“I didn’t know that it was going to work,” Maxim said. The minivan cruised at an urban pace from traffic light to traffic light. “It was just a lark. We’re supposed to include a mountweazel or two as copyright traps. So I put in ‘marycela’ as one and defined it as ‘a lottery winner’. I didn’t tell her! Not until she won the lottery.”
“It was very sweet of you,” Marcy said. “Of course now everybody knows my secret true name. I’ve been Rumpelstilskinned.”
“Turandotted,” James tossed in. “And now nessun dorma indeed.”
Marcy inhaled as if to speak, and then paused with breath suspended as if to keep anyone else from speaking first. Then she said, “I don’t think Karly will be sleeping, with all those cats.”
“Cats?” Cathryn asked.
“She was the other mountweazel,” Maxim said, now sitting sideways to converse. “You’re the third. Karly is not all that uncommon a name and would be hard to define as anything fun, but if you look on the copyright page of her book you discover she has a middle name, Nekole, which I drew on Japanese to fake up as ‘a person with a house full of cats’.”
“She doesn’t have the new Universal,” Cathryn said.
“She hasto,” Marcy said.
“I emailed her. We had a conversation. She said she hasn’t gotten it yet.”
Marcy laughed. “That bitch!”
James leaned in and said to Maxim, “You haven’t updated ‘bitch’ yet, have you?”
“Oh!” Maxim said. “No, and good thing too. In case she gets it.”
“But it’s not transferable,” Cathryn said. “I can’t say something about someone else, even if they have the dictionary, and make it happen to them.”
“Right, true,” Marcy said. “However, Karly calls herself a bitch often enough that it would bite her pretty quickly.”
“And the fur would fly,” Maxim said.
Maxim’s phone rang. He answered it by reflex. “Hello?” After a moment, he mouthed “Pierre” towards Marcy. Then his attention turned back in to the phone. “What’s going on? …I’m told they did, yes. …Admittedly, an unanticipated effect. But, then, all of this is an unanticipated effect. …Uh. I can see that not turning out very well. …W…why would I do that. I can’t see a personal benefit from talking to these… …See, you could do that, but for all we know I’m the only person who can do this. …Ah, ha ha, yes. What time is it there? …Tell your ‘friends’ there that my next update, written and ready to post, is the word ‘Worcester’, and it defines it as a kind of savoury sauce, and nothing else. …Sure, it might not, but it might. …Well, Pierre, my only motivation to keep this going is to try to undo some damage.” He glanced back towards Cathryn. “It’s already done as much good as I need it to. And far too much harm. …I’ll see what I can do. But it’s not going to be enriching thugs. …Sleep well.” He ended the call and pocketed his phone. “They want me to do for them what I did for Marcy,” he said to the other three passengers. “I’d rather bring a plague of locusts on them. Apparently they’re upset because of a ‘comprise’/‘compose’ incident that led to some big things ending up inside some small things and they feel that they are owed this.”
“So you’re threatening to go nuclear,” James said.
“I don’t want to,” Maxim said. “But I could. But they want to get around me anyway. As soon as the developers wake up and get online they can give updating access to other people and take it from me.”
“Where are they?” James asked.
“Italy,” Maxim and Marcy said at the same time.
“Six-hour time difference,” James said.
“They usually accommodate our schedule,” Marcy said. “They’re online by 8 our time. I guess they could be reached by… 9 their time. Which is in…”
“…about four hours,” James said after a skipped beat.
“Here we are,” said the driver. The van pulled up in front of Cathryn’s building. Cathryn looked up. The windows were dark. Of course. The door slid open and they piled out, each leaving “Thanks” behind.
Cathryn fobbed the door open and headed toward the elevator.
“Are there stairs?” Maxim asked.
“It works OK,” Cathryn said, nodding towards the elevator. The building was a half century old, maybe more, and a person with a fear of elevators would hesitate. But Maxim couldn’t possibly be afraid of elevators.
“I think we might do better avoiding elevators just for now,” Maxim said. “Trust me on this one.”
Two pairs of eyebrows raised for a moment; Marcy was unsurprised. Cathryn led the way to the stairs and they exercised their way up.
The apartment, when she opened the door, was exactly as she had left it. Normally that would be cause for happy amazement: no rumpled shirts on the floor, no soaking dishes in the sink. Tonight it made her feel sad and cold. But at least she wasn’t alone. She flicked on the lights in the hall and the kitchen. “Does anyone want anything? Wine, bee— uh…” Hmm. The beer was annihilated, last she looked. And there wasn’t much wine left either. “Actually, I think we—” Now, what would not further harm their stores? “…Never mind.” She was too stressed to be clever. She continued into the other front living spaces, light on, light on, light on. She ended by her desk. By pure force of habit, she switched on the desk lamp and hit the spacebar to wake up the computer.
There was that damn piece of paper. “Welcome to the world of Worcester.” Yay. Wonderful world you have here. The worst of all worlds. The Worcester of all worlds. She stared at it. “By activating this license,” it informed her drily, “you agree to be subject to the updated terms and conditions of the online Worcester Universal Dictionary. Non-transferable. One license per household.”
She turned. Marcy was just entering the room. “What are the terms and conditions?”
“The terms and conditions?” Marcy said.
“I couldn’t find them either,” James said from over by a bookcase, which curiosity had dragged him to.
“I don’t think they’re posted,” Maxim said, coming from the hallway. “I noticed that. I amused myself by updating the words ‘term’ and ‘condition’ in the first batch.”
Pause, two, three. Cathryn and Marcy lunged for the computer at the same time. Cathryn won, because it was her computer. She opened the Worcester site and searched ‘term’.”
As the results were loading, Marcy’s phone made that text-message-dropping-into-your-slot sound. She dug it out of her purse, inspected the news, and started laughing the wide-eyed uncontrollable laugh of someone who has just seen something remarkably awkward happen to a frenemy. She was unable to read what was on the screen out loud for want of spare breath. She held the phone to Maxim.
“Karly,” Maxim said. “She says, ‘What in hell is going on and where did all these cats come from?’” His voice started breaking up into laughter as he got through the sentence.
“I guess she got it after all,” Cathryn said, a little disappointed.
Marcy took her phone back and typed something in, still laughing. “Welcome to mountweazeldom,” she said, with gasps. Then “Oh, wait, she’s typing something. …‘How come you got money and I got cats?’” Marcy typed back and read it out: “Lap it up. You’re famous and I’m not.” Pause. “Oh, by the way, don’t call yourself a bitch. Just to be safe.” She hit the Send and then click-locked her phone and tossed it back in her purse.
Cathryn was amused but not in the mood for laughing. She turned towards her computer to read the search results, but her phone rang, over in her purse on the kitchen counter. She made a little sharp sigh of exasperation and then a quick inhalation at the thought of why it would be ringing. She walked briskly into the kitchen and picked it up. “Hello?”
“Ms. Espy,” said the voice on the other end. It sounded like the duty nurse from the night before. “Can you come to the hospital as soon as possible?”
A dart of ice flashed through her heart. “Yes, I’ll be right there. Thank you.” She disconnected, put the phone in her purse, and turned to the others. “I’m sorry. I have to go to the hospital. You can stay here, it’s alright.”
James, by the window now, looking down towards the street, said, “You might want to know about the visitors who have just arrived. In a black limo.”