[This is chapter 9 in an ongoing work of fiction. To read chapter 8, see here. To read chapter 1, see here.]
Evan was driving on the interstate at 75, his mountain bike strapped to the trunk, having emptied a bottle of wine and another one open on the passenger seat.
“It’s the Russians again,” John was saying on the phone. “You got five days and then we’re on.”
“All ri’,” Evan said, hitting SPEAKER and holding the phone between his hands above the steering wheel. There was a wall between Evan and his body, and a ringing in his ears that reeked of sulphur.
“But it’s a different deal,” John said. “We aren’t in it to win this time.”
Evan had been drinking in his apartment when he suddenly wondered how fast his car could go. He wanted a number. It was a leech that attached itself to his brain. At the steering wheel, he was still wondering, squinting his eyes at the speedometer. Suddenly a car cut in front of him and he flinched and the phone clattered off the steering wheel and onto the car floor.
“I mean, this time we lose 75% of the time,” John said. “Have you been drinking?”
“What, so I can’t drink anymore?”
Evan, still cruising at 75, one car riding his ass, was reaching down and feeling for his phone, swerving over the line, then glancing up and straightening up, then swerving again, but whatever, life is for living.
“I give you the signal,” John said, “and you fold. You’re going to do a lot of folding. And a lot of losing.”
Evan found the phone and lifted it up to his mouth.
John gave him his typical silence, and instead of trembling, the way Evan usually did, he had a mouth full of shit that he was waiting to spit out.
“Why do you need to know?” John finally said.
“Cuz I fuckin’ wanna know, what kinda question is that?”
“See, I wouldn’t normally tell a guy why.”
“Okay, fuck it, don’ tell me.”
Evan knew he’d overstepped some boundary, but fuck it. Evan was amazed how much courage he now had against his uncle, although perhaps it wasn’t courage, perhaps it was an unbridled horse called rage, or perhaps it was just the wine talking. There was a long silence, but finally, John took a deep breath and lowered his voice.
“Okay, I tell you this and you’re in on something,” John said. “These dudes we’re playing next aren’t whales to take down. The Russians have to get their money out of their own country. They don’t trust their own banks, because they’re not really banks, they’re just people who take your money. Plus, it’s not the Russians’ money to begin with, at least not legally. So they come here with all their fucking cash and they lose it at our private
game. If anybody gets wind of it, like really looks into it, we’ve got a couple of witnesses who are in on the game and it checks out. So then they come to the casino and I’ve got another Evan to help win it back for them. Minus a commission, of course. It’s a fucking win win. Except for the Russian people, but who gives a shit about them?”
“Laundering money,” Evan said.
“Oh, you own a dictionary.”
“The thing that Trump does.”
“Don’t slander my man, I’m warning you.”
“So are you happy now?” John said. “Now you know everything.”
Evan hung up and tossed the phone against the door panel. That’s how it was now. Everything was difficult. The world sped by at 85. His head seemed separated from his body, like Ichabod Crane’s headless horseman. His mouth was emanating things that his brain couldn’t quite grasp. He hoped John didn’t notice, but of course, John noticed everything. He grabbed the bottle and took a swig. His eyes felt puffy and tired. He felt woozy.
Maybe I need eye surgery, he thought.
That was the last thought Evan had before he passed out, and soon after that, hit the center divider, ricocheted, bounced into a second car, and rolled three times.
Kara had called Evan ten or twenty times over the last couple days, no dice, straight to voicemail. She hung up the phone once again. She had been over to his apartment and knocked, but no answer. He had been getting distant, but this was ridiculous. It hit her deep. She looked at herself in the mirror. This was the girl that Evan didn’t want. She slathered on the makeup as if it were a mask. She drew on the lipstick with a hand that drew perfectly, but deep down, wanted to create just a red slash. She imagined taking a razor to her cheek. She imagined blood. She didn’t know what that was about, never had, but it was never a good sign.
Kara slumped down on the sofa in her silk offwhite blouse, tight black skirt, and fuck-me pumps. Still was hotter than August in Manhattan, but still and all, she felt ugly. She had called Evan, but he wasn’t answering his phone and she knew she was heading for a dive. “Downton Abbey” was playing on her widescreen, a show that always depressed her even more, pretty people in a simpler time, when Kara herself was just an ugly girl living in a lonely world, don’t stop, don’t ever stop. Kara had tried calling Evan a dozen times or more, which made her feel like a fucking toddler. Kara had been dealing with dives since adolescence, when they had first hit her bigtime, and she was experiencing a kind of déjà vu familiarity, thinking of Billy Meister, the first boy who messed with her self-esteem big-time. Looking back, it must have been the narcissistic mother. Or an asshole father. Or maybe just bad chemicals inherited from her grandfather, who was sent to an asylum at age 17.
Kara’s older cousin told her that in 1920, her great-great uncle Frank Elmer had committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun. Four months later, his twin brother Orland Alexander had killed himself by hanging, despondent over his twin’s death. Kara felt a bond there.
On a whim, Kara dialed her sister, closing her eyes while it rang.
“You can’t call me,” Kendra said, no hello.
“You forfeited that right when you took what was mine.”
“Sis, I’m so sorry, I—”
“He was mine.”
“You took what was mine before that.”
“This can go back and back to Adam and Eve,” Kendra said, “so make it quick. What the fuck do you want?”
“I miss you.”
“Apparently, your boyfriend does, too.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you don’t know?”
“Don’t know what?”
“I saw him the other day.”
Kara sat up on the sofa a little straighter.
“He came into the office. Wanted to talk about his new problem with his uncle. You know his uncle?”
“Yeah, so he told me all about it.”
“It is kind of a problem.”
“Yeah, the kind of problem that makes you want to sleep with your ex-girlfriend.”
It took Kara’s breath away, her eyes widening. No matter that it wasn’t true.
Evan lay in a rotten Vegas hospital with a semicoherent elderly roommate thankfully drugged up beyond coherence, but a British nurse with an erect accent who was much too coherent.
“…Because I came here ten years ago, but I still miss my country terribly….” she was saying as she tidied up the room.
Some lovely painkiller was pumping into Evan’s veins to keep his mind off the broken leg, broken rib, and black eye, and one ragged, underfed coyote was running kind of sideways through his brain. It was a complex coyote, even pointillist. It ran like this:
Everyone has to die sometime. Most people die for nothing, in convalescent homes or in traffic accidents or at dinner eating shrimp or peanuts. They die of nothing and their life ends up signifying nothing. They work at nothing jobs manufacturing nothing products for other nobodies. Insurance, software, government. They’re ball bearings in a machine that does nothing.
At most, they’re proud to be parents, that’s it. They look deep into their children’s eyes, and in a cracking voice and with wet eyes, they say, “You are the best thing I’ve ever done.” What bullshit.
But Evan had the chance to die for something. The game was in four days. It didn’t matter if he was healed. He’d be there.
“…I was up in Leicester Square….”
In his morphine haze, it was like a dream, but it had been that way before the tumble. There had been times in his life when nothing meant anything. Climbing stairs was just climbing stairs. Smiling at the woman in the next car was just smiling at the woman in the next car. But this was not one of those times. Now, focusing on the television was the effort of the mighty Achilles. Smiling at a chatty British nurse was the mighty Achilles about to wield his fucking sword. That weapon was brandished high. There were classical brushstrokes on his face and body. There was a gilt frame around the things that he had planned, and plaques beneath each. He blinked. He blinked again. The morphine wasn’t enough to keep him down. Everything was a pulse, his sanctified skin pounding with blood.
“…that the old English way of fixing Christmas pudding is best,” the nurse was saying now. “In this day and age, it’s important to remember that there’s this lovely thing called tradition. When you’re fixing your pudding, you have to stir it from east to west. People ask me, they say, Why east to west? That’s very important, east to west, because that is, of course, the direction that the wise men traveled to bring all their lovely gifts, their frankincense and myrhh, to the baby Jesus….”
I will meet him very soon, Evan thought.
The day of the game, Evan walked out of the hospital through the back door. He threw a couple bottles of painkillers into his bag. They’d taken away his driver’s license because of the open container, but he didn’t need a license to drive, he just needed it if he got caught. He drove through the streets of Vegas wobbly, because the double-yellow line kept shifting like an article on fucking dailybeast.com. When he finally got to Pancho Villa’s warehouse, he picked up the car and drove to the game with the Russians in his Mazerati.
The doctors said that if Evan hadn’t been so drunk, he wouldn’t have survived. A rib and a leg were broken, but he had ripped off the braces because that wouldn’t do in a real game. He didn’t need any major questions. He also didn’t need a slur in his voice, so he was letting the drugs wear off. He’d explain away the black eye somehow. As he drove to the game, he began hurting in a major way, in the way that people who are not used to pain realize that pain is a real thing and not just an excuse not to live. He tried to suppress the pain, but it kept coming to the surface like a dead body. He needed to weight it down. If he didn’t, John would hear it in his voice and send him home because he couldn’t pull off the sleights. He needed to pull off the sleights. He needed clear elocution and a relaxed face, but without drugs.
Parking the car, Evan parked it against the grain, blocking 2 ½ parking spaces. He was thinking it was good luck. Everything was boiling down to premonitions and luck now, so he followed his instinct and parked the car east to west, just to snatch the luck of the baby Jesus. That fucking coyote was running sideways through his brain again: Everybody dies, the coyote was saying, a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. This is your moment to shine.
Evan opened the car door and faced the task before him, which was simply to pull himself out of the driver’s side. He took a deep breath, gritted his teeth against the pain, and pulled his sore body up against everything that was working against him. There were muscles all over his body that were spasming, but he held steady. It was an incredible effort just to stand upright, and a separate Herculean effort to focus.
Finally, Evan just stood there and looked at the house. He had it all planned out. Swann’s pistol was in the trunk. Evan would go into the game and begin playing his part, splitting his two selves. He would keep an eye on Pancho, because that was his major impediment to pulling this off, plus the Russian bodyguards, and they were an even bigger wild card. It was all about a moment, just like a magic trick. You look for the moment when everybody was relaxed. You made an excuse to go to your car. A special bottle of Champagne, say. An antique deck of cards. He would come back shooting. He doubted he would get out of it alive, but if he did, he would hobble back to the Maserati and hit I-15. At the Summerlin turnoff, he would dump the Maserati and jump into a rental compact that was parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He would transfer four suitcases that he had packed, two of which contained pounds and pounds of cash, in fact, nearly $240,000. Then he would head east until he got to Arkansas and lay low. Maybe Kara would be next to him, maybe not.
The drugs were wearing off. The pain was coming back.
Kara was standing at the window watching Evan. She felt like running out to him, but she didn’t want any more pain. It was like touching a hot frying pan.
There were tears in her eyes. She couldn’t figure out why he had a black eye. Plus, he was standing kind of funny. She knew he loved him because just seeing the way that he was standing hurt her. She also couldn’t figure out why he was just staring at the house. Something seemed terribly wrong, but she couldn’t figure out why. So many things swirled around in her head, her sister, them fucking, Evan not talking to her, who he belonged to, DNA, who she belonged to, twins, everything. They were swirling like blood down a shower drain. She felt that her heart was collapsing, that she had never felt pain like this before. She wished there was a drug that could fix it. She wished she was anaesthetized. She wished that she could sleep.
Kara placed her hand against the window.
That was the moment that Evan collapsed onto the cobblestone driveway.
[This is an ongoing work of fiction.]