Monday afternoon, 7 October 2007
GM: It all unfolds like a scene out of a movie.
The Jonases assent to Em taking Bert Villars as his lawyer if it’ll save them money. Em gets the impression that’s a very large concern now. Amber takes her replacement in stride and doesn’t say anything to badmouth Villars, but there’s a too-knowing look in her eye.
Villars seems to know just where to toe the line short of crossing it: he won’t charge the Jonases extra in attorney’s fees and hand that over for Em to use as bribe money. He only advises his clients about illegal acts, after all. Technically, in fact, all he does is warn them about those acts’ consequences.
‘Technically’ seems to be all that counts in his worldview.
Em, meanwhile, goes about raising the bribe money himself. Orleans Parish Prison has a lucrative economy going. Drugs is the most profitable market, but everything gets sold from food to sex to even firearms. Em sees inmates waving a gun around as they play games of chance. Gambling is alive and well, too.
Emmett: He starts by selling his piss.
It’s a surprisingly good way to make seed money. Plenty of inmates have to pass drug screening and simply have no other way of making it through—drugs in prison are marked up as all shit, but they still sell. Em cottoned on to that when he got here, and it ignited a scheme in the back of his mind, but the risk simply wasn’t worth it. Until now.
GM: It beats giving blowjobs for fruit.
Emmett: He uses his new, ahem, liquid capital, to buy up as much of a a medicine called Omeprazole. He’s never heard of it, but it’s the priciest drug in the commissary (a whopping $10.50 a pop), and the back says its for gastrointestinal issues, which he supposes is famously the chief problem prisoners have to endure. Over the next week he stockpiles the under-purchased drug, buying up as much as he can per trip, then spreads a rumor (counting on Zyers’ and few others’ inability to keep a secret) that he’s doing it because he has a cousin who works for the company that makes it and who swears on their dead aunt that if you expose it to some heat, it “mutates” (good lies need good words) into potent downer, and best of all—the shit doesn’t get caught up in drug screenings. When the Ket-heads start coming around, many of whom he’s already sold his clean piss to, he claims (unconvincingly; he’s pretty cagey about it) he has no idea what they’re talking about but “reluctantly” sell tablets of it for five times the price at $50 a bottle. It’s easy to justify. The commissary doesn’t stock much a week and when pointedly asked why he buys up all of it, he just pats his stomach and grumbles about indigestion. Two weeks of sucker-driven business and $40 profit margins later, he’s ready to start shelling out cash to guards for their “appreciation.”
The best part is half of them are smart enough to know he’s hustling them, but desperate enough to pony up fifties anyway. With every drug in this shithole being sold at ten times street value, it’s easy to sell snake oil for comparatively cheap.
Especially on somebody else’s say-so.
GM: A lot of them aren’t even smart. Em’s seen everyone here from hardened “this place is like a hotel to me” criminals to clueless unfortunates who only got arrested by dumb luck, or lack thereof. They’re easily suckered into the jail’s pernicious drug culture to numb away their pain.
The money comes in. Em goes out. The sheriff’s deputies are happily willing to finger whoever the hell Em wants in return for a quick buck. A young one named Jordan Ratcliffe, who looks only a few years older than him, complains about how low his salary is next to an NOPD officer’s and seems particularly hungry to make some money.
Cash Money comes by, expecting his money for the weed. Em even has enough to pay him off.
Bert Villars sees to things with the DA once the deputies are in their corner. He says Zyers will probably come out of this in one piece, eventually.
“The whole case is a giant headache for everyone, with no way to prove he killed someone or who he killed. Most likely the cops will let him rot for a while, then strong-arm him into pleading guilty to desecration of a body just so they can say it was solved.”
The grimebag lawyer is true to his word, in any case. He says he’s haggled down the only remaining charge (obstruction of justice) to a minor fee. Emmett is out of Orleans Parish Prison and a free man within the week.
It’s none too soon before the next random drug tests.
His future stares at him, at once dead on arrival and wide open for him to seize. The movie might have flopped. He’s got a criminal record. He even got a letter in the mail saying he’d been expelled from Brother Martin’s.
But the boys there will always want weed. Probably the girls at McGehee too.
Villars leaves him with a business card, an oily leer, and the parting farewell that “I’m certain we will be seeing each other again.”
Emmett: He shows up at their parties in friends’ cars, selling marked-up weed right at the occasion, a prince among children who know nothing, nothing at all. He even passes out business cards.
He makes money. It’s an odd feeling. Almost like having a job.
He dances, and drinks, and sleeps with girls whose names he doesn’t need to remember except for when he needs something in return.
He slips through his life like he’s waiting for something, though everything he’s waiting for has already happened. Everything has already happened.
He even shows up to the McGehee parties, idly watching for a flash of blonde locks, blue eyes. Waiting, but not seeking. Never seeking.
He visits Miranda in the hospital. He even brings flowers.
What the hell, right?
The drugs are a good start. He tries to edge into the chop-shop rackets, but a beating by a neanderthal named Fizzy Fernandez puts that to an end.
He keeps on keeping on, and waits.
GM: Miranda is in a coma when Em first visits her. Doctors have a bunch of explanations that all ring hollow to his ears. Her parents are so grateful there’s a “male caller” and ask if he’ll come by again. Her balding-headed grandfather, who’s also there, expresses similar sentiments while still finding a chance to talk Em’s ear off about the evils of the federal government and the slave-like yoke of taxation. He remarks on what a bright future a sharp-looking young man like Em surely has.
“You shouldn’t spend it under anyone’s thumb.”
Emmett: “I was thinking the same thing,” he mutters, staring at the comatose girl. He asks one doctor to sum up her condition in a sentence.
“Learning disability,” he cheerfully volunteers.
GM: He gets a nonplussed look.
The question of housing is one of the first others to come up. Lena, who’s visited in jail (and been desperately and futilely trying to patch things up between Em and their parents), offers to take him in. The heavily pregnant resident doctor says that her and Dan’s new house “has plenty of room.”
She also seems to have heard about Brother Martin’s, and brings up attending public high school or getting a GED.
College, too. “This doesn’t have to set back your future at all, Em. We can make it work until film school.”
Emmett: He keeps himself to himself in their house. Doesn’t want to be a burden. In truth, it feels too much like their parents’ house. He promises to be on his own two feet before they’re used to him, and does everything he can to make good on that promise. He saves his money steadily. Chuck Pavaghi gets him a side gig at a late-night pirate-themed hot dog stand in the Quarter while wearing an eye-patch and sells weed straight from the cart to giggling, incredulous tourists—his manager pretends not to notice when it increases their overall bottom line. That lasts for about a month before he realizes he can make more money in less humiliating ways.
He lives in a democracy of cretins.
He dates a Krystal employee for a time and moves in with her despite any protests.
“Sis, I love you,” he says. “And I’ll get back on my feet. I’ll have a future. But after this… I need to do it my way.”
So he does.
Is this what working feels like? Maybe not, but he’s good at it, and he makes more money than his parents were ever willing to let him see. He strikes up an email correspondence with that fool Emil and writes some of the cultist’s precious “literature.” He enlists his aid in setting up an online “donation basket” he can use to get back on his feet.
He ends up spending a lot of time at the Barely Legal. Even gets closer to Mouton. It’s amazing what losing everything can do to put things in perspective.
“Things got fucked up at the beginning,” he says as he’s handing over another week’s steady cash. “But I hope you can see I’m a good investment, now. We can be good for each other.”
He keeps on keeping on.
GM: Cash Money is only too happy (well, ‘smirking’ seems more apt) for Em to spend time at the Barely Legal. Between the strippers and booze, and there’s no end of ways for people to spend money.
Maybe there’s also how flashy lights and pretty faces concealing total emptiness strikes a chord with him.
The thoroughly dirty cop agrees with Em’s assessment. He’s already moved the teenager up to ecstasy. This time the money gets Em a bag filled with white powder.
“I’m moving you up to coke.”
There are other ways to make money too, he soon discovers.
Bert Villars is a font of practical advice, as he always is, so long as Em pays his hourly rate. He recommends the teenager apply for Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), or disability benefits. It’s the easiest half grand a month he’ll ever make.
The paperwork is a hassle to file out, and he sees a psychologist named Madison Howards to verify his disability. He plays it up, but wonders how much he even needs to when she diagnoses him with clinical depression. Because he can’t work, he gets $623 a month, and can’t have more than $2,000 in assets, which actually just means in his bank account.
There are periodic reviews. At the monolithic Social Security office in the CBD, he sees young adults with Down Syndrome and autism and other disorders accompanied by their parents; a blind man walking with a cane; and a man in a wheelchair who feels like a veteran, who’s missing both his legs.
Sure would suck to be that guy. They both get the same check.
Emmett: He doesn’t quite understand why realism gets him diagnosed with depression, but he takes it. He tips his imaginary hat to the downsies every time he passes them. For their brave burden, his life is richer.
As long as he’s meeting Villars, he floats other rackets by the leering attorney, using him to make unsavory contacts up and down the city.
GM: Em finds Krystal on the way back from the Barely Legal. It’s a trashed and dirty 24/7 fast food restaurant on Bourbon Street. He’s greeted by a woman who looks like a prostitute throwing up in a trash can before a furiously yelling employee throws her out. At least half the customers look drunk or high. The food is ghettotastic. Probably full of salt and preservatives, probably horrible for him, probably not even real meat, but delicious and costs practically pocket change. The bored-looking employees read porn magazines as they take orders. This is a place that knows what it is and does not give a fuck.
The cashier who threw out the vomitting prostitute looks like she wants to be anywhere but here. Her name is Taylor Hembree. She’s a college dropout with no declared major whose parents wouldn’t support her after she decided college sucked, so here she is.
“At least here the bullshit’s all out in the open.”
She lives in a shithole apartment on Rampart Street. The sex is brusque, direct, and empty. She’s fine with Em moving in if he helps pay rent. When not flipping burgers and wiping up vomit, she shoplifts clothes, groceries, and assorted merchandise she re-sells to lowlifes at Krystal (the other employees don’t care), lays around in her apartment getting high (she finds it convenient he sells weed) torrenting shows and movies, and nurses envy at high school friends who’ve gone on to better things.
Emmett: He helps pay rent, enlists her in some minor hustles around the Quarter, and for all that mostly tries not to be the worst person he can be to her. She reminds him too much of himself.
GM: He reminds himself too much of himself.
But it is worse when someone else does that too.
Taylor isn’t a cheerful participant so much as an unflinching one. Em doesn’t think he’s ever seen her smile. She shares her own form of petty fraud: selling food stamps. She makes a low enough income to qualify for those. Since she shoplifts groceries, she sells the food stamps to lowlifes at Krystal. Em makes a low enough income that he qualifies too. Selling them brings in another $200 or so a month. It’s not glamorous money, but together with the SSI and his own shoplifting, it’s dependable bread and butter.
Emmett: He tries to make her laugh. It’s no fun being around somebody who can’t laugh.
“Hey, watch this,” he says when they’re at a bar one night, and calls out in a British accent, “Next round’s on me, gents!” as he slides a credit card that isn’t his across the bar.
He spends the next hour convincing drunks he’s dispossessed royalty with banking connections while she picks their wallets and lifts jewelry off passed-out patrons.
Life isn’t good. But it’s enough.
GM: She laughs at that. It’s a hard sound with an edge to it, mocking the people gullible enough to fall for it. But she laughs.
Bert Villars, meanwhile, proves quite helpful at making unsavory contacts. He charges some of Em’s ill-gotten proceeds for it, but the teenager could swear he’s the personal attorney to seemingly every gangster, drug dealer, and petty crook in New Orleans. He even offers to hook up Em with the BloodHound Gangstaz.
They’ve not been doing well since a recent gang war that broke out with the Mafia. The underboss, Fat Benny, really has it out for them.
The mob’s most feared hitman, Maneater, is suspected of killing several of the BloodHounds. No one’s found any bodies.
The girl he most wants to see never seems to be around for any of the parties at McGehee. Her schoolmates are all disappointed when they hear the movie is off, especially Bentley Downs. She’d been “so psyched for it!”
Isabel Flores confronts Em on her own. He picks up (Isabel doesn’t mention it directly) that her dad was quite angry over that phone call and tried to find out where he lived, but “couldn’t find an Elliot Faustin anywhere. And now the movie’s off. What’s going on?”
She seems into him, too, at least a little. You know what they say about religious girls.
Emmett: He politely declines Bert’s offers there.
He’s very apologetic to Isabel about the movie—she had such a good audition, and he’s certain she would have made the most of it—worst of all, he’s sure it would have been nice to work with her.
As they talk and inhibitions loosen through the night, he does steer the conversation towards her dad. “He seemed kind of intense on the phone,” he ventures. “Formal. Sounded big, important. He a police guy? Politician, maybe?”
Despite the obvious opportunity to exploit whatever nascent daddy issues she definitely has, he’s actually more curious how he treats her, and how she feels about it.
He doesn’t push, but he coaxes.
The movie, sadly, fell apart when things between Cècilia and him ended and her mother ceased her involvement. “It’s sad, but I’ve moved on,” he says, shrugging. “Some things aren’t meant to be, you know?”
He raises an eyebrow at her dad literally trying to find out where he lives.
“Oh, that’s probably because I took my mom’s name. On the birth certificate it’s something else. Headache for forms and things, but I’m just a lot closer to my mom’s side of the family than my dad’s. It’s a pain to get it legally changed, you know how it is.”
GM: “Not really,” Isabel answers, but seems to buy it.
Her dad’s a senator in the state legislature. He’s minority whip.
She shows him a picture of them together at a purity ball.
She has nothing but reverent things to say about what a “strong” man he is, how he always knows what’s best, always knows the right thing to do. And always tells the truth. But he has high expectations and it’s so hard to live up them, sometimes, to be good enough for him.
She’s also here at this party when she isn’t supposed to be.
Emmett: Oh boy. That means he really wasn’t lying about Patton. That sucks.
He nods along to her praise, and makes conversation with her, and ultimately leaves her alone.
There are enough lies in her life already.
GM: Isabel tries to catch his interest with increasingly heavy “I’m getting sooo drunk…” “I’m never like this…” hints and seems let down by that interest’s absence.
But she’d probably be even more let down by its presence, in the end.
Emmett: He makes sure she has a glass of water when he leaves her.
GM: He doesn’t lack for would-be sexual partners though, when the idea of working as an escort occurs to him. Villars doesn’t know Christina Roberts himself, but he knows a guy who does. Villars always seems to know a guy who knows the right guy. Introductions get made.
Amber Cox’s former madam looks Em over, asks if he’s 18 (his first adult birthday passes with little fanfare), and declares he has a pretty enough face to make some good money. More if he can also carry an intelligent conversation and attend events as a date.
“The majority of the women you’d fuck will look a lot like me,” she explains perfunctorily. “Divorced or widowed professionals. 40s and 50s. Money to spare and no kids around.” Most are looking for a ‘boyfriend’ experience that entails a lot of attention from a single guy.
The job can pay a half grand an evening or a full grand for a 24 hour day, depending on how well he checks client boxes. He can make more money if he fucks men, too. Can he fuck men?
Emmett: He isn’t really sure yet, but women are a good start.
It’s not like being a whore. This is refined. Dignified.
He has nothing to be ashamed of.
He drinks because he can afford to. That’s all.
GM: And sometimes because the client can afford to.
They all fit the profile Christina said. Professionals in their 40s and 50s. They take him out to nice bars and restaurants. Julia Lansdale thinks it’s “cute” to hand-feed him some of the oysters in Antoine’s signature Rockefeller sauce (named for how rich it is) as she talks about her philanthropic and political work. Kimberly Freneau takes him to Commander’s Palace, where he runs into Artie. The line cook shamelessly flirts with him and makes all sorts of food entendres that Kimberly laughs over. She has a wedding ring on her finger. A young daughter named Rachel, too, in an exception that apparently proves the rule. She’s upset that her husband (a math professor at Tulane) wants to get into the gambling business. Catherine Strong prefers restaurants further away from Commander’s Palace. It’s on practically the same street as McGehee, and she doesn’t want her students there to see them together.
The women all want conversation and a “boyfriend experience” like Christina said. They pay for his drinks and meals. They don’t mind if he gets a little liquored up. Just not enough to affect his performance in bed. Then he gets cut off, without discussion. Once or twice they even pick his meals without letting him choose. Then they take him back to their homes, or hotels, and fuck his brains out. Lansdale has an insatiable libido and wants them to go again and again and again. Em’s dick hurts. One time, she calls him “Antoine” when she climaxes.
Strong has sex with him while another man around her age watches: Em isn’t sure exactly who he is. He holds the McGehee principal’s hand and whispers tender things into her ear as Em thrusts between her thighs. The man doesn’t ever join in, though he does smile coyly and sometimes pat Em’s rear while the teenager puts his clothes back on.
Not many of his clients are single-time ones. There’s a young woman named Widney who looks like she could be around his age, but with an all-business demeanor and tightly leashed hair that makes her feel a decade older. She fucks his brains out once, calls him “just what I needed” and then never sees him again. They don’t even have dinner.
Maybe it’s the fact he wants to drink that drives him to play with fire. Gina is a mobster’s wife who just beat cancer and wants to celebrate “with something just for me.” She has Em go down on her until his tongue can’t move (“my husband never does this”) and then never sees him again either.
Lots of the women want a guy who goes down on them. They don’t ever have to reciprocate.
The one who takes the most out of him is a plump, buxom, and matronly-looking redhead named Jill. She calls him “duckie,” pinches his cheeks, and remarks on how handsome he is. She makes sure he eats well when they go out, though insists on no drinking. Then they go back to her place and do things in that bedroom Em can barely describe. He’s exhausted for days afterwards.
Christina keeps asking: is he ready to fuck men?
The money’s good, though. Really good, when it’s paired with the drug money and the SSI benefits, the food stamps, and the odd con. Em can move someplace nicer, if he wants to. Someplace where he doesn’t share a toilet with half a dozen other people who piss over the rim and that’s broken all the time, or a shower that doesn’t have turds in the drain and orange gunk along the rim. Someplace where he doesn’t walk out of his shared apartment in the middle of the night to take a piss and find a drug addict lying passed out in the hall because someone didn’t lock the front door.
Taylor wants to know where his money’s coming from. And if he tells her where, she wants in.
“This place is a shithole. Rather be a whore than live like one.”
Emmett: “Yeah, well. Maybe you can find a pimp.”
She’s fine. He doesn’t hate her. But she gives him nothing and leeches off him, and it feels like nothing to leave her.
Maybe being left by a whore will be the step she needs to get her shit together. Like him.
GM: His now-ex is furious at his rejection. “I gave you that fucking food stamp tip, asshole!” And all those free burgers. She grabs as much of his stuff as she can wrestle away and chucks it into the turd-filled, broken toilet. The noise and yelling through the too-thin walls draws laughing, gawking onlookers among Em’s former neighbors.
Emmett: He makes sure to tell some of them that she’s whoring now.
“See? Now I’ve given you some free advertising,” he calls to her.
He doesn’t have much anyway. So he leaves.
He moves to his new place. Saint Louis Street isn’t so far from Rampart, and yet it feels a world apart. It’s a nice apartment, too nice for somebody his age, but the nice older lady who manages the property is easily charmed and reassured that he’s just one more trust fund brat who thinks he’s too good for college.
“Thanks, Mrs. Darnell,” he smiles when she hands him the keys.
He buys furniture that looks nicer than it is comfortable. He almost buys a sick-looking throne whose armrests are carved like guns but some asshole outbids him.
Life is good. Life is great.
He’s still unhappy.
He decides he’ll fuck men. Maybe that’s what’s missing. That would be a neat little answer. He’s just closeted.
GM: Em’s first male client is a graying-haired but dashing man with impeccable posture who gives his name as Mark.
He works a legal job. He doesn’t make much else conversation. They don’t go on a date. Just straight to the hotel room. The larger, stronger man holds Em down over the bed and rams his ass, doggy-style. He pulls the teenager’s hair. He screams that Em’s a “sissy little faggot.” He shoves his cock and balls down Em’s throat and makes him gag. He chokes and throttles him. He bends Em over his knees and spanks his ass until it’s white with red, hand-shaped imprints. He calls Em a “disgusting cocksucker” and alternately orders Em to call him “daddy” and “sir.” He tells Em to swallow or he’ll lick it off the carpet. Then he takes Em in the rear again. He takes Em until the teenager loses feeling in his legs.
He strokes Em’s cheek and licks his nose when they’re done.
“Next time we’ll put you in a dress. God you’re such a fucking hot little bitch.”
Christina already wants to schedule Em with his next client. Can he do tomorrow?
The money’s good. He clears $800.
Emmett: Em decides that maybe he’s not much for fucking men.
GM: Christina says he can make more. Just give it a bit.
Emmett: No! Obviously not! Does she think that he’s just some kind of glutton for misery, that he just wants to be hurt and hurt and told he’s doing well, that he’s so simple, so pathetic, so tired of fighting that—
“Okay. I’ll keep doing it.”
He starts doing coke. Trips weekends.
GM: Mark is elated and makes him wear a dress next time. Plus a bra and blonde wig.
“Want you to feel like a girl.”
The money is good.
Emmett: He spends some of it on a gift basket that gets sent to LA.
He also keeps up with Miranda’s medical situation.
GM: She eventually emerges from the coma, but suffered brain damage. She has lost the use of her legs and is now confined to a wheelchair. People are already making “Oracle” jokes.
Emmett: Em doesn’t get it, but he’s sure it’s both mean and something he would laugh at with context.
She gets a gift basket, too and he talks to her sometimes.
He’s started sweating when he goes too long without a bump.
He knows what that means.
He’s scared. He tells her, and stays with her and talks to her because he knows on some level she was hurt because of him, and the only thing that distracts him from his aching, itching needs and the violent exertions of his work is spending time with somebody even more wretched than he perceives himself to be.
A lot of things in his life are shit, but he can walk.
GM: The addiction eats into his drug profits. He’s got enough to cover the balance. Cash Money still sells to him. It doesn’t make a difference to him what Em does with the drugs after buying them.
This is safe.
It has to be.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies.
Miranda feels different after coming out of the coma.
There’s the ‘not walking’ part. But she’s paranoid there’s “poison” in her food. She says the fluoride in tap water controls your mind. She’s angry at everything, and snappish, and foul-mouthed, and she no longer looks at Em with gushing, puppy-dog eyes. Sometimes she yells at him and calls him names. Then she cries and calls herself even fouler names, then screams that they’re all doomed, that humanity is fucked, that people are awful, that-
It’s usually then her parents make her take her pills.
They’re grateful Em’s coming over. She doesn’t have “many” friends.
More like “any.”
Emmett: He isn’t sure, at first, why he stays. There’s no adoration, no benefit, not even the fun of manipulating her.
But as he talks to her, this wretched, destroyed, corrupted thing, he realizes why he likes her better now.
Knows that this world is terrible, and will take everything from anybody who doesn’t see it coming.
There is so little good in this world.
But maybe the people who know don’t have to be so awful to each other.
He visits once a week in the early months. As months become a year and that year becomes years, that changes to once a month. He takes her places. They talk. They are ugly, and crass, and cruel, the jokes they laugh at.
But they laugh together.
GM: Laughing at people seems to be the one thing that gives her pleasure.
That, and eating.
She does a lot of that. Her parents don’t have the heart to make her stop. Her grandfather tries, a few times, and she screams obscenities at him like he’s a stranger who doesn’t take all of the things she says seriously. He looks hurt.
Emmett: He looks at her seriously one lunch.
He tells her about the last time he saw his parents.
How now they’re gone.
How he did it to himself and he doesn’t care but he can still feel them missing. The way amputees sometimes feel their limbs.
Tells her people are all she has. Even now. Especially now.
So all the shit in her head, the terrible things she has to say—she lives with it, but without them, it all gets worse.
He isn’t going to beg her to fix it. He doesn’t have any lessons, any truths untainted by the poison in him.
But he tells her that, and tells her she’s still not as bad as him.
GM: Miranda’s initial sneer and “what fuckheads” comment at his description of his parents gives way to a curiously uncertain look.
She doesn’t say anything for a few moments.
Then she fits half the Big O into her mouth and chows down.
She eventually refuses to eat any more fast food. She claims non-organic food is full of “poisons.” She still eats a lot, though. Organic doesn’t seem to do much for weight loss.
Whoring goes about as well as it can. Not all of the guys are like Mark. Some are better. Some are worse. It’s Mark he sees the most. The graying-haired family man expands Em’s repertoire. Wig. Bra (stuffed). Panties. Makeup. High heels. Mark can’t get enough of him. Can’t keep his hands off him.
The money is good. Really good. Better than the cons. The SSI and food stamps are a trickle in comparison to what he makes off his “sugar daddies.”
Christina has a fair number of other escorts working for her. Most are girls. One is Samantha Watts. He runs into her at the surprisingly crappy apartment Christina keeps for all her escorts to use. She looks him over when he’s getting dressed up.
Like Miranda, she doesn’t look sure what to say. Or think.
Then she says, “Wow. Look at you.”
Emmett: He glances down at the half-stuffed bra, the panties wrapped around his cock and balls and stray pubes he hasn’t tucked away yet.
“Karma, right?” He doesn’t sound bitter so much as he does… calloused.
He looks at her. “And look at you. Still strong? Still… you?”
GM: Well, she’s here.
She’s a whore now too.
Emmett: So are politicians and celebrities.
He talks to her, too. Quietly and carefully, first.
But the truth is, when all is said and done… were they ever so different? Victimizer and victim are the same mount on the merry-go-round, and the same story can be told two times if you just switch the actors.
It wouldn’t be all so fucked up if he didn’t like her so much.
GM: Sami looks at him in his bra and panties and doesn’t seem to even have it in her to make any cracks.
She’s going to college. This helps pay for it.
She hates her family.
She has to get ready for a client. Em’s driver, who’s never batted an eye at him being dressed like a girl, is waiting.
“You have no idea how much you fucked up my life,” she finally says.
Emmett: “Not yet. You want to tell me about it and I can tell you how badly I fucked up mine?”
GM: Months pass. Em has sex with more men. More women. The drugs are some of the few things that feel good. He makes money he doesn’t need to buy things he doesn’t really want, besides the drugs.
Sami keeps working as a whore too. She doesn’t complain. Or seem to much enjoy it.
Emmett: He starts by buying her a car.
It wipes out most of his “savings” (really accumulated wealth he’s too lazy to spend). He supposes he’ll keep making payments—whatever, the accumulation of wealth is the one apparent constant of his new life. What’s a few more Johns and Jennies?
He passes her the keys, and the parking garage it’s parked in, without comment one day.
It’s a shiny, red beast. Flashy. Sports model. All personality and zero practicality.
He has a feeling she’ll like it.
GM: He has a feeling he’s right.
She’s also suspicious. Everything comes with strings attached. What’s his angle?
Emmett: He offers her a tired smile and he says, “So that I can hire you for an exorbitant sum of money. Consider the car an advance, if you have to. No sex. Just a date where you pretend to like me. Two grand. One hour.”
GM: Sami immediately tenses at the word ‘hire’ before he adds ‘no sex.’
She doesn’t say anything for a moment. Maybe she’s thinking of cracks. They’re probably too easy after seeing him put on a bra and panties for a male client.
“How much was the car?” she finally asks flatly.
That’s what it always comes down to. Money.
She says yes. Em gets to pick what to do.
But she picks where. When. He’ll meet her there. And she’ll drive herself. Both ways.
“And don’t even think of buying me any drinks I can’t watch the bartender make.”
Emmett: “I wouldn’t dream of it. My foot hurts when it rains.”
Emmett: What a woman.
GM: “That’s on top of the heels your boyfriend puts you in?”
Dinner is at Commander’s Palace. The food is excellent as ever. Sami looks great in a slinky red evening dress and matching pumps. She’s all wide smiles and warm laughter and genuinely interested questions and appropriately sympathetic remarks. She feels completely into him. She feels like she really cares about him.
You get what you pay for.
Emmett: “You know Artie works at this place?” Em muses after they order appetizers. “He was there the first night I saw you, too. Almost like coming full circle.”
He sips his drink. It’s not alcoholic. He got something sugary instead.
“I’m glad you came.”
GM: “So am I,” Sami beams. “You look delicious in that suit.”
“And yes, he mentioned. We can probably expect extra good service when the staff knows both of us.”
Emmett: “Ah, maybe. And maybe not.”
He feeds her a horseradish-crusted oyster. “You know, I kept thinking about that night. At first I thought, no shit, you know, trauma. I thought about it again and again. I felt guilty, sometimes. Numb, others. But mostly I felt confused, because I kept wondering about something I had no good reason to wonder about.”
GM: Sami smiles up at Em (she keeps her head low and tilts it up at just the right angle) with ‘yes please, daddy’ eyes as he feeds her.
“I think it’d be only natural to think a lot about a night like that,” she tells him sympathetically, slowing appropriately in her eating. “What have you been wondering about?”
Emmett: “I wondered what happened to you. What you did next.”
He watches her eyes carefully. She’s quite good at this. Pretending. Maybe as good as him.
GM: “I checked into a hotel room, took a really long and really hot shower, then got high,” Sami answers directly. Then she smiles again. “That’s so sweet you were concerned about me. I know you’d been in a lot of pain too.”
Emmett: “I was, and am, though not as much as you. I meant after all that. What about your parents? McGehee? Everything? You left it behind? You said I fucked up your life.”
GM: “No, I finished up at McGehee. I left home, after my parents paid for that last semester. My grades also slipped, so I couldn’t qualify for as good a scholarship. I had to give the admissions officer a blowjob and now do this to pay rent and tuition. I didn’t try to one-up Cècilia anymore. My boyfriend broke up with me and now I’m incapable of having a normal relationship with anybody.”
“Oh, I also got an abortion. I dunno which guy the father was. There were complications because I had to get it illegally, you need parental permission to get it legally, and the doctor said I can’t have kids now. I had to pick between that and being a mom at 18 to a kid I didn’t even want. The STD treatments weren’t as big a deal on top of that, though. The PTSD’s been worse.”
Sami’s tone remains cheerful like she’s talking about expected sunny summer weather.
Emmett: He nods, and listens, and thinks about her shooting a baby that looks like him.
He doesn’t know how he feels, but his face is sad, his eyes unflinching from hers.
He asks, “Did you want kids?”
GM: “Dunno, honestly. But now I don’t get to decide.”
She still says it smiling.
Emmett: “Some things can’t ever be made right,” Em says, and he holds her gaze. He sounds calm. Patient as the dead, and only a hair more charitable.
“But sometimes reparations can be made. And mostly, reparations look like money. Or a car. In this case, though, I think you deserve something more. Actually, I know you do.”
GM: “That’s just so thoughtful of you, Em,” Sami beams, laying a hand on his arm. “This life, maybe all life, turns everyone so hard. Makes them look out for number one. But you’re still thinking about other people. That really says a lot about you.”
Emmett: “And so good of you, Sami, to pay me so many compliments. But the truth is, life hasn’t just made me hard.”
He takes her hand in his, softly, and says, “It’s made me mean.”
“Maybe once I wasn’t. Maybe there was a time when the cruel jokes in my mind really were jokes, when I thought that things would all work out in the end, when I really thought that doing the right thing, the good thing, mattered more than a shit. But not anymore. I’m tired of being mean, but that’s all I get to be anymore, unless I’m letting somebody fuck me so I can keep on Easy Street. I’m tired of knowing that nobody can see me as I am and love me, tired of thinking I can only take and take until I choke. Here’s the truth, Sami, and it’s the hardest one: the only people I feel anything for these days are the ones I hate. And hate ages a man. My dad told me that, once.”
He eats another oyster, and the spice of horseradish makes his smile crooked. “I suppose it ages women, too.”
GM: Sami looks deeply into his eyes and takes his hand in hers.
“You deserve to be loved, Em. Everybody does.”
“You can bring so much to people’s lives, you really can. I remember how excited all the girls at McGehee were about your movie.”
She squeezes his hand.
“There’s a lot about you that’s worth loving. Don’t lose sight of it.”
Emmett: “For a long time I thought I had to think that, too,” Em says. “And then I realized: I don’t care if I deserve love or not. I want it. So I need it. But love is a tricky thing. Somebody has to know who you are. Your most wretched, most despicable. Most ugly. Or love stops mattering. Dissolves.” He smiles at her. “Why’d your boyfriend do a silly thing like leave you?”
GM: “He saw me when I was uglier,” Sami says, rolling her shoulders and offering a ‘what are you gonna do?’ smile. “Love just stopped mattering. Like you say, you have to accept the bad with the good. You have to love somebody for all of who they are, not just the parts you want them to be.”
Emmett: “I couldn’t agree more,” he says. “It’s why I think I could love you.”
GM: Sami just holds his hand and smiles.
The rest of the dinner passes agreeably. It’s hard to go wrong with good food paired with good company. Sami is by turns sweet, sympathetic, engaged, funny: whatever Em wants her to be. After he pays, she lets him walk her back to her flashy new sports car and open the door. She looks at him with tender doe eyes, thanks him for a wonderful evening, and leans in close. Em can feel her breasts brushing against his chest as she whispers in his ear:
“Goodnight kiss is $500.”
Emmett: “Hmm. Tempting. Maybe next time.”
There is a next time. A lot of next times. He doesn’t mention the business he’s thought up until the third.
GM: Sami doesn’t charge a sports car for the next next time.
But she charges more than Em does his own clients.
She’s everything she was the first time.
Emmett: It goes on like that, for a time.
He meets her once a month. They get dinner. Or they dance. Or they see a movie and make fun of the different characters.
Or they walk. He talks about his own life, mistakes he’s made, the nightmares he has sometimes. The knowledge that even though he could be anything he wanted to be, none of it would ever be enough; his only recourse was to wring as much from life as he possibly could. He doesn’t think he’s suffered worse than her. It’s one of the reasons he respects her so much, he tells her. That, and her willingness to take what she wants from somebody. To hurt.
“Watch this,” he says to her in a Quarter bar, and buys a round for the house—
this has happened before
—and by the end of the night he’s filled both their wallets with other people’s money.
“What do you want? More than anything?” he asks her that night. “One wish in the world, what would it be?”
GM: Once a month is easier on Em’s bank account. He supposes it’s like shopping at the same store where you work, even if the concept of employee discounts apparently doesn’t exist.
Sami’s a great dancer with a particular taste for tango, but as with movies, she’s down for whatever Em is down for. She snarkily makes fun of the same different characters, and always turns around his remarks on how much he respects her to how much she respects him.
Unlike Taylor, who wore her bitterness on the sleeve, Sami laughs uproariously at Em’s British accent and replies with a decent Keira Knightley vocal impression of her own. She tells Em how incredible he is, what magic he’s able to weave whether he’s working on a movie or on a crowd. “It’s the same thing, selling people on an illusion. You know you’ll be great no matter which you do.”
In response to Em’s question, she looks into his eyes and answers seriously, “I want someone who understands and appreciates me for who I am. Someone who I understand and appreciate for who he is. Someone with things to hide, like me, who I can let down my guard with and really be myself, and who can say the same for me.”
“Someone who sees past all the illusions, but who can weave ones I want to believe in anyway.”
“That’s what I want, Em,” she says as she strokes his hand in hers. “More than anything.”
Emmett: His smile wavers for a moment. “That’s the professional answer. It sounds nice. But it’s also an illusion. Isn’t it. I mean, not to kick down the fourth wall, but we both know you’re here because I pay you. Given the choice, you really expect me to believe you’d want anything to do with me?” His voice is soft and bitter, but also hurt. Vulnerable.
He’s only dimly aware of what he’s doing, but for a moment, he is aware.
He cannot make her fall in love with him. He cannot convince her he is not a monster.
But he can trick her into exploiting his weakness, his need for company. He can use her predatory nature against her.
GM: “Girl’s gotta make a living,” Sami replies with a hapless, almost sad little smile.
It might even sound sincere to him, until she says what she really wants, her voice suddenly flat like a chopping board.
“I want money. Enough money to never need anyone for anything ever again.”
Emmett: “What if I could help you get it?”
GM: She looks at him skeptically. “How?”
Emmett: “Stick with me,” he says. “Tonight was easy. If we put our minds together, we could make more money off this city with promises than we do between our legs. Sooner or later, an opportunity comes along. One person can’t carry a con for long. Two can bullshit anybody.”
He quits Christina’s, eventually. Only after he hires a private eye—a stinking alcoholic who’s cheap to hire but still seems to look down his hideous nose at Em—to snap a few of him and Mark together. A few sinister emails from an anonymous address, along with an online wallet (thanks, Miranda) and soon Mark is paying him more to not think about him than he ever did to fuck him.
Life isn’t any good, but he can at least be good at it.
Miranda’s helpful in other ways, too. He records a bunch of videos—one where he’s sick and in desperate need of life-saving funds, one where he’s a musician trying to support his projects (he shamelessly filches music from Mercurial Fernandez), one where he’s running for local office to look after the rights of young gay men like himself—there’s always a market for looks.
He leaves the distribution and seeding of the videos to their various intended demographics to her. She takes a third of every dollar that goes into the digital piggy bank.
He has to be more creative now, less complacent. But he’s done being fucked, and ready to start fucking back.
“You’re going to get sick of the work eventually,” he tells her on one of their dates. “If I was too good for it, you know you are too.”
It’s easy to stoke dissatisfaction in her. Dissatisfaction, and a share of envy, too.
GM: Christina tries to get him to stay. He can switch back to (just) women if he’s tired of dressing up like one for Mark.
Emmett: Thanks but no thanks, he’s done with that part of his life. If she doesn’t get the point quick enough, he flirts with her until she stops seeing him. But he’d rather part on amicable terms.
“We should get lunch sometime.”
GM: Christina seems to write off the loss once Em makes clear he’s done. She declines to flirt with the 18-year-old, remarking that, “Mixing business with pleasure never works out.” But she takes his departure gracefully and is happy to part on amicable terms. Most of her escorts only work with her for a couple years. Most are going to college. Most are moving on to better things.
Em supposes that’s true for him in at least some respects.
The private eye, whose Canal Street office is as dirty as anything Em ever did for Mark’s money, produces the pictures and the man’s name. Mark Stines, director of Malveaux Oil’s legal department. Apparently his name (or at least first name) was the one thing he wasn’t lying about.
The old man sucks his gums as he hands over the pictures of Em wearing a blonde wig, chastity cage, and monoglove while Mark bends him over to simultaneously strangle and assfuck.
“Black would suit you better.”
Emmett: “I thought so, too.”
GM: Miranda doesn’t seem to be in need of money (or at least, hungry for it) like Samantha is. She’s happy to earn some by “laughing at idiots,” though. Em gets the sense that’s the real reward for her.
GM: “Eventually,” Sami agrees, just a bit testily. “But it’s making me steady money, and you’re not gonna be able to blackmail your boyfriend forever.”
Coke is expensive.
So is not re-selling it.
Emmett: “I won’t have to. I’ll have taken everything he has by then.” He turns his cheek for her to kiss.
His addiction could break him, but he finds the need to feed his vices outpaces his anticipation of ruin, and so he redoubles his efforts: inspired by the omeprazole racket, he buys sugar pills and sells them on weekends to tourists and high schoolers rolling through the Quarter.
Em’s watching the news. He can’t stand silence—the TV is always on in his apartment, and sometimes he needs to find something to hate. Isaiah White says something about how some upstanding septuagenarian got her hip broken because of how criminally easy it is to throw parades in New Orleans.
His ears perk up.
The next month he’s walking Sami down Canal Street on a fall night when they run into the officer escort. “Thanks,” Em says cheerily as he takes a hat to make a ringleader weep offered by the white-gloved cop he bribed, and doffs it as he inclines his head to Sami.
Getting fifty people together is harder, but not really that hard. Not with this handy new thing called Twitter, some creative advertising, and a reputable band go a lot further. He actually charges a twenty dollar cover charge and makes some of his money back. All in all, it costs about two grand to lead Sami to the front of a fifty-person parade, complete with stilt walkers, twirling Mardi Gras Indians, and a Second Line.
“This,” he says, plucking a pinstriped parasol from his sleeve like a magician producing a dove, “belongs to you.”
GM: Getting your own parade thrown in New Orleans is pretty easy. The total cost, between the permit, the band, and the cops, usually comes out to $1,500, though someone like Em who wants extra bells and whistles can go higher. There’s even one band that offers to handle the permit application process for its customers, though Em goes with another one called the Flyaway Saints, led by a large-framed saxophonist called Little T. Some of the native musicians make snarky remarks at his request to play When the Saints go Marching In, but everyone knows it’s a hit song with the tourists.
GM: The band has great energy. It’s infectious the way everyone can strut through the streets, drinking and dancing with open plastic cups in hand, and get random onlookers to join in during the intervals before applause erupts.
Sometimes there’s a couple that takes the lead. Sami unfurls the parasol and spins it around in one hand while Em spins her around in his. Parade-goers and passersby variously applaud, cheer, or whistle at the dancing lead couple. Some snap pictures on Kodak cameras or newer mobile phones.
Sometimes there’s a couple that takes the lead. Sami unfurls the parasol and spins it around in one hand while Em spins her around in his. Parade-goers and passersby variously applaud, cheer, or whistle at the dancing lead couple. Some snap pictures on Kodak cameras or newer mobile phones.
It’s so easy to bask in the attention, the music, the applause, the carefree gaiety of it all. For a moment, no one knows or cares what he’s done or who he is. He is simply the life of the party, and his audience subjects to the French Quarter’s inviolable law:
Emmett: As he spins her along his arm, he produces two crowns, plastic and cellophane but pretty enough to look at. For a moment he holds them both, silver and gold, as if considering wearing them both; then he hands her the gold before replacing the top hat with the the silver crown.
“This never has to end, you know,” he tells her.
GM: Em knows he doesn’t want it to. Blackmailing Mark is more satisfying than satisfying him ever was. It’s free money he doesn’t have to do anything for. Em could do this forever. He squeezes the man for everything that he can.
One day, Christina does lunch with him at this neat little café that’s literally right below his apartment. It’s convenient in more ways than one. Waitresses are easy to bang and buy lots of drugs. Ditto for the rest of the kitchen staff. Em may have been pleasantly surprised to discover just how much late-night partying people in the service industry do.
The topic of his lunch today, however, is less fun. Christina brings up how one of Em’s past clients is being blackmailed.
Her business relies on discretion to be profitable. If what’s happening here got out, her clients would bail.
She’s been fortunate that it hasn’t yet.
Emmett: He’s all jaded indifference and idle curiosity where the client is concerned (is it Lansdale? He bets it’s Lansdale) but some sympathy towards her. He is a little worried about himself (“blackmailed how? Do they have anything on me or who I am?”) but seems mostly bemused by the whole thing, unsure of how it relates to him.
Just another stupid, self-absorbed teenager.
GM: It’s a pretty good act. Em knows he can do self-absorbed teenager pretty well, given that he is one. ‘Stupid’ he’s starting to feel increasingly sensitive over as his old high school classmates go on to college.
Christina might even buy it, if she hadn’t brought up how he was doing financially before the blackmail, and offered him his job back if he’s been struggling to make ends meet. Or maybe not. Is that one of those new touchscreen Solarises he’s got?
She ends the lunch cordially. She even pays for his meal.
GM: When Em comes back to his apartment that night, he feels a moist cloth suddenly clamp over his face, and then it all goes black. When he wakes up, he’s in a bedroom with Mark Stines, who’s sitting in a chair with a gun pointed at him.
“Go ahead,” he motions with it. “Put those on.”
Em’s usual wardrobe is laid out on the bed. Bra. Breast forms. Panties. Dress. Makeup. Blonde wig. Heels. Nylons. Razor and cream for his legs. Once he’s dolled up, Mark handcuffs Em to the four posts, lifts a metal spoon, and tells him to “pucker your asshole real wide.”
The evening doesn’t get better from there.
Several hours later, Mark drives Em to the Ninth Ward in the trunk of his car and leaves him for dead in the gutter, dressed like a used-up whore and bleeding out his ravaged ass.
“I ever see or hear from you again, I’ll make you a girl where it really counts,” the corporate executive spits on Em’s swollen, red-spattered face before walking back to his waiting BMW.
Emmett: Hits are expensive.
Instead he has the pictures emailed to Mark’s wife and children.
Then he waits.
The next time the guy comes at him, Em’s got a friend, a thug he sells coke to sometimes, waiting. The executive is a bully. He isn’t very clever, or creative. The ambush is easy to set up.
He looks into Mark’s eyes as he pulls a gun on him.
“Pull down your pants, Stines.”
“What was it you said? A girl where it really counts?”
GM: D’angelo ‘Murda-Cent’ Turcotte gets his street name from his gang’s opinion that he would murder anybody for a penny. It’s actually the same gang Fizzy was in, Em later learned, the RidaHoodz. Fizzy just got sent to the Farm for a while because of his brother. D’angelo doesn’t really give a fuck what his beef with Em is.
The former JAG officer (as Em learned from his PI’s findings) whips out the gun it’s perhaps no surprise he brought. A cacophony of ear-splitting roars explode Em’s ears. Mark and d’Angelo both hit the ground.
“Motha-fuckaaaaaaaa!” the younger man swears, frantically compressing his stomach. Mark doesn’t make a sound as blood freely pools around his motionless body.
Em can feel a pulse in the older man’s neck.
Emmett: He calls Bartosz (an introduction he’s glad Emil was able to make) and waits. He takes Mark’s gun. He doesn’t want the stupid fuck dying. Not yet.
While he’s waiting, he calls Christina. “Hey, Christina. Are you still interested in being amicable?”
GM: D’angelo, when he sees Em take Mark’s gun, grits out that he should “kill the fuck! He knows our faces!”
Bartosz replies he’ll be over to the Ninth soon.
Emmett: Em waits for Christina’s answer. “Because while I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take things personally, I don’t get the impression you do. So I’d like to hear what you’re willing to offer me for the life of a man who’s given me very, very appealing reasons to end him. I’d rather not mess with your bottom line, all told. Past decisions notwithstanding.”
GM: “Try this. I won’t send the police after you—and don’t think I’d call 911 to do that,” Christina replies coldly. “You are not killing anyone, Emmett.”
Emmett: “Hmm. That’s an excellent stick, but I was also hoping for a carrot. I’ll tell you what, though. Pay me the full amount he paid to fuck me, I’ll give him back to you, mostly intact. If not, he’ll just go missing. I’ve been in prison before. I can take the years. But your rep won’t survive a murdered client. I’ll let you make me out to be the bad guy to him, and you can play the hero, salvage your relationship—but your client tried to kill me, and I’m afraid it hasn’t put me in a very deliberative mood. Work with me here. I didn’t need to call you, and you showed me considerably less courtesy recently. If your pride is more expensive than his life, though, I won’t begrudge you hanging up. That’s some shit I’d do.”
GM: “Is that so?” Christina’s voice goes even colder. “By my count, I provided you with nothing but opportunities to make good money, and you’ve repaid me by dumping this mess into my lap. You poison everything you touch.”
“You can bring that man you’re thinking of murdering to the nearest hospital, or I’m handing over the recording I’ve made of our phone conversation to the police. Sentences for first degree murder are typically execution or life imprisonment without parole, if you think you can take the years.”
“Or if you think you’d like to continue seeing Sami.”
The call goes dead.
Emmett: Em sighs.
“Well, it was a worth a shot.”
When Bartosz arrives, Mark’s still alive.
But he’s not gonna be having any more kids.
The monstrous level of blood loss probably won’t be great for him, either.
“You’re lucky,” Em tells the unconscious man, “how much I’m willing to do for love.”
GM: Em thinks he’s heard Bartosz’s name mentioned among criminal circles before. Actually, he’s positive he has. The vet vet shows up to stabilize Mark, dress his and Murda-Cent’s wounds, splint Mark’s leg, and apply a professional tourniquet to them both.
The man’s severed penis draws a slow-exhaled, “Whoo boy,” from the vet vet as he gets to work.
It’s as he’s doing so that Murda-Cent picks up his gun and shoots Mark in the head. Blood and brains splatter the trio.
Bartosz doesn’t pause. Doesn’t fight. He immediately bails for his van, hops in, and burns rubber.
Murda-Cent shoots after him, but the badly hurt man is in no position to chase down a car.
He looks down at the well-dressed white man’s gory corpse, then up at his BMW, and mutters, “Fuck.”
“I know some folks. We’ll take carea the car. You take carea the body.”
“You’re a goddamn idiot lettin’ a rich motherfucker like him live after what you did. The fuck you think he was gonna do?”
Emmett: “Nothing I couldn’t handle,” Em answers coolly, as he empties Mark’s wallet and tosses Murda-Cent a wad of cash. “Next time don’t spook the medic. And it’s your body, Mr. No-Witnesses. I’ll take care of the car.”
He’s already palmed the keys and brooks further disagreement by getting into the car and driving away.
He leaves it unlocked with the keys in the door in the worst part of Mid-City and lets nature take its course.
He isn’t terrifically scared of getting nailed for this. He’s pretty sure he’s some kind of god, anyways, or why else would he have seen the things he’s seen and survived the things he’s survived?
But still, but still, he’s prudent up to a point, and this city is starting to grate on him.
So he leaves.
It’s a neat little solution to his problems.
GM: Em’s first stop west is Houston. It might lack the same hard-partying reputation as New Orleans, but it’s a “real” city. Em meets an overweight Christian girl named Gwendolyn Wade who buys his line about being an itinerant seminary student on a “spiritual journey” and later “mission from God,” but seems to miss the reference. She offers to put him up for the night in her family’s house. They have plenty of room. She has twelve brothers and sisters.
Emmett: Yikes. The pro-choice movement really is under siege in all the wrong places.
GM: She’s more than happy to expound on her family’s beliefs. They’re Quiverfulls. They see children as blessings from God. The Bible commands, “Be fruitful and multiply.” God chooses when to open and close a woman’s womb. Quiverfulls might have no children, few children, or many children: it’s all up to God. But they hope to receive many.
“My mom says I have wide hips, which is a sign of fertility,” Gwen mentions proudly.
“Or, well, means that having lots of kids is easier. You can have kids if you have narrow hips. But you’re more likely to have complications.”
Emmett: “Well, that’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve heard since Sunday.”
GM: Gwen beams at Emmett’s remark.
“You know, I’m… looking for a husband…” she adds coyly.
Emmett: Fuck it, you only live once.
Eloping with Gwen just to consummate the marriage is probably a mistake for a bunch of reasons, but it’s when she starts tilting her hips after they’re done that he gets the idea that he’s going to want to be out of there as quickly as possible.
So he does.
The fact that these actually are the best few months of his life in recent memory only occurs to him weeks after abandoning her and whatever he’s left baking in her oven.
GM: Gwen initially wants them to have a big fancy wedding with lots of relatives, but eventually relents at the prospect of consummating the marriage right this evening—so long as they get a priest to marry them, and Em gets them wedding rings too. Gwen is eventually beaming at the thought of surprising her family with the handsome new husband she’s found. She seems to be telling the truth that she’s a virgin, because the sex is fairly disappointing. The only positive is that she doesn’t ask him to wear condoms: she doesn’t want any form of birth control.
Em doesn’t get a chance to leave her, though.
He’s taken from her.
Houston PD barges in on the naked newlyweds in their hotel room with an arrest warrant for Emmett Delacroix, who is wanted for murder in Louisiana. He is to be extradited to the Pelican State to face criminal charges.
Gwen is hysterical.
Emmett: He has never heard anybody call it the Pelican State.
GM: Houston PD arrests her too, but eventually decides to let her go. Gwen says she’ll do “everything, EVERYTHHING!” to help Em get out of this as he’s transported back to the increasingly familiar environs of Orleans Parish Prison. Bert Villars is all-too happy to show up and represent him.
He mentions the RidaHoodz operate a chop shop. They actually could’ve made the car disappear (it was found), although that’s moot against Mark Stines’ corpse being recovered. NOPD “actually does their job” where rich white men like Stines are concerned, after all. Murda-Cent is in custody and has pinned the blame for everything on Em.
Emmett: “Man, how badly do you have to fuck up getting rid of a body like that?”
GM: “Well, there is another detail. A certain Christina Roberts gave the police a very timely tip.”
Emmett: “Yeah, well.”
GM: Villars tsks but doesn’t judge. He never does. Morals, at least. He explains that a case like this is all but certainly going to trial. Em will get to show up in court and testify before the media.
Villars doesn’t outright say Em should lie. He never does. But he asks some very pointed-seeming questions about whether Murda-Cent coerced him under threat of violence into doing this. The jury might be able to let him off with just soliciting prostitution. That isn’t too long a sentence.
“Were you ever… intimate with him?” the grimebag lawyer inquires idly.
He’s not asking about Mark.
Emmett: “It play well if I was?”
GM: “He’s volatile. He could lose his head and do something rash in front of the court, if his masculinity is questioned enough.”
Emmett: “Man, he really should have thought about that before he asked me to fuck him wearing the same dress.”
Em also muses about media eyes on this case.
Stines was a degenerate. He thinks he can profit off this. He’s a victim of sex trafficking, exploited by a pervert whose own wife and children clearly didn’t know him.
Really, the tragedy is that such a sick man wasn’t helped before his inequities caught up to him.
“You know, reality TV is booming right now,” he says. “I bet a bunch of people would be interested in my side of things. Think we can use that?”
GM: Villars actually gives a rough and phlegmy laugh that makes Caveat’s ears perk.
“When life gives you lemons, mm?”
Em spends time in Orleans Parish Prison. Villars tells him that spending even years before trial is typical: DAs use the threat of a long wait (among other things) to make people take plea deals. He sees various familiar faces, inside and outside the prison.
Fizzy’s in there, until he’s sent up north to the Farm, along with Murda-Cent. The two RidaHoodz stick together—and threaten to make Em’s life in the prison a living hell if he doesn’t play things their way at the trial.
Zyers is in and out all the time. The place feels like a second home to him.
Villars advises Em to disavow all connections and associations with Christina Roberts, and to make his intentions there plain to her when Sami comes to visit on her behalf. He doesn’t benefit from making more enemies right now.
Villars has also learned Em’s judge is going to be Carson Malveaux. The influential New Orleans family is incensed and going to come down hard on whoever they think is to blame for what happened to Stines.
They’ve just hired a former CIA agent, in fact, to clean up this mess and any others like it for them.
Emmett: “Wow,” Em says, dry as snakeskin. “They must be really scared of me.”
He follows Bert’s advice and keeps his nose clean; nevertheless, he gets himself on the phone with reporters both reputable and desperate. He talks freely about Stines’ depravities, including some of which he invents (like his desire to fuck Matthew Malveaux’s oldest daughter) and pederasty. His thinking, he explains to Bert before running his mouth, is that if the family sees a risk of being associated with a nortorious pervert, they’ll avoid any public perception of overt sympathy.
He also expresses his desire to play the perfect witness in court even while spinning the press outside of the courtroom. He doesn’t want to disrupt the court (and run the risks therein) but he still wants to leverage his self-evident charm to his advantage with the jury.
On the home front, he makes nice with Zyers (“You look like you need a good twist in the sack, Mick,”) and other lowlives who can discourage Fizzy’s vengeance if it comes to it. It’s important to have friends, and there’s always room for somebody who can make wicked men laugh.
He also asks Villars if he thinks selling Free Em t-shirts once he gets the publicity ball rolling is too much. “There’s always money in merch. I’d be happy to cut you in.”
GM: Zyers fist-bumps Em and declares he’s “Got your back, Em, I got your back! Yeah! You got my back! You and me, we’re a team! Whoo!”
The moment Fizzy and Murda-Cent first show up, he turns tail and runs.
Em gets the shit stomped out of him by the two RidaHoodz. The three inmates get thrown naked into solitary (‘the hole’) after the sheriff’s deputies finally bother to show up. Zyers is the first person to greet Em after he gets out, declaring, “I got your back, Em, I got your back!” like nothing has happened.
Emmett: One more humiliation, one more grain of sand in his personal Sahara.
GM: Other lowlives prove more dependable. Em meets a constantly stoned man named, appropriately enough, Stoney with an unkempt ash-blond beard he hides joints and keys in. He never loses his mellow-stoned smile, whether he’s laughing at Em’s jokes or using a cigarette lighter to brand a swastika into the buttocks of the screaming 17-year-old he convinced to share his pod.
“Heil Hitler and shit.”
Emmett: He and Stoney instantly hit it off.
“South will rise again, brother.”
GM: Stoney’s mellow about the white power movement next to some of his friends. Em wonders what they’re in for. They make casual remarks about going after the families of any judge who sends them to the Farm. The two RidaHoodz back off after a few tussles.
Villars’ advice is to stay mum to reporters until the Malveauxes indicate how they want things to go. Sure enough, they do. Em is visited in an interrogation room (where he usually sees his lawyer), rather than the public visitation area by two men wearing black suits.
The first is a tall and gray-eyed man in his early middle years. His close-cropped beard and mustache are streaked with salt and pepper, which together with his angular face and fit, lean frame, give him a vaguely wolf-like countenance.
The second visitor is a bald and bull-necked man whose arms look too burly to be a lawyer.
The two methodically question Em about his involvement with Mark Stines. Em tells the men the things Villars rehearsed with him to say. The men eventually offer a simple deal. In exchange for never speaking of what happened between him and Stines (and threat of dire consequences if he does), Em will take a plea deal on minor charges and be out of prison well before the trial.
Emmett: He runs it by Villars, but that sounds fine to him.
GM: There’s less publicity for him this way, Villars says. If he wants that, he can certainly stay in jail. But if he wants out, and to just move on with his life, this is certainly faster.
Move on to what?
He’s turning 19 soon. What the fuck does he even want to do with his life?
Lena’s been making less noise about finishing high school. More about getting a GED now, then community college before transferring to a four-year school.
Maybe film school still, if he wants to do that?
She’s also recommended the military if he isn’t sure what he wants to do next. She’s heard about it doing good things for directionless young people.
Or joining NOPD, if he wants to stay in the city. Same entry-level requirements as the military.
Emmett: He could, but the truth is he’s started to suspect it’s not him that’s broken. It’s this city. This cesspit of psychopaths and tyrants and maneaters. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks, if I leave it’ll all work itself out. I wasn’t doing too bad on the road, there.
So he tells Lena he needs to figure out what he’s doing with his life somewhere that isn’t here, and he leaves.
It’s a neat little solution to his problems.
He spends two years traveling. Denver, New York, L.A. Places nobody knows his name. He makes a little money from his cons, but most of his meal tickets are the people he gets to fall in love with him. It’s like being an escort, but safer. More steady. For the first few months, he actually tries the acting thing. What the hell, right? But it turns out that’s a pipe dream, too. Most of it is waiting politely for somebody to notice you, and then they aren’t interested in whatever the fuck you have to say. It’s not an industry for people like him. Smart people.
He meets a man in L.A. who could give Mouton dangerous ideas about how to dress who offers him a job in porn. He considers, briefly, but thinks he’s above it; he asks the guy for a different kind of job instead.
Recruiting women, and occasionally men, to degrade themselves on camera for cash is depressingly easy. Or it would be if depression is real, which he’s decided it isn’t. Some people can just see past the chemicals in their brain to the way the world really works, and he’s one of them.
It’s also more lucrative than he expected. Not so much as putting on a dress, but dignity is a nice perk.
After Em realizes he’s been sleeping with the same person and staying under the same roof for three months, his chest gets tight. He can’t breathe. It’s too much like being a real person, just a real person, so he robs the place and moves again.
One night in Los Angeles, drunk and coked up, he’s sobbing in a phone booth because he can’t remember the number he’s trying to call and he doesn’t even know who’s supposed to be on the other end of it, but he knows that nothing will ever, ever be all right, that nobody wants to talk to him, and that he can never be saved.
He goes to church once.
It doesn’t do anything for him, but he takes confession anyways.
The priest asks him to leave, exasperated and disgusted, shortly after he begins.
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me how to repent, or something?”
He only gets a snort.
Another night, he’s in San Francisco. His memory is fuzzy, but he’s pretty sure he came here for Pride—he’s not a fag, not a real one anyway, but they know how to party. No denying that. He’s not a bigot.
He stops at the Golden Gate.
He walks along the side. It’s all decked out in streamers and colors, the prettiest perch this side of the country.
He gets on top of the railing. Nobody’s decorated the waves below. They lap at the bridge as dark and formless as ever.
He could decorate them.
It’s always been coming to this. The only thing that can kill him is him, and when he’s honest with himself he thinks he would quite like to die, so why won’t he jump?
He could just jump. He should.
Why isn’t he jumping?
He screams, and hands pull him back, drag him easily because he’s so scrawny, and in his inchoate anguish and yelps he is transformed to the same brat he always will be, too small and too fidgety and incapable of getting through a sentence without stuttering.
“Don’t ruin the party,” somebody tells him.
Nothing will ever change, the waves tell him. Especially not you.
So he takes the hint.
He goes home.
GM: Em’s sleep after he gets home from San Francisco doesn’t feel the same. He tosses and turns, and dreams of jumping off the Golden Gate. He lands on a yacht. Aboard are faces of souls long gone, some familiar, but slightly off, like one of those paintings full of dead nostalgia archetypes. Oscar Wilde, the American Dreamgirl, and the man in the domino mask. They laugh and smile at him, because they know how to make the motion, the way latex knows how to pour into a mold. How did he get here? Nobody’s from here.
Nothing will ever change, they all tell him. Especially not you.
They tell him something else. He takes the hint. He jumps off. He hits the Bay Area’s black waters, full of so many rocks that could dash his head open, and knows peace. They say suicides regret it at the last second. He wakes up in his sweat-drenched bed, looks around for that missing regret, and just feels worse.
And he realizes, with a sinking feeling, the world will be terrible no matter where in the world he goes.
But he goes home anyway.
People don’t seem to have missed him much in those two years, besides Lena. And maybe Miranda. Who is he even friends with? Real friends with. Everyone he knew at Brother Martin’s has moved on to college, and he feels old next to the kids now there. Even selling weed to them isn’t fun. Mouton is still his same old self and willing to sell drugs to Em. Zyers and the other lowlifes he knows are the same too. Fizzy and Murda-Cent are in the Farm. The BloodHounds and the Mafia aren’t at war anymore, and someone named Carnell is in charge of the former now. He brokered some kind of peace. Villars is still happy to ‘sell’ to Em. Even fucking Mrs. Darnell rents another apartment in the building to him. Maybe that’s what he’s really missing. Maybe that’s what he spent two years questing for. Being one door closer to Cafe Soulé.
The more things change, the more nothing does.
Sami doesn’t call him. He calls her. She’s happy, or will at least look happy after getting paid, to go on more dates. The Stines thing blew over. Murda-Cent took the rap. Stines never told anyone else he was seeing Christina Roberts’ escorts, so the secret of what Em did died with him. Two years with no blowback is enough that Christina’s fine with him hiring Sami, although he can forget about ever working for her again himself.
Sami’s still going to college. Still whoring, obviously. Still wanting to get rich.
The more things change, the more nothing does.
There’s more financial ups and downs. Like always. Sometimes he’s flush with cash and sometimes he’s penniless. Whatever his issues with getting sexually abused and humiliated by Stines, the money at least was stable. And living outside Louisiana for two years seems to have fucked with his SSI and food stamps.
Mrs. Darnell is sympathetic, enough, and willing to rent to him again once he’s got a more stable (seeming) income. For right now he needs somewhere to sleep.
There’s the streets.
Or there’s an ex.
Pick his poison.
Emmett: He knocks on Taylor’s door with a bouqet of flowers he’s stolen from a grave.
When she answers it, he doesn’t give her much time to speak before he’s kissing her. You can do that sort of thing when you’re the attractive one in the relationship, when the other knows you’re too good for them, too dangerous and hot to hold for long.
In between breaths, he starts crying. He tells her how he’s done things too terrible to name, how she is the only one who has ever understood him despite his sins, how only she can forgive him, free him from himself.
How he’s missed her, so.
Predation is easy. Being a parasite takes more subtlety.
Later that night, he tells her, softly, “I knew you would take me back. Only you ever could.”
It’s only the second sentence that’s a lie.
GM: Trying to describe Taylor’s looks can be hard. On an aesthetic level, Em supposes she’s also attractive enough, with dirty blonde hair, mostly acne-free skin, and a decent figure (especially given the free fast food at her job), but the fact she never smiles and spends her work hours serving cheap food to junkies, prostitutes, and loudly drunk partygoers takes a heavy toll. The increasingly apathy-flavored bitterness turns too many people off.
He wonders if he might look like Taylor too, after enough years of bitterness.
Nah. They’re about the same age.
More like if he gets worse at hiding it.
Her apartment looks exactly the same after two years. The same perpetually drawn shades with the non-functioning cord, the same dirty dishes piled up high in the sink, the same dirty clothes strewn over the ground, the same unidentifiable stains on the walls and carpet (“there when I moved in”), the same black crud on the floor.
The world spins on, and everyone on it stands still.
Em hasn’t seen her cry before, though. And she does cry, as they kiss and toss the flowers on top of the microwave with its non-working light. She doesn’t say anything to the sweet words at first, except pull off his clothes faster.
“So… how’d being a whore work out?” she eventually asks when they’re done.
The question sounds genuinely curious.
Emmett: “I don’t know yet,” he says. “It changed me, and I’m still alive. Changing.”
That’s me. Leopard, spots.
He pauses for a second.
“I killed a guy, you know. For what he did to me.”
He’s curious how she’ll react to that.
If he knows anything about her, it’ll scare her, for a moment. And that fear will fascinate her, the way it did him. Once.
GM: Em’s mostly right.
She looks dubious at first. She says so. Em supplies some details.
Then she looks scared, for a moment.
Then she asks, “So what was it like?”
There’s actual interest in her eyes. For once.
Emmett: He leans forward and kisses her gently, on the forehead, and pulls her to him.
“I never want to have to do that, ever again.”
It isn’t a threat. Of course it isn’t. He’s scared and vulnerable and damaged, and only those cruelest of monsters, the insensitive, would say he’s using his pain to trap her.
But if it does, oh well.
He will leave her. Never the other way around.
Em’s a good boyfriend the next few weeks— he even cooks, when they can’t be bothered to go out. Mind, his cooking isn’t anything special, but he might as well be Artie Dolan for what she normally eats. Cajun pasta under a creamy sauce with grilled shrimp and sausage. The kind his father used to make.
Maybe, he thinks, it’s time to stop screwing around. Get a real job. He tried to be an actor in L.A., though, and it was shit; hard work, low ratio of success. The exact opposite of how to make money.
Well, that’s if you play by industry rules…
He calls up Ren Tanaka, who shot most of the footage for his various online grift campaigns. Turns out the squirt’s business has really taken off; it really is who you know.
Building a fake portfolio of work is a pain in the ass, and it eats into his recovering drug profits, but it still comes out looking pretty snazzy; a few scenes from real-seeming television shows, a supporting role in a movie that’ll be releasing next summer. He bribes some modestly successful local actors with coke to vouch for him, too. Anything to get him into a room with real people, apart from the try-hard losers trying to game the system through talent alone.
GM: Em’s able to get his share of acting gigs in some local theaters and a few minor TV roles. His uncle might have more connections, but there’s some satisfaction in doing this all on his own. He pulls on his shadiness and notoriety to draw social interest to him, and spreads enough conflicting and wild stories to make himself tremendously interesting to people who don’t know better.
Bentley Downs is one of them. She’d be happy to be his agent. She can have her dad buy her the license “or do whatever” she needs to be one. She isn’t sure what it takes to be a talent agent. But she’d love to be his. She’s all right in bed, too. She’s very energetic.
The money from acting isn’t as good as escort work or porn recruiting. But it pays, and there’s no reason he can’t make money from shadier enterprises too at the same time.
It almost seems like a victim-less con. Getting paid to do something he likes.
Besides the acting gigs, the next six years are like the last several. There’s more financial ups and downs, without the stability of the escort work, but they’re not that different. Not really. More taking money from people he thinks are idiots. There’s one guy, Affelsomething (Em can’t bother to get his name right) who tries to kill himself. Em fucks his wife, too. Maybe it makes Em smile that some small part of the world feels like how he feels.
He associates with people his parents always told him were bad. He does more things they always told him were bad. He does time for some of them. Pisses away a few years with all the care of a drunk who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about public urination laws. Villars is always there to swoop in and get him a good deal with the DA. True to his earlier word, he never judges or cares what Em does, so long as his hourly fee gets paid.
Em sleeps with a lot of girls, though none do it for him like Sami. None charge as much either. Some part of him wonders if this is healthy, to keep paying for a relationship like this. Maybe he can think of it as atonement. Or maybe he gets sick of it. Maybe he wants more. Maybe he’s crazy over being emotionally gaslighted by her, wondering what she really thinks. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s her. Things sour. She screams hurtful things, not about what a faggot he is, because that was just over money, but how pathetic.
Because he’s not really out for money. He’s after for love. He knows how empty he is inside, what a despicable piece of self-hating shit he really is, who makes a show of laughing his disdain at the world and being so much cooler than everyone, but he’ll put on a dress and suck cock when he’s not even gay, just to be told he’s doing well.
“That’s how fucking pathetic you are,” Sami sneers. “You’d rather take it up the ass than be alone with yourself for even a second.”
Then he throws tantrums and cries when people get sick of his shit. No wonder his parents walked out on him. He’s pathetic. He’s a black hole. He should just stick a gun in his mouth and end it, but he’s too chickenshit to do even that. He’s shit. He’s poison. He poisons and turns to shit everything he touches, and it’s the same words from Ron, from Christina, from Taylor, and now from Sami.
“You should just go and fucking die. It’d make the world a better place,” she spits during an argument.
But that doesn’t really change either. They make up when he buys her things and shows her a good time.
And then they do it again. And again. And again.
Em sails through his last teens and early twenties and early mid-twenties on a voyage to nowhere. He feels like he’s been on that voyage a thousand times before and that it’s all just a repeat that’ll get worse the more times he watches it, but he does anyway, because there’s nothing else on TV.
Until it does.
Sami’s happy to make money cheating idiots with Em, but not as happy as she is having money. His name is Robert Argabrite III, which Em thought was pretentious, but otherwise not worth particularly much thought. That changes when Sami wins the game. Rob’s rich parents are dead. She says the right things. Probably does the right things in bed too. She marries him. Then she divorces him. Overnight, she becomes worth $150 million.
She starts taking expensive vacations (by herself), going to gallery openings, and dressing in Prada. She sees Em less. She takes up flamenco dancing. She really seems to like it.
The last time they talk, she says the worst three words in the entire world:
“I’m happy now.”
Emmett: The world spins around, and Emmett stands still.
Some moments stand out, brightly painted horses on his crooked carousel life. The money he makes off his Mardi Gras schemes, the parties he talks his way into, the beatings he earns no less slowly—only to make sure anybody who bullies him got it much, much worse in the end. A priest who scorns him he gets convicted of pedophilia—a trick and a half, but he pulls it off. Has he told you about the time he started a cult with a crazy Jew? Or the story he sold Jackson Kibbe, that the Cherrys were sponsoring school shootings to attack the Second Amendment? Or—
He lies so enthusiastically and often about himself he forgets what really happened to him, sometimes. The best bits always make it into his stories, anyways.
Miranda likes his stories. He likes Miranda. They keep up their friendship through the years.
Is it wrong to love somebody for being ugly?
That’s what he asks Sami. Not directly, but with his lies, his taunts, his cruelties. Oh, he gives as good as he gets. Worse. She knows all too well what he’s capable of. She tells him he’s pathetic, he stares her in the eye and says that’s why he’s the only one who can love her.
But he’s sweet, too. He’s terribly, horrendously sweet, like the taffy baked around the razor blades sickos hand out on Halloween.
Oh, how he loves Halloween.
He doesn’t just buy her things. He tells her how strong she is, how powerful. How she reminds him it’s all right to be broken. How when he looks at her, he knows that some people can do anything, anything to survive.
He gives her love, and every time they burst apart like dancers in a chorus he makes sure she knows that he is the only person she can ever expect it from.
Some poisons taste so sweet you keep drinking them.
When she tells him she’s happy, and he realizes she isn’t lying, he knows that she does not need him to survive.
It’s unacceptable. She can’t have outlived him. It isn’t fair. He even considered the divorce thing, but of course there are some things you can only do if you’re a woman, because who would ever believe a man could be hurt in all the same ways a woman could, and of course she would give herself a black eye, that bitch, that slut, that lying whoring little gangfucked cunt—
“I’m happy for you,” he says to her, and doesn’t see her again.
He’s in control. He is. He is. He’s gotten himself sober, for almost two whole months now, and he’s heard there’s a Saudi prince in town at the Ritz-Carlton. All his problems can be solved. He’s unstoppable. He’s unprecedented. The hole inside him is actually a sun, and it’s going to swallow the earth one day.
He can do this, he tells himself, and calls Roberts, says he’ll see her tomorrow afternoon for lunch at that place next door. And he watches a movie, a good one, about a conman. The ending is happy.
He goes to sleep at two in the morning.
He sleeps. He dreams.
Clouds rumble overheard as the church bell tolls midnight. A suited young man sweeps among the ballroom’s costumed throngs, laughing as the chandeliers’ lights glint off his mask.
Day ? Month? 2015?
GM: Too late.
Well, it was.
There was a story in between.
A really good story.
Or maybe it was a really sad story.
Maybe it was both.
Or maybe it was just fucking sad.
But it ends here.
Except for the blonde teenager who’s the spitting image of Cècilia in 2007, sitting across the Plexiglas as she listens to Em talk.
Telling the last story he’ll likely ever get to tell.
Emmett: “Huh,” he says. “That took longer than I thought it would.”
His stumps itch. He could have sworn he was walking a moment ago.
“How’s your Maman doing, kid? Still spooky and flashing teenagers?”
GM: The girl who looks like Cècilia listens as the story unfolds. She listens for a while.
“Wow,” she says when he’s done.
She looks at him for a bit.
Emmett: “What was your favorite part?”
GM: “Hmm. Whichever bit you ’ated most.”
Emmett: He mimes a breaking heart with his hands.
GM: “Was that your girlfriend saying she didn’t need you anymore, or some other moment? Maybe your parents abandoning you?”
Emmett: “You know,” he says, “it’s actually none of those moments. It’s the ones in between, the parts that don’t make a good story because they’re just bleak and boring. Every day is the worst day of my life.”
He smiles at her. “Actually, I changed my mind. It was the part where I didn’t force-feed you a milkshake. Of all my regrets…”
GM: The girl who can only be Yvette flashes him a winsome smile.
“It’s too bad wishing we did things we never got to, isn’t it?”
Emmett: “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll live a long and fulfilling life if you don’t fuck it up by doing things like talking to monsters like me. Go home to your monster. Send my regards.”
GM: “Oh, that was rhetorical. Ah don’t actually regret anything,” Yvette smiles.
“Well. Besides not getting to see that dyke go crazy on acid. We can’t always get everything we want. But it does feel great knowing you ’ave everything when someone you ’ate ’as nothing.”
Yvette looks down at his stumps and smiles wider.
“And bah ‘you’ Ah mean ‘me.’”
Emmett: “What dyke?” Em asks absentmindedly.
He gives his stumps a little wiggle.
“I wonder, though, why you’re here. What do you have to be angry about? You’re a spoiled brat. I bet your hemorrhoids come with cushions. What did I do to earn your hate? I welcome it, but you’re quite late to the party.”
GM: “Ooh, that’s a good line about the ’emorr’oids. It really is too bad you didn’t get to make that movie,” Yvette comments sadly.
“You’re right though, Ah am ‘ere for a better reason than listening to you. One thing Ah’m wondering first, though…”
“Wah make up that part about Maman ‘aving, what, black breast milk, instead of something like sexually abusing Cècilia. Ah mean, Ah wouldn’t ‘ave bought that for a second either, but it is the sort of thing Ah’d ‘ave done in your position, to actually mess with someone’s ’ead.”
“That was probably the weakest part of the story. Ah mean, if you were going to say Maman was a monster, you could at least ‘ave made ’er a demon or vampire or something obvious. But ’black breast milk?’ What is that even supposed to be?”
Emmett: He smiles at her.
“Oh, this is good.”
GM: “Oooh, Ah ’ave it. You could ’ave made ’er an alien!”
Emmett: “You don’t know a thing, do you? Your Maman’s kept you safe and sound from what you really are. I’m glad you don’t believe me. It’ll make your head hurt worse when you’re told the truth.”
“Remember when you went to the hospital in… what was it, second grade? Kindergarten? Somebody gave you a ritz cracker or something. Remember what happened to the poor little bitch that gave it to you?”
GM: “She ‘ad an allergic reaction or something. It was actually sad, unlike what’s ’appened to you.”
Emmett: He smiles. “I remember a little girl who loved secrets. Have you never wondered what ones mommy keeps from you? No, you’re too trusting. Cècilia was the same way.”
He leans close. “Ask your Maman, little girl. She won’t bite. And if I’m lying, you’ll get to drink a tall glass of ‘I told him so.’”
GM: “You know… you’re raht, Em. Maman does keep secrets. Ah think you just made me question everything Ah think Ah know about mah family,” Yvette says in a slow and uncertain voice.
Emmett: He just giggles.
GM: She lifts a hand to her chin, then drops it with a flat look.
“Oh, wait. You’re a liar and rapist and murderer ’oo’s going to get executed, and Ah don’t actually believe what you say.”
Emmett: “Mmm,” he agrees. “And that makes it funnier. Man, what I would give to see your face…”
GM: “Oh, and speaking of… Caroline Malveaux. Do you know that name, Em?” Yvette looks at him squarely.
Emmett: His head feels fuzzy for a moment. “One of the senator’s brats. Sure. Think I met her, once.”
GM: “Oh really? ’Ow’d you meet?”
Emmett: “I had this plan to get her pregnant and blackmail her. Didn’t pan out. Hey, you win some, you lose some. What’s she to you?”
GM: Yvette stares at him. “Wow. Okay, let’s try the ’orrible thing you actually did to ’er.”
Emmett: He looks at her blankly.
GM: “Is that why you did it, because you couldn’t take actually being a pretty shitty conman? Or just shitty with girls, Ah guess. God knows Ah’d need to ’ave mah drink spiked to want anything to do with you.”
Emmett: “No, that’s why I was a coke addict. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I had like one conversation with her. And hey, that’s your sister’s tastes you’re insulting. Though I can’t say you’re wrong. She’s fucking one of Westley’s idiot brothers these days, isn’t she? Is that what this is about?”
GM: “Well, mah family is grateful to people we think did something kind for us, Ah guess we’re just weird that way.”
“And you’re one to call people idiots when you wound up ‘ere. Ah ’eard that story about you mouthing off to your judge, after she’d signed off your plea deal. Caroline says it’s spreading like crazy among the city’s lawyers. They’re all talking about ‘ow they’ve never even ’eard of something so stupid, in all their years of representing stupid clients.”
Emmett: “Mmm, my self-regard’s never been that high. I’m a giving soul.” He smiles at her. “You can’t hurt my feelings, little girl. I don’t have any anymore, except spite and boredom.”
“Get to the point.”
GM: “Oh don’t worry, Ah’m ’ere to ’urt something much worse than your feelings,” Yvette smiles. “But why deny it, Em? You’ve been honest about so much else, and Ah ‘ear they even changed the law or something so you could get executed sooner. It’s not like you ’ave much else to lose. Everyone ’ates you.”
Emmett: “Man, you don’t get it, do you.” He shakes his head. “You said it yourself. I’ve been honest tonight because I don’t care. I have nothing to lose. You think I’d lie about something that out there? I’ve told you nothing but truths, princess. What you do with them is all up to you, but I could give less of a fuck than a eunuch.”
GM: “Cècilia ’ates you too, bah the way. When she ’eard you were going to get executed, she laughed and ’ad some ice cream to celebrate. Strawberry ice cream. ’Er favorite.”
Emmett: He considers her claim about Cècilia for a moment. Then he smiles that crooked, smug smile.
“No, she didn’t. You need to work on your lies, honey. Ask Maman to teach you. Now you’ve told me that Cici’s just the same as she ever was, and still doesn’t hate me. I appreciate it. You think you’re scary? You won’t know scary ’till it bites your pretty little ass.”
He laughs at her, and lets her feel his contempt, his unshakable sense of superiority.
“You think you’re going to teach me a lesson? Make me cry? All you’ve done is make me nostalgic. Come on, little girl. You think because you’re top bitch at McGehee you mean anything to anybody with real blood on their hands? Come on. What’s your nasty little surprise. I bet you feel real proud of it. Make me shiver. Please, Yvette. Do your worst. It’ll be cute.”
“The funny thing is how much you remind me of myself. You came here thinking you’d get even, hmm?”
GM: “Okay then, Em,” Yvette smiles. But it’s not a mocking smile. It’s not even anger, although that’s there too.
Real, burning, hate.
Emmett: “That’s a girl,” he whispers. “Show us who you really are. Just the same as everybody else.”
GM: “Oh no, Em,” she seethes with that same hateful smiles. “Ah’m better than everybody else. Because Ah’m going to finally give you what you really deserve, you _putain de violeur.”_ The last words are all but spat.
“Jeremy. Make it ’appen now.”
“You got it, little lady,” drawls the suited young man standing next to her. He pulls out a phone and says into it, “Ray, Joe, time ta earn your money.”
Em doesn’t wait long. The steel door behind him opens with a harsh clang against the wall. The guards he’s seen for those weekly ten-minute showers, who never speak or show pity, stride forward to his wheelchair.
Emmett: He rolls his eyes at her.
GM: They grab his hair and slam him face-first against the glass. Em feels his pants come off and hears the sound of a fly unzipping.
“Ah guess this ’as appened to you lots of times already,” Yvette says into the phone. “But don’t worry. It’ll feel new this time.”
“Jeremy, Ah want them to spray their pepper spray up ‘is ass’ole. And to use knives, not their dicks. Ah want them to stab ’im to death, up ’is asshole, after they cut off ’is cock and balls. And to do it slow. Ah want ’im to bleed to death in a puddle of ’is own piss and shit, and alone.” Yvette’s voice is shaky, but leaks with hate as she stares daggers at him. “Ah want ’im to die alone and in pain for what ’e did to Caroline.”
“Uh…” says Jeremy.
Emmett: He whistles. “Mouth on you, princess.”
Oh, it’ll be awful. Humiliating. Hellish. But he’s seen this episode before, and he knows that he’ll survive the ending.
Or rather, he won’t.
He’s in Hell now. He won’t give the devil the satisfaction.
“I just think it’s funny you think you’re human,” he says.
GM: “Ah think it’s funny you think raping you isn’t a service to ’umanity,” Yvette smiles savagely as rough hands tear off Em’s prison jumpsuit and hold him face-down against the steel. He can just make out Cècilia’s lookalike holding up her phone. “Ah’m going to record this, just so Ah can ’ave the ’appy memories for…”
Emmett knows that voice.
The hands grabbing fistfuls of his unkempt hair slacken. He can make her out past the Plexiglas.
Emmett: “Huh,” he says.
GM: The past eight years have been good to Cècilia. She looks good. Still young. Still beautiful. But more mature. More certain of herself. She looks like someone who spent the past eight years being loved and happy and responsible and facing life instead of running away. There’s a diamond ring on one of her fingers that looks like it might cost someone’s mortgage on their house.
The suited man next to her is large, well-muscled, gray-bearded, and all business. His face is a stranger to Em.
“What!? Don’t you know what ’e did!?” Yvette’s words sound like they want to come out as a scoff, but they’re more like a scream.
“I know th-”
“’E RAPED CAROLINE!” Yvette screams at her sister, and Em can see tears furiously glistening in her eyes. “THAT’S what ‘e did! _C’EST UN PUTAIN DE VIOLEUR!_”
Emmett: “Uh,” Em says.
GM: “Oh, she says she’s FINE! AS IF! She’s being strong, for us, but we—‘er life’s falling apart! Everyone knows! Fucking everyone! All that shit, at dinner, all that shit with, with ’er famil—” Yvette chokes for a moment, then points at Em with a trembling finger and screams,
“IL L’A FAIT!!!”
Cècilia lays her hands on Yvette’s shoulders without saying anything and stares into her eyes.
Then she hugs her crying sister.
Emmett: Em glances over his shoulder at the guard.
“You gonna just keep holding me?”
GM: “‘Pends if we’re still getting paid to fuck you,” shrugs the man.
Emmett: “How much did you ask for?”
GM: “More than your sorry ass is worth.”
Emmett: “Damn, Diego. Insult to injury, and shit.”
Em looks at the hugging sisters.
GM: Cècilia finally pulls away enough to look Yvette in the eye.
“Let’s go home. You can ride in my car with me. It’s a long drive. I’ll meet you in the parking lot soon, all right?”
“But, but ’e-” Yvette sniffs, her face starting to twist in anger again.
“I know. Caroline,” Cècilia says.
“But ’e needs to PAY!” Yvette flares. “’E was the one, ’oo spiked her d-”
“He has paid.”
This time Cècilia is the one to interrupt her sister.
“He has paid. Look at him, Yvette.” Cècilia’s voice is quiet. “He’s lost his legs. He’s on death row.”
Emmett: He wriggles pathetically, waving his stumps to underscore her point.
GM: Yvette looks at him. She can’t see his legs when they’re under the glass.
But perhaps it’s enough just to see his face.
“Nothing you do to Emmett here will make things any easier for Caroline,” Cècilia continues in that same quiet tone. “But I think you and Yvonne have already done a lot for her by simply being there and opening your hearts to her. I think she is very thankful to have both of you in her life right now.”
Yvette doesn’t say anything. Cècilia gives her a squeeze, then says, “Jeremy, can you please escort her back to the parking lot?”
“Right away, ma’am.” Jeremy picks up his phone. “Show’s off, boys. But you’ll have a lil’ somethin’ fer yer time.”
Emmett: “You’re welcome,” Em says to Diego.
GM: The guards grunt into their phones and set Em down.
Yvette looks at her sister, mutters, “Il a de la chance que tu sois ici,” then lets Jeremy escort her out of the room.
Cècilia finally looks at Em.
Emmett: Em sits, naked and tired.
He looks back at her.
GM: He might be expecting a lot of things. Or he might not. There’s just one emotion he can read on her face.
Emmett: He shakes his head. His voice comes out hard. He picks up the phone, and if she does the same, he says, “Stop that. I deserve this. I chose this.”
His voice is hard, but it is also desperate.
“I deserve this.”
GM: Cècilia sits down and picks up the phone.
“Does believing that make it easier?”
Emmett: He chuckles humorlessly.
He regards her.
“She’s not very like you, your sister.”
GM: “She’s hotter. More vengeful,” Cècilia agrees.
“We’re more alike in how we feel about family.”
Emmett: “I can see that.”
He studies her.
“You know she’s mistaken about the Malveaux girl and me, don’t you?”
GM: “Was she?” Cècilia asks, seemingly more curiously than accusingly.
“Caroline has grown very close to our family these past few months. In a similar way to how you did, ironically. She saved Yvonne’s life. Those two look up to her so much.”
Emmett: “Ah, but for real? That’s sweet of her. And yes, she is. I had plans to do something wicked, but they never happened. I’ve done worse to others, though I expect you’ve heard all about that. Somebody’s been telling her lies.”
He drums his fingers on the Plexiglas.
“I hope you are happy,” he says, abruptly. “As happy as you were.”
GM: Cècilia seems to digest his initial words for a moment, then replies, “Thank you, Em. I’m engaged. To Caroline’s brother, actually.”
Emmett: “Hmm. To Westley’s brother. Funny, how things work out.”
GM: “Yes.” She studies him for a moment. Em sees that look of pity again.
“I wish we’d gotten to see the movie. I wish there’d been a lot of movies.”
Emmett: He looks at her. His eyes are dark and distant.
Then he says, “I am a truly despicable person, Cècilia. I’ve made my peace with that, or whatever the closest thing is. Surrendered to it, maybe. I don’t need or want forgiveness. I know better than to expect it.” He smiles sadly at her. “I don’t need your pity, either. But I wish that, too. So thank you. All the same.”
He looks at her. “I wonder. Has your Maman told you the secret we shared, yet?”
GM: “Do you remember what we talked about during that scene we auditioned with Hillary Cherry and her boyfriend?” Cècilia asks.
Emmett: “The ending?”
GM: “Partly. But also about the nature of redemption and coming clean.”
Emmett: “I remember a little,” he acknowledges. “You said that there was no happy ending you could foresee, even if our unfortunate conwoman came clean, or something like that. She could be redeemed, but not happy. Not truly. No, the only ending that made sense was the gun.” His eyes are unyielding. “I hope you are happy. I know how my story ends, Cici. I always wanted to call you that, but you would have hated it.”
“Would you have me come clean, now?”
GM: “I got your letter,” Cècilia says. “You were honest to me there, about everything. Thank you for that. But I’d actually wondered if that discussion we’d had about redemption might have spooked you, when I said the conwoman had to be willing to come clean and face the consequences even if the love interest didn’t forgive her. I’d said being willing to face those negative consequences was the whole point.”
Cècilia considers him for another moment. “I was hurt by what that letter said, I won’t deny. I’d thought we’d shared something real and I was hurt when it seemed like you’d only wanted to sleep with me.”
“But your joy when you were working on that movie was real, and you wouldn’t have sent that letter if you hadn’t had a crisis of conscience. I think you wanted to be honest with me, and were simply scared that being honest would’ve meant an end to something you’d come to care for. And in the end, you still were honest.”
“I did wish you’d been honest with me from the start. I was angry over how you’d hurt Adeline. It took me some time to come terms with that. But I think it came from a place of fear, too, potentially. That I wouldn’t like you if you hadn’t done something heroic for my family.”
“There was, is, plenty about you worth liking even if you hadn’t gotten to play hero. I hope you know I would have still liked you for those qualities. I hope you know I would have still wanted to date you. You didn’t need to play hero for me to do that.”
“I’m sad for what could have been between us. Not just if you were honest, but perhaps also if I’d made you feel like you could be honest, and were someone worth forgiving if he was honest.”
Cècilia doesn’t quite smile. Actually, she doesn’t at all.
“I’m starting to ramble. You’ve led your own life these past eight years, and it seems like it’s been a very hard life. I’m not sure how much you’ve thought about me next to other people you’d like to make your peace with right now.”
“But for what it may be worth to you, Emmett, you do have my forgiveness. I’m just sorry it didn’t come at a better time.”
Emmett: Em blinks at her.
He doesn’t understand what she wants from him.
She isn’t telling her what she wants from him.
Is she distracting him while the toy soldier guards get back in position to fuck him up the ass with knives, so that for one moment, when everything is taken from him one more time, his screams will be brilliantly, sharply honest?
He doesn’t understand.
For the first time in what might have been a lifetime, Emmett Delacroix blinks, and begins to weep.
GM: Separated by the Plexiglas barrier, Cècilia cannot touch or hold him. She just looks at him with those sad but silently understanding blue eyes, then lifts a dark brown jar out of her purse and sets it on the counter.
“I brought you some Nutella.”
Emmett: He looks at it, separated from him by the same barrier that stops him reaching for her, and laughs softly.
“I don’t think they’ll let me keep it. But I appreciate it.”
He waits for a moment for his tears to stop blurring his eyes.
“You avoided my question, earlier. I can take a hint. But you should know, I told your sister everything. I didn’t try to keep anything from her. Including my experiences with your… Maman.”
GM: “That’s all right,” Cècilia says. “She didn’t believe you. Who would?”
Emmett: “Did you know? Back then?”
GM: “That she knew you were lying about who you were? No, not at first.”
“Maman had her reasons for not telling me then. She’d have intervened if it seemed like I could have gotten seriously hurt.”
Emmett: “Will you give her my regards?”
GM: “Do you wish her well, truly?” Cècilia asks.
Emmett: “I hold many grudges against many people. She was one of them, once. But in the grand scheme of things, I do not feel ill-used by her in particular. So, yes. All things considered, I wish her nothing but happy family. All things considered, I admire her more than anything. My inability to admire without envying, of course…” he shrugs. “But my time is over. I can wish her well.”
GM: “I’ll pass that along, then,” Cècilia says. “It’s funny, how she said Emmett Delacroix would be revealed for who he was in due time. I suppose that did end up being true. Just not in the way either of us might have expected.”
“But Maman usually is right in the end, even if we can’t immediately see how.”
Emmett: He nods. “Can I ask you something besides the point of anything?”
GM: “Go ahead.”
Emmett: “What happens to me after I die?”
GM: “That answer depends a lot on what you believe,” Cècilia answers. “People have been asking that question for as long as they’ve been aware of their own mortality.”
Emmett: “Ah. But I’m asking you. Some answers matter more than others.”
GM: “I believe people go on to a place that matches the character they had in life,” Cècilia answers. “One way to look at it is God passing judgment on them. Another is them passing judgment on themselves.”
“To some people that can seem very scary if they’ve done bad things. But we’ve all done bad things. Some of us have done worse things than others, but I think that final place we go matches who we truly are, deep down.”
“I don’t know where you’ll go after you die, Emmett. I don’t know where anyone will go, not for certain. But I hope you’re able to know the lasting peace, beauty, and love I think you’ve always wanted once you’re there.”
Emmett: “Huh,” Em says. “Maybe I will. And maybe I won’t. But maybe all the same.”
He touches his fingers to the Plexiglas. His nails are dirty and overgrown, his tips calloused and bruised. But they’re his fingers still, and there is something tender and fragile of them.
“I’ll remember this,” he says.
GM: “If you’d like to, you can see a priest,” Cècilia offers. “I don’t know if they’ve offered to let you, but you can.”
Emmett: Em just smiles, sadly. For a moment, she can see El in the lines of his dirty, aged face.
In the next moment, only his shadow.
GM: Cècilia looks at the two young men for a while without saying anything.
She eventually starts to blink her eyes.
“The movie was beautiful, El,” she finally manages. “It really was.”
She then adds more steadily, “I can leave a notebook and some pencils too, if you’d like. You could work on scripts. I could send them in to studios, posthumously.”
There’s fuck else to do in that featureless concrete box except slowly go mad.
Emmett: He agrees without thinking about it. He feels lighter. He would agree to let the guards rape him if she asked nicely.
GM: Cècilia fishes some pens and a hand-sized notebook out of her purse, frowns, then calls Jeremy on her phone and asks if he can bring in anything from Yvette’s backpack. He shows up after a few minutes with two spiral-bound notebooks and some pencils. Money trades hands with the guards, who unceremoniously plop the school supplies and Nutella jar on his stumps.
Emmett: It’s not, Em reflects, that he isn’t religious.
He’s always believed in something more than what he saw, an order beyond classrooms and family dinners. He always knew that there was something more important.
Once, it was stories. Silver screens and 3-D glasses and Saturday morning cartoons he watched by sleeping over on Friday nights at Ren’s house.
Once, he wanted to be a spy. Or a prince. Or a conman, or a director—once.
Once, he thought, he could be god.
Then he lived a little.
He is religious still.
He believes in prison.
He believes his imprisonment is not an actual amount of time.
He has always been here.
He always will be.
At first, the words do not come easily. It is more than a little maddening. Prison gives him nothing but time, but still he stares at the blank pages she’s given him like they’re about to eat him and leave nothing but his wheelchair behind, maybe with an ink stain.
But in an eternity, with nothing but his own wretched self for company, he writes.
First, scribbles on paper. Meaningless things. Explosions of grief and melancholy and uselessness.
Then, the scribbles sharpen. They become lines, and directions.
In the fullness of time, he finds a rhythm. His cell is as silent as it ever was, except now for the scratch, scratch, scratch of Cécilia’s pencils on Cécilia’s paper.
He writes two short films.
One of them is a quiet, black and white thing. It’s about a man who can’t see colors. The doctors do not know what’s wrong with him and suspect he is lying. He walks through carnivals and parades and goes to the movies, but finds only shadows and the places they leave alone.
He takes a gun and paints it delicately, decorating it. He walks to the Mississippi to blow his brains out. But there, he finds a crying child, with a scraped knee. The knee is red, and dripping. It captivates him. As the mother shushes her child, her words blending with the susurrus of the river, the entire world becomes saturated, so that everything is as colorful as a painted Mardi Gras mask, except for the man’s tears as they slide down his cheek. They are clear, and colorless.
The next film is chattier. It is about a couple. They don’t like each other very much, but they stay together in spite of their various misfortunes and misdeeds. They fight, they fuck, and they keep coming back to each other even as their lives come undone and debts come due.
“Why do we keep doing this?” one of them asks the other, after they have lost everything but each other.
The other takes their hand, and says, “Because there’s nothing else to do.”
It cuts to black mid-shot, mid-breath, kind of like The Sopranos.
He signs his name at the bottom, dots his t’s and crosses his i’s, and then Emmett Delacroix waits for the state to come and kill him.
He hopes there will be cameras.