My partner was pacing the hall while I did pull-ups in the bathroom doorframe. I was thinking about Satan and a girl I used to love. The subjects were unrelated. I flipped between them effortlessly: Satan here, the girl there. I felt bad for Satan. I hardly cared about the girl.
An hour earlier we had loaded our bodies with miserable chemicals and I knew that soon enough we would be twisted, slobbering freaks. Already the blue Christmas lights strung up on the ceiling were vibrating and swirling in my head. It wouldn’t be long until we were a couple of psychos with nothing to lose. And then things would get really ugly—and they were ugly already.
Satan, the poor bastard. He was all I could think about. Everything else dropped out of my mind. I eased my feet onto the hardwood floor and put on my purple cardigan. I took a mug from the cabinet and stood by the stove, waiting for the kettle to scream out like a toothless whore. I needed a hot beverage in me if I was going to make it through the night. For an instant I considered dumping it all over my balls. Probably would’ve felt better than anything else that’s happened to the damn things.
“Are you depressed?” said Detective Sunset, still pacing. He didn’t look at me. “You seem a little depressed is all.”
“Terribly,” I said.
“About the duck?”
“The duck’s got me down.”
“Yeah.” Sunset took a cigarette from his pocket and placed it between his lips. I thought about those lips for a half-second. God, when was the last time some unsuspecting woman had touched those things with hers? Years, I reckoned. Dark years. Darker than the Grim Reaper’s dick, even. The thoughts turned to vapor and Sunset started mumbling in Latin.
“You really gotta get off that stuff. The cigarettes, I mean. Our insides are rotten enough, man. No need to light them on fire.”
“I need this. It’s all I’ve got.”
I wasn’t going to argue with him there. If this creep wanted to smoke himself stupid, then who was I to stand in the way? Jesus. I imagined someone threatening to take away my little iota of happiness. Happiness . . . the word made my skeleton rattle. What the fuck was happiness? Maybe I had none of it. No, I definitely didn’t. It had eluded me for years. And now it was my enemy. Fuck happiness. It was just a nice thing that the squares liked to pretend actually existed. It was that faraway dream—that hidden box in the attic. Open it up and you get a bucket of vampire turds. Happiness. For god’s sake, what a miserable joke that stuff was.
I cleared my throat. I went on: “What are we going to do about this duck?”
“Where’s the body?” He was looking at his shoes. Maybe the stuff was ramping up big time now. Maybe those shoes looked pretty fucking crazy to him. A joke came to mind and I almost said it aloud: Lemme get some of whatever he’s having. But I had had what he was having. Shit, I’d had twice as much—and I’m not just talking about the lysergic cocktail we’d swallowed down. Three times as much. Yes, I’ve had three times as much. Years of bad spookiness. Years of unanswered prayers. This kid probably still felt things.
Opening my mouth and smoothing out the cobwebs, I said, “They burned the body this morning.”
Sunset spun his head around and laser-focused on my skull so intensely I thought he might burn a hole through my god damn forehead. His hair was wild and behind the cigarette I could see his yellow teeth grinding together. “They burned it?”
“Burned it till there was nothing left.” I was watching the kettle and absentmindedly groping my own testicles. God, they felt fantastic.
“What in God’s name were they thinking?” He bit off the tip of the cigarette and it fell to the floor without a sound.
“Probably weren’t thinking at all. That duck was their fucking friend, Sunset. If you can even remember what those are. They weren’t considering our investigation. Rachel said they wanted to give the poor thing a Viking funeral.”
“I thought a Viking funeral involved a . . . a god damn boat or something. And water, for shit’s sake. Something about material possessions. Creeping Christ, man, that ain’t no fucking Viking funeral I’ve ever heard of. That’s a pyre—no two ways about it.”
“She called it a Viking funeral. Take it up with her, man.”
Steam began rising out of the little red kettle’s spout and in seconds it was shrieking like a mutilated dolphin. I took it off the burner and set it aside. No need to alert the neighbors that we were making tea, I thought. The stupid motherfuckers didn’t deserve any. They still owed me money. And even if they didn’t. . . .
“We got any of that peppermint left over?” said Sunset. “I love that stuff. Reminds me of . . . home.” He looked glassy-eyed and I knew he was thinking about some empty-headed bimbo from back east. Probably giving her a how-do-you-do inside his own twisted fucking brain. I gagged.
“Sure. You want a cup?”
“Well, I don’t know what else I’d do with myself.” He put his hands on his hips, arms akimbo, and stared longingly at a cat turd half-hidden beneath the refrigerator.
I poured my partner a cup of the minty sauce and had green for myself. I felt I needed those antioxidants. I needed to kill those free radicals swimming around inside me. Cancer and all that. I almost threw up thinking about how funny that was. Jesus, we were all going to die from cancer, weren’t we? We are cancer, I told myself. Each and every one of us. In ten years’ time there were going to be mushroom clouds blooming over every major city on earth. The moon would split in half over flaming oceans. Children screaming for their dead mothers . . . caverns full of shrieking lunatics. Better have a fucking cup of tea, huh, Midnight?
By now I was sure that my mind was submerged in the dark and spooky stuff. I felt aware of every function in my body and knew the Terror was going through me now. I laughed a little, thinking about how far those stupid little bits of paper had come—through Texas and New Mexico and Arizona and into the mouths of two of the biggest losers in California, which was saying a whole lot. Quickly I smoothed out my smile. A fucking duck is dead, I reminded myself. This is no time for foolishness.
“Hey, Midnight,” said my partner, who was now hunched over on all fours, flicking the cat shit with childlike curiosity. “When are we going to question these girls? I mean, do they suspect foul play? Any angry ex-boyfriends? Enemies?”
“Not these girls,” I said. I took a sip of my tea and let it scald the inside of my mouth. At least that’s what I imagined was happening, because I felt nothing. All pain had gone from me. “These girls are too sweet to make enemies. Jesus, Sunset, you know that.”
“Not even the little one? She’s feisty. Probably made a couple of enemies over at the Farm.” He was talking about the donut shop where she worked.
Satan, Satan, Satan. You poor, miserable fuck. You ego slave. You prince of flames. You sultry fucking stallion. Get your head out of your ass and apologize to the Almighty. Or it’s into the pit forever and ever. For you and I both. For us all.
I pictured myself with grey hair at the temples and drooping features and flesh as pale as the moon. Standing there at my mother’s grave on some snowy morning while sawdust poured out of my mouth. While my dick turned soft and stayed that way for-ever. While I circled the drain, laughing hysterically all the way down. . . .
“Midnight!” snapped Sunset. “I need to know if this girl has attracted any enemies!” I looked up and saw him scribbling madly in a little notebook he had pulled out from god knows where. Probably his asshole, I thought.
“She’s got a fucking name, you know,” I said. “Rachel isn’t just some broad from downtown with fake tits and bad hair. All right? Hell, call the rest of the chicks walking this fucking planet whatever you want. But this one’s got a name.”
“Sorry, friend.” Sunset looked ashamed, standing there, barely alive and still writing on that pad of paper. I glanced over and noticed he had been drawing Mickey Mouse jerking himself off over and over. He must have drawn a dozen or so jerking off Mickey Mouses in the span of maybe thirty seconds. God, I thought, the nightmare has truly begun. “You still feel something for her, don’t yo—”
“You’d better tread softly, you fucking nut-hugger. Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
“Um.” He began to sweat more than usual and I saw his pupils widen and swirl around like a flushed toilet. Then: “So, um, we’ve got no body,” he said, looking pathetic. “Any blood?”
“That fucker who lives in the basement already hosed off the crime scene. Probably after he’d taken his morning dump. Apparently Rachel kept the head, though.”
“Damn thing’s head was snapped clean off.”
“Snapped, chewed, bitten—whatever. I haven’t seen the fucking thing yet, Sunset. And neither have you. All I can do is speculate.” I took another sip of my tea and pictured a pair of long, ghostly legs wrapped around my back belonging to an unseen woman, who was whispering to me in the darkness, “You’re wonderful, I want you, I’m glad you are mine. . . .”
“Maybe we’d better get over there. Do what we can. That sort of thing. Pretty fucking weird that he hosed off the crime scene, though. I wanna know about that.” He threw the pad on the ground and started doing pull-ups while I poured the last bit of tea into my mouth-hole. As the fluid raced down my throat-tube, I thought that it would be nice if I could feel its warmth. But of course the tea was like everything else in my starless, pitch-black world: a whisper of some long-gone thing—a phantom of a memory whose shape had withered in my brain. I had enjoyed tea, once, I thought. I was sure of that when I could be sure of so little else. But that was back when she still loved me. Still wanted to be around me. Still thought I was anything other than a putrified bag of garbage with a human face painted on the side.
Had it been over two years? Jesus. The last time I ever saw her, she’d dropped the big “L” word and said something about how strange the sky looked. And I stood there, hands thrust in my jacket, thinking that I wanted to be somewhere dark and warm and silent. Maybe back in the womb. Any womb. When she had put her arms around my neck I could barely process the sensation. It was so faint, yet there was an eternity of loneliness behind it that I knew would never go away from her as long as she lived. She loved me when she ought to have stayed away. And I had failed to be that thing that for so long she had dreamed of throwing herself into. Instead I had thrown her off a cliff.
Christ had died on Calvary all those years ago for what, exactly? For a hundred billion souls to rip each other to shreds because of faulty wiring? Because of manufacturing defects? We were lost, all of us, and would be till the ghosts of Heaven raised us from our graves and tossed us into that screaming lake of fire down below. And as the flames consumed us sinners forever and ever, I would drop to my bloody knees with cupped hands, thinking about the heart I had once held there for a moment too long, feeling nothing. And she, innocent of even the smallest sin, would be at the right hand of the Father, her mind wiped of all blight and chaos . . . and along with it my face and any memory of the terrible darkness that had poured out of it so long ago.
My partner roped me back into the Here and Now: “How’s the husband holding up?”
“The husband. . . .”
“Yeah. The duck had a husband, didn’t she?”
“Oh. Frolf. God, yeah. Poor Frolf.” I wiped at the tear burns with the sleeve of my cardigan and my face swelled with redness.
Ducks were monogamous, weren’t they? I thought.
I was watching my damaged childhood play out on the wall and thinking about duck relationships. I decided they were monogamous. Probably read it somewhere a long time ago. Science class, maybe. Skipping ahead in the textbook while the rest of the drones kept their heads down and did what they were told—that invisible spiraling dick of authority drilling inward and staying there. I had been immune. And I had been free. Terribly, terribly fucking free.
Ducks are monogamous.
Shit, maybe it wasn’t true, I thought. I couldn’t be sure of anything just then. I forgot what my own face looked like. But I reckoned that, monogamous or not, Frolf was devastated. Or just terrified out of his duck brain. The sex, at the very least, was over. He must have noticed that much. We all notice when the sex is gone. Hell, maybe he had seen the villain at work (at play?). It was more real to him than it was to anyone else. His lifelong lover taken from him in the night. One minute she was waddling around the yard, happy as a cockroach on a fucking hot July night—and then a squawk and a gurgle and it all goes black.
“And the deceased? What was her name? God, you know I can never remember the names. It helps me, I think, to scrub their names and faces from my brain. I wouldn’t be able to sleep otherwise.”
“You barely sleep as it is, Detective Sunset.” I didn’t look at his stupid face when I said this.
“And I’m grateful for what little I get.” Sunset bent down and picked up his broken cigarette off the floor. He fumbled around in his pocket and took out a lighter—the one with the topless Hawaiian girl on it. I watched her large breasts sway under the blue Christmas lights and suppressed some base animal instinct to grab the thing and toss it down the garbage disposal where it could never be seen again. Grind those tits into sand . . . send them into oblivion with a note that says ‘Thanks anyway’. . . .
“Her name was Hili,” I said. “Yes, that’s what they called her.” Was. Called. I nearly vomited, thinking about the past tense—thinking about the once was.
“Hili. . . .” Sunset repeated the name with reverence, like a prayer. The four-letter word floated out of his mouth and hung there for a moment. I could see it shining plain. I wanted to reach out and grab it. I wanted to bring that duck back to life. All that was left was her name.
I pictured Rachel curled up on that stained mattress on the floor, cradling Wica, her little white cat with the blue eyes and the beautifully weird face. An angel cradling an angel. The two of them probably terrified of what came next. Would the killer strike again? You think you’re safe until you’re not. God—what a miserable fucking place this is, where the savages roam free after the sun dips below the Pacific, taking the light and warmth of this world with it. . . .
“Straighten your god damn tie, Sunset. We’ve got a bloodbath on our hands and I want this fucker caught tonight.” I slicked my greasy hair back and put on my A’s cap. My partner may or may not have collected his eyeballs off the floor and nodded in affirmation. We kicked open the front door of our ramshackle office and flew into the godless night feeling each of us haunted and alone.
• • •
The streets of Oakland were cruel and rain-slicked and peppered with spent shotgun shells and sun-baked condoms. I smelled blood in the gutters and the yellow miasma of hate stunk up whatever space was left over to stink up.
We headed north, twisting the heavily-armored DOOMSMOBILE under the dancing streetlights like the bad, crazy mammals we were. I turned to my partner and said, “Haaaaaa-eeeeeeee! Wooooop callllaaaaa-heeeeeee!” He was drooling all over the steering wheel and his pupils were empty black portals where light was consumed and converted into shame.
Looking back I saw the menacing lights of our forsaken city behind a fortress of swirling clouds and wondered what sort of slanted madness was going on under all that mist and rain. There had to be a dead kid somewhere in there. Always was. Not a single night had passed since we’d gotten into town that I hadn’t heard about some hopeful innocent getting snuffed out for no good reason. And hell, if it hadn’t already happened, the darkness would probably claim a couple of desperate women no one would miss. What a shame, I thought. What a fucking carnival of sin we’ve created for ourselves. Let’s have a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen, for all the senseless pain and darkness we’ve unleashed upon this blighted world. I only hoped it would all be over soon. Let the plants and animals take it back. Let them crawl over the empty highways. Let them climb the crumbling skyscrapers. Let flowers poke through the countless mountains of yellowing human bones. . . .
“It’s just up ahead, isn’t it?” Sunset was puffing away on another rolled stick of the heavy stuff and hanging his arm out the driver’s side of the DOOMSMOBILE. The damn thing was falling apart—smoke rising from the hood, the wheels wobbling like a couple of waterlogged dildos. I sat in the passenger seat of that thing night after night just waiting for it to explode and burn the flesh off my bones. What a night that would be, I thought. What a god dang roast.
“Make the next right, and for god’s sake be quick about it. I’m about to lose my fucking lunch.” Upon saying this I realized there was absolutely nothing in my stomach other than eight fluid ounces of tea, half of a gnome-shaped candle that I had earlier mistaken for a block of cheese, and trace amounts of my own urine.
“Shit, I can’t see a fucking thing out this windshield.” It was true: the glass was still covered in a thick layer of calcified maple syrup from the week before when we’d crashed the Oakland Fire Department’s annual pancake dinner. My partner, drunk off his ass on Early Times, had, while flopping pancakes onto a paper plate, collectively referred to the firefighters as “flimsy shit-stuffers”. These flimsy shit-stuffers, in turn, racked him in the groin with the wooden handle of an axe, insulted his penmanship, and lit part of his mustache on fire. I of course was curled up in the backseat of the DOOMSMOBILE thinking that I would probably never have sex again when the firefighters, all twelve of them, beefed up and hamburger-ly, emerged from the station and threw Sunset onto the windshield. The impact knocked him out. As he dozed in the netherland of dreamlessness, they coated him in fifteen gallons of maple syrup. We hadn’t even been invited.
“There it is,” I said, pointing to a yellow shack next to an abandoned warehouse. “There’s the Pineapple House.” I had taken off my hat and rolled down the window and was letting the bitter wind whip my oily head-tendrils hither and tither. The moon was hanging way the hell up there in the sky and for a moment I convinced myself that its ghostly light gave me power. Liquid pooled in my mouth, having bubbled up from some deep place inside me, and I thought that it tasted harsh and sad. I was probably wrong about the moon, I thought. It, like everything else, was probably out to kill me.
As we pulled up Sunset flipped on the side spotlight and scanned the house and surrounding sidewalks. He squinted his eyes and burped and flipped the light off. “Looks clean as far as I can tell.” He took out a bag of tobacco from his breast pocket and slid the car into a tight spot on the curb, steering with his knees while he rolled another one of those fat daddies that made him feel so good.
“God damn it,” I said. I was retching. I took a half-crushed banana out of my back pocket, jerked the peel off with two hands, and tossed it into my mouth. My constitution was soupy and unstable just then and I needed a greased-up tube-like thing sliding down my dick-holster to make the dizziness go away. Bananas, I knew, always did the trick. Let Freud analyze that from hell, I thought. Let him figure out just what the fuck any of that meant. I sure as hell wasn’t going to bother.
We got out of the DOOMSMOBILE and Sunset slid across the hood to get to the sidewalk but was stopped halfway when his wool coat was seized in a gooey pool of maple syrup. We were both in a bad way, not looking at each other and grunting and breathing heavily like sex-starved mules and a small part of me wished he was dead. Sunset lay there for a moment, glued down to his own misery. A pale and silent moment passed and finally he grabbed at his jacket and ripped it from the hood with a deft motion. Part of the inner lining tore off and remained stuck there. The shredded strips of fabric were caught up in a blustery gust and to this Sunset spat on the ground and farted and mumbled something about a fondness for nipples.
I ascended the rotted-out stairs leading to the Pineapple House, stomping on the leaves collected there just to hear the sound and pushed the buzzer with a hand that was now mysteriously bleeding. A terrible mechanical grinding emanated from inside the house and I figured that maybe the girls had rigged it up that way but for the life of me I couldn’t understand why. I thought that I would rather listen to a dumpster full of pregnant gophers get steamrolled than hear that horrid noise ever again. I shrugged. Whatever suited them, I thought. They were into weird shit anyway.
A small oval face appeared in the window beside the door and gazed at me from behind a thin curtain. It was Rachel. My heart seized up and I felt my nads shrink up like a couple of pickled horse turds. She darted away and I heard the deadbolt turn and the door swung open. Rachel stood there in her gypsy grandma shawl, watching me with black eyes. Her little white cat was slung over her shoulder and I could tell she had been crying.
“You’re late,” said Rachel. I thought about touching her but figured she’d probably turn to dust if she didn’t bite my fingers off first.
“Yeah. Uhhhh. Sorry about that. Sunset and I got caught up at the office.” I pointed to my partner, who was now squatting over an open sewer with his pants at his ankles, taking a mean, no-nonsense dump. “Things have been a little hectic, to say the least. Lots of. . . . Yeah. Lots of murders.”
“What kind of murders?” she said mockingly. God, it had been years since I’d heard that woman enunciate a sentence in such a way that communicated how much she wanted to stomp my chest cavity into hamburger—extra mayo and hold the god damn pickles.
“Bad ones. Real bad ones. God, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” I looked down at my mud-smeared boots and thrust my hands into my pockets like a greased-up slimeball. “Plus at one point we put on the Blade Runner soundtrack and it got pretty emotional over there. Which is to say we cried together for a considerably large part of the evening.”
“Well, it’s been pretty fucking emotional over here,” said Rachel. She stomped her tiny foot down and I got hard real quick. I looked up to meet her gaze. She scowled and spit in my face. “Come in when you’re done jerking off on the porch.” With that she spun around and dashed into the living room. I watched the outline of her child-sized frame as it shrank into the warm glow of the house, its light flooding out into the bitter darkness where I stood. All I could do was shiver and furtively massage my own left buttock with a free hand to help soothe the weariness inside me. An indifferent man in an indifferent world. At least they haven’t taken away my fucking butt yet, I thought. No, they’d have to fight me for that.
“Sunset! Get your ass up here!” I tucked my blood-stained shirt into my pants and sighed. “Just make sure you fuckin’ wipe it first.” My partner was still squirt-plopping some black magic into the oozing sewers below. He had his clenched fists on his hips and was really chicken-winging those babies out. Giving those reptilian tunnel-scutt’lers a taste of their own fucking medicine.
“You got any paper?”
“Paper?” I repeated the word incredulously. “Are you asking me if I have toilet paper on my person?”
“Yeah.” A cyclist swerved to avoid colliding into him.
I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a thick paperback. “Shit, man, all I’ve got is the Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats.”
“Toss it over.”
“Just—if you can, try to avoid using ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’ I like that one. And that’s saying something, because you know I don’t like anything.” I threw the book in his direction and he caught it with one hand. Immediately he began flipping through it like a man will when he’s got half a pool noodle made out of yesterday’s dinner hanging out of his launch-hole.
“This book is nearly six hundred pages long, dude.”
“So . . . what I’m saying is, how the hell did you appraise this as a dump that would possibly require that much paper? Hell, I can easily maneuver around tarnishing your precious bird poem.”
I looked at Rachel, who was glowering at me. You couldn’t find eyes burning as hot as those in the deepest hallways of hell, I thought. I spun my head around and concentrated on my partner again. “Sunset, you nut-slinger, will you hurry this up already? It’s thirty fucking degrees out here and we’ve got to get this show on the road.” This human-shaped turd of a partner of mine was probably shitting out icicles at this point, I thought.
Sunset was still slowly leafing through the book. He stopped on a page midway through. “Looks like this cocksucker wrote a poem to Lord Byron.”
“‘Byron! how sweetly sad thy melody!
Attuning still the soul to tenderness,
As if soft Pity, with unusual stress. . . .'”
“Yeah, all right. Now send it home.”
Sunset ripped the poem from the book and smeared it under his ass. “Fuckin’ Byron, man. He’d probably prefer it this way.”
• • •
Rachel lead us inside where I found most of the household sitting there on that old piece of shit futon with an unnerving vacancy about them. They were empty-headed and their eyes were carved out of obsidian . . . almost as if frozen in time. It had been a while since I had seen that futon or any of those fucking people. Surely the stains were still there, soaked into the fabric for all eternity. During our various flings and affairs over the years, Rachel and I had been downright sloppy with the living room furniture—and really every interior surface of that house. I felt a little sad knowing that the futon had suffered the most. God only knew exactly how many millions of my shriveled-up children were being warmed by the butts of those shattered people at that very moment in time.
Amanda was wrapped in a wool blanket, rocking back and forth and mumbling to herself. She didn’t look up at me. I slid across the room and got close but kept my hands in my pockets. Better not frighten the poor girl, I thought. She probably didn’t even realize my crotch was hovering inches from her face. And then the tears started falling for what I assumed were unrelated reasons.
“Sunset,” I said, not looking back.
“Whatcha got, chief?”
“Take a smoke break, my friend.”
“This broad all right?”
“This broad is a fuckin’ trip to the moon and back away from all right. Hell, if her face wasn’t leaking I would have told you she’s borderline catatonic.” Amanda crying her eyes out—now there was something I hadn’t seen since that horrible day years ago. . . .
“Shit, man.” I could hear Sunset jingling his keys in his pocket—a nervous tick of his I knew all too well.
“She’s been like this all day,” said Rachel, scratching Wica’s little cat head. “Ever since it happened, that is.”
“And what time did it happen?” I said.
“Ian alerted us around 11 A.M.” Ian—yes. He washed dishes a few days a week at the little restaurant down the street. I’d seen his dick once at a mud-wrestling tournament in the backyard of the Pineapple House and was none too impressed. It hooked left and had a mean energy to it. Some voodoo shit, probably. Cursed, maybe. Nothing good.
“And so Ian was first to discover the body?” I rubbed the stubble on my chin with the palm of my left hand. My right hand was gripping the handle of the Beretta slung up under my denim jacket.
“Yes,” said Amanda. Her face was as red as a baboon’s hot fucking ass and all I could think about was bending down to kiss her on that cheek of hers. Hell, maybe both cheeks. The tears really started coming down and she became animated in ways that frightened me. “Oh god—oh god oh god oh god! Hili! My Hili! My duck is dead and she’s never coming back!”
“Still want me to take that smoke break, boss?” I looked back and saw that Sunset was tense as hell and I knew it wasn’t just the awful stuff in his system making him feel that way.
“I’m going to have my partner here check out the back,” I said to Rachel. “Who’s out there, anyway?”
“Ian’s downstairs. Dunno what he’s doing. Just Frolf and the rabbit are running around. Maybe Ghul.”
“Ghul?” said Sunset, rolling a smoke. “Who’s this motherfucker? Nobody told me ’bout no Ghul.”
“My fucking cat,” said Rachel. “I have two, you know.” Her eyebrows got all crooked and slanty and I couldn’t help but want to flip the couch over and get wild with her just then, like in the old days. . . .
I motioned with a jerk of my neck for Sunset to head to the back yard and he gave me a look like what a fuckin’ bitch. I reprimanded him by narrowing my eyes. Nodding somberly, he stumbled through the living room in his muddy shoes, kicked the screen door open, and fell down the stairs leading out back. The door swung back on its rusty spring and slammed shut.
“I don’t like him,” said Rachel. “He seems insensitive. And oafish. And he shit on my street without permission.”
“He just ain’t been doing this as long as I have is all. He’ll come around.”
“Pffft!” Rachel spat and a huge wad of salvia and god-knows-what-else splattered on the ground. I respected the gesture. It takes a special kind of human, I thought, to be able to warm my heart in such a strange way. Only Rachel had the touch. I couldn’t help but wish we were still together. I had a vision of those years compacted into an orb the size of a clementine and missed all the many hundreds of incidents when she had spit into my eyes, and into my ears, and down into my throat. I thought, if you offered me the choice between a pizza with the circumference of a bicycle tire or a pitcher of Rachel’s lukewarm saliva—hell, I would take the pitcher any day of the fucking week, no contest. God, did I still love this person?
“Well, I think the sun needs to set a little faster, if you know what I mean,” said Rachel, arms akimbo. The cat was dangling from her shoulder like a sack of tasty grapes.
“Midnight,” said Amanda, wiping her face with the blanket.
“When’s the sun coming up for you?”
“It ain’t never coming up again, baby girl.”
I didn’t want to lie to her: “Never. It’s darkness from here on out. For me, anyway.”
“I want to see the sun again. I want to run into it and take its light inside me. I don’t ever want to see the darkness again.”
I checked my pocket watch. “You’ve only got eight hours to go, my precious angel. And then you run into that sun. And you take in all the light you can.”
“Will you come with me?”
“I’m gonna have to sit this one out, darling. But you get enough light in you for all us sinners too, you hear?”
Amanda extended her arm and clawed at the herringbone pattern on my pants. It made a weird little noise that affected me in ways I couldn’t have possibly predicted. Jesus, lady, I thought. You’re going to make some man very happy one day. And it ain’t gonna be me. I knew she was too delicate for my poison. I’d rot her insides. I’d stomp out her heart, just like all the others. Only Rachel had been able to withstand the heat. The rest were casualties . . . ghosts of a sad and forgotten time. . . .
Looking down at her, I lifted her chin with a death-pale index finger and gazed into the boundless tomorrow in her eyes. God damn it, Midnight, you tyrant-king. Maybe if you just cleaned yourself up, quit the business, quit drinking . . . maybe then—
No. No. There was no sunrise. Remember? Never would be. For you it would always be the middle of the night. Keep your shit together, you fucking rat bastard. Dead duck. Had you forgotten, you son of a bitch? Dead duck.
Rachel marched over to where I was standing and slapped my arm away from Amanda. She tossed Wica onto my face and kneed me in the testicles. The little cat ravaged me while Rachel alternated stomping on both my feet. Even through my thick boots, the pain was real and immediate.
“For god’s sake—” I plucked Wica off my body and held her there in midair. With my other hand I grasped Rachel’s head, all five of my fingers covering her entire face like a sci-fi spider, and slid her body several inches away until she could do no more harm. “Relax, lady! Relax!” I handed over the cat.
“I thought you came here to solve this case, you asshole! Not fart around in my living room and play sexy games with my roommate! Who you cheated on me with, last time I fucking checked!”
“Right in front of my fucking face, no less! We have a history!”
I took a soiled handkerchief out of my breast pocket and dabbed the bloody wounds on my neck and forehead. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I said, “Rachie, you gotta understand—”
“Don’t call me fucking Rachie, you dickhole. You don’t get to call me that anymore. A duck is dead, Midnight. My duck. And the only reason I called you is because you’re the best there is in this game. And just to be clear, that is all you are the best at. You’re a worthless pile of vampire shit otherwise. You are a scum-sucking jerkoff dickweed and I hate your idiot heart. Why don’t you just face the facts: you’re going to be jerking off alone on the moon forever. Now get your bony ass to the back yard and figure out who killed my baby before I rip your stupid pale nuts off your stupid pale body.”
• • •
I found Detective Sunset crouching by the little basil garden growing along the eastern wall. He had out his little pad of paper and was talking in a low voice. I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying but I knew it sounded serious. I looked around and found no one. Who was this asshole conversing with?
“Shit, man, you look ridiculous,” I said. “You took a dump not ten minutes ago. Rise to your fucking feet and give me a hand with this investigation, why don’t you?”
“Shh.” He kept mumbling to the shadows—to nothing at all. It was then I spied a small grey rabbit half-concealed behind a particularly tall basil stalk. Aha. Sunset was interviewing the rabbit.
Crouching softly beside him, I said, “Sunset, what’s he telling you?”
“She. Bananas here says she heard screams early this morning—before the sun even had a chance to come up. Whoever killed Hili did it like a dirty fuckin’ dog.”
“Have we ruled out that this heinous act could have actually been perpetrated by a dirty dog?”
“No. But according to Bananas, the killer was a silent one. A real cutthroat, if you’ll excuse my phrasing, being that it’s literal. Dog wouldn’t have come in here all ghost-like. Would’ve made a hell of a ruckus. That’s my thinking, anyway.”
“Damn. Well. What else has this old girl got for us?”
“She says it was quick and clean. A few shriek-yelps, the sound of gurgling blood, and then next thing she knew, the duck known as Hili was telling her sad tale to Saint Peter. Damn shame. At least she went quickly.”
Quick and clean, huh. More like quick and mean. I took out my piece and held it there in my right hand. Needed to feel the weight of my old friend. When the excrement hits the fan, a man needs a solid object to wrap his fingers around to remind him that the world—this dark and strange place where we dwell, whether we want to or not—is as real as we can perceive it to be. And if something spooky shows up, he can shoot it in the face.
My mind was spinning like a plate of glazed sausages in a Siberian horse race and I felt the neurons in my brain slow and freeze up. Monsters roaming the night . . . Jesus, what else was new. It’s a sad thing when a blameless creature gives up the ghost, but this was personal. This was Hili the duck. I’d helped raise the poor girl, all those years ago. With Rachel. Our little duckling. And I knew that Hili had no enemies, knew that Hili had done no wrong—not to nobody in her whole damn life. I felt a golfball-sized clump of sorrow well up in my throat and descend like a flaming elevator into the darkest reaches of my balls.
High-ligh. It was a nice name. Too bad I no longer had a thing to anchor it to. Just letters now. Just syllables. A fucking vaporous song that no one would ever sing again.
Rachel was standing at the top of the stairs connected to the house when I turned around, all wrapped up in that shawl I had made for her one snowy Christmas Eve, back when I still felt things and loved people. It had worn some since then but she looked good and I thought that maybe I wanted to throw it to the ground and rip my clothes off in one frenzied motion and just go at it right there under the moonlight with Sunset and Frolf and Bananas and whoever else watching. Hell, we could get down and sloppy right there on those blood-stained bricks I had neglected to pay much attention to earlier. Let’s get this crime scene greasy and crusty and fat with ooze—mix our fingerprints and footsteps with the killer’s and destroy crucial evidence with our grinding and wailing. God, let’s.
“Find any clues?” said Rachel.
“I’m looking right at one,” I said, watching Rachel with a gaze that could have been carved out of Mount Everest. I could barely contain myself. The crotch of my pants was about to blow out.
“Um. No. We’re still looking around.”
“Still dicking around,” she said, flapping her shawl menacingly.
Rachel descended the stairs and approached me by the ping pong table where I was readying a missile launch in my pants. “I took these this morning.” She held out a manila envelope. I snatched it from her with the speed of an Olympic athlete on vacation and ripped it open. Inside were five black and white photos of Hili’s corpse in various states of mangled repose. Some of them were of her on fire and others—taken earlier, I reckoned—were of her ripped open on the sidewalk, head placed neatly beside her headless corpse. Feathers stained with that dark red stuff I had seen so much of in my long and storied career. A hole in her chest and some ugly, ragged thing dangling out of it, slopped in more of that life-soup that races through each and every one of God’s beloved mistakes. . . .
I groaned. “She’s really gone, huh. Look at that fucking hole. You could fit . . . three, maybe four Oreos in there. Shit, I’m willing to bet a grizzly bear did this. This is California, after all. There’s a bear right there on the flag.” I stroked my chin with two icy fingers.
“Are you fucking retarded?” Rachel snatched the pictures from my hand, which was now quivering like pudding. “Look at how surgical this shit is. Whoever or whatever did this was a pro.”
“A pro with small hands. Or claws. Hmm, yes. I supposed we can rule out the bear family.” I tapped my foot nervously. “Hell, maybe I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t know what the hell you were doing in bed either.”
Aghast, I delicately placed a hand on Rachel’s shoulder and damn near sprayed my pants off with a blast of baby batter. Then: “I never claimed I did.”
“Jesus, you two.” Sunset shook the rabbit’s front paw and rose to his feet. He dusted off his chinos and adjusted his cap. “Give it a rest. Midnight, I’m tired of hearing about your damaged exploits. And Rachel, you know I like you, but let’s keep this strictly professional. This is a serious investigation we have going on here.”
“Tell that to dicklick over here.” Rachel sucker-punched me, slamming her snack-sized fist just below my ribcage.
I dropped to one knee. “Oof. Li’l Rachie, calm yourself. I’m still recovering from the surgery.”
“What surgery?” Sunset looked concerned.
“God. You people don’t know a single fucking thing about me. I had a football removed from my stomach six weeks ago.” I stood up again. “Rachel, show Sunset the photographs.”
Sunset took them up in his filthy hands and gave them a once-over with a pair of wild eyes. “Jiminy freakin’ Christmas.” He whistled like a construction worker. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Dr. Josef Mengele climbed the fence and had a go at ol’ Hili with a butterfly knife.”
“Show a little tact, Sunset. Rachel is a quarter Jewish.”
Sunset lowered his eyes at Rachel. “Sorry,” he said. “Ani mitzta’eret.”
“Get a load of this entry wound,” I said, pointing to a mysterious hole in Hili’s left breast. “Looks like someone let baby Santa Claus out of the cockroach factory again.”
“Yeah.” Sunset squinted his eyes. “That or someone tossed a couple of flaming phonebooks into the Grand Canyon just to fuckin’ feel something for once.”
“Who are these nut-slingers?” A tall, bearded Italian man with gorgeous lips was coming out of the cellar door. He erected his skeleton to its full height and stood there looking hot and gooey. A cold wind swirled through the yard and gently lifted the bottom of his shirt, revealing a neatly-trimmed happy trail just below some nicely-defined abdominal muscles.
“These shit-stuffers are Detective Midnight and Detective Sunset. They’re the investigators I hired to find Hili’s killer.”
“It’s a pleasure, sir,” I said. I reached into my denim jacket and pulled out a business card. I handed it to the Italian and he plucked it from my grasp with a hand that looked like a baseball glove designed for a gorilla.
On the front, a matte charcoal background with fine cream lettering:
Private Investigator / Parapsychologist
(Killed a guy one time.)
He flipped it over to the back:
HOT JERK DETECTIVE AGENCY
Jerks on the job™
“Midnight, huh.” He looked about as unimpressed as I’d ever seen anyone look about anything. “So, who killed Hili?”
“That’s a good question,” said Sunset. “But I think I have a better one: Where were you between midnight and dawn?”
“The witching hour. . . .” I said to no one. Or maybe I didn’t say anything at all. I thought it. I knew that much. Or did I . . . ?
“I was asleep then. In the cellar. What’s this guy getting at, Rachel?”
“Sorry—we didn’t catch your name,” I said. “But I think it’s . . . Ian, right?”
“We met this time last year. Some Halloween thing. Rachel introduced us and you slapped me in the face.”
“Oh. Yeah. I remember you. You’re the guy with the jerkoff face. Used to date Rachel.”
“Date?” I said, looking at Rachel. “Is that what you tell people? That we dated?” I pointed a finger at Ian’s face. “I’ll have you know that the two of were married. Still are, actually, as far as the state of California is concerned.”
“Dude, I don’t give a fuck.” Ian put his hands in his pockets and leaned back like a man with nothing to prove—and maybe nothing to hide. “Just find Hili’s killer. We loved that duck.”
It seemed genuine enough, him saying that.
And then. . . .
O! Saints! of that place called Eternity! Rescue my soul from this dungeon of a body, whose thirst for carnal pleasure shall never be sated! I am trapped somewhere deep inside, clawing to be let out. Open me up, so that I might escape. . . .
No, I will burn for the things I’ve done. There is no “home” for me. No god, either. Just a never-ending day of darkness inside a pile of flesh that cannot be destroyed. Flesh that blisters and boils and burns until the big boss says, “Enough is enough!” Only he never says it. . . .
The women who have been goodly enough to love me have been fools, I thought. Beautiful, warm-blooded fools. And I was nothing more than a drain-circling, feel-nothing, crust-licking cockroach. With an expired PI license and a liver sick with rot. A Pop-Tart full of maggots. A bad joke whose punchline was a punch to the balls.
“Show them the container,” said Ian. “It’s important that they see the container.”
Rachel swung her shawl open and reached into a little leather pouch dangling from her shoulder. She produced a sealed plastic container filled with rosy water. It looked ugly to me.
“What’ve we got here?” I said, stepping forward. Sunset slowly made is way over as well.
“Are you ready for this?” said Rachel.
“As ready as I was that day at the clinic,” I said.
“Hey—can we not bring that up?” said Sunset. “Let that fetus rest in peace, man.”
“Agreed,” said Rachel.
“That fetus had a name,” I said. “That fetus had a future. And, shit, are we really calling it a ‘fetus’? Weird, I always thought of it as ‘my son’.”
“Shut up!” said Rachel. She ripped the lid off the gruesome-looking container and tossed it like a frisbee. Grabbing my tie, she yanked me toward her and held the thing up to my face.
“I know that smell,” I said. “That’s death. The Grim Reaper’s cologne. What a foul, foul thing—that smell.”
“Look closer,” said Rachel. She held the death-bucket closer and grinned.
Inside I could make out a submerged duck head drifting sadly in its own murky fluids. It was a pitiful sight to behold. Fifteen years on the job and it still hadn’t gotten any easier, seeing the carnage . . . served up daily, hot and fresh, all you can eat. . . .
My face began twisting and bending like a couple of bullfrogs fucking under the noontime sun and I knew that I was starting to crack. The investigation was fucked.
“You seem awfully pleased to be holding that,” I said. I sneezed into my elbow.
“I just think it’s interesting, that’s all,” said Rachel, stowing the head in her pouch.
“Interesting, huh? You think this is interesting? You got me over here saying you were upset and that you felt you were in danger and then . . . smile while showing me this terrible thing? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I grew up on a farm, Midnight. I’m desensitized to this kind of shit. I remember slaughtering chickens with my mother and the two of us would just laugh our heads off. It makes it easier sometimes, you know? To just laugh about it. And anyway, I’m going to keep Hili’s head in here until the flesh comes clean off her skull and then turn it into jewelry.”
“Mother mercy,” said Sunset. “That ain’t no necklace I’d give to my grandma, that’s for damn sure. Sounds grim as hell.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” I said.
My ex-wife was going to be making jewelry out of her dead duck’s head. Her friend! I wondered if the thought had ever crossed her mind to turn my head into jewelry. Probably, yeah. Could have been my head floating around in there instead of poor Hili’s. What a world, I thought—what a crazy fuckin’ mixed-up turd-on-a-platter world. . . .
I glanced over and noticed that Sunset’s pupils were enormous and wild again. The barn door had been blown clean off, so to speak. You could have driven four eighteen-wheelers into those pupils—side-by-side, no less, with space to spare. . . .
“Ma’am, we really ought to have seen this earlier,” he said, struggling to maintain composure. So I wasn’t alone in going mad.
“Well, Detective Sunset, maybe I would have if you hadn’t taken so long to drop that A-bomb on Hiroshitma,” said Rachel, referring to Sunset’s record-breaking ten-pounder from earlier.
Damn. Harsh stuff. That tongue of hers . . . wrapped in barbed-wire and lord only knows what else. God. That tongue. I’d eat that tongue if she let me. Suck down its juices and really savor the meat. For hours, maybe. I felt my monster flare up again and I knew it wouldn’t be long till I was jerking off all over the yard. Maybe into that plastic container where Hili’s head was slowly decomposing. Alone on the moon, forever. How could I possibly stop myself? With that red-hot momma staring into my twisted, screaming eyes. . . .
Midnight! Wake up!
Don’t drive over your own shit. And I mean the stuff that didn’t fall into the sewer.
Sunset’s stink still hangs in the air. That’s what they’ll say. Yeah.
He has lost some elasticity to him recently, now that I think about it. And I know because I did as well, years ago. . . .
We both miss that damn girl.
T O T A L
A N N I H I L A T I O N
In an hour (what is an hour?) I would go on to say, “I feel no discomfort”. And Sunset would turn to me, a big-ass smile on his big-ass face, him saying, “That’s the most positive thing I’ve heard you say in years. Maybe ever.”
And me to him: “Yeah. What? Yeah.”
What a strange thing for an animal to build.
This football field—it was named after just another asshole who was afraid to die.
I know with certainty the darkness of this place. I know it. I KNOW IT.
The next woman I have sex with will probably be someone I have known for years. Someone I dislike so much it makes me sick.
I will recall the memory with sludge in my throat. I will recall the memory on the rooftop of a building where I do not belong. By the Pacific Ocean. At my father’s funeral. In the back of a car. In a diner off some terrible fucking Texas highway. In the arms of another empty woman who does not love me.
I am a rotting bag of meat held together with duct-tape and glue. My bones are wrapped in twine. My bones are wrapped in twine. My bones are wrapped in twine. Bones. Bones bones bones. Bones?
When they come for us . . . when the institutions fail . . . when countries crumble . . . all you’ll have is what is in your brain and what is on your back. Everything else is just a whisper of a promise.
Bank accounts. Possessions. Feelings.
Do you feel this, you motherfucker?
This place. This FUCKING PLACE. A diseased petri dish where no good thing grows. Memories of my own insanity. Memories of shame and memories of ghosts—
At the top of a 200-story skyscraper in a sprawling metropolis of doom, a sweaty billionaire readies fifteen plastic sex-bots for . . . for what? He puts them on their knees and they stare up at him with sad eyes. “Time for a tiiiiittttffuuuuccckkkk!”
it was always destined to fail.
I look around and think, “This isn’t sustainable. Progress has doomed us to hell.”
Frolf, I’m sorry for your loss.
I was sweating too much. They know something’s up.
Man, if anything, you weren’t sweating nearly enough.
I have seen my destiny and it is sorrow now and sorrow for-ever. Sorrow till the trumpet blares. Sorrow when the sun sets.
(The sun set long ago.)
I am aware of my skeleton. I can feel it. I am a skeleton wearing a costume.
More “mono”—less “mania.”
A thousand screaming birds
A thousand melting fish
Every moment of your life condensed into a buttplug made of snow—
(Don’t run over that squirrel. Be still be still. Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes. . . .)
Don’t do that! It hurts! It hurts!
Don’t touch me!
I f e e l n o d i s c o m f o r t .
I WILL FIND HER KILLER