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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 30


  I start the car. This is it. I’ll have to keep up the gentleman act and escort her into the Salinger house. And she’s so drunk, she won’t be able to make it up the stairs alone. “So,” I say. “Where am I taking you?”

  “Ugh,” she says. “Hang on. I have to find the address in my phone.”

  I almost fuck up and tell her I already know the address. But she unlocks her phone—1267—and she bites her lip and she scrolls through her e-mail. “Got it,” she says. “Thirty-two Starboard Way.”

  My head snaps up. That’s not Peach’s address. “Are you sure?”

  She raises her phone and shows me the Airbnb page and I am fucked. A whole night wasted. “I usually stay with Jess and her family,” she says. “But they have some crazy shit going on right now. Did you see the news about the girl who they think was killed here? That was her cousin.”

  “Really,” I say. And I look both ways and I use my blinker and I curse Tinder. “That’s some scary shit.”

  When I escort Dana into her Airbnb, she tries to kiss me. I tell her I’m sorry. “I’m getting over someone,” I say. “I’m really sorry. I just can’t now, you know?”

  Dana gets it. She says she’s been there. But she has no fucking idea. I go back to my shitty motel. I should have gotten an Airbnb.

  47

  I go down to breakfast the next morning and why in the fuck would I ever want to make my own waffles? Do I look Belgian? I itch and I think my room has bedbugs. And the number one thing I did not miss about the East Coast: the humidity. After the brisk chill of yesterday, Little Compton, Rhode Island, is suddenly in the midst of an unplanned natural event they call Indian summah! The girl at the front desk beams, sunburnt, small-minded: “Didja come heeah foah the Indian summah? It’s a wicked pissah!”

  I came here to get my mugofurine, thank you very much, and my hole in the wall is a fetid hot zone of bacteria, I know it, and this morning when I showered, I felt like I wasn’t alone. I feel very cramped in here, as if my civil liberties have been chopped up by the bitch at the front desk, by the eleven-year-old kid who cut in front of me in the waffle line.

  I am nervous. The kid’s fat dad whistles. “I think you’re beeping.”

  I yank the top of the waffle iron and my waffle is blackened and there is a long line; it would be a dick move to make another. I remove my raw-on-the-inside, black-on-the-outside freebie carb from the old machine and stick it onto a plate that is sticky, that clearly didn’t make it into the dishwasher. There are kids everywhere, talk of water parks and a drive-in an hour out and isn’t it October? What are all these people doing here? I didn’t anticipate the crowds, the talk of blueberry syrup and gas prices, the New England of it all. The coffee is weak—no shit, Sherlock, I know—and the dad plops a waffle onto my plate.

  “You look like you could use a lift,” he says, and he winks and it is a kind world, a fair world. I need my energy. I eat the waffle and I drink the coffee and then I do a drive-by at Peach’s house. It’s more crowded today than it was yesterday and I can’t go anywhere near it now that I fucked up with my special delivery and Jessica Salinger thinks my name is Brian. Is someone finding that mug of piss right now? I get out of the car. A couple of old ladies are power walking.

  The skinny one: “And you know apparently she was a lezzie.”

  The skinnier one: “Do they think that awful mother of hers might have killed her? You know I wouldn’t put it past her.”

  The skinny one: “She’s putting on weight.”

  The skinnier one: “She shouldn’t be going around in those flats. She needs lift.”

  At least Peach didn’t come from one of those happy families where nobody can conceive of anyone in the family committing a crime. New Englanders like murder as much as they enjoy the music of Taylor Swift and the antics of the Kennedys. I want to hear more parking lot banter so I go to town, where it’s more crowded.

  I enter the Art Café and Gallery and immediately I know this was a mistake. Heads turn. Elderly locals bemoan the nosy New Yorkers sniffing around and look me up and down. Were it not for my California tan I’d probably be strung up on the flagpole outside but fortunately there is a distraction. A flock of grown men in spandex enter, cyclists, and they are regulars here and they are welcome and I am invisible again. I purchase a coffee. I wrestle with the bad pump on the milk dispenser and a cyclist advises me to hit it once, hard. It works. My luck is turning.

  “Thanks,” I say. I look at him and my luck is turning back again, the way every session at a blackjack table eventually concludes with the dealer making twenty-one. Luke Skywalker knows that he might die in battle and Eminem knows that he might get too choked up to make rhymes and I, Joe Goldberg, know that when I fly to Rhode Island and reenter my bad place, Little Fucking Compton, it is possible that I might wander into a store, let my guard down, and find myself face to face with the cop I met on my first visit. Yes, it’s Officer Nico, in purple spandex and a blue helmet. Already, his eyes are narrowing.

  “I know you,” he says.

  And he does. He knows me as Spencer Hewitt, the boy he found in the boathouse next to the Salingers’ after he crashed his car. He knows my Figawi hat. He is going to remember me and he’s going to remember that cold December night. He might even read the file on Peach Salinger and realize that she disappeared right around the same time as that Hewitt kid was freezing in that boathouse. I take a step backward. “Thanks for the milk. I owe ya one.” He is unperturbed. “I never forget a face,” he says. “Hold on.” The other cyclists need milk, too and he motions for me to follow him outside—Indian summer!—and even off-duty, he has the authority of an officer of the law. He is the reason that Robin Fincher never should have made it through police academy and he is biting his lip and taking the lid off his coffee.

  “Do you live around here?” he asks.

  “No,” I say. “I’m just up from Boston.”

  He is as kind as I remember and I wonder if he ever fucked that nurse in the hospital in Fall River who seemed so into him. The other cyclists are trickling out onto the lawn and they are dullards mostly, white dentists, they want their black cop buddy back. I raise my hand to make my escape and raising my hand sparks Officer Nico’s memory and that’s right, this is New England where people watch because they like to watch, where memories are intact, primed because the people here are not bogged down by aspirations. The only thing Nico aspires to do is save the fucking world and he snaps his fingers.

  “The Buick,” he says. “You were that kid, poor kid, you totaled that Buick.”

  The cyclists are interested now and I am a part of this world in the worst possible way. If I lie, if I say that wasn’t me, Nico will know it. He’s a real cop.

  “That’s you?” I say, and I put my coffee down and move to shake his hand. “You saved my life.”

  Never mind the absurdity of me, a white guy who passed through the whitest place in America in the dead of white winter not remembering the very black officer who found me in a boathouse and drove me to a hospital. I am fucked. Or maybe not. Nico shakes my hand, solid. “I’m surprised you remember any of it,” he says. “You were banged up.”

  “I remember the important parts,” I assure him. “I didn’t recognize you with your gear on. You guys all ride on the reg?”

  Now I have included the dentists, provided them with the chance to tell an outsider about their weekly rides with their cop friend, their banal adventures, the dings with bad drivers, the roadkill, the time that Barry rode over that hose and fell and everyone is belly laughing, oh, Barry. Officer Nico is relaxed, involved in a few conversations, none about me. I am okay. I pulled it off. I will stay a while just to prove that I am at ease, and when one guy asks what brings me to their sunny seaside hamlet I don’t hesitate.

  “Indian summer,” I say, and I call upon the amiable demeanor of Harvey Swallows. I open my arms. “Am I right or am I right?”

  I am right and soon, it’s time for the cyclists to move on.
Nico waves good-bye; he hopes my stay this time around doesn’t involve a trip to the emergency room. I knock on the table. He squints. “Son,” he says. “That’s a metal table.”

  He laughs and he goes and I find a birch tree. I knock.

  I am still itchy. It could be psychosomatic. But it could be real. I might have picked something up from Dana. God knows what germs were crawling on me in Vegas, on the plane. I am uncomfortable in my skin in Little Compton. I never should have gone to the Art Café and I never should have come here. I strip the bed. I search for bedbugs and I don’t find any. I flip the mattress but there is nothing wrong with the mattress. There is something wrong with me. Love lifts us up but it also makes us roam around Little Compton like we didn’t murder the girl in the news.

  I’m hungry. The motel doesn’t offer a continental dinner and I am starving and marooned here, unable to will myself out the door for a Burger King run, too itchy to sleep, too potentially fucked to attempt to relax. If I can’t get that mug of urine then the police will get that mug of urine. If the police run tests on that mug and connect the dots, I will go to prison, and I won’t be able to get back to California and marry Love. I stop itching. I didn’t realize that until now.

  “I want to marry her,” I say.

  And suddenly I know what I’m doing here. I am being that person who runs away from love, the one who self-sabotages. I don’t think I can sleep in this room, in this township, in this universe, and I drag the sheets into the bathroom, the only sterile vortex in this musty pit. I rankle at the sadness of it all, the granite countertops and the little shitty soaps, the non-organic shampoos. Love wouldn’t want any of this and all I want is her.

  I dump the sheets in the tub and I wash my hands and I hear a knock at the door. My heart races but the rest of my body freezes and I picture Officer Nico’s face. I panic. There is another knock. It feels like the end. On the way to the door, I trip. I bump my knee against the bed. My body is protesting. I reach for the handle. Steeling myself, I swing the door open. But the person standing there isn’t Officer Nico. It’s someone worse.

  Love.

  48

  LOVE’S arms are folded across her chest. “You said you left your lights on,” she says. “But it was only five.”

  “Love,” I say. “I can explain.”

  “I hope so,” she says. “Because you should also know that Pitch Perfect is not, and never was, on Netflix.”

  She enters my room. “Anyone here?” she asks.

  “No,” I say. “I’m alone.”

  She looks at the stripped bed. “What’s this all about? Destroying the evidence?”

  “No,” I say, and I can’t keep up with her questions. “Love, let me explain.”

  She raises her voice. “Yoo-hoo! You can come out now?”

  “Love,” I say. “There’s nobody here.”

  “You know, we all live in the world, Joe. You think I can’t figure out that you flew to Rhode Island and rented a car? And I don’t mean this is in the asshole way, but you know who my father is. His people couldn’t find Forty because Forty knows how to hide. Because we grew up in this and we know how to disable our phones and pay with cash. But you think I can’t find you? Jesus Christ. Where is she? Hello!”

  “Love, please stop.”

  “No,” she says. She is wearing a navy raincoat, bell-bottom blue jeans, and a shrunken pink sweater. I want to hug every part of her, even now, while she accuses me of cheating on her, especially now. She isn’t going anywhere. She isn’t afraid of me even though she knows I was lying, even though I disappeared on her while I said I was looking for her brother. She isn’t the police. She is Love, which is why she is crying.

  “Why won’t you tell me things?” she says. “I tell you things but you—you shut down, you won’t tell me the real deal. Why don’t you tell me how you saw Pitch Perfect? Because no, Joe. You didn’t see it randomly on Netflix. It’s not on Netflix and even if it was, a lie just feels different. I know you know that. And I think about this shit, you know, in the middle of the night, when you’re asleep, this is the kind of shit I think about. Why won’t you tell me?”

  “Love,” I say, and I can’t explain it but I want to tell her. I want her to know.

  “You know,” she says. “When you do stuff on your phone, I mean since the very beginning, like the whole time we’ve been together, I know you are doing something. Sometimes I think you have cancer. I actually console myself by thinking he just has some disease and he’s gonna die and he doesn’t know how to tell me that I’m gonna get my heart broken.”

  “I don’t have cancer,” I assure her. But then I do; I have the mugofurine. It is a tumor spreading, malignant, infiltrating my love, my Love. She’s still wearing her coat.

  “I know you don’t have cancer, Joe. That’s the point. But I have to know what you have. I can’t take it anymore. I have enough problems. I have a brother who disappears and a father who can’t even pretend he wants him to come back and a mother who wishes he wasn’t here in the first place. I can’t do this.” She is crying. I go to her but she doesn’t want me. “No,” she says. “You can’t be in this with me if you won’t be in this with me.” She wipes her eyes. “What the fuck are you even doing here? Why are you in Rhode Island? Is my brother here? Who are you? Because I can’t fucking ask you anymore. I can’t ask you anymore.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  She’s right. You can’t be in love, not fully, not eternally, if you can’t tell the truth. It builds up on you. She told me about fucking Milo in the Chateau. But how can I tell her my truth? I killed her brother. It’s like the atomic version of that universal truth: you can talk shit about your mother, but nobody else can, no matter what you say, no matter what she does. I can’t tell Love what I’ve been up to and to talk to her is to lie to her.

  “I should just go. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

  I kneel at her feet. “Please stay.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I love you.”

  She shakes her little head. “Love isn’t enough, Joe. It isn’t nearly enough. I want more.”

  “I know you do.”

  “I don’t know what else to say,” she says. “But I can’t stand the way you make me feel so good, like, better than I ever felt, and then you tear it all away, like deep down, you don’t want me to be happy.”

  “Of course I want you to be happy.”

  “Then tell me who you are. Tell me why you said you watched Pitch Perfect on Netflix.”

  “Love,” I say, and if we were married, if I had let her go with me to Vegas and we had eloped, she would not be able to testify against me in a court of law. But we are not married and the justice system does not acknowledge relationships like ours. I want to marry this girl. I want to stay with this girl. I want our ashes mixed, our crumbling bodies buried side by side. I want her to know how badly I want that. I don’t want to live without her. I don’t want to let go of her. If she leaves me, what then?

  “So that’s all you have to say. That’s fine. Fine.” She sounds cold and she is inching away from me. “Joe,” she says. “It’s over.”

  I look up at her. This is like Homeland when he’s going to cut a wire and the bomb might explode. I might kill us, everything we have. But maybe I can live with that because without her, I will die. I know it. I accept that she might hit me, call me names, run to the cops. This could be the end. But this could also be the beginning.

  When you get baptized, you fall back into the water, your entire body. Some people hold their noses. Some people don’t. But there is no way around it; you have to get wet if you want to be in God’s hands.

  I take Love’s hands. I choose love. I accept risk. I breathe. I speak. “The first time I saw Pitch Perfect was when I broke into a girl’s apartment.”

  WHEN I am done, when I have told her everything—everything but Forty, of course—she just sits there. The minutes tick by and her face gives me nothing, the way Matt Damo
n’s face never looks all that fucked up when he’s being Jason Bourne.

  I think about what I’ve done, about how it all must seem to her. I did not do that thing where you leave out the grotesque details to make yourself seem like some kind of unstained, impervious hero. I told her how I stole Beck’s phone and strangled Peach on the beach. I told her about the blood of The Da Vinci Code in Beck’s mouth when she slipped away, how I buried her upstate. I told her about the mug of piss.

  I gave her as much as I had, but it’s like the difference between a movie and a book: A book lets you choose how much of the blood you want to see. A book gives you the permission to see the story as you want, as your mind directs. You interpret. Your Alexander Portnoy doesn’t look like mine because we all have our own unique view. When you finish a movie you leave the theater with your friend and talk about the movie right away. When you finish a book you think. Love grew up on movies and I have just read her a book. I give her the time to digest.

  I am preparing for the worst, for Love’s face to change, for her to run out of here screaming. In a funny way, all the women in my life helped me brace for this moment. My mother. Beck. Amy. Women leave me, and Love will leave me. She has to. She believes in love and decorates her home with it, carries it on her passport, in her heart. She is going to walk out of this room and feel like she’s done it again, chosen the wrong man, blown those other two out of the saltwater infinity pool we’ll never go in again.

  I’ve never opened up like this, never said it all out loud before, and I hold my knees to my chest and tell myself that what happens next is out of my control. I can’t make Love love me. But I did the right thing. I told her what she wanted to know. I stopped lying.

  The wait is eternal, and her eyes are fixed on a stain on the floor. I think of all the people who stayed in this room before and wonder if any of them have been like me.

  And then, finally, she looks up.

  “Okay,” she says. “I’m gonna tell you about Roosevelt.”