Authors: Thomas Pynchon
ALSO BY THOMAS PYNCHON
The Crying of Lot 49
Mason & Dixon
Against the Day
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First published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Pynchon
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bleeding edge / Thomas Pynchon.
1. Women private investigators—Fiction. 2. High technology—Fiction. I. Title.
TITLE PAGE IMAGE © STUART WESTMORLAND / GETTY IMAGES
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
New York as a character in a mystery would not be the detective, would not be the murderer. It would be the enigmatic suspect who knows the real story but isn’t going to tell it.
t’s the first day of spring 2001, and Maxine Tarnow, though some still have her in their system as Loeffler, is walking her boys to school. Yes maybe they’re past the age where they need an escort, maybe Maxine doesn’t want to let go just yet, it’s only a couple blocks, it’s on her way to work, she enjoys it, so?
This morning, all up and down the streets, what looks like every Callery Pear tree on the Upper West Side has popped overnight into clusters of white pear blossoms. As Maxine watches, sunlight finds its way past rooflines and water tanks to the end of the block and into one particular tree, which all at once is filled with light.
“Mom?” Ziggy in the usual hurry. “Yo.”
“Guys, check it out, that tree?”
Otis takes a minute to look. “Awesome, Mom.”
“Doesn’t suck,” Zig agrees. The boys keep going, Maxine regards the tree half a minute more before catching up. At the corner, by reflex, she drifts into a pick so as to stay between them and any driver whose idea of sport is to come around the corner and run you over.
Sunlight reflected from east-facing apartment windows has begun to show up in blurry patterns on the fronts of buildings across the
street. Two-part buses, new on the routes, creep the crosstown blocks like giant insects. Steel shutters are being rolled up, early trucks are double-parking, guys are out with hoses cleaning off their piece of sidewalk. Unsheltered people sleep in doorways, scavengers with huge plastic sacks full of empty beer and soda cans head for the markets to cash them in, work crews wait in front of buildings for the super to show up. Runners are bouncing up and down at the curb waiting for lights to change. Cops are in coffee shops dealing with bagel deficiencies. Kids, parents, and nannies wheeled and afoot are heading in all different directions for schools in the neighborhood. Half the kids seem to be on new Razor scooters, so to the list of things to keep alert for add ambush by rolling aluminum.
The Otto Kugelblitz School occupies three adjoining brownstones between Amsterdam and Columbus, on a cross street
Law & Order
has so far managed not to film on. The school is named for an early psychoanalyst who was expelled from Freud’s inner circle because of a recapitulation theory he’d worked out. It seemed to him obvious that the human life span runs through the varieties of mental disorder as understood in his day—the solipsism of infancy, the sexual hysterias of adolescence and entry-level adulthood, the paranoia of middle age, the dementia of late life . . . all working up to death, which at last turns out to be “sanity.”
“Great time to be finding
out!” Freud flicking cigar ash at Kugelblitz and ordering him out the door of Berggasse 19, never to return. Kugelblitz shrugged, emigrated to the U.S., settled on the Upper West Side, and built up a practice, soon accumulating a network of high-and-mighty who in some moment of pain or crisis had sought his help. During the fancy-schmancy social occasions he found himself at increasingly, whenever he introduced them to one another as “friends” of his, each would recognize another repaired spirit.
Whatever Kugelblitzian analysis was doing for their brains, some of these patients were getting through the Depression nicely enough to kick in start-up money after a while to found the school, and to duke
Kugelblitz in on the profits, plus creation of a curriculum in which each grade level would be regarded as a different kind of mental condition and managed accordingly. A loony bin with homework, basically.
This morning as always Maxine finds the oversize stoop aswarm with pupils, teachers on wrangler duty, parents and sitters, and younger siblings in strollers. The principal, Bruce Winterslow, acknowledging the equinox in a white suit and panama hat, is working the crowd, all of whom he knows by name and thumbnail bio, patting shoulders, genially attentive, schmoozing or threatening as the need arises.
“Maxi, hi?” Vyrva McElmo, gliding across the porch through the crowd, taking much longer than she has to, a West Coast thing, it seems to Maxine. Vyrva is a sweetheart but not nearly time-obsessed enough. People been known to get their Upper West Side Mom cards pulled for far less than she gets away with.
“I’m like in another scheduling nightmare this afternoon?” she calls from a few strollers away, “nothing too major, well not yet anyway, but at the same time . . .”
“No prob,” just to speed things up a little, “I’ll bring Fiona back to our place, you can come get her whenever.”
“Thanks, really. I’ll try not to be too late.”
“She can always sleep over.”
Before they got to know each other, Maxine would bring out herbal tea, after putting on a pot of coffee for herself, till Vyrva inquired, pleasantly enough, “Like I’m wearing California plates on my butt, or what?” This morning Maxine notes a change from the normal weekday throwtogether, what Barbie used to call an Executive Lunch Suit instead of denim overalls, for one thing, hair up instead of in the usual blond braids, and the plastic monarch butterfly earrings replaced by what, diamond studs, zircons? Some appointment later in the day, business matters no doubt, job hunting, maybe another financing expedition?
Vyrva has a degree from Pomona but no day job. She and Justin are transplants, Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley. Justin and a friend from
Stanford have a little start-up that somehow managed to glide through the dotcom disaster last year, though not with what you’d call irrational exuberance. So far they’ve been coming up OK with the tuition at Kugelblitz, not to mention rent for the basement and parlor floors of a brownstone off Riverside, which the first time Maxine saw she had a real-estate envy attack. “Magnificent residence,” she pretended to kvell, “maybe I’m in the wrong business?”
“Talk to Bill Gates here,” Vyrva nonchalant, “I’m just hangin out, waitin for my stock options to vest? Right, honey?”
California sunshine, snorkel-deep waters, most of the time anyway. Once in a while, though . . . Maxine hasn’t been in the business she’s in for this long without growing antennas for the unspoken. “Good luck with it, Vyrva,” thinking, Whatever it is, and noting a slow California double take as she exits the stoop, kissing her kids on top of their heads on the way past, and resumes the morning commute.
Maxine runs a small fraud-investigating agency down the street, called Tail ’Em and Nail ’Em—she once briefly considered adding “and Jail ’Em,” but grasped soon enough how wishful, if not delusional, this would be—in an old bank building, entered by way of a lobby whose ceiling is so high that back before smoking was outlawed sometimes you couldn’t even see it. Opened as a temple of finance shortly before the Crash of 1929, in a blind delirium not unlike the recent dotcom bubble, it’s been configured and reconfigured over the years since into a drywall palimpsest accommodating wayward schoolkids, hash-pipe dreamers, talent agents, chiropractors, illegal piecework mills, mini-warehouses for who knows what varieties of contraband, and these days, on Maxine’s floor, a dating service called Yenta Expresso, the In ’n’ Out Travel Agency, the fragrant suite of acupuncturist and herb specialist Dr. Ying, and down the hall at the very end the Vacancy, formerly Packages Unlimited, seldom visited even when it was occupied. Current tenants remember the days when those now chained and padlocked doors were flanked by Uzi-packing gorillas in uniform, who signed for mysterious shipments and deliveries. The chance that automatic-weapons fire might break out
at any minute put a sort of motivational edge on the day, but now the Vacancy just sits there, waiting.
The minute she steps out of the elevator, Maxine can hear Daytona Lorrain down the hall and through the door, set to high-dramatic option, abusing the office phone again. She tiptoes in about the time Daytona screams, “I’ll sign them muthafuckin papers then I’m outta here, you wanna be a dad, you take care of that whole shit,” and slams the phone down.
“Morning,” Maxine chirps in a descending third, sharping the second note maybe a little.
“Last call for his ass.”
Some days it seems like every lowlife in town has Tail ’Em and Nail ’Em on their grease-stained Rolodex. A number of phone messages have piled up on the answering machine, breathers, telemarketers, even a few calls to do with tickets currently active. After some triage on the playback, Maxine returns an anxious call from a whistle-blower at a snack-food company over in Jersey which has been secretly negotiating with ex-employees of Krispy Kreme for the illegal purchase of top-secret temperature and humidity settings on the donut purveyor’s “proof box,” along with equally classified photos of the donut extruder, which however now seem to be Polaroids of auto parts taken years ago in Queens, Photoshopped and whimsically at that. “I’m beginning to think something’s funny about this deal,” her contact’s voice trembling a little, “maybe not even legit.”
“Maybe, Trevor, because it’s a criminal act under Title 18?”
“It’s an FBI sting operation!” Trevor screams.
“Why would the FBI—”
“Duh-uh? Krispy Kreme? On behalf of their brothers in law enforcement at all levels?”
“All right. I’ll talk to them at the Bergen County DA, maybe they’ve heard something—”
“Wait, wait, somebody’s coming, now they saw me, oh! maybe I better—” The line goes dead. Always happens.
She now finds herself reluctantly staring at the latest of she’s lost count how many episodes of inventory fraud involving gizmo retailer Dwayne Z. (“Dizzy”) Cubitts, known throughout the Tri-State Area for his “Uncle Dizzy” TV commercials, delivered as he is spun around at high speed on some kind of a turntable, like a little kid trying to get high (“Uncle Dizzy! Turns prices around!”) schlepping closet organizers, kiwi peelers, laser-assisted wine-bottle openers, pocket rangefinders that scan the lines at the checkout and calculate which is likely to be shortest, audible alarms that attach to your TV remote so you’ll never lose it, unless you lose the remote for the alarm also. None of them for sale in stores yet, but they can be seen in action any late night on TV.
Though he has approached the gates of Danbury more than once, Dizzy remains gripped in a fatality for sublegal choices, putting Maxine herself on moral pathways that would make a Grand Canyon burro think twice. The problem being Dizzy’s charm, at least a just-off-the-turntable naïveté that Maxine can’t quite believe is fake. For the ordinary fraudster, family disruption, public shame, some time in the joint are enough to get them to seek legal if not honest employment. But even among the low-stakes hustlers she is doomed to deal with, Dizzy’s learning curve is permanently flatlined.
Since yesterday an Uncle Dizzy’s branch manager out on Long Island, some stop on the Ronkonkoma line, has been leaving increasingly disoriented messages. A warehouse situation, inventory irregularities, something a little different, fucking Dizzy, please. When will Maxine be allowed to kick back, become Angela Lansbury, dealing only with class tickets, instead of exiled out here among the dim and overextended?
On her last Uncle Dizzy field visit out there, Maxine came around the corner of a towering stack of cartons and actually collided with whom but Dizzy himself, wearing a Crazy Eddie T-shirt in eye-catching yellow, creeping around behind some auditing team, average age of twelve, their firm being notorious for hiring solvent abusers, videogame addicts, diagnosed cases of impaired critical thinking, and assigning them immediately to asset inventory.
“Oops, I did it again, as Britney always sez.”
“Look at this,” stomping up and down the aisles taking and lifting sealed cartons at random. A number of these, to somebody’s surprise maybe, not Maxine’s, seemed, though sealed, to have nothing inside. Gee. “Either I’m Wonder Woman here, or we’re experiencing a little inventory inflation? . . . You don’t want to stack these dummy cartons up too high, Dizzy, one look at the bottom layer and how it
buckling under all the weight on top? usually a pretty good tipoff, and, and this kid auditing team, you should really at least let them clear the building
you bring the truck up to the loading dock to shift the same set of cartons over to the next fucking
see what I’m saying . . .”
“But,” eyes wide as fairground lollipops, “it worked for Crazy Eddie.”
“Crazy Eddie went to jail, Diz. You’re headed for another indictment to add to your collection.”
“Hey, no worries, it’s New York, grand juries here will indict a salami.”
“So . . . right now, what do we do? I should be calling in the SWAT team?”
Dizzy smiled and shrugged. They stood in the cardboard-and-plastic-smelling shadows, and Maxine, whistling “Help Me Rhonda” through her teeth, resisted the urge to run him down with a forklift.
She glares now at Dizzy’s file for as long as she can without opening it. Spiritual exercise. The intercom buzzes. “There’s some Reg somebody here don’t have an appointment?”
Saved. She puts aside the folder, which like a good koan will have failed to make sense anyway. “Well, Reg. Do get your ass on in here. Long time.”