Sheehan_Cover_9780816531103“My city is in danger. It’s out of hand, we’re overrun—the dealers coming up from Mexico and the lazy sons of bitches sending their lazy sons of sons of bitches to our schools, and now what am I seeing? Here’s something new: Africans. I’m not talking brown, these are black people, real native types, headdresses, pregnant, carrying children, dragging children— the men like this guy, tall son of a bitch, a black tree, a Halloween tree. His face is shining—he’s just standing there—gangly arms, wicked plans. He’s just standing at the bus stop, waiting for our fine American transportation system to come pick him up, pick up his harem, bring them somewhere— where? Wherever they go. To the courthouse to plead for mercy. Muslims now, too, just waiting. Waiting for an opportunity. And I have no fucking idea how they got in.”

Zero turns off the voice recorder and lets it drop to his lap, a thoughtful half measure, and then he places it back in the shallow reservoir by the cup holder and accelerates out of the intersection at Fifth, continuing north on Alvernon toward Speedway. His car is sleek and soft, and he’s inside, in the belly of a cat, isolated and insulated from lesser Tucson. The seventy-one-degree microclimate, preset; the sixteen-way seat angle and lumbar support, preset; the semianiline baby-skin leather of the seats and armrests and the blood-brown, walnut-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob and console; the music coming from the Mark Levinson audio system with the nineteen well-placed speakers—nineteen speakers!—being the excellent world music CD his wife, Hanna, left in (not all that excellent really). World Music for Dummies she called it, he now remembers, as he listens to another minute of paranoid howling, considering all the while that he could speak, halt the madness, return to silence—or even to another, any other, of the CDs his wife or son or daughter have given him. But he leaves this on for now. And so, motoring past a medical lab and then one of Tucson’s ubiquitous beaten-down apartment buildings, this one called Oasis Palms, he is listening to a Senegalese chant, soon replaced by the insanely sexy non-woman in the car’s navigation system, who says: “Approaching Speedway Boulevard, alternate route.” Though he’s well aware of how to get home, Zero has left on, as is his habit, the navigation system. He finds pleasure in its—in her—company. He calls her Quiet Woman, in certain and complete contrast to Hanna. Quiet Woman tends to the information and potential information at his fingertips, at his voice’s command. Directions, music, climate control. All existing for him alone: a purr of compliance and domination. He enjoys his commute, the half hour or forty minutes to Raytheon and back, longer if it includes forays to Anthony’s or Ghost Fish Grill for drinks or dinner, with women who are mere mortals, women who come and go, unlike Zero himself, whose life has seemed by all accounts never ending, powerful. “Eject disk,” he says, convulsing.

He warms when he thinks of her, Alyssa, she of the long neck and black hair like a dangling stole and most of all, that ass. An ass of mythological proportions! Smutty, yes, completely so, and huge and beautiful, the flesh soft, stuffed into pants or a pencil skirt. He first noticed Alyssa two weeks ago at a team-building seminar with Communications and Immigration Control and Identity Management. She’s got the ass, and she’s smart as a button. But it’s not the button-like intelligence nor the ass he’s thinking of at this particular moment (5:21 p.m., 105° outside, 71° inside), it’s the wide, flat expanse from hip to hip, and then—as if he’s scanning a photograph—that ever-so-slight bow to her legs. He overlikes it, this imperfection. It’s almost ugly, but exquisite when paired with the rest of the package, the sleekness and sexiness and theoretical professionalism. It’s a plea of some kind, for mercy? Definitely an invitation. He experiences it as a form of violence, his desire for Alyssa. At the team-building seminar, she was wearing a lemon-yellow suit with a black camisole. She’s about thirty, he thinks. Married? Not that it matters. This is what was said at the proverbial water cooler, a midmeeting break with bottled water from Fiji and muffins and fruit: “You have a way with words, Alyssa. I’m impressed.” And she flapped her hands in a sweet, small gesture, nervous and not nervous, nervous but owning up to the feeling and thus neutralizing it. He nodded as she chattered on about her education, the two years she’d been with the company—how much she loved it, how much of a hard-nosed guy Allan was, but also a fine guy underneath. He imagined how it would be to lift the straight skirt from the narrowness above her knees, over her bowed, nearly ashamed thighs, and then above the plump bump of that ass.

“Call Ram Stern, mobile,” says Zero, out of the silence of his perfect airtight enclosure—the Senegalese chanting had been unnerving really, you’d call that music?—and the automobile complies, Quiet Woman and her minions. “Calling Ram Stern, mobile.” Ram Stern is not in. “Ram, uh,” says Zero, “re: the call with IMAP, some follow-up questions. One, I think you erred by allowing Randall to gloss over the funding issues in the second quarter. He oversteps, chronically now. This cannot fucking happen. His enthusiasm’s going to come back and bite us in the ass. Legal minefield, Ram, you know this. Let’s get our ducks in a row here before the meeting, all right? Tonight, tomorrow at the latest. Thank you, Ram.” And click. “Ending call,” says Quiet Woman. A Chinese restaurant the size of China itself looms up—a green, cement-block warehouse with a red pagoda. On the other side of Speedway: another bus stop, another group of ne’er-do-wells. Zero shakes his head, simultaneously of the world and unequivocally, exceptionally removed from it.

Excerpted and adapted from the book Demigods on Speedway. Copyright © 2014 by University of Arizona Press. Reprinted with permission.

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