Chapter 23

IT'S A SMALL WORLD. SCIENTISTS HAVE PROVEN THIS.

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In 1967 a researcher named Stanley Milgram asked a few hundred people in Kansas to try to get packages to a small number of "targets," random strangers in Boston. The Kansans could send the package to anyone they knew personally, who could then pass it on to anyone they knew personally, until a chain of friends between Kansas and Boston was uncovered.

The packages arrived on target much quicker than anyone expected. The average number of links between searcher and target was 5.6, immortalized as "six degrees of separation." (Or six degrees of my mom's favorite actor.) In our small world (small country, really) you're only about six handshakes away from the perfect lover you haven't met, the celebrity you most despise, and the person who innovated the phrase "Talk to the hand."

Now, if the world is that small, then the world of cool hunting is minuscule. Assuming that Jen's and my paka-paka realizations were correct and the anti-client was a group of cool hunters, then I doubted there were more than a couple of handshakes between us and the missing black woman.

The trick was finding the right hands to shake.

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But first we had to go to the dry cleaner's.

We dropped off the shirt, pants, and bow tie so that they would all sparkle for their return trip to the store and my wounded refund. I watched as the man snipped off the plastic tags.

"You wear these clothes?"

"Yes."

Snip. "With tags in them?"

"Yes."

Snip, snip. "You supposed to take off tags."

"Yes."

Snip, snip, snip, pause. "Your hands are purple?"

"Yes."

"Can you fix this jacket?" Jen interrupted our scintillating conversation, which led to a longer pause, full of head-shaking and sad expressions. I took the opportunity to sweep up the tags with my purple hands and tuck them into my pocket for safekeeping.

"No. Cannot fix."

She shoved it back into her bag, folding it carefully for reasons that were purely symbolic: respect for the dead.

"Don't worry Hunter I'll see what I can do."

The man looked at Jen and shook his head again.

Central Park, like the rest of New York, is part of a grid system.

Parks in other cities come in various shapes - organic blobs, triangles, winding shapes that follow rivers. But Central Park is a precise rectangle, stuck onto the irregular isle of Manhattan like a label on a shrink-wrapped piece of meat.

Near the bottom of the label, in the fine print, a very cool tribe meets every Saturday afternoon. They skate to music, rolling in circles around a | DJ playing ancient disco without irony.

Technically they're not even part of the cool pyramid, because they're Laggards, trapped in a time bubble, like those guys in Kiss T-shirts. But much cooler. They date to the early years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, when the government mandated wheelchair ramps for every curb and building in the country, unexpectedly creating the modern culture of boards, skates, and scooters.

That was a long time ago. They are so ancient, so yesterday, that they're totally cutting edge.

And every Saturday, Hiro Wakata, Lord of All Things with wheels, shows up here, practicing his double reverses and cool hunting up a storm.

Normally I kept a respectful distance from this ritual, not wanting to poach on a fellow hunter's territory, so it had been months since I'd last come by (to watch - attaching wheels to my feet makes me less cool, not more). But Hiro was the obvious first handshake in search of the anti-client. In his late twenties, he's pretty old for a cool hunter, knows everyone, and has been rolling since he learned to walk.

He was easy to spot among the fifty or so skaters in orbit around the DJ, wearing a sleeveless hooded white sweatshirt, sweeping fast and close to the ragged edge of spectators. He'd become famous for half-pipe styling as a kid, so roller skating was a second language, but he spoke it beautifully. (He was also fluent in motorcycles, electric micro-scooters, and mountain boards.)

I waved as he zoomed by, and on his next pass Hiro broke out of the circle, the rumble of his wheels sputtering and spitting gravel as he crossed the unswept outer ring of asphalt. He slid to an ice-hockey stop in front of us.

"Yo, Hunter, new hair?"

"Yeah. I'm in disguise these days."

"Cool. Like the hands, too." He spun around the other way to face Jen rather than turn his head a few degrees; a life on wheels had addicted him to frequent rotation. "Jen, right? I liked what you said at the meeting the other day. Very cool."

I saw her suppress an eye roll. For a group of trendsetters, our response to her was annoyingly predictable, I guess. "Thanks."

"Mandy was so pissed. Ha! You roll?"

"Not well enough to join you guys," Jen said. The couple passing in front of us - her skating backward, him forward - did a 360 under-and-over together, never losing their grip on each other's hands. Jen and I whistled together.

"Don't sweat it, come anytime." Hiro pulled a 350 and was facing me again. "So, what's up?"

"I was wondering if you could help me find someone, Hiro. She's a skater."

He took a slow spin, a happy king surveying his domain. "Well, you came to the right place."

Jen pulled out the printed photo. "This is her."

He looked at it for a second and nodded, suddenly somber.

"Wow, she hasn't changed much. I haven't seen her for a long time. Not since the split."

"The split?"

"Yeah, like ten years ago. I was just a kid then, back when the cops hassled us all the time." He gestured at the DJ, ensconced within four stacks of speakers, two turntables, and a sputtering generator. "Used to be Wick's boom box on a milk crate right there, ready to roll when we got busted. She was an original, started this club when she was thirteen."

I took the deep, pleasing breath of being right - she was an Innovator.

"Her name's Wick?" Jen asked. "That short for 'Wicked, by any chance?"

Hiro rolled from side to side in amusement. "Not at all. Short for Mwadi Wickersham."

The name wasn't familiar. "So she doesn't hang out here anymore?"

"Like I said, she left when the core group signed up with..." He named a certain skate company associated with the in-line revolution.

"Because she didn't want any corporate ties," Jen said.

Hiro shrugged. "She never said anything about selling out. Hell, I was all logoed up in my half-pipe days, but that never bothered her. The split wasn't about sponsorship; it was about going in-line." He lifted one foot, revealing the four colinear wheels of his blade. "Mwadi was all about classic skates, which is what the originals wore. We kept it up until the early nineties, after everyone else had switched. Two-by-two or death, you know?"

Jen's eyes widened. "You mean, this is all about what kind of roller skates to wear?" she cried.

Hiro rolled backward, spreading his hands. "What's about what kind of skates to wear?"

"We're not sure," I said in my calming voice. "Maybe nothing. So, you haven't seen her lately. Do you know how to find her?"

He shook his head. "No, it was a sad thing. Beautiful skater, but she couldn't stand to go in-line. And it's not like it was some kind of mega-deal. They just wanted to give us free blades and better sound equipment. Maybe do a photo shoot or two."

"You said it was a split," Jen said. "So more people than just Wick left?"

"Yeah, a few. But most wound up rolling back. The whole deal was just for one summer. Not Mwadi, though. She like... vanished."

"Any of these guys?" She produced the other pictures.

"No, none of them were splitters. But I know him...." He pointed at NASCAR Man. "That's Futura. Futura Garamond."

"He hangs out here?"

"Never. But I know him from working at City Blades. He's a designer." "He designs skates?"

Hiro shook his head. "No, man. Magazines."

Chapter 24

WE HEADED BACK TO MY HOUSE TO DO RESEARCH. I COULD FEEL

us getting closer to the anti-client, the degrees of separation dropping like Becky Hammon's free throws.

We waited for the 6 train on an almost-empty platform, the few Saturday Midtown shoppers around us carrying enough bags to look vaguely deranged. One thing about lunatics in New York - they've given carrying lots of stuff a bad name. Whenever I've got more than a backpack, I feel certifiable.

"So, this guy does magazines," Jen said. "You think there's any connection with Hoi Aristoi?"

"Maybe. I've still got my free issue at home. We can check. But I can't imagine that the whole magazine was a sham."

"Yeah, that is getting paranoid," she said. "Of course, that's what they want."

"What is?"

"For us to start questioning everything. Is this party real? This product? This social group? Is cool even real?"

I nodded. "My mother asks that a lot."

"Doesn't everyone?"

A train came and we got on, finding ourselves in a single-advertiser car. The whole train was plastered with ads for a certain brand of wrist-watch, the name of which rhymes with watch. Jen shuddered.

"What's wrong?"

"I always remember the first morning I got on this train," she said. "I looked at my watch and then all the watches in the ads. And they all said the same time mine did."

I looked around. The watches in the ads all were set to ten after ten. "Yeah. The photo-shoot guys set them that way so they look like a smiling face."

"I know, but it's like time froze in here after that morning."

I laughed. "I guess even watch ads are right twice a day."

"I've never recovered."

I looked into her face, which scanned the smiling watch faces above us, a small mammal watching for predatory birds.

"You are very easily rewired, Jen."

"Thanks. But just hold me."

I started to say we could change cars, but holding her was better.

We found my parents' apartment empty, my father at a daylong conference on hantavirus and my mother at her karate class. I thanked the fates that I had no older sisters and led Jen into my room, seeing her eyes light up at my shelves of cool-hunting booty: vintage client suedes and high-tops, MP3 players the size of swizzle sticks, and fad history lessons in the form of clackers, Slinkies, scrunchies, pet rocks, and black rubber wristbands. But then I realized something awful

I had forgotten to hide my bottle jerseys.

"What the hell are those?" Jen asked.

A confession: I was an Innovator once, but only once.

You probably don't know about bottle jerseys. They're made from plastic foam, close cousins to those sleeves that keep beer cans cold. Bottle jerseys fit over the tops of water bottles. They have an athlete's name and number printed on them and little armholes, like a miniature team uniform. They're a giveaway at basketball games, handed out to the first five thousand ticket holders, sponsored by the Bronx Zoo or some candy bar or whatever.

My innovation was this: Instead of putting my bottle jersey on a water bottle, I stuck it on my hand. The pinky and thumb go out the armholes, and the middle three fingers come out the top. It looks like a cross between a wrist cast and a basketball-player hand puppet. I did it a couple of years ago at a Knicks game, and it shot through Madison Square Garden faster than Legionnaire's disease through a cruise liner. It was on the street the next day and cool for about three weeks among kids with a maximum age of thirteen.

I haven't seen it anywhere since.

It's not much, but it's mine.

Jen stood very still, regarding the rows of empty water bottles wearing their jerseys with the pathetic pride of small dogs in sweaters, organized by team and player position, lacking only tiny basketballs to form their own tiny league.

"Uh, those are bottle jerseys. It's kind of a... collection."

"Where did they come from? Some sort of psycho marketing scheme?"

"Actually, I bought most of them on eBay. You can't get them at team stores - for any specific player you have to track down someone who went to the right game. Not an easy task, I assure you," I chortled.

"Do you ever play ball, Hunter?"

"Well, not since I got cut from my junior high team. The move from Minnesota revealed certain holes in my game. Like an inability to score or defend. All that's left of my hoop dreams are the bottle jerseys." I laughed self-deprecatingly again, as if my deprecation wasn't already in the bag.

"Oh," Jen said, taking a doubtful closer look at a water bottle dressed as Latrell Sprewell (Knicks vs. Lakers, 2001-02 season, sponsored by a certain pink-packeted brand of sugar substitute and currently fetching about thirty-six dollars at auction. Maybe more).

"Kind of like collectible action figures," she said, and named a certain science-fiction franchise that had lasted four films too long.

I woke up my laptop, my heart stuttering with shame.

First we Googled the name Mwadi Wickersham and got zilch. No smattering of irrelevant hits or even a "Did you mean...?" Just nothing.

It's unsettling when Google doesn't work. Like when my aunt Macy in Minnesota stops talking, you know some major shit is about to hit the fan.

But Futura Garamond was stamped all over the Web.

The first search gave us only a trash heap of hits on font libraries. It turned out that both Futura and Garamond are the names of classic fonts. Adding a couple of more terms {designer, City Blades) we found Futura Garamond the human being and learned that as a young designer, he had created typefaces for surfing and skater magazines, messy alphabets with names like YoMamals Gothic and BooksAreDead Bold. From font design he'd gone on to lay out the lyrics in countless CD slip cases, rebrand a major music magazine or two, and join the inevitable Web-design start-up destined to implode just after the turn of the century.

"Spot the trend?" Jen said as I leaned over her shoulder, my reading slowed by the new raspberry smell of her hair.

"Uh, yeah, I do."

Futura had been fired from every job he'd ever held, mostly for making text unreadable. His trademark was radical concepts like...

a two-column design in which you

but across them, resulting in random-

face of five hundred years of text design,

unlike that caused by flashing red and

ical equivalent of a paka-paka attack,

rage he had committed against legibil-

his desire to rewire the brains of those

didn't in fact read down the columns,

ized blocks of words that flew in the

creating a throbbing headache not

blue lights on a screen, a typograph-

This little trick wasn't the only out-

ity, but it was one that truly indicated

who chanced upon his work.

"Ow," I moaned after looking over PDFs of a few Garamond-designed magazine pages.

"I kind of like it," Jen said.

"But it hurts!"

"In a good way. I can see why people keep hiring him."

True, Futura never starved. He had mastered the art of getting fired with a splash, always managing to attract his next employers in the process. The outgoing bosses always looked uncool for trying to rein in his talents, and the new ones could always count on a more radical image until they too were forced to fire Futura, usually about when their magazine became unreadable.

"This guy's got a long list of enemies, ' Jen noted.

"Yeah, plenty of reasons to strike back against... well, whoever it is the anti-client's after."

"I don't see a Hoi Aristoi connection, though," she said.

I dragged the magazine off my bedside table and checked the first few pages.

"Well, Futura's name isn't anywhere in here."

"Who owns Hoi Aristoi?"

I said the name of a certain megacorporation known for its relentless grip on all media, including scores of newspapers and a certain faux-news channel.

"Whoa," Jen said, squinting at the screen after a Google cross-check. "Futura's been fired by at least four different companies owned by those guys."

"We have a motive."

"And check this out: A couple of years ago he decided to leave the getting-fired track 'to pursue his own interests. I wonder what those included."

I looked over Jen's shoulder again and read about how Futura Garamond's career had finally come to rest at a small design firm called Movable Hype, of which he was the sole owner and boss. The fired had become the firer.

"Check out that address," Jen said.

"Perfect."

Movable Hype's offices were down in Tribeca, about three blocks from the abandoned building where Mandy had disappeared.

I caught the glint of Jen's smile in the screen's reflection.

"Motive," she said, "and opportunity as well."

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