Authors: Matthew Costello
Matthew J. Costello
A revised edition with a new introduction published by
This Edition Copyright 2010 Matthew J. Costello
Introduction Copyright 2010 Rick Hautala
* * *
To Rick Hautala,
Friend, writer, time traveler
* * *
Table of Contents
St. Jerry’s, 1965
A Midbook Reverie by Rick Hautala
* * *
Will Dunnigan woke up.
And for one terrible moment he didn’t remember ever falling asleep, didn’t know where he was, didn’t even know what the hell he could be doing here, inside this car —
It wasn’t his car.
He knew that.
Breathing the stale air, hearing the sounds outside. Horns honking through the streets, faint voices from somewhere behind him.
His own breathing.
Then — not a gift, but more like a curse — he remembered where he was.
And why he was here.
He looked at the dashboard clock.
Will watched the clock. He licked his lips.
It’s not too late, he thought. I’m not late. In fact, he thought with a weird satisfaction, I’m early. Even though I fell asleep, I’m early. Always did like being punctual.
I have lots of time now.
Will pushed his thinning, sandy-blond hair off his forehead. And he looked out the windshield, all steamed up by his breath. He rubbed his sweater sleeve through the dewy window, clearing a smeary arc.
So now he got a good look at the freak show. Right outside.
Right there, ladies and gentlemen.
And while he watched, he leaned over and checked that his door was locked, that all the car doors were locked, before he let himself just stare outside, safely sitting in the dark car.
He heard his breathing.
I’m breathing much too heavily, Will thought.
But then .
. who wouldn’t?
Will didn’t want to take his Toyota tonight. It wouldn’t be fair, he reasoned. No, not to leave Becca with both a missing car and a missing husband.
Not fair at all.
The car got the shopping done. It got the kids to their ballet classes, their piano lessons, soccer practice .
. the too-busy routine of suburbia, the stuff that constituted the good life.
All of it now light-years away, galaxies removed from here .
. and now.
Funny. What time can do.
Time and circumstances.
Will cleared another smear on the part of the windshield facing the passenger seat. Now he could see the street sign. He was parked just a bit back from the corner of 28th Street and Madison.
Nice neighborhood to live in, he thought. Real nice.
If you like crack dealers, and hookers, and homeless wraiths who shambled around as if they might discorporate in the blinking of an eye.
And then there were the horny cruisers who trolled these streets-so busy during the day and now abandoned to these new-age horrors-searching for a moderately cheap thrill. Some of them had kiddie seats in the back of their station wagons .
. model fathers.
Will saw a tall black girl standing across Madison Avenue, right in front of the bank.
It was as if she had materialized. She wore gigantic spike heels that raised her to true Amazonian heights. A tight leather skirt. Straight jet-black hair that had to be a wig. Her short half-jacket exposed a flat-as-a-board midriff that gobbled the silky white color of the tungsten streetlamps.
She saw him.
Sitting in the car.
Dirty little man, she probably thought.
Will looked away, but not quick enough.
The hooker crossed the street, moving toward him like-a lioness, flashing brilliant white teeth as if she were saying:
I could eat you right up, babe. In one quick gulp. No problem.
She hurried across, dodging a mad cab that flew right past her.
She walked up to the car, and then she paused. She looked up and down, checking for signs of John Law. Solicitation was still — officially — a crime in this city. It was still on the books.
. But after midnight, the blocks around here became a regular
, filled with sexual wonders and nightmares that had to be seen to be believed.
And Will guessed that those who sampled such pleasures weren’t too troubled by AIDS. Life’s too short .
The hooker stood right by his window. She smiled at him. Big, open —
The better to —
She tapped the window, signaling that he should roll it down and get the transaction going.
Will smiled back. _
An ineffectual grin that he hoped said, “No, I’m not shopping tonight .
He hoped she wouldn’t assume that he didn’t like her.
That she wasn’t to his taste. He didn’t want to get her mad.
She shouted through the glass.
“Hey, baby .
. wanna go out?”
A euphemism. Will shook his head, and smiled some more.
But the giantess leaned close to the window. She stuck out a long, dark tongue and made a licking motion with it. “C’mon, baby!” she said. “You’ll love it.”
Will couldn’t hold the smile on his face any longer. He shook his head and turned away.
The woman cursed at him. A fusillade of fuck-yous, then, storming away, teetering on her giant heels, she turned and delivered what she must have thought was the ultimate blow to some creep from the hinterlands of Westchester or Suffolk.
And when she turned and said that — with cars, and then a growling bus gliding past their intimate street scene — he saw something. Just below her chin. Bobbing up and down as she yelled at him.
An Adam’s apple.
A TV hooker, he thought. Or a pre-op transsexual, working her way through the college of hard knocks, saving her nickels and dimes for that big operation.
If the crack man doesn’t get it all.
have sticky fingers.
Will looked at his hands.
Gripping the steering wheel.
Holding on as if it were a life raft.
He shook his head, disgusted with himself.
What the hell am I doing? he wondered. If this little encounter rattles me, then, shit, what’s going to happen later?
What’s going to happen when I have to go out there?
It was cold, but he felt icy beads of sweat on his forehead.
going out there, he told himself.
And not just for that he/she hooker, not just for all the others, wandering around, blundering their way through the night, not knowing what the hell they were up against.
They don’t read papers.
No, not just for them. You know that.
It was more than that. Much more.
He let go of the steering-wheel heel.
Look, Ma, no hands.
He felt as if he might float away, that the roof of the rented Toyota would explode upward, and he’d be sucked out. Sorry, sir, this car wasn’t meant to cruise at ten thousand feet.
Again, he heard his breathing. He thought: I sound like a three-pack-a-day nicotine fiend, battling emphysema pneumonia.
Or maybe, maybe it’s just a goddamn death rattle.
He turned and looked in the backseat.
Will saw the black leather attaché .
. more like an old school bag. He leaned over his seat and pulled it to the front, onto the passenger seat. He stopped and checked the rearview mirror.
A few headlights, but nothing that looked like the outline of a police car.
Will opened the bag.
The bag’s buckle felt cold, and when it snapped open, a musty, ripe smell erupted from inside the bag. Old leather and a sweet food smell, a bit of apple, perhaps a sandwich .
. drying things, all leaving their imprint inside the bag.
He pulled out the book. It was on top.
Black. The leather was cracked. It felt heavy, leaden in his hands.
God, I’m so tired, he thought. If I could just get to a bed somewhere, just eight hours. Eight hours of real sleep. That’s all —
And then he felt for the other things.
The jar, clear, shining, catching the light. He wedged it into the crack of the seat. Then the yellow pad, filled with page after page of notes, suggestions.
And then — hard, metallic, and a bit more reassuring — the gun.
I’ve never fired a gun, he thought as he quickly took it out of the bag and slid it onto his lap. He let his hand stay closed around the handle. His finger touched the trigger — ever so gently. Just testing that it would, in fact, give when he pulled back.
It was, he was told, a .45-caliber pistol. The beefy sporting-goods guy who sold it to him said that it would punch a good-sized hole in someone.
“About the size of a baseball.” The man grinned. “Great for target shooting,” he added when Will looked up at him.
Will bought a box of bullets. There were twenty, maybe thirty shells. More than enough.
If they do anything at all.
But he felt better having the gun.
Then, at the bottom, he felt the last thing, wrapped in black velvet. His fingers traced the outline, feeling the bumps and curves, and the way the velvet caught at the calluses on his hands, the way it caught at his chewed fingernails.
He didn’t pull that out.
No. He smiled to himself. That would dispel some of its mystery, its power. Now, wouldn’t it?
it has any power.
And if it doesn’t?
I’ll die. And worse.
I’ll die painfully. It might last a few seconds, but it would seem as though it lasted forever. A lifetime of pain, terrible, horrible agony.
Forget the Inquisition. Forget the good old Spanish priests who really knew how to party. The fun guys who’d take a pregnant woman and stretch her on a spike-filled rack and then hoist her up by her ankles and let her fall to the concrete.