UM PA PA! UM PA PA!
This noise assails ST's ears, as he attempts to forge through the clogged streets, and packed alleys, of Munich during Oktoberfest. Tuba sounds are not the most appropriate music to end a day. Yet, this is what accompanies him in the twenty-second hour of Saturday. This, and the thousands upon thousands of revellers, all apparently aspiring for his own destination.
ST is worried about what will happen when he actually reaches the Kafer's Wiesnschanke tent. Not only is it situated on the very edge of these huge Oktoberfest fairgrounds, but also, ST is in one of his impeccable disguises. He needs the disguise to get through the crowd, but will it prove so effective (as it is proving now), that he will be unable to gain entry? Without immediate entry - and quick access to his reserved table - he is not going to get to his waiting bottle of Glen Grant scotch.
ST has never had to deal with this problem before. He uses camouflage to get from one private destination to another, and has always had the luxury of removing his disguise in the comfort of some bath or bedroom. Here, he will have to prove who he is in one public place, so he can get out of another public place.
ST is only now passing the Hofbrauhaus, so there is still a long way to go. He regrets he consented to spend these last two hours of the week deep in the gemutlichkeit of Bavarian sausages, chicken and beer - horse-drawn wagons of which trundle past even as he aims unerringly for Kafer's Wiesnschanke tent.
This dramatic and excessive celebration is foreign to him, though he supposes he can no longer consider himself a foreigner. It is through his inheritance of vast tracts of land and chattels along the coast of the North Sea (to say nothing of the interesting little pockets of real estate and apartments still being revealed across the face of Europe, America, Australia, and the Bahamas) that his special invitation to these festivities arrived. And the obligation (an obligation, at least, which ST feels) to attend.
The acres of vibrant lighting cast a multi-hue glow across ST, and everyone and everything in his path. He notes his roughly-shaped false beard (one of three dozen - each cropped differently), takes on such bizarre colouring from the lights, that he doesn't remember what it really looks like. He probably could have gone without disguise, and still pass unmolested.
That is what his hosts had told him, but he has had such assurances before. If he does get caught out, he will at least not have to blame his own stupidity.
Under a set of flashing amber and yellow lights, ST looks at his watch. He is surprised how much the crowd has slowed him. He should have tried another entrance, instead of the broad way through the tents. He attempts to get closer to the edge of the crowd, but an edge in an ever-moving mass is difficult to find. It is somewhat analogous to the boundaries of Space/Time, which he can never actually discern either. ST rarely gets such a chance to put his world-famous theories to a practical test. He realizes he is not particularly appreciative of the fact - he just wants to get through. Head up, and elbows to the ready, he begins a vigorous forward thrust.
His attitude alone is enough to make more people give way, plus he is not without practiced skill at dodging and pirouetting among crowds. Moreso when he is recognized. He is well known for his avoidance skills - in many arenas. Just ask wife number one, or - more especially - wife number two.
As ST advances along the fair ground, the garish lights become more extreme, and he has difficulty distinguishing the various tents. The one he wants is in the upper corner, and supposedly not easy to miss. But, it is also one of the smallest of the tents (holding slightly over 2000), and for all he knows, it may get lost in this absurdist hurly-burly. He may succumb to this incredible throng, and get carried away on its tide to a more boisterous destination, like the Spatenbrau. Or, whisked back to the very beginning of his trek, at the Hippodrom. To say nothing of the many places in between.
In an attempt to fit in, when ST first arrived at the fairground, he had purchased one of the large gingerbread cookies, which so many people are wearing around their necks. This is now proving a mistake, for it keeps bumping back and forth across his chest. As he has never actually seen anyone eating the damn things, he hesitates to take this course of action for it may make him stand out. On the other hand, he is concerned that if he just tries to remove it from his neck, the cord might get tangled in his fake beard. If eating a cookie makes him conspicuous, the removal of his facial hair will bring more attention than he wishes to imagine.
ST clamps a hand over the errant cookie, as if he was taking an oath, and continues through the noisy night of revelry. He is just passing in front of the Winzerer Fahndl tent, and thus not far from his own destination. A turn to the right, and some more well placed elbows, and he might be able to arrive in another five minutes.
Just as ST can lose time as he attempts to track it, equation by equation, through the vast quadrants of his computer programs, so it begins to elude him here. The overwhelming chore of Oktoberfest becomes surprisingly addictive. Although he still wants his scotch, and his reserved place at table, he looks longingly back at the Winzerer Fahndl tent with a desire to enter. As he stares overhead at the amusement park rides, he wonders if he would find them as thrilling as the screaming participants indicate they are. ST is even tempted to gravitate to the nearest thundering band, and settle in close to the tubas.
Perhaps he might risk an inquisitive munch of his over-large gingerbread cookie.
These thoughts put him in a better frame of mind, and he eases himself into the slowly moving crush of bodies going in his direction. He gets behind a trio of husky teen-agers, and lets them unknowingly clear a path.
It seems their goal is to sample beer from each and every of the fourteen tents, but so far their boisterous gung-ho remains good-natured and useful. ST keeps just the right distance behind the three, so he is not considered a part of their group, yet manages to glean the benefit of their passage. Much as the stern of a ship glides through the wake of the prow.
When he comes within sight of his own goal, at the Kafer's Wiesnschanke, he wonders if his trio of outriders is going to steer in its direction. An argument can be made that it is the next on the list of any pub-crawl, but the youths are loudly debating the merits of either the Sportschutzen or Lowenbrauu.
ST has the temptation to clap them boisterously on their shoulders, and invite them to accompany him to his more rarefied destination. His popularity with youth is particularly high right now, as he appears to be quite the rebel with his contention that the year 2000 is not the Millennium. This is not his intent, but who is more going to be asked all the questions about this momentous event, than the expert on Space/Time?
Even his obvious equation - obvious to ST, at least - that if someone owes you $2000, you are not going to be satisfied in only getting $1999 back, has become an imbedded catch phrase in nearly every article now written about the Millennium. It has even become a refrain in a contemporary pop song.
ST starts to hum "Don't Shortchange Us", having no fear of ever being heard over the din of Oktoberfest. The decision as to whether or not he will befriend the teen-aged trio is made for him, as they abruptly link arms and make a wide swing toward the Lowenbrau tent. ST may be mistaken about the sound of his own voice, for the trio of teenagers breaks out in a thundering rendition of the refrain to "Don't Shortchange Us". They create a wide path through the packed revelers, many of whom applaud and join in.
ST soon proves to be exceedingly incautious. He raises his voice to match any in the crowd. He is no singer (although he did agree to appear in the music video, campily disguised as a gesticulating Einstein), and if anyone pays him particular attention, it is because his rendition is so bad.
As the teenagers wheel toward the Lowenbrau, ST is again strangely attracted to follow. However, he can readily picture the chaos which might ensue if he is recognized. Even such a friendly swarm as this can turn dangerous, just through their enthusiasm. Enclosed space and intoxicated people can lead to too many varied conclusions.
ST reluctantly continues on his way, quickly buoyed by the thought of Glen Grant, and the opportunity to sit. As with many public (or almost-public) functions, ST is actually expected to do very little. No speech, a moderate amount of glad-handing, and he fulfils his obligations. He is no entertainer - which he could quickly prove if he started singing - and Oktoberfest is no place for a learned report about Space/Time.
Kafer's Wiesnschanke seems not to be a `tent', but a permanent wooden structure, with lattice at the front. There is outdoor seating, and strings of lights along the peak of the roof. ST can't be sure, but it appears as if a menu is displayed over the entrance. He doesn't know how he can be disappointed, when he really did not know what to expect, but it leaves him with less enthusiasm than he imagined.
This time of night, guests to the interior are handpicked. No one has given him an invitation, or a code word, or any such means of identification. He has not had to prove whom he is for so long, that he really doesn't know of any way other than the removal of his disguise. He could show his passport or driver's license, but the photo displayed doesn't display him.
The people sitting outside give him a once-over, just as they do to all the crowds washing by. Oktoberfest is a people-watching event, but at this time of night, after a festival of beer, there is a sameness and a tiredness to their actions. He has no reason to fear a close scrutiny.
ST walks briskly through the seated people, and approaches the main entrance. Waiters and waitresses come and go through the door, liter mugs of beer held aloft. There is a small table to the left, and a man wearing a hat sits on a stool behind it. This is obviously the person whose scrutiny ST must meet and pass. He prepares a firm handshake, and a brief explanation of who he is.
From the corner of his eye, he sees a figure approaching in an unerring line directly for him. From its size and build, it appears to be a woman, but she is wearing a Harlequin costume, and holding a Venetian Sun Mask in front of her face. The gold (it looks like real gold) mask is attached to a long, slender stick, and the hand holding the stick is gloved.
Gloved hand, stick, gold mask and harlequin-attired body all lean toward him. ST is tempted to back away, but an exotic perfume reaching his nostrils is too enticing. He is sure his own disguise will not reveal his identity, so he affixes his fake beard smile.
This sound hissed in his direction seems to be a woman's voice, but he can't be sure. Perhaps he is just to be asked the time, or offered some cut-rate passage to the giant Ferris wheel. Both have already happened this evening. Some response seems to be expected, and ST decides to resort to his rusty German.
The eyes blink behind the mask, and an irrepressible giggle is barely muffled by a gloved hand.
"Annie's crackers. That better be you."
"Garbo?" ST takes a surprised step back.
"I was about to take a bite from your cookie." She removes her mask from her face. "If that wasn't you, I would have either made an enemy - or a friend - I don't want."
"What are you - ?"
ST can't tell if he is more surprised by the presence of his lover, or by the fact he didn't recognize her. As he ponders, he hastily pushes up her hand, so the mask is once again in front of her face. What they both don't need is the exposure of the beautiful, young movie star. For if she is recognized, will ST be far behind?
"You don't want to look at me?"
"I don't want others looking at you."
"Mmmm." Garbo steps close and rubs against him. "Jealous?"
"No more than usual."
This generates a snort from Garbo, and a thwack over ST's head with the mask. She still finds it hard to accept he doesn't get jealous, even about her explicit love scenes in her last couple of movies.
"Garbo." ST leans toward her. "We'll lose our concealment."
"If we're being so secretive, don't call me that in public."
ST realizes even he is affected by their disguises, for otherwise her pet name would not have been uttered. Garbo is very particular that this name is for his use alone.
"But we're not even supposed to be in public." He looks around at the mass of revelers. "I'm here because - "
"I arranged it." Garbo giggles again.
"Do you know ... " She lowers her voice, making her words barely audible through the mask. "You look surprised, even through that beard."
This is a dig at his array of beards. She is far more comfortable with the recognition she receives. ST assumes this difference between them is partly due to her age, and partially because of her business. But he is not above retaliation.
"Who's wearing the mask?"
"I'm supposed to be a surprise." Garbo shakes her head, deliberately making the bells on her Harlequin cap jingle. "You are already on the agenda."
"Let's not stray off the topic." ST reaches forward and flicks one of the bells with his finger. "What do you mean you arranged it?"
"You were asked to come here, because I asked them to ask you ..." She jingles the bells again. "... to come here."
His voice rises, and the name-not-to-be-used spills into the night. ST avoids a hit on the arm, and puts his mouth right next to her ear.
"Garbo." Her name is spoken slowly, but quietly. "Why did you do such a thing?"
"To get you out of the mansion." Her lips are close to his ear, but she is not whispering.
"I'm rarely there." ST sounds as puzzled as he feels. "You know I'm even thinking of selling - "
"Are you this literal with Space/Time?" Although Garbo doesn't shift her head, she does lower her voice. "Your boundaries aren't narrow there."
"Space/Time has no boundaries."
"I know that." Garbo pretends to pull on his beard. "Even though you don't preach - you do teach." Her hand reaches for the large cookie around his neck, and she grabs that instead.
"You have to get out more."
"Where better?" She gives the cookie a solid tug. "Doesn't time stop here?"
"The beer stops at eleven." ST smiles, and it is not lost in his beard. "That's all I know."
"You've become too wrapped up in the Millennium."
"Fighting the `fake' Millennium."
"Whatever." Garbo lets the cookie swing and hit his chest. "It comes to the same thing."
"Get me started on the Millennium, and I might preach."
ST raises his finger, about to point with exaggeration, and begin some elaborate theory. However, he remembers where they are, and realizes such a joke would fall flat. Instead, he puts down his hand, and shrugs his shoulders.
"Let's get this over with."
"Mr. `Life-of-the-party'." Garbo shakes her own finger. "You need to sing and schunkel."
"Hook your arms with those of your neighbors, and weave back and forth while singing lustily."
"I don't plan to sing - lustily or not."
"Oh, yes you do." Garbo links her arm through his, and starts to pull him toward the entrance. "Timely or not."
She maneuvers ST past the man sitting at the table, and aims for a large, dirndl-encased woman standing at the far side of the door. She has the girth to block the whole doorway by herself, and ST has some hope that she will stop them.
"Remember - you're with me."
Garbo chuckles as she says this. When they are a few steps away from the door, she lowers her mask, and smiles that smile which charms millions. Even though the woman must have been expecting them, she looks surprised, and then delighted. She makes a little bow, then opens her arms as if to embrace them. "Wellcommen. They will be so pleased. The mayor keeps sober until you arrive."
"That's asking a lot." Garbo replaces the mask in front of her face, and tugs ST toward the interior. "We have not expected such a sacrifice."
"Why not?" ST directs the bearded question toward her ear. "I've kept myself without lubrication, so I can appear here in fine form."
"But you have me to get intoxicated on." Garbo pushes him through the door. "You don't need vile alcohol."
"But there is going to be some, isn't there?"
"Annie's crackers - it's Oktoberfest." She pulls him forward. "It's a feat you've managed to stay sober this long. Now it's time for your reward."
ST likes the thought of a reward, so he snuggles closer, pressing his pelvis against her wondrous ass, encased in its very tight Harlequin pants. She shoves back, which she knows is only encouragement, then reaches and takes his hand.
"You wait until later."
"Will it be better, later?"
"Depends if you drink too much."
"You always seem to sober me up." ST links his arm through hers. "Schunkel, you say?"
"Don't start singing." She jingles her bells again.
"`Don't shortchange us...'" He raises his voice with each word, making Garbo pull him off balance.
"Life of the party," she hisses. "Not the death of singing."
He stumbles slightly, making him fit in with most of the other patrons. Then he follows Garbo toward a table that is obviously the depository of dignitaries.
ST knows that city officialdom will be involved, but he is unprepared for a mayor in crossed suspender short leather pants, complete with his massive chain of office. Others, whom he supposes are aldermen and various strata of bureaucracy, are also historically attired. They look as suspiciously in his direction, as he does toward them. Where oh where is the Glen Grant?
"Garbo?" His hiss is in the high register.
"Keep your beard on."
"You promise there'll be Glen Grant."
"Annie's crackers." She touches the mouth of her Venetian mask. "I'm going to want some, too."
A functionary rises from the table, ready to approach them with a scowl.
"C'mon," pleads ST. "Let him chase us away."
"Too late for that." Garbo holds her mask further from her face, glancing at him as she whispers. "Besides, it might come in handy to have the city fathers being fatherly toward you."
"Why? So I can get a parade?"
"With a team of horses to pull you through the streets."
"We've been together two years." ST puts a hand on her shoulder. "You know I want nothing like that."
"What you want, and what you need ... " Garbo brushes his forehead with a jester's bell. "I obviously have yet to teach you the difference."
Garbo turns toward the table of officials, and lowers her mask. The grim face of the dignitary, ready to bar their way, changes in a second, replaced with a broad smile. He holds out his hand to shake, though obviously debating whether or not to give her a hug. The temptation is great, and the occasion offers a license to such familiarity. Garbo avoids the situation by holding her mask out between them, and pointing toward ST.
The official stops momentarily, the smile trapped on his face. He is confused, wondering if he is being introduced to a bodyguard or some secretary, equivalent to himself. Garbo smiles, and sings a couple of lines from `Don't Shortchange Us.' She sings loudly enough to be heard by the other officials at the table, and immediately two heads whisper into the mayor's ear. The man jumps up, his chain of office clanging against the beer stein in front of him. He pushes past his own officials, and makes a lunge for ST's hand.
"Mein Herr. Welcommen!"
The mayor's grip is so forceful that ST is again pulled off stride, and they both bump into the table at the same time. The heart shaped gingerbread cookie around ST's neck gets caught in the mayor's heavy chain, and they are pulled together as they try to come apart. ST smells the beer on the other man's breath, and has a pang of envy. Alcohol would be a relief right now, Glen Grant or not.
"We do a little dance - yes?"
The mayor is laughing, but ST realizes that he may be in some danger of losing his disguise. He doesn't plan any further excursions tonight, but his life proves unpredictable, and he can never be sure. Plus, the pull of glue from his face will not feel very pleasant, nor look very dignified. He can neither escape, nor risk the energetic contact his dancing partner encourages.
"Does this mean you have no time to dance with me?"
Garbo has eased herself close to the two men, and stands in such a way that she could be speaking to either one of them. They are confused, and stop moving. Garbo reaches over, and using both hands, manages to untangle the ornate mayor's chain, and the string which the giant cookie hangs from. She winks at ST, then nudges against the mayor with her hip.
"Or do you boys prefer each other's company?"
ST has become used to this type of banter, but the mayor does not know if laughter is called for or not. People at this stratum of celebrity do strange things, and he neither wants to appear foolish, nor offend his high scale guests. However, his own photographer is already happily clicking away, and he must do something. Putting his arm across his mayor's chain so it can catch on nothing else, he turns toward Garbo with a brief bow. Every voter will understand his attraction.
"You dress as Harlequin, yes, so you make the joke." He extends his hand. "A few steps if the arena is not too crowded." "Even if it is crowded." Garbo takes his hand, and propels him away from the table. "Let's make that chain rattle."
ST does not know how many people realize whom it is dancing with the mayor - he suspects no more than already know. It is late, and dark, and crowded, and noisy, and much of that noise comes from people because they are drunk. Most will probably not even recognize the mayor, chain of office or not.
Because of the photographs taken at the mayor's table, ST has concern about his disguise - although not for the evening, for his beard will last him the night. However, if photos end up in newspapers, will he have to discard it? Although expensive, it isn't the cost, or the inconvenience, which bothers him.
Over the years, even with the expertise of Hollywood make-up artists, he has found only a limited number of disguises which look authentic - that is, they don't give a hint of being a disguise. In addition to this, they have to be comfortable upon his face for hours at a time. The one he chose tonight is a favourite, and he will regret losing it. He should have thought more clearly about the transition he was expected to make. It is rare that he goes in disguise to a place where he eventually is to be recognized. He hopes that with luck, even if they are published, few will remember another bearded face a month from now. But can he take the chance?
"I thought a beard would hide a man's frown."
ST is startled back to his surroundings. He has been watching the dancing, though he long ago lost sight of Garbo and the mayor. He is astonished to see her standing at his side, Harlequin costume glittering in the subdued light. He moves his head, and notes the mayor sits at his table, beer stein in hand.
"You worked him into a thirst."
"It wasn't that difficult." Garbo reaches for ST's hand. "I'm about to do the same for you."
Though ST is tired, and has been on his feet a long time, he does not resist. Once out among the other revelers on this last night of Octoberfest, he makes use of the dancing lessons both wife number one and two insisted he have. He has come to quite enjoy the dance floor, and Garbo is an excellent partner.
"Tell me again why we are here."
"You are `Lord of the Manor' - literally." Garbo stifles a giggle. "You should make your presence known in the country."
"Why in Munich?"
"It's a good distance from where you actually live." Garbo aims him toward a corner. "You don't want people too familiar."
"I certainly do not." ST picks up her direction and twirls her adroitly among the dancers. "Except, of course, for you."
"Not to worry." She slides a hand over his posterior and pulls him closer. "I'll not only help you remove that beard, but everything else as well."
"That will be appreciated." He thrusts his pelvis against her. "But maybe you could start here and work your way up."
"It feels as if you're working your way up already."
"Yes." ST now whispers in her ear. "I've often thought that dancing is wasted by doing it on your feet."
"With luck I'll have you off your feet in no time." Garbo takes a nip at his earlobe as she says this, and then quickly licks it to make it better.
ST takes note of the most flamboyant dancers on the floor, and starts to copy their steps. Garbo is initially surprised, but quickly follows his lead, and they begin to cavort across their section of the beer tent. Garbo is prepared to match his every move, and ST is determined to make her lose her step. Other revelers make room for them, and some even start to clap to the music. The bandleader has noticed the commotion, and after watching the couple for a minute, turns the beat around to their rhythm. By this time even the mayor's table is back on their feet, thumping their beer steins on its slippery surface.
"Bring it home, Mamma!" shouts the mayor.
Garbo growls with laughter as ST puts a hand on either side of her waist, and lifts her from the floor. She places her hands on his shoulders, and kicks back with her feet. ST actually aims her in different directions, and other dancers dodge away, squealing in delight.
"And another thing." Garbo is panting and shouting into his ear at the same time.
"What would that be?" ST precariously leans back, almost losing his balance as he lets her slide to the floor off his chest. He twirls her on her stomach before he scoops her up again, and grips her hard against him.
"You're heading into two months of Millennium stuff?"
"And it's going to be serious?"
"Then ya gotta have some f-u-n." She throws her hands over her head, and leans way back, knowing he is not going to let her go. "And what better place is there than the biggest party in Europe?"
As she presses against him again, he has a different answer to her question, and he whispers it into her ear. Her eyes go wide, and she brings up her hand in a motion to slap his face.
But she kisses him instead.
ST has been asked about the Millennium so many times in the month leading to 01 January 2000, that he is spending the event alone. He does not want to hear one more question. He will also experience a degree of annoyed satisfaction if all the computers crash because of the Y2K scenario.
Of course, just as it is not the real turn of the Millennium, neither will the world grind to a halt. He has repeated both things for all forms of media, and at every event he has attended. Although having the same questions asked time and again rarely bothers ST - even things concerning his private life - this incessant demand about the Millennium strains his ability to remain calm and civil.
It is so patently obvious to him the real Millennium is the following year; he suspects these questions are asked just to elicit an irksome response. As the time came closer to the end of the year, he is figuratively hoarse explaining that the ‘turn of the century’ is the last day of 2000, not the first. The world has to actually revolve through the complete year of 2000 to make it the 2000th year.
ST pulls back the drape, and peers at the deserted city street. Changing traffic lights reflect from the cold, black pavement of Fredericton, and he watches them go through their cycle. He estimates if he stands through another twelve cycles of light changes, he will be into the fake Millennium. He decides it is as good a way as any to usher in the New Year.
He turns from the window, and surveys his new home. This is not the description others would give, but then, nobody else knows about it. They might class it as a ‘home away from his many homes’, or a ’hideaway’ (that would be Garbo’s term) or a ‘hovel’ (that would be wife number one). All of these are adequate descriptions, but none are accurate enough.
ST has surreptitiously purchased the whole building in which this antique apartment resides, so he really is living in a home within a home. The building is nearly one hundred fifty years old. Though at one time it bordered on stately, its transition to apartments has left a quirky layout. His name is hidden behind lawyers and realtors, and it will be quite a paper trail to link him to the purchase. He pays rent to no one, and has no dealings with local upkeep and taxes. Subcontractors and cleaners tend to the building weekly, and it is their number which any tenant contacts in time of trouble.
The apartment next to him is no longer rented, and he dallies with the idea of eventually leaving the other three units vacant. He doubts this would be good for maintenance however, nor would it long go unnoticed. Since he shares the upper floor with an empty apartment, he has his own private entrance, and has little problem dodging his neighbours. He does not plan to stay for any length of time, so is little worried about being recognized.
He chose an obscure apartment in this out-of-the-way city when he came through Fredericton to be with Garbo. Their stay in a riverfront hotel did not go unnoticed, which led to exposure on their Miramichi fishing trip. As a result, they have never returned together, which has made it easier to keep the hidden apartment hidden. He has been so secretive, in fact, none of his places are known, by Garbo or anyone else. He has had a reputation of ‘going away on his own’ for years, and no questions are asked.
He had hastily furnished the apartment, and only paid special attention to the computer center, and the bar. Bar is excessive, for it in no way mimics the numerous bars where ST goes for drinks. Nor is it as extensive as the little bars he has created at his other ‘homes’. And it is nothing like the complete room in his North Sea mansion, where his benefactor, the Baron, would actually hold parties. Also, ST is prone to forget he has a complete tavern in the village he owns, which brews a nationally renowned beer, the sales of which pay for the upkeep of the whole village.
However, he plans to stick to his Glen Grant whiskey.
As the red/yellow/green colours of the traffic lights smear themselves dully across his wall, ST crosses the room to the small bar, and pours an abundant quantity of Glen Grant into a whiskey glass. He then goes into the kitchen, and drops ice cubes into the liquid until the top of the glass is reached. He ponders some New Year snacks on the counter, but refrains for the moment, and walks back to the front room.
He has slightly more than half an hour before the year switches to three seductive zeros. This has already happened in many places of the world, and both the international news, and his various sweeps of his computer, indicates that global communications, nor business, nor civilized infrastructure, succumbed to the dreaded (and ridiculous) whims of the Y2K threat.
In a few short hours, ST anticipates there will be a demand for his opinions and observations of why there wasn’t a disaster. He also risks being hailed as a genius, and more of a futurist than ever, for having this accurate prediction. This attention will attract more attention to him than before, and also concentrate the ire of those who envy him.
ST has started to run afoul of the ‘scientific community’, and also of many ‘religious’ organizations. This situation would be difficult to orchestrate deliberately, for these divergent groups are usually on opposite sides of most issues. ST feels his observations of Space/Time are simple statements of fact, and hold no moral, nor temporally threatening, suggestions. He does not indicate that life, and its destiny, is any different than has been known for thousands of years. If anything, he feels his explanations help blend a mathematical certainty to generally accepted religious and spiritual suppositions. He offers one more thread to the General Unification Theory.
ST takes a steep drink of the Glen Grant. He realizes he has not eaten in any meaningful way today, and the whiskey will affect him more quickly than usual. His last meal was a `breakfast’ on an airplane very early this morning, and since it had not been his beloved Concorde, the food was pedestrian and sparse. Then he had had some hours of a bus trip, because a snowstorm somewhere had made his connections impossible. “Unless you want to wait until the next Millennium”, had quipped an airline official. Since ST had been in disguise, and the bus was already waiting at the airport entrance, he did not begin his half-hour `now by rote’ talks about the “real” millennium.
The bus did make a couple of `twenty minute’ stops, but he doubted the quality of the sandwiches and snacks, still left in the dispensing machines during this holiday hiatus. In truth, he was not particularly hungry during the bus trip, and he is has no noticeable hunger now.
The more he thinks about midnight, the more slowly it approaches. The Theory of Relativity chuckles as he takes one last sip, and then walks back to his small bar to replenish his glass. He does not add any ice as he pours the whiskey right to the rim. He has a decidedly stiff drink while he debates whether to return to the window, or take a cruise over the internet.
Hovering between the reality of the exposed outside, and the binary existence of the internet, leads ST to an example which might make his Space/Time explanations more understandable. He is caught between two forms of Reality, each of which he believes. If (as he anticipates) there will be some communication from Garbo through the internet, he will believe in her existence as much, as if he were to see her walking on the street from his window. If she were using her computer as he watched her, he would then have the dual Reality combined. In his mind, that is a neat summation of Space/Time.
ST also realizes it is a summation encouraged by the neat whiskey. As with many such ideas, he believes it may hold merit if he remembers it tomorrow. However, he is tempted to jot it into his CD notebook - which never even gets to breathe near the internet. As a compromise, if he thinks it still worth recording after he looks out the window, he will do so.
Drink in hand, he first switches off the lights, so he can pull the curtains fully back to watch the street. Even with all the precautions he takes, he can never assume people do not know where he is. If a telephoto-lens photographer lurks across the street, or up the block, ST does not want any ‘New Year’ photos exploding across the pages, the TV screens, or the internet. He knows there have been teams of journalists attempting to track him down, and get ‘exclusive’ shots and comments about the New Year changeover within minutes of it happening. When he checked his public web sites (and his semi-public e-mail addresses) at the mid-night hour in Europe, there were fifty requests, and two thousand, four hundred and seventeen comments registered in the preceding three hours. Many of the comments were blaming him if the world ended, while half as many were blaming him if the world didn’t end.
There is little traffic on the street, and fewer pedestrians than cars. ST notes that the cars all obey the traffic signals, but some of the pedestrians dart across the intersection against the ‘don’t walk’ lights. It is very cold, and he imagines he would be darting also. Although out of his disguise, he is tempted to leave his apartment and walk under the stars as the year changes. Arbitrary and inaccurate though the date is, he has an affinity for it. Nowadays, a computer program gives him a two-day warning to the actual moment the earth makes its complete cycle of the sun, and he usually arranges a bottle of champagne for the event. He tinkers with the program periodically, when some new piece of interstellar information leads his Big Bang conjectures in another direction.
ST decides he has been out and about enough for one day, last segment of year-end or not. Since he most definitely does not want to meet anybody, social connection is also not a goal. He is tired, the date is false, and his preference is for his whiskey and – perhaps – some food. At the least, he certainly needs a whiskey to replace the one being consumed, as he watches out the window.
ST hopes he will never have a problem keeping up a good supply of Glen Grant. As he returns to the bar, he wonders if it is possible to purchase an actual cask of the liquor. One time he went to the distillery itself, primarily to avoid an attempt to identify him as a loyal purchaser, and use that fact for promotional purposes. It was never made clear who had ‘floated’ the idea, but ST made it very clear that if it were attempted, he would no longer be a loyal customer. He had also thought it wise to put in a ‘continuing’ order, though he did not reveal the various addresses where it would eventually be received.
He himself has to frequently transport bottles of this “water of life”through customs (always in his hand luggage), and nods at the knowing smiles of various officials. He is certain this information reaches other ears. At times he has to buy his Glen Grant from liquor stores, but often a local supply (depending upon where he is) can not be guaranteed. Thus he keeps an eye on the amount in each of his dwellings, and acts accordingly.
ST goes to the kitchen and scoops some of his snacks onto a smaller plate, then takes them to the bar, and reduces his stock of whiskey even more. He crosses the room to his computer, and sits before its glowing screen. He sips and munches as he follows a leisurely progression of international sites. There has been one computer glitch is a country where computer glitches happen anyway, so the dire warnings of a worldwide crash have already been proved wrong. North America’s infrastructure has been so upgraded in the past half year, that it will take a deliberate attack to cause havoc. This had already been his prediction (except for the part about some deliberate sabotage, for he felt there was no need to give anyone ideas).
Over the next few days he will be asked to analyze the meaning of the time change, and speculate as to why the computers all worked. Referring to his past half-year’s worth of interviews on the same subject won’t do any good. He thinks he may concentrate on the fact that next year is the proper Millennium, and ask them to come back with their questions then. He knows full well that next year no one is going to give a damn about the thousand year change.
The various web sites follow the world supposedly switching from one millennium to the other. Perhaps there has been no larger piece of false information accepted by the world ever before. Millions and millions of people are celebrating and being held in sway by something which does not exist. ST easily understands how dictators can be so successful.
As he switches to his personal web sites, and then his e-mail accounts, he turns on the TV to keep a more commercial track of the world. The hoopla of New York is still an hour away, as are most parts of Canada. Nothing is now happening in Europe, so he quickly sees the same two minutes from various places repeated time and time again. His web sites are recording seventy and more hits per minute, and even his ‘private’ e-mail has communication popping up one after the other. He is not about to answer anything, for the time line could help reveal where he is. He has already had his little flurry with Garbo when the New Year passed through Paris, where she is shooting a movie. This has been enough, and he plans to reply to others - at his leisure - over the next few days.
ST is physically tired, and the flickering screens make him rub his eyes. As he reaches for some nuts and pretzels, which he will immediately wash down with the rest of the whiskey in his glass, he remembers that he has a bubbling fondue in the kitchen, courtesy of Garbo. The device had caused some concerns to the x-ray equipment in the airport, and he had had to unpack the box to show what it was.
After he had set it up a couple of hours ago, he realized he did not have much of an array of things to use it with. The hunk of gueryer Garbo had supplied simmered with perfection in the state-of-the-art mechanism, but all he had to use with it was what he could find in his freezer. As a result, he had microwaved a plate of frozen pre-cooked chicken pieces and beef portions, baked a frozen baguette and then toasted slices of it, and cut up some apples and pears which he had paid dearly for in an airport “market”.
ST turns off the sound on the TV, and drains his glass. He goes to the kitchen and takes the fruit and meat from the refrigerator. He is about to stab some of it with the metal skewers when he decides to get more whiskey. This time he does put some ice cubes in the glass, then returns to the front room, and pours the Glen Grant back to the rim. If he pulls the drapes, he can safely turn on more light than the glow from the TV. He glances at the wall clock, and notes there are seven minutes left until mid-night.
As he puts the glass to his lips, he remembers that the last time he was at the apartment, he had put in a supply of matches, and purchased a kerosene lamp. He had also decided he would to fill the bathtub with water, just in case the dire predictions of organizational breakdown and social discord happened. He knew that logically, all the computers should keep to their appointed tasks. He also knew that humans could easily create the very future they predict.
With whiskey in hand, and six minutes to spare, ST heads to the bathroom. The fixtures are old, and the bathtub is large and deep, standing on a quartet of clawed feet. He drops the plug into the drain, and turns on the cold water. He doubts the tub can even get full in the time remaining, but he guesses he will get enough water to last days. This is certainly not a photo he would want gracing the first newspapers of the New Year, nor the troubling web sites, which now devote half their time attempting to debunk his theories. These organizations would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to show he had doubt about his own ideas. They look upon doubt as a weakness, and not as an avenue on the way to proof.
He sits on the flush, and downs a swallow of Glen Grant. As the water runs into the tub, he looks around the narrow room, which is now the quietest place in the whole house. At one time, both apartments had shared the bathroom, with a connecting door to the other side. It had long been boarded over, but ST had the false wall removed. He planned to eventually use the other apartment as an office, and his communications area. He also decided he would install some of his Sun work stations between the living room and a bedroom. They crunch through his numbers, and tumble around in his equations, without being disturbed for weeks on end. He does this in a few of his other residences, and gets exciting results from these parallel experiments.
As ST takes a final swallow from his drink, and the ice cubes rattle close to his ear, he thinks he hears a noise over the running water. Although he realizes he is befuddled by Glen Grant, he knows he has not previously heard a sound from the other upstairs apartment. It had been almost silent even when rented, the only noise coming from the adjoining bathroom.
As he looks at his watch, he turns off the water tumbling into the tub. Two minutes to midnight, and he figures there is enough to drink for two weeks if he rations himself. He is also 97% sure he won’t need any of the water, but it is little enough to do. ST never underestimates the stupidity of others, and well knows how inept an organization - such as an electrical utility – can be, particularly given such encouragement.
Near the now-exposed door to the other apartment, he has a key hanging from the towel rack. As he puts it into the keyhole, and slides open the dead bolt, he realizes he does not actually have the key to the main door of the other apartment on him. It is in a small drawer of his computer desk. He debates whether to get the key and a refill as he opens the bathroom door.
As he walks a couple of steps into the empty apartment, the clock of the Town Hall starts to chime twelve. When he stops to listen, he again hears the noise at the other end of the apartment. There is definitely someone at the downstairs door, but they are not ringing the bell, or buzzing the intercom. They are knocking, slowly yet persistently, and a voice is calling out a name.
ST is too far away to hear the name clearly. At the moment, he can’t even tell if it is a man or woman calling. He would be happy just to let the person go away, but this does not seem to be happening. He thinks there is no chance he will open the door, but he doesn’t dismiss the possibility that Garbo has tracked him down. She looks upon his hiding places as a challenge, and although she has yet to find any, she enjoys the game. And then her game would be coming to the other door. He wonders if he sometimes might be telling her too much.
ST makes the deliberate decision of someone who has ingested an ample supply of whiskey. He returns to the bathroom and makes sure the water is turned completely off in the tub. He then goes back to his own apartment and gets a half glass of Glen Grant. As he takes a drink (which he replenishes), he notes it is five past midnight, and the power, heat, internet and TV all still function. He checks on the fondue, which keeps to its precision heat, and bubbling cheese, and then starts back to the other apartment. If the person is still there, he decides he will respond.
He hesitates beside the bar, then pours himself a sedate jigger. He carefully looks at the clock, realizes he is securely into the next year, and heads for the bathroom. He walks through and into the other apartment, making a direct line for the entrance door. He turns the key in the lock, pulls back the deadbolt, and opens it slowly. As he stands at the top of the stairs, and before he risks a careful sip, the knocking on the lower door is renewed, along with the plaintive voice.
"Allie. Are you there?"
ST is about to switch on the stairway light, but he stops. He is reasonably sure no one can see it from outside, but he is not certain. As with the entrance to his own apartment, there are two solid doors, each with a peephole. This is temporary, as he soon plans to have a closed circuit camera installed. The intercom is at the exterior door, and if he is satisfied, the visitor can enter a narrow hall. The door then closes behind, and ST will be assured no one else is lurking – especially anyone with a camera. He will then scrutinize his visitor again, and decide whether to allow them to come in or not. For the moment however, he must try to discover if he recognizes the voice, before he will even navigate the stairs.
"Allie. Do you know how cold it is?"
ST doesn't know anyone named `Allie'. He is certain it is not the name of any of the people who last lived in the apartment, but perhaps it is a nickname. However, no one has been in this apartment for nearly half a year, so their friends should know they no longer live here.
ST puts his hand on the handrail. The person at the door has been there fifteen minutes, so it is probable they are not going away. He can’t yet tell if it is a man or a woman, for the cold and the intercom make the voice indistinct.
"I got the pictures. Do you want me to put them up in front of the peephole?"
ST realizes the voice is not just indistinct, it is slurred. If the person has been having their own New Year’s party, that would explain why they persist, although there is no response.
"And the cat came back."
ST does not want any attention directed toward the house. He does not want neighbours feeling they should phone the police, nor does he want some huddled body found on the doorstep next morning. He grips the handrail, takes a swift drink, and starts down the stairs.
"It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn't for the fire."
ST makes a careful descent. One slow step at a time, with his hand not leaving the railing, he advances to the bottom door. He stops half way to take an encouraging drink, again attempts to recognize the voice, and then continues. He wishes he could turn on the light, and decides he must soon find out if any light can be seen from the doorway. It will be a chore to do tomorrow night.
"I kinda got to use the bathroom."
ST feels twinges of the same need. He wishes he had eaten more food during the day, and he is also staring to feel very tired. His movement down the stairs becomes more cautious.
"Susan says she hasn't seen you for a long time."
Although ST does know women named Susan, he can't imagine one of them fitting into this context. He is not close to them, and does not believe any one of them would have reason to hunt him down.
"But I guess that's for the best."
The closer ST gets to the bottom, the more he fights the temptation to hurry. He holds the handrail tightly, and refrains from taking another drink. He makes certain his advancing foot is securely on the stair below, before he moves his other leg.
"I guess you tried it long enough." There is a crude laugh. "More than me and Ruffruff ever did, and we had to work together."
St plants both feet securely on the landing, then rewards himself with half of the remaining whiskey in his glass. He still has no idea if a man or a woman is speaking, and can not even guess who `Ruffruff' might be. Using only the light coming from upstairs, he puts the key into the lock, and then pulls back the deadbolt. As quietly as he can, he moves to the outside door, and puts his eye to the peephole.
Although he assumes the sensor lighting must be activated, he can see nothing but an opaque blur. He steadies himself, and stares intently at the image, but it makes no sense. He backs up, then leans forward, and even presses his forehead against the door, but all to no avail.
"You're too close."
He speaks far more loudly than he had intended, and startles himself. The image through the peephole abruptly disappears, and he sees a man standing back in fright, holding a photograph in his hand.
The man stumbles, and drops an envelope. Photographs tumble out, and scatter across the ice and snow of the parking lot. The wind picks some of them, and the man disappears from view as he attempts to retrieve them.
ST takes a slow drink. The man is not familiar - not that that necessarily means anything - but he at least is no recognizable reporter or photographer. He also does not seem to have his wits about him, so ST feels more comfortable that he is here truly hunting for someone else. When he returns to the front of the door, he dutifully stands back.
"Did you see the picture?" The man holds it up again, but this time is too far away for ST to make out anything on the image.
"Who do you want?"
"Allie said to come by for the Millennium." The man lowers the photo. "I'm a bit late."
"No. You're a year too early."
"It isn’t the real Millennium." ST now takes a swift drink. "Never mind."
"She said the party would go on till the booze was gone."
"There's no one named `Allie' living here."
"Whadya mean?" The man laughs doubtfully. "Is the booze gone already?"
"You either have the wrong house, or you're half a year late." ST stops staring through the peephole. "The last people moved out in the summer."
"I was here last week."
"If you were, then you didn't see anyone named Allie."
"This isn't an argument I'm going to continue." ST takes a next-to-last drink of whiskey. "It should be obvious that I know who does, or who does not, live here."
"I talked to her."
"On the phone?"
There is a sudden and thorough silence. ST finally leans toward the door and looks through the peephole. The man is standing part way in the parking lot, shoving the envelope of photos into a pocket of his winter coat. His mouth is moving, and occasionally he points a finger toward the house.
"You have to press the intercom." ST raises his voice as he speaks into the device. "I can't hear you from over there."
ST now leans heavily against the wall, one hand holding the remnants of his drink, while he presses the intercom with a finger of his other. He hears a few indistinct words, and the scrunch of boots on snow, and then a satisfied voice comes to his ear.
"It's the right number."
"It's the right house number." ST hears a shuffle, and then the voice returns. "252. I wrote it down."
ST is tempted to tell the man to put the piece of paper in front of the peephole, but remembers what happened with the photos.
"Yes." The man sounds hesitant, but after another moment, speaks loudly. "Yes."
ST churns the matter over in his brain for a minute. He looks at his drink, but decides against finishing it. He again bends toward the peephole, and sees the man standing close.
"What street is the house on?"
"George." The man hesitates again, then nods his head as he speaks. "George. Just like my brother's name."
"Your brother's name is George?"
"You're on the wrong street." ST speaks slowly and clearly. "George Street is the next one over."
"But it is." Parallel to this one as you go toward the river."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm certain." ST takes a deep sigh. "You can be as sure as I am. Go look at a street sign."
"I thought the house was funny."
"When did you think that?"
"It's older than I remember. But I've only been here in the daytime."
"You haven't been here at all."
"What?" The man is silent for a long time, then squeezes out a laugh. "Oh, yeh – got ya." He chuckles some more, but then his voice trails off. "You know what?"
"What?" ST hopes this will be the last of him.
"You sound familiar."
ST can't imagine he sounds familiar to anyone under the circumstances. The fellow has been drinking, a winter wind races around his head, and they're speaking through an intercom. ST also suspects his own voice may be slurred.
"I don't know you." ST does finish his drink. "Or Allie."
"It's not that." The man shakes his head. "It's not like I've talked to you." He rubs his face with his glove. "Any chance you're a radio announcer?"
"You're going to miss that party at Allie's." ST attempts to alter his voice. "I bet she'll want to see those pictures."
"Yeh." The man nods his head, but suddenly puts his mouth next to the intercom. "Any chance you want to come?"
"I'm having quite a party here." ST finally takes the last swallow of Glen Grant. "You better get a move on – it's half past twelve."
"Well." The man looks toward the street. "A Happy New Year to ya, then."
"Thank you." ST is also thankful the man did not wish him a `Happy Millennium'. "The same to you." He starts to back from the intercom, but then shouts. "And Happy New Year to Allie."
"Huh?" The man gulps in some air, then laughs. "Oh – yeh! She is sure going to laugh at me."
ST sucks the remaining pieces of ice, then swallows them. He finally releases the intercom button, and turns to look up the flight of stairs. It seems a long way, and he has become very tired. He would like to sit on the steps for a minute, but he fears he may sprawl out and go to sleep. If he does that, he won’t get another drink, and he won't turn off the fondue. Neither prospect is appealing.
He leans heavily on the railing, and starts his slow way up the stairs. The only light is from his own apartment, so the doorway at the top is very dim. He begins counting the steps, but quickly stops. He has become very tired of numbers.
He reaches the door without incident, and solidly closes it behind him. Then he walks through the empty apartment and into the bathroom, closing and locking the door between the apartments. He looks at the half-filled bathtub, and decides to leave it that way. As he heads for his bar, he notes that all the implements of the Twentieth Century still function, and not only will he not need the water, he won't need the kerosene lamp he purchased. It is in the hall closet, and he has not even taken it from its box. He did, however, use some of the matches he bought with it, to light the fondue.
ST is well aware of the state of his inebriation, so he puts a handful of ice in his glass before he tops it with whiskey. This will be the last one of the night, so he plans to make it last. He notes his Glen Grant supply is getting low, and will send an e-mail to himself tomorrow, to remind him to bring a few bottles the next time he comes to this city. In a couple of days he will be on his way to his North Sea mansion, where he has managed to secure a few casks. He feels he had better check on that supply, also.
He abruptly realizes he must use the bathroom, and does so quickly. As he flushes, he again lingers beside the tub, and again decides to leave the water in place. He washes his hands, and returns to the front room at a leisurely pace. He retrieves his glass, then sits in front of his computer.
He goes to his official web site, where he has pre-programmed an image of himself filling the screen, thumbing his nose at the viewer, all four fingers waggling in front of his face. A cartoon balloon appears over his head, with the words "I TOLD YOU SO" flashing in a series of neon colours. Already he has garnered eighty-five hits, which is nearly two a minute. He doesn’t have any interest in reading them tonight, and doubts he will do so even tomorrow. In fact, his next pre-programmed image, to appear at mid-night tomorrow, has him pointing to a sky full of vibrating stars, with the balloon caption "WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR".
ST next switches to his personal e-mail, but quickly decides he would rather have something to eat. Garbo (even at her hours) will be long asleep, and his response to e-mail is so haphazard, no one else will expect a quick reply.
As he stands, he glances at CNN. It is repeating the same film loop of various `Millennium' celebrations around the world. He had been invited to many of them, and was tempted by the one in Paris. The light cascade of the Eiffel Tower is spectacular, even on TV. However, he has no interest in whatever celebrations occur afterward, and he does not want to give any credence to this false entrance to the next thousand years.
ST takes a sip of whiskey and heads for the kitchen. He can smell the bubbling cheese, and as he puts a fondue fork in the mixture to give it a stir, he finds it has kept to its desired state of texture. The pot has sensed any trouble spots along its surface, and if the cheese became too thick or too thin, it altered the heat accordingly. Garbo has purchased a top-of-the-line cooking implement, and she will ask how well it worked.
In addition to the meats (about which he is dubious) ST picks through the toasted bread, sliced vegetables and cubes of fruit. He looks in a cupboard, and takes out an unopened package of breadsticks. They will be easy to coat with cheese, and are also something he has familiarity with. What they lack in nutritional value, should be compensated by the alcohol they soak up. Garbo has told him this in no way can be true, but he squeezes whatever logic he can from the equation.
He stirs the cheese with a couple of breadsticks. He chews them warily, but they are not too hot, nor is the cheese anything but smooth. The elaborate fondue creates as accurate a product as promised. He then puts a large piece each of pear and apple into the cheese as he washes down the bread with Glen Grant. As he eats the fruit, he finally decides that putting meat into the dish, will be neither advisable nor tasty. He takes some of the small pieces of beef and chicken out of the fridge, and re-heats them a minute in the microwave. He drags a chair from the kitchen table over to the counter, where the fondue keeps bubbling away. He sits and starts on the meat, and the cheese-coated food. He slowly sips most of his drink, as he eats until he is full.
With the passing years, ST becomes more and more comfortable sitting and eating in kitchens. He doesn't do it when there are guests, although he realizes that more often than not, he and Garbo eat at the kitchen table, whichever house they are in. He doesn't know how to class the mansion on the North Sea, since the kitchen already has a large dining table. It was for the use of the servants, but ST doesn't feel at ease having servants around. They are mostly there to tend to the estate when he is away.
He unplugs the fondue, and pours out the remaining cheese. He gives the device a quick wash, as the instructions suggest, then turns out the kitchen light, and walks to the front room window. The traffic lights still keep their methodical parade of colour across the snow and ice. ST ponders the image, and wonders if this might be the last familiar sight across the world, before that final plug is pulled, and the true Millennium stars shine unimpeded to the earth.