Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 12 of 64


It was nearly dawn before they finally made their way out of the police station and back into the street. After identifying Les from an online rogues’ gallery, Art had spent the next six hours sitting on a hard bench, chording desultorily on his thigh, doing some housekeeping.

This business of being an agent-provocateur was complicated in the extreme, though it had sounded like a good idea when he was living in San Francisco and hating every inch of the city, from the alleged pizza to the fucking! drivers!—in New York, the theory went, drivers used their horns by way of shouting “Ole!” as in, “Ole! You changed lanes!” “Ole! You cut me off!” “Ole! You’re driving on the sidewalk!” while in San Francisco, a honking horn meant, “I wish you were dead. Have a nice day. Dude.”

And the body language was all screwed up out west. Art believed that your entire unconscious affect was determined by your upbringing. You learned how to stand, how to hold your face in repose, how to gesture, from the adults around you while you were growing up. The Pacific Standard Tribe always seemed a little bovine to him, their facial muscles long conditioned to relax into a kind of spacey, gullible senescence.

Beauty, too. Your local definition of attractive and ugly was conditioned by the people around you at puberty. There was a Pacific “look” that was indefinably off. Hard to say what it was, just that when he went out to a bar or got stuck on a crowded train, the girls just didn’t seem all that attractive to him. Objectively, he could recognize their prettiness, but it didn’t stir him the way the girls cruising the Chelsea Antiques Market or lounging around Harvard Square could.

He’d always felt at a slight angle to reality in California, something that was reinforced by his continuous efforts in the Tribe, from chatting and gaming until the sun rose, dragging his caffeine-deficient ass around to his clients in a kind of fog before going home, catching a nap and hopping back online at 3 or 4 when the high-octane NYC early risers were practicing work-avoidance and clattering around with their comms.

Gradually, he penetrated deeper into the Tribe, getting invites into private channels, intimate environments where he found himself spilling the most private details of his life. The Tribe stuck together, finding work for each other, offering advice, and it was only a matter of time before someone offered him a gig.

That was Fede, who practically invented Tribal agent-provocateurs. He’d been working for McKinsey, systematically undermining their GMT-based clients with plausibly terrible advice, creating Achilles’ heels that their East-coast competitors could exploit. The entire European trust-architecture for relay networks had been ceded by Virgin/Deutsche Telekom to a scrappy band of AT&T Labs refugees whose New Jersey headquarters hosted all the cellular reputation data that Euros’ comms consulted when they were routing their calls. The Jersey clients had funneled a nice chunk of the proceeds to Fede’s account in the form of rigged winnings from an offshore casino that the Tribe used to launder its money.

Now V/DT was striking back, angling for a government contract in Massachusetts, a fat bit of pork for managing payments to rightsholders whose media was assessed at the MassPike’s tollbooths. Rights-societies were a fabulous opportunity to skim and launder and spindle money in plenty, and Virgin’s massive repertoire combined with Deutsche Telekom’s Teutonic attention to detail was a tough combination to beat. Needless to say, the Route 128-based Tribalists who had the existing contract needed an edge, and would pay handsomely for it.

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