Author: Paolo Bacicigalupi
Published: 7th April 2016
Dad had been reading on his tablet, half listening, half working. Now he broke in as he kept tapping on his tablet. “The school is going to hire an extra security detail. They have the young man’s face from the security cameras—”
“They probably got a thousand pics,” Jonah said.
Dad went on undeterred. “—police have him identified. He should be found soon.”
“He’s identified?” Alix asked, interested. “They already know who he is? Is he famous or something? Is he from around here?” He looked so familiar.
“Hardly,” her father said. “He’s just a vandal they’ve been looking for.”
“How’d you find that out?”
“I called the school,” her father said, barely looking up. “Mr. Mulroy, despite his terrible skills at self-defense, is a very efficient administrator.”
“I’ll bet he’s getting a lot of calls right now,” Mom said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some parents pull their children.”
“There’s extra security?” Alix asked. “Do they think he’ll come back?”
“It seems unlikely.” Dad finished his salad and set it aside. “But better safe than sorry.”
“Yeah,” said Jonah. “If we aren’t careful, we’ll come into school and the whole place will be tagged.”
“I didn’t say he was a spray-painter,” Dad said. “I said he was a vandal.”
“Like he breaks windows and things?”
“Don’t get any ideas,” Mom interjected.
“What did I do?” Jonah looked wounded.
“You sounded like you wanted to start a fan club,” Alix said.
“You know, sometimes a question is just an innocent question,” Jonah groused.
“Not with your track record, young man,” Mom said as she cleared the salad dishes. Dad was ignoring the interplay, still tapping out e-mails on his tablet.
“Mr. Mulroy didn’t know what other things the young man had been up to. All he knew was that he’d been associated with extensive vandalism incidents.”
“So does the vandal have a name?” Alix asked.
Dad looked up at her, frowning, suddenly serious.
Alix stopped short, surprised. It was the first time he’d really looked at her all night. Normally, Dad was Mr. Multi- tasker, thinking about other things, working out puzzles with his job, only half there. It was a joke among all of them that you sometimes had to ask him a question three times before he even heard you. But now he was looking at Alix full force.
When Dad focused, he really focused.
“What?” Alix asked, feeling defensive. “What did I say?”
“No, he doesn’t have a name.”
“Nice. Ghost in the machine,” Jonah said, as usual completely unaware of the way the energy in the dining room had changed. “The man with no name.” He made a funny ghost noise to go with it. “Woooo.”
Dad didn’t even look over at Jonah. He was still looking at her, and she felt suddenly as if she was picking her way through a conversation that had become more important than she’d expected. Like the time Jonah had joked about seeing Kala Spelling’s mom having coffee with Mr. Underwood, the European History teacher.
“So...” Alix hesitated. “If they don’t know his name...then how do they know who they’re looking for? I thought you said he was identified.”
“He has a track record,” Dad said. “But you don’t know his name?”
“He has a nickname,” Dad said finally. “Something he marks his work with.”
“That’s my GPA!” Jonah said.
“In your dreams,” Alix retorted. To her father, she said, “What’s the name supposed to mean?”
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi is published on 7th April by Atom, price £7.99 in paperback.