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Authors: David Guterson

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Psychological, #Philosophy, #Free Will & Determinism

Ed King

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ALSO BY DAVID GUTERSON

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The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

Copyright © 2011 by David Guterson
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random
House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
Alfred Music Publishing Co. Inc.: Excerpt from “Do You Remember Walter?” words and music by Raymond Douglas Davies, copyright © 1969, copyright renewed by Davray Music Ltd. and ABKCO Music Inc., 85 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003.
All rights on behalf of Davray Music Ltd. administered by Unichappell Music Inc.
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Alfred Music Publishing Co. Inc.
Hal Leonard Corporation: Excerpt from “Killer Queen,” words and music by Freddie Mercury, copyright © 1974, copyright renewed 2002 by Queen Music Ltd. All rights for the United States and Canada controlled and administered by Glenwood Music Corp. All rights for the world excluding the United States and Canada controlled and administered by EMI Music Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Guterson, David.
Ed King: a novel / David Guterson.
p. cm.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
eISBN: 978-0-307-70042-1
1. Orphans—Fiction. 2. Free will and determination—Fiction. 3. Fate and fatalism—Fiction. 4. Millionaires—Fiction. 5. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
PS
3557.
U
846
E
33 2011
813′.54—dc22      2011010255

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is
entirely coincidental.

The math problems referred to in
Chapter 6
have been culled from
Gordon Raisbeck’s
Information Theory
and from David Harel’s
Algorithmics: The Spirit of Computing
.

Jacket photograph by Tim Ridley/Getty Images
Jacket design by Chip Kidd

v3.1

With gratitude to Fikso

Contents

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things
,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed
.

—from Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

Far off, far down, some fisherman is watching

As the rod dips and trembles over the water,

Some shepherd rests his weight upon his crook,

Some ploughman on the handles of the ploughshare,

And all look up, in absolute amazement,

At those air-borne above. They must be gods!

—from Ovid’s
Metamorphoses
,
    Book 8, “Daedalus and Icarus”

Prologue

From KingWatch, twelve days post-crash:

7:47
A
.
M
. EST
BREAKING NEWS
:

Ed King’s flight data recorder recovered
.

No evidence of mechanical failure
.

Aircraft altitude at apex of flight: 54,500 feet
.

Aircraft flight ceiling (manufacturer’s recommended maximum elevation): 51,000 feet
.

Comments? (20 words or less)

KingCrank:
Might have guessed it: King flew too high. Rule out mechanical failure. This was pilot error.

grizpilot:
I’m a pilot and can tell you—there’s no defeating physics. Must have believed he was God.

pythiamist:
What a coincidence. King goes down, queen disappears. Where do you get pilot error?

rudewakeup:
Of course the conspiracy theorists tab queen as culprit. Oldest story in the world.

techtrappist:
She’s dead, too. They’ve both been offed. By us or the Chinese. Take your pick.

candydark:
Queen survives. Even thrives. I say so in no uncertain terms. techtrappist—you’re wrong. She goes on.

pythiamist:
I agree w/ candydark. Queen told her pilot to cruise to Carlisle without her. Then disappeared. She had a plan.

techtrappist:
And what was that? Walk away from billions? Give me a break, pythiamist. She’s dead.

candydark:
You must be a male, techtrappist. I smell dead-wrong male certainty every time you hit your Send key.

FiNancy:
Speaking of walking away from billions, wish I’d run, not walked, from their stock 12 days back!!!

KingCrank:
Pythia’s toast.

FiNancy:
I agree: history.

shanghairoller:
Deal with it, folks. Just deal with the facts. Pythia’s not coming back.

1
The Affair with the Au Pair

In 1962, Walter Cousins made the biggest mistake of his life: he slept with the au pair for a month. She was an English exchange student named Diane Burroughs, and he was an actuary at Piersall-Crane, Inc., whose wife had suffered a nervous breakdown that summer. Diane had been in his house for less than a week—mothering his kids, cleaning, making meals—when he noticed a new word intruding on his assessment of her. “Here I am,” thought Walter, “an actuary, a guy who weighs risk for a living, and now, because I’m infatuated with the wrong person—because I’m smitten by an eighteen-year-old—I’m using the word ‘fate.’ ”

Diane had been peddled to Walter, by an office temp familiar with her current host family, as “a nice girl from the U.K. who needs work to extend her visa.” Walter, who at thirty-four had never left North America, thought “au pair” sounded pretentious—“You mean babysitter,” he told the temp. Immediately regretting his provincialism, he added, “I could also go with ‘nanny.’ ” The temp’s comeback was sharp. She was younger than he was, wore formidable boots, and had an air of immunity to an office flirt like Walter. “No, definitely, it’s ‘au pair,’ ” she said. “She’s here on a visa. She’s from out of the country. If you take her on, you become
her host father, and you give her an allowance for whatever she does for you—child care or housework or whatever.”

“Au pair” it was, then. Walter took down the phone number, called Diane’s host mother, then spoke to the girl herself. In no position to be picky—he needed help yesterday—he hired Diane on the telephone. “This is hard to explain,” he explained, “but my wife’s … hospitalized.”

Back came the sort of English inflections he couldn’t help but be charmed by. “In hospital,” she said. “I do hope it isn’t serious.”

“No,” he said, “but meanwhile there’s the kids. Four and three. Barry and Tina. Out of diapers, but still, they’re tricky to corral.”

“Then allow me just a smidgen of shameful self-promotion. What you need is an English au pair, sir, adept with a rodeo rope.”

“I think you mean lasso.”

“A lass with a lasso, then, for when they’re mucking about starkers.”

“That’s what I need. Something like that.”

“Well,” said Diane, “I’m your girl.”

This flagrantly forward use of language—neat, cunning phrases and breezy repartee—from the mouth of a high-school girl jockeying for work was new in his American ear. Diane sounded quick-witted and cheerfully combative—qualities he’d always found winning and attractive—as in her screed on the U.S. State Department and its byzantine visa requirements. “I’m still keen to go to college in America,” she told him, “but at the moment I’m furious with your Seattle passport office. They’re trying, actually, to throw me out.”

The next Sunday, with his kids complaining in the back seat of his Lincoln Premiere, Walter went to escort this girl from her host family’s large Victorian near Seward Park to his brick-veneered ranch house in Greenwood. He hoped Diane wouldn’t be too disappointed to discover she was moving down in the world, and as he parked on the cobbles fronting the Victorian, he imagined himself apologizing for having nothing to offer in the way of gilding or ambience. Seward Park, after all, dripped old money and featured lake views; Greenwood, by contrast, was dowdy and decrepit, with summer-arid grass patches and sagging gutters. Walter, of course, would have liked a better neighborhood, but his was a notoriously mid-wage profession, a fact he hadn’t reckoned with at Iowa State but was reckoning with now, too late. Not that it was bad at Piersall-Crane, where he held down a cubicle by a window. Walter took
certain consolations there—in collegial hobnobbing, in crisply dressed women, and, not least, in the higher realms of actuarial science. That the predictive power of numbers on a large scale could be brought to bear on future events—for Walter, that was like an esoteric secret and, as he put it to himself, sort of mystical. Okay, it wasn’t art or philosophy, but it was still deep, which almost no one understood.

When he first saw her, the au pair struck him as nowhere close to legal. She looked like a child, unfinished, a sprout—no hairdo or makeup, no jewelry, unadorned—she looked like the younger sister of a girl he’d dated long ago, in high school. Her abraded leather suitcases, strapped and buckled, and riddled with tarnished rivets that looked shot from a machine gun—a matched set, though one was a junior version of the other—waited for Walter on the porch. Propped on the clasp of the larger one was a transistor radio with an ivory plastic strap and ivory knobs. Feeling like a porter—but also like a honeymooner—he hauled her overstuffed luggage to the Lincoln’s trunk while Diane, in dungarees, doled out last-minute hugs and delivered farewells in her disarming accent. “Lovely,” he heard her say. “Perfect.” Then he held the car door wide for her, and when she turned, brightly, to greet his kids in the back seat, he looked, surreptitiously, down the gap that opened between the rear waist of her dungarees and the nether regions of her back, at the shadow there, the practical white undies, and the reddish down along her tailbone.

It was so—you never knew; you couldn’t predict. Not even an actuary knew what would happen—there were broad trends, of course, which he could express in tables, but individual destinies were always nebulous. In Walter’s case, this meant his wife was out of the house while he, against the odds, on a fair summer morning, was collecting up this enticing piece of luck to install in the bedroom across the hall from his. How had this dangerous but fortuitous thing happened? What had he done to deserve this risk? With these questions and her underwear in mind, he chose, as his route, Lake Washington Boulevard; there might be an intangible benefit in such a sinuous and scenic drive. He also decided to take all three kids to the booming, newly opened Seattle World’s Fair, because there he could function like a grandee, bestowing cotton candy and other largesse, before introducing Diane to Greenwood. With this plan in mind, he motored past pleasure craft and horse chestnut trees while, on the passenger
side, hands twined in her lap, Diane answered questions, ingratiated herself skillfully and easily with his offspring, and brought to his mind the pert and perfect Hayley Mills, that upbeat, full-lipped, earnest starlet who, on the cover of
Life
in a sailor outfit, had puckered, naughtily, for a kiss. In fact, as Diane chatted up his children in lilting tones but with a teasing irony that, over their heads, might be aimed at him, she was a drop-dead ringer for the sixteen-year-old Disney darling who’d been in newspapers and magazines lately for turning down the lead role in
Lolita
. A morsel, a nymphet, in frilly socks and Keds, a junior-high date—the beach walk, for sodas—and at the kind of youthful sexual crest that even a four-year-old could sense. Sure enough, Barry, with a four-year-old’s primal yearning, leaned over the front seat and settled his head on his hands, like a cherub posed for a Christmas portrait, the better to bask in Diane’s nubile aura. Flicking two fingers against his bony shoulder, the object of his son’s newly stirred affections chirped, as if on cue, “I love your name, Barry, really I do. And ‘Tina,’ ” she added, “is so lovely.” After that, she shot Walter a look, and winked as though he, her new employer, were instead her intimate chauffeur.

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