The Amazing Adventures
of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Eleven: Chicago
Oldsen. People who didn't understand anything about what he did called him a hacker.
In another time, they would have called him a wizard. They'd be right and wrong
either way, and still wouldn't have a clue.
He'd grown up with computers. The
heretofore-alien concept was perfectly natural to some members of his generation, so they had no
misguided preconceptions to get in their way. Language is so much easier to learn as a
child. They left the grups behind and didn't bother to tell them.
Jimmie's playgrounds were not of the
mundane world of his parents, but spanned a universe still aborning. His fields of dreams
were electronic imaginations populated by hideous mutants from terrifying dimensions and littered with the blasted
corpses of Space Marines. His unseen playmates bore strange names and had stranger
visions. His childhood quests and expeditions led through uncharted mazes deep in the
bowels of secret sites that futiley dared to keep him out.
High school was disposed of early, as an
afterthought, a distraction. Already, he had accomplished the kinds of things that were
analogous in stature to those feats of other young men who became professional athletes,
rock stars or drug dealers — and was even more lucrative, if not as well remarked.
His proud parents, both of them successful (and busy) professionals who indulged his expensive
hobby, were horrified to learn that he had no intention of attending college. He could not
make them understand that such a course was beneath him, so he won the argument by buying
them a house they would otherwise never have dreamed of. With cash.
For himself, he bought
a building. Created
something new and incomprehensible that kept a lot of people busy for some reason. His IPO
went through the roof, part of a Wall Street surge that had investors scrambling for
technology stocks as if they were magic beans. Within months, the professional managers
he'd hired to front the company had staged a successful coup, forcing him out with only his stock options
to console him. Which he converted to something that at least had a half-life. Perfect.
Now, he was wealthy, unencumbered and
Free to indulge his every whim, he scoured
the web, looking for a greater challenge. If he'd been as wise as he was smart, he
might have had the uneasy premonition that, like Alexander the Great before him, there
were no new worlds to conquer. Boredom loomed.
Until he began to hear of the flying girl
in Houston. The stories had an element of legend about them, and were individually as
believable as the latest reports from Roswell. They were not sensible, but they made
sense. He suspected and then confirmed a pattern that wouldn't
be obvious to the less driven. Intrigued, he devoted his full
resources to his investigations.
In the end, he knew what she was. He had
to meet her.
He left for Houston the next morning.
had finally had enough of Robbins' intransigence and flew to Chicago to confront
Wayans personally. She was slightly surprised that she was able to get an appointment so easily.
She had gotten the very clear message from her New York office that Perry, Dyess, Eyelandt
considered her persona non grata, and they received their marching orders from their
Wayans Manor was the kind of house the
Munsters would have lived in if they'd been zillionaires. It looked like a period
piece from the Guilded Age before the turn of the last century, but it was so new it smelled of
fresh construction. Age had been applied like makeup — all reproductions,
from the carefully 'distressed' faux antiques out of bogus New England tourist
traps, to the dark walnut paneling with its precisely manufactured weathering.
It was laid out in grand scale, fit for
massive entertainments with an ornate ballroom, banquet kitchens
and plenty of discreet parking. It was
meant to impress the hosts of visitors to its museum-like public areas. It was jingoistic
in the ostentatious display of its overt Americana vulgaris ubertheme. It was a forceful
statement of older, more solid values that were imagined of other, better times. It was
Dinah was escorted from the noisy, busy
front to the private recesses deep in the mazelike bowels of the edifice by
Wayans' aging personal butler, Albert. Their path led steadily downward through a series of
passages that came to resemble tunnels. A final elevator ride brought them to a dark
anteroom that must be far beneath the lavish grounds of the estate. Robbins was waiting
He looked too young to be anybody's
boss, but compensated for his youthful appearance with intensity. He made snap decisions
with authority and decisiveness, and did not suffer fools lightly. He had the reputation,
carefully nurtured, of a butt-kicking wunderkind with infallible instincts. He was the
power behind Wayans' would-be throne, the overseer, the bad cop.
He wasted little time. "I am hurt,
Ms. Prinze, that you should find my judgement to be so inadequate that you would bother
Mr. Wayans with this. If you wish to seek other employment, I can personally arrange to
terminate your contract."
Dinah treated him to her best withering
glare. "You know how I feel about this. There is nothing more to discuss between us
on this subject. It's not just a personal squabble between you and me."
"I don't appreciate your going
over my head on this. I do not have the time to deal with your insubordination, and
certainly Mr. Wayans…"
"…Always has time for you,
Dinah," came the deep, resonant voice of the tall, powerful black man who suddenly
appeared in the doorway to the inner sanctum. He beckoned them in, warmly embracing Dinah.
"I have heard so many good things about you. I'm so glad we can finally
In the art of politics, it is said that
sincerity is everything. Once you can fake that, the rest is easy.
His office was astonishingly big. A
massive desk dominated one end, with only a few chairs and minimal furniture to clutter
the acreage. The lighting was so subdued as to be nearly absent, with a pool of soft light
around the desk and everything else shrouded in shadows. Despite the cave-like atmosphere,
the room bespoke calm power, as if it were the center of some universe of its own.
Sinking deep into his high-backed dark
leather chair, Wayans seemed almost to disappear into the gloom, reinforcing the effect
his penetrating eyes would have on visitors. Robbins paced the carpet beside him while
Dinah took the proffered seat on the other side of the desk.
"I hear you are unhappy, Dinah,"
Wayans began, "I hope there's something I can do to keep you on our side. We
"You've seen my report,"
launched Robbins preemptively.
Wayans dismissed him with a wave, "Of
course. But I want to hear from our guest."
"If you've seen the
report, then you know what I have to say. There's not enough evidence to proceed and
doing so would waste our resources and hurt a lot of little people. The only reason to
pursue this any further is for publicity." She looked at him earnestly, "And I
can't believe you'd do that."
Robbins countered impatiently,
"I've reviewed the same material you have, and it's obvious to me
there's a solid basis for a strong case. I can't understand why you want to look
the other way when there is a clear connection between the Chinese government and Iraqi
chemical weapons under our very noses." He practically insinuated that opposition to
his decision was treasonous.
undeterred. "Your conclusions are based on your
own interpretations of what we know, and a lot of wishful thinking."
"If we can apply enough pressure, we
can make things happen."
"Why are you so desperate to make
something out of this that it's not?"
"How can you say it's not?"
Robbins countered hotly.
thoughtfully, "Our capable beauty here has a rare gift, do you not?"
Dinah squirmed under the flattering tone.
"I am certain that I have uncovered the truth of this matter."
"That's it, exactly."
Wayans nodded, "And I have heard so many stories of your prowess in getting the
truth. It's very important to you — to know the truth — isn't
Robbins said contemptuously, "So your
version of the 'truth' is more important than 'justice'?"
"How can you have one without the
"Please," said Wayans
diplomatically, "It doesn't look like we're going to resolve the issue like
He paused a while, then looked directly at Dinah. "I think you know that this is an
important part of our overall strategy. It will make a point that needs to be made and
draw attention to the very real problems we face in reclaiming the values that made our
nation the greatest in history.
"I cannot emphasize to you enough
your value to this whole endeavor. But I will not ask you to pursue this if you do not
think it is right. We cannot reclaim our values by abusing them. And I will not assign a
new team to pursue this any further."
disbelievingly at Wayans and exclaimed,
Wayans held up his hand. "Dinah must
make this decision, and bear the consequences of it."
"Well, if she walks out on this,"
spat Robbins, "then she walks out. Period."
Dinah reached for her purse. "I
brought my letter of resignation with me."
Wayans shook his head. "That
won't be necessary. There is still much work to be done."
Robbins looked at
incredulously. "You can't be serious."
"She can be of great assistance right
here. Dinah, I'd like you to move to Chicago. I want you to be my truth
detector." He turned his head to look at Robbins, who stood with his mouth open,
looking like he had been slapped.
Dinah was confused. This was completely
unexpected. "I don't know what to say. I mean, I can't. I have to stay in
Houston. There's…" she trailed off, mind racing.
"There's that boyfriend of
yours," Robbins finished for her, practically hissing. "What's his name?
Alex? Or is it Brainiac?"
Dinah looked at him, flabbergasted.
"That's my business."
"Oh, really? Then I wonder why the
KGB is so interested in a musician who just happens to be your boyfriend?"
"KGB? What KGB? That's
ridiculous. Where are you getting this crap? There's no more Soviet Union. That whole
threat is over."
"Like the Chinese
"Just what the hell are you
"Oh, nothing. Yet. But you've
changed, and I don't like it. You can't be trusted anymore."
sharply, "That's enough!"
Dinah stood up, flinging the resignation
across the desk. Wayans shook his head sadly, picked it up and glanced at it briefly, then
said, "I'm so sorry to have to accept this. Please, take your time closing out
the Houston operation. Count on me for my highest recommendation."
He reached in a drawer and pulled out an
envelope, handing it to her. "You'll need this. Severance. Go ahead, it's
in your contract."
He was waiting
for me to quit, Dinah thought
numbly to herself. She felt manipulated somehow.
She let herself
out. Albert was waiting to escort back to the real world.
When the door closed, the two men looked
at each other.
"How'd I do?" asked
"Splendidly, as usual."
"You weren't so bad
small, lone figure sat on a curb in a little circle of relative brightness under a
streetlight in the middle of nearly deserted downtown Houston. People only
worked in the
tall buildings surrounding her — nobody lived here. When the day was done, everybody went
home to the suburbs.
When it was late enough, life returned in
the form of black-clad groups flitting across the sidewalks and intersections like dark
spirits. Some of the Urban Animals — as many called themselves
— sported emblems
on their shirts, but there was little uniformity. There were long, dangling wallet chains
on most, body-piercing jewelry on a few. Their common dress was 'tude, which was
evident in abundance.
A sizeable number of these nocturnal
denizens converged swiftly on the solitary figure of a girl. She knew they were coming. She was
expecting them, but tried not to show it, sitting forlornly at
the edge of the sidewalk in a puddle of streetlight, feet in the
gutter, head bowed in thought — a huddled figure in the
hot, muggy, mosquito-laden night.
Soon enough, she was surrounded. They
halted just outside the circle of light, forming their own circle. She didn't look
up. An air of anticipation was beginning to build. One of their group, who might be a
leader — if such existed for them — swaggered up to the girl and stood over her,
looking down at the top of her golden-tressed head.
"Hey," he called to her.
She looked up, not appearing to be
"I got somethin' for ya,"
he proclaimed. The others tittered appreciatively.
"I'll bet you do," she
"You're gonna like it,
"You think so?" It sounded like
He sneered, "I know so."
There was an unzipping sound. She looked
around at the others. They were closing in, not wanting to miss anything. She didn't
appear to be very concerned. Then she turned back to see just what it was he had for her.
Her eyes widened in sudden appreciation.
"Oh my goodness! It's huge…"
One of the onlookers spoke up, "No
shit." The others laughed their agreement.
He smiled ferally, thrusting his offering
in her face. "And it's all for you."
"Oh, yes," she gasped.
"You want it?"
"I want it. I want it all." She
reached out to take it with both hands. She could barely handle it. It was so hot. And so
"Go ahead, put it in your
mouth," he commanded.
She attacked it with relish, stuffing as
much of it past her wide-open lips as she could. The gallery oohed their approval.
As it started to slide down her throat,
she closed her eyes, lost in rapture.
"Whattaya say?" he demanded.
"Iffle goosh margleb," she
sputtered, her mouth full to capacity.
"Now — finish it."
Every eye was on her as she came to a
swift completion, obviously disappointed that there wasn't even more. She used her
fingers to scrape up every last bit from her chin, not wanting to miss the slightest
Finally, she opened her eyes and sighed,
"That was soooo good…"
"The best you ever had?"
"The best," she agreed.
"Only what?" he wanted to know.
She hesitated a second, then said,
"It could have been better."
The small crowd's collective eyebrows
shot up. Better…?
"Better…?" he asked.
"How could it be any better?"
"Well…" she replied,
"Oh, man — I can't believe
they left out the anchovies. I told them 'all the way'. I oughta go get my money
"That's OK. It'll just be
that much better next time. Really, even without the anchovies, it was awesome.
"Well, I'm glad you liked it. I
just can't believe you could eat the whole thing that fast. Nobody can eat a
Supersize by themselves, I don't care how big they are. Don't they feed you at
The legend of Sara's appetite remained unchallenged among the Urban
Animals. How such a thin little girl could pack so much food away was a constant source of
amazement to her friends. Every week brought a different attempt by someone to find
something she couldn't handle, to no avail. Defeated, he bent over to pick up the
insulated pizza carrier, carefully zipping it closed before strapping it to his
bicycle's book carrier.
— and bets settled — the group began its midsummer night's ritual, gliding through the complex landscape of ramps,
curbs, steps, handrails, loading docks, walls, architectural excesses, construction
debris, sleeping winos, benches, barriers, alleys, grand entrances, parking garages,
monumental art, and all the myriad ways they could find to break every bone in their young
bodies, hurtling recklessly at every challenge on skates, inlines, boards and bikes. It
was X-treme sport, and they wore their injuries with pride.
Sara was, of course, rather good at it,
but didn't flaunt her abilities too much, though occasionally showing off in a sly
way that the others couldn't be sure was actually impossible. She was there for the
sense of casual belonging, the same as the rest of them. She was just slightly the odd
duck, but was welcomed nevertheless.
Her stunning appearance at first drew more than her
share of attention, but when one snotnosed buck grew a tad too obnoxious, he found himself
almost instantly deposited in a very high, terrifyingly precarious place. It took firemen
and city workers more than four hours to retrieve him — soiled shorts and all
— and rumor had it that he had thereafter hung up his skates for good. Nobody admitted to
knowing exactly what happened, but nobody gave her any reason to do such a thing again,
Sometimes they would encounter other,
larger groups, mostly 30-ish professional types who took to the streets as a social
expression, a healthy alternative to the bar scene for meeting other singles. Riff-raff
(mostly understood to mean workers and peasants) were ignored until they went away, along
with the terminally uncoordinated, geeks, psychotic mass murderers, the brain dead, Bible
bangers, ersatz rednecks, pseudo intellectuals, politicians and uniformed trekkies.
Many groups had regular crawls, sometimes
numbering in the hundreds and extending for marathon distances, with hired deputies
guarding major intersections to manage the river of sweating humanity and keep them
separated from the traffic. Websites and e-mails announced times and places to meet, but
there were no formal organizations with dues and officers and awards banquets. The cops
tolerated the amiable disorderliness of it all ever since rousting a bunch of skating
lawyers a few years ago and getting hammered in court and in the court of public opinion. This was
Texas, after all.
night, there was a clumsy newbie, a sincere dork with close-cropped red hair and freckles.
He had no style, no chops and no hope, and was barely able to keep up, let alone show any
dazzle. Such as he appeared from time to time, collected their quota of skate rash and
faded away unremembered. This one shadowed them valiantly but
ineptly until the group
packed it up halfway 'till morning.
Most caught rides from parental-unit
skaters, others had wheels. Sara saw them off from her street corner until they had all
gone — she had her own means of transportation. The new guy hung around, massaging
his courage, and finally approached her as the last of the pack faded away. Sara resolved
to be polite.
He was nervous, obviously, but seemed
"Hi," she answered, hoping he
wasn't going to be as stupid as he looked. She could always take off while he was
"I'm Jimmie Oldsen."
"Sara Corel." Last time she did
that, she got a little carried away and the resulting sonic boom was reported the next day
as, 'Freak Tornado Lashes Downtown, Dozens of Hi-Rise Windows Blown
"I knew I'd find you here
"Really." Uh-oh. She wondered
how long it would take the city to get this guy off the top of the One Shell Plaza radio
"You're not being too
"Discreet?" About what? What was
he getting at?
"I found out about you on the
There's a lot of stuff, some of it pretty weird. I had to meet you, so I flew in
yesterday from San Jose."
"To meet me?" She didn't
know whether to be flattered or annoyed.
"You can fly." It was a
statement, not a question. He knew.
"If you say so," she said
guardedly. Oh well, bound to happen sooner or later.
"You're the one. I'm sure
"OK," she shrugged. What did he
want? An autograph?
"What's it like? Flying, I
He came all the way out here to ask that?
"Well," she thought for a moment, "It's kinda like skating. Only
"How do you do it?"
"I just flap my arms really
"No, really. Is it a machine or
something? Were you born that way? I saw what you did, back at the Four Seasons garage.
Most people can't skateboard up a ramp."
"Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting."
"And there's other stuff. Did
you really pick up a cement truck?"
"Only once. They break easily. I
shoulda used both hands."
He didn't laugh. "How much
change do I have in my pocket?"
"Two dollars and seventy-four
cents," she replied without thinking about it.
He dug it out and counted it. "I knew
it," he confirmed. "What's the one-million, two-hundred-forty-one-thousand,
nine-hundred-eleventh digit after the decimal point in pi? And the next ten digits that
come after it?"
She told him. It had taken days to get
that number sequence, but he wanted to confirm his theory about her. That would pretty
much do it.
Sara was mildly surprised that she
wasn't bored or offended or something. He was so enthusiastic it was infectious.
"You hungry?" he asked.
"I could always do with a bite or
"I saw. Must be nice not to have to
"It's a gift."
"I bought a motorcycle, the one
across the street. Where's the best place to grab something this time of night? So we
can talk, if that's OK. I'll get you anything you want. As much as you
"For real? You don't know what
you're saying. I hope you're rich."
"I am," he said,
"House of Pies, on Kirby."
"Wanna tell me how to get there, or
ride with me?"
"I don't know. Motorcycles are
"You can wear my helmet." Wait a
minute… "Uh, you don't need a helmet, do you…?"
She laughed. "I don't think so.
You keep the helmet. Let's go — I'm hungry!"
They talked. She ate. A lot. She'd
met Alex there a few times after gigs, when it was full of musicians and 'artistic
types' from gay Montrose. It was heaven on earth, but she'd always been
restrained before. This time, she took Jimmie up on his offer.
multiple servings of each sweet
pie, cake, confection, tort, ice cream, bun and pastry they had.
She had omelets, patty melts, chops, hashed browns, fries,
salads, chicken, steak, grits, pancakes, bacon, sausage, meat
loaf, pasta, veggies and fruits. It was a monumental
accomplishment that drew disbelieving stares from every pretty boy and queen in the joint.
Only the jazzers ignored her.
He had to do most of the talking, since
she was busy, but he told her everything he'd learned and she confirmed most of what
he suspected. She was as fascinated with his story as he was about hers. Morning broke,
and the restaurant finally refused to serve her any more out of sheer exhaustion and
concern for having anything left to serve their regular customers. Nobody else would leave
until she was finished so as to settle bets on whether or not she would suddenly explode.
He took her home and met Alex, Dinah and
Mrs. J at their breakfast in the 'A' unit. Sara helped herself to a stack of hot
waffles while Jimmie bubblingly introduced himself and told them what he knew. They were
resigned to finally confront the inevitable, but Jimmie had more in mind.
"No offense, Sara, but, sir, I know
that she's some kind of alien supercomputer. I know about the Russian dudes teaching
her and all that, and, yeah, everyone calls you Brainiac. But, well, I know computers.
Maybe as good as anyone anywhere. At least on Earth, I mean. But a lot more than anyone
here, even Sara.
"You haven't even come
close to realizing what she can do. It's way more than you old guys
— no offense — can handle. But I can.
"I want to be on the team. You let me
— oh, how can I say this? — tinker around with her and I bet I can come up with
all sorts of stuff that you wouldn't think of. Not even her, 'cause she's
not even into computers like I am. It won't cost you anything…"
"He's rich," Sara
"…And I won't get in the
way. Besides, it's either me or NASA. Who knows what they'll come up with. Me,
I'm with you. And Sara and me — we're buddies. Right?"
He looked at her, trying not to look like
he was pleading.
"Right," she said. She liked
Alex looked at the others, but they
deferred to him. He sighed.
"How can I refuse an offer like
© Patrick Hill, 2000