top of page

FroM ThE DESK OF :        Wes Payton.
 

The  Immeasurable  Man

(It's been real.)

Prologue

Future generations will never believe the ingenuousness of the people I'm going to tell you about—it would strain credulity, as they say...so for posterity's sake, let's call all of what comes next a work of fiction.

I exist in extreme isolation. I've been immunocompromised since birth, and though now in my mid-thirties, I have no memory of ever having had direct human contact. Until recently, all my knowledge of human interaction was theoretical; however, since the side effects of my sequestration were identified a couple of years back, my aptitudes have been very much in demand.

                Aptitude One: Decisiveness. I don't hesitate when making decisions, and I don't second guess myself—ever. Why should I? My formative years were spent almost exclusively in study. I've seen every film worth seeing since the dawn of cinema. You learned how to be human from your fallible family, your fatuous friends, and your chucklehead classmates. I learned courage from Errol Flynn, self-confidence from Clark Gable, forbearance from Humphrey Bogart, resolve from Sidney Poitier, humor from Groucho Marx, and how to see right through someone from Bette Davis.

                Aptitude Two: Detachment. Given my circumstances, this one hardly requires explanation, except to say that while being detached may not seem like an aptitude, in my case it is...or rather, it is in the cases I'm assigned. I literally have no skin in the game—my impartiality has never been questioned, rendering my decisions unassailable, which in this litigious age is advantageous to say the least. You can't sue a ghost...you'll see what I mean in a moment.

                Aptitude Three: Discernment. I don't claim—though others have—to possess a particularly great mind, but I doubt you'll ever encounter a less cluttered mind than mine. Everything I know, everything I've experienced has come to me through the portal that is my domicile's viewscreen, all of which I've fastidiously categorized and catalogued. I have access—just like you—to nearly unlimited knowledge, but unlike you that flow of information isn't impeded by off-screen obligations and outside influences or encumbered by eventual disinterest. I simply have nothing else to do. My high-definition conduit to the world is all I have, and through it I have observed all.

                So those are the 3 Ds of me, though I doubt my brief description has left you with a sketch that's very three dimensional—gramercy Groucho! If you'd like to understand my situation better, I invite you to spend a few days with me...everything really got started on what I'd been led to believe was the second Tuesday of February.

Act I                                                                                              

Chapter 1

Arlo sat uncomfortably on the couch in the bank's waiting area, reading a months-old copy of Architectural Digest. His suit didn't fit well, his beard itched, his stomach was doing somersaults, his hearing aid—which he usually barely noticed—felt like it might fall out of his ear at any moment, and the pistol tucked into his waistband poked against the vertebrae in the small of his back. He thought he might've disengaged its safety when he'd sat down. Also, he had no idea what a flying buttress was despite having just perused an article about their modern usage, and he had to pee.

                He furtively glanced over at his brother, Dylan, who stood near a small table lined with short stacks of deposit slips. He looked more like a loiterer than a customer. His fulsome beard and sweating brow gave him the appearance of someone who only stopped in for the free air conditioning. Dylan nodded, and Arlo turned to see the bank manager approaching.

                "Good morning," signed the bank manager (translated from ASL).

                Arlo stood, hoping his gun wouldn't slide down the back of his trousers. "I'm so pleased someone here knows sign language. I wear a hearing aid, but really it only allows me to hear car horns and alarms." He quickly dropped his hands, wishing he hadn't mentioned alarms.

                "My daughter was born deaf, so whenever a customer comes in who signs, my employees let me know—frankly, I prefer signing to talking...the conversations tend to be less discursive."

                Arlo smiled. "I quite agree...besides, so many people have unattractive faces, but ugly hands are a rarity."

                The manager chuckled. "That's a good point. Follow me to my office, and we'll discuss how I can help you today."

                The two walked in step along the tile floor dividing the tellers' counters from the loan officers' cubicles to the lone, walled office at the back of the bank. The manager opened the door for Arlo to enter and motioned to a wingback chair facing a double pedestal desk. Then he shut the door and sat in his desk chair. "I noticed that you were reading an architecture magazine. You may be interested to know that this bank is a converted bus station...what once was a depot is now a place to make a deposit."

                "Then where does one go to catch a bus around here?" Arlo asked with gesticulating hands.

                "I don't know...perhaps Greyhound has designs to convert the old Wells Fargo building a few blocks over." The manger studied Arlo's face for a moment. "Have we met before?"

                "I don't think so...this is my first time coming here."

                "No, I know I haven't seen you in here before, but you remind me of someone I was introduced to at a benefit that I attended with my daughter a few months back—an inquisitive young man, though now I recall him being somewhat younger than you...or at least cleanshaven."

                Arlo shook his head. "I'm new in town, so I'm sure it wasn't me that you're remembering."

                The manager nodded. "Probably not then...so I understand you want to make a deposit with us today."

                "No, a withdrawal," Arlo signed emphatically.

                "Oh, I was told by the teller you communicated with that you were dropping off, not picking up. I'll access your account." The manager tapped at the keyboard on his desk. "Do you have an ID? I assume your account was set up at one of our other branches since you're new to the area."

                "A sizeable withdrawal," signed Arlo insistently.

                "Yes, I understand."

                "I don't think you do." Arlo held up an index finger to signal for a pause as he pulled the pistol from under his jacket.

* * *    

 

                IM paused the viewscreen as his domicile's speaker chimed. "Hello there."

                "IM, are you available for an assignment?"

                "I can never tell if you're being sarcastic or courteous when you ask me that."

                "Usually a bit of both."

                "I didn't think that was possible," replied IM.

                "Maybe it isn't, but your skill set is needed right now to address a relatively isolated situation that could escalate into a national headline if not dealt with promptly, so let's call it the latter and move on, shall we?"

                "By all means."

                "Good then, an attempted heist of a financial services institution located in the U.S. state of—"

                "A bank robbery—isn't that a bit...mundane for me?"

                "It's developed into a hostage situation."

                "The local constabulary doesn't have a negotiator on staff?" asked IM.

                "Your services were specifically requested by the well-connected father of one of the bank customers who's currently being held hostage."

                "Okay, send me the details."

                "I'm IM'ing you them now, IM."

                IM studied the data on his viewscreen for a moment. "Ah, something of a quandary I see."

                "It would seem the strategy of the four bearded bandits was to have two of them take over the bank manager's office—the only enclosed room in the otherwise open-floorplan building, which also happens not to be equipped with a surveillance camera—while the other two guarded the front door. Apparently the two in the office convinced the manager to instruct his employees to gather up all the cash they could and stack it outside his office door; however, soon after they did so, the lobby cameras caught all six employees and ten customers flinching simultaneously—"

"Presumably startled by a gunshot they heard from the office," interrupted IM, "so I take it there's no audio to accompany the video files I'm seeing now."

                "I'm afraid not...why do you think they would've shot the manager after he complied with having all that money piled up?"

                "Possibly because he wasn't willing to comply with their next demand."

                "Which was?"

                "Telling his employees to round up the customers and send them into his office," answered IM, "where I suspect the robbers intended to shave their beards and mix in with the customers when they're to be set free, mistakenly believing that their gambit could defeat the facial recognition program the authorities will undoubtedly use in an attempt to track them as they make good their escape."

                "That's pretty clever...you don't think shaving their beards could fool the program?"

                "Even if it could, the authorities already have all the shaven customers on video, so it would only be a matter of identifying whose faces exited that weren't captured on camera entering...besides, unless the would-be robbers intend to eat their own whiskers, they'll all either leave behind a massive pile of DNA evidence or each will make their exit with a rather incriminating clue somewhere on his person—so not clever...though I suppose it's easy enough for a strong premise to outshine the weaker points of a plot. For instance, take the movie Casablanca—"

                "I did mention this is a matter of some urgency, didn't I?"

                "Of course," IM replied, "let's press on."

                "FYI, if the assailants are convicted of murder during the commission of an armed robbery in that state, it's a mandatory life sentence."

                IM shook his head. "Which means, legally speaking, they'd be in no worse circumstances if they just started killing the hostages who've seen them and then effected their escape during the ensuing pandemonium."

                "As you say...a quandary."

                Something on IM's screen caught his attention. "I'm reviewing the video from the lobby before the robbery began...one assailant seems to be conversing in sign language with the bank manager."

                "Is that relevant?"

                "It might explain how he gained access to the manager's office without putting anyone on alert...and it gives me an idea."

                "Speaking of the manager's office, I was just informed that the smoke detector in there was triggered...more gunfire perhaps?"

                IM scanned the live feed on his screen. "No, I'm reading concern on the faces of the customers—not startlement like before. I think the perpetrators are burning their beard trimmings...perhaps they're cleverer than I first thought."

                "If they're torching evidence, then it probably means they're about to make their move."

                "I agree. Link me up to a holo-case onsite and tell the authorities to toss it through the front window of the bank, but first have them freight the case with an obstreperous item I'm sending you the specs for...or something comparable, if they don't have that particular payload on hand." 

* * *

                "There's a cop coming," shouted a bewhiskered robber by the bank's inner vestibule door. "What should I do?"

                "It's just one cop?" asked another hirsute gunman keeping watch over the customers and employees lying face down in the lobby.

                "Looks like it...all the rest of them are still hunkered down behind their squad cars. Should I let him in?"

                "Are you nuts...tell him to piss off."

                "He's carrying a case."

                The gunman turned toward his partner at the front door. "What's in it?"

                "Sure, let me use my x-ray vision to find out."

                "I mean is it big, like a footlocker, or small, like a cigar case?"

                "It's just a regular briefcase sized case...seems kinda high-tech though."

                "It could be full of explosives."

                "Why would the cops give us explosives?" asked the robber manning the door.

                "No, I mean to blow us up."

                "And kill our hostages?"

                "Then maybe it's full of money."

                "We just robbed a bank...we don't need money—we need a way out of here."

                "As if I didn't know that." The gunman turned back to the hostages on the floor. "Wait to see what he does with it."

                "He...he just dropped it off outside the front door and kept on walking."

                "He didn't run?"

                "No...set it down like he was delivering the mail."

                "If he didn't run, then it's probably not a bomb."

The robber entered the vestibule and inspected the case through the glass door. "I think it's a holo-case."

                "How can you tell there's nothing in it?"

                "No, not hollow...I mean it looks like it's set up to project a holographic image."

                Suddenly a life-size version of IM appeared in blue light atop the case. "May I come in?"

                The robber jumped back from the door. "Oh shit, it's the Immeasurable Man."

                "Here?" asked the other gunman incredulously. "Aren't we...a little beneath his notice?"

                "Apparently not—he's looking right at me."

                "I can hear you through the case's microphone and have access to the bank's surveillance video feed," replied IM, "but my holographic image is not 'looking' at you. In fact, I only know I'm facing you because I can see my image from the camera mounted in the vestibule's ATM."

                The robber turned to the ATM on the wall next to him and then back to IM, who waved to himself. "What do you want?"

                "To come inside and talk calmly with you all in hopes of figuring out a way to peacefully resolve the current situation. I promise, my incorporeal form won't attempt to overpower you...that was a joke."

                The robber turned back toward the gunman in the lobby. "What do you think?"

                "If they sent the Immeasurable Man to negotiate with us, then there must be something in here that they want. I say we hear him out...see if we can finagle a get out of jail free card."

                "Yeah...okay." The robber unlocked the padlock holding the chain tight around the handles of the outer doors of the vestibule, opened one door slightly, reached an arm out to grab the case, and then relocked the chain. "I'll take the case back to the office while you keep an eye on the hostages and the front door."

                As the robber walked along the tile, carrying the case down at his side, IM's holographic figure levitated horizontally above the heads of the prone hostages. Several of them raised their heads off the floor to look at IM. "Stay calm...I'm here to help you...this ordeal will soon be over."

The robber opened the door to the manager's office and entered.

                "What the hell?" gasped the manager, looking up from the carpeted floor.

                IM muted his channel to the case and addressed the others on the party line. "The manager is alive. Repeat, the voice you just heard matches the vocal recognition the bank's security system has on file. The body growing colder in the corner of the room that my case's thermal sensor is picking up must be that of one of the robbers, as they're the only other two to have been captured on camera entering the office." IM unmuted the case's channel. "So to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

                The robber set the case on the manager's desk. "Sure, do you want our social security numbers too?"

                "Point well taken. I was only attempting to be polite, but names aren't important now."

                The bank manager raised his head again. "I didn't think you'd be so tall."

                "Shut up and put your head back down or I'll blow it off," ordered the robber who'd brought IM into the office.

                "If it would put any of you more at ease, you're welcome to adjust my height with the knob on the side of the case," said IM.

                "I set you up on a desk—that's why you look so tall." The robber took off his suit jacket to reveal a basketball jersey underneath. He positioned the jacket around the case to cover its sides and most of the top, except for the lens that projected the hologram. "I believe that you can't see us, but I'm doing this in case this case has any little peephole cameras the cops stuck on it."

                "Doing what?" asked IM.

                The gunman tasked with keeping an eye on the hostages appeared in the office doorway. "What's going on?"

                "I thought you were watching the front door."

                "I can see it and all the hostages just fine from here." The gunman looked at the half-shaven and fully dead robber slumped in the corner. "Jesus, Dylan's seen better days."

                IM muted his channel to the case once more. "I assume you all heard that and are now searching your criminal databases for a 'Dylan.'" He studied his screen for a moment. "I see the details coming through for a felon with a matching modus operandi who has a deaf brother named Arlo." He unmuted his case channel. "Is one of your colleagues in need of medical attention?"

                "He's past that now," replied the robber who'd brought him in. "The asshole on the floor shot him with a revolver hidden in his desk. He'd be dead now too, except we know the laws in this state. All we wanted was some money—nobody was supposed to get hurt."

                "So what's the offer?" asked the gunman in the doorway.

                "Now that I know the bank manager is still alive, and if you promise not to harm anyone, you are free to leave. There's a certified letter in this case to that effect, signed by the governor—simply walk out with the paper in hand...hold it up for the news cameras that are no doubt waiting outside, if you like."

                "Sounds too easy." The robber moved next to Arlo, who was still seated in the wingback chair, though now melancholy and beardless.

                "Would you prefer it to be more difficult?" asked IM.

                "No," replied the gunman in the doorway, "more profitable. The way I figure it, the only reason you're here is because there's something more valuable than money in this bank."

                Arlo sat up slightly as he noticed IM's twitching hand. "That's very perceptive of you. In the bank's vault, there is a safety deposit box that contains documents, which could prove embarrassing for some very powerful people. While you might be tempted to search for those documents yourself, there are a few things to consider. One, the vault houses over a thousand safety deposit boxes, each of which requires a bank key and a matching customer key to open. Two, the vault was remotely locked when the bank's alarm was triggered, and so now the vault door's time lock has been activated, meaning even if you did manage to negotiate for the combination, no one but the Hulk or perhaps the Human Torch would be capable of opening that door for several hours. Three, the documents have no monetary value, though certainly you could attempt to blackmail those who the documents incriminate, but as I mentioned...they're powerful people for whom, I suspect, being extorted would not sit well." As IM spoke, with his hands down at his side, he signed in ASL letters: ARLO YOUR COMPANIONS WILL NEVER LEAVE THIS BANK FREE MEN. THEY ARE DOOMED TO DIE #UST LIKE YOUR BROTHER DYLAN UNLESS YOU DO AS I TELL YOU. THIS CASE CONTAINS A SONIC DEVICE THAT WILL MOMENTARILY INCAPACITATE ANYONE WITHIN EARSHOT EXCEPT YOU WHO WILL ONLY FIND ITS EFFECTS SOMEWHAT DI**YNG. SHOOT YOUR COMRADES WHEN IT IS ACTIVATED AND YOU HAVE MY WORD THAT YOU CAN FLEE THE BANK DISGUISED AS A HOSTAGE AS YOU HAD PLANNED. OTHERWISE YOU AND YOUR COMRADES WILL BE KILLED BY THE SWAT TEAM THAT INTENDS TO BREACH THE BANK IN LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES WHICH WILL BE FAR MESSIER AND LIKELY RESULT IN COLLATERAL DAMAGE THAT WILL BE ON YOUR HEAD.

"Can we keep the money?" asked the robber standing next to Arlo.

                "Of course not," answered IM.

                "Then no way," said the gunman in the doorway.

                "We've got to have something to show for our trouble," added the robber who then noticed Arlo looking up at him. "And the loss of our friend."

                "Give me a moment to confab with the authorities outside." IM left the channel open as he typed the words "disregard inquiry" on his touch screen. "They're asking to keep some of the money...okay, I'll inform them." IM made a clicking noise with his tongue. "If it will help expedite a resolution, you'll be allowed to leave with half."

                "Half?" asked the gunman in the doorway.

                "What are we supposed to do?" asked the robber near Arlo. "Count up all the money and then divide it in two...that's not going to be very expeditious."

                "Ten night-deposit bags have been spotted stacked outside the office—take five," replied IM. "Any five you wish. I assure you, everyone outside—just as I imagine everyone inside—wants all this over with. No one's going renege on the deal over a few extra dollars if you happen to take the five fullest bags."

                The gunman in the doorway eyed the zippered bags waiting just outside the door, a few bulging more than the others. He nodded to Arlo and the other robber. "Okay, let 'em know we'll take the deal, but we're walking out of here with a hostage each until we get to those reporters outside and show them the paperwork signed by the governor."

                "That's not necessary," said IM, "but so long as no harm befalls them it won't alter the deal."

                The gunman in the doorway moved into the office and stood over the manager on the floor. "All right, get up. I pick you as my hostage, and if they start shooting I'll make you my shield."

                "We'll take a couple from out there." The robber put a hand on Alro's shoulder.

                "Don't forget your paperwork," said IM as he signed in ASL letters: ARLO COUGH SO THAT I KNOW YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE TO OUR DEAL.

                The gunman pulled the bank manager off the floor by his coat collar and noticed IM's hand. "What's with your fingers? Why're they twitching like that?"

                "Yeah," said the other robber. "I noticed that earlier too."

                "I'm not sure, since I can't see myself, but it's likely a glitch in the holographic program," replied IM. "It sometimes struggles to fully render extremities." 

                Arlo coughed. The robber patted him on the back. "There's no reason to get choked up now...we're almost out of here." The robber smiled as he approached the holographic image standing atop the desk. "Just between us, are you really real?"

                "I assume you're referring to that persistently circulating conspiracy theory that I'm merely some sort of artificial intelligence," IM said. "You've seen me periodically in interviews over the past few years, correct? I've aged, haven't I?"

                The gunman stopped as he led the bank manager toward the office door. "But if you were CGI in the first place, then it wouldn't be no big thing to make you look a little older each year."

                "That's an interesting point," said IM, "but I suggest we put this discussion in abeyance for the time being. My authenticity shouldn't concern you right now—only that the letter within this case is, indeed, authentic."

                The robber removed his jacket from around the case. "How do I open this damn thing?"

                "Just pull that knob I mentioned."

* * *

                IM heard the familiar chime and looked up at the viewscreen from his protein shake. "Hello there."

                "The father of the anonymous bank customer would like to thank you in person for a job well done."

                "You mean he's so grateful that he intends to fly all the way to my secluded domicile and risk vectoring in pathogens in an effort to express his appreciation?" asked IM.

                "No, I mean he wants to thank you virtually...but in real time."

                "Please inform the senator that his unspoken gratitude is thanks enough."

                "How did you know he's a...oh, never mind."

                "So what happened to the deaf assailant after he shot his associates?"

                "The cops corralled all the hostages as they came running out of the bank, so you didn't lie to him, which I know—for reasons I can't fathom—is important to you...he was able to egress just as he'd planned, but the manager IDed him soon after. He didn't do such a great job of shooting his comrades—got them both in the belly...neither died, but at least he incapacitated them, preventing a potential shootout, most likely saving their lives."

                "I suppose all's well that ends well." IM returned his attention to his shake.

                "Listen, word of your involvement in this incident was leaked to the press, and they've been breathless about it for the past several hours."

                "I thought the whole point of my involvement was to keep the incident from becoming a national headline."

                "Nevertheless, the media has now taken to portraying you as sort of digital-age Sherlock Holmes...a new hat they seem anxious for you to wear."

                "I wear plenty of hats already; I needn't don a deerstalker too," IM replied. "Besides, I'm like the opposite of that character. He was a sociopathic genius, and I'm a guy brimming with empathy who just happens to have a high-speed Internet connection."

                "Be that as it may, I thought I'd give you a heads up, since it seems you haven't been watching the news since your involvement in said incident."

                "I got caught up in a Buster Keaton retrospective." IM shook his prepackaged shake container. "Anyhow, it doesn't really matter—it's not likely that reporters will be showing up on my doorstep. By the way, break a leg during your interview tonight. I'll be watching."

Wes Payton Headshot.jpg

The Immeasurable Man is a sci-fi/speculative fiction story about celebrity, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, and the way we perceive reality, but at its core it's about a lonely individual who wants nothing more than to connect with someone.

The Immeasurable Man will be released by Rogue Phoenix Press on May 8th 2024.

Wes Payton has a B.A. in English/Rhetoric/Philosophy and an M.A. in English. He has been a short-story presenter for the Illinois Philological Association. His play Way Station was selected for a Next Draft reading in 2015, and What Does a Question Weigh? was selected for a staged reading as part of the 2017 Chicago New Work Festival. He is the author of the novels Lead Tears, Darkling Spinster, Darkling Spinster No More, Standing in Doorways, Raison Deidre, Intimate Recreation, Oblong, The House Painter and the Pirate Hunter, Downstate Illinois, Immurdered: Some Time to Kill, Dissimiles: More's the Pity, Namastab: Transition into Decompose, and the forthcoming Jackassignation: Too Clever by Half. Wes and his family live in Oak Park, Illinois. You can find out more about his work at: wespayton.weebly.com

bottom of page