71 Alaia swirls in decreasing circles

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71   Alaia swirls in decreasing circles

The pebble-throwing contest is a tie. Alaia and Evelyn want to head home, but I'm in the mood to walk further, so we split. Alaia continues her coldness in taking her leave of me, with a kind of guarded cordiality. I wonder what Evelyn will have made of this? I doubt she'll have missed it.

I head inland along the grassy further edge of Sunset Lake, turn right on Main Street, get a coffee from Frank's Deli and wander into a bric-a-brac store named Zebra. A middle-aged black woman appears at the back and looks at me with kind, perceptive eyes. "See anything you like?"

"Yes," I say, on a whim, holding up a small, grey, plastic elephant. "How much?"

"You can have that for free."

"Really? Thank you! What's your name?"

"Dotty."

"Jaymi."

"How long you staying in Asbury?"

"Not long. But I may be back."

She shakes her head.

I laugh. "Why d'you shake your head?"

"You'll never return here." Witnessing my surprise at this impromptu psychic reading, she adds, "Don't worry, it's nothing bad." She turns away, into a hidden room. "You did good here," she calls back over her shoulder. "Remember that."

Does she recognise me? "Anything else you can tell me?"

She pauses in the doorway, holds my inquisitive look with a glance of knowledge, humour and compassion, and shakes her head.

"Thank you, Dotty," I say, holding the elephant up beside my face. She inclines her head a fraction, then is gone.

I step out, head back towards the ocean and look at the elephant. "Hallo Dotty," I whisper, give her a kiss and put her in my pocket.

Halfway across the Sunset Lake footbridge, I go down the steps onto the island and up to its inland end and recline on the grass against a tree-trunk, near some ducks.

My phone vibrates—Alaia. "Jaymi, I need to make confession. I've got myself in a mix. Don't hate me, please. When I was on the phone at Evelyn's, Lucan gave me an ultimatum: he said I'd better get the General Network to call him and offer him some money for his discretion, or else he'd go public about us spying into people. I told him that was very civic-minded of him. That was his real message, not just the bit about making it up to Angel."

"Why didn't you say so, when Evelyn asked what his message was?"

"Because I thought that if I told her straight away, then Jason would have to be told and would probably just buy Lucan's silence, so the spying would stay secret. But if I waited before passing along his ultimatum, then Lucan would go public and our spying project would be sabotaged."

"And that was a reason to wait?... Why?"

"Because ... I didn't like your going behind my back with that spying deal, though I do understand the reasons. I'm sorry, I'm just not good at dealing with being left out. I know it's dysfunctional, but there it is. So there. I've drummed up the courage to confess to you—but how can I go through this with Evelyn too? She wouldn't understand this. She'd never get herself caught up like this. And here am I, this 'goddess of the airwaves'. Then I'd have to go through it with Rik too—no, I can't! But then, part of me feels that although Evelyn and Rik are great ... still, when you get down to it, they're General Network people and they've colluded in Jason's blackmail of you. Very principled, I'm sure. Because don't forget, Jason is manipulating you for cynical and greedy ends. Am I dysfunctional?"

"You're a complete mess. No, scrub that: you're just very high-tension with an over-developed moral sense. But do carry on."

"The trouble is, maybe it was dangerous not to tell Evelyn there and then, because if it comes out in future that Lucan gave us his ultimatum today, then why didn't I immediately relay it to her? And it gets worse: because I decided not to tell her about the ultimatum, I couldn't even tell her that I'd given Lucan the wrong disc, because if she knew about the wrongness of the disc, she'd raise it with him and then find out about the ultimatum he gave me... Oh yes, I forgot—as you overheard while I was on the phone with him, I gave Lucan the wrong disc. Sorry about that."

"Oh, yes. Human error?"

"I don't know what to do. I guess I could call Evelyn and say that Lucan called me just now and delivered the ultimatum. Then she'd probably never know that I waited for this hour or two... He'd have had to call me just now on my mobile, though, because if I told Evelyn he called the Metropolitan office and asked for me, then she might find out that he hadn't really done so. And would Evelyn really believe that I would have given Lucan my mobile number? She knows he's the last person I'd give it to. I guess I could call him from my mobile right now, so then he would have my number ... but then I'd first need to ask Evelyn for his number, which would excite her suspicion. Would anyone else here have his number, aside from her? Could I ask Rik, without her knowing? No. Would Shigem have it? He might: he's from the town ... but how could I just casually ask him for Lucan's number without making him suspicious, especially when he's one of our targets?... Would Pippa have it? Probably not... Hey! I could look him up online or in the phone book—but damn, Jaymi, we don't know his surname."

I rub my eyes: I'm getting a headache here. "Abayomi," I say wearily.

"But then, there's no point looking in phone listings, because of course he'll be ex-directory—how could he not be?"

"Abayomi."

 "What?... Oh. How d'you know?"

"I saw it written on a cardboard box in the corner of his hallway. Alaia, you're just swirling around in decreasing circles here. Look, I shan't tell Jason about Lucan's ultimatum... So long as you don't say you told me. You see, this is making it complicated for me already."

"But how do I let Evelyn know about it?"

"I don't think you can, by now, or she'll think you're duplicitous. We'll just have to cross our fingers and hope it works out all right. I know you're not duplicitous."

She sighs. "OK."

"See you later."


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For some nice reviews and interviews about The Imagination Thief, in The Guardian and elsewhere, see http://www.rohanquine.com/press-media/the-imagination-thief-reviews-media/

For a quick synopsis of it, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/synopsis-and-characters-list-the-imagination-thief/

For the 12 Films in The Imagination Thief, see http://www.rohanquine.com/video-books-films/12-films/

For the Audio-book version and the Video-book version of each of its 120 mini-chapters, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/audiobook-tumblr-wattpad/

For links to the retailers, see http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-ebook/ and http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-paperback/

And for its Amazon pages, see http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909

The Imagination Thief is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people's imaginations and memories. It's about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds.

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