From the Archives: The Silver Walks (1987)

In 1987, High Times published an excerpt from Mona Lisa Overdrive, a novel by the father of cyberpunk William Gibson, which is super cool and makes me happy.
Silver
Courtesy of High Times

By William Gibson

She’d had this friend in Cleveland, Lanette, who’d taught her lots of things. How to get out of a car fast if a trick tried to lock the doors on you, how to act when you went to make a buy. Lanette was a little older and mainly used wiz, she said, “to move the down around,” being frequently downed-out on anything from endorphin analogs to plain old Tennessee opium. Otherwise, she said, she’d just sit there twelve hours in front of the vid watching any kind of shit at all. When the wiz added mobility to the warm invulnerability of a good down, she said, you really had something. But Mona noticed that people who were seriously into downs spent a lot of time throwing up, and she couldn’t see why anybody would watch a vid when they could stim just as easy. (Lanette said simstim was just more of what she wanted out of.)

She had Lanette on her mind because Lanette used to give her advice sometimes, like how to turn a bad night around.

Tonight, she thought, Lanette would tell her to look for a bar and some company. She still had some money left from her last night’s work in Florida, so it was a matter of finding a place that took cash.

She hit it right, first try. A good sign. Down a narrow flight of concrete stairs and into a smokey buzz of conversation and the familiar, muted thump of Shabu’s “White Diamonds.” No place for suits, but it wasn’t what the pimps in Cleveland called a spot, either. She was no way interested in drinking in any spot, not tonight.

Somebody got up from the bar to leave just as she came in, so she nipped over quick and got his stool with the plastic still warm, her second sign.

The bartender pursed his lips and nodded, when she showed him one of her bills, so she told him to get her a shot of bourbon and a beer on the side, which was what Eddy always got if he was paying for it himself. If somebody else was paying, he’d order mixed drinks the bartender didn’t know how to make, then spend a long time explaining exactly how you made the thing. Then he’d drink it and bitch about how it wasn’t as good as the ones they made in L.A. or Singapore or some other place she knew he’d never been.

The bourbon here was weird, sort of sour but real good once you got it down. She said that to the bartender, who asked her where she usually drank bourbon. She told him Cleveland and he nodded. That was eth and some shit supposed to remind you of bourbon, he said. When he told her how much of her money was left, she figured out this Sprawl bourbon was expensive stuff. It was doing its job, though, taking the bad edge off, so she drank the rest and started in on her beer.

Lanette liked bars but she never drank, just Coke or something. Mona always remembered one day she’d done two crystals at the same time, what Lanette called a two-rock hit, and she’d heard this voice in her skull say, just as clear as that, like it was somebody right in the room: It’s moving so fast, it’s standing still.

And Lanette, who’d dissolved a matchhead of Memphis black in a cup of Chinese tea about an hour before, did half a crystal herself and then they’d gone out walking, just ghosting the rainy streets together in what felt to Mona like some perfect harmony where you didn’t need to talk. And that voice had been right, there was no jangle to the rush, no tight-jawed jitter, just this sense of something, maybe Mona herself, expanding out from a still center. And they’d found a park, flat lawns flooded with silver puddles, and gone all around the paths, and Mona had a name for that memory: The Silver Walks.

And sometime after that Lanette was just gone, nobody saw her anymore, and some people said she’d gone to California, some people said Japan, and some people said she o.d.’d and got tossed out a window, what Eddy called a dry dive, but that wasn’t the kind of thing Mona wanted to think about, so she sat up straight and looked around, and, yeah, this was a good place, small enough that people were kind of crowded in but sometimes that’s okay. It was what Eddy called an art crowd, people who had some money and dressed sort of like they didn’t, except their clothes fit right and you knew they’d bought them new.

There was a vid behind the bar, up over the bottles, and then she saw Angie there, looking square into the camera and saying something, but they had the sound down too low to hear over the crowd. Then there was a shot from up in the air, looking down on a row of houses that sat right at the edge of a beach, and then Angie was back, laughing and shaking her hair and giving the camera that half-sad grin.

“Hey,” she said to the bartender, “there’s Angie.”

“Who?”

“Angie,” Mona said, pointing up at the screen.

“Yeah,” he said, “she’s on some designer shit and decides to kick, so she goes to South America or somewhere and pays ’em a few mil to clean her act up for her.”

“She can’t be on shit.”

The bartender looked at her. “Whatever.”

“But how come she’d even start doing anything? I mean, she’s Angie, right?”

“Goes with the territory.”

“But look at her,” she protested, “she looks so good…” But Angie was gone, replaced by a black tennis player.

“You think that’s her? That’s a talking head.”

“Head?”

“Like a puppet,” a voice behind her said, and she swung around far enough to see a ruff of sandy hair and a loose white grin. “Puppet,” and held up his hand, wiggling thumb and fingers, “you know?”

She felt the bartender drop the exchange, moving off down the bar. The white grin widened. “So she doesn’t have to do all the stuff herself, right?”

She smiled back. Cute one, smart gray eyes and a secret halo flashing her just the signal she wanted to read. No suit trick. Kinda skinny, she could like that tonight, and the loose look of fun around his mouth set strange against the bright smart eyes.

“Michael.”

“Huh?”

“My name. Michael.”

“Oh. Mona. I’m Mona.”

“Where you from, Mona?”

“Florida.”

And wouldn’t Lanette just tell her go for it?

***

Eddy hated art crowd people; they weren’t buying what he was selling. He’d have hated Michael more, because Michael had a job and this loft in a co-op building. Or anyway he said it was a loft, but when they got there it was smaller than Angie thought a loft was supposed to be. The building was old, a factory or something; some of the walls were sandblasted brick and the ceilings were wood and timbers. But all of it had been chopped up into places like Michael’s, a room not much bigger than the one back at the hotel, with a sleeping-space off one side and kitchen and bath off the other. It was on the top floor, though, so the ceiling was mostly skylight; maybe that made it a loft. There was horizontal red paper shade below the skylight, hooked up to strings and pulleys, like a big kite. The place was kind of messy but the stuff that was scattered around was all new: some skinny white wire chairs strung with loops of clear plastic to sit on, a stack of entertainment modules, a work station, and a silver leather couch.

They started out on the couch but she didn’t like the way her skin stuck to it, so they moved over to the bed, back in its alcove.

That was when she saw the recording gear, stim stuff, on white shelves on the wall. But the wiz had kicked in again and anyway, if you’ve decided to go for it, you might as well. He got her into the pick-up, a black rubber collar with trode-tipped fingers pressing the base of her skull. Wireless; she knew that was expensive.

While he was getting his own set on and checking the gear on the walls, he talked about his job, how he worked for a company in Memphis that thought up new names for companies. Right now he was trying to think of one for a company called Cathode Cathay. They need it bad, he said, and laughed, but then he said it wasn’t easy. Because there were so many companies already that the good names had been used up. He had a computer that knew all the names of all the companies, and another one that made up words you could use for names, and another one that checked if the made-up words meant dickhead or something in Chinese or Swedish. But the company he worked for didn’t just sell names, they sold what he called image, so he had to work with a bunch of other people to make sure the name he came up with fit the rest of the package. Then he got into bed with her and it wasn’t really great, like the fun was gone and she might as well have been a trick, how she just lay there thinking he was recording it all so he could play it back when he wanted, and how many others did he have in there anyway?

So she lay there beside him, afterward, listening to him breathe, until the wiz started turning tight little circles down on the floor of her skull, flipping her the same sequence of unconnected images over and over: the plastic bag she’d kept her things in down in Florida, with its twist of wire to keep the bugs out—the old man sitting at the chipboard table, peeling a potato with a butcher knife worn down to a nub about as long as her thumb—a krill place in Cleveland that was shaped like a shrimp or something, the plates of its arched back bent from sheet metal and clear plastic, painted pink and orange—the preacher she’d seen when she’d gone to get her new clothes, him and his pale fuzzy Jesus. Each time the preacher came around, he was about to say something, but he never did. She knew it wouldn’t stop unless she got up and got her mind onto something else. She crawled off the bed and stood there looking at him in the gray glow from the skylight. Rapture. Rapture’s coming.

So she went out into the room and pulled her dress on because she was cold. She sat on the silver couch. The red shade turned the gray of the skylight pink, as it got lighter outside. She wondered what a place like this cost.

Now that she couldn’t see him, she had trouble remembering what he looked like. Well, she thought, he won’t have any trouble remembering me, but thinking that made her feel hit or hurt or jerked around, like she wished she’d stayed at the hotel and stimmed Angie.

The gray-pink light was filling up the room, pooling, starting to curdle at the edges. Something about it reminded her of Lanette and the stories that she’d o.d.’d. Sometimes people o.d.’d in other people’s places, and the easiest thing was just toss them out the window, so the cops couldn’t tell where they came from.

But she wasn’t going to think about that, so she went into the kitchen and looked through the fridge and the cabinets. There was a bag of coffee beans in the freezer, but coffee gave you the shakes on wiz. There were a lot of little foil packets with Japanese labels, freeze-dried stuff. She found a package of teabags and tore the seal from one of the bottles of water in the fridge. She put some of the water in a pan and fiddled with the cooker until she got it to heat up. The elements were white circles printed on the black countertop; you put the pan in the center of a circle and touched a red dot printed beside it. When the water was hot, she tossed one of the teabags in and moved the pan off the element.

She leaned over the pan, inhaling herbscented steam.

She never forgot how Eddy looked, when he wasn’t around. Maybe he wasn’t much, but whatever he was, he was there. You have to have one face around that doesn’t change. But thinking about Eddy now maybe wasn’t such a good idea either. Pretty soon the crash would come on, and before then she’d have to figure out a way to get back to the hotel, and suddenly it seemed like everything was too complicated, too many things to do, angles to figure, and that was the crash, when you had to start worrying about putting the day side together again.

She didn’t think Prior was going to let Eddy hit her, though, because whatever he wanted had something to do with her looks. She turned around to get a cup.

Prior was there in a black coat. She heard her throat make a weird little noise all by itself.

She’d seen things before, crashing on wiz; if you looked at them hard enough, they went away. She tried it on Prior but it didn’t work.

He just stood there, with a kind of plastic gun in his hand, not pointing it at her, just holding it. He was wearing gloves like the ones Gerald had worn for the examination. He didn’t look mad but for once he wasn’t smiling. And for a long time he didn’t say anything at all, and Mona didn’t either.

“Who’s here?” Like you’d ask at a party.

“Michael.”

“Where?”

She pointed toward the sleeping-space.

“Get your shoes.”

She walked past him, out of the kitchen, bending automatically to hook her underwear up from the carpet. Her shoes were by the couch.

He followed and watched her put her shoes on. He still had the gun in his hand. With his other hand, he took Michael’s leather jacket from the back of the couch and tossed it to her. “Put it on,” he said. She did, and tucked the underwear into one of its pockets.

He picked up the torn white raincoat, wadded it into a ball, and put it into his coat pocket.

Michael was snoring. Maybe he’d wake up soon and play it all back. With the gear he had, he didn’t really need anybody there.

In the corridor, she watched Prior relock the door with a gray box. The gun was gone, but she hadn’t seen him put it away. The box had a length of red flex sticking out of it with an ordinary-looking magnetic key on the end.

Out in the street was cold. He took her down the block and opened the door of a little white three-wheeler. She got in. He got in the driver’s side and peeled the gloves off. He started the car; she watched a blowing cloud reflected in the copper-mirrored side of a business tower.

“He’ll think I stole it,” she said, looking down at the jacket.

Then the wiz flashed a final card, ragged cascade of neurons across her synapses: Cleveland in the rain and a good feeling she had once, walking.

Silver.

Copyright 1987 by William Gibson

Excerpt from Mona Lisa Overdrive, to be published 1988 by Bantam Books

High Times Magazine, November 1987

Read the full issue here.

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