Authors: Lauren Beukes
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I dreamed about a boy with springs for feet so he could jump high. So high I couldn't catch him. But I did catch him. But then he wouldn't get up again.
I tried so hard. I got him new feet. I made him something beautiful. More beautiful than you could imagine.
But he wouldn't get up. And the door wouldn't open.
The-body-the-body-the-body, she thinks. Words lose their meaning when you repeat them. So do bodies, even in all their variations. Dead is dead. It's only the hows and whys that vary. Tick them off: Exposure. Gunshot. Stabbing. Bludgeoning with a blunt instrument, sharp instrument, no instrument at all when bare knuckles will do. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. It's Murder Bingo! But even violence has its creative limits.
Gabriella wishes someone had told that to the sick fuck who did this. Because this one is
. Which happens to be the name of a sex worker she let off with a warning last weekend. It's most of what the DPD does these days. Hands out empty warnings in The. Most. Violent. City. In. America.
She can just hear her daughter's voiceâthe dramatic horror-movie chords Layla would use to punctuate the words. All the appellations Detroit carries. Dragging its hefty symbolism behind it like tin cans behind a car marked “Just Married.” Does anyone even do that anymore, she wonders, tin cans and shaving cream? Did anyone ever? Or was it something they made up, like diamonds are forever, and Santa Claus in Coca-Cola red, and mothers and daughters bonding over fat-free frozen yogurts? She's found that the best conversations she has with Layla are the ones in her head.
“Detective?” the uniform says. Because she's just standing there staring down at the kid in the deep shadow of the tunnel, her hands jammed in the pockets of her jacket. She left her damn gloves in the car and her fingers are numb from the chill wind sneaking in off the river. Winter baring its teeth even though it's only November. “Are youâ”
“Yeah, okay,” she cuts him off, reading the name on his badge. “I'm thinking about the adhesive, Officer Jones.” Because mere superglue wouldn't do it. Holding the pieces together while the body was moved. This isn't where the kid died. There's not enough blood on the scene. And there's no sign of his missing half.
Black. No surprise in this city. Ten years old, she'd guess. Maybe older if you factored in malnourishment and development issues. Say somewhere between ten and sixteen. Naked. As much of him as there is to be naked. It's entirely possible the rest of him is wearing pants, with his wallet in the back pocket and a cell phone that won't have any minutes, but which will make calling his momma a hell of a lot easier.
Wherever the rest of him is.
He's lying on his side, his legs pulled up, eyes closed, face serene. The recovery position. Only he's never going to recover and those aren't his legs. Skinny as a beanpole. Beautiful skin, even if it's gone yellow from blood loss. Preadolescent, she decides. No sign of acne. No scratches or bruises either, or any indications that he put up a fight or had anything bad happen to him at all. Above the waist.
Below the waist is a different story. Oh boy. That's a whole other section of the bookstore. There's a dark gash, right above where his hips should be, where he has been somehowâ¦
to the lower half of a deer, hooves and all. The white flick of the tail sticks up like a jaunty little flag. The brown fur is bristled with dried blood. The flesh appears melted together at the seam.
Officer Jones is hanging back. The smell is terrible. She's guessing the intestines are severed, on both sets of bodies, leaking shit and blood into the conjoined cavities. Plus there's the gamy reek of the deer's scent glands. She pities the ME having to open up this mess. Better than the paperwork, though. Or dealing with the goddamn media. Or, worse, the mayor's office.
“Here,” she offers, fishing a small red tub of lipgloss out of her pocket. Something she bought at the drugstore on a whim to appease Layla. A candy-flavored cosmeticâthat's sure to bridge the gap between them. “It's not menthol, but it's something.”
“Thanks,” he says, grateful, which marks him out as an FNG. Fucking New Guy. He dips his finger in and smears the greasy balm under his nose; cherry-flavored snot. With sparkles in it, Gabi notices for the first time, but does not point out. Small pleasures.
“Don't get any on the scene,” she warns him.
“No. No, I won't.”
“And don't even think about taking any pictures on your phone to show your buddies.” She looks around at the tunnel with the graffiti that grows on bare walls in this city like plaque, the weight of the pre-dawn darkness, the lack of traffic. “We're going to contain this.”
They do not remotely contain it.
yanked from sleep's deepest tar pits by an elbow to the jaw. He comes up flailing and disoriented, only to find himself fighting bed sheets. The girl from last nightâJen Qârolls over, her arms flung above her head, revealing the sleeve of tattooed birds that runs up her chest and over her shoulder. She's oblivious to having nearly concussed him. Her eyelids are flickering in REM, caught up in a dream that makes her breath jagged, similar to the panting delight he elicited from her earlier when she was riding him, his hands on her hips. When she came, she flung her head back, flicking her mane of braids. His bad luck to catch one in the eye, which called an abrupt halt to the proceedings as he teared up, blinking in pain.
“Easyâ¦” he says, rubbing her back to bring her out of it. He can feel the dark corona of a hangover hovering around his head waiting to slam down. But not quite yet. Perversely, the pain from the elbow jab seems to be keeping it at bay.
“Mmmgghff,” she says, not properly awake. But he's broken through the skin of her nightmare. He runs his palm down the curve of her waist, under the sheets. His cock stirs.
That's twice in one night she's hurt him. It's entirely possible she'll break his heart next. It was the way she kept saying afterwards, “Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry,” but couldn't hold back the giggles, collapsing onto his chest, crying with laughter while his eye streamed.
“That's not exactly a gesture of solidarity,” he complained at the time, but the soft weight of her felt sweet, her whole body shaking with laughter.
“Do you want to fuck again?” he whispers into her ear now.
“T'morrow,” she mumbles, but parts her legs to accommodate his hand anyway. “S'nice. Keep doing that.”
She sighs and rolls over, so that he can move in behind her. He pushes his hard-on up against her ass, his fingers sliding over her clit until he realizes that her breathing has deepened because she's gone back to sleep. Great.
He flops onto his back and looks around the room, but there's not much in the way of clues. 1 x wooden ceiling fan. 1 x Scandi modern cupboard. Reedy blinds over the window. Their clothes all over the floor. No books, which is troubling if he intends to fall in love with her. Did he tell her that he's a writer?
He wonders what the Q stands for. An actual last name or a DJ add-on? Jen X would have been too cutesy, he supposes. Not her style, based on what he has to go on. Which is, to summarize this in one of the easily digestible lists he churns out in lieu of making a respectable living:
1) The set she played last night at the so-called secret party, for which a hundred people showed in a studio in Eastern Market under a T-shirt shop. He can't remember the music she was playing, but it was that time of the night when everything merges into doof-doof bass.
2) The way she danced, her braids twisted up on her head, to prevent exactly the kind of injury she had inflicted on him. The first thing he noticed. She moved like she was happy. And she smiled when he caught her eye. He liked that. Not too cool to smile.
3) The way she plucked the cigarette impatiently from his mouth when they were outside, still strangers, bound only by the camaraderie of being smokers, having to stand out in the cold with the fuzzy promise of emphysema in the distant future. They'd been talking about Motown and techno. That Rodriguez documentary. The bankruptcy. All the easy conversational set pieces. He thought she was going to take a drag, and instead she kissed him.
4) Making out in her car. There are snapshots in his memory, Instagrams really, because they're blurry around the edges: following her down a hedged-in alley around the side of a house to a detached cottage, kissing her neck while she messed around with the keys, the smell of her skin making him crazy, swearing, laughing, her sharp “shhhh” as the door fell open and they tumbled inside.
5) The shapes of furniture in the darkness as she led him straight through to the bedroom. Both of them drunk. Or him, definitely. He could tell by the way the room went all tilt-a-whirl for a moment. Kissing, tugging off clothes. The way she felt inside.
Shit. Did they use a condom? The thought makes his stomach flop, but not for the reasons it would have a year ago.
She gives one little rabbit snore, and he ducks as she flings out her arm again. No good. He can tell by the clarity of his thoughts that he's not going back to sleep. He has become an expert on his own insomnia. Usually it's fear that jerks him awake in the middle of the night, heart racing. He leans over the side of the bed, fishing for his phone in his jacket pocket. Four forty-eight. That's later than his average, which is usually around two in the morning. He should get laid more often.
No shit, Sherlock.
Jonno does not check his inbox, even though the number above the little envelope insists that he has new messages. New voicemail too, according to the digit attached to the cartoon speech bubble. It used to be that the only icons that could inspire such terrible dread were plague signs. A black X over the door.
He opens the browser instead and looks up Jen Q. Only a couple of pages of search results, usually limited to a listing at a festival or a gig guide. A tiny profile on some music review site. But she's social media'd to the eyeballs. All the usual suspects and even a MySpace page, which means she's probably a little older than he thought. He clicks through her selfies, inspirational quotes, self-promos. “Xcited 2b playing Coal Club 2nite. $5 cover!” It's all surface shit, posing for the world. He knows the feeling.
His hangover is settling in. He's going to need something to keep it at bay.
He throws back the covers and swings his legs over the edge of the bed, waiting for the swirl of nausea to pass. Jen doesn't stir. She has raccoon eyes from her mascara. Cate would never have gone to bed without taking off her makeup.
It's freezing out here. He tucks the cover up over the birds on her shoulder, pulls his jacket on over his nakedness, and staggers in what he hopes is the direction of the bathroom to find something for the vice around his head.
He should write something. Anything. Take three steps in Detroit and you're falling over a story. But they've all been done by the native sons. Fuck you and your Pulitzer, Charlie LeDuff, he thinks, patting down the wall to find the light switch.
He flinches against the halogen and the reflection in the medicine cabinetâit's not even merciless, it's plain mean. He examines his face. The puffiness will go away once he catches up on his sleep. George Clooney rules: crow's feet on a man are sexy, and the patches of white in his six-day scruff of beard are a badge of experience. Jesus. Thirty-seven years old and sleeping with DJs.
Not bad going, he grins at himself. Ignoring his inner troll, which snipes,
Yeah, but she's no Cate is she?
You don't know that, he thinks. She could be. She could be really smart and deep and funny. I could follow her around the world, a new gig in a new city every night, write in hotel rooms.
Yeah, cuz that's working out so well for you right now.
“Lost?” Jen says, leaning on the door, wearing a hideous blue flannel dressing gown. Looking a little puffy herselfâwhich is charming in its own way. She is idly rubbing at her collarbone, exposing a glimpse of smooth skin.
“Oh hey. I was looking for an Advil. Or something.”
“You try the medicine cabinet?” Amused, she leans past him to pop it open on a clutter of cosmetics and medicine bottles, a packet of tampons that makes him avert his eyes like he's twelve all over again, and, alarmingly, several needles still sealed in plastic. She reaches for a bottle and drops two aspirin into his hand. “You can use the glass by the sink. It's clean. You coming back to bed?”
“Yeah.” He slugs the pills down, following her back into the bedroom.
She shrugs the horrible robe from her shoulders like a wrestler and climbs back into bed. “I saw your look. Don't worry about it. I've got what my grandma used to call the sugars.”
“The needles. I'm diabetic. They're back-up in case I run out of pens. What, you thought you'd hooked up with some junkie?”
“It crossed my mind for a millisecond.”
“Aren't you glad we used protection?”
“Did we?” He shoves away the pop of disappointment. “I'm a little fuzzy. Not that it matters. Seeing as you're not, you know, um.” He is aware of how idiotic he must look, with his jacket zipped up and his cock hanging out.
“You don't remember?” But she's smiling, the covers tucked up under her chin. “You're hurting my feelings.”
“You might have to remind me.”
“Get in here,” she says, lifting the blanket, tilting her head at the pack of Durex on the bedside table. He's the kind of guy who can take a hint.
“What were you dreaming about?” he whispers into the perfect curved shell of her ear as he enters her.
“Does it matter?” She arches her back up against him, and right now it really doesn't.
“C'mon, wake up. You gotta go.”
“Mmmmf?” Jonno manages as she shoves him out of bed. He is confused for a moment, then he remembers where the hell he is.
Hot DJ girl. You had your cock inside her. Nice work if you can get it, boychick.
“But it's still dark,” he protests through the sleep glaze, even as he's pulling on his socks. He stands on one of their used condoms. Squelchy even through his sock.
“Hustle. I mean it.”
“Did they start the zombie apocalypse already?” He tugs on his shirt and realizes its backwards. He yanks it off and starts again. She is sitting cross-legged on the bed, naked, watching him and smiling.
“You're a funny guy, Tommy.”
“Jonno.” It stings much more than it should.
Her hands fly to her mouth. “Oh jeez. Sorry.” She starts giggling again. “Oh, that's terrible. I'm so embarrassed.” She tips forward, burying her head on her knees. She can't stop laughing. “Sorry.”
“The least you can do is buy me breakfast,” he says in his best indignant voice. He pulls on his jeans and buttons his fly. At least he can't screw that up.
“All right. But only if you get out of here, right now.”
He lowers his voice. “
it zombies? Because if that's the case, I think we should be improvising weapons.”
“Worse than that, doofus. It's my dad.”
“Wait.” His brain is scrabbling like a dog with a small bladder at the door. He looks around again. Definitely not a teen pad. And that's a woman's body, right there. The fullness and softness and the smile lines. She sees the panic on his face and laughs harder, leaning on him, her hand on his stomach. He automatically sucks it in.
She's already seen you naked, genius.
“Zombies I can deal with.”
“I'm twenty-nine, you idiot.”
“Well thank God for that.” And that's not true, he thinks. The profile he read last night said she was thirty-three.
“I'm living at home. For now.”
“And your dad thinks you don't have sex?”
“Not under his roof. Well, on his property.”
“I should probably get going then.”
“You probably should.” She is grinning madly. She nods her head at the door. “Same way you came in.”
“But you're still buying me breakfast.”
“Not today. I've got family stuff.”
She relents. “There's a coffee place in Corktown. I'll see you there at ten.”
“That's not very specific.”
“You'll find it.”
“I'll get a cab home, then. And see you tomorrow.” He is trying not to sound desperate.
“Okay.” She's beaming.
“All right.” He stands there a moment longer.
“You should go.”
“It seems like a very bad idea to leave you.”
“But you should anyway.”
“Okay. You know it's cute that you don't swear.”
“Go! For Pete's sake!”
He leans down and pulls her into a deep kiss. “Okay.” He stalks down the corridor with great stealth and purpose, not looking back, reeking of eau de pussy. It's no use.
“Um,” he says, poking his head around her bedroom door. She is lying with one arm cast above her head, her eyes closed, head tilted back, and her hand between her legs. “I'm really sorry to interruptâ?”
She sits up, not the slightest bit embarrassed. “Would you get out of here?”
“I would. I justâ¦” He shrugs helplessly. “I don't know where we are. It was dark when we came in. If you could give me a suburb at least?”