Today's Reading

The SUV is idling at the curb, clearly an impossibility in today's hyper-security, or someone knows someone, that much for sure. Bulky black and scary polished. Bo opens the door, and Lion climbs inside.

The whisper-click of expensive engineering as the door shuts itself, the exhale of plush seats as he settles in. Like the upholstery is breathing and standard now, almost everywhere. Too comfortable is what Lion usually thinks; tonight he needs the swaddle. His post- plane system quivers with more human contact than he typically prefers. Emo-stim overload, the kids called it, one of the downsides of em-tracking.

The SUV glides into traffic with just enough motion that a paperback copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem slides across the dashboard. This catches his attention. 'Slouching' was one of the books that made him want to be a journalist. Could Bo really be a Joan Didion fan? With the bar code tattoo, a possibility. But the other option? Lion shivers at the idea that Arctic, his temporary employer, would have spent the money to dig that deep.

Bo glances right, hunting for something on the seat. The bar code on his neck contracts as he moves. In the scrunch, Lion can make out a single question mark, which is tell-tale Rilkean, their marching orders: Live the questions.

So maybe a myth no more.

But he doesn't have time to think about this. Bo found what he was looking for, and appears to be passing it to him over the partition. A skinny rectangular box, ornate and etched with dragons.

"From Sir Richard," he says. "You can, of course, smoke in the car." In his grip, the box's exterior gives a little. It's the sigh of skin, of fauna, not flora, very soft, utterly wrong. Lion feels the flash that is almost, but not yet, angry.

"Not leather," says Bo, silencing his escalation. "Tissue engineering.

Stem cells. Lab grown." Puzzled replaces perturbed.

"Yeah," continues Bo, "animal friendly. But it's not my department.

I was told to tell you this if you needed to know." Lion catches Bo's eyes in the rearview.

"Sir Richard assured me—you would need to know."

As they pull into traffic, he's no longer wondering. Arctic clearly dug. But it's now so easy. How little remains hidden, how little it seems to matter.

"You know," says Lion, "I haven't met Sir Richard."

Bo doesn't answer, simply accelerates the SUV into silence. Lion tries to enjoy the ride. He flew into Newark intentionally, despite the longer trip into the city. LaGuardia, at night, like being lost in a funeral parlor. And he likes this view of New York better.

But it doesn't distract, or not enough.

Lion knows his information is available in any net search, even though he's paid for scrubbing. The suspected origin of his talent remains, like a Snowden stain, viewable via any browser.

So maybe it's nothing.

Opening the box, it's not nothing. Lion unearths one pouch of organic rolling tobacco, two packs of rolling papers, and five black vials marked with marijuana strains and blends. So either his agent is uncomfortably thorough, or the unmet Sir Richard leaves nothing to chance.

Proof of the latter sits in a vial marked ghost trainwreck #69. Ghost Trainwreck is the more familiar marijuana variety, crossing Neville's Wreck and Ghost OG and cranking out 30.9 THC, thus the nomenclature and the notoriety. But what he's holding—#69—is a rumor. Urban legend for most; for Lion, on that Jamaica job, something else he saw coming.

Which is when he knows for sure. That ratchet-click of certainty deep in the reptilian dark of his brain stem. Somebody knows somebody; somebody did their homework.

GANGSTERING ET CETERA

Thirty minutes later and Lion's a little high as he walks into the Ludlow Hotel, which is the way he likes it. Through a door and into a dim corridor: a few low-slung chairs in oranges and reds, a roughhewn table, stained gray, and a short check-in counter, dark woods. Beyond that, the lobby bar and an atrium, in tall plated glass, so the effect inverts, like walking inside to get back outside.

Crossing the entrance hall and heading to the check-in counter and, apparently, singing along with the sound track.

"Little hustler, probably die, gangstering et cetera." Was that out loud?

It's a trick, of course. That thing the neuro-crowd has been doing to music lately, the trigger buried in the rhythm. It fires up the amygdala, a dash of flight-or-flight to create hyper-salience, hippocampal overactivation for enhanced recall, more Big Brother kind of shit. "Direct-to-memory" is how they describe it. Singing in public was his experience.

But before those ramifications fully land, the desk clerk hits him with the "We've been expecting you, Mr. Zorn."

...

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