“No, I’m okay. This will be the fourth time it’s happened to you, though. You lose everything since that night. Is Vegas the last thing you remember?”
“I think it’s a side effect of the sauce. Come to my—well, you don’t know where my apartment is now, do you? Meet me at Dairy Queen.”
Jennifer came out and, much to my surprise, we kissed for several minutes. Ashtray.
I went out, took in the neat little white bungalow-style house and was a little relieved to find my familiar Hyundai in the drive.
I drove and found John sitting on a bench outside the restaurant, a brown DQ sack in his hand. I observed that he, too, had grown a thick goatee.
I said, “This sucks.”
“You say that every time.”
“Do I have to, like, work today? Where do I work?”
“Wally’s. You get Sundays off. This is Sunday, by the way. Come on.”
John walked me to a very nice motorcycle. He jumped on, slapped the seat behind him. I looked at it for a moment and then walked to my car, said, “I’ll follow you.”
As we walked down the hall to John’s new apartment he said, “It was a big deal, but not, you know, the real big deal. The story that came out was that five hundred people freaked out at a Marconi show, rushed the doors, one kid got killed in the stampede. That would be, you know, Jim.”
We stepped through the doors and I said, “One guy? What about the dozens of people who—”
I stopped, taken aback by John’s place. He had a brown leather couch, a matching armchair. He had a big-screen plasma TV sitting in the middle of the room; hooked to it were four video game systems, with game boxes littering the floor. A fairly nice DVD player, a one-hundred-disk CD changer in an entertainment center.
“John, are we crack dealers now?”
John opened a drawer on a writing desk and pulled out a big manila envelope. He extracted a bundle of papers, newspaper clippings, a couple of folded-up tabloids, a glossy magazine called Strange Days with a picture of a UFO on the front.
He said, “No. Nothing like that. Out in Vegas, we met a guy. He was a pimp. We made quite a bit of money as male whores. They used to call you Rocket Rimjob. You won the gold at the Greater Nevada Sodomy Olympics back in July, landed a bunch of endorsement deals. You own that house you and Jennifer live in. Paid cash, I think.”
He looked dead serious when he said this. I said, “Are you messing with me?”
“No. You really own that house. I made up the whoring thing, though. I like to add a little bit to it each time. Seriously, what happened is Molly won a bunch of money at the casinos.”
He pulled out a newspaper, a color “Lifestyles” section from the Las Vegas Sun, headline blaring “Dog Wins Quarter Million Playing Slots!” There was a picture of John with Molly in his arms, struggling to get away from him. He had his right hand out, making the shape of a finger gun and pointing at Molly, his mouth wide open in a drunken “that’s my dog!” expression. Jen and I were visible in the deep background, trying to hide our faces.
“The thing with the Marconi show, the panic, there was a big investigation and everything,” he said. “Cops thought he had slipped acid to everybody, freaked ’em out with a light show or something. Everybody called him a fraud; it was kind of crappy the way they treated him. But he came out okay. The death hasn’t come out as anything but an accident and all of a sudden his book is a bestseller, people desperate to get to his shows. You’ve, uh, tried to contact him a couple of times, but he won’t take the calls.”
It was coming back to me as he told it. Everything was hazy, drunk memories. He handed me the UFO magazine, pointed to a little header in the bottom left:
Legend of Fred Chu:
Is this dead youth haunting his Midwestern hometown?
One local man says “ABSOLUTELY”
There was a noise above me.
I looked up
My heart skipped a beat.
It was hanging off his ceiling on seven little pink hands. The ridiculous thing’s red wig was cockeyed on its head. It looked down at me, then let go and landed a few feet away with a soft thump.
“Oh, now you see it.” He stood, grabbed the Dairy Queen sack, pulled out a sausage-and-egg biscuit and unwrapped it. He set the sandwich on the floor. The thing picked it up with two hands and bit into it.
“When you came in that night, that first night when I called you, it was standing on the wall. You walked in and of course you saw nothin’ at all. And, you know, when I told you not to move or make a sound? The thing was on your back. It had jumped on you and you just stood there like nothin’.”
The wig monster turned about five eyes up to me as it ate. It paused in its chewing, vanished. The sandwich fell softly to the floor.
I said, “Did I spook it? I mean, does it still, like, attack us or anything?”
“No, not since that night. It bit right through my shoe that night, though. I had been kicking it at the time so I call it even.”
The beast reappeared, one arm wrapped around a thirty-two-ounce Coke. It had a wrapped straw in its beak. John pulled out the straw, unwrapped it and poked it into the cup lid for it. The wig monster sucked on the straw and picked up its sandwich again.
“So, can anybody else see it?”
“No. My mom came by last month and it was right in the middle of the floor. She didn’t acknowledge it at all. But get this: a week later she left her cat here because she was going on vacation and the cat could see it. It hissed at the thing the whole time. The monster would pick up wads of paper and stuff and throw it at him. The cat died the next day but it was unrelated.”
I said, “So the paper said we won a quarter-million dollars. What did I do with my share? I bought that house? Did I save any?”
“I dunno. We really don’t see each other that much now. This is actually the first time we’ve talked since, oh, probably August. You and Jennifer, you uh, don’t leave the house a whole lot.”
“Oh. I’m . . . sorry, I guess.”
“No. Trust me, you’re not.” He gestured toward the television. “Wanna play hockey?”
Arnie Thinks David Is Full of Shit
I STOPPED TALKING, only to notice Arnie Blondestone was staring at me in wide-eyed, silent horror. Not the kind of horror you feel when you find out the universe is full of real monsters, but the kind you feel when you realize someone else’s idiocy has just wasted your entire day. I glanced down at the tape recorder, saw that it had stopped long ago. Arnie rubbed his hands over his face like he was washing without water.
He looked at me and made a polite effort to hide his deep, pure disdain, but didn’t respond.
“Do you, uh, want something to eat? I’ll buy.”
“No thanks,” he said, twisting his face into a pained fake smile. “Let’s just wrap this up and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Now, just to clear a few things up, if you don’t mind. First of all, let’s confirm that that’s the little pill bottle there?”
“Oh. Yeah. It’s empty now.”
“Because you took the last of the, uh, the soy sauce before you came today.”
“So you don’t have any left to show me. Let me see the stuff crawl around on the table and all that.”
“Oh. No. I guess I should have saved some.”
“No problem. I mean, that would have been physical evidence to back up your whole story, but we won’t worry about that sort of thing.”
Asshole. I should cut that smirk off your face with my butter knife.
“And I guess you forgot to tell me that you took the pill bottle with you when you left the trailer? Because you have it now, but in your story you left it behind. You know, when your dog drove by in your car and picked you up. Hey, that would have been something else to show me, the car-driving dog.”
“I went back to Robert’s place afterward, found the pill bottle among the debris. Completely unburnt.”
“I can show you where the trailer was, by the way. I mean, there’s another trailer there now but if you look at the ground you can sort of see where something might have burned there once. We can drive out there.”
“Uh-huh. And what about the dozens of deaths from the dismembered fans at the Marconi thing? I’m surprised that wasn’t bigger news, a crowd of people disappearing like that.”
“There’s actually a very good reason for—”
“And you told me Jim hauled in a dolly of sound equipment to the Luxor, but later on there were two carts of equipment there.”
“Of everything that I told you, that’s the part you have trouble believing?”
“And in your story you kept losing track of how many people were with you. At some point you said something like, ‘The five of us and the dog piled into the car’ when it was only four of you at that point, by my count. You, your friend John, Big Jim and the girl, Lopez. But you probably got mixed up.”
“It’s hard to exp—”
“You were probably forgetting you had killed Fred already. Meaning Fred Chu, the guy whose head you blew off with a shotgun.”
I didn’t answer.
“So there really is a guy named Fred Chu and he’s really dead? I could look him up?”
“He’s missing. Officially.”
“Okay. So is there more story, or should I pack up? Do you have any documents you’d like to copy me on, like your tax returns from the year your dog won all the money at the casino? Which form does the IRS have you fill out for that?”
I took a deep breath, said, “Look, not every little single thing in the story is true, but the meat of it is. I swear it. I admit I get silly when—when the truth is hard to explain. It’s my way. But those people in the Luxor, they did disappear, Arnie. And I mean they totally disappeared. That guy with the beard who lost his wife? He came back later and said he had no wife and, you know what? He didn’t. He didn’t have a wife named ‘Becky’ and there was no ‘Becky’ at the show. They went down the guest list; everybody is accounted for.”