selfridges, when you were getting your hair cut.”

“You said he was bugfuck.”

“I said he seemed unfocused. Anyway, he seems more focused now. Though maybe bugfuck too.” At least her bag wasn’t too heavy, minus the copy of her book that she’d given Milgrim. And her Air, she remembered: He still had that.

“Does Bigend have people there for you?”

“I didn’t want that. I didn’t tell them where I was staying.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Latin Quarter.” She hesitated. “A hotel where I stayed with Garreth.”

Heidi pounced. “Really. And was that Garreth’s choice, then, or yours?”

“His.” As she reached her platform, and the waiting crowd.

“And which hand are you carrying this torch in?”

“I’m not.”

“My hairy ass you’re not.”

“You don’t. Have one.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Heidi said. “Marriage.”

“What about it?”

“Does things to you.”

“And how’s fuckstick?

“Out on bond now. Not that much media. Ponzi’s under a half a billion total. Current climate, they’re embarrassed to offer the story to the public. Petty sums. Like foreign serial killers.”

“What about them?” The train was pulling in.

“America’s the capital of serial murder. Foreign serial murder’s like Japanese baseball.”

“How are you, Heidi?”

“Found a gym. Hacky.”

“Hackney.”

The doors opened and the crowd moved forward, taking Hollis with it.

“Thought it was where they invented the sack.” Disappointed. “Kind of like Silverlake. Fixed-up. Creatives. But the gym’s old-school. MMA.”

The doors closed behind her, the embrace of the crowd, mildly personal smells, the roll-aboard against her leg. “What’s that?”

“Mixed martial arts,” said Heidi, as if pleased with a dessert menu.

“Don’t,” advised Hollis. “Remember the boxers.” The train began to move. “Gotta go.”

“Fine,” said Heidi, and was gone.

Six minutes on Line 10 and she was on another platform, Odéon, wheel ticking. Then telescoping the bag’s handle to carry it up the stairs, into slanting sunlight and the sound and smell of the traffic on St. Germain, all of this entirely too familiar, as though she’d never left, and now the fear surfacing, acknowledgement that Heidi was right, that she’d tricked herself into revisiting the scene of a perfect crime. Dreamlike reactivation of passion. The smell of his neck. His library of scars, hieroglyphic, waiting to be traced.

“Oh, please,” she said. Snapping out the bag’s handle, trundling it across wheel-eating cobbles, toward the hotel. Past the candyseller’s wagon. Then the window offering fancy dress. Satin capes, plague-doctor masks with penile noses. The smart little drugstore at the angle of two streets, offering hydraulic breast-massage devices and Swiss skin serums packaged like the latest in vaccines.

Into the hotel, where the man at the desk recognized but didn’t greet her. Discretion rather than a lack of friendliness. She gave her name, signed in, confirmed that Milgrim’s room was on her card, received her key on a heavy brass medallion cast with the head of a lion. Then into the elevator, smaller even than the one at Cabinet but more modern, like a pale bronze telephone booth. The feeling of being in a telephone booth almost forgotten now. How things went away.

In the third-floor hallway, massive crooked timbers stood exposed. A maid’s cart with towels and miniature soaps. Unlocking the door to her room.

Which to her considerable relief was neither of the two she’d stayed in with Garreth, though the view was virtually identical. A room the size of the bathroom at Cabinet, smaller perhaps. All dark reds and black and Chinese gold; some weird chinoiserie that Cabinet’s decorators would have supercharged with busts of Mao and heroic proletarian posters.

It seemed odd, to not be in Cabinet, and that struck her as a bad sign.

I should find a flat, she said to herself, realizing she had no idea what country she should find it in, let alone which city. Putting her bag on the bed. Scarcely room to walk, here, except for a narrow circuit around the bed. Reflexively ducking the determinedly nondigital television slung in its white-painted bracket from the ceiling. Garreth had cut his head on one.

She sighed.

Looking across at the buildings opposite, remembering.

Don’t. She turned back to the bed and her bag, unzipping it. She’d packed as lightly as possible. Toiletries, makeup, a dress, hose, dressier shoes, underwear. Taking out the dress, to hang it up, she discovered the Blue Ant figurine, which she was certain she hadn’t packed, grinning perkily up at her. She remembered missing it, on the counter, beside the sink, in Cabinet.

“Hello,” she said, the tension in her voice startling her, as she picked it up.

Its grin becoming the Mona Lisa’s smile, as she’d stood with Garreth, hand in his.

Looking up at him, she’d seen that he wasn’t looking at the Mona Lisa at all, but rather at its plexi-shield, its mountings, and whatever of the Louvre’s invisible security devices were somehow evident to him.

“You’re imagining stealing it, aren’t you?”

“Only academically. That laminated ledge, just beneath it? That’s interesting. You’d want to know exactly what’s inside. Quite thick, isn’t it? Good foot thick. Something’s in there. A surprise.”

“You’re terrible.”

“Absolutely,” he’d said, releasing her hand, caressing the back of her neck. “I am.”

She put the figurine on the built-in bedside table, much smaller than the Mona Lisa’s defensive ledge, and forced herself to unpack the rest of her things.

28. WHITE PEAR TEA

The cost of wifi was white pear tea.

Milgrim looked at the two-cup glass tea press on the round white table, beyond the matte aluminum rectangle of Hollis’s laptop. He wasn’t sure why he’d chosen white pear. Probably because he wasn’t very fond of tea, and because almost everything else here was white. He decided to let it steep awhile longer.

He was alone, in this narrow white shop, with a great deal of tea and a girl in a nicely fitting, crisply starched cotton dress, faintly pinstriped in gray, not unlike a tennis dress. He hadn’t thought of Parisians as tea drinkers, but if this place was any indication, they preferred it in ultrafragile glass pots. Walls lined with shallow white shelves, modernist apothecary jars filled with dried vegetable matter, plus a glittering, halogen-spotted assortment of these pots and presses. Equally minimalist cozies, in thick gray felt. A few green plants. Three small tables, each with two chairs.

From outside, the occasional whine and sputter of passing scooters. The street was almost too narrow for cars. Somewhere in the Latin Quarter, if the cabdriver had understood him.

Now the girl began to give the apothecary jars the once-over with a feather duster. Like performance art, or some highly conceptual species of pornography. The sort of thing that turned out to mainly be about the pinstripes. Or the tea.

He opened the pencil-thin laptop and turned it on.

Hollis’s desktop was a digital representation of interstellar space. Mauve galactic clouds. Was she interested in astronomy, he wondered, or was this something from Apple? He imagined the laptop displaying an image of itself instead, and of the tea press, on the white laminate. And in that imagined screen, another, identical image. Tunneling down, Escher-style, to a few pixels. He thought of the art in Hollis’s book, and of the Neo, which he now assumed was on its way to some forbiddingly upscale suburb, or there already, his own small effort in GPS art.

He noted that he felt remarkably calm about that, about what he’d done. The main thing, it seemed, was that he’d done it. It was done. But noting this caused him to start to remember Sleight.

After his cab ride from Galeries Lafayette, to a randomly chosen intersection near here, he’d felt relatively certain that he was off Sleight’s map. Now he considered Hollis’s laptop, wondering if Sleight might not have been at that as well. Though Hollis said she was new in Bigend’s employ, this time at least.

He opened the browser, then his webmail. Could Sleight see him do that? he wondered. His address, the first and only e-mail address he’d had, was a Blue Ant address. He opened Twitter. If he understood this correctly, Sleight might be able to know what he had opened, but would be unable to see what he was doing there. He entered his user name and password.

And Winnie was there. Or had been. “Whr R U?” An hour ago.

“Still Paris. Need to talk.”

He refreshed the browser. No reply.

The girl in the cotton dress, having finished dusting, was looking at him. Reminding him, as he found certain young people did, of one of those otherwise fairly realistic Japanese cartoon characters, the ones with oversized Disney eyes. What was that about? It seemed to be international, whatever it was, though not yet universal. This was the sort of thing he’d gotten used to being able to ask Bigend about. Bigend actively encouraged this, because, he said, he valued Milgrim’s questions. Milgrim had arrived from a decadelong low-grade brownout, and was, according to Bigend, like someone stepping from a lost space capsule. Smooth clay, awaiting the telltale imprint of a new century.

“It is the Mac Air?” the girl asked.

Milgrim had to check the branding, at the bottom of the screen. “Yes,” he said.

“It is very nice.”

“Thank you,” said Milgrim. Self-consciously, he carefully plunged the rod-and-ball atop the tea press, forcing clear fluid through a surgical grade of white nylon mesh. He poured some out, into the even more fragile-looking glass cup. Took a sip. Complexly metallic. Not much like tea. Though perhaps in a good way. “Do you have croissants?”

“Non,” said the girl, “petites madeleines.”

“Please,” said Milgrim, gesturing to his white table.

Proust cookies. It was literally all he knew of Proust, though he’d once had to listen to someone’s lengthy argument that Proust had either described madeleines incorrectly or been describing something else entirely.

It was time for his medication. While the girl fetched his madeleines, from the rear of the shop, he took the bubble-pack from his bag and popped the day’s ration of white capsules through the foil at the back of their individual bubbles. Out of long habit, he held them concealed in his palm. He’d replaced the bubble-pack by the time she returned, his three cookies on a square white plate. One plain, one lightly drizzled with something white, another with dark chocolate.

“Thank you,” he said. He dunked the plain one briefly in his tea, perhaps out of some vague, Proust-related superstition, then quickly ate them all, as is. They were very good, and the white-drizzled one was almond. Finished, he washed the capsules from Basel down with white pear tea.

Then he remembered to refresh the browser again.

“R U there?” Two minutes ago.

“Yes. Sorry.”

Refresh.

“Ur phons nt secure”

“Borrowed laptop. Lost phone.” He hesitated. “I think Sleight was tracking me with it.”

Refresh.

“U lost?”

“Got rid of it.”

Refresh.

“Why??”

He had to think about that. “S was telling follower where I was.”

Refresh.

“So??”

“Tired of it.”

Refresh.

“No jack moves OK? B cool”

“Didn’t want him to know where we’re staying.”

Refresh.

“Where R U?”

“Staying,” he completed, aloud, then wrote: “Hotel Odeon, by Odeon Metro.”

Refresh.

“Bak nxt AM?”

“As far as I know.”

Refresh.

“Whts yr partner want??”

“Jeans.”

Refresh.

“LOL! B cool B N touch bye”

“Bye,” said Milgrim, less than impressed with his new federal agent handler. It felt like having a disinterested young mother.

He logged out of Twitter and went to the bookmarks, clicking for the page he’d marked earlier. Foley modeling a zip-front jacket and an old-fashioned porn rectangle. What was that about? He skipped through the site, things starting to come together. Remembering another of the French girl’s PowerPoint presentations, back in Soho. The market’s fetishization of elite special forces, “operators.” She’d cited the Vietnam War as the tipping point for this, and had illustrated her argument with collages of small ads from the back pages of long-extinct Fifties mens’ magazines, True and Argosy: hernia aids, mail-order monkeys huddled in tea cups, courses in lawn mower repair, X-Ray Specs … These ads, she’d said, constituted a core sample of the mass unconscious of the American male, shortly after WWII. Aside from the ubiquitous trusses and truss substitutes (and what, Milgrim had wondered, had accounted for that epidemic of herniation among postwar American men?), this record differed very little from the equivalent record to be found in the back pages of comic books of the same era. While pointing out that anyone, then, could order exactly the same Italian surplus rifle that had later been used to assassinate JFK (for under fifteen dollars, including postage), she’d said that the postwar American male’s valorization of things military could be assumed to have been balanced by recent actual memories of the reality of war, though one that been quite definitively won. Vietnam had changed that, she’d said, as she’d moved into a new set of collages. Vietnam had shifted something in the American male psyche. Milgrim couldn’t remember exactly what that was supposed to have been, but he knew she’d connected it with what he assumed to be the culture that produced websites like this one.

Foley was wearing his black porn rectangle to protect his identity, the assumption on the viewer’s part intended to be that Foley himself was a member of some military elite. She’d actually mentioned that as a marketing technique.

He went back to the image of Foley. Foley wasn’t particularly scary. Milgrim knew a number of kinds of scary, from his decade on the street. The man with the mullet, in the mothballed restaurant outside of Conway, had been quite a special kind of scary. That kind of scary, which he had no name for, was difficult to conceal, and impossible to fake. He’d first seen it in New York, in a young Albanian in the heroin business. Suggestions of a military background, other things. A similar calm, the same utter lack of wasted motion. Foley, he began to suspect, studying the mouth under the black rectangle, might be the kind of scary that was about meanness, rather than strength. Though he’d also seen the two coexist, more or less, in the same individual, and that hadn’t been good at all.

He clicked back through the site. Bigend would be interested in this, though probably his team had already shown it to him. It was exactly the sort of thing they were looking at. Noticing neither a brand name nor prices. The site’s URL a string of letters and numbers. Not a site so much as a dummy, a mockup? The “About Us” page blank, also the “Order” page.

A deeper throbbing of exhaust, outside. He looked up to see a black motorcycle pass, slowly, the rider’s yellow helmet turning a smooth sweep of dark plastic visor his way, then forward again, rolling on. Revealing, for an instant, on the helmet’s back, broad, white diagonal scratches in the yellow gel-coat.

Exactly the kind of detail that Bigend would congratulate him for noticing.

29. SHIVER

Sleight,” Bigend said, as though the name tired him, “is asking about Milgrim. Is he with you?”

“No,” Hollis said, stretched on the bed, post-shower, partially wrapped in several of the hotel’s not-so-large white towels. “Isn’t he in New York? Sleight, I mean.”

“Toronto,” said Bigend. “He keeps track of Milgrim.”

“He does?” She looked at the iPhone. She had no iconic image for Bigend. Maybe a blank rectangle of Klein Blue?

“Milgrim initially required quite a lot of keeping track of. That fell to Sleight, for the most part.”

“Does he keep track of me?” She looked over at the blue figurine.

“Would you like him to?”

“No. It would be, in fact, a deal-breaker. For you and me.”

“That was my understanding, of course. Where did you buy your phone?”

“The Apple Store. SoHo. New York SoHo. Why?”

“I’d like to give you another one.”

“Why do you care where I bought this one?”

“Making certain you bought it yourself.”

“The last phone you gave me let you keep track of where I was, Hubertus.”

“I won’t do that again.”

“Not with a phone, anyway.”

“I don’t understand.”

She gave the figurine a flick with her finger. It wobbled on its round base.

“You know my concerns with integrity of communication,” he said.

“I don’t know where Milgrim is,” she said. “Is that all you wanted?”

“Sleight’s suggesting he’s left Paris. Done a runner, perhaps. Do you think that likely?”

“He’s not that easy to read. Not for me.”

“He’s changing,” Bigend said. “That’s the interesting thing, about someone in his situation. There’s always more of him arriving, coming online.”

“Maybe something’s arrived that doesn’t want Sleight knowing where it is.”

“If you see him,” Bigend said, “would you ask him to ring me, please?”

“Yes,” she said, “goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Hollis.”

She picked up the figurine. It weighed no more than she recalled it having weighed before, which was very little. It was hollow, and apparently seamless. There was no way to see what might be inside it.

She sat up on the bed, wrapped in slightly damp towels, as her phone rang again. The black-and-white photo of Heidi. “Heidi?”

“I’m at the gym. Hackney.”

“Yes?”

“One of my sparring partners here, he says he knows about your guy.”

The gold squiggles of bullshit faux-Chinese calligraphy on the wall opposite seemed to shimmer and detach, drifting toward her. She blinked. “He does?”

“You never told me his last name.”

“No,” said Hollis.

“Begins with W, ends with s?

“Yes.”

An uncharacteristic pause. Heidi never thought about what she was going to say. “When did you last hear from him?”

“Around the time of my U.K. book launch. Why?”

“When are you back here?”

“Tomorrow. What’s this about?”

“Making sure Ajay and I are talking about the same guy.”

“Ajay?”

“He’s Indian. Well, English. I’ll find out what I can, then you and I will talk.” And she hung up.

Hollis wiped her eyes with the corner of one of the towels, restoring the golden brushwork to its place on the blood-colored wallpaper, and shivered.

30. SIGHTING

Milgrim left the white tea shop, walking in what he imagined as the direction of the Seine, favoring streets that ran approximately perpendicular to the one where he’d had his tea. Wondering exactly how he’d been followed here from the Salon du Vintage. Directly, quite likely, on a motorcycle.

If the yellow helmet was really the one he’d seen in London, his motorcyclist was the dispatch rider who’d delivered the printout of Winnie, the photo he’d assumed Sleight had taken in Myrtle Beach. Pamela had sent it, after he’d seen Bigend, on the way back to the hotel. Did they know who Winnie was, he wondered, or what she was? They all took pictures of one another, and now they had him doing it as well.

Now he seemed to have found a street of expensive-looking African folk art. Big dark wooden statues, in small galleries, beautifully lit. Nail-studded fetishes, suggesting terrible emotional states.

But here was a small camera shop as well. He went in, bought a Chinese card-reader from a pleasant Persian man in gold-rimmed glasses and a natty gray cardigan. Put it in his bag with Hollis’s laptop and her book. Continued on.

He began to feel less anxious, somehow, though the elation he’d felt after giving the Neo the slip wasn’t likely to return.

The question now, he decided, was whether the motorcyclist, if he hadn’t been mistaken about the helmet, worked for Sleight or Bigend, or both. Had Bigend sent him here, or Sleight? For that matter, how to be certain that Bigend really mistrusted Sleight? Bigend, as far as he knew, had never lied to him, and Sleight had always seemed fundamentally untrustworthy. Built from the ground up for betrayal.

He thought of his therapist. If she were here, he told himself, she’d remind him that this situation, however complexly threatening or dangerous, was external, hence entirely preferable to the one he’d been in when he’d arrived in Basel, a situation both internal and seemingly inescapable. “Do not internalize the threat. When you do, the system floods with adrenaline, cortisol. Crippling you.”

He reached for the Neo to check the time. It was no longer there.

He walked on, shortly finding himself in what an enameled wall-sign informed him was the Rue Git-le-Coeur. Narrower, possibly more medieval. A few drops of rain began to fall, the sky having clouded over while he’d been having his tea. He checked reflections for a yellow helmet, though of course a professional might park the bike, leave the helmet behind. Or, more likely, be part of a team. He saw a magical-looking bookshop, stock piled like a mad professor’s study in a film, and swerved, craving the escape into text. But these seemed not only comics, unable to provide his needed hit of words-in-row, but in French as well. Some of the them, he saw, were the French kind, very literary-looking, but just as many seemed to be the ones where everyone looked something like the girl in the tea shop, slender and big-eyed. Still, a bookstore. He had a powerful urge to burrow. Work his way back into the stacks. Pull a few piles over behind him and hope never to be found.

He sighed and hurried on.

When Git-le-Coeur ended, he found a pedestrian light and crossed the heavy traffic of what he now remembered was the Quai des Grands Augustins, then hurried down a tall steep flight of stone steps. Which he also remembered. A sunny day, years before.

There was a narrow walkway directly beside the river. Once on this, one could only be seen from above by someone craning over. He looked up, waiting, anticipating the appearance of a helmet, head, or heads.

He became aware of an engine, on the water. He turned. A dark wooden sailboat with green trim was passing, its mast horizontal, piloted by a woman in shorts, a yellow slicker, and sunglasses, looking very alert at the wheel.

He looked back up at the balustrade. Nothing. The stairs were still vacant as well.

Noticing a shallow recess, he sheltered there from the increasingly insistent rain.

And then a longer, wider boat emerged, from an archway beneath a bridge whose name he no longer remembered. Like the boats that carried tourists, for Parisian children to spit on from the bridges, but this one equipped with a long plasma screen, running almost its full length, and perhaps a dozen feet high. And on this screen, as it passed, he saw the agreeably simian-looking young man Hollis had been talking with at the Salon Du Vintage, his features unmistakable, playing an organ or piano, his deep-set eyes shadowed in stage lighting, part of a band. There was no sound, other than the quiet drumming of the boat’s engine, and then the pixels spasmed, collapsing the image, then unfolding it again, to reveal those two tedious Icelandic blondes, the twins Bigend sometimes mysteriously appeared with. The Dottirs, contorting in sequined sheathes on the rain-wet screen, mouths open as in silent screams.

He set his bag down, carefully, on the paving beneath the archway, and stretched his aching shoulder, watching the Dottirs pass, mysteriously, on the dark water.

When the rain stopped, and still no one had appeared, he shifted the bag to his other shoulder and walked on, toward the bridge. He trudged up a different but equally long stone stair, then recrossed the busy Grands Augustins and reentered the Latin Quarter, headed in the approximate direction he had come.

The cobbles were slick and shining, the street furniture semi-unfamiliar, evening settling rapidly in. And it was here, nearing another randomly angled intersection, that he had the experience.

In a setting, as they had said, of clear reality.

He had always been repulsed by the idea of hallucinogens, psychedelics, deliriants. His idea of a desirable drug had been a one that made things more familiar, more immediately recognizable.

In Basel, they had questioned him closely, during early withdrawal, about hallucinations. Had he been having any? No, he’d said. No … bugs? No bugs, he’d assured them. They’d explained that a possible symptom of his withdrawal might be what they called “hallucinations in a setting of clear reality,” though he’d wondered how they could assume that his reality, at that point, was clear. The bugs, whatever those might have been, had never come, to his considerable relief, but now he saw, however briefly but with peculiar clarity, an aerial penguin cross the intersection ahead of him.

Something wholly penguin-shaped, apparently four or five feet long, from beak-tip to trailing feet, and made, it seemed, of mercury. A penguin wrapped in fluid mirror, reflecting a bit of neon from the street below. Swimming. Moving as a penguin moves underwater, but through the Latin Quarter air, at just above the height of second-story windows. Moving down the center of the street that crossed the one he walked on. So that it was revealed only as it crossed the intersection. Swimming. Propelling itself, in a gracefully determined but efficient fashion, with its quicksilver flippers. Then a bicycle crossed, on the street, going in the opposite direction.

“Did you see that?” Milgrim asked the cyclist, who of course was already gone, and in any case could never have heard him.

31. SECRET MACHINERIES

She did her best to put away the clinging unease, after the conversation with Heidi. Put on hose, the dress she’d brought, shoes, makeup. The bathroom was no more than a sort of alcove, less floor space than the Wellsian shower in Cabinet.

Worrying about Garreth’s safety, she’d wisely told herself when they’d started, was something best not begun, lest it never end. Doing very dangerous things was his avocation. Where he lacked the bits and pieces of income afforded a retired musician, once somewhat popular, he had the old man, looking not unlike the later portraits of Samuel Beckett, eyes of a similarly startling ferocity, possibly mad. The old man, who had supposedly once been something, never specified, in the American intelligence community, was Garreth’s producer-director, in an ongoing sequence of covert performance-art pieces. Financed, she’d been allowed to dimly gather, by other retired members of that community. Some rogue geezerhood, evidently brought into focus by a shared distaste for certain policies and proclivities of the government. She’d never seen him again, after Vancouver, but he’d remained a background presence throughout her time with Garreth, like a radio playing quietly in a nearby room. The most frequent voice on any one of Garreth’s short-lived phones.

The old man would not, Hollis imagined, have approved of their involvement, but the multiskilled Garreth would have been impossible to replace. A man whose idea of fun was to fling himself off skyscrapers in a nylon suit with airfoil membranes sewn between the legs, and arms-to-thighs; a human flying squirrel, amid lethally unforgiving uprights of glass and steel. None of that had been Hollis at all, as Heidi had pointed out at the time. Not her taste, ever. Athletes, soldiers, never. She’d favored artboys, of any stripe, and unfortunately the dodgy hybrids as well, artboy-businessmen, with personalities as demanding as ambitiously crossbred dogs. That was what she’d known, before, and in various generally unhappy ways had understood. Not base-jumping madmen from Bristol, who wore turtlenecks without having to first consider the implications, and quoted the less popular poems of Dylan Thomas in their entirety. Because, he’d said, he couldn’t sing. All while scrawling graffiti on the secret machineries of history. Garreth. Whom, she now obliquely accepted, in the descending bronze elevator-booth, she did truly love. Repacking this swiftly, however, before the jolt announced the Odéon’s lobby.

She was wearing the Hounds, open, over her dress, hoping that its darkness might allow it to pass for a sort of bolero. How many seasons until this kind of mismatching would read, on her, as bag lady, she wondered. That worry would be Bigend’s, she guessed, and his talk of aging bohemians.

Nodding to the man at the desk, who was reading a novel, she popped the jacket’s collar, producing a faint jungle whiff of indigo, which she left to hover in the hotel’s lobby.

Outside, the air had been scrubbed by rain, pavements glittering. Ten to eight, by her iPhone. She could, as either George or Meredith had said, see Les Éditeurs across the way, not this street but the next one over, angled. She walked right, past the fancy little drugstore, then right again, not wanting to be early. This much narrower street, angling sharply back, behind the hotel, was home to an English-language secondhand bookshop, a cocktail bar, a serious-looking sushi restaurant, a bookbinder, and a place that seemed to specialize in Chinese reflexology equipment: sadistic-looking massage devices, instruction manuals, models of bodies and body parts marked with meridians and pressure points. Here, for instance, was a very large china ear, apparently identical to the one in Heidi’s room at Cabinet. She’d known she’d seen one before.

She turned, walked back to the bookbinder’s smaller window. Wondered about its clientele. Who paid whatever this cost, to have old books rebound, to this high a standard of workmanship, exquisite cobbling for ancient thoughts? Bigend might, she supposed, though any bibliophile tendencies of his were well concealed. She’d yet to see a book in any Bigendian environment. He was a creature of screens, of bare expanses of desk or table, empty shelves. He owned, as far as she knew, no art. In some way, she suspected, he regarded it as competition, noise to his signal.

One of the books in the window was shaped like a fan, or like a wedge of gilt-embossed ivory calfskin pie, the apex bitten neatly, concavely off.

The street was completely deserted. She said a silent prayer for Garreth. To what, she didn’t know. Unreliable universe. Or those machineries upon which he painted. Please.

The book-fan regarded her smugly, immaculate, its contents unread perhaps for centuries.

She turned and walked toward Odéon. Crossed it, continuing on toward the restaurant.

Outside of which, some residual celebrity-sense now told her, were paparazzi. She blinked, kept walking. Yes, there were. She knew the body language, that nervy-but-negligent pretending-not-to-care. A sort of rage, born of boredom, waiting. Untouched drinks on the red tablecloths, whatever was cheapest. Phones to ears. A few with sunglasses. They watched her approach.

Instinctively, she waited for the first one to raise a camera. For the sound of machine-driven image-collection. Tightening the muscles in her pelvic floor. Prepared either to flee or look her best.

Yet no one shot her. Though they watched as she came on. She was not the target. Had not been, for years. But temporarily a person of interest now, by virtue of turning up here. Why?

Inside, Les Éditeurs was Deco, but not the chrome and faux-onyx kind. Red leather, the color of Fifties fingernails, midbrown varnished wood, books-by-the-yard, framed black-and-white portraits of French faces she didn’t recognize.

“He didn’t need to send you,” said Rausch, her onetime editor on Bigend’s nonexistent Node, the phantom digest of digital culture. “It’s all going very smoothly.”

He was glaring at her over the tops of heavy black frames, glasses that looked as though they had been cranked almost shut around whatever would be left of his field of vision. His black hair looked as though his skull had been flocked.

“No one sent me. What are you doing here?”

“If he didn’t send you, why are you here?”

“I’m meeting someone for dinner. In Paris on Hubertus’s business, but nothing to do with you. Your turn.”

Rausch palmed his forehead, ran fingers exasperatedly back through locks he didn’t have. “Fridrika. The Dottirs. They’re launching the new album this week. She’s here with Bram.” He winced, reflexively.

“Who’s Bram?”

“Bram, from the Stokers. It’s that vampire thing.” He actually looked embarrassed. “Eydis is supposed to have been hot for him, now he’s with Fridrika. In the States, People’s taking Fridrika’s side, Us is Eydis. Over here, we don’t have that clean a break yet, but we should by tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that tactic kind of ancient?”

Rausch twitched. “Bigend says that’s the point. He says it’s a double-reverse, so corny it’s new. Well, not new, but comforting. Familiar.”

“Is that why he’s always with them? They’re Blue Ant clients?”

“He’s tight with their father,” Rausch said, lowering his voice, “all I know.”

“Who’s their father?” It seemed odd to her that the twins had a father. She’d thought of them as having been decanted from something.

“Big deal in Iceland. Seriously, Hollis, he really didn’t send you?”

“Who decided they’d come here?” She’d spotted one twin’s silver hair across Les Éditeurs, but she’d already forgotten which one Rausch had said was here. Seated at a table with a tall broad-shouldered young man, very pale, one eye concealed by a heavy, dusty-looking flop of black hair.

“I did. It’s not too hip. Looks like they chose it at random. Won’t detract from the narrative.”

“Then unless one of the people I’m having dinner with is a Bigend plant, it’s a coincidence.”

Rausch glowered at her, which actually meant, she knew, that he was frightened. “Really?”

“Really.” Maître d’ hovering now, impatient. “Overton,” Hollis said to him, “table for four.” When she turned back to Rausch, he was gone. She followed the man through the crowded restaurant, to where George and Meredith were seated.

George half rose, doing the air-kiss thing. He was wearing a dark suit, no tie, white shirt. A small triangle of ultradense chest hair, at the open collar, made it look as though he were wearing a black T-shirt. She thought his stubble had lengthened, since she’d last seen him. He smiled ruefully, white teeth seemingly the size and thickness of dominoes. “Sorry about this. I had no idea. I actually chose the place so we could talk, and not be distracted by the food.” He sat back down as the maître d’ held her chair for her.

When he’d gone, leaving thickly bound menus, Meredith said, “We could have been across the street, at Comptoir. That would have distracted us thoroughly.”

“Sorry,” said George. “The food here is rather good. Unfortunately, it looks like poor Bram’s the main course.”

“You know him?”

“To speak to. He’s talented. There but for fortune, I suppose.”

“Studio time with Reg not looking quite so dire?”

“Not since our conversation this afternoon, really.” Big solid teeth appearing again. She could certainly see why Meredith liked him. Indeed, she could see that Meredith very definitely did. They gave off that contact-pleasantness she expected from couples who liked one another in some genuine but nonmanic way. She wondered if she’d ever been half of one of those. “Your friend is with Fridrika Brandsdottir,” she said, the name coming back.

“Evidently,” George agreed.

“Not in any biblical sense, I hope,” said Meredith, peering over her open menu at the Bram/Brandsdottir table.

“None whatever,” said George. “He’s gay.”

“That must make it even more embarrassing,” said Hollis, opening her menu.

“He’ll do what he has to,” said George. “He’s looking for a way out of the vampire thing. Tricky.”

Milgrim appeared, his hair looking damp, the maître d’ fussing officiously behind him.

“Hello, Milgrim,” Hollis said, “have a seat.”

Assured that Milgrim was meant to be there, though clearly none too pleased to have him there, the maître d’ retreated. Milgrim unslung his shoulder bag, lowered it to the floor by its strap, beside the remaining chair, and seated himself.

“This is my colleague, Milgrim,” Hollis said. “Milgrim, Meredith Overton and George. Like you, George has only the one name.”

“Hello,” said Milgrim. “I saw you at the clothing show.”

“Hello,” said George. Meredith looked at Hollis.

“Milgrim and I,” Hollis said to Meredith, “are both interested in Gabriel Hounds.”

“Unidentified flying objects,” Milgrim said, to George. “Do you believe in them?”

George’s eyes narrowed beneath his unibrow. “I believe that what appear to be objects, flying, sometimes appear to be seen. And may be unknown.”

“You haven’t seen one?” Milgrim leaned sideways and down, to scoot his bag farther under his chair. He looked up, from very close to the tablecloth, at George. “Yourself?”

“No,” said George, with careful neutrality. “Have you?”

Milgrim straightened up. Nodded in the affirmative.

“Let’s order, shall we,” said Hollis, quickly, hugely grateful for the arrival of their waitress.

32. POST-ACUTE

The waitress was departing with orders, taking the hardbound menus with her, when a disturbance broke out at a table on the opposite side of the room.

Raised voices. A tall, broad-shouldered, black-clad young man, pale features grimly set, suddenly standing, knocking over his chair. Milgrim watched as this one swept for the door, slamming out of Les Éditeurs. To be met by a tide of electronic flash, flinging up his arm to protect his eyes or hide his face.

“That didn’t take long,” said George, who was buttering a round of sliced baguette. He had elegantly hairy hands, like some expensive Austrian stuffed animal. He bit off half of the buttered bread with his large white teeth.

“All he could stand,” said Meredith, someone whose intelligence protruded through her beauty, Milgrim felt, like the outline of unforgiving machinery pressing against a taut silk scarf.

Craning his neck, Milgrim made out one of the Dottirs, silver hair unmistakable, at the table the young man had deserted. After the liquid metal penguin, this didn’t seem so odd. He felt as though he were on some kind of roll today. She was collecting her things, he saw. She checked the dial of her enormous gold wristwatch. “Saw them,” he said, “the Dottirs. On the river. In a video.” He turned back to George. “I saw you, too.”

“It’s about an album launch,” said George. “They have a new release. We don’t, but share a label.”

“Who was that who left?”

“Bram,” said Hollis, “the singer from the Stokers.”

“Don’t know him,” said Milgrim, picking up one of the rounds of bread in order to give his hands something to do.

“You aren’t thirteen,” said Meredith, “are you?”

“No,” agreed Milgrim, putting the slice of bread, whole, into his mouth. Oral, his therapist called that. She’d said he was very lucky to never have taken up smoking. The bread was firm, springy. He held it there a moment before he began to chew. Meredith was staring at him. He looked back at the Brandsdottir table, where someone was holding whichever Dottir’s chair as she rose.

That person was Rausch, he saw, and almost spat out the bread.

Desperately, he found Hollis’s eye. She winked, the sort of effortless wink that involves no other features, a wink that Milgrim himself could never have managed, and took a sip of wine. “George is in a band, Milgrim,” she said, and he knew that she spoke to calm him. “The Bollards. Reg Inchmale, who was the guitarist in the Curfew with me, is producing their new album.”

Milgrim, chewing and swallowing the suddenly dry bread, nodded. Took a sip of water. Coughed into his crisp cloth napkin. What was Rausch doing here? He glanced back, but didn’t see Rausch. The Dottir, reaching the door, triggered a second wave of strobing, a raggedly cumulative brilliance, the color of her hair. He looked back to Hollis. She nodded, almost invisibly.

George and Meredith, he guessed, were unaware of her connection with Blue Ant or, for that matter, of his own. The Dottirs, he knew, were Blue Ant clients. Or, rather, their father, whom Milgrim had never seen, was some kind of major Bigend project. Possibly even partner. Some people, Rausch included, assumed Bigend’s interest in the sisters was sexual. But Milgrim, from his intermittently privileged position as Bigend’s conversational foil, guessed that not to be the case. Bigend cheerfully squired the twins through London as though they were a pair of tedious but astronomically valuable dogs, the property of someone he wished above most things to favorably impress.

“The Stokers are on a different label,” explained George, “but one owned by the same firm. The publicists have set up a fake romance, between Bram and Fridrika, but have also floated the rumor that Bram and Eydis are involved.”

“It’s a very old tactic,” said Meredith, “and particularly obvious with identical twins.”

“Though new to their audience, and Bram’s,” said George, “who as you point out are thirteen years old.”

Milgrim looked at Hollis. She looked back. Smiled. Telling Milgrim that this was not the time to ask questions. She shrugged out of her Hounds jacket, leaving it draped stiffly across the back of her chair. She was wearing a dress the color of weathered coal, a gray that was almost black. A clingy knit. He looked at Meredith’s dress for the first time. It was black, a thick shiny fabric, the detailing sewn like an antique workshirt. He didn’t understand women’s clothing, but he thought he recognized something. “Your dress,” he said to Meredith, “it’s very nice.”

“Thank you.”

“Is it Gabriel Hounds?”

Meredith’s eyebrows rose, fractionally. She looked from Milgrim to Hollis, then back to Milgrim. “Yes,” she said, “it is.”

“It’s lovely,” said Hollis. “This season’s?”

“They don’t do seasons.”

“But recent?” Hollis looking very seriously at Meredith over the rim of her upraised wineglass.

“Dropped last month.”

“Melbourne?”

“Tokyo.”

“Another art fair?” Hollis finished the wine in her glass. George poured for her. Pointed the neck of the bottle questioningly at Milgrim, then saw Milgrim’s inverted glass.

“A bar. Tibetan-themed micro-bistro. I never quite grasped where. Basement of an office building. Owner sleeps up above the fake rafters he put in, though that’s a secret. Hounds haven’t often done things specifically for women. A knit skirt that nobody’s ever been able to copy, though everyone tries. Your jacket’s unisex, though you’d never know it, on. Something to do with those elastic straps in the shoulders.” She looked annoyed, Milgrim thought, but very much in control.

“Would it be out of line to ask how you knew to be there?”

Their first courses arrived, and Meredith waited for the waitress to leave before answering. When she did, she seemed more relaxed. “I’m not directly connected,” she said to Hollis. “I’ve been out of touch with that friend I told you about, the one I knew at Cordwainers, for a few years now. But he’d introduced me to someone else. I’m not in touch with them either, and don’t know how to contact them. But they put me on a mailing list. I get an e-mail, if there’s going to be a drop. I don’t know that I get them for every drop, but there’s no way of knowing that. They aren’t frequent. Since I took Clammy to buy his jeans, in Melbourne, there’ve only been two e-mails. Prague, and Tokyo. I happened to be in Tokyo. Well, Osaka. I went along.”

“What were they offering?”

“Let’s eat,” said Meredith, “shall we?”

“Of course,” said Hollis.

Milgrim’s was salmon, and very good. The waitress had let him order from an English translation of the menu. He looked around, trying to spot Rausch again, but didn’t see him. A shift in clientele was still under way as people who’d actually only been there, he guessed, for Bram’s exit, signaled for their bills and departed, some leaving untouched food. Tables were being quickly cleared, reset, and reseated. The noise level was going up.

“I wouldn’t want either of you to think I’ll be any less willing to help you with Inchmale,” said Hollis, “regardless of what you may or may not be able to tell me about Hounds.”

Milgrim saw George glance quickly at Meredith. “We appreciate that,” George said, though Milgrim wasn’t sure that Meredith did. Perhaps George was using the band “we.”

“All you really need with Inchmale is someone to tell you where you are in his process,” Hollis said. “And that’s all I can do, anyway. You can’t change the process, and if you try hard enough, long enough, he’ll leave. So far, you’re right on track.”

None of this meaning anything to Milgrim, who was enjoying the salmon, in some light chilled sauce.

“I’m sorry,” Meredith said, “but you’re going to have to tell us who you’re working for.”

“If I were better at this sort of thing,” said Hollis, “I’d start by telling you about my book. It’s about locative art.”

“I don’t know the term,” Meredith said.

“It’s what they’re calling augmented reality now,” said Hollis, “but art. It’s been around since before the iPhone started to become the default platform. That was when I wrote about it. But I meant that if I were going to lie to you, I’d tell you about that, then tell you that I was writing another, on esoteric denim, or mad marketing strategies. But I won’t. I’m working for Hubertus Bigend.”

The last bite of salmon caught in Milgrim’s throat. He drank water, coughed into his napkin.

“Are you choking?” asked George, who looked as though he could perform a really optimal Heimlich maneuver.

“No, thanks,” said Milgrim.

“Blue Ant?” asked Meredith.

“No,” said Hollis. “We’re freelance. Bigend wants to know who’s behind Gabriel Hounds.”

“Why?” Meredith had put down her fork.

“Possibly because he thinks someone’s outdoing him at something he considers to have been his own game. Or so he suggested. Do you know him?”

“Only by reputation,” said Meredith.

“Is Blue Ant doing your band’s publicity?” Milgrim asked George, after some more water.

“Not that I know of,” said George. “Too small a world already.”

“I’m not a Blue Ant employee,” said Hollis. “Bigend’s hired me to look into Gabriel Hounds. He wants to know who designs it, how their antimarketing scheme works. I’m only prepared to go so far. I’m not prepared to lie to you about it.”

“How about you?” Meredith asked Milgrim.

“I don’t have a badge,” Milgrim said.

“What do you mean?”

“To open the door,” Milgrim said. “At Blue Ant. Employees have those badges. I’m not on salary.”

First-course dishes were removed. Second courses arrived. Milgrim’s was pork tenderloin, stacked like a corpulent chess piece, a rook of pork. It toppled as he began to eat it.

“How badly does Bigend want to know?” Meredith’s knife and fork were poised.

“He wants to know everything, basically,” said Hollis, “all the time. Right now, he wants to know this quite badly. Next month? Maybe not so much.”

“He must have a lot of resources. For information.” Meredith cut into her roundel of beef.

“Prides himself on it,” Hollis said.

“I mentioned that I believe most of my last season of shoes are in a warehouse in Seattle. Tacoma, possibly.”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know where. Can’t find them. The lawyers say they could make a very convincing case for my ownership, if we could locate them. We’re fairly certain they haven’t been sold off, otherwise at least a few would have surfaced on eBay. None have. Could Bigend find them for me?”

“I don’t know,” said Hollis. “But if he couldn’t, I don’t know who could.”

“I don’t know what I could find out for you,” said Meredith, “but assuming I found something, I’d consider an exchange. Otherwise, not.”

Milgrim looked from Meredith to Hollis, back.

“I’m not authorized to make that sort of deal,” said Hollis, “but I can certainly take him the proposal.”

This reminded Milgrim of the closing rhythm of certain very backstage drug deals, the kind in which one party may know of someone with an Aerostar van, full of some precursor chemical, while another is aware of the approximate whereabouts of a really efficient pill-pressing machine.

“Please do,” said Meredith, smiling, then taking a first sip of her wine.

>

“That was very good,” Milgrim said to Hollis, after saying good night to Meredith and George outside the restaurant. “The timing. When you told them about Bigend.”

“What choice did I have? If I’d told them otherwise, I’d already have been lying to them. The hotel’s this way.”

“I was never good at that sort of timing,” said Milgrim, then remembered the penguin, and glanced up.

“What was that about UFOs, when you first walked in?”

“I don’t know,” said Milgrim. “I thought I’d seen something. It’s been a long day. I have your computer. Would you mind if I kept it overnight? I have to check something.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Hollis. “I only have it for a book I haven’t started writing. I have my iPhone. What did you think you saw?”

“It looked like a penguin.”

Hollis stopped. “A penguin? Where?”

“In the street. That way.” He pointed.

“In the street?”

“Flying.”

“They can’t fly, Milgrim.”

“Swimming. Through the air. Level with the second-story windows. Using its flippers to propel itself. But it looked more like a penguin-shaped blob of mercury. It reflected the lights. Distorted them. It may have been a hallucination.”

“Do you get those?”

“P-A-W-S,” said Milgrim, spelling it out.

“Paws?”

“Post-acute withdrawal syndrome.” He shrugged, started for the hotel again, Hollis following. “They were worried about that.”

“Who were?”

“The doctors. In the clinic. In Basel.”

“What about the man at the Salon? The one in the pants? The one you thought you’d seen in Selfridges? Did he follow you?”

“Yes. Sleight was telling him where I was.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“I left the Neo with someone else. He followed them.” He needed to clean his teeth. There was pear galette between his upper rear molars. It still tasted good.

“It’s been a long day,” said Hollis as they reached what he took to be their hotel. “I spoke with Hubertus. He wants you to call him. Sleight thinks you’ve run away.”

“I feel like I have.” He held the door for her.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Monsieur Milgrim?” A man, behind a vaguely pulpit-like counter.

“Mister Milgrim’s room is on my card,” said Hollis.

“Yes,” said the clerk, “but he must still register.” He produced a printed white card and a pen. “Your passport, please.”

Milgrim brought out his Faraday pouch, then his passport.

“I’ll call you in the morning, in time for breakfast here, then the train,” said Hollis. “Good night.” And she was gone, around a corner.

“I will photocopy this,” said the clerk, “and return it to you when you are finished in the lobby.” He gestured with his head, to Milgrim’s right.

“The lobby?”

“Where the young lady is waiting.”

“Young lady?”

But the clerk had vanished, through a narrow doorway behind the counter.

The lights were out in the small lobby. Folding wooden panels partially screened it from the reception area. Streetlight reflected on china, set out for breakfast service. And on the yellow curve of the helmet, from the low oval of a glass coffee table. A small figure rose smoothly to its feet, in a complex rustle of waterproof membranes and cycle-armor. “I’m Fiona,” she said sternly, her jawline delicate above the stiff buckled collar. She stuck out her hand. Milgrim shook it automatically. It was small, warm, strong, and callused.

“Milgrim.”

“I know that.” She didn’t sound British.

“Are you American?”

“Technically. You too. We both work for Bigend.”

“He told Hollis he wasn’t sending anybody.”

“Blue Ant didn’t send anybody. I work for him. So do you.”

“How do I know you really work for Bigend?”

She tapped the face of a phone like Hollis’s, listened, handed it to him.

“Hello?” said Bigend. “Milgrim?”

“Yes?”

“How are you?”

Milgrim considered. “It’s been a long day.”

“Run it past Fiona after we’ve spoken. She’ll relay it to me.”

“Did you have Sleight tracking me with the Neo?”

“It’s part of what he does. He called from Toronto, said you’d left Paris.”

“I slipped someone the phone.”

“Sleight’s wrong,” Bigend said.

“Not about the phone leaving Paris.”

“That’s not what I mean. He’s wrong.”

“Okay,” said Milgrim. “Who’s right?”

“Pamela,” said Bigend. “Fiona, whom you’ve just met. We’ll be keeping it at that until the situation sorts itself out.”

“Is Hollis?”

“Hollis is unaware of any of this.”

“Am I?”

There was a silence. “Interesting question,” said Bigend, finally. “What do you think?”

“I don’t like Sleight. Don’t like the man he had following me.”

“You’re doing well. More proactive than I asked for, but that’s interesting.”

“I saw a penguin. Penguin-shaped. Something. I may need to go back to the clinic.”

“That’s our Festo air penguin,” Bigend said, after a pause. “We’re experimenting with it as an urban video surveillance platform.”

“Festive?”

“Festo. They’re German.”

“What’s going on? Please?”

“Something that happens periodically. It has to do with the kind of talent Blue Ant requires. If they’re any good at what I hire them for, they tend to have an innate tendency to go rogue. That or sell out to someone who already has. I expect this to happen. It can actually be quite productive. Fiona was on the train with you, this morning. She’ll be on the train back, tomorrow. Put Hollis in a cab to Cabinet.”

“What’s that?”

“Where she’s staying. Then wait near the cab rank. Fiona will bring you to me. Give her a rundown of your day now, then get some sleep.”

“Okay,” Milgrim said, then realized Bigend was gone. He handed the phone back to Fiona, noticing that she wore something on her left wrist, about six inches long, that looked like a doll’s computer keyboard. “What’s that?”

“Controls the penguin,” she said. “But we’re switching over to iPhones for that.”

33. BURJ

She got the iPhone out of her purse in the little bronze elevator, hit Heidi’s cell number as she stepped out. It was ringing as she walked along the hallway, doors to her right, weird twisted brown medieval timbers to her left. Heidi picked up as she was fiddling the key into the lock.

“Fuck—” Against a wash of what sounded to Hollis like exclusively male pub ruckus.

“Tell me what’s happened to Garreth. Now.” She opened the door. Saw white towels where she’d left them on the bed, the Blue Ant figurine on the built-in bedside table, big crazy gold fake Chinese scribbles on the blood-red walls. It was like stepping into a life-size Barbie’s Shanghai Brothel kit.

“Hold on. Get the fuck over! Not you. Had to get out of that bench thing.”

“I thought you weren’t drinking.”

“Red Bull. Cutting it with ginger ale.”

“Tell me. Now.”

“Don’t look on YouTube.”

“At what, on YouTube?”

“Burj Khalifa world-championship base jump.”

“That hotel? Looks like an Arabian Nights sailboat? What happened?”

“That’s Burj Al Arab. Burj Khalifa’s the world’s tallest building—”