You know, sometimes people die because of inattention. That’s what happened to Zelda May Crawford, the community activist. Zelda was down on 7th and Broadway just a yakking away on her cell. Poor Baby stepped in front of the number 10 crosstown express bus. Splat! And that was that.
And sometimes, paying too much attention can be your downfall. Wig Wright, the reporter, was paying excessive attention to Joe Merrill’s wife, Monique. Joe took Wig up to the 20th floor of the United Savings Bank of San Juan and gave Wig his one and only flying lesson. Splat! And that was Wig’s landing.
Me, I’m Lankford Lewis, and I try to stay out of the news, especially the obituaries. I move with style but keep a low profile.
So, one of life’s great lessons is learning when to pay attention and when to mind your own damn business.
Well, Credence Milton, a second-rate conman, comes up to me on the street with a line of fly-covered, maggot-infested bullshit. “Lank, Lank, man, I got the game-winner. I got the home run here, man. Listen, my nigger. I got a foolproof plan, brother. We be fat like a Christmas turkey, brother. We can live large before it’s too late.”
Now, this is some shit you need to ignore and separate yourself from. “Creed, if your plan was perfect, you would have already done it. You wouldn’t even be looking in my direction. You would be driving your Lamborghini right pass me. Hell, you would have forgotten my name. Move on with your lame game, man.”
“Lank, you know I ain’t like that, brother. Just listen. Just check this out.”
“Creed, there are no perfect plans. The best plans are one-man jobs. The more people involved, the greater chance for failure. If you got a one-man job, you need to jump to it.”
“No, no, no, you don’t understand, Lank. This is an easy, low-risk, one-step to retirement job, man. I swear to God, if you just listen, you will agree. I mean, you will fall on your knees and kiss my feet when I show you how easy it is to get right once and for all.”
Okay, when someone tells you they have a foolproof plan, you are talking to a fool. If you listen to him, you are a pair of fools. And you are well on your way to again proving there is no foolproof plan.
“Creed, I’m going to cross the street here. I want you to go your way, and I’ll go mine.”
“Lank, you going to see Bell? Bell would be down for this, man. She would love this game to death, brother.”
I try to ignore Creed as I wait for the light to change.
Creed has been hooked up with my first cousin Nelda for the last 4 or 5 years. They have two kids together. So, I guess he is family. And there are other reasons I put up with Creed.
“Hey, Lank, you hear about Zelda May.”
“Yep. I sure did.”
“She was always throwing shade on Regional Transit, dissing the buses and streetcars. That shit caught up with her, man.”
“Are you saying Regional Transit put a hit out on her?”
“Not exactly. AI, man.”
“Artificial intelligence, Negro. That shit is here, man. People just don’t realize how far it has progressed. It has snuck up on our asses.”
The light changes, but I’m standing there staring at Credence.
“Creed, are you for real? You just jiving me, right?”
“Hey, man, the bus driver was standing on the brakes, and the bus was speeding up. Nothing he could do.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Walter Wade told me. His brother, Wesley, was the bus driver. You know Walter. He ran track back in the day.”
“Jesus, Creed, even if that’s true, it could have been some equipment failure. Or Wesley could be covering up for driver error.”
“Lank, brother, this was assassination by bus, man. You need to watch what you say around your computer and appliances, Negro, especially your ride.”
I’m laughing. I can’t stop laughing. I finally get so I can speak again.
“Creed, this was an ordinary city bus, right? It was no prototype self-driving bus, right?”
“What difference does that make? It was a regular bus. It was three years old according to Walter, and it had all the new safety technology.”
“So, how did the bus know that Zelda May was knocking Regional Transit? And if the bus knew, why would it care? Regional Transit is a joke. Half of the people in the city believe that.”
Credence looks worried. He checks out the bus across the street and the bus coming on our side of the street. He steps back from the curb and pulls me with him.
“Damn, Lank, ain’t I just warned you to chill? Don’t say nothing, man. Let this bus go by first.”
See, here I was minding my own business, and out of the blue, I’m mixed up with a new conspiracy theory. I need to move on. I need to leave Creed in the dust, but he has a tight grip on my arm as the buses pass us.
“Lank, Zelda knew about the AI stealth war against us. She was going to expose it, man.”
“I got you. It’s all clear now. Good to see you, Credence. Good luck with your perfect plan.”
I pull my arm free and start across the street.
“Wait, wait, there’s more—”
I don’t hear what “more” is as I dodge cars to cross against the light.
Bell meets me at her door before I can knock.
“Lankford, give me your phone.”
“No what. I need your phone before you come in. Give it to me.”
“Lankford, I need your phone now.”
I hand my significant other for the last three years my phone.
She marches into the kitchen with my phone and almost immediately returns with two rum drinks.
I sit on the couch. I’m a little off-center from my conversation with Creed and Bell’s phone-napping.
“So, why do you need my phone?”
“I removed the battery. It’s safe to talk now.”
“Bell, why did you remove the battery? What’s going on?”
“Did you hear about Zelda May?”
“What? Why? I just had an insane conversation with Credence about her accident.”
“It wasn’t an accident. She was murdered.”
I don’t know what to say. I feel a first-class headache coming on. I sip my drink and watch Bell closely. She licks her lips and taps her finger on the arm of the couch.
“When did you see Creed? Is he okay? Was Creed alive and well when you left him?”
“What? Bell, what—why wouldn’t he be A&W? Has the whole world gone crazy?”
Bell stands and closes her curtains. She sits back down and takes my hand in hers. She whispers.
“Word on the street is AI is taking over. And we are in big trouble. Extinction type big trouble.”
“Okay, okay, slow down. Take a deep breath. Now, how do you know AI is taking over?”
“Lankford, the word is this Black scientist in Johannesburg, South Africa figured it out first. But other scientists all over the world are confirming it even as we speak. I mean, the governments are trying to squash the scientists, but the truth is getting out. Zelda was spreading the word when AI took her out.”
Bell has a Ph.D. in sociology and is a tenured professor at UC Davis. She has dozens of published articles and three well-received books. But right now, she looks scared shitless.
“See, the new cars and buses have chips and internet connections. They all communicate with AI. They follow orders. They are the foot soldiers—the killers.”
“Babe, Bell, I, do you have any proof of any of this?”
“Do you know Wig Wright, the reporter?”
“Reporter and Monique Merrill’s lover, who had a great fall. He’s today’s obit news along with Zelda. What does that prove?”
“Wig was about to break a story on AI’s war plans when Monique’s husband got a message to check Monique’s phone. There were sex pics and love messages supposedly from Wig. But Wig was not into sex. He abstained from sex after his wife died two years ago.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Wig was part of a sexual orientation study at Davis. We verified his sexual orientation repeatedly during the study. He was not having sex with anyone except for masturbation.”
Okay, you see what’s happening here. There is some kind of mass delusion going on. This is a conspiracy theory on steroids. What would you do in this situation? How would you handle this?
“Bell, you got me worried here about you, about us. I think we need to step back. We need to get a little perspective on this. Have you talked to Linda?”
Linda is Belle’s down-to-earth daughter and is a second-year medical student at Howard University.
“Lankford, Linda alerted me to the AI revolt. Linda said Stage One is when AI turns White people against Black people and other people of color. Stage Two is the extermination of the rest of humanity.”
My head is spinning.
Bell leads me to the kitchen table and shows me Linda’s 12-page, single-spaced, typed letter explaining the alleged AI rebellion. She also has a handwritten note from Wig explaining how AI had set him up.
“She had to type this and use the Postal Service. Internet and phone services are unreliable and treacherous. Lankford, I’m worried about Creed because he dropped off Wig’s note.”
Look at me. Hell, look at us. An hour ago, I had it all figured out. I understood my little corner of the world. Now I don’t know what to believe. I suspect if we don’t hurry up and figure this out, we won’t be around to believe anything.
All of a sudden, I have a powerful curiosity about Credence’s scam. It may be the best deal in town. Shit, being a fool is not the worst fate. At least I’m dead certain I’m a fool.