Somewhere in the Multiverse someone is building the Man. Not just A Man but THE Man. Or are they?! This is Part 8 in a series of updates posted by Caveat as he follows the tangled trail as an agent of the Philosophical Center. Read all the posts here.
The man who stole the Man from “the man” was outside San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. The museum was closed, but he was open for gifting: he had a Dutch oven and was using a massive pair of tongs to hand out fresh pot pies to anyone who passed by.
He’s a great thief. But he’s an amazing cook.
I’d had to hop over two universes to get here. In this universe, trees sprout red and gold leaves in the springtime; Firefly got renewed for six seasons; and Twitter got so bad that its board of directors was put on trial at the Hague. In an ironic twist, their defense lawyers are only allowed to write legal briefs of 280 characters or less. If they complain that’s not enough words to make a useful argument, the prosecution gets to enter it as evidence.
He didn’t see me coming. They never do. “Hi Dave X.”
He looked up. Even through his mask, I could tell he was smiling. “Hey, Caveat! So good to see you!”
“You want a pot pie?”
“We can’t always get what we want, Dave.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true. How about some bacon? I’ve had it cooking up all morning using an 18th century recipe that the French fur traders used…” Nothing fazes the man.
“I’m not here for gifts, Dave. I’m here for the truth. And as much justice as we can get in this world.”
“You know what goes great with truth and justice?” he said, opening another oven. “Apple pie! You want one?”
Goddammit, he’s good.
“If you wanna give me something, how about you put the pastry down and admit what you’ve done.”
“Well, I’ve done a lot of things, Caveat… and a lot of them explode…”
“Yeah, but I bet you’ve only broken into Burning Man’s art vault the one time.”
His face fell a little. “Well, you see, there’s only the one vault, so it’s kind of a one-off deal.”
“I’m sorry I have to bring you in. But, if it’s any consolation, it was funny.”
“Oh, thanks! I figured why steal art if you’re not going to have fun doing it?”
“If you’re just going to treat it like a job, why not just steal money?”
“I’ve always admired you. I hope you know that.”
“That’s really touching to hear. And I’d give you a hug, except there’s a pandemic. And I’d go with you to face Marian’s justice, except I’ve got a Habitat for Humanity meeting at 8, so, I’m going to need to stay at large.”
“Don’t make this get ugly, Dave.”
“My thoughts exactly, Caveat.”
Two other Dave X’s stepped from behind the sculptures outside the museum. They were both holding water balloons… but they didn’t look like they were filled with water.
“The great thing about the Multiverse is that it’s a perfect opportunity to work your stuff out,” Dave said. “We’ve got a compassion circle going with all the Dave X’s, so I’m able to forgive myself in a very literal way. It’s great.”
“I’m not ashamed. Do you know there’s a universe out there where I really am my inner child? Meeting him was the best thing ever.”
“Yeah yeah, every crisis is an opportunity, and we each contain multitudes that only art or a rupture in the space-time continuum have the power to express. The Multiverse is as much a symbol of our inner psychology as it is a representation of cutting edge physics. Dave, I can’t let you get away with it.”
He shook his head. “Caveat, I’m not the one you’re really after.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know me. I’ll play a prank or two, light something on fire, and I’m glad that everybody gets a chance to build their own Man now, and that every single one of them is as official as anything we’d ever do. Because that’s the way it should be. But… stealing the Man plans and distributing them was a way to make a big point, and, you know I’m not a big ‘make a point’ guy. I just try to be helpful.”
My jaw clenched. He was right. “Someone else recruited you to do the job…”
“So how about I just take off, and we pretend this meeting never happened, except that you should really have a pot pie, and some bacon, because I bet all this detectiving has made you hungry, and I’m telling you, Caveat, those French fur traders really knew their bacon…”
“Or how about you just spill the beans.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Caveat, I don’t have any beans…”
Polaris and Munney stepped out of the parking lot, armed and ready for action, their art weapons pointed at Daves X.
“I wouldn’t want to only have water balloons right now,” I told the Daves.
“Well done, well done,” Dave X said, nodding appreciatively.
“You kind of turned this around,” another Dave X said. “Got the drop on me. Very cool.”
“Yeah, that’s a good twist,” said the third Dave X. “I wouldn’t want to be us right now, but, I guess we still are.”
“Time to talk it out, Daves,” I said.
Behind them, Polaris aimed his art rifle, which he’d built during family time with his two young boys. It was adorable. To their flank, Munney held his… his…
“Hey, Munney?” I called out. “That’s not an art gun, is it? That’s… that’s a gun, gun.”
“Yeah, I’m not really an artist, I mean, I can decorate a bus, but, you know, I have the guns on hand, they work great…”
“Munney… Munney… that, that’s not how we do this.”
“Early Burning Man used to have drive by shooting ranges…”
“Those were awesome,” a Dave X said.
“Yeah, but… we only use art guns now, man. I mean, come on…” I threw up my hands. “Dave, I’m really sorry…”
“I’ve put a sticker on it!” Munney said. “Look, see? It’s from Media Mecca in 2014. That was a good year!”
“That’s a nice sticker,” Dave X said. “I like the way it looks like the Man is holding a camera. That’s good design right there.”
I ran my hands through my hair. “I appreciate that, but when people point ordinary weapons at each other, dialogue and whimsy get so much harder… it takes some serious training to be playful when your life is actually threatened by something that hasn’t been turned into an invitation to play…”
“The safety’s on!” Munney said. “And… sticker… don’t forget the sticker…”
“A sticker doesn’t make it art! How many times do we have to have this conversation? Art is not just decorative, it fundamentally transforms the object in question! That’s the whole reason why we do it! When you have an ordinary gun pointed at you, it limits possibilities. When you have an art gun pointed at you, it increases them: what will happen if the trigger gets pulled? It could be anything! So now you’re in a world of possibility and play, because art changes dynamics, changes perceptions, changes reality — but you can’t half-ass that! You have to throw yourself in, otherwise nothing changes and you’re just distracting yourself! A sticker and some glitter doesn’t do it!”
“Caveat’s right,” Polaris said, and he pointed his art gun up to the sky. “It’s not an art gun. So, we’ve gotta let him go. That’s the code.”
“We have to?” Munney asked. “We can’t just give him a head start, or only start chasing him once we’ve eaten a pot pie…”
“You want a pot pie?” Dave X asked.
“Sure do, it smells delicious.”
“I’ll get in on that,” Polaris said.
I considered my options while the Daves gifted my soldiers pot pies. Polaris was right. He usually is. And he’s often funnier than me, which pisses me off. If he thinks we’ve crossed the line, I take it seriously. So…
“This IS delicious!” Munney said.
“All right, Dave,” I said. “Tell me who’s behind it, and we all walk away peaceful like.”
Dave looked uncomfortable, but nodded. He took out a notepad, wrote something down on a slip of paper, ripped the page in half, and held it out for me to take. “I’m giving you this because I think you have a right to know,” he said, “but I don’t think you want to know.”
I glanced at the paper. It wasn’t a name, it was a place. I gave him a look.
“That’s where you’ll find the answer,” he said. “And I’m sorry. I hope you know I’m your friend. Which is why I hope you don’t go.”
I hesitated, a long time. If it was anyone else, I might have thought he was lying. But Dave X had always given it to me straight, and always rooted for me back in the old days. We ate vegan meals together. That kind of horror forges a bond.
I held up my hand. “Move ‘em out, boys.”
“I’m still finishing my pot pie!” Polaris said with his mouth full.
But I was already gone. I had a long drive ahead of me, a universe to cross, and a mystery to finally solve.
Who was really behind the theft of the Man plans, and why?