HE HAS JUST LEFT
an early breakfast meeting very early with three men he's never met before. He's never heard of the
men, in fact, and he planned to blow off breakfast until his partner told him he should
go, because the men are important and potentially useful. He trusts his partner, who used
to work for their agency. They are agents, all three of the men at breakfast, but agents
who made it very clear that they prefer never to be called agents. He is already confusing
and forgetting their names, even though the men's main purpose in coming to town, they
strongly suggested, was to meet him and tell him they would love to be in business with
him. That's the phrase these people always use: "We would love to be in business with
you," said in a breathy, solemn, confidential way that makes it sound profound and
salacious. He is walking up the Avenue of the Americas, just south of Forty-seventh
Street, now thinking of almost nothing but the morning sunlight pouring over from the
right, making the line of proud, gray, dumb, boxy giants on the left Smith Barney,
Time-Life, McGraw-Hill, News Corporation prettier than they deserve to be.
A pair of mounted police walking past him, about to make the turn onto Forty-seventh
Street, snags his attention for an instant, the very instant a signal reaches the tiny
device wedged in his left inside jacket pocket. It is forty-two minutes and forty seconds
past eight on the twenty-eighth of February.
Between his right thumb and forefinger he grips a huge paper coffee cup, and, with the
other three fingers, the handle of his briefcase. As the device's programmed sequence
proceeds, there is no noise, not even a click, only a tiny, continuous, hysterical
vibration. In the first quarter second, the muscles in his chest tense and his left
nipple goes erect. He takes a short, sharp, surprised breath and, without thinking,
flings the coffee toward the gutter, then grabs at his left pocket with his right hand.
But already the first instant of dumb panic has congealed to dread two seconds
as he claws to find the device, to punch the button, to shut the thing down
before the sound three seconds ... four seconds before it is too late.
It is too late.
Reprinted with permission
from Turn of the Century
Copyright © 1999
by Kurt Andersen