Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 11:12:04 -0500
From: Lawrence Kestenbaum <polygon@CYBERSPACE.ORG>
Subject: Confession
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L <WORDS-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>

I awoke, still strapped to the interrogation chair. The small room was crowded with people, most of them cops. Patrolwoman Holly Hunter, from the Mutant City police force, still carried the mug-shot camera. Yosemite Sam, sixguns in hand, scowled in the corner. Nicolas Cage, who had left Las Vegas to be here, smirked at the Iowa trooper Jim Farrell. My attorney, Ray Burr, was nipping at a chopped liver sandwich.

Off to the left, in iron cages, a few other prisoners awaited their turn to be questioned: Bonnie and Clyde for a bank robbery; Duncan Idaho, for selling maintenance agreements on librarian pornography; Genevieve Bujold, for perverted relations with Senator James Exon; and Sylvia Edwards, suspected of being sly. On the radio, somebody was singing "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain".

Chief Interrogator Philip Ahn looked down at me. "There are times," he said sweetly, "when dignity is a doubtful virtue."

Detective Jodie Foster entered the room in grim triumph, and everyone fell silent. "William Gibson was right," she announced. "Cyberspace is a *real* *place*."

Suddenly all eyes were on me. Ben Ostrowsky switched on the tape recorder.

"I neither confirm nor deny that," I said, and swooned again. . . .

* * *

It had all started innocently enough: I was a door-to-door salesman for the Census Bureau, checking up on a housemate situation in Rhode Island. Claire Danes invited me in.

"My so-called life is like a cabbage patch," she complained. "Can you help figure it out?"

She had a point: the place was crowded, like a party. I had walked into a room where wide-ranging conversations were underway. Normal behavior in such a situation is to listen to the conversations in order to determine the subject matter and context. So I did.

Some of the people were behaving quite oddly. Meryl Streep, wearing a chimpanzee costume, asked me about the distance from Pearl Harbor to Chicago. "Davidbowie" insisted that he had no last name; Sam Neill said something about "Ayo Beady". Pat Paulsen was running for president again.

I opened the hall closet, and found Alec Guinness inside, looking at me sadly from among the coats. He wore a "SAY NO TO DRUGS" button.

"Is the storm over yet?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, but he didn't hear me.

I fled to the kitchen, where different conversations were going on. Meg Ryan, Phyllis Petree, Betty Clark and John Gubert were gathered around the refrigerator, marveling at the egg slots and the jar of Adamlist honey.

Johnny Depp stood at the chopping block, grinning maniacally at the chicken he had just decapitated; the dead fowl remained perfectly still. Depp turned smugly to the still-skeptical cartoon character beside him.

"Bah, humbug!" snorted Mr. Magoo, "I didn't see it."

I recognized William Hurt among the people at the kitchen table.

"Attitude is a nine letter word," he intoned.

Jinny Jones looked up from her crossword puzzle and shook her head.

Sharon Stone was telling a story about something that happened on a bus in Sweden. Frank Peters was showing examples of a new mineral he had discovered in Norway: espen ore. Arnold Schwarzenegger was reminiscing about how he had bested Fabio. And Richard Scheidt was demonstrating his ability to recite, in order, the complete list of all the Catholic popes and anti-popes, along with informed guesses about their drinking habits and fetishes, to the great amusement of Jack Nicholson and Hunter S. Thompson.

The party had also spilled out into the back yard. Sally Field stood outside with a brightly-colored disk in her hand. Nancy Harwood, Judith Kocik and Dorisann Smith, carrying parasols, were strolling across the lawn, potting a leveraged buyout of a multinational corporation. I stepped from the porch just as Sally flung the frisbee, and it struck me in the head with tremendous force . . .

* * *

"All rise!" cried the bailiff, his Martian antennae quivering, "Court is now in session! Judge Bayla Singer presiding!"

But my case was not the first to be heard. I waited and watched as the D.A., Joe Harwood, deftly prosecuted Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Ross, Gordon Sinclair, Sinclair Oil Co. and Timex-Sinclair. Every time he addressed the jury, the distant neighing of horses could be heard.

Finally, my name was called. Trembling, I took my place in the dock. First to testify was Tom Hanks.

"The defendant is a cunning linguist," he declared.

"Objection, your honor," interrupted Raymond Burr, "the witness is not qualified to distinguish a linguist from a cunnilingist!"

"Sustained," said the judge.

After him came Rashmi Murthy.

"I *guessed* it was him," she said. "My guess was made with some misgivings, but all the other contenders lead to dead ends."

Under cross-examination, she admitted that Peter Levy and Peter Ustinov actually led to cul-de-sacs, and that Glenn Close led to a street with no outlet. She refused to answer questions about Torkel Franzen.

Then Jodie Foster was called to the stand.

"He's the one -- he's the prankster!" she insisted, pointing directly at me.

I cowered.

Next was Philip Ahn, who had tracked me into cyberspace.

"I don't think he's alone in this," he stated, "but I don't see how he can escape indictment as a co-conspirator."

Thunderstruck, everyone in the crowd simultaneously started mumbling "peas and carrots, peas and carrots" until the judge banged the gavel and called for silence.

The prosecution rested its case.

Then the defense called Johnny Depp.

"He's not the type," said Depp with certainty. "But I know who the *real* culprit is. And so does Claire. Even 'Wh00p13' knows!"

"And who might that be?" asked Joe Harwood.

"It's obvious!" Depp shouted. "Colonel Bob Edwards, of National Public Radio!"

The crowd's babble of "peas and carrots" rise to a wild roar. Judge Singer pounded the gavel and threatened to clear the courtoom.

Since Mr. Edwards is a radio voice with no bodily manifestation, a portable radio was placed in the witness box and tuned to the nearest public radio station.

"State your name," Burr growled.

"This is Bob Edwards, of Morning Edition," Edwards said cheerily.

"And what were you doing on the morning of April 1, 1996?"

"...in today's headlines..." Edwards burbled on.

"Think back to April first, please," Burr interrupted.

"...according to an article published in..."

"Objection!" Harwood shouted. "Hearsay!"

"Sustained," said the judge wearily.

"Your Honor," said Burr, talking over Edwards' continued monologue, "Mr. Edwards has clearly demonstrated that he is a hostile witness. I'd like to insult him, ask him some leading questions, put words in his mouth, and so on. In particular, we need someone to turn down his volume when I'm asking a question, and turn up his volume when he's supposed to answer."

"Permission granted," said the judge.

Carrie Fisher was appointed to handle Bob's knobs.

"Mr. Edwards," said Raymond Burr, "Are you a drug abuser?"

"...high today in the mid-30's..." replied Edwards in a different voice than before.

"I'll take that as a YES," said Burr. "And isn't it true that you have *never* denied being the perpetrator in this case?"

"...had no comment for reporters..." Edwards admitted.

Just then the courtoom doors burst open, and a muscular flying mouse stood on the threshold.

"HERE I am to save the DAY!" he sang, in operatic tones.

Apparently the Mouse was a tenor. He flew rapidly around and around the courtroom, doing laps and lengths, separating combatants, rescuing damsels, punching bad guys, dispensing truth and justice, and finally alighting atop a law book in front of the judge.

The crowd cheered wildly. Dancing broke out. The jury began singing the chorus from "Ode to Joy". The case against me was dismissed; apple trees bore plentiful fruit; old friends were reunited; the tongue-tied became degreed linguists with tenured faculty positions; Raymond Burr rose from his wheelchair and could walk again; the census was completed with less undercount than before; the homeless got web pages; and there was joy in Mudville and all cyberspace. A big festival was planned to celebrate, and all the world was invited.

I slipped out of the room, accompanied by tight-lipped members of the British secret service.

"Wait!" cried Bonnie, running after me. "Aren't you coming to the party?"

"I better not," I said. "I still have to worry about the *fatwa*."