Friday, September 25, 2009




"But why would they do that? The store is already full. How do they want to be seen?"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor camp

He stood outside the tent, hands tied in front of him in such a way that his leg movements were actually restricted. Not good.

The voice inside the tent reminded me of someone. But they hadn't spoken in a long time.

It couldn't be Sam. Sam was dead and even before that he'd been too old to evoke the way the voice was..

There was another voice: shrill and insistent yet still compelling.

Friedman wished he'd been able to hear the actual words but the tone was obvious enough.

Sam -- he called him Sam in his mind -- was silenced by a violent slap.

Footsteps. The man he knew he'd seen before pulled him in. Literally. By the arm.

It was Ben, sitting there tied.

"Tom, you need to know something." Apparently Ben was allowed to say this much. "We're in a labor camp."

The man who pulled him in suddenly smiled. Friedman knew the face, knew the rhetoric. He hoped.

John Sweeney grinned. Suddenly, Friedman knew he was outmatched. "How's that liver?"

Friedman could only grunt out: "Kidney. And it's actually alright. What are you doing in a labor camp?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

With all due respect

In court, the driver had lied, successfully, and gotten off, and then he'd lied again to the police, when they'd interviewed cabbies, looking for Friedman, and again to the detectives she had hired. He'd picked up no fare at the Mayflower. He hadn't seen the man in the picture.

She looks at the name of the Dominican driver of the limo. More numbers. The name, address, and telephone number of his widow, in the Bronx.

The limo had been excavated from rubble, three days later, the driver with it.

He had been alone.

There was still no evidence, the unknown and awkwardly translated writer concluded, that Friedman was dead, but there was abundant evidence placing him on or near the scene. Additional inquiries indicated that he had never arrived at 90 West.

The petal falling from the dried olive bloom.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The ghosts

Walking along the abandoned runway he felt a strange grief. The helmet portrayed the accident.

Too many people. Too many twisted arms.

The artist had overcooked the image.

He handed the helmet back to Alberto before the ghosts jumped from the shadows.

Labor day

"What are they doing?"

"Labor. They are making car parts. You know, for those high-end Mercedes things you marketing gurus love."

Friedman was only vaguely offended at being lumped in with his employer. He realized he had arrived in a vehicle as ostentatious as the man described. Except more so; Bigend had been almost too kind. The car barely made it through the narrow streets, narrowly missing pigs and donkeys and the occasional man on a bicycle, helmet almost never on.

"These men, they labor. They are only connected by their labor to your world. It is impersonal. But it is efficient."

"Can I try it?"

"No. You would hurt yourself."

He pressed the man, but he was adamant: "It is impossible."

After returning to his bed that night, draped in the ridiculous luxury of fabrics made for him, Friedman wondered what was wrong. Something, something, had to click.

But he drifted off before it would happen.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The kidney incident

"What do you know about the kidney trade?" It was hard not to answer a man with a gun.

"Almost nothing."

"It tends to flow one direction: south to north; east to west."

"I see." Though he didn't.

After a brief reconciliation they parted ways. Friedman went back to his hotel.

Three days later it hit him: he could become a completely global citizen. He called the man again.

Two weeks later, after a stay in a hotel in Bangalore to recover from the operation, he was ready to resume his travels.

"I have become metaphor", he thought, "flattener of worlds." He laughed to himself.

Soon, though, he started to feel unexpected side effects. Finally, while lecturing undergraduates at Harvard, he nearly collapsed, barely steadying himself with the lectern.

"Get me out of here" he hissed to no one in particular. They were already moving.

The hospital had bad news. When he could finally croak something out all he could say was "Which one did they take? Which one do I still have?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Find Jobs

The band, he knew, was over. But as he walked past a Starbuck's coffee shop he had an idea.

Find Jobs. It wouldn't help him out of the current malaise. Just maybe, though, he could help him make some sense.

Was it really flat or was he missing something?

Friedman had to know.

He set off, walking the opposite direction, his suit jacket, only single breasted, reminding him of the past, his moment buying it at Men's Warehouse from an over-eager salesman.

He would need something more. Nordstrom's. Yes.

The gun he concealed.

On the lexus and the olive grove

The cab driver that finally took him out of Abu-Dhabi was chatty. That's how he liked them.

"More and more Americans. We love them, but we also hate them."

Friedman could only stare at him.

"We love their freedom, but we hate how they try to impose values on us. Imperialism never died, it just transformed."

Suddenly he had an idea. "What was your name?" he asked.

The driver only shrugged.

"Does it matter anymore?"

"It does. It does this time."

Suddenly, the car stopped. A black Lexus had come, seemingly from nowhere, cutting them off in the olive grove.

The passenger slowly got out. Friedman realized he had a gun, probably a Glock-17 automatic machine pistol. Despite its flaws, that could put out serious damage. Perhaps that's how he had convinced the driver to come this far just to find a journalist.

He stepped into the opposite seat, gun in hand.

"Go. We have something to talk about."

Friedman could only stare back. It was the same man from Beirut. From Jerusalem. What could he still want with him?

The thread count was still impressive. And so they drove.

The leveler

The Leveler stood before him. He had driven the cab. He had something to say.

Friedman just stared at him.

Incredulously, "Why Jerusalem?"

Monday, August 31, 2009

Advice ignored

"Don't go there."

"It's just a golf course. What's the worst that could happen?"

The cashmere hound's tooth pattern on his Toscano jacket flashed briefly.

In a few hours, he was on a plane for India, not knowing what he would find.

After landing and checking in to his Hilton he slept for a few hours after taking some of the new pills that woman from the Financial Times kept talking about. And to his surprise he awoke refreshed.

He met his partner on the course, still feeling the long trip, the warm air of Bangalore only hurting his limbic system's ability to adapt to the time zone.

They chatted idly, catching up on old topics that interested neither of them.

But then the man said something that caught Friedman's ear: "The world, you know, is flat."

Considering the implications he was unable to concentrate on the game, the greens, the space he was in. But was it? Was it true?

The announcement

"It's flat."

No one moved.

Tom... Tom

It was cold. Not bitter, actually a refreshing change.

The flat plain laid out in front of him, neither forbidding nor actually of any interest. It would be hot, but he could handle that. At least the crowd has dispersed. Much easier without that.

And so he stroked his mustache unconsciously, thinking hard, while starting to drive his diesel Volvo, navigating his way forward without many thoughts of what was to come. He had more than enough to occupy him already.

But the thoughts of her kept creeping in anyway; it was unavoidable. The woman from Jerusalem would never completely leave his mind.

Even after what had happened in Beirut.

"Tom" she said, " Tom. You don't understand the world anymore. You don't understand me."

Without acknowledging her, he had walked off.

Now he drove.

My purse

In a snap he was out, her Gucci bag trailing behind like an unneeded accessory.

Three quick turns later, he was deep in the medina: his environment.

But then he saw a blinding light and nothing but darkness. When he regained consciousness the woman started to question him.

"Where", she asked in a mix of a grumble and a roar, "is my purse?"


Once she woke up and he was just gone. No obvious explanation.

She pulled out her iPhone checked her first email account; the rest would require using her Dell laptop sitting across the room, charging.

She found his email, read slowly, and finally was able to process the contents.

He was gone.

After a trip to Starbuck's and with a Venti arabica blend in her hand, she set off to walk.

It turned out he wasn't that hard to find.

When she found him, he was brief with her but still affectionate.

Well, in his own way.

"Yes, I'll come back. I need to finish my book, after all."

She accepted it. "What's it about? You never told me."

"Nobody sees it", he said, "but the world.... The world is getting flat."

She just stared at the sky.

And it all made sense

Slowly, he reached into his Balenciaga travel bag, searching for something; he didn't even know what. The man had come up from nowhere and he didn't know what to do; he was almost paralyzed.

The man, vaguely menacing, wore a trench coat that Friedman almost envied, the stitch count density indicating an ability to wield immense power, power well beyond Beirut. But the man wasn't sure of himself.

And that was the moment Friedman had to pounce. He did.

The man collapsed, his coat crumpling with him in an odd way, not entirely natural. But as he fell he croaked: "I'm with you."

Friedman warily helped him back to his feat, carefully concealing the thing he had retrieved from his bag.

But then he remembered where he'd seen that face before. Of course. The golf course.

And it all made sense.


The man took off on his feet, desperately running but seemingly without direction, his longitude changing seemingly on random chance.

She stood, finally, and watched him go.

Her attitude would have her chase him, but to what end?

She returned, quietly but with purpose. He would know her. She was sure. She stretched her fingers.


Friedman, said his name badge, the identity that would allow him access to the building.

No one knew when he had arrived but they all knew he was there now, his Lexus carefully parked in a prime spot in the garage. Outside the world; beyond the world of his staff. Beyond even his own world.

The man walked up to Friedman. A sudden pain; his world became flat.


Beirut was hot. Nothing like Jerusalem though; it's open spaces showed the marks of a civil war that had never been properly patched up and it was right there on the faces of the people in the street.

Crowded. Too many people.

So he left. The flat land before him expanded to the West. He didn't know why he was going, but he went.


He stood still. The man across from him, mustached and perhaps a bit academic, was clearly an unknown, his Banks and Biddle suit slightly crumpled but still respectable enough to get by in the eyes of his intended audience.

The man might be dangerous, he thought. But there was no way to know for sure.

So he moved.


She awoke the next day. He was still moving, IBM Thinkbook in tow.

"But how many levelers are there?" he grumbled. It sounded like a Volvo tractor in low gear, grinding along a field of Monsanto-modified soy beans.