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Authors: Richard Thomas

Disintegration

BOOK: Disintegration
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Disintegration
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

An Alibi eBook Original

Copyright © 2015 by Richard Thomas

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Alibi, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

A
LIBI
is a registered trademark and the
A
LIBI
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN 9781101882627

Cover design: Scott Biel

Cover image (man's face): Keith
Ferris/E+/Getty
Images

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Contents

I must be dead for there is nothing but blue snow and the furious silence of a gunshot.

—Will Christopher Baer,
Kiss Me, Judas

Introduction

There is no past. My heart was ripped from me in a rush of flashing lights and sticky yellow tape. There is no future. Vision would require hope, and that stealthy whore eludes me at every turn. So I float in the ether, pasty skin crawling with regret, eyes gouged out by my own shaking hands.

Chapter 1

The manila envelope slides under my apartment door like the wrinkled skin of a snake, shed in a hurry. I don't even turn to look, though my clenched fists are shaking, my eyes pressed shut. Sitting in the living room, darkness around me like a flea-infested blanket, my forearms rest on the mahogany table, my legs trembling in the high-backed leather chair. I am full again, about to overflow, and I've been waiting for that envelope for hours.

Days.

Weeks.

I don't know. I'm not sure what day it is. I grit my teeth and take a deep breath. The muscles in my lower back are tightly coiled springs, ropes with knots tied that I'll never get undone.

I know the plastic bottles sit in the medicine cabinet. I know those tiny black bottles are sitting there. Much like Vlad slides the envelope under my door, my next assignment, much like he provides me with this luxurious squalor within which to disintegrate, he is also my pusher. He provides my escape. Or maintenance, depending on how you look at it. Two very average, very normal bottles. They could be aspirin, or acetaminophen, or naproxen. But they are not. They are two dark tunnels, bottomless pits, and I stand at the openings breathing in the musty air, rich with soil and rotting bones.

The masking tape he rubbed on them with his filthy thumb and forefinger is slowly losing its tack. With a black Sharpie he wrote two words, and every time I look at them I see Alice dropping down the rabbit hole. And I want to join her.

One says: Happy.

The other: Sad.

It's time for a bus ride. Soon.

I stand up slowly and open my eyes. The streetlights outside push in pale light, the blinds glowing as if the desert sun waits just beyond them. My bare feet on the hardwood floor ground me again. It's why I keep them clean—the floors, not my feet. A faint whiff of lemon and orange, oils that reek of naked flesh and release. I need to touch things sometimes. I breathe in, brushing the wrinkles out of my jeans, running my hands down my thighs, again and again. It relaxes me. Shirtless, I run my hands over my bare, hairless chest, back and forth, to make the blood flow again.

There are only three choices: the French doors to my bedroom; the manila envelope that rests just inside the door, an opening that leads out to the hallway of this six-flat; and the path to the kitchen. The lone window in the kitchen is cracked open and a soft, cool breeze pushes the blinds aside. A flash and bare tree branches. A glimmer and the telephone lines. A gust and wrought iron, green feline eyes, and a blur of fur. My stalker. She won't stay, I know that much. I will myself forward to the open space of the kitchen. A sawhorse sits in the middle of the room. A two-by-four lies on top of it, secured to it by tall gray nails. I pick up the hammer, an old friend from a different life, and the weight in my hands is comforting. A dozen metal heads poke out of the mangled piece of wood, riddled with holes and dents. In quick succession I pound them flat.

There is a skittering on the back porch as my friend runs away. My biceps flex, forearms tight as I bring the silver hammer head down, again and again. It is louder than the peace I just disturbed, but surprisingly muffled by the old apartment walls. A sheen of sweat breaks out on my forehead as I make the nails disappear. The retort echoes off the gunmetal walls, my feet growing cold on the dirty, faded tiles. The floor is the color of a sidewalk covered with grime the day after the snow melts, littered with debris, scratched and ignored. It meets the walls like an ocean floor, and I feel myself going under. I grunt in the dark room, raising the hammer over my head, slamming it down with a sharp bang, fighting the currents, wincing in the night. And they are gone.

I drop the hammer on the floor, out of breath, chest rising. With a turn of my neck I turn to the slice of yellow that calls to me from the other room. My enabler, my cure.

Chapter 2

His name isn't really Vlad. I just call him that. Tall and gangly, hawkish nose, and a Russian accent, the buzz cut came up to me at Nik's Package Liquors. They open early. That's about the only nice thing I can say about Nik's. And it's two blocks away on Division Street, so it's easy to get there. I shuffle down sixty-four steps, out the front door, up Milwaukee a block, and turn left. I dodge a drunk woman, staggering out of an alleyway, her hair dark and short, her face ragged and worn. In a glint of the streetlamp, she is my wife, and I flinch.

Just past the Polish diner, meaty pierogi, for when I can actually keep food down, with applesauce and sour cream. Past the taquería with the spicy queso. They sell cigarettes too. Sometimes I can't make it across Ashland, it's just too much—screaming metal flying by, streams of mannequins stomping past, somewhere to be, as fast as they can, and I can barely walk.

I try not to be a regular, at any place. But Nik's is as bad as I get. Sometimes the fridge of beer doesn't make it to the next day. When you drink your dinner you don't do it half-assed. So sometimes I end up at Nik's. Often, I'm not sure how.

“Comrade, how are you?” he asks, the first time we meet.

I hunched over a pint of swill in this gaping wound carved out of the store, this long piece of wood that props up many a liver—but it isn't really a bar. It's an extension. It's ten feet away, a place to stumble to.

“Fuck off,” I mumble.

“My friend, I understand. You are busy. I am busy man too. I have proposition for you.”

I turn my eyes up to him, bloodshot and bleary, pushing down the liquid that is my only sustenance. “I'm not like that, Vlad. Move it on down the bar.”

“Ha…Vlad. I like that. No, sir. Not like that. Just a little legwork. A little muscle.”

I have fourteen dollars in my pocket. I've been living on the street, in shelters, stealing when necessary, the last of my savings gone.

“Real simple like. Take a package, bring a package.”

“Drugs,” I say.

“No. Not quite. Let's just say an acquired taste.”

“And why would I want to help you, Vlad? For a few lousy bucks.”

“I just have a feeling about you. And I have an apartment, a place you can stay. I see you are committed to the drink. At least you are committed to something.”

I hold the pint in my left hand, and reach over for the shot with my right. This liquid, this numbing.

“You think about it, my friend. I'll be down here at the end of this lovely bar. But the offer won't last for long. Just until I finish my vodka and am out that door.”

BOOK: Disintegration
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