The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

MONDAY

It is the day after the day after the Wizard perished. John has spent much of this period sleeping and eating very little, still evidently feeling the effects of his excessive alcohol consumption. Human physiology is distressingly fragile.

Otherwise the hours pass much as they usually do: Sarah Connor drives Mia to school and then goes for her morning jog, leaving me to walk Snowy, a chore somewhat alleviated by the fine early Fall weather and the fact that the pooper-scoopers go unused for once. This doesn't happen often and is an occasion to be relished. Perhaps that dog is all pooped out? We can but hope.

When I get home I hang up Snowy's leash and prepare his bowl of breakfast chow. John is seated at the kitchen table, clean shaven and looking more like his old self. He is eating cereal and watching TV with the sound turned down low. The ubiquitous Trump person is on the screen, at a hustings in the mid-west, his florid face glowing ever more puce as he harangues the audience about 'bad hombres'. Oh well, takes one to know one.

Sarah Connor arrives home shortly after. "How are you feeling?" she asks her son.

"Better."

"Good. I was starting to think it wasn't just a hangover you were suffering from. Sam dying wasn't your fault. You can't mope or blame yourself. "

"Try telling Lieberman that."

"I'm sure it was just the grief and shock made him say those things. Have you spoken to him?"

"Nope. Tried calling three times. Never picks up. Jan says he phoned in sick at work and is holed up in his apartment playing video games."

"This has obviously hit him hard."

"They spent a lot of time together, barbecues on the roof, swapping life stories. Sam knew plenty of the astronauts personally, including some of the moonwalkers. And you know how starstruck Lieberman gets. He hyperventilated the time he saw Gwen Stefani ordering coffee in Starbucks."

"I'll call him later. Perhaps he'll talk to me. I'm gonna go take a shower."

"Wait a second. We haven't decided what to do with this."

John lifts the plastic tub containing the Wizard's gold and places it on the table. It's been washed clean of all the dirt and grime.

"Have you looked inside?"

"No. Haven't got round to it. Probably gold coins. It's plenty heavy enough. Care to do the honors?"

Sarah Connor prises the lid off and peers inside. "It's not gold coins."

No. Instead what she reveals are numerous gold ingots no thicker than the biscuits Mia likes to consume with her hot chocolate. There are sixty-two of them in total. Displayed on the kitchen table they gleam with an impressive lustre.

"What on earth was he planning to do with these?"

"Sam believed civilization would fall and the survivors would revert to the barter system. I guess he was gonna use them to trade for supplies."

"Do we keep it?"

John shrugs.

"We could offer it to Daniel."

"Somehow I don't think he'd accept. I'm not his favorite person these days. He'd probably accuse me of trying to buy his loyalty."

"Sam's family, then. Surely he has some next of kin we could hand it to."

"He was widowed. And I'm pretty sure he never had kids. Never mentioned them anyway. Shouldn't be too hard to find out."

"Do it. Now I really need to take that shower."

"Yes, you do," I agree.

This earns me a sour look. Sometimes the truth hurts.

-0-

In the days before the internet it was relatively slow and time consuming to track someone down. Trips needed to be made to libraries or newspaper offices to examine paper - paper!- records. Sometimes it was necessary to break into government offices such as the IRS or various licencing agencies in order to obtain a particularly elusive address.

Not any more.

It takes John mere hours to track down the Wizard's closest descendents. And he doesn't even have to leave the house.

"Load the printer with paper, would you. You know how mom prefers hard copy."

Indeed. She doesn't trust computers. Go figure.

The Wizard is a legend on the Deep Web, though his identity remains secret. His alter-ego, Sam Clemens, appears only on the regular web, the home of Amazon, Facebook and amusing gifs of cute puppies falling in toilet bowls. Try telling Snowy it's amusing. He sulked for days.

The printer hums as it works.

The earliest mention of Sam occurs in the mid seventies, a grainy photo on a space blog showing NASA's software engineers working on the nascent space shuttle program. He is clean shaven with short dark hair, towering over his more diminutive colleagues, the very picture of corporate dedication. There are more like this right up until the early nineties. The last, dated March 1995, shows a very different Sam. His hair is now long and greying. He has a beard and appears to be scowling rather than smiling for the camera.

The Wizard is coming into being.

Within a year of the photograph Sam leaves NASA and the arrests for civic disobedience begin. Newspaper articles from this period describe him as an 'embittered ex-NASA employee.' Conservatively reported by journalists hostile to the cause, his diatribes against the military-industrial complex read like the ravings of a madman. It will take the rise of the Internet before he finds an sympathetic audience willing to listen and believe what he is telling them.

By lunchtime we have what we were looking for.

"That didn't take long," Sarah Connor smirks as we lay the evidence out on the kitchen table. "What's this - her autobiography?"

"I figured you'd want to see it in black and white. I know how you hate tech stuff."

"Can you blame me?"

She looks directly at me. Is that a diss? I think it's a diss.

"Okay, well, Sam didn't have kids, as we suspected. He did have a sister, one Margaret Clemens, later Margaret Miller."

"And she's the lucky recipient?"

"Not quite. Maragaret Miller died five years ago. Natural causes. Heart, apparently. Seems it might be herditary."

"So we're back to square one."

"No. Margaret had a daughter, Katherine Miller. She's a school teacher living in San Francisco. Divorced with two young children. And more importantly as far as we're concerned, Sam Clemens' niece and sole remaining blood relative. In game show parlance, we have ourselves a win-ner."

"What do we know about her?"

"Well, she's a bit of an enigma. Katherine Miller isn't on any of the social media platforms. No Facebook account. No Twitter. No Instagram. Not even an abandoned MySpace page from way back."

"A woman after my own heart."

"Oh it gets better. I did a search of the San Francisco newspaper archives. Katherine Miller gets two wite ups. The first was three years ago. Some kid in her class brought a live grenade to school for show and tell. She calmly called the bomb squad and helped evacuate the school all without causing a panic. She was commended for her resourcefulness by the mayor, no less."

"And the second time?"

"A year ago. Took her ex-husband to court for non-payment of child support. He hadn't paid a dime in eighteen months."

"That sonofabitch."

"It's fair to say a pot of gold should be much appreciated."

"You can't just leave it on her doorstep. You'll need a cover story."

"Don't worry. Cover stories happen to be my speciality."

"Nothing too elaborate."

"Aw - where's the fun in that?"

-0-

SATURDAY

San Francisco. Noon. The Suburban is parked kerbside in a leafy residential suburb. Two hundred yards ahead of us is the house belonging to the Wizard's niece, Katherine Miller. It's highly likely she's home because the japanese subcompact registered in her name is parked in the driveway.

John checks his reflection by tilting the rear view mirror. He straightens his tie and pats his hair. "How do I look?" he asks.

"Very handsome."

"Do I look like a lawyer?"

"A very handsome lawyer."

As part of our cover story John has assumed the alias John Banner, a partner in the law firm Banner, Parker and Richards, based in Los Angeles. All fictitious, of course. To further cement the deception he's wearing a business suit, white shirt and tie, and his hair is slicked back with product.

"Okay, you ready?"

"Oui."

"Oui?"

"I mean, yes."

I also have an alias, complete with back story, all of which I have chosen myself. I am Mimi Le Farge de Bon-Bon, a canadian of french descent. Mimi likes choral singing, fine wines from the Rhone valley, and rough sex in the back of automobiles. Mimi has worked for Banner, Parker and Richards for two years and is secretly in love with her boss, John Banner. Her favorite fantasy is to do unspeakably rude things with him on the backseat of a Suburu.

"Let's go over the cover story again. Who am I?"

"John Banner, attorney at law."

"And you are?"

"Mimi Le Farge de Bon-Bon."

"You couldn't pick a regular name," John sighs. "You couldn't be Jane Smith or Helen Jones."

Mimi pouts. She's very proud of her french heritage. She can trace her ancestry back to a whore in the court of King Louis XV. You can't get more respectable than that.

"And what is your job?"

"I'm a paralegal for the law firm Banner, Parker and Richards."

"And what is a paralegal?"

"A Paralegal is a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures but who is not a qualified attorney or chartered legal executive. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector."

"And what isn't a paralegal?"

"A lawyer who goes parachuting."

I'll never live that one down.

"We can't be making mistakes like that. This woman's a teacher so she's probably used to kids lying their heads off."

"It won't happen again."

"Good. Grab the gold and let's go."

We step out of the vehicle. I too am dressed for the part. I have on a business jacket, white blouse, and a pencil skirt that hugs my lower body like saranwrap. Underneath I'm wearing a lacy bra plus stockings and suspenders complete with garter belt. Mimi likes fancy lingerie. She's a bit of a tart really. It runs in the family.

John straightens his tie one more time and I fuss with my hair. Mimi likes it coiled on the top of her head like a fancy french pastry. It took ages to do properly and requires twenty separate pins to hold it in place.

We walk along the street. John has to wait for me several times. I'm wearing four inch heels which are tricky to walk in. Mimi loves expensive footwear. They make my butt swing from side to side like a fleshy pendulum and the angle of my body thrusts my boobs out in front of me so they appear twice their normal size.

Oh...

I've just realised why human females like wearing high heels so much. Nice one, Mimi. You go, girl.

We stand beside the door. John whispers, "Okay, let me do all the talking. You keep quiet and try and look smart."

Try and look smart?Mimi pouts. She has a law degree from Stanford. Stanford! And she only had to sleep with three professors to get it.

John knocks on the door. A few moments later a shadow darkens the glass and the door opens a crack. "Yes?" Katherine Miller asks suspiciously. We recognise her from her newspaper photgraph. She looks like what she is: a divorced mother of two on the cusp of middle age whose job pays less and demands more than she would ideally prefer.

"Mrs Katherine Miller?"

"It's Ms Miller. Who are you?"

"My name is John Banner. I'm an attorney with the law firm Banner, Parker and Richards. This is my collegue Mimi."

John hands over a business card which she examines closely. We printed them this morning. I hope the ink's dry.

"Did my ex-husband send you? Because there's no way I'm letting him have another child support payment holiday, not when I happen to know he's just bought his slut girlfriend a Porsche."

"We're not here about that, Ms Miller. It's a business matter concerning your late mother. Perhaps we could come in and discuss it inside?"

She examines the business card again. If she's suspicious and decides to call the number listed she'll hear Sarah Connor pretending to be Banner, Parker and Richards. I hope her acting is better than her cooking.

"All right, come in."

We enter the house, following our host. She is wearing flat shoes, old jeans and a comfy sweater. The casual look suggests she seldom receives visitors. Mimi wouldn't be caught dead wearing casual clothes. She's a strictly designer label high maintainence kinda gal. And she has the credit card overdraft to prove it.

Katherine Miller indicates we should sit round a kitchen table which is presently strewn with school exercise books.

"Sorry about the mess. I'm a teacher. I'm having to mark a lot of coursework out of hours. The city council in its wisdom recently decided our school could get by with one less teacher so they could balance the budget. More work for the same pay."

"I understand. Times are tough all over."

I do a scan of the kitchen floor. No food or water bowls are evident. And the door to the yard doesn't have a slot cut into it for a dog or cat to enter and exit. So probably no pets. Good. Mimi isn't a pet person. They moult and leave hair all over her expensive silk sheets.

"You said something about my mother?"

"Yes. Your mother was Margaret Miller, originally Clemens?"

"Yes."

"And she had a brother, one Sam Clemens?"

"Yes. My Uncle Samuel."

"Were you and your Uncle close?"

"Oh no. I haven't seen or heard from him in ages. When mom passed a few years ago I sent him an invitation to the funeral. He never wrote back. Or even phoned."

"Mr Clemens was - ah - unavoidably out of the country at the time."

In the slammer, more like.

"I saw my uncle quite a bit when I was a child. He worked for NASA. I remember one time he invited us down to Florida to watch a space shuttle launch. That was really exciting. Then I think he got involved with radical politics. I recall him and my mother having arguments about it. I think he got arrested or something. Is that what this is about? Is he in trouble?"

"I regret to inform you your Uncle died a few days ago. I'm sorry for your loss."

"Oh. That's...sad. How..?"

"Did he die? Heart attack. It was very sudden. He didn't suffer."

"Did it happen abroad?"

"No. In this country. He remembered you in his will, which is why we're here."

"Really? I thought he'd forgotten all about me."

"Hardly. You're his only blood relative."

"Wow. After all this time."

"Indeed. Mimi, if you wouldn't mind..."

I lift the plastic urn and place it on the table, pouting as I do so. Mimi doesn't like manual labor. She's a spoilt bitch basically.

"Mr Clemens left you this. A personal bequest."

"What is it?"

"Why don't you open it and see."

She prises open the lid. And reels back with her hand to her mouth. She couldn't be more shocked if she'd found Jimmy Hoffa hiding inside.

"Is that..? I mean, is it really..?"

"Gold. Yes. Sixty-two ingots."

"And it's mine?"

"All yours."

"How much is it - uh -"

"How much is it worth? The price of gold varies on a daily basis. We believe the current market value is somewhere north of sixty thousand dollars."

"Oh dear lord! How did my Uncle come to have all this?"

"Your uncle was an unconventional man. He didn't believe in the traditional modes of saving. Not for him stocks and bonds. He was old school. Bullion. G-O-L-D. Something you can see and feel and touch with your own bare hands."

"How would I go about...uh..."

"Converting it into cash?"

"Well, yes."

"Any good commodities trader will oblige. For a fee. I advise selling a little bit at a time so the IRS don't need to get involved."

"Oh it's not the IRS I'm worried about. If my ex-husband knew I had sixty grand of gold I'd never see another dime in child support."

"Messy divorce?"

"Oh yeah. So...is there a funeral I should attend?"

"It's already taken place. A private ceremony. Just a few close friends. Your uncle's ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, which he knew and loved so well."

"Do I owe your law firm anything?"

"Our fee has been taken care of."

"Oh. Right. Thank, Mr Banner. And you, Miss...uh..."

"Mon nom est Mimi Le Farge de Bon-Bon."

"I'm afraid I don't speak french."

Mimi pouts and rolls her eyes. Americans. So insular.

-0-

Back in the Suburban John loosens his tie and grins. "That went pretty well. She seemed nice enough. Would have been awful to hand the gold over to some entitled rich bitch."

"You don't think she might be suspicious when the shock wears off?"

"Why would she? There's a saying - never look a gift horse in the mouth."

"Because the horse might bite your face off?"

"No."

"Because the horse might be sick on your shoes?"

"No!"

"Because-"

"Look, just drop it, okay. For once everything worked out fine. Let's take the win." John starts the engine and checks his watch. "It's still early. What say we head into the city and have some fun?"

Mimi makes a suggestion.

"What? No, we're not doing that in the back of a Suburu! What's gotten into you?"

Not you apparently...

-0-

We enter the city proper, driving up and down the famous switchback streets, cruising past the quaint old trolleycars until we reach Golden Gate Park. We haven't brought a change of clothes so we keep on our fake lawyer outfits, though John leaves his jacket behind in the car while I swap the high heels for a pair of tennis sneakers. Mimi might enjoy tottering around like a sex doll, Cameron Baum prefers to keep her feet nearer the ground.

The leaves on the trees are just starting to turn color. We hold hands as we walk the shaded paths. It seems very romantic. Of course, Mimi doesn't do romantic. She's more 'wham bam, thank you, ma'am.' God, she is such a slut!

"Hey, a fairground. Haven't been to one of these in years."

"What is a fairground?"

"You'll see."

The fairground is spread over several acres, a mixture of stalls, rides and concession stands selling cotton candy, falofel and pigs in blanket. Cheap thrills and even cheaper food.

John observes it all with a sloppy grin on his face, looking as happy as, well, a pig in blanket. "This reminds me of when I was a kid," he says. "Mom lived with a guy who worked in a place like this. His name was Ramon and he operated one of the rides."

"He doesn't sound like your mother's type."

"He had a sideline in stolen credit cards and fake IDs."

"He sounds more your mother's type."

"Ramon was actually a pretty cool guy. He taught me to ride a motorbike. Part of his job was to ride the Wall of Death."

"Wall of Death? That doesn't sound very child suitable."

"It looked more dangerous than it was. Centrifugal force kept the bike stable so as long as you kept the speed up you had to be pretty clumsy to crap out and hurt yourself."

"How young were you?"

"I don't know. Seven or eight? We travelled with the fairground from city to city. I helped set up the rides. There was no school except for this tutor hired to teach us kids. He was this old guy who said he landed at Omaha Beach and fought in Normandy during the war. I'm pretty sure he was lying but he told such great war stories that we didn't care. It sure beat learning algebra. I was kinda bummed when we had to leave."

"Why did you have to leave?"

"Mom decided to tell Ramon everything. Future war. Machines rising up to enslave us. Me as a cross between Abe Lincoln and General Patton. Ramon couldn't get away from us quick enough."

"Your mother doesn't have much luck with men."

"She was way more intense back then. She's calmer now."

"Really? I hadn't noticed. Last night she insisted on cleaning the guns I'd already cleaned the day before."

"Okay, maybe slightly less intense."

We've walked over to one of the stalls, a shooting gallery with rifles designed to shoot small ducks. Shoot six and you win the big prize, a giant stuffed teddy bear.

"Care to chance your arm, sir?" the stall manager suggests. "You look like a man who knows how to handle a weapon."

If he only knew...

The rifles shoot beams of light and the ducks are small wooden creatures moving slowly on a horizontal conveyor belt some fifteen feet distant. They fall over if you hit them. I suppose using real bullets and real ducks might create somewhat of a bloodbath. Not what you want when you're enjoying a falofel.

John knocks over four ducks. Odd. he's normally a excellent marksman.

"Bad luck, sir. Perhaps your lady friend would care for a go?"

She would indeed. First, I have to attend to my hair. Mimi might enjoy having it piled atop her head like a fancy french pastry, Cameron Baum prefers the more natural look. I remove the pins and shake my head from side to side, allowing my hair to fall as naturally as nature - or Skynet - intended.

John and the stall manager stare at me open mouthed. "What?" I ask.

"Nothing. Uh...nothing."

"It's freaking hot when women do that," the stall manager confesses.

I say nothing. Mimi would probably pout or simper. I on the other hand have work to do. Those ducks aren't going to shoot themselves.

I shoulder the rifle and take aim. Six ducks? Easy as pie. Although pie isn't that easy, especially if you have Snowy sniffing around and eating the ingredients when you're not looking.

My first shot misses.

How did that happen? I run a quick diagnostic. Nothing wrong with me. And I can hardly have been distracted by any sexual attraction between John and stall operator - he's fat and completely bald, for goodness sake.

So it must be the rifle. A subroutine studies the trajectory and compensates accordingly.

Six ducks fall one after another.

"We have a winner," the stall manager announces with a marked lack of enthusiasm. "Never had anyone win the top prize before," he admits handing me the giant stuffed teddy bear.

"I'm not surprised," I tell him. "The rifle's aiming mechanism is misaligned. It's almost as if it is designed not to shoot straight."

"You don't say."

"Perhaps I will have another try."

"Sorry. Stall's closed," he says hastily. "Lunch break."

"Oh. When will you reopen?"

"Hard to tell. A day. Maybe two."

That is one long lunch break.

-0-

John purchases cotton candy from a vendor. This is essentially a plume of spun sugar mounted on a short stick. He offers me a piece. It melts in my mouth and sensors automatically analyse the constituents.

"Mainly refined sugar," I declare. "Small traces of chemical additives, notably a colorant on the FDA banned list. It is suspected of causing cancer in rats."

"Lucky I'm not a rat."

"Nonetheless, I advise restricting your intake of cotton candy."

"No problem. One is plenty."

"Would you care for a pig in blanket? It is actually cooked pork sausage wrapped in bacon, hence the whimsical nomenclature."

"Yeah, I cracked the code. And I'm good, thanks."

We approach a ride called 'dodgems'. These are small one person vehicles constructed of pressed steel with thick rubber bumpers round their base. They're painted to resemble automobiles, although they would fool no one, certainly not a highway patrolman who would likely issue a ticket instantly. Instead of an internal combustion engine they are powered by a tall pole attached to the rear of the vehicles and connected to an electrical grid ten feet above our heads. Like the rifles these also appear defective because John repeatedly crashes into me.

"You're meant to do that!" he laughs when I complain. "It's the whole point."

"Then why is the ride named 'dodgems'? A more accurate description would be 'crashems'."

From there we cross to the tall ferris wheel which dominates the site. At least here the purpose is clear: people sit in small gondolas fixed to the outer circumference of a large metal wheel and as it turns are raised high in the air. Fun for all the family. Unless you're afraid of heights then it's just terror and vomiting for you.

We sit in a gondola, the stuffed teddy bear between us, and the ride operator lowers a bar that clicks into place above our legs so that we don't fall from a great height to our deaths. This too would be a major bummer.

The wheel turns slowly and we rise until the apex is reached. There's a jolt and the ride stops. We swing helplessly. Another malfunction?

"No, they do this so we can enjoy the view for a few minutes. Quite something, isn't it."

The view is indeed most impressive. From our heightened vantage point we can see the whole of Golden Gate park below and around us, while in the distance is Alcatraz island and the Golden Gate bridge itself, the base of the tall suspension pillars wreathed in the last vestiges of sea mist. Of course, it will not always look this way. After Judgement Day San Francisco becomes a Skynet enclave, a place where the HunterKiller fleet is manufactured. The factories run day and night, sea mist being replaced by an ominipresent smoke cloud that blots out the sun and never seems to move even on the windiest days. The city isn't liberated until the latter days of the war when there is a final brutal bloodletting as the slave labor force rise up and take revenge on their human overseers, those who sided with the machines. There is no greater crime than species betrayal. And the sentence is always death.

"You're very quiet. Not scared of heights, I hope?"

"Hardly. I was just thinking happy thoughts," I lie.

There's a sudden jolt and the wheel begins to turn again and eventually deposits us on the ground.

We visit one final stall: a coconut shy. This is similar to the shooting gallery except that instead of rifles and fake ducks there are hard wooden balls and coconuts perched on tall wooden pillars. The object is to throw the balls and knock the coconuts off their pillars. Six down wins a giant stuffed panda.

John goes first and knocks five coconuts to the ground. The sixth takes a glancing blow yet inexplicably remains in its holder.

"Oh hard luck, sir," the stall operator commiserates insincerely. "Perhaps the little lady would care to try?"

"You know," John grins, "I've a feeling she would."

You got that right.

Target locked and loaded. Balls cocked and ready. Three. two. One...

-CRACK-

-CRACK-

-CRACK-

-CRACK-

-CRACK-

-CRACK-

Six coconuts litter the floor - along with the remains of the wooden pillars which snapped in half from the sheer force of my efforts. Oops.

"Six down! We'll take the giant panda, please," John exults.

"What the hell happened?" the stall operator demands surveying the carnage with obvious dismay.

"Looks like a bad case of woodworm."

The man hangs a sign across the front of the stall.

CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

Another lunch break presumably. Honestly, the work ethic here is appalling.

We turn to depart only for John to stop suddenly and spin round. "Hey," he says to stall operator now on his knees clearing away the debris. "You don't happen to know a Ramon, do you? Ramon Villajos. I guess he'd be in his fifties now. Used to work the carnival circuit."

"Ramon Villsjos? Never heard of him."

"Okay. It was a long shot."

John moves to walk away. I stand my ground. "He's lying," I state simply. I grab the man's arm and drag him to his feet. "Tell the truth."

"Hey, get away from me! That hurts!"

"Listen, we're not here to cause any trouble, for you or him," John says. "Ramon's an old family friend from way back. If he's here I'd just like to stop by and say hello."

He takes out a hundred dollar bill and offers it. The man hesitates then stuffs it in his pocket.

"Ramon works the saucer ride. Don't tell him I sent you. He gets mean when he's been drinking. And that's a lot lately."

-0-

The saucer ride consists of giant cup and saucers which spin round and round on their axis at high speed. People sit on seats built into the giant cups. It looks awesome. How come we didn't try this one?

The man operating the ride is blond and heavily muscled. "Is that Ramon?" I ask.

"Nope. Too young. And white. Plus that guy looks like he eats steroids for breakfast."

Steroids for breakfast? Oh dear, I hope that particular diet doesn't catch on. Imagine feeding Snowy a hearty meal of bodybuilding drugs. He'd be the size of a polar bear!

"I don't see him. Let's try round the back."

We squeeze past the barriers erected to keep the public out of restricted areas. Carrying two giant stuffed cuddly toys means we are somewhat conspicuous, however luck is with us and no one notices or raises the alarm.

Round the back are the diesel generators that supply electricity for the rides. It's noisy and the ground is covered in thick cables. We spot a man smoking a cigarette. He's wearing dirty jeans and a cotton singlet over a skinny upper body. Obviously no relation of the blond behemoth out front. He has tattoos down each arm and his long greying hair is held back in a greasy ponytail.

"Ramon?"

The man starts guiltily and drops his cigarette on the ground, extinguishing it with his heel. He sees us for the first time and says, "Hey, senor, you're not allowed back here, por favor. It dangerous."

"Ramon, it's me, John Connor. Years ago you used to date my mother. Sarah Connor. Do you remember?"

Ramon - if it's him - squints at us without comprehending. Then his face splits into a huge grin, revealing gappy discolored teeth. "Little Johnny Connor? Is that really you?"

"It's been a long time, compadre."

The two men hug clumsily.

"Ah Johnny, when I last saw you you were just a bambino. Now look at you all grown. Is Sarah with you?"

"No. Los Angeles. We're in San Francisco on business. Just passing through really. It's sheer luck we found you."

Ramon scratches his arms and stares at me. "And who is this vision of loveliness?"

This is my girlfriend, Cameron. Cameron - Ramon."

Ramon takes my hand and raises it to his lips to kiss wetly. This is either very chivalrous or totally gross. His saliva slowly seeps into my pseudo-flesh where sensors automaticallly analyse it.

Oh my...

So, your mother, Johnny, is she still..?" Ramon makes a whirling motion beside his head with his fingers.

"Not so much. She's doing pretty well these days. Dating a dentist."

"That's good. Your mother...she had me worried, all that crazy talk about the future. Machines! They're the masters and we're the slaves. Crazy, huh?"

"Maybe she wasn't crazy, merely prescient," I suggest.

"Prescient?"

"It means foreknowledge of the future."

Ramon stares at me blankly, then laughs suddenly breaking into another wide grin. "Ah - you had me going there, chiquitta!" He slaps the generator with his palm. "Hey, Mr Machine, please don't kill me!" His laughter morphs into a prolonged coughing fit.

"You okay, Ramon? That's a pretty bad cough. Have you seen a doctor?"

"Ah - doctors. Too expensive. And all they do is tell you not to do the things you love doing. I'm fine, Johhny. Too many cigarettes, is all." He scratches his arms again. Perhaps he has a rash? It's hard to tell under the tattoos. Why do the scrawniest men have the most tattoos? Join a gym. Pump some iron. Grow some guns. Earn the ink.

Hey, Johnny - remember when I gave you your first cigarette?"

"How could I forget? I was as sick as a dog."

"And Sarah - she was so mad at me! Crazy! Like a she-devil. She was a wild woman, that's for sure."

"Do you still ride the Wall of Death?"

"Ah no, that closed years ago. The businessmen shut it down. Health and safety. Said it was too dangerous, someone might get hurt and sue the company. I told them, I do it a thousand times, two thousand, and never hurt myself once. Made no difference. Today, everyone's risk averse. That's just the way it is. The old ways? Gone."

"Hey, Ramon - you back there? You better not be shooting up. Get your skinny old ass out here. Number three saucer's sticking again. You were supposed to fix it."

The muscular man out front. Ramon looks sheepish. He scratches his arms and says, "I gotta go. I'm kinda on two strikes around here. Three and it's goodbye don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. Don't matter if I gave my whole life to this place." He shakes his head sorrowfully. "Damn though, it was good to see you again, Johnny."

"And you, Ramon."

"Tell your mom Ramon says...Hell, you're a bright kid. Think up something nice and tell her I said it."

-0-

John is quiet on the drive back, thoughtful.

"Is something wrong?" I ask finally.

"Not wrong exactly. It's just...I remember Ramon as this huge bear of a man, larger than life. Always laughing. The life and soul of the party. Granted I was just a kid back then, but that guy...I don't know. He wasn't the Ramon I knew, that's for sure. And why did he keep scratching his arms like that?"

"Possibly the side effects of the opiates in his system. And he had enough alcohol in his blood stream to attract a DUI if he were caught driving a motor vehicle."

"How do you...Oh, when he kissed your hand."

"Will you inform your mother we met one of her old boyfriends?"

"No. I don't think there's any need to tell her about this. Let's keep it between us."

We drive on, again in silence. This time I understand. The Past has met the Present and been found wanting. The Ramon John knew and hero worshipped as a small boy is thirty years distant, as remote and unreachable as the moon. Time passes and people change, not always for the better.

-0-

Mia is delighted with the giant stuffed animals though furious we visited a fairground without her. "Promise me you'll take me with you next time," she insists.

"Fine. We'll take you with us."

"And Snowy?"

"And Snowy."

"And BB-8?"

"I don't think we can take BB-8 to a fairground. People might think its part of the entertainment."

"BEEP? Beep boop beep beep BOOP!"

BB-8 reacts with typical indignation, rolling out of the room in a huff. I really must tweak its settings. The droid's propensity to fly off the handle, to rant and rave over every perceived slight or insult, is becoming tiresome. It's like sharing a house with a miniature Donald Trump.

TUESDAY

Midnight. The safe house is quiet, locked down for the duration.

I make the short climb to the attic room where John sleeps, taking each step carefully as I'm wearing Mimi's high heels again. The light is showing under the door. Good, he's not asleep yet. I give the door a firm rap.

"Come in."

John is propped up in bed, reading a newspaper. He puts it aside as I enter.

"Cameron? I thought you'd be on patrol. And you've fixed your hair up again. What's going on?"

"Je ne suis pas Cameron. Mon nom est Mimi ."

"Oh you're playing Mimi again." He grins wolfishly. "Okay, what can I do for you, Mimi? I don't often see you out of office hours. I suppose you've come looking for a raise?"

"Oui. Une augmentation."

I undo my dressing robe and let it fall to the ground. Underneath I'm wearing matching black lacy bra and panties. My legs are sheathed in sheer silk stockings held up with garter belts taut around each thigh. I extend a leg and give the garter belt a twang. It makes a slapping sound against my bare skin.

John licks his lips. "You know, I just might have what you're looking for..."

He peels back the bedcovers.

Mimi gets her raise.

Twice.

-0-

Mimi Le Farge de Bon-Bon. Seems like a nice girl, yeah? Certainly stiffened John's resolve. (Ba dum tish)

Who doesn't like a little cosplay in the bedroom, he said unpacking his Teletubby outfit.

Banner, Parker and Richards. Or if you prefer, the Hulk, Spidey and Mr Fantastic. Superhero lawyers. They fight crime. And do your tax returns.

I'm assuming american fairgrounds are broadly similar to english ones. Appparently the trick with the coconuts is to drill a hole and fill with molten lead. Difficult to budge.