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Actions & Adventure
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Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
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Hidden Bodies 28
Forty gets off his ass and leaves the casino. He lost a lot of money but I walk through the casino a winner. I find my car in the garage and I text Love: Any word?
She writes back: Nothing. But he’s probably passed out in some hooker’s bed by now.
I write back: Don’t worry. I’ll find him. Things are gonna change. They are.
And it’s the truth. If anything, this trip to Vegas has opened my eyes to what it’s been like for Love all these years. She is back in LA texting him and here he is ignoring her, feeding her fear, eating away at her life. He’s a parasite, a user, and I think he enjoys torturing Love.
I can’t blame Ray and Dottie. No parents do everything right. No parents can control how they love their children. But this isn’t about blame. This is about the love of my life, the pain in her eyes, the weakness in her voice, the way she is choking on his silence. I can’t let him smother her anymore. I love her too much for that.
TWENTY minutes later Forty slips out of his cab and moseys to the back of this off-strip, derelict gas station. He’s wearing a stupid backpack, like a kid going to camp, expecting to see his counselor/dealer. I step out of my car and smile, especially at the security camera that hangs by a thread, decimated, cracked, the reason I chose this particular spot.
“Old Sport!” Only joy registers on his bloated face as he gallops toward me and throws his arms around me. His hug is too hard and he reeks.
“What are you doing here?” he yells.
“It’s a long story,” I say. “What are you doing here?”
“I was supposed to meet my dealer, but he didn’t show. Luckily I’m well equipped.” Forty shrugs and pats his backpack. “Does this mean . . . are you finally good with everything? Down to party?”
I nod even though I hate drugs, hate the way people get around them, the need that comes through.
“Fucking Goldberg!” he sings, and then he’s on about his Molly and his blow, his this and his that. He wipes his fat hair off his stretched face. “You know, I know we had some talks, some iffiness with the business, but that’s what it is, my friend. Business gets whack and shit happens and then what do you do? You smoke a little crack.”
He winks and slips into my car with his fucking backpack. “We need this,” he goes on. “I bet this is your first time in Vegas right? Professor Goes to Vegas! I love it!” His eyes narrow, curious. “Where’s my sis?”
“At home,” I say. “With your parents.”
“Nice,” he says. He cracks open a forty-ounce can of malt liquor. It pops and fizzes. “You relationship people, I don’t know how you do it.” He burps and beer dribbles down his chin. “You feel like you need to bring home the bacon and the big dick and make them babies and dance that dance and it’s like, fuck that. I answer to me and me alone. Fuck love.” He laughs. “You know what I mean. Not Love love. I love my sister. She’s my rock. Do you know how many times she texted me today?”
I count to two. It doesn’t help. “Did you write back to her?”
He shakes his head. “It’s that twin thing, she’s my rock. She knows I split sometimes. She gets me. You want a bump?”
“I’m good,” I say. I think about those situations, when women are pregnant with twins and the doctors have to go in and remove the fetus that is sucking the life out of the other. It’s the humane thing to do. Sometimes, one must die so that the other can live. Biology isn’t sentimental. None of Love’s other boyfriends had the balls to end Forty. But I do. I look at him, scrolling through his texts from her. He only feels loved when she’s a wreck, worried about him, consumed. Some people are strong enough to share a womb and a birthday. Love is. Forty isn’t.
“Check out the ass on that ass,” he says, pointing to a high school girl looking for the bathroom. “Should we take her with us?”
I want to kill him. Now. In this rental. I start the car. I can’t kill him here. I grip the wheel. He pounds the roof. The schoolgirl found the bathroom. She’s safe. We go. Silence only lasts for two lights and then he’s at it again.
“You and my sister are my fucking rock,” he says. “You take care of her or else, right? You know that, right? Like, you get that you are a dead man if you fuck her over?”
I clench the wheel tighter. “You’re a good brother.”
“I’m the best brother,” he says. “The motherfucking best.”
He pulls a little baggie out of his pocket and sniffs. I pull onto the freeway and he is so high that he doesn’t ask where we’re going. He only rants about how he’s never getting married and how he’s gonna live with me and Love and all the fun we’re gonna have. He’s sealing the deal on his death and the car hums and we are farther and farther from the bright lights, and there are fewer cars all the time. The inside of Forty’s mind is a grave place and it’s right next to me, soaking up the oxygen. He is the anti-Love and he confesses that he shops at Ralph’s.
“It’s fucking groceries,” he sneers. “It’s food. And you know what food is, Old Sport? It’s pre-shit. That’s all. It’s pre-shit and we need it to survive. And it used to be a fucking pain for the cavemen, right, my friend? I mean, you had to get out there with your club and whack at woolly mammoths and drag that shit home before the flies got all up in it and that’s why food was a fucking pain. But come on. It’s modern time. Food is fucking easy.”
He rubs his nose and shakes his head. “All you do is go in, you get your tacos, and you fucking eat. People like my parents, they want to act like it fucking matters so much, like what you eat for dinner is so interesting but it’s not! It’s fucking food! Just eat it and shit it and be done with it and don’t feel special cuz you eat that shit with someone because in the end we all shit alone! Who the fuck cares that you ate the pre-shit with someone if you shit alone, on a toilet, door closed, whammo!”
He snorts more cocaine. I could pull over and roll him out the door but he’s on so much blow right now that he would probably just turn into a roadrunner, catch up to me, and jump back in.
“I could eat a taco,” he says. “Fucking chomp right into that thing.”
He wants to call Love. I panic and my hand slips on the wheel. I sweat. I tell him we had sort of a fight.
“Then maybe we shan’t,” he says. He rolls down the window, all smiles, like a dog searching for fresh air. It’s telling, how his spirits lift the second he thinks I’m on the outs with Love. He doesn’t want me to be happy. He doesn’t want anyone to be happy. Especially Love.
He brags about his time in Vegas, one lie after another, twisting it all, a mile a minute, deranged, and we can’t get there fast enough but I can’t speed—the mug of piss—and he won’t stop talking about table minimums and hookers refusing to take his money. He doesn’t say one true thing for the entire journey through all this brown land, blue sky, and he’s so fucked up, so full of himself, verbally expunging, the loneliest man on earth.
I can’t tell you what a thing it is to see our first stop glimmering, tiny, in the distance, finally, the place where I can begin to kill him: the Clown Motel.
“There it is,” I interrupt him mid-rant about his host at the Monte Carlo.
He drums his backpack, happy dog. And he tells me he has been here before—he has been everywhere, I get it—but this is my first time and it’s the greatest thing I’ve seen in the west so far. It’s the Wild Wild West I wanted. The blue-and-white motel is decked out with clown signs, and the giant Nevada lettering above the building is straight out of a ghost town or a Tarantino movie: welcome to the clown motel. The lobby is supposed to be a tightly packed swarm of clown dolls from different eras, but I won’t get to see it because I’m going to murder Forty today, so I can’t very well go into the fucking lobby.
Forty is finally calm and his backpack is closed and he puts his baggie away. He checks himself in the mirror and he says this was a good call. “I love clowns,” he says, and of course he loves clowns. He’
s an imbecile, a clown himself, with his puffy red nose and his wild swath of dirty hair, his belly fat jiggling in his turquoise shorts; a nightmarish thing that frightens Love, haunting her, weighing her down, the thing that she’s supposed to love, the way the world initially instructs children to love clowns even though we all know deep down that they’re creepy, old, puffy men in masks leering at children.
“Hey, Forty,” I say. “You should look online to make sure they have rooms.”
“Old Sport, you and me are for sure shooting something here.” He sighs. “That will be aces. We could even call it Aces. Like Ocean’s Eleven but with Saw and the clowns are the victims and the bad guys are those fucking tourists, the fucking little boyfriend and girlfriend holding hands and shit.”
“Right,” I say. “So the clowns are the good guys.”
“Exactly,” he says. “The couple gets here and the girl is like I hate clowns and the doofus boyfriend is like I do too and they complain and then eventually, they get a machine gun and just spray the clowns.”
“Forty,” I snap. “Did you look to see if they have rooms?”
He ignores me. “You know,” he says. “Last time I was here, it was with Love and Michael Michael.”
I feign surprise, as if I didn’t already know this, as if we aren’t here because I know this. Love posted a #ThrowbackThursday photo a few months ago, harkening back to another era, when she did drugs and had a tongue piercing and eyeliner below her eyes, not above. The three of them came here on the way to Burning Man—God, am I glad I didn’t know her then. The comments told a story: Love and Forty and Michael Michael Motorcycle traveled here, lured in by the gigantic clown boards promising FREE WIFI and WELCOME BIKERS. Forty disappeared with the car. He showed up a month later. He didn’t apologize.
In minutes we are there. I pull into the parking lot and drive around to the back, the part of this tourist trap that I wanted to see most: the early American cemetery.
“Do you know what a travesty it is that we have no shrooms?” Forty asks. “You can’t be in this cemetery without shrooms.”
“Fuck, yes,” I lie. I park in the farthest corner. I don’t see any cameras but the mug of piss I left in Rhode Island is with me at times like this.
“Solid,” he says. “You know, Old Sport, I knew you had it in you, the cool.”
I offer him a hundred-dollar bill, my Vegas winnings. “If you use a credit card in there, your whole fam-damn-ily is gonna show up.”
“You think I’m an amateur?” He laughs and whips out a fake ID. “I’m Monty Baldwin, motherfucker! Get it? The lost Baldwin brother. Fuck yeah.”
And, of course, that would be Forty’s dream in life: to be a Baldwin brother, surrounded by brothers instead of Love. “This Baldwin will be back,” he says. He jogs toward the manger’s office, his backpack bouncing, and I remember that first night at Chateau when I wondered if he and Joaq Phoenix were buddies.
I get out of the car and walk into the cemetery. The sun beats down on me and the dead people are nothing but bones under the dirt. The causes of death are listed: suicide, gunshot, plague. The cause of Forty’s death will be me, but it won’t say that on his tombstone and I wonder how many of these stories are true.
There’s a shovel against the side of the motel. I wish I could bury him here, but there are too many people around: truck drivers, hippies with GoPro cameras, a family fighting over whether this is too much for the kids. I just need Forty to check in, to talk with the manager. I read about the manager online and he’s the kind of guy that remembers everyone. He will remember Monty Baldwin. He will confirm that he seemed on something. Even if he says Forty was talking with someone in the parking lot, I am unrecognizable in my baggy clothes and Colts jersey and rental car.
I trudge back to the car, keeping my head down. I take out five Percocets. I mash them down and dump them into a bottle of water I bought at the gas station. As I shake, Forty emerges from the manager’s office and returns to the car.
“Want to check out the hot springs?” I suggest when he slips into his seat. I Googled the springs when I was learning about the Clown Motel. It’s true. You really can kill people in the desert. “They sound pretty crazy.”
“Alkali,” he says. “Fuck, yes. I have some iowaska and oh, Old Sport, you haven’t lived until you get in that water and you just see shit. This is what we were missing.” He belts up. “Just straight-up road trip, writing all Kerouac and what’s the guy, the one with Johnny Depp, the one in Vegas with the backpack and the drugs and the sunglasses.”
Jesus fucking Christ. “Hunter S. Thompson.”
He claps. “Hunter S. Thompson.”
“Yeah,” I say, and I can’t get out of this parking lot fast enough. I hand him a bottle. “Here,” I say. “We gotta hydrate before we trip.”
He tears off the cap. He didn’t notice the broken seal. He gulps. “Old Sport,” he says. “I like the new you. Fuck all that shit in Hollywood and the family and the pressure and the nonsense. We’re artists, man. My sister isn’t. God bless her but she’s not, you know.”
He turns on the music, my Pitch Perfect pool mash-up. He laughs at me and says my horrible taste in music is proof of my creative genius. “This is it,” he says. “Freedom.”
I put the car in reverse. “Yeah,” I manage. “Freedom.”
He unzips his backpack and takes out a butter knife and dips the soft-edged blade into a bag of blow. He sniffs and this might be another Fincher occasion. I might not have to kill Forty. At this rate, he’ll do it to himself.
THE alkali springs are disgusting, just two brown holes in the desert, like something you’d see in Little House on the Prairie or some Charles Manson documentary. It’s disgusting in every way you can imagine. There’s a fucking Magnum condom on the ground nearby, used, crusty. The wrapper is here too, along with a can of Bud.
Forty swipes the can and sips—I might vomit—and he strips down and there’s blood on his shirt—somehow he managed to cut himself with his butter knife—and I turn away. I never wanted to see him naked but I did want to see him here, alone, in the middle of nowhere, near Area 51, nothingness filling the land for miles.
He screams and pounds his chest as he steps into the water. “There it is!” he cheers. “Fucking springs, baby! Woo!”
He drank the Percocet water on the way here and not only is he still alive, but he talked the entire car ride here. He’s not Henderson and apparently it takes a pharmacy to kill a pharmaceutically enhanced person like Forty. I hope I have enough.
Forty settles in and someone else’s ass was there and animals probably dip into this and people are foul. “Come on, Professor,” he calls, waving. “I know you’re all New York and shit but there’s nothing gay about getting into a spring with another dude.”
“Come on,” he says. “This is God’s hot tub. This is home, Old Sport. Get in here. Man up. Live up! Feel the fire! You get in here, this is how you make a movie. You let your mind go.”
He waves his arms at the blue blanket sky and howls. I sit down in the dirt. “You know,” I say. “There are just as many creative people out there who aren’t into this sort of thing. Woody Allen would never get into dirty hole of hot water.”
Forty laughs. “He’d fuck a tween though.” He smiles. “He’s an artist! We’re weird! Professor, you need to get your weird on. Stop being so safe. You think, you bear down, but do you ever just go for it? Honestly, you’re a great writer. But I think you’d be golden if you had the guts to get in it.”
This coming from a guy who sold my scripts in his name and I go back to the car to make him more Percocet water. Every time he does coke, he fights my downers. He’s making this so much harder than it has to be and we can’t stay here forever. I shake the bottle and offer it to him.
“I’m fine,” he says, waving me off. “Get in!”
It’s my turn to tell him I’m fine and he attempts to swim in his little hol
e, as if there’s room. It’s fitting that he will drown in two feet of water when his sister appointed herself a national advocate for water safety. I sip my water, no drugs.
“You sure you don’t want some?”
“Fuck, yes, I want a sip!”
His memory is eroding. I read about wet brain. Maybe that’s what it is, Forty swallowing the water he said he didn’t want a minute ago. I need him lower, weaker. Henderson had no tolerance. He went so quietly in the end but this is ridiculous.
“What else you got in your bag of tricks?” I ask.
“Iowaska, baby!” He reaches in for his tea. He drinks. That’s a good boy. Let that tea mix with the Percocets. Let the poisons collide. He passes me the bottle. I pretend to drink. I am a good boy.
In Closer, Jude Law tells Natalie Portman, “This will hurt,” and then it does hurt. That is where I am right now, no matter what a dick he is. It’s starting to hit me. Killing Forty will hurt Love. In a fucked-up way, she won’t know how to live without the drama and this is going to be harder than I thought. But then, all change hurts. In the end, Love will be a new person without her brother. She’ll sleep better. She won’t have to find a way to forgive him every time he fucks her over. She won’t have to let him into her home or rationalize her feelings. Imagine what she could do with the power, the power I’m giving to her by doing away with him.
Forty flips onto his belly, a baby whale. He dips his butter knife into his bag. “I feel whoa,” he says. “Like whoa.”
“Just go with it,” I tell him. “Ride the wave.”
“Wouldn’t that be cool if there were waves in here?” he asks. “You ever think about that? How there can’t be waves without a lot of water?”
This is the part of college I never wanted: a self-important fuckwit contemplating the sea. I get my phone. I can’t listen to this shit. It’s only going to get worse as he slips away and loses access to his brain, what’s left of it. I have a new e-mail, a Google news alert. My chest tightens. I click on the link and it takes me to the Providence Journal Bulletin. There is a picture of Peach Salinger, looking happier than she ever did in real life. Peach’s parents love her more dead than they did when she was alive. They whitened her smile and enlarged her eyes and now they are seeking justice.