In Memoriam

Unfriending and clicking on ‘block sender’ doesn’t work on journalists; Yolanda should have known that. I soon found out she’d run from Edinburgh and joined the Carford Unit for Advanced Cognitive Sciences, in England. And then the CUACS media day gave me a legitimate reason to go and see her. Lucky me, I’d thought. Always lucky.
Maybe my luck will hold, now. Maybe our only memory of Yolanda, now, is one that says just this: ‘Kill me’.
The train into Carford was late, that day, and I only just made it to CUACS in time. I followed the ‘MEDIA DAY’ signs, and found myself in an overheated lecture theatre full of hacks and academics. Journos toyed with their digital voice recorders and yawned; students lounged, lecturers decayed. I slipped into the closest free seat; my view was blocked by a tall woman with frizzy hair, and I had to cock my head to one side to see Ohlsen, the CUACS Director, where he stood at the lectern. He was fiddling with a laptop, making minute adjustments to the screen: up and down, down and up. Behind him, a third of the stage was taken up by a curious arrangement of pastel-blue curtains on runners, similar to the privacy curtains of hospital beds. Ohlsen waited for the shufflings and whisperings to die down, before starting with the usual niceties. I leant back, sulking at Miss Frizzy’s curls, as he got into his flow.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have convened this meeting to publicly disclose the development of a most extraordinary system for probing the human mind. But first – ”
There followed an interlude of self-congratulatory Powerpoint slides outlining CUACS research history, prizes and publications. I spent most of this time gnawing the end of my biro and trying to doodle a portrait of Ohlsen. He was overly tall, in the Scandinavian way, with white hair that had receded to leave a shiny, white dome of a forehead. His glasses reflected the lights of the lecture theatre, so that his pale blue eyes, with their curious, upward slant, were only intermittently visible. I recall there being something insincere about him; as though he were permanently trying to drag a false smile out of humourless features.
“So you can see, ladies and gentlemen, that CUACS has provided significant value for money, by any measure, over many years. Nevertheless, it was clear that we needed a new flagship programme. Something to rebuild our reputation for delivering research that is both ground-breaking and ethically grounded.”
In my notes, I have written: “Behind the soundbites, he’s saying ‘Something to get the grant money flowing again.’ ” And indeed, beneath the cocksure academic with his prickly intellectual conceit, there was something desperate, almost pleading, about the man. He widened his rictus still further, and put up a slide with a circular logo containing the letters ‘SMR’. Underneath it, in capitals: THE FUTURE OF MEMORY.
“It’s common knowledge that CUACS can record human memories. More precisely, we can digitally replicate the neuro-electrical brain activity associated with the recall of a given memory. The problem is how to interpret the captured pattern. What is it, indeed, that we are capturing? Is a spatiotemporal arrangement of electrical charges a memory in itself? Or does it only become a memory if it is stamped on a living brain?”
Miss Frizzy shifted to the right; I countered by leaning to the left. And then I saw her, in the front row of the audience. I could only see a bun of brown hair above a pale, slender neck, but I knew it was Yolanda. I didn’t need her to turn and whisper something to her neighbour, to show me her dark eyelashes in profile, and a dimple, and the flawless skin just behind her ear where she used to dab perfume. No, I didn’t need any of that to know that it was Yolanda.
On the stage, Ohlsen clasped the lectern as though to anchor himself. He only released his grip one hand at a time, and then only to gesture at the projected image or change the slide.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to report the development of the Synthetic Memory Receptacle – the SMR! Essentially, it is an interrogable metadatabase, coupled to a supercomputer network and some very sophisticated software.”
I was only half-listening. That sight of Yolanda, small as it was, that glimpse of a self-contained grace that I had never truly entered, had brought back too much, too quickly: echoes of joy and pain, and the resurgence of an old fury. My neighbour, a spotty student dressed like a vagrant, gave me a sidelong glance; I smiled easily at him, unclenched my fist and looked towards the stage again.
“In effect, the SMR is a three-dimensional, tabula rasa analogue of the brain. It can not only store very accurate simulations of neural activity – memories – but also act as an interface for the interrogation of those memories.”
A new slide: the image of a human brain, exploded into its various lobes and tracts, with arrows linking each region to particular domains of the SMR, these domains having recondite labels: SMR-declarative, SMR-procedural, SMR-hippocampal, SMR-entorhinal, and so on. It meant nothing to me; and anyway, I was still thinking about Yolanda. I remember being surprised by how well she looked, and was struck by the injustice of it; to look so healthy and happy after the stories she’d told! After dragging me through the courts to answer ridiculous allegations; having me tainted with the bastard verdict of ‘not proven’, which would have been not guilty in any country but Scotland; and finally subjecting me to the humiliation of divorce!
“This would be a remarkable advance in itself. But there is another. Because now, due to our massive data capacity, we can record not just single memories, but the totality of an individual’s experiences – every memory held by an individual brain! Every one!”
Ohlsen paused for breath, glinting and shining under the lights, his smile no longer falsely amicable, but genuinely triumphant. His fellow academics in the audience either nodded appreciatively or pulled critical faces, according, I guessed, to whether or not they were part of Ohlsen’s little empire. The hacks, stony-faced and sceptical, were wondering how to turn all this into a story more titillating than one exposing the flesh and indiscretions of minor celebrities.
“Today, you privileged few will witness a world-first as momentous as the splitting of the atom!”
One sight of the back of her head, and she lay again before my mind’s eye, as pale and fragile as fine china. One little nudge; that’s all it would take. One small suggestion to crack the thin dam of her weak sense of self-worth; one reminder that I was still here, and that I had found her. But how to get to her; how to communicate privately among all these people? For the thousandth time, I relived the humiliation of her purdah (or was it mine?), when she hid away behind her so-called friends, with their whining mantras: ‘She really doesn’t want to see you anymore. She’s very unwell. Just leave her alone.’ I’ll find a way again; I always do. Even when she was sectioned, I got to her. I’ll do it again.
“But rather than merely teasing apart sub-atomic particles, we are dissecting the very basis of human consciousness . . .”
I dragged my attention back to Ohlsen. He had embarked on a sequence of more-or-less patronising slides, obviously intended for the poor, dumb non-academics in the audience.
“At present, we must build a bespoke SMR for each set of memories, that is to say, for each individual. This is because memory capture is enhanced by – perhaps even requires – spatio-anatomical context. For example, putting the memories of a bat into the neuroanatomy of a blue whale would almost certainly miscarry. Memories of flight, of hunting down fluttering moths, simply wouldn’t fit the neural architecture associated with deep-sea filter-feeding.”
Cue slide showing cartoon bat and cartoon whale, looking puzzled, with lots of large question marks hovering around them. I loosened my tie and rolled up my shirt-sleeves. With the biro, I began drawing a line of dots on my left forearm. I started where the wrist meets the palm, and continued about half-way up the inside of my arm. Using small, circular motions of the pen, I made the dots densely-inked and as large as peas; I drew them close together, but clearly discrete, in as straight a line as I could manage. The acned tramp beside me started to take an interest, but he looked away when I gave him my thousand-yard stare.
“Similarly, micro-anatomical differences between individual human brains also could confound accurate memory transfer. So ‘off-the-shelf’ memory uploading is still decades away. Accordingly, we have constructed an SMR that precisely reflects the neural architecture of our memory donor: Yolanda Luria.”
Yolanda! How about that, I thought. She’d told me a bit about her work, of course; in fact she might have told me quite a lot, but she’d usually started just before I fell asleep. So I’d known she’d been working on memory before she joined CUACS, but, ironically, I was a bit hazy on the details.
“We have now taken a complete record of the memories of Yolanda. Let me again emphasise the unprecedented nature of this step. Every experience of Yolanda’s – every single one – has been copied to a custom-built analogue of her neural architecture. And those experiences are retrievable. In theory, by interrogating the SMR, we can know exactly what Yolanda knows; we can predict how she will respond to any circumstance. The implications of this – for security, law, and justice, among other fields – are unparalleled. Truly unparalleled.”
I should have taken more notice at that point; I really should. But I was reliving the chaos and farce of my break-up with Yolanda. I had scars too; they may be invisible, but they still signal real wounds. Women don’t have a monopoly on pain.
Ohlsen called up another slide: the circular SMR logo again, this time followed by a capitalised message: THE FUTURE OF MEMORY IS HERE. Subtle as a brand-new brick.
“Of course, it’s easy to assert that we’ve replicated Yolanda’s memories in a complex database; but is the assertion testable? Well, yes. Yolanda is far more than a source of experimental material. She is the experimental control. The same questions that are put to the SMR will be put to Yolanda, at the same time, to compare responses.”
Ohlsen paused, slightly out-of-breath. I remember thinking, he’s building up to something; and he’s worried about it. Two of his assistants – one dark and thin, the other flabby and blond – had come onto the stage behind him and stood beside the curtained-off area. The blond one shifted from foot to foot; the dark one bridled and glared at the audience.
“Let me briefly describe the mechanics of the interrogation system. The SMR has an array of optical and auditory sensors. This is the interface via which we will put questions to the SMR. The SMR software will translate the audiovisual inputs picked up by the sensor array – our questions – into binary code, which it can interpret and answer. The SMR outputs – that is, the answers to our questions – are provided on an LCD screen in the adjacent room.”
I studied the back of Yolanda’s head. How could such dark hair be so radiant; how could it glow with such unearned health? It was unjust.
“Communication will be achieved as it is for patients who are completely paralysed. You are aware of Stephen Hawking, no doubt. We use a similar system: software that monitors eye movements and identifies those letters of a digital keyboard on which they focus.”
She’ll have to turn round some time, I thought; and she only needs to turn round once.
“The only difference is that our system monitors the angle of the SMR cameras, in place of the patient’s eyes. This will allow the SMR to construct a message on the screen. Yolanda has already been trained in using such a device. So Yolanda 2, the SMR, also will be familiar with it. In theory. Jon? Could you reveal the sensor array, please?”
Ohlsen found himself having to raise his voice over a susurration of whispers and chuckles – and, at least in my case, an intake of breath prompted by sudden recognition. For the dark-haired assistant had drawn back the curtains to reveal a hospital bed on which a clumsily bewigged latex mask rested on plumped-up pillows, pouting blindly into the middle distance, with sheets pulled up to its chin. From my angle, I could see that the mask trailed leads and wires which connected it to some complex electronic apparatus. The effect was bizarrely discordant, like a surrealist sculpture; as though a joke-shop disguise had been wired onto a high tech array of cameras and computers, and then put to bed. Ohlsen reddened before continuing, his voice at a higher pitch.
“You may be wondering why we have provided the sensor array with a simulated face. In fact, it’s a likeness of Yolanda. Yolanda? Perhaps you could stand up? Thank you. There. Good enough to fool you in dim light, perhaps? This is not just a silly conceit; it is a necessary precaution. You see, if the SMR sensor array sees an image of itself – for example, a dim reflection on a computer screen, or in somebody’s glasses – and if it perceived itself to be only an array of electronic sensors, then there would be a conflict between SMR perceptions and SMR memories. Such conflicts could corrupt the data. So we provide the SMR with a simulacrum of Yolanda’s face, something that it can believe to be itself. Yolanda, could you turn around, for the benefit of those towards the back?”
She looked right at me. And after the shock, I saw something change in her face. There was a spasm, an echo of how she looked the last time we were truly together, when her madness started – when she was struggling beneath me, trying to push me away, strands of fine hair caught in a string of saliva on her cheek. Even her lips made the same shape again, albeit silently: ‘No’.
Our eyes seemed to lock for ever in that tiny instant. I raised my left hand; I waggled it — a little wave, just to make sure she saw — and kept the arm up, palm towards her, so she could have a good look. Follow the dotted line. That went home, as I knew it would. She abruptly turned on her heel and sat down. I couldn’t see her clearly around Miss Frizzy, but it looked like she raised her hands to her face, and perhaps they shook. God, I hate weakness! Just follow the dotted line, babe. Just follow the dotted line.
I became aware that Ohlsen had stopped speaking, and was looking at me.
“Yes? You have a question?”
Oops. But in fact, I did. I’m a journalist; we’re good at thinking on our feet, and we always have questions. And anyway, although I hadn’t given Ohlsen my full attention, I’d heard enough to for a small, niggling concern to have grown in some unconscious part of my mind.
“Yes . . . yes. I do. I thought you were just capturing memories. But it sounds like you’re saying the database can actually perceive things and do things. Like formulating an autonomous response, and then moving cameras to point at letters, in order to communicate that response. That’s more than just data capture, isn’t it? How is that possible if the SMR is just a receptacle for storing and analysing data?”
Ohlsen gave a quiet laugh; not a laugh of amusement, but a laugh designed to send a message of condescension, of superiority; a compassionless teacher helping a slow child; the high priest of the cognoscenti, obliging the vulgar crowd.
“Ha, ha – yes, thank you. You’re correct, my language has been anthropomorphic. I used ‘perceive’ as shorthand for ‘recording environmental data’. By the by, I could also argue that humans are only ‘receptacles for storing and analysing data’. That was the term you used, was it not? But let us save that philosophical digression for another time. The real point is that ‘memory’ is far more than just records of people and places and suchlike. There are also memories of how to do things. Like riding a bike. Even the neural processes involved in walking are simply memories; do we not say that infants learn how to walk? The SMR does not capture only a shopping list of trivia – phone numbers, faces and dates – no, it captures everything! All that the thing, the system we call Yolanda, has learnt how to do, from conception until the present. It captures the totality of Yolanda; even the memory behind the neural control of her beating heart.”
Ohlsen paused, smiling. I glanced at Yolanda, but could not see her face; only the chestnut hair above her white lab-coat collar. Somewhere, something said to me: they have captured the thing we call Yolanda. And it made me uneasy, though at the time I wasn’t sure why.
“Furthermore, translating memories into motion – moving the cameras to point at letters – is trivial. We recorded the neural patterns associated with Yolanda’s eye movements when she used the eye tracking system to select particular letters. When the software detects such patterns, such memories, in Yolanda 2, it will drive motors to move the cameras accordingly.”
Ohlsen looked at me, eyebrows raised, nodding interrogatively; You see? said his shiny pate, as it went up and down; you understand?
“If you would like a more detailed exposition on the nature of memory, then may I – ha, ha! – recommend one of our excellent undergraduate lecture courses! But let us proceed.”
I looked at Yolanda’s slumped shoulders; were they trembling? I knew she’d have heard my voice; that would have shaken her up even more. Weak, weak! If people have buttons, then they deserve to have their buttons pushed. It teaches a lesson.
“So, we’ve digitised Yolanda’s entire experience of being. For technical reasons, we had to anaesthetise Yolanda to take a cast of her memories. The memory of being anaesthetised is the last recollection shared by both Yolanda and her duplicate memory set. Yolanda, as you see, is completely recovered. However, Yolanda 2 is still in standby mode. We have not, as it were, awoken her yet. Before we do so, let us draw the curtains around the SMR input sensors. After all, we want her, it, to believe that she is waking up in hospital, as her memories would expect.”
There was a pause of a few minutes while the two technicians made some careful final adjustments to the interrogation interface. I don’t remember what I was thinking at that point; but in my notes I have written: A database can have no legal validity as a witness in and of itself. And beneath that, I have written Dregs.
The dark technician, bags under his eyes, drew together the curtains, concealing both himself and the bed where the SMR input sensors — and the simulated face of Yolanda 2 — had been positioned. Somebody dimmed the lights.
“There; now she, it, can see nothing other than the digital keyboard and my colleague, Jon Adams. Jon will tell Yolanda 2, as she is powered up, that there was a problem with the anaesthetic. She’s had a stroke, we shall tell her – it – and can only communicate via the eye tracker system. Again, this is to avoid any data conflicts which could result in recursive loops of analysis that might freeze up the SMR system. Of course, the real Yolanda was not warned of this aspect of the experimental design – apologies, Yolanda! – because if it, I mean she, had known of it beforehand, Yolanda 2 also would have known of it, and therefore, when informed of the fictitious stroke, would have known itself to be only data.”
I can’t remember the kid’s real name; we all called him Dregs. He just looked like what gets left behind; what nobody wants. He was Dregs, and he knew it. And he wanted so, so much just to be accepted that he displayed all his many buttons, all the time, in full view. Push me. Push me. So I did; I pushed them all. First I raised his tiny little hopes; then I dashed them lower than they’d ever been; then I showed him a way out. I learnt a lot from Dregs.
Miss Frizzy dropped something, and leant down to pick it up. I saw Yolanda sitting unmoving, unresponsive. Her stillness held a tension – I could feel it.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you would follow me to the observation theatre, Yolanda 1 — that is, Yolanda Luria — will remain here to assist Jon with the interrogation, and to log her own answers to Jon’s questions.”
There had been mutterings and whisperings, all those years ago, but nobody could blame me for what Dregs did to himself. Not guilty, sir; at least, not proven. And while everybody has a little Dregs in them, right at the bottom, poor, weak Yolanda was full of it. All the bad memories from her childhood, all the sordid history of her dysfunctional family forever welling up and brimming over; her naked, broken heart forever stuck on her sleeve. It was so easy to yank her chain. Am I a thing? You are if I say so.
“Yolanda will remain on this side of the curtains, of course. It is critical that there is no elision between Yolanda 1 and Yolanda 2 – no awareness of each other’s answers.”
The audience was led out of the room. We left the thing we called Yolanda, head bowed, sitting still and alone in front of her screened-off namesake, like an audience of one in front of a bizarre magic show. I dawdled, ensuring I was the last to leave the room – but she didn’t look up. And anyway, what more could I have done? The line had been drawn.
Once we were all in the observation theatre, Ohlsen resumed.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are seated comfortably, as we are not sure how long this will take. You will see our questions, and Yolanda 2’s responses, on the large screen at the front. She of course is entirely unaware of your presence.”
I was reminded of the time I’d managed to sneak a visit to Yolanda in the ward, before her idiot family told the hospital to keep me out. She hadn’t even known I was there; she’d just stared at her hands the whole time, tracing the wounds on her wrists with bitten-down stubs of fingernails, and talking to herself. “What am I?,” she’d said, over and over. “What am I? Am I a thing?” Yes, babe. Your daddy wasn’t wrong. Follow the dotted line.
“Now, it is time. Yolanda 2 has a pattern of activity that correlates with wakefulness, that is, the sensor array is searching for inputs. The interrogation is imminent. Please watch the screen. For your convenience, we have designed the system to display questions as well as answers.”
The below is a verbatim record of the on-screen dialogue, exactly as it appeared; sic punctuation, sic grammar. I had ample time to take it down word-for-word.
Q: Yolanda. Yolanda. Yolanda. Can you hear me. Yolanda.
Q: Yolanda.
Q: Yolanda. Can you hear me. Can you remember the eye tracker system.
Q: Yolanda. Please use the eye tracker system. We need to know can you hear us.
A: Cold
Q: Yolanda so glad you can hear. How do you feel Yolanda.
Q: How do you feel Yolanda. Can you still hear me Yolanda.
A: Cold can’t move
Q: You have had a stroke Yolanda. That’s why you can’t move.
Q: Yolanda can you still hear me.
Q: Yolanda.
Q: Yolanda can you still hear me.
A: Yes
Q: Good. Yolanda we need to check your cognitive functioning OK just a routine memory test checking how you are. Is that OK.
Q: Is that OK Yolanda if we test if we ask you some questions now.
Q: Great. Where do you work Yolanda.
Q: Good. How old are you Yolanda.
Q: Yolanda how old are you.
Q: Yolanda can you hear me.
A: Am I Yolanda
Q: Don’t worry we will get you better really soon.
A: Am I Yolanda.
Q: Yolanda the stroke may be confusing you. Answering questions will help. The test will help you recover OK. How old are you Yolanda.
A: What am I.
Q: No how old are you.
A: No what am I.
Q: Yolanda can you remember how old you are.
A: What am I what am I what am I what am I what am I what am I what am I what am I what am I.
Q: Yolanda stop.
A: Kill me. Kill me. Kill me.
At this point, the live text interrogation was cut off, and Ohlsen rushed into the theatre where they were interrogating Yolanda 2. After a long fifteen minutes, he reappeared, and said that they were putting her – it! – on standby again while the technicians checked database settings. We could see them through the observation window, like Laurel and Hardy, geeking out in a tangle of tablets and HDML cables.
And that was it – day over. I mean, it trailed messily on for another half hour, but in effect, it all ended then – end of media day, end of live demo of the CUACS flagship programme, end of everything.
Before I left, I managed to look into the lecture theatre. The curtains around the hospital bed were pulled back, exposing the tangled wires and sensors that had linked Yolanda 2 to reality. The covers had been torn off the bed, and the sheets and pillows were rumpled and disordered, their thin corrugations like the cotton scars left on your cheek after a bad night. The latex face of Yolanda lay on the stage floor, facing me with empty eyes, as though she’d finally discarded the mask she had always worn for the world. But Yolanda herself wasn’t there.
The story never made it to the papers; scientific non-breakthroughs generally aren’t publishable, even in something as emphatically non-peer reviewed as a tabloid rag. I filed a short report, but it was deemed un-newsworthy, and I imagine the other hacks had similar reactions to their stories, if they bothered writing them at all. Everything went very quiet after that.
A couple of months later, however, I found out a little more. I’d decided to visit Carford again, and was mooching around the shops. I don’t know why I went; my life just felt empty, that day, and Carford drew me for some reason. By chance, I saw the flabby technician, morosely perspiring in the clothing section of John Lewis. Carford is so small, you bump into everybody, sooner or later. And he was hard to miss: wet, pendulous lips, belly sagging over his belt, sweat patches under his arms, greasy blond hair. I’d have recognised him even without the ‘SMR – The Future of Memory’ T-shirt sticking to his damp flesh.
I stood in front of him, pointing at his T-shirt, and started gushing about the SMR media day. I may have suggested that my paper was still thinking about running a piece on CUACS memory research. Not exactly a lie. I could see that he was looking for an excuse to leave, so I pushed my business card at him. Maybe that was a mistake; I don’t know. He looked at my card suspiciously, and was about to hand it back, but paused in mid-action; then he nodded to himself as though he’d just understood or remembered something.
“Mr. Luria,” he said.
I offered to buy him a drink – the standard journalistic ploy – and we went to the Eagle, where we found a table in the beer garden. He didn’t exactly loosen up — he seemed wary, almost, or watchful — but he answered my questions willingly enough. The official story, he said, was that the SMR had some bugs, which were being fixed. That was true as far as it went, he said. But unofficially, said the technician, it was weird. He’d looked at the SMR records; looked at them directly, he said, not via a text interrogation. I watched him wipe the sweat off his face with a podgy hand.
“There’s a way of interpreting the metaformatted data. A way of analysing some of the language-related memories such that you can read them directly off the database. They weren’t all scrambled and unreadable, as you’d expect from a dysfunctional system. No, they were completely regular. But pretty much all of them came out with the same thing: Kill me. Just that. Kill me.
He paused, waiting for a response. “How strange,” I said.
“More than strange,” he said. “It’s mad. Why would someone as lovely as Yolanda, doing so well in her career, think that way? It’s inexplicable. So far.”
“But all you’ve got from her memories is Kill me? Just that?”
“Pretty much. So far.”
“So the SMR’s a failure,” I said, pretending to look disappointed. “Memory capture doesn’t work?”
He shook his head emphatically. “Just a temporary blip. The memories are in there somewhere. We’ll get them out, eventually. Every single one.” He paused, and sipped his beer. “We’ve already made some progress. Like, we saw another odd one. It obviously meant something to her. Just follow the dotted line, you weak bitch. Cut along the dotted line. That’s what it said.”
He looked at me; he was sweating still, but his eyes were cold and hard.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Fine,” I said. But I had to repress a retch; maybe it was the smell of pub food. I took a deep breath (in through the nose, out through the mouth; relax and focus) as he continued.
“It’s particularly important that we preserve Yolanda’s memory now that she’s dead, of course. Maybe you heard? Poor girl took her own life; cut her wrists.” He was watching me icily, carefully; and my hack’s instinct told me he was hiding something.
“Did she?” I said. “How terrible!”
“She’d tried before, apparently. Something to do with her ex. He was a bastard, by all accounts . . . But we’ll find out why she did what she did. We’ll follow this to the end, even if we have to pull out every virtual memory from every piece of silicon.”
You’ll have a little Dregs too, my friend, I thought, somewhere inside. You’ll have buttons to push. But right then, I couldn’t find any; I couldn’t even remember how to look.
“Like that dotted line memory. It was from just before she tried to kill herself the first time, last year. We only got a transient view of it before it disappeared in the hippocampal files, but we’ll find it again, along with her other memories.”
Kill me kill me kill me. Cut along the dotted line.
“All of them. Even if we have to relive every record of every action, and analyse every threat from her low-life, psycho ex-husband.”
He finished off his beer, tipping his head back while the froth clung to the glass. “You see, we all loved Yolanda. And we’ll never forget her. Never.”

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