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The Secret Mathematic
A novel-in-progress from Cheeseburger Brown
The Secret Mathematic, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming


Thunder Bay, Canada. It's the height of a short, torrid summer. The air is humid, and everyone's clothes stick to their bodies.

The police station is crowded and noisy. Telephones ring. People have to shout to be heard over the battery of desk fans that rattle different piles of papers in clockstep turns as they oscillate back and forth. There is a handwritten sign over the coffee machine that says UNPLUG FAN BEFORE TURNING ON but nobody reads the sign, so the circuit breakers keep tripping whenever anyone needs a refill.

Captain Beaudoin frowns in the dark as he spills the sugar, calling over his shoulder, "Will somebody get their ass down to the basement and flip those damn switches, please? Christ."

"The sign says you have to unplug the --"

"I know what the damn sign says. I can read, Garrison, thank you very much."

"Sorry, Captain."

Beaudoin stalks back down the corridor to the interrogation rooms. The fluorescents flash and stutter back to life when he's halfway there. He pushes into the observation gallery and puts his styrofoam cup down on the sill before a window of one-way glass. On the other side a native youth sits alone at small table, head in his hands, greasy black hair spilling over nailbitten fingers.

"I thought Lombard was supposed to be in with him," grunts Beaudoin to the recording technician.

"The kid spit in his face, so he went to the can to wash up."

"Christ." Beaudoin checks his watch. "Where's that damn special consultant already? We can't hold this little shit forever."

The intercom light flashes. Beaudoin picks up the receiver. "Yeah?" He frowns a second later as the fluorescents flicker off and the intercom goes dead. He hangs it up and swears. "I think he's here now. I'll go meet him. Where's the damn door? Oof. Christ!"

Beaudoin stumbles out into the dark corridor, spilling coffee up his sleeve. He wipes the excess off on the wall. The lights at the front of the precinct come back up accompanied by the hum of fans, but the corridor remains dark. From the basement a muffled voice calls, "Is that the one?"

A chorus shouts back, "No!"

At the mouth of the corridor a man stands silhouetted. He wears a long overcoat that almost brushes the floor. A briefcase dangles from one hand. As the man's grip shifts on the handle Beaudoin hears the telltale creak of leather gloves. A rasp in the dark: "Captain Beaudoin."

"Uh, yeah," calls Beaudoin. "Are you Mr. Minnesota?"


"Sorry..." says Beaudoin, but the end of the word dies a quiet death in his throat as the silhouette begins lurching toward him, keeling left and then right, hips wagging and boots hitting the floor hard. Beaudoin feels himself shrink up against the safety of the coffee-dripping wall.

The lights come up. Beaudoin finds himself face to face with a native. His hair is a salt and pepper brush-cut, his cheeks sharp, his face long, his expression cold. His eyes, however, stand out in contrast: lush, almost doe-like, chocolate brown and bottomless, somehow childishly clear and wide despite the hard man they are attached to. Beaudoin is startled as the native thrusts out a black-gloved hand.

He shakes it, discomfited somewhat by the heavy, lifeless feel of the limb. It squeezes back mechanically, then relaxes with another leathery creak. "Nice to meet you," Beaudoin manages to say.

Mr. Mississauga says nothing.

From behind the one-way glass of the observation gallery Beaudoin watches the tall, loping native make his way into the interrogation room. The kid looks up. Mr. Mississauga draws out the chair opposite him and then, after a series of discrete stages of articulation, folds himself into it. The kid watches him in silence until he's settled. "Who're you?" he challenges.

"S. Mississauga," says S. Mississauga.

"They send you here because they think I'll spill for an Indian?"


He puts his briefcase on the table and flips the catches. He opens the lid and withdraws a thick file folder. One black-gloved hand peels open the front flap while the other buzzes, forming a pointing index finger, which he then uses to scan down the pages of text.

"Is that all shit about me?" asks the kid.

"No," repeats Mr. Mississauga, still reading.

The kid shifts. "So are you going to ask me anything or what?"

Mr. Mississauga looks up. "Tell me about the robbery."

"I ain't telling it again. Screw that. I told it ten times already. Nobody believes the truth, so if it's nothing to you I'm just gonna start making shit up from now on, okay?"

"No," says Mr. Mississauga evenly.

"No what?"

"No, it isn't nothing to me. You will give me a full and proper account, in your own words, beginning right now."

The kid sneers, crossing his arms. "Or what?"

Mr. Mississauga says nothing. Beaudoin leans closer to the glass. He can't see the detective's face, but the expression on it must be something impressive because the next thing he knows the kid is telling his story -- gushing it, actually, expanding freely on details Lombard had to extract like pulling teeth. Lombard returns from the washroom. "He's finally spilling?"

Beaudoin shakes his head with a sneer. "Naw," he says. "It's the same crazy crap as before: he remembers the future. The only difference is he's giving it up easy for this guy."

"I think the kid's nuts, Beau. He huffed one too many. We need a shrink eval."

Beaudoin hesitates. "I'd be inclined to say the same thing. But if that's all it is, tell me this, Lombard: how'd he pull off the damn crime? How could he have known?"

Lombard shrugs, gesturing at the interrogation room. "I guess that's what Big Chief Columbo here is supposed to tell us."

Despite the fact that the glass is sound-proof Lombard shifts nervously as Mr. Mississauga glances back over his shoulder at them, his deep eyes narrowed. Beaudoin clears his throat. "He comes highly recommended."

"I'll bet," says Lombard.

Beaudoin shushes him, ear inclined toward the speaker. The kid's monologue is running down. Mr. Mississauga straightens in his chair. "What is your explanation for these events?" he asks.

"I don't got one," says the kid. Mr. Mississauga just stares at him. The kid fidgets, looks down at his hands, then looks up again. "My grandfather...he used to tell me stories. Stories about the Ghost World. I always thought they were nothing but bull."

"You've changed your mind?"

"I don't know," he shrugs. "Do you believe in all that -- like, spirits and shit?"

"No," says Mr. Mississauga.

"So you think the Ghost World is bull, too."

Mr. Mississauga mirrors the kid's earlier shrug. "Ancestral wisdom often grows around a kernel of truth," he says. "The how and the why might be wrong, but dismissing the what requires a more discriminating standard."

"Is that what you do? Discriminate standards and stuff?"

"Yes," agrees Mr. Mississauga. He looks down at his file folder again. "You told the police you are not able to show them the spot in which you gain access to the memories of the future. Why is that?"

"It'd be pointless. They don't frigging believe anything I say. Those stupid crackers don't know nothing about...about the Ghost World."

"You could still show them."

"It moves, though, right? It doesn't stay still. Each time we wanted to find it we'd have to search around again. And we could only find it if we were high, so I'm not doing that with the cops right on me. I ain't stupid."

Mr. Mississauga nods. "That's right. You're not." He pushes his chair back. "Thank you for your time."

Mr. Mississauga leaves the interrogation room and meets Beaudoin in the corridor. Before Beaudoin can ask after his progress Mr. Mississauga announces that he would like to survey the site. Beaudoin frowns. "The jewellery store?"

"No, the field where the children do their inhaling."

"Don't bother. We've got him dead to rights for huffing. We don't need anything else."

"I'm not concerned with that," says Mr. Mississauga.

Beaudoin waits for more, but no explanation is forthcoming. He clears his throat and checks his watch. "Well I guess we can take a quick drive by..."

"Do you have a helicopter?"

Beauboin blinks. "A helicopter?" He furrows his brow. Mr. Mississauga looks at him expectantly. Beaudoin begins to nod. "Yeah, yeah we do, more or less. We get the fire marshall's chopper when there's call for it. Do you really think that's necessary, though? The fuel's pretty far from cheap."



"Yes, it is necessary, Captain Beaudoin."

The lights go out. Many people swear. Beaudoin, for his part, is relieved to be invisible for a spell. "I'll put in the call," he says into the darkness. "Then we can go wait up on the roof."

Mr. Mississauga says nothing. A leather glove creaks on the handle of his briefcase. Beaudoin shivers.

He's much happier when they're out on the roof. There's a breeze up here that cuts through the heat. To the south glitters the great inland sea of Lake Superior, wave crests winking in the sun, trails of turbulence dissolving away behind boats and seadoos in long, current-skewed forks. There isn't a cloud in the sky. After a few moments of silent waiting Beaudoin ventures, "Aren't you hot in that thing? On a day like this?"

Mr. Mississauga glances down at his overcoat. "I'll manage," he reports.

"I'm dying, and I'm wearing half what you are."

Mr. Mississauga shrugs. "I find shorts unflattering."

Beaudoin ekes out a friendly chuckle. "Skinny legs?"

Mr. Mississauga pushes the edge of his overcoat aside and then tugs up the hem of his left trouser leg, revealing two metal shafts planted by bolts into a plastic ankle just visible over the top of his boot. He looks up at Beaudoin. "Yes," he confirms.

"Um," says Beaudoin. He scans the sky for any sign of the approaching helicopter.

Mr. Mississauga withdraws a silver cigarette case and, by a methodical ritual involving passing items from undead hand to undead hand and back again, inserts a cigarette between his thin lips and ignites it. He catches Beaudoin watching.

Beaudoin coughs and says, "The chopper should be here any minute."

"Yes," agrees Mr. Mississauga. "It just took off."

"How do you figure?"

"Listen," replies Mr. Mississauga, cocking his head slightly as he blows out a cloud of fume.

Beaudoin listens. He hears nothing but the city: squeaking brakes, murmurs and laughs, a warble of overlapping musics, a honk, whining gulls. He rolls his lips nervously. "So, what branch are you with exactly, anyway? If you don't mind my asking."

"The Department of Miscellaneous Affairs."

"I'm sorry -- the what?"

Mr. Mississauga flashes him a small, tight smile, and then proceeds to give voice to the worst French accent Beaudoin has ever heard: "La departement de n'importe quoi." He pauses. "That's a little joke."


"I'm not very funny."


He drags on his smoke. "My department has no real title; only a succession of code names. We're officially a division of CSIS."

"Intelligence?" says Beaudoin, squinting with one eye. "The commissioner didn't say you were with Intelligence. Christ! What the damn hell is going on here, in your opinion?"

"Something strange," replies Mr. Mississauga, letting go of his half-smoked cigarette and stepping on it with a lurch. "Which is precisely the mandate of my department."

Beaudoin frowns. "You've seen things like this before?"

Mr. Mississauga looks into the sky. "Here comes our ride."

A shadow flashes over them. The red helicopter squares itself above the roof and then begins a careful descent, its blades pounding the air and sending waves of dust and dirt flying. Beaudoin throws his forearm in front of his face, but Mr. Mississauga merely narrows his eyes in defense against the grit.

The engine whines as the rotors slow. Captain Beaudoin and Mr. Mississauga bend down and approach the cabin, then clamber inside. "Hey Beau," greets the pilot brightly, then hesitates as he sets eyes on his companion. "Afternoon, sir."

As Mr. Mississauga straps himself into the rear seat Captain Beaudoin sits up front and gives the pilot his marching orders in a quiet voice before donning his headset so he can be heard properly. The pilot nods and the engine keens as the rotors spin up to flight speed again. They lift off.

It's a short flight. Inside of four minutes the field of untended grass to the west of the electrical distribution sub-station is crawling into view below. Mr. Mississauga's headset crackles. "Where do you want me to set down, sir?" asks the pilot.

"Circumnavigate the site, pilot. Give me two close passes, as low as you can manage."

The pilot looks over to Beaudoin, who nods. Beaudoin then looks over his shoulder, leaning on his seat back. "What are you hoping to see exactly, Detective?"

"The suspect spoke of a zone," answers Mr. Mississauga. Both the pilot and Beaudoin reach up to reduce the volume on their headsets. Having the tall native's voice whispered directly into their ears is unsettling.

Mr. Mississauga continues: "Inhaling solvents within this zone gave them access to data they characterized as memories of the future. The suspect maintains that the zone shifted over time, and he and his friends tracked it as it moved." He pauses, attention caught by the landscape. "Note their original locus below us now: the depressions in the grass are clearly visible. Stomped flat, peppered with trash, just inside the hole in the sub-station's perimeter fence where they first gained access to the site."

Beaudoin squints. "Okay, sure. I see it."

The helicopter is low enough now to beat down circular patterns in the grass. Mr. Mississauga points out of the window. "Track north-east, Captain. The second locus."

"So what? They get bored of huffing in one place and move on."

"The migrations are not random. The third and fourth loci, north by north-east. Can you see the fifth? It's partly occluded by that tree. The sixth is more than double the distance away." He knocks one hand against the back of the pilot's chair, making the pilot jump. "Pilot: up, please."

The helicopter swings around wide for another pass as it rises. It becomes apparent that the field is peppered with dozens of mashed down patches. "A trampled grass puzzle," says Mr. Mississauga.

Beaudoin grunts. "Does that tell you something?"

"What does it tell you, Captain? Can you see a pattern?"

"What, like crop-circles or something?"

"Too specific. Does the distribution of loci remind you of anything more general?"

Beaudoin frowns, considering this. The pilot, for his part, looks out at the undulating surface of Lake Superior. "It looks like waves," he says. "You know, when they hit each other?"

Mr. Mississauga nods. "Correct. It's an interference pattern."

Beaudoin grimaces. "Damn. What does it mean?" His eyes widen. "Does it mean the power station's giving people cancer?"

"No," says Mr. Mississauga. "Unless we posit that the suspect and his companions were deliberately experimenting with grand-scale art inspired by physics, our only conclusion can be that their motivation for choosing new loci was influenced by a genuine external factor -- a factor whose emergent pattern is immediately recognizable to us as naturalistic, at least from an aerial perspective." He pauses. "In other words, they were chasing a real effect in the world and not a hallucination."

The pilot says, "That's our second circuit, sir."

"Set us down," orders Mr. Mississauga.

The engine moans. The blades whisper as they slow. The pilot stands at the nose, chewing gum. Mr. Mississauga and Captain Beaudoin wade through the field, approaching a locus, the stalks susurrusing against their clothes. Grasshoppers leap aside ahead of their progress.

They step around truncated foundation columns, set in place years ago for an expansion project that never happened. The concrete stumps poking up through the grass, worn smooth or chipped to irregular lumps, lend the field an aura of desolation and age. It is as if the power station were built atop Roman ruins.

At the locus itself the grass has been pounded flat. Broken stalks outline where bodies have lain, their shapes held intact by the rainless days. The silver edges of potato chip bags peek out among the dirt along with empty pop bottles and grimy containers covered in warnings about the toxic solvents they used to contain. Beaudoin nudges one of the containers with his shoe. "You know I can't believe a damn thing that kid says," he says. "Do you have any idea what this stuff does to the brain?"

"Yes," says Mr. Mississauga evenly. "I grew up on reserve, Captain. I know better than most."

Beaudoin nods, not meeting his eye. "Yeah. Of course. Sorry. Should've known."

He watches mutely as Mr. Mississauga sets his briefcase on a cracked column and opens the lid. He withdraws a compass, a sextant, and a range finder with a miniature, telescoping tripod. He carefully arranges the instruments and then takes a reading, jotting figures inside a small, hot-pink notebook with a giant-eyed kitten on the cover. He checks the range finder against the sextant he holds aloft horizontally, then snaps the cutesy little notebook closed.

"What's that you're doing?" ventures Beaudoin at last.

Mr. Mississauga straightens. "If the loci are spaced according to a predictably attenuating periodicity, the next locus -- undiscovered by the suspect's group -- should be about forty meters in that direction. Let's investigate."

"What for? You said yourself they never hung out there."

Mr. Mississauga's tight little smile makes another brief appearance. "To see if we can remember the future, Captain."

Beaudoin shakes his head. "You don't get it, do you Mississauga? Those kids were huffing. We're wasting our time hunting after their bullshit instead of figuring out how they pulled the whole thing off. We need something to make that kid roll over on his pals."

Mr. Mississauga repacks his surveying tools and then lights a fresh cigarette. He looks at Beaudoin through a wall of haze. "Captain, the suspect managed to take advantage of a sixteen second gap in the jewellery's store electronic security systems to clean out the cash safe -- a heist on a level of sophistication that would make seasoned professionals envious."

"That much we know."

Mr. Mississauga purses his lips grimly. "Is it your theory, Captain, that he surreptitiously damaged the store's air conditioner with the knowledge that the resulting flood would not only cripple the security system, but also inspire the manager to prop open the back door, then arranged for a car accident to take place right outside at just the instant the repair technician and the manager were attempting to reset the sensors within the vault? Is it really your theory that the suspect counted on both the manager and the technician running out into the street before calling 911, rather than calling straight away after witnessing the accident through the windows? Do you truly believe that, by luck and happenstance, the suspect was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of all these opportunities? Is that your official prognosis: luck?"

"I don't know," admits Beaudoin, face tight.

"If so, what about the other robberies, each as amazing a set of coincidences as the last?"

"I can't explain any of it, okay? It makes my head hurt just thinking about it."

Mr. Mississauga nods curtly. "Thus, I would thank you not to disdain my approach. If we posit that the children actually did stumble upon a moving zone of precognition, we provide ourselves with a very simple litmus to test the theory. Either you and I can find the appropriate spot to remember the future, or we cannot. I've charted the next locus. Are you coming?"

Without waiting for a reply Mr. Mississauga turns on heel and begins loping purposefully through the tall grass, puffs of smoke trailing out behind him.

Beaudoin hovers in place, swears under his breath, then jogs off after him.

The area where Mr. Mississauga stops is unremarkable in every way. They're now at the very edge of the utility's property, a second line of fencing visible beyond a run of bushes. He turns back to face Beaudoin.

Beaudoin has stopped a few metres shy of Mr. Mississauga. He's embarrassed that he's too anxious to step closer. "Do you feel anything?" he calls.

Mr. Mississauga shakes his head. "The suspect reported that each new locus was approximately half as potent as the previous, requiring double the time or double the dosage of solvents in order to find the precognitive data."

Beaudoin looks up sharply. "Christ -- you're not going to huff something, are you?"

"No," says Mr. Mississauga. "I have my own ways of achieving a trance-like state. I will now make myself receptive."

"Should I be doing anything?"

"Try to be quiet. I'm a light sleeper."

"You're going to go to sleep? Here, in the middle of the field?"

Mr. Mississauga considers this question rhetorical, so he does not reply. Instead he adjusts his limbs in a series of steps that eventually conclude with him lying down on his back. His cigarette sticks straight up from his mouth, a line of smoke winding lazily up into the blue. His arms rest by his sides.

"Christ," mutters Beaudoin again, shielding his eyes with his hand as a visor while searching the field behind them for the pilot. He waves. The pilot waves back. Beaudoin jams his hands into his pockets and waits.

A while later he checks his watch, then sighs. "This is crazy," he says under his breath.

He's startled as Mr. Mississauga rocks his torso back and forth until he works up the momentum to sit up again. The dead smoke drops out of his mouth. "Your wife, Captain Beaudoin: she's named Maxine?"

Beaudoin blinks. "...Yeah. Yeah, she is. How come?"

Mr. Mississauga slowly gets to his feet and then lights another cigarette. "She'll be disappointed when I decline the invitation to sample her famous sugared yams, but she shouldn't take it personally; I only consume my own food."

Captain Beaudoin's mouth goes dry. "She is making sugared yams tonight. How did you know that?"

"She'll invite me to dinner. It will make you uncomfortable. Your relief when I refuse will be obvious."


Mr. Mississauga checks his watch. "When does your household normally dine?"

"Around seven," Beaudoin hears himself answer distantly.

"The precognitive episodes are attenuating precisely according to the suspect's experience -- just an hour this time. In another week the next locus will provide a window only minutes into the future, and after that effect will be negligible: more like deja-vu than precognition."

"How do you know about my wife?" Beaudoin whispers.

"I remember her call," says Mr. Mississauga patiently. "Your desk phone will be ringing as we walk back into the station."

Beaudoin shakes his head, grimacing. "So you're saying the kid's telling the truth?"

"As far as I can tell, yes." Mr. Mississauga blows out a long, thin plume of smoke. "Do you know anything about quantum mechanics, Captain?"

"Quantum?" repeats Beaudoin, brow furrowed. "Naw. I drive a Chevy."

Mr. Mississauga raises his brow, but ignores this. "There are those who believe the human brain achieves self-awareness via the superposition of various quantum states patterned by the orchestrated firing of neurons. This implies a certain entanglement of information rooted in the physical structure of the brain -- an entanglement which may be able to bridge connections between discrete instances of that consciousness, even if they are temporally non-local to one another." He drags on his cigarette again, eyes on Beaudoin. "Would you care to try it?"

"Damn no!" cries Beaudoin, taking an unconscious step backward.

Mr. Mississauga offers him another small, tight smile. "We should get moving then, Captain. We wouldn't want to miss Maxine's call."

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