Edison did not experience autumn so much as it did a second spring. The city's warped seasons, caused by the insulating effect of the domes, were the reason that I could sit in Blue Square beside a bed of irises and daffodils, while outside in the Old Town, trees shed their leaves and frost covered the ground.
I sat on a bench, my feet stretched out in front of me. Already, the narrow, pointy shoes were killing me. Toes that were used to spreading themselves out in my sneakers were now crammed into these designer label instruments of torture. I was more than tempted to remove them and put my sneakers back on, but I had no idea what to expect when I met Miss Werner again. Maybe the shoes were crucial. Maybe, and more likely, they just went well with the suit. So, the shoes remained, slowly constricting my feet.
To keep my mind off the throbbing in my toes, I watched the country club doors, the people entering and leaving, looking out for the most obnoxious hat in the bunch, for that would surely belong to Miss Werner. There were several that could have been hers, gravity-defying constructions in vivid colors, but each revealed a different woman's face beneath their swooping brims piled with feathers and other trinkets.
In the distance, the clock tower boomed out eleven o' clock and still no sign of Miss Werner. I gave a frustrated sigh. There had been no meeting time specified on either card, but did she really think she could make me wait around all day?
‘Of course she can,' I thought, ‘You, idiot that you are, chased her around all day yesterday and nearly got yourself arrested over it. A bit of waiting around by the fountain is nothing compared to that.'
As the minutes crawled past, I grew bored of staring at hats and took my sketchbook from my case and began a sketch in pencil.
The country club had often been included in my drawings, as so many people liked to pose in front of the mansion and pretend that they too were in the class of its wealthy patrons. But today, the building itself was my subject. I sketched the outlines lightly, with a draftsman's precision, turning my sketchbook so that gravity could create the crisp ledges and window frames. The drawing reminded me of the hours I spent under the watchful eye of my uncle, sketching buildings in minute detail. He always stood behind me, ruler in hand to check the accuracy of my lines. Finding a line that was so much as a degree off, the silent perfectionist would crumple the paper and throw it calmly over the edge of the roof.
"Again," he would say and I would stare at him, aghast. Again and again and again. If I complained, he would repeat his mantra. If I tried to get up, he would push me back down with an uncommonly strong hand. Whether August or February, it didn't matter to my uncle. I sketched the same set of buildings until the day I discovered gravity.
"Good," he said as I rotated my sketchbook, with the dawning realization that any line I drew downwards would always be straight. Gravity pulled the pencil down the paper naturally, doing the work quicker and more efficiently than my own faulty hands. Turning my paper first this way, then that and back again, the buildings took shape with surprising speed under my pencil. Soon, my uncle held my sketchbook, checking the lines with his ruler. He was silent for a long time, moving his ruler across the page, nodding occasionally.
At last, he handed the sketchbook back to me and pulled me up by the hand. With a pat on my back he led me back inside, the slightest on smiles on his face and what I imagined was a gleam of pride in his tired eyes. Once inside the house he tore the drawing from my sketchbook and the smile disappeared from my face. Did he simply grow tired of my failure and of the cold? I watched as my uncle walked over to the far wall, and fished around in the chaos piled up on the table there. Finding what he was looking for, my uncle held up his hand, which gripped a push pin in its callous, ink stained fingers. With a quick movement and a loud ‘thunk' that made me jump, my uncle pinned the drawing to the wall, amidst his own sketches that he kept there for reference.
He turned, a smile on his face, "Very good, Allen, very good indeed."
My own smile returned, broader than ever.
"But it's missing something," he said, shaking his head. My grin fell again.
My uncle didn't answer, but turned around again and, after several moments of rustling, fished out a pen from under the papers on the table. He handed it to me and stood aside.
I hesitated a moment, looking down at the pen and then up at my uncle. But then, I stepped up to my own drawing. With a nervous hand, I scrawled "Allen Wilton" in tiny letters along the bottom. I stepped back and looked at my uncle, who was smiling, but shaking his head.
"We'll have to work on that next," he said.
I was twelve and, for the first time, I felt truly proud of myself.
When I had finished the outlines, I began shading, starting with the lightest shades and working my way down into the blacks. Then, the trees, flowers and the iron fence surrounding the area came in. The square up to where I sat made up the rest of the picture. Only the top half of the fountain showed, the spout shooting into the air. I was so occupied with the details of the drawing that I didn't notice the man sitting on a bench across the square, pretending to read a newspaper while staring at me intently. I barely caught him in my peripheral vision as he stood up and moved out of my line of sight entirely. My eyes focused on the final details of the drawing once again: the scrollwork in the ledges of the country club, the shine of light on the arcs of water spat forth by the fountain, the curling of the ornate iron bars that made up the gate.
There was a tap on my shoulder that pulled me out of my concentration. I turned around to find a man standing behind me. He was middle-aged, with a receding hairline and half-closed brown eyes that looked down at me with a contradictory mixture of interest and aloofness. He wore a neatly pressed black suit and was vaguely familiar.
"Can I help you?" I asked, wondering if the man wanted a portrait drawn.
"Are you Allen Wilton? He asked, putting his hands in his pockets.
"Yes, that's me. And you?"
"My name is Paul Linden, of the Linden Company," he answered.
"The one that makes the soap?" I asked. Linden Bar Soap was a common product found in most Edison drugstores that promised a variety of miracles and cures for ailments of the skin.
"Yes, among other products," he answered with some measure of distaste that I sensed wasn't for me, but for the soap.
"What can I do for you then, Mr. Linden?" I asked, my curiosity piqued. What would the head of a major cosmetics company like Linden want with me? My thoughts went immediately to Miss Werner.
"I am an acquaintance of Miss Harriet Werner," he said, confirming my suspicions about the woman's involvement, "and she recommended you to me. You draw portraits, is that correct?"
"Yes, among other things," I said, mimicking him. Paul Linden didn't seem to notice and continued.
"I would like to make you an offer," he said. I felt my heart immediately speed up and I moved into salesman mode. I put on a smile and looked directly at Linden, assuring him that I was listening carefully.
"I'm hosting a kind of party at my home, a benefit to raise money for a chemistry scholarship, specifically for research in pheromone science, and Miss Werner suggested that I feature a portrait artist at the benefit, as part of the entertainment. And she then suggested you, Mr. Wilton."
I resisted the urge to say ‘yes' all at once. There were a few practical matters to be dealt with, especially compensation.
"I'm flattered by the offer," I said with a friendly smile, "But I would have to consider it. With the cost of supplies and getting a temporary Residential Pass from the Commuting Workers' Center..."
"I will cover all expenses," he explained, "and I am willing to pay 1000$ for your services."
1000$. That was more than I, most times, made in a month. I found myself salivating unintentionally at the sum. And with business as slow as it had been lately, it was an offer that I really couldn't refuse.
"So, then," Linden said, "do you accept my terms?"
I thought for a minute. This was all really too good to be true. A week before, a man such as this would'nt have glanced at me and now he was offering me a job? I wondered who Harriet Werner really was, to have such influence over the head of a company as large as his. And this man... I recognized him from somewhere and knew I had seen him recently. He stared at me, waiting for an answer. Instead, he got another question in return.
"About Miss Werner..." I began, but he interrupted before I could finish forming my question.
"Don't let her fool you, Allen," he said and I wondered if it was a warning. "She seems an odd duck, but she's got a better head for business than even her father had."
He leaned over and put a hand to his mouth, as if confiding something in me, "Last year, after Shiya Corporation went under, their sales went up tenfold and now she's opening up fourteen new firms and six new factories across the world!"
"What does her company do exactly?" I asked.
A confused look crossed Linden's face, "Well surely you know Kinetech? Edison's practically built on Kinetech tiles."
I looked down at the ground. Beneath layers of pavement and earth were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of octagonal tiles in widely varying sizes. They had remained stationary for several years, but would shift and reorganize the entire city every so often. Their true purpose was to optimize space in the city, but sometimes it seemed that they only succeeded in frustrating the inhabitants.
"She owns Kinetech?" I asked, amazed.
"Well, not technically, no," Linden admitted. "Her father, Silas Werner, left Kinetech to Leon, but the son didn't want any part in it. So essentially, his name's on the letterhead, but anyone who knows them knows that it's Harriet in the big chair. Supposedly, Leon's relationship with his father was...strained. Harriet and Silas always got along a lot better, in my opinion."
"But what's her interest in me?" I asked, hoping that Paul Linden could shed some light on the subject.
"I have no idea, I was hoping you could answer that, really," Linden said, shrugging his shoulders. He didn't seem like other members of the wealthy elite that I happened to see around. Despite his somewhat icy introductions, Linden seemed to be the type who warmed up quickly to anyone. His open, unassuming expression and his slight weakness for gossip only added to his charms.
"Well, whatever Miss Werner's intentions are, I can't really pass up an opportunity like this, Mr. Linden," I said. "I accept your offer."
Paul Linden nodded, a satisfied smile on his face. He handed me a thin stack of papers, stapled together.
"Well then, it's settled. This is all the paperwork you'll need to fill out for the Commuting Workers' Center. The benefit is a week from today and," he handed me another set of papers, "this is everything you will need to know about the benefit. What to bring, how to get there, and what to do once you're there."
Paul held out his hand and I shook it, almost not believing that this gig had been practically dropped into my lap.
"I look forward to seeing you next week," he said and then looked at the drawing in my sketchbook, "Miss Werner was right as always." Linden leaned over picked up the sketchbook, "Incredible. And so quickly, too. I sat and watched you the entire time you drew." He began to flip through the pages, "You certainly have a gift, Allen."
I shrugged and, despite myself said "Not really. Just a lot of practice."
"Are you formally trained?" Linden asked, looking up at me.
"No, my uncle taught me."
"Ah," he replied, shaking his head, "I hardly think that the professors up at the university could do a better job. Say..." he paused, shuffling one foot for a second, "do you think I could have this? The drawing I mean."
He held up the drawing of the country club to show me which one he meant, but then he turned it around again and stared at it, his eyes roving over the page. He seemed fascinated by it.
"Sure," I answered, "It's yours."
He looked up, "Really? You're sure?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
He fished around in his pocket, "Let me just get my wallet here....How much do y-"
I took the sketchbook, carefully tore the page from it, and handed the drawing to him, "Don't worry about it, Mr. Linden." I told him, "You can have it."
He smiled openly. "Thanks a lot, Allen," he said, shaking my hand again, "I'll take good care of it. See you next week."
I smiled back at him; his hand was still shaking mine. "Next week. Thanks again, Mr. Linden."
He let my hand drop. "You're welcome. I know you won't disappoint!" he turned to leave, "Goodbye!"
I waved as he walked away. But as soon as Paul Linden had disappeared down the path, I dropped the papers on the bench and wrestled the pointy shoes off my feet.