Dr. Nicholas Ozark collapsed onto the sofa in his penthouse suite. In the (he checked his watch) forty hours since his shower was interrupted, he had flown across the country (with a stop on the outskirts of Chicago), eaten two meals, slept for a total of four hours, and become a household name all over the world. His paper on the synergistic field effect (which Stonegal's people insisted on calling the Ozark Effect) had appeared in the online edition of Nature and was being reprinted in a dozen different scientific journals. He had spoken at a press conference presided over by Nature's editor-in-chief (who had been flown in from London for the occasion), and had been interviewed by more journalists than he could shake a stick at. At last, though, he could kick back and relax, at least until the whole circus started up again tomorrow morning.
The phone rang. Ozark swore at it. After the fourth ring, he reluctantly picked it up and gave a wordless moan into the mouthpiece.
"Ah, the relentlessly efficient Miss Kent. What may I do for you, my dear?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Doctor, but we were wondering if you would be able to give another interview. It's Cameron Williams of Global Weekly."
Ozark had noticed that Kent referred to herself as "we" when she was relaying Stonegal's wishes. Interesting bit of psychological projection there. He felt his thoughts beginning to drift and dragged them back to the conversation. "Mister Williams certainly keeps some odd hours."
"He only just arrived in New York. Travel has been disrupted by the Event, as I'm sure you're aware."
"Am I ever. All right, send him up, though I warn you I may be even more incoherent than normal."
"Thank you, Doctor, we really appreciate this. He should be up in about five minutes."
No time for a shower, then, or even a snack. Ozark decided to settle for changing out of his jacket and tie and kicking his shoes off.
It was actually six minutes later (he timed it) that there was a knock on the door to the suite. Ozark padded over in his stocking feet and opened it, and found himself looking at a tall, prematurely balding man a few years his senior. He looked as sleep-deprived as Ozark felt, and the physicist found himself wondering how the interview between the two fuzzy-brained men would eventually turn out.
"Doctor Ozark?" the man said.
"That's right. Mr. Williams? Come on in."
"Thanks," said Williams as Ozark led him into the suite. "You can call me Buck, by the way."
"That's my nickname."
Ozark considered, then rejected, responding with I guessed, then rejected My nickname is Nick, then finally said, "I don't think I've ever heard of a real person with that nickname. Only fictional characters. Buck Rogers, Buck Turgidson, Buck Bokai. Are you sure you're not a fictional character?"
"I'm sorry, lack of sleep. Never mind. How did you get a nickname like Buck, anyway?"
The reporter smiled suddenly. "It's pretty silly, really. I got it in college. Me and my roommate were watching a rerun of "Married With Children" and he decided I sounded like Al Bundy's dog. After that, everyone kept calling me Buck."
Ozark smiled back. "I know what you mean. Back in college, everyone called me Nicky Mountains. Or Nicky Himalayas. Or Nicky Carpathians."
"Well, I don't think I've ever heard of anybody named Ozark before. What nationality is that?"
"As Stephen Colbert likes to say, it's French, bitches. My family were French Huguenots who left for England in the seventeenth century. The family name was originally aux Arc," he spelled it, "which meant 'toward the arch'. It wound up being Anglicized as Ozark. I've never run across anybody else with the name. It may be unique." He stopped speaking when he noticed that Williams' eyes were closed. The reporter didn't react to Ozark's silence, and his breathing was suspiciously regular.
Yeah, Ozark told himself, this is going to be quite an interview.
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