Phone Call to Mary

Gary sat still for several minutes, torn between the excitement of an impossible situation and the sensation, therefore, that he was targeted, marked and as good as bagged. The conversation didn’t seem to produce anything that would justify this as a ruse, but maybe he wasn’t seeing the big picture. He decided finally that he could get his anxiety scratched by a call to Mary. He had kept in touch with her only by wiring cash to a pseudonym every other month, through a shady knockoff of Western Union. He had to find her real number in an online phonebook because they had not been formally introduced by the time he and Bluthe staggered out of her house, the morning after their debauchery. He still had his nameless wireless phone, which he took with him on a stroll around the block.

“Hello?” said a deep, scratchy and disgusted voice.

“Mary,” he said with a senseless friendliness, “hi, this is Gary Corinth.”

He thought he could hear her curse, but then she said dryly, her throaty voice vibrating over the phone: “Who?”

“Gary Corinth. I’m calling on an untraceable phone. I just need to ask some questions about your ‘housemate.'”

Slow vibrato: “All right.”

“Well,” he said, “I was wondering how it’s doing. Is it getting more — well, interactive?”

A number of seconds passed, during which Gary thought about three or four ways to start over, then Mary said with a sudden spurt of dark energy: “It’s using the Internet, if that’s what you mean. I don’t know how, I just gave it a phone line. I wasn’t going to tell it no. It just keeps getting smarter. But politer, too.”

Gary had to look at his phone in a histrionic moment. Then he had an insight into what might be in that confession. “Are you all right, Mary?”

“Sure,” she said, pushing the concern away at the same time that she seemed to be grateful for it. “I’m just fine. It’s the perfect housemate, really, although it tends to block the line.”

“It contacted me today,” Gary said.

“Doesn’t surprise me. A few days ago it got a hold of that boy you’d mentioned.”

“Andrew?”

“Andrew?” she repeated. “Maybe. Scotty — that’s what I call it — knew all about the people in that apartment. I don’t recall the name, but Andrew sounds right.”

Shit, said Gary mostly under his breath. “It’s got to be more careful. We may all be under observation. They can trace from us straight back to you.”

Mary didn’t respond to this open declaration of the inherent dangers. Gary waited but then said, “It just has to be a little careful. I’ll be contacting it later with instructions. This is no big deal. But tell Scotty he has to stay away from Andrew.”