Sunday, July 31, 2016

Storage Unit

Storage Unit


The heat held the city like doom. It was everywhere and nowhere, nourished by continents of growing corn that surrounded the town. In the country, the corn stalks rose like flames from the wet earth and their tasseled ears were torches and their breath stagnant humidity infested with mosquitos. Heavy mist that smelled of carnage blanketed the dawn, but by mid-day the sun was high and hot, pronouncing judgment on the landscape and it did not go underground until nine-o’clock at night and, then, the darkness was windless, warm and all-enveloping.

Scott’s rented rooms were without air-conditioning and the fans that he owned, devices that he had once used to evaporate water leaked into his basement, were all in storage. He lived up a flight of gloomy, sodden-looking stairs in an old white house near downtown. A family of Sudanese refugees lived in the lower half of the big house and all of their windows were plugged with air conditioners. Stretched naked on his cot, Scott heard the air conditioners in the windows below him rushing like cascades of water in the mountains and, beneath that sound, there was a faint trickling noise, condensing vapor draining out into the tattered, spider-web draped bushes gathered around the home’s foundation walls. Scott thought of the growing corn and the air conditioners sucking heat out of the quarters where the Sudanese family lived, displacing that warmth, now redolent of curry and African spices, under his windows where convection, he supposed, would convey those hot currents over his own window sills and into his rooms. It was intolerable. Something had to be done.

Scott turned on the TV and, listlessly, went to his kitchen. The last beer in his refrigerator was lukewarm – the appliance couldn’t keep up with the heat – and there was a smell of rot inside the white box. Perhaps, the odor came from the dirty dishes heaped in the sink – it was too hot to further warm the house by running hot water. He went to his computer and typed some emails, but the keys soon became slippery and unreliable with sweat. A fat fly, disabled by the heat, squatted on a screen window. Outside, the cicadas buzzed like chainsaws in the trees twitching slightly in a fitful breeze and, so, dragging the shadows of their leaves back and forth across the blazing shingles of his roof. The shadows were vaguely abrasive and made raw what they rubbed against.

The beer warmed rapidly in the bottle squeezed in his hand and Scott felt sluggish. He stretched out on his cot again and tried to watch TV, but the pictures were blurred by the sweat running down his forehead and into his eyes, and, in any event, the screen also seemed to radiate heat, a bright warmth as if emanating from a 100 watt light bulb. It was an old TV; Scott’s ex-wife had the new, more efficient, flat-screen. He tried to watch sports but the pictures were foggy and the warm beer made him drowsy and so, at last, he fell asleep. In the preceding 24 hours, the temperature had not dipped below 87 degrees with high dew-points and Scott had not been able to sleep. He knew that he was a bad man and felt guilty about his divorce and the ruin of his family and, so, Scott was able to interpret his insomnia and discomfort as penance for his selfish and destructive behavior. He deserved to be uncomfortable and the hot sheets of sweat glistening on his breast and belly, perpetuated by the high humidity, was part of his punishment.

He awoke without feeling rested and the beer taste in his mouth tormented him. Scott’s head was leaden and he was unsteady on his feet. The afternoon was ending in a milky haze and, somewhere among the cornfields, a thunderstorm was browsing the gravel roads and the little dangerous intersections and the grain elevators like lightning rods thrust into the green-blue sky. The surf-sound of the Sudanese air conditioners continued. Scott knew that he owned two fans, at least, both mounted on pole-like stanchions. Before the divorce, the fans were kept in the basement, unplugged but, like the dehumidifier, ready to be activated if there was a flood that dampened the concrete floor or made the masonry block walls sweat. After the divorce, the fans were among items that Scott had hauled away from the house that he no longer owned. Several U-Haul loads of surplus furniture, old CDs and records, toys, and exercise equipment had gone to the rented storage unit across town. Scott put on his underpants and an athletic jersey and, then, looked in the drawer in his kitchen where he kept his bills and check book. Among the paper clips and old pens, he found a cracked coffee cup half full of pennies and nickels with the stubby key to his storage unit. Scott thought that it would not be too much of a violation of the terms of his penance to retrieve the fans from the storage locker and, at least, push the scalding air around in his apartment.

Once he held the key in his hand, Scott knew that he would have to put on his hot jeans so that he would have a pocket in which to keep the key. He slipped on his tennis shoes, still tied, and went outside. Except for the surging air conditioners, it was silent and the streets were deserted. The low towers of downtown seemed to stand apart from one another, as if it were too warm and uncomfortable for the buildings to gather closely together and there was a faint, chemical odor of charcoal and lighter fluid in the air. The trees drizzled shadow over the white sidewalks and ants were carrying winged corpses across the pavement. Somewhere a motorcycle tried to accelerate but failed, choking itself off.  

The inside of Scott’s car was an inferno and the seat-belt buckle was a brand on his flesh. He turned up the air conditioning as high as possible and drove with open windows away from downtown toward the suburbs. Long lines of cars were queued up at the fast food places, people preferring not to leave their cars but to order from behind the wheel and, with his windows down, he could hear voices amplified by the drive-up speakers. A sad, little farmer’s market was set up on the boulevard near the shopping mall – people sat on fold-up lawn chairs under awnings improvised from blankets and tent stakes. Wilted flowers made a fringe around a fried chicken place. Potholes in the parking lot caught at his car’s underside and wrestled with his chassis and a feral cat with a small bird in its jaws stalked along the curb.

Scott went to a theater and bought a ticket to see a super-hero movie. It was almost too cold in the theater auditorium and the carpet and seats smelled of mildew. The movie was loud and long and Scott slept through most of it. A couple of other people sat isolated in the theater, but Scott ignored them. After the show, he went into the lobby, bought some popcorn and candy and a ticket to another movie showing in the multi-plex. The movie was a foul-mouthed romantic comedy in which several beautiful movie stars pretended that they were homely and cursed a lot. The leading man in the movie spoke with a British accent. There were more people watching this film, mostly middle-aged women, and, by the end of the picture, several of them were sobbing loudly. Scott wondered what had touched them so profoundly. The chill in the theater was sepulchral, a vacant, indifferent cold like something that might oppress you far underground in a cavern or a catacomb.

After the romantic comedy ended, Scott went to the toilet. He sat in a stall and wondered if it was worth driving all the way across town to get the two fans for his rooms. Some spirit in him opposed the trip through the night to retrieve the fans. The self-storage unit was in a remote suburb and he felt groggy, even a little confused – although he was confident, he could find the place, the sequence of roads that he would have to follow seemed unclear to him. For a moment, he thought that it was the kind of question on which he should consult with his wife, but, then, he remembered that he was divorced and that this was, in fact, the kind of decision that he had once wanted to make for himself, without consulting anyone, a decision touching upon his comfort and personal convenience. He shook his head and smelled the stink of disinfectant in the toilet and, then, there was a woman’s voice – "Is it empty?" "No, I’m here," Scott said. "Sorry, we’re just cleaning up," the woman replied. Scott told her he would be finished in a minute.

The parking lot was dark and the overhead lamps on the lights were all broken. A freeway throbbed in the distance. Immersing himself in the night was like falling into a warm bath. It was still, at least, 90 degrees.

He drove through a bad neighborhood. A man naked except for a stained underpants was standing in an intersection trying to remove his skin. A few blocks later, four police cars were drawn up beside a house and there was a conclave of people, grave and silent, standing on a lit porch. So many people were standing on the porch that the old wood seemed to be sagging. A fire truck hurrying somewhere lumbered heavily through an intersection.

He drove among taverns. The police had set up road blocks and were stopping cars and checking their drivers for intoxication. Even though Scott was completely sober, he felt a strong surge of panic.

At the freeway ramp, a wild-eyed beggar accosted him, pleading for money.

He drove around the edge of the city. He saw a car wreck and a corpse covered with a blanket lying in the ditch and ambulance workers leaning over a smashed vehicle as if it were an abyss dropping down to the center of the earth.

Heat lightning coursed through the sky.

He exited the freeway and came to a place where there were streets cut into the fields, complete with storm sewers and freshly poured curb-lines, even sidewalks in some places gliding along the boulevards, but no houses of any kind, no businesses, ghost neighborhoods of vacant lots between long, broad roads interrupted at intervals by round-abouts. A canal with pale concrete banks ran between groves of whispering trees. Then, he saw a hillside half cut-away and terraced and, on the terrace, there were rows of low metal buildings under tin roofs only very slightly sloped, numbered garage doors facing gravel lanes between the storage units. The complex was as long and broad as a football field and lit by mercury lamps between the buildings. It was a very different-looking place at night than it had been during the daylight, as silent as a tomb, the regimented buildings like barracks in a sinister military encampment.

Each lamp was thronged with halos of distraught, orbiting insects. He heard their chitinous wings tapping at the metal and glass. The lamps hummed and the anonymous storage units spread out around him on all sides, making a featureless maze.

He found the unit marked with the number on the key. The garage door slid up into the ceiling with a loud grating sound that startled him. The sound echoed and Scott stood back from the storage unit, a little appalled.

There was no light in the unit and the darkness gaped at him. After a while, his eyes adjusted and he could see into the space. The two fans were near the back, rotor-faces turned to him like pale, indifferent flowers. He had to navigate some boxes and slide between a Nordic Track machine and some exercise bikes to reach the fans. The fan on the left was leaning against a baby’s crib. Some small pastel-colored blankets were stacked on the mattress in the crib. There was a mobile screwed onto the crib’s rail, brightly colored circus animals dangling down over where his babies had once slept. The other fan’s electrical cord was tangled among the bicycles that Scott had bought for the family – the four bikes were jumbled together and half-fallen against the aluminum wall. Scott had to kneel to extricate the cord from the spokes and wheels of the bicycles. He stood up and rested his hand on the hard, leather seat of one of the bicycles. Scott stood in that place for a long time. It was hard for him to breathe.

He put the fans in the back of his car, pulled down the garage door – it bellowed in protest again – and, then, drove away from the Self-Storage units.

A thunderstorm lit up one quadrant of the sky. Airplanes were taking off and landing at the airport.

A couple blocks from his rented rooms, Scott saw that someone had affixed a poster to a street sign. The poster was handwritten and advertised a garage sale – clothing, furniture, baby items, the sign said above the address. Scott knew that it was illegal to use the metal pipe supporting a city street sign as place to post a notice. He looked across the intersection at the placard pinioned in his headlights. A heavy truck lumbered by. He drove up to the street sign, parked, and, then, walked up to the poster. He clawed it down and threw the cardboard in the gutter. Then, it occurred to him that he should not litter and so he put the ripped cardboard sign with the fans in the back of his car.

At his house, he pitched the garage sale sign in the garbage and, then, carried the fans up the stairs to his rooms. The Sudanese air conditioners howled in his ears. His rooms were hot as an oven.

Scott aimed the fans at his bed. One of them would not work when he plugged it in. The other fan slowly began to turn. But he had plugged the fan into the power-strip for his computer and the circuit was overloaded. The light in the room went off and the computer made a sizzling sound and, then, the fan rotor stopped turning. Scott unplugged the fan and went downstairs into the dank basement to reset the fuse.

It had begun to rain outside but the water falling from the sky was hot, like tears or blood.

Saturday, July 23, 2016




As he grew older, Lysne watched more cable news. Because he liked to hear different perspectives, he channel-surfed, using his remote to switch from liberal to conservative stations and back again. Lysne’s wife rose early in the morning and so she went to bed at nine o’clock. His twin grand daughters lived in the basement of the house and used a separate side-door entry and, so, Lysne rarely saw them. Sometimes, he heard them playing music, raw-sounding stuff growled by men with deep bass voices. To Lysne, the music was a cry for help to which he didn’t know how to respond.

Each week, Lysne recorded sporting events broadcast on ESPN – mostly basketball games or, in season, football. He watched the games while sorting through invoices or accounts payable from his business, selling, installing and servicing garage doors. He sat on his couch with his silver money box next to him and his laptop computer and worked on his books watching TV out of the corner of his eye. When he was done with this work, Lysne made popcorn in the microwave and watched the game underway more attentively. At 10:00 pm, he switched to the local news and checked on the headlines, usually a police chase out in the country or arrests for heroin or methamphetamine, sometimes a fundraiser for a local library or the animal humane society, a corpse fished from a green river, trucks overturned on the freeway and bad weather hurrying in his direction. After perusing the local news, he switched to cable to see what was happening in Washington and with the political parties, watching panels of commentators insulting one another. In other parts of the world, the Tv showed him that children fought wars and refugees drowned in storms or died crossing deserts and, on the grey steppes of the Middle East, cities were on fire, corkscrew clouds of oily smoke rising into colorless skies. Sometimes, planes crashed and there were volcanoes and earthquakes, forest fires and landslides. A little after 11:00, the misery in the world and the political debate seemed less pressing and interesting to him and he rested his eyes, thinking that he would just listen a little with his ears since the images were superfluous to the spoken commentary, and, then, it would be midnight, the twins returned from where ever they had been and their half-heard music rousing him from his slumber on the couch so that, dizzy with sleepiness, Lysne would stand up and stretch and, then, make his way up the steps to his bedroom.

One night, Lysne watched a debate about tax policy in which each speaker called the other a liar. There was nothing to see but handsome and indignant faces glistening in the light as they shouted at one another and, so, Lysne decided to rest his eyes. When he closed his eyelids, he could hear everything clearly enough and, even, perhaps, follow the argument with greater focus and, then, the timbre of the voices changed and became more urgent. He shook himself awake and saw the quiet room and silver money box on the coffee table in front of him, his bare feet on the hardwood floor next to the white socks that he had earlier removed, the yellow light of the lamp reflected on a black windowpane, his laptop computer closed but a green LED on its side blinking mysteriously, deep darkness outside beyond the curtains and the window where the headlights of a car sometimes flashed past.

The TV set showed a street flanked by apartment buildings with corroding iron balconies. In a haze of orangish light, some men in blue and white uniforms were crouched behind vehicles aiming rifles in the direction of a sidewalk cafĂ© and a niche in a building where there was an ATM machine. A body rested on the sidewalk in front of the ATM machine. Then, the TV showed a crowd of people, mostly young, running like a herd of wildebeests startled by predator. The young people’s faces looked blank and they ran toward the cameraman, parting to pass around him. A siren wailed and some ambulances erupted from a side-street, turned and hurled down the boulevard – a palm tree stood near an intersection and, in the distance, ruins lit by spotlights rose above the city on a mesa-top protected by fluted cliffs. Voices spoke in an untranslated undercurrent while an announcer said in English that it was an active shooter situation and that, at least, 10 people were known to be dead. The number of terrorists was thought to be three or, possibly, four. Although the word "LIVE" was emblazoned across the images, the pictures looped, repeating themselves: the apartment buildings with rusted balconies, the armed men taking aim, the herd of young people running, ambulances, and the spot-lit ruins. The announcer said that the shooters had escaped, possibly into a subway. A map of the city punctuated the footage loop, an amoeba-shaped network of streets and mass transportation routes. From time to time, the newscaster turned to commentators who said that it was "a fluid situation" and that early information is most wrong and that no one really knew what was happening in this foreign capitol across the sea.

Lysne watched with interest. He channel-surfed. The other stations had the same images, but filmed, it seemed, from a slightly different angle. A couple seconds of cell-phone video showed a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt waving a small weapon with a skeletal stock in the air – the muzzle flashed and, then, video looped back to the beginning. It was pretty apparent that no one had any reliable information as to what was happening in the over-seas capitol. A blonde woman with an impassive beautiful face said that no one had yet taken credit for the shootings. She pouted and tried to look worried and nibbled at little bit at her full, brightly lipsticked lips. A strange-shaped armored car rolled into a defensive position, crushing a bed of savagely red tulips in the median of the boulevard. Lysne decided that he would go to bed. In the morning, he would turn on the TV and find out how many people had been killed and if Americans were among them and whether the terrorists had been captured or shot down in a hail of bullets and politicians in Washington would debate the significance of the incident with respect to citizens like Mr. Lysne.

The TV was high-def, big as a picture window. The large flat-screen television had been an expensive investment for Lysne, but he was glad that he had the TV and enjoyed watching it – sports, football in particular, was fantastically clear and beautiful on the big high-def screen: the huge players in their bulging white armor stood under coruscating lights on emerald green fields and, when they moved in concert, it was like a ballet. Lysne gazed in admiration at the screen and the foreign capitol with its distant acropolis, columns and pediments enbalsamed in amber light, a procession of ambulances sliding sideways across the foreground and the running ticker below the image, a crawling compendium of today’s headlines like the yellow-tape guarding a crime scene, and, then, just as he reached for the remote, two of the gunmen came through the screen, wiggling down from the flat-screen as if they were climbing through a window.

One of the gunmen was wounded and his swarthy face was drenched in sweat. Lysne saw that he had a saucer-sized wound in his side and, as he fell down on the hardwood floor, blood splashed out of him. The other gunman wore a black bandana over his curly dark hair. He seemed strangely calm, even serene, pointing the muzzle of his long gun at Lysne. The gunman was wearing black hooded sweatshirt with khaki pants bulging with ammunition. His military-style boots looked heavy but he moved in them quickly. Lysne was afraid that his remote-control would be mistaken for a weapon and so he tossed it onto the couch next to him. The gunman barked something at Lysne, then, stooped and seized the wounded man by the front of his shirt, hauling him across the floor to the corner of the room. The wounded man grunted with pain and, then, lifted his revolver and waved it in Lysne’s direction. The other man had set the injured fighter against the wall so that he had a clear vantage on the steps leading upstairs, the front door, and the opening into the kitchen and dining room. The revolver seemed too heavy for the wounded gunman and it kept drooping to point down at the floor where a pool of blood was accumulating.

"I am dreaming," Lysne said. "This is all happening half-a-world away."

The gunman with the rifle moved forward and shouted at Lysne.

"I don’t understand you," Lysne said. "English... can you speak English?"

The gunman shrugged. He was small and wiry, bantam-sized with a weightlifter’s body. He had remarkably large dark eyes and a pencil-thin moustache and Lysne thought that the gunman was a very handsome man.

"Who’s here?" the gunman asked.

"Just me. I’m alone," Lysne said.

"Do you have a car?" Lysne couldn’t place the man’s accent.

"No, I don’t," Lysne said.

"Everyone here has a car," the gunman said. "I went to school at UW, in Madison. I know you."

"I don’t have a car," Lysne said again.

The terrorist stepped forward and put the muzzle of his gun into the pit of Lysne’s belly, leaning forward to push hard against him. Lysne yelped – it felt as if the gun barrel was going to penetrate his abdomen.

"Okay, okay," Lysne said.

The gunman stepped back and Lysne reached into his pocket, handing the terrorist his car keys.

On the television, a journalist with an open shirt was interviewing a young woman. The young woman was chattering in an excited voice. Several onlookers with gleaming eyes stood in the shadowy background. Another cell-phone video showed a shooter running around a corner and, then, there was a popping sound like a string of fireworks.

Lysne’s wife came to the top of the steps.

"What’s happening?" she cried. The wounded man lifted his pistol and fired a shot that ripped through the rail of the stairway banister, splintering wood. The gunman with the rifle turned in her direction and his gun flashed and jerked like a snake against his torso. Lysne’s wife toppled backward onto the landing. As she fell, her body twisted against the wall where there were several high-school graduation pictures, Lysne’s son and his two granddaughters, and the framed photographs dropped onto the carpet. Lysne stood up.

"You can’t do this," he cried.

The terrorist with the rifle shot Lysne in the head.

Then, he shouted something to the wounded man, running to the front door, and pushing through it. Across the street, the lights in several houses flashed on. The gunman smelled the lilacs and the breath of rain in the wind. Lysne’s car was in his garage, behind the house in an inconspicuous alley, hidden behind his steel and vinyl garage door. The terrorist looked up and down the sidewalk, scanning the cars parked along the curb. He darted to the first car and tried to open it, but the key wouldn’t work. The car alarm began to wail rhythmically and more lights flashed on in nearby houses.

The gunman saw a car approaching and heard sirens. Across the street, an alleyway led between houses. He ran down the alleyway, bumping against a garbage can, that spun around and, then, dropped, rolling loudly over the concrete. There were puddles in the alley and, as the lights in the houses were turned on, the water caught the glint from the windows.

In Lysne’s living room, the air smelled of cordite and a thin fuse-like ribbon of smoke hung in the air. The wounded man had dropped his pistol and his head was slumped down on his chest. On the wide-screen high-definition TV, a worried announcer said that the gunmen who had killed people in the foreign capitol were still at large.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Two Fables






The great Magus felt inconvenienced. When his aunt invited him to her Fourth of July brunch, she said that food would be served at noon. But it was almost 1:30 by his wristwatch, and the grill on which the hamburgers and bratwurst were to be cooked had just been lit. The charcoal flared merrily and everyone seemed cheerful except the Magus. He sat alone brooding.

The cause for the delay was an ice cream social at the Congregational Church down the street. The smaller children clamored to attend and, so, the meal was deferred until the kids with their mothers in tow returned from the church. The men and the women with nursing babies sat on the redwood deck at the Magus’ aunts house drinking beer. The Magus didn’t like beer. It gave him gas.

Mothers and children returned from the ice-cream social. It was unnatural, the great Magus thought, for dessert to be served before the meal and, now, the children had slimy faces and were hyper-active because of the sugar in the ice-cream and their voices had become particularly loud and shrill.

Big Ronnie stood by the grill, moving around the meat. Everything about Big Ronnie was large. One of his grandchildren, a seven-year old boy named Tristran Eliot Wilson, stood beside Big Ronnie tugging at his pant’s leg.

"I want a hot dog," the child said.

"I’m making you one, Hermes," Big Ronnie said in his big voice.

"I’m not Hermes," the little boy replied.

One of the mothers lit a cigarette and asked Big Ronnie why he called the child "Hermes."

"I don’t know," Big Ronnie said. "It’s a name I heard somewhere."

"I’m not Hermes," the boy said indignantly. "I’m Tristan Eliot Wilson."

"No, you’re Hermes," Big Ronnie said, meat juices flaring into flame beneath his belly.

"Tristan Eliot Wilson," the boy insisted, pouting.

The great Magus was sitting at a picnic table, nursing a lemonade.

"You should be proud to be Hermes," the great Magus said. "Either you are named after Fred Astaire’s choreographer, Hermes Pan, or —"

"I’m not Hermes," the boy said. "I’m Tristan Eliot Wilson."

The great Magus continued: "– or you are named after Hermes Trismegistus, the thrice-great Hermes, worshiped with Thoth, the scribe, on the banks of the Nile, the guide of souls, and the author of the secret wisdom that precedes Christianity and is a greater, and more truthful revelation."

"What are you saying?" Big Ronnie said. Fat sizzled in the grill and greasy smoke coiled skyward.

"I’m Tristan Eliot Wilson," the child repeated.

"Stop with this bullshit," Big Ronnie said, menacing the great Magus with his silver spatula. "Is this some kind of Islamic fundamentalist bullshit?"

The great Magus looked at Big Ronnie.

"If he wants to be called Tristan, than you ought to call him Tristan," Big Ronnie said.

"But you were teasing him," one of the women said.

Someone brought out the coleslaw and the potato salad. Butterflies flickered over the blossoms in the flower beds. In an alleyway, a string of firecrackers detonated and this made a dog howl.

"I’m just saying, we don’t need this Muslim bullshit," Big Ronnie said.

The great Magus considered whether he should open the lawn under Big Ronnie’s feet and hurl him though the flaming maw of the earth, beyond the ecliptic where maddened and ruinous planets swooned in fire, tormented goblins chanting as they whirled across the zodiac.

The great Magus decided to be magnanimous. A garter snake slithered across the lawn and he stood up to salute the beast. Big Ronnie shoveled cooked meat onto a platter and Tristan Eliot Wilson whimpered again, asking for a hot dog.





It is not an easy thing to camp on Martha’s Vineyard during the high season – campsites are scarce and must be reserved far in advance and, in any event, they are exorbitantly priced. After a couple days, Innes decided that he would have to sleep in his pickup truck. But this is not such an easy thing to accomplish either. The island is small and its roads and byways are heavily patrolled by police and Innes had difficulty finding a place appropriately remote and unvisited for his hermitage at night. A narrow gravel lane led into the State Forest in the center of the island and, after dark, Innes drove down that road to where there was a shack that had once been a meeting house for a congregation of praying Indians now long extinct. An old graveyard was hidden in the underbrush and there was a little driveway that led away from the gravel lane by the cemetery where Innes could spend the night.

Steven Spielberg was away in Morocco or, perhaps, Mallorca – Innes wasn’t sure which – directing a movie and so he had leased his summer home at West Chop to Kim Kardashian. Innes was the curator of an unofficial Kim Kardashian fan-site and he collected memorabilia about the celebrity and thought of himself as her most devoted admirer. He had come to Martha’s Vineyard in the hope of seeing Ms. Kardashian and, perhaps, acquiring her autograph. This was his most deeply held desire.

At home, in Decatur, Innes installed home security systems. On the door of his pick-up truck, there was a large eye without eyelashes and the words: FINEX SECURITY SYSTEMS: The Eye that never Sleeps! His cell-phone number was printed beside the logo. On his front seat, Innes kept a clipboard with contracts and product specifications attached to his daily appointment log. The yellow shell of a hard hat sat on his dashboard. These furnishings, and his neat white uniform, gave his truck a reassuring and professional aspect. He had no difficulty gaining access to the neighborhood of elite seaside mansions at the security gate at West Chop. The drowsy guard nodded at him as if he were an old friend and Innes drove along the tree-lined lane where big estates within walled compounds overlooked the bay. The air was glittering and the dew glistened in the ivy on the stone walls and between tangled masses of wood and shrubbery, Innes saw the gable of a house, a clapboard tower weathered grey by the wind and sea-salt, a wet ravine tilted toward a small scooped-out cove where he glimpsed a brick boathouse and a white-winged sailing ship at moor. The road looped and there were service drives that ended at barracks-like structures, old stables converted into staff dormitories or administrative offices where invariably a man in khakis and a navy-blue jacket emerged, blinking in the sun to ask Innes his business. Each time, Innes admitted that he was lost, provided an address without a name, and, then, waited for the man to point in one direction or another, gesturing toward back down the lane to the trees rising above the vast lawns where fountains spurted and sad-looking white statues stood in the green shadows.

After a few circuits of the road looping around the peninsula, Innes found the Spielberg house and approached the big structure on a narrow service road boring through the trees to make a green tunnel. There was a clearing, a meadow with flower beds and a few smaller trees wind-cropped and bent on the headland, and, beside a salt-water marsh, another long stables building decked-out with satellite dishes. A heliport painted like a yellow target stood next to the stables and the big hulk of the house, a barren range of brick ramparts and round towers, rose overhead, on the high point overlooking the bay. Innes saw a dumpster and a couple of garbage cans beside the stables building and, so, he climbed out of his pick-up, put on his hard hat, and, pretending to make some notes on his clipboard, approached the refuse bins. This was precisely what he was seeking, a treasure trove of personal items discarded in the rubbish. Eggshells and the remains of a shrimp dinner in clots of fettucine decorated a tangle of garden clippings in a compost bin. A half-dozen magazines and two unread editions of the New York Times were in another bin. A third compartment contained a wealth of invoices, unopened letters soliciting proceeds, and pages from what seemed to be a film script. Innes bent over these materials rapidly sorting them, before slipping the sheets into a evidence baggies.

As he worked, Kim Kardashian and Kanye came from stables building and walked briskly toward a garage. Innes didn’t see them. A moment later, a silver Range Rover emerged from the garage, glided down the driveway and, then, turned up the service lane that Innes had used to access the dumpsters. Because he was stooped over the garbage bins, Innes didn’t see any of this.