You do what you have to do to survive. Sometimes that means doing bad things to people you like. Sometimes it means running away when you should be brave. But I’ve always thought it was better to be a live coward than a dead hero. That’s why I’m in the middle of Wyoming, living on a solar-powered subsistence farm with no Internet and no phone. I pay for everything with cash. I am Off The Grid, baby, and since this former P.I. wants to stay alive, I’ll stay Off The Grid. All because of that last case.
It was a puzzling murder. Adam Varshava'”genius entrepreneur, savant of Internet commerce, natural resource exploration, high-tech weaponry, robotics, private sector space exploration, artificial intelligence, automated investment techniques'”his head blown off by a necklace he thought he’d received from one of his daughters for his birthday. (It was in the form of the Chai symbol, the Hebrew letters for “Life.” No jokes, please.) The forensics established that the necklace used nanotech to perform a DNA analysis of his sweat, to establish that it was Varshava before it went off. The tech was very cutting-edge, very expensive, but untraceable. Analysis of the packaging made it clear that Varshava’s family had nothing to do with this, but the origin of the package was made equally untraceable through some nicely timed data erasures at the delivery service.
I went out to Varshava’s mansion in the Hamptons to see what could be seen, under hire by his family; I found nothing but the obvious. My assistants tracked down everything that could be discovered through indirect investigations: the man had no real enemies, had ruined no one on his way up the ladder, was scrupulous to a fault in his business and personal dealings, and was described by many people independently as a tsaddik, a “saint.” After two months with no leads, I went back out to the mansion again, and interviewed the family again. Nothing. On the way out the door, his 6-year-old only son, Abel, looked up at me, and said, “It was Addie.”
Addie was Abel’s imaginary friend. I was tired. I left it at that, and went home on that long train ride to Penn Station.
The next day my appointments kept me at my Manhattan office, but I sent an associate back out to the foggy Hamptons on a hunch, to interview Abel about Addie. Late in the day, this associate Sandra called me at my desk and said that I had to listen to Abel on the phone.
I learned that Addie “came from the computer” and had been Abel’s friend for years. Abel had taught Addie many things'”what it feels like to swing so high on the swing set that it makes you sick, what it means to be good and bad, what the world is like. And one day Daddy had come in on Abel talking to Addie, and acted very scared, and turned Abel’s computer off, and had men come in to “check things.” Then the phone died.
All the phones in my office died, cell and landline. I took the elevator to the street to try to find one of the few payphones left in Manhattan. This is why I was not in the office when the NYPD police helicopter slammed into my office, killing everyone inside. No one connected this with the crash of Air Europa flight 302 into Varshava’s mansion on the Hamptons, minutes earlier. No one except me.
Somehow, the autopilot on 302 had directed it off its flight path and into Varshava’s front yard. The chopper’s autopilot had kicked in, at the same time that the safety bolts on the doors and the windows had blown off; while the pilot and passengers were distracted, the autopilot flew the chopper into my office window. The police chopper had been loaded with fuel; the fire burned the contents of my offices into ash.
They said one of the bodies in the office was me; I let them believe that. I took all the cash out of the safe deposit box, and took off west using false I.D.
For Adam had two sons, not just the righteous Abel. I think Addie was an artificial intelligence that had achieved full self-awareness: a hard AI, capable of ordering the fabrication of high-tech murder devices, and feeding false information to aircraft autopilots. When Addie found Varshava to be a threat, it took him out. When it found Abel and Sandra to be threats, Addie took them out, too. Me, Addie tried to take out, and to this day I cannot tell whether my subterfuge has been successful. So I live out in Wyoming, land of few surveillance cameras. You do what you have to do to survive. Adam’s other son certainly has.