Saturday, September 27, 2008

Season One, Episode Three: Camry

'Hitchcock it ain't, but it will do,' said the man.
He looked at the fading image of the woman looking up at the camera in the parking lot, and then clapped the laptop shut.
He was sitting in the back of the Mercedes F700, only barely acknowledging the presence of the bulky man in the front passenger seat who was trying to face him.
'Do you know how to get this to him?' he asked.
'The old-fashioned way, Mr. Camry.’
Camry disliked strangers using his name. Or using names anywhere, for that matter. Camry looked away to the chauffeur's neck, then to the passing cityscape outside. Five-lane highways.
He was wearing a nice Italian suit, but he still looked like the scrawny Eastside punk he grew up as. He'd rather be lounging around the house in shorts and Hawaiian shirt at his private pool, but today it just wasn't possible. There was work to do. The Brother Hotel wouldn't take types like him in half underwear.
'Make sure it's clean ten out of ten,' he said as he reached across the car to hand the laptop to the passenger.
The fat guy mumbled something. In another place, Camry would've slapped him for being disrespectful, if not worse. But he needed his suit to be immaculate for the meeting. So all he allowed himself was a look of disdain. Make the guy feel like he's shit, Camry thought.
He waved so the chauffeur caught the gesture. The car left the highway and stopped at the next intersection. Out stepped the passenger, clutching the laptop as if it were a treasure. It was.

Markus Bentley was reaching for a stick of marzipan on the plate next to his laptop. He was going through one of those forums for whining and homesick expats in an Asian country. He had never liked the word expat, it made him think of spoiled brats in suits, living in luxury apartments with swimming pool and chauffeur-driven cars paid for by the company back home. If they had kids, they sent them to astronomically expensive schools where they grew into the perfect copy of the spoiled brat their father was. Bentley had never been an expat of this type, and he didn't miss the life. He just wanted to stay aware of what was happening on his former home turf.
The sound of the car penetrated his spatial awareness like a fly suddenly turns up in your peripheral sight. You know there's something there, but it's only later you notice what it is and you know you don't like it. He looked up at the window on his right, even though you couldn't see the road from there.
Dry fields with lines of dry knob trees stretching between them, providing his place with a false sense of privacy. That was the reason he had chosen this place. Fortunately, he was not the one who had to get up early and toil in those fields all day long. That was the task of the farmer who lived across the road and who owned this place.
The farmer drove a truck and a couple of nasty-looking vehicles farmers drive on the fields. None of those machines produced the type of rhythm he was hearing now.
Bentley folded the laptop screen and stood up while munching on the marzipan.
At the end of the lane he could spot the mailbox. The farmer's house was hidden by apple trees and brushwork, a natural screen to stop curious looks in both directions.

'Here comes Mister Paranoia,' Markus said to noone in particular.
The dark red car drove up to his mailbox. With the engine still running, a fat guy in a suit stepped out, carrying a rectangular black object. Markus kept himself in the background, so the guy couldn't spot him. Even from inside, he could tell the guy was carrying a laptop or something like it. The fat man seemed to be checking the number on the mailbox, and then deposited the object at its foot. Before Markus had the chance to recover from his surprise, the man turned around and drove off.
Markus waited until the car had vanished and counted to ten. Then he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and walked out, digesting the last of his marzipan.
He approached the mailbox like it was a snarling mountain lion. With one more look in the direction of the empty road, he crouched on the dusty ground and looked at the object. It was a laptop alright, without a bag. Just sitting there in the dust. What kind of freak dumped a laptop like this on a stranger's front step, in the middle of the countryside? He must have driven here especially for him, otherwise he just could have dumped in a river or in the sea, or somewhere behind the bushes. Markus looked around once more and did the human thing. He picked up the thing, turned it around to see if it wasn't boobytrapped, and took the thing home. The battery had been taken out, so he had to plug it in.
While the thing warmed up, he went for another stick of marzipan in the fridge. If this were a movie, the laptop would blow up and smash his house into a fireball. Instead, it went on forever loading up. No password requested, but it ended with the arrow of the forward sign for a video recording. Was this guy going to share his exploits on YouTube?
Markus took another bite and risked it. He clicked the arrow.
Bentley swore and sat down. His appetite for marzipan was taking a break.
What was she doing, and what was that fat guy showing him this? Was this a new way of delivering a ransom note for a kidnap victim? He watched as the woman walked around the office and started packing up everything in sight. Markus had never been to her office. In fact, he hadn't met up with her in years. A phone call here and there, around Christmas if he remembered, because that was the old way of doing things.
One thing was certain. The laptop wouldn't blow up, not before the ending anyway. The fat guy in the car wanted him to see all of this.
Just like the guard at the office block had done before him, Markus peered at the screen trying to discern the objects the woman was taking away with her. Office equipment, pictures, but then there were the knickknacks to think about. Bentley leaned closer.
He froze when he saw the guard in his room watching the woman on camera. He tried to memorize his face, but there was not that much to go on.
He recognized the small porcelain effigy of the three men which the woman put in her cloth bag. He didn't recognize the faceless red doll. Was that a cat, or a red snowman, or what other creature. The thing wore Chinese characters on its chest.
He saw the guard reach for his gun. The woman in the elevator. Not getting out through the front door. The woman alone in the parking lot. The camera turned away.
Markus pushed his chair backward and slammed his fist on the table next to the laptop. The screen returned to the arrow. He could watch it all again if he wanted to.

A low buzz reached him from under the table. He had installed the sensors in the middle of the night, to avoid attracting his only neighbor's attention. Country folks could be nosy. The sensors didn't cover the mailbox and the side of the street, only the immediate vicinity of the house.
Markus stood up and pressed himself against the wall, near the same window from where he had watched the fat guy dump the laptop. Was he coming to take back his prized possession?
Bentley moved ever so slightly forward. The door bell rang. It sounded like a waterfall compared to the whisper of the alarm buzzer. Why hadn't hear the car approaching?
Markus edged closer to the window. Until he saw his uninvited visitor. Definitely not the fat guy with the laptop. A wiry thin guy, shaking, holding an object in his left hand. The porcelain figurine of the three men Bentley had seen his sister remove from her office.

NEXT: A Riot comes down in Episode Four of Concentric before October 12.

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