I came into a room that smelled like sex and pickle relish. The girl was outside, screaming and gibbering and living through what I assumed to be one of a succession of living nightmares. For my own part, I could see her little life writ in the heavens and the stars, but your average observer could have told you as much with one look at the way she lived.
Her guy was dead.
There was this little credenza thing against the wall next to the door. It was carpeted in all the detritus of an unseemly life, ie, I was able to pluck a crumpled pack of Parliament Lights from the top layer. I opened the pack and fished out a halfie.
The credenza, funnily enough, didn’t seem to be playing host to a lighter. Quarter inch of cigarette ash and four bongs, sure, but no light. What the fuck.
I scanned the room. Empty fish tank on the floor under the window. Saggy air mattress with a dead douchebag slouching off it.
My eyes narrowed. There, clutched in the douchebag’s rapidly stiffening fingers, I caught the signature chromium child safety lock for which Bic lighters are known the world over. Bingo.
I pried the lighter out of his hand, light the halfie, and pulled a face at the sour taste of once-burnt tar, and stuffed the light in my pocket. Fingerprints.
Back outside, the girl was scrunched down into the right angle between floor and wall. She had her hands over her ears and her head between her knees and she was reciting some mantra made mostly of the word no.
I nudged her with the toe of my Doc Martin. She looked up.
“I’m not a cop,” I said.
She didn’t seem to know what to say to that, and suddenly I felt like an asshole, looming over her like that. In her hour of need.
I took a knee so we shared eye level, and then took the cigarette out of my mouth.
“I know what you did,” I said.
“Look. Here’s how this works. I know what you did. I don’t tell anyone, and I make all this go away. You don’t go to jail. But I own you now. OK?”
“I own you now. One of these days I’m going to call you, and I’m going to tell you to do something. On that day, you’re gonna do what i tell you to do. OK?”
“Shut the fuck up,” I said, and I stood up again.
Bleach, I think. Her brain wasn’t working quite the way that it was supposed to right about that time in her life. Blame-shifting is the big thing with addiction; every time she told herself she was going clean, she always found herself using again and it was always because of him. If he would just get his shit in order they could sober up, together. They could arise, like phoenixes out of a pile of ash and needles and butts stamped Parliament.
All he needed was a little scare.
I posted up outside the apartment and finished the halfie. The guy across the hall finally rolled his fat ass out of bed and pulled open the door, off-yellow briefs catching the breeze.
“You can’t smoke in here, shithead,” he said.
“I will kill your whole fucking family,” I said.
He shut the door. That’s not a line that would work with most people. He, however, was one of those few exceptions. Comes of the thing.
I have no idea how many cops were on duty in the area on that particular night. And I don’t know a whole lot of cops. But I did know the cop who came stomping up the stairs. I did know the cop who stopped, stock-still, and turned white as a sheet the second he saw me.
“What’s up, man?” I said.
“What the fuck-” Officer Berkley Moore started to say, before I interrupted him.
“Come’ere a second,” I said.
And he did.
He followed me into the apartment. He waited while I shut the door behind us and locked it. He averted his eyes while I tied and gagged the girl who, out of some pavlovian reaction to the sound of jackboots, had started screaming again the instant Berkeley rounded the corner. He followed me into the room with the dead douchebag. He listened while I said:
“We’re gonna get rid of this. I know a guy, but right now you’ve gotta get this thing out of here and into your car.”
He protested, but not very hard. That comes of the thing, too.
He did what I asked. He Weekend-At-Bernie’s’d that corpse all the way down the stares, out the front, and into the back of his squad car. There he stopped, and waited.
The girl had stopped trying to scream, and instead had contented herself with staring goggle-eyed at me from the other side of the filthy kitchenette.
“One of these days,” I said, “I’m going to call you. And on that day, you’re going to do what I tell you to do. I own you now. Do you understand?”
There is a span of silence while the thing does it’s strange and blessed work.
When she nods, I turn and leave her like that.
Her name was Missy Peakes, and she shows up again later.
We drove and I looked at the window. Berkeley Moore, rapist, pedophile, family man, Portland Police Department had the very good sense to shut his mouth. He suspected that if he did otherwise, I’d destroy him.
I owned him too. Or rather, the thing did.
I don’t know what it is. I don’t even really remember when it showed up. It just kind of happened, one day.
The world began to bend around me.
Coincidences and premonitions and prescient dreams began to pile one atop the other. I was sitting on a porch in Ladd’s Addition when it occurred to me, quite out of the blue, that a complete stranger name of Missy Peakes was, at that moment, poisoning her boyfriend in a shitty apartment in Harmony Point.
I made my way down to Division where it dawned on me that a white sedan, then idling alongside the curb, was being driven by a middle-aged Slovenian name of Suco who was, at that very moment, waiting to pick up some dude his cousin Sedat knew who had an in with the Mexicans down in Canby.
I rapped on the window.
“We gotta make a stop first,” I said.
“Fuck,” Suco said, but he did it. He parked ten blocks down from Missy’s apartment, in front of a ranch-style house I’d never been to before, where I was certain no one was home.
I walked up to the porch, pulled out the spare key from the fake rock on the left, and let myself in. I shut the door behind me, raided the kitchen, and fucked off through the back door. From there it was just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to Missy Peakes, the latest addition to my stable of pawns.
Here’s the thing about the thing, though. It doesn’t give me what I want.
As Moore and I pulled off up a dirt road in Scappoose, I reflected on that fact for the gazillionth time. The thing keeps me alive; when I need to eat, I find myself walking two steps behind a dude just when a twenty falls out of his pocket. When I need a cigarette, I find myself loitering next to a garbage can where a middle-aged housewife tosses a full pack of American Spirit Yellows as she swears to herself that that was the last pack. Ever.
But were it up to me, this shitty vagabond life I lead would look a lot different. I’d have an island and a legion of prostitutes (well-paid, mind you, with medical and vacation days. I’m not a monster). I’d spend my days fucking and working on my fleet of motorcycles. I’d take up yachting. I’d live in paradise.
At the end of that dirt road was one of those double-wide prefabs – the kind you see cut in half and being hauled down the highway on oversize flatbeds. Berkeley and I got out, and he followed me up to the door.
After a totally unreasonable wait, the door popped open as far as the security chain would allow.
“Hi there, Steve. Dropping off.”
Steve brooked no argument, and in half an hour we were speeding away back down the 30, with Steve and his new toy fading into the distance behind us.
Were it my call, this isn’t how I’d live my life. But it isn’t my call.
My life is a jigsaw puzzle, but I have no idea what the big picture is. I’m not the architect of my own actions; I’m just a vector for change. I have no idea who’s pulling my strings.
But I’d like to find out.
I’d kill the fucker with my bare hands.