32 Evelyn picks imaginations to thieve

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32   Evelyn picks imaginations to thieve

After several hours of intensive and inspired rehearsal work, the three of us are contemplating this evening's recording with a lot more confidence than we expected. In the late afternoon Alaia and I return upstairs, where she says she's in the mood for taking it easy awhile, so we split off through our adjacent doors.

Once alone, I remind myself that now Sound & Vision is over, I need to find out about the secret imagination-cloning business, away from Alaia's ears. I close my window quietly and dial a number on my phone. "Evelyn, it's Jaymi," I say in a low voice. "Should you and I be talking about something?"

"Yeah, I think so," she says. "Why not come round here: go down the corridor, past the studio and up the stairs to the top. I'll let you in."

At the end of the corridor, therefore, I climb two storeys up the narrow back stairs, probably the staff staircase when this was a hotel, and knock on the door. Evelyn opens it and ushers me into her and Rik's apartment, an attractive and well-windowed space that's recently been renovated and painted in solid blocks of bright colour. "Where's Alaia?"

"Lying on her bed."

"Good." She makes us coffee and I settle back into a deep-purple-leather-covered sofa in the sitting room. She curls up opposite me in an identically covered armchair, which makes a spectacular contrast with the bright yellow T-shirt and magenta skirt she's wearing.

"Jason said I should get some instructions from you," I begin.

"You bet." And she proceeds to confirm everything Jason told me about his secret imagination-thieving deal; I even recognise some of his phrases. She clearly paid close attention to his plans and is intending to execute them to the letter. There's something she's not telling me, though. What's missing, I realise, is her own opinion of all this. I don't know whether she's a party to this scheme under duress from Jason, or gladly. I decide to refrain from asking her this, however, thinking it best to feel my way forward; so I restrict my questions to the logistical. Basically, on behalf of Jason's anonymous household-name corporation, she and I must select a "balanced, cheerful, family-rated quartet of target imaginations"; then I must use my passive gaze to tune in to and gather up swathes of intimate detail from their internal lives; and then I must blast all that stuff out again into Rik's camera using my active hypnotic gaze, exactly as I used that gaze during the broadcast except that now I shall be blasting out those other people's imaginative stuff instead of my own. A few such recording sessions should suffice, Rik has estimated, to give Jason's client enough raw material from which to assemble a full, man-made "human imagination" for the company's pesky interactive cartoon spokes-sheep.

She then starts relaying something else from Jason, which he didn't say to me, about how the sheep's logical facilities won't need to be stolen from real people in the same way but can just be plugged in from existing logic-based computer programs. My mind starts to wander, rather as it did with Jason's financial graph, so while I half-listen I can't help myself tuning in to her for a moment ... and I zoom in on a pair of childhood memories, Evelyn: the chime of the ice cream van with garish cones and faces painted gaily on its sides in faded letters, as you giggled with a girl who was a friend, but whose face is a lacuna in this scene. And linking chime and giggle, an old rock song heard in Frank's, up on Main Street, where you went with a boy who came to town for a brief while but then moved away again and so fell out of touch—a boy called Romel, whom you thought of, when he went, as Romel-we-hardly-knew-you. What's this ghost of your former self saying to Romel in Frank's, with such enthusiasm? Neither you nor I can lip-read your younger self's words, but the urgency of your chatter is at least preserved in the faint tug and ache of this small memory, and maybe also somewhere in the memory of the vanished Romel.

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