COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
By noon I was back in my apartment, and I immediately called Seth.
"I'm going to need some more cash, man," he said.
I'd already given him several thousand dollars, from my Wyatt-funded account, or wherever the money really came from. I was surprised he'd run through it already.
"I didn't want to fuck around, get cheap stuff," he said. "I got all professional equipment."
"I guess you had to," I said. "Even though it's one-time use."
"You want me to pick up uniforms?"
"What about badges?"
"I'm working on that," I said.
"Aren't you nervous?"
I hesitated a moment, thought about lying just to bolster his courage, but I couldn't. "Totally," I said.
I didn't want to think about what might happen if things went wrong, though. Some prime real estate in my brain was now being colonized by worry, obsessively working through the plan I'd come up with after meeting with Seth's boss.
And yet there was another part of my brain that wanted to just escape into a daydream. I wanted to think about Alana. I thought about the irony of the whole situation—how this calculated scheme of seduction had led down this unexpected path, how I felt rewarded, wrongly, for my treachery.
I'd alternate between feeling crummy, guilty about what I was doing to her, and being overwhelmed by my attachment to her, something I really hadn't felt before. Little details kept popping into my mind: the way she brushed her teeth, scooping up water from the tap with a cupped hand instead of using a glass; the graceful hollow of her lower back swelling into the cleft of her butt, the incredibly sexy way she applied her lipstick.... I thought about her velvet-smooth voice, her crazy laugh, her sense of humor, her sweetness.
And I thought—this was by far the strangest thing—about our future together, a generally scary thought to a guy in his twenties, but somehow this wasn't at all scary. I didn't want to lose this woman. I felt like I'd stopped into a 7-Eleven to buy a six-pack of beer and a lottery ticket, and I'd won the lottery.
And because of that, I never wanted her to find out what I was really up to. That terrified me. That dark, awful thought kept popping up, interrupting my silly fantasy, like one of those kids' clown toys with the weighted bottom that always go sproing upright every time you bat them down.
A smudgy black-and-white image would be spliced into my gauzy color fantasy reel—a frame from a surveillance camera: me sitting in my car in the dark parking lot copying the contents of her laptop onto a CD, pressing her keys into the wax, copying her ID badge.
I'd bat back the evil clown doll and there we are on our wedding day, Alana walking down the aisle, gorgeous and demure, escorted by her father, a silver-haired, square-jawed guy in a morning suit.
The ceremony's performed by Jock Goddard as justice of the peace. Alana's family's all in attendance, her mother looking like Diane Keaton in Father of the Bride, her sister not as pretty as Alana but sweet, and they're all thrilled—this is a fantasy, remember—that she's marrying me.
Our first house together, a real house and not an apartment, like in an old leafy Midwestern town; I was imagining the great house Steve Martin's family lives in, in Father of the Bride. We're both rich high-powered corporate execs, after all. Somewhere in the background, Nina Simone is singing "The Folks Who Live on the Hill." I'm hoisting Alana effortlessly over the threshold and she's laughing at how cornball and cliché I'm being, and then we boink in every room of the house to initiate the place, including the bathroom and the linen closet. We rent movies together while sitting in bed eating take-out Chinese food from the carton with wooden chopsticks, and every so often I sneak a look at her, and I can't believe I'm actually married to this unbelievable babe.