What he'd really like to do is give every man, woman, and child in the world the exact same hit of Ecstasy, the same tiny candy, pink as a kitten's tongue, that managed to turn his head around, or more precisely, to give his head a little -- well, a fairly big -- push in the direction it was already headed. But that's not going to happen, free Ex for the human race, so maybe the next best thing is to help other people find a more gradual route to the place where the Ex took Nolan.
Meanwhile, he knows that thinking like this will only get in his way. He'll stay cooler if he convinces himself that he's just interviewing for a job.
Has it only been two weeks since Nolan finally made up his mind? A long two weeks of trying to figure it out, even -- especially -- after he knew how he was going to do it.
No one promised it would be easy. But Nolan has prepared. He's read up, starting with two books by Meyer Maslow, the founder and current head of the World Brotherhood Watch Foundation. He actually went out and ordered them through the bookstore in the mall. The first book, The Kindness of Strangers -- Maslow's tribute to the people who saved his life when he was on the run from the Nazis -- was what made Nolan begin to think that maybe his plan could work.
For balance, Nolan has also been reading The Way of the Warrior, a paperback he took from the tire shop, borrowed from the backseat of a Ford Expedition some yuppie brought in for the Firestone recall. Nolan knows the book's a fortune cookie for bond traders with samurai
delusions, but still, it's filled with ancient principles of diplomacy
and war that help Nolan untangle the knots into which his thoughts can get snarled. For example, The Way of the Warrior says: Planning is key. Planning and total freedom to change the Warrior's plan. The book suggested that Nolan wait till afternoon. The Warrior knows that the enemy is best approached after lunch. So Nolan has spent hours cruising the suburbs, killing time.
Driving into the city, Nolan went over the plan. Park truck. Find Fifty-first Street. Find building. Enter lobby. Locate elevator. Push button. Board elevator. Hold breath. Assume that every passenger carries a different contagious disease.
The plan is working better than planned. The elevator is empty. He finds 19, pushes the button, leans against the wall. Just before the doors close, a dwarf hops into the car. Young, tan, streaky surfer hair, oddly handsome for a guy with a mashed-in pumpkin head. A blindingly bright white T-shirt shows off his gym-buffed chest. Great, thinks Nolan. My luck. Our man is being tested. The old Nolan would have been pissed, forced to ride up nineteen floors with a mutant. The newly reconstructed Nolan wills himself to imagine what the short dude went through on his first day of kindergarten. Or asking a girl to the prom. Nolan had a hard enough time, and he's on the tall side.
The trouble with changing your attitude is that the old one doesn't disappear. It hides in the creases of your brain, sending out faint signals. He can hear what Raymond would have said about the elevator dwarf. The hungriest chromosome is the broken one. The weak and the damaged will multiply and conquer the earth like a virus. Nolan remembers one of those boozy, late-night "discussions" with Raymond and his friends. One guy said that people used to think dwarfs had magical powers, which, they all agreed, just went to show how stupid people are. Nolan never bought it. He never believed that freaks were having lots of sex and millions of freaky children.
The elevator seems to have stopped. Is this Nolan's floor?
"Nineteen," says the mind-reading dwarf. He got on after Nolan. He couldn't have seen him hit the button. What if Work-Out Dwarf is a magical being? And what's with the knowing smile? Maybe he works in the building and sees a thousand guys like Nolan, every week some Nazi punk turns and heads for Brotherhood Watch. That worm-colored geek with the shiny head? Send the guy up to nineteen. Nolan has to remind himself that he's dressed in such a way that there's nothing to distinguish him from your normal, fashionably bald dude in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
From A Changed Man by Francine Prose. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
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