Previously, on Economic Psychics: Part I
“Gold is up,” Jen said, as the lift winched screechingly downwards. “You still long on Kafka?”
“Yeah.” It was true, I had a chunk of my retirement savings sunk into a couple of grams worth of Kafka’s papers via an exchange traded fund. I trusted the value of contractually sealed unread pages from a dead Czech existentialist better than lumps of rock.
“The karmic profile is cleaner, you know,” I said. “Company should probably give me a professional allowance for it, as an investment in my skills.”
“You’re not really selling me on it.”
“Is that a no?”
“What would Kafka do?”
“I don’t think he ever reached the same dizzy managerial heights as yourself.”
A few people were already in the cavernous presence room, as gloomy and over airconditioned as ever. The candles were already lit and the polycom audio conference phone already submerged in a fish tank of chicken blood and motor oil. We’d all love it if we could use solar energy for this, the cleaners most of all, but you have to channel from where the power is flowing, or the ritual fizzles out.
It was before the hour and a few people were still arriving, so I walked over to introduce myself to an unfamiliar face. The face was about six foot off the ground, female, East Asian, framed by a utilitarian page boy cut, and frankly, angelic. She was a little mesmerizing, in fact, even dressed in a dapper and modest three piece suit. By the time I reached out to shake her hand, which she took with grace and precision but not delicacy, I had already made a wager with myself about her profession.
“Sister Teresa Lin,” she said. “Paladin, 2nd Wardrobe Grasshoppers.”
“Great to meet you – I work for Jen,” I said, and introduced myself. Someone high up was taking this pretty seriously if one of the IMF’s saintly heavies was on the project. Turned out Teresa was a Taiwanese Buddhist with a home temple in Maokong, though by her BBC accent she’s probably spent more time in London.
Bob the Abjurer was ready to start so I skirted around the chalk circle and back to my place. He chanted for a minute in ancient Sumerian. The phone lit up and connected. Music filled the room, the haunting see-saw beginning of Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre.
We all stood politely for a while with the hold music playing. Bob checked his watch and summoned a sprite-djinn with a click of his fingers. He muttered something in its ear about the time and it disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The hold music had reached quite spirited volumes when at last the guest arrived in the centre of the chalk circle: a huge polar bear, standing three meters tall on its thick furry hind legs.
“Hello Bob darling,” she said, “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
“It’s good to see you, Alice. Shall we kick off?”
“Sure, darling. What did you want to speak about again?”
“It’s Satoshi,” said Jen. “We know he’s selling, and just as hidden as ever.”
“Oh darling, it’s good to see the cops keep some thinkers around. Looks like you’re still the only coder among the beancounters and the witches, eh?”
“We do alright.”
“Hmm, and you’re worried about Bitcoin boy? Can’t a man sell a few bob’s worth of mathematical money without it being the Spanish Inquisition?”
“We’ll, it’s not exactly the usual stash of coins from under the couch.”
“I guess. Last I heard he was shacked up with a mute strudel-loving dancer above the São Paulo telephone exchange.”
“I think that’s … out of date, from what we hear,” Jen said, glancing across the room for confirmation from an analyst I didn’t recognize.
“Well I guess you’re the experts, love. What was it you wanted from me?”
“We need to know about the deal. Satoshi’s fiendish counterparty from the very early days.”
I hadn’t realised it was possible for a polar bear to raise an eyebrow.
“You take all that seriously? Well, I’ve heard a name, anyway. Not a true name, of course. Goes by the handle Proxy.”
“Likes the colour purple. Fond of butterflies.”
Jen didn’t ask any more questions, and the room fell silent for a moment.
Into the awkward pause, Teresa asked “Where do we find it?” I think I saw Bob the Abjurer wince a little at the breach of interplanar etiquette: such brutal directness leaves astral tracer trails lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Well anyway, great to see you all, I’ve got to run, manicure, et cetera,” the polar bear said, a bit hurriedly. “Look, Jen, I’m sure you tried the usual channels, but if he’s really in trouble, Satoshi has an emergency backup email. Do you have it?”
Jen shook her head.
“firstname.lastname@example.org,” said Alice. “He reads everything but never replies,” and she turned on a massive clawed heel and disappeared.
Sure enough, the Winklevoss twins were yapping about buying Bitcoin on Twitter, which meant someone was trying to calm nerves. I always thought allowing that wardspell to incorporate as humans was one of the Illuminati’s better double bluffs.
I was at Liverpool St station trying to catch the late flight to Vienna out of Stansted. It was kind of a long shot; long shots are kind of my thing. They don’t always pay off. I spent a month in Greenland watching icebergs during the Argentine currency crisis, when I followed a hunch and my boss at the time wouldn’t pay for the flight back. I spent some long starless days with a soulful selkie meteorologist, but it didn’t work out.
Satoshi’s girlfriend was dead. She’d hung herself in a locked psychiatric ward of Juqueri Hospital earlier in the week. I thought our friend the extra-planar polar bear knew it, too. The briefing on her pretty much matched. She had only been admitted a week before, with no history of mental illness. Though the briefing spent more time on her trade and lack of voice than on her choice of desserts, she really didn’t strike me as a strudel girl. Cheesecake, maybe, or lemonade iceblocks held away from her body to let the drips fall to the ground on a hot summer’s day.
It was a clue from Alice. We already had teams of black ops in São Paulo state and cryptographers in Osaka prefecture following those leads. So I explained my hunch to Jen as she cast my fortune. The cards were Death and the Happy Squirrel, and she backed the hunch.
I was at the front of the queue to recharge my Oyster Card for the train when a squid-like tentacle reached out and grabbed my right arm. It was from the machine, and monstrously strong. As I instinctively braced against the first tentacle, a second snaked out of the change slot and grabbed me around the neck.
I flailed desperately as the queue of Londoners behind me fiddled with their phones or stared with slight embarrassment off into the middle distance. A third tentacle wrapped around my left knee to throw me off balance and drag me hard up against the machine. The only weapons I had on me were a sharp biro and three vouchers from the Dimension of Platonic Manufactures I had won off Bob the Abjurer at the pub. I couldn’t reach either of them.
The tentacle at my neck relaxed momentarily before taking a firmer grip encircling my head as well. They squeezed, and my vision started to blur. I couldn’t breathe properly. The tentacle bashed my head against the hard top edge of the terminal.
I couldn’t see. Something – a body – slammed into me from the other side, and the remaining breath was forced out of my chest. I was starting to fade in and out, but then I felt the tentacles flinch, and heard some unpleasant squishing sounds. The tentacles relaxed enough for me to fall free and see Teresa Lin stabbing past me with a blessedly sharp and dangerous umbrella.
I gasped for air on the floor while Teresa went Bulgarian on the creature, spiking deep into the base of one tentacle, spraying green ichor all around. There must have been some glamour in effect: even Londoners aren’t that apathetic.
“Don’t just sit there – help pull!” Teresa ordered. She had shifted grip and was trying to rip the creature out of the wall. I tried to grab onto a strong, rubbery, waving arm but it pushed me away.
Teresa had her leg braced against the machine trying to heave the creature out, but it suddenly flipped the spiked tentacle and fled into the wall. A few dozen £10 notes shot out of the change slot like confetti. That got people’s attention. I only managed to grab two in the crush of people flailing for money, and stepped back a bit, still trying to steady myself.
Seconds later the bloody things bit me, wrapping around my fingers: short, hard, razor-sharp teeth digging in and immediately drawing blood. I dropped them and they ran away, scuttling along on little green legs through the crowd. Shrieks and swearing around me told me I wasn’t the only one bitten. I went to chase the notes, but Teresa stopped me. She had caught a few in her gloved hands and they were now wriggling malevolently in the thin bag that held her iPad.
She pinned one note-gremlin down with two firm fingers and a pen while we looked at it. It was the right shade and shape for money, but instead of the Queen it had Tony Blair in royal drag, snapping those nasty teeth with relish. A never ending procession of flying fish jumped out of the ocean background and into his mouth.
On the flip side was a monk I should probably have recognized, standing in a hall of mirrors, all shaped like twisted loops in an Escherine trick of forced perspective. Something was familiar about that symbol, my brain-tongue tingled at the sight of it.
“I’m going with you,” Teresa said.