“I need to confess,” the woman stated.
It was on the bright side of 11 a.m.: Curtis Mead had been called out on an early morning shooting downtown just as he’d brought the needle down on his New Zealand Dark Roast pod. After seeing the body off, after questioning the half-dozen white-collar witnesses and destitute spectators who’d set out early for coffee or coffee money, after officiously but diplomatically telling the local media to find a private corner for self-fornication until the sun had at least crossed over the Courthouse dome, Curtis had ducked into a Starbucks – one of the three at the corner of Main and Leguin – only to find the joint’s registers, wireless, and brewing system had again been hacked.
The java chain had paid out somewhere around $13 million in cyber ransom last year, but with roughly $128 billion in annual sales, the mermaids on Main had good reason to grin. It was reputed that Starbucks Quality Control Division had helped shut down the Senegalese and Finnish hack hubs nearly singlehanded. At this moment, Curtis could have gone all James Wick on every basement crawler with a hard drive.
Instead, he nursed a cup of something one of the dispatchers had concocted. “Confess to what?”
“Not sure,” the woman admitted.
Her name was Darcy Patrick, she was a paralegal with one of the motley downtown firms, and Curtis doubted she had much more to confess than the occasional improper thought during Hallmark Christmas Week.
Then, she brought out the book. Well, the binder. Curtis braced. But if he’d expected some scrapbook of homicidal souvenirs, a dark manifesto of violence made manifest, he’d have been disappointed. The three ringed notebook contained maybe 200 pages of coherently written lists, one per day. Lists ranging from the mundane to the horrific. Curtis read from the last entries.
“Stopped for McGriddle+McJava/nearly sideswiped at 4-way University and Main.
“McMuffin+McCafe/nearly sideswiped at 4-way Poplar and College/called C-word/chased/shot 5X/arrest.
“McMuffin+McCafe/no cheese/shot 3X/arrest.
“Breakfast Whopper+BKPerk/carjacked w:gun at 4-way Poplar and College.
“Grilled Breakfast Burrito+MD Horchata/sideswiped Empire and Granville/called C/shot 5X/MPD find meth/shot 2X.”
It went on for possibly a dozen more entries, some far worse, some more cryptic, a few verging on Stephen King. “This some kinda journal?” Curtis demanded. “You a writer? Cause I have to say more exposition and character development.”
Darcy shrugged. “It’s just my morning. Mornings.”
The cop paused. “Busy morning. Mornings. Which one actually is applicable this morning?”
“Well, all of them, really. But in terms of my visit here, don’t worry. I had my McGriddle, though my McJava is now all over the front seat. You can check. No, that’s not why I’m here.”
“I should hope not.” Curtis’ caffeine withdrawal had surrendered to a dull thumping in his temples. “Let’s back it up here a second. Mountain Dew makes a horchata flavor now?”
“Somewhere,” Darcy said. “And somewhere, or I guess somewhen, I have a scorching case of road rage, obviously.”
“Yeah, got yourself shot how many times today, just at breakfast?”
“My shorthand sucks,” she said cautiously. “That isn’t how many times I got shot.”
Curtis placed his cup on a takeout flyer somebody’d been ballsy enough to slide under his wiper at the scene even with his dash lights blazing. He stared at Darcy, who seemed contrite, if a few bolts short.
“And I don’t even like cheese,” she murmured. “You ever hear of eidetic memory? You remember everything you ever did, that ever happened to you, that anyone ever said or did to you? So I think maybe what I have is a kind of eidetic memory, but like vertical instead of horizontal, if that makes sense.”
“Not at all.”
Darcy nodded. “Instead of remembering everything from Point A to Point B over the course of my existence, I remember everything that’s happening at any given time to me. On every timeline.” She tapped on the open binder on Curtis’ desk. “That’s everything I’ve ever done since I started keeping records about 22 years ago. Well, I mean, that’s just 2020 to now. Everything that doesn’t happen here fades pretty quick, so I started writing them down as they happen. The rest of these are in the car.”
Yup. “And. . .why?”
“I think I actually did something pretty fucking horrible. I’ve heard eidetic memory is a nightmare for some people – they remember every slight, insult, and hurt like it’s fresh. They alienate family, friends, spouses, hold grudges for decades. Whatever it is I have, whatever I or some version of me has ever done, the murder and the meth and all the petty or sick shit I’ve done, it stays with me, will stay with me, every day of my life. I can’t do anything about that. But I can’t live with the idea that I did something here. You figure out what that is, and I’ll confess. It might actually be a relief.”
“How so?” Curtis asked.
“It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m not a good person almost anywhere, anytime else. Anybody that bad can’t be all good.”
“Memory distortions,” Dodge said. “We all have ‘em, to some degree. The Mandela Effect, you’ve heard of that? You remember an event, a show or movie, a favorite toy or food, with perfect clarity, except you got it all wrong, it never existed. Enough people share that perceived memory, and it becomes part of the public consciousness. Then you’ve got false memories, either planted by your subconscious or by a manipulative therapist or coercive cop – no offense -- or priest or politician. Shit, you talk to most of these folks who stormed the Capitol – the moms and dads and hardware store owners and town councilmen -- and to this day, they honestly remember it as a patriotic populist protest. They may honestly believe we never had a pandemic, that school shootings are just a liberal narrative.
“I mean, clearly, this is totally personal to Patrick. No political or ideological shadings, no paranoid racism or government boogeyman trying to destroy her. Just herself – well, other versions of herself. She actually ‘remembers’ doing these things. Doesn’t sound like dissociative identity disorder. She’s aware of what these other versions of her do while being totally cognizant of her own actions and thoughts. Course, you got depersonalization disorder -- an ongoing or sporadic sense of detachment from the real world or of being outside yourself. You ‘observe’ your actions, feelings, thoughts from a distance, like you’re watching a movie. Derealization, on the other hand, makes other people seem vague or unreal. Sounds like Patrick has a solid sense of herself – the one in this time and place -- and the world around her. She simply sees a dozen other possible worlds at the same time.
“Now, people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory remember selected events and occurrences over several decades in stunning detail. Some scientists think it’s because they’re obsessive thinkers – they keep reviewing and analyzing those events. Not necessarily because they’re guilty, are seeking to imagine a different outcome, simply nostalgic over a particularly happy or rewarding moment. Patrick seems to focus on the possible negative outcomes of her actions. So we may be talking about intrusive or ‘opposite’ thoughts. She had any stressors, past traumas, life changes that might have her entertaining the idea she’s some kind of monster?”
“Her boss –Cam Hogan, the ‘law badger’ on TV? – says Darcy’s the perfect employee, honest and reliable. Darcy’s boyfriend seems like a good guy, and he said everything’s going great with them.”
“Still looking into it. The boyfriend insists she never had so much as a broken finger growing up, and her traffic record’s clean. No arrests, and from what’s available on the record, no assaults or abuse.”
Dodge considered. “These records of hers? They seem legit?”
“Ran ‘em down to the lab for a superficial once-over. Kris says the pages in the original binder, and the ink, appear to have aged consistently with more than 20 years’ storage. I left the first book there after copying it out.”
Dodge smirked. “So any of this help?”
“Not a damned bit.”
There had been no unsolved or unresolved carjackings, road rage fatalities, meth arrests, or cheese-related shootings over the past few weeks, and, going back further in the Patrick Diaries, no mysterious Thanksgiving arson/murders, missing children, supremacist scuffles, or terrorist actions that could be linked in any remotely plausible way to Darcy Patrick.
Curtis slid Vol. 6 (2007-08) back into the box, and with a touch of irritation, booted the box aside. He’d delayed digging into the morning’s homicide for this bullshit, and he was inclined toward whatever part of Dodge’s lunchtime dronefest confirmed Darcy Patrick was batshit.
Roy Treese, on the other hand, was still very real, very present, in this timeline. At least Roy Treese as Curt had met him, in the gutter about midpoint between Vintage Kitsch and the northeast corner Starbucks, one shot to the temple, one to the chest. The downtown homeless knew Treese well as one of their own, but saw or claimed to see nothing, and the merchants and lawyers and realtors and Gen-3ers foraging for a pre-drudge latte and pastry only heard or chose to hear an angry shout, a couple shots, and squealing wheels. Suffice it to say, at 6:45 a.m., not a plate number, make or model to go on.
“Talk about timing,” Kris grunted after picking up on the second ring. “We actually have a ballistics match on the homeless guy, Treese? Get this. Don’t suppose you remember a university kid got murdered on 9/11? Nobody else much did at the time, given the chaos going on, except that the victim was an international student, from you know where.”
“Shit,” Curtis muttered. “Yeah, I recall. Everybody figured it was a hate crime, but ‘we’ never got a solid lead.”
“Oh, and speaking of, you ready to tell me what the hell this crazy notebook’s about? It appears to be the real deal, but it makes no sense. No trace, no fingerprints…”
“Wait a second. No fingerprints?”
“Well, I mean there’s a couple completes and partials, a single subject, but as much as this thing was used, the plastic cover should have preserved old prints or even smudges. Where’d you come by these, again?”
“Hold on,” Curtis said calmly. “What do you mean, speaking of?”
“Speaking of 9/11. Those crazy notes start on September 15, 2001. And that’s not the weirdest thing. The binder you gave me was made by a company called Mead.”
“And President Ford probably drove a Lincoln.”
“No, I don’t mean the coincidence. I never heard of any Mead company that makes commercial or consumer binders or even paper, and as it turns out, there has never been, American or international. Sorry, geeked out on you.”
“Not a problem,” Curtis lied.
Darcy Patrick was there, which made things either easier or a lot harder. Curtis peered inside her probably 10-year-old Plymouth sedan, then located the slate Kia van the DMV database had kicked out. A glance into the passenger side confirmed, well, at least one corner of the puzzle.
Curtis heard the shouting before he reached the better-days wood porch. Male rage, female panic. “Fuck,” he muttered, clearing his weapon and stealthily taking the steps. Fortunately, the storm door was unlatched, and Curtis made a judgment call with the full strength of his right leg.
The man scarcely faltered as the detective leveled his gun at him. His own gun was aimed one-armed at Darcy Patrick, crouching next to a red faux-suede couch, staring wide-eyed from Curtis to her boyfriend.
“You the guy called me?” Wes Petersen demanded. He was still wearing his espresso-black apron with the beaming red mermaid logo. He glared at Darcy. “You see what you did? Now, it’s all over.”
“Nothing over, Wesley, unless you get stupid,” Curtis said, calm, commanding. “Darcy here was just trying to help, out of love.”
“Help?” Wes yelped, gripping the .22 tighter. “She has no idea what she did.”
“Think she had some idea. That man, this morning, he just pushed your last button, didn’t he? After that guy almost took you out at University and Main?”
“People are assholes. Everywhere.” Curtis felt a spicule of ice in his gut.
“Everywhere? Must be torture to know that better than anybody else.”
Wes locked into place; his gun arm fell a few inches.
“What do you think happened?” Curtis urged, quietly.
The man dropped onto the couch arm without loosening his grip. “They say it takes a quantum event, something subatomic on a big enough scale, to split these quantum waves that make up, you know, the universe.” Wes paused. “What they did in Washington on 9/11 was that kind of shit. I don’t know why I, if anybody else… But however whatever it was, it apparently fucked me up good. Because I know it all, what I am, everywhere. That night I was just here, I was so wasted and angry when I saw that man just walking around near the college like nothing happened.”
Probably terrified just heading back to his apartment that night, Curtis reflected, multiplying his own memory of 9/11 by an entire city, country, planet? “Wesley, you know you have the right to silence, to an attorney. Let’s see what we can do for you.”
“Ever since,” he began, then shook his head. Curtis understood, or hoped he did. Especially when he took just a few milliseconds too long to react to Wes’ next, and final, move.
Later, Darcy spoke just once as they waited. “He wasn’t himself.”
“God love bureaucracy.” Curtis took a long draw off his Vente Mozambique AA. Dodge had his usual, no doubt some frothy chai thing.
“Had Darcy sign a receipt for the binders — she didn’t stop to realize her signature wouldn’t match the notes inside the binder. And the lack of prints on the notebooks themselves? She’d already ‘confessed’ — why wipe them clean? Cause it wasn’t her guilt she wanted to confirm.
“She found them in a box in Wes’ crawlspace. But they were far from any kind of proof her boyfriend had committed any crime or was even a sociopath or psycho. Darcy’d seen a similar binder in his car before, but assumed it was some kind of work-related or fantasy soccer thing or something. Turns out, he kept the most current journal with him to jot down his ongoing activities and atrocities.”
Dodge shook his head. He seemed surprised or disturbed by little, which had ceased to infuriate Curtis. “So Petersen was actually the one involved in the traffic incident the morning of the murder.”
“Got a confirmation from the signal RFID at University and Main, and the coffee splashed across Wes’ front seat told the story. Darcy’d called in sick, and was at his place when he came in flustered and panicked. Wes told her about the near-miss and the driver calling him the C-word. Not the female anatomical slur — the homophobic oral sex reference. Didn’t tell her about shooting a jaywalking homeless man a half-block from work after getting called a ‘cocksucker’ a second time that morning. But he pulls it together, hides the current journal with the others, and goes into work.”
“But the girlfriend hears about the shooting on the radio and starts to wonder about things,” Dodge said, relishing another spicy, foamy sip. “Like you said — she can’t prove anything, and she loves him.” He said it like a human foible. “So she makes up this BS story about parallel Darcys, hoping you’ll confirm whether Wes is a killer or just run-of-the-mill, 21st Century loony.”
“And Wes freaks out when his boss sends him home early, when the computers lock up, and he discovers Darcy’s shared his secret diaries with the cops. She couldn’t very well ask me just to return ‘em. And he couldn’t just let her expose his… whatever it was…to the world.”
“And just what was that?”
Curtis shrugged. “I’ll pick that Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory thing. Wes killed a man on 9/11. You know how high the temp was right after the Chrysler Tower came down, and how many Middle Easterners got caught up in it. But that wasn’t Wes, or so he had to believe. So my uneducated guess is he started rationalizing his one-time lapse by imagining alternate scenarios, alternate realities. Obsessive thinking turned delusional.”
“And that’s your determination.”
Curtis looked as directly into the aberration resolutions director’s eyes. Something passed silently between them.
“That would be my inexpert opinion. Y’know, sometime you should come on down, have a real cup of coffee instead of that insta-food shit.”
Dodge laughed and tipped his McJava cup. “By the way, you know ‘McCafe’ was what the Golden Arches folks were originally going to name it? Tested bad, sounded snooty, I guess. Well, later.”
The Eat-N-Meet screen went black, and Curtis mulled Dodge’s final taunt. He’d simply acknowledged he had Curtis’ back whatever horseshit he was selling. Guns and historical redaction and man-child tyrants setting up shop all over the “civilized” world like burger franchisees looking to split up a desperately hangry market, and guns. World was bat-shit enough without layering on a whole new universe of woes.
“Sorry about the cash-only thing,” a young woman murmured at Curtis’ elbow, as genial as the mythical avatar on her cap. “Corporate managed to find and neutralize the hack cell, but they want to make sure the payment firewalls are, you know, secure.”
The cop smiled, dropped a few bills with Harriet Tubman’s somber countenance on the table against company policy, and ordered a Grande Mozambique to go. For that extra boost Curtis would need to pry Wes Petersen’s diary from Kris’ eager paws and lose a little evidence…