Saved to "Contacts," Quick Name: "Claude," the email address, like a foreign cinema subtitle, hovers at the bottom of Dad O’Rourke’s monitor. No video image above. No bio. One transmission icon indicates: ♫ (Voice). The rest is empty space—a void. Avoid a void—Dad’s motto—reminds him of the rashness with which he took this assignment, already shaping up as "a pain in the keister." A twenty-four year old trail in twenty-first century America had gotten stale fast—Freedom of Information Act notwithstanding—'who' had access to 'what' being the key that unlocked personal data. From birth certificates to obituaries, facts were always known. By governments, first and foremost, followed by insurance companies—hence Dad’s verifiable credentials as an agent for Intercontinental Life (which he keeps up-to-date). Yet even armed with ID, password, and barcode, O’Rourke has met with frustration; blocked from making sufficient headway, his principle success has been in backpedaling. Who his target was has come to light; who his target is remains a dusky mystery.
Detesting the Dictaphone function of his transmitter, which records each cough and sniffle (not to mention ums, ahs, and expletives), Dad elects to enter his report via old-fashioned keyboard. Text (sans automatic editing, which he likewise loathes) appears in upper-case lines:
Had he made it? 11:55 pm. Just barely. Now what? Boston. All alone in a hotel room. Three hours left before the bars close. Tempting. Better call his wife. Not quite 8 pm Rocky Mountain time. Florence would be awake. Did he want to see her, or, more to the point, did he want her to see him; looking so tired; so weary; so old? With too many years between them—he approaching 60, she only 42—age makes Dad feel self-conscious, moreover guilty for having saddled Flo's relative youth with his saggy-ass old age. Audio phones were sufficient. Why must telecom these days insist upon mini-cam broadcasts? Were mind’s-eye visions of one’s beloved less desirable, less intimate? Dad thought them far more flattering. Whereas "gimmickry," he called it, left nothing to the imagination. Not that Flo disparaged her husband’s elderly status. Dad is handsome. Dashing, on occasion. His hair a shimmering mix of strawberry blond and grey. His facial features rugged like wood exposed to harsh weather. Deep-set grooves. High forehead. Crow’s-feet etching humor at either corner of his laughing Irish eyes—green as pools of travertine. Except when he is drinking—"has had a snoot full," is his phrase, during "the rainy season," as Flo calls it. Far too many bouts of pickling his internal organs. Intelligent conversation, he insists, is otherwise impossible. How converse astutely, let alone wittily, while bogged down in sober inhibitions? And memories? And mortal sins? Oh, yes, how ignore those violated thou-shalt-nots, without a stiff shot of Scotch? For starters. Marriage to an Irishman meaning only one of two things: endure the times he drinks or suffer the times he does not. Florence had done both. How could he deserve her? Faithfulness, thus far, was the best he had to offer. Absolute fidelity. In fifteen years of togetherness (they had both wed late), never had he cheated. One commandment kept. Adultery, at least, would not besmirch his conscience. Maybe he could claim poor phone reception, or that his unit was on the fritz. Lie, in other words? Sleep with adultery’s handmaiden? Flo would rather he frequent a whorehouse than tell one untruth—trust, to her, being paramount. Trust, in Dad O'Rourke, by his own admission, was a dodgy proposition. Given his propensities. To have faith in him was a prize that he all-too-seldom earned. Credits being non-cumulative. Unlike demerits. Whereas virtues were immediate—here today, gone tomorrow—vices tended to linger, to warrant constant vigilance. Drunkards, in particular, needed to be watched. On camera, damn it.
Comforted by the fact that someone, somewhere 'gives a
hoot', Dad depresses the code key that auto-enters HOME.