by Paul S. Piper
Can too much insight be dangerous?
Jack Toyokata, a coder in the Seattle high-tech world, begins experiencing severe memory loss and resorts to an Internet supplement called InSight. Remarkably, the supplement works, but it has side-effects. Jack begins experiencing dreams of past murders from the victim’s point of view. With the help of an FBI agent, they discover the murders are related, and connected to a worldwide shipping magnate, Lightfoot, who they suspect is smuggling illegal wildlife. Through the dreams, Jack encounters an elephant guide named Peho who leads Jack through a labyrinth of smuggling and murder in a nail-biting race for justice. A Buddhist monk, a new love, and an exciting new career emerge from the ashes.
Paul S. Piper published two novels, a short story collection, and four books of poetry.
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There was nothing but furious pain and blurred light, and pulsing darkness hovering at the periphery.
The woman lay face flat on wet cement, a traffic light down the block bathing it with green, yellow, and red, successively, endlessly. Her thoughts flew like flocks of birds, and left the sky of her mind vacant. The only thing that hovered clearly was the face of the man who’d hurt her. Thick, cruel, and malignant, two gold incisors, curly oily black hair.
The car she’d been thrown from had sped off, rear tires spinning on the slick asphalt. Other cars drove by but no one stopped.
In a moment of clarity, she raised her head, and pulled herself by her elbows across the sidewalk. Once there, she lay panting, sighting her goal. Then crabbing her legs and knees, she climbed three cement stairs. It took every bit of strength she had. But she needed more. The outside door barely opened inward as she pushed against it. But it was enough. She pulled herself through.
The apartment lobby was bathed in yellow light, and was warm, almost stuffy. Musty with the faint scent of perfume, cigarette smoke, cooked cabbage. Above her, to her left, a row of rectangular brass mailboxes was embedded in the wall, a tiny white button under each. Various newspapers and advertising circulars were strewn on the floor underneath. Across the lobby was a dull-green metal door, worn at points of contact by thousands of hands over nearly one hundred years. Above the door, the name of the apartment, The Royal Arms was meaningless.
With a Herculean effort, she managed to clear the outside door, and heard it bang shut, shutting out the hiss of traffic, the blare of horns. Now fully inside the lobby, her cheek cool on the black and white tile floor, she managed to raise her right arm and point weakly toward the mailboxes, as if beckoning silent friends for help. Then her arm fell heavily to the floor, and her eyes glazed as she surrendered her soul to the night and whatever lay beyond.
Jack Toyokata slapped the pockets of his ash-grey sports coat. He’d forgotten his cell phone. Again. On the counter. Attached to a charger plugged into the wall. Next to the microwave holding the cup of cold coffee he’d forgotten to remove.
Forgetting things was getting to be a daily occurrence.
Yesterday it was his keys, and he had to rouse his manager from a Mariner’s TV game trance.
Over the past two weeks he’d left the stove burner on, forgotten to turn off the TV, several times, forgot where he’d parked his car, forgot to flush the toilet (number two –embarrassing!), turn off lights, and had “lost” several things in the pantry and fridge. Minor things all, except the stove burner, but irritating.
Sure, he was under excessive stress at work, but who wasn’t? It was the nature of the job. Gone were the days when you landed a client for life. Now it was a matter of days, weeks, or if you were lucky, months. And after each successful project, after your pat on the back and check, you still had to resume-up for the next project. And the new crops of coders were SICK, hybridizing codes like they were pouring cream into black coffee. Creative and brilliant, and clients were always looking for the “new.”
AI was emerging as the next Mecca, and although the primary codes were still evolving –Python, R, Lisp, Prolog, Java – code languages language had their own evolution and natural selection. Jack had the feeling lately that some new language would blow everything out of the water. And he couldn’t help but think that it already existed. Or the components did. And he didn’t have a clue what it would be. But someone did.
Jack walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window, as wide as the living room. Beyond it, Lake Washington, steely in the dusk, stretched east to the far shore of fir and scattered lighted houses. Large homes on large acreage. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison. Steve Jobs’ house had already been sold. These people, and those like them, liked their privacy. They all had heli-pads, gates with guards at the head of their driveways, prison-style fences, and high-end security systems. And they liked living in the forest. They left thousands of trees standing. And that’s what Jack liked looking at. The trees. The forest. His mind went there to escape. It was a dark place, and not at all safe, the wild.
It was drizzling out, and traffic moved in fits-and-starts on Lake City Way.
Jack Toyokata was forty-one. Japanese-American. A coder since he’d escaped from college. He’d recently purchased one of the new condos that were popping up like dandelions in Bothell and Kenmore. This particular building, located between the Burke-Gilman Trail and Lake Washington, was a twelve-story, 50 unit, tastefully finished structure with an underground parking garage, and plenty of storage for Jack’s bike, skis, snowboard, and various camping and outdoor equipment. Not that Jack had time to use any of the gear anymore, but it was there, waiting.
The floorplan and view had sold Jack. An eighth floor, two-bedroom, L-shaped unit, tastefully painted airy desert colors, kitchen with a center high-polish rose granite counter. All the modern perks – voice command lights, heating, Dacor gas range, LG fridge and freezer.
Jack loved Northwest art. He valued what the Skagit artists did with color and space. These paintings spoke to him. When he had time, he drove up to La Conner, dined, wandered the town, and bought a painting. These now hung in the living room and a hallway.
A corner unit, his views from the living room confronted Lake Washington. The two bedrooms looked north, up-lake, and the forested hills beyond.
While still sparsely furnished, the essentials were in place. The couch, two faux Shaker chairs, a zafu, a chrome-legged coffee table. Lots of space to dance around. Jack couldn’t remember when he last danced.
His music situation was insane, to put it mildly.
Jack had love and an ear, but was a technical audiophile. Jack’s friend Stan, a minor audio god, had constructed an assemblage of tweeters, woofers, sub-woofers, amps, pre-amps, dacs, cables and wires, some no more than a gossamer suggestion. The net result was sound that moved heaven and earth.
As for content, Jack was an omnivore – Skiffle to Mahler, gamelan to Patsy Cline, Hank Jones to Tool. Et cetera. And an addict for streaming services. Pandora, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, LiveXLive, Deezer. And to fill in the gaps, his extensive collection of categorized, alphabetized CDs, LPs, and cassette tapes filled a wall.
His friend Per told Jack that if “I owned this much music I would never know what to listen to.” But Jack loved and lived in music, and no surplus was too great. Just because he couldn’t possibly listen to all of it in multiple lifetimes, didn’t mean he couldn’t try.
He sat down on a blue couch positioned for lake viewing, and lifted a cup of Oolong tea to his lips, blew across it, then set it down. His system was streaming Seattle cellist Gretchen Yanover, a recent find.
He’d gotten home from work around 7:30. It was now a little before nine.
His team was jamming on a large contract and he needed to get back to it. Dinner tonight was a package of Safeway California rolls, microwaved for one minute, eaten in four. But at least he was home, done with the office. He’d work into the wee hours from home.
Jack sighed, watched a small regatta of sailboats clipping across the Lake, sails bulging. He’d always wanted to do that, and mentally added it to a list that grew longer by the day. Things he’d never have time to do until he was too old to do them.
A few minutes later, switching the music to a Brahms piano trio, he moved over to the table, and opened his laptop. Lines of code streamed across the computer screen in a variety of colors. Notes from his programming team popped up, modified, then disappeared.
Processed cups of noodles, pre-made sushi, energy bars, breakfast sandwiches, and the occasional apple made up the bulk of his diet. He just didn’t have time to cook and sit properly at a table. His job was a beast that controlled him.
The cell phone, keys, and like were troubling, but what had happened yesterday was more so.
Jack worked for UniCode, a Seattle-based company with satellites in Redmond and Bothell. The Bothell office was his go-to, but he worked all of them including from home.
Jack preferred the offices to home for the social buzz during the day; evenings and night he preferred to work from home. He was basically a social guy who liked the jostle of conversation around him, even if he didn’t always participate. His friend the writer, Per Morten, wrote in coffeehouses for the same reason.
Yesterday, Friday, Jack was coding a piece of software designed to inventory the GPS movements of his client’s fleet of 2,067 trucks, based on real-time traffic, weather, construction projects, natural disasters, and cheap gas. It continually micro-managed the routes of each vehicle in real-time. The coding was boring and tedious, and he was dying to finish it.
Suddenly he was looking at a computer screen cluttered with letters, numbers and symbols, and he had no idea what any of it meant. Frozen, Jack stared at the blinking cursor until, some indeterminate time later, everything clicked back into place.
Out for a beer after work, Jack confided to his colleague Miguel that he’d blanked, weaving the smaller serial memory lapses into the narrative.
Miguel told him he should see a doctor.