The Hungry Dreaming - Craig Schaefer Page 0,1

look for the school.”

“That’s not him.”

“Time can change people,” Harrelson replied. “Said it yourself, you haven’t talked to the man in seven years.”

“Four,” she said.

“I’ve seen your driver’s license.”

“Remind me again why we broke up?”

He stretched and stifled a yawn behind his hand. “You couldn’t handle the competition.”

“That wasn’t it,” she said.

At the head of the atrium, the short straw had finally been picked. The man approaching the podium wore a button-down short-sleeved shirt with a bow tie. He was a chinless creature with a comb-over, soft-bodied, a life form evolved to fill middle-management positions.

“Thank you, thank you,” he said to nonexistent applause. “If we could come to order please? If we could, please?”

The room was already in order. A few last conversations hushed down, nothing but the shuffling of papers and a stray dry-throated cough to stir the listless silence.

“Thank you. I’m Gilbert Berkeland, with New York City Emergency Management. I’m here today to talk a little about the Loom Initiative Program and field your questions as long as time permits.”

He clasped his hands together like a kid about to open his Christmas presents. True believer, Nell wrote on her pad.

“The Loom has seen successful rollouts in Houston, Amarillo, and Wichita Falls, not to mention satellite programs in several small, outlying townships. The technology is tested, proven, and fiscally sound—”

The front rows exploded. Questions climbing over questions, exclamation points waving to be heard. He gently pushed them down with his open palms. He had a sermon to deliver and wouldn’t be denied.

“Just last week, an Amber Alert went out in Houston. Within five minutes, the Loom had identified the child’s abductor, cross-referenced his employment data, rent history, tax records, vehicle registration, and their toll-booth transponder logs, and built an instant geographic profile for police to follow. The kidnapper was apprehended without incident one hour later, and the child was returned safe and sound.”

Harrelson was the first to drive an ice pick into his armor. His voice rang out, strident.

“And all of that data is being handed to a privately owned corporation.”

The man at the podium smelled a heretic. His nose wrinkled.

“Is that a question? Yes, the Weaver Group is solely responsible for the administration of the Loom. But absolutely no private data is included in their access package, just the same public databases and municipal records that New York law enforcement uses as part of their day-to-day investigations. Weaver has simply built a better mousetrap. One system, one algorithm, one artificially intelligent agent to oversee the emergency-management needs of an entire city. And let’s not forget the cherry on top: a full, all-expenses-paid rebuild of our telecommunications infrastructure. Fiber-optic cable for everyone.”

“No such thing as a free lunch,” called out a voice from the back.

Gilbert tugged at his bow tie, looking personally insulted.

“This is exactly the sort of municipal project companies like Google have been rolling out for years with great success, in exchange for very reasonable tax accommodations—”

The room erupted again. Nell sat at the center of the din, a carefully poised statue with her pad balanced on her knee. She didn’t fling her questions into the void; she held them close, composing them, loading her words in precision order like she was chambering bullets in a revolver. Nell was a gunslinger.

The wave of shouts simmered down. Her instincts told her the right timing, the exact moment to pounce. Her hot-pink pen shot up in her hand, a shiny lure demanding attention from the fish behind the podium, and he acknowledged her with a nod.

“That ‘free’ fiber-optic upgrade,” she said, “comes thanks to the Weaver Group’s partnership with Barron Equity. Isn’t that correct?”

“An angel investor, yes. They wanted to keep their involvement private, but now that the cat’s out of the bag—”

“Barron Equity, the firm at the center of no less than three bid-fixing scandals resulting from Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program. Is this just more Buffalo-style corruption coming to roost in New York City?”

“Ab-absolutely not,” he stammered. “For one thing, not a single person employed by Barron Equity was indicted as part of those so-called scandals. They can hardly be blamed if—”

Harrelson jumped in, riding on Nell’s wave. She figured he would. They had a rhythm, once.

“Can you explain why DoITT wasn’t involved in the bidding process? The Information Technology and Telecommunications Office is responsible for all infrastructure upgrades, and they were blindsided by the mayor’s decision.”

“You’d have to ask them about that,” Gilbert shot back.

“I did. I’m telling you what they told me.”

His soft fingers hugged