This one takes place within the framework of the movie. You'll figure it out.
The Deep End of the Ocean
Robert Fischer is his father’s son, whether he wants to be or not. He’s in turns competitive, stubborn, dangerous, and tenacious. He also doesn’t have turnips in his head (as his grandmother would say).
The prep for the funeral is all done by cogs in the company machine, except the eulogies, of course. His eulogy, anyway. There are cameras and soundbites for the press, Sunday morning roundtable talkshows, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. There are the shareholders. There’s OPEC and the EU and the US Cabinet.
Robert barely sleeps, between the transitioning of Fischer Morrow and the media demands. The double dip recession and constantly looming world depression makes stable entities like his father’s behemoth all the more important. Running a transnational mega-corporation with fingers in the internal workings of more countries than NATO, he’s busy. Stressed. The nightmares follow the stress.
He dreams of endless desert and a constantly vanishing twinkle on the horizon. He walks and walks until he falls precipitously off of a cliff that is the end of the desert. He tumbles, reaching out to grasp snow, an avalanche covers him.
He dreams of watching sunlight out a ship’s portal. Far in the distance is the vague impression of land. Something behind him looms, but he won’t turn and look, because looking makes it real. The water beyond the porthole rises until rivulets stream around the rivets holding the metal and glass to the wall of the ship. The water slants, a perfect thirty degree angle. He can taste something metallic in the back of his mouth.
He dreams about drowning often. Usually trapped by something heavy or by restraints.
There are drugs for the nightmares, but he can’t lop off another hour of his day with grogginess. There are people he can pay to listen to his complaints, but he doesn’t trust anyone with his secrets.
“It won’t do anybody any good if you crack up and end up with a coke habit or worse,” Peter tells him. Peter always looks on the bright side.
Robert is still leery of Peter. He can’t say exactly why, but the trust just isn’t there. So far Robert’s kept that to himself.
He knows all the frenzy is beehive buzzing to keep out the malaise he’s felt since his father died. His life’s unmoored and the more events to attend, the more interviews to give, the louder the sound and fury blocking out how wrong his life feels.
He sees her in the reflection of the Rocco mirror behind the bar. He’s drinking something floral, hibiscus and mint with something else he can’t place. He’d thought the fad for signature cocktails would end much sooner than it has, and the bartender here always sends over a free drink before he even has the top button of his jacket undone. So far Robert’s been so polite and nonconfrontational that he doesn’t even know if they fellow is a petro-chem groupie or hitting on him for his own merits. He doesn’t make eye-contact when his drinks arrive.
The media relations people said he needs to be seen, that for the good of the company he can’t seem to be hiding, secluded, mentally-unstable. He’s committed to the being seen around town gambit, for his own reasons. He doesn’t like being alone right now. There are other, passive-aggressive benefits to this scheme as well. This bar is the exact kind of place he father wouldn’t have been caught dead in--a combination of bright young things, old money, and artists. His cufflinks brush the antique wood of the bar, heavy antique agate and gold mermaids. Lately, Robert’s developed an affection for all things nautical, especially the whimsical.
She takes a seat next to him, jostling him even though she’s tiny. A deliberate play for attention.
“Oh, sorry!” she says with wide eyes and a smile.
“Don’t mention it,” he responds, but ducks his head to cover his surprise. He knows her, of course, she drifts through his dreams--a siren, a sister he never had, an unspeaking wraith.
“Vodka gimlet,” she says. The bartender is proficiently professional and doesn’t mark his territory with a flounce or a snarl.
“Have we met?” Robert can’t help himself. He studies the side of her face, the way her hair curls over her shoulder.
“No, I’d remember you.” She tries for flirtation, but it falls leaden.
“We shared a flight, months ago.” He sips his drink as hers arrives. He allows her the prop to hide behind. “Sydney to L.A.” His smile is much more fluid than hers.
Her eyelids flutter and she pretends to think about it. “I was in Australia earlier this year.” She shrugs. “You could be right. Weird coincidence.” She sips her drink. “Too bad I didn’t notice you then.”
She almost hits the right note. Almost. He smiles at her and pulls a twenty out of his wallet to tip the bartender.
Of course, Robert is not without resources. He doesn’t really believe in all this dream security mumbo jumbo, but he has a weird feeling.
“To what do I owe the honor?” Gavin doesn’t stand on ceremony, which is wildly at odd withs his CV--S.A.S., Adventurer, Shady Individual.
Robert called the private number. “This is a professional call.”
Gavin doesn’t miss a beat. “I can be in New York in the morning. Unless this is more urgent.”
Robert blows out a laugh. The muscles pulling his face into a smile feel half-remembered. “No, for old time’s sake I’ll let you skate on a ten hour turn around.”
“For old time’s sake, then.”
His father always said to cultivate the right sorts of school chums. Robert never knew what the right sorts were in his father’s estimation, but if you go to the correct schools, everyone’s the right sort of one kind or another.
One of the first fiscal rebellions Robert made against his father was buying the brownstone downtown instead of a flat uptown. One of their petty wars that seemed so important at the time but in hindsight meant absolutely nothing. The place is barely his anyway, still bearing the Spanish tile and dark wood his ex had so adored. When they split he never bothered to ask for the keys. When Robert showed up last week, he’d expected to be met with a white wine fueled party in the back garden. But the house was empty.
He’d wanted familiarity, even if it came with a couple spectacular rows. He got familarity instead in the solitude and lingering essence of someone missing from the room, feeling like a stranger in his own life.
He spends the evening after calling Gavin flipping through high gloss art books--Italian Early Renaissance, Fin-de-Siecle Paris, Russian miniature sculpture, English landscapes. His phone hums at his elbow, but he lets the calls go to voicemail. If anything dire happens, Peter will send a courier. Pages flick by but his mind if preoccupied with the Girl and that flight.
He thinks about going out. She’s clearly watching him, knows his habits. He thinks if he just picked the right outing, was the most predictable version of himself, she’d find him and he could simply ask her who she is.
“Mr. Fischer,” says the slim man who slides into the seat across the table from him and deftly snaps the napkin onto his lap with one fluid motion. He’s dressed in Italian linen trousers and a perfectly pressed brushed silk shirt. His watch is heavy, Patek Philippe vintage maybe.
Robert recognizes him, of course.
“I have to admit you have me at a disadvantage.” Robert tilts his head slightly. He thinks that Peter might have been right about security. Peter and Gavin both.
“No, I don’t think I do.” The look is dismissive and penetrating at once. He waves the waitress off when she approaches. “Do you know who I am?”
Robert feels like he should. That tip of the tongue feeling rolls over him, but nothing appears in the void. “No.” He tips his chin up and looks down his nose at his unexpected companion. Maybe not so unexpected, in a way. He’s not afraid. He doesn’t sense threat looming. But maybe his instincts aren’t razor sharp these days..
“I’m a former colleague of Gavin Courtney-Fitzhugh.”
Robert sits back in his chair slightly. He folds his hands in his lap. “Former.” The world becomes a clicking mechanism inexorably slotting into a recognizable pattern. “Are you threatening me?”
The laughter is unexpected from someone so otherwise stoic. “I never have to threaten anyone, Mr. Fischer.” The words are full of a steady self-assurance that seems out of place from someone so young. Robert’s seen the same kind of facade in the mirror, though. “Do you know my name?”
And like a conjuring trick, Robert does. “Arthur.”
“That’s right. You always knew it.” He beckons the waitress. “Midleton with a splash, if you have it.”
“Yes sir.” She turns to Robert and he shakes his head with an automatic smile.
“What were you looking for when you kidnapped me?” Robert might have suppressed and denied while the opportunity presented, but when the truth unfolds itself, he’s who his father molded him to be.
Arthur waits for his drink to be deposited before he looks Robert in the eye again. “Do you have many secrets worth that effort?”
“Yes, of course.” He shrugs one shoulder and keeps his face neutral. He feels oddly comfortable, ready to offer camaraderie and commiseration against his better judgment. “The only son of an oligarch.”
Arthur smiles, the expression spreading from one side of his mouth slowly to the other. “Sure.” He twists his tumbler around on the tablecloth in what is probably supposed to look unconsciously, but Robert’s known a lot of men like this--self-contained out of necessity and comfortable with that. “Whatever you paid for your defensive training should be reimbursed.”
“At this moment I couldn’t agree more. What are you doing here? I was under the impression that the nature of your...profession mandated secrecy. I didn’t think gloating came as a value added.”
The friendly vibe evaporates immediately. Arthur sits up straight in his chair, his hands going out of sight, into his lap or pockets. “A colleague of mine,” he glances to the side for just a second, his jaw tightening. “To be honest, I have some moral qualms about the job we did on you.” His eyes flick around Robert’s face. “In my profession having unresolved issues can be a problem.” The smile reemerges briefly.
Robert calls and postpones his meeting with Gavin.
“Wait wait!” Robert holds up his hand and shakes his head. “Why in hell would I ever do that?”
“So you can see how it works.” Ariadne looks like she should be the smart know-it-all in a teen drama. She speaks excitedly, caught up in enthusiasm for her clever ideas.
“Doll, you’re frightening him. He probably feels like the plump white man about to go into the headhunters’ pot.” Robert watches Eames fan himself with an old .45 record. Eames regards him with a lifted eyebrow and a quirked mouth. “Apt analogy?”
Not really, a rather bizarre analogy, actually. Robert ignores him. “Why would I ever trust you? You’re completely insane to even tell me all this, let alone ask me to go under with you voluntarily.”
“Well, maybe not completely, and you could try to be more original with your insults at least.” Eames supplies from behind him.
“Will you shut up?” Arthur snaps without looking away from the machine he’s tinkering with.
“For you, anything.” The record whips, zip-zip, back and forth through the air just a fraction faster.
“You two are not helping!” Ariadne pops out of her chair and stalks around with her hands in her hair. She stops abruptly in front of Robert. “Look, I’ll give you my last name, my social security number, my gran’s dogs name, whatever you want...”
“My dear,” Eames imposes himself between Ariadne and Robert, his hand on one of her elbows. “Now, let’s think this through...” He ducks his head and whispers to her. Arthur is also on his feet, alert and scowling.
“Stop,” she breaks free of the loose grip on her arms and side-steps the man now glaring over his shoulder at Robert. “Just stop it, ok? This is the right thing to do.”
“Right and wrong aren’t points on my moral compass.” Eames drops his arms all the same, and he takes a place leaning ever-so-casually against a pillar, arms crossed loosely on his chest. Arthur moves to stand next to him with his hands in his pockets.
“Why are you so focused on this?” Robert asks. They’ve taken an incalculable risk exposing themselves to him.
“Aren’t you curious?” She smiles, an unlikely temptress.
Of course he’s curious, that’s why he’s here to begin with.
Robert feels the leviathan roll of a large boat beneath him. He turns his head to see the long, dark wooden stretch of the bar spreading down the wall, the prisms of crystal hanging from the ceiling. He automatically reaches down and tugs the cuffs of his shirt out of his sleeves.
“Champagne?” Ariadne hands him a glass, cool to the touch. She’s wearing pearls around her neck, more on gold combs holding up her hair.
Music floats in from the deck, Bach.
He sighs. “I loathe these ass-kissing excursions. Diplomats and professional sycophants.” The champagne is crisp on his tongue.
“You like boats,” she says.
“No. No, I really don’t. Being obsessed isn’t the same as liking.” She makes a noncommittal noise and when he turns his head she’s walking down a corridor. He starts to follow but loses sight of her. “Hey!” he shouts at her back, but she doesn’t reappear.
He’s standing on the beach with his trousers rolled up. The sea laps at his feet and ankles. On the cliffs above hang the pastel domiciles of the Cinque Terre. Ariadne waves to him from down the strand. She’s wearing a broad straw hat with a navy blue bow the same color as her retro bathing suit.
He jogs towards her and the trailing end of the bow flutters against his face as she points out to sea at a yacht.
“We should get something to eat.” He remembers fish fritters with huge flakes of sea salt. He starts walking along the sandy beach towards the towering rocks. As he gets closer, the rocks flatten, elongate, and steps appear beneath his feet. He looks at Ariadne and she smiles.
They climb and climb, the view becoming more spectacular--boats bob in the ocean, islands stutter down the coast, birds swirl and swing above their heads.
They’re sitting at a table on the pavement before a tiny trattoria. Ariadne sips at a bright pink, bubbling drink. In front of him is a plate of octopus.
“This is my favorite,” he says with a laugh. The sauce is light, bright, perfect.
“What’re you going to do now?” Her hat casts a shadow over the top of her face. Her freckles stand out in the bright Ligurian sun.
He shrugs licking sauce from his fingers. “Have to wait for the audit to finish. Maybe diversify the natural gas holdings in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Is that what you want, though?” She sounds urgent. He doesn’t know how to answer. What he wants and what he doesn’t hasn’t ever been paramount in his life. He wants oysters maybe, to sip a Compari and soda in the sun. He wants Ariadne to let the stress go. Maybe she’s working too hard.
“Aren’t we on vacation?” he asks her. “Don’t worry about work. I don’t even have my phone.” He turns out his pockets to prove that. “Maybe we can find a cinema showing mid-twentieth century communist propaganda films. I’ve always loved those.”
“We probably can,” she answers.
He blinks up at the ceiling and draws a deep breath, runs a hand over his face. Arthur looks down at him with a half smile. “Alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He sits up from his partial recline. “That was...pleasant.” He casts his eyes over Ariadne, who is watching him closely. He remembers more of the first time now. Guns and car chases and falling. “Did someone to pay you to find out that I like seafood?”
“No, this was pro bono. Strictly recreational,” Eames unhooks Ariadne from her lead and rolls the cord up. He winks at Robert.
Gavin regards him over the expanse of Robert’s desk. He has the patient air of a buddha. “I’ve not heard of a contract to secure you.”
“I’m not asking you for any favors based on our childhood acquaintance, Gavin. I’m willing to pay for information the same way everyone else does--whether that be in currency or kind.” Business is business. “Tthey not only secured me, they had the temerity to approach me afterward.”
“If you won’t name names, I can’t council you on this. We don’t talk much, but we’re mates. If you have a special project in mind, we can take care of that off the books.” All this is said with the same placidity Gavin always exudes, but something about the words themselves and the casual nature of the coldbloodness they expose sets the fine hair on Robert’s arms on end.
“If I knew any names, I would pass them along.” He stands, slaps his hands down on his desk lightly, and smiles. “If memory serves, you’re a betting man, and I believe there’s a boxing match tonight.”
For some reason he feels more affinity with his kidnappers than this man he’s known since he was eleven. Stockholm Syndrome feels the same grey as everything else in his life, he’s not all that impressed.
Robert’s not all that concerned with discovering what secret the dreamsharers stole from him. His life goes along bounded by grief and board meetings. He doesn’t feel like anything they took from him could be as important as what else he’s lost. Even if some major business calamity comes from their work, there’s always more money to be made somewhere else.
The financial papers get a whiff of his plans to sell off the natural gas rights in the Gulf to a Venezuelan shell company. Press releases abound and obfuscation begins. Fischer Morrow has talking heads planted on every news program of note. The leak preoccupies him. He’s not angry, just very willing to sacrifice his time and effort into suppressing the story and pondering where his ship went to lee shore.
Milan. He’s not sleeping well, REM sleep finds him downing more and more. He’s considered therapy, but he knows it’s stress and bereavement. He wishes, at least, that his subconscious was more original.
“Hey,” she smiles down at him and pulls out a chair at his table.
“Hi.” He’s been waiting. He takes his meals in public as much as possible. He doesn’t try to cover his tracks, what was once a young man’s bravado is now purposeful carelessness. He knew she’d find him when she wanted to.
“So, you’ve started splitting the company up.” She pours herself a glass of the sparkling water he hadn’t bothered to open.
“Hardly. It’s just not worth the effort to deal with the environmentalists and the international scrutiny on that project.” He touches the cuff of his sleeve, runs a finger over the agate and gold cufflink.
“I’m learning to gamble.” When the waitress approaches, Ariadne orders in garbled Italian.
“Scratch off lottery tickets?” he inclines his head towards her. Her laughter turns a few heads, probably eliciting murmurs about Americans.
“Mostly I’m learning to scrutinize people. Eames thinks disguising that with card playing is, like, subtle, I don’t know. You touch your cuff links when you’re uncomfortable. What’re you uncomfortable about?” Her attention focuses on him with uncanny singularity.
“You realize that we don’t really know each other? That you’re a criminal who accosted me?” He considers losing his temper, but he doesn’t think he has much of a temper to lose these days.
She looks away, scratches her neck. “Yeah, I know. That’s the problem. I let the excitement carry me away. Did you ever draw or play music or something?”
He watches her. He thought that was a rhetorical question, but she’s waiting for an answer. “Not really. I never had time for that between school and private lessons.”
“Oh.” Her eyes go wide for half a second. “Yeah, right. No violin or other improving kind of music lessons?” She leans her chin on her hand and scrutinizes him again, like she’s actually interested in the ins and outs of his childhood routine.
He squirms, unused to this kind of attention. No one really cares about this kind of thing, the ennui of boarding school and fifteen hour days, boardroom, schoolroom, office, Japanese lessons, Russian lessons, fencing, riding, the bar always rising higher and higher.
She sits back, hands going into her lap. “Never mind.” She looks down for a second and back up into his eyes. “We didn’t take anything from you.”
He waits for her to elaborate. When she doesn’t, he asks “You mean you didn’t succeed?” The agate is warm against the skin of his palm.
“Yeah. Some Russians wanted blueprints for the new pipeline tech that your father developed.” Blithe now, not meeting his eyes. The cutlery appears to be riveting.
“But I have no idea about those schematics.” He goes through the motions of this conversation. But she doesn’t know him at all, so she just plunges on, clueless that he doesn’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.
“Exactly. It’s one of those seemed like a good idea at the time things.” The waitress approaches and slides a plate of octopus onto the table. Ariadne smiles at him.
At least she made the effort to lie. He’s learned over the years that often enough the real cruelty is in telling the truth. He smiles back at her.
The divestment of the Gulf of Mexico natural gas fields turns out to be a stroke of brilliance in hindsight. All of the rigs in American waters are shut down for six months for retrofitting soon after the sale. Fischer Morrow in one master stroke depleted the currency reserves in Venezuela and dropped a massive quagmire from its own books. The Economist interviews him and the journalist is less condescending than usual.
Peter semi-retires after a massive coronary event. Robert trusts his replacement even less. At least Peter was a known quantity.
Robert needs some time off, the lack of sleep is turning his skin paper thin. He feels strung out even though he’s not touching pharmaceuticals these days.
Arthur meets him for drinks in Sydney, a quirky remembrance of time past in the skewed world that Robert inhabits. “How do you finance your escapades?” Robert’s been kicking around some ideas over the interminable nights he spends watching cityscapes out pristine glass windows.
Arthur is easier around him these days, spine not always so rigid. He rolls his glass on the table back and forth. “We turning money over from one job into the next.”
“Right. There’s no reserve pool?”
Arthur laughs. “Because I could convince anyone to create a general trust. My team is more stable these days, for personal reasons, but, generally, teams come together and split job to job.”
“Of course.” Robert’s been curious about the minutia of their work since the rudiments were explicated to him. “Have you ever thought about expanding?”
Arthur sits back and hooks his arm around the back of his chair. His slow smile creeps across his face. “What do you have in mind?”
Robert uses his thumbnail to sketch on the tablecloth. “Dreaming bigger...”
“Where have I heard that before?” Arthur muses.
“Why does the dreamshare have to be limited to crime? Your people already use it for recreation, why can’t that be expanded?” He taps the table. “Of course, at first it would be an unregulated commodity, between the law. After a while there will be governments that want to outlaw the recreational use because someone’s always pissed off when new pleasures are invented. But there will be markets--wide open markets--for an experience that not only lengthens life to almost immortality, but can provide experiences the real world never could. Why go to Disney World when you can go to Mars?”
Arthur leans his arms on the table and scoots his chair closer. “I’ve thought this for years. The pornographic application alone could generate the GDP of the Eurozone.”
“Of course there would have to be an entire infrastructure put in place ahead of time..."
“So that post-beta launch would be seamless, thereby minimizing the legal ramifications.” Arthur finishes Robert’s thought. Arthur leans back and crosses his arms over his chest. “Of course there’s the issue of financing a start up like that.”
Robert laughs, runs his thumb over his bottom lip. “Yeah, I think we have that part covered.”
Petrochem’s on life support. That was his father’s world. Robert’s ready to build an empire on dreams.
Of course I also have another googledoc open with yet another story, this one Dom-centric. AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!