Illustration by Idiots’Books
Eva showed up on Perry’s doorstep that night after dinner. Lester and Suzanne had gone off to the beach and Perry was alone, updating his inventory of tchotchkes with a camera and an old computer, getting everything stickered with RFIDs.
She had the kids in tow. Ada spotted the two old, lovely baseball mitts on the crowded coffee table and made a bee-line for them, putting one over each hand and walking around smacking them together to hear the leathery sound, snooping in drawers and peering at the business-end of an arc-welder that Perry hastily snapped up and put on a high shelf, which winked once to let him know that it had tracked the movement and noted the location of the tool.
The little boy, Pascal, rode on his mother’s hip. Eva had clearly had a bit of a cry, but had gotten over it. Now she was determined, with her jaw thrust out and her chin up-tilted.
“I don’t know what to do about him. He’s been driving me crazy since he retired. You know he had an affair?”
“He told me.”
She laughed. “He tells everyone. He’s boasting, you know? Whatever. I know why he did it. Mid-life crisis. But before that, it was early-adulthood crisis. And adolescent crisis. That guy doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s a good man, but he’s out of his fucking mind if he’s not juggling a hundred balls.”
Perry tried out a noncommittal shrug.
“You’re his buddy, I know. But you have to see that it’s true, right? I love him, I really do, but he’s got a self-destructive streak a mile wide. It doesn’t matter how much he loves me or the kids, if he’s not torturing himself with work, he’s got to come up with something else to screw up his life. I thought that we were going spend the next twenty years raising the kids, doing volunteer work, and traveling. Not much chance of that though. You saw how he was looking at Suzanne.”
“You think he and Suzanne—”
“No, I asked him and he said no. Then I talked to her and she told me that she wouldn’t ever let something like that happen. Her I believe.” She sat down and dandled the little boy until he gurgled contentedly. Perry heard Ada going crazy in the kitchen with a mechanical sphincter he’d been building. “Rides are a lot of fun, Perry. Your ride, it’s amazing. But I don’t want to ride a ride for the rest of my life, and Landon is a ride that doesn’t stop. You can’t get off.”
Perry was at a loss. “I’ve never had a relationship that lasted more than six months, Eva. I’ve got no business giving you advice on this stuff. Kettlewell is pretty amazing, though. It sounds like you’ve got him pretty wired, right? You know that if he’s busy, he’s happy, and when he’s slack, he’s miserable. Sounds like if you keep him busy, he’ll be the kind of guy you want him to be, even if you won’t have much time to play with him.”
She unholstered a tit and stuck it in the boy’s mouth and Perry looked at the carpet. She laughed. “You are such a geek,” she said. “OK, fine. I hear what you’re saying. So how do I get him busy again? Can you use him around here?”
“Here?” Perry thought about it. “I don’t think we need much empire building around here.”
“I thought you’d say that. Perry, what the hell am I going to do?”
There was a tremendous crash from the kitchen, a shriek of surprise, then a small “oops.”
“Ada!” Eva called. “What now?”
“I was playing ball in the house,” Ada said in the same small voice. “Even though you have told me not to. And I broke something. I should have listened to you.”
Eva shook her head. “Plays me like a goddamned cello,” she said. “I’m sorry, Perry. We’ll pay for whatever it was.”
He patted her arm. “You forget who you’re talking to. I love fixing stuff. Don’t sweat it.”
“Whatever— I’ll buy you one and you can use it for parts. Ada! What did you break, anyway?”
“Made of seashells, by the toaster. It’s twitching.”
“Toast-making seashell robot,” Perry said. “No sweat— it was due for an overhaul, anyway.”
“Christ,” she said. “Toast-making seashell robot?”
“Kettlewell is why we gave up making that kind of thing,” he said.
“Have you seen him?”
“I’ve seen him.”
“How penitent was he?”
He thought back to Kettlewell’s long puss on Francis’s terrace. “Yeah, pretty penitent. He’s pretty worried, I’d say.”
She nodded. “All right then. Maybe he’s learned a lesson. Ada! Stop breaking things and get your shoes back on!”
“We going back to Daddy?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Good,” Ada said.
They were barely out the door when Suzanne and Lester came in. They nodded at Perry and disappeared into the bedroom. Ten minutes later, Suzanne stomped out again. She barely looked at Perry as she disappeared into the corridor, slamming the door behind her.
Perry waited five minutes to see if Lester would come out on his own. This happened sometimes with the fatkins girls; love among the fatkins was stormy and unpredictable and Lester seemed to like bragging about the melt-downs they experienced, each one an oddity of sybaritic fatkins culture to boast about.
But Lester didn’t come out this time. Perry thought about calling him or sending him an email. Finally, Perry went and knocked at his door.
“Oh, go back to the living room, I’ll come out, I’ll come out.”
Perry went back and moused desultorily at some ride-fan blogs for a while, listening for Lester’s door opening. Finally, out he came, long-faced and puffy-eyed.
Perry shook his head. Was everyone miserable tonight?
“Hello, Lester,” he said. “Something on your mind?”
He barked a humorless laugh. “With her, I’m still fat.”
Perry nodded as though he understood, though he didn’t.
“Since fatkins, I’ve felt like, I don’t know, a real person. When I was big, I was invisible and totally asexual. I didn’t think about having sex with anyone and no one ever thought about having sex with me. When I felt something for a woman, it was more like a big, romantic love, like I was a beast and she was a beauty and we could enjoy some kind of chaste, spiritual love.
“Fatkins made me...whole. A whole person, with a life below my belt as well as above my neck. I know it looks gross and desperate to you, but to me it’s a celebration. Every time I get together with a fatkins girl and we’re, you know, partying— for both of us it becomes something really intimate. A denial of pain. A fuck you to the universe that made us so gross and untouchable.”
“And with her, you’re still fat, huh?”
Lester winced. “Yeah, it’s my problem. I guess I really resent her for not wanting me when I was big, though I totally get why she wouldn’t have.”
“Maybe you’re angry that she wants you now.”
“Huh.” Lester looked at his hands, which he was dry-washing in his lap. “OK, maybe. Why should she want me now? I’m the same person, after all.”
“Except that you’re whole now.”
“Urk.” Lester started pacing. “Who broke the toast-robot?”
“Kettlewell’s daughter, Ada. Eva was over with the kids. She moved out on Kettlebelly.” He thought about whether he should tell Lester. What the hell. “She thinks he’s in love with Suzanne.”
“Jesus,” Lester said. “Maybe we should swap. I’ll take Eva and he can take Suzanne.”
“You’re such a pig,” Perry said.
“You know us fatkins— fuck, food and folly.”
“So what’s going on with you and Suzanne now?”
“She’s gone away until I can get naked around her without either bursting into tears or making sarcastic remarks.”
Jesus. Crying. Perry couldn’t remember when he’d ever seen Lester cry. It was waterworks city these days around here.
“Ah.” Perry just wanted this day to be over. He missed Hilda, though he barely knew her. It would have been nice to have someone here at home with him, someone he could cuddle up to in bed and talk this all out with. Maybe he should call Tjan. He hit the button on his computer that made the TV blink the time in Morse code. It was 1AM. He’d have to be up in six hours to get the ride up and running. Screw all this, he was going to bed. He hadn’t even gotten a single email from Hilda since he’d left Madison. Not that he’d sent one to her, of course.
Lester was still snoring when Perry slipped out of the condo, a bulb of juice and a microwavable venison and quail-egg breakfast burrito under his arm. He had a little glove-box microwave and by the time he hit his first red light, the burrito was nuclear-hot and ready to eat. He gobbled it one-handed while he made his way to the ride.
There were two cop cars at the end of the driveway leading to the parking lot. Broward County sheriff’s deputy black-and-whites, parked horizontally to blockade the drive.
Perry pulled over and got out of his car slowly, keeping his hands in plain sight. The doors of the cruisers opened, too. The deputies already had their mirrorshades on, though the sun was still rising, and they set down their coffees on the hood of the cars.
“This yours?” A deputy said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the flea market and the ride.
Perry knew better than to answer any questions. “Can I help you?”
“We’re shutting you down, buddy, sorry.” The cop was young, Latina and female, her partner was older, white and male, with the ruddy complexion that Perry associated with old time Florida cops.
“What’s the charge?”
“There’s no charge,” the male cop said. He sounded like he was angry already and anything Perry said would just make him angrier. “We charge you if we’re going to arrest you. We’re enforcing an injunction. Now, if you try to get past us, we’ll come up with a charge and then we’ll arrest you.”
“Can I see the injunction?”
“Sure, you can go to the courthouse and see the injunction.”
“Aren’t you supposed to have a copy of it to show to me?”
“Am I?” The cop’s grin was mean and impatient.
“Can I go and get some stuff from my office?”
“If you want to get arrested you can.” He pulled a dyspeptic face and drank some coffee, then got back into his cruiser.
The other cop had the grace to look faintly embarrassed at her asshole partner, but then she, too, got back in her car.
Perry thought furiously about this. The cop was clearly itching to bust his ass. Maybe he hated the ride, or this duty, or maybe he hated Perry— maybe he was one of the cops who had raided the shantytown all those years before. Perry had taken a pretty big settlement off the county over the shot in his head, and it was a sure bet that a lot of cops had suffered for it and now harbored some enmity for him.
As bad as this was, it was about to get worse. The goth kids who’d been hanging around in droves lately— they didn’t seem like the sort with a lot of good instincts when it came to dealing with authority figures. Then there were the flea-market stall owners, who’d be coming over the road to open their shops in an hour or so. This could get really goddamned ugly.
He needed a lawyer, and someone to front for him with the lawyer. He could call Tjan— he would call him, in fact, but not just yet. There were limits to what Tjan could do from Boston, after all.
He got back in his car and peeled across the road to the shantytown and the guesthouse.
“Kettlewell!” He thumped the door. “Come on, Landon, it’s me, Perry. It’s an emergency.”
He heard Eva curse, then heard movement. “Whazzit?”
“Sorry, man, I wouldn’t have woken you but it’s a real emergency.”
“No. Cops. They’ve shut down the ride.”
Kettlewell opened the door a crack and stared at him with a red-rimmed, hung-over eye. “Cops shut down the ride?”
“Yeah, they say there’s an injunction.”
“Gimme a sec, gotta put some pants on.” He closed the door. As Perry listened to the sounds of him getting dressed, he reflected that he’d done Eva the favor she’d been seeking: he’d found something to keep Kettlewell busy.
Kettlewell quizzed him intensely as they drove back across the road to the police-cars. He called Tjan and got voicemail, left a brief message, then got out of the car and stood still outside it, waving at the cop-cars.
The male cop looked even more dyspeptic.
“Hi there! I wondered if I could get you to explain what’s going on here so we can open up shop again?”
“We’ve shut you down to enforce an injunction.”
“What injunction is that?”
“A court injunction.”
The cop looked really angry for a second, then he got back in his car and fished around. “Broward County.” He sounded aggrieved.
“Is that the injunction there?” Kettlewell said.
“No,” the cop said, too quickly. They both knew he was lying, jerking them around.
“Can I see it? Does it have information about who to talk to to get the injunction lifted?” Kettlewell’s tone was even, pleasant and very adult. The voice of someone used to being obeyed.
“You’ll have to go to the courthouse. They open in a couple hours.”
“I’d really like to see it.”
“Oh for chrissakes,” the female cop said. “Just show it to them, Tom. God.” She spat on the ground. Her partner gave her a look, then handed the paper over to Kettlewell, who pored over it intently. Perry shoulder surfed him and gathered that they were being shut down for infringing Disney Parks Company trademarks. That was weird. You could hardly go ten feet in Florida without tripping over a bootleg Mickey, so why should the market-stalls’ Mickey designs trigger legal action?
“All right, then,” Kettlewell said. “Let’s make some phone calls.”
They got in the car and drove across the road to the shantytown. There was a tea-house that opened early and they commandeered its window table and spread out their things. Perry called Lester and woke him up. It took two or three tries to get his head around it— Lester couldn’t figure out why they’d shut down the market-stalls, but once he got that the ride was down too, he woke up fast and promised to meet them.
Kettlewell’s conversation with Tjan was a lot more heated. Perry tried to eavesdrop but couldn’t make any sense of it.
“All the rides are down,” he said once he’d dropped the phone to bounce a couple times on the tabletop, making the coffees shiver. “Every one of them was shut down by the cops this morning.”
“You’re shitting me. But they don’t all sell the same stuff.”
“They were shut down because of Disney trademarks in the ride itself, or so it seems. Now, what are we going to do? Tjan’s hired a lawyer for the Boston group and we can hire one for here, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to hire fixers everywhere that there’s a ride. That’s going to be really expensive. Disney’s filed all the injunctions at the state level— they have an industry association they work through that has cooperating attorneys in every city in the country, so it was easy for them.”
“Yeah. Who did you piss off, Perry?”
Damned if he knew. He literally couldn’t think of a single person who’d want to do this—someone had convinced the Disney company to clobber him like Godzilla going after Tokyo. It just didn’t make any sense.
“So what do we do?”
Kettlewell looked at him. “I have no clue, Perry. You aren’t a company. You aren’t a network of companies. You aren’t an industry association. No one can speak for you. You can’t lobby or even field a spokesman. I mean, none of that stuff works for you—and that’s the only way I know to fight back in court.”
“I thought we were immune to this stuff. If there’s no one to sue, how can they sue us?”
“If there’s no one to sue, there’s no one to show up in court and object, either.”
“I don’t think we can incorporate you in time to make a difference,” Perry said. “So we need to think of something else.”
Suzanne slid into the booth beside them. Her hair was tied back and her makeup was spare and severe. She had on European-cut trousers, high like a bolero-dancer’s, and a loose, flowing white cotton over-shirt on top of a luminescent pink tank. Perry couldn’t tell whether it was formal or informal, but it looked good and a little intimidatingly foreign. She didn’t meet Perry’s eye.
“Brief me,” she said. She held out her phone and put it in record mode.
Kettlewell ran it down quickly and she nodded, jotting notes.
“So what happens next?”
“Not much we can do,” Kettlewell said.
“The riders will be along shortly. Oh, and the merchants.” Perry still couldn’t catch her eye.
“I’ll go take some pictures,” she said.
“Be careful,” Perry said.
She mugged for him. “Sweetie, I take pictures of the mafiyeh.” Then it was all right between them again, somehow.
“Right,” Kettlewell said. “How’s our time looking?”
“Got thirty minutes until the first of the merchants show up. An hour until the riders start turning up.”
“You don’t have a lawyer, do you?”
Perry quirked his funny eyebrow.
“Stupid question. OK. Right, I’ll make some more calls. Let’s get some people out of bed.”
“What can I do?”
Kettlewell looked at him. “Huh. Um. This is really my beat now. I suppose you could go keep Suzanne company.”
“Something wrong with Suzanne?”
“Nothing’s wrong with Suzanne,” he said. “OK, off I go.”
He set off on foot. The shantytown had woken up now, people getting ready for the hike to the early busses into places where the few remaining jobs were.
He took his phone out and tossed it from hand to hand. Then he called the number that he’d programmed in all those days ago in Madison but had never bothered to call. He forgot until the ringing started that it was another time-zone there— an hour or two earlier. But when Hilda answered, she sounded wide awake.
“Nice of you to call,” she said.
“Nice of you to answer.” Her voice sent a thrill up his spine.
“We’ve got cops outside of the ride here,” she said. “We’ve only been live for a week, too.”
“They’re at every ride,” he said. “They shut us down too.”
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
“What am I going to do about it?”
“Sure, this is your thing, Perry. We woke up and discovered the cops this morning and the first thing everyone did was wonder when you’d call with the plan.”
“You’re kidding. What do I know about cops?”
“What do any of us know about cops? All we know is we built this thing after you came and talked to us about it and now it’s been shut down, so we’re waiting for you to tell us what to do next.”
He groaned and sat down on a curb. “Oh, crap.”
Then she sighed heavily at the other end. “OK, Perry, you need to pull it together. We need you now. We need something that explains what’s going on, what to do next, and how to do it. There’s a lot of energy out here, a lot of people ready to fight. Just point us in the right direction.”
“I have a guy who’s trying to figure that out right now.”
“Perfect. Now you need to set up a conference call with every ride operator so we can talk this over. Get online and post a time and an address. I’ll chat it up and make some calls. You make some calls too. Everyone likes to hear from you. They like to know you’re on their side.”
“Right,” he said, getting back to his feet, turning around to get his computer out of his trunk. “Right. That’s totally the right thing to do. I’m on it.”
“Good man,” she said.
A little pause stretched between them. “So,” he said. “How you doing, apart from all this?”
Her laugh was merry. “I thought you’d never ask. I’m looking forward to your next visit, is how I’m doing.”
“Of course really.”
“You sounded a little pissed at me there is all.” He sounded like a lovesick teenager. “I mean—” He broke off.
“Your ass needed kicking, was all.” Pause. “I’m not pissed at you, though. When are you coming for a visit?”
“Got me,” he said. “I guess I should, right?” He really sounded like a teenager.
“You need to visit all the sites, check in on how we’re doing.” Pause. “Plus you should come hang out with me some.”
He almost pointed out all her warnings about only having a one-night stand and not missing the people he was away from and so forth, but stayed his tongue. The fact that she wanted him to come for a visit was overshadowing everything, even the looming crisis with the cops.
“It’s a deal.”
He almost said, “You hang up first,” but that would have been too much. Instead he just kept the phone at his ear until he heard her click.
Suzanne was pointing and shooting like mad. Perry sat down on the cracked pavement beside her and unfolded his computer and started sending out emails, setting up a conference-channel. He gave Suzanne a short version of his talk with Hilda, being careful not to give a hint of his feelings for her.
“She sounds like a sensible girl,” Suzanne said. “You should go and pay her another visit.”
He blushed and she socked him in the shoulder.
“Take your call,” she said. The cops were giving them the hairy eyeball, and Perry screwed in his headset.
The conference channel was filling up. Perry checked off names as reps from all the rides came online. There was a lot of tight, tense chatter, jokes about the fuzz.
“OK,” Perry said. “Let’s get it started. There’s cops blockading every ride, right? Use the poll please.” He posted a poll to the conference page and it quickly got to 100 percent green. “So I just found the cops outside of mine, too, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I’ve got some dough for a lawyer, but I can’t afford lawyers for everyone. To make that work, we’d have to fly attorneys to every city with a ride in it, and that’s not practical as I’m sure you can tell.”
A half-dozen flags went up in the conference page. “I need someone to play moderator, ‘cause I can’t talk and mod at the same time. How about you, Hilda?”
“OK,” she said. “I’m Hilda Hammersen, from the Madison group. Post one-line summaries of your points and I’ll set a speaker order.”
The conference page filled up. There was the official back channel at the bottom where the text was spilling by too fast for Perry to parse, and he knew that there were lots of unofficial back-channels in use, too. He covered the mic and sighed. He had nothing to say to these people. He didn’t have any answers.
“Right. So who knows what we should do?” The back-channel went crazy. Hilda started green-lighting speakers with their flags up.
“Why are you asking us, Perry? You’ve got to run this.” The voice was petulant and Perry saw that it was one of the Boston crew, which made him wonder what Tjan was going to do when he discovered that Perry was doing this.
The page pinkened and then sank into red. The other people on the call clearly thought this was BS, which was a relief to Perry. Hilda cued up the next speaker.
“We could set up information pickets at the gates to each ride hitting people up for donations for our legal defense— get the press to cover it and maybe we could bring in enough to fight all the injunctions.”
The pink lightened a little, went back to neutral white, turned a little green. Perry slowed down the back-channel a little and skimmed it:
> No way could we bring in enough, that’s like 30 grand each I get a couple hundred people here in the morning and that would mean a hundred and fifty bucks each
> No no it’s totally do-able we can raise that easy just set up some paypals and publicize the shit out of it
The next speaker was talking. “What if we got the maintenance bots to break open the doors and carry the ride outside where everyone can see it?”
Bright red. Dumb idea.
Perry broke in. “I’m worried that when people show up it’ll provoke some kind of confrontation with the law. It could get ugly here. How can we keep that cooled out?”
“That’s totally got to be our top priority,” Hilda said.
Next speaker. “OK, so the best way to keep people calm is to tell them that there’s an alternative to going nuts, which maybe could be raising money for a legal defense.”
Green-ish. “What about finding pro-bono lawyers? What about the ACLU or EFF?”
The back-channel filled up with URLs and phone numbers and email addresses.
“OK, time’s running out here,” Perry said. “You guys need to organize a call-around to those orgs and see if they’ll help us out. Pass the hat at your rides, try to find lawyers. Everyone keep reporting in all day— especially if you get a win anywhere. I’m going to go take care of things here.”
Hilda IMed him— “Good luck, Perry. You’ll kick ass.”
Perry started to IM back, but a shadow fell across his screen. It was Jason, who ran the contact-lens stall. He was staring at the two cop-cars quizzically, looking groggy but growing alarmed.
Perry closed his lid and got to his feet. “Morning, Jason.” Behind Jason were five or six other vendors. The sellers who lived in the shantytown and could therefore walk to work were always first in. Soon the commuters would start arriving in their beater cars.
“Hey, Perry,” Jason said. He was chewing on an unlit cigarette, a disgusting habit that was only marginally less gross than smoking them. He’d tried toothpicks, but nothing would satisfy his oral cravings like a filter-tip. At least he didn’t light them. “What’s up?”
Perry told him what he knew, which wasn’t much. Jason listened carefully, as did the other vendors who arrived. “They’re fucking with you, man. The cops, Disney, all of them. Just fucking with you. You go ahead and hire a lawyer to go to the court for you and see how far it gets you. They’re not playing by any rules, they’re not interested in the law you broke or whatever. They just want to fuck with you.”
Suzanne appeared over Perry’s shoulder.
“I’m Suzanne Church, Jason. I’m a reporter.”
“Sure, I know you. You were there when they burned down the old place.”
“That was me. I think you’re right. They’re fucking with you guys. I want to report on that because it might be that exposing it makes it harder to continue. Can I record what you guys say and do?”
Jason grinned and slid the soggy cig from one corner of his mouth to the other and back again. “Sure, that’s cool with me.” He turned to the other sellers: “You guys don’t mind, do you?” They joked and laughed and said no. Perry let out a breath slowly. These guys didn’t want a confrontation with the cops— they knew better than him that they couldn’t win that one.
Suzanne started interviewing them. The cops got out of their cars and stared at them. The woman cop had her mirrorshades on now, and so the both of them looked hard and eyeless. Perry looked away quickly.
The vendors with cars were pulling them around to the roadside leading up to the ride, unpacking merchandise and setting it out on their hoods. Vendors from the shantytown headed home and came back with folding tables and blankets. These guys were business-people. They weren’t going to let the law stand in the way of putting food on the table for their families.
The cops got back into their cars. Kettlewell worked his way cautiously across the freeway, climbing laboriously over the median. He had changed into a smart blazer and slacks, with a crisp white shirt that hid his incipient belly. He looked like the Kettlewell of old, the kind of man used to giving orders and getting respect.
“Hey, man,” Perry said. Kettlewell’s easy smile was reassuring.
“Perry,” he said, throwing an arm around his shoulders and leading him away. “Come here and talk with me.”
They stood in the lee of one of the sickly palms that stood by the roadside. The day was coming up hot and Perry’s t-shirt stuck to his chest, though Kettlewell seemed dry and in control.
“What’s going on, Perry?”
“Well, we did a phoner this morning with all the ride operators. They’re going to work on raising money for the defense and getting pro-bono lawyers from the EFF or the ACLU or something.”
Kettlewell did a double-take. “Wait, what? They’re going to ask the ACLU? They can’t be trusted, Perry. They’re impact litigators— they’ll take cases to make a point, even when it’s not in their clients’ best interests.”
“What could be more in our interests than getting lawyers to fight these bogus injunctions?”
Kettlewell blew out a long breath. “OK, table it. Table it. Here’s what I’ve been pulling together: we’ve got a shitkicking corporate firm that used to handle the Kodacell business that’s sending out a partner to go to the Broward County court this morning to get the injunction lifted. They’re doing this as a freebie, but I told them that they could handle the business if we put together all the rides into one entity.”
Now it was Perry’s turn to boggle. “What kind of entity?”
“We have to incorporate them all, get them all under one umbrella so that we can defend them all in one go. Otherwise there’s no way we’re going to be able to save them. Without a corporate entity, it’s like trying to herd cats. Besides, you need some kind of structure, a formal constitution or something for this thing. You’ve got a network protocol, and that’s it. There’s money at stake here— potentially some big money— and you can’t run something like that on a handshake. It’s too vulnerable. You’ll get embezzled or sued into oblivion before you even have a chance to grow. So I’ve started the paperwork to get everything under one banner.”
Perry counted to ten, backwards. “Landon, I’m really thankful that you’re helping us out here. You’re probably going to save our asses. But you can’t put everything under one banner— you can’t just declare to these people that their projects are ours—”
“Of course they’re yours. They’re using your IP, your protocols, your designs.... If they don’t come on board, you can just threaten to sue them—”
“Landon! Please listen to me. We are not going to effect a hostile takeover of my friends. They are equal owners of everything we do here. And no offense, but if you ever mention suing other projects over our ‘IP’”— he made sarcastic finger quotes— “then we’re through having any discussions about this. OK?”
Kettlewell snorted air through his nostrils. “My apologies, I didn’t realize that this was such a sensitive area for you.” Perry boggled at this—lawsuits against ride operators! “But I can get that. Here’s the thing, Perry. Without some kind of fast-moving structure you’re going to be dead. Even if we repel the boarders this morning, they’ll be back tomorrow and the day after. You need something stronger than a bunch of friends who have loose agreements. You need a legal entity that can speak for everyone. Maybe that’s a co-op or a charity or something else, but it’s got to exist. You may not think you have any say over these other rides, but does everyone else agree? What if you get sued for someone’s bad deeds in Minneapolis? What if some ride operator sues you to put you out of business?”
Perry’s head swam. He hated conversations like this. He didn’t have any good answer for Kettlewell’s objections, but it was ridiculous. No one from a ride was going to sue him. Or maybe they would, if he got all grabby and went MINE MINE MINE and incorporated everything with him at the top. Hilda said he was the one they all looked to, but that was because he would never try to hijack their projects.
“No to all of it. We have to defend this thing, but we’re not going to do it by trying to tie everyone down to contracts and agreements where I get to control everything. Maybe a co-op is the right way to go, but we can’t just declare a co-op and force everyone to be members. We have to get everyone to agree, everyone who’s involved, and then they can elect a council or something and work out some kind of uniform agreement. I mean, that’s how all the good free software projects work. There’s authority, but it’s not all unilateral and imperious. I’m not interested in that. I’d rather shut this down than declare myself pope-emperor of ride-land.”
Kettlewell scrubbed his eyes with his fists. Up close, the lines in his face were deep-sunk, his eyeballs bloodshot and hung over. “You’re killing me, you know that? What good is principle going to do when they knock this fucking thing down and slap you with a gigantic lawsuit?”
Perry shrugged. “I really appreciate what you’ve done, but I’d rather lose it than fuck it up.”
They stared at each other for a long time. Cars whizzed past. Perry felt like a big jerk. Kettlewell had done amazing work for him this morning, just out of the goodness of his own heart, and Perry had repaid him by being a stiff-necked dickwad. He felt an overwhelming desire to take it back, just put Kettlewell in charge and let him run the whole show. Just shrug his shoulders and abdicate.
He looked down at the ground and up into the straggly palms, then heaved a sigh.
“Landon, I’m sorry, OK, but that’s just how it is. I totally dig that you’re saying that we’re risking everything by not doing it your way, but from my seat, doing it your way will kill it anyway. So we need a better answer.”
Kettlewell scrubbed his eyes some more. “You and my wife sound like you’d get along.”
Perry waited for him to go on, but it became clear he had nothing more to say.
Perry went back to the cop cars just as the first gang of goths showed up to take a ride.
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.