They agree to all kinds of tests: skin temperature, blood pressure. It’s always the people who talk to Elihu Wingate who volunteer to take MRIs, EKGs, even spend entire nights in the company’s new sleep lab, where their brain waves travel down electrode wires and turn into lines on graph paper, and Elihu Wingate, they’re sure, will make sense of it all.

It’s almost time to leave work. Elihu Wingate is alone in his large, sparsely furnished office. Late afternoon sunlight is streaming through the windows, and Elihu Wingate is watching the light and starting to feel an odd sensation, like he’s outside himself, or larger than himself. He feels a sense of oneness with the old building, an awareness of its granite-and-glass skin. Through the soles of his feet he can feel the foundations of the building rooted in the earth.

Elihu Wingate has no words for this experience. He is a scientist, and scientists know that people and buildings do not commune with one another.

He tries to hold the feeling at arm’s length, study it—a symptom of anxiety? Depression?

Dan Keegan sweeps in with the quarterly profit statement and sweeps out the weirdness, and Elihu Wingate relaxes into the familiar—columns and numbers, his colleague thumping him on the back and calling him ridiculous things like “champ” and “sport.”

“We’re rolling in it, guy,” Dan Keegan says. “This new jury hindsight stuff—pure genius. What these law firms pay you for consultant fees, you could buy another house, cash down. Or get yourself a boat, old boy. Help you relax, crank out the next moneymaker.”

Elihu Wingate knows that Dan is probing him for a new idea. Dan will try to convince him to keep it to himself, give Dan time to figure out all the money angles, keep Elihu Wingate the only expert for as long as possible.

But Elihu Wingate has never been this way. Before he publishes results, before he even crafts a study, he likes to float ideas—What if we don’t assume regret is a bad thing? What if we ask consumers about their purchases a month later? A year later? Moments before? What if we look at how hindsight works in jury decisions?

Dan Keegan throws his arm around Elihu Wingate’s shoulder. “Go home, slugger,” he says. “Get some rest. Keep those brain cells in top form.”

Don’t judge Dan Keegan too harshly. Sure, he’s got an eye on the bottom line, like any good businessman. We can’t all be sensitive and thoughtful in this world. Where would we be then?

Dan’s the kind of guy who’ll take you out fishing in his boat, and when you try to keep up with his beer drinking and fall over the side, Dan will lean over and lift you back in the boat, rub you dry with a big towel, and offer you another beer to warm you up inside. He’s that kind of guy.

At home after dinner, Elihu Wingate goes upstairs and turns on his computer. He opens his briefcase, sees a mauve-colored envelope that he hasn’t noticed before. Inside is a single sheet of paper, also mauve.

Once again, it reads, thank you for volunteering to answer our survey.

He doesn’t remember volunteering for a survey. He appreciates the irony. Surveys, after all, are one of Elihu Wingate’s specialties. He’s usually designing them, administering them, analyzing the results, not answering them himself.

Question 4. Looking back on it now, how much was determined by you and how much by fate?

How much does fate determine anything, he wonders, and how would we know? He wants to cooperate. It’s important that people answer surveys fully and truthfully.

Elihu Wingate tries to remember questions 1 through 3. He puts the document back in its envelope.

He checks his e-mail. Nothing. He types “search engine” into a search engine, chooses one he’s never heard of.

What would you like to know? appears on a plain white background, fades, appears again, fades, appears.

It’s a tantalizing question. He wants to know so much. Finally he types: Is anyone there?

He presses Return.

The window disappears.

He looks at the desktop. There is e-mail to check again. There are virtual planes to fly, bad guys to catch.

He decides to search for Her.

We haven’t been able to trace Elihu Wingate’s motivations for this decision. Why look for the woman this day, and not last month, last year? Ten years from now?

Why even imagine that an Internet search would do any good? He didn’t know her name, hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her even though they’d talked the whole flight, Chicago to Sacramento.

They loved the same books. Campus novels, like Straight Man by Richard Russo and Moo by Jane Smiley. They’d each read a different Chuck Palahniuk novel and took turns describing the plots. Her favorite novel was Villette, by Charlotte Bronte. What was it about? “Ten words or less?” she said. “Depressed woman, whose one chance at happiness is destroyed at the end.” “I think I might skip that one,” he said. She laughed, as if he were making a joke.

She was a writer. They talked about plot structure, suspense. How to strike a balance so the reader doesn’t know what will happen next, but once it does happen, it seems inevitable.

She liked The DaVinci Code, something “serious” writers weren’t supposed to admit. Elihu Wingate told her the plot of Angels and Demons. “So it looks like our hero is doomed, but wait, the pope’s assistant finds the anti-matter canister five minutes before it’s set to explode. And then when our hero falls out of the helicopter you think it’s really the end, but wait, he lands in the Tiber River and the injuries are only minor…”

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | Single Page