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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 35


  “Cuz I lifted the books,” she pants. “I can pay you back.”

  “I don’t want your fucking money, Amy,” I say. “I’m not like you. I don’t give a fuck about money.”

  “I get it, okay? I suck. But please, let me go,” she begs.

  I hold her down. “You do suck. You’re a vicious empty cunt.”

  “You’re acting crazy,” she says. “Let me go.”

  I spit at her. She blinks. “Fuck you,” I say.

  “Joe,” she says. “Please stop it.”

  I tighten my grip on her neck. I should get it over with. I should squeeze the life out of her for all the things she did do. Instead I am allowing her to speak, to rail on about what she did. “I took some books,” she confesses. “And it sucks and I know it. And I know it must have been terrible for you to find out. But you know, Joe. You knew I was in it for myself. I know you knew.”

  I didn’t know. And this is what hurts. I loved her and she did not love me. She doesn’t think it was real, she never did. My cheeks turn red. I need to kill her because she says things like we were just fucking and it was summer and I didn’t rip you off. I ripped off the shop. She wasn’t in love with me and every time she promises she can get me the money I know I have to kill her. She wasted my heart, my time. She begs me to let her go and she can get a cash advance and she can get you anything you want and she is house-sitting and there is art I could sell, like, a lot of art and she is a commercial beast.

  Beck never loved me either and if Love knew about this, the dark humiliating truth of it, that I love women who don’t love me back, I don’t know how I could look her in the eye. I don’t know if I could go on, because the real horror of my life is not that I’ve killed some terrible people. The real horror is that the people I’ve loved didn’t love me back. I may as well have been masturbating in the cage, telling the books about the girls because all the girls before Love, they were not there with me, not really, especially this one, this tall blond cunt begging for her life and promising me that she can give it all back to me every last penny.

  “You don’t get it,” I tell her. “There’s nothing you can do.”

  “Let me go,” she pleads, she squirms.

  Everything in her tone and her language and her eyes seems confused. She’s acting like I’m some guy she knew and I’m looking at her like she broke my heart. But she’s just talking about what a pain it was to sell books online. Does she really think this is about Portnoy’s Complaint, about Yates?

  “What about everything you wrote in Charlotte and Charles?”

  She swallows. “What?”

  “Charlotte and Charles,” I snap. “You read it to me on the beach and a day later you run out on me and write me a letter in it and I want to know why.”

  “’Cause it was in my bag from the beach when I went back to the shop,” she exclaims, and that is not what I was asking about.

  “You read the book to me on the beach and you left me a note in the book and now you want to tell me you don’t remember.”

  “Joe,” she says. “I told you. You were looking in my phone. I mean, you didn’t trust me either.”

  “Why did you leave that book for me?” I ask.

  She asks me to let her go. I ask her to tell me about the book. The air is cold and loud off the water and she groans again. “Because you’re so sad and lonely!” she says. “Jesus, if this is it, fuck it. I give up.” She smacks her lips. She clears her throat. “Get off me,” she says. “Get off me and I’ll tell you.”

  “No,” I say. “Tell me now.”

  “I left you that book because I did feel bad,” she says. “You’re sad and lonely and you should be better at being alone. You’re just so fucking depressed and you wear it like a badge the way you sit in that shop alone and you’re so obviously desperate for someone to come in and change your life and it’s fucking annoying. Like, take care of your shit. Pull yourself together. Stop being so self-conscious about your music and every little thing you say. I gave you that book because those giants are pathetic, the way they can’t fucking deal with themselves and they expect everyone to be as decent as they are. They have no right to be shocked when the humans gang up on them. Like, that’s fucking life. Get over it. You can’t go around expecting everyone to be like you. That’s the point.”

  Her words sting. “If I’m so depressed and pathetic, then why did you date me?”

  She rolls her eyes. “Joe,” she says. “The day we met, I was using my ex-boss-boyfriend’s credit card and you didn’t call the cops.”

  “I’m not judgmental.”

  “You have to see things as they are,” she says. “I mean, I didn’t try and fool you or anything. And you know, I was like, okay, this guy, he’s so cool with my shady shit. He obviously has his own shady shit. There’s no way around it.”

  “I am nothing like you.”

  I hurt her, finally, and she shifts. “Well, congratufuckinglations,” she says. “Can I go now? I mean, come on. This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do, kill me?”

  Amy Adam has no idea about me. She thinks I’m a lonely sad person with poor reading comprehension skills. She used me. She isn’t smart enough to love me or know me and suddenly I feel sorry for her. She doesn’t understand that Charlotte & Charles is about the resilience of the human spirit, that happy people get fucked over and swim to another island and buck up and go on again.

  Amy is not a con artist and she’s not a conniving thief. She’s a sad, lonely girl. She carried a book around that she didn’t even understand and she wants the world to be like a Richard Yates book, with sad endings. The only Philip Roth book she ever finished is Portnoy’s Complaint. She isn’t the girl I thought she was, talking to me now about her boss, her dog-sitting, and I am not going to kill her.

  In a strange way, Amy Adam is right. I am incapable of killing anyone right now. I have Love. I’m going to be a father. I have changed. I move off her completely and she wipes the sand off her arms, off her shirt. She shakes her legs.

  “Only thing about the beach,” she gripes. “Sand.”

  From her end this was a lover’s quarrel and so we do what all former lovers do: We revisit our past together. But our memories are so different. I bring up that last night in Little Compton.

  “Remember our new best friends, Noah and Pearl and Harry and Liam?” I ask.

  She is aghast. “You remember their names? How do you remember their names?”

  She is not like me, not like Love. She is not burdened with a sensitive heart. Hers just beats. She laughs. “Remember when I busted you looking in my phone?”

  I get a ripple of humiliation in my stomach. “Uh huh,” I say. “You were mad.”

  “Yeah,” she says. “Paranoid. I had already put a couple books online and looked for a sublet out here. I was like fuck he found out.”

  “Wow,” I say, and I think of Match Point, where Woody Allen reminds us that all the best tennis players are also lucky. Amy had a lot of Safari windows open on her phone that day. I only saw the one with Henderson. If she had to wait in line, if she’d washed her hands more thoroughly, if she’d put on lipstick, I would have found those other windows. I had bad luck with her. But then again, without her, I never would have found Love.

  “I know,” she says. “I mean, I pitched a fit because I thought you knew what I was up to and you were gonna wanna talk and all that.”

  She asks me what I’m doing in LA and I tell her I moved here because it was something to do, because it was time to get out of New York. She says she might move to Austin. I tell her it seems like a lot of assholes talk about moving to Austin. She laughs. “You are funny,” she says. “You still got it, Goldberg.”

  I feel nothing. I don’t yearn for what we had, the way all we could do was mock everyone else. I gaze at the ocean but I can’t see through the mist. She pulls her hair over her left shoulder. Her neck is bruised, proof of my violence, a new mug of piss. My heart starts to beat fast and maybe I do have
to kill her. I hurt her. I did this. And if I do away with her, I will never have to worry about her ever again. She won’t be a loose end, another mugofurine. I could do it. She draws in the sand with her finger. That could be her last act as a human. But then the tide creeps up on us and recedes, and the line vanishes, just like the redness on her neck will. Nature is an inherently forward beast; footsteps disappear, past hurts fade. I won’t kill Amy. I will not remove life from this planet while Love and I are in the process of bringing life into this world. I’ve already confessed my past to Love and I don’t want to confess my present.

  I stand and I offer Amy a hand but she stands up without my help.

  She asks if I’m sure I don’t want money for the books. I tell her I’m good and she smiles then turns and walks back into the mist. She keeps her head down and her arms crossed. I sit back down in the sand where she lay, cool and wet, and I feel the weight go, as if she’s passing out of me every time I breathe, every time I blink.

  I can’t tell you the specific moment that I can’t see her anymore, because she disappears in segments. First the mist takes her bare feet, then the back of her yellow shirt. Her hair comes back to me for a brief spell, blond, tangled, and then it’s gone and then she’s gone, all of her, into the mist, almost like she was never here at all.

  55

  IT’S so different being at Taco Bell with Love. She already has pregnancy cravings and wanted to pig out on enchiladas and gorditas. Twins. But we don’t order everything on the menu, just gorditas and two chicken tacos. She wants soda even though she feels bad about the sugar and I tell her we’ll start a better diet tomorrow.

  She asks me to pick a booth and I choose one by the window, far from the one where I always sat with Forty. She fills up our cups with ice and mixes a little root beer into our Cokes. “I kind of love this,” she says.

  “Me too,” I say. “Maybe we should get married here.”

  “Did you just propose to me in Taco Bell without a ring?”

  I nod. She laughs. She thinks she peed her pants and I tell her you don’t get to pee your pants when you’re a few weeks pregnant. We hold hands across the table. “So will you?” I ask.

  “Yes.” She smiles. “But don’t make me a ring out of a straw or anything, okay?”

  “Deal,” I say.

  We wait for the feast and we talk about the baby’s room and where to live and when to tell people. I tell her I think I want to write something, maybe even this idea I’ve been kicking around about a ghostwriter called Fakers. She says she likes the title—fucking right, she does—and she says Forty could tell I was a writer the day we met.

  We watch the cars go by on the PCH and we rehash the funeral and she says my eulogy was the greatest thing ever and she wants to watch the video tonight. “Is that weird?” she asks.

  “Not at all,” I tell her. “Death is weird.”

  When our food is ready, I walk to the counter and I thank the guy. He’s new. He doesn’t know me and he’ll never know Forty. Love bites into her gordita and half of it falls on her shirt and now I think I piss myself laughing and I pick up a chicken taco and shove it in my mouth so that half of it falls onto my shirt on purpose and now she’s laughing.

  I slide out of the booth and she keeps her eyes on me and only Love is sexy with gordita all over her shirt. I move to her side of the table and I feel her react to me. I actually feel the love well up inside of her, in her legs, in the way they shift toward me, so slightly, petals to the sun. When I kiss her, she quivers like we just met and she strokes my back like we’ve known each other forever.

  “I love you,” I say.

  “Me too,” she says.

  I am smiling ear to ear. If this is how we are after her brother’s shocking death and our surprise pregnancy, imagine how good we’re going be when we don’t have any stress in our lives.

  “Okay, I actually do have to pee,” I say, and I nod to the guy at the counter on the way to the bathroom.

  It’s one of those bathrooms with a permanently fogged mirror that’s mostly just splinters and graffiti and I can’t see my reflection. After I flush, I wash my hands more than Amy did at Del’s that day in May. I press the button for the air to come out of the hand dryer but it’s broken.

  Someday, if I meet the owner of Taco Bell, I will advise him to renovate these fucking bathrooms. I will explain that my wife and I—wife!—like to go to his establishment every so often. I will tell him we would go more often if the bathrooms weren’t so disgusting.

  I push through the door, excited to tell Love about my plans to renovate the bathrooms at and stop short. Her gordita is sitting there as fat as it was when I left, but she’s not at the booth. And the guy at the counter is gone, too. The kitchen is silent and outside the PCH is empty. Nothing. Not a single BMW. Goose bumps cover my body and I run into the women’s bathroom, but every stall is vacant.

  My phone rings, echoing in the vast silence of this deserted Taco Bell. It is Love, and I silence the call because I know, now, what this is. Love retrieved the mug of urine but the mug of urine was not my only mistake. I’m sure of it. The only other possible explanation for the vacuum of silence is an atomic meltdown, in which case the sky would be orange.

  I turn on the faucet. The soap in here is newer, pinker. I wonder if my child will be a boy or a girl. I wash my hands with hot water and I rinse with cold water. This is my last trip to the spa for a while and I push the dryer and the hot air blows. I close my eyes and let my hands take on the heat.

  My phone is ringing again. Love. They’re making her call me to see what’s taking so long. They do shit like that in Dennis Lehane books. But you can’t hold it against them; their job is to get me.

  And they must want me very badly because the perimeter has been cleared. That’s why there’s no one at the register and no cars on the PCH. If I had been a gentleman, I would have let Love go to the bathroom first and I would have been the one to watch the cops sweep in, stealthy and silent.

  I pull the door and exit the women’s restroom. I memorize the tiles on the floor of this Taco Bell and I take one last bite of Love’s gordita and this is it. I pull the first door and enter the vestibule. I open the second door and enter the parking lot. The sun pierces my eyes. There is a cop on the roof above me.

  “Put your hands up,” he says.

  I do.

  He reads me my Miranda rights and cops pop up everywhere, from behind the parked cars, from around the side of the building, from the bushes. I don’t care about them. I don’t care that I am under arrest for the murder of Guinevere Beck and the murder of Peach Salinger.

  What I care about is Love and she appears now with tears streaming down her face. She is trying to run for me but they are holding her back. If she has a miscarriage because of the ridiculous, over-the-top antics of the United States Federal Justice System, I will kill each and every one of these people.

  All that evolved Charlotte & Charles shit about trust and optimism is good and all, but not when your pregnant wife is sobbing in the Taco Bell parking lot and she’s got gordita all over her shirt and you can’t do anything because you have to go to jail. But I don’t have to worry. I’m one of the rich people now, the untouchables. These fuckers can’t nail me. I’m gonna have the best lawyers money can buy. And let them try proving that I killed either of those girls without a single shred of evidence, without the mugofurine Love got for me.

  I lock eyes with Love. I tell her I love her. She nods. Me too. The cop asks me if I’m done and before I answer, he opens the door and shoves me into the backseat. This is real. This is not a minor traffic infraction where they give you a warning and ask you about New York. This is not a jaywalking ticket by some power hungry cop. This is two counts of murder one suspect in custody, over.

  Fuck you, radio. It’s not over. Not even close.

  56

  THE police are so fixated on the past and I want to tell them that it’s all gone. I’m a changed man. I saw Amy on the
beach, Amy, the reason I moved here, the person who stole from me and broke my heart, and I didn’t kill her. I’m not that guy anymore and this seems relevant, but then legally, it isn’t. My brain gorges with my defense, the one that I can’t reveal because the case against me is not about Amy, damn it, though I wish it were.

  Here’s the gist of it. Detective Peter Brinks and the New York Police Department are not like the feminist bloggers. They took the complaints of Dr. Nick Angevine seriously. One of his complaints was regarding Patient X, one Danny Fox. They were unable to locate Danny Fox. It was like he didn’t exist.

  Meanwhile, in Little Compton, Rhode Island, Officer Nico was spending a lot of time around the Salinger house. In police work, there is a lot of down time, a lot of sitting around, a lot of coffee, a lot of waiting, and while he was sitting around doing nothing, Officer Nico decided it would be fun to flip through a sailing magazine. And in that sailing magazine, he saw a picture of a guy on a boat. The guy was identified as Spencer Hewitt. “I looked at that picture,” he says. “And I thought, what are the odds that there are two guys named Spencer Hewitt?” Even though the Salingers insisted on closing the book on Peach, Officer Nico went to the garage that worked on my Buick. He wondered: Did they have a record of that transaction, perhaps a license plate? And they did have a license plate number on a receipt. Officer Nico found that the car was registered to a Mr. Mooney. He read about the bookstore in some BuzzFeed article about old bookstores in New York. He saw the name Joe Goldberg and then he found me on motherfucking Facebook.

  Fucking Facebook.

  He recognized me and he brought the picture to the Salingers and they knew me, of course, as the delivery boy, as the guy in the bar. So then the red flags were raised. Officer Nico is no dummy, and he knew Peach’s friend Beck had also met an untimely end. I almost wish I could have been there on the day that Officer Nico visited Dr. Nicky in prison and showed him my photograph—fucking Facebook—and said, “Is this Danny Fox?”