Nietzsche’s cutting quote, “If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you,” is by now a redundancy. And so, when I became a San Francisco probation officer, I prepared myself to keep company with the abyss. But I had not quite realized how extensive the abyss was. I saw it in the eyes of the senior probation officers, so exhausted by massive caseloads that they were counting the months to retirement. I saw it in the faces of deputy jailors, disaffected shift workers who were all but deaf to the human clamor of the cell ranges. And, of course, I saw it in my clientele: hollow-cheeked crack heads, asocial gang bangers, vagrants with thousand mile stares. But at least the abyss could be mellow where probationers were concerned. It was mellow in the case of Joseph Shepherd, a middle-age drug peddler on probation for choking his girlfriend. Entering my office for his intake interview, he glanced at the tower of case files on my desk and chuckled. “I know you have it rough,” he remarked in a voice that could be poured over waffles. “So I plan to make it easy on you, sir.” He smiled with the insular charm of a sociopath then shook my hand with a python grip. He seemed to be a man of elemental strength—a brawn with a life of its own—yet his broad open face and puppy dog eyes set me completely at ease.
I had mentioned to the wonderful Leila Allison in a comment about how you always remember the first time you hit a ball over three hundred yards whilst playing golf. That got me thinking about ‘Book’ firsts. I hope that these cause you to think back.
Gus is barking his tiny brown head off, Mr. Thomas must be near. Gus came along four years ago, a pint-sized wolf in mongrel clothes. I glance down at my flour-dusted trousers and open the door a crack to greet Mr. Thomas. But I see it’s not Mr. Thomas, but a stranger. I quickly slam the door, hoping that he hasn’t seen me. There is a violent crashing sound as the mail is forced through the letterbox. Gus chokes himself trying to grab the hand, but he’s too late. I finally let him go and he gives me an angry scowl. I probably shouldn’t have slammed the door, but you never know, better safe. Lock the door. Check. Locked? Locked. Locked? Locked. Final check: locked? Locked. It’s locked.
SHE HAD ONCE BEEN A SHOW PONY, sleek of shank and withers. Now she walked the pool deck, eyes forward and a neutral look on her face. I watched her for a moment and noticed that her head described a perfectly level line as she strode along, barefoot and bikini-clad.
Li Tsai stood beside the groundship and studied the ruins of the ancient city. She’d learned in school that the inhabitants of that unhappy place called it Denver, in honor of some forgotten politician. Today those people were naught but dust and troubled memories, she thought, shifting her glance towards the new city standing alongside the bones of the old: Deng Xiaoping, city of the people.
September 24th, 2014 10.15am
He sits on the comfortable sofa and assesses his surroundings. He is in a spartan, minimally furnished room on the second floor of a nondescript Syrian apartment. There is a lamp-shade to his left, and a small coffee table in front of him, on which there is a bowl containing some dates. Somebody has tried to insert some signs of civilization, and he appreciates this. Outside, staccato gunfire is the false fire-cracker sporadically popping in the distance. The automatic bursts have an industrial sound quality, as if the trigger-happy fanatics shouting their devotions are contractors hired to destroy the city incrementally by hosing it with their bullets, and their RPG rounds.
“You want?” asks one of his swarthy captors unable to develop the question any further, because of limited English.
A laptop illuminates the otherwise darkened room. On the screen is a website that she is all too familiar with, the one that has been taunting her for months. A new photo has been uploaded within the past couple of hours. She pulls out a chair but chooses not to sit – the surfaces are damp and the whole apartment smells of bleach and lemon.
The website is seemingly old fashioned by design. Page backgrounds are dark with a watermark logo. Fonts are bright and dated. Items jerk around the page whenever a window is resized or moved. An animated under construction image rotates and hovers in view at all times.
The homepage shows fourteen captionless photographs. The image quality is poor and they appear to be scanned copies of original prints. Each image shows a minor celebrity in a state of undress, always draped across an object or a piece of furniture. The pictures are unflattering and raw. The first image shows a reality star splayed across a four poster bed. The next is an ex-soap star lying face down into a giant beanbag. A television presenter slumps backwards over a pile of cardboard boxes.
And so on.