Robert Bogan Austin, Texas
email@example.com © 2004 Robert Bogan
I locked the Fiero in the lot behind Lake Austin Café, a
few minutes before six. Took a table near the rear door,
tipping beer from a longneck to a small glass when Professor
Karnes showed up, five minutes later. Advantage.
Karnes ordered blackened redfish and white wine, I
went with chicken-fried steak and another beer. The only
thing we had in common, neither of us was slim, both thick
round the shoulder. I was a good eight inches taller, sixty
pounds heavier, all muscle. Pretty much.
Karnes tasted the cole slaw and made a sound of
approval. He fumbled his fork when he broke into the
redfish, then spoke up to smoke his nerves: "I don’t know,
what can I tell you?"
I swabbed a hunk of steak in thick cream gravy and let it
drip back onto my plate, pondering. "Let's start with you and
"What would you like to know?" he asked carelessly.
I unloaded the fork in my mouth and chewed slowly,
Karnes looked down at his plate and prodded the
redfish. After a while he spoke again.
"Well, I met her almost two years ago, when the
legislature was in session. We found out we had a lot of
things in common, and naturally we spent time together. The
job required it. After 'siney dye', we kept meeting. Turns out
we live close to each other, practically neighbors."
I asked out of the side of my mouth, sawing steak: "What
things in common?"
"We both like sailing. She was interested in learning
about it, so we went out in my boat almost every day. I taught
Karnes watched me chew and gulp. I let awkwardness
cloud the air between us. The longer it hung there, the thicker
"Okay, so you and Miz Dixon went sailing every day," I
said. "What did your wife think about that?"
Karnes' face turned red and he looked down again. "By
that time, my wife didn't care what I did. She's always been
into her own life and her own problems. The truth is, by that
time I didn't care what she thought." He gave the crusty fish
an indolent push.
"So, where's it going?"
Karnes looked puzzled. "I'm sorry?"
"Your marriage. Where is it now?"
"She moved back into town about eight months ago. I'm
living at Kingsway by myself."
"Yeah, that's the hard part." Karnes shook his head. "She
took my two kids. She's still pretty unreasonable when it
comes to letting me see them."
I nodded. "That's rough. It's also illegal sometimes. I
know something about that, myself." I poked more steak into
my jaw and crunched.
Karnes continued: "I've never had a better friend than
Anna. She is an incredible woman. My life was empty until I
I looked Karnes dead in the eye. "Do you have any
knowledge of what happened to her?"
He gave it right back. "I have absolutely no idea where
she is. I have been in agony over it."
I cocked my head and squinted. "How long have you
lived around Austin?" I asked.
"I came to Austin fifteen years ago. No, sixteen."
"I'll bet you grew up around Goliad?"
Karnes sat up and his chair went back. "Wait a minute!
How do you know that?"
"Something about the way you say 'idea' and 'sailing'."
"What are you, some kind of expert?"
"I'm an amateur linguist," I admitted. "Dialects is a
hobby. I have a BA in linguistics."
"No kidding? A BA in linguistics?" Karnes looked at
me with mild interest.
"Yeah. That and a buck will buy a beer."
"I'm a language man myself," Karnes confided as he put a
pin-striped elbow on either side of his plate. "I taught
Spanish for two years before I went back to graduate school
and got into machine language."
"Is that what you do now?" I asked.
"Pretty much. I'm more into theory, artificial
"It's all language though, right?" I said as I forked
another morsel of steak.
We did not speak for a while, but worked on our meals.
"Artificial intelligence," I started up again after a few
bites. "What are you working on, hardware or software?"
"Both, really. Software, mainly. Not just programming.
It goes beyond that."
"Yeah? Tell me about it."
"It's easier to talk about specifics. Applications," he
"Right now I'm working on a project in cosmography. I
go out to MacDonald Observatory a couple of times a month.
We're making a three-dimensional map of the observable
universe, using a configuration of radio and optical
telescopes, all run by a complex of computers. To coordinate
that kind of diversity, one of the computers has to be
designated the pilot, and the pilot needs to be able to make
certain choices on its own, without input from the operators,
but according to a set of preprogrammed criteria. Otherwise
it'd be too complicated to operate."
The professor watched me for signs of comprehension.
I sat back, relaxed. "I think I got that. You're helping
them make a computer-enhanced 3-D map of the universe, and
the job involves a machine that can be programmed to make
"Yes! That's it in a nutshell." He nodded and started
outlining shapes with his hands. "But there's more. You've
got to do machine design, systems design, programming, let's
see, operations criteria! All at the same time. Plus, keep up
with a gaggle of graduate students. And: Survive all the back-
"No, I'm not kidding!" Karnes said. "You wouldn't
believe all the politics. Now I'm not putting anyone down,
and most UT people are okay. But I'm telling you, HiTex
consistently attracts powerful personalities, highly intelligent,
robust minds. But with some of them? You really have to
watch your back."
"No joke!" Karnes nodded, eyes wide. "Why is it,
there's always got to be some asshole? Okay maybe he's
brilliant or resourceful, or a good manager or something, but
he tries not just to compete with you, but out and out
annihilate you if he can!"
I put the beer glass down, wiped my mouth, and shook
my head, ready for more.
Karnes leaned his tanned forehead to one side. "You
ever hear of an Alpha male?"
"You mean, those baboons?"
"That's it. Zuckerman's pioneering study of Hamadryas
baboon social behavior. The dominant male baboon, the
"Yeah?" I noticed my head nodding. "I remember
reading about that in one of my anthropology classes."
"All right, then maybe you remember how the Alpha
male shows his dominance over the other baboons?"
"Yeah. He comes up and buggers you."
Karnes laughed. "Exactly! That's right on the money.
And after Zuckerman, other observers found out it's not just
male behavior. Anybody can do it against anybody, male or
female. It's got nothing to do with sex. It's all about power!"
"Just like with people."
"Sure, some people. You can count on a certain
percentage of people doing that sort of dominant behavior.
And I have made up a name for it!"
I snorted, "What's that?"
"The Alpha Quotient," Karnes said slyly. "Get it?" he
asked. "The Alpha-Q!"
I waited for more.
"See?" He repeated it slowly: "Alpha-Q. It's perfect!"
Then I got it: Alpha-Q -- I'll fuck you! I laughed out
loud, losing some gravy. Karnes wiped his face with his
napkin in sympathy.
"That's what I mean," he said. "And here's how it works,
sort of like an IQ. Everybody has an Alpha Quotient. Your
Alpha-Q reflects your willingness to screw someone over in
order to get what you want. On a scale of a hundred, give
Hitler an Alpha-Q of one hundred. Jesus gets a zero, or say
five because of that money-changer business. In any primate
social group there's going to be Alpha behavior. Maybe
there's a good reason for it, like survival of the species or
something. But the rest of us must endure those people
wanting to fuck us over."
"Is there a lot of high Alpha-Q out at HiTex?" I asked. I
enjoyed saying Alpha-Q.
"Maybe no more than you'd expect in any comparable
group." Karnes leaned forward. "The point is, there aren't
any comparable groups. HiTex is a bright bunch of people.
But maybe something different happens when someone with a
high IQ also has a high Alpha-Q."
I might as well bring it up: "I understand there's a drug
problem out there at Kingsway."
Several vertical lines bundeled Karnes' sun-browned
brow and he nodded his head slowly.
"I don't understand it," he said, scrutinizing the slaw.
"It's gotten out of hand. A kind of arrogance. Hubris. It
seemed harmless at first and I went along. Now there's a
daredevil side to it and the stakes are higher. Some of them
are making bad choices. And it's not just drugs."
I had been digging into my plate again, making good
progress. Karnes set his fork on the edge of his plate and
continued talking about his professional life. Every once in a
while he took a sip of white wine.
Karnes belonged to one of the groups of scientists and
technicians that accepted the national corporate mandate for
boosting American computer technology through cooperative
effort, through teamwork. They had already begun to produce
results, and all agreed that success was tied to cooperation. It
might go against nature for competitors to work together, but
the corporations involved were struggling for their own
The scientists and technicians of HITX had hoped to
enhance teamwork among themselves by forming a
community: bond together to achieve common goals. They
worked side by side all day, then went home to Kingsway and
spent the rest of their time mingling families, sharing leisure.
I had to say: "Sounds pretty cozy, all you computer guys
living like neighbors out there at Kingsway."
"Cozy isn't the word!" said Karnes. "It is nothing but
stuffy. Stifling! You can't get away! And the big problem is
my supervisor, James N. Fann. He has been really riding me."
"Who's this Fann?"
"Jim Fann, my boss at HiTex. He's always jumping on
"That's Alpha behavior!"
"You bet it is," Karnes clipped. "I've already assigned
Fann an Alpha-Q of eighty-nine!"
"Do the people at HiTex know about you and Anna?"
"Oh, yes! And my job, if I still have one, is on the line
because of it."
"No kidding!" said Karnes. "One more rumor eruption
and I can kiss my professional future goodbye. No matter
what kind of job I do, they will feel compelled to feed me to
the bosses. And that would suit Jim Fann perfectly. That way
he could dump all his crap on me and it would stick!"
"What crap?" I asked.
"Some I-O documents went missing and Fann blames
"What're those? I-O documents."
"Eyes only," said Karnes. "The ink we use, can't be
photocopied. They print just three units of any I-O document.
Each one catalogued and filed. One complete set of I-O
documents is missing. And Fann distributed a memo naming
me the responsible party."
"You know what happened to them?"
"Absolutely not!" Karnes picked up his fork, wedged off
some fish and forklifted stiffly.
"When they disappear?"
"Two days ago," Karnes munched.
I thought that over while I finished the steak, making sure
I saved enough potato for the last bite.
"Sounds like you have a lot of things missing, Dr.
Karnes." I counted three fingers. "Your children. These I-O
documents. Your friend, Anna Dixon. All MIA."
"You've got that right," Karnes said wearily.
I nudged my plate away, tilted the last swig, and ran a
clean corner of napkin over my chin.
Karnes never drained his glass. He didn't finish the
The professor was opening the door of his gray
Mercedes coupe out in the parking lot when I said I would see