Though he was old, Sandro Estrada maintained an appearance of wiry, athletic vitality and strength. His body was lean and muscular, and his hair, though white as snow since the middle of the eighties, was as full and thick as it had been when he first became infamous in the late sixties. The skin on his face was like a thick, brown, wrinkled leather, but his large, expressive features had scarcely changed. They still radiated the same warmth, fierce intelligence, and playfulness they always had. Many people told Sandro that he had become identical to the picture they had always formed in their mind's eye of don Lorca. Sandro smiled graciously when people said this.
It was Monday afternoon, and Sandro was in his study working on an address he was giving to a workshop in Palo Alto on Wednesday. The word had been put out through the usual surreptitious channels. Arthur told him to expect some Hollywood people, an exec from Geffen records, and possibly one of the Eagles. Arthur didn't know which one; Sandro was long past caring. He wrote: "A fish perceives the vast world above the water only as a subtle texture that is diffused into the water - a colouring that is suffused through the whole medium by which the fish exists. I believe that don Lorca envisioned his training as a process whereby the fish - which was myself - could be taken roughly out of the water, and allowed for one one terrifying moment to take full cognisance of the higher world, the world of gods and monsters." At this point he became distracted, and wondered over to the wicker chair he had placed by the study's large bay window.
He sat in the chair and gazed very intently out the window. The art of seeing correctly, he had written, was the essence of the teaching of don Lorca. Sandro had been fascinated since his youth by the poise and concentration of predatory animals. He believed that the truth of things was ever-present and self-evident, but human concentration, without rigorous training and practise, could only perceive the names it had learned for things. Only the names: the mind revelled in its crude ability to link a name to a quality, as though its work was thus completed. Sandro particularly liked to contemplate bodies of water and trees. He looked at the trees now, stirring in a light breeze. Then he watched as three crows soared over the treetops, wheeling about one another as they climbed the air. Sandro watched as the crows departed from his visual spectrum, becoming tiny, almost metallic points of light, and then vanishing altogether into the shimmering haze of the sky.
Somebody knocked cautiously on the study door. Feeling his temper rising briskly, Sandro ignored it, and attempted to renew his concentration on the trees. The knock came again, with an even greater timidity. "Yes?" Sandro finally declaimed, having calmed his nerves. It was Second Priestess. Second Priestess was a tall, willowy Californian blonde in her late twenties, the daughter of real estate people from the Valley. She wore stone-washed denim jeans and a faded pink Fruit of the Loom tee-shirt. "Somebody on the phone" she said, "for you." This was unusual. Sandro Estrada did not live in fear; however, he required for peace of mind an absolute degree of control over his interaction with the world. There was a time when he had changed his phone number on an almost monthly basis. Now, he had entrusted his number to two associates: Arthur Woronov, the managing director of Ixtlan Incorporated, and Louis Alpert, his old friend and literary agent. Only Arthur and Louis were allowed phone the ranch, and only on Thursday afternoons. That was the rule. "Who is it?" he asked. Second Priestess scowled. "He wouldn't tell me. But he sounded very, very serious. He said that it was a matter of life and death seriousness. Those were his exact words".
Sandro rose from the wicker chair, and stalked reluctantly out onto the landing, with Second Priestess trailing behind him. Two conjectures had already arisen in his mind. The first was that one of his many admirers, insanely industrious creatures that they were, had somehow managed to acquire the ranch number. There were always life or death situations with his admirers: suburbanites and pot-addled boomers who wanted, god love them, to be warriors and sorcerers, Wasps who wanted to be Indians, and always women, endless scores of women who wanted to be breathless voyagers along the path of knowledge.
However, a far more ominous possibility presented itself, which had emerged during the previous Thursday's conference with Louis Alpert. Once again, Louis had been hectoring him to buy a personal computer, and singing the praises of his latest faddish obsession with typical extravagance.
"It's the way of the future. Way of the future. It will impact itself on every facet of daily life, on every aspect of our culture. It is widely known, in business circles, that in the coming decade computer illiteracy will basically be tantamount to suicide, to sheer, self-willed obsolescence and extinction. It's the new frontier. New frontier. They say that people will buy and sell on the computer. They say that people will have sex on the computer. There are certain libertarians in the Bay Area who have already declared the computer a free and autonomous territory, a new country that the government can't tax or patrol. Leary says that the computer is the LSD of this generation!"
Sandro snorted: "That fatuous prick! It doesn't surprise me that he would say that! It doesn't surprise that he would be hanging off the bandwagon, peddling his old bullshit slogans."
Louis enjoyed his friend's mock-exasperation. He was going to let him carry on with his routine, his familiar schtick about how young people had once aspired to be wiser than old people, and now old people tried to be dumber than kids, and how Tim Leary was the instigator, the clown prince, of the whole sorry malaise, when another thought occurred to him.
"Speaking of old friends, I have some news for you, Sandro, that you're not going to like one bit. Your very oldest and dearest friend has been sighted in Yuma, and he has been sighted at UCLA. The word is out: he is putting the finishing touches to yet another book in your honour."
Now Sandro became angry in earnest. Louis Alpert could only have been referring to Lincoln DeMille, the author, psychologist, investigative journalist, distant cousin to Cecil B. DeMille, and tireless arch-nemesis of Sandro since at least 1973. To the best of his knowledge, Sandro had never met DeMille, and never did the slightest thing to incur his wrath. Nevertheless, Lincoln DeMille had published eight articles in the anthropology journals, written two books, and given countless interviews, all of which accused Sandro of being a charlatan, a plagiarist, and worst of all, an author of fiction. It wasn't, as such, that he could do any real damage to Sandro. Whatever damage he could do had already been done; Sandro's followers remained loyal, and his books continued to sell. It wasn't anything like that that really troubled him. It was the inexplicable obsession and industriousness of the man that was so unsettling. He was a bloodhound. He seemed to prowl through every conceivable trace that Sandro left after him. He had diligently collected all of Sandro's library slips from his UCLA days; he had gone, on more than a couple of occasions, through Sandro's trash looking for evidence of chicanery; he had spoken to every woman who had so much as refused to give Sandro a hand-job in the sixties. Now, any person with even a modicum of concern for his privacy would find his nerves a little frazzled by the idea of someone who was actually prepared to shift through their trash for personal dirt. It was somehow deeply unnatural. Sandro was convinced that DeMille would keep digging until the end of days; keep searching until he discovered some awful truth about Sandro, or even about himself, that neither had ever conceived of before, and that would destroy them both.
Louis tried to calm him down: "Look, this business has reached the end of the line. DeMille is taking one last shot at his white whale, one last attempt to justify what he's being doing with the last twenty years of his life. That's all this is. It's not that serious. You know, one of these days, one of you will look for the other, and find that he's gone, finito. Then you'll miss him. Then you'll wonder who the hell you are, without him sifting through your trash. I'll tell you one thing I know about Lincoln DeMille. I tell you one thing I can say for a fact about Lincoln DeMille. He uses a personal computer. That's how he's so organised and efficient. If you had a couple of kids like a normal person, you'd understand about computers. Way of the future."
And so it went. Louis was always trying to persuade him to buy a personal computer, and have children. Sandro would have neither.
Second Priestess, in her peculiarly artful and inappropriate fashion, had arranged the phone in such a way that the receiver lay at a perfect right angle to the dial. It appeared to point directly at Sandro like a weapon. He looked intently for a moment at the tiny black holes that dotted the earpiece, each of them extending by some ineffable magic into a faraway place, where faceless men made plans against Sandro. Finally, he picked it up, and barked "Who is this? How did you get this number?"
The voice that answered was that of a Huichol Indian, Sandro guessed, in his early twenties.
"Who I am is not important. I am passing on a message from my benefactor, don Lorca. The message is that don Lorca wishes to speak urgently with Sandro Estrada."
Sandro repeated: "How did you get this number?"
"I have answered that question. I said I am speaking for don Lorca. You of all people should know that nothing is secret from don Lorca."
Sandro shuddered, and briskly composed himself.
"I don't know you. You do not represent don Lorca. If don Lorca wished to speak to me he would have sent me a sign, and I would have understood it. Who are you?"
"Don Lorca sent the sign, and you understood it. I will meet you on Wednesday at noon, at the bus-stop in Yuma, and I will take you to see my benefactor."
With that, the phone went dead.