Gateless In Seattle

This serial novel was written and published weekly in the Seattle Times

Sunday, October 01, 1995

Gateless In Seattle

A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners

Part 1: Virtual Bill

By Terry McDermott

ON A CHILL OCTOBER morning, when the sun had all but gone south for the winter but the rains had yet to arrive, the slightly lighter gray of a Seattle dawn edged above the Cascades. That hint of gunpowder in what minutes earlier had been a field of pitch meant that in minutes the addicts would start shuffling in for their wet grandes and dry shorts and 2 percent no-foams, the first hits in another cranked-up day.

David Thomas Jones, Double Tall to friends, accidentally rolled his spindly 6 feet, 8 inches off the couch onto the spilt-milk, sticky-tile floor of the Deep Woods Bean House, the Queen Anne coffee shop that was, for the moment, home.

Great, he thought, after hitting the floor. Kicked out of the house, tossed out of bed.

Double Tall had hit a bad stretch of road. He had been cruising along, writing code for auto-pilot software systems at Boeing, living in a nice little Green Lake bungalow with his somewhat weird but more than somewhat attractive girlfriend, Ruth, when in the space of 12 hours he lost the job, the house and the girl.

He got the layoff notice on a Friday afternoon. At first, he wasn’t overly concerned. A small trust fund established by his grandparents when he was born 31 years earlier pumped out enough cash every month to cover his Green Lake mortgage. His only real expenses were food and drink and RAM upgrades.

It was summer. He figured a couple months of golf in the morning and maybe a little hoop in the afternoon would be just fine while he figured out what to do with his life.

It wasn’t fine with Ruth.

“I never thought I’d spend this much time at a country club golf course,” he told Ruth that night.

“I never thought you’d want to,” she said, then told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“What’s that mean?” he asked.

“Just what I said,” she said. “I’m asking you to leave.”

“Leave what?”

“The house,” she said. “You’re not the man I thought you were.”

“Who’d want to be? And anyhow, it’s my house.”

“Well, are you going to throw me out on the street?” she asked.

“I wasn’t planning to,” Double Tall said.

“So,” she said.

“So what?” DT said.

“So, you’re a man. You have options.”

And exactly what are they? he wondered, rolling to the edge of the king-size futon covered with the scratchy raw-cotton sheets Ruth insisted on buying. Left Overs, the Capitol Hill shop, guaranteed the sheets were hand-made in the Third World by peasants whose employer promised not to exploit them. What this meant to Double Tall, other than further proof of the futility of good causes, was that they cost twice as much as other sheets. And because Ruth, a lawyer, was disinclined to contribute her labor to the exploitation of clients – that is, she refused to work – Double Tall paid.

Double Tall hadn’t figured any of this out by the next morning, when she took his keys and locked the front door behind him. He turned and looked at the old house in disbelief before climbing into his Explorer and heading down to the lake, where he wandered around for a couple of hours in a Discman daze, zoned out on Eddie Vedder.

He waded through a couple games of three-on-three, getting thoroughly trashed by some guy he had never seen at the lake before. Double Tall had 4 inches on the guy and was still overmatched. It was like playing underwater. Everything he tried to do took twice as long as he planned, and the guy stuffed him. And he did it with a nonchalance and litheness seldom seen in a ratball venue like this. DT had a reputation. He could play, but not like this.

That was two months ago. Nothing changed. Life, taking a lead from the Green Lake guy, overmatched him. He couldn’t scare up a job. He was hooked into his mortgage payments whether he lived in his Green Lake place or not, and for the time being Ruth (whom he began to think of as Ruthless) deemed not. He tried to talk to her. She listened but was adamant about their separation.

Double Tall considered his circumstances. He was a 31-year-old unemployed computer programmer. He was homeless, jobless and broke.

He cadged beds around town, then finally settled in at the Deep Woods, a coffee shop he owned a piece of, having helped finance it when he was flush with a Boeing bonus check. He slept on a couch in the corner and did whatever the woman who owned the rest of it, Lily Tomfool, told him to do while he looked for real work.

Lily was a dark, striking woman of indeterminate age and ethnicity, and DT learned to approach her warily. She could have been anywhere from 14 to 40 and on any given day acted both. She would go from truculent to world-weary in a sentence.

She looked vaguely Asian, from somewhere south on the continent, maybe India, maybe Indochina. Local Vietnamese thought she might be Khmer. Cambodians thought she was Filipina. Filipinos thought she was Latina. And the name seemed to be Native American. Nobody ever got close enough to find out. She hinted at a trail of bad men and broken relationships, but never parted the veil long enough for anyone to see clearly inside.

“Where you from?” Double Tall wondered one day.

“Earth,” she said. “Is that a problem?”

“Lily has an attitude,” said a customer who overheard the exchange.

“No,” Double Tall replied. “Lily is an attitude.”

Lily and Double Tall developed a relationship built on equal parts curiosity and suspicion. They enjoyed each other’s company and mistrusted each other’s intentions. They were, in other words, a woman and a man.

LIKE A LOT OF people he knew, DT was not overly eager to have a job, but for the first time in his life he actually needed the money. DT came from an old-money timber family, but his parents, Doug and Marian, had spent most of what would have been his inheritance on a variety of causes, good and bad. They hadn’t planned to spend it all. They intended to leave him the income from several stands of old-growth timber on the Olympic Peninsula. Of course, they also contributed money to the environmental groups that sued the timber companies to stop harvesting the trees, thus rendering them worthless.

Marian and Doug, whom everyone called Fir, were aging hippies still recovering from the Sixties. Fir had inherited the timber and had never gotten comfortable with the money it produced. He explained its disappearance to Double Tall once as best he could: “Poof! You know, poof.”

The couple was not unlike a lot of other people in 1990s Seattle. The city had become a paradise for slackers of all ages. From the top of the age pyramid to the bottom, people slummed all over the place, but with good intentions.

This was the bug in Seattle’s code, what in the software industry would be called an undocumented feature. People attracted to the area sometimes treated it as a sort of theme park for adults. They spent a lot of time figuring out how to amuse themselves doing nothing much more arduous than RollerBlading, or for the really ambitious, opening an espresso stand.

The number of Microsoft millionaires who had traded the soul-deadening marathon of company life for very early retirement all by themselves created a sort of critical mass in the leisure economy. For many, retirement brought time. This didn’t always translate into lives. It did, however, guarantee prosperity for businesses geared to people who like to sit around and talk, and it gave Seattle a distinct aura.

In L.A., it is said, everybody from CEOs to waitresses have screenplays stuck in their back pockets. In San Francisco, they carry business plans for high-tech start-ups. In Seattle, CEOs want to become waitresses. Rather than movie scripts, people carry latte punch cards. These are things unknown to the rest of the country, or universe, for that matter, but they function as passports in the Northwest.

DT climbed back onto the couch from the floor as the furry creatures of Queen Anne began filing into the Deep Woods. Most filled their travel mugs and moved on. Enough people hung around – musicians, bartenders, writers and other socially marginal types – to give the place a lively buzz through midmorning. This was the usual time for Lily and DT to begin arguing over the direction of the day’s musical selections. She favored husky jazz ballads in the morning, flamenco and opera in the afternoon, and was usually ready for funk by evening.

He liked guitars. All day every day. And was prone to esoteric arguments on the meaning of feedback in early Soundgarden. The first time she had been subjected to one of these monologues, Lily asked DT if he thought maybe they just had a cheap amp.

This October day, two months into the disappearance of Bill Gates, DT exercised his minority ownership rights and insisted the music go down so they could listen to a news conference called by local political leaders to discuss the disappearance. DT had become fascinated with the Gates case. He was a cyber junkie hooked on the possibilities of Gates’ vanishing act.

DT had never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. He also sniffed a way to make money. The richest guy in the world can’t disappear without significant sums changing hands, he thought. He was persuaded that Gates and what he imagined were his abductors could be tracked through cyberspace. And he had visions of himself as the world’s first cyber-detective. All he needed was somebody to hire him.

WHEN IT BEGAN, DT, like most people, took the Gates thing as a hacker’s prank. It was funny.

You’d be sitting there in some cloth cubicle, clicking away on a quarterly report, or goofing on the Web maybe, cruising, and that disembodied face would pop up out of nowhere.

Bang.

Bill Gates in your face.

It was a pixilated, stylized version, but it was him all right. It had a kind of goofy adolescent charm. The V-neck, the tousled hair, the oversized glasses; the pouty face, forever on the verge of a whine.

Soon, Virtual Bill began to talk. Most of the time, it was the usual geeky-Gates stuff everybody was used to hearing from Real Bill – intellectual bandwidths clogging metaphorical data bases. But every once in a while, Virtual Bill would cough up something off-the-wall, like the time he told the fund managers at Pacific First to move heavy into, of all stocks, IBM. This was when every broker on the planet insisted Old Blue was in a death spiral, sent spinning there by none other than Gates himself.

Only a few of the stock buyers moved fast enough, but those who did caught a huge up-tick and everybody went “Hmmm.”

Or the time Anne Bingaman’s whole damned anti-trust division in D.C. got the same pitch every day for a week to take a closer look at the Early Frost Warning-Apple deal. Which, when they finally did, led to an investigation. Of course, the SEC also opened its own investigation into Gates’ stock advice.

In the very beginning, in the after-work hangouts across town, the town Gates had either created or made obsolete, depending on which side of the wheel you found yourself spinning, the cynics, which would include almost everybody, thought it was just one more Microsoft manipulation.

In the old-world, wood-and-leather Metropolitan, filled with lawyers, ad hotshots and dry martinis, they didn’t much care what it was so long as it didn’t constrict the cash flow, which they eagerly slurped from as it ran past.

In Duke’s, a hangover from the jazzed-money, land-rush ’80s, the brokers and time-buyers thought it had to be a stock play.

In the wood-fired, feta and sun-dried pizza places, the Cucina! Cucina!s that sprang from the earth overnight like mushroom spores in a Northwest autumn, the spreadsheet junkies proclaimed it a marketing coup, maybe a plug for Bob, the dorky, user-friendly box of failed programs sporting a bespectacled happy face logo they thought bore a more than incidental resemblance to this new Gates icon.

At the Re-bar, a darkened post-industrial dive where a band called LAB (Life After Bill) began showing up, no one thought at all. And didn’t intend to start. Thinking was, like, something that got us in this mess in the first place, wasn’t it?

Then it got weird. Virtual Bill started predicting lottery winners, critiquing modern art – loved Lichtenstein, hated Stella – and quoting Sonic point spreads.

Fred Couples, the blue-collar kid from West Seattle who had become one of the world’s best professional golfers before a bad back sidelined him, had retreated from the pro tour and was holed up in his Dallas mansion. He spent his time watching ESPN and playing computer games.

One night, as Couples was cranking up the generator in the Stoneship Age of “Myst,” Gates arrived in the lower-left-hand corner of his Multisync. Couples had no idea who Gates was. He thought it must be part of the game.

Then Gates said:

“Cups, you gotta snap out of this. I’ve been watching video of your swing, man. Look at this.” The little guy stands up, and starts making imaginary golf swings.

Couples thinks he’s having an hallucination. But he can’t help watching this gawky little figure on the screen making herky-jerky swings, saying in a thin, nasal voice:

“Do you see what’s happening here? Look, my left side is breaking down at impact. That’s what you’re doing. That’s why you’re pushing everything. It’s how you hurt your back. Remember, firm left side.”

Golf is a mystery, even to those who excel at it, and golfers will listen to advice from almost anyone. Couples stood up in his rec room, grabbed a five-iron and took a couple of swings. By God, the computer guy was right. Couples returned to the tour the next week, played as well and painlessly as ever.

Golf Digest ran a cover story, “Gates: The New Golf Guru.”

Even after this, though, the cynics held sway. The golf tips and betting lines were just an attempt to boost the sports games in Microsoft’s consumer products division. The art criticism? Well, it was well known that Gates was trying to license the electronic rights to a huge amount of art. This was just part of the negotiation, right?

The lottery thing nobody could figure, but he was usually wrong, so maybe that was a copycat prank.

It wasn’t until several months after Virtual Bill first appeared that people began to seriously question what the hell was going on.

The novelty grew stale. Then eerie. The post-pubescent coders on the Microsoft campus began leaving their eggshell-white and blue-glass office buildings even before dark to stroll, oh so casually, across the soccer field, past Building Eight, looking in the lot for Bill’s Lexus or Porsche, or glancing nervously at the dark windows on the second floor – the executive lair.

Software people around the country, paranoid by habit, were genuinely spooked. So were a lot of other folks. They began to wonder if something untoward had happened. But by then, everybody later agreed, it was too late.

Gates was gone.

Seattle – the world – was Gateless. Competitors who had spent a decade praying for this day had no idea how to react, what to do. Without Gates, they had no one to hate, no one to run from or cling to.

The market was clear. It didn’t like Bill’s disappearance a bit. For the first time ever, the company’s stock began drilling holes in the bottom floors of analysts’ estimates. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened still another investigation.

There was talk of subpoenaing Gates. Republicans in Congress began saying they could balance the budget just by eliminating all the Microsoft investigations various agencies had undertaken.

Finally, there was a theory Gates wasn’t missing at all; he was withholding his presence, chilling; getting even for all the heat he had taken; maybe holed up in the little San Simeon he had built on Lake Washington.

“You could wander around in there with the whole Husky football team for a year and never see one another,” Tim Joist, an electrician who had worked on the mansion, told the newspapers. “We pulled wire in there for a month. He could live out his days there, grow Howard Hughes fingernails and nobody’d ever know.”

This theory suited those who saw everything Gates did as another step in a plot toward world domination. It was popular. Tour boats were bumper-to-bumper on Lake Washington as gawkers paid for the privilege of panning the Gates compound with high-power binoculars, looking for traces of movement.

They saw none.

AS MIGHT BE expected in a town so intent on celebrating itself, Gates’ disappearance provoked among civic leaders a prolonged examination not of the disappearance but of the place. This was self-absorption raised to an art.

“We don’t need him, anyway,” said George Gergen, a local activist. “He wasn’t the real Seattle. He was way too focused, too aggressive, too rich. He was so successful he was unsavory.”

Among the politicians, it was nonetheless thought you couldn’t just walk away from a disaster of this magnitude. You had to run. And a full round of finger-pointing commenced as local leaders hustled to assign blame for Gates’ disappearance to somebody, anybody, other than themselves.

Who lost Gates? they asked.

One minute, the Governor said later, you’ve got the world’s richest businessman – not to mention one of its biggest taxpayers, he chortled – helping you recruit corporate investment and world-class business talent. The next you’ve got all the other governors joking that the whole damned state is nothing but a bunch of narcissistic moralizers so intent on navel-gazing they let the cash cow wander out of the barn unnoticed.

The Mayor, a cautious man, at first said nothing, maintaining Gates and his company resided outside his jurisdiction.

But when it became clear that somebody was going to get blamed for losing Gates, the Mayor hurried to make up lost ground. The Mayor and Governor called a joint news conference to discuss the implications. The Mayor upstaged the Governor by using the news conference as a forum to call for a state investigation.

“This is, ah, um, a very, ah, genuine example of, oh, a matter of grave concern to each and every brown and yellow and black and bland, er, white, and of course, red, although we shouldn’t say that, citizen of our great state,” the Mayor said.

The Governor, who could match the Mayor inarticulate mumble for incoherent jumble, opposed a commission but threatened he’d raise taxes to fund one if Gates wasn’t returned at once.

“It would be a last resort, of course,” he said, “but we’ve consorted with last retorts before, and we’ll do what we have to to protect the best interests of all working people, Democrat and Republican, good and bad, in our wonderful state, providing my family agrees with the decision. This has been a painful time for all of us and our hearts go out to all taxpayers, who have been soaked, uh, so supportive of our tough actions in difficult times.”

LILY AND DOUBLE Tall watched this performance from the Deep Woods. Double Tall was speechless. Lily never was.

“That’s a pair to draw to,” she said. “Feckless and Reckless. Can’t they see what’s going on? This is Oz. And Bill’s behind the curtain. He’s a guy. He was losing control. This is just a way to get back on top.”

“No way,” Double Tall said. “I think old Billy boy has come to a bad end. And somebody oughta figure out how and who. Think of it. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of the guy? The possibilities are almost endless. Anybody who ever used one of those kludgey Microsoft programs. Everybody who’s ever gotten a DOS error message: `Bad or missing command.com.’ `Insufficient system resources.’

“Every jealous Mac fanatic. Every pre-literate non-computer user.

“I mean, who wouldn’t have a motive?”

Jones rolled off the Bean House sofa as he warmed to the talk. It was noon. There’s nothing like a theory to get a man out of bed.

 

 

 

Part 2: The Dinner Party

“David,” she said. “What are you doing Friday night?”

So far as Double Tall Jones could recall, the only times Ruth had ever called him David were in bed. Or when she wanted to be.

“Is this a trick question?” he asked. “I was thinking of taking Courtney Love to Fullers and throwing carpaccio at the waiters. `What am I doing?’ I’m trying to breathe. And can barely afford that.”

It had been four months since Double Tall had lost his job, three months since Ruth had thrown him out of the house. He was camping on a couch at the Deep Woods Bean House on lower Queen Anne, obsessing about the disappearance of Bill Gates and dreaming troubled dreams of tall dark men.

“Why don’t you come over for dinner? There are things we need to discuss,” Ruth said.

Double Tall missed Ruth. They had been together for two years. This might be the beginning of a reconciliation.

“What should I bring?” he asked.

“Wine,” she said. “And a toolbox.”

“What’d she want?” Lily Tomfool, owner-operator of the Deep Woods, asked when DT hung up the coffee shop telephone.

“Dinner,” DT said. “At my house.”

“What are you cooking?” Lily said.

“I don’t know. She hasn’t told me yet.”

DT was so thrilled at the hint of reconciliation that Ruth’s toolbox remark didn’t register. It should have. When he showed up at the Green Lake house Friday night, toting a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Noir as peace offering, Ruth met him at the door with a kiss on the cheek and a list of repairs, beginning with a leaky bathtub faucet.

DT opened his mouth to scream, then saw Janet Hiller and Tony Lee in the kitchen. Janet and Ruth had met fresh out of law school on the staff of the Iran-Contra committee on Capitol Hill. Janet was now chief of staff for The Governor. Tony, Janet’s husband, was a political consultant. They met when Tony was called in to rescue Janet’s boss in the midst of his first gubernatorial campaign.

Tony devised a strategy that turned the candidate’s worst trait, a bug-eyed impetuousness that would make a speed freak blush, into an asset. Lee recast the guy as an anti-leader, a powerless, sensitive Everyman tossed about on the whims of fate. It was the best spin ever put on incompetence.

The Governor’s victory, which had seemed unimaginable, was hailed as a herald of what Newsweek called The New Chaos. Time said he was the first quantum governor – the perfect representative of the small and unstable.

Lee reigned for a season as the nation’s hottest consultant, the king of confusion.

“DT, how are you?” Tony called out. “Where’ve you been hiding?”

Janet came into the living room and hugged DT.

“We’re really sorry what happened with you guys,” she whispered. “Ruth told us you’ve been going through some changes.”

“She did, huh? Did she happen to mention those changes included being dumped because I play golf? I didn’t know a six-iron was a political instrument.”

Ruth intervened.

“Everything’s political, David. You know that.”

“So what kind of politics would repairing the plumbing connote?” DT asked.

“Good politics. Honest politics.”

Janet and Tony stayed for dinner, which wrecked any hope DT had of rekindled romance, but it gave him an audience. DT was an awkward man. He was consistently graceful in only two places: at a computer keyboard and in the kitchen. He had been born at the right time. Computing was the gold of the Nineties. Food was the drug. DT and Ruth were both addicted.

They had been an odd couple. She wore her politics on her forehead like Lenten ashes and he had none. But in other sometimes odd ways, they complemented each other. He cooked; she ate. When he had money, she spent it. He knew nothing of art and literature; she knew everything. She taught; he learned. His life was a mess; hers was as well-ordered as a cutlery tray.

For a Maoist, Ruth shopped unnervingly well. She blamed it on bad parents. She kept the kitchen well-stocked. DT rummaged through it.

By the time he was done, the kitchen had enough equipment scattered around – food processors, herb mills, cheese graters – it looked like a home shopping network set.

DT marinated goat cheese and walnuts in extra-virgin olive oil to dress a baby green salad. The entree was startlingly white fillet of Chilean sea bass, steamed with garlic and ginger and served with a cilantro-lime butter, and risotto cakes. He sauteed a mixture of autumn squashes.

Ruth objected to dessert on moral grounds, so there was none.

They talked about the effects of Gates’ disappearance. Except for the by-now regular appearances of Virtual Bill, the mini-version of Gates that was popping up on computer screens worldwide, the Microsoft mogul had been incommunicado since Windows 95 hit the streets.

Trading in Microsoft stock had been suspended for a month. The rest of the market was in free-fall. The overall economy, which had been chugging steadily ahead, had come in for a hard landing. Recession loomed. The Japanese stance in trade negotiations stiffened. They knew what everyone knew: Every politician from president to Podunk water commissioner was in trouble. The Governor appointed a blue-ribbon commission to investigate. Janet was putting together its staff.

“The path to Billy Boy heads off into the ether,” DT said. “If you go looking on the ground with a bunch of gumshoes, you’ll never find him. This Virtual Bill stuff is what you need to follow. Gates is out there somewhere. He isn’t hiding. He’s captive, a prisoner of war.”

“Who would capture him?” Janet asked.

“Who are we at war with?” DT said. “All roads lead to Tokyo.”

By the end of the evening, under the spell cast in DT’s kitchen, Janet, desperate and intrigued by DT’s vague theory of a trade war, hired him as the commission’s lead electronic investigator.

All things considered, DT thought on the way home, this was better than dessert. Still, he stopped at the Queen Anne Thriftway for a chocolate Haagen- Dazs ice-cream bar. Man does not live by electrons alone.

 

 

Part 3:  On The Case

 

THE GATES COMMISSION SET up shop on the 44th floor of Gateway Tower, a substantially empty downtown Seattle skyscraper that stands as a powerful reminder to the magic of borrowed money.

The building’s design is a curious blend of commercial architecture – the Hyatt approach of “Hey, Martha, would you look at that,” most evident in the green glass gabled top – and an unforgiving Modernist impulse prominently displayed in the blunt concrete columns that support it.

The resulting building has the subtlety of a penile implant. To call it a marriage of styles implies too much commitment. It is more a co-habitation, so that it seems ready to break apart any day.

The Gates Commission had some of the same tensions. Gerald Jorgenson, a young lawyer on loan from Perkins Coie, the state’s largest law firm, ran the commission staff, much of which shared his buttoned-down style. But some pretty strange creatures crawled out from under rocks, not one of which was to be left unturned. Coming and going through the marble halls was a motley collection of private eyes, politicos, computer hackers, rumor-mongers and mystics.

The rumors were rich.

An enduring one was a variation on the Imelda Marcos shoe story. An Italian eye-glass manufacturer had allegedly contracted to send thousands of pairs of oversized glasses to a private island in the San Juans, where Gates was said to have gone to seed.

Another tip came from Arizona.

“Gates is at a golf camp in Scottsdale working on his short game,” the anonymous caller said. A third had him racing custom-built Porsches down the autobahn between Stuttgart and Mannheim.

Teams of investigators were dispatched to chase these and all else that floated in on the four winds. Double Tall Jones was in his element.

DT’s chief failing as a computer programmer had been his lack of single-mindedness, an inability to pursue a consistent strategy through a string of code. Ideas intervened. He was diverted down tendrils and rabbit trails. Projects took twice as long as planned. Some were never done.

The six years he worked at Boeing were a struggle between his obvious gifts of imagination and equally obvious lack of rigor.

“This would be fine if we were building video games. We’re building airplanes. When they crash, you can’t reboot,” his boss said the day he laid DT off. DT left with a severance check, a sense of relief and the nickname – given because his head stuck up above the programmers’ cubicle partitions even when he was sitting down.

The Gates Commission gave him a chance to reboot his life. He loved the intrigue, the infinite range of possibilities. At the same time, he hated the staff lawyers. They all reminded him of Boeing and Ruth – repressed but correct haiku to his raggedy free verse.

His first day on the job downtown, DT drove around for 40 minutes looking for a parking spot. He finally found a 30-minute meter, which he would race down 44 floors to replenish whenever he remembered it, which was not often enough. He received three parking tickets the first day, four the second. The third day he was ticketed for expired plates and towed for parking in a 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Monday spot, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

The fourth day he tried to get his truck back.

He bused to the tow yard, where they wouldn’t release the truck with expired license plates. DT headed to the courthouse. A clerk told him he couldn’t renew his plates until he paid his parking tickets.

DT headed for Municipal Court, a dingy basement of a place in the Public Safety Building, whose every visual clue convinced you it was very likely not very safe at all. DT waited in line for 45 minutes to pay $126 worth of parking tickets.

“You gonna pay for these others, too,” the cashier asked.

“What others?” DT said.

“You got one expired meter from 1992, three from 1994.”

“Says who?”

“The computer.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know. They’ve been referred to collection. They’re across the street.”

DT walked across

Third Avenue

to the collection agency offices. He waited in line in the hallway just to get in to the office, waited in another line inside the cramped office, finally got to the counter after 30 minutes, and asked: “How much?”

“That comes to $170.23, with interest and penalties.”

“What?”

“One hun—”

“I heard the number. I didn’t catch the explanation.”

“Interest and fees.”

DT saw no way around paying the tickets. He pulled out his checkbook.

“No checks,” the clerk said.

“Whattya mean?”

“No checks.”

“I heard you the first time.”

He walked outside, walked up

Third Avenue

looking for a cash machine. He found one two blocks away. He tried to withdraw $200, but was told by the machine he had exceeded his daily limit. It confiscated his card. He shuffled across the street, heading for a bus stop. A cop stopped and cited him for jaywalking.

“This job isn’t worth what it’s costing me,” he thought. And with that, he moved his laptop out of the downtown office and set up shop on a card table next to the couch in the back of Lily’s Deep Woods Bean House.

Lily Tomfool agreed to let DT run his investigation out of the Deep Woods for three reasons: First, she was as interested in the disappearance as he was; second, DT’s fellow conspirators drank a lot of coffee; and third, having DT around provided a backup barrista, giving Lily freedom to do other things.

The Deep Woods became command central for the more elaborate Gates theories.

The most elaborate of these was, of course, DT’s own, a vague idea that Gates had been kidnapped by an international business conglomerate, probably Japanese in origin, whose motive was simple. Gates was kicking their butts all over the globe and they couldn’t figure any way to put a stop to it. So they did the next best thing – they put a stop to him. —————————————————————–

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — Lily

Terry Mcdermott

Bill Gates has gone virtual and Double Tall Jones, an unemployed computer programmer, has been hired to find him. DT has set up shop in the Deep Woods Bean House, a Queen Anne coffee shop run by the mysterious Lily Tomfool.

Part 4 Lily

LILY TOMFOOL SAT IN the third row of metal chairs in the Alki Room of the Seattle Center. She was there to attend a public hearing on proposed zoning changes on Queen Anne. The room was full of angry Queen Anne landowners, there being no other kind.

The city’s Department of Construction and Land Use had proposed rezoning the hill as part of an elaborate Urban Village concept devised to direct growth and pacify developers by giving them something to develop.

The plan pleased no one. Certainly none of the muttering Queen Anne residents packed into the Alki Room liked it.

Yugi Futamura, a former University of Washington architecture dean hired as a consultant by the city, was at the front of the room trying to explain why allowing 12-story apartment and retail development along

Queen Anne Avenue

was essential to the neighborhood’s vitality.

“New, size-enhanced point-of purchase modes will upgrade to the level of density a fully-functional urban space requires. I see this as a guarantor of the neighborhood’s transition from marginality to maturation,” Futamura said, brandishing an optical pointer.

“Hold it right there,” Lily called out.

Futamura did his best to ignore her, continuing his metaphorical walk down an artist’s depiction of millennial Queen Anne.

“And here,” he said, moving the pointer south on his map.

“Excuse me,” Lily said. “Can we ask some questions? This is complete crap. Maturation? Size-enhanced? What is that supposed to mean? You’re going to enhance me into oblivion.”

The crowd shouted agreement. Futamura’s city sponsors edged off the platform, leaving him alone to face the crowd. He soldiered stoically on. Eventually, Futamura’s perseverance plowed the room into silence. By the time the hearing ended, even Lily was forced to admire his tenacity.

Lily valued few qualities more than an ability to stare down trouble. In her 34 years, she had faced more than her share. She was born on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, child of a local coffee grower and a Dutch trader’s daughter. Her birth scandalized the small European population in the port city of Ujungpandang, which was convulsed by anti-Western riots at the time. Her parents fled to Singapore, where her mother died when Lily was 8. Her father, Lith, immigrated to the United States shortly after. When he died just two years later – of heartbreak, Lily always maintained – Lily became a ward of the state of California, a vast and unruly family.

After a succession of foster parents, Lily was adopted by a Sacramento couple, Benjamin and Rita Tomfool. She finished high school there, then went through the oenology program at UC-Davis.

Apprenticeships at two corporate wineries equipped her with a desire to work for herself and no way to do it. She joined the flood of Californians north in the late 1980s.

Her upbringing left her with a flock of languages and a tough-mindedness that was forever mistaken for cynicism. For a cynic, she had the peculiar habit of falling in love. Her relationships almost always ended badly. The love wouldn’t last or the man wouldn’t measure up. She swore off the relationship business and plunged headfirst into coffee culture, putting everything she owned – and much that she didn’t, including $5,000 borrowed from Double Tall Jones – into a coffee shop, the Deep Woods Bean House on lower Queen Anne.

She lived above the shop. As a resident and business owner, Lily found herself drawn into Hill politics. Last year, she led coffee-house opposition to a proposed city ordinance that would have made serving too much coffee a crime.

The ordinance was championed by a member of the City Council whose cat had been run over by a reckless driver who offered caffeine-induced incapacity as a defense. The cat was one of those pathetically expensive naked animals bred without hair, so this was a financial as well as emotional matter. A politician who has lost money is a dangerous being. This is a well from which causes spring.

The ordinance would have made baristas liable for damage inflicted by overdosed customers.

In most places, a proposal like this would never see the humiliating light of day, but Seattle in the ’90s is not most places. There are few things the local political establishment does not think people should be protected from or taxed to pay for.

The city was a festival of good deeds done to its citizens. The city council instigating much of this was notable mainly for its near unanimity on issues and the complete anonymity in which it operated. The members were so similar politically no one could tell them apart. Like the early Beatles, they were given nicknames: the cute one, the dumb one, the guy, the other guy, the shy one, the smart one, the new one, the boring one and the even more boring one.

This proposal was put forward by the new one.

“Let me get this straight,” Lily had told the council, “Say I have a customer who’s a drummer. I have several, actually. Say this drummer wakes up at two in the afternoon and comes to the Deep Woods, where he has two double-grande straights at 3:30 in the afternoon, then goes to practice with his band and drums so loudly and tunelessly the guitar player finally whacks him on the head with a Stratocaster to shut him up.

“Am I liable for the drummer’s medical bills?”

The ordinance as written would indeed have made Lily liable. Brain-damaged drummers were not a huge constituency, even in Seattle, and the City Council finally recognized there were places it was better for legislation not to tread. The ordinance was tabled. And Lily became a reluctant activist, which is how she ended up as co-chair of STASIS (Stop Telling Anne Size Is Success), a neighborhood anti-growth group, which is how she ended up at the zoning hearing yelling at Yugi Futamura, and which is how Futamura ended up the next morning ordering fuchsia tea in a coffee house which had none and apologizing to Lily because she had yelled at him.

Yugi was smitten.

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — Yugi

Terry Mcdermott

Part 5: Yugi

Bill Gates has gone virtual and Double Tall Jones, an unemployed computer programmer, has been hired to find him. DT has set up shop in the Deep Woods Bean House, a Queen Anne coffee shop run by Lily Tomfool. —————————————————————– FOR MONTHS THAT spring and summer, usually in early evening, the slim, shiny red cigarette boat purred out of its dock on the eastern shore of Lake Washington.

The twin Chevy 12s gurgled as the boat left the mansion, the world’s only construction site with its own Web page. As he headed south into open water, Bill Gates leaned into the throttle, got the big boat up on its tail and moving. The lake’s chop invariably stopped at the East Channel, the cut between Mercer Island and Bellevue. The water in the channel was table-top smooth, a giant mirror.

Gates loved speed. There was a part of him that never got beyond 16 years old. You could hardly blame him. When he was 16, he was already writing computer code. When he was 17, he was at Harvard. And at the ripe old age of 19, he was president of his own company. Not exactly a normal adolescence. One of the joys wealth brought him was license to relive fractions of the years he had lost to ambition. He was as well known in some circles for his collection of fast cars as he was for being software king of the world in most others.

When he nosed the 30-foot boat into the channel, he opened up the throttle and let it fly. The wake and the roar rushed out to shore, turning the quiet night to bedlam. The neighbors would have complained, but whom do you complain to when the world’s richest man is being a bad neighbor?

Being rich themselves, they thought people with money had more – what? grace, class, courtesy? – more of whatever it takes. They’re not supposed to act that way. In Seattle, old money laid so low it sank into subterranean darkness. The town was so relentlessly egalitarian most people didn’t know what old money was. Oh, but they were learning about new money. You couldn’t avoid it.

When it happened, Yugi Futamura said, sitting on a stool at the Deep Woods Bean House, he would shake with rage. His little house would reverberate for what seemed like hours after the boat passed. He understood how it felt to have your neighborhood invaded, he told Lily Tomfool. Yugi had presided the previous night at a public hearing on the rezoning of the Queen Anne neighborhood where the Deep Woods sat. Lily had shouted her disapproval to the city plan. This morning, Yugi apologized for the rezoning proposal and his role in it.

“So why’d you do it? Why were you up there pimping for the city?” Lily asked.

“It’s what I was hired to do,” Yugi said. “I need the income.”

“I thought you were some U-Dub hot shot,” Lily said.

“I formerly was dean of architecture. I resigned to go into private practice,” Yugi said. “I’ve since suffered some business reversals.”

“God, not another one of those,” Lily muttered, glancing toward the back of the Deep Woods, where Double Tall Jones’ encampment had grown to include the couch, a card table and a white-hot, 100 megahertz Pentium laptop. Jones was part of a state commission investigating the disappearance of Gates, who had dropped out of sight a couple of months earlier.

“Do you always talk like that?” Lily asked.

“Like what?”

“Like, `I’ve suffered business reversals.’ Is that the same as losing money? And last night, all that smoke about marginality and maturation. You talk like a textbook.”

“Excuse me, Miss, Foolish Tom, is it?”

“Some days it seems like it,” Lily said. “My name is Tomfool, Lillian Subaharto Tomfool.”

“And I take it, then, you are Native American?”

“Listen, did I ask your family history? Why is it everybody wants to know `what’ you are? I’m the owner of this coffeehouse and I’d appreciate it if you would order something to drink. You’re taking up space and space is money.”

“I’m terribly sorry. I intended merely to come and apologize for last night. I’m afraid I did not fully encourage debate. I felt pressured to move the proposal along.

“I will have a cup of tea,” Futamura decided. “Something herbal, perhaps some fuchsia.”

“Tea? This is a coffeehouse.”

“Coffee then. Coffee would be fine.”

“OK, espresso, latte, cappuccino, what?”

“Hmm, you choose.”

“You don’t know the difference, right? Where have you been the last 10 years?”

Futamura stared blankly. Lily shrugged and pulled a single shot of espresso, diluted it with hot water and set it down in front of Yugi.

“I didn’t take you for Mercer Island,” Lily said. “You look more like a Leschi guy.”

“Actually, I owned a Leschi house. A classic Ralph Anderson. One of my ex-wives has it.”

“How many do you have?”

“Just the Mercer Island place now, a tiny place, more of a beach cottage, actually.”

“I meant ex-wives,” Lily said.

“Oh, excuse me. We’re discussing family histories now? I thought that was forbidden here in the . . . ”

“Deep Woods, nothing is forbidden in the Deep Woods. You can speak your darkest secrets,” Double Tall Jones said, plunking himself down next to Yugi.

“I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about the cigarette boat. Did you say it was Bill Gates’ boat?”

“And you are?”

“He works here,” Lily said. “His name is Double Tall Jones and he has no history either. Nor apparently much future. DT, meet Yugi Futamura, the man who wants me to join you among the homeless.”

“I’m not homeless. I’m dispossessed,” DT said. “I own a house. Somebody else happens to be living in it temporarily.”

“You, too, eh?” Yugi said.

They shook hands and DT returned to the boat.

“How long did that go on? The boat noise?”

“All summer. We had begun a petition for a noise ordinance. I was recording the decibel levels of the boat. But after the summit, the noise stopped.”

“What summit?”

“That’s what the neighbors called the meeting in the channel. One night in August, the cigarette boat came into the channel. But instead of roaring through as usual, Gates shut it down and anchored under the I-90 bridge. Another boat joined him. And they had what appears to have been a business meeting at midnight under the bridge.

“I don’t really know what they were talking about, but there were numerous mentions of yen-dollar exchange rates. I have the whole thing on tape. I was recording, remember. Voices carry across that water for thousands of meters.”

“If it’s all on tape, why don’t you know exactly what they were talking about?”

“It’s mainly in Japanese.”

“But you’re Japanese.”

“So to speak. My family has been speaking English probably longer than yours. I am fifth generation. The last three speak no Japanese. In any event, after that night, the boat never came back. We never had need to find out what was on the tape.”

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — Goblins

Terry Mcdermott

Part 6: Goblins

 

SEATTLE HAS AUTUMN NIGHTS like nowhere else. The crisp air crackles with hope. A harvest moon floats high against blue-black skies, so big it looks ready to burst and spray lakes and bays with bits of brilliance.

Then there’s the other night, night as Nietzsche saw it – bleak, wet, frigid inside and out. On these nights, ghosts of a thousand Shanghaied sailors rumble up from the docks. Shards of wind chase demons down

Queen Anne Avenue

. They collide in darkness so dead and complete it obliterates the possibility of another day.

Tonight was one of those.

The Deep Woods Bean House was deserted but for Double Tall Jones. Lily Tomfool locked up. She rattled around upstairs in her apartment. The door slammed and she was gone. DT sat alone in the dim recesses of the coffee shop, bathed in the glow of the only moonlight he knew – the soft green back-lit screen of his laptop.

DT was running so hard from one cyber domain to the next he was exhausted. He was cataloging appearances of Virtual Bill, the little iconized version of Bill Gates that had been popping up on computers all around the world for months.

He had set up a Web site, an Internet newsgroup and a plain old-fashioned electronic bulletin board for people to dump Gates data in. They overflowed. There had by now been thousands of Virtual Bill appearances, from Interbay to Outer Mongolia. Other than the apparitions being confined to PCs – a rumored Mac appearance had yet to materialize – DT found no pattern to Virtual Bill’s comings and goings. It was, to use one of Gates’ favorite words, random.

Adding to the confusion were scores of imitations, virtual Virtual Bills. As with everything about Gates, all the information added up to precious little knowledge. The search for Bill Gates was going nowhere fast.

There was no shortage of guesses.

Gates was said to have shaved his head and grown a goatee and was cruising backwoods USA in a 1973 Monte Carlo, stopping occasionally to throw a million or so dollars at whatever local civic endeavor struck his fancy. A sort of modern John Beresford Tipton.

There were vague reports surfacing around the country of somebody doing exactly this, so the idea that it was Gates wasn’t so far-fetched.

He was said to have moved to Texas and thrown in with Ross Perot and Colin Powell, co-conspirators or fellow Messiahs, depending on your point of view. Asked about this, Perot answered coyly:

“You cain’t box a jackrabbit if he don’t wanna be boxed.”

This seemed to mean something; nobody was sure what.

The only really solid lead turned up accidentally. Yugi Futamura, a local architect, had recorded a meeting between a man thought to be Gates and several Japanese businessmen aboard a boat on Lake Washington. It was the last known physical appearance of Gates on the planet. But the recording was more tantalizing than revealing. At least so far.

This being Seattle and all action originating in a citizen’s complaint of one form or another, Futamura had been mainly interested in making a record of decibel levels generated by Gates’ speedboat. Gates’ neighbors wanted the boat muffled.

Futamura used a new suite of applications called Microsoft Studio to digitally record the engine noise. The voice recording was a byproduct. There had been a breeze on the lake that night. The voices drifted in and out on it. Plus, the software was new; it malfunctioned, leaving a garbled record. The maddening irony of Gates’ clues being obscured by Gates’ software pleased no one.

But there clearly had been some sort of negotiation. Gates and at least three Japanese speakers talked and mumbled and argued for almost three hours. Voices were raised in anger on both sides. The heart of the negotiation was a licensing fee. The combination of wind, distance and error made the tape incomplete. Unraveling it would take some work.

DT had given the tape to Lily, who counted Japanese among her eight languages, to decipher. He plunged back into the ether.

DT got up from the card table he was using as a desk and stretched. He’d been hunched over the computer for so long he felt his 6-foot 8-inch frame contracting. He walked to the front of the cafe and looked out at the dark. A lanky kid loped up Queen Anne. A kid out on a night like this deserves whatever he gets, DT thought.

I need to get out, too, he thought. He decided to head over to the CD and grab some midnight hoop. He unlocked the door, realized he’d better take a ball with him, and walked back to get the one he kept under his desk. He palmed the ball, took two quick dribbles, covering half the length of the coffee shop. He faked right, put a spin move on an empty chair and pivoted straight into a table. He tumbled and sprawled headfirst to the floor.

He lay there, his nose an inch from a collision with the front door. Geez, he thought, I’m losing it. He stared through the glass door at the sidewalk outside. On the sidewalk appeared first a right, then a left foot wearing scarlet Chuck Taylor All-Stars, laces drooping. DT started to raise his head to see who was on the other end of the shoes. He rolled onto his back and immediately passed out from a pain originating somewhere behind his left temple.

“You all right, man? Hey, you all right?”

DT heard the thin voice and opened his eyes. Staring down at him through thick horn-rims, lank brown hair hanging over the forehead . . .

DT sat bolt-upright. Gates!

“Whoa, man. You OK?” Gates said.

“Is he OK?” another voice said. “Is he hurt?”

DT looked past Gates. Behind him was another Gates. Behind him a third. Behind him, still more.

This is torture, DT thought, slipping into darkness again. Bill Gates hasn’t disappeared. He’s everywhere.

Part 7: On The Town

 

“HI, I’M VULNERABLE. WANNA dance?”

Lily Tomfool grimaced. The forty-something guy stood squarely in front of her, blocking the view of the stage at the Crocodile Cafe. Lily was propped against the side wall, trying to listen to the post-industrial, pre-literate rock of the Fish Boys, a band the buzz pushed as the next big thing on the Seattle scene.

Lily didn’t think so. Except for the drummer, Haywood Watts, a jazz refugee, the Fish Boys appeared to have no ability whatsoever. Lily came tonight solely to see Haywood. He was a former lover. Their on-again, off-again affair lasted for most of a year. Then Haywood left her for the guy now posing as a singer in this band. Lily couldn’t imagine what Haywood saw in him. It certainly wasn’t talent, which consisted mainly of an ability to shout in a voice so contorted you had to appreciate the sheer malicious intent it implied toward his vocal cords.

Then again, you could barely hear the singer over the two guitars, which sounded to Lily like a pair of chainsaws dueling in a Dumpster.

What the hell is Haywood doing playing music like this, even if he and the singer are a perfect couple, Lily thought. I must be getting old, but this is dreadful.

Not nearly as dreadful, though, as the guy in front of her.

He was traveling in foreign territory here at the Crocodile. A middle-aged guy with a slightly puffy, pink face, slightly bulging waistline and a bad haircut, he wore a white Polo shirt, khaki Dockers and Topsiders. Except for the haircut, nothing about him fit in among the heavy boots, pale faces and variously located metal attachments of the late-night Croc crowd. He might as well have carried a neon sign announcing himself unhip.

Alternative rock had grown furtively for the first half of the past decade. Like mold in a dark refrigerator, it thrived unnoticed while straight Seattle was celebrating itself, and being celebrated, as the capital of wholesome upscale cool. When grunge exploded into view in 1990, its rage and alienation frightened everybody who wasn’t a part of it.

“What’s The Problem?” The Seattle Weekly asked.

“Stop Whining,” The Times said when Cobain died.

How these two phenomena could grow together in the same place and time – heroin and Haagen-Dazs habits side-by-side – hadn’t been addressed, much less explained.

Lily began coming to the grunge clubs when she opened the Deep Woods and her steadiest customers turned out to be musicians.

The coffee shop gave her front-row seats in the theater of both cultures. A perpetual outsider, she belonged to neither. She sometimes thought a mosh pit and an REI catalog both offered the same comforts – tents of warmth against a cold world. Nowhere, she thought, was in greater need of heating up than the Pacific Northwest, where people lived as apart from one another as people sharing the same geography could.

People sank out of sight here, disappearing as quietly as a fog. Lily welcomed anything that would shine some light on their hiding places.

The Crocodile was the most mainstream of the Belltown grunge clubs, the place locals took tourists to ogle the native flora and fauna. It had the feeling and musty stale-beer odor of a Middle American Elks Club, with some of the same recycled dinette tables and chairs.

Its best feature on a night like this, when the bands were bad even beyond the low standards of the time, was a physical layout that allowed escape into one of two other rooms with walls between you and the music. Lily was about to do just that when Mr. Pink Face showed up.

“Nobody understands me!” he shouted. “I’m in the middle of an existential crisis. My world is falling apart.”

Lily took one look – the clothes, the wedding band, the slight sway as he stood in front of her holding a plastic glass too full of Red Hook, which sloshed on his shoes as he moved – and said, “I understand you perfectly. Get out of my face.”

“Aw, c’mon. One dance.”

He yelled above the chainsaws, a falling tree even the forest would ignore. Bad marriage, crumbling career, epic self-doubt, all the usual suspects with Noam Chomsky, idiot savant of the Left, thrown weirdly into the mix.

“I don’t want to be saved and I wouldn’t pick Chomsky as the savior or you as his prophet if I did,” Lily said. “Excuse me. I was just leaving.”

Lily turned to go and almost bumped into Double Tall Jones as he stumbled through the door, tripping over the threshold. DT was surrounded by five guys wearing Bill Gates masks, which had been the hit of this year’s Halloween. DT had a bump the size and color of a Concord grape above his left eye, which was swollen nearly shut.

Lily had left DT not an hour before at the Deep Woods. He had no grapes on his face at the time.

“What happened to you?” she said.

“I tripped over a table. Knocked myself out. These guys found me on the floor at the Deep Woods. They’re the Bill Gates fan club. They’ve heard about Yugi’s tape. Hey, aren’t these the Fish Boys? Aren’t they great!” DT said.

Lily stared at DT in disbelief.

DT stared at the stage in rapture.

“Men,” Lily muttered. “What a mess.”

Part 8: The Movies

 

“WHAT DO YOU want to see?” DT asked.

“There’s that new Almodovar film at the Guild. What time is it?” Lily said.

It was Saturday night, about 9. DT wheeled his Explorer into the Tower Records and Video parking lot on Mercer. Lily had spent the day laboriously reconstructing fragments of Bill Gates’ conversation with three Japanese business executives. The conversation, in August aboard a boat on Lake Washington, was the last confirmed appearance of Gates before he disappeared. It had been accidentally recorded by Yugi Futamura, a Seattle architect.

Futamura had turned the tape over to DT to decipher. DT gave it to Lily, who spoke Japanese. The recording had huge gaps in it. Futamura had been mainly interested in recording Gates’ noisy speedboat, not conversation. The digital recording equipment hadn’t worked properly, and wind and distance made things worse. Deciphering the tape was real work and Lily hadn’t gotten far.

While Lily labored, DT listened to a primer on the basics of computer hacking from the president and secretary-treasurer of the Bill Gates Fan Club, neither of whom removed their Gates masks the entire time. Afterward, he had invited Lily to dinner and a movie. “Just to say thanks,” DT said. “For all the hard work.”

The two had established an amicable but wary relationship since DT moved into the Deep Woods Bean House. Each had been able to work around the really irritating habits of the other – DT’s almost complete lack of social grace, which Lily admired to a point; Lily’s almost paranoid refusal to disclose any but the most general information about herself. Lily was surprised when they pulled into the Tower lot.

“I thought we were going to a movie. You know, like a date,” she said.

“I haven’t been inside a movie theater in three years,” DT said. “Why bother when you can watch at home? You don’t have to get dressed up or anything.”

Lily looked over at DT. He wore what amounted to his uniform, a baggy REI rag-wool sweater over a T-shirt, black jeans and a pair of black Nike Air-somethings. So far as she could tell the only articles of clothing he ever bought were basketball shoes. “What would you consider dressed up?” she asked. “A T-shirt with a pocket? And what about dinner? I thought dinner was part of this deal.”

“We can stop at Larry’s on the way back to your place. I’ll cook. I’ve never cooked for you before.”

“You mean you’re taking me on a date to my house? How special.”

“Well, it’s not like it’s a real date,” DT said.

“No kidding.”

Inside Tower, Lily and DT shuffled down the new releases aisle. It being Saturday, the aisle was jammed with couples not talking to one another.

“What are you interested in?” DT asked.

“I don’t care,” Lily said.

DT picked up “Terminator II.”

“You don’t really want to see that, do you?” Lily asked.

DT put it back on the shelf. “Guess not,” he said.

Lily pointed to “Howard’s End.”

“Not tonight,” DT said. “I’m not really up for a foreign movie.”

“Foreign?” Lily said. “It’s English.”

“That’s what I mean,” DT said. “The only foreign films I really like are Sergio Leone’s and John Woo’s. And Verhoeven’s.”

“Paul Verhoeven? Are you kidding me? That cretin. Those aren’t foreign films. They’re alien.”

“I’m talking about his Dutch work – `Spetters,’ `Soldier of Orange.’ Some of that stuff is right up there with Peckinpah. That scene . . ..”

Lily walked off to the foreign film aisle.

After 20 minutes of increasing irritation, they finally settled on “Point of No Return,” the American remake of a “La Femme Nikita,” a French movie Lily loved. She was curious to see how Hollywood might have ruined it.

Next stop: Larry’s Market. DT took charge.

“Aren’t you even going to ask what I want?” Lily said.

“No. You picked the movie. I’ll take care of dinner.” DT bought mixed greens for a salad, and fresh linguine, two serrano peppers, an anaheim, one habanero, one sweet yellow and two sweet red peppers.

At Lily’s place, DT rinsed and set aside the greens and made a light vinaigrette to dress them. He chopped the peppers into thin ringlets and combined them with three cloves of finely chopped garlic. He warmed olive oil over a low heat and sauteed the peppers and garlic lightly, with just enough heat to suffuse the oil with the pepper and garlic flavors, but not enough to brown the vegetables. He set water to boil for the pasta and grated reggiano cheese for the top.

When the pasta had cooked through, he drained and combined it with the peppers, sprinkling the last of the fall’s fresh basil on top.

“Dinner’s ready,” DT called. Lily didn’t respond. DT called again, then stuck his head around the corner into the living room.

Bridget Fonda blazed away on the TV.

Lily snored gently on the couch.

Part 9: The Digital Age

 

THE MORNING SKY CRIED that peculiar Northwest combination of low cloud and high fog, and dew that had yet to reach its final destination. It wasn’t rain, not quite mist. Yet the air was wet.

“What’s up out there?” Lily asked.

DT sat at his morning observation post, a table for one inside the door of the Deep Woods Bean House. Lily had decreed he couldn’t sleep on the couch in back when customers were in the shop.

It dampens everyone’s spirits, she told him. Get up in the morning, or I’ll evict you.

“But I own part of this place,” he said.

“So what? You’ve already been thrown out of a house you owned all of. Face it, DT, you picked the wrong decade to become a sensitive man.”

Forced out of bed, DT had taken to spending the first two or three hours of every comatose morning contemplating mysteries of life, lost love and Sonic guard rotations in the front of the Deep Woods. Today, he nursed an Americano and stared out at the lower

Queen Anne Avenue

foot traffic, which grew thicker every day, and the cars, which were already thick as bricks of Costco cheese.

The Hill was being transformed from a neighborhood of homely necessities to one of shiny trends. The old-man barber shops, filled with much talk and little action, and the old-lady drugstores, filled with hopeful cosmetics and hair-netted clerks, were being elbowed out by microbrew dispensaries and beds of baby greens.

Like much change, it hurt some a lot while it helped many a little. DT couldn’t quite figure which was best. He vaguely heard Lily talking to him above the clatter.

“Huh?” he said.

“What’s the weather doing?” Lily said.

“It’s deciding,” DT said. “It’s Seattle in November. It’s 10 in the morning and dark as midnight in a rain forest.”

He looked up into the gray and saw – or imagined he did – a ray of hope.

“Looks like a nice day,” he said. “It’ll burn off.”

DT paused, looking down the avenue.

“Here comes the guy who drinks tea and bats his eyes at you,” he said.

“What guy?” Lily said.

“The guy who gave us the tape,” DT said. “The architect.”

Yugi Futamura marched through the door, architecturally dressed in olive top coat, charcoal wool slacks, blue broadcloth shirt and demurely striped tie. He was an odd institutional fit among the ragtag crowd of rush-hour leftovers in the coffeehouse. He took a stool at the counter and greeted Lily with his usual, “Good day, Miss Tomfool. Tea, please.”

Lily, without explanation to anyone, had started stocking Yugi’s favorite fuchsia tea. This after nearly running him out of the shop the first time he ordered it. She set the tea in front of him.

“Good morning, Mr. Futamura. How’s the home-wrecking business?”

“Now Lily, the city wants to improve your neighborhood, not wreck it.”

“The city always does what it wants and rarely what it intends,” Lily said.

“That’s a very harsh view,” Yugi said.

“It’s a very harsh world,” Lily replied.

“Maybe this will help ease its pain,” Yugi said, removing a tape from his breast pocket. “I forgot to give you this. This is the digital audio tape of the Gates conversation. What I gave you before was a simple cassette recording of the same conversation. I’m not quite sure how this works, but I’m told it is substantially easier to work with recordings of this nature. I’m sure Mr. Double Tall can figure it out.”

“I doubt it,” Lily said. “But I know who can.”

She thought immediately of Haywood.

Going to see Haywood’s new band, the Fish Boys, two nights earlier had been a mistake. The band was dreadful, and she never got close enough to talk to Haywood. She had spent much of the time since missing him, reliving their better days.

Haywood was the best lover she had ever known. She could still see him sprawled across her bed, his deep brown skin glowing in the last light of a summer sun, dreadlocks a red-black halo around his face.

She had thought about their relationship a lot since he left. What was it that made a man good in bed? Haywood was 26, young enough to still have the exuberance of the young, but somewhere he had overcome the failure of youth. He knew patience. He understood suspense. She had asked him once if he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t cold about it exactly, but definitely cool.

“I’m a drummer,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for people all my life.”

Haywood owned a small recording studio, Fish Head Soup, on top of the hill. She could take the tape to him.

She looked up his number.

She looked at her watch.

10:10.

OK, so she’d wake him.

He was beautiful in the morning.

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — Haywood

Terry Mcdermott

Part 10: Haywood

DT Jones’ cybersearch for Bill Gates is going nowhere, and Lily has another mysterious tape recording to puzzle out, courtesy of architect and admirer Yugi Futamura.

A male voice answered, barely above a whisper. “Huh?”

“Haywood?” Lily asked uncertainly.

“No,” the voice said in a low moan. A long pause. “He’s asleep. So am I. Who’s this?”

“An old friend,” Lily said. “Could you wake him, please?”

“We just got to bed. Look, who are you?”

“Who are you?” Lily said. “Would you tell him – What’s that? Is he awake?”

Lily heard Haywood’s voice, husky with sleep, in the background. A few seconds later, he came on the line.

“Listen, we’ve been working all night, could you . . .”

Softly, Lily interrupted: “Haywood.”

“Lily?”

“Yes. Listen, I’m sorry to wake you. I didn’t realize you’d still be asleep. Could you do me a favor?”

“Sure, Lily. What is it?”

“Could you meet me at the studio later and listen to a tape?”

“What kind of tape? A demo or something? You woke me up to — ”

“No, it’s not a band. It’s Bill Gates.”

“Gates? The Microsoft guy? Doing what?”

“I’m not sure. That’s what I need to figure out. Could you meet me at the studio?”

“OK. What time is it now?”

“10:30.”

“I’ll be there at two.”

“Haywood, it’s really important.”

“OK, one. I’ll be there at one.”

“So will I. Thanks. And could you please come alone?”

“Look, Lily, you and I, we can’t –”

“It’s not about us, Haywood. Please.”

“All right. See you at one.”

Lily hung up the phone at the Deep Woods. Yugi was staring at her with a puzzled look on his face. She was flushed.

“Are you feeling all right, Lily?”

“I’m fine, Yugi. And thank you. I think this will be helpful.”

She called to the front of the shop.

“DT, I have to go out after lunch. Could you be sure to be around?”

“Sure. I’m not doing anything.”

“I know,” she said.

She could feel Yugi staring at her. She busied herself cleaning the counter, loading cups and saucers onto a bus tray.

What did I ever do to deserve this pathetic little collection of men? she thought. Here’s DT, who’s supposed to be looking for the world’s richest missing man, drinking coffee and arguing with New York Vinnie over Gary Payton’s jumpshot. There’s Yugi, a man trained to build beautiful things, acting like a lapdog for a bunch of bureaucrats. And Haywood, as beautiful a thing as could be built, in bed with some scraggly-haired punk singer whose only evident skill was strutting around a stage baring his hairless chest.

Are all the men in the world this helpless? How did they ever end up being in charge? Maybe, she thought, all the women cancel each other out. And because so many men are so inept, those with any ambition at all actually seem talented and rise to the top.

Haywood Watts, all smooth and hard 6 feet, 3 inches of him, pulled his Mazda coupe up in front of Fish Head Soup, the production company and recording studio he had built in the small neighborhood commercial district off McGraw on top of Queen Anne. Haywood was one of those people who seem blessedly able to do almost everything. Just 26 years old, he was already into his third career.

The Sonics drafted him in 1990 out of Reed College – the first-ever NBA pick from the tiny school. He signed a three-year contract, but he blew out his left knee in his second season and never fully recovered. He dropped out of the league when his contract expired and went back to his first love, music. He had learned to play drums listening to his father’s old jazz albums, and had played professionally since high school.

Until the NBA came along, his goal in life had been to be the Art Blakey of rock music – the drummer as band leader and melodist, not just rhythm section.

He used his NBA signing bonus to build Fish Head Studios, where he recorded his own music and, as a favor, began producing sessions for other bands. The world didn’t seem ready for the Fish Boys yet, but two of the bands he recorded had gone national.

Inadvertently, he had a career as a producer.

Haywood and Lily had met two years earlier at ProRobics, a gym on Queen Anne. Lily, a longtime regular, was regarded at the gym with awe.

She came and went alone, worked out furiously and almost never said a word to anyone. Haywood took her coolness as a challenge. He began taking the Stairmaster next to her and, like many men before him, regularly worked himself to exhaustion trying to match her.

“I can’t keep up,” he said to her one day. “You’re merciless.”

“That’s the point,” she said over her shoulder as she walked away. These were the first words she had ever spoken to him. Haywood took it as encouragement.

Eventually, Lily softened enough to meet one night for drinks, then another night for dinner. Then more.

Haywood opened the studio door just as Lily turned the corner.

Part 11: A Misunderstanding

They started awkwardly.

Lily handed Haywood the Gates tape.

“How long is it?” Haywood asked.

“Almost three hours,” Lily said.

“We’ll be here all day,” he said. “This isn’t exactly what I had planned this afternoon.”

“Forget it, then. I’ll find somebody else,” she said.

“Lily, cool down. I said I’d help if I could. And I will.”

Until Lily walked around the corner, Haywood had all but forgotten what it was about her that had attracted him in the first place. Although he had had occasional relationships with women, before Lily no woman had ever sustained his interest. He had always been more comfortable with men. Physically and emotionally, their lack of complication suited his desires.

She was as uncluttered as any man he knew. She chose the life she would live to an extent Haywood hadn’t thought possible.

“It’s my life. I’ll live it by my rules,” she had told him.

And she did, sweeping him along with her for most of a year.

Just watching her walk down the street toward the studio today, slicing through the bright, cold sunshine, he saw the resoluteness that set her apart. She was as uncompromising as a bayonet, a commando sent to overthrow everyday life. If you didn’t want your life changed, well, she asked, who said it was up to you?

Lily wore black leggings and a black Polartec pullover, trimmed in violet. She removed the pullover inside the studio, uncovering a black turtleneck and a bright red and blue batik print vest. Her hair was tied back with a piece of the same fabric.

He wore baggy, faded blue jeans and an open flannel shirt over a Jay Buhner T-shirt. He led her through the office, down a short hall into the studio, which looked like studios everywhere have looked for decades – mikes and speakers scattered here and there, overflowing ashtrays and empty pizza boxes everywhere else. The control room, though, was as stark and clean as a surgery. The centerpiece was a digital audio workstation, which consisted mainly of a Macintosh computer running Digidesign Pro Tools audio interfaces and software.

“That three hours will be about two gigs of data,” he said. “I think I have room on the hard drive. If it doesn’t fit, I might have to cut it up. Let’s load it and see.”

Haywood downloaded the digital audiotape Yugi Futamura had given Lily onto the workstation’s hard drive. Every minute of tape uses about 10 megabytes of memory. The Gates tape was almost 1.8 gigabytes, an immense amount of information. Once loaded onto the computer, though, the information could be analyzed in ways never possible with old-fashioned clip-and-paste sound editing.

Digital recordings can be enhanced and altered, virtually remade instrument by instrument, sound by sound, second by second, by separating and editing them on the computer.

What this meant for the Gates tape was that all interfering background noise – the wind, the waves, boat motors – could be eliminated almost entirely.

Gates had driven his cigarette boat out into the East Channel of Lake Washington. There he was met by and boarded a boat carrying a team of Japanese businessmen. Much of the tape was clearly audible without digital enhancement. Unfortunately, most of this was mundane neighborhood barbecue conversation. Gates had done his homework.

“Doshite watashi ga hanbaga to poteto no sukinakoto go wakari mashitaka?” he asked at one point. “How did you know I liked burgers and fries?”

Toward the end of dinner, the night’s serious work began. But the wind picked up at the same time, and the audio was filled with sounds of the boats banging together, water lapping up against them. The voices faded in and out as the wind whooshed over everything.

“I think this will work, but I don’t usually do this much manipulation,” Haywood said. “There’s a tech guy down at Pro Audio who works on this kind of stuff for the cops.”

He punched a number into the phone.

“Is Brian there? Brian, this is Haywood up at Fish Head.

“Yeah, thanks, it’s coming together. Hey, I’ve got this DAT vocal recorded outdoors at a distance. There’s a ton of interference on it. I want to see if there’s any voice left underneath it.”

He waited a minute.

“Yeah, it’s just voices. Voices and wind. . . . No, they’re talking. OK. No, it doesn’t change much.”

Haywood clicked with the mouse, calling up a program that translated the data on the tape into sound-wave patterns on the monitor. Isolating a section where wind noise was prevalent, Haywood selected and deleted a portion of the wave pattern. He then boosted the level of what was left and fed it back through the audio system. The wind was gone. Someone Gates had been addressing as Uchida-san said:

“Sonna joken dewa kuni ewa kaeremasen. Kaisha to kazoku ni owabi shimasu.”

Lily translated this as: We cannot return home with such a deal. To lift the shame from our firm and families, we would all be forced to kill ourselves.

“It’s amazing,” Lily said. “I couldn’t make anything out there before.”

Haywood instructed the computer to repeat the actions through the whole audio file. Just like that, the wind died.

“You know,” he said, “if whoever recorded this hadn’t been using that stupid Microsoft program to do it, I could give you letter-perfect, word-for-word.”

Sections of the tape, some of them crucial, didn’t have enough data to be reconstructed. But there was enough to know what was going on. Gates was trying to renegotiate a licensing agreement for an artificial-intelligence package the Japanese company, Urban Electronics, was developing.

“It’s what the Japanese call omate and ura, literally the front and the back of what was said, the visible and invisible,” Lily said. “Gates, like a thousand gaijin before him, has fallen for the omate. He heard one thing. They intended another. Gates prides himself on being the world’s toughest negotiator. He got hosed.”

They worked through the afternoon, side-by-side at the workstation. Haywood crisply handled the equipment. Lily monitored the audio playback. They hardly spoke.

The tape ended with Gates demanding to talk directly with Uchida-san’s boss in Tokyo and Lily wishing Haywood had never left.

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — Softies

Terry Mcdermott

Part 12: Softies

—————————————————————— Haywood Watts has helped Lily decode the Lake Washington tapes. Armed with new information, DT is back on the case. ——————————————————————

The guy in the Win 95 (Or Whenever) T-shirt with the fish food in his hand looked up from the giant aquarium and pointed Double Tall toward the kitchen.

“The hors d’oeuvres are in there,” he said.

DT went where he was aimed. Win 95 followed. The table was covered with a dozen boxes of dry cereal. “You want the Trix or the Cheerios?” he said.

“When there’s all that fresh fish out there?” DT said. “I could grill a couple of those big gold ones and maybe throw together some pasta.”

Win 95 stared at him blankly.

“It’s a joke,” DT said. “I won’t eat your fish. I never eat fish with beer,” he said, tilting the bottle of Bridgeport Porter toward his host.

At least DT thought he was the host, or one of them. It was hard to tell. When they arrived at the big house off Interlaken, the front door was wide open. DT and Albert Drew, president of the Bill Gates Fan Club, just walked in. Nobody greeted them. They were all preoccupied with a SuperNintendo war being waged on the 72-inch television screen that dominated one end of the living room.

The party was pathetic even by DT’s standards. About 25 slightly inebriated guys crowded the large living room. Everybody not engaged in the Nintendo showdown shouted answers – most of them right – at a second big-screen TV, placed where a dining table was intended to be, playing videotapes of “Jeopardy!” A Jane Siberry song, originating in a stack of components in the corner, floated ethereally somewhere above it all.

About half the guys wore clothes that looked as though they hadn’t been washed since Windows 1.0 shipped. It was apparently easier to buy clothes than clean them. Those who got dressed up for the party wore button-down oxford shirts so new the pinholes were still visible. Nobody tucked in anything.

The only pauses in the click-click-click, beep-beep-beep of the video games and the shouts to Alex Trebek were rare arrivals of women at the front door. DT calculated the male/female ratio at this Microsoft party at about 8 to 1. Through some impulse, probably Darwinian, DT thought, every man in the room looked up whenever a female knocked. They didn’t even blink when men arrived.

Albert, a 19-year-old UW computer-science prodigy, had appointed himself DT’s guide to the world of Microsoft. He didn’t officially work there; he just did occasional freelance jobs, usually on the debugging teams. Mainly, he hung out at the Redmond campus and, as president of the fan club, seemed to know everyone.

The Gates Fan Club had been largely unheard of before Gates disappeared. Then club members began wearing their Gates masks in public and pledged not to unmask until Gates was found. It made good pictures. Albert became a minor celebrity.

By the time he went on Letterman, he had his own fan club and a job offer from Apple. Albert, though, was a Gates guy to the core. He didn’t even respond to the Apple offer. Just pinned it to the wall and threw melted M&Ms at it. Except for the new blue ones. Those he ate.

DT’s efforts to communicate with Microsoft through official channels were futile. Company executives stonewalled all questions. Even when threatened with grand-jury subpoenas, they maintained Bill was immersed in a top-secret research project. And there was no evidence of foul play.

The dread of admitting he was missing was purely financial. Gates in fundamental ways was the company, maybe more than any man had ever been any company. If you existed largely on vaporware, it hurt big time when the chief vapor maker vanished.

Microsoft thrived on Gates’ will as much as it did on its products. Admitting he was gone would kill the stock. The vague hope that the company was actually telling the truth about Gates was the only thing that kept it alive.

DT came to the party armed with Lily’s translation of the Lake Washington tapes. He hoped he could at least get some clues about the artificial-intelligence work Microsoft was engaged in. But most of the talk he overheard was stock-vesting and HTML programming language and about how great this new Glitter cereal with these “like Lucky Charms” in the middle of them was.

One knot of 24-year-olds was discussing what to include in personal ads they were going to put in The Stranger. A tall redhead, one of the few women at the party, was among this group. She acted as a sort of dorm counselor, giving eagerly absorbed advice about an alien world.

“Don’t say you’re a programmer,” she said. “That’s like saying you have a social disease. You might as well admit you’re desperate and haven’t had a date since junior high.”

She looked over the heads of her acolytes when DT walked into the room. She stared purposely at him with her green eyes. DT recognized her as one of the senior vice presidents assigned to make sure he found out nothing.

At 6-foot-8, he couldn’t hide.

He froze.

Caught in the headlights again.

Gateless In Seattle — Marley’s Ghost

Terry Mcdermott

DT now knows Bill Gates was trying to renegotiate a contract for artificial-intelligence software when he disappeared last summer. But he still doesn’t know where Gates is.

Part 13: Marley’s Ghost

Christmas Eve at the Deep Woods. Peanut crumbs from take-out Phad Thai litter the table. A nearly empty bottle of Chandon Brut de Noir sits next to the laptop. Double Tall Jones is in his cups at the close of another dismal, lonely day.

No Santa this year, he thought.

The phone rang.

“David, we have to clear up this mess with the house.” It was Ruth. No “Hi, how you been?” Just, blam, here’s a problem, fix it. And I thought things couldn’t get worse, DT muttered.

Aloud, he asked: “What mess?”

“The title. As long as your name is on it, I’m not going to receive any of the tax advantages.”

“Tax advantages? You have to make money to pay taxes. Have you forgotten, Ruth? You haven’t worked in three years.”

“I’m sorry, David. Didn’t I tell you? I’ve accepted a partnership at Rube, Marquard and Waddell.”

“You’re going to be a partner in a law firm? Rube Marquard? Chairman Mao would not approve. What happened? Fall off your high horse on the road to Damascus?”

“I didn’t call to suffer your verbal abuse,” Ruth said. “They made an offer. I accepted. I need to get on with my life. Do you want to do something about the house or not? I need to act on this before the end of the year. Taking this place would be easier for me than finding another.”

“You’ve already taken it. Or have you forgotten that, too?”

“I’m sorry, David. I acted unfairly. I want to make it right. I’ve come into some money. I would like to buy the house. I’ll pay cash.”

She had already sorted out the price, the method of payment and a time and place to meet.

“I’ll have the papers sent over by messenger Tuesday,” Ruth said and hung up.

The conversation left DT’s head spinning from more than the champagne.

Rube Marquard was a boutique firm that specialized in high-tech law.

DT logged onto the Net, tracked down Rube’s entry in Martindale-Hubbell, the law-firm directory, and checked the listing of its major clients. There was only one: Corbis. He did a database search on Corbis. It specialized in electronic-imagery licensing. It was owned by Bill Gates.

Why would Bill Gates’ law firm hire Ruth? She knew nothing about copyright law, the firm’s expertise. And why would she take a job like that? She had been religious in her denunciations of Gates.

What’s going on? DT wondered:

Two nights ago, Microsoft VP Kay Celeste comes up to me at a company party. I’ve been calling her for a month and haven’t gotten past voice mail. She jokes. Pours drinks. Giggles. Bats her green eyes. Touches me on the arm and says, “`We need to talk.”

“What exactly do you think I’ve been trying to do?” I say.

“I couldn’t. Now I can,” she says. “But not here. Call me at this number.” She hands over a business card with no business on it. Just her name and a number. “Call,” she says. “I can help.”

So I call the next day. We arrange to meet midweek for lunch.

Now, he thought, Microsoft offers my girlfriend a law partnership that has to be worth $250,000 a year. She accepts and immediately offers to buy my house for probably twice what it’s worth. I don’t like it. There’s got to be a catch.

DT was starting to download Corbis’s SEC filings when his computer froze.

Another crash. These damned machines were almost more trouble than they were worth.

An unapologetic Windows error message appeared:

“Winspeak has created a module protection fault. Choose Close to exit the application creating this fault or Ignore to continue. If you choose Close, all data generated in this session will be lost. If you chose Ignore, all generated data will be lost.”

Hobson had nothing on Gates, DT thought. He clicked on Ignore. Nothing happened. He clicked again. Nothing. He clicked on Close. The computer began making grinding noises. The screen went black. Then an image began to form. DT heard the clanking of chains. A wispy figure emerged from the shadows, a chain wrapped around it.

Whoa, DT thought, Marley’s ghost. DT picked up the Chandon bottle, held it to the light. Three-quarters gone. I’m hallucinating, he thought.

The image sharpened. It was a tall, thin man with horn-rimmed glasses and long white hair.

“Butt out, Jones,” the man said. “Of what possible interest would Corbis’ financial data be to someone like you?”

“Who are you?” DT said.

“Ask who I was. Who do I look like?” the figure said.

DT stared. It looked like Bill Gates at age 70. This must be some sort of practical joke, DT thought.

“Albert? Is that you?”

“Who’s Albert? I’m Bill Gates. I heard you’ve been looking for me.”

“Gates? What happened? How come you’re so, so –”

“So old?” the image said, fingering his white hair. “I’ve been morphed. It’s one of the advantages of virtual life. You can be anybody you want to be. It’s Christmas Eve. I thought I’d try on Marley. We own the Dickens catalog, you know. People forget Marley’s compassion. When he first appears to Scrooge he declares his work to be all of mankind. I identify.”

“How can I identify you? If anybody can be anybody they want, how do I know it’s really you?”

“That’s the beauty of it,” Marley said. “You don’t.” ——————-

Gateless In Seattle — Shaq Attack

Terry Mcdermott

Somebody who looks like Jacob Marley but claiming to be Bill Gates has interrupted DT’s search for financial data.

Part 14: Shaq Attack

“Was that you in San Diego?” DT asked.

“Was who me?” the white-haired figure on the laptop screen replied.

“You must have seen the stories. The ones where a guy dancing on top of a bar with some sailors claims to be Bill Gates.”

“Don’t believe what you read. If newspaper reporters knew any less they’d know nothing at all and we’d all be better off. They know just enough to be truly dangerous. For the record, I’ve been to San Diego and I’ve danced on bartops. But I’ve never danced with a sailor. Not my type. I’m told there are quite a few of these impersonators around. If I did everything everybody said I did, I’d have to replicate myself a dozen times. We haven’t figured out how to do that yet.”

Gates, Marley, whoever this guy is, he’s in a talkative mood, DT thought.

“As long as I have you here,” DT said, “maybe you could help me. I’m having this problem. Every time I try to download dBase files into Excel it strips all the formatting.”

“Sounds like your communications program, not Excel,” Gates said. “What are you using?”

“Winspeak,” DT said.

“Who makes that?”

“I don’t know. It’s shareware.”

“What? What do you expect? This is outrageous. Hundreds of companies, thousands of the smartest people on the planet, are working around the clock making brilliant software and you’re trying to find me using shareware. I’ll have a copy of Microsoft Community shipped to you today. Let me know if the problem continues.”

“OK, thanks,” DT said.

“Is that all?”

“All what?”

“Is that why you’ve been looking for me? To answer some inconsequential tech support question?”

What an arrogant jerk, DT thought.

“No, of course not. I’m trying to find out if you’re missing. Are you?”

“I thought you were a detective,” Gates said. “If you can’t even tell if I’m missing, I don’t see how you could be much good at your job. Think about it: If I’m here talking to you, how could I possibly be missing?”

“But I don’t know it’s you,” DT said.

“That’s one of the great achievements of the computer age. I can’t believe how dense you people are. Reality’s ceased to be a meaningful concept. Have you read my book? Your old notion of a dimensioned reality just doesn’t exist. We’ve freed people of time and space.”

“But you have to be somewhere,” DT said.

“No, you don’t. That’s exactly the point. Lots of people are uncomfortable with this. They want the bars put back on their cages. You can be somewhere. But you don’t have to be. Right now, I’ve chosen not to be. See ya.”

The screen went blank. Then another error message appeared: “This session has terminated. All data has been lost. Press Shift-Ctrl-Del to restart your computer.”

DT stared at the dark screen.

“What was that all about?” he said.

“What was what all about?” Lily said, coming in the back door of the Deep Woods behind DT.

Startled, DT jumped, knocking his knees on the underside of the card table. The table tipped. The champagne bottle wobbled. DT lunged for it. He hit the laptop. It skidded off the edge of the table. DT dived to catch it and did, rolling onto his back and holding the computer aloft like a wide receiver who has scored the winning touchdown.

The bottle rolled off the table and caught DT right between the eyes.

Lily knelt down beside him.

“DT, I’m sorry. Are you all right? DT?”

He was out cold.

Lily ran behind the counter, wet a cloth with cold water and came back to where DT lay on the floor, computer clutched to his chest, the champagne bottle beside him, a knot rising on his forehead.

She put the cold cloth on his head.

“Ow, don’t do that,” DT said, coming to. “Who hit me?”

“DT, are you OK? I’m so sorry. I heard voices. I came down to see who was here, and when I walked into the room you were talking to yourself. I asked what you were doing and then, well, then you put on one of your shows.”

Lily burst out laughing.

“Your concern is touching,” DT said.

“I can’t help it,” Lily said. “Aren’t detectives supposed to get into fights with the bad guys? You keep getting attacked by inanimate objects.”

“With a little help from my friends. Haven’t I asked you not to sneak up on me like that?”

“I didn’t sneak up on you. I was coming to see how you were doing and to give you this. Merry Christmas.”

She handed DT an envelope. He sat up and opened it. Inside was a Christmas card and two courtside tickets to the Sonics-Magic game.

“Geez, Lily, this is better than finding Gates. Thank you very much. These are great. How’d you get ’em?”

“My friend Haywood. At least he’s good for something.”

“I have something for you, too.” DT got up. He went over to his couch, picked up a brown paper bag and handed it to Lily.

“Nice wrapping paper,” Lily said.

Inside the bag was a bottle of Leonetti Merlot.

“Thanks,” Lily said.

“You’re welcome. Let’s go upstairs. I’ll make some roasted-pepper soup and help you drink the wine.”

Gateless In Seattle — An Interlude

Terry Mcdermott

Somebody who looks like Jacob Marley but claiming to be Bill Gates has interrupted DT’s Christmas Eve reverie.

Part 15: An Interlude

LILY AND DOUBLE TALL SAT up late listening to Johnny Hartman and debating Bill Gates, Oliver Stone and lost love. DT doubted the Jacob Marley character who visited him via computer was really Gates. Lily was sure it was. DT thought Stone was a genius. Lily thought him an idiot. They agreed only about love – that it had best stay lost.

For the first time, Lily told DT about her own family, what she could remember of Sulawesi and Singapore, her mom and dad and the life that led her to the Deep Woods. She talked about the good years in Sacramento with the Tomfools, her foster parents, and the bad years she spent searching to replace the love she left behind when she left home.

By the time DT was halfway through making his roasted-pepper soup, Lily had told her life story. DT started on his own, and invited Lily to come and see it for herself by going with him to his parents’ place on Vashon for the family Christmas. She astonished him by accepting.

By the time the soup was done, so was Lily. She nodded off at the table. Every time he woke her, she apologized. A minute later, she’d be out again. Finally, DT said:

“I’ll clean up and let myself out. You go to bed.”

DT finished washing pots and looked into the living room. Lily had made it only as far as the couch. She was fast asleep there.

DT thought: I usually don’t put people to sleep until after they’ve eaten. I guess she wasn’t hungry.

DT covered her with a blanket and rested his hand for a moment on her cheek. She smiled in her sleep. He tiptoed down the back stairs to his own couch. Sleep came fast. He smiled, too.

The next morning on the Fauntleroy ferry, they stood close outside in the cold December air. They looked back over Seattle, crisp and bright against the brilliant blue light of deep winter.

Something had happened, DT thought. He wasn’t sure what, but some logjam seemed broken. He ticked off a list of recent events:

First, Lily’s friends, Yugi and Haywood, provide clues to Gates’ disappearance. Ruth offers to buy his house. Kay Celeste, a Microsoft vice president, hints at help. Gates, or somebody claiming to be Gates, appears for a fireside chat on Christmas Eve. Finally, Lily and he seem to have reached some – some what? Accommodation at least; an appreciation maybe; and possibly more.

He wasn’t sure himself.

DT had worked so hard to break though Lily’s reserve he wasn’t certain what, other than victory in the effort, was on the other side. Her resistance had been his motivation. He told her he had never thought of what might happen if it broke.

A typical guy thing, she said. He couldn’t bear to be kept on the outside of anything. She grinned slightly as she said it.

The Vashon place was on the west side of the island, looking out on the sound. DT’s folks, Doug and Marion, had managed to keep it even as they sold much of the rest of Doug’s old-timber-money inheritance to finance their political activities. It was an old summer place, added onto by various owners, subtracted from by time and the weather. What was left was more a tumbling collection of rooms than a coherent house.

This Christmas was the first family get-together in years. Doug and Marion had recently decided to become parents. Not to have more kids, but to be parents to the three they already had. They neglected to seek the consent of the kids, all adults, who regarded these new parental exertions as cute, but essentially egotistical.

While Doug and Marion wandered the world trying to save it, the kids raised themselves with the help of a succession of nannies. The kids grew close and expert at division of labor in the way of kids left to themselves. DT, the oldest, became the cook of necessity the year the nanny was a young Englishwoman whose culinary curiosity expired once she got beyond boiling water and frying sausages.

He took over the kitchen permanently the day his younger sister Harry – short for Harriet – and brother Theo refused to eat boiled cabbage for the fourth night in a row.

Now, as he turned down the gravel drive, DT was pleased to see his sister’s convertible and brother’s mini-van already there.

Harry was a writer, most recently of a line of popular children’s books. Theo, a finance graduate of Stanford, was trying to reinvent Jones and Jackson, the family business, as a Pacific Rim trading company. J&J still owned thousands of acres of timber that couldn’t be cut and, Theo discovered, notes on still more real estate.

In their heyday, Doug and Marion had loaned money to almost anybody who asked for it. Tracking that money and what had been given in return for it had become an obsession of Theo’s. He was beginning to conclude that the family might still be rich, but it was going to be a long time before they could recover the money to prove it.

As soon as DT and Lily walked through the back door into the long farmhouse kitchen, DT wished he had come out the day before to help with the dinner preparations. His parents were hopeless cooks. And what he saw in the kitchen confirmed it.

To get along in life, there were a lot of accommodations DT was prepared to make. Tofu turkey was not one of them.

Gateless In Seattle — Circling The Empire

Terry Mcdermott

Part 16: Circling the Empire

Lily and DT have spent Christmas Eve and Christmas together after DT’s visit with Virtual Bill.

THE WEATHER BROKE clear, one of those suicide-prevention days The Great Programmer provides every month or so to keep the whole place and everybody in it from sliding into the deep waters that patiently wait.

After the magic of Christmas at Vashon, Lily had ducked back into her armor, drawing the gate shut after her. She was moody, distracted. DT tried to tease her into good humor. All jokes backfired.

“You’re trying to coerce me to feel good. I don’t want to,” she said. “Please just leave me alone. Please.”

DT did as he always did when dealing with women – did as he was told – and went on his way. Today, he had a date to see Kay Celeste, the Microsoft vice president who had promised to help him.

DT walked up, over and down the back of Queen Anne Hill to meet Celeste, at her insistence, at the Still Life in Fremont Coffeehouse, which was as far from the Microsoft orbit as you could get.

Fremont is one of those imperturbable urban neighborhoods that somehow resist all attempt at “improvement.” Everything that goes in, no matter how intended, from designer beer bars to Thai restaurants, gets elevated to funkiness just by being there with the Birkenstock repair shop, the organic food markets and futon factories.

While the rest of Seattle rushes headlong into the cyber century, Fremont lounges casually on the ragged shores of the past, occasionally dipping a toe into the future, but never staying long.

DT walked across the blue-orange bridge and circled behind the Red Door to pay a visit to Lenin in Fremont, a dreadful Socialist Realism statue found abandoned in Eastern Europe and carted at ridiculous expense and effort to this parking lot, where it stood, guarded by pay-per-view meters that would make Milton Friedman proud.

Parking meters beat Marxist polemics every time, DT thought as he slipped a quarter in. He then turned and walked up the block past the rocket, through a neighborhood that has included – or will – a hemp outlet, a hair-wrapping salon, radical feminist health spas, aroma therapists and a men’s drum store. He crossed

Fremont Avenue

into the relative sanity of the Still Life.

Soup-pot steam condensed and slipped down the long windows. Brownie crumbs littered the floor, enough paper to sacrifice a forest – sections of newspapers, political pamphlets, entertainment guides – littered everything else.

He took a seat on a church bench in the back corner.

Kay Celeste was late. DT sat and waited through two tall Americanos, a full night of NBA box scores and one copy from every stack of give-aways inside the front door. Life is rich in many things, he thought, bad ideas foremost among them.

Even in sunglasses and with a black beret covering most of her bright red hair, there was no way for Celeste, when she finally rushed through the door, to blend in among the bulky knits and woven caps of the Still Life regulars. She was high finance and walked like it.

Fifteen miles and a couple of decades from The Campus, Celeste bristled with that peculiar Microsoft blend of earnestness and arrogance. Trolls and Lenin make sense in Fremont. Microsoft does not.

She insisted on switching chairs with DT so she would have her back to the wall with a view of the entire room.

“How can I help? We’re eager to cooperate in any way we can,” she said.

“You have a strange way of cooperating,” DT said. “So far you’ve been little more than Damage Control Central.”

“That is going to change, beginning right now. We’re concerned that Bill’s leave of absence not adversely impact the financial markets.”

“Leave of absence?”

“Yes. He’s taking a break.”

“Well, why doesn’t somebody just say so then, instead of leaving all this mystery and rumor out there?”

“As you know, there’s so much focus on Bill, just announcing Melinda’s pregnancy affects the markets. Saying he was taking time off, well, you can imagine.”

“That’s bull,” DT said. “He’s not taking a vacation.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, for starters, he didn’t mention it when I talked to him Christmas Eve.”

“You spoke with him? Where? When?”

“He came down my chimney, toting a ball and chain.”

“What?”

“He came to me over the computer. It was Virtual Bill.”

“Where did he say he was?” Celeste asked.

“He didn’t, wouldn’t, but I know where he is. Or at least where he was going. Tokyo.”

“For what?”

“He didn’t say. But I suppose he’s working on the Urban Electronics deal.”

“What deal?”

“The deal to license Urban Electronics’ artificial intelligence software.”

Celeste had been surveying the room, watching the door, building a barrier out of her cashmere overcoat, Escada handbag and the first multi-volume Filofax DT had ever seen. The mention of Urban Electronics brought her full attention to DT. The tiny Japanese high-tech company’s representatives had argued with Gates in a meeting on Lake Washington last summer. DT’s possession of a tape of the meeting was unknown to Microsoft.

“What do you know about that?” she asked.

“Just that there is one – a deal,” DT said.

“Says who?”

“I don’t know. It must have read it in the papers.”

“Are you kidding? They don’t report news. They report personalities.”

“Well, maybe it was in the Japanese papers.”

“You read Japanese?”

“No, but my assistant does.”

“I didn’t know you had an assistant.”

DT flushed. Neither did I, he thought.

“Actually, she’s more like a partner,” he said. “We’ve been working together.”

“Well, if she speaks Japanese, maybe she could go with you. We would like you to go to Japan to look for Bill.”

Gateless In Seattle — A Serial Novel Of Northwest Manners — The Pitch

Terry Mcdermott

Part 17: The Pitch

—————————————————————— After weeks getting nowhere as investigator for the Gates Commission, Double Tall suddenly has been offered Microsoft’s cooperation, including a trip to Japan. ——————————————————————

DOUBLE TALL PUTTERED THROUGH the slop, boxed in by minivans, four-wheelers and Volvo wagons on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, the spray blurring the windshield with not quite enough water to keep the wipers from sticking and too much to turn them off.

He crawled east on 520, pulled the Explorer into the right lane and onto the Redmond exit ramp. Like a lot of Seattle chauvinists, DT often felt he was going abroad when he ventured to the Eastside. It was foreign. The area was growing so fast that even people who lived there were befuddled by the hopscotch of subdivisions and shopping centers that melted into an indistinguishable mental lump. Their names were no help. How do you find a Lake Forest Glen Estate when there is no lake, no forest, no glen and certainly no estate? DT was convinced they were all made up of some combination of maybe a dozen words, all nouns, which could be arranged in almost any order.

The houses that filled these neighborhoods – builder boxes, Yugi Futamura called them – were equally interchangeable. You want architectural features? Here’s a catalog, pick five or six. Windows? Round, square, arched? You can have them all. Some did. You ended up with Cape Codfronts, Spanish Mission backs, everything pumped up on steroids to the size of gymnasia, topped by steep-pitched English-farmhouse roofs, concrete tiles replacing the thatched hay.

DT wound through a slight, unscheduled detour before finding his way back to the Microsoft campus. The low, cool buildings were spread along curved roads among broad lawns and new trees. DT followed the signs along

Microsoft Place

until he came to Building 25, headquarters for Microsoft Network.

Microsoft had called a news conference. The governor, mayor and Microsoft executives were scheduled to make what was billed as a major announcement. DT was met by Kay Celeste and registered on the visitors’ log.

They dodged stacks of monitor boxes and PC chassis that lined the corridors. Office decor varied from frat-room wreck, with piles of Tab cans oozing from under desks, to the determined eccentricity of a zookeeper’s hobby house – pythons in and out of cages, birds, ant farms and fish tanks.

Celeste led DT into a large room, one wall of which was 25 large-screen televisions. At the other end was a conference room where reporters had gathered.

The governor opened the news conference:

“It’s great to be here today, and it’s great to announce what we are going to announce, when we announce it. First, I have an announcement. The Gates Commission – the task force we formed to determine if Bill Gates had disappeared – is being disbanded. I spoke with Mr. Gates last night, and he is perfectly fine. He has been on sabbatical. He’s in perfect health and will be returning to Seattle shortly.

“In conjunction with his return, Mr. Gates, the mayor and I are announcing today a breakthrough in economic development, a unique opportunity and idea uniquely available to us here in the state of Washington.

“Microsoft has designed and will build in partnership with the city and state a new business and residential community in the heart of Seattle. Called Gatesland: A Common Future, it will be Microsoft’s first model electronic community.

“Local and state government will build the hardware – the buildings, streets, water lines. Microsoft will provide the software – the code that controls everything from traffic lights to bedside lamps, entertainment venues, a virtual museum, the entire human interface. It will be the first totally wired community.

“The mayor will tell you where. Mr. Mayor.”

“Thank you, Governor. This is an extraordinary coming together of elected officials and civic groups and business leaders and concerned citizens, and even unconcerned citizens, from across the state to begin a dialogue on this extraordinary, urgent proposal we’re unveiling here today. The city and state and county will partner with Microsoft in this extraordinary new venture, a unique partnering of private and public of the kind that makes Seattle such a uniquely unique place to live.

“Thousands of good-paying jobs will be created. Thousands of new people will move into the city to live and work in the Microsoft Commons, which will be located in the former Seattle Commons area. Let me tell you, we are very excited. We’ll have more to say as plans become firmer. Thank you very much.”

“Who’s gonna pay for this?” shouted a TV reporter.

“I’ll take that,” said the governor. “We’re going to demagogue, uh, dialog these very serious issues which, as you know, are very serious. We’ll dialog it to death, whatever it takes to get an agreement on this. I think the mayor and I and everybody who has seen this proposal agrees, those who’ve seen it and had a chance to consider exactly what it means, that we need this.”

A TV anchor doing a live shot was next:

“Governor, Governor,” he shouted, getting the floor, then retreating to a graver tone: “Would you say this is the beginning of the future?”

“I definitely would, definitely. No doubt about it. The future begins today.”

I hate it when that happens, DT thought. The future begins, and I get fired again.

Gateless In Seattle — For Sale

Terry Mcdermott

Part 18: For Sale

DT goes to a news conference at Microsoft and finds out the search for Bill Gates has been called off and Microsoft is going to start building subdivisions.

DT LEANED AGAINST the back wall of the conference room at Microsoft Network News as The Governor – in that antic style of insecure men placed in front of microphones – gurgled on about new partnerships, new vistas, horizons, worlds. Universes even.

The Microsoft Commons was the kind of development cities drooled over, The Governor said. The Governor, in fact, did. Drool, that is.

The Commons would be a densely populated, economically endowed, residential commercial settlement in the heart of Seattle. High-tech, high-paying jobs. State-of-the-art planning. The allure of the current cool idea. The promise of the next best thing.

For politicians, it doesn’t get any better than that. Unless, of course, you could replicate it in every media market on different days. Which they intended to do.

The Microsoft Commons was merely a step. The Governor and Mayor announced that the city and state, with Microsoft as privatization project manager, were preparing to auction naming and development rights to a whole range of public properties and functions. The Governor seemed giddy over the possibilities.

Imagine, he said. The Weyerhaeuser Mount Rainier National Wilderness; Kaiser’s Columbia River; the Cellular One Space Needle.

In typical Seattle fashion, part of the city’s properties – the available bandwidth, Microsoft’s news releases called it – would be reserved for nonprofit and advocacy groups. City Hall, for example, could become the Homeless City Hall.

Even agency names could be rented, said The Governor. “The Boeing Department of Labor and Industry, for example.”

“No real changes there,” said Tony Lee, who was helping DT hold up the back wall. Several reporters snickered.

Lee, the governor’s media consultant and myth maker, and George Grogan, the mayor’s counterpart, worked the room while their bosses spoke up front. As usual, what was said behind the camera was at least as important as what happened in front of it.

Grogan – the Oldest Living Pol, he was called – was a fixer of diminutive stature but epic achievement. He was a squat, gregarious man, with blistered nose and a prize-fighter’s face. He sidled up to reporters, whispering behind the thick shield of a plump palm, planting the sweet seed of inside information.

Lee was newer, cooler, crisper, fresh out of a cynical box; smart-suited, every pitch-black hair in perfect place. He spoke in a low clipped voice, nothing sibilant about it, unafraid. What he said was calculated to be too funny and too mean to be reported, and it never was, at least with his named nailed to it, keeping him in good stead both with the reporters he fed and the people he used as food – his bosses.

“I don’t get it,” DT said to Lee. “Bill Gates disappears off the face of the earth six months ago. The Governor gets one stinking phone call from somebody who says he’s Gates and all of a sudden everything is OK? Gates has been found, but he’s still invisible? And these guys” – DT waved his arm to indicate the assembled media pack – “are running off after this subdivision development? It makes no sense.”

“Listen,” Lee said, “Almost everybody in this room knows this is BS. It’s an amusement, fueled by people’s desire for better days. Is there something wrong with that? Should we stand here and say, `Oh, dear, things are bad. Bill’s gone. Dream of him. Woe is us.’ Who does that serve?

“Here’s the deal: This Commons thing was done as a demand. Microsoft demanded local government pay a fee in return for its jobs. They say Gates won’t come back unless the state pays him – a licensing fee, they called it -to keep Microsoft here. That’s the way they put it. The development rights to The Commons is the down payment.

“It’s no different than licensing a computer manufacturer to put DOS or Windows on their machines. The manufacturers benefit, because no one would buy the machines without the operating systems. Microsoft benefits because it makes money. Consumers benefit because they get better computers.

“The Commons is no different. Microsoft is selling Seattle the right to use Microsoft jobs to build the city. The city gets the economic activity. People get jobs. Microsoft gets paid. It’s simple.”

“That’s blackmail,” DT said.

“No, it’s business,” Lee said. “This is the way the world works these days, DT. Microsoft would be derelict in its responsibilities to shareholders if it could get money to move the company somewhere else and it didn’t demand to be paid to stay here.”

“So where’s Gates?” DT asked.

“I haven’t the foggiest idea,” Lee said.

Gateless In Seattle — Back On The Case

Terry Mcdermott

Part 19: BACK ON THE CASE

At a Microsoft news conference, DT learns the search for Bill Gates has been called off and Microsoft is going to start building subdivisions.

DT WAS DEPRESSED as he left the news conference. The state had abandoned its search for Bill Gates and was throwing its efforts into a property-development deal with Microsoft.

In six months, the search had turned up thousands of rumors, guesses and theories but precious few threads of information. Most importantly, it had not turned up Gates.

The Governor said he had spoken with Gates and was convinced the world’s richest self-made man was safe from harm. He was merely taking a sabbatical at some unidentified place. He would be home soon.

As far as DT was concerned, Gates was still missing. A telephone call or a Virtual Bill appearance via computer was insufficient proof. DT wasn’t convinced that Gates was even alive.

He walked distractedly through the Microsoft campus, catching bits of conversations about Java development and dune buggies and weekend keggers. He found himself standing in front of the cafeteria when Kay Celeste swooped by, intercepting him in mid-stride, and steered him toward the executive offices in Building Eight.

She led him up to her office on the second floor, closed the door and sat down behind her glass desk.

“I have a proposition,” she said.

“Good,” DT answered, looking through the desk top at about two miles of legs. “I haven’t been propositioned in, oh, days.”

Celeste ignored DT’s feeble joke.

“We’re concerned about Bill,” she said.

“It’s about time.”

“I don’t want to go through all that again. Whatever we did or thought before doesn’t matter. We think Bill could be in trouble. He did, in fact, call yesterday – several times – and he talked to The Governor. And, just as The Governor said at the news conference, he – ”

“How do you know it was really him?”

“If it wasn’t, whoever it was did a helluva job fooling everybody. He talked about things only Bill would know.”

“Like what?”

“You’d have to ask Melinda about that.”

“She was there?”

“Yes. They’ve apparently been in contact.”

“She said that?”

“Well, she’s pregnant.”

“Oh.”

DT stopped to consider this. Maybe Gates had done exactly what he said -taken a sabbatical. Celeste got up from her desk and began pacing around the room. She walked to the window and looked out over the second-growth firs behind the building. She began talking with her back to DT.

“When Bill left last summer, he went to Japan. As you suspected, he was working on an artificial-intelligence project with a Japanese developer. He stayed in contact, generally by e-mail, but every once in a while he’d call and talk to different people here. He was still running the company. He just was doing it by modem instead of meeting.

“Then a month ago, he dropped off the screen completely. We heard nothing. After a couple of weeks, we started to worry. That’s when I got in touch with you. Yesterday there was this flurry of activity, ending with the development deal with the city and state. This was all news to us. We had no idea Bill was planning on diversifying into real estate.”

“So what makes you think anything is wrong, then?” DT asked.

Celeste turned back to face him.

“The last call yesterday. We were on a speaker phone here in my office. We were working out the details of today’s announcement. Bill sounded tense and there was a lot of shouting on his end.”

“That’s unusual? I thought Bill shouted all the time.”

“He does. He gets excited and he yells at people. They don’t usually yell back. Most of this shouting wasn’t Bill.”

Five thousand miles away, in a cramped, dark room above a pachinko parlor in the Kabuki-cho entertainment district of Tokyo, Bill Gates stared intently at a video monitor tuned to the conference room at Microsoft Network in Redmond. The news conference had broken up. Reporters and political aides were explaining to one another what had just happened.

Gates snapped off the monitor and turned to face two men sitting on a couch.

“Are you satisfied?” Gates said. “The dogs have been called off, not that they ever would have found a trail to follow anyway. That Two-Cup Coffee guy couldn’t find a Web site if you stamped the URL on his forehead.”

Whirs and bells and excited laughter floated up from the gaming den below. The two men stared impassively at Gates. They said nothing.

They wore tailored, pale-gray Ungaro suits. Their hair was greased straight back. They had impressively long sideburns. These were not businessmen. Or if they were, they dealt in a line of business Bill Gates had never been in.

Gates was up to his ears in Yakuza, the Japanese mob.

 

 

Part 20: Domestic Arrangements

At Microsoft they’re worried about Gates. They know he’s in Japan. They don’t know he’s up to his ears in Yakuza, the Japanese mob.

“LILY, PACK A BAG. We’re back on the case and heading east,” DT said as he sailed through the front door of the Deep Woods.

Lily Tomfool had been in whispered conversation with Yugi Futamura. She stood behind the coffee-shop counter and looked crossly at DT.

“Do you mind?” she said. “I’m with a customer.”

“Customer?” DT said. “It’s Yugi. He’s not a customer. He’s a friend.”

“Perhaps you would allow me to decide for myself who my friends are. In any event, I don’t care to be interrupted.”

Yugi blushed.

“That’s all right,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

“I do,” Lily said. Then more loudly, she added: “So where do you propose to take me?”

Yugi sputtered and blushed again.

“Please, Lily, everyone will hear.”

“So? Are you ashamed of asking me out to dinner?”

“I hate to interrupt this little” – DT paused – “this little tryst, but I have a business proposition to discuss.”

“What a thrill,” Lily said. “I can hardly wait to hear it. Does it involve cleaning up that mess in the back?”

She motioned toward the rear of the cafe, where DT’s sleeping bag was draped over the battered old couch, his laptop and bubble jet lay buried in a pile of paper – corporate records, newspapers, copies of Basketball Weekly – that overflowed the small card table DT used as a desk and spilled onto an intricately patterned Pakistani rug. DT had bought the rug in Pioneer Square the week before, choosing from among three different Going Out of Business Sales, haggling the price down from 73 percent below retail to 98 percent, which should have been nearly free but wasn’t.

After he hauled the rug to Queen Anne and unrolled it in the back of the Deep Woods, he had asked Lily to come and look. He stood, preening, beside the table. Lily walked back, looked slowly from the couch to the table to the carpet, which was undeniably hideous, and finally to DT. Then she had turned without a word and walked back to the front of the cafe.

I guess she doesn’t like the rug, DT thought. It had seemed to DT – for reasons he couldn’t guess – that Lily had been acting peculiarly since Christmas, which they had spent together with his family on Vashon. A relationship that had been warming suddenly chilled to something approaching absolute zero. Just as DT began to think Lily was approachable as someone other than his business partner and landlord, she retreated back into the little world he had found her in six months before. When he tried to ask about it, she brushed him off.

“You figure it out,” she said.

As with so many other things in his dealings with women, DT knew that would be impossible. He let it drop without further discussion.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” DT said. “I apologize, Yugi. But I don’t think Lily is going to be doing dinner and a movie. She’s going to Tokyo with me. At least I hope she is. Lily, Microsoft wants me to go look for Bill. Wants us to go. Do you want to come along?”

Lily stared at DT for a full minute that seemed to DT like an hour. “I need an interpreter,” DT said.

Finally, Lily said, “You need a lot more than that, but I suppose it’s a place to start. When do we leave?”

“How soon can you get ready?”

“I’ve been ready for years. I can pack in 15 minutes.”

DT AND LILY BOARDED Northwest’s jam-packed morning flight to Narita. Pacific flights used to have enough empty seats on them that you could almost always get a row to yourself. Even DT usually found a spot to stretch out his 6 feet 8 inches. No more. As fares dropped and more and more people flew for more and more reasons, seats filled. The more people flew, the more money the airlines lost. The more they lost, the more they cut fares, causing more people to fly, more money to be lost. Business had never been so good, results so bad.

It wasn’t just that more Americans were flying to Asia. More Asians were flying everywhere. Economic growth in East Asia fed upon itself. As people earned more, they flew more. As they flew, more and more business opportunities opened. The sense of opportunity, coupled with the inevitable homecomings and giddy vacationing Japanese schoolgirls, gave every Tokyo flight a holiday air. And misery, as DT discovered.

The 747 was full to the gills. Microsoft had booked business-class seats for DT and Lily. They were late to the plane. Business class was oversold. The ticket agent asked: “Are you together?”

“We’re business associates,” DT said.

The agent looked up from her computer.

“Are you sure?” she said.

“Sure of what?” DT asked.

“That that is all you are?”

With a conspiratorial wink, the agent bumped Lily upstairs to first class and DT back to economy. He ended up in the middle of the middle section, his heart in his pocket and his knees in his ears.

 

Part 21: Out on the Rim

 

 

The two Yakuza soldiers stared impassively at Bill Gates, who was seated across the shadowy living room of the tiny Tokyo apartment.

“Come on guys, lighten up,” Gates said.

Stolid Kozo and dim-witted Hiro gave no indication they heard a word.

“OK, let’s go play some pinball,” Gates said. “I’ll treat.”

Kozo and Hiro brightened. They looked outside at the gathering dusk, at one another, and finally back to Gates. They nodded. The three men rose and headed out of the room, down the stairs into the cramped, gaudy streets of Kabuki-cho, which were just beginning to come alive with the evening.

Gates wasn’t exactly a prisoner. He could go where he wanted, so long as he went at night. During the day, he stayed in Kabuki-cho, a tightly drawn district of night clubs, automated sushi bars, love hotels, gaming dens and movie theaters. It is a warren of distraction tucked behind the Shinjuko train station in northwest Tokyo.

Shinjuko is one of the busiest, most densely populated neighborhoods in Japan — or the world, for that matter. It’s principal commercial area of office high-rises, including Tokyo’s lavish new city hall, department stores and boutiques, is grouped around the train station. The main intersection is a blast furnace of late century capitalism. Five story tall video billboards command attention. Shops bulge with dizzying arrays of electronic gear and gadgets. But turning off the bright thoroughfares, away from the prying lights and the swarming noise into Shinjuko’s twisty, winding side streets, most barely big enough for two cars to pass, is like traveling back in time to a Tokyo of mystery and danger.

In America, Gates had become as much celebrity as businessman. People whispered — or worse — when he passed on the street. If he so much as went to a basketball game, newspapers ran photographs of him and his seat mates. If he ate at a resrtaurant, gossip columns reported it. He was often recognized when he traveled abroad, too, sometimes in the unlikeliest places. But here he was seldom recognized as anything more than just another gawky gaijin. With his goofy grin, insatiable curiosity and loopy speech, he was almost a caricature of the American abroad. Here, his comings and goings were of little interest to anyone.

People walked past without even seeing him half the time. It made Gates feel invisible. He sank into the welcoming embrace of obscurity.

That obscurity was reinforced  by his two “aides,” as Urban Electronics’ boss, Akinori Ono, called Kozo and Hiro. Where ever Gates went, Kozo and Hiro went with him. That had been established when the billionaire first arrived in Japan to work out a contract for use of the artificial intelligence program Urban was developing.

At first, Gates welcomed the presence of the two bulky men, whose designer suits did little to disguise their crudeness. They helped him ward off unwanted encounters with strangers.

Gates didn’t quite understand why ordinary Japanese shied away from him. He attributed it to politeness. What seemed to be fear in their eyes he guessed was a natural wariness. He didn’t realize they were afraid of his companions.

The yakuza are so embedded in Japanese life they seem almost normal. Everybody understands the rules of dealing with them, the first of which is you don’t. Not unless they initiated it.

 

Once on the street, Gates headed straight for a small pachinko parlor a block and a half from his apartment. They were an odd trio. Kozo and Gates were about equal in height. Hiro was nearly a foot shorter and at least that much wider. Gates wore golf shirts, sweaters and North Face rain gear in the Tokyo winter. Kozo and Hiro wore their sharp suits, loud print ties and huge, high-shouldered trench coats, collars turned up against the rain and the crowds.

Gates, like millions of Japanese, had become addicted to pachinko, which is a sort of vertical pinball game. Pachinko is descendant of an early American pinball game, with the machines set on end to save space. It is a passion among Japanese of all ages, more popular than pinball ever was. Or much of anything else.

You can find pachinko machines almost anywhere, from airplanes to grocery stores, but the heaviest action is in special pachinko halls, which are like American video game arcades, or the pool halls of an earlier era. The brightly lit pachinko parlors are common from Hokkaido toKyushu, especially in the entertainment districts that dot the major cities.

The game is played by shooting half-inch thick steel balls toward specific targets on the game board. Hitting the targets rewards the player with more balls. Accumulated balls are traded for cash and prizes.

Gates was enchanted. He was an adept game player and fancied himself the master of any contest he encountered. His fanaticism was, as usual, rewarded.

There are thousands of different types of pachinko machines and manufacturers introduce new ones every few months. Gates favored the more difficult Fever games the pachinko professionals played.  Gates improved to nearly professional level quickly.

As ever, too, he was fascinated most by the speed with which money moved. And it moves very quickly indeed in a pachinko parlor. What began as children’s entertainment has evolved into a $300 billion a year industry, much of it untraceable by Japanese tax collectors. Pachinko could be, Gates thought, a model for the Internet.

With people pouring time and attention into it, surely, he thought, there must be some way to take a bite out of the billions as they sped past.

 

 

 

 

Part 22: The Sun Also Sets

SEAT 36F, FLIGHT 002, WAS IN the middle of the Northwest 747’s five-seat center section, bordered by a bouncing 3-year-old on the left and a 280-pound salesman on the right. The 3-year-old squirmed and screamed. The salesman snored and slobbered when asleep and talked incessantly about the shoe sizes of various ethnic groups when awake.

DT was squashed, a bug trapped between pages of a very thick book. He spent 11 hours on the plane. The first three were on the ground at Sea-Tac, waiting for “a minor repair,” causing DT to wonder how minor it was if the plane couldn’t take off without it, especially when the pilot finally announced they couldn’t find the part and were going to leave anyway.

By the time the flight landed at Tokyo Narita, DT was afraid he would crumble if he unfolded too fast.

He needn’t have worried. He could not, at first, unfold at all. Or move. The airplane had landed and was cleared of every last over-sized carry-on sample case, Nordstrom shopping bag, duty-free cognac bottle and Marlboro box before DT was able to crawl across two seats and reach the aisle.

A nervous flight attendant hovered and offered assistance.

“Unless you have a rack to stretch me on, I don’t think you can help,” DT said.

“Excuse me, sir? A rack?” she said. “You’ve been to the Nordstrom Rack?”

“Never mind,” DT said, reaching into the overhead and yanking at his Eddie Bauer backpack, which bulged with laptop, Discman, CDs and books. When the bag broke free of the overhead it nearly clocked the attendant. DT apologized, hobbled to the exit and down the jetway into the smoky insides of the transit lounge.

Lily stood waiting, impatiently moving her weight from one foot to the other, knitting and unknitting her fingers.

“Nice flight?” she asked.

DT was too exhausted to answer.

Lily was high, jittery and voluble. Nerves, she said, excitement and too much complimentary champagne.

“A-very-nice-Perrier-Jouet-by-the-way-airline-food-is-markedly-improv ed-don’t-you-think-I-had-an-actually-passable-chicken-saute-with-mixe d-baby-greens-and-pear-sorbet-topped-with-blackberries-where-do-they- get-blackberries-this-time-of-year.”

“Lily, please,” DT said. “I had four bags of honey-roasted peanuts and cold turkey tetrazzini. I’m glad you were entertained, thanks to your feminist assassin friend at the ticket counter. I have no idea why she wanted to torture me, but she succeeded.”

“Somebody had to sit in first class. Don’t get all huffy,” Lily said. “You really wouldn’t have wanted me stuck back in coach, would you?”

“Actually,” DT said, thinking, yes, that would have been fine. He then came to his senses and changed the subject. “Let’s get our stuff. Where’s baggage claim?”

With Lily leading the way and DT clanking along behind, they walked into the clammy, tacky interior of the airport. For all the country’s much-touted efficiency and its rich history of elegant craftsmanship, Japanese building construction didn’t match the standards of a weekend Home Depot fix-up.

The biggest and best buildings were often shoddy. Seams were exposed, joists mismatched and the concrete splotchy with bad patchwork.

Carpentry was quickly becoming a forgotten art, belonging to some ancient lost world. It was seen, as was much manual labor, as too dirty, too difficult and definitely too uncool for young men.

Construction companies had to almost beg to find workers. The problem was particularly acute in Tokyo, whose residents had a parochial arrogance that could make New Yorkers seem humble. No self-respecting Tokyo girl wanted to marry a carpenter.

Narita showed the results. It had been built in 1972. From the day it opened, it looked half done.

Lily found the baggage carousel, grabbed her Tumi two-suiter and waited while DT struggled with a huge duffel.

“What’s in that thing?” Lily asked. “I didn’t think you even owned that many clothes.”

“I don’t,” DT said. “It’s research stuff – books, notes, corporate records.” He wrestled the duffel onto a baggage cart. “Let’s get a taxi.”

“DT, we really don’t want to take a taxi into Tokyo. The train is much faster and cheaper.”

“Bill’s buying. Let’s cab it,” DT said.

“It’s a bad idea no matter who’s paying for it,” Lily said.

“So was sitting in an undersized airplane seat for the past month. I’ve seen pictures of these Japanese trains where some guy’s job is packing more people in. Thanks anyway, but right now I don’t need to be crammed into a subway seat. Which way to the cab stand?”

“If you insist,” Lily said and led the way out of the terminal onto the street, where a very polite man wearing white cotton gloves and a billed cap stuffed their luggage into the trunk of a tiny Toyota, squeezed them into its rear seat, and drove away.

Two hours and a dozen traffic jams later, the driver pulled into the drive of the Akasaka Prince Hotel, very politely charged them 25,000 yen, about $250, and very politely said, “Tokyo freeway is a parking lot, yes?”

DT had to be assisted out of the cab and into the hotel lobby, a marbled expanse, blinding in its whiteness. He hobbled to reception to check in.

“We are very sorry, Mr. Jones. You are very late and your reservation was not confirmed. I’m afraid we have given away your room.”

Gateless In Seattle — Princely Pleasure

Terry Mcdermott

Part 23: Princely Pleasure

DT and Lily have survived a transpacific flight and a $250 taxi ride from Narita airport to downtown Tokyo.

“YOU WHAT?”

“I am most sorry, Mr. David Jones,” said the young desk clerk, her face a mask. “I am afraid your reservation was not guaranteed and we could not hold your room any longer. Your room is occupied by another guest. There is only one room remaining. That has been assigned to Miss Tomfool.”

Double Tall stood speechless in the lobby of the Akasaka Prince, a luxury hotel in the middle of Tokyo. He had been traveling for 15 hours. The plane was late. His seat was sold. The cab was cramped. The traffic slow. He did not want to go back out into the rainy Tokyo night. He needed sleep.

He was about to add some heat to the very cool lobby.

“What do you propose to do?” he asked.

“I would gladly try to find you a room in another hotel, although this is a very busy week,” the clerk said softly. “So sorry.”

All he wanted, all he had thought about for the past five hours, was a bath and a bed. If Bill Gates pulled up outside the hotel, DT wasn’t sure he’d be able to walk out and meet him without a nap first.

“That won’t be necessary. We’ll share the room,” DT said. “Check us in and get a cot up there. We’ll share Miss Tomfool’s room.”

“We will?” Lily said. “Nice of you to ask.”

“Lily, come on. Give me a break, will you? I need sleep. If you want to go find another room, go ahead. I’m staying here.”

The clerk looked at Lily.

“We would never ask a guest to share a room,” the clerk said. “It is entirely your affair, Miss Tomfool.”

“Oh no, it’s not,” DT said. “I’m the one who arranged this trip. Geez, is this some conspiracy to make me miserable?”

“I suppose,” Lily said, turning to address the clerk, “we should give him what he wants. He’s so fragile for such a big boy.”

They finished registering, then followed the porter and his luggage cart into the elevator and up to the 28th floor.

The room they entered was a sea of white – rug, walls and bedclothes. Floor to ceiling windows formed the far wall and looked out over the lights of Akasaka and north toward Kokyo, the emperor’s walled palace retreat. It was like walking into heaven, DT thought. Or at least the waiting room.

A grouping of chrome and black leather chairs and a low, jet-black stone table sat in front of the windows. A series of small tinted woodblock prints above the huge white bed were the only splashes of color. Off the main room was a sunken white marble bath large enough for the two of them, the porter, the maid and a friend each.

Even Lily was impressed.

“You know, DT, you have a genuine gift for spending other people’s money,” she said. “This is very nice.”

“I’ve had some good teachers,” DT said. “Actually, though, I had nothing to do with finding this place. Microsoft booked it. This is where Gates was supposed to have stayed when he came here last summer. He had a suite here.”

“Whatever. It’s lovely. Let’s order some champagne.”

“You should eat first,” DT said. He walked to the telephone table, punched room service on the phone and began ordering sashimi and sake.

“How hungry are you?” he asked Lily.

“I ate on the plane. And I thought you were going to sleep,” she said.

“I am, but what’s that have to do with anything? We have to eat. The cot’s not here yet and who can sleep on an empty stomach? I’m going to eat, drink sake and take a hot bath. Maybe all three at once. Care to join me?”

“That’s very forward of you, Mr. Jones.”

“It’s a gamble, I guess,” DT said, a huge, embarrassed smile flopping onto his face.

“Good try,” Lily said. “But I’m not overly fond of sake.”

DT’s smile sagged, then resurrected.

“Still,” he said. “Two out of three isn’t bad.”

Across town, the bells and whistles dinged and screeched. The smoke gathered. So did a crowd. Bill Gates was oblivious to it all. His attention was focused on the tiny steel balls that bounced dutifully toward their intended targets, racking up hundreds of thousands of points. The pachinko machine disgorged more and more balls in reward. The crowd ooohed and ahhhed. There was much sharp inhalation of breath.

The goofy gaijin was in a pachinko zone few of the onlookers had ever seen, stacking up scores and winnings the professional players envied. The ball seemed to follow his will as much as his manipulations.

Hiro and Kozo, his Yauza escorts, watched admiringly. Hiro was rapt, calling out the scores in disbelief. Kozo was proud, telling everyone who would listen the pachinko wizard was his dearest, oldest friend, Micro-san. He ran a steady supply of soft drinks to Gates and cashed in Gates’ winnings as they accumulated.

Gates noticed none of it. He was alone with the machine.

Gateless In Seattle — The Way

Terry Mcdermott

Part 24: The Way

THE SECRET, HIS teacher had told him again and again, was to give himself up, to merge with the pachinko machine.

“You are too proud of your old ways. They block the path of the new,” said Sensei Fujimoto, a tiny man in a black kimono. “Let the little steel ball be a lesson to you.”

Gates hadn’t believed it, of course.

“I don’t need someone to teach me pinball, Sensei. I’m quite capable of beating the game on my own.”

“Oh, but you are mistaken. This is not about pinball. This is about life,” the teacher had answered.

What is it with these people? Gates wondered. Everything’s a lesson in life. If they know so much about life, how come they live crammed like gigabytes in crackerbox houses eating raw fish?

The trip to Fujimoto’s aikido dojo had been Akinori Ono’s idea. Ono owned Urban Electronics, a small Japanese research company. Gates had learned about an artificial intelligence program Urban designed for the Japanese air-traffic-control system. The program, similar to one American companies had been trying unsuccessfully to develop for a decade, was able to sort through millions of pieces of electronic information – routes, weather, radar emissions, digitized voice data, schedules – to automatically direct thousands of airplanes on the proper courses at the proper times. This was a perfect analog to the task that faced every individual every day, Gates thought.

The assault of information was relentless. Electronic communications fueled it. The Internet made it explode. Browsing the Net or the Web was OK as entertainment, but that was normally all it was: entertainment.

Idle browsing was useless as a tool. People needed intelligent agents to do the work for them, programs that would browse and edit, collecting, digesting, in effect, interpreting the world for the individual user.

Every computer company in the world was trying to figure out how to make money off the Internet. This was an amazing business opportunity, and Gates was convinced Urban had stumbled upon a key technology to exploit it, an ability to guide computer users through the messy haze of information. Ono didn’t recognize what Urban had, Gates thought, but he was amazingly stubborn in resisting Gates’ offers. Gates persisted, finally coming to Tokyo to nail down the deal only to be told he would first have to take a course in aikido.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art built around the idea of seeking harmony, not the conquest of your enemies. It was nearly the opposite of Gates’ business methods.

Defeating things – machines, ideas, competitors, problems, markets – had become his whole life. He had defeated an entire industry and remade it in his image. He was so successful he barely had the need to compete any longer. A mere mention of a new Microsoft initiative could put potential competitors out of business.

How could anyone even suggest there was a better way?

“You must learn, Mr. Gates, the art of cooperation. We cannot do business together otherwise,” Ono said.

So Gates had come to the dojo, or school, shortly after his arrival in Tokyo last summer. That first trip had been a disaster.

The school was in a modest wooden building in a leafy residential section of Shinjuku. Its window screens were open wide, giving the place a feeling of being inside and out all at once. It was revered as a center of aikido worldwide, not the kind of place where Bill Gates would be treated as a celebrity.

Gates was made to dress in student’s clothing. He looked even gawkier than usual in the white robe, pants and thongs. The pants, made evidently for a midget, ended just below Gates’ knees. He felt silly and self-conscious. But if this is what it took to make a deal, this is what it took, he thought.

Gates figured he would endure a couple of hours of harmless lecture on the beauty and grace of the true path to enlightenment, then sign his contract with Ono and be gone.

What happened instead, and almost immediately that first fine summer morning, was an invitation from Fujimoto, the famed teacher, to join him in the center of a large room for a demonstration.

“First,” Fujimoto said, handing Gates a broom, “we must prepare.”

Fujimoto motioned toward the floor. Gates looked at the floor, then at the broom.

“You want me to clean the room?” Gates sputtered.

Fujimoto nodded. Gates blushed deep red, swallowed hard and began sweeping. All eyes were on him. When he finished, Fujimoto nodded and said:

“We are looking for echoes of the soul. Nothing less than becoming one with the universe will suffice. You must accept, not resist. You must blend in harmony and unity. This is Aiki. Come toward me. Quickly now, move. Attack.”

Gates was angry and embarrassed. He walked straight at the old man, intending to walk right through him. As he approached the teacher made an almost imperceptible motion to his right. Gates quickly angled away from the movement, in toward the old man’s body. Suddenly, Gates found himself face down on the tatami mat, spitting blood and watching his left eye tooth skitter across the mat.

Fujimoto had thrown him with such force Gates wondered how he could possibly profess not to have used any.

This is harmony?

Gateless In Seattle — Discovery

Terry Mcdermott

Part 25: Discovery

GATES HAD BEEN humbled, and hooked.

Before he even climbed up off the tatami, before the tears or the pain cleared, Gates knew. He stammered and sputtered and rose to his knees, pawing the ground for his wire-rimmed eyeglasses. He wobbled to his feet, bowed to Fujimoto and vowed to himself: This will never happen again.

Sensei Fujimoto, a slight, smooth-skinned old man whose black kimono covered a frame that could not have weighed more than 130 pounds, had, almost casually, it seemed, dumped Gates from a standing position chin-first onto his head, knocking out one tooth and rattling everything else, including Gates’ composure.

After that humiliating first visit to the aikido dojo, Gates had committed himself to mastering the art. The business necessity was part of it. If this is what it took to do business here, he said, I’ll do it. Beyond that, Gates was personally challenged. As Fujimoto and his students would come to learn, a fully committed and concentrated Bill Gates was an amazing learning machine. He proved as well to be an able athlete. Although he had no highly developed physical skills, he was naturally lithe and coordinated.

He threw himself into the study. He moved out of his luxury suite at the Prince and took the small apartment in Kabuki-cho, a short walk from Fujimoto’s school. He had spent entire days at the

plain wooden dojo. He took to the art with astonishing adeptness. He progressed through the introductory levels with such speed that he seemed born to it.

Even as Gates progressed, Fujimoto suspected he was interested mainly in revenge – not in learning the true path to enlightenment, but in somehow recovering his honor.

One day, deep in the Tokyo winter of rain, fog and days that seemed like perpetual nights, he had called Gates into his private rooms for tea and talk.

“Micro-san, you are a most able student,” Fujimoto said. “You are an exceptionally gifted man. One day soon you will wear the black belt of the shodan. One day even, perhaps, you could rise to the highest rank, the shichidan. Physically, you are most able, as adept an acolyte as this dojo as ever seen.

“But there is a sense among the students and faculty here that you are resisting the true gift aikido can give – the gift of understanding and contentment. You seem to regard our art as one more field to conquer, one more set of problems to subdue.

“This is not the true path. Perhaps you are not persuaded. I have a proposition to make, a demonstration for you.”

“And that is?” Gates said.

Gates, it was known to everyone, had become enamored of pachinko. He spent his days at the aikido dojo, his nights in the Kabuki-cho parlors. At first, he was notoriously bad at the game. Enraged at his failures, he rocked and shook the temperamental little machines. He broke several. The legend of the rich American who wanted to win but couldn’t had attracted gamblers from all across Japan.

“I will teach you pachinko. I will show you how The Way of Harmony can be applied to any endeavor if you allow it. Even something so humble as pachinko. When this succeeds, and it will, you must then give yourself up entirely to the study of the one true path. You must allow yourself to believe.”

The notion of cooperating with an opponent, in this case a little steel ball, but an opponent nonetheless, was uncharted territory for Gates.

He had resisted at first, but once he actually began listening to the Sensei’s advice and using it, he began to win. The balls seemed to go wherever he willed them. He began to find The Way.

DT AND LILY DRANK and ate in silence. She slowly circled and landed from the high of her flight. DT uncoiled from his.

The knots in DT’s shoulders began to unravel with the first taste of blood-orange raw salmon. The bright red tuna warmed him to his toes. The ebi cleared his mind. By the time he got to the eel, DT began to think Japan wasn’t such a bad country after all, and traveling 15 hours in a chicken coop wasn’t too high a price to pay to get there.

DT began to talk. He told Lily how much he appreciated her taking him in. How her cafe couch had kept him sane. How her friendship had kept him afloat. Lily, warmed by the champagne, began to settle into the idea that this awkward, unkempt and unsophisticated man meant a lot to her. The notion had occurred to her before, and she had fled from it. It didn’t seem such an awful thing now.

Lily disappeared to do whatever those things are that women do to prepare for night. DT sipped warm sake and slipped into the deep bath in the hotel suite high above the clatter of evening in Akasaka. He balanced a champagne flute on the black marble ledge to his left, the sake and remains of the sashimi to his right.

He gazed out at the night.

Lily returned wearing a deep violet silk robe, turning out lights as she moved through the room toward DT and the bath. By the time she arrived, the only light in the room came from the moon and the night outside.

The robe slipped to the floor, and Lily into the water opposite DT.

He was sound asleep.

Part 26: Trouble

 

Outside, a steady parade of regulars flowed by. They jiggled the door handle. Some knocked, or peered through the glass.

To no avail.

The sun came, turning the day brilliant and blue. It went, turning the night steely and cold.

The Deep Woods stayed shut. A light went on inside, where, if you looked carefully, you could see one very confused but persistent man filling a sink with soggy grounds and every cup in the place with dark liquids defeated in their attempts at becoming espresso.

Yugi Futamura was deep into an emergency course in the dark art of grinding and brewing coffee beans. He had graciously agreed to mind the store when Lily and DT took off for Tokyo.

He was between architectural projects, he told her. Actually, it was a struggle to find work. Since leaving the University of Washington, Yugi had been stuck in the doldrums of mid-career compromises. He had arrived at a peculiar position where small clients assumed he was too expensive and busy to take mundane commissions and large clients thought him too small and little known to give him big ones.

He specialized in public architecture, which these days went to large firms whose sales pitches depended as much on management expertise as design excellence. As a one-man shop, Yugi had no chance of winning any of the billion dollars worth of work that was redefining Seattle.

His architecture was precise, clean, sometimes harsh in its formality. Yugi the architect was a creation of Yugi the man: All things were a search for order.

The Deep Woods’ creaky xxxxxx espresso machine was incomprehensible to him.

It was a huge, temperamental, antique contraption that looked more like something out of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus than a device for making drinks. The dark mystery of the machine was to Lily a joy. To Yugi it was a giant pain in the neck and a literal pain to his arms, which bore the scorched evidence of his ignorance.

Lily stubbornly refused to replace it with something modern, cheaper and, more to the point, something that worked when you wanted it to. She knew the machine and loved coaxing drinks from it.

She had written precise operating instructions for Yugi, but not precise enough. The machine had enough knobs and gauges it was hard to tell even where to start. So Yugi did what he always did — sat down to figure it out for himself, although somewhat encumbered by his utter lack of knowledge of what good espresso tasted like. He figured he could overcome this deficiency with knowledge, which was why at 10:30 that night he sat in a single lonely light at the bar of the Deep Woods, his back to the front of the cafe. He was engrossed in a textbook-thick description of the intricate chemistry of the coffee bean.

Then the front door banged open and shut. Yugi jerked around. The door was lcoked, he thought, how —

Then he saw two men inside the darkened store walking briskly toward him. They moved apart as they walked so that by the time they emerged into his reading light they were ten feet apart.

The one on the right said: “We’re looking for David Jones.”

Yugi was mad.

“I’m sorry. As you can see, he’s not here. As you can also see, we’re closed. Please. I thought that door was locked. Allow me to show you out.”

The bar at the Deep Woods was U-shaped and sat in the middle of the room, with tables and chairs on either side. The man who had spoken stood at the tip of the U. Yugi was seated inside it. The man on the left kept moving as Yugi talked. He walked past the bar, out of the light toward the rear of the room.

“Excuse me,” Yugi said. “Where are you going?”

The man on the right spoke again, softly.

“Where is Mr. Jones?”

Yugi whirled to face the speaker.

“I told you we are closed. Please. You and your friend must leave. At once.”

Yugi turned again toward the rear of the room, peering to find the other man.

“Sir,” he called, “the cafe is closed for the day. Mr. Jones is not here. He’s out of town. Perhaps I can relay a message.”

A flashlight came on in the back of the room, near DT’s couch and desk. Yugi stood up, then went down fast as a second flashlight came down butt-first on top of his head.

The first man, the talker, quickly moved around the bar. He took from a small athletic bag he carried a roll of duct tape. He cut a strip and placed it over Yugi’s mouth, then wound a strip of cloth across Yugi’s eyes and tied it behind his head. He held Yugi’s small wrists behind his back and wrapped another strip of tape around them. He checked the knot on Yugi’s head to make sure he wasn’t seriously hurt, then dragged the architect to the back of the cafe and lifted him onto DT’s couch.

In the few minutes it took to do this, the second man began a thorough search of every piece and scrap of paper on DT’s desk. He never once looked up or paused. DT was a collector. There was a lot of paper.

The first man joined in. He took a laptop computer from his bag and one-by-one began loading the diskettes scattered around DT’s desk into it. They continued in silence for another 45 minutes.

Then the second man spoke for the first time:

“There’s nothing here, man. Let’s look upstairs.”

Part 27: A Good Night’s Sleep

In Tokyo to find Bill Gates, Double Tall and Lily have been blissfully unaware of events in Seattle.

DT SPRAWLED ACROSS the king-sized bed, unmoving, undreaming, lost in the dog-tired sleep of the continentally displaced.

Lily perched light as a sparrow on the bed’s far shore, ready to take flight at the first footfall.

She had managed to drag, push and cajole DT from the Jacuzzi, in which he had passed out, to the bed the night before. He fell back into a deep sleep as soon as he hit the cool cotton sheet. She paced the room, undecided, then finally crawled into the bed, where she slept fitfully, jealous of DT’s carefree slumber.

DT awoke as morning glare filled the room, along with the honks and hums of Tokyo rush hour. Flat on his back, he stared at the blank white ceiling. He looked down at the blank white bed, across the room at the blank white walls and out the windows into the blank white haze.

He had no idea where he was.

This could be a dream, he thought. Or heaven. Or some movie’s idea of heaven. Eternal blankness. Certainly, hell would never have starched sheets.

DT stretched his arms wide and let them fall to the bed. His left hand grazed Lily’s bare neck as it fell. He jumped slightly and turned to look.

Lily flinched, too. Half-asleep, she rolled over into DT’s outstretched arms and brought her cool hands up to his shoulders.

DT suddenly was aware he had no clothes on.

Lily wore a black nightshirt.

“Lily,” he whispered. “What are you, what am I, er, did we?”

“Did we what?” she asked groggily.

“Well, you know.”

“No, I don’t. But if we had, I would hope you’d remember it. Really, DT, that’s quite insulting.”

She pulled DT close. They embraced.

The phone rang.

They kissed.

The phone rang again.

They ignored it.

The phone rang a third, fourth and fifth time.

DT answered it.

It was Yugi.

“David?”

“Yes,” DT mumbled.

“Thank goodness. David, it’s Yugi Futamura. Lock your doors. You’re in trouble.”

“Yugi? Unless you hang up that phone, you’re in trouble. Could you call back? I’m asleep. Better yet, I’ll call you. Good-bye.”

“DAVID! DO NOT HANG UP. I am truly sorry to wake you, but there is a problem here.”

“Problem? Are you OK?”

A second voice came on the line.

“Mr. Jones. My name is Detective Chillworth of the Seattle Police Department. Mr. Futamura has had a run-in with some acquaintances of yours. They’ve made quite a mess of this place. We can’t quite understand why.

“Mr. Futamura started telling us this convoluted story about you and Bill Gates and I suggested it might help if we spoke directly with you. Maybe you can explain what happened here tonight.”

“Maybe I could,” DT said, “if I knew what I was explaining. What happened?”

“Yesterday evening, one Yugi Futamura was studying coffee chemistry in the Deep Woods Bean House at

502 First Avenue West

in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. The victim states he had been in the building by himself all day and evening.

“On or about 10:30 p.m., he heard a noise, which he ascertained was the front door opening and closing audibly.

“Immediately thereafter two men, identities unknown, descriptions unavailable due to poor lighting conditions, proceeded by foot through the anterior of the cafe toward the victim’s locale. The victim asked the men to halt and identify themselves. They did neither.

“They proceeded to the victim’s location and asked after your whereabouts. The victim states he told the intruders . . .”

Lily reached around DT’s back and rested her hand along his ribs.

“Who is it, DT?” she whispered. “Tell them to call back.”

DT covered the phone and said:

“I’m sorry Lily, it’s Yugi. There’s been some problem.”

“. . . and when he came to, he called us,” the detective said. “So, Mr. Jones, David, is it? Should I call you David?”

“Why not? Nobody else does.”

“Excuse me?”

“Other than Yugi and my mom, no one calls me David.”

“Whatever. I believe you’re familiar with this establishment?”

“The Deep Woods? Too familiar. I live there.”

“You live in the coffee shop? Or do you mean upstairs with Miss, uh . . . Miss Lily Tomfool?”

“In the cafe. Ms. Tomfool and I are just friends.”

Lily sat up.

“What do you mean, `just friends?’ ” she asked sharply.

“Officer, excuse me a moment, please,” DT said. He covered the phone again and turned toward Lily.

“Lily, the police are at the Deep Woods. There’s been some trouble. Some people came looking for me, knocked Yugi out and trashed the place. Everything is OK now. We’re trying to figure out what happened.”

“What do you mean, everything is OK? That’s my friend, my house and my business. Give me the phone.”

Part 28: The Watchers

DT and Lily are in Tokyo looking for Bill; Yugi has been conked on the head by men looking for DT.

“WHAT DO YOU HAVE on Jones?”

The voice on the other end of the telephone was cool, almost metallic. Julian Arrowhead figured it was artificially altered, but he didn’t really care. As long as The Voice paid its bills, it could sound anyway it wanted.

The Voice had hired Arrowhead to investigate Double Tall Jones. He was instructed to determine what, if anything, DT might have uncovered regarding Microsoft’s plans for Web-search software.

It was a classic arrangement, accomplished entirely through intermediaries. Legal distances were carefully maintained; necessary actions implied, never articulated. Arrowhead didn’t know or care who hired him. Or why. He assumed his ultimate client was a Microsoft competitor looking for a back-door entry into the company’s strategies, or Microsoft itself, trying to plug security leaks.

The rules of the industrial investigative business were simple: Do what you have to and don’t bother the client with how. Results were all that mattered. Pay was high, volume brisk.

Arrowhead’s career had led through the CIA to a Soviet-studies position at Stanford, until the department disappeared along with the Soviet Union. He told friends it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He set up shop in Silicon Valley as a corporate consultant, still a spy but now more likely to estimate RAM inventories than Tashkent cotton crops. With paranoia the predominant world-view in the computer industry, he had all the work he could handle.

“Nothing definite yet,” Arrowhead said into the phone. “Jones is a fairly weird fellow. He has at present almost $100,000 in his bank account, most of it from a single deposit made less than a month ago. Yet he apparently lives on a couch in the rear of a coffee shop. He has some relationship with the woman who owns the shop. Exactly what that relationship is remains unclear. She lives upstairs. We found nothing in her apartment.

“Jones spends most of his time roaming computer networks, running down various vapor trails looking for Gates. He spent months trying to figure out the Virtual Bill appearances, where they were coming from and what the purpose was.

“From what we can tell, he never settled on an answer. He himself was visited on Christmas Eve by a Bill Gates image in a Jacob Marley disguise. It’s very bizarre. Jones also gathered enormous amounts of financial data, all the normal off-the-shelf SEC stuff, 10 Qs, proxies. Nothing noteworthy in any of it.

“There are, however, two areas of interest. His notes make repeated references to an audio tape, apparently a recording of a negotiation between Gates and some Japanese company. We have yet to determine which company or the precise substance of the negotiation. The tape itself is not in evidence. I’m not sure what to make of this, but Jones is in Japan right now, so clearly he thinks it important.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” The Voice said. “You said there were two areas of interest. What’s the other?”

“There is an extensive correspondence. … Hold on a second.”

He rummaged through the printouts scattered across the bed in Room 354 at the Alexis Hotel, where he had set up his Seattle operation.

“Here it is. This is the only thing of genuine interest that bears on your request. A batch of e-mail between Jones and a Microsoft vice president named Kay Celeste. She’s nontechnical, one of their finance people.”

Contained in the Celeste-DT communications was an admission that Microsoft’s executives were not fully aware of Gates’ activities or intentions. Gates had been peculiarly secretive about his sabbatical. There was considerable unease within the company about his promised imminent return. There were even some who felt the company was better off without him, that he carried storm clouds with him wherever he went. But most of this was couched in Celeste’s carefully general language. There were few specifics.

Arrowhead told The Voice he sensed the beginnings of an internal struggle.

The Voice asked Arrowhead to pursue this line of inquiry.

“I’ll call again in two days. Usual time.”

Arrowhead put down the phone and stared out the window at

First Avenue

.

It seemed odd that The Voice had no evident interest in the Japanese negotiations. There could be only two reasons: The negotiations were irrelevant, which they clearly did not seem to be, or The Voice already knew about them.

Whatever, it was not Arrowhead’s position to question. He took a look around the room and decided he had to get out before sinking back into DT’s data disks.

He put on a light jacket, locked up, went down and out onto

First Avenue

.

What an odd town, he thought:

It sits at a crucial intersection in the developing Web of the world, but insists on being apart from it, on being unworldly, even parochial; iconoclastic and self-reverential, yet insecure; casual and friendly but lacking in intimacy.

Arrowhead headed north in the gathering gray of early evening, the saddest part of every day. He walked past the museum with its circus-sized, hand-me-down Hammering Man sculpture. Arrowhead threaded his way through the drug dealers and street dwellers, past the porn shops into the boutique zone adjoining the Pike Place Market, everything dressed in shrouds of mist that blurred distinctions between real and imagined, the perfect place to live beyond the glare of the real world.

Seattle, he thought, isn’t a place. It’s a condition.

 

 

 

Part 29: Unplugged

DT’s whereabouts and intentions in Tokyo have become a matter of interest.

AKINORI ONO, president of Urban Electronics, put down the telephone and smiled thinly.

With intelligence analysts like Julian Arrowhead, it’s no wonder America won the Cold War and lost the peace to us, Ono thought. Arrowhead’s report was full of facts and totally ignorant of meaning. He told me exactly what I wanted to know without realizing he had done so.

David Thomas Jones was in Tokyo, looking for Bill Gates. Bill Gates was in Tokyo looking for the next great software bonanza, which Ono happened to own. The price, he thought, just went up.

He buzzed his secretary.

“Please show Mr. Gates in,” he said.

Gates had been waiting in the shabby reception area he had come to expect in Japanese offices. Even at Ono’s prestigious Marunouchi District address, the waiting room had a white linoleum-tile floor, government-green walls and a cheap particle-board-and-chrome coffee table covered with inch-thick, extravagantly illustrated action-adventure comic books full of astonishingly vivid violence.

Walking through the heavy door into Ono’s starkly elegant office was like walking into another country. The office was as precise as Ono himself. There is something perverse but fascinating about the combination of crudeness and beauty of everyday life in Tokyo, Gates thought, taking in the dark gray rug with the palest floral pattern and silver-gray walls hung with a series of predominantly black and white lithographs, each with a single splash of red. The distance between those lithographs and the comic books outside was nearly infinite, he thought.

Ono got up from behind his rosewood desk and greeted Gates.

“Please have a seat, Micro-san, I have news for you,” he said, indicating one of a pair of black leather Barcelona chairs next to the broad window that looked out over the canals and gardens of the Imperial Palace grounds. “You have a visitor from Seattle.”

Gates waited. He had ceased being surprised by anything Ono said. Since Ono had required Gates to enroll in an aikido dojo as a prerequisite to negotiating a business contract, Gates expected oddities. And usually got them, along with heavy doses of Ono’s peculiar world vision.

Gates had never been a patient listener and Ono’s oracular speeches and epigrams drove him crazy at times. But he had learned to wait. He said nothing.

“A Mr. David Jones arrived in Tokyo yesterday. Information has come to our attention that he is looking for you. Do you happen to know Mr. Jones or what he wants?”

“I know of him. He was hired to find me. I wouldn’t worry about it. If it’s taken him six months to figure out I was in Japan, I’ll be gone by the time he learns where I’ve been. How do you know about this, anyhow?” Gates said.

“Mr. Jones apparently is now a business associate of one of your financial officers, a Kay Celeste. He has been doing some research at her behest.”

“As you know, Ono-san, Microsoft is considerably larger than your shop here. We hire hundreds of people a month, thousands a year. I can hardly know them all. Did Celeste send this Jones looking for me?”

“Yes. Apparently there is considerable concern in your company about what they see as your imminent return. Sometimes the rice grows best when the sun hides behind a cloud. Perhaps they feel the harvest is approaching.”

Geez, Gates thought, there he goes again.

“You didn’t say how you know about this Jones guy?” Gates asked, ignoring the commodity report.

“I’m sure you can appreciate our need to know as much about your intentions as we can prior to entering a business relationship,” Ono said. “We have made inquiries.”

“Where is he?”

“He arrived yesterday at Narita, traveling with a Mr. Tom Fool. Mr. Fool checked in to the Akasaka Prince Hotel, but there is no record that Mr. Jones ever did. The hotel says there was some confusion about overbooking. Presumably, he checked into another hotel. And this morning, Mr. Fool flew back to Seattle alone.

“At the moment, we are not exactly sure where Mr. Jones is. Mr. Jones, like yourself, is an avid Internet traveler. We’ll find him as soon as he logs on.”

THIS WILL work, DT thought.

He was walking south from the Yurakucho station in the shadow of the elevated tracks when he saw the string of open-front cafes.

He had been on the subway all morning, ever since Lily took off for the airport. He jammed in among commuters and tried to decipher his map and the mechanized voice that announced each stop. DT felt naked without his Walkman. Every other passenger had one on.

Everything about the Tokyo subway was straightforward except where to get off. By the time he determined how to get to the Marunouchi address he was looking for, he was halfway to Sapporo heading north. The stop he wanted, a shy student eventually told him, was less than a mile from his hotel.

He was exhausted. He left the station looking for a place to sit. The yakitori stalls beside the train tracks were perfect.

DT sat, knees up by his ears, on a one-foot-tall stool at an outdoor table of the tiny restaurant. He ordered a tall Kirin, a half-dozen skewers of grilled chicken, peppers and mushrooms, and hooked a cell phone the size of a cigarette pack into his laptop.

Time to find out where I am, he thought.

 

Part 30: A Mess

DT hasn’t found Gates in Japan, and Gates doesn’t know where DT is, either.

LILY DIDN’T hesitate. As soon as she received news of the break-in at the Deep Woods and the attack on Yugi, she booked the first seat she could get back from Tokyo.

The flight seemed to last for days. Lily prowled the airplane aisle, unable to sit. She felt caged between the need to get home and help Yugi and her desire to stay with DT in Japan. She had no choice, really. She had endangered Yugi, and the break-in threatened her in a way she couldn’t quite understand.

She had to come home and defend what was hers. And the only thing that was completely hers at the moment was the Deep Woods. She wanted to get out and push the airplane faster.

When they finally landed, she flagged a cab, hopped in and said:

“Queen Anne. First West. 509 to 99. Go.”

The cab didn’t budge.

“Please,” Lily said. “Can we leave?”

The driver shook his turbaned head dolefully and turned to face Lily.

“Death bridge,” he said.

Lily supposed he was talking about the

First Avenue South

bridge, which almost anybody in their right mind would avoid, but heavy traffic deprived a lot of people of their right minds, Lily included. She bypassed I-5 at every opportunity. Not this guy, though.

He fought the midday jam on the freeway while Lily stewed in the back seat. It was getting harder and harder to distinguish rush hours from off-hours. The mess never let up. The cab finally fought its way to the Mercer exit, which as usual was backed up onto the highway.

By the time they got to Queen Anne and pulled up in front of the Deep Woods, Lily wanted to grab the driver by his shoulders and shake him. Instead, she paid the tab, said thanks and got out, saying:

“See! What did I tell you?”

A Seattle Police cruiser, lights flashing, was parked in front of the cafe. Waves of yellow crime-scene tape lapped back and forth from the door to a bike stand at the curb, making the sidewalk impassable. There was so much tape covering so small an area it looked like a clumsy child’s attempt at gift wrapping.

Or a man’s, Lily thought.

A uniformed officer stood in the middle of the sea of tape, arms folded across his bulky chest. When Lily ducked under the tape perimeter, he snapped out of whatever dream world he was visiting.

“Hey, you can’t do that, lady. Whattya think the tape is for? This is a crime scene. You must step back. We’re conducting an investigation here.”

“You don’t look like you’re conducting anything more complicated than keeping your eyes open. I live here. Please get out of the way and let me in.”

The cop blinked twice and rocked back on his heels.

“This is a coffee house. Nobody lives here,” he said.

“Right. And multi-story buildings haven’t been invented yet? Take a look upstairs, Officer – what’s your name? And badge number while you’re at it? You’re doubtless overdue for a citizen’s commendation.”

Lily waved the cop aside and walked through the front door.

The room was empty of police.

She walked through it, surveying the damage. It was not as bad as she had feared. There was a scattering of cracked cups and broken saucers on the bar, the cash register was jimmied open and the two-drawer cabinet where she stored the shop’s accounting records was overturned, its contents strewn across the floor.

DT’s area in the back was worse, but not horrible.

She could have the shop up and running again in an hour. She heard voices from above and headed up the back stairs to her apartment.

Lily was stunned.

The place was unrecognizable. A disaster area. Off the charts. Her living room looked as if every book on every shelf, every item from every drawer, every piece of fabric from every chair had been thrown into a wood chipper and sprayed into the middle of the room.

Sorting through the edges of the pile was a little pink man in a little brown suit. He wore cop shoes and was absorbed in the small metal sculpture of a Javanese shadow puppet he had extracted from the rubble.

“This is a weird little guy,” he said. “Chilly, got any idea what this is?”

“What it is is mine,” Lily said entering the room. “Put it down, please.”

The man jumped in surprise.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“I’m the owner,” Lily said.

“But you’re supposed to be in Japan,” he said.

“Obviously, I’m not.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Tomfool,” said a second man, leaning on the doorway that led to Lily’s bedroom. “I’m Detective Chillworth. We spoke on the telephone yesterday.”

“You somehow failed to mention in that conversation, detective, that my home was destroyed,” she said.

“It wasn’t, then,” Chillworth said. “They came back last night. Apparently they missed whatever they were looking for the first time. What was it they wanted?”

“How should I know?” Lily said. “Isn’t that your job – to find out?”

“That’s a job we gladly undertake when the victims want us to. This desire on the victim’s part is normally evidenced by some display of cooperation.”

“Up yours, buddy. If you’re not going to help, then you can leave. I’ve got work to do here.”

“Listen, Miss Tomfool – ”

“No, you listen to me. Get out. It’s time somebody did something.”

 

 

 

Part 31: Old Friends

Lily has flown back from Tokyo to find her house all torn up.

CHILLWORTH LEANED against the doorjamb. Lily sat stewing in the pile of stuff that had been her life, lifting and inspecting ragged bits of paper and cloth.

Her anger was aimed as much at DT and Bill Gates and that whole mess as it was at the smart-ass detective. She needed to get control of the situation, she thought.

She puzzled over the debris. From the mess left behind, it looked more like someone trying to hide something than find it. Lifting a tiny, 2-inch-square picture frame from the pile, she wondered what anyone imagined might have been hidden in it.

How complicated could this be? Lily thought.

They’re all guys, right. And there are only so many reasons men do anything. Three, to be exact: sex, fear and greed.

Fear and greed trump sex every time, so what’s at stake here? Who’s afraid of whom and who stands to make money? Figure that out, she thought, and you’ll know everything you need to know.

She realized then that the detective was talking to her, and had been, apparently, for some time.

“. . . so then she recommended this aromatherapist and I thought, no way, but then I thought, why not, so I went. Best thing that ever happened to me. I think it would do you a world of good. Really. I have a card here somewhere. Ms. Tomfool? Ms. Tomfool, are you all right?”

“Uh, fine,” Lily said. She looked up at the detective. He was fumbling through his wallet.

“I’m sorry. What were you saying?” she asked.

“Little daydream there, huh? That’s OK. Do it myself sometimes. This aroma stuff does the same thing. Gets the juices flowing, loosens up the synapses. A hit of stewed prunes, man, pure brain boost. I can’t seem to find her card.”

Somewhere inside the pile the telephone rang. Lily dug it out, amazed that anything in the house still worked.

“Lily, it’s Haywood. What’s going on? I drove past your place and there’s cops and crime tape everywhere. What happened.”

“Oh, Haywood. The shop was burglarized. Yugi was beaten. My place is utterly trashed. I’m so damned mad I could kill somebody.”

“I’m heading up to the studio in half an hour or so. I’ll swing by. We can talk.”

“That would be wonderful. You’re a life saver, Haywood. See you in a bit.”

The phone rang again almost as soon as Lily put it down.

“Popular lady,” Chillworth said.

“Stupid cop,” Lily muttered.

It was Yugi. Trying to apologize for what had happened.

“Don’t you dare,” Lily said. “I should be apologizing to you for putting you in such a situation. How are you feeling? They said you were knocked unconscious.”

“Except for a headache and a horrid lump the size of a golf ball atop my head, I’m perfectly fine,” Yugi said. “Although I look like a lighthouse with its beacon on. I’m sorry to have dragged you home so soon.”

“Yugi, please. Don’t be so damned polite. Do you have any idea who might have done this?”

“None. I didn’t recognize the men. The one man stayed out of the light. I didn’t see him clearly. The other – the one who struck me – I saw perfectly. I would know him anywhere. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out what is going on here. I have some ideas, if you’d care to hear them.”

“Absolutely. I’m tired of sitting around waiting for other people to get to the bottom of this whole business. Why don’t we meet? This place is a mess. I’m going to be at Haywood’s studio, Fish Head Soup. We could meet there and compare notes. Do you know where that is, on top of the hill?”

“I’m certain I can find it,” Yugi said.

“Great. About 5, OK?”

“I’ll see you there.”

HAYWOOD CAME BY at 4. Lily was waiting at the curb. She hopped in the Mazda, pecked him on the cheek and without a word of greeting said:

“Would you do me a favor, a big favor?”

“Anything,” Haywood answered.

“I hesitate to do this to anybody, Haywood, but there is virtually nothing usable left in my house. I need to make a Costco run. Would you?”

“I know I said I’d do anything, but that’s stretching a friendship to the limit,” Haywood said.

A rainy afternoon turned the South End Costco warehouse into a magnet. The parking lot was a slalom course of red shopping carts and red-faced drivers. Inside was worse. The aisles were jammed. Crowds gathered around the food-sample tables as if they had come for dinner. It was impossible to move. As always, it took twice as long and twice as much money as Lily had anticipated.

When they finally drove away, it was almost 5:30.

“Oh, God,” Lily said. “I told Yugi we’d meet him at your place 30 minutes ago.”

They raced up 99 to the viaduct and through the

Battery Street

tunnel and came up Queen Anne from the back. Driving down McGraw, as they neared the studio, Lily gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Haywood said.

“That man we just passed. I could have sworn it was Bill Gates. I think I’m hallucinating. You’d think it was me who got conked on the head.”

They pulled up in front of Fish Head. Haywood unlocked the door and they went in.

“Let’s go to the back office,” he said. Lily walked down the dark hall and tripped over something on the floor. Haywood switched on the light. Lily screamed. It was Yugi.

 

 

Part 32: An Infinite Regress

DT is in Tokyo. Lily has returned to Seattle to find her house broken into for a second time and a body in the hall at Haywood’s recording studio.

HAYWOOD CALLED the police. Lily sat cradling Yugi Futamura’s head in her arms. Yugi was dead.

Other than the bump he had received when the Deep Woods was broken into, there was no sign of damage. No blood. But he was not breathing. Lily checked for a pulse. There was none.

A police cruiser arrived within minutes. The uniformed cops immediately got out the yellow tape and started wrapping the studio in it.

Haywood took Lily’s hands in his and removed her arms from Yugi’s head. He pulled her away. She stood and leaned into Haywood’s arms, crying silently. Her chest heaved up and down.

Detective Chillworth strolled in not long after.

He nodded to Lily and walked slowly around the body. He pulled on a pair of latex gloves and knelt beside Yugi. He turned Yugi’s head from side to side, looking closely at his neck.

He frisked Yugi’s pockets and pulled a wallet and a small notebook out of the dead architect’s jacket. Inside were three crisp-out-of-the-cash-machine $20 bills. He pulled a baggie out of his own coat and placed the wallet inside. He slipped the notebook into his breast pocket.

He stood and faced Haywood and Lily.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Haywood Watts. I own this company.”

Chillworth arched an eyebrow in reply. “Oh really?” he said. “Is there a place we can talk, where Ms. Tomfool can sit and collect herself?”

“Of course. There’s an office in back,” Haywood said, motioning toward the door at the end of the hall. He took Lily’s hand, stepped past the body and the policeman and led Lily down the hall and through a door into his office.

Haywood and Lily sat on a couch against the wall. A large window above the couch looked out over the studio.

Chillworth surveyed the room. On the wall opposite was a large photograph of Haywood making a no-look, wrap-around pass at the old Coliseum. “So you’re that Haywood Watts?” Chillworth said.

“Is there another?” Haywood replied.

Chillworth plopped down in the chair behind Haywood’s desk.

“Your friend, Mr. Futamura, had a dreadful habit of showing up in the wrong place. Let’s begin with you telling me what sort of business this is, how you happened to be here just now, how Mr. Futamura happened to be here, and what exactly you saw when you arrived.”

ACROSS THE OCEAN, DT perched on a three-legged stool at a yakatori stand under the Yurakucho line. He powered up his modem and dialed into his e-mail account. A red icon labeled “urgent” blinked in mid-screen. He had priority mail from Kay Celeste at Microsoft.

“It’s imperative you return to Seattle ASAP,” the note said. “We’re making a deal for the avatar software. Gates’ search no longer crucial. I repeat: Come home.”

Less than a mile away, Akinori Ono sat in his spartan office 25 floors above the street. He studied his computer screen.

“Trace successful,” the machine announced and DT’s e-mail scrolled up on Ono’s just as DT saw it. An electronic bug had been placed on DT’s account.

“Arigato, Mr. Arrowhead,” Ono whispered. “The lotus blooms at last.”

DT smiled as well. His screen flashed a message:

“Mirror transported to: Tokyo domain, account U-ELEX.1, user ONO.

DT took another bite of the chicken skewer, popped a shiitake mushroom into his mouth whole and took a sip of Kirin. I’m being followed, he thought, by the guys I’m trying to find.

THAT NIGHT BILL Gates made his first public appearance in the United States since the previous summer. He and his wife, Melinda, arrived at their courtside seats in KeyArena for a second-round Sonic play-off game.

TV cameras hovered. The crowd buzzed. Barry Ackerley looked even more apoplectic than usual. Even the players were distracted. During lulls in the action, they sneaked looks at the couple. Other front-row ticket holders dropped all pretense and gawked. Politicians paraded by, pampered and prettied like dogs in a show. By half-time, telephone traffic in and out of Seattle froze the US West system in six states. Crews from CNN, 60 Minutes, Entertainment Tonight and Geraldo arrived outside the arena. A reporter disguised as a Sonic ball-boy got within 10 feet of Gates before somebody wondered when the team started hiring 50-year-old, bearded men to rack basketballs.

At one point, Gates stood up to stretch and looked around at the crowd. Everybody stared silently back at him, ignoring the free-wheeling Gary Payton as he raced up court.

Gates sat down and whispered to Melinda, who pulled a tiny cellphone out of her handbag. She dialed Microsoft’s office of the president and got voice mail.

“We need to schedule an announcement,” she said to the tape. “A big one. He’s back and people seem interested.”

 

 

Part 33: Suspicious Minds

Yugi has been found dead. Gates is back in hoopland.

DETECTIVE JOHN Chillworth sat in the lotus position in the center of his waterbed. He stroked his calico cat’s belly. The cat purred and sneaked licks at Chillworth’s carrot and celery milkshake. The TV was on, sound down. Sports Center’s NBA highlight reels beamed silently through the dark room, bathing Chillworth in a riot of dunking electrons.

His mind drifted, sorting through the information on Yugi Futamura’s death.

The architect had been killed by means yet to be established. Except for the bump on his head from his previous encounter with the butt-end of a flashlight, the only mark of any kind on his body was a slight bruise on his neck. The medical examiner had resisted declaring the case a homicide. For want of any better explanation, he said it might be a heart attack. Further tests were being performed.

There was also the matter of motive – or lack of one. It wasn’t robbery. He still had $60 in his pocket.

Chillworth struggled to come up with viable suspects. Who had a motive to kill an unemployed architect of limited means?

One possibility, always at the top of any list, was some sort of lover’s quarrel. A triangle, maybe. Haywood Watts kills Futamura in a jealous rage? Unlikely, Chillworth thought. Watts was probably up to his ears in women. And Tomfool, although grief-stricken at his death, didn’t reveal any romantic attachment to Futamura, who, truth be told, was a kind of fuddy-duddy-looking man. Not Tomfool’s type, Chillworth thought, fancying himself more along those lines.

The most obvious suspect – whoever had broken into the Deep Woods – paled when he considered what had been robbed, which, so far as he could tell, was nothing. If the earlier break-ins had not occurred, however, Chillworth would have no reason to suspect foul play. It seemed these people were involved in something they didn’t understand.

Watts professed to know nothing. He was just helping out an old friend in need, he said. Tomfool had flinched when he said this.

Then there was this business about Bill Gates. Tomfool claimed to be assisting a private detective, a David Thomas Jones, who lived at the cafe, in a search for Gates. She and Jones were in Tokyo looking for him when the break-ins occurred.

Now Tomfool swore she saw Gates within a block of the music studio just before they arrived to find Futamura. That made no sense whatsoever. What could Gates have to gain by being involved in something like this? Or people like this, for that matter. And he was in Japan in any event; had been for months.

The possibilities swam in Chillworth’s head. He put the cat down on the floor, shooed her away, took a bite of his Power Bar and finished the last of the vegetable shake. He was about to turn the TV off when he saw Gates in the KeyArena crowd on television.

He punched up the volume on the remote.

DT SPENT THE DAY tracking down information on Urban Electronics. It was a privately held research lab that sold most of its work to Japanese conglomerates. Its owner, Akinori Ono, was an odd duck who insisted all his employees study aikido.

After researching the company, DT looked up its address on his map and discovered it was less than a mile away. He took a taxi over.

Once there, he looked up the company on the lobby directory and took the elevator to 25. He walked in and asked to see Mr. Ono. From the reaction he judged that a business call without an appointment might well be a capital crime in Japan.

The office ladies and receptionists went into high twitter. One pointed repeatedly and adamantly at the office clock, which showed 5 p.m., and which DT guessed must be closing time.

Just then a tiny man with neat silver hair, carrying an overcoat in one hand and a briefcase in another, came out of the inner office. DT recognized him from trade-press photographs.

“May I help you?” Akinori Ono said, peering up at DT, who was a full foot-and-a-half taller.

“I certainly hope so,” DT said. “I’m looking for Bill Gates.”

“Indeed,” Ono said. “And why have you come here?”

DT ignored the question. “I’m also trying to find out why you’re bugging my e-mail.”

Ono was stunned. He stared up at DT in astonishment.

He was saved from the agony of reply by the approach of his secretary, who began talking excitedly in Japanese. The only words DT could make out were Seattle and Arrowhead.

“Excuse me,” Ono said, “I would be happy to speak with you in the morning, but right now I have to take an urgent call. Then, I’m leaving for the evening.”

“I’ll gladly wait.”

“No, you won’t,” Ono said. “Allow me to provide you with an escort out of the building.”

Ono barked an order. Almost at once, a pair of gruff men in nice suits, Mutt and Jeff in Armani, walked in from the lobby.

“Meet Kozo and Hiro,” Ono said. “They’ll take you back to your hotel.”

 

 

 

Part 34: The New World Order

Bill Gates is back, DT isn’t, and the mystery of Yugi’s death has cast a pall.

HAYWOOD DROVE LILY back to the Deep Woods after the police interrogation. He hugged her and held her tightly for a long minute and apologized he couldn’t stay. The Fish Boys were opening that night for the Dead Presidents at Moe’s.

Lily trudged despondently up the back stairs to her trashed apartment and began trying to sort out the mess.

By 1 a.m. she tired of the tedium and depression of putting the place back together. She found a pair of mismatched sheets and a wool blanket, poured a glass of Australian Shiraz, grabbed her telephone and climbed in bed. She called DT in Tokyo with the news.

The phone rang just as DT was delivered by his Yakuza escort back to his room at the Prince. It was all he could do to persuade the two men he did not want to stop at a pachinko parlor along the way. They rode up with him in the elevator, watched as he fumbled for his key card and stared until the door closed behind him.

Strange dudes, DT thought as he crossed the room to pick up the telephone.

“Hello.”

“DT, it’s you. It’s horrible. I still don’t believe it. Yugi’s dead.”

“What?” DT shouted.

Lily spoke in a lank, lifeless voice: “Yugi’s dead. It might be murder. Nobody knows.”

“How? Where? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Lily said. “We found him at Haywood’s studio. We were supposed to meet to talk about Gates and the break-ins – there have been two now – at the Deep Woods. And there he was, just lying there in the hall. The coroner thinks it’s a heart attack. The police aren’t sure. If only we hadn’t gone to Costco . . ..”

“If what, Lily? Costco is dangerous, but it hasn’t killed anybody yet. Maybe it was a heart attack.”

“No, DT. I think it’s part of this Gates’ business. I saw Gates. He’s back. It’s all over the news and I saw him near the studio just before we found Yugi.”

“Gates is in Seattle? In public?”

“He was at the Sonics game tonight.”

“Who won?”

“Won what?”

“Never mind. If Gates is back, I’ll get the first flight out. I met Gates’ Japanese contact, a guy named Ono. I think he’s one of the guys from the Lake Washington tape. He’s intercepting my e-mail. It’s being copied twice. Once to his office here and once – this doesn’t make any sense – to the Alexis Hotel in Seattle. The trace ID’d the recipient as Arrow. I checked. There’s a guy registered there, Julian Arrowhead, who I think is somehow involved with Ono. None of it computes.”

There was silence on the line.

“Are you OK?” DT asked.

“No,” Lily said. “Not at all. I feel responsible for Yugi. I feel horrible. I feel alone. Hurry, David. I need you.”

DT paused. It was the first time he had ever heard Lily admit to needing anyone or anything.

“I’ll be home soon,” he said. “First flight out.”

MICROSOFT DID IT the way Microsoft always did it – as if the circus had come to town. They rented the filigreed

5th Avenue

Theatre, filled the orchestra pit with tuxedoed Seattle Symphony players and the seats with drooling mutual-fund buyers and snarling media from around the globe.

As the seats filled, the orchestra doodled Copeland. Banners stretched across the stage proclaimed the event: “Bill Gates: The Homecoming.”

At 1 p.m., Gates strode across the stage to the center podium.

“Good afternoon,” Gates said. “Welcome to the Next Millennium. Microsoft today announces a revolution in the way the world will use computers and thus in the way the world will live.

“We are in the process of developing a new line of Internet software, The Microsoft Agents, which will make real the promise of the computer age. Avatar will allow every computer user to customize the world to his or her needs. It will search The Web effortlessly, relentlessly, intelligently, sorting what it finds according to personalized instructions given it by each user.

“For the first time, individual computer users will have software that will make decisions for them – that will, in fact, think.

“And for the first time, the most powerful software ever developed will be available to whoever wants it. Free.”

Audible gasps arose from the darkened theater.

In the wings, Microsoft executives huddled in small clumps. As Gates went on talking about the new era of information, about harmonizing enemies and bringing the world into balance by the start of the third millennium, an angry murmur ran, like a whip cracking, from huddle to huddle.

Kay Celeste stared dejectedly out at the thin figure on the stage.

“I can’t believe he’s doing this,” she said to the stock analyst standing beside her. Genuine sadness filled her voice. She could barely speak. “We’ve discovered the golden goose and he wants to let it fly away free. This isn’t a corporation. It’s a lending library.”

“You got that right,” the analyst said. He punched a number into his cell phone and barked a sell order. “Gates is back and he’s lost his mind.”

 

 

Part 35: Et Tu, Arrowhead

Bill Gates has returned a changed man. DT is headed home from Tokyo.

JULIAN ARROWHEAD watched with glee as Bill Gates pledged to give away the world’s best software. The industrial spy sat tucked amid a squadron of electronic equipment winking and whirring in newly sublet office space at the Key Tower. The space, he noted with glee when he rented it, had been occupied by the Gates Commission, which was now out of business.

Arrowhead had telephone and computer taps on Double Tall Jones, Lily Tomfool and as many Microsoft officers as he could manage, including Kay Celeste.

Jones and Tomfool’s communications were boring. Celeste’s were a maze. She told nearly everyone she communicated with different versions of the same events. She was a real piece of work, he thought – somebody who knew a deal when she smelled one.

Celeste had plans. She’s worth getting to know, Arrowhead thought.

The one high-yield item he had gotten from the second burglary at the Deep Woods was a digital audio disk of a negotiation between Gates and Japanese software developers. The disk, which was labeled with a weird Fish Head logo, had been upstairs in Tomfool’s apartment.

Arrowhead did routine voice-print analyses of the recording and matched them against a library he maintained. He was amazed when one of the Japanese speakers’ prints matched that of his anonymous employer, The Voice.

Celeste’s e-mail contained repeated references to Urban Electronics and Akinori Ono, and it didn’t take Arrowhead long to determine The Voice was Ono. It wasn’t much of a leap beyond that to determine his boss and Celeste’s boss were cutting a deal.

Ono had telephoned, unaware Arrowhead knew his identity. Ono complained that Celeste’s e-mail contained false information about her dealings with Urban Electronics.

“Celeste says she has had dealings with Urban. This is not true,” Ono said. “We are reliably informed Urban’s dealings have been at the highest levels, with Mr. Gates. We are concerned about security. We would like you to find out what Ms. Celeste is up to.”

So would I, Arrowhead thought.

A plot began to form.

He called

One Microsoft Place

.

“Hello, Ms. Celeste. My name is Julian Arrowhead. I’m a consultant to several large companies in your industry. I’ve discovered during the course of my recent work that you and I have some interests in common, specifically a software program being developed by a small Japanese company named Urban Electronics. I’d like to arrange a meeting. I have a proposition I think you might find interesting.”

“What do you know about Urban?” she asked.

“Much more than you do,” Arrowhead said.

“Oh, really. Like what?”

“I’d prefer to discuss this in person. I’ll be happy to drive over to Redmond and see you.”

“No, this place is too, too crazy. I’d prefer to meet elsewhere. Where are you?”

“I’m staying at the Alexis Hotel.”

“Fine. There is a bar in the lobby, called the Bookstore. I’ll meet you there at 6 p.m.”

“How will I know you?”

“I’ll be the most striking woman in the room. How will I know you?”

“I’ll be the least striking man.”

It was true. One of Arrowhead’s chief virtues as a spy was a complete wallpaper appearance. He was utterly average – 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 180 pounds, slightly bulbous belly, steel-rimmed bifocals, thinning mouse-brown hair, round, plain-featured face. He was the kind of man you could sit next to on a six-hour transcontinental flight and not be able to recall an hour later.

He had been for most of his 52 years as lacking in ambition as physical distinction. He had been satisfied with his deskman’s CIA salary until that disappeared. His business as a Silicon Valley consultant more than replaced his income and brought him for the first time into contact with people of great wealth. Undeserving people of great wealth, he thought. Pimply-faced kids, some of them, with high IQs, bad manners and more money than they could sensibly spend.

It was their profligate consumption that raised Arrowhead’s resentment, which he at first tried to dismiss, but later fed with fantasies of how such money ought to be spent.

It was time to make a move of his own. He knew where Gates’ new software was coming from. All he had to do was get to it first.

LILY TOMFOOL SAT in the back corner of the Bookstore bar, trying to determine how to contact Julian Arrowhead, the man DT had said was tapping his e-mail. She brooded for most of the day, mourning Yugi and wondering what she could do. She felt she had to do something, so she came to the Alexis, vaguely intending to confront Arrowhead.

She nursed a cappuccino and tried to ignore the stares of a short, plump, round-faced man seated beneath the front window. He looked edgily in her direction every few minutes, as if trying to build up the courage to talk to her.

Then a tall, striking red-headed woman strode into the room, commanding Shorty’s attention. Lily watched as the woman paused, surveyed the room and walked straight to the man’s table.

He stood and said, in a too-loud, nervous voice:

“Ms. Celeste? Julian Arrowhead.”

 

 

 

Part 36: Going Native

DETECTIVE JOHN CHILLWORTH received a preliminary report from the King County Medical Examiner. Yugi Futamura had been poisoned. A powerful toxin had been injected into his carotid artery, causing full cardiac arrest within seconds, death in a minute.

The poison was derived from rare Japanese mushrooms. Chillworth ran a check. The only known quantities of it ever imported into the United States were in the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Chillworth had no idea how Bill Gates would ever have acquired any of the poison, but Lily Tomfool’s sighting of Gates in the neighborhood where Futamura was murdered, about the same time, was the only clue Chillworth had.

He decided to follow Gates just to see where it led. So far, a further state of confusion was as far as he had gotten.

Chillworth picked up Gates at the

5th Avenue

Theatre for the homecoming speech, listened, then waited while Gates signed autographs and graciously did media interviews for three hours afterward.

Each interviewer asked identical questions:

Why Jennifer?

Melinda liked it.

Where had he been?

Away.

Who was he with?

Friends.

Why give away software?

To bring the world together.

Why Jennifer? Really.

Through it all Gates smiled benignly, acted as if he were hearing the questions for the first time, and seemed genuinely interested in the interviewers.

Chillworth stood nervously on the edge of the throng of reporters for the first hour, then grew bored and took a seat in the theater’s front row.

He faded out. He dreamed of giant mushroom milkshakes shared around a table with Tom Robbins and Downtown Freddie Brown. A hand gently shook his shoulder. A voice asked if he were waiting for an interview.

Chillworth snapped awake and found himself staring directly into Bill Gates’ wire-rims.

He politely declined the invitation to talk and walked red-faced out of the theater. Gates came out five minutes later and Chillworth tailed him to the IBM Building.

When Gates walked into the lobby and pushed the call button for the garage elevator, Chilly hustled back onto the street and down two blocks to where his Chrysler mini-van was parked in the taxi zone of the Sheraton Hotel. He sped down Sixth Avenue, shearing across three lanes of traffic to avoid the “Free East Timor” pickets protesting Nike Town, hung a left on Pine, another on Fifth and one more on University, pulling up in front of the Hilton.

He didn’t know if the software magnate was driving his Porsche or Lexus or something else, but he had a clear view of each car as it exited the garage and paused before entering traffic on Sixth.

Chilly waited.

Gates emerged behind the wheel of a 1963 Volkswagen microbus, bright yellow with a purple peace sign and a “Visualize Redmond” decal on the front bumper. By the time Chilly’s brain registered what his eyes were telling it, the VW was a block away. The detective snapped his mini-van into gear and stomped on the accelerator, crossing back across the same three lanes he had threaded through five minutes earlier.

The microbus slammed to a halt at Nike Town. Chillworth skidded up behind it, nearly rear-ending the van. Gates hopped out, left the car running and walked over to talk to the Timor pickets.

Chillworth watched as Gates listened for a minute, pulled out his wallet, extracted a fistful of bills and handed them to the pickets. He climbed back in the VW and tooled down the street.

He’s flipped a switch inside, Chillworth thought. Weirded out. Although, he had to admit to himself, this is not your typical murderer’s behavior.

AT THE ALEXIS LOBBY BAR, Julian Arrowhead huddled with Kay Celeste, discussing what to do about Bill Gates’ plan to give away Web-avatar software.

“What exactly is it he is going to give away? Does he have it yet?” Celeste asked.

“No, Ono is going to deliver the source code himself. He’s en route now. Can’t we do something to it, to the code, once Microsoft has it?” Arrowhead said.

“Like what?” Celeste said.

“How should I know? Disable it somehow. Make it stupid instead of smart,” Arrowhead said. “Can’t you insert a fatal flaw in it so nobody is able to make it work?”

“You mean like a normal program?” Celeste said. “That happens all the time and it doesn’t seem to stop anybody from buying anything.”

 

 

Part 37: Allies

DT WAS SHOCKED TO SEE Akinori Ono walk primly down the aisle to the front of the first-class cabin. The Urban Electronics president was treated with a deference unusual even among the always deferential JAL cabin crew. It approached reverence.

Maybe it’s the clothes, DT thought. Ono wore a simple black-cotton suit, expertly but loosely fit, a pewter, banded-collar cotton shirt and his normal black slippers.

Might be time for refreshing the wardrobe, DT thought, looking down at his gray sweats and black, high-top Nikes. A pair of those Shawn Kemp tiger-striped Reeboks, maybe.

Ono removed his jacket, handed it to a waiting steward, sat in his first-row seat, received a pillow and dark-blue blanket, closed his eyes and fell sound asleep.

DT ignored the muted protests of the steward, who was too polite to stop him, left his own seat two rows back and settled next to Ono. DT pulled out that month’s copy of Golf Digest, the one with Bill Clinton and his two brothers-in-law on the cover, big men in ridiculous clothes. Golf would be a perfect game if it weren’t for golfers, DT thought.

They looked like the middle of the line-up for a brewery’s slow-pitch softball team.

Ono breathed easily and quietly in his sleep. DT fell into the rhythm and was out within minutes.

He awoke somewhere over the Pacific, or seemed to. It was hard to tell. The darkened cabin had a dreamlike quality to it. Ono sat upright in a cone of light next to him, intently studying DT’s golf magazine.

“You know, Mr. Jones, I would imagine you have difficulty controlling the flight of the ball off the tee,” Ono said. “A man of your stature has a swing arc of dangerous proportions. Most very tall men slice the ball wildly, but you, I can see, are very strong. A hooker, I would guess.”

He paused. DT was mute, still unsure if he was awake or asleep.

Ono continued: “I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your magazine. I, too, am a disciple of the dimpled sphere. The club head has a mind of its own, does it not? I have found you must inhabit it before you can tame it.”

“You think so?” DT said. “It seems to me the more I think about it, the more it misbehaves. I try to forget it’s there. You’re right about the hook, though. Mine’s a killer.”

“Too much top hand?” Ono asked.

DT thought for a moment, considering the Virtual Bill appearances last summer, the golf advice to Fred Couples. This sounded eerily similar.

“Nah,” DT said. “I don’t blame my hands. I blame my head. I think it’s fear. Darwinian fear of the dark that goes back to the cave. I think I’m afraid to make a full turn on my backswing because somewhere deep inside I’m afraid of what might happen if I turn my back on the ball. There’s bad things waiting out there, ready to pounce and eat you up if you let them.”

It was now Ono’s turn to pause.

He turned to look out the window and sat absolutely still, chin resting in his hand. He sat like that for so long DT wondered if he had fallen asleep again. Finally, he turned to face DT.

“You know, Mr. Jones, you might be right about this. We humans are like the bird who is afraid to fly. He sits nervously on the ground, afraid to raise his wings and is devoured by the wolf. We must be brave enough to do what we were designed to do.”

“And what is that?” DT asked. “Hit golf balls?”

“That and more,” Ono said. “We are made to live as one, in community with all others. I have decided to take a risk, Mr. Jones, and I would like you to help me. I believe I can trust you. Your actions have been sincere. I know you have been pursuing Bill Gates. I know this because I have been pursuing him, too, but a different part of him.

“While you have looked for his body, I have been searching for his soul, a more elusive entity, but I believe I have found it. I have with me the source code for a computer program that your friend Mr. Gates believes will revolutionize the world. I am a bit more humble about it than that, but I think it is a very capable piece of work and I have decided to put aside my suspicions and permit Mr. Gates to use it as he desires. I intend to deliver it to him. However, I fear there are people who do not share this desire.”

“I can believe that,” DT said. “Giving away your best product might put some people on edge, especially people interested in making money from it.”

“Yes, I fear they may try to interfere. They might try to stop the code from getting to Gates. That’s where I thought you might be able to help. This might seem a bit silly, but, as a precaution, I wonder if you would act as an intermediary, a courier, and deliver the code on my behalf?”

DT agreed without hesitation. He said he didn’t think it silly at all. He told Ono about Yugi Futamura’s death.

“Do you need someone to provide security for you?”

“I appreciate your willingness to help,” Ono said. “I have an associate who will meet and assist me in Seattle.

“Who’s that?”

“A man named Julian Arrowhead.”

 

 

Part 38: Homecoming, Part Two

DT and Akinori Ono have struck up a business relationship while flying from Tokyo to Seattle.

LILY WATCHED JULIAN Arrowhead and Kay Celeste for two hours in the Alexis lobby bar. They continued for two more in the hotel restaurant, The Painted Table.

Arrowhead had a taste for pinot noir, Lily noted, as over the course of the evening three bottles of Oregon’s finest made their way to the table.

From her corner table in the rear, Lily could hear only the occasional stray phrase, but she watched the conversation rise and fall through wild greens in a raspberry vinaigrette, steamed salmon on a bed of grilled polenta, and black-bean asparagus.

Over coffee and vintage port, Celeste multi-tasked. She plopped a calculator onto the table and busily punched numbers with her right hand while she stirred her cup with the left and continued the conversation unchecked. She then turned the calculator to face Arrowhead.

He looked. His eyelids, which had fallen to well below half-mast, popped open, his jaw dropped.

He looked up at Celeste, an admiring gleam in his eyes. He offered his hand. She shook it and the dinner ended shortly after. Celeste left by the

Madison Street

exit. Arrowhead wobbled up the stairs through the hotel lobby to the elevators as Lily watched.

Lily knew from the overheard snatches of conversation that Arrowhead’s boss, Akinori Ono, was arriving from Tokyo the next day. She didn’t know when.

She returned to her table, asked for a telephone and waited 15 minutes. She dialed the front desk.

“This is

Suite 413

. Has my husband left a wake-up call yet?”

“Yes, Mrs. Arrowhead. Just minutes ago. 6:30.”

“Fine,” Lily said. “Thank you.”

She hung up the phone, paid her bill and took a taxi home for the night. She returned, driving DT’s Explorer, at 6:45 the next morning and parked on

First Avenue

.

She read the morning paper as she waited. Judging by the front page, the most important subject in the world that day was Mariner left-hander Randy Johnson’s back, of which there was a full-color diagram showing the routes of nerves and muscles and bones through its long expanse.

A line of type inside a box referred readers to Page A-17 for a story about the sinking of a Bangladeshi ferry and the deaths of 468 people.

An hour later, Arrowhead emerged from the front door of the Alexis, climbed into a rented Town Car and headed south.

Lily followed.

THE 747 ROLLED UP TO the South Satellite at Sea-Tac. Akinori Ono stood in the front of the first-class cabin. He folded his hands before his chest and bowed to DT.

DT nodded awkwardly in return and Ono walked swiftly down the aisle, through the exit door. DT stayed in his seat.

Ono carried a small handbag. He passed quickly through customs, exited and stood calmly in the middle of the waiting area.

He was approached by a short, plump, balding man in a brown business suit.

“Mr. Akinori Ono?” the man said.

“Yes, Mr. Arrowhead, I presume? Thank you so much for greeting me.”

“No thanks are necessary, Mr. Ono. As I informed your intermediaries, I am pleased to assist you in any way possible. This is a momentous occasion.”

Ono nodded and surveyed the waiting area.

Arrowhead, following Ono’s eyes, asked: “Are you expecting someone else?”

“I’m uncertain quite what to expect,” Ono said. “Shall we go?”

“Baggage claim is in the main terminal. This way.”

“We can leave directly for the city,” Ono said. “I have no other luggage.”

“Mr. Ono, I thought you would be bringing some items for delivery.”

“I have everything I need,” Ono said. “Shall we?”

“Of course,” Arrowhead said, and led Ono to the shuttle train.

Lily watched from behind a column in the wide, low-ceilinged greeting area. As Ono and Akinori boarded the train, she walked quickly toward the last car, but the doors closed before she could get there, leaving her stranded in the waiting area, fuming.

“Lily! Lily!”

Lily turned to see DT running out of Customs.

“David,” she called.

DT wrapped his long arms around her and held her close. Neither spoke for a minute. He squeezed her tight. She squeezed back.

The next shuttle pulled in.

“DT, we have to hurry to catch up.”

“To whom?” DT said.

“Arrowhead and Ono, the man he met. I followed Arrowhead here.”

“You didn’t come to meet me?” DT asked, breaking the embrace and holding Lily at arm’s length.

“Are you kidding? I was following Arrowhead. He and Celeste are plotting to steal the search software from Ono.”

“He doesn’t have it,” DT said. “I do.”

 

Part 39: Johnny Appleseed

After becoming friends en route to Seattle, Ono has entrusted DT with code for the revolutionary Internet “avatar” software that Bill Gates wants to give away free.

KAY CELESTE STORMED AROUND the corner to the receptionist stationed outside Gates’ office in Building Eight.

“Where’s Bill?” she demanded.

“He should be inside,” the secretary said, looking up from her computer.

“I didn’t ask where he should be. I asked where he is,” Celeste said. “He’s not in his office. I just looked.”

“Did you look under the desk?”

“Where?”

“Under his desk. Sometimes when he wants to think, he sits in the well of his desk. Keeps him from being disturbed.”

“You’re kidding,” Celeste said. “This place needs adult supervision. It’s like working with a bunch of 7-year-olds.

As Microsoft grew from a tiny upstart barely known even across Lake Washington into a corporate behemoth feared around the globe, an inevitable division grew between the bean counters and nerds – the professional financial staff and the computer people.

Gates had always bridged this gap. His bandwidth was broad enough to understand that things other than bytes could be measured in billions. He imbued the company with an acute appreciation for both eccentricity and profits.

With his apparent conversion experience to the soft-headed side of the work force, the profit people felt threatened.

Celeste had been a misfit even among them on the Redmond campus. From her Barney’s business suits to her decidedly untechnical abilities, she stuck out. But she had succeeded because of business judgment that bordered on genius. She was simply never wrong and she never backed down, a formidable combination.

If Gates were determined to give away a program he and others were convinced would be a software revolution, she had to find a way to stop it. So far, Gates had not listened to reason or profit projections. She thought at first he had some grand, brilliant scheme to capitalize on the give-away. He insisted, though, in his e-mail responses to her, that he had no other motive. He wanted to give away the Internet Agent software simply because it was the right thing to do.

What’s right got to do with anything, she fumed. This is business, and business is war. Doing right gets you killed. This is unilateral disarmament, she argued.

To no avail. Gates was steadfast.

Gates had scheduled a board meeting for the afternoon. Celeste decided to make one last pitch before it started, and she wanted to do it in person, to actually see the person she was debating. This almost never happened at Microsoft. Most discussions and decisions occurred electronically.

The sound of a really fierce argument on campus was not screaming and yelling, but clacking keyboards.

She strode back into Gates’ office, walked behind the desk and, sure enough, there he was, curled up on the floor underneath it.

“Bill,” she said. “We have to talk.”

“Sure, Kay. Have a seat.”

“On the floor?”

“Wherever,” Gates said. “It’s quite comfortable really. The sense of enclosure increases my ability to concentrate. It allows me to look inward. Have you ever truly looked at yourself?”

Celeste declined the invitation to either sit on the floor or indulge in sophomoric introspection. She sat instead on the leather chair behind the desk. She looked down at Gates and wondered exactly what had happened to him. He seemed so different, she sometimes thought it wasn’t really him, but some evil twin. Gone was the Gates who wanted to be the richest man in history. In his place was the Johnny Appleseed of computing, an altruistic nice guy who wanted to share his good fortune with the world.

It made Celeste almost physically ill.

“Bill, unless we can reach some resolution on the Agent software, or you can give me some reason to agree to your proposal, I’ll have to tell the board this is a horrible mistake,” she said.

“I’m just so sorry to hear that,” Gates said. “But if you feel a need to share your views with the board, then I would definitely encourage you to do that. Keeping that kind of stuff bottled up inside isn’t healthy.”

“You can be assured I won’t be keeping anything inside. I’ve spoken with the outside board members and they are quite concerned. So is Wall Street. Have you checked the stock price today? It’s off 25 percent since your speech. You’re losing billions of dollars a day and all you can do is sit under your desk and navel-gaze. This isn’t a game.”

“I agree absolutely. This is very serious business. We’re about to re-make the world. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”

“For God’s sake, Bill, the world doesn’t need to be remade. It’s working just fine the way it is. What’s come over you? You had the most brilliant business mind in history. And it’s turned to Seattle mush.”

Gates did not take affront. Gently, he replied: “As Ono-san might say: One man’s mush is another’s sour mash.”

“Oh, please. Spare me the aphorisms.”

Celeste got up to leave.

“I’ll see you at the board meeting,” she said. “And by the way, when are you due to meet with Ono? When will we get the actual code in house?”

“Soon, Kay. Very soon.”

 

Part 40: Vaporware

Kay Celeste has failed to persuade Gates to abandon his crazy software scheme.

THE BOARD MEETING WAS A disaster.

Gates presented his plan to acquire, develop and give away powerful new search software. Free.

“Avatars will make current Web-browsers obsolete overnight. It’s the difference between a bicycle and a supersonic jet,” he said. “They’re both modes of transportation, but they have virtually nothing else in common. Avatars will not just search, they will think, seek, find, assess, select, compile and present. They will do it at your command or, if so programmed, on their own. They will do anything you desire. They’ll live your life for you if you want.”

Board members fidgeted. They coughed. They stared down at their notepads and doodled dollar signs with wings. They were taking off, not landing. Several attempted questions. Gates ignored them, jabbering on and on about the road ahead.

“This is the future of computing. We have a rare opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “To give something back to the world.”

Warren Buffett, the Sage of Omaha, although not a board member, had been invited to the meeting because he was the only man alive Gates took business advice from. He sat still as a monument throughout the presentation. Gates’ mention that it was time to give something back finally roused him.

“Might I remind you, Bill, the business of business is not giving, it’s taking.”

The rest of the board chirped in, relieved.

“Indeed.”

“Hear hear.”

“Right on.”

Buffett continued.

“Now I could understand this rather radical departure in strategy as a means to gain market share, but that’s not what I hear you saying. I hear you saying this will be given away free and clear. What about upgrades?”

“Free as a bird,” Gates said. “In perpetuity.”

There was a loud crash at the end of the conference table as executive vice president Steve Ballmer fainted, his bald head cracking on the hard wood. In the back of the room, Kay Celeste nearly screamed.

It was axiomatic in the software business that you could virtually give away programs and still make money on upgrades. The upgrade path was the path of enrichment.

The meeting ended amid much mumbling and little action.

Celeste walked back to her office dejected. She called Julian Arrowhead.

“It doesn’t look like anything is going to dissuade him. Although he’s very coy about specifics, he’s dead set on this giveaway,” she said. “Have you had any better luck with Ono?”

“No. I’ve been trying to tell him Gates can’t be trusted, that this is a ruse just to get the program.”

“I wish it was. Gates has had some sort of conversion experience. Today he told the board that not only would the program be free, so would all upgrades. He’s giving away stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet. We have to get our hands on the source code before Ono delivers it to Gates.”

“I don’t even know where it is,” Arrowhead said. “I assume Ono has it but I haven’t seen anything. I’ve asked and he’s been as coy as ever.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if this thing actually exists. It’s beginning to sound like the ultimate vaporware,” Celeste said. “We have to quit dancing around, Julian. We have to find out where the program is, and take it. By force, if necessary.”

“I understand.”

DT AND LILY MET WITH Detective John Chillworth at the Deep Woods.

Chillworth had been following Gates around town, learning little more than that Gates had developed an affinity for lost-cause protesters, of which there was never a shortage on the streets of Rain City.

He grilled DT about his investigation of Gates.

“I chased him electronically for months and I think I know less now than when I started,” DT said. “As near as I can tell he spent most of the time he was in Japan studying pachinko and aikido. He got pretty good at both.”

“Do you think he knew Yugi Futamura?” Chillworth asked.

“No way. Yugi never met Gates. The closest he ever got to him was when he recorded his boat. Looking for noise-code violations.”

“What boat? What noise? What are you talking about.”

DT blinked.

“You don’t know about any of this?” he said. “I thought you were a detective.”

DT told Chillworth about Yugi recording Gates’ cigarette boat and inadvertently taping Gates’ negotiation with Urban Electronics. He didn’t mention that he had since met Ono, and that Ono had given him the avatar code – the subject of the negotiation.

“Where is this recording now?” Chillworth asked.

“An enhanced version of it is on a disk upstairs in Lily’s apartment.”

“No, it isn’t, DT,” Lily said. “I looked in that drawer the other night. It’s not there. I thought maybe you took it with you to Tokyo.”

“So that’s what they were after,” DT said.

Chillworth frowned.

“Covering up noise-ordinance violations seems a pretty skimpy motive for murder, but this is Seattle,” he said. “Who knows?

 

Part 41: Extra Virgin

Police are still looking for a suspect in Yugi’s murder and Gates won’t back off his free-software scheme.

SEATTLE ON EARLY SUMMER evenings glows with the warmth of old friends reunited after forced separations.

The high thin clouds of morning had stretched and, like the haze of a dream half-remembered, disappeared. Mount Rainier hulked on the southern horizon; the sun turned it rosy-pink, the color of flushed cheeks. The Olympics bristled in the west, a row of jagged teeth, bone white against the deepening blue of the sky.

DT and Lily sat at a small table on the sidewalk outside the Deep Woods. They shared a concrete picnic of sorts. The table was set with a loaf of herbed bread, a bowl of roasted red peppers in extra virgin olive oil, a wedge of double Gloucester, fresh local strawberries and chilled Mondavi Reserve fume blanc.

DT and Lily ate. They didn’t talk. They clattered away on matching 175-MHz laptops, each hooked to a cellphone.

“Good bread,” DT typed.

“Very,” Lily typed back. “It’s good to have you home.”

“Good to be here. It’s almost impossible to find decent wine in Japan. And after a while, I would have given a gigabyte for a good loaf of bread.”

“And . . . ?” Lily typed.

“And what?”

“Isn’t there anything else you missed?”

“Of course,” DT teased. “The crowd at the Deep Woods, the coffee, the, you know, everything.”

Lily’s face fell. She logged off. She looked out across Elliott Bay. Boats danced like dew on uncut hay. The late sunlight fell gently across her soft brown skin. Tiny tears began to gather in the corners of her dark eyes.

DT looked up.

“I feel terrible about Yugi,” he said. “It was my fault.”

Lily walked around the table to DT’s chair. She knelt beside him and took his hands in hers. For a long time she did nothing but look straight into DT’s eyes. They began to cry. DT traced the tears down Lily’s cheeks. He cradled her head in his hands.

“Let’s go inside,” he said.

ALBERT DREW SKIPPED

UP First Avenue

toward the Deep Woods. Albert, president of the Bill Gates Fan Club, was at last a free man. Or at least a free boy, however you classify a 19-year-old genius. Albert had mourned the disappearance of Gates like no one else. At his insistence, fan-club members had worn Gates masks whenever they were in public for the entire time the software mogul was gone.

They rejoiced now that he was back, although there were bitter divides among the club members over Gates’ proposed software free-for-all. Half the club members, it turned out, were more enamored of Gates’ business successes than his company’s software. Albert himself didn’t care. He was simply happy Gates was alive and well.

He arrived at the Deep Woods just as DT and Lily were getting up to go inside.

“DT!” he shouted. “Hey, man, welcome home and thanks for chasing the Gatester back ahead of ya.”

DT stared at the gawky boy in front of him. Baggy T-shirt, baggy Bermudas, knobby knees. It wasn’t until he arrived at the bottom of this bag of bones and the scarlet Chuck Taylor All-Stars that he knew for sure who he was looking at.

“Albert? Is that you? I hardly recognize you without the mask,” DT said.

Lily rolled her eyes, shook her head and laid it on DT’s shoulder.

“David,” she whispered. “Not now.”

“How you doin’, Albert? What’s up?” DT asked.

“I’m great. I’m back in the debugging business and out of the spy game. I’ve come to decant what I’ve collected,” Albert said.

“Great. Can it wait till tomorrow? I don’t have a whole lotta time right now. Gotta unpack, get my stuff in order.”

“It’ll only take a minute. Figured it might help you with Yugi.”

Lily had been staring absently into the sunset. At the mention of Yugi’s name, she perked up.

“What do you know about Yugi?” she asked.

“I think I saw the guy who did him. At least, I saw a guy coming out of the studio that afternoon.”

“Who?” Lily asked.

“I have no idea what his name was. He was a little guy, kinda dumpy, glasses, losing his hair. He looked like that guy in the toilet paper commercials. That Peepers guy.”

The description fit Arrowhead to a T.

“When did you see this guy?” DT asked.

“I was going up to Haywood’s cuz I had this tape some friends made they wanted him to listen to. When I got there, the front door was locked up tight. I went around to see if the back door was open and this guy came out and started running like crazy up the alley. I tried the door after he was gone and it was locked. I didn’t know what was up, so I took off.”

“Were you wearing your mask?” Lily asked.

“Of course. I guess Gates was back by then, but I didn’t know it yet.”

“That must have been you I saw walking up Galer,” Lily said. “Gates is innocent.”

“Of this, anyway,” Albert said. “I heard Justice was getting ready to put the screws to his avatar deal.”

“That figures,” DT said. “A guy tries to commit an act of charity and the government won’t let him.”

 

 

Part 42: Spooked

The president of the Bill Gates Fan Club has told DT about the man he saw outside the studio where Yugi was killed.

DT IMMEDIATELY CALLED Detective Chillworth.

“Who do you make for Yugi’s murder?” DT asked.

“At this point, nobody,” Chillworth said. “Gates is about all we have.”

“It wasn’t Gates,” DT said.

“Sez who? He had motive. He had opportunity. He was seen in the vicinity. Sounds like a suspect to me.”

DT relayed what Albert Drew had told him – that he had seen a man leaving Fishhead Studios the day of Yugi’s murder.

“The man Albert saw fits the description of someone I’ve been looking into. What do you know about a guy named Julian Arrowhead?” DT asked.

“Julian who?”

“A computer-security consultant named Julian Arrowhead. He’s been sticking his nose under the edges of Microsoft’s tent.”

“Microsoft is off my turf, but I’m sure snooping is a growth industry over there,” Chillworth said. “What makes this guy any different?”

“How many snoopers are ex-CIA spooks?” DT asked.

“CIA?”

“That’s my information. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a trade. You find out what you can about Arrowhead and I’ll tell you what I think he’s up to.”

“If you know something that bears on this case, Mr. Jones, you better tell me now.”

“Chill out, Chilly. I’m trying to help. All I want is a background check on Arrowhead.”

As DT waited for an answer, he could hear Chillworth whistling. A faint song, it sounded like – disco! He recognized it: “Stayin’ Alive.”

“Oh my God,” DT said. “The Bee-Gees?”

“What?” Chillworth sounded embarrassed. But he recovered quickly. “Listen, Jones. This is my investigation and I’ll tell you about it to the degree it suits me. I’m not entirely sure that your whole goofy crew over there at the Deep Woods isn’t involved as something more than bystanders. Starting with you – an unemployed computer programmer pretending to be a private detective. Architects working at coffee bars and ending up dead. Pro basketball players making bad music. Kids running around wearing Bill Gates masks. And the den mother, Lily Tomfool, has a chip on her shoulder the size of an old growth fir. I wonder what she’s hiding. Now some middle-aged spook with a pot belly. What exactly are you up to?”

“Trying to find Yugi’s murderer,” DT said. “Other than disco, what’s going through your head? So far, the only leads you have, you’ve gotten from us. Here’s one more: According to the CDC data base, the only known quantities of the poison used to kill Yugi Futamura ever brought into the United States were the property of the Central Intelligence Agency. What do you say to that?”

“I say we oughta find Mr. Arrowhead.”

JULIAN ARROWHEAD AT THAT moment was staring at a dead eel’s eye. The eel was on the cutting board behind the sushi bar at Shiro’s on

Second Avenue

. He was about to be separated from his insides. Arrowhead was about to be separated from his dinner, which had consisted largely of sake and several of Mr. Eel-eye’s closest friends.

Arrowhead had taken Akinori Ono out on the town. The long evening began with too many cocktails and was ending with too much raw fish. In between, Arrowhead had tried to dig out Ono’s plan for delivering the avatar software to Gates and, more importantly, where it was being kept in the meantime. Ono was in a playful mood. He drank single-malt scotch like water and merrily deflected Arrowhead’s inquiries, often with a sly smile and one of his irritating aphorisms.

“The seeker must be careful not to become the sought,” he said at one point, surveying the singles scene at the Paragon on Queen Anne. Arrowhead decided at that very moment to switch from mineral water to martinis.

If I have to listen to this crap, he thought, I might as well drink.

It was clear Ono was toying with him, but instead of waiting him out, Arrowhead got angry. Arrowhead, in fact, was a lousy spy. His specialty was data. He was out of his element doing field work. He could do regression analyses in his sleep, but he knew almost nothing about human beings.

By the time a taxi dropped them at Shiro’s, Arrowhead was seething. He wanted to grab Ono by the throat and shake the information out of him. Ono appeared not to notice. He wanted more to eat.

The eel, his next course, shimmered under the glare of the restaurant’s bright lights, which were nearly clinical in their harshness, as if the sushi chef were preparing for surgery, not dinner. Ono chatted companionably in Japanese with the chef, apparently pointing out flaws in the fish. The chef at one point, in mock anger, thrust the eel toward Ono’s face, then Arrowhead’s.

Ono laughed. Arrowhead grew faint.

“Don’t be fooled by the light, Julian,” Ono said. “If one looks only where the light shines, one never sees through the darkness.”

You pompous fool, Arrowhead thought, if it’s darkness you want, it’s darkness you’ll get.

 

 

Part 43: Getting Hammered

Arrowhead and Ono left Shiro’s and headed for the Alexis on foot. Arrowhead was queasy. Matching Ono’s scotch intake had been a mistake. Doing it and eating sushi at the same time was a catastrophe. Ono insisted they walk back to the hotel. Arrowhead was grateful for the fresh air, but unsure he could go the distance.

The ground rocked. His stomach rolled.

Ono was blithe. He talked animatedly on a range of subjects that on any normal night would have been beyond Arrowhead’s general interest. They were absolutely offensive tonight. His only concern was finding the source code for the avatar software.

Ono rambled. Arrowhead sulked. They walked down Wall to

First Avenue

and turned south, deep into club country. Ono began asking questions about the nature and spirit, as he termed it, of the alternative music scene.

“Next, he’ll want to go into one of these horrible places,” Arrowhead thought. No sooner had he said it to himself than Ono was tugging on his sleeve, leading him into the haze and bone-rattling rhythm of a fetish night at The Vogue.

The pierced, chained, black-leathered, bright-haired mob looked like a convention of Tower Records clerks.

Ono was thrilled. He struck up a conversation with pair of spike-haired, spike-heeled women bound together by an elaborate double helix of steel-link chain. Ono held a section of the chain in his hand and spoke who knows what question up into their bemused faces.

Arrowhead panicked.

“My God,” he thought. “He’ll go home with them and never be heard from again.”

He strode over and grabbed Ono roughly by the arm.

“We have to go,” he shouted above the din.

“Sweetheart,” one of the women, a 6-foot-3-inch redhead, said to Ono. “You didn’t tell us you had a friend. He can come, too.”

Ono turned to Arrowhead.

“Go where?” he asked.

“To the hotel. We must return.”

Ono stared at him curiously, but allowed Arrowhead to lead him out of the club. They walked quickly and for a couple of blocks in silence down First.

By the time they reached the Seattle Art Museum, Arrowhead’s mind was frantic. The biggest deal in history dangled at his fingertips, begging to be taken. And he couldn’t quite touch it.

They stood in the long night shadow of Hammering Man and Ono began talking again. Walking in circles around the base of the statue, he yammered on about the coarseness of Western culture in general, this sculpture in particular.

“Are you familiar with these fantastic athletic events they have here in the western portion of America called rodeos? Filled with large animals and lean men in big hats? They derive, I believe, from the behavior of farm workers in the old West.

“At regular intervals of the rodeo, clowns rush onto the arena floor. They distract the animals, allowing the working men to get free. Their act consists largely of being butted in the backside by bulls.

“The clown’s art is broad farce. Everyman is not heroic, but a target. He is exposed, bent at the waist, staring at the ground, waiting for the bull to strike. This is the level this statue aspires to.”

He paused, then added: “And achieves.”

Arrowhead had heard enough.

“Come on, Ono,” he shouted. “Give it up.”

“My dear, Arrowhead, you disagree with my theory?”

Arrowhead was incensed. The old blowhard is toying with me, he thought. Arrowhead charged Ono, who sidestepped neatly. Arrowhead careened into Hammering Man’s front foot.

He tripped and sprawled on the concrete.

Ono moved quickly to his side, offering condolence and assistance. Arrowhead pushed Ono away and struggled to his feet. He drew from his pocket a small dart gun and aimed it at Ono.

“Give me the code,” he rasped.

Ono saw the gun and leapt onto Hammering Man’s right leg, grabbed hold and shimmied up to the statue’s crotch. He grasped the small control box affixed to the abdomen and pulled himself up. He stood on the box, then moved out onto the statue’s extended right arm.

Arrowhead tried to follow, but couldn’t get a foothold on the broad metal legs. He backed off and took aim with the dart gun.

“Arrowhead, please. Let’s talk,” Ono said.

Arrowhead, sick to his stomach and frustrated, was past the point of talking. Just listening to Ono caused beads of sweat to pop out on his forehead.

He’d heard enough. He fired.

As Arrowhead pulled the trigger, Ono jumped further out on the arm. The dart whizzed past. Ono slipped and tumbled. He caught hold of the sculpture as he fell. He secured his grip by wrapping both legs and arms around the outstretched hand.

He hung there for a moment, then pulled himself back atop the arm. He peered down at Arrowhead. The former spy was on his hands and knees trying to find the dart.

Ono was trying to figure out what to do next when Hammering Man’s left hand, the one that held the hammer, came down on his head. The hammer didn’t move all that fast, but it caught Ono on the temple.

The first blow knocked him dizzy. The second groggy. The third unconscious.

It took a while, but the sixteenth killed him.

 

 

Part 44: A Hard Place

Akinoro Ono has made a fatal mistake, climbing the Hammering Man sculpture in order to escape from Julian Arrowhead. ——————————————————————

THE POOL OF BLOOD HADN’T quite dried by morning when foot traffic on

First Avenue

began to pick up. To the early-arriving office workers – women in business suits and cross-trainers, men in slick-soled loafers – it was just one more night deposit they’d rather not know about. They instinctively stepped around it.

No telling how long Akinori Ono’s body might have lain draped on Hammering Man’s arm had it not been for the pigeons, which, finally, got Rita Ward’s attention.

Ward, an assistant curator at the Seattle Art Museum, had taken an early ferry in from Bainbridge and was marching up First, preoccupied with an argument she’d had with her significant other before leaving the house. Like most domestic disputes, it began in mutual ignorance and advanced from there.

By the time it ended, two people were mad, two days were ruined, and one more relationship moved an unavoidable inch nearer an inevitable end. Ward was fogged in by swirling emotions, unable to look back for an explanation of the mess, unwilling to look ahead toward a way out of it.

She saw a flock of pigeons swarming in front of the museum. She thought little of it, then noticed the birds peeling off one by one and dive-bombing Hammering Man.

She smiled in spite of herself. She hated the statue and wished somebody would bomb it for real. Then she noticed what appeared to be lumps on Hammering Man’s arm. As she came closer, the lumps took shape.

Aw geez, she thought, the Fabricators for Attachment have struck again. FA, as it was called, was a loose-knit group of guerrilla art activists. Among their previous triumphs was placing a ball and chain around Hammering Man’s ankle. What is it this time? Ward wondered. Looks like they’ve planted a dummy up there. Coming up under the statue, she stared overhead.

I’ll have to get a cherry-picker in here to get that thing off, she thought. Then she slipped and fell flat on her butt on the blood-slick sidewalk. She put her hands out to steady herself. When she brought them up to her face, they were covered with blood. She fainted dead away.

It took 10 minutes for the gathering crowd to determine the blood wasn’t hers. And it wasn’t until she came to, lying on her back, staring straight up into Ono’s dead eyes, that anybody realized the body on Hammering Man’s arm was real.

Ward opened her eyes, pointed, screamed and fainted again.

“I DIDN’T TELL you to kill him,” Kay Celeste hissed into the telephone.

“I didn’t kill him. The statue did,” Julian Arrowhead said.

“Tell that to the cops. You already had some detective asking questions about that clumsy architect. Now a Japanese CEO. Do you (ITALIC WORD:) want to get caught?”

“The poisoning was an accident. So was this. I never touched the guy.”

“He looked like he was touched pretty good in the news feed I saw. Where are you now?” Celeste demanded.

“I’m lying low,” Arrowhead said.

When the statue whacked Ono, Arrowhead was splattered with blood. He panicked. His first thought was to get to the hotel. But he couldn’t waltz into the Alexis lobby with blood all over his white button-down shirt.

He wheeled and ran across the street, ducking inside the first open doorway.

A fat man with two rings piercing his left nostril and a tattoo of a Stratocaster on his right cheek sat behind a low counter playing solitaire. He kept half his eyes and a quarter of his attention on closed-circuit television monitors built into the counter.

Arrowhead stared at the man. With his idle eye, the man stared back.

“Yes?” he said.

“Uh, ah, well – ”

“Get your quarters outta the machine right there. It takes whatever you got.”

“Thanks,” Arrowhead mumbled. He pawed though his wallet, found a twenty and fed it into the change-maker. He scooped up what felt like five pounds of quarters, stuffed them in his jacket pockets and walked jingling like a belly dancer into the semi-dark interior. He walked down a hallway lined with Dutch doors and wrinkled men. He opened one of the doors and entered a coat-closet-sized room with darkened glass and a coin slot in front. Arrowhead put a quarter in the slot. A partition raised on a mirrored room with three desultory dancers in various stages of dishabille.

Arrowhead’s hideout was a peep show.

He had spent the night in a succession of the closets, drifting in and out of sleep. He fed quarters into the slots and dreamed dark dreams of a chorus line of naked carpenters pounding nails.

At 9 the next morning, still waiting for stores to open so he could buy a clean shirt, he had called Celeste on his cell phone. News of the unidentified dead body on Hammering Man’s outstretched arm was all over radio and television. Ono had carried no identification. Broadcasters ran out of breath speculating who the black-clothed man might be.

The guesses ranged from wayward Ninja assassin to homeless derelict, although as one observant anchor noted, few derelicts had good haircuts. “Believe me,” he said, freezing the video on a frame of Ono being loaded into an ambulance, “this is at least a $50 cut.”

 

 

Part 45: Lily On The Case

Seattle is reeling from a shocking case of death by public art

BY ITS LATE EDITIONS, The Seattle Times was already looking past the dead man on Hammering Man’s arm to the deeper meaning of his death. The Page 1 story by Derrick Tattler reported that a city engineering employee had earlier cautioned that Hammering Man might one day fall on somebody.

“City officials ignored these warnings,” the story said. “Although the memo did not specifically point out the dangers inherent in the statue’s movement, there is no reason to believe department higher-ups would have paid any more attention to this threat than to that which was cited.”

The Mayor was campaigning for governor at the Asotin County Fair and could not be reached for comment. His rival, the County Executive, pointed out that an extensive search of county records indicated no county statue had ever killed anyone.

The Governor said: “The real victims here are the working men and women of the great state of Washington.”

Jerry Berrywine, an unemployed politician, organized a boycott of the museum and called for the statue to be dismantled.

“It’s no accident that Hammering Man is black. Another black murderer. That’s the message here,” he said and announced he would run for City Council, County Council and Congress simultaneously in an attempt to get the country back on track.

Bob Dole denounced the National Endowment for the Arts and its

liberal advocates for championing kinetic art.

“When Bob Dole becomes president, you better believe all federally funded public art will be static,” he declared.

DT, STILL JET-LAGGED, was conked out on his couch in the back of the Deep Woods. Lily opened up to paying customers for the first time in weeks. She heard the news about the mysterious dead man from the second person through the door, Detective John Chillworth.

“What a weird way to go, huh? Whacked by a statue. You gotta wonder what would possess anybody to climb up there. Maybe a suicide,” he said.

“Who was it?” Lily asked.

“Not a clue. Some little Asian dude. No ID. Probably Japanese. At least, he was wearing a suit made in Tokyo and had a pocketful of yen.”

Lily peered through the maze of arms of her antique Italian espresso machine.

“What color?” she said.

“Blue by the time they got him down,” Chillworth said.

“The suit, damn it, not the guy.”

“Whoa, hold your fire. You know the guy?”

“Did I say that? What color was the suit?”

“Black cotton. With a gray silk T-shirt.”

Lily paled.

“Well?” Chillworth said.

“Well, nothing. I just wondered. Black wouldn’t be an appropriate color for ritual suicide. You might have another murder on your hands. Speaking of which, have you found this Arrowhead guy DT told you about?”

Chillworth looked quizzically at Lily. She knew something. He started to press her on exactly what, then let it pass.

“The guy never showed at his hotel last night,” he said. “We’ve got it staked out. We’ll pick him up when he comes back.”

Chillworth took a sip from his double-tall, no-lactose, decaf latte. “Good stuff,” he said. “I gotta go. Have Jones call me if he ever wakes up.”

“Sure,” Lily said. “If ever.”

Chillworth went out the door whistling a Barry White tune.

It had to be Ono, Lily thought, and Arrowhead. If Arrowhead wasn’t at his hotel, he might be hiding out in his office. She took one look at DT, scribbled him a note, locked up, and went out the back. She climbed in DT’s Explorer and bucked the downtown traffic to Gateway Tower.

She found Straight Arrow Consulting on the lobby directory and took the elevator to the 52nd floor. 5212 was unmarked and locked. Down the hall, just off the elevator lobby, was a law office, Jones Jarhead Johnson.

She returned to the first floor and called the firm from a pay phone. She asked for Mr. Jones.

“He’s in court,” the receptionist said. “May I take a message?”

“I’ll try later. When is he expected?”

“Late afternoon,” the receptionist said.

Perfect, Lily thought. She hung up, went back up to 52, walked into Jones Jarhead and asked for Mr. Jones.

“I’m sorry. He’s unavailable,” the receptionist said.

“I’ll wait,” Lily said.

“But, miss, it could be hours. Did you have an appointment?”

“I’m in no hurry,” Lily said.

She sat down in the waiting area, choosing a chair with a view of the elevator lobby. She picked up a special issue of American Lawyer devoted to legal ethics. It was a very short issue. When she finished, she looked at the Sports Illustrated with Alex Rodriguez on the cover, sighed, and stared at the pictures. Two hours passed before Arrowhead walked by, heading for the elevator.

Lily put down the magazine, said good-bye to the receptionist and followed Arrowhead to the elevator.

 

 

 

Part 46: Gone Fishing

The search for the code sends Kay Celeste after DT and Lily after Julian Arrowhead

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, a beast of unpredictable appetite at election time, was hungry for Microsoft. That morning, the Justice Department’s anti-trust division announced it was opening an investigation into Microsoft’s plan to distribute free Internet search software. In itself, this was hardly surprising. But later in the day, the department’s Securities Division announced it would investigate Microsoft’s failure to publish the software.

The company was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t.

Bill Gates had no public reaction. He retreated into a dark gloom of mourning even as the pack of federal hyenas nipped at his empire.

Authorities might have had no clue who the Hammering Man’s corpse was, but Gates knew as soon as he saw it on the morning news. Akinori Ono had come to the U.S. at his request, to take part in what Gates promised would be a great event in human history. How and why Ono ended up dead didn’t matter much.

Gates was horrified. He blamed himself and grew despondent. He retreated to his Lake Washington mansion, which after more than three years of construction still wasn’t completed. Gates asked the work crews to shut down until further notice and leave him alone.

Kay Celeste was worried. Events had spun out of control. She needed to know where Ono had hidden the code before he died. Gates didn’t have it, at least not at the office. Arrowhead couldn’t find it. That left one faint possibility – Double Tall Jones, the last man other than Arrowhead to have any contact with Ono.

Jones seemed as feckless as Arrowhead, but Celeste had to be sure.

The telephone woke DT in mid-afternoon.

“Unh.”

“DT?”

“Huh?”

“This is Kay Celeste. Did I wake you?”

“Not yet,” DT said.

“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.”

“Maybe where you are,” DT said from the fog zone between deepest sleep and wakefulness. He couldn’t immediately remember who Kay Celeste was. “Uh, can I get a number and call you back?”

“Wake up, DT. I’d like to get together. We have unfinished business.”

“Business?”

“Bill Gates. Urban Electronics. Does any of this ring a bell?”

DT’s head cleared.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, Kay. Kinda out of it. What business do we have? Gates is back, right? Ono’s here with the program. What do you need me for?”

“Ono’s dead. Or somebody fitting his description altogether too well.”

“WHAT? Where? How? I just saw him two days ago.”

“Downtown, last night. Bizarre circumstances. I’d like you to look into it. How soon can we meet?”

“Right now. Or as soon as I shower and change.”

“I’ll be there before you’re dry,” Celeste said and hung up. One way or another, she thought, I’ll find out what he knows.

As DT put the phone down he noticed a piece of note paper taped to his laptop screen, which sat on the table next to the couch.

“David – Gone fishing. I’ll call.

“Lily.”

Fishing? DT thought. What the hell does that mean?

LILY SLID INTO THE elevator just as the doors swooshed close. Arrowhead stood nervously in front of the control panel, staring at the numbers. When he reached forward to punch a button on the control panel, Lily noticed a price tag hanging from the armpit of his shirt.

They rode in silence to the Sky Lobby, switched elevators to the main lobby and switched again to the garage. Lily got out on the first parking level and drove the Explorer to the exit gate. She saw Arrowhead’s white rental Taurus three cars back.

She pulled onto Sixth and idled in the curb lane until Arrowhead drove past. He hopped on I-5 southbound and turned east on I-90. Lily followed as Arrowhead crossed Lake Washington and Mercer Island, then headed north. He drove through Bellevue and exited onto Highway 520 west.

He’s going in circles, Lily thought. He doesn’t know where he’s heading.

Arrowhead was slightly lost, but he wasn’t going in circles. He was looking for Medina. He had learned through his telephone and e-mail taps that Bill Gates was hiding out in the mansion. If Ono didn’t have the program, Arrowhead figured Gates was the only other option.

Arrowhead’s desperation had left two dead men in its trail. He would never persuade anybody their deaths were unintended. He was in this up to his wire-rims and getting the program was the only way out. Gates for some reason had not turned it over to his staff yet. He must have it hidden, Arrowhead thought.

He didn’t know what he was going to do when he got there, but he was heading for Gates’ house.

With Lily on his tail.

 

 

 

Part 47: A Proposal

KAY CELESTE CAME IN through the back door of the Deep Woods. There was no sign of DT on the ground floor. She heard running water above and took the back stairs.

The water stopped just as she reached the top. She called out DT’s name and heard what sounded like a muffled “Right out” in response. A minute later DT emerged from a hallway. He had a towel around his waist and what looked like a woman’s silk robe hanging from his shoulders.

“Excuse the get-up,” he said. “All my stuff is downstairs. As soon as I get dressed we can get on this Ono thing.

“How have you been?” he asked, extending his right hand to shake.

Celeste took his hand and held it.

“You live down there? In the coffee shop?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“I assumed you and what’s-her-name lived together.”

“Yeah, well, you know, we, Lily, her name’s Lily, we never . . . ”

“Why not?” Celeste asked.

“I don’t know. It was just, uh, I guess it was never convenient.”

He pulled his hand back. Celeste tightened her hold.

“Is this convenient?” she asked, pulling him closer.

“Actually, no, Kay. We’ve got things to do.”

“My feelings precisely,” she said. “We should get started.”

She grasped the robe’s lapels. “This doesn’t fit. Let’s get rid of it.”

They were face to face, an inch apart. DT’s face warmed; his ears reddened. He held on to the robe.

“We could do amazing things. We would never want for anything,” Celeste said.

“I don’t. I can’t,” DT sputtered.

“You won’t have to. I’ll take care of everything,” she oozed. “I’ve got a deal worked out with Netscape for Ono’s program. It’s just sitting there waiting for the signatures. After that . . . ”

DT pulled back abruptly.

“Ono’s program? What deal? You can’t have a deal until you have the program. And you don’t have the program.”

“Not yet,” she said. “But how would you know that, unless . . ?

“Listen, Mr. Jones, Ono is out of the picture, Gates is a non-factor. If you’re looking to deal, I’m the one to deal with. If you’re looking for something else, I can help there, too. But first, I need to know what you know and what you intend to do.”

She had finally let go of the robe and began smoothing the wrinkled silk, moving her hands from the lapels out over DT’s chest. She shook her head.

“Who would have suspected,” she said, more to herself than to DT. “I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Don’t be,” DT said.

“Gates is having a working dinner party at his house tomorrow evening. He intends to announce how he will proceed on the avatar software. The party starts at 8. You’re invited. You have until then to decide what you’re going to do. If you have the program or access to it, I guarantee you’ll never get it published without me. Call.”

JULIAN ARROWHEAD DROVE UP and down

Evergreen Point Road

in Medina three times before he figured out where to turn to Gates’ house. It shouldn’t have been that tough. All you had to do, Lily thought, was look at the signs advertising the construction schedule and follow the truck tracks. She parked on Evergreen and began walking down the hill toward the lake.

Gates’ house wasn’t visible for most of the way down. But when it did come into view – after a pair of hairpin turns and some very irritated neighbors – the breadth of the construction was breathtaking. It looked more like a resort hotel in the Cascades than a house.

Lily stood in a small grove of trees above the site. She didn’t see Arrowhead but sighted his sedan tucked among construction vehicles south of the house. She decided to circle north and come at the house from the water side. She cut through the ragged brush, half sliding down the bank where it steepened. When she reached the water, she took off her Birkenstocks and, holding them in one hand, crept slowly toward the house. The water was about as warm as melted snow ever got in the Northwest.

Lily came up under the private dock extending into the lake. Gates’ bright red cigarette boat – the one Yugi had recorded – was tied up next to a 40-foot Bayliner. She ducked under the dock and hid in the shadow of the big boat. From there she studied the house for signs of life.

Normally, the place boiled with activity, bodies crawling over it like a Third World mining operation. Today it was still. No workers. Not a hint of life.

But something was going on. Finally, Lily caught a glimpse of movement through a high window in the peak of the south wing’s gable. There it was again – a figure flashing by, vertically, passing the window bottom to top, then top to bottom.

What the hell? Lily thought. She waded ashore and inched closer to the house. Finally, lying under the tarp cover of a cement mixer, she realized what it was – Gates on his trampoline. The house had a built-in trampoline pit where Bill could bounce to his heart’s desire.

She grinned.

So cute, she thought.

Then she felt a sudden prod of metal on the back of her neck.

“Miss Tomfool, isn’t it?” whispered a male voice Lily didn’t recognize. She didn’t have to. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the price tag dangling from the gunman’s armpit.

 

 

 

Part 48: The Final Chapter

FACE DOWN ON A TATAMI MAT, bloodied by an aikido master, Bill Gates had his first inkling of The Way: harmony in all things, winning through cooperation. He had gone to Japan looking for a business deal and come home with a vision. That’s when the trouble started. Before, Gates was merely missing, one step ahead of Double Tall Jones and Lily Tomfool as they tracked him to Tokyo and back. Home again, he seems, well, disturbed – driving a VW microbus, donating to strange causes, and vowing to give away the world’s most powerful software, once he gets his hands on the code.

He is not the only one trying. Microsoft’s Kay Celeste, beautiful, ambitious and unmoved by her boss’s vision, wants to get there first. So does her double-crossing partner, Julian Arrowhead, ex-CIA spook and master of the poison dart. Two men are dead already, Lily has trailed Arrowhead to the nearly completed Gates mansion on Lake Washington, and DT is, as usual, puzzled. Only Gates, in retreat in his cyber-palace, knows his next step. In 24 hours he will reveal it to guests at a lavishly catered dinner.

——————————————————————

“DON’T BUDGE UNTIL I SAY SO,” Arrowhead said. Lily tensed against the steel nudging her neck. The gun shook. Arrowhead’s voice creaked like a rusty weather vane in a swirling breeze.

He’s scared, Lily thought. Good, so am I.

“I want you to get up slowly, turn to your right and walk.”

They tramped through construction debris to the south end of the Gates mansion.

“In here,” Arrowhead said, “the garage.”

Garage? Lily thought. It looks like an airplane hangar. A lone VW micro-bus sat forlornly inside.

“Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Arrowhead said. “Imagine having so much money you could waste it like this.”

“Imagine being so stupid you would kill to get it,” Lily replied.

“What are you talking about?”

Lily faced him. Arrowhead’s bald head glistened. Rivers rolled down his forehead; tributaries trickled from his nose. His wire-rims fogged. His new white shirt was soaked.

“It’s hard to imagine you having the nerve,” Lily said bitterly, “but I know you killed Yugi Futamura. Probably Akinori Ono, too. ”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes I do. There’s a witness.”

Arrowhead blanched. “Shut up and walk,” he said.

They went through a door and up two floors to a long hall. Computer-controlled lights brightened automatically as they walked, then dimmed as they passed. The whole house was a computer. It could be programmed with individual preferences for art, music, light, temperature and air movement. When a person entered a room everything would adjust automatically.

Arrowhead opened a door and motioned Lily inside. The pitch-dark room brightened instantly. The walls of the windowless, bare room were covered with thin white screens that flickered with dim light. The door closed and locked behind her; Arrowhead’s footsteps moved down the hall.

Arrowhead had come to the house looking for the Internet search software Gates was supposed to receive from Ono, the Japanese software developer who somehow ended up dead in the arms of the Hammering Man statue. With alarm codes from Kay Celeste, Arrowhead had broken into the Medina mansion, taken over the security system and holed up in the control room. Otherwise, Gates was alone, mourning the death of Akinori Ono. Arrowhead watched on surveillance cameras as the billionaire bounced on the trampoline for hours, murmuring over and over: “No free lunch.”

Arrowhead combed the house’s computer systems for signs of the avatar software, which would let users create virtual agents to roam the Internet at light speed on their behalf. He wouldn’t leave until he got it, with or without Celeste’s help. It had dawned on him that theirs was an unequal partnership. She gave orders. He did the work. Like being married, he thought.

Arrowhead had locked Lily in a media room. Its walls displayed a constantly changing selection of art, from Caravaggio to Mapplethorpe. The display had been programmed by somebody with the attention span of a journalist. Just about the time Lily was beginning to enjoy a piece, it disappeared. It changed every two minutes and seemed to be speeding up.

A sound system played nonstop Kenny G. By midnight, Lily had seen a thousand fat Rubens Dutchmen and heard the entire Kenny G songbook. Finally, a sharp screech of Stratocaster. Thank God, Lily muttered. Then she grimaced. It was Courtney Love. Please, she begged, bring back the saxophone. John Tesh, even. No such luck. She spent the night with Hole and four walls of Warhol’s finest soup cans.

DT LEARNED NOTHING FROM the news reports of Ono’s death at the hands of Hammering Man. The presumption that it was an accident made no sense. Ono might climb the statue to prove some esoteric point, but DT couldn’t imagine the agile aikido master being struck by the clunky arm. Something more sinister was at work, and the most sinister thing DT had seen lately was the look of naked ambition on Kay Celeste’s face. DT shivered. He didn’t know how, but Celeste had somehow killed Ono.

DT rode his mountain bike from Queen Anne to SAM. The killing had put Hammering Man on the summer tourist map. Dozens of people milled around the statue, pointing, jabbering, making bad jokes. DT dodged the gawkers as he coasted down the hill. He swerved to avoid a wandering taxi. The bike broke loose, skidded and toppled, throwing DT into a sixth-grade class from Pocatello, Idaho. He cursed, then apologized. The kids stared in traumatized silence, fervid little minds already shaping the story for retelling in the potato fields back home.

The Trek had a flat front tire. DT found a double-pronged dart in it the size of an automobile fuse. He walked the bike home. Something about the dart seemed familiar. He hit the Web. Late that night, on the site for the Large Animal Veterinarians Association, he found a manual for the LAVA-X1 Tranquilizing Device – a high-velocity dart gun vets used to subdue cattle and horses.

It hit him. “Yugi,” he whispered. The double points of the dart were an exact match for the “bites” on Yugi’s neck. Arrowhead! DT thought. The dart proved the old spook was at the museum with Ono.

DT worried about Lily. She had planned to open the Deep Woods, to put things back on track. DT checked the coffee bar and found just two cups in the sink and a morning’s worth of espresso beans ground and unused.

Gone fishing, her note said. For what? DT wondered.

He called Detective John Chillworth.

“You guys do an autopsy on the Hammering Man corpse?” he asked.

“Who needs an autopsy? The guy’s skull was cracked open. Why?” Chillworth said.

DT ignored the question.

“Did you ever pick up Arrowhead?” he asked.

“You’re gonna have to shift gears a little slower there, Jones. It’s late. I’m tired. I need a new job. Now back up. Why an autopsy?”

“I might have found something,” DT said. “I think I know the corpse’s identity and who killed him.”

“Isn’t that swell? Is this another friend of yours and Tomfool’s, who, we discover, has been out playing detective, too? Arrowhead has an office. It’s empty. People down the hall said he was in this morning. They also mentioned somebody – probably Tomfool – was hanging around. What are you people up to?”

“Lily was there? Are you sure?”

“Yes. Now quit dancing around, Jones.”

“Arrowhead was at the scene last night when Ono was killed and I think Lily is chasing him.”

“When who was killed?”

DT hung up on Chillworth and dialed the Microsoft Network. His computer crashed, citing a General Protection Fault error, the Catch-22 of computer errors – an ineffable presence no one could define or defy. He rebooted and logged on again as smoothly as a Griffey catch. Computers, he sighed.

He e-mailed Kay Celeste, telling her he had a change of heart. He would love to discuss plans at Gates’ place tomorrow.

Late that night, Chillworth got a call at the West Precinct.

A woman’s voice, thick and cottony, as though it came from beneath a quilt, said:

“The Hammering Man murderer will be making a house call at 8 o’clock tomorrow night. A Big House call – the Gates mansion. You ought to come.”

“Murderer? Who says that was a murder? Who’s this?”

“Just be there. You might learn something.”

Celeste hung up, thinking: So much for Mr. Arrowhead. She smiled and slept the conscienceless sleep of a woman in love with herself.

DT COULDN’T SLEEP. HE PACED the Deep Woods, worried about Lily. By the time he nodded off, the sky was light. It was noon when he finally dragged himself exhausted from the couch.

Celeste’s e-mail reply arrived. It purred with satisfaction. There would be ample opportunity to get away during the dinner for a private conversation. She would arrange a meeting with Gates and her security consultant, Julian Arrowhead, if DT wanted it.

Good, DT thought. If Arrowhead is there, Lily can’t be far away. He called Haywood Watts at his studio. Watts went ballistic when DT told him Lily was missing.

“If anything happens to her, I’m holding you responsible,” he shouted.

“Haywood, cool off,” DT said. “I care as much about her as you do. More.” He paused. It’s true, he thought. I do. DT needed Haywood’s help. He wanted the imposing ex-athlete to come to the meeting with him. As a bodyguard.

DT had decided to give the avatar program Ono had entrusted to him to Gates. That was the deal Ono cut. DT would honor it. But he didn’t trust Celeste. He would give it to Gates personally, but only after ensuring Lily’s safety. Haywood was the ensurer.

“DT, is that what you think of me? I have a degree. In hermeneutics. What’s yours? Geoduck digging? I own my own company. And you want me to be a bodyguard? It’s demeaning. `Da brudda dere, he’s my muscle.’ ”

“It’s a show of strength, Woody.”

Haywood grumbled. “OK, but don’t call me Woody, all right? People will think I’m that guy who can’t jump.”

“You can’t,” DT said. “Remember?”

BY THE TIME ARROWHEAD returned, Lily was in brain melt, blinded by art, deafened by Love. The music stopped when the door unlocked.

“You look horrible,” Arrowhead said.

“Thanks. Kidnap, torture, now insults.”

“What torture?”

“Close the door and find out.”

Arrowhead did. The art-whirl and riot-grrl bombardment resumed. He immediately reopened the door.

“I guess I have a few adjustments to make in the control parameters,” he said.

“Look,” Lily said. “If you’re going to kill me, get it over with. I can’t take another day of this.”

“I’m not going to kill anyone. As soon as I get the Ono code, you can go. Until then, you’re my insurance. C’mon, I’ll move you to another room.”

He took Lily down the corridor.

“The nursery,” he said. “For when the baby moves in.”

Lily entered a bright pink room. Sun streamed in through barred windows. The electronic walls were mercifully blank.

“The computer on the baby’s desk is on a LAN line. E-mail the system administrator – that’s me – if you need anything. If your boyfriend cooperates, you’ll be out of here tonight.”

As soon as he left, the walls came alive with a Win 95 flying logo screensaver; Raffi wheedled through the speakers.

CHILLWORTH DECIDED A WATER approach was the only way to get close to Gates’ place without arousing suspicion. He considered swimming. Contemplating the life expectancy of an out-of-shape middle-aged gumshoe in snow-melt waters, he looked out on Lake Union and saw his answer: a kayak. Low profile, soundless. After dark, he could take it right up to Gates’ dock.

Chillworth had never been in a kayak. But as a native Northwesterner, he felt endowed with all outdoor abilities. He sat unsteadily in a rental boat and moved into the lake. Within five strokes of the paddle he was gliding. Within 30, he dumped himself into the diesel-black waters.

He spent the next two hours in the Montlake Cut, laying his clothes out on the bow to dry. By the time he got through the cut, it was early evening, about 6. He paddled like hell.

On the east shore of Lake Washington, Gates’ house hummed with party preparations. Caterers and waitstaff primped. A string quartet tuned. A truckful of fresh-cut flowers was put out. Arrowhead greeted Celeste cooly when she arrived.

“What’s your problem?” she said. “Today’s the big score.”

“We need to talk about finances first,” Arrowhead said. “I’ve assumed all the risk, done the dirty work in this deal. Our business relationship should reflect that.”

“This is my deal, Julian. But I promise – ” she put a hand on Arrowhead’s cheek ” – you’ll be taken care of.”

And I can hardly wait, she thought. As soon as she had the code, Arrowhead was history.

Celeste turned her attention to dinner arrangements. Gates stayed closeted in his wing. Arrowhead headed back to the control room.

Out on the 520 bridge, DT and Haywood sat still as stumps. DT had stared open-mouthed when Haywood picked him up in a huge black Mercedes SEL rental.

“You wanted to make an impression,” Haywood said.

“Yeah, but I didn’t know we were going to the Oscar ceremony.”

DT wore the suit he had worn to Boeing the day he interviewed for his programming job. It was 12 years old, a blue, double-breasted, pin-striped tent with lapels that reached his shoulders. Haywood wore record-executive Armani, dove-gray gabardine tailored to perfection. His black loafers shone like an oil slick. He looked like old money would look if it knew how.

The bridge traffic puttered and paused and finally cleared. Haywood slid onto

84th Avenue Northeast

, headed to a place with money so old it was moldy – Medina.

A VALET PARKED THE Mercedes. DT and Haywood were escorted into the mansion’s ballroom. The crowd was one of those mixes high-tech riches have wrought – Hawaiian shirts and Birkenstocks, Versace sheaths and Ferragamo heels.

Celeste sidled up, hooking her arm inside DT’s.

“David,” she said silkily. “You didn’t mention you were bringing a date.”

“Kay, meet my associate, Haywood Watts. Haywood is an expert at negotiation.”

“I’m certain Mr. Watts is expert at everything he does,” Celeste said, staring at him. “I look forward to doing business together. You two sit still. I’ll find Bill.”

Waiters buzzed the room with sushi trays and satay skewers, brut de noir and Leonetti Reserve. DT and Haywood hung on the fringes. Even so, they stood out, the tall, thin blond in the bad suit and the beautiful black man in the best. Julian Arrowhead zoomed in on them from the darkness of the control room. No sooner had he found them than Celeste returned with Gates in tow. Gates was amazed to have Haywood in his house.

“This is so cool,” Gates said. “You’re the Haywood Watts, the point guard? I was a huge fan. Too bad about the knee.”

“Thanks. It was a blessing in disguise. Launched me in new directions.”

Gates turned to DT.

“And you’re the famous Double Tall Jones. Kay insists I meet with you. Tell me why I should?”

“I have Akinori Ono’s software. And I’m prepared to give it to you, as Mr. Ono wished.”

Gates’ face fell.

“It’s a horrible thing,” he said. “Ono-san was a powerful life force. I feel responsible for his death. It has caused me to reconsider many things. I’m happy to learn his bequest is in honorable hands. We’ll talk later. I’ll get this thing rolling.”

The guests were called to dinner and Gates went right to work.

“I thank you for your forbearance as I have gone on my great adventure. I have been changed much in the course of my travels. I have discovered great joy and greater sorrow. It has been a sobering experience, and I realize now I neglected my responsibilities.

“I regret the financial pain I have caused. But I have arrived at a new beginning. I am returning to basic principles, including this: Nothing worth having in life is inexpensive. My attempt to give away our revolutionary new Microsoft Agent was a huge error. It will not be repeated. We will have the Agent to market within the month. I have a family to support now, so you can be assured the price will reflect Agent’s value. It won’t be cheap, but it’ll be worth it. It’s our responsibility not to seek social change through charity, but to create wealth. Many of you have shared in this creation. I vow there’s more where that came from.”

The crowd erupted in a huge carnivorous roar. You could almost feel the NASDAQ surge.

DT was stunned. What was Gates doing? Ono hadn’t agreed to sell the program. Kay Celeste was shocked, as well. She strode to DT’s table and led the way out of the dining hall to Arrowhead’s control room.

She turned to DT.

“We can’t let Gates interfere with our plans,” she said. “We’ll follow through on Ono’s desires. But I need the program now.”

“I don’t believe you,” DT said. “You’d make us pay for air if you owned it.”

The control room started to grow warmer. A low background of New Age piano began to seep in from the ballroom. It built in volume. The lights brightened. The music changed to John Williams’ Jedi theme. The volume was ear-splitting. DT heard shrieks from the ballroom. The video monitors showed it in chaos. The music grew louder. Arrowhead stared wild-eyed at the control panels. He waved his arms. DT saw his lips move but couldn’t make out what he said.

Haywood heard it. He grabbed Arrowhead’s right wrist and squeezed. Arrowhead stopped talking.

“Where is she?” Haywood shouted. “I’ll break it. First the wrist, then the rest of you.”

John Williams was on the verge of blowing up the Death Star. An overhead light exploded. Then another, showering the ballroom with hot glass. DT grabbed Celeste roughly and pushed her out the door. Haywood followed with Arrowhead. The ballroom was pandemonium. The lights grew brighter, the heat hotter. Guests ran screaming from the house. Small fires broke out around the room. Gates disappeared. The house seemed on the verge of imploding.

DT led the group out to the dock.

“I’ll give you Tomfool for the code,” Arrowhead said. Haywood tightened his grip. Bones crackled like cellophane. Arrowhead screamed.

“You can do what you want to me,” he said. “It won’t help her. She’s in the house, and I don’t care if she dies.”

“Where?” DT shouted. “You can have what you want. Where’s Lily?”

“The code first,” Arrowhead said.

Haywood reached into his jacket and withdrew an envelope.

“The disks are here.”

“She’s in the south wing, second floor, last room on the right.”

Haywood and DT sprinted for the house. Arrowhead collapsed on the dock. Celeste grinned.

“Excellent work, Julian. Let’s get out of here.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I have this,” he raised the envelope. “And I got it on my own.”

“Are you crazy? I know you killed Futamura and Ono. Cut me out, I’ll turn you in.”

“Maybe,” Arrowhead said, “I killed the wrong people.”

“Whenever you kill, it’s the wrong people,” said a voice behind them. “Freeze. Police. You’re under arrest.”

A soggy John Chillworth emerged from the darkness, squishing.

DT and Haywood raced through the house. The music stopped. The lights went out. In the dark, they couldn’t tell one wing from another, much less one room. They banged doors open and shut.

They finally found the nursery. The door was open; the room empty. They ran back to the ballroom.

There, at the head table, fork in hand, sat Lily.

“You know,” she said. “This isn’t a bad souffle. But nothing like yours, David. Do you suppose we could go home for dinner? I haven’t eaten in days.”

EPILOGUE

IN THE END, THE PROBLEMS with the Gates mansion were traced to a line of bad programming code. The upgrade worked fine.

Bill Gates himself went back to doing what he did best: making money and enemies. He never again tried to give anything away. He was forgiven his midlife crisis.

Julian Arrowhead and Kay Celeste received reduced sentences. The jury believed Arrowhead’s account of Yugi’s and Ono’s deaths as accidents. Arrowhead and Celeste eventually made their millions, not in computers, but with a dual biography called “He Did It; She Made Me.” They became regulars on the talk-show circuit.

Haywood Watts’ band, the Fishboys, went platinum with “I Heard the Noise,” a concept album about the night of Lily’s rescue.

John Chillworth retired from the police force with a torn rotator cuff and started a disco club on First Hill. The Stranger called it the hottest club since Kid Mohair.

Double Tall Jones published Ono’s search program as shareware on the Net. The program, renamed Free Agent, did everything Gates had hoped. In fact, it worked too well. It took in too much. Thirteen million copies were downloaded in a week. Soon there were so many intelligent search agents roaming and learning that they froze the entire Internet.

Economists cited it as a textbook case of a phenomenon called the tragedy of the commons. One copy of the program worked wonderfully. But when too many people had it, the system collapsed. Overgrazing, it was called.

The Internet remained frozen until Albert Drew, president of the Bill Gates Fan Club, untangled it. Albert emerged a folk hero with his own fan club and billion-dollar IPO.

Lily Tomfool and DT read about Albert while picnicking on the sandy bank of a cool stream in the North Cascades. Lily dangled her feet in the water. DT returned from the car with his computer bag.

“Aw, DT, not today,” Lily said.

“Not today what?” DT asked.

“No computers. Please.”

DT reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of Dom Perignon. He knelt behind her and rubbed the chilled glass across her neck. He traced the bottle’s path with kisses.

“So,” he said, “does this mean you don’t want any?”

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